"Hey there," Jon whispered as he slipped into the quiet bedroom. Alanna turned sleepily towards the opened door and gave him a faint smile. He dragged a chair over to the bed, bending to gently kiss her forehead before taking a seat.
Her face was pale, and there were deep purple bags under her eyes. She didn't even try to sit up; instead she lay uncharacteristically still, curled on her side under the blankets. Jon reached out to touch her cheek, his blue eyes thoughtfully appraising her. He had never before seen her looking so tired and worn.
"George wanted to check on Thom, and bring him back here. Apparently he's been zooming around Myles and Eleni's house chanting 'big brother' over and over again since he heard the news, " Jon explained quietly, withdrawing his hand.
Alanna's smile strengthened, and she gave a soft laugh. "He's been pretty excited, so I'm not surprised. Poor Myles and Eleni though."
"What else are grandparents for?" Jon chuckled. "Well anyway, George has gone back into the city to get Thom and he asked me to sit with you until he returns." He smirked, and gave her a sideways glace. "I have strict orders to watch over you, and under no circumstances am I to allow you to get out of bed." He waited, expecting an eye roll, or an exasperated tirade on George's over-protective nature.
It was a mark of how exhausted Alanna was that she merely nodded gratefully. Jon considered the drained expression on George's face when they spoke about Thom, and he wondered how she was really doing. A lot of time seemed to have passed since very early yesterday, when a servant informed him the Lioness had gone into labor and would be missing the council meeting (Gary: "Do you think she induced labor early just to avoid another three hour meeting about rising grain prices? I'm not saying I would do it, if I were her, but I'm not saying I wouldn't either,"), to the moment late this morning a very weary George had dropped heavily into a chair in Jon's private study, rubbing his face and groaning, "They're here, and everyone is alive and well. Gods I could use a drink". A long labor was, at the very least, exhausting and onerous; and at worst it might be terrifying and deadly. Looking down at Alanna's half-closed eyes and wan face Jon began to wish he had pumped George for details while the man's guard was down. He knew if he asked Alanna he would never get an answer beyond "Fine," but Jon wanted to find out how his Lioness truly fared.
A squawk from one of the bassinets standing at the far side of the bed shook Jon out of his worry, and reminded him of the reason he was there.
"Can I see them?" he whispered, genuinely eager.
Alanna had perked up at the sound of her baby's cry, and she nodded at him, "Please."
Jon crept over to the bassinets, and peered in.
They were tiny, much smaller than any of his children had been. The two of them slept quietly, with little scrunched faces and tightly closed eyes. To his eye they appeared to be completely identical, from their delicate little noses to their petite rosebud mouths. One of them had pulled a hand free from his or her swaddling, and Jon noticed a there was a green string tied loosely around the baby's thin wrist. He reached in to scoop up the baby with the bracelet, carefully tucking the child in his arm. The infant was so light and insubstantial, hardly there at all. His baby's twin stirred slightly, then settled back into sleep.
"Can you even tell them apart?" Jon asked in a hushed voice. He stroked the baby's downy head, marveling at its softness.
"Well, one's a boy and one's a girl," Alanna whispered back, wryly.
Jon rolled his eyes, though he was glad she was feeling well enough to poke fun of him. "I meant without removing the blankets."
She grinned happily. "The one with the green bracelet is the girl. Alianne."
Jon felt a rush of gratitude, tainted with a sharp stab of pain, just as he had the first time Alanna had told him they wanted to name their daughter for his late mother. He had long ago given up the hope that he would ever be able to think about Lianne without the accompanying sorrow.
"Well hello there, Alianne. Such a big name for such a little girl," he said, smiling warmly down at the infant girl in his arms.
Alanna's eyelids drooped sleepily, and she sighed. "We were thinking of calling her Aly, for short."
Jon nodded, gently swaying with Aly. She wriggled, making faint mewling noises. He thought of Thayet, seven months pregnant with their fourth child. Why don't we have more of these? he wondered, holding Aly's soft, warm body to his chest. He felt the tension slide out of his body as he breathed in her sweet, milky baby scent and stroked her delicate silky skin.
Jon's reverie was broken by a piercing wail. Alan seemed to sense he was missing out on his due admiration, and began to complain, loudly. Upon hearing her brother's cries Aly awoke fully, and started to screech as well. Ah yes, that's why.
