A/N: I started on this story just before I wrote Home Sweet Home, and it's been on my mind for a long time. After the lovely events of 3.7 and 3.8, I know a lot of A/B fans are anxious for Baby Bates to make an appearance, and I include myself in that hope, even if the logical side of me thinks it shouldn't happen right away, lest we don't get to see much of Anna at Downton any more. Though I'm sure there could be some way that it could work out, especially if Lady Mary fell pregnant too...but that's for Fellowes to decide. All I know is that Baby Bates definitely needs to be a thing that happens at some stage, and I couldn't imagine a more adorable baby than that of Anna and John's.
So, as we're all suffering Downton withdrawal until the Christmas Special, I thought I might as well post this now, while it's still relatively fresh from being written, and to ease the symptoms a little (Sunday nights are just not the same *sob*). And just maybe we might get some happy news on the A/B baby front in the CS...? This is intended to be a follow-on story from If You Can't Sleep, though it does read as a stand-alone piece by itself too.
Also, my apologies to poma14 for using a title that is incredibly similar to one of her stories (apart from some capitalisation/a lack of a question mark) - no matter how hard I racked my brain I could just not come up with another title. And hopefully the reason for using it will become clear towards the end of the chapter.
Disclaimer: I don't own Downton Abbey. If I did, all Anna and John would be doing would be practising for Baby Bates.
John Bates had spent most of his life deep in thought. There were very few moments that would pass in each day that would not find his mind turning incessantly, thinking about one thing, then something else, then another thing entirely. The thoughts collecting and consuming, until the whole world and all of its worries were suddenly upon him, adding unnecessarily to his own. It had always been the same; it was just the way he was. Even when he was small, he could remember sitting staring out of the window in his childhood home at a permanently greyed sky, a pensive expression clouding his features. His mother would look on, shake her head lovingly at her boy. She'd say that he was doing other people's share for them. She worried that he spent too much time there, in his head, but there wasn't much she could do about matters. At least it would make him wise, she reasoned; wiser than he already was at such a young age. If she were still alive, he would have told her it had been quite otherwise. He had spent too much of his time thinking and, predominately, it had made him much more foolish, and had caused so many precious moments to slip away from him, unseen, unappreciated.
Time had fallen further away, and while he was still aware of it slipping, for once he did not care too much. The world was within this one moment, standing still. He had only two thoughts as he stood in front of the window that near enough stretched down to his feet, in the room situated at one of the highest points in the house. The first was of the scene outside that filled his eyes and his mind; the absolute wonder of Downton Abbey at the closing of the day. He supposed he never had time enough to ever stop and look in depth at it until now, yet he was still rather amazed by all of the little details he had never noticed before. One by one, another new aspect kept entering his vision. He was rather worried about how much he'd missed whilst being here, albeit intermittently, for over a decade. It was as if he was seeing it for the first time, and he breathed steadily to allow himself to take it all in. The second was of another wonder, this one most definitely new but leaving him even more astounded. If he hadn't been holding it tight within his arms, hadn't felt the softness and warmth and life pressing firm against his fingers, he would have disbelieved the miracle that was before him. Even as it was, he was finding that he hadn't completely fathomed the situation. Within the depths, he could feel a thousand thoughts impatiently waiting, ready to race and bring him right into the thick of reality. Yet he was content to keep them suspended, to discover not by constant contemplation but by seeing and feeling: each little crease upon her face and wriggle of her limbs, every little breath that came from her as she lay there so snug. From this moment on, not another second would pass him by and no other distant thought would be anything, not now he had everything right in front of him.
Their daughter was born not long after sunrise, after a labour that had begun in the darkest hour of night and lasted over a day. He had been on the edge of sleep when he had felt Anna's hand upon his shoulder, shaking him gently. As soon as he turned over to see her, sitting up in the bed, he had known exactly what the matter was. Alert once more, all of his senses activated more acutely than they had ever done before. At once he had jumped up, begun to change hastily from his nightclothes, started to collect Anna's clothes and things he thought she might need, along with objects she definitely didn't, rushing around the cottage full of aimless purpose and blind panic. Having done everything and nothing, he hurried back to the bedside to grasp his wife's hand. It was the first and only action he should have taken. She had merely smiled, stroking her fingers reassuringly against his as he helped her rise from the bed, walked her carefully down the stairs and out of the door, across the way to Downton in the pitch black, never letting go of her for a second. His heart had pounded hard and relentless against his ears and chest with every slow step that they took together, anxiety for her filling him head to toe. When they had finally entered the house, he knew he was showing his worry plain upon his face for all to see, yet he could do nothing to disguise it. Mrs Hughes noticed it immediately and returned with a look of utmost empathy for his sorry state, as she took Anna's other hand and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder.
