Series: Lies to Live By (link to “Partners”) -can be read separately-
Pairing/Characters: Implied Claude/Bennet, baby!Claire, Sandra/Bennet
Word count: 5.1k
Warnings/Spoilers: implied slash, less-than-legal adoptions, implied mistreatment of a child (canon), 1x17 and much of volume 2.
Written for: nina_ds in the Morally Grey November Exchange with the prompts: at least some of it to be set during their partnership, pre-shooting; foreshadowing; Claude complaining about American beer.
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring and NBC and their affiliates.
Summary: “According to the file, we’ve adopted a healthy little girl: approximately five months old, 17 lbs—”
AN: Heartfelt thanks to fantasticpants, who read at least five drafts of this story and asked the question “Why now?” without which this fic would never have come to be, and to indyhat, who provided both an excellent beta and inspiration.
“And I thought I was special. You’re invulnerable to harm.”
- Rodney Skinner (The Invisible Man), “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”
The airport wasn’t exactly crowded, but at a gate almost exclusively populated by tired men in drab suits, they were standing out far too much for Claude’s comfort. Not that they were dressed inappropriately (after all, they had had a meeting with Thompson and Nakamura to attend), but the flower-printed blankets and baby-bag just didn’t give off the same impression as a leather briefcase. Not to mention the fact that the baby had screamed for twenty minutes before they’d been able to figure out how to change her nappy.
The hardest part had been convincing Bennet of the fact that, just because only the women’s toilet was fitted with a changing table, that wasn't a sufficient deterrent to stop them using it. Claude figured Bennet’s impression of a new father at the end of his tether was good enough that no-one would care much. And if anyone did, the sight of two grown men fumbling over how to tie a nappy was probably too amusing for them to actually say anything.
And he’d always thought Three Men and a Baby was unrealistic.
Bennet looked like a strong wind could knock him over. Or possibly had knocked him over, repeatedly. He was staring vacantly out the window, apparently ignorant of the fact that his tie was crooked and his hair was sticking up in tufts. The source of his condition lay sleeping in Bennet’s arms. Arms Claude was sure were going to start cramping soon.
He rubbed his hands over his face tiredly and leaned back in the uncomfortable gate-chair, wishing for a footrest. Or at least a cushion.
“So what’re you goin’ to tell her?”
Bennet blinked, turning towards him with still-vacant eyes. “Who?”
Claude raised his eyebrows. “Sandra. You remember, the wife who’s going to be raising this kid with you?”
Bennet blinked again as this idea slowly processed and then glanced down at the child in his arms.
“Fuck.” He said eloquently.
“Oi!” Claude chided, grinning, “innocent ears can hear you, you know.”
Bennet glared at him balefully and Claude leaned forward, reaching out for the bundle of baby and blankets cradled against his partner’s chest.
“Why don’t you let me hold her for a bit? Get yourself a coffee, rejoin the land of the living. And then you c’n think about what to tell Sandra.”
The raw relief in Bennet’s expression made Claude think that the Company might have gone a little too far this time. Even finding themselves unexpectedly alive at the end of the day didn’t merit that much bare emotion.
He leaned closer, sliding out of his chair to improve his reach. The transfer was clumsy, Bennet’s arms tangling with Claude’s elbow and the end of the blanket, and when he finally held the warm little form safely in his arms, Claude was afraid to move. The tiny face wrinkled in a frown for a moment before settling back into the calm lines of sleep, and he let out his breath slowly.
Bennet was smirking at him, which was utterly unfair considering that his own reaction to Nakamura’s demand had been like that of a stuttering goldfish.
“You going to be all right?”
Claude scowled. A stuttering goldfish, he reminded himself, and out of water.
“I haven’t spent my entire life in a cave, rookie. We’ll be fine. Go.”
As soon as Bennet had rounded the corner he relaxed his shoulders and shifted the baby’s weight more securely against his chest. For a moment he’d almost thought Bennet would refuse to give her up.
Thompson had told him to keep an eye on the girl, that they were depending on him to see the first signs of manifestation. He’d also told Claude that in the interest of creating a stable environment for the kid he should break off the extracurricular activities he and his partner had been indulging in.
Claude had agreed.
Of course, Thompson being Thompson, Claude was pretty sure that wasn’t what he’d actually meant. He was also certain that Thompson hadn’t believed him for a second, and with Bennet’s new assignment held carefully in his arms he could feel a noose tightening around his neck, knotting his life ever-more-securely to Bennet’s. To the Company. One false step and he’d hang himself properly.
