Hold On… For This is Gonna Hurt Like Hell.

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Chapter 35

Carla PoV:

I’ve never experienced anything quite like the feeling that overcomes me while seeing Ana lying limp on the floor in a puddle of her own blood. The shock is so potent, I can’t even scream. The only thing I can do is shake and stare. I’m horrified. Paralyzed. Watching Grace slide a needle into Ana’s skin for the blood transfusion and hearing Christian’s feeble attempt to comfort her and assure her that she’s going to be okay all occurs as some kind of out of body experience. This is all happening and not happening at the same time. When Ana’s head once again lolls back and her eyes close, my body seizes with fear.

“Ana, open your eyes, sweetheart,” Grace says, the first hint of panic breaking through her otherwise perfectly calm and focused demeanor. “Is she out again?”

Christian shifts her so that he holds her entire body between his right arm, his knee, and his torso, then he cups her face with his left palm. “Open your eyes, Ana. Please. Please, baby, open your eyes. You have to stay awake. Stay with me.”

“Bloodline’s in,” Grace says. “Elliot, do you see the ambulance yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Son of a–” Her eyes dart back down to Ana and the stain of blood in the carpet between her legs, which is growing steadily larger with each passing second. It’s obvious that she’s warring over something but can’t decide what to do. After a few long seconds watching her agonize, she finally looks back up at Christian, and there are tears welling in her eyes.

“You might have to make a choice.”

“What choice?”

“The baby gets her oxygen from Ana’s blood, but since the placenta has detached from the uterus, Calliope’s blood supply has been cut off. Unless that ambulance is pulling up to this house right now, she needs to be delivered or she’s going to suffocate.”

“And, Ana?”

Grace shakes her head. “I don’t have a way to stop the bleeding. If I cut her open, she’ll bleed out right here on the floor. She might anyway.”

“No.” He shakes his head, and his complexion develops an almost green hue. “The ambulance is coming. She’s going to be fine. They both are. Any second the ambulance is going to be here.”

“Christian, we don’t have time to wait…”

“I’m not choosing between Ana and Calliope!”

“She chose for you,” Ray interrupts. His face crinkles with pain as he looks down at the IV in his arm delivering life saving blood to our daughter and sniffs loudly. “If we can’t save them both, Ana chose Calliope.”

“No, she doesn’t get to make that decision!” Christian shouts, and something in the finality of his timber awakens a fire inside of me. It burns away the shock that has held me frozen in place, and leaves me to feel the full force of the rage, hurt, and vindication I never wanted building deep inside my gut. This is his fault. He wasn’t careful with her, and she got pregnant. She had a high risk pregnancy, and he forced her to fly back and forth across the country every weekend for six months of it. And this, what’s happening right now, was triggered by a phone call from a man who has threatened to hurt her and her child over and over again, all because of him.

My daughter is dying on the floor in front of me.

The adrenaline triggered by the fear of that statement kicks in and I’m no longer paralyzed. I launch myself across the room, at the man who has done this to her.

You don’t get to make this decision!” I snap at him. “She isn’t yours! She’s my daughter. This is our choice. Mine and Ray’s.”

“She is my fiance, and she is carrying my child!”

“Yeah, and look what you did to her.”  

“Ambulance is here!” Elliot exclaims from the window, and instantly the tension brewing between myself and Christian vanishes as the room devolves into chaos. Elliot opens the front door to save the emergency crew time while Carrick and Ethan come around to pull Christian away from Ana so that she can be moved more quickly. Kate has her arms around Mia, who is breaking into hysterics, and Bob sits in his seat behind me, staring blankly into the room the way I had been only seconds ago. The moment the paramedics come through the door, Grace is right back in doctor mode, giving a rundown of everything that’s happened and a brief overview of her medical history.

“I’m going with her,” Christian says, pulling out of Carrick and Ethan’s grip, but the paramedic shakes his head.

“Only room for one and we’ve gotta take the guy with the transfusion line in his arm.”

“What hospital are you going to?” I ask

“CHA.”

I nod and turn back to the living room. “Bob, my coat. We’ll meet them there.” He reaches for my jacket, laid over the back of the couch, and gets to his feet. I push him as quickly as possible towards the back door so we can get out of the house without getting in the way of the emergency crew and take the keys to the rental car out of my coat pocket. None of the Greys pay any mind to my departure.

“Should we wait until they get her in the ambulance?” Bob asks, glancing over his shoulder at the flashing lights behind us as we move down the street to where our car is parked.

“No. I want to get there as quickly as possible. I don’t want Christian to get there before we do.”

“Why?”

“You heard Grace, there’s a choice that’s going to have to be made. I’m not leaving that choice up to Christian Grey. He’s poison and, as long as we continue pretending that isn’t true, neither Ana or Calliope will ever be safe. You saw the blood, Bob. Ana might die today. If she does, I won’t let him do to my grandchild what he did to my daughter.”

“Carla, he didn’t do this.”

“That’s not what he said. He said that she would be safe if she left him. She didn’t and look at her now.”

“Baby, I know those phone calls scared you but you can’t blame Christian for a pregnancy complication…”

“We knew this was a high risk pregnancy and we knew she needed to watch her stress levels. He’s the reason she’s been stalked and harrassed by this person, and he doesn’t even care! He may not have held a gun to her head, but if she dies today then make no mistake, he killed her.”

“Carla…”

“Are you coming or not?”

“I think we should wait. You’re angry and scared. You’re not thinking straight.”

“Of course I’m not thinking straight! That’s my daughter, Bob. That’s my baby and I think–I think I’m going to lose her today.”  

“I know. That’s why we need to come together as a family right now.”

“The Greys are not my family.”

“They love Ana.”

“Then they should have protected her from him.” I’m out of time. I can hear the commotion of the paramedics wheeling Anastasia out of the house and the tears and terrified questions that follow them. Christian will be on his way to the hospital soon and I have to get there before he does if I have any hope of keeping him, and the man on the phone, away from my grandchild. He’ll come after her, the same as he came for Ana, and Christian will do nothing to stop him.

“You should stay here,” I tell Bob as I open the car door. “I’ll call you with an update as soon as I have one.”

“Carla…”

His protests cut off when I climb into the driver’s seat and slam the door closed behind me. Instead he begins knocking on the passenger’s side window but I ignore him, turn the key in the ignition, and take off down the road. I know he thinks I’m losing it, hell maybe I am. But everything that man told me about Ana has come true. He told me he would take her, and he nearly succeeded. He told me he’d never stop coming after her or Calliope, and he hasn’t. He told me that if I couldn’t make Ana see reason and convince her to leave Christian for good, she’d be dead before the end of the school year. It’s graduation now and she’s being loaded into the back of an ambulance. Grace said herself that she might die no matter what we do. Perhaps this was his plan all along. Christian could keep him at bay with security officers, surveillance cameras, and locked doors, but he couldn’t stop something like this. Not without giving into his demands.

He played on our weaknesses, and he’s succeeded.

So, I won’t leave this up to Christian anymore, or even Ana. She’s too blinded by her heart to do what’s necessary to protect herself and her child. But I’m not. I may not be able to change her mind, but if Calliope survives this, I will not let her leave in the arms of anyone with the last name of Grey. I’ll take her myself. Hide her. Change her name and lie about her parentage, if I have to.

I will protect her, no matter what it takes.

Luckily, the hospital isn’t far from the hotel we’ve been staying in, so I know exactly how to get there. I fly through traffic as quickly as I can, cutting off more than one person in my rush to get across town and only stopping when I’m passed by the ambulance carrying my daughter. Angry horns follow me the entire way there, but it’s not hard to ignore. I’m focused. Determined.

I practically sprint into the emergency room once I arrive, and they direct me to a seperate floor where Ana will be taken for surgery. The waiting room is filled with nervous looking families, some clinging to each other more than others. I ignore all of them and, instead, make a beeline for the help desk where a squat looking woman waits, tapping on a keyboard with overly long acrylics.

“Hi, I’m looking for my daughter,” I say, urgently.

“Name?”

“Anastasia Steele. They just brought her in. She’s had a-a… A placental abruption? I think that’s what it’s called.”

