by Stephen Greenwood

Vignette title: A Kind of Poetry
Rating: PG for this chapter
Spoilers: Same as chapter one
Disclaimer: See chapter one

Summary: Fourth in an ongoing series. Rodin's Thinker sits at a breakfast table in a New York apartment.

4. a kind of poetry

Rodin's Thinker sits at a breakfast table in a New York apartment. Karen finds herself mirroring his actions as she studies him, and she imagines them as bookends with her pregnant belly in between, being supported by both. They're getting close to nine months now; at times she feels like she's swallowed the moon. She told him once, and he'd laughed and asked which Jimmy Stewart wannabe had pulled it down for her. And then he'd wrapped his arms around her and their baby, quietly telling her it must have been the sun because of how she glowed.

Sometimes he says just the right thing at just the right time.

But now he is silent, barely blinking as he looks inside himself. They have a doctor's appointment later today; he is always quiet beforehand. The first ultrasound had stripped him of any wisecracks and he's since had the same reaction every time he catches a glimpse of their child, like he can't quite believe what's happening even though he's had over half a year to prepare. They have all of the essentials – crib, onesies, a seemingly endless supply of diapers – but it's the other stuff, the dad stuff, that makes him want to reach for the whiskey at nine in the morning.

Sometimes he's just hit with an overwhelming surge of awe and excitement and fear, and when that happens he doesn't quite know what to do.

Six weeks, give or take, and he'll be presented with his son or daughter and expected to be a father. He hopes it will come naturally once the kid is in his arms but there's a big part of him, the insecure part he usually masks with false bravado, that gives him cause for concern: can he do this? He can't plot out his life like he can his novels and while he tends to thrive on spontaneity, he's scared that his specific brand would scar the child forever. Hank doesn't have a good role model to turn to; he hasn't even hung out with kids since he was one. He's read the books on how to be a good dad but all he knows for sure is that his caffeine and nicotine intakes are likely to shoot through the roof in the weeks following the baby's birth.

Sometimes, though, his mind presents him with an image and he thinks he can handle it: teaching his kid how to read. Helping with homework. Playing ball inside the apartment, or maybe dress-up for a tea party with Barbies. Doesn't matter. He'll be there because this child already has him wrapped around his or her little finger, and Hank makes a silent promise to be the best damn father he can be.

There's half an English muffin he can't stomach on a plate before him. Nudging it in Karen's direction, he says, "Eat. Gotta keep your strength up."

"Great," she replies dryly. "More pounds for me to shed later." She reaches for the muffin regardless.

"Well, you're gonna drop, like, ten once the baby's born anyway."

"Ten? Jesus Christ, Hank, I hope not. I'm having a baby, not an elephant. And that is not an invitation to comment on how I might look like one."

He grins and bites his tongue. "Elephant pregnancies are twenty-two months long," he offers helpfully.

Karen swallows without choking, although she coughs and reaches for the orange juice, glaring at him. "I'm just shy of nine and I feel like I'm about to burst. Probably look it, too."

He sobers and studies her from across the table. Yes, she's gained weight, but she's supposed to, and she definitely doesn't look fat. She looks pregnant. She has a shine to her skin, her eyes, that wasn't there before, and she smiles a lot. She waddles more than she walks and she goes through mood swings faster than he used to get through one night stands. She eats the weirdest combinations of food and she wears maternity underwear that look like sacks, and she struggles to tie her shoes and shave her legs. She's the most beautiful woman he's ever laid eyes on.

"I hear the beached whale look is the in-thing this year," he teases lightly.

"Until I see it on the catwalk, I'll remain highly skeptical."

Karen manages to get to her feet with relative ease but her hand is intercepted as she reaches for the now-empty plate. Hank twines his fingers with hers and looks her in the eye as he says sincerely, "You're amazing. I don't tell you often enough but that doesn't mean I don't think it."

She smiles and rubs his knuckles with her thumb. Sometimes, he says just the right thing.