Ice ice babies, p.1

Ice Ice Babies, page 1

 part  #7.60 of  Ice Planet Barbarians Series

 

Ice Ice Babies


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Ice Ice Babies


  Ice Ice Babies

  Ice Planet Barbarians: A Slice of Life

  Ruby Dixon

  Ruby Dixon

  Contents

  Ice Ice Babies

  Author’s Note

  The People of Ice Planet Barbarians

  The Ice Planet Barbarians Series

  Want More?

  Boring Copyright Stuff

  Part I

  Ice Ice Babies

  NORA

  Even in my sleep, there’s a baby crying. I mumble something and roll over, determined to shut out the noise.

  A hand pats my shoulder. “I will get the kit. You sleep.”

  Dagesh. I blink awake as my mate rolls out of the furs and pads across the cave to the squalling baby. Not a dream, then. I glance over, rubbing my eyes. The fire’s coals are almost completely out, which means it’s close to dawn. My mate stands over Anna’s basket, completely naked, his fine ass hanging out for the world to see. I admire it for a moment in the low light of the cave. It’s as pale blue as the rest of him, and his tail flicks back and forth over taut buttocks. It’s a real nice view, and the female side of me can’t help but appreciate it as he bends over to pick up Anna and straightens, tucking her against his shoulder as she wails.

  Then Elsa begins to scream, like usual. Their twin bond seems to extend to temper tantrums, and if one’s bellowing, the other’s never far behind. My breasts, bound and wrapped because they ache, are leaking at the sound of their distress. So much for sleep. “I’m up,” I mumble, crawling out of bed and lumbering over to pick up Elsa.

  We’re silent, yawning as we bounce upset babies, rock them back and forth, pace around the cave, and try to quiet them. When singing doesn’t work (and oh boy, Dagesh is terrible at it), and fresh diapers don’t silence them, I sit on my stool and tuck each one against a breast so they can nurse their tears away.

  I wince as Anna bites down hard on my nipple, desperately trying to suck. My breasts feel full but nothing’s coming out. “I think my milk’s drying up again.” I resist the urge to cry. I’m tired and the babies are non-stop, and now I can’t even feed my girls?

  “Maylak says it is normal,” Dagesh yawns, and then presses a kiss to the top of my head. “I will stoke the fire and then go tell her you need healing.”

  “Let her sleep for a bit longer,” I tell him. I’m always having to run to the healer to get her to get my milk started again. I hate that. I shift the babies and wince when Elsa gets all bitey, too. My poor boobs. My poor babies.

  Dagesh watches the twins nurse for a moment, and then turns to pull his leggings on. “I should get up anyhow. The day is wasting.”

  It is? “I don’t think it’s even daylight yet…”

  “Then I will start my hunting early.” He finishes dressing, slings his pack of weapons over his shoulder and smiles at me, then heads out of the cave.

  I try not to be disappointed. I know the hunters are super busy trying to feed everyone but I have the sinking suspicion that I won’t see Dagesh again until the twin suns set. That five minutes of quiet? That’ll be the only interaction I have with my mate for the rest of the day. By the time he gets home, he’ll be exhausted, filthy from a day spent hunting, and barely able to keep his eyes open. He’ll come kiss me on the head again, take a quick bath in the bathing pool, grab a bite to eat, and then collapse into the furs to sleep.

  It’s been like this ever since the babies were born. I knew I was big, but twins don’t run in my family and I was just as surprised as my sweet, enthusiastic Dagesh when Maylak told us there were two babies. Just more for us to love, right? And I adore my sweet Anna and Elsa. Most of the time they’re good babies, when they’re not busy being tired, cranky, hungry little poop-monsters.

  Except…I’d really love a freaking nap. Or three. And I’d love for my mate to snuggle up in bed with me. Better yet, I’d love for my mate to touch me and make my toes curl. It feels like in the three months since the girls were born, not only have I not slept, but I haven’t had sex. Heck, I haven’t had sex since before the girls came, either, because I was so uncomfortably pregnant that Dagesh was afraid to touch me.

