I'm on time! It's only fitting, since this is the final installment of the one-shot series. I'd never intended it to be this long, but I kept getting ideas and even requests from you guys, so it kept growing. I'm glad, though, as it's far richer this way. :) Thank you so much for the continued interest, suggestions, and kind words. They do matter.
kaia: Yes, I'm sure the elves will have fun with Dáin and his dwarves. ;)
Just4Me: I don't think Dáin could have escaped. He doesn't have Bilbo Baggins, after all. XD As for the baby...well, read and see! (I think you'll approve.)
Sesshomaru's Babydoll: Yes, Ara has a few elf admirers, including a rather unlikely one, as this chapter shows. ;)
Nicci1234: Thank goodness for Nori, though. It would have taken a lot longer for Thorin to save Ara and Talaitha without his tracking skills!
LianaDare8: Yes, "another" baby. *whistles innocently*
Queen of Erebor: I'm happy for them, too! :)
Promise1982: Thank you!
Jo: Yes, Thorin can be a sweetheart when he wants to be. :)
Disclaimer: This chapter includes a birth scene, similar in content and type to the previous one. Also, mentions of sex. Kind of.
Part XXI: Family
The hall buzzes with conversation, punctuated by the metallic clang and clatter of silverware on plates. Ara is seated between Dís and Legolas, the latter of whom looks almost as displeased as his father is to share a meal with dwarves. But the occasion is a special one, so the elves tolerate their hosts' brash and uncouth manners. The humans, however, get along well with the dwarves, smashing tankards of ale and bantering loudly with them. The occasional Lake Towner even attempts a match of arm wrestling against a dwarf. Unsurprisingly, the man loses, but his friends nevertheless continue to place bets on him.
Gimli, Glóin's son, has challenged one of the men to a drinking contest, boasting that his people are never bested when it comes to alcohol. Though he is sitting on the other side of the table, Legolas hears it. He scoffs.
"Apparently he has never competed against an elf, then."
Ara peers up at him and remarks seriously, "I've been to a lot of these feasts, and I've never seen Gimli get beaten."
"How many of those feasts included elves?" Legolas asks wryly.
Ara's eyebrows furrow while she thinks. "Two," she replies, crossing her arms. "Fine, you're right. He's never tried against an elf, but I bet he'd win if he did."
"Elin tithin," the prince says fondly. "It would be most unwise to bet on that."
"I wouldn't want to anyway. There are better ways to spend your coin." Shouts drift over from the neighboring table. Another man from Lake Town just lost an arm wrestling match to Dori. Ara grimaces. "I take it back. There are better ways to lose your coin."
Legolas' lips twitch, as he regards the young princess. She's sensible, despite being half dwarf. Perhaps that is Talaitha's influence, but then again, as Thranduil is keen to remind, Talaitha had married a dwarf. Not only married, but had children with. Twice.
"How are you enjoying being an elder sister?"
"It's fun," Ara replies, with a shrug. "Unless they throw up or cry all night. But I like the other sounds they make. They're cute."
Dís looks over to ask Ara if she wants more food. The girl hands her plate to her aunt, who scoops a large spoonful of roasted, herbed potatoes and places half a pheasant thigh onto it.
"You're welcome, my dear," Dís smiles and kisses the top of Ara's head.
She eats a few mouthfuls, before the doors open and the king and queen enter, each carrying a tiny bundle. The hall goes silent, the bets and contests forgotten, until only soft gurgles and Thorin's footsteps can be heard. Thorin and Talaitha stand at the head of the table, looking thoroughly exhausted but happy. Though they are dressed in fine clothes, neither wears a crown, as they are among friends. They catch their daughter's eye and beckon her forward.
"As you all know, a month ago, Talaitha gave birth to twin boys," Thorin begins. The guests nod and crane their necks to see the babies, who are snugly bundled in royal blue blankets. "You may also know that twins are incredibly rare among dwarves."
