Stages

By Visage

Rated: G

Warnings: None

A/N: In honor of the newest Royal Heir in England, I present this story in three parts. It started as just a one-shot (gee, that sounds familiar…) and grew from there. This is a Flash Fiction Challenge, where each section is exactly 500 words. Feedback would be greatly appreciated!

The light and gentle touch of her lover's hand wrapped around her swollen belly woke her. She snuggled back against his chest with a contented sigh. The comforting scent of pipe smoke drifted under her nose.

"You're late."

He buried his face in the crook of her exposed neck, the stubble on his cheeks scratching her skin. "I know. Sorry, My Love, I didn't mean to wake you, go to sleep." His voice was low and sluggish with exhaustion.

"I was waiting for you." She laced her fingers with his. "Well, I was trying to anyway."

She felt a soft rumble of laughter in his chest. His lips touched behind her ear. "I commend your efforts, M'Lady, but you need your rest, especially now with your time so near."

"All I do is rest," She couldn't keep the whine out of her voice. "I think I'm rested for the next decade."

"Then how about I rest with your time so near?"

"Oh, Darling!" She cried. "How selfish of me! I just get so lonely all day prisoned in this room. You work such long days. I miss you."

"I just want to make sure things are in order before the baby comes." She felt the mattress shift as he propped himself up on his elbow.

"Did something happen today?" Without thinking, her fingers began to worry the back of his hand, tracing his fingernails.

"He's changed his mind. He won't be going tomorrow."

"Thank Heaven. I couldn't handle the thought of him alone in such danger. Besides, I think he'll enjoy having a little boy to spoil."

"Still dead set on your boy then, eh?"

"Tall as the trees, strong as the mountains and gentle as the summer breeze. Just like his father."

She felt a flutter beneath their intertwined hands.

"Look at that!" She could hear the wonder in his voice. "He agrees with you, Mama! It seems he's smart as a whip to boot!"

"I think you're right." She shifted as best as she could onto her back, trying hard to hide the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "Maybe he's not exactly like his father after all."

He couldn't hold the hard stare for long. Instead his face stretched into a silly grin. His lips found the hollow of her collarbone. "My Love, how I adore you. I would sing your praises for a lifetime, but I'm afraid tonight I would fall asleep before the first chorus."

"Then tonight you are granted a reprieve. Goodnight, Darling."

His breath settled into a low and even rhythm before she even finished her sentence. As she settled back into his arms she felt a sharp pain at the base of her spine and around her hips. She leaned forward slightly to relieve the pressure.

"Please, Little One." She whispered. "No funny business tonight. Papa needs his rest." With one final touch to the arm still protectively around her stomach, she closed her eyes. "Goodnight and sweet dreams. Mama loves you, Adam."


He checked his watch for what had to be the tenth time in half as many minutes. Unhappy with the results, he shoved the timekeeper back into his pocket with annoyed huff. 'On its way.' They said. 'Any minute now.' It already felt like a lifetime. He looked toward the wagon with a sigh. A hand ran through his hair as his feet picked up their familiar circuit.

"Pa?"

Ben Cartwright looked down at the dark haired little boy sitting on a wooden stump, a worn knitted blanket huddled around his shoulders.

"This sure is taking a long time."

He wanted to shake his head, tell his boy every cliché that had been repeating in his mind for the past few hours of forced wait. A suspiciously light Swedish lilt kept telling him "these things take time," and "patience is a virtue." Instead, he couldn't help the laugh that escaped.

"It sure is, Adam. A long time, indeed."

Ben walked over to Adam's seat near the fire. Kneeling down, he opened his arms in an invitation. Adam hesitated for a moment. He was almost seven after all. But his father looked as if he needed the reassurance. He wrapped his arms around his Ben's neck and snuggled into his chest. Ben carefully sat down on the stump, Adam cuddled in his lap. Each was lost to their own thoughts, absently staring into the embers of the dying fire.