  And now he just won’t touch me. I sigh. Clearly there’s a memo I’m missing about how to seduce my mate back to my bed. Georgie hasn’t had that problem - my cave is right next to her and Vektal’s which means that not only do I hear little Talie when she cries (which isn’t all that often) but I also hear a lot of Vektal nailing Georgie. Like, a lot.

  I’m freaking jealous.

  I have to wonder, though, is it me? Am I not sexy to my mate now that I’ve got two kids strapped to my boobs and stretch marks all over my belly? Then again, I’ve never been the prettiest or sexiest human on the planet. Tiffany’s gorgeous, and Liz has lovely blonde hair that goes on for miles. Georgie’s got an incredible figure even after giving birth, and Josie’s delicate and adorable. Stacy has incredible skin and Ariana has impressive boobs. I’m…well, I’m nice. I’m a little chunky in the thighs and breasts, my face is pretty unremarkable, and my blonde highlights grew out a long time ago. Now my long hair is two-toned - below my shoulders is a light blonde and above it is a darker, ashy brown. I never really gave a crap…until now, when Dagesh rushed out of the cave.

  Of course, now I can’t stop thinking about it.

  The babies nurse for a while longer and then drift back to sleep. I burp each one, change their diapers again, swaddle them and gently place them back into their baskets. If they remain asleep for another hour, I might be able to catch another nap myself. That sounds like heaven. My brain is starved for sleep, and it’s starting to feel like I won’t get a full night’s rest for another eighteen years.

  I’m just crawling into the furs, my eyes drooping, when there comes a gentle scratch at the privacy screen over the entrance to our cave. “No-rah?” Maylak calls out gently. “Are you awake? Your mate said to come by?”

  Crap. So much for a nap. I slide my tunic over my head and jump back out of bed. “I’m up. Come on in.”

  Maylak waddles in, hands on her belly, a peaceful smile on her blue face. In the last week or so, her belly has dropped and whereas she was just fit and lean before, she now looks as ungainly as I felt for oh, most of my pregnancy. She still looks a hell of a lot more serene than I was, though.

  “Baby almost here?” I ask her, smiling.

  She pats the underside of her belly. “Very soon. I am ready.”

  “I’ll bet.” The sa-khui women are pregnant for three effin’ years. I’d have gone mad at the two year mark, but Maylak doesn’t seem to be antsy about it at all. “I hope Dagesh didn’t wake you.” I pull one of the sitting stools forward near the fire and offer it to her.

  She declines, folding her legs and sitting gracefully on the floor, as if she weren’t a jillion years pregnant. “I was already awake. This one is active early in the morning.” Her hand slides over her belly and then she gestures at the floor. “Come, sit, and I will speak to your khui and encourage your milk.”

  I sit down and she indicates that I should turn my back to her. We’ve done this before, and so I know the drill - I take my tunic off and bare my back, and she puts her hands on my skin and begins to hum. Her hands stroke up and down my spine and after a moment, her khui begins that weird, strange-pitched hum that I recognize as her ‘healing’ hum. Mine echoes it and I remain still as she rubs my back, communing with my khui or whatever it is she does. I know it works, though.

  After a few moments, a new person steps into my cave. It’s Asha - the other young female sa-khui. She has Esha, Maylak’s little girl, in her arms. Her gaze flicks nervously to me, where I hold my tunic over my breasts, and then back to Maylak, who’s still rubbing my back and humming her healing song. “The screen was open,
Asha says, glancing between me and Maylak. “I was not sure—“

  “It is fine,” Maylak murmurs in the same smooth tone she hums in. “Sit. No-rah and I will be done soon.”

  Asha looks uncomfortably at me, but moves forward.

  “I want to play, Sha-sha,” Esha says, grabbing one of Asha’s dark braids and yanking on it. “Go play with me!”

  At Esha’s loud declaration, Anna whines in her basket, and I move to the babies to soothe them before they can wake up and start crying. I stroke Anna’s little blue cheek and hum gently, and then do the same for Elsa. The babies calm down again and settle back to sleep, and by the time I turn around, Asha is gone, along with little Esha.

  “Come sit again,” Maylak murmurs. “I will speak to your khui for a while longer. We must make sure your kits have enough to eat.”

