“Mama! Mama!” Max and Patrick swarmed in jumping on the bed. I mumbled something about snuggles and was happy when they climbed under the covers with me. I think I got a few more moments of sleep before Max asked for breakfast.
Bear wasn’t in his bed.
I got up. I got dressed. I headed out to where everyone was waiting for me. I was exhausted, but it was easy to sleepwalk through the day when they are always the same. Bear didn’t look tired. He never looked tired. Or maybe I didn’t know how to read tired on him.
We left the house. We ate breakfast. The boys played in the park while I watched. We ate lunch. I didn’t say much but there wasn’t much to say. It was the exact same day as yesterday, or last week or last month. I was taking the boys home for afternoon nap when Christopher caught up with me.
“Kari? I need you in the main building.”
I nodded before passing the boys to Bear.
Christopher didn’t take me to the infirmary. “The elders want to speak to you,” he explained.
“Is that the old guy who gave me to Bear?”
Christopher winced, “One organized your meeting, yes.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone but I wouldn’t have any more say in that than I did in what was for breakfast.
Christopher led me into an empty and windowless room. He had me stand on a mark on the floor. I looked around as he headed to the door. “There’s no one here.”
“They are going to speak to you remotely,” he explained before turning off the lights. “Just stay on that spot. It’s going to feel odd, but just stay where you were.” He was barely finished speaking when a flood light went off in my face. I shrieked and covered my eyes. “Kari, put your hands down, they want to see your face.”
“It’s too bright!” I whimpered, “It hurts!”
“Put your hands down,” he insisted.
I managed to but the light was so bright, my eyelids merely dimmed it rather than blocking it. My eyes were streaming. I managed to last like that for a moment before I put my hands back over my face. “I can’t!”
Then the light went out. I opened my eyes to after images of the veins in my retina and total blindness. I was about to ask if Christopher was still there when someone spoke.
“You are unhappy with your mate.” It took a moment for that to register, the accent was new and the speaker was trying to enunciate around their - his- tusks. It wasn’t really working as well as it could.
“No! Who told you that?”
A second voice replies, “It was reported last night and your mate came forward himself early this morning.”
Fuck. “We had a conversation last night and it sounds like he misunderstood me. I am not unhappy with him. I am just not happy in general. That isn’t his fault. This is not ideal circumstances, but it isn’t anything he is doing.” I thought for a moment, then added, “Or not doing. Or can change.”
Voice the first, “Then why are you unhappy?”
I sighed and blinked a few times. It didn’t matter, I couldn’t see. “I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. Unhappy is when something is actively taking or disrupting happiness. That isn’t what I mean. I am not happy. There isn’t anything providing me with joy.”
“Your mate and sons are to provide you joy.” That was a new voice.
I shook my head, “How?”
There was no answer for a moment, “Are you not pleased to have them around?”
“Yes! But that isn’t the same thing as happy. I am unfulfilled, I guess. Nothing happens, so there is nothing for me to talk about. That only leaves talking about the past. My recent past is a dark and scary place. I don’t want to go back there. My distant past just makes me sad for all the things I have lost.”
Christopher started speaking then, but not in english. There was responses for four or five other voices. They spoke at length. Finally, the first voice said, “You were harmed by your own kind, not us. You will not have unpleasant associations with us.” It sounded like an order. “That is why you took two boys. Is your unhappiness due to increased exposure to other humans?”
I frowned, “No. The other humans are my friends. This isn’t some rom com where I’m going to fall for the first orc who smiles at me.”
“I do not understand.”
“I noticed.” I knew I was being disrespectful, but I was beyond frustrated by then.
Mr Your-mate-should-make-you-happy said, “We have numerous documented requests for additional food for you.”
“It has been reported that you desire to hoard food in your residence.”
“NO! That’s not even-” I stopped abruptly. “How did I even explain? Do orc’s have art?”
There was a ringing silence.
“Ok. That is what I want. I want to make food art that I can share with people. I am good at it. I am asking for art supplies. It would be a good distraction for me. A break in the endless monotony. This has nothing to do with Bear-”
“Lieutenant-Commander,” Christopher corrected.
I ignored him, “it has to do with me needing some sort of challenge. Something I can do, on my own, then talk about it with the others.”
The first voice was back “It is your mate’s responsibility to make sure you have food.”
“So you keep telling me. But that isn’t what I’m talking about. I want food to create joy. To be creative with. To enjoy with my friends.” I thought for a moment, “and my mate,” I added. I thought some more, “I can not be the only woman asking for this.”
“You are not,” second voice agreed. “There are also requests to make garments or blankets out of string or smaller pieces of fabric. There is no need for these things, since garments and blankets are provided.”
“You are missing the point. The important part isn’t the item at the end, it is the process of creating.” I tried to explain. “I’m guessing from the way this conversation is going, none of those other requests were honored.”
Joy=Mate guy replied to that one, “We have found that replacing the woman’s mate ended the requests.”
“Oh god.” I didn’t know what to say to that, even if I had been able to say it. Instead a full blown panic attack got me. I sat abruptly on the floor and tried to concentrate on my breathing.
