Chapter 1: Jack's New Hat
"Well?" asked Jack as he opened the box, "How do you like it ?"
Carly peered over his shoulder. She supposed that it was a hat, but only in the broadest sense of the word. It was huge, covered in black sequins, and was decorated with a white feather so big that it would probably go almost all the way to Jack's shoulder once he put it on.
"It's for the benefit dinner next week," Jack continued. "You know, the one for the twentieth anniversary of Zero Reverse? If I do this right, everyone will know about me! I can just feel it!"
He paused, then said, "You still haven't said what you thought about it."
Carly, while trying to keep a straight face, answered, "I think you forgot the glove."
"Really? I wasn't planning to wear gloves, but..." Jack trailed off as he realized just what Carly had said.
"Oh, very funny, Carly," he said sarcastically as he pretended to aim a swat to her head with the hat box. Carly squealed and ducked, even though she knew he wouldn't really hurt her.
"And by the way," Jack informed her, "This is a cowboy hat, not a fedora." He crossed his arms, looking very smug that he'd gotten the last word.
Chapter 2: Not-so-happy Reunion
These ficlets are out of chronological order, so I'll post when each of them takes place. This one takes place in October 2031 (the first one took place in late February of the same year).
Carly had been looking forward to this day for so long…the day she could see her mother again. Mrs. Nagisa had given Carly up to foster care when the latter was five; old enough to remember the whole painful incident. But that was in the past now…almost two decades ago! People can change, right? She was more than ready to forgive her mom, especially since she now had a baby daughter of her own.
It had taken a while, but Carly had hired a private detective and had been able to track her mother down. They had arranged to meet at Carly and Jack's apartment in New York. Unfortunately, Jack was smack in the middle of a busy pro-league schedule, so he couldn't be there. More than one time during the visit, Carly fervently wished that he had been around to give her some support. This reunion was not at all like she had hoped.
"Well, I have to say that you're more clever than I thought you'd turn out," Mrs. Nagisa stated as they sat in the living room. "Not only did you sink your claws into Jack Atlas of all men, you pumped out a kid before he could get tired of you." Despite Carly's horrified gasp, she plowed on, "So now when you split up, he'll have to pay you big money."
"N-no, Mom! It's not like that at all! We're in love!" Carly sputtered as she instinctively hugged baby Erika closer to her.
Her mother shook her head and replied, "Honey, there ain't no such thing as love."
She hasn't changed a bit after all, Carly thought in dismay.
Chapter 3: Cosmopolitan
Takes place in the spring of 2032.
"This can't be right..." Carly muttered as she looked at the e-mail.
"What's not right?" Jack asked quite sleepily from the couch that he was lying on.
"This...this says that Cosmopolitan wants me to be on their cover! They're doing a feature article about female celebrities who have kids for Mother's Day. Maybe they're thinking of another Carly...yeah, that's probably it..."
"And how do you know that?"
"Jaaackkk, quit teasing me! They don't just ask boring people like me to be on a magazine like that! They only want the really sexy ladies."
Jack raised an eyebrow, and what he said next make Carly squeak and blush so hard that she thought her face would start to melt.
"And...your point is...?"
Chapter 4: Manners
A bit of a timeskip...takes place late October 2034.
"Damn it, Carly, what's taking so long? I need you now!"
Carly sighed and paused in brushing her hair. She did understand Jack's impatience. They hadn't seen each other in person for nearly four months; now that Jack was finally the undisputed King of Riding Duels, his workload had doubled. Carly didn't complain. This had been part of the deal that they'd made when Jack had finally relented and let her live with him. She had told herself that she would probably have to tolerate the occasional affair while Jack was away, but surprisingly he seemed to be adhering to a monogamous relationship. This inevitably led to him jumping Carly at the first possible opportunity when they were finally reunited.
Normally, she didn't mind this...she wanted him too. But she wished that he would at least let her have a few minutes in the bathroom so she could make herself look nice for him.
"OI! CARLY! Did you hear me?"
If only there was a way to shut him up so she could get ready in peace...then Carly grinned wickedly as she thought of something.
She opened the bathroom door and stuck her head out.
"You're being pretty rude, Jack," she pointed out.
"You wouldn't let Erika talk to me like that, would you?"
"No, but...what's that got to do with anything?"
Carly had him just where she wanted him.
"Well, while you've been gone, the nurses and I have been starting to teach Erika manners," she said slyly. "And do you know what the punishment is when she acts out?"
"What is it?" Jack asked warily.
"She goes to timeout. She has to sit and face the wall for five minutes. And if she talks before the time is up, it starts all over again."
It took Jack a few seconds to comprehend what Carly was getting at.
"You cannot be serious," he muttered.
"I'm very serious," replied Carly, who was putting a great deal of effort into maintaining an appropriately serious expression. "You were rude, and now you have to face the consequences!"
Jack grumbled and complained, but he obediently turned to face the wall. Carly knew that deep down he was enjoying this game as much as she was. Otherwise, he would never have complied.
She was very appreciative of the quiet of the next five minutes. It was much easier to apply her makeup when Jack wasn't constantly yelling at her. She kept a careful watch on the clock so she'd know exactly when the five minutes were up.
Right on time, Carly announced, "Timeout is over!" as she walked out of the bathroom.
Jack looked away from the wall, only to have his eyes nearly pop out of his head. Carly was wearing nothing but a sheer bathrobe. Once Jack got over the shock, his gaze scanned her body hungrily. He stared for a particularly long time at her belly, where the little souvenir of the night Jack reclaimed his title was beginning to show.
As Carly approached the bed, Jack couldn't help whimpering as he reached out to her. But Carly paused out of range of his arm and shook her head.
"You know what else we've been teaching Erika? That people will only want to do things for her if she says the magic word."
"Oh, come on!" Jack groaned. Carly just stood there smirking at him. He was perfectly capable of walking over and making Carly go over to the bed, but she knew he wouldn't do that.
After a few moments of silence, Jack ground out an inaudible word through his teeth.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I couldn't understand you. Can you speak up?" Carly asked in a sugary-sweet voice.
"Please!" Jack repeated in a loud voice that bordered on a whine. He must have been really desperate by now. Good...maybe in the future he'd think twice about being so impatient.
"Well, since you asked so nicely...okay!" beamed Carly.
Some time later, the two of them collapsed on the bed from exhaustion.
After taking a few minutes to catch her breath, Carly asked Jack, "Feel better now?"
"Mm-hm," Jack muttered.
"See what happens when you just have some manners?"
All Jack could manage in reply was a "Hmph."
Chapter 5: Nightmares
No specific date for this...but it's in the early part of their relationship.
Jack still had nightmares about his time as a so-called King. Over and over, the same images and sensations flashed before him. The feeling of constantly being watched, even when he was in the bathroom. The frustration that came from never being allowed to anything that he wanted to do. And always...always...those awful hands running over his body in the darkness.
Then he'd wake himself up with his shouting, and Carly's smaller and much more welcome hands would stroke his hair. She'd hug him and reassure him that everything was okay, until he was able to calm down and go back to sleep.
He could never quite bring himself to tell her what the nightmares were about. Not yet. Maybe some day.
Chapter 6: Breaking Tradition
Takes place in the spring of 2031.
After much thought, Carly decided to keep her maiden name after marrying Jack. Her career was just starting to take off due to her popular weekly column about life in America, and she didn't want to have to rely on Jack's name for prestige. She was determined to make it on her own.
The media back in Japan was continuing to keep tabs on them even though they were halfway across the world, so Carly knew that some eyebrows were being raised over this decision. It wasn't so much the name-keeping in and of itself as it was the fact that she continued to pursue her career at all. Granted, it was easier for her to do this since they could afford a full-time nurse for the baby...but even well-off Japanese women were expected to give up their jobs and stay home with the kids.
One time she had asked Jack if he was okay with her going against tradition like that. All he'd done was make a dismissive motion with his hand and snap, "Look, if I'd wanted a boring and proper 'Mrs. Jack Atlas', I'd have married Mikage. Got it? Good." Neither of them brought up the subject again.
Chapter 7: Threats
Takes place in February of 2032.
"I'm home!" Jack shouted unnecessarily loudly as he clomped into the apartment. Despite all the commotion, Carly didn't move from where she was standing.
"Remind me never to go on a daytime talk show again," he groused, "Because that was seriously..."
He abruptly cut himself off as he walked into the kitchen and saw Carly frozen in place, unable to take her eyes off the piece of paper that she grasped.
"You okay, Carly?" Jack asked worriedly. This seemed to snap Carly out of her trance.
"It's nothing," she muttered.
"It's one of those letters again, isn't it?"
"I told you Jack, it's not important..."
"Gimme that!" Jack shouted. Then, not waiting for a response, he snatched the paper out of Carly's hand. On the paper, letters cut from various magazines had been arranged to form the words "DIE BITCH!"
"That. Is. IT!" he raged, his voice in full-on Atlas Bellow mode, "I have had it up to HERE with this bullshit! No one...I repeat NO ONE...is going to threaten my woman and get away with it!"
Carly tried her best to calm him down.
"Jack, please. It's probably just a jealous fourteen-year-old girl who doesn't know any better. I was one myself not too long ago; I know how they think..."
"Now don't make excuses! It doesn't matter if it was a two-year-old...whoever did this must be caught!" Jack interrupted. "Don't worry, I'm going to get this all sorted out right now!"
He put the letter, and the envelope it came in for good measure, in his coat pocket and stormed back toward the foyer.
"Just don't do anything..."
The front door slammed.
"...stupid," Carly finished lamely.
Chapter 8: Celebrating
The earliest one so far...takes place on December 21st, 2030. Also one of the most fun chapters for me to write!
"We need to talk."
When Jack heard those dreaded words, he froze like a deer caught in the headlights. Obviously, he was trying to figure out what he had done wrong. When Carly gestured at Jack to sit in a chair facing her, he did so without question so he wouldn't get into further trouble.
Carly took a deep breath. How was she supposed to lead up to news like this?
Finally, she said meekly, "Uh, Jack, I know we've only been living together a couple of months, but..."
"You want to leave already?" Jack butted in. "I mean, fine, I'll let you go, but I told you I was going to be busy most of the time."
