Pacing back and forth at the door, Austin paused every few steps to look for the doctor. The entire wing was eerily quiet, save for the soft murmur of the nurses at the desk. Casting them a hateful glare, she resumed her pacing. They acted as though they didn't realize Cheyanne's life was in danger just down the hall. Why weren't they down there helping out? Stopping, she banged her head against the wall, whispering prayers for her friend. It was all her fault, she realized. She should have taken better care of her, should have made sure she got all the rest she was supposed to… Should have stapled Nick's penis to his leg so it would be unusable. Sucking in a deep breath, she started when she felt a hand on her arm. "Leave me alone," she whispered, jerking her arm free. She was not in the mood for Kevin's gentle reassurances at the moment.
“Austi…” Nick trailed softly, his voice filled with heavy remorse as he pulled his hand away. Feebly, he tucked both hands into the pockets of his jeans, taking a tentative step back when Austin whirled on him. Since being thrust out of the operating room, Austin had been frigid with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t even have to ask what he happened when Austin first glanced to Kevin, breaking into an emotional hysterics. Something had gone terribly wrong with Cheyanne and no one was willing to explain. Nick had suffered through a hard panic attack at Austin’s declaration that Cheyanne was dying, which forced Kevin to play the dominant role. He had sent Nick down to the cafeteria with Baylee to get something to eat. Nick had gathered what he could, racing back upstairs with Baylee in tow. Once he was settled in the lounge, Nick noticed Austin somewhat down the hall with Kevin no where in sight. He had hoped she had news…
"It's all my fault," Austin breathed, using the hem of her t-shirt to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "None of this would have happened if I'd taken better care of her… But what was I supposed to do?" Looking at Nick helplessly, she swallowed hard in hopes of forcing the lump from her throat. It wouldn't budge. "Why Chey? She's so sweet… So wonderful… I wish it were me instead…" Dissolving into another fit of sobs, she slammed her head against his chest, needing someone else's strength to cling to.
Nick stumbled backward slightly from the power of Austin flinging her body against him, but he still managed to wrap his arms around her protectively. Her body heaved with heavy sobs as he turned her slightly, trying to avoid Baylee’s imploring stare. The little boy had been frantic about Cheyanne since they arrived and Kevin had just managed to calm him down by promising food. There was no need to rile him up again. Especially when Nick already felt guilty enough. “Austi… It’s not your fault… I… I don’t know what’s happening in there… But you took good care of Sweetheart. The best… It’s…” Nick choked painfully as he pulled Austin tighter in his embrace, squeezing his eyes shut. “It’s my fault…”
Shaking her head, Austin sobbed pitifully. "No… Nicky… It's…" Austin couldn't stand for Nick to shoulder the blame. It wasn't as though he'd done anything terrible. At least he'd shown Cheyanne some love. Shaking her head again, she clung to him. "Blame Howie… He's not here…"
Nick flinched at the mention of Cheyanne’s previous lover, feeling the knot tighten in the pit of his stomach. He wondered if her depression had been just cause for the horrifying scene in the operating room. As if Nick hadn’t loved her enough to make Howie dispensable in her mind. “He doesn’t even know she’s here, Austi… It’s not… I’m the one that hurt her… I should have called you when I knew she was bleeding…”
Austin went still at his words. Leaning her head back to look up at him, she hastily dragged her hand over her cheeks. "You knew she was bleeding?"
"And you didn't tell me?! What kind of vile, loathsome pissfuck are you?!"
“Austi, Sweetheart said it was normal--”
"And you believed her? Jesus Christ, Nick I thought you had a mind of your own! She was fucking hemorrhaging! What did you do to her?!" Austin demanded, gripping his shirt in her hands. If she let go, she knew she would hit him.
“N-Nothing!” Nick stammered in shock as he was thrown backward into the wall, the air sucked from his lungs in one quick motion. Though, that was nothing compared to the sharp aching of his heart as he attempted to pull Austin’s hands away from him. He was guilty. He knew that much. If Cheyanne died, he would be the one responsible. He felt another panic attack starting to swell at the very thought of having to stand at Cheyanne’s gloomy funeral.
"Promise me! Look me in the eye and swear you didn't do a thing to Chey-Chey. 'Cause if I find out you did…"
Nick felt tears finally start to wash down his face, the lump in his throat breaking into a hot sob. “I didn’t--”
"Why you cry, Nicky?" Baylee questioned suddenly, tugging on the man's jean shorts. "My Angel d'unna be otay?"
