“I got him.” Mick took half a step back from the reaching hands, tightening his arms reflexively.
And immediately wished he hadn’t.
Smudge (kid clearly wasn’t a Leonard) was definitely getting kind of squishy in the diaper area and squeezing did nothing for the smell.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Mary (because of course the weird English nanny would be called Mary) turned towards the blonde babysitter. “Sara, dear-”
Sara shook her head. “Don’t look at me, it’s not like I know him. Either of them,” she amended, then considered the assorted babies in the nursery. “Any of them, actually.”
Mary folded her arms. “Michael Rory, have you ever changed a nappy in your life?”
“Yes.” He leaned toward Sara. “What’s a nappy?”
“It’s a diaper,” she whispered back.
“Okay, no,” he admitted, straightening. “Bet it isn’t hard, though.”
“Very well, have at.” Mary lowered the bar on Jax’s crib, crooning under her breath as she picked him up. “But do try not to drop him.”
Mick eyed the changing table, then Sara, then Smudge, then Sara again. “Fine,” he said. “You do it.”
“Oh no. No way.” She shook her head firmly. “He’s your future criminal partner, not mine. He is really cute, though. Yes he is .”
“Hey, stop tickling my partner!” Mick backed up again; Smudge huffed happily. Little traitor. “You won’t change him, you can’t tickle him.”
“Look here, at what I’m doing,” Mary interrupted as she lay Jax on the changing table. Jax looked around curiously, but calmly. “We have wipes, we have cream, we have nappies. Or diapers, if you like. We put the clean nappy here , we open the dirty nappy, we lift the ankles and we clean like so.”
Mick wrinkled his nose.
“What,” Sara teased. “You scared of a little-”
“I’m not scared of anything,” he said quickly. On the other hand, being grossed out wasn’t the same as being scared. “You change him and I’ll feed him,” he bargained.
“Nope.” Sara popped the ‘p’ with a grin.
Mary cleared her throat meaningfully. “Michael, are we paying attention?”
Mick was kind of horrified to find the answer was, mostly, yes.
“It’s not too late,” she said, not unkindly, after a moment. ”Pass him over and I’ll do it.”
He shook his head and, grimly, stepped forward as she put Jax back in his crib. “I got it,” he said again.
Mick did not have it.
“I only put him down!”
Red-faced and screaming furiously was not a good start.
“I guess he didn’t want to be put down,” Sara said unhelpfully, still grinning like this was more entertainment than she’d had in a year.
“I can’t change him and hold him,” Mick grumbled, then grunted as Smudge’s flailing feet somehow caught him in the ear.
“Well, he doesn’t know that,” Mary said briskly, like someone who didn’t have a baby trying to murder them. “Quickly, now. Off with the babygrow-”
“Romper suit-” Sara translated, still looking way too amused.
“- and pop him back down.”
Mick hesitated. “Should he be making that noise?”
He hadn’t been there to see Marty being changed, having taken Smudge and himself on a tour of the garden (specifically, any exits it might have if they had to leave in a hurry.) But the Littlest Professor looked pretty happy - smug, even - so it had probably gone okay. Besides, Mick doubted he’d even be capable of the whining, gurgling, hacking sound that Smudge was making.
Jax, it turned out, was some kind of catalogue model baby. One that cooed and gurgled and giggled and practically put on his own diaper.
Smudge, it turned out, was the antichrist.
“Oh.” Mary dabbed ineffectively at his shoulder. “Well, we’ll wash that off when we’re done.”
That was the least of Mick’s concern. “He puked green, that’s not right, right? Is he okay? Does he need a hospital? He needs a hospital - call nine-one-one.”
“He’s barely two days old,” Mary soothed. “Things take a little while to sort themselves out. He’s fine. Now, you’ll want to put a cloth over his- ah. Never mind.”
Seriously, if Sara didn’t stop laughing...
“Did you really lose your whole family just, just a day ago?”
Sara was staring at him, Jax gurgling happily to himself in her arms. Smudge, in Mick’s, waved his fists, mouth opening and closing as he struggled towards Mick’s throat. Kid couldn’t have teeth yet, right? Definitely not rabies, anyway.
“Our house caught fire,” he said after a moment. Because that was somewhere else - someone else - and it took a moment to catch up.
“Do you - I don’t know what -” Sara’s expression shifted in ways Mick couldn’t follow, but she was sad, he thought. Concerned. Guilty?
“It was my fault,” he confessed, just so it stopped. “The other guy, the one who said he was me, said it wasn’t. But I lit the match. I didn’t tell them to get out. It burned so fast and it was so … “ His eyes strayed to the unlit fireplace.
So scary. And so damn beautiful.
