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Tiniest Feet Make the Biggest Footprints

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Prologue

Nathalie sipped her water, as she sat with the team. She felt so strange, slightly achy, tired, queasy. It must be jet lag. She and Alain would be up to perform soon. It would be the last and she could rest. It was so bittersweet. The last twenty years of her life had been dedicated to skating competitively. And with one last big performance, that chapter of her life was over. It was scary. But she was looking forward to everything she and Alain had planned for the next chapter. They'd agreed to start trying for a baby after this. She'd been preparing for almost a year now. Making sure to take the right vitamins and give her body even better nutrition so that everything would be ready for a baby. She'd finally get to use the teaching degree she'd received for real. Not just filling in for teachers during the off seasons. And Alain would be full time running the rink they bought two and a half years ago.

"Are you okay?" Alain asked, his arm wrapping around her shoulders. He pressed a kiss to her cheek.

"Yeah. I'm just not shaking this jet lag. It's a good thing we're retiring. I'm obviously getting too old for this." She let out a small laugh, before kissing him back.

She watched her rivals skate their program half into it, half focusing on keeping her stomach settled. She slipped out of her jacket, handing it to their coach before she and Alain took their places by the entrance to the rink. The score was announced and plastered on the large screens around the rink stadium. The pair that had just finish was now in first place. Nathalie took a deep breath. She felt Alain squeeze her hand. She turned to look at him and smiled. They exchanged their usual mantra before making their way out to perform.

It was nice doing this with him. She couldn't believe they'd done this together the past nine years and how that friendship had led to their marriage three years ago. She didn't want this to end, but she knew she was ready. It would be even better for her and Alain being able to grow together. She didn't think she would have been able to stomach it if she was like some of the other ice dance and pair teams who were just friends. They'd go back to their lives and lose touch with someone they'd gotten so close to.

They finished the program, holding hands as they raised their hands in the air to wave. They had nailed this performance. Her stomach lurched suddenly. She could feel the bile coming up. She pulled away from Alain and rushed off the ice, barely making it to the trash can before heaving every bit of her lunch. She thanked her teammate who offered her a napkin and water. She joined Alain in the kiss and cry as they waited their scores. Her heart leapt for joy, tears springing to her eyes. They'd made their final gold.

She brushed off the incident. She just wanted to enjoy her last medal. Her last moment of glory. But she just felt so...off. She brushed the tears from her eyes as she waited for the ceremony. Nathalie could go back to the hotel and sleep after this. Part of her wanted to skip the ceremony, but this was the last time and she was damned if she was going to miss it. There'd be a small press conference and she and Alain would drift into retirement slowly losing their recognition, but also going down with the best in history.

Alain held her, letting her rest her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes. So many emotions were racing through her. She wanted it all to stop. She wanted to feel at peace with everything. She'd lived her dream more than once. She should be happy. So few people get to do that even once. So why was she so sad? They had planned this six months ago and she had felt so ready. She was about to be twenty-nine. She knew they were at their peak.

Finally the ceremony commenced and she climbed the podium with Alain at her side for the last time. All the years were finally coming to a close. She blinked back tears as the smile hurt her cheeks. They were given their medals. Flashes temporarily blinding them. The time had come.

The press conference was nothing special. She cried far more than she should have. It was so embarrassing, but she couldn't help it no matter how hard she fought. She and Alain thanked their families, friends, Canada, and all their fans worldwide for supporting them for so long. Their careers had come to a close and it was a bittersweet moment. Nathalie hugged Alain, a smile on her face as they finished. It was time to go home.

 

One month later

Nathalie tapped her foot as she waited to be called into the office. It had been a month since she had started feeling so strangely. It was more than a virus. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was called into back by the medical assistant who took her vitals and symptoms and had her give a urine sample to test for pregnancy and UTIs. She was led to an exam room and told the doctor would be in shortly. She held her face in her hands and read over a poster talking about some new medication for asthma. She straightened up as the doctor walked in, a smile on her face.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Leroy!" She greeted, shaking her hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Um, not so great to be honest. I'm so queasy these days. And tired. And I'm really worried about how much I have to urinate lately. It's like a UTI, only it doesn't hurt," She frowned.

"Well you're not sick." The doctor grinned. "Your little family is about to grow."

"You mean..." Nathalie couldn't keep the smile off her face. Tears filled her eyes as her hands covered her face. She couldn't believe it. She couldn't wait to tell Alain and her family and his family and all their friends. They needed to talk about names more. They'd been discussing names casually for the past six months, but now they needed to get serious.

"Yes, ma'am. You're pregnant! Now for dates, when was your last period?" Her doctor looked at her with an expecting gaze.

"Um...wow...I don't know. When I'm training, I would just get a little spotting and during the season almost nothing because of the nerves and stress. It's been like that since I was seventeen." Nathalie chewed her lip.

"Okay, well no worries. We can look at an ultrasound for dating. I'm going to send you to our ob-gyn clinic next door for a stat ultrasound. Dates are very important in calculating due dates and the testing schecule. Do you have the time?"

Nathalie nodded, thanking the doctor. She walked over to the clinic and was taken back fairly quickly. She couldn't wait to go home. She laid back lifting her dress and pushing down her stocking and underwear for the technician. The gel was cold, she couldn't help but shiver. The wand was uncomfortable on her pelvis. More tears when she heard the heartbeat. It was so fast, so strong. She stared at the screen, not sure what she was looking at. It was all so fuzzy.

"It looks like you're about twelve weeks." The woman smiled. "You'll make your prenatal appointments with the front desk. I'll print you some shots from this, okay?"

Nathalie nodded, her heart leaping for joy. She wiped away the gel, fixed her clothing and made her way up to the front. She was told her first prenatal appointment would be in two weeks. The woman gave her a packet with information she needed to know and was on her way. She pulled out her phone the second she got in the car and dialed Alain's number. He didn't pick up. She frowned, frustrated. She wanted to know if he was at home or think rink so she could tell him as soon as possible.

She decided to check the rink first. He'd been spending a lot of time there since they'd gotten back. They both had really. Still having fun with the thing they'd spent the majority of their lives doing. He also had started teaching small kids how to skate. Nothing fancy, just general skating. The trickiest part was balance.

She pulled into the parking lot and almost ran through the doors. She waved to the university student who they'd hired to work the desk and asked him if Alain was there. He nodded directing her to the rink. She walked in to find him doing jumps. They hadn't been allowed to jump in competition since they started dancing, but Alain had loved them and would always practice them when he could. She watched him for a moment before calling to him. He waved to her and glided to the side to meet her. She smiled and rushed over to him.

"How was your doctor's appointment?" He asked pulling blade guards on and stepping off. She rocked back on her heels not wanting to tell him until he was out of his skates. She waited impatiently before sitting on the bench.

"What do you think of the name Émilie for a girl?" She asked, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"I think it's a very beautiful..." He stopped as he registered the question. His mouth hung open for a minute, eyes wide. "No way! You're pregnant!?!?" He grinned grabbing her and kissing her, his hands on her hips as he pulled her closer.

"Yes! They did a sonogram for dating. I'm about twelve weeks. Look."

She pulled out the sonogram and handed it to him, pointing out the head and body that the technician had pointed out to her. She beamed as she watched Alain, cover his mouth and tears pool in his eyes as he laid eyes on their child for the first time. He met Nathalie's eyes.

"I love you so much," he breathed before hugging her again.

They sat there, hugging and kissing and crying, taking turns looking at the picture of their baby. By the time they decided to go, they were both cold. They hadn't noticed it in their excitement. Alain couldn't stop hugging her and stealing kisses as they walked to the car. She hadn't ever felt this close to him. They drove home, hand in hand. Nathalie, curled up next to him, a smile plastered on her face. She couldn't wait for the baby to come.

….

Their apartment a small one bedroom with minimal furniture. A small love seat against one wall, the television opposite with a small fire place on the perpendicular wall. A small kitchen with two chairs not far off in the dining area near the kitchen. Nathalie had never really taken the time to look at their home, but this evening, she couldn’t help it. They’d wanted something small and minimalist near their home rink and good schools so Nathalie could teach during the off season. The two had decided they really didn’t need much since they would be gone for half the year or more. It was very minimalist in nature. Neither of them bothered too much with things being fancy.

Alain was in the kitchen preparing a nice meal while Nathalie sat on the couch, her eyes scanning over every inch of the place. She had never noticed the cracks in the ceiling or the wall. There was a draft from the window near the love seat. She frowned. This was really no place to for a baby. She got up, making her way to the bathroom. She flicked the light on and glanced around. The tub was stained from wear. Every time they cleaned this place, it didn’t ever look like it. There was just too much staining. She sighed, flipping off the light and making her way towards the bedroom.

The bed took up more than half the room leaving very little room for the chest of drawers they had near the closet. There was no place for a crib or any extra room at all for toys or baby clothes. She sat on the bed and frowned. It had never bothered her before. Sure they could have afforded something better, but neither of them cared to spend so much for a place they’d rarely be in. They opted to save for later, for the future, for children.

Nathalie walked out of the room and toward the kitchen. She watched Alain for a moment. There wasn’t even room for the both of them to be in there. It was one of those aisle kitchens that you could barely move around in. Would she even be able to fit in there once she was swollen with child and close to her due date. She leaned against the wall.

“We need to find a house.”
It was a statement rather than a suggestion. Alain looked at her, a bit taken aback. It wasn’t like they hadn’t talked about buying a house in the future, but she knew neither had expected so soon. Her eyes were glued to the skillet of stir fried vegetables he was cooking. It smelled so good.

“When do you want to start looking?” Alain asked her.

“Soon. The sooner the better. You know how hard it is to find a house. I want it to be perfect. We don’t have space for a baby here. And there are cracks and stains and drafts and I’m not ruling out mold. This isn’t a place for a baby. I want it to be perfect, Alain.” Natalie frowned.

“We can start looking tomorrow, okay?” Alain flashed a smile.

“How many kids do you want?” Nathalie crossed her arms and straightened. “We both talked about wanting a big family and I think if we’re going to start investing in a house we need to at least the size right. Houses are expensive and shopping for one is stressful. I would kind of like to only do it once.” She offered a smile.

“How many do you want?” He asked.

Nathalie thought for a minute. She had grown up with an older brother and sister and she’d always wanted more siblings. Alain had an older brother. If they spaced them appropriately, they could manage just fine without having more than one toddler at a time.

“Four or five.” She smiled.

“I like five.” Alain grinned back. “Five sounds nice.”

“What do you want the first one to be?” She asked, rubbing her pelvis. She still couldn’t believe she was already three months and hadn’t even known. “I kind of want a boy first.”

“I don’t mind. I just want them to be healthy.”

Nathalie rolled her eyes and sighed. “You know that should go without saying, but it’s okay to have a preference. Come on, Alain, what do you want?” She watched him think for a minute.

“I would also kind of like a boy first. I would love a daughter, but I don’t know the first thing about daughters. I didn’t have any sisters and being a dad sounds hard enough without having to navigate uncharted territory.” He pulled her toward him, kissing her temple. “But I would love a daughter.”

Nathalie smiled, resting her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and imagined the little person growing in her. It felt so wonderful. She felt tears in her eyes. She was so happy. She hated crying, but she didn’t care anymore. Let the hormones and cravings rage. Experience it all. She couldn’t wait. She wanted to hold her baby already. What would they look like? More like her or more like Alain? Or maybe a mixture of the two? What would they be like? Would they like skating too? Or would they like art? Music? Would they be the baby you hear about that cries a lot or would they be that rare baby who slept through the night early?

Alain mentioned the food was ready. She pulled away and grabbed dishes from the pantry and started to set the table. They’d need another table before long. A bigger one for their family. Family. The word made her grin ear to ear. She wanted to have all kinds of family traditions for the holidays. She hadn’t had those growing up after she’d begged her parents to let her skating. She had watched the Winter Olympics with her family and fallen in love with the beauty of it all. She had begged them and they agreed to give her lessons. She knew they weren’t cheap, but they never complained. She’d made them so proud. And while she had loved that life and never would change anything, she wanted to have a close knit family with those traditions now.

She sat down as Alain served the food. She wanted to call her mother and father up now and tell them she was expecting, but that didn’t feel right. She wanted to surprise them. Maybe they could do something cute? Her sister was also expecting and very early on as well. She was only ten weeks if memory served correctly. Oh that would be so fun! She and her sister would get to have their first baby together. She hoped they would be close cousins. What about Alain’s family? There were already two grandchildren on that side. Was it the same for parents of sons? She wasn’t sure but she knew she wanted to tell everyone.

“Have you told your family yet?” Alain asked.

“No. Just you. I kind of want to do a little get together? Maybe my parents wouldn’t mind hosting? And we could have everyone over and announce it? I think that would be perfect. If only we had a house…then we could be the ones hosting.” Nathalie sighed. “I want this to be a big deal.”

Alain nodded as he chewed his food. She watched him carefully. God, she loved him so much. She was so happy to be starting this family with him. To be with him. She’d loved him for so long she couldn’t imagine life without him and now…there was a baby on the way.

Chapter Text

The realtor’s office was in a cozy office building that resembled a house itself on the inside. There were pictures of what Nathalie could only assume were the agents’ families hanging on the walls. The air smelled of apple cinnamon candles. There was even what looked like a self-serve kitchen. All the agents looked like they lived in the suburbs themselves. The men had on slacks and button down shirts. All the women were wearing cute dresses. It was all everything she’d expected.

They were introduced to a woman by the name of Alice. She had soft blonde hair, thrown up in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. The large grin of pearly white teeth contrasting against the bright red lipstick hadn’t left her face since the introduction. Nathalie admired the jeweled necklace that rested just above the collar of her green dress. She had never been a particularly girly person herself, but looking at the way this woman’s outfit went together so well, she was starting to think about going shopping for cuter clothes.

They were offered a beverage. Nathalie took a water, while Alain took a coffee. They sat at her desk while she went over the basics of home buying. Asked them the type of house they were interested in, what part of the city, whether they planned on children. She’d congratulated Nathalie heavily over the pregnancy. Nathalie couldn’t help but smile and lean against Alain. She wanted nothing more than to be close to him as they took the first steps to being homeowners. He put his arm around her as the woman talked about all their options.

“I have a beautiful two story, modern, five bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms. A fire place. Full kitchen complete with two ovens and an island counter. It’s in a nice neighborhood that’s about a ten minute walk if you’re wanted to take the metro and there’s the ease of public transportation with the comfort of a nice neighborhood.” She grinned at them, looking between the two.

