A/n: This is for my darling Muffy, who turns 2 on the 24th(: enjoy!
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
I let the rest of my breath out in a whoosh of air and slouched against the cold wall. My heart was pounding quickly; too quickly, surely. No other intern had any problem at all.
Who was I kidding? I couldn't do this.
I blinked. I couldn't do this. A cold weight of disappointment and bitterness lodged itself in my throat. I had studied so hard, for so many years, just to be a doctor, and here I was and I couldn't even help deliver a kid. The back of my neck started tensing slowly, until my jaw tightened so hard I almost felt a headache coming on. I was going to disappoint so many people – my grandma, who'd helped to finance my studies, and my aunt, who had encouraged me to pursue my dreams no matter what.
What now? When my dream turns out to be my nightmare – then what? I exhaled forcefully once more, feeling my throat constrict to the point where I felt like choking.
Your grandma and aunt would be so disappointed.
I clenched my fists tightly, blinking bitter tears back and fighting a sudden need to hurl. When the nausea eased, I gave a mirthless chuckle and raised a hand to knock on the glaringly white door.
I rest my head on the back of the chair and stared up at the ceiling.
I was unbearably, dreadfully vexed, and rather disappointed and disheartened. How could she not have felt anything from that kiss? Or those kisses. They weren't bad, or at least I didn't think they were. In fact, they were the best I'd had in a while. It just felt so… natural. Like I had been doing that all along…like I'd kissed her before. How was it that I had felt something, and she hadn't?
My pulse raced through my veins and I shuddered at the memory of her slender fingers trailing down my face; of the intoxicating scent that was her; of her warm body pressed flush to mine; of her lips – of how they felt against mine.
I inhaled deeply and sighed, frustrated.
How could she have felt nothing? How?
After that, and after that sleepless night, I had finally realised that I felt something distinctly different from platonic friendship for her; I wanted more.
I wanted her, I wanted all of her.
It was as if I'd gotten an epiphany; I wanted to know every single little detail about her; what made her laugh and cry, what made her pissed – I wanted to know everything that was her, everything that had made and moulded her to be who she was now. I wanted to know the Emma behind the walls, who she was when she was alone. I wanted to see her vulnerable, unmasked.
… I wanted that, but she wanted to be friends, pure, innocent, platonic friends. I'd never hated the word 'platonic' as much as I did at that moment when she used it.
Was it because of that man? Nicholas? My jaw tightened involuntarily, hands fisted.
I sat up straight in my chair, determined. I would make her fall in love with me, by hook or by crook. But, I sighed as I relaxed my posture, for the moment, friends we were.
I stared at the clock on my desk. My shift for the day had ended precisely fifteen minutes ago. I heard someone slump against the wall of my office – It had to be Emma.
I had been expecting her.
She had been on edge for the past week; jumpy, frazzled, and touchy. The bags under her eyes suggested sleepless nights, and her eyes no longer had the lively light they usually possessed. They had a desperate, wild look in them every time I looked at her; as if she were pleading with me to relieve her of her upcoming duty.
The emotionless look in her eyes worried me, and a dull ache settled in the depths of my heart, eating away at me slowly; I wanted to relieve that empty iciness from her being more than anything. But she wouldn't let me in; she wouldn't say anything beyond what she was required to. She had become more withdrawn that I'd ever seen her.
But she was still alert, and I could still trust her with the regular things. Her heart just wasn't in it, she was too distracted. Especially when I had been coaching her on how to handle the baby – her eyes had been totally blank. I wonder, even now, if she had absorbed anything at all.
I stared out the window behind me into the hospital gardens. Perhaps it might be prudent if I let her assist me in the next delivery –
I spun my chair around at a sharp rap on the door. It was Emma, I could feel it. My pulse picked up, heart contracting more forcefully than was normal.
A quiet voice sighed in the depths of my mind. You've got it bad.
I cleared my throat. "Come in."
Emma took a hesitant step in and paused for a moment before lifting her chin and straightening her back and striding in, as if she had made some sort of decision.
"Take a seat." I watched her closely as she lowered herself onto the chair. Her hair was put up in a severe bun that intensified her tense expression. She was a little flushed, her lips set in a thin, firm line. Her eyes were full of determination, and…
I scrunched my forehead, trying to think of an appropriate word. They were so cold, so detached, so…
My heart ached for her. What had happened to cause her to become like this? I frowned and leaned into my chair. Was she really this upset about having to help deliver a baby?
"Emma." I inclined my head slightly as a greeting. Her expression remained the same, as stoic and frozen as ever. "Would you like something to drink? Coffee perhaps?"
She tilted her lips in what seemed to be an attempt to smile. It looked more like a grimace to me. "Yes please. Thank you."
We sat in silence as she stirred the coffee impassively, staring vacantly at a spot on my table. Then with a clink of the teaspoon, she straightened up, her hands gripping the mug tightly.
"Dr. Spencer, I would like to request to be excused from Mrs Tennerson's delivery."
She said this in a horrible expressionless voice I had never heard her use. It both unnerved and worried me, to say the least. I put away all emotional thoughts.