"No, of course not!" Carly cried indignantly. She decided that she'd just have to break the news now, or else Jack would keep interrupting her.
"So...um..." she started, and then squeezed her eyes shut and said, "I'm pregnant."
Silence. Carly cautiously opened one eye and saw that Jack's facial expression hadn't changed. She hadn't quite been sure what his reaction would be, but she'd thought it would be more than this.
When he did speak, he asked a rather odd question.
"How do you know?"
"I got a test from the drugstore," answered Carly, trying to keep her voice level. That trip had been a chore in and of itself. She didn't know much English yet, so she'd communicated mainly through hand gestures. And thinking up gestures to ask where the pregnancy tests were had been rather humiliating.
"But you haven't been puking in the mornings. So how did you know to get the test in the first place? Are you psychic or something?"
Carly blushed. Was he making fun of her?
"There are signs other than morning sickness, you know," she mumbled.
He looked completely serious. Carly turned even redder. Was sex ed in Satellite really that lacking? Well, she wasn't about to lecture him on the female reproductive cycle.
"L-look it up on the Internet, okay?" she managed to say.
Now came the difficult part.
"So Jack...um...I thought about this, and I decided I want to keep it."
There was no response from Jack. His face was still unreadable. Then, without saying a word, Jack calmly got up from his seat and walked to the door.
"Hey, where are you going? We're not finished talking yet!" Carly sputtered. Jack ignored her and walked out of the apartment.
What was going on? Was he so angry that he was just leaving her? No, he couldn't be doing that...he hadn't taken any of his stuff with him. Maybe he just needed to go on a walk and think things over...
Wait, that sounded like Jack's voice. What could he be up to?
Carly ran over to the window. She could see Jack on the sidewalk. Somehow, he had already made it down ten floors and outside, without even bothering to put a warm coat on in the December weather. She buried her face in her hand as she realized what he was doing.
"HEY EVERYONE!" Jack was shouting-Carly could hear him even all the way up here. "MY GIRLFRIEND IS HAVING A BABY! MY BABY! SO YOU SHOULD ALL BE CONGRATULATING US!"
He ran into the street, but realized his mistake when a taxicab nearly hit him and several dozen cars honked in unison.
By the time Carly made her way down there, Jack was still yelling at full volume and had attracted a large crowd of gawkers. Most of them had been doing their holiday shopping, but found this to be much more interesting.
"What the hell kind of language is that?" asked one of the spectators.
"I dunno...maybe Japanese?" opined his companion.
Elsewhere in the crowd, someone asked nobody in particular, "Hey, wasn't that guy in the Sports section of the Times recently?"
Carly, meanwhile, had walked up to Jack.
"What are you doing?" she shrieked.
"CELEBRATING! What does it look like?" he answered without really registering who was speaking to him. Then he did a double take.
"Oh. Hi, Carly," he said, as if only just now understanding the situation.
"I think we should go inside now," Carly hinted. She grabbed Jack's forearm and started walking back toward the lobby doors. She managed to say, "Sorry!" in reasonably comprehensible English to the onlookers.
So much for keeping this to themselves. It would probably go viral in a matter of hours, and sooner or later someone who understood Japanese would be able to decipher it.
Oh well. At least she knew that Jack was okay with the idea of becoming a father. Maybe later, they could have their own, private celebration.
Chapter 9: Shopping
Takes place early December 2034. I truly think that Jack had a problem with compulsive shopping even in canon.
Carly was beginning to become concerned about Jack's spending habits. He'd come home for the off-season bearing several suitcases' worth of presents for her and Erika. He was likely to go even more overboard for Christmas in a few weeks. And, of course, there was the stuff he bought for himself. It seemed like every other day, there was a new car in the parking garage, or a whole set of clothing in Jack's closet that Carly had never seen before.
Finally, she decided to bring up the subject early one morning when they were at the table with their coffee (well, orange juice for Carly, since caffeine was a no-no in her current condition). As she suspected, he tried to brush her worries away.
In his best attempt at a reassuring tone, he said, "Carly, we're always going to have plenty of money. Hey, just last year I signed that endorsement deal with Pepsi...you know that! And you know what it's worth, too."
"250 million dollars over eight years," Carly intoned obediently, "Of course I know. But I keep reading about all sorts of celebrities who go into debt even with that kind of money! And we have the new baby coming in a few months, plus we're planning to move back to Japan some time next year...I'd feel better we put ourselves on a budget this Christmas."
"Okay, I'll think about it," Jack muttered.
Later, Carly would realize that it probably would have been better if she'd stopped here, but she felt the need to press on.
"Jack, we'll still love you even if you can't buy us any presents at all. You do realize that, right?"
Jack looked offended.
"What the hell, Carly, you think I'm trying to bribe you or something? I happen to like shopping. It makes me feel happy."
Uh-oh. Carly had been afraid of that.
"You should see someone about this," she urged.
"Like...a doctor, maybe. Someone who can help you sort it all out."
"You mean a shrink? Nonsense! Jack Atlas does not need a shrink. I can take care of things perfectly fine by myself!"
Jack buried his face in the newspaper and turned his chair away to emphasize this.
Carly stopped for now, but she'd never been one to give up on a project. Obviously, she'd have to try this again later. Probably more than once. How many tries would it take before Jack realized he couldn't keep ignoring this?
Chapter 10: Painting
Takes place April 2031.
Jack and Carly were in the midst of moving into their new Upper East Side apartment. It had two bedrooms, so there would be enough space for the baby. Right now, after everything was finally unpacked, they had set about the business of making this place their own.
"Jack, which one of these do you think would be best?" Carly asked while brandishing a sheet of paint color samples.
Jack glanced at it.
"These are all pink," he said bluntly.
"I know! So do you think one of these darker rose shades would look better, or one of the pastels?"
"Carly, we are not painting our bedroom goddamn pink!" roared Jack, "We need manly colors. Like white! And...uh...more white!"
Carly's eyes filled with tears.
"Jaaccckk, you're so mean! Here I am, carrying your child and you won't even let me choose one measly paint color!"
Jack started to panic. Was it really that easy to upset a pregnant woman? He didn't want to risk her health!
"Okay okay, it can be pink! Just don't cry!" he shouted.
"Oh, thank you! I love you so much!" Carly gushed. She ran over to hug him, but in the process of doing so she flashed a mischievous smile behind his back.
Jack was so pathetically easy to manipulate.
Chapter 11: Cheesecake
Takes place around August 8, 2031.
Carly hadn't realized it was possible to feel so miserable when technically she wasn't even sick. Sure, she thought she'd be fine being by herself during the Pro League season. But if she'd known that she'd have to be by herself during the hottest part of summer while 8 ½ months pregnant, she might have reconsidered.
Her head hurt. So did her back and legs and feet. A lot of the time she had heartburn. She had to constantly make trips to the bathroom to pee, yet always seemed to be plugged-up the "other way".
If it weren't for the occasional kicking and squirming, Carly may have started to believe that she was carrying a solid sphere of concrete instead of a baby. Her doctor said that these problems were all normal, (although probably exacerbated by Carly's small stature) and he didn't think there would be any serious complications. Apparently, all this stuff wasn't serious enough already!
Perhaps most bizarrely of all, Carly had a voracious craving for any food that contained cheese. Fortunately, this was America, where people put the stuff on just about everything, and she didn't share Jack's lactose intolerance. One time last week, she'd eaten almost a whole block of sharp Cheddar like a candy bar before she'd been able to stop herself, even though she knew full well that this would just add to her digestive woes.
The one exception to this craving was pepperjack cheese, which she'd tried once and couldn't stand.
When Jack was here, he alternated between teasing Carly about her eating habits and scolding her for not following a properly balanced diet. But right now, he was all the way in South Africa, at a tournament in Johannesburg. Or maybe it was Cape Town...Carly always had trouble telling those two cities apart.
Currently, Carly was spending a boring and scorchingly-hot afternoon on the sofa, working on her latest article. She was just about to put it aside to take a nap when someone knocked on the door.
Now who could that be? Jack wasn't going to return home for another three days. She threw a robe on over her skimpy summer pajamas and went to see who was there.
"Delivery from Junior's!" said the man on the other side of the door as soon as Carly opened it. All she could do was look at him blankly while trying to puzzle out what he'd said.
"You're Carly Nagisa, right?" the man pressed on.
"Yes," Carly answered, feeling quite proud that she hadn't slipped up and said "Hai" by mistake.
"Then this is for you," the guy said slowly; he'd probably caught on that she didn't understand much English. He handed over a rather heavy red-and-white striped box. Carly carefully signed her name in English on the receipt form.
"Thank you!" she said, then grimaced as she closed the door. She still couldn't get that "th" sound quite right.
She set the box on the kitchen counter, and then noticed that there was a note taped to the top. It was in Jack's handwriting.
Carly: This company says its stuff is world-famous. Since I don't want to risk eating any myself, it's your job to try it and report back to me whether it deserves that title or not. If the delivery people don't screw everything up, this should get to you while I'm away.
P.S. Don't eat all of this in one sitting.
P.P.P.S. I mean it.
Carly opened the box, and squealed when she saw a whole cheesecake in there.
When had Jack had the time to arrange this without her knowing about it? She kept thinking she had the guy figured out, then he'd do something completely out-of-the-blue like this. It wasn't quite as nice as Jack being here in person, but it was a reasonable substitute for the moment.
She felt quite a bit more cheerful than she had before. Now...the only problem was how she could manage to follow Jack's orders and not eat too much at once.
Chapter 12: Airport Adventures
Takes place August 16, 2031.
Jack confidently eyed the obstacle course ahead of him. It was a long path, but straight as well. Now...if only all these people would get out of his way and let him have a clear shot at this. After being forced to wait in that interminable line, he refused to be held up any longer.
There was only one thing he could do. He took a deep breath, lowered his head, and ran out into the airport concourse yelling "CHAAARRRRRGGGGEEEEEE!" in only slightly-accented English.
Thankfully, most of the people stopped dead in their tracks to look at this spectacle. The ones that were foolish enough to keep walking in his path were instantly mowed down by Jack.
