(This story is a sequel to "Another Try.” It is also part of the ”Trying to have a child outside of Recognition” storyline - see list for related stories..)
Snowfall awoke, still feeling somewhat bleary. She rubbed her eyes, trying to shake off some of the lingering grogginess.
“Have a good sleep?”
Snowfall turned her head quickly towards the familiar voice, and smiled when she realized it was Nightstorm sitting near the entrance to their den.
“You looked so peaceful, sister, that I couldn’t bear to wake you,” Nightstorm said with a grin on her face.
“I’ve just been feeling so tired lately...I guess from all the excitement,” Snowfall mused, sitting up and stretching. She had laid down earlier, intending only to take a short nap, but had the feeling that her nap had lasted longer than she meant it to. Nightstorm stood and moved to sit beside her sister, scooting closer to her and still smiling.
“You’re telling me! I’ve hardly had the chance to see you alone since you three made the announcement to the tribe! Everyone’s just so amazed!”
Snowfall looked down at her belly, running a hand over it lightly. “We’re just as amazed as you are. Even now, it still doesn’t quite seem real.” Nightstorm wrapped an arm around Snowfall’s shoulder.
“I know I’ve congratulated you eights upon eights of times already, but I also wanted to say...I’m so happy for you, Snowfall. I know how much you’ve wanted this, and it makes my heart sing to know that you’ll have the chance to be a mother again.”
“Thank you, sister,” Snowfall responded gratefully.
“Before too long I’ll have to start thinking up some new clothes for you!” Nightstorm giggled, looking down at her sister’s stomach.
“Don’t you think you’re getting ahead of yourself?” Snowfall chastised, but she couldn’t help but laugh at Nightstorm’s enthusiasm. Snowfall had to admit that she, herself, had taken to dreaming of the day when she’d be able to feel the cub kick, and be able to send to it and receive a response in return.
Taking advantage of the first opportunity they had had to be alone in awhile, Snowfall and Nightstorm continued to converse softly to one another.
Neither was sure how much time had passed when Snowfall suddenly felt the first pang of sharp pain.
True Edge was a ways upstream of the Holt’s River when he received the send. It immediately made clear the gnawing unease he had started feeling moments before, but couldn't quite explain. It was a closed send from his lifemate’s sister, meant only for him. Quick Fang and Rill, whom he had accompanied to help teach tracking to the young one, saw only the sudden wide-eyed expression on his face.
**True Edge...it’s Snowfall. Something’s wrong...not sure yet...Cloudfern’s here...**
True Edge felt the urgency of her send and knew that he had to get back right away. Fear for his lifemate hadn’t even come to him yet - his only thought was to be by her side as soon as he could. He relayed the send to Quick Fang and sent for Charm, hopping onto her back immediately and heading towards the Holt. As he rode, True Edge reached out to touch his lifemate's mind reassuringly, and as he did so, he could feel her worry and pain.
The sight that greeted his eyes upon entering the den was one that he wasn’t likely to ever forget. Nightstorm knelt on one side of her sister with knitted eyebrows, holding Snowfall’s hand. Cloudfern was on the other, giving Snowfall sips of something pungent...but not so strong as the smell of her life’s blood. Cloudfern met True Edge’s gaze upon the elder’s entrance, but his expression was helpless.
“I’ve given her a tea with smokeweed and herbs to slow bleeding. Willow’s on her way,” he said, although an undercurrent of panic ran through his voice. True Edge was at his lifemate’s side in an instant, and though he could tell she was trying to keep calm, her eyes betrayed her worry.
Kestrel arrived not long after True Edge, having received the same urgent sending. She had been somewhat farther than True Edge with a hunting party, but her gliding ability had been taxed to the limit to make it back to her family. To her lovemates, it was plain to see that though she tried her hardest to keep a clear head, the eldest elder had no more idea of what was happening than they did. The one thought that ran through the minds of all three was terrifying - are we losing our cub?
The wait for the healer seemed interminable, although in reality probably was not more than a few heartbeats.
Willow did not waste time when she arrived. Nightstorm opened her mouth, maybe to explain what had happened, or to ask the healer what it could be that had come over Snowfall, but Willow waved her off and turned her attention to Snowfall. She took in the dark red stains on Snowfall’s leathers and how the elder’s skin, naturally light, was pale now both with worry and traces of pain. Kneeling down at her side, the healer put two gentle hands on Snowfall’s belly and let the warm light of her magic envelop them.
