Legacy

BY : Rina76
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 1417
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII Advent Children or any of the characters from the film. I am not making money from the writing of this story.

A/N: Contains graphic childbirth descriptions. Because I know from experience what birth is REALLY like and I don't want to make it seem clean, nice and easy like it's shown in many fics, or in movies. Read at your own risk!

Chapter 41. Birth.

While I'm lying there on the towel at the edge of the lake, Yazoo attempts to coach me to push but I can't. Every time I'm contracting, searing pain grips my belly and back like a steel trap snapped shut on my middle, making me scream and thrash about, and I can't focus on pushing in the midst of such awful agony.

"She needs drugs!" Loz yells at Yazoo. "Give her drugs, Godsdammit!"

Yazoo spreads his hands helplessly. "She didn't want any!"

"You gotta give her something! She can't take much more of this. Please," Loz begs his brother with tears in his eyes. "She's just a little girl."

"I can't." Yazoo's face is pinched with worry. "She doesn't want anything injected into her body and I have to respect her wishes."

I'm unable to speak for myself – I'm panting too hard after the latest punishing contraction.

"I might be able to give her some pain relief," Kadaj interrupts. "Without any needles."

He and Yazoo exchange quiet words, and the middle Remnant nods, agreeing to whatever it is that Kadaj is planning.

"Cate, I want to try something to help you," Kadaj says softly, kneeling beside me. "I have some materia stored back at the lair. If you'll allow me, I want to try and use some of it to take away the pain you're feeling."

Staring up at his concerned brown eyes, I pant, "You can do that?"

"I think so. I may be human but I still remember how to use materia. I know how you feel about magic but it will be perfectly safe and won't affect the baby. Best case scenario - you'll be completely pain-free. Worst case scenario - it doesn't work. If it doesn't work, there won't be any harm done," he says convincingly. "At least let me give it a shot."

"Okay," I sigh tiredly, just wanting the pain to stop. "You can try it."

My future brother in law races back to the lair and returns as fast as he can, puffing with the speedy sprint. He's holding a small pouch and out of that, produces a ball of orange materia. Sounding a little out of breath, he explains, "This one is for resistance to pain. When I was a clone, I could absorb materia straight into my flesh and bones. Since you have our cells in your blood now, you should be able to absorb this materia like I did."

He puts the orange ball on my bare belly, holding it there with his hand to stop it rolling off. "Concentrate on the materia, Cate," he coaxes. "Will it into yourself. Accept it into your body; let its power help you where you need it the most."

Desperate for relief from this torture, I stare fixatedly at the swirling globe on my massive stomach, silently praying for it to work, to help me and make the pain go away. Suddenly, it sinks into my belly like a drop of water being absorbed by a sponge, and I gasp. I don't know if I did that or Kadaj did it but it's in my body now. With wide eyes, Kadaj pulls his hand back. Loz and Yazoo are staring down. We can all see the orange materia glowing under my skin like a ball of light. Warm tingling begins to spread out from the location of the materia, wrapping across my midsection, around my back and down my thighs. Soon, that warmth has enveloped my entire lower body and I can't feel that steel trap of agony anymore, not even when the next contraction comes. Unlike getting an epidural, I'm not numb from the waist down. My sensory nerve-cells are blocked to painful stimuli but I am aware of my stomach tensing up and my legs still work. I can still feel my feet and wiggle my toes but the pain is gone, just like magic.

"Did it work?" Kadaj asks.

"Yes!" Half-laughing and half-crying, I gush, "Oh, thank you! Thank you so much, Kadaj. I fucking love you!" Grabbing his face, I pull him down and plant a loud smacking kiss onto his lips.

"You're very welcome," he grins, the former leader pleased at finally being of some use in this situation. "I have more materia if that one wears off."

Also relieved that I'm not suffering any longer, Loz and Yazoo smile at each other but not for long. We still have a breech baby to deliver.

"Now that you have pain relief, your body will relax and you should be able to sense the baby dropping down into position," Yazoo surmises. "Do you want to stay here on the shore with us?"

