*A/N sorry this took way longer to upload than I anticipated - it ended up being twice as long as I planned! I hope you all enjoy - it's unashamedly fluffy and i make no apologies!*
NINE MONTHS LATER...
Nick grunts as he turns the screwdriver, curling his lip in disgust at the crumpled up instructions he had thrown to the floor in frustration a moment ago.
"Stupid damn screw, I know you go in here you little son of a bitch - it says so in the illustrations!" He huffs under his breath, quickly plastering a forced smile on his face as he hears Jess approach.
"Nick? Have you seen my blue flats?"
"Not since yesterday..."
"Dammit! They're the only shoes that are comfortable right now. These stupid clown feet of mine are not capable of being squeezed into anything else!"
Jess stomps into the room, hands on her hips as she scans the floor for her elusive footwear "As if it isn't bad enough I have to wear this tent dress to the party this afternoon, now I can't find my shoes?! This is the worst day ever! I'm all round and inflated like a balloon...I feel bloated like a...like a whale!" she was whining in dismay, puffing her cheeks out and lowering herself gingerly to the rocking chair in the corner of the room.
"Honey, will you stop?" He turns to look over his shoulder at her, still on his knees among the various pieces of wood that were meant to make this darn crib he was wrestling with "You're glowing!"
"That's called perspiration, Nick..." Jess wipes her wrist across her brow and snaps sarcastically for the umpteenth time today "...I can't go to my own baby shower looking like an overheated walrus!"
"I've never understood the term 'baby shower'." He puts the screwdriver down and turns to face Jess with his nose all crinkled in confusion "You can't give a baby a shower when it hasn't even been born."
"Please tell me you're joking right now?" She laughs and wraps an arm around her tummy as her bump jiggles with mirth, while Nick just turtles his face at her.
"It's not a literal thing, Nicholas."
"No! Oh my god...you thought people were invited to wash the baby?!"
"Why not just call it a 'baby party'? 'Shower' is confusing!"
"It's because the guests 'shower' the mother to be with love and gifts! Dear lord! Did you think a 'yard sale' was just someone selling off their garden? That 'raining cats and dogs' meant pets were falling from the sky?!"
He narrows his eyes at her but thinks better of making a smart ass comment, given her current highly hormonal state and unpredictable moods. He's been treading on egg shells recently, and the last thing he wants to do is upset her on today of all days. She's being looking forward to the baby shower for weeks and he really wants her to enjoy it.
"Of course not..." he says overly sweetly "...it just sounds funny, you know?"
Jess groans and brings her hands to her face, shoulders slumping forward slightly.
"Sorry, Nick. I'm being a bitch again aren't I?"
"I don't know how to answer that without getting myself in trouble." He laughs, rising to his feet and brushing off the knees of his jeans before walking towards her.
"I don't mean to be so awful, I swear. I'm just so freaking uncomfortable right now. Everything hurts and I feel like a giant blob!"
He takes Jess's hands in his and helps her to stand, wrapping an arm around her waist and letting it settle on the small of her back.
"But you're my giant blob - and I love you regardless. I can take a few bad moods considering you're growing our child." He shrugs.
"I don't deserve you..." she smiles up at him "...I just wish there was a way to tell this little baby I'm ready for them to come out now. Like, whenever they want - after tonight - it's fine by me!"
"Well I did hear there was one sure fire way to encourage that." Nick quirks a brow at her, stepping closer and negotiating her now very prominent bump. He shifts himself slightly to one side and leans in to kiss her slow and deep. His lips linger on hers and he can hear Jess sucking in a deep breath as he finally releases her mouth. She looks a little dazed, wearing a love drunk expression which causes Nick to grin back in return.
The look on Jess's face suddenly changes to one of surprise and she takes a step away from him.
"What's wrong? Wait...is that...?"
"Yeah...uh, that's my waters. My waters just broke, Nick..."