Because he would never be able to betray a child. Not like this. There were reasons she hadn’t been given to him, he knew. Reasons like the fact that hiding her would be so much easier for him. He was one of them. Affirmative action wasn’t even on the Company’s radar in that respect. And he had an unfortunately well-documented tendency to bend the rules. Bennet didn’t.
“I don’t even know your name,” he murmured, “I haven’t got the slightest idea who you are.” He sank onto the hunk of plastic masquerading as his chair and leaned back cautiously, shifting his arms until one hand was free to trace softly rounded cheeks. “Not even a year old yet, and already the Company owns you. Sorry about that. My fault. But Bennet…. He’s a good man.” He paused, “Your dad’s a good man. He’ll look out for you. And your mum’s gonna love you. She’s fantastic, makes the best chicken parmesan you’ll ever taste. And I—I’ll be there. I promise. You deserve a normal life, don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.”
The baby just turned and snuggled deeper into his shoulder, and Claude was caught between a sudden need to protect and worrying at the insanity implicit in talking to a sleeping infant.
“Should’ve had a drink before that meeting,” he muttered, and belatedly wondered whether alcohol was on the list of things not to mention in the presence of small children.
“I hope you’re worth all this.”
The baby yawned.
Claude sighed and fumbled for the baby-bag zipper with his free hand. There had been a folder involved somewhere along the line that might give some direction on how they were supposed to put this past Sandra. His fingers met the familiar cool texture of manila and he grinned at the predictability of the Company, pulling out the blank file and balancing it on his knee.
“Let’s see…” He flicked it open and slid the first sheet of paper off the pile. “Claire Bennet. No birth record, just a certificate of adoption and medical history. Well, mother’s side anyway.” He frowned as the details of the file slowly came together. “Now that’s interesting.”
“What is?” Bennet leaned over his shoulder and Claude flinched instinctively, hyper-aware of the warm life cradled against his chest.
“Shi--- Da—” Claude sputtered incoherently, “Be careful Bennet, you’re going to wake her up!”
“Hmn.” Bennet ignored him and picked up the papers, studying them intently. Claude glared at him as Bennet slowly navigated the row of plastic benches, weaving distractedly to avoid hazardously placed suitcases. Even when Bennet finally sat down, his attention remained fixed on the file, diverted only to sip at his coffee every few seconds.
“You’re a right bastard, you do know that.”
Bennet’s blank expression was mildly disturbing. “I thought we weren’t swearing around her.”
Claude choked back a retort that was definitely not appropriate for younger audiences and glowered wordlessly for a moment before he felt capable of speaking evenly.
It didn’t help that what he really wanted to do was wipe that distant apathy off Bennet’s face. With hot coffee, if need be.
He forced a smile that was closer to a baring of teeth. “Have you thought of what to tell Sandra yet?”
Bennet shifted his shoulders awkwardly and cleared his throat, ducking his head as if he could disappear into the paperwork.
“According to the file, we’ve adopted a healthy little girl: approximately five months old, 17 lbs—”
“Claire.” Claude interrupted, and Bennet stared at him inquiringly. “Your daughter’s name is Claire.”
“My daughter—” Bennet started,
“—is named Claire,” Claude finished.
Bennet rubbed at his eyes tiredly. “Claude, I need you to help me with this.”
“I am helping you, mate. The less you treat this like an assignment, the more likely Sandra is to believe you.”
Bennet was silent for a long moment, absently staring at the papers still lying on his lap.
“She’s never going to believe me. “ He whispered hoarsely.
Claude frowned. “Sure she will. Just tell her you’ve been working on the papers for a while.”
Bennet shook his head. “We’ve been talking about adoption, but we hadn’t made a decision. It takes months to get that paperwork through. Years, sometimes. And there are all kinds of interviews to make sure the couple would be good parents…” He licked his lips and swallowed heavily, “I can’t do this, Claude.”
Shit. The last thing they needed right now was for Bennet to lose his nerve. All the paperwork in the world wouldn’t be enough for the Company to forgive him if he failed this one, and then Claude would be out another partner. Just when things were starting to get comfortable.
“Hey. Bennet look at me.” When Bennet failed to react Claude snapped his fingers in his face. “Oi, rookie, pay attention.” Bennet flinched back, his reactionary glare impeded by confusion, and Claude found himself missing that iron control. He’d gotten used to not having to do the thinking for both of them, used to depending on Bennet being prepared. Dangerous, that. He’d have to break himself of it soon.