"No." I shake my head, feeling too exposed out in the open air. "I wanna go back in the water."

"Okay, but take these." The middle Remnant hands Loz a waterproof torch and a small mirror so can we see in the dark lake but with Loz's brilliant eyesight, he probably won't need them. I might want to look down below, though, when the baby is emerging so he tucks them into his shorts pocket.

"I'll stay here with Kadaj," Yazoo says. "Loz can go with you. He and I will speak to each other in our minds. He'll tell me what he sees, and I'll tell him what to do to help you. This way, I can be of assistance without making you feel uncomfortable and you can still have your privacy. All right?"

I nod, grateful for his understanding. I mean, he's my midwife but he's also my brother and I don't want my brother looking up my vagina unless it's absolutely necessary and a matter of life or death. Thankfully, we haven't reached that dire situation yet.

Loz carries me back into the water. There's a large rock in the lake and I ask him to take me there. It's big enough for me to hide behind and so I slip off my bikini bottoms, confident that neither Kadaj or Yazoo can see me. Leaning forwards against the boulder, I kneel in the water and reposition myself with spread thighs the way I was back in the bedroom. Lying on my back would be the worst position for a breech baby. Being upright, gravity will be my helper and I'm giving my child the best chance to slide out freely. Also this way, Loz can kneel behind me and is able to see what is happening.

"Loz, if I accidentally poop in the lake, don't tell me," I say, peering at him over my shoulder. "Just pretend it didn't happen, okay?"

I went to the toilet back at the lair but accidents can happen and at this point, I don't care about modesty. I only care about the baby being born safe and sound.

"Sure thing, girly. Don't you worry about nothin' like that," Loz answers kindly. "Just think about seeing our baby's cute little face."

I smile at him, thankful for his understanding and encouragement, before turning back and facing the rock. My hands are against it and I use the hefty stone to keep my balance in the water. Just to make sure I don't slip, Loz keeps his hands on my hips, leaning forward to kiss my shoulder lovingly and supportively. Now that I don't have any pain to deal with, I can just concentrate on pushing. Actually, I don't even have to push. My body is doing it automatically, my belly-muscles tightening and clenching with every contraction.

I keep breathing slowly in through my nose and out through my mouth, silently encouraging my baby to keep moving their butt down past my pelvic bones. I don't get any visions or any kind of communication from the infant inside me but that's most likely because they are busy dealing with the strong muscular squeezes being given to them by my uterus. It's probably like being squeezed tightly by a coiled python, over and over again. Birth might be tough for women but it's also an ordeal for the baby being born, too.

Feeling something drop further into my pelvis, I reach down between my thighs to see what, if anything, is going on. Under my searching fingertips, I can make out the shape of a small bottom emerging.

"I feel it!" is my cry of exhilaration. "It's coming!"

"Don't strain, Cate," Loz advises me. "Yazoo says even if you want to, don't push now or you might tear yourself. Just keep breathing and let your body do the rest."

It's difficult not to strain as the urge is powerful but I try to do what Yazoo said and breathe shallowly through the clenching contraction rippling along my belly.

"It's too much…have to push," I grunt, going against Yazoo's instructions and bearing down, trying to get this baby out of my body. I can't stop myself. Even though it doesn't hurt, I can still feel a sensation of stretching between my legs as the baby starts to emerge into the world. I grab the mirror and torch off Loz so I can see what's happening in the lake water underneath me. Illuminated by torchlight, the rear end of the baby appears first in the angled mirror. The baby's body is turned sideways, so one hip is directly in front of the other, the best position for a breech birth like this. After the hips are through, a miniature pair of legs and feet materialize and flop forward one at a time into the water between my thighs, along with the baby's chest and back. Then the baby turns around so it's facing my spine and the shoulders start to appear.

Everything stops all of a sudden. The baby's head and arms are still inside me. I give a couple of extra pushes but nothing is budging. I know the baby is still alive because its legs are pulling up and kicking, as though trying to get free. Starting to panic, I turn to look at Loz. He's frowning as he silently relays what he sees to Yazoo.