"And among szelemér," Talaitha adds. She shifts the infant to wrap her free arm around Ara's shoulders. The girl leans into her mother, hugging her waist.
"Talaitha and I are proud to introduce Einar," Thorin kisses the forehead of the baby he's holding, "and Vidar." He carefully takes the other infant from Talaitha and kisses his forehead, as well. Vidar whimpers and rubs his eyebrow. "It appears he does not like my beard."
The others laugh and begin to gather around the king and queen to meet the new babies. They look almost identical, except Vidar, the younger by seven minutes, has Thorin's eye color, while Einar's eyes are a much darker blue. The brothers look up at their observers, gurgling and kicking their little legs.
As his family and friends admire his boys, Thorin allows himself to reminisce on the past nine and a half months. They had been an adventure, to say the least...
The copper-haired woman stands in front of the mirror, turning this way and that and touching her distended belly. Thorin watches her, a small smile on his lips, expecting a complaint about how her breeches no longer fit. But he gets something far less mundane.
"Look at me," she orders, then blushes prettily when she sees his gaze is already on her. "Do I look bigger to you?"
"Bigger than you were before? I believe so, yes," he replies, with fond amusement.
"No," Talaitha says. "I mean bigger than I was with Ara at three months."
He cannot remember exactly how large her belly was during each month of her pregnancy, but now that she mentions it, she does seem to be bigger during this one.
"Why is that, do you think?" She's watching him with a coy, almost mischievous expression, as though she already knows the answer and is merely toying with him. But he plays along.
"Too much cake?" Thorin ducks when a balled-up tunic comes flying at his head. He laughs. "I apologize, beloved." She shoots him a mock-glare but doesn't throw anything else at him. "This child is bigger than Ara was?"
"Well, you're half-right," she remarks but says no more. He thinks. "Half" must be the keyword. Half...half of what? And then it hits him.
"Twins," he breathes, his jaw dropping open. From Talaitha's grin, he knows he is correct. But he still cannot believe it. "Truly? You are truly carrying twins?"
"I am," she affirms, walking over to him and stroking his cheek. His hands reflexively settle on her hips, and he drops to his knees to lean his forehead against her belly.
"Do you know how rare twins births are among dwarves?" Thorin asks, placing soft, reverent kisses on her stomach. "They occur only every couple hundred years."
Talaitha combs her fingers through his hair, her touch gentle and loving. "I do know," she replies. "They are nearly as uncommon among the szelemér. By rights, twins should be impossible for us."
"Yet here they are," Thorin whispers, splaying his hands on her belly. "Here they are." Talaitha feels a wetness on her skin and glances at Thorin, as a tear slides down his cheek. She had been surprised when she'd felt not one but two souls inside her womb, yet seeing her husband's reaction sucks the air from her lungs.
"Thorin." His name comes out as a whimper, and he's immediately on his feet, hugging her to him as tightly as he dares. He breathes in the scent of her hair, as another wave of emotion surges in his chest.
"You have given me more than I could have ever hoped for," he says and kisses her neck. "I know of no one who is more blessed than I."
She pulls back slightly to kiss him slowly, sensually. "Perhaps you do, for my life is far fuller with you than without you." Thorin kisses her, tangling his fingers in her hair. When his lips leave hers, she smiles. "I never imagined myself a wife or a mother. In fact, I'd never really wanted to be either." Talaitha leans in closer to brush her nose against his. "And then you came along and made me reconsider everything my life had been thus far and what I'd planned for it in the future. I wouldn't have Ara without you, or these two little miracles, and if I hadn't loved you before, I would love you for them."
Thorin smiles, as he remembers. So many new experiences and challenges...
He stills immediately, his hands placed gingerly upon her hips.
"No, it's not you," Talaitha says, cringing again. "It's these two little menaces. One is kicking my kidneys, while the other pokes into my diaphragm." She shifts atop him so that her belly rests against his and he is supporting her weight with his arms. He feels one of their sons kick against his abdomen and winces in sympathy if not in empathy.
"Do you wish to stop?" he asks softly.
