#Chapter 40 Rebirth
I’ve known more than my fair share of pain over the years, but nothing compares to labor. I feel like I’m being torn apart from the waist down. Even Wolfsbane didn’t come close to this torture.
It happens in waves, swelling and cresting over and over again until I’m so exhausted and drained that I barely have the strength to keep my eyes open. I want to rest, but every time my muscles relax enough to attempt it, a fresh assault wracks my form with agony and drags me back into consciousness.
“Can’t you just knock me out?” I ask the nurses petting and soothing me.
“No honey.” The nearest one coos. “I know it’s terrible, but you’re doing so well.” She praises. “Do you want some more ice?”
“No.” I cry, tears slipping from the corners of my eyes, “I want Bastien.”
Drake strokes my hair back from my face, lowering his lips to my ear, “Easy now, Celeste.” He enunciates my false name pointedly, remember who you are.”
I whip my head from right to left, my chest shaking with s**s as I grip the hand rails at my sides with white knuckled fists. “I need him.” I sob piteously. “I can’t do this without him.”
It’s been so long since I let myself think of Bastien, I’d almost even convinced myself I don’t miss him. I’ve filled my imagination with my shiny new life, my burgeoning accomplishments and independence – telling myself I finally have everything I’ve ever wanted. But none of it feels right without my mate.
It’s true I have so many things I’ve never been able to contemplate in the past, and it’s true I’m happy with my freedom, but these past 6 months have felt just a little too much like a dream. Everything that’s happening feels true in the moment, but something always seems off, a small part of my mind knows it isn’t real. Eventually I have to wake up, and whenever I do, it’s never easy.
Sometimes it happens in the middle of the night, in those stolen hours when deep thoughts always seem to appear unbidden, and unspoken anxieties and emotions rear their ugly heads. Sometimes it happens listening to a familiar song, or watching a movie scene that hits just a little too close to home.
And sometimes it happens when something so jarring and unfathomable strikes that it becomes impossible to pretend any longer – like now. This pain has stolen all pretense from my mind, as well as all concern for my own self-preservation.
“Shh Celeste.” Drake croons, “You can do this. You’ve come so far.”
“Stop it!” I push his hands away, my roiling hormones making me suddenly furious that my friend is not my mate. “I can’t – I don’t want… I need.”
*Just breathe, honey.” The nurse says, shooting an apologetic glance to Drake. “Don’t take it personally, you should hear some of the things laboring moms say to their mates in the heat of the moment.”
“He’s not my mate!” My despondent wail comes out a whisper, my chest heaving but still unable to draw in enough air. “My mate didn’t want me. He rejected me.”
The nurse pats my hand, holding my gaze with stern but understanding eyes. “If that’s true, then he’s not worth your tears, and he’ s the last person you need.” She nods to Drake. “The people who care are the ones who show up. They’re the ones who deserve your love, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
My head falls back on the pillow as a contraction eases, and I sniffle pitifully. “I’m sorry.” I hiccup, reaching for my friend. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know, silly wolf.” Drake grins, taking my hand again. “It’s okay, you’re doing so well.”
Another contraction seizes my uterus, and I jolt forward off the bed with a howl, “Liar!”
Just then the door opens, and my doctor sweeps in. She’s pulling on gloves with a wide smile that makes me want to hit her, “How are we doing, Celeste?” She beams.
“Get this thing out of me!” I demand weakly.
“Let’s just see how far along we are.” She suggests calmly.
I moan and writhe as she examines me, feeling no relief at all when she announces, “Ten centimeters.” Her head peaks up from beneath the blanket covering my splayed legs, “Are you ready to become a mom?”
“I was ready fourteen hours ago!” I snap.
Infuriatingly, she just pats my leg and smiles, “Then let’s get this show on the road.”
The nurses follow the doctor’s instructions, positioning themselves on my sides and hooking their arms beneath my legs to help support me while she hunkers down at the end of the bed. I feel so guilty for resenting their touch, but no matter what encouragement or comfort anyone offers me, the fact remains that the only person I want is Bastien.
I channel all my frustration, sorrow and fear into pushing, screaming and groaning at the top of my hoarse lungs. It happens in bursts, bearing down for ten seconds at a time, bawling and retching in between pushes before starting all over again.
After what feels like hours, the sensation of tearing from the inside out eases, and the doctor’s obnoxiously perky voice announces, “it’s a girl!”
Before I can feel relief or joy – or anything else for that matter – something like an explosion bursts deep in my chest, washing over me in a flood of electricity. The sudden rush of power carries me floating on a tide of memory into the darkness, as the hospital room, and everyone in it, disappears.
Elation fades to terror as I watch Selene faint, my attention swinging from her newborn daughter to her slumped body and lolling head. “Wait, what’s happening?” I demand, jerking my head back and forth between the silent baby and my unconscious friend.”
“Sir, please step back.” The doctor advises, “her vitals are still strong, she may simply be overwhelmed.”
Despite her words, they’re all gathering around Selene in a very concerned manner, and three different nurses are gathered around the baby, which has yet to cry.
The heart monitor beeps steadily on, but the doctor is clearly running through a mental checklist, studying different machines and searching for warning signs on my friend’s body.
“What’s happening?” I repeat authoritatively, utilizing my rank for the first time.
“She’s lost consciousness.” The doctor informs me unhelpfully. “Her heart rate and temperature have increased, but they’re still within the normal range. This does happen sometimes.” Even as she says the words, she looks uncertain.
“And the baby?” I demand, “Why isn’t it crying?”
“These things don’t always happen immediately.” The doctor counters, more confidently this time.
As if she heard us speaking, a tiny cry fills the air, the delicate screech of new life greeting the world. The nurses clean the tiny being and swaddle her in blankets while the doctor continues to work on Selene, eventually approaching me with the squalling bundle. “Would you like to hold her?” The nurse asks, offering me the baby.
I accept her wordlessly, uncertain what to do other than cradle the tiny life like she’s made of glass. After standing frozen for a moment I begin to sway gently on my feet, grinning when the baby’s cries soften. A pair of glassy eyes blink open and for a moment i’m completely distracted from my worries.
It’s Selene’s eyes looking up at me: one violet, one blue, wide and innocent as can be. Perhaps she will grow to resemble her father, but in this moment she is her mother’s perfect miniature. A swath of dark hair covering her brow, the same pert nose and delicate frame. I’d be surprised if she even weighs five pounds.
I’m so enthralled by the baby I don’t even notice when Selene begins to stir, though my inattention is quickly remedied by the flurry of activities among the doctor and nurses. They gather around her in a veritable frenzy, rechecking vital signs and running their tests.
Selene moans deep in her throat, tossing her head against the pillow and hazily surfacing consciousness. Her striking eyes blink open in much the same way her daughter’s did, but instead of looking up at me in wonder like the tiny creature in my arms, her gaze is wide and unseeing.
Yet even as I’m certain she has not returned to us fully, there is something undeniably different about her, and I don’t think it’s waking as a mother. It feels as if all the days I’ve known her so far, I’ve only been seeing half of her. And now for the first time, she’ s appearing to me fully. This is not the same Selene I met in Elysium, or the one I’ve come to know in Asphodel. She’s not even the same woman she was five minutes ago.
The haunted waif is gone, replaced by a radiant nymph no different in appearance, but unrecognizable in spirit. Her full lips part as the doctor leans over her, and when she speaks her voice is fuller and stronger than I’ve ever heard it. She does not cry in pain or ask questions, she merely utters a single, reverent word: “Luna.”