***Chapter Twenty-Four***
Word Count: 4,173

October 1995

"Is everything all right?" he asked when she'd been home from work for a while and hadn't said much. She'd been pretty quiet all evening. They didn't always have in depth conversations every day or anything, but they usually at least talked. She hadn't even asked him what he'd been working on today. That was unusual for her, she always seemed to ask even if he was working on things away from Simon Forge and his world. She didn't seem mad at him exactly, but he could tell she wasn't in the best of moods.

"Yes," she said.

"Okay," he said, not at all convinced. "Come on, you've even got Sammy looking at you as if he wants to do something to make you feel better."

She shrugged, sliding her hand along Sammy's back. She had gotten used to having a dog pretty quickly. A lot quicker than John was getting used to being responsible for a cat. Not that she'd shifted the responsibility of Tux onto him or anything, but he was home so it was innate in him to check on the cat and give him food when it was Sammy's dinnertime.

"It's nothing."

"But there's something wrong?"

"No," she said, sighing softly.

He couldn't make her tell him as much as he wished he could. He wanted to push, but he didn't because he knew that would just get her mad.

"April had her baby today," she said a little while later.

"Oh," he said, frowning a bit. She was upset about that? "That's good news, isn't it? I mean, everything's okay, right? The baby's okay? She's okay?"

"Yeah, she called me actually right as I was leaving the office."

"Well, okay. That's good then," he said. He wasn't surprised April had called her afterward. That's what best friends did and John knew April wished Claire could've been out in California instead of here today. "What was it?"

"A boy," she said.

"Okay, I realize this isn't the easiest thing for you, but I thought you two were okay."

"We are. I'm happy for her. Them. I told her I'd fly out whenever she needed me to."

He knew that, too. Hell, John had offered to fly out there and help out after the baby came if need be. Claire couldn't really take time off on an hour's notice. John could bring his stuff with him wherever he went. April and Rene both had parents, though, who were of course excited about their grandchild. So John's offer was an unnecessary one. They'd be going for the christening, though. John wasn't sure who the godfather was going to be, a childhood friend of Rene's was the impression he'd gotten but Claire wasn't totally sure either.

"So, what's the problem then?"

She stood from the couch then, patting Sammy on the top of his head before walking to the window to look outside.

"I was just kind of hoping," she shrugged.

"What?"

"That I'd go out there…"

"Oh," he said. He got it now. "I don't know what you want me to say? I'm sorry?"

"I know, it's my own problem."

"Don't. Don't do that. It's not a problem. It's certainly not just your problem even if it was one. I'm sorry it's not happening as quickly as you'd hoped it would."

"Are you?" she asked, turning to face him.

"Am I what?"

"Sorry?"

"Uh, yes. You have been in our bedroom the past few months, right?"

"Yes, but why hasn't it worked then?"

"How the fuck should I know? I'm not a doctor."

"I know."

"You know, but you sure seem as if you're blaming me somehow."

"Well, I know you don't really want one."

"We've already gone over this, Claire. It scares the shit out of me, but I want you happy."

"And you don't want me to meet someone else who'd want to have kids with me."

"Well, of course not. Fuck. The idea of that asshole touching you ten years ago pisses me off more than you can imagine, so someone doing it now with your permission and because I said I couldn't do it wouldn't sit well with me at all."

"So, how do I know you're not doing something?"

"Something?"

"Yeah, I don't know," she shrugged.

"I hate to tell you this, Claire, but there's nothing underhanded or sneaky I could do to prevent you from getting pregnant. It doesn't work that way. There are no pills for me to take. You'd certainly notice if I was wearing a rubber all of the sudden."

"You could be pulling out."

"You'd know if I did that!"

"I wouldn't."

"Jesus fucking Christ. Are you kidding me right now? You would, too, know. Trust me. Somewhere on you or the bed would be a mess if I pulled out of you before finishing. If not inside you it'd have to go somewhere. You know?"

"Maybe you go to the bathroom when we're done…"

He stared at her for a minute, certain he was hearing things right now. She was accusing him of what exactly? He wasn't sure what he was more insulted by actually. That she thought he'd be that deceiving as to do that or the fact she thought he was lying about being willing to have a baby with her. Either way, she was accusing him of lying in one form or another.

"Okay. Yeah, sure. I leave our bed and the woman I love in it to go to the bathroom after I, what exactly? Fake coming and jerk off in the bathroom?"

"You could. Or you could do that before coming to bed so you don't have as much."

"I haven't had to do that in so long I can't even remember the last time I did it was. Certainly before February."

"Not even when we weren't talking?"

"No, Jesus. You were mad at me, I had just found out I was going to be a dad. The last thing on my mind was getting myself off. Besides, I don't think it works that way anyway."