"The baby's arms are stuck up over its head. Yazoo says I have to get them down first," Loz informs me softly and calmly. "Stay still and don't push, okay, Catey?"

With Yazoo's telepathic guidance, Loz gently twists the baby's body by the hips until the arms move into a different position and he can hook a finger inside me, catching one little arm and bringing it down past the baby's face. Twisting our child in the opposite direction, Loz hooks the second fragile arm and delivers it, so that now both of the baby's arms and shoulders are out. That just leaves the head. Though it will be born completely submerged in the lake, the infant instinctively knows not to breathe underwater when they come out. They won't take a breath until their face hits the open air.

With Loz's help, the back of the baby's head stretches through me first. Loz is delicately holding it in both hands, making sure no damage occurs to the skull or brain. When he guides it, the rest of the baby's head and face just slides free, the abrupt loss of pressure making me give a cry of relief.

Dropping the mirror and torch, I spin around, sitting on the sandy lake floor to relieve my weakened knees and thighs, the shallow water rising up to my waist. I lean back against the rock. Loz unwinds the umbilical cord from around the baby's body and raises his arms, lifting our child head-first above the surface of the lake so we can take our first proper look.

It's a girl.

She has no tentacles and no wings, just two arms and two legs, ten fingers and ten toes – just as she should. Loz passes her to me and I accept our baby daughter with shaking hands, laying her onto my chest. She's so small, much smaller than I thought she would be - like a doll - and wrinkled all over in the way newborns are. She's purple (not blue), which is normal, and covered in a layer of vernix (a thick, whitish substance produced to protect her skin in the womb) but under that I can see that she's got a fine cap of silvery hair. There is a smear of blood on her head and back, but it's nothing alarming. She draws in a tiny, shuddering breath, and then another one, gradually filling her unused lungs, before opening her eyes. They're green. Even in the moonlight I can see how clear and bright they are: a mix of aqua and turquoise, just like those of her father and her uncle.

"Hey, baby," I greet her hoarsely, my throat tight with emotion. "You were upside down but you finally got here."

She meets my eyes and then blinks, looking astonishingly calm in spite of everything that's happened and amazingly, she doesn't cry. She just lies there in my arms and breathes, little limbs stretching out and retracting tentatively in the sudden space outside my womb. The umbilical cord connecting us is dark green and twisted, like a thick telephone cable, one end in my daughter's tummy and the rest of it still disappearing inside me. It pulses in time with my heart beat.

Scooting next to me, Loz reaches over with a trembling hand to reverently stroke her head. She turns towards the touch, much as she did when she was in my belly.

"Well, what is it?" Kadaj's impatient voice rings out across the water, his head lifted, struggling to see for himself even though the boulder is in the way. "Somebody fill me in here, Godsdammit! I'm missing everything."

"It's a girl!" Yazoo exclaims after Loz telepathically tells him, his tone full of delight.

"Ha! Told you so," is Kadaj's jubilant response. "You owe me fifty Gil, Yaz."

As he looks at the child that he helped to deliver, Loz has tears streaming down his face. "Wow. Oh, wow. She's beautiful," he chokes out. "She's so, so beautiful."

"I know," I whisper. "She's gorgeous."

"Aw, Catey. Look what we made. Look at her!" Loz hugs me tight, kisses my cheek and hugs me again, elated with the discovery that he has a daughter.

"I know," I whisper again, awed that this tiny little being was created by us.

She makes a few small mewling noises but again, there's no crying. People think that a baby has to cry to prove that their lungs are healthy but she's breathing just fine, with no gurgling sounds or wheezing. I guess she's just not a crier. As well as air, she's still getting oxygen from the umbilical cord. Loz cups some water in his hands, washing the blood from her hair and off her skin, which has now turned a healthy pink instead of purple. She yawns and closes her eyes. Eventually, the umbilical cord connecting us deflates and turns white, which means the baby has received all of the oxygen-rich blood from it. Loz relays this information to Yazoo via their telepathy.

