"Good morning!" I greeted my sleepy vulpine mates as I headed for the bedroom door. "I'm about to start breakfast, so don't be too long getting up."
I nearly bumped into Boyce as he emerged from another sleeping den. "How are you this morning, dear?" I asked him.
Midnight's grinning black-furred visage popped out from the behind the door to answer for him, "He's fine. In fact, he's wonderful!"
I returned the smile and said, "Not feeling any heat-cycle induced cravings any more?"
"No, I think I'll be just fine for the rest of the day, thanks," shi replied smugly.
Boyce spoke up, "Although I feel some hunger-induced cravings right now!"
"Good!" I declared. "You can help me cook breakfast. You do the omelettes while I cook the pancakes." I put my arm around his waist and led him off to the kitchen. "And while we're at it, you can tell me all about your night!"
It had been several weeks now since Boyce and I had declared ourselves as mates, and he had visited me whenever he could do so without neglecting his other mates. On this occasion though, he had arrived after both Kris and Trina had come back from several days absence and I had wanted to spend some time with them. Midnight was already staying with me, as shi was between assignments, and shi had just come into heat. Shi was looking for some relief, which Kris was usually happy to provide, but as I wanted to be with my first mate, I suggested that Boyce might be willing to help out. As it turned out, Boyce had been quite willing to get to know his co-mate more intimately and Midnight had admitted curiosity about him too, so it worked out fine all round. As a human, Boyce could not get a chakat pregnant, much to my regret, and thus he and Midnight were free to make love without any restrictions.
We finished preparing breakfast mere moments before a hungry horde descended upon us. After consumption of large quantities of food, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways for the day.
That evening, when we were making our way to the sleeping dens, I asked Midnight if shi needed a partner as Boyce wasn't there with us that night.
"Strangely, no," shi replied. "I'm feeling tired tonight, so I'll just go straight to sleep. I wouldn't mind having someone to cuddle with me though." So I wished my foxy mates goodnight and curled up with Midnight, both of us enjoying just being with each other.
I woke to a gentle but insistent shaking. "Erm, whassup?" I mumbled.
"Forest, I'm pregnant," Midnight announced.
That woke me up. My mind spun for a moment, then I asked the most obvious question. "Are you sure?"
"Remember when you became pregnant by me, Forest? Your inner sense told you that you were with child. Did you have any cause to doubt it?"
Shi was right. We knew these things with utter certainty. "But we didn't have sex! We didn't do it in our sleep, surely?"
Midnight shook hir head. "No, we definitely didn't."
"Did you make love with another partner that you haven't told me about?"
Again shi shook hir head. I had doubted that possibility because shi never would have hidden that from me deliberately. "My only partner while I have been on heat has been Boyce."
"But he's a human and it's absolutely impossible to get pregnant by one. You and he are genetically incompatible...." My voice trailed off. Caitians and Rakshans were also incompatible, but both his mates had borne him healthy cubs. "No, it couldn't be. Could it?" I half hoped, half dreaded the possibility. I shook myself and made a decision. "We're going to get Boyce over here for tests immediately. You too, Midnight."
Minutes later, an emergency comm call to Starfleet Headquarters had got a puzzled admiral on his way to my house. When he arrived and we told him of our conclusions, his reaction was a mixture of disbelief and anguish. "Zhane has always insisted that the fertility rites of her Rakshan festival was responsible for her pregnancy. Perhaps she was right. But where does that leave Midnight?" He looked at hir, obviously distressed. "I never thought for a moment that this could happen, you must believe me!"
Midnight looked at him bleakly. "What does it matter? The deed seems to have been done. Now there's a cub growing within me that was conceived without any forethought or love."
"No, Midnight, never without love," Boyce insisted. "I never thought it possible but even so, when we were together, I wasn't just having sex, I was making love with you. If I didn't care for you, we would not be in this situation. I am so sorry that this has happened, and I wish it never come to this, but you must realise that I will bear the consequences. You and the cub will have my love and support always." He seemed on the verge of bursting into tears.