"Emma, you are an intern. You know that you are obliged to perform the same duties as that of a doctor, right?" I started hesitantly.
Yes. She nodded once curtly.
Yes? I frowned and leaned back in my chair. If she knew it, why bother even asking?
Because it doesn't hurt to try.
I stared at her. "I need a reason to excuse you, Emma. A valid reason."
Her eyes hardened further, her lips were compressed into a fine line; her grip on the mug tightened. "Yes."
It came out a little hoarse. She inhaled deeply and let the breath out. Her eyes dropped to the table.
"I…I lived with my aunt for most part of my adolescent years. When I was thirteen, her sister came to visit. She… she was pregnant."
She swallowed twice before continuing in a voice laced with pain. "One day when my aunt was out, Aunt Amanda slipped and fell down the stairs. Her water broke, and I was the only one at home; she begged me to deliver the baby. I didn't know what to do; I had only ever seen puppies being birthed, nothing more. But I was the only one around…
"After a short while she just started pushing. But the baby wouldn't come out. Aunt Amanda kept pushing, and when I finally saw something, it didn't look like the head. It was the baby's feet – it was a breech birth. W…when the baby finally came out, Aunt Amanda wouldn't stop bleeding. The baby didn't cry. The cord was around its neck and it was blue. It didn't move, and nothing I did would make it move."
Her voice cracked on the last word, and I heard the raw edge in her voice; her knuckles were white from gripping the mug and she was blinking rapidly to keep the tears back. I reached out to ease the mug away from her, and covered her shaking hands with mine, hoping to comfort her and bring her out of that horrific memory, but she didn't respond.
"Aunt Amanda was devastated and kept crying – " She gasped then, as if I had shouted her name. She seemed to have come out of the memory and took a shuddering breath before recounting the rest dully. "Aunt passed away that night. She lost too much blood."
She blinked, and seemed to return to present moment. She pulled her hands away and folded them in her lap. "I caused the death of my aunt and my cousin. Is that reason enough to be excused from the delivery, Dr Morgan?" she questioned sardonically.
"Is this why you want to be excused?"
"Emma, this is just… a psychological barrier. You're much older now and you know what to do now, unlike back then. You ought to try to get over this barrier and just try –"
"I COULD KILL THEM!" She slammed her hands down on the table, causing the mug of coffee to topple onto the ground with a startling crash. Her eyes, now glassy, bore into mine with a desperation and fear I had never seen.
She jumped at the crash and seemed to remember herself.
"I can't do it, I'm sorry," she apologized shakingly, bending to pick the shards of porcelain from the brown mess. "I'm so sorry." She gasped, biting back a sob as her emotions caught up to her.
"Emma, leave it," I hurried around my desk to her and grabbed her hands. The shards moved due to my abrupt movement and cut her palms. "Shit, I'm so sorry."
She gulped tears back quietly. "No, I'm sorry," she said, avoiding my eyes.
I led her to another chair away from the mess and pushed her gently into it, kneeling down in front of her with her small, smooth hands still in mine.
"I could kill them," she whispered, her eyes dazed and glazed over with tears.
I resisted the urge to wipe them away from her, hating that I was the one who had made her cry. If I hadn't pressed her for a reason, she wouldn't have cried.
But you needed a valid reason, you had to fulfill your duty.
Sighing mentally, I grabbed a first aid kit from a cupboard and disinfected her cuts swiftly. Memories of the first time I had met her, when I had bandaged her foot, flashed through my mind. How different things were now! I bandaged her hands with gauze as gently as I could. "These will be alright in a day or two. Give them time to heal," I said absently, trying to complete the task as quickly as possible to put more physical distance between us. The proximity would be the death of me.
Spencer, get your mind out of the gutter, I admonished myself while putting the kit away.
"I could kill them," she murmured tensely.
I grabbed her bandaged hands and stroked the insides of her wrist gently to calm her down. Proximity be damned. "Emma. Emma, look at me."
She turned her gaze to me. Her doe-like brown eyes were distant, filled with remembered pain. "I can't forgive myself, Nathan. I can't."
I held her hands more firmly, ignoring the way my heart leapt and sped up a little when she said my name.
"Emma, it was a long time ago. You were young, you didn't know what to do; it wasn't your fault. The baby would have died anyway, considering it was a footling breech and that the cord was wrapped around its neck, especially since it took a long time for the baby to be born. Don't be so hard on yourself.
I tightened my grip on her hands. "Your aunt was haemorrhaging; chances of her surviving would have been slim outside hospital care."
"I…I could have called for an ambulance…"
"No. Aunt had no telephone back then, but I could have –"
"Emma, you were only thirteen! You did all you could have done. Don't be so hard on yourself."
"I – "
"It's all in the past. Are you never going to surgery because of this? Are you just going to give this all up, just like that?" I shook her gently. "Emma, are you going to let all these years of study go to waste? Let your relatives down? Don't do this, Emma. Even as a doctor, it is impossible to save every single life every single time. You know that. Get over it, learn from it. Don't stop because of something that happened so long ago; don't let yourself down."
