A/N: Yes, this is the final chapter of this storyline. :( A word of warning for everyone and a challenge: the name of their child is rather...unusual. You do not pronounce it the way it looks, but I'm not telling you the correct pronunciation until after everyone comments. This is the challenge: if you can come up with where/who/what the name comes from, you get to help me choose which story will be started next. Don't worry, for everyone who doesn't realize the inspiration of the name, I will reveal it. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the conclusion. Thanks for reading! Charlynn
Ryan Atwood was exhausted, but, if he was exhausted, where did that leave his wife, he reasoned with himself. She wasn't just tired or fatigued, worn out didn't even begin to describe her level of weariness. Instead she was drained, physically, emotionally, and mentally, drowsy, and sore; her whole body was aching, and even thinking about his own need for rest made him feel like a terrible husband and father, an unsympathetic hypocrite. So, scrubbing a rough hand over his haggard face, he glanced down at his watch and sighed when he noticed it was only 5:25.
Because the heavy blinds were drawn, it had been nearly impossible for him to discern the time of day, so he had relied heavily upon his watch to tell them how long they had been at the hospital. Actually, heavily didn't even scratch the surface of how dependent he had become on his watch that afternoon, - he'd probably already looked at it at least a hundred times - and, with the way Marissa's labor was progressing, he had a good feeling there would be even more bonding time for him and his timepiece.
"So, I was thinking," his wife spoke up after her contraction passed, effectively silencing his rather strange inner monologue, "instead of me going to Austin next year on my own, why don't we make it a family trip. You can take a few days' vacation time, we can get August out of school on educational travel, and, since the baby will only be seven months old, I doubt it'll have any pressing social plans. What do you think?"
"I think….I think we need more ice," Ryan eventually said after stumbling over his words. Standing up, he brushed a quick kiss across her sweaty brow, but, before he could escape from the oppressive confines of the hospital room, her emotional voice stopped him dead in his tracks.
"You don't like the idea?"
"No, I think it's a great idea," he assured her, setting the ice bucket down to clasp the desperate hand she had offered him. "After all, we did say that we wanted August to be able to visit every state before he turned eighteen, and he's never been to Texas before." And that was the truth; he did want to take the kids and go with her to the annual South by Southwest Music Festival. "I'm just worried about August," he excused his behavior. "You know, he's been sitting in that waiting room all day with your Mom…." He thought she'd chastise him for picking on her Mom, but when she merely laughed softly at his little joke directed at Julie, he let out a breath of relief that she hadn't caught him in his little white lie of omission, kissed her once again, the second time on the lips, and picked up the ice bucket. "I'll be back before your next contraction," Ryan promised as he slipped out the door.
He was concerned about August and did want to check on him, but the truth was that he was worried about her. The night before had been nearly unbearably long. Her back had been so sore that she couldn't sleep, and he had stayed up with her, massaging the tender muscles and hoping his gentle ministrations would ease her discomfort enough so that she could go to sleep. At three in the morning, she had told him to go to sleep, that while he was at work the next day, she'd be able to hopefully catch up on her own rest, and she didn't want him to run his own body down taking care of her. Reluctantly, he had listened, but two hours later when he had rolled over to slip his arms around her very pregnant form, he had found her peacefully sitting up in bed and carefully drinking a cold glass of milk. If it hadn't been for the slight puckering of her brow, he wouldn't have known anything was wrong.
"Your back still bothering you," he asked her, sleep lacing his voice. Sitting up in bed, he yawned, pushed the blankets away from his restless, hot body, and settled his eyes on his wife to watch her closely. In his opinion, she was acting strangely.
Without any more explanation, Marissa announced, "Nope."
"And you're not tired? Don't you want to get some sleep before August gets up?"
"Can't sleep," she told him resolutely.
Oh yeah, something was definitely going on. "What's with the milk," he inquired, nodding towards the tall, foamy glass. "Just a craving?"
Was she ever going to give him a straight answer again? Sighing from annoyance, Ryan decided to play dirty. "You can either tell me what's going on, or I'm going to call your Mom and have her come down here to watch over you while I'm at work today. Your choice, but I should remind you that her new favorite hobby is hovering."
"Fine," she huffed, glaring at him. "I'm having Braxton-Hicks contractions. The milk should help to get rid of them."