“If she’s not… If she dies on that table… I’ll kill you myself,” Austin seethed, throwing Nick back into the wall once more before stalking into the waiting room, going to the nurses’ station to demand information.
Baylee's tears started to fall anew. "Nicky? My Angel… Her can't die…"
Nick couldn’t even glance down to the little boy, instead folding his hands against his face, struggling for a breath of air. “Bay--”
“P’omise, Nicky! My Angel not die!” Baylee insisted furiously.
"Your Angel won't die," Kevin's voice drawled softly from behind. Stooping over, he scooped Baylee into his arms, cradling him close. "I promise… And your Daddy's going to be here in a few minutes, okay? He just called--"
“I want my Angel!” Baylee interrupted, pounding a small fist against Kevin’s chest to show his disgust with the situation. “Wanna ‘iss her! Wanna ‘nuggle her! Want her now, Kevvy!”
Catching Baylee's wrist, Kevin held him closer. "I know a way you can see her… But just a piece of her, okay?" he murmured gently. Glancing at Nick, he saw the younger man was prostrate with grief. "Let's go see the baby… And you can blow her kisses and Angel will feel them."
Baylee looked furiously doubtful. “Not-uh--”
"She will," Kevin promised softly. "She will."
Nick dragged himself from the wall, reaching for Baylee. "C'mon, Bay… We'll both go kiss and snuggle the baby."
Baylee shrank away from Nick at first, not wanting to leave the hallway where he had last saw Cheyanne. But, the desperation in Nick’s ocean eyes seemed to appeal to the youngster. Puckering his bottom lip, Baylee crawled into Nick’s arms, wrapping his protectively around the man’s neck. Burying his face against Nick’s shoulder, he sighed. “The baby outside My Angel’s tummy now?”
"She sure is… And as soon as they say it's okay, you can hold her and snuggle her all you want," Nick promised softly as he carried Baylee down the hall. Passing Austin, he averted his eyes from her hateful stare, though he knew he deserved it. "And when Sweetheart gets better, I'm going to take all of you out on my boat for a couple days. How's that sound? Just the four of us…"
Kevin watched as Nick turned the corner toward the small nursery, continuing to promise Baylee the world in hopes to calm him down. Usually, Kevin would frown on such promises, but now he honestly welcomed them. There was no way that he could possibly contend with Baylee and Nick’s grief while worrying about his fiancée and their ‘daughter.’ Folding his hands behind his head, he walked toward the waiting room where Austin was trudging back to, not having the heart to pass the operating room. He was afraid he’d hear them shouting out the time associated with Cheyanne’s death. That just sickened him as he collapsed back into a hard plastic chair, waiting to see if Austin wanted held or not. “Did they say anything yet?”
"All they said was Chey has something called a… DIC? And they're trying to stop the bleeding…" Austin threw herself into his lap, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. "She's got to make it, Kev… If she dies…"
“Princess, she’s not going to die,” Kevin affirmed strongly, wrapping his arms around her as he soothingly kissed the side of her face. “She’s too feisty of a little bugger to die.”
"Do you… You remember back at the cabin? When we both had hangovers from Hell and she burst in and was all full of energy?" Austin sniffled, closing her eyes.
“When you threatened to chop her up and feed her to the spiders?” Kevin murmured, slowly rubbing his fiancée’s back.
"…I think it was snakes?" Austin whispered, smiling slightly. "And remember when me and her made cookies? How much fun she and I were having, 'cause you and Howie didn't understand when we were talkin' along with Jeff Foxworthy?"
“Yeah, I remember, you two are quite the pair, Princess.”
"I can't help but think about her laughing and smiling, Pretty Boy. It… It helps a little…"
"Kevin?" Howie's voice came from the doorway.
Kevin felt Austin tense within his lap as he jerked from the sound of Howie’s voice. He had called a few hours ago, never expecting the man to arrive so soon. In fact, Kevin hadn’t really expected Howie to show at all. But, the fact that he was there spoke volumes to Kevin, though Austin didn’t seem to pleased. “He had a right to know that Angel was in surgery,” Kevin warned Austin before sitting her in the plastic seat. Stepping over her jutted legs, certain that she meant to trip him, he moved toward where Howie was standing at the doorway of the private waiting room. “Hey, D, I didn’t think you were coming…”
Howie released a pained sigh, keeping his gaze away from Austin. "How is she?"
