That smile he gave her was joy. It was love. It was the first thing she thought of when she thought of how handsome he was. And the one thing in this world that never failed to make her smile herself. Seeing Reth—frightened, concerned, protective, sure… but excited. Happy. Proud. It made it worth it. It blew away some of her fear, and tempered the rest.
And it made her never want to leave that moment.
They lay wrapped in that blanket for hours, while the sky darkened and the smell of the air changed. But they were wrapped in a cocoon of warmth, and Elia found that even though Reth hinted he’d had some other plans for the day, she just couldn’t find it in herself to move from that spot. She felt safe, wrapped in his arms like that. Moving meant facing the world again, and she was so tired. And so, they lay.
They lay on their sides, curled up under the blankets, the furs cushioning them from the cold ground. Elia rested her head on her arm, while Reth was propped on one elbow, stroking her hair and leaning over to kiss her whenever he sensed her fear returning.
They spoke of the future, of what a great big sister Elreth would make—and of the fear Elia had that their daughter would lead her sibling into trouble at every turn.
Then, suddenly, Reth’s eyes narrowed.
Elia frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Just… give me a second,” Reth said, then suddenly burrowed under the blanket, becoming a massive man-mound under its thick folds and scooting down the length of her body until his bare legs popped out of the end of the blanket, bringing with them a gust of icy cold.
“Reth! What are you doing?!” Elia curled up to protect her nether regions from the cold that was invading their little space.
He didn’t answer, but the mound of Reth under the blanket moved over her, his hand sliding up the back of her calf and something cold—his nose?—running along the side of her leg, up her calf, up her thigh, his huge body shifting over her, but not stroking, not kissing or licking as he would if it were a seduction. He was…
“Reth, are you SMELLING ME?”
“Just for a minute, Love.” He buried his face in her stomach and inhaled and she giggled and gasped at the same time. “You’re cold! Stop!”
She still wore the fur jacket, though it was open at the front since she’d hoped he might want easy access again after a while. But now, his chilled nose and cheek landed right between her breasts and the size of him fluffed the blankets up to allow the cold air in around her chest and she slapped his shoulder. “Reth! You’re freezing! Get off me!”
“It’s a boy!” he crowed, his head popping out of the blanket, hair mussed and pulled all over his face—his beaming face as he leaned over her, one arm braced behind her.
“It’s a boy! That’s why you smell different!” he beamed. “I was trying to figure out why I didn’t recognize the scent from when you were pregnant before. But it’s different this time. Elia, we’re having a son!”
She wanted to deny it, to tell him that he couldn’t possibly know that so early. But he’d been right about Elreth from the very first day.
“We are?” she asked faintly.
“Yes! Elreth is going to have a brother!”
They stared at each other for a moment, and he looked so happy, so excited and so… ready…
Elia burst into tears.
He’d cooed and held her, mopped her up, and held her close until she stopped jerking with the sobs. He was confused. Did she not want a boy? Or was it nothing to do with that? Was it just fear over the pregnancy, or—?
“Thank you for putting up with me being so moody,” she murmured, sliding her fingers between the front of his jacket to touch his chest. “I don’t know if it’s all pregnancy hormones, or because I haven’t slept for so long, or what. But I feel like I’m riding a roller coaster every day right now.”
Reth had to think back to remember what a roller coaster was—a ride, he thought. A train of sorts, on tracks, but with false hills and sometimes even looping like the Avalines did when they flew for fun.
It was the closest the humans could get to that sensation, he supposed.
Ah. Up and down. Around and around. That’s what she meant. He pulled her closer, holding her head under his chin and stroking her back. “What brought the tears? Do you not want a boy?”
“What?! No! Of course not. I just… you looked so happy.”
Reth blinked. “And that… made you sad?”
“Oh gosh, that is how that sounded, isn’t it,” Elia sighed. “No. I was… I feel like you’re so much better than me. Always. I mean, I’ve been trying to get my head around this for three days and I still haven’t got there, do you know what I mean?”
“I think so?”
Elia groaned and pushed back away from him to meet his eyes. “You are so good at just… accepting what is and moving ahead with it. I want to fight it all the time. Resist it.”
“Accept what you cannot change. It is an Anima way of life.”
“I know. I know. I just… I don’t feel that way, you know? I always want to wonder if there’s a way to change it. Or look for a way out of it, or… I don’t know. I just hadn’t got there yet, and you got there so fast. I was a little bit jealous. But it also made me feel like a bad mom.”
“What? How does this have any bearing on your being a mother?”
“Because I should be so happy that it pushes away the fear,” she said, eyes burning again. “Instead I’m crying on your chest instead of celebrating and… this is gift, Reth. I know that. I know we can’t know if we’ll be able to have any other children. To have another so soon… it’s a gift. I just wish I could feel excited about it. Him,” she corrected herself. “I wish I could feel excited about him.”
“Give it time, Love. You’ll get there. Elreth’s birth was very frightening. I can’t say that I’m comfortable with it either. I just… I can feel the joy even alongside the fear.”
Elia nodded and stroked his chest again, which made his body perk up. They lay for a long, thoughtful moment, then she sighed again. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“For ruining this day you had planned. I’m sorry it’s been heavy and… and scary instead of just fun.”
Reth shook his head and rolled her onto her back, kissing her softly. “You have done nothing except be you, and tell me exciting news. The rest is what we make it, Elia. Don’t punish yourself for facing life. I won’t.”
She put her hand to his cheek and smiled. “Thank you…. it’s getting late. We should probably get back.”
He groaned and rolled off of her, onto his back. “Yes, probably. I did tell Aymora we’d take Elreth back from dinner at the market.”
“Before we go, can I ask you one thing?”
“Yes, of course. What is it?”
Elia pushed up on her elbow to lean over him, grinning wickedly. “Another twenty minutes wouldn’t make that much difference, would it?”
Reth burst out laughing, then growled and pounced, rolling her back and taking a lot more than twenty minutes to show her exactly how little difference it would make.