“You're doing great Jade, we're almost done,” The doctor said, somewhere by her knees, her hands waiting below Jade.
Her belly swells more every day, she thinks. Sometimes, she lies on her back, and runs her palm over it, her skin smooth and stretched, like a warm watermelon.
She threw her head back as she cried out in pain, her entire body on fire, as her calves cramped under the effort to keep standing.
“Jade, keep it together!” Artemis commanded, her grip on Jade's arm and waist iron-tight. “Come on, you're going to let a baby kick your ass?”
“Yeah, and then I'm going to kick your ass, you stupid bitch!” She shouted, her fingers clenched tight in Artemis' hospital-mandated scrubs. “You have no idea how much this hurts!”
“Yeah, well I got thrown off a motorcycle and went sliding twenty feet on asphalt. You want to start comparing scars?” Artemis snapped back, her grey eyes as hard as rock, as she held Jade up. “Suck it up.”
“Oh, fuck you,” She hissed, as another wave crested over her, tensing up her back and sides, her calves and knees on fire, to say nothing to the agony inside. She would give anything to make it stop, she thought, anything at all.
“Jade, come on,” Artemis said. “Come on, I know you. You can do this.”
”What's it feel like?” Artemis asks, her fingers hovering over Jade. Too scared to touch.
Jade huffs and grabs her hand, pressing her palm against the skin, right over the baby.
“I don't know. Weird.” She describes, frowning. “Heavy. Tight. I can't describe it. Mostly just a pain-in-the-ass.”
Suddenly, the baby kicks, right under Artemis' palm, and her sister starts, staring down at her hand in amazement.
“She's really in there.” Artemis says, and Jade rolls her eyes.
“No, it's a chestburster.” She drawls, and Artemis sticks her tongue out at her.
The pain intensified exponentially, and her legs nearly went out from under her. It was only Artemis and the nurse on the other side that kept her up, kept her on her feet, and it felt like her entire lower body was on fire, real fire.
She shouted from it, and felt the heat pricking in her eyes, her body unable to handle the intensity of it all. The tears were unstoppable, swelling her throat shut as they poured out of her.
“The baby is crowning now,” The doctor said, and Jade didn't even know what that meant now. Her brain was fried, everything narrowed down to the individual seconds as they ticked on, as the burning went on and on and on.
“It's almost over,” The nurse said. “You're doing so well Jade. I swear, you are almost done.”
“You better not be lying,” Jade said. “Or I swear to god, I'll kill you.”
The nurse chuckled, because she had no idea how serious Jade was, but Jade doubted she was in any position to do much anyway.
“Come on Jade,” Artemis said. “Come on, you can do it, I know it,”
“You know that for sure?” Jade huffed, then shouted again, as the burning increased briefly, her body pushing hard now, knowing what to do without higher brain functions. A good thing, because Jade didn't have any left.
“Remember when we were kids?” Artemis asked. “And you told me I could make the jump? Remember?”
The space between the rooftops is only five feet, easy as pie, but Artemis is still on the other side, her grey eyes wide in fear.
“Come on!” Jade calls, annoyed. “Jump!”
“No,” Artemis says, shaking her head. “No, I can't,”
“It's five feet, if that!” Jade says, throwing her head back in frustration. “Come on, I could do this at your age with my eyes closed.”
“I'm not you!” Artemis declares, stomping her foot.
“Duh.” Jade says. “Like you could ever be me.”
Artemis is shaking in fear, and Jade narrows her eyes.
“Do it! Now! You can do this, you big baby!”
“How do you know that?” Artemis demands, clearly not believing Jade.
“Because you're my sister!” Jade says.
Artemis meets her eyes, then steps back, and darts forward, flying through the air. She lands neatly beside Jade, trembling still, and looks up at her with wide eyes.
“I did it!” She says.
“Of course.” Jade says, hands on her hips. “Idiot. I'd have caught you if you didn't.” She says it like it's the most obvious thing in the world, because to her, it is.
