Title: Shades of Red

Spoilers: Not a one.

Disclaimer: John Wells promised me he'd only screw with them for a little bit longer

before handing them back over to their rightful creator and owner – erm, I mean – they aren't mine.

Authors Notes: The snow at end is for Sara, because once when I first started writing this story, late at night, she wanted it to snow, though it was the dead of summer. Halloween is also for Sara, because she asked for it – and also, the M&Ms – because she had 'um, and wouldn't share 'um – then she made a brilliant line, see if you can guess which one it is.  Thanks to her for everything.  Enjoy the story!

And on with the show …

***

            At first, there was happiness.  That consuming high on a cloud, weightless, pure un-adulterated joy that seized her from behind and stretched her lips into a painfully large grin.  Nothing penetrated that happiness; that natural, swirling high on life that she couldn't escape no matter which way she turned.  Not that she wanted to escape it. 

            It was a high unlike one she'd ever been able to achieve on alcohol, a high she couldn't even begin to compare with any other high she'd ever experienced.  Odd as it was, new as it felt, she liked it.  She reveled in it. She loved it.

            She had no intentions of running of from it, of shirking from the responsibilities of it.  So she sat there, knees to her chest, resting her face against the cool surface of the porcelain toilet, feeling the refreshing bite of the chilled tile floor through her thin dressing robe.  Her grin was uncharacteristically unmistakable, etched delicately throughout her face – the glimmer of guileless innocence reflected in her deep brown retinas, the distinctive crinkle beside each eye, the blush of cherry stain brushed across her cheekbones, and the tell-tale stretch of her pale rose lips from cheek to cheek.

            Clutched delicately in her right hand, she held the source of this sudden bliss.  Or at least, the evidence of the existence of the miracle she would soon behold.  Her heart hammered anxiously in her chest as she snuck a glance at it, just once more.  Just to make sure she hadn't been dreaming the first time.

            She hadn't.

            Tangibly mirrored in the stick's small indicator, two thin pink lines jumped out at her.  Two thin pink lines she never thought she'd see, but had longed to see, had prayed, pleaded, begged, and groveled to see.  And there they were; glinting brilliantly pink in the soft lemon light of the bathroom.    

            She loved pink.

****

             She stood before the mirror, staring intently into the reflective glass.  The flimsy crimson robe she wore fell gently around her shoulders, billowing softly in the balmy air swirling around the room by the wooden ceiling fan.  With trembling fingers, she carefully untied the feeble knot of the robe and watched with bated breath as the fabric fell to her sides, exposing her pale apricot skin; rosy with the July warmth, glistening with un-dried water from her recent shower.    

            She placed a tentative hand over the spot on the stomach where her uterus was – the new home of her little miracle.  Her eyelids fluttered shut, eyes filling with tears.  This felt new, but right.  More right than anything she'd ever felt.

            "Hello baby," she murmured softly into the darkness.

            Everything about this was beautiful.  She just couldn't get over the beauty of the entire situation.  The man she loved had "planted his seed" inside of her, and together they had created a new life.  While making love to one another, they'd created this new life – their baby was like a testament of everything they held holy and sacred in their marriage, their undying love for one another.  She was a nurse, she perfectly understood the logistics of the situation, and yet – she was inexplicable awed.

            It was primitive and amazing. It was a miracle.

            With a sharp intake of breath and a soft, knowing smile, she suddenly recalled the night it had surely happened. A vacation they'd both needed badly; a break from the stresses of life – work, friends, bills, the house. The endless trying to get pregnant, the pills, the shots, the contorted positions she'd slept in to increase fertility, and the meaningless sex timed to the moment, such that even that became a chore.  

            Oh yes, everything about that night truly had been beautiful.

