When Scott awoke, Hope wasn't in her usual space by his side. Through blurred vision he made out the time 03:07 on the alarm clock beside him before rubbing his eyes and forcing himself out of bed.
"Hope..." he called, his voice hoarse as he tried to free himself from the sleep still trying to cling to him. He peered down the hallway and into the empty bathroom before venturing downstairs, assuming he'd find her in the kitchen.
Instead, when Scott reached the bottom of the stairs, he found her in the lounge. She was resting her hands on the arm of the old armchair she loved so much, leaning forward for support and swaying her hips slowly. Hope's eyes were clenched tightly shut as she focused, mentally dealing with the pain while also controlling her breathing and remaining mostly silent.
"Hope?" he repeated her name, his voice a whisper this time. Her response was to hold up one finger up in his direction without opening her eyes or even looking over at him, silently asking for a moment.
He closed the distance between them, and when she was ready Hope turned to rest a hand on each of his strong shoulders. Scott pressed a kiss to her sweaty forehead and she finally released the tension in her face and opened her eyes, her olive green gaze coming to rest on his.
"How long have you been awake?" Scott asked, resting his hands gently on her hips.
"A few hours" she shrugged, oblivious to what time it was, or what time it had been when she'd crawled out of their bed.
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"You need your beauty sleep" she smiled, teasing lightly before her facial expression changed. He could see recognition creeping in at the corner of her eyes before her mouth tightened and her eyes slid closed. She lay her forehead on his shoulder as he supported her, holding her as tightly as she let him, his hand rubbing gentle circles into the small of her back.
It was over sixty seconds later when the fist that had tightened into his shirt finally relaxed and Scott felt the tension in her body fade.
"Hope, I think it's time to go..." Scott told her, concern filling his voice as he cupped her cheek, gently guiding her face to look back up to hers.
"No..." she whispered, shaking her head. "But I think we should get ready"
Scott relented, accepting her compromise. He leaned in and kissed her forehead before leaning low to kiss the swell of her stomach. "Go easy on your Mom" he whispered, standing and kissing her fully on the lips before reluctantly leaving her to go and get ready as he'd agreed.
He paused at the bottom of the stairs, turning to take in the sight of her. Her messy curls falling freely over her shoulders and freckle dusted cheeks. She stood in her panties and one of his old shirts, pulled taught over her bump. Scott took a moment to admire her; in all her beauty, in all her strength. Somehow, this incredible, admirable, amazing woman was his, and he was happily hers.
"Scott" Hope warned, noting him stood staring, "pants" she prompted before leaning over to brace herself against the armchair as another contraction took hold of her body.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Scott skidded into their bedroom and pulled on what he thought was a clean shirt and threw on some pants before digging through one of Hope's draws and finding her a baggy maternity top and leggings. He grabbed the two bags waiting by the door, packed with the essentials, before taking the stairs quickly back down to rejoin her.
Despite her muttered complaints, he helped Hope change. It was an unusually warm May for San Francisco, a heat wave had arrived a week earlier and was yet to relent. The last thing Hope wanted to do when she was already uncomfortably warm, was put on more layers. Scott helped her with her shoes, softening her unimpressed glare with a kiss pressed to her nose and she finally agreed it was time to go to the hospital.
The contractions were coming closer and lasting longer. It took more than ten minutes for Scott to help her out to the car, with much insistent from Hope she could make it alone only for her to grab hold of him tightly each and every time the pain began to build again.
As it turned out, putting on more layers was the second to last thing Hope wanted to do. Nothing was more uncomfortable during labour than sitting in a car, even if Scott managed to make the journey in thirteen minutes...
Hope and Scott were taken straight through to a delivery room and Hope was quite happy to strip the layers back off, down to her sports bra and panties. The heat wave had made a long and uncomfortable pregnancy even more unbearable...
The hours ticked by as Hope continued to decline an epidural, continued to endure, and continued to amaze Scott with her strength, determination and focus.
Scott thought back to the last time he faced this situation, to when Cassie was born.
He remembered being terrified of becoming a Father; he and Maggie had already begun to grow distant, he doubted they'd have stayed together if it hadn't been for the discovery of the pregnancy. Maggie had hated pregnancy, she was sick from start to end. Scott vividly remembered finding out they were having a daughter early in the pregnancy and feeling overwhelmingly unprepared for the responsibility that the little girl represented...
The Doctors had been concerned about Cassie's growth from early on and it had been a worrying time for all. Appointment after appointment, scan after scan had led to the advice of an early delivery being the best thing for the baby. At almost three weeks early, Scott had driven Maggie to the hospital for her Caesarean Section.
He remembered Cassie, so small and scrawny, looking almost chimp like. Her cries had filled the operating room and Scott, despite all his fears and concerns, had fallen instantly in love...
