A FOREST TALE 36: In The Family Way
By Bernard Doove © 2011
Goldfur’s ears pricked up at the sound of something not typically heard near their home. Shi made hir way to the front door in time to see two motorcycles pull into the yard. The rare noise of internal combustion engines died as the riders turned off their motors, dismounted, and pulled off their helmets. The nearest one, a very tall black panther morph, strode up to the door while the other leaned up against their motorcycle.
The panther smiled down amiably at Goldfur. "G’day! I’m looking for Forestwalker. Would I be right in guessing that you’re hir sister, Goldfur?"
Goldfur grinned back up. "You would be correct, and the only black panther herm that shi’s told me about would be Rik from the Double H Club."
"Right first time."
"Then that would make the Rakshani over there, Shamara." Although the rider resembled a tiger morph, the long, thick tail was a dead giveaway, even if shi could not smell hir alien scent.
"Right again. So is Forest home?"
"I sure am," Forestwalker said from behind Goldfur. "I was out the back, playing with the cubs, otherwise I’d have been out here sooner. What brings you two out here? Decided to take up my invitation and check out the place at last?"
"Nope, although I will do that one day. Shamara and I are headed off down to Phillip Island for the Moto Grand Prix, and we were wondering if you or Leanna would be interested in joining us down there?"
"I’m not really interested in motorcycle racing, and Leanna and I have our hands full with the new kits anyway."
Rik slapped hirself on the forehead. "Doh! Of course – how could I forget how gravid shi was last time I saw hir? So when did it happen?
"Shi gave birth to Opal back on September 29, but our mate, Trina, gave birth to Mica, the kit that Leanna sired, just a few days ago on October 7. Why don’t you come out back and meet the new additions?"
"I’m not exactly the parent type, but I’ll give Leanna my congratulations." Shi turned to Shamara. "Come on in and meet the family."
"OK. Umm... what about our boots?" Shamara enquired.
"No problem," Forestwalker assured hir. "We have tiles in the passageway."
They found Leanna and Trina seated on a garden bench, enjoying the Spring sunshine. Leanna was breastfeeding a sandy-red kit, while Trina was just cradling an off-white kit with soft brown markings who was fast asleep.
"Hi, Rik!" Leanna called out when shi spotted hir. "Come to see my kits? Oh! Shamara too! Hi Sham! This is my mate, Trina."
"G’day Leanna, Trina. I confess that I hadn’t even realised that they had been born yet. Congrats on the cute kits, by the way. However, we came for a different reason, but it’s obvious that you won’t be going anywhere for a while."
"Not at short notice anyway. I heard your motorbikes – doing a bit of riding in the hills here? Or perhaps going to the Moto Grand Prix?"
"No fooling you, is there? Yeah, we’re off to Phillip Island for the weekend."
"I’ve entered into one of the amateur races," Shamara added.
"Good luck with that. So what’s been happening with the group lately?"
"That’s the other thing that we wanted to tell you since you haven’t been to the Double H for a few weeks – for obvious reasons. They’re holding a costume party for Halloween. I thought that you might like to join in because the rest of us intend to go. It’s being held at the Double Date, so non-herm partners are just as welcome," Rik added, looking pointedly at Trina.
"Hmm. I think that I could get a babysitter or two for that night. How about it, Trina? Think you’d be up for it?"
"Sounds like fun. We haven’t had the chance to do much lately, so it’ll be good to get out and socialise a bit. It’ll give me the opportunity to meet all those herm friends of yours that you’ve been telling me about."
"Great!" Rik enthused. "Just let Francine know how many will be coming. Shi’ll let you know the details like time and cost." Rik looked to Forestwalker. "What about you? Want to bring along someone else besides Leanna?"
"I’m not sure if I can go. I have a cub due on October 25."
Rik blinked in surprise. "Funny – you don’t look pregnant."
Forestwalker rolled hir eyes. "Idiot. It’s my lifemate, Midnight. We’ll be holding a birthing party for hir on the 26th, as long as Star Fleet doesn’t screw things up for us. Want to come see my latest cub being born?"
Rik shook hir head emphatically. "No thanks – cubs really aren’t my thing."
"How about you, Shamara? Want to share in a bit of chakat culture?"
Shamara grinned. "I’m with Rik on this one. If I have a child some day, it’ll be years from now. Right at the moment I am trying to build a career in bike racing, and that’s not compatible with being a mother at the same time. That’s one thing that I like about my relationship with Rik – we’re not genetically compatible because I’m not a Terran morph, so there’s no chance of pregnancy."
"The best kind of contraceptive," Forestwalker admitted. "Anyway, with the Halloween party just five days after the birth, it might be a bit soon for Midnight."
Goldfur interjected, "I dunno – I reckon that shi’ll be glad to have an excuse to take a break from being a mother for a few hours. Shi’s not quite as enthusiastic about motherhood as you are. And you know Quickpaw will be glad for an excuse to look after hir newest niece."
Forestwalker threw up hir hands in surrender. "Alright – put us down for a definite maybe. I’ll leave it up to Midnight to decide."
"Great. We’d better get going," Rik said. "This little detour was nice, but we have to get down to the island as soon as we can. Now that we’ve tracked down where you live though, we may pay a proper visit sometime soon."
"You’re always welcome – both of you," Forestwalker assured them as shi saw them to the front door.
