Author's note #1: Oh my word, people. It has been years since I've written fanfic. Anyway, this idea has been knocking around my mind for a few years. I've decided to try to get it out of my head and onto your computers. It's somewhat an AU- more like "what if"… see the end of the chapter for a note on the premise of the fic.

I anticipate this being kind of a long fic so bear with me as I write it while trying to apply to jobs and finish my dissertation at the same time.

Chapter One

2003, UCLA Medical Center
Santa Monica, California

The hallway was lonely and cold as she walked down it, the dim lights above flickering slightly. Hesitating outside the closed door of room 4014, Teresa Lisbon took a deep breath and then reached out for the handle.

The room itself was just as dimly lit as the hallway. On the bed, a small body huddled under a blanket in a deep sleep. Lisbon shut the door quietly and made her way to stand over the child. Seeing the delicate eyelashes resting against the cheek and the riot of golden curls framing the face, she felt her heart swell with emotion even as a gnawing ache settled in her gut.

For a moment, time and space blurred. Lisbon recalled only too well the feelings of a little girl finding out her mother was gone forever. She herself had squashed the despair, the pain, the loneliness down as quickly as she could, knowing that her father and three brothers needed her to be strong as they, too, floated in the sea of grief.

She blinked against the sudden wetness of her eyes, then cast them around the room. Seeing a lone chair, she sank into it. God, her body was sore. It had been a long day and an almost torturous night.

Her mind flashed back to the crime scene. The copious amounts of blood, the once-lovely body, broken and slashed beyond repair. The eyes of the victim staring out vacantly, mirroring the hollow expression of the husband turned widow.

The small, fragile body of the little girl across the hall. She had been drugged into unconsciousness. Lisbon shuddered to think of the monster's hands touching this precious little life, but she wondered if it was something of a blessing. At least the child hadn't seen her broken and lifeless mother. At least the little girl was alive.

And she hadn't had to deal with her father being a shell of the daddy she knew. Yet.

Lisbon sighed. In fact, it may be quite a while for that poor man to be the daddy this little girl knew. Heaven knew he was nearly catatonic when the police had come—even though he'd been hysterical over the call to 911.

She briefly sent up a prayer for him, for this little one, for the poor deceased woman—her hand fingered the cross hanging at her neck. Lisbon knew a little something about dealing with a father who suddenly turned into a stranger. She could only hope it would go better for this little family.

She leaned back in the chair, ready to wait until morning, until the girl woke up.

Someone would have to tell her what had happened. And even though Lisbon was only on an exchange program with Malibu PD and would be heading back to San Francisco soon, her Malibu superior had asked her to step in. Had flattered her with observations of her straightforward an empathetic nature. Secretly, Lisbon thought that none of them wanted to deal with trying to explain death (her mother) and subsequent mental instability (her father) to a small child and thus were foisting the unenviable task off on the relative outsider.

Ah well, at least Lisbon had experience with this. From both sides. As a beat cop and then detective, she was no stranger to notifying family of tragedy. And of course, especially in situations like this, the shadow of her own childhood was never far.

Once more eyeing the beautiful face of the little girl—Charlotte, Lisbon reminded herself—from where she slouched in the chair, Lisbon allowed herself to embrace those shadows, to feel the pain and grief resurface.

To remember a different little girl, all dark hair and green eyes.

Because in the morning, Lisbon would have to face the cherub-faced child and break her world.

All while remembering the shattering world of her own past.

Author's note #2: Basically, the premise is: what if Charlotte Jane was not killed along with her mother? With a slight tweak to Lisbon's own timeline in California.