Harry just smirked when I told him about the outing. “Oh, that cheeky bastard! Sure, I want to have sex with my husband, but this whole thing was his idea.”
“Am I the last one to see the house, then?”
Martin shook his head, “The boys haven’t seen it. They couldn’t keep the secret.”
“You think they are going to be OK all sleeping in one room?” It was easier to ask than did they think Max would be ok sleeping in a room where I wasn’t close. Not that I was fooling either of them.
Harry perked up at that, “Are you going to say yes, then?”
I sighed and tried not to sound bitter when I replied, “Do I get a choice? It’s already done.”
The guys both hesitated. It was Martin that replied, “If you don’t want to move, Bear isn’t going to make you.”
“We weren’t going to go along with it until we saw your bed,” Harry added. “The man has to be tired of sleeping on the floor and it seemed like a good compromise.”
That made me snort, “I would rather sleep on the floor and let him have the bed. But no, he has control issues.”
They both disagreed with that. “It’s a status thing. He’s showing that he defers to you.”
“I don’t feel like I out rank him. I would be happy if the three of us had our own house to raise the boys without them. I know that’s not an option. It would just be nice to pretend the war hadn’t happened and we were just normal people every once in a while.”
Harry shook his head, “Normal people are back living in a school gym right now, We are doing significantly better than average.”
I didn’t say anything. They were ignored and didn’t have orcs looking at them like they were dinner. That was where my life got complicated; I was pretty sure if I didn’t have Bear standing behind me all the time, someone would have tried something by now. Even with him close there were times when I could see them sizing him up like they were trying to figure out their odds.
It didn’t make me feel safer.
That night, I huddled under the covers, curled into a ball with the blankets tucked in around me trying to make a little nest of warmth so I would be able to sleep. It wasn’t working for me. If I was very still, I was almost warm enough, but if I moved, even a little, the heat would escape and I would be shivering again. I was just so damn tired but I wasn’t even warm enough to find that half sleep I had last night. I lay there, trying to talk myself into asking Bear to come warm me up when I heard him get up. My heart jumped and I fought to lay still and not panic.
I could barely hear his footsteps on the carpet as he walked the the bathroom. The sound of bare feet on the tile was a little louder. The next slightly wet sound took me longer to identify. Even in the dark I blushed as I realized what he was doing. All this time, I had forced myself not to think of Bear’s sex life. I was entirely too afraid to wonder how I fit into it.
Soft grunting was added as the wet sound got faster, then a deep groan.
After a few moments of silence, the toilet flushed, he washed his hands and came back to lay on the floor next to the bed. I thought about that. I wasn’t able to stay warm with flannel sheets and two blankets. He only had a single wool army blanket.
I tried to do the mental math of was I safer if he just finished, or was I more at risk because he would be still thinking of it? The enormity of living a life where that was a calculation I needed to make washed over me and I started to weep. Silent tears ran down my face, more awkward because I was curled on my side so some dripped off the bridge of my nose and some ended up make the bed wet next to my ear.
Eventually, I sniffled and Bear asked, “Kari?”
Fuck. I don’t want to talk to you Asshole. I wiggled around enough to press my face into the bed.
“Kari? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t. I can’t talk to you just now.” It came out as a sob.
He didn’t say anything else but came and sat on the edge of the bed.
“I am cold and tired. I am scared all the time. It’s just exhausting. I’m trying to do what’s best for Max and Patrick but -” I just stopped. He didn’t say anything. “The food is better here than it was when I was in the camp. But back there I had friends. I felt safer because I was anonymous. The few orcs I saw just ignored us all. The men in the camp weren’t interested in me. I might have spent all winter squeezed into a gym with a couple hundred other people, but I was warm. There were other women I could talk to. Here, I just feel so alone.”
He sat there thinking about that for a while, then he covered me with his blanket.
“Don’t do that. I don’t want to take things from you. I don’t want to owe you favours.”
He ignored me, pulling the covers straight, before crawling in behind me. Part of me wanted to push him away, it was overruled by the desire for warmth and sleep.
“I keep waiting for you to be horrible. For you to hurt me. It’s this constant stress where every single thing I do or don’t do is viewed through the lens of ‘will this get me hurt?’ or ‘is this the thing that will get Max taken from me?’ It’s just exhausting. When I asked if you had a plan, you said no. I think you need to come up with one and tell me what it is. I need some sense of what is going to happen next.”
Bear cleared his throat, “Plan to make you feel safe. Martin and Harry are part of the plan. House is part of the plan. Extra food part of the plan. Trying to be less scary.”
“What happens once I let my guard down?”
“After safe, try for happy.”
“At what point do you decide it’s time for me to pop a baby orc out?”
Bear rolled over onto his back and sighed. “Mother of two. No more babies unless you want. Human baby if you want. Your choice.”
“None of the women here had a choice.”
“You did. They do now.”
“What choice? I couldn’t just let Max die.”
Bear shrugged, “Many did.”
“How many little half orcs were born? How many of those women-”
“Too many. Should be none. War got bad. We hurt those who hurt you. As many as we could find. Anyone caught. Anyone who made a boy. All killed now.” He sounded very certain.
I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. “It’s going to take a really long time to believe that’s true.”
I felt rather than saw him nod, “Not safe many years, many more years to believe safe now.”
The warmth of Bear set in and I slowly relaxed enough to fall asleep
I only half woke when he got up. Not enough to move, but enough to register him stroking my hair before he left.
“Mommy! Get up for breakfast!”