Chakat Midnight arrived on October 23, late Sunday afternoon, aboard Admiral Kline’s shuttle which settled down in its usual place in the back yard. Forewarned of their arrival, Forestwalker had ensured that the yard was clear of cubs and toys. Shi waited eagerly for the shuttle door to open, anxious to see hir mates again. It seemed like an eternity, but it was really a brief wait before the hatch opened to reveal a raven-black chakat in Star Fleet Security uniform. Shi carefully stepped down, mindful of hir gravid body, then found hirself enveloped in a passionate hug from Forestwalker.
"It’s good to see you too, Love." Midnight then kissed hir deeply to emphasise hir point.
A moment later they were joined by Boyce who claimed a kiss from Forestwalker also. Last to disembark was M’Lai who had Ember in tow. They both got cuddles, of course.
"Sorry to be a day late," Midnight explained as they headed inside, "but duty comes first. The bad guys just have no consideration for us expectant mothers."
Forestwalker grinned back at Midnight. "It would have been awful to have been late for your own birthing party. Still, you made it with a day to spare."
"I would have been very annoyed if I’d had to have the cub on board Pegasus without you there." Midnight looked around with both eyes and empathic sense. "Where’s everyone?"
"Goldie and Garrek are doing maintenance at various Star Corps sites. Swiftwalk is teleporting them around between time that shi and Dale are on some alien world somewhere. Lupu and Avi are visiting their pack while Dale is away. Malena is visiting her mother. Leanna has taken hir kits out in the stroller along with Trina and Kris. I’d be with them if I hadn’t been waiting for you. That just leaves Lorene who’s in the kitchen preparing dinner, and of course all the cubs. Speaking of which... All clear, kids! You can play outside until dinner!"
There was a small stampede from the bedrooms. "Hi, Auntie Midnight!" a couple called as they dashed past. Two latched onto Midnight though.
"Daddy!" they cried out in delight, nuzzling and purring loudly.
"Oho! You two little terrors are growing up so fast!" Midnight picked up Snowcloud and Patchwork, tucking one under each arm and giving them big lick-kisses. The cubs squealed in delight and gave hir many little licks back.
"It’s good to be able to relax, forget about Security for a while, and just be a parent again," Midnight purred.
"Speaking of which, how has Ember been doing?"
"Quite well, actually. I’d been a little worried that shi would miss the presence of other young chakats, but it seems that the other children on the ship have been enough, and of course I give hir a lot of attention whenever I’m off-duty."
Boyce added, "Shi likes to sleep with hir Daddy, which is convenient when Midnight needs to spend time with M’Lai or Sparks. I like it usually, except when shi gets the urge to sleep on my chest. Shi’s gotten a bit too big for that nowadays."
"Just think – you’ll soon have another niece who might like to sleep on you also," Forestwalker pointed out.
"Oh joy," Boyce lamented. "My bridge crew are going to have to keep waking me up."
Everybody laughed. Some things never changed.
About noon the next day, three chakats, two cubs, and a foxtaur appeared out of thin air into the living room. The cubs immediately streaked away in search of the others, while the adults took stock of their surroundings. They spotted Midnight lying on the sofa, hir gravid body comfortably propped up with pillows.
"You look comfy," Goldfur observed.
"I’m being pampered – and loving it," Midnight replied with a grin.
"Too right, shi is!" came Forestwalker’s voice as shi walked in with a mug of tea and a fruit bun which shi placed on the table beside Midnight. Shi then turned to Goldfur and gave hir a hug. "Hi, sis. How’s work?"
"Interesting, as always, but it feels strange to be flitting from planet to planet like that. You just get used to one atmosphere and gravity and boom – you’re in another completely different one."
"And those are only the worlds that I’m familiar with," Swiftwalk noted. "After I do that planned slowpoke tour of Star Corps sites, I’ll be able to take you to so many places, you won’t be able to tell where you are anymore."
"They’re not overworking you again, are they?" Forestwalker asked with concern.
"Nah. We renegotiated the contract to give me a more manageable workload."
"And I stood over both sides to ensure that shi worked out a good arrangement," Dale added. "I don’t want my mate overdoing things again, especially now that shi’s pregnant. Goldendale stroked the flanks of hir mate, whose belly was now visibly bulging.
"Shi worries too much," Swiftwalk demurred, and kissed Dale. "Gotta go, hon. Midnight’s mother still needs to be picked up from Chakona, and Malena from her village. Have a cuppa ready, will you?" With that, shi was gone once again.
"The kettle has just boiled," Forestwalker told Dale, who nodded and headed off to the kitchen.
"I’m headed for the shower and a change of clothes," Goldfur announced. "Garrek, are you coming?"
"Sorry, Love, but I’m going to surprise Lorene and work a bit of tension out of my system."
Goldfur nodded understandingly and left for the bathroom.
"Where’s Lorene?" Garrek asked.
"Hear the vacuum cleaner? That’s her cleaning the bedrooms in preparation for our visitors."
"Perfect! Don’t come looking for her or me for a while."
