"So that's it?" Alison asked, "He's not going to be involved and you're fine with that? And what is wrong with these instructions! None of this stuff fits!"
"That's not part B, or Slot A for that matter," Jackie replied. "And no I'm not fine with it, but I can't force him to be involved, especially not when I originally promised him no responsibility."
"Maybe he'll change his mind when the baby's born, when he sees them for the first time. Sometimes I think it's not real to certain men until they can see the baby, or even hold them."
"Maybe he will," Jackie sighed. "But I'm not going to get my hopes up, I did that before and look where it got me."
"Yeah, well like they say don't count your chickens before they hatch. He might yet still surprise you."
"I don't really want to talk about it anymore," she admitted. "So where do you think I should hang this picture?"
"That wall over there. This room's really starting to come together now."
"Yeah, I only need the cot assembled now," Jackie replied pointedly with a wry smile.
"That might take a few months, I'm telling you this thing's so damned complicated it's a good thing you bought that basinet for them to sleep in because this might not be ready for your due date."
"The one that's five weeks away?" she asked in amusement.
"Exactly." Alison let out a noise of disgust and threw the screwdriver in her hand to one side, before looking up and adding, Are you sure you'll be ok while we'll be away?"
"You're back two weeks before I'm due," Jackie remarked calmly. "I'll be absolutely fine."
Alison continued regardless, "If we hadn't already booked it when you announced you were pregnant then we wouldn't be going you know."
"Alison would you just relax, my midwife says I'm right on track, I'm working for another two weeks and so for the week before you get back I'll just relax and put my feet up."
"Well just remember that if you need anyone, an errand girl, anything at all, Sarah will be at home."
"So she didn't change her mind then?"
"Nope, and as she turned eighteen last month I can't stop her from deciding she doesn't want to come on holiday with her decrepit parents and irritating siblings, especially not when she's already going on holiday with her friends next month before she starts uni."
"I can't believe she's so grown up."
"No neither can I, seems like only yesterday she was announcing in a packed supermarket that she was Cinderella," Alison laughed. "You just wait, they grow up quickly, it sometimes feel like if you blink you'll miss something."
"I'll just have to make the most of them then, won't I," she replied, her hand stroking over her bump. "To be honest I'm starting to get a bit fed up of being pregnant, I just want to hold them, to see what they look like."
"It won't be long, this is the longest part ironically, probably because you're so uncomfortable, need to pee every five minutes and waddle instead of walk."
"I wish I could say that I don't waddle, but sadly I don't think at this size I'm walking with any sort of grace."
Alison smiled. "Just think when you've got a screaming baby to deal with at all hours of the night you might want to go back in time to this stage."
"I don't think I'll ever want to go back to this, I've almost forgotten what my feet look like."
"What you need is someone to give you an ankle rub."
"Well unless you're offering I don't see that as a possibility," Jackie remarked dryly, her eyebrow quirked in amusement.
Undoing his top button, Robbie poured himself a generous splash of whisky, downing it quickly, wincing as it burned its way down his throat. It didn't help to blur the memory of the latest date, the latest dismal attempt to move on, the abject failure or the constant feeling of guilt at having turned his back on Jackie and their baby.
He'd tried to tell himself it was for the best but that didn't make it any easier, didn't ease what he was feeling. He was trying to protect them and at the same time he couldn't help but feel he was doing the wrong thing. Trying to tell himself that Gaby was right, that he was too selfish to be a good father and therefore they were better off without him.
It was just that he wasn't better off without them, he could still see that blurry outline of their baby from that first scan and it sent his stomach into his throat, the thought of letting them down made him feel physically ill. He thought of that teddy bear that was abandoned in his spare room, he'd wanted them to have that more than he'd ever realised, wanted them to have something from him that they treasured, that they lugged around with them wherever they went until it was tatty and tired looking, and instead it was set to languish in his cold, empty flat.
Sighing, he let his head sink into his hands. He didn't want this to be his future, alone and miserable. The last few weeks had been the worst of his life, Jackie barely spoke to him and anything he seemed to say just appeared to aggravate her, especially if he attempted to show any concern for her. It looked as though he'd managed to convince her that he didn't really care for her, that it had all just been a deal to him, a way to get her into bed and give her the one thing she wanted without having to take any responsibility. The irony being that it was the furthest fact possible away from the truth, he wanted her and their baby more than he wanted his next breath.
