An hour later, sitting curled together on the fur, Elia’s knees over his thighs, both of them covered to the waist in blankets, Reth grinned. He leaned on one hand along her side, using the other to feed her another berry.
Curled into the hollow between his arm and his side, Elia rolled her eyes. “This is ridiculous. I can feed myself.”
“No, no,” he insisted. “This is your time to rest. Let me take care of it.”
She giggled, but opened her mouth obediently when he raised his eyebrows.
He leaned away for a moment, playing with something else in the little barrel he’d left there the day before. She shook her head, she still couldn’t believe he’d done all this without her knowledge. She was going to have to focus. She’d been so consumed with keeping Elreth safe from her own adventurous nature, she’d stopped paying attention to the little moments with Reth. A pang snapped in her chest, but she pushed it away. This was a day to give him her whole mind and attention, to appreciate what they had, not to grieve what was lost.
So she took the little cup he handed her and waited until he’d reached back for a second and brought it up to click the sides together.
“To you, Elia,” he said, his voice low and rough. “To my True Heart’s Call, the most beautiful female in all creation, the mother of the second-most-beautiful female in all creation, and to the fact that you haven’t yet regretted the day we met.”
She gave him a flat look. “As if,” she grumbled. Then she cleared her throat and tipped her cup against his. “To you, Reth… to the strongest, most thoughtful man of integrity I know. To your leadership, your love and… your abs,” she grinned wickedly.
Reth waggled his eyebrows and they both took a sip from the cups. Elia blinking in surprise at the fruity heat sliding down her throat. “What is that?!” she gasped.
“Berry wine. Do you like it?”
She did. She loved it. She wished she could throw back the entire cup, but… but she couldn’t and he didn’t know and she hadn’t planned to tell him yet.
“That’s… that’s great!” She hadn’t had any alcohol since she’d gotten pregnant and then was nursing. But now that Elreth was weaned, of course Reth would think they could celebrate with a drink.
Her heart pounded. She hadn’t been ready. Hadn’t wanted to potentially mar their time today… but she couldn’t.
“Elia, what’s wrong?” his voice was deep and his eyes suddenly sharp on her. “You’ve gone pale.”
“I just… it’s been a long time since I had a drink, that’s all,” she said hurriedly, but Reth wasn’t buying it. He sat up straight and took the cup from her, placing it on the frozen ground next to the fur, then turning back to lock eyes with her, his brows heavy and gaze serious.
“It’s nothing, Reth. It just surprised me.”
“Your scent is nervous and you’re blushing.”
“It’s probably the alcohol going straight to my cheeks, ha ha ha…”
He tipped his head and his eyes went sad. “I didn’t think there was anything you didn’t trust me with anymore.”
That little comment filled her mind with a torrent of images of Gahrye, and Kalle, and the disformed and…
Elia groaned and put her face in her hands, leaning into his chest as she shook off the things she couldn’t change or control and instead accepted that this was the day the Creator had decided that she would tell him.
“I wasn’t going to tell you yet,” she murmured into her own palms. “Just so I could get my head straight about it and… and be excited and happy and… not scared with you.”
“Scared? Scared of what?” his entire body had gone rigid and she immediately stopped feeling sorry for herself. They had both been traumatized by the months of her pregnancy and Elreth’s birth. He carried his well and kept himself in check most of the time. But he could still be startled into terror if he thought she was danger. She could hear his heart pounding and see him paling before her eyes.
“Shhhhhh, no, Reth, you don’t need to worry. Truly!” she smiled. “It’s good news. I just… I just only found out myself and…”
“Found out what, Elia? What happy news is making you feel afraid?!”
She took a deep breath and held his eyes, her hands cupping his neck. “Reth… I’m pregnant.”
He blinked. Then blinked again. Then again. His scent didn’t change at all, then suddenly it was a jumble—elation, hope, fear, rage…
Elia waited, knowing she’d had the same response the other day when she’d suddenly realized how late she was, and how her body felt… different.
His throat bobbed. “You’re… truly, Love?”
She nodded, pressing her lips together against the threat of tears. “Truly,” she whispered.
His mouth dropped open. “That’s why your scent changed! I can’t believe I didn’t—but it’s different than with Elreth. Elia, Love, are you serious?!”
She opened her mouth to say “deadly,” their standard, joking response to any time one of them asked if the other was serious. But the word stuttered on her tongue as her mind flashed back to those days, those horrific hours before Elreth arrived. How close she’d come to dying. How close Reth had come to dying to save her—again.
“Not joking,” she rasped, shaking her head, her vision beginning to blur as her heart was overwhelmed with too many feelings for one heart to bear. “But I’m going to fine, Reth. I can shift now. And I’ll…. I’ll practice. Between now and then. I won’t… there won’t be the same risk as before. Aymora’s certain it will be much safer this time.”
“No, no. I asked her after Elreth was born. I wondered if I should… try to stop myself from getting pregnant again. But she talked me through it. We won’t… we shouldn’t have the same issues this time..” She waited, but he didn’t respond, his eyes still locked on hers. “Reth?”