Dark Hunger


CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE



!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(That was Sinclair's first thought. Which was touching and also weird.)

"My own, never has your face been more dear to meeeeee." Sinclair was holding one of Jessica's hands and apparently, the girl could squeeze.

"You okay?" Jess panted. I'd seen her more wild-eyed, but not when she was sober.

"Yep."

"Any demons on your heels or some scary-ass vampire coup we've gotta worry about right this minute?"

"Nope."

"Well, good!" Then somehow she scrunched her beautiful face into the approximate size of a golf ball. "Nnnnnnnn!"

"I told you, the dramatic yelling on TV actually just saps oxygen in real life. Put the noise into your pushing."

"Uh..." I took a few tentative steps closer to Marc. "She's letting you deliver the babies?"

"You know it's twins?" Tina said, startled. I hadn't quite figured out her function yet. Nick was standing at Jess's right playing "you can do it, rah-rah, you've never been more beautiful and we both know I'm lying!" labor coach, Marc was kneeling at the foot of her emperor bed (wider and taller than a king bed; it was like going to sleep in a football field) either delivering the babies or on the hunt for newborn braaaains, Sinclair was letting Jessica pulp his knuckles into jelly, and Tina was playing stereotypical dad, wringing her hands and pacing and occasionally saying something sharp, but not to us. "I wasn't talking to you!" she barked into the phone. "I called for an ambulance thirty-two minutes ago!"

I brightened. Not about the late ambulance, which I suspected was gonna be problematic for all sorts of reasons, but because I remembered a way I could be helpful. "Hey, Jess, don't worry about the twins. You're fine and they're fine. The reason nobody's been able to keep track of your pregnancy is-"

"Because the babies are shifting through parallel universes, yeah, yeah," Marc said without looking at me.

"Laura told us all about it," Not-Nick added.

"Oh." The bitch bushwhacked me, then came calling to chitchat about Jessica's pregnancy? And they hadn't removed her head from her shoulders why? "Well, glad you're in the loop." I guess.

"Nnnnnnnnnnnnnn!"

"Sorry, was that a no or a-"

"Okay, okay, good job, good job, last one, last one."

"Did you say last one?" I'd sort of assumed she was in labor, not actually-

"Here we go here we go here we... are!" Marc held up a writhing octopus. No, it was a purple baby. A hideous writhing purple baby, but at least it was-

"Nnnnnaaaaahhh! Nnnnaaahhh! Nnnaaahhh!"

-not mute. Tell you something else: those sheets would never be the same.

"Okay, it's a girl! Gorgeous, Jess, good job!"

Frankly, neither Jessica nor the purple thing was especially gorgeous. Maybe Marc's zombie brain was getting his adjectives that start with g mixed up. Did he mean gruesome? Grotesque? I appreciated his tact. There was no tactful way to say, "Wow, you've just birthed the most hideous baby in the history of human events."

Ah! One of Tina's jobs was supplying clean towels for the purple thing. I noticed for the first time that on the bed with Jess, on the chair next to the bed, and piled beside Marc, there were several towels, dish towels, sheets, sponges (?), and two rolls of paper towels. All clean (thank goodness), but not for long, I bet.

Silence fell as everyone looked at the purple wriggling thing, and I decided to fill it. "So, I'm okay and all."

"She is," Tina cried, peeping at the baby while still clutching her phone. "She is beautiful!"

"This sucks," Jessica gasped, up on her elbows, "but not as much as I thought it would, I gotta admit."

"This is the easiest birth I've ever seen," Marc told her. "Well, from my perspective." He smiled when she managed a laugh. "You're doing great. My mom was in labor with me for less than half an hour. Sometimes it's like that. About one percent of labors, the mom thinks her contractions are just another backache, and the next thing she knows-whoops!"

"We'd barely got back from going to church with Laura when my water broke," Jessica told me.

WTF? Was it possible they'd forgotten Laura had kidnapped me in front of their horrified gazes? Were they faking the horrified gazes because they were secretly glad to be rid of me for a couple of days? (How long had I been stumbling around in the hellfog, anyway?) Or did they figure the best way to bend the Antichrist to their will was to go to church with her?

