They stayed a month on the boat, then spent two months bouncing around smaller towns in the Philippines, mostly fishing villages. Marta questioned Aaron about it at the beginning--shouldn't they be headed somewhere far from where they'd been found before?--but Aaron made a convincing case for sticking to the area. After a while, she started to enjoy it, never staying in one place longer than a few days, training whenever they had a few spare minutes. It was never boring, and the danger no longer bothered her as much, not after what they'd already survived.
The main reason she was enjoying herself was Aaron himself. Having him nearby made her happy, whether he was teaching her martial arts techniques or showing her how to drop a tail or helping her wash dishes. It was about more than feeling safe, although that's how it had started, and it was more than her guilt about what had been done to him. What they had done to all of the Outcome subjects.
If she thought too much about her happiness, she knew she'd be dissecting it, maybe coming up with reasonable explanations like Stockholm Syndrome, but thinking about it too much would only lead to questioning things more than she wanted to. Aaron was strong, he was smart, and he was devastatingly attractive. He would die for her; he'd already saved her life multiple times. And he cared about her. She was living in the moment in a way she'd never been able to do before, and she was happy. It was enough.
He'd spent their time on the boat doing what she thought might be courting her, always the perfect gentleman. He was encouraging when she attempted the fighting techniques he taught her, and under his tutelage she genuinely wanted to learn. He asked her questions about her life, her likes and dislikes, and he seemed interested in everything she said. When she asked him about his life, he usually deflected, but sometimes, more often as time went by, he'd tell her bits and pieces about his time in Outcome, and, more rarely, his life before.
The courting continued once they'd left the boat. He'd hold her hand and brush her hair away when the wind blew it into her eyes. He opened doors for her. When he found out she preferred a certain type of fish to another, he'd search it out. When she thanked him, or laughed, or squeezed his hand, he'd look up at her with those amazing eyes and just smile at her, his expression open and sincere.
The first few nights on the boat, he'd slept on the floor by her bed, but that hadn't lasted long. She woke from nightmares, sitting up in the bed, her heart racing, and she'd reached for him. He came to her bed willingly, but Aaron never made a move, just held her and made sure she was safe.
It wasn't that he didn't want her; she could tell from the way he looked at her, the way he touched her, that he did. She thought it might have something to do with the way they'd used him in the program. Even when he was a nameless face and body, Outcome Five, she'd known he'd sometimes been tasked with seducing someone. It was her job to know. She'd done the tests for HIV and sexually transmitted infections at every check-up; she'd seen him naked more than a dozen times before she knew his name. It had been a long time since Aaron had had any choices about anything, and that included who to have sex with. If he wanted to take his time, she had to respect that.
But as the weeks went on, it got harder, waking up with him every morning, going to sleep with him every night, seeing the look in his eyes when she reached for his hand.
She made her move in Tambobong, where they were once again posing as a couple of tourists. They walked on the beach holding hands, and Marta found herself looking at Aaron's arms, his shoulders, the dusting of hair across his chest, and feeling a hunger she didn't want to deny any longer. From the way Aaron was looking at her in her bikini, she was reasonably confident he felt the same.
So that night, after a candlelit dinner in a beach-front restaurant, she asked him, "Is it okay if I kiss you?"
They were lying in bed, in each other's arms; she expected an easy smile and an affirmative response. Instead, he looked worried. "You don't have to," he said quickly. "You know that, right? That I would never expect you to--"
"Do you think that's what's happening?" she interrupted, putting her hand on his cheek. "It's not. Aaron, this isn't about me thanking you."
"Then what is it about?" he asked, searching her face.
"Do you really not know?" she asked him, tracing the shell of his ear with her fingers. "I want to, Aaron, very much. I'm attracted to you, but that's not all," she said, heading off what he was going to say by placing her thumb across his lips. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. They were close enough that she could feel his cock twitch.
"What else?" he asked softly.
