So, eight days. That wasn't an overly long time to wait, right? Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed and, of course, thank you to my lovely tumblr anons and the others who have sent me messages reminding me to work on this. You are a huge help in motivating me. Anyway it's 1.30am and I have just finished editing this chapter which is pretty good considering twelve hours ago I actually had no idea of the plot for this chapter. I really need to sit down and write some notes for this fic. Anyway, I will try to get chapter 5 posted very soon for you.
As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts. Blame any mistakes on the fact that I am quite tired (I was up until 3 writing this last night) and the fact that there is a cat who won't stop walking in front of the screen.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rush or any of the characters.
Oh and your recommended watching for this week is episode 314.
We're cool right? Like nothing's different? – Michael Sandrelli
Stella awoke the next morning to find herself wrapped in Michael's arms. His hand lay almost possessively over her stomach, almost as if he was subconsciously trying to protect his unborn child. She smiled to herself, glad at how telling him had worked out. She felt Michael stir beside her as he began to wake up. A small noise of contentment left his lips, a product of his half conscious state. As he began to wake up properly, a smile spread onto his lips. He had woken up with Stella in his arms and had just remembered her news. Today was already turning into a good day and he hadn't even gotten out of bed yet.
"Morning," he said cheerfully, receiving an almost identical reply from Stella.
Stella turned her head back so she could see Michael, smiling as she did so. She was peaceful and content as she lay there in his arms.
"What?" Michael asked, taking in her grin and responding with a similar one of his own.
"Just happy," she responded truthfully.
"Me too," agreed Michael as he pulled her closer to him, wrapping his arms around her tightly. In that moment, they were as happy as could be. They were both content to lie there for hours, all morning, all day, or even for the rest of their lives, but they both knew that their perfect little moment would have to end.
This ending came in the form of a loud buzzing sound from Stella's alarm clock, telling them both that they had to get up. Duty called. The day was beginning. They were needed and the place they were needed was not in bed.
Stella was the first to move, disentangling herself from Michael's limbs and getting up to start the day. Michael rolled over onto his back, stretching his arms out wide and just laying there, enjoying the moment. After a few moments' rest, he knew that he had to get up. Sighing loudly, he climbed out of bed before hastily dressing and going off in search of some food.
Stella emerged from the bathroom soon after to find Michael in the kitchen. He had a piece of toast in each hand, one half eaten and the other waiting to be eaten. He looked satisfied as he stood there munching on his breakfast happily. As she walked past him, she snatched the uneaten piece of toast from his hand.
"Stel, that was mine," he protested loudly, his mouth full of toast. "That was my food!" Stella took no notice of him and turned to leave the kitchen. He seemed to be very upset by this turn of events.
"Stel, give it back," he ordered, stepping towards her. Stella's response was to turn around and provocatively take a bit of the toast before leaving a pouting and dejected Michael with his remaining half a slice of toast. But he wasn't going to give up like that; apparently he seemed to believe that breakfast thievery was a serious issue.
Michael hurried out of the kitchen after her, determined to get his stolen breakfast back from her. She was unsuspecting as she walked back to the bedroom and was surprised as Michael wrapped his arms around her, trying to hold her still so that he could recover his toast. She struggled in his arms, holding the stolen food as far away from him as possible.
"Stella," he warned. Stella laughed at the lengths he was going to in order to retrieve the stolen food. There was plenty more bread sitting in the kitchen just waiting to be toasted, but apparently he needed this piece of toast. It was the principle of it.
Stella brought the toast to her mouth, taking another bite, watching the look of shock on Michael's face as he struggled to hold her still and get the toast back while still holding the other piece of toast in his other hand. She laughed at how serious he was taking this before grabbing his arm and twisting it until he yelled out. She used his moment of weakness to escape from his arms and eat the remaining bit of toast that she held, sporting a cocky grin on her face. It was too late. She had won.
"Stella," he growled, reaching out to envelop her in his arms once again, but he couldn't help the laughter that fell from his lips as he rocked her in his arms. Stella joined him in his moment of joy, laughing along with him. She turned around in his embrace, half facing him. She looked up at him for a moment, watching the way he gazed at her adoringly, before looking back to the remaining toast that he held, a sly grin appearing on her face. Michael couldn't help but smile at her, truly grateful that he had her in his life. This distraction she provided as he held her in his arms proved to be the downfall of Michael's breakfast. Using his unfocused state, Stella snatched the other piece of toast from his hands and pulled free from him before he could stop her.
"Stella." He wasn't laughing this time.
