Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ Slayers Expecting ❯ Chapter 2 ( Chapter 2 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
AN: Obligatory disclaimer. I do not own Slayers.
Lina bent over to reach a book on the lower shelf, only to stand up straight as she felt an unusual hardness in her lower abdomen. She bent over more slowly. Sure enough it was still there, pressing uncomfortably onto her bladder. Straightening once more she put a hand to her stomach. She gingerly pressed down. It was unusually hard. Was that the baby?
Excitement flooded through her. It was the first solid proof that there really was a little being within her. Until now her pregnancy had felt like a rather bad stomach flu and it was hard to believe its existence. But now she could feel a firmness there where there once had been nothing. She really was having a baby!
Fear followed swiftly on excitement's heels. Had she squished the baby by bending over so carelessly? She pushed the thought from her mind. This child was hers and Gourrys'. Surely it would be strong enough to withstand a little pressure. Still, to be safe Lina bent at the knees instead of at the waist to pick up the book.
She took the book back with her to the desk and sat down to take notes, stopping occasionally to feel her swelling belly. A few days ago she had finally taken her mother up on her offer to go shopping for maternity clothes. While she wasn't showing, her clothes were definitely getting tighter. That, and the pressure on her stomach from trousers that were too tight was unbearable.
Unfortunately most maternity clothing consisted of dresses. Which was fine around the house, but she planned to be traveling soon. She did find some draw string pants. Unfortunately, her buying them only raised her mother's suspicions about Lina's traveling plans.
Shortly before noon she closed her book and walked up the stairs to prepare lunch, the sounds of construction becoming clearer as she did. Sure enough Gourry and several of his students were hard at work building the nursery. She stopped by the empty doorframe on her way to the kitchen and peered inside. “How's it going?”
“Hey Lina!” Gourry said brightly as two men and one woman stopped briefly to wave. “We should finish by sunset.”
Lina scanned the room. At least now it looked like a room. A few days ago there had been nothing. Then a frame seemed to arise one day from nowhere. Now there were oak walls, a floor that wasn't dirt, and a roof. It looked as though the group was currently installing some windows. Lina honestly didn't think that there was enough to keep them occupied until sunset but nodded anyway. “It looks good. I'm going to fix us some sandwiches.”
The last remnants of morning sickness faded into a bad memory. Lina's powers returned and her stomach swelled. They worked swiftly to prepare the nursery so that way when they returned to Zefiel City from Seyruun it would be ready. If Lina's father and sister were suspicious as to their haste to have it ready, they said nothing. Her mother was a different story.
“Mom was in full battle mode today, warning me about the dangers about traveling while pregnant.” Lina complained as she folded her clothes and put them in her knapsack. “It's as if she thinks we won't be careful!”
“Well, you can be a little reckless.” Gourry pointed out. Privately he was nervous about traveling. What if Lina needed a doctor on the road and he couldn't find one in time? The worrying was keeping him up at night. He'd even had a nightmare about it!
“Hey! Whose side are you on?” Lina asked as she stopped packing and put her hands on her hips.
“Yours. Though I'm not sure why you're so eager to get to Seyruun. Wouldn't you be more comfortable staying here rather than traveling?”
“Not really. I've been feeling good lately. Besides, I want Sylphiel to deliver me, and she can't do that if I'm in Zefiria.”
She finished shoving her clothing in her bag and tied it up, looking at the list she had prepared for supplies she needed. She had become so forgetful in the last few weeks that she was scared she would forget to pack something very important. Had Gourry's denseness been passed onto the child, which in turn was affecting her? It seemed like the only possible explanation.
“Well, you can, if she came to Zefiria…”
“Right now she is eight months pregnant with her fourth child. The last thing she's going to want to do is travel away from her family to help me. Geez, Gourry, don't you ever think things through?”
“But Lina, aren't you still planning on traveling after the baby is born?”
Lina raised her voice as her patience started to fray. “It's easier to travel with one newborn tied on your back than with four children running around at your ankles!”
Gourry wondered if that would really be the case when the time came, but decided not to try another route. “But aren't there some good healers here?”
“Yes,” Lina said through her teeth. “But I don't trust them like I do with Sylphiel. When you've faced someone liked Hellmaster together and survived, well, it creates a bond. Anyway, I also want Amelia there when the baby is born. My Mom, on the other hand…”
Images of Lina's mother driving her like a pack mule to push harder or irritating Lina in some other manner flashed through his mind, and he decided he could see her point. His mind was brought back to the present when Lina stopped packing suddenly, her eyes wide. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said tentatively.
Gourry's eyes narrowed. “That didn't look like nothing.”
Lina waved her hand dismissively, “It's just…I felt some weird flutter. I thought may be the baby was moving, but whatever it was, it's stopped now. It was probably just nothing.”
Even though Lina was feeling better, the pregnancy did affect their travels. They had left bright and early, leaving a note behind at the house for her folks. They hurriedly left Zefiel City before the stores opened and people could notice that they were taking their usual sojourn. And Gourry did have to admit that there was a certain exhilaration that came with being back on the road. It brought back memories of meeting Lina, traveling endlessly together, and falling in love.
Lina, on the other hand, soon found that traveling was not all she remembered it to be. Breathing seemed harder. It was not long before she was panting, and rather dismayed by it. Was pregnancy turning her into a weakling? The thought terrified her! She was getting winded merely by walking at a brisk pace! She did her best not to show it. She certainly did not need Gourry fretting about her again.
“Lina, are you okay? Do we need to stop? You look winded.”
Lina swore under her breath. How did he notice these things? Had she really been that obvious? “I'm fine, don't worry.”
I've never let anything get in my way! Bandits ran in fear from me! Dragons couldn't stop me, and neither could monsters and Dark Lords! I'll be damned if I let this pregnancy slow me down! Lina kept up this line of thinking until another undesirable urge seized her.
