Post-Guardians Tower trip
Following the conversation in their room prior to seeing Nona, Natalie remained quiet. As expected, Nona’s exam was pretty cursory — Natalie is barely far enough yet to even register a late menstrual cycle. And those aren’t exactly regular anyway with food shortages and a less-than-stable environment. The revelation of pregnancy came only at the courtesy of her healing ability. Like Melody and Jared, Dr. No reiterated that Natalie could not afford to skip any meals. And when rationing happens, which we all know it will, Nona would have to make clear that Nat’s rations needed to be a little higher. But until then, she would respect both Natalie’s privacy and the doctor-patient confidentiality regarding this development.
By the time they got back to their room, Natalie had a weary expression. But more than that, there was a kind of haunted look to her face as she slipped into her yoga pants and a long-sleeved thermal shirt while Jared made the tea she asked for. It isn’t until they were both sitting on the couch in the room, where she could curl up into a small ball against his side with the mug securely in her hands, that she finally offered words in the form of an uncertain query. “Is this something you’re really happy about?”
“Trying to boil it down to one emotion is a lost cause, Nat,” Jared said, running his hand along her shoulder. Which was true. Happy was definitely among them, but it did not stand alone. Life had originally gone from pre-D-Day stable to a strange but still stable life traveling the country. His location may have been different from week to week, but even the unexpected was just part of his routine and he knew then that anything he encountered would be left behind eventually. But since arriving in Refuge Point, life was a turbulent bowl of craziness with stability only occasionally available as a side dish. That wasn’t necessarily bad, he thought, but it did require some adjustment. As would this baby of theirs. Baby, he thought with some amazement. OUR baby. Who knew the apocalypse had such a way of shaking things up?
“But I am happy, Nat. I’m not sure whether I’ll make a good father, but I want to try. Might be a little earlier than I was thinking, but the world has a way of screwing up plans.” He smiled as he looked down at her. “How are you feeling, Nat?” His tone wasn’t overprotective, but rather understandably concerned.
“Honestly, it’s too early for me to feel anything but shock still,” she admitted quietly. “And I’ve had several weeks already to deal with the fact that it exists.” Natalie paused and looked into her mug of tea, then rested her head against the arm around her shoulder. Her position with her back nestled as far back into his side as she can get is a telling one — she’s hiding from the realities of what’s coming within the circle of his embrace.
After a long moment, she started talking. “There was a woman here in Refuge Point when I first got here. Liz. She was .. young. But not so young, you know? About 26 or so. She gave birth not too long after I got here. And the winter was setting in.” Her voice was low; she’s never talked about that day to anyone but Charlie. “Everyone was really invested in helping her with the baby. But… it was hard. He starved, Jared.” The pain of the memory was stark, the hint of resignation in her voice perhaps just as terrifying as the situation itself must have been. “This world is not going to be forgiving of an infant in wintertime.”
Since Refuge Point had destroyed all his communication devices, he had only occasionally regretted letting it happen. Unfortunately, this was one of those times. The base would have had everything they needed to help take care of their little one. But that was not worth spending thoughts on. What was done was done. The devices were gone and he had no way to get in touch with the General even now when he might be tempted to. And Jared knew better than to share that train of thought with Natalie.
“You’re not Liz and then isn’t now, Nat. I’m not denying it’s going to be a harsh winter, but two years removed from D-Day is a very different situation.” He worked hard at projecting calm, without trying to hide all the other emotions that were running through him. He could only imagine that a pregnancy was going to play havoc with emotions and therefore play havoc with her power and therefore her empathy. A fine line to walk between not feeding her panic and making her think he was hiding his emotions…that he didn’t trust her.
Natalie nodded slightly. “I know. We’ve got a better situation this year… we’ll still be on rations, and it’s still really early. All the major development …” She paused and for the first time since she realized that she had gotten pregnant, she said the words out loud. “Our baby won’t be born until summer.” She savored the words for a moment. A faint smile quirked her lips. And then she continued, “So hopefully the food situation at that point will be like this year, where there’s enough to establish a good milk supply and get us on our way before the next winter.” The practicalities could be counted on to keep her panic in check.
Biting her lip, she looked over her shoulder at him. “This was not exactly what I thought we’d be talking about bare weeks after deciding we were going to try to make a go of this, you know.”
He laughed out loud at that, a laugh recognizing the crazy in the whole thing. “No, definitely not what I thought would be on our minds. Should’ve raided some drugstore pharmacy section on the way into town.” Another emotional half-laugh of amazement.
“While I’m not sorry about the baby, I’m sorry about all that the process of having the baby is going to put you through.” Jared paused for a moment as a thought hit him. “We’re really going to have to work hard to get your empathy under control before the point in the pregnancy where the baby is experiencing emotions.”
She snorted in amusement. “Well… condoms and such are fine, where you can still find them. But…. I don’t know that it’s been a priority on anyone’s list. I’m kind of shocked that I’m the first one facing it, to be quite frank.” Natalie shook her head a little and then considered. “Well… for the period of a pregnancy, what’s a fetus feel anyway? Hungry? Squished when it’s big enough? I can’t imagine that the emotions are going to be exactly complicated. And after it’s born, well… I mean… hungry. Cold. Mad. I suppose those things, especially given the hormonal aspects, may color the situation with my empathy. But I do think those will still be immature enough emotions that I’ll be able to tell they’re not mine,” she offered. “And since I’m not a broadcasting empath, at least we don’t have that to worry about.”
