Honeymane and Manetheren
by Honeymane


“Shhh.” Honeymane murmured, trying to hush the squirming, golden pelted cub in hir arms, before glancing sidelong at the other occupant of the elevator and smiled sheepishly. Normally shi would just allow Lioncub to roam free, or at least under hir own power while Honeymane kept a sharp eye on hir, but shi didn’t like the look of the floor in the elevator. For the umpteenth time, shi wondered why Sugarback had moved into such a run down, and frankly, disgusting building.

The fox morph frowned back and turned to stare at the elevator’s grimy walls as it slowly climbed higher and higher into the apartment building. Sugarback had moved about a couple of weeks after Honeymane had arrived at Chakona with hir new mate Manetheren, a Stellar Foxtaur shi had met, and fell in love with, as well as gotten knocked up by, when shi had been on Arisia trying to locate hir sire, another Stellar Foxtaur, this time a veldt breed by the name of Darktoes. After years of waiting to meet the mysterious foxtaur, the meeting hadn’t gone as well as shi had hoped, but it had happened, finally. But in the hectic time between moving to Chakona, finding a home, and giving birth, Honeymane had barely had any time to talk to Sugarback.

Finally the elevator dinged at the appropriate floor, and Honeymane stepped off into the somewhat cleaner hallway. The walls still had various stains here and there, and at the far end of the corridor, where it bent, sat a stack of beer cans nearly as tall as Lioncub. Shaking hir head, shi hurried down the corridor counting the apartment numbers off as shi passed, looking for the right one; 829. Thankfully the numbers appeared to reverse at the end of the corridor, and Honeymane found the door near the elevator. Shifting Lioncub onto one arm, shi rapped the door, before realizing there was a doorbell. Shi pressed it and frowned at the lack of noise inside the apartment. Shi jabbed the button again, with no effect. Shi was still jabbing it when the door opened to reveal the brown-and-cream chakat.

“Honeymane!” Sugarback squealed as shi bounced forward and enveloped hir in a bear hug, crushing Lioncub between them, who squeaked in protest. Sugarback had a much more rounded figure compared to Honeymane’s own, a product of sampling much of what shi cooked as chef. Awkwardly, shi returned the hug with hir free arm. Thankfully hir aunt didn’t hang on long. “I didn’t expect to see you here!”

“Sorry to drop in unannounced.” Honeymane said, glancing over the shorter chakat’s shoulder to the apartment beyond. Shi was taller then most chakats, due to hir veldt heritage, and more often than not shi was glad of it, even if it did make hir stick out. This was one of those times; Sugarback might find hirself covered in flour more often than not, but shi kept hir home clean at least.

“Don’t be.” Sugarback said, stepping aside and ushering them in. As soon as Sugarback shut the door, Honeymane let Lioncub down, as soon as hir feet touched the floor shi shot off to explore the new surrounding, hopefully without hurting hirself in the process. “Nuru’s out,” Sugarback gestured to the tidy looking set of taur pillows at one end of the den, before shi stepped over one and lowered hirself down onto it. The den had a mixture of furniture, between taur-styled items and bipedal ones. Nuru was a hermaphroditic lemur morph, and Sugarback’s hermfriend for a good long while. Shi suspected it was a serious relationship even before shi left for Arisia months ago, but now that the two had moved in together, Honeymane was wondering when the two of them would declare themselves lifemates.

Honeymane nodded and followed suit, sitting down on pillow nearby and facing hir aunt. Part of hir felt rotten for coming and doing this behind Manetheren’s back, but shi didn’t know who else to turn to. As shi sat down, Lioncub bounced back from behind a plush looking bipedal chair that obviously belonged to Nuru, and snuggled up to hir aunt.

“Aww, such a sweetie!” Sugarback picked the cub up gently and kissed hir belly, causing the cub to giggle. “I wish you didn’t live so far away, Honeymane, I’m going to miss being an aunt to this cutie.” The chubby chakat sat the young chakat back down and bopped hir on the nose gently, causing Lioncub to laugh. Honeymane couldn’t help but smile. At first shi had worried the unexpected child would be a burden, but shi had turned out to be a surprisingly easy one to bear.

“So, what’s wrong?” Sugarback asked finally, as Lioncub lost interest and wondered off to sniff the furniture some more.

Honeymane shifted hir weight uneasily on the pillow. Shi had travelled all this way, but it still seemed… wrong to talk about it with someone else. But shi needed to talk, and hir mother and father were too busy elsewhere on the planet to listen to hir fears and concerns. “What makes you think something’s wrong?” shi said at last, putting the question off.

Sugarback gave hir a long suffering look, before shaking hir head softly. “You showed up unannounced, look tired as a horse after a long race, and you broadcast conflict and worry like nobody’s business. ’Course most of the people in the build probably feel it now, the walls aren’t empathy proof.” Sugarback added as shi slapped a white-washed wall gently.

“What possessed you to buy an apartment here, anyway?” Honeymane said, doing hir best to calm hirself down. Perhaps Lioncub had been fidgeting for a different reason.

“Honeymane, if you don’t want to talk, we won’t.” Sugarback sighed, as shi flicked hir tail out of the reach of Lioncub. “But I think you need it. If you can’t tell me, who can you tell?”

“Alright alright.” Honeymane let out a heavy sigh hirself, followed by a deep breathe. Shi did want to talk, after all, it was really just a matter of getting started. “It all started when we arrived on Chakona…”

“Watch it!” Honeymane snapped as the security officer’s sensor probe moved a bit too close to a sensitive area on hir body. The chakat just grinned and looked over at Manetheren, who returned it from where shi was watching in the next security aisle over. The two of them had been on a shuttle that had touched down nearly an hour ago from the Chakona gateway. They had been probed and prodded up there as well before they had boarded, and Honeymane was wondering why they thought shi had managed to smuggle something shi shouldn’t have onto hir person on the slow descent down to the surface. Not for the first time, Honeymane wished shi would get the pregnancy over with.

“Don’t be like that, love,” Manetheren quipped, before chuckling as shi shot hir a look, while hir security officer – a grumpy looking tigress – ran her sensor over Mantheren’s body. Normally the screening process for the public was much quicker, involving a non-invasive shortwave x-ray bombardment or some other type of sensor suite to scan passengers as they walked down a long hallway. Most didn’t even notice they were being scanned, unless there was a problem. But pregnancy had changed that for Honeymane. Not only were transporters off limits for hir now, forcing hir to take a dull-as-mud shuttle ride to and from the surface of any planet, shi couldn’t walk down the scanner corridor either. Pregnancy had changed a lot of things for hir.

Walking was much more of a chore, with hir huge belly, and each step made hir feel foolish and embarrassed. As if that wasn’t enough, hir breasts felt tender and sore much of the time now, and probably would get even worse after shi gave birth. Not to mention the slightest things seem to frustrate hir or make hir mad.

Finally the security officer smiled, and straightened up. “You’re free to go Shir.”

“Thank you!” Honeymane gave hirself a shake to dispel the strange sensation of having hir fur brushed the wrong way, and the lingering touch of the security officer, before walking down the aisle and out into the small area between the individual sections and the doors that led out to the proper of the spaceport. Glancing over at Manetheren, it appeared shi was nearly done as well. Once they got out of the screening area they could head home. Well, what had been home during hir childhood; but they’d cross that bridge when they had to. Somehow shi doubted it was going to be a relaxing few weeks until shi finally gave birth.

“Your first, I’m assuming?” the chakat asked as shi pulled off hir rubber gloves and tossed them in a bin to be recycled.

“Yes.” Shi flipped hir golden hair irritably, before sighing. “Sorry to be short with you, it’s not your fault.”

“No harm done.” The officer grinned. “I remember my first too, don’t worry, your second will be easier.”

If there’s a second.” Honeymane grunted, just as the tigress finally pulled hir sensor stick back and waved Mantheren on.

The Mountaineer stellar foxtaur grinned and walked out of the aisle, until shi met Honeymane, without asking, the stellar enveloped hir in a hug. Shi returned it and burrowing hir muzzle into hir mate’s shoulder shi felt hir bad mood slip away. Somehow the stellar always knew just what shi needed to feel better, and despite their slight height difference, shi always felt warm and safe in hir arms. Manetheren gave hir a lick on hir cheek before pulling away. “Better?”

“Better.” Honeymane smiled at the foxtaur, “Let’s go meet the family.”

Wrapping hir arm around Honeymane’s waist, Manetheren shouldered the doors open and the stepped out into the short connecting hallway between the shuttle departures and the public area. As they reached the end of the hall, the spaceport opened up into a huge open room, several stories high with hundreds of people of all species – although chakats were predominant – milling around, talking in small groups or minding children like storm clouds. Some were trying to find loved ones walking off the transporters or saying goodbye to loved ones as they headed to depart from the planet. Outside, although Honeymane couldn’t directly see it, shi could hear huge megaton freighters powering up and off, lifting hundreds of tons of cargo to who knows where. Chakona’s spaceport was a busy one. For a moment, the crowds caused hir muscles to tense. After months living on the lightly populated Arisia, a planet as frontier as one could get in the Federation, the noises and scents and emotional transmissions the crowds gave off almost overwhelmed hir. Taking a deep breath, however, shi shook hir head to clear it and continued on.

Hir reprieve didn’t last long however, almost as soon as they stepped into the wider area, the assembled family caught sight of hir and rushed over to them, dragging bags that had been sent down via the transporters long before they themselves had arrived.

“Honeymane!” Sugarback exclaimed as shi wrapped hir arms and forelegs around hirself and Manetheren at the same time, squeezing them tight. “What took you?”

Before Honeymane could even open hir mouth to answer, Sugarback was pushed aside as Browneyes and Darktoes both tried to hug hir at the same time. In the melee hir mate’s arm slipped from hir waist. Both of hir parents asked variations of how shi was feeling, as if they hadn’t just seen hir a few hours before. Not particularly surprising; with chakats emotions had a way of spreading like a virus among chakats with close personal relationships, if they were close enough and the emotion was strong enough, and the interest in hir wellbeing was obviously infectious. Meanwhile Dancer by the Sea and Spadespot hugged hir from behind and asked hir something else shi didn’t quite hear as shi tried to extract hirself the crush. Helplessly, shi tried to find Manetheren, but the violet haired mountaineer was busy dealing with trying to answer dozens of questions being fired at hir by Sky, and Seeker. The only members of the family who weren’t harassing them were Makrana and Roseblood. The two members of Star fleet stood off to the side in the manner that suggested they were trying to remain aloof from the scene before them, but both chakats wore grins that seemed wider than their muzzles.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the various members of the family pulled themselves back and gave them space to breathe. Manetheren looked a bit frightened. Although they gave them some room, the whole group of chakats quickly herded them towards the exit leading out into the Spaceport’s huge parking lot, where a PTV, or two judging by the size of their group, would be waiting to take them away. Honeymane reached for the handle of hir luggage. It wasn’t much, shi hadn’t travelled to Arisia with all that much to begin with, but it was hirs. But Spadespot snatched the handle of the bag away from hir when shi say hir reaching for it.

“No need to over exert yourself, hon.” Spadespot said, as shi switched the bag to hir other hand out of Honeymane’s reach.

“It’s only a couple of bags!” Honeymane said in frustration. Shi was pregnant, not crippled for Christ’s sake!

Spadespot didn’t reply, but gave hir an irritatingly knowing smile as shi shook hir head. Every chakat, stellar foxtaur or half-brained biped who noticed shi was pregnant had been giving hir similar grins whenever shi snapped at them. What was the point of getting angry if everyone just didn’t care? They didn’t even call hir out on it because shi was ‘in a family way’, which only pissed hir off more! Bastards.

Manetheren patted hir arm as they all stepped out into the fresh, late evening air. Honeymane took a deep breath and held it for a moment, enjoying the breeze as it ruffled hir pelt. After nearly a month or so in a tin can with recycled air that probably had never seen the light of day on a planet, the fresh air was almost delicious. Hir mate enjoyed the fresh air as well, although shi grimaced a bit at the smell. Now that shi had gotten over hir first couple of breaths, Honeymane could smell it too – the scent of poorly combusted fuel and other less then pleasant scents. One of the dangers of having a sensitive nose was the ability to pick up on trace scents, most of them unpleasant. The Chakonan Spaceport was one of the cleanest in the Federation, with one of the best records in cleaning messes up, but when the wind blew just right, and you had a sharp nose, you could still smell it. Honeymane felt sorry for Manetheren, the mountaineer had an even sharper sense of smell then chakats did – good for finding tubers on a bare mountain side, less useful when around smelly hydrocarbons. Not for the first time, shi wished hir mate had objected more to leaving Arisia.

It wasn’t that shi hadn’t objected at all, but it seemed too easy for Honeymane. Honeymane had wanted to move back to Chakona because, in all honesty, shi had never planned on finding hirself pregnant and in love with anyone when shi sat out. Hir whole life was here on the homeworld of Chakats, and shi had only paused it before shi had left, fully expecting to return in short order and resume it, possibly by starting university. After getting over the shock of finding hirself knocked up, and formally mating with Manetheren, shi found hirself longing to go home, so shi had suggested it. And the Mountaineer had agreed.

But for hir, the story was much the same but in the opposite direction. Manetheren, or Violet as most of hir friends called hir, who found hir unusual name hard to remember or pronounce, had been born on Arisia not long after the colonization began. Shi had grown up, made friends and lovers and had a family there on Arisia. What’s more, shi held a degree in vulcanology and spent much of hir time working in the field or, as a side business, ferrying taurs over a mountain range; shi loved doing both. Yet shi was willing to give it all up for hir, and it made Honeymane feel guilty as hell. Shi hoped Manetheren would be able to adapt to the planet, and find the same sorts of work shi loved to do on Arisia here, but part of hir worried shi wouldn’t. And the other part of hir worried what would happen if Manetheren did become unhappy; Honeymane didn’t want to be the cause of that.

It turned out the family had brought three PTVs to ferry them home, and Honeymane found hirself separated from hir mate as stuffed in a vehicle with hir mother and father, as well as Seeker, Sugarback, and Sky. Shi hoped the chakats in whatever PTV Manetheren had ended up didn’t question hir mate too aggressively, chakats could be more curious than kittens, if you give them a chance, and answering one question often meant you had to answer nine more. Not that being a chakat hirself spared hir from any questions.

“Damn,” Sugarback commented as Honeymane hauled hirself awkwardly into the PTV and lowered hirself gently onto the taur-seat. The brown-and-white chakat grinned and ran hir hand along Honeymane’s bulging belly as shi slid the door closed. “Are you carrying twins in there? I’ve never seen a ‘kat so big!”

Shi tried to get in a stinging retort, only to have Darktoes answer for hir, in a completely reasonably way. “It’s because shi’s got a thin frame. I was the same way with my kits.”

“Will I get to see them?” Sugarback asked, hir eyes gleaming as Seeker, who was in the driver’s seat, pulled the PTV out onto the highway. Browneyes leaned forward from hir seat behind Honeymane and prodded hir in the shoulder. “Put a seatbelt on! I don’t trust these inertia dampeners!”

Honeymane rolled hir eyes as shi tugged on the belt. As it grew it split into multiple straps despite appearing seamless, thanks to modern nano-technology. It didn’t make the thing any easier to put on, though. While shi struggled with the convoluted system, Darktoes answered hir aunt’s question. “Quinoa’s bringing the kids along in a week or so, they’ll be here for Honeymane’s birthing party for sure.” The veldt twisted hir head to look back at hir. “How’s those belly rubs working out for you, ‘Mane? Kits still keeping you awake at night?”

“Dad!” Honeymane protested, hir ears burning with embarrassment, which only mostly covered the warm feeling shi got from calling Darktoes ‘dad’. It had been a long way coming, but it was worth it. But whether or not the stellar foxtaur was hir father wasn’t any excuse to bring that up! Darktoes and Browneyes had been on Arisia for the same period that shi had been over the past few months, opting to stay on planet rather than going off to do what needed to be done so Browneyes could move to Arisia and live with Darktoes permanently. But in the last two months, the enclave of veldts that Darktoes belonged to had drifted further south following the migration of some wild animal, and their visits had become less frequent. So when they finally met up again at Arisia’ spacepot, the two of them had gotten to talking, and shi had suggested trying having Manetheren rub hir belly to calm the unborn cub down before shi went to sleep.


“Yes.” Honeymane said grumpily. Shi didn’t like the look in Sugarback’s eyes now, and shi suspected it was going to be long drive home. But at least shi was home now. Looking out the window shi could see the hills covered with familiar plant life and other things that screamed “home!” for hir. It was good to be back.

“We’ll have to try that sometime.” Seeker quipped with a grin Honeymane could see in the mirror. “But what I’m wondering is – ” Honeymane let out a groan and sank back against the backrest on hir seat. It was going to be a very long drive home.

Honeymane woke to find hirself purring as Manetheren kissed hir on hir forehead before extracting hirself from the tangle of limbs that had gotten wrapped around hir during the night of sleeping in the family’s communal bedroom. Even though the addition of Darktoes and Manetheren was literally only increasing the size of the family by two, it made the round, pillow-filled room feel much smaller and at times, too small. But there wasn’t anywhere the two of them could sleep – not that the family seemed to be willing to let hir make all that many decisions on hir own anyway.

To Honeymane’s dismay, the few days that had passed since arriving on Chakona had passed in a blur – a slow blur. It wasn’t that there wasn’t anything happening, but there wasn’t anything for hir to do. Any time shi tried to do anything, whether it was going to the park, or unpacking, or even just helping put away the dishes, before shi could take two steps into a task, some family member popped out of the blue into existence beside hir and, while still assuring hir shi was helping, took the whole thing out of hir hands completely. After watching Seeker put away the dishes for the umpteenth time while shi watched, Honeymane suspected that it might be a good thing, since shi was liable to break the dishes in half rather than put them away out of sheer frustration.

Everyday, then, had started much the same way, with Honeymane waking up snuggled into hir mate’s arms. At first, the two of them had stayed in Honeymane’s room in the family’s good sized house, both for privacy’s sake, since the flux of hormones lent itself to very amorous activities when shi wasn’t busy trying to snap people’s heads off and being ignored for it, but also for comfort. Most chakat families, except in a few cases, tended to be fairly large in size, and the majority of them tended towards communal sleeping, with the family all in one room sleeping together. Not an uncommon system among some morphs and taurs, but in the months Honeymane had spent traveling to Arisia, and the time shi had spent on the surface, shi had spent it mostly sleeping alone or with hir mate. In some ways it was embarrassing to admit, but sleeping with a dozen or so family members was as unnerving as the crowds in the spaceport had been.

But as it turned out, sleeping in Honeymane’s rooms turned out to be just as embarrassing. Away from hir childhood toys and things, things shi thought shi’d never grow out of, shi found that shi had done just that – grown out of them. Waking up to walls decorated with various youth bands or pictures of a few Chakker players shi admired – or had crushed on, and shelves filled with stuffed toys and such, started to get on hir nerves. Shi found these things to have lost most of their meaning for hir, and despite hir mother’s reassurances that with time shi’d come to miss them, shi just couldn’t stand sleeping with Manetheren in such a childish room. For hir part, the Mountaineer didn’t mind, but rather found the idea somewhat amusing overall, but when shi had asked, they had started spending their nights in the communal bedroom with everyone else, and if or when shi wanted privacy alone with hir mate, the two of them would just sneak off to one of the several guest bedrooms.

It was one small crisis mostly resolved, but it was nothing really compared to the various things that Honeymane had wanted to accomplish before shi gave birth, because shi suspected that when the cub finally was born, shi’d have a hard time coming up with the time to do those things, no matter how needed they were. Plus, if the past few days had been any indication, the babying was likely to continue even after shi had given birth, and if shi didn’t start to make hirself more independent shi might never get a chance.

Which is why Manetheren was getting up early today. It had taken some effort, but shi had finally managed to get an interview with Dewclaw university about getting a job with hir geology degree, hopefully with a specialization in the field shi preferred – volcanology. They’d need the money, especially if they ever intended to get their own place, which the both agreed would be a good idea.

As hir mate carefully stepped over and around the other sleeping taurs, before quietly opening the door and slipping out, Honeymane counted to twenty and got to hir own feet, a somewhat difficult task, both because hir belly was so large and in the way, and because the other chakats seemed to cling to hir worse then they had with Manetheren. Roseblood, the oldest chakat Honeymane knew, had explained that seeing another pregnant chakat tended to bring out the worst of other chakat’s maternal instincts. Another time it might have been nice to be the center of attention, but right now shi wanted to say goodbye to hir mate – and do so alone without half the family waking up.

By the time shi managed the slip out the door, Manetheren was already in the den looking over a number of papers and other materials shi had been asked to bring with hir, and dressed, for once. The mountaineer was a habitual nudist, most of the Stellar Foxtaurs – besides the Starwalker breed – tended to be, but Honeymane suspected it was more of a cultural thing than something programmed into them when they were created. On Arisia, or any frontier world, they wouldn’t have access to any sort of modern manufacturing, and making clothing would logically be far down the list of things a new colony world needed if the first-comers themselves didn’t need them, which few did. Thankfully, nudism wasn’t criminalized or even all that frowned upon on Chakona; or else Honeymane might find that shi wasn’t the only one going stir crazy.