“Stop, I need a bathroom break.” She said simply as she headed off the path and into the trees.
Gourry stared after her, thinking that it was a little early for a bathroom break but not wanting to say anything. Even if the thought of her going off into the bushes made him nervous. Sure, she was tough, but now that they were on the open road he couldn't shake the feeling that something bad would happen. And the nightmares he'd been having lately did not help. Much to his relief, she rejoined him shortly and they continued down the path, only to stop a short while later when Lina had to go into the bushes again. She seemed rather irritated when she reemerged.
She didn't say a word, so he followed her lead. It was a pattern that continued throughout the day. Lina felt as though the kid had parked itself on her bladder so that it was constantly full. And the jostling from walking did not help matters. Her mood soured and stayed that way as she noticed more stuff that annoyed her. Like the fact that nature smelled really bad. She had never noticed it before.
The scent of rot seemed to fill her nostrils and settle in her mouth. And when they stopped for lunch, she noticed an ashen taste accompanied her food. Worse still was that it was very dark by the time they reached the inn they usually stayed at while taking this route. Before they usually made it a little before sunset.
Gourry's look of concern throughout dinner only served to irritate Lina further. By the time they had settled into their room she was ready to run back out and find some bandit gang to vent her frustration out on. She knew that was out. Add it to the list of things she could not do while pregnant.
She undid her duffle bag and pulled out her brush, running it through her hair with more force than she usually did. Now all she needed was for Gourry to say something stupid. Well, she was ready for it! She was dying for an excuse to yell at someone and it might as well be him.
She felt him envelope her from behind, his hands clasped gently over her lower abdomen. He kissed the top of her head gently, and then went to bed.
Lina stood frozen to the spot as he went to bed, willing herself not to cry. Still, she found herself bringing her hand to her cheek to wipe away the moisture that had gathered. And to top it off, she couldn't explain why she was crying. Everything seemed wrong. She turned to Gourry who was already nodding off and yelled, “Look what you've made me do!”
Gourry jerked himself awake and sighed. It was going to be a long night.
The next few days followed a similar pattern. Lina was a tired, hormonal time bomb who was starting to resent all of the changes that pregnancy was wrecking with her life. Gourry was constantly on alert, ready for something to go wrong, and his temper was shorter than usual. There was one bright spot, though.
Lina soon found that she had been right the day before they left for Seyruun. She had felt the baby moving! At least, she was now pretty sure that was what it was. He or she usually started moving when she settled in for the night, causing Lina to feel as though someone had set off a round of fireworks in her belly.
On the third night of their travels Lina woke Gourry up. “What?” he asked sleepily beside her as she grabbed his hand and placed it on her belly.
“Feel that?” she asked.
“Feel what?” he replied, sleep still heavy in his voice.
“The baby!” Lina shrieked, “Can't you feel it moving?”
Gourry concentrated for a moment. Despite the fact that he really wanted to feel it, he couldn't. “Nope.”
Lina sighed, “It's stopped now, but keep your hand there. May be she will move again.”
“Um…sure.” Gourry said unconvincingly. And then asked, “She?”
“I think it's a girl, call it women's intuition.”
Gourry nodded, “Right…women's intuition.” He racked his brain desperately for something to talk about before he fell asleep. “So what are we going to call her?”
“Good thing you asked, I have a long list, let me know if you hear something you like…”
As Lina started to list a long set of feminine names, Gourry felt himself start to drift off when suddenly, “There! Gourry, feel that?”
“Huh?” he gasped as he woke back up.
Lina growled and whacked him on the head, “You fell asleep and missed it?”
“Oh forget it!” Lina yelled as she turned on her side away from him.
By the time they reached Seyruun they were both unusually cross. Usually their fights were short lived and easily forgotten. But now they were both in such rotten moods that the animosity just seemed to hang around like a bad storm cloud. When they finally reached the capital, they weren't speaking to each other, and it was not a companionable silence.
Still, Lina managed to perk up at the site of an ice cream vendor. And Gourry couldn't help but smile as she ran off to buy some. Especially when he noted with a strange sense of pride that she was waddling slightly. The waddling was another sign of all the changes happening in their life, while her buying ice cream was something refreshingly familiar. When it seemed that everything else in his life was changing, it brought a bit of normality back.
She handed him a cone by way of a peace offering and they made their way to the palace. Giving the other food without attempting to steal it was their way of apologizing and moving on. All around them people were staring. Both were used to this. Lina tended to attract attention and curiosity. But now Gourry noticed a lot of people were staring at the barely discernable bulge that was her stomach and whisper as they passed. By the way she tensed he knew she noticed too. He put an arm around her shoulder and thought about telling the townspeople off for staring. He decided that this would only attract more attention and remained silent.
Both felt the tension melt off them as they entered the palace gates. “Miss Lina, Mr. Gourry!” One of the guards said as they approached, “Welcome back. Princess Amelia made sure that your apartments were aired and ready for your arrival.”
“Hey Rick! Sounds great. Is Amelia around? And how are Sylphiel and the kids?”
“Princess Amelia in a meeting with Prince Zelgadis and King Philionel. It should be out soon. I'll let them know you are here.” Sylphiel's husband smiled, “And the kids have grown so much you wouldn't recognize them. Same with Sylphiel. I keep telling her that this time it will be twins!”
Gourry let out a low whistle and Lina shuddered. The thought of taking care of two small babies at once sent chills up her spine. “I'll be sure to give her my condolences. I take it she's probably busy now, too.”
“You made good timing actually, her shift at the hospital ends within the hour. I'm sure she'll stop by as soon as she hears you're here.”
“Great. Thanks Rick. Oh, and can you see about having some food sent up to our rooms?”
Rick's pale grey eyes flashed down to Lina's stomach for a brief moment. “Of course. If there's anything else you need…”
“We'll let you know.” Lina finished for him as she walked with Gourry through the palace and to their apartment.