Garrek found Lorene in one of the guest rooms. She was diligently getting to the dust bunnies under the bed, and didn’t notice him arrive. He grinned broadly, closed the door, walked over and goosed her. With a surprised yelp, she spun around with an outraged look on her face, which suddenly turned to joy when she saw who it was. She flew into his arms and kissed him, which he willingly returned. However, he quickly broke it off, grabbed her wrists and pulled her over to the bedpost where he tied one wrist with a cable tie that he pulled from one of his many vest coat pockets. He repeated it with the other wrist to the other bedpost, then both forelegs to the base of each of the posts. He then fingered her collar while she looked at him with great expectation.
"You are mine to do with as I please," he reminded her.
"I am yours," she affirmed. "Take me!"
And he did, long and hard, and her cries of ecstasy failed to be drowned out by the noise of the forgotten vacuum cleaner.
Malena groaned and collapsed onto some lounging cushions. "I don’t think I can stand another couple of weeks like this!" shi complained for the tenth time that day. The triplet foxtaur kits that filled her grossly swollen abdomen weighed as heavily on her as sextuplets on a biped, and they just wouldn’t keep still. "It’s not a playground in there!" she scolded them, to zero effect.
"You asked for it!" Jaleth said smugly, never missing an opportunity to make her point.
"Give it a rest, mom! Pot meet kettle, remember?"
The reminder usually stopped the snarky comments for a while. Malena had not regretted coming for a visit, and her mother had been generally supportive and helped Malena cope with her extreme gravidity. However, between the burden in her belly and the digs at her, Malena’s patience had worn thin.
Just then, Swiftwalk appeared.
"Thank the Makers – I’m saved," Malena murmured.
"What was that?" Swiftwalk asked.
"Nothing. I’m ready to go home. My bag’s all packed."
Jaleth came over to hug her daughter, the snide remarks forgotten now that she was leaving. "Don’t hesitate to call me if you need help with my new grandkits."
"Thanks, mom. I expect that I’ll have plenty of help, but I’ll keep you in mind." She lick-kissed her mother, and then Swiftwalk laid a hand on her arm and teleported her away.
Guests started trickling in soon after lunchtime. Midnight’s mother, Sharpears, had joined them for the meal, delighted to be able to attend the birthing party of hir next granddaughter, despite the birthing taking place many light-years away from hir home. Forestwalker’s parents were next to arrive, then Sparks got shore leave from the Pegasus after getting an invitation from Midnight. Rosepetal arrived in time for dinner. A few of Forestwalker’s aunts also made it in time for the meal. With the cub not due until the next day, that evening was just for socialising.
The event came a little earlier than anticipated the next morning. Swiftwalk was despatched to fetch Quickpaw, who had threatened mayhem if shi was left out. When they ’ported into the living room, Quickpaw was laughing so hard that tears were coming out of hir eyes.
"Okay, sis – what’s so funny?" Goldfur asked.
"Swift appeared out of nowhere, right in front of Sasha. You have never seen a funnier sight than a huge tiger morph jumping six feet in the air with hir fur all frizzed out in shock."
"Shi’s going to kill you when you get back," Goldfur reckoned.
"I know. It’ll be worth it." Shi still couldn’t stop chuckling though.
"Better head over to the bedroom now," Goldfur reminded hir.
"Right!" Quickpaw eagerly bounded away, with Goldfur and Swiftwalk following at a more leisurely rate.
Swiftwalk found hir mate with the others, nude as was traditional, but not self-conscious about it as shi had been the first time when shi had witnessed Forestwalker giving birth. However, hir attention was not on Midnight, but instead focused on one of the other people in the room. Swiftwalk followed hir line of sight, then grinned. Both Rosepetal and M’Lai had joined everyone else to witness the birth, but while the former was still clad in her civvies, M’Lai had elected to honour the chakat tradition, and was just as nude as the rest of the people in the room, and seemingly unfazed by it. Dale was certainly getting an eyeful of the Caitian’s exceptionally generous endowments.
"It’s a good thing that we chakats don’t get jealous," Swiftwalk murmured in Dale’s ear.
Dale felt hirself blush with embarrassment at being caught ogling M’Lai, hir ears practically burning. "I.. I just..." shi stammered.
"Oh, hush – I’m just teasing you. Heaven knows I’m getting an eyeful too."
Dale didn’t need hir nose to tell that hir mate was in high male phase, pregnancy notwithstanding, and shi heaved a sigh of relief.
The witnesses did not have to wait for long as Midnight seemed determined to have a very quick birthing. A little under an hour from hir first contraction, Midnight held hir newborn cub, with Forestwalker looking on proudly.
As usual, speculation began on what to call the cub. Shi was white-furred, with orange tiger stripes, and suggestions flew based on those markings, but none appealed to the parents.
Suddenly the cub gave voice. Instead of the typical cries or mewlings of a newborn cub, shi gave a very long yowl.
Sharpears smiled and commented, "Quite the little roar shi has there."
Midnight grinned. "Yeah – hey, that’s it! Shi turned to Forestwalker and asked, "What do you think of Littleroar as a name?"
"I like it," Forestwalker agreed. "What do the rest of the family think of it?"
There was plenty of support for the proposed name. At a nod from Midnight, Forestwalker took the cub and held hir up in presentation.
"May I present to you Littleroar – child of Midnight and Forestwalker."
There was a big cheer in response, which startled the cub, who promptly lived up to hir new name.
If this had been a normal chakat birthing party, celebrations would have continued on until late at night, with half the guests not leaving until the next morning. Murphy decided to stick his foot in it though.
