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Mistaken Identity

Chapter Text

When they came, it was an invasion.  They don’t like to hear that. They like to say they saved us from climate change or the 0.1% or whatever bullshit lets them sleep at night.  It’s all lies. It was a fucking invasion. They killed thousands, millions. The rest they raped, tortured and locked us away in refugee camps.  We were fed and watered like cattle. And, in the fullness of time, some of us gave birth to little grey babies.

 

But, they weren’t little grey men.  They looked like the hordes of orcs from some fucked up video game. We ended up calling them just that, Orcs. All hypermasculinity, toxic bullshit.

 

The baby was born in the mud, his mother screaming and cursing. Once the afterbirth was delivered, she shakily got to her feet and left him there.  Screaming to himself, alone to freeze or starve. Unwanted.

 

And, god damn it, I was a hormonal mess at the wrong part of my cycle and I couldn’t let that go.  Diapers were impossible, but we had rags. If you turned up in a food line asking for baby formula, it was provided.  The little guy ended up wrapped to my body under my clothes to keep him warm and to hide that I was harboring one of their babies.  His naked skin against mine. His little mouth looking for somewhere to suck. After a couple of days, my body got the hint and I didn’t have to ask for formula any more.

 

He wasn’t the only grey child in the place.

 

Max started walking early.  It was summer and too hot to carry him all the time.   I asked for baby clothes in the food line and was given something that said 2T to fit him.  He was six months old, his tusks already coming in. By a year, he could have passed for a five year old in height.  He was able to toddle around on his own now, which was good, I couldn’t really lift him any more.

 

He called me momma, like the human children called their parents.  I couldn’t let him play with them, he was too big and too uncoordinated.  He didn’t understand that he could hurt them. I would lead him away from the camp and play with him near the fence.  There were a few other grey boys who joined us. All boys, no little grey daughters.

 

That should have been a clue why they were really here.

 

Someone had made a rag ball for them to toss around, those little babies who played like a herd of charging rhinoceros. Us “mothers” would sit by and watch.

 

That was a joke.  Some were too old to have birthed the child in their care.  There was a gay couple with a collection of three. There were others who just looked haunted.  Who flinched when their children roared. Those ones I could believe had birthed their sons. One or two who refused to blame the children they had birthed for the things the fathers had done.

 

We got by, eventually moving closer together to support each other.

 

That was what got us noticed.

 

The old ones came to see us and our little grey sons.  They were old, scarred, huge and vicious looking. Generals or warlords or something.  They were terrifying and the children could sense our fear.

 

One of the old ones bent and pulled Max away from me and laughed when my son bit him hard enough to draw blood.

 

He nodded to the others and they started to pull the children away from us.  Max was my son. He had known no other family. I had no other family left. I fought.  They took him anyway.

 

Two days later, I was pulled out of the food line and brought into the school where our camp was set up in the surrounding field.  There was a crowd of battle orcs, one elder and Max.

 

“Momma!’ he shrieked and tried to run to me.  The elder caught him easily.

 

“It’s going to be ok, Max,” I lied. “It’s going to be ok.”

 

With a huge accent that was barely understandable around the tusks, the elder said, “He doesn’t speak our language.”

 

I gritted my teeth, “Babies aren’t born knowing how to speak.  They learn from listening to others. Max learned to speak by listening to me.”

 

“He doesn’t know how to eat our food.”

 

I didn’t bother to repeat myself.

 

“He is your son?” it was said with contempt.

 

I closed my eyes, “If you want him to see his mother dead, then I am the one you will need to kill.”

 

There was a ripple of anger at that. “Why would we want that?”

 

“It pairs well with what I know of you people.  You kill me. You absorb him into your army. He grows up and forgets I ever existed.”

 

“It is your race that uses child soldiers not ours.  The boy needs a father. You can barely care for him now.  He is not going to get any smaller.”

 

I swallowed.  He was right, but that didn’t mean I wanted to give up my son.  There were tears in my eyes as I nodded.

 

“Then it’s settled.”  He gestured to the group of orcs in the room, “pick one.”

 

I blinked.  “What?”

 

“Pick one to be the boy’s father,”  the elder said as though that were an explanation.

 

“How am I supposed to judge who will be a good father just by looking at them?”

 

He just kept watching me.  I shook my head and sat on the floor.  Max climbed into my lap. “Have they been taking care of you, sweetie?”

 

He nodded and hugged me tight enough to choke me a little while pressing his body tight enough to mine that I had to struggle to not tip over.  “One of them is going to … keep taking care of you. Can you tell me who the nice one is?”

 

The orcs in the room snorted with disbelief and laughter.

 

Max pointed to one with a shaved head and extensive tattoos.  One done in their style in red on his shoulder, but a bunch more that had clearly been added since he got to earth.

 

“That one?” I asked.  “Are you sure?”

 

He nodded before hiding his face into my neck.

 

“OK.”  I looked up in the vague direction of the elder.  “That one, I guess.”

 

The elder said something.  They looked surprised, but the one Max had indicated came over and scooped him up easily.

 

“MOMMA!” he screamed and tried to reach for me.  

 

I hung my head and wept.  It was the second time in three days that my son was being taken from me.

 

Then the warrior bent down and grabbed my arm in his other hand.  He pulled me upright and led me away.

 

“What?  What are you doing?”

 

“The boy is going to need a family,” the elder said like it was obvious.  “It is an odd move letting your child choose your mate, but you are an odd people.”



Chapter Text

I was being dragged down the hallway.  The orc in question was holding my upper arm in one hand and a screaming, fighting Max in the other.  He walked briskly down the hall as I struggled to keep up. “Please slow down,” I begged.

 

I was ignored.

 

“You can let go of my arm.  You have my son, I’m not going to leave without him.”

 

Nothing.

 

“Can you even understand what I’m saying?”

 

He stopped outside one of the shower room attached to the gym.  He let go of my arm and opened the door. He walked in, Max still in his arms.  I hesitated, but only for an instant. I could hear my son calling for me.

 

The shower room was deserted.  The orc set down Max and turned on a shower.  After checking the temperature, he caught Max, pushed the boy into my arms and both of us into the shower.  Then he left. We were fully dressed and our clothes were rapidly soaking through. I scrambled out of the shower and stripped us both.  

 

It had been a very long time since I had access to hot water and soap.  So long that Max had never seen it. I was delighted. He was terrified.  I scrubbed myself first, telling him it how nice it was. Eventually, I was able to lure the little guy in with me with the promise of milk.  He liked the bubbles.

 

When we were both clean, I turned off the water and came out of the stall.  Our clothes were gone. In place of my prison-like jumpsuit and Max’s nappy was a clean set of clothes.  Underwear, a sweat shirt and pants. Some coarse towels and a fresh cloth diaper for Max. Keeping him clean in the camp had been a challenge.  In the summer, it was easier to just let him run around bare. This was a large square of fabric and a diaper pin. I had gotten quite good at folding them in the last year.  I was surprised that there wasn’t a more high tech option provided. Max squirmed and wanted to play. I wanted him to hold still long enough for me to get him into the origami fold diaper I was trying to keep hold of.

 

Suddenly the orc was back.  He caught Max and pinned him to the floor, then with a shocking amount of efficiency, he got Max into the diaper I had folded like he has been trained to it.  I fought not to giggle at the idea of a bunch of orc warriors learning diaper folds in basic training. Max stopped squirming and went back to crying. The orc stood up and grabbed me again.  As he dragged me off, Max toddled along crying and wanting me to pick him up.

 

“I don’t understand.  If you are supposed to be his father, why are you hurting him like this?”

 

He didn’t say anything to that, but his whole body tensed and his grip on my arm tightened enough to make me scream and my legs buckle under me.

 

Now he stopped and looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time.   He let go of my arm and I shrieked again as blood flow returned to my fingers.  I collapsed on the floor and sat there holding my son. We were both sobbing. My “mate” was staring at me in disbelief.  One of the other orcs in the hallway muttered something. Someone laughed. Tattoos’ ears darked and his eyes narrowed dangerously.  

 

I squeezed my eyes shut and hunched over Max, trying to shield him with my body incase the giant kicked us.  Nothing happened. After a moment a woman, a human woman came over and knelt next to me.

 

“Are you ok?”

 

I didn’t even know how to begin to answer that.

 

“Come on, let’s get you up.  I’m Doctor Brown. You were on your way to see me anyway.”

 

It didn’t make any sense, but I started to giggle.  I don’t know if I was just so stressed that I was having some sort of break down or what, but the idea of being treated by Doc Brown in the middle of an alien invasion was ridiculous.  All I needed was someone to rant about a bolt of lighting to hit all the science fiction cliches. Max stared at me in horror. Tattoos was looking confused, but I couldn’t stop.

 

Dr Brown just ignored it and tried to help me up.  When she touched my arms, I yelped and the giggling stopped.  She let go of my arm and pushed up my sleeve. A fairly respectable bruise was already starting to form.  It would have been Instagram worthy, back in the day. Dr Brown glared up at the unnamed tattooed guy. Then she looked at me, “Kari? Can you stand?”

 

I nodded.  Pushing myself to my feet wasn’t the best feeling, but once I was upright instead of carrying the weight on my arms it was fine.  Mostly fine. Max came over and took my hand. He was a tall kid, it was easy to forget that he was not yet two. He was still just a baby, really.  This shouldn’t be happening to him.

 

The doc did a full physical on Max first.  It included having him drink from a cup and eat with a spoon.  She asked if he was speaking yet.

 

“Only a few words.  He knows Momma, eat, ball that sort of thing.  He can point to his nose or elbow or whatever if I ask, but he can’t say the words yet.”

 

She made a note of this.  “You are still breastfeeding?”

I blushed and nodded.  “He’s big but he isn’t that old yet and he gets too hungry between meals for me not to.”

 

She nodded and wrote that down too.  Then she looked up and me saying,”You are going to need a physical too.”

 

I swallowed.  “I’m fine.”

 

She turned her head and didn’t look at me when she said, “I’m sorry.  I wish you had the option of refusing. They insist and if I don’t do it, they send in one of their doctors.”

 

I felt a little ill about that.

 

“Christopher,” here she indicated an orc in a set of white surgical scrubs waiting with Tattoos near the door, “will need to observe.  Max can wait out here with … um… his father.”

 

I closed my eyes and fought not to cry, “I don’t want him out of my sight.”

 

Dr Brown nodded, “I can understand that, but it would be better if he wasn’t there for the internal exam.”

 

“Christopher gets to watch the internal exam?” I prayed that I had misunderstood that part.  The doc nodded slowly, while still avoiding eye contact. “I don’t want that.”

 

“I know, but it has to be one of them.”

 

I looked at ‘Christopher’ who was watching me with a grim look of determination on his face.  Then I looked at the doc. Her whole posture screaming that she didn’t want to do this either.  “What happens to you, if I say no?”

 

“I have to watch as they hold you down and someone with bigger hands and no care does it anyway.”

 

I blinked at that.  Then I looked at Christopher’s hands.  They were huge. I couldn’t bring myself to say yes, but I walked into the exam room anyway.  Dr Brown and Christopher followed me in and closed the door.

Chapter Text

I started panicking a little as soon as the door clicked shut.  

 

“Hey, it’s OK Kari.  I know this is tough, it will be OK.” The doctor reached out towards me and that was it.  I screamed and jerked back from her.

 

“No!  I can’t do this!  I changed my mind!  Let me out of the room right now!”

 

Tattoos burst into the room and snarled, Christopher snorted a reply.  Doctor Brown cleared her throat, “You can’t blame her. Even under the best circumstances sexual assault victims often don’t want men in the room for their exam.  Hell, often women with no traumatic history will avoid having a male gynecologist.”

 

Christopher growled something that I couldn’t understand, but apparently the doctor could.

 

“Yes, I understand why this needs to happen, but you need to understand that having you involved is like raping her all over again.”

 

That made them both blink, then turn and glare at me.  I was already shaking, but I flinched under their gaze.

 

Tattoos said something.  Christopher disagreed. Tattoos flexed and physically seemed to get bigger.  He cracked his knuckles. Christopher didn’t move his arms but he clenched his fists.  From the other side of the door Max started to cry. Both males immediately turned and went to see him.  Dr Brown closed the door and locked it.

 

“OK.  That’s a little better.”  She held out a box of tissue.  I wiped my eyes and blew my nose.  “Before I do anything, I’m going to talk you through the whole thing.  Understand?”

 

I nodded.

 

“First thing is that I am going to feel your face and neck looking for enlarged lymph nodes.  Then I will have you take off your shirt and I will check your breasts and armpits for the same.  I need to listen to your heart and your lungs. Then you can have your shirt back. I will need to press on your tummy to feel your liver and your bowels.  After that, I will need you to take off your pants. I will feel your groin for lumps, and examine your labia for sores. After that, will be the pap smear and I will also need to take three swabs of your vagina to test for different STIs.  After the speculum is out, I will need to feel the inside of your vagina looking for internal irregularities.”

 

She paused and considered my face for a moment.  “At that point I will change my gloves before I do the rectal exam.  I need swabs from around your anus and inside your rectum as well. I also need to look for hemorrhoids and signs of scarring or prolapse.  After all of that. You will get blood drawn and I’ll send you to collect first and midstream urine samples.”

 

I felt completely numb, but I nodded anyway.

 

“I’m going to be totally honest here.  Depending on how badly you were damaged in the birth, I may also need to do an ultrasound.”

 

“You won’t need that,” my voice was surprisingly flat and dispassionate.

 

“I hope not, Kari, but I want you to be prepared for the possibility,” she replied.

 

I shook my head, “What’s your name?”

 

“I’m Dr Brown.”  She looked at me again, then sighed, “Under the circumstances you can call me Cynthia.”

 

I nodded.  “Let’s get this over with.”

 

I could tell that Cynthia was trying to be kind.  She was very careful. She even warmed the speculum before inserting it.  It didn’t help. I still cried the whole time. It was one thing to go to a doctor you know for a pap after you’ve had time to mentally prepare.  This was something completely different.

 

After it was done and I was wrapped in a blanket, shaking with KY leaking from my body, she looked at me and started to say something.  She stopped and thought for a moment, then said, “Tell me about Max’s birth.”

 

I shrugged.  “He was born in the spring.  We don’t get doctors in the camps, so there wasn’t anyone to help.  Plenty of gawkers though.”

 

“And his… that is.. The woman who gave birth to him?”

 

If she had asked about his mother, I may very well have kicked her.  “She took one look at his skin, and left him on the ground.”

 

Cynthia nodded slowly.  “And, you picked him up?”

 

“He was just a baby.  IS just a baby. How he came into the world isn’t his fault.”

 

She nodded.  “No, you are right.  It isn’t.”

 

We sat in silence for a while.

 

“There is a portable shower through there,” she pointed to one of the doors in the room.  “If you want to use it. The water is warm, but it only runs for two minutes.”

 

I went and had my two minute shower, scrubbing between my legs as I did so.  When it was over, I got dressed but before I got to the door, Cynthia stopped me.

 

“They are looking for women who can successfully give birth to their children.  I don’t think any of them will try anything while you are breastfeeding. But you need to be aware that is what they want.”

 

I nodded, not sure how to process that.

 

“Do you think you will be able to walk a few miles?”

 

Now I blinked, “What? Why?”

 

“Your…. Whatever you want to call him, will be taking you to look for a house next.  If you can’t walk, I can try to get them to put it off until tomorrow.”

 

‘My…’ Yeah, I was going to need to address that at some point.  I just could not bring myself to think about it just now. Not while by body still felt scraped raw.  “What do you mean, ‘look for a house’?”

 

Cynthia shrugged.  “Pick any unoccupied house in the city and move in.  But they won’t take us in their convoys so you have to walk there.  There are a few of us in the old mansions by the river. The ones between Broadway and Main.  Pick one, they will arrange for heat and water to be turned on.”

 

I considered this, “When do I start learning their language?”

 

Cynthia blinked, “Oh!  They all speak English, they just can’t annunciate very well because of the tusks.  It gets easier to understand with practice.”

 

Now I was angry.  “So Asshole there could understand what I was saying and just chose to ignore it?”

 

“Kari?  You need to reel it in.  I know it is unfair and quite upsetting, but you are small and squishy and you need to be careful with them.  Sure, they want you to take care of Max, but that doesn’t offer you protection.” She stopped and held eye contact with me, “You survived this long.  You need to be careful.”

 

I nodded.

 

Dr Brown opened the door.  Tattoos was standing there cradling a slack and apparently lifeless Max.  My eyes went wide and I started to shake. Cynthia put her hand on my arm.  “He’s breathing. It looks like it is just nap time.” Then she looked at Tattoos.  “You need to support his head better than that.”

 

He carefully adjusted his grip on my son.  I wanted to take Max from him. I wanted my son back.  I also had to admit that he was long past the point where I could hold him like that.  Being cradled, he looked like a normal baby boy. Not the oversized toddler I knew and loved.  I knew that I was staring, but I couldn’t look away.

 

The Asshole was looking at me with a calculating expression.  Then he turned and walked away with my son in his arms. As promised, I followed.



Chapter Text

We left the school on foot.  It looked like the street around the school, all the houses that backed onto the yard and all the ones facing them had been taken over as barracks. The street past that however, looked like a war zone.  Some of the houses had all been sealed up with something that looked like the wrapping from a vacuum pack. Or maybe the shrinky-dink plastic that clamshell packaging used to be made of. Many of them had smashed windows that were now covered with whatever was encasing the house.

 

Others had just fallen down.  A few had burnt to the ground, their foundations and charred skeletons of their framing all that remained.

 

We had to pass through a checkpoint to get out of the school zone.  The tattooed Asshole holding my son spoke quietly with the guards, who looked at me and laughed.  I tried to concentrate, but it didn’t sound anything like English to me. I shivered and hugged myself rubbing my arms.  It didn’t help that a whole squadron of them came over and pulled out their guns.

 

I don’t know guns, especially not the big ones carried by them, but it looked like they were checking the ammo clips and taking off the safeties.  After a moment Asshole nodded and they moved out. I hurried to keep up. They were moving in formation. Max being carried in the centre, the others over protective ready to defend him. Trailing along after them, I wasn’t given any attention.  It was clear to me that I was likely only being allowed to follow because I was a portable food source.

 

I tried to remember how far it was to the neighbourhood Cynthia had referenced.  It had to be at least an hour walk. I had been pulled out of the food line at lunch and I could already feel hunger gnawing at my stomach.  I didn’t know if Max had been fed lunch, but it had to be getting close to the point where he was going to need to eat again.

 

Sure enough a few blocks later, Max woke up and started fussing.

 

Asshole holding my son gave him a jiggle for a moment and seemed to be making soothing noises.   Max fully opened his eyes, failed to recognize the person holding him and went off like an air raid siren.  I was briefly gratified by the look of panic on the soldiers’ faces before I got worried about what they were going to do about it.

 

“He’s confused and hungry.  He needs to eat.”

 

As soon as Max hear my voice he started squirming and trying to get to me.  The tattooed Asshole kept a firm grip on him. After a moment, Max gave up on struggling and put all his energy into screaming.  I took an involuntary step forward and one of the armed men stepped in front of me, blocking my view. I looked up at him with tears of frustration and rage in my eyes.  “That is my son! You are making him cry. Do you really expect me to stand by and let that happen?”

 

Max toddled over and grabbed me around the knees nearly knocking me over.  I reached down and untangled his chubby little arms and knelt on the ground.  He hugged me tight, wiping his eyes and nose on my shirt. Sometimes being a mom is also being a snot rag.  He was also pulling at my shirt. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about pulling out a boob with all of the soldiers staring at me.

 

On the other hand, Max needed to eat and this was why I was here.

 

I looked around.  There was a bus stop up the street a little.  “Ok. Look! Chairs!” Someone grabbed my shoulder preventing me from getting up to head over there.  I looked up and the one with the carved up face shook his head, no.

 

“No, I can’t feed him, or no, I can’t go over there to sit down?”

