Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen
Evaluation in Bloom

At a hospital in London. Very late night.

Aurora walked into the room slowly. The memory of the last time she saw her mother battered her with every step to the point where it was almost painful to walk to her father’s bed to stand beside it.

Rosalind and Ariel had returned sometime earlier, and Ariel had been in tears. She had been rendered unable to speak, and Rosalind had tried to explain what Orlando looked like at that moment so she could prepare Aurora and Gus for the sight of their father. As Aurora had listened with dread, wondering if the father she had loved would be lying in that bed—or it instead would be a wounded caricature of him.

Rosalind had sent her twin grandchildren off with a Prepare yourselves for the worst before they followed Aunt Laine to Orlando’s room in the intensive care unit.

Her father was hooked up to various life-sustaining machines, his skin pale even against the stark white of the bed linen. His full head of brown hair had been reduced to a merciless buzz cut, which made the bruise on his cheekbone stand out all the more. His left leg bore a cast for its tremendous break, and Aurora winced looking at it. But as she brought her eyes back to his face, she sucked in a breath without realizing it.

Gus gripped her hand, feeling shaky. Together they stood at the side of their father’s bed, watching his face. It remained peaceful and still. Aurora had a strange flashback of herself at her mother’s funeral looking over the edge and peering at her mother’s face.

“Look, it’s almost like she’s sleeping there, love…”

She fought to bring herself back to the present and focused on her father’s motionless face.

“Look at him,” Aurora said in a quavering voice. She lifted a trembling hand to her father’s newly-shorn hair. “They cut his hair.”

“They had to for the brain scans,” Gus told her in the strongest voice he could manage. “They wanted to make sure Dad didn’t have any major brain damage because of the accident.” Aurora said nothing, running a finger along her father’s hair line. “I think he got the worst of it, though, Aunt Pen hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Aunt Pen…” Eyes wide, Aurora looked to him. “What if…? What if she dies, Gus? What if Dad…?”

Gus grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her violently, but she could see her fears mirrored in his teary eyes. “Don’t you dare say that, Aurora! Don’t you ever ever even think of those words, much less utter them!”

For some odd reason, those words sent Aurora over the edge.

“You expect me to live in Never Never Land, August?” Aurora shot back. “Well, I’m sorry if I can’t swallow your spineless brand of denial because I refuse to act the worst can’t happen anymore!” She made a wide, circular gesture with her arm thrown out carelessly. “Look at this! Just look at this! The worst has happened. Our dad’s hooked up to machines, and we don’t know if he’s going to live or die. That’s the truth. Take it or leave it.”

Gus stared at her in horror. “How dare you be so cruel, Aurora? Have you no faith in him, our dad? In the powers that be?”

“Oh, like I’m going to believe that whatever god or force that took my mother away from me when I was four years old will spare my father his life when it hangs in the balance. I’m not stupid, August.”

“Of course you’re not stupid, Aurora. You’re just unkind. And disloyal to your own father.”

More anger surged up, spilling out before she could clamp a lid on it. “Don’t you even dare—!”

“Shut up, both of you.”

The raspy voice was like sandpaper slicing through steel. It was powerful in its slightness, meaningful in its mere presence. Aurora and Gus both spun around to stare at the hospital bed like two little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

The twins saw their father managing—and succeeding quite well for an injured man in a hospital bed—to glare at them. As his children came closer, he tried to shift and winced because of the pain. He closed his eyes against it, the glare gone.

Aurora felt her face go slack with shock and a bit of relief. She sat down on the edge of the bed with Gus behind her. “Dad?” she said in a breathless voice. “Oh God—Dad, you—”

Orlando let out a groan suddenly as he settled wrong on an unusually sore part of his body, and Gus placed a gentle restraining hand on his shoulder from behind Aurora. “Don’t try to move too much, Dad. You’re in too much pain.”

Orlando settled then, the pain he experienced alive on his face. Aurora’s eyes filled with tears that she could not blink away. She tried to firm her trembling lips as she took her father’s hand but the effort was futile. When Orlando squeezed Aurora’s hand gently, the tears spilled over onto her cheeks and would not stop.

“Oh Daddy,” Aurora blurted tearfully before she could stop herself. “I’m so sorry. This…”

Eyes still closed, Orlando softly shushed her. “Quiet, my love,” he murmured. “Don’t fret. I understand.” His eyes fluttered open a crack. “You remember, don’t you, love?” His eyes glittered with unshed tears as he swallowed, even though the movement cost him. “I remember, too.”

