Darktoes yawned and stretched as best shi could as shi emerged from hir tent, before glancing around—hir temporary home was pitched in the center of a Forester’s village, although located firmly on the ground. Craning hir head back to see up towards the platforms and rope bridges that made up the village, shi could tell shi was the only one up. Judging by the darkness of the overcast sky, it was not even dawn; not for the first time over the last ten months, shi had awoken far too early.
Thinking back, shi tried to recall why shi had woken up so early—only to have a swift kick to hir lower body’s abdomen remind hir. Hir unborn kits were evidentially playing in hir womb. Smiling to hirself, shi laid down and gave hir belly, and by extension, hir kits, a good morning pat and rub. It wouldn’t be long now until shi’d be able to hold hir newborns in hir arms.
Sighing, shi got up for a walk. Although shi was a veldt through and through, shi did enjoy the earthy feel of an untamed forest. Whenever shi visited one of these Forester’s home domains to deliver packages, shi enjoyed spending sometime alone amongst the trees, just listening to nature. In a lot of ways, it was a good thing, Darktoes thought, being this comfortable with the forest as shi was. A lot of veldts found forests to be somewhat claustrophobic, and many foresters found the open plains to be somewhat agoraphobic. Of course, in both cases, the feeling was really nothing more than a mild discomfort, nothing at all like the Territorial Attachment Syndrome their cousins the foxtaurs suffered from.
Darktoes was careful not to go too far out into the forest of course, and after a few minutes headed back to hir tent. Stellar Foxtaurs were one of the best engineered species in the Stellar Federation, on par (or so their developers claimed) with chakats, and although shi was moving relatively slowly due to hir pregnancy, hir midwife had assured hir that shi could still run, even this late in the pregnancy. That being said, neither Quinoa nor Darktoes wanted to take any chances—and as such, shi had been taking it as easy as shi could.
However, shi was still expected to work, and on the way back shi stopped here and there to snap a twig or two off from a low hanging branch, placed it in a bag, and noted the time and location in hir wrist-worn simplified tricorder, before continuing. Soon shi had a dozen bags, all of which shi had to carry by hand because shi had forgotten hir waist belt bag in hir tent, and gave up. Luckily shi was only a few dozen meters from hir tent, and soon was able to put them down in a pile of other samples inside the tent.
It wasn’t Quinoa’s and hir normal tent, but rather a simplified, smaller one they had brought with them. Needless to say, however, it was quite cramped inside, with their shared cot taking up half the space and Darktoes’ scientific equipment taking up another half. Squeezing in, shi laid down beside hir denmate and licked hir between the ears. When that failed to get any more then a twitch of said ears, shi reached around and groped hir mate’s breasts, before cuddling up against hir back and letting hir erection poke hir mate in the backside. Bring pregnant had jacked Darktoes’ libido up several notches, and thankfully hir mate was more than willing to accommodate hir.
Quinoa let out a low groan, and rolled over to face hir lover, and mother of hir kits. "You’re up early again I see—and horny."
Dark smiled and gave Quinoa a lick kiss. "Sorry, the kits woke me up again—and seeing you laying there just lit my fire, if you catch my drift."
The brilliantly red veldt rolled hir eyes before closing them and resting hir head on hir mate’s arm "Ever since you got pregnant, I’m not sure your ‘fire’ has ever gone out."
"Sorry." Darktoes nuzzled hir. "Seeing as you’re up, do you want to… you know?"
Quinoa shook hir head sleepily. "Only if you want me to fall asleep on you, I’m dead-tired hun; we were up all hours of the night you know." Then shi rolled over. "Just relax and try and sleep some more, sweetie. Both we and our kits can use some more sleep. I’ll see you in the morning."
"But it is the morning!" Darktoes protested jokingly. But deep down shi knew hir mate was right, and although shi was still quite horny, shi did as hir mate suggested, and relaxed, drifting off to sleep.
Of course, it was in fact morning, and within an hour both veldts had been awoken by the sounds of Forester’s village swinging into full gear for the day. As Quinoa left to fetch them both some breakfast, Darktoes opened some of the sample bags from earlier and began to examine the twigs under hir microscope—something shi had done for the last two weeks almost continually.