"Yeah..." she swallows hard and gives a nervous little laugh, but stops when she sees the frown that has taken up residence on Nick's face "...what is it?"
He gazes down at their feet, his socks now slightly damp, before looking back up at her and giving a little shrug.
"It's just...I mean...I was kinda expecting more of a...y'know..." making a loud 'whooshing' noise, he adds some dramatic downward arm movements for extra effect.
"I had no idea my kiss was so powerful it could break your waters..." he ponders, earning a slap on the chest from Jess. Nick smiles down at her earnestly, still not quite able to believe he was lucky enough to say that she was his better half.
Jess leans her forehead closer to him and places her lips tenderly to his one more time, conscious it might be the last time she does so while it's just the two of them. After this, they would be a family. Parents responsible for a tiny life. Anyone who knew her would know that this wasn't the way Jess had planned to get pregnant, but if she's learned anything from that night in the hallway all those months ago, it was that sometimes letting life take its own path and just being there for the ride was how the moments that were meant to happen, happened.
Letting out a deep groan against his lips, Jess quickly begins to pull away - hands instinctively holding her bump.
"Are you okay?" He asks
"I think I'm having my first contraction!"
Jess whispers, her eyes wide.
"Wow, I'm that good?" Nick tries to joke, but falls silent upon seeing the pain distorting her features "So what does this mean? Do we need to go to the hospital now?" His voice is slightly more high pitched than he means it to be, but the reality of the situation was starting to set in.
"I think that's probably a good idea..." Jess replies breathlessly, trying to regain her composure and waiting for the pain to start subsiding "...but, wait! What about your high stakes Lego?" She grunts through gritted teeth and points under his arm to the half built crib as he tries to usher her out of the bedroom door.
"Forget about that, I'll text Schmidt and ask him to finish building it when he gets home. He'll love it - that can be his first official duty as Godfather!"
Nick guides Jess towards the loft entrance, a protective arm around her middle as she leans into him for comfort. They reach the door and look to the floor in unison, seeing the hospital bags that have been packed and ready for days eagerly waiting for them. Jess takes a shaky breath and reaches for Nick's hand. He looks down at her and fixes a smile on his face, swallowing the lump of nervousness sitting in his throat. She needs him to be strong for her right now, and he was damned if he was going to let her down.
"You're okay, Jess. I'm right here."
"I'm suddenly feeling completely unprepared for this, Nick."
"I don't think I can do it..."
"Honey, I hate to break this to ya, but you kinda don't have much choice..."
Jess closes her eyes and takes a few deep gulps of air, nodding gratefully as Nick smoothes some stray bangs from her forehead before running a finger down her cheek, letting it come to rest under her chin where he gently tilts it upwards.
"Jessica, look at me...you're gonna be fine. Better than fine - you're gonna be great, I promise. I'm not leaving your side the whole time, okay?"
"Okay..." she whispers.
"You and me - we're doing this whole giving birth thing together, alright?"
Jess narrows her eyes at him and cocks her head to the side. Nick holds his hands in front of him apologetically and wrinkles his nose "Figuratively speaking, of course...I know the actual giving birth part is all you...the point is, you've got this. I believe in you. So, what do ya say? Shall we go have a baby?" His voice catches as he speaks the last sentence and even though she thinks it's fucking adorable, Jess pretends not to notice as she doesn't want to ruin his motivational speech.
"Yeah, let's go have a baby..." She manages to smile despite her nerves, letting him lead her to the elevator and out to his car, stopping briefly as she reached the passenger door to breathe her way through the second contraction as it hits.
"You're amazing. She's amazing...you're both amazing." Nick is looking over from his side of the bed, head propped up on his hand, the awe seeping from every pore of his body as he watches Jess nurse their week old daughter. He knows he sounds like a gushing, repetitive fool but he doesn't care. Never in his life did he realise the depth of love he could feel for another human until his own child was born. Until he watched the person who holds his heart firmly with both hands give birth (like a fucking super hero) to this bundle of perfection. It's midnight and they're both exhausted from the minimal sleep, but Nick can't stop the grin on his face that spans from ear to ear.
