Author's Note: This is for the SEAL Team Week prompt "Worst Fear." This story is part of the More Than Friends universe and takes place a couple months after "Help From a Friend."
All was quiet in the Spenser house. On the TV, football players clashed as they fought to win this week's Thursday Night Football game, but the muted program volume stopped any noise from disturbing the occupants of the living room.
Clay viewed the match with half his attention. The majority of his focus centered on his infant daughter asleep in her Moses basket. Drumming his fingers on his thigh, he glanced at the TV in time for New York to deny Miami a first down, but then returned his gaze to the basket.
How did Emma do this? When she was home alone with the baby, she took care of chores and ate meals all while their little girl slept. She had even started working on her songwriting again for her publisher. Clay worried if he left the room for more than a minute something would happen. He didn't know exactly what that something might be, but he wanted to be here when it took place.
Stretched out on the floor alongside the basket, Cerberus observed Clay with soulful eyes. Clay wondered what went through the dog's mind. Did he have sympathy for Clay's nervousness? Or did Cerb find Clay's hyper-vigilance an insult to his abilities as a guard for the new human?
Completely unaware of her father's anxiety, Alana Rose Spenser continued in her peaceful slumber. Her rosebud lips pursed and released a few times as if she was eating. Was she dreaming of her recent feeding with her mother?
Emma had fed and changed Lanie and settled her down to sleep before leaving to go out with Hannah and Cathy. Tonight's dinner was Emma's first time out without the baby since she gave birth. So far, she had only texted Clay once to check on them. She had been gone for not quite an hour.
Most of the day Emma wavered on whether or not she would meet Hannah and Cathy this evening. Clay knew his wife wanted to spend time with her friends and have an evening out, but she worried about leaving the baby.
Before their daughter arrived, he didn't realize how much work an infant could be, the feeding, the spit-up cleaning, the continual diaper changing, and most of all the lack of sleep. When at home, he tried to take on as much of the work as he could to give Emma some relief, but when he left for a mission, all the responsibility landed on her shoulders. Pairing that with the physical recovery from giving birth left her drained much of the time.
Emma deserved a break from taking care of Lanie. Every time she mentioned not going, Clay immediately assured her she should, and he and the baby would be fine for one night.
Without Emma present, Clay could admit he wasn't as sure of himself as he had projected to her. Her competent handling of all their daughter's needs made him doubt his childcare abilities. Logically he understood his wife spent her teenage years babysitting, giving her more experience and confidence with a baby. And even so, she worked with two different lactation consultants until she mastered breast feeding. But knowing those things didn't make Clay feel better about his perceived inabilities in taking care of Lanie.
Watching Lanie continue to sleep, he wanted to pick her up from the basket and hold her. He loved cradling his daughter in his arms, but he feared rousing her, as waking a sleeping baby was never a smart idea.
Returning home from one of his first spins up after Lanie was born, Clay had been charmed by how adorable his little girl looked sleeping in her bassinet. He reached down and stroked the softness of her cheek and thought about how much he'd like to hold her after being away.
Not wanting to bother Emma who slept in their nearby bed, he slipped his hands under his daughter's body and gently lifted her. Suddenly the quiet of the bedroom shattered as Lanie let out a piercing cry at having her comfort disturbed.
Emma bolted out of bed, freezing when she recognized Clay standing by the bassinet with the baby in his arms. "What's wrong? Is she hungry again?"
"No, I just—"
Glancing at the time, Emma frowned. "God, she's only been asleep for about twenty minutes. She can't be hungry. Does she already need a diaper change?"
"I don't think so." A sinking feeling grew in his chest as he realized his mistake. "I just… I wanted to hold her, so I…"
"You woke her up?" The expressionless tone of Emma's voice made Clay feel worse than anger would have.
He understood only his wife's exhaustion prevented her from murdering him that night. Even now the guilt from having woken Lanie for no good reason still nagged at him. Lesson learned, never wake a sleeping baby.
So instead of taking Lanie into his arms, he waited patiently for her to wake. Assuming Emma didn't cut her dinner with her friends short, their daughter would wake up for a feeding before her mother returned.
Nervous about handling the feeding on his own, Clay reviewed in his head the steps he needed to follow when Lanie wanted to eat. Emma had left bottles of expressed milk in the refrigerator this morning, but Lanie did not like her milk cold. First, he would need to warm up the milk in the bottle warmer, then check how hot it was on his wrist.
Also, he reminded himself to make sure the cover on the bottle was screwed on correctly before he tested the temperature. One time, Jason fed his granddaughter, and the first bottle of milk ended up on his arm and the kitchen floor due to an incorrectly threaded cover. Personally, Clay thought his father-in-law had been acting rather smug about his baby feeding abilities, and the breast milk spill was well deserved.
Clay's phone pinged with a text, interrupting his thoughts of burp cloths and a pillow to support his arm. He hoped the message didn't contain a summons to the base for a spin up. As much as he loved his job, he didn't want to ruin Emma's rare evening out.
Grabbing the phone off the table, he saw the text was from Ray.
