Disclaimer still applies.

~oooOOOooo~

Chapter 30: Delivery!
Ranger's POV

By the time I realized what I was seeing, Tank had his phone out and was dialing 9-1-1. I could hear him explaining the situation to the operator, so I tuned him out and sank to the floor, cradling Stephanie in my arms. She wasn't gushing blood, but the pool beneath us was slowly growing.

I began struggling to get up. "Brown, you have your medical stuff with you?"

He and Santos helped get me to my feet, which was harder than it normally would have been because I wasn't letting go of my wife.

"Yeah, boss. You don't want to wait for the ambulance?"

Shaking my head, I began moving to the door. "It'll be faster if they don't have to come all the way over here and go back."

Behind us, I could hear Lula's anxious voice asking Tank what was happening. His reply was too quiet for me to hear, but I knew he would explain to her and the rest of the group and then meet us at the hospital.

We got to the SUV, and Bobby opened the back door. "Give her to me," he ordered while Santos jogged around to the front.

As I—reluctantly—put Steph in his arms, she stirred, looking around for me. "Carlos? What happened? Are the babies okay?" Her face was pinched with fear, and she began sobbing as I climbed in and held my arms out for her.

"Shh, Babe. Everything's going to be fine," I told her firmly as Bobby slid her onto my lap. "We're going to get you to the hospital, okay? Try to stay calm."

Bobby climbed in beside me. Once his door was shut, he reached over the back of the seat and pulled out his bag, which contained all the medical supplies he typically carried with him in the SUV. "Santos, dial Steph's doctor."

Santos dialed the hospital, speaking with the operator.

As he waited for Dr. Le to pick up, he placed an oxygen mask on Stephanie, fiddling with the small, portable tank from the bag. "Leave that on," he said when she began struggling with it. "Just to be safe, okay, sweetheart?"

She nodded weakly, still crying and clutching at my arm. "It hurts, Carlos!" she cried.

I watched as he pulled out a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff—one of those battery-operated ones—and placed it around her arm, pushing the button to start the reading. As it worked, he pulled out a bag of saline and opened a package with a needle and tubing. Connecting them together, he placed the IV into Steph's arm as the doctor picked up the phone.

"This is Dr. Le. May I help you?"

"This is Bobby Brown, company medic for RangeMan. I'm on route to the hospital with Stephanie Manoso. She's experiencing moderate to heavy vaginal bleeding and is complaining of abdominal pain. She's tachycardic and diaphoretic, BP one forty or ninety-eight, pulse one hundred, respirations twenty-six. She's on oxygen, and I just inserted a large bore IV."

"Bobby, do you have any OB experience?" the calm, yet concerned, voice of Dr. Le asked over the speaker.

"No, ma'am."

"I need you to perform a few tests for me on route so I can determine what the best next step of treatment should be," she explained. "Just follow my instructions, and you'll be okay. Palpate Stephanie's abdomen gently."

Bobby placed his hand on Steph's distended belly, which caused her to let out a blood curdling scream of pain as she wrenched her hand from mine.

"Dios, Brown! Be careful," I growled while attempting to soothe Steph to the best of my abilities.

"Severe pain with light palpation," Bobby said, glancing up me with an apologetic look on his face.

As I glanced up at my medic, I saw the sheen of persperation on his face, along with determination. There was worry there, too. Watching him—my colleague, my friend—I knew this was the right decision.

"Any loss of conciousness or dizziness?" Dr. Le asked.

"She passed out when she saw the blood," Bobby called out.

"Did she simply pass out, or did she stand before she passed out?"

Listening to the doctor, I wondered what the hell that had to do with anything. How could knowing that help my Babe?

"She stood," Bobby answered, "bent over, and then stood again."

"We have tachycardia, orthostatic hypotension, and severe abdominal pain with bleeding," Dr. Le said, and from the sound of her voice, she sounded convinced of what she needed to do next. "Mr. Brown, how far are you from the hospital?"

"Santos?" Bobby called.

"Eight minutes," he answered.

"Can you hear the babies?" Dr. Lee asked.

Bobby moved the stethoscope to her belly, listening for a moment before responding. "I hear both heartbeats. They're slow but steady."

"All right. Keep her on the oxygen, start normal saline, and run like hell," Dr. Le called out. "I'll meet you at the ER."

Santos snapped the phone closed as Bobby continued listening to the babies.

Steph reached up and grabbed at the mask over her nose and mouth. "Bobby, what's happening? How are the babies?"

"Bomber, leave it on, okay? You and the babies need it." He glanced at me, telling me silently that the situation was serious. "We're going to get you to the hospital, and they're going to do everything they can, okay?"