Sara’s gaze followed behind; her eyes narrowed. “So, you’re some kind of … pyro?” She was frowning in confusion: wary, but not quite judgemental - not yet. Just waiting to be told why it was okay.
Only it was Mick’s fault, whatever the other guy had said, and it wasn’t okay.
“I like fire,” he said, helplessly. Then grit his teeth and scowled and, for the first time, Smudge lay easy. “Maybe they deserved it, you don’t know me.”
Sara’s head tilted to the side. “Did they?”
He thought about it. They’d probably never even woke up. Easier than some of the ways he’d imagined taking them out.
“Yes,” he said. Then, “no,” but wasn’t sure why.
Sara pursed her lips, then shook her head. “They left you here, I guess that means they don’t think you’ll kill us too. Will you?”
She looked pissed, but not scared.
“No.” He turned his back on the fireplace as Mary walked in, two warm bottles of milk in hand.
Mary smiled. “And here we are.”
Mick watched as Sara shuffled the pliant Jax in her arms, squeezed a couple of drops of milk onto her wrist and then began to feed the happy baby the bottle.
He could do this.
For an old lady, Mary could move.
“Perhaps,” she said, both hands under the sliding, squalling, baby, “I’ll take him while you test the temperature?”
“I got him.” Mick shuffled baby and bottle again, this time managing to wedge an outraged Smudge securely into the crook of his arm before testing for heat.
That, at least, he should have down.
Smudge stared warily and clamped his mouth shut when the rubber nipple hit his lips.
“You’re hungry,” Mick said. “So eat something.”
The wary look deepend into dark suspicion.
“Fine,” Mick said. “I’ll have it.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it-” Mary started, but Mick was already pulling the bottle away. On cue, Smudge opened his mouth to wail.
“Hah!” Mick jammed the bottle in quickly. “I win!”
Sara blinked. “Did you seriously just celebrate outwitting a baby?”
Mick shrugged, humble in victory, as Smudge grudgingly sucked. Tiny fingers curled into tiny fists as he glowered over the bottle. Probably planning payback.
Mick’s kind of kid.
“Seriously,” Sara said, without any trace of a smile. “You can’t take your eyes off him for a single second.”
“No one can drown in a single second,” Mick snapped, and spent the next quarter hour trying to not even blink.
“He doesn’t want to sleep on his back.” Mick fussed with the light blankets under Mary’s direction, tucking too tight and then - apparently - not tight enough. “He keeps glaring at me.”
“He can’t even focus on you yet, Michael-”
“ - Mick. I assure you, it’s not personal. And I promise, he’ll be perfectly fine. You should come and have your supper.” She patted his shoulder absently. “Have a bit of a break while you can. If you insist on providing Leonard’s-”
“ - care, then you’ll need all the rest you can get.”
“Babies sleep, right?” He watched as she walked a circuit around the nursery, checking the windows and doors, like he hadn’t already done it three times.
“And then they wake up,” she said, pulling on a window latch. “With alarming regularity and usually wanting something doing at one end or the other.”
She drew next to him again, rested her hand lightly on his shoulder. “If you find yourself at a loose end, we have a library. And there’s the garage - usually something in there to fiddle around with if you like engines. Or you could explore the grounds again. Perhaps you’d like to cut some wood for the fire. You’re welcome to light it, if the urge strikes.”
Her tone didn’t change and neither did her expression.
“They told you,” he said flatly, and drew away. She let him go.
“Of course. And there are two things you need to know. The first is that, despite your older self’s concerns, there is absolutely no way you can hurt anyone here with a moment of … shall we call it distraction?
“I have protected these children from things you cannot possibly imagine - I can certainly protect them from an errant match.”
“What’s the second thing?”
“Your ‘partner’ is asleep.” Mary nodded to Smudge’s crib. “It seems he’s forgiven you.”
Mick smirked despite himself and edged back. He looked down at the little shape, with a beanie on its head and fingers twitching and grasping as he dreamed. Probably about stealing stuff.
On impulse, Mick put his hand down and let a little fist close, vice like, around his index finger.
“He’s pretty strong,” he breathed.
“Children are, I’ve found.” Mary’s gaze strayed beyond the open door, to the hall, where Sara and a younger, floppy-haired kid were playing with some spinning thing. “Even when you might wish they didn’t have to be.”
Mick had the feeling this was outside his area, that she wasn’t really talking to him anyway.
“Food sounds good,” he said after a beat, prising himself from Smudge’s grip.
He got all the way to the ice-cream before Smudge started wailing, setting off Marty, who set off Jax.
It was okay, Mick told himself. When they were partners, he’d totally get his revenge.