The mountaineer’s ears turned as shi entered the room, and when Manetheren looked, shi grinned and got up before hugging hir tightly. Letting hirself relax in hir mate’s arms, Honeymane sighed contently before breaking the embrace. “I didn’t wake you, did I?” shi asked. Honeymane stifled a sigh; at least Manetheren didn’t baby hir as aggressively as everyone else.

“Not at all, I’ve been sleeping too much lately as it is.” Honeymane told hir, eying hir mate. The foxtaur really did dress snappily when shi made the effort. “You look good.”

“Thanks.” Manetheren returned to the taur pillow shi had been sitting on and gave the papers another glance, before picking up the disorganized pile and tapping it on the table to settle the wayward pages. All together it was quite a thick stack – records of everything Manetheren had done while on Arisia, as well as a couple of published papers that had run in the planetary scientific journal, Nature. Like most planets in the Federation, Arisia had its own scientific community, and like most colonies, they tended to reuse the same journal names over and over. Mantheren wasn’t certain that the local community’s publications that been migrated to the wider Federation, and with so many Nature journals, it might be a chore in and over itself to search for appropriate articles. “I’d better get going,” the mountaineer noted as shi gazed up at the wall mounted clock.

“Have you eaten anything yet?” Honeymane asked, before rubbing hir mate’s shoulders. The foxtaur looked rather tense as shi shook hir head. “Let me fix you something then.”

“I’ll get something along the way.” Manetheren said, getting to hir feet and shaking hir head. “Do you suppose Sky would mind if I borrowed hir Peetee?”

Honeymane cocked hir eyebrow. Strictly speaking the PTVs were owned by the family collectively, both by nature of how they were bought and how they were used, but most of the vehicles had gotten attached to one member or another simply be virtue of who used it most. It wasn’t that hir mate was asking to borrow the PTV that surprised hir, however, but rather that shi was asking to borrow the one that looked horribly beat up and decrepit. Sky’s PTV had seen better days. “That bucket of rust? Why don’t you take Seeker’s?” Seeker’s PTV was much newer and more of a sport’s model, a product of hir career in the Chakker leagues.

“I don’t want to look to successful.” Manetheren shrugged. “They might give me a job out of pity.”

“Pity vote eh?” Honeymane found hirself grinning as an idea struck hir. “Maybe you should take me along with you. You know, “oh here’s my poor pregnant mate, can’t even afford to be clothed’” Shi gestured to hir own nude body. “‘Please give me a job!’”

Manetheren chuckled and ran hir hand through hir hair as shi smiled back. “That won’t be necessary. Besides, it’s a long right and I wouldn’t want to coop you up.”

“I’ve been cooped up for ages! I want to go out and do something rather than laying about and doing nothing all day.” Shi shook hir head so hir blonde hair swung back and forth. “I’m bored out of my mind!”

“Well, how about when we get back, I take you out for dinner, just the two of us?” Manetheren said, as shi turned and picked up a slim file folder and began putting hir papers into it.

“Yeah, sure.” Honeymane sighed, and Manetheren glanced over hir shoulder and smiled apologetically. By now both of them knew a ‘private’ dinner was unlikely to happen. First it’d be ‘just the two of them’ and Sugarback, then by the time lunch rolled around it’d be ‘just the two of them’ plus Sugarback and hir parents. By the time they actually made it to the restaurant it’d be Honeymane, Manetheren, and every other member of the family that could reasonably show up. Honeymane swallowed hir disappointment however, and pulled hir mate into a close hug. “Good luck, Manetheren.”

“Thanks,” the purple-haired stellar said as shi buried hir muzzle in Honeymane’s shoulder. The two of them exchanged a kiss before Manetheren finally broke the embrace and headed out the front door. Honeymane didn’t follow hir, but shi did pull the curtains back in the Den which partly faced the driveway and watched hir mate wistfully as shi got into a PTV – Sky’s like shi had suggested, and pulled out onto the road. Honeymane waved as shi fingered the volcanic rock pendent that hir mate had given hir. It wasn’t pretty but it always reminded hir of the Mountaineer. Shi hoped hir mate got the job, it’d bring hir closer to the mountains shi loved.

“Was that Manetheren going?” Honeymane half jumped as hir father’s gentle voice came from behind hir, before turning around calmly and trying not to show how startled shi had been at being snuck up on. Darktoes shrugged apologetically. “Sorry if I scared you.”

Honeymane chose to ignore the apology, as shi realized shi could have gone and gotten into a PTV. Now with Darktoes up, there was little chance in that happening. Looked like another dull day. Trying not to sigh shi nodded. “I hope shi does well.”

“Me too; shi’s quite the bright young foxtaur, I’m sure shi’ll be fine.” Darktoes nodded, before licking hir lips. “I assume that’s why you’re up so early? Don’t suppose you and Violet had anything to eat yet?”

Honeymane opened hir mouth to deny it, but as shi did hir stomach betrayed hir and rumbled loudly, causing hir father to grin widely. This time shi really did sigh.

“I’ll get something rolling then, anything in particular you’d like to eat?” The veldt turned and headed towards the kitchen not waiting for hir reply. As shi walked away Honeymane thought of an idea, and hurried, or as quick as shi could waddle with hir huge stomach, to hir father.

“Wait!” shi whispered. They hadn’t been talking all that softly, but if this plan was going to work shi’d have to make sure no one else woke up. Darktoes turned and looked at hir quizzically. “Could we go out for breakfast?”

Darktoes looked a bit surprised. “Go out? I suppose. You go wake the others and I’ll get the PTVs warmed up.”

“No no.” Honeymane said, doing hir best to keep the desperation out of hir voice. Why did thy think shi needed to spend every waking hour with the whole damn family? God help hir when the other relatives showed up, like hir aunts. “Just us, you know, a little… um…” Honeymane groped for the word. “Father-daughter time.”

“Ahhh.” Darktoes grinned knowingly. “I take it you’re going a bit stir-crazy?”

“I’ve been cooped up and watched whatever I do.” Honeymane snapped, shaking hir head. “What do you think?”

Darktoes’s grin grew a little wider as shi nodded, “I suppose we should spend more time together, do you have any place in mind?” Honeymane shook hir head, and Darktoes shrugged “I suppose we’ll just have to find some place. Do you want to throw something on?”

Grimacing, Honeymane glanced down at hir bare torso; lately hir breasts had been sore and they seemed to have grown slightly as well to go with the soreness, making most of hir clothing ill-fitting at best. On the other hand, the slight increase in… breasty-ness also meant that the fur that normally grew over hir breasts and reduced hir nipples to barely visible bumps under hir pelt, wasn’t doing its job any more, and hir nipples were sticking part way out of hir fur. It was somewhat embarrassing. On the other hand, the more time shi spent in the house, the more likely it was that some other chakat would wake up and want to tag along so… “No, I’m fine.” Honeymane said, folding hir arms. “Perhaps if we see a cute top, we’ll buy it.” They were going to find a cute top – shi certainly wasn’t going to be walking around in public like this longer than shi had to.

Darktoes’s seemed to read hir thoughts, and chuckled as shi shook hir head. “Alright, let’s get going. I’ve been waiting to take mom’s PTV out for a spin anyhow.” It took hir a moment to realize shi meant Seeker’s.

Of course, as trips always are, saying it and doing it were two different beasts. While Honeymane wanted to leave right away, hir father had to find his pouch belt first, and than Darktoes insisted on leaving a note to the rest of the household as to their whereabouts, as well as a number to contact them by. Unfortunately, when Darktoes picked up hir mobile comm. device, Honeymane was dismayed to learn that it was out of battery power. Of course, Honeymane had hir own, so shi offered to bring that – but hir father insisted on changing the note to hir number rather than hir own. By the time shi was finished, Honeymane thought shi could hear chakats stirring in the bedroom, and it took all hir composure not to push Darktoes out to Seeker’s PTV. Well, not push too much.

Once they got going, however, Honeymane began to feel giddy. Shi was finally out of the house, and what’s more, shi was with Darktoes. Up until a year ago, shi hadn’t known hir at all, and in many ways shi still didn’t but the veldt felt like hir father now, and shi was glad to know hir, even it wasn’t well. What shi hadn’t expected, however, was that the foxtaur seemed to understand what shi was going through.

“It’s not easy, is it?” Darktoes asked, as shi guided the PTV down the highway. Originally Honeymane, and hir mother and hir grandparents had all lived more or less in the same condo high rise in the middle of Chakona’s biggest city Amistad, but after Seeker got hir career going as a Chakker player, shi had offered, covertly at least, to buy the whole family a house in the suburbs, or what passed for suburbs on Chakona, and they had moved into one big home. Not everyone lived there, of course, but it was often a focus of activity in the family. Luckily, they were still fairly close to Amistad, so it made for an easy commute to the amenities.

“What’s not?” Honeymane asked after a moment. Shi had expected hir to go on and elaborate but the veldt had just left the question hanging.

“Being pregnant.” Darktoes’ eyes met hirs and shi grinned. “Especially with everyone babying you, am I right? Makes you think you’re the newborn, not the kit in your womb.”

Honeymane snorted. “Sometimes I think Browneyes would tie me down to make sure I never moved. At least Manetheren is bearably.”

“Shi’s a good ‘taur, that’s for sure. Now Quinoa, on the other hand, is a bit more like your mother than Violet.” Darktoes laughed and shook hir head while keeping hir eyes on the road. “When I was pregnant with the twins shi wouldn’t let me do anything at all. And this is on a planet where everyone’s expected to pull their own weight, pregnant or not.”

“Ever thought of having more children?” Honeymane asked curiously. Despite having been in a relationship with Quinoa, another veldt for over a decade, they only had two children between them, and both of those were the twins that Darktoes had carried. When shi first met Darktoes, it hadn’t struck hir as all that unusual, but after meeting Manetheren’s family it became clear to hir that most Stellar foxtaurs had three or four children, spread between mates. Some small part of hir wanted another half-sibling, although the other, majority, part of hir told hir shi’d likely get stuck babysitting the cub while trying to raise hir own.

“Of course.” Darktoes grinned widely. “I think Quinoa’s half afraid that I’ll treat hir like shi treated me to get back at hir.” The foxtaur’s face turned darkly humorous. “Shi should be.”

“What about you and mom, though?” Honeymane couldn’t help grinning hirself, Darktoes’ good mood would be infectious even if shi wasn’t picking up the mood empathically.

“Ah well.” Darktoes glanced at Honeymane as hir grin slowly melted away along with hir cheerful mood, being replaced by something more thoughtful. At least that’s how shi’d describe it. “You know your mother and I have had some problems.”

“I know, but you get along so well.” Despite the admittedly rough patch in their lives, the two taurs seemed to get on admirably, and more than once Honeymane had caught them talking quietly and intimately on the journey from Arisia to Chakona – they only had one cabin after all to share between the three of them and Browneyes’ mate Fallingstar. But part of hir wondered how much progress they had really made towards resolving the issue.

Darktoes sighed softly, before pointing out a restaurant in the distance to change the topic. “How about that place? We can go shopping after.”

The restaurant turned out to be an anchor store of a smallish but well maintained strip mall, called Scott’s. Most restaurants on Chakona tended to be large affairs compared to restaurants that primarily targeted bipeds, due to each taur requiring at least double the space to sit and enjoy a meal in one. Scott’s was no exception, and the inside looked somewhat like a department building than a restaurant. But to increase the feel of cosiness, the interior was divided into smaller rooms by thin wooden panelling, and the floor under foot was nicely carpeted.

At the door, they met a pretty looking chakat grabbed a couple of menus and proceeded to lead them deeper into the restaurant towards an empty table. Because of the early hour, most of the restaurant seemed to be deserted, which suited Honeymane just fine, and when they were shown their table, the rest of the room was completely empty save for them. When the Server gave Honeymane a big, and sexy, grin as shi walked away, Honeymane found hirself glad for the privacy for a completely different reason as well.

The menu had a number of choice items and meals, and about fifty different ways to combine them or add to them in every way one could possibly think of. As shi read over the items, Honeymane found hirself getting more and more hungry with each passing word. Finally, before shi felt much tempted to gnaw on the menus itself, which had the misfortune to have delicious-looking photographs of some of the meals, the server returned and took their orders and their menus.

“Excuse me, Shir.” Darktoes said suddenly before the Chakat could turn away. Shi glance over hir shoulder and turned back. “Didn’t this place use to have a more… Terran theme?”

The waitress blinked. “We used to, yeah. Changed it about, oh, fifteen years ago, standard time that is.”

Darktoes nodded and smiled at the pretty chakat. “Thanks, I thought this place felt familiar. Came here, well it must be nearly twenty years ago with my mate.”

Honeymane’s stomach rumbled. Talking wasn’t eating!

“Oh?” the chakat glanced at Honeymane with a smirk on hir grin. “Seems a bit young, if I don’t mind me saying.”

Darktoes chuckled. “This is Honeymane, my daughter.” Honeymane nodded at the comment, before the server grinned widely and commented on hir rumbling stomach. The two non-pregnant taurs, and apparently not hungry taurs either, continued to chat for a complete minute about how Chakona had changed over the past twenty years, before the server finally trotted off to the kitchen with their orders.

“Your mate?” Honeymane asked after the other chakat had disappeared, wincing as the cub in hir womb decided to take the moment to start kicking. Shi was probably half-starved too.

“I never said I didn’t consider hir my mate, just that we’ve had some troubles.” Darktoes said simply, before changing the topic.

The conversation was wide ranging, but as more and more time passed, Honeymane’s stomach drove hir to distraction, rumbling louder and louder and gnawing at hir insides. When the food finally arrived, shi very nearly snatched the plate of the server’s hands and began wolfing down the large stack of waffles. Two and half waffles later, shi felt sated enough to take a moment to smoother them in thick, slightly berry-flavoured syrup, before continuing trying to stuff them all in hir mouth at the same time. Darktoes ate much slower, of course, and Honeymane thought it must be hard chewing with a smirk that big on any taur’s face. After licking the plate clean, shi found hirself staring at Darktoes’ half eaten stack of waffles as well.

“Here,” Darktoes scraped the last of hir breakfast onto Honeymane’s plate with a chuckle. “Enjoy!”

“Aren’t you hungry?” Honeymane asked, eying the new stack on hir plate. Shi was tempted, very tempted, but shi didn’t want to eat hir father’s breakfast and have hir starve on hir. That’d be difficult to explain to hir mother.

The veldt foxtaur shrugged and licked hir lips. “I am, but you’re obviously hungrier than me, what with you eating for two and all. If I had been thinking, I would have had them double your order.” Darktoes shook hir head. “Eat! I’ll get something to go when I see that waitress next.”

Shi didn’t need much more encouragement. Honeymane poured some more syrup onto the stack and dug in, as Darktoes waved down the pretty chakat waitress. By the time Darktoes had finished placing a second order – something to go rather than something to stay in and eat – Honeymane had finished that stack as well, and for a wonder actually felt pleasantly full. Finally taking the time to look around the room, shi realized that while they had eaten, the formerly empty partition had been filled by several other small groups of people out for breakfast – some chakats and other species. A couple of humans were staring at hir in amazement across the way, and Honeymane found hirself blushing; they must have seen hir eating.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Honeymane did hir best to focus on Darktoes exclusively, and ignore the stares and hir burning ears. “I don’t eat like that at home.”

“Yes you do.” Darktoes said, waving hir fork around absentmindedly. “You just don’t notice because we’ve been making sure you’ve gotten enough for you to eat without ordering seconds – or stealing the other’s meals out from under hir! Ah, speak of the devil.” Darktoes turned and accepted the paper bag decorated with the restaurant’s logo from the chakat waitress. It smelled like it was filled with warm, freshly baked muffins of a number of varieties. The waitress also handed hir father a couple of folded pieces of paper – the bill, and grinned at Honeymane before trotting off with hir tail high, leaving Honeymane shifting uncomfortably.

Darktoes made a clucking sound as shi looked over the receipt, before chuckling to hirself and passing a piece of paper over to Honeymane, who accepted it as shi shot a questioning look at hir. “You know I’ve got no money, right?” The foxtaur just snorted and began sorting through hir wallet looking for the appropriate card to pay the bill with, as Honeymane unfolded the slip of paper. And felt hirself blush even harder; apparently shi hadn’t been imagining – shi shook hir head, it was no good thinking those sorts of thoughts now. Besides the sultry nature of the note, the waitress had also written a phone number on the paper, and despite hir best efforts Honeymane found hirself wondering what might result from calling it.

Hir father coughed politely to get hir attention, although the smirk on hir face suggested nothing too polite about hir intentions. Rolling hir eyes, Honeymane tried to put the note in one of hir belt pouches, only to remember shi hadn’t brought hirs. Blushing even deeper – if shi blushed any more shi’d be giving the people around hir sunburn – shi folded the note and passed it back to Darktoes for safe keeping. The foxtaur slipped it away without comment, before standing up and taking the lead, moving out into the ‘hallway’ and down to where the restaurant had the cashier, and paid the bill leaving a small tip, despite the human at the cashier eying hir as shi did. In theory, monetary tips wasn’t a practiced social custom on Chakona. The founders, for better or worse had decided gratitude ought to be shown through something more personal, such as a hug, or if the meal was truly excellent, a kiss. But in Honeymane’s experience – shi had worked as a waitress several years ago – the custom wasn’t always practiced by visitors. Amistad was a busy city, both because it was the planet’s capital, but also because it tended to be the city-of-choice for spacers looking to stretch their legs planet side, and Chakona did brisk trade. The influx of spacers and whatever customs they might bring with them meant that after a while you just shrugged and went with it. For Honeymane’s part, the money from tips tended to get pooled and donated to charity at the end of the week, so there was little harm done.

Going on that thought, Honeymane took the lead after they had stepped out of the restaurant and hurried down the covered sidewalk along the rest of the strip mall. Shi had seen a clothing store on the way in, and shi could definitely use some new tops anyway, even if shi hadn’t left home without dressing. But as shi stepped into the clothing store with Darktoes trailing hir, shi found hirself dwelling on Manetheren’s interview. The sun was behind grey clouds, which promised rain, so shi couldn’t guess what time it was, but it felt like hir mate was probably just arriving at Dewclaw’s campus. Sighing to hirself, shi tried to put the worry out of hir head. It wouldn’t help Manetheren any, and there wasn’t much else shi could do from where shi was.

The interior of the clothing store, in many ways, was almost paradoxically smaller compared to the restaurant. While eateries and restaurants might need more room than what one might see on another planet like Earth, other stores like the one they were in now, needed less. The primary reason, of course, was that they had no need to provide their guests with places to sit. Although, as Honeymane walked, or rather, waddled, down the pseudo-aisle between racks of clothing, shi kind of wished they did. The second reason, however, had to do with taurs themselves – only taurs in jobs that called for pants, or drunk ones, bothered to try and wear any sort of clothing on their lower body at all. Although there was a small niche market even on Chakona for those who wanted more coverage. By cutting the amount of clothing the store had to carry by almost half, the over all size of the store was reduced, and still have a wide variety of clothing to choose from.

“What do you think of this?” Darktoes asked from a couple of racks over, holding up a floral-print halter. Honeymane made a face and shook hir head. Shi preferred plainer over busy clothing, and the flower print made the thing look horrible. Darktoes merely shrugged and returned it to the rack before moving off to paw through another rack of clothing – to Honeymane’s relief. Whenever shi went shopping with Browneyes, the chakat tended to buy whatever Honeymane rejected, because shi thought it looked good, even when they didn’t.

Thankfully it didn’t take Honeymane long to find the sort of thing shi was looking for – a thick, soft grey halter. Perfect! Shi thumbed through the rack until shi found it in hir size, or at least what shi thought was hir size, shi’d have to try it on shi supposed. Glancing over the tops of the sea of clothing racks shi waved over Darktoes, before removing the hanger and pulling it top on. “How does it look?” Shi asked of hir father as shi approached. If shi felt less heavy, shi might have been tempted to twirl.

“I like it, but it’s a bit snug, isn’t it?” Darktoes stepped forward and adjusted the straps, but shifting the garment around slightly didn’t loosen it over the bust area, and glancing down at the offending part of hir body, shi realized the top was only making hir nipples more clearly defined, not less. Sighing more to hirself than anything, shi pulled it off and picked up the same cut of top, but two bust sizes bigger. This time the grey halter fit almost perfectly. “I assume I’m paying again?” Darktoes grinned as shi hauled Honeymane over to the checkout and had the grumpy looking cat morph scan it without Honeymane taking it off, before paying for it.

“Now what?” Darktoes asked as shi ran hir card through the cashier’s reader to complete the transaction.

“Well, I’d like to get something for Manetheren too.” Honeymane slowly glanced around the store’s interior. It was hard to buy for the habitual nudist, shi must say. Perhaps if it was nice enough shi’d wear it? Shi shook hir head; hir mate would probably wear it once or twice and then forget, leaving the damned thing in hir closet. It was a lost cause, in hir opinion. “But… maybe a watch or a necklace or something.”

The veldt accepted the receipt from the cat morph as shi chuckled. “Try not to spend all my money in one day.”

