Part 4: Family Reunion

“By the Maker Fenris, if you don’t stand aside now I will stab you!” I glared at him, my hands braced on my hips.

Fenris shook his head at me.  “Tanis, you really think I’m going to let you out of here when you’re so close?” he gestured to my swollen belly.

I continued to stare daggers at him, refusing to back down.  I was nearing the end of my pregnancy so I was huge and feeling more than a little ungangly.  But I had also been cooped up in that damnable manse for months and was starting to lose what little sanity I had.  I had to get out, if only for five minutes.

“Dammit, I only need five minutes!” I exclaimed.  “You and Áedán get to leave this place once a week or so, why won’t you give me this?”  I knew being locked up with me wouldn’t do my hound any good, so I had made arrangements with Aveline to take him to the City Guard Barracks at least once a week so he could get some exercise.  And since we couldn’t rely on Varric and Orana for everything, even Fenris got to go out once in a while for any supplies we needed.

Fenris sighed at me, stepping forward and putting his arms around me as best he could.  I had started to shiver in the cold of the cellar despite my anger and he saw it.

“It only takes five minutes to be recognized and then where would we be?” he asked as he held me.  “All these months of careful planning, lying low, being quite, it only worked because no one saw you and you know it.”

I growled at him, unwilling to accede his point.  The people weren’t completely stupid.  They had noticed the coming and goings these last few months.  Varric had told me that tongues were starting to wag about the increased activities among the former companions to the Champion of Kirkwall, and that the only reason nothing was done about it was because most of the rumors said that things were being readied to meet me outside of Kirkwall, and possibly the Free Marches themselves.

Maker curse it!  The bastards were right.  We had been so lucky up till now; it would be foolish of me to throw it away when we were so close to the end of it all.  Fenris never flinched at my growl, knowing unlike Áedán, my bark was worse than my bite.  He just stood there, damnably calm and stoic, waiting for me to acknowledge the logic behind it all.

My shoulders slumped as I let out a long, deep sigh, the closest I would ever come that night to saying ‘you’re right’.  I hung my head and wrapped my arms around him, holding him as closely as I could, despite my protruding belly.  “I hate you all,” I muttered into his chest.  Fenris chuckled at me and linking my arm in his he began to lead me up the stairs, back to the three small, increasingly claustrophobic rooms that had been my world for almost eight long months.

“Just a few more days Tanis,” he assured me as we reached the top of the cellar stairs.  “Just a few more days and if even half of what I’ve heard about mothers and newborns are true, you’re not even going to want to leave our room again.”

My heart warmed a bit as he said ‘our room’.  Maker, we had shared a bed for almost five years now, but with everything that had been going on in the beginning, it was only this past year and a half that we had truly started to become close, to become partners and not just lovers.  So sometimes when he said things like that, I felt as giddy as a new bride.  And while a part of me died in mortification and shame every time, the rest of me just didn’t care.  I was too happy.

And uncomfortable.

Very uncomfortable…

I smiled at Fenris as he led me through the manse, but I had to stop him.  Something felt…wrong…different.  I placed a hand on my belly, was it my imagination or was my belly riding lower than normal?

“Tani?” I heard the note of concern in Fenris’ voice as I took stock of myself.  My hand was still on his arm so I patted it gently to reassure him I was ok.

That is before I dug my fingers into him as pain tore through my lower abdomen and I felt a wetness rush down my legs.

“Tanis!” Fenris exclaimed as I cried out in agony and my knees buckled.  I couldn’t help it.  That small piece of one’s sanity that they retain when anything bad happened knew what was happening to me, but Maker did it hurt.  I knelt there in a puddle of something, eyes closed, teeth clenched, sweat breaking out on my forehead, waiting for the pain to pass.  Fenris I knew was kneeling next to me, I could feel the fear radiating off him, but I think a part of him knew too as he kept silent through the spasm.

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, the pain subsided.  I gasped for air, not realizing I was holding my breath and looked into the worried eyes of my lover.

“I think the baby’s coming,” was all I could whisper.

Fenris nodded quickly to me as he tried to help me up and called for Orana.  I waved him off as I heard Áedán bark and start running through the manse towards us.  I knew he had heard me cry and if I was standing when he saw me, he may very well knock me over.  Not a good thing right now.  Fenris was wise enough to walk a few paces away from me.  You did not want to be near the master of a war hound when they thought their master was in danger.  Even for knowing Fenris for years, Áedán could attack him, thinking him the threat after hearing me cry out like that.

And sure enough my hound came barreling around the corner, teeth bared and ready to protect me.  He slowed as he approached me, seeing no immediate dangers, but he eyed Fenris menacingly.  Fenris keep his eyes away from us, instead addressing Orana as she followed swiftly on the heels of my hound.

“Is it the baby mistress?” she asked in her soft, child like voice.  I turned my attention to Áedán and let Fenris handle her as he stepped between Orana and myself, breaking off all lines of sight.

