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Friday, October 20, 2017

Birth - A Between The Worlds Short Story

This story is a bridge between the 6th book in the Between the Worlds series and the forthcoming 7th book. It's main purpose is to offer some additional backstory for a few characters as well as clarify some events that occur between the two books.
   The story runs at 7,370 words.

‘Birth’ – A Between the Worlds Short Story

5 Weeks Before Midsummer
Allie shifted restlessly where she was reclining on her living room couch as Lauren, her midwife, and Brynneth, a medic in the Elven Guard who was also her friend, stood over her and discussed her current condition and the request she’d just made. Or rather the thing she’d just spent five minutes trying to convince them to agree to. Although she knew they weren't doing it on purpose she was feeling a bit like a child being talked about by adults, and to calm herself she rested one hand on the rounded bulge of her abdomen. Inside, warm and safe, her son was sleeping and she felt a small surge of pride that she'd become good enough with her empathy to distinguish peaceful sleeping from any other state. Still she felt a surge of longing for her two bondmates, Bleidd and Jess, who were currently wrapping up their last assignment in the Fairy Holding that adjoined the town. She forced herself to fix her eyes on the two people standing over her and ignore the pull of desire that filled her.
The two healers were a study in opposites. Brynneth was tall, lean, and dark-haired, his elven heritage plain even without the uniform of the Elven Guard that he was wearing, the badge flashing at his waist when he moved. He radiated a serenity that Allie envied, his ageless features calm even as he argued his point. Beside him Lauren Perez was all too plainly human, short and plump, her black hair liberally streaked with grey and her face just as liberally lined with wrinkles. She had often joked that she had earned each grey hair and each wrinkle through her work and Allie more than half believed her at this point. The last several months had become a crash course in mixed species pregnancies for Allie and she had slowly learned how complicated and often dangerous it really was for humans and the Fey to produce children together. For Lauren to specialize in this Allie had realized she must have seen a lot of tragedy over the decades she’d been working.  
Finally Lauren turned and looked down at her, her expression tired but kind. “Well, I still think the clinic is a better idea given the risk of complications. But I agree that so far things have looked good and the baby’s size and position isn’t indicating any need for worry at this point, although we have a ways to go. And since Brynneth will be here and we can get you to the clinic by ambulance in 20 minutes if there’s an emergency I’m willing to agree to try this as a home birth. Try it, Allie,” Lauren said, holding up a finger in a warning gesture, “But I’m letting you know now that at the first sign of anything – anything – problematic I will call that ambulance. Okay?”
Allie smiled, silently thanking Brynneth’s skills with persuasion which had surely convinced Lauren in the end, since Allie’s own efforts hadn’t seemed to have much effect. That was no mean feat as Lauren dealt with the Fey often enough that she was one of the few humans Allie had met who seemed exempt to the effect they normally seemed to have on non-Fey. She nodded, “That seems fair.”
Brynneth nodded as well, as always looking serious, “I have more than enough leave time accrued to use some when the time comes which will ensure that I am free to be here.”
“Do you want to stay here?” Allie blurted out, then flushed as both the midwife and healer looked at her in surprise. “I mean you’re welcome to stay here at the house if you’d like to, rather than the Outpost.”
Brynneth looked thoughtful for a moment, pursing his lips slightly. “That is not a bad idea. And I am not averse to spending some time with Jessilaen. I have missed him these past few weeks, although doubtless not as much as you have.”
He smiled kindly at her when he said it and Allie struggled to keep her expression friendly, forcing herself to smile back, but inside she winced. You have no idea she thought to herself feeling her craving for her bondmates’ presence rising up, insistently reminding her of her very real, tangible need for them. Not for the first time she cursed Bleidd’s decision to re-join the Elven Guard even though the increased income had made a significant difference for them all. The money has meant a lot more than I thought it would, and I can’t deny how much happier he’s been she thought to herself, watching as Lauren began gathering her medical equipment up. It obviously means a lot to him to be back in the Guard, to be financially well off. Hel it’s the first time in my life I haven’t had to worry about money constantly, about how things will be paid for. Maybe it’s all his way to try to prove he deserves this baby or is worthy of the way his life is now, I don’t knowbut I do like seeing him so happy. I just wish he was happy and they were here all the time.
“I’ll stop by in a week and check on you,” Lauren said, derailing Allie’s introspective train of thought, as she finished putting her equipment away.
