Email: bananacosmicgirl at hotmail . com
Website: www . cosmicuniverse . net
LiveJournal: bananacosmic . livejournal . com
Prompt: 05. Snuggle
Words in chapter: 3 472
Characters: Zane, Rikki, Lewis, Cleo, Nova
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations from the tv-show "H2O: Just Add Water", created and owned by Jonathan M. Shiff and others. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: The baby is three weeks old, but not everything is as well as it should be in the Chadwick-Bennett household.
Author's notes: Response to prompt 5 on my Hurt/Comfort table. Future fic, set about four years after season two. Part five, the final part, of my Family series.
He had never felt more tired in his life.
He'd thought having a baby would mean work – but he hadn't realized that it would be work and responsibility twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year.
After three weeks, he felt like the walking dead.
Rikki seemed to be faring even worse than him. Since she breastfed, it was up to her to get up every time the baby screamed for food, whereas he could usually drag the pillow over his head and use it to muffle out the sounds, and sleep for another few hours.
Now, the baby was on his shoulder, hiccuping after a bout of screaming that seemed to take the breath out of her.
"There, there, love," he said quietly, feeling his own eyelids drop as they walked around the living room.
They'd named her only a few days ago, finally deciding that they couldn't possibly call her 'the baby' forever. They'd settled on Nova, which they both found a lovely, short name – they both had short names, and they didn't want to break that tradition with their daughter.
Nova's eyelids finally shut and her breathing evened out into sleep.
As he placed the baby back in her crib, hoping that she wouldn't wake up again upon the movement, he heard someone enter the room.
Rikki gazed at him, dark shadows around her eyes and a slump to her shoulders that hadn't been there before. Zane adored Nova, loved her like he'd never loved anything before, but he still wondered sometimes, if it had been the wrong choice. Rikki didn't seem happy these days.
He exited the office, which had been redecorated as the baby's room. Nova's cot stood to one side, a few toys in it. There was a single bed as well, for the times when Rikki would fall asleep in there, rather than coming back to the bedroom after being up with her in the middle of the night. It seemed to happen more and more often.
When he came out into the living room, he saw a bag standing by the door. A suitcase, packed and ready.
"What's with the bag?" Zane asked.
Rikki looked at the floor. "I have to get away for a while."
There was something in her voice that made him fill with dread. He gazed into her eyes, seeing exhaustion.
"What?" he said weakly. "Like a vacation?"
"Not a vacation," she said softly. "I—have to go."
Looking into her eyes, he saw fatigue, the bright energy that was usually there dulled. Something clicked in his head, a horrific realization. "Where? Are you—leaving me?"
"I have to get away," she said, sounding broken. "I can't do this. I'm not cut out for this—"
"But—we have a baby," Zane said. "Our baby. You can't just—leave."
"I'm so sorry," Rikki said, turning and going to the door.
Zane grabbed her, but had to let go immediately, as her skin was sizzling hot. The condition, as she called it, hadn't stopped after the birth of Nova; anger, fear, and other strong, negative emotions all led to her getting hot.
"You can't just leave us!" Zane said. "You can't—how can you leave me like this?"
She stilled for a second, her back to him. Then she sighed softly, took her suitcase, and walked out the door, not looking back.
Zane couldn't remember the last time he'd cried, but as he sat and stared emptily out the large windows overlooking the ocean, he felt them fall down his cheeks.
The baby slept on. He was glad, because he wasn't sure what he'd do with her now, if she started screaming for his attention. A part of him wanted to leave too, to go after Rikki and leave the baby behind, forgetting all about her so that he could have Rikki back.
But he couldn't bring himself to go. He loved his daughter in a way that couldn't compare, even to the love he had for Rikki. Nova was his daughter, his own flesh and blood. He couldn't describe the feeling – although he had tried a week or so ago, when Cleo had asked what it felt like.
There was a knock on the door. Zane didn't get up to answer it – he wanted to be alone. He knew that if it was Rikki, then she'd simply barge in, so he didn't have to wonder if it was her.
