Friday, August 27, 2010

Part Three

She'd been waiting for what seemed like hours. She'd even dressed for the occasion--a black and white sundress with flat sandals that could accommodate her swelling feet. Her hair was pinned back and she'd applied some natural looking makeup, the kind she knew Bobby liked. A fruit and cheese plate and a bottle of red wine was in the refrigerator. If he'd only get home--it was already seven and she hadn't heard from him. She was tempted to kick her shoes off if he didn't get her soon, but she wanted this to be a special occasion.

Bruce was laying on the couch, softly snoring. He seemed to do more sleeping these days than anything else. She figured that was probably normal considering his age. The vet had warned her that his time was limited. Most big dogs like Bruce didn't live much longer than thirteen, his age, and he was arthritic. But he seemed happy, and still greeted both of them with the same enthusiasm she had always loved him for.

She heard the front door open and shut, the deadbolt latch. and his heavy footsteps moving through the foyer. With great effort, she foisted herself off the couch to meet him halfway. He looked surprised, and she could see his eyes raking over her, the same as they had on Friday when she had taken her bath. At least she could say she still turned him on. "Hey," he finally said, smiling sexily, as though she was the best thing he'd seen all day.

"Hey yourself." She took a couple steps to close the distance between him and wrapped her arms around his neck. You go girl, she thought. Eight months pregnant and unless she was mistaken, she could still make her man feel, well, very manly. She kissed him gently and felt his hands run up and down her back, before settling on her backside. If it were possible, she would have pressed herself up against him, but there was a basketball-sized belly in her way.

He was smiling, that incredible, I've-been-thinking-about-you-all-day smile, and she couldn't help grinning herself. "This is a nice way to come home," he commented, giving her a slight squeeze. Despite herself, she giggled.

"Well, it's a special occasion," she informed him. "The furniture came in today...and I want you to see your daughter's room and tell me what you think." She pulled away from him, taking his hand in hers and leading him down the hall to the room across from theirs. The door was closed. Not that he was surprised--if she had gotten dressed up for this, he wasn't fool enough to think it was less than critically important to her. "Now close your eyes," she directed.

He did as he was told and a minute later, heard the door open. She gently led him in with both hands. After five or six steps, she stopped him and dropped his hands. "Okay," she told him. "Open!"

The room was lovely, just as he knew it would be. The furniture included a convertible crib, a dresser, and a changing table. She had added a rocking chair from another room; it had belonged to her mother. The border, brown with sage green dots, covered the top of the walls and she had stenciled in ducks and bunnies in gentle shades of yellow and tan around the middle of the walls in a perfect line. A small lamp that matched the border was placed on top of the dresser, and the crib had a bumper and sheets with duck and bunny patterns. There was a small stuffed duck, and a bunny too, inside of the crib. A small brown rug with sage green dots covered the floor next to the crib.

He smiled, then laughed. "It's perfect. I love it...she'll love it...when she gets older when can get rid of the ducks and will last for a long time." He pulled her into a tight bear hug.

"I thought so too," she grinned. "The stenciling was easier than I thought it would be. Who knew I was an artist?"

His lips brushed the top of her head. "Something tells me you have a celebration planned."

"Just fruit and cheese...some red wine for you in the fridge."

They walked out together, arm in arm, and she pulled out the plate and wine from the fridge. She joined him at the table, and they began to feast.

"Gouda and brie, huh?" He was munching on a cracker she had pulled out, and then sipping his wine. "This is great, Ness. I love it."

She took a bite herself and said, "You need to make sure you take pictures for your mother. She'll be excited to see it, next Sunday."

He smiled, then focused back on his cracker. "So after you testify you think you could come back to the office with me for a bit? I thought maybe we could grab some lunch."

"You're going to court with me?"

"Yes. And don't argue...Carver asked me to. Deakins has already approved it. I just need to run back to the office afterward to check in."

She nodded, picking up a grape. "Okay. I guess that's fine." She watched him drink his wine for a minute. "To tell the truth, I'm glad you'll be there...Morrow does kind of freak me out."

Bobby nodded. "I know. So don't let him...don't think about it until tomorrow." He leaned forward and caught her hand in his. "Let's just think about the good things coming to us...everything good we already have, and what we're waiting for."

She smiled at him, then picked up her glass and took a sip of her water. "That's a good philosophy," she said, more to herself than to him. "Very good."


"Your honor, the prosecution calls Dr. Vanessa Rayden to the stand." Carver's voice was calm and serene, despite the circumstances. Vanessa stood slowly and approached the witness chair. She was quickly sworn in and took her seat.

From where she was at, she could easily see Eric Morrow glaring at her from the defense table. This was hardly the first time she had testified about a suspect's actions or confessions, but this felt different...too familiar..too much like she would have imagined it would be if she had gone to court over Forrester. For a second she could hear Morrow screeching at her and see his lunge across the counter. She pushed the memory out of her mind and turned her attention to the ADA in front of her.

His questions were the same as the ones they had reviewed. How she came to know Eric Morrow, where he worked, what he had said to her that day, how it fit with the profile. She answered his questions thoroughly and confidently, making eye contact occasionally with the jury. They seemed to be following her. Carver stated that he had no further questions and returned to his seat. She could see Bobby over his shoulder, sitting in the front row watching her and slightly smiling.

"Dr. Rayden," the defense attorney began, "how long have you been a profiler for the NYPD?"

"Six years."

"And didn't you take nine months off a couple of years ago due to your own sexual assault?"

Carver immediately objected, but the judge overruled him, and gave her permission to answer. "Yes," she replied. "I was sexually assaulted."

"In fact, you were nearly killed by your attacker, weren't you?"

She swallowed hard, trying to maintain a calm exterior. "Yes."

"Doctor, do you think your experience could have colored your view of my client?"

She exhaled slowly, counting to ten in her head. "Possibly. But my experience didn't place your client with two of the victims at the time of their attacks. He did that."

"Did you receive therapy?"

"Objection," Carver interrupted again. "Dr. Rayden's experiences in or outside of a therapy room due to her assault have nothing to do with this trial."

"Your honor, goes to credibility," the defense attorney returned quickly, and the judge nodded.

"Yes. I was in therapy for close to a year and a half."

"Do you consider yourself stable?"


"And is profiling an exact science?"

"Of course not," she explained, feeling a bit annoyed. "It's based on the predictability of human behavior. Certain personality types are prone to behave in certain ways. We all have patterns that we follow, and Mr. Morrow is no exception."

"And what about you, doctor? Do you have patterns of behavior? Could your patterns be driving you to convict an innocent man?"

"Objection!" Carver was standing angrily now, staring at the judge. "Inflammatory, your honor!"

"Sustained--Mr. Craddock, do you have any other questions for Dr. Rayden?"

"No, your honor," the attorney replied. "Thank you."

Vanessa could feel the blood rushing through her veins, fast and angry, and as she stood, she felt her knees begin to buckle. Grabbing on to the stand, she steadied herself.

"Doctor," the judge said quietly, "are you all right?"

She nodded to him. "Yes, I'm just might take me a minute..." Carver approached the stand and took her hand, helping her down to the floor and over to Goren. She took his hand and they left the courtroom quietly. Entering the hallway, he helped her to an empty bench, where they sat down.

"You did great, kiddo," he told her. "You feel okay?"

She nodded. "Just glad it's over." She sat quietly for a couple of minutes. "My heart was beating so fast...that attorney is right, I think about Forrester when I see Morrow."

"Maybe." Goren twisted her wedding ring on her finger gently. "But do you really think it affected your profile?"

She shook her head. "No. I would have come up with the same profile either way...but I did take an awful lot of pleasure out of getting the bad guy."

"There's nothing wrong with that...I do too. I think almost every cop gets a rush from catching the bad guy."

She looked up at him, at his gray suit and white shirt and scruffy face. "I feel safe with you," she said. "I feel safe when you're around."

He smiled. "Let's go to the station...I'll drive."

She snorted. "You're not worried about my blood pressure at all, are you?"

"Very funny," he returned, shaking his head. "You're a laugh a minute."

"I try."


She should have known, or at least been suspicious. Deakins had never required her to check in on a case, nor had she seen him do that with any other member of the squad. But they got her good, she realized, as they rounded the corner to the bullpen and nearly smacked into a pink streamer.

"Congratulations! Surprise!" The majority of officers from their squad were there, and she quickly understood she had just walked into her surprise baby shower. She looked over he shoulder at Bobby, and knew immediately he had been in on it. His grin was ear to ear.

"Wow! Thank you, guys..." she said as enthusiastically as she could muster. There were presents on one table, potluck dishes on another, and a fancy cake on a third. The cake caught her eye the most--it looked to be from the same bakery that Eames had hers done.

"Hey, let the lady sit down," Deakins laughed, pulling out a chair decorated especially for her. She sat as directed, and the squad began to eat. After a few minutes, Bobby brought her a plate and sat next to her.

"Nice, huh? They wanted to do this for us. Nobody's ever done anything like this for me...I thought it was kind of cool." He sounded almost embarrassed to be enjoying the fuss.

"It is nice," she told him. "It's always nice when people think of you...I'm very flattered." She took a bite of what looked to be a bean and corn salad, then said, "Marlene is very happy too. She's practically doing flips."

He was watching her carefully while he chewed, and put his plate down to rest his hand on her belly. "I guess you're right...she's going to town in there."

"Gym class, apparently."

"She's excited about the presents."

"Who's excited about the presents?" Eames pulled a chair up next to them, balancing her plate on her lap.

"Marly," Goren replied. Shaking his head, he said, "It never ceases to amaze me to feel her move."

Eames reached over. "Do you mind?" When Vanessa shook her head no, Alex rested her hand on Rayden's belly. "She is pretty active." Eames sounded impressed.

"What's going on?" Deakins took a sip of his punch.

"Marlene is doing flips in there," Eames told him, taking a bite of a breadstick. "You should check it out."

"Really?" Deakins leaned over and pressed his hand to Rayden's belly. She was starting to feel like a circus side show. "She's definitely going to town...what, is she taking gymnastics classes?"

She shrugged. "I's been a busy day."

Bishop handed Vanessa a napkin. "She's moving, huh?" she said shyly. Vanessa looked up to see those green eyes sparked with curiosity. Suddenly she reached out and grabbed Bishop's wrist, bringing Bishop's wrist to her stomach.

"Lay your hand flat...yeah, like just wait a minute...there." She looked up into Bishop's face. Bishop's green eyes were open wide as the baby turned again. Bishop met Rayden's gaze and smiled.

"That's amazing. Congratulations."

Rayden smiled. "Thanks."

An hour later the presents were unwrapped, the cake had been devoured, and most of the officers had returned to their work. Vanessa was resting at Bobby's desk, enjoying a second piece of cake.

"So," Deakins began, sitting next to her, "you enjoying your time off?"

She snorted. "Not really...but you do what you have to do, right?"

He nodded. "Vanessa...I know it's hard to wait...Angie was on bed rest for three months with our last one. You'll make it."

"I know. Cake makes it better, though."

Deakins chuckled. "Eames made sure to be in charge of the cake...I heard you were fond of the one she had at her shower."

Vanessa grinned, then took another large bite off the slice of cake.

"How'd it go in court?" Deakins' blue eyes were piercing hers, and she knew he was checking on her.

"Fine, I guess...the defense tried to make it sound like I built the profile around my own experiences." She rested her hand on her belly. "I'm positive I didn't...but Morrow does remind me of a skanky, criminal rapist-type way."

Deakins' mouth tilted into a sympathetic half-smile. He rested his hand over hers, on her belly. "You're only human, Vanessa. That's all anyone can ask you to be."

She sat her plate on Goren's desk. "Yeah, I guess. I just like to think I'm over it, even though I know better."

"People never completely get over know that, just learn how to live with it..."

She nodded as he stood up. "Hey Captain, thanks...thanks for the outfit..."

He grinned at her. "Angie picked it out...and insisted on the diapers...she said you'd be very appreciative of those."

"I'm sure we will be," she said, then looked down for a minute. "And Jimmy, thanks for've always been a great listener."

He reached over and ruffled her hair like a child. "You'll be fine, Vanessa. You're going to make a great mother."

"Let's hope so...because it's kind of late for any doubts."

He chuckled, and she watched him head off to his office.

Bobby squeezed a little more of the lotion into his hand. "Now you smell like coconut," he told her, smiling slyly, before beginning to apply the lotion to her belly. He moved his fingers in slow, gentle circles. She moaned softly, happily. He couldn't help but grin again.

"I guess your blood pressure is better now?" He smoothed more of the lotion onto her ribcage, right beneath her breasts.

"Mmmm, yes, thank you."

His hands wandered over her ribcage, then circled around the outer side of each of her breasts. After a moment, he covered each breast with a palm. "You've gotten bigger. Your body is amazing...I can't believe how much it's changed over the last eight months." He leaned down and kissed one nipple gently, then moved his mouth down to kiss her abdomen. "I love you so much, sweetie...I hope you liked your shower."

She smiled and stroked his hair. "Loved it. Diapers and clothing and toys...everyone was so great...I felt so special. Thank you."

He kissed her belly, right above her navel. "I loved it too."

She shifted slightly to see him better, then asked, "You really think they're bigger?"

"Definitely." He kissed the top of her belly, then traced a nipple with his index finger. He watched, fascinated, as her body responded to his touch. She was as beautiful now as she had been when he first met her.

His finger continued to stroke her. Her eyes were closed, hands over her head, stretched out. A relaxed smile played on her lips. "Do you like them bigger? You know you're going to have to share soon."

He moved his finger away and caught the tip of her nipple in his teeth. "I like them however they are...and yes, I will share nicely...I promise."

She opened her eyes then and saw him watching her. "Bobby." Her voice was low, serious, and her smile had disappeared.

He let her nipple go from his mouth but kept her other breast covered with his palm. "What, honey?"

She looked away for a moment, then spoke. "I'm scared...I'm scared of having this baby. What if I'm not a good mother? What if something goes wrong and she doesn't make it...or...what if I screw up the delivery...if I can't push right or freak out?"

"You'll be fine," he reassured her. "Everything will be okay..."

She was shaking her head. "Do you know what goes through my mind every time Ramirez examines me? Do you know what I think about?"

"Yes," he replied softly, "I know....but it doesn't have to be that way during the birth." He brushed her hair back with his hand. "I'll be there this time. Nothing bad will happen..."

"You can't promise that." Her voice was tearful. "It's never going to go away, is it?"

He traced a tear with his finger. "No, honey...some part of it will probably always be there...but I want you to think about the good things...that we're going to be parents...that we have a beautiful little girl waiting to meet us...and you will be a good mom. A great mom. You have this-- this--" he shook his head "this amazing soul that's so deep and kind and beautiful. That's the world we're bringing Marly where she's going to be cherished and adored. You don't need to worry about Forrester. He won't be there...I will...and if he tries to come into your thoughts, you just squeeze my hand and tell me, okay? And I'll get him out."

Her eyes were piercing his, deep brown on deep brown, vulnerability so close to her surface he felt as though he could reach out and touch it. "I mean it, Beth," he said again. "We won't let him in for Marlene's birth."