“As will I,” Brynneth agreed, stepping back slightly as Lauren, her bag now packed and in hand, moved to Allie’s side.
“Don’t get up Allie,” Lauren said, patting her shoulder absently, her grip surprisingly firm, “I’ll see myself out. Remember what I said about drinking more water, and call me if you have any questions before our next appointment.”
With a slight wave at the elf and half-elf Lauren turned and left, already pulling her cell phone out to check her messages. Allie appreciated that she didn’t let the phone distract her during appointments, but she also knew that Lauren had a reputation as one of the best midwives for mixed-species cases and she was always busy. She didn’t doubt the other woman probably had a dozen messages waiting for her.
Brynneth followed her to the doorway, watching as she left, so subtly that Allie doubted the midwife even noticed him.
It had been sheer luck that Allie had been able to get onto her client list at all; she’d had no idea how in demand Lauren was when she’d randomly picked her name out of the directory listing. And it had also been luck that she had managed to call at a time when Lauren had a slight lull in her workload and could take on someone new. Only later, when she’d belatedly checked the woman’s qualifications, had she realized that Lauren was one of the most well-known and highly regarded midwives for people of mixed backgrounds in the area. I still can’t even imagine what she charges Allie thought resisting the urge to frown. Jess and Bleidd had paid Lauren up front and much to Allie’s ongoing annoyance they’d gotten Lauren to swear not to tell Allie the price. That hadn’t stopped her from spending the last six months trying to find out, but much to her consternation and Bleidd’s amusement she hadn’t been able to. If only I’d realized two husbands would mean constantly being conspired against, Allie thought then smiled to herself who am I kidding I’d have done it anyway.
“You seem to be in a better mood today,” Brynneth said, returning to Allie’s side now that Lauren was gone.
She sighed, “I’m glad Jessilaen and Bleidd will be back soon.”
Bryn looked out the window, his expression pensive. “It is hard on you when they are gone, is it not?”
Allie looked away, unsure what to say, and before the silence could get awkward Brynneth knelt down by her feet and reached out towards her bad ankle. She tensed anticipating the touch, her gaze going to his hand, and he hesitated, his eyes finding her face. “Allie, how much pain are you in?”
“It’s not so bad,” Allie said, shifting uncomfortably and hoping that she wasn’t edging into a lie. She hedged, “It’s been worse. I’ve just been on my feet too much lately.”
Brynneth gently moved her pant leg up to examine her ankle, his fingers probing the swelling and tenderness around the joint, which had been badly shattered the year before. Allie bit her lip to keep from blurting out her gratitude that he’d waited to ask about her leg until Lauren was gone. She knew it was silly to even care about it but some part of her didn’t like admitting to anyone, except Brynneth who could tell anyway, how much the pregnancy was exacerbating the problems she had with her old injury. Even Jess and Bleidd didn’t know how much more pain she was in constantly now or that she’d stumbled several times when she’d started to lose her footing while walking. It scared her to feel so helpless, and she was afraid if she told them they’d feel guilty because they weren’t there with her. After a moment Brynneth began tracing runes over her foot and leg and then closed his eyes, focusing as he cast a healing spell.
Well crap she thought, fighting tears as her emotions predictably overwhelmed her while the magic flowed around her so it’s bad enough at this point that he’s using formal spells not just channeled energy. Deep down Allie could feel the fear bubbling up that she was going to end up crippled in truth, unable to walk at all on her left ankle. It was a fear that had haunted her since she’d been injured and made her push to hide her limp and her pain as much as possible, but had grown exponentially as the later stages of the pregnancy had seriously aggravated the injury. Now with her balance and center of gravity changed and her weight up more than 30 pounds her ankle was in full rebellion, and even pulling energy from her bondmates wasn’t enough to mitigate it. With them gone the last few weeks she was keenly feeling the effects, despite projecting into Jess’s mind to pull energy from them when they were intimate.
When Brynneth finally opened his eyes she could see the worry on his face as much as she could feel it with her empathy, so she braced herself, but when he spoke his words took her by surprise. “How has your appetite been lately?”
“My appetite?” she repeated, her mind going blank. He nodded and after a moment she managed a reply, “Ummm. Good. Fine I think.”
“You haven’t had any further nausea or dizziness?”
“Oh,” she said, realizing what he was getting at. “No, not for months now. Most things healthwise seem to have smoothed out.”
