Chapter 1: Junior Detective
Skulduggery meets a baby.
Gordon answered the sharp knock on the door to reveal a mildly irritated Skulduggery.
"What, exactly, is so urgent that it required you to pull me away from my important work?" he said in lieu of a greeting.
"Oh, get off your high horse. I know you were organizing your hat room."
"Like I said. Important work," Skulduggery said testily, stepping past Gordon into the house. "Now what, may I ask, is the emer-" He stopped short when a little girl, no more than two years old, giggled at him from where she sat on the floor.
"My neice," Gordon explained, wringing his hands helplessly. "Her parents asked me to look after her for the day, but... I don't know the first thing about children."
"And I was your go-to for babysitting advice?" Skulduggery said with an implied eyebrow raise.
"Well, I figured since you used to be, uh... you know more than I do," Gordon stammered. Skulduggery glanced at him, but let it slide. Gordon was a good friend, and therefore allowed to get away with the occasional awkward reference to Skulduggery's dead family.
The baby whined, obviously annoyed at being ignored. Gordon moved to pick her up, but Skulduggery beat him to it, sweeping the girl off the ground and into the crook of his elbow.
"Hello there, young lady," he murmured. "What's your name?"
"Stef!" the girl said proudly.
"What's that you said? Skulduggery Junior? That's a nice name."
"Skul, that's not her name and you know it," Gordon said. Skulduggery's head twitched, as though he'd already forgotten Gordon was standing there.
"And yet, I think she likes it. Don't you, Skulduggery Junior?"
"Skul!" Stephanie burbled. She looked into his skeletal face with no fear or surprise, accepting him immediately and unconditionally as only children too young to know any better could.
"That's right, I'm Skul," he cooed. "You can call me Uncle Skul, if you want."
"Unc!" Stephanie pointed at Gordon.
"Yes, he's your uncle too. You're very smart, aren't you?" He looked up at Gordon. "Yes, I think she'll make an excellent detective," he said. "I'll start her training immediately."
"You most certainly will not!" Gordon said indignantly. "She's a baby. I just need you to, like, show me how to feed her and change her and, like, burp her? Do babies need burping?"
Skulduggery had already tuned Gordon out completely, his attention on the child exploring his nasal cavity with her tiny hand.
"Nonsense," he murmured to her. "You're going to make a great detective someday, aren't you? Almost as good as me, I daresay."
"Skul," Stephanie said again.
Chapter 2: Hat Wars
Skulduggery likes being a babysitter.
"Hair!" Stephanie had pulled off Skulduggery's wig, examining it intently.
"Yes, that's my hair. Actually, it's a wig," Skulduggery explained. "Also, please stop eating it. I need that."
Stephanie spat out a mouthful of frizzy hair, looking disgusted. "Gross."
Skulduggery plucked the soggy wig out of her hands. "Indeed."
He tossed the wig onto the coffee table. When he looked back at Stephanie, she had somehow gotten ahold of his hat.
"Hat!" she said proudly.
"No. Do not touch my hat." He swiped for it, but Stephanie leaned away, pushing against the cloth walls of her playpen.
"Hat!" she insisted, putting it on. It covered her entire face.
"Well, if you're going to ask so nicely... still no." Skulduggery tried to pry it off her head, but she clung to the hat for dear life.
"Give that back."
"No, it's mine."
"It's not yours. You can't have it."
Gordon re-entered the room, clearly stifling laughter. "Skul, you know you can't win an argument with a two-year-old, right?"
"She started it," Skulduggery insisted flatly.
"She's two. What's your excuse?" Gordon said. "Anyway, are you sure you don't mind staying here alone with her? I shouldn't be gone more than a couple of hours."
"Of course not," Skulduggery said smoothly. "Your niece is excellent company. She's smarter than a great many of my colleagues already."
Gordon cracked a grin. "Of course she is. She's related to me."
When Gordon returned home that evening, Stephanie was asleep in Skulduggery's arms. He paced slowly from one end of the living room to the other, singing to her in a soft tone. He didn't look up when Gordon entered the room.
"Skul," Gordon muttered. He still didn't react.
"Skul, her parents are home. We have to take Stephanie home now."
"Ehh, they won't miss her," Skulduggery said dismissively.
"Skul, you can't keep her. You'll see her tomorrow."
"She's already asleep," Skulduggery argued. "She'll cry if you wake her up."
"Skul, let go of the baby."
An extremely quiet and gentle tug-of-war ensued. Gordon tried to maneuver Stephanie out of Skulduggery's arms, and he kept shifting his hold to keep her away from him. Gordon sighed, giving Skulduggery a foot of space.
"You know her parents are expecting her," he said gently. "They're glad I've suddenly taken an interest in spending time with their daughter, but if they find out I've been handing her off to a stranger, I'll never be allowed to see her again."
"I know," Skulduggery said testily, but relinquished Stephanie to Gordon.
"I'll bring her back tomorrow," Gordon promised.
"I know," Skulduggery said again, softly.
Chapter 3: Multitasking
Skulduggery brings a baby to a crime scene.