She nodded, still crying, and moved the mask back into place. Her hands moved to clutch her belly, and she moaned loudly.

"Contraction?" I asked, moving my own hand down beside hers. Definitely a contraction. Her stomach was tight and hard.

She nodded silently, biting her bottom lip so hard that I was afraid it was going to bleed. "They've been constant since I woke up..."

Bobby continued monitoring her until we pulled up to the ER entrance.

The next twenty minutes passed in a blur. I couldn't seem to concentrate on anything except Stephanie; I watched her face crease in pain, her belly taut and swollen. The techs took some blood from her and gave her some medicine in the IV Brown had started.

For the first time in forever, I felt helpless as I listened to the heartbeats over the monitor they'd placed on her belly, wishing I understood something—anything!—about medicine. About five minutes after we arrived at the hospital, the doctor came in and said the babies' heartbeats were dropping with each contraction and they weren't rising as quickly as they should. Because Stephanie was bleeding and the babies were in distress, they needed to do a Cesarean section immediately.

I was currently seated at Stephanie's head, wearing a blue surgical gown, booties over my boots, and a mask. Steph was conscious and numb from the waist down. They were prepping her for the c-section, but they'd pulled a divider up so all I could see was her face.

"All right, Stephanie," the doctor said. "I'm going to make the incision now. You'll feel some tugging and pressure, but you shouldn't feel any pain. If you do, let us know."

She whimpered, looking up at me with wide eyes.

"It's going to be fine, Babe," I promised her, praying to God I wasn't lying. "In just a few minutes, we're going to meet our babies."

The room was quiet then, the soft beeps from the different monitors scattered around and the occasional murmurs from the hospital staff the only sounds in the room.

"Okay, there we go. Yes," Dr. Le said, almost to herself. "There was an abruption of one of the placentas, which is what caused the bleeding and contractions. All right, extra pressure now. Here comes baby one." After a moment, she said, "It's a boy!"

The baby began wailing a watery cry as the doctor handed him over to a nurse, who whisked him away to one of the waiting tables to check his vitals.

I looked at Stephanie, who was sobbing quietly, and grinned. "We have a son, Babe!"

"Okay, Stephanie," the doctor said. "Baby two coming up next. Extra pressure again." A few seconds later, we heard another cry, and then the doctor said, "I hope you thought of names, because you have a very unhappy little girl." She held the baby up so we could see her before handing her over to another nurse, who took her over to the other little table beside our son.

"Go," Stephanie croaked. "Check on the babies."

I bent down and kissed her through both of our masks and then quickly moved over to the little tables where they had the babies.

"They look good, Mr. Manoso," one of the nurses said. "They're on the small side, but with twins and being a couple of weeks early, it's not surprising. Their lungs sound good, and their breathing and color are good."

She mentioned Apgar scores of eight and nine, but I wasn't paying very close attention anymore. Every part of me was concentrating on the babies in front of me. They hadn't been cleaned up yet from the delivery, and they were both sobbing and flailing their arms, but they were the most beautiful sights I had ever laid my eyes on—as beautiful as their older sister and their mother.

"We're going to clean them up and move them to the NICU to keep an eye on them for a few hours," the nurse said, touching my arm when I looked up at her in alarm. "Just as a precaution, I promise. They look good. We just need to make sure they're okay since they're a couple of weeks early and so small."

"Thank you," I said gruffly, nodding. I pulled my phone out and took a few pictures of each baby before moving back to Stephanie.

"Are they okay?" she asked.

Smiling, I answered, "They're perfect."

I don't know how long I stood there watching Steph, holding her cold hand in mine until I felt a hand on my arm.

"Carlos," Dr. Le said, "we're going to take Stephanie to recovery now. She's lost a lot of blood and needs some plasma replacement, and she needs to be monitored for a while before we can bring her to her room."

I nodded, amazed again at the rush of feeling helpless that I was so unused to along with the opposite feeling of joy at the safe arrival of my twins. I must've looked as shell-shocked as I felt because a nurse took my elbow next.

"Come with me, Mr. Manoso," she said, her eyes warm and compassionate above her surgical mask. "You can come experience your children's first bath and then get the room ready for your wife."

Normally, I was the sort that gave directions, not took them...but in this scenerio, I was more than willing to follow.

~oOo~

When I walked into the waiting room, seventeen worried, excited, anxious faces turned my way, and questions began firing at me from seventeen different directions.

"Dad, how is Stephanie? Are the babies okay?" Julie's face was strained with worry, and I hugged her close when she ran into my arms.

"How are they?"

"What did you have?"

"Can we see them?"

"What caused the bleeding?"

I gave them all a full watt smile. "Stephanie is fine, as are my son and daughter."

Cheers erupted around the room.