Garrek was being attentive to Malena’s needs, and the vixen was very grateful for it. The less that she had to move, the less discomfort that she had to endure. Not that there was ever a really comfortable way of coping with her grossly gravid form, but she was willing to settle for tolerable. A moment later, she yelped.
"What’s wrong, Malena?" Garrek asked with concern.
"I... I just had a contraction."
"What? But it’s way too soon. You’re not due for weeks."
"I know it is, but I had one anyway."
"But it’s too soon!" Garrek repeated.
"Look – I’ve given birth before; I know what a contraction feels like."
By now they had attracted Goldfur’s attention. "What happening?"
Garrek said, "Malena thinks that she just had a contraction."
"No," Malena denied. "I know I had a contraction."
"But it’s too soon!" objected Garrek.
"You’re really stuck in that rut, aren’t you?" Malena said with a roll of her eyes.
"It’s not unusual for multiple births to occur early," Goldfur interjected. "It’s possible that the excitement of the evening has triggered it off now. If more contractions happen, then I think we may have another birthing to attend today."
"Please, Goldie – I really don’t want everybody hanging around while I try to deliver three kits."
"Okay, Love, we’ll keep it to a minimum. Or would you prefer to go to a birthing clinic?"
I coped with Blaze, so I think I can cope with these three with Brightsong’s help, but do you think that you can fetch mom? She’ll want to be here for the birth of her grandkits."
"Okay, I’ll ask Swiftwalk, but let me know if you change your mind about the clinic."
As it turned out, more contractions did come, but not so quickly that Malena had to be retired to one of the bedrooms until after midnight. With Garrek, Goldfur, Lorene and Jaleth in attendance, along with Quickpaw assisting the midwife, Brightsong, Malena finally delivered the first at 12:44am.
"It’s a male," declared Brightsong. "Congratulations, Malena."
The second waited until after one o’clock to come out, but the third followed almost immediately.
Malena was tired but pleased that the deliveries had gone reasonably quickly. However, she was dismayed that she could not breastfeed any of her kits because her milk had not come in yet. Fortunately, they not only had the services of a professional wet nurse – Quickpaw – but Garrek had ordered Lorene to get the medicine that stimulated lactation before she moved over to Australia, and her four breasts were already amply filled with the essential nourishment.
Garrek and Goldfur left while the kits were getting their first feed, to announce the arrival of three healthy foxtaur kits. Garrek was dancing with excitement due to the fact that they were all male – identical triplets it seemed. It was a bit hard to tell for sure before their fur dried and they could get a good look at them.
By now, most chakats would normally be in bed. However, the interest in Malena’s triplets meant that not one had done so yet. All of them were hoping for the opportunity to see the kits and to congratulate the mother.
Upon being informed of this by Goldfur, Malena rolled her eyes. "Chakats! You’re all obsessed! Okay, let them in and get this over with so that we can all get some sleep."
"How are you feeling?" Goldfur asked with some concern for hir mate.
"Much lighter. I’m glad that they came early and they’re doing fine. I just need a lot of rest right now."
The chakats took turns to visit mother and kits so as not to overwhelm them all at once. Naturally one of the inevitable questions was – ‘Have you thought of names for them yet?’ Unlike chakats who preferred their cubs to be born before they started considering names, Malena and Garrek had already decided what to call them, and had names ready for either males or females.
"Their names are Rikkal, Jallor, and Mallek."
"Which is which though?"
"They’re look too much alike, so until I get some way of identifying them, even I won’t be able to keep track of who’s who."
"But you won’t be able to tell who is firstborn."
"I don’t want to know. I don’t want one to think that he is more special than the others just because he came out first."
Eventually everyone had congratulated Malena and cooed over the kits. Swiftwalk returned Jaleth to Mountain Glade, and Quickpaw to hir dorm room, then gratefully crawled into the common sleeping room to snuggle up to Dale. Finally, peace and quiet descended upon the home.
Rik returned to hir room at the Double H Club after the Double Date closed its doors for the night, to be greeted by the odd sight of Shamara waiting for hir in the bedroom. It wasn’t the fact that the Rakshani was in hir room – shi had moved in with Rik soon after the poker night incident. Hir courier job took hir away from Melbourne more often than not, and seeing as shi resided at the Double H Club and they spent much of the time that shi was in Melbourne together nowadays, shi thought shi might as well not bother with a room of hir own that shi didn’t get to use half the time, much to Rik’s delight. No, it was odd because of the peculiar attire shi was wearing.
"What on Earth have you got on?" Rik queried.
Shamara was wearing a pinstripe suit and fedora, and had a lit cigar between the fingers of hir right hand, and a fake tommy-gun tucked under hir left arm. The only thing that really looked out of place was the lack of shoes which were a necessary concession to hir digitigrade feet.
"Like it? The costume shop person said that this was a... what was it she said...? Oh yeah, a gangster outfit from the early 1900’s. I’ll be wearing it to the Halloween event."
Rik grinned. "Well, I think it suits you, but when did you take up smoking?"
Shamara looked at the cigar. "I haven’t – I’m just using it as a prop. I don’t know what you see in them."
"I suppose you have to grow up with them. So, why are you wearing that outfit now? The dance is a few nights away as yet."
"I wanted to show it off before I left. I’ve got another job that will keep me away until the day of the dance."