Michael and Stella drove to work together, having driven home from work together the previous night. Stella drove while Michael sat in the passenger seat in silence, an immature pout on his face which lasted for at least the first half of the journey. At first he was pouting about the fact that Stella had stolen his toast and then he was pouting because she had refused to let him drive. Eventually his childish grumpiness began to subside and he found his thoughts drifting back to Stella's pregnancy. Things were starting to make sense now, but there was just so much for him to process.
"Is that why you collapsed the other week?" he asked out of the blue. "Because of the baby?" Stella nodded, keeping her eyes on the road the entire time, avoiding his gaze.
"I'm fine, Michael," she interrupted, sounding a little harsher than had intended. She knew what he was going to say. She despised concern and pity. One thing she was worried about was that people would treat her different because of this pregnancy. She didn't want their concern. It would drive her crazy if people started acting that way, particularly if it was Michael that was doing so.
"Alright, just promise me that you'll tell me if you're not," he responded, his concern evident. Stella chanced a glance at him to see that he sported a soft and caring look. She felt her heart softening.
"Okay," she sighed in defeat. She couldn't argue with that look.
After this, they resumed their silence, both thinking about what the future held for them and their baby.
The day passed very slowly for Michael. TR had been called in to help deal with a marathon siege. It was dull work, work that was best suited to the less intelligent uniforms, Michael thought as he stood minding the perimeter. He should be in the team that was infiltrating the building with Stella, right where all the action was. Perhaps it was because of this that he picked up his phone and called Audrey.
"Yeah, yeah I'm still here," Michael said as he walked towards the building that Lawson had said had occupants in it. "I just had to be a bit discrete." It was true. Strictly speaking, he wasn't supposed to be talking to Audrey, he was at work, but they had left him with the most tiresome job.
In the beginning, Michael hadn't minded the simple job. It had given him time to think. At first he had thought of Stella and how much he had enjoyed their night together. Then he thought of her pregnancy and how excited he was. He was going to be with her for every step of this journey.
Then he began to think of what would happen after the baby was born. Could he and Stella raise this child together? How would the living arrangements work? Would it live with Stella? Would it live with him? Would they share it? Who was going to look after it? Would Stella quit work to raise it? She couldn't; she loved her job. When would Michael get to see the child? Would Stella get the child on the weekdays and then leave it with him on the weekend? He didn't want to be one of those single dads that worked all week and then came home to see his child on the weekends only to do it all again the next week. Michael was going to be to be there for this child, that was a certainty, but he couldn't help but wonder what this would mean for him and his career. Would he be stuck being a senior constable for the rest of his life, held back by the fact that he would have a child look after and put first.
There were just so many things that Michael was uncertain of. For the first time since he had heard this news, he found himself worrying about the situation and thinking about all the negative consequences that would come with it. He found himself wondering if this was such a good thing. Earlier he had been ecstatic, but now he wasn't so sure. He began to realise that this was it. This was the rest of his life, just him, Stella and the baby, continuing through the routine of everyday life until they died. The thought didn't appeal to him as much as it had the previous night.
When Michael had turned sixteen and had to start thinking seriously about his future career, he had come up with several options. Builder, fireman, lifeguard – ladies love lifeguards, and following in his father's footsteps to work in the family business were all potential careers that he had considered, yet the one that appealed to him the most was policing. It was perfect, or so sixteen year old Michael thought. It was exciting and adventurous with opportunities to move up the ranks. Michael was very keen on this aspect of the job. He never wanted to stop moving improving; there was always somewhere he could go, some goal he could strive for. Michael had ambition and he did not plan on wasting it. He never wanted to have to give all this up, but would he have to? Was this baby going to lead him straight into a dead end?
It was quite possible that this added to his need to call Audrey. She was something different. She represented a challenge, especially given that she seemed determined to avoid talking to him. He felt a small sense of victory when she picked up the phone. Perhaps he wasn't headed straight for a dead end after all.
"Why are you calling me now? I don't get it," Audrey spoke through the phone as Michael walked. He had to think about his answer carefully. He didn't think that 'I have just found out that Stella is pregnant with my child and I am quite worried about the ways that this is going to negatively impact my life and I need to know that my life isn't over and that I have options' was an answer that Audrey would like so much, so he settled on an answer that would satisfy her and avoid the question.
"Well you haven't exactly been approachable lately and I've been thinking, taking a lot on board about myself, and I've come to some conclusions and I'd like to talk to you about them." It was true. The news that Stella was having his baby had forced him to think about a lot of things. It was like he had taken a step back and was being forced to look at his life and examine it in detail, asking himself the same question over and over again: is this really what I want?
