By Spruceton Spook
Time dragged painstakingly by, each tick of the large wall-clock above his head resounding piercingly in his ears. His neck and back ached from the sitting position he had nearly been cemented in for hours; getting up and walking about granted relief for only a few moments before his knees grew shaky, and he would have to set himself down again. His throat was scratchy, parched, but his lips were moist and sore from the incessant pressure his teeth exerted on them. He was hungry, too. Famished. He hadn't eaten since the night before, and on normal occasions probably wouldn't have eaten for another few hours, but the constant wave of worry invading his brain and the torturous waiting—the tedious hours upon tedious hours—were working his stomach up into a growling pit of demand. And he was hot. Stripping down to his undershirt provided only minimal comfort in the stuffy, dull white room, but despite how much he craved to exit out into the crisp air of the April morning, there was no way he was going to miss the announcement he'd been awaiting for over three hours, much less the last nine months.
It wasn't that he minded being there. After all, it was undoubtedly a happy atmosphere. Though it was very early in the morning, the floor was bustling. Nurses were scurrying about, doctors were strolling eagerly down the halls past the waiting room, summons were constantly being blared over the intercom. It was the hospital, yes, a place Ash had been a few times in his life for unpleasant circumstances, but it was different now. With nail-biting anticipation, day in and day out he wondered when he'd find himself here, amidst all this commotion, surrounded by walls splattered with the images of pink and blue bunnies, eager for that one special announcement.
"Are you Ash?"
At the sound of his name, Ash was abruptly broken from his trance. His head whipped around, his eyes round as saucers.
"Yeah," he answered shakily, jumping to his feet as a pretty young nurse walked spryly into the waiting room. Her warm smile did nothing to pacify his beating heart, and immediately, the restless questions poured from his lips.
"Is she all right? Did she have it? What is it, what is it?"
The nurse gave way to giggles and waved her hands around. "No, no, it's not here yet. But yes, your mom is fine. She's almost there actually. It shouldn't be long now. That's why I came to fetch you."
"Fetch me?" echoed Ash.
"You bet," she replied. She gestured him to follow. "Come with me. I'll take you to the room."
His eyes grew even wider. "You mean I can see her?" he squeaked, incredulous.
"Yup, you sure can! She's been asking for you for hours."
Ash couldn't believe this. He was going to see his mom! Happiness shot through him, and in an instant his anxiety lifted. For the last three hours, he had been dying to see her, wondering if she was okay, how far she was along, if she was in too much pain, if the birth was occurring as he was actually sitting there thinking about it—wondering, wondering, wondering. Now he didn't have to wonder anymore. A smile invading his face, he quickly spun to grab his sweatshirt and jacket, and rushed to the nurse's side.
He and the nurse simultaneously halted, and Ash turned to see Misty and Brock striding swiftly up the hall, their hands overflowing with cups and food from the cafeteria. In all the excitement, he had almost forgotten that his friends had left to grab some early breakfast, and seeing them now made his nerves quicken all the more.
"What happened?" Misty asked, her pace increasing. "Did she have the baby?" Her voice was just as high-pitched in ado as Ash's.
"No, not yet," Ash replied, breathless. "Almost! I'm going to see her now."
"You're going to see her!? Oh my God!" Misty squealed. She hopped on her toes excitedly, causing the hot cocoa from one of the cups to spill through the poor plastic cover.
"Misty! Watch what you're doing!" Brock scolded, taking the dripping cup from her by clutching it between the two wrapped bagels he held in each hand.
"Oops, sorry! I'm just so excited! This is great!"
"Me, too! I know!" Ash beamed giddily. "I can't wait to see her. I don't know when I'm gonna be back."
"All right. There's a bagel here waiting for you," Brock said, holding up said item. "And a cocoa, but don't expect it to be hot."
"Okay," Ash laughed. "You can drink my cocoa, I don't care. I just want to go see her."
"Tell Mom I'm thinking about her," Misty said, stepping forward to land a quick kiss on his lips. "Wish her good luck for me!"
"I will," Ash said. Now that his friends had returned, he hastily threw his clothes back on the seat and started off with the nurse, who smiled a farewell to the elated, waving teenagers.
"Your friends seem just as excited as you," the nurse noted as she led him away. "Or shall I say friend and girlfriend?"
"Friend and girlfriend," Ash confirmed.
"Ahhh. That's so great that they're here. You guys must really be close."
"Yeah, we are," he replied. "We're all like family."
"Yeah, your mom's been talking about you guys sitting out there, how much she misses you. Like all three of you are her kids!"
Ash laughed. "It's practically gotten to that."
In a matter of seconds due to their swift gait, they were well on their way down the maternity ward corridor. Ash had not been down this hall, and took in the new surroundings with bright, enthusiastic eyes.
"I'm Megan, by the way," the nurse introduced herself. "I'm one of your mom's nurses. You're also going to meet Jaime; she's the other nurse. She's with your mom right now, and I'm hoping," she said with a silly cringe, "Dr. Mazzei is, too. He's the doctor who's going to be doing the delivery, which should be really soon. Are you excited?"
"Yeah, I'm really excited!"
"All right! Bet you've been waiting for this for a long time. Hoping for a boy, aren't ya? Have a little brother to play with?"
Ash shrugged. "I don't really care. I wouldn't mind if it were a girl."
"Awww, yeah, girls are fun. She'll have a nice, strong brother to look after her. She'll adore you," Megan grinned, giving Ash a nudge.
"I hope so," he blushed.
As they passed rows of closed doors in the mostly unoccupied hallway, Ash's heart sped up, wondering which one his mother was behind. The walk had not been long so far, but once again, he was growing impatient. After the hectic rush to the hospital seven and a half hours ago, and having to say good-bye to his mother quite suddenly as she entered the first stage of intense labor, the times he had missed her during his pokémon journey were nothing compared to this.
Finally, Megan approached a closed door, opened it, and ushered Ash inside. His stomach clenching, he sprang in spiritedly, half-expecting to see his mom right away. Instead, he found himself in a sort of medical supply room. At once, his face fell, a look Megan discerned knowingly.
"No, your mom's not in here," she giggled, placing a hand on his shoulder while she flipped on the sink beside him. "We need to get you all ready before you go in there. You're assisting in the delivery, you know."
"What?" Ash gasped.
Megan burst into laughter and clapped her hands. "I'm just kidding! Of course you're not. But you're gonna watch, what do you think about that?"
Staring at her, Ash asked inaudibly, "I'm going to watch my mom have the baby?"
With a gleam in her eyes, Megan nodded. "You sure are. It's what your mom's wanted all night. Never stopped asking if you could come in. Wouldn't stop. So we had to come get you when it was about time."
"Which is now?"
"Which is now."
Ash's stomach fluttered, both from the fact that his mom was nearing delivery time and the prospect of actually witnessing the event. He had pictured how this night would unfold many a time, but never had he actually imagined himself in the delivery room. Immediately, he began to panic, but despite his nervousness, there was no way he would turn down such an opportunity. Especially when he was aching to see his mother so badly.
"All right, so we have to get you all cleaned up," the nurse told him. "We asked your mom and dad all this, but I want to make sure: you're all washed, right?"
Quickly snapping back to attention, Ash cleared his throat and smiled. "Huh? Oh, yeah. I took a shower before I went to bed. Washed my hair and everything. I'm all clean." He neglected to mention the sweat he had worked up during the long delay in that stifling waiting room, but he figured it didn't make a difference.
"And you're all pretty much healthy right now? Don't have a cold?"
"Not in the process of getting one? You don't feel one coming on? Stuffy nose, sore throat?"
"Uh-uh," Ash shook his head.
"You sure?" she arched a playfully suspicious eye at him.
Grinning, Ash nodded. "Positive!"
"Good, good, good," Megan replied. "I'm sorry about the questions, but we have to make sure."
"All right, I want you to grab that soap there—see it? Grab that and wash your hands and your arms all the way up to the elbow for all they're worth. Ya got it?"
By this time, Ash's excitement level was at its max. "Got it!" he replied, bounding to the sink and snatching the bar of soap on the side. He ran his hands under the hot water and lathered them up, scrubbing them like there was no tomorrow.
In the meantime, Megan began rummaging through a pile of hospital scrubs above his head. Her brow furrowed as she pulled out a few sets, then stuffed them back in.
"Hmmm, gotta find a shirt for you here. We don't seem to have many expectant fathers your size. In fact, we never really have anyone your size coming into the delivery room."
"You mean a lot of kids don't get to do this?" Ash asked. He shut the sink off and held his dripping hands over the basin.