About three weeks ago, shi had been contracted by the village’s leader, to come out and help them with a rather puzzling issue. Many of the trees in the village and surrounding forest had developed a strange greyish tar-like substance all over their bark and leaves. Although Darktoes had tried to explain that shi wasn’t really an expert on trees, and was extremely close to the end of hir pregnancy, the forester had been adamant that shi’d be able to solve the issue, which shi believed was being caused by some of the plants they had been cultivating. Rather than destroy all the crops, Darktoes was supposed to help them identify the offender, so they could remove it. After a week however, it became clear to hir that it wasn’t being caused by any of the crops, and even though it was somewhat outside of hir knowledge base, shi felt obligated to try and get to the bottom of the mystery.
"Any progress, hun?" asked a voice.
Turning, Darktoes saw the white hair-capped head of hir friend and patron poking through the tent flap, "Hi Treetop, and no, I’m afraid not."
The Forester stepped fully into the tent—given hir size, it looked a great deal less cramped for hir than it did for Darktoes—and gave the Veldt a hug. "It’s okay hun, I shouldn’t have insisted you come here. I didn’t mean to waste your time."
Darktoes bent down and gave hir friend a nuzzle on the top of hir head. Shi had originally met Treetop during one of hir courier runs, and the two of them had become good friends with one another. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that shi had already known the Forester, shi would have likely turned down hir somewhat unorthodox request.
Treetop wrapped hir arms around hir friend and ‘climbed’ hir to give hir a lick-kiss. "But that’s not why I’m here. I’m wondering if you’ve given any thought to how you’re going to be giving birth?"
Darktoes shrugged. Originally shi had planned to have a chakat style birthing party with hir friends at hir home, but now that idea seemed unlikely. Darktoes explained that to Treetop.
The Forester frowned. Shi knew that this was to be Darktoes’ first child, and apparently shi had managed to ruin the moment for hir friend. "I could have you flown to your camp in a medical shuttle," shi offered.
Dark shook hir head. "Thanks for the offer, but it’s all right. All I really need is the support of Quinoa."
Treetop nodded, and gave hir friend another squeeze, before inviting hir to lunch and exiting the tent. The flap had barely stopped moving when Quinoa entered with a bowl of fresh fruit and two mugs of coffee.
"Did you have a nice talk with Tree?" shi asked, handing hir mate one of the mugs and setting the bowl down between them.
Darktoes nodded. "Shi’s invited us to lunch, if you’re interested."
Quinoa frowned deeply, and Darktoes knew why—hir mate had always been deathly afraid of heights. The idea of the tree-homes of the Foresters scared hir deeply. "Well…"
"You don’t have to go. I won’t either if you don’t want me to, hun," Darktoes added hastily.
"No," Quinoa said firmly. "I think I can manage…"
"Okay." Darktoes reached into the bowl and selected a piece of fruit to eat. "It’s not that bad, I promise."
"I hope so," Quinoa replied glumly, but resolved. Then shi grinned. "Because if I go up, I may not come down!"
"You can open your eyes now, hun," Darktoes said, nudging hir mate gently. Despite what Quinoa had said, it still had taken Darktoes a great deal of coaxing to get hir up to Treetop’s house. Eventually shi had just told Quinoa to close hir eyes and hold onto hir arm as shi guided Quinoa upwards along one of the tree-trunk ramps. Darktoes wasn’t any braver than Quinoa, and shi too was quite apprehensive about the climb, but realistically shi knew neither of them were in any great danger. In spite of what their carefree demeanor would seem to suggest, most Foresters realized not everyone was comfortable, or as well equipped, to live as they did, and kept a close eye on visitors in case they required help.
Quinoa opened hir left eye slightly, then both hir eyes, and glanced around. They were standing on the walkway outside of Treetop’s home. Despite hir status of ‘leader’ amongst this group of Foresters, Treetop’s hut was no more impressive than any other in the village. The position, even though it was an official one as per Star Fleet regulations, was extremely informal compared to, say, a ‘mayor’ living in a town on Earth or Chakona. Turning slightly, Quinoa looked behind hir over the rest of the village and muttered, "I really wish they’d put railings up here."
"Where’d be the fun in that?" Treetop said jovially, emerging from the semi-open door of the hut. "Besides, if we did that, we’d have a great bunch of dusty Veldts up here all day!" Walking over to the brilliantly colored veldt, shi took Quinoa's hand. "Come on, hun, you’ll feel better inside."
