Armie frowned at the plate that had been returned to him untouched.
“What’s wrong, pumpkin? I thought you said you wanted a PJ sandwich for breakfast.”
“I did,” sulked his young daughter, pouting as she wrapped a finger around her blonde curls and ignored his gaze stubbornly. She was not happy and she would make damn well sure that her father knew.
“Why haven’t you eaten it then?” Armie prodded as he took a seat next to her, getting ready to dig into his oatmeal. “Were you waiting for us to eat together? You want to race me? I’m warning you, though, Daddy’s starving-“
“I don’t want it,” interrupted the four year old and if possible, she sulked even harder than before.
Armie put down his spoon and studied his daughter’s serious, little face.
“You don’t want it? What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s not how Da-da usually makes it.”
Armie cocked an eyebrow at that.
“What do you mean it’s not how Da-da usually makes it? It’s a PJ sandwich. It has three ingredients and I’m pretty sure I remembered them all.”
He thought he was being funny, but she was clearly not impressed.
“Da-da always cuts the crust for me,” she informed him, unamused. “Why can’t Da-da make me bweakfast?”
“I told you, pumpkin, Da-da is still in bed. He needs a break. I am perfectly qualified to make your breakfast, though.”
“Can we wake Da-da up? I want him to eat with us.”
“No, baby. He’s tired. And he doesn’t have much of an appetite at the moment.”
“You know how he’s been throwing up in the mornings for the past few weeks? It’s called morning sickness. It means the baby is making him nauseous, so you see, it’s important that we let him rest.”
Those pouty little lips of hers didn’t seem to appreciate the answer.
“The baby is being mean to him,” she decided moodily, continuing to ignore her plate even as Armie pushed it closer towards her.
“It’s not the baby’s fault, sweetheart. Besides, you were once inside his tummy, too. You used to make him feel sick, just like your baby brother is making him feel sick right now.”
“Babies are stupid,” sounded the answer simply. “Why can’t the baby live in someone else’s tummy? I want Da-da to make me breakfast.”
Armie rolled his eyes with exhaustion. Sometimes he forgot what a little monster he and Timmy had created.
“Look, I can cut the crust for you. You won’t be able to tell any difference,” Armie assured her as he got up to fetch a knife from the drawer.
“Da-da doesn’t cut it like that,” complained the little girl when, suddenly, it seemed that Armie had cut off too much of the bread. “It looks wrong.”
“It’s not wrong. This is a perfectly delicious sandwich. Look.” Armie took a bite from it and began to rub his stomach convincingly. “It’s so yummy. Don’t you want to try it?”
“I want Da-da,” replied the blonde, little girl simply. This time, it sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
Armie let out a small sigh. He could deal with her being difficult and acting like a spoiled brat for no good reason, but the crying – the crying he definitely couldn’t ignore.
“Okay,” he uttered gently, moving across the table in order to pick her up in his arms, letting her rest her small head against his broad, muscly shoulder. “We can go upstairs and spend a little time with Da-da, I suppose. Just to check on him. But if he’s asleep, you can’t wake him up. Do you understand? Promise me you’ll be good with him.”
His daughter nodded in agreement as she began to wipe at her small, watery eyes. She had Timmy’s eyes; gorgeous and green, with a hint of hazel surrounding her pupils. She had his thick, dark eyelashes as well, and just like her Da-da, she knew how to stare up at Armie with a face that ever so easily reached that soft spot deep inside him; a spot reserved entirely for Timmy and her, and soon enough, for Baby Brother as well.
Armie carried her up the stairs and opened the bedroom door quietly, popping his head in before letting the little girl run loose. His younger husband was tangled up in the bedsheets, fast asleep, having curled himself into a fetal position. He had been having trouble sleeping recently, not just because of the nausea, but because of the way that his back was already aching and cramping up under the weight of his growing belly. Armie thought that it was much too early for him to be feeling such discomfort; with another three months to go, Timmy’s stomach was only going to grow much heavier. His baby bump wasn’t even that big yet and wouldn’t even have been poking out so obviously if the rest of him hadn’t been so stick-thin. When he had lifted up his shirt a couple of weeks ago to show their baby girl what it looked like when her brother was kicking him from inside, her eyes had widened quietly in disbelief. If it hadn’t been for the small movements under his skin, she would had thought that perhaps Da-da was carrying a basketball in his tummy instead of a baby boy, with the bump being so round and all.