"It's happening, then," the housekeeper issued, John failing to be soothed by her hushed Scottish brogue.
Anna nodded calmly. She was the complete contrast of him at that moment; the picture of tranquillity, wincing only ever so slightly when she believed his gaze to have been averted, the merest appearance of the deep discomfort she must already been experiencing. He couldn't take his eyes from her, and held her hand even tighter as Mrs Hughes left them to inform the family. She returned not long after, accompanied by Lady Grantham, who smiled widely at them both.
"Excuse us for awaking you, m'lady," John rushed forth.
"Not at all," Lady Cora exclaimed, "We wouldn't be able to sleep when such a wonderful thing is happening, and right here in the house too."
She walked towards where Anna sat at the table and put a soft hand upon her.
"Some of the maids are arranging a room as we speak, and I've telephoned Dr Clarkson to come at once."
Lady Cora was smiling warmly at Anna, and John gave out a small, thankful smile of his own in response.
"Thank you, m'lady. We're very grateful."
"There's no need to say so, Bates. It's the least we can do."She turned towards him, picked up on his anxious expression, and nodded in recognition. "But thank you all the same. Just know that there's no need to worry; everything will be taken the utmost care of."
Soon enough, Dr Clarkson had arrived, and Anna was led upstairs, with Mrs Hughes and Lady Grantham on either side of her. Before she disappeared down the hallway, she had turned to look at him over her shoulder, giving him the most serene smile, and all at once he felt relieved with comfort and absolutely helpless. Despite all of the assurances he had received repeatedly from various members of the household, John could not stop from fretting. There was no chance of him even entertaining the idea of sleep; he could barely sit long enough to gain any rest, not while Anna was doing anything but, enduring so much. Instead he stood pacing the length of the hall, going back and forth so many times that he could have very well worn several holes in the floor. Mr Carson, who had arisen to keep him company as well as out of concern for Anna, had pleaded with him to cease his wandering, saying that it was making him feel most unsettled. Though he was sorely tempted, John refrained from making any comment.
Before long, Mrs Patmore and Daisy had joined them downstairs, Mrs Patmore offering to make a large pot of tea that was just the thing to calm their nerves. There would be several made over the course of the night, and John had to fight the urge to search in the pantry for something stronger. As dawn came, the cries of pain sounded louder through the ceiling. Daisy's eyes widened in fear and John's shut themselves tight. He couldn't bear to hear Anna in such agony; all because of him, again. He wanted to rush upstairs to be right at her side, to take her hand tight in his again, wipe her brow and do his very best to make it all go away. He wanted nothing more than to be in the room with her, for it to be just them battling on like always, but he was too petrified to even consider how she might have reacted if he had been there. His knowledge of women in labour was almost non-existent, bar recounted tales he had been regaled with over the years from other men, but it wouldn't be surprising for the experience to have quite the adverse effect on a person's temperament. It was hard, but not impossible, to imagine Anna being quite different from her usual sweet-natured self, shouting and screaming at him full of rage, pushing his hand out of hers and commanding him to go and leave her be. In a way, it would only be something that had been a long time coming, yet it pained him to think of her doing such things, even when she was entitled to act in whichever way she wished if it would only ease her.
The day unfolded, Anna still working harder than she ever had and though he had thought it might prove a useful distraction, John found he was able to get absolutely nothing done. Lord Grantham had insisted that he need not perform any of his duties, aside from the most basic things.
"Bates, your wife is in the process of giving birth. Of course you won't be able to concentrate."
He found himself sitting with Lord Grantham in his study, somewhat uncomfortably, trying to play a game of cards but failing miserably, eyes trained instead on the slow ticking of the clock. More than once, he was told not to worry, but that was easier said than done. Especially for someone who thought as much as he did.