He paused for a couple of beats to gain some strength, but once he did, a ghost of a smile appeared on his face. While it should have reassured her, the smile reminded Aurora of Della’s last smile and filled her with alarm. “You were…wonderful tonight, Aurora. Your mum would be proud. And I am very proud of my…” He broke off then, overcome with hacking coughs. Gus rushed to get him some water while Aurora tried to pat him on the back.

Gus came over with the cup of water and helped Orlando get a sip. Orlando sat up a bit and forced it down, breathing heavily. He laid back on the pillows, looking frail and tired. Aurora took his hand again, trying to think of something to fill the unbearable silence, and he gripped it harder this time. Making her sit up at attention.

“Promise me,” Orlando rasped, voice unnaturally hoarse.

The firmness of his tone despite its sandpaper-like quality filled Aurora with even more trepidation. “What do you mean, Dad?” she asked.

“If…something happens to me…”

Gus shook his head vigorously, still in obvious denial. “Don’t even consider the possibility…”

Orlando flushed a bit with anger, putting some color back into his pale cheeks. “Don’t be…a bleeding wanker, August,” he snapped out as fiercely as he could manage. “Promise me. You will be there for Ariel and your little brother or sister.”

“Little brother or…” Aurora and Gus’s eyes widened in unison, and they shared a quick glance. “You mean…?”

“Your Aunt Pen is…pregnant,” Orlando whispered. “She…told me before…we crashed into the pole.” An eerie smile flirted with his lips that made Aurora’s blood run as cold as Artic water. When he spoke, his voice was so soft they could barely hear him. “She finally got what she wanted…”

There was a sense of finality in Orlando’s tone that caused Aurora to lean forward. She slipped her free hand up to his pale face and cupped his cheek. It seemed so cold…

“Dad,” she muttered in an attempt to get a response out of him.

“Leave him alone,” Gus said from behind her with what sounded like a bit of false bravado. “He’s just resting, right?” Gus looked at Aurora for reassurance he knew he wouldn’t find, then back to Orlando. “He’s just sleeping.”

Orlando’s brown eyes fluttered closed and his head lolled to the side and rested against Aurora’s hand. A chill raced up her spine, feeling like the cold fingertips of cruel fate.

This is not happening again. This absolutely cannot be happening…

The incessant, shrill beep that ensued speared through Aurora like a spike, rendering her numb and motionless.

Everything happened so fast then. Doctors and nurses rushed into the room with their machinery, yelling unfamiliar words at each other that sounded like Greek to her. But she was so numb that all the sounds—the beeps, the crashes, and scuffling of feet—sounded as if it were in another room, like it were encased in a vacuum.

Aurora could only see her father’s still face as Gus half-dragged her out of the room and out into the hallway. She wondered who it was screaming at the top of their lungs, wondered when they’d stop. That is, until she realized that the mournful sound was coming from her herself.

* * *

Keira walked into Penny’s hospital room, paused in the doorway, and sighed.

The raven-haired enamoress that she had known, respected, and admired was in a sitting position in the bed, her pale face sporting small cuts and gashes and blue eyes too large for her face. She had a small bandage on her forehead and her right arm was in a sling. When Keira entered, she looked up, startled, then managed a tremulous smile for her dear friend.

“Keira! I’m glad you came to see me. So I had to go and get myself banged up, huh?” Penny babbled. “I really must be getting old.”

Keira stared at her with great concern. Wordlessly, she came to Penny’s bed and sat next to her as Penny watched her. Keira could see the guilt and fear in her eyes. For several moments, she didn’t say anything to Penny, just watched as the veneer cracked and the tears welled up, threatening to spill over onto her sallow cheeks.

“Oh God, Keira!” Penny burst out. “Please tell me Orlando’s alright. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if…”

Keira placed a reassuring hand on hers. “He’s fine, Penny. The twins are in to see him now.” Penny looked down and away as if she weren’t quite convinced. “Penelope Henderson, when have you known me to lie to you? Huh?” Penny’s bottom lip trembled and she bit down on it to keep it from shaking. “He’s doing fine. I’m going to go in and see him in a moment myself.”