"You're delirious from the tiredness." Jess smiles softly at him, adjusting her position on the mountain of pillows propped up behind her.
"Just tellin' it like it is, Day."
He shrugs and moves to lie on his back, hands clasped behind his head. The only sounds in the room are his slow breathing, and the little suckling noises baby Judith was making. The rest of the loft was unusually quiet. Schmidt and Winston had offered to give them a few days alone. Nick wasn't entirely sure it was the caring, selfless act they had made it out to be - the newborn crying had been relentless some nights, and no matter how many times they waved it off the following morning, he could tell they were silently glad to vacate the loft in exchange for some decent sleep. Nick and Jess knew they couldn't stay here forever. It wasn't fair to impose a baby on the others, but moving out was something that was going to take a little time, so for now they were just rolling with the punches. His eyes are feeling heavy again and he lets them fall closed for a moment. Just as he feels himself sinking into the mattress, Judith whimpers loudly and his eyes shoot open again.
"Nick, would you mind passing me the burp cloth?" Jess points towards the foot of the bed.
"Mmmhmm...I'm on it..." he mumbles and pats a hand drowsily across the comforter until he can reach it. Forcing himself to sit up, Nick passes the square of material to Jess and digs the heels of his hands against his eyes to remove the heavy feeling that's trying to settle there.
"Do you want me to go finish this in the other room?" Jess asks, an apologetic look on her face.
"What? No, no...I'm good. See?" Nick gives his best 'Wide Awake' grin and shuffles closer, an arm laying across Jess's thighs.
"How did we make something so adorable?" She muses.
"Have you looked in the mirror?" He laughs "This kid lucked out in the genes department!"
"She's perfect...I can't stop staring at her."
"Well now you know how I feel when I'm around you!" He smirks and she rolls her eyes "But yeah, you're right. We created a good one. I can tell. Look at her...I love how soft her head is, and how chubby her little cheeks are - I just wanna squish 'em! And I love how her tiny hands ball up into little fists just like mine..." Nick smiles as he reaches down to Judith's pink skin poking out from the Bears onesie that Schmidt just could not wait to gift to them "...and I love her skinny little chicken legs..."
"Nick!" Jess laughs "She'll fatten up eventually."
"And these teeny little baby feet? God, I could just eat 'em up!" He leans down to peck the smallest of kisses on the sole of each foot. Grinning at Jess like an idiot, Nick cranes his head up to her face and kisses her square on the mouth. A kiss so loaded with love that when he finally pulls away, Jess can see his eyes are nearly black, pupils dilated as if he was drunk, and it's the cutest damn thing in the world.
Nick had admitted several times in previous months that the thought of becoming a Dad had scared him, that the weight of the impending responsibility sometimes gave him an anxiety attack in the middle of the supermarket if he thought about it too much - but Jess knew he would be a natural having seen him with his younger cousins when they visited Chicago. And he's done nothing but prove her right so far.
Stifling another yawn, she gently pats their daughter on the back, trying to get her to bring up some wind, much to Judith's disgust as she unleashes the power of her lungs and begins to cry. Jess drops her head back against the pillows with a heavy sigh and prepares herself for trying the calm their newborn down enough to get her back to sleep. She vaguely senses Nick's weight leave the bed and assumes he's headed to the bathroom, but is surprised to find him standing at her side just seconds later.
"Here, let me take her." He reaches his arms out.
"It's fine, you don't have to."
"I want to..." Nick insists over the cacophony of screaming and lifts Judith into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder and cradling her bottom on his forearm "...try and get some rest, Jessica. You're still recovering." His left hand reaches for hers, squeezing gently as his thumb traces over the engagement ring she wears so proudly.
"I promise I'll take the early shift tomorrow, let you sleep in."