"Not really, no," she shook her head as she continued to rifle through the clothes. Her golden-brown bangs fell into her eyes, and she brushed them away with a quick stroke. "Usually it's just the father who comes in, and sometimes the grandparents. We don't like to have kids come in because, you know, they aren't always exactly perfect pictures of health, and childbirth really isn't something they'd find appealing." She laughed. "But your mom's so insistent. She wants you in there. Oh, sorry, paper towels're over there."
Ash smiled thoughtfully as he wiped his hands dry, realizing the rare privilege he was being given. He was speechless, imagining what it was going to be like. He had seen deliveries on TV, and wondered if his mom's would be anything like them. But now he wouldn't have to wait to find out how she made it through the delivery. He would be there to see it for himself. The expectation sent a chill up his spine.
"Ahh, here we go!"
Ash's eyes flicked back to Megan as she yanked out a light-blue shirt. She unfolded it, then pursed her lips distrustfully.
"Well, it still might be a bit big, but it'll do." She handed the shirt to Ash. He could instantly tell it was too big for him, but he wasn't going to complain. "Just slip that on over your head."
"Okay," Ash replied, taking the shirt and pulling it over his head in one motion. The way he thrust his arms through the sleeves hurriedly made Megan laugh.
"Calm down! You don't have to rush. Trust me, it's going to be a few moments before your mom has the baby. You're not going to miss anything."
Ash straightened his tousled hair and smiled embarrassingly. "Oh. I—I wasn't rushing, I just—I thought your said she's almost there..."
"Oh, well, she's definitely near delivery time," Megan explained, leading them back out into the hall again. Ash tagged behind restively, feeling special and entitled in his new hospital garb.
"Last I saw her, she was only beginning to push," she went on. "It's gonna take a bit, though. Can't have the baby out in one push, you know."
Ash looked up. "Oh, so you mean she's fully dilated?"
The inquiry almost made Megan stop dead in her tracks. "Pardon me?" she faltered with a chuckle, gawking at him in shock. "How do you know about that?"
Sensing how surprising his extended knowledge was to her, Ash blushed and shrugged modestly. "I've kinda been studying it," he admitted. "I wanted to know everything about it so that I knew what my mom would be going through."
Megan's jaw was still dropped, but her smile was wide. "And here I am thinking your mind's going to be blown away with everything you see! Does your mom know about this?"
"Yeah," replied Ash. "She taught me most of the stuff. I asked her a lot of questions, and she told me everything. I even went to the Lamaze classes with her a few times."
"Oh my God! You're a heck of a lot more into this than I thought you were!" exclaimed Megan.
"Sure am," Ash giggled affirmatively. In truth, it had been close to an obsession for the past months.
"And how old are you?"
Megan was flabbergasted. "Twelve! And you've been to Lamaze classes? Holy mackerel!"
Ash's face ached from his giddy smile as they made their way down what seemed like a never-ending hallway. Seeing Megan's disbelief made him feel proud; after all, it was true that not many twelve-year-olds knew the basic stages of child labor in great detail. He had been one of those unfamiliar twelve-years-olds, but it seemed that only days after discovering his mother was expecting, Ash was wild about learning everything he could. It was as though the only thing he did not yet know about Delia's pregnancy was the sex of the baby itself.
It was getting more crowded and busy in this part of the ward, inducing Ash's heart to speed up. Somehow, the swarms of nurses and personnel made it feel like his mother was near. His stomach got worked up again, his legs like rubber. What was he going to see in there?
Suddenly, he recalled more of what he had seen on TV—how agonizing the ordeal was for some mothers. Did he want to watch his mom go through that? Excitement swiftly and unexpectedly turned to doubt, to apprehension. He was overall nervous, this he knew, but something else was stirring him worriedly, something that all at once made him hope that his mom's room was not close. He looked down at his blue hospital shirt, which clashed horribly with his red flannel lounging pants, and it all became reality. He was here, and it was going on now, and he was going to be part of it. There was no turning back because, frankly, as much as this was suddenly bothering him, no feeling was strong enough to keep him from seeing his mom.
Before he knew it, Megan drifted to a closed door and grabbed the knob. A chill shot through Ash, causing him to visibly shudder, but a huge smile accompanied it.
"Here we go," she whispered enticingly, pushing the door open just enough to allow Ash to slip through. Hesitating immediately, he entered the room, dragging his feet laboriously and drawing his head deep into his shoulders.
"Go in, it's okay," the nurse prodded him gently, and Ash, shyly, did. Oddly enough, the room was quiet, which almost made him more leery to go in. But Megan trying to get into the room and back to her task edged him in, and within a matter of seconds, the room's arousing scene was brought swiftly to his consciousness.
It appeared a normal hospital room, but Ash cared nothing to inspect the inanimate milieu. He focused no more time on the other nurse and doctor who lifted their heads at his arrival, and his father was nothing but a fleet blur. The chief and only interest he held was for his mom, and right away, his eyes raced to find her. There she was, just where he knew she'd be, but for a second—and that of which made him rather uncomfortable—he didn't recognize her.
Ash almost stopped dead in his tracks as he tried to make sense of the sight of his laboring mother. What made it all the more difficult was the fact that she was not greeting him the way he had imagined—she wasn't even looking at him at all. Shuffling his way forward, Ash observed Delia sheepishly. He took in her glazed face, her stringy, greasy-like hair plastered to her head. She was laying back against a mountain of pillows, her eyes shut in sheer exhaustion, her one hand gripping the rail along the side of the bed. Her large belly, the same he had rested his head against countless times to try to hear the little person within, was outstanding, a mountain beneath a white sheet.
It wasn't her. At least, it didn't seem like her. But it was her, of course, though in a way Ash had never seen before. Sure, in a comparative sense she looked the way she did right out of a pool, but in those instances, the current pain that was written clearly in her creased brow was never present. She was emitting no sound, but Ash knew without a doubt that didn't mean a thing as to how she felt.
"Look who's here!" Megan suddenly chimed, startling Ash. His gaze was ripped from his mother as he could feel all the attention turn on him.
"Hey, buddy!" Jay welcomed lively. "You made it!"
"Hi, Dad," Ash waved timidly. Even though it was his father speaking to him, he still felt awkward. He stopped just a few feet from Delia's bed and withdrew himself further, looking back at his mom.
The announcement had alerted Delia, and now she was returning the gaze. Ash smiled gingerly as he watched a fatigued yet utterly happy smile lift his mom's flushed face.
"Hi, baby," she whispered weakly. Her eyes were red—she had been crying. "You came."
Ash swallowed, slightly uneasy from her appearance and sluggish voice, but at the same time relieved he was finally beside her again. "Hi, Mommy," he whispered back.
"So are you the Ash we've been hearing about all night?"
Brought abruptly from the brief reunion, it was now that Ash looked at the doctor directly. Right away a smile was brought to his face at the sight of the jaunty man standing at the base of his mother's bed. He was a young doctor, and the grin that was stretching his cheeks to their extreme was practically contagious.
"Ash," Megan said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Mazzei. And the nurse standing next to him there is Jaime," she pointed accordingly.
Jaime, another young nurse, waved enthusiastically, and Ash could tell she was smiling widely behind her facemask. In one quick glance, Ash became aware that the mood in the room was a buoyant one, easing his nerves substantially.
"Well, it's about time you finally came!" Dr. Mazzei exclaimed. "But where's the booze? I don't see no booze! What do you think you can do, just waltz into the party without supplying booze?"
"Huh?" It took a second for Ash to realize the doctor was kidding. "Oh. No, I didn't bring any, sorry," he laughed.
Dr. Mazzei rolled his eyes in playful irritation. "Of course not! Ahhh, it's no big deal, though; I'm just glad you're finally here! Maybe you can get your mom to go and have this baby already! We're tired and wanna go home!"
Ash giggled, immediately loving Dr. Mazzei's sense of humor. "I'll try," he quickly joined in.
"Good, good! She kept threatening to hold it in if we didn't let ya come in!" the doctor shook his head. "How 'bout that, huh!"
His smile helplessly broad, Ash turned back to his mother. "Mom, you gotta have the baby," he encouraged, not just from Dr. Mazzei's request but his own expectancy as well.
"Don't worry, she will," his dad supplied happily. Jay was dressed in scrubs similar to Ash's, though he donned a complete set in gray, and he had his own facemask and hair cap. His hand was woven tightly with Delia's, and had been for the last few hours.
"Oh, trust me, yes I will," Delia avowed, her voice gaining some base in order to make it sound determined. "I want to have it now."
"See what I told you?" Jay added.
"I can't wait!" Ash hopped, his excitement flourishing. The crowd laughed in chorus, Delia contributing only frailly.
"Oh Ash, I'm so happy you're here," she said breathlessly. She held out her hand and Ash rushed to grab it, overjoyed.
"I'm happy, too, Mom," he replied almost giddily. "I missed you!"