He'd done even more of it in the past months, so much that he'd felt that his mind could have exploded at any minute. John had been frantic throughout the entirety of Anna's pregnancy, plagued with worry and the most horrific of any thoughts that had ever occurred to him from the moment she had told him the news. Knowing that she had been apprehensive about how he would respond, he had done his best to conceal all of his uncertainties from her sight. There was no question whatsoever that he was absolutely overjoyed. The woman he loved with all of his heart and soul, and so much more besides, was carrying his child; it was exactly what he had dreamed of for so long, the actuality made even sweeter by the fact that they had both feared for some time that they would not get the chance to make it come true. Each night when they returned to their cottage, he would rest his hands gently against her stomach before slipping them down to her waist, holding her firm, pulling her into his embrace and kissing her, soft at first, then deeper, offering reassurance that spoke louder than his words, though he would give her them too. Letting her go reluctantly, he'd lead her to lay down upon the settee while he went to make her some tea accompanied with a plate of the sticky toffee pudding Mrs Patmore had prepared especially for her, knowing that she was having a particular craving for it. His heart swelled to see her curled up comfortable and so very content, yet the dull ache of fear kept on gnawing away.
Most nights Anna had trouble sleeping, and as he felt her toss and turn next to him in their bed, he lay on his side, also wide awake in silent terror. He was terrified about everything. About Anna; why it was that she was unable to sleep, the sickness she was having daily and the pain she was yet to bear. About the baby; hoping and praying that it was developing healthily and that it would be well and safe. About himself and the father he would turn out to be. He knew that he had changed considerably in the past years, in no small part thanks to Anna and her amazing, enduring love, but that side of him remained, was always lurking in the shadows. What if it should emerge and take over him on arrival of the child? He had to confess that he had always been wildly jealous of anyone else possibly conquering Anna's attentions and affections, and he hated himself for admitting that he may hold such resentment to his own child over the same thing. He had not the slightest idea about children, and he could only be a bitter disappointment to Anna and their baby, who he would fail in every way imaginable as it depended on him so entirely. Amongst the many thoughts that often returned to occupy him, his thought that the chance to be a father had long passed him by had been for the most part one which had relieved him. As one by one all of his friends, comrades and colleagues had had children, he considered that it was only right that he hadn't. He thought that there was a reason for it being so; several, in fact, and all of them justified. Yet with Anna, children were all he could think of. Each time he looked into her eyes, he could see them there, giggling and playing and wrapped in her arms. She was born to become a mother; her very nature, so kind and caring and compassionate, made her absolutely perfect for the role. If any aspect of him, be it his age or his many past mistakes and incompatibilities, deprived her of what was her God-given right he would berate himself forever. Anna had made him feel more assured that he could be a good father, at least if she were there alongside him to be a wonderful mother.
With each day that passed, he believed in himself a little more, thanks to all of the kisses and embraces she returned to him, the love that always stayed so strong in the face of the most inconseqential doubt. The nights drew in, the date drew closer. Anna would sit at the fireside each evening, picking up her needles and conscientiously knitting woollen hats and booties that were ever so small; a smile playing upon her face as the flames danced, shining onto her and making her appear even more golden and radiant. Gazing at her rapt in such concentration, he could not fail to be warmed too, if not a little alarmed at how tiny something would have to be to fit into the garments. Yet as he watched her, so full of quiet joy and peace as she worked against the firelight, the worries and the thoughts still crowded around the edges. As the darkness came in once more, he'd be closed in by them completely, searching desperately for the light.
The light was gradually fading from the day, the sun beginning to sink over Downton. John sighed. The sight was spectacular. The sky looked incredible; if he had not known otherwise, he would have sworn he was scrutinising a watercolour instead of looking from the window. Colours stretched across its expanse, vibrant shades of red brushed with soft lilac. It was just so beautiful. He had spent the entire day being absorbed and surrounded by beauty, and he felt it most keenly as he gazed down to look at her again. His daughter shifted where he held her in his arms, her tiny fingers reaching out to grab at the air, before she settled peacefully the next second. Just simply standing there, with her warm little body resting against him, he was completely peaceful too. What a contrast to twenty four hours previous. He would not forget the relief that had washed over him as Mrs Hughes entered the hall, a beaming smile upon her face. Another long night of worry replaced in an instant by the calm that had descended. Mrs Hughes hadn't had to say anything, yet she affirmed the news.
"Well, it took a while, but mother and baby are absolutely fine."
