She never woke to the baby crying.
It was always Nathan's voice she heard first, the deep, soothing baby talk with the touch of silliness she secretly adored.
Somehow it soothed her too, smoothing over the roughness of waking abruptly from a sleep that was never long or deep enough. For nearly a minute she would lie there rallying her strength to get up as she basked in her husband's love for their daughter.
The man was surely born to be a father. It certainly wasn't a learned trait, the role models he'd had. Max had been a terror, and as convinced as Audrey was that Garland had cared for Nathan deeply his tough love was the polar opposite of Nathan's effusive warm and fuzzies.
He'd had the patience of a saint through her entire pregnancy. It was smothering at times and she'd snapped at him more often than she cared to count, but that had never deterred his devotion. She wouldn't admit it, but it had helped immensely to know she had someone at her beck and call to get her whatever strange thing would make her more comfortable. She could wake him up at three in the morning for a backrub, a trip to the grocery store, or a quickie and he'd never complain. She suspected this had more to do with his excitement about the baby than any feelings toward her, but the result was the same.
Now that the baby was here he actually seemed enthused about the midnight feedings. Every night for the past month he'd woken first, and maybe she'd be jealous if he wasn't so adorable about it.
"How's my perfect little pretty princess?" he cooed. In the dim light Audrey could see the way he cradled the baby to his chest, his large body curled around it in a fort of love and protection. "Feeling hungry aren't you baby? Yes you are. It's dinner time. But mama's tired. Why don't you settle down and I'll get you a bottle. Yes I will."
He was a baby whisperer, Audrey was certain. It was like an anti-Trouble. Emma stopped crying whenever he switched into his special tone, staring up at him with wide alert eyes. Audrey's heart had melted the first time Emma reached out with her tiny little fist and grabbed Nathan's finger. But she didn't quiet completely tonight, her hunger stronger than Nathan's magic, and she wriggled and fussed in her father's arms.
Audrey finally pulled herself into a sitting position. "She doesn't want a bottle. Bring her here."
Nathan turned with an apologetic smile. "Sorry."
"It's okay. I know you'd be the milk dispenser if you could."
He handed her over carefully and Audrey leaned forward to brush her nose against Emma's soft, sweet head before settling her into the nursing position. With one hand she undid the buttons on the dress shirt she'd commandeered from Nathan for this very purpose and pushed the fabric down her shoulders.
"Mama would appreciate sleeping through the night every once in a while," she groused softly, fully aware that she had her own special tone that she used with the baby. It wasn't nearly as ridiculous as Nathan's, and the words weren't as strongly out of character, but she finally understood the need to babble anything that sounded comforting.
Emma latched on eagerly, and Audrey stroked her finger across her daughter's head and marveled. "There you go, baby." She'd thought this would be weird; she'd once thought the whole idea of motherhood unnatural. But everything had changed the moment the nurse put this little girl in her arms. She hadn't thought it was possible to love anyone more than Nathan, but she'd do absolutely anything for this child – kill or die or set the whole town on fire. There were moments she felt such fierce love towards James, but he was a grown man who could typically take care of himself. Emma needed her, and she'd do anything to fulfill that need.
They'd talked a lot about names. They both had so much history, and so many potential namesakes. Now that she had the knowledge from Vince's scrapbook it was actually challenging to find a moniker Prudence hadn't adopted. They didn't want their child to be weighed down by the past; they'd lived through enough tragedy. So they'd picked one without any connections. She'd start her own legacy.
Audrey had a theory that Nathan liked two syllable names that started and ended with vowels. Flattered, she'd never called him out on that.
She did shoot him down when he suggested they name the baby Parker. That was something she wasn't sharing.
She felt the mattress depress as Nathan sat down behind her. He settled one arm loosely around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder.
She leaned back against him, appreciating his solid warmth. His fingers slipped under her shirt to ghost across her stomach. She glanced to the side to see him staring down at their nursing daughter.
"Enjoying the view?" she teased.
"Yeah." But there wasn't a trace of lust in his voice, even though they hadn't had sex in months. There was a purity about his love for Emma that sometimes took her breath away.
"She's so perfect, Parker. And we made her. You and me. Isn't that amazing?"
The wonder in his voice wrapped around her like a warm bath, infusing her with peace and comfort. "It really is."
"I always wanted kids. But I couldn't imagine passing my curse on to anyone, 'specially someone I loved. Couldn't imagine anyone'd want me anyway. But she'll never have to know what I went through. I can never thank you enough for that."
She felt tears burning behind her eyes and she wanted to kiss him senseless. But Emma was still suckling away, so she settled on honesty instead.
"I didn't want kids. They seemed like a lot of trouble that couldn't possibly be worth it. Plus I didn't think anyone would want me either. But I'm glad you changed my mind. Because now I don't understand how Sarah could have possibly given James up."
"You'll never have to," Nathan swore, his fingers twitching against her side at the very possibility. Sometimes in moments like this she mourned all the nights she'd lost. James was content and well adjusted, recovering from the scars Arla's descent into madness had left on him, and he'd grown up knowing love in a way neither of his parents had. But Audrey wanted to be the one who'd nursed and dressed him, waiting for his first words and first steps and every milestone until he grew into a wonderful man.
She never expected how much she'd enjoy being a mother. She was absolutely exhausted all the time, to a level spending years remedying Troubles should have prepared her for but hadn't. Her body had turned on her in its quest to nurture a new life – she'd been nauseous and achey for months, forced to rely on Nathan when she could no longer do the things she prided herself on. Her emotions had gone batshit crazy, and she was still marginally unbalanced. She cried at the drop of a hat, and she hated crying in front of people. There were times that she was just frustrated – frustrated that Nathan was so much better at her than this, frustrated that she was the one who had to go through all the physiological changes, frustrated that the baby refused to sleep through the night. But the episodes would pass, and she'd look down at the precious little being in her arms and know with certainty that all her discomfort was worth it. Would always be worth it.
"I want to have another one," she admitted. His excitement about the idea was immediately obvious from his beaming grin. "A few more, probably."
"Yes. God, Audrey. Anytime." He dipped his head to kiss the corner of her neck, and she squirmed into him with an appreciative hum. She did miss him like that. She might be exhausted and sore and cranky, but as soon as the doctor cleared her she was going to find some time to be alone with her husband.
"I'd like to get this one sleeping through the night before we start on the next one. Maybe feel like a normal human being again for a few months. But I don't want to wait too long." Her biological clock had been ticking on and off for hundreds of years, and she had no way to judge how old her body thought it was. But she wanted to get all her child bearing in before it decided it was too old.
"You're a wonderful mother."
She chuckled to hide the way his praise affected her. "I don't know about that. But I'm better than I thought I'd be. And I'm confident you'll keep the kids from being too screwed up, Mr. Father of the Year."
"We can do that together."
She sighed in contentment. Emma had finished feeding and was drifting off to dream world. Audrey was just about ready to curl herself around her husband and join her there.
"I finally believe you," she said shyly.
"About what?" There was something teasingly boastful about his tone. Audrey loved Nathan desperately, and he knew that, but it wasn't often she admitted he was right.
"That you won't leave us." She was finally absolutely certain of that. There was nothing in this world that could pull him away from his family – not her shortcomings or her past or any hidden shred of disloyalty within him.
"Never," he swore before standing to kiss her properly.
Well that's it folks. This was only meant to be a one shot, and nearly two years and 200,000 words later here we are. To Maria, who suggested after the first chapter that I write a longer fic – I hope you enjoyed.
If you did enjoy, I'd really appreciate if you took a moment to write a final (or first) review. All your feedback has kept me going. Thank you for your comments and support.