“Áedán,” I whispered as he circled me, still looking for threats.  “Áedán!” I snapped, and he came next to me, sitting on his haunches and whining softly.  I looked into his eyes as I gave him his instructions.

“Go with Orana,” I ordered him.  “Let her leave, and find Varric.  Stay with Varric, he’ll bring you back to me.  Understand boy?”  Áedán gave a soft woof before whining once more and placing one large paw on my shoulder.  I smiled at him and cradled his face in my hands.  “I’ll be fine boy.  I need you to get Varric okay?” Another soft woof, this one sounding like he had resigned himself to his task as Orana sped past us and he turned to swiftly follow her.

Only once Orana and Áedán were out of sight and presumably on their way did I allow Fenris to help me up off the floor and through the house to our room.  We knew this time was coming swiftly and planned accordingly.  Varric found a midwife, a wizened old prune of a woman, who would work silently for the right amount of coin.  She had paid us several visits over the past few months, giving me orders on what to do and not do as my belly seemed to keep growing and growing.

It was Orana’s job to fetch the old crone, as it was Áedán’s to find Varric and stay with him as he gathered the rest of my companions before arriving hopefully before the babe was born.  Until then it was just me and Fenris.  I prayed they would not be long.

Fenris settled me on our bed and sat next to me holding my hand.  We didn’t speak, my contractions were coming strong and swift, it took all I had to focus through the pain and not crush his hand at the same time.  Fenris spent the time muttering what he thought were soothing words as he split his attention between me and the door, watching for the midwife.

Finally after what seemed like eternity the woman and Orana returned.  The old woman had thin white hair pulled back into a ponytail, long white hairs covered her chin, and she had a permanent scowl on her face.  Despite her age, the midwife still stood tall and I knew from her prodding at me earlier to assess the health of the baby that she was still strong for her age.  Her name was Reika, and when she saw my on the bed she wasted no time in taking over the situation.

“You, elf boy,” she said, pointing a bony finger at Fenris.  “No men.  Out.”  I could see Fenris bristle at her words, and I squeezed his hand, asking him to be calm.

“No,” I said, turning to her. “He stays.  At least until the others get here.”  She stared at me, and I looked right back at her, refusing to back down.  I had seen things this woman could only imagine.  She didn’t scare me.  Finally she looked away and nodded.  “Just don’t get in the way,” she finally grumbled before turning to Orana and ordering her to fetch blankets and boil water.

Reika had come in with a rather large bag, and it was into this she reached, taking out a thick, worn, bloodstained leather spread.  “As long as yer here lad, help me get this under her,” she said to Fenris.  Fenris nodded as he helped me off the bed and the woman laid the spread over the bed sheets, settling me back on top once it was arranged to her satisfaction.

Just in time too.  Another contraction hit me as I settled in again, I cried out before closing my eyes and gritting my teeth against the pain.  “Don’t be pushin yet lass,” the midwife instructed me.  “The babe’s not ready yet.  Ye hang in there ‘till I tell ye.”  I grunted acknowledgement as a familiar bark echoed through the manse.  Áedán had returned, with the others in tow, hopefully.

Áedán was the first to find me, barking happily and wagging his tail.  Thankfully he knew enough not to jump up onto the bed with me, but by the look on his face I knew he had done as I asked.  And sure enough, a string of familiar faces trooped into the room.  Varric, Aveline, Bethany, Merrill, and one I hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

“Isabela?” I gasped.  I hadn’t seen the Ravinni pirate since the battle with Meredith years ago.  She hadn’t changed a bit.  Tall and voluptuous, Isabela still wore just enough to leave nothing to the imagination, and her eyes still sparkled with that light that promised all who saw it a fun night in blood or the bedchamber.  And sometimes the two were not exclusive.  Isabela took her pleasure in whatever form she fancied it at the time, whenever she wanted it.  I always admired that about her, how she had no inhibitions, no matter the trouble they got her into sometimes.

Like stealing a sacred Qunari relic and essentially being the sole cause in a civil war between the grey skinned pacifists and the city of Kirkwall.

“Hawk,” Isabela drawled, taking in my pregnant state and Fenris by my side.  She shook her head at me.  “I leave you alone for a few months and you get yourself knocked up?  What am I going to do with you?”  The corner of her mouth curled up into a half smile that tempted men and women alike.

“Are you alright?” asked my sister Bethany, taking the seat on the other side of the bed opposite Fenris.  “How’s the baby?”

I opened my mouth to answer but was interrupted by another contraction, stronger than the rest.  “The babe’s on its’ way,” the midwife answered for me, “And ye all best be on yer way out unless ye got a pair o’tits and hands t’help me.”  I looked briefly at her, and she was laying out several instruments and bags of herbs, giving Orana brewing instructions as she did so.

“Will you be alright?” Fenris asked me, wiping the beads of sweat that had gathered off my forehead with a cool cloth.  I nodded.  “Take Áedán and Varric to the study,” I panted through the near steady pain.  “The girls and I will be fine.”