She didn’t like the idea of her unborn brother hurting Da-da in any way. She didn’t like how the baby made him feel ill and sore. How it made him stay in bed all morning when he could have been spending his time with her.
Armie let her down on the foot of the mattress, but before she could crawl over to Timmy, he wrapped a hand around her middle and held her in place.
“Remember what I told you about not waking him up,” whispered the blonde man softly, though he knew that as soon as he was to let her go, she would try to crawl straight into Timmy’s arms and only be satisfied when he had made room for her there.
“Okay, Daddy,” replied the girl eagerly, making very little effort to lower her voice. “I won’t.”
Armie watched the unstirring brunette one last time before releasing the four-year-old tornado that was Mathilde. Timmy’s cheeks were slightly flushed, making him look hot and fevered and yet, his smooth, perfect skin remained pale. Armie took in his pink, slightly parted lips, the curls that nuzzled against his forehead, making him look impossibly young, like he was nothing but a sleeping boy, exhausted by a common cold and not by pregnancy. He got lost in his face, his slender, delicate neck, those lean legs of his that were pressed against his belly as he curled up again, as if actively protecting his bump by sheltering it, wrapping himself around it.
Timmy was the perfect mother hen. Straight from holding Mathilde in his arms for the first time, it had come to him by instinct. He would have laid down his life for their baby girl and he almost had, giving birth to her and losing such vast amounts of blood just to avoid getting a C-section that could have put her at risk, but would have spared his own body a lot of pain. No wonder the toddler was now so attached, so devoted to her Da-da that she couldn’t even get through her breakfast without having him by her side.
“Mathilde, easy,” Armie reprimanded, though to no avail.
The little girl was already climbing across Timmy’s legs, bumping into him as she lost her balance and rested her full weight on him. Though she thought herself agile like a cat, she was clumsy and her footing reckless. She clearly assumed not to have disturbed him at all, but Armie knew that Timmy had been jerked awake by her hand that was pressed against his ribs while she nestled her head underneath his chin, burrowing into him with determination. The brunette’s response was everything that Mathilde had hoped for. He simply wrapped his arm around her and brought her closer to his chest, and without even uttering a sound, he went back to sleep, accepting his daughter’s company despite his fatigue.
‘We have to have a word about how spoiled she’s getting,’ Armie thought to himself, though he couldn’t keep from smiling as he dug out his phone and snapped a quick picture of his family cuddled up in bed before him.
“Da-da?” Whispered Mathilde as she wrapped her hand in Timmy’s darker curls. “Can you make me bweakfast?”
“No, Mathilde,” Armie shushed her as he lowered himself onto the mattress and began to spoon Timmy from behind. “I told you – we are not bothering Da-da. Right now, we’re being quiet. We are only here to rest, do you understand?”
He waited for her to object, but instead, the little rascal seemed to calm down. Finally, she held her tongue and decided to be good as she let her Da-da go back to sleep without as much as kicking him with her impatient, little feet.
“I’m sorry, love. I genuinely thought you were getting better,” sighed Armie who had been brushing back the curls from Timmy’s forehead while he’d clung to the toilet seat and emptied his stomach through multiple rounds of retching. “I wouldn’t have let her in the bed if I’d known-“
“It’s okay,” uttered Timmy as he rinsed his mouth with water and searched for his toothbrush. “You couldn’t have known. And it wasn’t her – she was being perfectly still. I don’t know why my stomach keeps acting up. I just didn’t want her to see…”
“She’s still in bed. She didn’t see any of it.”
“But she must have heard.”
“She’ll be fine. She’s just worried about you, is all.”
“She shouldn’t have to worry about me. I’ll go check up on her.”
“I’m fine, love. I promise.”
And of course, Timmy managed to walk out of the bathroom with a smile on his face, as if he hadn’t just fallen to his knees looking so feeble and pale that Armie had rushed to his side thinking he was going to pass out on him.
“Da-da!” Exclaimed Mathilde as he returned. Rather than showing her concern, she sounded ready to blame him for disappearing on her again. “Are you still sick?”