"That'd be great, but I picked up a shift at the bar to cover Big Bob so no can do."
"You're working again?! Nick, you're exhausted from all the extra shifts."
"I'm fine, Jess. I'll be home by the afternoon. I need all the extra shifts they're offering - that house by the lake isn't going to buy itself, you know..." he winks at her and Jess feels her cheeks tinging pink in colour "...now go to sleep. I mean it."
"Thank you." She smiles, nestling her weary head down onto the bed and falling asleep even before he's closed the door behind himself.
Judith's cries intensify as Nick walks them into the kitchen, jiggling her up and down softly while making 'shhh...' noises like he'd seen Jess doing.
It wasn't working.
Frowning, he pours himself a cup of coffee expertly with one hand and sips it eagerly as he surveys the loft in its dark and quiet state.
"You know, Judy, I don't think you've yet had the pleasure of one of my official loft tours."
Judith ignores him and continues to wail, her little cheeks rippling with the effort. Nick takes another big gulp from his cup and carries on regardless.
"Well buckle up girl, let's go. Please keep all arms and legs clear of the doors, and remain seated at all times." He chuckles to himself as he rounds the kitchen island and opens the door to Schmidt's room.
"Now, despite the fastidiously clean nature of this bedroom and the numerous throw pillows, I can assure you this is not where a lady resides and it is, in fact, your Uncle Schmidt's room...if you look to your right, you will find a veritable array of ridiculously expensive suits and ties...to your left you will see the framed picture of himself he likes to keep close by. I kid you not. But that's pretty much all I can tell you about in here, the less you know about what else has happened within these four walls the better!"
Judith's crying continues, but at a noticeably lower volume, so Nick decides this could actually work. He walks her round the entire loft, stopping briefly to explain the important things - like the rules of True American - and introduces her to Furguson whilst showing her Winston's room. By now the crying has dwindled to grumbles and squeaks, but still Judith remains awake no matter how much bobbing and swaying or 'tiger in the tree' holds that Nick tries. He feels a little deflated - Jess seems to be so good at settling Judith, it comes second nature to her. But he was nothing if not perseverant, so back down the hall it was to explain how the nursery actually used to belong to Daddy.
When he reaches the spot in the hallway situated between his old room and his new room with Jess, something amazing happens.
Judith instantly falls silent and stops crying.
Nick tentatively looks down, trying not to jinx this unexpected moment of peace. Her big eyes gaze back up at him and she gurgles, trying to find her mouth with her bunched up little fist.
"Oh, you like this spot huh?" He whispers "Well, you have impeccable taste kiddo. This spot is my favourite in the loft too...the most important moments of my life happened here."
She tries to lift her wobbly head towards his low voice, but it flops back against his chest and she does the cutest yawn Nick thinks he has ever witnessed.
"I'd sing ya a lullaby, but that's more your Mom's domain..." he sighs, but then remembers the way his Ma used to hum Elvis songs whilst she babysat his little cousins. Humming was definitely something he could do. But Elvis wasn't really his jam. Stroking his hand up and down Judith's bare legs, his eyes light up as they land on her onesie.
Snuggling her tight to his chest and rocking her gently side to side, Nick begins to hum the entirety of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' loud and proud with a smile playing on his lips.
And it works.
Her eyes flutter closed and her mouth falls open as she's pulled into a deep slumber by the vibrations of Nick's humming.
He once heard someone say that babies were one of life's great time wasters. Nick had never really understood what was meant by that until this moment. It had always sounded like something negative, but he knew now that was not the case. He's been stood watching Judith's little face for the longest time as she sleeps, seeing her lips twitching up into dream induced smiles that made his stomach flip with a love so pure he wished he could somehow bottle it to relive over and over. He was mesmerised by the sweet, milky smell of her breath, and the little dimples at the places where her fingers met her hands, and the unmistakably amazing aroma coming from the soft spot on the top of her head. Captivated by the way her little body fits so snugly in the crook of his elbow, Nick becomes aware of the fact he's been staring at her for the best part of an hour and just how quickly that time has passed.