“Angel’s still in surgery,” Kevin explained softly, folding his arms across his chest. “The nurse said something to Princess about Angel having DIC… Whatever it is, she won’t stop bleeding and they’re trying to fix it… They won’t tell us anything else…”
"…And Cinnamon?" Howie asked softly.
Austin sat up upon hearing Howie's nickname for Olivia. Getting to her feet, she stepped over to Kevin, linking her fingers with his. "…You called her Cinnamon…" she trailed in a whisper, blinking back more tears.
“She’s in the nursery,” Kevin explained softly, rubbing Austin’s hand with his thumb, not knowing what her reaction to Howie would contain. “She’s… Five pounds, eighteen inches, right, Princess?”
Austin nodded, looking at Howie. Noticing the concern on his face, the worry in his eyes. The rumpled clothing, as though he had fallen out of bed and rushed to be with Cheyanne from wherever he had been. "…Do you want to go see her?" she murmured as she heard a rush of footsteps coming down the hallway.
“WHERE’S CHEY?!” Brian’s voice exploded into the soft murmurs of the waiting room, completing disrupting whatever bond Austin and Howie might have been trying to rekindle. He looked quite frazzled as he tugged the unknown woman into the room, glancing quickly to his older cousin. “Where’s Scooper?!”
"Holy shit, Brian… Calm down," Kevin greeted him gently. Nodding in greeting to the young woman standing at his cousin's side, he squeezed Austin's hand reassuringly. "Angel's in the operating room, and Bay's gone to the nursery to see Little Angel…"
“What the Hell happened to her?” Brian labored, sinking against the wall with relief.
Taking a deep breath, Austin launched into the story, telling Brian and Howie that Cheyanne had gone into labor while taking a shower. "Bay found her… And when we got here, they took her back, and I was there while Ollie born… And she just passed out all of a sudden." Swallowing hard, she squeezed Kevin's hand harder. "They said something about a DIC? And they're trying to stop the bleeding…"
“My God…” the woman beside Brian whispered in horror.
“…How long have they been trying to stop the bleeding? I mean… There’s only so much blood…” Brian couldn’t work the nerve to finish the sentence, glancing sideways in surprise to see Howie.
Austin placed her hand on Howie's arm, gripping it gently. "I--"
“Dr. Synder!” Austin immediately burst at the sound of the soft voice. Turning, she released her grip on both Howie and Kevin, stumbling to hurry over to the doctor who was walking into the waiting room with her. She was dressed in a pair of hospital issue scrubs, cleanly pressed. At first, Austin thought it was a sign of good will. That nothing had been too serious with Cheyanne. But, her thoughts turned dreadful, wondering if the reason she wore hospital issue scrubs was because her other clothes were ruined.
“I thought you’d be visiting with Olivia…” Dr. Synder trailed, glancing toward the small bustle of people in the waiting room. “Are they with you?”
"Yes… How is she?" Austin questioned softly, reaching behind her for Kevin's hand when she felt him step up behind her.
“She’s stabilizing in recovery right now,” Dr. Synder explained with a small, encouraging smile. “With the placental abruption, because she was bleeding so long, she suffered from something called DIC. It’s when your body tries so hard to stop the bleeding in the body, that it wears off all the hormones mean to clot, causing the patient to bleed even more. I managed to stabilize the bleeding without having to remove her uterus, so she’ll be able to bear another child when Olivia wants a little sister. I’m going to need to keep her here for a few extra days to monitor her blood. We’re transfusing all the blood she lost, but that takes time. And she’ll be on quite a hefty load of medication to correct the problem with her blood… We’re just getting ready to take her up to ICU. So, no worries, Austin. She’s a fighter.”
Austin sagged against Kevin with relief, feeling as though the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. "When can I see her?"
"Bear… Let's go find Bay," the woman with him murmured gently.
“In all honesty, Austin, visiting hours are quite strict in ICU. She’s very weak and not really responsive, so I would suggest you go home and get some rest…” Dr. Synder’s voice trailed as she offered a rueful smile. “But, if you want, I can take you upstairs and speak with the nurses about letting you spend the night… Because I know you’ll just end up there anyway.”
