DECEMBER 1921

LARA

I couldn't help but giggle as Gustave tugged me along down the street to his father's house, his feet skidding along the ice as he ran. The snow all around us would have made for a beautiful walk - even if I was buried in an innumerable number of layers and was starting to overheat while my husband practically yanked my arm out of its socket.

"Lara, hurry up, love! We have to get to Papa's house!" Gustave exclaimed as he looked at me over his shoulder. He had a ridiculous grin plastered on his face, and his cheeks were flushed from the cold; he looked adorable and hilarious all at the same time, which only made another fit of giggles escape me.

"We'll still get to your father's if we walk, you know," I pointed out, knowing that basic logic didn't always occur to my husband in moments of great excitement.

"I know, I know," Gustave said, laughing through his words. "I'm just excited to tell him!"

Shaking my head fondly, I tugged back against Gustave's gentle hold on my arm, which got him to slow to a stop. "The news isn't going to change no matter when we get there," I said as I set my hand to his chest and gave him a gentle kiss. "Plus, I'm not really in any state to be running."

A wave of panic washed over my husband's face, I noticed, so I quickly kissed him to make sure he knew I was alright. "Right, of course, I'm sorry," he said with a nod as the two of us started to walk again, turning onto Erik's street. "Are you alright? Are you cold?"

"Gustave, I can barely move, I'm so bundled up. I am the furthest from cold that I could possibly be."

"I just want to be sure! I know you hate the cold anyway, so I am ensuring that you're warm."

"And I appreciate that, love," I replied with a smile, wanting to acknowledge his efforts. "But I will be warmer once we get inside your father's house, so if we could do that, I would appreciate it."

Gustave nodded and took my hand, pressing a kiss to my knuckles before he led me the short distance left to walk up to Erik's front door. His excitement immediately resurfaced as he pulled his spare key out of his pocket and opened the door, then darted inside, only to bump into Nadir - quite literally.

"Where are you rushing to? You haven't been this excited to come over here in quite some time," Nadir said with a laugh as he steadied Gustave on his feet, then stepped over to me to greet me with a hug.

"Oh, can Gustave not come over to visit his father and be positively giddy?" I replied, laughing at my own comment and at the expression on Nadir's face; if he hadn't known something was going on before, he certainly did by this point.

"Alright, out with it. What's..." Nadir began but trailed off as a smile slowly crossed his face. "Oh, I think I know what's got you so giddy."

Gustave scoffed as he helped me get out of all of my layers. "Sure you do Go on, take a guess. You'll never be..."

"You two are expecting."

"Oh, my g- how?!" Gustave exclaimed, sounding quite exasperated. "How do you always know? Can I not surprise you?"

"I have been around your father for too long. It's hard to take me by surprise," Nadir said with a laugh as he gave both me and Gustave tight hugs. "Congratulations, you two. This is so wonderful."

I now had the same giddy grin as my husband plastered on my face as I ran my hand over the bump of my stomach; I had found that I couldn't stop touching that little bump since I had found out about my pregnancy.

"Thank you, Nadir. We're just ecstatic," I said, standing on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "We weren't expecting to see you, but I'm glad that we did."

"Oh, I'm glad you did too," he replied, smiling as he looked at me. "And you're already showing as well. I couldn't tell when you were buried in coats and scarves."

"Is it such a crime to want to keep my wife warm?" my husband queried, clearly not too pleased with our teasing.

Nadir laughed to himself and patted his nephew's shoulder. "Not at all. Now, Adele is in the kitchen and will be so happy to hear this news, so you should probably come with me and tell her."

With a smile, Gustave wrapped his arm around my waist and kissed my temple as we followed Nadir into the kitchen, where we found Adele at the table with a teacup in front of her. "Oh, hello, you two. I thought I heard a loud exclamation from Gustave; you sound just like your father," she said.

"Yes, so I've been told," Gustave replied with a quiet laugh. "But, Madame, we have news and wanted to share it with you."

"Is that so?" Adele asked, getting to her feet to clear her dishes. "What sort of news?"

I shared a smile with Gustave before I spoke: "We're expecting a baby."

Adele gasped so sharply and turned at such a fast speed that her husband couldn't help but laugh. "Love, we're not pregnant, take a breath."

"Oh, shut up," she retorted as she hurried over, her steps as light and delicate as ever, even with her excitement, and hugged me. "That's amazing, Lara, congratulations!"

"Thank you, Adele. That really means so much," I said with a smile, watching as she stepped over to hug Gustave as well. "We're very excited."

"I'm sure you are. Nadir and I are excited for you," Adele replied, stepping over to her husband and letting him wrap his arm around her waist. "How are you feeling?"

"Well, besides being ecstatic and a little nervous, not all that bad. I still get a bit sick some mornings, but otherwise, I'm well." I couldn't help but run my hand across my stomach as I spoke; the little bump and the soft flutters from within my womb were a reminder of the life growing inside me - the baby that we had waited to have for so long and that we were so excited to finally meet.

I noticed Adele smile thoughtfully as she watched me, her hand seemingly subconsciously coming to rest on her own stomach. I knew she had a daughter - Gustave had mentioned as much to me - but I could tell that she was missing getting to be a mother, given that she and her daughter weren't in contact anymore, or so I had been told. I could only imagine how painful it was; I hadn't even met the children I had miscarried and I missed them more than I could easily express, so I couldn't imagine how much harder it was to lose touch with the child she'd seen grow up.

"We're very glad to hear it, and we are so happy for you both," Nadir said. "Now, the expectant grandfather is up in his study, if you'd like to go tell him the news."

Gustave and I shared a glance as we prepared to put our plan to tell Erik in motion. "Yes, we'll go up right now," I replied.

With a grin on his face, Gustave led me up the stairs towards his father's study, Adele and Nadir following behind us. Reaching our destination, we found Erik at his desk, the telephone receiver held to his ear as he furiously wrote down notes while he talked. Ignoring the fact that his father was working, Gustave knocked on the door, only for us to get a quick over-the-shoulder glance and wave from Erik. I looked at my husband again before we turned to Erik again and decided to make our announcement.

"Hi Grandpa," the two of us said simultaneously, a grin already spreading across my face in anticipation of the impending reaction.

The one we got, though, was far from what I had expected; Erik simply raised a finger to silence us before apologizing to the person on the phone - who I could only assume was a client - and asking him to repeat his statement. I turned to Gustave in time to see him roll his eyes and open his mouth to speak again, but Nadir set his hand on his shoulder to stop him. He proceeded to knock harder on the door before saying something that sounded rather harsh in Persian; I only caught Erik's name, but he had clearly understood, as he straightened up slightly in his chair.

