It was finally time. Gar, the calm hunters who usually showed little expression, paced back and forth near the entrance of the cave. He couldn’t help but take occasional glances at his mate, Lena, just inside the cave. At her side Nif was telling Lena soothing words. Old Nif had helped Lena through two other births before, and her calm demeanor assured everyone that she expected no problems.

It had been right after breakfast when Lena’s mood changed. She happily talking with Gar and the children when she stopped suddenly. Her stomach gripped her tightly and she knew it was time to prepare for the birth. Gar went to fetch Nif and started to pace as the two women talked.

The fire was built high and hot at Nif’s request, throwing shadows all around the cave as people moved in preparation of the birth. All the other mothers, including Han’s mate Lin, came over to help. They helped Nif by gathering supplies and comforting Lena.

The stoic hunter was torn between wanting to support his mate and not wanting to face the actual birth. Gar could barely stand to watch the pain he saw his mate endure, despite being able to ignore intense pain himself many times.

Han came over and laid a hand on Gar’s shoulder. “All good,” Han said. “Another strong child.”

Gar murmured an agreement, glancing just beyond the fire and then at the mouth of the cave. He gave Han a quick smile then continued pacing, inching closer to the cave entrance with every step. After few more passes he glanced outside, but then turned toward his mate and walked over.

Nif was soothing Lena. Gar’s mate was sitting on a pile of furs and sweating in the now hot cave. Gar stood quietly off to the side, watching everyone move around with a purpose. Nif stood up to make sure the cleansing water was being heated. She looked at Gar and nodded as she passed.

“All good. Just like others,” Nif said.

Gar stepped closer to his mate and squatted down, taking her hand gently in this. Her eyes opened up at the touch and she smiled.

“Love you,” she said before closing her eyes again. She squeezed his hand hard as the pain took hold.

“Love you, too,” Gar replied, enduring the discomfort of his hand without showing it.

Nif came back over, followed by a few people carrying the heated water. “Need room,” she said and Gar moved out of the way. She laid her hands on Lena’s stomach and closed her eyes. Lena squirmed a bit and gave a short gasp as another contraction hit.

“It is time,” the old woman declared. A few moments later, Lena’s water wet the furs. Lin gasped in surprised then got up to tell Han and the other men the news.

Lena squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. Gar stood, staring, almost frozen as his mate was going through her contractions. After more breathing, concentration, and pushing, the top of the head was visible. Lena gave a small shout as the others encouraged her.

It was just too much for Gar. As much as he loved his mate, he couldn’t take it anymore. He turned toward the mouth of the cave and walked outside into the bright sun.

Gar walked around outside, trying to find something, anything to distract him. People walked by and said comforting words to him, but he wasn’t paying attention. His mind kept wandering back to his mate and the tiny bit of the head he had seen. He stopped and stretched his arms high to the sky, stretching until his muscles ached and his mind cleared. He sat down without opening his eyes and let the crash of the waves down at the beach calm him.

It was the piercing cry of a newborn baby that broke the silence and made him open his eyes. His hunter reflexes had him on his feet and moving toward the cave in a heartbeat. He slowed down and took a deep breath as he reached the cave entrance. He took measured steps inside, toward the crying and toward his mate.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw Nif spitting on the ground and tying the cords. Vel, Nif’s apprentice, wrapped the infant in soft furs after washing him in the heated water. She handed the dark bundle to Lena, who held it close and smiled at it.

“A son,” Nif said.

“Our son,” Lena echoed. She looked up at Gar and smiled past the sweat and the tears.

Gar walked carefully over to Lena and saw his son. He tenderly touched the child, running his finger along his slick skin. “Our son,” Gar said. A tiny hand reached out and grasped the hunter’s finger tight. Gar smiled.

It was only when Gris hobbled over that Gar finally took his eyes off his child. “My son,” he told his father man. The baby was quiet at his mother’s breast.

Gris nodded. “A strong son is named Tal,” the old man mumbled as he smiled his toothless grin. “Strong son.”

Gar looked back at Lena as she was stroking the child’s head.

“Our son, Tal,” she said, smiling at his little face.

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