 

He grunted something that could have been stay if I was really stretching to hear the word, but more definitively, he pointed at the ground.  I looked around, “I need something to sit on. Even just a big rock or brick or-”

 

Asshole knelt next to me.  He plopped down his tightly folded jacket and then pulled me over so I was sitting on it.  He stepped back before I could register much more than surprise. Max was still pulling at my shirt, but when I looked up all I could see was a sea of tusked faces looking down at me.  Way down. I shivered.

 

“Are you supposed to be watching for attackers?”

 

All of them, except for Asshole, turned around and formed a defensive ring around me.  I looked at the last one, but all Asshole was doing was maintaining heavy eye contact. I wanted to stare him down but Max’s noises were getting increasingly frantic.

 

I looked down at my son, took a deep shuddering breath and pulled up my shirt.  Max crawled into my lap and latched on with a blissful sigh. His chubby little dimpled hand patted my chest so gently as his eyes closed and he started to suck.  My boobs aren’t big, so with Max in place I wasn’t really exposed. I reached down and stroked his hair. He patted me again.

 

That was the point where I started to cry.  It suddenly felt real that I was going to be allowed to keep him.  The relief that flooded through me was like a tsunami as it washed over me.  I was glad I was sitting, because I think I would have fallen over from the sudden release of that tension.  Max was my son. And, for now at least, he was still mine.

 

----

 

I stood up too fast when he was finished.  I will admit I staggered a couple of steps.  I was feeling a little lightheaded. I tried to cover by stooping down to pick up Asshole’s flack jacket.  When I passed him, he was giving me a shrewd, calculating look. He finally pulled a bundle out of his cargo pocket and unwrapped what turned out to be a stack of brown disks.  He offered me one. I frowned at it. It wasn’t something I had seen before. It sort of had the visual texture of uncooked ramen. He pushed it at me again, so this time I took it.

 

I couldn’t figure out what it was.  It was about ten, maybe 12 centimetres across, about a centimetre thick.  It was the colour of peanut butter, but had a weird texture. I looked up at Asshole in confusion.  He took one himself and bit it in half. He chewed and swallowed the half that was in his mouth, but wrapped up the rest and stuffed the package back into his pocket.  It said something about exactly how big he was that this was a two bite snack for him.

 

I gave it an experimental nibble.  It crumbled in my mouth and the individual bit were somehow crunchy and chewy at the same time.  It was like a slightly nutty, rather bland and not at all sweet rice krispie cake. I ate it anyway.  I was thirsty by the end, but too afraid to ask for water. I couldn’t see water bottles on any of them anyway.

 

I could see why they picked Riverside.  It had been the most prestigious neighbourhood in town.  It backed onto the river on three sides, was walled in by a old stone wall on the fourth and had huge Victorian houses on lots that were four or five times the size of yards anywhere else in the city.  It also only had one street in or out, which made it easy to defend.

 

My feet hurt enough that I knew I had blisters from my new shoes.  Max had tried to walk after his snack but had wanted me to carry him after less than a block.  I managed to do that for a little while, but I was slowing the party down. He was plucked from my arms after maybe fifteen minutes.  I was still conflicted by that. Carrying him hurt my arms and back. Nonetheless, I didn’t like that Asshole had just taken him from me without so much as asking.  

 

At least this time, he had held Max in such a way that he could see me.  I had babbled nonsense about him being a good boy to keep him from crying. I told him it was going to be ok.  I wanted it to be true but I hated that I was lying. I didn’t know everything was going to be fine. I had no idea what was happening.

 

I had no idea why we were taking the long way.

 

By the time we got there, it was getting dark.  My feet had gone from sore to aching to burning, and possibly bleeding, to numb.  I just kept walking. I wasn’t going to let them leave me behind. The guards at the checkpoint were delighted to see Max and openly contemptuous of me.  Dr Brown had lead me to believe I was going to get to choose a house. That wasn’t what happened. We were assigned to one.

 

307 was a massive brick house. It was only two stories high, but they were at least 11 foot ceilings.  The doors were over sized. The front portico was held up by six massive ionic columns each of which was bigger around than I am.  To each side of the entrance was a huge turret with big windows all the way around. The roof was copper that had started to turn green.   We were led in through the front door and up the massive staircase. As we went up we passed one of the soldiers carrying a huge door down.  

 

Asshole led me through the building to the master bedroom at the back. It had a gorgeous view of the river, its own gas fireplace, and an ensuite the size of my bedroom before they came.  There was a clawfoot tub in an alcove behind two pretty shower curtains set up like old fashioned theatre drapes. When you pulled them closed it also blocked the light from the frosted circle window centered to the tub.  A walk in shower and double vanities completed the room.

 

There were still someone else’s products on the vanities.

 

What there wasn’t, was doors.  The door to the bedroom was already gone and as I watched, they popped the hinge pins and removed the double doors to the bathroom.  As the doors left, someone came back with a box and swept all the products off the vanity and into the box. The smell of perfume filled the room as the bottles smashed.

 

I gagged, they started coughing.  “Just leave it, I can clean up the room later.”

 

They stared at me for a moment, then nodded and left.  Asshole sat on the bed with Max. He produced a diaper from somewhere and set about changing him.  I pulled off my shoes, hissing as the skin that had crusted over and scabbed against the sides was ripped away and the blisters opened.

 

I minced my way over to the bathtub and turned on the taps.  There was still running water, so I set it to cold and stuck my feet under the flow.  I pushed down on the plug with my toes as I rolled up my pant legs and sat on the edge of the tub.  Asshole came in a looked at me. He looked at my feet, then he left.

 

With Max.

 

“Wait!” I called struggling to get out of the tub and follow him.

 

He turned and snarled at me and pointed at the tub.

 

“No!  If you are taking him, I am going with you.”

 

He glared at me then stormed out faster than I could follow.  By the time I made it out of the room he was down the stairs and marching off into the house.  One of the soldiers who had walked us in caught my arm. I whimpered as he managed to find the bruises already there.  He pulled his hand away.

 

Speaking slowly and carefully he said, “They come back with food.”  It sounded wrong because there were sounds he couldn’t make around his tusks.  Then his nose twitched and he looked down at my feet. At where I was dripping water and tissue fluid onto the very expensive wool carpet.  He looked back up at me with a puzzled look on his face.

 

I shrugged.  “My new shoes didn’t really fit.”  Then I turned and hobbled back into the bathroom.  It was clear I wouldn’t be chasing down Asshole anytime soon.  

 

I soaked my feet  in cold water until the swelling came down enough that I had toes and not sausages, then carefully patted them dry with the Egyptian cotton waffle towels.  Then I came out to find Max playing with blocks on the carpet.

 

Asshole was sitting in a chair with a tray of food, watching me.  

 

I ignored him and sat down next to Max.

 

The roast beef on the plate smelled amazing.  Glancing over I spotted mashed potatoes and green beans in sauce.   It was the first time I had seen anything resembling real food since before I was rounded up and taken to the refugee camp.  My mouth started to water, my stomach growled, the Asshole just sat there watching me. I looked away. I had to; I was not going to watch him eat his dinner.

 

He said something to us.  I couldn’t understand, so I just ignored him.  Max looked up. Asshole repeated his grunt. Max stood up.   “Max, sit down, baby. Don’t bother the …. man while he’s eating.”

 

Mister Tattoos tried again, this time almost humorously slowly, “Kah-uh-mm hur.”

 

I froze as that sank in.  “Was that ‘come here’? You want us to come over there?”

 

He nodded and held the tray out to me.

 

I was up off the floor and backing away from him so fast it was like I had been electrocuted.  He was here in the room with no doors so I couldn’t lock him out, with me and my son and one big bed.  I started to shake. “I don’t want you!”

 

OK, so that wasn’t the most tactful thing to scream at a man offering me dinner, but it had been a long day at that point and I wasn’t at my most eloquent.  It didn’t matter, he just kept watching me calmly. After a moment, Max started to cry. I sat suddenly on the floor and hugged him as he crawled into my lap.

 

Asshole turned and left.

 

He left the food tray sitting on the bed.

 

By the time Max was asleep and I was brave enough to eat it, everything was cold.  It didn’t matter, it was still the best dinner I had ever eaten.



Chapter Text

There were soldiers patrolling the house.  One walked past the door every ten minutes or so.  The bed was on full display from the hallway. Max and I slept on the floor in the bathroom.  It wasn’t any harder than sleeping on the ground and it was away from the light shining in through the doorway.

 

Neither of us woke when someone came in and covered us with a blanket.  It had been a long day.

 

I woke to find Max was squirming in my arms.  He did that when he had to pee. I got up and tried to find a new diaper for him in the dark.  Sure enough, Asshole was sleeping in the bed. There weren’t any diapers that I could find, but I ran water in the sink to soak the wet one. I put Max in a carefully folded towel without waking him up.  Then I wrapped us in the blanket and stared at the bathroom doorway.

 

There wasn’t anything I could do if my “mate” decided to come in here to get me.  That was terrifying. 

 

I was still sitting there, fear keeping me awake when he came in to the bathroom the next morning. He stopped in the doorway and stared at me for a moment.  He grunted something.

 

“I can’t understand what you are saying.”

 

His eyes narrowed and I flinched.  He stepped into the bathroom and to the side of the doorway.  He pointed at his chest then to the toilet.

 

I scooped up Max and ran for it.

 

——

 

Ok, I have to admit that breakfast was good. I couldn’t complain about the food. We ate in the formal dining room at a table for twenty.  It was eggs and toast. I pretty sure there was even real butter.  

 

Afterwards, I was led back to the master bedroom.  Asshole rummaged through the walk in closet to find me anything that would fit.  It ended up being a wrap dress. Who ever had owned the clothes was both older and heavier than I am.   Before they had come, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in this outfit. Now I was just happy to have something clean.  The bedroom slippers were soft and sloppy but didn’t rub on my blisters. I wasn’t going to be able to walk very far in this get up.

 

I wasn’t overly pleased that the soldiers were staring at me as Asshole led me out of the house, but I was too excited about going to the park to really worry too much.

 

The thing about Riverside is that it was build in the 1920’s.  There was a post war boom going on and Riverside was a nice little peninsula where the super rich of the day could live without having to integrate into regular society.  It was only really two streets. One ran parallel to the river, it held the 5000 square foot or bigger dwelling of the ultra rich. There were about thirty houses that backed onto the river, each one had a sprawling yard. They all fronted on to the park.  It was the community green space with trees, a playground, tennis courts and a nice little jogging path around the whole thing. 

 

Across from the park was the smaller houses.  And by smaller I still mean 3000 square foot, stately homes.  They had smaller lots and backed on to the hill with the stone wall at the top.  There was one road up the hill. It was the only way to get into Riverside by land.  

 

Of course, the people with river lots all had boats.  Why wouldn’t they? These smaller homes were owned but successful doctors, lawyers, the arch chancellor of the university.  The kind of people I could see the knobs looking down on as nouveau riche. People who had earned their money, instead of just inheriting it.   

 

I had heard stories about the park.  Often in terms of people being reported for suspicious activity if they came to the (in theory) public park when they didn’t live in Riverside.  It wasn’t a gated community, but it might as well have been.

 

Max and I were currently walking to the biggest, best maintained playground in the city.

 

I recognized the some other boys from our refugee camp.  In addition to the ones I recognized there were a number I didn’t.  I could see the other moms. I could see Henry, William and James. What I couldn’t see was their dads.  Or Rita, who was Patrick’s “Grandmother.” 

 

Janice was there, but only physically, she was staring at nothing.  I hurried over to her. Kathryn caught my arm. “Don’t. We had our ‘physicals’ yesterday.  Basically, two of the monsters pinning us to an exam table while we screamed and a human doctor did the full blown anal probing thing.”  Kathryn was bitter and I could see where she had been crying. “Janice just gave up.”

 

Kathryn had bruises that matched the ones on my arms, but hers extended to her neck as well.

 

“Where’s Rita?” I asked.

 

She snorted, “They only brought the parents who might pop out another baby.”

 

The boys who didn’t have their parents were huddled together, not playing with Max or the others.  I didn’t like any of the implications of that.

 

Kathryn nodded to where Asshole was standing with some other unarmed orcs watching us.  “Which one is yours?”

 

I looked away, “The one with the tattoos.  The human tattoos.”

 

Kathryn nodded.  “I picked the shortest one on offer.” Then she gave a bitter laugh, “Not that it matters, he’s still a foot taller than me.  At least it isn’t two feet.”

 

I had to ask, even if I didn’t want to know, “Has he hurt you yet?”

 

Kathryn shook her head, “Nope.  It’s been more like the textbook ‘how to give someone stockholm syndrome’ treatment.”

 

I shivered.  “I’m going to go sit down.”  Harry and Martin King, Rita McLeod, and I had been close.  The adoptive parents group of sorts. I was worried about them and what their boys must be going through without them.  I went to sit by their kids, who swarmed me calling for their parents. I held as many as I could, not knowing what to say. 

 

After a while, Asshole and four others came over.  The others started to pull the boys away from me. “Wait!” I shouted.

 

I was amazed that they did.  They all stopped and looked at me expectantly.  Shit. Now what should I say.

 

“These boys all lost their families.  I’m not hurting them. I’m just a grown up who isn’t a stranger.”

 

The one holding William who had better English than Asshole said, “I his family now.”

 

I gritted my teeth.  “Yeah, you can say that.  It doesn’t make it true for William.  You are still just a stranger dragging him away from someone he knows and trusts.”

 

They had a quiet, snarling discussion, during which William squirmed out of the male’s grasp and grabbed me instead.

 

“Listen, that old guy, the general or whatever, recognized that children need continuity.  Bringing Rita and the guys to stay with their boys would provide that continuity. Even if you can’t rape them to make more sons.”  That last sentence came out more angry than I intended.  

 

That made them all stare at me.  Then they left. The boys stayed with me.

 

Someone who didn’t know how children worked had planned a picnic lunch - right in the middle of nap time.  Everyone was crabby and exhausted by then. I was sitting in the shade with my back against a tree and five little boys sleeping on me like a puddle of puppies. Most of the others were hangry and crying.   In the meantime a battalion of orcs had set up a buffet table and were trying to wrangle screaming children and dissociating moms into eating. I just watched.  

 

I was warm and comfortable in what should have been a lovely autumn morning.  Asshole came over and stared down at me. I ignored him. He was back a moment later holding a plate with a whole roast lake trout, some baby potatoes and carrots.  He tried to get me to take it.

 

I shook my head.  “Hands full of sleeping babies just now.  Besided, I’m not sure how to eat that.

 

He sat down next to me and pulled out a pocket knife.  He quickly filleted the fish, and offered me a bite sized piece on the end of his knife.  I shook my head again. “I’m not letting you stick a knife in my mouth.”

 

He grumbled as he stood up and stomped off like a seven foot tall toddler, but he was back a moment later with a fork trying to feed me fish.

 

I frowned.

 

He smiled evilly, then made a passable train noise as he pushed the fork towards my mouth.  I managed to untangle an arm from around Henry and take the fork from him. “Save it for the kids,” I snapped.

 

He didn’t say anything.  He just sat there silently grinning like a idiot, holding the plate while I ate.

 

All five boys stayed with me that afternoon.  When Max came over to nurse, each of the boys was offered a bottle of milk by their new father.  Patrick was prepared to go along with this, but Henry, William and James were not letting anyone separate them.  Their fathers did not seem overly impressed by that. I closed my eyes as silent tears ran down my cheeks before I was able to force myself to stop it.

 

I just cuddled Max close.

 

Something rough scratched my face and my eyes snapped open to see Asshole poking me in the cheek.  My whole body recoiled away from him and all the boys in my lap started crying.

 

Some of the orcs watching me started to laugh.  Most of them hurried to try to comfort the three King boys.

 

“Just stop.  Please.”

 

Great, now they were looking at me.

 

“None of us want any of you touching us.  They want their dads back. They want to not be separated from their brothers.  We just all want to be safe. Having you grabbing or poking at us doesn’t feel safe.  If you want these boys to grow up to be mentally stable people, you need them to have a stable family.”  I swallowed and looked down at Max who was watching me with an eerie silence. “None of them will be helped by you torturing their moms.” There was no response. “Not that I expect that matters,” I added bitterly.

 

Asshole snarled something at me that I didn’t even try to understand.  Then he snatched up Max and stormed back to the house with my now screaming son.  I jumped up to run after him. The King boys tried to follow, but were restrained by their new guardians.  I couldn’t call those monsters fathers.

 

“Wait!”

 

Asshole just ignored me.

 

“Please wait!”  My feet still hurt and trying to keep up in slippers wasn’t working.

 

“Stop!”

 

Nothing.

 

Damn.

 

Screw it.

 

I kicked off the slippers and sprinted after him on my toes, the gravel and dirt on the road biting into my skin.  My feet were a lot tougher than they had been before the invasion but the ground still hurt. I ignored it.

 

I was almost caught up when Asshole got to the door.  The guard said something and Asshole turned and snarled at me.  I tried to stop, slipped on the leaves and landed on my backside.

 

Fuck.  That hurt too.

 

Max had stopped just screaming and settled on yelling “Mum! Mum!”

 

Asshole glared at Max with a look of absolute rage on his face.

 

“Don’t hit him! Please!”

 

That made everything stop.

 

Asshole, the guards, the random orcs walking past, they all stopped what they were doing to stare at me.  I scrambled to my feet. “He’s just a little boy who’s scared. Please don’t hurt him!”

 

Asshole looked at me in disgust as he stomped towards me.  I took an involuntary step back. Then forced myself to step forward.  I was shaking, small and pathetic, but I was not going to back down when he had my son.  Max was thrust into my arms before a huge grey hand landed on my back and pushed me into the house.

 

Even with him clinging to me and my using both arms to hold him, I staggered under Max’s weight.  I was basically pushed to the stairs, then he grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the room where we had stayed last night.  Once we through the empty door frame, Asshole strode away.

 

Max and I were both crying by then.  I lead him into the bathroom to clean my feet again.  Antibiotics were a thing of the past. If my cuts or blisters got infected, it was a death sentence.

 

I got Max out of his diaper and gave him a bath too.  I didn’t have another diaper. The towels remaining in the bathroom were too big.  I peaked out into the bedroom and tried to see if I could find any. The guard who caught me bleeding on the carpet last night came past.  He stopped to look at us for a moment, then kept moving. He was back a moment later with a stack of clean diapers. He didn’t hand them to me.  He set them on the floor just outside the doorway and pushed them into the room with his foot.

 

That was weird.

 

I wrangled Max into a clean one then led him back into the bathroom.  At least that way they weren’t staring at us. I used one of the clean flat diapers and some of the hair elastics from the drawers in the bathroom to make him a doll.  He hugged it and rubbed his face on it.

 

“I don’t know if they will let you keep that, my lad.  I don’t even know if they will let you keep me. But everyone needs a lovely to cuddle.”



Chapter Text

Asshole came back while I was telling Max the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.  He had a newly split lip and a bit of a black eye. He sat a food tray on the floor at the doorway to the bathroom and slid it towards me in a movement reminiscent of the guard with the diapers.   

 

I stared up at him.

 

He made a sound of disgust then turned his back on us, stripped naked and crawled into the bed.

 

It was roast chicken leg and carrots.

 

I let Max eat first.

 

There was some left.  It was nice. There wasn’t a blanket, but there were big towels to use to 

make a nest.  This time instead of huddling against the furthest wall, we took the corner inside the door.  The sun was low and there wasn’t much light coming in through the window.  

 

Max had nodded off when I heard the commotion on the stairs.  I wrapped my son in the makeshift blankets before creeping out to peer into the hallway.

 

Harry and Martin King and their boys were coming up the stairs even as the orcs were taking the door off another of the bedrooms.  The two men had been roughed up. Martin had some stitches in his cheek. They had both been shaved. The important thing was that they were alive and with their boys.

 

No sign of Rita or Patrick, but the Kings being all back together gave me hope.

 

Harry saw me coming towards them and took a step towards me.  The guards were immediately between them.

 

“How bad it it?” I called out.  Now there was a soldier in front of me.