“Okay, let me see… Yes, she’s in surgery now. We’ll let you know as soon as there’s an update.”

“Thank you. And… a man named Christian Grey is about to come in here. It is imperative that no information is given to him or any of the people he comes in with regarding the status of my daughter or her child. Not his parents, not his brother or sister, not Katherine Kavanagh, no one.”

Her brow furrows. “I’m sorry… is he the father?”

“It’s not a good situation and they’re not married. He’s… violent. I’m her next of kin and I’m telling you that I don’t want anyone to get updates about her or the baby who isn’t immediate family. Her father or me, that’s it. I’ll sign something if I have to.”

She considers me for a long moment, but ultimately shakes her head. “No, that won’t be necessary. As next of kin, you have that right. I’ll… I’ll just put a note here.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course. Just have a seat over there. The doctor will be with you as soon as he can.”

 


 

Christian PoV:

The moment the paramedics have her on the gurney, I’m at her side again. Her skin feels cold when I take her hand in mine. She shows absolutely no sign of life as she’s wheeled from the house to the ambulance, except for the fleeting, weak heartbeat I can feel from the inside of her wrist. Her fragile, pale wrist.

“I’m right here, baby,” I say when they start loading her into the back of the ambulance. “I’m going to be right behind you. I love you…”

Her father looks at me, but it’s only a quick glance as the doors close and the emergency crew climbs into the front of the vehicle to whisk her off to the hospital. When they pull out of the driveway and around the corner at the end of the street, I collapse to my knees.

“Come on, Christian,” Elliot says, coming up beside me and trying to pull me to my feet. “Let’s get to the hospital.”

I nod and use him to stand, but before he’s able to lead me back into the house to regroup with the rest of the family, Ana’s step-father ambles into the driveway from the street. When he looks at me, his face becomes contorted with pain.

“Christian. I’m… I’m so sorry.”

My heart thuds heavily in my chest. His words sound like a condolence, as though I’ve already lost her. But I haven’t. I won’t. This isn’t the end and I won’t let it be.

“Ana’s going to need me once she’s out of surgery,” I say firmly. “We need to get to the hospital.”

Elliot nods and tries to lead me back to the house, as though he’s afraid I’m going to collapse again, but I shake him off. She’s going to be fine. Calliope is going to be fine. I don’t need his support.

 

Thankfully, I have Taylor and Ana’s Lexus because standing around while my family decides who must go or who will ride with who and in which rental car is maddening. We’re the first to leave the house and the first to arrive at the hospital. When we’re directed from the Emergency Room to the trauma floor, I’m practically running through the pristine, sterile hallways.

“Anastasia Steele,” I tell the woman waiting behind the help desk, not bothering to wait for her to greet me. She looks up and smiles.

“Name and relation to the patient?”

“Christian Grey. I’m her fiancé.”

Her smile disappears. “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t give you any information on this patient.”

“Well, is she in surgery?”

“Again, I apologize, but I can’t tell you anything about this patient’s condition.”

“I know there’s no prognosis yet, I just want to know that she’s been admitted and that she’s in surgery.”

“Perhaps I’m not being clear. I am not authorized to give you any information about this patient, period. We’ve been instructed to release details of her condition only to her next of kin. If you have questions, you’ll need to speak with her immediate family.”

“Family? No, I’m her family.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. But I can’t help you. You’re free to have a seat and wait, if you’d like.”

Wait? Wait with what? She’s given me nothing. Does she really expect me to sit with no indication if Ana has even been brought in yet? If my daughter has been born?

“Look…” I begin, trying to contain my growing anger with the woman obstructing me so I can be diplomatic, but Taylor stops me.

“Mr. Grey, Mrs. Adams is sitting right over there.” I turn in the direction he points me and see Carla sitting across the waiting room, flipping anxiously through a magazine. My jaw clenches as I look back to the woman behind the desk.

“I’ll have your job,” I warn her, then push away from the counter and storm through the sea of chairs to Ana’s mother.

“Is she in surgery?” I demand immediately.

“Hello, Christian.”

Ana. Is she in surgery? Has my baby been born?”

Carla takes a deep breath, then places the magazine on the chair next to her. “I think you should leave, Christian.”

“Leave? What do you mean leave? Ana is–”

“I know exactly where Ana is. I know exactly where you put her.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. I told Ana that you were dangerous for her but she didn’t listen to me and now look where she is.”

The muscles throughout my entire body tense as the cocktail of irritation, pain, and rage boils through me. When I speak again, it’s through clenched teeth. “Has she been taken in for surgery yet?”

“You don’t get to know that.”

“Carla!” I take a breath to calm myself, knowing screaming at her won’t get me the information I need and the only thing I care about right now is Ana and what is happening to her. “Look, I know that you and I have had our problems, but now is not the time–”

“Now is the only time! Now is the time when you don’t get to make any decisions. I do, and I choose to protect my daughter and my grandchild from you. You don’t get to be in control here, Christian. You don’t get anything. So get away from me or I will call security and have them escort you out!”

She’s screaming and, as her voice echoes around us, I feel every pair of eyes in the waiting room turn our way. It’s completely silent and while Ana’s mother stares back at me with fiery determination burning in her eyes, I start to shake. This is what the receptionist meant by not being authorized to give me any information about Ana’s condition. Carla, her next of kin, has instructed her not to. She’s keeping her from me. Not just Ana, my own daughter too. If she thinks I’m going to let that happen, she seriously doesn’t understand who she’s dealing with.

“Christian!” My name being called from across the room draws my attention away from Carla, and when I turn, I see my family at the entrance of the waiting room. I can feel in the energy between Ana’s mother and myself that arguing further with her is a waste of time, so I leave her and barrel towards my father. If Carla isn’t going to cooperate I’m going to have to go over her head.

“Any updates?” Kate asks, half sobbing. “Has Calliope been born yet?”

“I don’t know,” I reply flatly, then turn to my dad. “Carla is keeping her from me. Both of them.”

“What?”

“The hospital staff can’t tell me anything because Carla has instructed them not to give any information to anyone who isn’t next of kin. We need to find out who’s in charge.”

“What? No, that’s ridiculous…” My mother places a hand on my shoulder and then moves past me towards Ana’s mother, but I don’t wait for her inevitable rejection. This isn’t a new issue between us. Carla has had it out for me for months. I know she isn’t going to change her mind and I don’t have time to waste pursuing avenues I know won’t lead anywhere.

“Taylor, find me the Chief of Medicine.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

There are several administrative roadblocks in place that make speaking with the people in charge difficult, but I manage. We’re led into a small conference room not far from the waiting room, but the man who comes and sits across from me isn’t any more willing to work with us than the nine people who I spoke with before him.

“You don’t understand,” I argue, my patience starting to break. “If she were awake, she would want me back there. She would want me to be updated on absolutely everything.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but I have no way of knowing what Miss Steele would or would not want. I can only abide by the wishes of the family and my staff and I have been specifically directed not to share any health information with anyone who is not an immediate family member.”

“Because her immediate family is her mother. This is what Carla wants, not Ana.”

“Again, I’m sorry, but my hands are tied by HIPAA laws.”

“I’ll pay the fines.”

“It’s not about the fines, it’s about protecting our patients. Look, I can see how difficult this is for you and I’m so sorry that we’re in this circumstance, but there really is nothing I can do.”

“Sweetheart,” my mother says, reaching up to place a hand on my cheek. “This isn’t his choice. These laws are put into place to protect people’s privacy and to keep them safe. Surely you can appreciate that on some level. What if it were the man on the phone in your position and he’d come in to ask about Ana or Calliope? You wouldn’t want them to give out any information to him, would you?”

“I’m not the man on the phone.”

“No, you’re not. But they don’t know that. I’ve seen this myself. For all they know, you could be abusive or dangerous to Ana and the baby, and Carla is just trying to protect them from you. You can’t ask him to break the law, no matter how unfair or painful this all is.”

“What about Mom?” Elliot interrupts. “She’s a doctor, can’t you just like… give her credentials here and then tell her what’s going on because she’d be one of Ana’s doctors?”