"Just a moment, sir," he said to the man on the phone, setting the receiver down on his desk and finally turning to us. "Yes?"

"Hang up," Gustave immediately replied, trying to sound annoyed despite the clear excitement in his voice.

With a sigh, Erik jotted something on his notepad before picking up the receiver again. "I am terribly sorry, sir, but I am going to have to call you back another time. I know, I'm sorry. Yes, I know we've been trying to arrange this call for quite some time," he said, giving Gustave a very pointed glare. "Yes, I am sorry. Some sort of family emergency has come up, it seems, but I will call you as soon as I can. I appreciate your understanding, sir, thank you. Have a good day."

As he set the receiver back in its cradle, he turned back to us with a sigh. "What can I do for you now that you've interrupted my business meeting?"

"Well, we just wanted to say hello, but do you notice anything different?" Gustave asked.

I couldn't help but laugh quietly when I noticed Erik start to panic slightly as he looked at both of us, searching for something that was off.

"Well...that dress isn't new but is just as lovely as always. Lara, you cut your hair a couple of weeks ago and Gustave looks the same, so...nothing glaringly obvious," he said hesitantly.

As observant as he was, sometimes he missed what was right in front of his eyes. "Are you sure?" I queried as I set my hand on my stomach to try and clue him in.

"Yes, quite sure."

I couldn't help but giggle as I looked back at Nadir and Adele, finding them laughing, but looking utterly exhausted with their long-time friend. "How?" I asked.

"Because he's dense, Lara. So incredibly dense," Nadir said with a laugh.

"Can I tell him? Please?" Gustave pleaded, clearly eager to reveal our news.

"Tell me what? Someone fill me in."

I smiled as my husband wrapped his arm around my waist. "Let's just say we hope you enjoy being called Grandpa because you'll be using that title quite a lot soon," he said.

The two of us couldn't help but laugh when Erik practically jumped out of his chair as he finally processed the news. "You...oh my god," he said with a laugh as he got to his feet just in time for me to hug him tight.

"It finally happened," I whispered, tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.

"I told you it would, my dear," Erik whispered as he kissed my temple, then turned to hug Gustave. "God, you're going to be a father, my boy. That's so incredible."

"I know, I'm so excited. Scared out of my mind, but ecstatic nonetheless," Gustave replied, giving his father a squeeze before they both turned to me again. "The baby actually started to kick a few days ago."

I nodded to acknowledge the comment, then took Erik's hand. "They're kicking right now, as a matter of fact," I said as I started to bring his hand towards my stomach to feel the same kicks I was talking about, only to frown when he pulled it away. "Erik?"

"I believe you, dear, I don't need to feel it. You don't-" he began, but I would hear none of his excuses, so I took his hand and set it on my stomach before he could protest again.

"Don't be uncomfortable, I don't mind at all. Now, just wait a moment," I said softly. I adjusted his hand's position slightly so it was resting on top of where the baby was kicking at that moment and couldn't help but smile when I noticed his eyes light up. "Did you feel it?"

Erik nodded as a smile formed on his face. "God, that's my grandchild. I'm so old," he said with a laugh. "But this is incredible, you two. I'm so happy for you; after all this time, you deserve this more than anyone."

"Thank you, Erik. That means a lot."

As he pulled his hand away from my stomach, Erik glanced over at Nadir and Adele with a frown. "You two know already, don't you?"

"We do, yes. They ran into us first," Nadir replied. "I guessed based on their smiles and Adele gasped so hard that she practically choked."

"Well, that's not nearly as fun as all of us finding out together, but it's too late now," Erik sighed. "What about your parents, Lara? Do they know yet?"

"We're going over now for dinner and plan to tell them tonight. We just wanted to stop by and tell the other grandparent," I said with a grin.

Erik smiled wide at that, and it was then that I realized that I hadn't seen him quite so happy in a while; seeing such a wide, genuine smile on his face made me recognize how much I'd missed it.

"Well, I appreciate it. I'm thrilled, you two, I really am," he said. "I get to uphold a promise that I made to someone decades ago to call myself Nonno were I to have a grandchild. Unless you two are set on calling me Grandpa."

"Nonno is perfect, Papa. You promised Giovanni that, didn't you?" Gustave asked with a smile.

"I did, yes. He held onto the thought that I would be a father and a grandfather one day, and I think he was living vicariously through me since I was like a son to him."

"Well, it will do perfectly. It will be easier to differentiate between you and Father," I replied. "And if it means you're upholding a promise, we are all for it."

"I appreciate it. Now, you two had better be off so you aren't late getting to Philippe and Marguerite's. Thank you for coming, though; I cannot wait to meet this little one."


Not long after leaving Erik's, Gustave and I were seated around my mother and father's dining table, in the middle of our dinner. We had yet to reveal to them that I was expecting a baby, intending to reveal it to them after, so I had strategically wrapped a shawl around myself to hide my stomach from my mother's very observant eyes.

"Lara, dear, would you like a glass of wine with dinner?" Mother asked, giving me a smile as one of the house servants filled her own glass.

"I'm going to pass on the wine tonight, Mother, but thank you. It wouldn't be good given my condition," I replied. I didn't even think twice about my response; I knew that some other women drank while with child, but I had decided against it so I wouldn't risk anything happening to my baby. Perhaps I was being overly cautious, but after waiting so long to have the child, I refused to overlook anything.

"Is everything alright, Lara?" I heard my father ask. As I looked over at him, I saw his fork held halfway to his mouth as he looked at Gustave rather suspiciously.

Realizing he had misinterpreted my words, I reached over and set my hand over his. "I'm quite alright, Father. Just for the sake of the baby, I'm trying to avoid alcohol."

"I see. That makes perfect sense, we wouldn't want to- wait. Oh my god!"

It was then, with my father's exclamation and my mother's gasp, that I realized that I had let the news slip without meaning to do so. "Oh, we had intended to tell you more formally after dinner, but...surprise," I said with a laugh.

"I thought you meant to do that," Gustave replied, and there was a frown on his face when I turned to him.

"Oh no, it just slipped out," I said. "I'm like Father in that way."

My husband simply smiled as he kissed my cheek. "And I love that about you," he said, chuckling when Father pulled him up onto his feet and hugged him.

"When did you two find out?" Mother inquired as she hugged me tightly then switched places with Father to hug Gustave, as awkward as it was for the two of them.

"Just a few days ago. We wanted a bit of time to enjoy this ourselves before we told everyone," I replied. 'And to make sure all was well and I wouldn't lose the baby again,' I wanted to add, but bit my tongue; neither of them knew about any of the miscarriages and I intended to keep it that way. Even if it did come out, I knew I would only ever tell Father. Mother would just meddle, I knew, and that was the last thing I wanted.