“Just give me a moment sweetie,” I mumbled. My throat hurt. I didn’t want to get up.
“Kari? Eat now?”
“Ugh,” I rasped. But I got up, showered, got dressed, then followed the herd down to the dining room. I wasn’t really up to eating much, so I just hunched over my warm protein shake and tried not to move too fast.
“Mommy! I want some eggs!” Max declared.
I nodded, “I think we let Bear or Harry help you with that today.” My voice was scratchy and weak. It was at least an octave lower than normal while also being a little nasally. I tried to clear my throat but ended up coughing violently into my sleeve.
The orc all stopped what they were doing to stare at me in shock.
Martin laughed, “That’s quite the cold you’ve got there.”
Harry looked more worried, “You think it’s strep?”
I shrugged, “It doesn’t matter, we don’t have any antibiotics anyway.” My voice slowly faded to black so that the last two words were barely a squeak.
Harry blurted out “Fuck!”
I nodded and sipped my drink.
Bear looked worried, “You cold?”
I looked at Martin, who explained, “A cold. It means she’s sick. If it’s just a virus, she won’t be moving very fast for a few days, but with rest and lots of fluids, maybe some chicken soup, she will be fine.”
“What chicken soup?” Patrick asked.
“Chickens were animals we don’t have anymore,” I whispered.
Harry took over Martin’s explanation, “But if it’s a strep infection… she might be ok, but sometimes they trigger other problems and she could end up with scarlet fever .”
Martin elbowed Harry as he snarked, “Yeah, it could be cancer. Don’t do that. We don’t know what it is; it is most likely a virus.”
I just shrugged before pausing to cough some more. “I promise not to lick anyone,” I rasped.
Bear was watching this whole exchange with a look of horror on his face.
Harry frowned, “Can orcs get strep?”
Martin shrugged and buttered his toast, “I dunno, if it was like war of the worlds-” he trailed off. After thinking for a moment, he looked at Bear, “Can Kari just stay in bed today? Harry and I will pick up the slack on child care.”
Bear nodded slowly. Andrew made a suggestion in their own language. Bear glared at him. I picked up my mug and went back upstairs before someone suggested I be euthanized. I finished my drink, filled the mug with water from the bathroom sink, grabbed a couple of washcloths and curled up in bed.
Eventually, Martin came in to check on me. “Anything I can get you?”
“I miss kleenex,” I whispered, blowing my nose on the washcloth.
At some point later, Christopher came in and swabbed my throat, took my temperature and poured something into my water cup. He watched me drink it then he put a med patch on the inside of my wrist before leaving.
I dozed for a while, but woke up when Bear brought me another protein shake.
“What chickenzoop?” he asked
By then my throat was so sore I wheezed and coughed when I tried to reply. Bear frowned then left.
The next time I woke up, I was way too hot and sweaty. As I struggled to throw off a massive amount of blankets I heard Harry arguing with Bear that more blankets wasn’t better.
Bear’s argument was “She has cold.”
Harry’s argument was that he was going to make my fever go up and cause me brain damage.
My sudden argument as I dumped three extra quilts on the floor was whispered but emphatic “I want Martin to be in charge,” followed by a heartfelt attempt to hack up a lung.
Bear hurried over with a hot drink, which I skipped and a flannel hanky which I immediately used. When I tried to get out of bed, he gently, but firmly pushed me back down.
“I need to pee.”
The look of panic on his face made me laugh, which made me cough, which made me hurry to the bathroom. When I came back, both Bear and Harry were sitting in chairs, sulking while the kids played with the wooden train set.
I handed the protein shake to Martin, “Too thick and too mucous-y.”
“Yeah, but it’s nutrition. There isn’t much chance of tea and toast, so you gotta eat something.”
Martin and I looked at Bear, Harry decided to explain. “You take a chicken. And boil it in water-”
I saw the look on Bear’s face which made me do the laugh/cough thing again.
Martin shook his head. “Not like lobster! You take a killed and cleaned chicken and boil it in water with carrots, onion, celery-”
“Garlic,” Harry interrupted.
I nodded and squeaked out, “salt and pepper”
“Yeah,” Martin agreed. “For a couple of hours, then you strain off the liquid and add back the chicken meat - not the bones- and you have chicken soup. You can add noodles or matzo ba-” he trailed off, obviously able to see the next question coming. “I don’t know how to make noodles or matzo balls. Any way, it’s traditional sick person food. It’s made all over the world. They add ginger in Asian countries, extra garlic in Russia… um… it’s just… homey.”
I was sniffling a bit, Bear handed me a clean flannel. “Thank you,” I whispered.
Bear nodded and left.
Martin chased after him, “Can we get her some hot water? I haven’t seen tea in years but…”
His voice faded away as he headed downstairs. I nodded off again.
Martin brought me hot water flavoured with something fruity.
I slept some more, then woke briefly to the sound of Harry shouting, “Jesus Fucking Christ!” As he hurried out of the room, I found a fresh stack of flannels near the bed, a mug of liquid and no kids around.
There was also the copy of Peter and Wendy, so I read for a bit. Andrew turned up with a plate of toast, but he did the old stand by of setting the tray on the floor and sliding it towards me. The toast wasn’t warm anymore but it seemed like there had been butter. I couldn’t smell enough to tell.
That was pretty much how the day went, drink liquid, sleep, wake up to pee and blow my nose, repeat. Not the best day of my life, but a lot better than if I had gotten sick in the school gym.