“No, darling, not anymore. Can’t you see I’m all better?”
The brunette slumped down on the bed next to her and she was quick to place herself in his lap.
“Does that mean you’re going to stop sleeping?”
“I’m wide awake,” responded Timmy whose heart melted as Mathilde wrapped her arms around his neck. She was getting so cuddly, so clingy, and though he and Armie had expected her to grow too old for it, they were both suckers for her affection.
“Can you make me bweakfast, Da-da?”
“I thought Daddy made you breakfast.”
“Yeah, but I want you to do it.”
Armie appeared in the door, having heard every word.
“Da-da has had a rough morning, baby. What do you say we make him breakfast in bed and spoil him for a change? You can bring your sandwich and eat it here if you want to keep him company,” suggested the blonde man who took one look at his husband and realised that he need a moment longer to recover.
Timmy looked over at him and mouthed a silent ‘thank you.’
“Okay,” cheered their young daughter finally. “I will make you bweakfast, Da-da. We will take good care of you while you’re ill. Do you pwomise you’ll get out of bed afterwards?”
Timmy couldn’t contain his laughter.
“I’ll try my best. Merci, ma chérie.”
In the end, Mathilde got tired of helping out in the kitchen, though she did finally eat her sandwich without further complaints. Armie brought the breakfast tray to Timmy’s bedside, poured the orange juice for him and fluffed the pillow supporting his back. Perched on Daddy’s knee, the little girl watched her parents smile and exchange meaningful looks with one another. Daddy began to hold the plate for Da-da and bring the fork to his lips in order to feed him, making sure that he didn’t have to get up which was sometimes a struggle for him now that his belly continued to swell and get in the way. Though she liked to see Da-da so happy, and to see Daddy devoting himself to making him feel better, she decided that she had grown bored of watching them and asked if she could put on the TV.
“I thought you wanted to spend time with us, angel,” remarked Armie teasingly, though when he pressed a kiss to Timmy’s face, their young daughter simply grimaced and turned her back on them.
When Mathilde busied herself watching cartoons, Timmy took the opportunity to nuzzle closer into Armie, who wrapped his arm around him protectively.
“You will not believe how difficult she’s been this morning,” whispered the blonde man, making sure she couldn’t hear him. “For ages, she refused to eat her sandwich just because you didn’t make it. She claims I made it wrong. That I didn’t cut the crust the way she likes it.”
Timmy grinned at him tiredly before resting his head against his shoulder.
“I stopped cutting her crust months ago,” he whispered back, draping Armie’s strong arm around him like a blanket. “She must be trying to manipulate you.”
That night, Timmy tried hard to make up for lost time. He sat down to watch a movie of Mathilde’s choice, with her bouncing happily in his lap, holding his hand as though worried that he would ditch her. He made all the effort in the world to pay close attention and to laugh when she wanted him to laugh, but as the minutes dragged on, he felt himself growing sleepy and unfocused. His back had been killing him all day, and as he leaned back against the cushions whilst pressing a hand to his stomach, he wished for more than anything in the world to be comfortable.
“Can we watch another?” Pleaded his baby girl as the TV screen switched to black and the credits began to roll. “Pwease?”
“It’s getting late, sweetie. We’re getting close to your bed time and you haven’t had your bath yet.”
“But you pwomised.”
“That you would spend time with me.”
“Don’t give me that look,” smirked the brunette, refusing to fall for his daughter’s pouting, “I took you to the playground this afternoon, didn’t I? And we listened to music together in the kitchen when you helped me cook dinner. Remember all the dancing we did? And then we watched Lilo and Stitch.”
“Come on, baby. You need to get in the bathtub. We can bring your rubber ducks if you want. It will be fun.”
Timmy drew the bath and added more than enough of the soapy bubbles upon request. Mathilde was already amusing herself in the water when Armie popped his head in.
“I’m going to help her wash, then I’ll tuck her in,” uttered the brunette whilst trying to stifle his yawning. “Have you seen the yellow rubber ducks? I can’t find them anywhere.”
He was trying to bend over in order to search the bottom cupboards, but his bump didn’t exactly make it easy for him.
