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Little Hands, Big Hearts

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Chloe had first met Chicago in the second grade when she tripped in the lunchroom and accidentally spilt her chocolate milk all down his t-shirt. He had been very sweet to the mortified red head, insisting that his white t-shirt looked “way cooler now that it had these brown splotches on it!” He had made Chloe laugh and they had barely spent a day apart since. He was her best friend and vice versa. They got in trouble together, they won merit awards together, they auditioned for school plays together.

It was in ninth grade when they had their first kiss. It made sense; they did everything else together. It was awkward and giggly and fumbling, but it was nice. Chloe had wanted to practice because there was a boy she liked in their English class who wanted to her to come with him to a party and she was nervous. Chicago had greatly exaggerated his skills about kissing girls, in that he hadn’t actually done it outside of his imagination, but he had never let Chloe down before now.

It was in eleventh grade that Chicago and Chloe finally started dating. They had dated other people on and off through their school years, but no-one either of them would call a ‘boyfriend’ or a ‘girlfriend’. They were glued to each other, everyone thought they were dating anyway, so when Chicago asked Chloe to be his “date-date rather than my friend-date?” to their junior prom, Chloe had laughed and said yes with great enthusiasm. It was a great night, it had felt right, as had what they had done later that night… they were each other’s firsts and that was alright by them.

High school graduation came, and Chicago got down on one knee for the woman who had been by his side most of his life and another emphatic yes had followed that question. Their paths after high school were deviating; Chloe was going to study music in New York so that she could teach it to high school kids, and Chicago was following in the footsteps of his father, and his father before him, in joining the US Army. Their wedding followed soon after graduation, a mere two days before Chicago shipped out for Basic Training.

It was at some point between Chicago’s first and second tours of duty and Chloe’s first two years of college that something clicked as they spent time apart for the first time since they were seven years old; they did love each other, there was no doubt about that. But it wasn’t the sort of love that a husband and wife had. They were best friends, they enjoyed hooking up on occasion, but they weren’t in love. When he returned from his second tour, they filed for an amicable divorce. They still lived together for now, Chicago was shipping out again in a month and it just made sense, but they both agreed that they were suited for other people in a romantic sense. Chicago had jokingly suggested one last “roll in the hay, for old times sake” the night before he shipped out: “C’mon Chlo, it’s for good luck!” Chloe had simply laughed at him but had taken him up on the idea.

It was then everything changed.

Four months into his nine-month tour, Chloe called her ex-husband to tell him that their ‘roll in the hay’ had left her pregnant. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been careful, but sometimes condoms didn’t work and birth control pills were missed, and people ended up pregnant. Chloe told Chicago that she wanted to keep the baby, and that she was only telling him because he deserved to know he had a kid, but she wasn’t going to hold him to any childcare needs if it’s not what he wanted. Chicago had shushed her fondly, told Chloe that of course he was going to help her raise their child, that even as her friend he would stand by her side through anything and that included helping to raise their kid. Chloe had cried a little, told him she loved him and that was that. They were raising a kid together.

The day he returned from his tour, Chicago headed straight for the hospital, skidding onto the maternity ward still in his fatigues as he asked where Chloe Beale was. The nurse had quickly and kindly escorted him to where Chloe was, and he had arrived to find her with her legs in the air.

“Well this is a very nice welcome home!” He chuckled, Chloe glaring at him as he sat beside her on the bed, taking his hand in hers.

“You’re such an ass.” She shook her head, but a smile tugged at her lips, “You made it back just in time, I’m impressed, you’ve been late for everything since the second grade.”

“Hey! That’s not true!” Chicago protested, “I was on time for our senior prom!”

“Only just!” Chloe scoffed, “And that’s because my dad threatened to kneecap you if you weren’t!”

Chicago’s laugh turned into a yelp of surprise as Chloe gripped his hand tightly, a contraction washing over her as she hissed.

“Alright Chloe, that’s nine centimeters! You’re ready to push now!” The midwife smiled warmly as she turned her attention briefly to Chicago, “Looks like you arrived just in time for the action dad!”

Chicago held Chloe’s hand tightly, pressing a soft kiss to her temple as Chloe pushed hard. She screeched loudly as she did, Chicago’s hand almost crushed in her grip. This was perhaps the most pain she had ever been in, but it was all going to be worth it.

“Chloe stop pushing for a moment.” The midwife’s face creased in concern.

“Wh-what is it?” Chloe frowned, sweating profusely as she looked to Chicago and then back to the midwife, “What’s going on?”