"HEY! Watch it, asshole!" shouted one of these unfortunate victims; a middle-aged businessman.
"Is your wife in labor?" Jack stopped long enough to ask.
"THEN YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN! GOOD DAY, SIR!" Jack shouted in his best "Jack voice".
He'd been in Los Angeles for the Riding Ace American All-Star weekend. He'd thought it would be safe, since the baby wasn't due for almost another week. But Jack had just finished the first round of activities this morning when an assistant handed him his cell phone with a frantic Carly on the line. She'd been trying to reach someone for three hours.
He'd told her to go next door and ask the neighbors to take her to the hospital (good thing he'd talked about this to them beforehand...just in case). Then he'd been all set to rush to the airport still wearing his sweaty riding suit. However, Jack's teammates had persuaded him to at least take a shower and change his clothes first.
He knew there would be repercussions for bolting in the middle of the weekend, but right now pissing off the fanbase was very low on Jack's list of worries.
There was no easy way he could call Carly back, since cell phone use was forbidden in hospitals. He'd bought a ticket for the first flight he could find, even swallowing his dignity and buying a coach seat.
He finally reached the gate, only to realize that the flight wasn't leaving for another hour-and-a-half. Why couldn't these morons just get more airplanes or something?
So all he could do now was wait, and try not to worry about what would happen if he didn't get there in time. And then...the time arrived...but the person at the desk announced that there would be a delay of another hour!
If Jack had had his deck with him, he'd probably be in Burning Soul mode now. He blindly dashed into the crowd and grabbed the arm of the first airport employee he could find.
"WHAT'S TAKING SO LONG?" he demanded.
"Dude, you're on an American Airlines flight," said the employee as he checked Jack's boarding pass, "I work for Delta...I don't know anything about this."
"I DON'T WANT ANY OF YOUR LAME EXCUSES!" Jack raged.
"Sir, if you don't calm down, I'll have to call Security."
Jack was about to fire back a retort when he heard a clicking sound. Someone had their cell phone out and was taking pictures of him!
Then someone else cried out, "Hey! It's that Crazy Hat Guy!" and pandemonium erupted. Everyone was digging in their bags for their phones, to get pictures or video of this occasion.
Is that really all that people remembered about him...his fashion choices? Idiots. When he was King, they'd realize their mistake.
Jack sighed and finally went back to the gate. He'd heard that first babies took a long time to be born, but how long was "long"? Carly had said that the pains had begun around 8 AM her time, and now it was close to 3 PM here...so it would be 6 PM in New York time!
He was startled out of his thoughts by the long-awaited announcement that boarding was going to start now.
Hold on, Carly... he silently urged as he walked onto the plane.
Chapter 13: At the Hospital
Takes place August 17th, 2031.
By the time Jack landed in New York, disembarked from the plane, and found his way out of the airport, it was past midnight. He'd been in such a rush, he hadn't brought any luggage, so he'd been forced to spend the nearly six-hour flight flipping through the boring magazines and wondering why they couldn't make the plane go faster.
Then it took another hour for the taxi to get to the hospital. Honestly...how was it possible for there to be so much traffic so late at night? When they finally got there, Jack paid the fare (which was ridiculously expensive, but he barely even noticed), threw open the door, and ran full-speed into the hospital.
"WHERE'S CARLY?" he screamed in the general direction of the help desk. The receptionist hardly even batted an eyelash (well, this was New York, after all).
"Sir, you will have to wait your turn like everyone else," she ordered. Damn it...not another line! Fortunately, there were only a couple of people ahead of him, but by the time his wait was over, he was pretty sure that steam was rising from his ears.
"I...take it you're looking for somebody?" she asked. For once, Jack had the good sense to be slightly ashamed.
"Yes, my wife, Carly Nagisa," he said in more civilized tones. "She's having a baby. Where is she?"
The receptionist checked her computer, much too slowly for Jack's liking, and gave him directions. He started running again...until he saw the huge "NO RUNNING" sign on the wall. As much as he hated to admit it, getting into trouble would probably take up even more time than plain walking would.
By the time he reached the maternity ward, he was a nervous wreck. If something bad had happened and he hadn't been there for Carly...he would never, ever be able to forgive himself.
He found the right door and double-checked the number to make sure. All right...this was the moment of truth. He swallowed and knocked on the door.
The good news was, Carly was alive, and the baby hadn't come yet. But she looked like she'd been through Hell.
"Jack...?" she whispered in a hoarse voice, while turning her tear-swollen face toward him.
He felt absolutely terrible. He should never have let her move to America. He had pushed her away before because he didn't want her to get hurt again...and that was just what had happened anyway.
"What's going on here?" he growled at the nurses. He was not happy to find out that they had hooked her up to an IV drip of something called "Pitocin". They claimed that her labor had stalled, so this would help things along. However, there was one problem with this.
"Carly is scared of needles," he informed them.
"Well, yes, we sort of figured that out," answered the older of the two. "But we explained it to her until she understood. It's routine procedure."
"ROUTINE MY ASS!" Jack exploded, equally enraged and relieved that it wasn't all his fault. "I AM GOING TO FIND SOMEONE...RIGHT NOW...AND TELL THEM THAT YOU HAVE BEEN TORTURING MY WIFE!"
"Jack, no!" Carly cried. She grabbed his hand and said quickly in Japanese, "They're just doing their job. Come on, you know me...I can handle this, okay?"
That was Carly, all right...always wanting to stay strong even when she was way over her head. But right now, Jack knew he had to do things her way, no matter how much he disagreed. So he shut up and sat down, preparing for the long haul.
As it turned out, he didn't have to wait as long as he had thought. About a half an hour after he arrived, Carly's IV drip kicked in and she began having strong contractions. She stubbornly refused to take any drugs for the pain, though. Per Japanese custom, she was trying very hard to not scream, but every now and then a yelp would escape. She even threw up once, which the nurses said was a common side effect of the medicine. Jack was all set to do more yelling, but Carly put a stop to that with a warning poke to his ribs.
He wished he could do something besides just sitting stupidly by her side. He was Jack Atlas, after all...he was supposed to know how to fix everything. Even Carly herself was coping with this better than he was.
After a couple of hours, the doctor walked into the room and said it was time to start pushing.
"Oi!" Jack complained as Carly's feet were being set into the stirrups. "Watch it! She's a person, not some piece of meat hanging in a shop!" He'd wanted to say "butcher shop", but he'd forgotten the correct English word.
By now, however, all the medical staff were simply ignoring his rants.
He tried to get into the spirit of things, doing the counting and everything. When Carly shot him a more poisonous glare than he would have ever thought her capable of, though, he decided that it would be better to keep quiet and let her crush his hand bones to powder.
At one point, a nurse cautioned him, "If you start to feel faint, let us know right away."
Jack managed a snort.
"Hey, I grew up in Satellite. You think I'm going to freak out over a little blood? I'll be fine."
Shortly thereafter, he realized that he had been mistaken. He happened to look down at just the right-or rather, wrong-time. His face drained of color at what he saw, and he started to teeter back and forth.
"Head between your knees! And take deep breaths!" the nurse barked at him. Once Jack had done this and the dizzy spell had passed, the woman told him, "Don't worry...happens all the time!" The words themselves were reassuring, but Jack was fairly certain he could detect more than a hint of smug satisfaction in her voice. But he didn't have time to dwell on this, since right then Carly stopped trying to control her screams.
"Almost there!" the obstetrician shouted encouragingly over the shrieking. Jack knew that he would probably regret not watching this later, but he didn't want to risk passing out again.
He thought a last-minute prayer: Please, don't let me screw this up...
Then everyone started talking at once, and Jack heard the fateful first cry.
Someone said, "It's a girl!"...even though Jack and Carly had known that months ago. Jack anxiously looked over, and it felt like his heart dropped to somewhere around his ankles.
"Is she...deformed?" he asked tentatively.
"Don't worry...she looks completely healthy!" said one of the nurses.
"But her head!" Jack insisted. "It's all pointy in the back! It's not supposed to look like that!"
The nurse couldn't help laughing.
"Actually, it is supposed to look like that," she corrected. "The skull bones are squeezed so the head can fit through the birth canal. It'll go back to normal on its own."
"Okay, then..." Jack said skeptically. Then he turned to Carly and added in Japanese, "Just so she doesn't have a huge onion-head like Crow does."
Carly barely had enough energy to roll her eyes at him.
Jack was proud of how he managed to cut the umbilical cord without any mishaps, only for the nurses to have to go through another round of telling him that everything was normal when the afterbirth came out. He brushed Carly's sweaty bangs out of her eyes and wiped her glasses on his shirt as baby Erika was weighed and measured. She weighed seven pounds, five ounces and was twenty inches long...both parents were hastily trying to convert that into the metric system.
Then, she got all swaddled up and they could finally take a proper look at her.
"She looks just like you, Carly!" Jack proclaimed.
"Jack, don't be silly! She's just a few minutes old...you can't tell yet."
"Trust me...I can!" Jack retorted. Then he saw that Carly's eyelids were beginning to droop.
"Here, I'll take her. You get some sleep," he cajoled. Carly obviously wanted to stay awake a bit longer, but realized it would be a losing battle.
"Jack?" she said just before nodding off.
"Next time, we're doing a homebirth."
Chapter 14: Conversation
Same date as last chapter.
Once everyone had relocated to a recovery room, and Carly was in a deep slumber that only someone who's just been through twenty-plus hours of labor can achieve, Jack could finally have some one-on-one time with his daughter.
She was smaller than he had imagined, and she looked quite a bit cuter now that she'd been cleaned off. It was the eyes that had reminded him of Carly. They were still a bit puffy from the birth, but the resemblance was definitely there.
Now...what should he say to her? He had never believed in baby talk, so he decided to just say whatever came to mind.
"You're already famous, you know," he told her. "Probably the most famous baby in the whole nursery. The magazines are going to fight tooth and nail to get the rights to your baby pictures."
Erika, of course, had no response.
Jack continued, "Oh, and in Japan they know all about you too. That's why we chose the name 'Erika'..because it works as a name in either country." He paused, then to make sure she was fully informed, added, "They don't pronounce it the same way, though."
