Fandom: Six of Crows
Summary: Nina comes home.
Two months after she leaves for Fjerda, Nina appears on Wylan's doorstep.
"I need a place to stay," she says, both arms wrapped tightly around her waist. "Fjerda won't be safe for us. Neither will Ravka."
Wylan is about to ask who us is - Matthias must be, by now, buried in Fjerdan ground and long past any danger - when Jesper catches his eye, and he understands. He looks back at Nina. If anything, she looks thinner than usual,- but that might just be owing to the dress she's wearing, baggy and drag and ill-fitting. Nina Zenik can never truly not stand out, but it looks like anonymity is what she's going for, and that somehow alarms Wylan more than anything else. A Nina trying to blend in and be invisible is not a Nina he recognizes.
"You can stay as long as you want," he says.
She doesn't smile, but her shoulders curve and the hollows under her eyes seem a little less gaunt as she says "Thank you."
She cries every night. Not in front of them, which also worries Wylan - since when has Nina been afraid to say what she feels? - but in her own room, behind a closed door, sobs stifled in a pillow. Wylan doesn't know what to do, so he just leaves cups of tea outside her door every night and collects them again in the morning. One of the servants could probably do it for him, but he doesn't want that - he doesn't know what kind of household Nina grew up in, if she's accustomed to servants, but she obviously wants to keep her grief private. Inviting a third party to come in and acknowledge her tears feels like an intrusion. So Wylan makes and delivers the tea himself, and examines the cups the next morning, hoping for some sign that she's sipped from them.
"I can't imagine your tea is going to do her much good," Jesper tells him, nose wrinkled. "No offence, but it's basically hot water."
Normally the joke would make Wylan laugh, but he's too concerned for that just now. "What do you think would help? Hot chocolate? I could get her that-"
But Jesper shakes his head. "The only thing that's going to help her now is time."
Wylan is silent. He's never known the kind of grief she's feeling now, never experienced a loss so raw. He remembers losing his mother, in vague and fuzzy terms, but it doesn't quite compare - especially since he was lucky enough to get her back. Matthias isn't going to walk back in from a sanatorium in the country, no matter how much they might wish for it. And he certainly never had to contend with the prospect of parenthood.
"Do you think we should call a medik?" he asks Jesper one night. They're seated in the parlour, too far from Nina's room to hear her, but they both know she's almost certainly weeping again. "This can't be good for her. Or the baby."
Jesper shrugs, brows furrowing. "Do you think she'd be okay with that? She wants to keep a low profile."
Wylan looks up at the ceiling. Nina's room is above them. He doesn't really know what she'd want or not want, and it troubles him - he wants to help, but he hasn't the faintest clue of how to go about it. She's barely even talked to either of them since she arrived, apart from thanking him repeatedly for the room and the tea. Every time she thanks him, he tells her she shouldn't worry about, then hesitates as he tries to think of something else to say. His pause is always just a bit too long, and she makes some excuse and slips away before he can come up with something. He really isn't suited to this; he doesn't know her well enough, hasn't got any experience with the processes of grief and childbearing. Then again, Jesper knows her far better, and he hasn't been able to coax a conversation out of her either. The helplessness weighs on them both like shrouds.
In the end, they ask Kaz to send for a medik he knows won't ask questions. Kaz does, asking no questions himself though Wylan suspects he knows more than he's letting on. The medik who arrives is a quiet, gentle woman who somehow manages to coax Nina into eating several biscuits and sitting in the parlour for awhile. For obvious reasons, neither Wylan nor Jesper question her as to Nina's condition, and she tells them as she leaves that there's nothing for anyone to worry about.
"Of course, stress isn't good for her," she says, "and she should really be eating more. But she's getting plenty of rest, and that's good." She pats Wylan's arm. "Keep on as you've been keeping on. Nature will take its course."
"Thank you," Wylan says. "And thank Kaz for us."
The medik and Jesper snort simultaneously, and Wylan laughs a little too. He has no doubt that if they did thank Kaz - via the medik or otherwise - he'd insist that he didn't know what they were talking about. Or he'd say he was just protecting an asset. Anything to avoid admitting he actually has a heart.
Wylan goes to Nina's room after the medik leaves. "How are you feeling?" he asks, lingering awkwardly in the doorway.
"All right," Nina says. She's sitting on the bed, looking at her hands clasped in her lap. Wylan thinks he might be imagining it, but he can see a bit more colour in her cheeks. She hesitates before asking, "do you have any more biscuits?"
Relief floods through Wylan. "Plenty," he says. "As many as you want."
Inej arrives a few months later, unannounced. Wylan thinks they might have Kaz to thank for that, too.