Stella found her day to be quite tedious. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy her job, she loved being a part of TR, her time as a uniform had reminded her of that, but she just had other places that she would rather be, specifically back in her house with Michael earlier that day. The teasing, the mucking around, it had been just like old times. Stella missed those days.
While Stella was walking through the building she found herself thinking about all the things she still had to do. Sure, she had told Michael and that was a huge weight off her shoulders, but there were still so many things that needed to be done. She had appointments to arrange and God knows what else, she was definitely no pregnancy expert. She briefly wondered if she should get one of those books on pregnancy before almost immediately dismissing the idea. It just wasn't her style.
Finally the siege ended and the officers of Tactical Response made their way back to base, tired and ready to go home. It had been a long siege, Stella was just glad that she had not been stuck there from the beginning, now that really would have been a long day. She believed that the total time was something close to thirty-three or thirty-four hours. But it was over now and she was finally able to get back to base and have a much needed shower.
Stella stood in the shower cubicle, running her hands through her hair, letting the warm water soothe her tired muscles and wash the day's dirt and grime from her. It had been a very long day. She heard the door of the stall next to her close, followed by the sound of undressing and then the steady stream of water as the shower was turned on. A soft humming came from the cubicle next to her and Stella immediately knew who it was.
Turning off the water, Stella stepped out of the shower before drying herself and dressing. As she pulled her clothes on, the humming became louder and soft murmurs of lyrics were mixed in with the tune.
"Shut up, Michael. No one wants to hear you singing," she teased as she walked across the room. Michael's response was to sing louder, doing so just to spite her.
Moments later, a towel came flying over the top of the cubicle door, hitting Michael through the shower curtain. Stella would deny having thrown it of course, but in a room that was empty other than Michael and Stella, the list of suspects was quite short. Stella laughed at the loud protest that came from the shower, only to find that the volume of Michael's singing had increased again, purely to annoy her. Shaking her head, Stella walked out of the room, leaving Michael to his own devices.
Soon after, Kerry appeared in the locker room where Stella and the rest of the gang, minus Michael, were gathered, collecting their things and preparing to leave for the day.
"Before you guys go, I need to talk to you all," Kerry announced. "Say in about ten minutes." The team all agreed before Kerry walked out again. Stella wasn't too worried about what Kerry might want; she often held debriefings and others of the sort at times like this. She was more annoyed than anything, frustrated that the day was being prolonged.
Stella walked back through to the shower room where she found Michael pulling his shirt on.
"Done practicing for your next musical?" she asked, referring to his singing.
"Huh?" he asked, the joke going straight over his head in his distracted state.
"Huh?" Stella imitated, smiling as she teased him, before revealing her reason for returning. "Kerry wants to talk to us in ten."
"K," Michael responded. He didn't mean to be short with her. It just came out that way. He had a lot on his mind. He thought back to his conversation with Audrey. He had jokingly told her that by the time the siege ended they would both be past child bearing age. That was the moment that it really sunk in. Apparently fate had chosen now as his child bearing age. It worried him. He knew what he wanted out of life and Stella and a baby were high on that list, but that had been for the future, he just didn't want to miss out on any opportunities. To Michael, getting older meant doors closing on him and that was something that he was not ready to deal with yet.
Stella used the time before Kerry's meeting to call the doctor, where she set up an appointment for an ultrasound. Suddenly it all seemed real. Sure, the news had sunk in over the past few weeks. The vitamins that she had been given at the hospital were a constant reminder, yet somehow she felt as though an ultrasound would make it all the more real.
The sound of the door opening as Michael walked into the room brought Stella back from her thoughts. The others had already gone to meet Kerry, leaving Michael and Stella alone. Stella felt like she should tell him. She had no idea how much he wanted to be involved in this pregnancy and now would be the perfect time to test the water.
"Hey, Michael," she called almost nervously. "I'm going for an ultrasound in two weeks. Do you want to be there for it?" Michael paused for a moment, obviously deliberating her words, judging by the look on his face.
"Yeah, of course. I'll be there," he said, sounding tentative at first and then surer of himself near the end. Stella felt relief wash over her. She hadn't realised that she had been this nervous about his reply. She felt a lot better now that she knew he would be there with her for the ultrasound.
"Great," she replied, not quite sure how to responded, before walking out of the room to where Kerry was probably waiting for them.