Midnight's expression softened. "You're right, Boyce. I did feel that you cared when we spent the night together. But all my plans for the future, all my hopes and dreams have been thrown into disarray by this. I feelů lost."
Boyce's resolve stiffened. "Whatever it takes, I will see that you're life is disrupted as little as possible. I'm responsible for this and I will see to it that you are taken care of. I only hope that you accept my apologies for getting you pregnant. I just wish I knew how it's possible."
"Well, we're going to get some more substantial answers by running some medical tests on you. In the meantime, we'll call Zhane and ask her to come over and see if she can throw a little light on the problem."
"But I had plenty of tests run on me after both Rosepetal and Zhane got pregnant. They detected nothing abnormal and my genetic pattern is unexceptional."
"How thoroughly did they check?" I insisted.
"Ummm, well, I was rather too pleased to be a father to be overly concerned about how it happened," he admitted.
"So it is possible that something was overlooked then," I concluded. "I've already contacted a med-tech friend who will give you a complete examination. No excuses," I interrupted his attempted interjection, "If you are indeed the sire, we will find out for sure why!"
I drove Midnight and Boyce to the medical centre to meet Chakat Redears, a friend that I had made amongst the medical staff while I was pregnant. Shi led my two mates off to run hir tests on them. As shi would have them for quite some time, I decided to go home again. I had called in to say that I would not be in for work that day so I could devote my attention to the current crisis. Not long after, I got an unexpected call from Goldfur.
"Hello Sister," hir comm image said. "I called your work only to be told that you had taken the day off. Any problem?"
"Not so much a problem as a puzzle." I explained what had happened and shi looked intrigued. Shi said that it was remarkable if true and was curious to know what the result was when it came in.
"You didn't call me to find out about those two though," I said. "I sense that something's troubling you. Spit it out, Sis!"
Goldfur grimaced and said, "You're right, but I want to talk with you in person. Can I come over?
"I'll have little to do until the tests are done, so now's a good time."
"I'm on my way!" shi declared.
Goldfur had been living at either my place or our parents' home because hir job took hir away from Earth so much, there was little point in having hir own place. However, shi had since acquired a mate, a cub and another mate and my own family had been growing, so shi and Garrek had decided to buy a home of their own. It wasn't too far away, so visits were regular, but they had also been getting to know their new neighbourhood.
Shi made good time, arriving in about 20 minutes. I had some morning tea ready and we settled ourselves in the lounge room to talk. We chatted about hir latest finds in their new location for a while, and I inquired how Quickpaw was doing. Our sister was currently playing cubsitter for Goldfur, helping with the feeding and caring of Eudora as shi did with my twins. Shi had been feeling restless and we decided that a change of scene might help hir. This part of hir adolescence was a particularly trying time for a chakat and we hoped that shi could find a companion soon.
Goldfur said, "Quickpaw seems to be doing fine lately. Remember when shi asked you to be hir first? Shi asked me to complete the circle soon after coming to stay in our new home. We sisters now share a three-way bond. I'm glad that shi asked."
I cuddled my sister in congratulations. "That's wonderful! Shi needs some stability in hir growing years and I'm sure that you'll be able to give hir that."
Goldfur continued, "That's not all. We found a chakat about hir age living nearby. Shi had a problem that I was able to help hir with and shi's been a regular visitor since then. Shi's called Bronzepelt, and shi 'n Quick seem to like each other a lot."
"Better and better!" I declared. After chatting about more family concerns for a while, I decided that Goldfur needed a prompt before shi would bring up the subject that had brought hir here. "Okay, out with it! What is so important that my level-headed sister needs to consult me?"
Shi sighed. "I suppose it won't get any easier putting it off. I met someone a few weeks ago while visiting Garrek's village. She's a wolftaur named Lupu. She's a pretty bitch with soft grey fur and a shy demeanour. Lupu is an outcast from her pack and was getting close to starving. I caught her trying to steal food but, to her surprise, I invited her to dinner instead of handing her over for punishment. She was a bit nervous at first but we soon hit it off and I invited her to stay with my family for the time being." Shi paused to look at me directly. "Now she has become very close to me and my family because she's got none of her own left. As with all wolven kind, she has a pack instinct and it seems she has come to regard my family as her new pack."
