Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or basic story ideas to "The Invisible Man." Any additional characters or story ideas are mine.
Timeline: Shortly after the ending of "An Honest Man"
Spoilers: None
Comments: Umm, not really.

The Secret to Life

// Charles M. Schulz, in the guise of Charlie Brown, once said, "That's the secret to life... replace one worry with another...."

Worrying was something I had gotten very good at lately, but I was about to learn that it doesn't do a bit of good. For some things worry is an unecessary complication. //

I woke up to find myself alone in bed, as usual. I'd gotten used to it after all these years, but I still wished she would sleep in, or at least pretend to, every once in a while. Lately she'd been sleeping even less than normal. She was nearly two weeks overdue and uncomfortable as hell.

I threw off the covers and walked past the screens to see her standing barefoot in the remaining open space, doing her stretches. Yoga, actually, and most mornings I usually joined her. Being as limber and boneless as that proverbial cat was never a bad thing in our line of work, and I had to admit I enjoyed it -- enjoyed doing it with her.

This morning she had apparently decided to let me sleep in a bit longer than usual, and today we had to go into the office for a few hours. Dani may have taken up some of the slack where field work was concerned, but the Official still managed to find other things for us to do. Alyx's 'condition' did not stop her from hacking into the Pentagon's mainframe. Hell, it wouldn't have stopped her from doing field work if she'd had her way.

Walking over to her, I was amazed at how graceful she still was. Wearing dark gray leggings, a loose tank top, and a short sleeved shirt of mine tossed over it all, she looked comfortable, and far from being nine-plus months pregnant. Wrapping my arms about her from behind, I kissed her good morning.

"You should have wakened me," I said. I slid my hands down to rest on her belly, and felt an energetic kick in response.

"So you would have been interested in getting up at three AM?" She leaned into my hold, relaxing against me.

"Three AM? We didn't go to bed till nearly one." Yeah, I was worried. Hard for me not to be.

"I cat-napped," she said with a sigh, and one of her arms snaked back to curl around my neck.

I can safely say pregnancy made her even more responsive, more sensitive to my touch, especially now that it had been weeks since we'd been able to do anything in that area. Cuddling just wasn't the same when the mood was on us. Concerns over early labor and potential complications, or some other such nonsense that seemed silly at this late date, kept us from acting upon our desires fully. At this point it was driving both of us more than a little crazy.

Unable to stop herself this morning, she turned in my hold, her lips seeking and finding mine. Within moments she was moaning her need to me and then her hands began to move across me leaving me groaning and wanting. I was going to require a very cold shower before I headed into work.

I moved her away gently and took a moment to catch my breath. "Soon, you impatient woman, soon."

She laughed. "I know, but I still want now." Her hands wandered lower and I knew I was going to have to stop her before I threw caution and doctors' dictates to the wind and gave in to what we both wanted.

"Alyx, stop please," I groaned, but found myself unwilling to do more than voice the complaint. Through her touch I could tell her need was easily as strong as my own. I was on the verge of giving in completely when she suddenly froze.

"Oh, gods," she muttered. "Excuse me."

In total confusion, I watched as she pushed past me and into the bathroom. Even from where I was I could hear the sounds of her retching. My desire melted away and was instantly replaced with concern. Ignoring the shut door I opened it and looked at her. I managed not to freak, to keep my composure, at least externally. Inside, I was scared as hell. When it was obvious she was done for the moment, I forced myself to move and got her a glass of water, which she used to rinse out her mouth.

Flushing, she stood and moved to the sink. "Gah. I hate that part."

I managed a shaky laugh and tried not to hover. I knew I'd been driving her a bit crazy with all my worrying and concern, so I waited until she had brushed her teeth and was convinced she was human again before saying anything. "Alyx? Everything okay?" I failed to keep my concern out of my voice. I was a little scared.

"I'm fine. Really." She turned and moved the couple of feet to where I was and set a hand on my chest. "Sorry about the abrupt mood change." She truly did sound sorry, and she was right, there was no way it would switch back now.

"Maybe you should stay home today," I commented. Personally, I thought they were working her too hard, but she was just as stubborn as always.