Nina appears at the top of the stairs when Inej enters, eyes still red, but unusually wide. She's grown a bit since arriving, and even with her loose clothes - Jesper's attempted to entice her with pretty dresses, but his overtures have fallen on deaf ears - it's no longer possible to mistake her condition. Inej's jaw drops when she sees her. "Nina-"
Nina takes the stairs two at a time, and before Wylan knows what's happening, she and Nina are in each other's arms. Both of them are weeping, and each woman has her hands in the other's hair, and Wylan's not entirely sure where Inej ends and Nina begins. It's the most animated he's seen Nina since she returned, and he's boundlessly grateful.
"I'm almost insulted," Jesper says mildly when they finally break apart. "I didn't get a hug."
Nina swats at him while Inej rolls her eyes, and Wylan feels a knot begin to loosen in his stomach. They're not back to normal yet, but they're getting there.
It's hard to tell what Wylan's mother thinks of Nina. Like Nina, she doesn't speak much, though some days are better than others. She'd said a vague "hello" to her when Nina first arrived, and will nod at her when she passes through the room, but beyond that, nothing. Wylan supposes she doesn't know what to say any more than he does. After all, she barely knows Nina at all, and regular human interaction free of pills and punishments is still unfamiliar territory to her. Wylan had explained Nina's story in brief when she arrived - she'd lost her husband (it would have take too long to explain what had been between her and Matthias, and besides, he thinks husband is appropriate regardless,) she's expecting, and she's going to be their houseguest for awhile. Marya had responded with a vague "that's nice," and that was all. Wylan hadn't pushed. He thinks neither woman wants to be forced to socialize right now anyway.
It's late one night when he hears voices coming from Nina's room. It startles him - Inej has long since gone to bed, as has Jesper (grumbling all the while because Wylan had to stay up late with business matters) and as far as he knew, so had Nina and his mother. He quickens his pace down the hall, praying that there's been no break-ins.
He pauses just outside the doorway. The door is cracked open, and through the opening, he can see his mother sitting on Nina's bed. Nina is kneeling at her feel, leaning against the bed, her head in Mayra's lap. Marya is staring off into space, one hand carding through Nina's hair. "See the lovely birch in the meadow," she sings, "curly leaves all dancing when the wind blows. Loo-lee-loo, when the wind blows . . ."
Unexpectedly, Wylan finds himself blinking back tears. He recognizes the song; it's a Rakvan tune, one his mother used to sing to him when he was a child. He's aching to enter the room, kneel down next to Nina and let his mother's voice wash over him - how long has it been since he heard her sing? - but he knows this moment isn't meant for him. So instead he quietly pushes the door shut and backs away.
Inej is a more frequent and open visitor to Nina's room; when Wylan isn't busy, he joins them. Jesper does too. Inej sits on the end of the bed with Nina's feet propped in her lap, kneading her thumb into the arch. Wylan remembers Matthias rubbing Alys' feet when she was captures and Nina teasing him about it, and says nothing. He doesn't need to say much; having Inej here seems to have revitalized Nina, and she speaks more freely than she has since she floated north with Matthias's body. Inej regales them with stories of the high seas, and Nina peppers her with questions- about the ship, about her crew, about what she does once she's captured the slavers. On that last subject, Inej is a bit more tight-lipped, but none of them mind. These little gatherings feel almost like the old days, minus the constant threat of death. Wylan doesn't really miss that part anyway.
"Have you thought about names?" Inej asks one night, and Jesper and Wylan both freeze. They've both avoided the subject of the baby altogether, apart from nagging Nina to eat more; neither of them knows quite what will spring from that box once it's opened, and they're not prepared to find out. Inej puts them both to shame in bravery, apparently. She gives Nina's foot a squeeze. "You can't just call the poor thing 'baby' forever."
"True," Jesper adds quickly. "It would be really weird to have a thirty-year-old man named Baby." It's not quite up to his usual standard, but then, he didn't have much time to prepare.
"I don't know." Nina looks down at her belly, which by now is thoroughly round. "It could be a boy or a girl, and I'm not- I don't-" For a panicked second, Wylan thinks she might cry, but she rallies. "I'm not sure whether I should give it a Ravkan or Fjerdan name."
"You could do both," Jesper offers. "A boy name, a girl name, a Ravkan name, and a Fjerdan name. How about Alina Eyvind?"
"Feodor Dagrun," Wylan suggests, warming to the game.
"Or," Jesper says, "You could mix them up even more and just smush them up into one name. How does Dagmir sound? Or Gunril,"
"Stop," Nina says, holding her hand up, "those are all awful." But there's a smile on her face, and even - can they be this lucky? - the hint of a laugh in her voice. Wylan feels warmth flood his chest.
"You could always name the kid after me," Jesper says with a grand flourish. "I can't think of a more auspicious start in life."