It seemed to take forever to make his way to the room at the other side of the house, though he quickened his pace, anxious to see his wife after more than a day of being apart and to meet his child. The beat of his heart sped and he could hear the frantic breaths come from him as he clambered to get closer. When he finally reached the door, already ajar, and gently pushed it open wider, he was arrested by the sight before him. He would never forget it, but he wished he could have held onto the exact sensation that possessed him at that very moment for the rest of his life. He was stopped in his tracks by it; he'd almost stopped breathing. Maybe he had, the vision looked so much like Heaven. Anna laying in the bed, a glow all around her, a glow that was her, cradling the baby in her arms. She was already so natural, instantly fulfilling the calling that was always destined to be hers, and as he looked at her, absolutely enthralled and overwhelmed with all the love in the world for the tiny bundle she was holding, he felt his heart was bursting. He had never beheld such a magnificent sight, of his two girls there, in front of his eyes. The both of them perfect in every way. Engrossed too, he let out a sigh without being aware. Instantly, Anna looked up from the child towards him and the love that was within her gaze expanded even further and flooded through to his own. Bathed in light and beauty, she smiled at him. Almost the same smile as she had given the last time her eyes had been upon him, but now bigger and brighter and filled with so much pure joy and love. In that instant, life had changed forever. It was wonderful; it was complete.
John turned from the window into the room, keeping his arms firm around the baby and his eyes fixed upon Anna. Her head was resting upon the headboard and she had fallen asleep sitting up. It didn't look like the most comfortable position, but it was no wonder she had had to surrender. She had been absolutely exhausted, enduring such a long labour, yet despite being told that it was perfectly understandable for her to rest, she had fought against sleep for hours afterwards, wanting to hold, nurse and simply stare at the child. Anna seemed intent on not missing any of her daughter's sighs, wriggles or breaths, watching her with heavy-lidded eyes, fascinated.
Throughout the day there had also been a steady stream of visitors to the room, excited to see the new arrival. A little while after they'd spent some time together as a family they had started; first Mrs Patmore, Daisy and Ivy, then a collection of the other maids coming in in pairs, all cooing and fussing over the little girl who remained rather oblivious to the commotion, choosing to sleep for most of the time instead. Late in the afternoon and for the first time since she had departed at the breaking of the day, Mrs Hughes returned to the room, the sentimental smile still on her features. She stroked the baby's fine fair hair softly and Anna didn't so much ask but insisted that the housekeeper hold the child. Mrs Hughes seemed rather taken aback at first but then gladly obliged and was instantly smitten, gently rocking her back and forth as the baby kicked her legs contently. John had to break into a smile of his own as he heard the housekeeper laugh and saw the tears prickling at her eyes. Not long ago, Lady Grantham greeted them with her presence, clasping her hands together, offering warmest congratulations to them both and reaffirming her words from the previous night: that everything was so wonderful. Her enthusiasm might have been a little exaggerated, but right then it seemed perfectly acceptable. Then as she departed the room, Lady Mary peeked her head almost shyly through the door, asking if it was okay for her to enter. Anna smiled warmly.
"Of course, m'lady."
She did so, and walked over to where Anna lay with the baby snug in her arms. She had been sleeping, but as soon as Lady Mary leaned over to catch sight of her, the little girl's eyes flickered open. Anna giggled and after a few seconds, Lady Mary laughed softly too.
"Oh Anna, she's just lovely. I'm so overjoyed, for you both."
John noticed the melancholic sadness that flickered over Lady Mary's face as she stared at the baby, and he let his gaze fall to the floor. She left soon after, not before presenting a beautiful silver-plated rattle as a gift from the Crawley family.
Rocking the baby ever so slightly, John couldn't take his eyes from Anna as she slept, chest rising and falling softly with peaceful breaths. Even with her hair mussed messily upon the pillow and some still plastered to her forehead with dried sweat, she looked stunning. Just as she always was. She had been especially radiant during the later stages of pregnancy, her golden hair glossy and her cheeks flushed with a rosy blush. He had to laugh to himself thinking of all the times she had caught him looking longingly at her and stared back with an exasperated expression, insisting that what he thought to be a pleasant flush was instead just the consequence of being permanently hot and bothered, and that it wasn't pleasant for her at all. As she struggled to move easily about the cottage, she complained that she looked and felt as though she were the size of a whale and was not even as attractive. But he knew otherwise. She had never appeared so beautiful to him as when she had blossomed with fullness, with the beauty of having their baby within her. He told her so over again, as his fingers lingered on the strands of her loose hair before he tucked them behind her ear and kissed the spot just beneath her earlobe, his lips moving across her jawline and her cheek before they finally captured her lips, his hands caressing her stomach gently. He could feel her smile into the kiss as it deepened and she worked to steady her breathing as they pulled back from each other, reluctantly.