He shakes his head. “It doesn’t work like that. We don’t allow our doctors to work on their own family members’ cases.”

“Oh. So, when it comes to medicine, we’re family, but otherwise, fuck us. Right?”

“Elliot…” Kate says softly.

“No, this is bullshit! Ana wants him back there! And Callie… That’s his kid! How can you say he’s not immediate family? He’s her fucking father!”

“Not until the birth certificate is filled out,” my father’s voice says from the door behind us. We all turn and when I see the look in his eyes, my one last shred of hope dies away. While we’ve been fighting with the hospital, he’s been making phone calls to a few attorneys in the area. Apparently, they didn’t give him good news.

“What do you mean not until the birth certificate is filled out?” Kate asks. “He’s the father. We all know he is.”

“What we know doesn’t matter. Christian and Ana aren’t married, and in the State of Massachusetts, that means Ana has to fill out the birth certificate, name him as the father, and they both have to sign before Christian is granted any parental rights.”

Ana has to?” Elliot checks. When Dad nods, he swallows hard, almost as though he has to work up the courage to continue speaking. “But, what if she…?”

“Then guardianship of Calliope will fall to Ana’s next of kin.”

“Carla?” I ask. He nods again.

“So, wait…” Kate says. “Does that mean that if Ana doesn’t… If she…” She pauses, unable to say the words aloud. “Does that mean that Carla would get to take Calliope back to Georgia with her?”

“Until we could get a court date for a paternity suit, yes.”

“No.” I shake my head. “No, Carla is not leaving this hospital with my daughter.”

“So, what do we do?” Elliot asks.

“Well, ideally, Ana pulls through and they sign the birth certificate. But just in case, I’ve spoken to a doctor and we’re going to have your cheeks swabbed for a paternity test. We need to start collecting evidence to build our case.”

Another case. I sigh, trying and failing to release the tension gripping my body like the chill of a cloudless December night. “Now?”

“Yeah. They’re waiting in the hallway.”

I nod and turn back to the man sitting across the table from me. I don’t really have words for him since he’s made it very clear that he both can’t and is unwilling to help me, but thankfully he seems as eager to leave this room as I am to have him go. I watch him leave then try to hide the disgust I feel as the woman with the DNA sample kit fills the empty seat the Chief of Medicine has left behind.

“Alright, name?” she asks, pulling out a stack of paperwork from her bag.

“Christian Trevelyan-Grey.”

The questions are brief, but the actual collection process is borderline humiliating. I can feel the eyes of my family on me as I lean over the table and the doctor inserts the long swab into my mouth and scrubs it against the inside of my cheeks. I don’t look at any of them, not even the doctor. Instead, I keep my eyes up at the ceiling and do my best not to think about what this sample collection would mean if it were ever to be necessary.

“Christian!” Mia says, bursting into the room. “There’s a doctor talking to Ana’s mom.”

Immediately, I leap out of my seat and launch myself at the door. It’s a short trip from the conference room to the waiting room, but I run so quickly I’m almost tripping over my feet the entire way. When I come through the open double doors into the too brightly lit waiting room, I find Ana’s obstetrician clinging to a sobbing Carla. As I move towards them, the doctor releases her and gestures for her to head back through the closed doors and onto the surgery floor.

“Dr. Baker!” I shout. She stops and turns in my direction, but the moment she recognizes me the careful look of compassion she wears falters just enough for me to see a hint of pain just below the surface. I ignore it, unwilling to analyze where the hurt in her eyes is coming from. “Is it Ana or Calliope? Are they okay?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice merely a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry? For what? What does that mean?” But she doesn’t tell me. She turns away and makes her way back through the double doors, leaving me alone with Carla. Silent tears continue to roll down her cheeks as she reaches for the door to follow after the doctor, but I grab her by the shoulder to stop her.

“Don’t touch me, Christian!”

I recoil. “I’m sorry. Just… tell me what’s going on. Please.”

“Go to hell.”

“Carla, please. That’s my family. I know you’re scared for your daughter, but I’m scared for mine too. And I’m scared for the woman I love. Please.”

“I’m not–”

I cut her off, speaking so quickly the words run together. “Just, tell me if it’s Ana or Calliope.”

Her jaw tightens and she turns away from the door to face me. Her hands shoot up to angrily dash her tears from her hate filled eyes. “It’s Calliope.”

“Callio–” My words cut off as the strength in my voice fails. “What– what happened?”

“You saw what happened, Christian. Your mother gave you a choice, you hesitated, and now your baby is dead.” She shakes her head in disgust as her tears start again. “The doctor said that she was stillborn. She never even got a chance to live. You’re going to lose them both. We all are. Thanks to you.”

“Both?” I breathe back. “You mean… Ana?”

She turns and yanks open the door to the ICU, and as she disappears I feel as though my heart falls from my chest and land lifelessly on the linoleum floor. I feel empty, hollow, but the space this loss has left inside of me is quickly filled with excruciating, all consuming pain.

My daughter is gone.

Final. No second chances.

I’ll never know her.

No, that’s not accurate. Because I do know her. I’ve met her in my dreams and I’ve lived an entire life with her through the hopes I’ve held for all of the things I wanted for her future. I’ve loved her without ever even laying eyes on her. And now I never will. I’ve lost the baby that I never knew I wanted and now that I know I’ll never hold her in my arms or see Ana smiling down at the angelic face I’ve pictured over and over again, I am utterly and completely ruined.


Kate PoV:

Christian is already pleading with Ana’s doctor by the time we make it back to the waiting room. Carla’s cheeks are red and shiny with tears. Her eyes are swollen. She’s clearly devastated, but it’s hard to care. She at least knows what’s happening. The look of terrified uncertainty on Christian’s face reflects what’s in all of our hearts and that is more painful to witness a hundred times over.

Dr. Baker leaves, but Carla stays behind to talk to Christian. For a moment, I have hope that she’s finally given in, but as I watch them clearly start to argue, that hope vanishes. Elliot starts to move towards them, but Carrick quickly reaches out to stop him.

“Let him handle this, Son. I don’t think all of us ganging up on Carla is the way to get through to her.”

“Carla? You expect me to care about…”

“Oh no,” I whisper.

Elliot’s rant stops when we all watch Christian turn back to face us, looking like he’s just seen death. Grace gasps and rushes towards him with her arms held out in front of her, but as the rest of the Greys start migrating towards him, I find myself stuck. The picture of Ana collapsing to the floor and lying there, surrounded in a pool of her own blood, flashes through my mind and runs on a loop. Looking at Christian now, the thought that this may be the last memory I have of my best friend suddenly becomes all too real and the weight of that pain is too much for me to drag across the waiting room. It’s crushing, and yet, when I watch Christian nearly collapse again, having to reach out and support himself on the arm of a chair before his father is able to help set him down in the seat, that weight somehow grows heavier.

This can’t be happening. How did the day that was supposed to be one of the happiest I’ll ever experience go so remarkably wrong? Ana’s a good person. She’s kind. She’s caring. She loves so fiercely that she would give anything and everything to any one of the people here. She’s Christian’s savior and she’s my pillar of strength. She doesn’t deserve this.

When I watch Grace turn away from Christian, covering her entire face as she devolves into loud, all consuming sobs, I lose it. The tears that roll down my cheeks come so aggressively they have the power to drown me, and the gasps that wrench their way from deep inside of me are so intense I nearly choke. I can’t hold myself up anymore. I fall to the floor and stay there, clutching my middle as tightly as I can to physically keep my body from falling apart, until a strong pair of hands picks me up and wraps me in a tight hug.

“Shh, Katie. It’s okay. We’re gonna get through this.”

“What happened, Elliot? Is Ana dead?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t know. They didn’t say anything about Ana. It’s… it’s Calliope. Carla told him she was stillborn.” He takes a shaky breath, and I use the pause in his explanation to look up at him. Really look at him. His eyes well with tears that he’s desperately trying to hold back. When he manages to regain his voice, it breaks over every other word. “There’s nothing we can do. She’s already gone.”

