Disclaimer: Hasbro, Devils Due, Marvel own the cannon characters used. No profit is made from any part of this story!

Alexis Maille Hauser and Karen Armbruster (Ace's wife) belong to Storm O. Keiko is the name I use for Jinx. Nurse Shelly belongs to Medic (Mediclifeline). All borrowed characters are being used with the owner's permission. Thank you ladies!

Author's notes: My good friend, Storm O, "volunteered" me to write this fic back in early spring. I gladly accepted thinking it would be a piece of cake; however, it has been one of the most difficult pieces for me to write. This story has gone through several revisions and even a few complete rewrites.

Throughout the writing of this story, I have had the wonderful opportunity to consult with and/or toss ideas around with a number of people: Storm O, Alison, Medic, Wolf, my dear husband, and while very unknowingly and unintentionally, our associate pastor. Thank you all for your help!

Liz Thank you for beta-reading this for me!

With Arms Wide Open

"Hi, Sweetie. I'll be home after I drop Conrad off," Ace said into the phone, ignoring the stare coming from Duke, who was sitting in the passenger seat of his midnight blue Nissan 350Z. "Don't tell me you don't have any pet names for Shana," he mouthed. He turned his attention back to his conversation with his wife, Karen. "Ok then, we'll see you in a few minutes. I love you."

"Who's we?" Duke asked, eyeing his friend suspiciously.

"You and I," Ace answered. "You do want to see your daughter, don't you?"

Duke looked at Ace puzzled and said, "Of course, I do."

"Well, it just so happens that Karen is babysitting Alexis today so Shana could get caught up on some year end paperwork for Keiko's dojo. She's meeting us at the Abernathy's tonight for the New Year's Eve party," Ace explained as he drove right by the Hauser's cul-de-sac. "You are going right?"

"Yes, of course. That was all that Dash could talk about last night," Duke sneered and explained, "Allie apparently has this dress with a very low cut, V-shaped neck and backline that she's planning on wearing, and Dash can't wait to see her in it." Seeing his friend's widened eyes, he taunted, "You'd better not let Karen catch you drooling."

Ace shook his head and broke his daze. "Or out of it, I imagine," he quickly added. "Have you heard anything about Shana lately?"

"Considering your recent phone call, I'd say you've heard more from Karen than I have of Shana. I'd just imagine that she must be extremely busy with both Keiko and Kamakura having been deployed with us." Duke said, staring out the window as Ace pulled into his garage. "It was a huge relief that Sean was able to move from Atlanta to DC and help her out. Patrick stayed with them for a couple of weeks after Alexis was born."

Ace nodded quietly.

"Patrick is seriously considering retirement," Duke half-chuckled.

"He is? I never thought he'd give up teaching, and last time I saw him, he was in excellent shape," Ace replied.

Duke laughed picturing his active father-in-law sitting around the house, watching television all day long. "Maybe just on paper. I'd give him three months before he's back teaching at the very least."

"I'll also bet being the first family members to get to see that new baby had no influence on their decision to temporarily relocate," Ace snickered as he opened the door, stopping to eye his friend over. "Are you ready to see Alexis, Con?"

"Brad, ol' buddy, I've been waiting for almost six excruciating long months for this moment. Don't make me wait another minute longer," Duke beamed. They walked into the living room where Karen was tending to Alexis. "Karen, you still let this sorry excuse for a pilot live here," Duke joked, giving her a long, bear hug after she stood.

"Hey, that's my woman! Yours is the one with long, red hair, the one to whom I was referring earlier," Ace fussed, pushing his friend aside so he could give his wife a long-awaited, passionate kiss.

From her jumping johnny, a petite blonde-haired baby smiled and laughed at the adults. "Dada," she cooed, recognizing one of the faces from a picture she was shown nightly.

Hearing the quiet but excited voice, Duke and the Armbrusters looked in Alexis' direction. Duke walked over and knelt by his daughter. "Is this her?" He asked hesitantly, doing his best to hold back his tears. 'Good one Con. Better hope Brad and Karen didn't hear you. She's the only baby, not to mention she has your face, the square jawline, nose, mouth, even the ears, but those are definitely her mother's sapphire blue eyes,' he thought to himself as he admired his healthy, happy baby girl.

"Yes, this is Alexis," Karen smiled, walking over to her husband's commanding officer. She bent down and lifted Alexis out of the jumping johnny. Alexis started fussing as she was handed over to her daddy. Duke gave Karen the 'what happened' look as he held his baby girl for the first time, thinking how jovial she was seconds earlier.