"Huh..." He marvels to himself and strokes a thumb along her tiny back "...well, you sure are the best waste of my time I could imagine."
He continues to sway gently from side to side as he steps back towards their room, resting his lips on her fuzzy head and placing the smallest of kisses there.
"Hey Judy...lets get you to bed, doll."
A LITTLE OVER A YEAR LATER STILL...
Jess leans back against the huge oak doors at the top of the steps leading down to the vast gardens of the manor house. The sun is beaming, the colourful flowers are beginning to bloom, and the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air. She takes a deep breath and a slow smile spreads across her face as she watches Winston lift Judith onto his shoulders to chase Schmidt and Nick around the rose garden. Judith's giggle echos around them and fills Jess's ears, her heart swelling in her chest.
"Hey..." Cece arrives and leans next to her, following the direction of Jess's gaze and chuckling "It's like a modern day remake of Three Men and a Baby! Those clowns are just the cutest, aren't they?"
"They really are..." Jess says in a shaky voice, the emotion bubbling up from deep inside, tears gathering in her eyes.
"You okay, honey?" Cece asks softly and slides an arm across her shoulders, squeezing gently.
"I'm on top of the world, Ceec."
"So, these tears are a good thing, right?"
"Absolutely!" Jess laugh-sobs and wipes the back of her hand under her eyes "I just can't stop thinking about how close I came to never having this at all, which is stupid I know..."
"It's not stupid. It's totally natural...but you DO have this, Jess. It's real and it's yours. There comes a point where you need to stop dwelling on the what-ifs and the almost-hads so that you can embrace the here and now."
"You're right. You're totally right..."
"Yeah, I mean - look how close I came to nearly giving up on me and Schmidt entirely. I nearly married another man...I almost scaled a damn mountain!"
Jess's face scrunches up and they both dissolve into loud fits of giggles, drawing looks of consternation from a few elderly walkers passing by, causing them to clamp their hands over their mouths and take deep breathes to try and stifle the laughter.
"So, what's your verdict on this place?"
"This is the one, Cece. This is it." Jess gushes as Cece bundles her in to a massive bear hug and holds on tight. Their moment is interrupted by the not-so-subtle call of Schmidt from the edge of the gardens below with Judith wriggling like crazy in his arms, reaching her tiny arms out for Nick as she squirmed.
"Dearest Cecelia, my brown angel, the jewel in my crown, the light of my world...come and join us, won't you?"
"That's my cue, I guess!" Rolling her eyes as she steps back from Jess, Cece turns to look towards him just in time to see Nick give Schmidt a playful slap on the back of his head, removing his daughter and lifting her high into the air, pretending she's an aeroplane and making her little mop of dark curls dangle in front of her eyes.
He laughs just as much as Judith does, a genuine belly laugh that makes his face crease and his eyes light up. He throws her in the air and catches her a few times before finally placing her down on the grass beside him. Nick offers a wobbly Judith his finger - which she eagerly grabs for, gripping tightly with her chubby little hand to prop herself up.
Jess is beaming while watching Nick walk slowly towards her, his pale blue shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows and their little girl toddling beside him on her unsteady legs with her white sundress fluttering in the breeze. If it was possible for your heart to explode with love, Jess was pretty sure this would be the very moment that would have put her six feet under. Nick reaches the steps and scoops Judith back up into his arms to climb them, Jess nods in his direction and sucks in her lips as her stomach does a somersault.
"Hey yourself..." Nick leans down to kiss her gently on the temple, grimacing in apology when Judith makes a grab for a fistful of Jess's loose hair.
"Ma-ma!" She giggles proudly.
"Hello my little Jujubee." Jess coos, slowly disentangling her locks from the toddlers vice like grip.