"I care about you," she answered, just as softly. "You've been through so much, and I know I didn't know you before, but the core of you hasn't changed, I don't think. You're a good man, Aaron. You're open, you're kind, and I love being with you," she said. "If it were just that I was attracted, maybe this wouldn't be such a great idea, but it's not just that. I don't think it is for you, either."
He nodded slowly. "You're right. I don't know about all of it, but you're right about that. I…God, Marta," he said, and kissed her.
When she'd imagined it (and she'd imagined it a lot), she'd thought he would kiss her gently, would make love to her with the same slow consideration he'd brought to the rest of their relationship. Instead, he was all passion and impatience. She met it with her own, desperate to finally get her hands on him, to feel the heat of his skin, to taste his sweat and hear the sounds he made, to guide him inside her at last. "I love you," he said as he fucked her, deep and perfect. "Fuck, you feel so good; I love you."
"Yes," she gasped, "Love you, Aaron, please," and he turned them over so she was on top, letting her take control, reaching between them to finger her until she came in great crashing waves. He pushed her onto her back again, thrusting fast and hard until he followed her with a guttural moan that he muffled against her neck.
She didn't bring up the condom until later, after they'd cleaned up, but before either of them was ready for sleep. "Aaron," she said tentatively. "We don't need condoms. You know that, right? Or did they never tell you?"
He smiled ruefully. "About the vasectomy?"
"Yeah, they told me. Even if they hadn't, it was pretty obvious when I woke up. They insisted I always use condoms anyway; they didn't want their prize investment getting ruined by HIV, I guess. I'd never gone without, so it was easy to just keep using them."
"You can go without now," she said quietly. "I've seen your bloodwork; I know you're safe. I am too. But I understand if you'd rather--"
"No," he said, touching her face. "I want to. With you."
"I've always been…careful," Marta said, wanting him to understand. "I've never had sex without a condom either. But I'd like to, with you."
He looked at her for a long moment. "It wasn't just something I said," he told her. "I really do love you."
"I know," she said, smiling at him. "I love you, too."
"We could try it now, if you want," he said, his fingers moving from her cheek, down her neck, past her collarbone to the swell of her breast.
"I want," she said, gasping as he bent to tongue her nipple.
They made love slowly this time, with all the tenderness she'd imagined. Aaron groaned when he entered her, and when he came, she was astonished at how quickly it triggered her own orgasm. The aftermath was a little messy, but it was worth the joy in Aaron's face, the joy she felt herself.
They slept deeply that night, with no nightmares, and when they woke, they made love again.
"I could get used to this," Aaron said the next morning, kissing her shoulder when she handed him a cup of coffee.
"Me too," she answered, messing with his hair and grinning.
Everything and nothing changed after that. Marta moved when Aaron told her to move, stayed put when he told her to stay put, and contributed in any way she could. Aaron put her through a different set of drills every day, but now they often ended with the two of them tumbling into bed together. Marta slept better, and when she woke in the mornings and saw Aaron next to her, she felt more than just happy, she felt content.
Working as a scientist had been exciting, each new discovery a high, but she'd never once felt this kind of simple joy. She didn't think Aaron had, either. It was a crazy life they led, but for the two of them, as little as she would have ever believed it, it worked.
They fought sometimes, but that was okay. It was real, not like the careful deference Aaron had once shown her.
Six months after the first time she'd kissed him, they were on a container ship on the way to Buenos Aires. He'd wrangled a job with the crew through his typical magic, but she was a paying customer, one of five on board. She'd been feeling tired and a bit nauseated before they left port, really for a few weeks, but once they'd gotten out into the open water, she started feeling worse. Aaron fussed over her, bringing her crackers and soup and tucking the blankets around her until she waved him away irritably.
"I'm sure it's just sea-sickness," she protested, although she'd never suffered from it on the boat in the Philippines. "Go on, get to work; I'll be fine."
"If you're sure," he said reluctantly, promising to check on her when he got a break.
She continued to feel sick off and on for the next few days. She only vomited twice, but she was tired almost all the time, and nothing tasted right. It was strange; she couldn't find any pattern to it.
