Most of the characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and we do not have permission to borrow them. All the others belong to us, and if you want to play with them, you have to ask us first. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit.
Spoilers: "Slaves of Las Vegas" and "Lady Heather's Box"
One of the things a detective--a successful one, anyway--has to have is patience. Right now, I'm taking a deep breath and summoning mine. And trying to relax my grip on the steering wheel.
It could have been worse, I tell myself. You could have driven all the way from Tahoe.
Lucky me, all I had to do was pick up Lolu at the airport. And from the second she hobbled past Security, it's been a barrage of questions. Daisy, Heather, Daisy, me, Daisy Daisy Daisy.
Man, I should hire her to teach my guys how to interrogate suspects. Or better yet, just lock her in an interrogation room with the suspects. They'd crack in ten minutes.
I do my best to answer, though honestly she really should be asking Heather some of 'em. I love my daughter--I've loved her from the second I knew she existed--but damned if I know every detail about her bodily functions. I'M not the one nursing her.
But my temper finally snaps when Lolu starts asking about our sex life. Fortunately for my driving we're at a stoplight; I slam my palm on the steering wheel and glare at the little crone in the passenger seat.
"We don't HAVE one at the moment, Lolu, not that it's any of your business. I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask such personal questions."
She narrows her eyes at me, and I wince internally, but there have to be limits. Heather would agree.
And then her gaze drops and she looks down at the claws folded in her lap. "Jim--I'm sorry," she says in that thick accent of hers.
I take her in, the small withered form still dressed in her favorite black, and all of a sudden my anger is gone. She's OLD, Lolu is; maybe not so much in years compared to some folks, but her body's wearing out on her, and it shows. I know she never really expected Heather to marry again, let alone that she'd get another grandkid out of the deal, and under my annoyance I know that her questions are motivated by love. She worries about her daughter, she even worries about me a little, and she's dying to see her new granddaughter.
"Some men--" she continues, not looking up. "Some men, they do not care about their wives. I know you are not like them, but..."
She trails off, and I ease off the brake as the light changes. I can't blame her, really. She's only met me a couple of times as it is, and she's just about distracted with impatience and anticipation. I keep my eyes on the road and spare a hand to pat her arm.
"It's okay, Lolu. I know what you mean. But you know Heather would kick my ass if I didn't behave."
She snorts, and out of the corner of my eye I can see those skinny shoulders relax. She mutters something in Hungarian, and I would bet a lot that it's the equivalent of "that's my girl." I grin. "She's her mother's daughter, after all."
For that, I get a cackle, and all of a sudden we're at ease.
This might work after all.
I have a little sister.
It's not something I really imagined. I have step-siblings on Dad's side, but they came ready-made if you know what I mean, and we've never been that close. Dad didn't seem like he was going to have any more kids, and Mom told me that she couldn't have any more when I started asking sex-ed questions. It wasn't something I thought about much.
Of course, the news that Mom was pregnant was a big surprise, to EVERYBODY involved I guess, but even then it was kind of abstract for me. I mean, I hardly even saw her during her pregnancy--just during the wedding, mostly, and it wasn't, like, really obvious.
But now I'm sitting on the couch in Mom and Jim's living room, and I'm holding my baby sister in my arms.
My actual baby sister.
She's adorable, of course. Lots of newborns aren't really, even though everybody says they are; she did come out kind of squashed-looking, but at a week old she's as fresh and fuzzy as a peach. I love to lean down and just rub my cheek against the curve of her head, light as a feather. I'm getting in all the cuddling I can, because I fly home tomorrow and I won't be back until Christmas--and probably not for very long.
Lucky for me, Daisy isn't fussy most of the time. So I hold her and make silly faces while she watches me with big solemn eyes, and Mom sits in her rocker and smiles like a goddess. Jim's on the way back from the airport with Grandma, and I hope he doesn't get stuck in traffic, because we're all due at the church this evening.
A hiccup and a whimper tell me that Daisy's had enough of me for the moment, and Mom sets aside her sewing while I stand up to pass over the little bologna loaf. She unbuttons her blouse and slips down the nursing bra cup, and I go rummage for a clean towel because we used the last one to wipe up some spilled tea. When I get back Daisy's nursing like a happy little pig, making snuffling noises.
Mom's wincing. "Need the hot water bottle?" I ask; nursing makes the womb go back to normal, she says, and it hurts.
