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Never a Choice

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“Anthony!” Benedict shouts, running down the stairs.

Anthony bursts out of the carriage, knowing immediately what is happening. He needs to get to Kate.

“Make way!” Anthony shouts as he hurries past his brother before his arm is caught, “Let go. I have more important manners to attend to.”

“Anthony,” Benedict’s voice comes out softly, “You need to be ready for this. It is not good.”

Anthony pulls his arm out of Benedict’s grip and states, “I know what must be done.”

He continues into the house and towards his wife away from Benedict and Colin, who had come into town to get him once they learned that Kate was going into labor. There are many people in Aubrey Hall, but Anthony does not take notice of any of them. He knows where Kate is, and that is where he belongs.

When he enters, he finds Kate on the bed and immediately takes his place by her side. He grabs her hand and smooths back her hair. She is sweating and seems to be out of it, her eyes not open. Anthony looks up and locks eyes with his mother, who is on Kate’s other side.

She takes a steadying breath before saying, “You need to talk to the doctor, Anthony.”

He takes another long look at his wife, before brushing her hair back again, kissing her forehead, and whispering to her, “All will be right.”

As Anthony stands from the bed, the doctor is by his side, “May we speak in the hall, my lord?”

Anthony nods and follows the doctor to the doorway, so he is still able to see his wife. He asks, “How is she?”

The doctor crosses his arms, “If she does not wake up soon, we could lose both. I will do all I can to wake her again, but a choice may need to be made.”

A choice. Anthony knew this may happen. He had to go through the same with his mother. He had always envisioned Kate would be in the same position as his mother. Maybe a bit hysterical and in pain, but able to hold a conversation. They would talk it through together. Anthony knows what his decision is, but he had never had this conversation with Kate. He had always known he would convince her if need be, but now she is not awake to be convinced.

He should have been here earlier. He should not have left for town when she was so far along. Anthony should have been here every step of the way with Kate. He would have been able to keep her awake, perhaps. To save both of them and never have to live through this difficult choice.

When it had come to his mother, Anthony had not been able to make the choice. He hadn’t known what to do, and he had left it up to his mother. He wanted to talk to Kate, she would come in with her words of wisdom and tell him what she wanted. Anthony can not help but feel that whatever choice he makes will be the wrong one. He will live to regret either.

“Your lordship?” the doctor asks, “Do I need to elaborate?”

Anthony shakes his head and takes one last look at his wife before responding, “You will do everything in your power to save both, but if it comes down to it, you will save the Viscountess.”

“Yes, your lordship,” the doctor nods before reentering the room.

Anthony can not bring himself to reenter himself, standing in the doorway. He does not deserve to be a part of this, after he betrayed Kate. She should have been a part of this decision. Now she may have to wake up to her baby gone. Anthony would be the only one to blame. He alone made this decision, and he will gladly take on any of her anger or hatred for it, as well. There never was a choice for Anthony. It must be Kate.

Kate is the very air that Anthony breathes. She is the first one he looks for when he enters a room. Locking eyes with her across a crowded ball is his favorite part of the dreaded events. Spending his nights and mornings with Kate in their bed are the best parts of his day. It is all he can think about while balancing books. She consumes his every thought while they are apart.

He knows the fate that awaits him if Kate were to be gone. The same fate his mother had suffered after his father passed. Anthony would not be able to continue. He would not be able to continue to keep the house in order. Being the Viscount would be too much. Kate had made it all lighter, but with her gone, he would not continue on. He would never marry again, that he knows. Kate was his love match. She deserves to live a full life, and Anthony will do all in his power to ensure that she gets to.

“Anthony,” his mother says, “Come back, she needs you.”

Anthony wants to run. He understands now why Kate rejected his initial proposal. It is scary to be confronted with your choices, to have everything on the line. It would be easier to be anywhere else but here. Somehow, his feet make him take his place by Kate’s side.

“My love,” Anthony says, “Please awaken. Please.” It is all he wants in the world right now. He wants to see her eyes. He wants to stare deeply into them and simply know everything she is feeling. Her eyes hold the key to her heart, and Anthony feels blocked off from both. He has never felt further away from her. He has always been able to know her thoughts, her fears, and her desires, but now he feels like he knows nothing. He has no idea how she must feel. If she is terrified, tired, or lonely.

“I am here,” he says, “I will not leave your side until you are well.”

Anthony keeps his promise to his wife. He does not leave her side until she awakens. Even though he would rather not face the consequences of his choice, he must be the one to tell her.

As she begins to stir, Anthony straightens.

“Kate,” Anthony says softly, “would you like to open your eyes for me, dearest?”

“Hmm,” Kate says as she turns her head.

Anthony brings his hand up to her face and brushes the back of it against her face as he says, “Kate, are you ready to wake?”