"Yazoo says we can cut the cord now. Is it all right if he comes over to help?"

I nod. I'm still wearing my bikini top and my lower half is under the water so Yazoo can't see anything except a dark blur. But now that the baby is out, I don't care that much anymore what he sees.

Wading through the lake, Yazoo comes over to us with scissors and cable ties sitting in a metal basin.

"Congratulations. She's perfect," he murmurs, his voice hushed by wonder. He hands the scissors to Loz. "As you're the father, it's your privilege to cut the cord."

He instructs Loz to put a plastic cable tie onto the cord first and clamp it, about two inches away from the baby's tummy.

Just before he does so, Loz glances worriedly at his daughter. "Is she gonna be able to feel this?"

"She won't feel a thing," Yazoo encourages. "Go ahead. Zip it up. Make it nice and tight."

Loz pulls the cable tie into a tight loop around the cord, breathing a sigh when the baby doesn't cry. Following Yazoo's instructions, he then zips a second cable tie a couple of inches away from the first, further along the cord. In the space between the two ties is where Loz will cut.

Hesitating with the scissors, my fiancé asks uncertainly, "Sure this won't hurt the baby? Or Cate?"

"Absolutely. Neither of them will be able to feel it. The cord has no sensation whatsoever. The little piece that's left on the baby's stomach will dry up and fall off in a week or two and then she'll have a little belly button."

"Will it be an innie or an outie?"

Yazoo smiles. "That I can't tell you. Go on, cut it. It's okay."

Carefully, Loz snips through the rubbery white rope that joins the baby to the placenta. A small amount of greenish fluid drips out from the cut, proving that the baby will have green blood, not red. After the cord is severed, Yazoo asks me to give a few cautious pushes.

"Why does she still have to push?" Loz queries with a confused frown. "Isn't this over already?"

"It's just the third stage of labour: where the placenta detaches from the womb," Yazoo explains. "You remember what the placenta is, Loz?"

"The thing that feeds the baby – the thing that the cord is attached to?"

"That's right. It'll probably be as big as the baby itself."

"Really?" Loz remarks as he sinks beside me in the water. "Can I see the placenta when it comes out, Cate?"

"Sure," I mutter absent-mindedly, starting to sense new pressure between my legs. "Here, I need you to take her."

I pass over the sleepy baby, Loz holding her tiny body to his broad chest, keeping our daughter's head securely above the water. Feeling the pressure increasing, I widen my thighs, putting my hands down there in preparation. I want to catch the placenta myself. Yazoo is holding the bowl ready for me so I can place it in there and we can inspect it.

"Try not to push too hard," he advises me.

I nod, making a basket with my fingers under the water. After everything I've gone through I'm beyond feeling squeamish so whatever comes out of my body now won't bother me, as long as it doesn't have tentacles. Since the baby looks perfectly normal - for a clone - I think we're safe.

I give a couple of small pushes to help the placenta detach. As it slithers out into my hands, it doesn't feel like what I imagined a placenta would feel like. It's firmer. More solid. Less squishy. And rather heavy. I lift the mass from the water to curiously check it out and to my utter shock I find myself gazing at a second baby.

A boy. A big healthy boy.

I look mutely to Loz and his face is a perfect mirror of mine – all white shocked astonishment. Even Yazoo is stunned.

We all stare stupidly at the newest baby. He is dripping wet with his eyes open wide, looking just as surprised as us that he's here. He must have come out head-first because I'm holding him the right way up.

"Aw, shit…" Loz mumbles, swaying unsteadily beside me, like he's going to faint and topple sideways into the water.

"Don't you pass out on me," I urge him in anxiety, wishing I had an arm free so I could elbow him in the ribs. I settle for kicking him in the shin.

"No, I'm good. I'm good." He swallows, still looking a little shaky but he manages to remain conscious and not drop our daughter. I put our son onto my chest, his umbilical cord still connecting us. He squirms against me like a slippery frog, not used to all the scary freedom.