He made a soft, thoughtful noise, “Interesting. I was talking to my cousin’s son yesterday, who is here visiting from another Holding. He is also a healer, and was telling me about a case he had a few years ago, a young man of mixed ancestry – half elven and half human like yourself – who was also poisoned with iron. In his case it was accidental but like you he very nearly died of it. I believe from what Marreliyn was saying that he was exposed to a much lower amount than you were. It took him more than a year to recover, and that with regular healing.”
Allie looked down, smoothing her shirt over her stomach as she processed what he was saying. She knew of course why she’d healed faster and without too much extra help from Brynneth, but she wasn’t sure how much Brynneth knew and it made her uneasy. “I suppose I’m atypical then even for this.”
“I do not think you are actually,” Brynneth said, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I suspect you are entirely typical.”
She winced, knowing he was referencing her ability as a Bahvanshee to absorb her bondmates emotions and empower herself with them, which was the key to her healing ability. Before she could speak he was going on though, “It’s alright Allie, I did not mean to bring up anything that might upset you. I only wanted you to know that you are not alone in what you endured when you were poisoned and that, although your recovery rate may be faster, I do now have something to model it on.”
She smiled tentatively at him, relaxing slightly. “Well that is a good thing I guess.”
“I believe so,” he agreed smiling and squeezing her hand again before releasing it. “I will talk to Zarethyn about taking my leave time near to midsummer. Until then, and until Jessilaen and Bleidd return – perhaps even after they return – it would be best if you tried to rest your leg as much as possible. Sit as often as you can and elevate your ankle as much as you are able.”
She bit back the immediate retort that wanted to flow from her lips, that her job at the bookstore didn’t allow much sitting, and instead nodded meekly. She doubted she’d be able to sit much more than she already was, but she could at least agree to try and the spectre of permanently worsening her ankle injury still haunted her. From the look Brynneth gave he she doubted he was fooled by her seeming compliance, but he only sighed and stood slowly. Patting her knee he said, “I shall leave you to get some rest then and will see you next week.”
Allie nodded again, knowing that he didn’t expect more of a response and would be annoyed with her if she tried to stand to walk him out after he’d just worked on her ankle. Instead she reached for a nearby paperback, listening to his footsteps retreating down the hall and then the distinct sound of the front door closing. A moment later her fairy hound, Luath, who had been banished to the kitchen during the examination, appeared trotting cheerfully over to Allie. The hound who was just over a year old now was a large and well grown animal but still had the energy of a puppy.
Luath nudged Allie’s shoulder with her muzzle then licked her cheek, eliciting a giggle from the prone woman, before the hound settled down on the floor, stretching out along the length of the couch next to Allie. Allie stopped reading for a moment to reach down and pet Luath, delighting in the softness of the hound’s fur and the happy rhythm of her tail against the hardwood floor. “Well puppy,” Allie said relaxing back into the cushions, “Everything’s looking good so far. Now it’s just you and me until Jason gets home from work. I think an exciting afternoon of reading is in my future.”
Luath’s tail thumped against the floor again, then she yawned and laid her head down on her paws, closing her eyes. Allie sighed, glad for the hound’s company but still missing her spouses, then resolutely focused her attention back to her book.


4 Weeks Before Midsummer

Allie turned at the sound of the door opening, startled. Hannah, Jason, and Shawn were all at work and she was alone in the house, slowly working her way down the hall with a broom, Luath anxiously pacing around her. Her first thought was that it was strange that the fairy hound hadn’t barked and then the door was swinging open and Bleidd and Jess were stepping in. The two stood side by side for a moment, both in the green tunic and black cargo pants that were the uniform of the Elven Guard but otherwise very different. Jess’s light blond hair was pulled back in the braid of the Guard with military precision, everything about him projecting solidness and professionalism. Next to him, taller by slightly more than half a foot, Bleidd’s black hair was in the same braid just as precise yet it managed to look like it was moments from breaking free, and despite the uniform and badge Bleidd still managed to have the air of someone up to something questionable.
As the two stepped into the house Luath gave a pleased yip, but stayed where she was near Allie. Allie, for her part, dropped the broom which hit the floor with a thump and then hobbled as quickly as she could manage over to her two lovers. “You’re back!”