He stared down at the bottle of whisky he'd taken to swigging directly from though, it must be that that had prompted his last overly dramatic thought, Robbie told himself, although he did want both of them. He wanted to be part of a happy family, the type he'd never seen in action, the type he'd never really thought possible when he'd heard his mother crying late and night and felt the sting of his Dad's belt for the tiniest of infractions, but he had no idea how to be part of something good, after all everything he touched turned to shit.
Two Weeks Later
Levering herself out of her bed, Jackie winced, rubbing at the dull ache in her lower back, she'd been slightly achy the day before as well but this was slightly sharper than the day before. As it eased off slightly she let out a part irritated, part relived sigh, bloody Braxton hicks again. It was absolutely the last thing she needed on her last day at work.
"Robbie, take Jackie with you when you go and see Rachel Fairburn."
Both Jackie and Robbie's heads snapped up at Burke's sudden announcement. Robbie frowned at Jackie's massive stomach before questioning, "Really? What if she gives birth in the woman's house, I don't see that helping our case."
"If it gets me away from this desk then I'm happy to go just about anywhere," Jackie interjected, glaring at Robbie as she added, "And I'm not going to go into labour on the woman's floor."
"It does look like that's a possibility," Stuart joked, trying to lighten the mood. Things had been strained between his two friends for weeks now and he wasn't sure what had prompted it. For a day or so they had appeared to be on a more even keel, then suddenly they were back to ignoring one another. Although to be honest it appeared to be Jackie doing most of the avoiding. "It is your last day of work after all."
"It might be my last day of work, but I still have three weeks to go, not to mention that most pregnancies go over the mark."
"Doesn't mean yours will," Robbie snipped back.
Burke rolled his eyes, growling, "Would you lot stop nattering on! Robbie, I want Jackie to go because we need this woman's witness statement to make this case stick, she's terrified of McCredie but she's more worried about her children's safety, so who better to convince her that testifying is in her family's best interests than a woman about to have her own."
"I don't like it," Robbie replied sullenly. "It's a risk we don't have to take."
"I don't see you coming back with any better ideas, Inspector Ross," he countermanded.
"There has to be a better way." He gestured in Jackie's direction. "She looks like she's about to pop."
"Oi!" Jackie protested. "You know just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I can't throw a heavy object directly at your head!"
"I'm beginning to think someone should aim one at yours, at least that way you might see some sense. I mean you've been rubbing at your back all morning and that's when you're sitting down."
"Well maybe if you had a small person battering you from the inside out you might be a bit stiff as well," Jackie shot back quickly, after all the pain wasn't constant, although it was slightly sharper than it had been in the morning, but a chance to stretch her legs would help that, she reasoned.
"Would you two stop it! You've been at each other's throats for weeks now and I'm sick to the back teeth of it, so sort yourselves out!" Burke yelled, glaring between the two of them, "Now, Jackie do you feel up to this?"
"Absolutely," she replied certainly. "I wouldn't be going if I didn't."
"Good, then the pair of you get going then."
Shooting a triumphant smirk in Robbie's direction, Jackie lumbered to her feet, unable to stop herself from wincing when a tight wave rippled from her back round to her stomach, stronger and more intense than anything she'd felt previously. Robbie jumped on it instantly, "What was that?" he asked suspiciously.
"A particularly vicious kick," she snapped back, her teeth gritted as she felt the pain expand slightly until it gradually began to ease off. She might be lying but she was not about to let a stupid practice contraction keep her stuck at this desk for one second longer than she had to be there. "So absolutely nothing for you to worry about," she finished pointedly.
Robbie's face settled into a deep frown, her hand was still resting on her back and he could see she was kneading at her lower muscles, her cheeks slightly more flushed than usual. Bloody stubborn woman, he decided, he only hoped that she was right as per usual, although a small part of him wouldn't mind crowing if she was wrong. "Fine," he muttered, waving his hand in the direction of the door, "After you."