Honeymane blushed hard as Darktoes held open the door for them and the two of them made their way to Seeker’s sleek looking PTV in the parking lot. The sky was definitely overcast now, and in the distance Honeymane thought shi heard the faint crack of thunder. On Arisia, shi had spent most of hir time in Manetheren’s cabin at the base of the mountain hir mate had affectionately named ‘the Dragon’, and they had been opportunistically positioned to experience some of the biggest storms the planet had to offer as the low hanging clouds would burn themselves out on the mountain side. Those had been fairly terrifying, but after a month or more without experiencing any real weather at all, shi was ready for a rumbling storm. Mind, it would be better if shi was with Manetheren, alone, and they could enjoy the storm together, but one couldn’t have everything shi supposed.

Even so, the two of them got into the vehicle doubly quick, lest it started to pour on them. Once inside, Honeymane slumped back against the back rest, while Darktoes looked at hir expectantly. “You know I’d pay if I could,” shi said hotly.

“I was only joking, Honeymane.” Darktoes shook hir head. “I’m happy to do it for you, I’ve lost eighteen years of being able to buy you things and see you smile, a few items here and there isn’t going to break the bank.”

Honeymane squirmed uncomfortably under hir father’s calm gaze. Shi probably meant it too, but it didn’t make Honeymane feel much better, mostly just embarrassed. “I don’t like doing it,” shi said finally, as shi looked away across the parking lot. Hir sigh misted the window momentarily before evaporating away. “Besides, I doubt I can find anything shi’d like anyway.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.” Darktoes said, as shi turned the PTV on and began slowly driving out of the parking lot. “Shi’ll like it because shi loves you, and you hir.”

“I just wish I could do something for hir that meant something.” Shi reached into hir cleavage and fished out the low hanging crystal rock pendent and rubbed it between hir finger and thumb. “Something like this, which means something.”

Darktoes glanced at hir before turning hir eyes back onto the road and traffic ahead of them. Of course, there was little real danger of an accident. If the PTV thought they were making a mistake it would autocorrect it and drive under its own intelligence, but it was a different story on Arisia, where all vehicles were dumb as bricks. Honeymane didn’t have the heart to tell hir father the PTV probably could do a better job driving than shi could. “If it bothers you so much, the not having money thing, why don’t you get a job?”

“I would, except this annoying group of chakats keeps clawing me back into the den whenever I try to do anything physical!” Honeymane said, watching the wide variety of people on the sidewalk as they drove past.

“Do you ever feel… guilty?” shi asked after a period of silence, as shi turned back to hir father. At least shi wasn’t taking them home yet.


“About Browneyes,” the stellar foxtaur shot hir a confused look, so Honeymane pressed on. “Shi’s moving to Arisia to be with you, and shi’s giving up all this.” Honeymane gestured to the landscape as the PTV slowed down to let another out. “Friends, family…”

“Ah.” Darktoes licked hir lips as shi considered the question. “Sometimes. I know it isn’t easy for hir, and it wouldn’t be easy for me if I was the one doing the same thing, but… shi loves me, and its hir decision ultimately.” Darktoes glanced at hir daughter. “Just like Manetheren loves you, Honeymane.”

“But – ”

“You love hir, right?” Darktoes asked, cutting hir off as shi turned down a side street between two massive skyscrapers. They were in the heart of Amistad now. “And shi loves you?”

“Of course,” Honeymane snapped, slamming hir fist against the door side arm rest. “But it’s not always enough, is it? Look at what mom did to you, shi lied and went on lying because shi loved you and thought it was the right thing to do! But it wasn’t, and it only ended up hurting everyone.”

“This isn’t the same sort of situation.” Darktoes said flatly, not glancing at hir this time. “If Manetheren had told you shi didn’t want to go, you would have stayed on Arisia, right?”

“It’s not a matter of whether or not I would have, dad.” Honeymane shook hir head sadly. “It’s a matter of whether or not shi came because shi thought it would make me happy, but shi hirself is unhappy being here.”

Darktoes shook hir own head as the PTV crossed another street and headed deeper into the city again. “If you’re really worried about this, have you thought of any way you might be able to make hir less unhappy, assuming shi is? I’ve talked to hir; shi didn’t strike me as someone too upset to be here.”

Honeymane grimaced. Shi did have an idea, of course, shi had thought a lot about it… but wasn’t something one did lightly and it wasn’t something shi wanted to do on impulse. Hopefully Manetheren would get the position, that would be the first step, as Honeymane saw, it, to making hir mate happy, but there was one thing shi had been thinking of. “Well…” Shi began, glancing at hir father. “There is one thing…”

As Honeymane expected, Darktoes was less than warm to the idea shi put before hir. And Honeymane couldn’t blame hir, given what shi was asking. Still, Darktoes had asked an honest question and shi had done hir best to give hir father an honest answer. Furthermore, despite hir misgivings, the foxtaur said shi’d think on hir request, which Honeymane decided to take as a positive sign rather than hir father delaying saying no so shi didn’t have to say no outright.

While shi hadn’t had a plan when shi had first set out, Honeymane decided to do hir best with the freedom shi had, while shi had it, and had dragged hir father from one attraction to another, starting with the museum of natural history. The museum had had added an exhibit since shi had last visited, on some sort of extinct group of animals from Chakona’s distant past, or rather, if the plaques were to be believed, some sort of super group of plant-animal from Chakona’s past. It had left hir wondering whether they’d taste more like a animal or a vegetable. Shi had asked Darktoes, who had given hir a worried look and one of hir muffins.

That museum had been followed by one of Darktoes’ choosing, which chronicled the evolution of the PTV from it’s humble beginnings as a hydrocarbon burning death trap to the vehicle it was today. It didn’t help, however, that Darktoes had declared loudly that more than one of the centuries old museum pieces were “just like” the ones that they had on Arisia, causing hir to strike up a wide ranging conversation with on of the tour guides that were scattered around the museum. Honeymane suspected that shi wouldn’t have found the conversation too annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that hir cub had decided that shi wanted to play Chakker in hir insides about the same time. Thankfully shi hadn’t lost hir cool. Much.

When Darktoes finally wrapped up hir conversation with the tour guide – Honeymane had noticed that the human was getting an evil eye from a ’kat shi assumed was her manager – the two of them headed to the next thing that Honeymane could think of, the Chakonan Gallery of Art. This turned out to be less fun that shi had originally anticipated. Granted shi had never been a particularly big art buff, but the Gallery was, for that week, showing of a number of visiting sculptures and statues of a particularly provocative nature. Before shi knew it, hir face was burning and attracting stares. Naturally that had ended their visit fairly quickly, and left them without much else to do except get lunch. Unlike breakfast, Darktoes had made sure they had gotten twice their order, and shi had no problem keeping from salivating over hir father’s meal in addition to hir own.

After eating, however, Honeymane found hirself in a bind. Having lived in Amistad so long, and spent so much of hir time going to the various attractions, they bored hir half to death even as shi suggested them. Shi wanted to have the freedom to do what shi wanted, but now that shi was outside, shi found hirself without much to do. The only thing shi could think of was to head to Dewclaw university and meet Manetheren on campus. The mountaineer had warned that the interview would likely last all day, and shi wouldn’t be home until later, so there was a good chance of catching hir. At this, however, Darktoes had put hir foot down, and despite Honeymane’s protests, shi eventually agreed to return home.

To Honeymane’s surprise, no one in the family chose to comment on hir sneaking off. Granted shi was with Darktoes the whole time, but given the way they had acted previously, shi couldn’t help but wonder if they had anticipated the move and had let hir ‘escape’ on purpose to blow off steam. Although as Sugarback had pointed out when shi had suggested it, that was being a bit paranoid. Perhaps more reasonably, it was just that most of the family had at one time been mothers themselves, and likely had experienced the same sort of treatment that shi had been given. It seemed like a good sign that they might let hir go job hunting, if shi asked nicely enough, although shi doubted it.

Finally, after spending the afternoon and a good part of the evening talking about what else but hir pregnancy, the moment Honeymane had been waiting for all day, arrived with Manetheren coming home. While Honeymane was on hir way to the washroom. After putting off the growing need to relieve hirself for most of the evening, the moment shi finally gave in was the same moment hir mate came home. As much as shi wanted to run into hir arms, there was a strong possibility that shi wouldn’t make it in time. Manetheren seemed to understand, and waved hir on. When shi did get back, shi practically flung hirself into hir mates arms and hugged hir tight so make up for it, before launching into a kiss that was probably too intimate to give in from of the family. Not that any of them commented on it.

In the scant moments that shi was gone, the violet-haired stellar had managed to brighten up and lose hir smart looking top. Shi still looked tired, but at least shi looked like shi was back to hir normal self. When they finally broke the kiss, Manetheren grinned at hir. “Well, I got the job!”

“I knew it!” shi exclaimed, licking the tip of hir nose. “I’m so glad for you!”

“Good work, Violet.” Sugarback said as shi grinned over Honeymane’s shoulder. “Any chance I might get some of that action?”

Manetheren shook hir head. “’fraid Honeymane’s the only chakat for me.” Honeymane smiled as hir mate teased hir aunt, it wasn’t strictly true, of course, Not that either of them minded. Briefly shi wondered if the waitress form the dinner would be interested in something more, before squeezing hir mate again and breaking the hug to let hir breathe.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Browneyes said, followed by Darktoes. While shi hadn’t been paying that much attention to the couple, Honeymane couldn’t help but noticed that they had spent most of the afternoon together. Shi wondered if they had always spent that much time together or if shi was just picking up on it because of hir talk with hir father.

“Thank you, all of you.” Manetheren said, as more of the family came out to greet hir and offer their congratulations, squeezing into the foyer as they could “I know I haven’t been pulling my weight around here, but I’m looking forward to being able to support my beautiful mate.”

Honeymane found hirself blushing deeply, but any further discussion was cut off by hir stomach growling loudly in protest. Luckily for Manetheren, shi had made it home just in time for dinner, so without further ado they grabbed some plates, served themselves up and started to chow down on the steak-and-potatoes meal. After the initial rush, conversations started to break out between the various chakats and foxtaurs seated around the table, and that’s when Honeymane noticed Manetheren wasn’t eating hir meal as shi should, rather shi toyed with the steak half-heartedly as shi stared at the plate.

“Something wrong?” Honeymane asked, whispering to hir mate. Perhaps Manetheren had caught something while at Dewclaw. Shi had no idea how a Stellar Foxtaur’s immune system faired compared to hir own, but it seemed like a safe bet if shi was coming down with something Honeymane might very well get it as well. And, with hir pregnancy, it was a particularly worrying thought. Not to mention shi didn’t want to ever see hir mate hurt.

“Huh?” Manetheren looked startled and nearly dropped hir fork onto hir plate in surprise. Once shi regained hir senses, shi shook hir head a smiled. “Not at all, just a bit tired I’m afraid.”

“It was a tiring day for me too.” Honeymane said, shovelling a couple of pieces of steak into hir mouth. Perhaps shi was worrying for nothing, there had been plenty of times shi had arrived home so tired and in want of a bed that shi just couldn’t be bothered to eat anything first. “After you left, I managed to escape,” shi said the last with a wink.

“Oh?” Manetheren’s tired face slowly turned into a grin. “Do anything interesting?”

“One or two things…” Honeymane grinned back after swallowing. Let hir make what shi will from that! “Ate at a couple of places, saw some… interesting art work. Bought a halter.”

“More comfortable than what’s in your closet, I take it?” Manetheren eyed the grey garment, before finally starting to eat hir meal. Perhaps shi just needed to be distracted to eat.

“Yup, nice. And. Comfy.” Honeymane giggled as shi empathized the words by gently shaking hir chest. “’course I can think of something much more comfortable to hold them…”

Manetheren opened hir mouth to reply, before Spadespot threw a napkin between them. “Oi, you two, no flirting at the table!” Sugarback, who was across the table from Honeymane burst out laughing, as if shi hadn’t been called on the exact same thing most of the time shi had hir hermfriend Nuru over, while Fallingstar just shook hir head. “I honestly don’t know how you chakats manage to keep your population in check, I really don’t!” shi quipped, before ducking as the chakat majority of the table tossed napkins, and in one case, a roll, at the cheeky Stellar Foxtaur.

Still chuckling, Honeymane turned back to hir own meal before checking on hir mate’s progress out of the corner of hir eye – the mountaineer was eating happily now. That was one crisis averted, but Honeymane couldn’t help but wonder what had set hir mate off onto such a poor mood in the first place. Shaking hirself mentally, shi turned to hir plans as shi dug at the potatoes. Hopefully shi’d be able to get more time to hirself to enact them.

The next few days passed as slowly for Honeymane as the previous ones had, except now shi felt like shi had a purpose. It wasn’t easy to find the time alone where shi could do the research shi wanted to do, but shi did find it, even if it meant pretending to be tired and in need of naps. Once shi locked the door and pulled out hir computer, shi was free to work as much as shi wanted. Of course, that came to an end fairly quickly when Honeymane realized the family was beginning to fear for hir health, but by then shi had already turned up a few promising leads, it was only a matter of following them.

Following them, however, proved to be more of a task than shi had originally thought, although in hindsight shi wasn’t sure why shi was so naïve to begin with. When shi brought the topic up to Darktoes again, a day or so later after shi had gotten hir hands on a couple of examples, hir father had pointed out that shi really couldn’t do anything, one way or another, without first talking the issue over with hir mate, Quinoa. It was often easy to forget that hir father was also a mother, with a mate and kids of hir own, and had had them long before Honeymane had set foot on Arisia. Still, it wouldn’t be long before Quinoa arrived from Arisia, and shi didn’t mind waiting given the nature of what shi was asking for.

Quinoa, however, presented a unique set of worries for Honeymane of hir own. The veldt stellar foxtaur was something of an enigma for hir. Like hir father, and unlike Manetheren, Quinoa was a first generation stellar foxtaur, and someone who had known Darktoes for a long time. The two had been friends long before the subject of becoming mates had ever really been on the table. But, from what Honeymane had gathered from the other veldts in Darktoes’ camp, the relationship hadn’t always been easy. However much hir father might avoid the question now, shi had worn hir heart on hir sleeve, and there wasn’t a veldt that Honeymane had talked to who hadn’t known about Browneyes. In many ways, shi supposed Quinoa must have felt like second best to hir mother, which if the stories were to be believed, had occupied Darktoes’ thoughts long after shi had arrived on Arisia. Which is why Honeymane suspected Quinoa didn’t exactly like Browneyes.

How the veldt stellar felt about hirself, Honeymane couldn’t say. When they had talked, Honeymane hadn’t felt any particular hostility from Quinoa, but shi didn’t imagine it wasn’t easy for the foxtaur not to resent hir a little, if only because shi was hir mate’s firstborn child. Honeymane’s very existence tied Darktoes to Browneyes as closely as any declaration of matehood would, and once or twice Honeymane was certain shi had detected just those sorts of feelings from the veldt, if fleeting and at the edge of hir empathic perception. All in all, Quinoa was a problem, for sure, and not one Honeymane was really sure shi knew had to deal with. While it was more common among non-chakats, it was so uncommon for a chakat to come to have two mates who were incompatible with one another, shi had difficulty finding someone who believed hir. And when they did believe hir, they almost always gave less than helpful advice.

“Are you sure it’s not just your hormones?” Sky had told hir, looking at hir sideways as shi had did some stitching in a pillow shi was adding embroidery to. “You might be imagining it, but if you aren’t… well I’m sure if you just give them time to get to know one another, they’ll come to like each other.” Honeymane wasn’t sure why it was so hard to make them understand that Browneyes and Quinoa had practically spent seven months living with one another, and the veldt still seemed to harbour animosity towards hir mother.

Still, it was more useful than other advice shi had gotten: “Why don’t you set them up on a date, away from all your family?” Suggested one of hir chakat friends, with a wink. Another of hir friends had just came right out and said it: “If they fuck each other, they’ll be okay!” Advice like that left Honeymane shaking hir head. On the other hand, at least it was hopeful. After shi had tried to find another chakat to talk to about the problem, after arriving home on Chakona, shi had turned to some of hir non-chakat friends. Most of them had just shrugged and been unable to advice hir at all, but one human friend shi had warned hir that they might never work out. “Some people just aren’t compatible.” He had said, patting hir shoulder. “You really can only hope for the best.”

All together, shi was somewhat dreading Darktoes bringing up the topic to Quinoa, it just didn’t seem like the sort of thing shi’d be naturally warm to. Nevertheless, Honeymane had insisted on coming with Darktoes and Manetheren as they went to pick Quinoa up, if only for the veldt’s two traveling companions. In so many ways, it felt odd to think of hirself as a sister – and a big sister, to anyone else. For hir, Sugarback had always filled that role, and while shi might have wished for siblings as shi had been younger, it had become a less pressing desire as shi grew older.

So it had came as something of a shock to discover that shi had, in fact, two younger half-sisters waiting for hir on Arisia when shi arrived. At barely fourteen, twins were just starting to grow into awkward teenagers, and both of them still acted with an energy that Honeymane had begun to envy. Still, the two of them were adorable and shi couldn’t help feel big sisterly to them. For their part, the twins had adopted hir as their sister far quicker than shi would have thought, and neither of them seemed bothered that they had an unknown sister they had never met. For them, shi was just someone new to talk and play with, no questions asked. It had only really been later, after shi had spent time with Manetheren’s family that shi realized the situation was probably the norm for most Stellar Foxtaurs.

Each breed was adapted to their own environment, sometimes with fairly extreme adaptations. While it made them excellent colonists, the sort of tough-as-nails people the Federation needed to open up hard-to-colonize worlds for general development, it also meant that it was a rare occasion that different breeds met in the field, and even then only with certain breeds. Being a veldt breed, Darktoes had met on semi-regular occasions with Deebees, Foresters, and Mariners. But Desert breed foxtaurs and Forest breed foxtaurs almost never met unless one of them went out of their way to make the connection. And even in the cities some breeds were rare – Polar breed foxtaurs, as their name suggested, struggled to live in more temperate climates, and the only other breed they had much contact with were Mountaineers.

Since most of the adaptations that the gene engineers had given Stellars were of vital importance, the child of two breeds was always going to be the same breed as their mother. Throughout Arisia, there were dozens of cubs being raised by their mothers who only had the barest of contact with their fathers, and only rarely with siblings their father might have bore or sired to another foxtaur.

Unlike when Honeymane had arrived, Quinoa had no need to take the shuttle down to the surface, rather the three of them used the transporter system to beam down in one of the numerous locations in Amistad, in one of the miniature spaceports that served the Chakonan Gateway. Despite the size, which was really only two floors at the top of a skyscraper, the place was busier than the Spaceport had been. No doubt, Honeymane thought wryly, due to the volume of people that had the good sense not to get pregnant.

Leaning against hir mate, the three of them waited off to one side as steady stream of people hurried by tugging their luggage and other items. While shi was pleased Manetheren had landed the job, the job carried surprisingly long hours and shi wouldn’t see hir as much as shi wanted once shi started the next day, and Honeymane felt that shi missed hir already. That was one reason shi had insisted that the Mountaineer came. The other reason was that hir mate had taken to the twins as much as shi had, and shi couldn’t wait to see them.

The steady steam of people paused, and through a break shi saw a harassed-looking Quinoa trying to herd the two teenagers along. It was their first time off world and shi could almost feel their excitement. Straightening up Honeymane waved frantically at them until shi caught Quinoa’s eye. The Veldt smiled at hir and said something to the two kits, only for the smile to turn sour as the twins abandoned their luggage and raced over, flinging themselves at the three of them.

“Mommy!” the two screamed in unison as they leapt into Darktoes’ open arms.

“Hey you two!” Honeymane couldn’t help but smile as hir father tried to nuzzle both the twins at once. “How was your trip? Been good for Daddy, right?” Honeymane chuckled at the last question, the two seemed to be making a good effort to live up to the idea of ‘terrible’ twins.

Cloudbreak, one of the two, broke from giving Darktoes’ a sloppy lick-kiss on hir cheek as shi noticed Honeymane standing there. “Honeymane!” shi said with a squeal of delight, and darted over to hir, followed by hir sister Crimsonears. If shi hadn’t felt so awkward, shi would have bent down to hug them hirself, but shi settled for just hugging them as they wrapped their arms around hir legs and pressed their heads into hir forehips.

“Wow you’re huge!” Crimsonear remarked, as shi pulled away and eyed Honeymane’s belly. It was hardly the first time someone had pointed it out to hir, as if shi didn’t notice hir belly every waking moment, but Honeymane had trouble being irritated by hir little sister, who really didn’t know any better. Not that adults, Honeymane thought dryly, seemed to be any better at overlooking it. “What’s it like?”

Cloudbreak answered for Honeymane; “Why do you care? Planning on making lots and lots of babies with Llanos?” the teenager spat, filling what Honeymane assumed was a name with what shi imagined was undue malice.

“Shut up!” Crimsonear said, giving hir sister a shove, who wasted no time in shoving back. Before they could get into a full on fight, Darktoes stepped in between them and pulled them apart as Quinoa joined them. The veldt dropped hir and the twin’s baggage before hugging and kissing hir mate in greeting, and the sight made Honeymane glad. Part of hir was worried that with Browneyes in the equation, the relationship between the two foxtaurs might be strained, which it probably was, but they did seem to genuinely care for one another.

“So who’s Llanos?” Darktoes asked, as shi picked up hir mate’s and kids’ luggage so Quinoa could walk free and started leading them towards the exit elevators.