“It’s worth a try?” Alain said, glancing at Nathalie who nodded.

“Does it have a backyard? I want our children to be able to play outside.” Nathalie asked.

“It does! And there are parks and trails nearby too!” Alice’s smile somehow got even wider. Nathalie didn’t see how that was possible.

They followed Alice to the car and she drove them to the property. The front yard had a large tree in between two of the houses providing a sweet homey feel. The home had tan brick and siding. Two columns from the patio to the roof of the second floor. The garage was large enough for two cars. Alice led them through the front door into the entry way that led straight up a set of stairs. A simple chandelier was above them lighting the entry. There was a coat closet immediately to their left and as they walked further in, they were in the spacious living room. A large fireplace took up much of one wall. There was a small low wall made into a bar that separated the kitchen from the living room.

It really was a full kitchen. Nathalie admired the beautiful dark counter tops and cherry wood cabinets. There was a sealed stove and two stacked ovens along one wall. There was a refrigerator promised to be included with the house. Double door, full freezer. It was wonderful. The dining room was large enough for them to host the entire family. Nathalie hugged Alain’s as she tried to imagine themselves here.

The downstairs half bath was just outside the kitchen, in a perfect place for guests. There was a closet near it as well and then a small hallway to a small office. She imagined Alain using it for their financing for the ice rink and she could use to grade papers. They could have two desks in here and work together. It would be perfect.

They were led up the stairs to the master bedroom first. It was large with three windows. The walls were a cool green with white trim and carpet. It connected to the master bathroom. It had a his and hers sink that Nathalie absolutely loved. They’d no longer have to share the sink to brush their teeth. The shower was a nice walk in with a removable shower head. That would come in handy as she got further along. She had been a bit wary on how she’d step into a high bathtub when she was nine months pregnant.

The other rooms they were shown weren’t as large, but Nathalie couldn’t help but paint a picture of each one in her head. If they did have the number of kids they wanted, two would have to share a room. Or they could have most of them share a room and have a place for guests. She liked that idea. She’d had her own room growing up, but sharing would have been fun. It would have definitely prepared her for having a roommate later on. It would teach a lot of good behavior.

They finished up the tour in the backyard. It was big enough to put in a swing set. Everything was so perfect. She didn’t really have many concerns about the place. She listened quietly, a smile glued to her face as she looked up at the house imagining it being theirs.

“What do you think, Nathalie?” Alain asked breaking her from her day dream.

“I love it.” She smiled.

“Do you want to look at other houses before we decide?” Alain frowned. “I mean it has what we want, but we could find something better. It’d be a good idea to look at schools too, don’t you think?”

Nathalie sighed softly as she thought it over. If they could just buy this one, they could move in and announce the pregnancy at a housewarming party. It would be so nice. She would start showing soon. She couldn’t wait. She also was dying to tell everyone. They’d all been asking her about her mysterious illness. Her mother was probably worried sick. She was so eager. Why couldn’t they just buy it today? She leaned against him, hugging him around his waist and kissed him gently.

“Can’t we just buy it now? I want to announce the pregnancy and start having everything ready for the baby.” She wanted to decorate and put together a crib and paint the walls and get stuffed animals and clothes and diapers and be ready. Alain frowned chewing his lip as he looked from Nathalie to Alice.

“Do you really like it that much?” He asked, wrapping his arms around her too.

“I can see our family here.” Alain took a deep breath, looking at the house once more. “Do you not like it?”

“I feel like the layout is strange.” He said. “But if you like it…”

“We’re both going to live here, Alain. You need to like it too.” Nathalie pulled away offering him one more smile before she walked back toward the house.

……..

Nathalie stood in their bathroom in her underwear standing to the side trying to see if she had a bump yet. She was going on her thirteenth week. She wanted to see just a small bump. Just something. Anything. She wanted to feel the baby move. What would it feel like? Her sister told her it was like a little tickle, kind of like gas, but different. Her mother said it was like actual butterflies were fluttering in you. She wanted to know how it would feel to her.

Alain appeared in the door of the bathroom, leaning against the frame as he watched her, a smile plastered on his face as he watched her. She smiled at him and started to pull a shirt on.

“What are you doing?” He asked softly.

“I’m trying to see if I have a bump yet. I’m so excited.” She smiled up at him. “I was bloated for the two months. I didn’t think much of it, but now I’d even love to see the bloating. I just want to see our little baby.” She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“What did you find?” He asked, pulling her hips towards him as he started to kiss her neck.

“Nothing yet,” she sighed.

“Maybe I could check?” He grinned, running his hands up her sides. He kissed her, pulling her closer.

“Alain…” she laughed, pulling away.

“What?” He asked continuing to kiss down her neck and chest.

“Can we just talk? I’m not really in the mood…”

“Oh…” He nodded. “Yeah, we can just talk. What do you want to talk about?”

Nathalie bit her lip. Where to start? The baby? The house? What she wanted? Her fears? Her concerns? Her excitement? She hugged him quietly as she thought it over. She pulled away, kissed him, before walking back to their bed. She sat down and patted the spot next to her.

“I still like that first house.” She looked at him, taking his hand. “We looked at five and I like that first one. I can see us living there. Think about what it’d be like to bring our baby home for the first time? Seeing the house? I want to have it all ready for them when they come home.” She smiled.

“Do you really love that house that much?” Alain asked with a smile.

“I do. It’s got everything.” She sighed. “Imagine us making cookies with the kids on Christmas. My mom used to bake cookies with us for Christmas. We’d get to help with cutting them out with cookie cutters and we’d get to help ice them. It was so fun. Maybe we could have the first Christmas here? I’m due middle of October. The baby would be a couple months old and it would be so nice for everyone to be able to come see them.”

Alain smiled, wrapping his arm around her. He was quiet for a moment before kissing her gently. “I’ll call the realtor.”

“What?” Her eyes practically popped out of their sockets.

“I’ll call Alice right now and tell her the Leroys are buying a house! We’ll put in the offer and see if we get approved.”

Nathalie watched him dial the number. He talked to Alice about their offer. They’d try to get the owners to lower their asking price. It felt so surreal. They were going to buy a house. They were going to be parents. Everything was falling into place. It all felt so surreal. She didn’t know what she wanted to do for work. Should she apply for the following school year? She’d be out almost right away on maternity leave. Perhaps she should just wait until the following year? That seemed to be the most fair to the students. She wished Alain would hurry the conversations so they could talk about these things. There was so much to talk about.

Alain hung up the phone, placing it on the receiver and smiling at her. “We’ll hear back in twenty-four hours to see if they’ll accept if not…” Alain sighed. “This is…we’re so grown up.” He laughed.

“I know. This is what they mean, huh? What they mean about feeling like an adult.” She let out a soft laugh.

“Yeah,” he breathed.

“Alain?”

“Yeah?”

Nathalie turned to him, a frown on her face. “Do you think it would be okay if I waited until next school year to start work? I would have the baby right after school starts and be out. I couldn’t do that to the kids. I could substitute if we needed the money like I’ve been doing.”

“We’re fine.” Alain assured her. “We saved most of what we made skating and even after buying the rink, we still have a good amount left. And business is great! I’ve been coaching a few kids and have classes. Don’t worry about it. We’re in a perfect place.”

Nathalie nodded, taking a deep breath. It was such a big step. They had looked it over a thousand times after deciding to start a family. They’d been fortunate to win so many competitions over the years and earning all those sponsorships. They’d made much more than most skaters make. Their families thought they must be set for life and both of them had thought so too until it stopped. The rink was a painful check to write. They planned to pay the amount of the house in full too. It was scary seeing all that money suddenly leave their savings. But Alain was right, they were bringing in quite a bit of money from the rink. She just really wanted to teach, to help kids.

Alain had her lay on her stomach while he massaged her shoulders and they talked. She told him how much she was looking forward to getting a bump and feeling the baby move. She was nervous about what was going to happen. There were so many changes her body was going to go through and she was both excited and nervous, even scared to experience them. She worried if Alain would be attracted to her after everything. Despite him saying he could never not be, she wasn’t sure she believed him.

“I love you, Nathalie. Not your body. I mean I love your body too, but there’s so much more to why I love you. You’re beautiful to me because of who you are.” He assured her.

Nathalie sighed. She knew he loved her. She did. But she still worried. They’d made the promise to grow old together. They were going to change and grow together. She pictured them sitting together, elderly and grey, still in love as much as they were now. Maybe more. She fell in love with him more every day. But there was a difference between love and attraction. She wanted to be attractive to him. Forever.

They discussed what they wanted to do with the house. They needed new furniture. Their home needed to look perfect. They were going to go shopping for baby items soon. She couldn’t wait to find out if it was a boy or girl. Did they want to know? Part of her did, but part of her wanted the surprise. It would give the birth that something extra that would make it all the more worth it. She smiled, closing her eyes as Alain worked away her tension. He was good with whatever she wanted. But that really wasn’t helpful? She was so indecisive on this. They had a few weeks to decide. Alain was right. She was thinking on overdrive because she’d just found out. She needed to take a breath, to breathe. But how could she?

“You know what’s scary?” She whispered.

“Hm?”

“More than how scared I feel when I think about actually giving birth, is how scared I feel when I think about how this little person is going to depend on us for everything. If we mess up, it’s going to affect them. That’s so scary, Alain. We’re going to be responsible for a little life!” She let out a shuddering breath. “I mean…I want to be a mother so badly and I’m so excited, don’t get me wrong, but I’m scared to mess up.”

“I am too,” Alain kissed the top of her head. “But I think everyone is. That’s how you know you’re having a baby. But you know what makes me feel better? The fact that you will be our children’s mother. I can’t think of a better woman.”

“I can’t think of a better man.” Nathalie giggled, turning herself to kiss him.

The more they talked, the less anxious Nathalie felt, the closer to Alain she was. They talked about their ideas for parenting tips, both agreeing they should read up more. But they wanted to be the supportive types. Their families had shown them nothing but love and support in reaching their dreams. They wanted that to carry on. No matter what their children liked or wanted to do, they’d support them. They didn’t want to be the kind of parents who yelled at their kids. They agreed that talking to them calmly and treating them in a mature way was the best. And they discussed names.

“What do you think about naming our first son after your grandfather?” Alain asked. “He is always so kind to us. Our number one supporter. I love him.”

“I do too!” Nathalie frowned. “I wish he lived closer. I miss him every day. He really did stand up for me growing up. You know my parents weren’t too fond of the bill that came with skating, but grand-papa insisted. He really was the best. I love him so much. I miss him. I want him to come back to Montreal.”

“Yeah…” Alain breathed. “He’s the best man I’ve ever known. So much love. I really do love him. He was the first one to accept me into the family, remember?”

Nathalie let out a laugh at the memory. “Oh my goodness, yes! He took one look at you and was like, ‘Marry him, Nathalie.’ We weren’t even dating!”

“He kept asking me when I was going to pop the question,” Alain laughed.

“God…I love him.” Nathalie breathed. “Jean-Jacques Leroy.” She smiled. “It is a little old fashioned though.”

“We can call him JJ for short. Kind of make it a little more modern. It’s a nice strong name I think. Distinguished.” Alain noted.

“Yeah. And it’ll be a reminder to us when grand-papa isn’t around anymore.” Nathalie smiled. “So it’s settled. Jean-Jacques will be our son’s name. Genevieve Lauren for a girl.”

Nathalie closed her eyes tight and imagined her baby. It was everything she imagined what it would be like. They’d keep it a secret that they were going to name their first son after her grandfather until he came to meet the baby boy. She imagined how it would feel to see her grandfather react. She loved him so much. She wanted to honor him. To show him how much she loved him, how much she appreciated him. Her and Alain both.

Alain kissed Nathalie. They were laying next to each other now. The massage finished. Nathalie was relaxed and happy. Alain ran his hands up her side. This time, she didn’t stop him and eagerly kissed him back. She wanted be closer to him.

Chapter Text

Nathalie wiped the sweat from her forehead as she sipped some water, watching as Alain and the movers rearranged the last of their furniture. They’d spent the last few days getting moved in. It was hard work. She was so surprised how quickly everything had gone from the time Alain had made the phone call with their offer and the approval from the bank. They’d done a walk through and signed everything over with the keys in a matter of a few days. It had been two weeks since they’d decided on the house and now they were finishing up moving. She couldn’t wait for this evening when everyone was coming over for the housewarming party she and Alain were throwing as a cover for their announcement. She’d been baking and cooking since that morning.

Everything was so perfect. They’d found the perfect house. They’d bought the perfect furniture. Their family was going to be perfect. She couldn’t wait for their family and friends to arrive. They’d invited quite a few of their fellow Canadian skaters they’d grown close to over the years who had all promised to be there. A couple of the American skaters had managed to make the trip last minute, other than that their other friends hadn’t gotten enough time to make it. She and Alain would call them each to give them the news after they told everyone in person. Her heart was bursting from how happy she was.

Alain paid the movers, thanking them for the help and sending them off with some water and cookies that Nathalie had put together. Nathalie rubbed her belly absently. She’d finally started getting a bump and she couldn’t get enough of it. She was almost to the point she’d be able to feel the child move. They could find out the sex of the baby starting next week. She was so excited. She leaned against the wall waiting until she was alone with her husband again. She wanted to talk to him a bit before everyone started to show up.

She felt a small flutter in her lower abdomen. Nathalie held her breath, waiting. Was it the baby or was it gas? She felt it again, this time feeling a sharp urge to pee. Then again. She blinked back the tears as she stared down, her hand resting on the small bump. Her baby was moving! She could feel them! Her heart raced. She gasped again, rushing to the bathroom to relieve herself. She stared at herself in the mirror. You still couldn’t see the bump unless she was wearing something more form fitting. It was perfect. She could wear something underneath a sweatshirt or something and then after the reveal, she could take it off and finally show off the tiny bump. She hoped everyone would notice. She had always had a very flat belly from her athletic lifestyle, so she hoped that would make the curve just that much more noticeable.

Alain was in the kitchen, humming to himself as he cut the vegetables for the salad. Nathalie walked in, wrapping her arms around his waist. Her husband stopped what he was doing and hugged her back. She closed her eyes, resting her head against him. She just wanted to live in the moment, the feel this connection just for a few more minutes. She pulled away, her eyes staring into his.

“I felt the baby move,” she announced proudly.

“What!?” Alain’s eyes widened in shock, his mouth hanging open. She nodded, covering her face. “That’s…That’s incredible!” He smiled, placing his hands on her belly. “I can’t wait to feel them too.”