 

“Nothing as bad as what you ladies already went through,” Martin said bitterly.

 

Harry blurted out, “Don’t fight them Kari.  You can’t win. Just don’t … make it worse.”

 

I felt like I was going to be sick.

 

The one standing way too close to me chuckled.

 

There was soft crunching noise behind me.

 

All the guards stood down.

 

Harry went white.

 

I looked over my shoulder.

 

There was Asshole, in all his naked glory, leaning against the door jam, cracking his knuckles.

 

I looked back at the King Family. “I don’t even know what to say.  I’m glad you’re alive.”

 

Martin’s voice was off when he said, “How bad is it that just staying alive has become a goal?”

 

“Yeah.”  I looked at my feet.  The carpet had rubbed open the cuts and I was bleeding a bit again.  “I’d be about ready to give up on that if I wasn’t trying to protect Max.”

 

Martin and Harry nodded.

 

The closet doors from the room next door went past.

 

“Can I see your room?” I asked.  Before either of the Kings could respond, the guards took a more aggressive stance.  “I guess not.”

 

I jumped as Asshole put his arm around my shoulder.  He growled. The soldiers left. He steered me over to the newly opened bedroom.  It was smaller than the one he had. It had a queen bed instead of a king. It’s ensuite didn’t have the walk in shower.  The colours were more masculine. There were tattered posters of fancy cars hanging on the walls and bottles of Axe in the bathroom.

 

“Home, sweet home,” Martin muttered.

 

Harry glared at him, “You don’t get to complain when she has that…. Touching her.”

 

Asshole stiffened.

 

“They can all understand us,” I said carefully.  “Even if we can’t understand them.”

 

Now they looked at me in horror.

 

“I should go.  Try to get some sleep.  Breakfast yesterday was good.”

 

Harry nodded, “That’s something.  Maybe you’ll start getting enough calories to -” he stopped and looked at me.  “Was there only breakfast?”

 

“Lunch was nice too.  I pissed people off after that so only Max got dinner, but-”

 

Asshole snarled, tightened his grip on my shoulders and led me out of the room.  I was maneuvered back to the bathroom where Max was sleeping and left there. 

 

I was settling into the makeshift nest of towels when Asshole got back.  He repeated the foot slide maneuver, this time with a blanket and a plate of sandwiches.  Then he stood in the doorway watching me. When I didn’t make any move towards his offering, he nudged it again.

 

“You are less threatening when you are wearing pants.”

 

He glared at me and said something I still couldn’t understand.  When I didn’t respond he went back to bed. I ate the sandwiches, managed to drink some water from the tap, then tried to clean the carpet out of the scrapes on my feet

 

-----

 

I woke to the sound of the shower turning on.  It wasn’t full light out yet. Max was making little rooting noises.  I curled around him and let him nurse so we could both go back to sleep.

 

The next time I woke it was to Asshole saying something.  I concentrated on what before I opened my eyes and realized it was multiple attempts to say my name.  None of them were right, but he was getting closer. I blinked and sat up.

 

“Aw-sh!”

 

“What?”

 

He pointed at the shower.  Oh. I swallowed. “Could you wait out there?  Please?”

 

His eyes narrowed, then he picked up Max and carried him out to the bed.  I took a step after him, but he was just getting a clean diaper.

 

“Aw-sh!”

 

“Yeah, yeah.”

 

I scrubbed down, washed my hair then sat on the floor of the shower and looked at me feet.  A couple of the cuts felt hot and I didn’t like that. I wrapped up in a towel before going into the bedroom closet and looking for a pair of socks.  

 

I found some clean trouser socks in the wife’s side of the closet.  Her panties were so big on me they fell down. I would have fit them three years ago, but food had been hard to come by for some time now.  I ended up in a pair of the husband’s sweat pants with the drawstring cinched up tight and one of her blouses that buttoned in the front. I looked ridiculous, but I was covered.

 

I would have just worn the dress from yesterday, but it was gone when I got out of the shower.

 

Someone had found Max clothes that fit.  A cute little pair of overalls, a barbie T-shirt and a pair of shoes.  Well, shoes, anyway. One was purple and the other was green. The purple one lit up, the green one squeaked.  Max was excitingly stamping his feet, clearly delighted. I smiled at him.

 

“Pretty spiffy Max.”

 

That earned me a hug.

 

Asshole frowned at me.  I sighed and closed my eyes.

 

“Kari.”

 

Now I looked at him.  He was holding out his hand.  I looked at it for a long moment hoping he would just stop that.  He didn’t. When I finally took his hand, he led me down to breakfast.

 

The Kings were just finishing up.  They were fresh scrubbed but still wearing their clothes from the camp.  “Morning! There are still clothes in the closet in the main room if you want to see if anything fits.”

 

Asshole choked on his toast.

 

Harry and Martin both jumped.  “Are we allowed to do that?”

 

I sagged, “I don’t know.  How big was the person who’s things are in the closet in your room?”

 

Martin shrugged, “Smaller than us.  Hard to say if any of it would fit you.”

 

I stopped trying to feed Max some egg.  “Could I try?”

 

They looked at Asshole.  

 

I gave up and went back to trying to get Max to eat.  “Come on, kid, you can’t live on carbs alone. Even if you love the toast you need some protein as well.”

 

Max pointed at Asshole who, when I looked, was stuffing most of a piece of bread into his mouth.

 

“Fine. I’ll eat the egg and you can’t have any!”

 

That was the wrong thing to say.  The orcs at the table all tensed. One of them stood up.  Asshole stood up. Max grabbed the egg in his chubby little hands as stuffed it into his mouth.  Everyone sat back down again. I tried to get my heart rate to return to normal.  

 

Harry leaned across the table, “I don’t think they have much practical experience with kids, Kari.  Might be better not to make them think you would keep Max from eating.”

 

I was shocked.  “I would never do that!”

 

“Do they know that?” Martin asked quietly.

 

I frowned.  Max was a cute little chubby two year old, even if he happened to be the size of a five or six year old normal kid.  I was painfully aware that I could feel my ribs as I washed and I finally had the thigh gap that had been a sought after thing before the invasion.  How could they not know that Max ate first?

 

Max was licking yolk off his fingers and saying “egg!”  Two more hit his plate, then another one was added to mine.  We made it through breakfast without any further disruptions, but the three of us pretty much stopped talking after that.

 

When they were finished, the kids wandered away from the table to go play.  None of us adults moved, waiting instead for directions. I looked around the table and realized that the boys’ new orc fathers were all there too.  I didn’t know what to think of that.

 

Eventually, Asshole stood up and went into the kitchen.  I wasn’t sure what to do about that so I went over to where Max and William were taking turns hugging the diaper doll I had made.  “You two are both so good! Sharing so nicely!”

 

One of the orc fathers snorted and stormed off at that.  Shit. I couldn’t do anything right.

 

Asshole was back holding a steaming mug of something brown.  It smelled a bit like hot chocolate, a bit like mint and a bit like something else I couldn’t quite name.  He looked at me then held out his hand for Max who took it. He led Max through the house. I hobbled after them.  The two remaining orcs herding the other boys after us and Harry and Martin bringing up the rear.

 

He took us to the house’s library.  I was directed to one of the wingback chair by the unlit fireplace and handed the mug.  Then Asshole looked at the shelves and brought me one of those little kids books with one word and one picture on each page.  I took a slurp of the drink, which had a chalky aftertaste, then set it on a conveniently placed side table.

 

“Max!  Come read a story!”

 

He had never seen a book before.  He crawled into my lap and James came over to try to see too.  Suddenly I was playing kindergarten teacher and being swarmed by kids.  Asshole caught Max, sat on the floor and plopped my son in his lap. They both looked at me expectantly.  I fought a smile. Arguably they didn’t really look alike, aside from both being grey with tusks, but the look of anticipation was strikingly similar.

 

“Storytime!” Martin announced.  He and Harry sat down too and their boys climbed into their laps.  

 

A scuffle broke out between the other two orcs. Not a fight, more like a bit of a shoving match.  Not even as bad as two moms fighting for the last special toy at a Black Friday sale. The winner came over and plucked Henry off of Harry’s lap and slid William over from Martin’s lap instead.  Then he sat next to a decidedly uncomfortable looking Harry and copied Asshole.

 

“OK.  Um…” I held up the book and read “Apple.”

 

Asshole tried to repeat the word.  I stared at him in shock. He tried again.  OK.

 

The boys had seen apples, sort of.  There was a crab apple tree in the school yard where we had been living.  The apples were tiny and sour. People fought over them anyway, exactly like two moms over the last special toy at Black Friday sale.

 

“Ball.”

 

The boys all knew that one, but the rag ball they played with didn’t look anything like the football in the picture.  Asshole tried to say that one too. His vowel sounds were wrong.

 

“Cat.”  No one had seen a cat in years, or a “Dog.”

 

“Egg.”

 

Max cheered that one.  Asshole made it sound like “ick.”

 

We made it all the way through to Zebra and the boys started calling “Again!”

 

Asshole put Max in my lap and got another book.

 

This one was called Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus .  The boys had no idea what a bus was, or a pigeon, but Harry and Martin put effort into the parts where the audience was to say ‘No!’ so the boys joined in.

 

After that was Guess How Much I Love You , which the boys listened intently too, even if I teared up reading it.

 

At which point the left over dad turned up with a plate of snacks and reading time came to a halt.  Max hurried over to get some grapes. I stood up, fought not to wince and sat back down as pain shot up the backs of my legs.

 

Martin shot me a worried look, “Are you OK?”

 

I forced a smile.  “I’m fine.” While everyone else was eating, I pressed gingerly on my feet.  The places that were hot this morning were still hot and now felt a bit puffy.  I sat on the floor and put one of the throw pillows under them. Asshole brought me a plate with some cheese and fruit.

 

“What’s your name?” I finally asked.

 

There was a long sentence I didn’t understand. Then one of the others with smaller tusks said, “Gor’ash. He tell you pick one.”

 

I looked away.  “This would be a good time for the boys to stop for morning nap.”  There was a ringing silence. “Yesterday, we missed morning naps and everyone was crabby by lunch,” I explained to Harry and Martin.  

 

Martin cleared his throat, “Will they let us go back to our room for that?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“They would sleep better in the bed,” Harry argued with me as though it was my decision.  I looked at the tattooed wonder.

 

“Shl - eep un ‘ed?”

 

Martin gasped, “Shit.  I think I even understood that.”

 

I didn’t want to make more trips up and down the stairs.  Max and I slept on the tile in the bathroom anyway.

 

Harry nodded, “The boys would sleep better in bed.”

 

One of the others snarled, “With you?”

 

I flinched.  Harry looked away.  Martin showed why he was the one with stitches on his face when he snapped back, “They have been sleeping on the ground with us since they were newborns.  Don’t your children sleep with their parents?”

 

“Um,” I said definitively.  “They all have claimed ownership of the boys.  They think they are the parents.”

 

“Then they are doing a piss poor job of it by not letting the boys nap.”

 

The whole room held its collective breath.  Asshole flexed his shoulders and tilted his head making his joints go off like bubble wrap.  All I could think in that moment was that he was going to have arthritis in a few years.

 

“Schl - eep un ‘ed.”  It wasn’t a question this time.  He held out his hand to Max who looked at me.  I managed to get to my feet. Max came over and took my hand instead.

 

Asshole made a show of hanging his head and looking sad while watching Max with a twinkle in his eye.  Then he beckoned to us and scooped up my mostly empty mug before heading out of the library and back to the stairs.

 

Holding Max’s hand I hobbled along after him.  Harry, Martin and their boys followed.

 

“Are you OK?” Harry asked.

 

I nodded.  “I’m fine.”  There wasn’t anything anyone could do about it anyway, so there wasn’t any point in complaining.

 

----

 

I was eventually able to get Max to fall asleep in my lap, then I was able to put him on the bed.  Asshole grinned and gestured, clearly wanting me on the bed too.  

 

I sat on the corner.

 

“Schl-eep.”

 

“You make me too afraid to sleep,” I whispered.

 

He frowned.  I flinched. He left.  I curled up on the floor next to the bed and eventually nodded off.



Chapter Text

“Yeah, the kids get the bed and we sleep on the floor too.”  I sat up. Harry was talking to me from the doorway. A soldier was standing ready to attack if he tried to come into the room.  Harry was ignoring him. “You have a king sized bed and only one kid, though, you would fit.”

 

“Ah- um… that is…. The orc in charge of us sleeps in the bed.”

 

Harry’s lip curled at that.  “Oh.”

 

“Yeah.”  I sat up and gently touched my foot.  They were hurting a bit more just now.

 

“Something is wrong.”

 

I looked around nervously.

 

Harry shook his head, “something is wrong with you and you are hiding it.”

 

“It’s nothing.  I got a few blisters on the walk over here.  My feet hurt a bit.”

 

“Can I see?” Harry asked stepping forward.  The soldier pushed him back hard enough to throw him to the ground. 

 

I hurried over but Henry’s orc made it there first and shoved the soldier back.  They stood toe to toe growling and snarling at each other. Then the soldier backed down.  The winner glared at Harry then me then snarled, “eat!” and pointed down the stairs.

 

“Can we wait until the kids wake up?” I asked.

 

He frowned at me.

 

Harry got up.  “If you want to wake them, come give it a try and see how well that works.”

 

I covered my mouth and fought not to snicker.  Henry was the soundest sleeper I have ever seen.  He didn’t want to go to sleep and there was basically nothing you could do to make him wake up once he was.  That kid slept through thunderstorms. Other kids screaming. Martin or Harry trying to get him up to eat. He was just a floppy, unconscious boy with a slight tendency to snore the only indication that he wasn’t dead.

 

I was pretty sure this guy wouldn’t actually hurt Henry, but I could just imagine him trying to wake the kid up.

 

Everyone else would be up and screaming though, so I suggested, “another twenty minutes?”

 

He nodded.

 

“What’s your name?” Harry asked.

 

“Andrew.”

 

“What, really?” I asked in disbelief.

 

Andrew shrugged then nodded.

 

“Thanks, Andrew,”  I said and I meant it.

 

He frowned at me.  Then went back to wait at the doorway of the Kings’ room.

 

When we went down for lunch Asshole was waiting with two plates ready for Max and me.  There was another mug of the hot drink steaming next to my plate. The orc that had stormed off after breakfast was back with a teddy bear for William.  Both Martin and Harry looked nervous at that, but neither of them said anything as their one son was suddenly immeasurably richer than his siblings.

 

I was concentrating on getting Max to eat when Harry said, “Your name is Gor-ash, right?”

 

Asshole frowned as he shook his head slowly indicating no.

 

Harry shrugged, “Did you know Kari has sores on her feet?”

 

“Harry, don’t.”

 

“You can hardly walk anymore.  I want to know if he was too oblivious to notice or if he just doesn’t care.”

 

Asshole was suddenly up out of his chair, he slammed his fists on the table and absolutely roared at Harry.  Every kid in the place started to cry. Every male who had claimed a son glared at Asshole. He hesitated, looked at me, then left.

 

It took awhile to get Max to settle down and even longer to get him to eat.  By then the orcs were starting to usher us out. Harry and Martin resolutely refused to get out of their chairs.  Even when Andrew came over and made a point pulling out Harry’s chair and gesturing to the door.

 

It was Martin who said, “Kari didn’t get a chance to eat.  Mr Grumpy Bear scared Max and she spent all her time taking care of him.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

Harry shook his head, “You need to take care of yourself, otherwise you won’t be able to take care of Max.”

 

The other parents sat back down and looked at me.

 

Great.  I started trying to eat quickly.  Martin reached across the table and put his hand on my arm.  “It’s ok, you don’t have to rush. We will wait. Don’t make yourself sick.”

 

Someone whose name I didn’t know grabbed Martin’s chair and pulled it away from the table so he couldn’t reach me anymore.  

 

I sighed, “They really don’t understand how we work.”  Then I carefully ate my lunch.

 

----

We were back in the library after lunch.  This time Harry and Martin took turns reading.  That let me sit with Max and three extra fathers take turns sitting with the boys.  William did a surprisingly good job of sharing his bear. That made his orcfather frown but he didn’t say anything.  

 

Actually - 

 

I leaned over to the one holding James and asked, “What’s your name?”

 

He scrambled out of my way like I had threatened him.  The other orcs in the room were looking at me funny. “Right.  No asking for names.”

 

Martin cleared his throat.  “We raise our children together.  Kari, us, and the others. If you are going to be spending time around Max it would be good to know everyone’s names.”

 

Andrew looked at him and shook his head no.

 

The three of us shared a nervous look.  Martin went back to reading Peter Rabbit.  For a home library, they had quite good selection of books.  There was a whole book case of children’s books then a random assortment of books ranging up in age to about ten.  No young adult level books but a good selection of history books, bird watching books, political thrillers and books about gardening.  The sort of things you would find in a house of readers rather than the sort of people that bought books to display.

 

At the end of Peter Rabbit, we moved on to Benjamin Bunny.  That’s when Asshole got back. He had Dr Brown and Christopher with him.  Dr Brown was carrying Patrick and looking smug. Patrick did not look happy to be there.

 

“Where’s Rita?”  It was out before I could stop myself.

 

Dr Brown’s smile went from smug to fake.  “Um. She … didn’t pass her physical.”

 

I felt sick at that.  A quick look at the guys showed the same concern on their faces.  Cynthia noticed.

 

“I hear you are having some problems with your feet,” she deflected.  “Let’s have a look.” She set Patrick down to get her bag. The boy ran over to me.

 

Juggling the two of them in my lap, I asked, “What happens if I don’t pass my physical?”

 

She blinked, “You already did.”

 

“Yeah, but now you want to see my feet.  I want to know what happens to me if you don’t like what you find.”

 

“Oh!  You will be fine.” The slight stress on the word ‘you’ did not ease my fears.

 

I looked up at Asshole who was watching Patrick with interest.  “I know this isn’t going to matter, but I don’t want Dr Brown looking at my feet.”

 

Asshole looked at Christopher.  The ensuing discussion was not in English.  Suddenly any orc with a stake in the game picked up their son and left.  Andrew nodded to Harry and Martin to follow.

 

Once they were gone, Dr Brown turned to me and said, “Someone will take the boys, then we’ll get started.”

 

She was clearly not expecting a soldier grab her from behind and physically carry her out of the room.  That left the two boys, Christopher, Asshole and me.  

 

Mr Grumpy Bear, as Harry had named him, sat down next to, but not touching me.  He pantomimed taking off his socks. Christopher was opening the old fashioned looking doctor’s bag.  He put on some gloves and sat on the floor near my feet. Then they both waited.

 

“It’s not that bad,” I insisted.

 

Christopher was mostly understandable, “then show.”

 

I sighed.  When I went to pull off the trouser socks they were stuck to my feet in a couple of places.  Christopher pulled out a bottle of something and dabbed at the sticking places with a piece of gauze that had been soaked in whatever that was.  Once my first sock was off, he put a drug patch on the top of my foot. Max was watching intently.

 

Asshole lured the boys away with the Pigeon book.  His pronunciation was still terrible, but they joined in shouting “no!” at the appropriate parts.

 

When I looked back, Christopher had a tight looking grip on my ankle that I couldn’t actually feel and was cutting into the sole of my foot with a scalpel. I tried to pull my foot away.  It barely twitched in his grasp. Completely ignoring me, Christopher set down the scalpel and put another drug patch on my foot.

 

After that, the world was reduced to a series of moments.

 

Asshole picking me up off the floor.

 

Asshole laying me on the island in the kitchen.

 

Christopher using the island sink to wash my feet.

 

Asshole slathering them with something that burned.

 

Waking up on bed upstairs, with Asshole wrapping a piece of fabric around my left foot .  The right one was already done.  One of the drug patches were sitting on the blanket next to my foot.  I guessed the other was under the bandages. 

 

It took me a couple of tries to be able to speak.  “Do I still have all my toes?”

 

He just snorted.

 

“Oh.  How many do I have left?”

 

He finished wrapping my foot then held up both hands, “ ‘en o’s.”