"You missed me?" she chuckled. "Awww. Come here." She motioned for him to near so that she could kiss him. Ash squirmed pleasantly as her sweaty face brushed against his cheek. She was so warm he could feel the heat radiating from her inches away.
"How do you feel?" he asked delicately.
Delia huffed. "Like I'm dying." She emphasized it just then as she shut her eyes and bunched her face painfully, letting out a sharp whimper at the contraction.
Ash could see her discomfort, but squeezed her hand reassuringly nonetheless. "Aw, Mom, don't say that!" he soothed. "You're not dying. You're fine!"
"Ah, isn't it great!" Dr. Mazzei proclaimed, clapping Megan on the back. "You did good bringing him, Meg! He's just the encouragement we need! Now we'll probably be delivering this baby within the next year and a half!"
"Hopefully sooner," Megan said, putting her facemask on and straightening her hair cap.
"Hopefully sooner!" Delia agreed fervently but through clenched teeth, as the contraction had not yet ended. "C-can I push again?"
"Darling, I never told you you had to stop," sang Dr. Mazzei, massaging her knee to ease her through the pain. "That's what you're here for."
"Hey, Ash," Megan said, her crafty smile hidden behind the mask. "Why don't you ask Dr. Mazzei the question you asked me?"
Instantly, Ash's face was crimson. "No, no," he declined embarrassingly.
"Nah, go ahead!" prodded Megan. "It's okay! It was a great question!"
"Nooo," Ash whined, his blush deepening as he buried his face in his hand. He didn't expect this to come up again! Quickly, he regretted even mentioning it to Megan, regardless of how proud he had felt earlier.
"What do you wanna know, Ash?" Dr. Mazzei asked. "I know Megan here knows nothing, so maybe I can actually be helpful and give you the answer." That earned him a swat on the shoulder from the nurse.
"What did you ask, sweetie?" Delia choked, amused to know. She was out of breath again, momentarily baring through the brutal contraction.
"Yeah?" Jay asked.
Ash knew he was stuck. He was even impelled to fabricate a new question on the spot, but he knew Megan would rat him out. Wondering how brightly red his face was becoming, he took a tiny breath.
"Is my mom fully dilated yet?"
"Whoa!" the doctor cried as the others burst into laughter, though not mockingly. "Would ya listen to that! The things kids know today! I'm impressed! How much more do you know, bucko?"
Ash just shrugged modestly, and Jay spoke up.
"He knows more than you would think," he boasted. Ash felt his mom shake his hand, and looking down to find her flashing him a praising smile.
"Is that so?" said Dr. Mazzei.
"He wanted to know things, so we told him," Jay smiled.
"Awesome!" Dr. Mazzei nodded. "Well, then, Ash, let's see just how much you really know. Tell me, do you know what an epidural is?" He arched his eyebrows in high hopes as Ash bit his lip.
"Ummm," he thought out loud. "Isn't that like a pain killer or something?" he ventured.
Eyes widening, Dr. Mazzei snapped his finger. "Righto!" he congratulated, and Ash promptly beamed. "And that's exactly what your mother has refused all night, the brave lady she is! Can you believe it? Aren't you proud of her?"
"I want to be able to feel my legs!" Delia panted.
"I've been hearing that all night from her," Dr. Mazzei grumbled kiddingly, pointed at her.
"Well I do!"
Dr. Mazzei snorted. "That, along with wanting to have you in here," he told Ash. "And now I can see why! She's been wanting to upstage me, that's what she's been wanting!"
Ash laughed, and the doctor took a contented breath.
"But the answer to your question, Ash, is yes. Your mother is fully dilated—has been for a while—and if I were her, I'd start to get to some serious pushing business."
"You hear that, Mom? You have to push some more!" Ash turned to her excitedly.
"Oh, yay," Delia replied, intentionally unconvincing. Jay chuckled and kissed the top of her head.
"Ah, don't talk like that, my sweet," Dr. Mazzei said. "This is what you've been waiting all night for! And you've been doing fabulously so far; you're gonna have no problem with this, I know it. Don't you think your mom can get through this, Ash?"
"Sure I do! Mom can do anything," Ash grinned, the pace of excitement beginning to pick up. Squeezing his mom's hand reassuringly, he gave her a confident smile, one she tried desperately to match.
"Thanks, sweetheart," she said. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. "I can I do it. I—I just...I'm just not looking forward to it."
"I know it's not going to be fun," said Dr. Mazzei sympathetically, "but think, in just a few moments you're gonna have a beautiful, brand-new little baby." He gave her a brilliant smile, which brightened Delia's face instantly. "You're gonna see your baby, and you're gonna get to hold your baby, and it's going to be alllll over and everything's gonna be fine. You've done this before. You got through it the first time, so you can get through it again—flying colors. All right?"
Delia nodded, though there was still a bit of reluctance amidst her underlying anticipation.
"I just want to you to breathe, take it easy, relax. It'll be over before you know it, I promise. It's all gonna be worth it. Okay?"
"Okay," Delia shakily smiled.
Ash watched as his mother took Dr. Mazzei's advice intently. Now more situated, he was beginning to acutely detect the true severity of the pain and how nervous his mother was. The way she was breathing was just as she had been instructed in the Lamaze classes, but now he could see its purpose. Her sweaty hand clamping onto his, he felt each time the discomfort intensified, and was fiercely concerned. Ash knew she was all right, but deep-down there was no denying that he wished to see her out of this misery, necessary though it was, as soon as possible.
"All right then!" Dr. Mazzei clapped his hands once eagerly. Seriousness was now aside; it was back to the fun. "Here we go! Tell me, Delia, does it feel like that baby of yours wants to come?"
Eyes widening, Delia nodded rabidly. "Ohhhhh, yes. It has been forever."
"Excellent! That's just what I want to hear. See, Ash, that's what I love about no epidural. We're making progress!"
"All right!" Ash cheered.
Dr. Mazzei turned back to Delia. "So then, we gotta listen to that little one now, don't we? If it wants to come, then we're gonna let it come! Are ya with me?"
"Oh my God..." Delia groaned, reality setting in.
Jay took her head close to his cheek, and rocked her slightly. "It's gonna be okay," he whispered in her ear. "You can do it; I love you."
"I love you, too," whimpered Delia, but returning her husband's gestures was the last thing on her mind. Nervousness was quickly replaced with pure fear, and Ash shuddered at this.
"Mom, just remember the exercises from the class," he reminded her. "Remember the way you were told to breathe when you're having the baby."
He was relieved to see a small smile perk on his mother's lips. "I will, Ash, I will," she replied.
"All right, Delia my love," Dr. Mazzei purred. He grabbed the facemask dangling around his chin and slipped it over his mouth and nose. "We want those contractions now, don't we? There aren't gonna be many, but the next time you get one I want you to give me a great, big push right along with it. You can do that."
Ash and Jay let out a laugh as Delia rolled her eyes, smiled pitifully, and nodded.
"And listen," the doctor continued to advise. "If you feel you need to push, do not go against it. You're gonna listen to your body, and you're gonna listen to your little one, and this is going to be over before you know it."
"No it's not," moaned Delia in reply.
"Yes, it is," sang Dr. Mazzei. "You're so close, don't you dare give up on me now. We're gonna have that baby here within half an hour, what do ya say?"
Delia responded with more raspy whimpers, "Kill me."
"No, no, no, my dear, we don't do that here. This is a hospital. We don't particularly like killing people. What you're going to do is the exact opposite. And you're gonna love it."
Even Ash knew that wasn't the most precise prediction of what this would entail, but he knew what Dr. Mazzei was doing. Being told the plain truth of what the ordeal would be like wouldn't make him enthused. He felt a bit sorry for his mom, but swiftly tried to maintain Dr. Mazzei's attitude, the one that needed to be more focused on in order to deal with what was to come.
And just thinking about that got Ash's stomach doing somersaults again. In no time at all, he was going to meet his new little brother or sister. It was still something too wondrous to comprehend. All his life he had dreamed about this moment, and even now it still felt that way—like a dream.
"All right, Ash, this is what I want you to do," Megan said from across the room. "Just stay where you are right by your mom. She's needs your support, okay? We got everything covered over here," she laughed. "Just keep talking to her and getting her through this. After all, I'm sure you learned a thing or two from Lamaze."
Ash giggled. "I sure did." In fact, he knew all of Delia's exercises by heart. He looked down at his mother, who was laying back against the pillows, her eyes shut tiredly. Though he had dozens of questions to ask her, he allowed her to rest.
He didn't know how long he stood there listening to the nurses converse and arrange with Dr. Mazzei, but without warning, another contraction overtook his mother. Delia bolted straight up, letting out the loudest yell he'd heard from her yet. It wasn't the sharp ring in his ears that startled him the most, however; it was the savage clench of his mother's hand on his own, tighter than he could ever imagine. The sudden pain gripped him greatly, but he skewed his eyes and held back the own yelp in this throat. He wasn't supposed to be the one showing discomfort here.
