What time is it? Where is the sun? Her hands were full of dirt. Her mouth felt full of it too, a grimy, metallic taste. She thought she had forgotten to feed the dog. No, that was yesterday. What day was it today?
The familiar hammer was leaning uncomfortably on the back of her knees. She was face-forward on the ground. When her head stopped spinning enough for her to see the piles of rocks littered around, she remembered where she was – the mines. It must have only been fifteen minutes or so of happily smashing rock after rock before her steps had betrayed her, and now every bone felt broken and her head was splitting as if she had an argument with a speeding truck full of logs.
Much more vividly than that realization, came a tingle in her stomach. She was frantic to dig herself out of the rubble enough to press her fingers to it. Only the fear-pumping adrenaline kept her from fainting again. Under her shaking hands, came the answer so small and so feathery that she held her breath to find it. She held back relief so great that she wanted to vomit, instead, she dragged herself up from her earthly tomb with tears springing to her eyes and her breath returned in uneven gasps as she sobbed wholeheartedly.
She had to get out of here. She had to get home. There was no one else she could rely on to rescue her, however many floors down she had fallen.
He might. No, he definitely would. Guns blazing.
But the thought was lost in urgency and hysteria. She left the tools she had trusted for more than five years of her life, and dug her nails through the dirt towards her home.
I was getting quite good at our routine. Early rise, breakfast gulped down whether there was appetite or not, hurried kiss that tasted of said breakfast, before she parted with a grin and was not to be seen again until the next meal.
My cooking repertoire grew. Every day I would make something different. I wasn’t about to let her cook, I had learnt that lesson prematurely. It was more the charm of her lovingly prepared pumpkin soup than the taste. If I were to be honest, it was usually bland and a little too watery. But the way her eyes marked me the moment she entered my room in those early days both intrigued and unsettled me. I was anything but oblivious.
Thinking back, I’m a little embarrassed to fill the role of house-husband so well. She didn’t demand it of me, I was just happy to share in some part of her life, however small. She smiled when she woke, she would seek my arms when she needed to cry, and she would kiss me heatedly after we argued. We were both fiercely independent. In our first week of marriage when I had returned to work with a slightly amended schedule, I was incensed when she asked me about it. I couldn’t stand to have her support the two of us on her own, no matter how well she was making a name for herself. I wanted to take care of her.
So when I returned from my mother’s shop that day to the door squeaking on its hinges, dirty tracks across our well-polished floor, and Emilia curled up in our bed, angelic except for the fact that she looked utterly broken and as if something had dragged her back from the grave and flung her there unceremoniously, my heart was in my throat and curses burst from my mouth.
There wasn’t much a simple man like me could do. There was no doctor to be called, and I didn’t have any sort of medical knowledge. So I did what I could, she was like a lamb as I held her gently in the crook of my arm and undressed her. I had filled the bath with warm water to wash her and she woke once it touched her skin. Her eyes were suddenly wild and she clung to my shirt until she finally heard my repeated whispers in her hair that she was safe. Safe.
Her first words were so fractured and shrill that I couldn’t make them out. I soothed her with a sponge, gentle against the bruises and scrapes that decorated her back. Her grip went slack and she relaxed against my arm that was still wrapped around her.
She breathed my name with relief.
“You are the most ridiculous woman I have ever met.” She didn’t respond, instead, steady rivulets of tears cut through the dust on her cheeks.
“Why are you this way? Why do I let you do this again and again? I need to put a damn leash on you. I hate your stubbornness. I hate your thick skin. I hate your reckless ways. I hate…” My grip on her shoulders must have hurt after what she had been through but I found I didn’t care. I forced her to look at me as she was limp with her own weeping. My own voice had begun to crack, but I gritted my teeth. I wanted to remain angry with her.
“The… the baby.”
My world has never trembled so precariously on one word.
She was awake the next morning like clockwork. Her routine was so ingrained in her every fibre that even the absence of sunshine would not keep her asleep. They were tangled together in the bed, sheets and clothing and hair in complete disarray. Her head still felt like she’d split it open on a rock but that wasn't far from the truth, and it was an improvement from the truck.
She edged carefully to look at his peaceful sleeping face but she wasn't granted long to admire him before startling amethyst was on her, calculating every inch. She pulled him close, if only to stop his eyes from tearing her apart.
"Sebastian." She soaked his name in every apology she had ever meant. Her fingers scraped against his scalp as she threaded them deep in his mane. Her lips were pressed where his jaw met his ear. It was slightly prickly and wonderfully warm. She could feel his pulse. He heaved a sigh through his nose that tickled against her collarbone, and said nothing. That's how things were with them; there was wordless understanding.
He pushed away to kiss her face, her eyes, her shoulder, and finally moved beneath the covers, kissed her stomach – where a third heartbeat was still strong. It may be only a moth-like flutter there, but she knew. It was mother's intuition already taking hold. His face appeared above her once more, looking stern, and she remembered that she was now hammer-less. She pouted, but his sharp gaze told her he was not in the mood for humor just yet. His thumb rubbed across a cut on her cheek and she winced.
He hardly had to fight with the bedclothes before he was out and moved to the kitchen, his voice firm and unquestionable, "Stay in bed." His hair had chosen today to stick up in a gravity-defying tuft and she couldn't stop the giggle in time. His glare pierced her hard, although he didn't know the source of her amusement, and the movement to stare her down only made his hair bounce again. This time, she knew to cover her smile. He seemed satisfied that she was silent.
"I'm cooking and you're not going anywhere today."