His entire life, Peter Pincent had been described as 'impatient'. In a world where being born was akin to a death sentence, he had had to be. Being 'impatient' helped him stay on his toes, on the move. Darting from place to place ensured his survival.
And, knowing that one day there would be an end to his time on this world and so a reason to his time he’d spent here, gave him the sheer determination to want to do as much as he could, in the time he had. Not like the majority of people, who outstayed their welcome – who took and took and survived, who thought they knew everything, but had somehow managed to miss the point of living altogether.
So Peter was impatient, yes, and never more nervous than now. Now, when a mere door away, Anna was giving birth to their child.
Half of him and half of her melded into a miracle he still wasn’t entirely sure he deserved.
It was especially in the cold nights, in their small yet cosy house afforded to them by the Underground in the near-abandoned Highlands of Scotland, that Peter would toss and turn in his sleep. He had dreams – or more accurately, nightmares – of a life where he and Anna signed their rights to such a miracle away.
Where his rashness and impatience killed his unborn child before he'd had any idea that he or she had existed in the first place.
In this nightmare, Anna would stare at him in a way he couldn’t bear to look at himself. Once he had been her hero, and now he was simply the man who had taken everything away from her. She’d denounce him, cruelly and coldly. She’d scream and shout, and sometimes cry. She could have had a child, she could have had his child.
She’d carried him or her, and hadn’t even known. Before it was all stolen away from her.
“You’re no better than her,” she’d spit venomously. “You’re no better than Mrs Pincent.” Time for the final blow that would finish him off for good. That would kill him just as effectively as a knife to the gut or a bullet to the heart.
And he deserved it all.
“You’re no better than your mother.”
It was true. It was all true. His mother was Margaret Pincent, Richard Pincent was her father and so his grandfather. He was a Pincent. He was them, in so many ways.
Renewal, his grandfather had said so many times when he was at Pharma Pincent. The point of Longevity was renewal.
Even in a nightmare, Peter was aware of his own laughter; cold, bitter and hollow, at this prospect.
The Pincents were good for one thing and one thing only.
“Destruction,” Anna told him coldly, almost as if she'd read his mind.
And in all his nightmares, Peter was on his knees before her, begging for forgiveness he would never, in a million years, want to receive.
When he looked up at her, she would be holding Ben. And Ben, though he was barely two years old, would repeat the word too.
Until 'destruction' was all Peter could hear.
And he always woke then, drenched in a horrible sweat that pervaded what felt like every inch of his body, and with the fear that it had all been real. That he’d open his eyes, sit up, turn, only to find he wasn't in this bed, in this room, in this house.
That he’d be alone. He’d still be working for his grandfather, his child would be dead and Anna and Ben would hate him. He’d have eternal life, and no reason to live it.
So in the wake of these nightmares, he'd developed a routine. To gather his courage, and steel himself. To tell himself over and over that she’d be there, that she had to be. And every time, thankfully, he was right; greeted with the overwhelmingly reassuring sight of Anna, and her now-quite large belly protruding from under the sheets.
He was painfully aware that he could try his entire life, and not be worthy of her or their child growing within her. Not that she believed that when he told her.
No, she believed in him.
He was her hero, she’d told him once, without a hint of malice or sarcasm. So sincere, so true, that he knew it had to be true. Not for him, but for her, because it was what she deserved.
With moonlight spilling in through the partially opened blinds, Peter would gaze upon Anna. She put him at an ease he had never thought would be possible. She was beautiful, Peter would think with tears in his eyes.
He’d tried to hide the nightmares from her, and in the first few months, it had worked. He hadn’t wanted to worry her beyond what needed worrying about. She worried for two now, after all. And three, with the added responsibility of Ben on their shoulders.
It wasn’t until he realised she had nightmares of her own that he opened up about his own. And not once did she turn from him like he'd feared. If anything, she looked at him with more love than before and took his hand. She knew him, she understood him, and she trusted him with her life – and all those lives she cared about.
And he knew her too. Knew her so much to try his best to keep the nightmares away. To be her hero in every conceivable way he knew how.
So maybe, in some small way, that was enough. It was a step. An inch closer to deserving her love.
Brought back to the present, Peter looked up to see Pip standing in the doorway. The man who was his mentor, almost a father to him, smiled gently at him.
“Anna?” Peter asked but Pip nodded, continuing to smile.
“She’s fine. She’s strong. But it’s time,” Pip told him, with an even voice that did not betray excitement or happiness. His eyes, on the other hand, bright blue and shining brilliantly in the morning light, did.
“Are you ready for the next generation, Peter?”
Peter felt his heart speed up. Ready or not, it was now. He was about to be a father.