“I know. It’ll be great to share that with you.” Nathalie pulled him close and kissed him. “I was reading that later on the in pregnancy, when the baby is a lot bigger and close to term, you can start seeing them move! Isn’t that wild?”

“Honestly it sounds like that movie Alien,” Alain laughed.

“Shut up, it is not!” Nathalie laughed. “It’s our baby. Gosh, can you believe it? We’re going to be parents. I can’t wait. We can find out what we’re having starting next week.”

“I thought you wanted it to be a surprise?” Alain asked popping a tomato in his mouth.

Nathalie took a deep breath as she nodded. She did want it to be a surprise, but she wanted to buy things for the baby. She wanted to make everything perfect and if they didn’t know, then they could miss out on so many cute things. But then again, they could do it after the birth. She just couldn’t make up her mind. She went back and forth multiple times a day. Alain not having a feeling one way or the other about it was still frustrating. After tonight she could talk to her mother about it. She couldn’t wait to be able to talk to her about everything.

“Yeah, but I’m just saying if we wanted to, we could know.”

“Right.” Alain grinned.

“I’m going to take a shower. Care to join me?” Nathalie grinned.

“I could shower,” Alain winked back.

…….

The guests kept pouring into the new home. Alain and Nathalie worked hard to keep up the appearances that this was nothing more than a home warming party. Many knew their plans for wanting to start a family, so the timing of buying the house wasn’t so strange. It worked in perfect sync with their lives post skating. Moving to Outremont and buying their beautiful, five bedroom house just made sense. Still, Nathalie was worried they’d be on to them, especially their fellow skaters who had been there and watched everything that happened at that year’s Olympics. Would they have put everything together? She still wasn’t sure, but she tried to paint a smile on her face and keep away all of the worry.

Nathalie walked around between the guests, offering appetizers to their guest while the main dish finished up. She had decided on rosemary chicken when scalloped potatoes and a nice salad. Alain had made his famous chocolate cake to complement Nathalie’s fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. She’d also prepared a batch of baby themed sugar cookies to pass out after the announcement happened. It was exhausting work hosting. They’d never done it before since they had lived in such a small apartment before. It was as fun as it was exhausting.

She retreated to the kitchen where she found Alain pouring wine into glasses for their guests. She wanted so badly to just have a sip. A sip wouldn’t hurt, right? But she resisted. Instead she grabbed a glass of cold ice water to cool her down just a bit and hydrate her. She wasn’t taking any chances. A healthy baby was the end goal and if that meant she gave up things that she had once taken part in, then she would gladly do it.

“Maybe we should sneak you some grape juice in a wine glass so they don’t catch on too soon, huh?” Alain nudged her. Nathalie smiled.

“Maybe…but I don’t know if I should really be taking in so much sugar? I was reading that too much sugar could be linked to ADHD. Same with caffeine. I don’t want our kids to have to deal with that. I’ve seen in kids at school. The way they get so frustrated and breakdown…it’s heartbreaking, Alain,” Nathalie frowned. “I don’t want our kids to have to deal with that.”

Alain nodded, glancing up at her. He had a soft smile on his face, his eyes glistening as he studied her carefully. She could see him thinking. He stepped around the island and pulled her into a hug. She felt so safe with her. All of the stress melting away.

“I don’t think in the grand scheme of things a glass of juice is going to hurt.” Alain brushed her hair back.

“No, but it’s scary all the things that I can cause! I don’t want to mess up or do anything wrong.” She rested her head on his shoulder.

“Everything will be okay. You just have to trust that everything will fall into place, okay? Don’t worry so much. You’re already the perfect mother and our baby is only the size of an orange.” He kissed her forehead. “I think we should get back to our guests.”

Nathalie nodded, watching him leave with the tray of wine. She sipped her water, watching everyone as they talked and laughed. Their skating friends were off to the side in a group talking about the new season. She wanted to join in, but she knew it’d make her long for that again. It was hard transitioning. Normally this time of year meant coming up with programs, press conferences to discuss their theme and what they were planning on for the season. It was the first year Nathalie wouldn’t be taking part in that since she was thirteen years old. It felt so strange. She cleared the lump in her throat and took another drink of water.

Her mother was bouncing her niece in her lap. Nathalie watched as the eighteen month old giggled at the fun. Her sister was sitting with her husband, her hand absently rubbing her belly. She wondered why it was that it just happened. Never once had Nathalie realized that she’d made the conscious decision to put her hand her belly, but she had never seen a pregnant person ever not. Perhaps it was that instinct to comfort and protect kicking in?

She hugged herself tight as to not do it before they’d made the official announcement. It was going to be after they’d eat dinner. Nathalie wasn’t sure whether she could wait that long. She’d known she was pregnant almost a month now and hadn’t been able to utter that sentence to her family. She wanted to talk to her mother about the things she was going through and ask questions. She wanted to rejoice with her sister and plan out how their children would be best friends rather than cousins. She longed to have the tears of joy in her parents eyes as they found out they were going to become grandparents again.

“What are you doing hiding in here?”

Nathalie hadn’t even realized how deep in thought she was until her grandfather’s voice broke her concentration. She beamed, and embraced him in a tight hug. It was quite and entrance. She hadn’t even realized he had made it. He kissed her cheek as he hugged her tight. Nathalie hadn’t seen him in so long, but he still smelled like honeysuckle. Something never changed.

“Grand-papa! How have you been? I haven’t seen you in so long!” She pulled away, a big smile on her face.

“Well! Very well. How about you? Did you know I still watch that performance you and Alain did at the Olympics back in February? It’s beautiful.” He beamed.

“Oh wow! Thank you.” Nathalie shifted. She licked her licks, thinking of what more to say.

“You miss it already, no?” He crossed his arms. “You and Alain both. You know, darling, even if you aren’t competing anymore, you own an ice rink and you skate forever if you want to. Remember that. Now, come, let’s go socialize.”

Her grandfather put his arm around her shoulder and led her into the living room. They sat on the couch and talked. Nathalie really enjoyed the time with her family. She used to spend so much time away from them during her career. Skating had taken her all over the world, to so many different countries, and cultures. She and Alain had been living in Toronto for three years before they were able to move back to Montreal. That’s where they had been married. She was so thankful. She had always found the idea of changing her name to be so…romantic. She wouldn’t have been able to do that in her home city. Now she was home in Montreal for good. She could spend forever with her family.

They talked, and laughed as they shared anecdotes and memories. Nathalie found herself feeling so at ease. She had all but forgot that she waiting for the big moment to reveal everything. The living room was filled with so many people she loved. Her parents, her grandparents, Alain’s parents, her brother, sister, brother, their significant others, their children, and their closest friends. It was such a warm environment, so loving and peaceful. Nathalie was holding her brother’s newest addition to the family when Alain announced that dinner was finally ready to be served.

The kitchen was flooded as everyone took the opportunity to serve themselves. Nathalie stood to the side with her nephew on her hip, watching with a smile as her family talked and joked. Alain put his arm around her and kissed her temple.

“We’ve done it. We’re adulating.” He laughed.

“It’s really beautiful, huh?” She leaned against him.

“It is.” Nathalie agreed.

Dinner went on as expected. Nathalie was so proud of herself for making the chicken so perfectly. She’d been worried. Everyone was complementing the food. Her grandfather loved Alain’s wine choice, saying it was truly spectacular and reminded him of his youth in France where everyone he knew was privy on what wine to pair well with food. Alain lifted his glass to him before sipping the drink.

Nathalie picked at her food, she still felt a bit queasy these days. She was looking forward to being over that. If she could just be able to eat what she wanted without feeling sick, she’d be the happiest woman alive. She forced herself to eat though. Her baby needed food and so what if she felt nauseous? She hadn’t thrown up in two weeks. She kept drinking her water to calm her stomach. Alain had been so kind as to add a little ginger to the water. It was doing the trick.

“Say, Nathalie,” her grandfather called across the table. “Where’s your wine, dear?”

“Oh, I…” Nathalie looked at Alain, a smile on her face.

He nodded. “If we could just have everyone’s attention,” he called.

The room went silent except that of the babies and toddlers. All eyes were on the couple. Nathalie took Alain’s hand, smiling. She sucked in her lips for a moment. She had been so eager to tell them and now that the moment had arrived, she felt so awkward. Everyone was staring at her. It wasn’t like she wasn’t used to the attention, but something was different about this. She was growing a little person and if she messed up, it could ruin an entire person’s life. It wasn’t like before where things didn’t matter. She took a deep breath. Alain squeezed her hand.

“Um, well you remember how I thought I was jetlagged or ate something at the Olympics? And how I thought I’d caught something because I didn’t feel any better?” She started.

“Oh my god, is it serious?” Her sister’s hand flew to her chest.

“Um, actually it is,” Nathalie grinned, tears in her eyes. “We’re having a baby!”

Everyone stared at them with shocked faces before the room erupted into a sea of congratulations. Nathalie smiled at her parents, seeing the tears shining in their eyes as they smiled so big it looked as though their face would crack. Everyone was getting up, hugging the two, congratulating them individually. Her grandfather hugged her for at least five minutes, telling her how proud he was of her and how happy he was that she was expecting. Her mother and father held her and kissed her. Her sister beamed, as she held her daughter and sported her belly of the baby she was carrying.

“How far along are you? Do you have a bump under that sweater?” Emma pressed.

“Fifteen weeks!” Nathalie announced.

“How long have you known?” Alain’s mother was asking now, her smile so big. “My first grandchild! Can you believe it?”

Nathalie let out a soft laugh as she hugged her. Alain’s parents had been pushing for them to have a child. Alain’s brother had yet to find the right man that he wanted to adopt with, so it was just easier to pester Alain and Nathalie about it. Nathalie was beyond honored to see the look of happiness in their eyes.

“Three weeks or so. We wanted to tell everyone together and we were looking at houses so we figured we’d throw it all together.” Nathalie brushed back her hair.

“You knew three weeks and you didn’t tell me!” Her mother playfully slapped her arm. “That’s so disrespectful!” She laughed.

“I’m sorry, Maman!” Nathalie hugged her mother tight.

“So we’ll be having our babies so close together!” Emma smiled. “Twenty five weeks and fifteen weeks! It’s going to be great. They’ll be so close!” Emma gasped. “Playdates and sister dates! I could watch them for you if you want. Do you know what you’re having?”

“Yes, playdates would be incredible. I’m actually not going to work until next school year. I’m due in October. I don’t think it’s fair to only be there a month and a half before I need to take off. But thank you so much. And no, we’re going to keep the sex a surprise.” Nathalie smiled. “At least…that’s what we’re planning now. It’ll be exciting won’t it?”

The evening kept on about the same. There were lots of hugs and tears and smiles. Nathalie was overwhelmed with how happy she was. There was so much love in the house. Everyone gushed over the sugar cookies. Nathalie allowed herself to have one, but she promised herself that she would still cut back on the sugar. The last thing she wanted was for her baby to have problems. She had seen it, how kids struggled. All she wanted was a happy healthy baby.

Her family bid her farewell for the night leaving the couple alone with their skating friends who they had promised could stay at their place. Alain insisted on taking them to the rink they’d bought. They hadn’t been yet and he was ready to show off. They all took the liberty to skate a bit before retiring for the night. Nathalie showed them which rooms they were staying the night to their rooms, making sure that everything was in order. It was a strange, but good feeling to be able to host like this. She promised them breakfast in the morning before retiring to bed with Alain. She had never slept better.

Chapter Text

Nathalie laid on the couch, a smile dancing on her lips as she gently caressed her abdomen with the tips of her fingers. Her arm was thrown over her eyes in an attempt to dampen the slight headache she felt. She was still coming to terms with not having caffeine. Her body would crave it, attacking her, begging for the sweet substance that had once been almost an addiction. But no, she refused. Her doctor said a little bit would be okay, but she didn’t want to take the risk. Motherhood was about sacrifice, right? At least that’s what she always thought. You give your body over to this tiny child who needs you. It was terrifying, but somehow comforting. She loved it.

She sat up, sipping her water slowly, hesitantly. She was never sure when her little peanut was going to reject the hydration or nutrition she was giving them. They didn’t like the water cold, but not room temperature. Picky little thing. She let out a soft laugh. Maybe she should be brave and try to eat something. She hadn’t been able to eat all day, but she really wanted to eat. She was craving fast food so badly, but she resisted. It wasn’t healthy and she needed to nourish her body. She refused to put that trash anywhere near her baby. Maybe she could get Alain to make her a burger later. She wasn’t having so much trouble with cooking. The smells would get to her. The heat would make her feel faint. So Alain was going to take over that role. She was so grateful for him.

She heard the front door open. The bright sun blinded her only for a moment, causing her head to scream in protest. Alain closed the door behind, whistling a song Nathalie recognized but could not for the life of her remember the name or where she’d heard it. He called a greeting to her as he kicked off his shoes in their little coat closet. She smiled, hugging herself, waiting for him to finish. He walked toward her, hugging her tight.

“How are you doing?” He grinned.

“I’m alright. The baby wants hamburgers and fries.” She giggled.

“They do, do they?”

Nathalie nodded. She felt the baby moving much more these days. She was seventeen weeks now. The child seemed to be doing more flips than anything. She and Alain were joking about how maybe their child would be a skater after all. They were just practicing their jumps and spins. Nathalie joked that the baby needed to work more on the step sequence. You can’t just rely on the jumps for technical points, kiddo! That’s a crutch! She wanted so badly to feel them kick.

“You know what I think we should do? Just this once,” Alain put his index finger to Nathalie’s lips as she opened her mouth to protest. “I’m not suggesting fast food, mon cœur.” He eyes twinkled. “We can go to a sit down restaurant and you can order a burger for our little baby. We can make a date of it before your appointment.”

Nathalie weighed the option in her head. It would be nice to have a date with Alain. It seemed like it had been ages since they had an actual date, though neither of them minded. Living together, married, no kids yet, everything felt like a date. Or rather they didn’t feel the need for a date. They were expecting a little bundle of joy so maybe it was better to have all the dates they could now before the baby came. There was the issue of the slight headache. She frowned, letting out a sigh.

“What do you say?” Alain wiggled his eye brows making her laugh.

“Okay. But let’s request to be by the bathroom in case I get sick. I don’t want to be running across the restaurant trying to hold in my puke.” She made a face.

“I promise!” Alain winked at her, pulling her close and kissing her. “You know what I can’t wait for?” His eyes sparkled as he looked at her.

