One Year Ago
Alfie followed her frantic rambling as best he could, trying to stroke her face, even as she moved hectically through the room, "Claire..."
"I can't. I can't do this right now, it's just, this is too much."
"I need you to calm down."
"I can't! Okay? There's two lines. That's not supposed to happen. I wanted one line, not two lines."
"Claire, I love you."
"Don't change the goddamn subject!" Claire snapped.
"I'm sorry you're having a rough time with this, but-"
"Fucking crisis, you mean?"
In spite of himself, Alfie laughed, "Sorry... um... it's not a crisis pregnancy, though. You graduated, we're married, we've got a stable home, we don't need anything we can't just go out and get, and... Maybe the universe just decided it was time... I mean, I know we said we'd talk about it, think about it, but..."
"You can't be serious."
"What's missing?" Alfie asked, trying to pull her close only to have her shove away again, "What's so bad about now?"
"I'm not ready."
"What would help you feel ready?"
The dam burst as Claire's voice cracked, "I don't know!"
"Okay." Alfie replied quickly, attempting to soothe her, "Look, I get it, this is scary, and if you're not ready, we're not ready. But I know you've been thinking about it for a few years. Now, we're going to do whatever you need, but... Some stuff can make it harder to have kids in the future, and I'd hate for us to be trying later and not be able to. That's all... So, what do you need just for right now, so you can calm down enough to think?"
Claire's lip trembled, "Hold me."
Three Months Ago
Dean stood in the kitchen pouring a glass of red wine as his phone started to ring. He answered it as he carried the glass back into the living room and passed it to Cas, who made a face, but accepted it just the same.
"Hey, Claire. What's up? You need something?" Dean asked.
Through huffing breaths, Claire hissed on the other end of the line, "Get your ass over here and get this thing out of me."
"Oh, honey, no." Dean replied with a chuckle, "You're scary enough when you're not in labor, I don't think I want to see this."
"She's in labor?" Cas asked from his spot on the couch.
Dean nodded quickly, assuring him it was true.
"The midwife is three hours away, Dean. Alfie's not here yet, either. You said you know enough to fill in. Move your ass or I'm coming over there with a gun!" Claire paused abruptly with a groan, and he could hear a deeper voice speaking to her.
"Yeah, okay, I'm coming. Who's with you?"
Dean nodded, "I'll be there in a minute. You got that birth kit, right? Do I need to bring anything?"
Dean could make out another pained groan, and dull thump, and Kevin muttering in pain just before Claire spoke, "Dean, I swear to God, I will find you, do you understand?... Oh, shit!..."
"Okay. Yeah. I'm gonna be right there, deep breaths."
Cas started to get up as Dean ended the call.
"Where do you think you're going?" Dean asked abruptly.
"The midwife isn't there, neither is Alfie, and she was going this route because she wanted to be left alone as much as possible, remember?"
Cas shrugged and moved to set down the glass, "I'll wait on the porch."
"Fine... No, don't leave that glass here, you're not getting out of it until your cholesterol's down."
Dean hurried into the house that had at one time been Bobby's, stepping over a garden hose that had been run from the downstairs showerhead pipe. Just past the stairs in the small living room, the couch had been pushed aside, a birth tub had been set up, and Claire was in the warm water, leaning heavily on the side.
She was quiet, with one arm around Kevin's neck, and Dean could hear her breathing speed up quickly as her arm tightened around Kevin's neck, and she hissed a slew of curses before her arm suddenly jerked and her other fist struck the side of the tub.
Kevin wobbled slightly as her arm slacked at the end of the contraction, although he stayed a bit purple.
"How close are they?" Dean asked softly.
"FUCKYOUTHAT'SHOWCLOSETHEYARE!" Claire yelled before settling her head against Kevin's shoulder again, "Fucking Margaret ditched me."
"It's not like that, she'd be here if she cou-" Kevin started.
"All I have is you assclowns, I swear, I- ohfuckthis!" Claire mumbled as her arm tightened, choking Kevin again.
