“It’s just getting to be too much,” Ros says, taking a sip from her third Tom Collins. “I don’t have the resources to manage it all anymore and I think it’s starting to hold us back. Gallagher’s been relentless, and I don’t have the capacity to fight her on new contracts or have Welch give us faster speeds when I’m buried up to my eyeballs in fusion negotiations. Try as I may, I’m unfortunately not you, and my new COO is definitely not me. We’re spread too thin.”
The leather over my chair groans as I sit back and bring my right ankle to rest on my left knee. I pick up my tumbler and swirl the bourbon inside around thoughtfully before downing it in a single gulp. “Endurance is the future of GEH. Don’t lose sight of that.”
“So, what? You think I should just drop everything else and put everything we have into Endurance?”
“Christian.” She says my name like I’m being ridiculous, then takes a much longer drink. “Could you imagine GEH without its Fiber Optics division?”
“Yes, I have. Over a year ago when I first started planning Endurance.”
“It’s what built this company. It’s our very foundation.” She shakes her head, the reluctance weighing heavily on her face, and shakes the ice around in the bottom of her glass. I get up from my chair and move to the bar against the far wall of my office. In a clean glass with ice, I mix together the gin, syrup, lemon juice, and soda, then pour another bourbon for myself, and make my way back to my desk. She smiles gratefully as I pass her the fresh cocktail.
“Maybe it’s time to implement a board of directors,” I suggest as I settle back into the seat next to her. Her brow creases.
“You can’t be serious.”
I nod. “Endurance is the future of GEH, and it needs all of your attention. There is no point in you wasting your time fucking around with contracts worth a few million in Fiber Optics, when a single Endurance contract is worth more than the assets of every other division in the company combined. Everything that is not Endurance should be absolutely meaningless to you now. So, if you don’t want to shut it all down, you’re going to have to find someone else to run it. Create a board and assign a director to govern each division. Remove yourself.”
Her face is blank for a long beat, then morphs with incredulity. “Are you telling me Christian Grey is suddenly okay with his company being controlled by a body who could overrule the CEO?”
I shrug. “I’m not the CEO anymore. And if you don’t structure the board in a way that makes it so that you still have an absolute controlling majority vote, then I’ve taught you nothing.”
She laughs, but the sound is interrupted with a steady knock on my office door. “Yes?”
Silently, the door eases open, and Mackensie steps inside with Calliope perched on her hip. They’ve been in the playroom since dinner and yet, somehow, my baby’s mouth and fingers are covered in chocolate. Her eyes are alight with joy. It sends a wave of warmth through me more powerful and soothing than bourbon could ever compete with.
“Daddy!” she chirps. “I got a treat.”
“I see that,” I laugh back.
Mackensie gives Calliope a playfully chastising look, before turning her warm eyes to me. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Grey. Gail was baking with Calliope while I put Kennedy down and she let her have the spoon with the batter on it. I’m going to give her a bath, but I wanted to bring her in to say good night first.”
“No need,” I tell her, deciding against my drink and sliding it away from me. “I’ll put her to bed myself.”
“Absolutely.” I push out of my seat and nod to Ros, who sighs and climbs to her feet as well.
“Thanks for the free advice,” she says, leaning in to hug me. Her arms wrap around my shoulders and her chest melds to mine. It’s strange. Not because there’s any residual effects from my touch issues, but because Ros has never been particularly physically affectionate in all the years we worked together. Not when we were teenagers and it felt like it was us against the world, not when we were at the top of our game, or during our lowest lows. Since I’ve been gone, she’s suddenly a cheesy dad on a 90s family sitcom.
“Anytime,” I tell her once she’s pulled away from me again. “Though, if you are going to form a board, I do expect representation. So, I don’t know that it’s free advice…”
She laughs and shakes her head. At the door, I pull Calliope from the nanny’s arms and dismiss her for the night. Then Ros and I move into the living room… or what used to be my living room.
The furniture is gone and has been replaced with various medical equipment. There’s a hospital bed at the center, surrounded with black-screened monitors, and empty poles that I hope will never hold IV bags of fluid or blood. Sterile instruments lie inside their packages, already arranged neatly on trays in the exact place they should be in an emergency situation. Behind the gate that keeps Calliope away from all of it, there are two incubators and defilation machine. The carpet has been torn up and replaced with white, shiny linoleum that won’t absorb blood, no matter how much there is.
It’s a complete delivery room and trauma center all in one, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
I ignore it all as we move to the foyer. As much as I need the certainty the equipment provides, looking at it makes me tense. I’ve spent months doing everything I can to ensure that Ana has space and time to heal from her trauma and experience this pregnancy with as little stress as possible. And it’s worked… for the most part. She’s managed to find peace and joy in her pregnancy, but she does seem to pick up and take on the worry of everyone around her. The closer we get to her due date, the tighter the knot of fear twists around my gut, and the harder it is to keep my trepidation from leaking into the otherwise tranquil blue of her eyes. And that trepidation is starting to show up in her lab results.
It’s not going to be like last time.
It’s not going to be like last time.
It’s not going to be like last time.
Once we make it to the front door, Ros kisses Calliope’s chocolatey cheeks and gives us both a warm smile before promising to see me at the same time next week and ducking out into the light spring rain that falls through the night.
“Wait…” I call to her, then duck my head into the security office. “Taylor, will you walk Ros to her car?”
“Ana’s still upstairs?”
“Yes, sir. Doesn’t look like she’s convinced Sawyer to help her shimmy out the window yet.” He chuckles at his own joke, but I don’t know that I find it particularly funny. Probably because I can’t be entirely sure it is a joke. As predicted, Ana’s reacting to mandatory bedrest like it’s some form of inhumane torture I’ve personally invented just for her. If Kate and Sawyer didn’t show up here daily to give her something to do besides harass Stephen’s over the Phoenix project or watch me worry about her, I’d probably have to get her an ankle monitor to keep her from disappearing in the night.
“Well, don’t put it past her…” I reply, in warning. Taylor nods.
“Of course, sir. Woods will keep an eye on her while I escort Ms. Bailey out.”
He pulls an umbrella from the stand next to the door, then smiles at my former partner as he motions for her to duck beneath it. She waves to me, then follows him down my front walk. In the security office, Woods rolls his chair to the screen that shows the display from the camera outside my bedroom window. It glows with life, but it’s still and quiet. Satisfied, I turn to my baby girl.
“Ready to get cleaned up, Princess?”
“No, I like it.”
“You like it?”
“Really?” I pull her delicate fingers to my mouth and nibble at the ends with my lips. “Hm… you’re right. I like it too. Maybe I’ll just…” I make sounds like I’m eating her as I move my lips up her arm, and she starts to giggle.
“I don’t know, baby girl. I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist. You should probably take a bath, just to be safe.”
She mashes her lips together, but tilts her head to the side as though she’s weighing her options. The look of careful consideration behind her gray eyes almost makes me laugh. “Do the pink water?”
“Yeah, you can have pink water.”
