It's just after Christmas, into the New Year, when James is eight months along, that he gets very tired of it all.
He's ill, and exhausted, and angry. Truth be told he's jealous of Michael, who was invited to lots of parties and get togethers over the festive period, and actually went to a few of them. Of course, at the time, James had assured him that this was alright, that he didn't mind; go and dance for him, drink for him, have a great time for him. But when he sees photos in the press of Michael with a cocktail in his hand, Michael laughing amidst a conversation with the most beautiful of people, Michael with his hand around Zoe Kravitz' tiny waist, James is jealous and hates it. James is sitting at home in his pyjamas and bed socks while Michael is out there being a proper person, a proper man. Even when people come around to the apartment, James feels lonely, because they were at these parties too, and all they do is talk to Michael about all these private jokes and hilarious moments James missed out on. And it takes James so long to get anywhere these days, that he can't even get up and storm out of the room without someone's assistance, and it's driving him mad.
"I hate you," he says venomously to Michael one night, as the other man is clambering into bed beside him. Michael looks startled.
"What?" he says, confused.
"I hate you," James repeats, "You don't love me. You don't care about me." James' eyes are filling up with tears, but he doesn't want to be pitied, so he starts to shout. "I hate you for what you've done to me! How could you? How could you get me pregnant and then just stop loving me and leave me like this? Oh, I hate you, I hate you. You've ruined my life."
"James, please calm down," Michael says evenly. He's been preparing for James' moods dipping like this, but he still doesn't know how to react now.
"Why don't you just go?" James yells, "Go and find Zoe Kravitz and get with her, you clearly still love her! Because she's so pretty and skinny, she's not fat and- and male like me. She's not a freak. She can have proper babies."
"James, you are talking nonsense," Michael soothes, "You are beautiful and I love you. I don't love Zoe, or anybody else, I only want you. And our baby is a proper baby. He or she was made from our love and I will do anything to do right by them. I will never, ever leave you, you'd have to leave me. Do you understand that?"
"Don't patronise me," James mutters, "I hate you, I hate you." But when Michael puts his arms around him, he doesn't resist, letting himself slump on Michael's chest.
"I know you do, James, I know," Michael whispers into his hair.
The due date comes very soon: but then that day passes, then another, and another. When James is four days late, he feels like giving up. All the necessary preparations from the caesarean have been made at the hospital with Doctor Ashton and the specialist that they've been seeing for ultrasounds and advice, everything in the strictest of confidence. James' overnight bag is packed and waiting under his side of the bed. They've both compiled a list of possible baby names. Michael has put Erik, Magnus and Max on the list, one after the other, and doesn't think that James has noticed yet, until he realises that James has added a curly bracket next to them, all leading to where he's written "Magneto- girl or boy name?" in purple pen.
It's almost like it's never going to happen at all, until the middle of that night, when James wakes up with a cry, and a panicking Michael flicks on the light to see James clutching his stomach and whimpering.
"Is it time?" Michael asks hoarsely.
"No, I'm doing this for the good of my health," James hisses, "And don't you fucking dare tell me to 'just breathe'! Get my bag, and help me to the car, get me to the hospital. Now."
Michael does as he is told. Michael calls Dr. Ashton to let her know that they're coming, and she's waiting at the designated entrance point when they arrive, with a wheelchair for James.
"Mr Fassbender, Mr McAvoy," she greets them, and they speak as they are wheeling James down the corridor, "We have to get you to the theatre as soon as possible. Usually around now the woman would be experiencing contractions. Despite our research, we're still not entirely sure of the exact nature of your pregnancy is, but we can guess that the pain you're experiencing now is your body preparing for contractions that you aren't equipped to have. The reason we have to operate quickly is that- I don't know how to put this- the baby is attempting to find an exit," James winces, Michael feels a little sick, "And when it cannot, this could cause serious internal bleeding."
"Yes, alright, I get it," James snaps, "I really don't think you need to tell me all this."
