It was almost dawn, and Thomas had been pacing the hallway outside the bedroom for going on an hour. Norrington, from where he sat with Catherine, recognized in the nervous energy of the young man what he himself was feeling. Excitement, mingled with raw anxiety. Elizabeth was strong. But as far as medicine had come in his lifetime alone, childbirth was still a dangerous and possibly deadly thing.
As though she had read his mind, Catherine said, "She'll be all right." He looked at her, and thought that he had never loved her more than he did at that moment. "She will, James. I know my daughter. A mother always knows."
"Papa," came a voice he recognized, and James appeared at the top of the stairs. Cathy, who was darkly beautiful like her mother but seemingly without any of Isabella's worse personality traits, trailed a few steps behind him. She offered a shy smile which Norrington returned without hesitation.
"I came as soon as I heard," James was saying. "Why didn't someone write me? I was only at the other end of the island!"
"James, you knew for nine months that your sister was having a baby due in April," Catherine said with a mother's patience. "We shouldn't have had to write you. If you wanted to be here, you should have made sure you were here."
James mumbled something that might have been an admission of his idiocy and sat down in the chair next to his father. "Is she all right?"
"It's hard to say for sure," Norrington said. "The midwife's been in there for the last half hour, and she stopped letting us in about an hour ago. But Elizabeth's strong. She'll do fine."
"Oh, there was something I wanted to mention," James began, so casually that Norrington knew he was up to mischief. "I don't know if now's the best time to say it, but I suppose it's as good as any. Er, Cathy and I, well –"
"We're going to have a baby!" Cathy burst out, her face glowing.
Norrington broke into a smile. He clapped his son on the back, then gave him a bear hug and kissed Cathy on the cheek. "Congratulations to you both. Another little one in the family. What could be better for an old man in his retirement?"
Catherine nudged him, and half-rose from her seat. "James, look."
Silence fell, and all attention turned to Thomas, who was holding a hushed conversation with the midwife through a crack in the door. Norrington got to his feet, heart pounding. If he could make it through this, he thought, he was good for another few years.
The door shut again, and Thomas turned to them with a flood of emotion on his face. "Twins," he whispered, like he couldn't believe it. "A boy and a girl. Twins!"
"And Elizabeth?" Norrington asked anxiously.
"Exhausted, as you can imagine, but Ellen says she'll be fine." Thomas put out a hand for support, almost blindly, and Norrington was there. He gripped Thomas' shoulder, and slowly, the young man's face split in a grin. "Twins!"
There was a communal sigh of relief, followed by great happiness. Hugs and kisses passed around, and Thomas sank into a chair a ways away from everyone with a dazed smile. Norrington pulled up the one next to him and gave his son-in-law a fatherly pat on the arm. "Are you all right?"
"I need a drink," Thomas said, and laughed. "I'm just glad it's over."
"What will you name your twins, then?" Norrington asked.
Thomas seemed to hesitate. He pursed his lips, frowning, and his face was very serious. That expression, on him, made him the image of Beckett, and Norrington's chest tightened until he thought he would go mad. Beckett's death was still too recent. The wound was too fresh, and seeing his lover's face in the face of this young man was almost too much to bear.
"Isabella Catherine for the girl, I think," he said at last. "And the boy, well..." He looked up at Norrington. "I know how you felt about my father," he said quietly and with great tenderness, "and I know how he felt about you. And I know that you two didn't speak for a long time prior to his death, but...he never stopped loving you. He wrote long letters to you in the months before he died, letters he never had any intention of posting. I found them, scrolls upon scrolls, tucked away in a corner of his study. I didn't know what they were, so I read one...and I couldn't help but read them all. I kept them safe for you, sir, if you want to go through them."
Norrington couldn't breathe. He turned his face away, looked down the darkened corridor, not wanting Thomas to see the tears in his eyes, and he shook his head, just once. He wouldn't read the letters. It was too late, Beckett was dead. As long as Thomas said he had loved him, he would believe that. He could not read the letters. It would kill him.
"And so, with your permission, sir," Thomas continued in that same soft voice that was Beckett's voice, only younger, "Elizabeth and I would like to name our son James Cutler Norrington Beckett."
Norrington, overwhelmed, put his hands to his face, but it was too late to stop the tears. Nothing he did now could stop the years of agony and loneliness that poured out of his eyes. For so long, he had lived without the man he had loved. For years, Norrington had gone without the sound of Beckett's voice, the touch of those cool fingers on his skin. And now to learn that Beckett had still loved him...and for Thomas to name the first child born of their families' union in a way that would entwine James Norrington with Cutler Beckett forever...
"Thank you," Norrington managed to gasp through shuddering breaks in his endless flood of tears. "Thank you."
"No, sir," Thomas said gently, and stood to rejoin the group further down the corridor. "Thank you. Because of you, my father knew what love was. He was loved utterly and completely by at least one person in his lifetime, for I doubt any of us delude ourselves into thinking that my mother ever loved him, and as much as Cathy and I did – and do – love him, what you gave him was something different. You gave him what his wife and children could not. The only time he was truly happy was when he was with you. So it is I who must thank you."
Thomas walked away and Norrington sat by himself in the darkness, shedding silent tears for all the sorrow in his life, all the wasted years. But then he wiped his face and squared his shoulders, because he had two new grandchildren, and there were things to do. "James Cutler Norrington Beckett," he said quietly. "I must live now." But he did not rise to do anything.