“Crimsonear has gotten hirself a hermfriend by the name of Llanos.” Quinoa explained, as shi placed hirself between the two twins lest they decide to try fighting again. Obviously the new ‘taur in Crimsonear’s life was putting a strain on the relationship shi had with hir sister. Honeymane hoped they wouldn’t be antagonistic the whole time they were there. Shi felt Manetheren’s hand squeeze hir hand, as if shi knew what shi was thinking; shi probably could do without the extra stress. “After you left.” The veldt said the last part coolly, and Honeymane almost flinched. Perhaps it wasn’t as good as shi thought.

Hir father, however, either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it. “Aww, my little girl’s first love?” Darktoes drew the teenager into a half-hug as they walked, making Honeymane feel a stab of jealousy for a brief moment, before shi could suppress it. Shi shouldn’t begrudge the young taur just because shi had grown up with all of hir members of hir family close at hand. “So, how old is shi? What does shi look like?” Darktoes continued, smiling.

On the way down from the Transporter hub, Crimsonear launched into a long-winded description of the young veldt shi had started going out with, ranging from how they met to what shi looked like, while hir sister glowered at hir from the other side of Quinoa on the way down. Manetheren had noticed too, however, and by the time they stepped off the lift and were throwing the baggage into the back of the PTV, hir mate had struck up a quiet side conversation with Cloudbreak, and before long hir eyes were glowing with interest as shi explained how shi had started collecting the Arisian equivalent of insects. Despite the wide differences in fields, Manetheren seemed to express a real interest in what Cloudbreak was doing, and by the time they reached home shi was encouraging the young foxtaur to think about making it into a career. “You should do what you love,” Manetheren told hir, sounding strangely unhappy. “Always.”

It wasn’t until they were all back in the den of the family’s home, that shi realized no one had inquired about hir pregnancy all the way home; someone else was the center of every chakat’s attention for once, and although shi didn’t wish hir half-sisters any ill will, as far as shi was concerned the two teenagers could keep the spotlight as long as they could. Of course, all good things come to an end eventually, and by the evening of that day Seeker finally realized shi hadn’t been harassed too long and spent the evening telling hir about raising hir father and giving hir all manner of advice on how to raise a child.

At bedtime, however, the arrival of Quinoa and the twins presented a new set of problems. Cloudbreak and Crimsonears were at the age where they’d prefer some privacy while sleeping, and the idea of sharing in a bedroom full of perfect strangers uncomfortable. It was easily solved by giving them a guest room each, but with Quinoa and Darktoes both interested in spending the night alone, the number of spare guest rooms dwindled to none, and Honeymane and Manetheren found themselves back in hir room for the night. Tomorrow, shi decided, would be a good day to start to pack the room up for storage.

Despite the good weather the next morning, Honeymane started it on a bad foot and the feeling kept going throughout the day. It began with the two of them waking up as Manetheren was getting ready to go to work; before having a mate, Honeymane had always been a fairly heavy sleeper, unless shi had some reason to wake up early. But ever since declaring themselves mates, Honeymane found hirself rising on Manetheren’s schedule, which meant getting up at the crack of dawn or next to it. It didn’t bother hir all that much, of course, since waking up early meant the two of them could start the day with a little love-making before Manetheren had to go off to work. That day had started off much the same way, until the mountaineer had glanced at hir bedroom clock and declared that shi’d be late if shi continued, leaving Honeymane aroused and frustrated. It didn’t help that even their goodbye kiss felt rushed, as if Manetheren didn’t want to put the effort into it. It might have been first day jitters, but it didn’t stop Honeymane from rolling out of bed grumpy.

The rest of the day, in theory, should have gone better. Like Manetheren, the majority of the household had work to attend to, and with Quinoa newly arrived, shi expected Darktoes and hir to spend time together, either alone or out with their kits exploring Amistad. The only chakats shi expected to still be home was Browneyes, who hirself had work to attend to, even if it only meant finishing up paper work, and maybe one of hir grandparents. Which is why shi was shocked to find, when shi finally gave up trying to satisfy hirself, and rolling out of bed, every chakat in the household gathered around the dining room table.

“What are you guys doing here?” Honeymane asked hesitantly, as shi glanced from face to face as they turned towards hir. When they started grinning the feeling for foreboding grew. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“Called in sick.” Spadespot said, who was sitting nearest to Honeymane’s end of the table.

“I’ve asked Fallingstar to handle some of the paperwork today,” Browneyes told hir, sitting beside Sky near the middle of the table.

“I’m on maternity leave,” Seeker put in, causing Honeymane to give the red-and-grey chakat a quizzical look as shi echoed hir statement. Seeker just shrugged. “Just because I can’t get pregnant doesn’t mean they didn’t give me a contact with loads and loads of maternity leave in it.”

“But why?” Honeymane asked, looking from chakat to chakat. At least the non-chakat mates weren’t there, but still…

“Well, we’ve been letting you rest these past week or so,” Browneyes began, and ignoring Honeymane’s sputtering. If they considered that rest, shi was dreading to think of what they considered putting hir to work. Hir mother continued “But with Quinoa here, and only two weeks left in your pregnancy, it’s time we started putting together a birth party for you.”

“Now,” Sky continued almost as soon as Browneyes stopped speaking, preventing any protests Honeymane might try to voice. “Strictly speaking, the first thing one would do ordinarily would be to invite one’s family, but with so many of us spread throughout the Federation, they’ve already set out to be here, so it’s not really a matter of inviting them, but—”

“You’ll still need to make up invitations, though,” Seeker added in.

Sky nodded and continued. “But I’m sure you have some local friends you’d like to invite, so we’ll make a list. Then there’s a matter of catering.”

“I’ll handle the baking and cooking part of that,” Sugarback said from the other end of the table. “But I’ll still need some idea of what to make. But we’ll get to that a bit later.”

“Speaking of which,” Spadespot got to hir feet and began gently herding Honeymane towards a seat near the middle of the table where shi’d be surrounded on all sides. “I bet you’re hungry, I know I am. Let’s eat first, then get down to business!”

Honeymane was hungry, but as Sugarback hurried off to start work on breakfast for seven hungry taurs, shi still tried to get out of it. “That all sounds great, but… surely all this can be planned by one or two of us?” Realistically, shi knew there was no way shi’d be able to get out of it all together, but it might be more bearable if shi only had to deal with one or two of hir relatives.

“And miss out planning my daughter’s first birth party?” Browneyes said with a laugh, shaking hir head. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Nor I,” Added Seeker, as shi eyed the kitchen where Sugarback was clanging bowls and pots together, presumably to make something to eat, at least Honeymane hoped so. From across the table shi could hear the Chakker player’s stomach growl nearly as loudly as hir own; shi might not be pregnant, but in the years since shi had started playing the sport professionally, hir formally dumpy appearance had become well toned and muscled, and shi didn’t get by without eating a fair meal hirself. “Why would I miss planning the birthing party for my first grandchild?”

“But you already have grandchildren!” Honeymane pointed out, wondering how Darktoes’ adopted mother had forgotten about the twins, especially since shi had spent most of the prior evening talking to them in length, not to mention promising to take them out to a chakker game before they left.

Spadespot, Darktoes’ father, shrugged. “We couldn’t be there for Darktoes’ birthing party. Beside this would be our first great-grandchild.” The red-pelted chakat looked at hir mate pointedly.

“Well excuse me for trying to make us not sound like old dinosaurs!” Seeker said throwing up hir hands in mock frustration.

“We could always try for another cub, that might make you feel young again.” Spadespot purred, reaching over and taking Seeker’s hand. Honeymane had no idea what the two were talking about; Seeker was sterile since shi was a little kid.

Browneyes interrupted the thought by rapping hir knuckles against the table. “Alright people, let’s focus here!” Hir mother turned hir green eyes on Honeymane, and they began, pausing only momentarily for breakfast.

Honeymane never realized just how much planning had to go into planning a birth party, having only been to one or two in hir life, and the last time one of close family’s chakats had gotten pregnant and given birth, that had been Sugarback, and shi hirself had only been an infant. Despite how the media sometimes depicted chakats, children tended to be born in cycles, after all, there was only so many children a couple could have before stretching their budget to the limit. Once those children were grown, of course, the parents might think of having more children, and so another group of cubs was brought into the world, but there tended to be a twenty or more year separation between the two generations. So Honeymane hadn’t had many opportunities. But given how several of the older chakats were acting, Honeymane suspected shi might be attending more than hir own in the fairly near future.

The first order of business, as Sky had said, was invitations. Something so simple managed to turn itself into something rather horrible in short order before Honeymane’s eyes. Rather than starting with a list of names, the first thing they apparently had to do was decide on a design for the invitations, and to that end Honeymane found hirself scrolling through a PADD full of designs, each one seemingly more fancy than the last. Finally shi chose a silly, but fun-looking design, only to have hir mother look daggers at hir and promptly delete the selection from the computer.

“It’s a birthing party, Honeymane, not a cub’s birthday!” Browneyes said pointedly at Honeymane’s protests, before handing the PADD back to hir.

“We could have just picked the design and switched it later.” Honeymane grumbled as shi began flipping through more designs.

“No we can’t,” Spadespot shook hir head over a cup of tea, while avoiding Browneyes’ gaze. Shi had been the one to produce the PADD in the first place and apparently in for an earful for not removing such a childish design from the device before hand. “We have to print them off.”

Print them off?” Honeymane echoed; shi had never heard such nonsense in hir life. Never mind printing just wasn’t done much any more, but half these designs would cost a pretty penny to print even if shi just invited the six chakats around the table. “Are you insane? Even if we sent them off now it wouldn’t reach half the people before the day.”

“For non-locals, we’d send the design to a printer on their planet who would make them up and distribute them for us.” Hir mother said calmly. “We can print off invitations for those already on their way, and whoever picks them up can give them to them at the spaceport.”

“And you have to print them.” Seeker added, smiling. “Most of us collect them as mementos.” Shi then proceeded to haul out a large photography album, or what Honeymane had always assume was a photography album, and proceeded to show Honeymane pages of preserved invitation cards shi had received over the years. “Remember this one, Honeymane?” The red-and-grey chakat asked as shi carefully removed a white card decked with a native Chakona flower, an Iridescent Rose, outlined in silver, probably to represent the glowing. Seeker passed the card to Honeymane who opened it.

Dearest Pond, it read in a flowing script that Honeymane suspected was making unnecessary detours around some of the letters to increase the ‘fanciness’ You are warmly invited to welcome a new child into our family, on September 30th, 2313. Hir mother, Browneyes, looks forward to seeing you there.

“My birth?” Honeymane looked up from the card questioningly at hir mother, who nodded with a smile. “Why’s the date from a Terran Calendar?”

“It’s tradition.” Dancer by the Sea explained, “Even though Chakona’s our homeworld now, it wasn’t always, and we’ll always be a child of Earth.”

Honeymane closed the card carefully and handed it back to Seeker. As shi pushed the card back into its slot, Honeymane noticed that most of the other cards also bore flowers on their front. Not all of them, but it was common. “Is the flower traditional too?”

“It used to be,” Seeker said with a sigh, running hir fingers over the many cards. “Although your generation seems to be more interested in other things, I suppose. I can see why, there are only so many easily recognizable flowers from each planet.” Seeker grinned as Honeymane looked at hir questioningly. “Back when Chakats started spreading out over the Sol system, mothers-to-be would put something easily recognizable on their invitations, something that represented where they were giving birth – or where they wished they could give birth.”

“For example,” Dancer took up the lecture. “A chakat giving birth on the moon might put a crescent on hir card, or a chakat giving birth in New Zealand might put a Kiwi on their card. As the Federation started moving out of the system and colonizing other worlds, it began fashionable to pick a local plant or animal and put it on the card.”

Honeymane licked hir lips, and stared at the PADD for a moment, as an idea blossomed in hir head. “Is there anyway I could design a card myself?”

Seeker and Sky grinned widely, as if they had been expecting hir to suggest that, while Browneyes frowned. “You’ve never displayed any great ability in art, Honeymane, you can’t just make one of these out of clip art you know.”

“Oh come off it, Browneyes,” Spadespot said. Shi too was grinning. “Shi doesn’t need to do it hirself, shi just wants to make hir firstborn’s invitation unique is all!” The red-furred chakat turned to Honeymane before continuing. “I know a couple of artists downtown who’d be willing to help you with that, if you’re interested. I’ll go give them a call and we can go down today or tomorrow and get the ball rolling.”

Despite the length of their discussion, the debate over the card design only took them to lunch time, which was punctuated with Makrana and Roseblood showing up with bags full of take-out. To Honeymane’s horror, the two newcomers apparently wanted in on the planning as well, and before shi could say anything the two Star Fleet officers were handing out sandwiches and having their progress so far summarized. Like Seeker, Roseblood produced a large sealed binder from hir flank pouch, and handed the surprisingly heavy book to Honeymane so shi could look through it, while the other chakats gathered over shi shoulder to watch. As Dancer had said, most of the designs did seem to reflect what shi had said, and more than one design was well over a century old. The retired admiral still had the energy of a young chakat, but hir muzzle was streaked with grey and shi was obviously feeling hir age.

Finally shi was able to hand the binder back to Roseblood, and they all took a break to eat their lunch before it got cold. But of course, now they had to start on making a list of who Honeymane wanted to invite to the birth party. They started with the people already on their way, and there was little Honeymane could do to uninvite them now that they were already coming. And truthfully shi didn’t want to uninvite them, but shi grew increasing dismayed as the list grew and grew in size.

“Now I know Howler and Grasshopper are coming.” Browneyes said, listing the mated pair off. “And Violetdreams.” Violetdreams was one of the few chakats in the family who didn’t have a mate, although shi did have several children. The chakat just had bad luck picking mates who didn’t run off on hir, or so Honeymane had heard, most of Honeymane’s great aunts lived on Earth still, and shi had never met personally. “I just got a letter from Peachtree saying shi’s coming as well.”

Honeymane groaned. Peachtree was a chakat shi had met before, and shi liked hir a great deal. What shi didn’t particularly like was Peachtree’s mate, Zuku, a wolftaur bitch who was, in Honeymane’s opinion, a bit of a bitch, one who disliked Honeymane for some reason. Unfortunately, the two were inseparable. “I don’t suppose there’s anyway we can just not invite Zuku, is there?

“No,” Dancer said coolly, “Peachtree would never come without Zuku, and I want my sister to be here for it.”

“I know you don’t get along with her, Honeymane, but it’s only one person,” Sky said, shaking hir head. “Just grin and bear it.”

“I just wish I knew why shi dislikes me.” Honeymane sighed, as shi wrote the two names on the list in front of hir. Apparently they expected hir to write down all the names by hand, but frankly hir hand writing just wasn’t up to the task.

“I imagine it has to do with you pissing all over her.” Seeker chuckled, “Remember that Browneyes?” The calico chakat blushed so hard a bit of the redness leaked through hir fur.

“What?” Honeymane groaned; shi had never heard that story before. “What do you mean?”

The chakker player grinned. “It was just after you were born, about a couple of hours before Peachtree and Zuku’s flight left, and – “Seeker stopped talking for a moment as hir laughter overtook hir. It took hir a moment to regain hir composure enough to continue, and Honeymane noticed the other, older chakats, around the table were grinning as well, except for Browneyes who looked as mortified as Honeymane felt. Shi could guess what was coming next. “ – So your mother’s just gone to take a nap, and you wake up, so Zuku offers to look after you for a few moments, and shi picks you up and the next thing shi knew shi was soaked to the skin.”

“Good god,” Honeymane buried hir head in hir arms. “You can’t be serious!”

The table broke out in laugher, followed by a thump as Sugarback fell over because shi was laughing so hard.

Once everyone had their share of making fun of hir, they got back down to the business of making a list of names, and as every chakat suggested one or two names, and of course their mates, the list grew longer and longer and Honeymane was beginning to wonder if shi was going to be allowed to invite anyone shi wanted to be there.

“Now, we know Drippingbow is coming,” Sky told hir, “And shi’s apparently bringing a foxtaur shi’s mated recently... Remus or something.” Honeymane frowned and wondered why they were telling his something shi already knew. Although Browneyes hadn’t been officially able to practice hir trade on Arisia over the past few months, Manetheren had asked hir to speak with hir father, Drippingbow. The marine breed stellar foxtaur had had trouble getting over the death of Manetheren’s mother, and both Honeymane and hir mate had hoped that Browneyes might be able to help. And shi had. Over the months they had been there, Drippingbow had finally moved on and, to Manetheren’s surprise, asked a forester, Ramus, to be hir mate. But of course they were coming to the birth party, Honeymane had invited them hirself. And so was Drippingbow’s parents and Stonedance’s.

“I know.” Honeymane tried to keep from snapping. As the afternoon had wore on hir patience had worn thin. “And so are Veltas and Lukas, as well as Moonborn and Tobias.” Veltas and Lukas were a foxtaur couple, and Drippingbow’s parents, whereas Moonborn and Tobias were Stonedance’s, a chakat and a foxtaur.

“Good.” Sky nodded, before flipping through hir PADD of names and notes. “I think that’s everyone.”

“Now hold on!” shi said, pointing at the grey-coloured chakat and eying the others sidelong, daring them to interrupt hir. “Don’t I get to invite anyone?”

“Of course.” The chakat looked surprised, “I meant this is everyone we have to invite. Who do you want to invite?”

Honeymane stopped and licked hir lips. It was a good question and one that put a damper on hir frustration-born anger. But shi could think of a few names to add. “I’d like to have Sunshine there, and – ” Honeymane rattled off a couple of more names, hir closest friends outside the family. Well, friends and lovers, really, Sunshine had been the first chakat shi had ever really dated. It had ended but they still were close, or as close as they could be with hir on the other side of Chakona.

“Sunshine eh?” Browneyes pulled the list of names Honeymane had been writing out and snorted at hir handwriting, before pulling out another sheet of paper and rewriting the list in much neater lettering. “I haven’t heard that name in a while.”

Honeymane shrugged and took a sip of hir tea. Neither of them had been happy to realize they weren’t compatible, but it had happened. They had promised to invite one another when they did find someone they could love and have children with, and Honeymane intended to keep it. Tapping hir lip, Honeymane thought of a few other names.

“I’d really like to invite Hoshiko, if I could.” Honeymane said finally. Privately shi doubted the chakat would want to come, even if shi was near enough to accept in invitation, but Hoshiko had been a big help and taking hir to Arisia had cost the poor chakat hir lifemate. Shi wished there was some way to repay hir.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Roseblood said, drumming hir fingers on the table surface. “I think shi might be here on Chakona at the moment, actually.”

“Really, why?” Hoshiko had become captain of the same named ship Hoshiko after her captain had been killed in a pirate attack. But that had been months ago and Honeymane had expected hir to be out roaming the stars doing survey work.

“Last I heard the grease monkeys down at yards were having a hell of a time fixing some of the damage to it, plus Star Fleet isn’t all that happy to be fixing a ship that’s not even up to military standards.” Despite being retired, Roseblood still kept hir ear to the floor when it came to the inner rumblings of Star Fleet and hir old Station.

“Who else?” Browneyes pressed, moving on. But before Honeymane could answer, the comm rang and Spadespot leapt up to answer it. After a moment shi came back with a grin. “It’s the artist I was telling you about, Honeymane.”

“I’ll take it in my room!” Honeymane sprang to hir feet as quick as shi could with hir bulging belly, and waddled to answer the call in hir room. Shi wanted to keep the design shi had in mind somewhat of a secret, and shi couldn’t do that with the family there watching. None of them could keep a secret!

The artist, a kindly old woman, proved to be very understanding and helpful with making the design work, including sketching out a couple of mock-ups and holding them up to the comm’s camera so Honeymane could see them. Once they settled on a design, the artist promised to have the proof down in a couple of day, if not they very next day. By the time shi was done with the design and signed off, it was getting dark outside and hir stomach growled as smells of cooking meat wafted down into hir bedroom.

While shi had been gone, the few who had actually gone out and done work that day had returned home, except for Manetheren. At first shi didn’t worry, but as they ate supper and Manetheren’s grew cold waiting for hir, Honeymane began to wonder where the mountaineer was. After supper, Honeymane sat up watching shows of one sort or another on the vid, and waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn’t until nearly midnight that the door finally opened and a tired and bedraggled Manetheren stepped over the threshold, peeling off hir top with haste. Honeymane threw hirself into hir mate’s arms and kissed hir, before pulling back and demanding where the foxtaur had been.

“I didn’t mean to worry you, Honeymane.” Manetheren apologized, “I guess I didn’t… read the contract quite right, I’m probably going to be out this late every night.”

“But –” Honeymane said, feeling horrified. Shi didn’t want hir mate gone all day and night!

“I know, I’m sorry.” Manetheren sighed, looking almost defeated. “But it’s only for a couple of months, I’m sure.”

Honeymane hugged the taur again. “It’s alright Violet, we’ll get through this, I know we will.”

Manetheren was so tired the two of them didn’t have sex again, and the next morning was a repeat of the prior one. It simply wasn’t fair, and not just because Honeymane found hirself missing Manetheren when shi wasn’t there, or that at this rate hir child would barely know hir own father. It gnawed at Honeymane that hir mate was working hirself to death while shi sat around and made invitations! By the time lunch came, Honeymane was determined; shi was going to get a job.