“Hm?” She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“For you to get a big belly. I don’t know why, but lately it’s been something I’ve been thinking about. You’d be really cute.” He shrugged.

“Wow,” Nathalie shook her head, letting out a small laugh. “And here I was thinking you wouldn’t be attracted to me.”

“Psh! That would be impossible.” Alain kissed her.

Nathalie and Alain got their shoes on. She grabbed a sweater from the coat closet. Something strange she’d been experiencing as she felt so cold all the time. Weren’t pregnant women supposed to get hot? She didn’t know. It was a question for the OB. Her mother and sister both said you were supposed to get hot, but they could be wrong. Not every pregnancy was the same. Still Nathalie felt strangely about it.

“You might be anemic,” Alain noted as if he read her mind. They had been together she wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Sometimes she felt that way.

“Maybe…” Nathalie sighed. “You know I might be. I haven’t really been able to eat much. I don’t know how much of my prenatal pills I’ve been able to keep down. This child does not appreciate what I’m trying to do.” She let out a soft laugh and leaned against Alain’s shoulder as he drove to the restaurant.

“We can ask if you can maybe get them in a shot? I know you don’t like injections, but if it could help?” Alain wrapped his arm around her, driving one handed.

“I would try anything for this kid. I already love them so much,” Nathalie smiled, her hand going back to her stomach.

“I do too,” Alain agreed.

It was nice. They drove quietly, cuddling. She wondered if their love for their child was comparable. To Alain, the baby wasn’t concrete yet. It was this abstract possibility at the end of the road. Nathalie’s bump was slightly bigger, but it was noticeable under most of her clothing. She couldn’t miss the surprised look on his face when she was changing or getting ready for a shower and he’d see the bump. And there was always that hesitation during sex when he saw the bump for just a moment before he’d press his lips to it and forgetting about it as they continued. It was an idea they discussed. There was one sonogram so far. They had names picked. They still weren’t sure if they should find out the sex or not. It was easy for him to forget. She understood that.

The baby was very real to Nathalie. She felt so queasy. Her breasts were larger and sore. She was always aware of the small bump. Her brain was always pulling her hand subconsciously to her abdomen. Whether it was to protect the baby or to show affection, Nathalie wasn’t sure. She caught herself so often rubbing her belly. There was the very real feeling of the baby sitting on her bladder causing her to pee every five minutes. She was emotional. Her mind was always in nesting mode as she looked at the house and what she wanted to change and how to make it safer for the baby. And she felt them. They were moving so constantly. Flips and kicks. There was a baby there.

Nathalie couldn’t wait to meet them. She was even looking forward to getting to the point where she couldn’t breathe easily and was miserable. She had watched her sister and sister in law go through it several times. They’d been huge and due any day. They’d be complaining about the back ache and how uncomfortable they were. It felt almost masochistic, but Nathalie wanted to feel it. She looked forward to labor even. She’d been there when her sister had given birth the first time. While it looked beyond painful, Nathalie wanted to cry from how beautiful it was. She wanted to have that moment with her child where she really felt like she’d made it. She’d be a mother.

A smile danced on her lips. She cuddled closer to Alain, inhaling his cologne. It was such a comforting smell these days when every smell seemed to make her sick. Alain kissed her temple gently as he pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. Nathalie’s heart raced. She still always felt a mild rush when she was in public. It had only been a few months into retirement, so the fans were still there. She loved the feeling. People telling her how much they loved to watch her and Alain, signing autographs, telling kids they could get there. It was always so nice. It had been such a big part of her life.

They were seated in a booth right near the bathrooms as expected. Nathalie ordered a water with lemon. Alain ordered a coke. She couldn’t help but frown at the decision. They had never talked about Alain abstaining from certain things too, but part of Nathalie felt like they shouldn’t have to talk. That he would want to be supportive. She knew that was a ridiculous thing to thing because they had always been good at communicating. She felt like she couldn’t ask him to give things up. On the other hand, why should she have to give up so many things she loved and sacrifice her own body while he just got to have a good time?

“I just want a sip,” Nathalie mumbled grabbing his coke. She closed her eyes at the taste. It was so good! Her eyes flew open at the sound of the empty cup and Alain giggling.

“Just a sip, huh, Nat?” He chuckled, his eyes sparkling.

“I’m sorry…the baby wanted it.” She pushed the cup back to him and sipped her water. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying.

“You know…it would be okay every now and then. You don’t need to be so strict.” Alain started.

“Seriously?” Nathalie narrowed her eyes. “It’s not like I want to give them up, Alain. I just want to give our baby a good start! Could you please give things up with me too? Be supportive? Please?”

“Nathalie…” Alain started.

“Cool.” Nathalie rolled her eyes and glared down at the table. She wanted to cry. Why did he have to do that? Why couldn’t he just say yes?

“I’m sorry, but I do think you’re going a little overboard with this a bit. You’re not able to eat and then things you’ve cut out are things you love. I understand moderation, but I can’t help think you’re setting yourself up for sabotage?” Alain frowned.

Nathalie tightened her grip on her cup. She felt a lump rise in her throat. Why was he telling her this? She was doing this for the baby. Did he not want the best for their baby? She watched her sister throw trash into her mouth the whole time she was pregnant. Emma gained fifty pounds with the first baby. Nathalie didn’t want to gain that much. She couldn’t stomach it. Not to mention there were risks. Hypertension. Diabetes. Nameless issues. She didn’t want that. Sure, her sister got off scot free, but that doesn’t mean she would.

“Are you okay?” Alain reached across the table.

“No,” Nathalie whispered. “Yes. I don’t know! I just…I want to feel like you are connected to this too? And I feel like you’re more in this abstract thought world. There’s nothing obvious. It may just be hormones, but part of me is feeling so alone in this? I’ve cut out things because I don’t think they’re healthy. I know you might think I’m going overboard, but I’m not. I’m being cautious. Just please? Try to do something with me?” She brushed back her hair.

“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way,” Alain leaned forward. “What do you want me to do? I’ll do whatever it takes to make you feel supported and happy, okay? I love you. I love our baby. I want to do this.” He offered a smile.

“Well I drank you coke, so I guess you could have another one,” she let out a soft laugh. “But if you could just at least cut out caffeine in soda and extra sugar, that would be so good. I wouldn’t be so tempted. If you need coffee working at the rink, I totally get it, but if you could not have it at home?”

“Okay.” He offered her a smile, holding her hands firmly. “I can do that.”

“I love you,” Nathalie whispered.

“I love you too,” Alain kissed her hands.

……….

Nathalie held Alain’s hand as the lab tech took some blood samples. She never did well with needles. She hated them. Once when she was seventeen, he’d passed out at a competition from exhaustion and was admitted to the hospital for a few days. The IV had been the worst experience. She could deal with everything else, but not that. She knew there were more labs to be drawn and just to be safe, she was going to get a folic acid shot and an iron shot too. She didn’t want to, but her baby needed it and she wasn’t able to keep it down. Alain kissed her forehead.

“It’s almost over, baby.”

“I know,” She whimpered.

She hissed at the feeling of the needle being pulled out and the rough cotton gauze pressed to her skin. The tech had her hold pressure while he labeled the vials and disposed of the needle. She watched him carefully. She couldn’t believe the size of the vials they’d taken. How much blood did you have in your body? Could she afford to lose so much? Well probably so, but still. She leaned against Alain feeling faint at the sight of the blood. The tech wrapped her arm in stretchy bandage and thanked her before stepping out.

Her eyes floated around the room. There were posters of female reproductive organs labeling all the parts. She stared at one in particular about the dilation process of the cervix. She knew it needed to be ten centimeters, but that was just…wow. She shuddered and glued her eyes to the floor. The less she saw the better probably. She was nervous, of course she was. It was her first pregnancy and it was feeling more real by the second. She knew it’d be a blink of an eye before she’d be pushing them out of her body.

The door opened, and her OB walked in the room, greeting the couple and asked Nathalie how she was feeling. She had her lay back and she measured the bump. There was a quick pelvic exam that was more uncomfortable that Nathalie would have expected. Something about the way the baby was positioned when the doctor pushed on her ovaries to check them was just...uncomfortable. She wanted to get this part over. She wanted to see her child.

Finally it was time for the moment they’d all been waiting for. She laid back on the exam table, taking Alain’s hand. This would be the first time he’d get to see their child in real time. She wanted to see him when heard the heartbeat. Their baby had a strong heart, a healthy heart.

She felt the coldness of the gel on her abdomen. Alain’s eyes were glued to the small bump again. It really was very obvious when exposed. She’d had such a flat stomach. She’d worked so hard for it. She had wanted it so badly and now she just wanted a bump. She wanted her baby to grow and be healthy. The doctor put the wand to her belly. Nathalie shifted slightly at the pressure. She needed to pee so badly, but she’d needed a full bladder. She wondered whether she ever had an empty bladder. Was this kid just jumping on it like a trampoline for fun or was there a plan? Don’t let maman get any rest. Always make her pee. She let out a laugh at the idea.

The room filled with the steady beat of their child’s heart. Alain’s jaw fell slightly. His eyes softened. Nathalie kept her eyes glued to him. As much as she wanted to see her child, she wanted to see him. The doctor announced she’d found the baby and pointed them out. Alain slumped just a little as his knees weakened. Tears shined in his eyes as he covered his mouth with one hand. Nathalie saw it in his face. Their baby was no longer abstract.

He leaned down and kissed her for a moment before his eyes went back to the screen. Nathalie’s eyes joined his. The baby was not as small as they were the last time she’d seen them. The arms had just been buds before. Now the baby was sucking on their hands. They were squirming, little legs coming into view. It was amazing. Nathalie felt the tears in her eyes too. Her heart was exploding. She loved this baby so much. It was overwhelming.

“Did the two of you want to find out the sex of the child?” Her OB looked at the couple expectingly.

“Um…” Nathalie pulled her lips in and looked up at Alain. “I think I really want to know,” she breathed.

“Me too. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Nathalie smiled. Alain kissed her once more. “Yes, we’d like to know.”

“Okay, let’s go a little lower.”

Nathalie felt the wand slide across her a bit. Suddenly the baby’s whole body was in view. The child’s legs were moving and pushing. Such a squirmy child. She could feel them press against her. She wanted to hold them. Kiss their head, and hands, and cheeks, and feet. Every part of her longed for the child.

“And we have a boy!”

“A boy?” Alain gasped.

“A boy!” The OB smiled.

“We’re having a boy!” Alain said to Nathalie.

“I know. We’re having a little boy,” she giggled.

Alain kissed her, holding her, tears streaming down his face. She worried he’d fall off the chair he had sunk down into. He was staring at the screen, whispering to himself about having a son. It was everything Nathalie had ever wanted. She couldn’t say she was surprised. She did have a feeling. But they were getting what they wanted, a baby boy. A son. A tiny little Jean-Jacques.

Chapter Text

Alain sifted through the papers on his desk. Bills, invoices, taxes, pay roll each in separate stacks from the filing cabinet. He blinked as he tried to get his eyes to focus. He’d been working on the books all morning. He was thankful he didn’t have to do it all by hand now. Finally being able to have a computer was such a godsend. The spreadsheet made everything so much neater. He pushed himself away from the desk, throwing his head back, rubbing his face. It was so important he finish this, but every part of him felt so stiff. Maybe he was getting old…

He heard voices in the hall growing louder as their owners got closer. Alain stared up at the ceiling trying to get his vision stop blurring. He was too close to the screen, using far too much short vision and not enough distance. Of course his eyes would be unfocused. Why did he let the work pile up like this? Now he was worried about making sure to pay his employees on time. He groaned.

“Hellllooooo, brother!” Alain jumped as the door was flung open to reveal his older brother in the frame, a latte in his hand as he grinned. “Latte? No flavor. No sugar. Boring just like you.” Rémi winked.

“Thanks…” Alain rolled his eyes. “You’re early.”

Rémi wrinkled his brow and glanced at the clock on the wall. Alain sipped on the coffee silently. He really did need the caffeine. He was trying to do what Nathalie wanted him to do, but it was so difficult. Of course she was dealing with more and it was for moral support, but he still felt it was all a bit much, even for her. Every request was pushing him further and further behind. He was not going to let his employees be paid late because he didn’t know how to say no to Nathalie. She was twenty weeks. He didn’t know if he could deal with the stress twenty more weeks. He couldn’t hire anyone. Not yet.

“It’s like one in the afternoon, Alain. You said you wanted to meet for lunch. It’s lunch,” Rémi leaned against the doorframe. “You look like shit. Come on. Let me take you out.”

Alain’s eyes jumped to the clock. How was it already one in the afternoon? It should only be ten? His heart started to race as he scrambled for the phone. He needed to call Nathalie. Make sure she was okay. Make sure the baby was okay. His head raced with so many thoughts. He was supposed to call her hours ago. What if she needed him to bring her something? Shit.

Nathalie answered, her voice groggy with sleep. Alain sighed in relief when she told him everything was fine. She had been able to finally doze off when he’d called. She wanted to go back to sleep, but wasn’t sure if she could. She’d found some substitute positions for later in the week and was worried she’d fall asleep in the middle of class. The mental image was more than the two could take as they cracked up. Nathalie was a drooler. She wasn’t a pretty sleeper. Alain had often joked about it. She thought he was mean at first until he decided to snap of photo of her. Her hair always fell into her face, making a tangled mess, drool causing it to stick to her face. That hadn’t ended well, but now they both laughed about it. They ended the phone call with I love you.

He looked up to see Rémi leaning against the wall opposite his office. There was a man standing in front of him, his hands on his brother’s hips. Rémi was holding on the man’s collar as they talked. Alain rolled his eyes. Of course Rémi would pick up some guy. It was actually surprising though. Rémi had a type, a very strict type. He knew his brother and his brother liked figure skaters. None of which trained at the rink. Perhaps Rémi was getting acquainted with a new variety of men.

He studied his brother for a moment. His permed hair was cut short with frosted tips. It didn’t suit him. He was trying to go for this new late nineties boy band look, but it wasn’t working for him. Alain missed his old look, with his hair dyed black, thick eyeliner. The punk look had always suited Rémi. This new pop culture look was unsettling. He wanted this phase to end. The only thing that saved it was the fact he still made sure to fix his face before he left the house. Of course he would.

Alain shook his head, taking a sip of the latte Rémi had brought. Rémi hadn’t looked up once as he talked to the man. Alain sighed, sitting on the edge of his desk, downing the drink. If he didn’t have to break up one of his brother’s flirting sessions that would be preferable. He could be a real jerk if he did. He’d lost track of the number of times Rémi accused him of cock blocking and made passive aggressive comments the rest of the day.

