A/N - Well, here is the final section. It's all in the present time - no flashbacks in this section. Thanks again to everyone who has left feedback, either here or elsewhere. You've been a great encouragement. And thanks again to Mystery and Sidlesmile, who's help was invaluable - especially Sidlesmile who went above and beyond the call of duty by inspiring the story with her wonderful video and then beta reading it too.
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He wasn't sure how he wound up back at the lab. He hadn't consciously decided to go there, but suddenly he was parking in the employee lot and making his way to his office. He walked zombie-like through the busy halls, failing to acknowledge the nods and hellos tossed in his direction.
In his office, he wandered from tank to tank, looking at his unusual menagerie of pets with an unseeing eye.
A baby. He still could not wrap his mind around the concept. He was going to be a father.
Though he had never been accused of being overly paternal, he'd always had a soft spot of children. He pretended to be annoyed when Catherine brought Lindsey into the office, but they both knew it was just an act. He'd enjoyed watching her grow up over the years, and he'd never missed a single birthday or Christmas.
The other children in his life were fleeting presences; battered bodies and bruised souls who had seen far too much in far too short a time. Every time he processed a child who had been hurt or killed, often by a person who should have been willing to give their life to protect the child's well being, he was filled with rage. His eyes closed and he shuddered as he recalled the soft weight of the limp body he'd found beneath a tree on a golf course a few years earlier. He'd worked like a man possessed on that case, desperately hoping to find the baby alive, then trying madly to nail the person responsible. In the end, it hadn't been that simple. Zachary's death had been a tragic accident, preventable perhaps with closer supervision, but not malicious or neglectful. So in the end, everyone suffered, but no one paid. In a way, it was worse than cases with a clear bad guy. There was no place to point the finger, no person to pay for their actions.
Children's lives were so fragile, and they faced so many dangers. How would he ever be able to protect a child from all the lurking threats?
There were other concerns. He was too old to be starting a family. By the time their child graduated from high school, he'd be pushing seventy. And though he knew Sara would argue that either of them could be hit by a bus tomorrow, the reality was that he'd probably never live to see his grandchildren and there was a possibility that he'd leave her to finish raising their child on her own. Even if he did live long enough to see their child well into his or her adulthood, was he capable of forging a healthy relationship? Would their child grow to resent him for his emotional distance? How could he be a good father when he had no role model? Even if he could keep their child safe from physical harm, the threat of emotional harm was still a very real problem. His stomach twisted and he knew this was his real fear.
What did he have to offer a child? Anything?
He closed his eyes and for a moment he could picture a small child with indistinguishable characteristics laughing and playing. Sara's smile. God, he hoped their child would inherit that smile.
His stomach plummeted, and for a minute he thought he'd be ill. What else would their child inherit? Though his doctor had argued that the did not know yet whether otosclerosis was genetic, he was convinced that it must be. His mother had passed it down to him and now he would pass it down to his child. Would that be all his child had to remember him by someday - memories of an emotionally distant father and a genetic hearing loss.
He sat at his desk and buried his face in his hand, overwhelmed.
"Lovers spat?" His head jerked up and he grimaced as he saw Catherine leaning casually against his doorframe. She smirked and continued. "You've been in here pacing for a half hour. I know you're not in the middle of a case, so the way I see it, there can only be one reason you're here in the middle of the day looking as if you've lost your best friend. What's the fight about? Did you leave experiments in her fridge?"
He shook his head, willing her to disappear. He didn't have the energy today to deal with the force that was Catherine.
"You're not going to deny that this is about Sara, are you? You know, we're not blind. We all know you've finally pulled your head out of your ass and acted on the feelings you've obviously both harbored for years. Frankly, we're relieved. It's about damn time."
"So the way I see it, you've had - what? - two, thre weeks of the honeymoon period so far. You two are due for your first fight. But you're freaking out, right? It's just a fight, Gil. She'll get over it. If it's really bad, send her flowers."
"You have no idea what you're talking about."
"Sure I do. You think I haven't had my share of lover's spats? You're just new to the game. Trust me, she's not as mad as she seems. She'll forgive you - god knows, she always has before. If she could put up with the shit you put her through in the last four years, I'm sure she'll get over this, whatever it is."
He was beginning to get angry. He was stressed and worried and the last thing he needed right now was a relationship counseling from Catherine.