"No thank you, my darling." She takes the towel with her free hand, and I take the christening dress she's been working on so I can pick up where she left off. Mom says it comes from Jim's family, and I can tell it's old; she's been putting on the pearls and lace from our christening gown, which apparently bit the dust. Doesn't surprise me; that thing was ancient, lots older than Jim's. I try to imagine him getting baptized in this thing, and give up; I've seen a few photos of Jim as a baby, but somehow I can't link them up with the tough marshmallow of a cop that I know.
Mom nods at the dress. "You threw up on yours twice before we even got to the church," she says, and I have to grin as I start tacking down another pearl.
"So what did you do?"
She gives me a fake long-suffering look. "Sponged it off, of course. Mother wouldn't hear of you being christened in a sleeper." She glances down at Daisy with this incredibly tender expression. "Fortunately, people expect infants to be damp."
I snicker, and keep sewing. Sometimes I think it's too bad that we can't retain memories from infancy. I mean, sure, there's plenty that would be embarrassing, but some things would just be so cool too. Like being rocked to sleep, or your first bath, or learning to walk. But my fourth birthday party is about as far back as I can remember.
For a little while we're quiet, except for Daisy; the kid is one noisy eater. But as Mom finishes nursing her we hear a car turning into the driveway, and we trade smiles. Jim's back with Grandma.
She comes in so soon that I have to wonder if she even let the car stop before she got out. I hop up and give her a kiss, but I can tell she's totally distracted. It doesn't bug me--I'd be worried if she weren't.
"Hajana." Grandma holds out her arms, and Mom reaches up and puts Daisy in them, and I so wish I had my camera. I've never seen Grandma's face like that before, all lit up and tender--kind of like the Crone goddess out of one of Jim's fantasy books. She sits down in the armchair and just looks, and Daisy looks back, drooling a little.
"I just fed her, Mama," Mom says, and passes her the towel.
Jim appears in the doorway with Grandma's suitcases, looking a little stressed, but smiling anyway. He sets them down for a moment and comes over to kiss Mom; I see his hand twitch as he straightens, and I know he wants to go over and kiss Daisy too, but he's not going to interrupt Grandma's moment with her.
You know, Mom sure can pick 'em.
Jim shifts his feet; he looks uncomfortable, and I'll bet he's feeling out of place with all these women. So before he can escape I catch his eye and pat the seat next to me. "Wanna see?" I ask, waving the christening gown at him.
His eyes crinkle, and he comes around the coffee table and sits down next to me. "Nice," he rumbles, straightening the skirt a little for a better look. "She's going to be the best-dressed baby in town."
Grandma has Daisy up against her shoulder now, the towel protecting her dress, and she's gently rubbing the little back and murmuring in Hungarian. I'm not like Mom, I haven't kept up with it, but I know some of what she's saying--baby, darling. It's a perfect picture.
And then Daisy lets out a belch like a miniature frat boy, and we all burst out laughing. "That's my girl," Jim jokes, and Mom grins at him.
Welcome to your family, kid. You're going to have FUN.
We're a merry group on the way to the church. Jim's car holds us all, barely--Mother in the front passenger seat because it's easier to get in and out of, and Zoë and I squished in on either side of the intimidating car seat-slash-infant carrier that was a gift from Ms. Sidle. It looks as though it could go through a garbage compactor and come out intact--but then that's the purpose, and I'm grateful.
Daisy seems to like car rides; she lies still in the carrier and blinks, without wriggles or whimpers. It's a good sign and I hope her mood sustains through the service, though of course one rather expects infants to protest a sudden dashing with cold water.
Mother keeps trying to turn around to argue with me, though the seat belt doesn't let her twist far. "Three, Hajana?" she's protesting now. "It's not traditional."
"Given this world, she'll need all the help she can get," Jim counters, though his gaze isn't wavering from the road.
Mother snorts, which tells me she thinks he's got a point but isn't ready to admit it. "Who are they?"
"Pauline is one of them," I tell her again; she wasn't really listening the first time I explained. "You met the other two at our wedding."
"Ah, well, Pauline," she says, and settles back down in her seat, and I know she's thinking that Pauline alone should be enough to offset any deficiencies of the godfathers. Mother approves of Pauline in a big way, which always amuses Pauline on some level, though she treats Mother with grave respect. Across from me, Zoë snickers, but keeps her thoughts to herself and leans over the carrier to offer Daisy a finger to grasp.
I'm not surprised to see Pauline already at the church when we arrive, talking with one of the godfathers--Warrick--and Husky. They turn to greet us as Jim pulls up at the curb; he'll let us all out and then go park the car.