Meanwhile Tina had engulfed the purple thing into one of the good emerald green bath sheets while pinning her phone to the side of her head with an upraised shoulder. "They're fourteen minutes out because some idiot drove his semi into a ditch to avoid decimating a school bus," she told the room at large. Feral killer vampires had been after her-I'd been there and seen them-and she hadn't been this upset. "The kids are all safe, as is the truck driver, but traffic's blocked. Yes! Yes, they are! All the children are alive and the ambulance is less than ten minutes away! Yes! Yesyesyes!" She nuzzled it and the purple thing subsided; probably it didn't like being cold. I crept a little closer to it.

"Ask me how glad I am you're here."

"Thanks, Jess," I said, touched. "I'm glad-"

"I was talking to Marc. Jeez, Bets! I know it's all about you but right now? It's all about-"

"You?" I guessed.

"-my babies!"

Well, I'd had a 50/50 shot. Except it was twins, so it was a 33.3/33.3/33.3 shot. Wait. Was that right? Note to self: ask later.

"I'm lucky I don't need a C-section, right?" she asked anxiously. She'd collapsed on her back, but now struggled back up on her elbows. "I don't, right? For the other baby?"

"No, no. Actually, just over half of twins are born vaginally, so your odds were good anyway."

"I don't feel much right now," she said anxiously. "Is the next one coming?"

"Actually, there's an average of about seventeen minutes between twins," Marc replied. "So you guys have time to get a Coke or something."

I looked around the room. "Anyone want a Coke?"

Nobody did.

"You're saying 'actually' a lot," I told him.

"I've been doing lots of reading. Okay, I'm gonna check you again, this time to make sure the other baby's in an okay position... sorry again..."

Jess winced while Marc did unspeakable things to her unspeakable. I was impressed it was only a wince and not a yowl of agony. "So you guys got back from church and all this started?"

"Yeah, and welcome home, by the-ow! Jeez, Marc, time to trim the nails!"

"Actually, they don't grow anymore since I-never mind." Good call, I mouthed at him. Women in labor don't need to hear the fingernail pedigree of the zombie delivering their parallel-universe babies. "Okay, your other bag's broken, so this one's-"

"Nnnnnnnnn!"

"-yep, coming now."

"Well, it had to come out eventually, right?" I had a ringside view, which I never wanted less. Not-Nick had the smart view: the top of her head. "So, uh, sooner rather than later is okay, right?" Never had I been more out of my depth. And I'm including the vampire queen thing in that.

"Jessica, your upper-body strength is impressive." Sinclair had been so quiet on the other side of the giant bed, holding her hand, I'd almost forgotten he was there. "I have lost all feeling in three of my fingers."

Good, was my unworthy thought. (Unworthy = bitchy.)

"Okay, okay, looking good-this one's in a rush to say hi to the world-it's perfect, you're perfect, keep it up, keep it up-here we go-Bets! Get your ass over here!"

Oh, now he remembers I'm here? That was only in my head, though; Marc in doctor mode was no one to sass. By the time "ass" was out of his mouth I was beside him, taking the towel he'd grabbed with his spare hand and thrust at me.

"Twelve minutes out and you are worthless," Tina said to the phone (I hope it was the phone), then shrugged her shoulder so the thing she took to bed with her every night fell to the (carpetless) floor. She didn't even look to see if it fell into pieces. Marc didn't dare look at me and I didn't dare look at him, but we were freaked. Gollum wasn't as fond of his "precious" as she was of her iPhone. "Yes they are!" she cooed to the purple thing. "EMS is overrated yes they are!"

"Oh, come on, like we really want some poor EMTs in here with a zombie, three vampires, a-" Never mind. That was incredibly dumb. Of course we wanted EMTs, of course Jessica wanted EMTs. She wanted a labor and delivery suite at Fairview, too.

And was that so much to ask? She had to put up with vampire politics and fallout from same and werewolves dying and coming back from Hell and zombies and the Antichrist and Ancient Me and that was just the stuff off the top of my head. She should have a suite, and nurses who were nice because they were good nurses and doctors who were sucking up because their bosses knew she was worth billions, and a plasma screen in her delivery room so she could be skeeved out by American Horror Story between contractions. She should have the best hospital food available, which was still awful, and one of those warmer things full of blankets for her and the purple things when they came because one of them for sure didn't like being cold, and a NICU ten steps away if something was wrong with one of the purple things.