"She's not mad. And that's all I'm going to say about this. I don't want to talk about this, Catherine. It's none of your business."
"I'm not trying to be nosy. I'm just offering you a little friendly advice."
"I don't want your advice, Catherine. I want to be left alone."
"So you can continue sulking and let Sara stew for awhile. Good plan, Gil. Jesus, just go apologize. Is that really so difficult? What is it with men? You can never just -"
"Catherine you have no idea what you're talking about!" His arms flew in the air in frustration as his voice rose steadily. He made no attempt to disguise his anger. "Sara and I are not fighting, and I don't owe her an apology. Well, in retrospect, I may owe her an apology for the way I reacted, but I'm pretty damn sure she doesn't want me to apologize for the baby. Somehow I think that would only make things worse."
A tense silence filled the air, broken only by his uneven breathing.
"The baby?" Catherine said finally, her voice incredulous.
"Shit," he swore, as his words caught up with him. "Forget you heard that. Please."
Her buried his face in his hands again. How could he have let that slip? Sara was going to murder him. As if they didn't have enough problems right now.
"How? When? You've only been dating for a couple of weeks?"
"I'm not discussing this with you Catherine."
She was deadly serious now, all vestiges of her teasing demeanor vanished as she shut his door and took a seat across from him. "You're sure? And you're having it?"
He nodded. "That's what she says she wants."
Catherine nodded, processing that response. "Okay, I know you didn't mean to tell me this, but it's out now and you can't take it back. We've been friends for the better part of two decades, Gil, and as much as Sara and I have had our differences, I've come to care about her a lot. And I would never forgive myself if I walked out of here without saying two things."
"There's nothing you can do, Catherine," he said, meeting her eyes for the first time since his unwitting revelation.
She ignored him and held up one finger. "First, I know I've given you a hard time in the past about being insensitive, but you are one of the best men I've ever known, and I would trust you with my life. More than that, I would trust you with Lindsey's life. Being a parent is not an easy job for anyone, but I sincerely believe that no child could ask for a better father than you."
Her voice rang with sincerity, and even though he wasn't totally convinced, her words and tone soothed him slightly.
"Now, let me ask you something. You just said that Sara told you she wants to keep the baby. What did you say when she told you that?"
He sighed and averted his eyes, dodging her gaze. "I…. I told her that I'd support any decision she makes."
"Do you love her?"
He debated telling her that it was none of her business, then decided he was sick of hiding his feelings for Sara. "Yes."
"Did you tell her that?"
He hesitated, trying to remember. "I think so."
"Here's the other thing I have to say to you before I leave and let you deal with this on your own: She's just as terrified as you are. You know that right? She's probably doing a damned good job of hiding it, because God forbid Sara Sidle ever look weak. But trust me, she's terrified. And on top of all her fears about becoming a mother, she's also afraid that you're either going to leave her or spend the rest of your life resenting her for trapping you."
"That's not true! I would never leave her…and she's not trapping me. I love her."
Catherine smiled knowingly. "It's not me you need to convince." She paused for a minute. "Look, I'm not going to pretend to understand exactly what is going on. But I know you need to be with her right now, not here. You have to deal with this together. She needs you, Gil."
He nodded and watched as she stood and left his office. She was right, of course. Sara needed him, and to be honest, he needed her. This wasn't something they could deal with separately. They both had fears and questions, and it was time they started facing them together.
He raised his hand to knock, then stopped and pulled his keys out of his pocket, singling out the key she'd given him last week and sliding it into the lock.
"Sara?" he called quietly, stepping inside and securing the door behind him.
When she didn't respond, he walked down the hallway and peered into her bedroom. She was curled up under the covers, her arms wrapped around a pillow. He crept closer, and crouched in front of her. He brushed her hair from her face and cringed when he saw the dried tear tracks on her cheeks. He stroked her hair, then rubbed her back gently, sighing when he realized she was wearing one of his T-shirts. She sighed and shifted sleepily, but didn't wake up.
He was torn. Part of him wanted to wake her up and tell her he was sorry and that they would handle this together. But another part wanted to crawl in bed with her and hold her - they could discuss everything when they woke up.
He pulled away slowly and started to stand, intending to strip and join her in bed, when her eyes fluttered open. "Hey," she said softly, her voice tinged with confusion.