Before Zoë can even get out to open the car door for Mother, I'm delighted to see Warrick perform that service, and he offers her a gallant arm as she climbs out, which she accepts with a smile.
Husky is already cooing over Daisy as I lift her carrier out of the car; Zoë has the diaper bag over her shoulder, saving the new mom from having to haul it around. Pauline flashes me one of her rare smiles, and we all troop inside to get ready.
The key to keeping the baby fresh, age and wisdom have taught me, is to dress her at the last minute. So she's wearing a nice onesie, and Jim's resplendent christening dress is carefully folded in the diaper bag, the last pearl having found its place just five minutes before we left.
We stand in the narthex and chat as our guests arrive; this is going to be a quick little service, but a happy one, and so we've called many friends. Daisy is properly the center of attention, but I'm not going to take her out of her carrier until it's time to dress her. She's content for the moment, and I'd rather not present a howling infant to the minister if I can avoid it!
It's fascinating to read the dynamics in how people arrive, and in their attire. Sapphire is as demure as a schoolgirl in a high-necked blouse and knee-length skirt, but her indigo hair puffs like a dandelion around her head. Grissom arrives in good time, as expected, but what is unexpected--and not just by myself, to judge from Warrick's widening eyes--is the fact that Ms. Sidle--Sara--follows him in, their fingers entwined.
Francisco and Chen arrive together as well, which surprises no one; the fact that they stop their eternal bickering as soon as they step inside surprises everyone but me. I gave them strict orders beforehand. The tall young CSI--Greg, I believe--steps inside the doors, and crimson covers his face the moment he spots Pauline, but to his credit he advances without stopping and bends over the carrier to admire Daisy. He's wearing a nice grey suit, but the Hawaiian shirt beneath the jacket speaks of a less conservative taste.
Before long I take Daisy into the restroom, Mother close behind; I have the feeling that both Jim and Zoë would like to follow, but they stay politely with our guests. One quick diaper change later, Daisy is gorgeous in her christening gown, the antique lace frilling her chubby arms and the long skirt draping gracefully over her feet. My mind flashes back to the photo of Jim in this same gown, and I suddenly feel part of a long chain of family, much as I did twenty years ago with Zoë wrapped in Papa's gown.
What a pity Jim's parents are no longer alive to see this.
Most of our guests are already seated at the front of the sanctuary when we enter it, and Jim winks at me from his post near the font, where Rev. Book is standing. The good reverend's sweeping robes make him the best-dressed person in the room, aside from our little one.
Mother and I walk up the aisle together, Daisy kicking a little in my arms, and at the font she goes to stand by Zoë while I take my place next to the reverend. His voice is resonant, filling the sanctuary as he explains the meaning of baptism and asks the godparents to renounce the Devil and all his works.
Pauline takes Daisy to hold her until Rev. Book is ready for her, and we all listen and respond as he goes through the ancient ritual. Daisy's forehead wrinkles at the touch of the water, but she does not howl, only lying back along his large hand and watching everything with an absorption that belies her age.
Grissom and Warrick light the baptismal candle together, an action that could be humorous except for their absolute solemnity. I think Jim expected me to be surprised when he said that he wanted both men to take on the role of godfather, but I wasn't. They are both intelligent, caring men; they will do well by Daisy.
And, as Jim pointed out, Pauline by herself is equal to any two men, even those as fine as his friends.
After the ceremony, we move en masse to the Great Mohave café for coffee and conversation. Daisy allows herself to be passed from person to person, and I am amused to note that Husky cradles her with expert skill while Sara hastily passes up the opportunity. Catherine, kissing Daisy's waving fist, has the wistful look of a mother; Francisco leans over Chen's shoulder and lets Daisy grip one wide finger, though his fierce expression does not change.
Eventually, though, our little girl begins to whimper, and Jim brings her back to me. The two of us retreat to the nearest ladies' lounge for her supper, and when we return most of the guests have gone.
As we head for the car, Zoë walking ahead with Mother, Jim bends his head to mine. "Happy?" he asks gruffly.
I glance down at the carrier and the little sleeping face. "Oh yes."
Boy, is THIS familiar.
The shrill sound of my daughter in full cry levers me out of bed, bringing back memories of similar times two decades or so ago, though then it was night and now it's daytime. Back under the covers, Heather mumbles something and rolls over, not really awake, and despite my fatigue, I'm kinda pleased. She's been so tired ever since Daisy's birth.