Saying and doing, as Honeymane had always known, were two different things. It was one thing to promise hirself that hir mate wouldn’t have to be the sole bread-winner of the family they were starting, it was another thing altogether to find an opening with which to go out and look for one. The next day continued much as the first one had done, with Honeymane being forced to choose between a host of dishes in order to provide food for the guest when they arrived for the party. Despite the seemingly simple nature of the task, it took all day to finally come up with a set of meals and entrées and snacks that everyone would enjoy. When the second day rolled around, they discussed, at length, seating arrangements for the meals they had decided on earlier. Shi was nearly crawling up the walls when shi was saved by a call.

“Hey Honeymane,” Makrana called from the kitchen where the main comm was located. “Lady here says she’s finished the proof of your card. She wants you to see it.”

“Great!” Honeymane said, giving hirself to clear the fog in hir brain that had developed from such a boring discussion. “Tell her I’ll be right there!”

“She say’s you can see them over the comm…” Makrana replied hesitantly, as Honeymane waddled into the kitchen and waved to the artist on the comm screen.

“I’d better see them in person.” Honeymane forced hirself to sound cheery and not desperate to escape the droning death sentence that was planning for the stupid birth party. “No need to come with, I want them to be a surprise!”

“But –” Browneyes began, rising off the taur pillow shi had been on in the dinning room. “What about –”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine!” Honeymane called over hir shoulder before shi shut the front door and walked hurriedly to the only PTV left in the driveway – Seeker’s. If shi didn’t give them time to think, shi’d be able to get out of there and have some time to hirself! Shi could hardly wait.

It wasn’t until shi had strapped hirself into the driver’s seat and was preparing to pull out that shi noticed a glum-looking Cloudbreak stretched out on hir backs on the front lawn. Shi was under the impression that hir half-sister hadn’t notice hir storming out either, but the young foxtaur looked almost as bored as Honeymane felt, and more troubling shi seemed to be broadcasting sorrow enough to break Honeymane’s heart. Hir handpaw hovered over the accelerator for a moment, before shi sighed heavily and rolled down the window, calling out to hir. “Hey Cloudbreak, want to go get some ice cream?”

The veldt gave a start and glanced around in confusion before realizing where Honeymane was. “What’s ice cream?”

Honeymane stared at the young taur for a moment as shi realized Cloudbreak had probably never heard of the frozen treat. Veldts preserved their food with salts and the like, and most of Arisia was unrefrigerated anyway. Slowly Honeymane’s frown turned into a grin. “Hop in and I’ll show you.”

Once they got going, Cloudbreak’s melancholy mood seemed to break and return to hir normally cheerful demeanour as they sped along the road into the heart of Amistad. Now that shi was free, Honeymane didn’t intend to return home for a while, but shi had promised the artist that shi’d check out the designs. It wasn’t fair to keep her hanging just because Honeymane felt shi was slowly being smothered to death by all the details of the party. So the first stop they made was at her place, which, as it turned out, was a ground level professional print studio.

The woman greeted them at the front desk, and to Honeymane’s delight, produced a proof copy of the card that was better than shi had imagined it would be. The stock was similar to the other cards shi had been shown, a sort of creamy white. The most important thing in Honeymane’s mind was the two entwined flowers – an Iridescent Rose, trimmed in silver as it had been on hir mother’s card, and a Ostrum flower, backgrounded on a stylized mountain. The rose was intended to represent hirself, whereas the Ostrum was to represent Manetheren; shi used the purple-petalled flowers to dye hir hair. And it wasn’t just hir who thought it was good – Cloudbreak really liked it as well.

“That’s really neat!” shi said, as shi stared at the card, tilting it back and forth to make the light shift over the metallic highlights. “Can I have one?”

“Of course,” Honeymane purred as shi ruffled the youth’s hair. “You’re invited, aren’t you?” Honeymane took the card from hir and gave the proof back to the woman, before pulling out hir phone and calling home. In short order shi explained that shi had seen the invitation and it was what shi wanted – now it was just the matter of giving the woman all the printing information. Browneyes sighed heavily when shi told hir shi wouldn’t be home for a while yet.

“You know we’re doing all this for you,” her mother had said, sounding a bit tired hirself. Honeymane felt a pang of guilt, but suppressed it; shi had earned a break by hir estimation. “I know mom, but I just need some time to decompress. Won’t want me to get stressed and have the baby early, would you?”

Browneyes merely snorted and hung up the phone on Honeymane.

As promised, their next stop was the ice cream parlour. When shi had been younger, shi use to go to the Icy Chakat every chance shi got during the summer season on Chakona, Honeymane had explained to Cloudbreak, it was one of hir favourite places. As shi walked through the doors however, shi felt a bit odd going into the clean and slightly chilly place. It really hadn’t been that long ago that shi had been Cloudbreak’s age, and shi found hirself wondering at what point had shi stopped considering hirself ‘in hir youth’.

Cloudbreak, for hir part, didn’t really notice Honeymane’s slightly reflective attitude. Having never been in any sort of store quite like that, the teenager had hir nose pressed up against the glass looking at all the half-cleaned out barrels of ice cream that had all kinds of flavours and fun names to go with them. Every few spaces, as they advanced up the short line, Cloudbreak asked hir to describe each of the flavours in turn, which turned out to be more difficult than Honeymane would have suspected. Of course, it didn’t help that hir unborn cub had decided to start kicking and squirming around in hir womb. Shi wondered if the cub could feel the change in temperature.

“What’s butterscotch like?” the teenager asked, practically bouncing from leg to leg. “Or Nebula Nine?”

“I don’t know.” Honeymane shook hir head, “I think the Nebula Nine one is new, though.”

“Well what are you getting?” Cloudbreak eyed the front of the line with concern.

“I’m just getting plain chocolate.” Honeymane put hir hand on Cloudbreak’s shoulder to calm hir down, “Always been my favourite.”

“They have chocolate ice cream?” Cloudbreak said loudly enough that a couple of the other patrons looked their way, “I love chocolate!”

Honeymane chuckled as shi turned to the hair-netted morph and ordered two cones, with two scoops each of chocolate ice cream. The leopard nodded and served them up promptly, before handing them the cones and looking towards the people behind them to take their orders. Cloudbreak took hirs right away and began licking away at the frozen chocolate, managing to get some of it on hir nose while Honeymane paid for the two cones and headed for the door. Shi had the option of sitting and eating inside, but having been inside for the past few days, shi wanted some fresh air. Besides, in hir opinion, ice cream cones were an outdoors kind of snack.

Leaving the PTV, Honeymane headed towards the nearest park with hir half-sister, while demonstrating to Cloudbreak the proper way of eating an ice cream cone so it didn’t drip all over one’s hand. Despite feeling energetic at the outside, Honeymane found hirself getting tired by the time they reached the middle of the park, and before long found a shaded patch of grass under the Chakonan version of trees and laid down with a sigh. At least hir cub decided to go to sleep. Now came the tricky part – finding out what was upsetting Cloudbreak.

Patting the ground next to hir, shi invited the teenager to sit down beside hir, although the cheeky taur took it a bit further and leaned against hir back as if shi was a pillow. Honeymane rolled hir eyes and made the teenager sit up properly and eat hir ice cream. Eventually the double stack of ice cream was reduced to half eaten cones then nothing at all, and Honeymane thought it was a good time to broach the question.

“So, what’s troubling you, hon?” Honeymane asked. Now that shi had eaten, shi felt like stretching out onto hir backs as Cloudbreak had done, and just take in the world for a little while.

“What do you mean?” Cloudbreak reached over and placed hir hand on Honeymane’ belly, and the cub inside obliged with a series of kicks that made the teenager grin, and Honeymane grunt.

“When I saw you on that lawn, you looked like you had just lost your best friend.”

Cloudbreak withdrew hir hand and shifted uncomfortably. Honeymane could feel hir bad mood slowly coming back. “I don’t know, I just…”

“Is it about Crimsonear?” shi asked, and was rewarded with a flaring of emotions in the young teenager that confirmed it. “I heard you’re not too happy about this hermfriend of hirs.”

“I just don’t see what shi sees in hir!” Cloudbreak shook hir head, “And now all shi does it talk about hir all the time. We never do anything together any more.”

Honeymane righted hirself and pulled Cloudbreak into a hug. The veldt resisted for a moment before relaxing and returning the hug. Shi could feel how troubled shi was. “Cloudbreak, your sister’s just growing up is all.”

“I know shi is, we both are.” Cloudbreak said, sounding mildly bitter. “But it feels like shi’s not even the same person any more. I want Crimsonear back!”

“Oh sweetie, you’re not losing your sister.” Honeymane patted the veldt on hir back as shi spoke. “Let me tell you a story: when I was about your age, me and Sugarback used to be like sisters, and then one day shi got hirself a boyfriend.” Honeymane could still remember the chubby chakat telling hir about the young tod who had caught hir eye. “And it felt like I was losing hir, just like you probably feel right now. But you know what? A month later the two of them had broken up and I was there for hir. And things went back to normal.” Honeymane chuckled, “At least until I started dating, but that’s a different story all together. My point is, your sister is discovering something new and it excites hir, but shi’ll still be your sister when all’s said and done.”

“I suppose.” Cloudbreak admitted. “But shi keeps getting mad at me over Llanos!”

“Well,” Honeymane smirked at the teenager. “Do you think it might have to do with how you’ve been acting over it?”

“I –” Cloudbreak scuffed the ground with hir forepaw. “I suppose. I guess I should apologize.”

“That, my dear, is a wise idea.” Honeymane patted the younger taur on hir backs again before getting heavily to hir feet. “Now, I think I need to find a washroom!”

That night, Honeymane found hirself sitting up in the house’s den after midnight, trying to read a novel. Shi enjoyed reading, when shi got a chance. Although reading so late was unusual for hir, since shi avoided reading too late at night after a particularly troubling summer several years before in which shi had found hirself drawn into reading the particular series. So drawn into the stories unfolding in the books, shi found hirself, more often than not, watching the sun rise and realizing shi hadn’t slept a wink. Of course, soon after shi found hirself becoming sexually active and then nights were occupied by other things.

But sleep didn’t seem forthcoming. Besides hir usual troubles with hir unborn child’s late night kicking keeping hir from getting to sleep, but that night, there was a certain air of unease in the air, with hirself and with the others of hir family, whether they admitted it or not.

Browneyes, or any of the other chakats, hadn’t been particularly amused when shi didn’t return home until almost the evening meal. As each of them had pointed out to hir, both collectively and individually throughout the evening, most of them had taken time out of their lives to give hir a hand, both around the house and in terms of planning the birthing party. Shi didn’t have the heart to tell them shi could do without a big party, but shi suspected even if shi did it would make no impression on hir relatives. It was hir first child, and that was a big deal; and it was going to be celebrated with a party. And that was that. Despite brushing it off – not to their faces of course, shi wasn’t a fool – when shi had finally curled up with Manetheren, shi found hirself feeling guilty over what shi had done.

Manetheren hirself, however, presented Honeymane with a problem. The mountaineer had arrived home as bedraggled as ever, long after everyone else had eaten, and had barely said hello to hir before stripping down and going to bed. That had been Honeymane’s first clue that something was wrong; hir mate, whatever hir faults, found clothing to be unnatural, or… Honeymane wasn’t sure how to describe how hir mate felt. When Manetheren wore clothes, shi would strip out of them as soon as shi could and while shi had to dress smartly for hir job, especially being so new to it, shi always, always stripped as soon as shi was in the door. Except for tonight.

Once Honeymane realized something was up, shi had actively tried reading hir mate’s feelings empathically, and what shi had found was uneasiness, worry, and most troubling of all, shame – especially whenever hir eyes rested on Honeymane. Honeymane didn’t know how shi could have missed it before, although in many ways it was an obvious answer. All chakats were empathic, to one degree or another, which meant that they could “broadcast” and “pick up” feelings, both physical and emotional. They could also “pick up” emotions from non-empaths. The problem was, being an empath in a room full of empaths was sort of like going into a crowded room where everyone was talking, it’d make your head spin if you didn’t mute it out, so most chakats, including Honeymane, did. But once shi realised hir mate was troubled, and shi listened, shi found hirself troubled in turn.

Part of hir wanted to confront Manetheren, and find out what was upsetting hir, but realistically hir mate would likely just shrug and write it off, perhaps as a reaction to stress, either from hir new job, or becoming a father, or the stress of dealing with so many new faces and people. Never mind some of the more… forward members of hir family. Of course, Honeymane had seen those coming a kilometre off and had headed them off at the metaphorical pass, but still... And the problem was, Honeymane wasn’t sure that hir mate wasn’t being stressed out by all of that, and the last thing shi wanted was to get into a fight with hir mate over something that might not even exist.

That of course, was the third irritant that had crept in and prevented hir from getting some sleep. Although, for a wonder, it wasn’t a fight involving hir; or at least it didn’t involve hir directly. Just after they had settled down, and Manetheren had dropped off to sleep – they still hadn’t had sex either, but that was another matter – Honeymane had found hirself being treated to what sounded like, and felt like, a front row seat to a hurricane. Even if they hadn’t been doing anything besides sleep, Manetheren insisted to sleeping in Honeymane’s room, not that shi minded. Normally. Because of the structure of the house, one of the guest rooms – the one Sugarback used most often when shi wanted privacy when hir herm-friend was over – shared a wall with Honeymane’s bedroom. Most rooms in the house had some degree of sound proofing, of course, it was nothing to deal with this fight. And of course shi felt the emotional spill over as well; shi had been attempting to feel Manetheren’s emotions while shi slept, hoping for some insight, and shi had managed to get the full blunt of the outburst.

While the words were muffled by the walls, Honeymane had no doubt who was fighting – Darktoes, Quinoa, and Browneyes. Shi was glad Cloudbreak and Crimsonear had finally taken to the communal bedroom, because shi didn’t want to see their parents fighting in front of them. Although, to be fair, Honeymane had no idea who was on whose side in the room, only that they were upset and angry, no matter which side they were on.

So, after an hour of staring at the walls and ceiling and tossing and turning, Honeymane had decided to slip out and try and take hir mind off hir troubles, even for a little while, by escaping into a book. Well, shi did try. Shi had read the same paragraph over and over again about five times, not making heads nor tails of it, when shi gave up and put the book reader down, pressing hir hands against hir eyes and wishing hir thoughts would stop spinning.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Honeymane jumped a little as shi pulled hir hands down – hir mother was standing in front of hir with a glass of water, wrapped in a soft, plush robe cut for taurs. Hir mother always had liked the softer things in life, and Honeymane found hirself wondering, absurdly, how shi’d make it living rough on Arisia.

“No,” Honeymane said finally, motioning for Browneyes to take a seat on a taurpillow facing hir. Technically, Honeymane supposed, there was no real front or back to a taur pillow, but in hir mind shi always had them facing certain ways. “I tried reading, but…”

Browneyes nodded and took the seat while sipping hir drink. “I... Any particular reason?” Hir mother changed what shi was going to say at the last possible moment, and it made Honeymane frown.

“More than one thing, I’m afraid,” Honeymane sighed heavily and rubbed hir eyes again. It wasn’t that shi didn’t feel tired, not exactly, but hir head was so full of buzzing thoughts and worries, there was little chance of hir finding sleep.

“Want to talk about it?” Browneyes asked, tilting hir head towards hir slightly.

“I… don’t know.” Honeymane admitted after a moment. Shi did want to talk, and of course, hir mother was a trained counsellor; who better is there to talk to? But shi wasn’t sure shi could form hir troubles into a coherent sentence.

Hir mother looked thoughtful, and glanced at Honeymane’s bulging belly. As if to remind hir that shi was pregnant, the cub gave a couple of kicks. Browneyes scooted over closer and rested hir hand on the belly, smiling faintly as shi felt the kicks – more to hirself than Honeymane, shi thought, but… “Are you nervous about giving birth? I suppose it’s easy to forget this’ll be your first.”

“Excuse me?” Honeymane asked in disbelief, what was hir mother implying. Honeymane could almost see hir mother blush under hir brown-eye markings as shi realized hir mistake. “You just carry it so well, you’re a natural.”

“Err, thanks.” Shi wasn’t sure how to take that! Honeymane frowned to hirself as well, when shi thought hir mother’s question over. In some ways, Honeymane supposed hir mother was right, shi was nervous, and shi found hirself wondering how much of hir unease – both tonight and over the last few days, weeks and months since finding out shi was pregnant, was caused by that unvoiced worry. “I suppose I am, I… will it hurt? What if something goes wrong? What will I name hir, I’m awful at names.”

Browneyes chuckled, and hugged Honeymane close, and shi found hirself melting into hir mother’s embrace. It felt like a long time since someone had hugged hir like that. Manetheren had stopped doing that as well – oh shi’d still hug, but it wasn’t was warm, more reluctant… For one heart-stopping moment, Honeymane wondered if Manetheren had fallen out of love with hir. It took hir a moment to calm down – that wasn’t happening. Of course hir mother had no idea what was running through hir daughter’s head. “I can’t say it’s the most pleasant ordeal, sweetie, but you’ll do fine, I’m sure of it. You slipped right out yourself, no trouble at all.” Browneyes made a show of tapping hir chin. “And if you can’t think of any names, well I suppose we could call hir Honeymane the second.”

“And you’d find me murdered in my bed before the cub was old enough to start dating!” Honeymane snorted, trying hir best to calm down. That wasn’t it. No. Not after all they’ve been through. Honeymane almost told hir mother, almost. But as shi opened hir mouth shi remembered the fight. It wouldn’t be fair to hir to lay something else at hir feet, so at the last second shi changed it. “I’m… also sorry about what happened today.” Honeymane croaked out. “I know you guys are working hard on this whole party thing, I wish I could enjoy it more, but it just seems like such a hassle.”

“It is.” Hir mother snorted in laugher. “Let’s face it, the party’s really more for the guest than you, and certainly not for the kitten who won’t remember a lick of it. But…” Browneyes shrugged and smiled. “You’ll probably enjoy it more in your memories. And don’t worry, after this time –” hir mother made a sweeping motion with hir hand, “the parties will be smaller. Although we’ll probably throw just as large of one when Manetheren gets pregnant. Have you discussed giving your kitten a sister?”

“Ah well….” Honeymane felt hir mouth go dry. They had discussed it, of course, but now there was a growing sense of worry that it’d be all for naught. Shi couldn’t let that train of thought continue, so shi asked a question of your own. “What were you three fighting about, anyway?”

Hir mother’s curious grin fell crookedly. “You heard that, I suppose?” Honeymane nodded. “Well, it… I suppose you could say it was a case of two different issues with terrible timing.” Honeymane’s looked at hir mother quizzically. Shi may have been avoiding a question, but shi really was curious. “Darktoes told Quinoa about your request for a house of your own.”

“A home.” Honeymane corrected, wincing. “I take it shi didn’t take it well?”

“Not at first, obviously, but…” Browneyes shrugged, “Shi came around, although I suggest you act surprised when Darktoes tells you, because I don’t think I was supposed to tell you.”

Honeymane felt hir hearts leap to hir throat. Maybe… maybe if Manetheren was falling out of love with hir, the new home would pull hir back – it had to! Besides, a place of hir own… Before shi had left Chakona, her own place was more of a vague, not really thought of dream, but on Arisia, what hir mate had, shi had, and shi found hirself wishing for the closeness again. Manetheren had left hir fingerprints all over hir cabin before Honeymane had arrived, and shi had added a few elements of hir own while shi was there. They could build something together. Something that was of both of them. Honeymane found hirself grinning, before realizing Browneyes was leaving something out. “What was the second issue?”

“Um.” Browneyes managed to look uncomfortable, embarrassed, and happy all in the same expression. Finally hir mother seemed to decide on just being happy, and Honeymane could literally feel the joy radiating off hir mother even with hir meagre Talent muted. “I’m pregnant.”

“What.” Shi felt hir jaw fall open. Obviously Browneyes didn’t have the best luck in mates, and Honeymane suspected that Fallingstar, Browneyes’ Starwalker denmate wasn’t particularly interested in having children, so Honeymane had been an only child. Until now. Shi felt a host of questions spawn on hir tongue, each begging to be asked.

“Darktoes and I…” Browneyes’ grin was painfully wide as shi watched hir daughter deal with hir shock. “I suppose you could say we made up. We’re denmates, now. Lifemates when the time comes.”

“What? When? How?” Honeymane wasn’t sure which was more important; hir mother had good reason to grin like a loon, this was exciting.

Browneyes blushed, and avoided Honeymane’s gaze for the briefest of moments. “We actually decided, um, back on the ship, actually. Darktoes wasn’t sure how Quinoa would take it, so we decided we should wait for the right time.”

“And you thought tonight was the best time to tell hir you were pregnant? And denmated to hir mate?” Honeymane asked in disbelief.