Anna’s Labour – as the Underground nurse who had accompanied Pip and the few books she’d been able to read about pregnancy, had called it – had lasted only a few hours. Hours that Anna knew Peter had spent pacing outside their bedroom.
But for the Delivery, Anna had insisted he be by her side. More than insisted, she had grabbed Pip’s hand and shouted for him to get Peter. Because it hurt, and the one of the only people who could possibly make it better wasn’t in this room with her.
Ben, the only other person able to give Anna any degree of comfort, but far too young to be with her now, was downstairs being tended to by Jude and Sheila who had insisted they travel – inconspicuously of course – with Pip and the nurse.
So there Anna lay, legs spread, pain shooting through her. The bed was covered in all manner of unseemly things but if Peter noticed these things, he didn’t say anything.
He didn’t see Anna any differently, it appeared, when he walked into the room, Pip by his side. He just rushed to her side, and took her hand.
It reminded her of when they’d escaped Grange Hall – all the way back at the beginning of their story. Of when Mrs Sharpe had dropped them off just outside of London, and they’d had to walk the rest of the way. When he’d asked if he could hold her hand, and then he had.
So much had happened since then. So much was still to come.
This was, after all, a new beginning.
And because it hurt so much, though she knew, in the end, it would be worth it, she kept her mind on those memories as the Underground nurse, a lovely, yet stern-faced woman who had introduced herself as Nicola, began to instruct her to push. To push as hard as she possibly could. She encouraged Peter to remind Anna to breath, which he readily did too.
Pip had mentioned once that people used to have classes on childbirth, on breathing and things like that. Classes that for obvious reasons had become obsolete decades ago.
As she pushed, Anna felt her grip on Peter’s hand tighten. But again, if it bothered him, he didn’t say a word and didn’t make a sound. He simply held on tight too, and buried his face in her hair.
“You’re doing great, Anna,” he assured her, in murmurs as he kissed the top of her head. “You’re amazing, Anna.”
Peter had a way of doing that. Had a way of seeing the best of her, even when she couldn’t.
And she saw the best of him too.
A perfect team, she’d always said.
He began to doubt, sometimes, wondering if being evil was simply genetic. If he’d fall victim to the same things that made his mother and grandfather so twisted.
And with the few things he’d learned about him, it wasn’t like his father had been a saint either.
“I can’t do this without you,” she’d told him months ago, one night after she'd rocked Ben to sleep.
She was still only a few months along in her pregnancy and barely showing yet. When they’d only just escaped to Scotland with their lives, and that of their unborn child.
Anna sometimes shivered when she remembered exactly what Richard Pincent and his associates had been planning to do with the child growing inside her.
It didn't do dwelling on or thinking about but still...
Peter had looked up at her, eyes wide and so full of guilt, so full of feeling. Anna had sometimes wondered if he could read her mind, if he was thinking the same thing as her. But she knew him. Just as he knew her.
And despite everything she'd been taught growing up, it wasn’t weakness to Anna. It wasn’t weakness to admit she needed him. She’d spent so long believing that that was what love was. A weakness.
But it wasn’t. It made people do extraordinary things. It made people invincible. Her love for Peter – and his for her – it made them unstoppable.
With a sigh, Anna had taken his hand and placed it over her belly.
“And I don’t think our child wants me to either,” she’d admitted, with a small smile.
As if their child had heard her, he or she decided now was the best time to kick. Small, but noticeable. A greater impact than anyone could ever imagine. It was quite symbolic, Anna thought.
And it was enough to make Peter quietly gasp in awe. He'd nodded then, looking so determined, that it'd brought a smile to her face. He’d kissed her belly, worked his way up, kissing every inch of her, until their faces were inches apart.
“Together?” she’d asked, but she knew it wasn’t really a question. It hadn't been for a very long time. From the day they'd escaped Grange Hall - maybe even before then - it had been them against the world.
Peter nodded. “Together,” he’d confirmed, before standing, lifting her in his arms and spinning her around the room, as she laughed in happiness, kissing her as he did so.
It was a little girl with Peter’s eyes, and a small tuft of hair. With Anna’s chin, and what appeared to be a strong set of lungs based on how loud she cried out when Nicola held her up to them.
It was a little girl, Peter realised, who, in little more than an instant, just became his entire world. Who had carved out a place for herself in his heart without even doing anything. Just for existing.
For a second, for the smallest second, he thought of his own mother. More so, he saw Margaret Pincent instead of Anna, and he saw himself, instead of his own child.
For only a second, though he’d never admit it, he’d understood how losing him could affect her so. He saw why losing him had warped her so completely.
But only for a second, and then no longer.
Nicola encouraged Peter to cut the umbilical cord, that connected mother and child, and then swaddled the infant in blankets brought to her by Pip. After securing her, Nicola handed the baby to Peter, who readily accepted his daughter, with a lightness in his heart he didn't think possible.