“Okay, den don’t eat me. I take a bath.” I laugh and pull her into me, kissing her hard on the cheek as I start for the stairs.
Now that she’s almost two and fully mobile, it’s difficult keeping her corralled while I fill her bath. Mostly, I keep her distracted on the floor by letting her pick out which toys she’ll take into the tub with her, but when I’m changing the settings on the lights Welch installed so that the bath water looks pink, my mother comes in with my naked baby squirming in her arms. She’s dressed in a robe with her house slippers peeking out beneath.
At the same time the equipment was being set up downstairs, I had people moving my mother into one of our guest suites. She’s here with Ana every morning, every night, and any time Dr. Baker isn’t on call. I not only have the space and tools for an emergency, I also have a trained surgeon. There will not come a time when I am unprepared for the worst if Ana goes into labor unexpectedly.
It’s not going to be like last time.
“Someone made a break for it,” she says, looking down at Calliope as though she could never do anything wrong, despite the fact that she’s grunting with effort, trying to escape her hold.
“Do you need some help?”
“No…” I reach up and turn off the water, checking the temperature one last time before I turn to retrieve my baby. But even in the two seconds it took me to dip my fingers into the bath, Calliope has taken off again and my mother has to chase her down. She brings her back into the bathroom, glowing while Calliope complains.
“Okay,” I admit. “Maybe I need some help.”
My mother smiles, then sets Calliope down in the tub. She whines that she wants out, but when my mother distracts her with the pink water and a toy mermaid, she goes still and I’m able to wash her hair and the last of the chocolate from her skin.
“All done,” I tell her, and I pull the plug on the drain. My mom throws her hands up in celebration, and Calliope giggles at the praise. I pull the hooded towel off the back of the door that looks like a unicorn, and wrap it around my baby.
“Do you want me to help put her down?” my mom asks.
I shake my head. “No, I’m going to take her in to see Ana before I put her to bed.”
“Okay.” With one last warm smile, my mom kisses Calliope’s forehead and tells her that she’ll see her in the morning. Calliope lifts her fingers to wave good-bye, then tucks her wet cheeks into my shirt. I hug her tightly against my chest, basking in the glow it gives me, then start toward my own bedroom.
The laughter hits me before I even open the door, and once I do my eyes immediately move to Ana. She’s sitting up against our headboard, so round now that it takes every pillow wedged and propped up around her to keep her upright. The serenity reflected in her eyes makes me breathe, and I turn a grateful look toward its impetus. At the end of the bed, Luke and Jade shoot bitter looks at Kate and Elliot, who are celebrating smugly next to them.
“This isn’t a fair game,” Sawyer complains. “You two have been together for half a decade. Jade and I are barely a year into this. You two are married. Newlyweds should not apply to people who are not newly wed.”
“Bitch all you want, I clearly love Kate more than you love Jade and thems the cold hard facts,” Elliot replies with a teasing smile. “I don’t know what to tell you, buddy. That’s just the way it is sometimes.”
Sawyer rolls his eyes and catches me hovering in the doorway with Calliope. The look of irritation vanishes, and is replaced with vengeance.
“Alright, Elliot. If you’re so confident that you know everything there is to know about Kate, then why don’t you try a round against your brother and Ana?”
Elliot’s eyes shift to the door, finding me standing there looking back at him with a cocked eyebrow. The superiority drains from his face instantly. “That’s not fair, he’s like a stalker.”
Sawyer laughs. “Yeah, I know. I did most of his stalking for him. But the best thing about this game is that all it takes to win is loving your girl more than your opponent, remember? How much do you love Kate, Elliot?”
Ana turns to look at me, grinning, before facing my brother. “Yeah, Elliot. You and Kate have spent way more time together than Christian and I have, after all. Surely, you had more time to get to know her in those long years Christian and I weren’t even speaking to each other.”
“Hey!” I say sharply, reaching up to cover Calliope’s ears. “Can we not bring up such morbid subjects in front of the baby, please?”
Ana giggles and reaches out for our daughter. While I cross the room to gently lay her in her arms, Jade reaches over to take the box of cards that rests in front of Ana. Once she’s plucked one out, she leans over and softly reads the questions so Elliot can’t hear, and Kate writes down her answers. The time passes in a blur of tranquil happiness watching Ana and Calliope cuddle with one another, and shocks of panic whenever I see a flash of discomfort cross Ana’s face.
It’s not going to be like last time.
“Got it?” Jade asks once Kate sets her pen down.
“Piece of cake.”
“No,” Elliot interrupts. “Not ‘piece of cake.’ Kate and I get a handicap.”
“A handicap?” Luke repeats.
“Yeah. We all know that Christian’s going to get them all right, and no one here is going to be impressed. If I also get them all right, then I think I should win. So we get plus one.” He turns to me, a challenge sparking behind his blue eyes, and I grin.
“Fine, but if I still beat you, Calliope’s playhouse takes precedence over your next client. And you’re going to do it for free.”
He mashes his lips together in contemplation, narrowing his eyes as he sizes up the risk. When I called his secretary about the elaborate princess castle I wanted to build in the backyard, she told me it would be six months before they had an opening.
My own brother…
“If you’re scared…” I taunt him, and the uncertainty in his eyes vanishes.
“Fine, deal.” He turns to Jade, and I wrap an arm around my wife and daughter.
“Alright, question number one. What is the trait Kate has that’s most like her mom?”
“Her pathological need to control everything,” Elliot says. Kate turns her notebook around, and although her answer wasn’t quite so blunt, both Luke and Jade decide that ‘bossy’ is a match and award them the first point. Elliot grins at her, she whacks him with her notebook for being a smartass.
“Hey! This game is about love!” he says, defensively. “That’s not very loving behavior.” She narrows her eyes, but I interject before she can snap back at him.
“There’s nothing wrong with having a pathological need to control everything. Some people are just better at things, and should be in charge.”
“Yeah…” Sawyer says, and he gives an over exaggerated side-eye to Ana. Her giggle, and Jade reading the next question keep me from reminding him how in-charge I can really be.
“Who is Kate’s biggest celebrity crush?” Jade asks.
This time, Elliot snorts. “She’s going to say it’s Channing Tatum, but it’s actually the dude who played the bearded guy on Star Trek Next Generation.” He turns taunting eyes to his wife. “Her very first love.”
Kate shows the paper that does in fact say Channing Tatum, though the blush in her cheeks verifies everything else Elliot said as well.
“That’s still a point,” Jade says, marking the paper on the bed next to her. “And the next question… What is Kate’s favorite pizza topping?”
“Sausage, mushroom, and olive, same as me.” He turns to Kate, waiting for the celebration, but before she even turns her paper around, Ana’s face breaks into a smile and I know he’s got it wrong.
“Artichokes,” Ana says, while Sawyer nods beside her. Elliot’s brow furrows and Kate turns her notebook around.
Elliot’s face goes blank and he looks up at his wife with a furrowed brow. “What do you… I’ve literally never seen you eat a pizza with artichokes on it.”
Kate gives him a sour look. “That’s because we always order what you want.”