"Whoooa! Here we go! That baby wants to come, and it's gonna!" Dr. Mazzei proclaimed joyously.
Delia's thoughts differed, though. "I can't do this!" she bawled, her voice staggering with despair, tossing her head about frantically as she tried to cope with the pain.
"Yes, you can!" the doctor encouraged. "You're a strong girl. Keep breathing. And when you're ready, we're gonna push, all right? We're gonna have that baby here soon!"
Ash, holding his breath from the vise that was his mother's hand, opened one eye and looked at Delia. The way her face was turning beet red upset him. Her scream became muffled as she tried to breathe, and to Ash's relief, her grip lessened. It didn't go away completely, though. Delia remained upright, and quickly Jay recited the breathing technique Ash knew well from Lamaze but was too shocked to relate at that time.
"Relax, relax," Dr. Mazzei said, his voice drifting pleasantly.
"N-no," Delia whined, and Ash's face fell. He felt so sorry for her. "I can't do it. Please. I can't..."
"Sure you can, Mom," Ash managed a consoling smile. "You did it with me."
"And she got through that fine," his father put in, his tone just as optimistic as the doctor's. He continued to caress her head as she kept up with her breathing. "She was in labor so much longer with you. She should be happy that she's already almost there. Aren't ya, honey?"
"NO! Can't it just be over?" Delia panted. "Jay, I can't take it. I can't take it..."
Jay looked up and winked at his son. "She's happy. You know it." Ash could beg to differ, but Jay seemed confident.
"Okay, Delia, this is it!" Dr. Mazzei said. "I'm gonna count to three, and you're gonna give me the biggest push yet. Okay?"
Delia didn't answer, but Ash could tell from her expression that she was ready to cooperate.
"I know it hurts," Dr. Mazzei empathized. "But we're working with it. You're gonna take a deep breath on my count and push, all right? We're gonna have this baby here lickety-split! Okay? Look at me, honey. Look at me, look at me. We're doin' this, ready? Okay...? One, two, three, deep breath, and push."
If Delia's grasp was painful the first time, this time it was down-right torturous. The cry that roared from her lungs didn't make it any better. As the wail pierced Ash's ears, his mother's hand bound fast around his, crunching his fingers with the force to effortlessly make his eyes flare with pain.
"'Atta girl! Very good, very good!" Dr. Mazzei praised her as she slumped back against the pillows. "That was very good! More pushes like that and your little one's gonna be here before we know it!"
Delia's response was nothing but an agonizing sob. Her hold loosened on Ash's hand, and he was able to begin breathing again.
"Ain't this exciting, Ash? Ya ever thought you'd see something like this?"
Ash swiftly turned to Dr. Mazzei. "No," he shook his head. "I mean, I've seen it on TV, but I—I never thought I'd be here."
The doctor smiled warmly. "Your mom's doin' a heckuva lot better than some of those mothers I see on TV. I haven't heard her call your dad a dirty name yet!"
"That's good," Ash laughed.
"Wouldn't be the first time, though," Jay chuckled.
That got Delia's attention. "Jay!" she growled incredulously.
"What?" her husband shrugged innocently. "It's true."
Delia just shook her head and forgot about it. Ash was amused.
"Whoa, almost had it right there," Dr. Mazzei cringed playfully. "Guess I spoke too soon. And we got the delivery coming up, too! Oh, boy! May get dirty yet! I'll have to have Jaime over here cover your ears, Ash."
"'Kay," grinned Ash. "But I've heard them all." This time, his mother's glare was directed on him.
Dr. Mazzei arched his eyes at Delia. "Now, then. You ready to try again?"
Swallowing hard, Delia winced. "I don't know..."
"I betcha we can have that baby here in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! What do you say to that?"
"Fine. Can you wake me when it's over?"
Dr. Mazzei guffawed. "Look at that! Sense of humor minutes before delivery! Ash, she's one of a kind."
Ash was happy to see her give a faint smile at that. The blood was starting to circulate through his fingers again, and even though she was holding his hand loosely now, he made no move to pull away. He was determined to get her through this with earnest support. It was his duty.
Still, when Dr. Mazzei told Delia to take a deep breath and push again, Ash braced himself. This time he willed his eyes to stay open and focus on her instead, realize that the pain she was experiencing must be ten times worse than his. His discomfort did not go unnoticed, though. As Delia howled and struggled through the grueling pushing, Jay took his attention off her long enough to see the discomfort Ash was displaying so obviously.
"Ash, son, you don't have to hold her hand if you don't want to," he said hurriedly. "If she's hurting you, let go. It's okay."
"No, it's all right," Ash assured, smiling. "I want to."
"But she's hurting you," Jay insisted worriedly. "Come on. Let go, let go."
Before Ash knew it, Delia released his hand and instantly gripped the railing of the bed. "No, Ash. No," she heaved, sounding like she had just completed a marathon. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize—I—I'm sorry. I don't...want to break your hand..."
"Mama," Ash almost begged, trying to take her hand again unsuccessfully. He couldn't believe she heard their dialogue through her labor. "It's okay. I wanna hold your hand."
"I wanna hold your haaaand," Dr. Mazzei began singing. "Right, Ash, don't worry, we gotcha covered. Broken bones: third floor."
Delia turned to Ash and gave him a shaky but gracious smile. "It's okay, sweetheart," she said. "I have enough to worry about right now than hurting you."
"But I don't care if you hurt me," Ash smiled pleadingly back.
"Well, I do," his mother managed a laugh. "Just be next to me, Ash, that's all I need. I know you're here. Okay? Just be here with me."
Ash wanted more. It was so difficult to see her suffer; experiencing the pain, if only a fraction of hers, made him feel better. It meant they were doing it together. Just standing beside her made him feel like an audience. He didn't want that. What made it any different than the births he had watched on TV?
But he didn't want to give his mom any extra worries, either. "Okay," he gave in quietly.
"Good boy," she whispered, shutting her eyes and taking a moment to relax before the next push.
Ash was still disappointed, and looked up at his father. He motioned to her hand with an unhappy frown, but Jay shook his head. Then with a smirk, he reached over to tousle his hair.
"What do you think, squirt?"
Ash gave a confused, lopsided smile. "About...?"
"What do you think Mommy's having?"
"If you know, don't tell me," Delia muttered, her eyes still closed.
Everyone laughed. Ash glanced at Dr. Mazzei, who held up his hands. "Don't look at me—I deliver 'em, but I can't predict 'em."
"Um..." Ash thought. "A baby?"
Jay chuckled. "Good answer, smart-mouth."
"Well, I for one hope that's what your mom's having," Dr. Mazzei snorted. "Speaking of which, darling, you ready to push again?"
"Oh, good! I knew she was ready!"
Begrudgingly, Delia moaned and sat up. Ash smiled at her courage.
"Ready?" asked Dr. Mazzei.
"...Yeah." She looked down at her round belly as she followed the doctor's instruction.
"Okay, breathe a little. Deep, deep breaths, in, out, in, out. Okay. One, two, three, deep breath, push!"
It was much different to see his mom push without feeling her clutch. Delia took a gulping, lung-full of air before giving it her all. The first endeavor took a few seconds, then she paused to exhale and go at it again. She whimpered with each successive strive, each individual pushing session growing shorter.
"That's it, keep pushing, keep pushing," Dr. Mazzei encouraged. His arms had completely disappeared under the sheet, but Ash heard no baby. All he could hear were Delia's cries. His head flew back and forth between his mother and Dr. Mazzei, watching the two roles work together.
"Very good, Delia, you're doing great. Keep breathing," Megan said, her eyes roaming down every few seconds to see if any progress was being made.
Delia's screams were becoming louder as she continued to push. It was getting harder. Ash had never heard anything like it coming from her before. It reminded him of the time she dropped a mug of hot tea in her lap, but even that compared only slightly to this.
"So, Ash, any names picked out for the little one?" Dr. Mazzei suddenly asked.
"Umm," he fumbled, drawing a momentarily blank. They had gone over dozens of names. His parents even had a few bickering matches over them, but they narrowed them down. The middle names weren't a problem from the beginning, though. Delia and Jay promised Ash he could choose the middle name himself (with their approval, of course), which he had no difficulty doing.
Trying the think over his mom's yells, he said, "Uh, if it's a boy, Riley. And if it's a girl, Colleen."
"Good names," Jaime said approvingly.
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "I really like them..." He trailed off sheepishly, feeling awkward talking through his mom's travail. He couldn't believe how Dr. Mazzei could even manage listening to him and dealing with the important task that lay in his hands at the same time. If anything, distracting the doctor right now was not a wise move.