"Claire, you gotta breathe through it, don't hold your breath." Dean said firmly, noticing Claire's face turning red. Kevin didn't look to be in much better shape, but Dean spotted the package of sterile medical tools purchased for the occasion and came closer, taking Claire's arm from Kevin's neck, "Kevin, go get some towels from upstairs and throw them in the dryer to warm them up."
Claire caught hold of Dean's shirt the moment he was in range, and pulled him closer with a strength that surprised him, even having taken a few of her punches in the past, "Get it out."
"What time did the contractions get bad?"
"I need it out. Just make it hurry up."
"Claire, breathe, you got another one-"
Dean was cut off as she let go, dropping to the side of the birth tub, her hands clenching at the edge of it, resting her forehead on the plastic. Dean set a comforting hand on her back as she growled through her contraction.
"You gotta breathe, kid. Otherwise, I'm getting an air compressor."
Claire shook her head, but her breaths changed to quick, sharp, and shallow until she calmed, and was able to sit up again, "I can't... I can't do this. Where the hell is he?"
"Are you gonna kill him when he gets here?" Dean asked.
"I don't know." Claire whimpered.
"Okay... It's okay..."
"He's outside." Dean replied, "Thought you'd want privacy for this."
Another wave of pain washed through her as her body took over from her conscious mind, and as Dean tried to help support her, he was rewarded with a sharp jab in the ribs, "Fuck my life! I wasn't even gonna have kids!... Can you do a c-section on the floor?"
"I'm not doing that."
"Why not? I thought you cared!" Claire whimpered before she took several deep breaths as she tried to rest between contractions, and Dean took a moment to check her hands. The skin over her knuckles on her right hand was about as mangled as he expected.
Kevin came back in from the garage looking helpless, having accomplished his task, and Dean immediately pointed to the birth kit, speaking softly, "Get that over here, and get it open."
"Where's is that goddamn midwife?... She said she was going to be here. I'm a week late, and she's still-" Claire cut off into an enraged storm of panting and slamming her hand into the side of the tub again until Dean caught her by the arm, and pulled her close.
"It's okay. This part doesn't last. It's actually going really fast, and soon, you're gonna have your baby all wrapped up-"
"It's a fucking alien trying to crack me open!"
"-in a blanket, and be able to see it's face-"
"I don't want to do this anymore! I'm done."
"-and this whole thing is gonna be over, okay?"
Claire groaned through another contraction, and answered him once she could speak again, "Eat shit and die!"
"Atta-girl." Dean replied.
Kevin looked up from where he'd put the kit, "Is the water still warm enough?"
"You ask me that one more time, I'll drown you in it." Claire hissed.
"I'm gonna try Samandriel again, see how close he is." Kevin said quietly, "From the porch."
"Good idea." Dean replied, and turned back to Claire, "You're gonna be fine. I don't think you've got more than an hour left, okay? Not when they're this close together... Are you pushing at all? Or do you feel like you need to?"
Claire was about to say something, but instead she started to shake, grabbing his shirt again, "Get me out."
"Out. I need out."
Dean caught her as she tried to stand, and supported her as she climbed out on shaking legs to kneel on a towel that had been spread on the floor by the tub, the thin fabric of long tshirt she wore drenched, and sitting high on her thighs. He called Kevin back inside, "Go get the towels from the dryer."
"But I just-"
Kevin hurried back to the garage, his phone still to his ear.
"He was supposed to be here." Claire fussed, "Supposed to bond with his child... sing to the baby... And he's not."
"He'll be here soon." Dean said softly, making sure she could stay upright without falling over as she continued to hold onto the tub, "Real soon... Okay, maybe not as soon as you'd want."
Claire caught the change in Dean's voice as he spoke, "What? Why?"
Kevin had just entered the room again and Dean took the pile of towels from him and shooed him back outside.
"Because you're almost done. Just do me a favor," Dean said quickly arranging a couple of the warm towels below her, "Big, slow breaths for a minute while I get some gloves, okay?"
