August 5, 2013

Desmond was awoken by a loud cry. Is that a baby? He sat upright and turned his head to find the source of the noise. As his drowsy gaze fell upon the wailing occupant of the crib behind him, memories soon fell into place like a time-lapse jigsaw puzzle composed of all the events since that medical exam in January.

The results came back really weird ... You're saying he's pregnant? ... It'll be due in July ... Who's the father supposed to be? ... The fetus is human, male, no abnormalities ... Yo, Uterus Dude! ... Who's a widdle Apple-baby? ... Hermaphroditic aberration! ... the offspring of Subjects Sixteen and Seventeen ... Juno the fertility goddess ... We're a family of born Assassins ... You're making a new life! ... Time of birth: oh-four-forty.

Not just a baby! He bolted out of bed. My baby. Hoooly shit. It still boggled his mind, though part of him knew that, logically speaking, it really shouldn't, since he'd had seven months to get used to the idea. Yeah, as if any man could just "get used to" a baby growing inside their guts due to some wack-ass prehistoric ball of technology.

He poked at the screaming newborn, unsure of what to do. Geez, I read a fuckton about pregnancy, but I didn't read much of anything about dealing with kids once they're born. "What's wrong, kiddo?" Desmond said hoarsely. "You, uh, hungry or something?" He carefully picked him up and shuffled to the kitchen. The baby quieted during their brief trip, but when offered the bottle, he started to cry again.

"Not hungry. Okay. Uh. Hope it's not..." Desmond checked. It was. He sighed. Well, I knew this was coming sooner or later. He shuffled back to his, no, their bedroom, removed the small pajamas and clumsily began the awkward diaper-changing process. Ew, it's all sticky. I'd probably cry too, if this grossness was in my underwear and I couldn't do anything about it.

"Okie doke, kiddo, you're changed," Desmond finally proclaimed, holding him up. "Or I guess I should say 'Okie doke, Andrew' since I did eventually pick a name. You all good now?" Round blue eyes stared blankly in response. Desmond laughed. "Geez, I did it again, huh? Talked to you like you can understand. Well, you're not crying anymore, so I guess that's as good an answer as anything." He yawned and then looked at the clock. Only eight-thirty? "Let's get back to sleep then." He drew Andrew close in a gentle hug, rocking back and forth to soothe him the same way he'd done earlier. "Now, normally I try to be an early bird, but you kept me up all night being born, so I gotta catch up on my sleep."

Desmond felt the tiny rapid thumping of Andrew's heart against his chest, and something Rebecca had said earlier echoed in his memory: "Four out of five doctors don't recommend parachuting off a freakin' skyscraper while pregnant!" The implication of these words hadn't hit him before, but it sure as hell was hitting him now. He tried desperately to quash the sad and sickening thought that this baby could have died inside him. That this life could have ended before anyone even knew it had begun.

But isn't that what you wanted? a voice taunted from inside his head. You didn't want to be pregnant. You wanted the parasite gone.

"Fuck off," Desmond murmured in response. "Maybe I did want that before. But now I don't want to have wanted that. He's not a parasite. He's a kid." He closed his eyes and dropped his voice to less than a whisper. "And not only that... he's my kid."

"Desmond?" He looked up to see his father in the doorway. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Just had to change him, and now I'm tryna get him back to sleep."

"Who were you talking to?"

"Andrew, who else?"

"Forgive my skepticism, but I doubt you were telling a four-hour-old baby to 'fuck off'."

"Oh. That. Heh. That part I was talking to myself."

"Come on, Desmond, be honest with me," William said, dubious and concerned. "If you're still experiencing hallucina-"

"I'm not, geez!" Desmond interjected. "It wasn't any Bleeding Effect, I'm just..."

"Just... what?"

"I'm just... a little emotionally mixed-up, y'know. 'Cause of this guy." Desmond indicated the gurgling boy in his arms. "It's just like Shaun said. Things are gonna be weird."

A small smile appeared on William's face. "Yes, I suppose that's true."

The two men fell silent for a couple minutes. Desmond continued to rock Andrew until his breathing became quiet and steady, then set him gingerly back in the crib.

"I'm making pancakes for breakfast," William said softly, fearful of waking his grandson. "Would you like some?"

"Yeah," Desmond said, keeping his voice low as well. "But, uh... can you bring my plate in here? I kinda don't wanna leave him."

When William returned with the pancakes, he found Desmond poring over Your Baby & Child. "Thanks, Dad," he said upon seeing the short stack. "Looks delish."

"Are you finding that book helpful?"

"Actually, yeah." Desmond set it on the bed face-down, open at the page he'd been reading to keep his place, and started on his meal. "It actually says it's okay to have mixed feelings about the kid at first... it's okay to, uh, not love him." He paused to take a bite, chew, and swallow. "So, y'know, if someone who got pregnant the normal way, who wanted to have a kid, can feel ambivalent, and that's okay, then, y'know... for me, it's..." He trailed off.

William got the message and nodded. "I can certainly understand that. Andrew was essentially forced on you. None of us will fault you for not feeling attached to him."

Desmond shook his head, chuckling softly. "No, I feel attached all right. I mean, he was inside me forever, and he's got my genes and stuff. How could I not feel attached? It's just... It's not love, y'know?"

"Yes, I know. You're handling the situation incredibly well. I'm..." He sat down on the bed and squeezed Desmond's shoulder fondly. "I'm glad you got through it."

"Got through what? His birth?" He chuckled again. "What happened to 'You'll be fine, Desmond, you're strong, Desmond, I know you can do this, Desmond'?"

"Well, that's... You were in pain. And you were frightened. I was trying to reassure you."

"But really you weren't sure I'd survive?" Desmond didn't know how he felt about this.

"I was a little worried," William admitted, scratching at his beard. "More than a little, actually. There are so many things that can go wrong in childbirth, even without the complicating factor of the mother being male."

"Don't call me a mother," Desmond said sharply.

"I wasn't- You know what I meant."

"Yeah, I guess," Desmond sighed. "Well, thanks for hiding your worries away while I was freaking out in labor. Wouldn't have helped me back then to know you also thought I'd maybe die." He pushed his last piece of pancake around to soak up the remaining syrup, then popped it into his mouth. "And, on a lighter note, thanks for bringing me breakfast in bed. And you can tell the Missouri Assassins thanks for that book." He gestured to Your Baby & Child.

William took the empty plate and fork. "Do you need anything else?"

"Just need some serious shut-eye." Desmond lay back down, adjusting his pillow and trying to relax despite the weird aches still lingering in his body.

"Go ahead, then. You've earned it."

"Hope Andrew stays asleep more than a few hours this time," Desmond mumbled, then yawned deeply.

"That's all we can do: hope," William said. "You didn't regularly sleep through the night until you were nearly a year old. Andrew might well take after you in that respect. Or he might not. The sleep patterns of babies are unpredictable."

There was no response, for the new father was already out like a light.