“For Christ’s sake, pull yourself together. Sandra may be your wife, but she isn’t a bloody telepath. As long as you keep your story straight, you’ll be fine.”
Bennet raised his eyebrows. “This isn’t exactly a case of blaming misplaced pants on the cleaners, Claude.”
Claude rolled his eyes. “You’re never going to forget that, are you? No, don’t answer that, it doesn’t matter. What matters, is that in this case you have a secret weapon.”
Bennet just stared at him, and Claude sighed in resignation. Thompson was going to be hearing about this. He wanted a raise. Though it took a lot of the satisfaction away when you knew your paycheck was generated by a balding man in sales with an unhealthy affinity for Grecian mythology.
He raised his arms a few inches in demonstration, giving Bennet a pointed look over the bundle of blankets. “You’ve got Claire, mate.”
“I thought that was the problem.”
Claude sneered, exasperated. “Is this a new development, or have you always been this dumb and just covered it better? What, exactly, do you think Sandra is goin’ to do when you put an infant in her arms: say ‘no, take her back’?”
“That’s…” Bennet paused, apparently at a loss for words, his throat working silently.
“What?” Claude smirked, “Morally grey?”
Bennet glared. “This is my wife—”
“Yes! And if you don’t do this properly the Company will make sure that she’s no longer an issue!”
The words were out of his mouth before he thought, before he could register the potential impact on his partner’s fragile little construct of the way things worked.
Bennet’s mouth hung half-open as if frozen, color rapidly shrinking from his face.
“That’s—, You can’t—”
Claude looked away, tucking the pink and green blanket more securely around Claire’s warmth and tracing her sleeping features lightly. This was not a discussion he’d anticipated.
“Don’t you dare threaten my wife Rains.”
Claude snapped his head up sharply. “Oh, open your fucking eyes, Bennet,” he spat, “You think she’s safe? You think you can keep your precious little home-life separate from your job? Well I’ve got news for you mate- there’s no such thing. Not in this company.” He sneered, “Poster boys may get more leniency than most but you’re kidding yourself if you think they wouldn’t touch her.”
Bennet took a steadying breath shakily. “My family, is my business. It’s none of the Company’s concern—”
Claude snorted scornfully. “Haven’t we already had this discussion? Everything in your life is the Company’s concern, remember? Or have you conveniently forgotten the bets on your marriage and the fact that Nakamura handed you a daughter of your very own not five hours ago?” He shook his head, “They own you mate. Just like the rest of us. There is nothing in your life that they can’t touch.”
He let Bennet absorb the words in silence, unsure whether his partner would take him seriously. Somehow, Bennet was always stunned to find out how much of his privacy had been breached by his employers. Claude was only ever surprised by the freedoms left to them.
“He said that they would take her, if she manifested. Nakamura, I mean.” Claude glanced up to find Bennet’s gaze focused on Claire.
“They’ll want you to turn her in.” Claude watched Bennet carefully, “Like Elle.”
“Elle.” Bennet’s expression didn’t waver.
“The little girl with electric hands?”
Could you do that, friend? Could you stand over a child left in your keeping and order more tests? Could you face Sandra afterward? Could you explain why her little girl flinched at her touch and screamed whenever the lights went off?
Claude pushed the image away and lifted Claire gently, recapturing Bennet’s attention.
“Why don’t you hold her ‘til we board?” he whispered, “You’ll need to get used to it.”
Bennet accepted the child’s weight without protest, staring at her without blinking, and Claude felt a cautious flicker of hope. He tamped it down quickly.
Hope was nigh well useless in their line of work.
“Shhhh, careful there. No one appreciates a screaming baby Claire-bear, not even the pretty ones. Look at that, look at all the colors.”
“Aww, what a darling little thing!”
Claude glanced up from his endeavor of introducing Claire to what a sunset looked like from above to find a stewardess’s interested eyes peering over his shoulder. He grinned, shifting the infant back into the cradle of his arms.
“She can be cute when she wants to be,” he allowed, and the stewardess smiled.
“She’s adorable, and with her daddy’s blue eyes too.”
Claude raised his eyebrows in surprise, though he supposed it was a natural assumption. “Oh, she’s not mine. I’m just playin’ nanny for the moment. My partner’s adopting.” He nodded towards the front of the plane, where Bennet was scribbling half-hatched plans on cheap airline napkins.
The woman frowned. “Your partner?”