“I've got you Jade.” Artemis said. “Just like you had me. I'll catch you if you fall, but you have to make the jump first.”
Jade met her eyes, and pushed, letting the pain crest over her this time instead of fighting it back. It ached, it burned, it almost overwhelmed her, but then she heard it.
Her legs really did buckle under her this time, but Artemis caught her, held her up, as she tried to breathe again, feeling like she'd been emptied of everything inside.
Her baby cried like a banshee, as Artemis lowered her onto a chair, and a warm bundle was pressed to her chest.
She looked down, and the world stopped.
“I love you,” Roy says, and Jade turns to him, shocked.
“You do?” She asks.
She's in her apartment, making tea. She was alone in the place. But now Roy is here, suddenly appearing in the kitchen, making a declaration she'd never asked for. She curls her arm around her middle protectively. She doesn't show in her day clothes, not yet. She hasn't told him.
“Yeah.” He replies. “Yeah, I do. I love you.”
She stares at him, because she's not sure what to do with that. But she should tell him, she thinks. Because he loves her, so he'll love their baby. Right?
“You think I know?” He snaps. “You think I want to love you?”
It's like a slap in the face, and she bristles, pissed off, her protective arm tightening.
“Fuck you.” She says, and turns away. “Get out of my house.”
“No!” He says, and grabs her by the arm, or at least tries. Jade's always been faster than him, always. “Damn it, listen to me!”
“Screw you!” She says.
“I should hate you!” He says, like that makes it better. She has no idea what he's trying to say, and she doesn't care either. “I should hate your guts, and instead I had sex with you, and now I don't know what to do.”
“You can go to hell.” She tells him, pouring the hot water over the tea leaves.
“Jade,” He says, and there's something in his voice that makes her turn.
“This is the last time I'm coming to see you.” He says. “I can't compromise myself. The next time we meet, I'm taking you down. No matter how I feel.” He looks so determined, so completely set on what he's saying.
Jade doesn't have any right to ask for more, does she?
“Fine.” She says. “That's fine.”
He watches her for a minute, and she thinks he might be waiting for something from her. She doesn't know what though.
“Okay then.” He says. “Okay.”
“We won't meet again.” She says, though she doesn't know why. “I'm retiring.” It's a decision she made with her head in her mother's lap, Paula combing her hair like she had a thousand times when Jade was small.
She won't leave her daughter. And no one will ever have a reason to take her away. Her baby won't have her life.
“You are?” Roy asks, and she sees a smile playing at his mouth. “That's great.”
She doesn't say anything back.
“Jade, that's great.” He says again, touching her shoulder. “We can be together then.”
“Roy,” She replies. “Get out.”
“We're done here.” She says, as she pulls out the strainer and sets it on the edge of the sink to cool. “So get out.”
“Jade, I love you,”
“I don't want the kind of love that has strings attached Roy!” She snaps, her temper fraying into threads. “That's not love. So get out.”
He scowls at her.
“Fine.” He heads for the sliding door, how he got in. “Fuck you Jade. Have a nice life.” Then he's gone.
She doesn't watch him go.
She sinks down to the ground, and curls around her belly, as she whispers, “It's alright. It's alright. Mommy loves you enough for the both of us.” She chokes back a sob, and curls even tighter. “And you'll just have to love Mommy enough for the both of you. Deal?”
Her daughter is very red, her little face pinched, a dusting of black hair on top, eyes squeezed shut as she wailed, her little fists waving.
“Shh,” Jade whispered, bringing her close, so she's against Jade's beating heart, her lullaby for the past nine months. “It's alright. I'm here, baby.”
“What are you going to name her?” Artemis asks, bringing Jade a cup of tea.
“I like the way Lian sounds.” Jade says, caressing her belly. “What do you think?”
“Sound pretty.” Artemis replies.
"Mommy is here, Lian." She soothed. "I'm here."