"Why, that's lovely! She must be happy with that," I commented.
"Yes, she is, and she has become a brighter and happier person because of it."
"So far I don't see any problem, Goldfur."
"She's asked me to sire her first litter of cubs," Goldfur stated bluntly.
So that was it, the thing that bothered my sister so much that shi had to discuss it with me. "And you don't want to do it?" I asked.
"No, that's not it. Don't you see? I'm happily mated with two wonderful people and I have a cub with another on the way. I can't just forget about that."
"So you do want to give her what she wants, but feel you can't give her the love she deserves?"
"But I do care for her, Forest. I like to have her around, especially when my other mates have to be elsewhere."
I closed my eyes and sighed. "Then what is your problem?" I asked in exasperation.
Goldfur looked confused for a moment, then slowly started explaining. "When I first met Garrek, it was as if I had found a missing part of myself. He filled a need in me that I barely knew existed. I fell hopelessly in love with him and that love continues to grow every day. But a male, even one as wonderful as Garrek, cannot fulfil all the needs of a chakat. When Malena asked to be my mate too, she completed me and our three-way relationship has been beautiful and satisfying. I thought that I needed nothing more. Then along comes Lupu and turns my world upside-down with her request. She's such a beautiful person and I care for her very much, but giving her cubs would seem to me like turning my back on Garrek and Malena."
I shook my head. "Goldie, my dear silly sister, you know as well as I do that you can't portion out true love. You can give away as much as you like and still have plenty to offer. Besides, I've heard you say that she is close to you and that you care for her, but do you love her?" Goldfur looked indecisive, started to speak, then stopped. Rather than force an answer, I went on. "She's almost certainly deeply in love with you, don't you realise?"
"Huh? She has never said that to me!" Goldfur was startled by my blunt statement.
"You told me yourself how she has her wolven instincts and she regards your family as her pack. Well, every pack has its alpha and you're it! You've given her a place in your pack and she now has a certain status that she lacked. Her self-esteem and happiness have grown accordingly. However, because you're the alpha and she's a lowly newcomer, she doesn't feel she has enough status to admit her love or ask for yours, but she can ask for cubs that would make the pack grow. I would bet anything that she is very much in love with you, so I ask you again, do you love her?"
My sister just sat, staring into space, trying to think. Finally shi spoke. "Yes, I believe I do love her." Then shi look at me and asked, "But what about Garrek and Malena?"
"Goldfur, don't make the same mistake that I made with Boyce. I tried to keep our love concealed from some people. Also, I thought that we could be satisfied with just being mates of the heart. When it came to the crunch though and everything was brought out into the open, it was Boyce's mates who found the solution. They still loved him and cared for how he felt, wanting him to be happy. I think that you're underestimating your own mates. Malena is from a culture where vixens expect their mates to have more than one lover. Garrek, aside from the fact that he would love you no matter what you did, still gets all the attention of your female side. And finally, I'm sure that you have enough love for all three. I know that I love all my mates and I do my best to make sure that they all know it."
Goldfur's troubled expression had cleared. "You're right, Forest. How did you learn so much about lupine customs?"
I grinned widely. "I have had one or two wolfy lovers over the years. It's amazing what you learn."
"I'm going to explain this properly to everyone and give Lupu what she wants." Goldfur declared.
"Not so fast!" I said.
"Huh? What now? Have I forgotten some other important lupine custom?"
"No, a chakat one! Ask her to be your denmate, then offer her your seed. She'll be overjoyed and your relationship will be the better for it."
Goldfur smiled happily. "My sister, the matchmaker. How did you get so good at this?"
I grinned. "Try keeping my lot happy and you learn fast!"
Goldfur got up and cuddled me. "Thank you Forest, you've helped me greatly." Shi looked me in the eyes. "We need to renew our bond soon, I think."
