How Do I Put This Without Being Stabbed?

Lady Pauline was eying her husband with a certain degree of amusement. "Stop pacing, dear."

Since scowling at his wife was out of the question, Halt resorted to scowling at the floor. "What's taking so long?"

"Cranmore had to splint someone's arm, Halt." Pauline's voice was very dry. "I think that takes precedent over little old me."

"I say it doesn't," Halt stated, his voice just this side of being a snarl. Pauline propped her chin on her hand and smiled at him.

"That was exactly the right thing to say."

Halt turned to kiss her chastely on the cheek, mindful of who he was and where he was. They were in a little room off the main infirmary – Cranmore, the healer, was an old crony of Halt's who was well aware of the ranger's quirks, or, as he put it, 'ridiculous paranoia' – and the tiny space was making Halt edgy.

Or maybe it was just the fact that there was indisputably something wrong with his wife that was bothering him. Either way, he was in the mood to pick a fight with a bear.

The door swung open and Cranmore bustled in, wiping his hands. "So sorry, Lady Pauline. These idiot battleschool children seem to think that shields are for old people."

"Maybe because every old warrior they see invariably uses one," Pauline suggested, smiling up at him, ignoring Halt's mutter of, "It's about bloody time."

"Quite, quite. What seems to be the problem, anyhow?"

"Well, I've been feeling quite ill lately. Sick in the stomach, and I think I have a temperature."

"Let's have a look." Cranmore tested Pauline's forehead, her cheeks, and the base of her neck and throat. "Hmm… slight fever, nothing too serious. Ill, you say?"

"Yes." Pauline prepared to begin detailing her symptoms, noticing that Halt had stopped pacing and was listening with a stricken look on his face. Before she could begin, Cranmore spun around and pointed at Halt.

"What are you still doing here? Out!"

Halt's look had been known to stop rampaging Skandians in their tracks. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me! The lady is a patient, and all patients receive privacy. Wait outside."

Halt opened his mouth to argue further, but Pauline tilted her head to the side and raised a single eyebrow. The look was more powerful than any words. Halt huffed a sigh, and left the room.

Outside the door, he began pacing again, glad his hood concealed his dark features. Pauline had always been the very picture of health; the fact that there could be something wrong with her sent chills down his spine.

Overprotective? Perhaps. But Halt had seen too many things go wrong in his own life to let something like this sail past without comment. The fact was, he loved Pauline more than he loved anything. and he was prepared to admit that he was perhaps a little paranoid about her well-being.

Still, as he had told his apprentices, just because you were paranoid didn't mean there wasn't a Genovesan crossbow pointed at your neck from the window across the street.

The examination seemed to stretch forever. Halt considered on more than one occasion simply kicking the door down. He had already tried the latch, intending to sneak back into the room, but Cranmore, well versed in the ways of artful rangers, had locked the door. Halt was reduced to standing outside sulking.

Finally, the lock receded and the door opened. Cranmore stood there, beaming. The bright smile didn't even fade when Halt elbowed his way inside, looking for his wife.

She was sitting in the chair she had been in before, and she was looking very pale.

"What's the verdict?" Halt asked quickly, taking her hand. She looked up at him and smiled a tiny, shaky smile. "Are you… are you sick?"

"I'm not sick." Her voice was very quiet.

"But why have you been feeling sick?" he insisted.

"Do you want to tell him or should I?" Cranmore asked, bouncing up and down.

"Tell me, Pauline."

Pauline realised how distressed Halt was becoming, and decided to break it to him. "I'm… I'm pregnant."

"You're what?" Halt asked blankly.

"Pregnant, Halt."

"Who is?"

"I am," Pauline said, very clearly. "I – am – carrying – a – child."

"You can't be, you're not holding one," Halt said irrationally.

Wisely, Cranmore steered Halt to a chair. Halt didn't so much as sit down as he did fall down. "Bu… but… you…I…" He took a deep breath, realising he was babbling. "This isn't right, you can't be pregnant! You're too–" He slammed to a stop, realising what he was about to say. Just in time, too: Pauline's expression had been steadily growing more dangerous.

"I'm what, exactly?"

Halt stared at her, and realised what she was telling him. "You are," he said, in a voice shaking with sincerity, "The most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me." With a single bound, he was out of his chair, pulling Pauline to her feet, and kissing her passionately.

Cranmore coughed, and the two separated. Pauline's cheeks were slightly flushed, and Halt still had a slightly manic look in his eye. "It's true, what you were about to say," he added apologetically. "Lady Pauline is slightly past the age most women have children."

"That's not what I was about to say," Halt told her hurriedly. Luckily, Pauline was too kind to ask him what he had been about to say: Halt honestly did not know what he would answer her with if she had.

"These things do happen," Cranmore continued. "You're perhaps three months along. The extra strain on your body is why you have the fever, but that should go away in a few days. There are a few other risks: you need to be very careful what you do."

As he continued listing instructions, Halt felt his mind wandering slightly. Pauline was pregnant. She was having a child. She was having his child. He was going to be a father!

Oh gods. He was going to be a father.

Interrupting Cranmore mid flow, he turned to Pauline and spluttered wildly, "You're pregnant?"