Like most of the Stellar Foxtaurs on Arisia, the Foresters were still developing traditions, customs, or just methods of doing things by which they could live their lives. The effort had been on going for the last 22 years or so, but it had only been in the last two years, after landing on the planet and living on their own, that they had really begun to ‘express’ themselves. Not surprisingly, the interior of Treetop’s hut had changed somewhat since Darktoes had last visited several months ago. Hir hut had started taking on a less ‘natural’ look—the walls were covered in a plaster-like substance. "Decided not to go with the whole au natural look of the Vanillas then?" Darktoes commented.
Treetop shook hir head as shi led Quinoa to the table that occupied the center of the ‘room’. Due to space contrasts, most of the Foresters' huts only had two rooms: a sleeping area, and a general purpose area which they used for work, food perpetration, etc. "We wanted to, but we don’t really have the right sorts of building materials to make it practical, and about a month ago, right before this goo started appearing, we had the worst swarm of insects I’ve ever seen! We had to plug up the holes as best as we could as quickly as we could before the damn things got into everything."
Darktoes nodded and sat down by hir mate, giving hir a quick hug. Even though they were now surrounded by walls, shi suspected Quinoa was still uneasy.
Seeing everyone settled in, Treetop brought the food salad over from the counter where shi was preparing the ‘lunch’ for them, and set it on the table. For the most part Foresters were vegetarians, but Veldts weren’t, and after three weeks of eating mostly salads or fruit, Darktoes was getting a bit sick of it all.
As if reading hir mind, Treetop grinned. "And I’ve got a special treat for you, Darktoes; how’d you like some real meat?"
Darktoes smiled back just as broadly. "Yes please! I haven’t had anything but greens since I got here."
"I didn’t even know you guys had meat," Quinoa said, breaking hir fear-induced silence.
Treetop left the table and opened a small-scale refrigeration unit, normally used to keep vegetables fresh, to reveal some sort of roast animal. Judging by the scent coming from it, the unit wasn’t on, just keeping the meat warm and safe from any small animals who would like to munch on it. Almost immediately, Darktoes’ mouth began to water.
"We do eat some meat, but you have to understand it’s generally a bad idea to cook stuff while living in a tree," Treetop explained. "I was saving this for when Darkie here figured out what the hell was going on, but alas, it looks like it wasn’t to be."
Even though Darktoes knew hir friend was only joking, shi tried to apologize anyways. "I’ve tried to look at this problem from all angles, hun, and I can’t figure it out for the life of me! The only possibility I can think of is something like prions, but I haven’t the technology to look for them."
The Forest breed foxtaur waved hir off and started to hand out strips of meat to the two veldts. "Don’t worry about it, sweetheart, this is just a friendly meal between friends."
The trio rapidly devoured their meals, only pausing to compliment their patron on hir cooking ability. After the meal was finished, they retired to the ‘den’ area, which was filled with more comfortable pillows for them to lie on. Due to hir condition, Darktoes received the largest and most comfortable pillows.
"So, how’s your pregnancy going, hun?" Treetop asked, trying to catch up with hir friend. Hir duties as leader for the village, while rather informal, had kept the two of them from spending much time together.
Darktoes rubbed hir belly and smiled. "Good. It shouldn’t be too long now, only a day or so. I have to say, I’m starting to get eager to meet my twins for the first time."
"Twins? My goodness, no wonder you’re so large," Treetop commented. "My offer about the medical shuttle is still good, if you’re interested. But in any case, I’ve told our local midwife, shi should be coming to see you sometime later today."
"That’s okay." Quinoa’s ears perked up. "I’m going to be delivering the cubs."
"Oh?" Treetop looked surprised. "I didn’t know you were a midwife."
Quinoa shook hir head. "Yes and no. When Darktoes got pregnant, shi and I were always a bit worried about hir pregnancy. Not for any reason in particular," Quinoa cut the forester off before shi could interrupt, "just normal first-time parent jitters. So for the last few months I’ve been studying under Windswept to learn all the ins and outs. I’m not officially a midwife, but I will be once I write the proper examination."