Her eyes flutter open and instantly find his, as if there is some sort of pull between them. She smiles and hums, “Anthony.”

“I am here,” he says, “I am here.”

She breathes deeply and says, “I was worried you would miss it.”

Tears want to work their way into his eyes, but he will not let them. Not yet, he must not yet.

“I would never miss it, I will always be there for you, you know that.”

Kate smiles, grabs his hand, and says, “I know.”

Her smile begins to fade as she notices they are the only two in the room.

“Did I sleep through it all? What has happened? Was I not ready to give birth yet?” Kate asks as she tries to sit up.

Anthony holds her down and says, “Kate, we have much to discuss.”

Her head shakes, “Anthony, I do not know what you mean.”

She should know what he means. Maybe she does not wish to believe it. Maybe she does not think this is the choice he would have made. She may think that he was a stronger man than this, that he would be able to make the right choice, but he was not.

Anthony takes a breath and replies, “There was a complication.”

“No,” Kate whispers. As if she can make it so. If only she chooses not to believe it, it will not be true.

Anthony squeezes her hand in his and says, “It did not go as we had wished.”

Kate withdraws her hand from his, cradling it to her chest. “Please, Anthony. No more riddles, tell me what happened.”

He looks out the window before his gaze drops to the bed, “The baby is gone, Kate. When you would not wake up,” he pauses before finally saying, “If we did not do something, neither of you would have made it.”

A sharp inhale from his wife has his head whipping up to meet her gaze. Her eyes are watering as she says, “It is my fault. I should have been stronger.”

“No,” Anthony says quickly, “This is not on you.”

“It is,” Kate sobs, “I should have been able to keep us both safe. It is my fault the baby is gone.”

“I can not let you believe that,” Anthony says, “because it is not the truth. I was not here. I should have been here with you. There is so much we should have talked about previously, but I thought we would not need it. I am the reason the baby is gone, not you. Do not put this on yourself, Kate. It is all my fault.”

Kate shakes her head and repeats, “It is my fault.”

She does not hear him. Anthony grabs her hand and brings it to his chest, allowing her to feel his steady heartbeat. He uses the same tactic she did to calm him that day in the garden. He takes hold of her other hand and rests it over her bosom.

He takes deep breaths and says, “I need you to hear me, Kate. It is my fault and my fault alone. I do not blame you at all. You are of no fault. There is nothing you could have done.

She shakes her head, “I should have- I could have-”

“Kate,” he cuts her off, “It was my decision.”

Kate’s sobbing slows as she stares at him.

“What?” She asks quietly, “What do you mean?”

Anthony takes a deep breath before speaking, “The doctor asked me to make a choice. If he could only save one. It was between you and the baby, it was my choice. It is my fault, not yours.”

Kate pulls her hands away and asks, “Why?”

“Why?” Anthony repeats. He thought it was obvious, that it would have been obvious to her. Ever since she agreed to marry him, he has never withheld any affection from her. She knows how much she means to him.

“Yes,” Kate says, “That is why you married, because you needed children.”

Anthony straightens up, “Kate-” he begins, but unsure how to continue.

The tears make their way back to Kate’s eyes, “You needed to marry to have kids. I know that I was not the perfect Viscountess that you were wishing for, but I knew that I could give you the kids you desired. So why am I still here?”

Anthony stands up and takes a few steps away from his wife and runs his hands through his hair. This can not be happening. He quickly turns around and takes the few steps back to his wife’s bed, but he does not sit down beside it.

“Kate,” he says, “That is not why I married you, you know that, do you not?”

Kate looks away and says, “I know, but it is something you have always wanted.”

“Yes,” Anthony admits, “but I do not want it if I can not have it with you.”

Kate looks back at Anthony with confusion in her eyes, so he continues, “You are not what I had planned, but you are so much more. You have given me a new look at life. You may not be the Viscountess I had imagined, but you are the love I have always desired.”

He reclaims his spot by her side and tucks her hair behind her ear, “I love you, Kate. When you love something, you protect it at all costs. I would have loved our baby, but I love you, now. I am sorry we did not get to discuss it, but there was never a doubt in my mind which choice I would make.”

Kate grabs Anthony’s hand by her face and says, “I am sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for, it is I who must apologize,” Anthony says, “I am sorry. We should have talked about this before, but I am not angry with you. I am not disappointed in you, I only worry for you.”

His hands hold her face and wipe away the fresh tears as they fall.

Kate takes a shaky breath and asks, “Was it a girl or a boy?”

Anthony is taken aback by the question but tries not to let it show.

“A boy.”

“A son,” she clarifies.

He shakes his head, “None of that matters. Kate, you matter the most to me. We can have more if that is what we decide together, but it is not a requirement. That was never why I married you.”

“What if I can not have any more after the operation?” she asks shakily, “I know you want kids.”