"I believe you. Now we'd better control ourselves, or this baby will be arriving sooner than quite anticipated."
She gave him a mischievous grin that lit up all of her features before ambling away towards the stairs. He watched her every step, feeling quite overcome and enamoured again by her and every aspect of her breathtaking beauty.
He smiled as he watched her resting, without a care in the world. Checking she was perfectly at ease, his gaze was directed back to the other beautiful girl that had entered his life. John looked down at his daughter, taking all of her in; her eyelids that were closed, the eyelashes that were already so long fluttering against them, her cute little button nose. He could have spent hours simply standing there, studying all of her features, and he'd find something new to be awed by every second. She was so very perfect, the image of Anna in miniature form. He had already known that if their baby was a girl that she would be the double of Anna; he remembered once seeing a picture of Anna as a child, and already their daughter was so much like her. As they had sat side by side during that first hour of her life, watching her together in wonder, Anna had tried to convince him that the baby did in fact have his lips, and the curve of his chin, but as much as he loved her for attempting such persuasion, he couldn't be fooled. It was plain for anyone who looked upon her to see: she was all Anna. And he couldn't be happier at the fact. It was all that he had ever wanted. He continued to marvel silently at her, not wanting to move an inch lest she should be disturbed from her slumber. The next moment, though he had not made a sound and had kept perfectly still in position, even if he was beginning to ache slightly from doing so, she awoke with a start. John jumped a little, and began to rock her once more, trying to soothe her back to sleep with soft hushes. Yet, she didn't cry and did not seem at all discomforted. Instead, she was quite contented indeed. Her big blue eyes were staring up into his darker ones, full of innocence and curiosity. A pang hit his chest and stomach at once. He felt overwhelmed with love for this tiny person, his daughter; an unconditional love that was much stronger than any other force. Looking into her eyes, ready to be filled with surprise at the world she was going to start to discover so soon, he could see the future reflected back.
Suddenly, in this perfect moment, he became overwhelmed with fear. Time began to unravel before him, the future unfolding at a faster rate than he could comprehend. His mind whirred into action once more, at triple the speed, and was all the more disorientating given the peace he had been experiencing, the dream he had been lost in all day long. The babe that had been so small lying in his arms had grown considerably, was now a much older child, running around, out into the world. He could see himself trying desperately to follow her, to keep watch upon her, but it was impossible for him to keep up as she bounded away so full of energy, almost out of sight and out of his reach. He felt tired, and weak. It was his responsibility to guide her, protect her, yet he was almost certainly incapable of doing so. She ran faster, blonde curls bobbing, her laughter travelling on the air. She seemed to get older with every leap she took. There was so much she had yet to encounter and he hoped sincerely she would only ever know the wonder the world had to offer, but he couldn't be so naïve. As his little girl began to blossom into a young woman, bigger threats as well as joys would be emerging ready to grasp at her. So many thoughts rushed around his head. He had to be there to see her through everything; it was what a father should do effortlessly. And he would do his utmost for as long as he was in the world, but who knew how long that would be? He was getting older; he was much older than most first-time fathers. There was a very great chance that he may not live to see his daughter reach eighteen. The thought of leaving her and Anna alone in the world crushed his heart completely; he could see so clearly Anna's ashen face and forlorn figure, and his daughter's eyes, now clouded and troubled, every trace of their cheerful innocence erased.
Walking slowly back towards the window and observing the lowering sun once more, John mentally shook himself free of such anxieties. It was true he would most likely spend every waking moment from now on worrying about her welfare but such a situation was inevitable, and would do nothing to lessen his joy. It was precisely out of love that he had felt so intensely. Ever so carefully, he tipped the angle of his arms, craning his body so that the child was facing in the same direction and could see everything he could.
"Well, my sweetheart, welcome to the world. I know you won't really notice much of it now; I'm only just seeing certain things within it for the first time, and I have no idea how I hadn't seen them before. I think it may have something to do with you being here to help me."
She wriggled underneath his hands and gurgled, and John couldn't help but smile in response.
"We'll both get to discover it together. But it's wonderful, and there will be so much of it for you to explore and love."
He paused to stare out again, contemplating the grand grounds that stretched out all around. It was still quite a lot to comprehend.