The door opened behind him, and someone walked inside. It could have been a burglar for all Zane cared – right now, a bullet through his head would make the hurt stop, and that would be welcome. A sudden fear for his daughter's life made him turn around anyway – even if he wanted to die, he didn't want her to, simply because he was too lazy to see who had come into the apartment.
"Lewis?" he said, the word choked. He flushed immediately with embarrassment – he was crying in front of another man! His father would have laughed if he found Zane crying, and then he would have told him that he wasn't a man at all.
"Zane? What's going on? Why are you—eh," he said, motioning towards Zane's red face instead of saying the word out loud.
He didn't know what to say.
"Where's Rikki?" Lewis asked. "I'm here for her check-up – we have to see if she's gotten her tail back yet, and there are some tests I have to—"
"She's gone, okay?" Zane snapped suddenly, standing up.
Lewis' eyebrows rose. "Gone? What do you mean, 'gone'?"
"Gone!" Zane said. "Gone as in gone, not coming back."
"But you— and Nova—why would she—"
"I don't know, okay?" Zane said. "She just walked out of here. Couldn't do it, she said. I don't know why. I thought it was—it's been a lot of work, but I thought we—I thought she—"
He trailed off, anger washing off him as suddenly as it had flared. He sank back down, his body feeling heavy and unfamiliar. To his horror, fresh tears began trailing down his cheeks, and he sobbed into his hands.
He felt the weight of Lewis sitting down next to him, and a few moments later, an awkward hand landed on his shoulder, patting him. If he hadn't been so completely heartbroken, Zane would have laughed at the scene.
They sat in silence, Zane trying his best to stop the embarrassing show of emotions. He was supposed to be cool and collected, not a mess of feelings, not crying his heart out in front of another man.
"Should I ask the girls to go look for her?" Lewis asked.
Zane shook his head, avoiding looking at Lewis. His voice was rough when he spoke. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to be found."
"She might just need a little time alone," Lewis said. "Having a baby is a life-changing experience – she might just be feeling the pressure of it, and she'll come back when she realizes she misses you and Nova."
Zane couldn't quite bring himself to hope for that. The suitcase and the look in her eyes all suggested that she intended to stay away. He didn't dare look at their joint bank account – he didn't want to know if she'd withdrawn a bunch of their savings.
He simply wanted her to walk through the door, wanted her to be there with him.
The baby started making unhappy sounds a few minutes later, and Zane stood up. Lewis placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Go wash up and I'll take the baby," he said.
Zane didn't want to know what he looked like – probably like crap, with the combination of tears and lack of sleep. He nodded to Lewis.
Returning to the living room a ten minutes later – he'd taken his chance to shave and clean himself up – he found Lewis on the couch with a freshly changed Nova in his arms, drinking from a bottle of formula. They'd bought a bit of formula so that Zane could help with the feeding, but hadn't used any of it until now. Zane found himself wondering if Rikki had planned on leaving even when they'd first bought it.
"She has a good appetite, that's for sure," Lewis said.
"And you're pretty good with her," Zane said. He felt a pang of jealousy – Lewis seemed more natural with Nova than Zane felt.
"Cousins on my mom's side," Lewis said. "Was forced to change a diaper or two during our family dinners."
Zane nodded mutely. He sat down, and took Nova from Lewis. Her face scrunched up as the bottle was removed from her mouth, but she didn't have time to scream before it was replaced as she sat securely in her father's arms.
"You're not so bad at it either," Lewis said.
"After three weeks of non-stop caring for her, I should hope not," Zane said.
It felt good to hear Lewis say it, even though Zane usually didn't care much about what came out of Lewis' mouth. Most of it was gibberish anyway, when he talked about his university classes in biology, and extras in chemistry.
When Lewis left an hour later, Zane's heart was in no better shape, but at least he wasn't crying anymore.
At night, he went to bed in the baby's room instead of the bedroom; the baby's room had less memories of Rikki. The bedroom – where they'd shared fantastic nights, where Nova had come into being, where they'd talked until the sun rose outside – was one big reminder of her.
He fell asleep uneasily, dreaming dreams of fleeing mermaids with pale blonde hair and large blue, tired eyes.
