um, if i'd come back to the conscious plane with a flippin' aura only to find my sort-of-baby being held at knife point by my crush who turned out to be a total psychopath, i'd need a long, hot bath and the BBC pride and prejudice to de-stress. just saying.

XXX

"Annie?"

Hal peeked into her room. Empty. He frowned.

"Annie? Annie, where are you?"

A creak from above his head. Of course. The baby's room.

He jogged up the stairs, coming to a stop at the closed door. He paused a moment before knocking, to which the only reply was a very wet sniffle and Eve's gurgle. Hal winced.

"Come in. But try to keep quiet, I've only just got her calmed down," Annie's voice said miserably. She sounded as if she had a bad head cold…or as if she'd been crying all evening. Hal eased into the room. Annie was sitting in the chair next to the crib, despondent and very damp. He walked forward, then stopped, unsure.

"Ah, Tom was wondering - "

Annie burst into tears. Hal felt his face drain.

"Er - "

"We forgot his birthday!" Annie wailed. Eve made a restless noise in a crib. Hal made a face, then held out his hand. Annie stared at it, eyes filling and spilling over.

"Well, come here," Hal muttered, embarrassed. She took his hand with a glance at Eve, who yawned and blinked sleepily at her. Hal pulled her out of the room and down to the hall.

"Hal, we forgot his birthday," Annie repeated as they came to a stop, Hal dropping her hand hastily. "His twenty-first birthday! And I - I fussed at him, and bullied him, and - oh, it was his birthday!"

"In my defense, I didn't know it was his birthday until about thirty minutes ago - "

With a build up worthy of Eve at her worst, Annie took an enormous, shuddering breath and howled.

" - but, but I mean - " Hal backtracked wildly, feeling distinctly out of his league. He grasped frantically at something, anything to say and to his disbelieving horror, found himself blurting out the first thing that came to mind:

"We could always make a birthday rota?"

"Oh, Hal!" Annie threw herself into his arms, crying in horrible, heaving gulps. Hal froze.

"Ah, Annie…," he said helplessly. "Er…there, there…"

"Wos the matter wiv Annie?" Tom poked his head around the corner, bemused.

Annie glanced up at Tom tearfully, then burst into fresh sobs, burrowing her head further in Hal's chest. His shirt growing steadily wetter, Hal shot a help me look at Tom, who surveyed the scene with mild alarm.

"She's a tad upset we missed your birthday," Hal explained tentatively while Annie bawled. Tom's eyebrows drew together.

"Aw, Annie," he said solemnly. ""S all right. I've never had a birthday party anyway." There was a shivering pause in which Hal felt marginally hopeful that all waterworks would be done for the evening.

And then Annie, sobbing anew, launched herself into Tom's arms.

"Oh, Tom, I'm so sorry!" she wailed. Tom's eyes widened in panic.

"No, really, Annie, 's not a big deal or anythin' - "

"Of course it's a big deal!" Annie cried indignantly. Tom shrugged evasively, holding out his arms uncertainly, his shoulders gradually migrating to his ears. He resembled, Hal thought, a rather worried penguin.

"Well, there's always nex' year, righ'?"

Annie sniffed. Tom gave her a light squeeze, then extricated himself from her grip.

"I'll, uh, I'll go check on the baby," he said awkwardly, edging out. Hal and Annie watched him go, Hal darting a quick glance to make sure Annie wasn't going to return to clinging to him now that no one else remained. But she stood still, looking quite lonely, arms wrapped around herself tightly, protectively.

"Why don't you go downstairs and bake a cake?" Hal suggested after a moment. She jumped guiltily, as if she had forgotten he was there altogether. "Between Eve and I, I'm sure we could keep him busy until it's ready." Annie smiled, wiping her cheek with her sleeve.

"Yes, of course," she said quickly. "How silly of me - blubbering on like this when - " She flapped her hand vaguely, smile flickering on and off, on and off. "Yes," she said after a moment. "Cake. Yes." She nodded firmly, then started off.

"Annie," Hal called suddenly, impulsively. She stopped, looking at him expectantly. "We won't leave you," he managed, painfully grasping his hands behind his back and studying the floor. It was a nice floor, as floors went.

"What?" Annie asked. He glanced up at her and immediately wished he hadn't.

"We…er…we…" He dwindled off. You. Are. Ridiculous. Annie was still looking at him, fiddling with her ring and itching to go, but patiently waiting for him to unravel his tongue. "Don't forget candles," he managed, once more ducking his head to study the floor. "He really wants candles." He cleared his throat, nodding at her, even - much to his surprise - giving her a brief smile. She smiled back - a real one this time, one that made her eyes crinkle at the corners.

"Thank you, Hal," she said quietly. "I won't forget."