“Yeah, been together about eight months now. It’s a bit much to handle an infant on your own, so I’m along for moral support. Isn’t that right Claire-bear?” He bopped Claire’s nose gently, grin widening as she made a wild grab for his finger. Bennet had all but shoved her into his lap as soon as she woke up, looking like a man narrowly escaping the gallows, and Claude had left him to his precious planning without a word.
Looking after Claire was more entertaining anyway, with the added benefit of giving him future blackmail material. The last hour alone had to be worth at least three mission reports, double that if she started crying again.
The woman was gaping at him, apparently struggling to regain her composure.
“And your –partner—is adopting?”
Claude blinked. There was something odd about that sentence. “Yeah,” he affirmed, “his wife couldn’t make the trip.”
Claude frowned. “ ’Course he is, why wouldn’t he be?”
A flush of red was climbing over the stewardess’ face, which she quickly covered with embarrassed hands.
“Oh.” Claude felt his eyes widen, “You thought—”the rest of the sentence melted in his throat as she nodded, mortified.
“I’m so sorry, I hope I didn’t offend—”
Claude laughed. “No, no it’s fine.” He laughed again and shook his head. “We work together. Primatech Paper, sales and recruiting.” He grinned kindly, prompting a self-conscious smile in return, “There’s lots of traveling involved; this is just a special trip.”
Claire gurgled, waving her hands happily, and the stewardess seemed grateful for the change in topic.
“Well, you’re sweet with her. She’s certainly a lot calmer than the baby on our last flight. He screamed the entire trip, poor thing.”
“No, don’t say that! You might give her ideas.” Claude’s half-mockingly horrified expression only made the woman laugh.
The plane jerked, suddenly, forcing Claude to stumble back and brace himself against the wall. Claire’s face screwed up at the sudden movement and a thin wail tore through the background of idle chatter and churning engines, growing in volume with every second. Claude bent over her hurriedly, trying to comfort her through the crackle of the pilot’s announcement.
Apologies for the disturbance ladies and gentlemen—
“Shhhh. It’s okay Claire-bear, it’s okay. It’s just a bit of turbulence, nothing to worry about—”
— request that all passengers please return to their seats—
“Work with me here love, your dad’ll never let me hear the end of it—”
“Here, let me.” Before Claude could register what was happening the stewardess had lifted Claire out of his arms and was rocking her against her uniformed chest, singing softly.
“Hush little baby, don’t you cry…”
Claire calmed slowly, aided no doubt, by the plane’s continuing steadiness. Soon she hiccupped into reassuring silence. Claude watched carefully, and then she was being gently returned to him with a murmured “you should return to your seat now.” He cradled her weight against his chest and carefully edged into the aisle, wary of any sudden movement that might disturb Claire.
Bennet was still studying scraps of paper when he reached their seats.
“What, no hello kiss?” Claude teased, “Here I am, lookin’ after your daughter free of charge, and bein’ mistaken for your domestic partner, I might add, and you can’t even muster a proper greeting?”
Bennet ignored him, mouthing silent speeches to himself, and Claude scowled. Usually he got at least an impatient glare. On a good day Bennet might drag him into the nearest room with a lock on the door, but Claude wasn’t holding his breath. Infants had a tendency to render the mile-high club a moot point.
“No seriously friend, I can’t sit down if you don’t take her for a minute.”
Bennet stared at him for a moment, calculating, before he offered his arms. As soon as Claire was resting snugly against his partner’s chest, Claude squeezed into his seat and leaned back into the cheap upholstery, stretching his arms over his head with a groan.
“Mmmn. Something so small has no right to be that heavy. I think mothers must have special muscles built in.” He could feel Bennet’s eyes on him. 27 missions with the rookie and he knew Bennet was always watching. And always for different reasons. He let his hands dangle over the back of his seat and closed his eyes, waiting. He’d found that Bennet was surprisingly impatient when he wanted something.
“Are you going to take her back?” Flat, irritated words, right on cue.
Claude smirked. “No, I don’t think so mate. You looked like you could use some inspiration.” Claire gurgled and he cracked his eyes open to see her playing with her hands, Bennet staring down at her, dumbfounded. For a moment, Claude could actually imagine them as a family. But then Bennet’s expression closed, and he was the Company’s lapdog again.
“I need to work on what to tell Sandra.”
Claude raised his eyebrows at the flippant edge on that statement.
“Yes, you do,” he agreed, “but since you’re going to forget it all the minute your pretty wife turns those big blue eyes on you, you may as well practice acting like you actually want the kid.”
