A/N: Thank you, Dee, for all your beta-work.
This was my fiftieth fic. I wanted to do something I had never done before and I wanted to do something with my love for music. I think it turned out pretty okay. Please don't hesitate to review one last time for this fic - your support has meant so much to me and continues to sustain me when things get rough.
They are standing so close, they can see Lindsey Buckingham's fingers pick at the strings of his guitar. Elsie is amazed at how well he looks, how he still has that mop of curly hair (and she'll not tell Charles she used to have a major crush on this man - he doesn't always need to know everything). She is singing along with the song - not as plaintively as Lindsey does, but unabashedly, without a trace of shame. Charles is standing close to her, nodding along with the music. He has a plastic glass of water in his hand, his other is on her shoulder. He pulls her close now and then, leans in to ask if she is having fun.
The music is loud, the crowd is enthusiastic. Elsie has seen the band play before, but they are in great form tonight and there isn't as much tension as there was in the Eighties. After the applause it's Stevie Nicks's time, who fulfills every promise of mystical songstress. The crowd is silent; 'Landslide' is a delicate song compared to 'Big Love' and Elsie feels something buzz against her thigh.
Who could possibly be calling her tonight? she thinks and then it dawns on her.
She pulls her phone from her pocket.
She has thirty-seven missed calls and texts. She goes through the texts that are growing more and more desperate in tone.
Anna is in labour. She is asking for you. Please come
"Charles!" She grabs his plastic cup of water and puts it on the floor, takes his hand and starts pulling him out of the crowd. He is resisting, uncomprehendingly keeping her back.
"Are you quite well?" he asks with great irritation.
Elsie pushes her phone under his nose. He has to squint and it takes a while, but then he nods, lets out a tremendous breath and parts the crowd like a white, middle-aged Moses. They don't speak on their way to the car. Elsie goes to pay the parking ticket, Charles starts their little Vauxhall and picks her up at the machine.
They drive in silence too until Elsie can no longer bear it and turns on the radio.
Pushing rhythm, the greatest conviction in the voice of Nina Simone naming all she hasn't got. And all she does. Elsie puts her hand on Charles's leg.
I got my arms, got my legs / got my fingers, got my nails / got my feet, got my toes / got my liver, got my blood / I got life
He throws her a look before focusing on the road again.
"What a moment to choose to enter the world," Elsie says. Her voice is a little hoarse. She hadn't noticed she is this emotional, but she is. She can feel her tears bubbling just under the surface.
"At least we'll never forget it."
"I hope everything is going alright…" Elsie stares out the window, looking at the traffic they are passing by. Charles is being very careful not to break the speed limits, not to run any red lights.
When they arrive at the hospital, he tells her to go on up, that he'll find her, but she shakes her head.
"I need you close."
The maternity ward is on the third floor and they stand in the lift. Charles is holding her hand - it's cold and clammy, but he doesn't seem to care.
"I don't know…" she starts and finds she doesn't even know the words to what she is trying to say.
"Everything will be fine," he assures her, but she sees his Adam's apple bob up and down and knows he is as nervous as she is.
"Why didn't she call me before? I mean - she must have been in labour before the concert started, don't you think?"
"I don't know, Elsie. It is not something I have ever thought about before."
The doors open with a 'ding' and they hurry across the corridor to the reception desk. It is quiet. There is not a single person waiting on the wooden bench halfway down the hall.
"Yes? How can I help you?" a nurse asks from behind a computer screen.
"We're here for Anna Bates, she's supposed to be in labour," Elsie says, the muscles in her neck tensing almost painfully.
"Oh yes! She is in room number three. Everything is going splendidly. I have a note here she's been asking for 'Elsie'? Is that you?"
Elsie nods. "Yes, yes, that's me."
"Great, I'll show you. Maybe granddad would prefer to wait in the waiting room?"
Elsie looks at Charles, who is colouring slightly and nods.
"It's alright. I'll find you…"
She watches him go in the opposite direction as she follows the nurse to the room. The nurse knocks, peeks around the doorframe and asks something that Elsie doesn't understand.
"You best hurry, the baby is already crowning!" the nurse says enthusiastically.
Elsie passes the nurse and finds herself in a small, white room, her girl in bed covered by a sheet, a machine hooked up that beeps and bleeps. Her cheeks are flushed, strands of hair are stuck wetly to her forehead. She has John in a death grip. Neither of them is looking up at her.
She shrugs off her coat, rolls up her sleeves and takes her place beside Anna, putting her hand on her shoulder.
