Archer shuts the front door behind him. He puts his keys down on the side table, hangs his coat on the hook, looks right at Lana, and says, “Hey, baby.”
Lana stares at him, mouth a tight line. It’s like the thing with the goddamn voicemails all over again, and she’s not going to give Archer the satisfaction — for the third time this week, the third time — of playing right into his stupid hands. If he wants to be like this, well, fine. She can out-wait him. She is a strong, patient woman, a mother, no less, and if three weeks of parenthood has done her nothing else, it’s taught her that all things comes in good time. Poop. Sleep. Archer weeping like a child because there’s spit-up on his favorite suit. Coffee.
Lana stares at Archer. Archer stares back. Abbiejean squirms, very slightly, in Lana’s arms. Archer, very slowly, raises one eyebrow.
“Ugh,” Lana says, giving up because whatever, just, fine, she can’t stand here like this forever, she has things to do today. “Hi, Archer.”
As expected, Archer crows and bursts out laughing, shaking his head. “God, Lana,” he says, “I was talking to the baby.”
Some days, Lana really thinks she’d be better off killing him.
“Lana,” Archer says. It’s three in the morning. Abbiejean’s been crying for six days. Lana vaguely remembers that she used to do a job she thought of as challenging and all-consuming, which is hilarious, because it never even once approached the levels of challenging and all-consuming her life has currently reached. Somewhere, outside the walls of this apartment, people are probably doing stuff. Things. Showering and eating meals. Lana thinks it must be nice.
Archer looks like he’s considering jumping out the window, which is another thing Lana thinks must be nice. If she felt like there was an escape route here, she’d take it. As it is, she’s pretty sure that if she jumped out the window, she’d just wake up here, in this room, trying desperately to get Abbiejean to stop screaming. Because this is hell. This has got to be hell.
“Lana,” Archer says again, more insistently. “Lana. Lana. Lana. LANA — “
“What,” Lana snaps, and it’s only the wailing baby in her arms that keeps her from going for his throat. “What is it, Archer, what could you possible have to say right now? What? What?”
“I was just wondering,” Archer says. “I mean, I’ve been wondering, since that night. And I kept meaning to ask, and then it never seemed like a good time.”
“Okay,” Lana says, drawing out the a in the hopes of expressing her extreme wariness about where this is going. “You wanna finish that thought, or am I supposed to guess?”
There is a terrible moment where Archer looks contemplative, and Lana thinks he is going to ask her to guess, and she will thus be forced to put down her crying daughter and beat Archer to death with a hatchet. But the expression on Archer's face fades as he reaches out and takes Abbiejean, cradling her tiny, screaming head in the crook of his arm, and Lana is briefly prepared to forgive him any trespass.
Then, sounding genuinely confused, he says, “Why did you name our baby Eggplant?” Lana rescinds every forgiving thought she’s ever had.
“Those. Are. Aubergines.” Lana grinds out through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, exactly,” Archer says. “Abbiejeans. Did you like, have an eggplant you really liked as a child or something? Did you abandon a promising career as an eggplant farmer? Did you — ooh, ooh, Lana, did you promise a witch you’d give her the baby, so you had to name her Eggplant to like, disguise her?”
“Archer,” Lana says, in what even she can hear as the sing-song voice of the truly beyond help, “please put our daughter down so I can punch you in the face.”
Archer, of course, ignores her. He just shifts Abbiejean in his arms, holding her up so his hands are underneath her little armpits, and bounces her gently up and down.
“Hi Eggie,” he says. “I know you’re really mad and stuff, I get it, I’d be mad too if I had like, no teeth and a mom who wouldn’t let me have any bourbon — “
“Archer,” Lana starts warningly.
“ — but, between you and me,” Archer continues, “I think Lana’s kind of, you know, losing it? A little? So how about you calm down for a little while, okay, Eggplant? As a favor to us. We did, like, provide all your genes and stuff. I mean, you’re not actually an eggplant. So you kind of owe us one.”
The silence that falls is so sudden and incredible that Lana very nearly bursts into tears of gratitude. She doesn’t, of course, but it’s an embarrassingly close thing.
“Our daughter’s name is not Eggplant,” Lana says, just because someone needs to say it. “You’ve got to stop calling her that, it’ll stick and then everyone’ll call her that and then she’ll start school thinking her name is Eggplant and — “
“Go sleep, Lana,” says Archer, still bouncing the baby up and down. “Eggie and I got this.”
And, really, Lana does have years before Eggie — Aubergine — Abbiejean! — starts school. She can afford to wait to have this argument until she feels slightly more alive.