"What the hell does that mean?" Claire gasped out as another contraction began.
"You're crowning. Just breathe, try to relax-"
Claire clenched the side of the tub harder with a deep groan, as Dean dropped the gloves, and cringing, reached for her.
She was shaking her head and panting as the contraction wound down, but Dean spoke up, "Claire, listen... I got the baby's head. You give me one good push, and we're probably done, okay? Just go with it on the next one, okay? And deep breaths, so you don't faint."
Claire didn't move, or attempt to speak, but as Dean reluctantly waited with his hands dripping, he caught sight of something he didn't like.
"Coming up fast, right? Give me a second, I gotta do something, the cord is... yeah... It's okay, just hang on..." Dean said quietly, slipping a finger against the baby's neck, and sliding a loop of the cord over it's head. He'd barely let it go as another contraction swept through, and the baby slid out into Dean's hands.
He quickly brought the tiny bundle of squirming, gooey limbs down into the towels, wrapping it up and passing it between Claire's legs, and turned her to sit down with her back against the tub, wrapping another towel around her as she went before lifting the baby to her arms.
"We can't wait too long for the rest to come out, you know. But you got a few minutes."
Claire didn't seem to register his words as she stared at her baby's face, "I thought they were supposed to cry?"
"You're gonna get enough of that later." Dean replied, pulling two plastic clips and a sterile pair of scissors from the kit, and checking whether the cord was still pulsing.
"What if there's too much fluid in the lungs?" Claire asked weakly.
Dean shrugged and took a rubber suction bulb from the kit and used it in one of the baby's nostrils, "Huh... usually that sets them right off. But looking around like that, all alert, I'm not too worried."
Dean set about gently cleaning the baby off, and quickly switched it to yet another towel before realizing something neither of them had checked.
"Hey, did you check if it's a boy or a girl?"
Claire gave him a hazy, tear-streaked and hormone laden look as his jostling had started a sharp cry from the child.
Dean opened up the towel just enough to check and adjust where the cord was sitting, "It's a girl."
"I have a baby girl?" Claire asked quietly as her tears continued to flow.
"Yeah, you do." Dean answered, "She looks just like you, and I'm sure her dad's gonna be here any minute... I'm sorry, but you're not quite done yet. You okay if we get somebody to hold her for a bit?"
Claire nodded, "Dad can... Where the hell is Alfie?"
Dean shook his head and leaned back, calling Cas into the room, then set about clamping the cord with the sterile plastic clips from the kit, "You want to do this part?"
Claire let Dean help her settle the baby onto her lap and get the scissors into her hand. Even after being put through the wringer of childbirth, she managed to cut through the rubbery tube.
"Where's your phone? I wanna get your midwife on to tell me what I'm doing."
Cas hadn't been able to handle the state of the living room for very long, and had carried the tiny bundle out to the front porch to wait in the warm night air.
He'd rocked her carefully to settle her, torn between a beaming joy over his newborn grandchild, and a deep concern over the sound coming from inside the house.
Kevin was leaning against the wall of the house next to him, also getting a good look at the brand new baby when headlights flashed across the yard, and Alfie's car pulled up as close as he could get before getting out and going straight for the door.
As fast as Alfie was moving, Kevin barely had time to swing an arm in front of his shoulders as he reached the door, "Where are you going?"
"Is Claire...? Did I miss it?" Alfie asked quietly as Cas quickly stood up, carefully passing Alfie the bundled up baby before Alfie was aware of what it was.
As realization struck him, he froze, and Cas had to adjust Alfie's arms around the baby.
"This is...? Um-"
"Your princess, yes." Cas replied.
Alfie's face lit up for a brief second before he suddenly tried to pass her back to Cas, "I can't, I just changed a tire, she's gonna get... Where's the midwife's car?"
A heavy thud sounded from inside, followed by some hushed swearing from Dean.