 

I breathed a sigh of relief, “See?  Not so bad.”

 

Now he narrowed his eyes at me, “ba ah duh.” he said slowly and carefully.

 

“Oh.”  I paused before adding “Where’s Max?”

 

“Pah trick.”

 

That got me sitting bolt upright, “You gave him to Cynthia Brown?”

 

Asshole curled a lip in disgust and snarled as he shook his head no.

 

“Good!  Rita was older, but not old.  She was healthier than I am. There is no way I would believe I passed my physical and she didn’t.”  I thought for a moment. “Is there a way for me to see her? Could she come here like Harry and Martin did?”

 

Asshole let go of my foot and took a step back.  He watched me for a moment, then shook his head.

 

“Is she OK?”

 

Again, he shook his head, no.

 

“Oh.  But how did Patrick end up with Cynthia?”

 

Shrug.

 

“Something isn’t right here.  I mean I can understand someone doing something to Rita if it meant they would get out of the camp where we were staying.  Hell, the improvement in the quality of the food alone is very nearly enough to make someone do something drastic. But Cynthia was already living in a house.”

 

Asshole frowned.  This was the first time I noticed that his ears also pinned back against his head.

 

I made an undignified squeak and pulled my feet back.  “Sorry! I’ll leave it alone. Can I go get Max now?”

 

Nodding, Asshole picked me up and fireman carried me out to the back lawn.  There were all five boys, three teddy bears, and two gay men, but no sign of a partridge in a pear tree.  No Cynthia, but Christopher was watching from the fence with the other orcs.

 

After setting me on the ground with about as much grace as if I were a sack of potatoes, Asshole went over and had a quiet word with the other orcs.  They kept peeking at me over his shoulder.

 

Harry came over and sat a good six feet away from me. “Oooh, I don’t like the looks of that.”

 

I looked at him, “Why are you sitting all the way over there?”

 

“I found out why you didn’t get Carl’s name earlier,”  he smirked.

 

“Oh, this is going to be good.”

 

“Yeah.  They’re all afraid that if any of us big strong males get too close to you, we will be overcome with lust and accidentally have sex with you.”

 

“Oh, be serious!”

 

“I am.”  He positively cackled the last sentence.  “Apparently Tattoos over there beat the shit out of a number of people yesterday to get me and Martin transferred here.  No one wants to piss him off.”

 

“Which one is Carl?”

 

“The one responsible for James.  Tyler is William’s godfather.”

 

I shook my head, “I still can’t believe their names are Carl and Tyler.”

 

Harry shrugged, “They aren’t.  But apparently they know we won’t be able to pronounce their names so they are going with human ones.”

 

“But still… Carl?”

 

“Could be worse.  Could be Dick.”

 

“Jesus!” I laughed, “Maybe I should christen Asshole Richard.”

 

Harry laughed, “Is that what you call him?”

“Only in the privacy of my own head.”

 

“I don’t know.  While you were gone, they brought Janice for a visit.  She was also having a hard time walking, but there is nothing wrong with her feet.”

 

“I think Rita is dead,” I whispered.

 

Harry didn’t say anything for a long moment.  “Is he hurting you?”

 

“He is scaring me.”

 

“Yeah.  But they are all like that.  Is he hurting you? He yelled at me.  Is he trying to scare you or is he just big and scary?”

 

I thought about that.  “I could do with less nudity.  He ran off with Max when I could hardly follow, that made my feet worse.  He hasn’t hit me, yet. He hasn’t raped me, yet. But those are pretty low standards to hold someone to.”

 

Harry nodded.  “Yeah. Welcome to hell.”



Chapter Text

Asshole was up to something.  I would say he was making me nervous, but my anxiety had been at 10/10 for the last three years so …  

 

In the meantime, Max had dumped whoever’s bear he had been playing with to plaster himself to my side as soon as he saw me there.  Three bears, five kids, I was willing to bet Patrick didn’t have one either. He was playing with Max’s rag doll instead. Well, they were easy enough to make.  I wasn’t going to be running after him for a while. I still couldn’t feel my feet which did not suggest that trying to walk on them would be a good idea.

 

The decrepit orc who had made me choose a mate turned up and spoke at length with the congregation of soldiers.  They kept looking at me. Shit.

 

“That can’t be good,” Harry whispered.  “Which one of us do you think he’s watching?”

 

“I’m pretty sure it’s me.  Dr Brown got Patrick when Rita didn’t pass her physical.”

 

“Fuck.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

I was shivering, my breasts were so full they hurt.  When Max pulled on my shirt they started leaking a little.  “Christopher?” Oh shit, that made all of them look at me. “You are a medic or something, right?”  He nodded, giving me a look like I was trying to get him in trouble. “Is it safe for me to feed Max?”

 

Again, a hesitant nod.

 

“What ever meds you gave me won’t hurt him?”

 

Now they were all in a flutter.  Eventually the general came over, “I want to see you feed your son.”

 

“I want to know it’s safe.”

 

“Is safe,” Christopher said.  

 

They were all watching me intently.  I shuddered under the attention. “Could I just have a moment?  Of privacy?”

 

“No.”  The old guy said it with no room for debate.

 

It didn’t really matter, Max had lots of practice.  All I had to do was open the buttons and he took it from there.

 

“Can you feed others?”

 

That gave me pause.  God, I hoped he wasn’t going to ask for a try.  “I don’t know. It isn’t like drinking from a bottle.  I don’t know if another baby would be able to figure it out.”

 

“Could you feed Patrick?”

 

“I don’t know if he would know not to bite me.”

 

Suddenly, Christopher was handing me Rita’s son.  I hesitated, “I’m not his mom. Rita is.”

 

“Try.”  It was the same firmness of tone that he had used earlier.

 

I looked at Patrick.  “Do you want to try drinking some milk?”

 

He just shook his head and ran off.

 

They all frowned at me.  I shrugged, “Max doesn’t always want to eat either.”

 

The old guy leaned forward and pinched my arm hard enough to make me yelp.   Then he turned and spoke to Asshole at length, who kept frowning and looking over the other’s shoulder at me.  When they were finished, the other left. Asshole frowned at Harry then jerked his thumb indicating that the man should leave.  Once he had, Asshole took his place.

 

I ignored him for a while.  He returned the favour. After a while, Max lay in my lap and let me pet his hair.  It wasn’t long yet, still a short mop of baby curls. Eventually my son settled against me and his breathing slowed.  That’s when I looked up to see the Tattooed Wonder watching me.

 

“Did you arranged to get Harry and Martin brought here?”  I whispered.

 

He grunted, then nodded very slightly.

 

“Is that why you have a black eye?”

 

That one made him chuckle, but he nodded again.

 

“Thank you.”

 

He looked a little shocked at that.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

The sound he made certainly wasn’t English.  Harry was right, I wouldn’t be able to pronounce that.  “Oh,” I said weakly.

 

He chuckled again, “Theo.”

 

“Really?”

 

He shrugged.

 

“Pick that name your self, did you?”

 

Nod.

 

“Did you know it means god?  As in theology?”

 

He closed his eyes and laughed softly.  “Sam?”

 

“Name of god.”  He looked at me.  “No, really, it means ‘the name of god’.”

 

“Hard.”

 

“You want your name to be Hard or it’s hard picking a name?”

 

He shook his head a growled softly.  Then turned and pointed at me.

 

“I’m Kari.  I thought you knew that, but I guess I didn’t really introduce myself.”

 

This time he jabbed a finger in my direction, then patted his chest.

 

“I wouldn’t pick something very flattering I’m afraid.” He stopped looking at me at that.  “Hey, I’ve only known you for a couple of days. It took me a week to name Max.”

 

We sat in silence for a few moments.

 

“Sometime when I can actually understand what you are saying, I want you to tell me the story of the tattoos.”

 

He peeked at me out of the corner of his eye at that.

 

“There has got to be a story.  You are the only … one I’ve seen with … um… our style tattoos.”

 

He seemed to consider this, then nodded and went back to watching Max. 

 

After a while Martin came over and sat a respectful distance away from us. He’s asked me, “Are you able to walk?”

 

Asshole quickly replied with a firm, “No!”

 

Martin and I shared a look. “O...kay,” he continued, “If the godfathers carry our boys, then Harry and I can carry Max and Patrick and you can hitch a ride on the tank.  Sound good?”

 

“Where are we going?” I asked not wanting to think about being tossed into a fireman’s carry again. 

 

“Apparently dinner is always served buffet style in the park.”

 

I frowned and tried to figure out how that was going to work if everyone was carrying someone else. “The boys will be able to walk through the line, but that doesn’t work if I can’t.”

 

Martin shrugged, “we find you a place to sit and one of us brings you a plate.”

 

Asshole didn’t look overly pleased with that suggestion.  

 

“Max and I have eaten supper in the room so far.”

 

“Oh. Alright.  Tyler says we are all going with them.  I’ll see you later, yeah?”

 

“Yeah. Later dude.”

 

Martin shot me a worried look as he stood up and left.   As everyone else started to get themselves organized, Asshole got up and tried to round up Patrick and Max.  Eventually he had one giggling boy under each arm. Then he turned to me.

 

“You are out of arms,” I observed.  “Look, take the boys to eat and you can come back for me after.”

 

He frowned.  

 

“Christ, man!  I am trusting you with my son.  That is huge. Just… bring him back, ok?”

 

He looked at who else was in the yard.  I could watch him consider each of them in turn.  Finally he grumbled to himself and passed Patrick to Harry and Max to Martin.  Then he came back to where I was sitting and tossed me over his shoulder.

 

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Martin shouted even as Harry barked out a, “Hey!”

 

He turned and snarled at them.

 

I had a fabulous view of his ass but couldn’t actually see what was going on.  I could hear Martin trying to explain, “Watch it man! You have to be gentle! Fuck, look!  She is tiny. Fragile.”

 

“Delicate,” Harry added.

 

I was indignant. “I am -” the next word ‘not’ died in my throat.  If they could convince Asshole to be careful with me, that could only be to my advantage, right?  Unless they decided I was unfit. “I want to at least try walking.”

 

Everyone ignored that. 

 

Asshole slowly slid me off his shoulder.  He held me out at arms length, his hands holding my ribs just under my armpits and gave me the most critical look I had gotten since Mrs Beswick’s grade three class.

 

“Hi,” I said flatly for lack of anything else to say.

 

He narrowed his eyes and then slung me around so I was sitting on his hip the same way I would carry Max.

 

“Yeah, because dignity is highly overrated.”  

 

Asshole snorted what was almost an actual laugh.  Harry and Martin grinned at me.

 

-----

 

We were eating picnic style in the park.  Random orcs kept walking past to stare at us.  It was really creepy for the adult humans and distracting for the kids.  The orcs sitting with us all just looked proud, like there was status in having stolen someone’s children.

 

If any of the kids made eye contact, the orc would wave or pull a face or something to try to make them laugh.  The boys loved it. But they weren’t eating their dinner.

 

I reached out and poked Max.  “Ok, cutie, less staring, more eating.”

 

Harry choked on his dinner, “Gorgeous!”  Then he started to laugh, full blown, tears running down his eyes, belly laugh.

 

“What?” Martin and I both asked.

 

“I just figured out what put the grumpy in Grumpy Bear,” he gasped.  

 

Asshole glowered at him, clenching his fists.  I put my hand on his arm and said to Harry, “Don’t go poking the bear.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

 

Harry had stopped laughing.  Martin was looking nervous. I looked back at Asshole who was staring at my hand on his arm.

 

I snatched it away and hunched away from him.  “Shit. Sorry.”

 

Harry shook his head, “I don’t think he is.”

 

Someone came over and handed Asshole a big mug of something hot.  He took a sip and passed it to me.

 

“Ugh.”

 

“What is it?” Martin asked.

 

“I don’t know, but it tastes like fake chocolate flavoured chalk in liquid form.” I grumbled.

 

Martin frowned, “Can I try?” He reached for it.  

 

One of the orc who was either Tyler or Carl batted his hand away, “no.”

 

That gave me pause.  “Are you poisoning me?”

 

Suddening everyone was shaking their head and explaining in words that I could not understand.  Somewhere out of the mess of voices, I picked out ‘milk drink.’

 

“It doesn’t taste like milk.  Why can’t Martin try it?”

 

“Yours,”  Asshole insisted.

 

I tried to read his face, but all I could see was orc.  I pretended to take a sip and set it aside, planning to ‘accidently’ spill it later.

 

Asshole helpfully picked it up and held it for me.

 

I ignored him and concentrated on feeding Max from his plate and eating my own dinner.

 

“Pro-tip buddy,” Harry interjected, “Kari is stubborn.  She isn’t going to drink that now that she isn’t sure what it is.”

 

“Muhlk drink,” he repeated.

 

“Let me try it.  If it isn’t drugged, what does it matter?”

 

The mug was reluctantly handed over.

 

Harry took a drink, made a face.  “Ugh. Why is it hot?” I looked at him.  “It’s a chocolate protein shake. It tastes like chalk because of the whey powder.”

 

“Oh!” Martin chimed in, “It’s a milk drink because it has a bunch of calcium!  It’s probably to help because you’re nursing.”

 

Asshole nodded slowly.

 

“Huh.”  I took the mug back when Harry passed it to me.  I took a swig, “Not sure it would be better cold.”

 

“Yeah,” he said, “I used to add it to smoothies.  The chocolate was better with a banana and some almond milk.”

 

I sighed, “I miss bananas.”

 

“Yeah.  Any fruit really,”  Martin agreed.

 

“Beer,” Harry added.

 

We all sighed.  It was pretty much the end of that night's conversation.

 

----

 

Patrick and Max were tucked into the bed.  I wasn’t exactly happy about that. Grumpy Bear was frowning as he rewrapped my feet.  I couldn’t see the bottoms, but the tops didn’t look that bad.

 

“They don’t hurt,” I assured him.  He tapped the drug patch on the top of my foot. “Oh.”

 

“Hey!” Martin called from behind us.

 

Asshole spun around clearly ready to attack.

 

“Whoa!  Easy there big guy!  I was just going to ask if you wanted to come look in the closet in our room.  See if there is anything you think would fit Kari. If you want.”

 

He turned and looked at me.  “Schleep in bed!” it was definitely a command.

 

“Uh-” I started, but stopped when he snarled.

 

“Buddy?  You have to pick one.  Having her be in the bed and too scared to sleep or her not with you but actually getting some rest.  Threatening her only gets you one.”

 

“Martin?  Just be careful.  Harry and I need you with all your bits still attached.”

 

“Are you going to stay in the bed if he comes to look for clothes, or do I need to get Harry to keep an eye on you?”

 

I blinked.  OK, He was up to something.  I could go along with that. “Look, I don’t want to be-”

 

“Harry!  Just come keep an eye on Kari, she can’t be walking around on her sore feet.”

 

“Come on!  I am a grown adult, I don’t need a babysitter.”

 

“No,” Harry replied as he walked in, “but the kids do.  Oooh! Gutsy! Letting the not fully toilet trained kids sleep in the bed with cloth diapers that leak.  I’ll get some towels or something to put down at least.”

 

He headed to the bathroom, like it was nothing for him to be in the room.  I was pretty sure that if the guard wouldn’t even pass me diapers through the door way that it was a big deal.

 

I could see Asshole looking between the two men.  Harry came back with the shower curtain from around the tub.  “I got this.”

 

Asshole looked at me.  

 

“Oh, don’t worry.  I’ll keep an eye on her,” Harry assured him.

 

Grumbling to himself, Grumpy Bear left the building.  Or at least the room.

 

Harry watched him leave then leaned in and whispered in his most conspiratorial voice, “He calls you gorgeous.”

 

“What?”

 

“Look!  That’s why grumpy is so grumpy.  Bigger teeth should mean more status, but the ones with smaller teeth are easier to understand.  That means he can’t sweet talk you. So I bet he went from cock of the walk, to the guy who makes you flinch.  Guy has game, but none of it works on you. You aren’t impressed that he’s built like a bear, that just makes him scary.  He got you the biggest bed, but you won’t sleep in it. He’s getting you better food, but you think he’s poisoning you. Fuck sweetie!  I think he is really trying.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I mean, I think so.  Kids are status, you saw they way they were looking at the boys.  Now you have another one in your bed. That you don’t want to stay in.  From what I understand, you talked up how important it was to have us here.  He made it happen. I mean, thank you! But honestly, who does that?”

 

“You are saying he got me people as a gift?”

 

“I think so?  Come on, girl, you have to admit there are a bunch of size queens out there that would cum in their pants over that bear and he is trying to be nice to you.”

 

I rubbed the bruises on my arms, “He isn’t careful though.  I’ve been more banged in the last three days than I have in the last three years.”

 

“So maybe we just need to work on that.”

 

“I werk on thah-t.”

 

We both looked up guiltily.  Asshole was standing there with his arms full of clothes.  I wondered how much he had heard, but Martin was standing next to him grinning, so it couldn’t have been that much.

 

I couldn’t deal with all of this just now.  “If those clothes are for me, and you wear your uniform, then can Harry and Martin have the clothes out of this closet?”

 

He had to think about that.  Or maybe he had to translate it to whatever language he used in his head.  After a moment he nodded.

 

“The clothes that I wear disappear every night.  What happens when there aren’t any more?” I was shaking slightly under his gaze.

 

Grumpy Bear shrugged.

 

“Oh.”

 

Harry cleared his throat, “Are the clothes going to come back?  Will you get her more? Will you make her run around naked? We need to know these things!”

 

Shrug.

 

Martin looked pissed.  “When do they go missing?”

 

“When I’m in the shower.”

 

They both turned to look at the orc, “Which means,” Martin continued, “that either he is taking them or someone else is coming into the room while you are in the shower.”

 

The guys exchanged a look.  “You can shower in our room,”  Harry suggested. “You don’t have anything we haven’t seen before and we won’t let anything happen to your stuff.”

 

Asshole stiffened at that and growled something that I certainly didn’t understand.  

 

Martin did, “Excuse me!  I am married to that gorgeous man!  Kari doesn’t have anything that interests me!  She is safer with us than she is with you!”

 

“Don’t!” I wasn’t even sure which of them I was talking to, but they both turned and looked at me.

 

Harry was quiet when he spoke, “Come on Kari, we can’t fight off the soldiers, but we’ve never raped anyone either.”

 

“No.”  Tattoos was clearly pissed about that.

 

“You should go take care of the boys,” I suggested.

 

After Mr and Mr King left, Asshole spun and glared at me.  

 

I pulled the shower curtain closer as though it would somehow shield me against his rage. “He’s right.  If the boys and I sleep in the bathroom, it’s easier to clean up in the morning.”

 

He spoke.  I looked at him blankly.  He made a sound of frustration.  I jumped.

 

He stepped further away from the bed and paced for a moment.  The he stopped and spoke very slowly, “No mor cl-oh-th, th-eh-en,” he stopped and patted his chest, “or-kah cl-oh-th.”

 

“You are going to give me orc clothes?”

 

“Yeth.”

 

“Is this real clothes or like slave Leia clothes?”

 

“Wuh?”

 

I just shook my head.  “Clothes that actually cover me?  Or like that dress yesterday? Or even less covered?”

 

He turned and left.

 

“Great!  Thanks! Very helpful!”

 

“St- ay!”



Chapter Text

While he was gone, I took the opportunity to stand up.  It didn’t go so well. I couldn’t feel the floor. After a brief impression of a dog wearing boots for the first time, I managed to crawl to the bathroom, have a pee and crawl back into the bed.  Then I concentrated on moving the boys onto the shower curtain. A big bed is nice, but a crib would be easier to manage. If we were going to be living indoors, the boys really needed some little potties so we could keep working on toilet training.

 

I remembered a line from some movie about the soldier who came home from war and his bed was too soft.  I could see that. Max and I slept on the ground under a blanket. If he peed in his sleep it just soaked into the ground.  I never had to worry about cleaning up. Not that it mattered. In the camp they would give me clean cloth diapers, but showers weren’t a thing.  Washing out of a bucket, basically meant that we all stank at least a little. No one was offended.

