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Color and Ducks

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"It's asleep. What do I do now?" Rachel shifts the baby in her arms; her hand had been falling asleep where it was.

Susan glances over her shoulder from where she's adjusting the seatbelt that will hold the car seat in place. Anyone else would read her expression as pleasantly neutral, but Rachel can see the hint of exasperation behind it. "Exactly what you're already doing, Rachel." She turns to finish putting the seat in. "And maybe try calling the baby 'him,' not 'it'? Or you could just call him Evan."

A faint blush spreads across her cheeks and she looks away from Susan back down to the child cradled in her arms. "Right, yeah. Evan."

-

"You look like hell."

She shoots him a glare from where she sits cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by a small mountain of paper that won't even put a dent in the back work she has to do. She's never going to get caught up. "You try not sleeping for a week and a half." It's an exaggeration, but not as much of one as she would prefer. The makeup people are going to have a hell of a time hiding the dark circles under her eyes.

With a small snort of laughter, Keith leans against the door frame. "How's Susan doing with all that?" He looks as if he doesn't have a care in the world, and she's ashamed at how much she resents him for it.

His question sinks in and her expression turns bashful. "I always knew she was amazing, but she's been..." Staring at the yellow highlighter she's holding between two fingers, she sighs. "She says she's fine with it, but I can't help but feel like she shouldn't have to be." Rachel looks up and meets his eyes. "I don't know, Keith."

He strolls into her office with his hands in his pockets and sits down on the couch, propping his feet up on her coffee table. He knows she hates that. "So when do I get to meet the little guy? I've got lots of presents to give, you know." His voice is filled with that same insufferable levity, but she knows he's not joking in the least.

A small frown appears on her face, and she throws the highlighter at his feet. It bounces off his shoe and onto the table, where it rolls to the ground. "You are not allowed to spoil him. He's two months old; he doesn't need a bunch of expensive stuff." It's true. They've bought all the basics they can think of, many of them in duplicate so they don't have to haul them from New York to Massachusetts every week. The social worker had given them some of his things in a box. He doesn't need anything.

Leaning over to pick up the highlighter, he takes his feet off the table. "Funny, I would have thought you'd be the fun parent."

Goddamn him. "Go to hell," she says sharply, turning back to her papers and picking up her blue highlighter. Hopefully Keith can take a hint. He stands and brushes off his pants, a thoroughly baffled look on his face. They both know that what he just said was exactly the wrong thing, and it frustrates her to realize that she doesn't think either of them knows why.

-

Her heart sinks at the sound of cries coming from the crib and she squeezes her eyes tightly shut, trying to will the noise away. After a moment she throws her arm over her face and sighs. Throwing the blankets off, she whispers to Susan "Go back to sleep. I've got it." It doesn't take much convincing, and Susan pulls the blankets up again before drifting back toward sleep with a soft "m'kay."

She presses the heels of her hand into her eyes, a quick effort at rubbing the sleep from them before she puts her glasses on. It's five feet from the bed to the crib, and she still manages to trip over the dog, who has been awakened once again by the strange new interloper in his family. The crib rails help her catch her balance instead of falling flat on her face, but they can't stop her from stubbing her toe against the changing table and she lets out a string of colorful profanity. Then the sound of her own voice fades, and she's left only with Evan's hungry cries.

After picking him up, she turns a lamp on as she heads to the corner of the apartment that serves as their kitchen. His cries stop during the few moments it takes to move from the crib to the counter, and she looks down at him to see why. There's a wet spot on her t-shirt where he's sucking hungrily at its fabric. She turns him slightly in her arms so that his mouth can't reach her. "That's not going to get you what you're looking for, trust me. I'll fix the bottle as quick as I can." Her promise, as she'd expected, doesn't comfort Evan in the least and she closes her eyes as he begins to cry once more. His car seat is sitting on the kitchen table, and she buckles him in so she can prepare his formula.

As she levels off the second scoop of powder, she realizes she has no idea what she's doing. Not with the bottle so much; the motions and the mixing are ironically familiar to her hands. Just in general. She can't remember the last time she felt this out of her element, and she hates it.

Evan makes tiny little noises of contentment once she has the bottle in his mouth, and she leans forward to rest her chin in the palm of her free hand. It's 3:52 in the morning. Her alarm will go off in three hours and eight minutes. In a little more than five hours, she'll be sitting in her office poring over the day's news in preparation for the show. It's Friday, so afterward the four of them will load up and make the three-hour drive home to Massachusetts. That means getting to bed around two at the earliest. Maybe it'll be a slow news day, and she can catch a nap sometime between lunch and makeup. She kind of doubts it, though.

By the time he's drained the bottle, Evan's eyes are more than halfway closed and she regrets putting him in the car seat to eat. Someone somewhere must be smiling on her, though, because he doesn't wake when she picks him up to carry him back to the crib. He still doesn't stir when she lays him down on his back - she never used to be able to remember which one it was, back or stomach, but she sure as hell can now - so she closes her eyes for a moment and whispers a breathless "thank you" before tiptoeing to the bed, carefully avoiding the dog and the changing table.

She slides gingerly under the covers and curls up close to Susan, every muscle relaxing at the welcome comfort of the bed and the familiar sounds of quiet breathing. Just a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, please, she thinks. That's all I'm asking for.