Aaron brought her some lunch one day about a week after they'd boarded. She'd been feeling a little better that day, was even hungry after a walk around the deck that morning. "Careful, slow down," Aaron said, laughing as she grabbed the food out of his hand.
He ate his food quickly, standing up; the crew didn't get much of a lunch break. He went into their surprisingly nice bathroom to brush his teeth before he got back to work, and when he came out, he had a strange look on his face.
"What is it?" she asked. "You're not getting sick, too, are you?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. He smiled at her, but it looked strained at the edges. "Just thinking about our options." He kissed her cheek and left again.
She took another walk around the deck that afternoon, avoiding the other passengers. Fortunately, they all seemed solitary types. One of them was working on a novel, another on some research project; she'd barely spoken to the other two.
She and Aaron ate with the other passengers and the officers that night. Aaron had everyone eating out of his hand in the first ten minutes, which was a little longer than it usually took when he put on the charm full-force like that. There was something just a bit off in his demeanor--nothing anyone else would notice, but she wasn't surprised when he immediately went silent as they left the mess.
When they sat down on the sofa in their suite, the expression on his face was the same one he'd had when he'd told her she could never contact her family again. "What is it, Aaron?" she asked, her heart in her throat.
Looking at her steadily, he said, "The last time I remember you having your period was in Istanbul." His voice was gentle, just like it had been that night in the Comfort Inn by the airport.
She nodded, confused. "That sounds right."
He took a breath and reached for her hand. "Marta, that was more than two months ago."
"Two months?" Marta said. It couldn't be. It didn't make any sense.
"Can you think of any reason you might have missed your period?" Aaron asked her. "Have you missed one before?"
She stared at him, her mouth hanging open. " I…no, Aaron," she said. "My periods have always been regular, and…. What are you saying?"
He looked away for a moment, then met her eyes again. "I'm saying there might have been someone at Outcome who wanted to know if the chromosomal changes they were putting us through could be transmitted to the next generation. I'm saying they lied."
She looked down at his hands around hers, so familiar and usually so comforting. "There were tests with rats before we ever went to human subjects," she said reluctantly. "I wasn't directly involved, but I know they bred some of the rats."
"Of course they did," he said, with just a trace of bitterness.
"I should have known better, Aaron. I never should have trusted any of it." She would not cry. She refused to.
"Hey, it's okay," he said. "So, do you think, uh…"
"I…" she said. She had to swallow before she could say it. "Yes, I think I'm…I must be pregnant. I suppose we can't know for sure unless I took a test, but I'm guessing there aren't any of those on board."
"Probably not," he agreed, rubbing her back.
"When," she had to swallow again, damn it, "when are we in port again? Three days?"
"That's right," he said.
She swiped angrily at her eyes, calculating dates in her head. "I don't suppose you know the status of abortion rights in Brazil."
His hand stilled. "No," he said. "Is that what you want?"
"What I want?" she choked out. "Aaron, think about the life we lead and tell me there's any other choice."
"Hey," he said, his hands framing her face. "Hey, Marta, we'll be okay."
She leaned her forehead against his, but she couldn't bring herself to agree with him. Nothing about this was okay.
She thought she wouldn't sleep that night, but once she was in Aaron's arms, she drifted off. Her dreams were full of vague threats that never wholly materialized. She woke when Aaron got up to get ready for work.
"Go back to sleep," he murmured, brushing her hair from her face.
"I'll try," she said, but it was no use. She went down to the mess for breakfast, relieved that she wasn't very nauseated that morning. Then she went to the lounge set aside for passengers and got on one of the computers, hoping the sometimes spotty satellite internet was working that day.
She was in luck on that front--the connection was solid--but her luck ran out after that. Within a few minutes, she knew exactly how much trouble she was in. She searched and read for another hour, printing out a few pages, but she knew nothing she found was at all reliable, especially for someone who was already over ten weeks pregnant.
She was careful not to think about anything she'd learned in her embryology course, but certain facts were inescapable.
"Is everything all right?" one of the passengers asked her. She thought his name was Mike; he was one of the writers.