“Uh, yeah… because what I want is delicious. Artichokes? What’s wrong with you, Katherine?”
She lifts her notebook to slap Elliot across the arm with it for a second time. “That was your handicap, so you better get everything right from here on out. I can already see that self-satisfied smirk starting in the corner of Christian’s lips, and I can’t risk sending Ana into early labor by slapping it off of him.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Kate,” I add, feeling my grin broaden as I speak. She narrows her eyes, and turns back to Jade for the next question.
Elliot knows that her very first career ambition was to be a gymnast, and that the first car she drove was a BMW. It all comes down to the last question, and for a moment, I think I’ve got him when he stutters over the name of her first pet cat. The panic builds in his eyes as he searches the deepest recesses of his brain, coming up empty handed…
“Fluffy!” he says, just as Jade’s about to call time. “Its name was Fluffy.”
“Fluffy,” Kate confirms, turning her piece of paper over, and Elliot lets out a long breath. I turn to Ana and we agree through just a look that there’s about a 100% chance that his answer was a guess.
“Alright, Grey,” Sawyer says. “You agreed to the handicap, so he’s got a perfect score. Don’t fuck this up.”
“Please.” I lift Calliope out of Ana’s arms, letting her kiss her cheeks over and over again, then dip out of the room to put her down while Ana answers her questions. She’s already calm and sleepy from the lavender bath wash and the time spent cuddling her mother, so I choose a short book, and read it through to her before I lay her in bed next to an already sleeping Kennedy. She’s awake as I leave the room, but I’m certain she won’t be by the time I get back to Ana.
“Good night, Calliope. I love you.”
As quietly as possible, I ease her door closed and make my way back to my bedroom. Ana’s trying to adjust how she’s sitting and winces with pain, so while Elliot and Jade argue over how difficult the questions she chose were, I help my wife rearrange her pillows and desperately try to hide the worry from showing through my eyes.
Her C-section is in a few days, and it’ll be over.
It won’t be like last time.
It won’t be like last time.
I breathe through the mantra, then settle down next to Ana.
“Alright,” Jade says, bouncing slightly as she picks up the cards in front of her. “You ready, Christian?”
“Which one of you said ‘I love you’ first?”
“Obviously,” Sawyer breathes. Elliot turns for my reaction, but I just shrug with acceptance and wait for Ana to reveal the answer that matches mine.
“Christian, although he didn’t really say it to me so much as scream it at me…”
“There it is,” Kate laughs.
“That’s only one,” Elliot says, and Kate reaches out for his hand as though he needs the moral support. Jade shuffles her cards.
“Question number two, what would Ana say is the best vacation the two of you ever went on together?
“I mean…” I pause, sifting through memories of beaches and cities and mountain lakes that make me ache over the devotion I feel for the woman next to me, but none of them equal Christmas, her final year at Harvard.
“Paris,” I answer and she turns her notebook around to tell me she feels the same. The memories of that week twinkle in her eyes, and seeing that joy in her makes me forget for a moment that we’re with company. I lean over to take her lips and relish in the memory with her, but before I can slide my tongue into her mouth, Kate coughs.
“Alright, Christian, you’ve got four questions to go.”
“Fine.” I sit back disappointed, and Jade reads the next question.
“What is Ana’s favorite flower?”
“No,” Elliot interrupts. “You agreed to change that, remember? He sends her flowers all the damn time, he should know her top three.”
“He always sends me the same flowers,” Ana says, but Elliot shakes his head.
“I can tell you what her favorite flower is. He’s got to name her top three.”
All the eyes in the room turn to me, and I turn to my wife and drag my fingers over her cheeks. “Pink peonies. The soft pink, not the dark pink. And she likes them best just before they fully bloom, so I always make sure they’re picked out individually. Her second favorite are Calla Lilies, for our daughter, and after that she likes wildflowers with lavender and poppies in them… like the ones that grew in the fields next to the river she and her dad went fishing on when she was a little girl.”
The look of love on my wife’s face blooms like the flowers she loves and she turns her notebook around, then she drops it on the bed all together as she moves to kiss me again. My lips stretch into a smile while they play against hers, and I listen to Kate chiding Elliot through Sawyer and Jade’s laughter.
“You didn’t even know her favorite pizza topping,” Luke laughs.
The next question is about her favorite book, which, despite a flourishing career in publishing and a Harvard degree in English, is still Harry Potter, and that her Who Wants to be a Millionaire phone-a-friend would be her dad, who just so happens to be a trivia wiz.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it. I told you all he would get all of them right. It’s still a tie.”
“Not if he doesn’t get this one right,” Jade says. She picks up the last card and reads, “What was your first date?”
“It was an off campus party after the first football game of the season our freshman year. Her top was backless, but she was wearing jeans…” I turn to look at Ana. “The jealousy I felt over seeing you standing there with Reed, looking as beautiful as you did, was the thing that put started putting everything together for me. I’ll never forget that night.”
“Aw,” Jade says, pushing out her bottom lip. Elliot rolls his eyes, and Kate shrugs at Luke as though she expected the outcome and is satisfied enough to have beaten him. But Ana turns to me, looking confused, then raises an eyebrow.
She turns her notebook around and I read what she’s written aloud. “Dinner at Olena.”
“Yeah, right before Christmas break. You asked me out to dinner, I drove there in Kate’s car…”
“I remember. But that wasn’t our first date. That party was the first Saturday of the semester.”
“And it wasn’t a date.”
“What are you talking about? I drove all the way around Cambridge looking for you so I could keep that date.” I look over at my brother. “You were there. That was the night you and Kate first hooked up.”
He nods in agreement, but Ana shakes her head.
“You spent the first hour of that party having phone sex with Elena Lincoln. That was not a date you had with me.”
“That was the night of our first kiss!”
She shrugs. “Turns out I kiss boys I’m not dating. Our first date does not end with you angrily throwing me out of your room, Christian.”
I stare at her blankly, working very hard not to replay that stupid mistake again. “Okay, fine… but Olena? What about the morning after that party when I took you to breakfast and kissed you again?”
She looks up at me, unimpressed. “What happened on the way home from that restaurant?” I don’t answer so she does for me. “Nothing before you broke it off with Elena Lincoln counts.”
“Fine, then our first date was that party I came to the night I decided I wanted you. That was in October, not December.”
“I was dating Carter Reed when we were at that party.”
I shake my head. “No, I’ve deemed that relationship to be retroactively voided. Your breakup was like an annulment, none of it ever happened.”
She scoffs, but Elliot nods in agreement. “Hear, hear. In fact, anyone who dated Carter Reed in this room, consider your entire romantic history nullified.” Kate rolls her eyes.
“What if you’re currently dating Carter Reed?” Jade asks. “Or just hooking up with him behind your boyfriend’s back, I guess.” Sawyer turns to glare at her, but she smiles innocently. “I’m just curious.”
“Yeah, well you better get un-curious. I’ve spent a good deal of time monitoring Carter Reed and I know all of his weaknesses.”
“And I’ll pay for his defense,” I add.