The last thing she hears, as she collapses onto the bed, is Archer saying, “I gotta tell you, baby, I think you’re pretty bad for my tinnitus.”
“No,” Lana says. “No, this is not happening. I refuse to acknowledge this as reality, Archer, you cannot have done this to me!”
“It’s too late, Lana,” Archer says. “It’s already happened. You should be happy! She’s only eight months old! Most babies don’t say their first words until at least eleven months, she’s a genius.” Turning away from Lana, he pokes Abbie in the stomach. “Come on, Eggie. Tell Lana you’re a genius.”
Abbie just giggles. She grabs Archer’s finger and looking up at him adoringly, and Lana despairs to think that she’s passed on her own inexplicable fondness for this asshole to their unsuspecting offspring. Surely it would have been better for Eggie — Abbie! — to inherit Lana’s family’s tendency towards Crohn’s disease, or Archer’s family’s tendency towards… well, actually. Jesus. Never mind.
“Stop calling her Eggie,” Lana says, for the hundredth thousandth pointless time. “And I’m sorry, but we are so not counting those as her first words. I don’t think she even said them. In fact, I’m sure she didn’t. It was probably just wishful thinking on your part.”
Archer rolls his eyes. “Lana. Please.”
“You can’t deny that you want her to have said it,” Lana says.
“You can’t deny that you don’t,” Archer says. “But hey, whatever, we’ll prove it if we gotta prove it.” He turns back to Eggie — Abbie! Abbie! Fuck. “Hey. Eggo. You wanna hear your favorite lullaby?”
Abbie giggles again, and then lets out a high pitched squeal of joy when Archer crouches down in front of her bouncy seat and starts singing. Charmed despite herself, Lana leans against the wall and watches them; Archer might be the most annoying person in the world, but it is pretty adorable, the way the two of them are grinning at each other. Abbie has Archer’s smile and Lana’s eyes — it’s a good combination. It looks right, well-matched, on her tiny little face.
Archer reaches the chorus, and when he sings, “Highwaaaaay to the,” his voice actually warbles a little; whether in excitement or nervousness, Lana can’t tell. Either way, there’s no denying the truth of Abbie’s reply.
“Dane-ja zooone,” says Lana’s first and only child, the fruit of her loins, the apple of her eye. Goddamn everything in the history of time.
Archer falls back on his ass, laughing in delight. “I told you, Lana! I told you! Danger zoooone.”
“Dane-ja zooone,” Abbie repeats happily, bobbing her head, as Archer’s laughter redoubles.
“I hate you so much,” Lana says, but — damn him to hell — she’s smiling.
For a few minutes after it starts, Lana is selfish. It’s probably wrong — no, it’s definitely wrong — but she can’t help thinking of all the times Archer’s been selfish, and with that in mind? It’s hard not to feel like the world owes her this one. It’s hard not to feel like this should be something that’s just hers, a private moment she doesn’t have to share with anybody else.
She watches as Eggie tugs herself up onto her little feet, holding on to the edge of the leather sofa, and tries to take a wobbly step on her own. For the third time, she falls on her butt, and for the third time, Lana sucks in a breath, waiting for the scream. Eggie has a truly impressive set of lungs on her — it’s hard to know, really, if that’s due to Lana’s genetics or Archer’s — and Lana’s long since learned to brace herself before the crying starts. It doesn’t come this time; instead, Eggie furrows her brow, narrows her eyes, and tugs herself back up, just like she did the first two times she fell.
Insane, bullheaded stubbornness is another trait Lana can’t make up her mind on, attribution-wise.
“Aw, shit,” she says, under her breath, and then, louder, “Archer? Can you come in here? Right now?”
There's a pause. Then, from the bathroom, Archer calls back, “Is it important?”
“Because I’m kind of — “
“Archer!” Lana yells, and Eggie laughs so hard she falls down again. Lana grins at her. “Yeah, that’s right, your daddy’s a big pain in the butt, isn’t he?”
“Dane-ja zone!” Eggie agrees happily, pulling herself up again.
“Yeah, yeah, danger zone,” Lana says. “But don’t tell him I said so, okay?”
“Kay,” Eggie says, still giggling, which is when Archer comes skidding into the room.
He’s wearing a t-shirt and boxers, holding a razor in one hand and a gun in the other, and there’s shaving foam on half of his face — he clearly got it into his head that they were under some kind of attack and ran in here half-cocked, as usual. On the one hand, Lana almost feels guilty, but on the other hand, Eggie falls over laughing again, and on a third hand, Archer ran into a room with a baby holding a razor and a gun, so.