"Is she okay?" Alfie asked quickly as Kevin got the screen door for him, and he hurried inside.
"Well... She's beautiful, but, I gotta get home." Kevin said softly, patting Cas on the shoulder, "Tell them I said congrats, okay?"
Alfie was in a complete daze as he found Claire doing her best to sit up on the floor.
"Do you think you can walk?" Dean asked quietly.
Claire shifted uncomfortably and started to make a weak attempt to stand, but Dean stopped her, adjusting the robe he'd put around her, picking her up and going for the stairs.
Cas had followed Alfie inside, closing the door, "Dean?"
"Yeah? Can you make her something to eat? She's gotta get her strength back. High calorie." Dean called back down.
Cas went straight into the kitchen, and suddenly Alfie found himself alone in the room surrounded by remnants of the chaos of birth, staring down into a tiny face with intensely blue eyes.
"Oh my god..." he whispered, fighting back the urge to cry, "You are just as beautiful as your mom."
Dean came back out of the bedroom to the top of the stairs, "Alfie?"
"I know, it's a big deal, but you need to go put a diaper on her and get her in here, the sooner the baby eats, the better Claire's gonna heal up. So, y'know, handle this first, you got all night to stare at her."
Alfie nodded, and started up the stairs as carefully as he could possibly go. Dean got out of Alfie's way as he went for the smaller bedroom they'd turned into a nursery.
"After she nurses for a while, she's gonna need a bath, just make sure you go easy on the baby soap, mostly water, don't scrub too hard, and keep her head supported, keep her warm... If anything seems even a little bit weird with either one of them, you're gonna call right away."
Alfie nodded, "Yeah. Anything weird."
He could hear Dean speaking to Claire and washing up in the attached bathroom as he went into the nursery, setting his tiny, new daughter on the changing table and carefully unwrapping her just long enough to put a diaper on her, but he found himself distracted by her tiny, perfect fingers and their strong grasp.
Dean came down the stairs quietly, and found Cas about to head up with a plate containing a sandwich and a can of cola in his other hand, "Hang on, caffeine, bad idea."
"I don't think it'll keep her awake." Cas replied.
"Gets in the milk, makes newborns cranky. If she's gonna try it, better some other night." Dean replied, taking the can from him, and ducking back into the kitchen and switching it out for a lemon-lime soda.
"There we go. I'm gonna go ahead and start cleaning this up."
Cas accepted the replacement and headed upstairs. Quietly, listening to Alfie muttering to himself about baby pajamas in one room, he pressed open the door of the other room.
Claire was propped up on a few pillows, her hair still damp with sweat, and her face ashen.
"I can't believe I did that." she said quietly.
Cas brought the plate and soda can to the bedside table, and hugged her gently, "I can. I've known for years that you were a force to be reckoned with. That little girl couldn't ask for a better mother, or an example of a stronger woman. I'm very proud of you."
"I'm never gonna be able to look Dean in the eye again."
"After all the dead strippers you've hid in his trunk, do you really think a little thing like childbirth is going to make things awkward?" Cas asked, letting go and opening her can of soda for her.
Alfie walked in slowly, still a mixture of overly cautious and absolute awe as he carried the baby to Claire.
"And when do we finally find out her name?" Cas asked.
"When we figure it out." Claire answered, "The big secret is, we still have no idea, we couldn't decide on one yet."
"Out of several?"
Claire laughed weakly, "No, like, at all. Completely stuck."
Cas passed her the plate, "I'm sure whatever you both decide on will suit her just fine. She can always change it later."
He looked to Alfie, sitting on the other side of the bed, still in shock.
"I'll go help Dean clean up downstairs." Cas said quietly, "We'll lock up as we're leaving, unless the midwife shows up. Call if you need anything."
The door clicked shut, and Alfie slid closer, curling up around Claire as she started trying to get the baby to latch. He propped a pillow under her arm as he'd seen Margaret do several times with Mike.
"I'm sorry... I never should have left town in the first place." Alfie whispered.