Penny idly fingered the hem of the blanket. “I…this is all my fault, Keira. If I had let down Harold a little easier, he wouldn’t have been following us…”

Keira shook her head vigorously. “That bloke has more than a few screws loose, Pen. He just couldn’t handle the possibility that you have a life without him, not to mention the fact that you love Orlando more than you love him. So he went totally and utterly bonkers. That is not your fault.”

Disgust crossed Penny’s features as she lifted her eyes to Keira’s. “I never ever loved Harold Templeton,” she insisted, sounding a bit more like herself. Then the guilt resurfaced, along with a bit of grief. “But I’ve always loved Orlando. Or it feels like it’s always been there.” She turned and looked to the window, which displayed the rain falling outside. “I guess I loved him when Della was alive and kept it buried for a long, long time.”

“Oh Pen.” Keira squeezed her hand for more reassurance. “I’m sorry, really. I know it burns you up to see him with Jacqueline Gannon of all people.” She offered her friend an impish grin. “If it’s any consolation, I’m definitely rooting for you.”

“That’s nice to know,” Penny remarked with a small smile. “But I suppose I have one advantage.” She paused a moment then admitted, “I’m pregnant.”

There was a long silence while the news sank into Keira’s tired brain. So many things had happened that night, some of them wonderful, some of them horribly wrong. But this…Keira’s mouth twisted up into a grin as she leaned forward and hugged Penny as tightly as she could without hurting her.

“This is wonderful news!” Keira exclaimed. “Oh Pen… It finally worked! You’ve got yourself pregnant. Well, with Orlando’s help of course.” She leaned back to take in Penny’s face. There was a slight blush in her cheeks, but nothing much had changed. She still seemed melancholy over the whole accident and the fact that Orlando had gotten hurt. Keira’s smile dropped a few notches when Penny didn’t share her enthusiasm.

“What?” Keira inquired. “Penny—aren’t you overjoyed over all this? I mean, I would be. You’re one of two women in the world able to say that she’s the mother to a child of Orlando Bloom. I know of women who would kill to be able to say that.”

“Just keep it to yourself for now,” Penny cautioned Keira as softly as she could. “I don’t know if he’d told Jacqueline or not that he was helping me do this, and now that I’m pregnant, I don’t want to antagonize her.”

Keira let out a snort and glanced out the window. “Like hell. If I were you, I’d rub it in her face as much as I possibly could. You’re having Orlando’s baby and she’s not.” She glanced back at Penny.

Penny, however, seemed to be focused on something—or someone—behind her. And as Penny’s face went dangerously ashen, Keira had an inkling of who it was.

Keira turned around slowly. In the doorway, Jacqueline gripped a coffee in a trembling hand, and the liquid was dangerously close to sloshing over the rim of the cup.

A long, uncomfortable moment passed. Jacqueline glared at Keira, then at Penny. Keira rose from the bed, blocking Penny from Jacqueline’s line of sight. The actress stared back at the woman in the doorway with contempt in her eyes.

“Don’t you even start blathering on,” Keira began in a low tone. “This is not the time to make a scene about this.”

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” Jacqueline snapped. She pointed an accusing finger at Penny. “That bitch wants nothing more than to be with Orlando and she’ll do anything to have him. Including getting pregnant by him. She has no consideration for me and what I am to him.”

“How could she when you act like she’s some random person off the blooming street?” Keira demanded. “That woman is Della Henderson’s older sister and the aunt of Orlando’s three children. She has been taking care of them for years, even before I came into the picture. You could at least have some fucking consideration for that.”

Jacqueline threw her free hand up in the air in a gesture of exasperation. “Oh sure. So we’re going to excuse her, then.”

“Stop acting like they’ve gone off and had an affair behind your back. She asked him if he could be a bleeding sperm donor so she could have what she wanted: a baby. It was as far removed as sex as you could possibly imagine.”

Jacqueline’s face reddened with fury. “And that somehow makes it better? That condones the fact that Orlando neglected to tell me—”

Something strange happened then. Keira, infuriated beyond belief, was a hairbreadth away from slapping the spit from Jacqueline’s mouth when a high-pitched wail met her ears. Her blood froze as her head whipped around in the direction it was coming from, and she stopped and listened.

“What was that?” Penny asked.