"She hates getting out of that contraption. I don't know how your wife survives without one," Karen informed. She lightly stroked the top of Alexis' head in a soothing motion, telling her to quit fussing and to make a good first impression for her father. Hearing the familiar voice, Alexis gasped a few times to stop her crying and settled down.

A little while later, Ace drove Duke and Alexis home, giving Duke the time he wanted to be alone with his daughter before he would have to share her with others at the party. His eyes bulged as the car slowed down. He thought silently, "This is exactly what I imagined, but I still cannot believe she went and bought a house… a damn entire house without me."

"Thanks," Duke replied as he waved his buddy off, grinning as he cradled his precious bundle in one arm and a diaper bag over the opposite shoulder.

As soon as he entered his new home, he set the bag down and ambled his way around, looking over each room until he entered the living room. Duke sat down in the glider, placing his daughter in his lap. Now that he was finally alone, he allowed the stream of tears, previously held back, to flow freely down his face as he looked at the Christmas tree, realizing he had missed not only her first Christmas, but her first Halloween, Thanksgiving, smile, laughter, tears, even the first day she crawled or was able to roll over.

Alexis was perfect, more so than he had imagined. The only photograph he was able to view of her, thanks to the hospital's secure website, did her no justice; however, there was one minute detail that had bugged him since seeing her at the Armbruster's. He didn't want to say anything in front of Ace or Karen and hence had kept quiet. 'What the hell happened to her jet black hair?' He'd make sure to ask Scarlett about the change in hair color later when he met up with her.

For the time being, he was simply going to enjoy spending the rest of the afternoon with Alexis, uninterrupted. After drying his tears, Duke picked up a book on the end table next to him, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, and softly read aloud as he rocked his daughter; something he had imagined doing each and every day for the past 181 days.

(Approximately fifteen months ago)

"Shana, are you sure?" Duke asked, the words fighting their way of the usually well-versed mouth of the GI Joe Team's First Sergeant.

"Yes," Scarlett replied, her voice showing no hint of doubt or uncertainty. The glowing redhead pulled her husband into their tiny bathroom where five different pregnancy tests were scattered across the counter, each one revealing a positive result.

Duke stood behind his wife, wrapping his arms around her waist and asked, "Why so many?" Scarlett could see the confused look on her husband's face reflecting through the mirror. "Call it being skeptical," she answered.

Duke rested his head in the crook of her neck momentarily. "Well, that explains your mood swings and cravings the last couple of weeks. I was getting a tad bit concerned about you." He swooped her up and carried her back to their couch, cuddling up next to her. "Honey, are you okay?" he asked concerned, noticing she never responded to his ill-worded statement.

"Huh?" Scarlett jerked, awoken from her deep concentration. She swore she could see fireworks going off in his ocean-blue eyes, but voiced her thoughts, "You okay with this, Con? I mean we just got married less than two months ago, and we haven't even talked..."

"Well, we were running a little behind schedule," Duke interrupted. "Dad's going to have to wait a couple more months than he wanted for his grandbaby." A smile crossed his face when his step dad's comment about expecting a grandchild nine months after their wedding surfaced from his memory bank. Duke ran his hand in small circles across his wife's stomach. Scarlett responded by placing her hand on top of his, entwining their fingers. He readjusted himself and raised her blouse just slightly. "I can't wait to meet you," he whispered in between the gentle, soft kisses he placed on his wife's exposed belly.

(Approximately nine months later)

Sean moved to the DC area soon after Duke and the majority of the active Joes were deployed that had left Scarlett to take care of herself and the growing life inside her practically all alone. Doc, who had been treating her, had also been called up, but left his pregnant patient with a referral to an obstetrician he knew very well, Dr. Carla Greer. Scarlett had winked at her friend and team doctor, knowing there had to be some type of relationship between the two doctors. Doc grinned, knowing her suspicion, but never confirmed that the obstetrician as indeed his niece.

Inside the Hauser's new house, Sean walked into the living room on his way to the kitchen. Along the way, he saw his sister trying to massage her back. "You okay?" he asked, approaching her that hot and muggy July Fourth morning.

About three weeks after Duke left, Scarlett had seen an open house sign posted in the front yard on her way to Karen's one morning and stopped to take a look. The house was exactly what they had talked about getting someday and since she was unable to contact her husband, she decide to take the chance that he'd be okay with it and make an offer. The contract went smoothly, and she moved in thirty days later.

"I've had a dull backache all morning," Scarlett answered. "I've tried everything I know to do, but it won't go away."

"Do you need some Tylenol?" Sean offered.

Scarlett shook her head. "No, it's not that bad."

"Here, let me," Sean stated as he began to rub his sister's back. "You sure this isn't labor pains? You are a few days overdue now. When the hell are you going to pop that thing out?"