The little girl blinked sleepily, and assumed what Jack took as a very jaded facial expression.
"Less than an hour old and you're bored with it all. You'll be a natural at all this," he noted.
She stuck her tongue out.
"Now, you're lucky that I'm letting you get away with that. The doctors would probably say it's a reflex, but I know better. Savor it while you can...until you get a bit older, you're the only person in the whole world who's allowed to stick her tongue out at the great Jack Atlas!"
Oops. He thought his voice might have gotten a bit too loud there towards the end. Normally he wouldn't have cared...but this time was different.
"You're smarter than you look, aren't you?" he mused. "Sure, you seem helpless, but that's all part of the plan."
After that, things fell quiet, and Erika went to sleep. Jack would have loved to continue to just hold her for the next several hours, but unfortunately he'd have to leave soon. He was pretty sure he could make it back to Los Angeles for the D-Wheel Stunt Contest and the East versus West duel. And then he could skip the party afterwards and sneak back here before Carly woke up on Monday morning.
He wasn't sure how great his performance would be after all this frantic activity and staying up all night...but at least he could nap for a few hours on the plane.
He handed Erika back to a nurse and scribbled a brief note to Carly.
Be sure you and Erika catch me on TV...it'll be on ESPN starting at 2 P.M. Eastern Time.
Then, he reluctantly walked out of the room.
Chapter 15: Role Reversal
Takes place in late October of 2030 (or about 6-7 months after when I set the end of the series). This was inspired by an article I read called "Sex and Flirting in Japan". When I originally posted this on ff.net, one person thought I wasn't being very sensitive. So I'd just like to clarify: if there are couples who are happy with the traditional way of doing things, then good for them! But Jack and Carly were always kind of weird. ;)
In Japan, there was exactly one proper way to have sex. This involved the dominant partner, who did all the work, and the submissive partner, whose goal it was to lie as still as was humanly possible. And in a heterosexual relationship, the former was male and the latter was female. No exceptions.
So when Carly first moved in with Jack, they tried to do things the "normal way". This resolve lasted a grand total of four days.
They had just finished and were lying in the dark, Carly silently lamenting her lack of an orgasm. Abruptly, Jack broke the silence with a grumble of, "This is stupid."
Carly didn't have to ask what he was talking about.
"I...think so too," she answered shyly. Although she was blushing, she was relieved that one of them had found the courage to broach this subject.
Jack smirked and said, "So how about we try again? Starting...oh...now."
"Sounds fine to me!" Carly chirped as she crawled on top of him.
From then on, they did it however they wanted, rules be damned. Sometimes, this did involve Carly taking on a submissive role. Most of the time, however...not exactly.
Chapter 16: Glasses
Takes place in mid-November 2030. The disease Carly had is called orbital cellulitis, by the way. I decided it would be more realistic for her to not know the exact name.
It was a lazy afternoon. Jack and Carly were sitting on the couch together, watching a random movie on TV. It was muted, since Jack could never quite catch all the dialogue and Carly couldn't understand it at all.
During a commercial break, Jack said, "Carly...there's been something I've wanted to ask you."
"Huh? Oh...what is it?" Carly had been in that sleepy, trance-like state that boring television can produce.
"Have you ever thought of getting some more flattering glasses?"
This finally got Carly's full attention.
"You're not suggesting I get a makeover, are you?" she mused. She was only being half-serious, but Jack bristled.
"Of course not!" he answered defensively. "I just want more people to be able to see your eyes properly. They're your best feature."
Carly blushed. Jack had never said such a thing before.
"Thank you, Jack...but I have to wear these," she said sadly.
"No you don't! There are so many different kinds out there! You'll be able to find another one that works just the same."
"Jack, you don't get it. It's not a matter of my personal preference...I actually have to wear them."
Jack scratched the back of his head.
"Oh? Why's that?"
Carly looked away. She hadn't wanted to tell Jack this until they were more established in their relationship. In fact, she rarely told anyone about it at all, but now it seemed she had no choice.
"When I was four," she began, "I got really sick. It was some sort of infection around my eyes. Mom waited to take me to the hospital because we were tight on money. She didn't want us to go broke if it turned out to be nothing serious...but it was."
She sneaked a look up at Jack. He was gazing intently at her; for once not cutting in with his own commentary.
She continued, "In the end...the doctors were able to save me from going completely blind, but only just. Now these glasses are the only ones that are strong enough to allow me to see properly. They have to make them special..."
She broke off and buried her face in her hands, probably smearing those glasses dreadfully in the process.
"So...your mother...she's the person you want to get back in contact with?" Jack inquired in a deceptively soft voice.
Carly knew where this was going to lead.
"It wasn't her fault!" she snapped as she lifted her head back up. "How was she supposed to know...we all make mistakes! And besides, I really don't remember that much about it anyway."
What she didn't tell Jack was that the little she did remember was quite traumatic.
Jack opened his mouth to say more, but then evidently decided against it. Instead, he clapped Carly on the shoulder hard enough to make her wince.
"Don't worry!" he told her confidently. "I'll find a way to get you another pair anyway. I promise!"
Well, that was sweet of him, but Carly's expectations weren't set very high.
After this, they resumed watching the mute TV, not comprehending much of the plot but not particularly caring either.
Chapter 17: Noisy
Takes place early November 2031.
The day that Carly and Erika were discharged from the hospital, a person working in the nursery said that she'd had this job for nearly a decade, yet was certain that this baby had the loudest cry of any that had been under her care. She had opined that Erika would probably grow up to be an opera singer.
At the time, Jack and Carly were too exhausted to consider the implications of this, and simply thought it was cute. Now, the charm had worn off. Erika wasn't colicky or anything like that...just really, really loud.
"Jack..." Carly sleepily said as the two of them were being serenaded by crying in the middle of the night, "It's your turn."
"Is too. Jack...don't try me."
Normally, the nurse, who shared a room with Erika, would take care of this. She was paid a very generous salary for this service. However, she got the weekends off, and today happened to be a Saturday. No wait...by now it was Sunday.
By now, Jack had realized that it was, in fact, his turn, and he was getting out of bed.
"I don't remember her being this loud," he griped.
"That's because you've been traveling for most of her life. Now get in there," Carly demanded.
Most of the time, she was deeply in love with Jack. Tonight was one of the few times she wasn't. Well, she supposed it was still there somewhere, but currently it was being overruled by a powerful urge to strangle him.
She tried to steal a bit more sleep, only to be jolted back to consciousness when Jack yelled her name.
"She needs her diaper changed. And it's not just wet."
"Well, then do it. You know how."
"But...but I...that's not my job!"
Carly ignored him, and soon she heard him fumbling for the proper supplies and muttering a stream of curses in both Japanese and English. She thought about ordering him to watch his language in front of the baby, but decided that as long as he wasn't cursing directly at Erika and/or being loud enough to scare her, there wasn't much of a point.
After a few minutes, Jack walked to the bathroom and washed his hands. Then he walked back to Erika's room. Carly had assumed that he would return to the master bedroom after that, but he didn't. Ten minutes passed...then fifteen, then twenty. Finally, she decided to get up and see what was going on.
She found Jack in the rocking chair, holding Erika. Both were fast asleep. Carly's heart melted. Well...maybe she was still in love with him after all. She considered just leaving them there, but concluded that there would be too much of a risk of him dropping the baby.
She gently shook Jack's shoulder, so as not to disturb Erika. He dazedly blinked up at her.
All Carly could think to say was, "You didn't leave her on the changing table when you were washing your hands, right?"
"Of course not!" Jack seemed scandalized that she would even suggest such a thing, but well, you could never quite tell what he'd be able to remember.
"Good. You know, you two are really a lot alike."
Before Jack could answer, however, Erika woke up...and immediately picked up where she had left off. They had to suspend their conversation to work on calming her down again.
When she was finally in her crib and quiet, Carly remarked, "I think that nurse was right about the opera thing. Think about it...she has the volume, and her crying already sounds more in-tune than your singing voice."
Jack very nonchalantly gave her the finger.
Chapter 18: Welcome Home
Takes place late October 2035.
Every day, almost without fail, Erika would ask if Daddy was coming home. And every day, Carly or one of the nurses would answer, "No, sweetie, we told you... he's not coming back until October." Erika would walk off dejectedly, only to ask the very same question the next day.
It wasn't like she lacked things to do. She had a baby sister to play with, plus her collection of antique porcelain dolls and her miniature D-Wheel models. And she could also go outside; Jack and Carly had bought this mansion outside of Neo Domino last spring specifically for its sprawling grounds, complete with a life-size playhouse. It would be any four-year-old's paradise...but for Erika, things weren't the same unless her father was around.
Sometimes, Carly thought, it was hard to be the boring parent.
Finally, though, the long-awaited day arrived. Erika insisted on wearing her best dress...even to dinner. Carly had been sure that there would be a crisis involving spilled food or drink, but luckily no such thing happened. She realized that it would be impossible to get Erika to go to sleep, so she allowed her to stay up long past her normal bedtime.
"Now remember," Carly cautioned as Jack's car pulled into the driveway, "Daddy's flown all the way from Australia today. So he's going to be tired and might not be able to..."
Well, so much for that.
The door crashed open (Jack seemed incapable of entering a house quietly), and Erika ran toward it, continuing to shriek in excitement.
"Now who's this?" Jack demanded. "This can't be my daughter...she's too big! Are you all hiding Erika in a closet somewhere?"
"No, Daddy, I'm here!" Erika insisted.
"Impossible. My daughter's a tiny little girl. You look practically ready for university!"
"Now, don't confuse her..." Carly started, but neither of them were paying her any attention.
Jack continued, "Well, seeing as you're not my daughter and all, you probably don't want to play Airplane, right?"
Erika's face lit up.
"Yes I do! Do Airplane!" she shouted.
'If you insist..." Jack said mock-reluctantly. Then he lifted her up and twirled her through the air, making appropriate airplane-like sounds all the while.
Just watching this always made Carly's stomach knot up in worry. But Erika loved it, and Jack had never once dropped her. It was something, seeing the bond they had. She couldn't possibly be feeling jealous, could she?