“But… but Ana did what she was supposed to do. I saw the doctor’s orders, she did everything. They… they named her, and they have a nursery, and… oh my god. She can’t be–” The tears come full force again, so Elliot tightens his hold on me. His arms are the only thing that keep me from once again collapsing on the floor, but, as he holds me, his own self-restraint breaks. He too starts to cry.

“I know. It’s not fair, none of this is, but we have to pull it together. Christian and Ana won’t get through this without us. We have to be strong for them.”

“How? What if we lose her today? Ana is my best friend, Elliot. She’s… my sister.”

“I know. Just think about what she would want us to do, and we do that. Only that.”

I swallow the lump in my throat and nod into his shirt. Ana would want us to pull together. Ana would want us to give each other hope. Ana wouldn’t want me to let this rip me apart, no matter how much it feels like it’s going to.

“Okay. We should check on Christian.”

It’s not good. I’ve never seen him like this and it’s almost scary. Even at his worst and most vulnerable, Christian has always exuded a kind of quiet strength or authority. Right now, he looks shattered. He’s still covered in Ana’s blood and the stains on his clothes make the grief on his face look gruesome. Mia is wrapped in Grace’s arms in the seats across from him and they’re both sobbing, but Carrick hovers near his son. Close enough to be supportive, not close enough to touch him. Elliot moves to stand in almost the same way, but on his other side, and I slide into the chair next to him.

“She’s not gone, Christian. They wouldn’t have taken Carla back there if Ana was gone. She’s obviously made it through surgery and she’s still alive. We have to have hope.”

He turns to look at me, his eyes bloodshot and glassy. “And if she does wake up, the first thing she’s going to ask about is Calliope. What do you think is going to happen when she finds out our baby is dead?”

The gravel in his normally smooth voice makes me cringe, and I have to tuck my bottom lip beneath my teeth to hide the tremble that’s started again. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. She has to want to fight, Kate. What’s she going to fight for when she realizes we’ve already lost our daughter? You know her just as well as I do. This is going to destroy her. She won’t– she won’t fight.”

“I-I–”

“Excuse me.” He gets out of his chair and walks out of the waiting room. Once he’s disappeared from view, both Elliot and Carrick let down their stone faced demeanor and move to cling to their family.

“This is my fault,” Grace says through her tears. “I should have told her to go to the hospital this morning. I should have never accepted it was something as simple as a scratch. Whenever a woman is bleeding in her third trimester, she should be sent to the hospital. I know that.” She shakes her head. “I didn’t want her to miss her graduation. I thought we had until tonight.”

“You didn’t know, sweetheart,” Carrick says.

“That doesn’t matter. Ana trusted me and I gave her the wrong advice. How will I ever look Christian in the eyes again?”

“How will any of us?” The Greys all look up at me in unison while I blink the tears from my eyes, but before Elliot can move to the seat next to me and attempt to comfort me yet again, we’re all distracted by the loud vibrations of my phone against the plastic seat. When I reach around to take it from my back pocket, I see Carter’s name on the screen.

“I’ll be back,” I tell them, then get out of my seat and walk towards the exit as I answer. “Hello?”

“Hey, any news?”

I swallow. “The baby didn’t make it. We don’t know about Ana.”

“Holy shit. Are you okay?”

“No. No, I’m not okay.”

“I’m in the parking lot. I didn’t know where to go.”

“I’ll, um… I’ll come to you.” I hang up the phone and turn away from the waiting room, but I only make through one hallway before I’m stopped in my tracks. Just outside of the emergency room there’s a small chapel, and in front of the wooden cross mounted on the wall is a small altar bearing a dozen or so flickering candles. Christian stands before it, staring up at the cross on the wall. There’s a small stick in his hand with a curl of smoke swirling steadily out of the end.

I lean against the doorway, watching him, and he stands there, silently, for a long time. When he finally moves, it’s only so that he can kneel down on the step.

“Please,” he whispers. “Please, don’t take her from me.”

He leans forward, resting his head against the edge of the altar, and his body starts shaking. At first, I’m not sure what’s wrong with him until I hear him draw a harsh, broken breath.

He’s crying.

Through everything we’ve been through, I’ve never once seen him cry, or even come close, and seeing him break down now is like receiving the horrible news about Calliope all over again. Part of me thinks I need to go to him, try to comfort him, but I can’t bring myself to face him like this. I don’t even know if he’d want me to.

In this private moment, I feel like I’m suddenly seeing him in a whole new light. I’ve always known Christian loved Ana, that’s never been a question in my mind. Whether or not he deserved her… yes. But never love. Now I can see what that loves means. In the face of truly losing the woman he loves, Christian is a broken man. I can’t even see his face, but the devastation is so blatant I don’t have to. We’ve all voiced concern over how Ana would be able to move on once she finds out about the baby, but no one said anything about how Christian would go forward without Ana. Well, now, the answer is right in front of me, clear as day.

He won’t.

It’s weird that my brain uses this moment to think of Carter. If it were me in the hospital and he didn’t know what was happening to me or how this was all going to turn out, is this where he’d be? Would I be here for him? I try to think of that, but when I imagine myself in Christian’s place, Carter’s face isn’t the one I associate with this level of pain. Maybe that’s because I’m still too deep in my grief over Ana. Or maybe it’s because, in the face of tragedy, I don’t have the willpower to fool myself over the man I’m supposed to be with anymore.

I turn and continue towards the emergency room, and the second I come through the automatic doors back outside, I find Carter waiting for me.

“There you are,” he says, rushing to hug me. His arms wrap around me, but the gesture feels empty. “What’s going on?”

“We don’t know much. Ana’s mom is holding this over Christian like it’s his fault, so she’s made sure that the hospital won’t give us any information. We only know that Calliope didn’t make it because she took it as an opportunity to blame Christian.”

“Jesus…”

“I have a bad feeling, Carter. I think… I think this is it.”

“Baby.” His face morphs with compassion, but when he pulls me to get me to move, it’s not back into the emergency room, it’s towards the parking lot.

“What are you doing?”

“We should get you out of here. Being around all of this isn’t good for you.”

“You think I would leave Ana like this?”

“You can’t help her, baby. You’re just torturing yourself.” I’m so baffled by his response that I can’t even form a coherent sentence to respond, and he takes my silence as agreement. “Let’s get you something to eat and then you and I can talk. We’ll try and get your mind off of this until we know what’s really going on. Besides, I asked you a question back at the house. I’d really like you to answer it.”

“Are you serious right now? Carter, my best friend might actually die today.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, baby.”

“Are you?”

“Of course I am, Kate. I love Ana too. But there’s nothing we can do to help her and… don’t you think we should let her family be alone right now?”

I nearly stumble backwards in shock. “I am her family, Carter.”

“Kate.”

“I don’t need to go with you to talk about what you asked me earlier. I don’t think that we should get married. In fact, I think we should break up.”

“What? Break up? Kate, what are you talking about? Because I don’t think you should sit and wait for Ana to die you suddenly want to break up with me?”

I shake my head and start backing away. “No, I want to break up because I don’t want to be with you anymore.”

“Kate… Look, you’re sad, I get that. Maybe I’m not being as sensitive as I should be, I’m sorry. We can go in and wait if you want, I just think that’s going to make this harder for you. But we’re not going to break up. I love you, Katie.”

“That’s the problem though. I don’t love you, Carter.”

He stops walking towards me and blinks, looking as though he’s run into a wall. “What?”

“I tried. I wanted to. But I’m not in love with you. I thought that because you were willing to give me the future I wanted, I would eventually fall in love with you, but I don’t think it works that way. I want marriage and kids, but I want them with someone who I truly, deeply, passionately love. I don’t want them with you. You’re a great guy and you’re sweet, but that’s not enough. I’m sorry.”

“Kate…”

“I’m in love with Elliot.” The words come out before I can stop them, and I’m left to play catch up. “I’m not in love with you, I’m in love with him, and I don’t think that’s going to change. I don’t think I want it to. So, I can’t accept you proposal. It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to him. I’m sorry, Carter. But I’m breaking up with you.”

He looks away from me, blinking down at the ground. As he fully begins to comprehend what I’m telling him, he goes from shocked, to hurt, to angry so quickly it’s hard to keep up.