“Oh no no, you misunderstand.” Hir mother shook hir head sending hir hair cascading wildly. “We decided it was time to become mates, back on the ship, but we both thought it would be a good idea to wait until we were either back on Arisia or at least until after you gave birth.” Browneyes shrugged helplessly. “We, um, I guess we weren’t as careful as we might have been otherwise, just because Quinoa arrived. I’ve been waiting to tell Darktoes, but with Quinoa here, there just weren’t any good times. And –” Browneyes held up hir hands defensively, as if Honeymane was saying something aggressive. “When shi finally said shi’d be okay with Darktoes buying a house for you, I –” Browneyes looked really embarrassed. “Let’s just say it wasn’t the first time I misread a situation badly.”

Honeymane didn’t care. Quinoa could stuff it, as far as shi was concerned, hir mother and father, back together? And hir mother was pregnant? And shi was going to have a place of hir own? Hir head was spinning with the turn around, and somehow all hir fears and worries were pushed out hir mind. Except – “You’ll be on Arisia, when you give birth, won’t you?” Hir mothers uncomfortable grimace was all Honeymane needed to confirm it, but Browneyes’ expression turned back into a smile rapidly. “Don’t worry about that, Honeymane, I’ll make sure you’re there, I wouldn’t want you to miss it.” Browneyes’ eyes twinkled merrily “Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my grandchild as well.” Hir mother patted Honeymane’s bulging belly fondly. “Right, now it’s time for bed. You’ve got to make up for today!”

Sleep still didn’t come easy for Honeymane, despite hir best efforts, but it was excitement that kept hir up, not worries, although, at the back of hir mind, one continued to nag at hir as shi watched Manetheren’s chests rise and fall. Perhaps shi was just imagining things.

As usual, hir mate got up bright and early to head to work, but unlike most days Honeymane found hirself rolling over and going back to sleep, feeling more than a little bit tired from the late night before. But the peaceful morning didn’t last long; before long hir bladder was insisting shi empty it, and hir cub was making a show of trying to pounce on hir internal organs and get hir up and active. How the cub knew shi was trying to relax was beyond Honeymane, but shi hoped the kitten would calm down once shi was born. And of course, once shi was up, there was no going back to sleep for hir. So with hir eyes beady and hir head feeling stuffed with fuzziness, shi sat down at the dining room table with the other chakats of the family, and they began on the next item to plan; sleeping arrangements.

The day before, Honeymane couldn’t have imagined anything more boring than seating arrangements, but in short order Roseblood, who had somehow been put in charge of planning on where people were going to stay, managed to prove hir wrong. While chakats didn’t mind sleeping in a communal bedroom, Roseblood pointed out that the house’s communal bedroom was a bit too small, never mind the fact that shi’d have to plan on at least some of the guests wanting to have some private time together, for one reason or the other. The retired admiral offered hir and Makrana’s home for some of the guests, but even so that at best took care of a handful of guests. To hir surprise, Sugarback offered hir own apartments.

“When did this happen?” Honeymane asked hir aunt at the same time Spadespot, Sugarback’s mother, asked “Apartments?” Honeymane suspected Dancer would have asked a similar question, given how hir eyes grew wide with surprise, but shi had the misfortune to have been taking a sip of hir tea as Sugarback had made the announcement, and Sky had to pound hir on hir backs as the liquid went down the wrong way.

“Nuru and I finalized the paper work last night.” Sugarback explained. “We’re going to be living together. Anyway, it’s not much, but it’s yours, if you need it.”

Unfortunately, as they quickly learned, it probably wouldn’t be a suitable place to stay. The apartment shi intended to rent was in an area of the city commonly known as the ‘Swamp’, infamous for being incredibly run down and poorly maintained. It made getting rooms cheap and affordable, but it was hardly a desirable area. As Roseblood pointed out, to Honeymane quietly, if they were going to have guests over, it would be better for them to leave feeling well treated, not shoved off into some rat-hole. Thankfully it wasn’t necessary to decline Sugarback’s offer to hir face – as soon as Dancer had recovered, shi and Spadespot insisted on seeing the apartment for themselves. Honeymane had to work hard not to laugh as hir aunt’s face twisted into worry, and more than a little hint of frustration.

Of course, after the three left, it didn’t take the remaining chakats long to bring to focus back onto hir. With no other places to go, it was up to them to find their guests hotels and or inns where they could stay, and place reservations for them. It didn’t take long before Honeymane’s head was spinning with names and places. Thankfully shi didn’t have to actually make most of the calls hirself, but Roseblood and Browneyes both insisted that shi knew where every guest would be staying – it’d be polite to ask after how they were getting on in their rooms, after all.

So when the doorbell rang just after lunch, Honeymane found the interruption incredibly welcome, even if shi didn’t bother to get up and answer the door hirself. Makrana saw to that, and after a few moments returned with another chakat in tow, a salt-and-pepper chakat whom Honeymane had never seen before, or at least one shi didn’t think shi had seen before. The newcomer seemed familiar but Honeymane couldn’t understand why.

“Well there shi is!” the chakat said with a grin, looking Honeymane up and down. It gave hir an unpleasant sensation of being weighed and measured. “Last time I saw you, you could fit into your mother’s arms no problem at all.” The chakat crossed hir arms. “Bit bigger now, it seems.”

“Honeymane,” Browneyes said, standing up and walking over to the salt-and-pepper chakat, giving hir a hug in greeting. “This is Chess, the family’s midwife.” Honeymane found hirself nodding in understanding. While most non-chakats had a misunderstanding of chakats, thinking they were sex crazed or having babies all the time, most chakat clans had one or two midwives they could call, if not one or two midwives within the family itself. Chess was a bit of both, if Honeymane remembered hir family tree correctly, but they hadn’t met before. Had there been more children being born while Honeymane was growing up, shi might have encountered Chess before, but the chakat was almost a total stranger to hir.

“Of course, where are my manners?” Chess smacked hir hand against hir face, as shi grinned at Honeymane. Shi wasn’t sure shi liked the look of that grin. “I’m Chakat Chess, Daughter of Brightheart and Flurry. And I’m going to be your midwife.”

“Uh…” Honeymane frowned, and realized shi was being rude. Shi got to hir feet and gave Chess a hug as well, “I’m Chakat Honeymane, child of Browneyes and Darktoes.”

“I can see that!” Chess grinned, as shi pulled away from the hug and wove around hir, eying Honeymane’s belly. Part of hir wondered if the midwife had wanted hir to get up just so shi could get a good look. By the time Chess had circled back around, however, hir smile had turned into a frown. “You’re a lot further along than I expected. When your mother called me up shi didn’t mention a due date, but…” Chess shot Browneyes a pointed glance. “You look ready to pop.”

“I’m due in about a week. On fifthday.” Honeymane got the feeling something was wrong, but shi wasn’t sure what it was.

Chess closed hir eyes in a look of resignation. “Well, you should have called me earlier.” shi said finally.

“We would have, Chess, but we’ve been on Arisia for most of the last year or so.” Browneyes explained with a shrug. “I’ll explain when I get the chance, but the long and short of it we’ve only been back about two weeks, if that.”

“Two weeks, eh.” The midwife continued to frown. “Never heard of this ‘Arisia’ place, but I’m assuming it’s a colony world?” Shi didn’t wait to continue, “Well I assume you have the medical records with you?”

Honeymane looked at Browneyes questioningly, then back to the irate-looking chakat in front of hir. “What medical records?”

“What medical records! The ones your midwife on Arisia would have put together!” Chess said, throwing up hir arms in dismay.

“Oh, well, I didn’t have a midwife on Arisia, although my mate’s father did check on me when shi visited.” Honeymane had thought the midwife was upset before, but now shi was glad there wasn’t anything breakable within reach of the chakat. “Shi’s a paramedic,” Honeymane tried to reassure hir.

“A. Para. Medic.” Chess spoke each syllable with what Honeymane felt was undue malice. Drippingbow had been really nice and kind, however unexpected gaining a daughter-in-law and a grandchild had been. On the other hand, Honeymane suspected the midwife’s anger might be focused more at hir than at Drippingbow. Chess took a deep breath, either because shi wanted to calm hirself or because shi was about to yell at hir. It was a bit of both, really. “Alright, I’m going to need a room. Is the communal bedroom free?” Spadespot confirmed that it was, and Chess gripped hir arm and hauled hir into the room. It wasn’t a gentle grip either.

Shi was still rubbing hir arm when Chess shut the door and ordered hir to lay down, as shi hirself pulled off hir belt pouches and saddle bags and began rummaging through them. As Honeymane made hirself comfortable, Chess produced a strange device, sort of shaped like a Y but with a flat disk on the very tip, and the arms curving in on themselves. To hir surprise, Chess put the arms in hir ears and motioned for hir to stretch out on hir side. Honeymane nearly jumped as shi pressed the surprisingly cold disk against hir belly. “Don’t talk!” Chess warned, as Honeymane opened hir mouth to ask what was going on. Realizing it would probably better just to follow hir instructions, shi let it go. The midwife placed the device’s disk on various parts of hir belly, never seeming to warm up any, all the while Chess nodded and murmured to hirself, eventually pulling out a PADD and writing what Honeymane assumed were hir observations into it.

Whatever they were, Chess seemed satisfied with the results, and removed the device from hir ears and began running hir hands over Honeymane’s stomach – hir cub obliged the midwife with a kick, which made the chakat smile, and Honeymane’s eyes water. “You can ask questions, if you’d like now.” Chess told hir after a moment, as shi paused from rubbing Honeymane’s belly – shi wondered what the salt-and-pepper chakat was trying to do.

“What was that thing? Shi asked, nodding towards the discarded Y device, “And what are you doing now?”

“I’m feeling your cub through your stomach – physically and empathically.” Chess explained with a smile. “Shi’s pretty content right now, which is good. No distress or pain.” The midwife paused and glanced at the device. “That’s a stethoscope; it amplifies your baby’s hearts’ beats so I can hear it. You’ll be pleased to know shi sounds very healthy.” Chess nodded more to hirself than to Honeymane and went back to feeling Honeymane’s belly.

“Don’t you have, like, a tricorder or something?” Honeymane asked, trying to keep the strain out of hir voice. It wasn’t that shi didn’t… like having hir belly touched or rubbed, especially now, but having gone so many days without getting laid and with hir hormones the way they were, Honeymane was finding hirself having difficulty holding off arousal. And shi was failing.

“I always try to get to know my patients’ body before turning to the more modern stuff. It’s let me catch things I might have missed before,” Chess explained as shi continued to press hir hands against Honeymane’s belly. “I should also say that I make it a policy not to sleep with my patients either,” Chess grinned at hir and winked. “No matter how pretty they might be, so you might as well put that away.”

Honeymane felt hirself blush with embarrassment, shi didn’t think the midwife would notice, but shi supposed paying attention to the patient’s body was in hir job description. “Sorry.”

Chess only shook hir head and chuckled, finally taking hir hands off of hir and reaching for some other sort of device – this one looked more like a small white box, but it had seams, and with a flick of hir wrest the box flipped open into what appeared to be a cane shaped object. Chess also pulled out long, thin pieces of metal joined together by perpendicular pieces of metal. It was only when Chess put the device on the pieces of metal, and put the metal down beside Honeymane’s belly that shi realized they were rails for the device – some sort of scanner – to ride on. Sure enough Chess pressed a button on hir PADD and the device started moving back and forth.

“Nothing to worry about,” Chess said at last as shi made hirself comfortable in a set of pillows a short distance away from Honeymane; shi found hirself wondering how long the scan was going to take. “You’re hardly the first patient I’ve had to get a boner on me; I doubt you’ll be the last. Once you’ve been in the field as long as I’ve been, you’ve pretty much seen it all.”

For the first time, Honeymane wondered just how old the chakat in front of hir was. Age was rarely something that was discussed with non-family members, both because most chakats simply didn’t care, dividing age roughly into “cub” “Adult” and “Longtail”, and because most of the time it was difficult to tell anyway. Around their mid twenties, chakats slowed and for the most part appeared to stop aging, and they didn’t really start to begin aging again until well after a century in age – at least in the way that a stranger might be able to tell. The only really consistent indication of age was the length of their tails, which kept growing throughout their lives, ending up around two meters by the time they were in their last decade of expected lifespan. But the actual growth rate differed from chakat to chakat, and it wasn’t a reliable indication of age except for when it got into Longtail territory. Honeymane suspected Chess might be approaching Longtail territory hirself.

“I’m serious Honeymane,” Chess said suddenly as shi frowned at hir. Shi must have taken hir pensive expression as disbelief or something. “It’s a natural reaction, and nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not, it’s just I haven’t had sex in days!” Honeymane said to hir surprise, shi hadn’t intended to say that, and certainly not to this chakat who shi barely knew. Perhaps it was some sort of backwash from the empathic examination Chess had conducted, or perhaps it was just easier to talk about hir problem with Manetheren with someone who had no reason to judge hir. Even so, shi blushed hard.

“You don’t have to hold off you know, provided your careful about it,” Chess said slowly, frowning at Honeymane, “But something tells me that you and… Violet I think your mother said, haven’t been chaste.”

“Not until lately.” Honeymane said with a sigh. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m worried shi’s fallen out of love with me… shi’s been acting so weird since we’ve come to Chakona, and leaving Arisia wasn’t easy for hir. Shi doesn’t admit it, but I can tell it wasn’t.” Chess nodded hir head, encouraging hir to go on; Honeymane wondered just how often the midwife had been made an accidental therapist for worried mothers to be. “I still love hir, but I just don’t know what to do… I don’t want to lose hir, not now, and not just because our cub’s nearly born.”

“Often,” Chess began putting down hir PADD, “I find talking to your mate helps more than bottling up worries and concerns. Have you tried talking to hir?”

“I’m afraid to.” Hir voice shook a bit as shi admitted it. It was hard to, and talking about it made hir worries seem all the more real. What would shi do? What could shi do? Perhaps they’d have to move back to Arisia, and Honeymane found hirself okay with that possibility.

Chess pursed hir lips and looked at Honeymane thoughtfully. “Don’t be, Honeymane. If you let it grow, it’ll only be worse, and that’s only if you’re right. I –” The scanner emitted a chime and Chess’s attention was drawn back to the PADD in hir hands. “I think it’ll work out, if you let it. Now, would you like to see a picture of your kitten?” Chess flipped the PADD over so Honeymane could see what was on it – the picture was fairly grainy, and formed in false colours, but Honeymane could see hir unborn child’s little toes and fingers. Shi was beautiful, and gazing at the kitten made Honeymane realize Chess was right – shi had to confront the mountaineer, if not for hir own sake, for the sake of their child. Shi couldn’t be born into a loveless partnership. Shi’d do it that night.

But first, shi’d have to get through the rest of the day. After returning the PADD to Chess, the midwife got down to business with giving Honeymane a medical examination. A very thorough examination. As Chess explained, since shi had gone almost all hir pregnancy without any pre-natal care, Chess had to catch up to complete the medical files, not to mention to make sure the child was healthy.

“But chakats always have easy births!” Honeymane protested at one point after a particularly invasive test. While Chess wrote down the results, shi waddled around the room trying to work the sensation out of hir nerves.

The midwife blinked at hir in surprise and frowned. “That doesn’t mean every pregnancy goes off perfectly either, Honeymane. I’ve been doing this for enough years to have see more than my fair share of pregnancies that went bad, or nearly so, and I’m not one to take risks in that area. It’s not worth it.” Chess smiled at Honeymane’s frown and motioned for hir to sit down again. “I hope next time you’ll be sure to get prenatal care. Now, let’s finish this history sheet out; I have your cub’s sire’s name, and Browneyes mentioned they’re a foxtaur. But that’s about it. How about you fill me in? What kind of foxtaur is he?”

“Shi.” Honeymane corrected. It wasn’t unusual for chakats or other people in a culture primarily comprised of hermaphrodites to use their pronouns as neutral gender pronouns, so it was likely that Chess hadn’t realized from their earlier discussion. “Manetheren’s a Stellar Foxtaur, Mountain breed.”

Chess’s whiskers twitched in confusion. “That’s a new one, let me look it up.” Before Honeymane could say more, Chess began typing in hir mate’s species into hir trusty PADD, and hummed as it brought up various articles and information about the species. Before long hir quizzical expression turned dark. “It says here there’s no reported cases of chakat-stellar foxtaur children.” Chess put the device down and rubbed hir eyes in resignation. “I wouldn’t be surprised if representatives show up to take some scans or ask questions of you, they’d want to study the first child of such a mating.”

“Don’t be silly, if they had wanted to study the ‘first child’, they would have studied me.” Honeymane pointed out, shaking hir head. “I mean, my sire is a veldt breed.”

For a moment, Honeymane thought Chess’s eyes were going to pop out of hir head with the new information. “What do you mean you’re father’s a Stellar foxtaur? I thought shi was a chakat!”

“…No?” Shi really wasn’t sure how to respond. Granted, Darktoes did sound like a chakat name, but given how subversive hir mother had been when shi was younger, Honeymane couldn’t help but suspect shi might have misled the midwife on purpose, for whatever reason. Chess just swore like a sailor, and got to hir feet, leaving Honeymane alone in the communal bedroom by hirself with nothing to do. Shi found hirself wishing there was a vid or something in the room to occupy hir time.

When Chess returned, shi was followed by a by castigated looking Browneyes, and Honeymane had a dubious honour of having the rest of hir examination conducted in the presence of hir mother. Granted, shi wasn’t just there to watch; Chess seemed to spend at least every second question asking Browneyes some fact or another, usually about how hir pregnancy progressed or if shi had noticed anything unusual. It seemed the salt-and-pepper chakat was making every effort to amend the old medical records.

“Well if it makes you any happier, I’m pregnant again.” Browneyes sounded as frustrated and annoyed as Honeymane had been feeling all the past week or two. “With Darktoes, again. So you can study that!”

Chess threw up hir arms in exasperation. “I swear, chakats are the most difficult sort of patients! When were you going to tell me?”

“I only just found out, and I’ve not told anyone besides Darktoes, Quinoa, and Honeymane.” Hir mother explained coolly. “I hope you’re not going to blab it about to the others.” Chess just shot the calico chakat frosty look that made the room feel two degrees cooler than it actually was, before dismissing Honeymane and preparing to give Browneyes a medical examination of hir own – never mind whatever protests hir mother might have.

Honeymane was all too glad to escape the bedroom where shi seemed to have spent most of the morning, and was quick to hurry out the door – making sure to shut it behind hir – before waddling down the hall. Shi was in such a hurry shi didn’t notice until shi was nearly on top of hir that Quinoa was standing at the end of the bedroom hallway with hir arms folded beneath hir breasts, looking very much unhappy with hir. Honeymane hadn’t seen the veldt all morning, nor Darktoes, because like Manetheren they woke up early. Now Honeymane seriously wished Quinoa had stayed away.

“We need to talk.” Quinoa said in a tone that booked no argument, as shi gestured to one of the guest bedrooms off the hall. “In here.” Honeymane did hir best to obey meekly, and tried not to allow hirself to be pushed into the room.

Stepping into the room was like stepping back onto Arisia, into one of the veldt’s tents, and Honeymane realized it must be the guest room the two stellars had been given; shi really hadn’t expected Quinoa or Darktoes to redecorate the place so completely, but it worked. Quinoa hirself wasted no second glances on hir surroundings and motioned for Honeymane to take hir place on the bed, as shi hirself lowered hirself onto the thin, pillow covered mattress. Honeymane tried hir best not to look too worried.

“So.” Quinoa said after a moment. “What makes you think you deserve a house more than Darktoes’ other children deserve clothes on their backs?”

“Clothes on their backs? Your whole species wears next to nothing!” Honeymane pointed out, hir anger flaring slightly. Shi wasn’t about to allow this bitter foxtaur to try and guilt trip hir.

“You know what I mean.” Quinoa waved hir hand dismissively as hir voice grew sharp. “Cloudbreak and Crimsonears will probably want a place of their own one day as well, but –”

“Quinoa, listen,” Honeymane cut the older taur off before shi went too far. “I know what I’m asking for isn’t cheap or trivial, but look at it from my point of view.” Shi took a deep breath. “I’ve asked a great deal from Manetheren, and the only things I could do to make up for what I’ve asked are beyond my reach right now. I’m not saying that I won’t ever try to repay Darktoes for hir kindness, if I can, but right now I really could use a place of my own.”

“When Browneyes moves out, you’ll have this place.” Quinoa pointed out, shaking hir head. “I realize you might not welcome the company of having grandparents under foot all the time, but you’ll probably find them a great help when you’ve given birth.”

“I know, but, Quinoa, look around you;” Shi made a wide gesture to the room’s decorum. “You’ve only been here a week, and Darktoes has only been here about two, but you’ve already made this place look and feel and smell like your home back on Arisia. This house is great, but the only way I’ll ever be able to do the same for my mate is if I have my own place.”

Quinoa frowned at hir, although Honeymane couldn’t tell if it was an unhappy frown or a thoughtful frown. “How do you intend to accomplish that?”

“Well, ideally we’ll find a place near the mountains, something similar to what we had on Arisia. If we have to we could build it ourselves.” Honeymane sighed. Shi had also hoped to perhaps give birth in the house, to really claim it as hir own, but there just wasn’t going to be time, not now. Ah well, no point crying over spilled milk.

“It’s still a lot of money for hir to be spending on you, even if you are hir child.” Quinoa said finally. “I don’t know why you think you’re entitled to such a thing.”

“I never said I was.” Honeymane tried to stop hirself from grinding hir teeth. “I only asked hir if shi would. It’s up to Darktoes if shi does or not.”

