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open your heart (I'm coming home)

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"You can stay here as long as you need," the doctor tells John. Her face is kind.

It isn't hard to manufacture a smile, to tell her he has family picking him up. It's late at night, and even the ever-present murmur of the hospital has faded to almost nothing. A quiet day. Someone might call it auspicious, or else just lucky.

John lies back and waits for anaesthesia to kick in.

He stays awake for the surgery, topical anaesthesia and a carefully placed screen keeping him from seeing what the doctor is doing. He still feels something, dulled discomfort and pressure. He carefully thinks of nothing at all until the doctor says, "There we go," and then there is a thwack and a shrill, small scream.

The doctor places a squirming infant, still red with John's blood, in his arms. "She's a little small, but healthy," the doctor says. "Breathing like a champ."

John stares at the baby. He thinks he could learn from her example, right now.

Safe haven, he tries to think, but the concept runs away from him before John can mentally form the words. He'd had a picture of a nice house, a picket fence, a lawn, a happy couple who looks like the people in stock photos.

The doctor reaches for the baby. John recoils, his free arm reaching for his weapon.

"Mr. Smith," the doctor says, slowly raising her hands. "Please, I have to weigh her."

One finger at a time, John lets go.

"Normally we mandate a 48 hour stay at least," the doctor says once the baby is safe back in John's arms, "but the hospital has a rule about men in the maternity ward after 10PM. I could track down an administrator, if you're not absolutely certain you want to leave--"

"Oh, I am," John says. "I am."


He reconsiders this statement even as he descends to the ground floor. John hasn't prepared anything, not a single diaper or bottle of formula. They gave the baby a white cotton body suit with the hospital logo stamped on it, and a thin blanket, and that's it. It's January. John hadn't been planning to leave the hospital with a baby in tow.

Plans change, though, and John has always been good at rolling with the flow. He zips the baby up inside his jacket.

She's so small.

There's a shop on the hospital's bottom floor. John blindly tips a series of items into a basket, counts out crumpled dollar notes and realizes with a sinking feeling he doesn't have enough.

Then the baby starts crying.

It's a thin, miserable noise that grows stronger and stronger until the world feels like it falls apart. John feels like he's watching himself reach for his gun, aiming it at the clerk. The clerk is saying something that John can't parse, but it doesn't matter.


Silence makes him snap back to himself. He's back in his lodging, a little basement he'd found to squat in. It's not much, but it's warm. The baby is nestled in the crook of his arm, drinking lustily from a bottle of formula John doesn't remember preparing. When she finishes, John burps her and holds her until she falls asleep. John stays awake.

The creak of the opening door feels like something out of a dream, or a nightmare. Even more so when Harold comes in and closes it quietly behind him. The suit he's wearing is one John likes, with a dark red vest and a maroon pocket square.

"Harold," he says, voice mostly steady. "I messed up."

"I'd say you more than messed up." Harold's voice is strained, shaking. "You held up a store at gunpoint, John. And after taking so much care to avoid me for all these months, too." His eyes dart to the baby. "I suppose there was an urgent need. All right, first thing first, let's take this baby back--" he freezes, hands halfway outstretched towards the baby.

It takes John another second to notice that he's got his gun out, aimed at Harold, safety off. He doesn't shake, not holding a weapon: the army had beaten that out of him.

Harold's eyes are wide. When he speaks, his voice is very gentle. "John, do you think I would hurt this child?"

"No." John's gun doesn't waver.

Harold's mouth purses. "Her parents must miss her very much," he says, still in that same gentle tone.

Even John's surprised at the ugliness of the laughter that breaks free from his throat.

"John," Harold says, slowly, "where is this baby's mother?"

"You're looking at him," John says harshly.

"But that can't--" Harold shuts his mouth with a click. "Ryland."

They received Daniel Ryland's number close to a year ago, wasted three days staking him out before he collapsed right in front of John. They'd come too late: the pathological inquiry revealed that Ryland had died of complications from an ectopic pregnancy. "Chimera," the pathologist told Harold in his Mr. Crow alias. "Some of his cells were male, some female. So he had balls and ovaries, and he probably never even knew, the poor bastard."

At the time, John hadn't thought much about it. It had ended up being extremely pertinent information, as had the list Harold rounded up of doctors who were familiar with this condition. Fortunately, John had an excellent memory.

Harold is still processing. "So that means," he starts, and flushes. "Unless you've had other--"

"No," John says, suddenly sick of this exchange. "She's yours."

"To be more precise," Harold says, unbearably kind, "she's yours. I wouldn't take her away from you for the world."

Finally, John can make himself pull the safety on, put the gun back in his holster. His movements are halting, his every nerve screaming that danger is imminent, but he can do it.

"All right," Harold says. John can practically hear the thoughts running in Harold's head, a sound like rapid keyboard typing. "I'll have to arrange matters. If you...." He hesitates. His voice shakes ever so slightly when he continues. "Please stay here and keep her safe, Mr. Reese, while I see to the administrative necessities."

John knows he's being managed. But the baby is safe, and nobody is taking her away. Everything else can wait.