"Ah. But I’m sure Burntleaf can still help out," Treetop pointed out. "Two heads are better than one, and such."
"Probably for the best anyway. I’m supposed to undertake a practical test in addition to a written one, but without an eyewitness there it won’t count."
"I, for one," Dark said, smiling, "am sure I’m in good hands. Quinoa here was the one who first discovered I was carrying twins." Unlike most taur species, the first generation of Stellar foxtaurs were designed to bear a higher-than-average number of multiple pregnancies. Unlike first generation chakats, or other taur species, their designers (and investor, the Stellar Federation,) didn’t have the luxury of waiting for them to naturally build up their numbers. As such, Darktoes fully expected to see many sets of twins running around, maybe even some triplets. "But enough about us, how’s your life going Tree?"
"Well," Treetop said, running hir hand through hir hand through hir mop of white hair, "nothing much really. I got elected ‘mayor’, and my life’s been hell ever since, but other than that, nothing really."
"How so?" Quinoa inquired.
"Oh you know how it is." The Forester waved hir hand. "Every voter seems to think their issue is the most important one. It seems I can’t go two meters without someone harassing me about why I haven’t solved all their problems!"
Darktoes shook hir head in amazement. "Some people!"
Soon the three of them were merrily talking about the ups and downs of local politics. They were soon joined by the Forester midwife, Burntleaf, who sported a rusty red mop of hair, and the conversation changed back to Darktoes’ pregnancy.
"Where are you planning on giving birth?" Burntleaf asked as shi scanned Darktoes' abdomen with a medical tricorder. "I’ve seen your tent, it’s not really big enough for everyone to cram into.
Dark frowned. In reality, it hadn’t been something shi had really been thinking of. Veldt home tents were extremely spacious, so it wasn’t too hard to have a birthing party in one of them, but now that shi thought about it, the tent they had brought along really was inadequate for the task.
"I can offer my home," Treetop said. "You can give birth here or in the bedroom."
Quinoa shook hir head. "No good. If I’m to attend as a midwife, I can’t be freaking out trying to go up these damnable ramps."
"You could stay here," Burntleaf pointed out. "I’m sure Tree wouldn’t mind."
The discussion stopped for a moment as a crack of thunder sounded and the first drops started to hit the roof of the hut. Glancing out the window, Darktoes could tell the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It had been overcast for days now.
"Thank the makers!" Burnt exclaimed, leaping to hir feet and opening the door to see the beginnings of the downpour. "It hasn’t rained in weeks!"
Judging by the look on hir mate's face, Darktoes could tell shi was quite confused, so shi tried to explain. "This is a rainforest hun, it’s supposed to rain a lot." Seeing hir mate nod in agreement, Darktoes put forth hir idea. "Maybe we could make some sort of tent on the ground? It shouldn’t be too hard, just some blankets for walls and some rope and such, that way everyone wins."
Treetop thought for a moment. "That could work… we have a bunch of marquees we use sometimes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to put together. But we should start putting it together now, if we’re to be ready."
Burntleaf nodded, and ran hir hand over Darktoes’ belly, physically checking for any anomalies. "I’ll help you. But you—" shi pointed at Darktoes "—should go back to your tent and rest. Giving birth isn’t easy and you’ll need your rest."
Getting up carefully, Darktoes and Quinoa thanked the two Foresters and began their descent, with Quinoa’s eyes firmly shut and Darktoes leading. Although the rain was coming down quite hard, they were shielded by the tree’s canopy, and it was only the short dash to their tent when they really got soaked. Once inside, Quinoa grabbed a towel and dried hirself off before helping hir mate. Naturally, hir ministrations led from one thing to another, and soon the two of them were in bed, doing something other than sleeping!
Two days later
Dark smiled to hirself. Today was the big day, and everything was completely ready and set up. Hir mate and Burntleaf were doing tests almost around the clock, but shi should be ready to give birth at any moment. Shi looked around at the small crowd. Although shi hadn’t gotten the birthing party shi had envisioned, Swimmer and hir two children had shown up late last yesterday to be with hir via air shuttle attached to hir friend’s ship, something that normally would have cost a great deal of money. It was a great comfort to have another familiar face, along with hir mate, Treetop and Burntleaf. On the minus side, it was still pouring outside, so all of them had to remain under the tent that had been set up. Thankfully Treetop had arranged the blankets that would form the walls of the tent in such a way that kept them up in the ‘roof’ of the tent until they were needed, so no one really felt closed in.