"I'm fine," she said, relieved she'd already erased her history and exited the browser.
"If you don't mind me saying so, Carolyn, you don't look fine," the guy said, and she was so distracted by everything going on in her head that she nearly didn't register the alias she'd been using for the last three weeks.
"No, really, I'm fine," she said, smiling at him like she hadn't a care in the world. "I'm going to go for a walk; I could use some fresh air. I'll see you later."
"Okay," he said, but he was frowning a little. Shit, she had to pull it together; the last thing they needed was any extra attention from the passengers.
Maintaining the pretense of the walk, she headed towards the deck, but as soon as she was sure no one was watching, she doubled back towards their room. She sat on the sofa and tried to work through all the contingencies. Not for the first time, she wished she could make a list, or lists, on some paper, crossing things out and underlining them and maybe putting them in columns for pros and cons, but Aaron had taught her that it wasn't safe to put anything in writing. So she let the scenarios play out in her head, trying to see her way through.
There were other options that insisted on presenting themselves, no matter how hard she tried to push them away. By lunchtime, it was like trying not to think about zebras; she couldn't think of anything else. She picked up the pages she'd printed and tried to focus on them instead, but whatever had been holding her together finally broke.
There were just a few tears at first, but soon she was crying in great, wrenching sobs, harder than she had in years. Everything that had happened came crashing down on her. She remembered Aaron's voice saying, "You need to put aside any normal emotional response that you have," but that only got her crying harder.
She didn't know how long she'd been crying when suddenly Aaron was there, holding her, saying, "It's all right, baby, it's okay."
The word he used set her off again, but having him there grounded her enough that she gradually regained control. When she finally pulled away to reach for the kleenex to blow her nose, he said, "I'll be right back, okay?"
She nodded, not trusting herself enough to talk yet. He went into the other room; she could hear him call to tell his boss he'd be back late from lunch. He must have gone into the bathroom after that, because when he came back, he handed her a warm washcloth.
"Thanks," she said. The damp heat soothed her burning eyes and helped with the headache she always got when she cried. She took her time cleaning up, knowing Aaron was waiting for her. She needed the extra time before she tried to talk to him.
To her surprise, though, he didn't say a word, just pulled her into his arms again, kissing her temple and carding his fingers through her hair.
"Sorry," she said eventually.
"Nothing to be sorry about," he murmured. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really," she said.
"Okay," he said, kissing her temple again.
They stayed there for a few more minutes before Marta spoke. "Abortion's illegal in Brazil. The only exceptions are rape or the life of the mother. It's the same or worse in most of South America; the only legal options are Guyana or Mexico."
Aaron went still for a moment. "I hope you're not saying illegal abortion is an acceptable alternative," he said carefully.
"I don't know, Aaron," she said, feeling helpless. "I tried to find out about alternative methods--I'm talking herbs, not some quack in a back alley--but they're a crapshoot at best, and the longer we wait, the harder it's going to be."
He was silent for a minute or two, although his fingers were still moving gently through her hair. When he spoke, there was an uncertainty in his voice she'd never heard before.
"Marta," he said, "did you ever think about kids before?"
She had to squeeze her eyes shut and breathe deeply before she could answer. "When I was with Peter, there was this one time when the condom broke. I missed my next period, and we both thought…. We were happy about it. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I miscarried a week later."
"I'm sorry," Aaron said, brushing his thumb over her forehead.
"Yeah," Marta said. "Thanks. Peter wanted to try again, but I was hurting, and it was when we were gearing up to viral everyone off the physical meds. I wanted to wait. Just a month or two, I told him, but he didn't react well. He accused me of caring more about work than I did about our relationship. He gave me an ultimatum. When I wouldn't agree, he left."
She looked up at him. He was watching her with concern, but she thought she saw something else behind it.
"It was for the best--clearly we weren't a good match--but it was rough. After that," she said, putting her hand on his cheek, "I figured that was it. I thought I'd lost my only chance. I told myself I didn't need a relationship, that work was enough, and I even mostly believed it."