"Can't. I have work to finish and it has to be done there." She took one of my hands and ran her fingers lightly across the back of it. "Trust me, I'm fine. Now go shower or we'll be late."

I shook my head, not believing her. "You have to take it easy sometime. I worry."

She smiled. "I know you do, but I'm, we're fine." She squeezed my hand. "I have been through this before, ya know."

"Not with me, you haven't," I muttered, watching as one of her eyebrows went up. "All right. I'll try and be good."

With a chuckle, she tugged on my hand and got me moving in the direction of the shower. "Move it, bub." Shaking her head, she left the room, shutting the door behind her.

I sighed and turned on the water for my shower. There wasn't much else I could do.

Bobby and I were sitting in the office we still shared after returning from lunch. He had some paperwork to finish up from a mission he and Dani had been on the day before. It hadn't been very exciting, just catching a smuggler who had been bringing in some parrots illegally. Yeah, we still had to do Fish and Game scut work on occasion, but these days it was an easier task to handle. A break from the truly nasty things we sometimes had to deal with. And anyhow, every day couldn't be about bioterrorists or chemical weapons, could it?

"So how is Dani working out as a temp partner?" I asked as Bobby grumbled about the paperwork. He had been asked to 'shepherd' her as she learned the routine at the Agency. She had come in with some training, including some field work, already under her belt, as well as the degrees she had earned at college.

"Like the kid, only different," he answered, looking up from the papers with a grin. "Nothing like you, Fawkes. No back-talk or smart-assed remarks."

I smiled. "Nice to know you miss me."

"You got other crap to deal with. Makes me glad me and Viv never took this step. I don't think either one of us would have survived it, even with my meds." Bobby shook his head. "I still think she's crazy."

"Someone taking my name in vain?"

I looked over to see Alyx standing in the doorway with a smile on her face. She moved into the room. "Hey, Bobby. Got bored with Dani already? Or did you just need your daily dose of wisecracks?"

Bobby moved over to her and set a hand on her belly. "How ya doing kid?"

"Which one are you asking, Hobbes?" Even after all this time, Bobby rarely used her name.

Alyx stuck her tongue out at me. She set one hand on his shoulder. "We're just fine and dand..." Her voice didn't trail off. Just stopped dead.

"Damn, kid. You could have said something." Bobby watched her carefully and even I noticed something weird was going on. "Easy. I'll call Claire and let her know you're on your way."

I was feeling confused, yet again, as Bobby moved back over to his desk and picked up the phone. "Ummm, what am I missing now?"

Bobby shook his head. "Fawkes, you idiot, you're gonna be a daddy."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, duh. Tell me something I don't know."

Alyx started to laugh.

"Keepy, they'll be down in a couple." Bobby set the phone down and looked at me like I was wearing a dead fish on my head. "Darien, she's in labor."

I couldn't move. Was quite sure I hadn't heard what he had just said. "W...What?"

"Jeeze, Fawkes, join reality would you?" Bobby sounded exasperated. "Get her downstairs. Claire's waiting." Bobby turned to look at Alyx. "And your kid isn't."

It took another second, but his words and the look on Alyx's face spurred me into action. I was at her side in an instant, but was afraid to touch her.

"Mook," she teased. She was calm and relaxed. "This is what happens next, remember?"

I nodded and swallowed hard. I also remembered how dangerous this part could potentially be. Because of what had been done to allow this pregnancy, there were more possible complications than normal. I was more than a little worried. As usual.

Taking one of my hands, she spoke to Bobby. "Fill in the others for me. I don't think Darien is going to be up to it."

"Sure thing, kid. I'll stop by later and see how things are going." Bobby chuckled. "Now get moving. Don't need you having the kid on my desk."

I don't know how she found the ability to laugh. I was still trying to deal with the fact that this was actually happening, and even I could tell I was not doing a very good job. She got me moving, though I just kind of trailed along. My mind had not yet caught up with the reality of the situation. We were nearing the Keep when she stopped dead and set her free hand against the wall.