 

I didn’t want to have to worry that Asshole would decide we were defective or something if one of the boys wet the bed.

 

Suddenly, Grumpy Bear was pulling the shower curtain from my hand.  He spread it out on the floor, then put a stack of towels on the curtain.  He pulled out something that looked like a disposable diaper but made out of pvc or some sort of plastic.  He put one on each of the sleeping boys over their cloth diapers, then put them on the towel nest before covering them with a blanket.

 

At which point he turned and frowned at me.  OK. Time to see if Harry was right.

 

“Thank you.”

 

That threw him for a loop.  His eyes went wide for a moment, then he pointed at the bed, “Sleep.”

 

Jesus, was he getting better at talking or was I getting better at listening?  “I can sleep on the floor. It’s your bed.”

 

He shook his head, no.

 

“Look.  I’ve spent the last two years sleeping on the dirt.  The floor is an improvement.” Plus if you are sleeping in the bed I at least know where you are.

 

I would swear he just looked sad.

 

“Pree-z?”

 

“What?”

 

“Pree-z sleep in bah-ed-dah.”

 

I stared at him.  

 

He threw his hands up in disgust and sat on the floor next to the boys.  Then we stared at each other. 

 

“This would be easier for both of us if I knew what your plan was.”

 

He shrugged.

 

“No plan?”

 

He shook his head.

 

I licked my lips.  “Really? Because I’m am living in fear of ending up like Janice.”

 

He didn’t show any sign of understanding.

 

“About four inches taller than me, curly hair?  Doesn’t make eye contact or talk anymore because someone is hurting her badly enough that she is hiding in her own head and is too afraid to come out?”

 

That he recognized.  “Not m-eye.”

 

“Not yours?”

 

“No.”

 

“But I am?”

 

Nod.

 

“What about Martin and Harry?”

 

“Yours.”

 

“They are mine?”

 

Nod.

 

“OK.  Are you better at taking care of yours than who ever has Janice?”

 

Smirk, nod.

 

I just shook my head.  “I wish I could believe you, Grumpy Bear.”  He didn’t reply just adjusted his eyeline so he wasn’t watching me quite as intently.  “Since Max was born, there were only two nights where I didn’t sleep with him in my arms. I know I can’t keep him safe, but at least I know whatever happens we face it together.”

 

He nodded absentmindedly as he watched Max squirm in his sleep.  My little one wiggled around. He didn’t find me but he did find Patrick who he cuddled instead.

 

I was so exhausted my head hurt, whatever numbing stuff was on my feet was wearing off, and my eyes kept trying to close.  I was fighting hard to stay awake. There was a monster between me and my son. Having lost him for those two days had made an impact.  I didn’t want to wake up and find him gone.

 

It turned out the person I needed to worry about was Patrick.  He sat bolt upright and said, “I want my mommy!”

 

“Oh, darling!  I want your mom too!  But I don’t know where she is, so can we stick together until she gets back?”

 

Patrick sniffed and wiped his face on his arm.

 

“You and me and Max.  Just until she gets back.”

 

Patrick was watching Tattoos.  “I don’ like him.”

 

I swallowed.  To be honest, neither did I.  “He’s not so bad. Just a big Grumpy Bear.”

 

“Bear? Wa bear?”

 

“Yeah.  A bear. Like …. Those teddy bears James and William and Henry have.”

 

Patrick gave Tattoos a disbelieving look.  “You bear?”

 

Asshole nodded.  “Bear.”

 

“Yeah.”  I thought fast.  “See… the other boys just got a little stuffy to play with.  We got a great big bear to take care of us.”

 

Patrick frowned.

 

I shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bed.

 

Grumpy came over and with exaggerated care picked me up.  He lay me down next to Patrick.  

 

“Need a hug?” I asked.  Patrick flung himself at me and sobbed into my chest.  “It’s OK. I got you.”

 

“Why Grumpy?”

 

I froze.  Shit. “Um...”

 

“Can no tah-ah-ka.”

 

Patrick nodded solemnly.  “Me neezer.”

 

“I bet that makes you mad when you can’t tell people what you want.”

 

They both nodded.

 

“It’s OK.  Max doesn’t talk very well either.  But I figured out how to understand him.  We’ll figure it out.”

 

Asshole was watching the boy.  “Wah-eh-ta?”

 

Both Patrick and I tried to figure that one out.  He got it first. “Needa pee, Bear!”

 

Asshole scooped him up and carried him to the bathroom.  A while later, there was the sound of running water and Patrick came back out and snuggled in next to Max.

 

I curled around one side of the boys and… Bear lay down on the other.  

 

“Na-ow sleep!”

 

-----

 

I was the last one up in the morning.  Patrick and Max where playing in the corner.  Someone had turned up with a plate of fresh local fruit.  My feet hurt. I whimpered a bit as I sat up. 

 

Max ran over and hugged me, “Mommy!  Bear got foods!”

 

It took me a moment to remember who Bear was.

 

“Awesome!  But I need to go pee.”  

 

“I halp?” Bear asked.

 

I thought about that.  Crawl to the bathroom or let him carry me.  “Could you help by getting Christopher?”

 

“Hurt?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

That did it.  He picked up me up and carefully pulled me over his shoulder.

 

“Whoa!  Ok! Um!  Just set me down on the edge of the tub and I can take it from there.”

 

He went stock still for a moment, seeming to think about that.  Then he did as I asked stepping back to watch me.

 

“I would like to be alone for this part.”

 

He watched me for another moment, then turned the bathtub on and left..

 

I got the hint.  Once I was soaking in the tub, I took the opportunity to look at my feet.  They didn’t look too bad. There was the blister Christopher had cut open. They were tender, but the hot spots were gone.  Unwrapping them had been interesting. Bear had somehow taken a rectangle of cloth and made me an origami pair of socks. Maybe that’s why they were all so good at folding diapers.

 

That did however leave me with a problem.  The tub was deep and slippery. I gritted my teeth and was able to haul myself out with an ungraceful thump.  It seemed that was Martin’s queue to come in. He helped me get toweled off with only a few comments about how I was even skinnier that he was.  He brought me one of the toothbrushes we had found new in the drawers. As I brushed my teeth with a cup of water, he brushed my hair.

 

“OK.  Time to get the Bear.  I’m not going to be able to get you back to bed.”

 

“I guess that’s his name now.”

 

“Yeah.  No more calling him the other thing.  He has done a lot to help us. All of us.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“I’m serious, Kari.  Once we got the co-parents to actually talk to us - ”

 

Whatever he was going to say next was stopped by Bear coming in to carry me back to bed.  When I was dressed in sweats from the guys closet, Christopher came in to check my feet. After some back and forth he gave Bear a tube of stuff to rub onto the soles and me strict instructions to stay off my feet for the next two or three days.

 

I wasn’t happy, but  Bear was.



Chapter Text

In the last two days, I hadn’t been out of the room.  I had barely been out of bed. I was bored out of my mind and whatever residual fear I was harbouring towards Bear had largely been replaced by irritation.

 

I was starting to feel like veal.  I was kept in bed and food kept turning up every few hours.  If Martin hadn’t found me some comedy books in the library, I wouldn’t have made it this long.

 

Things I had learned:  The guards had a perfect view of the bed on their patrols.  There weren’t any electric lights in the upstairs rooms, so part of why the doors were gone might have been for better light.  Bear was still an asshole in that he was clearly working up to sleeping in the bed with me. I was trying to politely suggest that the bed was his and I would be happier sleeping on the floor.  He was rather set in the idea that me sleeping on the floor was somewhat offensive to him.

 

I was currently on the bed with five sleeping little boys all crammed in around me.  “This is ridiculous.”

 

That got the adults attention.  I once again wished it was just Harry and Martin and not a collection of four large male orcs in the room with me.

 

“What is Kari?”  Harry asked.

 

I looked down at Max.  “Well, just that you have more kids in your room but the bigger bed is in here.”

 

Tyler snorted, “Make more kids for you.”

 

I felt sick and looked away.

 

That night when Bear was watching me eat supper I hesitantly suggested, “If we cleaned out the walk in closet, it’s big enough to be a nursery.  The boys and I could sleep in there. It’s not like the clothes fit either of us anyway.”

 

Bear considered this for a moment.  “Boys sleep there. Kari sleep here.”  

 

I ignored that suggestion and was going to just let it drop.

 

Bear made a soft growl of frustration.

 

“I don’t like that the guards can stand in the hallway and watch me sleep.  It feels too vulnerable. I’ve known you less than a week. You are scary and I am acutely aware that you can do whatever the hell you like to me.  I know it’s a false sense of security, but I sleep better knowing you aren’t too close.”

 

He didn’t say anything to that.

 

-----

 

Christopher had turned up after breakfast, plucked me out of the bed and carried me off without any explanation.

 

Bear had just let him.

 

I tried to find out what was going on, but when he didn’t answer me, I just wept.  It was some sort of medical. I was stripped then measured, height, weight, the circumference of various body parts.  Christopher ran his hands down my back seeming to count my ribs and backbones. He pulled out a fist full of swabs and swabbed my throat, my cheeks, each of my eyes.  There were different swabs that went so far up my nose I coughed.

 

I was very afraid I was about to get a repeat of the pelvic exam, but at least that didn’t happen.  

 

I was given a pair of hospital pajamas.

 

Then Christopher unwrapped the bandages on my feet.  He had a good look at the soles, between my toes and at the healing blisters at where the boots had rubbed on the sides of my feet.

 

After that, he sat me on a bar stool, liberally smeared my feet in goop and handed me a book on fly fishing, before ignoring me to sew some orcs ear that had been partially bitten off.

 

As guy with the ear was treated, someone gave me another mug of protein shake.

 

When both were finished I asked, “Can I go back to Max now?  Please?”

 

Christopher looked at me like he had forgotten I was there.

 

“You go when Bear come get you.”

 

That was ominous.  “What if he doesn’t?”

 

Christopher just shrugged.

 

I spent the rest of the morning learning about how to tie flies.  At least it wasn’t a book on tax code.

 

“When last bleed?”

 

That got my attention.  “What?”

 

“When last bleed from legs?”

 

I frowned, “My feet haven’t been bleeding in days.”

 

Christopher frowned, pulled a medical book off one of his shelves, flipped through it and handed it to me open.

 

To a page about menstruation.

 

“Oh.  Wow. That’s an awkward question.”  

 

“When?”

 

“I don’t know.  It’s not like we have calendars in the camps.”

 

“Guess.”

 

He had all of Cynthia’s paper work on me.  Preg = 0 Birth = 0. “A couple of months after Max was born.”

 

“When milk comes?”

 

“Yeah.  I guess.  All of the women lost enough weight that no one is menstruating in the camp any more.”

 

He didn’t like that last bit, but he made a note about it anyway.

 

I went back to reading about best to tie flies that will catch fish anywhere in North America and wondering how many people got fish hooks in their fingers trying to make them.

 

“How often before?”

 

I looked back up to see him watching me.  OK. Time to piss him off. They always got angry when we talked about before.  “Before you came I was regular every 29 days.” Yeah, that made him curl up his lips in disgust.  “Anything else?”

 

He narrowed his eyes at me.  “How many men?”

 

“Is that a real question or are you just curious?  Because the real question should be do I have any diseases and Cynthia already ran a boat load of tests for that.”

 

He didn’t ask again.

 

At lunch, we were each brought a bowl of thick stew.  I got another cup of chalky goodness and Bear staring pointedly at me, waiting for me to finish.

 

When he came over to pick me up, I held up my hands.  “Christopher let me walk to the bathroom by myself, so I must be cleared to walk, right?”

 

There was a rather heated discussion about that in a language I couldn’t understand.  Then Bear rewrapped my feet and held out his hand. I wasn’t totally back to normal, but it was much improved.  I was still going to need some shoes that actually fit.  

 

Out of the room that had been set up as a doctors’ office, down the hall past the kitchen and up the grand staircase to the second floor.  At first glance it looked like the bed was just gone. But once I was inside I realized the king sized bed was gone and a queen sized one had been set up so that it wasn’t as visible from the doorway.  The large space where the bed had been was now set up a play space with some blocks and a wooden train set.

 

Max and the boys were sitting there rolling cars around the track.  Someone had found one of those wooden train whistles.

 

“Aw!  That’s nice.”

 

Bear pulled me to the former walk in closet, that had been stripped of shelves and now housed two toddler beds.  It was a perfect little bedroom for the boys. 

 

With no room for me unless I squeezed in with one of them.

 

My heart rate went up and I sat down on one of the beds.  Bear sat on the floor and watched me.

 

“Listened,” he said softly.

 

“To most of it, yeah.”

 

“Not scary.”

 

“Yeah you are.”

 

Out of the corner of my eye I could see him shaking his head.  “Not touch.”  

 

I looked over and he held his hands up by his shoulder and pulled them away from me.

 

“Did Christopher really need to do all of that, or did you just scare the crap out of me to get me out of the room for this?”

 

He frowned, “Slowly, please.”

 

“Did Christopher need to do that?”

 

“What he do?”  he didn’t sound pleased.

 

“Took away my clothes.  Measured me, swabbed me.  Asked about my sex life.”

 

Bear’s eyebrows went up at the last one.  He cleared his throat, “Tell me?”

 

“I didn’t tell him, you don’t need to know either.  I don’t want to know about yours. I don’t want to need to know about yours.  I don’t want-”

 

“Me,” he finished.

 

“Anyone!” I snapped.

 

Fuck.  That was the wrong thing to say.  He actually perked up a bit at that.

 

He nodded, “Too small.  Wait you bigger.”

 

I snorted, “I’m fully grown, Bear.  I’m not getting any bigger.”

 

He shrugged.

 

I swallowed, “Is that why Christopher was measuring me? To know when I’m bigger?”

 

Nod.

 

“Do you have any idea how horrible that is?”

 

“Not bad.  Take care. Werk on that.”

 

“It‘s a bit of an incentive to not eat though, isn’t it?  If I know I’m getting raped when I fatten up a bit.”

 

“No.  Kari eat. I not take.  Wait til give.”

 

“You’re gonna be waiting a long time, Bear.”

 

He just shrugged, “I wait.”  Then got up off the floor and left.

 

I sat in the nursery for a long while until Martin came to find me.

 

He sat next to me and said softly, “Bear said you asked for this.”

 

“I did… sort of.”

 

“We got the big bed.  You talked about that, so I thought this was your idea.”

 

“Yeah.  My version didn’t involve me bed sharing with him.”

 

Martin reached over and rubbed my back. “Kari?  He hasn’t hurt you yet. He’s had lots on time. Maybe it’s going to be OK.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

Martin nodded, “Do you have any idea how scared we were when the soldiers came into  the camp and took us to be ‘mothers’? I fought. We both fought! But all they did was give us our sons back.”  Martin took a deep breath and blew it out. “OK, so co-parenting with a bunch of orcs wasn’t how I planned on raising my kids, but they genuinely want what’s best for the boys.  I can’t imagine having Bear hurt you ever being seen as what’s best for Max.”

 

“Maybe,” I conceded.

 

We all had supper in the park that night.  I will admit that when it was time to head back to the room, I needed his help.  When it was time for bed, I got the bed. Bear took the floor. I slept with one eye open, but I had three years of practice to get good at that.



Chapter Text

It was a week later when Patrick was showing me a pretty rock he found and said, “Look, Mommy!”  Then he stopped and looked horrified.

 

“It’s OK.  You are just used to the other kids calling me that.”  It was true, the other four boys called me Mommy and Martin and Harry were both Daddy.  The orcs went by name. Until now, Patrick had been firm about calling me Kari.

 

Patrick started to cry.  I wanted Rita back almost as much a he did.  He wouldn’t let me hold him, but he was prepared to bury his face in Bear’s neck and cry for his own Mommy.  I understood it completely, but the rejection still stung.   

 

I was tired of being the only woman in the room.   I don’t know what happened to the other moms. When we went to the park these days, the kids all played together.  The moms treated me like I had the plague ever since I turned up with Patrick. I didn’t know how to interpret that or how to explain what had happened.

 

While Patrick and Bear hugged it out, I picked up the rock with the interesting stripe and sat down on ground.  Autumn was here. There were leaves falling all around me. Max came over and sat in my lap. “Hey pumpkin.”

 

He gave me such a glare, “What pumpkin, Mommy?”

 

Oh boy.  It was always hard when they asked about things from before.  The train set was fun, but I don’t think they had believed us when we talked about full sized trains.  “Um… it was a big fruit, that grew so that it was hollow on the inside. We could roast the seeds to eat and cook the rest to make … um… pie or … soup.”  I had no idea how to explain a jack o’lantern.  

 

We had talked about pie before.  There were cookbooks with pictures in the library.  I wondered if we could find a picture of a pumpkin.

 

Max’s brow wrinkled.

 

“Pumpkin,” I announced, “was delicious.”  With that, I tipped him back and pretended to eat his tummy as he giggled and shrieked.

 

When I set him back on his feet, Martin and Harry were laughing.  Bear and the orcs looked appalled. I braced myself for another discussion about how eating children wasn’t really a thing.  Hansel and Gretel had been upsetting all around. Fortunately, this was forestalled by the sudden queue of King boys shouting “Me next!”

 

Once everyone’s tummy had been either raspberried or nommed. The boys wandered off leaving only Patrick to sit on my lap and hug my neck in silence.  After a while, I said, “Calling me Mommy is OK. If you want. But I bet it was a surprise to do it by accident. It’s up to you.”

 

“Mommy until my mommy come back, right?”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“OK.”

 

“OK.  I kept that cool rock for you.”

 

He took it solemnly, stuffing it into his pocket before running off to join the others.  I sighed, They always came home from the park with their pockets full of treasures like rocks, twigs, bugs and once a rather disapproving frog.

 

I watched them running around and wondered if they were old enough to sit through Peter Pan.  I hadn’t read it in a while, maybe I should see if I was remembering it correctly. The Disney version was no longer politically correct, but I could barely remember the book.  It would be worth trying to find.

 

In the meantime, the boys were out playing.  Martin and Harry were snuggled up on a park bench whispering to each other.  That was good. They needed some time together. Except it left me, sitting on the ground, alone.

 

A gust of wind whipped through the park and I shivered.  Looking up a Bear, I asked, “Could I go back to the house and look for a jacket?”

 

He frowned down at me.

 

“I’ll be quick.  It’s just across the-”

 

“No.”

 

I ran my fingers through my hair and tried to move it so that my ears were more covered.  I kept my eyes on the boys as I played with it trying to figure out how to keep my neck warm.  The kids were running around, but the humans were all huddled together for warmth. Except for me, I was all huddled alone.  I wrapped my arms around myself and stuck my fingers into my armpits, trying to hold in the warmth.

 

Objectively, it wasn’t that cold out, but none of us were carrying much insulation these days.

 

Bear handed my his shirt.  I looked up at him, in all his half naked glory.  I wanted to tell him to put his clothes back on. I wanted to refuse on general principles.  I wrapped up in it anyway. The thing was big enough that I could pull my knees into it too.

 

Bear was big and scarred and absolutely covered in bad tattoos.  They weren’t the lovely full sleeves done by the kind of artists who had six month waitlists.  They were a bunch of seemingly random small black line pieces. He had rope coiled around one wrist and chain wrapped around the other.  There were guns, knives, skulls, the kind of thing little boys drew on themselves in pen when they were bored in math class.

 

Someone snickered.  I turned back to watching the boys, wondering how much it must have hurt to have his nipples tattooed to look like the center of eyes.  Who ever had done those was rather better than most of the other stuff he wore they were a couple of inches across and nearly photo accurate human eyes, orcs have less white showing around their irises.  It was really weird making eye contact with his pecs.

 

The sky was getting grey and it smelled like rain.  I pulled his shirt up to my ears and tried to turtle into it as much as I could.  

 

The sky opened up sometime later.  The humans all joined me under the trees, for what little shelter they offered.  The kids didn’t even seem to notice. Kathryn made a disparaging remark about the little bastards not having the sense to come in out of the rain.

