"You're what?" Snow said, far too loudly.
"Shhhh!" Meriel hushed. "You heard me. But I really, really need you to keep this a secret, at least until I get it confirmed. I just think I might be..."
"Well, you must have symptoms," Snow said. "Have you gone to see Doc?"
"I'm going this afternoon," Meriel said. "But don't breathe a word of it, I mean it. I want to tell Kai and my parents."
Snow looked affronted. "Of course! I would never ruin your special moment!" She wrapped an arm around her granddaughter. "Oh Meriel, I'm so excited! I don't think I can wait all the way until the afternoon! Let's go now!"
"But he's only seeing patients in the afternoons," Meriel pointed out. "And I'm not really up for a walk yet. My stomach is still pretty queasy."
"You need bread!" Snow suggested. "Something basic. Oh, what I wouldn't give for some saltines!"
"Are you making tomato soup?" David asked, sitting down next to his wife. "I know I'm early for lunch, but if you're having tomato soup..."
"No tomato soup," Snow smiled. "Meriel's pregnant!"
"Meriel!" David's face lit up and he jumped to his feet, pulling her up and into his arms. "How wonderful!"
Meriel gave her grandmother the dirtiest look she could muster over her grandfather's shoulder. "I don't know for sure yet," she mumbled. "I still have to go see Doc."
David pulled back. "Doc?" He looked at Meriel apologetically. "I just sent him off to the mines. It's time for the yearly dwarf physicals. He won't be back for days."
Meriel gave him a half-hearted smiled. "Well, then...I guess we wait. It could be for nothing, anyway."
"Wait? We can't wait!" Snow sputtered. She drummed her fingers on the table, thinking. "What about Blue?"
"Blue?" Meriel rubbed her stomach, taking a breath.
"David," Snow said, "Go and get some bread for Meriel."
"I'll get the day-old bread, it works best," he agreed. "Don't worry, Meriel. We're pros at this stuff." He trotted off to the kitchen, determined to complete his mission.
Snow stood up as well. "I'm going to find Blue," she said emphatically. "This simply cannot wait."
"Oh, no! No." Meriel said, shaking her head vehemently. "I'm going with you."
"You're not feeling well," Snow reminded her. "You stay here, and I'll bring her to you."
"And you'll tell how many people along the way? No." Meriel was insistent.
"She's right," David agreed, returning with the bread and a pitcher of water. "You sit right here, Meriel."
"See?" Snow said, smugly.
"And I'll go along and keep an eye on your grandmother."
"David!" Snow was outraged. David merely raised his brows, and waited. "Oh, all right," she grumped. "Let's go find a fairy."
"She's what?" Emma shouted, her face breaking into an enormous smile.
"Marion, the baker's daughter heard it from Michael, the footman, who heard it from Geoffrey, the cobbler, whose wife said that Meriel's grandmother was bursting with the news." Lorelei explained.
"I can't believe my own mother would keep this from me!" Emma griped. "It sounds like I'm the last to know." Emma put another half-dozen pastries in her basket. She'd come to the market to pick up some more rum, but if Meriel was pregnant, she'd want these frosted scones.
"Well, the whole village is abuzz with it," Lorelei continued. "I'm sure if you were there you would have heard. David and Snow are looking for Blue, to get her to confirm the pregnancy."
"Blue?" Emma's forehead creased. "Oh, yeah...I guess she could. I'd better go catch up with them, but I need to drop this rum off with Killian - it's for his ship's stores."
"I'm heading back to the castle - would you like me to take the pastries?" Lorelei offered.
"Would you?" Emma handed her the basket, taking the bottles of rum out of it. "I'll get Killian and we'll be meet you back there. Thanks!"
Lorelei watched her as she hurried off down the road toward the docks, then she turned to make her way back to the castle, stopping to buy a baby rattle along the way.
"She's what?" Finn said, incredulously. "They've only just gotten married!" He reached down to grasp the fish he'd caught, and put his pole over his shoulder. He'd been at the lake fishing since morning, but when Leo rode up he realized how late it was getting.