“It’s not anything to worry about, I just need to go and get the doctor okay?” The midwife smiled warmly, Chloe feeling her heart pound in her chest. She turned to Chicago, licking her dry lips as she began to panic.

“What’s happening? Why do they need the doctor?”

“I don’t know.” Chicago smiled softly as he kissed her head again, “But it means our kid is going to be in the best hands. It’ll be okay Chlo, you’ll see.”

The doctor joined them, quickly inspecting Chloe as she sat there, contractions still coming as she tried not to push. She hummed and hahed for a moment before smiling softly at Chloe.

“Okay Chloe, they’re a little misaligned, they’re trying to come out shoulder first which isn’t going to work. I need to turn them in situ, which is going to be uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to bear with me okay?”

“Okay…” Chloe whispered, tears slipping down her cheeks as Chicago squeezed her hand tighter still, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand, “They’re going to be okay right?”

“They should be.” The doctor nodded.

The doctor placed her hands on Chloe’s swollen stomach, Chloe whimpering in discomfort as the doctor tried to turn her baby to the correct position. The doctor frowned as she shook her head a little, Chloe on the verge of floods of tears at this point, frightened and in pain as Chicago stroked her hair and tried to soothe her.

“Alright Chloe, they’re not budging but because they’re only a little off center I can do an episiotomy rather than taking you in for a c-section, but it has to be now because baby is in distress.”

“I don’t- what does that mean?” Chloe sobbed, Chicago holding her tightly in his arms as he hushed her softly.

“It means I have to enlarge the opening so they can come out head and shoulder first. It’s going to really hurt, there isn’t time for an epidural.” The doctor had a sympathetic but urgent look on her face as Chloe bit her lip and nodded.

She screamed as the scalpel cut through her perineum, Chicago mumbling soft reassurances into her hair as her nails dug into his hand. He paid them no mind despite the pain, knowing that Chloe had it far worse right now.

“I know sweetie, I know.” The doctor sympathized, giving Chloe a kind smile, “We’re almost there, you need to push again now Chloe.”

“I can’t.” Chloe shook her head, tears pouring down her cheeks, “I can’t, it’s too much!”

“Yes you can.” Chicago helped Chloe sit forward a little until he was sat behind her, legs either side of her as he took both her hands in his, gripping them tight, “You’re Chloe Beale, you can do anything. Remember the time you wanted to audition for the school production of Rent and that bitch of a drama teacher told you that you didn’t have the pipes for Maureen?”

“He nearly fell off his chair when I sang Take Me Or Leave Me.” Chloe chuckled softly, leaning back against him as she bit her lip a little.

“Exactly. Now push Chloe, you’ve got this. I’m right here.” Chicago gripped her hands tightly as Chloe began to push with the little strength she had left.

She pushed hard, grunting and whimpering her way through each contraction as Chicago encouraged her on. It was the most painful experience of her life, sweat pouring down her forehead as she sobbed and pressed herself further into her best friend’s arms.

“Almost Chloe, almost!” The doctor encouraged her, smiling up at her as Chloe came to the end of another contraction, “One more big push okay?”

With a loud cry of pain Chloe pushed one more time, Chicago praising her as the doctor quickly cut the umbilical cord and their child cried for the first time. Chloe slumped against Chicago, panting with exhaustion as he grinned at her.

“You did it Chlo! I’m so proud of you!” He kissed her forehead again, hugging her gently as she winced, looking over at the doctor who was checking their baby over.

“Are they okay?” Chloe asked, frowning softly.

She is absolutely fine.” The doctor grinned as she brought their daughter over to Chicago and Chloe, “A perfectly healthy, seven-pound-four-ounce, beautiful baby girl.”

“A girl?” Chicago grinned, “I always wanted a little girl.”

“Can I hold her?” Chloe whispered, sniffing softly.

“Of course.” The doctor smiled warmly as she carefully settled the newborn in Chloe’s arms.

Chloe smiled down at her daughter, Chicago cooing at her as he felt his heart swell three sizes. That was his daughter…

“She’s so small…” He mumbled, gently stroking the top of her head as she seemed to gaze at her parents in wonder.

“She didn’t feel all that small on her way out.” Chloe grumbled, but there was no malice in it, her tone flat and exhausted, “She wasn’t hurt on her way out was she?”

“No. She’s perfectly healthy.” The doctor reassured her, “She just wanted to make an entrance that’s all!”

“Sounds like her mom.” Chicago chuckled, Chloe managing a tired smile as she sighed softly.

