WARNING: BEFORE YOU READ, PLEASE REFRESH YOUR MEMORY OF ALL THE EVENTS BEFORE THIS FINAL CHAPTER AS NEEDED AS THIS IS THE FINAL CHAPTER BESIDES AN EPILOGUE AND HAS NOT BEEN UPDATED FOR A WHILE. THANK YOU.
A/N: Yeah, it's been rough guys. Long story short, lost internet, (JUST NOW GOT IT BACK) lost free time due to working 3 jobs and school, and just recently before Father's Day, lost my Grandpa…But one thing that has not been lost…IS MY LOVE FOR REVENGE AND JEMILY AND ALL MY FRIENDS ON HERE AND READERS! THAT'S RIGHT! I'VE STILL BEEN KEEPING UP WITH THE FANDOM IN THE SHADOWS! AND GUYS! REALLY?! WHERE ARE ALL THE JEMILY FICS I ADORE?! Lol so anyways, good to be back! Please enjoy this chapter and special thanks goes to all of you who have been patient and InfinityxInifnity777 for her amazing stories and help in this fic. Now that I switched my internet provider and booted up my Microsoft office and it was my day off yesterday, I figure it's time to get back to the action!
The warmth of the bright sun rays did little to keep Carl David Porter from shivering as he bundled his brightly colored scarf more snugly around his neck. Though the bitter, chilled winds continued to nip mercilessly at his face, the boy chose actively to ignore the frost bite as he persevered, walking through the cemetery's yard. The deep snow crunched underneath his boots as he found the headstone he wanted. He fiddled with the pink colored stem roses and blue colored hydrangeas that were in his hands as he swallowed the lump in his throat.
It was hard enough picking the right type of colored flowers…
The nine-and a-half-year-old knew that he probably should not have wandered off, away from adult supervision, but this was just something he had to do…
After everything he and his family had been through…
After the loss…
He just had to take a moment away from everything and everyone to give his proper respects and honor the special loved one that was supposed to be a part of his family…
But fate had other plans…Especially since they were out of anyone's control…
Although it was many months if you counted, it seemed like forever ago to him.
And his father and stepmother felt the same way no doubt…
After finally mustering up the courage to speak, fighting to stay strong, Carl spoke softly. "Um…H-hi…I…I hope you don't mind…I wanted to come see you today…"
It was no surprise that silence was the response he got in return, but it didn't make it any less painful.
"I know it's been awhile…Sorry about that. Things have been…different, I guess you could say. Everything's changing now. Especially for me…I'm still trying to understand it all, ya know? There are a lot of things I'm still trying to understand in life I guess…I wish I could tell you face to face...Maybe then it'd be easier. Or maybe not. Maybe you wouldn't understand since…well, you were kind of taken away before we had a chance- before I had the chance to…to really know you. I try to still be happy though. We all do. Mom is…she's still…managing is how she likes to put it, but dad and I know how hard it is for her to come here. It's hard for dad too…But as long as we all know you're in a better place…It'll all be okay. I know it will be…right?"
Carl smiled as a tear streamed down his cheek.
"Anyways…I-I just wanted to tell you…You don't have to worry about me. I-I'm okay. We'll all be okay. Sorry that we couldn't really spend much time together…but maybe someday, we'll get the chance. I just hope that…maybe one day if we ever get to really meet, you'll think I'm a good big brother and- "
Carl almost jumped, startled as he quickly wiped his eyes to remove any traces of crying. Bracing himself for a lecture for leaving without a warning, he wanted to breathe in relief when he found that he was grabbed into a supportive hug by his Aunt Charlotte instead.
"I don't mean to intrude, but I didn't know where you were for a second there. You need to let me know where you're going next time, Buddy."
"I'm sorry Aunt Charlotte. I just…I had to-"
"-I know. It's still hard. It gets hard for me too…" Charlotte nodded as she rubbed his shoulder comfortingly. She then noticed the pink and blue flowers in his hands. "Oh, you didn't give it to them yet?"
Carl shook his head. "Not yet. I meant to, but I was still talking to…my mother…well Mom number one I guess I should say. With everything happening with Mom number two about to finally have the baby, and since today's the day Grandpa joined my mother here in heaven, I just wish they could be here to see me finally become a big brother…well, that is if I'm going to be a good- "
"-Carl. Stop worrying. I told you before and I told you again, you're going to make a wonderful big brother!" Charlotte shook her head with a smile as she ruffled his brunette colored hair.
"Everyone keeps saying that, but what if something goes wrong? Dad and the doctor said mom is h-high risk! I don't know what that means exactly, but it doesn't sound good!"
"Carl…" Charlotte tried. The boy kept going.
"What if her heart acts up or shuts down like Iron Man's did?! Or-or what if the baby gets stuck and doesn't come out right?"
"Carl!" Charlotte tried again, but to no avail.
"What if it's a mutant?!"
"CARL!" Charlotte's voice rose, finally breaking through his rant, making the boy blink at her. "A mutant? Really? Okay, I think that's enough comic books for you, mister."
Carl's worried expression did not subside. "They're actually called graphic novels, but that's not the point! The point is lots of stuff can happen to mom! And I heard having a baby hurts really, really badly and- "
Charlotte resisted the urge to facepalm. "-Ugh…I still don't get how you even knew about that or why can't you just believe in the stork like other kids used to…"
"Because I asked Google after dad and mom didn't want to tell me where babies actually came from and I didn't feel like waiting till I was 'older' to find out." Carl shrugged innocently.
Charlotte just shook her head at him in response, clearly not amused. "Look, all I'm saying is that you're worrying too much. Have a little more faith. You know that your mom's a tough cookie."
"…You're right…It's just, after that whole thing with the bad snake people kidnapping dad and mom all those months ago, I can't help but get worried. I already lost my bio mother…I don't want anything to happen to my other mom too or my new brother or sister…" Carl said softly looking down at his mother's grave, still fiddling the flowers he had in his hands.
Charlotte rubbed a hand across his back in comfort before whispering, "It's all going to be okay, buddy. You'll see."
Fortunately, it was enough to make the boy look up at her and crack a little smile; nodding his head before he sighed and laid the beautiful pink flowers gently on the headstone that was labeled:
Beloved Mother and Wife: Emily Thorne: Oct 3, 1985- Sept 2, 2012
Charlotte sighed, swallowing the lump in her throat. She couldn't help but admire the child's strength. He had been through so much and yet was still left untainted by the real world's cruelty. She hoped it would remain that way for him…And yet, she could understand Carl's concern for her sister. If she had to be honest, there were times when she still couldn't believe how everything turned out. As the cold winds blew across her face, she thought back on the events that happened that day…
Flashback to around 9 months or so ago…
"Nolan! Was. She. Bleeding?!" Charlotte's voice rose desperately.
Nolan's eyes filled with tears once more. Before he could respond however, both parties watched the door to Amanda's hospital room swing open before they saw Jack Porter walk out as if he were in a trance, trudging slowly, not looking up.
Charlotte wasted no time in rushing to him, grabbing him in an embrace.
One that she noticed was not returned in the slightest…
"Jack! Oh, my god! I-I heard about everything! Are-are you alright?! How's Amanda a-and the baby?!" Charlotte sputtered as she watched Jack flinch at his wife's name, but when she mentioned the baby, she was horrified to see him shake his head as his shoulders shook suddenly, and his breaths grew heavier as a hiccupping sob escaped his lips, before the dam broke completely as he crumbled to his knees crying heavily, seemingly almost bitterly in front of them.
Charlotte knelt next to him, shaking her head as she realized what'd just happened…
…What it all meant…
Before she knew it, she ended up wailing next to him, apologizing over and over as she held him tightly and cried.
Nolan shook his head, finally letting the tears fall as a sob escaped his lips as well. His heart breaking for his best friends as he joined the two on the cold floor, adding his own grief into the mix.
Charlotte kept sobbing out apologies to her brother-in-law, still holding him in an embrace before she and Nolan noticed that his hiccupping whimpers got shorter and shorter and his shoulders continued to shake, but the sounds that he made, didn't sound much like the bitter sobbing from moments ago, now it sounded like…
Charlotte and Nolan raised their heads in confusion, wiping their swollen, reddened eyes from remaining tears as they looked at each other before turning to Jack. They were completely perplexed to see the man laughing and crying at the same time as he was now smiling despite the tears that still streamed down his face.