 

“It isn’t like that,” I argued.  “They have never had houses to go to when it rained.  I’m not sure they understand that’s an option.”

 

Martin came over and sat next to me.  No one else even acknowledged my presence.  Goddamnit, I missed Rita.

 

----

 

The library had a copy of Peter And Wendy, but they guards did not want me to remove it from the room.  That meant that I could only read it for a few minutes at a time while Harry or Martin were reading to the boys.  

 

It wasn’t a complicated book, but there were so many things in it that would have been hard explain.  Mr Darling won Mrs Darling because he had taken a cab. That meant explaining cabs, nevermind that it would have been a horse drawn one.  Nana the dog. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a dog. Peter trying to stick his shadow on with soap. I had never actually understood that one, but the boys wouldn’t have a frame of reference for sewing it on either.

 

“Wendy,” he continued, in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, “Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”

 

I had never considered how odd of a statement that was for the day it was written.  As the only female in a family that seemed to be five boys, two men, four male orcs and me, I suspected that the current ruling class would not agree.

 

I carefully memorized that I was on page 33 before putting the book back on the shelf and taking Max and Patrick upstairs to get ready for bed.

 

Once the boys tucked in, there wasn’t very much for me to do except wait until I was able to sleep.  The lack of electricity meant that my only choices were having a bath in the dark, sitting in the dark, or laying in bed in the dark.  Mostly, I wedged myself in the corner and tried to keep track of where Bear was until he insisted I go to bed.

 

He was currently out of the room.  He would sometimes do that once the boys were in bed, trust me to be in charge and not run off.  Was that really an option? The soldiers never came in here, but they watched me intently if I even got close to the doorway.  

 

There was no real way to keep track of time in the dark, but Bear came back and handed me a book.  After the fly fishing book in the med bay, I had learned that they didn’t really differentiate books the way we did.  If you asked for a book (if you were given one) it was any randomly selected book. There wasn’t any thought about what book might be interesting for a specific person to read.

 

I took it and said thank you anyway, before setting it on the floor next to me.

 

“Read.”

 

I shook my head.  “There isn’t enough light for me to be able to read.”

 

Bear fumbled in his pocket to pull out a small glowing cube. It was about an inch or so wide.  It wasn’t that bright. Bright enough to see that he had brought me Peter and Wendy.

 

That hurt my heart a little.  It was a nice gesture but also scary that he was paying that close attention.  Then there was the fact that I was told not to take it out of the library. What would happen if I was caught with a stolen book?

 

“Read.”

 

I opened the book, Bear moved closer so he could hold the light near the pages.  He wasn’t quite touching me, but was close enough that I could feel the heat radiating off of him.

 

I opened the book to page 33 and started to read.

 

“Read for me.”

 

I stiffened and started to turn back to the beginning, but a huge grey hand covered the page.  

 

“Here.”

 

I looked at where he pointed.  Had he picked that section on purpose?

 

“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.

 

“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble.

 

“Now,” said he, “shall I give you a kiss?” and she made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him, but he merely dropped an acorn button into her hand, so she slowly returned her face to where it had been before, and said nicely that she would wear his kiss on the chain round her neck.  It was lucky that she did put it on that chain, for it was afterwards to save her life.

 

I read for another 60 or so pages until the end of the chapter about the Wendy house, where the lost boys ask her to be their mother.  I had forgotten that part. I used the end of the chapter as an excuse to stop.

 

Bear took the book, popped the light back into his pocket and left.  

 

He wasn’t back before I fell asleep.


Chapter Text

I have no idea what month it was.  We had all been living in that house for a while.  The nights were getting colder and longer. The upstairs wasn’t as warm as I would like, in a house this big I suspected they hadn’t turned on all of the furnaces.  By now the refugee camp would have moved everyone into the school gym. Men in the small gym, women and children in the larger one. All those people in a small space kept the place warm, even at night.

 

There weren’t enough people in this room to keep it warm.

 

It was the middle of the night, I was not sleeping.  Sometimes, when the house is really cold, you hover in that near-waking state where you feel the cold but cannot wake up enough to do anything about it. Tonight was right at that magic yet horrible temperature.

 

I had to fight my way back to consciousness.  Wrapping my blanket tightly around me I climbed out of bed, intending to go to the nursery that was a smaller space and filled with my two little living space heaters.  But they still didn’t have lights on the second floor and there wasn’t enough light in the window to stop me from tripping over Bear. I crashed forward, too disoriented to catch myself, and landed heavily on top of him with an ‘oof!’

 

“Where you go?” he asked, holding me tight.

 

I thought about saying I needed to pee, but the idea of walking over the cold tile was not one I relished.  “I’m cold. I’m going to warm up in the boys’ room.”

 

Bear didn’t let go.  “I will keep you warm.”

 

I stiffened in his arms.  My cycle wasn’t back yet, but Max was getting enough food these days.  He had almost stopped nursing only asking for milk when he was tired, crabby and needed comfort.

 

Bear relaxed his arms enough that I could wiggle away without actually letting go of me.

 

By now he knew me enough to know how to play me.  “You go wake them with your cold.”

 

He had a point.  I hated waking them up before they were ready because they were really grumpy the next day.  “I don’t want -”

 

“Me.”  Bear finish.  “Yes. I know.  Just warm. Just take warm.”

 

He was already warming me a bit, just held in my blankets.  I was bundled up tight and about as sexy as a bedroll just now.  It wouldn’t hurt to just not fight him on this one.  

 

He was still holding me the next morning when the boys woke up ready for breakfast.  I woke up enough to hear him shushing them and to feel him placing me back on the bed.

 

The next time I woke it was to tea and toast in bed.  Max was holding a pot of jam while Patrick was beaming proudly over a pot of butter.  “Thank you, my angels,” I mumbled while pulling myself up.

 

Bear cleared his throat, “Misters King too cold to.  Need to find other place.”

 

He wasn’t kidding, I swear I could see my breath.  “Have the pipes frozen? How are you not cold?” The boys didn’t look bothered by it either.

 

Bear chuckled, “Not that cold.”

 

After breakfast, I was bundled blankets and all and carried over to Martin and Harry’s room, where I was placed in their bed where they were also huddled.

 

“Stay!” Bear commanded, as though there was any kind of incentive to unwrap from the warmth just then.

 

He and Andrew left us in bed and Carl and Tyler in charge of the kids.  

 

It was warming up by morning snack time.  After a run through the shower, I put on the modified version of the orc soldier uniform I was wearing these days.  Bear gave me a warm jacket and a pair of fur lined boots and led me out of the house. We hiked through the park to one of the smaller, four bedroom houses.

 

“Live here?” he asked.

 

I considered this.  “I’m pretty sure you don’t mean one bedroom for each of us, Max, Patrick, me and you.”

 

Bear snorted.  “Big room - Max, Patrick, James, Henry, William. Smaller room - you, me. Other room - Martin, Harry.  Upstairs room - Andrew, Carl, Tyler.”

 

I swallowed at that, “Where are you going to hide all the soldiers?”

 

Bear laughed like that was the best joke.  “Soldiers outside. Misters King want sex. Good place for that.”

 

“Do Andrew, Carl and Tyler want sex too?” I snarked.

 

“Yes,” Bear said sadly.  “But they have no mates.”

 

“I’m not volunteering.” I said firmly.  Bear just looked amused. “It sounds like it’s already decided then.”

 

Bear shook his head, “We wait, you decide.”

 

“How long have you been planning this?”

 

“Since fur-aw-sis-tah.”

 

“Since frost?” 

 

He nodded.  

 

“So a couple of weeks then?”  I asked. He nodded again. I thought about that.  “You were waiting for me to …”

 

“Wait for you to stop so afeard.” 

 

I tensed.

 

“You still not want,” he hastened to add, “but not so fear.”  When I didn’t say anything, he pointed, “Doors!”

 

I blinked. Yeah. I had gotten used to there not being any doors on any of our rooms.  When I looked at him, he was grinning like this was some sort of person accomplishment.  For all I knew, it might be.

 

“Why don’t I see any orc women?”

 

Bear tensed.  Then he walked the length of the room to sit on a chair.  He took a deep breath, then started exactly like me telling the boys as story.  “Once upon a time orcs want sons. All sons. Girls not wanted. Many many … times of no daughters wanted.  Then less and less daughters born. Now… no … many females.” He looked at me expectantly.

 

I just stared.

 

“Males who not make daughter seeds sent away.  Sent here. Max and Patrick and James and Henry and William make daughters when big. Not all orcs take human mates or no more humans.”  When I still didn’t respond he continued. “Kari say -” he stopped abruptly and looked nervous, “-say humans not having childrens in camps.  No food. Orcs give more food. Still want humans.”

 

I cleared my throat, “I remember reading that there were places in our world were there weren’t enough women because of selective abortions.”

 

Bear nodded slowly, “Humans stupid like orc stupid.”

 

I thought about that for a while.  “How did you end up in that room when I got Max back?”

 

Bear considered this.  “Good protector. Not stupid enough to hurt on purpose.  Almost killed when hurt you. Not trying hurt you. Ax-eye-dent.”

 

“But someone was hurting Janice.”

 

Bear nodded slowly, “Orc hurting Janice killed now.”

 

That was news to me.

 

Bear continued in my silence. “See? I not take. I wait.”

 

“So you're telling me that through selective breeding your species has effectively limited your population growth by reducing the numbers of females born?  That sounds -” Ridiculous, yes, but also plausible. Selective abortion, the number of movies that failed the Bechdel test, one child policies that turned into one son policies.  I thought some more. “How long did that take?”

 

Bear struggled for a moment.  “Twenty fathers.”

 

“Twenty generations?”

 

“Hmmm,” it was clearly not a word he knew.

 

“You don’t like talking about this do you?  Your accent is getting worse.”

 

Bear shook his head.

 

“Are you telling me that if I complain about you, you will go away?”

 

Now he looked really nervous.  “You checked for hurt, ‘member? When feet hurt, checked for hurt.”

 

“The day you moved the furniture.”

 

Bear nodded.

 

I sat in silence.  That was a lot to take in.  Eventually something occurred to me.  “Bear? Have you ever had sex?”

 

“Yes!” he was absolutely indignant.

 

“Uh… with a woman?”

 

He didn’t answer that one.

 

“Is that a no?  Or do you just not want to talk about it because you hurt her?”

 

“Not with human.  Kari, you want different house?”

 

“Right now I want to know if you hurt her.”

 

“Not enough words, orc things different.  Not hurt, not….” he trailed off then made a noise of frustration.

“Let’s go see the rooms,” I suggested.

 

It was a cute house.  Not exactly little by any standards other than the ones in this neighbourhood.  Each room had a pretty tiled fireplace that had be retrofit with an orc style heater.  There were birch floors throughout. The trim work all looked original, even if the plaster walls had been replaced with sheet rock.  Whatever the floor plan had been, it was now redesigned so that each bedroom had its own bath.

 

The master bedroom was already set up with two sets of bunk beds, one of which had a double bed on the bottom.  There was a play mat with a city and streets on it for them to run their toys around and a bookcase full of children’s books.

 

“What happens if I don’t like this house?”

 

Bear looked pained, “You pick different house.”

 

“Really?  Because this looks like a done deal.”

 

“Really.”

 

The next bedroom had grey light walls and a tweed wool blanket folded on top of the flannel covered duvet at the end of the queen sized bed.  The view was of the hill.  

 

The last bedroom was a creamy white with a haint blue ceiling .  The queen bed pushed into the corner was wrought iron with a fluffy blue duvet that matched the ceiling.  There was a desk under the window that looked out onto the park and a big, cuddly looking arm chair in the corner.

 

I just stood in the doorway, looking at the bed.  

 

When Bear turned back and saw me there, he grinned.  Then he hooked a foot under the bed and pulled out a double sized trundle.  Some of the tension went out of my shoulders.

 

The bathroom was more normal sized than the current one.  It had white fixtures, white and grey marble and a blue ceiling.  The window in there was frosted.

 

The kitchen was small, but had an induction range, a small fridge and a big table for us all to eat at.

 

“Do the lights work?”

 

Bear nodded, “In not sleeping spaces.”

 

“But not in the bedrooms?”

 

Bear shook his head, “Sleep in bedrooms when dark.”

 

“There’s an awful lot of dark at this time of year.”

 

He just shrugged and deflected by heading into the living room.  “Martin says need place to have tree?” This was said with what was clearly confusion.

 

“I don’t even know when Christmas is any more.”

 

He still looked puzzled.

 

I just shook my head.

 

“Like house?”

 

“I want to go talk to Harry and Martin before I comment.”



Chapter Text

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.”

 

“What chickenzoop?”

 

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.



Chapter Text

Eventually, I woke in the twilight, as Martin shook my shoulder.  “Kari? Bear brought you something.”

 

I sat up to see him proudly holding a tray with a bowl of soup on it.  There were a few random feathers stuck to his clothes. I had so many questions.  I wanted to know where on earth he found a chicken. I wanted to know who knew how to clean it.  I really wanted to know if anyone had supervised the food prep so I wouldn’t also get stuck with salmonella.

 

I really wanted to know who taught Max to “bawkbawk” like an actual chicken rather than the clucking noise that the Old MacDonald had a farm song had taught him.

 

My throat was still sore, so I settled on just eating the damn soup.  It was warm and thick. There were chunks of actual carrot and enough garlic to really clear my sinuses.  “How did you get a chicken?” I managed to get out.

 

Harry, standing in the hall wearing rather more feathers, started to laugh.  Bear glared at him, but he continued, “That is the WRONG question! The right question is how did he get eight chickens, two very fat rabbits and a duck.”

 

I laughed and wheezed, “Eight chickens?” I gasped.

 

Bear shook his head and held up fingers, “Seven chick-hens.”

 

“Yeah, now! ” Harry teased.

 

I stayed awake through the soup.  Bear took the dishes away. Harry informed me that there was a whole pot of soup and Bear had already punched an orc for trying to steal some.

 

Christopher came in to change my med patch.

 

I chuckled and croaked, “What’s up, doc?”

 

He looked at me solemnly.  “You will be sick for five to seven days.  As I already told your mate that there is nothing I can do to fix you.”

 

I stiffened a little at the ‘your mate’ phrase.  “Has he been a problem for you?”

 

“Yes!  Everything from putting in a rush order on live stock to wanting me to confirm that if your fever gets too high you will get brain damage.  I don’t know what idiot told him that. You barely have a fever. You are not that ill!”

 

I laugh/coughed as Martin grinned and Harry looked uncomfortable.

 

“Am I going to make the boys sick?”

 

Christopher shook his head, “You wouldn’t have gotten sick if your immune system was a little stronger.”

 

“Need to eat more,” Bear mumbled from the door, staring at me like I had personally offended him.

 

“It’s hard to eat when you’re sick, Bear.  That’s why the soup is extra special. Thank you for making it for me.”

 

Bear looked momentarily mollified,  “More for later. Boys sleep with Kings tonight.  Let you sleep better.” 

 

It was a nice idea, but, “It will let them sleep better too. I’m so stuffed up, I bet I will snore like a lumberjack.  No one will actually want to sleep in here, whether I can get them sick or not.” I wasn’t ready to go back to sleep yet.  “Can we do bedtime story in here first?”

 

Bear looked at Christopher, who shrugged then left.  “Yes.” That’s the thing with Bear, he could be very definite, about some things.  Usually things that pissed me off, but this time he was on my side. He sat next to me on the bed and I picked stray feathers off him while Martin read a book of nursery rhymes to the boys.

 

I handed Bear my collection of feathers and said, “You will need to have a shower before you come to bed tonight.”  I felt him tense next to me. Martin was smiling. Harry was grinning like a chicken feathered idiot. I rolled my eyes at them before I curled up to snuggle against the pillow.

 

I woke in the dark to Bear putting his hand on my forehead.  I had a vague recollection of Martin teaching him to do that to check if I had a fever.   He was sitting on the bed, wearing a towel. “I should get up and brush my teeth. Maybe hose off so I don’t smell like someone who spent the whole day sweating.  I bet my garlic breath is stinking up the room.”

 

Bear just shook his head. I didn’t know what that meant, but I made it to the bathroom.  Bear followed me to put his light cube on the vanity. I brushed my teeth. The steam from the shower was so nice, I stayed in there longer than I should have.  I was a bit lightheaded when I finally got out. I wrapped up in a towel and sat heavily on the floor.

 

“Kari?”

 

“I just need a moment,” I called as loudly as I could.  “Or six,” I muttered under my breath.

 

Apparently, as loudly as I could wasn’t loud enough.  Bear came in, wearing only his shorts, and scooped me up off the floor.  He carried me bundled in the towel to the bed and pulled one of his undershirts over my head before taking the towel and heading back to the bathroom.  He left the room with an armful of towels and snot rags.

 

I wanted a pair of the boyshort style panties that had been found for me.  Unfortunately, I found that I wanted to stay under the covers more. That meant either asking Bear to bring me some or going without.  I gave myself a pep talk to just go get them.

 

I was sitting up when Bear came back, handing me a stack of fresh hankies.

 

“Thank you.”

 

He grunted, “Sleep in bed now.”

 

I rolled my eyes.  It had become almost a joke.  He told me that every night where a normal person would say, ‘good night,’ Bear said, ‘sleep in bed now,’ like he was a reject from a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon.

 

I shook my head.  The sinus thing must have been moving to my inner ears because the room wobbled for a moment.  Bear was immediately there helping me lie down. “I am so pathetic,” I whimpered, “I just want my damned underpants I can’t even walk ten feet to get them.”  

 

I was hit by another coughing fit and while I was distracted gasping for air, Bear sorted out my legs and pulled my panties up over my ass.  He didn’t stop there, either, he pulled up my shirt and opened a jar of something that sure as hell wasn’t vaporub and slathered up my back.

 

“What is that?”

 

“Help cough.”  He flipped me over and pulled at my shirt in the front.

 

“You are not going to use me being sick to cop a feel, buddy,” I said firmly as I batted his hands away.

 

He rolled his eyes at me. I couldn’t recall him doing that before.  I did it. Martin and Harry did it. “That’s new.”

 

He smirked as he handed me the little tub.  I gave it a sniff but couldn’t smell anything.  “Where do I put it?”

 

He pantomimed rubbing his sternum.  I rolled over so my back was to him and rubbed some into my breast bone.

 

“Kari?”

 

“Yes, Bear?”

 

“I showered.”

 

“OK?”

 

“You said I need to shower before come to bed.”

 

I handed him the jar.  “I am sick, I could make you sick.  You would be better off not sleeping with me.”

 

“Want to.”

 

“Just sleep?”

 

Nod.

 

“Ok.  Can you leave the light cube on the bedside table though?”

 

He spooned up behind me.  He was warm. It was like having my own personal heated blanket.  Yeah. That wasn’t so bad.

 

I slept most of the night, partially waking at one point as Bear ghosted his fingers along my side.  It took me a few moments to wake enough to really be aware of him petting me. His touch was light but his fingers were calloused making the sensation halfway between a tickle and a scratch, but so gentle the whole thing barely registered.  I wasn’t entirely awake when I caught his hand, pulled his arm around me and hugged his forearm to my chest to make him stop.

 

I dozed some more before waking enough to realize the arm I was hugging was stiff with tension.  So was the chest behind me, his body angled awkwardly away enough that I figured out what the problem was.  I let go of his hand and pushed him sleepily away. He eased himself carefully out of bed, then fled.

 

By then I was awake enough to be nervous but also enough to wonder if I either the sticker on my wrist or the goop on my back was a sedative.  I drifted back to sleep, laying on my belly, hugging my pillow.

 

-----

 

“Mommy! Mommy!  Wake up!”

 

“Are you better yet, Mommy?”

 

Max and Patrick were bouncing toward the bed.  Bear was laying on his side with his hand on the small of my back.

 

I managed to struggle out of the blankets and sit up.  There was no getting out of bed with it shoved into the corner like that. I was effectively boxed in by head board, foot board and orc.

 

I smiled at the boys, “I think it will be another few days.”

