Somehow a certain war mage finds himself pressganged into babysitting.
An interim event between EtN and CtD.
Characters and their world belong to Karen Chance.
"Here, hold this."
Before I could object a small, wriggling person was pressed upon me. A chubby pink face stared up at me in shock, blotched and rumpled from constant crying, but suddenly, blessedly silent.
"Oh my god, she stopped crying!" The child's mother, barely out of childhood herself, looked as if she were about to begin crying out of relief. "She's been teething for three days and I was ready to dose her with whiskey just to get some peace! Don't judge me, Cassie, you don't know how little sleep I've had."
At the far end of the table, Cassandra raised her hands defensively and beside her the boy, Jesse, scowled into his pudding, "Oh yes we do."
As the situation seemed to be well under control now and my ears were no longer ringing with the infant's wails, I attempted to pass her back to her mother, "Here then, take her back."
"Oh, I don't think so. I'm going to go sleep, and eat. And maybe take a bath…" The girl was gone a second later, leaving me with a child in my arms. A child who was currently fumbling at my potions belt. I quickly held her out arm's length from myself where she could do little damage and looked too around for someplace to put her.
"Don't look at me. She just cries when I try to hold her," Cassie laughed when I caught her eye.
I cast around looking for one of the fae to leave the girl with, but they all rushed about our small table looking harassed as it was and I doubted that the one who had cursed me would do me any favours now.
I was distracted for only a moment, but even with my reflexes I saw what was about to happen too late to react. One innocuous little hand reached for the mug of coffee I had just refilled and tipped it with a quiet trill of laughter. The hot liquid poured into my lap and it seemed to take all of my self-control to not use some very bad language in front of the children.
A barely suppressed giggle erupted from the end of the table. I could feel the scowl forming on my face as my eyes fell on her once again, an expression that felt more familiar the more time I spent with Ms. Palmer. Her hands were pressed over her mouth but her eyes were wide with the laughter she was attempting to restrain.
"If you are finished," I said shortly, "we should be going. You are five minutes late for our training session."
Her grin quickly turned to outrage, "How can I be late when you're sitting right there?"
"Where I am has little to do with it; you should be warming up right now."
"That's ridiculous. Besides, I don't see how you expect to do any training while you're on babysitting duty." She crossed her arms, possibly believing she had won the argument.
I stood, the infant in one arm, and wiped the spilled coffee from my lap. "You'll just have to run extra laps to make up for the loss of your training partner, then."
Out the corner of my eye I watched the baby as she played with some of the smaller exercise balls, surrounded by the padded mats, while I directed my other charge in her swordplay.
"Ouch! What the hell, Pritkin?"
"You were dropping your elbow again."
"And you couldn't have just said so? Why is your first instinct always to hit me with something?"
"It was only a practise sword. If you trained more, it wouldn't be an issue."
Cassie sat down against the wall, massaging her arm. "I can hardly breathe. I'm done. This was punishment for laughing at you earlier, wasn't it?"
"I don't know what you mean." I collected the practise swords and went to put them away in the equipment bag. Apparently tired of the balls Cassie had given her, the child had managed to dump half its contents onto the floor around her, along with my leather coat. At least I had had the sense to leave the potion bandolier in my room.
"What have you gotten into?" I had begun to pack everything back into the bag when I noticed that she seemed to be quite happily teething away on my coat sleeve. She stopped when she noticed me watching and gurgled, blowing a happy little spit bubble on her lips. I quickly freed the coat from her little fingers and wiped away the spit and discovered somehow, somehow, a hole above the cuff where she had been gnawing on it.
"Do you even have any teeth?"
Cassie walked up behind me just as the child began to cry as if I had taken away her only friend instead of my own property.
"What did you do to her?"
"She chewed a hole through the leather!"
She rolled her eyes and picked up the wailing infant, "She's just a baby, Pritkin. I can't believe you made her cry."
I pulled on the remains of my coat, grabbed the equipment bag and followed them from the room, wondering how I was suppose to manage an entire day with the child. I looked at the hole she had managed to gnaw through the leather and scowled.
Perhaps she was evil. I could deal with evil. With that comforting thought I nearly knocked the two of them over. Cassie was stopped in the middle of the hall, staring at her wrist. "Is that the time?"
I checked my own watch, "It's half-past two. Why?"
"Oh crap, I have a fitting with Augustine! If I'm late, he'll probably refuse to sell me anything, and then Sal will get into it with him… I gotta run." Once again the baby was pressed into my arms.
"Wait, what am I supposed to do with this?"
"She's a little girl, Pritkin, not a 'this'. Look after her."
Something about my expression seemed to stop her from running off immediately. Perhaps the terror at the idea of being left along with the child.
"I- I do not have much experience with children."
