Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Spoilers: Through Fifteen to be safe
A/N: I do apologize for the extremely long delay. I can only blame writers block and a very big case of "real life got in the way". This here is the final chapter of ItMotN. I hope you've all enjoyed the ride as much as I have. This one goes out to JillyBean123 who prodded me into completing it. Thanks, babe!
22 months later:
The objective was simple: get in, retrieve the package, get out, and return to base. Simple. Yeah, right. Like anything could ever be simple when his babe was involved.
Panic crept in as his eyes swept the store—the third store in half an hour—and found it completely lacking in what he'd ventured out to find. He headed for the exit, fuming at the thought of having to drive across town to the all-night Walmart.
Couldn't she have normal cravings? Couldn't she want ice cream and pickles like any other woman? Of course not, he reminded himself, because his wife was not just any other woman. And Stephanie Michelle Manoso never did anything by halves. And so he found himself at 02:47 running about town in search of the one thing that apparently no self-respecting 24-hour convenience store carried: banana chips. Of all the outrageous, ridiculous things…
His phone buzzed. Without glancing at the screen, he flipped it open and snapped it to his ear.
"Yo," he answered tersely.
"What's taking you so long?"
He loved her, he truly did, but in that moment, all he wanted to do was tell her to take her pregnancy cravings and shove them up her newly voluptuous ass.
"Well, babe, banana chips aren't exactly the easiest thing in the world to find at nearly three in the morning." Or at any other time of the day, for that matter.
"Oh, oh yeah. Well, I mean, don't go to any trouble, Carlos. I can just…eat something else…I guess."
He wanted to take her up on it, he really did. But she sounded so disappointed and he was her husband and she was about to push his eight pound prodigy out of her vagina…
"No, babe, don't worry about it. I'll find you your banana chips, okay? You just go relax and I'll be home soon."
"Oh, thanks, Carlos. I love you so much, you know that right?"
Shit, she sounded horribly close to tears. She'd been doing that a lot during the past nine months or so; tearing up at the slightest things…or nothing at all. He hated every goddamn minute of it. An upset Stephanie was his complete undoing. He always felt so helpless, and like it was his fault…which in this case he supposed it was…
"Shhh, relax, babe. I know you love me. I love you, too."
She sniffled a few times and he swore silently as he climbed into the Cayenne and started the engine. "Carlos?"
"Yeah, babe?" He answered distractedly as he maneuvered the car out of the parking lot and towards the highway.
"You know what else sounds good?"
"Dried pineapples. Could you get me some dried pineapples, too?"
He would have scrunched his eyes shut and rubbed his temples, but he was driving and so he limited himself to taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
"Of course, babe. Anything for you."
"Oh, Carlos." The tears were back in her voice and he knew he needed to get off the phone with her before he let them get to him.
"I'm gonna let you go relax, okay, babe? I need to concentrate on driving here."
"Okay, Carlos, I'll see you when you get home."
"Love you, babe."
He flipped his phone shut and slid it back into the holder on his belt.
Banana chips and dried pineapples, perfect.
Fifteen minutes later, he was standing in the snack-food aisle of the 24-hour Walmart cursing whoever invented pregnancy cravings. It was a woman, no doubt. Because all they were really good for were making husbands go out at unnatural times of the night to find impossible food items, and then go home and get bitched at because the wife now suddenly wanted something completely different. And the man would get back in his car and drive back to the nearest store to get what she now wanted because he loved her and it was his sperm that had gotten her into this mess in the first place. It was funny what guilt could make a man do.
Ranger cursed his way to the front of the store where a pimple-faced boy was standing at the cash register staring into space.
"Excuse me, do you guys carry banana chips or dried pineapples?"
The kid's eyes rose and focused on his and the kid blinked.
"Banana chips," Ranger said tersely at the kid's blank stare. "Dried pineapples."
"Yeah, um, we only carry those at certain times of the year."
Ranger waited a few moments for the boy to elaborate, but no further explanation was forthcoming.
"And is this one of those times?" He asked finally.
Ranger could feel his hands clenching into fists and his teeth gritted in his mouth. He took a deep breath through his nose and reminded himself that it wasn't this idiot kid's fault that the store wasn't currently carrying what he was in search of.
"But, umm, we got this trail mix," the kid said, reaching around the counter and grabbing a bag of the stuff to show to Ranger, "and it's got banana chips and dried pineapples in it."
Ranger grabbed the bag and tossed it on the little conveyor belt. "Good, give me two bags." Steph could just pick out the things she wanted and leave the rest.
He glanced at the small bag and figured there probably weren't a whole lot of bananas or pineapples in each bag. "Actually," he said as the kid began to scan the items, "you better give me four bags."
The kid grabbed two more bags without looking up and scanned them as well.