Completely depleted of all energy, Delia gave up pushing and fell back. She was still in pain, and the ordeal had once again left her gasping for air.
"All right, another break, but not too long this time, okay?" Dr. Mazzei said. "You're doing a lot more than you think you are."
Delia nodded. "It...feels different," she said between pants. "Hurts different..."
Dr. Mazzei's eyes brightened agreeably. "That's because your baby's on its way down, Delia! A few more good pushes, and it'll be here, I mean it. What do you say? Push again? You're so close."
Though she didn't seem too thrilled with the suggestion, Delia shakily sat up again after a moment's interlude.
"Beautiful! We're gonna have a baby here in seconds! Good girl, that's what I like to see!"
She smiled weakly. "I want my baby."
Dr. Mazzei beamed. "I'm sure you do. And you will. We're gonna do that right now, okay? Ash, you make sure she doesn't give up. We'll be here all night long if she insists on more and more breaks."
"It's morning," Ash pointed out prankishly.
"Yeah, well for me, I feel like I've been up for a week. I have no idea if it's day or night right now," Dr. Mazzei waved it away jokingly. "So I might fall asleep during this thing, I don't know. Don't bother waking me, though; you seem to know a lot about this—you can finish up here, all right?"
"No problem!" Ash pledged.
"And what should I do?" Jay asked.
His eyes widening, Dr. Mazzei put a hand over his heart. "Oh man, I nearly forgot the daddy's here! Look at that, you're upstaging him, too!" he told Ash. "Sorry to tell you this, kid, but I don't know if anyone's gonna like you after tonight."
"Got that right!" Jay nodded, turning to Ash. "You little stinker." He winked at his boy, but Ash was all smiles. He knew his dad was playing around.
Dr. Mazzei then clapped his hands once. "Okay, we gotta get serious now! This baby's probably wondering just what's taking so long."
"It's been wondering for weeks now," Delia said. Her unborn child had been quite a kicker. Ash would sit forever with his hands placed over her stomach, thrilled each time he felt a kick. The baby couldn't be that impatient, though, Ash figured. After all, they were in the hospital now over a week later than Delia's due-date.
"You ready then?" Dr. Mazzei asked.
Ash nodded, then almost laughed at himself because of it. He knew the doctor had been speaking to his mother, but at the same time he felt it necessary to prepare himself as well. He couldn't believe it; he was going to witness childbirth live. The moment of meeting his sibling for the first time was approaching. And, he also realized, so was the most difficult part for Delia.
Quickly, Ash recited a short prayer for his mom in his mind. He prayed that she got through it easily, that it wasn't too unendurable, and, most importantly, that the baby was healthy. He was ready to ask for his own nerves to calm a bit, but decided that Delia needed the spiritual assistance more than anyone right now.
He threw a glance over at his dad, and discovered that Jay didn't look too relaxed, either. He was breaking into quite a sweat, and his expression behind his facemask dripped trepidation. The only person who seemed carefree about the whole thing was Dr. Mazzei, who very gently, very calmly, as if luring someone into hypnosis, bid Delia to push.
And push she did. At first, she was too occupied with the exertion that barely a sound passed through her lips. Ash was gripping the railing now, too, watching her with keen, worried eyes.
"Good! Beautiful, beautiful!" Dr. Mazzei exulted. "Keep it up, keep it up!"
Finally, the pain caught up to Delia, and she screamed at the top of her lungs. Ash flinched at the distressing sound, and couldn't believe that through it all, Delia kept pushing. She wasn't going to give up.
Man, Ash thought, gulping, I could never do this...
Meanwhile, Jay was bearing through it as best he could. He never let go of Delia's hand, which amazed Ash. With the way his mother was bellowing, he could just picture her deadly grip. But Jay didn't seem phased. Ash wondered if perhaps Jay couldn't even feel his hand anymore. As Delia pushed, he held her head gently from behind, whispering the breathing technique in the same tone Ash recalled from childhood lullabies.
"C'mon, Delia, give me a good, long push!" Dr. Mazzei requested. "You can do it! You're doing so great!"
With the vigorous encouragement, Delia obliged, her face the color of a ripe tomato. Another cry burst from her throat. Ash just about had tears in his eyes; he couldn't take hearing it anymore. It sounded like his mother was dying, as much as he wanted to put that thought strictly out of his mind. And all the while, he couldn't believe the optimistic, almost cheerful look on Dr. Mazzei's face. He must have done this dozens of times. Ash was awe-struck.
Suddenly, at the end of that excruciating push, the doctor's face illuminated even more. "There we have it! I see a head!" he announced excitedly.
The three Ketchums perked, Delia the most.
"R-r-really?" she choked.
"Yes! And it's a beautiful head, a beautiful head. Come on now, darling, you're there. Take deep breaths! One good push and you're done! The worst is almost over, come on now! One more push!"
The news seemed to stimulate Delia in way Ash saw as nothing less than extraordinary. His heart was racing; his adrenaline circulated his body dynamically. His head snapped back and forth like a wound rubber-band, unwilling to miss a thing. The declaration sent the entire room into motion. Megan and Jaime got increasingly prepared. In her hands, Megan gripped the cloth the baby would be accepted in.
Ash couldn't believe it. "This is it," he murmured out loud, though no one heard him over the commotion, including Ash himself. But despite the daze he was swept into unexpectedly, every action played before him crisp and clear.
Delia was ready for the hardest push. Through her discomfort, her determination shone through. And it was then that Ash noticed his father had not been lying earlier—she was happy. He had no idea how someone could manage to look so exhilarated through such pain, but his mom was proving it magnificently. It was such an odd thing to recognize and grasp, but nothing short of exceptional.
"Okay, now, push! Give me that push!" Dr. Mazzei cheered.
"Come on, Mom, push, push!" Ash joined in energetically.
With the biggest effort yet, Delia pushed. Her shriek was unlike any other, but as her face constricted, Dr. Mazzei's opened up. Ash held his breath, his body like jelly. Megan and Jaime's smiles grew tremendously. What was happening? Oh, why couldn't he see anything?
"There you go, there you go!" the doctor shouted above her. "Just another push! Just one more!"
Before Ash had a chance to even imagine what was going on, it was all over. Delia gave her last valiant push, and just as her scream ended, another took over. Dr. Mazzei's smile was radiant, and Megan was quickly at hand. An all-too-distinguished, shrill cry suddenly sliced the air, and the three professionals at the foot of the bed let out a whoop of joy.
"Look at this, look at this!" Dr. Mazzei bubbled gleefully, looking down towards the source of the bawling.
Ash froze completely, blinking a few times as he tried to take hold of what had just occurred. His parents had likewise become silent and still.
"Ten fingers, ten toes," the doctor noted perkily but slowly, drawing out the suspense ideally. "Very healthy vocal chords. You have an absolutely beautiful..." He smiled as he lifted the crying child into view. "...baby boy."
As soon as his eyes focused for the first time on the fidgety, pink baby hoisted for all to see, Ash gasped silently. Completely forgetting about his parents' reactions, he was unable to take his eyes off the child. The tiny, clutching fists; the eyes clenched shut with tears; the small mess of gooey, black hair atop his head; the umbilical cord still intact.
He had a brother. He was a brother.
"Congratulations, darling," Dr. Mazzei beamed at Delia. His words drew Ash's attention, and he instantly turned to his mother. She had once again fallen back against the pillows, thoroughly beat, breathing as if she herself was experiencing the joy of oxygen for the first time like her newborn child. Tears spilled from her swollen eyes.
"You did beautifully," the doctor added, and haggardly, Delia produced a smile.
Ash's gaze lingered momentarily on his mom. He wanted to say something to her, but realized he didn't know the words to use to express what he was feeling. Instead, he just observed. His eyes flooded with tears as Jay rested his head lovingly atop Delia's, his gesture of praise. Delia was too debilitated to respond, but the smile that Dr. Mazzei induced had remained.
"Daddy, would you like to officially bring your son into the world?" Dr. Mazzei asked Jay. Ash smiled as a blush tinted his father's cheeks.
"Sure," he said, shrugging his shoulders like a shy little boy. As he stepped forward to assist with the severing of the umbilical cord, however, his wit returned with one quote. "I'm a pro at this."
"Aren't we all!" Dr. Mazzei replied, giving Jay a hearty slap on the back. Ash was surprised when he then turned to him.
"And would the big brother like to help, too?"
Ash's eyes widened. "Really?"
"Ha! Betcha there's something they didn't teach ya in Lamaze!" the doctor roared with laughter.