He dropped his cup into the trash. At the sound of the thud, Rémi looked up. He smiled and turned his attention back to the man he was flirting with. They kissed for a moment before the man turned around and waved to Alain. The wind was knocked of him in an instant. His best friend, an American skater by the name of Xavier, was the mystery man.

“Bye Alain! Congratulations again on the baby!” Xavier smiled.

He pecked Rémi on the lips before walking out of the rink. Rémi watched him as he leaned with his shoulder against the wall. Alain could practically see him running his eyes up and down the man’s body. He felt sick. Rémi bit his lip and shook his head.

“God bless America…” he muttered.

“Oh. my. god."

Alain stared at his brother in complete disbelief. He was used to his brother hooking up with people he knew. He'd done it for most of Alain's skating career, but this, this was another level. Honestly he didn't care that his brother had a thing for skaters. He supported his quest for happiness, but he drew the line at his friends. Especially his best friend.

Rémi flashed a smile toward Alain and raised his eyebrows. "I know, right? Walking perfection."

"You're crossing the line. Xavier is off limits. He's my best friend." Alain crossed his arms.

Rémi shook his head, laughing. There was something about the laugh, something about how his brother was defiantly going behind his back when they'd talked about this before. It didn't seem like he really cared about Alain's feelings. He was brushing him off. Alain knew damn well if the roles were reversed, Rémi would not appreciate it. Of course he had so much fun at riling him up. Rémi winked at him.

“Honey, I already had him,” Rémi grinned.

“No! He’s my best friend! You’re going to ruin everything! I didn’t even know he was still here! How could you? I didn’t even know Xavier was gay!” Alain glared.

Rémi turned to face him, a huge grin still painted on the man's face. He studied Alain for a second, his green eyes flashing mischievously. He crossed his arms to mirror his younger brother before pulling himself off the wall and walking towards Alain. He stopped in the doorway.

“Alain, sweetie, you’re acting like a child. And seriously? You didn’t know that fabulous man was gay? What the fuck? You really are oblivious. By the way…most of your friends are gay.” Rémi winked.

“What? No, they’re not.” Alain squeezed his arms tighter. He had a feeling he knew where this was going, but maybe he was wrong. God, he hoped he was wrong. Rémi just wanted the world to be gay. That was it. Nothing more. Alain took a deep breath.

“Yes, they are.”

“How do you know?” Alain glared.

“Because I’ve fucked them all. Now let’s go. I’m starving.” Rémi rolled his eyes, turning on his heel and walking out of the office and down the hall.

Alain glared at him. He could feel the heat rising. He was used to Rémi sleeping with skaters he knew, but he thought he’d eventually grow out of him. Here he was. Hooking up with his best friend. On top of all the stress he already had going on at home, now he was worried when this thing blew up, he’d lose his best friend. All because his brother wanted to get laid. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.

He stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. If Rémi wasn’t buying the food, he wouldn’t have gone. But he did need to talk to his brother about everything going on at home. Maybe if he just made him know he was mad, it would be enough. He couldn’t deal with this. Rémi could have any guy he wanted. There were plenty of them. Alain knew that much. Why did Rémi have to choose the one man Alain wanted in his life? Rémi wasn’t the relationship type. He never settled down for anyone. Alain was sure he wasn’t mature enough.

“You’re frosted tips are ugly…” Alain muttered under his breath as he caught up to him.

Rémi gasped, putting a hand to his chest dramatically. “You’re just jealous I can pull them off,” he grinned, ruffling Alain’s hair.

It had been like this since they were children. Alain honestly hated how much he let Rémi get to him. He thought as they got older things would change. They’d mature and have a relationship that didn’t still have remnants of childhood popping up. But Rémi would say something, do something and Alain would come undone.

“You can’t, actually. Sorry.” Alain rolled his eyes. “Can this phase please end?”

It was funny. Their mother had asked the same question when Rémi had started getting into makeup. She would get so mad when she would find him going through her bag on the dresser. Alain thought it was cool. He like how his brother didn’t care what people thought. Rémi would point out that Alain wore makeup too when he performed. Their mother would roll her eyes, throwing her hands in the air. Then it transformed into him dying his hair and wearing too tight jeans and band shirts.

“Shut up, Alain…” Rémi muttered shoving Alain.

“Real mature, Rémi…” Alain scoffed.

“Alain, you’re about to be a father. You really need to stop acting like you’re five again and we’re fighting over the television.”

Alain clenched his fist and jaw as they walked out. He wasn’t going to say another word. Rémi was not going to win. When they were kids, their mother would always tell them to be the bigger person. Be more mature. Most of the time she was talking to Rémi who would usually pretend like he hadn’t said anything but did little things to get Alain to break. Or he’d act like he was taking the mature route only to make Alain mad. But he was determined. He was twenty-eight years old. He didn’t have to react. He pushed himself to think of something else.

The summer day was beautiful. The sky was clear, with only a few clouds dotting the sky. He didn’t mind the walk. Actually, he wished they’d walk further. Being outside was calming. It took the stress of the day off him. He could breathe easier. He could almost forget all the work waiting for him after his lunch break. He may need to work into the night to get everything done. Maybe he could just get Rémi to do it. Sure he was a social worker, but he knew how keep books…surely he did.

They reached the restaurant, both opting to sit outside and enjoy the lovely weather. They ordered, waiting for their food. Alain still didn’t want to talk. He wanted to let his brother know he was mad about his decision. Once they got outside, they could talk. Until then, he wouldn’t speak. Their food came out and Alain’s stomach growled. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.

The two sat down at a table near the building. There was a tree blocking the sun to give shade. Alain quietly picked at his smoked meat sandwich. Rémi was sipping his water. There was so much he wanted to say, but didn’t know where to start so he continued to eat silently.

“It’s not what you think though, Alain,” Rémi said softly, his eyes staring down at his own food. Alain looked up. He didn’t quite understand. “I know you think I’m just messing around with your best friend. I know in the past…I haven’t really had good judgment, but I swear it’s not like that. And I promise you if it doesn’t work out then like…I’ll make sure to ask him not to take it out on you, okay?”

Rémi reached over the table, putting his hand on Alain’s arm. Alain glanced at his hand before looking up at his brother. He was biting his cheeks as he stared at off. He was trying not to cry. Alain felt the guilt setting in for being angry. Rémi really was thinking this over.

“What do you mean?” Alain narrowed his eyes.

“I mean what I said. I don’t…” Rémi sighed. "You know maybe I want something more? I'm thirty-two and have most of my shit together."

"You want a relationship?" Alain let out a soft laugh. "What? Who are you and what have you done to my slut of a brother?"

"Alain, stop." Rémi rolled his eyes. "Yes, I like to have fun. I've liked to do it. And I am good at it. But you know...I just want you to know you have me wrong. I'm not just some whore who doesn't care. I love you, Alain. You’re my favorite brother.”

“I’m your only brother," Alain smirked trying to lighten the mood and show his brother he wasn’t mad anymore. Rémi waved him off.

“That’s beside the point. The point is I love you, and while I may have a slight problem with sleeping around with people you know, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. I actually genuinely like Xavier as a person. It’s not just a hook up. I’m sorry if you thought that it was.” Rémi stood up and hugged Alain in a tight bear hug. “Forgive me?”

“I guess I’ll keep you,” Alain grinned. “Look!”

Alain pulled out his wallet and pulled the sonogram picture out, handing it to Rémi. He watched eagerly as his brother took the picture, eyes glued to it as he sat down. Rémi’s eye brows knit. He glanced between Alain and the photo. Alain laughed at the genuine confusion written on Rémi’s face.

“Yeah, I don’t know what I’m looking at.” Rémi said, reaching across the table.

“Look at the top. With the writing.”

“Okay…” Rémi mumbled softly as he read the date, time, and gestation. He paused. Alain watched, a grin spreading on his face as his brother’s body froze. He was sure he wasn’t even breathing. Rémi looked up at him, a grin on his face. “Baby boy Leroy?” He grinned. Alain nodded.

“We’re having a boy!”

“Oh my god! I’m having a nephew! Can I keep this?” Rémi’s words ran together, his eyes dancing with excitement.

“No, sorry. Nathalie would kill me.” Alain laughed.

“Oh yes, the wife,” Rémi laughed, looking at the picture again. “Wow. So wait…this is the head?” He pointed at the picture. Alain nodded. “Sweet.” Rémi grinned. “So what’s his name?”

“Jean-Jacques,” Alain said, through a mouthful of food.

“Jean-Jacques?” Rémi laughed. “Having an old man?”

“It’s a nice name.” Alain defended. “We’re naming him after Nathalie’s grandfather. He was really important to us in our career and relationship. We’re going to call him JJ.”

Rémi nodded. He handed the sonogram back to Alain then returned to his food. Alain stared at the sonogram for a moment, his heart swelling. He still couldn't believe it. He was going to be a father sooner rather than later. It was terrifying, yet exciting. There were so many emotions that flooded him these days. It still didn't feel real somehow. Nathalie was showing more obviously now, and she said she was feeling the baby move, but he still hadn't been able to. He looked forward to it. It would be soon now that she'd hit the twenty week mark. Maybe it would feel more real when he could have something tangible.

He wondered what it would be like to see his son be born. Would it be as scary as it felt now? Would he be a good father? He honestly wasn't sure. His own father was pretty good. A hard worker, family man. Always tried to give him and Rémi the best he could. Always tried to be there for the both. He remembered when the three of them used to go camping each summer until Alain moved away to Denver for two years. When he'd come home, Rémi was away for college. Alain didn't know what happened in those two years between Rémi and their parents, but things weren't ever the same. There were a lot of backhanded comments thrown his brother's way. He didn't want that to happen to him. He always wanted to be close with his children.

"What's on your mind?" Rémi asked, breaking Alain's train of thought.

"Nothing," Alain mumbled. He raised his eyes. "Everything."

"Wanna talk about it?" Rémi rested his chin in his palm.

Alain shifted. He sighed, squirming, trying to look everywhere but at his brother. It was awkward. He'd never spoken the words aloud. Nathalie had voiced her anxieties about being a mother almost daily. Part of him felt like he wasn't allowed to feel the way he was. She was going through more than he was. She was always exhausted these days. She could only pick at her food. Morning sickness was still in full throttle in the second trimester much to Nathalie's dismay. She kept getting these headaches, but couldn't, or rather wouldn't take anything for it. She'd eat or sleep or drink water. They'd go away after a few hours, but it wasn't like Nathalie to get headaches. She claimed it was just part of being pregnant. Later she'd have to go through labor and give birth. All he had to do was stand there. She'd be breastfeeding, so she'd be the one waking up to feed him at all hours. He planned to wake up with her too. Sure there'd be baths and diapers and parenting, but it was nothing compared to what Nathalie was doing.

"It's stupid..." Alain said finally.

"It's okay," Rémi offered a smile. "There's nothing stupid about feelings you know."

Alain nodded. Rémi was putting on his social worker voice. It really had started when they were kids. Rémi had a certain voice he used when he was concerned. It was smooth, gentle, comforting. They'd dubbed it his social worker voice when Alain was a teenager and Rémi was studying. He'd done a big display of it when practicing for exams. They'd both laughed so hard at the facial expressions. But in reality...it really was soothing. Alain sighed once more.

"I just am worried? I'm scared about being a dad. What if I'm not good at it? What if I mess up? I don't want to screw up a kid. I love him already and I don't even know him. Isn't that strange? And I feel like I can't even voice that concern without sounding like I'm whining. Nathalie is the one who's pregnant, the one who's going to give birth. She knows him better than me, so I feel like I'm already behind." Alain frowned at the table.

"You're going to be a good dad, Alain." Rémi reassured him.

"How do you know?" Alain really wanted to know. Rémi could be childish and playful at times, but he really was a wise person. He always knew the right thing to say to people to calm them down and reassure them. He was the person Alain went to for everything.

"Because of how much you care now. You're worried which means you care. You're already a good dad. And sure, Nathalie is going through more right now, but you can't help that. It's not like you can be pregnant, you know? And like you're always there for her. You're a great husband and you'll be an amazing father." Rémi squeezed his hand arm reassuringly offering a smile. "It's normal to be anxious about your first kid. Everyone is...at least the good ones."

Alain nodded, thinking over what Rémi had said. It made sense. He did care. A lot. There were still concerns. He didn't know whether to tell him or not. He rolled it over in his a minute before deciding to venture further.

"I'm really stressed out too. I'm worried about Nathalie. She's different. I'm used to her being so calm and carefree. Now she finds fault in everything. She won't eat certain things because she thinks it'll be bad for the baby, but in the mean time I don't feel like she's able to eat what she needs to. Her doctor isn't concerned, but I am. I feel like she needs to be eating more? I feel guilty not being with her. I want to be there to help her through her day. We have so much to prepare for and I'm so behind on work. I don't know how to balance it." Alain rubbed his face. "I don't know what to do."

"Well..." Rémi paused for a minute while he thought it over in his head. Alain watched him. Rémi's eyes were flashing as he thought. It was like you could always see the gears winding in his brother's head. "It's important to find a balance. I understand you're worried about Nathalie, but her doctor isn't concerned. I wouldn't worry too much. I think that's part of you just being nervous about everything. As long as she's eating and on track with her doctor, it shouldn't be a problem. She's nesting. You know they say that a man becomes a father when the baby's born, but a woman is a mother the moment she finds out she's pregnant. It's not always true. Trust me. Some people never become parents. Sometimes dads are more ready than moms. But in this case, I think that's what it is. Like she's just trying to do the best for her baby. Set boundaries. Work a set schedules. Of course take time if you need it, but like...you need to do finances."

Alain nodded. It made sense. "I just don't want to do the wrong thing."

"I know. But if don't do this, balance your life, you're going to be setting yourself up for failure. Nathalie is doing fine. Don't worry so much, okay?"

"Okay..." Alain frowned. It was harder than it sounded, but Rémi was right. He needed to find balance.

Chapter Text

Crib, blankets, sheets, diapers, clothes. Nathalie had a list of things she wanted to have stocked up on before the baby came. Diapers were expensive and she’d seen an article about stocking up before the baby came. Alain found it to be overkill. He grumbled about it. What if the baby was too big for newborns? What if they got too many? Nathalie had assured him it would be okay, but Alain wasn’t convinced. Yet he was still here with Nathalie leaning on the shopping cart while she studied the different types of diapers. It mattered. As much as anyone told her it didn’t, it did. She wanted her baby to be comfortable and she wanted the diapers to be the best. Alain didn’t understand why absorbency was important. Of course he didn’t. He hadn’t had to experience it. Nathalie also wanted to make sure they had leak guards.