“You should go lie down,” Armie interrupted him upon sensing how worn out the younger man was. “I’ll take over from here.”
“But I was just-“
“Baby, you look drained. Seriously, you should have a rest. Let me help you.”
Armie walked up to the brunette and cupped his face as he pulled him in for a soft kiss. Only then did Timmy let out the breath that he’d been holding, too embarrassed to admit how shattered he was feeling.
“Da-da!” Called Mathilde, interrupting them. “Do you want to watch me make a beard out of bubbles?”
“I’ll watch you, honey,” Armie announced quickly as he gestured for Timmy to exit the room so that he could take a break. “Da-da needs to lie down again, but I’ll stay here with you.”
At the way that her smile fell, Timmy’s guts were churning with guilt.
“Have fun with Daddy. I’ll read you a bedtime story when you’re done with your bath,” he promised instead, bowing down to press a kiss to her blonde curls.
He would be fast asleep long before he could keep that promise.
“Da-da doesn’t have time for me anymore. The stupid baby is wuining evewything.”
When Mathilde had found Timmy asleep on the sofa, she had nearly whacked him over the head with her big book of bedtime stories just to wake him up, but thankfully, Armie had stopped her just in time.
“No, Mathilde, you cannot hit Da-da with your book, do you hear me?” For the first time that day, Armie’s tone was harsh and he could see his daughter visibly backing away from him. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but that’s not okay. It is never okay to hit someone. Your Da-da is sleeping because the baby is making him tired. You have to be nice to him. Do you understand?”
The young girl said nothing. Instead she crossed her arms, miffed. She clearly wasn’t going to apologise.
“Mathilde, I’m serious,” Armie scolded her further when she wasn’t responding. “Promise me you’ll never try to hit Da-da or anyone again. You can’t always have things your way. You must be old enough to understand that-“
He stopped when his daughter suddenly ran out on him. He could hear her little feet on the stairs. She had probably decided to go hide in her room like she always did when she couldn’t face the reality of being held accountable for something she’d done, or in this case, almost done.
Armie sighed quietly. Then he scooped his unaware husband into his arms and carried him off the furniture in order to take him to bed. Timmy stirred only once; from the looks of it, nothing in the world could have brought him out of his slumber. He was still as feather-light and skinny as he’d been the day Armie met him. Even with the baby growing in his belly and with the extra pounds that came with that, Armie couldn’t get over how small, how brittle he felt in his arms. Though he realised that there was no way that Mathilde could have physically hurt him, Armie couldn’t help but feeling protective. Their daughter had no idea how badly he had suffered during his first pregnancy and how nervous it was making him and Armie both to realise that, most likely, the second one wasn’t going to be any easier. In the beginning, the doctors had been particularly concerned with Timmy’s weight, with his skinniness. It had been such a struggle for the brunette to change his habits; no matter how diligent he had been with his diet, the morning sickness had stood in the way of his eating. It had taken him weeks before gaining any weight whatsoever, but Timmy had of course been ten times more stubborn than his nausea.
Armie proudly remembered how fierce he had been. It was thanks to Timmy’s strength and endurance that Mathilde had turned out so healthy, so perfect in every single way. And now he was going to perform the miracle all over again by bringing their baby boy into the world, only this time, Armie was going to make it easier for him to take care of himself in the meantime.
“Love you,” whispered the blonde upon lowering his husband onto the bed and covering his slim body with the duvet. “I’ll be in Mathilde’s room if you need anything,” he added, though Timmy couldn’t hear him. He kissed his forehead lovingly and dimmed the lights before closing the door on his way out.
Mathilde had crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to hide her face. When Armie sat down next to her and tried to persuade her to come out so they could talk, he detected her quiet sniffles and realised that she had been crying.
“Mathilde, baby, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”
“You and Da-da alweady like the baby more than you like me,” sounded the reply miserably, which only resulted in the little girl sobbing even harder. “When the baby comes, Da-da will spend all his time with him.”
“Darling, you know that’s not true. Come on. Look at me.”
“I don’t want a baby bwother. Do we have to keep him?”
“Yes, Mathilde, we have to keep him. But guess what? You and your baby brother are going to love each other.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Yes, you are. When your brother is born, you will be so busy playing and having fun with him, you will barely have any time left for Da-da and me.”
