A/N: Very sad fic coming…
She remembered asking to be put to sleep. She'd meant forever, but they only granted her temporary release while they cut into her abdomen with their sterile knives and removed the baby she'd waited her whole lifetime to meet. She had no idea how long she'd been out, but when she awoke, the first thing she saw was her husband, hunched over in the chair beside her bed, cradling a small lump in his arms. In her medicated haze, in the still of that moment, she thought that it had all been a dream.
Ben's splintered voice shattered any such illusions. As her eyes came into focus, she realized that he was shaking and rocking against the seat of the chair. His face was a disturbing color, the shade of raw meat, and the skin looked mutated: slick cheeks and crinkled eyes. The memories came back like a tsunami.
"I don't think the volume's on, I can't hear the heartbeat."
"Where's the heartbeat?"
"There's no movement-"
"Where's her heartbeat?"
Adrian grasped the railing of her hospital bed. She needed something to grab onto; anything. The pain in her chest – the fear – felt infinite. It was like the dream where she was falling, magnified by a million, but this time she couldn't wake up. A cold sweat formed against her forehead. She vaguely heard the door open, but she didn't dare move. She couldn't take her eyes off the blanket wrapped mound in her husband's arms.
"Adrian?" the nurse asked.
She felt the overwhelming urge to scream, but she didn't. She wanted to tell that woman that she had no right being in her room, let alone speaking to her. Not now. Not ever. But she didn't. She didn't say anything. To anyone.
"Adrian?" the nurse asked again. "Would you like to hold her?"
As she looked at Ben, in spite of his dilapidated form, she decided that he was worlds braver than her. The idea of holding the bundle he was holding now, the idea of looking at that frozen little face for the first and the last time, it didn't seem humane.
"Would you like to hold your daughter?"
Ben's lower lip protruded. It looked swollen, as though he'd been biting it. He leaned forward and pushed his chair a few inches to the side. The sound of metal against the wax painted floor might as well have been manicured nails on a chalkboard. "Th – the – they s-s-s-ay…" His voice teetered dangerously; he was a man hanging on the edge of a cliff. "…it h-h-hel – hel –"
Hell. That was what she was going through. It was hell.
"–ps. Helps. Helps," he repeated slowly, as if trying to make himself believe what he was saying. "Helps to – to – h-hold h-her…" Ben lurched forward, offering the bundle towards his wife.
Adrian recoiled, cowering to the farmost edge of the bed until her back was being assaulted by the other railing. She suddenly heard the nurse's footsteps behind her and rolled over with the speed of a viper, meeting the blue of the woman's eyes.
"You don't have to," she explained, "but we encourage that you do. It's vital for the grieving process. If you want, you can see her later too."
Adrian felt her head shaking in agreement, like a bobble head doll. Although she couldn't see what her face looked like, there was a sting in her eye sockets. Not from tears, but from being stretched to their limits, which she guessed must have meant she looked terrified. All the same, the nurse just nodded, and Adrian watched her round the end of the bed and take the bundle from Ben.
As soon as it happened, Ben bounded up from the chair and made a beeline for the door. He paused as he grasped the handle, then turned back, his face a neon glow, studded with tears. He looked like a dead end motel sign in the rain. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his head whipping back and forth. "I need a minute…I'm sorry Adrian. I – I'm sorry…"
Adrian felt her teeth chatter as he disappeared out the door. Just her. And the nurse. And – no. Just them, because you couldn't count someone who didn't exist. For months, she had felt butterfly kisses of movement and the thuds of miniature feet. She'd dreamed about those feet, the color of the skin and the shape of the toes: long and skinny or short and stubby? She'd dreamed about those little fists and wondered if one day they would sport chewed ends or a manicure. All that time. All for nothing.
"Are you sure?" The nurse neatly tucked a piece of the blanket that had fallen out of place back around the cocoon shaped package.
Adrian looked away. The air was suddenly thick; she could barely breathe.
Adrian closed her eyes as the footsteps waded towards the door. She filled her head with the sound of her mental voice: Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. It was beginning to block out the ambient noise until the door creaked. Her eyes shot open in time to see the flap of blanket the nurse had tucked back in fall out again, as they were leaving. "Wait!"
The nurse stopped abruptly, then turned on the balls of her feet, making an unintended squeak with the rubber soles of her shoes. Her eyes questioned the young mother again.
Adrian was still reeling from the reverberating shrill in her eardrums. She had no idea she could reach a pitch like that. Her arms lifted without her permission and before she had time to remedy the situation, the nurse was at her side, laying the bundle into them. She hadn't even known she was crying until a tear hit the blanket. Then another. And another.
The face shrouded in the hospital's baby blanket could have been Adrian's own. In fact, it looked like one of Adrian's baby pictures come to life. Life. It was an ironic thought. A cruel, twisted joke. Life without life. Mercy without mercy.
"I'll leave you alone," the nurse said. "Press the call button when you need me."
Adrian barely registered that the woman was even talking until she was no longer in the room. Her eyes were solely focused on the closed lids that would never open and the tiny lips that would never speak. Still. That was what they called her: still. Stillborn.
That was a motto for Adrian's life: for sixteen years, she went without a father, and yet she still longed for him. Antonio, her first love, she still dreamed about. Ricky, the first man she'd given her heart to since Antonio, she still needed. And Mercy, her firstborn.
"I love you," she whispered. "Know that no matter what, I still love you."