"Of course. I can only imagine you two are ecstatic," Father said, a wide smile plastered on his face as he sank back into his seat at the table. "Gustave, were you alright when you found out? You didn't faint or anything of that nature? Fatherhood is a weighty title; I know I panicked a bit when we found out André was on the way."

"You didn't panic a bit, you panicked extensively," Mother replied with a laugh. "You had to sit down when I told you, but you bounced back up to hug me afterwards."

Gustave couldn't help but laugh at that; hearing about my parents' moments of domestic bliss wasn't a common occurrence, so it was always a bit funny when we learned little details.

"I didn't pass out, but I was nowhere near relaxed about it. That said, I think Lara can tell the story better than I can."

I smiled as both my parents looked at me expectantly. "Yes, I will happily tell you."


I slowly sat up in bed and ran my fingers through my messy hair, smiling slightly as I thought back on what had put it in that state the evening before. I could hear Gustave singing to himself as he washed up in the ensuite and considered joining him, but I knew he had an appointment to keep for work and decided against holding him up in any way.

As I got to my feet and slipped on my underclothes, I felt a wave of nausea wash over me. I had gotten accustomed to it by that point, having been dealing with a stomach bug of some sort for a short while. I had been managing the early morning illness, though having Gustave fretting over me as much as he was felt like a bit much sometimes. Still, I knew that all I could do was wait for it to pass.

I stepped over to the armoire and opened it to select a dress to wear for the day, laughing to myself when I heard Gustave's singing quiet into humming; that little switch was enough to tell me that he had gotten out of the bath, was shaving his face, and would be out shortly. My husband had a routine, that much was for certain.

All of a sudden, I was pulled out of my own thoughts when I felt the sensation of something...flipping in my stomach. I frowned deeply at that, trying to wrap my head around the strange feeling; it was nothing like the nausea I had been used to feeling, but I couldn't place what it was instead.

But then, as I set my hand on my stomach, I felt it again...and again. Only then did I realize the feeling was little taps, and I immediately put the pieces together; the nausea, the tightness in my dresses and corsets that I had written off as weight gain, my missed cycles that I had ignored after a history of irregularity. Those weren't just random or coincidental; they were telltale signs that I had paid no heed to.

I was pregnant, and I was further along than I had ever been. My baby was okay.

Abandoning my dress on the bed, paying no heed to the fact that I was standing almost entirely undressed, I walked over to the mirror and looked at my profile. My hands on my tummy, I couldn't help it when tears started to fall down my face as I noticed the little bump my stomach had grown into. I had never been the kind of person to study and pick apart their appearance in the mirror, so I hadn't noticed the little bump my stomach had grown into. I had never been the kind of person to study and pick apart their appearance in the mirror, so I hadn't noticed the slight change in my own body; I was a bit surprised that Gustave hadn't noticed either when we were together the night before.

"Is there something wrong, darling?" I heard Gustave ask. Turning my head, I saw him step out of the bathroom in his trousers, his shirt on but unbuttoned, his hair still damp after his bath.

"No, everything is perfect, my love. Just perfect," I replied, giving him a small smile despite the tears in my eyes.

"What's going on, then? You're standing in front of the mirror, in tears, in nothing but your drawers," he pointed out.

None of what he had said should have made me more emotional, but alas, even more tears fell from my eyes. Thankfully, Gustave instantly ran over and wrapped his arms around me. "What's happened, love?" he whispered as he gently ran his fingers through my hair.

"Something really good." I leaned my head against his chest, admiring the smell of his cologne that I loved so much; just that simple thing was enough to calm me to the point that I could reveal my news to him. "Gustave, we're having a baby," I whispered.

He froze at that, his hands stuck in their place in my hair. "Are you sure?" he breathed.

I nodded, lifting my head to look at him and smiling through my tears. "Yes," I said quietly. I took his hand then and set it over the spot where the baby's kicks were the strongest, as light as they were. "We're going to be parents."

Tears immediately pooled in Gustave's eyes as he gently ran his hand over my stomach and a quiet laugh of disbelief escaped him. "This...is incredible. A miracle! I love you so much," he said, leaning forward and pressed his lips to mine.

"I love you too, Gustave. We did this together; this is our baby."

With a grin, Gustave lifted me into his arms and kissed me again, only for his eyes to widen as he set me back on my feet. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't do that. I don't want to hurt either of you."

"We're fine, I promise. Right now, I couldn't be any better," I said with a smile.

I slipped back into my nightgown, figuring it was better than no clothes at all, and let Gustave pull me back onto our bed. The two of us then laid in silence, our hands resting on my stomach to feel our baby's kicking.

"I can't believe this," Gustave eventually said, smiling through his words. "We're finally having our baby. We'll have to clear out the spare room for the nursery."

"We will, yes, but my love, you have to go to work," I said softly. "You can't be late for this meeting."

"But I want to stay here and just sit with you and feel our little baby kicking." He actually gave me a pout as he stopped speaking; clearly, he'd been taking notes from Lizzie and believed that making himself look sweet would change my mind.

I raised my hand to pat his cheek then leaned over to kiss him. "And I would love that," I whispered against his lips, pulling away when he tried to kiss me again. "But you know you can't. Your father told you how important this client is, you cannot just forego your meeting. Even for this."

"Promise me that I can do it all I want when I get home," Gustave replied.

"You have my word. Baby and I will be waiting," I said, a smile on my face at the simple mention of our baby.

With a grin, Gustave kissed me before he leaned over and pressed his lips to my stomach. "I love you," I heard him whisper before he got to his feet, buttoned his shirt and grabbed his suit jacket, then hurried out of the room, smiling at me over his shoulder as he did.

I leaned my head back against the pillow smiling as I rubbed my hand over my stomach. "Your papa is going to take good care of us, little one. Trust me on that," I said softly.


"Oh, Lara, that's so wonderful," Mother said as she took the handkerchief that Father was holding out to her to wipe her teary eyes. "You must be so excited."

"Yes, we truly are," I replied, holding Gustave's hand and locking our fingers. I wasn't oblivious to the fact that Mother had excluded him from her statement; on purpose or not, she'd done it, but I was determined to get her to completely accept Gustave into our family, one way or another.

Before anyone could say another word, Father gasped quietly and jumped to his feet. "I have something for you, don't move," he said before he took off out of the dining room.

"Goodness, this ought to be interesting," Gustave chuckled, sipping his drink as we waited for Father to rejoin us.

He did just that a moment later and set a white gift bag on my lap before he sat back in his chair. "Go on, open it," he said eagerly, smiling like a giddy child.

