From All Around You.
I will protect from all around you,
I will be here dont you cry.
For one so small, you seem so strong.
"You'll Be in My Heart", Phil Collins.
The kid looked like shit. Not even shit warmed over. No, she looked simply shitty, her long blonde hair over her shoulder in a messy braid, her stomach wider than the last time he had seen her two months ago, but seeing how she was sitting as if trying to touch her own body as little as possible, Kincaid was kind of sure that it was despite her.
Of course, the bandages wrapped around her wrists suggested as much. He let his boot kick against the door a little, his one concession not to scare the Archive, but she didn't really turn to look at him.
"Thank you for coming," she said, her eyes still outside. The previous Archive - Margaret, her name had been - had hired him a few times to take care of her daughter, always a time by time thing, never extending his contract to more than a month. He could remember how the girl had been nine months ago, before her mom's death, so annoyingly bright and happy, making plans a mile an hour, so happy and in love, planning her wedding.
He didn't really miss that girl - he had hardly known her - but he thought that the change into this bitter young woman was ugly anyway.
He shrugged her greetings off. "You said you had a job for me, I got the time. So, what's the job?"
"I'm hiring you as a bodyguard for the Archive," the girl said, standing up. There's something fucked up with her eyes, he thinks. He frowns a bit, but he shrugs.
"Sure, no problem. How long?"
"Five years at first," she says and that's kind of the longest he has had a contract since the old days. Kincaid dislikes staying in one place for that long, seeing how fast humans change. "You'll be paid in advance, of course. I've already made the transference of your going rates as well as the extra for the yearly increase."
"Are you worried someone's gonna attempt something against you?" he asks. That'd be something the council would have to deal with, and he would be exempt of having to babysit a teenager. There's something odd with her heart, too. It's going too slowly, and the haze in her eyes...
She smiles, humorlessly. "Not against me," she says, but then she's falling down, Kincaid barely catching her before he's screaming at her fucking maid to call the hospital because the Archive just killed herself.
The new Archive spends two weeks at the hospital on the brink of almost dying, since all the pills the old Archive - Eliza, her name had been Eliza- took almost managed to kill her too. But the two of them remain alive: Eliza in a coma she won't wake up from and the new born Archive - with no other name to go with - there, tiny and born six weeks before she was due and she's barely forty-five centimeters tall and she's already the most knowledgeable human being in the world. Kincaid wouldn't blame her at all if she decided to die herself, even if that would end up shitting up the magical world everywhere.
But the baby survives, which means that Kincaid has a job for five years. No-one is happy about that, much lest him, but still, a job is a job and he was paid. So once Listens-To-Wind says that the baby is fine, Kincaid takes her to England, to the blandest, least magical community he can find. He hires a nanny, pretends to be a grieving father and pretty much ignores the baby for the whole fifteen months it takes for her to start speaking.
Kincaid is sure that she's the only baby who has ever said "Stop smoking" as her first words. And that's how Kincaid stops smoking, because apparently - she would write this for him - the cigarette's smoke was completely detrimental for a baby's proper growth.
After that, Kincaid fires her nanny and they move towards Switzerland. He hires a cook and a maid - he can survive with burgers, but he knows enough about babies to know that they can't - and while they're in the house the girl behaves like a baby would. Or rather, how she thinks a baby would. It's the creepiest thing Kincaid has seen, the way those ancient, knowing eyes are sometimes eerily quiet until she seems to remember how to act.
The first maid lasts two months. The second one. After the third maid - three and a half months - Kincaid sucks it up and learns how to change a diaper.
The toddler-Archive giggles at him.
"Oh, shut up," he tells her.
When she's two years old, she can 'talk'. Her lack of teeth still make her words garbled, but little by little she learns, and Kincaid translates for others when the Archive's judgment is needed. By three the young Archive is coordinated enough that she has started teaching herself how to write. When her tiny hand can't hold properly pens and pencils, Kincaid, as a joke, buys her a set of crayons. The joke's on him since the Archive's face is actually childish as she squeals in delight, grabbing a Bubblegum Pink crayon so she can stamp her signature there.
Second creepiest thing he has ever seen.
When she's four, he approaches her, telling her he has an offer for a job.
"It'd take me the weekend mostly," he says, shrugging. "I'll be back by Monday night."
"Alright," the little girl says. Kincaid tells himself that he's really, really growing fucking soft when he makes the mental note that she needs to get a haircut soon. The Archive kicks her legs a little, a book that weights half of what she does on her lap. "Enjoy your weekend, Kincaid."