Slowly the day wore on, until shi suddenly felt the first pang of a contraction—it was show time! Hastily, Darktoes laid hirself down on a pile of pillows and blankets at the center of the tent as hir friends gathered around hir and hir mate both supported hir and monitored hir progress.
"Come on sweetheart!" Quinoa said, giving hir a quick nuzzle before running back to check on the birth canal. "I can see hir head! Another push should do it!"
"Have you ever tried giving birth!?" Darktoes replied hotly, before groaning and finally pushing the kit all the way out.
Quinoa grinned broadly, as shi held hir firstborn daughter up, "One down, one to go, hun," shi said, as shi dried the child of the birthing fluids.
Darktoes looked at hir firstborn child, and smiled. It was too early to get a really good look at hir, but shi could tell hir daughter was beautiful. Then shi frowned. "Um, not to panic anyone, but I’m not having any more contractions."
As shi feared, Quinoa’s face lit up with concern for hir other daughter’s safety, and looked to Burntleaf for advice.
"Nothing to worry about," the rusty-haired Forester reassured the inexperienced couple, "I wouldn’t get up or whatever, but every now and again multiple births can be delayed between births."
"Oh," Darktoes said, before reaching for hir born child. Drawing the little one close, shi kissed hir gently on the forehead. To hir dismay, it was pretty clear the other child was in no hurry to escape the warm confines of hir womb, and after a few minutes the conversation started up again. Luckily, hir newborn gave hir a real conversation starter!
Naturally, the two other kits, Lapis and hir younger sister Arcticwater, were quite curious about the newborn kit, and Darktoes was happy to show hir off as well as give a rudimentary education to the two kits on where little miracles like the newborn came from. Of course, at their ages, five and four respectively, they were already well versed in such things, it having already been explained by their mother. Still, it gave hir something to do while shi waited. Luckly, shi didn’t need to wait as long as shi feared—as shi finished up hir explanation, hir other cub decided it was time to move. Grimacing, shi handed the cub off to Swimmer, and began to push.
Moments later it was over, and shi was able to hold both twins in hir arms. Sighing happily, hir two children began to suckle on hir breasts. Shi was glad that both Stellar Foxtaurs and Chakats shared the ability to induce lactation in their mates, because shi suspected that it would be hell trying to feed both of them on hir own. By the time they were finished, they had nearly drained hir breasts completely!
Quinoa waited until the twins were done, before taking a short drink of hir mate’s milk hirself, and allowing hir to suckle hir breasts, to replenish hir fluids. "Any ideas for names yet, hun?" Quinoa asked.
"Nosh yef" Darktoes replied, a little bit of milk leaking from the sides of hir mouth.
"Don’t talk with your mouth full, sweetie, you don’t want to sent a bad example for the kids!" Quinoa grinned at the expression on hir mate’s face.
It wasn’t long before shi was back on hir feet, however, and chatting with hir various friends.
"They’re beautiful kits, hun," Swimmer said, picking up and tickling the stomachs of hir youngest child, while Lapis ran around their legs. Both were excited by the new children, and covered in mud.
"Thank you." Darktoes gave hir friend a one-armed hug. "I hope I can come up with names for them soon though."
Swimmer barked out a laugh. "Oh hun, it never gets easy, naming kits. I nearly called this one," shi indictated with hir muzzle, "Escarcha the second, until I came up with Arcticwater. You’ll think of something, I’m sure."
Dark smiled and nodded. "How’s life at sea been treating you?"
"Excellent." Swimmer grinned ear to ear. "There’s all kinds of deposits on the sea floor apparently, and that’s made the director pleased as punch!"
The Veldt grinned. "That wasn’t really what I was asking about; how’s it for you personally?"
"Well, the kits are certainly having fun. I think they’d likely outpace most kits their age in a race by now." Swimmer chuckled. "But if you’re asking if I’ve found anyone, I haven’t, although my bed is hardly empty."