Talaitha shakes her head and clenches around him experimentally. He stifles a groan.
"I need you, Thorin," she breathes, then flinches as another powerful jab is levied on her kidney. Her head drops onto his shoulder. "I'm sorry for being so difficult."
"Hush," he scolds gently and kisses her temple. "You are not difficult." Then he lifts her up and off him so that she's kneeling above his chest, with her stomach at eye level. Thorin strokes her belly. "My sweet boys," he begins, and Talaitha snorts. "Although I am pleased you are both so strong and active, I must ask that you allow your mother a rest. She deserves a bit of a reprieve, I think." Thorin pulls her back down, until he's sliding inside her again, coaxing a matching moan from both their lips.
"And a bit of pleasure," he says, his deep voice sending lust coursing through Talaitha. She begins to move slowly, hands splayed on his chest, and sighs contentedly.
"Can you talk to my stomach every time they misbehave?" she asks.
Thorin laughs and leans up to kiss her. "Happily, beloved."
"They're beautiful, Thorin," Bard says, clapping a congratulatory hand on his back. The action sparks another memory...
Thorin has been banished to his side of the bed, because according to Talaitha, she is too big to cuddle with. He disagrees, but when he'd tried to voice as much, she'd glared at him and awkwardly turned onto her side, with her back facing him. He had done as she'd wished for a few nights, but now, as she tosses and turns and sighs and mumbles curses under her breath, he can stay away no longer.
"I wish you would let me help," Thorin says, edging closer. He touches her shoulder, and when she doesn't move away, he presses his fingers into her lower back, massaging it. She's tense at first, but with each stroke of his hands, she relaxes, until her sighs of frustration become sighs of pleasure.
"Turn around," he rumbles and lies on his back. He helps her situate herself so that her belly-quite prominent after nine months-is supported by his torso and her head is resting on his chest. She throws a leg over his thigh and snuggles into him, breathing in his comforting scent.
"There. Is this not better than sleeping on separate sides of the bed?"
"Mmmhmm," she mumbles, placing a few kisses on his chest. "You're better than that full-body pillow."
Thorin smiles and resumes massaging her back. "Thank you."
He's pulled from the reminiscence by Talaitha's voice.
"Poor Vidar didn't have enough room to turn."
Thorin's stomach flips unpleasantly, as he recalls that night...
Talaitha is draped over his shoulders, kneeling, as a powerful contraction sweeps through her abdomen. She tightens her arms around his neck and whimpers against his cheek. Thorin knows the pain is far worse than she lets on, and he is once again amazed by her strength. Pressing kisses to her clammy forehead, he rubs her back, while Dís strokes her hair and Óin observes the progression of her labor.
"Soon, Talaitha," says the healer. "Very soon."
She buries her face in Thorin's neck, which quickly grows hot from her panted breaths.
"I need to push now," she groans.
"Just a little longer," Óin replies calmly. Thorin envies him, for he is only barely maintaining his composure. "You know you could tear if you push too early."
Talaitha doesn't respond, but Thorin feels her jaw clench against his cheek, as she works through the urge.
"You can do this, Talaitha," he soothes. "Just a little bit longer, and we can hold our boys."
"It hurts, Thorin," she whispers, so that only he can hear.
He massages her lower back and kisses her forehead again. "I know, my ûrzud. I would take away the pain, if I could."
Another contraction surges through her, and Óin finally allows her to push. She hunches her back and presses her forehead into his shoulder for fifteen seconds, before slumping against him. The process is repeated four more times, and then the first baby is sliding out, Talaitha's yell of pain muffled by Thorin's neck. Shrill cries fill the room, and both Thorin and Talaitha breathe a sigh of relief.
Once the umbilical cord is cut, Talaitha lies back against Thorin and cradles their first son, Einar, to her breast. She is able to nurse him for a few minutes, while Óin palpates her stomach, but when she sees the healer's grave expression, Talaitha's heart sinks.
"What is it?"