"What's going on?" Kadaj calls out, confused and unable to see anything from where he's standing on the shore, the rock blocking his view. "Is there something wrong?"

"No, there's another baby! A boy," Yazoo calls back to his younger brother. "He must have been hiding behind the placenta all this time. That's why I never heard his heartbeat."

"Twins!" Kadaj exclaims, whooping in joy and punching his fist in the air. "Way to go, Loz, you stud! Must have been two holes in the condom, huh?"

Loz laughs, sobbing at the same time, overcome by the emotional events of this evening. The sleeping girl cradled in Loz's arms seems unaffected by all the commotion, but the boy lets out a scared whimper, screwing up his wrinkly face like he's going to howl. And then he opens his little toothless mouth and starts bellowing, his face turning red with effort. The sound of his scream echoes through the forest, bouncing off the trees, such a loud noise coming from a mere baby. I sink down further into the warmth of the lake, hugging him to my breast and keeping his face above the surface. He feels disoriented and frightened, being forcibly ejected out of the comforting cocoon he's grown in with his sister for the last eight months and suddenly finding himself alone and naked in the cool night air.

"It's okay, sweetheart. Shh. Mommy's got you," I croon. "Mommy's here."

Yazoo quickly inspects him to make sure he's all right but everything is where it's supposed to be and since the boy is crying loudly, his lungs are evidently working well. A son is very much a surprising and unexpected arrival but that doesn't mean he's not wanted. Far from it. He has come from my body, produced from the love Loz and I have for each other and that makes this child just as precious to me as our daughter.

"Don't cry, little dude. Daddy's here too," Loz says to the boy baby, stroking his small head. "We're all here – Uncle Yaz and Uncle Daj. We love you and will take good care of you, okay?"

This baby also has silver hair, a small peak formed at the back like Loz's. The comfort of his father's touch and voice soothes our son and his cries dwindle away. He soon turns his head and impatiently nuzzles my chest, seeking a nipple, so I pull one half of my bikini top aside so that he can find it. Unlike the girl, who hasn't shown any interest in nursing yet, the boy eagerly latches onto my boob, sucking hungrily. It's amazing how they know what to do to get food, only minutes after being born.

When my son has finished drinking, Yazoo gets the honour of cutting the second cord. After it is tied off close to the baby's tummy, Yazoo suggests I go onto the shore to deliver the placenta. I think he's secretly concerned that there might be a problem with it, being so large. To tell the truth, I'm a little afraid about that as well. I've already delivered twins but my stomach still looks big. Yazoo takes the boy from me and passes him to Loz where he nestles near his sister, Loz's body heat keeping both naked babies warm.

Assisting me out of the water, Yazoo slips an arm around me, helping me to walk, Loz following us with the twins. I'm not wearing any pants and the remains of two umbilical cords still hang out between my thighs but it doesn't bother me, although Kadaj respectfully turns away so he doesn't see me in this vulnerable state. I make it up onto the pebbly shore but then collapse to my knees, right about the time my body involuntary starts pushing again. Yazoo supports me, reaching for his medical bag with one hand.

"Is it the placenta now?" Loz asks, then he turns even paler as a thought hits him. "Gods, please don't tell me it's another baby…"

Something spongy and fleshy slips from me and lands wetly in the bowl that Yazoo hurriedly shoves between my thighs.

"Definitely not another baby," I sigh with relief, seeing the placenta with a pair of umbilical cords attached to it.

"Oh. So, that's what it looks like," Loz muses, peering over my shoulder at the dark red clump of tissue, membranes and veins, the organ that nourished my babies and fed them all this time. It's not pretty and looks like some kind of dinner-plate sized alien jellyfish but this placenta did its job and kept the twins alive. I'm glad Loz is interested in it and not nauseated by the sight, like some guys would be. Yazoo snaps on some latex gloves and turns the placenta over in the bowl to examine the other side, making sure it's in one piece.

"What are you doing now, Yaz?"

