Freefall (AU,M/L, Adult) (Complete)

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Apr 16, 2005 10:50 pm

I'm not sure how I can explain how it feels to finish a story like this. I love these characters. I love their story. I love the secondary characters and their stories. In other words, these are friends, and saying goodbye is hard.

Epilogue

A gradually building roar caught their attention first. Then two fighter jets, like silver bullets against the sky, flashed overhead, their wings tipped in greeting.

“Daddy!”

The two children jumped up and down excitedly, both of them right about the identity of the pilots.

“I guess we can start the grill,” Charisse called, scooping Jeremiah up from his sprint toward the road. “They’ll only be about 45 minutes now.”

“I’ll do it,” Liz volunteered. “It’s one of the few things I can still manage.”

She pushed herself up from the lawn chair and rubbed her hands up and down her swollen belly. “I don’t think I got this big before,” she frowned. “I hope I lose all this weight.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re the only woman I know who wore her regular clothes home from the hospital. It’ll come off, don’t worry.”

When Liz remained silent, Charisse tugged the kids along toward the patio. “What’s wrong, Liz?”

Liz’s chin quivered and suddenly the waterworks let loose.

“Oh, Lord have mercy. Those hormones are having a time of it, aren’t they? Good thing you’re gonna have this baby in a few days. Now tell me what’s making you so weepy.”

“I just . . . I just look so ugly!” She held her arms out to her sides as if asking Charisse to take a good look. “This is what Max comes home to every night . . .”

“Girl, you could have a beard and no neck and that man would think the sun rose and set with you. I’ve never seen a body so crazy in love. And after three years, too.”

“We haven’t made love in three weeks,” Liz sobbed. “And who could blame him? Who’d want to make love to a cow?”

“Three weeks? He got himself in there just three weeks ago?” Charisse’s attempt at humor just made the tears fall faster. “Come on, Liz, you know better. He’s just following doctor’s orders.” With a sigh, she put her arm around Liz. This wasn’t about logic. “Does the man still kiss you?”

“Yes,” she whispered through another round of sobs.

“Does he tell you he loves you?”

She nodded her head with a sniffle.

“Does he help around the house without complaining?”

There was a watery little smile peeking out from under blotchy cheeks. “Yeah.”

“Liz, don’t you remember what it was like the first time? Think back. It was just like this, right?”

Liz took a deep cleansing breath. “I guess.”

“Well, then stop talkin’ nonsense. That man of yours doesn’t so much as look at anyone else. Now let’s get ready. We have a party to throw.”

“Charisse.” Liz pulled her friend into an awkward hug. “Thank you. I guess I just needed someone to pull me back from hormone hell.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Charisse told her. “You can do the same for me in about eight months.”

“Okay. What?

“Don’t say a word. I haven’t even told Thad yet. I was waiting until I was absolutely sure. I’m going to tell him tonight.”

Now the hug was jubilant. “Oh, that’s so great! We’ll have babies together again!” The tears returned, and Charisse laughed at her.

“Well, now, girl, you’re either blubberin’ for sad or blubberin’ for happy. I can’t win.”

But they shared one more hug before they got down to the business of hosting a party.

*****
Liz added three candles to the birthday cake and smiled. Having a baby on the Fourth of July had been pretty special. Throwing a birthday party on the Fourth of July would likely be a lifelong pain in the neck. For now, of course, it was pretty much a regular Fourth of July party but with birthday cake. Someday—someday soon—they wouldn’t get away with that.

“Daddy!”

Max thought he would never get used to the jolt of pleasure that raced through him every time he heard that sweet little voice call him Daddy.

“Somebody call my name? Who called my name?” He pretended to look everywhere for the source of the greeting, studiously avoiding notice of the small body that was barreling toward him.

“Me!”

“What? Oh! Who are you?”

He swept his daughter into his arms and covered her face with kisses while she laughed herself breathless. Liz watched the reunion from the kitchen doorway, and wondered what she’d been crying about less than an hour ago. He was still the most handsome man she’d ever seen, and though she would rather die than tell him she’d noticed, the few strands of grey creeping into his temples were positively dashing, in spite of the ordeal that likely put them there prematurely.

“How’s my princess?”

“Hungry”

“Hungry? Well, I guess it’s good it’s supper time, then.”