"It's not. This isn't... I let you down, I let her down, this is my fault. If I hadn't gone in the first place, the flat tire wouldn't have mattered at all. Instead, I just failed you both."
"You got here as fast as you could. Now, drop the blame stuff, we have to figure out what we're calling her, or I'm gonna put 'It' on her birth certificate."
Alfie stretched carefully to avoid moving Claire at all or bumping the newborn, and kissed Claire softly, "Did you ever make that list of names you hate?"
"Okay, so, still at square one." Alfie reached past her, taking the plate from the nightstand and wordlessly insisting she eat.
Claire managed a few bites, but soon the baby had fallen asleep, and Alfie had gone to set up the small container in the bathroom sink as the midwife had previously showed him.
He came back to the bed after fetching another diaper and a sleeper from the next room, hesitant to move the tiny sleeping baby.
"Are you going to stand there while the water gets cold?" Claire whispered.
"Well, just, she's been through a lot tonight, I don't know if it's fair to wake her up."
"Okay, well, wake her up or not, but get her off me." Claire replied softly, spurring him into motion.
Alfie was soon at the bathroom sink, quietly apologizing repeatedly, as he was certain the infant was unhappy about the water, and Claire hurried through the rest of her sandwich, mostly out of obligation. She was happy to find that unlike every meal for the last month and a half, her heartburn was gone.
She set the plate down, just as Alfie came back into the room, taking the tiny bundle from his shoulder and laying her, wrapped in a large towel, on the bed.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry... I'll give you back as soon as you're dried off, I promise." Alfie looked up, helplessness all over his face, "I don't think she likes me."
"She liked you just fine before, you'd talk, and she'd get wiggly, and you'd put your hands on her, and she'd settle down. She's probably just cold." Claire replied, trying to get comfortable, and finding it much easier than before, even if she did feel tired enough that the skin could fall from her bones unnoticed.
"I don't remember Mike moving his head this much." Alfie said quietly, finishing his task at clothing the tiny being, and passing her back to her mother.
Claire was still in a bit of a haze, and settled the baby to nurse on the other side, and found it fall easier to lay down, "She needs a name. I'm not sleeping until she gets a name."
"I'm not sure you're not sleeping already, you look beat." Alfie chuckled, "Okay, um, what's your middle name?"
Claire shook her head, "Absolutely not."
"I had a cat named-" Alfie caught the looked in Claire's eyes and stopped himself, "Okay, what if we just think it over in the morning, when you haven't just given birth?"
"We had nine months to figure this-" Claire looked down at the baby, who had stopped suckling and made an odd humming sound, before resuming, "Okay, that was weird..."
"So, generic girls names? Ann, Betsy, Chrissie, Dora-"
Alfie was quiet for a moment, "You want to name her after our song?"
Claire stroked a finger against a missed spot of waxy vernix in the baby's ear, a small smile beginning to spread, "Dean was going crazy because I wouldn't stop humming it... That first trip to Dallas, when we weren't talking. I was losing my mind trying to figure out what song that was."
She touched her daughter's soft cheek before looking up to find Alfie had settled next to her with a small smile of his own, "So, you mean, every time I speak to my little girl, I'm gonna remember that prom, our first dance together, and leaning on you, because you didn't care that I couldn't even stand on my own at that point? And trying to top out the speedometer in that car at the old airport? ...Yeah, okay, I guess I can deal with that."
"It's not gonna be forever," Dean tried to reassure Claire as the shop door closed behind Cas, setting a hand on her shoulder, "He gets, like, ten feet from the door, and she quiets down. I give it a week or two. But it wouldn't kill you to take another month off."
"Nah, it's just killing the shop, and keeping Alfie from getting anything new made. He can't even work when she's taking a nap, he forgets what he's doing and just stares at her." Claire shook her head.
"How's that new cleaning service working out?"
"I hate it." Claire replied, "But I guess it works. Eventually, though, I want things back to normal."
