The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is in response to an improv challenge at the Unbound forums; again, the first and last lines were givens.

Spoilers: none; this is a prequel.


"Rub-a-dub-dub two ducks in a tub?" sang the woman to the boy in the bathtub. He giggled back, kicking waves for the yellow waterfowl to bounce on. His mother smiled, and began shampooing his hair.

A slamming noise echoed through the house, and the woman's smile disappeared, though she kept rubbing the suds through her son's curls.

"Isn't supper ready yet?" The door flew open, revealing a broadshouldered man with a peevish scowl on his face. "It's after seven."

The woman bit her tongue, unwilling to start an argument in front of their son. The little boy's glee had fled, and now he looked from one parent to the other, eyes gone wide at their anger.

"It's ready," the woman returned quietly. "But you weren't here, so I--"

The man snorted. "I had business, you know that."

A flare of anger passed over her face. "'Business'? You're going to get arrested one of these days for your 'business'."

He waved dismissively. "It won't happen. I have connections." Turning, he walked away. "The kid's clean enough. I want my food," he said over his shoulder.

"Mommy, you're hurting me!"

The woman looked down and let her son go, wincing at the faint red marks on his shoulders. "Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry." She rinsed his hair. "Come on and stand up."

The little boy scrambled up, and she lifted him out with a grunt. He was getting so big. Wrapping him in a towel, she rubbed him dry, coaxing the giggles back.

"Go get your pajamas on," she told him. "I have to get supper for Daddy."

"Okay!" She smiled at the sight of her bare-naked child running to his room, then went to find her husband.

She found his jacket first, tossed over a chair. The cloth reeked of cigarette smoke and stale perfume, and she realized with a weary pang that she just didn't care any more.

He was out back in the shed, she could hear the hammering, and she was grateful that he was taking his irritation out on some nails and wood. The table was already set; she pulled dishes from the oven and went to the back door.

As she set her hand on the latch, the world retreated a little, and she froze. It was happening more often, and for longer, and she really had to make an appointment with the doctor....

A small body collided with her hip, and she looked down at her son's grin and felt herself returning it, even though she couldn't make out what he was saying. "Slow down, honey, I can't understand you."

And her hearing snapped back. "I put the duckies to bed," her son repeated. "They're sleeping now."

"Good for you," she said, ruffling his damp hair. "Daddy and I are going to eat dinner now, so why don't you find a book?"

He danced off again, his pajamas already a little too small. Opening the back door, she called out to the shed. "Supper's ready!"

Her husband made casual conversation as they ate, giving every indication of having forgiven her, and she found that more annoying than his anger. He was so unreasonable sometimes, expecting everything the moment he wanted it even though she was never sure any more when he would be home, or even if. When she complained, he told her curtly that he was making far more money as an independent than he ever had as an employee, and she should be satisfied with that.

She wasn't.

He held a brief wrestling match with his son while she washed the dishes, but when Gil asked him to read, his father made an excuse and patted his head. He gave his wife a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. "I need to go out again. Won't be back until late." Before she could protest, he was gone again.

She read two stories to Gil and tucked him into bed. Wandering around the little house, she performed her usual clean-up chores--putting away toys, emptying ashtrays, picking up a crumby plate. She considered pulling out her sketchbook, and then decided that she was just too tired, and went to bed.

Her husband wasn't there in the morning, but she wasn't surprised. She went into her son's room and found him sleeping peacefully, all the covers at the foot of the bed as usual. His room was small and full of the things he loved, rocks and books. Next to his bed was a cheap balsa-wood doll's bed, in which reposed the two rubber ducks. A piece of cloth was drawn carefully up to their fat necks, and she smiled fondly down at them, realizing now where her dishtowel had gone.

Her fingertips tingled, and she picked up the bed, ducks and all. Setting it on the kitchen table, she fetched a sketchpad and pencil. Her hands slid rapidly over the paper as she outlined the edges of the bed and the curves of the towel, trying to capture the whimsy of it and the affection. She had it fairly blocked out when the phone rang, startling her so badly that she jarred the table. She caught the bed in one hand as it bounced off, though the ducks fell to the floor; cursing, she picked up the phone, wondering who was calling so early.

Her hand tightened on the bed at the official voice. Her calm surprised her as the policeman informed her that her husband had been arrested, and asked her to come down to the station. She heard her own voice replying politely that she would, as soon as she could, thank you officer.

As she hung up, her son came into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Mommy?" He looked up at her, all innocence and confusion at her frozen expression. "What's wrong?"

"Your daddy..." She swallowed, hating herself for it, hating her husband more for bringing them to this point. "Your daddy's in trouble."

And then the bed's legs snapped in half.