He looked over his daughter’s shoulder at Liz. She looked tired, he thought, as well she might. Everything was an effort for her these days, but she’d insisted on the party. Sheer stubbornness, he knew, but that was his Liz. Still, it made his heart stutter every time he looked at her, their second child blossoming inside her. He’d tried to tell her how sexy he found her, swollen like this with just one more proof of their love, but she always huffed in disbelief. He supposed maybe he was just odd. After all, what kind of pervert wanted to jump a woman who was nine months pregnant?

He carried his giggling bundle toward her.

“I think the hungry birthday girl and her beautiful but pregnant mother should go outside with our guests and relax for a while. Frankie and Jeremy were right behind me, and Kyle called my cell to say he’s got to wrap up the parade coverage but they’ll be here soon. He wants to know if Jesse should bring anything from the restaurant.”

“No, I . . . yes! Ask her to bring some of that raspberry lemonade.”

“Okay, you go on out. I’ll change and take over in the kitchen.” He handed their daughter off to Liz and bent to kiss her.

Well, there it was, wasn’t it? All the things that Charisse had pointed out as proof that Max wasn’t sorry he’d married a fat, waddling, cranky cow.

“I love you.”

He had started toward the bedroom, but turned slowly, a small smile on his face.

“I know. In fact, I count on it.” He retraced his steps and pleased them both with a longer kiss, until their daughter lost patience.

“Daddy!”

“Sorry, princess, I just can’t help myself. Your mother is so beautiful, just like you.”

Even at three, the compliment hit home and the tiny, dark-haired version of his wife beamed.

Ah, vanity, thy name is woman.

“Who said that?” Liz frowned.

“I did,” Max winked. “I’d better get changed.”

“Come on, sweetheart,” Liz huffed in mock indignation. “Let’s go see Uncle Thad. Maybe he won’t insult us.”

She could hear Max laughing, as the kitchen door blew open. Suddenly, thirty-two pounds of writhing 3-year-old shimmied down Liz’s leg.

“Uncle Alex!”

“Rana, my angel!”

******
Just over 3 years ago . . .

“You know, every time we talk about names, we wind up talking about boys’ names. I thought you were convinced we were having a girl.”

Max kept his eyes on his newspaper. “Okay, what do you like for a girl?”

He knew she was staring at him, but he didn’t dare look at her. Maybe they should have let the doctor tell them the sex of the baby; maybe then this question would be moot, and they wouldn’t have to have this conversation. Still haunted by Liz’s words so many months ago, “Nothing unspoken between us,” he guiltily harbored one secret. And if she looked at him now, she’d see it as clearly as if he’d shouted it.

“Max.”

He reached for his coffee, then stood to clear the dishes.

Max.

Scrape, rinse, put in the dishwasher. “Yeah?”

He felt the pressure of her hand on his arm, a touch that would have turned him toward her ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But not this time.

“Look at me.”

Cornered, he suppressed a sigh and turned to her. One look, and she was reading him like the newspaper he’d left on the table.

“Why is it so hard for you to say?”

“Say what?”

It was Liz who turned away this time, sadness in her body language. “I thought we agreed to be honest with each other, Max?”

“I have been.”

“Not completely.” She turned back to him. “You don’t want to talk about girls’ names because you’re afraid to ask me for what you want.”

He couldn’t argue and he wouldn’t lie, so he stood stone still. The silence was louder than anything he could have said.

She came back to him, sadness turned to sympathy. “It’s okay, Max. I think it’s a lovely idea. I just thought you should be the one to bring it up.”

His mouth opened and closed three times before he could react. “Are you sure? You don’t think it’s because I lied about loving her or because I . . . miss her or something?”

She stepped into his arms and felt them clamp around her fiercely. They stood like that for a long while until a jet passing over broke the spell.

“Come with me,” she said softly, and tugged him onto the small patio of the starter home they’d just moved into a month ago. She nudged him into the glider, then settled her considerable bulk down next to him. The look on his face broke her heart.

“No, I don’t think you lied, Max. Not the way you mean. And I’m not jealous or threatened or resentful of her. This woman could well be the reason you’re here with me right now, Max. I owe her, and so do you. I’m just not sure you’ve been completely honest with yourself.”

She turned to him as best she could and took his hand. “You do miss her. How could you not? She was the most important person in your world for the most horrendous few weeks of your life. That kind of thing forges a bond between two people, Max. It’s not something you’re ever going to forget. If it would please you to name our daughter Rana, then I’m happy to do it.”