She reached out her hand to his and he caught it, holding it gently. They lay silently. He watched her breathing, in and out, occasionally shuddering. "Ness," he said quietly, "remember the breathing techniques they've been teaching us in birthing class? Do you want to try some to calm down?"

She shook her head. "Bobby," she said again, softly. "What if Morrow gets out? What if they find him not guilty?"

"They won't...but if they do, Deakins will have protective detail on you." He pulled his body up next to hers, so their heads were together on the pillow. "That's not going to happen, though. Your testimony today was right on point. Morrow will be convicted by the end of the week." He hesitated before continuing. "Vanessa, we have to chase him out of the shadows. I guess...I don't know but I may be a conscious effort type of thing. Telling the memory to leave for awhile until you're ready to deal with it again."

"Anytime anyone gets close to--"

"I know," he interrupted. "But Dr. Ramirez is doing her job. You just have to tell yourself that you're okay. And trust me. I'm there and I won't let you down. I promise."

She turned her head to his and pressed their foreheads together. "I love you, Goren."

His smile was warm and reassuring. "I love you too, Rayden. Forever."


"Coming, coming," he grumbled, practically tripping on the rug trying to get to the door. Who in the hell came to visit at nine on a Saturday morning? The first ring had woken him up; Vanessa was still asleep. Her sleep patterns were irregular now and he didn't want to disturb her, so he got up to get the door himself. The second ring had come just as he rounded the corner to the foyer.

Later he would blame it on sleep; he always checked through the peephole. But for whatever reason, this morning he didn't, and he swung the door wide open before audibly sucking in his breath and cursing himself.

Ryan stood in front of him with a gift bag. "Hello, detective," he said stiffly. "I've come to see my daughter. I'm assuming today isn't a special day that I might ruin?"

Goren crossed his arms and stared at him. "You've got to be kidding, right?"

Ryan stepped inside and wandered down the foyer into the living room. "No, I'm not kidding. I came to bring my daughter a baby present. I understand you two are having a child."

Goren had followed him into the living room, silently seething. "I don't think you're welcome here, Ryan. Neither of us are interested in"

"Well, I'll be happy to leave once I've heard that from Vanessa. Could you please go get her?"

Something about his face, his smirk, made Goren want to wipe it off of him permanently. "Sure," he replied sarcastically. "I'm positive she'll be absolutely thrilled to be woken up early on a Saturday to see you." When Ryan cast a confident smile at him, he waved his arm at the couch. "Please...have a seat."

Goren made his way back to the bedroom. Vanessa was stretching in the bed and rolled over to him sleepily. "Hey...this is not how we start Saturday mornings," she said in her most sultry voice. "Why don't you come back to bed?"

"Because your dad is in the living room and he wants to see you," Bobby retorted. "And nothing kills the mood like your father."

"What? Are you serious?"

He sank down on the bed. "Would I ever have a reason to lie about something like this? It's not even remotely funny." He ran one hand through his hair. "He brought a present too."

Vanessa stood up and dug through her drawer, finding a pair of pajama pants. "I'll get rid of him," she said, more to herself than to him. "Then we can forget about this whole bunch of shit and enjoy our day."

She was walking purposefully, with a large stride. He didn't realize she could still move so fast in her condition, and he followed her down the hallway, biting back the fact that he was impressed.

Ryan was sitting on the couch, but stood as soon as he saw Vanessa. "Vanessa," he said warmly, and held his arms out for a hug. When she stopped short of him and crossed her arms, he dropped his own. "I wanted to see you. Ava was right--pregnancy suits you."

"Thank you for the compliment, Daddy." Just seeing him made her head hurt. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, though...Bobby and I have a busy day ahead and we hadn't planned on visitors."

Ryan smiled, his bleached teeth offsetting what she swore was a spray-on tan. "I won't stay long, sweetie...I just wanted to drop off a present for the baby. From Kate and me." He held out the bag to her.

Vanessa turned around and looked at Bobby, whose arms were still crossed. He was looking at the floor, or maybe his feet, as though they were intensely fascinating.

"Well then, thank you." She took the bag from his hand. "Let me see you out."

"You're not even going to open it?"

"No," she said flatly. "Thank you for coming by."

"Vanessa," he said gently, "come on...I'm your father. You're about to have my grandchild."

"And you act like you're entitled to something out of this," Bobby snapped. "Nobody asked you over here and nobody is interested in anything you have to say. You can take your present and shove it up your ass, Ryan. Or you can leave it here and we'll be happy to donate it to the local thrift store. Your choice. But I believe Vanessa's asked you to leave."

She saw Ryan wince, but he never stopped smiling, never took his eyes off of her during the entirety of Bobby's diatribe. "So," he said once Bobby finished, "I promise you'll like it...would you open it? Please?"

"I already told you, Daddy...this is done. You and I have nothing left, no reason to see each other. You can take the present or we'll donate it, like Bobby said. You wanted to see me pregnant, and now you have. Look closely, because this is quite likely the most you'll ever see of this child." She shoved the bag toward him. "Please leave."

The smile on his face was fading, and he took the bag back. "You can't donate it," he said coolly. "Nobody else is going to want it." He pulled a frame out of the bag and showed it to her. "Liz, when she was pregnant with you. I found it the other day and thought you might want it. Apparently I was wrong." He started to tuck the frame back in the bag, then seemingly changed his mind and stood the photo on the end table nearest him. "Well. This went about how I expected it to." He shook his head. "One day I'm hoping you'll grow up and forgive me for being human. Until then...I hope you're a better mother than you are a daughter."

She felt the air behind her before she saw him, and it was only by luck she grabbed Bobby by the arm before he got to her father. "Stop, please stop," she said softly. "He's going and we never have to see him again."

"That's right," Ryan sneered. "Stop, Bobby...the big bad wolf is leaving the premises." He turned on his heels and headed toward the door. "You know," he said offhandedly, "in twenty years, you'll be looking back with a lot more empathy toward me than you know. are difficult. And it doesn't stop once they leave home."

She watched him walk into the foyer and heard the front door open and slam shut. Bobby's arm broke free from her grasp, but instead of heading after Ryan, he pulled her against him tightly. "You okay?" he asked her. "I'm so sorry..."

She shook her head. "Nothing to be sorry for. He's an ass." She turned around and looked at him, feeling the adrenaline rushing through her body. "I'm going back to bed...why don't you lock the door and join me?"

He touched her face with his thumb for a moment, then nodded. He wouldn't make the same mistake again.

Making love on Saturday mornings with him was one of the absolute highlights of her week. It was their time, uninterrupted by the outside, and had been since the earliest part of their relationship. Sometimes it was slow and tantalizing; sometimes it was funny; still other times it was frenzied, or quick, or needy. But it was always sexy, and always theirs, and always a way of connecting.

After Ryan had left, she had led Bobby back to the bedroom and tried to turn his mind back to the task at hand. Saturday mornings, in her mind, had one purpose and one purpose only, and she was damned and determined that Ryan wasn't going to take that from them. She knew her husband--knew his mind was still stewing on the earlier confrontation--but pulled him against her anyway. He sat on the bed, passively receiving her kisses for several minutes, before touching her cheek. "Ness," he said softly, "I don't know about this today..."

She had sat back on her knees, holding his hand to her face. "Bobby, listen to me. He steals from everyone. Saturday mornings are for us...don't let him steal today away."

For a moment she wasn't sure what he was going to choose. He sat quietly, gazing in her eyes, his thumb stroking over her cheek, and she could see the wheels turning in his head. But then he leaned over and kissed her, slow and deep, tasting her, and she could feel her heart begin to beat faster. He had undressed her slowly and by the time they were curled together, spooned on the mattress, her mind was empty of anything but him.

She loved being touched by him this way, one of his upper arms against the mattress and his forearm wrapped around her body, the other hand stroking her rhythmically and intimately as he moved within her. His lips played with her ear and the nape of her neck, words as tender as his nips escaping from his throat. She had sighed with pleasure repeatedly, whispering her own sexy words to him until her words were returned and she was positive that he was thinking about this, and only this.

After, they curled against each other again, his chest hair gently scratching her back. She kissed his hand and intertwined her fingers with his. "I love you," she whispered. "You make me feel so good."

She felt his smile against her hair. "Ditto," he murmured. "And thanks for keeping your eyes on the would have sucked if I had let Ryan ruin this today."

She laughed softly and burrowed her head deeper into the pillow. "Trust me, if there was any way around that one, I was determined to find it."

His hand disentangled from hers and slid over her belly. "You know, we're going to have to give this up pretty soon..."

"Yes...but if I have to give up sex on Saturday mornings, I'd much rather it be for our daughter than because of my jackass father."

"Good point. And I wholeheartedly agree." He kissed the nape of her neck, sucking it gently before nipping it. When she giggled, he nipped it once more.

"You were a vampire in a former life, I think." With much effort, she turned over, onto her back to look at him. "What do you think we should do with the picture?"

He propped himself up on his elbow. "I dunno...what do you want to do with it?"

"We can hang it in the baby's room...right after we change out the frame. I'm sure someone at the thrift store would want to buy that frame, right?"

A slow grin spread across his face. "Absolutely. It's a great frame...for a donation."

"I do want the picture, though...I don't have any of my mom when she was pregnant with me." She absently traced a line on his chest with her fingers. "It actually is a pretty thoughtful gift, considering who the giver is."

Bobby didn't answer, but continued to run a finger up and down her arm. "I really wish that son of a bitch would have brought you something disposable, like a blanket."

"Yeah,'s the most thoughtful thing he's ever given me. Maybe there's hope for him yet."

As if she had given him an electric shock, Bobby withdrew his hand from her arm and stared at her. "You can't possibly be thinking he's changed his ways."

"No!" she exclaimed quickly. "I didn't mean that...I just meant, maybe this therapy is helping him to see outside himself for know, think of somebody else." She sighed. "I'm not saying I think who he is has changed...just maybe he's grown a little bit."

Bobby flopped down next to her on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "I really hope you're not thinking about letting him back into our lives."

"I'm not."

"Good...because you and I would have a real dilemma about him seeing this baby."

"I'm not changing my mind," she said, feeling suddenly annoyed. "Have you forgotten that he's my father? That I grew up being emotionally abused by him?"

"No, I haven't forgotten." He spoke slowly. "But I know how hard it is to turn your back on your family."

"This is my family," she said firmly. "You and Marlene. You're my first priority, and please don't insult me by implying anything else."

Suddenly the promise of their intimate Saturday morning was dismally gray. They lay next to one another, unmoving, until at last he got up to shower. Then she rose to strip the bed and wash the sheets.


"So how is she doing?" Vanessa sat next to David on the park bench, watching Justin playing in the sandbox. The park was full of mothers chasing their preschoolers. She tried to picture herself joining in the fray in another year or so but couldn't. She felt too awkward, too conspicuous. She glanced at David and realized he probably felt more conspicuous than she did.

He sighed heavily. "Not well, Vanessa. Her liver and kidneys have permanent damage. It's worse than we thought. That's why I asked you to meet with me."

She shuffled her feet. "She's still not eating." It was a statement, one she knew was true, but she was looking for his confirmation anyway.

"No. She says she has no appetite. They're feeding her intravenously, and they'll keep doing that until she starts to eat on her own. Her hair is falling out and her teeth...a couple of them are loose...they're worried about her bones being brittle." He hesitated for a minute, and then said, "She keeps pulling the IV out...says she doesn't care."

The reality of losing Ava hit her hard and she looked at David. He was gazing straight ahead at his son, but she could see his eyes watering. "The doctors called me in yesterday to let me know that cardiac arrest is pretty common in patients as severe as Ava...I felt like you should know." He glanced at her briefly. "I know you have good reasons for not wanting to go to see her...but you needed to know."

She could feel her lip tremble. "David, she can still get better, right? It's not over yet..."

He looked down in his lap. "I don't know," he admitted. "The doctors don't sound very hopeful. If she would cooperate at all, maybe, but they said if someone is determined, like Ava, there's not a lot they can do other than try to maintain where they're at..."

"Daddy!" Justin ran over to them, clutching a toy dinosaur in his hand. "Mistah Dino says we all done here!"

David smiled and scooped up Justin in his arms. "Well then, is Mr. Dino ready for some dinner? How about you?"

Justin nodded heartily. "Yep!" He motioned to Vanessa. "You comin, Antee?"

She reached up and brushed Justin's blonde hair out of his face. "Not tonight, honey." His eyes looked exactly like Ava's, and Vanessa fought back the tears in her eyes.

Justin patted her head. "It's otay, Antee...we miss you though. Daddy, can we have pizza?"

David nodded. "Sounds good to me, buddy." He turned back to Vanessa. "Call me if you need anything--"

She stood as quickly as she could. "You too...I mean, call me. I'll see if I can get over there tomorrow."

David shot her a brief smile, then turned to walk Justin across the park.

Vanessa sank back down on the bench. Ava's sixty-day treatment had lapsed into six months. In her worst nightmares, she had never imagined that Ava would be so sick. As painful as their relationship sometimes was, she loved her little sister desperately. They were all they had left.

She reached in her pocket and pulled out her phone, flipping it open and pressing speed dial one. It rang once...twice...

"Bobby?" She heard the tears in her own voice but couldn't stop them, couldn't control the flood of fear and worry. "Is there any way you could come home?"


He parked the car in the lot. Turning off the ignition, his eyes met hers. Bobby reached over and took Vanessa's hand in his. They sat like that, still, until she finally pulled her hand back and opened the door.

He followed her into the hospital to the elevators, then to the nurse's desk, where they signed in. The nurse directed them to Ava's room, explaining she was too ill to be in the day room at the current time. So they made their way, hand in hand, down the hallway to her door.

She was dozing, it looked like, as she stepped into the room. Suddenly she heard an audible gasp, and the realization that her husband hadn't seen Ava in over six months came over her as he tried quickly to recover from his shock. She turned and examined his face. He was trying desperately to hide his shock but doing an extremely poor job of it.

Ava was dressed in a hospital gown and covered with a blanket. Her skin, gray and yellow tinged, gave away the severity of her illness immediately. David was right--her hair was thinning severely. Vanessa could hear her shallow breathing from the door and wondered how much effort she had to put out just to breathe. Her sallow skin hung from the planes of her face, and Vanessa found herself incredibly thankful that the rest of Ava's body was covered by the blanket.

She felt a hand on the small of her back and knew it was Bobby. When she didn't make a move forward, he whispered, "It's okay, Ness," and pressed lightly. She took a few steps forward before stopping again, catching her breath, and continuing to the chair by the bed.

Bobby had followed her; he pulled a chair up next to hers and sat down quietly. Vanessa took Ava's hand in her own and began to stroke it gently. After a few minutes, Ava's eyes fluttered open and moved from Vanessa to Bobby, then back to Vanessa again. "Hi." Her voice was weak and croaky.

"Hey." It was all she got out before the tears began to fall. Ava watched her for a moment, then closed her eyes and made a funny sound in the back of her throat.

"I really fucked up this time, huh?" She opened her eyes again, seeking out Vanessa's.

Vanessa leaned over and kissed Ava's forehead, smoothing her hair off of her face. She recoiled in shock when she realized the hair she was stroking had stayed in her hand after she pulled away.