“Another fucking Grey,” he mutters under his breath.

“I’m sorry, Carter”

“Yeah, me too.” He takes a deep breath and shakes his head back and forth while stepping away from me. “Then, I guess, have a good life, Katherine. If Ana pulls through, tell her I’m sorry about her kid.”

I nod, unsure of what else to say to him, then watch him walk back to his car. After he fishtails out of the parking lot, I think in eagerness to get away from me and this whole situation, I take a deep breath and make my way back into the hospital.

Despite the enormity of what I still might face at the end of the day, I return to the waiting room feeling much lighter than I did when I left. Elliot is watching Christian plead with one of the doctors, who has come out of the ICU to give an update to another family, and when I take the seat next to him, he reaches over to wrap my hand in his.

It’s comforting when there shouldn’t be any comfort.

It’s how I know I made the right choice.


 

Ray PoV:

The incessant beep from Ana’s heart monitor is the only thing that keeps me awake as the clock ticks past midnight. I cling to every single one of her heartbeats as if they could be her last, because the possibility that they could be is all too real. She already looks like nothing more than a ghost. The only time I can bring myself to even let go of her hand is when Dr. Baker comes in to examine her.

“One of us should go check on Callie,” Carla says, groaning slightly as she pushes her chair back to give the doctor more room to move around the bed. I press my lips together and shake my head.

“It’s your turn.”

“I know, but I– I don’t want to leave Ana.”

“You think I do?” Neither Carla or I have moved from our daughter’s bedside for hours. At first, we switched off going into the NICU to get updates on Callie every thirty minutes, but the longer Ana stays this way, the harder it is to leave. The doctor told us it would be a miracle if she woke up at all, and even if that were to happen, she’d have such severe brain deficiencies that she wouldn’t be herself anymore. As the hours pass and there isn’t any improvement in her condition, what we’ve been told starts to feel more and more true.

“It shouldn’t be our responsibility anyway,” I say bitterly. “Where’s Christian at? Isn’t he concerned at all about his baby? About Ana? Where the fuck is he?”

She lets her head fall onto the back of her chair and closes her eyes. “This is why Calliope has to leave with us, not the Greys. I told you we couldn’t trust him.”

“Yeah, well you might be right. If he really loved her the way he said he did, he’d be here right now.”

“Actually,” Dr. Baker begins, a sharp edge to her voice as she turns to face me. “He’s asked several times to be allowed back here to see Miss Steele, but Mrs. Adams has instructed the staff not to give out any information regarding her or Calliope’s condition to anyone who isn’t immediate family. We’ve had to turn him away every time and refuse to answer any of his questions, but he hasn’t stopped asking about her.”

“What?”

“If you’ve changed your mind on that directive, I’d love nothing more than to bring him back here. He’s in the waiting room right now.”

I turn to look at Carla, who suddenly seems more awake. Her lips are pressed together in a thin line and she refuses to look at me.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I don’t want him around my daughter. Because if we let him have anything to do with Calliope, she’ll end up here just like Ana. Don’t you get it, Ray? This is his fault. Calliope has to leave with us, not him.”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me, Carla. Are you telling me that he doesn’t even know about Callie? That he hasn’t even had the chance to see her?”

Carla doesn’t answer me, so Dr. Baker does. “No, he doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t seen her.”

“Jesus Christ.” I push away from Ana’s bed and glance over her once more before turning for the door. “I’ll be back.”

“Ray don’t!” Carla shouts after me, but I ignore her. Instead, I continue through the halls, following the signs that lead me to the waiting room. But when I push through the doors, I’m completely unprepared for what I find. His sister is sleeping in Grace’s lap, and Grace herself is crying silently into her hands while Carrick tries desperately to comfort her. Both Taylor and Luke sit beside Elliot, who is clinging to Kate while she sobs into his chest. I don’t even know this family very well, but their obvious grief is able to cut through the unfamiliarity enough to touch me on a real level. Yet, even that doesn’t overshadow Christian.

He’s hunched over in his chair, hands curled tightly into his own hair as if he’s trying to rip it out by the roots. His breathing is so heavy and exaggerated that I can see his entire body heaving from across the room. When I approach and he looks up at me, his face is contorted with such intense pain one might think he was burning alive. Still, when he sees me, he leaps to his feet.

“Ray,” he croaks. “Where’s Ana? What’s happened to her?”

“She’s in recovery.”

“She made it through surgery? She’s alive?”

I nod. “Yeah, she’s… alive. But that’s about the best I can give you.”

“What’s happened?”

“The doctors said that she lost too much blood in surgery and that she probably won’t recover from that. They’ve got her hooked up to a ventilator that’s breathing for her and a bunch of other machines that are keeping her alive. They said that she most likely isn’t going to wake up and that even if she does she’ll have brain damage severe enough that we won’t even be able to recognize her. It’s very likely that if she ever regains consciousness that she won’t be able to speak and she won’t be able to feed herself. She’ll have lost all of her motor skills and most, if not all, of her memories. She won’t know who any of us are.”

As my words hit him, he stumbles backwards away from me, like I’ve punched him. Somehow the pain that was so clear on his face when I came through the double doors intensifies. His family looks up at me as he collapses into his chair and the horror in their eyes and the helplessness Christian exudes suddenly make me feel like the grim reaper.

“Ray, please….” Christian begs. “I’ll do anything. I’ll give you anything. Just, please let me see her. Please.”

“Of course you can see her, Christian.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah. Come with me.”

He stands so quickly that his chair topples backwards, but he doesn’t turn around to pick it up. Elliot does, and as I lead Christian towards the double doors to the ICU, his brother gives me a sad, but grateful smile. I nod, then place a hand on Christian’s shoulder as the doors close behind us and I point him in the right direction.

Carla throws a fit when Christian and I get to Ana’s room. She starts screaming for the floor nurse to come and force Christian out and when that doesn’t pan out for her she begins threatening Christian. To his credit, he doesn’t fight back with her. He doesn’t even look at her. He moves around Ana’s bedside and with as much care as he can manage, takes her hand, and brings it slowly to his lips.

“I can’t believe you, Raymond,” Carla huffs. I turn to glare at her.

“Shut up, Carla! No one is concerned about you right now. Sit down and keep quiet, or go wait outside with the rest of the Greys.”

She mashes her lips together and shakes her head in defiance, but she doesn’t scream anymore. And, as she finally falls silent, I can hear what Christian is whispering to Ana.

“Come back to me, baby. Please? I love you. I need you. I can’t live without you. Please. Please, come back to me. Don’t follow Calliope. I know you’re going to want to, but I can’t lose you both. I can’t lose you. Please, don’t leave me.”

“Callie?” I repeat, confused. “What do you mean follow Callie? The baby’s in the NICU.”

His body tenses, and when he looks over at him the pain is gone from his face, replaced by blank shock. “What?”

“Calliope is in the NICU. She’s small and she’s not out of the woods yet, but she’s doing a hell of a lot better than Ana. They said if she makes it through the next 72 hours okay, she’ll probably be just fine.”

“Ray!” Carla hisses at me, but Christian turns to her before I do.

“You told me that she was stillborn,” he says, the rage in his voice rising exponentially with each word. “You told me that she was dead!”

Carla straightens her back and forces her face to remain stoic as she stares defiantly back at Christian. “Because she would be better off without you.”

Christian starts to shake and the profanity laced tirade he screams at her is so loud and threatening, it attracts the hospital staff. They come into the room and grab ahold of him to keep him from physically attacking her. And, as I watch them attempt to calm him down, I curl my fingers into a fist, then take Carla by the forearm and pull her out of Ana’s room. The more steps I take towards the waiting room, the hotter my blood seems to boil. Her careless disregard for a father’s love and need to be in his daughter’s life hits a little too close to home, and as I drag her behind me, ignoring her feeble attempts to worm out of my grip, the memories of the time she tried to take Ana from me flood through my mind.

 

“Where are you going?” I demand, pulling her duffle bag out of her hand as she tries to escape up the hallway.

“I’m leaving you, Ray.”

“What? Leaving? Why?”

“I don’t love you anymore. I haven’t for a long time. This marriage has been over for years.”