Dean chuckled, "Oh, that'll happen. In about eighteen years. More, if there's any more kids down the line."
"Yeah, well, I got about three hours, so, don't mind me just holing up in the office, see what I can't get done." Claire answered, heading for the hallway.
Dean caught a motion from her back that he was sure had to be a wistful look toward the garage as she slunk back to the desk in the tiny office.
The salon was full of the usual chatter, high toned and happy as they usually were, until, as Kevin was finishing up with a client, the young woman working the front desk came to the back of the room, speaking to him quietly.
"You've got a walk-in."
His mood changed immediately, and he nodded his understanding, a wisp of hot pink hair dropping into his eyes as he moved, only to be pushed back into place with the rest of his dark hair, his half-jovial expression frozen on his face.
He accompanied his client to the front, and spotted her immediately. Her purse had a large worn area near the bottom with a hole large enough to let keys slip out, her jeans were stained, and the blouse she wore was two sizes too large for her. Her eyes were red, and she had a look he'd become far too used to seeing.
He did his best to offer her an encouraging smile as he waved her forward to follow him back to the chair.
"Give me just a moment, and we'll get started." he said, reaching for the broom, quickly collecting the small pieces of leftover hair and pushing them straight into the stationary vacuum nearby.
He soon came back, and gestured to the chair, "Here, have a seat. What are we doing today?"
"Um... I didn't come here for a haircut." she said softly, "This was about something else, my friend said-"
"I know. But trust me, you'll feel so much better about yourself. And it'll give us some time to talk things over. There's no charge."
She seemed to give in an inch at a time, tears welling up in her eyes when she finally sat down.
He turned the chair to face the mirror and covered her with a cape before attempting to untie a ponytail he would hazard a guess had been slept in, possibly two or three times.
It was hard to miss the look of shame on her face, but he did his best to show sympathy without pity.
"I need to cut this elastic, okay? I'll give you a few new ones to take with you, you won't miss it."
She gave a weak nod, and he reached for the scissors. Her eyes went up to the top of the mirror to a picture of a little boy, roughly four or five years old, "Who's that?"
"That's my son, Mike. He's starting kindergarten in a couple of months. His preschool is great, he's already reading a few words... You have any kids?"
Her next words hit him hard, touching a vital memory, "No... Not yet. I'm pregnant, though... And my husband, um..."
"Not a fan of kids?"
"I don't know." she replied, as he worked a tangle out of her hair as gently as possible, "I'm not sure I want to find out. I mean, he could be a good dad, and just, y'know, not good at relationships."
"That's rare. Really, really rare. And it's also not a good reason to stay... So, big question, you're just done with him? I mean, where are you at with this?"
She shrugged, "Well... I can't stay. I mean, I love him, that's why we got married, but the baby... um..."
"The hardest part for the folks on my end of things isn't when a woman comes in for help... It's when they go back. It's watching them ignore every bit of common sense that tells them one day he's gonna hit too hard, throw something too heavy, and she's gonna die. Trust me, I know about that little battle, but you need to think about what's the safest option. If you're not safe, he's not worth risking your life."
She wiped at her eyes as Kevin pulled a box of tissues from a nearby drawer, setting them in easy reach and picking up a spray bottle of water, "I went to my mom's house for a couple days last year, and he called me, he was crying."
"I'm not saying he doesn't have feelings. Men have feelings, but letting anger take control? Or worse, just wanting to keep another adult under their thumb? That's crossing the line. Is he in the area right now?"
"He's at the liquor store down the street."
With a nod, Kevin turned the chair to have her back face the front windows, and pushed her purse out of sight, "Is he going to come looking for you?"
"Not here... He'd never let me in here." she choked down a sob as she reached for a second tissue, "If he finds me in here he's gonna lose it. Probably call me a slut, and, well, he might beat you up... God, I'm so sorry, it's just been really hard."
Kevin shook his head, "Don't ever apologize for trying to get away from somebody who'd hurt you. Maybe you're in a bad spot right now, but you still deserve a good life."