He hadn’t cried since the night of his honeymoon, and those were tears of joy. He’d cried more than he cared to remember in the months before that, though, and the memories had the tears flowing again before he could even think to stop them.

“She was not the most important person in my world during that time, Liz. You were. Every day, every night when I’d reach for you and find you waiting, I vowed to live through another day.”

He finally looked at her and found her watching him closely. Hell, secrets never stayed secret. He didn’t like holding on to this one, anyway. “But she was so like you—strong, independent, caring. I know she took grief from Adnan and Yavuz about caring for me and Jeremy, and I sure as hell know Yavuz didn’t want her anywhere near me toward the end, but she did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.” He stopped and studied her face. “Just like you would’ve.”

He started the glider moving and stared out into space. “I think . . . I think when things were at their worst, I sometimes let myself pretend she was you. Not sexually, but . . . I saw in her things that I see in you, things I admired and respected. And sometimes . . . god, Liz, she looked so much like you, small and strong with that long dark hair and those big brown eyes. She’d even tilt her head at me like you do when you think I’m being an idiot.”

He shook himself, hating how that must have sounded to Liz, but he’d started this and he was going to finish it. “I guess I did love her, in a way. I would have done anything to keep her safe. I would have taken on Yavuz if he’d raised a hand to her.” He smiled suddenly. “Not that I think he had the nerve to take her on.”

Max raised Liz’s hand to his lips. “I hope you can understand that I never loved her like I love you. I never wanted her for myself, and I never even thought for a second about being unfaithful. It wasn’t like that. But you’re right about the bond. I still think of her and wonder if she’s okay. Happy. And I thank God every day that she was there for me, because if she hadn’t been, I’m not sure . . .”

His throat closed and he squeezed his eyes shut, fighting for control. Even seconds later, he couldn’t keep his voice from breaking. “I’m not sure I would have made it back to you. I may never have known my own child.” He pulled her into his arms. “I would never have even known there was a child. Liz, I sometimes think she gave me back my life.”

She let him weep, understanding far better than he gave her credit for. Finally, she pulled back.

“Max, you accepted long ago that I’ve loved another man. But differently. How can I condemn you for your feelings—especially under those circumstances—when I’ve done the same?”

“You didn’t know me when you loved Aaron,” he reminded her.

In spite of their many conversations and her constant reassurances, he felt guilty. It weighed him down like a heavy shroud, and there seemed to be nothing she could say to him to lift it away.

“No, I didn’t, but I also wasn’t on the other side of the world, out of touch with everything and everyone I knew except one injured man who I was responsible for. I wasn’t dealing with the trauma and fear that you were, or the illness and hopelessness.”

Her sigh held a hint of frustration. “When we got married, I told you I was proud of the man you are. You are being that man right now, Max. Your heart is so big, I sometimes feel lost in it. You have a capacity to care, to feel, unlike anyone I’ve ever known, and something in you wants to put things right wherever you go.”

She took his face in her hands and felt he was finally listening, believing what she said to him. “Don’t feel guilty because you care about this woman. I’ve told you before, Max, I owe Rana a debt of gratitude, and if we have a daughter, I’d want her to have all those qualities you found in her.”

“And you.”

Liz smiled. “And me.”

“So, you really wouldn’t mind if we had a daughter named Rana?”

“I’d be honored, Max. And if we do, someday we’ll tell her why. I promise.”

His lips touched hers lightly, then he laid his forehead against hers.

“Thank you.”

“There is one condition.”

He eyed her suspiciously. “Okay.”

“I will not consider Yavuz for a boy.”

He stared at her for a split second before the laughter overcame the quick surprise.

“It’s a deal,” he grinned, and squeezed her as hard as he dared. They rose to go into the kitchen, arms around each other. “So how do you feel about the name Adnan?”

******
Liz could hardly remember a time when these people weren’t her extended family. Max, Thad, Wesley, and Jeremy nursed beers and hovered over the grill talking about their unit’s part in San Diego’s Fourth of July celebration—the Hornet formation that thrilled the crowd to begin the parade earlier in the day. Then they had flown to San Francisco for a similar performance. Now they could relax and enjoy the rest of the day with family and friends.