“Are you serious?”

She turns away from me, leaving behind her bag and hurrying towards the kitchen. “I found someone new. Someone who can take better care of us than you ever could. He has money and prospects. I choose him.”

“Carla, wait…”

“Ana! Let’s go, sweetheart.”

My eyes widen in panic. “No!”

“Anastasia!”

Our sixteen year old daughter comes out of the kitchen, a pencil still clutched in her right hand from doing her homework on the dining room table. “What?”

“Lets go,” Carla tells her. “Get in the car, we’ll get your things later.”

“Where are we going?” Ana winces slightly as Carla takes her hand and yanks her arm to get her to follow, and as I watch her reach for the knob on the front door, I drop her bag.

“Carla, no! You are not taking Anastasia out of this house!”

“You don’t get a say in this, Ray! I’m leaving you.”

“Then leave! But you’re not taking my daughter with you.”

“She’s not YOUR daughter!” She yanks the door open and pushes Ana through it, then pulls her down the driveway, practically throwing her into the back seat of our car.

“Carla!” I scream, chasing after her, but she turns and throws her body against the door between Anastasia and I to keep either of us from opening it.

“If you so much as take another step towards me I will call the police and make sure that you NEVER see her again. Do you hear me?”

“Why are you doing this? You can’t take her from me, please!”

“She’s not yours to take from. Anastasia is MY daughter, and she’s coming with ME. Goodbye, Raymond.”

Carla slips into the driver’s seat, and as she starts the car, Ana tries to open the back door to get out. Unfortunately, her mother seems to have pre-planned this and has turned the child locks on to keep her inside.

“Daddy? Wait, no! Daddy!” Her cries for me as Carla backs down the driveway have me in agony. I chase after them for three blocks, but never catch up. And when the car turns out of my view, taking my daughter away to a place I have no way to find, I feel as though my entire world crashes around me.

 

The moment we make it to the first available chair in the waiting room, I throw Carla down into it. This woman… I used to love this woman. She used to be my entire world. But looking at her and the fear in her eyes as she stares back at me, it’s like I don’t even recognize her.

“You stay right there and don’t move,” I growl.

“What’s happening?” Carrick asks from a few rows over. “Did something happen to Ana?”

I glance over my shoulder at him, then turn back to Carla. “Do you want to tell him or should I?”

She shakes her head. “Ray, please…”

Me then. I clench my teeth together then turn and walk over to Christian’s family. Each and every one of them stares up at me with fearful eyes, many of them with tears still running down their cheeks. “I’m sorry, but it seems Carla has mislead you. Calliope wasn’t a stillborn. She’s alive, in the NICU. She’s on a ventilator because she can’t breathe on her own yet and they’ve got her in an incubator, but she’s alive. And unless something happens in the next few hours, she’s gonna be just fine.”

“Wha–what?” Grace asks.

“Calliope is alive.”

As they begin to comprehend and accept what I’m saying, they all slowly turn towards Carla. Her face goes red and she recedes back into her chair, which is all the confirmation the Grey family needs. Grace starts gasping as though she’s going to hyperventilate, Kate once again begins to cry, but Elliot leaps out of his chair and moves as though he’s going to charge her.

“Whoa, easy now…” I say, reaching around his body to hold him back.

“Fuck you, Carla!” he screams, trying to break my hold. “Fuck you, you evil, fucking…”

“Elliot!” Carrick comes up beside his son and helps me restrain him, then looks very purposely into his eyes. “Control yourself.”

Elliot shrugs us off, but doesn’t try to charge Carla again. Instead, he takes two extremely aggressive steps backward and shakes his head at her in disgust. “I hope you burn in hell, Carla.”

He turns and storms out of the waiting room, pushing the doors open violently as he goes. Carrick takes a deep, calming breath before turning to face a now shaking Carla. He doesn’t display the same kind of fiery rage as his son, but when he speaks, his voice is like ice. “You won’t get away with this. I am going to take everything you have. I’ll see you in court.”

Grace reaches out for him as he walks back towards her, but Kate gets out of her chair and comes to me. “Can we see her? Are we allowed back there?”

“Uh…”

There’s a commotion behind me that stops me from answering and when we all turn to see what’s happening, we find Christian shouting for Ana and being dragged back into the waiting room by two men in light blue scrubs and a security guard.

“Ana, no! Please!”

“I’m sorry, sir. But you have to wait here.” The doctor releases him, then turns to hurry back into the ICU. I almost expect him to rush the door after them, but he doesn’t. He slumps down into his chair and looks as though he’s burning again.

“What happened?” Luke asks. Christian briefly glances over at him, but then back down at the floor between his feet.

“Her– her heart stopped.” He takes a long, broken breath, then looks helplessly to the sky. “It’s not good. If you saw her… it’s not good.”

“Oh, Christian…” Grace sinks to the floor and tries to take her son’s hands in her face, but moves out of her reach to keep her from touching him.

“I can’t do this. I can’t…”

“I know, Son,” I interject. He turns and looks at me, his eyes pleading for any form of reassurance, so I do the only thing I can think to do. The only thing that would allow me to stay sane if I were in his situation. “Come on, Christian. Let’s go check on your daughter.”


 

Christian PoV:

There’s a very surreal quality to everything around me as I follow Ray into the elevator that will take us down to the NICU. On the one hand, it’s torture knowing that, right now, a team of doctors are fighting to keep Ana’s heart beating and I’m walking away from her. But Ray’s offer to finally let me see the daughter I still haven’t stopped mourning comes with an almost instinctual kind of pull. Nothing feels real and, as we approach the doors to the NICU and we’re handed pink plastic gowns to put over our clothes and paper covers for our shoes and hair,  I wonder briefly if this has all just been a dream. Perhaps this is all one long nightmare and soon I’ll wake up screaming with Anastasia in the bed next to me, perfectly healthy, our child still safely encased in her womb.

“Ready?” Ray asks. I nod robotically.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.”

He turns and pulls open the door to the NICU and I’m immediately taken aback by how quiet it is. The room is filled with rows of plastic boxes surrounded by concerned looking parents, but I don’t hear a single cry from any of the infants enclosed inside. Only the beeps from the monitors and sniffles of worried mothers carry me to the back of the room, where a doctor is currently reaching into one of the incubators that doesn’t have anyone around it.

“Dr. Craig,” Ray says in greeting. She looks up at smiles.

“Mr. Steele.”

“How is she doing?”

The doctor lets out a heavy sigh. “Well, she’s not any worse, but her oxygen levels are still low and her heartbeat isn’t very strong… Stable is good though. Right now, stable is excellent.”

“That’s good to hear.” He nods and then turns back to look at me. “This is Callie’s dad, Christian Grey.”

“Oh, Mr. Grey. Welcome. I heard you were having trouble getting clearance… Come, have a look. Your daughter has been very anxious to meet you.”

My body goes numb at the doctor’s overly bright smile and when she steps aside so that I can get closer, I have to force myself to move. Calliope’s entire body is tangled in tubes and wires and her head is covered with a matching hat. Even her face is obscured by the tubes coming out of her nose.

“What’s wrong with her color?” I ask, because I can’t seem to look past the deep purple hue of her skin.

“Actually, she looks pretty good,” Ray says. “She was blue when I first saw her.”

“It’s from the abruption,” the doctor adds. “Her oxygen supply was cut off in-utero and that has a significant impact on her pigment. She’s improved since we’ve had her on the ventilator.”

“The tubes?”

“Yes, Mr. Grey.”

“How… how long will she need them? The ventilator.”

“Well, that depends on her. The lungs are really one of the last stages of fetal development as they’re not needed during gestation. I’ve seen infants born at 34 weeks need the vent for a few days, some who have needed it for several weeks. We just have to let her grow in her own time.”

“But she will grow? She’s going to be okay?”

The doctor frowns. “Generally, infants born at 34 weeks have very good outlooks. However, the circumstances regarding Calliope’s birth present complications all on their own. Right now, she’s stable and responding very well to treatment and that’s great, but the next few days are going to be very critical. Right now, we’re focusing on her breathing, her ability to maintain her own body temperature, and the strength of her heart.” I nod and the doctor reaches up to place a hand on my shoulder. “But there’s no reason not to be optimistic, Mr. Grey. Your daughter has quite the little spirit.”