She took one of my hands and set it against her belly. It wasn't difficult to figure out what was going on. She was well into a contraction and the entire muscle was hard as a rock. From the look on her face it was more than a bit uncomfortable as well. "Alyx?"

"Damn. She said it would probably hurt more, but this is nuts." She did not sound all that thrilled with the situation.

"Come on." I put an arm on her back and got her moving. I swiped my key card through the mag lock and urged her in as soon as the door was open enough. "Claire!" I just managed not to shout.

"Over here, Darien." I followed her voice around the glass screen to see her waiting with some monitors for our arrival. "Up you go." She waved for Alyx to get onto the chair. I had to fight the urge to lift her up and allowed her to do it herself. "How far apart?" Claire asked as she attached the blood pressure cuff and began to squeeze the bulb.

"Five minutes, give or take. They are a bit irregular," Alyx answered as she relaxed back into the chair.

"Hmmm. Not unexpected." She removed the cuff and slid up Alyx's shirt to place the stethoscope against her belly. She smiled. "Well, he's as energetic as always."

"He's a bit scared," Alyx commented, and it took me a moment to figure out she wasn't talking about me, but our son. Then she turned to look at me with a grin. "Just like you."

I let out a shaky breath I hadn't known I was holding, and Claire laughed.

"Darien, a nervous dad? Nah, not possible." She placed some sensors on Alyx to monitor both her and the baby. Technology had advanced enough that there was no need for bulky wire connections or monitors to strap on. The three electronic patches sent all the information needed to the computer via a low frequency radio waves. No need for line of sight; she could wear clothing over them, and she would still have the freedom to move around.

After a few minor adjustments, Claire said, "You are now free to move about the cabin." She patted Alyx on the shoulder. "I've called Dr. Kennison. I'll let her check you more fully. Samantha is readying Lab Five. You should have some time before we need to move you there."

Alyx shook her head then closed her eyes, and even I knew another contraction was taking place. I moved closer and set a hand on her arm, and got more than I bargained for. Usually she only had contact problems with her hands; for some reason she'd never gained full control over them. Now, however, just by touching the flesh on her arm I got a muted version of what she was feeling. This had been one of the concerns, that the effort and the focus required by her body during labor would cause her to lose some control. It seemed that was not just a possibility anymore, but a certainty.

Lab Five had been specially designed to block her abilities to a degree. Once in that room, if she lost her shielding, she would be less likely to pick up outside thoughts and emotions, aside from those in the room, and it would keep her from broadcasting hers to the world at large. Yeah, they had learned a few tricks over the years. A necessity when the bad guys always seemed to come up with something new that would make her control crash. Since Lab Five had been built, she'd only been forced to use it twice, but the cost of maintaining it more than outweighed the potential damage she could cause when her control crashed.

Claire was frowning at the monitors as the contraction peaked and began to ease to my senses. "All right, let's move you. They are a bit stronger than we anticipated."

"Claire, that is the understatement of the year. I've had four kids, all natural births. Even the worst of those can't compare to this," Alyx commented a bit wryly.

"Is it worth it?" Claire asked her as she helped Alyx off the chair.

"Always," Alyx answered without hesitation. "Though I may disagree when they start to get really bad."

Really bad? How long was this going to go on? "Claire," I said, with more than a little hesitation in my voice, "how long are we looking at? Hours?"

"Darien, we've talked about this. There is no way to tell for sure, yet. Dr. Kennison will be able to give you a better idea when she gets here, but it will not go fast. It can't." Claire knew I was worried, and I was thankful she took the time to repeat what, yes indeed, I already knew, but Alyx was in pain. It was going to get worse and...and I wanted neither her nor our son to be hurt.

"Dare, it's all right. Things will happen as they should." I was amazed that there was no fear in her eyes, just a calm acceptance of what she knew was going to come.

When Dr. Kennison arrived, I was trying was to support Alyx as another contraction caused her to double over with a groan of pain. When it finally passed, she looked at me, stuck out her tongue, and gave me a raspberry. "Stop worrying so much." She lowered her voice so only I could hear. "I'm picking it up, and it's affecting me. Please try."