“And I’ll provide the alibi.” Elliot straightens up and his expression turns serious. “No officer, he was with me the whoooooooole time.”
Kate laughs. “Oh please, you’d break fifteen seconds into questioning.”
Sawyer, Jade, and I all start to laugh with her but when Ana doesn’t join in, I turn concerned eyes in her direction. Her brow is slightly bunched, and she rubs her hand gently over her bump. Instantly, there’s a lump in my throat.
“Are you alright? What’s wrong? What hurts?”
“Nothing, I’m fine. Just… tired, I think.”
“Oh, well we’ll go…” Kate says, immediately jumping out of bed the moment her eyes meet mine. Elliot, Sawyer, and Jade follow as though Ana’s expression of discomfort was a marching order. She frowns, ready to protest, but Kate comes to kiss her head before she can speak.
“It’s okay, it’s late and I don’t want to drive all the way home anyway. Elliot and I will crash downstairs. We’ll see you at breakfast, okay?”
She nods enthusiastically, then turns to Sawyer and Jade. “Will you stay too?”
“You mean, will we spend the night in this gorgeous mansion so your housekeeper can make us an amazing breakfast in the morning?” Jade replies. “I mean, pull my leg…”
Sawyer rolls his eyes and reaches over to tousle Ana’s hair. “I’ll do a parameter sweep with Smith and Wyatt, make sure they don’t miss anything.”
“Thank you. Goodnight, Luke.” He winks at her, then crosses the room to shove as hard as he can against the window frame. It doesn’t budge, and since not a single window in this room has been unlocked in almost a year now, there’s no reason it would. But testing each and every one of them in front of Ana every night has been a crucial part in helping her shake the nightmares of someone climbing through them and dragging me off into the night. He moves around the room, really putting a show into how secure they are, before he gives her a thumbs up, and follows the others out of the room. When the door closes behind him, I turn and have to swallow back the order that wants to claw its way up my throat when I see Ana trying to crawl out of bed.
“What are you doing?” I say instead, only just managing to hang on to the calm and supporting tone I’ve been practicing with Flynn as she’s gotten more and more tired of staying still, and the need for her to do just that has gotten more and more severe.
“I have to pee,” she says, turning so she can roll her feet onto the floor. I rush to her side, and grab her by the sides so I can lift her onto her feet.
“Let me help you…”
“It’s just a few steps, Christian. I’ve got it.”
With a slow, deep breath that manages to quell the Dominant rising inside of me, I nod and take a step back while she waddles to the bathroom. The door closes, and I wait for any signs of distress before picking up my phone and dialing down to the security office.
“Mr. Grey?” Taylor answers.
“Everyone is going to stay the night, so go ahead and shut everything down. Update me once we’re secure.”
“Yes, sir.” He hangs up without another word, and I turn back to the still closed bathroom door. A few seconds pass, and Ana doesn’t emerge, so I fight the urge to check on her by shifting that impulse onto my daughter. Kate is sneaking out of the room just as I step in, but Calliope is lost in her dreams so there’s not much more for me to do than to kiss her cheeks, stroke her hair, and whisper a reminder of how much I love her.
The door is still closed when I come back, and the last of my patience breaks. I rap my knuckles against the barrier three times and lean into the wood. “Ana, are you alright? What’s going on in there?”
“I’m fine.” The response is soft, almost unsure, so I disregard it and push into the bathroom regardless. She’s standing in front of the mirror, holding her belly, and taking deep breaths.
It makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise.
“I just feel very… pregnant,” she says, sighing the last word as though its utterance is as much of a burden as the weight of the twins. “I’m very ready for this c-section.”
“Me too.” I let out a long breath of relief that only lasts until she turns to look at me. I can still see lingering pain in the set of her lips, so I hold a hand out for hers. “You shouldn’t be on your feet. Let’s get you back into bed.”
The blue in her eyes turns morose, but she nods and walks to me. I try to carry most of her weight, fearing what could happen if she were to endure any kind of strain at all. I can feel her annoyance, but she doesn’t fight me on it. True to her word, she’s been as cautious and compliant as the doctors have asked her to be. All these months on bedrest she’s been very frank about how miserable it’s been, but she hasn’t fought it. And despite the difficulties and the boredom, she hasn’t lost the sparkle in her eye that bloomed the day she learned she would be a mother again.
I’m envious of that joy. I want so much to bask in it with her, and I’ve tried as best as I could. But no matter how healthy she’s been or how hopeful Dr. Baker has become in the past few months, I still feel a dark cloud of possibility hovering over us, and it sheaths me in constant worry.
“Thank you, by the way.”
“Hm?” I grab her hands as she crawls into bed, then help pull the covers over her.
“For asking Kate and Luke to come over. These few days have been harder… lonelier. I didn’t even know how much I needed it until they got here.”
“You’re welcome,” I ask, leaning down to kiss her. She moans softly, but the sound is cut off with a sharp gasp of pain.
“Nothing.” She shakes her head, but her hand moves back down to press into her bump. I can feel the alarm growing on my face, and when she sees it, she presses her lips into a patient smile. “It’s just tight, I’m fine.”
“Mhm.” My eyes narrow at her suspiciously, but the buzz on my phone draws my attention instead. I pick it up from the side table and read the text waiting on the screen.
“Taylor’s got everything locked down, and Woods is on duty tonight. Is there anything you need?”
The gentle reassurance in her eyes slowly deconstructs into a ghost of fear, and her skin turns half a shade paler.
“Did… did you check on Calliope?”
“She’s sleeping like an angel. Her windows are secure, the camera in her room is on. We’re all safe.”
“We’re all safe,” she repeats in a whisper, as though it’s some kind of affirmation. She rubs her belly and nods to herself. “We’re all safe.”
I glance at her hand, watching the slow circles she draws over her bump and cautious eyes. She doesn’t seem to be showing any lingering signs of pain or distress, but there is an awkward discomfort in the set of her brow. She turns to watch me undress, and I watch her lips press tightly together as though she’s holding something back as I climb into bed next to her.
She moves over to cuddle into my side. A small degree of relief courses through me as I feel the warmth of her body press into mine, and when she lays her head against my chest, my body lets go of some of the tension I hold whenever I’m not doing exactly this. I reach over and move my hand to her bump, tracing the circles she made.
“Stop,” she says, reaching down to place her hand over mine.
“I know when you’re worrying, Christian. I’m fine. I feel really good, and Dr. Baker said there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Your blood pressure was high this morning.”
“Yeah, but that was just stress and it turns out that watching Luke lose at things is a really good stress reducer.” She laughs, but when I don’t join in with her, she reaches for my chin and tilts my face up so she can kiss me. “I feel really good, Christian. And we’ve only got four more days until my c-section.”
“Anything can happen in four days.”
Her eyes meet mine again, and this time, they hold my gaze with purpose. “Stop. I’m fine. Everything you’ve done has worked. We’re all fine.”
Her hand moves down to her belly, moving in soft, caressing circles that even I can feel the love behind. I try to breathe that in. To let myself feel the bliss of certainty that she’s let overcome her in the last few weeks, but every time I try to meet her there, I see the blood pooling beneath her dress at her graduation party.