After a few minutes, Jack dramatically said that his arms were too tired to do this anymore (though Carly thought that this might not be exactly true), and sat on the couch with Erika on his lap.
"Hmm...I guess you're my daughter after all!" he said.
"Where's my present?" the girl demanded immediately. Carly facepalmed.
"Erika...be polite," she implored. Last year, Jack had given Erika a tiara with real diamonds on it, so now she would probably be expecting something even grander.
Jack didn't seem to be offended, though. All he said was, "I may have picked up a thing or two when I was in Milan...but it's getting a bit late. How about we save it for tomorrow? That way, your sister can get her presents too."
Erika pouted, but didn't talk back. Really, Carly supposed, for how much Erika was spoiled by her father, she could have turned out a lot worse.
The three of them sat on the couch together for a while longer, while Jack told them about the many interesting things that he had seen during his months abroad. Then, rather abruptly, he cut himself off and said, "Well, Erika, don't you think it's about time for you to get to bed?"
He shot a significant look at Carly. So he had noticed she was there after all.
Erika made a token effort to protest, but even she seemed to realize that she could barely keep her eyes open. So she went off with her nurse making minimal complaints.
Once Erika was safely ensconced in her room, Jack asked Carly, "So...shall we?"
"It would be my pleasure," Carly replied. They walked down the hall to the master bedroom, taking care to lock the door behind them.
Once they had satisfied themselves (Jack had considerably better manners this year), and showered, they tiptoed upstairs so Jack could see his younger child.
The seven-month-old Rosie was fast asleep in her crib. Her full name was Martha Rose, but Erika had insisted on calling her Rosie and the nickname stuck. She already had quite a bit of dark hair.
Jack whistled softly.
"And I thought Erika had grown a lot...by the way, they both pretty much look like clones of you," he remarked in a whisper.
"Erika's blonde," Carly pointed out.
"Yeah, when she was a baby...but now it's more sandy-colored."
"Well, that still counts as blonde in my book. Plus, Rosie definitely has your chin."
"I guess there's that," Jack conceded. He and Carly stood there quietly for a long time, her head resting on his shoulder. Well, it had taken them a while to get their life situated, but now things were looking up for them.
Chapter 19: Paparazzi
Takes place November 2036. In the part about Erika's age, Carly is alluding to a Japanese saying that girls under six and women over sixty can do whatever they want. Obviously, since it's a saying it's a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the general idea.
All Carly had wanted to do was spend some quality time with her children. It was a beautiful day for so late in the year, and Jack was busy until the evening promoting his new book, so she'd decided to drive Erika and Rosie into the city and walk to the park. She could have just played with them on their own grounds, but she'd wanted them to get out and see something other than gated private property. Just the three of them, without any bodyguards.
But almost as soon as they got out of the car, things went wrong. The reporters swooped down on them like vultures.
"Nagisa-sama!" one of them shouted, "Nagisa-sama, can I ask you a few questions, please?"
He was using only the most polite sentence structure and honorific, yet Carly knew that all these people didn't know what to make of her at best, or just plain disliked her at worst.
"I'm sorry, but now is a little inconvenient," she answered, trying her best to be polite in return. She turned away, only to be assailed by more people, with cameras this time.
"Nagisa-sama, that article you wrote...?"
"No comment," Carly said coldly.
Not this again! Carly had done a report on the role of women in Neo Domino Security. She had been excruciatingly careful to not break any ethical standards, yet the whole city seemed shocked that she had even hinted at inequality. Jack had warned her that this would either make her career or ruin her, and to be honest she still wasn't sure which one it would be.
"And what about your husband's memoir?"
"We're doing an interview on NNN this Saturday," Carly replied for seemingly the thousandth time this month. "That's all I can tell you right now."
All right, now she really had to get out of here. Rosie, who scared easily, was starting to cry. So far, Erika hadn't made a sound...she was just fixing the reporters with a hostile glare.
Then came the question that she had been dreading.
"Nagisa-sama, we've heard that his book contains unfavorable allegations against former Director Godwin..."
"Don't talk about that! There are small children here!" Carly snapped. Not good...her anger was taking over. She was fully aware of how difficult it had been for Jack to reveal those things even just to her.
"But are they true?"
Erika finally snapped.
"My daddy doesn't tell lies!" she shrieked. "And he's the King, so you have to be nice to him!"
It was a good thing she was only five. Just a year or two older and this would have been a shocking breach of etiquette. For the moment, it could be passed off as cute and precocious.
The camerapeople all moved to snap pictures of Erika's scowling face, which gave Carly the opportunity she needed to escape.
"Run!" she shouted as she scooped up the bawling Rosie.
"Do as you are told, Erika!" Carly admonished in as scary a tone as she could manage. Luckily, Erika obeyed, and the crowd of people decided not to pursue them.
Once they were in the safety of their car, she felt a bit safer, but no less anxious.
This would have never gotten so ugly if it were Jack taking them out. He knew how to deal with these situations. No wonder Erika preferred him to Carly. She felt like the worst mother on the planet as she fought back tears.
Plus, not so many years ago she had been one of that faceless mob herself. Had she really been that terrible? She'd been so concerned about getting the best scoop that she rarely thought about how her targets would feel.
Once they got home and the girls were in the hands of a nanny, Carly went straight to her room, flung herself on the bed, and cried.
Chapter 20: Sunday Morning
Takes place mid-September 2032. While of course I can't be completely certain that they'll still have Saturday Night Live in twenty years, I think it's a fairly safe bet that some version of it will exist. ;)
By the time Jack finally got out of bed on Sunday morning, Carly was already dressed and in the process of feeding Erika some oatmeal. She had let him sleep in...after all, it's not every night that one hosts Saturday Night Live for the first time; the first episode of the season no less. He hadn't gotten home until after 2 A.M.
In lieu of even a "Good morning," the first thing out of Jack's mouth was, "So?" as he sat down. Carly was slightly nonplussed.
"Uh...what do you mean?"
"So...what are people saying? About how I did?"
"Oh! Why don't you look it up?"
"Because I want you to look it up."
"Now don't tell me you're nervous!"
"No, of course not!" Jack said defensively. He gave it a bit of thought, and conceded, "Okay, maybe. A bit."
"Well, let me finish with Erika first," Carly said. Technically, Erika was old enough to start feeding herself, but she was more interested in playing with the spoon than using it to eat with. She was apparently bored with eating for now, since she let the most of the hot cereal dribble out of her mouth and onto her chin. After four tries, Carly gave up. That little girl was even more stubborn than Jack..if such a thing was even possible.
"Hang on, I'll get the computer set up," she told Jack, who scooted his chair towards her to look over her shoulder. In the time it took to get the laptop turned on, Erika dipped her hand in the oatmeal bowl and sucked on it contentedly. Carly decided she'd have to let that one slide, since she had to focus all of her attention on searching for reviews. She was better at reading English than she was at speaking it, but it still took her a while to figure it out. Additionally, Jack was sitting so close behind her that he was breathing on her, which made concentration that much more difficult.
"Ah, this looks like the right thing!" she finally said brightly. Then she added to Erika, "I don't think that spoon is supposed to go on your head."
Carly retrieved the spoon with one hand while scrolling down the page with the other.
"Okay, what are they saying...? Hey, this looks pretty positive!"
"Really?" Jack asked eagerly. Then he caught himself and said, "Well, of course I knew that already."
"Sure you did," Carly teased as she looked for more information.
"So...I think it says that they liked how you kept a straight face through the whole thing. And they thought the intro sketch was funny." That had been the part where a cast member walked on stage in a very frilly women's hat, and Jack yelled that the guy had stolen it from him. Carly had liked that too, even if she couldn't understand all of the dialogue.
"Ugh...I hated doing that part," Jack griped. He did look considerably less tense, though.
"Well, you didn't show it!" replied Carly. Then she shot a glance at Erika, only to find that the oatmeal-encrusted spoon had returned to its jaunty perch on Erika's head.
"Maybe she wants to wear her hair around it like Aki used to wear that hair clip," Jack quipped.
Carly smiled and said, "Maybe you should try doing that, and see if it becomes a new fashion!"
Jack looked thoughtful, so Carly quickly told him, "That was a joke, you know."
Meanwhile, Jack had finally worked up enough courage to click on an article by himself. He scanned it and frowned.
"This guy says that he couldn't understand my accent!" he said reproachfully.
"There's always going to be someone who has to complain about something. I don't think it matters much. Just be happy that...NO, ERIKA!"
It was too late. Erika had overturned the half-full bowl of oatmeal onto her head like a hat, and looked very smug as the mess spread all over her hair and face.
"Buh!" she proclaimed proudly.
"Yes, that is a bowl," Carly ground out as Jack tried in vain to bite back a smile. "And now you're going to get a bath. Which also begins with a "B" in English. Jack, stop laughing."
Maybe, she thought as she lifted the toddler out of her high-chair, Erika should have been the one to host the show.
Chapter 21: Nerves
Takes place May 24, 2031. The part about "Flying Carrots" is actually a reference to one of my older GX stories, but I decided that story wasn't good enough to post here.
"I can't do this..." said Carly faintly.
Misty said nothing in reply, probably because her mouth was full of hairpins. Since Carly still hadn't been able to establish contact with her mother, Misty had flown in from Japan to help Carly prepare for the wedding ceremony. Carly was very appreciative of this gesture, but still...it wasn't quite the same.
"I mean," Carly continued as Misty pinned her hair up, "We weren't even planning to get married for a while longer...but now we don't really have a choice. What if Jack hates me in five years for making him do this?"
Misty made a protesting noise, but couldn't do anything further until the last of the pins was out of her mouth. When Carly's hair was arranged to her satisfaction, Misty said, "Carly, look at me."
Carly was worried that Misty was going to read her fortune and predict more tragedy, but she obeyed.
"Okay, now listen. That man is absolutely crazy about you, and he couldn't hate you if he tried. You know that fully well. So stop worrying about stupid things."
"How would you know?" Carly shot back. If Misty took offense, she didn't show it.
"Oh...I have my ways," she answered serenely.
Despite Misty's assurances, Carly felt like she was about to be sick, faint, or both. The only way she could figure out to control this was to start babbling.