"Marissa," he exclaimed, jumping out of bed and rushing towards their closet where he knew their prepared hospital bag lay waiting. "You're only two weeks away from your due date! Don't you think these could be real contractions and not a false alarm?"
"I'm not in labor." Her tone was determined, unyielding, stubborn, leaving no room for argument. "It's Friday the 13th, and I refuse to give birth today."
He couldn't help it, he knew it was the wrong thing to do at the worst time possible, but, in a fit of what he would later call temporary insanity, he laughed, he chuckled, he snickered, and he snorted all at his very pregnant, very angry wife's expense, doing nothing but heightening her annoyance to the point where she took her tall, foamy glass of milk and threw it as hard as she could at his head.
"I'm going to go call your Mom."
"What," she cried out. "That's not fair! I told you what was wrong. Don't you dare go back on a deal with me, Ryan Atwood!"
"I'm not calling her to baby-sit you; I'm calling her so she can come with us to the hospital and wait with August. You know as well as I do that he'll never stay here. He'll want to be right there, close by, so that when his little sister or little brother arrives, he'll be able to meet her or him."
"He's going to be waiting a while, because this baby is staying in me for at least another," she glanced at her bedside table clock, "eighteen hours and fifty minutes."
"And, while I'm calling your Mom, I'm going to give Nancy a call and let her know I won't be coming into the office. She might want to come to the hospital, too, now that I think about it."
"I'm not a freak show that you can charge admission for; the whole damn town does not need to be there while I'm giving birth!"
Taunting her, he asked with a smirk on his face, "I thought you weren't giving birth today?" The only response he received as his very hormonal wife giving him the bird. "I'm also going to make some breakfast for August and myself, something quick, and then I'll get him up. Can you get dressed on your own, or are you contractions too advanced? Do you need me to help you?"
"I'll do it myself," she snapped, glaring at him, "but it doesn't matter. We can go to the hospital, you can call every Tom, Dick, and Harry you know, tell them that you're going to be a Daddy again today, but these legs," she pointed down at her own body, "they're remaining closed until tomorrow."
"I think it's about nine months too late for that," he teased on his way out the door. As soon as he closed it behind him, Ryan let out a shaky breath. Marissa was scared. He could tell that her apparent anger and reluctance to give birth stemmed from the nerves she was feeling as memories from the past haunted her, and, while he was tense and anxious as well, he, evidently, was going to deal with his own panic by joking around and teasing his wife. For a man who rarely showed his lighter, humorous side, he definitely picked odd times to tell jokes. However, as long as they made it through the day, as long as their baby, boy or girl, was healthy when born, he didn't care how they dealt with the pressures of the labor. After all, as Marissa had said, he was going to be a Daddy again, and nothing could ruin that feeling for him. Nothing.
Ten hours later though, Marissa's reluctance to discuss giving birth had progressed to absolute denial, and he was scared, scared for her, scared for himself, and, most of all, scared for their unborn baby. When their daughter had been born, her labor had progressed much more quickly than this child's, but the doctor had assured him that Marissa's body was moving along slow and steady, just as they wanted. There was a fetal heart monitor hooked up, so that the staff could watch the baby's heart rate through every step of the labor, and, so far, their son or daughter was handling the stress of being born perfectly. He had been assured that everything was moving along the way it should, but, until he saw a beautiful, healthy, alive baby placed in his wife's arms, nothing would stop his fears.
Five minutes later, after having given Julie and August an update and getting the promised ice, he pushed open the door to Marissa's hospital room to find her preparing for her next contraction. "I'm here, I'm here," he soothed, immediately placing the bucket of frozen water chips down on her bedside table and taking both of her hands in his. "That's it," he coached, "breath through it. You're doing great, baby." Knowing she liked him to talk to her while she was experiencing the labor pains, he continued. "I just saw your Mom and August, and they were getting ready to head down to the cafeteria, but I told them to go out for dinner at a restaurant, because it's going to be a while before the baby's born."
"How's August," she panted.
"He's fine," Ryan reassured. "He's anxious to meet his little brother or sister, but, other than that, just enjoying spending time with his Grandma."
The contraction had passed, and she was capable of carrying on a conversation. "What have they been up to this afternoon?"
"Apparently, our son is quite the little card shark. If his evening is as productive as his afternoon, we might be able to retire early or use his college fund to go on a second honeymoon. He's already managed to win $500 and the promise of a car of his choosing when he turns sixteen from your Mom. What I don't understand though is where the hell did he learn how to play poker?" He was expecting her to shrug her shoulders or say that she had no idea, so when Ryan saw the proud, smug grin on his wife's face, he knew she was guilty of something. "What did you do?"