  I sit down again, but I’m still thinking about Asha. It’s strange that she showed up. “Are you and Asha good friends?” I ask, unable to keep my curiosity to myself. She never comes to hang out with the humans by the fire, and I thought it was because she didn’t like us.

  “She is my father’s sister’s daughter,” Maylak says, rubbing my back once more.

  I mentally go through the family tree before I realize she means they’re cousins. “Oh.”

  “Asha is helping me with Esha while I am heavy with this kit and very tired. She watches my little one so I can sleep and preserve my strength. The healing tires me this close to birth, and there is always more healing to be done.”

  I immediately feel guilty. “Oh, Maylak—“

  “That does not mean I will not do it,” she chides. “It just means that I grow tired. I am the only healer in the tribe. It is my duty.” She strokes my back a little harder, and then adds, “We will just not tell Kashrem about this.”

  I laugh. “He doesn’t approve?”

  “If it were up to him, I would spend all day in my furs, waiting for the kit to be born.” I hear soft amusement in her voice. “He does not like that I tire myself on others and fusses almost as much as Esha.”

  I grin at the thought, picturing quiet, mild Kashrem fussing at his mate. Doesn’t seem like him at all. “It’s good that Asha’s helping you out, then.”

  Maylak makes a noise of agreement. “She volunteers. She loves being around kits. They make her sad heart happy.”

  I feel another little stab of guilt, thinking. It’s baby-central around the humans but Asha never comes to hang out. Georgie, Liz, Kira, Megan, Stacy, Ariana - heck, almost everyone has a new baby. I have two. “That is surprising to me. She never comes to see mine or any of the other human women. Does she not like us?”

  Maylak hesitates. Her hands pause on my back, and then she begins her gentle rubbing motions again. I can feel the tingle of the khui’s magic moving through my body, and my breasts are beginning to feel tingly. That’s good. That means my milk is returning already. “She is lonely,” Maylak says in a low voice. “She does not fit in anywhere. She has no kit. She does not love her mate. She does not feel welcome with the humans who are all so close to each other. So she stays in her cave and keeps to herself.”

  Did I feel guilty before? Because I feel a whole truckload of guilt right about now. I think back to a flurry of encounters, of days spent laughing and chatting by the fire…with my human friends. Maylak is always busy with her family or with healing, and the older women in the tribe, Sevvah and Kemli, have people in and out of their caves constantly. Farli joins the humans when she’s not busy with her own tasks and Asha….well, Asha is never around. I thought it was because she hated us, and Kira has mentioned that Asha has tried to hit on Aehako when she was around, so it’s fair that Kira doesn’t like her.

  But…wow. I try to picture myself in Asha’s shoes, imagining a gaggle of alien women showing up and the men of the tribe going crazy over them. I imagine all these women getting pregnant and having children while my own died not long after childbirth. I imagine having to share a cave with a person I don’t like simply because we resonated. And my soul shrivels a little at the thought. However prickly Asha might be, I don’t think it’s without reason. She must be so sad and lonely. “I feel awful. We’re being mean girls, aren’t we?”

  “Mean…girls?” Maylak pauses. “I do not understand what this means.”

  “Long story,” I murmur. “I just feel we haven’t done our best to include Asha.”

  “You did not know how she felt, and she would never say.”

  Yes, but now I do know, and the mother in me wants to fix it. I’ve always been a bit of a nurturer, and my heart aches for Asha. How hard must it be to love babies and to see everyone around you having one and yours is…gone? I fight the urge to get up and crush my own delicate little twins to my chest. My sweet babies - I can’t imagine life without them, or Dagesh. I adore my mate, but it’s no secret in the tribe that Hemalo and Asha loathe one another. It’s tribe gossip and a juicy tidbit shared around a winter fire…until you realize that the person on the other end is probably hurting.

  I’m going to change that, I decide. From this point on, I’m going to make it a personal mission to befriend Asha. No one should feel isolated and alone in their own home.

  “There,” Maylak says and pats my back. “I think we are done.”

  I get to my feet, pulling my tunic on. Then I pause, hitching it up and showing Maylak my belly. “I don’t suppose you can do anything for stretch-marks?” I have to admit, they don’t help me feel sexy. And right now with my mate constantly skipping out of the cave? I could use some sexy-mojo.