“You’re too tense,” she says, her hand moving from my face, down to my chest. She traces the lines beneath my t-shirt with her finger, and moves down over my stomach to the band of my sweatpants. Her eyes don’t leave mine, and her teeth sinks into her bottom lip as her hand dips beneath the barrier and curls around my cock.
The moment I feel her touch, I’m hard.
“Why?” The innocence in her voice makes my cock jump in her hand. She looks up at me with doe eyes and pouty lips that turn my blood hot. She strokes me inside my pants, gentle fingers skimming over steel while she begs for more with her eyes. I want to give it to her, but I remember very clearly the night we had before her abruption. And I can hear that it was stress triggered by Lincoln that was compounded over months that caused her complications last time over and over and over again, but I’ll never shake the uncertainty I feel in my gut that maybe it was because of the way I fucked her right before it happened. Maybe her heart rate spiked too high, maybe she moved wrong or too quickly, maybe I was too rough… I’ll never be 100% sure that wasn’t what happened, and any uncertainty is too much when I know what’s at risk. So since she entered her third trimester, I’ve only given her my mouth, and I’ve refused reciprocation.
That was ten weeks ago.
“Ana, stop…” I say again, but the command loses its bite in the groan that escapes my chest. My body is betraying me. My hips push against her grip, encouraging her, and my cock stays rigid inside her hand.
“Okay, I’ll stop.” Her fingers open and move away from me, and while I choke back my complaint, they take hold of my sweatpants and pull down.
“What are you doing?”
“Not using my hand.” She leans over, her hair grazing my t-shirt as she lowers her lips to me. I realize too late what she’s doing, or maybe it just takes me too long to summon the will to stop her. But once her lips brush the tip of my cock, it’s impossible for me to pull back.
“Oh, fuck,” I groan as I sink into her hot, wet mouth. She moves slow, exploring every inch of me with her tongue and she pulls me in and out again and again. A shiver works its way down my legs, and my muscles start to tighten. She can feel the changes in me, and it makes her hum around me.
“Baby… wait…” I plead. I should pull her away, but I don’t trust my hands not to push her down further, so I keep them planted firmly at my side.
“I don’t want to wait. I want to swallow your come.”
“Fuuuuck.” My hips buck up, pushing my cock against the tight ring at the back of her throat, and I lose the will to fight. I lie there, resisting my urges to take control and dominate instead of resisting her. She pulls me deeper into her mouth, past the limit I set for myself when I’m fucking her face, and I start to tremble. Her throat clenches tightly around me, and I know she’s fighting her gag reflex. But when I do find the strength to pull back a little, she pushes herself further and the head of my cock swells with satisfaction. The drag of her lips over me as she begins to bob again is mind boggling. It’s euphoria. It’s…
“Oh!” The word escapes her mouth in the same instance the warmth disappears from my cock.
“Too much?” I ask. She lets out a harsh breath of panic, then turns wide eyes back to me.
“I… I think my water just broke.”
Everything goes cold. For a long breath, I’m frozen in time and the nightmare that was Calliope’s birth repeats in my mind. I start to shake, breath becomes harder to take, and everything seems to go absolutely silent, like I’m trapped in a vacuum.
“No…” I bleat. “No, no, no, no….” I reach for the blankets, expecting to find our sheets stained crimson. Instead, all I find beneath my wife is a clear puddle of wet. There’s no blood.
“Mom!” I shout, tucking my dick back in my sweats and diving for my phone. Ana stares down at the wet place between her legs, and, as I watch the sense of panic growing behind her eyes, I suddenly forget how to use a phone. There’s a knock on the door, and my mother ducks her head inside.
“What is… oh my god.” Her eyes narrow in on Ana, and her mouth drops open in shock.
“It’s too early,” Ana says. “Dr. Baker said four more days…”
Dr. Baker. I take a breath, and search through my contacts for her name, then press my finger against the glass and toss my phone to my mother. “Tell the doctor she’s in labor.”
She nods and pulls the phone to her ear as she disappears back into the hallway, and I reach for Ana.
“Easy now, baby.”
She nods and slides her hands into mine, holding tightly to me as I lift her from bed as gently as I can. She’s unsteady on her feet, so I decide it’s not worth the risk and sweep her up into my arms. The competing thoughts of whether or not I should take her to the hospital or the trauma center downstairs completely occupying my mind. But before I make the choice, Ana stops me at the bedroom door.
“Wait, my bag, Christian. My bag.”
“My hospital bag is in the closet. I need my bag.”
I blink several times before I realize what she’s saying to me. There’s a small duffle bag she packed a few weeks ago and made me keep somewhere accessible for when she went into labor. I was working under the assumption that “labor” for her was going to be a medical emergency, so ever since I tossed it up on the shelf above my shirts, I haven’t given it much thought.
“Fuck the bag,” I say, turning again to hurry down the hall. She grabs onto the wall and nearly falls from my grip. “Ana!”
“Relax, Christian. It’s okay, I’m okay. I need my bag for the hospital. Please set me down and go get my bag.” The blue in her eyes shines with the crystal clarity of her sincerity. I search for hidden pain, for a lack of focus, for anything that would suggest she was about to slip from me, but there’s nothing but an anxious kind of energy that verges on the edge of excitement. She reaches up and places her palm flat against her face. “Our babies are about to be born. Go get my bag so that we can go meet them.”
The weight in that statement hits me and I sit there in limbo for a moment while I process it. My mother once again appears in the frame of my door, this time dressed in leggings and a baggy sweatshirt. Her face is alight with so much excitement, I wonder how much she’s struggling to keep her joyful tears at bay.
“Dr. Baker is on her way to the hospital. She said she’ll meet you there.”
Hospital, then. Slowly, I lower Ana to the ground. “Wait here for me.”
She nods and I bolt through our bathroom to the closet. I’m already running back to her the moment my fingers curl around the small floral bag, and when I re-enter our bedroom, slinging it over my shoulder, Ana’s eyes meet mine and her bottom lip starts to tremble.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She shakes her head and reaches out for my hand. “Nothing at all.”
I slide my hand into hers and wrap another around her waist, supporting her weight as I guide her through the hallway and down the stairs. Taylor is standing in the kitchen, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and scrolling through his phone with the other. Gail hovers over the sink, rinsing the last of this evening’s dishes. They both look up as we enter, and Taylor’s face melts with concern.
“She’s in labor. We need to get to the hospital.”
“Oh, Mrs. Grey!” Gail says, laying a hand over her heart. She beams with the same joy my mother does, but Taylor is all business.
“This way, Mrs. Grey.” He sweeps an arm forward so that I can push Anastasia ahead of him, then snags the keys to the SUV off the hook as he follows behind us. I help Ana into the backseat and climb in behind her just as Taylor slides into the driver’s seat.
“Hurry,” I tell him. He nods, and shifts into reverse.
A contraction hits Ana hard as we back out of the driveway, and her hand clamps around mine. The pain on her face is heightened by the red that flushes her cheeks. When the color grows darker, I realize she’s holding her breath.