"They've been married nearly three years, Finn," Leo reminded him. "You just have a hard time thinking of your sister as a mother."
"Damn right, mate. I mean, think about it - Meriel! A mother!" He looked up at Leo, who was still on horseback. "Are you sure?"
"Brenna heard it from William who was talking to Tinkerbell who found out from Ida, who works in the kitchen - she was talking to your grandmother, who was ready to start embroidering a baby blanket."
"Well, that certainly sounds official," Finn conceded. "I'm going to be an uncle!"
"Sounds like it."
"I should buy her something, shouldn't I?" Finn scratched his head. "To commemorate the occasion?"
"How should I know?" Leo replied. "I was a baby myself when my sister was pregnant with Meriel and then you. I wasn't even around when Henry was born. And Brenna doesn't even have a steady boyfriend yet."
"Your little sister is keeping her options open. A sound strategy." Finn fastened his fishing pole to his saddle, then levered himself up on his horse. "Otherwise you end up married and having babies entirely too soon."
"Just imagine yourself babysitting," Leo said with a smirk.
"Oh, I'm happy to volunteer," Finn replied. "Nothing brings a flock of women like a man holding a baby. Works like a charm." He gave Leo a devilish grin, then turned his horse toward home, leaving his uncle to follow, shaking his head.
"She's what? Pregnant!" Regina's face lit up as she stepped out of her carriage. "Are you sure, Henry?"
"Emeline heard it from the footman, who just heard it from the stable boy, who got it from the stable master that was tending to Grandma's horse."
"Well, I'd say the timing of our visit is perfect, then." She stepped back inside the carriage.
"Where are you going?" Henry asked. "We just got here."
"I need to go shopping," she said, looking at him as though he'd fallen and hit his head. "We can't have the baby wearing rags when it gets here."
Henry smiled, shaking his head. "Right. Shopping."
"You'd better climb in, too. You're going to be an Uncle, don't forget. And knowing your half-brother, he's going to do his best to show you up and take his place as the favored uncle."
He chuckled. "Good point."
Regina's eyes narrowed as Henry stepped up into the carriage. "Oh, it is on."
"She's what?" Killian roared. He leaned heavily against the railing. "My little girl!"
"She's twenty-four, Killian." Emma leaned on the rail next to her husband, rubbing his back. "It was bound to happen eventually."
"My girl is having a baby," he repeated, dumbstruck.
Emma smirked. "Maybe this one will call you Grandpa."
"Bloody hell. I'll have none of that - I told you when Henry started with his progeny that I'm far from my dotage. I'll not be called Grandfather until I'm old and gray." He gave her a cross look. "I've a reputation to maintain, after all."
"The fearsome grandfather pirate captain," Emma said, kissing him lightly. "You'll be the hit of every birthday party, just like you were with Meriel and Finn."
He leaned back, folding his arms on his chest. "I was in high demand, wasn't I?"
Emma tilted her head to the side, smiling. "The kids loved you."
"So they did," he said, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "And the Jolly was a fine place for birthday parties."
"Nobody could even come close to that kind of fun," Emma agreed. "Our children were the talk of the kingdom."
"They all seemed to love my stories..."
"Oh yeah. The stories." Emma nodded. "Remember how Meriel and Finn used to make you act out the swordfights at bedtime? Jumping on the bed and swinging from the draperies?"
Killian chuckled at the memory. "Those were fine times." He reached out, taking his wife's hand and twining his fingers with hers. "It's hard to believe they grew up. I swear, I feel like I should still be tucking them in at night." He looked out across the water. "I wish I could still be tucking them in at night, sometimes."
Emma reached out, pushing a lock of hair off his forehead. "Me, too."
"Well," he said, pushing up to his feet. "This calls for a drink. Or maybe several. And then we need to go shopping."
"Well...my grandchild will need a proper cutlass. And maybe an eyepatch. And a few floating toys would be a good idea - we can't have bathtime without a toy ship, after all."
Emma raised her brows. "Oh, no," she agreed. "We wouldn't want that."