Rik’s face fell. "Damn – that means we’ll miss the weekend for riding."
"Can’t be helped. Until I turn professional, my courier job comes first. However, as a consolation, you get to find out what I’m wearing underneath."
That perked up Rik’s interest. "Oh? What goes under a gangster outfit?"
"Well at first the shop assistant was looking at doing me up as a gangster... er... moll, I think she called it. She showed me some interesting outfits, but none of them clicked with me – too fem. Then it occurred to us that because I’m a herm, maybe there was a compromise." With that shi put the cigar aside on an ashtray and shrugged off the coat. Then shi unbuttoned the shirt to reveal a lacy black bra and garter belt. Undoing the belt, shi dropped the trousers to show that shi was wearing a pair of black stockings that didn’t let the fur stick through them, held up by garters.
Rik leered at hir. "This is what she wanted to you to wear to the dance?"
Shamara laughed. "No – this is what’s left of the moll outfit after I picked out the bits that I wanted to get a reaction out of you. Would you like to take off the bra for me?" Rik did so and then shi climbed onto the bed. Shi posed sexily for Rik, with a growing erection.
Rik had already scented that shi was in heat, and that had probably affected hir choice of outfit when normally shi preferred dressing masculine. Not that shi objected because it was sure turning hir on! Shi started undressing. "My dear Shamara, I believe I want to learn a bit more about gangsters and molls," shi said with a grin as shi joined the Rakshani on the bed.
"I look silly," Leanna complained.
"It’s not supposed to be serious," Forestwalker replied. "Besides, these costumes were never designed for taurs, so how do you think I look in this?"
"Well I think mine suits me fine." Trina spun around to show it off.
"I think you all look great," Kris commented, then put the long-stemmed rose he was holding in his teeth, and posed. "Perfect companions for Tuxedo Mask!"
Leanna looked him over. "Okay – you look dashing, but I don’t know why I let Garrek persuade me to wear this... sailor suit."
"Because Sailor Moon needs her cohorts, and you go together so well," Garrek insisted.
When Forestwalker had mentioned that shi didn’t know what costume to wear to the Double H Club’s Halloween party, Garrek had been quick to point out some suggestions from his collection of old 20th and 21st Century anime. "You four can go as a theme," he enthused. "Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts, and the one male in the group as Tuxedo Mask – it’ll be great!"
Kris was hooked, and Trina was intrigued, but the others had to be won over. However, because they had run out of time, and they still couldn’t think of another common theme for the four of them, they decided to go with Garrek’s suggestion.
"Well, I think you look cute, Love," Midnight commented.
"Yeah? Then why didn’t you get into one of these?" Forestwalker asked.
"Oh, come on! Black fur – feline – Halloween – of course I’m going to go as a witch cat!" shi replied smugly. Dressed in a robe, cape, and pointy witch’s hat, shi certainly looked the part.
"It’s too late now in any case," Kris interjected, "So let’s get this show on the road. Quickpaw has the cubs under hir watchful eyes, so there’s no excuse for not relaxing and having a bit of fun. Now out to the PTV! Move it!"
"Yes, slavedriver!" Leanna replied ironically, but with a smile to show that shi was amused.
"Avast ye lubbers! Where do ye think yer goin’ without the cap’n of this vessel?"
Forestwalker burst out laughing at the sight of Goldfur dressed up in pirate captain’s costume, complete with eye-patch and a plushie parrot attached to one shoulder. "Such a terrifying sight! Goldbeard, is it?"
"Aye, and it seems I’m just in time to stop a mutiny. Tryin’ to leave without me, were ye? I’ll see ye swing from the yardarm for that!"
"Would you settle for a hug and an apology?"
"I’ll be settlin’ for no less than a kiss from ye, fair maiden!" Goldfur grabbed hir sister and put action to words.
When they parted, Forestwalker pretended a swoon. "Oh dear! I have been ravaged!"
"Keep it up, and I’ll let me First Mate have ye too," Goldfur threatened.
"Think you’re up to it, handsome?" Forestwalker asked Garrek, whose own piratical outfit made sense now that Goldfur was there.
"I think you’re all hams, and you can save it for the party. Now get into the PTV," he said with exasperation. Everyone obeyed, but with impudent grins on their faces.
Upon arrival at the Double Date, they encountered a steady stream of costumed party-goers headed inside.
"Looks like this is a popular event," Trina observed.
"Should make it loads of fun then," Kris replied.
"That’s the general idea, isn’t it?" Forest asked, then noticed the bouncer at the door. "Hey, look! It’s Rik dressed as a circus strongman."
Rik’s ample bust did nothing to detract from the fact that shi had the muscular build to do justice to the cliché strongman outfit. Shi even had prop old-fashioned barbells to complete the outfit.
When they reached the door, Forestwalker said, "Hi, Rik! Your costume looks great."
"G’day, Forest. Glad to see that you and Leanna could make it." Rik fingered the strap of hir costume. "I figured that if I had to be on duty tonight, I might as well look like some kind of tough guy."
"Hopefully you’ll only have to look the part, not actually be one. Is Shamara here already?"
Rik frowned slightly. "Shi should be, but I haven’t laid eyes on hir since this morning when shi got back from overseas. I’m not sure where shi is right now."
"I’ll keep an eye open for hir. I’d better move along – I think my mates are getting antsy."
