Ariadne was huge, exhausted, and hovering right around the due date. Arthur hadn't taken a new job in the past few weeks, and they remained more or less on a consistent schedule with her doctor visits, walks and keeping up appearances in Toronto as an ordinary couple expecting their first child. Ariadne rather liked the experience, and Arthur was very attentive. The trouble came two weeks ago, when Eames called Arthur out of the blue. "Leave Toronto," he had said without preamble. "Someone's gunning for all the heavy hitters in dream share, and your name is on that list with Toronto as your current location."
"We can't leave! Ariadne's doctor is here and the baby—"
"Won't even be born if you don't leave," Eames had cut in. "I'm at least giving you warning. I don't want to see you dead, but others in the field might not care."
Ariadne had heard Arthur's agitated voice, and grabbed the phone from him when he was about to say something else. "What's going on?"
"There's a shakedown in dream share, love," Eames said, voice softening as he spoke with her. "I understand I should say congratulations, but time may be quite short. The two of you might not make to the three of you, if you take my meaning."
She had sighed and reached out to squeeze Arthur's hand tightly. "Yeah, I do. Thank you for letting us now, Eames."
"Just go to ground, let it all blow over if you can. No telling how long that might take, but I'm sure Arthur has a few hiding places while you wait."
"Wait, you mean this would be more than just a few days?" Ariadne asked, suddenly understanding Arthur's agitation. "My due date is in three weeks!"
"I wouldn't advise this unless I thought it was necessary," Eames said patiently. "At least your name's not on the hit list, though I doubt they'd spare you if they caught up to Arthur."
"Okay," Ariadne sighed. "We'll figure something out."
"Don't tell anyone where you're headed. Look me up in a few weeks or so. I'm not on the list as far as I can tell, so I should be able to tell you if it's safe enough to come out of hiding."
That had been two weeks ago. Abruptly leaving Toronto, the duo had gone to a cabin in Alaska that was practically out in the middle of nowhere. It had all the essentials and absolutely no cell phone signal, which was all Arthur cared about. The cabin was one that Arthur had prepared for emergencies, and could outlast a three month siege if necessary. Its only downside in this situation was that the nearest hospital was over sixty miles away.
Arthur read up on home births and saved whatever internet pages he could while in town and using wifi. Once in the cabin, he practically memorized them all. He was incredibly tense, and all of Ariadne's attempts to calm him down and remind him that she and the baby were healthy didn't seem to ease that tension. He would have to do the delivery himself, most likely, and the thought terrified him. Not that Ariadne was as blasé about it as she tried to present to him, but she knew he was scared enough for the both of them.
This was possibly why she didn't tell Arthur when the first contraction pang hit. Besides, it being her first child, she wasn't entirely sure that it was even a contraction anyway. At first, it was just a low back ache that wrapped around to her front, almost like a cramp. It lasted for a while, maybe a minute or two, she didn't check the clock, but eased up. That was easy for her to dismiss as a cramp or gas. Arthur was chopping more wood for the fireplace overnight, so calling him in was going to be difficult.
By the third contraction, it was obviously not gas. It was also an hour and a half later, and Arthur was tending to the fire. He heard her groan in discomfort, and was at her side instantly. "What is it?" he asked, anxiety already creasing his features.
"Just can't sit still. My back hurts." She pulled another face, surreptitiously looking at her watch. "I think this is a contraction. I think," she repeated when Arthur went pale.
"It's early," he sputtered.
"Only by a week. And I could've been off by that much anyway..."
"No, your cycles have been like clockwork, the sonograms were all matched to the estimated due date..." Arthur seemed frozen in place for a moment. "Ariadne, are you sure this is a real contraction? Not just those Braxton-Hicks ones?"
The contraction eased up, making it easier to breathe. "Nope, I'm sure this is the real thing."
"I remember everything the books and the sites said to do—"
"Arthur," Ariadne said sharply, taking his hands in hers when he started to hyperventilate a little. "They're forty minutes apart. We've got hours yet, okay. Don't freak out now."
"There's no doctor around for miles. If we start now, I can get you to a city hospital."