"I'm sorry. I- here we are," Dr Ashton says, pushing James into the theatre. She turns to Michael, "I should tell you to wait here. But if you wish to remain present, you can."
Michael looks at James. He's being helped up onto the bed, his face screwed up in agony, screaming out. He opens his eyes for long enough to gaze at Michael, before the mask is brought down over his face and the gas renders him unconscious. And Michael knows that James wants him to stay. To hold his hand, even though he can't squeeze back. He wants Michael to be there when his baby is born: like any other father would be.
"I'm staying." Michael says firmly.
Michael cries when he first holds his little daughter. James doesn't cry: he thinks perhaps he cried out all the tears he had over these nine months, and now he's just too happy, too blissfully relieved that they have a healthy baby all of their own. She is bigger than James expected ("I do not envy the women who have these things through natural birth. At all."), and has a lot of dark hair and is very, very noisy. When Michael holds her, and cries, she grows quiet. Perhaps she is so surprised that this other being, this big and powerful creature, is crying, that she ceases to remember her own reason for doing so. Michael falls in love with her immediately.
"What'll we call her?" he asks James.
"I thought… Sarah. It's a nice name… and I guess this is a bit cheesy, but it means, "Princess". And I fully intend to treat her like one."
"Sarah. Sarah?" Michael experiments, looking down at her, "How about Sara? Same pronunciation, but spelled S-A-R-A. German variant."
"Sara McAvoy-Fassbender. Yes. I like it." James shuts his eyes, and wriggles down into the hospital bed. "Sing to her, Michael. I want her to recognise her Papa's lovely singing voice."
"I will," Michael replies softly, "I know a lullaby about a princess. The daughter of a king." He leans down to kiss James' forehead, before straightening up, rocking Sara gently. He takes a breath, and sings.
" Sweet william, silverweed, sally-my-handsome,
Dimity darkens the pittering water,
On gloomed lawns wanders a king's daughter.
Curtains are clouding the casement windows,
A moon-glade smurs the lake with light,
Doves cover the tower with quiet,
Three owls whit-whit in the withies,
Seven fish in a deep pool shimmer,
The princess moves to the spiral stair.
Slowly the sickle moon mounts up,
Frogs hop over moss and mushroom,
The princess climbs to her high hushed room,
Step by step, to her shadowed tower,
Water laps the white lake shore,
A ghost opens the princess' door...
Seven fish in the sway of the water,
Six candles for a king's daughter.
Five sighs for a drooping head.
Four ghosts to gentle her bed,
Three owls in the dusk falling,
Two tales to be telling,
One spell for sleeping.
Tamarisk, trefoil, tormentil,
Sleep rolls down from the clouded hill,
A princess dreams of a silver pool.
The moonlight spreads, the soft ferns flitter,
Stilled in a shimmering drift of water,
Seven fish dream of a lost king's daughter…"
When Michael finishes the lullaby, both James and Sara are fast asleep. He places her in the cot, and then sits down in the armchair by James' bed, smiling to himself, before shutting his eyes and drifting off to dreams about a forthcoming life with a beautiful princess.
James isn't too keen on being seen in public for a while: he's tired, and his body isn't quite back to how it was before yet ("You're still gorgeous though," Michael says, helpfully slapping James on the arse) and photographers circle their apartment like vultures. He hardly thinks that any of the reporters could add him plus new baby together and come to any sort of correct conclusion, but he knows they'll try their hardest and he doesn't want to stoke their gossip fires. However, he does want to be able to get out again, to just walk around and exist like every person should have a right to, so one morning when Sara is two weeks old, Michael suggests they take Sara and go shopping. James agrees, and dresses in his second-favourite pair of jeans, a pale blue shirt and one of Michael's jumpers, which looks smart but doesn't cling. He feeds Sara her formula, puts her in the beautiful pram that his mother bought for them, and the three set out together. James inhales deeply of the outside air, relishes the feel of the sunlight on his hands and face. They ignore the cameras, not looking at a single one and refusing to answer the shouts of, "James! James! Are you and Michael going to be caring full time for Anne-Marie's baby?" and "How does this tie in with your careers, settling down as a gay couple with a child?" They're hounded down the street, until James gets fed up and pulls Michael in for a kiss by his scarf, knowing that's what the photograph hawks want. That satisfies them a little, and once they get the hint that the cover is staying over the pram and there's no way in Hell they're getting a photo of Sara, they dissipate.