He gave her an almost nod. "When they told me I couldn't have kids, I was okay with it; I couldn't see a way that it would work," he said hesitantly. "But now…Marta, if things were different…."
She could feel the tears threatening again. "If things were different, I'd…. Fuck, Aaron, I'd be so happy." Her voice caught on the last word, and she started crying again.
"That's why this is so hard," she made herself say. "You asked me last night if I wanted an abortion, and I nearly screamed at you. What I want is to…to know that we made something together, something could grow and develop into someone we could love and protect. That's what I want."
"God, Marta," Aaron said, and his eyes were wet. "That's what I want, too. You know that, right?"
Marta nodded. "And that's why we have to figure out where I can terminate this pregnancy as soon as I possibly can," she said bluntly, wiping her eyes. "Because if we wait much longer, I don't know if I'll be able to do it."
They were both silent for a few seconds. "All right," Aaron said heavily. "We'll figure something out. Guyana's closer, but Mexico City's big enough that it'd be a lot easier to hide there."
"Okay," Marta agreed.
"We'll get through this," Aaron told her, lifting her chin and looking into her eyes.
Marta nodded. "Okay," she said again.
They ate the lunch Aaron had brought without saying another word. When Aaron went back to work, Marta crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling until she fell into a restless sleep.
After dinner, Aaron looked through their cache of passports, then went to the lounge to do some recon online. When he came back, he looked more thoughtful than sad. Marta asked him about what plans he'd made, but he shook his head. "Still working through our options" was all he would say.
Aaron had a half shift the next morning, but instead of coming to their room after lunch, he went straight to the lounge to do some more research. She thought about joining him, but she wasn't sure she was ready to hear what he was planning. Instead, she decided on a few laps around the deck. She hadn't exercised in a couple of weeks, not since she started feeling sick.
She tried not think about what it might mean that she no longer felt as nauseated, or that her bra and her pants both felt uncomfortably tight.
Aaron came jogging up to meet her on her second loop, his expression carefully controlled. "Hey," was all he said, but there was something that looked an awful lot like hope hiding in his eyes.
They held hands all the way back to their room, walking quickly. Neither one of them said a word until they got inside and sat down on the sofa.
"Marta, I…. Shit," Aaron said. It took Marta a minute to parse his expression: she'd never seen him nervous before.
"Tell me," she said, her hand on his arm.
Aaron took a breath. "You could go somewhere. I was thinking New Zealand, but we can talk about that. You'd have to be careful. It's a risk--and we'd be risking a lot more, I know, so if you aren't comfortable with it, we can stick with plan A. I know how we could get into Mexico." He paused and looked at her, and, yes, that was definitely hope in his eyes.
"Aaron," she said, her pulse racing, "When you say go to New Zealand, what exactly do you mean?"
"I mean we don't go to Mexico or Guyana," he said. "You go to New Zealand, and in seven months or whatever it is, you have the baby." He took another breath. "I'm saying you don't have to have an abortion. You can have the baby."
"I can have the baby, but not you?" she asked, her heart sinking as she realized what he was proposing.
"It'll be safer that way," he said, looking down. "For both of you. That's what's important."
"You're asking me to choose," Marta said, with a touch of bitterness.
He nodded reluctantly. "Marta…. Knowing the two of you were safe, that's the most important thing in the world to me. If you being safe means not seeing you again, it's still better than the alternative."
"What if I disagree?" she asked. "What if raising a child--our child, Aaron--alone isn't worth losing you?"
"Then I'll find a way to get us to Mexico," Aaron said quietly. "It's up to you. Whatever you decide, that's what we'll do."
She thought for a minute or two. "I know what I want," she said, making sure he knew she was serious.
"Okay," he said expectantly.
"I'll go to New Zealand on one condition," she said.
"What is it?" he asked, his shoulders dropping in relief.
"You promise me you'll find a way to come back to me, to us," she said, meeting his eyes. "Whether it's a month or a year or five years, I don't care; I'll wait. We'll wait, for as long as it takes, but you've got to promise me that you'll come back."