 

Harry waved sheepishly from the doorway.  “Sorry! That is the downside of no doors.”

 

I nodded blurrily and looked around for a hankerchief.  Harry came in and passed me one from the bedside table reaching over Bear to do so.

 

“Thanks,” I managed to squeak it out before coughing.

 

Bear was lying on his side watching me, ignoring everything and everyone behind him.

 

Patrick gave me such a disappointed look, “Soup didn’t fix you!” He said it like it was a personal failing on my part.

 

I laughed and coughed, “Oh, Patrick!  The soup is helping me get better because it is something I can eat.  You can’t get better when you are sick without eating.”

 

“But when you are sick,” Harry added, “food doesn’t taste good and you don’t feel hungry.  That soup was definitely made with love.”

 

Max frowned, “Wif chick-hen.”

 

Harry snickered, “That too.  Come on boys! Lets go get breakfast and let Mommy and Bear sleep some more.”



Chapter Text

It had been a couple of days.  I was starting to feel better enough that I wanted to do things, but not quite well enough to actually be up for more than a few minutes.  It had snowed and the boys really wanted me to come play with them. I might have but Bear and Harry teamed up against me. Bear started just saying I couldn’t get cold, but was firmly entrenched when Harry started talking about getting pneumonia.

 

Harry was a nice guy, but not my friend right now.

 

Bear was definitely sleeping in the bed now.  To be fair, I hadn’t asked him not to. I was currently trying to decide what I wanted to do about him touching me.

 

He would just let his fingers brush mine when he passed me things, or sit close enough that our hips were touching as he slowly and carefully tried to read to me.  He was fully literate, but there were a lot of words, still, where his pronunciation was almost impossible to understand.

 

It helped when he could lean in even closer and point to the word he was trying to say.

 

Well, it helped me figure out what he wanted to say, it didn’t really help my anxiety having him so close and looming over me.  I was generally OK for helping with two or three words, but much more than that and I would call a halt to story time.

 

The soup was lovely, but it was also three meals a day for two and a half days before either I had eaten it all or Harry had talked Bear into stopping it because of risk of food poisoning.

 

He offered to make more.

 

I politely suggested we should save the chickens for the next time someone got sick and besides, weren’t the fresh eggs nice.

 

The duck eggs were amazing, but it quickly became apparent that I was the only one getting them.  It was only one egg every couple of days and somehow it always ended up perfectly poached on my plate.  Once I noticed, I felt guilty but was too selfish to admit that I had noticed.

 

By day eight I was arguably better, or at least over the cold but Bear didn’t leave my bed until the night the bad dreams found me.  

 

I woke screaming and scrambling to get away in a visceral need to hide.  The orc in the darkness tried to catch me, but I wasn’t awake enough to understand that he might be safe.  His grabbing me only made it worse. I lashed out and kicked him in the face before falling over the footboard on to the floor with a crash that rattled my bones.  There was no place to hide. There was one place to hide. I wiggled under the bed and squashed myself into the far corner of the wall, as far out of reach as was possible, shaking and crying softly.

 

Bear didn’t try to come after me.

 

He got Max and Patrick up and sent them to sleep under the bed with me.

 

It was the best possible thing he could have done.  They thought playing fort under the bed was a great idea and seeing them safe and happy helped me relax a little.

 

Except that I had kicked Bear in the face.

 

“I’m sorry,” I whimpered softly.  The boys turned to look at me.

 

“Why sorry, Mommy?”

 

“I kicked Bear.”

 

In the dark I sensed rather than saw Max’s shock, “That bad.”

 

“I know.  I was scared.”

 

“Why scared?” Patrick asked.

 

“I had a bad dream and I didn’t know where I was for a few moments.”

 

“Mmm big n scary,” Bear rumbled from across the room.  I tensed. The boys giggled. Bear continued, “You sleep in bed, I go.”

 

“I am so sorry, Bear.”  From under the bed, I heard him leave the room.  I didn’t come out from under the bed until I stopped shaking.  It took a long while. Then the boys and I ended up all squished into one of -their beds for the rest of the night.

 

When we got up in the morning it was moving day.  I don’t know if that was because I was finally not sick or if it was the nightmare that had forced it.  I could see how Bear wouldn’t want to go back to one of us sleeping on the floor. Objectively, whatever progress he had made was gone.  I was back to flinching when he touched me and trembling when he was too close. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t make myself stop. I knew that if he had wanted to hurt me, he certainly had plenty of chances.  I could see he was trying so hard to be careful.

 

As we all settled into bed that first night in the new house, Bear had the small bed rolled all the way to the other side of the room. Max, Patrick and I all slept in the big bed.  They were curious about sleeping in the kids room with the King boys, but were young enough to just accept that they would be in this room with me for now. I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling.  The boys were asleep. I had so many thoughts rattling around in my head.

 

“Bear?”

 

He grunted softly in reply.

 

“I am so sorry I kicked you.  I didn’t …. I just woke up scared and someone was holding me and I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to hurt you , I was just scared and trying to get away.”

 

He didn’t say anything to that.

 

There was a long moment of silence before I was brave enough to ask, “Are you…. Um… can you forgive me for kicking you?”

 

There was a long pause before he replied, “Not worried about forgive, worried about re-tal-e-ay-shun.”

 

I shivered, “yes.”

 

“Hmm.  Want to hurt me?”

 

“No!”

 

“Hmmm.  If could hurt me, not bad happen you or Max or Patrick, then want to hurt me?  Want to hurt orcs?”

 

I had to think about that one.  “I would like to have people not living like cattle.  I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I wish you, all of you, would stop hurting all of us.  I would like to not be afraid all the time. I’m afraid that if you leave whoever replaces you will be worse.”

 

He snorted at that last one.  “Not try to kicking. Accident ok.”

 

I gave a long shuddering breath and started to cry.  It was a relief. All the fear and anxiety I had been carrying all day just burst.  The shear volume of emotion was overwhelming. So I had a little cry. Bear didn’t say anything.

 

It was probably a good choice.

 

-----

 

They had put some work into the house while I was sick.  There was now a chicken coop and a duck pond with a heater to keep it from freezing.  The fence had been updated and there was some serious work going on at the place next door.

 

I noticed all of this when Bear lead us back to the big house for breakfast.  In the afternoon, while the boys were napping, I looked in the cupboards. The fridge was gone, but the pots, pans and plates were still there.

 

“Want gone?”  It was Andrew who asked me that.  It was unusual because they tended to ignore me.

 

“I was thinking I could cook sometime, but we don’t have any food.”

 

It wasn’t the right thing to say.  The look Andrew gave me couldn’t have been more angry if I had insulted his mother. I felt the air leave me in a whoosh as I looked around the room and tried to calculate if I could make it to the front door to scream for Bear before he caught me.

 

I couldn’t.  We were at the back of the house.  I needed to slow my breathing. I needed to stop staring.  I need - 

 

“Hey!  Are you OK?   Jesus Christ you look like shit.”

 

I looked over at Martin walking towards me, then back at Andrew watching me with slightly narrowed eyes.

 

“Let’s get you some fresh air,” he put his arm around me and physically moved me to to the front of the house, and out the door before sitting on the step.  Martin rubbed my back as I leaned forward and tried to remember how to breathe. Andrew walked past us and went to talk to Bear who looked over at us with narrowed eyes.

 

Fuck.  Why had I thought he would protect me?  If Andrew was going to hurt me, Bear would make sure the boys didn’t see.  I couldn’t expect him to be on my side.

 

“What’s going on?” Martin whispered.

 

“I was looking at the pots in the kitchen when Andrew came in.  I suggested that maybe I could cook something sometime and he looked at me like I had threatened to poison everyone.”

 

“Shit.  Really?”

 

“Yeah.”  The shaking got worse.

 

“That does explain a few things,” he muttered.

 

“What?”

 

“It’s just that when you were sick, Bear went to a lot of trouble to get permission to have Harry in the kitchen to teach him how to make chicken soup.  He said there were orcs watching to make sure he didn’t actually touch anything.”

 

I wrapped my arms around my knees and wished, again, that the world wasn’t like this.  We were dirty humans who couldn’t be trusted around food. Nevermind that I fed myself just fine before they got here.

 

Bear came over and sat next to me.  “Not cook,” he rumbled softly.

 

“Yeah, I got that.” 

 

“Hmm.”  He nodded.  I could feel him watching me but couldn’t bring myself to look at him.  “Andrew not make you.”

 

“Good to know,” I muttered.

 

“Still scared?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Why?”

 

It was Martin who answered that one.  “Back in the camp, shortly after we moved there, one of the prisoners said something that angered one of the guards.  We couldn’t hear what he said, but everyone saw the guard punch the guy hard enough to cave in his rib cage.”

 

Someone snarled, I looked up across the lawn, all three of the Godfathers looked pissed.  Martin hugged me closer.

 

“Bad,” Bear said softly.

 

“Yeah, well, no one else thought so,” Martin explained.  “He didn’t even miss a day of work for that. He was still there watching the food line everyday when we left.”

 

Bear looked like he was going to say something, but he stopped himself.  After a moment of thought, he said, “Safe now. No hurt.”

 

I didn’t really know what to say to that.  Martin cleared his throat and changed the subject, “Looks like we are getting neighbours.”

 

Bear nodded, not taking his eyes off of me. “Inari and Ansa.  Son Armo. Orc Tapio.”

 

That was interesting. “Not local sounding names,” I pointed out.

 

Bear shook his head.  “Family. Not many family with orc.  Send them stay with us. Our family bigger.”

 

Our family.  That gave me pause.  I didn’t recall him calling us that before.  It also raised the question, “All of us? Are we all family?”

 

Bear just looked confused, “Yes?”

 

“So…. Andrew is my family too?” I needed to know.

 

There was no sign of understanding on Bear’s face but Andrew was nodding.  I closed my eyes and fought back tears. “I am sorry I made you angry, Andrew.”

 

Bear grumbled something not in English, Andrew looked surprised.  Then he turned to me as he said, “Not hurt you, Kari.” This was quickly chorused by Carl and Tyler.

 

Max bounced over and climbed into my lap, “Why he say that, Mommy?”

 

Martin ruffled his hair saying, “They are our family now, kiddo.”

 

Max nodded.  Then he pressed his icy cold fingers against my cheeks making me shriek as he kissed my chin before he ran off to play.  “You have to come in and let your mittens dry soon! Five minute warning!” I always said that, just like my mom had done.  It was pointless, there wasn’t anyway to know how long five minutes was without counting to three hundred. The boys just knew it as soon.

 

Max went back to trying to push Patrick into the snow.  It wasn’t working, Patrick was just enough bigger that he had better balance.  “I’ll have to teach them how to make snow angels soon,” I mused.

 

Harry came over and interrupted my thought process with, “I think we should put up a tree.  I found Christmas ornaments in the basement. Might as well put them to use.”

 

“That would be nice. Were there any lights?  I mean, the tree would be nice even without them, but that was my favourite part.”  I thought some more, “How are you going to explain it? They won’t have the cultural expectations.”

 

“It’s the Halfway Through Winter Tree!” Harry and Martin chorused like they had been practicing.  

 

I smiled a little and shook my head, “That I can definitely get behind.  Anything else good in the basement?”  

 

“Someone’s collection of 1970’s Playboy’s in less than mint condition,” Harry offered.  All three of us gagged a little. “There was a box of kids stuff, though. No wrapping paper, but we could still do some sort of reveal,” he suggested.

 

Bear was still watching, “What Playboys?”

 

I stood up.  “All yours, Harry!” I announced before quickly calling to the boys that it was time to come in.



Chapter Text

After a few days, Bear had suggested Patrick and Max might like to try out the bunk beds in the kids’ rooms.  They were excited. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be alone in the room with Bear. I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready.

 

It was after lunch.  The kids were down for afternoon nap.  Harry and Martin were… something like napping.  They weren’t too noisy, but we did have to implement a ‘no adult nudity in the common areas’ policy shortly after we all moved in together. I was sitting in the kitchen at the far end of the house, ignoring them.  I hadn’t really missed sex. I was too busy, too tired, too hungry to notice. I missed my family. I missed my boyfriend, Ryan, who had gone out to look for food one day about six months after they arrived and not come back.

 

I couldn’t think about that.

 

Or what happened after.

 

I just couldn’t.

 

“You sad lots,” Carl observed.

 

He hadn’t spoken to me before.  Not that I remembered. He was the one that always looked so horrified when I tried to talk to him that I had eventually given up.  

 

This was not a great place to try to build a conversation.

 

“I’ve had lots of bad things happen to me.”  It was as diplomatic as I could get.

 

“Tell me!”

 

“No.  Then you will either be sad too or you will be entertained, in which case I won’t ever want to see you again.”

 

He frowned, I flinched.  I stood up to leave. “Nowhere to go,” he observed.

 

I sat back down and tried to look anywhere in the room but at him.  After a moment, I closed my eyes and tears splashed down my cheeks. I wiped them on the back of my hand and forced myself to stop.

 

“Tell me,” he repeated, a little more gently this time.

 

I turned to look resolutely out of the window.

 

“I was hiding in a basement with my boyfriend.  We were trying to avoid the looters. And you. Eventually we ran out of food.  We found a couple of big bags of dog food, that kept us going to another couple of months.  When that ran out, he left to go find something, anything to eat. He didn’t come back.”

 

“Sad,” he nodded.  “Then orcs found you, took you safe.”

 

“Sure,” I agreed just wanting the conversation to stop.  He didn’t get the hint.

 

“How orcs found you?”

 

“Orcs found me months after that.  After I had already been found by a bunch of looters.  Orcs found me in an abandoned gym with a bunch of other women they had collected.  I had spent… I don’t even know how long as a slave before the orcs found me.”

 

Now Carl just looked angry, “Humans stupid.”

 

“Yeah, I was.  It would have been better to have just starved to death in the basement before the looters found me.  Instead I eventually went looking for food too.”

 

He gasped.

 

“I love Max.  He is what kept me alive for the last two years now.  But having him to take care of doesn’t stop the nightmares.  He doesn’t make me not afraid.”

 

“Orcs found you… they hurt you?”

 

“Yes,” not as badly or creatively as the humans had, but you send a band of soldiers into a room with a bunch of women tied to the furniture in positions for easy use then getting the women untied isn’t the first thing that came to mind.  I was pretty shut down by then. Not responsive enough to be interesting. That didn’t stop them from trying to get a reaction.  

 

It wasn’t pleasant, but it was still better than the looters had been.

 

When they were done, they took all of us to get health care. We had all spent some time in a field hospital getting IV nutrition and meds.  The orcs had made sure our stomachs could handle food again before they sent us to the camp. Then I had zombie walked through my first few months at the camp.  A few of the women I had been found with just disappeared.

 

I had actually gained some weight back when I first got there.  When all you do is sleep and eat the rations from the food line, it wasn’t hard.  Then Max came. Ironically, it was easier to take care of him than it was to take care of myself.  I needed to get up, because he needed me. I needed to walk around because he wanted to be rocked.

 

“You tell Bear why you sad?”

 

“I don’t like to talk about it.  Spending too much time reliving it isn’t healthy.”

 

“Talking makes it better,” Carl suggested.

 

“The right kind of talking makes it better.  The wrong kind of talking makes it worse.”

 

“Hmm. Talk to Bear.”

 

I shook my head, “Bear has never asked.  He doesn’t want to know.”

 

Carl made a disapproving grunt, “Bear not know how to ask without hurting.”  When I didn’t reply, he gasped. “I hurt by asking?”

 

Yes.  I was already setting it aside when you poked at me, dumbass.  “When I don’t want to talk about something, just let it go, You aren’t my therapist.”

 

You would think most people would get the hint, right?  Not Carl. “Martin and Harry having sex.”

 

“Yeah.  I noticed.”

 

“You not afraid them because they don’t need you for sex?”

 

“They are my friends.  It took awhile to not be afraid of them so that they could be my friends.”

 

It was Bear’s voice that made me turn around so fast I almost fell out of my chair.  “I friend. I wait you not afraid.”

 

“How long were you listening?” I whispered.

 

Bear just shrugged. “Martin or Harry hug you now.  You let me hug or need me get them?” The thought for another moment, “I get Patrick?”  Patrick gave hugs like he never wanted to let go.

 

“The kids are sleeping.  The guys are… busy.”

 

Bear was seven feet tall and built like a brick shit house, he should not have been able to look shy and vulnerable, but somehow he pulled it off.  “You let me hug?”

 

I looked at Carl, who was at least smart enough to beat a hasty retreat.  When he was gone, I looked back at Bear and nodded. He held me gently but close.  I sobbed into his chest. He didn’t say anything, but rubbed my back until I was done,  then pulled a clean hanky out of his pocket for me to wipe my face and blow my nose. 

 

He nodded.  “Now we burn Playboys.”

 

I blinked at him, then laughed.

 

It was odd watching Bear look completely disgusted as he ripped out the stained pages and crumpled them up as kindling for the fireplace. Tyler even turned up with some out of date marshmallows.  We were making s’mores when the boys got up.

 

The marshmallows were harder than they should have been; the graham crackers were a bit stale but there kids had no frame of reference. They were just happy to have something sweet. 

 

“I used to make these,” I mumbled to myself. 

 

“Made these now,” Bear commented with a smirk. 

 

“My dad was a chef,” I explained, keeping my eyeline low.  “I used to make the marshmallows and bake chocolate chip cookies to make s’mores.”  They didn’t like me talking about food. I was pushing a line here and I knew it. When I peeked up, Bear was frowning.  I flinched. “I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

 

Harry frowned, “I talk about my folks some times.  I think it’s allowed.”

 

I just shook my head.  Martin cleared his throat, “They, um, don’t like it when we talk about food.  Especially, Kari.”

 

That caused an uproar.  All four orcs in the room started talking so fast, I couldn’t understand any of them.  I started to shake, Patrick started to cry and from there all the kids were upset. That was the end of s’mores.  I realized I should have just kept my mouth shut.

 

When it was time to head back to the park for dinner, Bear stopped me.  “Ok you talk about food. You hungry, you say.” He hesitated uncertainly for a moment, “I feed you now.”

 

“OK.”  It seemed the safest bet.

 

Bear just growled softly, “No. I feed you.  I give you food. I keep you from hungry.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

He was clearly frustrated with me.  I tried to shift my weight away from him.  He forced himself to relax before he led me to the park.

 

I was juggling plates for Max and I, while Bear was looking after his and Patrick’s.  Suddenly, he started speaking very quickly to the server who glanced at me before shaking his head. After much back and forth, the server looked in my direction.  Then without making anything close to eye contact said, “Lieutenant Commander wants you to know he is a good mate. He will not make you hunt or prepare food. He will provide.  He is pleased that you understand this since your father was a good provider.”

 

There was a lot going on in that little speech.  Starting with, “Lieutenant Commander?”

 

Bear grunted, “Yes.  Bear.”

 

I stared at him in astonishment, “You are a Lieutenant Commander?”

 

He nodded.  The server said, “Yes, second in charge on his ship.”

 

“What about Andrew, Tyler and Carl?”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

Bear growled for a while.  Then the server explained, “They are junior officers.  Distinguished enough to be given children but not mates.”

 

“And the old guy who took Max?”

 

The server looked appalled.  Bear explained. The server relaxed.  “Admiral. In charge of many ships but not all.”

 

“Huh.”  I thought some more.  “Thank you for explaining.”

 

The guy bowed, “Pleased to be of service, Mother Kari.”  

 

That startled me, but we were holding up the line.  Bear gave me a gentle nudge and nodded for me to keep moving. The orcs were still eating in the park, oblivious to the snow, but we brought our plates back to the new house.

 

The others were chatting, like usual.  I wasn’t, also like usual. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  “Why did he call me Mother Kari? He made me sound like a nun or something.”

 

Harry chuckled.  “You thinks it’s weird for you?  I’m Mother Harry.”

 

“What?”

 

Andrew was the most loquacious of our group, so he explained, “Means human parent.  We trying be respectful.”

 

“But the kids all call Harry and Martin ‘Daddy’!”