Alex and Svea, married two years now, were deep in conversation with T.J. and Mindy. Mindy’s engagement ring winked in the sun as she lifted her arm to stroke the soft blonde hair of the 7-month-old baby girl nestled in Alex’s arms, Annika Beth. Alex had told them, almost shyly, that Beth was in honor of Liz, Elizabeth, because of her role in getting the two of them together. Max complained, with pompous exaggeration, that he should get the credit, but they’d all dissolved into laughter at the attempts to feminize Max. Maxette? Maxina? And it had gone downhill from there. Liz still chuckled when she thought of it.

Frankie, married nearly as long as Liz and due with her first baby in the fall, was helping Jesse pour glasses of raspberry lemonade into big paper cups while Kyle hauled 20-lb bags of ice to two coolers near the back door. He and Jesse were just back from their honeymoon. It had taken Kyle a long time to admit he no longer wanted what he’d thought of as “freedom” anymore, that what he really wanted was Jesse. He’d come to this astonishing revelation right about the time his patient girlfriend lost that patience and broke it off. Why did some men have to be hit over the head with mountain-sized boulders? But they seemed incredibly happy now, and Liz was thrilled for them.

That left Gabe. Poor, heartbroken Gabe, who had stared, disbelieving, as Shelby packed her bags and left for a hard news job in Los Angeles. The five and a half hours that separated them wasn’t as much an obstacle as the fact that she’d never expressed any expectation that they try to make the long distance relationship work. Stubbornness being a mutually shared trait, Gabe hadn’t considered a transfer, either. That had been 8 months ago, and during that time, he’d been with a different woman every time Liz had seen him socially. Just now, it was another redhead, but she could tell from the look on his face, he was trying too hard to have a good time. She could tell because she’d been there.

There were newer friends there, too. For example, Laura Blackwing and her husband, Gordon, had become almost like parents to Max and Liz. From their first meeting, they’d made a connection, and what began as a professional relationship through Rana’s birth evolved soon after into a more caring and personal friendship. Even now, Gordon, a psychology professor, was sitting on the ground, deep in conversation with Rana and Jeremiah while Charisse and Laura huddled together in a conversation of their own. No doubt, Laura wanted to know when Charisse would be sharing her good news with Thad.

Others had entered the circle of their lives, bringing such richness and caring that Liz could only shake her head in gratitude. She never forgot, even for a day, how Max had forced open her heart and brought her into the light of a full life. This party would have been unthinkable such a short time ago. Now, almost everyone here was a friend, some of them as dear to her as her own family. It was more than a blessing; it was a miracle.

Predictably, the evening breeze was picking up, and she turned to stuff the napkins more firmly into their holder, grabbing for the table when her entire midsection tightened up like a rubber band. There was no question now; this was a pattern. She was about to have a baby. Three deep breaths later, the tightness eased, but she wasn’t the least surprised to feel Max’s eyes on her from across the yard. She looked up to see him walking toward her.

“It’s nothing, Max,” she assured him before he could say a word. “Just Braxton-Hicks. Nothing new.”

To his credit, he gave no indication of urgency or alarm, but his voice took on all the authority of Lt. Commander Evans—soon to be Commander Evans, but that wasn’t common knowledge yet.

“It’s not Braxton-Hicks, and you know it as well as I do, Liz. I’m getting Laura.”

Braced by three years’ experience standing up to the Lt. Commander, who emerged almost as a second personality whenever he was sure he was right and everyone else was wrong, she faced him.

“Yes, I do know it, Max. But they’ve been over 20 minutes apart for the last hour and a half. I’ve got hours to go yet, and I’d rather spend that time here with friends than in some cold hospital room staring at the clock, which is exactly where Laura will stash me.” She pulled back from the impatient tone. “I promise I’ll tell you when they start getting closer. Charisse will take Rana home with her when they leave; I’ve already got her little bag packed.”

The debate inside his head was playing out in his eyes, and she watched as he came to terms with her plan. Her OB was only across the yard, after all. “Okay. But I’ll be watching you like a hawk, my love. No delivering in the car because we waited too long.”

“Worried I might mess up the upholstery?”

She almost bit her tongue. Why was she so emotionally brittle? The flicker of hurt that crossed his face cut through her like a knife.

“I’m sorry, Max. I don’t know what’s wrong with me . . .”

She never got to finish because his lips were on hers, soothing, loving, understanding. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you’re in labor.”

She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I’ve been such a bitch these last few days. I’m so sorry. I love you so much, and then I say stupid things like that.”

“Let’s make a pact. You promise to put up with my worrying about you, and I promise not to take offense at anything you say during the last week of pregnancy ever again.”