Agreeing simply with a smile, Ash shuffled his way timidly towards the end of the bed where Megan was holding the baby in the soft towel. He was still crying, though not as violently as before. Ash's attention was transfixed on his new brother as if by magnetism; Dr. Mazzei clamping the cord and Jaime handing Jay the pair of surgical scissors were scenes only caught out of the corner of his eye.
"Here, Ash, put your hand on top of mine," Jay said gently. Ash finally looked up and smiled.
"Okay," he answered quietly, doing as he was told. Ash cringed as the scissors cut through the umbilical cord, but the slightly disturbing sight took nothing away from the happiness of the baby's initiation into life.
"There we go," sighed the doctor, taking the boy into his arms. Wrapping the cloth around him loosely, Dr. Mazzei turned to give Delia a fond smile.
"Riley, I presume?" he said as made his way to the side of the bed and gently stooped over to hand the crying baby to her.
Still leaking a few tears, Delia reached up to accept the bundle. "Yes," she answered speechlessly. Gazing down at her newborn for the first time, she snuggled him close to her chest, wiggling and fussing though he was. "Riley."
Restless to see his brother, Ash was on his toes as he made his way back to his mom's side. Jay was right along with him, and together, the two leaned over each of Delia's shoulders and peered down at Riley.
For a few moments, none of the three said a word as they watched the baby settle down. Delia simply held Riley in the crook of her arm and stroked his face with her finger, smoothing out his hair, tracing his chin, touching the tip of his nose. She was enthralled and overtaken with love. The soothing manner made Ash's eyes droop, and following her finger, he took in every new sight of his brother's face.
He's adorable, he thought, no better description coming to mind.
"Look at this little guy," Jay said quietly. Riley's last whimpers died down almost immediately upon Jay's touch. "Hey! He stopped crying."
"Because he knows his daddy," Delia mumbled affably. Her voice lowered even more as she spoke to the baby. "Do you know your daddy, Riley? My little Riley? Hmm?"
"Did you stop crying for Daddy?" Jay chuckled tenderly. "Huh, little guy?"
Riley now had two hands carefully fondling his face, making Ash itch to touch him himself. Touch him? Ash couldn't wait to hold him! He gripped the bed railing impatiently, wanting so badly to reach out and brush the side of Riley's face, too, but at the same time he found himself jittery with nervousness.
"And who's that over there?" Delia suddenly whispered, glancing up at Ash. Their eyes met, and Ash felt his sting with oncoming tears. Why couldn't he stop this urge to cry?
"That's your brother," Delia went on, looking back down at Riley. "Do you see Ash? You see your brother?"
She could see Ash was hesitant. "Go on, honey," she permitted.
Blushing, Ash very slowly extended his hand down to the baby. At first, he rubbed Riley's hand and arm, then inched his way to his face. Aside from some oily residue, Riley's skin was soft as silk, perfect.
"Hi, Riley," he whispered. The baby continued to twitch, but Ash knew it wasn't from his handling. He was sure the baby was more aroused by the cool air of the room and the new feel of the cloth enclosing his body rather than his warm and slightly sweaty fingers.
"What do you think of Riley, Ash?" Jay asked.
Ash tilted his head, letting his dad's question roam his head momentarily as he gazed at his brother. "I love him." Riley let out a tiny moan, a content one, and Ash giggled silently.
Delia's smile was now as lively as it could be, given her condition, and she kissed Riley's forehead benevolently. "I love him, too. I love both my babies."
With the sentimentality of the statement, Ash, entranced with emotion, rested his head on her shoulder. As he cuddled against the moist warmth of her neck and took in her clammy but pleasant scent, he continued to pet Riley.
"Awww, isn't it sweet," Dr. Mazzei said from the end of the bed. "I can never get over seeing this."
Ash glanced up at him and smiled.
"So what do you think?" the doctor inquired Ash. "Has seeing this all tonight made you think about becoming a doctor? I tell ya, you get a lot out of life helping babies get born everyday. It's more rewarding than I can say."
Bashfully, Ash shrugged. "I don't know. I still want to train pokémon."
"Ugh!" Dr. Mazzei groaned, shaking his head. "I knew the umbilical cord would be too much!"
"No, it wasn't that!" Ash insisted with a laugh. "Besides, I don't think I'm smart enough."
"Oh, give me a break! I almost flunked out of the third grade! And Jaime here—I don't think she even went to high school."
"Dr. Mazzei!" Jaime cried, shoving him with a laugh.
Riley made another babbling sound before he began to squirm again. Delia eased him with a gentle hushing sound, but as wonderful as it was to watch, Ash was also saddened. He knew he couldn't stay there and watch this forever. Before long his mom and brother would have to get taken care of and Ash would have to leave. It wasn't something he was looking forward to at all. Snuggling closer to Delia, he didn't want to leave her side, ever. It pained him to imagine being sent back out into the waiting room, or even allowing Jay to take him home while his mom recuperated in the hospital.
Unfortunately, that time came quicker than he thought.
"Okay, looks like we're gonna have to get this little one all cleaned up and weighed in," Dr. Mazzei said with a sigh. "Can you part with him for just a little while, darling?"
"I suppose I'll have to," Delia smiled sadly.
As Megan delicately took Riley from Delia, Ash stepped back and watched quietly. His mother's exhaustion seemed to return as soon as the baby was out of her arms, and Ash felt bad for her again. He knew that underneath all the joy and relief, she still was feeling poorly, and that she needed to recover. He wasn't ignorant about the effects of the afterbirth, either.
Megan carried the crying baby to the expecting bassinet, and Jay strolled around the side of the bed to Ash. The two grinned at each other before connecting in a hug.
"Did ya have fun?" Jay whispered to his son.
"Yup," Ash whispered back, getting his head rubbed vigorously.
"We gotta let Mom rest now. She's had a very busy day."
"We'll go home soon, all right?"
Ash looked up. "There's no rush," he replied, causing Jay's eyes to widen in surprise.
"Okay. Whatever you say, kiddo," he replied, bending over to kiss the top of his head.
The release from the hug meant Ash had one more good-bye to make. How he didn't want to make it, though. Delia was awaiting him, and with a huge smile, Ash swept his arms around her neck.
"I'll see you soon, sweetie," she told him fervently. "I love you."
"Love you, too, Mom. Thanks for letting me be here." Giving her a kiss on the cheek, Ash stood up and slowly shuffled away from her bed. "You get your rest now."
"Yes, sir," Delia saluted.
"Ash," Dr. Mazzei came forward, his hand extended. "It was a pleasure meeting you."
"Same here," Ash beamed, shaking his hand.
"We sure had a good time, didn't we?"
"It was a blast!"
Taking a deep breath, Dr. Mazzei continued earnestly. "You got to see something very special today. Don't ever forget it."
"I won't," Ash promised. It was one of the easiest promises he had ever made.
"All right. Good luck with your pokémon journey, son. I'll be looking for you on TV. Maybe someday I'll even see your brother on TV, too."
"Oh, he'll teach him everything he knows," Jay assured, patting Ash on the head.
Ash laughed. "You bet!"
"Heh! You're a cool kid, Ash," Dr. Mazzei winked. "Take care."
"I will! You, too."
As the doctor strode over to see how Delia was faring, Jay escorted Ash to the door. "I'll see you in a little bit," he said, squeezing his shoulder. "Go tell Misty and Brock the good news."
Misty and Brock! Ash couldn't believe that in that whole time he hadn't thought of his friends once. Now that Jay mentioned it, Ash couldn't positively delay another second in seeing them. Wait till they heard about Riley! Especially Misty. Ash knew she would have jumped at the chance to be in the delivery room right beside him. She was just as crazy about Delia's pregnancy as he was.
"I'll go tell them right now!" Ash cried excitedly, energy zapping to his feet. He felt like catapulting out of the room and recklessly racing down the halls, whooping and shouting out the joyous news. Of course, he wouldn't do that, but it would take everything he had to keep himself from doing it.
Glancing around his father once more, Ash hollered out a good-bye to his mother and everyone else in the room, then hastily made his way through the bustling hall. Remarkable for a kid with only two hours of sleep keeping him going. The people and objects he almost rammed into were innumerable, but no one and nothing would stop him or force him off course for even a second. It was amazing that, even after all the events of the last hour, there were still new things to look forward to.
What was even more amazing was that, in the scheme of things, Ash still hadn't forgotten about his empty stomach, and the bagel his friends had hopefully not eaten on him.
A couple of hours later, with the tempo of the ward beginning to pick up, Ash, Misty, and Brock stood outside the nursery, gazing in fondly at the sea of babies behind the glass. It was such an array of activity; but as each baby was doing his or her own thing, whether it be crying demandingly or sleeping through the commotion with hardly a twitch, the kids were engrossed solely with the lone baby boy surrounded on all sides by bassinets of those outfitted in pink, his large, glassy eyes roaming curiously and calmly amid the persistent fuss. Swaddled in a blue blanket and donning the most adorable bed-cap of the same color, Riley seemed perfectly content, innocently unaware of his rapt audience.