"Alright, alright." I laughed to myself as I reached into the bag, only for tears to immediately spring to my eyes when I pulled out a stuffed teddy bear dressed in a little vest. "Oh, Father," I said, throwing my arms around him and hugging him tightly.

"I've missed something, haven't I?" Gustave inquired, sounding rather confused.

I realized then that he truly had no clue as to why a simple teddy bear would evoke such an emotional reaction from me, so I filled him: "I had the very same bear when I was a little girl. It was my favourite thing in the world, I brought it everywhere."

"The original Mister Bear, as she called him, was well-loved, so I tracked one down and picked it up for the day you two had a little one of your own," Father added. There was a fond smile on his face as he no doubt reflected on my childhood as he so often did; he really was more sentimental than he let on.

"Well, thank you, Philippe. It means a lot," Gustave said, smiling as he reached over and shook Father's hand.

"Did you tell your father yet, Gustave?" Mother inquired as we went back to our meal; at least she included him in some conversation. "What was his reaction like?"

Gustave chuckled at that. "He practically jumped out of his skin. In a good way, of course. We interrupted a business call to tell him and he wasn't too pleased at first, but that changed when he heard the news."

"I would imagine. That man is so on edge, good lord," Father replied. "But he deserves to be a grandfather, to have this joy. He's had a tough go at life."

"We both have, but this baby is going to bring so much light to our lives. Lara and I couldn't be more thrilled."


Once dinner had concluded and the servants had whisked the dishes away, Father and I had decided to take our tea in the parlour by the fire. I felt a bit bad leaving Gustave to attempt to make conversation with my mother, but I had been really missing getting to talk alone with my father. He had always been the parent I was more comfortable talking to, but once I had married Gustave and moved out, I began to realize how much I missed talking to him, so I'd jumped at the opportunity when it was presented to me.

"I was wondering when you were going to give your mother a grandchild," Father said as he set down his teacup in its saucer. "Your brother has his family, of course, but they live so far away that it drives her up the wall."

"I was beginning to wonder when it would happen myself, all things considered," I replied, a nervous laugh escaping me as we came rather close to the topic I hadn't thought I would ever bring up. "We've wanted to for a while, but...things never went exactly the way we wanted. Or expected, frankly."

A frown quickly started to form on my father's face at that; I could tell that he had picked up on the fact that something was wrong. He'd always been able to tell.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked, his attention fixed on me as he tried to determine how to help.

"Father..." I began, trailing off as I tried to muster up the courage to tell him. When he reached over and set his hand over mine, though, stroking my knuckles with his thumb, I knew I would be able to do it. "Father, I've had four miscarriages over the past couple of years."

My heart ached as I watched the emotions flickering across his face; his confusion melted into shock, then into heartbreak as he pulled me into his arms and held me tight. "That makes this situation all the more perfect," he said softly.

Tears started to fall from my eyes as I buried my face in his shoulder, clutching the fabric of his blue suit jacket in my fists. "I'm just so glad I've finally managed to keep the baby. I've wanted one for so long," I choked out.

"I'm so sorry, my girl. I can't imagine what you've been through," he whispered as he gently rubbed my back. "But you know what? This just means that you are strong enough to handle anything that this baby can throw at you."

"I suppose. I hope so, at least. I really hope we know what we're doing."

Father leaned back then and gave me a warm smile as he brushed my tears away. "I'll tell you a secret about parenting, dearest; nobody really knows what they are doing. It is all a matter of trusting your instincts and going with what feels right. There is no rule book, no instruction manual. This is not something that you can study, no matter how much you try. This is something you'll have to learn by acting, and if I've had any influence on you at all, you should be alright."

"Thank you, Father. I really appreciate you saying that. It's been so hard these past couple of years, on me and Gustave," I admitted, my voice no longer as choked but still just as quiet.

"But now you can put all of that behind you because this is a happy time. No need to taint it with bad memories. This is going to be wonderful for everyone, but especially for you and Gustave," Father replied.

"We're so excited to finally have a baby, and I know you and Mother are going to be very happy as well. I know you both miss André and his family a lot," I said.

Father simply waved the comment off. "Don't you worry about your mother and me; this is for you and Gustave, nobody else. The two of you having a family of your own is everything I could have asked for. It means that I've done my job and you are ready to go out and do this on our own with someone you love. It is truly an amazing experience, and I couldn't be happier that you get to see that for yourself."

"Thank you, Father. For everything you've done," I said. I had to thank him; raising two children - both of whom were rather rambunctious at times - all while carrying the family legacy on his shoulders wouldn't have been easy, but he'd done it and I admired him greatly for it.

"I would do it all again in a heartbeat, baby girl."

I couldn't help but smile when he used the same nickname he had given me as a child, so I leaned forward to hug him tightly again. "I love you so much," I whispered.

"I love you too, Lara," he replied before he pressed a kiss to my temple.

"Father...could you please keep this between us?" I requested as I pulled away from our embrace. "I know Mother and if she finds out, she will fuss over every detail of my life more than she already does. I love her but I can't handle that."

"I understand. I'll keep it to myself if that's what you want. I know your mother can be a bit overbearing with you, but she loves you. Not to mention that André isn't here for her to fuss over."

I couldn't help but sigh at the mention of my older brother. "If only he were. I miss him so much and I would love to see his reaction to becoming an uncle."

"Yes, that would be priceless, quite honestly," Father replied with a quiet laugh. He loved Gustave when they met, so to hear that you two are expecting would thrill him.

"I wish he could have been here for the wedding. I hate that he had to miss it simply because of distance," I said. "Not to mention that I want to see his wife and little boy as well."

"Well, who knows? Perhaps he'll make it for a visit when your little one arrives."

I nodded, giving Father a smile before glancing at the grandfather clock to take note of the time. "Gustave and I should probably get home. I'm already noticing that I get tired a bit faster now."

"Your mother was the same when she was carrying André; she ended up on bed rest for the last three months of the pregnancy. I'm sure your experience will be completely different, though," Father replied as he stood up and kissed my cheek. "I'll go and have the servants fetch your cloak and shoes. Your husband's as well."

"Thank you, Father." I watched him go for a moment before I began to walk to the kitchen but stopped just outside the doorway when I heard my mother and Gustave talking about a rather interesting topic.

"I just want to be sure that you are aware of the financial responsibilities this entails," Mother said.

"I swear to you that my wife and my child will be taken care of." I could tell that Gustave was getting upset; he only ever referred to me as his wife in that fashion around Mother when she was being particularly difficult.

"You'll have to forgive me for being concerned, given what it is you and your father do for a living."