"I don't know if I can do that," Aaron said, frowning. "Even if I say I will, you know I can't possibly guarantee it. Anything could happen."
"There are never any guarantees," Marta told him. "Someone somewhere could recognize me as easily as they could recognize you. The baby might end up with the same enhancements you have, and that could attract a lot of attention. The baby or I could get sick. If any of that happened, you know we'd be safer with you than without you."
He frowned, but she could see she'd made an impression. "Aaron, this isn't some abstract discussion. It's a baby, our baby, our child, and he or she deserves to know and love both of its parents."
As she said it, she knew her decision had already been made, no matter what he ended up saying. She couldn't go back to any semblance of detachment; she'd made an irrevocable emotional shift. She was pregnant with their baby, and she already loved it fiercely.
But Aaron didn't have to know that.
"I need to think about this," Aaron said, standing up abruptly. "I'm going for a run."
"Okay," she said. They were scheduled to arrive in Buenos Aires the next day, a fact Marta knew Aaron was just as aware of as she was. Whatever decision Aaron made, he had to make it soon.
After he left, she went into the bathroom to take a shower. She examined her body in the mirror, but there weren't many changes yet, just some added softness in her belly and breasts.
She was already further along than she'd been when she miscarried. She tried to believe that this was really happening, that it would really happen, but despite her earlier epiphany, it didn't feel quite real yet. She put her hand low on her belly, just above her pubic bone, and thought, by the end of September, I'm going to have a baby. Then she shook her head and laughed at herself before getting in the shower.
She was drying her hair, a towel wrapped around the rest of her, when Aaron came back. He didn't say a word, just came up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her neck. She turned to face him, and he took her face in his hands and kissed her passionately. She didn't know what it meant, but at that moment she didn't care--they hadn't made love since she'd started feeling sick, weeks ago now, and, God, she wanted him.
When she lay back in bed, he kissed his way down her belly, pausing with his lips over the same spot she'd had her hand earlier. She ran her fingers through his hair and waited until he looked up at her, worried and loving and once again full of hope. He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. She could see that he could no more give up the dream of this baby than she could. She smiled at him and urged him back up into a kiss.
It wasn't until they were laying in bed, Marta nearly asleep, that he quietly said, "Okay."
She turned her head to kiss him, whispering, "Thank you. I love you."
They'd originally planned on getting off the ship in Buenos Aires, but Aaron suggested they stay a bit longer. It was a good way to both stay off the radar and make some more money while making plans. After a lot of discussion, they decided on the Netherlands rather than New Zealand. Enough people knew English that Marta could get by, and her fluency in German would help her pick up the language. There were no obvious connections that would lead their enemies there. Thanks to Aaron's skills, they were able to find Marta a job teaching English in Rotterdam. She wasn't sure she was qualified, but she needed to work for a Dutch employer to get health care.
All that remained was getting her there safely. Aaron had built her a new identity with one of the last of their blank passports, one they were reasonably certain would hold up; he said it was more secure than the one she'd used to get into the Philippines. He kept many of the details as close as possible to Marta's own, which would be easier for her to remember and maintain long-term. This, unlike the other aliases she'd had, was meant to last. At the very least, it had to last through her pregnancy and the birth of the baby.
She'd be Anna Ritter, whose grandparents had emigrated from Leiden just before the second world war. Anna had always wanted to see where her family had come from, so she'd decided to go to the Netherlands while her husband (whose name was Martin) was on a long-term assignment in the Middle East.
"What kind of assignment are you supposed to be on?" she asked Aaron while they were working through the last details in a small town on the Adriatic. "People will ask."
"You'll say I work for one of the US military contractors," he answered her, not looking up from his laptop. "You don't really know the details, and you're a little afraid to ask. You worry about what kind of danger I might be in."
She sighed. "That'll be easy. I'll worry the whole time you're gone." Surprisingly, one thing that didn't worry her was that he would renege on his promise and simply stay away from her and the baby.
