~ ANA ~

It's taken time to adjust. To everything that's happened, to what I remember, and more painfully, the things I don't, from the time I was asleep. I missed so much. And I've come to realize that no matter how much time passes, two years at last count, some things are still hard.

A little at a time, Christian and I packed away Phoebe's room, saving this and that, and letting go of the rest. It was a slow, broken, arduous process, but when the last of it was away, I breathed a sigh of relief.

And then I went to visit her.

Christian's come with me sometimes. We've brought Teddy. We've picnicked with her, watched the sunset. I've cried over her. Teddy asks why, and he's still too little to understand that "it just hurts." Grace and Carrick joined us the last time. My mother-in-law has been instrumental in recovering from the loss… having experienced something similar early in their marriage. Christian hadn't told me that… because until this, he hadn't known.

Grace dropped by while I was having a particularly horrible day. That's what life was for us after my memory returned… a series of alternating good and bad days. After a time the bad ones dwindled, but this particular bad day was the first that held any real good as well. Curled in the corner of the black-hole sofa was a place of frequent escape, mug of tea in tow. That's where she found me, and placed a black-and-white photograph in my fingers.

"Carrick took this, on the day of your accident," she'd carefully explained. "Christian hasn't seen it yet… I thought you deserved to see it first."

It's slightly grainy, muted, likely taken by a camera on a phone. I know what it is almost before I've fully absorbed it. A side shot, looking over Christian's shoulder… at our beautiful baby girl. She's tiny… her little face partially obscured by the blanket, but I see her… I see her.

Grace and I cried together until Christian came home. And then he and I cried some more. And then Christian carried me into his office to sit with him while he scanned the photo, cleaned it up with all manner of high-end software and reprinted it, replacing the sonogram in the silver frame that had graced his desk all those months. It's the only picture we'll ever have of her. And it's the only one we'll ever need.

And then our healing began anew.

It's biting cold out, but we're here with purpose, standing on the sidewalk near the front of the crowd. My eyes trail downward to the knit-hooded bundle, snugly strapped at my chest. The arrival of our third child was as unexpected and unplanned as I've come to accept so many things in our lives. Oh, what a day that was…

"Christian…" I gasp, my eyes widening, body frozen, gripping the damp bath towel around me, fearing the unwelcome swelling of sensation… oh no… it's too early…

"Ana?" he calls from the bedroom. "Baby? What's wrong?" His eyes draw down to the puddle beneath me, and I see a flash of fear in his features, but it's gone in an instant, and I'm in his arms, and then on our bed. I'd felt this before… with Teddy… and remember what the nurse had said as she artificially broke my water… after that, there's no going back. "It's too soon," I gasp breathlessly.

"Relax your body, Ana," he instructs, reaching for the phone. "Taylor, I need medevac immediately. Code one." He hangs up.

At the time, I didn't connect his cryptic order, too distracted by the wash of sudden and insistent pressure down below, but I discovered later what it meant. Mortal danger.

"Calm breaths, baby," he soothes, throwing away my damp towel and pulling the bedsheet over me instead. I reach out, catching him by his t-shirt, and he stills, taking my hand in one of his, the other reaching for my abdomen. "I've got you."

The waves stack upon one another. So hurriedly, directly… I'm lost in the sensation. A fleeting memory of a similar situation from one of my mother's soap operas crosses my mind. God, I can't think… this shouldn't be happening. Seven weeks… I still have seven more weeks… our currently genderless baby can't possibly survive long without help. I'm overcome not only by sensation but by fear. My hand tightens around Christian's, and he speaks softly to me, and then over his shoulder… Taylor must be here. He hasn't said everything's going to be okay, and he would never lie to me. This is bad. This is so bad. The blood pounds in my ears, and I see stars, shimmering lights…

"Ana? Ana!" His voice pulls me back from the edge. "I need you to look at me, baby," he commands.

"It hurts," I breathe.

"I know, sweetheart, I know it does. Help is en route." His free hand roams deliberately over my belly. I hadn't noticed the Bluetooth earpiece until now. "Mom wants you to take slow, even breaths, as best you can, and tell us what you feel." His expression is expectant, patient but anxious.

"It's fast… no warning… different than before, urgent… oh, God…" I cry out, the wave has become a steamroller, and my sides clench painfully. My heart pounds with fright.

"What am I looking for?" Christian's astral voice breaks through, gathering the bottom of the sheet and gently parting my knees. He goes a little pale. "I think I see the head, Mom."

No. Fucking. Way. This can't be happening… not to us, not again. My belly tenses, my head swirls, and I feel it. I feel everything. Christian kneels between my knees, his eyes bouncing between my face and the action below.

I grip the sheets in my fingers, all control slipping away as my body betrays me. I haven't pushed, not once… but the compulsion builds and I can't stop it.