Bennet pursed his lips thoughtfully, gaze darting between his partner and his daughter.
“What makes you think I don’t want her?”
“You’ve been givin’ her over to me any chance you get; that’s hardly a sign of an eager father, mate.” Claude folded his arms across his chest uncomfortably under Bennet’s assessing eyes and stared resolutely at the seat-back in front of him. If Bennet really didn’t want Claire he’d have to make sure Sandra accepted her anyway, or Thompson would want to know why.
“You’re good with her.” Bennet said factually, and Claude buried his hands further ’round his ribs, tucking his chin into his chest stubbornly. This line of conversation could only lead to more involvement in Bennet’s life than he already had, and he couldn’t afford to get attached. More attached.
Never mind that if the invitation were offered, he wouldn’t be able to refuse.
“You’d be a better father than I would be. You already put her interests before your own—”
“She’s just a child Noah,” Claude interrupted, whispering harshly. “Do you understand that? She just a kid who’s lost her parents, an’ do you know why?”
He held Bennet’s eyes evenly, willing him to understand.
“Because of us,” he finished. “Because we went in there and ballsed things up and brought her burning house down around her.” It was a chancy thing, he knew, to bait Bennet this way. You couldn’t work for the Company if you made decisions based on guilt, it was too dangerous, but Bennet had his own code of checks and balances. And he valued a job well done.
Claire started crying and the moment splintered as Bennet’s attention was dragged to the squalling bundle in his arms, tired dismay etching lines around his eyes and mouth. Claude sighed resignedly and reached under the seat for the baby bag.
“She’s probably hungry. I’ll see if I can get a bottle warmed up.”
Bennet didn’t reply, too busy soothing his daughter with quiet words and coaxing hands to notice his partner’s departure.
Claire only quieted as they exited the airport. No sooner had they gotten her fed and calmed than they’d started to lose altitude, and she’d found the change in pressure objectionable. Bennet’s mouth was pinched with exhaustion, his clothes wrinkled and baby drool smeared over his collar. Claude was sure he didn’t look any better, tie undone and jacket stained with drool and tears and the cup of cola Claire had upset with one of her wilder protestations. The pull to just disappear was almost as overwhelming as his headache, and another frantic nappy-change as soon as they’d left the plane hadn’t improved matters. He thought Bennet might use his tranquilizer on the next woman to coo over the child.
“Do you want to drive, or should I?” Christ, he even sounded worn thin, his voice nearly cracking.
Bennet closed his eyes wearily. “I’ll drive,” He croaked, “if you’ll hold Claire.”
Claude nodded and accepted the armful without comment. She stared up at him innocently, as though she hadn’t made the last hour one of the more exhausting of his life.
“Don’t give me that look, little miss. I know you.” A curious hand reached for his nose and he jerked his head back reflexively. Bennet snorted.
“Come on. The sooner we get to
Claude watched through half-lidded eyes as Bennet load their bags, too tired to comment on the jumble of luggage in the back seat, even if it was unusually chaotic for his partner’s organized efficiency. He was just glad to be able to rest Claire’s weight on his lap a bit; he could swear she’d grown exponentially heavier over the course of the afternoon.
“It’s never goin’ to be over, you know.”
Bennet glanced over quickly, most of his attention on the length of highway in front of them.
Claude watched Claire curl her tiny hand around his finger, tugging away gently when she tried to stick it in her mouth.
“Well, it’s not exactly bag and tag, is it? There’s not some bit of paperwork you sign off on and file away- she’s a child. She’ll grow up, probably outlive you. She’s part of your life for as long as you live, every minute of it.” Claire now seemed to be trying to eat her own hand. He pulled it away from her mouth, wincing at the trail of saliva that followed as she gurgled at him.
Bennet sighed, exasperated.
Claude’s lips tilted into a tired grin. “Your thanks is duly noted. You can repay me with a drink. At this point even that piss you call beer sounds appealing. ”
Bennet chuckled. “If Sandra ever lets me out of the house again we’ll find a bar.”
Claire’s desire to eat her blanket successfully thwarted, Claude took his gaze off her to watch Bennet for a moment, biting the inside of his lip.
“We could always just stop by the shop and crash at my flat,” he offered, finally.
Bennet’s eyes darted over at him quickly, then refocused on the road. Claude waited, the seconds dragging as scenery whipped by.