            The gentle sway of the trees in the balmy air of the evening, slender trunks dancing to the soothing melody the calm breeze seemed to whisper through the paper-thin greenery.  The accelerating tempo of the lover's own tango, their tranquil rolling ballet that melted into a fevered salsa as an internal rhythm pounded ever faster.  Wrapped together, totally and completely immersed into one another, becoming one with body, soul, and mind. 

            Tender droplets of dew cascading down her back, murmured sighs of the cool evening breeze tousling through his sweat-soaked hair.  Cries of passion cruelly jutting into the silence on the deserted beach, shattering the calm and blending into the crashing of the waves against the shore as lilting sounds disappeared into the night. 

            It was peaceful and serene, natural and beautiful in a primal, animalistic way.  It was passion, raw and violent in its most exposed. It was the origin of live on earth.  It was the love between two people that was born and died again and again, every generation, and would continue to do so for all of time.

            The way his hand was made to fit in the curve of her back, the way her lips were meant to seal upon the jagged edge of his jaw.  The way she fit inside of his every orifice, the way he was made to hold her from every aperture of his being.  It was perfection among chaos, beauty among despair, right among wrong.  The way they were meant to be.

            She shivered in delight, re-tying the burgundy robe around her middle as a chill of excitement rushed down her spine.  She couldn't wait to tell him, couldn't wait to see the look on his face – in his eyes – that she knew she would find there. She couldn't wait.

            This truly was their miracle.

***

            Tonight was the night she'd tell him.  She would finally get to see the expression of pure weightless happiness that she'd been feeling since she found out mirrored in his eyes.  She could barely contain her excitement at seeing the gleeful mirth that would surely erupt across his face and make his sparkle like they had that night, the moment she told him. 

            There was a time in her life when she would have obsessed over finding just the right words to say, to find just the right moment when she told him.  But now, after all they'd been through, all that she really cared about was letting him know, finally being able to share her joy with him.

            So tonight, he was taking her out to their favorite restaurant, the very same place he'd proposed and she'd agreed to marry him.  She would tell him her news. 

            She would finally be able to tell him that their endless discussions of whether or not they were suited to be parents, if they could handle it, if she could overcome her fears, if he could tackle his demons were not in vain.  She'd inform him that after all they'd done to try to get pregnant, here they were – she was carrying his baby. What they'd been fervently hoping for, for so long, was finally going to become reality.

            She carefully stepped into the steamy shower, closing her eyes against the jet stream of cascading water, leaning her head against the peach-tiled wall.  She reached down for her pink bottle of shampoo and worked it into a healthy lather.  Rinsing, she followed suit with the conditioner.

            Finally finished, she stepped out of the water and wrapped herself in a thick red towel.  She patted her stomach gently, with a smile, and then proceeded to change into a pale cranberry shirt with a flattering scoop-neck and a simple gray skirt that would drive him wild.

            Hell, her news would drive him wild no matter what she wore.   

***

            "So the chicken in the white wine sauce or the salmon in the lemon butter sauce? … Abby?"

            "Hmm?"

            "Have you been listening to a word I've said?"

            She re-focused her gaze on him, eagerly drinking in the sight of his earnest expression.  The way the soft glow of the candles cast a shadow on the rest of the dimly lit restaurant, throwing the light across his face, brightening his gleaming eyes – that still, even after being through so much, shone with a boyish enthusiasm. 

            Her own eyes softened at the sight, her lips melting into a dull, enchanted smile as a light blush fell across her cheeks.  She was silent for another moment, watching with interested expectation as he looked thoughtfully into her eyes, trying to decipher – albeit with an air of confusion – the funny expression she was probably feeding him.

            She blinked and curled her lips into an impish smile.  "Nope, not a word," she admitted.

            He reached across the table, covering her hands with his and giving them a gentle squeeze. "What's going on?"

            Her eyes softened again, carefully regarding him with renewed vigor.  She took a deep breath, forming a little 'o' with her lips, as if about to speak when just as suddenly, she was overcome with a distinct lump in her throat. Her eyes prickled and filled with tears, and she allowed a distinctive little chortle – an analogous laugh of surprise and choked sob – to emerge from her lips. 