Ava shook her head, breathing heavily. "Don't worry. It happens all the time now." She forced a smile. "You're the size of a house. Soon, huh?" Ava paused to catch her breath. "I'll be an auntie."

"Ava..." Vanessa's voice was soft, small. "How did it ever get this bad? How do we fix it?"

"I don't know....I don't know if we can."

Vanessa covered her face with her hand, trying to hide the sobs she felt building in her chest. "You can't give up, know that. We don't give need to get better so that we can go have some of that pie..."

They both forced a laugh, remembering the last time they had eaten together, early in Vanessa's pregnancy. "Please, Ava...if you can't do it for me, do it for Justin...please..."

Ava gently squeezed Vanessa's hand between her sobs. "I've tried, Nessie...for a long I'm just tired." Her breathing was raspy and she tried to catch a clean breath, but she couldn't. "None of this is your fault, Nessie...I love you."

Vanessa lay her head on the edge of Ava's bed, feeling the sobs of loss racking through her body. Slapping her mother's dead face. Hearing her father's taunts. Walking in on her rock star boyfriend fucking another woman. And Forrester--Forrester raping her of her pride. She could feel Ava's hand resting on her head, playing with her hair in the same way her mother used to when she was small. Ava was the last connection she had to her mother. There would be no other once she was gone.

She was gasping for air now, trying to steady herself, as she listened to Ava's whispered "shh" over and over. "You can't do this," she finally gasped, lifting her head. "I need you. Marlene is going to need you...she needs you..."

"I know." Ava squeezed her hand once more. "I'll try, Nessie...why don't you get yourself a tissue from the nurse's desk?" Her sentence had taken all of her breath, but Vanessa nodded obediently and stood, heading toward the door. Bobby stood also, but Ava grabbed his sleeve.

He turned to look at her, and she motioned to the chair. Vanessa hesitated by the door. Bobby nodded to Ava, then turned to his wife. "I'm going to visit with Ava for a few minutes...will you be all right?"

Vanessa nodded, then left the room, closing the door behind her.

She wandered down the hall until she found herself in front of the ladies' room and went inside. Staring at herself in the mirror, she took a wet paper towel and wiped down her face. All of her makeup went with it. She noted her bare face without judgment. She had her mother's lips, full and trembly, but Ryan's eyes. Ava's eyes. She wondered how Ryan could live with himself, visiting Ava every week and seeing her decline. Wondered if Ryan was the reason for the decline, if it was Ava's last stand against all that was wrong with their father.

Marlene was moving, shifting in her belly, and she pressed back, a habit she had developed when the baby first started moving. Eventually the movements settled down, and Vanessa could feel a tiny foot against her skin. In two more weeks she'd be a mother. Holding a baby, nursing her, loving her. Responsible for her growth and development and happiness. Her mother had done an abysmal job. She didn't readily admit that, but Ava had been right. Liz hadn't been able to give to them any more than Ryan had. And now Ava was doing the same thing to Justin. Leaving him, abandoning him to David. How did they continue this pattern? She angrily tossed the paper towel into the trashcan and left the bathroom.

When she entered the room again, Bobby was still sitting next to Ava quietly. He quickly moved to his original seat, and Vanessa sat down again. Ava opened her eyes sleepily. "Better?" she asked.

"Yes," Vanessa replied shakily. "Ava--I just have a question--how can you do this to Justin? I mean, abandon him like Mom did to us?"

"Ness," Bobby said, low.

Ava exhaled heavily. "I guess I'm more like Liz than I thought...and Ryan too." She reached up and touched Vanessa's cheek.

"No, you're not," Vanessa said firmly. "You're a good mother. Don't do this to Justin. He deserves better." Her voice broke at the end as she saw the tears in Ava's eyes.

"I'll try," she murmured softly. "Will you come back? On Saturday?"

Bobby interrupted. "We'll be here, Ava. We're here for you." Slowly, Vanessa nodded.

"Good, good...Justin and David are coming on Saturday."

"What about Daddy?"

Ava closed her eyes. "He doesn't come anymore. I want to see you on Saturday, Nessie...bring pictures of the nursery."

Ava was fighting to catch her breath, to stay awake now, and Bobby rested his hand on Vanessa's shoulder gently. "We should go," he said softly.

As Ava softly snored, Vanessa followed Bobby out of the room and through the hospital down to the parking lot. He unlocked the car door but stood next to her without moving. She opened the door and moved to climb inside; suddenly she stopped and flung her body against his, sobbing quietly as his hands held her tightly. When she finally quieted, he let her go, watching her climb into the SUV. He closed her door and walked around the car to get in, and they headed back to Manhattan.


She was finally resting quietly. The trip home had been difficult. He knew she was trying to balance a dozen conflicting emotions, all of which were tearing at her insides. Guilt, anger, frustration, grief, sadness--all of it playing on the hormones that were already going crazy. He was impressed that she hadn't fallen apart more than she did.

When she had called him yesterday, he knew in his gut something was horribly wrong. She had never, ever called him and asked him to come home. Even before they were dating, when she was terrified of Forrester, she had never asked him to leave work. So when she had called, he had left immediately.

Inherently, he had known it wasn't the baby. But still, he had found his mind racing during the cab ride home. When he got home, she met him at the door, shaking, explaining what David had told her. They had agreed immediately to visiting Ava the next morning.

As he had held her both yesterday and today, he found his fury at Ryan growing. A part of him couldn't help but wonder if all of this was linked to his visit on Saturday. That Ryan had decided to try to hang on to the daughter who was still living. He lay next to Vanessa in bed, trying his best to comfort her and to encourage her to relax. After a long while, she had curled against him and fallen asleep, looking incredibly vulnerable and fragile.

He moved off the bed and, grabbing a book, collapsed into the armchair. He had been shocked when he saw Ava today. She had always been dangerously thin, in his opinion, and everyone knew of her penchant to play with her food more than eat it. But today there was so little of her, almost as if she were trying to make herself disappear into thin air. He hadn't meant to gasp audibly, and he knew his shock had upset Vanessa, reiterated to her how severe Ava's condition was, but he hadn't been able to control it.

Ava had made him promise to take care of her sister. That promise had been an easy one, and he reminded Ava that he had already made it when they were married. Ava's face had taken on a cynical look before she responded, "Marriage vows don't mean shit." So he had promised again, separate from the vows, that he would always make sure Vanessa was cared for. Ava's face had been stony, the way she always approached him--no-nonsense, don't mess with me, kind of response. As she had outlined for him exactly what "cared for" meant in her book--that Vanessa would never want for comfort; never be left alone to raise the baby; always have his support; he could feel the tears welling in his own eyes, until he finally reached for a tissue and said, "I get it, Ava. Now stop talking like you're should be making these promises too."

She had turned away from him then, facing the wall, before saying, "I'll try." That was all she had said, and he hadn't pressed her for more. But he knew it wasn't all. He knew she had more in her, and she needed to give it. He just didn't know, for once, how to go about getting it out of her. He and Ava had always had a tumultuous relationship; there had always been a lack of trust between them. Ava had never felt that he was good enough for Vanessa. She had always thought Vanessa should have married up, someone with distinction and money. Bobby couldn't fault her that argument. From his perspective, Vanessa should have married the best. But she chose him, and they were happy. And Ava had accepted him to some degree over time. Or maybe she had just accepted her sister's choices, and that included him.

He wondered what had made Ava give up, to get to the point that she was so close to dying. She had a lot to live for. If she could find a way to cut herself loose from Ryan, to find value in herself apart from what she believed about her parents, maybe she would have a chance. He couldn't say that to Vanessa, but he knew it was true as much as he knew his own much as he knew how his mother's schizophrenia had dominated his life and his father's gambling and sex addictions had formed who he was.

Then he wondered if it would make any difference if he told her so. Watching Vanessa's sleeping form, watching mother and unborn baby resting so vulnerably on the bed, he made up his mind that he should. Maybe she couldn't hear people so close to her. But maybe if it were someone like him, on the fringes, who knew, it might make sense. Or maybe not.

But if he had vowed to make sure Vanessa was always supported, the least he owed her was an honest conversation with Ava. Picking up his cell, he left the bedroom and dialed the hospital, then asked to speak to her doctor.


She was in a wheelchair, hooked to oxygen, when the nurse rolled her into the therapy room.


Christian greeted her warmly, but before he could finish, she had blurted out, "What in God's name is he doing here?"

Bobby cleared his throat and looked at Christian before speaking. "I thought we should talk about some things."

Ava's eyes moved warily from Bobby to Christian, then back to Bobby. "I thought I was clear on Saturday." Her breath was shallow and puffy, as though she had been running. He knew this was going to be exhausting for her, but was determined to plough through anyway.

"Yes. You were. But there are some things I wanted to talk with you about, so I called and asked if I could come in." He took a breath before continuing. "You and I both want what's best for Vanessa, and I need to talk with you about that."

He heard her breathing grow faster. "You're not going to hurt my sister, Bobby. Please. Not now."

God. She thought he was going to leave Vanessa, thought he planned to walk away. "No, it's nothing like that. It's about you." Glancing at Christian, who nodded slightly, he continued. "You asked me the other day to make sure Vanessa was supported, comforted, protected. I can do that, the same as I always have, and I intend to always do that. But I can't take the place of her sister."

There was silence. A single tear made its way slowly down Ava's cheek, but she didn't speak, nor did she look at him. After a minute, he continued. "You're the only family--biological family--that Vanessa has. She's knocked herself out in the last three years to repair her relationship with you, and I know you've done the same. There's no way she can give that up without it being incredibly painful. And there's nothing that I can do to fix that. If you give up, you just need to know what you're leaving behind...that's why I came today."

"To guilt me?" she whispered, wiping away another stray tear angrily.

"No. To tell you that, regardless of how you feel about me, I will support your relationship with your sister a hundred percent. I'll do whatever it takes to help you get better because it's what's best for both of you. Because you're part of my family now. Because...because..." he grasped for the words, and swallowed hard to say the core truth. "Because I love you, because you love my wife."

She was drumming her fingers restlessly on the corner of the wheelchair, swallowing gasps of air. Suddenly she laughed, a soft, weak sound. "You said you love me, Robert of us is definitely doomed now."

He chuckled slightly, feeling himself relax a bit. "Probably," he teased, "but not from anorexia."

She gulped her laugh down and fought back a sob, then shook her head, turning to Christian. "I'm too damaged now...tell him...tell him I'm going to die."

"No," Christian said firmly, his first word of the session, and Bobby was surprised to hear the determination in his voice. "It's never too late for recovery, long as you have a breath in you, you can begin to recover."

Ava's fingers froze. "I just don't know if I can...I just don't know how." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "You've seen my father. You know how I am...the female version of Ryan Rayden...I...don't..." she was crying, gasping for breath, "don't want be that..."

Bobby leaned forward so that his hands were inches from hers. "Ava," he said gently, "my dad was a son of a bitch who beat the shit out of me every chance he got. He was a gambler and a sex addict and died of alcoholism. My mother is a schizophrenic. I understand your fear...but you don't have to be Ryan. You're not Ryan. You've been a wonderful wife and mother. You're a beloved sister." He hesitated, then reached for her hand. "You need to understand how special you are to the people who love you."

"You don't understand," she cried tearfully. "You don't..."

"I do," he said firmly. "Before I met your sister I didn't know how good I could be. But I learned a lot about myself after we got together. I learned that I can be a better man than I ever thought possible. That I could be a husband who didn't disappoint his wife. That I could love a baby more than my own life. You know those things about yourself just don't believe you deserve it. I didn't either, and sometimes I still don't. But I owe it to your sister to live like I believe it. And you owe it to your family too...but you owe it to yourself even more..." He felt the tears in his eyes again and hated them for being there, but... "Please don't give up. All you have to do is day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time. And when you feel like you can't try any more, then you lean on us--everyone who loves you. You're needed. You're valuable...what would Justin do without you? What would you do without him? Or David, for that matter?"

Ava covered her face in her hands, trying to hide her sobs. "I'm sorry...I'm so, so sorry..."

"You don't need to be sorry for anyone need to forgive yourself..." He grabbed a tissue from the end table and started to place it in her hand. Impulsively he pulled the wheelchair closer to him and began to wipe her face himself. After another minute, he leaned over and wrapped his arms around her gently, as if he were holding a small child. His hesitation in touching her was immediately dismissed when she collapsed in his arms, pressing her face in his shirt, her tears soaking through the fabric. Just like her sister. The familiarity was awkward but comforting, but he stayed in place, letting her cry until the tears were settling and her breathing was returning to normal...or as normal as it could be. She slowly pulled away, an awkward look on her face.

"Sorry," she muttered, trying to move her wheelchair away from him.

"Why are you sorry?" Christian asked, helping her to reposition the chair.

She sighed. "It's not his job to fix my life."

"Would it be so bad if he helped? It sounds like you have a whole group of people who love you and are willing to help you...that's a wonderful thing. I don't think Bobby can fix your life, but he may be able to help you when you need it, if you're willing to ask for help."

"I get that," Bobby said, nodding. "I'm not good at it either. But we could at least try...what do you think?"

"I...I don't want to disappoint anyone..."

"I think the bigger question is, are you disappointing yourself?" Christian handed Ava another tissue.

She shuddered. "I'm always disappointing myself...I can't think of a time when I wasn't a disappointment."

"Oh, Ava..." Bobby shook his head. "You're a beautiful, successful woman with a great know, outsiders would look at you and think you have everything...I'm so sorry you feel like you disappoint."

She sniffled. "Thanks. Thanks for saying that." She glanced at the clock, then said, "Are you coming on Saturday with Ness?"

He nodded. "Yeah. We'll be here."

Christian smiled. "Our time is up. And I believe your husband is coming in a bit, so I'm sure you want to get ready."

Ava smiled wanly. "Yeah...maybe take a nap...something..."

His ride home was quiet, and he thought about how hard Ava was struggling right now, and how little she told anyone about it. He wondered if she talked to David. He kind of had the feeling that she didn't.

As he hit Manhattan, his phone rang. He hit the speaker and responded, "Goren."

"Detective, this is Christian Holcomb, Ava's therapist. I just wanted to touch base with you about our meeting."

"Sure...yeah. Is everything okay?"

"I wanted to let you know that she did try to eat this afternoon...after you left. A small bit, but it's progress. As I explained to you, eating disorders are much more than just about eating. We'll have to see how she approaches therapy now, but we're going to remain cautiously optimistic."

He sighed. "That's good...that's really good. Thank you for letting me come in."

"No problem. I think it was the most beneficial session she's had in a long time. She identifies with you more than she likes to admit."

"I understand...I know what it's like to have an idiot for a parent."

"I just wanted to check in with you...I guess we'll see you and your wife on Saturday."

"Great," he said. "Bye."

He parked the car in their spot, then took a minute to think about the afternoon. There was something about Ava that he identified with incredibly strongly. He knew it would be a struggle for her, and he had no idea if she would make it. But at least he had done what he needed to. At least, now, he had said what he needed to. And either way, he could live with that.