"J-Jack?" Charlotte nearly squeaked, officially concerned for her brother-in-law's sanity.
"She-she's okay!" Jack finally managed as he fought to get his breathing pattern under control from almost hyperventilating earlier. "A-Amanda…a-and the baby are…th-they're going to be okay."
"W-What?!" Nolan whispered as his eyes widened. "B-but I thought- "
A slight yelp from Jack interrupted Nolan's baffled murmuring as Charlotte punched him in the shoulder. Hard.
"YOU JERK! YOU ALMOST MADE ME HAVE A HEART ATTACK!" Charlotte all but screamed. Before Jack could protest or defend himself, his eyes widened as reality hit him on who was in front of him and the rather large injury that person had. "Charlotte?! W-what are you doing here? And what the hell happened to you?!"
"Don't change the subject! My sister! H-how is she?! W-what happened?!" Charlotte asked firmly despite the tremor in her voice as she covered her injury defensively, ineffectively trying to hide it.
"The baby-the baby's not dead?!" Nolan added, desperate to know the answer, clinging on to hope.
Jack sniffed, shaking his head while rubbing his now even more injured, bandaged shoulder as he explained. "No... Thankfully. It-it was a miracle that they made it through alright. Amanda j-just had a urinary tract infection that was starting to get severe, but they caught it in time and she's going to get the proper treatment."
"So…in-in the car, when her stomach was hurting...it-it wasn't because of a miscarriage?" Nolan asked cautiously.
"I-I thought it was after everything honestly, but…no. No, she's-they're going to be okay." Jack breathed, his words providing needed relief to himself as much as the others as he continued, "She's…she's got to take it easy from here on out though; which will be a task knowing how she is, and there's still the case of her being high risk with her health conditions, but overall, as long as she slows down a bit, the doc says she should make it through." Jack managed a smile.
"Oh-oh thank god!" Charlotte breathed with relief before excitement filled her once more. "But then that means…Jack! Y-you're really going to be a dad again!" Charlotte breathed. She and Nolan then hugged him once more, but with pure happiness. Jack was ready to return the affection before the word "dad" hit home for him and his eyes grew wide, before frantically grabbing Nolan by the shoulders.
"Oh-oh my god, Carl! M-my son! Nolan! I-I need to call him! I need to make sure he's okay! H-h-have you heard from him at all?!" Jack practically sputtered.
Nolan gulped, looking away uncomfortably, trying to pick and choose the right words that wouldn't send him into sudden death once Jack found out about the lack of communication that caused his son to be worried... "Uh…yeeah, about that…I- "
Jack pushed away from Nolan and barely had time to respond before his son came barreling towards him, grabbing him in a desperate embrace that sent them both rolling on the floor. He grabbed onto his son, returning the embrace with equal fervor, chuckling and breathing in relief as his worries subsided.
Screw the fact that they were becoming an eyesore to the medical staff who passed by…
"CARL! H-hey, buddy! Oh, thank god, you're okay! I-I was so worried about you!" Jack breathed as he looked down to his son, wiping away the boy's tears.
"Me?! I-I was the one worried about you! I heard about the bad people who kidnapped you and mommy and-and then the building that exploded and I tried to call you, but-but no one picked up, so I called Aunt Charlotte and we came here and we thought you both were gone! But then I found out it was because Uncle Nolan forgot that he had your phones, so it's all okay." Carl explained innocently.
"Wait. Your Uncle Nolan did what?!" Jack shot up and turned to glare at Nolan who just waved back sheepishly in apology.
He knew from the steely look in Jack's eyes that he'd be catching hell from him later…
"Dad…wh-where's mom? Is she-is she okay?" Carl whimpered, making his father soften his expression before he moved a strand of hair from his son's bangs away from his eyes, smiling softly.
"Yeah, little man…Don't worry. She's-she's gonna be just fine. In fact, she's more than okay." Jack's smile widened making Carl tilt his head in slight confusion. "Wh-what do you mean?"
"I mean…Well, remember when you said that it got lonely for you without having any brothers or sisters around to have fun with?"
Carl nodded innocently, still feeling perplexed but listened intently.
"Well, you don't have to worry about being lonely anymore…Because we just found out that…you're going to get to be a big brother after all…"
Carl's eyes widened with excitement as realization hit him. "Wait…are-are you saying that mom's- "
"-going to have a baby. We're going to have a baby." Jack finished and nodded, smiling with equal excitement.
"No way! I-I'm finally going to get to be a big brother? Seriously?!" Carl asked, his excitement reaching its peak once he saw his father chuckle and nod as confirmation. He then started jumping up and down, fist pumping the air. "YES! OH, MY GOSH! UNCLE NOLAN! AUNT LOUISE! AUNT CHARLOTTE! DID YOU HEAR THAT?! I'M FINALLY GOING TO GET TO BE A BIG BROTHER AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!"
The child wasted no time in hugging each adult who only chuckled with glee in excitement at the news. They could hardly believe it themselves, that after all the tragic events and storms, the light at the end of the tunnel was finally shining through.
"Well ain't that just the dandiest! Congratulations Sugar!" Louise smiled hugging the boy back before he rushed back to Charlotte who hugged him back before he rushed to Nolan and finally his dad again before shooting up once more. "Oh, my gosh where's mom?! I-is she here?! I have to tell her the good news! MOM?! MOM!"
"Slow down Buddy! I think she already knows since she's the one having it! Hey, hey no running! Slow down!" Jack chuckled trying to keep his parental voice firm as he watched his son rush down the hall towards Amanda's room, but he couldn't contain his excitement either.
Charlotte couldn't stop smiling as she and the others followed Jack and Carl to Amanda's room to congratulate the pending mother.
Things were finally looking up…
"Aunt Charlotte? Aunt Charlotte!"
Carl's voice snapped Charlotte out of her thoughts as she turned her attention towards him.
"I never got to ask you, how is mom? Is she doing okay? Is the baby here yet? I heard that once mom breaks some type of water, the baby comes right away, but it's taking forever! Are you sure she's going to have it?" Carl asked, his slew of questions making Charlotte blink as she tried to find the right response.
Meanwhile in the hospital somewhere in New York…
Jack Porter had no time to wipe the sweat from his brow as he was too busy completing that task for his clearly distressed wife as the couple were surrounded by medical staff in the small yet private labor and delivery room. Though he was not a stranger to fatherhood, the journey of pregnancy for Jack had been a complicated yet simple one before; since at the time, the mother of his child was already well developed and was unfortunately in a coma when they had to deliver his first child rather than dealing with the normal stages of enduring active labor.
However, this was not the case for Jack Porter this time around…
As for his wife, it was clear that Amanda Porter nee Clarke was no stranger to pain. She had been in her fair share of severe fights, had been shot twice, and even gotten in some messy incidents with a katana back in the day. However, all the excruciating pains of those moments seemed questionable compared to what she was going through now.
The struggle of active labor was all too real…
She was starting to wish she opted for the epidural after all…
"She's dilated to about 8cm now…" One of the nurses stated as she watched the nearby fetal monitor.
"Still too early. And the doctor isn't here yet. Mrs. Porter, we know it's hard but we need you not to push right now. Whatever you do, don't push! We don't want any ruptures taking place." Another nurse stated calmly.
"H-Honey did you hear that? D-d-don't push yet." Jack stammered, fighting to stay calm as the rush of the moment was getting to them both and his attempts to keep his wife calm were failing miserably as they awaited the needed physician who was still not present yet.
Not to mention the grip his former ninja wife had on his hand at that moment was causing quite a discomfort for the usually calm mannered man…
"I-I'm not pushing!" Amanda grunted impatiently through short, heavy breaths; though she was clearly disobeying orders due to the paralyzing pains that were wreaking havoc on her body as she writhed on the birthing bed.
Waiting on the doctor, be damned.