Lina could now see the truth behind the phrase, “the best part about traveling is coming home.” And the palace was a very nice home indeed. Sure there wasn't much privacy, but the amenities were top notch! With indoor plumbing, private bathrooms, a big comfy bed and plush sofas it was the height of luxury. Plus the kitchen came staffed with cooks who created delectable meals daily, and it was all part of the room and board that their duties as guards covered!
Since they were the personal bodyguards to the royal family, their apartment was on the same floor as theirs. Meaning that the rooms were even nicer than those given to other guards. Lina grinned to herself when she thought about it. Even though Lina realized that something was going to have to be arranged for when the baby arrived. She unlocked the door and plopped down on the couch. A living room, a bathroom, and a bedroom. It was fine for two people, but not a family.
She kicked off her boots and decided not to worry about it now. They still had plenty of time. Gourry looked at her for a moment before asking, “Do you need to use the bathroom? I want to take a bath.”
Lina nodded, and ran off, closing the door behind her just as a knock sounded on their door. Gourry sighed. He had hoped for a bit of time to unpack and relax before they had visitors, but then he reflected that it was most likely Sylphiel or Amelia, and he could easily slip out and let them catch up with Lina once she was out of the bathroom.
He opened the door. Sylphiel stood there, one hand on her gigantic belly. Rick was right, she was huge. Much bigger than he remembered when she had Maria. He smiled, thinking back to when they were much younger. She looked a lot different now, and it wasn't just because of the pregnancy. She wore the white robes of a healer, and indeed she was King Phil's Chief Medic. She also kept her long black hair, now streaked with grey, in a low bun at the back of her neck. There were lines surrounding her green eyes now. Of the group she was the one who seemed to have aged the most. Strangely, though, aging suited her, bestowing upon her a certain dignity and aura of wisdom.
“Hey Sylphiel, come in. Lina should be out in a minute.”
“Is it true?” she asked as she waddled in and sat down on the couch, excitement brimming in her eyes.
“The rumors?” she prompted, and continued, “It's been said that Miss Lina is pregnant!”
Gourry smiled, “Oh that, yes, she is.”
Sylphiel clasped her hands around her mouth, “And you didn't tell us?”
“Didn't want to ruin the surprise.” Lina said as she exited the bathroom.
Faster than Gourry thought would have been possible given Sylphiel's condition, she was up and had made it across the room. The two women shared an awkward hug, their bellies getting in the way so they had to stretch awkwardly. “Congratulations!” she cried.
Gourry shook his head. If someone had told him fifteen years ago that they would ever have been good friends he would not have believed them. There was the obvious problem that Sylphiel had a crush on him (yes, he was not as oblivious to it as he pretended to be) while he was falling for Lina. But beyond that, the two were complete opposites on the personality spectrum. He couldn't see the loud, boisterous Lina showing much of an interest in the quiet, demure Sylphiel and vice versa.
Strange events create strange friendships, he supposed. Lina and Sylphiel never talked about what happened after Copy Rezo had nearly killed her. Nor had they discussed what happened when they confronted Hellmaster Phibrizzo together. But he supposed that something must have happened that caused the two to find a deep found respect for each other that transcended whatever jealousy could have developed and rather tangible personality differences.
“…And I want you to deliver me.” Lina's voice cut through his thoughts.
“Of course, I'd be honored. I need to do an exam.”
“Right, is the bedroom fine?”
Neither noticed as Gourry walked off to the bathroom while they went to the bedroom. Lina sat down on the bed, enjoying the rustle of the gold silk covers as she did so. “Lay down, and lift up your shirt a little.” Sylphiel instructed calmly.
Lina did as asked as Sylphiel drew up a chair. “When was your last cycle?”
Lina told her, and Sylphiel's face scrunched as she crunched some numbers, “So you're about twenty one weeks.”
“As near as I can tell.” Lina replied as Sylphiel placed her hands on Lina's swollen abdomen.
“Any morning sickness?”
Lina groaned. “Morning, noon, night! It was horrible! I'm amazed that people have more than one child.”
Sylphiel, who had had gut wrenching morning sickness during all four of her pregnancies, smiled, “You tend to forgive and forget.”
“That's not really comforting.” Lina muttered as white light radiated from Sylphiel's hands.
“The morning sickness has cleared up, though.”
“Yes, thank goodness. But I keep smelling and tasting this weird ashen taste. Gourry says he doesn't notice it and he has sharper senses than anyone I know!”
Sylphiel nodded, “It happens to a lot of women when they're pregnant. No one knows why. It should go away once the baby is born. Is there anything else out of the ordinary?”
“Yes, I get so breathless now when I walk!”
“That's also expected. Have you felt the baby move yet?”
“Yes, well, I think.” Lina bit her lip nervously, “Gourry said he couldn't feel it though.”
“He wouldn't, not this early. The baby isn't strong enough to make movements that anyone but you can feel right now.” Sylphiel explained.
“Oh,” Lina said, feeling a little stupid. “Makes sense. So, what's the verdict?”
Sylphiel smiled, “It looks like you're going to have a healthy baby.”
Lina sat up and pulled down her shirt, “All right, so everything is normal and looks good?”
Sylphiel nodded, “Yes, but Miss Lina, I'm wondering, what are you doing to prepare for this baby's birth?”
Lina blanched. Really, she didn't like to think about that part. Mostly because she didn't like pain. “Haven't given it much thought.”
“I thought so. Have you ever attended a birth?”
Lina squirmed. This was definitely not comfort territory for her. “Um, no.”
“I guess the timing works out. I'd like you to attend my birth. That way you can have an idea about what to expect, and if you have questions afterwards you'll have plenty of time to ask. How does that sound?”
Honestly, Lina thought it sounded nauseating, even if part of her realized that what Sylphiel said made sense. Fortunately the sensible part won. “Um, okay. I don't think I'll be very useful though.”
“You don't have to be. Just observe. I will have my own midwife to help me through the birth.”