"This is Downton Abbey. It's a very special place. I couldn't know how special it was when I arrived here. It's where the Granthams, who are so very kind and generous, live. It's where I met and fell in love with your beautiful mother."
He looked over his shoulder to glance at Anna, still lying and looking like an absolute angel, before turning back to see the baby staring up at him.
"And now, it's the place you were born. Even though it's not our home, we'll always have ties here. There are so many very kind people here, people who will make you laugh and sing, people who will teach you so many good things, people who already cherish you. You will always be safe here."
She stretched her arms out again, curling her fingers to reach up towards him.
"But you'll be safest of all at home. It's not too far away from here. We'll be back there soon, and we've spent so much time getting it ready for you so that you'll be so happy there. Your mother has worked especially hard, preparing it all for you. You already do, I know, but you are going to love her so much. And she loves you with all of her heart. She has so much to show you and give you, you'll be so amazed by her, and I can't wait to see you spending every minute of every day together, because I know you'll be inseparable. You're going to be so much like her, and that will make everyone so blessed that there should be two of you walking this world so wonderful. And then, there's me…"
John took a deep breath before he continued, getting everything he wanted to say straight in his head but finding all of his finely composed words and thoughts deserting him.
"I love you with all of my heart too, and there is so much I want to promise you. If I had the keys to the world, I would give them to you right now so you could make the most of everything. I don't know if I shall always be the best person to look up to, but from now on I will never stop trying to make you and your mother proud. And I will be there for you to come to, to pick you up when you fall, to be on your side, for as long as I can. I'll tell you everything I know and have learnt, if it will be of use to you, and you'll probably tell me not to think myself so clever."
He smiled as she scrunched up her little face, as if she was already telling him so.
"But there is one thing I can promise you now; that I will do everything in my power to look after you, take care of you, and keep you completely safe. As long as I'm here, I will never let anything hurt you, and I will always adore you."
"She already knows that you'll do all of that."
He turned around to see Anna awake, sitting herself up a little higher in the bed, still looking tired but at the same time really quite vibrant; her eyes were positively twinkling and the permanent smile was once more upon her lips.
"But I loved to hear you say it all the same," her soft voice came forth again, "It made my heart leap almost to the roof."
He smiled a little sheepishly back towards her, slightly embarrassed that she should hear him be so candid but also quite overjoyed that he should have added to her happiness with his jumble of words.
"You should be resting, you've barely had any sleep."
"I am resting, despite everything else I should like to do. Besides, how can I sleep knowing what is here for me while I'm awake?" Her smile reached even further up to her eyes as her features and everything about her softened while she stared at him standing at the foot of the bed. "It's the best thing I have ever seen, and shall ever see: to watch you holding her. If nothing else were to happen for the rest of time, I'd be perfectly happy."
He shifted on the spot, adjusting the weight in his arms and frowning down slightly. "I'm not sure I'm holding her correctly. I'm certainly not as natural as you."
"Silly. You're doing it more than fine, as I always knew you would. She'd let you know if she was uncomfortable and she seems very pleased." In the peaceful silence of the room, they could both hear the baby's soft gurgles; music to their ears.
"Still, I think she would like to be back with her mother."
He walked with careful steps to the side of the bed, and lowered himself onto it next to her almost in slow-motion, keeping his arms held fast in position and his eyes firm on the child's face, anxious to detect the slightest bit of discomfort from her. Anna tried her best to hold back her giggles at the sight, but had to give in. John's head turned to her and he began to chuckle too; he had always found her laughter infectious, and he realised he was being rather absurd. He leant over a little further and suspended the melody of her giggling with a tender kiss. She responded fervently and they shared a couple more kisses before he pulled his head away to look deep and lovingly into her eyes.
"I am so proud of you. I always have been, but I am even more so now." He shifted so the baby could rest on the covers against the crook of his arm, and touched his free hand to Anna's forearm, stroking softly. "You're so very, very brave, my darling. The doctor said he had never known a first-time mother to cope so admirably."
Anna gazed intently at the movement of his fingertips across her, and then looked up at him. "I don't know about brave. I just knew what was waiting and that got me through." Her eyes travelled down to look at the little girl lying on the bed, and John's followed suit, both enchanted. "I couldn't wait to meet her. Our daughter."
The little girl kicked her legs as John placed her against the covers, right in front of Anna. She waved her little arms in delight looking up at her mother and John could not wipe the grin from his face. Anna owned both of their hearts and they couldn't be in safer possession. Anna smiled brightly down at her daughter, stroking her soft cheek, before taking her tiny hand with her fingers.