“It’s a possibility,” Bennet finally allowed, and Claude sighed. He hadn’t really expected anything else; Bennet was a paranoid bastard almost by definition.
“It’s a possibility that you were switched with a bloody robot at birth,” he muttered, “in fact, it’d explain a few things.”
The conversation was abandoned as they pulled onto familiar neighborhood streets, silence settling heavily and bringing apprehension with it, dark anticipation wrapping long fingers around his chest. Claude pulled Claire closer and made himself breathe slowly. For all the assurances he’d passed on to Bennet, there was still a chance that Sandra wouldn’t accept their story. And if the girl didn’t have a family the Company might just take her anyway, ability or no.
What they did to the people he brought in, what they’d done to little Elle, to him… he couldn’t let that happen. Not to Claire.
The car shuddered to a halt and they sat quietly for a moment, Bennet staring blankly out the window, probably counting the steps to his front door. Claude fiddled nervously with the corner of Claire’s blanket.
“You ready for this?” he finally asked, not taking his gaze from the girl’s questioning eyes. The creaking pop of the driver’s door opening was the only reply he received.
“Oi!” He pushed his own door open with a foot and stepped out carefully, turning to shout over the car’s roof, “Rookie, hold up a minute will you?”
Bennet stopped halfway up the front walk, shoulders hunched defensively in the long shadows of twilight. Claude thought he looked more like a man off to face his own death than the new father he was supposed to be.
“I think you better hold her, less chance of a mix-up.”
Bennet’s lips parted as if to speak, then closed as he nodded. “You’ll stay?” he asked, Claire held safely to his chest.
“ ’Course I’ll stay mate; you think I’d let you go in there alone after all this?”
“Okay.” Bennet nodded and cleared his throat, “Okay, let’s go.”
They approached the short porch together, Claude darting glances to the side every few steps to make sure Bennet was still with him and not running for the hills. He rang the doorbell without waiting for his partner’s approval.
The image of traveling child-salesmen danced at the front of his mind and he had to bite back what felt suspiciously like a nervous giggle. The twitch of his lip disappeared as the doorknob turned.
“Noah?” Blonde curls poked around the door, blue eyes widening in surprise as Sandra pushed the door the rest of the way open. “What’s going on? Why are you just standing out here like—” Her eyes lighted on the bundle of blankets in her husband’s arms and she trailed off softly.
“Sandra, I—” Bennet froze, mouth half-open with forgotten words, and Claude watched them carefully. If Bennet couldn’t pull this off…
Two steps and Claire was resting in Sandra’s arms, doing the best impression of adorable innocence Claude had ever seen. Sandra seemed caught between surprise and worry, lines creasing her forehead as her mouth hung slack.
“She’s ours, Sandra.” Bennet interrupted, “She— I have the adoption papers.”
Sandra’s astonished gaze returned to her husband, and Claude could see a handful of curls clutched in one baby fist.
“Adoption papers… Noah—”
“Her parents died in the fire in Kermit a few weeks ago;” Bennet continued stubbornly, “they were looking for a family in the area and… and our name came up and….” The words ground to a halt as Sandra continued to stare, speechless.
“Her name’s Claire,” Bennet finished desperately, and Claire gurgled happily at her name, tugging on the captured hair.
Slowly, Sandra looked down at the child in her arms. “Claire,” she murmured softly, “you poor little thing… I think,” she stepped back slowly, “I think I need to sit down.”
Bennet rushed to guide her through to the sitting room, settling beside her on the sofa and holding her shoulders gently. Claude stood just inside the doorway, watching his partner spin tales of half-truths and white lies while Sandra nodded, surprise slowly giving way to joy.
There was a yip near his ankles and Claude glanced down to find Sandra’s little toy poodle sniffing at his trouser cuff. It stared up at him imploringly and barked, sharply.
Claude looked back to the sofa, the family huddled closer now as Sandra cooed over her new daughter and Bennet looked on, smiling softly.
“You ’n me both friend.” The dog attacked his shoes and Claude sighed and crouched down to rub its ears and save his laces. Soon they would need to unload the car and think about things like high-seats and cribs and strollers and tiny little outfits. Claude would have to remind Bennet that they had work in the morning, that Thompson would expect a written report, that they’d want Claire in for regular checkups these first few weeks. Soon he’d have to return to his flat, alone.
He pushed the thoughts away and watched Bennet kiss Sandra’s hair as she traced thin finger over Claire’s cheek in wonder.
And he tried to convince himself that this invisibility was only temporary.