Stephanie sat in her high chair at Skulduggery's house, painting her tray with French fries and ketchup. Skulduggery sat across from her, sending her sippy cup floating through the air and watching her laugh.
"Fairy!" she squealed.
"Technically, it's Elemental magic," Skulduggery lectured. "You need to learn the proper names for these things."
"You're mental!" Stephanie cheerfully corrected herself.
"You know what? Close enough." Skulduggery excused himself as his phone rang, leaving Stephanie trying to stuff her fries inside the sippy cup.
"Skulduggery," Mr. Bliss said urgently as soon as he picked up. "You need to come in immediately. Felix Fortune was just murdered outside his house. It needs to be cleaned up before the mortals notice, so you have fifteen minutes to get over here and investigate."
"Yes, well, I'm kind of in the middle of- hello?" Skulduggery huffed with annoyance, hanging the phone up against the wall and cutting off the dial tone.
"Out!" Stephanie demanded, hurling her cup at Skulduggery's head when he returned to the table. He dodged it neatly, lifting her out of her high chair and holding her on his hip.
"What am I going to do with you?" he mused aloud. "I don't have time to wait for Gordon, and I can hardly leave you alone. Hmm..." He absently wiped at her mouth with his handkerchief. "How would you like to go on a trip?"
The street was blocked with nondescript cars in an attempt to be inconspicuous. Mr. Bliss stood in the front yard of the victim's house, watching as Skulduggery pulled up with a screech of tires.
"This way," he barked as Skulduggery opened the door. "Fortune was killed over- wait, what are you doing?"
"Well, I can't just leave her in the car," Skulduggery said patronizingly as he opened the passenger door. "She'd get too hot. Worse, she'd get bored."
"Is- is that a baby?" Mr. Bliss looked as utterly bemused as if Skulduggery had emerged from the car wearing a tutu and announced his ambition to become a ballerina.
"Well, I was babysitting and you called on short notice," Skulduggery explained as he carried Stephanie's car seat to the backyard, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"You- you were- since when do you babysit? And whose baby is that?"
"This is hardly the thing to focus on, Mr. Bliss." Skulduggery snapped the fingers of his free hand. "We've got a body on our hands and only eight minutes to examine the crime scene."
"You can't bring a baby to a crime scene!" Mr. Bliss protested.
"It's fine, she's napping." Skulduggery shifted the handle of the baby seat to his elbow so he could start taking notes. The backyard was splattered with blood, strewn with so many body parts and miscellaneous chunks that it was difficult to believe it had only come from one person. "Oh, Mr. Fortune, it seems you were not so lucky today."
Still sputtering objections, Mr. Bliss called for the Cleavers to clean up the body and dispose of the evidence promptly at the end of the fifteen-minute time limit. Before heading to the Sanctuary to interrogate witnesses, Skulduggery swung by Gordon's house to return his niece to him.
"Thank you for letting me watch her all day," Skulduggery said warmly as he handed Stephanie off to Gordon.
"Thank you for taking her," Gordon replied. "She wasn't any trouble, was she?"
"No, of course not. We had a nice quiet afternoon together, didn't we, Stephanie?"
"Crime scene!" Stephanie giggled, waving bye-bye to Skulduggery.
"You little snitch," Skulduggery muttered as he shut the door on Gordon's exclamation and beat a hasty retreat.
Chapter 4: Consequences
As it turns out, babies are fragile.
Hey everyone! Guess who completely forgot about this fic?
I just read through all the wonderful comments everyone left me on the last chapter, and I just can't believe I'm lucky enough to have such encouraging readers.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The streetlights flashed past the car as Skulduggery drove down the highway, Stephanie sleeping peacefully in the back seat. Gordon was going to give him hell for bringing her home a full two hours past her bedtime, but that was hardly his main concern at the moment.
Skulduggery's foot pressed harder on the accelerator, the Bentley's engine revving smoothly as he attempted to outpace the car that followed him. A steep slope dropped sharply on his left side, the other driver's intention obviously to run him off the road.
Skulduggery shifted gears, flooring the gas pedal as the other car began to catch up with him. He caught a glimpse of the face behind the wheel, the driver's expression one of determination and hatred.
This was the kind of danger that Skulduggery dealt with every day. Ordinarily, he would laugh at such a feeble attempt on his life.
But Stephanie was in the car.
The other car pulled level with his. He was out of time.
In an instant, Skulduggery slammed on the brakes and the second car shot past him as the Bentley's tires skidded and fishtailed with a piercing screech. He yanked the wheel hard to one side and the car spun out, turning two complete revolutions before sliding to a stop facing the opposite way it had been.
Without a second's pause, Skulduggery wrenched the gearshift and stomped on the accelerator. With a painful grinding noise, the Bentley leaped back into motion and he was flying down the highway the way he had come. In the rearview mirror, he caught a glimpse of the other car attempting to recreate his move and spinning off the road into the darkness.
From the backseat, he heard Stephanie start to cry.
Skulduggery's answering machine beeped angrily. Its screen told him that he had eighteen new messages, all from Gordon.
"Hey Skul, I know you called it off tomorrow, so do you want to see her on Tuesday?"