"Checking that it's all here," Yazoo answers to Loz's question. "If any part of the placenta has been left behind inside Cate it can make her very sick."

"Is it all there?"

"I think so."

"Shouldn't there be two of them?"

"Yes, there should be for fraternal twins, but it seems this is a very unusual case. See, there." Yazoo points with a gloved finger. "Both of the babies were connected to the same placenta with two separate umbilical cords. They shared it. Normally that only happens with identical twins, like two boys, not a boy and a girl."

"They're going to be unusually close like you guys. I can already tell," I comment, smiling at my children, cradled in their dad's arms like a pair of precious treasures.

Peeling off his bloodied gloves, Yazoo helps me to my feet, wrapping a soft, fluffy robe around me. I glance downwards. Blood is dripping down my legs. "Is that normal?" I query, creasing my brow.

"Yes, some blood loss is absolutely normal," he assures me, handing me a towel to wipe my thighs with and a pair of absorbent, disposable panties. "And you will continue bleeding lightly for a few weeks as your womb recovers."

"Okay," I reply, pulling on the panties. They're more like an adult diaper but at this point I'm not caring about anything except that I successfully gave birth to twins without medical intervention and all of us are still alive, despite one twin being breech and the other one a complete surprise. I'm still trying to process the fact that I have two babies. Although I am utterly thrilled, I was not prepared for this but I guess I'll just have to buy double of everything now.

Still with his back turned, Kadaj asks if he can come over to see the babies yet and I tell him yes, feeling more comfortable now that I have a robe and underwear on. Rushing across to us, his eyes light up at the sight of the twins, exclaiming at how gorgeous they are, and how much the boy looks like Loz. Kadaj hands Loz two clean towels and helps to wrap the naked babies up. We'll dress them properly back at the nursery but for now, towels will do to keep them warm and dry.

Before we leave, I motion to the placenta glistening in the bowl with its two deflated cords. "We should dispose of that. I don't want to keep it or eat it or anything."

"People eat placentas?" Loz exclaims in horror.

"Sometimes, yes," Yazoo volunteers. "It's usually cooked and dried first. Some mothers believe it gives them back their energy and provides their bodies with essential nutrients to recover from the birth."

"And some mothers prefer to take post-natal vitamins," I add dryly. "Get rid of it."

"I'll do it," Kadaj offers, scooping up the bowl. He looks at the veiny mass inside it but to his credit, he doesn't grimace or comment about how gross it is. Being here while his niece and nephew were born has made him mature and grow up even further. Even though he didn't actually watch them coming out, he heard my screams of labour and I bet he'll never look at vaginas in the same way again.

"You can't throw the placenta in there," I object as he's heading back to the water. "It'll sit on the bottom and rot. You'll pollute the lake!"

"No," he says with an assured head-shake. "The Life Stream runs through this water. That's what makes it so special and magical. Any biological material you put into it will be absorbed back into the planet and become energy. The lake will remain clean and untainted."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. Cloud put Aerith's body into this lake and it sank to the bottom and disappeared."

"Oh," I mumbled. I didn't know that she was laid to rest here. I guess it makes sense that Cloud would have been drawn to this lake, much like the other Remnants were. That's why they built their home nearby. It's certainly an extraordinary place.

Kadaj tips the placenta into the water with a splash and lets it sink. Washing out the stainless steel bowl, he packs it back in Yazoo's doctor's bag, along with the scissors, mirror and torch. While Kadaj helpfully cleans up, Yazoo checks my pulse and temperature.

"How do you feel?"

"Like a truck has run over me," I confess. The materia has finally worn off and I can barely stand. All the muscles in my body ache and feel weak, and there's a stinging, sore sensation between my legs.

Just when my knees give out, Yazoo picks me up, holding me against his chest. "You did so well, Cate," he praises me proudly. "So very well."

"No, you, Loz and Kadaj-" I start to protest.

