For Unto Us [complete]

((OOC: 25 Firstfall, 36 Dragon, evening; with ))

“Not. Until. Innes. Is.” Kahrin had to stop herself and grunt, every muscle from her (ridiculously enormous) breasts to her thighs (which she had not seen in weeks) clamped down until she was forced to brace both hands against the wall of the sitting room she paced. She pushed out a hard breath and waited for it to pass. “Here,” she finished once she could speak again.

She decided months ago that for all the fuss and trying and loss and heartache it had taken to achieve it, pregnancy was the worst thing she’d ever endured. She was counting the time she’d been nearly killed by a blood mage. Actually, she wondered if a blood mage could have made this easier. No. No that was a ridiculous thought.

Kahrin had not trained in months. She’d been all but restrained to her bed--and not in a sexy way, even--on ordered rest, and she was beyond ready for this to be over. In a manner of speaking. The midwife had happily announced just a week or so prior how this baby was huge, and Kahrin wondered if Innes’ ears burned as she cussed him and his considerable size (in all but one way) wherever he was in his journey back to Gwaren. Other than the rare moments she got to see his face light up, including when she’d told him she was sure, to when he was able to feel their child kicking within her, growing strong and showing them just how eager it was to meet them, she decided this whole experience was overhyped and it fucking sucked. Not even the month Innes visited while her voracious appetite extended to far more than whatever odd fruit she couldn’t put a name to, when she was still flexible enough to be adventurous, made up for any of it. Innes might disagree, once he’d caught up on sleep.

“That one was much faster, Your Grace.” Lady Yelena’s voice, often dreamy and soothing in ways that only a unicorn’s could possibly be, grated on Kahrin’s nerves and she ground her teeth as she righted herself from leaning on the wall.

“Really?” Kahrin feigned surprise, lifting her arms and looking about the room as if to find whatever the source was of Yelena’s powers of observation. “Because I didn’t notice.” Then, as if the Maker himself were admonishing her for raising her voice to a creature so sacred as a unicorn turned human, she grabbed the back of one of the chairs to hold herself up and let out a guttural shriek.

The midwife and Yelena exchanged looks as Kahrin smoothed her light nightdress, the only thing which had been comfortable in days. “You cannot tell a babe when it is to be born.” Kahrin’s eyes flashed as she looked up and met Yelena’s glass blue ones. “This baby is coming whether you’re ready or not.”

“Is that what’s happening?” she demanded, incredulity spiking her voice. She was scared, and sure she was not ready for this, but it was far more dignified to lash out like she was angry. Or, that’s what her pain-addled brain insisted. “Oh, good, because I was about to fire Pauline for giving me food poisoning. This makes more sense.”

This time the contraction doubled her forward until her arms and forehead rested on the back of the chair and she stood wide-legged behind it. Finally! A comfortable way to stand!

“Your Grace?” Yelena ventured, the swish of her skirts the only thing indicating her movement.

Kahrin held up one hand to silence her, or stop the world, she wasn’t sure. “Just let me stand like this a minute. Please?”

"Technically she is able to birth the child like that," the midwife whispered. "But perhaps we should get her into bed."
Oh, that baby won't make its appearance a day before Haring.  Those had been the airy declaration of the midwife when Innes had last visited Gwaren.  He had sought clarification from the one whom he had presumed was best informed to make such statements, presumably well-versed in the timings of babies given her occupation, and had made his arrangements for the winter accordingly.

And here he was!  Four days early and feeling ever so smug.  Innes all but sauntered up to the gates of Gwaren Castle, ready for him and his impeccable time-keeping to be effusively lauded by all and sundry.  Yet when he reached the gates proper, it was to be met with the stony (and silent) countenance of Carbry.  A mere grunt was all he granted Innes' cheery greeting before he set off towards the castle at a sharp pace, clearly expecting that Innes would fall into obedient step.

He did, of course.  Lengthening his stride to match that of the Guard-Captain, he enquired after the well-being of the Teyrna, a sudden fear gripping his heart that something had happened to the baby in the last few weeks.  Thawing slightly, Carbry grunted a reassurance, saying that nothing ill had befallen either mother or child.  Even so, he eyed Innes with the air of someone witnessing a walking dead man, which did nothing whatsoever for Innes' fraying nerves.

All became clear once they reached the house.  Maids scurried here and there with endless armfuls of linens and buckets of hot water.  They all cast varying degrees of accusatory glares towards Innes.  Now, having spent his life striving to be the very definition of a gallant hero, Innes was not accustomed to such derision.  What had he done to deserve...

"Kahrin is having the baby."  It hit him as hard as any blow had in the training yards at Fort Drakon.  He stared at Carbry who offered confirmation in the form of a short nod and a heavy exhale.  What did not inspire confidence was the manner in which the man then rapidly turned on foot and marched back out into the gardens without so much as a second glance over his shoulder.  Apparently the castle was not a safe place today.

Dumping his belongings in the entrance hall, Innes headed directly for the rooms which he shared with Kahrin.  Reaching the outer door to the sitting room, he opened it just in time to overhear the midwife - ha, a day before Haring! - remark in low tones to Lady Yelena, "Technically she is able to birth the child like that, but perhaps we should get her into bed."

A wiser man would have judged that now was not the time to make an appearance.  Equally, a wiser man would also have known the dangers to his health involved with impregnating Kahrin Brigid Quirke Ainsley.  Wisdom had long since departed this friendship of theirs.  Hence why Innes did not hesitate to enter into the room, his gaze rushing over the other two women in search of Kahrin.  She was propped against the back of a chair in a rather unflattering pose.  He knew better than to say as much.

"Hey," he smiled, hoping it might ease the palpable tension in the room.  Or maybe that was just how he felt.  Not really sure if he was supposed to be here, but not really prepared to be told otherwise, Innes crossed the floor until his hand rested against the small of her back and leaned down briefly to rest his forehead against hers.  "We're going to meet our baby."  Best not mention the hours of hard labour ahead.  Mind you, he was almost certain that Kahrin would inform him of that fact over the course of the birth, likely loudly and with several inventive expletives.  He really hoped he wouldn't have to chastise her about her language mid-birth.  It was hardly the first thing they wanted their baby to hear.

"Come on."  Very gently, he made an effort to ease her from the chair and move towards the bedroom, reckoning his chances were far better than the midwife.  Then again, maybe he was actually taking his life into his hands.  "You promised you wouldn't make this more difficult than it needed to be."
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow ow ow ow fucking ow. Even her arsehole hurt, and that just boggled the mind, really. Very low she could hear the midwife and Lady Yelena talking, and there was really only one thing happening worth talking about right now, so she could guess what the topic was.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not right here,” she growled.

