(Gift fic for community promotion)
It was three in the morning, his turn because Hannah would need to be up in only a few hours to start preparations for breakfast at the Leaky, but Neville didn't mind. He had at first, certainly, but after a few weeks where he had been certain they would all go staring mad with sleep deprivation, the twins had settled into a survivable rhythm, waking only once or twice in the night for feedings, and his own body had adjusted accordingly to the point where more often than not, he woke up a few minutes before they did, catching the first disgruntled whimpers before they properly started wailing.
The art of getting out of bed without waking his wife was one he was not quite so good at yet. There was a deeply displeased harrumph from the opposite side of the bed at the cold draft admitted by the pulled back coverlet in conjunction with the absence of what she only half-teasingly called her "legally committed hot-water bottle." Green eyes blinked open blearily, and he could see her nose wrinkle in the moonlight that slipped between the curtains. "Mmm?"
"I've got it, love." He leaned down, kissing the side of her cheek and tucking the blankets back in. "I'll be back in a bit."
"Kay. Bottles inna thing." Hannah sighed, burrowing down into the pillows, asleep again almost at once, a few tendrils of hair that had escaped her ponytail waving softly over her cheek to flutter as she breathed. A part of him wanted to stay, just to watch her, maybe even to wake her with another kiss and the possibility of starting something more, but he pushed it aside. She needed her sleep, the babies would start fussing any moment now, oh so thankfully, beautifully, wonderfully she would still be there when he came back.
Neville contended himself with the faintest pass of his hand over the curve of her back, not even pressure enough to dent the softly quilted fabric, closing his eyes to feel not just the warmth of her, but the faint sense of her magic, living and vital. Can you ever understand what you mean to me?
A small, warning bleat snapped his eyes open, and he shook his head quickly as he remembered the mission that had gotten him out of bed to begin with. By the time he got to the nursery, they were both very much awake and well on their way to grumpy, and he flicked his wand at the nightlight, bringing it up a bit brighter. "Your empty bellies have been dully noted by management," he assured them quietly, "and room service is on the way."
Not having Hannah's far more efficient feeding system, it was a bit of an operation getting Peggy and Trevor properly set up, but Neville had plenty of practice, and it all came together quickly enough. It would have helped he thought, to hire an octopus for such moments, but then pillows and chair and blankets and bottles and babies were all where they should be, and the brief flurry of panic when the clock ran out on his grace period against the crying was settled again into industrious, contented suckling.
Peggy had both hands wrapped tightly on the bottle as if never quite believing that the presence of her sibling wouldn't mean that the milk was going anywhere, but one of Trevor's hands had wandered, latching onto his father's finger almost absently, and when he looked down, the still baby-blue eyes met his and it was as if all the air in the world had taken holiday at once. The boy's gaze wasn't just pointed vaguely upward, he was seeing Neville, and the weight of the single, utterly innocent look was heavier than the eyes of all the DA had ever been.
How could something that felt so incredibly right at the same time seem so utterly impossible? Trevor knew him only as Daddy, if even that yet. He was bringer of bottles, soother of gassy tum, giver of baths, off-key hummer of lullabies, changer of stinky nappies. There was no thought that the hand he held so naively told such a different story.
He didn't recognize the deep, puncturing scars that ran all the way through the palms, the thousand little nicks and scratches of the gardener, the burn-scarred knuckles from second May or the stranger calluses of bow and broadsword still as real as Seamus' scar. The smooth, simple gold ring meant nothing, nor how long it had been worn against all hope. He hadn't the vaguest notion of the gnarled lattice that sometimes made Neville wince if he lifted them wrong and lay just under the cloth when he burped them on his shoulders. It never kept him awake and staring at the ceiling as it did his father how many times he had come how unthinkably close to never existing at all.
