The blissful, sleepy hum dies in Hank's throat and turns more into a groan as he rolls over in bed, blindly reaching out for Karen, only to be met with the cold, empty space she normally occupies.
It takes a bleary moment for him to realise, but eventually Hank's ears tune into their surroundings and he can hear the quiet, muffled retching coming from the bathroom.
Hank rubs a hand over his face a few times, his stubble rough and spiky against his palm. He hasn't shaved in a few days and now he understands why Karen was complaining so much about it. The cool, crisp winter air nips at his bare skin as Hank throws the duvet cover off himself. The floor is freezing against his feet, making him walk that extra bit quicker toward Karen and the bathroom.
Karen is slumped on the freezing tile floor, her body hunched over the porcelain toilet bowl as her body heaves up all the alcohol from the night before. Hank takes a slight comfort in the fact that, unlike him, Karen is wearing a lot more than just underwear. It is absolutely freezing as it is, without the added coldness of the bathroom floor.
Karen is in the middle of vomiting when Hank reaches her, one hand goes straight for her back and starts rubbing soothing circles, the other gathers the mass of wavy, golden locks that hang freely down her back.
Neither of them are as good as handling alcohol as they used to be in their youth. Karen especially. It seems Hank has been holding back Karen's hair as she vomits a lot more often lately.
Karen groans as she leans back, wiping her mouth as she relaxes her back against Hank's front. Hank reaches up and flushes the toilet and grabs the damp face cloth, wiping at Karen's chin as she nuzzles her face into the crook of his neck.
Hank places a kiss atop the crown of Karen's head and bites back a sarcastic comment when he see's his wife's face. She is paler than he has ever seen her and there are dark, angry circles around her beautiful eyes.
"Jesus, Karen! You look like shit!"
Karen just rolls her eyes and smiles sarcastically.
"Thanks" she spits, but Hank can hear the overwhelming tones of tiredness in her voice and that sparks a wave of worry inside him.
"No, seriously" Hank sighs, shifting slightly so he can get a better look at Karen. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Hank" Karen shrugs, lying through her teeth and hoping Hank buys it. Of course he doesn't and they both know it. "I just shouldn't have had that last bottle of wine at Marcy's last night"
Hank narrows his eyes, not believing a word of it. He is worried, but for now he doesn't want Karen to know he is, so instead he opts to smile and kiss her forehead. He is going to be keeping an extra close eye on his wife.
He has known Karen for almost 25 years, and this is a lot more than just a hangover.
Hank had been lying on the sofa in Charlie's office when he had gotten the call. Marcy hadn't said much, just that Karen was in the hospital and that he needed to get down there ASAP. Flashbacks of last time he got a call of this nature flooded Hank's mind, when Karen got into that car accident, and in his frantically worried state, he had hung up before Marcy had had a chance to say that Karen was okay.
Charlie had offered to drive, but they hadn't even gotten out of the car park before they had to switch. Charlie, as always, was blubbering like the giant man-baby he was. Hank's foot was on the floor the whole way to the hospital. He knew he had broken several hundred traffic violations but he honestly didn't care. He just had to get to Karen.
They had pulled up outside the hospital and Hank had all but fallen out of Charlie's car in his attempt to get to Karen. He was literally pushing people out of his way, yelling at the nurse behind the desk.
He had been yelling at a nurse, who was threatening to call security, when Marcy came up to him. Hank searched Marcy's face for any signs on how Karen was, but the expression she was wearing was unreadable. But she wasn't crying and she didn't look like she had just lost her best friend, so Hank took that as a good sign.
"Hank, she's fine!" Marcy had repeated, clutching at Hank's arms trying to get him to calm down.
"Where is she, Marce?! I need to see her!" Hank had pleaded. Marcy nodded, still holding him by the tops of his arms.
"She's through here" the tiny woman gestured behind her with her head. "But Hank, you need to calm the fuck down or they're going to throw you out!"
Hank sighed, steeling himself not to cry. He heard Charlie come in, after parking the car, blubbering and asking for Karen. Marcy rolled her eyes as she went to comfort her husband, smacking him on the back of the head the instant she reached him.
A doctor exited Karen's room, obviously having heard all the commotion outside and made his way toward Hank.
"Mr. Moody, I presume?" he asked and Hank nodded, feeling himself relax a lot as the doctor smiled at him.
The doctor spoke to him as he lead Hank toward Karen's room, but Hank didn't take anything in. He heard something along the lines of Karen fainting when she was out with Marcy, and having to come in because she banged her head...