"Join me for a drink?" He arched a brow. "Captain's cabin?"
"We can drink out here," she pointed out. "I brought the rum."
"I know that, love," he said, stepping in and sliding a hand around her back. "But I've a need to prove that I'm still a young man." He reached out, twirling a lock of her hair around his finger.
She looked up at him with undisguised interest. "Let's go."
"She's what?" David asked. "I turn my back for five seconds, and she's talking to the apothecary's wife." He stomped down the street in disgust, flinging open the door to the shop.
"Snow!" He bellowed.
"David! You nearly gave me heart failure!" She gave him a bright smile. "I was just...talking to Evelyn a moment."
David crossed his arms. "Oh, really?"
Snow's smile faltered a bit. "Yes. Well, I can see we need to be going." She gave Evelyn a pat on the hand. "It was so nice chatting. I'll stop by again soon."
"Always good to see you, your majesties." Evelyn smiled. "Come anytime!"
David gave her a smile and a nod. "Thank you," he said, holding the door for his wife.
"And congratulations!" Evelyn called out, causing David to roll his eyes and suck in a breath as he followed his wife out the door. He reached out, taking her arm and looping it through his.
"Snow...you have to keep this under wraps. Meriel isn't even sure yet, and until we find Blue, we shouldn't be telling anyone."
"I know," she said, with a great deal of chagrin, "But it's just so exciting. I only told a few of my most trusted friends. Really."
God only knew what the count was on that one. David rolled his eyes again. "Meriel and Kai should be the ones telling the news. You know that. Don't take their moment from them."
"I would never take their moment," Snow admonished. "How could you even think such a thing? Now come on, we need to get back. Evelyn is sending word to Blue - she's helping the apothecary gather herbs for some healing potions. Her son is running to get them now."
"Good," David said. "So let's get back to the castle, and not one more word to anyone until after Meriel gets a chance to confirm her news."
"Of course," Snow nodded. "But just let me stop in at the candlemaker's. Warmed beeswax is the best thing for stretch marks." She hurried off down the street, with her husband in hot pursuit.
Meriel woke from her nap feeling fully refreshed and ravenously hungry. She hadn't meant to doze off like that, but her ten minute nap had turned into a few hours and now it was nearly dinnertime. Kai would be home anytime now - he'd been off helping Neal build a floating platform for the lake behind his father's castle - that way when Henry's children visited, they had a dock of sorts to lounge on or fish from.
The smell of food was pulling her, and she ran a comb through her hair, brushed her teeth, and headed downstairs. She'd just rounded the landing and when her foot hit the last set of stairs down into the hall a cheer went up that startled her so badly, she thought the castle might be under attack. She took a few more bewildered steps down until she reached the floor, and was promptly engulfed by her mother at the foot of the stairs.
"Meriel!" She found herself wrapped in her mother's arms, then her father's, then Finn's, then Henry's, passed around from person to person, all while she glared bloody murder at her grandmother. Finally, after numerous pats on the back and rubs on her belly, she was able to step back and take a breath.
"Are you feeling okay?" Emma asked. "Lorelei said you were napping."
"I was tired."
"That's quite normal, love," her father reassured her. "Your mother not only napped, but she snored. Sounded like someone released a Kraken every time she laid down."
Emma opened her mouth, then closed it again, thinking better of what she was about to say in polite company. She took a deep breath. "We stopped at the market and got you a few things," she said. "I can't believe you didn't tell me!"
Meriel glared at her grandmother again. "I hadn't meant to tell anyone. Unfortunately, it sort of slipped out in front of my grandmother." She raised her brows.
Snow looked sheepish. "Well...I was excited." She gave a shrug. "Babies are such good news! And we got you something, too!"
"So did we," Regina said.
"And so did I!" Lorelei chimed in.
"Us too!" Leo nudged Finn, who toasted his sister with a shot of rum. Killian walked over and poured another shot for himself.
"We've got a whole pile of presents for you in the corner, there," he said, gesturing to the end of the table. "But from the looks of you, you'll be needing some dinner first."