"There is something you could do I wouldn't know about," she said.

"What?" he asked with a frown.

"You could have gotten a…"

He left the room then, gesturing for Sammy to come to him. He did. Ironically, there were times the past few months that John was starting to question who Sammy was going to be more loyal to. He started to listen to Claire far quicker than John had assumed he would. He always came to John, though, unquestionably when he asked him to even if Claire had also asked him to go to her.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm taking the dog for a walk."

"What?"

"I can't stand here and have this conversation with you, Claire. I understand you're hurt and upset, I don't know what else you're feeling with her baby here now. But I can't stand here and have you accusing me of doing shit I'm not doing. Never mind I'm not doing it, I haven't even thought about it. I told you I was fine trying for one. You have me standing here, though, asking myself why in the hell you want to have one with me if you think I'm such an asshole as to do what you're accusing me of doing."

"It's not a crime to do that."

"Accuse me of lying?"

"No, to," she shrugged. "Make yourself."

"Well, no, obviously I know that or I would've been in jail a long time ago along with everyone in the world out there. I didn't stay to hear the rest of it, but you were just going to say I could've had a vasectomy. Right?"

"You could…"

"I wouldn't fucking do that. Never mind I'm almost positive I've heard that you can't have sex afterward for a while so where in the past five months since you lost the baby have I had the time to do that and not have sex with you."

"Right after I was in the hospital…"

"Sure. I think you would've noticed me being in pain myself. I've never had it done, but know guys who have. They certainly weren't out mowing the lawn and cleaning their pools the same day as getting one. Never mind I was taking care of you. Forget all that, though, because those are factual things you have to know point to the fact I didn't do that. You think I'd tell you we'd try for one and then go out and do that behind your back?"

Did she really think he'd do that? He supposed there were some guys who would. He wasn't one of them. Actually, he honestly wasn't sure he would like the idea of anyone snipping anywhere near his dick and nuts. He liked them fine the way they were.

"Claire," he said, hoping what he'd just said was registering with her.

"You weren't going to tell me about not wanting kids."

"I said I'd planned on it when we got to the point it was an issue. You know, talking about marriage. I wasn't going to go out and get snipped at my age as a kneejerk reaction to you wanting a kid. I'll be back."

"So you're just leaving?"

"What do you want me to do? Stand here and have you accuse me next of having sex with someone else in an effort to, whatever you think I'm doing by all the jerking off you seem to think I'm doing."

"I just don't understand…"

"I don't either! Your doctor told you it may take a while. She said it could take a couple of months for you to even begin whatever it is you need to do to get pregnant. She said a period doesn't mean everything is running as normally scheduled. I was there for the conversation because you wanted me there. Remember that? It's only been five months. Didn't she say things could be a little screwy for a while because of hormone levels and the fact you were pregnant?"

"Yes, but I got pregnant twice…"

"They were flukes. Even I know it's not always as easy as that. I can't explain it, maybe she can. Obviously you can get pregnant and I can get you pregnant. It will happen when it happens. I was content with that, I thought you were, too. I thought we were having fun with the trying, but maybe it's not fun for you. If that's the case…"

"No, it is."

"It shouldn't be a chore either. Maybe we're trying too hard?" he shrugged. Was there such a thing? He had no idea.

"That's not possible."

"No, I mean, mentally. I don't know. Can't that play a role in it, too? Stress and shit? Maybe worrying about it isn't good. Have you asked your doctor?"

"Yes," she said.

"And?"

"She says there's nothing wrong."

"Okay, well, take her word for it. Well, and in July I was gone during the good time for that. So, that rules out one month. You knew that, though."

"I know," she said.

"Claire. If being their son's godmother is going to do this, stress you out, make you feel some sort of pressure to have a baby tomorrow maybe you should say no."

"I can't!"

"You can, too. Both of them would totally and completely understand if you said you couldn't do it. I can't speak for April, but I know Rene would."

"You do not!"

"He told me!"

"What?"

"He told me! He called me a few weeks ago to ask me if I thought you really wanted to be godmother. He was willing to talk April out of it if I thought you didn't want to."

"When did you two become friends?"

"I don't know. We talk sometimes. We're men involved with women who are best friends. We don't talk every day or anything. He loves April so therefore cares pretty deeply for you, someone who his wife is obviously very close to. I feel the same way about April versus your other friends, you know? He's the one who told me you hadn't called April in the spring."

"He did?"

"Yes."

"Oh," she said.

"I told him I wouldn't tell you, and I didn't because he just wanted to make sure you weren't mad at April for some reason. This time he called because he really wanted to be sure you were okay. They're both concerned for you and don't want you to feel obligated, and I guess they figured him calling me would be better than April randomly calling me."