Keira shoved Jacqueline aside, not caring that she knocked the coffee from the blonde’s shaky hand in the process. She stalked out of the room and down the hall, pausing when she saw Gus…

…who was holding his big sister by the waist, pulling her along. Aurora was crying and shouting hysterically as doctors rushed into Orlando’s room. Suddenly Keira found it difficult to stand and leaned against the wall.

Jacqueline sidestepped a motionless Keira and followed Aurora and Gus.

* * *

The last thing Orlando remembered was his twins staring at him tearfully before the world went black. He felt no more pain, heard no more sounds from the outside world. Suddenly the dark was filled with a startling whiteness, and when it dimmed, he was still surrounded by white, but it was a muted, calming color.

He looked down at himself and saw that he was wearing the dark suit with no tie he had worn when he had gotten married. The choice in clothing perplexed him so much that he didn’t notice that another presence occupied the seemingly endless room.

When she said his name, his real name, he heard the sadness in her tone, then he heard the guilt. Realization struck, and a bit of anger came with it. He turned around slowly and took a look at her. His anger ebbed—a bit.

She was in her simple, filmy wedding dress, minus the huge baby bump she’d sported over thirteen years ago when they’d married. Her hands were in front of her, and she was wringing them, much like she would whenever she did something she knew he’d be mad about.

“Hello, Johnny,” Della said anxiously. “I’m sorry things had to be this way.”

Orlando crossed the space between them in three large strides and took her by the shoulders. “How could you let this happen, Adelaide?!” he demanded angrily. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew this was going to happen and you didn’t tell me!”

“What in the hell was I supposed to do?” Della shot back. “I’m not allowed to tell you things like that straight out. Do you know what the punishment would be for an offense like that?” Seeing some reasoning in that, Orlando relaxed his grip and Della shook out of it, freeing herself completely. “Now, this all happened for a reason. Everything does. You just have to see the big picture.” She made a wide, expansive gesture with her arms and suddenly a big screen television (in white of course) appeared. “And what better place to do it than here?”

Orlando frowned at her. “What exactly am I supposed to see, Della? I know how much my family loves me. I know how much they mean to me and I mean to them.”

Della shook her head, a bit of sadness in her eyes. “It’s not your family you should be worried about, Orlando.” She took his arm and turned to the television. He followed suit, and as soon as they were facing it, it flickered to life.

The scene was the hallway outside the waiting room area. The twins, Ariel, Rosalind, Keira, Johnny, Dora, Elizabeth, Audrey, Jacqueline, and Nia were all there. They formed a semi-circle with Jacqueline and the twins in the middle. Everyone seemed to be staring at Aurora and Jacqueline worriedly, and a bit of dread formed in the pit of Orlando’s belly.

“What is happening here?” Orlando asked.

Della simply said, “Just watch. You’ll see.”

* * *

“Yes, I knew that he was helping Aunt Pen have a baby,” Aurora replied, stepping away from her twin brother. “Gus, Ariel, Nana, and I all knew because he told us. We are his family, Jacqueline, and so is Aunt Pen. He had explained to us why he was helping her and we respected that.”

“And no one thought to tell me about it?” Jacqueline demanded bitterly. “No one ever thought to let Jacqueline in on the little secret?” She chuckled sardonically. “Oh I see. So is this some little private joke you have amongst yourselves?” She turned fiery blue eyes upon Aurora. “I’m sure you got great pleasure in that.”

“We thought it would be best for Dad to tell you,” Ariel supplied lightly, coming to stand next to her big sister. The gesture in itself was very telling to Jacqueline. “He told us that he would tell you, and it seemed like he was trying to find the right time.”

“He had plenty of chances to tell me,” Jacqueline raged. “I don’t understand why he didn’t inform me of this sooner and I had to find out like this…”

Aurora looked at Jacqueline angrily, eyes dry, hot, and filled with indignation.

“So you mean to tell me that you would hold that against him?” Aurora wanted to know. It seemed that everything quieted once the argument between Aurora and Jacqueline had begun. Rosalind, too stunned by her grief to stop her granddaughter, watched the scene play out just like everyone else. Something big was about to happen. Very big.

“He lied to me,” Jacqueline responded quietly. “He didn’t divulge this information to me, the woman he supposedly loved. I cannot trust a man who would do that, dead or alive.”

Aurora watched the blonde for a long moment as the statement hung in the air and stoked the fires of fury inside of her. Everyone saw her fists clench in anger an instant before she launched herself at Jacqueline. Gus and Johnny grabbed her before she could pound away on her father’s girlfriend.