"Hi, honey," he said, his voice equally soft. He crawled closer again, hesitating for just a second before pressing his lips to her. "I love you."
"I know," she said softly, her lips curving up into a little smile. "I love you, too."
"We don't have to talk now," he said, stroking her hair again. "Sleep. We'll talk later. But everything's going to be okay, I promise. We're going to be just fine."
Her eyes met his for a moment, and he could feel her searching him to see if he honestly believed that. She must have been pleased with what she saw because she graced him with her first real smile of the day. He kissed her again, then pulled away and stood.
"Can I stay?" he asked quietly, afraid to assume.
"Of course." She yawned as she watched him unbutton his shirt. He stripped down to his boxers and was about to crawl in bed when she spoke again. "What's that?"
He followed her gaze to the shopping bags near the bedroom door and blushed. "It's nothing really. I just got you a little something."
She looked surprised, but her eyes sparkled. "You got me a present?"
"Well, sort of." He fumbled with the explanation, then gave up, deciding to show her instead. He retrieved the bags and brought them with him to the bed. He scooted in beside her and waited for her to sit up next to him before handing her the larger bag.
She reached in and pulled out a thick paperback. "What to Expect When You're Expecting." She shook her head in amused disbelief.
"Well, I certainly have no idea what to expect," he said, shrugging in an attempt to mask his embarrassment. "I thought it might give us a little clue."
"Thank you," she said softly, guiding him to her for a sweet kiss. She pulled back and eyed the other bag with a grin. "What's in that bag? Is that for me too?"
"No…" he said. "But you can open it."
She looked at him suspiciously, but reached for the bag. He started to hand it to her, then paused, feeling embarrassed by his own sentimentality. After a second he thrust it into her hands, hoping his face wasn't as red as he imagined it to be.
She gave him a final strange look, then pulled the object from the bag. The small child's board book had been an impulse purchase. He'd gone to the bookstore intending to find a book about pregnancy. As a scientist, it was only natural that his first reaction would be to research. But after locating that book, he found himself strangely drawn to the children's section. The bright colors and happy characters made him smile, and for a moment he pictured himself bringing their child here. Then he had cringed as he watched rambunctious children snatch book after book from the shelves as their harried mothers tried to keep up. He turned to leave, but stopped short when he saw a particular board book. Covered in brightly colored insects, the bold red letters across the cover read, "My First Book of Bugs".
Sara held the book in her hand now, a finger tracing the words almost reverently. She was silent still and had yet to make eye contact with him. For a moment he worried he done something wrong. Then she turned to look at him. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry," she said, doing a little of both.
Unable to find any words to convey what he was feeling, he simply reached for her, drawing her into his arms and holding her tightly.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He held her for another minute, then pulled back, taking the books from her hands and placing them on the nightstand. He held the covers for her as she scooted back into a lying position, then he settled himself behind her, wrapping his arms around her and pressing her to him. His hand sneaked it's way under her T-shirt, resting on her flat stomach. It was almost impossible to believe that before long it would be swollen with his growing child. The thought created a lump in his throat, and his voice was rough as he whispered, "It really is going to be all right. I can't promise you that I'll always know what to do or what to say, but I promise I'll always be here and I'll always love you."
He heard her sniffle and felt her tears on his arm as she snuggled closer and covered his hand with her own, holding it in place against her stomach.
"That's all I need," she said finally. She was quiet for a long time, and just when he thought she'd fallen asleep, she spoke up again, her voice barely more than a whisper. "I'll always be here, too, and I'll always love you."
He hugged her tightly one last time and listened as her breathing grew steady and shallow again. He nuzzled her, inhaling deeply and allowing her to envelope his senses as she drifted back to sleep.
His body was still, but his mind raced with the plethora of problems they had yet to deal with. They'd have to talk about living arrangements and child care. They'd have to face the gossip at the lab. There could be professional consequences - there was the possibility they'd be forced to work different shifts. And that was nothing compared to the uncertainty of what was going to happen in their personal lives. This baby would change everything.
Sara stretched in her sleep, pressing her body against his, and a sense of calm contentedness spread over him. He wasn't alone anymore. They would deal with all of these things together, he reminded himself.
It was true that things were not perfect; that there were still much to be worked out. But the most important facts - their love for each other and for their child - were true and steady. With time and work, the rest of the details would fall into place. Perhaps, he thought, that was as perfect as things got in real life.