"I’ll catch you later, Forest."
The others had been exchanging greetings with various club members while they waited. They all proceeded inside, presented their tickets, and were shown to their table. A band was on stage, playing some nice quiet tunes to add to the atmosphere without drowning out conversation. Orders were placed for drinks, and then they went out to mingle. Forestwalker and Leanna tried to spot their friends in costume. Some were easy, but others were hard to pick by sight alone. They found Tavitiana dressed as a medieval wench, along with hir mate, a handsome male husky named Sven, which didn’t go along with his strong Aussie accent.
"Blame my parents for that," he said with a grin. "Born and bred in Sydney, before I moved down to Melbourne and met Tavi."
The evening proceeded quite well, with dinner accompanied by a show put on by the Double H Club’s amateur performers – Halloween themed, of course. That was followed by the ‘No Talent Quest’ where people competed to be the least worst at performing songs of various genres randomly drawn from a list. A lot of good sports provided much hilarity. Then when desserts had been finished, the dancing started.
Forestwalker had just finished a dance with Kris when Rik approached hir. "Forest, could you come with me for a few minutes, please?"
"Sure, Rik. What’s up?"
"A little crisis, and I’m out of my depth."
Forestwalker wondered what kind of crisis could throw a professional bouncer. Rik led hir outside, and Forestwalker could see that another bouncer had taken over Rik’s place. "What’s the problem, Rik?"
As they continued past the café and into the Double H Club’s foyer, Rik replied, "It’s Shamara. Shi’s up in our room."
For once there was someone other than Francine at the desk – a fox morph whose named escaped Forestwalker. Shi looked up, nodded in acknowledgement, then went back to watching whatever was on the screen in front of hir. They headed through the double doors into the club proper.
"Our room?" Forestwalker repeated. "You two seem to be getting very close. Will we be hearing about a mating soon?"
"Shamara moved in with me not long after the poker night incident. Or at least that’s where shi stays when shi’s in town and not on courier duties. It suits us both. Don’t know about being mates though."
"So what is Shamara’s problem?" Forestwalker asked as they stepped into the elevator.
Rik hit the button for the accommodation level. "I don’t know. I went looking for hir when shi didn’t show up for the Halloween party, and found hir crying on the bed. Shi won’t say what’s wrong."
Forestwalker’s ears pricked up. "Oh my! I can feel hir distress already. Shi’s really miserable."
"Talk to hir, Forest. See if you can get hir to tell you what has upset hir so much."
"I’ll do my best."
Rik let Forestwalker into hir apartment where they found Shamara face down on the bed, sobbing softly.
Forestwalker put hir hand on Shamara’s arm, empathically projecting calming feelings. "Shamara – it’s Forestwalker. Tell me what’s wrong, dear."
For a long moment, Forestwalker was afraid that Shamara was not going to respond to hir either. Eventually though, Shamara turned hir face to Forestwalker, who could see that copious tears had left hir face fur a sodden mess.
"I... I haven’t been feeling well lately... so I went to the NTMC today."
"What’s the NTMC?"
"Non-Terran Medical Clinic. Not many doctors know Rakshani physiology, or have the facilities to deal with those kind of problems."
Forestwalker could feel that hir attempts to calm the distraught Rakshani were working. "Is it serious?" shi asked with deep concern.
"Forest, I’m... I’m pregnant!" shi wailed.
"What!" exclaimed Rik. "But how? Did you meet another Rakshani on one of your courier trips? You can tell me, Sham – I won’t mind."
Shamara was now clinging to Forestwalker like a lifeline. "You don’t understand – I haven’t been with any other male or herm recently but you, Rik; not even my wolftaur boyfriend in the GNA. I’ve been happy with the way things have been between us. I don’t need anyone else."
"But... we’re not compatible. I’m Terran and you’re Rakshan – we can’t interbreed."
"I tell you – it’s just been you. Nobody else. Deities! This is impossible!"
Shi was about to burst into tears again, but Forestwalker redoubled hir efforts to calm hir tumultuous feelings. What Shamara had just exclaimed though had got hir thinking. "Shamara, you told us how you felt that the Rakshan deities had made you this way – is it possible that there’s more to it than just being a herm?"
"What... what do you mean?"
"I have a human lifemate, and he has sired cubs not only in me, but also in his Caitian and Rakshan mates also. He was gifted by one of your Rakshan deities with hyperfertility at one of the Fertility Festivals. He can literally interbreed with any mammalian species. Perhaps that’s true of you also?"
Shamara thought for a moment, then replied, "I’ve had sex with other species before while I’ve been on heat, and never got pregnant. Having an alien lover is the next best thing to a Danzhouken to satisfy my needs without the risk of pregnancy."
"Oh yeah, Zhane has mentioned those to me – the infertile males. I still think it’s likely that it’s a gift from your gods."
"Gift? What’s supposed to make this a gift? I didn’t want a child now – I have a career to think of! I can’t be racing motorcycles on the professional circuit and being a mother at the same time. I don’t even know if I can be a good mother."
Forestwalker sighed. "I was lucky – I wanted Boyce’s child, but Midnight was the one who found out the wrong way that Boyce could get hir pregnant, and shi had a career also. Shi wasn’t prepared to be a mother yet, but shi adapted and coped. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but I’m sure that you can do it."