I slog out into the hallway, too sleepy to even reach for my robe, but as I start towards the nursery I see a little bent figure slipping into the room ahead of me, and about three seconds later the crying dies down. Grateful, I turn around and go back to bed. Mama Marazek is on the job, and if Daisy needs a meal she'll be by in a little while to knock on our door. If not, our daughter will be changed and comforted and sung to sleep again, and I won't have to do it myself.
Not that I mind doing it, no way. But when I'm this tired I'm always afraid I'm going to diaper the wrong end or something.
I snuggle back down under the covers, feeling my wife slide into my arms, and let my eyes go shut again.
When I wake up properly, I can tell from the angle of the light peeking in through the shades that it's going on evening, and Heather's still sacked out next to me. I sit up halfway, rub my hands over my face, and shake her shoulder gently. "Sweetheart? Did you check your blood sugar?"
It takes a couple of repetitions, but eventually an arm comes out from under the covers and points at the bedside table. There's a crumby plate on it. I sigh.
"Yeah, I saw that. How LONG ago?"
"Three-thirty," she mutters.
I glance at the clock. It's almost six, so she should still be all right. "Okay," I say, and kiss her head before rolling out of bed and heading for the bathroom.
Business taken care of, I pull on my robe and go into my daughter's room. She's sound asleep in the handmade cradle that's another Marazek heirloom, looking so tiny and delicate and alive that I can hardly believe she's real. Gently I reach down and brush a finger over that soft, soft cheek; her lips move, a slight sucking motion, but she doesn't wake.
"Hey, sweetheart," I murmur. "Daddy thinks you're gorgeous."
And she is, too. That sort of squashed look that all newborns have is gone; she's got tiny dimpled hands and delicate eyelashes and what I hope will be her mother's nose. There's a little birthmark on the small of her back, but I wouldn't need that to ID her--I could pick her out of a thousand babies. She's mine.
And I'm hers. It's the same thing that happened the last time--the instant I saw her, she had my heart. I'd forgotten how impossible this love is, the knowledge that I will do anything, ANYTHING to protect my daughter. It's hard for me to believe that a battered, aging, far from innocent police detective could have any part in producing someone so perfect, but the evidence is right in front of me. And so I repeat the promise I give her every evening when I first lay eyes on her.
I will do right by you.
Thank goodness Mother is here. It's not that I'd forgotten how tired one can be post partum, it's that Daisy's birth took a much higher toll on me than Zoë's. My blood sugar fluctuated for the first week, and when it settled down I still found myself wanting to do little more than nap. Dr. Phair told me to take it easy, that my body knew what it needed, and I'm trying.
I do delight in Daisy when I'm awake. She's everything I could dream of, sweet and alert and only rarely fussy. And when I'm finally awake and giving Daisy her first meal of the evening, there's nothing better. Jim left for work just ten minutes before, and Mother is pottering in the kitchen, playing with Jim's bread machine. Normally she scorns such shortcuts, but Jim baked her a pumpkin loaf when she first arrived, and now she's fascinated by it--she usually turns out one loaf per day, each different. I foresee the latest model taking up residence in her kitchen in the near future.
She's been here for the two weeks since Daisy's birth, and will stay two weeks more, and after that Jim intends to take his allotted paternity leave. It seems a pity to me that he has chosen to miss so much of Daisy's earliest days, but as he points out, he'll have plenty of time when Mother's gone again, and it will give us both more time to spend with her, as we'll be splitting the work. As it is, I'm glad we decided on a diaper service! The laundry alone is daunting, and I am handling that since Mother is really too frail to be lifting heavy loads.
But oh, it's a relief to have her around, for many reasons. She is there to keep an eye on both of us--the last thing I want to do is experience another diabetic episode when there's an infant in the house. And she is spending all the time she wants with this new little sprout on the Marazek-Brass tree. Every time I look at Mother I realize how precious that time is. She is healthy, aside from the arthritis, but she is worn with time and work, and I want Daisy to have all the time she can with her one grandmother.
Daisy gurgles at my breast; apparently she's had enough for the moment. I smile at her and wipe the milk from her face, then lift her to my shoulder for burping, wincing as one tiny fist grips my hair and pulls. She'll be a terror to earrings, this one, once her hands are coordinated enough.
Mother comes out of the kitchen just as Daisy belches in my ear. That she definitely got from her father! We both smile at the enthusiastic expulsion of air; Daisy's a strong little flower, healthy and growing quickly. Mother sets down a cup on the small table next to my chair and takes the little one, sitting on the couch with Daisy lying in her lap.
