"Hal," Annie said pointedly. He scowled at her, holding Eve away from him. Eve squirmed pitifully.

"What? What am I doing wrong?"

"Well, for one thing, she's a baby, not a bomb." Annie sighed. "You're holding her like she's going to explode or something." Hal glared at her, hands hooked securely under Eve's arms.

"You're quite comfortable, aren't you?" he asked the baby. Eve blinked back at him balefully. "See?" he demanded loftily. "She is perfectly fine."

"She's a perfect saint, more like," Annie muttered. She stepped over one of Eve's discarded toys, putting a hand on Hal's arm. He stiffened, glaring at her. "Oh, for heaven's sake," she snapped, losing her patience. "Stop jumping every time someone touches you ! That's part of the problem, you know. You don't want her near your skin." Hal's forearm tensed under her fingers.

"No, I don't," he said very slowly and clearly. "It's dangerous." Annie froze, hand still on his arm. How lethal were those muscles strained taut beneath her palm, how graceful in their capacity to rip, to tear, to kill -

But then she looked at Hal, at Hal, and in all her life, she had never seen such sadness before.

Very deliberately, she forced herself to relax.

"I don't believe that," she said calmly after a beat. "I don't believe that for a moment." Hal stared at her, still as a statue, eyes round and oddly vulnerable. "Now," Annie said cautiously, placing her other hand on his, "put her over your shoulder." Hal's mouth twitched; he looked as if he were going to bolt.

"Annie - "

"Over your shoulder," Annie repeated sharply in a voice that brooked no argument, and he obeyed gingerly. "Now put one hand over her head - yes, exactly like that - and use your other arm to support her back." Eve regarded Hal intently, unusually still. "And slide this arm - " she said quietly, guiding him with her hand. "There." She smiled at him. For a moment he stared at the baby in his arms, nestled at his chest, utterly amazed. Then he beamed back at her, a sudden, boyish smile, giddy and sweet and surprised. He looked back down at Eve, who blew a bubble at him.

"Are you…more comfortable?" he asked her. Eve sneezed. "I'll take that as a yes," he murmured, raising his eyebrows at her. He grinned at Annie, who laughed.

"I think we'll try bouncing next," she said happily. Hal's face dropped. Then, disbelievingly, haltingly:

"Bouncing?"