“Let it go, Aurora love,” Johnny said to her in an undertone. “This is not the time to lose your head.”

“Dad would not want you acting this way, Aurora,” Gus added. “Do as Uncle Johnny says and let it go.”

Aurora squirmed violently in their grasp. “Let me go! Get your bleeding paws off of me! I have to show that spineless little bitch a thing or two with the back of my hand.”

“You would dare strike me?” Jacqueline spat.

“All the way down to the depths of Hell where you belong,” Aurora shot back, fury in her brown eyes.

Rosalind, Keira, Elizabeth, Audrey, Dora, and Johnny all started to admonish her when Laine came rushing up. She was not wearing a lab coat, but her hair was stuffed into a surgical cap and her face was flushed with exertion. She took in the scene before her and squeezed her way through to Jacqueline and Aurora. Everyone else was silent.

“What in the hell is going on here?” Laine demanded. She looked around at everyone, trying to find a clue to the answer of her question. Her gaze rested upon Aurora, who still looked as if she were ready to fight, then finally upon Jacqueline, who didn’t look too soft and sweet herself. “Are you two fighting?”

“Jacqueline didn’t know, Laine,” Dora said softly from beside Johnny.

After a beat, Laine’s eyes widened with comprehension. “She…?” She tore off her cap and whipped around to look at Jacqueline. “Is this what all the commotion’s about?”

“Orlando impregnated your twin sister and didn’t bother to tell me about it,” Jacqueline stated stiffly. “I believe I have a right to be angry to have been callously left out of something so important.”

“I’m sorry Orlando didn’t get a chance to tell you—because it was his intention to tell you, and he told me so—but this is not the time to hold it against him, honestly. There is a team of doctors in a room fighting like fucking mad to bring him back to life, and you are holding something like this against him?”

Aurora froze, stunned that the word fuck just came out of her aunt’s mouth. The fight drained out of her and she fell back against her twin brother. And prayed that that team of doctors did win their battle with the Grim Reaper.

“He doesn’t care about me enough,” Jacqueline was saying. “I just don’t feel like he cares about me enough. He would do anything for Penny, but nothing for me. He was ready to fight for her tonight. But not for me.”

“It’s a shame you feel that way,” Laine responded in a voice that the Bloom children recognized as her snippy doctor’s tone. It wasn’t too loud, wasn’t too soft. But it was as brutal as a stainless steel steak knife. “But if you can’t put your own selfishness and insecurity aside, then I suggest you get the fuck out of my presence. I have no patience for your woe-is-me act. And furthermore, my twin sister has been there for Orlando in a mere day more than you have been all the time you’ve been with him.” Jacqueline’s eyes flashed, but Laine held her ground. “So what are you going to do, Jacqueline? Are you going to be a woman and try to work things through with the man you supposedly love? Or are you going to run again?”

“I didn’t run before,” Jacqueline argued. “I walked away. There is a difference. Orlando understood.”

“Same move, different pace,” Laine contended. “But what about now, huh? What are you going to do? Stand? Or flee?” Laine took a couple of steps in her direction, then stopped. “Right now, Orlando and Penny need the support of people who love them, and are willing to love them through everything—and anything.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “If you are not capable of that, then you can just leave right now.”

And they all held their breaths, eyeing Jacqueline with a mix of resentment and curiosity. Disgusted and already seeing the outcome of this ultimatum, Aurora broke away from the group and walked down the hall where she wept for her father and the mother she wished was still alive.

* * *

When Jacqueline turned around at the last instant and walked away, Della placed her hand on Orlando’s arm for support. She could feel the hurt as it speared through him. She swallowed her fury and tried to concentrate on the man she loved. She turned to him, turned his face so that he looked at her and only her. Anguish swam in his beautiful brown eyes and it made her even angrier. Even though it was difficult, she banked it. It would be useful later, but not now.

“Johnny, please see this for what it is,” Della remarked gently. “This is a sign to you. I know you love Jacqueline, and I don’t blame you for your feelings, at least up till now.” Faltering a bit, she hugged him tightly. She had to stand on tiptoe to fit her body with his, but the movement came so smoothly that she barely noticed. “Oh Johnny… I want to just rip her hair out with my ghostly hands.”