There was a sudden knock on the door, followed by the sound of it being thrown open. Both Lina and Sylphiel jumped and stood up. From the living room they heard Amelia call, “Miss Lina? Mr. Gourry? Are you here? Oh, and you're food arrived too.”
Lina walked out of her room, trailed by Sylphiel. “Amelia! Zel!”
Amelia screeched when she saw Lina, pointing excitedly at her. Gourry emerged from the bathroom, toweling his hair dry. “Hey Zel, Amelia! Oh, food!”
He headed for the tray loaded with food as Amelia ran for Lina, hugging her quickly before stopping to marvel at her stomach. “I thought it was just talk, but it's true! And Miss Lina, you never said anything!”
Lina waved a hand dismissively, “Yeah, well, I didn't want to spoil the surprise. Hey wait a minute Gourry, save some for me!”
“How far along are you?” Amelia asked as she sat down, smoothing the folds of her pink silk dress as she did.
“Twenty one weeks.” Lina said through bites of food, “Hey Gourry, share with the pregnant woman carrying your baby why dontcha!?”
“Wow,” Amelia said, ignoring the usual food fight as Sylphiel sat down beside her. “That's really great news. We're so happy for you, aren't we Zel?”
“Yes,” said Zel a bit too stiffly. “Delighted.”
“I suppose this calls for a celebration. I'll let the cooks know and we can have a big dinner. I really wish you had let us know, there's not much time to plan it.”
“Don't worry about it.” Lina said as she finished up her meal with a jug of milk. “As long as there's food we're happy.”
“Let's see, Daddy will want to come, and so will Gracia, Charles and the boys. How about you and your family, Miss Sylphiel?”
“We'll be happy to come. Actually, I'd better pick the kids up from the nursery.”
“Oh, okay. See you at eight then.” Amelia said distractedly. Sylphiel waved and left. Amelia continued on full steam. “So that will be fifteen. Is there anything you want to eat? You're the pregnant one so you get to choose the dish.”
“Hmm,” Lina hummed, “Ribs. Definitely craving ribs, oh! And mashed potatoes with gravy and don't forget the rolls. Your chiefs make some of the best rolls. And say, do you have any watermelon?”
Lina continued to spout off a laundry list of items while Amelia wrote them down hurriedly. “Great,” she said, “I'd better get this down to the chief. I'll be right back, and then we can start to plan the shower!”
“Isn't it a little early to plan the shower?” Gourry asked as Amelia fled from the room.
Lina waved a hand dismissively, “Typical Amelia. Oh, let her have her fun.”
“Hey Zel!” Gourry said cheerfully. Zel was still standing, arms crossed, looking rather disgruntled. “Why don't you take a seat?”
Zel took the seat on the couch that Amelia and Sylphiel had recently vacated. “How's life in Seyruun? Anything interesting happening?”
“Oh, the usual.” Zel said with his disinterested tone. “Bickering diplomats. Stifling formal ceremonies. And…”
The door slammed open, causing everyone to jump. Suddenly to room was filled with a high pitched obnoxious laughter. Lina groaned. “Hello Naga.”
“She's called Crowned Princess Gracia.” Said a small boy with a high pitched voice.
“Hello Travis.” Lina said through gritted teeth. And she had thought his mother was annoying…
Naga had changed a great deal. With a great deal of satisfaction on Lina's part, most of the changes were not flattering. Pregnancy had left her once huge breasts limp and droopy. And she had yet to lose the weight she had gained when she had her youngest, Eddie, two years ago. Her manner of dress was a bit more conservative now, though she still preferred to wear black.
Travis, her oldest, was a six year old pretentious snot. He looked a lot like his father, Charles, with his chestnut curls and his bright blue eyes. And unlike the other members of his family, he was Royalty with a capital R and don't you forget it! It was a shame because Lina rather liked his brother, Sean.
“I'm Crowned Prince Travis to you.”
“Yes, yes.” Lina sighed, “So how are you two doing?”
“I think I'm going to help Amelia.” Zel said, and before anyone could say anything, he was gone. Lina had to suppress a giggle. The subject of in-laws was a touchy one with Zel to say the least.
“I think I'll join him.” Gourry said.
“Hey!” Lina exclaimed.
“Look, Mommy, she doesn't want to be left alone with us!” As with that, Travis let out an obnoxious high pitched laugh that was eerily just like his mothers.
Lina and Gourry both froze and shuddered. That was not a sound you ever wanted to hear from a six year old boy. “For the love of god, never do that again!” Lina exclaimed.
Naga and Travis exchanged a glance, “What?”
Lina sighed, “Nevermind. I see Travis takes after you.”
Naga beamed, “Of course he does! And I see that you're expecting.”
“Yes, your sister's planning some celebratory thing for tonight. You're invited.”
“Sounds like fun.” Naga said as she sat down and pulled Travis unto her lap. “So, how far along are you? You look about twenty five weeks.”
Lina blanched, “Twenty five!? What are you talking about, I'm twenty one weeks!”
Naga laughed. Gourry turned white, and reached a hand down to clasp Lina's shoulder. “My mistake. Small women tend to show more. When I had my Travis I barely showed at all.”
Lina managed to spit out through gritted teeth, “Small…”
“So how long did it take you? Whenever Charles and I wanted a baby it seemed to happen instantly, like magic!”
“So are you going to be having more kids?” Gourry asked, trying desperately to steer to conversation into safer waters.
“No, we have three perfect children, what more could we want?”
Amelia waltzed in then, carrying Eddie on her hip while holding hands with Sean. “Hey Sis, you might want to have a talk with Sean.”
“Aunt Lina! Uncle Gourry!” Sean shouted as he ran to each of them to give them a hug.
“Oh? Why?” Naga asked as she ran a hand through her hair.
Amelia blushed a little, “Well, I just caught him teaching Eddie how to whiz in the fountain.”