They both smiled at her, their feelings swirling around her and blending with her own happiness. She hadn’t expected them for another week at least, and felt a wave of relief and joy seeing them now. Jess’s eyes sparkled in delight as they walked down the hall to meet her, “We decided to surprise you rather than tell you when we were sent back early.”
“I am so glad you’re back!” Allie said, shamelessly pulling both elves into a tight embrace and burying her head against the wall of their torsos. Their arms came up around her back, and she relaxed into the safety of their presence, smiling as they each slipped their free hand forward to stroke the hard bulge of her stomach. In response their son kicked strongly, the motion rippling across her abdomen and she laughed out loud, “I guess he missed you guys too.”
“I sincerely hope he doesn’t decide that kicking is an appropriate greeting after he is born,” Bleidd quipped, and she drank in his happiness until she felt giddy.
“We are glad to be back as well my heart,” Jess said, his tone serious, pressing his hand firmly against the baby’s movement.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to be home for another week? Not that I’m not thrilled,” Allie said, still smiling widely.
“Indeed,” Jess said, pulling her a bit closer, “However Brynneth talked to Zarethyn and suggested that it would be better if we returned sooner rather than later. Things were arranged.”
“We are lucky Brynneth has as much influence with the Captain as he does,” Bleidd said dryly, but Allie could sense that he was pleased by this turn of events however it had happened.
She closed her eyes, not sure how she felt about it, however pragmatically the two elves she had married might view things. It didn’t seem right somehow to let Brynneth use his influence to pull strings for her, and she was cynical enough to realize that he must have done this so that she would be able to better heal herself, after seeing how her ankle was doing last week. She didn’t like that thought at all. And yet she couldn’t deny how thrilled she was to have them both back with her.
When she didn’t say anything Bleidd slid his hand off her back and up to stroke her hair, his voice losing its cocky edge, “Is everything alright Allie?”
“Sure,” she said, her voice flat in her own ears.
My heart,” Jess said into her mind, “What is it? What is wrong?”
She closed her eyes tighter clinging to them and responded in kind. “Nothing is wrong. I’m just tired, and tired of feeling like a beached whale most of the time. Whoever said pregnancy was a great experience was clearly delusional.”
Bleidd laughed aloud, still stroking her hair gently. “I would never compare you with a whale. And take heart babe only another month and then it will be over and you trade physical discomfort for sleepless nights and constant crying.
I doubt the baby will cry all the time,” Allie said, unable to stop herself from rolling her eyes at him as she straightened up a bit to meet both their worried gazes.
I meant you, actually,” Bleidd shot back, smirking. She stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed again. Jess tightened his grip on her for a moment then leaned forward and kissed her deeply, giving her a moment where she could let herself fall into his feelings and the sensation. Even in that brief moment she drank in the feeling and felt her own energy strengthening, the pain she was feeling certainly not evaporating but noticeably lessening. Then he was stepping back, Bleidd a step behind, and she was being swept down the hallway with the two of them towards the kitchen. She struggled to keep up, feeling her ankle complaining and her back tensing. She managed to make it all the way to the kitchen keeping pace with them, but as soon as they cleared the doorway she headed for the table and sat down, ignoring Jess’s worried look.
“Have you eaten lunch yet?” he asked, going to the refrigerator. Luath trotted over to the rag rug in front of the sink and laid down with a contented whuffing noise.
“Ah, blessed human technology,” Bleidd mumbled, moving to make a fresh pot of coffee.
“Not yet,” Allie admitted to Jess, then to Bleidd, “Are we missing our coffee?”
“Coffee, cars, central heating,” he agreed with a sigh, joining her at the table and leaning over to slide an arm across her shoulder, predictably tactile after weeks of separation.
Jess shot him an amused look even as he began pan-frying chicken cutlets at the stove. He said, “He has mentioned the coffee almost daily this last week.”
“Well that’s what you get for abandoning me to go running off to join the Guard,” Allie said, the joke coming out more sharply than she’d intended.
Jess turned and busied himself at the stove as Bleidd stiffened next to her. “You know that isn’t…that was never my intention.”
“I meant that as a joke,” Allie said, the sudden sharp tension in the room making her head swim. “Even if it is true in a way. I know you didn’t abandon me exactly, but you did choose to rejoin the Guard knowing it would mean these assignments. I’m never going to like that.”
“Never going to like that I rejoined the Guard or that I go out on assignments now?” he asked leaning his head on her shoulder.