"That'll be nine dollars and twenty four cents."
Ranger handed the kid a ten dollar bill, quickly pocketed his change, then grabbed the bag and strode from the store.
He on the on-ramp headed for the highway when his phone buzzed.
"Babe," he answered it, "I'm on my way home with your food."
"That's great, Carlos. Thank you. But I was actually calling to tell you that I think I'm in labor."
Ranger slammed on the brakes and then sat there frozen as a horn blared and a truck barreled past him in the breakdown lane.
His babe was in labor. After nine months, their baby was finally ready to come out and join the world. Oh shit.
"Stay calm, babe," he told her. "Everything's going to be fine."
"I know, Carlos. I just…"
"I'm gonna hang up and call Tank. He's closer to you than I am. You just sit down and relax, querida. Do your breathing exercises, right?" He demonstrated them for her, the hee's and the haw's and everything. "You okay, babe? You doing them with me?"
Another car flew by in the breakdown lane, horn blaring.
"I'm fine, Carlos. I just wanted to…"
"You keep doing your breathing, babe, and Tank will be there to take you to the hospital before you know it. I'll meet you there as soon as I can."
He hung up and dialed Tank as he took his foot off the brake and floored the accelerator.
"Talk," the other man answered on the first ring.
"Operation D-Day is underway. I need you to pick up the package and deliver her safely to the hospital. I'm still twenty minutes out."
"Don't you mean Operation BatBaby, boss. You know that's what Steph and Lula decided we'd call it."
Ranger ground his teeth together and took the exit so fast that had he not been trained in defensive maneuvering of vehicles, he probably would have flipped the car.
"My child will not be referred to as the batbaby, do you hear me? I'm not fucking Batman. Now get over there and pick her up! I will not have my wife deliver our first child alone at home. I will not…"
"Dude, relax. I've already got her. She called the control room five minutes ago to ask who was closest and if we could pick her up. She's sitting right next to me doing her hee's and haw's and all that junk. If you'd shut up long enough when she called you, she would have told you that."
Shit. He was overreacting. No, scratch that, he was full-on freaking out. But this was his babe they were talking about, and she was about to give birth to their child, for chrissakes. He guessed he had a right to be a little neurotic.
"What's your ETA?" He asked Tank.
"We'll be at the hospital in under two minutes."
Ranger took a deep breath and relaxed his grip on the steering wheel.
"Yeah, and man, slow the fuck down, your wife and baby need you alive, not tangled up around a telephone pole somewhere."
Ranger glanced down at the speedometer and saw it edge from eighty to ninety.
"How did you…"
"I know you, man. And I know you want to be here more than you want your next breath. But you need to get here in one piece. No way I'm standing in because you're in the ICU in a full body cast."
Ranger took another slow, deep breath and let it out as he eased up off the gas pedal. "Thanks, man."
"No prob. I'm gonna go get your wife situated. I'd let you talk to her, but she's started in with the cursing of your genitals, so..."
"Tell her I'll be there in ten."
Ranger disconnected and set the phone down on the seat beside him. He was going to be a father. It was really happening. Up until this moment, it had all seemed a little surreal. It seemed like just yesterday he was coming home from his final mission to find Stephanie asleep in his bed. They'd been married eight months later.
The baby thing hadn't been entirely planned. By that point they'd both decided that children wouldn't be a bad thing. Neither knew much about raising them, but they were willing to give it a shot. They hadn't been planning on starting that night nine months ago, but Steph was on some antibiotic for an ear infection, and apparently it interfered with her birth control, and now nine months later…
They had been surprised, but delighted to learn the news, and Ranger was still surprised and delighted…and scared shitless. What was he supposed to do with a baby? Well, sure he knew about the protecting and nurturing and all that, but what could a hardened-soldier-turned-mercenary-turned-security-specialist teach a child? How to hold a Glock? How to incapacitate a man in 1.5 seconds? Hardly things your average toddler would need to know. What did he know about coloring books and bedtime stories and school plays? Nothing.
He pulled into the hospital parking lot still contemplating what he could possibly bring to the parenting table. Lester was waiting for him in the lobby, and led the way upstairs to a comfortable-looking room at the end of a quiet hallway.
"I want two guys outside this door," Ranger told Santos as he walked past him and entered the room.
Stephanie was lying in bed looking flushed and in pain and so utterly beautiful that he stopped in the doorway and just stared at her.
"Get your ass over here, Batman. Have I got a bone to pick with you."
"Sorry I'm late, babe," he told her with a half-smile and crossed the room to drop a kiss on her glistening forehead.
"Yeah, well, we're just glad you got here before all the fun started," Tank said with a chuckle. Ranger glanced over his shoulder to find the large man seated in a chair across the room.
"Dismissed," came a growl in reply.