I hadn't realized, though I should have. We weren't in this room for nothing. "Sorry," I mumbled, feeling like a fool, like maybe I should leave and not cause more trouble.

"Dare, I need you to get through this, but I need your support, your care, your love. Not your fears. I have enough of my own."

The fact that she was admitting to being afraid frightened me, but this time I did my best to control it. She was right, I should have known by now how much my emotions and my state of mind got through to her. Hell, I couldn't stub my toe without her knowing about it. I nodded and took a moment to calm myself. To change my focus from fear, worry, and sheer terror to comfort, care, and love. It was all I could do; she had to do the rest.

"Thank you," she said, before closing her eyes and leaning against me as once again she found her body being controlled by the pain. I gently ran my hands across her back, hoping to ease some of the discomfort, or perhaps just distract her a bit. It seemed to help, that she was able to get through this one a bit easier. Though it may have had as much to do with the fact I wasn't allowing myself to get hysterical.

As soon as it had passed, Dr. Kennison -- Linda -- spoke, "Finally decided to get it over with, Alyx?"

"The eviction notice has finally been served. He's not going willingly," Alyx parried with a grin.

"Get over here and let me check you out." She waved Alyx to the oversized birthing bed and I followed.

Once Alyx was as comfortable as possible, I sat on the bed beside her. That's why the bed was so large. They knew there was little chance of separating us during this, barring serious complications, and had arranged things so that we could be as comfortable as possible.

Linda turned from looking at the readouts from the monitors to smile at Alyx. "So far so good. Let's see how far along we are, shall we?"

Alyx groaned. "Can you please cut the 'we' crap? Until I see you doubling over in pain, it's me going through this, not 'we'."

I chuckled, couldn't help it. Alyx mock swung at me.

"See, it's not as bad as you thought," Linda commented with a grin. "Just about five centimeters dilated. Not bad." She pulled off the gloves and held out a hand to help Alyx sit up. "So long as you can walk and your water doesn't break, feel free to get up." Then she looked at me. "Make sure you rest and eat. This is going to take some time yet, and she will need help by the end." She returned her attention back to Alyx. "I realize I'm repeating myself, but we cannot give you any drugs to help with the pain."

Alyx nodded, but was distracted after a moment as that pain the doc was talking about made itself known again. "I know," she said through clenched teeth. "I'll deal."

"Yes, you will. And if this goes half as well as we hope, you will be the proof that this technique works and a lot of women will thank you. Getting this far was considered an impossibility just a year ago." Linda's tone was serious. She had been brought in to consult when a solution was found to reverse Alyx's reproductive system damage, and had been following it step by step once Alyx had decided to go ahead and have the surgery. She had reduced her own practice to only the most high-risk cases, none of whom were due anywhere near the same time as Alyx, in order to make sure she was able to see this through. I was more than thankful for her help.

Alyx finally relaxed again. "Linda, it's not that big a deal. If not me, someone else would have."

Linda shook her head. "There is no convincing you. I'll be back in an hour, unless you need me."

"Thank you," I said to her.

She shook her head as she neared the door. "Thank your wife."

I was dozing on the chair, trying to get some of that rest Linda had requested of me, but without much success. I couldn't quite relax enough to let myself go, so I just let my mind wander a bit. Dani had stopped by late in the afternoon. Seeing her and Alyx together was an odd experience. Dani actually looks a bit older than her own mother; add to that the fact that they look very much alike -- their general appearance is nearly identical -- it's just shocking. Dani is taller, and her hair is a dark blonde, like her father's. They have the same silver eyes, and the same expressions when it comes to a lot of things, which is surprising considering that the first time they'd seen each other since Alyx 'died' was a little over a year ago.

They had talked and Dani had traded a few jokes with me. She seemed to have accepted me without reservation. There was no jealousy concerning her father or that fact that I had known her mother all these years while she hadn't even known she was alive. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact she was a fairly strong telepath. The Official had been overjoyed when she had agreed to join the Agency after she finished school. Not that he'd told us he was happy, but it was true. Otherwise, he would have been bitching big time about losing both me and Alyx for so many weeks.