"Well, I might have….taught him a thing or two about playing cards when he was younger," she confessed.
"What?! You know, sure, we live in Southern California, and the weather is generally perfect 350 days out of the year, but you have to have something to do on those rare days when you can't go outside to play. So, when it would rain and you would be at work, I would teach August how to play poker. We'd bet with cookies, and, evidently, he remembers a thing or two from our little poker tournaments."
"You're telling your Mom about this," he ordered her. "She's already going off on me for teaching our son how to count cards. I think I even heard her mutter 'that boy' under her breath, and you know she hasn't called me that in years."
"I'll make you a deal," she offered him cheekily. "If you let them come in here to play cards with me when they get back from dinner, then I'll confess all to my Mom."
"Marissa, you're in labor; you could give birth at any time," Ryan pointed out. "There's no way I'm letting you excite yourself by gambling in between contractions."
"I'm not giving birth today," her tone was cold again, cold and unwavering, "so you can just forget that thought, Atwood! I've seen you looking at your watch all afternoon, and, if you think it's been a long day so far, tonight's going to be even longer."
"Fine," he conceded. "What if I play cards with you?"
"Where's the fun in winning my own money?"
"We could bet with something other than money," he suggested, "like diaper duty for a month."
Clapping her hands together, she exclaimed, "this has possibilities," but, before he could even deal the first round, another contraction was upon her. Just like before, Ryan held her hands through the pain, wiping her sweat dampened, frizzy hair off her moist forehead and talking to her while the contraction passed. It was easily the longest lasting, most excruciating one she had suffered through so far, and, when it was over, tears were lining her exquisite blue eyes, her voice was quivering, and poker was the furthest thing from her mind. "I'm scared Ryan," she finally admitted, lacing her right hand through the hair at the nape of his neck and drawing him towards her, eventually resting her face against his. "I'm so scared something will go wrong again." Her eyes closed in a futile effort to keep the crystal, saline droplets from falling as her nose intimately caressed his.
"I'm scared, too, baby."
Finally, she was opening up to him, her walls were breaking down, and, in that moment, he knew they would be alright…all four of them.
"Hey Buddy," an exuberant Ryan roused his son from sleep. Despite the dark, tired circles rimming his cobalt eyes, he had never felt more alive. "I know it's late, but, if you want to meet your baby sister, you can."
"She had a little girl," Julie asked, smiling up at her son-in-law. She had been dozing off and on throughout the evening, but, with the news of her daughter becoming a mother for what she thought was the second time, she was wide awake. Even the losses she had suffered at the hands of her very intelligent, rather cheeky grandson mattered little to her in that moment. "How are they? What's my granddaughter's name? When can I see them?"
"Marissa actually wanted to see August first, but she wanted me to tell you that she expects you in that hospital room as soon as he's tucked in for the night." Ryan couldn't hold back a chuckle as his mother-in-law pouted slightly at the knowledge she'd have to wait her turn. If he could say one thing about Julie Cooper it was that she never changed, and, after knowing her for almost thirty years, he found the thought comforting. "I do have a favor to ask of you though," he continued, watching August out of the corner of his eye as his son stood up from the couch he had been sleeping on and slipped his small feet back into his flip-flops. "Would you be able to call everyone for us? I know it's late, after midnight, but, after last time…"
"You mean when you waited several days to tell us that Marissa had given birth!"
"Yeah, then," he conceded. Apparently, Julie Cooper still didn't forget or forgive anything either. "We, Marissa and I, thought it would be better this time if everyone knew right away."
"And when they ask for more information, what am I supposed to tell them," she pressed. "It's not as if you've told me anything yet."
"She was born at exactly 12:01, August 14th. Laughing softly, he added, "Marissa was just able to avoid an unlucky birthday for our daughter."
"I don't care about that," Julie complained. "What's her name?!"
"She weighs six pounds, six ounces, is nineteen inches long, has her Mother's eyes, and, terrifyingly, your red hair."
Tapping her foot impatiently, the older woman exploded, "her name, Ryan, tell me her damn name!"
"We actually haven't officially given her a name yet." Smiling at his son, he wrapped a loving arm around the little boy's shoulders, pulling him into his side, before continuing. "We thought we'd let August here help us out."