-

Rachel looks up from her book and glances to where Evan is still lying contentedly on a blanket in the middle of the floor. He can hold his head up now, and he's finally started noticing the toys that sat unused for the first month after they bought them. It's a lazy Saturday afternoon, the first one in weeks. She's holding down the fort at home; Susan is in town for a well-deserved day at the spa. The house is quiet and the baby is happy, full, and clean. She's curled up in a living room chair, systematically working down the list of books she's been meaning to read.

Read three pages, check on the baby. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When she looks up after finishing page two hundred sixty-one, she pauses. Instead of staring out at his toys, he's lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling fan, head cocked slightly to the side. She sets the book down and climbs to sit with him in the floor. "Did you roll over? Can you show me?" He blinks up at her.

She turns him back over so he's lying on his stomach, then she waits. He blinks, then opens and closes his mouth soundlessly a few times. Two minutes pass with no movement, and she feels a little bit silly. Thirty seconds after she's resettled in her chair and has her book reopened the sound of Evan blowing little bubbles makes her look up.

He's on his back.

"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Lots of little bubbles. She flips him over again and sits, determined to wait it out this time. Two minutes. Two more. She's just starting to feel silly again when it happens. A lurch of motion, a small push by a very small hand, tipping himself just to the point where gravity takes over and carries him onto his back. "Nice!" she says without thinking about it, a smile tracing across her face.

Book forgotten on the coffee table, she picks him up and heads to get the stroller. They're going to go for a walk. As she pushes him out the door, she pulls out her phone and hits a speed dial number. "Jon? Hey. Guess what Evan just did?"

-

Anderson sounds nervous, which is never good. "Rachel, can you stay calm if I tell you something?"

She holds the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she sorts through a stack of news stories on her desk. "If you're asking, probably not. Why? What's up?" He doesn't say anything, which is a bad sign. "Anderson, what's going on?"

A sigh. "Last night O'Reilly was doing a segment on the Florida gay adoption ruling..." A sick feeling washes over her, and she sets the papers down."...about you and Susan and Evan, and about how boys need male role models. We both know it's all bullshit, but I thought you'd want to know what he was-"

Her fingernails are digging unrelentingly into the skin of her palm, and she's not sure she trusts herself to speak. "Thanks. I'll take care of it."

He hesitates, and she thinks it's because she's scaring him. "Don't do anything you're going to regret. We're all behind you and Susan all the way, and if there's anything-"

The terseness in her voice is unmistakable even though it's not him she's angry with. "I've got it. Thank you for letting me know. Don't tell Keith; we don't want him to know yet if we can help it." She has a creeping feeling of lightheadedness, and she sits down.

"No problem. Tell Susan I said hello, and give Evan a hug for me. And bring him over sometime; he's probably doubled in size since I got to see him last."

She's breathing a little more now, even though she's still gripping the arm of the desk chair. "Sounds good. Call the house this weekend, we'll find a time. Thanks for calling, Anderson. I've got to go; I'll talk to you later."

"Bye, Rachel."

"Bye."

-

Getting through the first part of the show is the hardest thing she's ever done. Her hands are visibly shaking by the time she gets to the segment she's been anticipating and dreading. She gives background on the ruling that struck down the gay adoption ban, then shows the clip from the O'Reilly Factor.

When the clip is over, she speaks with a voice that is deadly calm. "I've said many times before that I think the strong rhetoric of our discourse on government is healthy and good for the country. I still believe that. But there is a stark difference between political hyperbole and intrusion into people's personal lives. If you're talking about politicians who have campaigned on those aspects of their personal lives, then that hypocrisy is fair game. But if you're using my family to try to score cheap political points? You've crossed a line.

"I'm an adult, and I signed up for this. As long as you're not lying, I don't care what you say about me. But I'm taking this time to set the record straight. My life is not a political statement. And my kid? Is off limits. Period."

They go to commercial after that, which gives her a few minutes to regain her composure, and Kent assures her that she did fine. She feels sick, wants to be done, wants Susan. For a fleeting moment, she wants to quit the show altogether. It's not a thought she seriously entertains, but she's shocked that she has it at all.

All that's left is "Just Enough," and Kent mostly carries it; she just laughs in the appropriate places, says goodnight, and announces Countdown. As soon as she's off the air, she lays her head down on the desk. She was meant for activism, maybe politics, but not this. This was never part of what she'd planned.

-

Evan almost sleeps through the night now. One feeding at two will last him until six, and the sleep feels like bliss. She and Susan are rested enough to talk at night again, casual conversation before drifting off to sleep.

A deep exhalation, and Rachel rolls over so they're face-to-face. "I never wanted to be a mom. I decided at seventeen that I didn't want any kids."

Susan smiles at her. "I know. You told me that a long time ago. I said I felt the same way, remember?"

She nods sleepily. "I like dogs, not babies."

"I know you do."

When Rachel speaks again, it's almost a whisper. "I love him, Susan."

Susan kisses her lightly and she closes her eyes. "I know you do. It's okay." They look at each other for a moment, then Susan smiles again. "You know what, though?" Rachel doesn't say anything, just questioning with her eyes. "I feel the same way."

A small smirk curls at the corner of her lips. "He's going to be so cool."

She thinks she hears Susan chuckle, but it's hard to tell. She gives her the benefit of the doubt. "You're going to spoil him rotten with books."

She smiles a confirmation and snuggles closer until their foreheads touch. "I love you."

"I love you too."

Every muscle relaxes as she curls up in the bed and she listens once again for the familiar sounds of quiet breathing. It might be the power of suggestion, she isn't sure, but for a moment before she falls asleep she thinks she can hear a soft, small snoring sound coming from the crib. It blends, she thinks.