She heard the door open. Of course she did. Dear Maker she could see and hear and feel everything going on. She didn’t bother to stand up. Whoever it was could deal with her panting and grunting into the back of the chair, because in case it wasn’t obvious, she was about to push an entire person out of her body. A body which suddenly felt much smaller than she’d ever known it to be.

"Hey." Was that Innes? That was his voice, right? He was finally here. A series of questions all answered by the hand gentle on her back, and the pressing of brow to her own brow. "We're going to meet our baby."

She nodded, her brow against his, doing her best not to move. “I know.” Of course she knew. She was kind of here while it was happening, but she didn’t snap because for the first time since all of this started, someone reminded her what it was all about. “I want to meet our baby, I do. Now that you’re here.” She would cross her legs and lie upside down on the couch with her feet in the air if she needed to. A moot point because now he was here, and things would be fine.

"Come on." The hand at her back pressed gently as Innes attempted to lead her away from the chair. She let a mournful sound at being forced to give up the first comfortable position she’d been in since that morning. She took his arm with both of hers, leaning on him and following his lead. "You promised you wouldn't make this more difficult than it needed to be."

She stopped, her eyes narrowing at him. “You think I want to make this more difficult?” With a flapping hand she gestured between the two of them, her arm moving in a wild arch as she pointed out the difference in their sizes, which obviously he’d never noticed until just this moment. “I’m not the one making this difficult! If I’m not mistaken,” and just let him argue with her right now, “I’m not the big, strapping man over six feet who pumped his part giant baby inside of me!” In fairness, it had been a lot smaller when they’d put it in.

Come to think of it, she’d not really thought about that until just this moment, and her eyes flashed wide. “Oh, Maker, help me. It’s big and has to come out of me. Did you know that when we started this?” She shook her head as Lady Yelena rushed to open the door so that Innes’ success in transporting her was not impeded. “Innes. Innes I can’t do this. I changed my mind! This was a crazy idea! Why did we do this?” The panicking was quickening her breathing, which was already growing ragged with every inhale. “We have to stop it, because I don’t think it’s going to fit.” How did that even work? “I’m very tiny, and,” she lowered her voice to a harsh whisper, as if everyone in this room and most of the castle already did not know the paternity of the next heir to Gwaren, “what if it messes everything up down there?” She gestured wildly to the parts of her she’d lost visual contact with at least a month ago. “And then you won’t want to sleep with me anymore.” Oh, the layers of tragedy that existed in that sentence.

“Because, I have to say, Pretty Mouth, that if--” She never finished the thought, her hands gripping his arm for all it was worth as she growled out as all of her muscles tightened up. No matter how terrified she was of what she was going to have to do, it did not feel like her body was going to give her a choice in the matter. Her teeth ground together as everything in her screamed to bear down. She shook her head ‘no’ again and again as it passed. “Can we just walk around a little more? It feels better than lying down, and… and you can tell me about the schoolhouse.”
First lesson in this new (and never to be repeated) experience: be very careful how you word things.  Kahrin abruptly stopped in her slow shuffle towards the door of the bedroom, her hands gripped around his arm - a tad tighter than necessary, if anyone was to ask him - and glared at him with her pretty eyes.  "

"You think I want to make this more difficult?" she almost shrilled.  Her hand gesticulated wildly, and it took Innes a moment to work out that she was referring to their difference in height.  "I’m not the one making this difficult! If I’m not mistaken," basic survival instinct warned him not to interrupt, "I’m not the big, strapping man over six feet who pumped his part giant baby inside of me!"

"I wasn't this size when I was born!" he retorted, a tad defensively.  Had he heard complaints about his part giant anything prior to this?  No.  It was a little unfair to be flinging that type of accusation around now.

Sudden panic rounded her eyes into saucers.  "Oh, Maker, help me. It’s big and has to come out of me. Did you know that when we started this?Well, um... yes?  He tried not to frown too much.  She was the daughter of goat herders!  Surely she understood this process better than he?!  

Standing apart from the bickering between the pair, Lady Yelena used the monetary distraction to open the door to the bedroom, confirming that Innes should continue to lead Kahrin that way.

"Innes. Innes I can’t do this. I changed my mind! This was a crazy idea! Why did we do this?"  Her breathing was becoming harsher and ragged with each word she uttered.  "We have to stop it, because I don’t think it’s going to fit."  He was almost certain her mother would have assured her otherwise but clear thinking was not Kahrin's forte at the very best of times.  "I’m very tiny, and," she lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "what if it messes everything up down there?"  She made some vague gesture towards her crotch.  "And then you won’t want to sleep with me anymore."

"Well, as you're fond of telling me, you're the third child in as many years.  I don't think that would be the case if things got messed up."  It was an effort to suppress his laughter.  Of all the things to worry her right now!  "I think everything will be fine."

She was not to be calmed.  "Because, I have to say, Pretty Mouth, that if--"  The sentence went unfinished as Kahrin seized on his arm, her knuckles whitening with the tension of her grip, growling beneath her breath while her body endured another spasm.  Her jaw worked so that the grinding of her teeth was audible but shook her head in stubborn defiance over her body's clear signal that it was time.  "Can we just walk around a little more? It feels better than lying down, and… and you can tell me about the schoolhouse."

A quick glance over his shoulder towards the midwife assured Innes that this was something permissible. She scurried behind them, darting towards the fire and the warming water, while Innes guided Kahrin in the direction of the orielle window.  Lady Yelena busied herself at the bed, fixing sheets and piling linens.

"It's water-tight," he revealed with a bashful smile, proud of the accomplishment.  True, it had taken far longer than it would with someone skilled in masonry and carpentry, but that was not the point.  Restoring the cottage, even if it was inelegant, was Innes' task and no one else's.  He would gladly accept help and advice but he would not permit anyone to do the work in his stead.  "I can't count how many times I fell off the roof while repairing the last of the holes.  Lucky my part giant bones are sturdy."

He maintained the meandering pace which seemed to best suit Kahrin, leading them past the window and turning into the room towards the far wall.  "I'll be able to take my crate of things back with me in the spring."  He could not help the little glow of pride which coloured his cheeks.  "I have two little private rooms just for myself now."  She had seen some of the rebuilding in its different stages.  "I'm not sleeping in my kitchen anymore."  One room served as a kitchen-and-sitting room while the other was his bedroom.  It was enough for his needs.  "When you come visit again, you can see."  Not that she would be sleeping there.  His little cottage-turned-schoolhouse was perfect for a lowly guardsman-turned-mercenary, but not a Teyrna and her baby.  She would still have to stay with Arl Wulff when she did make a tour of the arling.