"Are you serious, Dad?"
"Of course I am. You're going to have to live with the name your little sister has, too, but don't look at me." Glancing up at his mother-in-law, he continued. "This was all your Mom's idea."
As the two Atwood boys walked out of the waiting room together, Ryan could hear Julie complaining behind him, muttering curses under her breath and objecting the fact that her nine year old grandson got to help choose the baby's name when she, her grandmother, had absolutely no say.
"Hey Dad," August spoke up as they neared Marissa's hospital room, "would it be okay if I used some of the money I won from Grandma Julie to buy the baby a present?"
"About those poker winnings," Ryan sighed, stopping their movements and turning to face his little boy, "you're going to have to give your Grandma her money back."
"I know you won it, fair and square, but it's only the right thing to do. What you did to Julie is something called hustling, because you took advantage of the fact that she would be unaware of how good of a card player you are."
"No I didn't," the nine year old argued. "Grandma was bored and asked me if I wanted to play cards with her. I said sure, told her that I was really good at poker, and she laughed at me. It was her idea to bet, because she said there was no way a kid as young as I was could beat her at such an old game."
"Well, in that case, we're still giving her back her money, but," Ryan interjected when August went to protest again, "we're definitely holding her to the fact that she owes you the car of your choice when you turn sixteen. Deal?"
"Deal," the little boy beamed up at his Father, giving him a high-five in the process.
"Now, when we go inside the room to see your Mom and your little baby sister, try to keep your voice down in case your Mom managed to get her to stop crying. When I left, she was wailing at the top of her lungs; my guess is that she's trying to pay your Mom back for all that awful music she made her listen to for the past nine months."
They were both snickering softly when he pushed the door open only to be confronted with his smiling wife as she looked down upon their peacefully eating daughter. Unlike with August, they had decided to bottle feed with their second foray into parenthood, mainly so that he and their son could play a larger part in helping out with the feedings.
"I guess all it took was for me to go and get you, Buddy, for her to settle down."
"Hey, Mommy," August greeted Marissa, moving towards her bedside. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm sore and tired," she admitted, laughing softly, "but I'm really, really happy, even more so now that you and your Dad are here. Did we wake you up?"
"Yeah, but it's okay. I wanted to meet my little sister."
"And she wanted to meet you, too," the radiant mother reassured him. "Well, what are you waiting for, get up here," she demanded, patting the empty part of the hospital bed where her son could sit. "You need to get a good look at her so that you can help pick out a name." With a look upon her face that could only be described as pure contentment, Ryan watched his wife as she spoke with their son, making his way to her far side and pulling up the lone chair in the room to sit beside her. "What do you think?"
"Well, she….um….she looks nothing like me," the little boy realized, furrowing his brows. "And she really does have red hair."
"She looks like me, just like you look almost exactly like your Daddy," Marissa responded. "You know, my hair was slightly red when I was born, but it faded when I got older."
"Do you think her hair will change, too?"
"It's hard to tell. It might, but, yet again, as scary as the idea is, she might end up looking like your Grandma Julie."
"Hey, I said something similar," Ryan joked, making his wife laugh.
Confused, August looked up at his Mom. "Why would that be scary? I think Grandma Julie is pretty."
"She is pretty, baby, and I know she'd love it if you told her that, but…well, do you know how Grandma Julie really likes herself?" Her son nodded his head to show he understood. "Well, if your little sister ends up looking like your Grandma, it'll just make her like herself even more."
"Plus, it'll be a bad sign for your little sister," Ryan added. "If she looks like your Grandma, she just might start acting like her, too." His wife's glare did nothing to deter him. "Don't look at me like that, Marissa! August is old enough that he is aware of the rather … unique relationship your Mother and I have. She tells me I'm not good enough for you; I tell her that she's vain. She calls me a juvenile delinquent; I call her a plastic ambulance chaser. The point is we're both capable of admitting our flaws, and I think there are some of her own personality traits that your Mother would not want her grandchildren to inherit, so it's okay for me to say things like this. Despite our past, we've made peace. I might not agree with everything she does and vice versa, but I can admit that she loves you, wants what's best for you, and that she's a good grandma, just as I think she'd finally admit that she knows that I love you, that I want the best for you, and that I'm a good dad. However, that still does not mean I want my little girl to be the next Julie Cooper."