The others watched anxiously as long moments dragged past, and it was only when the healer sat back, withdrawing her hands, that the tension in the air lessened a bit, like a soft sigh running through the den. Nevertheless, five pairs of eyes were on Willow. The elders held back their questions - they had seen Willow use her magic often enough to know the healer needed a moment to gather her thoughts and return her attention to the world outside the body she was healing after she had finished. Nightstorm, however, was not as patient. “What’s the matter?” she asked, looking from Willow to her sister’s face. “Is Snowfall all right? What happened?”
Snowfall gave her sister's hand, which she was still holding, a comforting squeeze. “I feel better now,” she told Nightstorm, soothingly. “Give Willow a moment before storming her with questions.”
Willow shook her wild auburn mane. “No,” she said. That the others were willing to give her time did not mean that she was willing to take it. She leaned back and looked around until her gaze came to rest on the faces of the threemates. “Snowfall … True Edge … Grandmother …” She broke off, took a deep breath before she continued. “I’m sorry … so sorry.”
Snowfall stiffened while True Edge looked as if someone had hit him in the stomach. For a moment no one spoke until Kestrel finally broke the silence. “Our cub?” she asked, her voice low, barely audible.
The healer couldn’t meet their gazes. “It’s … gone,” she replied. “It was already gone when I got here.”
It was unbelievable. It would have been a long time until Snowfall’s belly would have started to swell, a long time until she would have felt the spark of the tiny soul inside her, the first movements. It had barely been a full turn of the moon, but nevertheless their cub had been there for them, had been as real as if they could already touch it. It was too strange, too impossible, that the little life was gone just like that.
“How - why?” True Edge asked, his voice rough as he pulled Snowfall back into his arms, as if he could, belatedly, protect her from what Willow had said, from the truth of it. She yielded against him, glad of his support even if it did little to lessen the pain of the blow, and pulled Kestrel closer to her as well.
Willow shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. She hesitated, thinking. Some things about healing were easier to put into words than others - every one of them knew what a broken arm looked and felt like but when it came to the innermost working of their bodies, things became muddier. It had been hard enough to figure out how to make Snowfall or Kestrel carry a cub, but it was even harder to tell them what had gone wrong now, even if she had been sure. How could she give them the answers they so desperately needed right now? She plunged on, keeping to what she knew and knew to explain. “The pain and bleeding, that was your body getting rid of what it had prepared to carry the cub, Snowfall. Like after a birth, just that it was not so much now because it had just started with it.”
Snowfall and Kestrel shared a look, then nodded. They had both borne a cub, witnessed other births and knew that it wasn’t really over until the afterbirth, a big cake of blood and tissue, had come out as well. Still …It was hard to reconcile a natural part of the birth with this sudden, dreadful happening.
“But why?” Snowfall repeated. “There was nothing unusual, Nightstorm and I were just sitting and talking, I didn’t feel anything strange.” She cast her mind around for a reason but the only thing she could think of was how many had feared when Brightwood was about to be unwrapped that her injuries could have meant the death of her unborn cub as well. However, that did nothing to explain today’s event since she had not been hurt in any way that could have caused harm to their cub…
“I don’t know,” Willow blurted again, frustratedly unable to find the words she was so desperately searching for. Oh, how she wished she was able to answer their questions! “I want to explain, but I can’t. All I know is that the cub is gone. I’m sorry …”
Silence fell again as they tried to process that. Willow did not often admit to not knowing something, so it went to show how much this had shaken her as well.
Finally, Kestrel rose and gave her granddaughter a hug. “If you can’t, there is no point in pressing you,” she said, even though it was clear that it was difficult for her to do so - it was hard enough to accept that Willow was right and their cub was lost, but it was even harder knowing that no-one of them knew why this had happened.
Snowfall reached out to the young healer as well, clasping her hand in hers. “Thank you for the healing,” she said, then turned her attention to Cloudfern. “Thank you for your help, too.”
The plantshaper waved her thanks aside. “Of course,” he replied. “And--” he looked from her to the other two of the trio, “I’m so sorry for you.”
“Thank you,” Kestrel said and shared a look with her two lovemates - how often would they hear that in the days to come? The whole tribe had celebrated their cub with them, and now that it had been taken away, the whole tribe would feel with them - but what could be a comfort right now just felt like a huge burden added to their own grief.
Cloudfern collected his herbs and with another sympathetic look and a short goodbye he left the den. Nightstorm’s eyes were huge and wet in her face as she took her leave from them, too, and finally Willow left, too.
The three lovemates stayed behind and in the silence of their den, grief settled on them like a big, heavy blanket. What had been a dream come true for the last days had turned into a nightmare in one instant. How could they go on after this?