Title: An Army of Three
Author: Beth Pryor
Summary: A Christmas Eve rendezvous between Scream and the orphanage director, Sophie two years after their fist meeting.
Disclaimer: Over There and its characters belongs to its creators and distributors. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I'm pretty sure there is a part in an episode where Scream is looking at a photo of a child that we are lead to believe is his, but in my review of the series this week, I couldn't find it for the life of me. If that does in fact exist and is not a complete figment of my imagination, this story assumes that he has no significant other or dependents.
An Army of Three
This wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't exactly sure how it had. Someone said "orphanage" and before he even knew what was happening, his new squad was headed down the road. More than two years had elapsed since he'd seen her. Once his last tour ended, he'd spent 18 months at home before spending the past six back in the shit, but there hadn't been anyone since her. He'd told her the morning after that it would be best if the Army stayed away. More precisely, he'd meant it would be best for him to stay away. Especially after what he had done on her behalf. He didn't have to tell her. She figured out the gist of what had gone down with Captain Baron. Even now, when he closed his eyes he could still see her rising from her chair, coming toward him in the dark.
"What did you give up, Sergeant? Are you still going home next week? What have you done?"
How do you tell a woman that you barely know that you just sold your soul for her? Scream didn't know and he wasn't even going to attempt it. Instead, he slept with her. That's usually what he did when words failed him. Apparently, that translated into French as well. And in the morning, she was like every other woman he'd ever known.
"You will visit?"
He'd wanted to, he really had, but what could he possibly offer her? Six more years, the imminent threat of injury or death, and even if they did all make it through, he didn't really have a plan. Carpets in Topeka would not suffice for this woman. Exotic and erotic yet nurturing and kind, she was the most complicated contradiction he'd ever imagined. Before he had the chance to try to figure it out any more, the soldier beside him shook his shoulder.
He turned and saw the entire squad looking at him. He realized he'd been staring off into space for quite sometime. They were rolling up into the yard of the orphanage his re-enlistment had secured for her. The fighting had moved on, thankfully, and the building had actually been fixed up and even expanded on the west side. About a dozen children playing in the yard ran toward the humvee as it rolled to a stop just outside the yard. By the time they had all exited the vehicle, she was standing in the yard with the children, a blonde toddler on her hip.
Scream walked toward her as his squad began unloading the second truck, the one filled with toys, games, clothing and food for the kids.
"You returned," she said. She didn't raise the end of the statement into a question. She didn't have to ask why he was there, it only mattered that he was.
"We have some Christmas gifts for the kids," he explained.
"These children don't celebrate Christmas. They're mostly Muslim, you know."
He shrugged, "The people with the money aren't. They see it as their Christian duty to give the Iraqi orphans a good Christmas whether they want it or not. Save it until the end of Ramadan or until the Prophet shows up or whatever, but I'm not taking this stuff back." He realized it had come out gruffer than he'd intended. He knew he was overcompensating, but he had to find out where he stood.
"I didn't mean to seem ungrateful. We can always use supplies. I'll show your men where they can store them." She walked past him but turned and placed her hand on his forearm. "It is good that you came," she smiled.
Her look told him exactly where he stood. He nodded once and followed her back to the truck. He stood back and watched her direct his men, a little bit better that he did, actually. He fought to swallow the smile that continued to rise from inside him. He couldn't waste the aura of fear and submission he'd worked so hard to instill in the members of his squad. His men couldn't see him grinning like an idiot over this woman.
After they finished transporting the boxes and bags into the storage room, she offered the men a drink. Her assistant brought bottles of water and animal crackers out for the men as she invited him into her office. The blonde, a girl who seemed to be the perpetual resident of Sophie's left hip, accompanied them. As she offered him a chair, she placed the child on a purple blanket on the floor where she played quietly with blocks while the adults talked.
He sat his helmet on the floor beside the chair before he sat. She smiled as she offered him a bottle of water. He nodded gratefully. She handed it to him and sat on top of her desk facing him but maintaining the higher ground. She spoke first.
"You have been well?" He nodded. "Good. You look well. How long have you been back?"
"Almost six months. Look, I would have come sooner, but…" he stopped.
"You are still a terrible liar," she grinned. He blushed.
"It wasn't because I didn't want to come," he tried, but she stopped him again.
"It doesn't matter now, Sergeant." She quickly turned her attention to the little girl who had wandered from her blanket and was now within a hair's breadth of grabbing his helmet. "Ne touche pas. Ici, maintenant!" She pointed back to the blanket and the girl bobbed her head and toddled back to her prescribed place.
He turned to the girl. She smiled up at him with his sister's hazel eyes. "This child isn't Iraqi."
"No. She is not."
"She's yours," he decided.
"And yours," Sophie confirmed.
He nodded. "I should have come sooner."
"I could have found you, told you, but I did not. You had already given up enough for me and the children."
"What's her name?"
"Claire. It means clear."
"Because this is anything but?"
"Something like that, yes."
"But how did you, where was she born?"
"Here. Sanaa is a midwife."