She gave him an amused smile. "You've done just about everything in dreams."
"But this is real. I can't lose you or the baby if something goes wrong."
The fear in his eyes was real, and Ariadne squeezed his hands. "Women have been giving birth without hospitals for centuries. Am I going to want drugs when the time comes? Probably. But the most important part is having you with me. That's what I really need. Not some doctor I don't know I a place I don't plan to live in delivering the baby. Okay? You read everything. I read everything. So far, everything had gone just like a textbook. I am going to be okay. I promise you."
"That's not a promise you can realistically make!"
"Then step up when the time comes and deliver your baby," Ariadne told him. "Because it's coming, and this is happening now. Not next week, not tomorrow, not when the threat is over. Now. And I need you, Arthur. We need you."
Arthur forcibly slowed his breathing, nodding, and then reached for her, giving her a gentle hug, careful of her swollen belly. "Okay. Okay. We'll do this together."
Feeling the discomfort in her lower back, Ariadne refrained from mentioning that she would be doing all the hard work in the delivery at the end. He was freaking out enough for them both.
He kept track of her contractions, timing them and growing worried as they grew closer together. her first few had been about forty minutes apart, then three were thirty minutes apart, then twenty-eight. It was close to midnight then, and Ariadne had spent the evening pacing the length of the living room or kneeling on the floor, not knowing if her water would break and stain the couch. Not that the floor was any better, but it was easier to toss a blanket or throw rug over a stain on the carpet than to replace a couch that couldn't be cleaned. She dozed for an hour or two that way, kneeling and leaning against the couch, Arthur anxiously behind her to massage her back or shoulders. He let her sleep, though when she woke he reported that he had been able to feel the tightening of her muscles as the contractions continued. "Twenty-five minutes for a bit," he told her. "Feel like walking more?"
"I'm tired," Ariadne said, smothering a yawn. "Another nap?"
"If you can manage it," he replied with a grimace. "It's got to hurt."
"Picture a belt around your middle that's squeezing hard enough to cut you in half," she told him as she pushed herself up to her feet. A wave of pressure descended upon her, and she grasped the arm of the couch tightly. "Ow," she cried with feeling, swaying on her feet.
"Twenty minutes," Arthur reported, eyes flicking toward the clock.
Waiting until it passed, Ariadne nodded and headed to the bathroom. As she was wiping up, she groaned. "Oh, gross." She and Arthur figured she had just passed the mucus plug, which meant she was pretty far along in the process. He laid out towels and old sheets on the floor as she continued to pace the living room in circles, a hand at her back to try to relieve some pressure. "Do we have any way to weigh the baby? Or get the length? And everything else they usually do?"
"I have a luggage scale," Arthur said, biting his lip. "And there's the tape measure from the sewing kit we have."
Of course he had thought of that. She nodded as another contraction hit, and grabbed the couch to keep from buckling from the pain. "Fifteen minutes," she heard Arthur say, and all she could do was grit her teeth and try to remember to breathe.
The times grew closer together: eight minutes twice, seven for five contractions, then five minutes. It was steady there for nearly two hours, and she was in tears with each one. When Arthur offered his hand for her to hold, she grabbed it and squeezed so tightly she swore his bones ground together. He took it without complaint, likely because she was dealing with so much more at the moment. Wrapping his other arm around her shoulders, he kissed her sweaty temple. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry our lives are so dangerous you're going through this."
Ariadne's eyes flashed with irritation. "Don't you fucking feel sorry for this," she hissed. "I am giving birth to our baby and you are not going to feel sorry about it."
"I'm sorry you're in pain."
"I would've been even if we were in Toronto," she snapped. "You know they don't give pain meds right away. Would slow labor or something." She groaned as another contraction hit her, and she leaned into Arthur, who helped support her weight. Four minutes.
The countdown continued, and fairly soon Ariadne didn't feel as though she could support her own weight, even kneeling. She laid out on the nest of towels and sheets, naked to the waist, pillows at her back to help her sit up. She was sobbing and cursing with each contraction, and didn't even notice when a wet warmth hit her thighs. Arthur's panicked gaze her way didn't really register as she grasped the edge of towels in her hands and squeezed.