He took Nova out the next morning. They needed to buy groceries, and formula, and on a whim, he decided to stop buy the JuiceNet Café. Nova was in the baby carrier, sleeping calmly as he pushed it into the café.
It was as he remembered it. He hadn't been there in over two years – the crowd was younger than he was, and he and Rikki and the others had moved onto more mature places. Bringing his daughter there made him feel even older.
He sat down, ordering a pineapple juice, and looked over the interior. It hadn't changed much – the same pictures hung on the walls, his father's surfboard still hanging on the other side of the counter. The menu had been updated, but most of the old stuff was still on there.
He imagined Rikki, back when he'd first met her – a spunky girl who was different than the rest of them. She had an attitude, but such a heart beneath it all. His mind replayed scenes – the time he'd kissed Miriam to get the necklace back, the arguments they'd had there, the time he'd played against Ash in a way to prove his own manliness.
Zane only finished half his juice. He couldn't stay there; he had to leave before he went crazy. Nova was starting to fuss, and seeing her in the baby carrier made him realize just how far he'd come from the spoiled rich boy Rikki had first met.
They went back home, Nova falling asleep again as he walked, the movement of the carrier lulling her to sleep.
Cleo was waiting for him when he and Nova arrived home. She and Lewis had had a key to their apartment for a while – it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, Zane wasn't so sure.
"Lewis told me," Cleo said.
"Blabbermouth," Zane muttered, grabbing formula and starting the process of making milk out of it.
"I just wanted to see if you were okay," Cleo said hesitantly.
"I'm fine, can't you see that?" Zane said. "The mother of my child, the woman I intended to marry, walked out on me. Why wouldn't I be fine?"
She crossed her arms. "I was just trying to be nice."
"It's what you always are, Cleo," Zane said. "But right now, it's not what I need."
"No, you need Rikki," Cleo said. "Just like the rest of us. You don't think Emma and I— It's always been the three of us."
Zane stopped and looked at her for a moment. He couldn't bring himself to apologize, but he hoped that his lack of further scathing words was enough.
"We looked for her yesterday," Cleo said, "in the ocean."
"We don't even know if she's got her tail back yet," Zane said. "She might be in a hotel somewhere – or maybe she's on her way to the US on a flight, or something. She could be anywhere."
Cleo looked unhappy at the thought, and for a worrying minute, Zane thought she might cry. He was bad enough at comforting Rikki – trying to comfort Cleo would be way beyond his abilities. But she didn't cry; she took a deep breath, and nodded. Zane realized suddenly that Cleo too had grown up over the last few years.
"We'll keep looking," she said.
The microwave dinged, signalling the milk being finished, and right on time, Nova started crying. Cleo picked her up from the baby carrier, and handed her to Zane.
"Take good care of her," she said, and then she left, leaving Zane alone with his daughter.
Exhaustion didn't begin to cover the feeling he had as Nova woke up at two a.m. and started screaming. He walked out to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle, warming it quickly, and then he returned to the baby's room, picking her up.
The sound of her cries cut into his ears.
"You have a really good set of lungs, you know that?" he muttered, placing the bottle to her lips.
She was screaming enough to not realize that there was a bottle to drink from, and it took a minute of agonizing cries for him to get her to start suckling. Then he leaned back against the back of the seat, resting her on his arm, the other hand steadying the bottle. His eyelids dropped and he fell asleep in the chair, holding onto Nova, and only when she spit the bottle out did he wake enough to replace her in the crib.
Come morning, his back was killing him from sleeping on the small cot in the baby's room. Like a zombie, he made his way through the apartment, making a bottle for Nova, changing her, placing her in the little baby recliner that had an entire entertainment system – plastic things that blinked and made sounds, which she seemed to enjoy. Once she was emersed in the sounds and colours, he sat down on the couch, and watched TV.
They'd taken a semester off from college, to be able to care for the baby and learn the ropes. As money wasn't a problem – his father had yet to meet his grand daughter, but he did pay for their expenses – they'd decided on it together.
Of course, as a single father, he might not be able to return to school at all. How did people do it? Place the kid in day care? He couldn't imagine leaving her with someone else all day every day, when she was just four months old. Perhaps he could hire a nanny; they'd talked about it before Nova was born.