"You shouldn't give them what they want," Michael tuts, "As much as I love kissing you, it doesn't exactly discourage them."
"I can't deprive the teenage girls of the world the chance to see their softcore fantasies lived out, can I?" James grins.
"Don't talk like that in front of Sara!" Michael says in mock horror. Sara seems to agree, starting to grizzle in her pram. When they're sure they're alone, they duck into a doorway. Michael lifts her out of her pram and shushes her gently, putting her inside his coat. She wriggles against the warmth of his chest, whines a little, and then settles. Michael smiles at his daughter, then at James. Michael's heart thuds beneath where the baby's warm weight nestles.
Sara remains inside Michael's coat even once they are inside the shopping mall, as neither party objects to the arrangement. A few people come up and coo, and ask for autographs, others look at them from a distance, out of shyness or animosity or suspicion; but overall James, Michael and Sara are undisturbed. It's when they're in Mothercare, and Sara's woken up, and James is entertaining her with some soft floppy animal they're going to buy for her, that Michael nudges James and says quietly, "Well, won't you look who it is."
"I wouldn't say it's your colour, Patrick," James smiles, gesturing at the purple baby-grow that Patrick is holding up. "Hello, Sir McKellen."
"Ian," Ian corrects, shaking James' hand and pulling him into a hug from it.
"How lovely to see you here," says Patrick, "We were just looking for a present for Sara's party next week-" he trails off, having noticed the gurgling, baby-sized lump in Michael's coat. "Is that her?" he asks softly.
"Would you like to hold her?" Michael offers.
"Oh, yes please," Patrick replies. Michael passes Sara to Patrick, who cradles her gently, supporting her head.
"She's wonderful," Patrick breathes, "Ian, let's have one."
"We're too old for all that, dear," Ian chuckles, "Let's settle for being this little treasure's eccentric uncles, shall we?" Patrick holds Sara for a while, and then Ian holds her, and she seems to like them: that is, she doesn't start to complain and caterwaul. She nods off again in Ian's arms, so James takes her back and puts her in the pram.
"We'd better be off," James says, "We've still got a few things left to do."
"Us too," Patrick replies, "But we'll see you next week, of course."
"If the house is clean by then," James jokes, shooting Michael a pretend glare.
When Patrick and Ian walk away, Michael notices and points out that Ian has a loose hold on Patrick's scarf. There's something beautiful about it; that they're still touching and connected, in this subtle way, like holding hands but less obvious.
"You owe me ten pounds," Michael tells James. James shakes his head.
"They're not together. I refuse to believe it until I hear it from either one of them."
"Resistance is futile, darling," Michael smirks, "If they're not official by Sara's party next week, I will wear the Magneto helmet to our wedding."
James looks very alarmed.
"Oh God, please don't do that."
"Better hope the lovebirds make themselves known then, dear."
"James!" Michael shouts the next morning. James skids into the lounge, an empty baby bottle in one hand, Sara's baby monitor in the other.
"Please don't shout!" James hushes, "I'm hoping she'll stay asleep long enough for me to sterilise her bottle and make her formula. What is it?"
Michael holds up the newspaper page with a massive, shark-like grin. James stares for a moment to take in the photograph, which is unmistakably of Patrick and Ian, kissing in way that can only be described as passionately, and the headline, which quotes Ian, confirming that they are in a relationship.
"Fuck you!" James grumbles, going to find his wallet; but he has a huge smile plastered across his face.