"We helped. That is all. You are the one who chose to keep this baby. Babies," he corrects, glancing at the boy and then the girl, both safely wrapped up and cradled by their dad, giving a small astounded shake of his head, still shocked that I was carrying twins all along. "You are the one who carried these children inside you for eight months, sustaining them, keeping them safe, helping them grow. It was your body that protected and cradled them and your body that pushed them out. Kadaj may have taken away the pain but only after you suffered through twenty-one gruelling hours of it."

Yazoo looks back down at me, his voice deep with pride and respect. "You have shown remarkable strength and courage throughout this whole ordeal, Catalina. Though it must have been terribly harrowing for you, you've been so tough and so strong. You haven't even cried."

Of course, as soon as he says that I start to, the tears pouring out in a sudden torrential flood, like the bursting of a dam. I'm both greatly relieved that it's all over and overwhelmed by what I've gone through during the last few hours. I'm exhausted, sore and emotionally wrung-out and Yazoo lets me cling to him and sob loudly into his neck.

"Cate?" Loz says in concern.

"It's okay, Loz. She's okay," Yazoo assures him. "Cate's just very tired and needs to rest. It's been a long night for her."

No longer dark in the forest, it's dawn now, the sky lightening and the stars fading. Soon, the sun will be up.

Yazoo carries me home while Loz carries the babies, one kid in each strong arm. Since his brothers' arms are full, Kadaj has to carry Yazoo's medical bag, their discarded clothes and all the used towels but he doesn't seem to mind, smiling delightedly at the twins in Loz's embrace and mentioning how he can't wait to hold them.

We enter the lair not as three brothers and one young pregnant woman, but as a mother, father, two children and two uncles.

Reaching our bedroom, Yazoo lays me down on the bed. Kadaj gives me another ball of materia containing a healing spell, to repair any damage I've suffered down below. Based on the stinging I'm feeling between my legs, I must have a tear in my intimate area, or just beneath it, which is common for first-time mothers.

"You may feel a tingling sensation but you won't feel any pain," Kadaj assures me. "Just absorb it like you did the other one."

"Is this safe?" I question, holding the coloured sphere in my hand. "I've already had one lot of materia. I'm gonna have to feed the babies soon and I don't want anything weird being transferred to them."

"It won't affect your breast milk or the babies. I promise," Yazoo chimes in. "Just relax and let the healing materia do its thing. You'll be good as new in no time."

"I hope so," I mutter, not wanting my poor female parts to be permanently scarred by this experience. After all, I might possibly want to have sex again sometime in the future. Like, maybe in ten years' time, when I've gotten over the horror of childbirth.

As he's still in his wet training trunks, Yazoo says he's going to put some clothes on and then he will weigh and measure each of the babies and do some other standard tests, such as examining their hearts and lungs, and checking that the twins don't have dislocated hips or any other medical issues. Before he leaves the room, he tells Loz and Kadaj to go to the nursery and wait for him there, but I ask them to hold on for a moment, calling Loz over to the bed so I can look at my two children again.

Now that I can see the twins in better light, I study them closely. They're both sleeping in Loz's arms, curled up together like they never left they womb. The wrinkled skin that they had when they were first born has gone away, leaving them soft and smooth. The boy is markedly bigger than his sister. He must have taken most of the nutrients from the placenta but the girl has not suffered adversely because of it. She's not puny or weak, just petite and perfectly formed. As if she senses me gazing at her, she stirs and awakens, giving a few drowsy blinks before looking up and focusing on me.

"Hello, baby girl," I say softly. "Do you know who I am?"

Like she instantly recognises my voice, she smiles. I feel my eyes widening in surprise. I'm pretty sure newborn babies aren't supposed to be able to smile yet but then again, these aren't any ordinary infants. I reach out to touch her hand and her tiny fingers clasp around one of mine.

"I can't believe there's two of you," I murmur in wonderment. "That explains why I was so huge."

