The Clarity of Being on the Outside

Author’s Note: So this is actually a later addition. I stuck it in after “A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing” and a scene that I considered opening the story with, but it helps bridge the gap there nicely, I think. Plus, it’s a look into Darren’s head, always important.

The Clarity of Being on the Outside

“I can take the baby back now.”

Darren shook his head, thinking Fi needed a much longer break than she’d ever admit, and the baby wasn’t crying, so she could stay where she was. Now, if that diaper got stinky, he’d give her back in an instant, but that was different. “I’m fine. You don’t need to worry that I don’t know what to do. I’ve got her. She’s good.”

Fi let out a breath. “That’s not what I—you don’t have to keep her. I’m fine.”

“I know.”

“I didn’t mean to cry on you.”

He nodded. He knew that. He’d never seen Fi cry, not in any of the years he’d known her, and he didn’t like what he had seen, either. She wasn’t the sort that showed her emotions to much of anyone, never had been, though her big brother had always managed to get the truth out of her in the end, but even when Darren had seen her after one of the miscarriages, she’d been so collected he’d figured she was in shock. Either that, or she was just too damn stubborn to break down in front of him.

She’d never liked him that much, so he couldn’t blame her for that.

“I think you’re allowed more than a few tears after what you’ve been through.”

She shook her head. “I’m not sad. I’m not. I should feel something for Richard after eight years, but he… I can’t summon any kind of grief for him. I’m just so angry. If he wasn’t dead, I’d be this close to killing him myself. I could strangle him with my bare hands that’s how mad he made me. He didn’t even get it. He didn’t understand. Didn’t see what he did as wrong. I don’t know where the man I married went, but when I found out about this, he was not in the same room with me.”

Darren snorted. The bastard had been there. She’d just loved the idiot too much to see what he was before now. Richard was a jerk, had been from day one, but in the beginning, at least, he’d pretended to be good to her. He’d stopped along the way, and maybe if they hadn’t had that complication of trying for kids, Fi might have seen it sooner. Then again, Darren had to figure it was a lot easier to see on the outside.

“Well, the kid thing can make it or break it with a lot of marriages. It puts a strain on both of you.”

“When did he become so obsessed with having one of his blood that he had to knock someone else up to get it?”

“I have no idea. The guy was never a friend of mine, and it’s not like he’d confide in me.”

“That was rhetorical.”

He shrugged. He didn’t care so much about what she expected an answer to or not. At least by saying something he kept the conversation going, kept her from clamming up on him and going back to pretending that she was okay when she wasn’t. She’d just put her husband in the ground and was stuck taking care of that same husband’s baby with another woman. No one would be okay with that.

He looked down at the baby. She was cute, and thankfully, she didn’t look anything like Richard. That had to help at least a little.

The baby’s eyes opened, and she must have realized that she didn’t know him because she started wailing like some horrible banshee. He stood, trying to rock her back to sleep, using every trick he’d learned with his sister’s kids, but the screeching went on.

Fi rose, picked up the bottle, and let it drip on her finger. He frowned, but she reached over to let the baby have her finger, sucking the formula off. She sighed. “That kid is starving, but she hates formula. This is the only way I know to get her to eat, and it never lasts.”

“Gotta be better than nothing. Maybe she just needs time. She might not realize that her mother’s not coming back.”

“Well, I’m not so sure she knows the difference between mom and anyone with… well, breasts, but no, she hasn’t grasped that yet. I think she thinks I’m punishing her because I’m not giving her what she wants and needs,” Fi said, taking the baby from him and trying to give her the bottle. The baby turned her head away. “I’m this close to taking her in to get an IV or something. She can’t keep doing this. It’s going to make her sick if it doesn’t kill her.”

Darren nodded. “Yeah, but what you did there, that was pretty good. Got her quiet right away.”

“It doesn’t last.”

“You still can’t take a compliment, can you?”

“If you’re hungry, there should still be food in the kitchen. Go help yourself.”

“Why do you always assume I have another motive?”

“Because I know you, and you always do. Go eat. I’ll keep at this for a while.”

Next: Instincts

Back: A Visitor with Good and Bad Timing

Beginning: The Loss of Eight Years

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