“Are you unwell?” the first voice asked.
“Yes! You just told me that as punishment for asking for a hobby, you are going to break up my family! Jesus fucking christ! How the hell do you think that is ok? I mean, I get that I count for exactly nothing in the equation, but how can you think that is good for the kids?”
“It is not a punishment, it is a resolution to the problem,” explained voice #1.
At that, I curled up in a ball on the floor and wept.
Christopher was suddenly speaking very quickly. There was an angry conversation. I covered my ears. Eventually everyone stopped talking.
“Kari?” Christopher said softly. “Please get up, it is upsetting to see you on the floor.”
“Good! There is nothing about this discussion that hasn’t been upsetting for me.”
Voice 1 said, “The Medic has explained that it took you a long time to bond with your mate and he believes it would be detrimental to your well being to alter your family dynamic.”
“Kari,” Christopher whispered, “you need to stand up for them to see.”
“Do I get to keep Bear?”
“Lieutenant Commander,” Christopher corrected, again.
There was a long silence.
“It is unhealthy for you to be too dependant on him.” Voice #3
“Why? It took me months to believe that he might be dependable. If I can not count on his care, what is the point of even assigning me a mate.”
“He was not assigned. You were given a choice,” voice one was angry at that.
Now I stood up so that I could glare at the blackness. Still shaking, I argued, “I was told I was choosing a father for my son. It was an impossible choice to make with no information about any of the orcs in that room. Other women I have spoken to chose based on which orc looked like he would do the least damage when he raped them. There was no reasonable way to make an informed decision in that room. Nonetheless, Bear - Lieutenant Commander - has gone out of his way to be careful with me. I am scared, every day, I am scared. And he could have made it so much worse. But he didn’t.”
I had to stop for breath at that point. “I am only even able to think about cooking or finding ways to heal my soul because I have finally reached the point where I don’t spend all day, everyday afraid I am going to be beaten or raped or have my family taken from me. And as a reward for finally taking a few steps towards being a functional human being, you are going to throw that all away and take my family away from me.”
“No one is talking about taking your children. But if your mate is not making you happy, perhaps a new one will.” voice two was really pissing me off.
“No one can MAKE another person happy!” I almost screamed it. “All they can do is support you as you look for happiness on your own!”
There was no response to that. The silence went on entirely too long. Eventually, I tentatively said, “Hello? Is there anyone even there or am I just in solitary confinement now too?”
“They are discussing,” Christopher supplied.
They were discussing for a hell of a long time. I rubbed at my eyes. “When will I be able to see again?” I hissed in the direction of Christopher’s voice.
“Can you not see now?” he asked, sounding slightly alarmed.
“Not a single thing,” I replied. Something touched my cheek. I swore, jumped back, tripped on something else and landed flat on my back.
“Are you injured?” voice four asked.
Christopher’s voice was way too close to my cheek. I jumped when he said, “It’s temporary. The scan seems to have stressed your retinas. Can I help you up?” I fumbled for his hand and found nothing. “You are shaking. I can put my arm around your shoulders to help you up, if you would allow me.”
That got the wheels turning. “Bear is my mate. He is the one who should be here to help me.”
There was no answer to that, but I was vaguely aware of Christopher moving away. I heard a door open and close but didn’t see any light from where it opened. After that is was what I imagined a sensory deprivation tank to be like. No light, not sound, not sense of time. The floor was covered in something a little softer than carpet. If I wasn’t so freaked out, it would have been almost peaceful. I started counting in my head. At eight hundred and thirty-seven Mississippis, the first voice was back.
“We will attempt to provide you with art supplies.”
That was not my current concern. “What about my family?” I asked from the floor.
“We will not interfere at this time.”
Then my ears popped and the regular lights came back on. I still couldn’t see. Everything was blurry. I just lay there, willing my heart rate to come down. The door opened and people were walking towards me. I scrambled to sit up. “Who’s there?”
“Kari?” It was Bear. I was more relieved that it was him than I could have imagined before I came into this room.
“I can’t see! Can you help me up? Please?”
A hand brushed my hand, gripping it, as an arm went around my back. I was pulled upright. The arm moved; I didn’t let go of his hand. I was still shaking. I couldn’t see and I was still really nervey. “Can we go home now?”
Bear and Christopher had a quiet discussion. “Please don’t do that,” I insisted. “Not right now. I need to know what is going on.”
Christopher cleared his throat. “Bear is expecting that someone else will be taking you home. I explained that you fought to keep him.”
I blushed and started to deny it. Then I stopped when I realized it was true. “I didn’t want a new asshole in my life,” I mumbled. “I’ve barely gotten used to this one.” Suddenly, I was being hugged. It was a bear hug in every sense, all encompassing, almost crushing and absolutely Bear. I couldn’t even hug him back. He was holding me so close he had effectively pinned my arms to my sides.
“I just want to go home,” my request was muffled in his chest, “but I can’t even see the door let alone how to -”
The end of the sentence was cut off as Bear picked me up. It wasn’t the fireman’s carry like the first time he picked me up, instead I was lifted and held in the hip carry that let me rest my head on his shoulder.
That was nice.