And it sucked that she didn't have any of that; it sucked that she had a drafty old mansion with a zombie delivering purple things, a Southern belle pissed at her phone and possibly the City of St. Paul, an off-duty homicide detective doing his best to pretend the zombie and the mansion and the lack of epidural were all part of a perfectly viable plan B, and a vampire queen thinking about herself instead of her friend and her friend's purple things.

First Marc had thrust the towel at me; now here came another purple thing. Yuck-yuck-yuck! "Okay, okay, got him, got him," Marc chanted. I obediently opened my arms and he dropped the thing into the towel. "Wait, wait-" Marc did something to its head, and then it made the same "Nnnnnaaaahhhh!" sound the other one did. Actually, it was sort of cute; it sounded like he was wailing "Naw! Naw!" over and over. Like he was saying no-no-no to the room and maybe the world.

Heh.

"Jeez, take a breath before you pass out," I told him. "Your sister's not being such a baby. Which is pretty good for a baby. Hey! Jess!" I bent over, rubbing Naw with the towel (which he didn't like) to make him warmer (which he did), and looked at Other Naw in her towel in Tina's arms. "They look like you!" And they did, little tiny pissed-off replicas of Jess. "But they're really pale!" And they were. His sister's yucky purple color was wearing off; must have been a newborn thing, I realized as they got warm and dry their color got lighter. Jess's face; Not-Nick's coloring. Depending on how it all shook out, the Naws would be gorgeous or hideous.

Not my problem. It was for Jess and Nick to worry about how ugly their freakish offspring might get. Me, I thought they'd turn out pretty cute. Now that they were warm, Naw and Other Naw had quit with the bleating and were yawning and going to sleep. Well, they'd had an exhausting twenty minutes. Babies: nature's slack-asses.

"Hey." I nudged Marc, who was up to his elbows in bits of Jessica. "Good job."

"Oh, man, am I glad you're back," he muttered. "It's been nonstop around here. Not that you being back will make it less nonstop."

"Thanks. Do you need, uh, help?" Please don't say yes. There's no one less qualified than me.

"No, I think it's-Jess, you've got a little more pushing to do. I'm not sure how, but the placenta didn't come between the babies, so you've gotta push it out now."

"No! I'm on vacation as of the second the babies were out. The babies have vamoosed from me. See?" She pointed at the towels Tina and I were holding.

"It's just a little push, nothing at all like earlier," he coaxed.

"Nope. I'm closed."

"Maybe when the paramedics come-" I began, as if I had the vaguest idea what I was talking about.

"She thinks me defeated so easily? Ha!" Marc shook a fist slick with baby goo. "She'll come to regret that."

"Are you all right?" Not-Nick asked with real concern. He had been stroking Jessica's face while they murmured to each other, but now he looked up. "Because you sound like you're channeling a Bond villain."

"I don't want you to pass your placenta. I want you to die." He stared around the room. "Where's a big fluffy evil white cat when you need one?"

"No cats!" I almost screamed. I still got the creeps when I remembered what he'd done to Giselle's corpse. I knew why he'd done it, and under the circumstances it wasn't wrong, but it was still yucky. As was this moment. I was in a world of yuck. "Do you want some Wet-Naps or something? I think all the towels are gross or holding babies or both."

"No. Jess, will you please-"

I cocked my head, looked up, and caught Sinclair's glance.

Finally.

"The ambulance is almost here," I said, and Marc sagged with relief.

"Excellent." His tone made me break Sinclair's gaze and stare at him. He was scared. He was really scared, and he'd done a wonderful job hiding it. I felt such a rush of warmth for him I nearly staggered. I loved my zombie so much! (Argh. Marc. I loved Marc.) "In a couple of minutes, you're officially their problem."