"And...and I'll look ridiculous next to him...all short and fat! And I don't have anyone to walk me down the aisle, and my feet hurt, and what if I have to pee in the middle of the ceremony, and what if there's a tornado, and..."
"Now you're just being silly, " Misty admonished, "You're not fat; you're pregnant. There's a difference. Do you think Jack is worrying about rogue tornadoes?"
"N...no," stammered Carly. She quieted herself more out of surprise that Misty was talking so much, rather than the words themselves.
"That's right. Now hold still so I can get this veil on. And don't smear the makeup."
In another part of the hotel, Jack, Yusei, and Crow were making their final adjustments. Things were relatively peaceful until Jack was hit with his own case of nerves.
"I can't do this."
He sat on the edge of the bed and buried his face in his hands as Crow started yelling.
"Not cool, Jack! If you walk out on her, I'll disembowel you with my bare hands!"
"I didn't mean I literally won't do this, you ass!" Jack snapped as he looked up. "Ever heard of a figure of speech?"
"Yeah, well, better safe than sorry. You're always running off at the spur of the moment, ya know."
Jack prepared to unleash a stream of his best profanity at Crow, but Yusei held up a hand to silence him.
"Guys," he said tersely, "Not. Today."
Jack realized that Yusei had a point. It wouldn't be very auspicious for him to beat up one of the wedding guests. He fished around for a different subject while trying to ignore the voice in his head that said it was all his fault for being too lazy to get up and find the condoms that one time.
For a few minutes, he sat quietly and amused himself by watching Crow's futile attempts to get his hair to lie flat.
"So how's Kiryu?" he finally asked rather abruptly. Kiryu hadn't been able to make to the wedding since he was very busy with design school.
Yusei and Crow looked at Jack strangely, then Crow said, "He's fine. Last week he was all excited because he found a 'Flying Carrots' T-shirt at the thrift store. Those are really rare...something about someone trying to have them all destroyed by burning, I think. And he has a new boyfriend..."
"Another one? Isn't that the fifth one he's had since I left?"
"And I bet this one has dark hair too, right?"
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Yusei stated quietly.
Crow was obviously trying to think up a clever comeback, but after a few minutes he just sighed.
"Okay, I know this is a stressful day and all...but please try to keep your shit together, Jack. For Carly's sake. Now let's get down there so we can all be in our places in time...right?"
"Right," echoed Jack, with more confidence than he felt.
There was no turning back now. Usually modern Japanese weddings had the rehearsal right before the main event, but they'd moved it to last night to limit the amount of time Carly would be on her feet in one day. People were all in their places, waiting for the bride to make her appearance.
Then, the door at the end of the hotel ballroom opened, and Carly began to walk down the aisle, very slowly so she wouldn't trip. Her hands were sweating from knowing that all eyes were on her.
She stole a glimpse at Jack, who was naturally dressed all in white. How could he manage to be so composed when she was such a wreck?
Meanwhile, Jack was thinking that he probably looked like an idiot for gaping at her like a fish while she walked so elegantly.
Carly finally reached the other end of the room, and took Jack's hand. As the minister began the preliminary remarks, all they could do was just stand there looking at each other, and being reminded of what had made them fall in love in the first place. They were both still quite nervous, but now they had the feeling that this just might work out after all.
Chapter 22: Reception
Takes place the same day as last chapter, naturally.
Carly had been in charge of planning the wedding reception, and for the most part she decided to follow the traditional Japanese style. She'd gone with the usual color scheme of red and white, and the meal was built around fish and other seafood. Carly's doctor had told her that she'd have to be careful about which fish she ate, but this turned out to be a moot point, since Carly was so excited she could eat hardly anything at all.
Then there was the candle-lighting ritual, the lavish gift-exchange, and the speeches in honor of the couple (when it was Crow's turn to speak, Carly had to restrain Jack from lunging at him more than once). Carly was very pleased at how smoothly things went. It was almost perfect, except for one thing. She knew Jack was sad that Martha hadn't been able to make the flight over. A couple of times, she caught him staring wistfully off into the distance, but a pat on the hand and a few whispered words had been enough to bring his focus back.
There was one addition to the activities that was strictly American, and that was the dancing. Most Japanese receptions were too formal to allow that, but Carly had thought it would be fun. Besides, quite a few of the guests had grown up in Satellite and/or were younger people, so they didn't seem like the type who'd be overly obsessed with propriety. Carly had planned to do a couple of dances with Jack, then sit back down and watch the others enjoy themselves.
What she hadn't found out until just days before the wedding was that, in America, the married couple was expected to do the first dance on their own, with no other people on the dance floor to obscure missteps.
"Um, Jack...I'm not very good at slow-dancing," she confided sotto voce.
"Neither am I," he replied.
"Really? I would have thought that they taught you back when you were King."
"Well, they didn't."
"Oh," Carly said in genuine surprise. This seemed like it would be the exact sort of thing Jack would be good at.
"Then I guess we'll just have to look stupid together!" she concluded cheerfully.
So they did. And, at the very least, Carly didn't hear anyone laugh at them.
Chapter 23: Scent
No set date.
Carly had taken to wearing Jack's shirts to bed while he was away. These weren't exactly the most graceful choices in sleepwear (due to their significant difference in height, the necklines were just this side of indecent on her, and long sleeves had to be rolled back several times), but she wasn't doing this for style. No, she'd realized early on that those shirts had Jack's scent all over them.
Jack was a very clean man...even in Satellite he'd showered almost every day. He had once boasted Carly that the other guys complained about him using up all the shampoo and soap, but he wasn't the one smelling like a landfill. Carly had decided against pointing out that they probably smelled that way because Jack used all the soap. At any rate, she found the faint soap-and-cologne smell of the shirts to be very comforting; almost as good as actually embracing him. Other people would most likely say that it was the laundry detergent she was smelling, but Carly knew that it wasn't the same as detergent at all.
Depending on her mood, Carly had one of two reactions to the scent. If she was feeling anxious, or uncomfortable due to being pregnant, this ritual helped her relax and get to sleep more easily. When she was in a happier frame of mind, she often got aroused by the mental images that the aroma invoked. Then she'd have to take care of that little problem (which also had the effect of relaxing her, so it was all more or less the same in the end). This reminded her of how she used to fantasize about Jack in the days before they met, although back then Carly would have practically had to sell a kidney just to get her hands on one of his dirty socks.
None of this was quite a secret, but Carly had never told Jack about it directly. She suspected that if she did, he would tease her about it for quite some time.
Chapter 24: Payback
Takes place May 2038. This was partially inspired by a dream I had. I've had problems with bullies myself, so I can only imagine how much harder it would have been for Carly, especially since she was in Japan (where it's quite a big problem).
Normally, Carly would just throw on the first clothes she saw before an outing...partly out of laziness, partly to avoid the paparazzi, and partly because she didn't want to seem too vain. But for this trip, a bit of vanity was necessary. She decided to wear her most expensive designer skirt suit, and accessorize it with the diamond necklace that Jack had given her after their son was born.
She paused in the mirror to check that she was reasonably intimidating. Not bad. It helped that she'd managed to maintain a relatively trim body even after three children.
Once she'd driven to the working-class neighborhood and found the right house, however, she felt as vulnerable as she had in middle school. She sat in the parked car and took deep breaths. It had been Jack who had suggested this, actually, after she told him about her past experiences. She would have never gotten the idea on her own. They'd been back in Japan for three years, and Carly had worked up the courage for this only now.
After about five minutes, she had calmed down enough to get out of the car and walk to the door. She hardly even had time to knock before the door opened. The woman who had opened it stared at Carly in shock.
"You...!" she gasped. Good...it seemed her memory was as sharp as Carly's. No need for introductions.
"Remember that ten thousand yen you kept asking me for in school?" Carly asked in as casual a tone as she could manage, "Well, here it is."
She reached into her fat wallet and removed one of several ten-thousand yen notes. The other woman continued to mutely gape at Carly.
Carly continued, "I know that money must have been important to you, since you made me run naked around the school grounds three times when I didn't have it. Oh yes, there was also that time you tripped me and made me fall in the mud. And the time you stole my backpack. So you must have really needed it."
The woman finally realized she had no option other than to take Carly's money. Then she slammed the door without another word.
It wasn't until Carly was driving away that she began to smile, then finally to laugh. It had taken the better part of two decades, but she had finally gotten her payback! Actually, since she'd been the one doing the paying, she wasn't sure how accurate a term that was. "Revenge" might be more fitting.
At any rate, she couldn't wait to tell Jack all about this. She was quite sure he'd find it amusing.
Chapter 25: Wax
Takes place February 2034.
"I really hope they get this one right," Jack said for seemingly the twenty-thousandth time. "Because that other one they did had the cheekbones all wrong. Seriously, it was embarrassing for me to look at, and..."
"If you bring up those cheekbones one more time, Jack, I'll slap you," Carly interrupted in faux-sweet tones.
They were at Madame Tussauds of New York for the unveiling of a wax sculpture of Jack. There was already one in the Neo Domino branch, but it had been done back when Jack was under Godwin's control. Carly had never seen the first one for herself, but evidently the cheekbones on it were not up to snuff.
Jack had insisted on bringing Erika with them; he'd even ordered her a custom-made outfit based on his own riding suit for the occasion. Carly was afraid that she'd be too young to understand and get scared, but Jack insisted she'd be fine. Right now, Erika looked a lot more relaxed than Carly felt. She still wasn't quite comfortable with actually being the event as opposed to being the one covering it.
The three of them dutifully posed for pictures both outside and inside the museum. Erika always liked doing this more than either of her parents, since it was a golden opportunity to make funny faces at the camera. Even after Jack picked her up and walked away, she continued to stick her tongue out at the photographers over his shoulder.
It was slow going, but they finally made it to the spot where the unveiling would take place. Carly fervently hoped that Jack wouldn't complain about the result too loudly. But as it turned out, he was well-behaved. Erika, on the other hand, shrieked, "I WANNA SEE!" at ear-splitting volume during the quiet moment right before the cloth was pulled off. Everybody except Carly laughed.