I heard Gustave sigh from outside the kitchen. Mother had always been worried about me being taken care of in terms of money.

"Marguerite, please. I love Lara, and this baby isn't even born yet but I love it too. I have tried everything to show you that I am more than capable of taking good care of my family. I know I don't come from this world and I know that it would be very hard to give them a life like this. But I have tried to make sure Lara is happy and until she tells me otherwise, I believe she is. Now, I have tolerated many of your comments about my station and I have endured them, but one thing I will never allow is for the company that my father built from the ground up while raising me to be degraded."

"I'd like you to try and see things from where I am standing. Lara is my only daughter and where I grew up, a woman was only allowed to rise in station through marriage or be considered a waste. You may see this as archaic but I have seen it ring true time and time again. I will not have my daughter and my grandchild be considered a social disgrace by your hand."

"Then I have a real question for you. If you were so worried about all of this for so long, why let me stick around as long as I have?" I could tell how much Gustave wanted to raise his voice but he would never around my mother, so instead, he went to the unwavering seriousness that sent a chill down my spine. "Why was I deemed the luckiest man in England and given the opportunity to propose? I'm sure you could have just as easily struck up a deal with one of the suitors you paraded her around to like some treasure up for auction while I was gone."

"How do you know about that?" I had never thought in a million years that Gustave would bring up the fact that my mother tried to get me to pick someone else while he was gone.

"That is unimportant." I let a sigh of relief escape, knowing that he didn't expose the fact that I had been the one to tell him in one of my letters. "What is important is the fact that I know you have been against me from the start and I know I will never get a decent answer as to why except for your financial concerns. So let me leave you with a fact that you already know but try to avoid every time you look at me: Lara chose me and even though I'll never understand why she did. Your grandchild will have my last name because like it or not, it is my child as well. I may be the mere son of an architect but I know how to make sure that there is food on the table and a roof over the heads of the people I love, so there is nothing for you to be concerned about."

I knew my mother and I knew that she had nothing she could really say to defend herself, so at that point, I seized my opening and stepped into the kitchen and smiled at Gustave. "Shall we go, love?" I asked.

Gustave nodded, saying goodbye to my mother before he walked into the front hall with me to get dressed, then stepped out into the snowy evening.

"What were you and Mother talking about so extensively? I don't think you've ever willingly talked to her on your own for so long before," I said, vouching to keep quiet about the fact that I had overheard the entire conversation.

"You know that your mother has never truly approved of me. It was just an extension of that."

I knew he wasn't telling me the whole story. "What was it about this time?"

"To put it simply she was worried that my line of work wouldn't be able to support all three of us. But I believe I put her worries to rest." I could see his jaw tense up; he was still angry but he was trying really hard not to let it show.

"I wouldn't let her get into your head," I said as I leaned my head on his arm as we walked. "She has always had the perfect man chosen for me since I was a young girl. I know that you aren't what she had in mind and I'm sorry you have to put up with the fact that she doesn't hide her feelings on the matter. But please trust me that even in a crowd of thousands, I will choose you every time."

"I trust you love. Always."


The next night...

Gustave and I had joined Adele and Nadir, Maddie, Charles, and Elizabeth for dinner at Erik's home, which was when we intended to tell everyone about the baby who didn't already know. The only issue was that we didn't know how we were going to do that yet, so while we helped Erik wash the dishes, we attempted to come with ideas.

"I'm still not sure how to announce it. With Aunt Maddie, it should be at least a bit fun," Gustave said as he dried off a plate and set it in the cupboard.

"You still haven't told them?" Erik inquired, and it was all I could do not to laugh at him; his excitement about the baby was still practically melting off of him.

"Well, no, but you can tell them since you look like you'll spontaneously combust if you don't tell someone," Gustave replied with a laugh.

Even Erik couldn't help but chuckle at himself at that point. "Are you sure? It is your baby, after all."

"There's a baby?!"

The three of us quickly turned to the doorway of the kitchen at the sound of Maddie's shriek and found her with wide eyes and a grin on her face.

"Wh-baby? No th-there's no baby, what are you talking about?" Erik stuttered as he started to fidget with his wedding band, clearly nervous about spoiling our surprise.

I was quick to take his hand to stop the fidgeting, not wanting him to feel bad about it. "The cat's out of the bag, I suppose; yes, Maddie, Gustave and I are expecting a baby," I said with a smile.

With a squeal, Maddie ran over to hug Gustave and I tightly, then looked over her shoulder and called, "Charles, Adele, Nadir! Get in here!"

"Um, Uncle Nadir and Adele know already, Aunt Maddie," Gustave said with a nervous smile.

His expression was warranted as Maddie gasped and gave him a swift slap on the arm. "Why did they find out first?" she asked, her smile quickly giving away the fact that she was teasing him. "I understand your father, but why not me?"

"We bumped into them when we came over to tell Papa and Uncle Nadir just guessed!" Gustave exclaimed in his defence.

"Guessed what?" Charles asked as he stepped into the kitchen, Nadir and Adele behind him. "And why are you yelling, love? We were just in the other room."

"Lara and Gustave are expecting!" his wife replied, grinning as she turned to hug me again, then gently set her hand on my stomach.

Charles' eyes went wide before he laughed - out of disbelief, no doubt - and pulled Gustave into his arms. "My god, this is incredible! You two must be overjoyed!" he said excitedly.

"We are. It's a miracle and nothing less than that," Gustave replied with a laugh as Charles practically crushed him with the force of his hug.

"And Erik! You're going to be a grandpa!" Maddie exclaimed as she hugged him, hopping up and down on the spot as she did.

"I know. I'm very excited, but I feel so old," Erik said with a chuckle. "Stop bouncing, Madeleine, good lord."

Maddie simply rolled her eyes and gave his chest a playful smack. "Oh, shut up. The boy that is like my son is expecting with his wife, the excitement is warranted."

"Expectin' what?" I heard Lizzie ask, and I turned to see her wander into the kitchen, no doubt having heard her mother losing her mind from the other room.

"Well, Lizzie," Gustave said as he scooped her up, then gestured to me, "Auntie Lara and I are having a baby, so soon you'll have a cousin to play with."

"Oh," Lizzie replied. "But where's the baby?"

I smiled as I took a step closer to reply, setting my hand on my stomach. "You see, dear, the baby is growing in my belly. It will be here very soon," I explained.

"But how did the baby get in your belly?"

The immediate follow-up to that was a snort from Erik - though he tried to hide it - and a laugh without hesitation from Charles. Those two like to think they are mature, but they could not be further from it in truth.

"A stork! A stork is bringing it in a few months!" Maddie declared as she cupped her daughter's face in her hands and kissed her little nose. "That's how, dearest."

