Author: lily moonlight PM
When Don, recovering from illness, rents a house for the summer and invites his friends, the appearance of a stranger draws all of them into a years old mystery. AU, set in the 1940s. Don, Mac/Stella, Danny/Lindsay and Lucy.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Drama - Don F. & J. Angell - Chapters: 15 - Words: 46,793 - Reviews: 247 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 23 - Updated: 11-12-12 - Published: 10-03-11 - id: 7434271
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Sadly, the characters are still not mine
Notes: Thank you to everyone who took the time to review last chapter; I really appreciate it and please continue to do so. Thanks to Ballettmaus and Suallenparker for their great help with this chapter :)
In the following breathless moments, Don felt his insides lurch as he gaped at Stella.
"But it's too soon," he protested. "At least a month too soon."
"Too soon or not, this baby wants out," Stella groaned. Another surge of pain passed through her as she gasped and locked her fingers round Mac's. A drop of blood swelled on her bottom lip where her teeth had pierced the skin.
"Don, the doctor," Mac rasped, glaring up at him and Don needed no second bidding.
"I'm on it."
He stumbled as he ran through to the sitting room where the telephone was kept. Outside, the wind and rain still battered the house and he gave an involuntary shiver as he glanced through the window before picking up the receiver and spinning the dial.
A crackling and hissing jarred his ear once he had dialled the number instead of the familiar ringing sound. Cursing, he crashed the receiver down onto the cradle before picking it up and dialling again, his fingers slipping on the dial this time. No ringing sound again, the line hissed and then died completely.
"Dammit!" Enraged at the failed piece of machinery, he shook the receiver, pressed the cradle again and again, receiving only what sounded like the faint hum of rain down the wires.
Leaving the receiver dancing like a hanged man on its cord, Don ran back to the hallway, and stopped dead at the sight of Stella struggling to her feet, assisted by Mac and Jennifer, the demise of the telephone leaving his mind for the moment.
"Stell, what the heck are you doing?"
His demand was met by a glare from Stella. "This baby is not going to be born in a hallway," she said, somewhat breathless. Mac looked grim-faced at the idea of his wife moving anywhere at this moment, but made no comment and Stella continued, directing her words to Mac, "I can make it upstairs to the... to the bedroom if you just give me a hand to do so." She took an unsteady step and Mac gripped her arm.
"I really don't think your baby is going to mind where it's born," Don said, his hands out ready to catch Stella if she fell.
"Agreed," Mac put in, his gaze locked on Stella. "You don't need to move anywhere. If our baby's born in the hallway, then so be it."
Stubborn, still, despite the pain she was clearly in, Stella shook her head and took another step. "I can make it up a flight of stairs."
"What if you can't? What if you only make it half-way? What then?" Mac countered.
"Guys, listen," Don interrupted, the issue of pressing importance finding its way back into the forefront of his mind. "The phone's out of order so I'm going to drive over to fetch the Doc."
It silenced the little group. All of them stared nonplussed at him.
"But the storm." Jennifer's eyes had widened in alarm.
"It's only a bit of wind and water." He shrugged, almost amused at their reactions, but touched also. "I was only kidding when I said I'd melt."
No amusement registered on any of the faces in front of him.
"No." Stella shook her head. "You can't go out in this; this is no weather for walking or driving..." With a sharp intake of breath, she sat down abruptly on the stairs and clutched at her stomach.
"Stella, I don't think you're going to be able to make it upstairs," Mac said, as he crouched beside her, an underlying gentleness in his voice despite his firm tone.
"I have to," she insisted, determination mixed with panic in her eyes, "I can't have our baby born on the stairs... oh, God!"
Unable to hold back a scream, she doubled over, her features screwing up in agony. Mac rubbed her back, his tone calm, but his face betraying that he was anything but. "Then we'll get you upstairs," he said.
Sliding his arm round her, he continued speaking quietly and reassuringly to her. "I'll carry you up to our room and we'll get you comfortable." Carefully, he slipped his other hand under her knees and lifted her. Groaning in pain, Stella nevertheless managed to clasp her hands round his neck and he straightened up, holding her steadily as he turned his head towards Don. "If you can get to the Doc's place safely, go."
Don saw how much fear and desperation his friend was trying to hide and answered with a confidence he didn't quite feel. "I can get there."
Mac tipped his head in acknowledgement and with Stella in his arms he made his way up the rest of the stairs, Jennifer following.
"Hang in there, Stell; I'll be as quick as I can." Don called, already walking backwards down the hall before turning and snatching his coat and hat from the little closet in the hall.
"I'll do what I can until you get back. Be careful," Jennifer called down from the landing as he reached the front door.
