The baby was crying again.
James peeled his cheek painfully from the metallic desktop as her shrill wails startled him into consciousness. Immediately, his eyes began to burn from fatigue and lack of adjustment to the Vault's fluorescent lighting. He glanced down at his Pip-Boy clock- it was nearing five in the morning. She'd slept an extra hour past her usual feeding time, and he was grateful. He knew the small amount of extra sleep had done him well, but his tired mind did not feel its effects.
He could not remember ever feeling as exhausted as he had in the past few weeks. Part of it was, of course, his daughter's need to be fed every four hours, but he knew most of it was from grief. Between the move from the Jefferson Memorial to the Vault, convincing the Overseer to allow himself and the baby in, taking care of her, and the immediate assumption of his duties as physician, he'd had little time to grieve. The Palmers, who had shown him kindness he had not earned, had taken the baby off his hands for a few hours once or twice a week since his arrival. This allowed him a long, hot shower and some time to truly grapple with Catherine's absence, but it was not enough.
He rose to his feet robotically and made his way over to the crib at the foot of his bed. The baby had kicked herself free of the blanket he'd swaddled her in five hours ago and all of her limbs flailed angrily.
"Sara," he cooed, picking her up and pulling her tiny body to his chest. "Why are you so mad?" Her cries were muffled as she buried her face into his wrinkled lab coat, and her tiny fingers flexed, trying to grab hold of him.
His tired feet begged him to sit down on the bed, but he could not do it. Any bed was perpetually and painfully empty without Catherine. His wife's beautiful, sleeping form was not sprawled across the mattress. Her unruly blonde hair was not there for him to tuck back behind her ear. Her smile would never light up the room again; he would never touch her perfect body. Instead, the shell of the only woman James had ever truly loved lay buried out near the Potomac basin, cold and alone. What he wouldn't do to be lying there with her, unknowing, unthinking, unfeeling…
But the little girl whose drool was now sliding steadily down his neck needed him. He loved her more than he thought possible, so much that it almost physically hurt. But a dark corner in the back of his mind wanted to hate her too. She had cost him everything without knowing it. She had not been forced to watch as her mother's body spasmed in pain and her eyes rolled back.
But he would not…could not ever hate any part of her. Nothing in the world brought him more joy than the sleepy hours he spent sprawled across his Vault apartment's ratty old sofa with all 9 pounds of his small daughter cradled in the crook of his arm. The glow of computer screens that would have been comforting back at the Jefferson Memorial were now empty, and the others who inhabited Vault 101 were sad shells of people: living a terribly boring life in their underground prison. But this small human being, whom he often remembered with disbelief was a part of him and a part of Catherine, seemed more alive than anyone or anything.
He stumbled sleepily toward the fridge as Sara continued to screech into his shoulder. He remembered suddenly that his first appointment of the day was in about two hours as he plunked the bottle of formula into the old, finicky heater. As he gave it a hard tap to force it to turn on, he realized that said appointment was with Ellen DeLoria whose 8 months old son, Butch, had begun sprouting his first tooth last week. As a result, he'd taken to biting whoever so much as touched him, and this worried his mother…when she was sober. James hoped against hope that the woman would be sober for the appointment and not flirt continuously with him while he tried to avoid her son's tooth. Her flirtatiousness irked him more than he'd thought possible-Catherine was little over a month dead. Even if Ellen DeLoria wasn't a drunk and an irresponsible mother, he couldn't imagine looking at another woman…not when the loss of Catherine still stung him so deeply that it physically ached.
Sara took the warm bottle greedily and attempted to grab onto it with motor skills she did not yet possess.
"Easy," he coaxed her. She'd been up the previous night with painful-sounding hiccups for nearly an hour after she'd practically inhaled her formula. If he didn't know better, he'd have thought he was starving the poor child.
He made his way back into his darkened room and switched the computer back on. It flickered to life slowly, bringing into view the medical report he'd been typing up for the Almodovars before he had fallen asleep at the desk. Their daughter, who they'd already named Amata, was due any day. Stephanie Almodovoar was delighted by Sara and insistent that the two girls would be great friends. The Overseer seemed less than thrilled. James hoped that would change over time.
By the time, he'd finished typing up the report, Sara had sucked back nearly three-quarters of the bottle and was ready for attention. She gazed up at him, unblinking.
"Good morning to you too," he said, smiling down at her. He ran a hand across the top of her head, admiring the soft, red fuzz. Neither he nor Catherine knew where this little girl's red hair came from. In the few blissful moments after Sara's birth before the unthinkable happened, Dr. Li had questioned where this gene came from and both tired parents had shrugged and laughed in unison. When she'd flipped on the gene projection, Sara, aged ahead about twenty years, still had stubbornly red hair with a face so similar to his own that it was eerie.
But he could see Catherine in her: in the way that her nose curved up just a bit at the tip, in the shape of her eyes and all of her tiny toes.
"I love you, you know," he told her. She hiccupped loudly in response, and he laughed. He didn't know what the hell he was doing, but somehow he already knew she would turn out wonderfully. Catherine was gone, but in her place was this tiny human being who threw up a lot, didn't sleep enough, and relied entirely on him. He would do right by her.