Her nose wrinkled. “Unless the kid is. But… Christ, talk about a situation none of us has a clue about. Before D-Day, I don’t recall hearing about many small kids born with abilities. They seemed more or less to turn up in the pre-teen-ish years or later childhood years, I thought.” Not that Nat would know for sure — her knowledge base was entirely anecdotal. And then another thought kind of hit her, maybe because up to now she’s been kind of avoiding the idea that she’s pregnant. “You don’t think the nanobots will… tinker with it, do you?”
“Christ, Nat…” Jared hadn’t considered the nanobots at all. Another reason he wished he had access to the government lab and Project New Guardian files. There might have been resources there that could’ve helped them figure it out.
“I don’t think so,” he said hesitantly. “All the information the government collected on powers suggested that it was mostly a puberty thing. If the baby’s powers are latent (assuming it has powers), then I’d think the nanobots would just interact quietly, not mess with structure.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think we have a lot of control over that. We should probably focus on what we can.”
Natalie was quiet for a long time, sipping her tea. And then she asked him baldly, “If there had been a moment where I could have stopped it from happening… would you have wanted me to?”
Jared took a moment to think about it…to really think about it. He could’ve given her the glib, quick answer, but she deserved better than that. After a couple of long moments, he had his thoughts in line. “I had a relative once who was constantly talking about she was going to go back and visit her homeland. But the time was never right. She didn’t have any enough money put aside. The weather at that time of year wasn’t good. She needed travelling clothes and a better set of luggage. And so on. Then she had a stroke and couldn’t travel. And then D-Day. She never went.”
He looked at the woman he had fallen in love with and the wave of emotion he felt for her in that moment only confirmed what he had let himself mentally logic out. “Maybe we’re not as prepared as we want. Maybe there are a lot of potential issues. There is always some reason, if you look for it, to make a choice to not do something. But I want to have a family with you. So, no, I wouldn’t have wanted you to.”
She closed her eyes and pulled in a slow breath. Natalie didn’t know if she could have stopped the conception in that moment when she realized it had begun. She didn’t think her ability worked that way — but then again, she hadn’t thought her ability could work as a siphon either. When she opened her eyes to look up at him, there was relief in her gaze. “As scared as I am… as hard as it’s going to be… I want this baby. I have spent the past week or so trying to decide what the hell I was going to say to you when I told you. And I wasn’t planning on telling you until we were past the first couple of months. It’s .. you never know what’s going to happen, you know?”
She hadn’t told him the way she wanted to — circumstances had dictated a whole different plan of action than her original. But she set the mug of tea on the small end table and turned her body, shifting so that she straddled his lap and looked him right in the eyes. “I need to tell you something important,” she said with a small smile. “I’m falling in love with you. And we’re having a baby.”
“I love you too, Nat.” He gave her a long kiss, trying to put the whole complexity, the crazy way he felt about her into that single kiss. Then he looked back into her eyes and said with a straight face, “I’ll love little Jared Jr, too.”
It made her laugh outright. “We are so not calling him/her/it that,” she informed him. And then teased, “I’d like to call one of them Nemo.”
“Them?” he asked tentatively, not sure whether she was serious or not.
She let him hang there for just a moment, enjoying the amusement factor of his deer-in-the-headlights terror. “I’m kidding, Jay,” she relented after a minute. Natalie’s grin was cheeky. “It was a line from a Disney movie. Don’t panic.”
Disney movies had never been his thing. Pre D-Day, he would’ve had to have learned to embrace them, he guessed. But not so much these days. “Jesus, Nat, don’t give me a heart attack. I’m good rolling with the punches, but even I can only take so much.” He had some relief in his voice and a little bit of chagrin at being played so easily.
Natalie giggled and replied impishly, “As you wish.”
He grinned. “Now I know you’re fucking with me. I’ve seen that one.” He started tickling her. He deserved a little revenge, after all.
Oh absolutely she was! Fending off the marauding tickling fingers with a cascade of giggles, Natalie threw herself sideways and then when she was gasping for air and he let her be for a moment, she smiled at him with genuine happiness. “Havin’ a BABY, mister,” she told him again in a tone of astonishment.
“You’re the only one that I’d want to do that with, Nat,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to be amazing.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him down to where they could twine together on the couch and simply exist in their own little corner for a while. For the first time since she realized she was pregnant, she allowed herself to feel some of the joy and hope that this flickering growth of new life offered. Between lingering touches and kisses she offered soft words, insights into the thoughts that popped into her head—-everything from something beautiful she saw traveling to the hopelessness of being so alone on the high desert west of the Rockies; telling him about a moment on Expedition that was funny and telling him about a moment on her travels when she nearly died because of something she’d done; the joy of saving a life en route across the prairies and the despair at mercy-killing a man she came across who had lain in agony for days after a mishap broke his leg. She imagined aloud what their child might be like someday and shared her fears of what kind of a world their child would live in, holding nothing back.