Oh God his poor Karen.
Hank felt sick. Everybody was telling him not to worry, that Karen was okay. But how could he not? His wife was in the fucking hospital! Of course he was going to worry!
His stomach churned as the doctor opened the door. Karen was lying in the bed, the white bedsheets pulled up and tucked under her armpits. Her golden hair was strewn across the pillow like a halo and there was the faintest ghost of a smile across her face as she slept. She looked so peaceful and beautiful and as Hank took steps further into the room, he saw stitches along her hairline, hiding underneath wispy bits of her fringe.
Hank swallowed thickly as he sat in the stiff chair beside Karen. He reached out and gently stroked a finger along the curve of her face before dropping it and opting to hold her hand instead. The doctor had left them alone and Hank wasn't sure he would be able to keep the tears at bay for much longer. He had seen Karen, seen that she was in fact okay... But she was also hurt. And he felt sick. He just wanted to hold her and protect her and take away all her pain and illness.
Guilt plagued his body, sitting heavily on his chest making it hard for him to breathe. He knew he shouldn't have let her go out this morning. Not when she looked as ill as she had.
Time seemed to stop and he was dragged from his thoughts as he felt a tightening pressure around his hand.
"Stop blaming yourself" Karen's voice was hoarse and scratchy and thick with sleep.
She turned her head to face Hank and his blood ran cold when he saw the three stitches along her hairline. They were so blindingly white against the nasty hue of purple and black bruises that lay beneath them.
Karen cleared her throat and tried to sit up, wincing as she did. Hank sprung into action, helping Karen into a sitting position before pouring her a glass of water.
Much like she had that morning after throwing up, Karen guzzled the water down before looking up and smiling at Hank.
"What... I mean... Are you..." Hank was stumbling on his words, unable to get a coherent sentence out.
Karen's smile grew bigger and warmer as she watched her husband, the man who was a word-smith, fumbled around, unable to speak.
"Hank, like I said, i'm fine!" Karen chuckled a bit.
"But you fainted, Karen! And not only that but you were throwing up like it was a sport or something this morning! I know you, Karen, and that was a lot more than you drinking one bottle too many!"
Karen sighed, but her lips split into an unmistakeable smile. Causing Hank to grow confused.
Why was Karen smiling at him like that?
"You're right" Karen bit her lip and cast her eyes away form Hank, finding the white hospital bedding far more interesting than her husband. "Hank I have something I need to tell you" Karen's voice was no longer light and Hank's chest once again filled with dread.
"Oh God, you're ill aren't you?!" Hank cried, jumping to the worst conclusion. "Oh God, Karen!"
"What?! No!" Karen laughed once again, and Hank narrowed his eyes at her. "It's nothing like that"
"What is it then?"
There was a moment of silence between them. Hank confused and expecting the worst and Karen wondering how to break it to him. What his reaction would be.
"Hank, i'm pregnant"
Hank couldn't help but smile as he watched Karen from the opposite side of the room. She was sitting on the sofa next to Marcy, chatting and laughing and Hank couldn't take his eyes off her.
As clichéd as it was, she was glowing and she looked more beautiful than he had ever seen her - which was saying a lot.
She was wearing one of her favourite shirts, which was usually loose and free flowing, but now clinched against her ever expanding bump.
To say he was surprised at finding out Karen was pregnant would be the understatement of the fucking century! He couldn't get his head around it at first.
a) How Karen even got pregnant in the first place when she was in her mid 40's?
b) How, when he had had a vasectomy, did he manage to knock her up?
c) What the everloving fuck, how, just how?
But once he had gotten over his initial shock, Hank had been over the moon. The universe had given them this gift, this second chance at not fucking up! Karen had been on the fence about keeping it at first. She was older which meant she was more susceptible to complications. But then she saw just how ecstatic Hank was and she knew that whatever happened that they would be able to get through it.
Hank wasn't the same person he was 20 years ago when they had Becca. Hell, he wasn't even the same person he was 5 years ago. He was different now and had done a lot of growing up over the past few years!
After Karen had fainted, the hospital had kept her in for a few days because she had a concussion and due to, not only that fact, but also her age, the doctors had wanted to do an immediate scan to check the baby was okay.
Hank had literally fallen off his space next to Karen on the bed when the doctor announced that there was not only one healthy baby growing and thriving inside Karen, but two.