She was sitting on the couch, cell phone in her hands, when he came in. Seeing him, she lay the phone down on the coffee table. "Guess what?" she asked, face set firm. "They found him guilty."

That was definitely good news. "I told you," he said, tossing his binder on the chair. "He'll be locked away. When's the sentencing?"

"Next week." She crossed her arms, looking satisfied. "Carver is going for the death penalty."

He sat next to her. "Good."

"I thought you were opposed to the death penalty?"

"I thought you were."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "So where were you all afternoon? I tried to call you. Eames said you left at two."

"Yeah...I had a meeting I had to go to." Trying to focus on the distraction, he rested his hand on her belly. "How's our girl today?"

"Fine...wondering why her dad is changing the subject, though..."

He ran his fingers under her tee and stroked her belly. He didn't know why he even bothered trying to be ambiguous. She knew him too well, and it's not as if he could lie to her. "I had a meeting with Ava and her therapist."

Vanessa's face perked up. "You did? Why?"

"Just...just some things we needed to discuss, that's all." Suddenly he grinned. If he wasn't mistaken, there were three,, five. Five toes or fingers pressing back at him. "I think I found her foot!"

"Probably. What did you need to discuss with Ava?" Her face quickly went dark. "Was she okay?"

He sighed. "You'd really rather talk about Ava than Marlene? I mean, I'm touching her foot here..." Seeing her skeptical expression, he shrugged. "I just had some things I wanted to share with Ava. It's kind of private...more about my family, really...but if you really want to know, I'll tell you what we talked about."

She was regarding him as though she couldn't quite make up her mind. He was trying to figure out what he would actually say to her if she wanted to know. The truth, he guessed, although how it would come out he wasn't really sure. After a few more minutes, she reached down and moved his hand to the far left on her belly. "Feel that? I think it's an elbow."

He stroked the pointy part. "You know, I'm going to miss it when you're not pregnant anymore. I didn't think I'd feel this way...but I do."

"Yeah, me too." She pressed her hand on top of his. "Although I will be happy to get a full night's sleep...maybe in another five years..."

"I promise it will be before then," he reassured her. "You know I can run on practically nothing."

"I'm counting on it," she said, then winked at him before leaning her head back and closing her eyes.


She shoved the pillow under her head again, readjusting with the hopefulness of a nine-month pregnant woman who'd been up most of the night. It wasn't working. She had drifted off a few times during the night but woken up twice to Marlene's aerobics routine in her belly. The other time, Bobby's soft snores woke her, and she found herself feeling incredibly irritated with him. Maybe the pillow would be best served on his head, she thought grumpily. She had her back to him now, and as if on cue he snuggled up to her...and of course, his Saturday morning wakeup call was nuzzling her thigh.

She huffed loudly. She was exhausted and didn't even want to think about the day. Too much to do and too little time. They were supposed to be visiting Ava today, and that was always exhausting. She felt him curling even closer to her, the way he always did, his slow wake up. One hand wrapped around her belly, stroking it softly. She tried to find comfort in that, something she normally thought of as a very sweet action, but all she wanted to do was smack his hand. When the same hand moved up to her breast, she pushed it away, first gently and then with more force.

"Hey!" he finally said. "That's not the way this is supposed to go!"

"Maybe I don't feel like being groped this morning," she snapped. "I'm glad you had such a nice evening and you're all ready for some action...but you're going to have to take care of it yourself. Put your own hand to good use."

He slowly pulled his hand away from her. "Rough night, huh?" he responded. "I'm sorry...anything I can do to help?"

"Yes...get that thing out of my back."

He rolled away from her. "Jesus, Vanessa...I'm sorry I'm not a mindreader." She felt the bed moving as he stood. "I'll go grab a shower. A cold one." He made his way into the bathroom.

She closed her eyes and tried to get comfortable, but sleep wasn't getting any closer. Finally, she sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying to motivate herself to get out of bed and gather her clothes. They needed to get over to see Ava, and she was hoping they'd do it sooner rather than later.

She felt it then, a sharp pain in her abdomen that lasted little more than a few seconds, but she instinctively knew.

He opened the bathroom door, towel drying his hair. Glancing at her, he said, "I wasn't trying to annoy you. I'm sorry you had a rough night--if you had woken me up, I would have been happy to sit with you."

"That's two of us can be exhausted?" She shook her head. "I know you weren't trying to annoy me. It's me...I just had a contraction."

The towel slowed and he dropped it in the hamper. "Are you sure?"

" only last a few seconds." She stood up. "I'm going to grab a shower before we go to the hospital."

" that a good idea? Especially with you being so exhausted...maybe we should stay here so you can rest. Ava will surely understand. I'll call her--"

She was shaking her head. "No...I want to go, and if there's any place that's better to be than here for this, it's the hospital."

He couldn't argue with that logic. "Will you be okay in the shower?"

She snickered. "You already sound like a first-time dad. I'm fairly certain I can shower myself...I've been doing it for a really, really long time."

He rolled his eyes. "Fine. Just be careful."

An hour later they were in the car, headed to Brooklyn to see Ava. "How often are they coming?" he asked absently as he drove.

"Okay, focus, accident would be a really bad thing right now...they're about eight minutes apart. You know, this could last a long time."

He knew she was right. He knew it could still be a few days before Marlene made her grand entrance, but he couldn't help his anxiety. Some of it was definitely a result of worry, but most of it was due to his excitement. It was only a matter of time, he thought, until he saw his baby daughter. Until he held her, examined her sweet face, checked each tiny finger and toe. The three of them, together. He would have a family--a full, proper family, he thought, as he turned into the parking lot. He didn't realize he was smiling like a loon until she said, "Okay, you have got to stop look like you're a bit touched in the head."

He parked the car and turned it off. "Aren't you excited?"

She caught his hand. "Yes." Her voice was quiet, unsure. "I'm excited but I'm...I don't know. Scared." She took a breath, then exhaled deeply. At his questioning look, she replied, "Another one."

"Beth." His voice was soft, soothing. "You're going to do great...and I'll be there the whole time."

"I'm sorry about this morning...I shouldn't have been so bitchy..."

He kissed her cheek gently. "It's obviously would have been a terrible idea anyway..."

"I'm not ready to give it up."

He laughed softly. "Me either...but it's only what? Six or eight weeks?"

"Yeah." The car grew silent, and they sat together until it was really too hot to stay there anymore. Then he opened his door and got out. She followed him, and they entered the hospital.


"Well, it's only a matter of time." Ava's breathing was still labored, but she was sitting up in her bed and picking at a snack of grapes. David and Justin were in her room as well. Justin was on the floor, rolling his trucks back and forth to Bobby.

"I guess so."

David tugged at her sleeve. "You think you're ready?"

Ava made a funny noise in her throat. "She's is he," she said, nodding toward Bobby.

"Weady for what?" Justin looked up at his mother, then around to each of the adults. "What's gonna happen?"

"Antie's baby is're going to have a cousin," Ava told him, then held out her arms as he climbed into them. "You'll like having a baby cousin."

"I don't like girls."

"You will," David interrupted. "Trust me."

Justin was staring curiously at Vanessa's abdomen. "How's the baby get out?"

There was a moment of silence before Vanessa said, "The doctors are going to help take her out."

"Oh." Justin climbed back down and started to drive his trucks again.

"So did you bring the pictures of the nursery?" Ava swallowed a grape and Vanessa found herself releasing a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"" She handed Ava an envelope full of pictures. Ava begin to flip through slowly.

"Who did the paint job?"

"Bobby did," Vanessa said, slightly defensively. "Why?"

"Yeah, why?" Bobby teased, before returning the truck to Justin.

Ava smiled and passed the pictures to David. "Because it looks great...if you ever give up detective work, give me a call. I'll put you to work as a painter."

He laughed. "Yeah, I'm quite skilled with a roller."

Vanessa held her belly again. Sharper and longer this time. She closed her eyes and tried to remember to breathe, but with each contraction she was finding it harder to remember to focus on the baby.

Before David or Ava could say anything, Bobby was standing up. "I think we should probably go...Vanessa had a rough night and is pretty tired."

"Okay," Ava nodded. "Thanks for time you come you'll be a mommy, Nessie!" Even though her voice was weak, it was filled with enthusiasm.

"Good luck, you guys," David said, shaking Bobby's hand and giving Vanessa a gentle side-hug.

Justin had attached himself to one of Bobby's legs, and Bobby reached down and scooped him up. "See you soon, Justin!" he said, and Justin gave him a tight hug. "Have a good baby, Antee," he told Vanessa, and they all laughed.

"I'll try," she said, feeling another sharp pain. Ten minutes later they were in the car, heading back to Manhattan.

"I think we should pick up your bag and head to the least so they can check you out...they're coming faster." Bobby was watching the road, but she could hear the worry in his voice.

She was quiet. "They're stronger too," she finally said as another one hit.

He reached over, finding her hand and taking it in his. "We're almost're almost a mother." His fingers interlaced with hers. "You're going to be a terrific mother. You already love her so much."

She looked out the window, watching the streets, trying to get a handle on her sudden fear.


The doctor finished his initial examination and placed an order for her to be admitted. She could feel her breath growing more shallow, and she wondered how many women in her place were struck by this blinding fear she was experiencing.

For the first time in a long time, she felt as though she and Bobby were on completely different planes. He was comfortable and excited, laughing and joking with the hospital staff, watching the exams and the equipment with fascination, sharing his knowledge of trivia he'd picked up about deliveries with anyone who would listen. She found herself looking away more and more often, feeling more and more isolated. The contractions were sharper and longer now, painful, and reminded her of the pain she had experienced when Forrester attacked her. She closed her eyes, feeling the kicks to her gut again, then instinctively covering her belly with her hand. Her baby daughter deserved better than these memories. That thought only led to more guilt. Her baby wasn't even here yet and she was already a disappointment as a mother.

"Ness." His voice was close, closer than she realized. She opened her eyes to see him gazing at her. "It's okay. The pain is normal, remember? Just breathe through it...yes...that's it, honey..." He talked her through the next one.

"I'm letting you down," she admitted, "I keep thinking about feels...a lot..." But he pressed a finger to her lips and shook his head.

"You're doing great. You're not letting anyone down. Look...she's doing perfectly fine." He pointed to the monitor and they watched it together.


He walked back and forth down the hall with her. The nurses had suggested walking and he had the feeling that, if nothing else, it was relieving some of her anxiety. They were on their sixth lap when she suddenly stopped and looked down.

"Shit." She had muttered it softly, seeing the water on the floor. He wrapped an arm around her.

"I'm sure it's not the first time this has happened," he teased her, then kissed her head. "It's almost time."


They had given her an epidural and she was more relaxed now, the pain more manageable. Dr. Ramirez made it in and did a quick check. "You're ready," she announced. "We're about ready to start pushing. What do you think?"

She nodded, then looked up at Bobby. "I hope you're ready because she's coming no matter what." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "So when do I get to push?"


"You're doing great, Beth." His voice was low and calm, his fingers interlaced with hers. He had picked up a washcloth and wiped the sweat from her forehead.

"He's are..." Glenda, the nurse, checked the monitor again. "She's going to be here very soon...Dr. Ramirez is on her way."


The lights above her were incredibly bright. She had never noticed how bright fluorescent lighting was before now.

The contractions moved in rhythm and she was relieved to be able to push with all her strength. Bobby had his arm wrapped around her head, one of each of her hands in his, encouraging her to breathe while Glenda guided her through each new wave of pain. Dr. Ramirez coaxed her on with "good", "keep going", then announced the baby was crowning. "We're almost there,'re doing great...we're almost there."

She felt her husband's lips brush her forehead as he squeezed her hands again.


Bobby was laughing. Laughing and crying as she took great heaping gulps of air that matched those of the tiny baby Dr. Ramirez was holding. She was dizzy and overwhelmed, looking at the tiny figure that had just emerged from her. "I want to see her," she heard herself say. "Is she okay?"

"Perfect. Just perfect," the doctor said as she lay the baby on Vanessa's belly. Bobby was still squeezing her hands, kissing her sweaty hair over and over. She leaned forward slightly, the realization dawning that this was her daughter. Her beloved, much wanted Marlene. And one of her hands pulled away from his, reaching down to touch the crying baby's wet hair.

Then she gasped, out of amazement and gratitude, and felt the tears hit her cheeks. And Goren kissed them away.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Part Two

"This is ridiculous." Vanessa snatched yet another pair of maternity shorts out of her closet and tried to put them on.

"They're fine," he told her. "I don't see the problem. You're're not going to be able to hide're due in less than three months."

"You don't see a problem with this--" and she pulled the sides of her shorts out, farther and farther, until she looked as though she were sporting clown shorts. "I'm all belly and butt. It's ridiculous! My legs are five sizes too small for my body. What the hell? I'm going to have to go around in sweats through an entire freaking summer!" Feeling like she was throwing a tantrum, she sat on the edge of the bed in a huff.

He sat down next to her. "Look," he said calmly, "you're absolutely beautiful. You glow. If you don't like the shorts, put on a skirt. But we have to go in twenty minutes...we owe it to Eames. We both promised to be there for this party, and as much as she would probably empathize with your..." he chose his words carefully "...predicament, you know it would mean the world to her for you to be there."

She looked at him, knowing he was right, but feeling absolutely disgusted with herself. She wasn't one of those women who was comfortable running around in tiny shorts or skirts when she was six months pregnant. She had a couple of longer skirts with elastic waists...

"Okay," she finally mumbled. "I'll try a skirt...a longer one."

"You have beautiful legs," he told her. "You could wear a mini and look great."

She rolled her eyes. "Believe it or not, Goren, not everyone finds me sexy like you do." She pulled herself up, using his hand to steady herself, then began to dig through the closet again.

She finally settled on a white broomstick skirt with a red tank and black sandals. Pulling her hair back in a ponytail, she checked herself out in the mirror. Other than the two zits she now had on her face, she looked, well, presentable, anyway. She grabbed her denim jacket before heading to the living room.

"Okay, I'm ready," she said, folding the jacket over her arms. He smiled gently at her.

"You look lovely," he told her, standing up. Almost intinctively his hand rested on her belly. "You too, baby," he teased. "Two beautiful girls for me today."

"Well, your beautiful girls are ready to lead on, Alpha Male."

The ride to Rockaway was relatively peaceful for a Saturday afternoon. Vanessa snoozed off and on. It was an hour-long drive, and Bobby had been kind enough to drive it, so she had taken advantage of the opportunity to nap.

He pulled up against the curb in front of Eames' house, then reached over and gently shook her arm. "Hey, Ness...we're here." He heard her snore softly, so he switched tactics. "Rayden...there's cake inside...with lots of icing..."

"Hmm?" She shifted in her seat and opened her eyes sleepily. "What?"

He smiled. "We're here...for the shower."

She stretched and joined him outside of the car. It was hotter than hell outside, a typical New York City summer day. She tossed her jacket back in the car and grabbed the gift bag from the back seat.