"That makes two of us," Aaron said, looking up at her. "I'll be there as soon as I can; you know that, right?"
"I know," she said, nodding. "What will you be doing while you're gone?"
"It's best you don't know that," Aaron said. "It's safer that way."
"All right," she said reluctantly. "Will you at least be able to write now and then?"
"Once you get settled, set up a post office box and send the address to the drop box," he said. "I'll check that when I get a chance, and send you what I can."
"Can you put that away for a while?" she asked.
"What, this?" he said, closing the laptop with a sly grin. "Why, you got something else in mind?"
"I do," she said, and climbed onto his lap.
They stopped in Paris to buy her the maternity clothes she needed. While Marta was shopping, Aaron left to run an errand. That night, they took the rings he'd bought and put them on each other's fingers. It didn't matter that no one was there to witness it: as far as Marta was concerned, they were married.
A few days later, she took the train to Rotterdam by herself.
Anna Ritter delivered her daughter at 3:36 in the morning on September 2, nearly two weeks before her due date, in her apartment. The birth was both harder and easier than she'd anticipated, but she quickly forgot any pain in the joy of holding the baby in her arms at last.
She appreciated the help the maternity nurse gave her the next day, but she was relieved when the woman left after making her dinner. She wanted to be alone with her daughter, wanted to change her diapers and feed her without the watchful eye of the nurse checking to make sure she was latched on correctly.
By five the next morning, she was feeding the baby again, wishing the rocking chair she'd bought had come with a cushion, and looking forward to the nurse's return. But five was too early, so when she heard the key in the latch, she immediately reached for the gun she'd hidden in the table next to her, keeping careful hold on the baby with her other hand. The baby kept on nursing, oblivious, as whoever it was opened the door and closed it carefully behind them.
Her heart racing, she pointed the gun at the doorway and waited. "It's me," a voice said quietly, and she dropped the gun onto the table so quickly the baby pulled off with a cry of protest. "Marta?" the voice, Aaron's voice, said.
"We're in here," she called out quietly. The baby opened her mouth and latched again without any assistance. "Come meet your daughter."
Aaron was in the room before she'd finished speaking. He sank down onto his knees next to her, reaching a shaking hand towards the baby's head. "Hey there," he said softly. "I didn't think you'd be here yet." He looked up at Marta. "I'm sorry I missed it."
"It's okay," she said, covering his hand with hers. "She was a little early. You didn't miss it by much; she's barely twenty-four hours old."
"She's so tiny," Aaron said, cupping her head in his hand. "She's so beautiful, Marta; you're both so beautiful. What did you name her?"
"Jane Erin Ritter," Marta said. "If that's okay with you," she added. "I haven't finished filling out the paperwork."
"It's perfect," Aaron said. "She's perfect, God."
"She is," Marta agreed. The baby stopped sucking, so she took her off the breast. "She needs to be burped," she said, handing her to Aaron.
"I…okay," Aaron said, taking the cloth Marta'd left on the arm of the rocking chair and putting it over his shoulder. He propped the baby up like he'd done it a thousand times, but he rubbed her back so gently it was never going to do the job.
"Like this," Marta said, reaching over to tap her hand against the baby's back. "She won't break."
"You sure about that?" Aaron asked with a shaky laugh, but he took over, and a few seconds later the baby burped, with a sound that was surprisingly loud considering her size. Aaron continued to hold her, resting his cheek against her head and closing his eyes. "She's so soft," he murmured. "Does she need to eat more?"
"Not for another couple of hours," Marta said, looking at them, taking it all in. The baby would need to eat again soon, and need her diaper changed, and in a few hours the nurse would arrive, but for now they could rest. "Come to bed with us. You can hold her while she sleeps."
"Can I hold both of you, do you think?" Aaron asked. "I've missed you so much, baby."
"I'm sure we can figure something out," Marta said, smiling at him, her eyes wet. So were his.
She fell asleep with her head resting on his shoulder, the baby snuffling softly on his chest.