“Like her mother,” I whisper, then take a deep breath to keep myself focused on Calliope, rather than allow myself to wallow in grief again over the terrifying last seconds I spent with Ana.

The doctor smiles again. “You know what, I’ve got everything I need here. Why don’t I give you some time alone to get to know each other, huh?”

“Thank you.” She nods, reaches out to shake Ray’s hand, and then leaves. I step closer to the incubator, wishing I could open it so I could touch her and feel for sure that she was real, but she looks so fragile inside I’m almost afraid to even touch the plastic surrounding her. She’s so small, smaller than I even imagined.

“Did they tell you how much she weighs?” I ask, looking up at Ray.

He swallows. “4 lbs, 7 ounces. 17 ½ inches long.”

Four pounds? Nothing. That’s nothing.

I shake my head and rest it against the side of the incubator, staring at her like I’m afraid she’s going to disappear at any second. It feels that way. She was already taken from me once, and with Ana hanging in the balance a floor above me, it seems almost inevitable that she’s going to be taken from me again.

“I’m going to go give an update to your family,” Ray says. “Do you… do you need anything?”

“No. Thank you.”

“Your welcome, Christian.” He hesitates for a moment, then turns to leave and I’m alone with my daughter for the first time. I’m not sure how long I sit with her. Several other parents come in and out, and the doctors mill through the boxes running tests and taking notes, but it all blurs together in background as I focus intently on Calliope’s face. I take note of every breath she takes and every twitch of her lip or her eyelids as she sleeps. A few times the doctors come to check her machines and change the IV bags giving her fluids and nourishment. The attending who takes over for Dr. Craig even lets me reach inside the incubator to take Calliope’s hand after he’s finished examining her.

“Calliope,” I whisper, pushing the tip of my finger into her tiny palm. The moment I touch her, her fingers clasp around mine and I’m actually shocked at the strength with which she grips me back. It’s the first thing in almost a day now that has felt promising.

“Hey, baby girl. I’m sorry your mother isn’t here right now. She wants to be. She loves you so much, Callie, and you are so lucky to have her for a mother.” Her fingers tighten around me again, and the small, innocuous gesture makes me smile. Almost as if she’s agreeing with me. “She graduated from Harvard yesterday. You don’t know what that is, but it’s a big deal. Your mother is so smart, Callie. She’s the most incredible person I know. I love her so much, just like I love you. I hope, one day, you grow up to be just like her.”

Her eyelids start to flutter, and for half a second, she opens her eyes. Had I not been staring at her so intently, I probably would have missed it, but in that brief space of time, I really see her. Not just as the impossibly small, wounded stranger that I’m now responsible for, but her.

She looks just like Ana. I can see her in the curve of her lips and shape of her nose. She’s there in the dark thin wisps of hair that stick out from under her hat. I like it that way. I’d be content to have her mirror her mother perfectly, but when I see that her eyes are the same muted gray color as mine, I find that I’m as disappointed as I thought I’d be to see myself in her. She’s more than just Ana. She’s both of us, together. Like a part of our love that I can see and feel. And, as she closes her eyes again and and her fingers relax around mine, I feel a deep rooted cosmic and molecular shift occur inside of me. In this moment, the tiny little girl before me has instantly and irrevocably stolen my heart and I know that I will, from this moment forward, forever belong to her.

 

With Ray in the waiting room, my family is allowed to come back and see Calliope periodically throughout the next morning and afternoon. It’s awkward with my mother, because she spends most of the time crying and then grilling the NICU staff for specifics about Calliope’s development. Kate manages to put aside enough of her fears for Ana to enjoy meeting her goddaughter for the first time. But Elliot and my father are more concerned with me than the baby. None of them can tell me anything about Ana.

“Christian, you really need to take a break,” Elliot says, late in the afternoon. “You’ve haven’t slept in over a day.”

I shake my head. “I’m fine.”

“Well, then come eat something or… change your clothes. You look like hell, man.”

I look down at my shirt and pants, still stained with Ana’s blood. There’s a day’s worth of stubble on my cheek and, though I haven’t looked in a mirror since I’ve been here, I imagine my hair must be in complete disarray from the number of times I ran my fingers through it yesterday. But all of that seems grossly insignificant.

“You think I give a fuck what I look like right now? The doctors said that Calliope’s first 72 hours were critical, I’m not leaving her side until she’s in the clear.”

“You can’t take care of anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself. Seriously, let’s get something to eat, and get you some fresh air. Thirty minutes and we’ll be back, I promise.”

I look down at Calliope, warring with myself, just as Dr. Craig comes by to do her rounds. “Go ahead, Mr. Grey. We’ll take real good care of your daughter until you get back.”

“See?”

I look between Elliot and the doctor, still unsure. But I’m ultimately won over by the nagging hunger I’ve been ignoring for hours. Besides, the exhaustion is catching up with me. I could use some coffee.

“Here.” I reach into my pocket, pull out my wallet, and find a spare business card. “My cell is on this. If anything changes, anything at all…”

“Then I’ll call you straight away.”

I nod, then shoot one last nervous look down at my baby before allowing Elliot to lead me out of the NICU and back out towards the main floor.

“There’s soup down in the cafeteria,” he says, as we ride the elevator up towards the waiting room outside the ICU. “New England Clam Chowder. It’s the only decent thing I’ve found really.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“Hey…” The elevator pings, but Elliot uses the time before the car comes to a full stop to reach out and grip my shoulder reassuringly. “Callie’s going to be fine. She already looks so much better, and you heard what the doctor said. She’s already gained an ounce. That’s good.”

“She’s not the only one I have to worry about.” The doors slide open and I scan the waiting room for my family. Unfortunately, the first person I find is Carla, and the moment I see her, I feel my heart freeze in my chest.

She and Ray are speaking with a very solemn looking doctor.

“Christian!” Elliot calls behind me, but I’m already gone. I move through the maze of chairs so quickly that by the time I get across the room, I nearly knock Carla over.

“What happened?”

The doctor hesitates.

“It’s fine, he’s her fiancé,” Ray says, then shoots a hard look at Carla. “He’s fine.”

“Okay then… like I just said, her heart just isn’t strong enough. She’s coded three times throughout the night and I don’t know that she can make it through another revival. Her labs show that her cell count is dangerously low, which is only weakening her heart, and we haven’t seen any positive sign that her condition will improve. I think the time has come that we… discuss other options.”

“Another treatment?” I ask, but the doctor shakes his head.

“No. Withdrawal of care.”

“No!”

“Sir, I understand that this is a difficult decision, but in light of the circumstances…”

“This isn’t a difficult decision,” I snap back. “There is no decision. I’m not withdrawing care. I won’t. Ever.”

“Sir…”

“There’s really no hope?” Ray asks. “You really don’t think she’s ever going to wake up?”

“There’s always hope,” the doctor replies. “But in my professional opinion, I do not believe she will wake up. And if by some miracle she does, her quality of life won’t be good.”

“That’s not for you to decide,” I growl, but Ray shakes his head.

“Christian, really think about what he’s telling you. Do you think Ana wants the kind of life he’s telling you she’ll have?”

“I know that she’ll want a chance to know her daughter. Everything he’s telling you right now is just a guess and if there is even a sliver of hope that she’s going to wake up and make it through this, I will fight for her. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care if she’s on those machines for years, I’m not giving up on her.”

The conflict in his eyes is blatant as he stares back at me, but I don’t falter in my resolve. Anastasia’s battle is not over yet and anyone who thinks otherwise is going to have to go through me first. Even if it is her father.

“Can we see her?” Ray asks. The doctor nods.

“Yeah. Only two at a time though…”

Carla shoots a nasty look at me but Ray intervenes. “Have a seat, Carla.”

“No, that’s my daughter…”

Have. A. Seat.”

Her jaw clenches, but under Ray’s burning gaze she retreats and slowly lowers herself into the chair behind her. He then looks to me and the two of us follow the doctor back into her room.