Another nurse shook her head as the rest of the crew surrounded Amanda on the table. "Ma'am, it's clear you're pushing. I know it may feel involuntary, but you're not fully dilated yet so try to resist the urge and just focus on your breathing."
"Sweetie, did you hear that? J-just focus on your breathing, remember the classes we took, in and out." Jack tried to soothe his wife once more, wiping her head with the already soaked cloth in his other hand.
"I. Am. Breathing." Amanda gritted through her teeth. The little ounce of patience that was left in her was fading rapidly as the grip on her husband's hand all but tightened since the striking pain that compelled her to push more became her overall focus on top of her appropriate breathing techniques.
Jack resisted the urge to yelp as he lost the feeling in his hand and continued his attempt to be the ever supporting and comforting spouse. "A-Ams, Baby, don't worry. You got this. I'm right here. Just relax- "
At the words "just relax", and as her pain reached an all-time high, Amanda finally snapped.
"JACK! SH-SHUT UP! DO. NOT. TELL ME TO RELAX RIGHT NOW! YOU-!"
Her enraged rant was interrupted as she let out another agonized wail of pain. She then managed to send a powerful glare to everyone in the room.
"GET THIS BABY OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW OR I SWEAR I'LL DO IT MYSELF-OH, MY GOD!"
"OH, MY GOD! MY HAND!" Jack had little time to react to his wife's outburst as he nearly doubled over, groaning loudly in unison with her to their respective pain sources: hers being the pain of finally being fully dilated, and his being the pain of his wife's crushing grip on his hand tightening even further due to her finally being fully dilated.
Meanwhile back at the cemetery…
Charlotte managed to hide her uncertainty with a bright smile as she nodded at her nephew who was still waiting for her answer regarding his stepmother's condition. "I'm sure she's…managing right now. Having a kid is no easy task, but you know what? She's going to be just fine. Don't worry."
She then took out her phone to check for any new messages, but sighed when she saw that there were none, but smiled and ruffled Carl's bangs once more. "Well, come on, let's go grab a bite to eat. Your dad hasn't texted me back with a status yet and I know you must hungry, now. And it's cold out here!"
"Kay! Let me just say hi to Grandpa and give him his flowers too, 'cause I almost forgot!" The boy rushed to the headstone that was next to his mother's.
"Hi Grandpa David! It's me, Carl! I'm sorry I'm the only one here to say hi today. Mom would have been here like usual, but she's a little busy having the baby right now. You're gonna be a Grandpa again today and I'm officially going to be a big brother! Hopefully I'll be a good one…I…I wish you and my mother were here…" Carl's voice softened as he placed the blue hydrangeas on top of the headstone. "A-anyways, mom and dad send their best. She wanted me to drop these off for you. Hope you like them. I picked them out myself! Well…I gotta go now, but I promise I'll be back with mom and dad and the baby soon." Before he got up to leave with his Aunt, Carl looked at both his mother and grandfather's headstones and traced a double-infinity sign on both of their graves whispering,
"We all love you both, infinity times infinity…"
Meanwhile somewhere in a local 'Babies R Us' store…
Though the current activity of picking out various accessories and goodies for his pending niece or nephew's birthday proved to be a rather joyous one for Nolan Ross as he looked at the rack of tasteful designed baby bibs and toys, he couldn't help but freeze completely as some little boys in the next section over chased each other around the isle with Nerf guns, aiming the toys and shooting mercilessly at one another with excitement, despite their mother's scolding for them to stop.
Their excitement was his horror as flashbacks plagued his mind once more…
"I-I really just killed him, didn't I?"
"I-I killed someone…"
Suddenly, hearing the rushing sound of a shopping cart's wheels racing towards him, Nolan jumped from being broken out of his thoughts and flinched as the basket stopped just short of running him over as a cheerful Louise Ellis smiled at him, eager to show him her items she had in mind for the baby.
Nolan blinked for a moment, coming back to reality as he looked at what Louise was holding in her hand, and let out a chuckle without meaning to. Needless to say, he was thankful for the distraction overall.
"Well, I know whose side you're on!" Nolan exclaimed, with a quick shake of his head as his eyes glanced apprehensively at the tiny, bright pink frilly dress Louise was holding up, not losing her wide smile.
…Knowing, but not having the heart to tell her that Amanda would never let her baby be seen in it…
It was obvious that Louise was team "baby girl" all the way; as proven by the slew of pink and purple frilly, sparkly little newborn clothes strewn all over her right arm, despite the very, very few little infant sized tuxedos that were buried under piles of infant dresses and skirts.
"Adorable, right?" She sighed happily, not looking for his affirmation as she added it to the precarious pile of clothes about to topple off her arm without delay since her basket was already full to the brim. Shopping was always a fun time for her. After all, who didn't get excited about new clothes and styles and materials to doll themselves up in, but eying all the delightful little baby clothes in the store had her thinking that she might have found her new favorite hobby.
She could practically feel the endorphins bouncing around in her head!
Words couldn't describe how excited she was for this new baby girl…or boy…
It wasn't that she was opposed to a baby boy. It was just that that she'd always wanted a baby sister as a little girl. Someone who she could have braided hair for, painted nails, and as they had gotten older, given solid advice over boys.
She was much too old to have a little sister now of course, but having a precious goddaughter would be close enough.
Yes, she would be a godmother.
After all, she'd been leaving subtle hints to the Porters for months after the news had broken…and finally, just two weeks ago, she'd officially been dubbed the Godmother of their second child, and Nolan the Godfather. Words couldn't describe the joy she had felt in that moment, it was more than just being graced with the title of godmother, but what that word truly meant…
It meant that she was family…
In a more tangible, defined way, than what she had felt before.
Nonetheless, their first task as godmother and godfather was shopping for baby clothes and furniture which explained why they were now in their second hour at Babies R Us. Though if you asked Amanda or Jack, they most likely just sent them off, wanting a little space from the buzzing redhead and giddy blonde, so that they could let out their own feelings of excitement, fear, and nerves, without the room being overloaded with all that positive energy.
Especially since the vibes Amanda was giving off were anything but positive once her water had broken…
Also, and most importantly, the couple just needed time to breathe alone, just the two of them… or three of them, as one should say.
Nolan immediately scoffed at Louise's basket and walked behind her to another shelf.
"Come on, you haven't spilled yet, are you more team baby girl or team baby boy" Louise asked with a sly smile, nudging him as she watched Nolan pick up a more gender neutral outfit for the newborn…along with a few shirts and showed it to her with pride.
Louise resisted the urge to facepalm at his choices…
The first shirt was yellow and had an image of a computer with a smiley face on it, the second, a black Star Wars shirt with the R2-D2 character on it, and the third, a light blue shirt that was labeled, "Status: Nooborn a.k.a. Pownage in the making".
"I'm team tech baby. That's what I am. He or she will be hacking into the NASA by 12, mark my words!" Nolan replied with a confident smile.
"You're ridiculous!" Louise finally laughed, "And that's illegal, you know Amanda would beat your ass if you encourage her child into hacking high top-secret organizations." She wagged her finger at him in a playful scolding manner.
"Well, I'll have you know, my illegal activity has saved her ass many a time." Nolan retorted with a smirk. "And you're the ridiculous one! You only want a baby girl so that you have an excuse to re-watch all those Disney princess movies you hide behind your T.V."
"They're classics! Diamond editions at that!" Louise replied defensively, her cheeks turning red, "A-and at least I don't still watch Iron-Man cartoons in my pajamas!" She couldn't help but tease.
"Hey! That was one time when I was sick!", Nolan replied unashamedly, forgetting that she'd once, unfortunately, caught him a while back… "And you can't even deny that he's the best superhero!"
"Oh no, we're not getting into this argument again." Louise replied shaking her head as she turned the next corner of the store, her eyes landing on the cutest little baby hat with a rather large red ribbon tied into the side of it, "I'm not drunk enough…" she joked with a flirty wink before tossing the hat into the basket. "And besides, we have our own superhero mission to get done: roundin' up all these baby clothes!"