Bobby had come by a little after six with food for me. He'd figured that wild horses couldn't drag me away and took it upon himself to play mother-hen yet again. After the first thirty seconds, I got ignored in favor of Alyx, who chose that moment have another contraction. A beaut of one from the looks of it. Bobby made some silly comment and she ended up laughing through the entire thing. Poor Bobby thought she was dying. When he worried he did it most impressively, and it took Alyx several minutes before she could convince him she was perfectly fine.

That had been a couple of hours ago and things had progressed pretty much as expected. Claire had come in at one point and put a IV needle in her arm, but had not hooked it up to a full line yet. We had found out Alyx was unable to keep anything down, including crushed ice, so they were concerned she might become dehydrated and were preparing for the eventuality.

I could just hear her quiet movements nearby. She was doing some easy stretches to help with some of the muscle cramps she been developing. It seemed to be helping, if only as distraction.

"Ah, hell," she suddenly said, and my eyes flew open to look at her. I was out of the chair and at her side in a flash. "My water broke."

I forced myself to think. This was no big deal, part of the process. "You okay?"

She nodded. "Fine. Let Linda and Claire know."

"Yeah, right." I moved over to the intercom and did exactly that. The three of them came in minutes later.

"Impatient, are we?" Linda gestured for Alyx to get up on the bed so she could check her again. "You're still only at seven, though I can tell there's a head full of hair on this one. Maybe now things will get moving again." She stripped off the gloves and Alyx shifted back a bit to lie against me.

I was sitting sideways on the bed so her head was in my lap. I looked down at her as I spoke to Linda. "What now?"

"Keep her as comfortable as possible. We'll start the IV now." She glanced at her watch, thinking for moment. When she looked up, Alyx had her eyes closed and was carefully controlling her breathing. "Right on schedule. It may be a while yet. Sleep if you can."

"Yes ma'am," Alyx said when she could talk again.

When Linda had left, Claire came over. "How's the head?"

"Headache, but not bad yet," Alyx answered, curling up on her left side in a vain attempt to get comfortable.

"Good. Everything is going fine, I promise you." She squeezed Alyx's hand for a moment and then looked at me. "And you? How are you holding up?"

I shrugged, not sure how to answer her. I was doing my best to help instead of hinder, but the worry was creeping back in.

"She really is doing fine, Darien." She was trying to reassure me, and it did a little, but the longer this dragged out, the harder it was going to be on both Alyx and myself. "Samantha will be in the outer room if you need her. Linda and I will be nearby. Both of you get what rest you can." When she had gone Alyx spoke in a quiet voice.

"She's worried."

That didn't help me all that much. We shifted a bit more so that I could hold her a bit better. Mere seconds later, the pain returned, and it was so intense she unintentionally shared it with me. By the end, she was moaning softly.

"Easy," I said, brushing a stray curl off her face. I took one of her hands into mine, holding it tightly. There was still a long way to go.

Sometime during the overnight hours, I managed to sleep. Alyx had been doing her best to keep her shields up and to not fight the pain, but she eventually fell into a light doze out of sheer exhaustion. I still knew every time another contraction came. Her hand would unconsciously tighten about mine and she would moan without realizing it. Eventually, though, my own need for sleep caught up with me and I drifted off.

It was the sound of an alarm that woke me.

Samantha was there instantly. She shut off the annoying noise and then moved to check Alyx. "Mr. Fawkes, see if you can wake her. I'm going to get the doctors."

Now, Samantha was a both a neonatal nurse and a certified midwife, so if she was concerned enough to get both Claire and Linda, something must be wrong.

"Ah, crap," I muttered. Shaking Alyx gently, I tried to get her to regain some sort of consciousness. "Alyx, come on. Time to wake up." All I got was a groan and another alarm going off. "Ah, hell. Claire!" I was shouting now.