As she suspected, Kerry was indeed waiting, although, fortunately, she appeared to be in a good mood. Stella looked around the room before noticing Leon sprawled out on his chair. She decided to join him and walked across to sit in the empty chair next to him. As she walked, she felt eyes on her. She looked across to the left, noticing that Audrey was watching her like a hawk; her eyes narrowed, brow furrowed and a look of disdain evident on her face. Stella remembered what Michael had said the previous night about Audrey taking a hit out on her. It appeared that he had been right. She held herself taller as she walked, determined to not let the other woman get to her.
Michael entered the room soon after. He looked at Stella and then across to Audrey, glancing back and forth between them. There was an empty seat next to Audrey and a perfectly good desk to lean on next to Stella. He wondered which to pick, each option would have repercussions. In the end he chose neither and went to stand next to Josh. Josh was the safest option.
The first fifteen minutes of the meeting was mostly just a debriefing and, frankly, quite boring. There were suggestion of what could have been done differently and talk of what they would do in similar situations in the future. Then finally Kerry spoke of something that was of interest. Tactical Response was to perform a serious of training exercises out in the bush. It all sounded like fun to Stella, a change of scenery would be nice. Even though she had done similar training exercises before, this still sounded fun and interesting. She was still looking forward to it. After explaining the fine details, Kerry dismissed them, only to call Stella back.
Stella walked over to Kerry slightly anxiously, wonder what she wanted with her. As she made her way across the room, the others began to clear off, some calling out goodbyes as they left and others finishing their last minute duties before leaving too.
"Kerry," Stella acknowledged as she approached her.
"Now, Stella, about this training exercise," Kerry began, her tone hushed, aware that there were others in the room. "If you don't feel up to it in your condition then you can sit it out. It's alright, we have work back at base that you can do and..."
"I'm fine," Stella interrupted, perhaps a little louder than was appropriate. Michael glanced up from where he was sorting through some paperwork. Stella took a deep breath to calm herself. It wouldn't do her any good to get irrational, but this was exactly what she had been afraid of. She didn't want people to treat her differently because of this pregnancy. She was still the same person that she was before she had found out about this baby. She just didn't want things to change.
"I want to go," she continued, sounding calmer than before. Kerry began to protest.
"I can handle myself out there. I will be fine," argued Stella. Kerry didn't look convinced. It was going to be a tough exercise, traipsing though the bush with the possibility of an overnight stay. Sure, Stella's job itself was dangerous, but Kerry didn't want to force Stella into any situations that could harm her or the baby.
"I'll look after her," Michael interrupted, walking over to them and putting his arm around Stella's shoulders, smiling as he did so. "I'll keep an eye on her. Nothing will happen to her with me around."
It was obvious that he had overheard their conversation and wanted to help. He sounded so serious and sure of himself as he spoke. He thought that by offering to look out for Stella, Kerry would agree to let Stella go, thereby leading to a happy Stella. He just wanted to help, but Stella didn't want or need him to look after her. She could look after herself. She alerted Michael to this in the form of a glare sent in his direction. She thought it was more appropriate than childishly stomping on his foot as hard as she could.
Finally Kerry relented, no doubt convinced by Michael's promise to look out for Stella, and Stella was allowed to go on the training exercise, yet Stella found she wasn't as happy about this as she thought she would be. It was happening. People were starting to treat her differently. This was exactly why she was going to wait to tell the others. It was bad enough that Kerry and Michael were starting to treat her differently, but if Josh, Lawson and the others started to do the same, she would surely go insane.
Stella walked down the hallway with Michael just a step behind her. She could tell that he wanted to say something to her, but she just wanted to get out of there. It had been a very long day.
"Bye, Michael," she said as they left the building, hoping that she could avoid a conversation.
"Stel, wait," he said, running the two steps it took to catch up to her. He had hoped that they could do something together after work. He had lots of questions for her, questions that he couldn't answer on his own.
Stella stopped, turning around to face him. As eager as she was to get hone and put her feet up, she didn't want to be rude to Michael. She needed him. She wasn't angry at him, it wasn't his fault that he was so protective, there were girls that even found that trait endearing, but Stella just wanted him to treat her like he normally did. The teasing had been good, the teasing was typical of them, yet the concern and overbearing protectiveness were both things that she did not want. They made her feel as if she was not capable of looking after herself, as though she was weak. She despised feeling weak.
Michael had a hesitant look on his face, like he was about to ask her something but wasn't quite sure what to say.
