Author's Note: This is the end! These are the scenes I set out to write. I don't know how I found myself on Angst Road but that's how things go sometimes. Thanks for reading!
Jellal glanced over his itinerary for the third time since the plane touched down. His leg bounced, his fingers twitched, and he thought if he didn't get to move soon, he'd explode. At what felt like a snail's pace, the plane inched toward the terminal. The fact that they'd been allowed to land at all was a miracle. As soon as the plane closed in on the airport, the storm picked up again – as if it had granted a respite only for Jellal.
Eileen's email had come through as he was still packing his belongings. Her words were brief but Jellal understood the aloof tone to be watered down panic. Erza was in labor earlier than expected and he needed to get home immediately. He had no time or inclination to appreciate the luck of snagging the last seat open on the last plane flying out for hours. All Jellal cared about was getting home.
The pilot's voice crackled over the loud speaker. "Just a few more minutes, folks. The wind is rough and the jetway is taking a moment to connect."
Outside his window, the sky was dark and the tarmac looked like a bottomless, black pool. It suited his mood. Jellal sighed again and tried to keep himself calm. He still needed to collect his baggage and there would be no rushing the process. When his phone suddenly began to vibrate, he jumped and the woman beside him glared. His anxiety had been spilling over since take off and her annoyance could no longer be contained by politeness. He apologized awkwardly and fished the phone from his pocket. Two text messages from Eileen were waiting and one appeared to be several hours old. The most recent contained the hospital address along with Erza's room number, and the other said, By the time you get this, you'll be a dad! Erza is resting. He tried not to be disappointed she hadn't sent a picture.
By the time he stepped off the crowded plane, and replied to Eileen, Jellal was so antsy he considered not collecting his rucksack at all. All the things that stood between him and his family felt like unnecessary obstacles. His luck persisted, though, and his bag made its way around the carousel in record time. Empty cabs lined the passenger pickup lane and even though Jellal picked the closest one to the covered walkway, he still ended up wet. The cab driver took the hospital address and, to his relief, didn't press for conversation – Jellal tipped heavily for the clever use of city street short cuts and lack of small talk.
The hospital was brightly lit and Jellal stood out horribly in his drenched uniform and enormous green rucksack. He felt overwhelmed by the stream of people who all knew exactly where they were going and what they should be doing.
"Excuse me," a female voice beside him said quietly. "Are you Captain Fernandes?"
"Uh," Jellal spun to his right to find a nurse smiling up at him. "Yes, that's me."
"I thought it might be. This is a military town but you look fresh off an airplane. Your wife had an exciting night!"
"She did?" He still felt out of his element and confused. "I mean, she did. Yes."
The nurse laughed lightly. "Your mother in law said you'd be pulling up soon. I guess she was right."
"Yeah, well," he muttered, running a hand through his wet hair. "She's creepily intuitive." "Between her and Doctor Porlyusica, there wasn't a single dull moment in the maternity ward. Come with me and I'll show you to your wife's room. The hearing screenings should be about done now." She turned and began to lead him down a series of hallways.
"I'm sorry, a what screening?"
"Hearing screenings. All newborns get them and usually it only takes a minute or two. Yours are absolutely darling, Captain Fernandes. My shift is ending in a few minutes so I checked on everyone just before coming down to meet you."
Jellal nodded but he couldn't quite process everything she said. He just wanted to get to Erza and see for himself that everything went okay. The nurse pointed to a room at the end of the hallway and apologized for not taking him all the way – not that he could possibly get lost. Jellal would recognize Eileen's hair anywhere. The shade was slightly darker than Erza's but still a brilliant scarlet. She smirked when she spotted him and brushed her fringe of bangs aside.
"Well," Eileen said reaching for his bag – and took it with a strength he didn't have the energy to be surprised at. "You made it."
"Is Erza in there?" he asked anxiously, already looking past Eileen to the slightly open door.
"She is..." Eileen cleared her throat and edged between him and the door. "Jellal," she said firmly. His eyes snapped down to her and his head tilted to the side questioningly. Whatever resolve he saw there, fell away. Eileen just shook her head and smiled again. "Come on."
Eileen pushed open the door and slung his rucksack onto an empty chair. Jellal's heart thudded violently against his chest as he entered the room. The lights had been dimmed and everything was trimmed in baby animals. Erza's hair spilled over her pillow and her eyes were closed in sleep. A wheeled bassinet was parked beside her bed and when he peered inside, his heart stuttered.
And blinked again.
Jellal spun around and found Eileen watching him from beside the chair. Her hands were clasped in front of her and she smiled in an almost sad way.
"There's two," he whispered.
"Yes, there's two."
Jellal turned back to the bassinet and, with a shaking hand, touched the perfectly swaddled baby buns. One had a fuzzy pink and yellow hat, and the other blue and green. The one in pink and yellow opened her mouth in a wide yawn before turning her tiny face toward the one in blue. Jellal glanced over at Erza, who still slept.
"She had a hard time," Eileen said quietly behind him. "Her labor started only hours after the cervical suture came out. The babies are on formula for now. Erza needs to sleep."
"I don't understand," he breathed. "There's two."
"She should've told you but she was afraid." Eileen joined him at the bedside and gently brushed her fingers through Erza's hair.
"Is she going to be okay? Is – is everyone okay?"