“When you’re ready, I’ll be upstairs in 1003, Cheyanne’s ICU room. Just come up and I’ll get things squared away,” Dr. Synder insisted, rubbing Austin’s shoulder encouragingly. “She’s going to be fine, Austin. She just needs to actually rest this time and worry about the baby.”
Austin nodded as Dr. Synder headed away. Turning to Kevin, she hugged him tightly. "You were right," she breathed softly.
"…Aren't I always?"
“Now is not the time to be a pompous ass,” Austin murmured, burying her face into the crook of his neck as she heaved a sigh of great relief, sending many thanks to God.
“You needed to smile,” Kevin answered, rubbing her back as he kissed the side of her face affectionately. “I’ll walk you up to ICU, okay? That way I can just peek in on my daughter and make sure they’ll treat her right… And, if you’re staying here, I guess I should take the others to your house? ‘Cause Bay can’t stay here all night.”
"I'm staying," Howie announced softly.
Nodding, Austin pressed a kiss to Kevin's cheek. "I guess you can put Brian and Bay and whoever she is in our room? 'Cause it's got the biggest bed. And you can spend the night in Chey's room. Just make sure to change the sheets, you know where the clean ones are…" Glancing at Howie as he moved to sit in a chair, she sighed. "And put Nick on the couch for the night," she whispered. "And tomorrow I'll work out the arrangements better…" Right now she found herself not really caring where everyone slept. All that mattered was that Cheyanne was going to be okay. "And… If you're planning on coming back, bring me some clean clothes? And get my shampoo and stuff, 'cause I need to take a--"
"Princess… I can handle it," Kevin assured her softly, kissing her face again.
"I know you can. That's why you're the Daddy."
“You make sure when Angel wakes up she knows how much I love her,” Kevin told Austin, deciding he could give her a list of chores as well. “And call me when she does wake up. Let me know how La-La’s fairing downstairs. And remind me to get the hours of the ICU so I know when La-La can see her Momma--”
"God, Kevin, you're starting to sound like my husband already… And for your information, I'll be making sure Ollie gets in to see Chey. Also, you can carry your tail downstairs and check on Ollie as you're leaving," she reminded him.
“I guess I better let you get upstairs and at least say something to Howie?” Kevin murmured with a soft laugh, kissing her softly.
"I thought you were walking me?" she whispered, pulling away. "Stay and say something to Howie… And get your ass back here soon so I'll have something to hold on to…"
“Give me ten minutes and I’ll be up there,” Kevin promised, pulling her back to kiss her once more. Then, letting her fingers slide from his, he watched her walk down the opposite hallway. Lingering for a moment when she disappeared, he finally turned, running his hands several times through his raven locks. He thanked God above that Cheyanne was safe and sound, knowing there was no way he or Austin could have survived without her. And, now, looking down at Howie, he realized that his best friend hadn’t fared so well without her, either. “D? You’re planning on staying here the whole night?”
"Yeah, I am. Sounds like you and Austin have a full house… I can crash in the waiting room. You know me, I can sleep anywhere," Howie said with a slight smile. "She's really going to be okay… Thank God," he breathed, running his hands over his face. "Want to go with me to see Cinnamon before you go fulfill your husbandly duties?"
“Sure… I haven’t seen her yet,” Kevin answered with a firm nod. “I’d get some pictures but Nick threw my digital camera in a bucket of cow slobber or some shit…”
Getting to his feet, Howie reached for his backpack. "I've got mine… Nick's here?"
“Uh… Yeah…” Kevin trailed vaguely, motioning to where the nursery was located down the corridor. “Y’know how Baylee was pitching fits about not seeing Angel? Well, Nick volunteered to bring him down and help watch him while Brian visited with an old friend.”
"Yeah… That woman with him is surely an old friend," Howie mused with a shake of his head. "But you don't have to dance around the subject, Kev. I'm not so blind I haven't seen what's been going on with Nick and Honey…"
“Well, it’s not like I know what to say exactly…”
"You could start with what an ass I've been for the past few weeks…"
“You’ve been worse than an ass,” Kevin confided, catching a sideways glance at Howie with honest surprise. “…What brought this change? Are you dying or something?”
"No… But I thought Honey was… I did a lot of thinking on the plane, Kev. If--if she's happy with Nick, then--"
“Then what?” Kevin questioned, stopping them before the nursery.