"Fine. Anyways, I was thinking…" Nolan started before mumbling under his breath, "…if you ever hurry up and avoid buying the whole store, that maybe afterwards, we should go out and celebrate…" he suggested lightly, his eyes catching her own and feeling something, he couldn't quite define…
Ever since the…the unexpected kiss she'd planted on him, and in a crazy, vulnerable moment no less after quite a few tragic events, his head, or heart he supposed, had been in a state of unrest; her lips having stirred up something inside of him he didn't quite understand…
At first, he appreciated the distraction of his conflicted emotions as it diverted his attention from his former darker action that left him traumatized, but the more time and effort he put into thinking about his mixed emotions and the red head in general…the more confused he felt about where exactly they stood…
Still, he couldn't deny that he loved being around her. She was such a fun, bright spirit; a whirlwind of sorts that swept you up in that huge heart of hers. She never failed being the first one to raise his spirits when he was down or doubting himself, especially recently as she found out eventually, inadvertently from an outburst on his end…what had happened at the warehouse months back…
…What he had done…
Her actions in turn, were what he did not expect: her nonjudgmental comfort, her seriousness to ensure that he was alright and his safety, her encouragement yet patience with him to talk when ready and seek the proper help, or just the amazing ability to just sit with him in total silence yet offer her full support at the same time by just being there…
She never failed to make him smile one way or another…
She had such a warm infectious laugh, that it was impossible not to laugh with her. Plus, she was the only one who could outbake his infamous blueberry muffins, which had once made the rounds around the Hampton's.
Louise Ellis was beautiful; she truly was; both inside and undeniably out…His one and only wonder twin…
But maybe…just maybe…it was time to be more.
"Celebrate our new title?" Louise asked with a warm smile, a smile that always seemed to reach her eyes especially when she looked at him. Nolan had been her first real friend in the Hamptons, and the first person to see her for who she truly was, as opposed to who her mother had led people, including herself to believe she was. He was always there for her when she needed him, and the most caring person she knew. Plus, she couldn't deny that the two of them together at any Hampton's event never failed to steal the whole damn show with their bold fashion statements. Through thick and thin and through the darkest of times, they understood each other. That's what she loved most about their relationship, what she always loved about it in fact. But if that impulsive kiss and the sparks it had elicited had told her anything, maybe just maybe it was time for their relationship to evolve…
"Of course," Nolan replied reciprocating her smile, as he walked up to her and slowly almost sensually kissed her on her faintly flushed cheek and added, "…among other things, kitten", in only the stylish way, Nolan Ross could, before walking ahead with the basket leaving her stunned as she blinked, her cheeks flushing further.
She bit her lip, holding back the urge to squeal as she did a small little dance and rushed to catch up to him as he made it to the checkout line.
Hoping and wishing that…it would all be for real this time…
Yeah, just maybe.
An hour later at a local café downtown…
"You know, your parents are going to kill me if I told them how much sweets I'm letting you eat right now under my watch…" Charlotte groaned as she watched her nephew indulge in what would be his fourth slice of apple pie.
"So, don't tell them. That way you get to stay alive and I can still eat pie. Everyone wins!" Carl shrugged and wiggled his eyebrows, shooting his Aunt a cheesy smile.
"Hmph. Nice try. Well then, I'll have to make sure my niece won't be as spoiled rotten as you." Charlotte joked putting emphasis on the word niece that Carl picked up right away.
"Yeah right, if you're even gonna have a niece. Dad and Uncle Nolan are putting their bets on the baby being a boy." Carl smirked at his Aunt.
She rolled her eyes in response. "Ugh. Don't remind me. Javier texted me about it weeks ago, wondering if money was involved…Guys can be such…Guys! That's why it's time for another girl to come into the picture." Charlotte smiled pridefully.
"Whatever you say." Carl shrugged carelessly once more before taking another bite of his dessert.
"Okay. Out with it already. What are you hoping for? A brother or a sister?" Charlotte smirked at him.
"Isn't it obvious?" Carl looked away sheepishly. "I-I didn't help my dad come up with JDP for nothing ya know…"
Charlotte wanted to ask what the name JDP stood for, but Carl kept talking. "-And well, Dad kind of already picked out both the Jets and Yankees sportswear and accessories since mom wouldn't let him fully decorate the nursery…"
"So, you want a brother then." Charlotte said matter-of-factly.
"Well…Don't tell dad anything, but I kind of wouldn't mind maybe having a sister actually…" Carl mumbled and rubbed his neck with a sheepish smile.
"Oh, really?" Charlotte smiled cheekily at him. "And why is that?"
Carl looked away once more, contemplating his answer. It'd be too easy to just say that he felt sorry for his stepmother being the only "girl" in the household with him, dad, and Skipper outnumbering her and that having another girl in the house would only be fair. He also thought about maybe using the excuse that Christmas and Birthdays would just go so much smoother if he had all his respective gender appropriate presents for himself while his supposed little sister would just have all the girly stuff and he wouldn't have to share like he saw so many of his friends had to do with their respective siblings, but that would just doom him to a "Sharing is caring" lecture from her. He could even use the excuse that maybe the sort of cute girl in his class who sat next to him and always brought her little sister around convinced him that having a sister would be kind of nice.
Or he could just tell the truth...
That after being the one who's had to depend on so many others throughout his life that maybe for once, he wanted to be the bigger person and to have someone around him that would depend on him for a change without the risk of catching cooties…
Someone delicate and different who would care for him without a second thought and look up to him…
Someone he could feel important around and would look up to him as a hero and who he could teach a variety of things and play with at the same time without so much aggression like he did with his friends…
…Someone he could protect so that he'd never face the possibility of losing someone special again…
He thought it'd be a nice change of pace…
After thinking about his answer and fiddling with his mother's sacred necklace he kept with him in his pocket, Carl looked back towards his Aunt and smiled sheepishly once more while shrugging and taking another bite of his pie. "I just do."
Before Charlotte could question him any further, her phone vibrated and she reached for it immediately, smiling when she read the text message. Biting her lip, holding back her excitement, she turned back to her nephew.
"Well, come on. We'd better get back to the hospital now. Your dad just texted me."
"He did?! Is it mom?! Did she have the baby yet?! She did, didn't she?! Finally! Ooh, ooh, boy or girl?! Boy or girl?!" Carl jumped up from his seat and tried reaching over his Aunt to grab her phone, only for her to hold it away from him as she shot him a wink.
"Well, let's just say, you better hope your dad kept the receipts for all that sports stuff…"
Meanwhile back at the hospital…
Despite the busy noises that were happening outside in the hallway of the high-risk maternity ward as business carried on with nurses and other medical staff roaming the halls tending to other patients, the tender, life-changing moment was not obstructed in the slightest as Amanda kept her tired yet attentive chestnut gaze on the small newborn bundle of joy that was now cleaned up, wrapped generously in a soft blanket, and nestled securely on the warm skin of her chest.
What were just minutes of pure agony that seemed like it would never end, turned into one of the most tender and joyful moments of her life that she wished could last forever…
It was all too surreal to say the least, but it had finally happened.
Amanda Porter nee Clarke had just given birth to a precious baby girl.
Despite the soreness of her body and exhaustion that was ready to claim her, she couldn't tear her eyes away from her tiny miracle as they continued to bond in comforting silence.
She barely even heard her husband quietly creep back into the room as he put his cell phone back into his pocket.
"Well, I just got through letting Carl and Charlotte know the good news, so they should be back here soon. I wish you could've heard him, Am." Jack said chuckling slightly, "Our boy is literally bursting at the seams right now…Looks like you were right about what he was hoping for."
Amanda just nodded softly, letting a quiet chuckle escape her lips as her hazel eyes still locked fervently to the nursing infant.
Jack smiled softly as he walked up to his wife and ran a hand gently through her slightly matted golden tresses, kissing her forehead sweetly.
"She's so beautiful Amanda…just like you." He said fondly in a voice that was slightly above a whisper, full of emotion as he locked eyes on his newborn daughter.