"But I don’t want to do it! I’m not ready for this."
"Shamara – you don’t exactly have much choice here. It’s either have the baby, or have an abortion." Even just saying that word left a bad taste in Forestwalker’s mouth.
Shamara snorted. "Did you know that abortion is a capital crime on Raksha?"
"No, I didn’t. I guess it has something to do with the high child mortality rate. But hasn’t that come down a lot in the past decades?"
Shamara nodded. "Yeah, and if you can get two doctors to sign an affidavit to say that it’s absolutely vital to terminate the pregnancy to save the mother’s life, then the law has relaxed enough to allow it. Otherwise though, it’s still a huge crime."
"Well, this is Earth, and the laws are different, but I still urge you not to do it. Everyone who is a mother for the first time is never quite ready for it – not even I. But we have the help and support of our loved ones to help us through the rough spots. You have me, and you have your friends at the club." Shi turned hir face to look at the big panther standing at hir side. "And hopefully you’ll also have the support of the sire. How about it, Rik? Are you prepared to be the father of this cub?"
Rik was looking dumbstruck at what shi was hearing. Forestwalker nudged hir and said, "Well?"
"I... I’m not sure... I’m just as unprepared to be a dad as Shamara is to be a mother."
"You have nine months – or however long a Rakshani pregnancy is – to get prepared. Are you going to let Shamara down?"
"No! But... we’re not even mated."
"You’ve been in a de facto relationship for months. By law, you have some responsibility. However, nobody wants to force you to do something that you don’t want to do. It’s hardly your fault that Shamara is interfertile with you, despite the fact that it would normally be impossible. But do you care enough about hir to take that responsibility?"
Forestwalker was amazed at how small and helpless that big, strong panther looked right now, and hir heart went out to Rik in sympathy. Maybe it was that last empathic touch that pushed Rik to make a decision. Shi straightened up and Forestwalker could feel hir resolve firm. Shi took Shamara’s hand and looked hir in the yes.
"Shamara – whatever you choose to do, I’ll be there for you. If it’s our destiny to be parents, well, let’s be the best parents that we can be."
Shamara looked back with some uncertainty still. "What about my career though?"
"It will be on hold, not forgotten. You have the talent to do well, whether it’s now or a year or two in the future. Besides, you heard Forest – we’ll have help. Shi just volunteered to babysit the cub while you’re out practicing."
"Hey!" Forestwalker exclaimed in mock outrage.
Shamara barked a short laugh, and for the first time there was a hint that the gloom was lifting.
Forestwalker let go of Shamara and got up. "I’m going to leave you two to discuss this, but if you need me again, just call." Shi pulled out hir comm from a concealed pocket in hir dress. "I’m sending you the contact for Chakat Redears, the doctor who worked out what was happening with Boyce’s hyperfertility. I suggest that you consult with hir and confirm what we suspect, and then you might be able to plan this better."
"Thanks, Forest," Rik said as shi took Forestwalker’s place at Shamara’s side.
As Forestwalker left Rik’s room, shi noticed that the panther was tenderly holding Shamara’s hand while the Rakshani had hir head pillowed on Rik’s chest. ‘Maybe you’ll surprise yourselves,’ shi thought as shi left the two alone.
Four days later, Forestwalker had just gotten home from work when shi heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. Shi got to the front door in time to see Shamara pull into their property, with a few excited cubs who had been playing in the yard, racing over to check out the bike and rider. Shamara dismounted close to the door, and took off hir helmet. Forestwalker was relieved to see that shi was smiling.
"G’day, Shamara. Good to see you again so soon. How are you doing?"
Shamara pulled a face. "Well, I’ve gotten over feeling so sorry for myself, if that’s what you mean. I’m still not thrilled that this is happening, but I’m coping."
"That’s great news. I was about to make tea and a snack – want to join me?"
"Sure. I came here to chat a bit anyway." Shi put hir helmet on the bike’s seat, removed hir riding gloves, and then followed the chakat inside.
Forestwalker invited Shamara to sit on the sofa while shi made the drinks and snacks. After handing over a steaming mug to the Rakshani, shi settled down on a lounging rug. By that time, several of the other residents had come out to say hello and find out what was happening.
After taking a few swigs from the mug, Shamara sighed in satisfaction. "Ah! That settles the dust nicely. Anyway, I know you’re all dying to hear what has happened since Halloween. I made an appointment with Redears as you had suggested. Shi was very keen to learn about another potential Rakshan deity intervention, so shi fitted me into hir schedule almost immediately. Rik and I saw hir on Wednesday."
Shamara paused to take a bite from the fruit bun that shi had been given. "Hey – this is great!"
Lorene smiled and said, "Thank you. I just baked them this afternoon."
Shamara took another mouthful, stretching out the anticipation of what shi had learned. "First of all, shi confirmed that the foetus was sired by Rik, which I already knew it had to be because as I said, I’ve only had sex with Rik lately. However, the point is that shi could confirm it because shi could easily identify Rik’s genetic markers in it. That’s different from your cub, Forest. Whereas your admiral’s sperm adapts to the mother and produces a child of the mother’s species, apparently my ova hybridised with Rik’s sperm. Our cub will be a mixture of panther and Rakshani."
"Different deity with a different approach?" suggested Midnight.