"Where were you?" Anna asks through gritted teeth.
"Fleetwood Mac," Elsie answers.
The midwife chuckles and orders Anna to push.
An unearthly groan passes Anna's lips and she hangs on tight to her husband. "It hurts!" she exclaims and swears loudly, but bears down nonetheless.
The sound of a baby's first angry crying fills the room.
The midwife hands Anna her child. Elsie steps back, simply looks on in quiet awe.
"Hello… " She hears Anna say. "I'm your mummy… I've been waiting for you…"
Elsie has to turn around so the new parents don't see her weep.
He is pacing the waiting room, which is empty save for him. He turns abruptly at the sound of her voice.
"And?" he asks.
"They'd like to see you."
"Is everybody alright?" She can see him shaking and she rushes over, wraps her arms around him.
"Everyone is very tired and happy and perfect."
He sags slightly with relief. She kisses him quickly. "Come on."
They walk down the corridor, hand in hand. Elsie knocks and they are being called in and find Anna sitting up against the headboard, supported by several pillows, freshly showered and tired looking. John is sitting next to her, her small hand in his big bear paw. The baby is in a plexiglass crib and they are looking from the visitors to their baby.
Charles lets go of Elsie's hand and kisses Anna's forehead. "Congratulations."
"Thank you… Would you like to see her?"
Charles leans over the crib and bites his lip. Elsie sidles up next to him.
"Isn't she beautiful?" she asks him and he nods.
"You can pick her up if you want, there is something we want to ask Elsie," Anna says from the bed, her voice hoarse and broken.
So very carefully Charles lifts the newborn up in his big hands and cradles her close to his chest. Elsie finds it hard to tear her eyes away from him. Seeing him like this adds yet another facet of him to love.
"Elsie?" It's John who's calling her now and she turns, takes a seat on a hard wooden folding chair.
"We have decided on a name for the baby and we wanted to share it with you first."
"We wanted to name our girl after you, because you mean a lot to us. You've been here for us , looking after us, caring for us and that is why…" Anna swallows hard before continuing.
"But we also knew you'd think we couldn't inflict a name like Elspeth on an unsuspecting child."
Elsie is reminded of those words she once spoke to Anna about her own name and how she had hated it as a teenager especially.
"So we thought of something else," John takes over and in the background she can hear Charles sing to the baby:
Dashing away with a smoothing iron / Dashing away with a smoothing iron / She stole my heart away
"We've decided on calling her Nora Carolyn Elizabeth."
"What a splendid day it is, isn't it, Mrs Carson?" Charles says. She is curled up on his lap and takes in his happy smile and dark circles under his eyes. His hand is on her cheek.
"It is a wonderful day, Mr Carson. I've not known a happy day as this one before." She puts her hand over his.
"Not even when you married me?"
"Well, that day comes close, I admit, but no. No, it's not every day you see a child being born."
"Ladies and gentlemen, you may be a little confused, allow me to shed some light on the conversation. Last night, around half past nine, Mary Crawley's producer, Anna Bates, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and Mrs Carson was privileged to be present at the birth."
Elsie's breath hitches a moment before she speaks clearly into the mic:
"It was incredible. One moment you stand staring Stevie Nicks in the face and the next you hear the sound of a baby's first crying. I have to say I did wipe away some tears."
"Yes, you were being rather sentimental."
Elsie scoffs. "As if you weren't, Mr 'Dashing Away With A Smoothing Iron'!"
"She did steal my heart away, Mrs Carson and is costs me nothing to say it."
"She has you twisted round her little finger already, Granddad."
He blushes, but isn't put out at all.
"Be that as it may, I think it is time to celebrate her birth a little. I thought we could do her a song. Instead of your usual Friday choice."
"Oh, but I did come up with a wonderful choice just to do that, Mr Carson. We wish you all a very happy weekend, dear listeners and a very warm welcome to life, Nora!"
She puts the record on, the crackling making the feedback dials do somersaults.
As the first sounds of the song play, Charles lowers his lips to hers and they kiss, only letting go of each other to sing along with Louis Armstrong:
I hear babies crying
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
* As far as I know Fleetwood Mac are not planning to tour Europe in 2015 (sadness), but for the sake of this fic, they are. Obviously.
At the concert, Charles and Elsie heard: Big Love and Landslide (according to the setlist, these are played after each other)
In the car, they heard: Ain't got no - I got life, by Nina Simone
Charles sang to Nora: Dashing Away With A Smoothing Iron
In the morning, Charles and Elsie announced the birth of Nora and accompanied it by playing: What A Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong