Provocation (18+)

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50. Neon Lights

“I told you everything was fine.”

Leila and Nate were on their way back to the states, Leila sitting in a large reclining chair with her feet up.

“It didn’t hurt to have you get checked out,” Nate told her, running his hand along her leg for a moment. It was covered in a medium-thick blanket. Not too heavy, not too light. Goldilocks approved.

“The nurses thought you were insane when you walked into the waiting room demanding I be seen right away,” Leila told him, scolding gently.

“I didn’t demand,” Nate explained. “I merely suggested that we were on our way out of the country and in a hurry and flashed some cash.”

“You acted like I was going into labor,” Leila said dryly.

“The nurses thought I was adorable, especially that one with the glass eye,” he determined.

“A lazy eye, not glass. There’s a difference. And she was 80 years old if she was a day.”

“She treated me like her own flesh and blood.”

“Like a grandson,” Leila said snidely.

“She just had a great grandbaby so she was easy to convince,” Nate said. “She saw me as a future first-time father and felt bad. I’m not too proud to beg.”

“Watching you beg would have been better than looking at you with your eyes bulging out of their sockets like they were. I thought they’d pop out from the pressure.”

“Quiet, baby. Get some sleep.”

“So you concede that I win?” Leila asked, yawning.

“Win what?”

“Win this argument.”

Nate looked at her, sizing her up from head to foot.

“You have pregnancy hormones running rampant in your body,” Nate told her. “I think it’s safe to say that for the next 8 months or so, I’ll let you win every argument. I value my balls too much and I want future children.”

“Please, one baby at a time,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Wait until Carl hears,” Nate commented gleefully a moment later. “He’s not the only one whose swimmers can fight past the Ortho Tricyclen iron gates.”

“You say it like proving how ineffective birth control can be is some sort of badge of honor.”

“No.” Nate shook his head. “I just like to think of my sperm as... Super Seed.”

“Able to leap tall building in a single bound?”

“Got past your walls, didn’t they?”

“You’re sick in the head,” Leila said softly with a hidden smile.

“If this is sick, I never want to be well again.”

Leila slept through a two-hour layover at LaGuardia where Nate slipped off the plane to take care of some business. On his way back into the jet, he knocked on the cockpit door and asked for a detour on the way back to SFO.

If the pilot looked surprised, his stoic face didn’t show it, though he did look at the bag of items Nate had in his hand for a brief moment before nodding.

Luckily the trip to McCarran International Airport was pretty much the same as the one back to San Francisco and it took only a few minutes to clear the new flight plan with the FAA. Within 15 minutes, they were taking off again heading west.


“Now? Shit!” Nate’s lips turned down in a frown as a harried voice on the other line spoke rapidly.

“What’s going on? Is it my mom?” Leila asked looking around the busy terminal at the airport.

“No, sweetheart. Your mom’s fine as far as I know.”

Nate listened and nodded his head, not realizing the man on the other side of the line couldn’t see his affirmations.

“Right, well take as long as you need,” Nate said, calming the man. “I know I’m new but even I can’t possibly run your business into the ground in a few weeks.”

Leila figured it must have been Aiden who was calling and then it dawned on her.

“Is Constance having the baby?” she asked, eyes round.

Nate smiled softly and nodded back at her, all the while listening to Aiden speak loudly into his ear.

“Right, Carl in charge. Good Lord.” Nate listened as Aiden defended his friend. “I know he’s changed, but sometimes that man worries me.”

Nate listened and then laughed.

“Well, we’re here at the airport so we should be there shortly,” Nate assured him. “We’ll take a cab straight to Stanford.”

They walked more quickly, Nate practically carrying Leila toward the direction of their jet, and Leila simply following along in his wake. Nate ended the call and popped his cell back into his front pocket.

“They just got to the hospital,” Nate said. “Five centimeters dilated, whatever that means.” Nate’s face scrunched up. “He mentioned something about passing a mucus plug and then her water breaking. I don’t know about the mucus plug, but it sounds horrifying. Like something you’d get from a sinus infection.”

His shoulders heaved in a shiver and Leila tried not to laugh.

“You know that is what will happen to me so long as I have a natural childbirth,” she said, egging him on.

“No, baby,” he told her with a shake of his head. “Our baby is being brought by the stork through the hospital window. That or I pass out in the delivery room. Mucus plug?” Another shiver rolled up and down his spine and Leila snorted with laughter.

They boarded the plane and were off as soon as the doors locked and they were buckled in. Since it was late, there was hardly any air traffic to be seen. For a city that seemed to never sleep, it was quite quiet at the airport.

The last leg of their journey home seemed to take forever, and Leila’s leg bounced anxiously while in her seat. Nate tried to keep her calm, but she was too keyed up with everything that happened in the past 24 hours.

There had been a lot. A fuckload. A shit-ton.

And now there was another baby that was being ushered into the world.

“I bet it’s another girl,” Nate said, speaking of Constance’s impending birth.

“I think they’re having a boy,” Leila said.

“What makes you think that?”

“What makes you think it’s a girl?”

“Touche,” Nate said. “But I don’t know why. Aiden seems like the kind of guy who’d be completely overrun with a house full of females.”

“That sounds more like Carl,” Leila remarked, looking out the window.

“Nah. Carl will be weirdly stereotypical and have a boy and a girl. Everything else about him is unusual, so the domestic shit will be par for the course with him.”

“Whatever,” Leila said, rolling her eyes.

“You’re cranky,” Nate noted.

“I’m tired.”

“You had a six-hour nap.”

“I’m always tired.”

“And cranky,” Nate said, pushing his luck.

“You love when I get cranky. It makes you feel good to try to... to de-crankify me.”


“It’s a word, dammit,” Leila said stubbornly. “It’s a... a Leila-ism.”

“Okay, baby.”

They were silent for a while until the pilot advised they put on their seatbelts for descent into SFO. Nate double checked Leila’s belt to make sure it was over her lap and not her tummy.

“Stop fussing,” Leila said, swatting his hand away. “You’re going to stifle me, Nate.”

“I would never.”

“You would, and enjoy it.”

She had him there, so he didn’t reply.

They off-boarded quickly and told the pilot they would have someone pick their luggage up at a later time. The man nodded back at him and continued his post-flight check. The copilot was silent as a tomb again. Nate wondered if he talked to anyone besides the pilot.

The cab line outside baggage claim was full at this time of night and they hopped into the first one, telling him to head to Stanford Hospital. The man, a young, white male who did a double take when Nate told him where they were headed, hesitated at first and then started to drive.

“None of ya are in any kind of medical emergency, are ya?” the young driver asked.

“No,” Nate told him. “A friend is having a baby tonight. She went into labor a few hours ago.”

“Good.” The man sounded relieved. “My employer would kill me if I didn’t offer to call 911 for one you folk if that was what was needed. Liability and all. Don’t want to get sued.”

Nate nodded, kept silent.

“So, are y’all from around here?”

The cab driver seemed relaxed after that. And very interested in their trip to Ireland.

Nate kept the details to the places they saw and not the business that brought them there. Not that the man wouldn’t have been absolutely intrigued by someone else’s messy life, but it was none of his business.

Nate paid the driver, leaving him a hefty tip and thanked him. The man had been more pleasant than most cabbies and Nate was grateful for that. He was a safe driver and young, and by the look on his left ring finger, married as well.

They made their way to the maternity wing and were met with almost everyone in their inner circle.

Harry and Mathilde were sitting in a corner with Angelica in tow. The two women were talking while Harry talked to Carl who was discussing something serious. Maybe about the business. They expected Aiden to take a short paternity leave like he had with Lizzie.

Lizzie and Mason were both passed out in strollers while Ramon’s kids played in another corner of the room, quietly so as not to wake the toddlers.

Violet was speaking with Mariana and Ramon, smiling tiredly. Even Bettina was in attendance, though she looked to be playing a game on her phone and yawning into her hand occasionally.

Leila immediately made her way over to her mother and Mathilde, giving her mom a hug before embracing Mathilde as well.

“My dear, I’m so happy everything worked out,” she told her. Leila gave her a look and tilted her head, wondering if she was only talking about the results of the DNA.

Mattie looked down, eyes widening minutely, but kept her own counsel as Nate came over to embrace his mother as well.

They chatted for a while quietly, not wanting to wake the kids, until Aiden came out of the electronially-locked swinging door looking as harried as he had sounded over the phone with Nate.

“It’s a boy,” he said quietly, grinning like a loon.

“Told you,” Leila said under her breath to Nate.

“Lucky guess,” he retorted, but smiled all the same.

“Women’s intuition.”

They all filtered into the wing to go see Constance and the new baby, a little boy named Roman Jacob, whom Aiden had already nicknamed RJ.

Constance was awake, barely, and gave them all a weak smile. She had been having labor pains since 4 AM the previous day, but had refused to go to the hospital until her water broke.

The little boy had a tuft of dirty blond hair the exact shade of Aiden’s and deep blue eyes, though it was hard to tell eye color in one so young. Constance was certain he would have blue eyes, and Aiden was certain brown, like his mother’s.

With the occasional yawn from the newborn, everyone held him for a few minutes. Leila got a bit weepy when she saw his little mouth opened in a small ‘o’. Nate took the baby next and gave Leila a look, wondering if she was going to weep openly in the room. It would have been very much unlike Leila to do that.

Once everyone had a turn holding the baby, Ramon and Mariana left, taking their tired children with them. Bettina was next, walking out drooping. It was only #CarLet, TeamConDen, NaLa (Nate and Leila) along with Harry and Mathilde, no ’ship name needed.

Harry and Mattie looked like they were on their way out any minute when Carl asked about the DNA test results.

“Not mine, like I told everyone,” Nate said. He looked over at Leila whose hooded eyes told him she was pretty damned sleepy.

“Good, then she’ll leave you alone,” Violet said. She shook her head. There was something seriously wrong with the McCormick family. Maybe crazy was genetic. Like blue eyes or male pattern baldness. Violet was certain it came from Mrs. McCormick’s side of the family. That woman was a witch.

They talked for a few more minutes before Mathilde sighed and closed her eyes.

“If no one else is going to say anything, I might as well,” she said. All their heads swung to her, and Leila’s mouth opened in surprise.

“You have something to tell us, don’t you Nate?” Mattie said, raising a manicured brow at her son.

Leila’s head swung over to meet Nate’s surprised gaze. Whatever Mattie was implying, Nate was without a clue.

“I didn’t say anything, I swear,” he mumbled to Leila, who looked back at Mathilde.

Mattie looked pointedly at Leila then down, her gaze on Leila’s left hand.

“When did you two get married?” she asked, causing a collective gasp to resound in the room.

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