Then, the cloth was dramatically removed, and Carly gasped. She knew that this place could have mixed results at times, but this was definitely one of their better ones. Statue-Jack was standing proudly, his helmet tucked under his arm.
"Not bad," admitted the real Jack. Coming from him, that was the highest praise possible. Then, addressing Erika, he added, "See that? No, you can't touch it."
Erika didn't seem to be fazed at all. Damn it, why was Jack always right about these things?
Jack handed Erika over to Carly while he went to pose for more pictures with his doppelganger. For Carly, this brought back memories of that trouble-making robot, but if Jack had a similar reaction he didn't show it.
"Some day soon, you'll be so famous that you'll have your own statue," he told Carly after he walked back over to her. "And it'll be right next to mine."
Carly blushed a bit.
"I don't think I'll be quite that famous," she muttered.
"Oh, you will be. I promise!" Jack insisted. Carly decided that there was no point in arguing with him.
Chapter 26: Penguin
Takes place in November 2038. A rather random chapter inspired by a drawing I saw on Pixiv.
Jack had his share of unusual whims when it came to his hobbies. Last year, he had gone through a birdhouse-building phase, and there were about twenty of them now gracing their property. Then there was the (thankfully short-lived) time he'd tried ice sculpture. But this had to take the cake. Now, he had decided that it would be a great idea for the family to have a pet emperor penguin.
"Can I have one, pleeeeeaaaseeeee?" he begged while on his knees in front of Carly.
"You've asked this before, and the answer's still no!" Carly answered sternly.
"But...but they're emperor penguins! They'd be a perfect pet for a King to own! And you can't see their eyes! It's funny!"
"Jack, this isn't like a dog or a goldfish. These are wild animals. They would be loud, and need a special diet and a saltwater pond."
"But we're rich, we can get all that..."
"AND," Carly continued while speaking over him, "They can grow big enough that they'd pose a danger to the kids. You don't want that, do you?"
This made Jack pause.
"No," he finally admitted. Then he belatedly realized that he looked very undignified.
"Hey, since when are you ordering me around?" he grumbled as he got to his feet.
"Since you specifically asked me to stop you from making stupid decisions."
"Oh. Right," Jack said. He thought for a moment.
"Well, can we get a monkey, then?" he asked.
Chapter 27: Photos
No set time for this one. This is sort of a companion piece to Chapter 23. I know the ending's a bit weird, but I wanted to segue into the next chapter, which will be an angsty turn in the story.
Jack always took a large collection of photographs with him on the road during the Pro League season. There were a couple of ones from his childhood and the Team Satisfaction days, but not many, since photo-developing places were difficult to find in Satellite. Naturally, there were none at all from his first time as "King". The vast majority of them were of Carly and their children.
His favorite picture was of Carly, taken in Tuscany during their honeymoon. She was in a ¾ profile pose to better show her baby bump, and her hair was blowing in the wind. Carly was rather embarrassed of that picture, since it was slightly blurry and the camera had caught her with her eyes closed. She had begged Jack to take one of the better pictures instead, but he always insisted that he liked this one. It was spontaneous in a way that the other pictures didn't capture.
Then there were pictures of Jack himself holding his newborn children...well, he was holding the first two at least. With Jackie, the youngest, he had had to settle for posing next to the incubator.
Jack always preferred candid photos to the posed studio ones. He would much rather see his family being naturally happy rather than being forced to smile while dressed up in uncomfortable clothes. He would have been perfectly happy with not doing any of the fancy pictures at all, but Carly wouldn't have it.
At any rate, Jack was very protective of even the posed pictures. If there was even a small crack in one of the glass coverings while they were moved, the people responsible were treated to one of Jack's tongue-lashings. One time one of the less-important pictures had fallen out of the frame and gotten slightly crumpled when it wasn't properly secured. Jack had fired the whole luggage staff, only to re-hire them all after Carly yelled at him.
And when Jack was forced to retire and couldn't travel so much, he just set aside a room of their mansion for displaying the pictures. During his rough times, it was one of the few things that could cheer him up. If everything else was taken away, at least he had these memories.
Chapter 28: Crash
Takes place in June 2039. WARNING: As the title suggests, this is a very angsty chapter.
It had all happened so fast. One second, Jack had been riding past the VIP box during his victory lap, and the next he had lost control and slammed into the wall. He had apparently gotten distracted while sneaking a look at Carly and the girls, and had turned just a hair too quickly or slowly (Carly couldn't recall which). For a few moments, Carly's brain couldn't process what she was seeing. But then the paramedics had run onto the track, and Erika had started screaming, and the reality hit her.
Carly had raced down the stairs as quickly as she could, but it seemed like it took forever. She was still holding out hope that he might be okay, since he had crashed before and sustained no lasting damage. That optimism was shattered, though, when she saw Jack's equally broken body. He had broken his right femur, hipbone and three vertebrae in his back, and knocked his head against the wall so hard that the doctor said he would have almost certainly died on impact if he hadn't been wearing a helmet. But of course, Carly didn't know any of that then.
Astoundingly, Jack remained conscious for a few minutes after the crash. He had mouthed her name and tried to turn his head toward her, much to the chagrin of the people who were working to keep his head immobilized.
Carly was still numb from shock as she was driven to the hospital...they hadn't let her ride in the ambulance. She didn't register Erika's shrieks as she fought the security guards tooth and nail to try to see her father, or that Rosie had gone deathly quiet. At any other time, Carly would have thought this very unusual, since Rosie was notorious for tearing up at the slightest provocation. Later that evening, Rosie had a seizure and was also rushed to the hospital. Although she turned out to be fine, it had given the household staff a good scare. Carly felt guilty about not being there. But there was no way she would have ever been able to leave Jack.
After the initial flurry of operations, all they could do was wait. Carly was by his bedside amongst the wires and beeping machines almost constantly, even sleeping in the uncomfortable chair. It was only two weeks later that the doctors started to say confidently that Jack would survive this, and took him off his drug-induced coma. Carly, already knowing what the answer would be, had tentatively asked whether Jack would be able to continue his career in the Pro League some day. The doctor had just looked at her, but that was enough. Carly was dreading the day when she would have to tell this to Jack himself. He was going to be devastated no matter how gently she tried to break the news.
She was neglecting her parental duties and she knew it. Erika had regressed to throwing tantrums in school and wetting her bed. Rosie, having been put on medication, had no further seizures, but had withdrawn into herself; she rarely even spoke. Jackie, who had been at home during the incident and was naturally easygoing, had been least affected, but even he could sense that something was wrong. All Carly could do was hope to make it up to them later. Now, as Jack was slowly regaining his senses, she had to put all her energy into helping him back as close to his old self as she possibly could.
Chapter 29: Rosie
Takes place in March 2035. And don't worry...this'll get back to the consequences of last chapter soon!
In the end, Jack and Carly had to make a compromise for the birth of their second child. Jack was creeped out at just the idea of having the baby in their own apartment ("What if something goes wrong?" he kept asking), but Carly refused to go back to that hospital unless it was absolutely necessary. Hospitals tend to be scary places even in the best of conditions, and in Carly's case, she had only been able to speak a few dozen words of English at the time. She had had no interpreter until Jack arrived.
Also, she had never told Jack this, but when the nurse put the IV needle in, Carly had had some sort of horrible panic attack. She'd been scared of needles since her extended hospital stay at age four, but this had been an extreme reaction even for that. She'd gotten this sensation like she was falling or something, odd as that was. Jack had shown up a few minutes later, so she hadn't had time to think about it. But she didn't want to take any chances this time. And then after, she'd been so exhausted by the ordeal that she hadn't been able to properly bond with Erika for several hours...she was determined for that not to happen this time.
So after much research and debate (and many pints of cheesecake-flavored ice cream consumed on Carly's part), they decided on a birthing center. She had to get the okay for that from her regular doctor, but her pregnancy had been so healthy that this wasn't a problem. The place they selected had the atmosphere of an upscale hotel, with a large bed and a hot tub. The person who gave the tour said that the latter was very popular, and Carly looked forward to trying it herself.
As it turned out, however, she didn't get to use it. When she first started labor, she took her time getting ready, since Erika's birth had taken so long. But then, when she suddenly started having strong contractions five hours in, she and Jack had to grab their things and rush out the door. Erika was at preschool and would be picked up by the nanny.
It was a long and traffic-filled ride. Jack grumbled only half-jokingly that if Carly had the baby in his new Cadillac, she would have to pay to clean it out of her own salary. Fortunately, this didn't happen, but it was a close call. When they got to the center, the midwife took one look at Carly and said there wasn't going to be enough time to fill up the hot tub. Carly was disappointed, but found the bed to be comfortable enough. It got even better when the midwife suggested that Jack sit behind Carly, back against the headboard. Both of them were a bit skeptical at first, but Carly found it easier to get through the final stages when she quite literally had Jack to lean upon.
This time, it only took five minutes of pushing, with Jack carefully looking anywhere but down, before Martha Rose Atlas came into the world. At seven pounds, nine ounces, she was very close to the size Erika had been. Carly had been a bit worried that Jack would be annoyed at having two daughters in a row, but he didn't show any such feelings, which meant that he most likely wasn't feeling them. He held the new baby as tenderly as he'd held Erika.
Their older daughter dropped by to visit a couple of hours later. She'd been very excited about finally getting to meet her new sister.
"Rosie!" she exclaimed as soon as she saw the little bundle. Jack smirked a bit…the baby was still a bit red in the face, so it was an apropos nickname. But Carly gently corrected, "No, honey, that's her middle name. Her first name is Martha."
But Erika crossed her arms and insisted that the name was Rosie, and it ended up sticking. If Erika had chosen something totally weird like, say, "Jell-o," Jack and Carly wouldn't have let her get away with it, but this name was quite harmless.
Years later, Carly would think it very odd that the child that would give them the most heartache had had the easiest birth.
Chapter 30: Jackie
Takes place September 2037. Another angsty chapter, but at least this one has a happy ending!
Carly's third pregnancy was the only one to be completely planned. Erika, of course, had caught everyone off-guard. With Rosie, they had been talking for a few months about having another baby, but hadn't started seriously trying yet. This time, however, they were comfortably settled back in Japan, and were all ready. Carly had assumed that this would be easy, since she already had two pregnancies behind her. This would prove to be very wrong.