She lifted her head and eyed him. “And just how many weeks will that be, do you think?”

He grinned at her. “As many as you want. But until that’s decided, I think we should plan on keeping in practice as much as possible.”

Unbelievably, a spear of desire raced through her, and she grinned back. “I can’t believe that comment is making me hot.”

He laughed, and kissed her again. “That’s my girl.”

“I know that look, you two, but I don’t think it’s allowed at this stage of the pregnancy.” Alex swung his daughter to his shoulder and patted her back absently. Liz leaned in and nuzzled the soft head.

“Well, you’re right about that. I’m in labor right now.”

What?

“Shush, Alex,” Liz scolded in a stage whisper. “I’m hours away from delivering, and I just want a bit more time at home with our friends.”

Alex switched his wide-eyed gape from Liz to Max. “And you’re going to let her just hang out here until it’s time to push?”

“I’m watching her, my friend, don’t worry. We’ll both know when it’s time to leave, trust me. Rana took almost 12 hours. Besides, Laura is right over there.”

Doubtful, Alex sought out Svea with his eyes, then jerked his head for her to join them. She hurried over, muttering something under her breath.

“Svea? What’s wrong?” Liz rarely saw Svea frown.

“My heart just breaks for Gabe,” she lamented. “I’ve never seen a man look so miserable in my life.”

A loud laugh carried across the yard, and they all looked over; it was Gabe. “See what I mean?” Svea asked. “He’s completely miserable. Who is that woman, anyway? I haven’t seen him with the same woman twice since Shelby left.”

“I don’t know, but . . .”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

As one, they followed Max’s line of sight and collectively gasped. Striding past the corner of the house and straight through the yard was Shelby Monseau, the look on her face bordering on anger. The general chatter gradually dissipated to expectant silence, and Gabe, among the last to see her, stood stock still as he watched her approach. She didn’t slow until her sudden stop inches away from him. It was then that they could tell she’d been crying.

“You son of a bitch.”

That heartfelt sentiment hung between them for several excruciating seconds. Then they were in each other’s arms, clinging like they would never let go. Rude or not, no one could stop watching the odd scene. It was impossible to say what was happening or why. Finally, Gabe pulled back.

“You came back?”

“Only for a few days. But we need to talk. I can’t hardly think, let alone do my job, you big jerk. And it’s your fault.”

It was said with venom, so Gabe’s gradually widening smile was a mystery to almost everyone. Everyone, that is, except Max and Liz and a few others who knew these two stubborn people and had watched their relationship blossom months before. That relationship was destined to be a war of wills; nonetheless, it did seem destined to be.

“Hot damn,” Gabe said softly, and kissed her.

“Max, do something,” Svea pressed.

“About what?” Max asked, still enjoying the scene.

“That woman. Gabe’s date. She looks like she’s got an olive pit lodged in her throat.”

Liz’s giggle took them all by surprise. “I know. I’m terrible,” she whispered, but the chortle made her words singularly unconvincing.

“Why me?” Max had stopped smiling.

“You’re the host,” Svea insisted, pushing him forward. Alex only grinned when Max turned to him with a hopeful look.

“Shit.”

The group drifted toward Shelby and Gabe, though Max veered reluctantly toward a stunned female guest whose name was a complete unknown.

“Uh, hi. I’m Max Evans. This is my . . . our party, and I . . . uh . . . I don’t think we were introduced.”

She looked at him as if trying to identify his species. “What?”

“Look,” Max said, deciding on the direct route. “This is damned awkward, and I’m so sorry you’ve been put in this position. I don’t know how well you know Gabe, but that woman was a serious relationship in his life until recently, and if I were a betting man, I’d say that she’s about to be again. I’m really very sorry, and I’d be happy to take you home, if you’d like to leave.”

“I . . . uh, yes. I think that . . . uh . . . that might be best. Should I . . . ? No, I don’t suppose I need to say goodbye to . . . anyone.” She stared at the couple and sighed. “I had a feeling, I guess. You can just tell when someone is with you, but not really with you, you know?”

Max relaxed and smiled. “Yeah. I really am sorry. What’s your name?”

“Carrie.”

“Nice to meet you, Carrie. Would you like a ride somewhere?”

“No, I’ll just call a . . . Oh my god. Is that woman . . .?”

Max turned to see Liz bent over the fruit salad, gripping the table with white knuckles.