Naga turned an interesting shade of blue, excused herself, collected her sons, and left, leaving Lina, Gourry and Amelia to have a good laugh. Lina rested her hands on her belly and wiped away a tear. “Oh that was great timing! I knew that there was a reason I liked Sean.”
“He certainly seems to be a handful. The last time we were here Gracia was always cleaning up after him.” Gourry observed.
Amelia nodded, “Yeah, and I'm not sure where he gets it from either.”
“By the way, is Zel all right? He didn't seem too happy to see us.” Gourry asked.
Amelia twitched a little, “Oh, don't worry about that. You just caught him at a bad time, that's all.”
Lina dug into her dinner with unrestrained gusto. Not only had her appetite returned, but it seemed to have doubled. Even Gourry had a hard time keeping up. Though, he no longer engaged her in the food fights, physically at least. He'd occasionally protest that she stole his ribs, to which she would reply “You snooze you lose.” But it ended there. He was petrified of accidently knocking her out of her chair and hurting the baby, so he left well enough alone.
After she had demolished her meal, she leaned back contentedly in her chair, hands on her stomach. “Nothing like having my food prepared by the palace chiefs after six months of making it myself.”
“And you sure do keep them busy while you're here.” Amelia commented between sips of tea.
Lina was barely paying attention to her, focusing instead on Sylphiel who was wiping the face and hands of two year old Maria. Like any toddler, she was squirming about, eager to join her brother, sister, and Naga's children, who were chasing each other around the room. Yet Sylphiel expertly and patiently held onto her until she was satisfied that her youngest was clean enough to leave the table. “Eruk, Lina, your sister is joining you now. Play nicely.” She commanded gently to her older two children, who chimed a verbal agreement.
With six children running about, it was noisy, but Sylphiel seemed to sigh and relax when Maria left anyway. “One hour till bedtime.”
“Sean!” Naga yelled suddenly, causing everyone around the table to jump, “That's a tapestry, not a ladder! Get down!”
With a devilish grin on his face he climbed down. Naga sighed as everyone around the table resumed their conversation. “I hear you. I always do a little dance once I get those three settled down.”
“So…How do you get them settled down?” Lina asked tentatively. “Sean and Eddie especially always seem full of energy.”
“It's not too difficult.” Naga replied casually as she examined her nails, “Give them a bath, read them a story, tuck them in and then lights out, oh, locking the door doesn't hurt, and then a large glass of wine for me!”
“Getting a routine going is important. It's a bit difficult to start at first, but worth it in the long run.” Sylphiel continued.
“Then they go through stages, such as the nightmare stage…”
“Or wanting one more glass of water…”
“Or believing that there's a monster under the bed.”
“Parenting likes to throw curveballs.” Sylphiel summed it up.
“Miss Sylphiel, Gracia,” King Phil said, cutting into the conversation, causing Sylphiel and Naga to jump. Neither had noticed him approach.
“What?” Sylphiel asked, regaining her composure first.
“Since it's Miss Lina and Mr. Gourrys' first night back in Seyruun, I was wondering if you would like me to take the kids tonight for a slumber party. That way you can have plenty of time to catch up.”
Sylphiel smiled, “That would be great, thanks.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” Naga added.
As Phil rounded up the kids, Sylphiel added, “And sometimes, when you least expect it, you get a break.”
“Gee, is he going to be okay, taking care of all six of them by himself?” Gourry asked.
“Oh, don't worry about that.” Amelia chimed in, “He will organize some game to teach about justice, tell a story, and have them asleep in no time. Daddy is very good with children.”
Naga snorted, and took a long drink of ale, but said nothing. Gourry turned around to talk to Zel. Sylphiel, who was sweating profusely, cast a modified wind spell to use to fan herself with and sighed. Which brought a question to Lina's mind. “So, you sweat a lot when you're pregnant.”
Sylphiel gave a wry smile, “Don't remind me. I feel like I could fill a lake!”
“Is it…well, I'm not sweating.”
She nodded understandingly. “That's also normal. Symptoms vary widely from woman to woman. Consider yourself lucky.”
“I was so lucky to have such easy pregnancies.” Naga said, “No bad symptoms. My skin became so clear and my hair so thick. And I really never showed too much. Something about being tall, you're not likely to be let off so easily, Lina. All in all, I don't think I ever looked so radiant.”
“With the exception of that weird rash on your back.” Amelia commented wryly.
“So have you been having strange dreams?” Sylphiel asked, eager to change to subject.
“Now that you mention it, I seem to be having a lot of vivid dreams. In fact, I never remember dreaming so much before!” Lina replied.
“I know what you mean. I actually started keeping a dream diary!”
“I had this really weird one the other night where I had given birth to a jellyfish.”
“Talk about taking after his father.” Amelia muttered.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Lina demanded.
Sylphiel laughed a little, “Well, when I was expecting Eruk I dreamed I had given birth to a dolphin. It was a little upsetting, because I couldn't figure out how to feed him.”
Naga laughed, causing the conversations around the table to cease momentarily. “You call that upsetting? I kept having this recurring nightmare during each of my pregnancies where this little old woman would come running up to me and slash my belly open.”
Lina shuddered, “I had one like that last week. Only it wasn't an old woman, it was Gaav.”
Amelia gasped, and Lina smiled reassuringly. “Hey, it was only a dream after all.” She neglected to mention that she had woken in a cold sweat and it had taken two hours for her to calm down and go back to sleep.
Lina lay awake in bed, her mind too full with thoughts to sleep. Beside her Gourry snored contentedly. Several things were bothering her. Zel and Amelia were acting weird for one thing. Zel acted as though something had crawled up his ass and died. Sure, he used to be that way a lot, but he had mellowed considerably from when they'd first met. Amelia was more subtle, and she'd not even noticed it until Gourry had asked about her before they went to bed. Her smile was a bit too forced and she seemed a little spacey during dinner. She also hadn't eaten much.