"That's the story we're going with? Really?" Erik asked, still laughing through his words.

"She's six, Erik! I'm not about to tell her what really goes on." A fair point; she was still too young to be told exactly what went into creating a baby.

Erik nodded to at least acknowledge that point, only to argue it right away. "You can still tell her that a baby comes from daddy and grows inside mommy. You just don't have to tell her how it gets put there," he said, trying to sound confident despite the fact that he was clearly uncomfortable, which Nadir had clearly noticed, as he had started to laugh at his friend's attempted explanation.

"But how does it get put there, Uncle Erik?" Lizzie queried. Ah, the unending curiosity of children did make way for interesting conversations.

Before Erik could even attempt to reply, Madeleine jumped in again: "God gives the gift of a baby to people who truly want it, and he puts it in the mommy's tummy so that the baby can stay warm and loved while mommy and daddy get ready for it."

"I could have told her that," Erik said, sounding rather indignant.

"Be honest with yourself, Erik," Nadir quickly replied with a scoff.

"I would have! I have...some sort of filter around little ones."

Gustave decided to pipe up then and take advantage of the chance to pester his father: "I have yet to see it, so please let me know when you find it."

"Betrayed by my own son. What has the world come to?"

"You know I mean it out of love."

"Yes, yes, sure," Erik replied with a roll of his eyes. "You all truly think I would tell a child like Lizzie about such things at such an impressionable age?"

I laughed quietly and stepped over to set my hand on his arm. "You can be blunt sometimes, Erik, but that's alright; that's just how you are."

"At least my daughter-in-law loves me. I don't need my son," Erik replied as he wrapped his arm around my waist.

"I see. One joke and I'm disowned," Gustave said. "I love you too, Papa."

With a laugh, Erik tugged him over and hugged his son. "Oh, you know I love you, don't be so prickly."

"Anyhow, Liz- oh, and the child this debate surrounds has left. We're arguing over how children are created with ourselves. Fantastic," Charles said, tossing his hands up when he realized that his daughter had left the room.

"Yes? And?" Maddie asked.

"No, nothing. It's just amusing that this is what we're discussing, given that we all know how it works."

"Technically, we are debating about how I would have told her babies come into the world. Do try to keep up, Charles," Erik said with a rather sly smile.

Maddie rolled her eyes at the banter between the two fathers before she turned back to me and smiled. "So how are you feeling, Lara?" she asked.

"Well, right now, it's such a surreal feeling. I still can't believe this is truly happening," I said, smiling and turning to Gustave as he wrapped his arm around me and set his free hand on my stomach.

"I can imagine; I felt the same way when I found out I was expecting Lizzie. But physically speaking, how are you? Is your morning sickness quite bad?"

"It's not a party in any sense of the word, but we've been waiting for so long that it's worth it."

Madeleine smiled as she gave me another hug. "Well, you sound like you're managing, which is good. My morning sickness was a nightmare with both pregnancies," she said. "Just wait until the third trimester when the baby makes you have to use the restroom every half hour."

"My god, pregnancy sounds absolutely horrible," we heard Erik say with a bit of a laugh. Immediately, Maddie and I turned to him and shot him glares, daring him to continue; even Adele, who had been unusually quiet, looked over with a rather baffled expression.

Erik quickly began to scramble as he realized he had misspoken: "W-which is exactly why I respect women so much for going through it! Pregnancy and birth clearly display the extent of a woman's strength. So much stronger than us men. By far."

He may have stuttered his way through it, but it was a half-decent recovery, and Maddie seemed to agree: "I'll give you a passing grade for effort."

"Thank you." As he said that, Erik turned and gave Charles, who was laughing to himself, a swift punch to the arm. "I'm new to this, leave me alone. I wasn't around Christine when she was pregnant, this is only my second experience with this whole scenario."

Charles simply shook his head fondly as he patted Erik on the shoulder, then looked over to me. "As someone who understands pregnancy, unlike some people, I know you need your rest, Lara. We'll head home soon so you two - or you three, rather - can get home too," he said, "But not just yet; we'll all have tea and muffins before we go."

As new topics sparked to life and everyone started to bustle around the kitchen to prepare dessert, I noticed Adele kiss Nadir before she stepped out of the room. I thought nothing of it at first, assuming she'd gone out to the restroom, but when she didn't return for some time, I decided to slip away to look around for her.

My search did eventually lead me to the bathroom, only because the door was slightly ajar and when I glanced in, I saw her standing in front of the mirror...in tears. It was an unfamiliar sight to me; I was so used to her being a strong woman who was a support system to everyone around her, so to see her looking so fragile was strange to see.

"Adele?" I said softly as I pushed open the door and took a step into the room. "Are you alright?"

"Oh, Lara, yes, I'm fine, dear," she quickly replied, brushing tears from her cheeks and smoothing out her dress. "What are you doing out here? You should be celebrating with your family."

"I noticed you left and were gone for some time, so I wanted to make sure you were alright," I replied before I grasped both of her hands. "And you are a part of my family. That's why I'm here with you right now. So what is going on? You've been crying, you cannot tell me that you are fine when you so clearly aren't."

It took a moment for her to reply, but finally, with a deep breath and a sniffle, she came clean: "I'm just thinking about my daughter. Seeing you and your husband celebrate your new little one has me recalling when my first husband and I were doing the same, which just makes way for the realization that I haven't seen my daughter in thirteen years."

My heart ached for her, the simple thought of not seeing my child enough to make tears prick at my eyes before I pulled her into a hug. "I'm so sorry. I can't even begin to imagine how hard that would be," I whispered.

"I appreciate that, dear. I try my best not to be upset about it, but it's not the easiest sometimes," she replied, her voice getting even tighter than it had been just a moment before.

"I would think it is," I said with a sigh, gently rubbing her back to try and soothe her if I could. I wasn't exactly able to sympathize, but I wanted to show her that I cared nonetheless, which prompted me to continue: "Have you talked to your husband about it?"

"Nadir knows, yes," Adele said, nodding as she pulled away from my arms and wiped another few tears away. "I don't tell him every time I feel this way, but he knows about this whole mess."

I sighed and wrapped my arm around her as the two of us stepped just out of the bathroom into the hallway. "But why not? He cannot help you if he doesn't know, and I'm sure that all he wants to do is help you."

"I just don't want to trap him in the middle of all of this," Adele replied, looking down at her feet as her breaths grew shakier. "That's his stepdaughter, but he barely knows her, besides exchanging one or two greetings more than twenty years ago in Paris. I don't wish to burden him with memories and troubles surrounding someone he hardly knows."