Jess was watching the conversation play out surreptitiously over his shoulder, but had wisely chosen to stay out of it this time. Allie appreciated that since she had grown tired over the last few months of Jess’s attempts to advocate with her on Bleidd’s behalf. Maybe it’s time we have this out she thought to herself, reaching up to stroke his cheek. “I am glad that you are so much happier. And I am very glad that you are both home now and will be home until after the baby is born. And believe it or not Bleidd I am glad that being in the Guard hasn’t changed you, that so far you are still the same person I’ve always known you to be. ”
At the stove Jess snorted loudly, but still didn’t say anything. Allie took a deep breath then went on, “But it is…enormously hard for me to have you both gone. And you knew before you chose to do this that it was going to be hard for me and you did it anyway. And I think part of me is still angry with you about that, for choosing your own happiness over my…needs. But I also think maybe I’m being selfish feeling that way, so I’m kind of torn on the whole subject. I’m mad at you for leaving but I’m also mad at me for needing you to be here.”
He sighed, his breathe shushing out across her skin, then moved quickly, sliding his arms around her shoulders and under her thighs and smoothly pulling her into his lap. She let out an indignant squeak, her arms flying up around his neck reflexively. He held her, cradling her body against his torso, his face inches from hers, his green eyes locked with her blue ones. “I did not do this to choose my happiness over yours Allie,” he thought to her seriously, his sadness wrapping around her, “I did know that it would mean us, Jess and I both, being separated from you for short periods of time. Short. But I knew you could pull energy from the two of us when we are together even if you are not with us. I thought that would be enough while we were away, and you know well enough that I don’t hesitate to have my way with Jess at every opportunity while we are gone.”
She smiled at that even as Jess turned from stove smiling fondly and said, “I might disagree about who is having whose way with who, but we can discuss that later,” before turning back to his cooking.  
Bleidd leaned forward and kissed her, his lips brushing against hers like a promise. “I didn’t anticipate the situation being as complicated for you as it is. I am sorry for that. I also had thought, hoped, that we would not be sent out as often or for as long into the Holding but would remain here most of the time. But I will not regret knowing that my honor has been fully redeemed, that this child will have fathers he can be proud of and a sure path to follow in the Guard if he wants it. Nor can I regret the security my income gives you.
You know I don’t agree with the elven idea that your money belongs to me just because you’re my husband,” she said, but it was a reflexive reply, deep down she was wondering now how much of his choice had to do with trying to match Jess in some way with her or in the eyes of a child that hadn’t even been born yet. Oh Bleidd she thought careful to shield them both out of her mind I wish you could see that you aren’t competing with anyone for me, and I can’t imagine that this baby would have loved you less if you were still dispatching taxis then if you’re gone for weeks at a time with the Guard
“Nonetheless,” he whispered aloud, the words nearly against her lips, “The money is yours, ours, and it puts us in a much stronger position. I hated seeing you always worrying about bills. Now you have no need to worry, and whether you like it or not my income and Jess’s belong to you for as long as we are wed. By the Law. And you can’t try to argue with me about helping you or being too generous, because it’s your money by the Law.”
“You are devious,” Allie said, genuinely impressed that he’d tricked her so thoroughly and she hadn’t figured it out on her own. She had been aware of course that their pooled income was considerably higher than hers had been alone, and what Bleidd earned as an adept mage in the Guard made both her income and Jess’s look like pocket change. But she had just assumed that sharing their resources was what married couples – or in this cases trios – did. And since they traveled sometimes and she had the most familiarity with the human world and paying bills it had only seemed logical for her to handle all the finances; she had seen it as a logical division of duties not as her traditional role in an elven household. Or considered that they believed the money was hers…
He grinned from ear to ear and his pleasure at this success rolled over her, until she decided she needed to take him down a notch. Or at least try to. “Does this mean I should be giving you a nice little allowance? Some money to play with since you’re such a good husband?”
Bleidd blinked slowly, momentarily speechless. At the stove, now cooking mixed vegetables in the fry pan, Jess burst out laughing. Allie giggled, drinking in the lighter emotional atmosphere and enjoying it. Bleidd finally recovered, arching an eyebrow at her, “Should I be filling out requisition requests when I’d like to buy something?” He slid his hand up her arm, caressing across her collarbone, “Or just ask really nicely when I’d like a treat?”
Jess laughed harder, snorting in his amusement. Allie could feel herself blushing, “You are incorrigible, you know that?”