Eileen smiled up at him. "They're all okay. Just tired. Do you want to hold them?"
"Me?" Jellal blinked again in confusion.
"Yes you, you silly man. Have a seat."
Jellal shrugged off his uniform jacket and fell into the chair closest to Erza. Eileen brought him the blue and green bundle first. She repositioned his arms and placed the second baby on the opposite side.
"They're so tiny," he whispered. "Why are they so small?"
"Twins are small sometimes, and she delivered three weeks early. They're not in the NICU, though, so that's good." He felt her eyes on him as he stared down at the babies but he could not look away.
"I can't believe there's two," he muttered. "It's almost like –"
"Like the universe is a circle?" Eileen offered. Jellal finally met her eyes and smiled.
"Maybe." Erza stirred in the bed and Eileen straightened.
"I'm going to see about getting her something to eat. I'll be back in a little bit. You'll be okay with them in your lap for a few minutes?"
"Yeah," he said almost too quietly, eyes dropping back down to the entire world his arms. Jellal didn't notice they were alone until Erza spoke.
"You made it," she said in a sleep rough voice. He looked up and found her smiling sheepishly at him.
"Erza," he whispered. "There's two!"
"Yes, there's two." Erza paused and watched him from her bed. "I'm sorry for not telling you. It was just a lot to take in and you had so much on your plate already –"
"Erza, I'm never too stressed to know what's going on with you. Especially something like this."
"I'm so sorry," she said swiping at tears. "I've never lied to you before and I didn't know how to fix it."
"Nothing's broken, Erza, I'm not angry. I should've been here." He looked from Erza to the babies and back to Erza again. "We were never made for easy. Someone really smart said that to me once. I think it was a girl."
"A girl? Should I be jealous?" Erza laughed and blotted her tears with a corner of the bed sheet. "I haven't picked names, yet," she whispered.
"Thing One and Thing Two?" he offered, still smiling down at the babies.
"You're the worst," Erza said in a watery attempt at humor. She scooted to the edge of the bed and stretched her arm to run her fingers over the baby blankets before touching Jellal's knee. "I should've told you. I'm sorry."
"It doesn't matter now, Erza. They're here and they're perfect." A squeak from Jellal's arms caused panic to rise in his chest. The baby in pink and yellow squirmed and her face bunched. "I don't know what to do!" he whispered in a rush.
"Here," Erza sat up in the bed and reached into the cabinet below the bassinet. She pulled out a formula sample bottle with an attached nipple and motioned for Jellal to hand her the baby. Unsure of how to proceed, he scooted the chair closer to the edge of Erza's bed. She reached down to collect the agitated baby but her squeaky cry only became more urgent. Erza laughed. "I think she's chosen her favorite. I'll take him, then."
Unlike his sister, the other baby accepted being moved to his mother's arms. Erza handed over the bottle and Jellal stared at it.
"Do I just –"
"Well, if you want her to stop crying, yes. Just make sure the stuff is all the way in the nipple or you'll give her gas. These bottles aren't great. I've got better ones at home." Jellal adjusted his arm and the baby took the bottle with enthusiasm. "And here I thought she was just grumpy. It's obvious she was waiting for you."
Jellal watched as her desperate pulls at the nipple subsided and she drifted off to sleep again. "That was quick."
"Babies sleep a lot and their stomachs are tiny. I know she looks like an angel now but her lungs are perfectly functional."
"What do you mean?" he asked, adjusting the fuzzy pink and yellow hat.
"I mean, your daughter was the loudest person in that delivery room. Even louder than me."
"My mom used to say that I was..." Jellal caught himself and trailed off. He rarely spoke of his mother and was surprised at how easily the words slipped out. The baby began to squirm again and he gently worked the bottle back into her mouth. "She said I was a needy baby. I cried a lot and wanted to be held all the time."
"Looks like that one takes after you then," Erza said softly. He felt her eyes on him again. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He smiled and relaxed in the chair, stifling a yawn. "I'm great. Just a little wiped."
"Come lay down with me, I bet you've been awake since yesterday." Erza said, sitting up again.
"Do you think she'll cry if I put her down?" he asked quietly, brushing the pad of his thumb over one pink cheek.
"She does okay if her brother is next to her."
Jellal stood and carefully transferred his daughter to the bassinet. Erza passed off the boy and Jellal settled them together. The room was quiet as he unlaced his boots and navigated around Erza's IV tube. She made room for him in the bed and draped an arm over his hip.
"I was so worried about you," he whispered once his head hit the pillow. Jellal touched the tangled curls of red on her shoulder.
"Would you have been less worried if I'd told you everything?"
"No." Jellal sighed and twisted a band of her hair around his finger. He frowned and met her eyes. "I hate that you had to deal with everything alone and what if –"
"I wasn't alone, Jellal," Erza cut in. "My mom was here and she took care of me."
"You're safe and the babies are safe. I can't believe it's all over."
"I'm in some shock myself," Erza said, inching closer to him. "But it'll make a funny story one day." She giggled into his chest. "I wish I could've seen your face when you saw both of them for the first time."
"I'm pretty sure your mom will love telling you all about my reaction." Jellal watched Erza's teeth worry her bottom him before she took his hand from her hair.
"Are we okay?" she asked softly.
"Yeah, we're okay. I love you, Erza."
His smile was tired but she kissed him anyway.