"Adele, he loves you so much. You know that it must kill him to know you're struggling at all. If he found out that you aren't telling him these sorts of things, I can only imagine it would break his heart to know you're struggling on your own," I said gently. I was not trying to guilt her for not talking to her husband, but I knew how hurt Gustave was when I kept things from him; I was only offering advice that came from experience.

Before she could reply, we both turned our heads at the sound of footsteps and set our eyes on Nadir, who had clearly been looking for us. As soon as he set his eyes on his wife, concern washed over his face and he picked up his pace to get to her side as quickly as he could.

"Adele, what's going on?" he asked gently, rubbing her back as she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest.

"Can we go home?" Adele replied, her voice quiet as she lifted her head to look up at her husband, then turned to me. "I'm sorry to ask that in front of you, Lara, but I-"

"Say no more. Just go home and rest," I said with a nod.

Nadir turned her back to look at him, then brushed a tear from her cheek before he leaned down to kiss her. "Go get ready. I'll be there in a moment."

As she stepped away, her destination being the front foyer, Nadir turned to me, seemingly for answers, but I didn't think it was my place to disclose them.

"She has a lot on her mind," I said with a slight shrug.

"Lara, please. She hesitates to tell me what's wrong at times like this, but I don't want her having to cope alone. Please tell me; I promise she will not be cross with you," Nadir replied, his eyes pleading with me to help him.

How could I not?

"She said that seeing all of us celebrating about the baby is bringing up some memories and making it a bit difficult for her to smile along with the rest of us."

Nadir sighed at that. "She's missing Meg," he said, his voice practically a whisper.

More details already! Now that I had more information, I had to know more; I trusted Nadir to decide to withhold certain information.

"So her name is Meg. Why haven't they kept in touch?" I inquired.

"She...because Meg is the one who kidnapped Gustave and killed Christine," Nadir replied quietly.

My heart leapt into my throat; Gustave never talked about that night, and Erik had never stated a name for Christine's murderer. Now I was discovering that his best friend's stepdaughter was the one who had killed the woman he adored; it was no wonder he never mentioned it.

"But...why would she...why?" I asked, needing details that have never been granted to me before.

Sighing heavily, Nadir leaned up against the wall as if he needed its support to continue. "In America, Erik needed investors to get his theme park business off of the ground, so to try and help with that, Meg used...her body to draw them in."

"What?" I gasped. My eyes had to have been as wide as saucers; I had had a few ideas of what he might say - working with Erik, working long hours - but...prostitution had not been one of them. "And Erik..."

"Had no idea," Nadir finished. "He found out that dreadful night when she threw it in his face. She wanted his admiration, his attention...his love. She'd fallen for him and wanted him to acknowledge it."

"But he was still in love with Christine," I said quietly, the pieces slowly starting to come together. "So Adele cut ties because of that."

Nadir nodded, the smallest of smiles on his face. "Erik is like a son to her; he was hurt beyond repair that night, which really hurt something in her," he said. "And...decisions were made on all three of their parts, and not the best ones at that, though I won't go into detail. After that, Adele thought it best to limit contact with her daughter."

"But she so clearly misses her so much. I'm amazed that she's been able to stay apart from her."

"It isn't easy; the two of them exchange the odd letter now and again to make sure they are...well, alive and all. It is hard for Adele, though; Meg has married, she has children that her mother has never met. It is incredibly difficult for my wife, I can tell."

I nodded, my mind racing a bit with all the information I had been given. "You should go, then. She needs you," I said softly, not wanting to hold Nadir back from comforting his wife.

"She does, yes, so I'll be on my way," Nadir replied as he stepped over and gently kissed my cheek. "Good night, Lara. Congratulations again on your little one."

"Thank you," I whispered before I wrapped my arms around him. "Give Adele my love."


That night, after we had gone home, Gustave had been gushing to me about the baby more than he had the day we found out about my pregnancy. I was glad to let him; seeing him practically giddy at the prospect of finally becoming a father warmed my heart like nothing else. I had been considering bringing up what Nadir had told me about, but seeing how happy he was, the last thing I wanted to do was ruin that. All I could do was hope that Adele was okay.

"I'm ridiculously excited, Lara. I don't know how we're going to do it, but I'm excited nonetheless," Gustave said as he folded his clothes to put them away in the dresser.

"I'm excited as well, Gustave," I said with a smile, only for it to slowly fade as a rather daunting thought crossed my mind and I admitted, "But...I can't help but be a little afraid."

"Afraid of what?" Gustave asked as he turned to look at me where I sat at my vanity. "You're going to be such a wonderful mother, and you've wanted this for so long."

"I know I have, and I know that you are going to be an amazing father. But Gustave, so many women struggle and die in childbirth without any complications with conceiving or miscarriages. I can only imagine that risk for me has increased after dealing with both of those things. I want to have this baby with you so badly; I just don't want them to grow up without me."

My husband sighed heavily as he sat down on the edge of the bed. Not that I was surprised; I had just broached a heavy subject after a long day, after all.

"I'm not going to lie to you, Lara; that thought has crossed my mind too," he admitted, his eyes locked on his feet.

"Then how are you not a wreck?" I asked as a quiet laugh slipped out of me before I could stop it. The topic was not funny in the least; what amused me was how calm he appeared while I was petrified by the prospect of dying after giving birth to my son or daughter.

"I never want to lie to you, not even now, about this, so I won't; it terrifies me too, Lara," Gustave confessed. "The thought of losing you is the scariest thing that has ever crossed my mind. Even still, you are one of the strongest women I know, and I'm confident you are going to pull through. That said, I want you to decide what you want to do when you give birth, so I leave it up to you to choose where you wish to deliver our child; at home or in the hospital. Whatever makes you comfortable."

"I think that's something we can decide later on. I want to do a bit more research first."

Gustave nodded and shot me his lopsided smile that I adored so much. "Of course. Now, to lighten the mood. I had some name ideas that we could toss around."

"Wonderful idea. You go first," I proposed as I returned his smile, immediately excited about discussing what name to give our baby.

"Well, I've always liked Benjamin for a boy. I'm not quite sure why, but it's true," he said. "And for a girl...Sarah, perhaps. What about you, my love?"

An idea immediately sprung to my mind; it had been my first choice ever since we had first started trying to have a baby, but I knew I had to propose it delicately.

"I've been thinking that if it is a girl, we could name her Christine," I replied as I got up to sit on the bed beside him.

Gustave fell silent then as he considered that suggestion; he started to absentmindedly toy with his ring in the meantime, which was enough to tell me that this had been weighing on his mind for longer than he was admitting.

"She's never going to meet our baby," he eventually said, his voice barely a whisper when he spoke.