Mindful of the current circumstances, Innes eyed her with fresh concern and nodded towards the bed.  "That's enough walking for now, hm?"
Oblivious to anything Innes might or might not be saying to anyone else in the room, Kahrin let him lead her to the orielle window on her waddling steps. Despite her light nightdress and bare feet, she was sweating, even the long braid of her hair damp where it laid against her neck, and the stones of the floor where the rug did not touch were a welcomed relief.

"It's water-tight," Innes announced, the pride in his work unmistakable. She wanted to leap up and hug him around the neck in congratulations. Surely it no longer mattered if she jumped around and moved too much, since she was fairly certain that keeping the baby in was the opposite of their current goals. As soon as the thought hit her mind her seized up once more. This schoolhouse was as much his baby as the one she’d grown inside her, and it was exciting to see the work pay off. "I can't count how many times I fell off the roof while repairing the last of the holes. Lucky my part giant bones are sturdy."

“What?” Her eyes widened at this admission. “You have to be more careful now! You’re someone’s father!”

Taking her chastisement in stride, he turned them away from the window to continue their little circuit, the steps stretching her legs and helping her feel more like herself again. "I'll be able to take my crate of things back with me in the spring." He was so happy, and she was happy for him, even if she would miss something as silly as storing his things. Her eyes teared up, though she was pretty sure that was more to do with the baby than his crate of belongings. "I have two little private rooms just for myself now. I'm not sleeping in my kitchen anymore. When you come visit again, you can see."

“I can’t wait to see what you’ve done. We're so proud of you.” She smiled, tired, but genuine, and patted the epoch of her belly. Watertight and a kitchen meant she could visit. Really visit. Her and their baby. She’d find a way to talk Carbry into it. Their baby would be just as much a child of Western Hills as they were of Gwaren.

Innes kindly walked her through one more contraction, after which Kahrin noticed that the end of the bed had been made ready, piled with pillows and linens. "That's enough walking for now, hm?"

She wanted to object. She liked walking, and she knew as soon as she capitulated to getting into the bed she was going to be there for the duration. That little hm?, so good at riling her at times and reassuring her at others, reminded her now of her promise to not be difficult. She might have been able to frighten Yelena and the midwife into backing down, but she’d have no such luck with Innes. “Okay, but if we’re not done in an hour, we can take another lap, right?” Her eyes met his, beseeching him to make the promise.

She did not miss the look the midwife passed to Innes, as if they shared some secret. “Oh, I know you all think this is going to take days or whatever.” She rolled her eyes as she pattered to the bed, obediently. “I can feel this child, impatient to get out, and I’m very strong. Once the pushing starts, you’ll see. We'll be done before you know it!” They would! Giant head and shoulders or no! She allowed them to help her up and onto the bed, and she had to admit it did feel nice to be off her feet in this snug nest.

That single hour passed, and then two, and while she couldn’t bring herself to say as much out loud, she knew they were no closer than they had been when Innes arrived. Water and light refreshments arrived and trays left. Kahrin wrangled her way into another turn about the room until they figured out it was slowing the contractions down, and finally she was grounded to the bed. After that she stopped counting hours, and the contractions slowly came faster and faster, until they were one on top of the other with no break between them. Finally, the midwife declared it was time to push. Well? What was everyone waiting for?

She was really hoping no one was going to make her eat crow, because the pushing seemed to slow time itself. Each contraction prompted the midwife to tell her just one more time. And one more time she screamed out with pain far beyond anything she ever enjoyed, only to find she had to do it all just one more time she felt like her face was going to burst from how empurpled it had become. She dropped her head back after one such, and wailed out a pitiful, exhausted sob. “I can’t do this anymore.” She turned her eyes up at Innes’, in that moment believing herself to be perfectly reasonable. “Will you do it for me? It’s not fair you get all the easy parts.”

Then, with several creative names for Innes heralding the next push, a blinding flash of pain shot through her, starting near her crotch and feeling like it might rip her in half. She shrieked out, the sound chilling enough to make the midwife blanch. Kahrin sat up, a wash of dizziness making her shake. “That didn’t feel right,” she sobbed as she dropped her head back once more, the room melting into an odd shade of green. Her grip on Innes' hand loosened. “Did I soil myself?”

The midwife lifted the blanket which had been covering her modesty, and now boasted a bloom of bright red. She exchanged a grim look with Lady Yelena, who turned to Innes, face forcibly calm. “Mister Cameron, you look like you could use a break. Why don't you step out and check on Pickle?”
A handy thing that a few weeks ago Innes had the foresight to elicit the promise from Kahrin about not being difficult.  "Okay," she conceded with only the hint of sulky pout, "but if we’re not done in an hour, we can take another lap, right?"  She raised her eyes to his, silently pleading in a way which worked more often than not.  Damn his soft heart.

However, Innes was not quite so foolish as to agree to something which might go against the better judgement of the midwife.  He wrenched his gaze away from Kahrin to glance towards the woman, but whether the shake of the head was intended as outright refusal or a suggestion that Kahrin would not be fit to walk in an hour, he could not tell.

"Oh, I know you all think this is going to take days or whatever," Kahrin cut in, rolling her eyes but waddling over to the bed.  "I can feel this child, impatient to get out, and I’m very strong. Once the pushing starts, you’ll see. We'll be done before you know it!"

Famous last words.  An hour went by with no change.  Another passed and still nothing.  That was when Kahrin convinced them to allow her to take another turn about the room, but the midwife's inspection afterwards revealed that the walking actually hampered the process, so a strict ban was placed on the Teyrna rising from her bed for any reason.  Hour after hour rolled by; only the pain cries sounding after shorter and shorter duration marked any change in what was going on.

When the midwife finally instructed that Kahrin should push, Innes tilted forward on the stool which had been placed by the top of the bed, gripping Kahrin's hand - or, more accurately, allowing her to crush his.  Sweat soaked her brow and exhaustion darkened the circles beneath her eyes.  Half-sobbing with fatigue and pain, her head lolled back on the pillows and she stared up at him, never smaller or more fragile than in that moment.  "I can’t do this anymore."  She blinked, dazed and possibily close to delirious.  "Will you do it for me? It’s not fair you get all the easy parts."

"I don't have the hips for it," he replied, a hint of a grin pulling up the side of his mouth.  He dabbed a damp cloth against her head, hoping it provided some relief and comfort.  He didn't really have many options when it came to sharing this demand on her.

Naturally, Kahrin responded to his (rather amusing, he thought) retort with a string of curses, beginning to coil forward while another contraction wrenched through her.  Except, this time, the shriek which she vented around the room was almost inhuman.  He had fought in the Battle of Denerim and not heard anything so blood-curdling as that noise.  Helpless, he looked to the midwife for reassurance, hoping it was Kahrin nearing the end of her tolerance and not...