Pip looked happier than Peter had ever seen him. Pip, a man who rarely showed emotion but positively beamed at the beacon of hope that this new life was; that she had just brought into this world along with her. Pip looked at the bundle in Peter's arms with a wonder that Peter shared and understood more than he ever thought he would.
He’d heard about the miracle of life for as long as he had been alive. It had taken sixteen years to grasp, and only a single instant to understand when staring at his tiny daughter.
“Well done,” Pip was saying, but Peter thought those words were better reserved for Anna.
For his Anna, who had been so strong, resolute. She had only wavered once, once in her life, since casting off the shackles of Grange Hall. He’d beat himself up over that – and, in a very real sense, he’d beat his grandfather, when the day came that they were face to face once again – for the rest of his life.
But now, he looked down to find that here was another reason to open his eyes in the morning, to live this finite life. In the eyes of the impossibly little girl he now took over to Anna.
“Is that her?” Anna muttered, obviously exhausted, and looking like she would fall asleep any second now. Nicola said she’d need plenty of bed rest, and Peter would ensure she'd get it.
But Anna was as determined as he was. Using her elbows, she propped herself up on the bed, and looked up at Peter, and the newborn in his arms, with the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen.
“Is that our girl?”
Peter didn’t reply with words. He couldn’t. He was caught off guard by the lump in his throat, by the look of wonder in Anna’s misty eyes. He knew she felt the same way he did, without even needing words to communicate.
He passed the little one along to her, and saw that instant connection forged. That bond between parent and child, between mother and daughter. Anna, who would, in an instant, protect Ben with her life, and who would now do the same with their own child.
Anna looked down thoughtfully at her daughter resting soundlessly in her arms, knowing that this decision she and Peter made now was very important.
It was one of the first things they’d do for their daughter, and it had to be right. Peter told her there’s no way they could get it wrong, and that he’d support her, whatever she chose.
Anna thought it was an awful lot of responsibility. Then again, she reasoned, Ben had been a lot of responsibility to give to her too, and she'd managed there.
Maybe, then, she was capable. Yes, she was. She’d been learning that more and more every single day.
“Kate?” Pip suggested, from where he sat by the window. He glanced out of the curtains at intervals, waiting for night to fall so that he, Jude, Sheila and Nicola could be off once more to London.
Peter nodded over at Anna, while Ben, who sat on the freshly-changed bed between them, looked over at the small, new person in her arms.
Ben was still trying to grasp that Anna was not his mother, but his sister, and trying to explain that the as-of-yet unnamed new addition to their family was his niece would surely be just as challenging.
“For your mother?” Peter said.
Anna nodded. “Kate,” she said clearly. But, looking down at her baby, the name didn't seem right.
Not that she didn’t love her mother. She did, for the very short time she had had with her. With both of her parents. And she'd always be grateful, and a little sad for the sacrifice they'd made. And yet...
“She’s not a Kate, is she?” Pip said, with a slight chuckle. He rose from his chair, and came to stand beside the bed, on Anna’s side.
Anna sighed. “No, no she’s not.”
And she can’t think of anyone else. She never knew any family beyond her own parents, and Peter’s family were out of the question completely. Anna would never dream of naming her beloved daughter after their former tormentor, regardless of the fact she was Peter's biological mother,
“May I?” Pip asked, and he held his arms out to Anna.
“Of course.” Anna carefully handed her over to Pip, who then began to coo over her, who cut a gentler figure than his shadowy presence in the Underground movement would lead you to believe.
Anna looked over to meet Peter’s eyes at the sight, and she could see that he too was suppressing a laugh at the sight in front of them.
It seemed like everyone – even Jude – got this way around babies. Anna thought it was simply wonderful.
Pip stopped in front of them. “Molly?”
“Molly?” Peter asked the man he saw as a mentor, almost as a father, and then back to Anna. “Molly,” he tried again, sounding surer this time.
To herself, Anna rolled the name along her tongue.
Pip, fearless rebel, the leader of the Underground Movement, and apparent baby-whisperer, handed the child back to her mother’s arms.
“A suggestion,” he added. “A name that belonged to someone I knew long ago, that’s all.”
And for a second, Anna wanted to ask about the sadness in his eyes. Wanted to know exactly where it came from. But the second comes and goes, and she knows that even if she asked, Pip would evade an answer.
He was good at that.
“It’s perfect,” Anna said. “Molly,” she confirmed, looking down at the miracle she and Peter created, the miracle she carried and nurtured and brought into this world.
Into a world that may not have wanted her, but to Anna that didn’t matter, because she did. Because Peter did, and so did Ben, even if he didn’t quite understand who she was and the world itself quite yet.
“My Molly,” repeated Anna, and Peter leaned over to kiss both of their foreheads in turn. Ben’s too.