This time, it's unmistakable - a tiny giggle, but a giggle nonetheless. Just the sound of it makes Wylan laugh too, and that sets off Inej. Nina isn't laughing as hard as the rest of them, but she is laughing, both arms wrapped around her belly. "You've got to stop. This is making my stomach hurt."
"My jokes never give people stomach aches," Jesper says, mock-offended, "that's Kaz's job."
Inej makes a choking sound. "Kaz? Jokes?"
That sets them all off again, and the sound of laughter fills the room until Nina says "ow," and Jesper yelps and jumps off the bed, and Wylan loses his head completely until Inej shoos him out of the room and tells him to send for a medik.
Jesper and Wylan are both exiled to the hallway while Inej and the medik fuss over Nina. Jesper looks nearly as green as his waistcoat, and for once he isn't even cracking jokes. At one point, Inej comes out to fetch something, and rolls her eyes at both of them. "You don't need to look so terrified. Neither of you are the ones giving birth."
"I'm a very empathetic person," Jesper croaks. Inej rolls her eyes again and brushes past them, returning in a few minutes with a new pail of water and shutting the bedroom door behind her.
"This stuff does scare me a bit," Jesper whispers to Wylan after Inej goes back in. "I mean, I know it's normal and all but it's so . . ." He makes a face, gesturing helplessly. Wylan knows what he means. Maybe it's just because they've been relegated to standing outside, waiting, and putting together what's happening in the room from the noises (none of which sound pleasant) but something about the entire process sends shivers up his spine. He supposed he should count his blessings that he'll never need to experience it more closely than this.
"There's nothing to be frightened of," a serene voice says behind them. Wylan and Jesper both turn around at the same time to see Marya standing in the hallway behind them. "Nature will take its course," shs says, and walks past them both without another word.
"You know," Jesper says in an undertone to Wylan, "I've never been that fond of nature. It's why I moved to the city in the first place."
Wylan can't agree, not entirely. He loves the outdoors, the smell of fresh-cut grass and blooming flowers. But he loves even more the fact that his mother just spoke to them of her own volition. Nature, he supposed, did take its course.
"I still say you should name her after me," Jesper says.
Inej slaps his arm. "Be quiet."
"I will not." He looks injured. "I'll have you know, Jesper is a perfectly good name for a girl. In fact-"
He breaks off midsentence when the baby yawns widely, and Wylan hides a smile in his sleeve. Nina's daughter isn't a day old yet, and she's already managed the impossible and silenced Jesper Fahey. Nina should be proud.
She certainly looks proud: she's sitting up in bed, the baby cradled against her chest, looking down into her newborn's face. It's hard to really tell at this point - the baby's face is pretty squished - but Wylan thinks he can see bits of Nina in her eyes and mouth. Matthias is harder - Wylan didn't know him long enough to memorize his features - but the few stands of light hair clinging to her scalp do speak to the heritage her father left her. Her eyes are bright blue, and she blinks up at Nina in confusion, as though she's still not sure what to make of this odd new world she's been thrust into.
"I'm going to call her Elisabeta," Nina says quietly. A bit of drool is running from the baby's mouth, and she wipes it away with her thumb. "They use the name in Ravka and Fjerda." She looks up at Inej. "And it's one of your saints, isn't it? One of your knives."
Inej leans over and puts her hand over Nina's. "That's right," she says quietly. "Patron saint of warriors."
Nina hugs Elisabeta a little closer, eliciting a squeak of protest. "I like that," she says. "It's old and new at the same time. Ravkan and Fjderdan and Suli all at once. It's a big name for her now, but she'll grow into it."
"You could call her Elisa," Wylan suggests. "Until she's a bit older."
Nina nods thoughtfully. "I like that too."
Inej is sitting on one side of the bed, Wylan on the other. Jesper's curled up at the foot, still eyeing Elisa like he thinks she might explode, but he's got a hand resting on Nina's ankle nonetheless. The only one they're missing is Kaz, and Wylan suspects he'll make his presence known somehow sooner or later. And of course, there's no Matthias, and no way for any of them to forget it. He can see the memory on Nina's face, although time has rubbed away the worst of the raw edges.
"Her papa would have loved her," Nina says quietly. Wylan feels tears form in his eyes, and knows that Jesper and Inej feel the same.
Jesper gives Nina's ankle a squeeze. "He still does. Wherever he is, he loves her. And you."
Nina nods again. They all let the moment of silence stretch out. It's not uncomfortable or sad; more like allowing the space for Matthias's memory to settle in between them. In his mind's eye, Wylan can almost see him, see the proud smile on his face as he looks at Nina and Elisa. He knows Jesper's right; wherever he is, whatever god he prayed to in life, Matthias still loves his family fiercely. It's just that he's not here to do it in person. That part is up to them.
Elisa squirms in Nina's arm, letting out a tiny sneeze and then frowning as though she's disappointed herself somehow.
And for the first time, Nina laughs.