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."

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