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Having the Barbarian’s Baby

By:Ruby Dixon


1





MEGAN


The tea over the communal fire is ready, so I lean over with my favorite bone cup in hand to dip it in.

Josie immediately bounces to her feet. “You want me to get that for you, Meggers?”

“I’m good,” I say, and brace my feet a little wider apart to steady myself so I don’t tumble, belly-first, into the fire pit. I’m a billion months pregnant - slight exaggeration - and ungainly, but I can still get my own tea.

“You can get mine, Josie,” Nora says as I dip my cup and then waddle back to my seat. “I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

Josie giggles at that understatement and takes Nora’s cup from the flat rock nearby where it’s waiting. Nora’s busy all right; Anna and Elsa are demanding babies and she’s currently nursing one, the other cradled on her knees. Poor Nora. She’s up with me and Josie - the tribe early-birds - before the wee hours of dawn because of the babies. Not that she looks unhappy. There’s a pleased but sleepy smile on her face as Elsa nurses and Anna waves her arms around. I don’t blame Nora for being happy - her twins are cute as buttons.

My stomach growls and I decide to doctor my tea a bit. Josie sets Nora’s tea-cup down and fills her own, then sits across from me and cradles it in her hands, blowing on the surface to cool it. Me? I pick up my bag and take out a pouch of hraku, the sweet, toffee-flavored baked seeds that are such a tasty treat. And I crush them in my hand and add the sprinkles to my hot tea, because the tea here on the ice planet is pretty bitter.

And then, because I’m pregnant as hell, I add some kah, the ultra-spicy, peppery meat-and-fat-and-seed trail rations to the mix and give my cup a swig.

Nora makes a gagging sound. “You are not going to drink that, are you?”

“It’s a bit like jalapeño oatmeal with caramel once the tea gets absorbed,” I tell her, watching my cup. “Ate three cupfuls of it yesterday.”

“That sounds horrid.”

Josie just looks at me, fascinated. “How long do you think before I get pregnancy cravings?”

“I didn’t get any,” Nora says, gently pulling Elsa from her left breast and then switching her to the other side. “You might not, either.”

“Oh man, I hope I do,” Josie breathes, then takes a sip of her tea. “I want to experience everything pregnancy has to offer.”

I set my cup down, since my breakfast-sludge is still concocting, and stretch my legs out. My favorite stool - a super-overstuffed leather pillow - doesn’t provide much back support and I need it lately. I put my hands to my lower back and rub at the ache there. “Give it time, Jo,” I tell her. “You’ll be pregnant for fourteen or fifteen months, so you’ll have lots of time to experience it all.” I’m trying not to be a crank-pot about things. Josie’s excited. She’s wanted babies for forever and a day and she’s finally resonated to her own mate. She’s about a month along and is eager for everything - morning sickness, the bloating, the swollen ankles, you name it.

Me? I’ve been pregnant for oh, fourteen months already and I’m way, way ready to be done.

I glance over at the front of the cave, near Vektal and Georgie’s place. My mate, Cashol, disappeared in there to chat with his chief about something, despite the ultra-early hour. And he’s been in there for about twenty minutes, long enough for Josie to build a fire, for tea to be put on, and for me to notice that he’s still freaking talking to the chief.

I’m nervous. I don’t know why, but I am. Vektal’s a great guy and Georgie’s a sweetheart, but I’m about a month away from giving birth and the last thing I want is for someone to be assigning my mate some ‘special’ project that takes him out of the caves. I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s what it is; Haeden - bless his surly, surly heart - commented the other day about how all the hunters go on long, extended hunts except for my mate. And he’s not wrong.

I mean, I have my flaws. And my biggest one? I’m clingy as fuck. I acknowledge it. Doesn’t mean I’m changing, but I’m aware of it. But I still wonder if Haeden’s comment made its way back to the chief and that’s why my mate’s been gone for so long. As if agreeing, the baby in my stomach kicks hard, and my stomach growls in the next second. All right, all right. I know when someone needs a snack.

With one last glance back at the chief’s cave, I pick up my ‘tea’, blow on it, and then tip the oily sludge into my mouth. The different flavors hit me all at once - the wasabi-like taste of the kah, followed by the sweet caramel of the hraku, and then the tart bitterness of the tea. Heaven. There’s even notes of meat and fat in there. Yum.