"Oh, yeah, that's not obvious," she smiled wryly, "You'll be fine. Heck, she probably won't be any harder to take care of than me."
"Somehow that isn't reassuring."
With a shrug she vanished down the hall and left me wondering what one does with children.
There were many things I could normally be doing, none of which seemed feasible with a child in tow. We had already discovered she had an unhealthy fascination with my potions and it was probably too much to ask that she could be in the same room as I mixed them without something exploding or melting. It was probably a safe bet that she should be kept away from my guns as well.
In general, I thought it would be best if we just avoided my room entirely.
For a while I wandered aimlessly around Dante's, at a loss for something to do with a child. A casino is not generally a place you would consider family-oriented. As it turns out, Dante's has a daycare.
I happily signed her into the care of a teenage girl who was more qualified than myself, decently sure that she was fully human and no harm would come to the girl. She began to fuss again as I left the room, but for the next couple of hours, that was not longer my problem.
I decided my first priority was a shower, but just as the hot water was beginning to work some of the tension out of my shoulders, the room phone rang. I almost let it go, but something told me I couldn't avoid it.
The voice on the other end sounded nervous when I answered, "Uhm, yes, hello sir. This is the Little Hellions Daycare facility downstairs. We- we were just wondering if you had picked up your little girl early?"
I pinched the bridge of my nose, attempting to calm myself down, "Are you telling me you lost her?" I managed not to yell the words, but her voice trembled even harder as she tried to explain a convoluted story that really meant nothing to me except that somehow a child not even capable of walking yet had managed to escape her. I only stayed on the line long enough to find out how long she had been missing.
I worked my way out from the daycare, checking every space small enough for the girl to be hiding herself in. When I arrived at the daycare, I had been assured it was impossible that she had been taken since they had an entire ward system set up to prevent such a thing. I believe this was intended to be encouraging. Theoretically this meant she could only have gotten as far as her inchworm crawling could have taken her. In practice, she was nowhere to be found.
As I made my way into the casino proper, I found myself wondering how attached her mother was to her when I heard it. Soft, infantile laughter to my right. I listened closely, walking in that direction. Most of the tables were crowed with people, obscuring my view beneath the where she might be hiding.
Another giggle came, from nearer the bar now. I honestly believe she was taunting me. I stopped where I was for a moment but nothing else came to me. I made my way further into the casino and waited for it, that quiet trill of laughter. Evil laughter.
I turned down a row of slot machines in time to see a very drunk, middle aged man jump up from his stupor as coins spilled onto the ground. And dangling from his arm was the cherub-faced demon I had been searching for. She laughed excitedly when she caught sight of me and slapped her hands gleefully against the piles of coins when he put her down on the floor.
I could almost feel the vein in my jaw twitching. I grabbed her up from the floor and wasted no time leaving, ignoring the man as he asked where I was going with his good luck charm.
An old woman paused in her gambling to coo over the child, "Oh what a sweetheart, is she your daughter?" "No."
She stared up at me with shocked eyes and I realized that perhaps the blunt 'no' didn't sit too well with the image of a man rushing through the casino with a little girl, but I was too preoccupied to care about what perversions were running through her mind at the moment. However just then, as if on cue, the child began to twist and squirm in my arms, tears embellishing her cheeks and screeching at some imaginary torment.
The old woman's jaw dropped and she scurried off down the row of slot machines. No doubt she meant to alert security that a depraved man in a trench coat was running off with somebody's child. I quickly made my way to the exit hoping to avoid more attention, but no sooner did we loose sight of the woman than the child ceased, only snuffling slightly as she buried her face in my shoulder.
This only confirmed my belief that the she was pure evil. And I believed I knew what had to be done.
Only one person had reason to knock on my door, but all the same I checked my holsters before I opened it. Standing arms crossed before me, she somehow managed to look small, in need of protection and all-knowingly magnanimous all at once.
"I'm taking pity on you; if you want me to take her, I'll baby sit until Astrid is ready to take her back."
"No need. I have the situation under control."
A pale blonde eyebrow shot up sceptically and she leaned in, close enough I could smell the strawberry scent of shampoo in her hair, "Why is it so quiet in here?" I didn't say anything, just relaxed against the door frame and listened to the silence.
"Oh my god, what did you do?"
I smirked at her expression, "I put her down."
Her face blanched and she pushed past me into the small room.
"Oh, Pritkin." She'd stopped not three steps in, colour slowly returning to her cheeks. I glanced past her to the small form on the rug, half asleep and grasping at the small lights I'd set dancing above her.
"I told you, I put her down for a nap."
A/N: Does anybody know if the baby was given a name in either of the books so far? I couldn't find one, but I also didn't want to just name her. Hopefully the verbal awkwardness there just translates into Pritkin's awkwardness ;)