Eames' mother opened the door and welcomed them, giving Bobby a warm hug, then offering Rayden the same before commenting on the size of her belly. In the last few weeks, Vanessa had been shocked at how many people suddenly found her belly to be open fodder for conversation. It seemed that every day someone was commenting on the size of her growing uterus. The comments were usually followed by a joke about how big her belly would become, seeing as Bobby was the father of their baby. Ha ha, she thought to herself sarcastically...very funny to a woman who'd never had anything bigger than her husband's penis come out of her. As impressive as he was, he certainly couldn't compare to the size of a newborn.

The shower was definitely one of the more interesting parties she had ever attended. It wasn't every day that she went to a baby shower honoring two mothers. Eames looked beautiful, a picture of health and vitality and pregnancy perfection. Whereas Rayden was dragging herself out of bed every day at the last minute and catching naps in between profiles, Eames looked perfectly well-rested and as though giving birth were her life's goal. Her belly was large and round, with no additional weight resting anywhere on her body, except in her breasts. She was smiling and pleasant and ridiculously happy.

Liz and Eames sat together to open the presents, taking turns and holding the outfits between them as Tony took photos of the sisters with every gift. Vanessa watched them curiously, wondering if she would ever be willing to have a baby for Ava if they were in Alex and Liz's situation. She doubted it. She didn't know how Eames did it. Her hand subconsciously fell to her belly and stroked the baby there, feeling it shift inside her, and tried to imagine giving their baby to somebody else. She couldn't. Not even Ava.

She was still pondering the gravity of what Eames was going to be doing when Goren handed her a piece of cake. "See? Just like I promised...cake with lots of icing." He smiled at her as he gave her the tiny blue plate. She took it and swirled a finger in the icing. "Buttercream...I already checked," he teased her, wiping a small bit of icing away from the corner of her mouth.

She took a bite of the cake. It was like a drug to her right now--she could have easily eaten an entire tier by herself. Trying not to groan out loud, she asked, "So how are you? I mean, you're on your own starting next week, with what's her name?"

"I'll be fine," he said, a bit curtly, "but thanks for asking. And just so you know, Eames will still be there for a few more days."

Vanessa peered around Goren's large body to see Eames laughing avidly with Angie, Deakins' wife. Her belly was bigger than she was. "Uh, I don't know that I would count too heavily on're about to be replaced by an eight pound hottie."

He snorted and took a bite of her cake. "Eames doesn't want to leave...she'll be back as soon as possible."

"Right." Vanessa licked the icing off her fork. "I forgot how bonded Eames is to's all about you. Forget the baby."

"That's not what I meant," he said wryly. "I meant she enjoys work...and she'll be back shortly."

"Who will be back shortly?" Eames was standing next to them, smiling.

"You," Vanessa responded. "Bobby is already planning your return." She took another bite of her cake. "This cake is amazing...let me know who your baker case I need a cake, you know, to eat."

Alex laughed. "I always wanted pretzels. Salt, this whole trimester, it seems. Apparently you're addicted to better watch out for diabetes."

"She just had that checked," Bobby piped in. "Everything came back fine....just her blood pressure is a little high."

Eames patted Vanessa's shoulder. "Ten more weeks, girl, and you'll be right here where I am. It's very a couple weeks I'll be meeting Nathan for the first time."

Vanessa smiled at her. "I bet you all are so excited." Finishing her cake, she said, "Alex...I have something for you, separate from the gift for Nathan..." She reached into her purse and pulled at a small envelope. "Just open it when you have a chance...maybe not right now though." She glanced at Bobby, then met Alex's eyes again. "It's from both of us."

Alex looked surprised, but took the envelope and tucked it in her pocket. "That was totally unnecessary, but thank you...and thank you guys for coming. I know it's a drive and it's your day together...I appreciate it more than you know."

Bobby's arms were crossed, but he smiled warmly at his partner. "Like we'd be anywhere else." Then, "You'll be at work on Monday still, right?"

She grinned at him. "Of course, but you know I'm on desk duty...I'm supposed to be off as of Wednesday." She touched his arm. "I met your temporary partner the other should be interesting for you."

"Great." He sounded less than pleased.

Eames was still grinning. "I have to go say hi to some other people, but I just wanted to thank you guys before you took off."

"No problem," Vanessa told her. "You give me this cake and I'll go wherever you want me to."

Eames shook her head. "Goren, get her some of that to take's too huge to hang around here." Then she meandered off across the room, saying hello to an older woman neither of them recognized.

A half-hour later they were back in the car, a healthy chunk of chocolate cake wrapped up in the back seat. Bobby was quiet and his smile had disappeared.

"You okay?" she asked, touching the hand resting on the console.

He sighed softly. "Yeah...just not looking forward to Monday, among other things."

"It will be okay. If she's too scary, I'll kick her ass and keep her in line."

A slight smile broke through his expression. "I appreciate you having my back like that."

They both sat in silence for several minutes, until he finally said, "I can't imagine giving up a baby like that." He shook his head. "When she first got pregnant, I thought it was such a great thing she was doing for her sister. I just don't know how she could do it without being heartbroken...." He didn't look at her, but she knew he was thinking about their baby, about the ultrasound pictures and the intensity of his feelings for this child. "I can't imagine, now, not having this child."

"I know." It was all she said, but it was all he needed.


Eames called later that night, as they were washing the dinner dishes.

"Thanks," she told Vanessa immediately. "I never expected anything, well, thoughtful..." Rayden heard the crack in her voice. "I really do love it and I know it's exactly what I'll be needing."

"I was hoping you'd enjoy it, Alex...Bobby and I talked about it and wanted you to have something special, just for you..."

"It was really thoughtful. You have no idea how much it means to me." She was crying now. Vanessa could hear her soft sobs and the catch of her breath every few words. "Honestly, I'm kind of scared...but knowing I'm going to have a place to go, to gather myself, is really helpful."

Vanessa glanced up at Bobby, who was scrubbing the last bit of lasagne out of the pan. "Alex, you know you can count on us for anything...even if you just need a break, or need to talk..."

"Oh, I know," Eames said quickly, sniffling. "My family has been fantastic. You saw them today--they've included me in everything and I know this will all be fine, but it's hard to imagine giving him up in a couple of weeks. I--I talk to him," she confessed, her voice breaking slightly. "Every night."

"Me too," Vanessa told her. "I understand...and you'll make it through this just fine. We'll be here for you, anything you need."

"I appreciate it." Vanessa heard Eames' breath hitch once more before she continued. "Anyway, thank you. Tell Bobby I'll see him tomorrow."

"No problem. Sleep well."

Eames laughed. "Right. You too."

As she hung up the phone, he was drying his hands. "Eames?"

"Yeah...she wanted to thank us for the gift."

He smiled. "Well, it was your idea...and a good one...a spa weekend in Colorado will be a great way for her to get grounded again."

"She was crying." Vanessa stood up and carried her glass of water into the living room. Bobby followed her, sitting next to her on the couch. He immediately rested his hand on her belly, stroking it back and forth.

"When do you think I'll feel her move? Tell her I've been very patient."

"Who? Eames?"

He made a face. "Very funny." His hand moved back and forth before he continued. "I would imagine she's going to cry quite a bit. I can't believe she even let you hear her cry. She's pretty damn tough."

Vanessa rested her hand on top of his. "Any day now," she said. "I mean, the baby. I feel her move all the time...and any day you'll be able to feel her too." She smiled. "She likes it when you talk. She starts to move faster when she hears your voice."

He leaned down and rested his head on her shoulder. "Anything else I do that she likes?"

"She loves that chocolate cake we had today. She was completely thrilled with that. Oh, and she likes it when you cater to me. That makes her very happy."

He pressed his face into her shoulder and made a funny noise. "I bet she does," he commented, stroking her belly. "She needs a name...what have you been thinking?"

"I like Roberta."

"You're so not funny." He kissed her neck, just under her ear. "I think we should consider Elizabeth."

She shook her head. "Didn't we already discuss this? No family names?"

"No...we agreed Elizabeth would be the exception to the rule, and I think it should be. It's a classic name that will always be in style. Plus, it's a family name on your side. I'm not saying it has to be her first name, but it would be nice if it were part of her name."

"Why?" she demanded. "Why in the world would I want to name this child Elizabeth?"

He reached up and stroked one wayward curl, tucking it behind her ear. "Because it's the name of the woman I love more than anyone in this world."

She turned her head to face him, looking into his eyes long and hard, until he finally said softly, "I really, really want this. You can pick anything to go with it, but I want her named after you."

"Marlene," she said softly, watching him shifting beside her. "Marlene Elizabeth, then."

"I like that," he said, stroking her hair. Suddenly a grin spread across his face. "Marlene Elizabeth Goren...MEG..."

"Meg," she chuckled, shaking her head. "Only you, Bobby, would notice that...anagrams from your own kid's name...Meg..."

His lips pressed against her forehead and his hand slid down from her belly to her thighs. "I love you, Beth," he murmured in her ear. Then, as his hand stroked over her leg, he whispered, "And Meg, I love you too..."

He bent his head to kiss her belly gently. On his second kiss, they both jumped suddenly. "Crap!" he said, moving his head away, and Vanessa burst into laughter.

"You better watch out," she warned him. "Apparently Meg has some strong feelings about her name."

"Apparently," he agreed, then rested his hand on her belly again, until he felt the tiny kick again. His smile was slow and intimate. "I felt her," he whispered. "I felt our baby kick."

"Meg," Vanessa said. "Meg, the soccer player."

He smiled again, then pressed the side of his face against her belly and waited anxiously for Meg's next move.


She was sitting at her desk, trying to secretly sneak views of her husband's new partner. Goren looked absolutely less than thrilled; in fact, he looked sour, as though he had been sucking on a lemon for the better part of the morning. Eames was still working at her desk, handling calls and running leads and confirming information. Bobby was holding his head and reading a report, making an occasional comment, looking at Eames. And the new girl was looking back and forth between them, like a tennis ball being bounced across a court.

She was pretty. Dark red hair, green eyes, porcelain skin. Well-built, too. If Vanessa was a man, she'd date her on looks alone. She looked to be taller than either Eames or Vanessa, putting her at the perfect height for Goren. She was probably five-eight or so. Not tiny like Eames but not plump like Vanessa. Lithe and built like a pinup model, she thought. Or maybe a little bit thinner.

For all her beauty, Bobby didn't seem to be interested in even checking her out. If anything, he was cold to her, avoiding eye contact and focusing all his attention on Eames. The fact that her husband didn't seem to have noticed his new partner was a knockout made her feel meanly glad. The last thing she wanted to be worrying about while she was waddling around currently was some other woman catching Bobby's attention. At least right now, that didn't seem to be a concern.

She turned her focus back to the case in front of her, examining the photos and rereading the evidence, when her phone rang. She grabbed it absently. "Rayden."

"Hey sexy. Are you feeling sorry for me? I've got a greenie on my back."

She snickered. "A very beautiful greenie," she corrected him. "Where are you? I thought you were at your desk."

"I went down the hall." There was some fumbling in the background, then Bobby said, "I had to get away...she sounds like she's been in the parking lot with a bag of weed."

"I'm sure that isn't true...from what I can see, she's watching you and Eames very carefully. Probably taking notes, I expect."

He snorted.

"I'm glad you still think I'm sexy though," she commented. "She really is very pretty."

"I guess," he groused, "if you like a blank look behind the eyes." She heard some more fumbling, and then he said, "I gotta go but I'll see you tonight. I love me on that."

"Got it. Love you too." She hung up the phone, chuckling to herself. Suddenly it rang again. She picked it up. "Look, I said I trust you--"

"Dr. Rayden," a smooth, deep voice answered her. "It's Ron Carver...but it's good to know you trust me."

"Sorry about that." She could feel herself blushing. "What can I do for you, Mr. Carver?"

"It's Eric Morrow. I would like for you to testify in his case...the judge has set the date for three weeks from today. Are you available?"

She flipped through her planner quickly. "Uh, I'm supposed to be at a doctor appointment, but I'll try to change it...I'm assuming to plan on all day?"

" know how these things go. We'll need to plan a time to meet prior to then to review your testimony."

They set a time, then said goodbye. She didn't like the thought of testifying around that maniac, being so pregnant. The baby was moving regularly and her appointments were more frequent. Dr. Ramirez was threatening her with partial bedrest if she didn't get her blood pressure down. She didn't blame the doctor, but the thought of spending the next eight weeks in bed--even for half the day--didn't exactly make her happy.

She looked up in time to see Bobby heading out, with his new buddy following closely behind. She wondered where they were going and if it was somewhere she could be helpful. He tossed his binder nervously from one hand to the other and turned to say something to her. Vanessa noticed the stubble on his face. They both had overslept and he'd missed his shave this morning. She had teased him about trying to pick up his new partner from the start. She always liked his stubble. He had kissed her squarely on the mouth and then rubbed his cheek against hers, laughing, before grabbing his jacket to head out the door. She wondered if his new partner liked the stubble too.

Finally turning her attention fully back to the case in front of her, she went back to work.


"Sorry I'm late." Vanessa took her relegated spot in the therapy room next to Ava. This was her third visit in, and she had to admit that she felt like they were making some progress. At least Ava was able to talk about a very short list of things without being horribly bitchy. However, her tardiness wasn't one of them.

"Sorry to inconvenience your day." Ava glared at her. Sometimes Vanessa swore the hatred coming off her sister was so thick she could cut it with a knife.

"Ava." The therapist, Christian, interrupted Ava before she could go any further. "Is there a reason you're giving Vanessa a hard time?"

Ava tossed her hair back. "No, not at all. She's got an incredibly busy's got to be tough for her to make it to an appointment with me on time. Dressed neatly."

Vanessa bit her lip. "Does the way I dress really matter?"

"You're only dressed up today because you were at work. You don't care enough about being seen with me to look decent half the time. It doesn't matter to you that people will think bad things about both of us, does it?"

"No, it doesn't. If people look at me and judge me because I'm in sweats when I eat in a diner, I really don't care. And if YOU care, that's YOUR problem."

"See?" Ava tossed her hands up in the air at Christian. "She's always just been concerned about herself."

Christian glanced from one sister to the other before slowly turning to Ava. "Explain to me why the way Vanessa dresses is an expression of her love for you."

"Because other people judge you by how you look. If she goes out with me dressed like a slob, people will think badly of both of us." She shot Vanessa an ugly glare. "She can manage to get dressed for work, for her husband, for her friends, or just about anything else. But for me, she dresses like she rolled out of bed."

"So you feel like it's a matter of effort."

"Yes. She puts forth no effort when it comes to me."

"What do you call this?" Vanessa snapped. "A good time?"

"So you feel like you put forth effort to see your sister?" Christian turned his attention to Vanessa.

Vanessa snorted. "Uh, yeah. I've been up here every damn weekend. I've come to every damn therapy session. I do everything she asks me to do. I don't understand why she's so worried what I look like. If I embarrass her, then maybe I should just stay home."

A silence fell over the room. At last, Christian said, "Is that what you want, Ava?"

"No." Ava's voice was angry, her eyes teary. "Why can't you just bend a little for Daddy? Why?"

"So this is about your father...not about Vanessa letting you down." Christian was tapping a finger against the arm of his chair.

"Daddy wants a relationship with her and she won't bend. Ever."

"Why is that important to you, Ava?"