"What do you mean she can't help it?" Christian shouts. "Ana, baby, I'm so sorry… you're fine… you're doing just fine… Mom, talk to me." He pauses, and then his eyes are on me, and he's regained his purpose. "Ana, I need you to push."

"Are you serious?" I screech. He said help was on the way, help meant medical professionals… surely they should be here, they should handle this... I want Christian next to me. Another contraction threatens, and suddenly, I feel the direness hidden in his eyes.

And I can't help it. I really can't. I don't recall the next minute or so in great detail, except that I felt as though my insides were tearing.

The tiny cry that pierces the bedroom is the most welcome sound in the world.

"Pink, he's pink, Mom. No, no blood. Nothing yet. Oh, thank God." Christian accepts the white towel he's handed… was Taylor here the whole freaking time? I reach toward my husband.

"A son, Ana. Another son." He carefully passes the bundle into my arms.

Oh, goodness, he's tiny.

He spent the next five weeks under close observation, and then they finally let us bring him home, to the place where his life began. I still shudder when I think how badly his entrance into the world could have ended. But we have him, we have our two boys, Teddy and Quinn. Both perfectly healthy, and the spitting image of Christian.

Teddy's taken to big-brotherhood with great intent, gentleness and a protective nature that rivals their father's. Christian is mesmerized by their relationship; he sees all the closeness that he never really had with his own brother, and rather than tormenting him, it's given him reason to solidify that relationship as well.

"I think I see them!" Kate squeals.

My eyes fly toward the stream of sleek, powerful runners pounding across the finish line.

"Go, Dad! Go!" Teddy squeals, bouncing on Sawyer's shoulders. Gail whoops beside me. It's an all-out, extended-family affair, what can I say. The only absentees are Mia, who's chasing her ninth month of pregnancy, and Grace and Carrick, who are busily preparing the after-party in Bellevue.

My eyes lock with Christian's as he powers toward us, toward his goal, shoulder to shoulder with Elliot. We're later to find that they finished one-hundred seventy-fourth and seventy-fifth overall, respectively. I'm too flabbergasted though, through the deafening cheers when they cross the finish and move off to the side, Taylor close behind as always, that the brothers share quite an uncharacteristic, not to mention public embrace.

And then Elliot throws up on the sidewalk.

And Christian laughs at him, patting him on the back, and leading him to a bench.

"He'll be fine," I tell Kate. She doesn't do well with her own child's emissions either.

My husband is soaking, despite the chill, but I accept a long, wet kiss from him regardless, and hand him a dry jacket.

"How do you feel?" I ask as he plants a kiss on Quinn's covered head.

He laughs. "Better than my brother, I imagine," he jerks his head over to Elliot, who is now receiving water and attention from his wife and daughter. "He was pretty incredible, actually, having only trained the last six months. Fucking incredible."

"Aww, Dad!" Teddy swats at him sassily, and Sawyer lifts our four-year-old from his perch, handing him to Christian.

"I'm sorry! Again!" Christian emphasizes, bumping noses with his older miniature. "How many is that?"

"Um… twenty!" Teddy decides. I have no idea what the actual expletive tally is, but Christian has been conscientiously trying to stop swearing around the kids. He drops an extra mil into each one's trust fund for every swear word uttered within earshot, and doubles it when Teddy corrects him. So I guess we're up to forty million apiece, according to the four-year-old. I think Teddy would settle for forty dollars and a trip to the toy store.

"Tired?" I ask, joining Christian on the patio, wine glass in hand.

"Fucking exhausted," he admits, quickly looking around to assure that no little ears have heard him. "But fantastic. The turnout was phenomenal. We may be in the poorhouse come Christmas… might have to scale back your gifts this year, Mrs. Grey," he jibes. When he finally returned to serious training and set his sights on the Seattle Marathon, I suggested that he might sponsor the race this year, to further incentivize him to stay motivated. And in true Christian Grey style, he went further. Any employee under the Grey House umbrella was treated to a bonus for finishing any of the weekend's races, and he stayed to the very end, to ensure that each of his people came away from the event without issue. Hundreds participated in some way or another.

"I'm so proud of you," I say.

"You are?" he sounds surprised. To this day, he still struggles with the depth of my affection for him.

"I am. Endlessly." I lean over, my hands running up his chest and he brings his warm lips down to mine. Just shy of touching them, he whispers against my mouth. "Run with me next year?"

I gasp. "I don't know about that," I say.

He smiles. "And why not?"

I giggle. "I don't know what regulations say about running with a four-month-old strapped to your back…"

His eyes widen. Under my hand, his heart picks up to a gallop. "You're… already?"

I shrug shyly. "Surprise?"


Thank you all for taking the journey with me. Find me (Weare Jorus) on Facebook for future works; no guarantee they'll be posted here. Love you all.