It wasn't the first time he had considered it, but he let the morbid curiosity skulk through his thoughts again as he watched his son's interest drift to the bubbles rising in the bottle from his eager feeding. Had she known, or had it been just his own ironically naïve luck? If she'd let me see this, if she'd let me see your perfect little faces, I could never have passed. I could never let this go.
Yet it was to give them a world worth growing up in that they had almost never been born to it, and hadn't every parent in this moment made this promise to protect and shield forever, and hadn't he seen those promises broken so many times already. Hadn't he taken that promise away from them often enough himself. So many parents he had lead to bodies with words of valour and empty platitudes that he now wished he could go back and rip from the mouth of the stupid boy he'd had no idea he'd still been.
He'd thought he'd understood their losses, called the DA his kids, promised that he'd loved them, and he had, but it was a candle against the sun, a drop against the ocean, a cliché against the ineluctable. What had he done to them in his ignorance, and was there any truth to karma that would claim that some day too close to now his babies would be youths, long-limbed and bright-eyed and fool-headed drunk on their own false invincibility and some other boy with delusions of purpose would steal them away without so much as a true goodbye?
Neville squeezed his eyes shut, taking a slow, deep breath to push down any outward tremor or sound that might distress the twins. His mind reeled back through the time of between, clawing at the longest nights of loneliness, the keenest bites of grief as if presenting them in offer to the shadows of the debt collectors. Haven't I paid enough for this? Please? He didn't know if he was praying or pleading or to whom, but it hardly mattered. Even losing them all. Even losing her. It wasn't the same, and he knew it now. He could never atone one, much less over fifty. Much less those he'd killed as enemy, and hadn't even they once been this to someone?
There's never no atonin' what's been lost.
There was an irony that did not escape him that the words to come to mind now were Duncan Macmillan's, a man he'd barely known before having the gall to come with the tears of a best friend to weigh against the news that he'd lost his only child. The cry, the sound Duncan had made then had been something from hell itself, something he'd heard too many times that morning and had taken almost a decade or more than a score of years to understand. The words had come later, when he'd been young enough to be surprised that the Macmillans were not just willing but determined to take Susan in despite all their prior objections to the marriage and pregnancy.
There's never no atonin' what's been lost, but damned if ye cannae fight t'earn another chance.
"I promise you, baby buds, I promise you're not just my second chance." Trevor had fallen completely back to sleep now, the nipple still slumped between his slack lips, a thin stream of milk and drool traced down one round cheek, but Peggy was still awake, if barely, and she turned her head lazily towards the sound of his voice. "I'm going to do everything I ever possibly can to be good to you, to protect you, to teach you right and wrong and how to get around in this bloody mental world, and I'm going to screw up sometimes, I know, because your Daddy, as your Mummy likes to remind him sometimes, can be a daft, stubborn arse."
The little girl seemed done now, the bottle almost empty, and Neville set her brother carefully down on the moulded pillow, turning her to his shoulder first to pat the little back. "Oh, yes," he whispered, "Daddy is going to make a right mess of a lot of things, he knows, but I can promise you, Peg-a-Peg, I will always, always love you. No matter what. I will love you, and I will try until the world ends for you and then I'll try again, because I'll tell you a secret; I've seen time turned around and hell undone and I've stood up to devils twice before I even had such a good reason to, so if anyone tries to hurt you, love, I reckon I'll have a good go. And that goes for your brother, too."
As if in answer, she responded to the steady patting with a surprisingly loud belch, but he didn't quite put her down yet. Trevor was still sleeping, and she was fast on the way to joining him, so soft and limp and trusting that it balanced in a place so close to perfection and agony that neither were entirely real. He could feel it there in the fisting of her hand on his shirt collar, in the downy fuzz of her hair against his neck, in the snuggled, utterly content bundle of her brother tucked on his lap; a power and a vulnerability both more than he'd ever imagined despite having literally knelt before Gods and seen fate unweave.
I will love you. I will earn you. For far, far too many reasons I can never atone. So long as there is breath in my body.