I'm outside. Didn't want to ring bell and maybe wake baby.
Unsure why his teammate was visiting, Clay went to let Ray in. Opening the door, Clay stepped back for Ray to enter. "Hey, come on in. Quiet though, you were right. Lanie's sleeping."
"Hey, brother." Ray spoke softly as he walked over to see the baby, Cerberus monitoring his every move. "Look at her. Hard to believe Jameelah and RJ were ever this small." He shook his head.
"Have a seat. You want a beer or something?" Clay started towards the kitchen.
Ray settled on the couch. "Nah, nah, I'm good. I just wanted to stop in for a few minutes."
"What's up?" Turning back into the living room, Clay sat on the other end of the couch closer to his daughter.
"Thought you might need some support, being on your own with the baby tonight." Ray shrugged a shoulder. "When Sonny was teasing you about it this afternoon, I got the idea you weren't as confident as you were acting."
Clay shook his head. "That obvious, huh?"
"Only to someone who's been there."
Ray's words gave Clay hope. If Ray Perry, SEAL Dad of the Year, experienced doubts when he started out as a father, then there was a chance for Clay. "Yeah?"
"Yeah, especially the first time around with Jameelah. I was so afraid of dropping her." Lifting his hands from his lap, Ray studied them before returning his gaze to Clay. "I thought these hands were better suited to holding guns than babies."
"How'd you get past it?"
"Time, practice, and Naima." Ray smiled. "She believed I could, and she needed my support. I couldn't let her down. So I did what needed to be done, and before I realized I was pretty good at it."
Studying his daughter, still fast asleep, Clay nodded. "I guess. Taking care of her is so much work, and my job means Emma ends up taking on most of it. I want to at least be good at the parts I'm here for."
"Understood. And I think you are. But you have to believe it." Pausing, Ray studied Clay, as if considering his next comment. "And if my opinion isn't enough, take Emma's. I heard her tell Naima what a great dad you are."
"She said that?" A self-conscious smile broke out on Clay's face.
"She did." Ray gave Clay a reassuring smile in return. "And I think she would know."
Clay snickered under his breath. "She must be giving me a pass for the time I came home and woke Lanie up twenty minutes after she went to sleep, just because I wanted to hold her."
"Rookie mistake." Ray chuckled. "But maybe that's why Emma thinks you're a great Dad though. She knows how much you love Lanie."
Tapping his fingers against his thigh again, Clay frowned. "Maybe."
The two men sat silently, and Cerberus rose from his position by Lanie's bassinet and walked over to Clay. The dog nuzzled into Clay's hand, stopping his owner's nervous movements. Instead, Clay began scratching Cerb behind the ears.
With their attention on the dog, Clay felt comfortable enough to share the distressing thoughts in his head. "Being a SEAL, I worry something will happen to me, and Emma and Lanie will be left on their own. But as scary as that is, I'm more afraid I'll be like my father. That I'll make Lanie think she isn't good enough, and she has to earn my love. I don't want to do that to my daughter."
Rubbing his beard, Ray considered how to respond to his teammate's statement. "Clay, brother, I know you won't. You know how?"
Clay stopped scratching Cerb's ears and focused on Ray. "How?"
"Because I see the way you love that baby." Ray gestured to Lanie still fast asleep. "Think about the way you feel about your little girl. You think you can feel that, and then act like your father did?"
Studying his baby girl, Clay slowly shook his head no.
Seeing Clay's response, Ray continued. "I don't understand why it is, but your father lacks whatever makes a man able to love. Maybe something happened to him or maybe he was born that way, but he can't make those connections. And that is not on you; it's on him."
Clay nodded as he considered Ray's words.
Ray pointed at Clay. "I see who you are and the relationships you've built, not just now with Bravo, but in the past too, with your grandparents, Brian, and Adam. You think your father has that?"
"I know he doesn't," Clay said.
"You think your father has ever had a relationship like you have with Emma? He hasn't. He can't build a relationship like that. And I know no man could treat his baby the way he's treated you."
A grin flashed across Clay's face. "Not really a baby here, Ray."
Raising an eyebrow, Ray gave Clay a reproving look. "Doesn't matter how old my children are, they will always be my babies. You think Jason doesn't think of Emma as his baby still?"
Clay snorted. "Of course he does."
Ray nodded in agreement. "Right, and no matter how old Lanie gets, she will still be your baby. And you will never do to her the things Ash has done to you."
Realizing the truth in Ray's words, Clay smiled to himself. The logic of Ray's reasoning helped convince him he would be a good father to Lanie, but the confidence in Ray's words made him truly believe it. Clay suspected he would doubt his abilities as a father again, but the memory of Ray's words would help him keep those demons at bay.
"You're right. Thanks, Ray."
Giving a half shrug, Ray smiled at Clay. "No problem, brother. I should probably get going, and it looks like duty calls for you." Nodding his head towards Lanie, Ray began to stand.
In her basket, Lanie scrunched her face as she surfaced from sleep. She made a snuffling noise and let out a quiet cry.