Hank wasn't sure what he had done to warrant such a miracle, but he thanked any and every God that he didn't even believe in and promised, not only Karen, but himself, that he wouldn't fuck these two up.
Well, try his damned hardest anyway!
The doctor had made them both well aware of all the risks and complications that came with Karen's pregnancy. Hank hated hearing that Karen was a lot more likely to miscarry now than she was with Becca. The doctors hammered in a lot of words that Hank didn't understand, but made a note to google later, like gestational diabetes or placenta praevia or pre-eclampsia and placental abruption. Hank's head was spinning but Karen seemed to take it all in.
The doctors had run a lot more tests this time around and Hank's blood ran cold when the doctor mentioned down syndrome. When the day came for Karen's amniocentesis, Hank had almost passed out just looking at the massive needle.
But the results came back that Karen and the babies were healthy and everything seemed perfect.
Becca and Levon had been over the moon when they had heard. Hank probably should have found it weird telling his adult children that Karen was pregnant, but he was just too happy that he didn't care.
Karen had said that she hadn't wanted to find out the sex of the babies, but when she got to her 20 week scan, she had practically begged the doctor to tell her.
Hank hadn't been bothered either way, but when the doctor had pointed to the grainy black and white image on the screen and declared they were having girls, he couldn't stop the tears from flowing.
He couldn't believe the universe had given him this gift.
"Have you got the overnight bag?" Karen asked as she waddled towards the car.
She was due last week and she was absolutely massive. Not to mention uncomfortable. Her back and all her joints ached and she was a hormonal mess right now.
"We're only going to the store" Hank regretted the words when Karen flashed him her crazy eyes. She had demanded they carry the damned thing everywhere for the past month. "Yes, its in the back seat" Hank pointed to the bag and watched as Karen's face relaxed.
She was due to be induced tomorrow, but Hank had a feeling that today would be the day. Karen groaned and rubbed her back, cursing the babies and the fact that even though it was winter, she was sweating.
It was only a short drive to the store and Hank pulled into the closest spot to the door he could. They still needed a few more things for the babies so he was going to run in and get them whilst Karen waited in the car.
That was the plan anyway.
"What are you doing?" Hank asked as Karen waddled out of the car.
They had argued a lot during Karen's pregnancy. Hank had wanted Karen to be on bed rest for nine months, and that had frustrated Karen to no end. She knew he meant well, but he was treating her like an invalid and she was fucking pregnant, not incapable.
"What do you think i'm doing, Hank?!" Karen growled as she swung her handbag over her shoulder.
Hank opened his mouth to protest, but closed it when Karen glared at him. He was too tired to try and fight her on this. He couldn't wait for the babies to be out of her. He missed his wife.
They walked around the store for a good hour, Hank pushing the cart as Karen threw things in there. There was a massive pile that Hank was struggling to see over by the time they got to the last aisle. He was sure they had only come in for diapers and diaper rash cream, but Karen seemed to have bought enough things to last them a year.
Unable to see past the massive pile in his cart, Hank had missed Karen stopping in the middle of the aisle abruptly and pushed the cart into the back of her. Karen winced as she clutched her stomach, breathing heavily.
"Karen?!" Hank's eyes widened. "Is it go time?"
"Ow!" Karen seethed before she shook her head. "No, just wind"
Hank got into line and watched as Karen continued to clutch at her stomach and wince in pain. He handed over his card to the cashier, not taking his eyes off his extremely distressed wife. Karen smiled at him through gritted teeth and excused herself.
"I'll meet you at the car" Karen waved as she hurried out of the store.
Hank quickly shoved all the bags back into the cart before following Karen outside. She was bent over, one arm clutching her stomach, the other holding onto the car to brace herself.
She was sweating and panting and this was definitely not just wind.
"I lied!" Karen cried as her body convulsed in pain. "The babies are coming!"
"What? Karen!" Hank was frantic, ignoring their cart and running to his wife. "Why didn't you say something sooner!"
Karen just shrugged Hank off and went to loading their shopping into the car.
"What are you doing? We need to go to the hospital!" Hank laughed, grabbing the bags off Karen and throwing them in the trunk.
"My waters haven't even broken yet, and i'm not going anywhere till all this stuff is in the car!"
Hank rolled his eyes and quickly began shoving the bags in the car. He had no idea what Karen was playing at but she was about to give birth to his daughters and he wasn't about to get in her bad books.