Claire came in at a run and moved right to Alyx's side. When she lifted her eyelids, I couldn't help but notice how severely bloodshot her eyes were. This was one of the potential problems and had been building for a while. There were lots of hormonal changes going on, and Alyx's quicksilver level's had been dropping for the last couple of months, but only in the last few weeks had they dropped low enough for any noticeable side effects. Headaches, mostly. Nothing severe or incapacitating -- a couple of tylenol usually took care of it -- but now, with the pressure and changes caused by labor, the levels must be bottoming out. Luckily we knew how to deal with it.

Claire moved over to a cabinet and retrieved a syringe filled with an odd-looking substance. Over the years, they had improved this 'booster shot.' Alyx rarely needed it, but with another QSX agent now working here, it was always best to be prepared. The syringe contained concentrated quicksilver hormone, extracted and isolated from Alyx's own blood. They had tried to prepare for everything they could think of. Claire moved to the IV line and injected it in.

It was a difficult wait to see if it would work like it was supposed to, but thankfully it did. Within minutes the alarm silenced, and shortly thereafter Alyx opened her eyes.

"Wha... What happened?" she asked groggily.

"Nothing we didn't plan for," Claire said quietly. "Linda will be in shortly to check you. We'd like to get your readings a bit more stable first."

"Goody," Alyx groaned in response as she was swept away yet again. Another alarm went off, and I looked at Claire sharply.

"Blood pressure. A reaction to the pain." She silenced the alarm and reset it. And we could do nothing for her. She would have to fight through it by herself.

"Not by myself, mook." Her voice lacked energy, but I could hear the hint of amusement. "Unless you're planning on leaving." She rolled onto her back and looked up at me with those bright silver eyes of hers.

"Not likely," I answered unnecessarily. I didn't bother commenting on the fact that she had picked up what I was thinking. Not all that surprising, since it was obvious her shields were weakening. I was picking up pretty much everything from her. She was doing well at not broadcasting in general, but I was holding her hand. Touching her was enough to pick up what was going on.

I lifted my head to see Linda come into the room, fully dressed in scrubs this time. At a guess, she was planning on staying from here on out. Looking at Claire and Samantha I realized they all were. I raised my eyebrows at Claire who shook her head slightly. I kept my mouth shut and swallowed hard. I was pretty sure nothing was really wrong, but Alyx was running out of strength and wouldn't last much longer, and they wanted to avoid a c-section if they could.

"Let's see how you're doing now," Linda said, keeping her voice purposefully cheerful.

Alyx nodded, then groaned as yet another contraction stole her attention away. I watched Linda and saw the look of relief on her face as she checked how far along Alyx was. She'd been stuck at seven for so long, they had begun to worry that she could get no farther without some sort of extreme measures.

"Nine, finally." She patted Alyx's leg in a gesture of comfort. "Almost done. Remember not to push when the time comes."

"I remember," Alyx growled at her. She took a deep breath. "Sorry."

"No need. Considering I have a good idea what you've been going through, being a bit grouchy is more than understandable." Linda smiled at her.

"Alyx." Claire came over and set a hand on her arm, which she quickly removed. Picking up what Alyx was feeling, no doubt. "We talked about you doing a pain block. Now might be a good time to use it."

Alyx chuckled. Shaking with laughter in my hold. "Claire, I did that about an hour after my water broke, the pain was so bad. It's wearing more than a bit thin by now."

"Crap," Claire muttered and I chuckled. Everyone, it seemed, had picked that up from me over the years. "You know what's coming, Alyx. You should have waited."

Alyx shook her head. "I needed the sleep to keep my control."

"Even I can tell it didn't help nearly enough." Claire's voice was quiet and I began to wonder if something more was going on that I didn't know about.

Alyx's eyes drifted shut again and she bit her lip nearly to the point of drawing blood to keep from voicing her discomfort. Based on the looks on the faces of everyone in the room they were getting a good dose of what was going on. Her control was going, and everyone in the room was now getting to experience exactly what she was going through. Not good.

"Alyx, you need to get control back. We can't help you if we're trying to work through your pain," Claire said in a calm voice.

As soon as the contraction eased, Alyx nodded. "I'll try, but I'm not feeling so good right now."