Darktoes frowned. Shi knew it was hard on hir friend, being away from the Polari shi was in love with, and had conceived and sired children with. Back when shi was still part of the crew of the river raft, shi’d typically see hir on a fairly regular basis, but now the two of them mostly got to talk to one another over the communications systems—not exactly the sort of contact you’d want with someone you loved.
"So," Swimmer interrupted hir friend’s train of thought. "Have you heard from Browneyes recently?"
As if hir bubble had been burst, Darktoes suddenly frowned deeply. "Yeah, about a month ago. Shi was happy I was pregnant, but the letter seemed really strange."
"How so?" Swimmer asked, trying awkwardly to give hir friend a comforting hug without hurting either child.
Darktoes shrugged. "I’m not really sure. Hir poise was just a bit off, like shi was double guessing what shi wrote." Darktoes paused, looked down at the child in hir arms. "I think shi may have been upset by the whole thing. You know if I had stayed we would have probably been lifemates by now, with a few children ourselves."
"I know hun, I know," Swimmer said, leaning over and kissing hir friend on the cheek. "I hope I haven’t ruined your day by bringing it up."
The veldt shook hir head. "Nah, it’s alright, I just—"
Suddenly shi was cut off by a loud and extremely close-sounding crack of thunder, followed, by an increase in the speed and volume of the downpour.
"I think it’s pretty safe to say this party is over," Treetop said. "Not to cut it short on you Dark, of course, but we really should be getting back to the village before it gets any worse."
Darktoes nodded. Although shi had been comfortable giving birth within hir ‘tribe’ of veldts with nothing but a tent to hide hir from the other foxtaurs, shi hadn’t been so comfortable with giving birth where a bunch of mostly strangers could hear hir, so the tent was set up pretty far from the village proper. It was slow going getting back, partly because after two days the ground had basically turned into one big mud puddle, and secondly because Darktoes was still recovering from giving birth. Giving birth might not knock a taur flat like it would a biped, but it still took a lot out of hir. But thankfully they reached the village before too long, and after a tediously slow climb up one of the tree-ramps, the party found themselves drying off in Treetop’s hut.
Slowly the party returned to normal, as Darktoes and Quinoa excused themselves to their bedroom with the twins. Despite the rain, the two kits had managed to fall asleep, and were quite contently snuggling up to their respective parent’s chest. Although they had originally planned on just laying the twins down in the bedroom, then returning to the party to socialize some more, they couldn’t bring themselves to disturb the two cubs, and ended up chatting softly amongst themselves until they too fell asleep in exhaustion with their children snuggled between them.
The two woke about two hours later to the sound of the newborns mewing to be fed; as shi had done when they were first born, Darktoes held both kits up to separate breasts. As shi did, Quinoa massaged hir own breasts, to help stimulate the production of more mother’s milk. Inducing lactation in a mate was always a bit of hit or miss, Darktoes remembered Quinoa explaining once, and sometimes physical stimulation would help speed the process along.
"So," Quinoa said, giving up on hir administrations and shuffling closer to hir mate and kits. "Dream up any good names while you were asleep?"
Darktoes shook hir head in frustration, "No, I didn’t think it would be this difficult. Chakats really do have it easier when it comes to making up names I must say."
Careful not to interrupt the kits' feeding, Quinoa examined them a bit closer, and reported hir findings. "Hmm, well this one’s got the same super long ‘bib’ you do hun, but it’s broken into two patches." Shi said, indicating the kit feeding from Darktoes’ left breast, "and this one here has ears the same shade of red as my coat." Quinoa paused, "Twopatch and Brightears maybe?"
The feeding mother grimaced. "I don’t know, Twopatch, hun? Really? These names need to last them for a good long while you know."
Quinoa rolled hir eyes, then flopped down next to hir mate and began to message hir breasts again, "Well I don’t hear you pitching, sweetie." Then shi sighed. "When the kits are done, I think I’ll need another shot of that sweet milk of yours, I don’t think it took this time around."
Darktoes smiled, "That’s all right, I think they’re both nearly done anyways." Right on cue, the twins decided they were full, yawned, and drifted off to sleep. Although shi wished hir kits were a bit more interested in their new lives beyond eating and sleeping, Darktoes knew all too well once they were more active, they’d likely be terrorizing hir to no end. Carefully, shi placed the two kits onto the bed, where they began to hug and cuddle one another in their sleep, inducing an ‘aw’ from both parents.