“Breathe, baby. Just like we practiced. In…” She pants slightly, letting in short, harsh puffs of air, before finally relaxing enough to take a deep breath. “Good, now out. Just like that, breathe in… breathe out… Taylor, start a timer.”
Six and a half minutes pass before her next contraction, and I coach her through three more before we finally pull into the drop off at the hospital where Dr. Baker is already waiting for us.
“What? Are you allergic to doing things the way we planned them?” she asks with a teasing grin the moment the door opens.
“Apparently,” Ana replies. “I’ve—ooh!” She lets out a squeak of pain and reaches down for her bump again. I turn alarmed eyes on the doctor.
“I haven’t seen any blood yet, but she’s extremely uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, labor’s not a cakewalk,” Dr. Baker laughs, while Ana lowers herself into the wheelchair she’s holding on to. My brow starts to pull together with a strange cocktail of worry and frustration, and the joking smile on the doctor’s face smooths out into something more reassuring. “I’ve already spoken with your mother, Mr. Grey. She’s given me a very detailed account, and neither one of us are concerned.”
“It’s not too early?” Ana checks, still cringing through the tail end of her contraction. “You said you wanted to wait four more days…”
“Thirty-seven weeks is extremely normal for twins. You’ve had a very healthy pregnancy, everything from your visit two days ago looked great. You can relax, Ana. I think you’re in for the delivery we all hoped you’d have.”
Ana smiles until her bottom lip starts to tremble and she reaches down for her belly.
“Mr. Grey,” Taylor interrupts from behind me. “It’s very open here, the two of you should step inside.”
He gestures for the automatic doors and the warmth in Ana’s smile fades as her eyes start to dart manically around the entrance to the emergency room. I reach for her hand, but her reaction is so noticeable that even Dr. Baker intervenes to keep her calm.
“Come on, Mrs. Grey. We’ve got your private room ready. All there’s left to do is bring those beautiful boys into this world.”
She nods, keeping a protective hand laid over her belly, and squeezes my fingers. I squeeze back, then move behind her so I can push her chair into the hospital. We follow Dr. Baker through the hospital to the maternity ward, where we’re led to a corner room with a pre-made hospital bed, a sofa, and a view of the city.
“There’s a private bathroom there,” Dr. Baker says, pointing to the door on the far side of the room. “If you’ll just change into a gown, I’ll examine you and find out where we are.” The doctor goes to a cabinet to pull out a hospital gown, but Ana shakes her head at it.
“Kate had one made for me.” She looks to me. “In my bag.”
I nod, still frazzled and slightly off balance, and dive into the bag. It’s filled with soft clothes and toiletries, all of which get in the fucking way.
“This?” I check, holding up a handful of pink silk after digging through the bag three times and realizing I have no idea what I’m looking for. Ana nods and holds out her hand. I ignore it, moving to her and helping her out of the chair, and then leading her to the bathroom.
“Do you need help?” I check. She stops at the door, reaches up to cup my face, and gently presses her lips to mine.
“I can hear your voice shaking. I’m okay, Christian. This is going to be okay. Please be happy with me.” My heart is thundering in my chest. The phantom of fear that’s had my guts tied up for months now wraps around me like an iron fist. I can feel the tightness in every one of my muscles as the panic response in me chooses fight—but the pleading in her eyes somehow breaks through all that. The warmth of her fingers seeps into my skin, and when I take a deep breath, it’s like I’m breathing in a new kind of air.
“I’m happy,” I whisper, leaning into her and pressing my forehead to hers. “I just need a minute to accept that this is really… fine.”
“Well, then I’ll give you a minute.” She kisses me once more, then takes the gown out of my hands and disappears into the bathroom. My eyes shoot up to Dr. Baker and she gives me a gracious smile before ducking out of the room. Once I’m alone, I cross the linoleum floor to a mirror hanging on the wall, and stare into the gray eyes looking back at me.
I can see the dread. It’s in the dull sheen of my irises, and the lines around my frown. It’s in the slump in my shoulders and the tightness of my jaw. It smothers the joy I could be experiencing over the arrival of my children, like a blanket tossed over an open fire.
I take a deep breath, and try to think back to Ana’s last pregnancy. Before the delivery doused everything in blood and loss, I spent every waking second waiting for my daughter. Imagining what she would look like, what she would feel like. Whether she would be more like me, or like Ana. I’d day dream about all the things I couldn’t wait to do with her. Teaching her to ski and to sail. Helping her through French and piano lessons. Offering advice and guidance while she sailed through her very first hostile takeover… I’ve lived countless lives with Calliope as my dreams and visions of our future together have changed as I’ve gotten to know her, and I’ve felt absolute fulfillment with every single one of them.
But I haven’t lived those same dreams for my boys.
I haven’t thought of anything past this day. This moment.
Closing my eyes, I let myself imagine them. The soft skin, the warm smell, the infatuated look that will shine in their eyes every time I rock them to sleep. I replay scenarios I’ve imagined with Calliope, and try to picture two small dark haired toddlers dragging along behind us. I think about Elliot and I growing up, and try to put the versions of my sons I’m picturing into our places. Will they be like us? Will they love each other the way Elliot and I do? Which one will be the role model, and which one will cause trouble, like me?
“Luke,” I answer aloud, chuckling to myself.
“What about him?” Ana asks behind me, coming out of the bathroom dressed in her gown and holding a hand against her lower back to help keep her balance. When our eyes meet, the worry that’s plagued everything doesn’t quite flood through me the same way it did before.
I shake my head. “Nothing. I just can’t wait to meet him and his brother.”
Ana’s face breaks into a dazzling smile, then she reaches out for my hand so I can help her into bed.
Dr. Baker’s examination tells us that Ana’s only dilated 4 CM, which she tells us means we’re in for a wait. It gives my whole fucking family time to show up and start camping out in our room, and for Ana’s dad to drive down from Montesano. I spend the entire night in a rocking chair next to Ana, cradling a sleeping Calliope in my arms while everyone chatters excitedly. But as the hours pass, and Ana’s labor continues to drag into the next morning, eyes start to droop, and the excitement dwindles.
“Maybe we should go get some breakfast?” my mother suggests through a deep yawn.
“Some coffee at the very least,” my father agrees.
There’s a shuffle around the room as everyone gets up to head down to the cafeteria. Ray kisses Ana’s forehead while Kim takes Calliope from me.
“Don’t have that baby until we get back,” Kate makes Ana promise, and it’s a promise she keeps. Hours drag on and on, and her contractions come closer and closer. I spend a good deal of time with a cool rag, dabbing her forehead while she breathes through the dull pressure beneath her epidural, or massaging away the deep aches in her back. The afternoon comes and goes, and my family decides to head back to the house to get some sleep somewhere around seven centimeters. Even I start to doze off in the chair next to Ana, when I’m suddenly pulled very quickly out of my uneasy sleep.