The tears were flowing freely now, dripping off the end of Ava's long, slim face as she wiped them away with her hands. She tried to speak, but the words turned into sobs. Vanessa sat quietly next to her, watching her cry for several minutes, trying to get the words out. She could recall a time when she would have promised Ava anything, just to ease her pain. But she couldn't do that now. Especially not now, when she had a baby to consider.

Ava was sobbing, hiccuping erratically. Unable to watch any longer, Vanessa reached over and wrapped an arm around her sister. Ava seemed to melt right into her, and Vanessa wrapped both arms around her sister fully. She was surprised at how easily she could embrace Ava, both in size and in lack of resistance. She held her tightly, and after a moment began to rock her, whispering, "It's's okay..." She didn't know why, other than she couldn't stand to see Ava so upset.

Ava clutched her sister fiercely, trying desperately to catch her breath. She started to pull away from Vanessa, but Vanessa held on tightly and Ava quickly collapsed back against her sister, allowing herself to be comforted for the first time in a long, long time. After several minutes, Ava finally mumbled into Vanessa's shoulder. "I only want a family."

Vanessa didn't let go of her, but Ava pulled up and looked at her sister, eye to eye. "I only..." she gulped heavily, "I only want a and Daddy to get along...why...why can't you..." The tears began rolling again and she was quickly gasping for breath. "Why can't you try...for me?"

Vanessa stroked her sister's soft blonde hair. Ava was truly beautiful and always had been. "I have tried," Vanessa said softly, searching out Ava's eyes. "I've tried. I can't. He's mean and he's sick and I can't do it, Ava. Especially now...especially with my own daughter coming into this world. I can't allow him access to her...or to me. We both deserve better than that."

Ava pulled away from her, curling into a ball. "He says he loves you and he'll try."

Christian's eyes met Vanessa's. "Would you be willing to talk with him in the therapy room?"

She felt cornered, trapped, as though she had no choices and nobody understood how much pain he had caused her. At last she sighed. "I don't know," she told him, shaking her head. "I'll have to think about it."

He nodded. "Fair enough." Leaning forward, he said, "That's all of our time today, Ava...let's see if we can get you and Vanessa on the schedule for next week."


"Hi, baby Meg." Bobby kissed her belly gently, then pressed a palm against her side. Glancing up at Vanessa, he said, "Has she been active today?"

"Pretty much." She put down the book she was reading and ran a hand through his curly hair. She always loved touching his hair. It was soft and curly and sexy, in her opinion. "Just leave your hand there for a few minutes, and you'll feel her. Talk to her. She loves your voice."

He kissed her belly again, then said, "Maybe I'll tell her a story...what do you think?"

"Fine by me."

"Okay...Marly, listen up, this is a good one Daddy is going to tell you." He rested his head on his spare hand, elbow on the mattress, while his open palm lay against her. "Once upon a time, there was a very smart, very handsome detective, who was married to the most beautiful, most intelligent, most amazing woman in the world."

She snorted. "Please."

He grinned. "This is a work of fiction, don't worry." He ducked as she tried to smack him with one of the decorative pillows on the bed. "Anyway, this genius detective's name was...hmmm...Rob...and his bride's name was Beth. They were madly in love. And one day their love exploded into three pieces. And they named the third piece Marlene."

She shook her head and smiled at him. As if on cue, he was rewarded with a tiny kick to the palm. His look of surprise, of complete pleasure, made her chuckle at him. "I guess she's listening."

"Yeah," he murmured, kissing her belly. "Should I continue?"

"Yes, please."

" one day our brilliant detective goes to work only to find that he has been partnered with Big Red. Now everybody else thought that Big Red was just fine. She was pretty, they said, and knew all the rules. But Detective Rob knew that you couldn't solve crimes by following all the solved crimes by following your nose, your gut, your instinct. So he called his lovely Beth."

Vanessa had covered her mouth with her hand at the mention of Big Red. She was desperately trying not to laugh out loud.

"Beth told Rob to give Big Red a chance...that maybe she was more than just a pretty face. But Detective Rob had his doubts. When he looked into those big, empty green eyes, he swore he could see straight through to Ellis Island. And when Big Red spoke, he was reminded of the many collars he made in narcotics."

Now she did laugh...a big belly laugh, and a moment later he could feel the baby kicking heartily. "Does this story have a point?" she finally asked, after catching her breath.

"Not really...I just wanted to feel her kick." He stroked her belly back and forth. His grin fell into a sweet smile, his eyes still crinkling in the corners. He looked happy. It was a look he wore well. He pressed his lips against her again, then gently rested his cheek against her, looking at her face. "I love you more than anything, Beth." His voice was peaceful, almost dreamy. "I want to make love with you. Do you feel up to it?"

She wove her fingers into his hair. They didn't usually talk about it like this. "I think I can manage that," she said, already feeling her own excitement growing. He was an amazing lover. She'd have to be an idiot to say no.

He lay against her, long, and kissed her mouth slowly, taking his time to taste her, exploring her with his tongue. "That sounded stupid, didn't it?" he chuckled, slipping his fingers under her shirt to pull it off. "I know I don't usually ask..."

"It was sweet," she argued, helping him pull the tank off her body. "I didn't think it was stupid at all."

He tangled a leg in between hers, being careful not to apply any pressure to her belly, before wrapping his arms around her neck. "I meant what I said...I love you more than anything..."

She lost herself then, in his kisses and touches; the gentle explorations of his hands and his mouth that spread from her forehead down to her toes and the perfect rhythm he found with her. He was murmuring softly in her hair, how beautiful she was, how much he loved her, how she was such a gift. And when she climaxed, he whispered in her ear, "I love you...that's how much I love you..." before allowing himself to come.

Curled up together, she could feel his breathing steadily puff against her head. "If sex disappeared," she whispered, "would you still love me this much?"

He shifted slightly, then pressed his lips against her head. "I loved you this much before we ever had sex," he said, and she suddenly realized he was right, and she had loved him this much too, and their sexual relationship had been an outgrowth of that. The passion they felt for one another as people had grown into something physical. If it hadn't, she still would have loved him, and loved him passionately. He still would have been her savior, her rescuer, her best friend. She tried to imagine for a moment what her life would have been like without him, and she shuddered.

He pulled her closer. "Okay?" he asked, thumb stroking her lips.

"Do you remember," she asked, "when you told me I scared the shit out of you? Because you loved me?"

He chuckled. "Yeah. And I meant it."

She nodded. "Me too. I didn't know how to love anyone then. You taught me. You and Lydia."

His hand wandered away from her mouth, her face, and down her chest, over her breasts, to her belly. "And Marlene. Now Marlene will teach both of us. I hope we're good learners."

She sighed, then leaned forward to kiss his forehead. "Me too. I'm going to try really hard."

His smile was bright when he looked at her. "I can't imagine a world without the two of you. I really can't."

And she pressed his hand against her belly again until he felt the baby shifting, then closed her eyes, drifting off with a smile on her face.


She couldn't believe she was having to sit through this meeting. Why in the hell Deakins wanted her here was beyond her understanding. Thirty of New York's finest had been gathered in the room, examining Morrow's profile for the last two hours. She had given her presentation toward the beginning of the morning. For some reason, though, Jimmy had requested she stay for the entire presentation. She supposed it was for appearances sake, so that everyone would know how amazing their squad was for their ability to find a serial killer nobody even knew existed.

God, it was hot. She tried to inconspicuously wipe her brow. She knew she was sweating and could only imagine how attractive she looked, thirty-five pounds heavier than normal, with a huge belly, wearing some loose A-line dress and sweating like a pig. Goren had been very sweet in telling her she was gorgeous. He told her at least once a day how much she "glowed". She was starting to think she'd been exposed to some sort of nuclear disaster.

The commissioner was winding it up when she felt it, a sharp pain in her lower abdomen. Please God, no, she thought, trying desperately to calm herself down. They had just gone to her seven-month appointment the other day. Eames was due any time. This should be happening to her, not me, she thought, then tried to rationalize the feeling away. It could have been gas. Yes, that's always possible. Like the time she was convinced she was having a heart attack and it was really anxiety. How many times had that happened? This could be anything. Even if it was the baby, it was quite likely false labor--

It happened again, sharp and stabbing, but quick. She was afraid. They wanted this baby more than anything. The doctor had assured them everything was fine, other than her blood pressure, which, once again, was high. Dr. Ramirez had made her promise to cut back on her hours at work, and she had agreed to. An hour here, an hour there, she had figured, but now...she glanced at Deakins, who was sitting next to her, eyes on the commissioner. She poked him in the arm. He turned toward her quickly, looking slightly annoyed.

"I need to go," she whispered. "I'll meet you in the hallway." He looked confused, but watched her climb out from between the half-dozen officers to the end of the aisle and leave the room.

She was sweating even more now, it seemed. God, it had to be anxiety. One little pain and she was convinced she was in the midst of a miscarriage. Where in the hell was the bathroom? If she could get there, she could catch her breath, calm down, and figure out what to do. After looking up and down the hallway, she finally located it and headed in the right direction.

It was empty. Vanessa took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Grabbing a paper towel, she blotted the sweat from her face. Fucking July. She headed to a stall and locked herself in, then pulled down her panties and sat.

No more pain. That was good. She tried to relax as she peed, convincing herself that she was overreacting. Probably the safest thing to do would be to call Dr. Ramirez and just tell her what had happened. Surely plenty of women had pain during their pregnancies. She grabbed the toilet paper and froze.

The blood in her panties was bright red.

"But I don't understand," Bishop was saying to him. "I thought we were ruling him out as a suspect--we can't rule him out if we don't ask him questions."

Goren's mind was racing. Fastest way to get to St. Mary's from here...everything had to be fine. They had done everything they were supposed to do. Ramirez had just seen Vanessa two days ago and said everything was fine. He took the corner a bit too quickly, eliciting a deep gasp from the woman next to him.

"Do you want me to drive? Where are we going?"

His muscles were tight, tighter than he could recall them being in a very long time. "I have to get to St. Mary's," he said, trying to maintain a level of decorum, "My wife is there."

Bishop sucked her breath in again as he took another curve. "Is everything okay? Are you sure you don't want me to drive?"

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know about anything right now...I don't want to talk...just let me get there."

She was silent as he drove back into the city. As they approached Manhatten, she said, "Do you want me to call Eames for you? Is someone there with her?"

"Deakins is there." He took a side street and ended up at the emergency entrance of the hospital. "Can you park it?"

"Sure," she said, but he was already out of the car and heading into the automatic doors.

Bobby looked around and quickly noted the nurse's desk. "My wife is here...Rayden. Vanessa Rayden--she's pregnant--it might be under Goren..that's my name..."

The woman nodded. "Yes, Mr. Goren...let me take you back to her."

The woman came around to the front of the desk. She was older and moved slowly, and he found himself wanting to kick her to make her go faster. Gritting his teeth, he patiently followed her through the doors, back to the emergency wing and to room nineteen. "Here she is," she said confidently, motioning to Deakins. Vanessa lay on the bed, eyes closed.

Goren glanced up at his boss, then took an enormous step across the space and grabbed the closest chair. "Ness," he murmured, "everything okay?"

She opened her eyes and braved a shaky smile. He could tell she'd been crying. "They think so, probably...I'm spotting and had a little cramping...they're just running tests."

He sank into the chair, then subconsciously raised his hand over her belly. It hovered for a moment before she said, "'s won't hurt her by doing that."

As if she had given him permission, his hand lowered and rested on her belly. "This will be okay," he told her confidently, "I promise, baby." He leaned over to kiss her. "Does it hurt? Are you still--"

"I'm fine," she reassured him. "She's will be okay." He was looking at her with a hound dog expression, large sad eyes focused on her as though he wished he could kiss all the pain away. His expression was so sincere it almost made her laugh. Almost.

She heard the heels clicking outside her door and looked up to see Bishop standing next to Deakins. "Uh, hi," she said awkwardly. "I hope everything is okay?"

Vanessa smiled at her. "It's all will be fine."

Deakins turned to her. "Why don't you go ahead and take the car back to the office. Chase some leads from your desk for a little bit...if I need to get you another partner I'll call."

Bishop gave a terse smile, nodded, and left the room just as Dr. Ramirez entered. "It's practically a party in here," she commented, watching Bishop leaving and noting Deakins' presence. "So, tell me what's going on."

Deakins took his cue. "I'm going to wait outside...let me know if you need anything."

Goren nodded at him, then turned his attention back to Vanessa.

"Well, I was in a meeting this morning, and I felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen, twice...when I went to the bathroom I was spotting. I probably overreacted...nothing has happened since then."

Dr. Ramirez shook her head and smiled. "No such thing when you're pregnant. Let me take a quick look at what's going on. Have they already taken your blood?"

"Yes...and urine..."

As many times as she'd been examined in her life, Vanessa could never get used to the feeling of near violation. She hated gynecological exams, to the extent of avoiding them at times, and she closed her eyes, trying to shut out the feeling of Ramirez' examination. She had once confided in Bobby about her fear and how it had gotten worse after her assault. Now he sat quietly next to her, holding her hand, feeling it clench around his own as the doctor finished her work.

"Well, the good news is that you aren't dilated." Dr. Ramirez tossed her gloves into the wastebasket and turned back to Vanessa. "You're not in labor. The cramping could be false labor pains or even gas. The spotting can be common for some women. I'm more concerned about your blood pressure, though--it's even higher today. We'll go ahead and do an ultrasound to make sure everything looks good with the baby, but I think this is your body's way of telling you it's time to give yourself a break from work."

Vanessa let out a shaky breath. "Can't I just cut back, like we were talking about? I mean, I could do desk duty and--"

"No." Surprised, she turned to look at Goren. The voice was his, and he was shaking his head. "She said to stop working."

"No, she said to take a break..."

"What I meant," Dr. Ramirez clarified, "is that you're done with work until after this baby is born. Your job is stressful and whether you realize it or not, you're carrying that stress with you. It's not good for you or the baby, and it's time to stop."

"What about just a few hours a week? They need me--"

Bobby crossed his arms, sitting back in his chair. "And Marlene doesn't? What about me? Don't we need you too?"

She felt the tears come to her eyes and closed them.

"Look," Bobby said, softening his voice, "it will all be okay...the job will still be there after the baby is born. I promise. Do you want me to get Deakins in here to tell you the same thing?"

She kept her eyes closed, but shook her head no.

Dr. Ramirez pulled the chart closer to her. "I'm going to go order the ultrasound. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Vanessa continued to lay still with her eyes shut, ignoring everything around her, until Goren finally squeezed her hand and said softly, "So Rayden, what are you afraid of, exactly?"

She opened her eyes slightly, peering at him. "Being alone. Having nothing to do. Being a human incubator."

His hand reached up and touched her hair, stroking her forehead. "I'm so sorry, honey...I'd do it for you in a heartbeat if I could."

She closed her eyes again, trying to push away the tears once again, and nodded.

"Hello! I'm here for your ultrasound." The tech was a tall, lanky young man, and he wheeled the machine closer to her belly.

Bobby squeezed her hand again, and she lay quietly, counting how many days there were between today and September ninth.