The midwife knelt at the bottom of the bed, pale and pensive.  Something was wrong.

"That didn’t feel right," Kahrin sobbed outright, trembling with the effort of sitting up.  She fell back against the pillows and for the first time since the midwife had told her to push, she relaxed her grip on Innes' hand.  "Did I soil myself?"

"Just rest," he murmured in a soft voice, watching the midwife with a hawkish gaze.

The sheet which covered Kahrin's lower half was stained a vibrant red.  Too vibrant.  Once the midwife made a fleeting inspection beneath the sheet, she glanced towards Lady Yelena, her lips pressed into a thin line.  In one flowing movement, Lady Yelena turned to Innes, her expression schooled into a guise of collected calm.  "Mister Cameron, you look like you could use a break. Why don't you step out and check on Pickle?"

His first instinct was to refuse outright, even if it did mean disobeying a unicorn.  Yet whatever had happened during that last contraction had clearly been severe.  Severe enough to frighten a midwife who had been specifically chosen for her experience and healing ability.  It would be sheer stupidity to argue.  Taking risks with Kahrin's and the baby's life was not something which Innes would ever be prepared to do.

"That's a good idea."  Forcing himself to keep a light tone and relaxed expression, Innes turned back to Kahrin and kissed her on the forehead.  "I know you're hiding how much it's hurting from me."  Well, that was a lie (he hoped), but it might make it past her better senses.  Keeping her calm was paramount and if she could be fooled into thinking that his departure was for his own benefit, she would be far more amenable to it.  "When I leave, you won't have to use up energy hiding it, hm?"

Very deliberately, Innes rose from his stool and gently stroked her hair.  "I love you.  I'll be back as soon as the midwife says I can."  There was no suggestion of his gnawing apprehension in the relaxed manner in which he left the bedroom, but no sooner had the door shut behind him than his legs gave way and he collapsed into the nearest stuffed chair.  Darting across from where he had lain by the fire, Pickle, presumably brought up by Carbry not so long ago,shoved his wet nose into Innes' face, whimpering and whining.

Unable to find the heart to push the dog away, Innes slid down onto the floor in front of the chair and draped one arm over the broad shoulders of the Mabari.  Sensing this was the best place to be, Pickle settled down against his second-favourite human with a thump, though it did not stop his soft whines nor the persistent glances towards the bedroom door.

And that was where the pair of them stayed; propping one another up while they waited until they were summoned back into the bedroom.
Everyone was being so quiet, and if it hadn’t been for the dizziness and the way the room darkened into that unsettling green, she would have started yelling just to break it up. That’s how she knew something was wrong. That, and the unbelievable pain in her lower belly. Never had she screamed like that in her whole life, and when the midwife lifted the sheet, she knew why. No matter how calmly Yelena spoke to Innes. No matter how amiable he stayed about it.

"That's a good idea." He was too steady. Too calm. No one was calm when they saw bright red blood, especially not a man waiting for his best friend to deliver his baby. He pressed a kiss to her damp brow, and tired she may be, but he was not fooling her. She’d seen that look too many times in those same eyes. "I know you're hiding how much it's hurting from me." She really wasn’t, but she understood what he wasn’t saying. "When I leave, you won't have to use up energy hiding it, hm?"

She reached for his hand again, more scared by the almost nothing going on around her than the crimson soaking the sheet. "I love you,” he told her, stroking her hair from her face and giving her a gentle kiss on the brow. “I'll be back as soon as the midwife says I can."

No, don’t go. She knew he had to, and she couldn’t let him leave the room to her throwing a fit. Not that she was in any shape to, but the point still stood. This was how they fought for one another, in grand gestures and little kindnesses. She swallowed and rasped, “I love you, too.”

She heard the door close behind Innes and struggled to lift her head. “Tell me the truth,” she demanded, her voice small and sounding far away to her own ears.

The midwife answered in words she didn’t understand beyond the fact that yes, this was bad, but not to worry, something pulled away from something it shouldn’t have. Big words for the woman not lying here with all her secrets on display, facing down the possibility of her last breaths. She felt the baby go still inside her, and before she could stop herself she began weeping the flimsy calm she’d clung to dissolving completely. She couldn’t do this again. No more losses. To have come all this way only to have to start again? No. There would be no more trying. She and Innes had put themselves through too much already.

Lady Yelena climbed up behind her, cradling her head against her shoulder and holding her hand. She cooed softly in that fluttery tinkle of her voice. “No more of that, Your Grace. You have to be strong, and you have to stay awake.”

“None of that heroic ‘sacrifice me to save the baby’ shit. Do you hear me?” Yelena tutted. “But if it comes to that, take care of Innes--”

She tutted once more. “I think Mister Cameron’s reverence of me would come to an end if we let that happen, don’t you?” Kahrin nodded, trying not to laugh at the thought of Innes ever becoming angry with Yelena.

Whenever Kahrin started to faint, salts were wafted under her nose. Water was lifted to her drying lips. Time ticked by as Kahrin drifted in and out of consciousness between spasms she was sure were ripping her asunder. Finally, when she was well past the point she thought she could take no more, a first breath was drawn and the reedy wail of new life filled the room. Kahrin let herself collapse against the pillows, barely aware of anything going on around her. One duty she had begun to think she’d never fulfilled completed. Of course, she couldn’t go to sleep just yet. There were unsavory details which followed, the bedding was changed in a flurry of maids, and Kahrin cleaned up.

Lady Yelena eased the door to the sitting room open, her face flushed and tired, but no less enchanting for it. “Mister Cameron,” she murmured. She repeated it once more, catching Pickle’s attention first. “Everything’s fine now. Would you like to come back in?” she asked, a glimmer dancing in her clear glass eyes.
Time wore on.  Servants flitted through the sitting room to the bedroom and back out again, bringing and taking away endless bundles of linens.  The bundles which left were creased yet always folded a particular way; to hide the blood stains, Innes supposed, though he refused to dwell on it.  Occasionally, a servant would stop to replenish the small tray of refreshments which he was yet to touch, quietly encouraging him with appeals to his common sense.  Once or twice, he heeded their words and forced down a bite here and a swallow there.  It only meant that his stomach did not growl quite so loudly and his throat did not feel quite so parched.

The quiet was oppressive.  On one hand, it proved that their bedroom proclivities were kept private from any prying ears, but right now Innes would have traded a whole third of his privacy to know what was going on behind the closed door.  Instead, he was left to his panicking thoughts and gnawing worry, having to lean against the solid presence of Pickle more than once to ground himself back in the present.  If the worst was happening, there would be all sorts of commotion.  No news was good news... he hoped.