"Name, Ryan," Marissa interrupted his rant, pretending to be angry but doing a poor job of it. "We brought August in here to meet his baby sister and to help us name her. I think we're getting a little off topic."
"Are you going to name her after a musician like you did me," the little boy reentered the conversation. "I think we should name her Ringo."
"Where do you get this fascination with the Beatles," his Mother asked him. "Granted, I have to admit that they are an integral part of music history, but that's where they belong, August, in the past."
"No, Buddy," Ryan told him, "we're not naming her Ringo. Your Mom and I like the name Larkin, but we're not sure if we want it to be her first or her middle name."
"We're going to let you pick the second half of her name, but you have to pick from our options."
"Okay," their son agreed, "what are they?"
"There's Fiona, Hope, Catherine, Chan, and Rilo," Marissa told him, watching his face to observe his various reactions to the names.
"Catherine's too old," the little boy quickly stated, "and I don't like the name Fiona. It makes me think of fjords."
"Hey," Ryan exclaimed, "that's impressive. How do you know about fjords?"
"From IMF," August answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Mom makes me watch "One World" everyday after school so that I learn about the music scenes in different countries, and they talk about geography, culture, and history, too." His Dad merely rolled his eyes. "Hope's sounds like a hippy name," their son continued making his way through the options, "and, although Rilo is kind of like Ringo, I think I like Chan the best."
"So Chan is it," Marissa declared, kissing his cheek. "Should it be Larkin Chan Atwood or Chan Larkin Atwood?"
"Chan Larkin," August spoke up, grinning wickedly.
"Then that's what it'll be," Ryan announced. "But I have a question for you, Buddy. What made you choose Chan?"
Smiling smugly, the little boy explained, "well, because my middle name is so weird, I thought my sister should have a weird first name, and it doesn't get much weirder than Chan."
"Hey, baby girl," Marissa greeted her daughter as she knelt down in front of the little girl's gravestone, Ryan by her side. "Happy Birthday."
"A lot has changed since the last time we were here," he continued, letting his hand move across the engraved script adorning their oldest child's final resting place. "August is going to turn ten in a few days, and you have a new baby sister."
Laughing softly, a teary eyed Marissa confessed, "we stuck with using strange names again. One thing is for sure, no one else will ever have our children's names."
"We named your little sister Chan Larkin, Chan because of your Mom's love for music and Larkin just because we liked it."
"Your brother is so excited, because he thinks her name is stranger than his," Marissa expressed, wiping away several tears that escaped her loving, sapphire eyes. "Of course, your Grandpa Sandy and Uncle Seth had a few glib comments to make about it, while your Grandma Kirsten was very accepting."
"Grandma Julie on the other hand," Ryan laughed, earning a jab in his side from his wife, "she wasn't quite as accommodating. It turns out she had her heart, and, yes, baby girl she does have one," he paused to stifle another chuckle while Marissa glared at him, "set on her granddaughter being named after herself, especially when she found out that Chan has red hair."
"Your Aunt Summer was just upset, because she says we'll have a hard time finding monogrammed items for her, but she graciously offered to give us the name of her favorite engraver."
"Your cousins all think the name's pretty cool," Ryan added in, "especially little Stella, because she can actually say it. They were just here, too. All five of them flew out to meet Chan."
"Just as they would have flown out here ten years ago to meet you if….if things would have been different."
"We can't stay long, but we wanted to come see you today, to remember your birthday," Ryan's voice caught in his throat as he stifled an emotional sob, "and we brought you some presents, nothing big, just flowers and a picture of your family…the family we couldn't have had without you."
"You're our first miracle," Marissa continued for her husband, "and we will always cherish every moment we got to spend with you before you were taken away from us. So thank you, baby girl, thank you for your brother and your sister." Standing up, she took Ryan's hand in hers and squeezed it softly before kissing her fingers and letting them linger over the words on the tombstone. "We love you."
Child of Ours
Neko Alison Atwood
Neko Alison Atwood
Daughter, Sister, Guardian Angel
A Gift from the Stars
A Gift from the Stars
Hand in hand they left the cemetery to go home to their family, to celebrate the life their daughter had given them, and to honor her memory by cherishing the two children her death had provided them with. In a perfect world, she would be there with them to ring in her birthday, but the world she had left behind ten years before wasn't perfect. It was, however, still pretty miraculous, and Ryan and Marissa Atwood intended to enjoy every moment they were lucky enough to be given. Together.