“They’ve come a long way in the last few months,” I muse, laying my head on Kallen’s shoulder. We are watching my parents walk hand in hand by the shore. They are walking slowly, and carefully, but they are walking. Their atrophied muscles were slow to wake from their years long slumber, and it’s good to see them up and about without the physical trainer who comes daily to help them exercise. I offered to try to heal them my way, but they wanted to do it without magic.
“Yes, they have. If their ability to walk returned as readily as your father’s appetite, though, they’d be running along the beach by now,” Kallen replies with a wink.
I can’t help but giggle. As a spirit, Dad missed food the most. Since returning to his body, he has gained a good ten pounds. He was always fit, so no one really notices other than him, but he mentions it a lot. He’s eager to be able to exercise more enthusiastically so he can continue to eat what he wants and not worry about it. I try not to roll my eyes when he talks about it. It’s ten pounds, for goodness sake.
“Ow!” Kallen suddenly exclaims, rubbing the back of his head.
“Leave the man alone. He hasn’t eaten in years,” Tabitha scolds.
“I was kidding,” Kallen grouses, still rubbing the spot where she smacked him.
Tabitha sets the bowl of fruit she is carrying down on the table. Peering over the sand at my parents, she shakes her head. “I still can’t believe it.”
“You can’t believe we have a Witch and a Cowan living in our realm?” Kegan jests, plucking an apple from the bowl.
“Hey! My mother is a Cowan and she has lived here since before my birth,” Alita growls.
Fear suddenly registers in Kegan’s eyes wiping away any trace of mirth which once resided there. Since Alita entered the last phase of her pregnancy, her moods have become increasingly difficult to gauge. Generally, though, they run toward being annoyed with everything her husband says and does. At this point, I’m not sure why Kegan hasn’t taken a vow of silence until after the baby is born. It would be most beneficial for his health and wellbeing. Tabitha swears Alita’s behavior is due to the fact that the end of a pregnancy is extremely uncomfortable and her hormones are completely out of whack. She swears it’s not because Alita has finally realized she has married a jerk and is plotting to kill Kegan in his sleep as Kallen likes to insist is the case. Still, Kegan really should have known better than to say something even in teasing regarding a subject Alita is so sensitive about.
“I love your mother,” is Kegan’s lame response. He knows he’s in trouble and there are no words he can think of to get himself out of it.
Tabitha takes a step back toward the house. Kallen takes my hand, ready to pull me out of harm’s way. I’m not worried, I’m confident I can put up a magical shield before anything painful happens. To me and Kallen, at least. Kegan is on his own since it was his mouth that got him into this mess. Even I am smart enough not to make teasing comments around Alita right now. About anything. She takes a lot of things personally at the moment.
Magic floods the terrace. “You don’t think Cowans should live here, do you?” Alita demands.
Kegan’s eyes are wide as they dart from Alita’s face to her humongous baby bump. Technically, it is the baby’s magic spreading outward from his wife. It is his baby’s magic which he needs to fear. I believe he is beginning to worry his baby hates him. Taking a deep breath, Kegan attempts to placate both wife and child. “I think whoever desires to live here in harmony with us should live here. I am delighted that our family is so diverse.”
“Liar,” Alita hisses. The magic that has thus far been held back is about to be flung forth, which will probably result in Kegan going flying across the sand. Painfully. But instead, we are all shocked when it simply dissolves back to the earth as quickly as it was pulled. A look of wonder crosses Alita’s face, which is a nice change from the permascowl she’s been wearing lately. Unfortunately, the look of wonder is immediately followed by a contorted expression of pain.
Kegan is by her side in an instant, all threat of magical punishments forgotten in his haste to be sure she is well. “What is it? What is wrong?”
Since Alita seems beyond words at the moment, it is Tabitha who answers. A wide grin spreads across her face. “From the puddle on the ground, I would say her water just broke.”
Kegan turns his now ashen face to the older Fairy. “The baby is coming?” Worry, fear and joy are colliding on his face. It’s really rather charming. I elbow Kallen in the ribs when he snickers at his cousin’s discomfort.
Alita finds her voice again and she snarks through a contraction, “What, you think it is only raining under my chair? Of course the baby is coming.” She attempts to stand, but her center of balance is so off, she has trouble. She holds an expectant hand out to Kegan and he immediately rises and assists her. “Help me upstairs,” Alita orders. “I am not having this baby on the terrace.” Lord, I love her pregnant. She is such a bossy, take control Fairy right now. I wonder if any of it will stick with her after the baby is born. I hope so. She was too meek before. Studying her closely, I see the pain in her eyes is retreating, so her contraction must be, as well. Good. Unfortunately, there are many more in her near future.