 

Somehow, she looks worse than she did the first time I saw her. The color has drained from her lips and the dark circles below her eyes are stark in contrast against her too pale skin. She seems gaunt. The beep coming from the monitor at her bedside is anything but steady, slowing and quickening in irregular intervals. I don’t know what to make of it.

I slump down into the seat next to her bed and once again take her hand in mine. Ray leans over and places a soft kiss on her forehead, then stares at her the way I’ve been staring at Calliope all night. Eventually though, he gets up and leaves.

One by one, every member of my family and hers, even Luke, come in to see her, and each one says some form of good-bye. It’s beyond irritating, infuriating even, watching them giving up on her. When Kate finally sits up from the place where she’d been sobbing into Ana’s blankets at the side of the bed, she leans up to kiss her on the cheek, promises she’ll look after Calliope, and something inside of me snaps.

“Get out!” I shout at her.

She looks up at me with confused, glassy eyes. “Christian?”

“Get the fuck out of here, Kate. All of you. If you want to give up, then give up. Go! We don’t need you.”

“But..”

“Get out!”

“Is everything okay in here?” I look up and see a concerned looking doctor hovering in the doorway, but my anger is boiling out of control now and I can’t hold it back.

“No, it’s not. If one more doctor comes into this room and attempts to discuss withdrawal of care with me, I will sue this hospital. I will have your fucking licenses. Now get out! EVERYONE!”

“Sir…”

“GET OUT!”

Kate scrambles out of her chair as I start shaking and hurries away from me. The doctor looks as though she isn’t sure what she should do, but eventually she too turns and moves away from Ana’s room. I slam the door behind both of them, wishing desperately there was a lock on the handle so I could keep everyone away from Anastasia, but there isn’t. So, instead, I pace the room. Ready to face and eviscerate anyone who dares to come back and challenge me again.

It doesn’t take long.

A male doctor is sent in next, but I’m quick to chase him off. Next they bring down the hospital administrative staff, who tell me if I don’t calm down they’ll have to have security remove me. I get them out by threatening to call a news station and explain how this hospital is attempting to coerce family members into removing life support from loved ones against their will. I’m ready to physically come to blows with the next person who enters the room, but when the door opens, it’s Elliot, and I can tell just in the way that he stands that he’s here to make a peace offering.

“No one is trying to take her from you, Christian,” he says gently.

“What do you think withdrawal of care means, Elliot?”

“It– I mean…”

“She’s going to be fine. Okay, she’s stubborn and she’s not going to let us push her to wake up before she’s ready to, but she will wake up. I know her, and I know she’s not going to leave Calliope behind. She’s not going to leave me. She is fighting, but she needs our help.”

“So, we give her some time.”

Elliot and I both look up and see Ray in the doorway, leaning against the frame and nodding as though he’s made some kind of internal decision and is reassuring himself of it as he speaks.

“You’re right, Christian. Annie has always done things in her own way. If she needs time, if you need time, then… we’ll wait.”

It’s not a firm promise of anything, and I don’t hear even a pale echo of the resolution I feel deep inside of me in his voice. Most likely, he’s doing this for me, not Ana, but it’s a chance. Time. Maybe even enough for me to plan what I’m going to do next once the clock on his arbitrary promise has run out.

“Thank you, Ray.”

“Of course. Elliot.” He nods behind him, motioning for Elliot to leave the room, and my brother nods before reaching over to squeeze Ana’s hand one more time before he goes. I half expect Ray to take his seat, but he doesn’t. He turns and leaves right behind Elliot, and once again, I’m alone with Anastasia.

“Please, baby,” I whisper, lifting her fingers to my lips and kissing her across each of her knuckles. “Please wake up. Please be okay.”

 

For the most part, no one comes to check on us again beside the doctors doing their regular rounds. I half expect that my family has gotten a hotel and left to get some sleep or possibly shower. But now that I’m allowed free access to her room, I can’t bear to drag myself away from Ana to go check. The solitude is fine, preferrable really, except that it means I don’t have regular updates on Calliope. The doctors in the NICU have my cell number through, and Ana’s room number. So, I wait without news.

The second sleepless night is almost too much. My eyes droop as I rest my cheek against Ana’s hand on the bed. The time between each check in from the floor attendings grows longer and longer as the hours tick on, and by two, I nearly succumb to sleep.

Except that the irregular beep from Ana’s heart monitor that I’ve clung to every second I’ve been by her side suddenly stops. I sit up and turn with wide eyes to look at the monitor, waiting for the long, drawn out tone that will tell me her heart has stopped, but it doesn’t come. Several excruciating seconds pass and then the monitor starts to spike and fall with the beat of her heart again. Not in the same erratic pattern as before, but in slow, steady beats. I look down at the watch around my wrist, counting each beat as I watch the second hand tick away an entire minute. Once the time has passed, I start over, counting again, and at the end of the second minute, the number of beats is only off by one.

Regular.

Quickly, I fumble to get the plastic box with the nurses’ call button untangled from the machine at the side of the bed and then start pressing it over and over again. It takes a moment, but soon, the nurse comes to check on us.

“Yes, Mr. Grey? May I get you something?”

“Her heartbeat,” I reply, and the nurse’s mouth goes slack.

“What?”

“It was… it wasn’t right, but it’s regular now. I timed it, 65 beats per minute.”

She steps into the room and takes a look at the monitor, then tells me to wait a moment while she gets the doctor. A few minutes later, the night attending, who I’ve only seen once, comes into the room with a small team and a medical cart. They ask me to step out so they can examine Ana, and when I do, I take the opportunity to try and find my family. Going into the waiting room though, it seems I was correct when I thought maybe they’d gotten a hotel for the night. The waiting room is empty, except for Ray.

“Ana?” he asks, sitting bolt upright when he sees me come through the double doors.

“I think… I think her heart is normalizing.”

“What?” He gets up and we both make our way back into the ICU, hovering outside Ana’s door while the doctor’s complete their work up. It seems to take forever, but when the attending finally comes out of the room, he looks flabbergasted.

“Well?” Ray asks.

“Remarkable,” he says. “She’s been in A Fib for nearly 36 hours but… her heartbeat has completely normalized.”

“And that’s good?” I check.

“It’s amazing. Her temperature is up, her vitals are stronger than they’ve been since she was admitted… I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

Ray gasps and nearly stumbles backwards. When he catches himself on the door frame, he looks over at me and his eyes well with joyful tears. “Christian…”

I shake my head, not willing to let myself feel too much hope unless there’s just cause. “So, she’s going to wake up, then? She’s going to be okay?”

“I have no idea,” the doctor says. “Possibly. We tried talking to her but she didn’t respond and her reflexes are still off, but… I definitely feel better about her outcome than I did two hours ago. Hopefully, this positive trend continues.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

He nods and turns to leave us, and once he and his team have completely vacated Ana’s room, Ray heads inside and I fish out my phone to call my father.

 

The third day in the hospital is strangely the most chaotic yet. Ana’s vitals continue to grow stronger until they’re hovering on just the wrong side of normal, so I finally feel comfortable leaving her side long enough to check on Calliope as long as there’s someone to stay with her. Thankfully, Kate seems all too willing to take on that role and, with my parents practically camped out in the NICU, I can go back and forth between the two without ever leaving Calliope or Ana alone.

I try to be present every time the doctors round on Ana, and whenever it’s time for Calliope to be fed, but the two often overlap. It has me feeling like I’m constantly on the run, and on my third day of no sleep, it’s not an easy feat.

“I’m sorry,” I tell Dr. Craig after I cut her off with a deep, yawn.

“That’s quite alright, Mr. Grey. Calliope’s doing great. She’s up to 4 lbs 9 ounces, and I think if her oxygen levels stay up throughout the night, we might be ready to take her off the vent in the morning.”

“Really? That’s great news.”

“Christian!” I whirl around and see Elliot panting in the doorway at the other end of the room. He and Kate have been sitting with Ana, so at first his sudden appearance has my body tight with dread.

“What?”

“You have to come, quick.”

“What happened? What’s wrong?”

He shakes his head. “Nothing is wrong. Ana’s awake.”

Next Chapter

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