He and Rikki.
He sighed deeply. The TV was on, but he didn't see what was happening on the screen; it seemed wholly unimportant. His imagination took him to a fantasy world where she hadn't left, where it was the two of them, happily taking care of their daughter. The imaginary Rikki didn't have shadows beneath her eyes, or a slump to her shoulders.
The day passed in a flurry of changing diapers, washing clothes, making formula, and simply caring for Nova. He realized that as much as he'd done in the last three weeks, there was still a great load that Rikki must have taken care of, because it was nothing compared to all the things he now had to do.
At night, his back forbade him to sleep in the cot, and he brought Nova's crib into the bedroom instead. He was exhausted enough to fall asleep without having to think about her for hours, although he did dream – blue eyes haunting him, words spilling from her mouth that she'd never said, that it was his fault, that he hadn't done enough, that she didn't love him. He tried to beg for forgiveness in the dreams, but nothing helped.
Nova woke twice – at two a.m., and then again at five thirty, and at that point, Zane simply brought her to the bed and laid down with her, feeding her and holding her. As she looked at him, tiny fingers fisted around his shirt and blue eyes wide and alert, he remembered again why it was that he did all the chores. A simple look from her, a toothless smile that wasn't really a smile, because she was too young to smile, or the curiosity with which she studied her fingers – it all made it worth it.
He fell asleep with her on his chest.
Waking up two hours later, he laid still, eyes closed, somehow aware that someone was watching him. The hand that rested on top of Nova tightened protectively. She was still sleeping, a lump of warmth on his shirt.
He opened his eyes, and wondered if he was still dreaming.
She stood in the doorway, looking rested but at the same time not, her hair falling softly down her shoulders. She was dressed in a simple black shirt and pants, and the suitcase stood beside her.
She bit her lip, studying the floor.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
She took a hesitant step forward to stand at the end of the bed.
"About what?" he asked, because there could be more than one thing she was sorry about.
"About what?" she choked, and tears started running down her cheeks. "About leaving, of course. I shouldn't have—I was just so tired, of everything, but I—I shouldn't have—and now I've ruined everything—"
She trailed off, wiping at her cheeks, as though the tears were traitors for falling.
"I get if you don't want to see me ever again," she continued. "I just—I know I behaved badly—that I shouldn't have gone—not like that—but I love you. And her. God, I love you both so much—I didn't think I even could love anyone so much."
He stared at her, still wondering if he was dreaming. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him – he remembered now that he hadn't eaten anything yesterday, and who knew if that could make him hallucinate.
"Please say something."
Her broken words headed straight for his heart, breaking and mending all at once.
"I don't know why you're just standing there," he said softly. "You belong here."
Her mouth fell open in disbelief, as though she hadn't expected him to want her back at all. He wondered what could possibly make her think that – there might be an issue or two they needed to discuss about talking about their feelings, but it wasn't nearly enough to end what they had.
She crawled into bed, hesitating still, as though he might change his mind at any time.
"I think someone wants to say hi," he said.
Nova still slept, but Rikki ran a shaking hand down her head and back. "I didn't know what it'd feel like—it was like someone cut off a part of me."
Zane pulled her close, hand snaking around her back, and he kissed the top of his head. To his embarrassment, he felt tears burning in his eyes at the simple feeling of holding her in his arms.
"I'll help you more," he whispered. "And we can probably ask Lewis and Cleo to watch her for an hour or two if you want to talk, or just get away. Lewis is pretty good with her."
"He's better than me with her," Rikki said softly. "He knows what she needs better than I do."
"No, he doesn't," Zane said. "He's just had more experience with babies. You're the one she wants."
She gave him a look that told him she didn't quite believe him, but then rested her head on his shoulder. Her hand was on top of the baby's, and his hand on top of hers. Their little family, together again.
"Do you still want to marry me?" Rikki asked.
He smiled slightly. "Yeah. Call me crazy, but I do."
She chuckled, a teary sound but a happy one nonetheless. She snuggled closer, and eventually, her breathing evened out into sleep. He lay there, holding his family.
Author's notes: And that marks the end of this series. I hope you've enjoyed, comments are appreciated.