"This place is great, huh?" He shifts Judith higher on his arm.
"It's perfect..." Jess replies dreamily.
"Then I think we've just found our wedding venue." He grins "Look at all the room there is outside for Judy to run around in her little flower girl costume."
"Outfit." Jess corrects.
"It's not a costume, Nick...it's an outfit. It's a wedding, not a play!" She laughs as he rolls his eyes dramatically and tugs her closer to him.
"Oh, would you come here already?" He kisses her hard on the lips and comes away with a pop.
"The thing is..." Jess places a hand on his chest and smoothes it down his shirt "...I was just speaking to the wedding co-ordinator here, and she said the waiting list is usually about three years long."
Nick sighs and gives a sad smile, reaching for her hand and taking it in his, bringing it to his lips so he can kiss the engagement ring on her finger as it catches the sun.
"That's too bad, this place is awesome. But hey, you know what? We'll keep looking until we find somewhere equally as great, okay?"
"Well...we might not have to..."
Nick cocks his head and quirks a brow, intrigued.
"Okay, so she did say that there was one spot available earlier, due to a cancellation - but it's only three months away..."
Jess chews on her bottom lip and looks up at Nick, pleasantly surprised by the massive grin he's wearing. His dark eyes are bright and shining, and he's looking at her like they've just won the lottery.
"Book it." He says, with absolute certainty.
"Yeah?" Jess whispers, hardly able to contain her excitement as she bounces on her heels and winds an arm around his waist, her free hand stroking across Judith's rosy cheek.
"Sure, let's do this thing so I can put another baby in ya!" Nick smirks, laughing at her mock frown as Jess reaches forward to quickly cover Judith's ears with her hands.
"What? Don't say you haven't thought about giving this little monster a brother or sister...or both..."
"Yeah, why not? Let's have a whole bunch of mini-Millers running around!" He was laughing heartily now, a glint of mischief in his eyes.
"Well, let's not get carried away..."
"You're a natural, Jess. You were made to be a mama. Look at how great Judy's turning out!"
"I'd like to see you still be as enthusiastic about having so many babies if you were the one having to push them out of your hoo-haa, Nick!"
He lets out a rich, deep chuckle that reverberates as it leaves his throat and it makes Jess's smile span further across her face.
Maybe a clan of children half her and half him wasn't a bad idea after all. She lets her mind fleetingly wander to thoughts of family outings at the beach where she sits on a tartan blanket under a giant umbrella guarding the mammoth picnic inside the wicker hamper they bought with them. The kids would be further down by sea with Nick, their laughter travelling on the breeze as they gang up on him and bury his legs in the sand despite his protests.
"Excuse me, Ms Day?" The wedding coordinator's voice pulls her back down to reality "I'm sorry to interrupt, I was just wondering if you'd had a moment to think about your decision?"
Jess turns and looks at Nick.
Last chance to change your mind.
Nick simply smiles and nods.
"We have..." Jess smiles as she spins back to face the tall, blonde lady "...and, yes, please - we would be delighted to have the Miller-Day wedding here."
"Wonderful!" The lady claps her hands together "If you'd like to follow me, there's just a couple of forms to complete so we can finalise the booking."
"Of course." Jess goes to step forward but Nick places a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, Jess, could you take Judy for a second? I need to tie my laces..." he smiles apologetically but Jess gladly holds her arms out to their little girl and presses her lips to the side of Judith's head.
"I'll catch you up." He offers and they head inside in front of him, down a long hallway. He fixes his lace quickly and jogs in after them, allowing himself a second to take in the sight of his wife-to-be and their first born (because he's certain there will be more!) giggle their way towards the office where they will set the date for him and Jess to become husband and wife.
For the first time in his life, he feels enough. His heart stutters in his chest and Nick takes a deep breath.
He feels totally and utterly complete as he watches Jess tickling Judith under the chin a few feet ahead of him.
The other pieces of his soul that make him whole.