            She pulled her hand from under his and ran it across her face, feeling her cheeks moisten to a deep red blush.  Then took another cleansing breath and went for the finish line.

            "Well … remember when we took that trip to Hawaii?"

            He raised his eyebrows, as if to say 'that was some of the best sex we've ever had, how could I possibly forget?' In that moment, she knew it was all going to be alright, her nerves seemed to dissipate into the thin air, her heart slowed to a normal rate and her palms felt less clammy. "Of course," he prompted.

            She shook her head, and allowed a smile – a smile that was wholly new to her – a smile that was reserved for the happiness only this pregnancy with this man who she loved so wholeheartedly could produce. "I'm pregnant, John."

            And if she hadn't known before, the look on his face at that moment in time – one which would be frozen indelibly into her memory until the day she died – was enough to permanently allay each and every last one of her fears. 

***

            She groaned and rolled over in the large bed, burying her face in a pillow and pulling the comforter more tightly around her body.  She felt the warmth of his hand through the blanket, rubbing her back in soothing, circular motions. 

            "What color are we doing the nursery?" He murmured into the thickness of the night.

            She closed her eyes tighter. "I'm sleeping," she mumbled grumpily.

            She could hear his soft chuckle dissipating into the darkness of the little cocoon they had created – the dark room, the plush bed. 

            She'd always taken pleasure in the darkness; there was something safe and protective in the blanket of dark where light could not reach, where light could not expose all the imperfections and malfunctions of what simply was.  Dark was warm and safe, and some of her most treasured memories were of lying beside him, in the even safer haven of his arms nestled in the darkness.  Dark was a time for introspection without judgment, for truth and honesty and really getting to know yourself – or someone else. 

            It was in the dark that she could truly appreciate the implications and the reality of their picturesque little life – like a perfect little macrocosm of the epitome of what a marriage should be. 

            Even with her eyes tightly shut, she could see the shadow of an elfin smile that would be molded onto his lips, the mischievous sparkle in his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her middle and began to shower flowery little kisses along her neck and collarbone.  

            She moaned softly and then, "I'm still sleeping."

            "Hmmmm," he replied cheekily, "I can tell."

            He trailed a line of soft kisses along her cheek, stopping at her ear.  "What color are we painting the nursery?"

            She sighed, in defeat. "Depends. Go to sleep."

            "Depends on what?"

            "You know on what, and I'm not having this conversation right now."

            Innocently, "What conversation?"

            Then warningly, "John."

            He pulled away, lying back down on the bed – his back dejectedly prostrate on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "You won't even make an educated guess?"

            "I just want a healthy baby."

            "If I had known that, I would have gotten you a cat."

            She opened her eyes and rolled over onto her side to face him. Her lips were set in a mocking frown and she glared playfully, swatting him in the chest, and then dropping her head to rest in the place where her bare hand had just grazed. 

            "I just want the baby to be healthy."

            "You know," he murmured gently, his voice serious now, while stroking her hair with his hand, "you're not going to jinx anything by making a guess."

            She closed her eyes again, reaching down to grab the comforter and envelop them both in its warmth.  "But it really doesn't matter to me either way, as long as he's healthy."

            "Ah ha!" he jumped. And then, triumphantly, "So you think it's a boy!"

            She groaned again, deciding to pacify him. "Might be."

            He smirked. "So what color are we painting the nursery?"

***

            She gave one more conciliatory pat with the towel to her stomach, wiping off the droplets of water from her shower and wrapped her robe tightly around her abdomen.  The sweet aroma of breakfast filled her nostrils and she felt herself gravitating towards the kitchen, where she found a full meal laid out on the table.

            He looked up as she padded softly into the room, her hair wet and tousled from the shower.  He walked over to her, pulling her into his arms and burying his head in her hair. "You're beautiful."