"Promise." He flashed a smile at her before he yanked open the front door, to be greeted by what felt like a sailcloth of wind and rain slapping him in the face. Gasping, he nevertheless fought his way outside and slammed the door behind him. Some of the almost supernatural energy and ferocity of the storm and the situation his friends now faced had breached his usual stolidity and he ran to the car as if pursued. Even though it was a matter of a few yards from the front door to his car, by the time he reached it, his clothes were dark with rainwater and his skin was streaming. Glancing at the house with its lighted windows, he started the car and it coughed into life; the wipers jerked across the screen and he drove off into the maelstrom.
The car bounced its way down the drive, whining as he spun it round the bend that led onto the road. Lightning still sliced across the clouds and thunder came in mountain lion roars as he drove, each one seeming to shake the car even more than the potholes he drove over. Visibility was blurry and dim, the landscape turned into a mass of waterlogged shadows and he sat as far forwards as he could, squinting through the rain. At least he knew the route to the Hammerbacks' house, the couple having driven him there to take tea on the second day of his arrival. He drove as fast as he dared and the car rattled onwards, shaking his bones as it passed over every rut and bump. By the time he got to his destination, he thought wryly, his skeleton would probably be completely askew, and as the car hit a particularly deep pot hole, he winced.
The car did more than wince. One spine-juddering thud later and its engine made a strange choking sound and gurgled to a stop.
Don blinked in disbelief, hands still welded to the steering wheel.
"Oh no... no way... don't you dare..." Cursing modern machines, particularly cars and telephones, he pushed the starter button over and over, causing the engine to cough a few times and fail.
"Come on, dammit, start!" he growled but the engine was unmoved and unresponsive.
For a few moments, he sat, paralysed, unable to accept the failure until, realising he was going to get nowhere by sitting there, he punched the steering wheel, banged the door open and after turning up his collar, splashed into the road.
With a grunt of disgust for the rain slithering down his neck, despite his turned-up collar, he started running. As far as he could estimate, he had about half a mile still to go before he reached the Hammerbacks' house. He pressed on. The rain fell harder and harder, obscuring the remains of the light still further, hard as graphite sticks as it hit his skin, bounced and shattered on the road.
It wasn't long before he started to pant with the exertion, but kept jogging at a pace he judged he could sustain. He was soon tiring again, but set his jaw and kept on though his legs began to feel mechanical and his lungs tingled. Somewhere along the way a gust tore his hat from his head and sent it tumbling away over hedge. He let it go and carried on.
His chest hurt and his ears buzzed, his legs were stiffening up, feeling rusted, but with a growl of scorn for those physical weaknesses he pushed himself to keep up a steady pace.
At the shape of a house looming just beyond a hedgerow, he gave a cry of triumph and channelled the last of his energy into a spurt to the finish. A light glowed in a downstairs window, he saw as he drew closer, breaking into a trot as he almost fell through the white picket gate.
Banging on the front door with his fists, he yelled out, "Dr Hammerback! Sid!" Waiting only a few seconds before he tried again. "Hey, Dr Hammerback! We got an emergency!"
Still no answer. Don dithered, staring at the door and contemplating exactly how long, and how much effort it would take to break it down.
But that was a little too extreme and would cause the Hammerbacks distress, he decided, rationality returning. Breaking down the front door would be a last resort. Instead, he ran along the porch to one of the front windows to peer in. The front room was empty but he caught a swelling sound of classical music from within and rushed round to the back of the house. A window at the far corner threw a slant of light onto the dark green, glistening expanse of lawn and Don ran towards it.
Relief poured through him as he saw the doctor inside seated in an armchair, chin resting on his chest, spectacles about to topple from his nose and a newspaper limp across his knees, the music obviously coming from the gramophone player in the corner of the room. On the opposite armchair, the Hammerbacks' cat, William, had curled himself into a mound of black fur. As soon as Don's palm smacked against the window, the huge cat opened one eye a sliver, regarding Don with disdain before settling back to sleep again. He cursed the creature for not alerting the doctor; irrational, but it made him feel slightly better.
"Dr Hammerback," he shouted, banging the window again, scoring a victory when the doctor jerked awake, his spectacles tumbling, along with his newspaper, to the floor. When he saw Don, the expression on his face turned to bewilderment and he leaped out of the chair with surprising agility and hurried over to the window.
With a gesture, he indicated the back door and his intention to open it and Don made his way to it.
"Mr Flack!" Hammerback exclaimed as he tugged the door open. "What..."
"Stella... the baby... coming early... you got to come," Don gasped, his hand braced against the door frame. "Right now... she needs you."
The doctor understood at once. Tugging Don inside, he thrust a towel at him while he rushed round, collecting various items and placing them into his voluminous black medical bag. In a little under five minutes, both he and Don sat in his car, clad in waterproofs and hats; Don a little drier, the doctor a little wetter. The rain had increased and even oilskins offered scant protection.