"We're okay, right?" he finally asked. "Nothing's changed or anything, well aside from the obvious, but are we still... are we going to..."
"Everything's just the same as it's always been," Stella replied, wanting to keep a sense of normalcy, well as much as she could in this situation.
"We're still just... you know," she continued, struggling to give their complicated relationship a name.
"So we're still... us," Michael responded, half stating it and half asking her.
"Yeah, we're still us," answered Stella. She smiled at this name for them. She liked this description of them. It wasn't a description that provided a strict definition of a relationship and it summed them up perfectly. They were just them; Michael and Stella, Stella and Michael. They didn't need labels.
"Bye, Michael," Stella repeated, though this time her words sounded much more cheerful and were said with a smile. After this, she turned to leave, feeling much better than she had before. Things were looking up and there was a nice hot bath at home with her name on it.
Michael left immediately after Stella and made his way home. Suddenly he didn't feel like going out anywhere that night. A nice night at home sounded good to him. On his way home, he decided to stop to get some provisions for the drive home. He was starving; his breakfast had been stolen after all.
As Michael walked back to his car, a clear plastic bag of food swinging in his hand, he found himself thinking about Stella and what they were exactly. Was this how they were going to be for the rest of their lives, just them, and the baby of course? Were they ever going to change? Would they ever be anything more? Was it his responsibility to do something about this or should he wait for her to make a move? He honestly didn't know.
While he was walking along the strip of shops, something in a shop window caught his eye. He walked over to the window, peering in at the assortment of jewellery that was displayed. There was one piece in particular that stood out to him. It sat proudly in the middle of the display, drawing in Michael's attention. It was simple, yet he couldn't stop staring at it. He briefly considered going inside to enquire about it before dismissing the idea. For a moment he had this great plan of how everything in his life could work out, but he quickly pushed the idea out of his head. It was silly. It was a stupid idea. There was enough in his life that was changing. He didn't need any more complications.
Twenty minutes later Michael walked into his house and headed straight towards the kitchen where he went in search of some food. The snack he'd had on the way home had barely made up for his stolen breakfast and he was still hungry. He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see his mother entering the room.
"Hi, Sweetie," she said as she walked over to him, standing on her toes to gently kiss his cheek before walking over to the sink. The time when she was taller than Michael had long since passed.
"How was your day?" she continued.
"Alright," he replied, his words muffled as his mouth was full of chips.
"I didn't see you last night," she prompted as she began to busy herself with preparing food.
"Yeah, I was with Stel," he explained as he swallowed his mouthful of food and went in search of more.
"She's a nice girl isn't she," Michael's mother continued, trying to have a proper conversation with him.
"Mhmm," came Michael's response, his head in the cupboard as he looked for something to eat.
"You should invite her over for dinner some time," she continued as Michael resurfaced, his hands full of various snacks. Once again he replied with a non committal noise.
Michael's mother had taking a liking to Stella right from the beginning, a fondness that she had not extended to Audrey. Michael had most certainly noticed his mother's preference for Stella over Audrey. She had been supportive of her son when she had heard that he had split from Audrey, but inside she wouldn't pretend to be too devastated about this news. She had always liked Stella and suspected that what Michael felt for her was a little more than just a simple fondness. It was just so obvious by the way he looked at her.
"Don't eat too much, dinner will be ready soon," she chastitised.
"K, thanks, Mum" he replied as he turned to walk about, kissing his mother on the forehead as he walked past.
As Michael walked towards his bedroom, he thought about the fact that this was how nearly every afternoon had gone since he was a child, minus his mother gushing over Stella of course. He would come home from school, or work now, and his mother would kiss him on the cheek and enquire about how his day at been. It made him realise how little had changed in his home life over the years. But things were going to change soon. Wandering into his room, he realised that he would have to tell his parents that he was going to be a father.
He wondered if his parents would mind having a newborn child in their house. As accommodating as they were, he doubted that they would be too keen on this idea. He felt worry settle in the pit of his stomach. How would they take this news? Would they think that he was too young for this? He wondered if they would think that he was ready for this. Did he think he was ready for this? The thought of telling them seemed all the more daunting now, but it was something that he would have to do. It was time for Michael to mature and take responsibility.
As he sat there, he found himself thinking back to the object that had caught his eye in the jewellery store. Back then it had just been something that had stood out to him, but he had immediately thought of someone when he saw it. There was definitely a certain person that he had had in mind for it. Could this be the answer to all of his problems? Initially he had just brushed off the idea, but now he wasn't so sure about his decision to dismiss the plan anymore.