“Don’t blame me,” he said innocently, “I’m just trying to find out how this allowance of yours is going to work.”
“You know I view it as our collective money, not my personal money,” she said, resisting the urge to give in to his teasing, even though she'd started it. She shifted slightly in his arms as her back cramped painfully, trying to ignore it.
“You’re no fun,” he said, tracing his finger up from her throat to her chin.
“Also,” Allie said, biting at his finger when it came close to her mouth. “Getting back to who is having their way with who - for the record, I am clearly the one having my way with both of you.”
Bleidd kissed her again then said, “Exactly as I like it.”
Jess joined them at the table, setting a communal plate of food down and handing out silverware. Allie felt herself fully relaxing for the first time in a long time, still sitting in Bleidd’s lap. This is good she thought. Everything is always better when we are all together.


Birth

Allie opened her eyes to darkness, stretched then winced as her back complained rapidly followed by her hips. She tried to close her eyes and force herself back to sleep but it was quickly apparent that it was a lost cause. Next to her Bleidd and Jess slept deeply, their even breathing the only sound in the quiet room. Trying not to wake them Allie slid to the edge of the bed and carefully levered herself up, hating the awkwardness of late pregnancy that made the simple movement so difficult.
The sky outside the window was a flat black and a glance at the clock showed it was only just past midnight. She repressed a sigh, shifting again as her back cramped. She’d thought she’d gotten used to the myriad miseries of pregnancy but after trying to actually take Brynneth’s advice and sit most of the day before she’d found herself suffering from muscle cramps in her back and sides all evening. Her bondmates had tried to help ease things but she’d finally just decided to suffer in silence since her discomfort was upsetting them and she didn’t want to ruin their time together. They’d only been home for a few days and she was still reveling in their presence, she didn’t want anything to detract from that. And now she thought rubbing one gritty eye with her hand I can’t even sleep. Ugh. Well if laying down isn’t going to help then I may as well get up. I can take Luath for a walk. Maybe moving around will do the trick.
The fairy hound had been oddly clingy after they’d retired to bed until Allie had finally, reluctantly, banished her to the hallway to get some peace. As soon as she opened the door she found the hound lying across the threshold; Luath looked up immediately, whining slightly, her black eyes searching Allie’s face.
“Come on puppy lets go for a walk,” Allie whispered. The hound got up at the words and moved so Allie could get out of the room but she didn’t lope ahead as she usually did when the word ‘walk’ was mentioned, instead staying close to Allie. The half-elf walked carefully, one hand on the wall, feeling off balance and grumpy. Going down the stairs she kept one hand on the wall and the other on Luath’s back, her bad ankle a sharp pain with each step and her back still cramping off and on as she went. She felt utterly miserable, and reconsidered the idea of a walk. Maybe I could get a fire going instead and sit in the living room and read Allie thought. Sitting seems like a much better plan than a long walk, or even a short one. And a fire in the fireplace would be nice, even this time of year.
Making up her mind she reached the bottom of the stairs and hobbled across to the entrance to the living room, but on the threshold she lost her balance, slipping and stumbling gracelessly to the floor. Luath yipped in concern, nudging the fallen woman in the side with her nose. Flushing in embarrassment Allie braced her hands on the floor and pushed up trying to get back to her feet. Halfway up she felt a gush of warmth and wetness on her legs, soaking her clothes from the waist down, and Luath yipped again, then whimpered. She staggered to her feet, her mind trying to process what had just happened. There was a low click as a door opened a few feet away.
“Allie? Are you okay?” Hannah asked, poking her head out from her room, midway down the hall.
“Ahhh,” Allie mumbled, feeling panic starting to rise as the full implications hit her. “I think my water just broke.”
“Oh!” Hannah said, stepping out into the hallway and towards Allie. “Okay. It’s okay. We need to call your midwife. And, um, your elven healer friend.”
“It’s too early, it’s too soon. I’m not due for weeks yet,” Allie said, thinking she might cry, and of course almost immediately she had both Bleidd and Jess’s sleepy voices in her head, worried, asking her what was wrong.
“How many weeks are you now?” Hannah asked, frowning. She reached Allie’s side and reached out, taking her wrist and pressing her fingers over the pulse point to take Allie’s vital signs. Even in the middle of the situation, with another cramp – no Allie realized another contraction - rippling through her sides she was still amused by the way Hannah immediately went into nurse mode without even realizing it.