"I suppose," she said.

"Don't do it if you don't want to. No one's making you and no one's going to be mad at you for backing out."

"I want to! She's my best friend."

"Exactly the reason she'd understand."

"I know."

She was quiet for a while, no longer accusing him of doing absolutely insane shit to avoid getting her pregnant. So that was an improvement.

As if.

"You haven't told him about Allen?"

"What? Fuck, no. I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't violate your trust in me like that. The day he called me back in the spring I didn't tell him anything about what was going on. I listened to his concerns, told him I'd find a way to talk to you without it being obvious I was doing that. I thought I did an all right job of it, April was out here in a matter of a month afterward. I certainly wouldn't have a reason to tell him about what happened to you with that asshole. It's no one's business. I won't deny I wish more of your friends knew so they'd know what kind of guy he really is, but standing by and watching him get in trouble the past few months has been sort of enjoyable knowing what I know."

"It has," she admitted and he knew that was hard for her to admit. She wasn't a bitch. She wasn't mean or vindictive by nature. It was the reason she didn't want to practice criminal law. She didn't have that shark circling the bloodied water mentality.

"Why don't you come with us?"

"What?"

"Sammy and me. Come on. Get your jacket and come with us."

"John…"

"Get outside and stop thinking about this shit for a while."

Sammy was sitting by the back door, waiting patiently. He didn't really care which of them walked him as long as he got a walk out of the deal. He did seem to like it when they both walked him, though. The walks tended to last longer when Claire went with him.

"You want me to go to your doctor and take some sort of test to prove I'm functioning I will."

"I know you wouldn't do that."

"Do you?"

"Yes, it's just so confusing and it hurts so much thinking of sitting back watching someone else have a baby…"

"I know. I mean, I don't, I can't possibly, but I understand why that's got to be a tough thing to see. I'm sorry. I'm not doing anything to prevent you from getting pregnant."

"I just wish…"

"I could think of an idea…"

"What?"

"Well, you know a week or so in advance of the timing, right?"

"Yes," she said with a soft laugh. She knew he had no clue what went into knowing what was and wasn't a good time. He knew the gist, but he didn't really want to know the specifics. He didn't care. As long as she knew them.

"So, as soon as you know take those days off from work."

"And do nothing but have sex with you for days?"

"Well, yeah," he said with a shrug. "I wouldn't complain."

She laughed at that. "I bet you wouldn't."

"Just an idea. I mean, it's not exact so maybe we're just not timing it as right as you think we are."

"I'll think about it."

"When is the service anyway?"

"Uh, not until December."

"Oh," he said. "It's not going to be in Paris again, is it?"

"No, in Iowa."

"Iowa?"

"Yeah, it's where April's from."

"Really? I didn't know that."

"Yup."

"Huh. Well, I've never been to Iowa."

"Really?"

"What in the world would I go to Iowa for before now?"

"I don't know."

"Have you been there since you graduated?"

"No," she said with a shrug. "No reason to, really."

"Have you been to her house before?"

"Sure, not since college, but sure. We spent more than one weekend at each other's house."

"Huh," he said.

"That surprises you?"

"Kind of," he said with a shrug. He wasn't sure why. He just didn't see her choosing to spend weekends at someone Iowa home when she was nineteen.

They walked to a field that was a few blocks from their house and John let Sammy off his leash so he could run around freely for a while.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"It's all right," he said with a shrug.

"No, I shouldn't have…"

"It's understandable for you to get frustrated."

"I shouldn't have accused you…"

"You're right, you shouldn't have." He took her into his arms, though. It pissed him off, really it had but he had to bear in mind, too, she was feeling things he wasn't going to ever understand. She hadn't been a complete emotional basket case since the miscarriage so he supposed he had gotten off fairly easily to this point.

"You need me to demonstrate for you when we get back how you'd be able to tell if I'd been pulling out?"

"No!"

"Hmm, you sure?"

"That would be very wasteful."

He chuckled softly at that. "We wouldn't want that."

"No. Have you ever done that?"

"Pulled out? Well, you know the answer to that since you're the only one I've ever been with where that would be necessary, but no."

"So, you don't know…"

"Claire. It would still come out. That I do know. You'd know! Trust me."

"I know! That's not what I was going to say. I was going to say you don't know if you could actually do it anyway."

"Well, if I had to I'm sure I could. You want me to start practicing, let me know."

"No," she said.

"Never?"

"Well, I'd go back on the pill in between…"

"In between implies more than one. Let me get used to one then we can talk about more than one. Okay?"

She smirked a bit, but kissed his jaw.

"You want to start following me to the bathroom afterward?"