"Um... I don't know what I'm looking at," Arthur admitted after a moment, kneeling between her spread legs.
"If you don't know what that is, maybe you shouldn't have put anything in it!"
"I don't mean that!" he cried, aggrieved. "I mean... I think I see the head? There's hair and it's not yours," he elaborated, voice high and thin.
Oh, dear God, he was terrified.
"I wanna push. I don't know if I should yet. Can you tell?"
"I don't know what I'm doing!" Arthur yelled, whites of his eyes showing when he looked at her.
"What does the book say?"
"You have to be ten centimeters dilated and 100% effaced, whatever that means."
"I think that means you have to feel for it!" she snapped, feeling another contraction bear down on her. She wailed, gripping the towels tight, trying to breathe through the pain as best as she could. Arthur's terror had to come second to this right then, because her mind simply didn't have room for it. There was pain and pain and pressure, the baby insisting that now was the right time to show up, whatever they wanted be damned.
The feel of his fingers inside hurt, and she whimpered as the contraction lessened. Three minutes, maybe less? She had no idea what time it was anymore. She met Arthur's gaze, and felt a flash of fear herself. For all her brave words, what if something did go wrong? What if she tore? What if she bled out? What if the cord was wrapped around the baby's throat? They never wanted to know the sex, and had names picked out for both. But what if the baby didn't survive to be named? What if?
She cried out as another contraction hit, pain more intense than anything she had ever felt before in her life. "A minute," Arthur told her, voice wavering a bit. He was trying to control his anxiety, which was good. "I think you're at ten. I'm not sure what I should feel for with the effacement stuff."
Ariadne wanted to cry. She probably was, she couldn't tell. Another contraction, and she tried her best to resist the urge to push. Arthur shuffled closer to her, and leaned down to kiss her forehead tenderly. "You're doing great, Ariadne. We're almost there." All she could do was whimper in reply, and look up at him with tears in her eyes. "On the next one, start pushing, okay? Push with the contractions, the books said."
It hurt, and she had no idea how long it took. She was pushing and stopping, screaming with each push, not even paying attention to the soothing sounds Arthur was trying to make to help her. She thought about cursing him out, telling him never to touch her again, but she had loved that part. They'd even had sex the day before.
And then suddenly the pressure lessened. The baby was through, and Arthur was trying his best not to drop the slippery, slimy baby that he held in his hands. There was water beside them, and he tried toweling off their baby girl as best as he could. She protested, wailing and flailing her little arms, letting them both know she wasn't pleased with this particular arrangement. She was cold and unhappy, and she was loud.
She was perfect.
Cutting the cord was traumatizing for poor Arthur, especially since all he had was torn strips of towel to tie off the end of the stump and the kitchen scissors to cut the cord. The afterbirth and placenta were bloody messes that made him turn positively green. Ariadne was cradling their daughter while he did this part, shushing her, keeping her right over her breast, right over her heart. That slowed the cries to hiccups, and Ariadne was crying with happiness now. Ten fingers and ten toes, a shock of black hair and greenish looking eyes. That was her nose and his chin, and that stubborn cry could have been either of them.
Arthur stood afterward, a towel wrapped around an ice pack between her legs to stem the bleeding, and he looked like a ragged mess. Even running down dream security he didn't look that bad. It nearly made her laugh, but she managed to hold it in while he washed up enough to measure their squalling daughter, then write everything down in his careful hand. Eventually they would go to the hospital to get checked out, let them do whatever they did to make sure things were going well. For the moment, Ariadne kept watching their daughter, a goofy grin on her face. "We did it," she whispered, voice hoarse and mouth parched.
He carefully cradled both her and their daughter in his arms. "I'm the luckiest man alive," he murmured, then kissed her temple.
"Good. Then in a moment, I'm going to try feeding her, and then you can hold her while I sleep. I'm exhausted," Ariadne rasped. Arthur laughed a little, still shaken, and nodded enthusiastically.
For all of their worry, it worked. They would deal with the dream share threat later.