I ran a hand along her face and she leaned into it. "You'll make it." She didn't answer, didn't even try, as she was caught up once again in what he body was putting her through. I felt everything, as usual, but it was obvious this time that no one else did. Instead, the power began to flicker. "Alyx," I warned. She got control back, but then she arched in pain. I held her, but had no idea how to help. She was usually so strong when it came to pain. She could and had worked with injuries that would leave others in a hospital bed unable to move, but here she was swiftly succumbing to the necessary pain of labor. It made me realize that what she was broadcasting to me must be very muted, only a faint reflection of what she was going through.

I looked over at Claire, my fright evident. "Do something."

"We can't," Linda answered. "The last resort would be to do a c-section, and she doesn't want that done unless the baby's in danger. Which he isn't."

I wanted to scream in frustration. I wanted to berate myself for doing this to her. Blame myself for allowing this to happen. If I hadn't been so insistent about marriage, maybe she wouldn't have felt the need to do this. Maybe if I had told her that a family was unnecessary, that she was all I needed or wanted, she wouldn't have driven herself to attempting this for me. I was so caught up in placing the blame on myself, convincing myself that I was at fault, terrified of losing her, that I didn't notice what was going on with her until she lay a hand on the side of my face.

"Darien, stop it please." I opened my eyes to see her sitting up looking at me. She looked tired and frightened and I felt myself sinking further into that tight circle of worry and blame.

"Stop," she repeated with more force. I felt her slip into my mind, even as another contraction hit her with the force of a semi into a wall at high speed. This time I got to feel the full force of it, but I also got her emotions. Yeah, she was exhausted and in pain, but she was also disgustingly happy and content with the situation. With me being at her side through this, with the knowledge that our son would soon be held in our arms. That we would see his face and learn to love him beyond what we already did. I was astonished.

Sliding back out of my mind, she looked at me. "Understand now?"

I kissed her. "Thank you." I let the worry and fear slide away. They weren't needed any more.

"Ah, hell," Alyx muttered. "Linda, ah, gods that hurts."

Linda was there in a second. "Lie down and let me see." She checked Alyx over and smiled. "Fully dilated, and I don't think he wants to wait any more. Follow my directions, Alyx."

"I remember," Alyx said through a groan. I wrapped my arms about her, realizing what was happening for a change instead of being several steps behind. The contractions were nearly non-stop now, and she barely had a chance to catch her breath in between.

When the next one began, Linda said, "Push, gently. Like we talked about." Alyx nodded and pushed herself into more of a sitting position, following the plan that had been worked out months ago.

"Perfect," Linda commented with a grin. "Same thing with the next one."

"Sure. No prob. I can do this all day if I have to." Even I didn't believe her. She was nearly out of energy, but knowing how stubborn she was, she would probably push herself beyond her endurance until it was done. Good thing she didn't have to.

It was less than ten minutes later when Linda smiled, "Major head of hair here. Alyx, one more just like the rest and it should be over."

Head of hair? One more push? I was feeling stunned. Was I ready for this? I was never the responsible one. That had been Kevin, and then Alyx and Bobby and Claire. Not me. I had the sudden urge to run away.

I snapped back to reality at Linda's, "Good, Alyx." An instant later there was a wail as my son made himself known to the world. Within moments, a hastily wrapped and cleaned infant was placed into Alyx's arms.

"Hey, you. Nice to finally meet you." I don't know what she did, but he went from squalling to calm and quiet at her words. Then alarms began to go off and both Samantha and Claire rushed to us. Samantha picked up the baby and Claire moved to support Alyx.

"Darien, go with Samantha, please." I wanted to ask her what was going on, but her look silenced me and I moved, sliding off the bed and trailing after Samantha. I looked back from the doorway to see Alyx lying unconscious on the bed. I felt my heart leap to my throat.

"Mr. Fawkes, they expected this." Samantha's voice was subdued, but not overly concerned.

I managed a stiff nod and followed her down the hallway, where they had set up everything possibly needed for an infant. As I watched, she swiftly went through the routine of weighing, measuring, taking a blood sample -- which he did not appreciate -- and then bathing him. She made sure to get me involved with the process. When she told me his weight, I didn't believe her.