What with the exertions of travel and the draining effect of waiting, Innes began to struggle to keep his head up.  Eventually, he slumped back against the chair, still propped by Pickle at his side, and allowed the Fade to snatch him away for a brief time while they awaited any news.

It was Pickle stirring from his side that awoke Innes fully.  He started upright, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand, before realising that Lady Yelena had been calling him quietly from the bedroom door.

"Everything’s fine now," she reported, a weariness to her expression which only accentuated her undoubted immortality.  "Would you like to come back in?"  Age old mischief alighted her eyes, proving that even unicorns understood what it meant to tease.

Scrambling up onto his feet, Innes hurried across to the doorway.  Slipping in, with Pickle close on his heels in his determination not to be left out, Innes discovered that the earlier panic had long since subsided.  Instead, the room was calm and quiet, with fresh bedding and no sign that anything remarkable had occurred here at all.  Save for the tiny figure of Kahrin lying in the bed, dwarfed by the number of pillows around her.

Sensing the mood, Pickle very carefully hopped up onto the bottom of the bed, not once jostling his mistress.  He did, however, stretch his long body so that his wet nose touched her hand, whining a greeting while his little stub tail wiggled furiously.  Then, with the same care, he made himself a nest and plonked down, resting his head on his paws while he watched over Kahrin.

On hesitant steps, a little overwhelmed, Innes moved across to the bed to press a soft kiss against her brow.  "You're OK?" he murmured.  He glanced to Lady Yelena, trusting that she would not lie (because a unicorn couldn't lie, naturally).  "She'll be alright?"

It was the midwife who answered, approaching with a swaddled bundle in her arms.  "She will require rest and recuperation," she informed him briskly.  "Here is what the fuss was all about."  With a deftness which evidenced her experience of dealing with new fathers, the midwife transferred the bundle to Innes, a slight movement there and touch here helping to mould his arms into the correct position.

He stared down at the freshly-cleaned crumpled pink face which peeked out from the swaddling.  All the fuss, and for something so small.  Something hit him.  Not the enormity of what had happened, not the magnitude of how his life had changed, not an overwhelming flurry of emotion about it all.  Stricken, Innes looked to Kahrin, certain he had already failed in his efforts to be a good father.  "What is it?"  Well, that was ridiculous.  He shook his head.  "I mean, boy or girl?  I..."  He looked back to the little face who was regarding him unseeingly through screwed up eyes.  "I can't work it out.  Does that make me a bad father?
Deeming her work well done, or taking pity due to what she reasoned was a good deal of blood loss, Yelena and the Midwife allowed Kahrin to doze once she was carefully tucked back into the bed. She didn’t argue even a little, taking the far off sounds of her child--their child--as enough proof that all was well. At least for now. And if it wasn’t? Honestly she was too tired to trifle with worry, and she let the Fade have its way with her wrung out body and mind.

She felt the considerable shift of the mattress as Pickle hefted himself up and onto the bed. His cold nose pressed into the palm of her hand and he let a small whimper. Such a clever boy, knowing that something had happened here. Her fingers dusted a little pat across his snout before he moved and settled in his spot at the foot of the bed.

If Pickle were here, surely Innes was not far behind. Sure enough, the press of lips to his brow confirmed what she already knew. "You're OK?" he murmured in question. He didn’t strain her by insisting she answer, instead repeating his question to Lady Yelena. "She'll be alright?"

"She will require rest and recuperation," the midwife answered, showing none of the exhaustion she surely felt. "Here is what the fuss was all about."

All the fuss. It certainly had been a lot of fuss, hadn’t it? Two years, four losses (that she knew of), and all these hours of pain, fear, and agony. She lifted her eyelids to see the midwife place their baby in the father’s arms. The father. That sounded so odd in her mind, yet when she watched him adjust to hold their child, it didn’t seem odd at all. She smiled, small and tired, and attempted to shift to a better vantage to see his beautiful face in these very early moments, only to give up as she felt as though the ass end of her everything had been rawed in a very unfun game, even by their standards.

A panic touched his features as he looked to Kahrin. "What is it?" What was what? She was too tired for word games. He shook his head and, thankfully, clarified what he was asking. "I mean, boy or girl? I..." His eyes dropped back to the baby, as if the squirmy bundle he held would answer him. "I can't work it out. Does that make me a bad father?"

Kahrin blinked and realised she didn’t know, either. In the end, she’d only cared that they succeed. A healthy baby, any healthy baby, had been the goal. What she’d driven herself half mad to achieve. What she’d put herself and Innes through this past year and more. She cleared her rough, dry throat. “If it does, then I’m a terrible mother already.”

“You can’t tell just by looking,” the midwife assured them both as she swiftly darted in to help Kahrin shift to a semi-sitting position, supported by a mountain of pillows, with a suspiciously Innes-sized space between her and the edge of the bed. “Not at her face, anyway.”

Her? Kahrin smiled softly. No, she hadn’t cared one way or the other, but it was nice to know. “A girl?” Her eyes turned up to meet her best friend’s. “I haven’t seen her yet.” And if she was too tired and numb to feel much else beyond relief it was over, that Quirke curiosity flowed ever-steady through her.

It was then she noticed that Lady Yelena had slipped away. Hopefully to rest. Did supposedly immortal beings need sleep? Likely after something such as this. A maid ducked in with a tray of light breakfast to be shared, and hurried off without a word. Everything felt quiet as the soft morning sun peeked through the curtains of the orielle window. Like the whole castle was holding its breath lest they disrupt this little moment in time for their newly expanded and odd little family.

“I’ll check back in a little while to see how everyone is doing.” The midwife, somehow still looking collected and professional, dipped a quick curtsy and excused herself.

And then they were alone, for the first time a foursome rather than a trio.

“Look what we did,” Kahrin murmured. A statement so obvious and bordering on blasé she worried for a moment she would be judged as cold. "Is she perfect?" No, that was ridiculous. She answered her own question, matter-of-factly despite the frailty of her voice. "She's ours, so I know she is."
Her large eyes blinking in confusion, Kahrin had to clear her throat before the raspy words could make it past her lips.  "If it does, then I’m a terrible mother already," she reassured him, revealing that she, too, did not know the sex.  Admittedly, she may have one or two more reasons than Innes for not knowing, but he was not about to disregard her attempt to soothe his panic.

"You can’t tell just by looking."  The midwife busied herself with helping Kahrin into a more comfortable position again the pillows, leaving space for Innes beside her.  "Not at her face, anyway."