Anna beamed, and cuddled Molly closer. It was enough, it would be enough, to shelter her from all the things this world will have in store for them.
Anna was sure of it.
Peter was elated, of course he was. He’d heard so many stories from people in the Underground, about how they felt when their own child was born.
Anna’s mother and father described it best, he always thought. They'd said their feet had still been on the floor, but they’d felt like they’d been flying all the same. Dizzy with joy, and yet grounded with the wonderful gravity of knowing - or, of thinking, sadly, in the Covey's case - they had a child to raise.
And yet, yet Peter knew it would never be truly peaceful, and never completely over, not while they still hid.
If they had the freedom to choose, he’d probably be content with staying here forever. But it wasn’t a choice was it? Not when the threat his grandfather posed could lie just around the corner.
A hand on his shoulder pulled him out of the reverie he’d found himself in.
“You’re a father now, Peter. Enjoy it,” Pip told him. He shrugged his coat on, while Jude, Sheila and Nicola followed his lead. “The day for change will come. Soon. Molly,” Pip smiled fondly, “is a sign of that.”
“How-How will I know when that comes, Pip?” Peter asked.
He wanted to protect his family, and couldn't help but feel he couldn't do that from an abandoned house in the Highlands of Scotland.
He wondered if he should be in the thick of it. He wondered if he should be in London too.
Not that he’d want to leave Anna or the children behind. He couldn't even imagine it.
But if that’s what it took to keep them safe. To make a better world for Ben and for Molly, then-
Pip sighed. “You’ll know.” He nodded, more to himself, it seems, than to Peter. “You’ll know,” he repeated.
Jude coughed behind him, holding a device up. Peter smirked at the familiar sight of his half-brother and his tech. Jude never seemed to go anywhere without anything that might help him see what else was happening in the world.
“We’d better be off, Pip,” he said, with a nod.
Pip returned the nod, and then turned back to Peter, but said no more. Peter took this as his cue to say goodbye to his brother, first with a handshake, and then with a hug they both knew was really just inevitable.
He hugged Sheila too, despite the fact that the two of them weren't particularly close. But still, it felt like the right thing to do, in the moment.
Peter shook Nicola’s hand and thanked her for all she did for them - for Anna.
“It was Anna,” Nicola said, with a fond smile, and a nod up the stairs to where the bedroom was. “That girl is stronger than she thinks.”
Peter followed her gaze, and he felt that all too familiar surge of love and pride, as he nodded. “Don’t I know it?” he agreed.
Finally, with Jude, Sheila and Nicola already making their way down the path, for the long trek back to London, Pip turned to Peter for his own farewell.
“We’ll be in touch, Peter,” Pip said. “But enjoy this,” he added. A small smile, sad it seemed, tugged at the corner of his mouth. “It goes so quickly.”
And with a parting handshake, which turned into a half-hug, the two men said goodbye.
The house was quiet for the first time in the last couple of days and Peter made his way up the stairs. Two at a time, he stopped just outside the bedroom door, and quietly, gingerly; he pushed it open.
Anna was sound asleep already. He couldn't blame her. It had been a long day. The longest for her especially.
Molly was asleep too, in her makeshift cot, and with all the chaos, Ben had somehow found himself snuggled in beside Anna. Peter wondered if he should lift him and take him to his own room, but then thought better of it. Given the events of the day, it felt right that they should all be together, in the same room, tonight.
Peter tried to close the door quietly, but evidently, not quietly enough, as Anna stirred.
“Peter,” she mumbled, sleepily, trying to lift her head from the pillow but then shaking her head, and settling back down to sleep.
Peter smiled. “Yeah, Anna, I’m here,” he told her, like he had so many times before. “I’m here,” he repeated, into the dark room.
Maybe he just needed to make sure that Ben and Molly knew that too.
He went to stand beside the cot, to take in the sight of his daughter once more. And, almost more so, than when she’d been in his arms, she floored him.
She amazed him.
People lived forever, looking for something, a sliver of excitement to make them feel alive. When, really, they were all missing out on the most amazing feeling of all. Peter had never felt more alive than in this moment now.
Lucky, he thought. He was lucky.
Peter tore his eyes from his daughter, reluctantly, but knowing that he'd have so much time for and with her in the years to come. He walked over to the bed, carefully navigating himself under the sheets as to not disturb Anna and Ben.
It was that continued thought, of how lucky he had found himself, that comforted him as he closed his eyes.
A smile on his face, he was sure of it.
Those nightmares, the ones that had left him with so much, would maybe come back one day. But that didn't bother him. Not right now, when he felt so content, so blessed. Like Anna's parents had said; he felt like he was walking on air, and nothing could pull him down.
And those nightmares? Tonight? They didn’t stand a chance against him.