“But… I will still be you and Da-da’s favouwite. Wight?”
“Yes. You will still like me the most, won’t you?”
“Darling, we are going to love you and your brother equally.”
“That means the same amount.”
“But that’s not fair. I was here first.”
Armie sensed that things had taken a wrong turn and decided to defuse the situation by steering the conversation in another direction.
“Come here, sweetie. I know you wanted a bedtime story. Do you want to sit on Daddy’s knee?”
Mathilde, still offended, stayed put.
“Okay. Suit yourself,” replied the blue-eyed man smilingly. “Now, have I ever told you about the time when you were still a baby growing inside Da-da’s stomach?”
She shook her head slowly, trying to mask any display of interest.
“Have I not? Well, it’s about time.”
His daughter tilted her head slightly and seemed to study her father’s face quietly.
“Why?” Her tone was slightly challenging.
“Why, you ask? Well, because…” Armie held his breath as he smirked down at her. “Because I have never seen your Da-da more happy, or more excited about anything. When he was pregnant with you, he would walk around the house, petting his stomach while smiling. He couldn’t wait for you to be born, you know.”
“Why?” Repeated Mathilde simply, as if she was trying to test his patience.
“Why? Because he couldn’t wait to meet you. And to hold you in his arms. And to kiss you on the forehead.”
The girl wrinkled her little face, taking his words in.
“How long did Da-da have to wait?”
“You lived inside his stomach for nine months before you were ready to come out,” replied Armie eloquently. “It was such a long wait, it was driving Da-da and me crazy. You see, Da-da was so impatient to see you that every time we came to the doctors, he would ask them to scan his stomach. That way, we could get a small picture of you up on the screen in the doctor’s office.”
She looked utterly perplexed by this.
“Why was I on a scween?”
“That was the only way that we could see a picture of you while you were still inside Da-da’s stomach. The picture was very dark and we couldn’t really see your face, but we could see your legs,” Armie paused to shake her little calf, “and we could see your hand,” he added, after which he demonstrated by grabbing her fingers, “and we could see your feet.”
When he started to tickle her toes, Mathilde giggled and writhed.
“And your Da-da kept asking the doctor hundreds of questions just to make sure that you were doing alright in there. ‘Is she getting enough food? Is she growing steadily? How much weight has she gained?’” Armie imitated Timmy’s voice and once again, Mathilde broke out laughing. “He loved you so much, even before you were born. So did I, of course. But Da-da used to talk to you all the time even though you couldn’t even hear him.”
“But how could he talk to me if I wasn’t there?” Asked the girl, baffled.
“He would go like this,” explained Armie as he placed both hands on his abdomen and looked down at his stomach in order to mimic a pregnant Timmy. “’Hello, baby Mathilde. Are you comfortable in there? You are going to be born in sixty-two days, I hope you’re ready.’”
His daughter cackled as she shook her head.
“But I couldn’t answer him,” she sniggered. “Da-da is so silly.”
“Maybe it’s not as silly as you think,” beamed Armie who was now able to wrap an arm around the young girl’s shoulders without her protesting, “Da-da wanted you to know his voice before you were born. Mine, too. Sometimes Da-da made me sing to you. And then you would kick from inside his stomach just to get me to stop.”
“Because Daddy’s singing is that bad.”
“Did I weally kick Da-da? I would never do that.”
“Of course you did. All babies kick. But you had such powerful legs. And once you started kicking, there was no stopping you. You were like a little football player.”
“Was I bad?”
“No, baby, you weren’t bad,” he chuckled as he reassured her by brushing her hair back softly. “There was nothing you could have possibly done to upset Da-da. Even when you kicked him so hard that it kept him up all night, he swore that you were going to be the sweetest, most well-behaved little girl in the world.”
Mathilde slumped against her father and nestled herself under his arm. She suddenly seemed more satisfied than before. When Armie wrapped the duvet around them both, she made herself comfortable, looked up at him, blinked her green, mischievous eyes with an expression that read, ‘tell me more stories about how much you and Da-da adore me.’
And so, Armie did. He knew that the stories were as heartfelt as they were countless and they all poured from his sentimental heart shortly after – small tales and declarations of love, issued in no particular order.