            She smiled wryly. "You keep telling me this, and then you go and knock me up – and fill me with all sorts of fattening foods.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to fatten me up."

            He chuckled.  "You'll taste a lot better when I roast you if you're nice and plump."

            "Well yes, naturally." She leaned in for a quick kiss and then allowed him to seat her at the table to begin eating. 

            "Abby?"

            "Hmm?"

            "Do you want to find out the sex of the baby?"

            She shrugged noncommittally.  "Do you?"

            "Wouldn't it be great to be able to know?"

            "Yeah, but it's one of the few real happy surprises in life."

            "Not much of a happy surprise when you plan a pretty pink nursery and give birth a pretty little baby boy." 

            "You can decide, John.  All I care about is having this baby to bring home and raise and love."

            "Are you sure?"

            She shot him a genuine smile. "As the sky is blue."

***

            They sat in their booth at Doc Magoos', leaning over a shared banana sundae – celebrating the good news they'd just received at her OB appointment. 

            Susan burst into the little diner, spotting them immediately, and rushed over.  "So, what did you find out?" she cried breathlessly.

            John looked at Abby, and she nodded.  He grinned widely, "It's a girl!"

            Susan clapped her hand to her mouth.  "That's … wonderful." She turned to Abby, her eyes getting misty.  "A girl? Oh …" She threw her arms around Abby, who chuckled and reciprocated the hug – having already gotten over the initial shock.

            "I can barely even believe I'm even pregnant – but knowing it's a girl.  Oh, Susan," she gushed, "it makes it so much more real, so much more exciting!"

            "Well of course." Susan paused. "God, Carter, you're going to have a daughter."  She shook her head, and again turned her attention back to Abby. "Did I ever tell you about him with my niece? …"

***

            She tapped him lightly on the shoulder, motioning with her eyes towards the shelf that towered over them.  "Grab that bag of Twix Bars off that shelf, will you?"

            He warily eyed the shopping cart – filled with more sweets and junk food than he would like his child to eat in a lifetime, much less a span of a couple of weeks.  Or, come to think of it – a couple of hours, with Abby in the house. 

            "Don't you think we have enough candy?"

            "Not until my teeth rot.  Besides, you're not the one who is slowly having your body taken over by some little person you've never even met and are not even entirely sure you'll like."

            She eyed him sweetly, making a simpering face.

            "You talk about it as if it isn't our child – the perfect little product of our two selves, created by our love, a beautiful meshing of both of our greatest qualities." He began to push the cart past the candy as quickly as possible, trying to divert her from her supposed need for a sugar fix.

            "You seem to have forgotten about the little thing called genetics in which the baby could realistically end up with both of our worst qualities," he turned around, preparing a counter-argument about love and cherish and to death do us part, when she quickly finished, "… *including* my love for candy."

            He chuckled, shaking his head.  She looked absolutely beautiful, standing there in what she lovingly referred to as her "crappy clothes" – the ones she trudged around the house in, claiming it was only until she was really sure that he loved her before she actually dared to let him see her in them; something silly about putting feminine charms on him, or something.  But it really didn't matter, especially not now.

            Her hair was swept into a haphazard ponytail, with thin tendrils blown loose by the crisp October wind framing her face.  Her pale cheeks blushed pink with the heat of their banter. 

            She watched him warily, eyes narrowing. "What? You're eyes are trying to tell me that I look fat and shouldn't be eating any of the candy you're so hard pressed not to buy?"

            "No," he stammered, momentarily shocked by her outburst, "You can have your candy – you can have all the candy you want, Abby."

            She regarded him carefully, her eyes inquisitive – searching for the catch in his situation.  "Enough to feed every kid in Chicago?"

            He nodded. "And then some."

            "Good." She smiled and he took a couple of steps forward, purposely brushing past her as he reached for the bag she so coveted.  Then, turning back from the shelf, he wrapped his arm around her back, propelling her towards the cart. 