She knew his statement was not flattery as she took in all the soft features of their child. She was quite a delicate yet delightful sight to behold with dark brown hair like her father's, but her eyes…
Oh, her eyes…
Amanda let out a breath she didn't know she was holding as the infant shifted slightly and opened her bright, shining eyes, locking them onto her own as confirmation: a declaration that she recognized her as her mother…
It was as if she were staring in a mirror…
The baby's eyes were the very reflection of her own as they sparkled with such fragile faith…
The same fragile faith that shone with pure innocence in Amanda Clarke's eyes when she was a child: ebullient and yet to be tainted by the evils of reality that overtook her later in life. But she saw something else beyond herself in the child's chocolate colored gaze as well…
She saw someone else…
The thought of the person that came into Amanda's mind made her swallow a lump that formed in her throat as she barely heard her husband speak once more.
"Have you thought of what we should name her yet?" Jack asked softly.
After a moment in silence, not taking her eyes off the child and still letting the thoughts overrule her mind in the form of shining yet stinging memories, Amanda nodded softly and whispered.
It only took a moment for Jack to understand her reasoning as realization hit him. "…After your mom..." He almost whispered. Amanda turned her eyes from the baby to give Jack a soft yet wistful look.
He gave an empathetic expression. "…I know if she could be here- "
"-but she can't." Amanda finished with finality in her tone, as she softly nodded before continuing. "And that's okay…Dad can't either…You know what today is…"
Jack nodded solemnly not needing to say anymore as he continued to stroke his wife's hair tenderly in comfort. Ironically, it was the day David Clarke had passed away...
"…It was painful…" Amanda uttered softly before shrugging slightly. "Everything up to that point was…But despite that, something beautiful happened today; a miracle. Our miracle, Jack…A-and I can't describe the feeling of it all…it's like…No, it is…a healing. A second chance to have something that was lost to me…life. And so, when I think back on my dad…and mom…I want the memory of them to bring happiness since it's a chance for me to be the mother I never had the chance to truly have…a memorial of her name to ensure that I will take that chance no matter what the cost. I'll do whatever it takes to be here for her…to be a good mom to both of our kids…To Kara and Carl."
"I know you will…You're already a fantastic mother Am. And we're going to give it our all. No matter what. Both of us…" Jack reassured, agreeing to her earlier explanation as he lightly squeezed her hand as confirmation. The new parents smiled lovingly at each other as they locked eyes tenderly in silence, taking in the moment, before leaning in to kiss each other gently.
After a minute, Jack broke away and gently took the now sleeping newborn in his arms, rocking her softly to prevent her from stirring and whining as his enervated wife attempted to get more comfortable in the bed, being careful of her IV as sleep was eager to overtake her.
Jack practically beamed at his daughter as he held her. "Alright, so it's settled then; Kara Stephanie Porter it is."
Amanda raised an eyebrow at him in amusement as she smiled tiredly at him.
"What? You got to add your mom's name in." Jack smiled cheekily at her.
Amanda let out a silent laugh, shaking her head. "It's perfect. I'm sure Stevie will be honored."
"…So…I guess I should take back all the Sport accessories, huh?" Jack reluctantly mentioned with a sheepish little smile, his disappointment at the thought of returning all his thought-out purchases, evident in his expression.
His wife shook her head, raising her eyebrows in amusement. "Nah, keep them, you never know…Maybe she'll be into it when she gets older…Though for now if I were you, rather than focusing solely on Yankees blue and Jet's green designs, I'd probably start thinking of breaking out the Disney with Little Mermaid's Ariel, or Frozen's Elsa in the meantime…"
Jack inwardly cringed at the thought of the songs that would soon to be stuck in his head in the near future as he reluctantly nodded, giving in to fate.
Amanda wanted to smirk, but yawned instead before she noticed her husband's hand and frowned guiltily, remorse clear in her heavy eyes. "…How's your hand?"
Jack tilted his head slightly and blinked with confusion for a moment before he glanced at his thoroughly bandaged left hand that was supposed to be resting on an ice pack due to severe swelling and bruising...
He fought the wince that resulted from the throbbing and waved her off. "Huh? Oh, d-don't worry about it. It's fine. 'Can't even feel a thing."
"You were bleeding…" She pointed out as if retorting, her guilt increasing as she noticed the faint blood stain on his bandage, realizing the damage she unintentionally caused him during her active labor stage due to all the times where she neglected to trim her ever growing nails that resulted from pregnancy hormones…
It certainly did not help Jack's case at all as she remembered how tightly she was squeezing his hand at the time…
"See, I didn't even notice, because I couldn't feel anything, so like I said, I'm fine." Jack shrugged and countered with an uneasy smirk, determined to reassure his wife despite his hand throbbing worse due to the pressure of holding their newborn daughter.
"And you say I'm stubborn…" Amanda joked, her voice slurring as she let out another yawn.
He rolled his eyes playfully at her, scoffing. "You are. You've yet to get your rest. I know you're tired."
Amanda managed to shake her head as Jack finally decided to place the baby down in her open isolette crib next to her, ready to be displayed for their loved ones to see before the nurses would take her back into the nursery unit.
"I…want…to see everyone's reaction to…our daughter…first…" Amanda insisted weakly, holding back yet another yawn with determination.
Jack gave her a dry look shaking his head slightly before leaning over the baby. "Karey Berry, listen to daddy I beg of you, 'cause I know you're most likely going to be like your mother in every way, but please, for your old man's sake and sanity, don't have too much of a hard-head. That's all I ask of you." He dramatically whispered to the baby as if making a prayer before kissing her little pink colored newborn cap softly.
It was Amanda's turn to roll her eyes. "Fine…Alright, I'll try to get some rest…Just do me a favor and make sure everyone behaves themselves…and that the godmother doesn't eat our baby…You know how Lou gets when something's too cute…"
Before Jack could nod in agreement or say anything, as if on cue, the door burst open as Carl rushed in followed by Charlotte, Nolan, Louise, and Stevie who had their hands full of cutely wrapped boxes and pink and purple balloons hailing the baby girl's greeting to the world.
"Mom! Dad! Where is she?! Is she here?!" Carl rushed his words excitedly only to be shushed by the adults in the room.
"Sorry...I-is the baby here? I wanna see her!" Carl asked once more in a quieter voice.
"She's right here, but you have to keep your voice down, Son. Your new sister's asleep and she's a handful if you wake her up." Jack smiled at his son as he moved out of the way so he could see his stepmother and the baby.
"Carl, Sweetie…and everyone, we'd like you to meet Kara Stephanie Porter." Amanda proudly announced.
Charlotte and Louise practically held hands and jumped up and down, holding back their squeals as they got a good look at the baby before taking out their phones, snapping photos with a vengeance. Stevie, touched by the child's name, smiled gently at the couple, removing her designer glasses to wipe away her now teary eyes. Nolan beamed as his blue eyes misted at the tangible evidence of his best friends' long-awaited dream come true. "Omg…She's-she's beautiful you guys…and Ams, she looks so much like you! I bet she even has your eyes…"
"She does." Jack confirmed with a smirk, pecking his wife's forehead once more, eliciting a smile from her.
Carl was the first one to finally walk up to the slumbering newborn, smiling gently at the innocent sight of her. "Whoa…she's so tiny…" He marveled quietly, inducing a chuckle from his parents. "H-hi Kara, I'm Carl Your new big brother. We're going to have so much fun together! I'm going to teach you everything I know about everything!" He whispered eagerly, his excitement growing as he watched the baby stir and shift slightly in her sleep as if it was her response to his greeting.
His parents' smiles only grew wider.
Carl then cautiously backed away, not wanting to wake her and make her cry but smiled as his dad gave him a side hug before moving away so that his stepmom could press a soft kiss to his forehead and ruffle his hair. He then walked to another part of the room so that the others could get their turn at viewing his new baby sister. The nine-and-a-half-year-old continued to look at the fragile little human being once more before having a thought…
"I promise to protect you no matter what…I'm going to be your hero! You'll see."
Once Charlotte almost filled her iPhone's space with a slew of snapshots of the baby, she turned to her sister, eyes sparkling. "Oh, my god, she is too perfect, sis! You're going to have your hands full with this one, especially when I'm done with her!" Charlotte cooed her silent threat as she smirked at her sister and brother in law who only returned her expression, all the while holding back their uneasiness of what Charlotte Clarke had up her sleeve for their child in the future…
"Ditto times infinity for me! Oh-ho-ho, I have much to teach you my little apprentice…" Nolan cooed creepily as he jokingly waved his hand over the baby as if casting a spell, only for Amanda to slap it immediately.