"Then that's what she deserves, isn't it? Even if it kills me inside to realize that she's not mine anymore, then least I can wish for is her happiness…" Closing his eyes briefly, Howie sighed. His first thoughts on hearing Kevin say that Cheyanne was in the hospital had been so vicious, he knew he would regret them forever. It had only been after hanging up that he had realized he needed to be near her.
“It seems reasonable…” Kevin trailed, not having the heart to tell Howie how much Cheyanne did love Nick. How the two reacted to each other and cared for one another. How much Nick did love Cheyanne. It seemed surreal at some points. To see Nick so caring and humbled. He wasn’t sure he could wish that Cheyanne would choose one man over the other.
"Daddy, we go see My Angel now?" Baylee's voice echoed down the hallway as Brian carried him from the nursery. "I need t'see My Angel…"
“We can’t see your Angel tonight. I already told you that, Scooper,” Brian sighed as he reached for his lover’s hand, continuing to wrangle Baylee as he noticed Howie and Kevin a few feet away.
"C'we go eat at Mickey D's? Snookums get in the ball pit wiff me?" Baylee questioned hopefully.
"Snookums?" Howie breathed in amusement.
“Sure, I’ll get in the ball pit with you, Bay,” the woman encouraged with a sweet smile as Brian questioned Kevin for directions to the girls’ house.
"He didn't even introduce us… Are we that unimportant?" Howie asked Kevin as the woman reached for Baylee.
“Vivian,” Brian announced as he handed over his son, keying the girls’ address into his expensive phone. “Her name is Vivian… Snookums, this is Howie and Kevin…”
"Nice to meet y'all… Brian talks about you all the time," Vivian drawled in her soft voice, smoothing Baylee's hair as he rested his head on her shoulder.
"Nice to meet you," Kevin and Howie murmured in reply.
"Give My Angel kisses for me?" Baylee requested as they headed towards the elevator.
"Will do," Kevin promised, watching them leave. Turning to Howie, he placed a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "Ready to go meet La-La?"
“You certainly don’t look like a zombie,” Nick breathed softly as he stood beside Olivia’s bassinet, tentatively playing with the band around his arm signaling that he was a family member of the new baby. The ID number on his band would match the numbers on Olivia’s band as well as Cheyanne’s band, Austin’s band, and Kevin’s band, which meant he was allowed to hold her, now that the nurses had given him permission. But he had yet to scoop her into his arms. She was so tiny, just like her mother, practically drowning in the softness of the pink blankets and cap that seemed to be three sizes to big. But she was peaceful, just suckling her tiny fingers as she dozed lightly. She was so beautiful. So very beautiful. An exact replica of her mother, even with the golden curls hiding underneath the pink cap. Looking at her made Nick think of Cheyanne. He was just so very thankful that she would be okay, Brian having delivered the news when he picked up Baylee. Now he had to make sure not to hurt her again. Not to hurt Olivia as well.
"Let's see if I can do this right," Nick whispered, reaching to lift her into his arms. He suddenly remembered when Aaron and Angel had been this small, though he hadn't been allowed to hold them. She was just too small, he kept repeating in his mind as he adjusted her body in the crook of his arm. Holding her close to his chest, he gazed down at her face, taken aback when her eyes opened slightly. "Hey there," he murmured, stepping carefully to the rocking chair by the bassinet. Cradling her close, he traced her soft cheek with the knuckles of his right hand. "If I do something wrong, just cry, okay?"
“How can a little girl cry in her Daddy’s arms?” a nurse announced with an awed smile, having overheard Nick’s conversation with Olivia while she was checking on the other newborns. Slinging the pediatric stethoscope around her neck, she stepped over to where Nick was sitting, peering down at her patient snuggled so comfortably in Nick’s arms, watching him with curious sapphire eyes. “She looks just like you… You must be so proud.”
"Actually, she's…" Nick trailed softly, a hard lump forming in his throat. She wasn't his daughter. The realization hit him swiftly, and he stared up at the nurse for a long moment. "I'm just…"
“Your first?” the nurse guessed with a coo, reaching to take Olivia’s chart from the foot of the bassinet. Glancing down the listed information, she marked some things with a scribble of her pen, setting it back. “Her mother’s in ICU still, so she’ll need to feed with a bottle. Would you like to feed her?”