While Innes snatched a soft intake of wonder, a beautiful smile lit Kahrin's tired face.  "A girl?"  She raised her eyes to Innes'.  "I haven’t seen her yet."

Taking great care not to jostle the little one, Innes lowered himself onto the bed, using the pillows to support his back while he presented their daughter - a little girl! - to her mother, a dotting grin already spreading across his face.  Yes, she looked wrinkly and less than impressed by all that had happened (who wouldn't?), but the little face squinting up at... it was hard to tell where she was looking exactly... was theirs.  All those moment of heartache and now she was here.

He barely registered that a maid had delivered a breakfast tray.  He only just about heard the midwife's parting remarks before she departed from the room.  His attention was solely on the new person lying in his arms.  One he had helped to make!  Although that sounded weird.  Was he allowed to say he had made a human? 

"Look what we did," Kahrin remarked softly.  It summed up the ordinary wonder which seemed to underpin this whole experience.  "Is she perfect?"  Before he could even summon the single word of 'yes', she interrupted with an assertive, "She's ours, so I know she is."

Innes laughed beneath his breath, glancing up with shining eyes.  "Who am I to argue?"  He leaned over and nudged her cheek with his nose before pressing a gentle kiss against her lips.  Rising from the bed, he laid the baby in the cradle which had been pulled to within arm's reach of the bed, then fetched the tray of light refreshments and brought it over to Kahrin.  

"I'm no midwife but I'm sure it's important that you eat," he pointed out, taking a small bite out of a piece of toast smothered in butter.  He curled up beside her, the cradle just within their view, and fussed around her with full knowledge that she was too tired to really resist.  If ever there was a time when Kahrin would have to just accept his coddling, this was it.

"You had me worried," he admitted, stealing a glance down at her.  "I know they said you were alright, but how are you, really?"  His tongue flicked across his lower lip, his brow drawing together in his agitation.  "I understand if you're too exhausted though."  He pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear.  "I can doze on the couch if you prefer some space."
"Who am I to argue?" Watching Innes’ face as he sat beside her, Kahrin saw what she honestly never expected to, at least until they’d stumbled through their first loss together. Innes’ eyes lit up in a way she’d not seen before. He’d met their daughter--Maker that felt so weird to hear, even in her own thoughts--perhaps ten seconds ago, and already Kahrin could see that he was smitten. Her heart squeezed in her chest, though at the same time she felt strange, not feeling that same instant connection herself. Seeing the way he looked at her made everything else worth it, so she decided not to worry over her own feelings so soon after the day’s events.

He bumped her cheek with his nose before granting her a soft kiss to her lips, and rose from the bed to place the tiny bundle in the cradle nearby. With good forethought, he moved the cradle close enough that they could see her--as if she was going to do anything exciting--and returned to the bed with a selection of food from the breakfast tray.

"I'm no midwife but I'm sure it's important that you eat," he said, demonstrating by taking a bite out of well-buttered toast. He shuffled around, making certain things were within her reach and seeing to her general comfort. Even if she had the strength to fight him off or object to his coddling, she didn’t want to. Maybe it was the scare with her life, maybe it was not having him by her side for the big finish. What she knew was she needed him close, and so protested with barely more than a cursory roll of her eyes. And a bite of his toast. She was tired, not dead.

He settled into place beside her, stealing a glance as if he was worried she’d object to his obvious concern. "You had me worried." She did her best to smile reassuringly. She’d been worried, too. As much as she wanted this child, she’d not been prepared to trade her life in the process. "I know they said you were alright, but how are you, really?" He wet his lower lip, catching a stray crumb, and looked at her with a face that all but begged her for the truth. "I understand if you're too exhausted though." His fingers pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I can doze on the couch if you prefer some space."

“No!” She caught herself and repeated “no” more softly. “Stay here, please.” She leaned to press her face into the space between his collarbone and shoulder, inhaling everything familiar about him. “Stay.”

How was she, really? She looked down at the berries she’d picked from the offered fruit, rolling one around under the pad of her finger. “The midwife says I’m fine, as does Lady Yelena, and everyone else who comes through.” She knew better, though. “I lost a lot of blood, enough that I had to be woken with salts, so that will take time to recover.” She chewed on her berry, and then another, savoring the sweetness she craved. “I’m fine. She’s fine. We’re both fine. Everything’s fine now.”

Was that true? She wanted it to be. Her chin quavered, just a little, that only someone who knew her face by heart might notice. “I believe she’ll be the only one.” She smiled, the curve of her lips tinged with unexpected sadness as she said it out loud. They’d certainly not planned on repeating any of this, at least not in any conversation they’d shared over it, and she had no desire to besides. Neither of them had wanted children prior to this agreement. This arrangement to have one child had come to be because it made sense. The finality of knowing it for fact, though, was something she hadn’t yet begun to grapple. Her eyes lifted back up to meet Innes’. “The midwife believes I wouldn’t be able to repeat the process. Or, maybe she said couldn’t.” Everything happened so fast even as it took forever. “She might have said shouldn’t. I’ll make sure to clarify. Soon. Not that I expect we'll... I mean I'm not saying I don't want to... there's time. I don't think we'll be fucking again very soon.”

She held out a slice of toast for help slathering it in honey. Always honey. She really, really wanted honey. She set the toast down without tasting it and leaned against him, letting her body mould against his, needing his closeness more. “That doesn’t matter. We have our… daughter.” So, so foreign on her lips. She tried for levity she was too weak to pull of well. “Your contractual obligations have been fulfilled.”
No sooner had Innes finished speaking than Kahrin was frantic in her objection.  "No!" she blurted out, agitated in a way which reminded him of the aftermath from their more intense games.  "No," she repeated, catching herself and softening her voice.  "Stay here, please."  She shifted where she lay so she could lean against him, her face pressed to the curve of his neck.  "Stay."

He looped one arm around her shoulders.  "I'm here," he assured her, kissing the top of her head lightly.

With that matter dealt with, and having taken some of the berries to nibble, Kahrin gazed down at the little round fruit, rolling it between her finger and thumb.  "The midwife says I’m fine, as does Lady Yelena, and everyone else who comes through."  She pressed her lips together fleetingly.  "I lost a lot of blood, enough that I had to be woken with salts, so that will take time to recover."  Popping one of the berries into her mouth, she took her time to chew the juicy fleshy pulp.  "I’m fine. She’s fine. We’re both fine. Everything’s fine now."