I pick up the cup and sip the tea, enjoying the sight of Mother playing with Daisy's toes and making nonsense sounds at her. The tea is peculiar and not terribly pleasant; it's some herbal mix that Mother says will give my milk "strength". I ran the ingredients past Dr. Phair, and she told me they were harmless, so I drink it to please Mother. When she's back in Tahoe, I can toss the rest in the garbage.
Daisy spits and burbles in Mother's lap, apparently as enchanted as her grandmother, so I sit and watch them for a while. When the Tadpole starts to yawn, I set the tea aside and set a DVD in the player before joining Mother.
"What's this, Hajana?" she asks, passing Daisy back to me as the screen comes to life.
I pick up the remote and fast-forward a bit. "It's my baby shower. I thought you might like to see it, since you couldn't come."
It was a lovely event. I knew something was in the works at my Dominion--they could hardly hope to keep it from me--but I didn't know the specifics, and when I walked into the back parlor after hours, Francisco's video camera managed to capture my expression of surprise quite well. Most of my staff had stayed to celebrate.
Mother hmphs a little at first--most of my people didn't change outfits before the party--but she is obviously fascinated, and I rock Daisy to sleep and remember the fun of it all.
Unlike most baby showers, this one had several men among the guests, and it was almost absurd to see people in bondage and fetish gear cooing over tiny garments and all the paraphernalia of infanthood. But then, that is the truth I have always recognized--my workers may become icons of discipline and desire during the night hours, but underneath that they are people, living complex humans.
It's a rather jerky film, definitely amateur, but the guests are obviously having a good time, especially the guest of honor. Or should that be guests, considering that I was inhabited at the time? Certainly most of the gifts lavished upon me were intended for the Tadpole.
I watch myself cut ribbon and open packages, listen to my employees tease me gently about my rounding stomach, and smile at the recipient in my arms. From that event she got a stroller so complicated it came with an instruction video, many dainty garments, and more stuffed animals than her cradle can hold. One of the things on my list is to take her over to the Dominion some night before business opens, so that those of my people who haven't met her already may do so. After all, ostensibly I have to check up on things...
On screen, refreshments are served—small savory pastries instead of cake, in deference to my diabetes, a choice that touched me. My Dominion hasn't quite formed the family that Jim's work has, but most of us are nonetheless close.
When I glance back at Mother, however, I am amused to see that her eyes have closed and that she's leaning back, snoring softly. Her energy levels aren't what they used to be, either.
I rise and tuck Daisy into the carrier, where she sleeps when downstairs, and head into the kitchen to make supper for Mother.
I love a good quiet Saturday. When I lived alone, it was a chance to catch up on the little chores that had to wait during the week, or sometimes to just kick back and relax with a beer and a book. Now that I'm sharing space with someone, the choices have multiplied, but at the moment there's just one thing I want to do.
Heather's taken Lolu shopping for a few hours, in the time between Daisy's feedings, and it's just the two of us in a big quiet house. Which means that the kitchen is allll mine.
First thing on the list is a good thick stew, something that can simmer and wait until the girls get back. I bring Daisy's carrier in and set it on the kitchen island so we can chat while I cook, and get started.
She watches me as I peel vegetables and cut up beef, blowing the occasional spit bubble and blinking when I explain what I'm doing. When I stop and lean over to kiss her, she kicks happily and waves her arms, and half the time I have to kiss those little curly fists too. Yeah, I know, I'm such a marshmallow, but nobody's watching and Daisy won't tell.
By the time the stew's cooking, she's sucking her thumb in a sleepy way, though she perks back up when I start up the mixer for some cookies. I tracked down the lab tech that made our wedding cake, and he gave me a few tips for sugar-free baking that I've wanted to try out.
The cookies don't take long to mix, and I'm just starting to drop them onto the pans when Daisy starts to whimper. I wipe off my hands and scoop her out of the carrier, but a quick investigation tells me she's not wet. She's got a pretty steady schedule, so I figure she's not hungry, either, but as I put her up against my shoulder she stops whimpering and settles down, and I have to smile.
She's just tired, my baby girl, and wants someone to snuggle with as she falls asleep.
I go out to the living room and Heather's rocker, and ease us both down into it. Daisy sighs into my neck, and I start rocking, slowly, feeling that little warm weight against my shoulder grow limp.
I don't stop. I know how fast babies grow, how soon little arms stop reaching for hugs and little feet carry them out of your reach. I know that even if she never stops wanting hugs, she'll soon be too busy for many of them.
So I rock, and listen to Daisy breathe, and I love her with all my heart.
The cookies can wait.