He shook his head as he watched her make an attempt to flounce out, only for her bump to completely hamper her. They had just hit the corridor when she announced, "You'll need to wait a minute, baby's on my bladder again." Robbie glared at her, just for the sake of it and slumped against the wall, waiting for her.
Her hand tightening on the sink until her knuckles turned white, Jackie let out a low hiss of breath, her other hand resting on her stomach as she felt it tighten. Braxton hicks, she told herself again, that was all these were, practice contractions. It was far too early for the real deal, she had three weeks, and yes the midwife had mentioned that the baby was quite far down already and might come early but she hadn't meant this early!
The pain started to ease, her muscles relaxing and this time it was a sigh of relief she let out. It was too early she decided firmly, she was not, not having this baby today. She kept her hand on her stomach and muttered to her bump, "No, You're not going to do this, you are going to stay where you are for the next three weeks, I might want to see you but I want you to stay where you are for just a little bit longer. Especially because I can't bear you're father when he gets all smug about being right."
Jackie glared at the car radio, wanting nothing more than to reach out and slap Robbie's hand away from the controls he was incessantly fiddling with. Unfortunately as her hand was curled into the small side pocket of the car door's interior as she tried to fight off the urge to cry out. Her lips pursed together, it was a good thing he was ignoring her, because otherwise she didn't think she'd be able to deny the truth to him anymore.
It would appear that her child had decided to ignore her instructions – a trait she hoped they wouldn't continue with – and make their appearance early. She was going to have to admit soon that she was in labour, but she couldn't quite bring herself to say the words out loud, it would appear that denial was not just a river in Egypt.
Her eyes squeezed shut, her teeth biting into her bottom lip as another wave hit her until finally a small noise eked out from behind her teeth. Robbie turned sharply to look at her, "What's wrong?" He asked, and for a moment she thought she heard true concern in his tone.
"I think you're going to have to turn the car around," she told him breathlessly, opening her eyes again as the pain eased again. She turned to look at Robbie, seeing that his hands had tightened on the wheel, his face pale and his eyes wide as he stared at the road ahead of himself.
"I thought you said you were fine, in fact I distinctively remember you saying so," he snapped sounding slightly panicked. "I wanted you to stay in the office."
"This would still be happening!" She countered back sharply, "At least I'm in the car."
"Yeah, you're in a car heading in the opposite direction to the bloody hospital!"
"Yes because I wanted to go into premature labour while at work, while my birthing partner is in another country and I'm stuck with the man who wants nothing to do me or our baby!"
Robbie's lips thinned until they turned white. "You're only early by three weeks," he supplied finally. He reached out and squeezed her hand. "That's nothing, the baby will be fine."
"You don't know that." She pressed a balled up fist to her forehead. "I shouldn't have ignored it for so long, shouldn't have just written it off as Braxton hicks."
"What's a Braxton...you know what it doesn't matter," he amended himself hurriedly. "Fuck," he hissed under his breath as he scanned the road ahead of them."
"What is it?" Jackie asked, more than a hint of anxiety creeping into her tone.
"The next turn off's not for ten miles, can't turn around until then, so it'll be at least half an hour before we get you to hospital, more if we hit traffic."
"Which knowing sod's law we will," she moaned. "Shit!" She braced herself against the dashboard as another contraction hit.
"It's fine, look can't you tell roughly how close you are by the contraction things, don't they do something?" he asked unsurely.
Coming to the end of her contraction, Jackie let out a low moan and replied on a somewhat shaky breath, "You've been through this before, surely you should know more than I do?"
"Gaby had a c-section, I wasn't allowed in and we never got as far as contractions before they whipped Jamie out."
She looked at the grim set to his jaw and decided it was best not to comment on what he'd just said, instead telling him, "I can time them, I'll need to wait until the end of the next one and time how long it takes until the beginning of the one after that."
"Right, well before we start to panic, do that, we might have ages yet."
"Believe me I'm well past the start panicking stage and into full blown terror," she quipped as she unclipped her wrist watch, holding it in her hand, her fingers squeezing around it as she let out a low moan again.
"Just breathe through it," Robbie tried to encourage her.