"Don't. You. Dare." She and Jack warned in unison, glaring knowingly at Nolan. For all they knew, he'd have their child hacking into NASA or the CIA databases at 12 years old if they didn't do anything…
Nolan just wiggled his eyebrows at them in defiance shooting them his infamous smirk as a response.
"Well I'll be danged if I didn't just die and gone' on to heaven because this is just the cutest little darlin' angel I ever did see! And ya'll are right, she looks just like her momma, good lordy!" Louise beamed, folding her hands together as she drew closer to the child, practically squealing at that point. "She's so precious! Ooh I could just break out my finest china dishes and whip cream and just eat. Her. UP!"
"-Please don't." Everyone in the room deadpanned seriously in unison, knowing how the red head could get.
Though she was tired beyond belief and was ready to finally fall asleep, Amanda couldn't help but smile endearingly at everyone in the room as she watched Stevie Grayson hug her son and grandson, telling them both how proud she was before viewing the baby herself. She turned her eyes towards Charlotte and Louise who were arguing over whose gifts for the baby would be cuter and better as they eventually rushed out of the room and to their cars to retrieve the presents, demanding for Nolan to help them out with delivering all the said gifts…
She then looked down at her arm, still being careful not to move the IV in a certain way that would cause her pain, only to notice the weathered yet still functional beaded bracelet that was next to the golden charm one her husband got her for their 7th year anniversary.
She sighed as she thought about where the bracelet came from…
Flashback to 3 months ago…
Taking the caution to adjust to the chilly environment and maintain her balance by slowly rising out of her seat, yet not wasting any time as she informed the pilot that the trip would not take long, Amanda Porter nee Clarke exited the private jet Nolan so generously lent at her urgent request as she took in the scenery of the vast snowy and stony mountains that surrounded the remote island that stretched for miles from where the plane just landed.
One would easily feel helpless and lost if they were in such a broad place since its horizons seemed endless, but she knew the area in its entirety all too well…
Nonetheless, knowing that she was not alone on the trip, she decelerated her pace as her husband slowly walked up next to her, clearly in awe at his current surroundings.
"…S-so…this, is it?" Jack Porter asked his wife. She gave an affirmative nod in response. "Yeah…This is Rebun Island.
"I know that you were never kidding when you said you went far away for your training, but I-I didn't think that you'd actually come all the way to Japan to do it; I mean, look at this place! It's completely barren and in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing here!" Jack sputtered.
Amanda couldn't help the secretive smile that graced the corner of her lips. "…You're a sailor. You should know better than to judge what the mere surface looks like when there's so much to explore. Consider this place like the ocean. There's much more here than what meets the eye. Trust me…I know…"
As he listened to his wife, he couldn't help but find himself mesmerized at the nostalgic look in her expression; her brown eyes sharpening as she was deep in thought about the history of their current location. He also couldn't help but admire her beauty as the subtle winds made her lengthy golden hair billow in the breeze yet shine in the sunlight, along with the flowing fabric of her cream-colored tunic blouse that contrasted with her black legging pants, but was an outfit comfortable and flexible enough considering the extra weight she was carrying...
She suddenly put a hand to her well-protruded stomach and sucked in a slight hiss.
Jack was at her side in an instant. "W-what is it?! What's wrong?! Are you alright?! Is the baby okay?!"
"Jack." Amanda started, but her husband kept going.
"Y-you looked like you were in pain! You're not in pain, are you?! You are, aren't you?! You're just not saying it!"
"Jack!" Amanda tried again, holding back a sigh as she knew where this was going…
"Sh-sh-should we go back? We should go back. It's not ideal for you both to be out here anyways. Screw what the doc said! I don't care that he cleared you medically for travel temporarily, you're obviously-"
Jack paused his babbling as he looked at her with clear concern, only for her to shake her head. "Will you calm down? I'm fine. The baby was just saying hi by kicking me again…This one was a little sharper than usual and it caught me off guard that's all."
Jack sighed with relief. "Oh, thank god, I thought that something was…I-I mean, so-you're okay?"
"We're fine, My Love…Stop worrying so much, kay?" Amanda smiled reassuringly at him as she cupped his face softly in her hands, rubbing her nose against his until the gesture eventually elicited a reluctant smile from him. Once she confirmed that he was alright, she broke away from him and continued walking forwards, her expression completely serious as her mind focused on their mission...
"Are you sure you're ready to do this?" Jack asked with reluctance, making his wife pause in silence for a moment before she pulled out a little worn out piece of jewelry that was the purpose of why they were there in the first place.
"…I have to…We have to…We made her a promise…"
"And we're going to keep it. Don't worry, we're not backing out of it, especially since we're already here. I was just…making sure that you were ready…" Jack reassured softly as he eyed the bracelet in her hand.
Amanda nodded fervently as confirmation before walking ahead of her husband. Jack went to catch up to her until she suddenly turned around and rushed back to the plane, realizing she almost forgot something. He watched her pull out a strangely long, slender shaped bag with an adjustable shoulder strap that he realized was a carrier case for something, but he had no idea what…
But he thought it looked familiar somehow, at least it did in a movie he watched before…
"What's that?" He asked curiously.
His wife looked down reluctantly as she adjusted the bag around her shoulder till the strap was secure across her chest and shrugged with a light smile. "Just an important school supply I might need." She continued walking ahead of him once more, taking a certain dirt pathway not too far from the Island's shore.
"And…I'm assuming your school is somewhere close by?" Jack asked with slight suspicion as he kept his eyes on the bag she was carrying.
Amanda nodded, noticing Jack's uneasiness. "It is. Relax, there's nothing to worry about…Just be sure to stay close and don't make any sudden movements, you'll be fine."
Jack raised an eyebrow, ready to question her instructions before she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, holding out a hand firmly in front of him to keep him from walking any further. "Hold on."
"What is it now?" Jack asked, noticing how his wife's nerves were now completely on edge, a sharp focus acute in her eyes as she examined their surroundings before her eyes widened. "Jack! Move!"
Before her husband could say or do anything, she abruptly shoved him out of the way, behind her as a black streak flew past them and landed onto the dirt pathway, only for the black cladded figure to suddenly fall into it, as it was revealed to be a deep pit that was camouflaged to look like an ordinary pathway. Before Jack could recover from what happened, he watched his wife swiftly unzip her bag and unsheathe what looked to be a katana and then point it at the black cladded figure whose eyes widened at her graceful yet rapid movements.
Jack's blue eyes practically bulged from their sockets. "AMANDA?! W-WHAT THE FU-?!"
"-Fukanō! (Impossible!) No mere outsider could have possibly evaded my detection like that! Who are you?! Koko ni anata no bijinesu o shōkai shite kudasai! (State your business here!)" The black cladded figure demanded.
Amanda did not miss a beat as she scoffed at him, yet kept her voice calm and firm. "Anata wa Takeda Satoshi-shi jishin ga kunren shita yūshūna gakusei o miryō shiyou to suru no wa orokadeshita. (You were foolish to try and outsmart a superior student trained by Master Satoshi Takeda himself.) I am Amanda Clarke, formerly known here none other than as Emily Thorne."
The dark cladded figure's eyes widened even further as he pulled himself out of the pit and bowed with respect, losing his tough façade and sputtering out apologies while now speaking in perfect English. "M-M-Miss Thorne! Y-you must excuse my rudeness and rash behavior…I-if I would have kn-known it was you-but the-the word is that you were never to return here again and I- "
Amanda's eyebrows rose with amusement as she sheathed her weapon and placed it back into her bag. "-Hm. So, my reputation precedes me, it seems. You must be a new student..."
The young man nodded reluctantly as confirmation. "Y-yes, I am Miss Thorne-I mean, Miss Clarke. Sorry…"
Amanda nodded before she continued. "Well, for your information, I go by Mrs. Porter now, but that's not the point. I wish to speak to the master here. Your current Sensei, Niko Takeda. Where can I find her?"