"Soon," I agreed, "But others need you more right now, so shoo! Go home! I've got real problems to deal with!" I laughed and Goldfur joined with me.
"Okay, I'm going!" Then shi seemed to recall something. "I'll come over again in a few days and I think I'll have a surprise for you."
"Just what I needed right now, more surprises," I said ruefully. Goldfur left immediately after that while I set about keeping myself busy until I got word from the medical centre. After what seemed to be an eternity, Redears called.
"Hi Forest," shi said. "I have the preliminary findings ready. Come on over now and by the time that you get here, I will have a demonstration set up to explain everything to everyone at once."
When I arrived at the centre, I found that Boyce had been joined by his other mates. I gave them each a quick hug in greeting before all of us were waved into a room where various research equipment was set up. We made ourselves comfortable as Redears began hir explanations.
"I started with the standard tests, most of which Boyce reckons he had before when he first conceived children by an alien species. They only confirmed the original conclusion that there was nothing exceptional about his genetic structure. The same was true for Midnight, which left us back at the beginning which said that it was impossible for a human and a chakat to breed. I had to check the embryo then, which wasn't easy at this early stage. However, it did confirm the presence of human genes, so I knew at least that I wasn't wasting my time. It did reveal some interesting leads though for which I needed some sperm samples. I ended up having to enlist the help of Boyce's mates. For some reason, he was a bit reluctant with me." Shi grinned. "I hit the jackpot there and I have set up a demonstration to show what I discovered."
Shi started to point out various equipment. "Now, on this screen, you have a microscopic view of a sample ovum from a natural panther. By the way, it has been rendered infertile, but otherwise is healthy. I've introduced a small amount of Boyce's semen and we'll see what has happened."
It was a bit hard to know what we were supposed to be looking for until Redears pushed up the magnification on a sperm cell that had forced its way past the cell wall of the ovum. The DNA clump seemed to be moving. "I noticed this strange behaviour and examined it greater detail. I tried with ova from several different species and accelerated the process. The results were all the same. Each time, the sperm cell's DNA adapted to match that of the ovum. If those eggs weren't inactivated, they would now be all fertilised." Shi switched off the monitor and turned to face us all. "There needs to be some more in-depth investigation, but I have some basic conclusions. Somehow, in a manner yet to be determined, Boyce's sperm has all been altered. It is now capable of fully adapting to most, if not all, mammalian species, even alien ones. He is quite literally the greatest stud on Earth. It's a bit too soon to determine for sure, but it seems that the child will always be of the same species as the mother with perhaps some distinctive characteristics from the father. Congratulations, Boyce and Midnight, you are going to have the first human-chakat crossbreed child ever.
Boyce's face had a mixture of pleasure and horror. He obviously wanted the cub but was appalled that he was definitely the one responsible for Midnight's condition. Midnight looked stunned, hir last hopes that it was all a mistake were dashed. Zhane spoke up then.
"I've mentioned this before, but it seems that nobody has taken it completely seriously, so I'm going to try again. It is my belief that Boyce has been touched by the Rakshan gods. Before the good med-tech can start objecting, I must point out that our gods are not like yours. We do not have an omnipotent deity. Our gods are an ancestral species that have gone on to a higher plane of existence. There is plenty of archaeological evidence of their earlier existence and many examples of events to prove that at least some of them are still around, taking an interest in the new race that replaced them. Praying to our gods sometimes induces them to take an active interest. The Rakshan fertility festival is a planet-wide event dedicated to supplicating the gods for more children. The high mortality rate of our young requires us to bear as many as possible. Rosepetal invited me to share her mate on one day of the four day event and that is when we both became pregnant. Our gods are known for their sense of humour in granting our prayers. It is my firm belief that one god thought it amusing that he grant the ultimate fertility to Boyce in order that we both conceive. I believe that adaptive fertility we have just witnessed is merely a continuation of that gift from the gods.