She makes a quiet gurgling noise, as if consciously aware of not waking her brother. She's so calm and peaceful and I'm immensely grateful that the breech birth hasn't affected her in any negative way. With my other hand, I gently stroke my son's soft silver hair, already starting to curl up in the back like Loz's pixie-peak. Despite my efforts not to disturb him, the boy moves, little arms and legs flexing fitfully, frowning like he's not pleased to have his sleep interrupted. He turns his head and opens his eyelids halfway, squinting at me grumpily and looking so much like a mini-Loz it's not funny.

"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetie," I soothe. "I didn't mean to wake you."

Also recognising my voice, the grumpy look disappears from his face and he stares up at me, realising that I'm the one he's heard speaking to him through my belly. The girl has the exact same eyes as Loz and Yazoo. The same otherworldly-green colour, the same silvery lashes and narrow pupils; everything. She's a perfect little clone, just like them. But the boy isn't. Granted, he has the same white skin and the same soft-grey hair, even the same miniature pointed nose as Loz, but he doesn't have the same eyes. His irises are different to his twin sister's. They're dark brown, like mine, and his pupils are round.

Human eyes.

"Nice to see one strand of my DNA made it in there," I say wryly.

"At least you know for sure it's not my baby," Kadaj pipes up, standing near the bed next to Loz. "I might have brown eyes too but I wasn't human eight months ago."

Looking at him, Loz grins, knowing that Kadaj is only making a joke.

"Loz, thank you so much for staying with me the whole time," I say gratefully. "I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you for safely delivering the girl, and for not fainting when this one popped out." Here, I motion to the boy held in Loz's arms.

"No need to thank me – it's my job. Besides, you did all the work." Loz's voice swells with admiration. "I'm proud of you, my little lady. Real damn proud."

"And I didn't even swear at you," I add with pride. He chuckles.

"No, you didn't. But I wouldn't have cared if you did." To the kids, he says, "Okay little dude and dudette: we gotta go to the nursey for a bit. Uncle Yazzie has to check you over. We'll be back soon and then mommy will feed you."

"You're gonna be a great father, Loz." I smile at him with teary eyes. "I love you so much."

"I love you too, Catey. And you're already a great mom." Tenderly, he kisses me and then takes the babies to their own room.

I look up at Kadaj with appreciation. "Thank you, too, Kadaj. I mean it. What you did for me back there…I'm never going to forget it."

"Yeah, neither will I. I've been tortured in a hundred different ways but seeing you in such pain…" He winces. "I don't know how you women do it."

"I told you - that's what we're designed for."

"Well, you're a queen in my eyes." Kadaj takes my hand, kissing it fondly and respectfully. "You take it easy for a while, okay? If you need anything, let me know."

"Actually, I am kind of hungry," I admit hopefully.

"I can make you a sandwich," he volunteers. "I'd cook you something but I don't know how to cook. You know, being a guy and all."

He shrugs and I smile back wearily. "A sandwich would be wonderful. Thanks, Daj. I owe you, bro."

He pats my hand. "You owe me nothing."

While Kadaj is in the kitchen and I'm all alone, I use the materia on myself. As the curative globe sinks into my torn tissue, I sense it working with all its magic, restorative tingles and I'm extremely glad that my childbirth injuries can be fixed without the use of any needles and thread.

Yazoo gives the babies their check-ups in the nursery, reporting back to me that everything is completely fine with both of them and that they're sleeping for the moment in their crib. I can feed them when they wake up but for now, I need to feed myself and replenish the energy that all that labouring took out of me. After I wolf down the tomato, cheese, avocado and lettuce sandwich that Kadaj brings back for me, Yazoo then feels my stomach, making sure everything is in the place it's supposed to be. Apparently, my uterus has shrunken back down to the size of a tight fist, closing off all the open blood vessels left behind from the placenta peeling away, and my empty belly feels soft, squishy and flabby. It's like poking a pile of marshmallows. It's still full of fluid and will take many weeks to shrink down and return to normal, if it ever will. I'm certain I'll be left with saggy, wrinkly skin and permanent stretchmarks but it's a small price to pay for two beautiful, perfect children.

Now, what to name them?



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