Lina decided that she'd just have to sit down and have a chat with Amelia in the morning. She started planning a course of action as the baby started to kick. Lina smiled, and put a hand on her belly, and then froze as panic hit her like a load of bricks.
She sat up and started to shake Gourry awake. “Huh, what?” he muttered, “Is something wrong?”
“Yes something's wrong!” she yelled, “We're going to have a baby!”
Gourry blinked, wondering if it was just his sleep addled brain or if she just really was not making a lot of sense. “Yes…”
“And I don't know the first thing about how to care for one!” she shrieked.
Gourry scratched his head. Come to think of it, he really didn't know a lot about babies either. “Well, we have four months to learn.”
Lina whacked him with a pillow. “You idiot! How are we going to learn everything in just four months!? Why didn't I start learning earlier? I mean, look at Sylphiel, she's a natural.”
“Well yeah. She's done this three times.”
Lina growled, “Don't be logical when I'm panicking!”
“Okay, what should I do then?”
Lina slumped forward. “Just…just go to sleep.”
He did as told, only to start back awake when she got out of bed, “Where are you going?”
“To the library.” She said matter-of-factly as she grabbed her discarded clothing, “There has to be some books there on taking care of babies.”
“Oh…okay then. Don't be up too late.”
Even at night the palace remained busy. Guards patrolled the corridors and nobles ran this way and that to various parties, meetings, and other engagements. Fortunately Lina usually found that the library was a quiet place. With that in mind, she wasn't too surprised to find it was occupied, considering the occupant.
“Hey Zel, what brings you out here so late?” she asked as she stopped by his table on the way to the card catalog.
To her chagrin, Zel flushed and slammed the book he was reading shut. “Nothing, actually, I should be going.”
Lina's temper rose, “What's that supposed to mean? Really, you've been acting funny since we got here! I'm starting to wonder if you're up to something.”
And with that, she reached around and grabbed the book he was reading and opened it. “Hey!” Zel cried uselessly.
Her eyebrows shot up, “You're researching chimeras again!? But didn't you vow to give up finding your cure when you married Amelia?”
Zel blushed furiously, “It's…it's not like that at all!”
“What is it like then?” said Amelia. Both turned in surprise to find her standing in the doorway, clothed in a dressing gown and looking rather displeased.
Lina put the book back on the table as the feeling that things were about to get rather uncomfortable seized her. “May be I should just leave and let the two of you sort this out…”
“I couldn't agree more.” Zel said.
Amelia stepped away from the doorway and Lina raced towards it. She had not quite reached it when Amelia tore into Zel. “You promised me you'd stop chasing after it! It was consuming you, it wasn't healthy! How could you?”
Lina made it to the door and was on her way out when Zel shot back, “It's not about the cure at all! I was trying to find a way to make myself fertile so we could have a kid!”
Lina nearly tripped over her own two feet. Was that what this was all about? No wonder Zel had been so grumpy.
“We discussed this already. I have the top minds in white magic working on it.”
“Yes, and their efforts have been so fruitful!” Zel yelled back sarcastically.
Lina rounded a corner and their voices faded. She'd had no idea that they were trying to have a child but couldn't. Sure, she would never have expected Zel to mention it, but she thought Amelia would have told her. But then, she'd never said anything to Amelia during her own two years of trying. The sense of failure was too stifling to say anything.
A sense of guilt crept through her. She had, after all, returned from Zefiria with a swollen belly and had gone through dinner talking about pregnancy and babies with Sylphiel and Naga right in front of Amelia, and she was fairly certain that the men's conversation had followed similar straits. She quickly banished the feeling. She couldn't have known, and if it was bothering them so much then they should have said something.
But still, Lina thought as she remembered the anger and jealousy she felt when Sylphiel announced she was pregnant with yet another child when she didn't even have one.
She reached her apartment and opened the door and took a seat on the couch. She had a feeling that tomorrow would bring some awkward conversations with Amelia and Zel.
“I'm sorry you had to see that.” Amelia said as she walked through the palace gardens with Lina after breakfast.
“Don't mention it,” Lina replied. “All couples fight after all.”
Amelia smiled warily, “Still, usually we have the good sense to do it in private. I walked in on Countess Zora discussing my marital woes with Duke Sato. And it's only a matter of time before Daddy and my sis find out!”
“Hey, it will blow over. Remember when Gourry and I had that public fight over…damn, I can't even remember what we were fighting about, that got the rumor mills started that we'd be splitting up? Eventually something else will come along that the courtiers will eat up and they'll forget all about this.”
“It's a little different when you're royalty and it's bedroom matters that are being discussed.” Amelia explained. “I mean, part of the job is propagating the line.”
“But you knew that Zel couldn't when…”
“Of course I did! But it was okay because Sis had already had Travis and the continuity of the throne was assured. We still wanted to give it a try, though.”
“So you hired researchers?”
Amelia nodded, “You remember what happened with Nerisp?”
Lina groaned, “How could I forget? She strung Zel good. I never thought he would actually kill innocents for the cure, but she spun him one good story.”
“Yes, it's fortunate we stopped him before it was too late. And in the long run it was for the better. He decided it wasn't worth wasting the rest of his life searching for a cure that probably didn't exist and settled down here with me. I was content just to have him for awhile, though he talked about trying to find a way to make him fertile. I was so scared of a repeat of the Nerisp incident that I kept putting it off until Sis had Sean. Then I wanted a baby of my own so badly I couldn't help it anymore.
“So to prevent him from getting too consumed again I hired a team of researchers and swore them to secrecy. Keeping them on retainer takes out a big chunk of my stipend, but it didn't matter. Zel and I could continue with our lives while someone was working on the problem. About a year ago they produced some sort of potion. We tried it, but nothing. I figured if at first you don't succeed, try again, but Zel took it pretty badly.”
“So no wonder he was so grouchy yesterday.”