The figure pulled off his black hood, revealing to be a young, dirty blonde haired man in his early twenties and looked away from Amanda reluctantly as he responded to her inquiry. "M-Mistress…I-I mean Sensei is currently giving an important lecture in the dojo at the top of the mountain…But, you must know that she never speaks to anyone individually unless invited in her presence. And…from what we've heard about you…she- "
"-She's going to want to speak to me. Believe me. My husband and I have urgent information for her that she must know immediately regarding someone that was close to her…Someone legendary…" Amanda insisted as she stood next to her still shaken spouse who was still trying to grasp everything that was happening.
"Wakarimasu I-I-mean, I understand…Come then. I'll take you to her now."
"Actually, if it's not too much trouble, I'd rather opt for an alternative route to get there, as my condition for climbing isn't the same as it used to be." Amanda smiled awkwardly as she rubbed her extended stomach and observed the area. "Seems like this place got an upgrade judging by the new booby trap entrances. I'm sure there must be some form of transportation that's available to get us to the top?"
"Oh! O-of course! I'll go make the proper accommodations." The man bowed respectively once more, and Amanda returned it after thanking him.
Once the man was gone, Amanda bit her lip and dared to turn towards her husband whose eyes were still wide from the peculiar encounter. "…You okay?" She asked softly.
Jack's mouth continued to gape like a fish as his hands made different gestures, trying to express his shock. "WHAT THE?! H-HOW DID YOU?! WH-WHEN WERE YOU-?! WHERE DID YOU GET-H-H-HOW DID YOU EVEN-?!" Overwhelmed by his emotions of his bewilderment, but failing to get out his words properly, he simply sighed long and hard, running a hand through his hair and over his face before facing her. "Amanda…What the hell just happened?"
"…School reunion?" She offered with a sheepish smile.
Jack just gave her a deadpanned expression that was borderline interrogating.
Hearing the honking sound of a vehicle that she guessed to be their way of transport, Amanda held back a sigh of relief as she quickly changed the subject. "We should go." She nodded at him, even though Jack's scolding expression refused to let up. He followed her to the vehicle, but the message of his narrowed piercing blue eyes was clear.
They were definitely going to have an interesting little chat later…
Once they made it to the top, heading towards the Dojo, Amanda noticed a variety of students that were either training on the side, or near the building who sent her mixed looks. Some were out of respect and others were spiteful. Either way, they were all out of recognition of her presence.
"You'll have to forgive some of the students here Ms. Clar-I mean, Mrs. Porter. You're known as one of the legendries around here, but as far as your mission and how it ended…it's started a controversy amidst the students of whether you truly completed it and were worthy of Sensei Takeda's honor of perfecting the art of revenge, or if you are the weakest of us all here in failing to do so completely..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack's eyes narrowed defensively.
"It's alright Jack. I know what he's saying." Amanda stated calmly. "A lot of things…happened that paved the path of my journey. I wasn't as in control as I thought I was in a lot of instances and ultimately, when it came to the end of it, I made my choice. Others can take that for what they will, but I have no regrets, regardless." Amanda explained looking down at her double infinity tattoo.
The young man nodded. "That's understandable. We all have our own paths and choices I suppose…Ms. Winters said something similar to what you just said as well."
"Is she still here?" Amanda raised her head and asked with curiosity, remembering the woman she had a brief connection with the last time she spent her time on the Island.
The young man gave a look of uncertainty. "Her current situation is…unknown unfortunately. There's no telling what happened in her journey…"
Amanda nodded solemnly in response as the vehicle stopped.
Once she and her husband were dropped off in front of the large yet not ostentatious building, the young man informed her that Niko was inside and agreed to see her, but only if she came alone. Jack wanted to protest, but Amanda assured him that she wouldn't be long and he reluctantly agreed to stay outside to wait for her. Amanda then walked inside cautiously, her cream-colored lacy low-heels were barely heard clacking against the concrete floors as she heard Niko Takeda yell indignantly at her students as she flipped hair long raven braided hair over her shoulder.
"Awarena! (Pathetic!), Yowai! (Weak!), Hazukashī! (Disgraceful!) I swear that my father would roll over in his grave at the dishonor you are bringing to this so-called sparring match! Motivation is everything when it comes to the art of vengeance! You must not let exhaustion be your overall focus! In this case, exhaustion and pain are your ultimate allies! Let the pain be your fuel as it reminds you of your purpose! If you let your emotions and heart rule over your mind, you are destined to fail! I expect better next time or you're all banished from my Island! Rikai sa reta?! (Understood?!)
"Hai, Sensei! (Yes, Sensei!)" The massive group of students replied in perfect unison as they bowed.
"Good. Now get out of my sight." Niko shooed them off with a wave of her hand as she kept her back turned. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone that was not dressed in black and white GIs like everyone else was, nor did she bare the same look of bitterness that everyone else had. But it was someone she recognized before. Oh, she remembered the woman's slightly curled blonde hair perfectly.
In fact, perfect was the only word she's ever heard that was associated with the woman according to her deceased father and lost deceased lover…
The lover she lost to her of all people…
No matter how sharp her skills were, no matter how superior, she always failed in comparison to the blonde.
She had to fight to keep her fists from clenching at the thought as she heard everyone leave the room and the blonde woman's footsteps draw nearer.
"Emily." Niko stated professionally, though the spite in her accented voice was evident as she continued to keep her back turned.
"It's Amanda." Amanda corrected impulsively before shutting her eyes, admonishing herself for her hastiness. This wasn't exactly how she wanted their conversation to start, as she could already feel the thick tension grow even more heavier between them as the woman scoffed.
"Hmph, right. Amanda. State your business here and make it fast. I have more important things to do."
Amanda expected the hostility so she didn't flinch. Instead, she tried a light-hearted approach. "...Seems like you've been pretty busy since the last time I saw you. Being the new Sensei and all, taking the reins of operating the school…I'm sure your father would be proud…"
"…Well, he's dead. So, we can't be too sure of that now can we, Amanda? Besides, let's not kid ourselves as we know whom his favoritism resided in even though you never succeeded his overall vision he had for you, despite all his hope and time that he invested or more so wasted for your cause."
It was Amanda's turn to keep her fists from clenching at the insults, as if she never appreciated, cherished, or cared for the man who helped her, took her in, and trained her to be her best when she was in her lowest state. She took a deep breath, calming herself before she spoke. "Niko, I didn't come here to fight."
Niko scoffed once more, still refusing to face her. "Hm, that's a shame. Maybe if that were the case, I wouldn't feel as if my time was being wasted by your presence. What do you want then, Clarke?"
"I'm here on behalf of…a friend…someone you knew…someone who is…who was…close to you…Grace Adams." Amanda stated.
Even though her back was still turned towards her, Amanda could see Niko immediately tense up at the name mentioned.
"I-I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I know no such person." Niko insisted sharply.
"Oh, I think you do; especially considering how she was known none other than as the Ushinawareta kage no densetsu (lost shadow legend), before she took on the identity of Roxanne Meyers for her agenda against the Black Mamba Organization. She was Takeda's first student and apprentice and even more importantly…your best friend…" Amanda explained, her voice softening on the last part.
Niko finally had enough as she rounded on Amanda, getting up in her face. "How do you know all this?! TELL ME!"
Amanda still didn't allow herself to flinch as she looked her straight in the eyes. "She told me everything herself…I met her when my best friend and husband were abducted by the very group she was after…She was kind enough to help me rescue them. If it wasn't for her...I…We owe her a great debt. She helped save my best friend, me, my husband, and helped keep our child safe…Our children safe…"
Niko looked at Amanda with slight confusion until she looked down and took in the blonde woman's appearance completely; her extended abdomen wasn't hard to miss. Her eyes then widened at the sight of what they both thought was impossible; especially since she was the one who helped cauterize Amanda's wounds at her request after she finished venting her bitterness of how she was doomed to be barren many years back.
The harshness in Niko's voice then diluted from her shock. "You're…but…I thought…I thought that you couldn't- "
"-So did I…" Amanda couldn't help but give a little smile as she put a hand to her well-rounded stomach. "A lot has happened since we last saw each other…"
Niko reluctantly nodded. "…So, you know about her…Is she well? Wh-when was the last time you've heard from her?"