“Laura!” He broke into a run. “Laura!!”

“I’m sorry,” Liz panted when he reached her. “I thought . . .”

“Never mind. Let’s get you into the house.”

Minutes later, Laura was issuing instructions with cool efficiency, seemingly unperturbed by the atypical circumstances. Svea was sent for a rubberized crib sheet to spread under Liz, Gordon was put in charge of crowd control, Rana was kissed and told to mind Aunt Charisse, and Max was . . . well, she didn’t have to worry about Max; he was right where he needed to be—with Liz.

“This one’s impatient,” Laura told them with a smile, though the tension was creeping up the back of her neck. Liz was racing through labor this time, and the sudden onslaught of transitional contractions had taken them all by surprise. “Apparently, he has his father’s appreciation for speed.”

Max returned her smile, but their eyes met over Liz’s head, and he saw the concern. He didn’t have time to think about it, because Liz gripped his hand like a vice as the next contraction came on. They breathed together, eyes locked, Liz mimicking his lead without conscious thought. There was only room for one thought—making it through the pain.

Between contractions, she knew he was scared, too. This wasn’t how they’d expected things to go. It certainly wasn’t how they’d been the first time; Rana had done everything just as expected. They’d reflected on that from time to time, remembering how Max had described the other Rana the same way—she did what she had to do. But this child was already different, and Liz wondered if they had themselves a boy—a boy like his father, a good boy who still enjoyed an edge of speed and danger. That would be a mixed blessing. She was tempted to ask Laura, who had no doubt known for months, but she’d waited this long. It seemed she wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

“Damn it.”

It was a muttered curse, but it had both pair of eyes riveted to their doctor.

“What?” The Commander had surfaced, ready to handle crisis dispassionately, at least if you weren’t aware that his hand trembled as it held hers.

Laura looked up. “Nothing we can’t handle. I just need another pair of hands. Strong ones attached to a sensible head. Not you,” she snapped before Max could finish forming the syllable. “You have your hands full already. And forget Gordon. He’s a marshmallow.”

That would normally have brought a smile to their faces—they knew her husband well—but there was no time. “Jesse,” they said together.

“Well, I guess it’s unanimous. Max, go get her. Fast.”

With a quick kiss to Liz’s head, Max bolted from the room, reentering less than a minute later with Jesse in tow. Liz was already in the throes of another contraction, and he raced to her side. Laura murmured instructions to Jesse who nodded, cool and collected. She was used to chaos, crisis, and hard work. This didn’t phase her . . . at least it wouldn’t until later on, when she allowed herself to think about it.

After a trip to the bathroom to wash her hands and don a mask, she returned to the bed.

“Laura? What’s happening?” Max felt like an icicle was being jammed through his veins, cold and painfully sharp.

“The baby is face down. We simply need to turn him.”

“What . . .?”

“Max, we’ll talk later. Just help Liz breathe. Liz, honey, don’t push if you can possibly help it.”

She could only nod, fear and pain pushing thought and words from her mind once again.

“Have you ever taken CPR, Jesse?”

Jesse nodded. That was a given as a restaurant manager.

“Good. Place the heels of your hand as you would for compressions, but below the sternum, just at the rise of Liz’s belly. On the count of three, give me a hard push. Now wait for my count.”

Laura suppressed a grimace as her hands pushed into Liz. She knew she was just aggravating Liz’s pain, but it had to be done. Once she had the baby’s shoulders in her fingers, she counted.

“One, two, three.

Jesse pressed, Laura rotated, Liz cried out, Max cursed.

“Again!” They repeated the quick moves, and it was done. Laura’s face relaxed, and she threw the threesome a genuine smile. “Like clockwork. Okay, Liz, when you feel like pushing, go for it.”

A few slick, grueling minutes later, Jonathan Parker Evans shot into the world and let out an irritated wail. It sent smiles through the house and yard as a cheer went up, and Liz sagged, weeping, against her husband. Jesse whispered her congratulations and slipped discreetly from the room, while Laura placed the baby on Liz’s chest and prepared to deliver the placenta. In the distance, fireworks boomed and burst in welcome.

“He’s perfect. He’s beautiful. I love you so much.” Emotional and elated, they murmured to each other and their baby, a family unit in just seconds. Soon, when Rana was invited in, the bond would shift and stretch to encompass as much love as Laura Blackwing had ever seen in one room. She’d delivered a few thousand babies, she’d seen plenty of happy families, but this . . . there was something special about this.