When shi had moved off the bed and stood up, shi offer hir breasts and their remaining milk to hir mate, who eagerly drained them dry. "Hopefully it’ll take this time."
"I hope so." Darktoes hugged hir mate. "I don’t think I’ll be able to tandem feed them for long without some help."
Quinoa lick-kissed hir mate, and returned the hug. "Don’t worry about it, even if I can’t get my breasts working, your breasts will just grow to accommodate the needs of the twins."
Darktoes groaned jokingly, "Yeah but I don’t want a quadruple D rack!"
Hir mate just giggled and drew hir in closer for a more passionate kiss. Unsurprisingly, shi returned the favor with interest, before asking hir mate a question. "Any idea what happened to Swimmer and Tree?"
"They’re asleep in the main den area, last I checked," Quinoa said. "And I have a question for you, my dear Darktoes."
"Will you do me the honor of being my lifemate?" Quinoa asked eagerly. "You’re the mother of my children… and I don’t know if I’ve ever loved anyone as much as I love you, Darktoes. I want to spend my life with you."
Darktoes and Quinoa had been officially denmated for well over the prerequisite year minimum, and Dark had suspected Quinoa was looking for more in the relationship, but shi wasn’t really sure if shi wanted it.
Shi tried to think of something to say, but the moment’s hesitation was enough to tip hir mate off to the internal conflict raging inside hir, and shi released Darktoes from the embrace they shared. "You… don’t want to." Quinoa’s face was falling more and more with each passing second and tears were beginning to form in the corners of hir eyes and run down hir cheeks. "I’m sorry, I-I just thought you were the one, t-that you wanted this."
"I…" Darktoes wasn’t really sure what to say. Shi really did love Quinoa dearly, and hir mate was extremely close to hir heart, and part of hir really didn’t know why shi hadn’t just said yes excitedly.
Yet part of Darktoes still missed Browneyes deeply. Shi hadn’t really believed in love at first sight before meeting the chakat, but the two of them had connected in a way shi had never felt a connection towards anyone else before that. Shi knew full well that many people in the modern day and age had taken multiple lifemates, but some part of hir also felt like shi owed hir heart to Browneyes.
Quinoa was openly weeping now, and ran out of the bedroom, and out of the hut, without saying a word. Dark checked on the kits to make sure they were alright, before dashing into the main area of the hut and arousing Swimmer from hir sleep.
"Wha?" the marine breed moaned, confused.
"Swimmer, listen to me, I need you to keep an eye on the twins for me," Darktoes said hastily; Stellar foxtaurs weren’t supposed to be any less emotionally stable when compared to chakats, but in the high stress world of colonization, sometimes people did foolish things with their lives.
Swimmer shook hirself awake, before slowly extracting hirself from the two foresters and hir cubs. "Why?"
"No time to explain!" Darktoes stated, breaking into a full sprint out the hut’s door. Not surprisingly, it was still raining, but at a much slower pace than before. Glancing around, shi caught a blur of red fur in the distance, and began to chase after hir denmate.
Throwing caution to the wind, shi ran across the various bridges, causing all manner of shaking, and gaining hir a number of dirty looks and rude gestures from the various Foresters braving the downpour. But hir persistence paid off, and soon shi caught up with hir mate. As shi suspected, hir mate was leaning on one of the few railings in the village, and weeping openly. Walking up behind hir, shi placed hir left arm on hir back, and tried to comfort hir.
"Quinoa, listen to me," Darktoes told hir, leaning over and nuzzling hir mate on the cheek. "I love you dearly, if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t have let you get me pregnant, and I’d be deeply honored if you’d have me for a lifemate."
Quinoa looked at hir. "Do you really mean that? Or are you just saying that so I’ll shut up."
Darktoes shook hir head. "Of course I mean it!" Shi thought of how to phrase the next part. "I hesitated because I was a fool, not because I don’t love you, or don’t want to spend my life with you, and…" Dark paused. Maybe this wasn’t the time, but shi did owe it to hir mate to explain fully, "Browneyes and I had something special together, and we still do… but some days I wake up from a nightmare, and I think I’ll never see hir again. When you asked me to be your lifemate, it brought back all the dreams and what-ifs I could have had with hir, and…"
Quinoa dried hir tears as best shi could with the back of hir hand, given that it was soaking wet from the rain. "But you can’t live your life on what could have been, and I’d never try to impose on, or try to take away from your love for Browneyes. I love you Darktoes, but I know that you love other people too, and they love you, just as much as I do."