"I know!" she agreed, happy. "I can't wait. No offense to you." She reached out and caught his mucky hand. "Couldn't have done it without you." She looked the worst I'd ever seen her look, with sweat-matted hair and her eyes almost bulging from deep sockets; she looked bad and she smelled worse. I don't know how she managed it; I don't know where that beautiful smile came from and how she could look so luminous. But she pulled it off. "How can I ever, ever thank you?"

"Same goes for me, buddy," Not-Nick said hoarsely. "The next time you need a favor, you better come see me first."

(I liked how even Not-Nick's warm gratitude came out like a vague threat; it must be a cop thing.)

"Really, really good job," I said. At first I'd been annoyed to get here in the middle of it. But now I saw how foolish that was. What if I'd gotten here earlier? I might be the one with Jessica up to my elbows! "Really, really great, good, excellent job. Nice work. Really. Just outstanding."

"She's right," Jessica said, and it was only now that I could see how scared she'd been, too. Her face had that funny blotchy look it got when she'd been terrified but then realized things were going to work out. "You were great. Thank you for not eating my babies' brains."

Don't laugh. This is a touching moment and she probably wasn't making a joke. Don't you dare laugh.

"You're welcome," he replied. "Thanks for not freaking out more about me having to deliver them."

"No chance."

Meanwhile, Tina sort of scooted Sinclair out of the way with her butt as she bent over so Jess could see Other Naw; it occurred to me I should do the same with her brother.

"What, no chance?" I asked, showing Jess her second-born. He'd warmed up and depurpled, and was now sound asleep. Lazybones I and Lazybones II, that's what they oughta name them.

She put her hand on the top of Naw's tiny head, took her hand away, kissed her first two fingers, and put the hand back. The gesture-so tender and so unconscious; she didn't think about it, she just did it-brought a lump to my throat. I had to look away before I made a bigger fool of myself than usual.

"Like I said: no chance." She reached up and Tina gently handed Other Naw down, towel and all. Jessica snuggled her daughter for a second, then turned back to me. "Okay, yeah. I was nervous about Marc being around if I went into labor at home, and I thought about making a fuss and we even talked about moving out." Not-Nick nodded, startling me. She'd never said a word. And Marc was suddenly very busy peeling off gloves and trying to clean up. He wanted to be long gone before the EMTs got up here; we'd have to think about just what to tell them. But first I wanted to hear this. "But then I remembered every single movie and TV show where someone's pregnant. They always go into labor when it's least convenient or safe or fun. Friggin' always."

I nodded. She was dead-on. You could almost set your watch by it.

"So I figured with all the paranormal nonsense in our lives the last couple of years, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, something would happen so that Marc would be the only one to help me. My plans would be for shit. So when the babies started coming super fast I was scared, but not-you know-surprised."

Tina cleared her throat. "As there has been a happy outcome, it might be time to confess I also have been running obstetrical errands for Dr. Spangler."

"I don't know what that means," I confessed.

"OB books," he explained. "Figured I better study up. Just in case. Because, yeah. Every TV show. Every movie. Tina's been helping me track down the stuff I needed to bone up on."

That must have been when he started making her cozy nests in his trunk as they drove around the Twin Cities on the hunt for OB books, and probably solving mysteries on the side. It was like a Pixar flick. A vampire and her zombie! A zombie and his vampire! Egad.

I felt Sinclair's gaze and looked up. And for a few seconds the chaos and blood and sweat and stress and relieved tension went away; for a few seconds the only thing I could see was him.

My own, my own, how I wish I could have you in my arms at this moment.

Yeah, sure, now all of a sudden you're glad I'm here? You haven't said two words since I walked in.

Dreadful neglect and I should be shamed to dare hope you still cherish me as I do you. And I would show you just now, would stride across the room and make you mine in front of all, but I doubt I will be able to break Jessica's grip. I am her prisoner until she releases me. It makes you all the more beautiful to me, since you are as yet unattainable.

I started laughing; I couldn't help it. Yeah, I was piqued that they hadn't been worried about me, and it was annoying that the annoying babies were here to begin stealing my thunder annoyingly early, but the babies were cute and, even better, okay. (And much less purple!) And my family was okay. And I was okay.

Asking for anything past that was just greedy.

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