Misty squeezed her boyfriend's arm, her eyes glistening. "Ash, he's so cute," she whispered, her voice tottering emotionally. "Look at him."
"I know. He is," Ash replied softly. He didn't need to be told to look more closely as his brother—he hadn't been able to take his eyes off him since they had arrived at the nursery. A smile had not left his face since the delivery, either, and now it was broad as ever. Ash still couldn't come to grips that the baby before him was actually his brother, the little person whose arrival had been like a dream.
Misty chuckled. "He looks just like you."
"Yeah, a real little me," Ash grinned.
"Heh, another Ash Ketchum wreaking havoc in Pallet Town," Brock joked casually. "What will those poor people do."
"Hey, I gotta keep the spirit alive," said Ash, making Misty laugh. "I don't know what Pallet would be without me running amok all over the place."
"Your mom's gonna have her hands so full," Misty snorted.
Ash giggled. "Yeah, if he's anything like me, she's got her work cut out for her."
"Well, I'm sure he'll be totally like you," she said. "But...that's not a bad thing," she added matter-of-factly, giving him a nudge. He nudged back, quickly taking his eyes off Riley to send her a smirk.
"Nah," Brock wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "With me as his namesake, I'm sure he'll want to be like me in every way. Look at that, already surrounded by the girls! Way to go, buddy!" he exulted, pumping his fists halfway into the air.
Groaning, Misty rolled her eyes. "You just had to go and curse him like that, didn't you?" she chided Ash.
"Sorry, Misty. But he came out a boy," Ash shrugged sheepishly, even though he was knew she was joking. "That was the deal."
"Well, yeah, I suppose he wouldn't get far in life with the name Riley Misty," Misty cringed. "But the poor kid's gonna have the hardest time getting a date."
"Hey!" Brock cried.
"Oh, shut up," Misty dismissed him. Her brief Brock-teasing was quickly replaced with a colossal smile as she focused her attention back on Riley.
"Hi, Riley!" she cooed to the oblivious, wiggling baby, waving her fingers gently. "Hi, cutie! Over here! I love you! Rileyyyyy!"
"Geez, Misty, you and the Ketchum men," Brock gagged. "I'm surprised you're not breaking into the place and smothering the baby with kisses."
"I wish I could!" Misty squealed giddily, hopping up and down. "He's so cute, I can't wait to hold him in my arms and cuddle him and hug him and squeeze him!"
The two boys found it hard not to laugh at her elation.
"Well," Brock sighed, "if he's that desirable in his first hours of life, I don't think he'll have any problem finding someone in the future."
"I can't believe this," Ash threw his hands up. "We're already talking about his love life?"
"Leave it to Brock for that," Misty huffed humorously.
Inside, Riley yawned widely, kicking happily.
"Actually," Ash let out a small laugh, "I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up with someone who looked like you, Misty."
Misty giggled and shook her head. "Could you imagine?"
"Better yet, Misty, go tell your parents to have another girl," bantered Ash.
This time, Misty's huff was for real. "Please! They're already fed up with the four they have."
"That would be really cute, though," Brock considered. "'Course...if your mom went and had a boy, that'd be...kinda unsuccessful."
"Uh, yeah," Misty agreed. Looking in at the sleepy baby behind the glass, she wrinkled her nose.
"I dunno. Maybe Lily'd like Riley," she kid. "She has a thing for younger men."
Brock perked up. "Does she have a thing for me?"
"I didn't say she was desperate."
"Oh." Brock sagged his shoulders in disappointment—which, after his experience with letdowns, couldn't be distinguished as sincere or not anymore.
Misty chuckled at his expression. "Aww, I'm just kidding you, Brock," she said, hugging his arm and resting her head on his shoulder affectionately. He didn't seem much bothered after that.
"I just can't wait to see him without this glass between us," Misty moaned a bit sadly, tapping the hard window.
"Don't worry, Misty, you'll get to see Riley soon," Ash told her.
"Yeah, they can't keep him from us forever," Brock added.
"Oh Ash, what was he like when you first saw him?" Misty asked, turning to Ash with sanguine eyes. "Was he soft and warm, and did he smell really nice and was he cooing and everything?"
"Actually, he was kinda slimy and didn't smell too good, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs," he recalled. He had to smile at that; he wasn't going to forget the way Riley looked at birth for the rest of his life.
"Oh," Misty scowled.
"Duh, Misty, what did you expect?" Brock laughed.
Misty blushed. "I dunno," she smiled, shrugging. "I guess I'm too used to babies looking the way Riley does now. Look at him! He's so little, and soooooo adorable!" Her voice drifted off at the end as she pressed her hands and face against the glass like a car-window decoration.
The three took the second to gaze at Riley quietly. Ash breathed relishingly, the scenes of the delivery replaying in his mind as he watched his brother yawn. The only thing as remarkable as the birth itself was the exertion Delia had performed so bravely for it to occur. Ash swore he would never be able to look at his mother ever again without seeing the will, devotion, sacrifice, and fabulous endurance she possessed.
The baby's eyes were beginning to look heavy; he would definitely be asleep soon. His nodding off seemed to be hypnotizing the kids additionally, or perhaps it was his delicate charm alone that was doing the job.
"Ash," Misty uttered, barely above a whisper but deeply fervent. Her hand descended to link with his. "What was it like to see that?"
Ash's eyes never left Riley. "It was...the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
"Really? More amazing than some of the things we've seen on our journey?" Misty asked inaudibly.
Pausing for a moment thoughtfully, Ash smiled and rubbed her hand with his thumb lovingly. "More amazing than anything."
"Wow," Misty breathed after an insightful pause.
"I know what you mean, Ash," Brock said. "Been there, done that, too." Ash and Misty spun to face him, intrigued.
"Really?" Misty marveled. "You saw your mom give birth, too?"
"Sure have," Brock replied. "As a matter of fact...I saw her give birth in my living room."
The kids' jaws dropped incredulously.
"Brock, get outta town!" Misty exclaimed, grinning. "Your mom had a home-birth?"
"Well...not an intentional one," he responded humbly. By now he fully had Ash and Misty's undivided attention.
"What?" they cried at once.
Brock chuckled. "Yeah. My mom had my brother Keagan when they were walking out the door for the hospital. I remember that night like it was yesterday. One minute we were rushing around like crazy to get Mom ready, and the next minute...there he was."
He had to stop for a second to guffaw as Ash and Misty's expressions were just too priceless. Their eyes were as large and round as a venonat's, and their mouths matched the shape perfectly as well.
"A-a-and how long was your mom in labor?" Misty stammered.
Brock shrugged. "I dunno. Two hours, maybe?"
"Two hours!? How in the world did that happen?" Misty squeaked, Ash nodding as if to ask the same question.
"Well, time of labor gets shorter with each kid. Keagan was number eight. By that time, I guess...Mom's body was...a little more prepared?"
"Oh my God," Misty shook her head in astonishment.
"Brock, your mom had way too many kids," Ash snickered.
Brock rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it. I can really remember it; Mom just stopped in the doorway and said, 'I'm having the baby.' Keagan was there within—I'm not kidding—five minutes. My dad almost passed out."
"I can imagine." Misty turned her wide eyes back on Riley.
"It was really something to see, though," Brock mused. "Mom had no difficulty. She barely even had to push. I remember that."
"So what about nine and ten?" Ash wanted to know.
"The twins? Planned delivery—C-section. I didn't watch that."
"Okay, thank you!" Misty held her hands up, arresting the conversation. "Enough with...babies coming out of bodies. I just wanna stand here and watch Riley now, please."
Ash and Brock laughed, and did just that. Riley was still awake, and suddenly Ash caught sight of Megan in the nursery. The two's eyes met, and Ash waved happily at the nurse. Returning the gesture, and very pleasantly surprised to see the spectators, Megan quickly strode over to Riley and lifted the baby carefully out of the bassinet.
"Oh my God, is she bringing Riley over!?" Misty squealed, practically yanking Ash's arm out of its socket with excitement.
"Forget about that," Brock bubbled, a blush streaking across his nose. "Just as long as she's coming over!"
"Stay away, Brock," Ash admonished. "I think she's married."
Brock slumped. "Hmph. Not surprised."
His blush, however, was not going anywhere fast, especially when Megan brought Riley right up to the glass. Nevertheless, his eyes fell directly on the baby, who was now more alert and inquisitive from being taken from his bed. Ash felt Misty grip his hand tighter once again, and he responded with the same as he took another good look at his brother.