Meriel looked around at the crowd of people standing around the table, their faces beaming. "I'm not even sure yet," she said hesitantly. "I mean, I appreciate all your support, but it's a bit premature." She glared at her grandmother again before looking at her grandfather. "You were supposed to keep an eye on her."
"She's fast," David said, apologetically. "Really, really fast."
"I came as quickly as I could," said Blue, who'd just flown in and was now hovering behind Meriel. "What's the problem?" Her face was concerned, and she glanced from Snow to David to Emma and back.
"It's me," Meriel said. "I need you. Doc is busy in the mines and I - " she glanced around at the people around her. "Well, I was going to say I have a personal matter to discuss," she threw her grandmother yet another exasperated look, "but I guess it's public now."
Blue moved forward, inclining her head toward Meriel. "Of course...but you hardly need me for what you seek. You have magic within you, Meriel. Look within yourself and you will find the answer." She gave her an encouraging smile.
Meriel looked over at her mother. "Go ahead," Emma said softly. "I certainly knew. And you're stronger than I ever was."
Meriel reached down, putting her hand over her belly and rubbing slowly as she closed her eyes. A soft, purple glow surrounded her hand, and a moment later she opened her eyes again.
"I'm pregnant." She said it simply, and with more than a little wonder. "I am. I'm pregnant!"
A shout went up anew as everyone jumped in to hug her again, and this time she was laughing, even crying a little. She even hugged her grandmother, forgiving all in the face of her joyous news.
"Thank you!" She said to Blue.
"Oh, no thanks is necessary. You had the power all along - I simply reminded you of it. I can add one thing, however, that you seem to have missed. You have more than one life within you, Meriel."
Meriel's face drained of color. "Twins?"
Blue smiled. "Twins."
"I need to sit down," Meriel said shakily, and four different people rushed forward to help her to a chair. They were all pushed aside by a very proud grandfather pirate who wrapped an arm around his little girl's shoulder and led her over to the table himself.
"Come along, love," he urged. "I know it's a shock, but that's only because it'll be double the fun." He gave her a crooked grin as he settled her in the chair. "There's my girl. After all you've managed to handle so far, I should say this will barely be a challenge at all."
"Greatest adventure of your life," David agreed.
"There's nothing like it," Emma said, running a hand down the back of Meriel's hair. "And you're going to be great."
"Just great!" Snow echoed.
"Great? She's going to own it." Regina said, stepping forward with a smile. "Not that you need to ever change, Meriel, but you're going to change. And it's all good."
"It's all so much to take in," Meriel said. "I feel like my head is spinning."
"What's going on?" Kai's voice cut through the chatter of the crowd around her, who parted in almost perfect unison, leaving a clear path between him and Meriel. He looked over at her, taking in her flushed face and her family hovering around her, and was instantly concerned.
"Meriel! Are you all right?" He started forward, but he wasn't fast enough. She was on her feet and running for him before he even got halfway there, and the crowd erupted in cheers all over again. A very bewildered Kai wrapped his arms around his wife, holding her close as his eyes took in the faces around him and the pile of stuffed animals, baby toys and assorted presents in the corner.
"Did I interrupt a party?" he asked, pulling back to look at his wife. "Is someone having a baby?"
Meriel's answer was a slow smile that spread across her face, and then spread to every face that surrounded them. It only took a heartbeat for it all to dawn on him, and then he was pulling her in, hugging her fiercely as everyone cheered yet again. He whispered something in her ear, making her laugh and nod happily, and then he was swinging her around, kissing her over and over as the crowd went wild.
Kai let out a big whoosh of air. "Well," he said. "This calls for a drink!"
"My sentiments exactly," Killian agreed, pouring his son-in-law a shot of rum. "Especially since you're having twins!"
Kai looked completely and utterly gobsmacked as Snow gave Killian a dirty look.
"I was going to tell him!" she protested.
And a half-dozen people rolled their eyes as Kai kissed his wife, accepting his shot of rum with a very unsteady hand.
"Are you up for another adventure?" Meriel whispered.
Kai smiled, tossing back his rum.
"With you? Always."