A painful cry pierced the dark night. Ben felt the little frame stiffen, small hands clutched tighter to the fabric of his shirt.

"It's alright, Baby." Ben's voice was soft, his hand moved in soft circles on Adam's back. His body began to rock, a motion that had comforted both father and son through the years. "There's no need to be frightened. I won't lie, its hard work. And it's very scary for us who are waiting. But everything will be alright."

"Pa?" Adam said quietly, his voice almost lost in the folds of Ben's vest. "Wh- what if it isn't? What if something goes wrong? What if Mama…"

"Oh, Son." Ben didn't let his son finish voicing his thought. He kissed the boys hair and held him close to his chest. "I bind those thoughts. But if, heaven forbid, something happens we will be the brave Cartwrights we are and move forward. Everything happens for a reason. At the time we don't know why and may be in pain for it. But everything eventually will work out for the best."

A higher pitched cry sounded. Heads turned toward the wagon, eagerly waiting for confirmation. Ben stood, Adam still in his arms. Neither noticed his tight grip.

"Ben? Ben, get over here! We've got ourselves a Cartwright!"

Ben swallowed, air filling his lungs with pride. He hardly noticed as Adam struggled out of his arms and ran toward the wagon. Ben shook his head and hurried after his boy.

"It's here!" Adam shrieked. "We've got a Hoss! My baby Hoss is here!"


With each birth of his sons, his body was restless, fidgety. Adam's he blamed on First-Time-Fatherhood nerves. For Hoss, it was the lack of doctors on the open prairie while flashbacks of Elizabeth flooded his mind. By this third child it should be old hat, he thought. He should be sitting with his pipe and newspaper in his favorite chair, casually waiting for the Doctor to call him upstairs. Except this little one was early.

Too early.

He wasn't entirely sure that timing was the only factor. There was the late October storm, the agonizing cries from the master bedroom, and two little boys huddled by the hearth unsuccessfully trying to concentrate on a game of checkers through it all.

Footsteps on the top of the stairs drew three pairs of eyes up. Dr. Paul Martin had a towel in his hands, a tired smile on his face. "Ben, come meet your youngest son."

Ben was rooted to the floor, his hands trembling. "Marie?"

"She'll be fine with a few days rest."

Ben raced up the stairs two at a time, nearly knocking over the Doctor on the way.

He tapped lightly on the bedroom door before opening and stepping inside. Marie's face was pale, the sheets around her damp with sweat. Her eyes opened slowly, a smile spreading on her face as she noticed Ben. As carefully as he could he sat on the side of the bed, his arms aching to gather her close. He settled on his lips lightly touching her neck.

Behind him, Hop Sing was gathering a small, squalling bundle from the cradle by the window. "Gung hei! Long life and happiness for honorable Number Three Son."

Ben reached out his arms, helping to gently settle the smallest Cartwright. He pulled away the knitted blanket from the baby's face to get a better look. The red blotches on his skin were starting to fade to a healthy pink. Already he could see Marie's delicate cheeks and nose. Instincts kicked in as he ran a gentle finger down the baby's face.

He would never tire of that feeling, unexplainable joy that bubbled up from his stomach as he held a son for the first time. His son. "Marie, he's perfect."

"Pa?"

No one would ever argue that Adam and Hoss Cartwright we're not related if they saw the identical round eyes cautiously peering into the bedroom from the hallway.

"Alores, mes Petites." Marie sat up a little straighter as the boys walked to the bed. "I think your brother is ready for a few visitors."

"Mama and I are thinking of calling him Francis."

Identical noses curled in derision.

"Pa," Adam said. "Didn't you say the one after Hoss was going to be Joseph? What's wrong with that?"

"He looks like a Joe to me!" Hoss added. The baby added a coo of agreement.

Ben laughed. "Alright, Joseph it is." He could finally put a name to the contentment in he felt.

His family felt complete.