"No! I know you're not doing anything like that."

"I swear to God, Claire, if the fact I said I'm willing isn't enough…"

"It is. I know you are. I know you're not disappointed it hasn't happened right away."

"Well, I was sort of joking about it taking until the tenth time."

"I know," she said. She kissed him then. A pretty nice kiss, too, considering they were outside where anyone could walk or drive by and see them. Neither of them were huge into public displays. He liked kissing her in public, sure, just not to the point people would tell them to get a room or something.

"Let's go do something."

"What," she asked. "We already ate."

"Yeah, so. This is Chicago. Come on. We could see a movie even."

"I work…"

"I'm not suggesting we stay out all night, just get out of the house and away from things our minds have been on for a while."

"Your mind hasn't been on…"

"Don't say that. You don't know where my mind has been. You don't think I haven't noticed what you go through every month. I live here! I may not comment on it because I'll be honest I don't know what to say and I thought you realized it may not happen at the drop of the hat this time. I saw how hard it was for you to see those pictures of April in that magazine last month."

"She looked beautiful."

"Of course she did. Not as beautiful as you will, but that's me being absolutely biased and not wanting to sleep on the couch tonight."

"Smart man," she said.

He chuckled at that.

"So, pick a movie or something."

"You're sure. You don't like going out…"

"I don't mind going out. It's just when I'm gone so much and spend money on food and stuff as a result of that I just got into the habit of sticking around my place when I was home. A movie isn't going to break my wallet."

"Well, I can pay…"

"No way are you paying for a date."

"We live together!"

"It's still a date."

"They're naming him Rene," she said when they were walking back to the house with Sammy happier now that he'd been allowed to roam free for a bit. John was understandably happier now, too, knowing she was over whatever mindset she'd been in back at the house. She was even letting him hold her hand on the way back when she hadn't let him on the way out.

"Why does that not surprise me? At least they're not naming him Wren," he said.

She laughed softly. "There is that."

"So, a little Wren Savage, huh. Lucky kid."

"You think so?"

"Well, not as lucky as ours will be, but sure. He made out pretty decently when it came to parents it would seem."

"You like them?"

"Yeah. You know, it's innate in me, I think, because of how I grew up to be suspicious of anyone, what personality flaws they're hiding. I also wonder why anyone wants to have kids. I mean, God it's a lifelong commitment. Forget eighteen years. I'm unusual getting out like I did, not everyone severs ties with their parents I know this. I don't think you understand how completely terrifying the idea was to me until a couple of months ago. Your friends, though, they seem all right. I don't know Rene well or anything, but I know you and you wouldn't have stayed such good friends with April all of these years if she wasn't a good person."

"You think ours will be luckier?"

"I know they will be, because they will have us as their parents. Can't get much luckier than that."

"If only I knew you weren't joking."

"I'm not."

"Even though I just basically accused you…"

"Even though. Funny that I might just be the rational one of the two of us when it comes to dealing with any kids."

"I told you that you would never hurt someone, John. You're not your father."

"I'm actually starting to believe you. Please tell me you didn't accuse me of getting a vasectomy behind your back after agreeing to move in with you as some sort of test to find out if I was or not."

"I'm not sure I was thinking that clearly."

He knew she wasn't. Living with her, seeing her every day, all day for the most part except the days she was at work or he was traveling. Well, he was starting to understand Rich's warning about her. She didn't always get as mad at him as she did today, accusing him of completely outrageous and possibly bordering on delusional shit. He'd seen her temper aimed at others, though. He was always very glad that he seemed to have the ability to talk her into calming down. Sometimes it wasn't immediate, but that's when he did what he was going to do tonight and take Sammy for a walk. Usually thirty minutes or an hour alone gave her time to realize she was acting crazy.

(Not that he'd ever tell her she was acting crazy. He'd called her doctor about a month after she'd lost the baby wanting to know what to expect from her emotionally and physically. She'd warned him that even though she'd lost the baby her body was still going through things. Her first period or two after the miscarriage hadn't been fun. For her more than him, but the first one especially he'd thought she was hemorrhaging or something for a little while. She was the one who'd told John it may not happen again right away.)

"I am sorry, you know. I mean, I don't have the sense of urgency you seem to feel. I do feel bad when it doesn't work, but it's not me that nothing's changed about from month to month. If I could make it work…"

"I know."

"It will happen when it's supposed to."

"You believe that?"

"I didn't used to."

"What changed?"

"You."

"Me?"

"Yeah, you, dropping your offer into my lap a year ago now. I never had much reason to believe in things like fate or whatever you want to call it until then."

"I'm glad you said yes."

"Princess, haven't you figured out by now I can't say no to you."

"I'm starting to, yeah."

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