Goldfur nodded. "I’d agree. It would be interesting to see what would happen if you had a child by various other species."
Shamara shook hir head emphatically. "Uh-uh! Not going to happen. Besides not being a test subject for your curiosity, apparently I’m not universally fertile. Redears did tests similar to the ones that shi ran on the admiral, and found out that the only species that are interfertile with me are all felinoid."
"What? That’s odd. Is Redears sure?" Forestwalker queried.
"Yes. When shi got the odd results, shi ran many more. Every feline species worked, but every non-feline species failed. I suggested one other – Caitians. They’re as felinoid as the Terran morphs. To hir surprise, and despite our considerable size difference, I could become pregnant to a Caitian also."
The group thought about that for a while before Forestwalker said, "I have an hypothesis. You told us that you had difficulty finding a Rakshani lover, right?"
Shamara nodded hir head in agreement.
Forestwalker continued, "Perhaps the deity who was responsible for what you are, foresaw this happening, and gave you the ability to interbreed with species similar to Rakshani in order to increase your options in finding a mate?"
Midnight added, "Or else another deity saw your difficulties later and bestowed the ability then to compensate."
"Both good hypotheses," Shamara admitted. "Of course we’ll never know the truth because no deity has ever explained their actions."
"The bottom line is that you can have safe sex with any species except a felinoid one. Wait – does it work both ways? Could you get Rik pregnant?"
"Yeah, we tested for that too, and yes, I could get hir pregnant. My sperm adapts for a hybrid in exactly the same way as my ova, and only with felines once again."
"Then it was sheer chance that you caught first?"
"Mostly, but not completely. Because shi was the one who proved hirself to me, shi became the dominant one in our relationship, and because shi’s masculine biased, shi mounted me more often than I hir. Also, come to think of it, I kept being called out on courier duty when one or the other of us was on heat. I remember being frequently irked that I could not get Rik to deal with my urges. I suppose all those jobs just delayed the inevitable though," shi sighed.
"I wonder how Rik would have reacted if shi’d been the one to get pregnant instead of you?" Leanna commented.
Shamara grimaced. "As much as I hate being caught unawares like this, I’m glad that Rik didn’t get pregnant. Hir personality is too masculine dominant, and I think shi’d cope worse than I am."
"Take it from me," Midnight interjected, "shi’d be shattered. Virtually the same thing happened to me, and people were dealing with me like they were walking on eggshells for a while. It took me weeks to get back to something resembling normality, and many months to completely accept it. You seem to be coping better than I did."
"Don’t let my calmness fool you. I said that I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself, but I still have to resolve a number of things. I’ve also got my future to re-plan, and figure out how to be a mother."
"So, is Rik going to help with that as shi said," Forestwalker asked.
"Yes. In fact shi proposed to me last night. Shi told me that shi had fallen in love with me the first time that shi laid eyes on me, and wanted me to be hir mate."
"Congratulations! That’s great news," Forestwalker enthused.
"I haven’t accepted yet. I’m still thinking about it."
"But why? You two seem to be perfect for each other."
"Forest, my life has been a series of mishaps and hasty decisions. Don’t you think I should take my time and get this one right?"
"When you put it that way, you’re right, of course. Still, I think you’ve got a good thing going there."
Shamara smiled. "Yeah, so do I, so I’m going to try extra hard not to screw it up." Shi finished hir drink and stood up. "Thanks for the drink and snack, but I’ll be going now. I just dropped by to let you know the latest news."
"You need to get back home?" Forestwalker asked.
"Nope. Going to ride around for a while. I do my best thinking while I’m riding, and this is a lovely area to do it."
Forestwalker let Shamara out the front door. "Feel free to drop by any time, Shamara, whether you need to talk or just want a cup of tea. Our home is open to you."
"Thanks, Forest. I’ll keep that in mind." Then shi spotted a cub on hir bike, pretending to ride it while awkwardly perched on a seat made for a biped. "Hey! Mind if I have my bike back?"
Eudora hastily got off. "Aw! Wanna ride!"
"Sorry, hon, but it’s not safe for you, and your mother would kill me if I tried." Shi picked up hir helmet, put it on, and mounted the bike. The engine started with a roar, and Shamara spun the bike around and took off.
Midnight came out, holding Littleroar in hir arms, and they both watched the Rakshani head up the road and into the surrounding forest. "So, what’s the verdict? I know you would have been sensing hir feelings while shi chatted with us."
Forestwalker didn’t bother denying it. "Shi’s walled off the pain, but it feels like shi’s letting it out bit by bit. I think these rides of hirs do more for hir than all our kind words. Shi’s begun to deal with it on hir terms, and I think that’s for the best."
"Just as I had to eventually. I can enjoy being a mother now," shi said as shi nuzzled their cub. "But I had to learn how to do that while still being true to myself. It was worth it."
"Shi’s strong, ’Night. Shi’ll be okay – I’m sure of it."
"Good to hear. And now that that’s been sorted, your mates want some of your attention."
Forestwalker smiled and hugged the raven-black chakat. "Yes, dear," shi said as they walked back inside.
More stories to come in Forest Tales #37.
Shamara is the creation of Chakat Blackwater, and is used with permission.
Rosepetal and Admiral Kline are the creation of Boyce Garald Kline Jr, and are used with permission.
All other characters and this story are copyright © 2011 Bernard Doove.
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