"Hi, Riley," Ash and Misty said in unison, then laughed in spite of themselves. The three waved lightly at the baby, whom Megan was propping up for them at eye-level. Riley's eyes transfixed on the trio, engaged and interested, but it was still evident that he was tired. Only a few moments later, the infant's tranquil face twisted, and he began to cry. Ash, Misty, and Brock winced as Megan did the same, but the nurse smiled as she began to rock Riley in her arms.
Ash laughed, partly out of the awkwardness of the baby's discontent. "Oops! Guess Riley got a good look at your face, huh, Misty?" he jabbed her lightly.
"Excuse me!?" Misty exclaimed, turning on Ash. "What's that supposed to mean? And how do you know it was my face he saw, huh? Maybe he got a good look at his dopey brother's! Didja ever think of that?"
She got right into his face with the rebuttal, which Ash slunk away from, overtaken by hysterics. Misty was drawn into laughter as well.
"Guys, guys, shush!" Brock ordered in a whisper, his finger at his lips. "We're in a hospital."
"Yeah, well, I was quiet until Ash started cracking stupid jokes!" Misty replied.
Ash's eyes widened. "Who said that was a joke?"
Misty responded by giving him a forceful shove. After staggering, Ash laughed some more, then gave her a hug, which Misty didn't exactly fight to break free of.
"I'll remember that," she grumbled nonetheless.
"I know," Ash sighed, squeezing her close.
Megan bounced the cranky Riley in her arms until he settled down. She threw a glance at the kids and mouthed: "Tired." They all nodded, and the nurse continued to jiggle the baby some more before placing him in his crib.
Misty watched this all with moist eyes; there was just something about a newborn baby that made her feel a certain way. Not many people close to her family had had babies recently. It was new and special. And as it were, there was something about Riley in particular, and seeing Ash's priceless reactions towards him, that made her mind wander, made her look beyond where she was at this time. She couldn't help seeing the display of affection from one to the other, not to mention the sheer resemblance of Ash in Riley, and ponder when she would find herself in this situation again, only in a role much different.
"Hey, Ash," she said softly, resting her head against his.
"Being here and looking at Riley...it gets me excited. We're gonna do this someday—have a baby. Right?"
Ash's eyes roamed over, and he smiled, albeit a tad coyly. "Yeah. Someday."
"We got a lot of years to go," she said a bit longingly. "Kinda wish it was sooner," she added with a small laugh.
Ash gave her a silly cringe, but deep down he felt the same way. Well, almost. Even though he couldn't deny how he felt about her and how great it was to witness the miracle of birth, the subject still sent a sensitive tingle though his body.
"At least..." Misty looked to the ceiling as she calculated, "seven years."
His eyebrows raised, Ash nodded. "Seven years," he echoed. Seven whole years: it seemed like an eternity. So much could happen in that time, but he never doubted their future.
"What are you guys talking about?" Brock suddenly said, giving them an odd face. "You could do that now if you wanted to."
He tried all he could to hold back his smile and laughter as Ash and Misty faced him, their jaws dropped incredulously.
"You know, biologically speaking..." he continued purposely.
"Oh my God, Brock, you are so disgusting!" Misty screeched, lashing out and giving him a sharp smack on the shoulder. Brock yelped, then let his laughter loose as he tried to shield the following blows from Misty's fist.
"I can't believe you said that, that was so awful!" she yelled, though with a smile of disbelief, each word punctuated by another punch to his arm. "You are the sickest person on earth, I can't believe it! You are so gross! Eww, eww, ewww!"
"Oww! Geez, Misty, calm down! I'm just telling the truth!" Brock guffawed, now taken to running around the hall to maneuver out of her striking range. She just chased after him while Ash doubled over in hysterics.
"I don't care if it's the truth! Keep it to yourself, you pig!" Misty was laughing now, too, and finally relented from pounding Brock. Heaving from the ruckus, she returned to her spot beside Ash.
"You know, Misty, it kinda defeats the purpose to beat up Brock in a hospital," Ash noted.
"I'll beat 'im up anywhere! You think I care?" Misty replied. "Especially when he shares his filthy thoughts with the rest of us."
"What filthy thoughts?" Brock asked innocently, returning. "And what do you mean, sharing? I'm sure Ash was thinking the same thing."
Ash's eyes widened, and Misty cocked her head proudly. "Ash doesn't think those things."
Brock huffed. "That's what you think," he mumbled under his breath.
"Oh, really?" Misty sang impudently. "Well, let's see what Ash says."
As the attention was suddenly on him (and requiring an response that would humiliate him in front of either Misty or Brock, depending on the answer), Ash quickly grinned and turned back towards the nursery window. "Ohhhh, look at Riley! Isn't he cute?"
His diversion worked. The subject was instantly dropped. The thought lingered on in Ash's head, however. Brock wasn't entirely inaccurate in his assumption. Although the particular topic at hand still made him squirm, experiencing what he had that night opened Ash's mind in a way he never thought imaginable. Suddenly, the possibilities of his relationship with Misty became clearer, more real. Someday, it would be more than just going to the movies, holding hands, delighting in a kiss like it was the ultimate extreme. As the years went on, his connection with Misty would change. It would involve new things. Ash knew he wasn't ready for these things yet, but he would be someday. It frightened him a bit, but it also amazed him. Perhaps the next baby he would be looking in on would be his own.
Suddenly feeling confident, he took Misty's hand and whispered in her ear, "So, what do you think we'll name our baby someday?"
A capricious smile spreading her lips, Misty leaned in to whisper back, "If it's a boy? Ashton Jacey Ketchum, Jr."
Ash grimaced. "Ugh, please no."
"Annnnd if it's a girl," Misty continued, still in a whisper, "...Pearl."
Narrowing his eyes, Ash sighed. "I guess waiting those seven years isn't going to be that hard. At least we'll have time to think up some real names."
Misty gave him a look, then let it be and planted a kiss on his cheek. Ash blushed slightly, took a deep breath, then whispered, "I kinda wish it were sooner, though, too."
Seeing her smile curve tenderly, as well as the lingering delightful sensation of her warm lips on his cheek, had him hungering for just a little more. Misty seemed to have the same desire as they both tilted their heads and connected for another kiss. This one was certainly more than a one-second peck.
"Oh no, not again," Brock groaned.
Inside, Riley's eyes drifted peacefully shut, and the tiny baby fell fast asleep.
Oh my God, I can't believe this is it. I'm writing the final author's notes for Blue Heaven…
First off, I again apologize for the long wait, but you can probably understand that this was a difficult chapter for me to write. Not just with the delivery procedures, but with the intricate emotions as well. Please, if I screwed up in any way about the going-ons in a delivery room, or if I was off in describing the childbirth itself, don't hold it against me. I've never been blessed with the chance to witness such a remarkable event like Ash was. ^^ I researched it and tried to make it as realistic as possible, to the best of my ability. But I'm sure not all of what I wrote was entirely correct. If you want to point something out, I can't change the story, but it's nice to learn something new everyday! ^_^
Secondly, I do hope that you, my readers, enjoyed this fic as much as I enjoyed writing it. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of anxiety, but it was also a lot of fun. Thank you all for everything; your comments mean the world to me, and your support was greatly appreciated. There was a time and a place when I didn't think I was going to continue with this story, but it was because of you that I did. And I owe many of you for that.
Millions of thanks to my most recent reviewers, in no particular order: Dragoness, Llyxius, Marlex, E2K, Car, cultnirvana, mozey-chan, Violet Emeralds, Ari Rockefeller, innominate, Uriel Martin, Deja Know I Been Lookin For Vu, Ilex the Elder, Mr. Pokemaster, Kurokii, Dancergal06, Silent Sigh, Shadow Fox, LittLetriXta, and many, many wonderful others! If you didn't make this list, that doesn't mean I forgot about you! ^_^ Many thanks to my past reviewers, too! Also thank-you shout-outs to Latonya Wright, Pokeshipper25, Mony, Kasumi Yawa, and Mitsu—I know you're reading! I love you guys so much! ~_^ Thanks to all my readers—I know there are many of you out there! You are all the best.
It was also difficult to write this because, being the final chapter of my trilogy, ending it was tremendously bittersweet. There won't be a sequel to this, or at least one as lengthy, but I'm not entirely willing to let go of Jay yet. LOL I may at some point in time write some Stars Fell on Pallet Town one-shots or short-stories. I'm also opening the floor to ideas and requests. If you want to see something happen in this universe, whether it be for Ash and Misty, Delia and Jay, Brock, or even little Riley, review or email me. I'm also eager to write a story that takes place even before the events of SFOPT. But I need to get my brain inspired and working again! ^_^
Once again, I can't stop thanking you guys for everything. I'm going to miss this story, I really am. It's my baby. ^_^ See all of you later, in some shape or form…
And keep loving our little boy! ^O^