  Her hard, stony brow furrows. “Why would you want to rid yourself of the marks?”

  I sigh inwardly. Guess she doesn’t think they’re a problem, and I guess it’s kinda selfish of me to ask. “Never mind.”

  DAGESH

  The twin moons are high in the night sky when I return home that night. My body moves slow with exhaustion, but I drag myself through the main cave and head toward my home cave. No-rah will be there waiting for me, a smile on her face and my daughters at her breast. Just the thought fills me with so much joy that I stagger.

  “Are you well, Dagesh?” A hand goes to my elbow and helps me straighten. It is Bek, standing guard at the main entrance. He gives me an uneasy look. “Are you sick?”

  I scrub a hand down my face and shake my head. “Just tired. It has been a long day.”

  He grunts, shooting me another suspicious look. “Good hunting?” he asks after a moment. “Taushen and Ereven found nothing. They will go out further tomorrow.”

  His words send a pang of worry through my gut. The urge to turn around and head back out onto the trail is overwhelming, but I am physically exhausted. I cannot go further without rest and sleep. “I had a good day of hunting. Filled my cache.”

  He nods slowly and glances over at the main fire, where a few people sit and chat. “It is good. There will be many mouths to feed this brutal season.”

  I know it. I know it all too well. The thought echoes in my mind with every footstep and images of empty caches appear when I close my eyes at night. I think of my No-rah and Ah-nah and Ehl-sah. I must keep them safe and fed. This world is harsh and they are so very fragile. My belly cramps with worry and I grip my spear tight. “I will go out again early in the morning. The trails are good in my area and there is much to be done.”

  Bek nods, as if I have made a wise decision. “Then I will leave you to your rest.”

  I feel a surge of irritation and though I know it is not Bek’s fault, I spin on my foot and turn away, tail lashing with anger. He does not understand. He thinks I am making a choice to go out and hunt all day, to push myself to exhaustion. To spend all my waking hours looking for hopper trails or dvisti tracks in the hopes of finding a kill, any kill.

  Bek has no mate. He has not held the tiny hand of a daughter freshly-born and so vulnerable. He does not grasp that I do not do this for pleasure. He thinks I have a choice. There is no choice. It must be done. My family must be
fed and kept safe. They must. I think of my lovely, soft No-rah. I think of her face pinched and hungry, her teats flat and unable to feed our kits. I think of their unhappy faces as they wait for me to return home to feed them.

  I must feed them.

  I…should go back out. The worry gnaws at me. There is game that creeps the snow at night. Snowcats hunt by moonlight, and scythe-beaks range all hours of the day. I could set more traps, dig a new cache. I could check the more distant trails…

  A jaw-cracking yawn staggers me as I head toward my cave.

  Or I can sleep.

  I hate that I must choose sleep. If I could avoid rest and manage to keep my family fed? I would do so. My brain is foggy with exhaustion, though. I must rest, if only for a few hours.

  The privacy screen is up when I head home, and the fire banked. It is stuffy and over-warm in the cave, like No-rah likes it. I do not mind, ignoring the sweaty discomfort of it. My own needs do not matter, not right now.

  I check the fire and shove a dried dung-chip into the coals to keep it burning low. There is soup in a cooking pouch, still warm and left for me by my thoughtful mate. I wash my hands and face in the meltwater No-rah keeps in a bowl in the corner, but I avoid the food. Let her eat it in the morning. I prefer that she is fed rather than me.

  My sweet mate’s form is a soft bump in the furs; she is asleep. I move to the baskets that my kits sleep in and kneel beside them. Ah-nah has kicked her furs off as she always does, and I tuck them around her tiny body with the utmost care. I touch her sweet, fat little cheek with my finger and she turns toward me, her mouth working in her sleep. Pure joy surges through me, mixed with the ferocious need to protect my family. I look over at Ehl-sah and she is awake in her basket, her tiny blue eyes glowing in the dark as she gazes up at me. She waves a fist in my direction and I flick my tail toward her. I remember I loved to hold my father’s tail and follow him when I was young. She grasps it and gurgles, her feet and hands waving in the air.

 
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