Shrugging, Scarlett answered and scolded, "Thanks for making me feel like a used library book and a balloon, Sean. That thing is your niece; but, no, I don't think it is labor pains. Both Doc and Dr. Greer said I would know without a doubt when it happened."

Sean snickered, loving to aggravate his baby sister. "Have you had breakfast yet?"

"No, please don't mention food around me either," Scarlett groaned, her face matching the nauseating feeling in her stomach.

Sean smiled. "Sorry, I thought you'd be over the morning sickness by now," he muttered as he went to find something to eat. Being considerate of his obviously pregnant sister, he passed on the eggs and bacon. Not seeing anything else appeasing to him in the refrigerator, he moved on to the cabinets. As he poured himself a bowl of cereal, he heard his name being called.

Feeling a strong pain shoot forth from her lower back and protruding to her pelvis, she screamed gutturally, "Sean!"

"Yes," he replied, racing to the living room to find Scarlett doubled over. "What's wrong!" he asked, anxiously.

"Contraction, I think," Scarlett answered questioningly as she concentrated on her breathing until the pain subsided.

"9:02," Sean said looking at his watch. "How far apart are they supposed to get before you go in?"

Scarlett repositioned herself on the couch. "I'm supposed to call Dr. Greer when they are five minutes apart." She motioned her arm to indicate she was having another contraction.

Sean noted the time again: 9:04. "Uh, Sis, it's only been two minutes. Do you have a bag ready?" Sean asked, handing his sister the phone so she could call her doctor while he loaded his Corvette.

"Yes, in my room. The black and red one," Scarlett replied, dialing her doctor's phone number. "Dr. Greer, it's Shana."

"Good morning, Mrs. Hauser," Dr. Greer said. "What can I do for you?"

"They're two minutes apart," Scarlett answered.

"You mean your contractions?" Dr. Greer asked calmly.


"Okay. Do you have someone there with you?"

"Yes, my brother. Sean." Scarlett answered.

Dr. Greer explained, "Have Sean drive you to the emergency room. They'll check you in and direct you to the maternity ward. I'll meet you there."

"Okay. We'll see you there," Scarlett replied, relieved she didn't get a lecture about not calling at the five minute mark.

Sean re-entered the living area carrying the black and red bag. He helped Scarlett off the couch and assisted her to the car, wishing his brother-in-law were there. As much as he loved and cared about his baby sister and knew the sacrifices her husband was making for their country, he thought silently that Duke should be the one doing this, not him. After having buckled both of them in, he drove to the hospital with Scarlett giving him directions.

Scarlett draped an arm around her brother's neck, using him as a support to walk into the emergency room where an orderly met them with a wheelchair. The nurse working the front desk asked, "How far apart?"

"One and a half minutes the last time," Sean answered.

The nurse immediately directed them to the maternity ward. "They will check you in up there," she informed.

"Okay," Sean replied, while Scarlett nodded, holding her belly. He rolled her to the elevator and down a hallway. The nurse at the station in the maternity ward gave Scarlett a few papers to complete and made copies of her insurance card. Another nurse, Shelly, greeted the couple and led them to a delivery room.

Sean and the nurse helped Scarlett into the bed and into the most comfortable position they could get her in. Sean stepped outside while Shelly checked on Scarlett's condition and hooked her to the monitors. She walked to the door and let Sean know it was okay to come back in. She explained to both of them what each of the monitors did and that they were connected to the nurse's station. "I'll notify the doctor that you're here. It should be much longer," Shelly informed as she left the room.

Sean stayed by his sister's side, helping her any way he could. "Sean, it's so nice to not have you picking on me like usual," Scarlett said, looking at her youngest brother.

"Enjoy it while it lasts, Sis, because once you pop that baby out, we go back to normal," Sean retorted.

"How's our soon-to-be mother doing?" Dr. Greer asked, smiling as she neared the bed. She looked at the red-haired man sitting the chair holding the patient's hand. "Are you her coach?"

"Yes," Sean nodded.

"Uncomfortable," Scarlett answered.

Dr. Greer grinned. "It will be over with before you know it." She turned to the nurse, "Shelly, would you get the anesthesiologist?"

"Yes, ma'am," Shelly replied, returning moments later with the anesthesiologist. Scarlett never saw the tubes or needles he was carrying around to her back. Sean gasped and nearly fainted when he saw the man carefully stick the three and a half inch needle in her spine.

The anesthesiologist gave a few instructions to Scarlett and Sean before leaving. "I don't think she'll last that long," Dr. Greer commented. She turned her attention back to the patient. "I'll check on you in a few minutes. It's going to be soon. Hopefully the epidural will kick in before you deliver. You're doing just fine," she assured Scarlett.