“I do,” he answers honestly, “but I need you, Kate.”

Neither speaks for a moment before Anthony says, “I need to know that you understand me, Kate.”

Kate looks into his eyes, and Anthony can see everything she is feeling. Loss, grief, sorrow, disappointment, and a bit of fear.

“Kate, I love you, and you are all I ever needed,” Anthony says.

Kate smiles and says, “It still hurts.”

“I know,” Anthony says as he pulls her in for a hug, “I know.”

“What are we to do with the nursery?” Kate asks into his shoulder.

Anthony rubs her back and says, “I do not want you to worry about any of that, I will have it all taken care of. You need to get better. The doctor said it could take months until you are back to your full strength. You focus on healing, and you need not worry about anything else.”

“I have duties, as Viscountess,” Kate argues.

“I will take care of it, and my mother and sisters are here to help.”

Kate says nothing else but just begins to sob in his arms. Anthony holds her tight and allows her to let it all out. She mumbles incoherent things as Anthony shushes her until eventually, she falls asleep in his arms. He lays her down on the bed and stands up. He calls for a servant to watch over her while he returns to their bed chambers.

He finally changes out of his clothes and into his sleepwear. He wants to crawl into bed, forget everything, and get a long night's sleep, but he knows he will not be able. When he returns to Kate’s room, he sends the servant away and closes the door. He brings a chair to her bedside and sits down, relaxing his head on the back.

His hand finds hers and he holds it as he closes his eyes. How he wishes to share the bed with his wife, but the doctor had said not to jostle her too much, and he does not wish to bring her any more pain. He rubs circles on the back of her hand until the sun comes up.

A week later, a morning fog has set over the grounds. Anthony knocks on the door to their bedroom before entering. He finds Kate up and staring out the window. He enters and asks, “Are you ready?”

She turns and nods. He offers her his arm, which she takes as they slowly make their way outside. Anthony takes it slow, as Kate has not been walking around much, and has not made it outside of their chambers ever since she was moved there six days ago.

“If you are not ready,” Anthony says before they begin their descent down the steps.

“I do not know if I will ever be ready,” Kate admits as her grip tightens on Anthony’s arm, “but I need this.”

He nods as they make their way down the stairs and outside past the garden. Now, it is difficult for him to visit this place for an additional reason. His father’s memorial now has a smaller stone beside it that reads, Baby Bridgerton, you would have been so loved. 1815.

Kate pauses as her eyes settle on it and she draws in a sharp breath.

She lets go of Anthony and takes a few steps closer, before dropping to her knees. Anthony rushes to her side to keep her steady as she touches the stone softly and inspects the flowers.

Her hands trace the engravement as she says, “It is beautiful.”

Anthony nods in agreement and says, “We thought it best to keep it simple.”

“I love it,” Kate says, “I wish it was not needed.”

“Me as well,” Anthony says.

Kate admires it and does not let her eyes off of it as she asks, “Do you regret it?”

Anthony stiffens beside her, but Kate does not pay him any attention.

“I wish there was a different outcome, but I would not change my decision,” he says with all the sureness in his heart.

Kate nods like that was the answer she was expecting. Anthony asks, “Do you?”

Her lips pull together before she responds, “I too, wish for a different outcome. I wake every morning hoping to find myself in one. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were gone, but I know in my heart that I can not leave you.”

Anthony’s hand finds hers and gives her a reassuring squeeze, “I thank you for that.”

Her head falls against his shoulder and she says, “You must promise the same, to never leave me.”

He knows he can not possibly promise that. Life is so fragile. His father had died so suddenly. Something as simple as a bee could end him, and Anthony would not even see it coming. However, he can not deny his wife any comfort.

“I am with you, always,” he promises, and he intends to do everything in his power to keep it. He owes her that, after what she has done for him, what she has gone through for him. Anthony will always be there for Kate, and there is no other way that he would prefer it.

“Good,” Kate responds, “but I will hold onto you tight, just in case.”

Anthony pulls Kate even closer and says, “I will do the same.”

Kate takes a deep breath and says, “Do you think this is all we will get?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Anthony asks.

“Do you think we will have any more kids?” Kate elaborates, staring at the stone.

Anthony rubs up and down her arm and says, “If we decide to have more, I think we will be able. If we are not, then that is just as fine.”

They remain in silence until Anthony asks, “Do you want more?”

Kate nods and says, “I wish for more, but I am not near ready yet. I need time.”

“You shall have as much as you need,” Anthony assures, “I am happy as I am, with you.”

“Good,” Kate responds, “I was worried your feelings for me would change after the events of the last few days.”

“Never,” Anthony responds instantly, “They have never wavered since I raced you, and they never shall. It is something that I simply know in my heart, I love you, Kathani Bridgerton. Nothing will ever change the way I feel for you.”