Redears looked thoughtful. "Hmmm, Starfleet has reported instances of ancestral gods before and their meddling with the younger races. I would have to take your statement as a very definite possibility. I'm still interested in just how they accomplished this, so I'll continue my tests. In the meantime, I don't need any of you any more. I suggest that you go home and start planning for the child. I'll let you know of any significant discoveries.
I thanked Redears and started herding everyone out. I wanted to get us home promptly because I knew that my mate was going to need some comforting. This was not something that shi had ever considered and hir world had been badly rocked. Boyce was already looking forward to seeing his latest offspring, but Midnight needed to come to terms with what had happened. When we got to my home, I asked Midnight to come into the study with me and talk about this. Shi made hirself comfortable on the rug and I laid down beside hir and put my arm around hir waist, pulling hir closer to me.
"I know that you are upset, Midnight. You can't just keep it bottled up like this. Speak to me; I'm your mate and I want to help you."
"Upset?" shi said. "Of course I'm upset! I'm going to have a cub by someone whom I never would have chosen as a sire. In fact, I'm having a child when I hadn't intended to have one at all for some time. Chakats don't have unplanned pregnancies!" shi wailed.
I stroked hir hair, trying to comfort hir. "The child was conceived in an act of love. Boyce may not love you as much as I do, but he cares for his co-mate, as he has already told you. He's excited about this cub, you know."
"He would, it's his cub, not mine," shi said bitterly.
I thought for a moment, then tried another tack. "You're right, you didn't want it, so there's no obligation for you to keep it."
Midnight looked up in shock. "What?! Abort my cub? Surely you can't be serious?"
I smiled. "No, I certainly am not, but it made you wake up. You said my cub. You have already made an attachment to your kitten."
Midnight looked surprised, then grimaced. "I suppose you're right. But I still feel upset about the situation." Shi looked me in the eyes, trying to convey hir feelings. "This was supposed to be our cub, Forest. I may have wanted to put off having a child for a while, but I most certainly wanted to be the mother of your cub." Suddenly shi burst into tears and put hir head against my shoulder, sobbing. "I was waiting for the right time for us to have hir. I was waiting for you, Forest, for you!"
I hugged hir tightly to me and rubbed hir back, trying to comfort hir. Midnight had always been a strongly masculine personality, but hir confident and independent nature had been rocked, leaving just hir more feminine side expressing hirself. "I know, dear heart, I know. I was prepared to wait until you were ready too. But there's something you should realise. You are my mate. Boyce is my mate. Your child is almost as much mine as yours. We are one family, my love, and we share everything. You know that Boyce loves our twins as much as if they were his own. I will love your cub as much as if I had sired hir that night."
Shi looked up and sniffed. "Thank you, Forest. I believe you will too." Shi snuggled up to me. "You really are the perfect mate. I think I'm looking forward to seeing the cub now, but you had better believe that I'm looking forward to the day that I will be the mother to your cub." Shi started a soft purr.
"And I'll be counting the days, my love."
We stayed together like that for a while, my purrs joining hirs. Midnight would be okay now. I felt a little sad that shi wasn't having my child and I would have to put that behind me too, but together we would see this cub into the world and we would love hir as much as our twins.
A little later, I approached Boyce about Midnight.
"How's shi feeling, Forest?" he inquired anxiously.
"Good news. Shi's come to terms with this unexpected turn of events. Shi's starting to look forward to being a mother now. I think you should go to hir and show hir how much you appreciate hir and the child shi's bearing for you."
"I'll do that. I think shi'll make a fine mother." He paused, then put his arm around my waist and cuddled me. "You know, my lovely mate, this means we can have that child that we both wished for?"
A little sadly, I answered, "Yes, I do, and I'm looking forward to the day that happens. However, now is not the time. Midnight's child is something special and shi needs to see that. If we had a child now, shi would lose a necessary sense of uniqueness." Boyce nodded in understanding and I continued, "Besides, there'll be enough newborn cubs in the house in a while. Kris and Trina told me something the other night when you were with Midnight. Trina's finally pregnant. She and Kris have been trying for a while and they finally succeeded while they were away together. Foxes tend to have large litters, so there'll be anything from 1 to 4 more cubs to deal with. I don't think it would be right to add another to the burden of caring at that time."