“Woah, not this girl,” said Isabela, waving her hands at me.  “I’m going wherever there’s more ale than babies,” she said as she turned and walked out.

“We’ll be in the next room Hawke,” said Varric following her.  Fenris squeezed my hand one last time as he patted Áedán on the head and the two of them took their leave as well.

It was just myself, Bethany, Merrill, Aveline, Orana and the midwife Reika left in the room that was growing increasingly warmer with the fire and added body heat.

“Alright m’ladies,” Reika instructed, “This is what ye’ll be dooin,” The rest of her instructions were drowned out as another contraction ripped through me.

The following hours were a blur of sounds as I focused on breathing through one contraction at a time, each of them growing progressively worse.  I think I felt Bethany take my hand at one point, and every so often I felt something damp and cool on my forehead as I struggled to bring forth new life into this world.

Finally I heard the midwife utter the words I had been longing to hear: “Push lass!”

And by the Maker I did.  I gritted my teeth once more; slightly surprised I still had teeth left to grit, closed my eyes and pushed with every muscle in my body.  The tension in my belly built up until it was released in a crying, squirming rush.  I gasped as I felt my body relax, and only vaguely heard cries of “It’s a girl!” before the pressure mounted once more.

“Yer done lass,” the midwife turned to me with a smile on her face, which quickly disappeared into one of shock as with one more great push I gave birth to a squalling baby boy.

“By the Maker! Twins lass!” the midwife gasped as she quickly swept up the child to be cleaned and placed in the crib with his sister.  I saw none of it, exhausted by my exertions.  I collapsed backwards onto the bed, catching my breath.  My sister leaned over into my field of vision, smiling.

“You did great sis,” she said.  “Mother would be proud.”  A shadow crossed over me as Merrill popped up.

“My goodness Hawke!” she chirped.  “That was incredible!  I’d never seen a human have a baby before, and they are both so cute!” She gave a small squeal before disappearing and I heard her cooing over the crib despite the grumblings of the midwife to get out of her way.  I chuckled weakly at Merrill’s antics.  I didn’t think she would ever change.

Then it was Aveline’s turn to offer me her congratulations, leaning over my bedside and smiling.   “Congratulations Hawke,” she said.  “Have you decided on names?”  I nodded.

“Leandra for the girl,” I said with a glance to Bethany, “Carver for the boy.”  I saw her eyes well with tears as she heard the names.  I would be naming my daughter after our mother and my son after our brother, both dead and gone these long years, both taken from us too soon.  I had suggested to Fenris at one point that if we were to have a girl, maybe naming it after his sister, but he would have none of it.  It was hard enough not remembering his past he said.  He didn’t need a constant reminder of the one time he met his sister and she betrayed him.

Aveline nodded, she too understood where the names came from.  She was there to see Carver killed by the ogre, and she was my oldest companion and a great comfort to me when mother was killed by that madman necromancer mage.

“Fine names,” she said.  “And I’ll raise them to make their parents–and their namesakes–proud.”

I looked at Aveline, startled.  Ever since I first brought the subject up about her and Varric raising the babe–well, babies now–she hadn’t given me a response, despite my insisting that Varric start taking the steps necessary as if she said yes.  I don’t know what made her decide now to accept the responsibility, but I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as she said that.

“Thank you Aveline,” I said with a smile.  She nodded again at me and moved away towards the door.

“I think the father would like to see his children now,” she said as she left the room.  Bethany gave me one last smile as she went to follow, sweeping a reluctant Merrill along in her wake.

The midwife and Orana brought me my children.  Orana held Conner, and Reika placed little Leandra in my arms.  I started down at my daughter, love, pride, and sorrow filling me to bursting as Fenris crept in.  I looked at him and smiled as Reika quietly cleaned up her instruments and took her leave, leaving us and Orana alone.

Orana walked over to Fenris and placed Carver in his arms.  “Your son sir,” she said with a smile.  Fenris looked at her with a hint of panic in his eyes, but managed to hold on to the sleeping bundle without dropping him of which I was quite proud.  Orana followed the midwife out as Fenris made his way over to the bed and sat next to me and Leandra.

We didn’t speak to each other for the longest time.  Neither one of us could find the words.  We just stared at each other and at the miracles in our arms.

Being twins, there was nothing to tell Carver and Leandra apart.  They shared their dusky skin with their father, their slightly pointed ears giving away their half breed heritage, and their fair hair could have come from either of us.  But their eyes, ah, I knew when they looked at us that they got their eyes from me as both had the same vibrant violet eyes of their mother, albeit not as bright a shade as mine.

“Well Fenris?” I asked at last, breaking the silence.

He shook his head at me.  “I…have no words,” he whispered, his eyes never leaving Carver’s sleeping face.  I smiled at that.  I felt like I wouldn’t stop smiling for a long, long time.

“Well I have something to say,” I said softly, waiting a few moments until Fenris was able to tear his gaze from his son and look at me.

“When do you want to try for another?” I asked with a lecherous grin.

Part 6: The Hardest Thing