“Um, a little more than 36 weeks,” Allie said, the sound of two sets of feet on the stairs heralding Bleidd and Jess’s arrival.
“That’s fine honey, that’s not too early,” Hannah reassured her. “36 weeks is considered full term even in mixed species births.”
As Bleidd and Jess hit the bottom of the stairs and turned, getting tangled up in each other as they tried to reach her, she grabbed Hannah’s hand, “Have you ever delivered a baby before?”
“Relax Allie, take a deep breath,” Hannah said, her voice calm and reassuring. “This is your first baby, you’re probably going to be in labor for awhile. But if it comes down to it yes I have delivered a baby before, so don’t worry. You’re just lucky I’m home tonight and tomorrow was my day off.”
“Honestly I’m kind of just glad you’re home and Jason and Shawn aren’t. I’d never hear the end of this from either of them.” The two women exchanged a smile, Allie squeezing Hannah’s hand gratefully.
Bleidd and Jess had joined them, Luath pressing against her legs and hips still whining, and for a moment she was totally overwhelmed by everyone else’s emotions. “Okay,” she said, shaking her head. “Jess please call Brynneth and Lauren. Bleidd can you get Luath outside? Hannah, what should I do until they get here?”
The two men rushed off as quickly as they’d arrived, earning a wry look from Hannah before she answered Allie. “Right. Let’s get you out of this wet tshirt first. How far apart are the contractions?”
“I don’t know,” Allie said, shivering slightly. “I didn’t even know I was having any, I just thought my back was cramping. Like regular muscle cramps.”
Bleidd reappeared and before he could more than open his mouth Hannah turned to him and said, “Run up and get Allie something clean and dry to wear.”
He disappeared again, dodging back up the stairs, and Allie smiled, “You’ll have to forgive him, they’re both pretty nervous about this.”
“And you aren’t?”
“I’m still in shock that its actually happening.”
Jess was there a minute later, and Hannah turned to him with a business-like air, “Right, why don’t you take Allie into the shower and help her get washed off. Just a quick wash. I’ll have Bleidd clean up the hallway and I’ll get things ready just in case things do happen quickly.”
Jess nodded, reaching out to take Allie’s arm, “Brynneth said he will be here within 20 minutes. Lauren is out on a call but I left a message for her.”
“See Allie?” Hannah said. “20 minutes and the cavalry will be here.”
Allie nodded, smiling weakly. She knew Hannah was right that this was probably going to be a long process but her head was spinning by how quickly it all seemed to be happening. Feeling overwhelmed and unprepared she let Jess lead her into the downstairs bathroom, strip off her clothes, and get her quickly in and out of the shower. He tried several times to ask her how she was doing but she could only keep repeating that she was fine; in truth she was in a daze. She still didn’t feel the expected painful contractions but just a steady cramping in her back and sides.
They emerged from the shower and Bleidd was standing there waiting with a dry oversized t-shirt. She slipped it on after they’d toweled her off, not even complaining at the way they were trying to do everything for her. Their fear and concern was like a physical presence around her.
They stepped back into the hallway, Bleidd on one side Jess on the other, and Allie stopped abruptly. Jess spoke first, his voice worried, “What is it?”
She didn’t answer him, instead looking for Hannah, “Wait a second please. Hannah?”
The nurse popped into view almost immediately from the kitchen, “What is it?”
“I feel weird,” Allie said, trying to focus on slowing her breathing.
Hannah jogged over, frowning, “Weird how? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Allie said, feeling as if her body was betraying her. “Like, like I need to lay down, like right now. Its…its like pressure. A lot of pressure.”
“Pressure where?” Hannah said her voice sharp.
Allie gestured down at her thighs, the feeling overwhelming now. She was already trying to sit, only Bleidd and Jess on each side holding her up.
“Okay let’s get you into the living room-“
“No,” Allie said, her own voice firm. “No, I need to lay down now.”
Jess and Bleidd’s panic was overwhelming but she couldn’t argue with what her body was telling her. She had to lay down. Had to. Hannah stepped forward, reaching out and wrapping her arms around Allie’s torso. “Hang on Allie, just a second. One of you guys grab some towels quick. Good. Lay a couple down on the floor. Okay, help me get her down.”