She curled up under the covers, enjoying the feeling of the cool air conditioner over her while she burrowed in the comforter.

He brought her a glass of grape juice and put it on the nightstand, then sat on the edge of the bed. "You okay?"

"Yeah...I'll be all right. Marlene's okay, and that's all that matters."

He shook his head. "You matter's been a tough day." He twisted his fingers with hers before saying, "Less than two months, though...and you saw her today, curled up and sucking her thumb." He had a dreamy smile on his face. "She looked so sweet, don't you think?"

She smiled at him. He was so funny when it came to the baby, so much in awe, all the time. "Yes," she said, "definitely sweet."

His eyes moved from daydreaming at the headboard to focusing on her eyes. "She looks like you...she's beautiful."

"Bobby...she's still a fetus."

"I know, but she has a beautiful face. You can tell from the pictures. And she likes to curl up, like you. The two of you, little balls..." He pulled the comforter closer to her. "I'm sorry, Vanessa," he said, and his voice was serious, sympathetic. "I know you were hoping to work for awhile longer."

She sighed. "It's just not fair...why does Alex get to work until her due date and I'm on bedrest for the last eight weeks?

"Alex is home now too...she's due any know that. And if it were up to me, you'd be at work with me. You think I'm looking forward to the next eight weeks without you? Not only am I without you, but I'm without Eames, and teamed with Big Red."

She snorted. "I don't know why you call her that...she's not big."

"She's the gum."

Vanessa raised an eyebrow at him. "Spicy, huh?"

He grinned. "Yeah, that's what I imagine. Spicy. Like, when she leaves work she has a secret side and lets know, no rules...maybe even lets her bra strap show."

She laughed. "You're a perv. That's total sexual harrassment! I can't believe you're even thinking about Bishop like that!"

"What?" He feigned innocence. "How am I perverted? I didn't say *I* wanted to see her bra strap...I just said that I think she has a secret kinky side." He stared off for a minute. "She has to, Ness...nobody can live that rigid, all the time." He shook his head. "Besides, if the worst thing I ever see is some other woman's bra strap, I should receive some sort of medal of honor for faithfulness."

"Yeah, right." She rolled her eyes.

"Anyway, you have to know I'm not interested in anything she's got." He slipped one finger under the tank top she had put on when they got home. "All I want is right here."

"Right...masquerading as a beach ball this summer."

He smiled, then slid his hand down and cupped her breast. "You're carrying our baby. How can you possibly even entertain the thought that I would want anyone other than you, even a little bit?"

She arched her back into him instinctively, then stopped, feeling a bit embarrassed and ashamed. Here she was, hugely pregnant, just home from a visit to the emergency room, and she's getting frisky with her husband. "You have no shame," she told him, pushing his hand aside. "I just got back from the emergency room and you're feeling me up."

He made a face and pulled his hand out from under her shirt. "I thought I was being affectionate. Sorry." He crossed his arms and then said, "You know, we didn't do anything to cause this to happen. Even Ramirez said it's fine to continue to do worries."

She caught his hand back in hers. "I'm sorry. I know it wasn't because of's just what it is. And I was only teasing you about Bishop...I'm not worried about it."

"Good...because you shouldn't be. There's nobody I've wanted since you. Nobody." She drew his hand close to her and kissed it, and he smiled at her again. "Take a It's been a long day already."

"Yeah...okay." She rolled onto her side. "Lay with me?"

"Sure." He stretched down the bed against her. After a minute he slid his hand back up under her tank to cup her breast again. "Sorry again...I wasn't done."

She snorted. "Take your time," she told him, then closed her eyes.


She took her time picking out a sundress. After her conversation last week with Ava, she felt the least she could do was try to look decent. If she didn't, and Ava found out she wasn't working, Ava would be convinced that Vanesa really didn't put forth any effort toward her. She hooked her bra and pulled the sundress over her body. Standing in front of the mirror, she surveyed herself. Decent, considering her size, she thought.

"Hey...what's going on?" Bobby was in his boxers next to the dresser, rubbing his head with a towel.

"Oh," she replied, startled. "I'm going to see Ava. We...uh, we have a meeting."

He slowly stopped rubbing his head and tossed the towel into the hamper. "You're going to therapy with her?"

Vanessa turned away from him and grabbed her hairbrush, beginning to brush through her long hair. "Yes...I'm supposed to be there at nine."

"Vanessa!" His voice was shocked and bordering on condescending. "Are you kidding me? After yesterday, you're going to go see your sister and chat about your genius of a father?"

She pulled her hair into a ponytail, tightening it as needed, without responding. She knew what he was thinking. She had agreed to stay home from work, but she hadn't agreed to stay home, period.

"You're not going to answer me."

She could tell he was getting pissed and sighed heavily. "Stop, Bobby. Just stop." She turned to face him. "It's one hour out of my week. I'll take a cab there and back so I'm not on my feet. I'm not agreeing to see Ryan, so there's no problem with that. But I'm not throwing Ava under the bus right now...she needs me."

He stared at her, hostility written all over his face, before stepping into his closet and pulling out his shirt. She was putting on her makeup as he whipped his shirt on quickly, buttoning the collar and then the sleeves. "I thought we discussed all this yesterday. I thought we agreed that right now, Marlene came first. Marlene and you."

She pulled out her blush, gently gliding it over her cheeks. "Yes, which is why I'm going to come home straight after and put my feet up. If you'd like to join me for lunch, I'd be happy to see you."

"You've got to be shitting me, right?"

"Nope. And you yelling at me isn't helping my blood pressure either."

"Well," he seethed, "you being unreasonable isn't helping mine."

She put her makeup down and looked at him. He was staring at her and she could clearly see the anger in his eyes. How furiously angry he was.

"I'm just wondering," she mused, knowing she was making him even angrier, "if you can't manage the idea of me doing something you don't want me to do, how that's going to work when Marlene has her own ideas or opinions."

Their eyes met for a moment, both full of frustration and anger, before he turned away from her and yanked his pants on. Silently he finished dressing, and she went back to her makeup.

She hadn't meant to hurt him. Her only intention had been to get him to lay off, to get off her back about going to see Ava. The more she thought about what she said, the sicker she felt. She knew he would do anything for her and for Marlene. Her feelings were so conflicted, and she hated fighting with him. She watched him, back to her, as he finished buckling his belt and stepping into his shoes. She stood up and walked behind him, pressing her hands against his back. He stiffened. She knew anger when she saw it. Hell, she'd lived with it her entire childhood.

"Bobby," she started softly, "I didn't mean--"

"Don't, Vanessa." His voice was cold, tired. "Just don't. And if you think I'd be that shitty of a father then maybe you should be protecting that baby from me." He grabbed his jacket and started out the bedroom door.

"I didn't say that," she called after him. "I didn't ever say that--"

She heard the door slam. He was wrong about her, and this visit to see Ava. And she was wrong about him. She slipped her sandals on, then grabbed her keys and left.


His morning, by all accounts, had sucked the biggest dick he could imagine.

He'd never had a fight with Vanessa that had turned so, well...personal. She had got him where it hurt, and she had to have known it. All he wanted to do was to keep both of them safe, both of them healthy. Why the hell couldn't she see that?

He was five minutes late to work. Eames wasn't there, as he had expected, and he and Bishop were chasing their tails in some stupid murder case that made no sense. Every conversation he had with her felt like leading a horse to water. She would stare at him with those huge green eyes before connecting the dots. He hoped and prayed she would catch up to, say, average speed before long, but he wasn't holding his breath. Then he got the text from Eames.

Technically, it was from Eames' sister Liz. Nathan had been born, all eight pounds of him, and both mother and baby were doing well. He had to admit he was relieved that everything had gone well. His first thought after receiving the text and photo of the baby had been, "Thank God". His next thought had been that he was going to be a father in less than eight weeks, and he and his wife weren't even speaking to each other.

He had suggested to Bishop that they take a long lunch so that he could run by and visit with Eames. She had readily agreed and he wondered if he had been as difficult with her today as he was feeling. He tried to shoot her a friendly smile, to which she smiled back, although she looked as though she had forced it. So what if she had? He had forced it too.

When he reached the hospital, a volunteer directed him to Eames' room. He was checking the door number when he heard her voice. "You can come don't have to hang around out there."

He laughed out of relief and came into the room. "How are you feeling?"

He could tell she wasn't completely herself. "Fine. Good. They've still got me on some kind of painkiller, so I'm probably better than I should be." She tucked the blanket around herself. "Have you seen him? Everyone is down in the nursery looking at him."

Bobby shook his head. "No, not yet."

She smiled dreamily. "He's perfect, Goren. You should see him. He actually looks like Tony. Except he's bald, kind of." She laughed at her own joke. "It was amazing. When he was born, they laid him on top of me and he was squirming and crying and beautiful." She shook her head, tears in her eyes. He took her hand in his. "I can't believe I had a hand in bringing him in to this world."

He smiled at her. "I'm so happy for you. I got the picture Liz's perfect. Is there anything I can do for you?"

She was smiling and closed her eyes, tears running gently down her face. "Could you just sit with me? Until the clan comes back, I mean?" She sniffed for a second. "I don't feel like being alone."

"Yes," he replied, "of course." And he stayed next to her, holding her hand, as she drifted in and out of consciousness.


It was late when he got back to the office. As he rounded the corner from the elevator, he realized the female form at his desk wasn't Bishop. It was Vanessa.

He felt his heart skip a beat, and he wasn't sure if it was due to leftover anxiety from their argument this morning or the fact that his heart always skipped a beat when he saw her.

She had been resting her head in her hand and writing something, but when she saw him she stood up quickly--or as quickly as she could--and watched him approach. "Hi, Bobby," she said awkwardly.

He motioned to the chair she had been sitting in, and pulled Eames' chair next to her. "What are you doing here?"

Her eyes were downcast but glanced up for a second, and he could tell she was trying to read him quickly, to judge how upset he was with her. The truth was, he wasn't upset with her any more at all. There were far more important things in this world.

"I came to apologize," she said softly. "I came by around one but Bishop said you had gone to see Alex at the hospital. So I went home, but then I got restless, so I came back here again. At any rate, I'm sorry." She swallowed heavily. "I should have never said that. It's certainly not what I believe...I was just frustrated..." Heavy tears covered her lashes. "I'm really sorry."

He watched her regret wearing so heavily on her face. How many times had he felt the same thing in his life? Neither of them were strangers to regret. His biggest fear this morning had been born out of the fear of regret. He grabbed a tissue off of Eames' desk (she seemed to keep a large supply there since her pregnancy began) and wiped a couple of tears from Rayden's face. "How'd it go this morning?"

She shuddered. "I told them that I was on bed rest and couldn't come back, but would be willing to do some phone sessions. And I told Ava I have no intent of ever meeting with Ryan again."

He cleared his throat. "If that's not what you want...if it's not what you think is best..."

"I think," she said softly, "that you have as much say over this as I do. At least while Marlene is inside of me." Her face crumpled. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Bobby...I'm so sorry I hurt you."

He pulled her into a tight hug. The bullpen was quiet and nearly empty, and all he could hear was her heart beating against his and her quiet, shallow gasps against his shoulder. "Thank you for apologizing, baby," he whispered. "That means a lot to me."

"You'll be a great have no idea how horrified I am that I said that to you..."

He pulled her tighter. "We're human." He pulled back slightly from her and cupped her face in his hands. "Let's go home...Marlene needs to rest."

She smiled gently at him and nodded. Picking up his binder, he led her out of the squad room to the elevator.

Sated and relaxed, Bobby pressed his body against Vanessa's, cradling her closely. Their lovemaking had been out of a need for comfort and reassurance, both trying to prove to the other that the love they felt was still as strong as it had been before the day began. She had tried to give him oral sex. When he stopped her, she had begged him, telling him she needed to show him how much she loved him, how sorry she was. He had pulled her up, close to him, telling her firmly that he knew. That he didn't need for her to debase herself to prove her love. And then she had sobbed until he had rocked her gently against him for several minutes. He had held her, spooned her, cursing himself when his erection refused to go away and her leg gently moved up, over his, to allow him entry. He hesitated against her, until she said, "I love you and I want you inside me...I want you to love me...please, Bobby." He had pressed gently against her and she began to rock her hips back and forth as he slipped further inside; he had responded with "You'll never know how much I love empty I feel without perfect this is." She had pushed back against him, firm and wanton, and he had stroked her body inch by inch, telling her repeatedly how soft her skin was, how beautiful she smelled, how no words out of her mouth could ever change his feelings.

She had arched against him, resting her head against his shoulder as his fingers played with her body and his tongue played with her lips. "I love you," she had murmured, trying to catch her breath, feeling his fingers moving deftly, intimately over her. "You feel so're my best friend..." He had dipped back in to probe her mouth again until he felt her moving desperately against him, heard the moan deep in her throat, and he had pulled his mouth from hers.

"I'll never leave you..."he croaked, driving deeper, faster, harder. against his better judgment, banishing his normal fears surrounding the baby or her body. "Never, Beth...never without you...God..." And she clung to him as the pleasure washed over both of them, deep and profound and oh, so lovely.

He knew she was awake and wondered if she was still engaging in self-flagellation. If anyone was as good at beating themselves up as he was, it was her. She couldn't forgive herself for mistakes any more than he could. He wished she could let it go. "Are you okay?" he whispered, knowing the answer but wanting to hear her voice regardless.

"Yeah." She pressed back against him and held his hand against her belly. "I just wish I could take it back."

"You need to let it go," he whispered. "Take it from an expert--it won't help anyone if you don't." He wrapped his arm around her body again. "I'm not angry with you...I've let it go. I wish you would too."

She turned over, lying on her back so she could better see him. "Why did you stop me?" She ran one finger down his chest to his navel and stopped. "I just wanted..."her voice drifted off for a moment, then returned. "I just wanted to make you feel good."

He shook his head slightly. "It felt too much like...I don't you were trying to punish know I enjoy it but not at your expense...I don't ever want it like that."

She was quiet, lying her head on his chest. "One day you'll get sick of me. You'll look at someone like Bishop and you won't see empty'll see someone your wife can't be. Something that you can't have...and that you want."

"Don't do that," he whispered. "Don't push me away...everything I want is right here."

She was silent, listening to his heartbeat. He thought of the Vanessa he knew so well--the snarky, funny, brilliant woman--and wished he could rid her of these insecurities. He missed the Vanessa he knew, the one who trusted him. "I love you," he said again. "More than anything, I love you. I have no desire to go anywhere else. I wish you would believe that."

He felt her body slightly shift, then heard a soft snore. Well, at least he had said it out loud for one of them, anyway.


"So how's she doing?" Eames poked at the kung pao chicken he had brought, taking an occasional bite. He always remembered her favorites, and she truly appreciated that about him.


Eames smiled. "Actually, I meant Bishop, but we can talk about your wife she doing okay with being grounded?"

He had painted himself into a corner in a matter of sentences. He couldn't believe he had done that--ridiculous, he thought. Now how the hell was he supposed to get out of it? "She's not enjoying it," he responded truthfully. "It's hard."

"I can imagine." The chicken was spicy, and she took a drink of her beer. "So how are you holding up?" When he didn't respond immediately, she said, "That good, huh?"