Nora makes another gagging sound. Josie just giggles.

“You wait until you have a craving for peanut butter and pickles,” I tell Josie as I take another sip/slurp. “And then you remember that the ice planet doesn’t have either. Kah-hraku-soup is gonna look pretty good then.”

“Just not yet,” Nora says drily. She pulls Elsa from her breast and begins to pat the baby’s back, as Anna stirs in her lap.

Josie immediately puts out her hands. “Can I hold one?”

“Sure.” Nora hesitates, trying to decide which baby to hand over, her arms full. After a moment, she hands over Elsa.

Josie pulls the baby against her, a look of bliss on her face. She’s so excited to be pregnant, and I’m happy for her. I know she’s been lonely for a long time. I rub a hand on my aching back again. For a while, I’d almost felt guilty that I’d resonated to my sweet Cashol…almost. Except I wouldn’t give him up for anything. Josie’s like a kid sister to me and I hated to leave her behind, but when it comes to my mate? All bets are off.

He’s mine and mine alone, and I wouldn’t give him up for anything.

Josie starts to talk again and I take another sip of my tea-soup and look over at the chief’s cave. My mate’s still in there? I’m tempted to get up and go push into the conversation, but…getting up is an effort lately. I rub a hand on my belly absently and drink more tea as Josie chatters Nora’s ear off.

I’m tipping back my cup to finish the dregs when a familiar pair of shoulders and long dark hair catches my eye. God, my mate is gorgeous. I’m so stinking lucky. When we got to the ice planet, I didn’t see how I could possibly fall in love with an alien, but the moment I resonated with Cashol? Everything clicked into place. It was like a switch went on with my brain, and instead of freaking out over horns and tails, I realized how graceful his big blue body was. I learned that there was nothing finer than the crooked smile on my mate’s mouth when he makes me laugh. I learned that his hair’s always slightly messy because he’s too focused on other things - like me - to care about the fact that the braids that keep the hair out of his face aren’t even. I learned that he might not be the most physically attractive of the aliens on paper, but to me? He’s perfection. His big nose, long face and goofy smile? I love all of it, because it’s him.

I set my cup down and struggle to get to my feet to greet him, but he’s at my side before I can even manage to get halfway out of my seat. He takes my hands in his and helps me haul my body upright. “You were gone a while.”

He ignores my cranky tone and presses a kiss to my cheek. “My chief had much to say to me.”

I glance back at the cave to see if Georgie or Vektal are heading this way. When they don’t appear, I turn back to Cashol. “What were they nagging you about?”

He tsks at my choice of words and brushes a lock of hair from my cheek. “We will discuss it later. Do you want to bathe? The water will be good for your back.”

I narrow my eyes at him because I recognize a subject change. He’s trying to distract me, or he doesn’t want to discuss it in front of the others. I rub my lower back again. “I guess so.”

“Come,” he says, gently steering me toward the pool in the center of the cavern. “I have fresh soap-berries and your favorite comb.”

And because having my mate wash my hair is one of my favorite things in the world, I don’t put up a fuss even though I can’t quite shake the feeling that something bad’s about to happen. Cashol is attentive as ever as he helps me pull my layers of clothing off, and his arms are strong as he helps me into the water. He strips down and climbs in next to me and then pulls me against him. He sits on one of the little ledges under the surface of the water and I rest my arms on his thighs as his fingers undo my coronet of braids.

I relax against him, my eyes sliding closed. The warmth of the hot spring does feel amazing on my lower back, and the heavy pull of the baby’s weight on my front is non-existent in the water. I’m so ready to give birth, but I’ve still got a few more weeks at the very least. My baby hasn’t dropped, and Maylak - the tribe’s healer - seems to think I’ll carry right up until the last moment. Which sucks. Nine months is a long time to be pregnant, and that’s a normal human pregnancy. Because I’ve been knocked up by an alien? I have a full fifteen months of pregnancy (give or take some wiggle room) which feels like forever. Though I suppose it could be worse - Maylak’s been pregnant since we landed here almost two years ago and she’s still got about a year to go.

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