All the Possibilities   2486.06.09*  
Written By: Whitney Ware
(April/May 2007 fic trade) When Starskimmer comes up pregnant outside of Recognition, it's a question who the baby's father might be...
Posted: 11/13/07      [16 Comments]

“Pregnant? You? Again?”

Cloudfern had seen enough in his long life that it took something special to earn that particular wasp-stung look of disbelief he suddenly found himself wearing. “You aren’t serious,” he said, reaching one hand out to the wall of his work-den for support.

Starskimmer grinned and patted his cheek. “Oh, love, I am! Very serious. Serious as serious can be. How else do you explain it?” She patted her breasts possessively, which had swollen enough over the past moon that the laced top she wore was strained fit to burst. “Look,” she said, peeling back the leather to expose an aureole and nipple. “Just look – see how it’s changed color? I’ve gone as dark as a berry wine!”

“But…” Cloudfern frowned and shook his head. “You didn’t Recognize someone and forget to mention it to the rest of us, now, did you?”

That earned one of Starskimmer’s full, throaty laughs. “I think I would have remembered! But it’s possible to spark a cubling outside of Recognition. You know it is. Remember little Newt?”

“Neither of us remember little Newt. He went into wrapstuff before either of us were hatched,” Cloudfern retorted. “But yes, Newt was born outside of Recognition. And I think there was another, back in Foxsly’s days, born without the help of a healer’s touch. So yes, it’s possible… but seriously… are you sure?”

“If I were sure, I wouldn’t be asking you for your help figuring it out, would I?” Starskimmer replied with a wink.

Cloudfern regarded his once-Recognized with a mix of concern and admiration. “Vree, I may play at being a healer, but there’s nothing I can do right here and now to confirm it for you. We can only wait and see.”

“Why wait?” Starskimmer began to unlace her top and dropped it on the floor of Cloudfern’s work-den. “I’ve been Recognized twice, and both times my chest swelled like this long before I began to gain weight anywhere else. And my nipples and the rings around my nipples changed color both times as well, to this very same shade of berry wine. And best of all, for two turns while the cublings grew and swam about, every single coupling I had was better than the next. If I’m with cub now, I expect all the same good things will be true.” She let her brightly-colored skirt drop, and held out a hand in invitation.

“Work, work, work,” Cloudfern said drolly, taking her hand. “I suppose I could…” he teased.

“Yes, you will,” Starskimmer replied, her tone equally teasing. “Because we both know, a healer’s duties are never done…”

They made a nest of out their discarded clothing and the snowcat pelt which carpeted the work-den floor. Afterwards, they lazed about to rest, a shaft of moonlight falling through the work-den window to drape their entwined bodies.

“So,” Cloudfern said, brushing a tiny bud of crushed lavender from her sweat-glistened shoulder. “That sounded promising. You still think you’re with cub?”

“Let my mind stop melting before I say yes to anything,” Starskimmer purred back.

They lay in silence for a time; the shaft of moonlight shifted away as the stars moved in their courses outside. “Yes,” Starskimmer said at length, sounding both deeply satiated and deeply pleased. “I’m with cub again. I’m certain of it.”

“Any idea who the father is?”

Starskimmer’s dark brows pursed, as did her full lips. She began ticking off her fingers silently, one after another, both hands in a row and then starting over. Cloudfern chuckled to see her earnest, diligent expression.

“You have no idea, do you?” he said.

Illustration by Larissa J.
“Well… could be just about any male but Notch.” When Cloudfern laughed outright at that, she dimpled at him coyly. “Well, it could. If it works the same way outside of Recognition as it does inside Recognition, then I think it must have been sometime during the few days after the start of the moon. And that new moon started off so well! There was you and Greenweave both, that night of the moonrise.”

“That’s just two of us. There’s the rest of the tribe…”

“Yes, them too.” She held up both hands, fists closed, and then popped up two fingers to represent Cloudfern and his lovemate. “Then Farscout was back from his wanderings. I kept him warm for a day. Then it was the night of that big hunt when both of those big marshbulls were brought in. A big successful hunt always puts boys in the mood. So that meant Windburn in the afternoon, True Edge in the early evening, and Whitestag just before dawn.” Four more fingers went up, leaving only two remaining.

Cloudfern propped himself up on an elbow and smiled down at her. “Two fingers left on your hand, four nights left in that remembered week, and half the males of the tribe left to go. Tell me the brutal truth, dearheart. How did you manage the rest?”