After the doctor had left, Sean saw the monitor spike and expected his sister to start moaning and complaining as she had done all morning, along with telling him that Duke was never coming anywhere near her again. Instead, she remained calm as if nothing was happening. "Sis, aren't you feeling anything?" he asked, raising his eyebrow.

"No, why?" Scarlett replied confused.

"The monitor shows you're having one helluva contraction. I hadn't seen it jump like that all morning," Sean explained.

Scarlett tried to look at the monitor but could not see to read it. "Well, whatever it says, I'm not feeling a thing," she smiled.

As Shelly entered the delivery room, Sean stepped out to call their dad and let him know the baby was on its way.

"It's time. I'll get Dr. Greer. Just relax until we get here," Shelly advised. Passing Sean in the hallway, she stopped to let him know he needed to head back to Scarlett's room.

Sean nodded. "Da, I need to go. Shana's going to pop anytime."

"Sean, don't talk 'bout your sister like that," Patrick O'Hara chuckled while reprimanding his youngest son. "Tell Shana I love her and I'll be up as soon as I can to see her and the baby."

"I will," Sean answered, hanging up the phone after they said their good-byes. He walked back into Scarlett's room and took his place next to her bed.

Shelly returned with Dr. Greer. Dr. Greer prepared Scarlett for the baby's delivery, while Shelly setup the equipment tray. "It's almost over, Mrs. Hauser," Dr. Greer assured.

"Good. The epidural's doing wonders, but I'd really love to get rid of this basketball," Scarlett tried to laugh.

A few minutes later, Dr. Greer held up a small, wrinkled baby, focusing her eyes on the wall clock's small hands. As the newborn wiggled and cried in her hands, she cheerfully announce, "Congratulations mom. It's a girl. Time of birth: 10:34am."

The doctor, joyous the delivery went so well for the first-time mother, handed the baby to Shelly, who took her to the counter and administered the Apgar test. As she observed the newborn she jotted down a few notes: color, good, a little yellow but no blue in the hands or feet; heart rate is excellent, and so is her breathing. Alexis had just let out a huge yawn. Shelly continued, noting that the baby's reflexes and muscle tone were both on the favorable side as well. She then wrapped the newborn in a blanket, and cradling the child, she walked back over to Scarlett and Sean. "You have a health baby girl. She weighs 7 pounds 5 ounces and is 20 inches long," the nurse stated, placing the newborn in her mother's arms.

Shana gleamed and smiled as she held her newborn baby. "She's perfect," she sighed, admiring the tiny fingers and soft, fine hair.

"She's a doll," the normally tough martial arts instructor melted at the sight of his niece. "What are you naming her?"

"Alexis Maille Hauser," Scarlett answered, looking up, thinking of her husband and wishing he could be with them. Scarlett lightly brushed her daughter's jet black hair, adoring her. "Alexis after Conrad's grandmother, Alexandra," she explained, "and Maille…"

"After grandma," Sean finished tenderly. "Alexis Maille O'… Hauser," he quickly corrected himself. "Sorry Sis. This is the first niece or nephew I have that isn't…doesn't…have the O'Hara name."

Scarlett raised her hand and took ahold of her brother's arm. "It's okay, Sean," she whispered as a smile broke out across his face. Sean leaned over and kissed his niece who cooed quietly.

As Scarlett nursed the newborn in her private room, Sean called her in-laws. "Mrs. Falcone, this is Sean O'Hara, Shana's brother," he introduced himself.

"Is everything alright?" Isabelle Falcone asked.

"Yes," Sean smiled. "Shana had just had the baby. A girl, Alexis Maille," he said, going on to provide any details the paternal grandmother requested. He handed the phone to his sister, whispering, "Sis."

"Mom," Scarlett spoke half-dazed from her pain medicine.

"Congratulations, dear," Isabelle grinned. "I won't keep you long. I'm sure you'd love all the rest you can get. Robert and I will be over to see you and Alexis as soon as we can. It may be a month or so before we can get away from here."

"Okay," Scarlett replied. "Tell everyone 'hi' for me and that I love them."

"I will, and we love you also," Isabelle said and hung up.

Sean put the phone back in its cradle. Although the staff offered to setup a cot for him, he refused and returned to the house, hoping that would help his sister get the rest she needed. She had told him to stay if he wanted to, but he could see the dark circles around her drooping eyes. Shana did her best to sleep as well as she could. It seemed that just as she began to fall into a deep sleep, a nurse would wake her up for a nighttime feeding.