"But this is no place for children!" he protested, shaking his head.
"No, it is not, Sergeant, yet they are here, no?"
"You don't have to call me Sergeant all the time. My name is Chris." She nodded and he continued. "But it's not safe here. You can't raise her here."
"It is safe enough. I will admit it may not be the ideal place for a child to grow up, but my work is here. I cannot leave all the children for my own."
Scream dropped his head into his hands that previously sat folded in his lap. "I have some money. It's not much, but there's enough to set you both up in a place away from here. You could go to the U.S. and oversee fundraising for the orphans or something if you don't want to go back to France. Whatever you want, I'll do what I can to make it happen," he heard himself saying, as though he had any way to do that or any way to promise her that he'd be coming home. Hell, even if he did make it though the entire tour, he'd still have something like three years left on his contract.
She stood from her desk and walked toward him. "You make me smile, you know? You are so honorable and so American. I thank you for this offer, but of course, I cannot accept what you suggest. As I have said, my work is here, and I think so is yours." He nodded. He knew she was right. "Perhaps," she continued as she reached forward and touched the sharp angle of his jaw, "Perhaps we could talk about it when your tour ends. I see no reason to make plans before either of us is in a position to relocate. You will have a new President soon, no? Maybe everything will be different by then."
He took her hand into his own and stood so that she was looking up into his face. He pushed a stray strand of hair out of her eye and leaned down toward her. Her lips met him halfway as she stretched up on her tiptoes. He pulled her into his chest as her short fingernails scratched at the heavy canvas of his uniform. After a long moment, she broke the embrace and motioned him back into the chair. Then she knelt beside Claire, who still played quietly on the floor beside her mother's desk.
"Claire, viens à Maman." The child stood and walked Sophie, who scooped her up in her arms. She turned to him and pointed. "Voila, c'est ton papa. Est-ce que tu peux dire allo?"
"Allo, Papa," Claire smiled as she extended her tiny hands to him. He reached forward and pulled her onto his lap. As she explored the Velcro on the patches and pockets of his shirt, he leaned his high and tight shorn head forward toward her blonde ringlets. As he inhaled, he caught the unmistakable scent of baby powder. Somehow, even in this hell on earth, Sophie was managing to raise not only his child but also dozens of others while shielding them as best as she could from the horrors of the world that existed just outside the courtyard that she so carefully maintained.
He sat with his daughter on his lap for a few moments more before he knew he had to go. "Sophie, we have to get back before it gets dark. This wasn't supposed to be an all day thing, just drop off the boxes and then come back."
She nodded as he stood. She collected his helmet from the floor and traded him for her daughter. He reattached the Velcro Claire had disengaged and placed the helmet back on his head as he walked to the front door and looked out into the courtyard. In the twilight, he saw that the men of his squad had divided the children into two teams and had started a game of two hand touch. Thanks, no doubt, to some church youth group, they had found a neon orange Nerf football as an object lesson. He watched them run two or three plays before he felt Sophie snake her arm through his. He turned just in time to see Claire climbing across from Sophie's arms into his. They both turned their attention to the football game just in time to watch one team score a touchdown. As the team members danced around in celebration, Sophie leaned toward him again.
"Chris?" she asked, the word coming out more like 'Krees.' He looked down at her. "Could you not stay for tomorrow, have one of your men come back for you? We have prepared a dinner for the children and the workers for tonight. I know you are the Army, but maybe tonight the Army could stay with us."
He knew she had swallowed every ounce of pride she could possibly possess for her to ask him to stay, especially using his own words against him in doing so. Oddly enough, he wanted to stay, and not for the reasons one would think. He wanted to watch his daughter fall asleep in her mother's arms and see her tiny little yawn as she woke in the morning. He'd already missed so much, having at least one Christmas morning with the child was something he could not give up now that he had the chance.
"Orlando," he called out into the yard. The young man who reminded him so much of Angel jogged over to the door.
"Sir?" he asked a moment before turning toward Sophie, "Ma'am," he touched his helmet and nodded to her.
"Pack it up and head back to camp for the night. I'll call you in the morning for a pick-up. Understood?"
"Yes, Sir. Anything you need, Sir?"
"No, that's all. Just stop calling me sir." Orlando nodded and turned to walk away but Scream called him back. "I wanted to introduce you to Mademoiselle Sophie Deneuve. She's the director of the orphanage. This is Claire, her daughter. My daughter."
Orlando's eyes widened a bit but he covered nicely by shaking hands with Sophie giving Claire a little tickle on the tummy. The girl laughed and Scream found himself smiling for the slightest second before he reset his grim façade. This time Orlando laughed.
"You know, Sarge, that look doesn't work when you're holding the little girl."
"That'll be all, Orlando." The younger man nodded and started back toward the rest of the squad but stopped and looked back over his shoulder.
"Merry Christmas, Sergeant."
"Merry Christmas, Orlando." As Scream held Claire in his arms while watching Orlando walk away to round up the squad and Sophie call for the children to come inside for supper, he realized that it just might be.