Nick paled considerably, glancing down at Olivia. "I… Don't you need like a degree to do that sort of thing?" he questioned softly, smiling slightly when Olivia's hand clamped around his finger. Her small mouth opened slowly as she squeezed his finger hard. "Holy cow, Zombie, you've got a grip…"
“No degree needed, but I can help you when she needs burped?” the nurse suggested, watching as Olivia sought to suck on Nick’s finger. “She loves you a lot.”
"Whoa, hold up… My nails might scratch your… God, you're just too cute," Nick actually cooed, lowering his head to brush his lips over her forehead. Glancing at the nurse, he blushed when he saw the smile of awe on her face. "Um… Yeah, I think I can do the bottle jigger…"
“I’ll go get it,” the nurse approved, squeezing Nick’s shoulder. “Then you’ll have to get Grandma and Grandpa to take a picture of you with your daughter. You two are just so cute together…”
"Grandma and Grandpa?" Nick repeated. Surely this woman didn't think his parents were going to come to see the baby?
“Your mother or father? Or the mother’s mother and father?”
"Oh… I'll have to get Austin to call Sweetheart's folks…" He had no damn clue where they were or even what their names were. Glancing at the large window, he saw Kevin lingering outside. "But there's the man who should really be called Grandpa," he muttered under his breath.
The nurse followed Nick’s gaze, her dark eyes sparking with excitement. “Grandfathers are absolutely adorable. Hopefully he’ll have a camera. Grandfathers always have cameras. But I better go get her bottle.”
Nick bit back a chuckle as he watched her leave the room. Looking down at Olivia, he gave her a secretive smile. "Kev's not really your Grandpa… God, I wouldn't pin that on my worst enemy… Oh, and he doesn't have a camera, either. I kind of maybe dropped it in a bucket of water the other day," he added softly, shifting her slightly against his arm. "You need a real Daddy, don't you, Zombie? Not some eternal fuc--screw up like me…"
Unfortunately, Olivia couldn’t really answer Nick’s question. Instead, she just continued to watch him with her large sapphire eyes, far more alert than she had ever been. She even flexed her tiny foot within the blanket, much like her mother did before falling asleep. Seeming to smile, Olivia continued to chew against the tip of his finger as her tiny hand attempted to circle completely around his first knuckle. She seemed infatuated with him.
"Y'know… 'Till I met your Momma, I never really thought about settling down and having a family. I planned on being single forever… Date, date, date, date, date, date, die was pretty much my mantra… Whatever the heck a mantra is," Nick muttered, moving the rocking chair gently. Staring at Olivia, he smiled slightly. "Then your Momma came along, and…" Tearing his eyes from her almost hypnotic gaze, he glanced at the window, his heart stopping when he saw Howie standing next to Kevin. "Oh, shit…"
Holding his breath, Nick stopped moving the rocking chair, watching Howie’s gaze fall to the small bundle in his arms. It didn’t take a genius to see the sharp pain radiating in Howie’s eyes as he met Nick’s gaze. Immediately, Nick’s mind was rushed with Howie’s excitement over Cheyanne’s pregnancy. It was all he seemed to talk about when things had been wonderful between him and Cheyanne. Unlike Nick, Howie had always dreamed of having a family. Yet, Nick was sitting in the nursery, holding his dream. Sighing, Nick winced when Howie only held their linking gaze for a moment before bowing his head, muttering something toward Kevin. It looked as if he were going to leave.
Looking down at Olivia, Nick gently pulled his finger from her mouth. "Zombie… I love you to pieces already… But I know I could never love you as much as that man in the hallway does," he whispered as he stood. Blinking back tears over his hasty decision, he pressed a soft kiss to her cheek as he placed her in the bassinet. Glancing out the window, he saw Kevin had grabbed Howie's arm, though from the looks the men were sharing, it seemed only seconds would pass before he let go.
Fussing with the ID band on his wrist, Nick hurriedly moved through the nursery, continuing to keep a watch on the men in the hallway. He stumbled slightly over the small nurse, muttering some kind of apology as tears blurred his vision. He knew he was doing the right thing, though it seemed as if his soul had transferred from his body. It barely even sounded like his voice as he burst into the hallway. “Howie, wait!”
Kevin stared at him before looking at Howie, who had paused mid-stride. "Nick--"
"Howie, please," Nick implored softly, ignoring Kevin as Howie continued down the hall. "I have to tell you something.”