"I can't quite believe it, still. She's here, John. She's finally here."
Anna's head fell against John's shoulder, and he buried his nose into her hair before laying one kiss on her crown and another above her ear. Their hands lay entwined on the covers of the bed and laced themselves together tighter. He could only think of this moment, and how perfect it was.
"She is, and she's perfect," he said in a soft whisper. "I didn't think this day would ever come, but now I never want it to end." The shadows were falling across the room, and the baby was following them with her inquisitive eyes. "You really are stuck with me for good and proper now."
Anna snuggled her face into his neck. "And I couldn't be happier," she whispered into his ear before tilting his face towards hers and laying an assured kiss upon his lips that conveyed exactly how overjoyed she was to be stuck with him. "It's another new beginning for us now, and I am so excited for the journey. Us three."
They were three now. His two beautiful, brilliant girls and him. It really was the start of a new life, and one which was going to be full of surprises but always completely wonderful with every turn it took. He was so very lucky to have them both and he would never let them go.
They lay there for some time, in quiet harmony, perfectly content just to watch the little girl's every movement in rapture, Anna cradling her close to them both as they kept so close to one another. Their happy sighs were all that were to be heard, until Anna turned yet closer to him and he felt her warm breath playing against his neck.
"She hasn't got a name yet," she pondered, the thought only just occurring to them in their blissful reverie. "Well, aside from Baby Bates."
John smiled, his chest shuddering with a chuckle. "I rather like that."
"I do too," Anna snickered. "But it's not going to prove very practical, in the future. We'll get awfully confused." She was already thinking of the brothers and sisters they were going to give this little one, their cottage full to bursting with little hands and feet traipsing about. "She can't just be 'she' for the rest of time."
Both of them gazed down thoughtfully at their nameless daughter, studying her intently. They had spent a few nights in the cottage some months back going through lists of names for all eventualities, with so many options they'd been almost overwhelmed. Neither of them getting any further to settling on a definite, they'd made the choice to wait until the baby arrived, being sure that once he or she got there, they would make the decision for them. As soon as they looked into the little face, they would know instantly what it would be. Yet they hadn't counted on being quite so caught up in the very presence of their child being with them, that they'd find themselves at a total loss.
Suddenly, as they continued to look lovingly upon her face, a spark of inspiration went off in John's head. How he hadn't thought of it sooner, he hadn't quite comprehended. He was taken back in time by short hours, to the first moments he had laid eyes upon his little daughter and his amazing wife lying in the bed, the golden sunlight all around them both, framing them wonderfully. The light had only got stronger and brighter in the room as the three of them had huddled together, held in time. He had remembered tearing his eyes away from the perfect sight of them both briefly to look towards the horizon beyond, and being almost blinded by the ray that had streamed through. The only time he had ever seen the sun shine so bright at such an early hour before was the day that had signalled the end of his incarceration, coming as a sign of freedom, joy and hope. A new beginning, which he recognised with every part of him in an instant. It seemed ideal, really.
"What about Eleanor?" he ventured, tentatively.
Anna smiled. "Eleanor. Eleanor Bates." She stared down at the little girl, who now definitely did have a name, and her grin grew wider. "It suits her. I love it. And I think she does too." They looked at their daughter, who was wriggling and kicking frantically and very happily, and both laughed in wonder at her.
"Hello, Eleanor," John greeted her and reached out his hand to tickle her on the stomach, but she grabbed her own onto one of his fingers before he could do so, and he felt an immense surge of love rush through him.
Anna grinned contentedly at the scene before her, and turned to watch John, who was absolutely enchanted.
"Where did you come up with that? I've never heard you mention the name before." she questioned.
John happily waved his finger back and forth, with Eleanor's tiny fist still wrapped tight around it.
"Oh, it was just something I thought of."
A/N: Eleanor (according to the oracle that is the internet) means 'sun ray, shining light'. When I found out, I couldn't even think of choosing another name for their daughter.
There will be future instalments of this - as yet unwritten - but right now I can't say for sure when they will be appearing, except that it will most likely, or rather definitely, be next year (it's slightly weird saying that...). I am hoping to get some seasonal 'fics done and dusted, so they're taking priority for the moment. But this will most definitely be revisited with more Bates babies (oh, the thought...*squee*) in time to come.