The eagerness and concern in Niko's voice was painful and Amanda looked down, unsure of how to break the news, but knowing that it had to be done. Her sigh was shaky as she reluctantly pulled out the weathered friendship bracelet and showed it to Niko.
"She…She wanted me to give this to you…"
It was then, when she saw the hardened woman's eyes widen, that Amanda finally flinched; recognizing the realization that hit Niko of what the little piece of jewelry meant and the pain that came with it as she remembered the promise and conditions her best friend made regarding the bracelet…
A moment of silence overtook them as Niko fought to steel herself and push down the emotions that overwhelmed her as she simply stared at the bracelet in Amanda's outstretched hand. "I see…So…She did it then. She really did it…"
"It's not what you think…" Amanda hesitated. Niko's eyes then shot up to hers as she continued. "It…it didn't end the way you're thinking…like the way she planned for it to happen…"
"What do you mean?" Niko demanded, trying to keep the shakiness out of her voice.
"I mean…she didn't go through with it. She wiped out most of their members, trapped the bosses, and had them right where she wanted them, even tortured them for the hell of it…but she didn't kill them. She chose not to go that route for revenge…"
"-Once she decided to spare them, she was going to expose them as her takedown…but they already had a backup plan. Their headquarters was activated for self-destruction after one of the head members killed his own brother, but then he got away. Grace tried to find him, but…he found her first…"
Niko felt her eyes sting as she shook her head. "I-I don't understand…Wh-why didn't she go through with it if she had them where she wanted them?! Wh-why let them go and be so-so stupid?!"
"She didn't want to be like them. She didn't want to fulfill Confucius' self-fulfilling prophecy about the Two-Graves. She wasn't ready."
"No. No-no that's bullshi-of-of-of course she was! She-she knew the risks despite everything I warned her about! She sure as hell didn't listen to me! So how did- "Niko paused her rant as she looked at Amanda once more. "…Did you speak to her?"
Amanda nodded. "…I did. But I only told her from what I've learned from my own experience. She didn't listen at first. She was persistent…but it wasn't until the end when she decided not to go through with it, since she discovered that she wasn't completely lost to herself after all…She said that she only helped me as a personal inquiry of whether the Grace Adams she once was before still existed within her. Not only did she find out that she did still exist, but also that she wasn't ready to lose her entirely like she thought…"
"Sono baka…(That idiot…) Sono baka! (That idiot!)" Niko cursed as she felt the tears run down her face as she finally took the bracelet from Amanda's hand, clutching onto it for dear life. Nonetheless, despite her sorrow, she'd be lying if she said she didn't feel relieved at the fact that her best friend didn't lose her soul in the end like she anticipated.
But all that wasted time, and she never got to even say goodbye. She never expected to anyways, but still, the painful fact remained. She never got to say goodbye…
Amanda looked at Niko with empathy, feeling helpless as the woman grieved her best friend. She struggled to find the right words to say for comfort, but failed and just remained silent.
"What a waste…" Niko bitterly muttered.
"It wasn't completely all a waste!" Amanda then insisted, "Her mission ended up being completed like she wanted. She asked me to use the leverage that she had on the Black Mambas to expose them to the public. They were all taken down in a domino effect then. They're not a threat anymore and justice was served like she desired; like she always wanted…For herself, her family, her fiancée…and her baby…"
Niko remained silent, taking in Amanda's words as she finally nodded at her, wiping the last, of what would be many later, tears away as she steeled herself and managed to look at Amanda with a sober expression. "You...were there for her when I couldn't be."
Amanda just gave her a soft expression of remorse, recognizing the subtle thankfulness buried under Niko's bitter confession.
Niko then looked at Amanda with slight apprehension. "…I hope you don't expect me to stop running the school just because of what happened. I must continue my father's legacy despite- "
"-I didn't expect you to." Amanda interrupted calmly while shaking her head. "As Sensei once said: The path of revenge is not only stony, but a solitary one. It's up to the person who decides to take it to understand all the repercussions along with their intentions and ultimately choose their fate and accept the results for whatever they may be depending on how they handle the journey and pave their path…I just know that in the end…despite everything, Grace found satisfaction in her decision...Like I did when I had to choose…Even though it was kind of chosen for me… But…either way, please know that she wasn't alone…"
Niko nodded slowly before she sighed. "I suppose I was wrong about you after all."
Amanda raised an eyebrow with intrigue at her statement.
"Truth be told, I always thought that my father was right about you. I saw what you could do, how you handled yourself, and the pride he took in you…He wasn't wrong. Which was why I fought so hard to believe that he was, proving to myself that I was the better disciple and worthy of his attention and praise; that I could exceed you in every way. But the truth is…You were never meant to belong on this journey, nor succeed in completing vengeance's dark path and perfecting its art. Simply because…no matter how hard you tried, or how tainted you became, the darkness of it all was never in your heart. Only the justice. He was right. Your emotions and your heart doomed you to fail. And the only time I was right was when I believed that you never truly belonged here…"
Amanda fought hard not to glare at the woman as she listened to her spiteful tone.
"And yet…it is for this very reason that I now understand why Aiden cherished you all the more…more than me…" Niko nearly whispered as she looked at Amanda with genuine respect in which she returned with a wistful smile. Both women then held their heads down in silence with their eyes closed as they remembered the man who was once dear to their hearts.
Niko then touched a hand to Amanda's shoulder, almost causing the woman to jump at the unexpected contact. "Well…I suppose it's not all a lost cause for you. As I'm certain things turned out for the better in your case when all was said and done with your journey…"
Before Amanda could look at her in confusion of what she meant as Niko gave her a small, knowing smile, she saw that the woman's gaze was directed behind her. Amanda then looked over her shoulder to see Jack still standing in the dojo's doorway with his hands in his pockets as he waited, but eventually caught eyes with his wife's and shot her a loving smile of comfort and support as he waved at her, his ocean blue eyes shining.
Amanda returned the look with a soft, affectionate glance, thankful for his support, before she turned back towards Niko, nodding and smiling bashfully as a faint blush warmed her cheeks. She then put a hand on top of Niko's as she continued to clutch the bracelet, before she spoke softly. "I'm sorry for your loss…"
Niko nodded morosely, but managed to give her a soft, genuine look of respect and gratitude. "Thank you Em-er…I mean, Amanda…"
Knowing that the deed was done, Amanda bowed respectfully before walking off to join her husband who welcomed her back by wrapping an arm around her shoulders, pressing his lips briefly to her cheek as he comforted her in silence. However, before the couple could make it back to the vehicle that would take them to their plane, they heard Niko's voice suddenly call out.
Amanda then turned around to address her inquiry, only for her hands to instinctually catch what was thrown to her.
It was the bracelet.
Before Amanda could protest or question Niko, she saw a rare sight as the woman gave her a genuine smile.
"Something tells me I think she would have wanted you to have it!"
Now Amanda was ready to protest, but before she could open her mouth to say anything, Jack pointed to the beads on It as his eyes widened. "Amanda, look!"
She then looked down at the bracelet and examined the beads that had letters on it, and it was her turn for her eyes to widen in response once she saw what it had spelled out.
It was certainly not what she expected…
The thought of Roxanne's last words then came to her mind…
"…If I had time…I'd…make you…a friendship bracelet too…"
Once they made it back to the plane, Amanda could not stop smiling as she clasped the bracelet onto her wrist. She knew it was far-fetched but she couldn't help believing the impossible as she silently thanked the woman responsible for making the bracelet in the first place and fiddled with the three beaded letters it spelled out:
The significance in what it could have meant, was just something that she and Jack could only hope for…
Snapping out of her thoughts as she let sleep finally claim her despite the bustling that was still occurring with her family and loved ones in the room over the baby, Amanda could not help but feel overwhelmed and bask in the feelings of peace, joy, and completeness that flooded her heart. Such feelings that were once unfamiliar to her and seemed like wishful hopes and dreams in the past, were now the only emotions that she could feel now that she had her friends that were her practically her family, and gained a family of her own with a loving husband, son, dog, and now, a child of her very own to cherish for infinity times infinity.