“Hey there, poster child for infant safety,” Lana says, rolling her eyes. “Did you wanna maybe bring a lit stick of dynamite too, really round out the morning?”
“What the hell, Lana?!” Archer says.
“Language,” says Lana, one eye on Eggie, who’s pulling herself up once more. “You know she picks up everything you say.”
“What — I — what the heck, Lana,” Archer says, “I was shaving, I thought there was a kidnapper or something, or like, SIDS, or…” He trails off, having apparently noticed Eggie’s positioning, the determined little scowl on her face. “Wait. Holy crap. Is she…?”
“Yup,” says Lana, eyes on her daughter.
Archer swallows audibly, puts the gun and razor on the side table, and crouches down next to where Lana is sitting about a foot away from Eggie. “Has she already… ?”
“Nope,” says Lana. “I told you it was important.”
“Yeah,” Archer breathes, sounding honestly gobsmacked. It’d be more touching if he wasn’t wiping his foamy face on the back of Lana’s pajama shirt, but still, it’s not nothing. “You were right.”
They sit there, watching, coaxing —“You can do it, kiddo,” Lana says, even as Archer tries, “C’mon, Eggo, it’s just a step, you totally got this,” — and then, like magic, it happens. Eggie lets go of the couch, and takes one step — two — three! — and collapses into Lana’s arms with a grunt of triumph.
Lana waits for a moment for Archer to grab the kid and start carrying on, but when he doesn’t, she figures somebody’s got to and does it herself. She stands up and lifts Eggie over her head, yells out, “Woohoohoo!” and blows a raspberry into her belly. “You’re a rockstar, kiddo,” she says, and once Eggie’s done giggling and clapping and squirming and, generally, being the most adorable baby every created by human kind, Lana sets her down to play with her blocks and turns to Archer.
Who is just… still crouching there. On the floor. Staring at Eggie like he’s never seen her before.
“Uh, Archer?” Lana says. She bends down in front of him and waves a hand in front of his face. “You okay in there?” He says nothing, and Lana sighs, annoyed. “Archer. You have not just now come out of a coma that started — “
“She’s like,” Archer says, voice shaky, as he points a little wildly at Eggie. “I mean! She walked! She’s like a little — a tiny — a person!”
“Uh-huh,” Lana says slowly. She’s trying to decide if she needs to get really, really angry here or not. “Did you… not… think of her as a person before?”
“Of course I thought of her as a person before, Lana,” Archer snaps, “who am I, my mother?”
“Just checking,” Lana says, letting the potential anger go. She reaches out — because while motherhood has not exactly changed her personality much, spending a year raising a kid with Archer has left her a little more willing to express affection towards him — and puts a hand on his cheek. “It’s just her first steps, Archer. It’s not like she’s going off to college tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Archer says. He actually — will wonders never cease — sounds a little choked up. “Yeah, it’s just… her first steps!” He coughs, and then, clearly trying to cover himself, adds, “I’m just a little, you know, annoyed. Because I totally, uh. I had something for this.”
“Of course,” Lana says, and whatever, just, whatever, if it comes out a little less sarcastic than she means it to, a little more kind. “Of course you did.”
They sit in silence for a moment, and then Archer says, “Ew, Lana, you’ve got shaving cream in your hair, that is disgusting,” and the moment is broken.
Still, Lana’s got to admit: she’s pretty glad she’s never actually had it in her to kill him.
“Hi! You’ve reached Archer… Lana, this is the part where you say your name.”
“No, come on, not like like that. You sound like you’re getting a tooth pulled or something.”
“I think I’d rather get a tooth pulled, Archer, this isn’t —“
“Ha ha. See, Lana, Eggie gets it! You’ve got to say your name with some enthusiasm. Really sell it, you know?”
“Okay, Archer, first of all, I didn’t want to do this cheesy voicemail thing in the first place, and second of all, why would I need to sell anything on my own answering machine? Not, of course, that it matters, since the most important issue is that it’s your fault that our only child thinks her name is Egg.”
“Very good, Eggie. I can’t believe you’re having an easier time with this than your mom, you’re only 13 months old and she’s like, ancient.”
“Oh you have got to be kidding me.”
“About what? She is only 13 months old, Lana, I think I remember how old my own kid is — oh shit, hey, I didn't — not the eyes, Lana, not the eyes, don’t — !“
“HA! I can’t believe you fell for that! Seriously, how many times is it at this point? Over the years? It’s gotta be at least 20, I mean, it’s really gotten kind of sad. Ha. And awesome. Anyway, you’ve reached Archer, Lana, and—
“Yup. Archer, Lana, and Egg. God help us.”
“Leave it at the beep!”