She stitched Liz quietly, happy to be invisible, listening with affection to the soft conversation.

“Do you think Jonathan knows?” Liz wondered.

“He knows,” Max assured her, teasing the baby’s fingers until they grasped his large one.

“Rana will think this is her birthday present,” Liz laughed weakly. “Can you imagine them sharing a birthday?”

Max shook his head. “That ought to be interesting. I don’t even want to think of the logistics of that just now. Twenty bucks says Captain Schmidt will call it a fine example of patriotism—two kids with birthdays on the Fourth of July.”

Now Liz laughed again, then grimaced. “ Don’t make me laugh, but yeah, he probably will. Maybe he’ll even push that promotion through.”

She’d said it idly. He knew his rank didn’t affect her feelings toward him. But it seemed as good a time as any to tell her.

“I’m not eligible for another promotion for three years, Liz.”

She looked up at him then, knowing what that meant; he’d been passed over this time. “It’s okay, Max. We knew your age made it a long shot. You’re awfully young for Commander. It doesn’t matter anyway, does it Jonathan? Your Daddy is a hero and a champion diaper changer, so we’re all set.”

“No, Liz, that’s not what I meant. I got the letter yesterday. I’ve been made Commander, so it’ll be three years before I’m up for promotion again.”

“What? What? Jonathan, did you hear that? Your Daddy made Commander! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Max bent to kiss her lightly, then rubbed a gentle hand down Jonathan’s back. “I didn’t want this party to be about me. You and Rana and our friends and the Fourth of July . . . that’s what the party was for. Besides, I knew you’d try to do something special about it, and you were already so tired. So . . . I thought I’d wait until tonight.”

“Congratulations, Max,” Laura said as she rose to take the baby. “Now let me clean him up a bit, then you can go greet your guests. I’m afraid Liz will need to stay here and get some rest. Maybe we can get little Jonathan to try nursing, while we’re at it.”

“Laura.” Max put a hand on her arm before she scooped up the baby. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are. If you hadn’t been here . . .”

“Things happen for a reason, Max. I was here. That’s all that matters. In the future, however, should you choose to have any more children, I’d recommend the hospital at the first sign of labor.”

The first relaxed smile in an hour lit his face. “How long until we can . . .?”

Laura rolled her eyes and laughed, noting Liz’s impish grin. “Keep your hands off her for a few weeks, Commander. That’s an order.” She cradled Jonathan against her, and headed for the bathroom, leaving Max and Liz to their last moment alone for some time.

“You are amazing,” he whispered, pressing his lips to hers. “I love you more every day. I can’t believe it’s possible, but I do. And what you did today. It was . . . amazing.”

“Hold me, Max.”

He climbed more fully onto their bed, and wrapped his arms around her. She burrowed in like a kitten and sighed.

“Remember the day we got married?”

“Married. Married. No, I don’t remember that.”

She smacked him lightly, and he chuckled.

“Okay, it was the best day of my life. Up to that point, at least.”

“Remember how you came to the beach to find me, and I was afraid there was too much happiness in my life?”

“Yes. You said you didn’t know what to do with it all.”

“Well, I must’ve figured it out because it just keeps growing.” They lay quietly until Jonathan objected to something Laura was doing.

“He’s absolutely perfect, isn’t he?”

She felt Max nod, surprised when a tear landed on her arm.

“Oh, Max.”

She turned toward him, gingerly, and lifted her face to his. The kiss was soft and sweet, a grateful acknowledgment of blessings they hadn’t imagined and love they’d never doubted.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

“How about I get our daughter and we’ll introduce her to her brother.”

Brother. Rana had a brother. She prayed they would have each other for a lifetime.

“Yes, Max. It’s time our children met.”

******

Some guests had left, feeling their presence wasn’t needed or wanted at such an intense family time. Others, however, those who just naturally assumed their place as part of the family, had stayed, wanting to know that all was well. Jesse had joined them earlier, but had remained tightlipped out of respect for Max’s right to share the news. She had said only that the baby and Liz were fine.

So when Max emerged from the house to find his close friends still gathered on the patio, he was bombarded with questions.

“Liz is fine, and so is our son.” A cheer rose from the group, and he grinned. “I can’t tell you length and weight exactly—they’ll check that when we get to the hospital shortly—but Laura says he’s probably 8 pounds and maybe 21 inches or so.”

