Title: A dip into Innocence

Pairing(s)/character(s): Poke, Poke's daughter

Rated: PG-15

Disclaimer: I do not own, etc

Summery: Poke meets his daughter and she has a few questions of her own.

A/N: Well, I'm feeling a bit down, but found my writer's block has been nudged away a little and allowed me to write this. I wasn't sure on the names of Poke's wife and daughter, so I made them up. Some facts may be a little off, but you can't say I didn't try! This deals with thoughts on war and seeing as I'm not exactly sure where I stand, I wanted to let Poke's feelings through. I just hope I got it right.

A dip into Innocence

It's taken Tony Espera eight years to finally realize how hard fatherhood is, but that's only because he's been at war for the last seven. When he'd left, Jess had been a year old with fat chubby legs and a huge toothy grin. He'd watched her grow via the pictures Carla sent, but seeing her here in the flesh shocks him.

She has straight, dark hair and big brown eyes and looks like Carla, though his wife always insists Jess looks like him. But, there's also a curious expression on her face as she sets her eyes on him for the first time. She doesn't say anything, but comes forward to hug him around the waist at her mother's nudge.

Poke can feel the tears sting his eyes. Fuck; he's shot Iraqis, watched heads explode and even seen children get blown up outside their mud huts with their goats. But here, the carnivorous motherfucker that he was, is reduced to tears.

Poke washes.

As soon as he gets away from the family that has come to greet him, he pulls off his uniform (for he hasn't had a chance to change yet) and sinks under the hot spray of water. It rolls off his dark skin, splashes at his sore and war-battered feet and it feels good.

As Poke rids himself of the dirt of Iraq, Jess is in the kitchen questioning Carla. 'Why was he crying?'

'Daddy missed you a lot and he's just relieved to see you after all these years.' Jess frowns, but asks no more. Instead, she goes upstairs and sits down in front of the bathroom door, legs crossed, arms folded.

Poke steps out the shower, drying himself off with a towel that seems even whiter and fluffier than ever. He dresses in the simple, civilian clothes that Carla has left folded on the toilet seat, before opening the door. Jess is sat there, looking up at him.

They don't talk for a moment, just watching each other, almost warily. 'Mommy's making a picnic,' she says finally, climbing to her feet. 'We're going to the zoo. Mommy always lets me feed the animals in the pen.'

Poke gives her a smile, watching as she turns and disappears downstairs. He moves into the bedroom, appraising himself in the full length mirror. He can swear there's still dirt on his face, but when he rubs at it there's nothing really there. Then, he pulls on his trainers and heads downstairs.

The zoo is packed. Poke doesn't like it. It's crowded and claustrophobic and several times he mistakes people for soldiers who they are not.

'Hey, dawg,' he yells. 'Lilley!' But, the man with the camcorder isn't his driver and his smile fades. Jessie frowns up at him for a moment, before skipping ahead with her grandmother.

Carla just squeezes his hand reassuringly and follows. By midday, Poke finds himself alone with Jess beside the animal-pen. She's stood on the gate and he worries she will fall, but she seems perfectly balanced as she leans over to feed the goats that crowd.

'What's it like to shoot somebody?' she asks, out of the blue. Poke frowns for a moment, watching her out the corner of his eye.

'Well, it's scary, dawg...' he clears his throat. 'Jess.'

'Did you kill anybody?' She throws the rest of the food into the pen, before turning to sit on the gate, watching him with her dark eyes. Poke sighs.

'A lot of people,' Poke says, knowing there was no point pussyfooting around the subject. 'But, I only did what I had to do, baby girl. Its war and we have to fight for what's right.' He looks up at her and Jess looks back.

'Miss Maw said the war should be stopped. She told us about marches she goes on. She makes us write letters to the Army and sign petitions about why it should be stopped. There was one time I overheard her talking to Mr Dawson about the war and about baby killers and how much she hates soldiers.' Jess suddenly flushes, going quiet as if in fear of saying too much. Poke feels anger inside and it flares. He grits his teeth, exhaling through his nose, calming himself.

'It's what I was trained to do. Some people don't understand; the protesters. I'm not defending the war, because it was fucked up in its own right, but sometimes we have no choice. Don't listen to what she said about the soldiers.' Poke looks away into the distance. 'We're brothers, dawg. They don't know what it's like to be sat in a hole in the ground, the sweat freezing on our bodies at night, just to drench us during the day. They don't know what it's like to have a mouthful of sand when ducking from enemy fire. They think they're doing things right, sat in their offices and classroom, but they fuck it up even more, dawg. It would be better if we had their support, Jess. Instead of them bitching and moaning about it. This really is a white man's war.'

It goes quiet after his angered outburst. Jess is looking away now, frowning across at the elephant house. 'That's what I said.'

'What?' frowns Poke.

'That's what I told Miss Maw. Mommy would never read the full letter to me when you sent them. So at night, I'd sneak into her jewellery box and read them for myself. Anyway, when Miss was having one of her rants, I told her about you being in the war.'

Poke felt the laugh bubble on his lips as he straightened up.

'She sent me out,' Jess said. 'And she rang Mommy.' Poke smiles, shaking his head as he lifts her off the gate.

'I love you, Jess. You know that, right?' Jess gives him his first big smile.

'I love you too, Dad.'