Karen was pacing the car park and doing that weird breathing she learnt in lamaze class. She was on the phone, to whom Hank assumed was Becca, when he heard a big gush of water. He looked up to see Karen standing in a pool of water and was confused for a millisecond.
"Hank, we need to go" Karen turned, her eyes wide as saucers. She seemed to snap out of whatever weird pregnancy trace she was in and quickly waddled to the car. She got in the back seat and Hank was speeding out of the parking lot before Karen even knew what was happening.
"Ow! Fuck!" Karen screamed and Hank swallowed thickly as he watched her from the rear view mirror.
"Shit!" Hank spat as he pulled into traffic. He honked his horn, and yelled at people as Karen screamed in pain in the back, but he was stuck.
He couldn't even reverse because there was now a long line of cars behind him.
"Hank, what the fuck is going on? Why aren't we moving?!" Karen growled as sweat poured off her forehead. "Get us out of here! I am not having these babies in the middle of the free way!"
"You might have to" Hank mumbled under his breath as he continued to blare his horn.
Hank's eyes snapped toward Karen as he heard her shuffling. She was getting out of the car, propping herself up against it as she continued to pant.
"Hank, they're coming!" she cried and Hank almost dropped his cell phone he was shaking that much. He dialled 911 and held Karen's hand as she squeezed his bones to dust.
"My wife's in labour and we're stuck on the free way" Hank explained to the woman on the other end of the line. He listened to her as she spoke, Karen once again pacing as her contractions got worse. "... how dialated are you?" he asked and Karen just cried. Hank listened for another moment to the woman on the other end of the line. "Alright, i'm gonna need to look so just sit down"
Karen did as was instructed, sitting in the back seat. Hank was glad they had taken Karen's SUV rather than his car, because there was no way Karen would be able to deliver two babies in his tiny little sports car.
Hank had no idea what he was even looking for, but he was the only person who would help Karen till the paramedics came. She was wearing a dress and Hank felt woozy the second he looked.
"I think I see it" he said into the phone as Karen screamed.
By now, they had attracted a lot of attention from other people stuck on the free way but Hank just ignored their staring. Karen was screaming a string of expletives so colourful that they almost made Hank blush. Almost. He was pretty proud of some of them. And slightly turned on. But now wasn't the time.
Karen lurched forwards, grabbing onto her knees and started pushing. Hank put the phone on speaker and placed it on the floor as he held onto Karen's hand.
"Hank, you need to get down there and catch her!" Karen gritted her teeth as tears spilled down her cheeks. This wasn't what she had planned and so many things could go wrong and oh God where were the fucking paramedics?!
"Shit, right" Hank kissed Karen's cheek and got back down the, um business end.
He had been in the room when Becca was born but he had stayed the other end, holding Karen's hand and encouraging her, telling her how amazing she was. There was a lot going on down there and Hank was totally out of his element. He had read all the books and watched a bunch of videos, but nothing had prepared him for this.
It made him nauseous, but he also couldn't take his eyes away. As gross as it looked, Hank had honestly never seen anything more beautiful. Karen was literally bringing life into the world... And a lot of other fluids but Hank chose not to focus on that too much.
"Karen, you're doing so well! You're almost there!" Hank smiled reassuringly. Obviously he had no idea if what he had just said was true, but he figured it was what Karen needed to hear.
"OW! JESUS FUCK!" Karen let out a blood curdling scream. Before Hank knew what was happening he was met with his daughter's head. Now he realised what Karen meant by catching.
He held onto his gooey daughter as Karen once again pushed, her little shoulder popping out.
"One more big push, baby, then out little girl is here!" Hank beamed up at his wife. Karen was drenched in sweat and looked exhausted but still utterly beautiful. One more push and she was out, their tiny little daughter was born, all red faced and screaming.
A tear slid down Hank's cheek as he looked at his daughter screaming in his arms. She was so beautiful and had thick tufts of dark hair. He had no idea what to do next, and was overwhelmed with love for both his wife and his daughter. He had been so caught up in the moment, that he hadn't heard the sirens approach.
The paramedics took over and Hank assumed his position next to Karen. One of the paramedics had their first daughter, whilst the other went to work at delivering their next.
Karen leaned against Hank heavily and gripped his hand as though her life depended on it.
"Hank, I can't. I'm so tired" Karen cried as the paramedic told her to push.
"Yes you can" Hank encouraged. "You're so string and beautiful and our other little angel is going to be here soon! You can do this, baby!"
"It hurts" Karen screamed, once again lunching forward.