“Big boy,” Thad nodded approvingly.

“What’s his name? You’ve been so secretive!”

“Jonathan Parker Evans.”

Their few seconds of silence attested to their status as family. Each of them knew what that name represented.

“That’s wonderful, Max,” Alex finally said, and Svea stood and wrapped her arms around the new father.

“Perfect,” she whispered.

“Where’s Rana?” Max asked, peering into the darkness.

“Here,” Kyle said quietly. Max turned, eyes widening with surprise. Rana was asleep on Kyle’s lap, where he had her wrapped in a beach blanket. He looked uncharacteristically fatherly, and it warmed Max’s heart. He could just imagine what it was doing to Jesse. “She just conked out.”

“Thanks.” Max bent to scoop her from Kyle’s arms.

“Max, we’re gonna take off,” Gabe said, his arm around Shelby. “We were just sticking around to make sure everything went okay.”

“Thanks, Gabe. Hi, Shelby.” Max gave her an awkward hug around Rana. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too, Max.”

“Uh, sir, I might be putting in for a transfer. Maybe up to Lemoore Naval Air Station. I hope I can count on your support.”

Max couldn’t suppress the smirk. “Lemoore. Hmmm, that would put you up closer to LA, wouldn’t it?”

When Gabe didn’t answer, Max laughed. “Of course, Gabe. They’ll be lucky to have you. Good luck to both of you.”

He started to turn, then abruptly turned back. “Wait. What happened to your date? Carrie somebody. I told her I’d take her home, but . . .”

“No problem, sir.”

Wesley stepped from the shadows, Carrie by his side. “I was hanging around, too. Congratulations, by the way. I’d be happy to take Carrie home.”

Funny how things worked out, Max mused, catching the hint of a smile around Carrie’s mouth. “I’d appreciate that, Lieutenant. Thank you.”

With a glance at a sheepish Gabe, and a word with Charisse about waiting to take Rana home with her, Max headed back inside. Liz was half asleep, cradling Jonathan who was fast asleep. They made a beautiful picture.

“Look, Rana. Your baby brother has come to live with us.”

Rana studied him through sleepy eyes. “He’s nice,” she decided. “Can I sleep with Mommy, too?”

“Not tonight. We have to take her and the baby to the hospital, just to make sure they’re okay. You’re going home with Aunt Charisse.”

“Hi, sweetie,” Liz smiled, reaching one arm toward her daughter. “Come see.”

Max lowered himself to the bed with Rana still in his arms. He knew Rana might be over-zealous in her exploration of their newest family member, but instead, she settled down on Max’s chest and just stared, too tired to do much exploring.

“His face is squished,” she observed.

“Not for long,” Liz assured her. “Getting born is hard, but he’ll be fine, I promise. His name is Jonathan.”

She watched her daughter absorb this.

“Will he play with me?”

“Not at first,” Max told her, “but when he grows, he’ll begin to play with you.”

“Can I have Jeremiah instead? He plays now. Aunt Charisse and Uncle Thad can have this one.”

Max and Liz exchanged an amused look.

“Jeremiah doesn’t belong to us, Rana. He’s your friend. Jonathan is your brother. He’ll be part of our family . . . and your life . . . forever. You’ll love each other and take care of each other and be there for each other always.”

When her voice broke, Max reached a hand out to touch her, earning a smile and a nod. She shifted just enough to lay her head on his shoulder.

“Okay,” Rana sighed, closing her eyes.

They heard the hum of the ambulance that Laura had insisted upon as it pulled up to the house, grateful she’d at least told them that sirens were unnecessary. Closing her eyes, Liz cherished one last minute with her family, more content than she’d thought it possible to be. Life was just one surprise after another. Some sad and cruel, some joyous and life affirming. But when your heart was open . . . to experience, to friendship, to love . . . the light kept you from losing your way.

Max had been a surprise. He’d opened her heart and helped her find her way. Now that light shone from her and lit the eyes of their two young children. He would have been embarrassed at the notion, she knew, but that didn’t matter. She remembered the words of Garrison Keillor: Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.

That, she knew, as she listened to Max’s heart beating strong against her ear, was one thing she would never need to ask forgiveness for.
Last edited by Carol000 on Sat Apr 16, 2005 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Kath7
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Post by Kath7 » Sat Dec 17, 2005 1:54 pm

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