“Are you sure though? Why wasn’t she in the right position, did I do something wrong?” Chloe’s brow furrowed in concern.

“No Chloe.” The doctor smiled kindly as she sat next to Chloe on the bed, “These things just happen sometimes. You’ll need a couple of stitches, but otherwise you’ll both be absolutely fine.”

“Okay…” Chloe sounded a little unconvinced as she held her daughter closer, but she was too tired to argue anymore.

“Have you decided on a name?” The doctor asked.

“Emma.” Chloe smiled softly, turning her head to look at Chicago, “Right?”

“Right.” He nodded with a grin, kissing her head.

They brought Emma home from the hospital a day later, Chloe needing to stay in over night for observation just to make sure that she was okay after her episiotomy. Chicago noticed that Chloe wasn’t quite the same once they were home. He had been away for a little while, but Chloe called him once a week where she could and she had been her same old self. Yet once they were home, Chloe had been weepy and distant, barely leaving Emma’s side for more than a minute as she watched her like a hawk.

“Chlo?” Chicago frowned as he walked into the nursery at three am a week later, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Chloe mumbled, sat in the rocking chair by Emma’s cot as she watched her sleep, “I don’t think that baby monitor is any good, I thought she’d stopped breathing because it was too quiet… will you go and get a new one tomorrow?”

“The baby monitor is fine Chloe.” He smiled softly, “But I can get a spare one. Why don’t you come with me? You haven’t left the house since we got back from the hospital.”

“No.” Chloe shook her head, “I can’t leave her and she’s too young to go out there. She’ll get sick. You go.”

Chicago sighed softly as he ran his hand through his hair, squatting down next to Chloe, his face creased in concern, “Chloe… when was the last time you ate? Or slept longer than an hour? Or had a bath?”

Chloe sniffed a little as she shrugged, “I’m fine. Emma needs me right here.”

“I’ll watch her for a little while tomorrow, you’re going to take a bath, have a sandwich, and then take a nap.” Chicago insisted gently, giving Chloe’s hand a gentle squeeze.

Chloe sighed heavily, staring at her sleeping daughter for a tense moment.

“Okay.” She finally agreed.

Chicago was worried about Chloe. Really worried. He knew that Emma’s birth had been traumatic and that was bound to have a negative effect on Chloe’s psyche, but this? This was something more than that. To make matters worse, Chicago was due to ship out for a fourth tour in two days. Who was going to keep an eye on Chloe and Emma whilst he was on tour? Thankfully, there was an old army buddy he knew he could rely on.

Chloe tensed at the sound of the doorbell, holding her daughter tighter against her chest. Chicago sighed softly as he went to open it, greeting his old friend with a warm hug.

“Thanks for coming… I didn’t know who else to call.” Chicago mumbled, his friend embracing him tightly.

“Of course man. It’s the least I could do.”

“Come and meet Chloe and Emma.” He gestured for them to follow him, smiling softly at Chloe whose eyes darted between her friend and the stranger beside him.

“What’s going on? Who is she?” Chloe swallowed hard as she shifted in her chair, eyeing the stranger.

“Chloe this is Beca. She’s a friend of mine from the army.” Chicago’s tone was gentle as he pointed to Beca.

Beca waved awkwardly, an easy smile on her face as she offered her hand out to Chloe, “It’s really nice to meet you Chloe.”

“Hm.” Chloe narrowed her eyes a little, making no move to shake Beca’s hand as she looked back to Chicago, “What is she doing here?”

“She’s going to keep you company whilst I’m on tour, help out with groceries and such, y’know that sort of thing.” Chicago smiled warmly.

“So, you’ve got me a babysitter?” Chloe raised her eyebrow, “Not for Emma, but for me. Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course I do.” Chicago rested his hand on Chloe’s leg, “I just want to make sure you’ve got someone to lean on whilst I’m away, and this way you can focus on Emma.”

“Do you think I’m an idiot?” Chloe’s tone grew sharp as her nostrils flared.

“He doesn’t.” Beca smiled softly at Chloe, “Look, you’ll be doing me a favour. This is the first time I won’t be going out with my squad; I’ll need the company more than you or I’ll go mad.”

Chloe scowled at Beca before her gaze fell to Emma who was starting to fuss. She shushed her, rocking her gently as Emma grumbled.

“Sounds like someone needs changing.” Beca smirked a little, stepping forward a little, “Want me to do it so that you guys can talk?”