"I know" Hank kissed Karen's sweat drenched temple. "But you've got this! I love you so much, and i'm so proud of you!"
"AAAARRRGHHH" Karen screamed for what felt like the thousandth time, although her scream quickly died as she fell against Hank and their daughter's screams filled the air.
Hank sat in the familiar chair next to Karen's bed, three out of four of his favourite girls surrounding him. Karen was getting some much needed sleep and Hank had either daughter in each arm. They were both so perfect and beautiful, all chubby and red and swaddled in pink cloth.
Karen had been whisked away in the ambulance more or less the second she had given birth. From the ambulance, Hank had rang Becca and Levon, and Becca had been on her way to the airport before Hank had even hung up. He had also called Charlie to pick up the car and Marcy who had promised to meet them at the hospital as soon as they could.
They hadn't wanted to pick any names until after the twins were born, but they both knew what they wanted to call them. Karen was fighting to stay awake, unable to take her eyes off the sleeping bundle in her arms when she looked at Hank.
"We need to give them names" She had said, stifling a yawn.
"Hmmm" Hank nodded, his eyes glued to their other sleeping bundle in his own arms. He was perched on the bed next to Karen, one arm wrapped around her and the other around their daughter. Karen's head drooped to rest on Hank's shoulder.
"Feel free to say no, but you remember the letter you wrote for me? The one you read aloud on the plane?" Hank nodded. He remembered every word. It was one of his prouder moments. He knew where Karen was going with this and nothing had ever felt more right than this... The only thing that was missing was Becca, but she would be there soon enough. "You said that we wouldn't be over as long as there was you, me, hope and grace... and that really stuck with me"
"Mrs. Moody, are you saying you want to name our baby girls Hope and Grace?" Hank grinned.
"Only if you like that" Karen shrugged.
"Karen, I love that. It's perfect" Hank leaned down and captured his wife's lips. "What do you say? You like that little girl? What about Grace?" he asked, now addressing the baby in his arms. The new born responded by opening her eyes and Hank and Karen took that as a sign.
Karen stirred in her sleep but didn't wake, which Hank was silently grateful for. Karen had fought to stay awake for hours but fell asleep just after Marcy and Charlie had left just over two hours ago. Becca wasn't due to get in till early hours tomorrow morning, but she had promised she was coming straight to the hospital when she landed. Hank was bursting at the seams with excitement for Becca to meet her new little sisters.
They had always been close, but over the past two years they had grown especially close. Becca had been so happy when she found out Karen was pregnant and wanted 24/7 updates on everything. Hank had already sent her a bunch of photos of the twins and they were only a few hours old.
Maybe it was because he was exhausted, or maybe it was because he was overwhelmed with emotions, but Hank couldn't help but reflect on his life the past few years. Him and Karen were happier and stronger than they had ever been, and although she had been hesitant at first, getting married had been the best decision they had ever made. Hank had grown up and was a completely different person. He still fucked up, he always would but Karen knew that about him. She knew him inside out, and knew all his faults and yet she still loved him. Hank wondered how the fuck Karen managed to get past all the shit he had put her though over the years. He didn't deserve her. He knew that. And despite how badly he fucked up, Becca had turned out alright - although Hank put that down to Karen. He loved her so much that it scared him, and now he had two more reasons to fall in love with Karen all over again. She was the light he needed, guiding the way through the mess that was life.
Hank's eyes were stinging and his eyelids were betraying him and drooping. He wanted to stay awake forever, just staring at his girls, trying to absorb every single part of their beauty, but sleep was winning the battle against his body. With the gentle skill only a parent could possess, Hank laid his still sleeping daughters in their cot without them so much as stirring, before he retired to the cot on the floor beside Karen's bed. He so desperately wanted to climb in bed next to his wife and hold her, let her scent invade his senses and fall asleep with his nose pressed against the back of her neck, but he didn't want to risk waking her. Karen needed all the sleep she could get. They both did! They weren't 20 anymore, and they had two babies this time around. That meant double of everything. They had a long road ahead of them, but for the first time in his life, Hank felt prepared for it.
So him and Karen were probably on the wrong side of 40 to be raising newborns... when had they ever done anything traditional anyway?
The sound of his three girls sleeping was a beautiful melody than Hank wished he could fall asleep to every single day for the rest of his life. Almost the instant his head hit the pillow, he drifted off into the best sleep of his life, filled with dreams of Karen, Becca, Hope and Grace.