"But to name our baby after someone so important to you...wouldn't that be special? To keep your mother's memory alive?" I asked, trying to help him appreciate the more heartwarming aspect of my suggestion instead of the heartbreaking ones.

"It would be, yes, and I would love to give her my mother's name, but it just stings to know that they'll never meet. And Papa...what would he do with that?"

"Love her just as much as we know he will."

I wasn't surprised to see tears pool in his eyes and a few fall onto his face; talking about his mother had been hard for him since I had first met him, and I knew that it would likely always be hard for him. Wanting to do anything I could to help, though, I took his hand and set it on my stomach, reminding him of the beauty we now had in our lives.

"You know your father will love this little one no matter what we call them. You and I, however, will love them even more," I said softly as I reached up to cup his cheek in my hand and brush a tear away, feeling him lean into my touch. "And your mother would have adored them. She's with you, you know she is."

"I just wish she were here to see this. To know she's with me through memories and the fact that I recall her face and voice and the way her perfume smelled like lavenders, but to actually see her face, hear her voice, and smell that perfume when I hug her is another matter entirely," Gustave replied.

"I know, my love, I know," I sighed, brushing my thumb across the apple of his cheek. "It hurts, but you have to know that she would be so happy for you. And you recall her voice as you said; you'll always have that memory with you."

More silence followed as he no doubt processed what I said, then quietly spoke once more: "I just wonder if she's proud of me. If this is what she wanted for me. I know she'd never say she was disappointed, but I can't help but wonder."

"Of course she's proud of you!" I probably sounded rather indignant with that exclamation, but I refused to let him feel that way. "You have made a life for yourself here, Gustave! You're a hard-working young man, you care for your father, you have loving friends...and you have us. She would want nothing more for you, I'm sure of it."

A small smile crept onto his face as he intertwined our fingers and pressed a kiss to the back of my hand. "I have you," he said with a nod. "There is no doubt in my mind that she guided me to you. That is how I know she is with me."

"You're very sweet," I whispered as I leaned over and kissed him gently, neither of us in the mindset for anything more intimate.

"So it's settled then; if we bring a daughter into this world, she will be named Christine," Gustave said. "A little piece of my mother."

"Now, what about a boy? I do like Benjamin, but a second option could be good as well."

"Oh, we'll come up with something, but I have a feeling that it is going to be a girl."

I smiled at his confidence, and my smile only widened as yet another thought crossed my mind. "Can we tell Erik that we're calling the baby John if it's a boy?" I asked with a giggle.

"I think he would die laughing."

"Perfect."


NADIR

Lara's words about helping Adele deal with the heartache she was so clearly feeling had been running through my mind the entire way home and had only resonated even more when we got home and my wife immediately made her way upstairs. All I could do was sigh heavily before I quickly cleaned up the first floor of the house, then made my way upstairs after her.

As I stepped into the bedroom, I found Adele sitting on her side of the bed, her back to the door and her head hung. She was still fully dressed, I noticed, which said much about how she was feeling; she much preferred to get out of her corset and petticoat as soon as she could.

Deciding to leave her be for another moment, I quickly changed into my nightclothes before I got on the bed and sat behind her. Setting my chin on her shoulder, I finally got a look at what was holding my wife's attention; a locket that opened to reveal a picture of Meg as a young girl - probably no older than two or three - and a lock of her blonde hair along with it. I couldn't recall the last time I saw her pull out that photograph, which told me enough about how much she was struggling.

"Why didn't you say something?" I asked as I kissed her cheek, then started to undo the buttons of her dress, watching some of the tension slump from her shoulders as I did.

"I didn't want to drag you into the middle of it," she whispered in reply, her eyes still focused on the locket.

I sighed at that and looked at her over her shoulder. "You are my wife and I want to help, whether I get pulled into the middle of something or not," I said gently. "For better or worse, always and forever, remember?"

As she turned to me, tears in her eyes, my heart ached to see her so broken. So I carefully took the locket from her and set it on her nightstand, then gave her a gentle kiss. "Let's get you out of your dress and corset so you can relax, alright?"

She simply nodded and stood up slowly, then slipped her arms out of her dress while I stepped behind her to unlace her corset. Once she was down to her chemise - which was about the most casual I had ever seen her -, I opened my mouth to try and further our conversation but was cut off when she turned around and pressed her lips to mine. I wasn't going to turn that down - what sort of husband would that make me? - but it was when the kisses deepened and she gently pushed me back onto the bed that I caught on to what was really going on.

"Adele, Adele, hang on," I said as I broke away from the kiss to look at her, trying to wrap my head around what was happening.

"I'm fine, I just need a distraction," she insisted, sitting up and tried to undo the first couple of buttons of my nightshirt with shaky hands even while her bottom lip quivered as she fought back tears.

With a sigh, I gently grasped her wrists and pulled her down to lay next to me, then held her tight when her tears immediately started to fall.

"It's going to be okay, my love," I said softly, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "And before you do, please don't apologize for what just happened. I know you're in a foggy state of mind at the moment."

"I-I just miss her so much," she choked out through her tears. "A-and I know I shouldn't because of what she did, but-"

"Shh, don't say that. Errors or not, she is your daughter and you are allowed to miss her," I said softly, reaching up to wipe her tears away. "It's going to be alright, I promise."

She nodded, giving me a weak smile as she wiped away the last of her tears. "I know. As long as I have you with me, I'll be alright. And I'm trying to focus on being happy for Gustave and Lara; they're having a baby, so I am taking on some of that joy if I can."

"Good. That's the right attitude to have," I said with a nod. "Trust me, I know how much of a struggle it is to have been away from your child for years on end; I know it all too well. But I also know that having a support system around you makes all the difference. While I had a rather shotty one at times with a teenage Erik, you have me and I am here for the long haul."

"He wasn't a shotty one," Adele says, laughing quietly at the comment. "He cares about you now and he did then as well. He was just young."

"Exactly, which made him a shotty support system at some moments," I chuckled. "But he was there for me when I needed him, which is the important thing. I know you're going to be alright soon. As long as it takes, though, I'm right here with you."

"Thank you. I love you so much," she whispered, briefly nuzzling her nose against mine before she kissed me.

"And I love you more," I whispered just before she kissed me again, but I smiled through it and pulled away when she shifted over to lay on top of me. "And just what do you think you're doing?"

"Well, feeling better or not, I could still use a bit of a distraction from everything," she replied, sounding almost bashful about making that subtle request.

I smiled at that, brushing a loose piece of hair behind her ear as I felt her hands retake their position to unbutton my shirt. "I love you."

"Always and forever," Adele whispered before kissing me again, that simple gesture enough to make every worry wash away for the moment.