“Don’t touch her.” Chloe snapped, getting quickly to her feet, Emma held protectively to her chest, “I can change my daughter just fine thank you, I’m perfectly capable of doing anything I set my mind to!”

Beca held up her hands defensively, “Hey, it’s okay! I won’t do anything you don’t want me to. I’m here to help.”

“I don’t need your help!” Chloe snarled, Emma’s fussing getting louder and more frustrated, “Will you just get rid of her please?!” She turned to Chicago, irritation radiating from her.

Chicago sighed as Chloe left the room, turning to Beca, “See what I mean? I- I don’t know what to do Beca.”

“Have you called your doctor?” Beca asked, frowning softly as she ran her hand through her hair.

“Yeah… she recommended therapy, which is great in theory, but Chloe won’t go. She insists that she’s fine, and she’s not.” Chicago sank into a chair as he shook his head, “She’s my best friend, she’s the mother of my child for god’s sake, I just want to help her.”

“I know.” Beca gave his shoulder a gentle a squeeze, “I know dude. If you can convince her to let me come round to help out, I will be here every day, I promise.”

“Thanks Becs.” Chicago smiled softly.

Chloe entered the room again, still holding Emma tight to her chest as she fixed Beca with a pointed glare.

“What is she still doing here? I told you I didn’t need help.”

“Chlo…” Chicago sighed as he got to his feet, “Beca is just here to help out a little if you need it. It’d make me feel better if I knew there was someone here to help you.”

Chloe seemed to falter a little at this, biting her lip a little as she looked from Chicago to Beca again.

“I- She’s not moving in here.” Chloe shook her head.

“No problem.” Beca grinned, “I love my little apartment, I’m in no hurry to give it up.”

“You don’t hang around all day.” Chloe addressed Beca directly, jaw set, “Just a few hours. If I wanted a friend over I’d invite my own.”

Beca bit back a smirk as she nodded, “Got it. No new friends.”

“And it’s only till you get back. This is your last tour, I won’t have Beca hanging around indefinitely and I will not have you leaving me a single parent.” Chloe turned her attention back to Chicago again, tears slipping down her cheeks.

“You’ve got yourself a deal.” Chicago gently pulled Chloe into his arms, holding her and his daughter close, “I was going to retire after this tour anyway. I don’t want Emma to spend her childhood sat by the window wondering if I’m going to come home.”

“So what’d you say Chloe?” Beca smirked, hands in her pockets, “Can I come and help?”

Chloe swallowed hard as she pulled back from Chicago, surveying Beca coolly.

“Fine. But only because it’ll ease Chicago’s mind. I don’t need your help.”

“I know.” Beca chuckled, “I’m just here to keep myself busy.”

“Exactly.” Chloe scowled, Chicago moving ‘thank you’ over her shoulder.

Beca smiled at them both. This was going to be a long tour of duty for Chicago, but she would do anything for him after everything that had happened in Iraq. Besides, it wasn’t like this was the first time that Beca had looked after a mom struggling with postpartum depression.

“Alright. I’ll be back tomorrow morning to watch Emma whilst you drive Chicago to the airport.”

“No.” Chloe shook her head, “No, I’ll stay here with Emma. You- you can take Chicago to the airport.”

Chicago frowned softly but Beca nodded, giving him a reassuring smile, “No problem, do you need anything from the grocery store, I can pick it up on my way back?”

“Um… maybe some bread? I think…” Chloe was a little taken aback by Beca’s eagerness to help.

“Sure! How about you draw up a list tonight, I can grab it when I pick Chicago up.” Beca nodded, “Will you see me out?” She asked Chicago who nodded.

“Thanks Beca.” He sighed softly, “She won’t leave the house…”

“It happens.” Beca reassured him, a hand on his shoulder, “She’ll get there, she just needs time and patience, and someone to just help out a little with the things that are too much.”

“You’re a great friend Becs.” Chicago hugged her tightly, “I really owe you for this.”

“Dude after Iraq? This only just makes us even.” Beca chuckled, shaking her head a little as she pulled back and headed out of the door, “Oh five hundred tomorrow?”

“Yep.” Chicago nodded, “I am not going to miss that when this tour is done.”

“Trust me.” Beca grinned as she headed to her car, “You’ll still be getting up that early months later, it’s a habit.”

Chicago chuckled softly as he waved Beca off. At least Chloe would have her for the next eleven months, and then he could come back home and take care of his daughter and his oldest friend.

Eleven months. Chloe and Emma would be okay. They’d have Beca.

Everything would be fine.