Alanna sighed, and gingerly hauled herself up into a sitting position. "I'll take her if you'll grab him," she said. Jon carefully set Aly in her outstretched arms, and turned to gather up Alan. The boy howled, his face turning red in his fury.
"You take after your mama," Jon said as he picked the squalling infant up, raising his voice above the din to ensure Alanna heard him. She made a rude gesture at him around Aly, and Jon laughed.
Alan's cries increased pitch, and so did Aly's. Jon bounced gently Alan while Alanna tried to soothe her daughter.
"The problem is that they set each other off," Alanna called to him. "So far it's been difficult to tell who's hungry and who's just upset because their twin is hungry."
"Mithros," Jon swore, rubbing Alan's back in slow circles as he shifted the infant to his shoulder, "That's awful."
"But wait, watch this. Set him down on the bed."
Jon did as Alanna asked, settling Alan gently next to her. The boy continued his protest, kicking at the air indignantly. Alanna leaned down and tucked Aly in at Alan's side, so the two were pressed against each other. They both quieted at the same time, their sobs petering out into soft whimpers.
"They make each other cry, and they like being squished together," Alanna said, "They've been in the world about three hours now, and those two things are all I've figured out about them." She reached out to adjust their swaddling, making sure they were both properly guarded from getting cold. Her face contained the mixture of pride, love, and utter terror that Jon had seen on his wife's after she gave birth. It was probably the face he had worn as well.
Jon smiled reassuringly. "That's a lot for three hours time. I still don't think I know how to make Kally stop crying, and she's four." Alanna snorted, and Jon could tell that she knew exactly what he meant. From a young age Kally was a force to be reckoned with. Part Thayet, part him, and yet utterly her own person. Roald was quiet and undemanding, an easy child to please. Kally was much more complex, and meeting her needs kept her father constantly on his toes.
Jon sat back down in his chair, watching the twins, their intertwined limbs ceasing to flail as they both drifted back to sleep.
"I can't believe they find that comfortable," Jon murmured absently.
Alanna shrugged. "Well, that's basically the position they've lived their entire lives in, up until today. I imagine they must find the familiarity soothing."
For a moment there was silence as they both watched the sleeping babes. Alanna gently traced a finger along Alan's nose, her face pensive.
"Thom and I used to sleep like this," she said suddenly. "He was frightened of the dark and I was frightened of the cold, so we would insist that Coram tuck us in together." She smiled, her eyes far away. "We used to pretend that we had the same dreams, that we met up in dream world and played together. Thom would make up things that we did, and I would corroborate his story, adding in my own details." Alanna chuckled, and Aly squirmed at the noise. She waited until the girl had quieted again, then continued in a whisper, "Coram would play along too, he would threaten to come find us in dreamland and spank us whenever our adventures got too outrageous."
Jon laughed, but inside he felt the sting of loss resurface. He wondered if Alanna too found joyful occasions marred by the absence of people who ought to be there. Jon had cried when Roald was born, he cried out of happiness, and relief, and love. But he also cried because his mother was supposed to be there. He was supposed to be able to turn to her and say, "This is your grandson," and watch her eyes light up. As the bitter tears rolled down his cheeks he had looked into Thayet's equally wet eyes, and he had known that she understood exactly what he was thinking. Did Alanna also think about what should have been? Did she imagine Thom holding her babies? Thom would have made some joke, Jon decided, the sides of his mouth twisting into that sideways smirk as he said something sarcastic, just to nettle Alanna. Jon could just picture the two of them, jibing each other with that easy bickering rhythm they had. He could imagine it as easily as he could his mother holding Kally in her arms for the first time, tears of joy sparkling in her eyes.
Jon swallowed hard around the sudden lump in his throat. He glanced at Alanna to see if she noticed, but she was lost in her own thoughts.
"Perhaps-" Jon's voice came out too tight, and he coughed to clear it. "Perhaps they're playing together in dream world right now, going on outrageous adventures of their own."
Alanna's smile was small and sad, and she didn't respond. That was alright; she didn't have to. Jon reached out to squeeze her hand, and she returned his grip fiercely. They sat in silence, watching the twins slumber on, each imaging what should have been.