Mercy glowed in the dark.
No one really told her what to expect when she was expecting an alien’s baby.
The same genetic quirk that allowed her husband’s tattoos to glow caused the amniotic fluid to glow. Between her unborn son punching her bladder, the constant ache in her back, swollen feet, sensitive nipples and the mood swings from teary-eyed sentimental mush to full-on grumpypants, Mercy was ready to get this kid out of her.
Don’t get her wrong. She loved being pregnant. She loved feeling the baby inside her move and she loved the look of pure joy in her husband’s eyes when the baby kicked. Even with all that, she was tired and uncomfortable and ready to hold her baby in her arms.
How soon, exactly? No one would say. Medic Kalen was oddly tight lipped about the subject and his wife, Meridan, just nodded with a comforting smile, saying the baby needed a “little more time in the oven.”
Easy for her to say, she wasn’t hauling the oven all over creation.
Mercy rubbed ineffectively at the back of her neck. If she could just get a good night’s sleep her mood would improve. At the moment, everything irritated her. The lighting was too harsh and hurt her eyes. The battle cruiser smelled. Not bad, just stale like the air filters needed to be changed. In an effort to placate his wife, Paax had his warriors running all over the ship replacing them, but installing new filters did nothing. And sounds drove her crazy. The background hum of the ship was too loud.
Mercy would lie on her side in bed, pillow at her back, wedged between her knees and at her stomach, listening to Paax breathe. He didn’t snore, just breathed. It never bothered her before but now it was too loud. She wanted complete silence to sleep but how could she complain that her husband breathed too loudly? At least she recognized her unreasonableness for the pregnancy induced crazy that it was. That counted for something, right?
What she wouldn’t give for a solid night’s sleep. Or even a good nap.
Focusing on the negative wouldn’t improve the situation.
Mercy took a calming breath, counting backwards from ten, and exhaled. The meditation garden quickly became her favorite place on the Judgment.
Water from the streaming fountain arch splashed on pebbles. Cushions propped up behind her back supported her in the large papasan chair. The air was cool and fresh. Bird song played from cleverly hidden speakers.
As large as a small city, when she arrived a year ago the battle cruise was… stark. Bare bones and utilitarian. The previous warlord had stripped the Judgment of anything that reminded him of his deceased mate, including the mates of other warriors. All females, and their mates, were removed. With the female population gone, the warlord saw little need for luxuries like green or social spaces, fresh food or entertainment. Endless training and prepackaged rations were good enough.
It was miserable.
Fortunately, her husband, the new warlord, agreed to improve the quality of life on the battle cruiser. Green spaces that served no purpose other than to be green and pleasant returned. A real chef and cooks brought freshly prepared meals to the clan. Social spaces appeared but the Mahdfel had a hard time grasping social events. Battle was hard wired into the alien warriors and the idea of “just relaxing” was anathema to them.
Fortunately, they did understand meditation, in so much as it focused a warrior’s mind before battle. Whatever. Mercy didn’t have the energy to argue. Paax carved out a meditation garden complete with a fountain, the perfect chair for her aching pregnant back, and even a master gardener to maintain the slice of heaven.
“Warlord’s female,” a voice said, disturbing her peace, “you are needed in Medical.”
Time for her twice daily check up.
Pregnancy was always risky. Pregnant with a Mahdfel baby? Even more so. Pregnant with the warlord’s baby? Risky or not, everyone acted as if she were the most fragile, precious thing imaginable.
Mercy was miserable.
Her pregnancy started with bi-weekly checkups. As her belly grew, so did the medical appointments, from once every two weeks to weekly, then twice a week, then once a day. Now, in the final days before her labor, the appointments were twice a day. She might as well have a medic slap a monitor on her and follow her around, like her security detail. What was another purple, horned alien male in her entourage?
“Is something wrong with her? Why does she not answer?”
“We will call a medic now. I refuse to allow the warlord’s female to be injured on my watch.”
Mercy held up a hand before Braith, Kleve or Jolyon called down the wrath of Medic Kalen. “I’m fine. Just one more minute. I’m actually comfortable and I don’t want to get up.”
“Your medical appointments are non-negotiable,” Braith said.
“Help me up then,” she said, stretching out her arms. Any shyness or shame at needing help up had long since vanished. This was her reality and Braith, Kleve and Jolyon had been her assigned security for the last month. Initially her security detail started with one warrior. As her belly grew, much like with the frequency of medical appointments, her security detail grew. When the baby finally arrived, Mercy imagined another warrior would be added, too.
Mercy took another deep breath, focusing on the positive. Her husband loved her. He was kind and passionate and gave her everything she asked. Paax brought her mother, Dorothy, from Earth and used Mahdfel medicine to heal the old injuries she received during the invasion. Paax didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to do any of it: the meditation garden, the cook, the fresh meals, or the slow but steady refurbishing of his battle cruiser, but he did it for her.
Hormones and the sheer uncomfortable nature of being very pregnant made her grumpy. Focus on the positive. She was healthy. The baby was healthy. She loved her husband and he loved her.