"Don't know how," she admitted breathlessly, the words a struggle to get out.
He frowned at her. "Didn't you do the classes?"
Jackie shook her head, unable to form words anymore as she silently willed the contraction to end. As it eased off she checked the time and told him quietly, "The classes clashed with my nephew's swimming club so Alison couldn't come with me, I told her I went but the truth was I didn't want to go on my own."
He let out an annoyed snort. "You could have asked me!"
"You have made it perfectly clear that you don't want to be involved."
"I said if you needed me though I'd be there."
"And I told you that if we have any hope of getting back to the way things were, I need boundaries," she snapped.
"Yeah, well you're boundaries have done us the world of good right now! Stuck on the fucking motorway and heading in the wrong direction while you give birth in my car."
"Because this is exactly how I wanted to have my baby," she snarled. "I didn't want a peaceful birth, no I wanted to be bickering with you throughout the entire thing, stuck in your tip of a car!"
Jackie's hand hit the dashboard as another contraction hit, and Robbie looked at her in alarm. "That was quick," he stated. "How quick was it?"
She didn't answer for a long moment, a low moan escaping from her lips as she rocked backwards and forwards before she finally told him breathlessly, "Three minutes."
"That's not long is it? Look maybe we should just call for an ambulance."
"No, that would be overdramatic," she protested. "My waters haven't broken yet so we have time, plenty of time, she added after a small breath, almost as though she were attempting to reassure herself.
Robbie reached out and squeezed her hand. "The baby will be fine," he told her again, his eyes not deviating from the road, but his voice firm and certain.
Jackie curled her fingers around his for a moment, returning the squeeze. "I'm sure your right." She replied. "This just wasn't how I planned it."
"Best laid plans. We'll be there soon," he assured her. "Quick as we can."
It felt like the longest journey for both of them, the conversation and the bickering tailing off as Jackie tried to figure out how best to breathe through her contractions. She'd clawed at her seatbelt, the added pressure not helping her discomfort and it was only at Robbie's rather forceful insistent that she kept it on.
Finally though they pulled into the car park, and by that time, Jackie was completely flushed and as the contractions grew in frequency and intensity, her moans became louder and sharper. "You'll need to help me out," she told him. "The seat's pretty low down."
Leaning down, Robbie helped her up, his arm wrapping around her waist as he asked somewhat anxiously, "Are you alright?"
"I've been better." Her hand wrapped round his and she turned her face to look up at him as she added lowly, "I know what I said about needing you to keep your distance, but I don't think I can do this alone."
"I'll stay with you for as long as you want me," he told her automatically, he had never had any intention of letting her go through this on her own, no matter how much the thought of the upcoming hours terrified him, he was going to stay with her.
"I don't have anything with me," she told him suddenly. "My bag is packed and sitting in the bloody hallway of my flat."
"Anybody with a key?"
"My niece and one of my neighbours."
"What one would you prefer to call?" he asked.
"My neighbour, if I call Sarah she'll be straight on the phone to my brother and that will just panic everyone, and it's not like they can do anything where they are."
"Right, well once we get you into a bed, I'll call them, ask them to drop the bag off, so does the neighbour have a name?"
"Annie, she works from home so she should be in."
"Perfect, so fingers crossed we can have the bag here within half an hour."
"I'll need my notes as well, they're resting on the side table in the hall."
"I'll tell her," he assured her. "So you just concentrate on your breathing, ok?"
"I'll try, although I've decided I want that bloody epidural."
Jackie's fingers tightened into the bottom rail of the bed as she rocked back and forth on her feet, trying to relieve some of her discomfort. She'd always kind of assumed that childbirth might not be as bad as it was made out to be, but she had definitely been wrong.
The door opened and Robbie rushed in, a triumphant grin on his face. "Got the bag," he told her happily. "Oh, and Annie says good luck."
The contraction easing slightly, Jackie straightened. "I'm going to need it," she grumbled. "I can't believe I'm too late for a bloody epidural, my waters haven't even broken yet."
"Yeah but you heard what they say, you're too far dilated. By the way I meant to ask what does that even mean?"
"I really don't think you want to know," she told him dryly.