At first, things progressed as expected. Carly couldn't help to be slightly relieved that she was carrying a boy this time. When the subject was brought up, Jack would always scoff that daughters were more fun to buy outfits for. Still, however outdated it was, Carly was glad that there would be someone to carry on Jack's name. Both names, actually…there was never any question that this baby would (or could) be called anything other than Jack Atlas, Jr.
Then things started to go awry. At around twenty-four weeks, Carly started bleeding. She knew that spotting wasn't out of the ordinary, but this was quite a lot. Alarmed, she went to see her doctor, who diagnosed placenta previa. This meant that the placenta was lying over Carly's cervix, so a normal delivery would be very risky. Carly tried her best to not think of all of the needles and other sharp objects that would be involved in a C-section. The doctor obviously wanted to take extra precautions since this was such a high-profile case, so he immediately put Carly on bed-rest.
This was not fun. Carly at least got a private room, but she was not allowed to leave the hospital. Mostly, all she could do was lie around and read or watch TV. She got to see the girls on a fairly regular basis, but the doctor kept these visits very short. Since it was the middle of Riding Duel Season, Jack was away most of the time. Carly couldn't even attend Erika's sixth birthday party in August, and she knew Erika must have resented that.
Sometimes, she was so bored that she almost wished that the paparazzi would burst into her room, just so something exciting would happen. But she took that back when, at 31 weeks, she woke up in the middle of the night to find blood everywhere.
She screamed and rang for a nurse. The nurse in turn gasped as soon as she walked into the room and ran off to find Carly's doctor. No one even had time to answer Carly's panicked questions as they raced to the operating room, with all its medicine smells and shiny metal and beeping machines. Before she could fully adjust to this turn of events, they were putting a gas mask on her and telling her to breathe deeply.
When she woke up again, it seemed like just seconds later, but she was in a completely different room. The first thing she saw was Jack's face looking down at her. Had he been…crying?
It took Carly several seconds to get her throat to work, but at length she managed to croak out, "Is he…okay?"
Jack didn't answer, so Carly amended her question.
"Is he alive…?"
This time, he nodded, and Carly allowed herself to feel at least some relief.
Jack looked like he was about to say something, but then hmphed and crossed his arms.
"No child of mine was going to give up that easily!" he stated confidently. Carly could sense that he was covering something up, but she would only find out the full extent of what had happened a couple of days later.
It had been sheer luck that Jack had been in town that night for a home game the next day when the hospital called. Still, by the time Jack had arrived at the operating room, they had already started the operation and wouldn't let him in. He had to watch through a window as the baby was delivered. He had been blue from lack of oxygen, and for a few minutes it looked like they'd lose him. But then he had finally cried, and was rushed off to Intensive care. Carly herself had come dangerously close to bleeding out on the operating table.
But Carly still didn't know this when she was allowed to go see Jackie. At 1.5 kilos, he wasn't the smallest baby in the room, but he still looked so frail. Most of his face was obscured by tape to hold various tubes in place. All Carly was allowed to do was reach her finger in to touch his hand.
However, Jack's intuition had proven correct. In just a few days, Jackie had stabilized enough that he could eat and be held. Carly had to use her pump, because Jackie had to be fed through a tube. Previously, she'd only used it when she was going to be away from home for long periods of time. Erika and Rosie had both been voracious feeders, so it was odd having so much milk left over after a feeding.
After Carly was discharged, she spent as much time at the hospital as she could. Jack accompanied her whenever he had the chance.
After more than a month, Jackie gained enough weight that he was allowed to go home. Jack's season ended around the same time, so the whole family was finally living under one roof. Jackie had thankfully suffered no apparent long-term effects of being deprived of oxygen for so long. He was a bit small, but healthy. And now, after a huge scare, it finally felt like their family was complete.
Chapter 31: Outing
Takes place June 2032; originally written for Father's Day. Also, I looked it up, and babies really aren't supposed to have ice cream until they're a year old. So that was a bit of an oops on Jack's part.
Jack had never noticed just what a piercing stare little Erika had. Her eyes were the same shape as Carly's, but while the latter had soft blue-gray eyes, Erika's were such a dark blue as to be almost black. When combined with her fair skin and shock of blonde hair, the effect was quite startling.
Right now, Erika was sitting on a mat in the living room, tracking Jack's every move with those unsettling eyes. Jack had been pacing up and down, trying to figure out what to do with her. Carly had left on a business trip to Seattle this morning, and Jack had a whole day of looking after Erika by himself until the nanny came back on Monday morning. Jack's Pro season would start the very next week, so Carly had said he and Erika should get in some bonding time.
Of course, he had the nanny's phone number, but Carly had told him to only use it in case if an emergency. And really, the only emergency here was that Jack wasn't quite sure which activities babies liked.
He had just changed her diaper (yuck) so hopefully that task was taken care of for a few hours. They'd already had lunch time and naptime. It was only 2:30, so too early for dinner. What to do?
Then, he hit on something so perfect that he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before.
They could go out! They lived on Park Avenue, which, as its name suggested, was an easy walk from Central Park. Plus, it was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so it wasn't too hot. Jack thought he ought to receive some sort of award for sheer brilliance in activity-planning.
"Guess what? We're going out!" he cried jubilantly to Erika.
Erika, as cool a customer as ever, blew a spit bubble and replied, "Muh."
Jack grabbed a baseball cap and sunglasses, snatched Erika up, and moments later emerged from the apartment with Erika under one of his arms, her collapsible stroller under the other, and the going-out tote bag slung over his shoulder. He knew most people would be afraid he would drop something, but he was Jack Atlas. Jack Atlas most certainly did not drop things.
He ran down all ten flights of stairs (elevators were for wimps), and then checked his watch in the lobby. Well, not his record time, but he had had to be careful because of the baby.
"Well! What do you think about that?" he asked Erika. She looked up at him quietly, possibly a bit dazed from their quick trip downstairs.
They barely made it to the end of their block when the cameras started clicking. Looks like his hat hadn't worked (since when had it, now that he thought about it?) Jack growled a bit when the throng of people made him miss his opportunity to cross the street.
There seemed to be even more people than usual today. What was all this about? Was it that stupid tabloid article again? Someone had written some complete bullshit about Jack being sterile due to pollutants in Satellite, and that thus Erika was not his biological daughter. No one had really taken it seriously, and people had seemingly stopped talking about it weeks ago. So had they written another article that Jack didn't know about?
But then, it dawned on him. Of course…today was Father's Day! Jack didn't even have the excuse that they didn't have this holiday in Japan, because they did. Of course, it hadn't been celebrated much in Satellite, since most of the fathers had died in Zero Reverse…but that was beside the point. Now that this mystery was solved, he had to quickly dash across the street before the crosswalk light turned red again.
Once they reached the park, there was more space, so the photographers weren't as concentrated around them. Their presence was still obvious, but at least Jack and Erika had some breathing room.
Jack walked around for a few minutes until he found a shady spot near the Great Lawn. He spread a towel on the ground and placed Erika on it.
When he opened the tote bag, the first thing to pop out was a large tube of sunscreen for babies. Damn, he'd forgotten about that! Well, he'd better get that on before Erika got burned up.
He smeared a glob not-very-neatly onto Erika's face. The latter pushed him away and protested, "Bleh!"
"If you get cancer all over your skin, your mother is not going to be happy with me," Jack explained, "In fact, she'd probably make me eat my own intestines."
Erika did not seem the least bit convinced by this logic. So all Jack could do was continue to get as much sunscreen-skin contact as possible while she squirmed around.
Finally, he thought it was good enough, and wiped his hands on a corner of the towel.
"Now what do you want to do?" he asked Erika.
Erika looked blankly at him, then crawled over to the grass and ripped out a handful. Before Jack could react, she stuffed most of it into her mouth!
"Oi! Not that!" Jack protested. He swept the grass out of her mouth and tried not to think about how the paparazzi would be loving every minute of this. She thankfully had not swallowed any of it.
Now, though, his curiosity was piqued. Over Jack's life, he had generally been led to believe that grass was not good to eat, and his childhood experiences had supported that. But what if Central Park grass was secretly some sort of delicacy?
He furtively nibbled on a blade. Nope…it tasted just the same as other grass. Why Erika liked it was beyond him. Speaking of which, he'd better find something for Erika to do before she ingested any more questionable substances. Currently, she was examining a leaf with three small ants on it.
He rummaged in the bag until he found a rattle. It didn't look familiar; Carly must have purchased it just to keep Erika entertained during Carly's trip.
"Hey! Look at this!" he said. He shook it to get Erika's attention. She slowly put the leaf down and reached across for the toy.
She then peered intently at it, gave it a couple of trial shakes, and looked at it some more. She tried putting it in her mouth, but it wasn't a comfortable fit. She looked down at it, up at Jack, then back down.
"Aaaa!" Erika said as she beamed and held it out to Jack.
"Aww, you want me to have it?" Jack asked as he turned towards her. Erika used his opportunity to sharply hit him on the nose with the rattle.
Ouch…that stung like hell! It was weird…Jack could break bones and get hit on his head during Riding Duels and it didn't bother him much, but when he got struck with a plastic toy, it made him clutch his nose and howl.
He was initially quite sure his nose was broken, but after a few seconds he could feel it was intact. No blood either. His eyes were still watering from pain, but at least Erika found it amusing. She was laughing as hard as Jack had ever heard her do.
He did have to admit that he admired her boldness. As soon as the stinging subsided, Jack yelled to no-one in particular, "Does anyone have any more questions about her paternity now? I didn't think so."
That evening, they walked back to the apartment building. They had had quite a full afternoon. They'd walked around most of the park with Erika in her stroller, stopped to watch people playing in the sports fields, passed by the zoo, and had even shared a small ice-cream cone. Jack could only hope that his stomach wouldn't make him pay too much later on. He wasn't sure Carly would approve, but she wasn't there and they already knew Erika could eat dairy products anyway.
Now, Erika was fast asleep. And now Jack had to figure out how he would wake her up for dinner…