Yet even while Kahrin claimed as much, there was a telltale quiver to her chin, barely noticeable, which undid all her efforts.  "I believe she’ll be the only one."  A small sad smile accompanied the words and she lifted her eyes to meet Innes'.  "The midwife believes I wouldn’t be able to repeat the process. Or, maybe she said couldn’t."  A shadow crossed over her face.  "She might have said shouldn’t. I’ll make sure to clarify. Soon. Not that I expect we'll... I mean I'm not saying I don't want to... there's time. I don't think we'll be fucking again very soon."

"Kahrin!"  The rebuke was involuntary on two levels: firstly, that she should use that kind of language around their daughter, and, secondly, that she thought it was something which had crossed his mind.  Admittedly, he had never given birth, but he had an imagination.  It took a very dull wit not to realise that the whole process would inevitably result in very sore parts for any number of weeks, if not months.

Unrepentant, she held out a slice of toast so that Innes could spread a generous amount of honey over it.  But his efforts were to no avail when she set it down and leaned into him, pressing close once more.  "That doesn’t matter. We have our… daughter."  She lingered on the unfamiliar word for a moment.  Then, despite knowing better, tried to shrug it all off with a joke.  "Your contractual obligations have been fulfilled."

"It does matter."  Hooking his forefinger under her chin, Innes lifted her head so he could meet her large eyes.  "It matters in that it's something we enjoy sharing with one another.  Having our daughter and enjoying one another are entirely separate.  One doesn't cancel out the other."  Being parents would not overshadow the friendship which was the foundation to it all.  Without the one to start with, the other would never have happened.

"This wasn't an obligation," he chastised her, gently but firmly.  She was exhausted and worn out, yes, but that kind of joke was not one which Innes was ever going to let fly.  Not when the circumstances of their parenting were... well, so unusual.  "I chose this.  Like I choose you every day.  Like she will have the chance to choose me every day."  He had a sneaking suspicion that his choosing their daughter would not be a daily thing.  He had already chosen her when he had agreed to conceive her; that kind of bond was not something on which he could - or would - renege.  What was important was that she always had the ability to choose: to be able to make the choices which Innes had never felt able to make during his childhood.  Why should a child be indebted to a parent simply because of blood ties?  Family was more than blood.  Their odd little family proved as much.

He tried to tempt her with the still-untouched toast.  "I may have to travel back to Western Hills after First Day just to check on things.  But it'll only be for as short amount a time as I can manage.  Until then, and after it, I'm here until spring."  He smiled at her, sort and coaxing.  "We're going to work this all out together, hm?"

Curling closer atop the covers, Innes settled against the pillows.  "Will we have a nap now?"  Not that he had really done anything to deserve it, but he was dedicated to supporting Kahrin any which way.  "Just for a little bit."  Now that was a white lie - he had no intention of waking her before she, or their daughter, deemed her ready.  Mind you, he wasn't too sure how long a newborn might sleep.
"It does matter." Innes caught her chin on a crooked finger, tilting it up so he could emphasise the utter honesty in his words. "It matters in that it's something we enjoy sharing with one another. Having our daughter and enjoying one another are entirely separate. One doesn't cancel out the other."

Even though she’d been teasing--difficult to tell in her fatigue--she found comfort in his words and smiled, her puffy eyes crinkling. She felt as if she’d aged years in the hours it had taken to bring their daughter to the world. Blood and sleep loss was doing nothing for her ability to think clearly, and her smile turned into a sprinkle of happy tears. Happy tears which were quickly reeled in, but there all the same.

He didn’t leave it there, either. Somehow he knew all the reassurances she needed. "This wasn't an obligation," he told her, his rebuke firm but gentle. No matter how many jokes about being ‘the help’, she knew he meant it. Obligation had not been enough for either of them. It had been paramount that their choice to have a child was out of want for one, and created in love. "I chose this. Like I choose you every day. Like she will have the chance to choose me every day."

She could not imagine a scenario in all the world where she would choose otherwise, or why their daughter would. There was no need to bring it up now when she was bordering on delirium. So, she simply added, “I chose this, and I choose it.”

He waved the piece of toast under her nose, the scent of the honey more than enough to win him his way. She took a bite, whimpering at the sweet taste as though she’d never had anything so wonderful in her mouth. It wasn’t true, but she was far too tired to think otherwise in that moment. "I may have to travel back to Western Hills after First Day just to check on things.” She looked up, wiping a smudge of honey from her lower lip with the pad of her thumb, knowing better but feeling the stricken look take control of her face. Of course he’d have to go back. He had responsibilities there as well. “But it'll only be for as short amount a time as I can manage. Until then, and after it, I'm here until spring." His voice went soft and calming, that way he had that was able to keep her from spiraling. "We're going to work this all out together, hm?"

“Yes. We will. We always work it out.” That’s what they did.

Innes knew when he had an advantage to press, and curled close, likely knowing there was no way she would deny him anything in this moment. She just wanted him close. The distance the blankets put between them was too far. "Will we have a nap now?" She nodded, her head against the pillow already. "Just for a little bit."

“Just for a little bit.” Whoever removed the tray from the bed she could only guess. She never saw. Exhaustion claimed her, and she slipped into the Fade with her best friend and father of her daughter beside her. She slept deep and dreamless as far as she knew. She slept so hard that when the distant whimpers of new lungs called, it took her far too long to swim to the surface. When she finally fought her eyes open she felt as if she’d not slept at all.

The midwife was back, bustling around the room, directing one of the maids to help Kahrin sit up. Kahrin’s chest ached in a way she’d never felt before as the new baby found her lungs. She clutched her hands to herself as the midwife scooped their child from the cradle and brought her over. “It’s time for her to nurse.”

So matter of fact, as if Kahrin was supposed to just know what that meant. “It’s time to what, now?” She let them help her to sitting up, the misery it was, and Kahrin looked to Innes as if he had any chance of helping her out of this. Perhaps she’d not lived on a farm in a long time, but she put the pieces together quickly, the midwife directing her to open her nightdress as she tucked the baby into her arms for the first time. “I… I… I can’t. I can’t.” She wasn’t ready! “What if I hurt her?” She tried to pass the baby back, shaking her head, but the midwife was insistent. She was not cruel, however, and with a firm but calm voice, helped her.

Just like that, she was feeding their child. She stared, her red eyes wide as they settled on the wrinkled, pink bundle in her arms, fussing and grunting. Alarmed, Kahrin realised that growing the baby inside her had been the easy part. Her eyes fluttered to hold back tears. “Innes, I don’t know what I’m doing. What if I hurt her? I can’t hold a baby!”
Here was one of Innes' simplest victories.  No sooner had he suggested the nap than Kahrin had settled against the mountain of pillows behind her, her eyes fluttering shut while she echoed his own words.