“I will carry you,” Kegan insists.
Alita shakes her head and her words are even more insistent. “I can walk. Just help me.”
Kegan turns worried eyes to Tabitha for guidance. Tabitha nods. “She is fine to walk. Help her upstairs and I will be along shortly.” The older Fairy turns to Kallen. “Send a message to the midwife while I gather clean linens and the pain potions I made.”
“Can I help?” I ask.
Shaking her head, Tabitha says, “No. You better stay out here and keep an eye on your parents. Don’t let them tire themselves out too much.”
In other words, stay here and out of the way. I get it. And since I’ve never had any particular desire to be present for the birth of a baby, I’m secretly relieved. Dad showed me a video once during an anatomy lesson when I was homeschooled. So, I know the joy of giving birth is a rather messy, bloody and painful affair. I’m good staying on the beach. Especially since I also know that Alita is in excellent hands with Tabitha and the midwife. “Okay.” I watch Alita and Kegan disappear through the door excited for them and their future.
Kallen gives my hand a squeeze. “My cousin is going to be a nervous wreck. If he survives the birth.”
“Are you afraid Alita will kill him before it’s over?” I ask.
He smirks. “I am almost certain of it.”
“What’s going on?” Dad asks as he and Mom approach the terrace. Their excursion on the beach has tired them. I can see it in Mom’s eyes.
“Alita is in labor,” I tell them.
Looking longingly at the door, Dad asks, “Do you think I could be of help?” He missed more than food while he was a spirit. He missed being a doctor, as well.
Mom pats his arm sympathetically. “I’m sure the midwife has everything under control.”
Dad nods, but the doctor in him is feeling useless at the moment.
“How are you two doing?” I ask to change the subject. “I can’t believe how well you’re getting around now.”
A smile breaks out on Mom’s face. “The feel of the ocean on my toes is magical. I tried to convince your father to take a dip with me, but he refused.”
I give her a dubious look. “The ocean’s a little chilly for swimming right now.”
She shrugs, gazing over her shoulder at the water longingly. “Soon then.”
Tabitha comes bustling back onto the terrace. “Just got a message from the midwife. She’s delivering a Fairy in the village and can’t make it.” Even without Kallen’s mental ability, Fairies are able to send messages with magic. They are simply sent to a notepad Fairies keep in various places instead of a person’s mind. Sort of like calling someone and leaving a message. Kallen’s method is more efficient as a note can be overlooked for some time. Not in this case, apparently.
Tabitha’s eyes move to me and I pale. She can’t expect me to deliver a baby. Fortunately, her eyes slide immediately on to Dad. “Jim, we could use a hand if you don’t mind.” I am not going to be completely left out, though. “Xandra, magical births are a little different than what your father is used to attending. For his safety, you should come along, too. The babe’s magic could get out of hand.”
Now it’s Dad’s turn to pale. His eagerness to help has dimmed a little. He recovers quickly, though. “I’m sure I can manage,” he says, doing his best to exude confidence.
“Probably, but I’ll help anyway.” Standing up, I give Kallen a quick hug. “Wish us luck,” I whisper in his ear. Kegan might not be the only one in trouble now. The baby has more targets. Hopefully it doesn’t remember any of the teasing I did toward Alita earlier in the pregnancy. It was all in good fun. I was never mean. Still, do Fairy babies hold grudges?
“Good luck,” Kallen says with a soft chuckle. He must be reading my mind. He gives me a light kiss before leaning back in his chair, getting comfortable.
I eye the chair I just left longingly. With a sigh, I walk to Dad and hold my hand out to him. “Let’s teleport upstairs.” No sense in wearing him out before he even gets to Alita’s room. He doesn’t look quite as weary as mom, but he’s not as robust as he was this morning, either. He must be thinking the same thing because he doesn’t argue. He simply grasps my outstretched hand.
“Good luck, dear,” Mom says before Dad and I disappear from the terrace.
A second later in the hall outside Alita and Kegan’s room, I ask a now slightly dizzy Dad, “Are you sure you’re up for this? It’s not too late to say no.”
“Are you kidding?” Dad scoffs, straightening his shoulders and reaching for the doorknob. “This is the first time I’ve felt useful in years. It’s about time I earned my keep around here.”
I roll my eyes. “No one is keeping score, Dad.” He ignores me and opens the door to the bedroom.
We are met by a low and vicious growl.