As the doctor set off, Don leaned back in his seat, gradually feeling his breathing returning to normal levels, although now he could not stop shivering. Despite that, he answered the doctor's few but precise questions about the lead-up to Stella's early labour.
"She'll be okay though, and the baby, too, right?" he asked once he had answered, wrapping his arms round himself to try and control the shivers.
"I'm sure she will be," Hammerback answered, his face reassuring and Don said no more.
As soon as they turned down the driveway and came in sight of the house, its visage lit pale and shining in the car headlights, the front door opened. Danny's figure stood, outlined like a daguerreotype in the hallway, waiting as Don and the doctor got out of the car and ran up the steps.
"Upstairs. First door on the left," Danny said, stepping aside to let the doctor past. Acknowledging him with the briefest of nods, Hammerback hurried up the stairs, shedding his overcoat and hat as he went and leaving them draped over the banisters.
"How's Stell doing?" Don asked while removing his borrowed outer garments and tossing them over the newel post.
Danny, in response, looked sober, glancing upstairs when a groan of agony rising to a scream from Stella reached their ears. "No sign of the baby yet," he replied. "As far as I know. Haven't been in there myself but Lindsay's with them, been fetching towels, blankets, and hot water. Jennifer mentioned there was a cradle in the nursery and we decided the Angells wouldn't mind us using it in the circumstances. We've left it there for now though. You and me can always carry it along later, right?"
"Sure," Don said absently, his eyes still focused upstairs and one foot on the bottom of the stairs. About to proceed upwards, he was stopped by a hand on his arm. He turned to face a stern look from Danny.
"They've got it covered up there, Flack," he said. "Mac ain't moving from Stella's side and Jennifer and Lindsay are doing all the stuff that women seem to know needs doing when there's a baby coming. Ain't no need for anyone else to be there... I'm just repeating what Lindsay said to me. More or less," he added, a faint grin on his face. "All you need to do is go take a hot shower and get some dry clothes on before you go getting sick again and I get your Ma on the phone demanding to know how I let that happen to her son." Danny's grin, suffering a little from his exasperation caused Don to return him a frown.
"There's got to be something I can help with."
"No." Danny folded his arms across his chest and glowered at his friend. "You fetched the Doc already. If they need us later, they know where we are. Best help you can give Mac and Stella right now is looking after yourself, so no one else has got to."
It made sense, reluctant as Don was to concede that, and there were no other arguments he could offer.
"Okay, I get your point, Messer. I'll go warm up."
"You do that." Danny nodded, approving.
He had to admit, the thought of a hot shower and dry clothes was appealing, especially now that his wet clothes had begun to turn clammy and frigid. He shivered and Danny clapped him on the back. "I'll get some fresh coffee on; something tells me it's going to be a long night."
"Yeah," he grunted and started up the stairs, pausing as the sound of further cries from Stella and rising and falling voices from the others in the room came down to him and Danny.
"It'll be okay, Don," Danny said quietly.
His gaze met Danny's. "It has to be," he said, his voice flat. Any other outcome was unthinkable.
Leaving Danny letting out a slow exhalation, Don climbed the stairs and made his way to his bedroom. Less than a minute later, he had peeled off his saturated clothes and stepped under the shower.
The near-scalding torrent shot warmth through him instantly. Tipping his head back with a groan, he let the water flood over him and revive him and as it did, he sent up a swift prayer for his friends as he stared at the ceiling, blinking water out of his eyes.
Thoroughly warmed and revitalised, he stood towelling himself dry with one of the thick and scrubby towels that the housekeeper had provided, when he heard a knock at the door.
"Hey, Flack, you decent?" Danny called.
After dragging on a pair of pants, he responded, "About half."
"Which half?" Danny queried, dead-pan, and Flack shook his head and grinned.
"Just about to pull my shirt on."
"Good enough." A foot and a walking stick pushed the door open, sending Don hurrying, as he did up the last few buttons on his shirt, to open it fully. Revealed was Danny balancing a tray loaded with mugs, coffee pot and plates, while his stick hung over his arm.
"Coffee and cookies," he announced with a grin. "Never say I don't do nothing for you."
Allowing a smile to flicker across his face, Don took the tray, relaxing when it was safely in his two hands and Danny was steady once more with his stick.
"Messer, you're a good man," he said and Danny looked satisfied as he sat down in a wicker chair.
"So I tell myself," he said, sighing as he settled himself in the chair and stretched his leg out. "Checked on Lucy before I headed up here, still sound asleep."