“Oh, oh, oh…” She sits up, gripping onto the railing at the edge of her bed. Her mouth drops open in a silent gasp, and she squirms uncomfortably. I can see the tension around her eyes as she starts to push. I take her hand.
“Just breathe through it, baby. Don’t push yet.”
“I can’t…” She clenches her jaw and whimpers slightly as she forces pressure down on her womb. “I can’t stop it.”
I reach over for the call button, then glance up at the clock the moment her contraction starts. The second hand just barely passes the one minute mark before she’s squeezing my hand again. There’s a knock on the door, and the nurse who has been with us all night eases into the room.
“How are you doing, Mrs. Grey?”
“It’s stronger now. I can’t stop pushing.”
“Well, the doctor just checked you a few minutes ago and you still had a couple centimeters left to dilate, but I’ll call her down to check one more time.”
“Thank yooooo-” Ana’s voice goes shrill as it’s cut off with another contraction, and the nurse scurries through the door. I reach for my wife and gently rub her back while she tries to breathe through the pressure. Once her body relaxes, I lean over and kiss the top of her hair.
“You’re amazing, Anastasia. I love you so much.”
Her head rolls in my direction, her eyes still glittering with the moisture in her eyes from her last contraction. I lean down and take her lips just as Dr. Baker enters the room.
“Alight, let’s see how close we are…” Ana once again lifts her feet into the stirrups at the end of her hospital bed, and Dr. Baker moves between her knees.
“Ten centimeters,” she says, rolling on her stool across the room to hit a button on the wall. “They’re coming.”
“Oh,” Ana says, the first hint of nerves leaking into her voice. I squeeze her hand and kiss the crown of her hair again.
“You can do this,” I remind her. She takes a deep breath and nods.
The room fills with people as the doctor prepares for the birth. Two nurses stand behind her, while another comes up on Ana’s left side and offers her a cool rag for her head. Her response is cut off with the gasp of another contraction, so I take the damp cloth from the nurse and dab it against her dewy skin myself.
“That’s very good, Ana,” Dr. Baker encourages her. “Every time you feel that pressure, I want you to push as hard as you can, and take all the time between to rest and catch your breath, okay?”
“Good, here we go again. Ready?”
Ana’s face tightens as she begins to push once more. I stand next to her, letting her crush my hand as she throws all of her strength into each and every push. When her contractions end and she’s left panting and exhausted, I clean her forehead, rub her shoulders, and tell her how much I love her. She pushes for over forty minutes, giving everything she has, and nothing happens.
“Okay, relax, Ana,” Dr. Baker finally says after one particularly brutal contraction. She reaches between Ana’s legs again, while my wife collapses against her pillows, utterly bereft.
“I can’t anymore. I can’t…”
“Yes, you can. Just relax, take deep breaths.” Tears form in the corners of her eyes while she tries to catch her breath, but she never gets the chance to before the pressure of her next contraction starts.
“No, no…” she cries. “I can’t do it again.”
“You can do anything, baby. Deep breath…” She tries, but her strength seems to fail halfway through. Dr. Baker encourages her, but Ana’s movements are so anemic that even her best isn’t enough to get her through it.
“Don’t give up on me now, Ana,” the doctor says as her pushing window closes, and once again Ana goes limp.
“I can’t do it. I don’t have any strength left…”
“Yes, you do. I can feel him. He’s just about to crown, he just needs one more big push. Ready?”
The pace of Ana’s breathing increases as the pressure for her to push start building again. She tries to prop herself up so she can start pushing, but her body is tired and sluggish. I can see the torment on her face as she worries that she’ll miss another pushing window, so I slide the table next to the bed aside and crawl into the bed with her. Moving her pillow, I take its place and pull her against me. I hold her while her hands push down on my knees. She lets out a defiant shriek and once again forces everything through her birthing canal.
“That’s it! That’s it!” Dr. Baker says. “Here he comes, I can see his head.”
“Let me see, let me see,” she begs. A nurse snags a mirror off the counter behind her and holds it down between Ana’s legs on her next rest. It’s gruesome, but the small curls of dark hair visible through the blood seem to give Ana a second wind. When her next contraction hits, she claws my legs and screams through it, but every push she gives brings our baby further into our world. Once his head is clear and I can see his face, the most amazing feeling comes over me. Pride, and love, and unbridled joy. It’s rejuvenating, it’s enchanting… It’s like being born again myself.
“Almost there, baby,” I say, tightening the hold I have on the woman I love and swearing to myself that I’ll never let her go again. I’m in absolute awe over her as I feel her laboring in my arms. As I see the gift she’s given me inching towards his first breath. Ana screams again with the ferocity of her strain as she pushes our son’s shoulders from her body, then Dr. Baker wraps her hands around his torso and gently guides him all the way out.
And then he’s here.
The doctor places our son on Ana’s chest and she breaks down into tears. A million kinds of wonder move through her eyes when she looks at his face for the first time. The love I see in her is instant, irrevocable, and all consuming. I recognize it because I feel it reverberating in my bones. Holding them both in my arms is a moment of pure divinity that changes me all the way down to my cells.
I will do anything for this boy, and for the brother coming right behind him.
“Teddy,” Ana sobs, brushing her fingers over our son’s cheeks. “This is Teddy.”
We’d chosen the names weeks ago, though it hadn’t been a quick or easy decision. There wasn’t a moment of great inspiration for either of us, the way it had happened at the Louvre in Paris when Ana chose Calliope’s name. She wanted to name one of our sons for Sawyer, I wanted to name one for Elliot. Then she wanted to name one for her father, and we were out of kids, so Elliot’s middle name became Raymond. Then Elliot thought it was a good idea to make a big deal about how he got a first name while Kate only got a middle name, so Ana changed her mind again and we ended up with Raymond Elliot.
It made sense at that point to name our second son after my father, but he didn’t warm to that the way I thought he would. Apparently, my dad’s never been especially fond of his name, so when I told him that I wanted to name my own son after him, he suggested his father’s name instead. Ana fell in love with it, but then the middle names didn’t go together and now we’ve ended up with…
“Theodore Raymond Grey,” she says, enraptured.
“Yeah,” I agree. “That’s him.” She lets out a joy filled sound as she leans over to kiss his tiny, messy face, then the nurses take him to be cleaned. He’s only out of Ana’s hands a minute or so before she starts to feel pressure again.
“Here comes his brother,” Dr. Baker says. Ana nods with a new kind of determination, then leans back against me for support. I hold on to her just as tightly as I did the first time, and let a torrent of love and encouragement pour from my lips and she starts to push again. Luke moves faster than Teddy did. Ana only pushes a few times before he starts to crown. We watch in the mirror, just like we did with his brother. But as his head begins to emerge, he stalls. Ana pushes, and pushes, and pushes, but he won’t budge.
“What’s wrong?” I demand, when Ana collapses in my arms, too exhausted to even hold herself up after a particularly strenuous push that resulted in nothing. Dr. Baker shakes her head, but slides her hand beneath Ana’s hospital gown to examine her. I watch closely each line of concern that etches its way across her face under her eyes go wide with realization, and she leans over to whisper in the ear of her nurse.