But Orlando was too heartbroken to find any humor in that. “I…love her. And she can’t find it in her heart to forgive me for being a bleeding wanker?” His brown eyes filled, breaking Della’s heart. “I can’t…go back.” Then his eyes brightened a bit as he thought of something. “I’ll stay here with you, Tiny. I can finally be happy with the mother of my children like I’ve always wanted.” He scooped her up in his arms and kissed her gently, making her knees weak. “Please, love. Will you have me?”

Della shook her head sadly, strengthening her slipping resolve. He was so close to her, and it was so tempting, but… “No, Orlando. You can’t stay. Even as much as I would love it here with you, I can’t have you here yet. Aurora and Gus and Ariel and the baby need you. They need their father.”

“But I…” Utterly stricken speechless, Orlando shook his head then placed it in his hands. “I can’t…I don’t know how it is I’m supposed to go on from here.”

“You just go,” Della told him, taking his hands away from his face. “You go day by day, but you go. That’s the way life is.” She cupped his face in her hands. “Just like you got through losing me. You’re stronger than this, Orlando. I know you are.” When he lowered his head and shook it, Della sighed heavily. “Orlando, there is something else you need to see.”

And with a flick of her wrist, another scene played out in front them, one that they both had a part in. Orlando watched with a bit of nostalgia and humor as the started to abate little by little, knowing Della would be shrewd enough to do something like this.

FLASHBACK. Eighteen years ago, New York.

Della sat on the edge of the bathtub, queasy, scared, and overjoyed all at the same time.

In her small, steady hands was a pregnancy test. It was positive. She was pregnant.

Most girls in her situation would have been crying hysterically, groping for the phone to make an appointment with a doctor—or an abortionist. Or an adoption agency, if that was her choice. But Della Henderson? No. She wasn’t going to allow anyone else to be responsible for the miracle that was taking place inside of her.

She was barely legal, not even old enough to drink alcohol in her country. She didn’t care. She was having this baby. The father was the only thing that worried her.

“Oh, Johnny,” Della murmured. She thought of his impish grin, his twinkling brown eyes. She remembered a night some weeks ago where the sky had opened up and soaked the city in rain. She had opted to stay inside, curled up with her boyfriend, who was visiting her from merry ol’ England. They listened to the sound of the rain pelting the roof while they lay ensconced in each other’s arms. They made love, and now that Della remembered those hazy, pleasure-laden moments, she realized they weren’t as responsible as they should have been.

She didn’t care. Something wonderful had happened anyway.

At the moment, the love of her life was out with her bandmate Nick. She only had a slight grasp of what they were doing, and that it was some male ritual steeped in tradition that included some beer and probably some busty women who served the beer. It didn’t bother her that he was out. She was more worried about when—

“Della! I’m back, love!”

—he came home.

“Bollocks,” she muttered under her breath, the British oath sounding awkward from her American voice. She stuffed the pregnancy test in her back pocket and walked out of the bathroom.

Orlando had his back to her and was walking into the kitchenette when Della slowly padded into the living room in bare feet. When he reappeared, he had a bottle of water in one hand, and a smile grew upon his face upon seeing her. She managed a smile, but it looked suspiciously like a grimace. Orlando kissed her on her ambiguously smiling mouth. He felt them trembling against his, much like they would whenever Della was about to cry.

Concerned, Orlando stepped back and took a good look at his girlfriend. Her eyes were a bit watery, but not red. But he could sense some disquietude in them, wondered what had happened to her while he had been gone.

“Della?” He sounded very uncertain. “Love, is there something the matter with you? Is everything alright?”

Della made a visible effort to purse her lips together. “I…” She let her sentence trail off on the end of a sigh. “I think you’d better sit down, Orlando.”

Even more concerned, and now scared by the fact that she’d called him Orlando, he walked with her to the couch nearby, the bottle of water still in his right hand. Della bit her lip and looked down at her hands before looking up into his eyes. They were filled with tears this time, and they spilled over onto her cheeks.

Orlando reached out and brushed them away. “Oh Della love, just tell me what’s the matter with you. I want to know—” And he stopped suddenly.

It was Della’s turn to be concerned. She frowned at Orlando. “Orlando? What’s the matter…?”

Then she watched in astonishment as he reached across her lap…and slid the half-exposed pregnancy test from her pocket. She inhaled sharply and held it, waiting for his reaction. His eyes took in the plastic, the tell-tale double-strip of color in the middle of the white. Then they raised to Della’s.