I held up a hand to quiet the crowd. "Unfortunately, it'll be a while until Steph is up for visitors. She had to have a c-section and needs some rest after the surgery. The babies are in the NICU to be monitored—just as a precaution, they assured me. When she's allowed visitors, I'll let you know. You all should go home and get some rest. I'll call you when you can come see them."

Tank looked around at everyone. Apparently satisfied, he looked back and me and shrugged. "We'll wait."

~oOo~

Three and a half hours later, I stood as they wheeled Steph's bed into the room. She was clearly exhausted, but she wasn't nearly as pale or shaken up as she'd looked the last time I'd seen her.

As soon as she got settled, she said, "Everyone must be so worried. Would you go tell them to come in?"

I must have looked worried because the nurse smiled. "Mr. Manoso," she said, "visiting hours are over for the night, but due to the circumstances, I'll allow you an hour." She glanced at her watch. "They need to be gone by three o'clock."

"Are you sure you're up for all that company, Babe?" I asked, not wanting her to overexert herself.

"I'm sure," she replied. "If it gets to be too much, I'll let you know."

I watched her for a moment, and when satisfied that she seemed to be okay, I stood. "I'll be right back." After giving her a quick kiss, I walked out of the room.

When I got to the waiting area, everyone stood. My mother nudged Julie, who jumped to her feet.

"Is she back? Can we see her?" Julie asked excitedly.

I smiled and nodded. "Steph would like to see everyone."

Ella and Louis came up to me first. "Please tell Stephanie we'll come see her and the little ones tomorrow. We'll let your families and friends stay today, and we'll go make sure everything is ready for you for when you bring them home," Ella said, grabbing me in the biggest hug she'd ever given me.

"Ella," I said firmly, "you and Louis are our family."

Her eyes were misty as she nodded. "Still, you have plenty of visitors. We'll see you both tomorrow."

I smiled. "All right. I'll tell Stephanie, but we will expect to see you both tomorrow." I hugged her once more and shook hands with Louis before turning back to the group.

In addition to both sets of parents, grandmothers, and Julie, the room was filled with our friends. Everyone who had been at the dinner was here. Mary Lou, Val, Connie, and Lula were all sitting together, while Albert and Lenny seemed to be deep in discussion over something. Santos, Brown, and Tank were standing at the perimeter, the worry that had been on their faces when I walked into room gone at my reassuring words before.

"Come on, then," I said, turning Julie around. "Let's go see Stephanie."

~oOo~

Ten minutes later, I was sitting beside Stephanie, chatting with the group, when they rolled the babies into the room.

"Hello, Mommy and Daddy," the nurse said quietly. "Oh! And everyone else! Everything looks good. Their oxygen is staying stable, which means they're breathing well. Their lungs are clear, and everything checks out."

She lifted a little blue bundle and put him in Stephanie's arms before turning and placing the squirming pink bundle in mine. "Have you decided on names?"

Stephanie smiled. "This is Miguel Ricardo Manoso."

"Madeline Rose," I murmured, unable to tear my eyes away from the tiny baby in my arms.

Her skin was nearly as light as Stephanie's, and her eyes were the same bright blue as my wife's. From under the pink knit hat, I saw a few strands of brown fuzz peeking out.

"She looks just like you, Babe," I said hoarsely.

Stephanie laughed softly. "I hope her hair is more like yours." Looking down at the little boy in her arms, she said, "He looks like you. See? He's got your nose and lips. I bet he has your eyes, too."

I moved to where I could see him. Miguel had skin a shade lighter than mine—several shades darker than Stephanie's—and long, dark eyelashes. His eyes were closed, but from his skin tone and the hair showing from under his cap, I would bet his eyes were indeed brown.

"They're so beautiful," I told her, leaning over to kiss the side of her head. "Thank you."

It was then that I remembered our audience. Everyone in the room was quiet, eyes glued to the babies.

"Julie, would you like to hold your sister?" I asked my firstborn.

She nodded and moved quickly to the chair I'd just vacated. Once she was settled, I placed Maddy in her arms. "Support her neck," I said, moving her arm slightly, "here, and keep one arm under her bottom."

I watched as Helen and my mother moved to Stephanie's other side. Stephanie held out Miguel, and my mom nodded for Helen to go ahead. Stephanie placed the baby in her arms and smiled as her father came up and looked down at the baby in his wife's arms.

As I looked around the room, I realized how lucky we were. We had great, supportive family and friends, and the new additions to the group would never want for anything. For a man who once believed himself incapable of opening himself up to love and a family, it was a shock to realize just how perfect my life was now, surrounded so much love and laughter.

I took a seat beside my wife and smiled. There was nowhere in the world I'd rather have been than where I was at that moment.