"Thomas, do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Not anymore. My sisters died in childbirth, my brothers in sickbeds or in war." Thomas looked at Jennet over the rim of his mug, his voice distant and his eyes focused a million miles away. "My parents had two daughters and a son before me and another three sons after."
"I'm sorry. Will you tell me about them -- your brothers and sisters?"
"I'll tell you tales all day if you wish, but what's this about? You've a glint in your eye that betrays meaning beyond what you're telling."
Jennet pursed her lips. "Tell me about your family, Thomas Mendip, and I'll tell you why I'm asking."
"My family is ancient history. Myths to make cautionary tales of for small children. 'Don't go off to war, boy-children. Don't marry an angry man, girl children. Don't marry a kind man, either, for that matter, if he wants seven children from you.' Now you tell me what it is you're poking about for and perhaps I'll tell you their tales someday as bedtime stories."
There was no bending Thomas once his attention was fixed on getting something, unless by giving him something entirely different, and Jennet had nothing like that to to hand at the moment. She sighed.
"Thomas, you once said your mother and father were accessories to your crime of human nature, but that you--you would never perpetrate a new accessory to such a crime yourself." Her lover's gaze sharpened as he understood what she was asking.
"You said another fifty years of you." Thomas frowned, his expression shuttering. "Only of you."
"I remember what I said, and I stand by it. I'll have fifty years of you and no more, if that's what you want." Jennet said, and her hand dropped to cup her stomach. "But in the plainest of terms: I'm late. There may be-- steps I need to take, if you're still unwilling to leave a legacy of Thomas Mendip to live on in this world after you."
She watched a myriad of expressions cross his face before he settled on a sort of tentative resolution. "What do you want?"
"Before he died, I was too much my father's daughter for thoughts of my own children. The idea passes through every girl's mind, I suppose, but it never lingered more than a fleeting moment in mine. There might be a day when I decide I do want children, but today, right now, I feel no such calling."
"I see." A certain tightness in Thomas’ shoulders eased. "Then-- steps, you said? And you know them? They are safe?"
"As safe as one can count on any medicine to be safe." Jennet smiled, a little. "Be at ease, Thomas. Women have been taking such matters into their own hands since time immemorial. We've more or less learned the knack of it."
"I need to run an errand this afternoon," Jennet said, a frown creasing her face as she sliced bread and cheese for them both.
"Did I forget something?" Thomas asked, after he'd chewed the heel of the bread loaf.
"No, this is for my own needs." Jennet looked up at him with a crooked, rueful smile. "I'm late again."
Thomas coughed and ducked his head, an answering grin on his own face. Jennet had been half-expecting it and Thomas didn't look surprised either; life had been easy for a little while and the two of them had been in the very throes of wedded bliss.
"I seem to remember my sisters explaining that such things often worked themselves out naturally, without outside stimulus. Is that correct?" Thomas looked at her and Jennet nodded, a little unsure. "Then perhaps we should let nature take its course. What do you think?"
"What if it-- doesn't? Work itself out, I mean." Jennet glanced down as if she could see some change in herself already.
"Then nature has made a statement of her intent, I should think." Thomas looked serious.
"Are you sure?"
"For once in my life, I find myself in abnormal tolerance of nature's intentions." Thomas quirked his eyebrows up, his expression earnest as he looked at her. "Are you opposed to the notion?"
Jennet shrugged. "No, nor am I strongly in favor."
"Then let nature do as she sees fit." Thomas clasped her hands in his and kissed her knuckles.
"Thomas," Jennet's voice was quiet in the early hours of the morning, faint sunlight just starting to lift the blanket of night and with it, she hoped, a little of the winter's chill. "Thomas, are you awake?"
"A question which would be answered in the positive or not at all." Thomas grumbled, jaw cracking with a yawn. "What is it?"
In answer, Jennet took his hand and twined their fingers together, bringing them down to where she was starting to show, just a little.
"I felt it move," she said, her voice barely audible. Thomas pressed his hand against her and she felt his breath warm on the back of her neck.
"I can't feel anything--"
"Give it a moment!" Jennet gave his arm a light smack, laughter sending a plume of fog into the cold bedroom air. They both settled and Jennet could feel Thomas' intense attention focused on where his hand rested against her belly.
Silence fell around them in the room like a blanket; outside, a bird let out a sleepy chuckle of song. Jennet felt another flutter within her and Thomas stiffened in response.
"You're sure it's not just your stomach?" Thomas smiled against her neck, but there was a quaver in his voice that gave him away.
"This offspring seems determined to stick around. I suppose it's related to me, after all." Jennet shifted back, tucking herself in against Thomas. His voice was soft in her ear, a hint of a quaver giving him away.
"I'm glad it hasn't inherited my disdain for the world quite yet."
During labor, Jennet cast her mind back to the day she'd met Thomas. Perhaps she had never escaped, her fevered mind thought, and everything since had been the dementia of a broken spirit; now, here, in this overwhelming sea of heat and pain, she was finally awakening to find the flames licking her up.
But a small cry sounded, and the pain began to subside, and in what must have been more than the blink of an eye it seemed, a small bundle was placed into her arms.
A girl, the midwife told her with a regretful cluck, and Jennet could only bubble over with laughter and tears. "Let Thomas in. He must meet her."
When he looked down at her, a soft expression settled on Thomas' face.
"I really did think my line would end with me," he said, his voice uncertain, but his hands cradled their daughter like the most fragile of glasswork. In her exhaustion, Jennet couldn't pick apart all the threads of his voice, but his eyes shone when he looked back up at her.
"I want to name her Rose." Jennet said, and Thomas smiled.