“Is this…? Are you…?” Orlando managed.

“Yes,” Della replied softly. “I’m…preggers.”

Hearing it come out of her mouth prompted shock so thick that his fingers loosened around the water and it fell to the ground with a thump. Thankfully the cap was screwed on tightly.

“Oh God,” Orlando blurted. “You’re… I mean…” Then, after a pause, he uttered, “Is it mine?”

Della stared at him with shock and a bit of irritation. “Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom, how could you even assume—?”

Orlando waved his hands hastily, trying to get her to stop. “Oh shit. Okay. You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry, love. I’ve lost my mind or something for the moment. I…” All at once, it crashed upon him, the realization of it. It made him stutter, almost rendered him speechless. He looked at her with wonder. “Tiny, you’re…preggers…”

Della nodded, face soft again. “Yeah.” With a tearful laugh, Della announced, “I’m having your baby, Johnny. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Oh Della, that’s…” Orlando shook his head, letting that suffice for whatever he wanted to say. With nothing but silence between them, Della closed the gap and hugged her love. “That’s so wonderful,” Orlando murmured against Della’s ear.

“I’m glad we agree,” she whispered. “If not, then I would have booted you back to London before you could say, I’ll have chips with that.” That made Orlando chuckle.

They stayed like that for several seconds until Della moved away, wanting to look into his eyes to see how he really felt. Swirling in those beautiful brown orbs were the same emotions that were rattling around in her herself, but it was also accompanied by a staggering awe that made Della’s belly clutch. Completely speechless that something that they had created was growing inside of Della right at that moment, Orlando placed a trembling hand upon her flat belly. Tears appeared in his eyes, but they were not ones of loss. Before he could stop himself he started laughing, laughing like he had no cares in the world, as if this happening was a miracle. And to the two of them, no matter whatever anyone else thought, this was a miracle.

* * *

“Do you remember that, Orlando?” Della pressed as Orlando watched their younger frozen selves on the TV screen. “Do you remember what it was you told me when you had your hand on my belly?”

Orlando looked down at their entwined hands, the wedding band and engagement ring set that Della religiously still wore. He remembered their love, brought it from the depths of his slowly mending heart. He vowed to keep it there, where he could reach it. As he gazed into her eyes, he remembered his children—their children. How could he ever leave them?

“There is nothing more important than life,” Orlando recited from memory. Della nodded silently. He paused a moment as realization dawned upon him, then brought her to him again. “Oh Della…” He exhaled. “Thank you. I needed that, love.”

Della’s lips curved. “Of course.” She leaned in and kissed him this time. It was gentle, soothing. It was like a balm over the wound inflicted upon his heart. That wound would naturally take time to close, but it would heal with certainty. With that thought, Della decided it was time for this to end and for her husband to return to where he belonged.

“Now,” Della began after that lull, “as much as I would love to keep you here, you have to go back immediately.” She clasped his hand with both her hands, bringing it up to her heart, and tilted her head. “Close your eyes and say, There’s no place like home.”

Orlando, even despite his former heartbreak, his own near-death experience, and the circumstances that waited on him upon his return to his physical body, started to laugh. It sounded much like the way he’d laughed the day Della had told him she was pregnant for the first time. Della’s eyebrows lifted.

“Didn’t Dorothy say that in The Wizard of Oz?” Orlando inquired, laughter bubbling over into his tone.

“Yeah, but it worked didn’t it?” Della shoved him, but there wasn’t much force behind it. “Stop being a bleeding wanker and do as I say, Orlando Jonathan.”

As she only said Orlando Jonathan (and not “Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom!”), Orlando figured he wasn’t in too much trouble. But he closed his eyes tightly with no additional comment. Squeezing her hands, he murmured, “I love you, Tiny.”

“I love you, too,” Della said softly. “And there will be a better day for us. Just not today.”

Della stepped to him and rose on the tips of her toes for the last time for a long while. She knew her husband, the man she loved, had a lot of life ahead of him. She would have it no other way.

She kissed him on the side of the mouth as it rolled off of his lips in a gentle whisper: “There’s no place like home.”

* * *

And in Orlando Bloom’s hospital room, the electrocardiogram started beeping rhythmically.

The battle had been won. For life.



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