"I know." Darktoes smiled a bit sadly. "It was just a terribly childish fear, I shouldn’t have let it get to me." The veldt paused momentarily, not even noticing the rain had stopped. "Will you be my lifemate, Quinoa?"
"Yes, I will, for as long as we both live." And the two new lifemates kissed one another passionately, as the formerly heavy rainclouds parted and let a column of light shine through and envelop the couple. It took them a minute before either of them realized how obscenely romantic that would appear from a distance, and they broke off, laughing.
"I planned that," Darktoes joked.
"Oh my." Quinoa laughed. "The perfect lover, mother, and now weatherherm. I’m impressed!"
"Speaking of motherhood," Darktoes said, turning serious, "I thought of a couple of names."
"Oh? I’d like to hear them."
"How about…" Darktoes paused, wondering if they were too silly or mushy. "Cloudbreak, and Crimsonears?"
Quinoa giggled. "And you called my ideas silly?" Seeing the look on hir mate’s face, shi laughed even harder, "Nah, I like them hun! Very sweet."
After a few minutes just watching the sky and cuddling, the two of them headed by to Treetop’s hut. Much to Darktoes' surprise, all of the other foxtaurs were waiting to congratulate the couple on their mating.
"But how could you possibly know?" Darktoes protested. "It just happened five minutes ago!"
Treetop winked at hir friend. "You forget that trees are a Forester’s playground, hun. When Swimmer woke us up after you left, I followed you. I overheard part of what you were talking about, and inferred the rest. I also snagged this on my way back!" Treetop held up a photograph of the striking scene of the two veldts kissing passionately in the sunlight. "I guess I forgot to mention I’ve taken up photography as a hobby."
Swimmer grinned at hir friend, and offered hugs to both veldts, between trying to keep hir own kits under control. "You two will be very happy together, I just know it!"
"Thanks hun," Darktoes said, giving hir a lick and kiss, "How are Cloudbreak and Crimsonears? Did they wake up?"
"Ah!" the marine said, "finally picked names have you? As for those two darlings, they’re fine. Actually, if anything, you kind of dodged a bullet there."
"What do you mean?" Quinoa inquired.
"I mean," Swimmer stuck out hir tongue, "you forgot to put diapers on your kits."
"Oh makers!" Darktoes exclaimed. "All over your bed too, Tree! I’m so sorry."
Treetop shook hir head a laughed. "It’s all right, I wouldn’t have offered you the use of my bedroom if I was worried about a mess being made. I—"
"TREETOP!" yelled a voice from outside, interrupting that line of thought. The yeller opened the hut door and ran in.
"What is it?" Treetop asked, evidentially recognizing the newcomer,
"That goop is gone!" shi panted.
"It must have been some sort of defense against those bugs you mentioned," Darktoes said, putting the pieces together finally, "and then the stuff washes off in the next rainstorm."
Treetop shooed the new Forester away, telling hir shi was with company, before replying, "Sorry about that, shi tends to be one of the more excitable ones. Anyway, if that’s so, it doesn’t seem like a very good defense, given those bugs could just show up tomorrow."
"Not necessarily," Swimmer pointed out. "Some species of plants need forest fires to break their seeds out of there casing- maybe the same thing applies here."
Darktoes nodded. "Whatever triggered this dry spell probably triggered the trees to produce that substance, and caused those insects to swarm."
Treetop shook hir head in amazement. "And you said you couldn’t figure it out!"
Darktoes and Quinoa spent the next few days learning the ins and outs of having children, before finally packing up and leaving via-air shuttle for their nomadic tribe. Once there, the community held a second party to celebrate the twins' birth and the couple’s declaration of lifemates—something both Quinoa and Darktoes celebrated very intimately indeed!
To be continued in Seeking.
Chakats, Stellar Foxtaurs and other concepts © 2010 Bernard Doove
Browneyes, Darktoes, Fallingstar and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com
And a special note of thanks for Sandwalker for his help putting these stories together.
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