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“Daddy! Daddy, wake up!”

“Hnng?” Gaius’ head slowly rose from his pillow. He felt drool plastered to his chin and the sun from the window almost blinded him, but he smiled for the sake of the little girl at his bedside.

“Look at the picture I made, Daddy!” The girl shoved a piece of paper in Gaius’ face and he maneuvered so he could sit up and hold it. It was a typical picture any four year old would draw. A big rainbow (made with an impressive amount of pink) took up most of the page. Underneath were three people holding hands. Gaius on the left, Vishnal on the right, and Zinnia in the middle.

“This looks so good, Zin. Can I hang it up in my shop?”

Zinnia surprised Gaius by shaking her head and taking the picture from him. “Uh-uh! Papa already called it! He wants it in the de… the de Saint…”

“De Sainte-Coquille?”

“Yeah! De Sainte Coke-elle house!”

Gaius pouted. “How come he gets this one? Where’s he even gonna hang it up?”

“Papa says Aunt Evelyn loves my pictures and wants one in her shop. Then Papa can look at it when he’s working at the big house!”

At that moment the door opened and in came Vishnal carrying a tray with a plate of bacon and eggs and glass of water on it. “I hear a lot of noise coming from in here. Are you using your indoor voice, Zinnia?”

“Of course!” Zinnia insisted, using an almost-whisper to prove her point. Vishnal set the tray on the nightstand and handed the water to Gaius.

“You’re one to talk about indoor voices,” Gaius teased as he took the water. Zinnia giggled.

Vishnal rolled his eyes and ignored the jab. “How are you feeling?” he asked as Gaius sipped his water. “You stayed up way too late last night. You were on the verge of passing out, I swear!”

“When I grow up I’m gonna be a Smith like Daddy, but I’m not gonna be stupid about it!”

Gaius choked on his water, laughing as soon as he recovered. Vishnal, however, looked affronted.

“Zinnia, you can’t call people stupid! Especially your own parent!” he scolded.

Zinnia’s eyes turned downcast and she pouted. “Sorry, Papa.”

Gaius looked at Vishnal. Though Vishnal had gotten better over the years, it still broke his heart to see their daughter even remotely sad. It still showed now in his eyes. Gaius decided to step in. Vishnal couldn’t be the tough parent all the time, after all.

“You should apologize to me too,” Gaius told Zinnia. “I’m the one you called stupid.”

Zinnia turned to him, though she didn’t look in his eyes. “Sorry, Daddy.”

“And…?”

“And… I won’t do it again!” She brightened up at being able to remember a proper apology. Such a big smile on such a little person made Gaius perk up too.

“Good, now climb into bed with me. I wanna cuddle.”

“Okay!” Zinnia was practically beaming as she climbed under the covers and snuggled up to Gaius.

Gaius glanced at Vishnal. Most days Vishnal got dressed before anything else, but today was Gaius’ lucky day. Vishnal still wore his Selphian pajamas. “You better get over here too.”

Zinnia giggled. “Yeah, Papa!”

A large smile, so much like Zinnia’s, broke out on Vishnal’s face. Gaius could easily pinpoint the small tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Some things never change, and one of them was that Vishnal was a huge sap.

“I can’t say no to that!” Vishnal then ducked under the covers as well, wrapping Zinnia up in his arms and laying his head on Gaius’ chest.

The three of them chatted and laughed the morning away, thankful it wasn’t a weekday and they had nowhere to be. They could be just the three of them, their little family, together and safe and warm.