Allie was barely aware of the towels beneath her as between the three of them the nurse and the two elves got her laid down on the hallway floor. She felt her knees pulling up towards her chest reflexively, Bleidd taking one hand, Jess the other, one on each side. Hannah knelt down between her legs, then glanced up, her face calm, “Well it looks like this baby doesn’t feel like waiting for the professionals. I need someone to grab me another towel and some twine, and something sharp, a knife or scissors, quickly please.”
For an instant the two elves hesitated, then Jess was in motion, running to get what Hannah needed.
“What going on? Is he okay?” Allie gasped out, still caught in the strange feeling of pressure and need.
“Everything’s fine honey,” Hannah said, still calm, her hands cool against Allie’s thighs. “The baby’s crowning. A couple more good pushes and he’ll be saying hello to everyone.”
Allie could feel tears tracking down her cheeks, but she wasn't upset it was just that the whole situation was surreal. She squeezed Bleidd’s hand hard and he leaned forward kissing her forehead and whispering reassurances. Jess hurried back, joining Hannah with the things she’d asked for. Hannah was focused entirely on her work and Allie sent up a silent prayer of gratitude for her roommate’s presence and skill. A moment later Hannah was turning to Jess who was kneeling next to her, “Okay, I need you to help me, he’ll be out with the next push and I need you to hold him, carefully, he’ll be slippery. Just do what I show you. I have to tie off the cord and then cut it, okay?”
Jess looked at her wide eyed but nodded. Allie closed her eyes, the sensation of the baby’s body sliding free of hers making her gasp and leaving her feeling momentarily hollow. Then Bleidd was whispering in her ear again telling her how beautiful the baby was and it pulled her back to herself. She forced her eyes open, unsurprised to see both Jess and Bleidd crying. Neither of them had ever seen a birth before and the experience had clearly touched them deeply. Then Hannah, who was grinning fiercely was laying the baby, bundled in towel, onto her chest. She started to panic, afraid because he wasn’t crying, only to look down and find her son’s unfocused eyes blinking up at her. He made soft cooing noises, his lips pursing, one fist free of the towel opening and closing as he tried to sort out what to do with his fingers.  
“Are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed?” Hannah asked, busy doing something between Allie’s legs. Allie was a bit oblivious at that point, but she knew there was still the placenta to be dealt with and she trusted Hannah.
“I’m going to try nursing,” she said, captivated by the baby’s gaze. His eyes were a cloudy blue green and he had a halo of dark blond hair, already drying and starting to fluff up off his head.
“You should put him to the breast soon then,” Hannah said.
“Is Allie alright?” Bleidd said, clearing his throat as he spoke, his emotions for once obvious to everyone.
“As far as I can tell,” Hannah said. “No sign of excessive bleeding. She looks good, but of course she’ll need to be checked.”
“And the baby?” Allie asked.
 “Baby looks great. I’d guess around six pounds which is a good size for 36 weeks. He’s breathing fine, color's perfect, very alert. For someone that couldn’t get here fast enough he seems ready to take on the world.”
“Have you chosen a name for him?” Jess asked, his eyes shining, his delight swirling around Allie. Next to her Bleidd’s eyes reflected the same feeling even as he reached out a tentative hand to caress the baby’s cheek.
“Kionan*,” Allie said, softly, as Hannah finished up dealing with the afterbirth. The name resonated through the air as she spoke it, and it felt right, down to her bones. She watched both elves repeating the name, their faces momentarily solemn before the joy broke through again.
There was the distinctive sound of an Elven Guard car pulling up out front and for a moment they all looked at each other, pulled away from the spell the baby cast over them. Then Allie gave the group a lopsided grin, “I think Brynneth can let himself in.”
Some of the residual tension went out of the air and Hannah laughed, sitting back on the floor. Allie found a laugh bubbling up as well, and her eyes went back to her son, even as around her Jess and Bleidd started talking over each other about the details they would have to handle, the preparations left undone in the nursery, buying diapers, clothes, all the things they’d thought they still had a month to prepare. Behind her the door opened and Brynneth hurried in then stopped short at the unexpected sight of Allie on the floor with the newborn, only to have Hannah and Jess start talking simultaneously trying to fill him in. Bleidd next to her began stroking the baby’s soft hair, then her hair, and muttering to himself about stubbornness and impatience being inherited traits.
“Welcome to the world Kionan,” Allie whispered down at her son who was still looking up at her as if he knew exactly what he’d gotten into.



*Kionan – pronounced Keenan

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