He does enjoy killing his mark, in the dark, satisfied way that a job well done has always filled him with, but fuck if he's not worried about the little brat, even though he knows that, if she wanted, she could very well kill him with her mind.
Kincaid brings her a stuffed animal he bought at the airport. It had been just an afterthought, nothing but an impulse: he had paused to buy a book to read in the longass flight from New York to Hamburg and he had seen a kid about the Archive's age whining about wanting a toy. So he had bought it, thinking that the brat would get a good laugh at him for being weird: the Archive often looked at him the way, Kincaid thought, you looked at a favorite pet.
Instead, the girl gets all quiet like, taking the toy with careful, almost reverent hands.
"... for me? Really?" she asks, her eyes blue and wide on his. She looks very much the picture of the little girl she should be. The little girl she can't be.
Kincaid can't really believe he missed something so obvious. He snorts, a bit awkward, more than he'd ever like or will admit.
"You see any other midget 'round here?" he asks her, shrugging, picking up his bag. "I'm going for a nap. Jetlag's a bitch."
"That kind of language is improper around young, impressionable children," the Archive says. Her voice is still trembling a bit.
"Whatever," Kincaid tells her. When he glances back, he sees that she's still holding the stuffed toy, hiding her face against its fur.
From then on, whenever he comes back, he brings her a toy.
The Archive formally summons him when they're having supper. Kincaid raises an eyebrow towards her.
"And you can't tell me now? We're already face to face, brat."
"It would be better if we did this formally," she announces. She finishes her meal - if Kincaid asks, he's sure she'd tell him the exact number of vitamins and proteins she required, and he made the mental note to bring her a burger next time he went out on his own - and tells him that she will be in her office.
Kincaid shrugs, knowing better than to attempting to change her mind, because she can be even more stubborn than him. He still takes his sweet time before he follows.
Her office is, actually, a office. There's thousands of books she won't ever read because she already knows every single word on them, and only one photography of her grandmother and her mother, taken, Kincaid remembers, a year before her grandmother died. Kincaid doesn't miss people much, but with the two former Archives it's there, a little, mostly when he sees towards the tiny Archive that's not even a meter tall, who has to sit on encyclopedias to be able to see him from the other side of her desk.
"Thank you, Kincaid," she tells him formally. There's a faint lisp that he knows annoys her: she just lost her front tooth. "Please, sit down."
"If you want to give me a raise, I don't need all the ceremony," he tells her.
For a moment, he thinks she's going to smile, but then she links her small hands, looking at him seriously.
"As you might remember, I turned five last week."
He does remember. He had gone to the place where Margaret's tomb was, leaving her flowers before he went to the hospital where Eliza is still alive, taking some flowers with him. He hadn't attempted talking with her, knowing that her body is nothing but an empty shell waiting until it finally gives up, but he had sat with Eliza for a moments before he left. Ivy had gotten a panda teddy bear and Kincaid had ignored her protests about her sugar intake and had given her a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream on top.
The Archive takes a deep breath. "Your contract ended a week ago. As of now, you're not being paid for being my bodyguard."
He hears what she's not saying. That if he wants, he can go. And Kincaid actually does think about it for a moment. Not having a routine again. Smoking. The freedom to take on jobs that would take for fucking ever and not worry that he was leaving the squirt on her own for too long.
... leaving the midget on her own.
Kincaid would never, ever, under pain or torture, admit that the thought of leaving the kid to fend on her own kind of makes him sick. It's not like she needs him, he tells himself. While at five the Archive is still growing into her powers, she's stronger than almost anyone, and the council would give her bodyguards to take care of the minor needs she still has.
The kid's not looking at him, though. Her eyes are set on the desk, her hands still linked, her expression completely blank and professional. And Kincaid can bet a whole year's salary that there's a slight redness to her eyes that, he also knows, the Archive would deny with a hand on the Bible.
"Then make a new one and add this week to it," Kincaid says, shrugging. "'though I want a fifteen percent raise. And free weekends."
"Ten percent," the girl says after a brief, almost not there pause, but the 'almost' tells Kincaid everything he needs to know. "And you get a weekend a month free."
"Twelve percent, and two weekends a month."
"Deal," the Archive says. She doesn't offer him her hand to shake, but she's giving him her actual, honest smile, and Kincaid would have to be blind not to see the relief in her eyes, so he grins back at her.
And then, as he goes out of her office, he casually mentions having brought cookies, more amused than he ought too when his boss pushes him aside to run towards the kitchen, as if she could win him like that.
He still lets her win.