Ranger glanced down in surprise at his wife.
"What? He's been joking about the 'fun' starting and the 'festivities' coming to a head and all kinds of other shit since he picked me up. None of this is any fun, Pierre!" She yelled across the room.
Tank held up his hands in surrender as he rose from the chair and backed towards the door.
"Just holler if you need me, boss," he said just before pulling the door shut behind him.
Ranger shook his head and turned back to his wife.
"He was just trying to lighten the mood, babe."
"Does it look like my mood needs lightening, Batman?" She growled, and Ranger flinched visibly.
"N—no, babe. Of course not."
"Good." She cringed then, her eyes screwing tight in pain and all he wanted to do was trade places with her. "Now get me some drugs, this shit hurts."
"Babe, Lester's already gone to get your doctor," he assured her. "Steph, babe, I'm so sorry. I wish I could do this for you. God, this is killing me."
He ran his hands back through his hair roughly, pushing out a harsh breath. She was glistening with sweat under the harsh fluorescent lights, her face tight with pain as her large stomach clenched in a contraction.
"What can I do, babe? Tell me what to do?"
"Drugs," she gritted out. "Get me drugs."
"Drugs," he muttered, striding to the door. "Drugs. I can do that."
"Nurse," he hollered out into the hallway. Three women in scrubs came running. "Get my wife some drugs, dammit. Can't anyone see she's in pain?"
"The doctor is on her way, Mr. Manoso. We can't administer anything until she okays it."
His fingers tugged his hair into disarray as he glared down at the woman who had spoken. "Well, where the fuck is she, huh? My wife is in pain in there and I can't allow that, do you hear me? She's not allowed to be hurt anymore than necessary, do you understand?"
"I understand, Mr. Manoso, but…"
"No buts, do you hear me? My wife…"
His men were speaking and he could feel their hands on his shoulders, but nothing mattered except the fact that Stephanie was in pain.
"I want some fucking drugs for my fucking wife, and if you don't…"
He felt hard arms wrapping around his chest from behind and then Tank's voice was in his ear. "Calm the fuck down, Rangeman. Stephanie doesn't need you like this, okay? The doctor will be here any minute, man, but for now Steph needs you calm and supportive, not arrested for assault."
That last brought a measure of sanity to Ranger's mind and he stopped fighting Tank's hold and took a deep breath.
"I'd never assault these women."
"I dunno, man, you just came pretty fucking close."
Ranger glanced back down at the three nurses in front of him, two of which cringed in fear when his gaze fell on them. The third was a bit older, more experienced maybe, and her glare was laced with something he had to believe was understanding.
"I'm sorry," he told them all softly. "I'm so sorry. I just…"
Tank released him and pounded him once on the shoulder. "We all get it, man. She's your fucking heart, she's in pain, and you can't do anything about it. We get it. But keep that shit under wraps or I'll have to take you out of here and you know Steph would kill us both if that happened."
Ranger nodded and rubbed at the tight knot in his chest before turning and going back into Stephanie's room.
"The drugs are coming, babe," he told her softly as he dragged a chair up as close to her bed as he could and sat in it. "I promise, querida, just a few more moments."
She nodded jerkily. "Are you…" she asked around a contraction, "are you harassing the nurses, batman?"
His lip tipped up in a half-smile as he smoothed some damp hair from her forehead. "Never, babe."
"Liar," she told him with a grin.
He placed his hand gently on her stomach. "Did they stop?"
She nodded. "For now. But my back hurts, Carlos."
"Roll over, babe. I'll rub it for you."
He helped her roll slowly onto her side, and then spent the next five minutes rubbing her aching back. When the contractions started again, he clenched his teeth and prayed for the strength not to wring his own neck for putting her through this.
"It will all be worth it in the end," she told him quietly when the pain had passed.
Dr. Rosebush entered a few minutes later and ordered an epidural, which both he and his babe were very grateful for. After that, it was just a matter of waiting.
At 07:43 the next morning, Isabel Anjelita Manoso was delivered into the hands of her beaming father. And then the middle of the night took on a whole new meaning for Stephanie and Carlos Manoso. It was no longer about picking locks and late night visits and girls nights gone bad. Now it was 2 a.m. feedings and changing diapers in the dark and trying to make love as quietly as possible so as not to wake the infant in the next room. There were so many changes that they couldn't all be named, but frankly, given the chance, Ricardo Carlos Manoso—Army Ranger turned mercenary turned security specialist turned proud Daddy—wouldn't have done anything differently.
A/N: Oh, and btw, I know that dried pineapples and banana chips aren't quite so hard to find as Ranger made them out to be, but they're my favorites, so... Use your imagination.
I just want to thank you all for reading, and a huge shout out to everyone who has reviewed this story or any of my others; your words mean the world to me. Thank you!