Tales of the Misbegotten: Fairy Child
By Katherine Tomlinson
Dannon hated the changeling cases.
The Department had been making noises about creating a separate paranormal kidnapping squad to handle them but with the city's financial mess and the department's deep budget cuts, he knew that was never going to happen.
What Dannon hated the most was dealing with the mothers, most of whom had led charmed lives up until the moment the fairies took their babies and left something else behind.
Everyone knew it was the lucky ones who attracted the fairies' attention, the ones whose lives were envied, the ones whose lives seemed special.
Dannon had enough Irish in him to remember his grandmother telling him that a jealous look at a mother and her child was dangerous for them both and must always be followed by a blessing to ward off disaster.
Unless something bad was the intention.
The one good thing about the current string of changeling crimes, Dannon figured, was that it had put the kibosh on the practice of selling pictures of celebrity spawn.
Dannon hated dealing with celebrities almost as much as he hated dealing with vampires and a celebrity changeling case was a high-profile nightmare and the ordinary ones were bad too.
Dannon couldn't remember the number of times his team had been called to a house to deal with distraught parents who thought their baby was safe because they'd put an iron knife of a pair of scissors on top of the crib.
A little learning was a dangerous thing. That charm only worked in Scandinavia.
The parents of the kidnapped children had very few options and most of them involved just the mother. If she was willing to go into the fairy realm and be a nursemaid for the fae folk, they might eventually agree to give back the human child.
Or they might not. Fairy folk were fickle and their minds obscure to humans.
There was another, darker option open to the parents, a method that had worked from time immemorial. If the human parents mistreated the changeling enough, the fairies almost always came forward to reclaim their own.
Almost but not always.
Dannon had been involved in too many cases that were exception to the rule.
He hated changeling cases.
And he was already having a bad morning when CJ Bowe knocked on his office door and said, "John, this is Mrs. Beattie" as she ushered in one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen in real life.
"Joan," the woman said and offered Dannon her soft right hand.
In her left she carried a pale yellow baby carrier, the kind that always reminded Dannon of a sugar scoop.
Joan set the carrier on Dannon's desk so he could see the infant inside, a pale shriveled thing that was fretting softly, as if working up the energy to cry.
"A fairy took my baby," she said and pinched the child hard on its spindly arm. "Bring my baby back," she said to the empty air as the infant mewled in misery.
"Please don't do that," Dannon said.
Joan looked at him with wild eyes and he wondered how long it had been since she'd slept.
"Do you have a picture of your baby?" he asked.
Joan handed him her phone, a picture gallery already queued up. He flicked through the photos quickly.
"Her name is Lily," she said. "Isn't she beautiful?"
Dannon had to admit that she was, but then fairies wouldn't have taken an ugly baby.
"How long has Lily been missing?" he asked.
"Since Monday," she said. "The nanny put her down at six and when I came in to check on her at ten, I found that in her crib."
She reached over and pinched the baby again. The changeling wailed.
Dannon scooted the carrier closer to his chair, out of Joan's reach.
For the next hour he took her through the particulars of the crime. The details were disturbingly familiar--a wealthy couple, a fortunate child, an awkward situation with a fae business associate who wasn't invited to the baby's christening and took offense.
It added up to a malice-snatch and that meant it was going to be messy. He was going to have to deal with the King of Air and Darkness to negotiate the baby's return. And he was going to have to do it himself because the fairy king didn't meet with underlings.
God, I hate the changeling cases, Dannon thought.
His mood darkened even further when he realized Joan intended to leave the changeling with him. He'd tried to talk her into keeping custody of the changeling until they arranged the transfer because it made things easier, but she'd recoiled at the thought.
"It's not my baby," she'd said, her voice edging into the upper registers of genteel hysteria.
In the end, Dannon had sent Joan Beattie on her way and called Aurore over at Changeling Protective Services.
She said she'd be over right away.
John shut his phone and stared at the baby on his desk.
It waved its arms as if trying to grab something out of the air.
Dannon looked at it helplessly, unsure what to do.
"It wants to be picked up," CJ said from the doorway. "And I think it's hungry."
Dannon looked pained. The nearest thing to milk they had in the squad room was the non-dairy creamer for the coffee.
"I think there's still a can or two of kitten milk replacement in the back," Lee Park said, shouldering CJ out of the doorway to catch a glimpse of the changeling. "Left over from the were-tiger smuggling case." CJ gave her partner a look.
"Maybe you could go get it," she said.
"Okay," he said and headed for the storage room.
"He takes the changeling cases hard," CJ said to Dannon, He nodded. Lee had had to take time off after a set of human triplets and their fairy doppelgangers had all ended up dead in the wake of a kidnapping gone wrong. "Taking it hard" was an understatement.
There was a can of KMR in the closet but no bottle, so Lee dipped his finger in the liquid and let the baby suckle his finger. She ate nearly half the can before her desperate sucking slowed. "There's a good girl," he cooed as he put her over his shoulder to burp her. "What a good girl."
CJ watched her partner comfort the changeling with a rush of longing so intense it was a nearly physical ache. She and Lee had been sleeping together for nearly a year, pretending they were just fuck buddies and that it didn't mean anything.
But it meant something to her and watching him with the baby kindled something primal in her.
"Motherhood looks good on you, Park," Aurore said as she entered the squad room.
Lee blushed but didn't object.
Aurore was round and motherly and looked like a fairy godmother from a Disney movie if the fairy godmother dressed like an unreconstructed hippie in Dr. Scholl's sandals and big African bead necklaces.
Although human, she'd fostered nearly 100 changelings in her time in CPS and she had an affinity for the creatures that allowed them to thrive in her care. In recognition of her service, the city of Los Angeles had named a day in her honor and given her a nice certificate with ribbons and seals.
The Fairy King had given her a much more practical gift, a longevity spell that kept her looking and feeling like a woman in her fifties when she was closer to 150.
Aurore put down a diaper bag embroidered with the CPS logo and set a state-of-the-art infant seat on the floor.
She reached out for the changeling Lee was still holding.
The baby whimpered as she touched it and when Aurore opened up her filthy onesie and saw the bruised skin underneath she blanched.
"The mother thought she could compel the kidnappers to return her baby," Dannon said, holding on to his own anger.
Aurore didn't answer, her attention carefully absorbed in calling up her phone camera so she could document the abuse.
When she was through she pulled a soft yellow blanket out of the diaper bag and tenderly wrapped the changeling in it.
She was tucking the swaddled baby into the car seat when it suddenly convulsed and vomited up the KMR.
Dannon handed her some tissues from a box he kept in his desk and Aurore wiped the changeling's face clean.
She was dropping the used tissues in the trash when her hand suddenly froze and she stared at the changeling's face intently.
"What?" Lee said but Aurore didn't seem to hear him.
"Dannon," she said, in a voice hoarse with strain.
"This isn't a changeling. She's a human baby."
"But she's so sickly," Lee said in a voice so sad that CJ's heart broke for him but she knew if she reached out to him, in front of everyone, he wouldn't thank her.
"She's sickly because she's been starved," Aurore said. "And worse."
Dannon reached for his phone.
The digits were blurry but Homicide was on speed dial.
He put a finger in his ear to block out the sound of the baby crying as he waited for someone to answer the phone.