Quinoa closed hir eyes momentarily, and took a deep breath. “Well, shi’s going to. But you had better be damn sure, Honeymane.” Quinoa’s eyes narrowed as shi stared at hir. “I don’t want to see anyone taking advantage of my mate, whether you’re hir child or not.”

“You keep saying that.” Shi snapped, as hir tail flicked in frustration, “But all I’ve seen of you is jealousy and bitterness! If you really loved hir, you’d accept that Browneyes makes hir happy, even if doesn’t make you happy!”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Quinoa’s voice came out gravelly. “Do you think, do you really think I don’t want to see Darktoes happy? All your mother has ever done for hir is given hir pain! And what about me, or the twins? Does our happiness count for nothing? I’ve spent years trying to make this relationship work, because I love Darktoes, but some days it feels like shi doesn’t love me back!” the veldt’s voice grew increasingly bitter. “Do you know what that feels like? Do you? Maybe Browneyes can make hir happy, but I’m not going to give up on hir!”

It took Honeymane a moment to realize hir handpaws were clenching a pillow case rather painfully, and it took hir a moment to relax them, hoping Quinoa wouldn’t notice the holes hir claws had made in it. The foxtaur’s words had just hit too close to home for Honeymane, especially now, and it took hir a couple of moments to recover and organize hir thoughts enough to respond. “Listen, I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” shi said, reasonably calmly; reasonably! “But none of that is my mother’s fault, not really, nor is it my fault, or Manetheren’s.”

“Maybe not,” Quinoa grunted and hunched hir shoulders up as if shi was cold. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Honeymane. Darktoes is putting a lot of faith in your judgement.”

As shi left, Honeymane found hirself hoping hir father’s judgement was well placed, or else shi was in for a nasty surprise tonight.

For the rest of the day, as shi waited, Honeymane couldn’t decide if time was passing more slowly, or going quicker than shi expected. Either way, before shi knew it, it was very nearly time for Manetheren to come home, and Honeymane was doing hir best not to panic, and to plan out what shi was going to say to hir mate. It wasn’t easy, especially with everyone demanding a bit of hir time for various matters – firstly related to the planning of the birth party, and secondly, after supper, about houses. Darktoes had taken Honeymane aside and told hir the good news, and, as shi promised hir mother, shi made a good attempt at being excited for to hear the news for ‘the first time.’ Nevertheless, shi found hirself drawn into a discussion over possible locations or houses that Honeymane had already scouted out in hir free time. The talk wasn’t without it’s surprises, of course, and a particular one was Quinoa. Despite hir earlier animosity, the veldt offered hir expertise for Honeymane, explaining that shi might as well make sure shi does it right. Honeymane wouldn’t have thought shi had any, the two foxtaurs, did, after all, live in a tent, however well structured it maybe, but it turned out Quinoa’s mother was a carpenter, and had some experience with the style of homes Honeymane was looking at.

That said, despite spending most of the evening looking through listings, rather than coming out feeling satisfied, Honeymane found hirself more and more frustrated and most of the homes were just not what shi was looking for. The ones most similar to what shi was looking for weren’t anywhere near the mountains, and those that were looked nothing like what shi was hoping for. There was also the small problem that there were very, very few listings. Most chakats, as hir mother explained, bought lots and made the home according to their needs, and once they had their home, they rarely had cause to move from it. So it seemed they’d be going out and buying a lot, then building something on it. Honeymane was strangely alright with that.

By the time Manetheren stepped through the door, looking bedraggled and tired, the group of four had swollen to everyone else in the family who had a passing interest in the idea, which suited Honeymane fine. Shi didn’t want to wait too long, of course, but shi also didn’t want hir mate to be overly prepared for when shi did confront hir, so shi waited until hir mate stepped into the shower and turned it on, before extracting hirself from the discussion and tried to ignore the giggles and pointed looks some of the family members were sending one another. Shi wished shi was only heading off to make love with hir mate.

Slipping into the bathroom was easy, both because the door didn’t lock and because the sound of the steaming water hitting the tub made it impossible to hear hir footsteps, which admittedly weren’t particularly stealthy now that shi was so heavily pregnant. That said, the mountaineer clearly heard something, because before shi pulled back the curtains, hir mate beat hir to it, and stood there with a smile on hir muzzle as the hot water ran over hir body and made it look sleek and… sexy. No! Shi had to stay focused!

“Come to join me?” Manetheren said as hir smile turned into a grin, before sliding off hir face into a frown. “Listen, Honeymane, I know I haven’t been the best lately, it’s just…” Honeymane felt a certain strangeness of emotion flare in hir mate – shi wasn’t lying, not exactly. “…everything’s so different here, and work’s harder than I expected…” Manetheren paused again. “I’m sorry if it’s been hurting you, I love you Honeymane.”

“You do?” Honeymane asked, despite hirself. Oh how shi worried over the answer.

“Of course I love you.” The mountaineer’s purple hair flipped over hir eyes as shi bent to kiss Honeymane. It wasn’t just the kiss that made Honeymane’s heart flutter, shi could feel the truth in hir mate’s words. Shi really did love hir! But then… “Now, if you don’t mind joining me, my backs’ aren’t going to wash themselves!” Manetheren grinned wide, and pulled Honeymane into the water stream, laughing as shi yelped.

Thought that was funny, did shi? Well, shi’ll show hir! Honeymane thought, as hir hands started reaching for the cheeky foxtaur.

That night, Honeymane was able to get a good, deep sleep, and for a wonder even hir unborn kitten cooperated and didn’t kick hir awake during the night. But of course all good things had to come to an end, and before Honeymane knew it was the next day, and, unfortunately, crunch time when it came to planning for the birthing party, among other things.

The first order of business was to approve everything they had already set up beforehand. Shi would have thought shi had done it the first time, but as it turned out it was a good idea regardless, since several mistakes had managed to creep into their plans. Not major ones, of course, but everyone insisted that the party had to be perfect. The second order of business, which they started at noon and didn’t finish until well after the evening meal, was addressing and sending out all the invitations to all their guests. Strictly speaking, those who had to come from Earth, for example, already had their invitations of a sort, but doing it formally was just as important.

Despite the volume and shear dullness of the work, Honeymane found it much more enjoyable because shi was able to share the work with Manetheren. Like hir, the foxtaur had never really been to a birthing party, and as Honeymane understood it, it wasn’t as commonly practiced among the stellar foxtaurs. But shi seemed interested in the idea, which Honeymane was grateful for, but it reminded hir strongly that shi needed to find customs and traditions that hir mate had, so she could adopt them. After all, the relationship was a partnership. Yet it was easier said than done. Stellar Foxtaurs were barely forty years old, and even the concept of the species was only about fifty or sixty years old in and of itself. As a rule, they simply hadn’t had time to develop anything really unique, but it’d come in time, and Honeymane looked forward to it.

Thankfully, with the last finishing touches put on the invitations and planning, there was nothing left to do by relax and wait. Or at least, that’s how Honeymane had hoped it would be. But such hope was in vain, especially when shi woke the very next day to a very rude surprise indeed—a double handful of scientists, both from Star Corps and civilians standing on their door step. Standing on their doorstep and ringing their doorbell. Very early in the morning. Honeymane was not amused, nor was anyone else in the household.

Being a groggy as shi was, it took hir nearly thirty minutes to realize that the ten or so scientists were there because of hir, or rather hir and hir pregnancy. And, apparently, Browneyes’. Like Chess had said, there wasn’t any documentation on chakat-stellar foxtaur hybrids, even though it was obviously possible in theory, so the scientists intended to make up for it by poking and prodding them, and writing down everything they said or had said, felt or had felt, symptoms and so forth. Honeymane would have assumed that all of this had been on whatever report Chess had filed—which had obviously flagged their medical files, but the Biomedical officers from Star Corps insisted that they use their own equipment, and the civilians, from the Institute of New Generation Genetics, wanted to examine things outside of mere pregnancy.

It wasn’t that either group was particularly rude or uncaring with their work, far from it in the case of the scientists from the INGG, all of whom, appropriately enough, were chakats, and they genuinely seemed interested in hir and Browneyes’ wellbeing. But the fact remained that they had showed up unannounced early in the morning, and proceeded to shove instruments into hir with what was almost wild abandon. Needless to say, by the time their examinations were finally done, Honeymane was fairly short with them, and shi wasn’t particularly happy that they wanted to come to hir birthing party either.

“Shir, it’s a rare opportunity!” protested an average looking Caitian geneticist in biomedical green. “We’ll be discreet, but surely you must see the wealth of scientific data to be gained from such an event?”

“I agree, we’ll be able to study the child from birth to adulthood, provided there’s no significant gaps in our timeline, and compare it to what we have of the original stellars!” Added the sole human of the group. Not, surprisingly, from Star Corps, but from the INGG. Apparently there was a small but proud core of humans who worked in the labs.

“My mate is not a science experiment.” Manetheren said coldly, crossing hir arms under hir breasts and glaring at the whole group. “And neither is my daughter!”

“Shir, please—“ began the Caitian again.

“Fine!” Honeymane broke in. the debate was starting to give hir a headache, and shi doubted there was anything that could be said that would turn them off the idea. But if it was going to happen it was going to happen on hir terms. “But only one of you. Take it or leave it!” Shi added as one of the other scientists began to open her mouth. “I’ll let hir come—“ Honeymane pointed at a dull grey chakat near the back. Shi had felt a real connection with the ‘kat, well, as much of one as shi could expect, given hir treatment. Shi wouldn’t mind if shi came. “—and shi can be your liaison for any other tests or crap you’re going to spring on me!” The chakat was also from the INGG side of things, which made the other chakats and the human beam. The same couldn’t be said of the scientists from Star Corps.

“You’ve got to be joking!” said a foxtaur from the Star Corp group. Unlike the rest of her party, she wore red, which signified she was likely in charge of the group. “Shi’s completely unqualified!”

“The hell shi is!” snapped a golden pelted chakat with a very impressive bosom. Not that Honeymane was looking. The INGG chakat shook hir finger under the foxtaur’s nose. “Shi’s more than capable of—“

“Dawnsky is a grad student, not a full doctor, and shi’s a civilian! Your group’s work’s been sloppy and—” Honeymane pinched the bridge of hir muzzle in frustration. Shi would manage to set the scientists off at one another, wouldn’t shi. Granted shi wasn’t one hirself, but Browneyes had told hir often enough how rabid academia could be when it came to their work.

“All of you, shut the fuck up!” Honeymane blinked in surprised as hir mother snarled at the ten scientists. “Honeymane’s made hir choice, and so have I. Dawnsky can do whatever shi needs to do for me, up until I leave for Arisia.”

As antagonistic as they had been over Honeymane’s choice, they were pretty much universally united in telling Browneyes moving back to Arisia was a bad idea, and insisting that shi remain on Chakona. The discussion didn’t please Browneyes or Darktoes very much, and Honeymane couldn’t say shi was overly happy either, although at least they weren’t focusing on hir any more. Finally Darktoes snapped and ended up kicking the lot of them to the curb, except for hir mate and hir daughter’s choice, Dawnsky. They weren’t particularly happy about that either, and they started squabbling all the way to their PTVs.

“Thank you shir,” said Dawnsky quietly. “For the opportunity. I hope you don’t mind me saying, but this’ll make for a great thesis!” Hir green eyes twinkled excitedly as shi looked up at hir. The chakat was certainly one of the shorter chakats Honeymane had met.. “And you’re such a nice person too!”

That made Honeymane blink in surprise. “I am?”

“Of course!” Dawnsky laughed and shook hir head. “I probably would have lost my cool long ago! I hope you can forgive them, and me. It’s all just so exciting!”

Honeymane couldn’t help but chuckle at the grey chakat’s enthusiasm. “Alright, alright. Do you need anything more?” Dawnsky shook hir head. “Alright, I guess I’ll see you at the party then.”

After shi left, Honeymane made sure to have an extra invitation made out to the scientist, both because it’d be polite, and because it made hir seem more of like a guest than someone who had invited themselves. Shi also made a note to give Chess an earful.

Thankfully, the rest of the day passed quietly, and Honeymane was able to get a good night’s rest, which was good, since the next few days would be a marathon of greeting guests and preparation for the event itself.

The day arrived with the sun poking over the horizon bright and seemingly too early. But Honeymane, and indeed the rest of the household, was already up and preparing for the guests. Chakat births were predictable, it’s true, but not so predictable that any chakat worth hir salt would want to arrive late and find they had already missed the main attraction, At first Honeymane stood by the front door and greeted, and hugged, chakats as they arrived, but given that shi was the center of attention, shi couldn’t just stay there long before several of the guests decided shi ought to be chatting.

To Honeymane’s pleasant surprise, however, the topics of discussion only touched on hir child and hir pregnancy only in the briefest sense. Rather, they talked about hir plans for the future, how shi met Manetheren, whether shi intended to go back to school and other similar sorts of discussion. It wasn’t that they avoided talking about hir bulging belly, but they all seemed to realize that shi was more than a little sick of it. And shi was grateful.

Even better, shi wasn’t the only center of attention. While Manetheren and Darktoes had both met the guests, more or less, as they arrived, the guests seemed to be just as interested in them as ever. For Honeymane’s aunts Courage and Owlwhisper, Darktoes was Browneyes’ mate that they had never gotten to meet, but had heard a great deal about from their sister. Both of the chakats seemed to be impressed by hir towering height and Honeymane couldn’t help but giggle as shi waddled by, as the sisters made their ‘interest’ known. Darktoes seemed to take it in stride, and Browneyes merely rolled hir eyes, but Quinoa almost bristled every time hir eyes lay on hir mate. The veldt had little chance to interrupt them, however, being cornered, literally, by Moonborn, one of Manetheren’s grandparents. The pale white chakat seemed to be expressing an interest in the foxtaur hirself, but Honeymane suspected shi was too irritated to notice.

Manetheren had a different set of family around hir, Violetdreams and Grasshopper, two of Honeymane’s great aunts. Violetdreams seemed to enjoy ruffling hir mate’s hair, and commenting on it- which wasn’t much of a surprise, given that hir hair was also a shade of violet. Beside hir mate was hir sire’s new mate Ramus, who hirself had a small kit in hir arms named Treeroot. Honeymane couldn’t help but be drawn over to the mother and strike up a conversation with hir. “How old is shi?” Honeymane asked as shi approached.

“Old enough to drive me up the walls.” Ramus said, rocking the young kit in hir arms. Like hir mother, the kit was a forest breed Stellar, and the breed seemed quite colourful compared to some of the other stellar foxtaurs, not that shi minded hir mate’s mostly grey pelt. The young foxtaur yawned and blinked up at Honeymane. “But I bet you’ll be glad when your kit’s driving you up the walls rather that making you feel fat, eh?”

Honeymane chuckled and hir smile grew wider. “Well, I can’t say I’m not looking forward to being back to my more normal dimensions. Would you mind if I held hir?” Ramus’ muzzle split into a sly smile, and Honeymane found hirself wondering if the foxtaur had tricked hir into something, and held out hir arms for Honeymane to take the bright-eyed kit. Treeroot struggled and wiggled of course, but even if shi hadn’t attended that many birthing parties Honeymane knew how to hold onto the kit, both for hir own safety and comfort. The kit settled down after Honeymane tickled hir bellies—which was great fun for both hir and the child, right up until Treeroot’s flailing legs managed to catch hir in the breast hard.

Ramus was still apologizing when Honeymane found hirself being hugged from behind by someone, and kissed on the back of hir neck. Naturally, shi spun around only to find hirself hugged again, this time from the front, by none other than Hoshiko. The chakat was out of uniform and as well dressed as Manetheren was—which was to say shi was nude. Honeymane felt hirself blushing.

“Hoshiko!” Honeymane covered hir blush up be returning the hug warmly. Shi wasn’t sure if the captain had received an invitation or not. The black-and-white chakat grinned at hir as they parted, shaking hir head.

“Tut tut, Cadet.” Hoshiko’s voice was filled with barely concealed laugher, as hir tail rubbed against Honeymane’s flank. “I leave you alone for five minutes and the next thing I know, you’re pregnant!”

Shaking hir head, shi gave the older chakat a gentle slap on hir back, as Ramus trotted off to see where hir mate Drippingbow had gotten to. Hoshiko just grinned wider. “It’s good to see you again, Honeymane.”

“I’ve missed you too, Hoshiko. How… how have things been for you?” As shi spoke, Honeymane felt hir pleasure at the surprise fading. The last time they had spoke, Hoshiko had just lost hir Lifemate, a human woman by the name of Elizabeth Rothschild in a pirate attack. Shi wasn’t sure how hir friend had dealt with it.

Hoshiko’s own grin faded, and shi shook hir head a bit sadly. “Not as well as I’d hoped. I’m afraid the Hoshiko is probably done for.”

“No!” Honeymane exclaimed; Elizabeth had named her ship after her lover, and the two of them had spent a good chunk of their lives on the ship going from place to place. Now shi had lost that as well. Honeymane gave the chakat another hug.

“’friad so. Too expensive to fix, and, well, I think Star Fleet’s looking for any excuse to boot us out, if it can. Technically they’ve offered me another post, of course, but I think I’m going to retire.” Hoshiko sighed heavily. “There’ll be other jobs, of course.”

Honeymane sighed and was at a loss of words. How could shi comfort hir friend? Shi had no idea whatsoever. “Will you visit, if you’re on planet?” Shi asked hir finally. “I don’t know if you’re planning on staying, but…”

“Of course I will.” The black-and-white chakat confirmed with a smile. “But enough about my troubles. Tell me all about hir.” Hoshiko’s tail bumped Honeymane’s belly and the kit kicked. “And who put the little bundle of joy there.” Honeymane couldn’t help but chuckle, before directing Hoshiko to a seat. It was a long story and shi wasn’t about to stand around and tell it.

As they talked, several of the other guests gathered to listen. It wasn’t that they didn’t have some idea what had happened, but to hear it from the source’s mouth, so to speak, appealed to them greatly. So to Honeymane’s chagrin, shi found hir private conversation turned into a very public story. And of course there were questions. By the time it was done, it was past lunch and Honeymane was almost literally starving. It might be hir due date but shi was still eating for two, and shi felt ravenous.

Sugarback, of course, had outdone hirself in catering for the party, and Honeymane had no problem finding what shi wanted and being able to eat as much of it as shi wished, even if shi had bumped Crimsonear out of the line to do it. Of course, even as shi ate, shi was expected to talk, so before long shi was trying to juggle a large slice of pound cake (oh so it wasn’t the healthiest meal for lunch!) and a conversation with hir aunts Courage and Owlwhisper. The two sisters had no bones about making their intentions known, between injected questions about hir pregnancy.

“So do you think Darktoes’ll be open for a threesome?” Courage was asking. The chakat looked very much like a lioness, with a golden pelt and a huge mane of hair. The effect was marred somewhat by the red-tear markings on hir face, but still.

“Courage!” Owlwhisper protested sternly, although it might have been for the best if shi hadn’t said it with a huge grin on hir face. “Don’t ask hir that! So have you picked any names yet?” Shi said the last to Honeymane. Like Honeymane’s mother, Owlwhisper was a calico of a sort, although hir pelt edged much more towards a tortoiseshell pattern, with only a thin stripe of white down hir bellies and on hir digits.

Before Honeymane could answer, however, shi was rescued, sort of, by Chess and Dawnsky. The grey chakat seemed to have latched onto the older midwife, due to, Honeymane assumed darkly, their mutual interest in shoving their hands up hir backside. It kept them out of hir hair up until now, but to see both of them together was an ominous sign indeed.

“Excuse me, shirs. We need to take some scans.” Dawnsky said pleasantly enough, but there was a certain light in hir eyes that made Honeymane worried. The two sisters grinned at each other and at Honeymane, before peeling off to go look for someone else to bother. Or their children. Supposedly they had a cub each, but Honeymane couldn’t remember seeing either of them the whole party. Perhaps they were off playing with the other younger generation.

Thankfully the two chakats’ examination was much less invasive than their other examinations had been, which was good, but neither seemed particularly interested in talking to hir. Rather, they spoke in length over hir back as they took scans from both sides of hir, about, of all things, where they had gone to school. Still ignoring hir, they waved hir off. Shi didn’t have to go long or far before someone new emerged from the woodwork to talk with hir. This time it was Drippingbow.

The mariner stellar foxtaur was so unlike hir daughter, one would be forgiven in thinking that they were at most good friends. First there was their physical features; Manetheren obviously looked like a mountaineer, white and black and such not, where as hir sire resembled more of an otter than a foxtaur. Whereas Drippingbow was sleek and streamlined, Manetheren was more bulky and muscular. But they had much of the same personality, when it came down to it, and if you spent any time with either you could easily see the family connection, even if it wasn’t physical.

“How are you feeling, Honeymane?” shi asked with a small smile. Honeymane did hir best to gulp down the rest of hir cake before replying.

“As well as can be—” Honeymane paused, wincing as a sensation shi had never felt before suddenly rippled through hir body. It was something like a muscle cramp, but not as intense it might have been. Shi wasn’t one to cry out when hurt, but shi felt like it. Drippingbow’s small smile grew in a wide grin.