Clay leaned forward and took his daughter into his arms. "I think it's dinner time." Lanie began to cry in earnest as Clay stood with her. "I need to get her bottle ready."
"You okay? I can stay longer if you need some assistance," Ray offered.
"Nah, we'll be fine." Clay raised his voice to be heard over his daughter.
"Then I'll get out of your way." Clapping Clay on the back, Ray headed for the door. "I'll let myself out. You feed your girl."
Clay nodded and started to walk to the kitchen. Stopping, he turned back. "Ray, thank you. I really do appreciate it."
"Like I said, no problem." Ray smiled and went out the front door, closing it quietly behind him.
Talking softly to Lanie, Clay pulled a bottle out of the fridge. With only one hand available, he fumbled a bit getting the bottle warmer going, but soon had the milk heating up.
While he waited, he walked around the kitchen rubbing his daughters back. "Don't worry, Lanie, your dinner is almost ready."
Too impatient to wait the few minutes though, Lanie cried louder. Clay tried bouncing her in his arms, but her crying continued. Finally, the timer went off, alerting him the milk was ready. Grabbing the bottle, he realized he couldn't check the temperature with Lanie in his arms. Now he understood why Emma kept the bouncer seat on the kitchen island. He put down the bottle and placed Lanie in the seat, then he checked the milk on the inside of his wrist.
Happy with the temperature, he lifted Lanie up again and carried her back into the living room. Before he settled on the couch, he found a spit up cloth and the pillow to support his arm. Sitting down, he arranged the pillow and Lanie on his lap, ready to start feeding her.
On Clay's first try, his daughter refused to latch. She preferred her mother's breast for feeding over a bottle, so they usually had to try a few times before she'd start drinking from it. Remembering Emma's advice to stay relaxed as Lanie would sense his nervousness, Clay took a deep breath and let it out. He tried slipping the nipple into her mouth again, and this time she began to suck.
Grinning, Clay watched as his daughter began to eat. He was feeding her. Deep satisfaction came over him. He could do this. He could feed his little girl and be a good father.
Lanie's eyes opened, and she focused on his face smiling down at her. She stared up at him, and his heart clenched as their gazes met. His little girl recognized him.
"Are you enjoying your dinner, baby girl? This isn't the face you usually see when you're eating, huh?" Clay spoke softly to keep Lanie's attention on him.
Eventually her eyes closed as she began to doze, and before Clay wanted the bottle was empty. He pulled it from her mouth and placed it on the coffee table. Grabbing the cloth, he draped it over his shoulder and rested Lanie against it. After a few minutes of back patting, Lanie released a loud burp along with a little spit up.
He wiped her face and changed her diaper. Emma kept supplies downstairs, so they didn't have to go up to the nursery every time Lanie needed a fresh one. Instead of putting her back into her Moses basket or taking her upstairs to the bassinet to sleep, he stretched out on the couch with his daughter lying on his chest.
She wiggled around for a moment and relaxed. Clay draped a blanket over her and rested his hand on her back. Together the two of them drifted off to sleep.
Her jaw cracking with a huge yawn, Emma opened the door to the kitchen from the mud room. She had drunk one cocktail with dinner earlier, and it had affected her like she had been drinking all evening. Lanie's next feeding would have to be from a bottle because of the alcohol in Emma's system. Something she thought she'd regret at 4am
The light from the TV flickered in the living room, and she headed that way. Entering the room, she smiled. Clay slept on the couch with Lanie cuddled to his chest. The two of them made an adorable picture. Emma pulled out her phone and took some photos.
Placing her phone on the coffee table, she decided to join the pair. Carefully she crawled up along Clay's side, by the back of the couch until she could rest with her head tucked under his chin.
"Hey, you're home." Clay's eyes opened, and he moved his arm to hold Emma. "How was dinner?"
"It was fun, but I missed you guys." She gave him a light kiss and settled her head back on his shoulder.
"We missed you too."
A small smile flitted across Emma face. "How did Lanie do?"
"Pretty good. She slept a lot, and it took a couple tries before she took the bottle, but once she did, she drank it all."
"That's good." Emma rested her hand on Clay's lying on Lanie's back.
"You only texted the one time. I thought I would hear from you more." Clay laced his fingers with hers, so they both were holding Lanie.
A quiet giggle escaped from Emma. "I wanted to, so bad, but I hate when I'm in the middle of something with her and people text."
"I'm sure that was hard for you." He gave her a squeeze.
"It was, but also Cathy slapped my hand every time I picked up my phone to text."
Clay started to chuckle, but immediately stopped when Lanie began squeaking on his chest. "I'll have to thank her next time I talk to her."
Clay rubbed his hand down Emma's back. "Comfortable?"
Emma's eyes closed, and she relaxed more into Clay's side. "Mmm, are you?"
"I am. How could I not be? I have my two best girls here with me—"
Cerberus let out a quiet bark from his spot by them on the floor.
"—and my best dog. Life is pretty good right now."
"Pretty good," Emma agreed as she slipped off to sleep.
Clay smiled to himself as he held his daughter close and joined his wife in slumber.