“I found Pathmark down at the creek. He looked so sweet and cold, I just had to warm him up some.” One more finger ticked up. “Then there was Rainpace. He can be a little squirrelly about sharing the furs with me, poor thing, so he needs all of the lessons I can give him!” The last finger went up, and then both hands flashed closed into fists again. “The next night began well, with both One-Leg and Blacksnake.” A thumb and a finger went up and waggled suggestively. “The brothers may be as old as the hills, but they’ll always be the best way to start your night! It was Chicory at moonshigh, though I suppose she can’t count in this figuring. Ah well, she is always worth the remembering. That’s what… five nights? Longshot kept me warm the next dawn, and dusk found me with Thornbow.” Two more fingers went up, finishing off a third counting-hand. “It was Suddendusk and Bowflight during the next day, and finally, that night, it was time to test the new brews. Moss always tries to help me with that chore. And the sampling the brews always leaves us both a little frisky.” A last, slender finger flashed up, lonely on the fourth counting-hand.. “So there you have it. Seven nights, and all of the possible fathers in the tribe could be possibilities.” She moved her hands down languidly to stroke the curves of her belly. “Anyone could be the baby's father. So I just suppose you’ll all have to be his father. Or her father. Depending on whether my next little swimmer decides to be a boy or girl.” Starskimmer patted her belly proudly, then reached out to fish for her tunic. “Now, shall we go and share with everyone the good news?”

RTH 1988.05.18

The sun was setting, and the moons were shining bright overhead, so that some of that silvery light was already breaking through the lush late spring leaves. Starskimmer’s labor had started around midday, and Cloudfern was with her now in her den, with Snowfall and Beetle there to assist in the new baby’s arrival. The hunters had brought home three kills the previous night, so there was fresh meat aplenty. Several of the tribe had gathered outside the three great entwined hometrees, passing a bladder of cider as they waited for their newest tribemate’s imminent arrival and laying bets as thick as honey on graincakes.

One-Leg’s obsidian knife in its fringed leather sheath dropped onto the top of the betting pile. “That’s the best blade I’ve carried in years,” the old hunter said proudly. “And I’m betting the new babe has my hair and my eyes.”

“As if!” Notch snorted, patting the betting pile before him happily. “We’ll know the new sprout is yours only if it pops out of the womb and howls up a blue streak.” Notch grinned at the others gathered around and pitched his voice low, mimicking One-Leg’s rough tones. “‘You toothless curs!! Let me back in there! I was warm and comfortable, you limber-rooted runny-stooled flyblown maggot-eaters! Let me back in!”

There was laughter as the cider went around round; One-Leg laughed longest and loudest.

"Aye, that'd be a pup of mine for sure," the stout fisher grinned. "Certainly sounds like you did when you popped out, except who never have stopped crying about your loss."

Notch made an exaggerated face, feigning outrage, while other betters added their own items to the central pool.

"My newest spearhead that the cub'll be Thornbow's," Blacksnake said, with a wry glance at the golden-haired archer. "It's about time Thornbow added his contribution to the tribe."

Thornbow's addition to the pot was a richly beaded quiver. "My bet's on you, old wolf," Thornbow lobbed back at his Hunt Leader. "Since you think you know how to do it so well."

Fresh laughter welled up at that exchange. "No you don't," piped up Windsong, catching Suddendusk by the elbow as he went to add his carved bone net-needles to the betting pool. "Not so soon, lifemate! You've just had your turn at cub-making; no more for you until you've raised up our little Sweetvine."

"Awww, you just don't want to share me," Suddendusk countered, giving his Recognized a quick embrace.

"A surprise to us all; I'd have thought she would be trying to drown you by now," One-Leg teased.

"Never underestimate the power of love," Rainpace offered sagely, reaching to take the cider skin from Pathmark.

"Yes. It'll cloud your mind every time," Willow quipped, intercepting her friend's reach and stealing the wineskin away.

At that moment from with deep within the hometrees there came a squall of noise, and the elves outside let out a resounding cheer. "That's a baby!" young Sweetvine announced, swinging down from the treebranch she'd been perched on. She began to dance around in delight. "A baby! A baby! Starskimmer's had her baby!"

"Yeah," One-Leg agreed. "And I'll bet it's mine!"

**Cloudfern?** Windburn sent, looking toward the hometrees with grave concern.

**Starskimmer is fine, and so's her new cub,** Cloudfern sent back openly. **He's a fine little boy-cub.**

"A boy!" Sweetvine crowed, spinning around her elders in delight. "It's a boy!"

**And what's our little howler look like?** Notch asked, with a wink and a grin for his own sire.

Cloudfern's return send was rich with humor. "He's pink and hearty -- and looks like I win the bet, because he looks nothing like anyone... save his mother!**

Starskimmer cradled the infant to her breast, smiling through tears of joy as he nursed. Snowfall and Kestrel moved quietly about the healer's den, cleaning up after the birth, but Starskimmer was completely oblivious to the others until her daughter Beetle settled at her side.

"Mama?" Beetle said, reaching out to caress Starskimmer's sweat-damp cheek. Her luminous eyes were fixed on the newborn's face, and her smile was tremulous with wonder. "He's beautiful, isn't he?" she said.

Starskimmer nodded in agreement. She offered the squalling babe a nipple, and he latched onto it vigorously.

"What will you name him?" Beetle asked next.

Starskimmer nuzzled his sable thicket of hair, which was as dark as her own. "He's as sleek as an otter. Otter. Yes, I think that'll suit him fine. Don't you?"

In her arms, the newborn wriggled and paused in his nursing long enough to smack his fat, happy lips, as if in approval.

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