“So you finally decided?” Alain smirked as she put a few boxes of diapers in the basket.

“Yes,” Nathalie frowned. “It wouldn’t kill you to be involved in this, you know.”

Alain sighed and rubbed his face. Nathalie was getting so frustrated with his attitude the last two weeks. She didn’t feel like he was as invested as she was. It wasn’t like they hadn’t discussed having children before this baby was even a thing. Had he not thought about all the stuff they needed to do to prepare? She felt like she was alone in this. She had felt so close to him when they first found out, but now she was feeling like he didn’t want this. It was too late to turn back. It made her feel sick honestly. She just wanted him to show a little effort was all. Not stand there acting like she was dragging him around shopping for herself.

“Nathalie, you know I’m happy to be involved. I want to be. I am very excited about our son. I am. But I just don’t think spending thirty minutes picking out diapers is logical. Can we just move on to the other things? I promised I’ll be very excited about picking out clothes and blankets.” Alain smiled.

Nathalie let out a sigh. Didn’t he want the best for their child? Her sister and her husband had been so relaxed about everything with their kids and when their child was born weighed a little over nine pounds which was far too big in Nathalie’s opinion. They had diaper rashes almost constantly because of the diapers and baby wipes. And they gave their kids food that was nowhere near healthy with the excuse of at least they’re eating. No. She refused. She wanted to do everything right. She wanted to be healthy for their son. She wanted him to have only the best. It would be perfect.

“Sorry I want the best for JJ,” Nathalie muttered walking off toward the baby section.

“Nathalie, don’t be like that!” Alain pleaded, following after her.

She didn’t want to do this here. They were in public. People still recognized them. Of course they would. They’d spent the last twenty years of their lives building up their career. She wanted to be able to discuss things in public with her husband and not worry about it ending up somewhere, but they couldn’t. They couldn’t even discuss it at home. Alain spent so much time at the rink. Probably having so much fun while she sat at home, bored out of her mind and worried about if she was doing things right. She’d been reading baby books and he hadn’t read one. Honestly it was getting to be too much. She hated being mad at him so much. It wasn’t their dynamic. But she didn’t know how to fix it.

Nathalie turned her attention to the clothes. She wanted to have the perfect outfit for JJ to wear home from the hospital. He was coming in October, so she was thinking maybe a sleeper. Maybe they could find a cute Halloween themed sleeper? She’d seen one last year with a spider on the butt and feet. It would be so cute. Of course she wouldn’t be able to find it in the summer. It was practically July. But still she wanted to look.

“What do you think of this?” Alain asked holding up a set of onesies all proclaiming love to fathers.

“Yeah, those are really cute,” Nathalie smiled. She couldn’t help but feel a slight stab. She looked through the others looking for ones for mothers, but they were all for girls. What the hell? Did baby boys not love their mothers? Were girls the only ones capable of it? As if fathers had to do anything that mothers did. It was disgusting. She just wanted something.

“Hey,” Alain hugged her as she fought back the tears. “Are you okay?” He asked gently.

Nathalie was so frustrated. She was so emotional. The hormones were making her feel all over the place. She shouldn’t be angry with Alain. It wasn’t his fault the clothing designers were dumb. But she was. The worst part was she knew she was being irrational, but she had no control over it. It was honestly so frustrating. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was being so sweet. She knew he was working hard for them. She knew he was right about her stressing out so much. But she couldn’t help it. And it was frustrating. She couldn’t tell him though. Not here in the middle of the store.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into his chest.

“It’s okay,” Alain whispered back, kissing her cheek. “I think we’re both stressed and tired and we need to just talk things out.”

“Why are you stressed?” Nathalie asked pulling away wiping her cheeks. “You’re not the one who’s pregnant?”

“I know I’m not. But Nathalie, we’re both going to be parents and I’m having a hard time balancing running the rink and being a good husband and father. And I’m trying to be everywhere at once and it’s hard.” Alain glanced at the floor. “It feels dumb when I say it out loud.”

Nathalie chewed her lip. She glanced at their basket. Just the two boxes of diapers and the set of onesies Alain had picked out. Something they’d each picked out. It was so stupid. He wasn’t even coming for another few months and she was getting upset over something so small. She felt dumb. And Alain was trying. Maybe they did need to talk. It was a good idea. The last two weeks were a little stressful and rocky. Ever since JJ had started moving, she felt like everything was so close to happening. She felt like she was running out of time. But he was what…four months away? She wasn’t even twenty-three weeks yet.

“Let’s just buy this, pick up a pizza, and talk,” Nathalie suggested.

“A pizza?” Alain’s eyes bulged out of his head, his eyebrows rising.

“Yes,” Nathalie laughed. “Baby wants pizza and I think I’ll give it to him just this once.”

“I’m glad. Because pizza used to be a staple for us,” Alain hugged her.

They bought the contents of the basket, walking silently, hand in hand toward the car. All Nathalie could think about is that they needed so much more before the baby came. She started feeling off about only getting diapers and a set of clothes. But she was hungry and wanted to feel close to Alain again. If they could just talk. That’s all she wanted. They could sit on the floor eating pizza again like they used to do.

It had taken a while for either of them to become top skaters in the world, so their families either spent money on them, stretching every penny, or breaking just barely even with their winnings. They had gotten used to living frugally, so when they started making large amounts of money, they tried to save every last penny. Put it away in savings accounts, paying their rent, coaching fees, equipment and other fees they required. When they moved in together, they found the least expensive apartment they could find. They shopped at the cheapest stores and just lived a very minimal life. Pizza on the floor of their apartment was a treat. Even when their bank account showed them they could afford much more. They wanted to save. If they could save it up, they would have a better time after they retired. It was always so romantic.

Nathalie wondered if moving into their house and buying organic food so she could have the best for their baby was straining the relationship. They didn’t pizza on the floor anymore. They cooked meals that Nathalie could barely choke down. Alain worked at the rink for long periods. They were spending their money now. Maybe that was where the stress was. Had they been right that living minimally would make them happier? She couldn’t help thinking that’s what was causing the issues.

They arrived home with the pizza and drink. Alain walked toward the small nook in the kitchen they had a table setup for small dinners. Nathalie stopped short in the living room. They could move the small coffee table to the side and sit on the rug and eat like they used to. Maybe turn off the lights and eat by candlelight while they talked. Just make their big home cozy and romantic again.

“Alain?” She started, walking into the room.

Alain was getting plates ready. He glanced at her. She leaned against the wall, watching for a moment. JJ was doing flips suddenly. She smiled rubbing her stomach for a moment, enjoying the feeling. He had been kind of quiet today. Or maybe she just hadn’t noticed. The baby was more active when Alain was around she’d noticed. She wondered if he was how she felt around her husband. She loved him so much even if he made her so angry and frustrated at times. He made her laugh more, feel safe and loved.

“How about we have pizza like we used to. We can move the coffee table and sit on the floor and eat out of the box and talk. Just…be.”

“Oh…” A smile spread over Alain’s face. “Are you good to sit on the floor?”

“I’m not that big yet, Alain,” Nathalie chuckled.

“I was just checking,” He grinned.

Alain moved the coffee table, insisting it was too heavy for Nathalie’s help. She smiled watching him. This was going to be so nice. She wanted it to be like before. She wanted to feel the closeness. She wandered to the kitchen and grabbed a few candles out of the cabinet. She lit one, leaning down and placing it on the table. In total there were six tea lights filling the air with a nice vanilla cinnamon scent. Alain brought in the pizza and cups for the drinks. Nathalie flipped the light off and the two sat down. Nathalie shifted a bit trying to get comfortable. She hadn’t sat on the floor in a while and the new distribution of weight and bump took a little getting used to.

“You okay?” Alain grinned.

“Maybe it wasn’t as easy as I thought,” Nathalie laughed, finally finding a comfortable position.

They sat eating quietly for a moment before the conversation started. It was a nice, easy evening. The lights danced on Alain’s face, shining in his blue eyes and accenting his features. Alain was such a handsome man. It wasn’t even in the most conventionally attractive way. He was just so…handsome. Nathalie wanted to kiss him. Part of her wanted to move the pizza aside and make love to him all night to the candlelight. She wondered what she looked like in this light to him. Did he want to do the same things to her? Was it just hormones?

“I love you,” Nathalie started.

“I love you too,” Alain smiled, taking a bite of his pizza.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been mean to you. I just…” Nathalie trailed off. She didn’t know how to continue. She didn’t want him to think she was crazy. She wasn’t the Nathalie she used to be. She was different. Even she recognized it. What if he didn’t feel the same after she told him how she felt?

“No, it’s okay. I’m sorry if I made you feel like you were at all unsupported or alone in this. This is kind of hard to say because I don’t feel like I am allowed to feel like this, but Rémi told me I needed to just say it. He says that we have feelings for a reason. We’re human. And we aren’t wrong for our feelings, but we have a choice on how we handle them and I don’t think I’ve been doing a good job with how I’ve handled mine.” Alain sighed.

“You talked to your brother about this and not me?” Nathalie couldn’t help but be a little hurt.

“No, I mean, yes, I did, but…” Alain paused. “I didn’t want it to come out wrong. Rémi’s my brother. I’ve known him my entire life. I love him to death. And whether I like it or not, my big brother always knows what to say when it comes to things like this and he’s always right. I don’t know how. I’m sorry if that upsets you?”

Nathalie paused. She needed to think. Rémi was Alain’s brother. She knew how close they were when she met Alain. It shouldn’t bother that he talked to Rémi about their problems before talking to her. It made sense. And Rémi was a social worker. That’s why he was so good at helping in these situations. He had been trained. There was also the advantage of knowing Alain so well. Nathalie had known her husband close to eight years now. It did bother her she still didn’t know him the best. He knew her the best.

“It’s okay. Of course you’d talk to your brother,” She smiled. “Do you want to continue or do you want me?”

“I guess I will while I’m on a roll if that’s okay?” Alain asked.

Nathalie nodded, shifting to get comfortable. The baby had moved himself to lay directly on her bladder. If he could just move a smidge… She pushed up slightly on her stomach trying to get him to move. She wanted to be able to focus on what Alain had to say. They needed this talk. They needed this moment. She needed to be able to give him her full attention. He didn’t deserve anything less. Finally the child moved. She breathed a sigh of relief and looked up to find Alain eating quietly, watching her.

“Sorry,” she muttered. “He was on my bladder and it was really uncomfortable and I wanted to be able to listen fully.”

“No, it’s okay. I understand.” He paused for a moment. “So basically I’ve been struggling because running a business is already difficult. I have to keep good records and be sure to pay the employees on time and pay our vendors and make sure we’re coming out on top. But I don’t feel right leaving you all day. You have so much planned that you want to do and I want to be there for you. I want to help you every step of the way and help raise our son to the best of my ability. I want to do this with you, Nathalie. But I think I’m spreading myself too thin. I’m not able to set up the boundaries I need. If I can work from like six am until three pm I think I can have the books kept up with and deal with thing that come up. And then maybe afternoons and evenings I can spend with you? I don’t want you to think that I’m abandoning you. I know you’re not used to being home all day. It’s not really something we ever did.”

“I think that sounds fair.”

Nathalie thought about what he’d said. Alain really was a sweet man. He wanted to be there for her. She had already known that. But part of her had wondered. Having him say this out loud was good. It validated her. She was able to separate reality and what she knew to be true from the pregnancy hormones that were making her feel more sensitive than usual.

“I’m also scared. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like you’re doing all the work when it comes to this baby and I hate myself sometimes for it. I think about how much you do. You have to be pregnant and deal with all that. You have to deal with labor and giving birth and breastfeeding. I feel helpless. I want to have control and I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can.” Alain rubbed his hands on his jeans for a moment, not looking at her. “I feel like I’m one of those guys who does his thing and then kicks back. I don’t want that.”

“Alain,” Nathalie took his face in her hands. “You will never be like that. You’re too sweet and I’m really glad you are telling me this.”

He leaned into her hand. “I want to be a good husband and a good dad.”

“You will be,” Nathalie hugged him. “You’re always trying to be better. That’s what makes you amazing. I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”

They sat like that for a moment. The sound air running and sound of the neighborhood outside seemed louder, but comforting. The light of the candles flickered on the walls around them. Nathalie could feel herself relaxing just a bit. She took a deep breath, holding it for a minute, then letting it out as she pulled away.

“Anything else?” She asked. He shook his head. “Then I’ll start?” Alain nodded. “So I guess a lot of it might have to do with my hormones. You know it’s like…there’s so much going on with my body right now and I think sometimes I just lash out at you because you’re there. You’re a safe person. I guess I didn’t take into consideration all you have to do with the business. I could have asked. I guess I kind of am on the other side of the fact you don’t feel connected or in control. I feel like you don’t take me seriously. Like when I talk about how I want to cut certain things out, you act supportive and then end up going back on it and saying a little won’t hurt. And it’s just like…I want to do the best thing, you know? And you not supporting me in that is just…it hurts? And then like the thing with the diapers, I really do think it’s a big deal. And for you to brush it off and make it seem like I’m being ridiculous really frustrates me.”

Nathalie paused, picking at her pizza. Alain was quiet. She could see him taking it all in. She didn’t want to overwhelm him, so she waited a minute more. It was nice to eat the pizza. Maybe it really was okay? Just every so often. She didn’t feel nauseous yet and had been able to eat three slices and working on her fourth. She wasn’t used to it. She was always so hungry and she was feeling herself find something closer to normal.

“I’m sorry.” Alain said. “I never realized that’s how it came across. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, like, I see you trying to cut things out, but it’s like you’re depriving yourself? You can never keep food down. And you seem like you’re forcing yourself to eat. And look at this, you’re eating pizza and you’re fine. And that day we had burgers, you actually ate. And it’s just, if it were making you happy, it would be different. But you’re not really eating? And with the diapers, I’m sorry. I understand you’re nesting and want the best, but part of me is wondering if you’re stressing too much. I just worry, I guess…”

Nathalie nodded. He was right. She did have a hard time eating and she usually did feel sick. She thought back to what her sister and husband said about their kids eating. Even if it wasn’t the healthiest, at least they were eating. Poor nutrition was better than no nutrition. Was she stressing? She tried to take everything he said into account.

