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where you lead, i will follow

Chapter Text

John Cooley

It's Matthew who calls him.

Emily had the baby, he says casually, almost like he's talking about an algebra test.

Worse yet, he waits for John to respond, and John hates that about Matthew: that even after how the shit hit the fan, Matthew still expects a happy ending. He still expects everything to go back the way they were in Italy, that he and John and Em would be best friends again.

It's a girl, Matthew adds when John doesn't say anything.

Okay, says John, afraid of what else Matthew might tell him. He swallows hard and and tries to breathe through his nose. His throat feels tight, but that might be his tie choking him. He's been home for all of two hours and hasn't changed out of his uniform.

Matthew says, I'm going to send flowers.

His parents won't let him near Emily. They think she's a bad influence on him. They never liked her much and liked her even less after she got pregnant, but they still like John all right, John thinks. They still let Matthew call him at least and they say hi to his parents after Mass.

I'll send some too, John wants to say. He will have to ask his parents first, which reminds him, somebody has to tell his parents, and he really doesn't want it to be himself.

Johnny, Matthew says, half-pissed but not really surprised. John hates that about him too, how willing Matthew is to think of John as the bad guy for not taking responsibility and all that. John supposes that he is, but it isn't fair. He's only sixteen. He can't be somebody's parent, he still needs parents.

She's at St. Matilda's, Matthew tells him. He doesn't even sound mad anymore. Just matter-of-fact. Fourth floor. It would be nice if you went to see her, you giant fucking prick.

The phone slams and the line goes dead.

John figures that if he has to choose between facing Emily and facing his parents, who thankfully won't be home for another few hours, Emily might actually be the easier choice. His mother would start sobbing and his father would look grim, whereas Emily at this point is mostly disappointed and John can deal with that. He is used to people being disappointed with him.

He jimmies open his father's liquor cabinet for a shot of Jack Daniels before calling a cab and tries not to vomit the whole way. The cabbie drops him off at the main entrance, revealing a gold tooth when he grins at John telling him to keep the change.

Near the entrance there is a gift shop. No flowers, but there are balloons and stuffed animals. John scourges up another twenty in his pockets and picks out a soft pink rabbit and a balloon that says Get Well Soon! because they only have It's a Boy! left.

The baby isn't in the room when he comes in and he is ridiculously grateful for that. He is equally grateful for the fact that Emily's parents aren't there either, and that Emily herself looks remarkably calm, not scared or angry or sad like John expected. She looks startled to see him, and it stings a little.

"Hi," John says, approaching the bed.

"Hi," Emily says. She looks the same, maybe a little more tired than usual. Drained.

John hands her the balloon and the rabbit wordlessly and she thanks him. It's quiet for a long time after that and John shuffles his feet, picks at the lint inside his pockets, until Emily asks, "Do you want to see her?"

No, John thinks. He does not want to see her. He wants to get out of here, this room, this life, his skin. He wants to disappear because he knows he is a shitty person and he is not sure if he can live the rest of his life with that knowledge, but neither is he sure if he can live with the alternative.

In steady, measured steps, Emily walks him to the nursery, which is on the same floor but tucked away in one corner. The lights are softer and behind the large plexi-glass window is a row of bassinets with squirming little bundles of blankets.

She points to one of them. "That's her."

John looks. He sees a tiny, pink face peeking out from the blankets. At first he thinks she is sleeping but then she opens her eyes and they meet his, and it only hits him then, that she is a person. She is a person who exists because of him, and there is no way of changing that.

"She's pretty," he tells Emily, because that's what dads are supposed to say, he thinks, and either way it is probably what she wants to hear.

"She's perfect," Emily corrects, and when John sees the way she smiles at the baby, he wants to ask her, How are you not scared out of your fucking mind?

A nurse pokes her head out and asks Emily if she wants to hold the baby, and Emily breaks into a huge smile. She's beautiful. It's something John has always known, just like he has always known her to be smart and funny and brave, and as Emily lifts the baby (his daughter) from the nurse's arms into her own, he wonders if she can teach him how to do that. Be brave.

"I'll do the right thing," he blurts out as Emily whispers hi to the baby and examines her impossibly small fingers. "We'll be a family. I'll step up. Do the right thing."

He doesn't love his daughter yet, not the way Em already does, but he can learn. Emily can teach him. After all, they are his family now.

"Johnny," Emily says, turning from the baby to him. She is still smiling but this is a different smile. His SAT tutor, if John bothered to listen to her at all, would probably describe it as "rueful."

"I'll do the right thing," he repeats, hoping to get it through to her this time.

"Johnny," Emily says again as she holds the baby closer. "Don't you get it? This really isn't about you anymore."