Sean returned to the hospital the next morning to find that his sister was being discharged. He waited until Dr. Greer finished examining Scarlett. The pediatrician brought Alexis to the room after discharging the one-day-old baby. "She's doing just fine," he smiled and went over a list of symptoms to watch for.

Scarlett nodded and signed a stack of papers. She handed Alexis to Sean so she could climb into the wheelchair. "I can walk out of here."

Dr. Greer laughed. "Sorry, dear. Hospital policy. Baby needs to go in mom's lap also," she explained, looking at Sean.

Sean kissed Alexis before handing her over to her mother. He walked beside them as Shelly rolled the patients to the hospital's front doors.

"Where's your vehicle?" Shelly asked.

"The red corvette," Sean answered, leaving to retrieve it from the parking lot. He pulled up in the driveway and opened the door. Carefully, he placed his niece in the car seat and buckled her in, to which Shelly nodded her approval. After leaning the passenger seat back in place, he assisted Scarlett into the car before walking around and getting into the car himself. Shelly waved them off as Sean slowly drove away from the hospital.

"I'm so glad to be out of there," Scarlett stated, looking in the back seat at her infant daughter.

Sean laughed. "I can't believe you stayed that long without griping." A short while later, he pulled into their driveway and quickly removed a crying and upset Alexis from her seat. "There, there, it's okay," he spoke softly, handing her to her mother.

"We're home, Alexis," Scarlett whispered, holding the baby close to her as she walked into her house. Sean carried their bags in, smiling as their father met them at the door and embraced his daughter and grandbaby.

"Daddy?" Scarlett cried in shock. "When did you get here?"

"Last night. I left as soon as my last class was over," Patrick replied taking the baby into his arms. His face glowed as he held his newest granddaughter. "Have you heard when Conrad will be back home?" He asked, his face showing his concern and sadness for his absent son-in-law.

"No word yet, Da," Scarlett answered, sitting down next to her father on the couch. "I miss him so much, but I also know he is exactly where he needs to be."

Patrick placed his free arm momentarily on his daughter's shoulder to comfort her. "I know we cannot take his place, but we are here to help you."

"I know," Scarlett whispered. "Thank you, Da, Sean." Talking with her father and brother about her husband brought to memory a concern she had since holding Alexis the first time. "How do I explain the black hair to him? I didn't think you could get a black haired baby from a redhead and a blond."

"Conrad is the father, right Sis?" Sean spurted, meaning for it to be a joke.

Patrick's face tensed. "Sean!" He reprimanded.

"Sorry Da, Sis," Sean apologized quickly.

Patrick turned back to Scarlett. "Shana, if you've been faithful to him, I wouldn't worry about it. Besides, as much as I hate to say this, she looks like him, not you."

"I know," Scarlett chuckled.

As Alexis opened her tiny mouth, taking a piece of Patrick's sweater in her mouth, the white-haired grandfather handed the baby back to her mother and laughed, "I think she needs you."

"Dinner's ready," Sean hollered from the kitchen as he set the bowl of spaghetti on the table alongside the plate of garlic herb toast.

"You boys go ahead and eat. I'll be there in a few minutes," Scarlett replied. "Just save me a plate okay?" she added, gritting her teeth at the fact that her brother was still able to stuff himself and not gain a pound. "Damn him," she muttered under her breath. Having put Alexis down for her nap, she joined her father and brother at the dining table. "This is wonderful, Sean. I'll miss having you around when Conrad gets back."

"Yeah right, Sis, you'll forget all about me then," Sean smirked.

Scarlett's face tightened and she growled, "Sean, I was being serious. I don't know if I could have survived the past four months had you not moved to DC." She lowered her head, trying not to cry. "All of my friends and my husband were deployed, without me this time. I had never felt so alone or scared. I would have felt better if I could have gone with them. A few of them had wives they left, but I didn't really know them well."

"What about Karen and Natalia?" Sean asked, referring to Ace and Hawk's wives, respectively.

"Yes," Scarlett sighed as she looked back up and blinked her eyes to clear them. "But I really didn't get to know them well until they came over one afternoon, a couple of days after the deployment, to make sure I was holding up okay."

Hearing her daughter start to fuss, Shana began to stand up. "I'll get her," Patrick stated and winked, "I've taken care of a baby or few in my day."

Sean gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink, running hot soapy water over them to let them soak. "I'll take care of them later, Sis," he said as they went back to the living room.

Their father returned a few minutes later. "She went back to sleep," he whispered, joining two of his children as they enjoyed each other's company. Throughout the afternoon, they opened the house to a number of well-wishing visitors, including Karen and Natalia.