“I see that. I just…it’s hard when I’m trying so hard and it’s like you’re just laid back about it and minimizing it. Like maybe rephrase who you’re saying it? Because the way you do it…it’s not the most supportive?”

Alain nodded. “Yeah, I could do that. Can you tell me if anything I says hurts you? So we can avoid all this? I’ll tell you too. We need to be more open.”

“We do.” Nathalie agreed.

…………….

Alain walked out of the bathroom after his shower. He was feeling much better after their talk. Neither one of them had realized how much they were keeping in that could have easily been avoided. It wasn’t like they never talked about things in the past, but now they needed to more than ever. They were going to have a little boy and they would need to be able to talk to each other and teach him how to communicate well. He had heard somewhere that the most common issue in relationships was miscommunication. He made a mental note to use more of it.

Nathalie was laying in bed reading one of her baby books. He watched her for a minute. He had her hair pulled back out of her face as she read. She looked very absorbed into the reading material. Her eyes widened and she gasped setting the book aside.

“Something scare you?” Alain asked.

“Do you know what an episiotomy is?” She asked.

“No?”

“Okay, well I’m going to tell you so we can both share this horror. They cut the tissue between the vagina and rectum to make the birth canal larger. I don’t want them to do that! They just snip it with scissors!” Nathalie’s eyes were wide, tears shining in them.

“Oh my god…” Alain breathed. It made him feel sick. She had to deal with so much.

“Don’t let them do that to me, Alain. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Alain laid down next to her, pulling her into a hug. “But tell you doctor too.”

Nathalie nodded. She leaned against him for a moment. She shifted slightly making a face. She was getting more uncomfortable these days as the baby got bigger. Alain wished he could make her more comfortable, but there was little he could do. She’d started keeping him up at night as she tossed and turned trying to get comfortable. Only minutes after he would hear her breathing calm signaling she was asleep did she have to get up to go pee. He felt awful.

“Alain…” Nathalie gasped.

“Huh?”

She grabbed his hand, placing it on her belly. He wrinkled his brows. She’d thought she’d felt him on the outside before, but either JJ would stop moving or Alain wouldn’t feel anything. They thought maybe she was just thinking she could feel it on the outside because she could feel it inside. Or maybe she was more sensitive to it because she’d been feeling him for a month now. Just as Alain was about to move away, he felt a strong thump against his hand. His eyes widened.

He moved away from her and laid near her belly. He put his hand back on her belly, waiting. She took his hand, moving it to where the baby was moving. Alain couldn’t believe it. He could feel his son moving! He let out a soft laugh and kissed her belly right where JJ was moving.

“Hi, JJ, it’s me…Papa. I can’t wait to meet you.”

Chapter Text

The television flickered in the dark room, a laugh track echoing the background as the sitcom family dealt with yet another situation that was somehow humorous. Nathalie couldn’t focus. She sipped the water in the cup through a straw as she tried to somehow calm the dull aching in her head, and calm the muscles in her neck and shoulder. The headache had been going on all day. Just an annoying dull reminder that her body was still missing the caffeine. That had to be it. There was no other explanation. She had eaten throughout the day, mostly little snacks like nuts and fruit. She’d even indulged on some chocolate ice cream hoping minimal caffeine would do something to fight the ache. Nothing. Not even the million cups of water were doing a damn thing to cut the pain. Part of her wanted to take some pain killer, but a simple kick from her developing child pushed her away from the very idea.

Alain laughed loudly at something that had just happen. Nathalie flinched. The sound was almost deafening as it echoed in her skull between the ears, ready to shatter everything. Maybe she just needed to sleep. She’d release some of the tension and rest was always a good idea. If she was lucky, she might be able to persuade Alain to give her a massage; possibly something else. Sex had been a headache reliever in the past, though she honestly didn’t feel up for it.

“I think I’m going to go to bed. I just need this headache to go away,” Nathalie sighed, pushing herself to stand, her belly getting in the way just slightly.

It wouldn’t be too much longer that she’d have to get Alain to pull up from the couch. A sharp stab in her pelvis shot through her body. Round ligament pain…she’d read about that in her baby books. It was much more painful than she’d imagined, though it did still bring tears to her eyes from the pain. Hopefully it would get better. She didn’t want to deal with this kind of pain for the next three and a half months. Just fifteen more weeks and she’d be ready. Fifteen more weeks of getting more and more uncomfortable. Fifteen more weeks of dealing with headaches, cramps, ligament pain, hormones, craving, nausea, exhaustion, and frustration. Well…maybe not exhaustion and frustration; those would probably get worse with a new baby.

“Do you need me to join you?” Alain glanced up at her from the couch. He hadn’t seemed to notice that she’d been in any pain.

Nathalie shook her head. She didn’t even want to speak. The room seemed to almost be moving. She could feel the baby get more active in response. It was such an interesting relationship. She hoped JJ didn’t feel pain when she did. Her body was helping him, wasn’t it? If she had a headache, her body would release endorphins that would help him. She was sure of that. She read about it. She rubbed her belly, trying to calm him down. He was bigger now, so the movements were more noticeable. She could always feel him now.

“I’m just going to go to sleep. You can finish your show.” Nathalie mumbled.

“Okay, good night,” Alain took her hand and kissed it, before he leaned forward and kissed her belly. “Don’t keep Maman up, JJ,” Alain asserted.

Nathalie smiled at him. It was no use telling JJ to not keep her up. He wasn’t cognizant yet. He’d reach twenty-five weeks tomorrow. He was going to be active. Part of Nathalie wanted to tell Alain that, but he was being so sweet. He wasn’t meaning anything off by it. She just needed to go lie down and get some sleep. She’d feel much better in the morning. She was sure of it.

…………….

The light was like daggers to her eyes. Nathalie closed them quickly, pulling the blanket over her head. She felt like she was going to be sick from the pounding in her head. She opened her mouth to call for Alain, but closed it. He wasn’t going to be there. He was at work. It was a Wednesday. He’d be at the rink until three. What time was it? She couldn’t stomach the idea of climbing out of the blankets. Everything hurt. Her head, her neck, shoulders. Her body was screaming. Something was wrong. This wasn’t normal. This was the worst headache she’d ever had in her life. She needed to get up, get to the phone, to call Alain, hell even call for an ambulance.

Her heart raced as panic filled her being. Tears sprung to her eyes, though she wasn’t sure if it was from the pain or fear. She struggled to get up, trying to see through scrunched eyes and her hand shielding her from the light. A wave of nausea hit. She wasn’t even sure where she was when the vomit came. She needed to get help. She needed it now. The vomiting stopped and she continued her quest to get to the phone.

After what felt like an eternity she found the phone, dialed the emergency number. She could barely speak. Each syllable was like a dagger. The voice on the other end of the phone sounded so distant, foreign, decidedly inhuman, but she persisted. Answered their questions as much as she could: address, name, the nature of the emergency, how far along was she, any problems she knew of? She wanted it to be over. She wanted to get off the phone and call Alain. She needed him to be here. She was scared and didn’t want to be alone, but they wanted her on the phone until help was there. She couldn’t take it.

“I have to go,” she whispered hanging up. She knew they’d call back. She needed to call Alain before they had the chance…she needed him.

“Hello?” Alain answered.

“Come home. Now. Something’s wrong.” She pleaded.

“What’s wrong? Are okay?” His voice was urgent, his questions seemingly endless.

“Come home,” she whispered. She hung up right as another wave of nausea hit, then everything went black.

……………

Alain arrived home to find an ambulance parked outside the house, EMT’s walking out of the house with Nathalie on a stretcher. He ran to them, telling them who he was, asking what was wrong. His heart sunk seeing her unconscious, pale, almost lifeless. Sobs escaped them as they led him to the ambulance with them, assuring him she’d get help. He sat on the bench in the ambulance they offered him after they’d loaded the stretcher. He winced at the sound of the doors closing, all he could focus on was his wife.

The EMT’s were working on her. One was taking vital signs every so often. Another had started and IV and they were giving her fluids and a medication to bring her blood pressure down. He was told it was dangerously high which had most likely been the cause of the headache, vomiting, and eventually her going unconscious.

Nothing made much sense, but he had to trust them. She had never had high blood pressure in her entire life that he knew of. Every wellness check she was given a green light. Each prenatal appointment was only optimism. Why was this happening? It made no sense. It didn’t. That thought played in his mind on loop. They kept telling him to stay calm and trust them, so he tried. It was his only option.

Nathalie woke up just as the ambulance pulled into the emergency room entrance much to Alain’s relief. He took her hand and kissed it, while the EMT’s talked with her, trying to keep her calm. Alain focused on his breathing. In and out, stay calm, be strong. They unloaded Nathalie, taking her into the emergency room, Alain close behind.

Alain had never seen an emergency bay come to life before. The only experience he’d had with an emergency room was when he was nineteen and twisted his ankle during practice, but he wasn’t a true emergency so he didn’t see the true organized chaos. Doctors and nurses were there attaching her to monitors, asking questions, examining her. Alain watched helplessly from his spot against the wall. She was answering the questions, seemed alert. Nobody looked worried, but he was shaking. He needed someone there in case he fell apart. Alain gripped his phone, waiting for a moment to able to slip out. He needed to make sure Nathalie was okay. She seemed like it, but he needed the doctor to say so.

“Okay, Nathalie, we’re going to do a Doppler to check baby, okay?” A woman with a small device told her. Nathalie nodded, tears falling down her face while they set up.

Alain felt his knees weaken. The baby. He had all but forgotten in his panic and worry for Nathalie. She was okay, but now there was another black cloud in the room. He didn’t know what to do. If something was wrong with JJ…they’d both become so attached. What if he was hurt? Alain swallowed hard, waiting, still not daring to get close. He didn’t want to get in the way. Nathalie’s color was coming back. Less people were in the bay, but honestly Alain couldn’t move. If he tried, he was sure he’d collapse. His legs couldn’t carry him. He breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the sound of the heartbeat, just as strong as the last appointment.

The tech smiled, pulling the Doppler away from Nathalie’s stomach. There were still nurses and a doctor settling Nathalie in, pulling labs and doing more exams. Alain felt the panic slowly subside, choosing that time to slip out and make a quick call. He tried to keep himself composed as he walked to the safe part of the hospital to make the call. They still weren’t out of the water yet, and he knew himself better than to try to handle this one his own.

“Social services, Rémi Leroy speaking. How may I help you?”

At the very sound of his brother’s voice, Alain felt a wave of relief course through him. Rémi could stay calm in almost every situation and had always been that support for Alain when he knew he needed it the most. He took a few breaths before speaking.

“Rémi…it’s me, Alain. Um…are you busy?” Alain hated how small his voice sounded.

“Alain? What’s wrong?” He could see Rémi leaning forward to listen better even though it was over the phone.

“Something’s wrong with Nathalie. We’re at the ER at Sainte-Justine. She called me at work earlier saying to come home and when I got there they were already putting her in the ambulance. She had this awful headache and passed out. Her blood pressure was super high and they had to give her medicine for it. She and JJ are okay for the time being, but I don’t know if I can hold it together. Can you please come?” Alain’s voice was shaky. He cleared his throat trying to sound more calm.

“Holy shit…” Rémi muttered. “Everything is okay right now?”

“Yes. That I know of.” Alain took a deep breath.

“Okay, I’m going to finish up this one thing I’m in the middle of and I’ll be over there, okay? Let me know if anything changes and I’ll drop everything.” Rémi’s voice was soothing, his social worker voice. Alain closed his eyes and focused on it. Nice and soft and calming.

“Okay. Thank you.”

“I love you,” Rémi said. “All three of you.”

“I love you too,” Alain whispered before ending the call.

……………….

Nathalie stared at the ceiling. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She had been so careful to do everything right, nothing bad for you except a few times. She’d always been so cautious about health problems, always been into the newest thing to stay healthy. She had made sacrifices for her child and now she was being admitted into the antepartum unit for observation. They told her it would at least a few days. She didn’t want to be here in a closed hospital room with boring beige walls and an uncomfortable bed. She wanted to be at home, safe and sound, curled up with a book next to Alain, but she needed to be here. They had put a fetal monitor on her to make sure they could keep an eye on JJ. It was very uncomfortable and every time she moved, the nurse would have to come in to adjust it.

Where was Alain? He’d only gone out to call his brother. Rémi was going to bring her them some clothes and other things from home as well as clean up the mess she knew she’d made. She wanted to have the comfy pajamas and get rid of the awkward hospital gown. Bless Rémi. She loved him like a brother too. What would they do without him? She didn’t want Alain to be gone, she was still scared. He didn’t want to leave her either. He’d been gone too long. She didn’t want to sit here alone with all the worries running through her head and she did not want to watch the television in her room.

She winced at a slight cramping that kept creeping up on her. Was it still ligament pain? Probably. The baby felt lower, there was more pressure in her pelvis. She frowned. He didn’t seem as active since she’d left the ER. They told her it could have been the medicine they gave her, but that was hours ago. She wanted to talk to Alain. Maybe she was being paranoid?

The door opened and a nurse came in, a strange look in her eye that her smiled didn’t quite match. Alain was close behind her. The nurse glanced at the strip on the monitor and frowned as Alain took the seat next to the bed letting her know Rémi had just gotten off work and was on his way to the house. Apparently since she’d been moved Alain had told him he could stay at work unless something changed. Part of her wished he could have been there already. Nathalie couldn’t focus on that though, she only had eyes for the nurse.

“Is something wrong?” Nathalie asked.

“It looks like you might be in labor. I’m going to check your cervix to see, but if you are, we’ll need to give you something to stop labor and some steroids.” The nurse tried to remain calm. Nathalie could see that she was worried despite her demeanor.

“What? Labor? No…I’m only twenty-five weeks. That’s…that’s impossible…” Nathalie glanced at Alain. “Right?”

“No, unfortunately moms deliver early. If you are, we can stop it, but we’ll give you steroids just in case so that your baby’s lungs can develop faster.” The nurse smiled.

Nathalie moved to sit up, her head still hurt. She felt something wet. The nurse gasped and offered a smile. No, no, no, no…Nathalie could feel the panic rising in her. This wasn’t happening. She had done everything right. No.

“What was that?” Nathalie asked. “Is everything okay? Please tell me that wasn’t…I can’t…it’s too early!” Her body was trembling as tears started to pour down her face.