“Contraction?” shi asked knowingly, not waiting for Honeymane to nod. “Would you believe I was having the exact same conversation with Stonedance when hirs begun too?”

“Really?” Honeymane chuckled, before frowning and looking around at the milling guests “I suppose I ought to say something or something.”

“Oh they’ll figure it out soon enough.” Drippingbow said with a shrug. Shi was probably right; Honeymane was just lucky no one had been looking at hir just as the contraction struck, but hir luck wouldn’t hold for much longer. “Besides, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you all day.”

“How are you finding Chakona?” Honeymane asked. Shi liked talking to hir mate’s sire, and shi was right; they probably wouldn’t get many other chances to talk among themselves, certainly not after shi gave birth.

“Ah, Chakona.” Drippingbow looked in the direction of one of the windows. “It’s a lot like Earth, of course. I remember when me and Stonedancer were first here. It was right after shi found out shi was pregnant, of course, so I took hir dancing, as a treat…” as the foxtaur spoke hir voice grew more and more sad. Drippingbow had made a lot of progress over the past year or so, but Honeymane knew shi’d probably never get over the death of hir mate. In retrospect, it was a cruel question to pose to hir. So Honeymane gave hir a hug. And nearly squeezed hir to death as another contraction hit. This time shi did yelp, a little, which much to hir non-surprise, attracted the eyes of the crowd.

“Um…” Honeymane found hirself smiling sheepishly as shi addressed the crowd. “Yeah… that was a contraction, um…” At hir words, the atmosphere seemed to ratchet up in intensity, as most of the guests started to talk at once. To one another, of course, but the topic was all the same. For something they had avoided so stalwartly before, Honeymane’s pregnancy was back in the spotlight.

Of course, it wasn’t long before Chess found hir, along with Manetheren who looked quite concerned. The pepper-and-salt chakat gave hir a once over and began asking hir a barrage of questions as shi gently felt Honeymane’s belly. Before shi was finished, Honeymane had a third contraction, making the midwife grin like a loon. “Well! It seems like mother like daughter. You were quick to get out as well. I’m just glad the kit didn’t wait all day like you did.” Chess said with a wink as Manetheren gave hir a comforting hug. For some reason Honeymane never expected it to be so painful.

Before Honeymane could stop hir, Chess told the whole crowd that the kit was on hir way, and it was time to move to the nursery.

Despite their penchant for children, chakats rarely had a dedicated room for raising their children, partly because once a child was old enough shi’d join the family in the communal bedroom, and partly because it would be too damn expensive to provide every child with their own room. Honeymane had been lucky in that regard, so shi had offered the room as a nursery for when shi gave birth. Browneyes had agreed, but the room was far too small to host a birthing party. So for the party, they had converted the communal bedroom into one, removing most of the bedding except for the part shi’d be using, which is where shi found hirself being led by Chess and hir mate.

The rest of the guests gave hir a few moments alone to get comfortable before the they began filing in, each of them stripped of all their clothing as per the tradition. Of course, for habitual nudist like the Stellars or Makrana, it really didn’t make that much of a difference, but a couple of the non-chakats looked uncomfortable, including a pretty wolf morph who was someone’s mate or friend. Others like Nuru took the change in stride, even if Sugarback’s hermfriend did hang back in the crowd.

Honeymane didn’t want to assume ‘the position’ just yet, but before the room was completely full, hir water decided to break and with the increasing speed of hir contractions, shi realized there was no point in wasting more time. Ultimately, the position was far from comfortable, for a number of reasons. Firstly, holding hir body like that wasn’t particularly comfortable to begin with, and holding hir leg in the air meant that it got tired fairly quickly. Secondly, of course, was the fact that having a room full of chakats watching hir pussy wasn’t particularly fun for hir. Thankfully shi didn’t have to dwell on the thoughts much, before another contraction hit.

Manetheren laid down beside hir, as Chess did hir thing, murmuring softly to hir as shi did. Now, perhaps more than any other time in hir life, Honeymane was glad hir mate was there, holding hir hand be giving hir strength. Shi licked hir nose and tried to whisper hir thanks, before being drowned out by a groan brought on by a sharper and longer contraction. It was obvious that the contractions were coming closer and closer together, and the midwife confirmed it. Although Honeymane wished shi hadn’t needed to check hir cervix by hand to do so. That’s when Chess told hir to start pushing. So shi did.

The pain was nothing like shi had imagined, and it came in waves making everything blur together, and shi found hirself sweating for what was probably the first time in hir life. Chess and Manetheren were telling hir something, but shi didn’t know what it was, but then… there was a feeling of emptiness as the contractions slowed and stopped, and suddenly Honeymane realized shi was hearing a faint mewling from the bundle Chess was holding. Instinctually shi held out hir arms and accepted the newborn, all swaddled in soft cloth, and gazed upon hir daughter.

The kitten’s true colouring was a bit difficult to tell, given that shi was still damp from birth, but shi had a certain golden colouring, and one of hir handpaws was a darker brown or so. But to Honeymane, the kitten was beautiful, no matter how bedraggled shi looked. And healthy too, if the way shi latched onto Honeymane’s nipple was any indication; as the milk began to flow, Honeymane began to purr contentedly.

“Shi’s beautiful!” Manetheren breathed, nuzzling behind Honeymane’s ear. “Although shi doesn’t really look much like me. Are you sure shi’s mine?” Honeymane gave hir cheeky mate a poke in the ribs before leaning against hir. Manetheren wrapped hir arms around hir mate and child both, and Honeymane couldn’t help but relax.

“That was an unusually hard birth.” Dawnsky commented, breaking the moment. The grey chakat was off to one side looking over hir notes. “I wonder if there’s some sort of incompatibility between us and stellars? Oh, I can’t wait to compare it to the simulations!”

“Gee, thanks.” Honeymane commented drily, and even Chess was shaking hir head. Shi got the feeling the midwife was going to be giving the grad student an earful when shi got a moment alone with hir. But at least it broke hir out of hir daze and let hir take in the crowd. Everyone was smiling or full on grinning. And now that the main event was over they were free to talk among themselves. Browneyes and Darktoes both were beaming at hir, and even Quinoa looked pleased. Dancer and Spadespot were standing together talking to one another quietly, and Honeymane found hirself wondering if Sugarback was in for a younger sister. Hoshiko was smiling too, between Courage and Owlwhisker, if a bit sadly. Shi wondered if shi was thinking about the children shi never had a chance to have with hir lifemate. Of course, the gentle murmuring didn’t last long.

“So what are you going to call hir!” called out Peachtree; Honeymane had managed to avoid hir and hir mate the whole day, so shi supposed it was only fair that shi got to ask. But looking down at the kit, shi found a number of names spring to mind, and rejected them all. Giving hir mate a look, shi shrugged. “I’m going to need some time.”

This was a particularly foolish move on hir part, of course, because it practically invited the crowds to surge forward and suggest names, even though what shi really wanted to do was talk it over with hir mate. Finally after what seemed like ages, Browneyes appeared out of seemingly thin air, and began herding everyone out. As the last chakat was told, politely, to get out, Honeymane breathed a sigh of relief as hir kit stopped breastfeeding, and snuggled into it’s cloth to go to sleep. The kitten looked so peaceful sleeping.

With the kitten finished, Chess asked hir to push again and expel the afterbirth, which shi did, then came the next part of the traditional birthing party. Honeymane twisted hir head and began to suckle at Manetheren’s breast. Like chakats, Stellar Foxtaur breasts stored milk in a sponge-like structure, rather than producing it on-demand like other mammals might. When a chakat, or a Stellar foxtaur, wasn’t nursing, their breasts were filled with a slightly different fluid called milk-water. It lacked much of the substance of real mother’s milk, but it was good enough to replace the fluids that shi had lost giving birth. Once shi had drained both breasts, Manetheren bent down and suckled for a moment on hir teat as well. Unlike hir mate’s, hir breasts did have mother’s milk, and more importantly it had a certain hormone in it. Over the next day or so, Manetheren’s breasts would start to produce mother’s milk of their own. Which was good, because Honeymane was fully intending to make hir mate share in the work.

“I’ve been thinking, what about calling hir Lioncub?” Manetheren offered, as shi pulled back. Shi paused and leaned close to the kitten in Honeymane’s arms, gently stroking the kitten’s cheek. The unnamed kitten squirmed and hir hand swatted Manetheren gently in the face, making Honeymane grin.

“I love it.” Honeymane said, before shi kissed hir mate. “Like I love you. I’m glad…” Shi wasn’t sure how to express the rest of hir thought.

“Glad for?” Manetheren prompted.

“You, hir.” Shi kissed the kitten’s forehead. Hir fur was drying out by now and taking on a more golden colour. Honeymane was sure the name would do hir, at least for now. Shi’d likely want to change it when shi grew up. “Everything.”

The two of them spent a few minutes in peaceful quietness before Chess coughed quietly and pointed out that they’d have to come out of the room eventually or they’ve have a riot on their hands outside. Honeymane rolled hir eyes but shi knew shi couldn’t keep their guests waiting forever, so, with a grunt, and a helping hand from Manetheren, shi got to hir feet. “Ready to face the mob, love?”

“With you?” The mountaineer grinned widely. “Always.”

“I’m not sure I see the problem.” Sugarback said when it became clear that Honeymane had finished hir story. Honeymane grimaced; shi guessed it really wasn’t that clear after all. “Not that I want there to be a problem between you and Manetheren, you understand, but look, you thought something was up, and you talked about it, and you resolved it. Kissed and made up.” The brown-and-white chakat shook hir head. “I know every couple has problems, but I just don’t see what you’re getting at.”

Honeymane frowned into hir cup of tea, before going back to caressing hir daughter’s cheeks. Lioncub was still very young, and required lots of sleep, but shi must have picked up some of the emotions shi had been giving off, because shi had nearly woken from hir nap. Shi had done hir best to calm hir down; rest while shi could, when shi could. If what followed went badly, Honeymane probably wouldn’t be the only one unable to sleep at night, for a long while. That’s why shi had made the trip, came out to the “Swamp” to meet with Sugarback. With a start shi realized Sugarback was looking at hir expecting a reply. “I don’t think we did, Sugarback. After shi went back to work, it started again. And, last night I –” Honeymane found hir throat tightening up, making hir sound hoarse. “I think shi’s cheating on me, Sugarback.”

“Cheating on you?” Sugarback nearly dropped hir cup in surprise, and Honeymane couldn’t hold it against hir. The idea of adultery was such an incredibly alien one; if one mate wanted to have a relationship, even a sexual one, with another person, few chakats would object to it, and even if they weren’t perfectly happy with it, the idea of keeping it secret, well that’s just crazy. But Honeymane was convinced; what else could it be?

“Last night, when shi came home, I hugged hir before shi could take a shower, and… I could smell someone on hir.” Honeymane explained, idling stirring more sugar into hir tea. It was probably too sweet to drink now, but it occupied hir free hand. Lioncub stirred and squeaked, and shi did hir best to comfort hir kitten. “Before you ask, it was obviously semen.”

Sugarback opened hir mouth to say something, but closed it when shi thought better of it. Shi did it several times before shi finally arrived at something to say. “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to take Lioncub for the night. Shi picks everything up and...” Honeymane took a big gulp of the tea and nearly gagged. Shi was right, it was too sweet. “if it comes to a fight, I don’t want hir around to see it.”

Hir aunt nodded slowly, before realizing what Honeymane was asking. “I don’t know what to do!”

Honeymane gave hir a level look. “You’ve seen me look after hir enough times, it’s not hard. Make sure shi goes to bed on time, feed hir when shi’s hungry, and so on.”

“Well, I… I can’t feed hir!” Sugarback began, gesturing to hir breasts, before trailing off as Honeymane began extracting a pack of bottles filled with hir milk. “Wouldn’t shi be better off with your mother or – “

“Please Sugarback.” Honeymane said with a sigh. “This is going to be hard enough. I trust you, you’ll be fine, and Lioncub’s a good kitten, shi won’t be a big bother for you.”

The brown-and-white chakat opened hir mouth to protest again, but finally shut it and nodded, if a bit resigned, before taking the offered pack of bottles and heading to put them in the fridge, while Honeymane prepared hirself to leave. Shi found it harder than shi had originally imagined, but it was long after sunset, and it was time for hir to get going if shi wanted to get home before hir mate got home and went to bed without giving hir a chance to speak to Manetheren. Shi had to do it, of course, but the hardest part was leaving Lioncub in Sugarback’s care. Shi really did trust hir, but as shi stood by the door, shi found hirself struggling to hand the kitten over to Sugarback, and even when shi did shi had to fight to keep hirself from snatching hir back.

Eventually, shi made hir way down to the borrowed PTV, and set it for home. Naturally they were still living in the extended family’s home, but they were looking at a number of good locations – cheap too, given they were out in the sticks. Or at least, they had been before all this started up again. Shi was going to get to the bottom of it, shi just hoped shi could stomach what was at the bottom.

When shi arrived, shi parked the vehicle and hurried inside; shi had managed to convince the rest of the family to scram for the evening, so the place was empty and surprisingly spooky without anyone home. Since shi hadn’t eaten while telling hir story, shi fixed hirself something quick, not much more than a sandwich truth told, and not very filling, but it quieted hir stomach for now. Just as shi was finishing, Honeymane heard Sky’s PTV pull into the driveway. Manetheren was home.

As usual, the foxtaur looked tired and ruffled, but shi at least picked up on the fact that there wasn’t anything else in the house besides hir and hir mate.

“Where is everyone?” Manetheren asked, looking around at the empty structure. “Honeymane, where’s Lioncub?”

“Lioncub’s with Sugarback for the evening, and everyone else is out at a party.” Shi told him gesturing towards the den. “We have to talk, Manetheren.”

The foxtaur looked confused, and Honeymane picked up traces of worry along with it as shi settled down facing Honeymane, who looked at hir mate critically; shi could almost imagine the smell of this other lover of hirs on hir, and it frustrated hir. But before shi could speak, Manetheren beat hir to it. “What’s this about?”

“Manetheren, have you been cheating on me?” There, shi said it, plain and simple and easy and why did it make hir hearts hurt so? They almost stopped when shi felt the flare of guilt and shame from hir mate. Oh Manetheren, what have you done?

“Not exactly.” The mountaineer wasn’t taller than Honeymane, but shi had always considered hir mate to be bigger than hir. Now shi seemed to shrink under hir gaze.

“Not exactly?” Try as shi might, shi couldn’t keep a touch of anger out of hir voice. How could shi! If shi had caught the eye of someone, shi would have said yes, but this, this was a betray of hir trust. Manetheren heard the anger too, and flinched.

“Look, let me explain.” The foxtaur took a deep breath and licked hir nosepad before beginning. “I’m not cheating on you, because I don’t feel anything for these others, it’s just a job, Honeymane. I – I’ve been working at a brothel.”

Honeymane blinked in surprise. Shi hadn’t been expecting that at all. Oh well, brothels were legal on Chakona, to a degree, but only rarely would a chakat ever visit one, and the idea just had never occurred to hir. Never mind all the questions it brought to mind, questions shi had no idea what the answers were. So shocked was shi, that the best shi could manage was a flat “what.”

Manetheren’s forepaws scrapped against the carpeted floor. “Back on Arisia, after you brought up moving back to Chakona, I contacted Dewclaw and asked them if they might have a position for me – you know this already – so I thought everything was okay.” Honeymane found hirself nodding despite hir confusion. “But when I went for the interview, they told me I wasn’t a real geologist, I couldn’t take the job because all my work meant nothing!” Violet’s voice grew more frustrated with each word. “I needed a slip of paper to tell them I knew what I had learned as a teenager!”

Shi opened hir mouth to ask a question, but thought it would be better just to let hir mate explain it in hir own good time.

“All they would give me was a position in their administration office, I… I took it, but it doesn’t pay much.” Manetheren’s voice seemed to drain of it’s anger. “Not enough to support a family on, so I tried to find a second job, and I doubt it would have made ends meet even so. So I applied to one of these brothels. The Meerkat’s Meow.” Manetheren added bitterly. “It pays well, but…” Manetheren spread hir hands wide. “I’m sorry, both for sleeping around, and because I’m such a disappointment.”

When hir mate didn’t continue, shi cleared hir throat to draw hir mate’s attention back to hir. “Why are you a disappointment, Violet?” Honeymane wished hir voice wasn’t so hoarse.

“What do you mean?” Manetheren snapped as hir tail flicked behind hir. If Honeymane was standing shi might have taken a step back, but most of the mountaineer’s anger was directed at hirself, not at Honeymane. “I’m supposed to be your mate, with a good job in the sciences or whatever, and all they could tell me was that fieldwork counted for next to nothing! I feel like a fraud, both to you and myself. Damnit, Honeymane, I didn’t think it’d be like this!”

“Manetheren, I don’t care if you push papers around or work at a brothel – “ Well, the last one kind of bothered hir. “ – I care about you and us and our children. Why did you lie?”

“I didn’t want you to think less of me, I’m so lucky to be with you, and – “

“Hold on, You’re the lucky one?” Honeymane snorted in disbelief. “You’re the one with the job, who gave up everything to come with me to this planet. It’s me who’s lucky to be with you, not the other way around.”

“Are we really arguing about this?” Manetheren sighed, looking down at hir paws. “I know it’s over and – “

“What in the world gave you that idea?” Honeymane demanded. “Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m not upset, and, maybe, you should make it up to me. But I still love you, and I would still love you even if you told me you had a secret family of nine children and six mates on the other side of the planet! But we can’t keep secrets from one another; that I won’t stand for.”

Manetheren wiggled over to hir until shi could hug Honeymane, and shi found hirself melting in the Mountaineer’s muscular arms, just like old times. Shi felt hir hearts slow and beat in rhythm with the foxtaur’s; how shi had missed it. But shi still had more to ask hir mate. “Manetheren, do you want to work at this… Meerkat’s Meow place?”

“God, no!” Hir mate’s body stiffened against hir, and Honeymane felt a surge of stress and what shi could only call revulsion. “I thought it might be fun at first, but the whole thing, it just sickens me. The clients weren’t brutes, but it felt like I’d never be clean again!”

Honeymane smiled where Manetheren couldn’t see hir, well, perhaps shi wasn’t totally easy with the idea of hir mate working at a brothel. “Then I want you to march right in this place tomorrow, and resign, I don’t want you being unhappy, not to mention you’re using up all that energy when you should be saving it for me!” Manetheren chuckled, although a couple of the last sounded more like sobs than laugher. “And I want you to think about quitting this job at Dewclaw. There’s a couple of parks around, you might be able to get a job at a tour guide, and we’ll do what we have to get you a degree so you can do what you really want to do, again.”

“I suppose that makes sense.” Manetheren said, but Honeymane wasn’t finished.

“And I’m going to get a job myself, I can’t spend my days cooped up in the house, I’m already starting to go mad.” Honeymane squeezed hir mate warmly.

“That sounds good to me.” Manetheren pulled back and sighed warily, with a smile on hir face. “I want to go wash up, but since we have the house to ourselves, I think I might be able to find a small amount of energy left…”

Hours later, Browneyes peered at the house as they pulled into the driveway. It was dark, and shi wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. Shi had been worried about hir daughter recently; Honeymane had been troubled, but before giving birth, shi had dismissed it as just a new mother’s first time worries that had wound hir up, but shi had slowly became convinced it was something else, something to do with Manetheren. The two of them had been so close on Arisia, but as of late they had seemed so distant, and Browneyes couldn’t tell why.

Glancing sideways at Darktoes and Quinoa, the two foxtaurs who were deep in conversation beside hir, shi found hirself frowning. It was hard for hir to confront Honeymane on hir own problems, especially after failing so badly with hir own mate, although shi had finally worked them out with hir. Reaching out shi squeezed Darktoes’ thigh, the foxtaur turned and grinned at hir, although Quinoa didn’t look too pleased. Well, with hir, probably not with Quinoa. Not yet. So it had been difficult to bring it up with Darktoes too, but hir mate was as smart as shi gave hir credit for, and shi had picked up the signs hirself.

Shi had also discussed with hir mother and – well suffice to say shi had made an effort to talk to as many people as shi could. Browneyes suspected that was why everyone was so eager to go out for the night when Honeymane told them shi’d like some alone time with hir mate. Browneyes just hoped it had gone well.

That is why shi ended up with the keys to the house, and hurried to unlock the dark building. While the others were still extracting themselves from the PTV, shi hurried inside. There weren’t any lingering echoes of anger or hurt, which Browneyes took to be a good sign, but shi wasn’t particularly happy to find the two of them curled up together in the middle of the den, and not just because they were likely to get stiff backs! Shi was about to wake them when Quinoa, of all people, stopped hir.

“Let them sleep,” shi murmured, barely loud enough for Browneyes to hear. “I think they’ve made up, whatever was bothering them.”

“You noticed?” Browneyes asked in disbelief.

“Of course I did.” Quinoa rolled hir eyes. “I’m just glad it’s worked out for them.”

Browneyes nodded, and wondered, not for the first time, what the problem had been, exactly, while shi joined the rest of the family in the communal bedroom. Hopefully this would be the biggest problem hir child would have to overcome – somehow shi doubted it, but it was a pleasant hope to drift off to sleep on.



Chakats and other concepts © 2012 Bernard Doove

Characters and story are copyright me, Honeymane

Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com


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