The medical bay was like a second home at this point. Kalen kept a human-sized exam table and chair just for her, complete with pillows for her back. She climbed onto the table, ready for Kalen to wave a scanner over her, frown and then insist that everything was “acceptable.”
His reactions never felt acceptable. They felt like he kept something back.
“Is Paax here?” Mercy asked, scooting back on the padded table.
“The warlord sends his regrets,” Kalen said crisply, eyes fixed on the scanner.
Mercy’s smile fell. “Oh. He said he would be here.” She didn’t want to whine or cry but emotion bubbled up unbidden at the back of her throat. Stupid hormones. She was disappointed, yes, but her body was at the cusp of bawling her eyes out like Paax broke her heart. She could just have easily flown into a rage. Her emotions weren’t real but hormone induced. Still, he did promise to be there and what type of husband couldn’t keep a promise to his heavily pregnant wife?
The waterworks started and Mercy was helpless to stop them.
Kalen jerked the scanner away, alarmed, and took a step back. “Meridan,” he called, the unease in his voice making Mercy cry harder.
She didn’t want to cry. She didn’t, but she couldn’t stop, either.
Meridan came over quickly, hair pulled back and wearing bright pink scrubs. She looked every inch the friendly, compassionate nurse. Tension eased in Mercy’s chest as Meridan produced a box of tissues. She was always so thoughtful toward Mercy, and she had the sweetest little girl. And just like that, Mercy grew teary eyed again thinking of Estella stolen away by the Suhlik and rescued by Paax’s clan, growing up in a loving family now, complete with a dog. Never mind, that the dog had actually been Mercy’s puppy, Cookie. The love between girl and dog was instant and Mercy couldn’t separate the two. Besides, she didn’t have the energy to give Cookie all the attention and exercise he deserved.
“How is Cookie?” she asked, chest heaving.
“Having the time of his doggy life. Estella keeps feeding him table scraps and she thinks we don’t notice. Cookie’s gained three pounds.”
“I’m glad. They deserve—” Ragged breath. “To be ha-happy—” Mercy broke down into tears again.
“What did you say to her,” Meridan snapped at Kalen.
“I did not say anything.” The alien medic’s back stiffened.
“Baloney. This is not the face of a calm and relaxed woman.” Meridan crouched down next to Mercy, eyes level. “Was he rude? Did he make you feel silly for asking a simple question?” Eyes narrowed, she glanced over her shoulder, back toward the medic.
Mercy shook her head. “It’s not that,” she managed to say between shuddering breathes. She hated this. She hated being a blubbering mess, held hostage by hormones.
“The warlord is unable to attend her check-up,” Kalen said.
“Call him,” Meridan said immediately.
“I will not.”
Mercy scrubbed a tissue at her face, breathing under a thin layer of control. “It’s fine. Paax is busy.”
Meridan stood and grabbed the scanner out of Kalen’s hands. “Honestly, the two of you. Call him. Tell him to get his purple butt down here and provide the emotional support his mate obviously needs.”
“I cannot order the—”
“Are you the head of medicine? Is your top priority the well-being of the warlord’s mate? I thought the point of all this was to keep her stress levels down. But, please, just stand there and pretend that you don’t have the rank to give the warlord a direct order.” Meridan didn’t pull punches. Mercy liked that about her, also.
Kalen nodded. “Very well.”
Meridan’s attention returned to Mercy and the scanner in her hands.
“We’re not going to get Kalen in trouble, are we?” Mercy asked.
“Nope,” she said without hesitation. “I think he relishes any opportunity he gets to give the warlord orders. It’s probably not good for his ego, though.”
Kalen snorted. He held out his hand for the scanner.
“Well?” Meridan asked, withholding the instrument.
“The warlord is on his way.”
“Good,” she said, handing it over.
“Your vitals are strong,” Kalen said, reading the instrument. “You will have healthy sons soon.”
“Sons?” Mercy asked, dumbstruck. No one had ever mentioned the possibility of multiple babies. Was that why she was so huge? She had twins? Paax was a twin. Those type of things ran in families. Her heart raced with panic.
One baby was more than enough. How could she handle twice the diapers, feedings, naps, tantrums and everything else that came with motherhood?
Kalen frowned. “Son. I misspoke.”
“Enjoy it,” Meridan added quickly. “He doesn’t like to make mistakes and hates it when anyone catches them.”
“So just one baby?”
“Just one,” Meridan said. “Big and healthy.”
“Paax told me Mahdfel-Sangrin babies gestate quickly. This is—”
“Nine months almost to the day,” she said. “Sangrins have a gestation of seven months. Remember, this baby is half human.”
“And he’s taking the full nine months.” Mercy sighed. “Any idea when I’m going to be due?”
“They’ve—he’s dropped lower in your pelvis,” Meridan said, placing a hand on Mercy’s stomach to demonstrate. “Do you feel him down there?”
“And your cervix is thinning, which is what we want to see.”
“But no time frame?” She could handle a day or two but another week? Two weeks? Didn’t Mercy’s mother warn her that Mercy herself showed up two weeks overdue as a baby?
Her shoulders slumped. Soon. That tired old routine.
Soon could not come fast enough.