"How much?"

"Eight pounds, twelve ounces. Big baby," she repeated with a smile.

"No kidding. Where the hell was he hiding?" Alyx hadn't gained more than twenty pounds over the entire pregnancy, so I was more than a little surprised at how big he was.

Samantha laughed as she dressed him in the clothes we had provided and wrapped him in a blanket. "Mr. Fawkes, two of Alyx's previous children were bigger." Then she turned and handed him to me, or tried to. I kind of stood there, with no idea of what to do or how to do it. She reached out and moved my arms into the proper position, then set him in my hold.

I was more than a little awkward, not sure what to do with this tiny person and the ton of responsibility that I was was now holding gingerly in my arms. Then he opened his eyes to look up at me. Silly of me, I knew he couldn't really 'see' much of anything yet, but I still felt the power of that gaze fall upon me, from those birth blue eyes that somehow held the same power that Alyx's did over me. I found myself falling, lost to this tiny person in my arms. Suddenly I was no longer nervous. No longer frightened that I couldn't do this. No longer scared that I wasn't and never would be ready for this responsibility.

I ran a finger through the hair that stood up oddly on his head and chuckled. Like father, like son, I guess. He opened his mouth then and let out a lusty howl. I looked over at Samantha. "He's hungry." I have no idea how I knew that, but I did. Mere moments later, a bottle was handed to me and I went about the necessary task of feeding my son. My son. What a strange thing to think about.

"See? I knew you could do it." Samantha was grinning.

"When can we see Alyx?" I asked quietly.

"Soon, Mr. Fawkes," she answered. "Very soon."

It wasn't soon enough. In fact it was a good three hours later before we were allowed in to see her. She was curled up on her side, sleeping. The room was spotless and she had changed clothes, maybe even showered from the looks of it. I really wanted to know what had happened, why they had escorted me out of the room in such a hurry, but decided it could wait until later. Samantha followed me in with a bassinet, loaded down with all the necessities. Alyx and the baby would be spending the next few days here to make sure everything was all right with both of them. I had the feeling it was more for Alyx.

I gave Samantha a grin as she left. I knew she was just going to the outer room for now. Hopefully she'd been able to get some rest soon. She was looking tired, but didn't seem to begrudge us the lack of sleep. I knew I should feel tired, too, but a pleasant euphoria had stolen across me and the need for sleep was a far distant concern right now.

I moved over to the bed and sat down on the edge. I ran one hand through her damp hair and she stirred.

"Dare? Is everything okay?" she still sounded tired to my ears.

"See for yourself." She opened her eyes and pushed herself into a sitting position next to me. I showed her the sleeping child in my arms.

"He's beautiful, Dare." She ran one hand lightly down the side of his face and then through that hair that refused to lay flat. "I was wondering, considering the date, if you might want to change his middle name?"

I was confused. But that was nothing unusual for me. "If you really want to change his middle name, I don't see why not, but what does the date have to do with it?"

She gently took him from my arms, and it was obvious that she had done this many times before. She chuckled and looked up at me. "It's the tenth, you silly. Your anniversary of a sort." She set one hand on my arm. "I thought it might be a nice way to... to thank the person who got you here."

I thought about it for a couple minutes, then nodded. "Yeah, let's." Apparently Ben agreed with the slight name change. He opened his eyes and looked about for a moment, making some small sounds of contentment. Shifting, I wrapped my arms about both of them. Who could have known, when all this began, that this is where I would end up. I planned on enjoying every moment.

// "None of us are responsible for all the things that happen to us, but we are responsible for the way we act when they do happen." I've never claimed to be the most responsible guy in the world, hated having it dumped on me in fact, until now. Now it didn't seemed to be a burden, a cross I had to unwillingly bear. Now it seemed to be such a small thing, a joy, a freedom of sorts that I could and would willingly undertake. I had finally come home. //


Benjamin Kevin Fawkes

Born: August 10, 0614 AM
Weight: 8 lbs. 12 oz
Length: 25 1/2 inches

Welcome to the world.