"I must congratulate them," Boyce said. "I can see where that could get complicated though and I agree that it would be best to put it off. But I won't wait one moment longer than I have to! You know how dearly I want a child from you."
"Yes, my love, I do. And when the time is finally right for us, I will come to you with joy in my heart. For now though, just hold me and tell me you love me."
"I love you, Forestwalker, now and for the rest of our lives." He pulled me close, lowered his head to mine and kissed me long and deep. Wordlessly, I told him how much I loved him too.
It was about a week later when Goldfur visited. Shi had brought the entire family with hir. Garrek and Malena gave us all hugs, then stood aside grinning while we got to meet a couple of new furpersons. Goldfur led forward a shy wolftaur bitch. She had stony-grey fur which was immaculately groomed. Shi wore a simple white tank-top that nicely accentuated her curves and her athletic build.
Goldfur proudly said, "I'd like everyone to meet Lupu Firefist. She has honoured me by agreeing to be my denmate. She's also going to be the mother of two more cubs to add to our family."
Everyone surged forward at one time to congratulate her, nearly overwhelming the poor girl. She grinned a little uncertainly, surprised at the reception she was getting. I looked at my sister and asked, "Is she the surprise you were talking about, Goldie? You didn't tell me that she was on heat that very day. She'd have had to have been for you to know that she was pregnant with twins so soon."
"No, that wasn't it," shi grinned at me, "Although it comes as a pretty close second. I was talking about something else." Shi called out loud, "Quickpaw, come on over!"
From around the corner of the house walked Quickpaw. I hadn't seen anyone getting out of Goldfur's vehicle, so I had been unaware that shi was here too. However, shi wasn't alone. Shi came hand-in-hand with another chakat with fur similar in colour to Goldfur's. Quickpaw walked up to me and said, "Hello Sis. I'd like you to meet my Companion, Bronzepelt. Bronze, this is my sister, Forestwalker."
I was surprised. "You've Companion mated? Oh boy, have you got a story to tell me!"
Quickpaw grinned. "I suppose I do, but here's the short version. Despite all the caring and love in the family, I felt something lacking in my life. Then I met Bronzepelt and we clicked. Hir family was far away and shi'd been feeling lonely. I was looking for someone to fill my need. We found that we liked the same things and before we knew it, we discovered that we wanted to stay together."
I smiled at them both. "You make a lovely couple and I'm looking forward to getting to know a lot more about you, Bronze."
"I'm looking forward to getting to know more about me too," Bronzepelt said.
"Eh? Am I missing something here?" I said, puzzled.
"Yes, actually," Goldfur replied. "Bronze has had amnesia. That's the problem that I helped hir out with. Shi still has some large gaps in hir memory."
"I see. Well, I hope that you get those memories back soon. In the meantime, I hope we can make some nice new memories for you."
"Thank you, Forestwalker." Shi gave me a hug that I gladly returned. Then I turned to Quickpaw and gave hir one too.
"Congrats, little sister. Umm, you're not planning on having cubs yet, are you?"
Quickpaw laughed. "Don't panic, Forest. Neither of us intends to have children until we have at least finished college. We became Companions to share our lives and to have someone of our own to cherish above all. I'm perfectly content with looking after your and Goldfur's cubs for now. And I hear that I'm going to have another mouth to feed in ten months."
"Still not tired of nursing cubs, hey? Well, I'm sure that you will get your fill eventually. Now you'd better come inside where we can talk until we're hoarse while we have a cuppa. There are a lot of things we have to catch up on." I urged everyone inside. It took a while, there being so many. Such a large and diverse family! I smiled happily. This was a chakat's idea of perfection. So many people to love and who loved you in return. I followed everyone inside feeling that most everything was right in the world.
To be continued in A Forest Tale 13: Ketta's Fate.
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