            "Aren't you excited for her first Halloween?" she murmured softly.  He leaned down to kiss her hair; inhaling the pleasant smell he so loved.  He mumbled an affirmative reply against her head. They began to walk slowly down the isle.

            "I want to dress her up as a little pumpkin, or a princess … or OH!"

            "What?" He cried in surprise.

            Abby came to an abrupt halt. "I almost forgot that I want some of those M&M's too." She motioned to yet another shelf.

            He rolled his eyes and grabbed the bag of candy from the shelf, tossing them into the cart and wrapping his arm around her waist again to continue their shopping.  She leaned forward, pushing the cart as he buried his face in her neck, brushing strands of soft kisses.     

            "Why do you think they call these candies fun size when they aren't very fun?" She paused, and he looked up to meet her eyes as she pivoted in his arms. "But a 2 pound bag of them - *that* would be fun."   

***

            She sat in the plush rocking chair, one hand lazily scratching her slightly rounded belly through the thin fabric of her burgundy shirt, rocking lackadaisically back and forth.  She smiled at the room, at the image the room brought to her eyes – her beautiful baby girl nestled safely within the lush array of pink blankets they'd arranged in the pink patterned crib.

            It had quickly become her favorite color, this pale pastel pink that the room was decked in from the ceiling to the floor.  The curtains a pale pink gingham, the floor a delicate pink carpet, a meticulously mounted wallpaper that featured a very effeminate version of Winnie-the-Pooh and pals [naturally, primarily in pink] and of course, the entire matching set consisting of everything from the crib-set to the stuffed animal entourage already stacked atop the chestnut wooden chest in the corner.

            She'd never thought that they would be traditional parents – doting so over their unborn baby girl that they saw no end to the daily purchases of everything pink. Of course, she also never thought they would be parents in the first place, but here were the Carters, who'd done everything unconventionally, doing everything for their daughter just the way the stereotypes called for.

            Oh, it was disgusting, really.  All her life she'd watched people just like herself, with the rich husbands and the jobs they enjoyed doing and the big houses and she'd been disgusted. But the truth was, she'd always been jealous.  This was just what she'd always wanted.

            A sudden pang in her abdomen caught her off-guard.  She stood up from the chair, inhaling sharply as the pain intensified.  Her hand immediately flew to her stomach.

            "Oh god … please, baby ... be okay, be okay," she murmured.  Then, a strangled sob, "John!" 

            She walked determinately towards the bathroom, pulling down her pants to find something she'd hoped and prayed against since the moment that little pink line had graced her vision.

            Scarlet red blood.

***

            Everything was swirling.  Her memory, thoughts, fears; her entire subconscious mind was being swept up into a cavernous, whirling tornado that she could not control.  There was light and dark, bursts of bright splendid color followed streams of dull, fuzzy gray.  And, shapes; large and looming, threatening to crash down and wreak havoc, trailed by those that were small and unassuming, merely taking up space.

            She was struck by the confusion of it; the mind-bending, menacing mystery of the unknown, the un-understood.  It was frightening, it was exhilarating, it was … over.

            She was yelling, crying out in horror, in pain. There were lights shining into her eyes, she was uttering prayers, asking forgiveness, begging for something.  Hands were touching her, prodding her; medical instruments jutted into her, out of her, around her.  Voices speaking, voice she recognized but couldn't identify, not now, not now.   

            The colors reappeared, churning into something she could finally comprehend.  A slideshow of sorts; a thick, long second in which her entire life congealed into one and passed right before her very eyes. Then there was a brilliant white light, beckoning to her, calling to her.

            She inhaled sharply, opening her eyes to the light.  Instead of heavenly white glowing, she was met with a glaring, encompassing red.  A violent scream escaped her lips and she saw only red, felt only red, breathed only red.

            She burst into tears.

***

Feedback – I'd love to hear your thoughts. Anyone up for a short epilogue?