She blinked and stared at me for a moment. Some of the old familiar warmth returned to her eyes. If she felt any differently from before, she didn't show it; she had bottled everything back up again.
The delivery ward was cool and quiet, with the gentle beeping of nearby machinery. I stared at one with a luminous green line, rising and falling steadily. The baby's heartbeat.
Mrs Tennerson lay on the pristine white sheets covering the bed, coated in a fine sheen of sweat. She had opted against a water birth, much to my relief. I am not particularly comfortable with seeing unclothed bodies. The stirrups that she had lifted her legs up onto had made me squirm. It looked extremely uncomfortable, but hey, the position would allow the baby's shoulders to be delivered more easily, so I suppose it was for the best.
Another machine beeped, coinciding with a painful moan from the woman as another contraction hit. She squirmed and grasped the bed rails tightly, her knuckles white. I tried to hide my frown of disapproval at the thought of her absent husband. He was at a meeting, it seemed. But what meeting could be more important than the birth of his own child? His first child. It just didn't seem right to me; his wife was giving birth to his child, wasn't it only right for him to be present and give his wife the support she needed? For I could see the loneliness in her eyes, even at the foot of the bed.
Television dramas and movies really hype the birth process up too much, I realized once more as I watched the woman. It's hyped up in the sense that it really doesn't involve as much yelling as depicted on the screens. Where would the woman find the energy to? Really, it doesn't make sense. Giving birth is far more painful and takes far longer (well, the part where the woman has contractions that is) than what the screens portray.
I stood beside Nathaniel as he instructed the patient to push through a contraction.
"You're doing great, I can see the baby's head now. Come on…"
It was a normal birth, no breech, thank God. I don't think I could handle another one.
As she pushed, I counted to ten in my head. It is best to push steadily for about ten seconds, but it wasn't advisable to actually count out loud; it could be rather stressful for the mother.
The head emerged. The baby was red, covered in blood and fluid. Its features were scrunched together –
"Emma, hand me the bulb syringe please," Nathaniel's voice nudged me out of my observations.
My eyes widened in horror. I bit my lip to stop myself from cursing. How could I have lost concentration like that? I could kill them. A lead weight lodged itself in my chest as I handed him the syringe to clear the baby's airways of mucous.
His blue eyes searched mine quickly as he took the syringe. "Emma, it's alright," he said quietly.
My breathing eased a little. I nodded and turned back to watch as he cleared the mucous away.
I took the syringe from him. Then, with a hand, he applied some pressure to the area just below the vagina opening to prevent the baby from coming out too quickly. It might cause the perineum (the muscle between the vagina and anus) to tear, which might be… a little painful, to say the least.
Mrs Tennerson pushed harder, gasping. Her face was red and sweaty; her hair was sticking to her face in messy strands. Veins in her forehead and neck were bulging visibly as she bore down. I bit back a wince as she groaned in pain. Child birth is probably the most unglamorous moments of a woman's life– makes me wonder how come some men still want to take videos of their wives in labour. I'd sock them. But I guess that's not what really matters; it's the baby that's important after all.
It took a little while longer before the baby was born. The umbilical cord was clamped and cut only after the placenta was birthed (contrary to popular belief). As the newborn, cleaned, dried and swaddled in a thick blue towel, was placed on his mother's chest, the look of overwhelming joy on the her face was…
…what I never got to see on my aunt's face. I inhaled deeply and shut my eyes.
It's over, Emma. Like he said. Get over it.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?" A warm voice came from right behind me.
I turned around. Nathaniel looked a little tired with his hair all mussed up, but his dark blue eyes were shining and dancing with happiness, and a large grin stretched from one ear to the other, revealing dimples in his cheeks. He looked as overjoyed as if he had been the father himself, and I found his smile catching – when was it not? I wondered if he was always like that after delivering a baby.
"No," I smiled, "Thank you."
His grin grew cheeky as he led me out of the delivery ward back to his office. Our footsteps went unheard on the linoleum floor in the bustle of the hospital. The harsh lights created shadows in the sharp planes of his face, and I traced over his features quickly, noting how the lights revealed the laugh lines that bracketed his mouth. They made him look more mature, somehow, and so much more… attractive.
Nathaniel seemed to bounce with excitement as we walked down the whitewashed corridor. "So… do I get another treat from you?"
I gasped, my eyes widening as I pretended to be shocked and offended. "So this was all a plot to get a treat?"
He nodded cheerfully, looking ahead, his tousled hair flopping all over his head in his eagerness. He looked…positively adorable, what with the light in his eyes and that silly grin, yet so breathtakingly handsome at the same time.
Stop drooling, you're going to slip on your own spit.
I collected myself and turned my gaze away from him. I swatted his arm. "I should have known."
A/n: A footling breech means that one or both of the baby's feet emerge first, instead of the head. It would cause the baby considerable distress, and since the amniotic sac would have already ruptured, it would have been hard for it to breathe. The umbilical cord could also strangle the baby if it was wound around the baby's neck. So…yeah(:
Aren't you glad there's no cliffy x)