Things has been tough back then. Cassie hadn't fed well as a baby, she'd become jaundice and needed phototherapy. Maggie had struggled with post operative pain and they'd been in hospital over a week.
Money had been short and Scott had had to go back to work almost as soon as they were home and although they tried their best for Cassie, Scott and Maggie continued to grow apart.
This time though, things couldn't have been more different...
Pregnancy had agreed with Hope, it suited her and she was beautiful. Even throughout the morning sickness, back pain and exhaustion, she was glowing. Unlike with Maggie, he knew what to say, what to do... He was able to comfort her and support her without the fear of saying something wrong, only make it worse. They worked as a couple; Cassie loved to be with them, and their family was only growing. It was an exciting time and rather than feeling unprepared, scared and insecure, Scott was happier than he'd been in a long time.
While Maggie, even at term, could easily be mistaken for not pregnant by wearing a slightly baggy shirt, Hope had difficulty hiding it as soon as she reached the second trimester. Scott loved her baby bump, loved to stay up late while Hope slept and whisper stories to the baby. Loved to feel the baby move and kick... He'd watched fondly as Cassie mirrored his actions; feeling for the baby moving while talking to Hope's bump. Though Hope and Cassie had always gotten on well, they'd been close, the excitement Cassie felt for the impending arrival only made them closer.
Hope hadn't wanted to find out the sex of the baby but had offered the decision to Scott. Ultimately, he decided it didn't matter whether they had a boy or a girl, as long as they were healthy, the baby would be part him and part Hope. In Scott's eyes, that made them perfect. 'Baby Bumble' became the name they used to refer to the growing baby in place 'it' and 'them.
A scientist herself, Hope had done her research. She knew what she wanted and was fully informed when it came to decision making. She opted against a caesarean, with Scott's support. While Cassie had come almost three weeks early, Hope had waited for labour to start and stubbornly stuck it out until she was seven days overdue.
Scott was able to support her through labour. Both physically and emotionally. The experience, for him at least, was close to perfect. It felt like they were in this together. A team for their baby... It made him feel involved. A participant, rather than an observer. And if it were possible, seeing her strength in this way, only made him love Hope more.
And then suddenly, there's a crying baby being placed in Hope's arms. Scott is passed a pair of scissors and asked if he wants to cut the cord and he tears his eyes away from Hope's smile for a moment to complete the task.
Fourteen hours since Hope first woke, eleven hours since Scott noticed her absence in their bed. And they had a baby...
"Well, what do you have?" the Nurse asked, and Hope adjusted her hold on the baby who has suddenly stopped crying and was looking up at Hope with wide, bright eyes.
"It's a girl" Hope replied, looking over to Scott with a smile that made his heart swell.
"A girl" he repeats in a whisper, smiling just as brightly as he kisses Hope happily, a tear rolling down his cheek.
"Happy Birthday, Baby Bumble" Scott whispered, kissing her wrinkled forehead as she squinted her eyes in the bright light.
Scott was able to bring Hope and the baby home that evening where they could spend the evening together for the first time as a family of three.
The following morning, Cassie burst through the door and ran to Hope, giving her a long and enthusiastic hug. The pair had promised Cassie that she could be the first person to visit once they'd got home. She proudly wore a shirt with the words 'I'm a big sister' written across it. Hope returned the hug gladly and waved to Maggie who lingered at the door.
"I'll just leave these and call round another time" Maggie smiled, placing a few gifts on the table by the door. Hope invited her in, but Maggie insisted this time was special for the four of them. Their family situation may not work for everyone, but Hope and Maggie got along well and the two family units were there to support Cassie, and each other.
Scott descended the stairs, sleeping baby held securely in his arms, as Cassie bounced excitedly on the couch. Hope guided her backwards, showing her how to hold her arms and placing a pillow on her knee to help support the baby's weight while Scott carefully placed his youngest daughter in the arms of his firstborn.
He watched proudly as Cassie kissed the sleeping baby's forehead, took photos of the two of them together and a few with Hope in too. All his girls, together. Scott doubted any moment in his life would come close to being this perfect again.
Later that evening, Hank and Janet joined the small family. Scott saw Hank cry for the first time for anything other than frustration as he held his Granddaughter for the first time. While Scott lost count of how many times that evening Janet leaned over and pressed a kiss to Hope's forehead or cheek. "I'm so proud of you, Jellybean" she had whispered at least five times.
"She looks so much like you, Hope" Hank had said proudly.
At three days old, Hope and Scott finally chose a name for their daughter. The baby was named Elizabeth by her parents. Her middle name, Alice, was chosen carefully by Cassie ('she grows and shrinks too!'). Baby Bumble, the nickname her parents had used for their baby throughout pregnancy, stuck. And as she got a little older, Elizabeth affectionately became known as Lizzie-Bee, or simply 'Bumble'.