Amelia slumped forward. “He seemed to take some sort of comfort in the fact that we weren't the last childless couple in the group. Not that we're not happy for you!”
Lina patted her on the shoulder, “Don't mention it. It's just…”
“Well, I never pegged Zel as the type who would ever want a child.”
Amelia stiffened. “Strange, he said the same about you.”
Lina blanched, “What's that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Anyway, I can't stay too much longer. I have a lot of paperwork to get through. So, what are you going to do today?”
Lina shrugged, “Haven't really thought about it. Phil has put me on maternity leave. Humph, just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I can't fire a few spells.”
Amelia smiled, “He just doesn't want you to overdo it.”
“Sure, whatever, I didn't know that everyone would treat me like fine china. I mean…”
“Miss Lina, I'm happy for you, but it's really hard for me to listen to you complain about being pregnant when I'm not. You can share your joy with me, but don't share your grief.”
Lina's eyes widened. It was one of the few times she was shocked speechless. Besides, if she couldn't complain to her best friend, who could she complain to?
Amelia sighed, and started to head back to the palace, “Well, have fun and don't get into too much trouble!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lina replied as she watched her friend take off. She put her hands to her stomach and thanked her lucky stars that she was no longer dealing with infertility. She only wished that she had some idea of how to tread with Zel and Amelia now. Especially as she had no idea what she was going to say the next time she saw Zel.
She spent the day reading about newborns. Zel came in at some point, gave her a stiff greeting, and sat down to read a book about Seyruun's diplomatic history with the Elmekian Empire. As time passed they finally started talking about magical theory, though carefully avoiding the mention of white magic and pregnancies. Zel still seemed a little distant and the conversation was awkward to say the least, but at least they were still on speaking terms.
The weeks passed quietly. Gourry continued to serve as a bodyguard to the royal family while Lina read books on parenting and spent her evenings trying to teach Gourry all she had learned. Sylphiel offered to let Lina and Gourry spend a few hours a day with her every day once her baby was born so they could get some hands on experience, which lessened Lina's anxiety a lot.
Amelia threw herself full throttle into planning a huge shower for Lina. It felt as though Amelia believed she would never have a baby shower of her own so she poured all of her efforts into creating the perfect one for Lina to compensate. Lina really didn't care about the details, as long as she got a lot of gifts, so she let Amelia do her thing. Even if she did wonder about her friend's mental state.
Sylphiel entered her last month of pregnancy and took a leave from work. For the first time, Lina found herself spending the majority of her time with Sylphiel, helping her care for her older children and learning as much as she could about parenting. The life they used to have that included monster fighting began to seem surreal. And compared to the challenges of childrearing, sometimes seemed easier.
One night when Sylphiel was about a week overdue Lina woke up to hear someone knocking frantically at the door. She grabbed her robe and wrapped it around her as Gourry went to the side of the door, “Who is it?” he asked.
“It's Bart.” Said one of the guards.
Gourry opened the door, “Is something wrong?”
“No, Miss Sylphiel sent me. She says she's gone into labor and is ready for Miss Lina to come.”
Lina felt a shiver go through her spine. Truth be told, she wasn't looking forward to this anymore than she was to her own birth. If she'd wanted to deal with people who were in pain and bleeding she would have become a healer. Still, Sylphiel's reasoning behind having her there made sense. “I'm on my way.”
Gourry closed the door and followed Lina into their room and watched as she found some clothes, and took her time getting dressed. Gourry sat on the bed and watched her closely. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Huh? Oh sure, don't worry about me! It's Sylphiel who's giving birth after all.”
“Okay then. Tell her good luck!”
Lina gave him a peck on the mouth and set off to Sylphiel's apartment.
The midwife opened the door. “You must be Miss Lina.” She said.
“Yup, that's me.” Lina confirmed as she stepped into the living room.
“I'm Karen. Sylphiel is in the bedroom.”
Lina's heart beat faster as she approached the bedroom, scared that she would walk in the find Sylphiel screaming and bleeding. Instead, Sylphiel was sitting backwards in a wooden chair, with a look of intense concentration and pain marring her face, her breathing measured. Her long dark hair was braided to keep out of her way and she wore a large nightgown. Thankfully Lina could see no blood.
Lina found a seat in the corner, “Hey, I'm here!”
Sylphiel nodded, but didn't say anything. Lina looked over at Karen, “Is she okay?”
“She's having a contraction, she'll be fine.” Karen said reassuringly.
“Oh,” Lina said as she watched, unsure of what to do.
Finally Sylphiel gasped and leaned back. “This one is coming fast! The contractions are already regular and three minutes apart. Not to mention intense.”
“Do you want to walk around?” Karen asked.
“I'm so comfortable now.” Sylphiel said by way of answer.
“Okay, but remember you have to change positions so the baby can position himself correctly.”
Sylphiel nodded and with only a trace of annoyance said, “Of course.”
“What?” Lina asked, feeling as though she was missing something.
“It's important to move and change positions when you're in labor so the baby can position himself in the birth canal correctly.” Karen explained as Rick came in the room.
“How are you doing?” he asked as he knelt before Sylphiel, resting a hand on her shoulder.
She smiled, “Fine, how are the kids?”
“They went right back to sleep as soon as I dropped them off with Princess Gracia. Do you need me to rub your back?'
Sylphiel nodded. And so it progressed, and Lina couldn't help but notice what a pro Sylphiel seemed to be. She occasionally walked around the apartment, and alternated between lying on her left side on the bed, sitting backwards in the chair, and squatting behind it. While Lina expected her to scream, cry, and become a little terror, Sylphiel remained almost annoyingly calm and quiet even though Lina could tell that she was in pain when the contractions came. The way her face bunched up combined with how white her knuckles became as they gripped the chair told it all.
Rick was supporting Sylphiel as she squatted behind the chair, panting. “You're doing good, sweetie, it shouldn't be too much longer.”