The nurse begins moving very quickly, mobilizing everyone around her. The erupting chaos echoes in the thunder of my heart.
“What’s wrong?” Ana whimpers, her voice weak and hoarse. Dr. Baker offers her a patient smile.
“Everything is going to be okay, Ana. Your baby’s shoulder is caught on your pelvic bone, and he’s stuck, but we’re going to get him out.”
Her breath trembles and her hand pulls away from my knee erratically and reaches for mine. She shakes in my arms as she watches the doctor work, and I don’t think I take a single breath. Every alarm I’ve kept at bay over the last seven months suddenly goes off at once, and the panic it sends coursing through me wreaks havoc on my body. My gut clenches so tightly it paralyzes me. I feel as though ice begins to flow through my veins, making me numb and unresponsive. Suddenly, I’m woozy.
“Hold very still for me, Ana,” Dr. Baker says.
“Christian…” Her fingers clench around mine, pulling me out of my spiraling dread. I cling back, holding on to her as though someone may try to steal her from me at any second.
“You’re okay,” I whisper to her. “You’re okay, you’re both okay.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Dr. Baker parrots. “Just stay very still.”
Ana grimaces as Dr. Baker pushes against her, adding more pressure, until she actually starts to feel it through the spinal tap. “Ahhhhhh!”
“I know, Ana. I know.” The work is slow. The care Dr. Baker has to put into each movement to keep from hurting either Ana or the baby drags the pain my wife is in out for several, excruciating minutes. I want to wrap around her and shield her from the pain, but neither one of us can move. I can only hold her still, and repeat again and again that they’re both going to be okay.
I don’t even know if I’m doing it for Ana or myself.
“Almost,” Dr. Baker says. Ana’s face contorts again and she lets out a horrible, pain-filled noise that cuts into me like a knife, then she lets out a breath and Dr. Baker pulls away smiling. “You’re a rock star, Ana,” she encourages her. “It’s all downhill from here.”
Ana nods and readjusts, taking the time she has between contractions to breathe and find her strength again. I dab her face with the cool cloth, then lean around to kiss her lips. She breaks away with a gasp when the contraction hits.
“Push, baby. You’re almost there. Push.”
She screams again, and Luke’s head emerges from Ana’s body. The movement doesn’t bring the sense of relief with it that it should, though. He’s more still than his brother was, and his color is slightly darker. Deep red, rather than a healthy pink. Dr. Baker moves with much more urgency with Luke than she did with Teddy, and encourages me to push Ana harder each and every time she has a contraction. When Luke stalls on his shoulders, she doesn’t wait for Ana to try again on another push.
“Forceps,” she says instead, and a nurse passes them to her. She places the metal tips against our son, and starts to pull. Ana cringes away from it, so I reach up and place a hand in front of her eyes.
“It’s okay, baby. He’s going to be okay.”
“Clear,” Dr. Baker says. This time, the cord is cut quickly, and they don’t pass our son off to Ana immediately. Instead, he’s swept away to the emergency triage station behind us.
“Is he okay? What’s wrong?” Ana begs, but no one turns to us. The doctor is absorbed in our son, and the only nurse in the room who isn’t assisting her is currently occupied with Teddy.
“Here you are Mrs. Grey,” she says, laying a bundle of baby blue blankets in Ana’s arms. She pulls Teddy into her protectively, brushing the soft fabric away and studying his face carefully before turning her worried eyes back to Dr. Baker. I kiss her cheek, and climb out of the bed, moving to hover just behind the nurses.
“Come on,” Dr. Baker whispers to herself, while she works to clear my son’s mouth and nasal passages with one hand and massage his chest with the other. I’ve never seen the intensity radiate off this woman that I see now, and it terrifies me all the way up until I hear Luke’s very first cry.
“There you go,” Dr. Baker says, triumphantly. She nods to the nurses next to her, and they begin to disperse. Luke’s cries ring shrilly through the room while Dr. Baker performs an exam, but once she’s finished measuring the rhythm of his heart, she coos to him and wraps him in a blanket that looks just like the one around his brother. The swaddle seems to calm him some, so his screams are merely tiny sounds of discontent by the time she holds him out to me. “Congratulations, Mr. Grey.”
“He’s alright?” I check, and her responding nod slows the thundering beat of my heart.
“He’s more than alright. He’s just perfect. Be careful with this one, he just might take after his sister.”
“God, I hope so.” My eyes turn down to my son’s face and I feel my insides melt. He’s quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Hair closer to my shade than Ana’s but eyes the same astoundingly clear blue as hers. They capture me in the same way, and make my blood boil with a fierce protectiveness that’s born of absolute pure love and pride.
“Christian!” Ana’s impatient voice breaks through the metamorphosis occurring inside me that’s nearly brought tears to my eyes. I turn back to her, and the bundle of blankets in her arms that calls to me with the same kind of pull as gravity. I move towards them, blissfully unaware of anything going on around us. I don’t know if there are still nurses in the room or not, but it doesn’t matter. At this very moment, Ana and I are completely alone with our boys.
She shifts Teddy so I can lay Luke in the crook of her opposite arm, and her worried eyes move over every inch of his tiny little body. Once she’s felt and seen how perfect he is for herself, she breaks in exactly the way I’d just stopped.
“Hi, Luke,” she whispers through her tears. Her eyes stare deeply into his for several long minutes before she looks up at me as though her heart is close to bursting. “They’re perfect.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “You did amazing, Ana.”
“We did.” Her eyes twinkle as she turns to look back down at Teddy, and I realize that the only thing missing from this moment is their sister. A quick call to my mom brings my whole family to the hospital, but they’re gracious enough to let us have a few minutes, just our family, before they all come barging in.
“Don’t take too long,” my mother pleads as she hands my daughter off to me in the waiting room. “I can’t wait to get to those babies.”
“I won’t, Mom.” I turn to Calliope. “Are you ready to go meet your brothers?” She nods sleepily against my shirt, so I lay a gentle hand across her back and carry her to Ana’s room.
“Hi, Calli-lily,” Ana says, when we enter. “There’s two little boys over here who really want to meet you.”
“Brofers?” she checks, and Ana nods. I carry her to the bed and set her next to her mother, then carefully lift each of the boys out of nursery bins next to the bed. Ana takes Luke in her left arm, and pulls Calliope under her right. I gently lay Teddy in Calliope’s lap and help her hold him from her other side.
“Oooooh, baby,” she says in awe.
“That’s Teddy,” Ana tells her. “Can you say Teddy?”
“No, his name not Teddy. His name is brofer.” Ana and I giggle, just while Calliope turns a confused look on each of us, Teddy spits up the breast milk Ana just finished feeding him, and it dribbles down onto his sister’s legs.
“Ew, I don’t like this one!” Calliope cries, and while Ana and I laugh, there’s a knock on the door that brings the rest of our family into this perfect moment. I watch as each person that I love picks up and falls instantly for my sons, and when I look back to see Ana staring at me, watching our boys, I turn, lean down, and press my lips to hers.
“Thank you, Anastasia.”