"Good." Don nodded, relieved as he handed Danny a mug of coffee and took one for himself. "Best thing for her, huh?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Gave her kind of a shock, all that happened," Danny said in thoughtful tones as he sipped at his coffee.
"Lindsay, too," Don said, eyeing his friend and Danny sighed, nudging his glasses back up his nose with his forefinger and thumb.
"Yeah... We, uh, talked this evening, after Lucy fell asleep..." Half-sheepish, he glanced at his friend. "Probably more than we've done for a long time, since... since I was shot," he admitted gruffly. "But, guess it was time for that. We got a few things out in the open."
For a brief, telling moment he met his friend's eyes, and what Don saw gave him cause to smile.
"Good," was all he said.
They sipped their drinks, their ears alert to all the sounds that came from the Taylors' room down the hallway – faint but still audible were Stella's cries and the doctor's voice.
Still uneasy, Don glanced at the door. "Wonder how much longer," he murmured, half to himself.
Danny shrugged. "Guess it can't be much longer," he said. "I'm sure it didn't take this long when Lucy was born."
Despite his worries, Don smirked. "You didn't have that attitude at the time, if I remember right," he said, then screwed his face up in pretended thought. "Unless I'm badly mistaken and it wasn't you I kept company while you paced the corridor of the nursing home, getting, uh a little frustrated when I made the comment that these things take as long as they take?"
"Yeah, funny, Flack. Very funny." Danny scowled, but had the grace to look a little uncomfortable even as Don enjoyed a grin at his expense. "Anyhow, waiting isn't my favourite thing to do."
Don sobered. "Me neither."
Coffee finished, he found his shoes and sat down on the bed to put them on.
"I hate waiting," Danny grumbled.
Running his hands through his still damp hair, Don grunted in agreement.
"Nothing else we can do though, huh?" Eyebrows raised, his friend looked at him over the rim of his mug as he took another sip of his coffee.
"Guess we could clean up the cradle?" Don suggested.
"Sounds good to me." Danny smiled and Don led the way to the nursery where they collected the cradle and carried it back to his bedroom between them. Washing the dust off it and drying it occupied them for a little while, but once that task was completed they found themselves waiting restlessly again, the empty cradle sitting between them. They heard the door to the Taylors' room open; an anguished cry from Stella carrying clearly to them along with Mac's voice rising with fear before the closing door muffled them again. Footsteps hurried away down the stairs and Don sighed heavily; frustrated at his ignorance and his inability to do something concrete, and afraid of what might be happening.
Running his hand along the side of the cradle, he glanced up at Danny. "I never expected this would happen. Stell had come here to take things easy; the baby wasn't supposed to come yet."
Danny shrugged. "These things are a mystery to me. I guess when a baby decides it's ready, it's ready. We weren't expecting Lucy for a couple weeks when she decided to show."
"I remember." With a shake of his head, Don picked up a cookie and the silence between them resumed. As they sat and ate and drank, their gazes travelled round the room, drawn every few minutes to the door, while their ears were alert for all sounds that might give them a clue about what was happening. When both heard hurried footsteps coming back along the landing, they froze and Don felt his heart rate leap, but the footsteps went towards the Taylors' room, once more the door opened and shut, and they both slumped again.
Don looked down at his refilled mug, tipped the last mouthful down his throat and set it down on the bedside table. Its chink was echoed by the tap of Danny's cane on the floor.
More time passed. The coffee in the pot turned cold, the plate of cookies was reduced to a plate of crumbs. There were short periods of quiet, followed by flurries of voices carrying through to them and increasingly weary sounding cries from Stella. Don's forehead creased with concern; Stella was strong, but the baby seemed to be taking its time to appear and he wondered how much longer she would have to, and could, endure. How long it had been since he had left to fetch Hammerback, he had no idea. Hours, certainly.
But then came a short, sharp cry from Stella, a brief pause and then a piercing yell from what could only be a brand new set of lungs. Don glanced at Danny, and in unison, they rushed out of the room, hearing now a whole commotion of noise and activity. For a few moments they stood on the landing, unsure what to do, until the door to the Taylors' bedroom opened and Lindsay emerged, her face a mixture of emotions as she turned and saw them.
"What's happened? Is Stella okay? Is the baby?" Don felt his chest tightening with apprehension and anticipation as he strode up to her, seeing how tired and drawn she looked.
Ushering them back along the landing, Lindsay told them in a tight voice, "Stella's had a little girl: Jennifer is cleaning the baby up now and Dr Hammerback is seeing to Stella, she's completely exhausted..." She pushed a shaky hand through the locks of hair that had escaped from their fastenings and then her control seemed to crumple and she covered her face with her hands, breaking down into tears.
Thank you for reading! Please spare a minute to leave a review - I'd love to know what you think. Lily x