"The second baby is breech," Óin says. "I need to turn him, or else..."
Thorin looks from Óin to Talaitha, a sense of foreboding seeping into his bones.
"Or else what?" he demands.
He looks down at Talaitha's face, which is pale with fear.
"Or else the baby may not be able to breathe."
"Then for Aulë's sake, turn him!"
Dís places a hand on Thorin's arm, before taking Einar from Talaitha. He calms somewhat, if only for the szelemér's sake. He allows Óin to position Talaitha flat onto her back, as the healer gently manipulates the baby by pushing on her abdomen. Thorin holds her hand, expecting the procedure to be painful, but Talaitha bears it with only the occasional grimace.
Until her contractions begin anew.
"Nearly there," he says, giving one final tug on her belly. "Do you want to kneel again?"
Talaitha nods, and Thorin quickly helps her leans against him, before she's pushing Vidar, the second twin, out. He is born more quickly than Einar was and also cries more loudly. Óin wipes him down and hands him to Talaitha, who looks down at him with tears in her eyes.
"I bet you are going to be the more troublesome of the two," she says fondly.
Thorin chuckles and takes Einar from Dís, kissing his forehead. "He already is."
He smiles at the memory, just as Vidar begins to cry in Kíli's arms. The archer looks startled and quickly gives him to Talaitha, who holds him to her chest and hums softly. Thorin glances around the room and sees that Ara is sitting in Legolas' lap, holding Einar. He moves closer, in case Einar, too, decides to fuss, though if he's honest, he's also less than keen about his children being alone with the elves.
As he nears the table, Thranduil inclines his head and offers him a goblet of wine. Thorin accepts it.
"To our children," says the elvenking solemnly.
"Aye, to our children." Thorin touches his cup to Thranduil's and takes a long drink. "Though I expected your son to come, I am surprised to see you here."
The elf glances at Einar, then at Vidar, who is now asleep in Talaitha's arms.
"It is not every century that a dwarf sires twins."
Ara smiles brightly at Thorin. "Hi, Daddy."
"Hello, my little princess. Are you alright with your brother?"
She kisses Einar's cheek and nods. "He's been quiet. I think Momma already fed him."
Thorin hides a smirk. Yes, Talaitha had already fed both boys before joining the feast. He sits beside Thranduil and takes another sip of his wine.
"Thrandy, do elves ever have twins?"
The dwarf chokes on the tart liquid, coughing violently.
"Daddy?" Ara questions, as her eyes cloud with worry.
He waves away her concern and tries to catch his breath.
Thranduil's lips twitch for an instant, before he regards Ara with an arched brow.
"Twins are more common among elves than among dwarves and szelemér, but not as common as among men," he explains. "Lord Elrond of Imladris has twin sons, Elrohir and Elladan. I believe you have met them?"
Thorin gapes at Thranduil, shocked at the elf's acquiescence of the nickname. Only Legolas seems to notice his reaction, and he stifles a laugh.
"Yes, but I didn't know Elrohir and Elladan were twins!" Ara exclaims.
"They are," Thranduil affirms. "Though they are not identical."
Ara peers down at Einar, who yawns and stretches his arms above his head.
"Are Einar and Vidar?"
By now, Thorin has regained enough of his composure to answer.
"Einar's eyes are darker, so no, they are not."
"His eyes may change color," Thranduil adds. "They may become green like his mother's."
Thorin nods. He and Talaitha had suspected as much. He looks down at Einar, now asleep. Catching Talaitha's gaze, he takes Einar from Ara, with a kiss to her forehead.
"The boys need to be put in their cribs," he says. "Do you want to come?"
The girl shakes her head. "I want to see if Gimli can beat Dwalin in a drinking contest."
The dwarf chuckles. "Very well. I will come get you when it is bedtime." Ara hops off Legolas' lap to hug her father. Thorin wraps an arm around her shoulders and bends down to kiss her hair. "Be good."
"I'm always good," Ara pouts.
"You are," Thorin placates, with a smile. "My precious princess."