“Nathalie, listen to me,” the nurse said putting her hands on Nathalie’s knees and making eye contact. “I need you to stay calm, okay? Your blood pressure is already high and you getting worried is going to make it increase. We’re going to take care of you and your baby. Yes, your water just broke, but I need to check your cervix. I need you to take a deep breath.”

“He’s not moving. I haven’t felt him move in a long time. Is he okay?” Nathalie couldn’t calm down. That was the dumbest thing she had ever heard. Calm down. How? Her baby was in danger.

“His heart rate is doing, okay. Let me check you and we’ll get something to stop labor. We’re going to give you steroids. And if you and baby are stable, we’re going to try our best to keep you pregnant. You need to try your best to keep calm for you and your baby.”

Nathalie nodded, leaning back as she sobbed. This was too much. She was so scared. He was too little. There was no way, but they would help her, right? Why wasn’t the nurse more worried? She glanced over at Alain who was just staring at the monitor, his mouth slightly open. He was in shock too. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! No. No…

The nurse finished her check and rushed out of the room without a word. Nathalie was trembling. Everything was going wrong. Alain wasn’t talking to her. He was just staring at the monitor. She looked over. What was he seeing? How could he read any of it? Why was that what he was focused on?

“Alain…” Nathalie grabbed his hand, snapping him out of his daze.

“It’s going to be okay,” Alain whispered, kissing her cheek, forcing a smile.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry!”

“Shhhh, you didn’t do anything,” Alain said quietly. “You did everything just right. Sometimes…sometimes this just happens.”

“What are we going to do?” Nathalie whispered. There was a sharp pain in abdomen causing her to cry out. It felt like she was being stabbed…and there was more fluid. Hadn’t it all come out?

“Are you okay?” Alain asked.

“I…I don’t know,” Nathalie managed to choke out through the pain. She was starting to feel faint. She closed her eyes for a moment hoping to reorient herself. She opened her eyes to find Alain staring wide eyed at the bed. She glanced down to see red then everything was black.

……………..

Again Alain found himself against the wall. He’d seen the blood, and after the moment of shock left, he had run to get help. The team had run, shoving him against the wall inadvertently. He stood there while they grabbed everything, taking the whole bed with them as they ran out. A single person stopped to tell him they were going to do a C-section and they’d come get him when they were done.

It was as if all the air had been pushed out of him. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. Tears poured down his cheeks. There had been blood. So much blood. There was no way…he couldn’t lose them. He couldn’t lose Nathalie. What would he do without her? It was his fault. This was all his fault. He had been the one to get her pregnant. If she died….it was on him.

“Alain…?”

Alain glanced at the door. Rémi was standing there, holding bags. One look at Alain, he dropped the bags and rushed toward him right as Alain’s legs gave out. Rémi caught him, slowly helping him to the ground. They were sitting now, Rémi positioning himself against the wall while he cradled Alain, whispering to him calming things, kissing his head, rubbing his hair. Alain could do nothing but sob into his brother’s chest. It was too much. It was all too much. Alain wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that until he was finally able to stop sobbing. He sniffled.

“There was a lot of blood,” Alain whispered. “It all happened so fast. I don’t…I don’t know what’s happening.” He trembled.

“Did anyone tell you anything? They have to tell you something.” Rémi rubbed his back.

“They said they’re going to do a C-section. They would come get me.” Alain muttered.

“Okay, so they’re doing surgery. It’ll be okay. They’ll come soon. How long ago did they leave?” Rémi was so calm, his voice so soothing.

“I…I don’t know.” Alain whispered.

Rémi was quiet for a minute before moving Alain away, standing and pulling Alain to his feet. He helped him to the small couch against the wall, and filled a cup with water from the sink. Rémi sat down next to him, grabbing a box of tissues, handing Alain both the tissues and the water. Alain thanked him and sipped the water slowly.

“They’ll come with news soon,” Rémi said, hugging his shoulders. “We just have to wait.”

Alain nodded. That was what they had to do. He leaned into Rémi and listened as his brother talked to him about things to help him take his mind off everything. It wasn’t working. All he could think about was how much blood there was, how pale Nathalie had been when they pulled her from the room, how quickly the medical team acted. It was an emergency. If they died…if Nathalie died…he’d never forgive himself. Then there was the part of him that hated himself that he would pick Nathalie to survive over their son if he had to. What kind of father did that? But he needed Nathalie. It would break his heart into a million if JJ didn’t make it, but he would die without Nathalie. He would have killed her and he couldn’t live with that. He’d go jump of the highest point he could find.

“Mr. Leroy?”

Alain jumped and looked up to find a young doctor standing before him with an older man to his side. They had papers in their hands. He felt his stomach twist. He looked at Rémi for guidance, for comfort. He didn’t know what to do.

“Yes?”

“My name is Dr. Hasan. I’m one of the doctor’s on your wife’s case and this Dr. Yang from neonatology,” the older man spoke. “We wanted to update you on their condition and ask you for decisions. Sir, if you would mind stepping out,” he said to Rémi.

“No!” Alain grabbed his brother’s arm. “This is my brother. I’d like him to stay.”

“Okay, that’s fine. So we were able to do the C-section successfully. What appears to have happened was a complete placental abruption. Basically the cord pulled away from the uterus which resulted in heavy blood loss. We were able deliver the baby and he’s been take to the NICU. I’ll let Dr. Yang tell you about that in just a moment. We’ve been able to stop the bleeding, but often times in these cases the safest route to go is a hysterectomy and we needed to talk to you since the situation is no longer emergent. Just to be safe, it used to standard practice, but we’ve been having some success with no doing the procedure. The problem in this case is that your wife seems to have developed a condition called HELLP syndrome which is why there was such a rapid decline. Often times there is an issue with bleeding out.” Dr. Hasan paused, Alain seized the moment.

“If she doesn’t, will she be okay?” Alain whispered.

“There is a chance that the bleeding could start once again, but right now the uterus is contracting properly to prevent more bleeding.” Dr. Hasan answered, glancing at the papers in his hand.

“No…” Alain shook his head. “If you don’t have to, then please don’t. She wants more kids, we, want more kids.” Alain was trembling. He didn’t know what to do. What if she started bleeding again? But then again, she had talked to him about it, they’d talked about their family. Was this not the best decision? He felt like he was holding her life in his hands.

“Very well. The next question is we need to give blood and we need consent,” Dr. Hasan went over the form, highlighting the risks. Alain half listened, leaning on his brother the whole time before signing the papers. “Great. We’ll get her stabilized and you’ll be able to come see her shortly.”

Alain nodded. Dr. Hasan walked briskly out of the room toward what Alain assumed to be the operating room they’d done the surgery in to give them his decision. His heart was so heavy. This was too much to handle, but he knew he needed to be strong now. He was the sole person able to do this. He wished Rémi could sign all the papers, but he couldn’t. He wished Nathalie were here, okay, and making her opinions known, but she was under anesthesia alone in a cold, sterile room with strangers fighting to save her life. He wanted to be there, to hold her hand and kiss her and tell everything would be okay.

“Mr. Leroy, my name is Dr. Yang. I’m one of the neonatologists here,” he smiled sitting down on a chair he’d pulled over. Alain was instantly comforted by that. The doctor was sitting at his eye level, smiling and calm. “First I want to congratulate you on becoming a father and the birth of your son. I know it’s early, but it’s still worth celebrating a baby.”

“Thank you,” Alain forced a smile.

“I wanted to kind of go over things with you and prepare you for everything. So with your son being twenty-five weeks, he’ll have a lengthy stay in the NICU which stands for neonatal intensive care unit. It’s an ICU for babies, mostly premies. We say that you’ll shoot for the due date for a time to go home. So we’ve stabilized him and my colleagues are getting everything settled. I’ll be taking over care. First off, I do need to go over some things. With him being born so early, the chance of him surviving is about fifty percent. He is at risk for infections and brain bleeds. Often these infants are looking at cognitive issues and delays: Autism, ADHD, ADD, learning disabilities, and other delays. Cerebal palsy rates are also a factor. Physical delays and disabilities are also things that are quite common. Right now we have a breathing tube in and he’s on a kind of ventilator called a high frequency, hifi, or oscillator. Those are the terms you might hear. I need to ask you knowing about these risks, do you want us to continue treatment?” Dr. Yang paused, looking at him.

Alain felt like he had been punched in the gut. Just yesterday he and Nathalie were talking about all the plans they had for their son, all the hopes. They were already looking forward to all the firsts: First time rolling over, crawling, pulling up, steps, and now he was being told that might not be something that he could do. They may never get that. Their little boy could have poor quality of life. He had to make that decision right now. Did he be selfish? He glanced at Rémi.

“I…I don’t know,” Alain whispered. “I don’t want him to suffer at all…”

“I work with people with disabilities and they don’t all suffer. Most of them are happy people,” Rémi assured him. Alain nodded. Rémi did this, worked with so many people who needed help. Rémi knew.

“Yes, please,” Alain nodded, taking the form and signing it.

He sighed so many forms, listened to everything the doctor was telling him. They’d place lines, give him blood, monitor his blood pressure from an artery. He signed every form he needed. To hell with it all. He needed JJ too. And if he could save him, if they could save him, he wanted everything done. All he could think about how was how different everything was now.

“Do you have any questions?” Dr. Yang asked, staying sitting with him patiently.

“No,” Alain swallowed. “Can…can I see him?”

Dr. Yang led Alain and Rémi back toward the big double doors into the unit. The walls were painted a warm green with little animals to liven this section of the hospital up a little. Alain breathed a sigh of relief. Part of this felt normal somehow. They were made to wash their hands and elbows in surgical like fashion before they were allowed in. They were led to a small room in the corner that was a little more private than the open bay.

Alain’s heart was racing when he saw the incubator. There was a large machine that was rumbling behind it. There were multiple people in the room. The nurse smiled at Alain as the top of the incubator raised up. He couldn’t move. Rémi’s hands were on his shoulders. The nurse was talking, but he couldn’t focus on anything she was saying. His eyes were focused on the bed. He couldn’t see anything, but he couldn’t move.

“Do you want to meet your son, Alain?” Rémi asked softly.

“Y-yes…” Alain whispered.

Rémi helped him clear the few feet between them and the bed. Alain gasped, tears filling his eyes again. The baby didn’t look much like a baby at all. He reminded him more of a newborn puppy than a baby. His skin was a deep red and shiny. His eyes appeared to be fused. His body was shaking from the ventilator. He stared at him. This was his son. He was so small. He could have fit in one hand.

“Do you have a name?” The nurse asked.

Alain couldn’t answer, couldn’t take his eyes off the child. How was he going to live? Had he made the right decision? Alain honestly didn’t know. He had imagined all the feelings he would feel when he met his son for the first time, but he didn’t feel a single one he expected. All he felt was fear.

“Yes…Jean-Jacques…um, JJ,” Rémi answered.

“How big is he?” Alain asked suddenly.

“He’s eleven inches, almost twenty-three centimeters to be more precise. 520 grams which is 1 pound, 2.3 ounces.”

“Wow…” Alain breathed. He was so small...

………………….

Nathalie winked her eyes open. The room was dimly lit. She realized she was alone. There was still an IV in her hand. Her mouth and lips were so dry. Her throat was scratchy as her body begged for something to drink. She brushed her hair back out of her face as she felt her body waking little by little. Everything was still. So still. Why wasn’t the baby moving? He was always moving.

 

She sat up quickly, hissing at the stabbing, pulling pain in her lower abdomen. It felt almost as though she was tearing apart, as if all over her intestines would fall out. She pushed the blanket back, pulling the gown up. Her heart sank. She felt like she was going to vomit. There was an incision stapled shut on her lower abdomen. They had done a C-section. She wasn’t pregnant anymore. That’s when she remembered it. Memories of the headache, the ER, the blood. She had gone into labor. After that, everything was blank. She recognized the room. She had been here before when everything happened. The realization was haunting. Where was he? Where was her baby? If he wasn’t where he was supposed be then where was he? Where was Alain? Where was the nurse? The doctor? Anyone?

She started to grab for the call button when the door opened and Alain walked in. His shoulders were slumped over. He was wiping at his eyes. She called to him. He looked up at her, with a mixture of emotions all over his face that she couldn’t read. She saw his eyes, red, swollen, tearful. He looked crushed, defeated. She shook her head, her hands flying to cover her nose and mouth. Her baby, her JJ, was dead. She could tell. She just knew. She collapsed into sobs not wanting to say the words.

Alain was holding her now. Rocking her gently back and forth as she sobbed into his chest. She didn’t care that the movement made her feel like she was about to rip. She didn’t care about anything. Her heart was breaking. She was falling apart. Every hope she’d ever had, the last months burning in her mind. Everything was over. If her son was gone, then she didn’t want to exist.

“I love you. I’m so glad you’re okay. I love you.” Alain was whispering.

She pushed him away suddenly. “Okay? Okay? OKAY?” With each repetition of the word, her voice raised in octave and volume. How could he possibly think she was okay? How could he be so selfish? She would have never married him if she had known what a selfish man he was going to be. “Our son is dead and you think I’m okay?” She shouted.

“Dead? Nathalie…sweetheart, no, no, he’s not dead.” He shook his head, his eyebrows knitting in concern.

“Don’t lie to me, Alain. Don’t you dare fucking lie to me!” She hissed.

“I’m not lying. He’s in the NICU. I was just there. I just saw him.” Alain offered a smile trying to hug her.

“What’s that?” She leaned back, pushing him away again. NICU? What was that? Was he making it up?

“Neonatal intensive care unit. It’s like…this really specialized area of the hospital where they know how to take care of premature babies and sick babies. There was a baby I saw, Nathalie, who looked like a toddler!” He shook his head.

“He…he’s okay?”

“They’re doing what they can. He’s so little, Nathalie…” He shook his head. “I swear he could fit in my hand. He weighed one pound and 2.3 ounces. 520 grams. And he’s just shy of eleven inches. He’s so small, Nathalie.” Alain took her hand.

“What?” She gasped, starting to cry once more.

Barely over a pound? How…how was that possible? He wouldn’t survive she was sure of it. Alain repeated himself, telling her all about it. She didn’t believe him. How? She wanted to see her baby, she had to. A nurse had come in to check on her at some point. She couldn’t keep anything straight. Her mind was swimming partly from the medication and partly from the fact that she needed to see her baby boy. She didn’t believe them, but the nurse told her she wasn’t stable enough to go yet. She was getting blood and she had been in and out of consciousness. She just wanted her baby. Nathalie stopped listening to anyone as tears fell down her face. She needed to see her baby.