"She's, uh..." He pushed the peppers around on his plate. "She thinks I'm going to leave her."

Eames put her fork down. "What the hell happened?"

"We had a disagreement...a big one...she said things, I said she's convinced I'm going to leave her..."

"Well, pregnant women aren't exactly known for their ability to be rational." She smiled at him. "She doesn't really think that...she's just scared right now."

"Of what? I don't understand what in the hell she has to be scared of...can't she see? Doesn't she know?" He was shaking his head again in puzzlement.

"Put yourself in her shoes, Bobby. She's swollen and tired and feeling unattractive. Her energy level is at an all time low and her doctor has just told her she can't work. She just had a frightening experience at the hospital, thinking that she might lose the baby. Then all of the pressure builds up and she says something awful to you, her lifeline. She's probably trying to figure out how in the world she's going to manage being a mother and a wife without blowing it. It's not like she's had an awesome role model. And on top of it, she's got a sister who is a constant reminder of exactly how poor her role models were."

He slowly took another bite of his lunch, chewing on more than the food. "Women are complex creatures," he mused, before suddenly realizing his current company. "Of course, not're a straight shooter..."

She chuckled. "We're all complex creatures," she told him. "I'm just telling you that she's feeling insecure. And you, Mr. He-Man, have the job of assuring her security." She smiled at him. "Don't look so frightened, can do it. All she needs to know is that you want the same things she wants, and that you still find her attractive. You're not bailing and never had any intention to. If you can get her to believe those things, everything will be fine." She took a bite of her egg roll. "Ooh--one more thing," she said, waving it at him. "She may very well have forgotten all about this by the time you get home and moved on to something she thinks is more important. Pregnant women are notorious for that shit. If she has, for heaven's sake, don't bring it back up. Just tell her you love her you love her something special and let her know you are on her side. But without being condescending...don't condescend to her. And trust me, if anyone can tell when you're being condescending, Vanessa can."

He was staring at her, mouth open. "So let me get this straight...if she's still brooding over this ridiculous notion of me leaving, I need to convince her that I think she's the most amazing thing since sliced bread and I want everything that she wants. Which I do, by the way...without being condescending. If she's moved on, I don't bring it up but tell her and show her I love her. Again, without condescension. Is that it?"

"The basic gist," Eames replied, sipping her beer. "God, the nice thing about not being, here I come."

"I thought you were going to breastfeed," he said offhandedly, stabbing at his steak.

"Well, plans have a way of changing...and if I'm going back to work next week, I can't exactly be pumping every few hours."

He sat back, again dumbfounded. "Next week? You're coming back next week?"

She grinned and nodded. "What? Too soon for you?"

He burst into laughter. "Hell no! My day just got infinitely better! I love you, Eames!" The words were out before he thought about them, but as soon as he heard them his mouth shut tightly.

It was an awkward moment for sure, but Eames merely grinned at him and punched him in the arm. "I know, I know...I'm incredibly delightful. Just wait to share that sentiment with your wife until after the baby is born."

He smiled shyly, grabbing his diet coke and taking a huge gulp.


She was angrily slapping paint on the walls of the spare bedroom when he came home. A beautiful sage green they had picked out together, and she was rolling it fiercely back and forth, splatters all over the paint mats.

"You okay?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

She spun around, paint on her forehead, her nose, and in her hair. She had paint spatters up and down her arms and all over her coveralls that were bulging with baby. Her bare feet were speckled as well. "Do I look okay, Bobby? I mean, this room isn't going to paint itself. Someone has to do it--"

"I thought," he started, then swallowed hard. "I thought we were going to work on it together this weekend."

"Well, I got tired of waiting. That's all I do is wait. I sit around this goddamn house and wait. I'm going out of my goddamn mind. I'm like a living incubator...just waiting for the egg to hatch." She slapped the brush up on the wall again with a resounding smack. "Do you know what Ava did? Do you know what she did, Bobby? That...that...that moron of a sister of mine stopped eating completely. David called me today. They've hooked her up to feeding tubes. Her weight has fallen to eighty six pounds. Eighty-six! Now what the hell am I going to tell this baby when she asks about her auntie? 'Oh, she said she loved you but she didn't love her own son enough to eat a goddamn meal?'" She slapped the brush against the wall again. "I'm sick of this! This...this...emotional blackmail...Ryan is the reason for all of this and I've half a mind to go over there and tell him...him and his perfect little twenty-something wife and their two perfect little model children..." SMACK! The brush hit the wall and fell to the floor.

He took a step closer to her. "I know you're really angry right now, and I don't blame you...what do you say we draw you a bath to relax in and we'll finish the room this weekend?" He reached out a hand to her.

For a brief second, he thought she was going to smack his hand away with the same fierceness of the brush, and tell him to fuck off. He braced himself for the inevitable response, the resistance that she gave whenever people tried to help her. If nothing else, Ryan had taught her independence. She excelled in it, to the point of her own detriment.

But she surprised him, sighing, and taking his hand in hers, letting him lead her out of the room and to their bedroom. "I'll start the bath," he told her. "You...why don't you change?"

"You mean strip down?"

He smiled wryly, then went into the bathroom.

He turned the water on in the jacuzzi tub, making sure it was a comfortable temperature but not too warm for the baby. He added the bubbles and oil she was so fond of and pulled out a couple of their largest, most comfortable towels. Just as he lay them down on the counter, she appeared, naked, in the doorway.

She took his breath away. Still, after three years, her nudity never ceased to arouse and excite him, to put his brain on overload. If he were to name the five most beautiful sights he'd ever seen in his life, his wife would be number one. Her belly bore stretch marks from the recent growth of the baby and her breasts seemed to be growing larger. She had put on a tad bit of weight overall, making her thighs a little heavier, her hips a bit curvier, her ass rounder and softer. She looked shy now, as though self-conscious of her nudity, despite the fact that they had slept naked together the night before and dressed together in the morning. He guessed it was the bathroom lighting. That and the fact that he was fully dressed, ogling her.

"I-uh, the should be the right temperature, but check it to make sure it's comfortable. Your loofah is over there." He nodded toward the corner of the bath.

She smiled. "Thanks, Bobby...I'm sorry I was so...crazy hormones are raging...after I cussed you out this morning I spent half an hour masturbating, thinking of you. It's ridiculous." She stepped past him and into the water, lowering her body into the tub and under the bubbles. A soft sigh came out of her. "This is wonderful," she told him.

He reached over and turned off the water. "I'll give you a bit of time alone to soak and relax. I'll have dinner ready by the time you get out." He stood back up and started to leave the bathroom, but stopped when he reached the door. "Oh," he said thoughtfully, "would you do me a favor?"


"Save the masturbating for when I'm not at home? I'd be more than happy to take care of any need you have tonight." He winked at her.

"You got it," she said, then lay her head back against the top of the tub, basking in the bubbles.

She got out of the water an hour later and wrapped herself in one of the towels, using the other one to soak the water out of her hair. Stepping out of the bathroom, she saw he had already made himself comfortable in the bed with a veritable spread of appetizers in front of him. "You've been busy," she commented as she reached into her drawer, grabbing one of her tank tops.

"Just putting some stuff together for dinner...I took Bruce out too...I thought you might want to relax tonight." He patted the bed next to him. She gave him a suspicious glance before pulling the tank over her head and putting on her panties.

"I like those on you."

She looked down. Her tank was stretched across her belly and her panties were tiny hip-hugging bikinis. When she had bought them, she had debated for what seemed like forever between the bikinis and the grandma panties. The only thing that made her get the impractical bikinis was the thought that she intended to get laid at some point during her pregnancy. "Great...I bought them with you in mind, so I'm glad they work for you." She grabbed a pair of his old boxers that she kept in her drawer and pulled them on. With the expansion of her waist, they fit her perfectly these days. She saw him make a face but ignored him, then climbed into her side of the bed. "So what are we eating?"

"Barbeque boneless wings, hummus and pita with carrot sticks and cucumbers, potato skins, and your favorite, crunchy cheetos. A well-balanced meal, I'm sure." He handed her a glass of milk. "Drink's good for you."

"No, protein is good for me," she said, setting the milk aside and reaching for a wing. "That and artificial cheese powder."

"I hate to break it to you," he said teasingly, "but milk has protein...and it's also in real cheese."

"And it has a ton of hormones and all sorts of stuff in it that will kill you...our baby is going to go from the breast to rice milk."

He started to argue that there was no proof that rice milk was any better than cow milk, or soy or almond milk for that matter, never mind the disgusting shit they put into artificial cheese powder, but then he stopped, remembering Eames' words. At the very least, they'd have months to discuss it after the baby was born. No sense in arguing over it now. He handed her a chee-to.

She had turned the TV on to a crime drama, and was critiquing the script and the performance of the actors. He couldn't argue with her critique; she was right on all counts. After a few minutes, she muted the television and looked at him. "You think I'm still upset, don't you?"

He picked up a carrot stick and began to chew it. "No...I don't know. I didn't know and I didn't want you to think that I felt that way...because I don't. I don't have any intention of leaving you."

"I know that."

He nearly choked on the carrot. "You do?"

She picked up a potato skin and picked a piece of bacon off of it. "Yeah." She gnawed on the bacon for a minute. "Sometimes I just feel insecure, you know? Like how could anyone love me? There's so many reasons not to." She stuck a finger in the potato skin, pulling of a chunk of cheese.

He couldn't help but smile, however inappropriate. "That's so funny...I mean, ironic...because for the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would find you anything but loveable." He took the potato skin from her finger and took a bite out of it. "Me, on the other hand..."

She didn't look at him, but he could see the corners of her lips curling up into a smile. "You're perfect. If it weren't for you I'd probably still be wandering around out there, alone. Trying to make sense of everything...of who I am..." Suddenly she turned to him, and caught his face in her hands. "You need to need to never matter what I say,'re my best friend. I can't ever imagine it any other way. I don't want to." The tears began to fall, yet again. "Goddamn hormones," she muttered.

He wiped them away with his thumbs. "I can't wait until there's three of us. You're everything to me...and how lucky we are that we love each other so much that we multiplied." He kissed her gently, tasting the bacon and cheese on her lips. "Still hungry?" he asked, offering her a leftover wing.

She shook her head. "More tired. Pretty tired, actually." She slipped down in the bed next to him, and after moving the paper plates out of the way, he joined her. "No spotting or cramps today," she murmured. "That's good, right?"

"Yes, very." He pressed his lips against her forehead, then rested a hand on her belly. "I love you."

He thought she was asleep for a moment; her breath was soft and even. But she turned her head slightly and opened her eyes. "I love you too. More than anything." Then she closed her eyes and slept.

"So, what do you think?" Bobby stood back and surveyed the room he had just finished painting. It looked pretty good, if he said so himself. Now the rest was up to her--she had picked out all these little doodads to stick around--borders and pictures and that kind of stuff. Girl stuff. Vanessa had great taste and he knew whatever she finished it with would be beautiful. But his main job was done.

She stepped further into the room. "Very nice," she said, checking the walls. "It's very...sage."

"Well, that's what we wanted, right?"

She nodded. " will be great once I get the rest of the stuff in here and up...they should be here with all of her furniture on Monday. Ava gave me the name of a great decorator."

He grimaced. "You live rich," he told her, shaking his head.

"Yeah, probably...I just figure if we've got the money, why not spend it on this baby? I promise I didn't go top of the line."

He didn't say anything more. They rarely talked about her finances from her previous life. He knew she had millions in investments and quite a bit in liquid assets--more than he would ever have. She had told him, once, that they should sit down and go over it so he knew about everything, in case something happened to her. But the thought didn't sit well with him on a multitude of levels, and so he had pushed it off on her attorney, making excuses that as long as the attorney knew it would be fine.

To her credit, she always seemed to live within her means as a cop, with the exception of her home. They shared a used SUV, commuted regularly using public transportation, ate pizza and only occasionally frequented more upscale establishments. She shopped at the Gap and Old Navy just like most women he knew, throwing in a little Victoria's Secret every once in awhile to keep things interesting at home. But the house was a different story. Ava had helped to decorate it when she had moved in, and that had occurred before they officially got together. So he had really been in no place to criticize her choices or remark on the price tag.

When he thought about it, he couldn't really come up with a good reason to deny her the house. She had paid for it in advance. She didn't believe in carrying debt. He knew that for someone of her means, it would be considered a very reasonable, if not frugal, purchase. And he got to share the spoils. He had to admit he loved that bedroom. It was like a cabin within the middle of Manhattan--wood floors, warm colors, and the largest, most comfortable bed he'd ever slept in. In short, it was amazing.

The one thing he had brought into the marriage was his mustang. A vintage 66 mustang, robin's egg blue, that she seemed to enjoy riding in as much as he enjoyed driving it. They saved it for special occasions, on the weekend when they would take trips to see his mother or travel outside of the city to get a breath of air. His car and his books--those were his contributions.

Once, shortly after they were married, he had come home to find her rearranging his extensive library. When he asked what she was doing, she had told him she was putting his library in order by the Dewey decimal system. At his puzzled expression, she had patiently explained it was large enough to document that way, and this would make both their lives so much easier when they needed to find something. It was one of those moments, one that made him realize how much he really loved her; how she understood him and his thinking and what was important to him in a way that most women could never grasp.

She was standing next to him. "I guess we'll take the paint mats out tomorrow?" she asked, scuffing her foot along the plastic. He nodded and put an arm around her back.

"She's almost here. We'll be ready." He sounded confident, perhaps a bit more confident than he felt.

"I guess I'll be getting her things moved in here next week," she said, then leaned her head against him. "I can't wait to see it finished...I think you'll like it all, once it's together. I tried to stay away from girly stuff."

He kissed the top of her head, and teasingly said, "I thought it was supposed to be girly...she's a girl, right?"

She ignored the comment. "I really like the sage, and it will look great with the accents I've chosen...the furniture is a dark cherry and there's some yellow and brown also."

"Mmm." His fingers tucked in the pocket of her maternity jeans. "I should take a picture for my mom. She wants to know what you've done."

The stood in silence for a couple more minutes, before he finally said what was really on his mind. "Carver called yesterday, didn't he?"

"Yes...I testify on Tuesday."

"I don't like that. It's stressful and you're supposed to be on bed rest. He can't make you do it."

She sighed, and he couldn't tell if it was out of frustration with him or frustration with the situation. "I know...but Eric Morrow could very well go free if I don't. You know what he's capable of...and since he confessed to me, I should be there."

She turned to leave the room but he caught her by the back of her shirt, giving a gentle tug. "Hey. Promise me if it gets too stressful you'll stop."

She turned around and smiled at him. "You'll be there, and Carver said I should be on the stand for less than an hour. I'll be fine."

He hesitated for a moment, then--"I saw the look on your face when he threatened you. I know what you were thinking."

"Then you know," she said slowly, meeting his eyes, "that it's all that much more important for me to do it."

He looked away from her, focusing on a corner of the wall, before speaking. "I know. And sometimes I wish..." His voice faltered. "I wish you didn't need to prove it to yourself."

Her face was downward and she shuffled her feet. "Me too," she mumbled. "Me too."