Howie continued his pitiful stride as his voice echoed through the hallway, filled with a raw pain that could never be explained. “You gave me back the engagement ring and necklace, Nick… You win… You have my Honey and my Cinnamon… Your own perfect little family… I hope you treat them like they deserve… Like I should have treated them…”
"Howie…" Nick sighed painfully and rushed after Howie, grasping his shoulder and whipping him around so they were face to face. "She loves you… Only you… I don't deserve her…"
“Don’t play this game with me--”
"This isn't a fucking game, D. I swear… Chey needs you. That little baby in that nursery needs you and your love. 'Cause as much as I love them, I know I could never give them what you can," Nick murmured, angrily brushing his tears away.
Howie’s eyes were dark with disbelief as he searched the younger man’s face, waiting for the usual smirk to spread. The smirk that told Howie he had been an asshole to let Cheyanne slip away. That she was deliriously happy with Nick. That she hadn’t thought about him since Nick stepped into his place. Frowning, Howie chewed the inside of his cheek, just waiting for the devastating blow. Something worse than seeing Nick holding Olivia, knowing how she could easily pass for his daughter. “…What can I give them, Nick?”
Nick swallowed hard, felt his heart breaking at the idea of giving Cheyanne up. But he knew, he just knew she deserved better than him. "Everything," he whispered finally, releasing his grip on the older man's shoulder. "You can give them everything. I know, I've got money and all that, but you can give them everything they need besides material shit. Howie… You've got the biggest heart I've ever seen, and… Seeing you happy with Cheyanne is more important than anything else in the world." There, he'd said it. If Howie asked him for more explanation, he knew he would die from the pain in his heart.
“She chose you--”
"No she didn't."
“Damnit, Howie. She loves you. What you have with her… I’ll never be able to recreate that with her… God, I wouldn’t have even dragged my ass out of bed to take some shitty flight just to make sure she was okay…” Nick forced the tight, nervous laugh from his lungs. “Don’t you love her?”
Howie didn't hesitate. "Yes. With all my heart--"
“Good,” Nick interrupted, forcing a smile as he gestured toward the nursery. “Z—Olivia needs her bottle. The nurse was getting it for me… But you should do it. I need a smoke anyway.”
"I thought you quit," Kevin murmured softly from behind Nick as Howie stared at the nursery window.
“Nah… I just didn’t want Austin bitching at me smelling up her house and endangering the baby’s life or what-the-fuck-ever…” Nick lied with a noncommittal shrug of his shoulders, refusing to even meet Kevin’s gaze. Because, if he looked to the man he considered his eldest brother, Nick knew he would break and his already bleeding heart would fall to the floor. “Just… Remind me to talk to Sweet--Cheyanne tomorrow when she’s awake…”
"You need to talk to her now… She'll be awake soon," Kevin informed him as Howie fairly stumbled towards the nursery. Watching his friend disappear inside, he drew in a deep breath. "She'll be asking for you when she wakes up, I'm sure…"
“Only ‘cause she doesn’t realize Howie’s here,” Nick murmured, crossing his arms over his chest after furiously rubbing whatever tears might have stained his face. He wouldn’t show weakness now. “Besides, she’s in ICU… I ain’t allowed in there.”
"And that would normally stop you? Goddamnit, Nick, you can't just walk out on her without a word--"
“Tomorrow, I’ll talk to her tomorrow--”
"No, you're talking to her today. And if you don't start making tracks up to ICU, I am so carrying your ass up there."
“What the Hell is your problem?” Nick scoffed as Kevin pushed him down the hallway. “I thought you’d be fucking happy--”
"That you're about to break her heart?! Jesus Christ, Nick! Have you learned nothing about Cheyanne?" Kevin exploded.
“A-fucking-parently not,” Nick scoffed sarcastically, doing his best to pretend that it didn’t hurt. That this was nothing but another fling. Another woman within the notches of his headboard. “D’s right, y’know, just got tired of fucking around with her. It happens.”
Before Kevin could stop himself, he felt his fist fly out, connecting with Nick's jaw. Wincing as he felt his knuckles pop, he stepped back as Nick sagged against the wall, clutching his face. "You son-of-a-bitch. Get out of here. Now," he threatened calmly. "Cheyanne will be better off not speaking to you again."