“He's right.” Karen added, “This one is coming fast…”
“Shut…up!” Sylphiel groaned.
Rick and Karen shared a look of understanding. Lina's eyebrows rose in confusion. On the one hand she was happy to see Sylphiel showing some signs of annoyance. Her previous calmness had made her seem disarmingly superhuman. On the other hand, she couldn't see what Rick and Karen were doing wrong.
“Some women want things completely quiet when they're in labor so they can focus better.” Karen whispered to Lina, who nodded. She didn't understand, but she wasn't about to ask questions.
In only a few hours she had transitioned and was at the pushing stage. Rick supported her from behind as Sylphiel squatted while Karen knelt before her, offering words of encouragement. “You're doing great, I can see the head, only a few more pushes.”
Lina was starting to feel sick. Sylphiel's eyes were bulging appallingly out of her sockets and she was ghastly pale. And Lina refused to look below her waist. She chanced it once and was too disturbed by the fluids gushing out of Sylphiel. A growing sense of dread spread through Lina as she couldn't help but think that she herself would be going through this in a few short months. The feeling got worse when Sylphiel screamed when the baby crowned, causing gooseflesh to develop on Lina's skin. If Sylphiel was finally screaming, then it must really have hurt bad!
“Hold it!” Karen commanded, “Okay, now push! Good, now one more…I've got him! It's a boy!”
Sylphiel relaxed back into Rick as Karen brought the baby up to her chest. Sylphiel grabbed him and cleared the mucus from his mouth and nose. A piercing wail sounded throughout the room, and Sylphiel seemed to dissolve into tears of happiness. “Let's get you two to the bed.” Karen said as she and Rick helped her in that direction.
Lina squirmed in her chair, wondering if anyone would notice if she left. Aside from all of the discomfort that came with watching the birth, viewing Sylphiel and Rick as they bonded with their newborn son just seemed too personal. Especially when Sylphiel brought him to her breast to feed him.
“Look, Miss Lina!” Sylphiel said excitedly as Karen cast a Recovery spell after assessing her patients. “Isn't he beautiful?”
Lina walked a little closer, but maintained her distance. And though she would never admit it to Sylphiel, `beautiful' would not be the word she used to describe the infant. He was shriveled, with red skin and a misshapen head, made more noticeable by the fact that he was bald. That, and he was covered with birth gunk. Lina had thought newborns were supposed to be plump and cute, though she had read recently that the babies' misshapen appearance was normal, it didn't make him cute. “Sure.” Lina found herself saying, “Anyway, I'm going to dash and give you all some time alone.”
Lina found herself scadadaling faster than Gourry could eat fried chicken. So many thoughts and feelings plagued her as she made her way back to her apartment. It was a relief when she finally arrived and got in, locking the door behind her before plopping onto the couch.
“Lina?” Gourry called from the bedroom.
“Yeah?” she called back.
He appeared a moment later, half dressed for work. “You're back already?”
“Is everything alright?” he asked as he sat beside her. “That was fast.”
“It's fine, she had a boy, both are healthy.” She said a bit too cheerfully.
“That's great! What are they calling him?”
Lina opened her mouth to answer and then blanched. “No idea.”
Gourry considered her for a moment before asking, “Are you okay?”
Lina perked up, “I'm fine, I'm not the one who had a baby after all!”
Gourry's eyes narrowed. He didn't buy her false cheerfulness. “You don't seem fine.”
“You're going to be late for work.” Lina said in a singsong voice.
“Work can wait. What's bothering you?”
Lina looked away, “It's stupid.”
Gourry continued to stare at her quietly. Finally she spat out, “It's just…It's just that she gave birth so effortlessly! I mean it looked really painful but she barely even screamed. And she knew exactly what to do, how to move, how to make sure the baby was positioned correctly and he came so fast and…how am I supposed to be as good as that?”
Gourry scratched his head, “I wasn't aware that it was supposed to be a competition.”
“Of course it is! Girls compare these things! And I'm already at a disadvantage because I'm short and have no hips…”
Gourry winched a little. Truth be told, he had been worried about Lina's small size. It seemed hard to believe that someone so small could have a child. He'd even asked Sylphiel about it, and she reassured him that it wouldn't be an issue. And when he thought about it, being short and scrawny hadn't stopped her from taking down Dark Lords. “You've been listening to Naga too much.”
Lina blanched, “What's that supposed to mean?”
“As near as I can tell, she's the only one who is keeping score. Sylphiel keeps saying that every pregnancy and birth is different but normal.” He explained, “Besides, this is your first birth. Sylphiel had given birth four times. I'm sure she didn't have as easy a time with her first one.”
Lina slumped forward, “But that's just it. This is going to be my first one, so it will be long and painful and…”
She didn't add that she was scared but she didn't need to. Gourry wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her close. He was scared too. Of losing her if something went wrong during the birth. Or losing the baby. Or both. And while he was often overwhelmed by how powerful Lina was magically, performing magic and giving birth were very different things.
Add that to the fact that he could fight Dark Lords and monsters. Whenever she gave birth, there would be nothing for him to fight. He would just have to trust Sylphiel to get her through it, like he had back when Copy Rezo had nearly killed her.
He kissed the top of her head, and she turned towards him, drew her arms around him and kissed him on the lips. He returned her affections eagerly. Lina being Lina, she didn't like to dwell on her insecurities long and was quick to find something to distract herself from them. Once they became intimate, she often did this through lovemaking. He pulled her as close to him as he dared without squishing the baby, deciding that in this case it was a rather good habit of hers.
AN: Two of the dreams mentioned are based on actual dreams I had. I had one where I'd given birth to a dolphin, and like Sylphiel, I was upset because I couldn't figure out how to feed him. And I had another where there was yet another epic battle between Lina and Gaav (really, it was like a cut scenes reel from NEXT) but it ended with Gaav slashing her stomach. Yeah, I'm weird.