"Ah." He pulled a face, if Jackie was telling him he didn't want to know then he was positive that it couldn't be anything good. Deciding to change the subject he asked, "You wanting to change out of that gown then?"
"I am," She pulled at the hospital gown she had on and pulled a face, "After all this is hardly high fashion."
"You mean we won't be seeing it on the catwalks?" He quipped.
"I wouldn't have thought so," Jackie laughed, her face turned serious as added quietly, "Thank you for getting this."
He shrugged, "It was nothing, really."
"It was something to me, I would never have thought of phoning Annie if you hadn't been here."
"Just glad I could do something for you, make this a bit easier," Robbie replied, moving closer to her until they were almost touching.
She smiled, and for the first time in weeks when she smiled at him this one reached her eyes. "You have," she assured him quietly. She winced suddenly and felt a pulling, almost giving away sensation as there was a gush of water. Looking over her bump, she bit down on her bottom lip not sure if she wanted to laugh or cry when she saw that Robbie's shoes were soaked. "I'm so sorry," she muttered.
Robbie stared down at his shoes in shock. "Please tell me that was your waters."
"Thank Christ," he breathed out. "That I can live with."
"Have you heard back from either of them yet?" Burke barked at Stuart. "They should have been there and back by now."
"Maybe she's taking longer to convince than we thought," Stuart remarked.
"That doesn't explain why they haven't bothered their arses to pick up their phones," he snapped back.
"You think something's wrong?" He asked worriedly.
"No, I think they've gone bloody skiving, they're probably not even got to her bloody house yet." He slammed his fist against the desk and added in a dark murmur, "I'll throttle the pair of them when they get back." His eyes snapped back to Stuart. "Give them both another call."
Robbie manoeuvred himself behind Jackie, rubbing at her lower back as she let out a sharp cry, and he could feel her muscles tighten almost unbearably under his hands. "You're doing really well," he tried to assure her.
Her head fell back against his shoulder, her hair dishevelled and curling into damp tendrils that clung to her face. "I'm tired," she told him. "I don't want to do this anymore."
"It's not long to go now," the midwife assured her briskly, "the head's crowning so you can start pushing on your next contraction."
"I'm not ready for this," she muttered quietly to Robbie, her tone growing slightly desperate.
"Yes you are. You've been ready for this for ages." He kissed her forehead and reaching forward interlinked his hands through her fingers, adding, "You just need to push, come on, you can squeeze my hands. It'll all be over soon and you'll get to see Sprout, that's what you wanted, remember?"
Her brown eyes met his and she bit back a moan as her next contraction started, giving him a sharp nod she pushed downwards, trying to focus on the midwife's encouragement.
Robbie felt his eyes water as his fingers began to go numb, he'd forgotten to take Jackie's strength into account when he made his offer. He wasn't sure how much more he could take of this before his fingers broke. He glanced down at Jackie's face, and on hearing another sharp cry as she pushed, winced, he was definitely in the better position he decided quickly. Lowering his head he pressed his mouth against her ear. "Keep going, just one more push."
He heard her give another moan and then felt her relax suddenly, sagging back against his chest as a loud, sharp wail filled the air. His eyes stayed rooted on Jackie's face, unable to bring himself to look yet, he saw her face light up, the tiredness almost evaporate from her face as she let go of his hands and lean forward again. "It's a boy," he heard the midwife tell them, and he could hear the smile in her voice.
He turned slowly to take a look at his son for the first time. The little boy was red faced and screaming as he was placed onto Jackie's stomach, his arms flailing in protest at his new surroundings. Thin whisps of dark hair were matted and stuck to his head, and the midwife wrapped him quickly into a clean towel as Jackie gathered him close into her.
"He's perfect," she breathed out softly, her finger trailing over his perfect cheek. The baby stilled, his cries falling to whimpers as his eyes opened for the first time, staring up at them quizzically, his forehead slightly crumpled.
Robbie felt his heart melt. When he'd first seen Jamie he'd been wrapped snugly in a blanket, perfectly clean and sleeping peacefully, but despite the imperfectness of this situation he realised that this moment - while no less important - felt more real to him. "He is," he agreed quietly. "He really is."