"Are you on a big case? Call me back when you can."
"Steph's been asking about you. Her parents asked me if I knew why she keeps talking about skulls. They think I'm reading my books to her."
"Skul, is everything alright?"
Skulduggery deleted the messages without listening to the rest of them.
He was in his chair, attempting to meditate, when he was roused by an insistent knock at his door. The pounding continued until he reluctantly opened the door to reveal Gordon, fist raised to continue knocking, with a fussy Stephanie in one arm.
"Where the hell have you been?" Gordon demanded, shoving his way into the house. "Why haven't you called me back?"
Skulduggery adjusted his hat irritably. "I've been busy."
"Busy enough that you couldn't call? I thought you were dead!"
"I am dead."
Stephanie squirmed in Gordon's arms, reaching for Skulduggery. He made no move to take her from Gordon.
"Skul!" she whined.
"There was an... incident," Skulduggery finally said.
Gordon's heart stopped. "What happened? Was she hurt?"
"No. But she could have been, and she still could be. She's not safe with me. My lifestyle... it's no place for a baby."
Stephanie's cries increased to shrill wails as Skulduggery continued to refuse to hold her. Gordon bounced her in his arms, looking at Skulduggery imploringly.
"She misses you," he said softly.
"I'm sorry, Gordon. I can't."
Gordon sighed. "I understand. I'd never be able to forgive myself either if anything happened to her."
Stephanie continued to cry as Gordon turned to leave, then hesitated.
"Will you at least come by and visit her?" he asked. "I still don't know how to change a diaper."
"Of course I will," Skulduggery said as he opened the door for Gordon. "Bye-bye for now, Stephanie."
With that, he closed the door on the baby still crying his name.
OH NO ANGST
I will DEFINITELY write more for this, and soon. This is going to have a loose plot, but the sadness will be resolved!
Chapter 5: Home Invasion
Skulduggery abruptly returns.
I was bored and I already wrote chapters for my higher priority fics, so here we are. More mild baby-related angst!
As a writer with no set schedule, Gordon tended to keep odd hours. It wasn’t uncommon for him to stay up all night working on a troublesome chapter or losing himself in horror movies in the name of “research.”
Still, it was rather unusual for Skulduggery to receive a call from him at 3:15 in the morning. He pressed a button on the dash to connect the call to his car phone.
“Hello, Gordon,” he said amiably. “To what do I owe the-”
“Skulduggery,” Gordon’s voice was hushed and frantic. “Someone’s breaking into my house. I can hear them downstairs.”
There was a beat of silence. “Gordon, I’m not unsympathetic, but surely you can hide in your secret room and call the mortal police? They’re plenty capable of dealing with housebreaking.”
“Stephanie is here with me.”
The only sound on the other end was the screech of tires.
“Shh, Stephanie, there’s a quiet baby, there’s a very good girl who isn’t about to start crying and get us both killed,” Gordon cooed at the temperamental baby who looked like she was about to do just that. Like most two-year-olds, or anyone else for that matter, she did not appreciate being whisked from her crib at ass o’ clock and was very intent to vocalize her displeasure.
Unfortunately, a crying baby would almost certainly alert the intruder to their hiding spot in the concealed room where he kept his Echo Stone.
Speaking of which, Echo Gordon was not helping to reduce the racket.
“Surely you can give her a treat or something?” he hissed.
“Do you see any treats in here?” Gordon snapped back.
“What about her pacifier?”
“She won’t take it! Just shut up before he hears you!”
“You’re doing it wrong! Give her to me!” Echo Gordon held his arms out, as though he could interact with material objects.
“You can’t hold her, you’re not real!”
“That’s prejudice against intangible people and I don’t appreciate it,” Echo Gordon sniffed.
Their hushed argument was cut short by a crash from downstairs, followed by a scream and the sound of breaking glass. Gordon and Echo Gordon exchanged a worried glance, the real one holding Stephanie tightly against him as she continued to whine her displeasure.
An interminable tense silence passed, followed by a rhythmic knock at the secret door. Gordon shifted Stephanie to one arm and hurried to open the door. Skulduggery practically knocked him down as he pushed his way into the room.
“Where is she? Is she alright?” Gordon didn’t remember handing Stephanie off to him, but suddenly his arms were empty and Skulduggery was swaying the baby back and forth in his hold. Stephanie’s cries quieted immediately, the little traitor.
“I heard a lot of noise,” Gordon ventured hesitantly. “What happened to the burglar?”
Skulduggery didn’t look up from Stephanie. “Oh, off regretting many of his life choices, I expect,” he said softly to her. “Isn’t he? Oh yes, he is.”
Gordon heaved a sigh of relief. “I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “Truly, I- I don’t know what I would do with- I can’t-” the lump in his throat betrayed him and he couldn’t go on. Fortunately, Skulduggery seemed to understand.
“It’s hard to see a loved one in danger,” he murmured, still staring at the now-sleeping baby. It still didn’t feel like enough words to express what Gordon was feeling.
“I- I know your life is dangerous, and you have your reasons for staying away, but-”
Skulduggery held up one hand to silence him. “I’ll never be far.”