It took a little while longer for Innes to fall asleep.  He laid beside his best friend while watching the cradle, marvelling at how his life had changed.  It was overwhelming, yes, but the restlessness which had dogged his heels for all these months had finally become trodden under foot.  He knew now what was expected from him and how he might provide it.  That was half the battle in helping to soothe what had been his churning mind.

The unfamiliar cries of a hungry baby roused Innes before Kahrin.  Opening his eyes, he gave a slight start to see that the midwife had already returned, moving around the room while she reorganised this and that.  Kahrin shifted beside him, clearly not willing to be dragged back from the Fade.  But once the cries of their daughter grew sharper, she struggled up into a sitting position, her hands pressed against her chest almost in pain.

"It’s time for her to nurse," the midwife stated, bringing the baby across from the cradle.

Owlishly, Kahrin blinked at the woman.  "It’s time to what, now?"  A maid rushed to assist Kahrin while she manoeuvred into a more appropriate position.  But despite her desperate glance towards Innes, it was the midwife who clarified the situation, instructing that Kahrin should open her nightdress before passing the baby to her, angling her arms just so.

"I… I… I can’t. I can’t," Kahrin stammered, her posture stiff and uncertain.  "What if I hurt her?"  There was a moment where she tried to push the baby back into the arms of the midwife, but the woman was unperturbed and proceeded to help Kahrin angle her arms correctly so that the baby could suckle.  The little whimpers turned into little snuffling noises while the baby fed, instinct driving her behaviour.

Small and frail, Kahrin stared down at the bundle, her large eyes glistening with unshed tears.  Panic was splashed across her face as clearly as fresh lime-washagainst a wall.  "Innes, I don’t know what I’m doing. What if I hurt her? I can’t hold a baby!"

He shuffled across the bed so he was sitting cross legged at right angles to them.  "You're doing it right now," he pointed out, poking his tongue out at her.  Reaching out, he cupped her cheek for a moment, trying to soothe her.  "I don't know either.  We're going to work it out together, remember."  He looked towards the midwife.  "You are going to help us, aren't you?"

Bustling around, the midwife paused to look over her shoulder.  "Of course, Mister Cameron.  Although I'm sure that Her Grace will benefit from having her mother here, too."

Since the expected date had been Firstfall, it was likely that Grainne Quirke was only now boarding a ship from Amaranthine.  Hopefully she would arrive before Kahrin worried herself into the stubborn mindset that she was somehow an incapable mother.

"See?" Innes looked back to Kahrin, a smile touching his lips.  "If we do hurt her, it'll be an accident.  I'm sure she'll tell us straight away and we'll stop doing whatever causes her pain.  She's learning about being out in the world and we're learning about her.  Everything will work out."

He regarded the baby with a thoughtful pull of his brow.  "We need to think of a name for her."  He chewed on his lower lip.  "One of her own.  I don't want to use any family names."  Belatedly, he realised that Kahrin may not feel the same, particularly given that making clear links between the baby and rightful claim to Gwaren was paramount.  Perhaps there was an Ainsley family name which she had hoped to give their daughter.  "Unless you already decided on one?"
One minute she’d been sleeping off what felt like the worst hangover of the lives of herself and her siblings combined, and now she was sitting in a room full of people with her brand new breasts out and a baby suckling at them. Nothing was normal or felt like it ever would again as she looked down at the wrinkled bundle in her arms.

Sensing her distress, since she was voicing it quite clearly, Innes scooted across the bed, sitting perpendicularly to her and the baby. "You're doing it right now." Oh, wasn’t he hilarious? With his tongue poking out at her! This was serious. Sure, she doing it now, but that was only because someone had placed her very carefully in Kahrin’s arms. The last time she’d held a baby it was that weird one of Moat’s that peed on everyone. Oh, Maker! Was their baby going to pee on her? Innes cupped her cheek in one hand, the contact almost instantly soothing. "I don't know either. We're going to work it out together, remember." She nodded, wanting to believe him. This had been so much easier before the baby had come out of her. Innes looked to the midwife, expressing some of her unspoken questions. "You are going to help us, aren't you?"

"Of course, Mister Cameron. Although I'm sure that Her Grace will benefit from having her mother here, too."

Kahrin’s eyes snapped up, wide. Oh, no. Her mother. She was probably getting on the ship from Amaranthine right now.

"See?" Innes’ eponymous mouth turned with a soft smile, the sort that always managed to reassure her, no matter how dire things felt. "If we do hurt her, it'll be an accident.” That was less reassuring. “I'm sure she'll tell us straight away and we'll stop doing whatever causes her pain. She's learning about being out in the world and we're learning about her. Everything will work out." He was right, though. No Quirke woman ever hesitated to express herself.

“Promise?” She didn’t need him to answer. He’d said as much, hadn’t he? The baby hiccoughed, and Kahrin winced, as if she’d been the cause of the baby’s discomfort.

Innes’ lovely bistre eyes fell upon their child once more, a crease across his brow. "We need to think of a name for her." Oh! Kahrin lifted her eyes to meet his as he chewed one of his full lips. "One of her own. I don't want to use any family names." Something crossed through his expression, prompting Kahrin to tilt her head. "Unless you already decided on one?"

“Why would I decide that without you?” She had a suspicion what might lead him to think that. Once upon a time, when her life had been very different, there had been talk of Ainsley family names, the ones to be passed down. That was a different life, and would have been a different child. Not this one. Not theirs.

Kahrin leaned to rest her head against his shoulder. “You’re her father.” For the first time since waking, she smiled, pressing her lips together as emotion surged through her. Innes had a daughter. That meant she had a daughter, too, which was a little more difficult to wrap her head around. “And I don’t want to give her anyone else’s family name, either. One that’s all her own. One we choose together.”

The nursing wasn’t so bad once she got the hang of it. It didn’t feel great, but it didn’t hurt. Mostly it was odd, a little too close to some sensations but not like it at all. She gritted her teeth as the midwife showed her how to hold the baby at an angle and pat her back until she passed a gas bubble. Once the baby was suckling once more, and she gritted her teeth through the uncomfortable sensation until it passed.

“So, Cameron is a no, then?” She was teasing. Sort of. Part of her rankled that their child would have to carry a name other than her father’s. Even Kahrin couldn’t shed it, not now. The teyrnir needed as much stability as possible. For that reason, she would not take anymore away from Innes. “The only family name she gets comes from our family.” She turned her tired eyes up to look at him from under her lashes. Her chest swelled with every feeling she thought she could feel at once for him, which had to be the mixed up way her body was reacting to giving birth. “Unconventional, though it is. Like you said, we’ll figure it out together.” She shook her head slowly back and forth. “We have to name a person. An actual person that we don’t even know. How do we even do that?”

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