 

The orcs all shared a wary look, then suddenly started concentrating on their plates.

 

Martin frowned, “They don’t usually talk to you.  How did that even come up?”

 

“Lieutenant Commander Bear had someone explain to me that it reflects badly on him if I want to cook.”

 

“That’s…. Different,” Harry said slowly.

 

I just shrugged.

 

Bear, however was beaming with pride.  “Kari not cook. I feed.” The other orcs nodded in agreement.  Us humans shared a more skeptical look.  

 

Martin cleared his throat, “How do you feel about that, Kari?”

 

I shrugged.  “I don’t want to lose Max or go back to the camp, so…” I trailed off, not sure how to finish that sentence.  “This isn’t even in the top hundred worst parts of this invasion. At least now I know not to ask.” I just sort of hunched over my plate and went back to eating the dinner that Bear had provided for me.



Chapter Text

That night after supper, I got the boys, all of the boys ready for bed.  I tucked them into bed and told them the version of Noah’s Arc that I could remember.  Well, a flood story anyway. I had heard a number of them over the years and they had all mashed together in my memory, so this one probably wasn’t biblically correct.  The boys liked it anyway. There weren’t lights in the bed room, so reading wouldn’t have been an option anyway. Next time, I would do my best attempt at remembering the details involved in the plot of Star Wars.

 

When I came back to the living room, Martin was decorating a Christmas tree and Harry was trying to fill five mens socks with random duplo bricks out of a big plastic tote labeled lego.  I just nodded and went to help hand ornaments. The orcs were all standing with their backs to the walls, clearly just trying to stay out of the way of the mad humans with their strange tree things.

 

There were so many things I started to say, then forced myself not to.  Things about candy canes, about how it was too bad we couldn’t try to organize some sort of Christmas dinner.  I didn’t ask about how the Kings used to celebrate before the invasion. I didn’t talk about how I always made a gingerbread house that was spicy enough that you needed the milk.  Martin was humming Christmas carols under his breath. I focused on that instead.

 

By the time we were done, the cold was starting to set in.  I hugged the guys and wished them a Merry Christmas and went to my room.  Our room. Bear was right behind me. I brushed my teeth and washed my face before crawling into bed.  Wrapping the covers around me, I realized just how much I had been using the boys for warmth. I shivered and waited for the bed to warm up.  

 

It still wasn’t warm before Bear came out of the bath room and headed to his bed.  If I asked, he would let me take one of his blankets. Ever since my cold, Bear had been careful about making sure I was warm enough.  I still wasn’t sure if he understood the difference between having a cold and merely being cold.

 

“Good night, Kari.”

 

“Good night, Bear.  Thank you for letting us have Christmas.”

 

He grunted in acknowledgement.  I tried to burrow more tightly into my bed.  “Cold?”

 

“Um… yeah, but I will warm up.”

 

“Need warm?”

 

I snorted, “You are just trying to talk your way back into my bed.”

 

“Yes,” he agreed.  “But I get blanket if need.”

 

“Last time you slept with me I kicked you,” I pointed out.

 

Bear seemed to consider that. “Yes.  Not grab you again. You have nightmare, I wake you, then go.”

 

I rolled over so that I was facing him.  “I think you lied to me,” I had to whisper my accusation. I wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud.  “You said that if you hurt me, you would be punished. No one is going to punish a Lieutenant Commander for hurting one lowly human female.”

 

“Yes,” he insisted.  “Punished for hurting a Mother.”

 

“Mother isn’t a title,” I scoffed. “It’s… just a family description.”

 

“Mother is title.  Loo-ten-ant Com-and-er is job de-sckr-ep-shun.”

 

I tried to process that for a moment.

 

Bear apparently got tired of waiting, “I get blanket.”

 

As he stood, up I shook my head, “Just come to bed.”

 

He crawled in.  As near as I could tell in the dark, he looked pretty pleased with himself.  “Best Christmas present ever,” he rumbled.

 

“Who taught you that?”  I asked. Then we both chorused, “Harry.”  I chuckled and shook my head. I rolled over again, pulling his arm around me so that I was using him like a living blanket.  “Good night, Bear.”

 

“Good night, Kari.”

 

----

 

I woke to the sound of the doorbell ringing.  Bear was still coiled around me. I tried to push him away.  “Someone has to get that before they wake the kids!”

 

Even as I was saying it, I heard one of the godfathers come pounding down the stairs and hurry toward the door.

 

Bear nuzzled my neck, “More sleeps.”

 

I shifted slightly, then froze as a sunrise salute brushed against my thigh.  “Why are there people here this early in the morning?”

 

“Christmas breakfast.”

 

“What?”  I asked because I couldn’t quite believe I hear that right.  

 

Bear, however took me literally.  “Breakfast,” he yawned, “Sticky bungs, cos-ee, milk, honey, froots, bake-ons.”

 

I tried to process that.  I had to be misunderstanding what he was saying.  It had been years since I had seen bacon, or coffee.  He must have meant something else. I sniffed a little trying to tell if that was right.

 

From across the hall Harry called, “Oh my god!  I’m having a seizure! I smell bacon!”

 

Bear and I both chuckled.  Andrew called back, in just as loud of a voice, “Not ready yet!  Do not wake boys!” The whole shouting at someone to be quiet made me actually laugh.

 

I rolled over and looked at Bear.  “Thank you.”

 

He just nodded, sleepily.

 

“Bear?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“Who told you about Christmas breakfast?”

 

He snorted and sounded slight offended when he replied, “I read.”

 

“Oh.” I thought about that.  This was a bad idea. I was being stupid.  I shouldn’t even - “Bear? Can I touch you?” 

 

That got his eyes to open.  His face showed a burst of enthusiasm that was quickly suppressed. “Yes,” it was said softly.  He sounded as nervous as I felt.

 

“If I touch you, will you touch me back?”

 

He moved his arms away from me.  “Wan touch?”

 

“I want to touch you.  I don’t want you to try to touch me back.”

 

He was watching me intently as he nodded.  I shivered. “Can you close your eyes, please?”

 

He did.

 

I put my hands on his chest.  His skin jumped under my hands.  I forced myself not to pull away.  “Need me to stop?”

 

He shook his head.

 

I gave him a gentle shove and he rolled obediently onto his back.  In the faint light coming from the window, I gently traced the tattoos in his chest.  His eyelids flickered and his left hand moved toward his crotch before quickly aborting the move and scratching his tummy instead. I ran my hands down his body, feeling the firm muscles under a slight layer of soft.  Between when I had first met him and now, Bear had picked up just enough padding to soften his edges a bit and make him a little less scary.

 

I pulled his right arm away from his body enough that I could wiggle in next to him with my head on his shoulder and his arm around my back.  I lay there for a while, just petting his chest. Listening to his heart beat.

 

“Bear?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I… um…  Can I touch the rest of you?  Just… um. Just once. For Christmas?”  Fuck. He wasn’t going to understand any of that.

 

“Yes.  Touch. Not ask - I not ask again later.”

 

I looked up at him.  I couldn’t read his face.  I was a little afraid of what he would see on mine.  I sat up enough to pull down the covers and look at his cock straining against his pyjama pants.

 

“Don’t have to.” he whispered.

 

I looked up at him.  “Thank you. That makes me feel better.”  

 

I pulled down his pants.  His cock was uncut, but that was the easiest thing to say about it.  Orcs are proportional, but they are also bigger. Bear was easily two feet taller than me, which doesn’t sound like as much as it actually is.  Even stretched up on my tip toes, I would barely be able to touch his forehead. There was no way I was going to be able wrap my fingers all the way around this part of him.  I swallowed. It was like a car crash, I couldn’t look away.

 

I reached out and gently touched him with trembling fingers.

 

“Kari?  Don’t have to.”

 

That got me to look up to his face.  His left hand caught my wrist and pulled my hand away.  He brought it up to his lips and kissed my knuckles like something out of a period romance novel.   “Stop now. It’s ok.”

 

I gave a big shuddering breath and almost collapsed on his chest.

 

“It’s ok.” he repeated, as he rubbed my back a little. Then he pulled the covers over both of us.  I pressed my face into his chest so I wouldn’t have to look at him. This was stupid. I should just turn off my brain, jerk him off, and be grateful it was only my hands he was using.  I had done it before, the looters had taught me to be good at it. He had given me so much, I should just suck it up and do this for him. It was nothing. It didn’t hurt me. I could just-

 

“Bad thoughts?  Tell me please?”

 

“How do you know I’m having bad thoughts?”

 

“Breathing wrong.  Bad thoughts, scared, nightmare but awake.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s ok.  Not need sorry.  Very brave. You very brave.  I. Am. Scary.”

 

“I don’t think you are trying to be,” I mumbled, still not looking at him.

 

“Am not.  Scary anyway.”

 

Then my thoughts ran away.  This wasn’t something I could dwell on, so my brain threw up some other random thought.  “How did you get Max to like you that first day?”

 

“Make silly faces.”

 

I frowned into his chest then, sat up to look at him, “What?”

 

He crossed his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his ears.  It was the most ridiculous thing I had seen in a long time. That did it.  I started to laugh. Bear gave me the most tender smile. It made my heart do something I didn’t want to think about.  “Yup. That would do it.”

 

Now I could smell the bacon.  My stomach grumbled loudly. I stopped laughing to blush.  

 

Bear nodded, “Brush teeth, brush hair.  Not get dressed. Christmas Breakfast in pie-jam-mas.”

 

That sounded like a good idea, but I needed to crawl over him to get out of bed.  It was awkward, but he didn’t touch me or try to help. That made it a little better.

 

I was coming out of the bathroom as Bear and the tent in his pj pants were heading in.    I looked away feeling guilty. “Please wait,” he said. “I take you to Christmas Breakfast.”

 

I nodded and went to sit in the chair.  Looking out the window, the orcs outside were going about their day.  It seemed like it was only Christmas in our house. I wondered idly what the actual date was.  I shifted uncomfortably as I heard Bear in the shower. He was trying to be quiet. Somehow, that made it worse.  I shivered and my nipples crinkled, so I pulled on his shirt from yesterday. There was something comforting about the big sloppy warmth it gave me.  I put that thought out of my head.

 

I was barely through the doorway into the kitchen when Harry passed me a mug of coffee.  “I figure we have about five minutes before the boys wake up,” he said. “So, take that and just breathe in the smell.  It’s like heaven.”

 

He was right.  It smelled amazing.  It also needed milk and sugar.  When I went to go get that I almost crashed into Tyler who was standing way too close, sniffing as well.  “I’m sorry. Do you want one?” Then I panicked a little, “Is this yours? Did I take your coffee?”

 

Tyler smiled a little and shook his head no, then gave Bear a pointed look. I didn’t want to try to parse that, I just wanted to get to the little pitcher of cream.  There wasn’t any sugar, but a little bit of honey was nice. Bear passed me a plate with a cinnamon bun, three strawberries and three strips of bacon on it.

 

“Thank you,” I said, sincerely.

 

Once I had my plate, it was like that was everyone else queue to line up for food.  Bear helped himself next, then Martin and Harry, then the god fathers. Andrew was first, then Tyler, Carl was last.  Bear lead us out to sit on the couches in the living room. There was already a fire in the fireplace. It was like something out of a Christmas card.  If you ignored the fact that most of our group were space orcs.



Chapter Text

The boys weren’t excited.  They had no understanding of Christmas and were openly skeptical of each of them getting a tube sock full of little plastic bricks.  They got the hang of it pretty quickly and that kept them entertained for a while. Then they dove into the the cinnamon buns and ended up covered in cinnamon sugar needing baths afterwards.  

 

Once everyone was dressed and heading back down stairs, Bear tentatively took my hand and lead me back into the living room.  He had me sit in a wingback chair. The other adults were sitting around with goofy looks on their faces. The kids were picking up on it.

 

That’s when I noticed there were presents under the tree.  They were wrapped in newspaper, but they were clearly presents.  Bear was grinning like an idiot when he passed me a jewelry box sized gift.  My heart was in my throat as I opened it.

 

I don’t know what I was expecting, but an antique silver thimble and an acorn charm on a chain wasn’t it.

 

It took me a moment to understand.  I felt my face go soft. “Oh! Thank you Bear!”

 

“Whazzat?” Max asked.

 

“It’s the kisses Peter and Wendy traded,” I explained.  Max just shrugged. Harry and Martin went “Aww!” I looked over at Bear who was still kneeling next to me.  “Would you help me put it on?” I asked.

 

He grinned even harder.  There was much fumbling with the tiny clasp.  Eventually, it hung just above my breasts. As I looked at it, I noticed a tiny clasp on the acorn pendant.  When I poked at it with a fingernail, the acorn opened revealing a squirrel inside.  “Whoa.” I really didn’t know what else to say.  It closed with a little click. I looked up at Bear.

 

“Secret kisses,” he said softly.

 

I put my hand on his cheek and looked into his eyes.  He was nervous. I smiled, then put my lips on his lips for a moment.  It was weird kissing around the tusks. When I pulled back, everyone was watching us.  I blushed.

 

Harry cleared his throat.  “And there are presents for the boys,” he announced with entirely too much Christmas cheer in his voice.

 

Bear settled on the floor next to my legs and let the guys hand out presents.  Everyone got one. Except for him. As the boys were shredding newspaper like nobody’s business, I leaned down so my lips were closer to his ear.  “Did you arrange all of this?” I whispered.

 

His ear flicked and I realized I was too close.  I hurriedly sat up. Bear was watching me. He smiled and tilted his head in acknowledgement.  I was too stunned to even say whoa.

 

Harry and Martin got matching crown pendants , each with the other’s name engraved on them.  The boys got soft toys in the shapes of different fruits and vegetables , even some toy cakes .  There were wooden puzzles and everyone got a book.

 

Even the godfathers got presents.  Not things I recognized but Andrew, Carl and Tyler seemed very pleased.  I caught the look on Harry’s face as Martin quickly closed the lid on a box they had received .  Bear was watching them closely.  The two guys looked at each other.  Then Harry giggled and Martin nodded at Bear, who solumely nodded back.

 

I really wanted to know what was in the box.  Except their body language suggested it wasn’t something to show off in front of the kids.  Maybe I didn’t want to know after all.

 

The boys were busy taking their puzzles apart and mixing up all the pieces.  The god fathers had wandered off. Harry and Martin were looking for a diplomatic way out of the room. “Just go,” I waved. “I’ll keep an eye on the boys.”

 

The guys made a run for it.  I just shook my head.  

 

“OK, munchkins!” I announced.  “Time to go play in the backyard!”

 

It’s never that easy, is it?  There was much whining about me not letting the new toys go outside in the snow.  Then everyone had to find their coat, boots and mitts. Then there was bathroom breaks.  Then coats again. Then the ones who hadn’t needed to pee the first time suddenly did. Eventually we made it outside.

 

I was sitting on the back step watching them play tag.  Bear came out, sat next to me and handed me another mug of coffee. It had just about the right amount of cream and honey in it.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Happy today?” he asked softly.

 

“Yeah, I am.”  I sipped my coffee.

 

“Can’t have Christmas everyday.  After dinner all done until next year.”

 

“I know.  Next year I will try to find something to give to you so that you can open a present too.”

 

He just grunted.  “Christmas not for orcs.”

 

“But you got presents for the godfathers,” I pointed out.

 

He snorted, “Tools for upstairs.  Not toys.”

 

“Oh.”  He didn’t have to do any of this.  None of us had expected it. I didn’t know what to say, so I took another drink of my coffee instead.  After a while something occurred to me. “Bear?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Thank you for being nice to us.  To me. I know it … would be easier… not to.”

 

“Hmm.”  He was quiet for a moment.  Then he said, “Many thoughts.  No words.”

 

I flinched.  “Happy thoughts, I hope.”

 

He shook his head, no, and I felt a surge in the ever present anxiety that lurked in my heart.  All he said was, “You safer we not come here.”

 

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “But I bet you weren’t the one who made that decision.”

 

“No,” he replied softly.  “But I decide I come here.  And! I happy I made silly faces at scared Max.”

 

“Me too,” I admitted.

 

----

 

Dinner was served in the park.  It was something like Christmas dinner.  Roast bird, that probably wasn’t turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, roast carrots and a slight sour jam that wasn’t cranberries was all served forth to everyone in the compound.  Looking over at the other women with their sons, it looked like there might have been some version of Christmas for the other boys too. Kathryn had a new hat. Janice had a new coat and a much less haunted look in her eyes.

 

I was finished my dinner and sitting quietly drinking the now very familiar protein drink when the admiral came over and waved Bear away.  They had a quiet conversation where the old guy kept looking at me, Bear resolutely was not. After a while, the admiral clapped Bear on the shoulder and left.  Bear came back over and sat down.

 

“What’s up?” Martin asked softly.

 

Bear just shook his head.

 

“Please tell me,” I asked.  “Otherwise I’m going to think the worst.”

 

Bear looked at me.  “He wants you to see Christopher soon.”

 

“Oh.  Um… what for?”

 

“Wants to know if you are OK,” Andrew volunteered.

 

“I’m OK.”

 

Bear nodded, glaring at Andrew.  “Not worry. You are OK.”

 

Now I was worried.

 

----

 

I woke alone in the dark.   My arms scrabbled trying to find him.  He wasn’t there.

 

“Max?” I sobbed.

 

A voice in the dark replied, “I get him.”

 

I knew that voice.  ‘Bear?”

 

“I get Max, you wait.”  He thought for a moment before adding, “Please.”

 

The little light cube appeared and its dim light was enough to illuminate the room enough for me to see.  It also cast unpleasant shadows on Bear’s face.

 

“I don’t want to wake them up, but I need to see they are safe.”

 

Bear grunted in agreement.  It was cold on the other side of the covers, but that wasn’t why I  was shaking. He wrapped me in his blanket anyway. When we got to the boys room, I checked them all for signs of life and kissed five slightly sweaty foreheads.  Then I could breathe a sigh of relief.

 

When we are back in our room, Bear asked, “Bad dream?  What you dream about?”

 

I shook my head and curled up under the covers.  “I dreamt that Christopher decided I was a bad mother and I lost the boys.”

 

“No!” Bear said firm.  “Christopher check I bad mate.  Not worried you hurting boys, worried I hurting you.”

 

That gave me some pause.  “But you aren’t.”

 

He didn’t say anything for a few moments, “Most first husbands… most first orcs Mothers chose, not their mates any more.”

 

I thought about that.  “Oh.”

 

“Extra worried now you here and they can’t see me not hurting you.”  He sighed, “We learn can’t trust humans tell us when we hurting them.  They just hurt and not say. They hungry, not say. We do things that make ….  “ he was clearly struggling for words. “See many bad things, make you afraid always. Not tell us that.  Not understand you catch fear from each other. Bad fear. Bad dreams always.” He stopped for a moment, “Not enough words.”

 

I thought for a moment, “You are talking about PTSD, I think.  Post traumatic stress disorder. I remember news stories of soldiers coming home from war with PTSD and their wives having it too.

 

“Yes. Orcs not like that,” Bear said firmly. 

 

“If you are trying to tell me that orcs don’t have mental illness-“. I didn’t even have to finish the sentence before he was shaking his head. 

 

“Orcs get men-tall sickness but by worry for each other.  Not …. orcs different.”

 

“Yeah, I still don’t understand how space orcs are able to have babies with humans.  Parallel evolution is one thing but bats and flying foxes can’t reproduce.”

 

That made Bear snort. “Not. Change us to match you.”

 

That was interesting. “How does that work?” I asked. 

 

Bear just shrugged, “Sigh-entz.”



Chapter Text

After ‘Christmas’ the days were noticeably getting longer.  Bear was sleeping in my bed more often than not. Our new neighbours moved in.  A polite but shy lesbian couple named Inari and Ansa. Their son, Armo was adorable, but didn’t speak any english yet.  Inari and Ansa had an accent I didn’t recognize. They looked like salt and pepper shakers. Ansa was tall and stocky and blonde like a viking.  Or someone from Minnesota, which is basically the same thing. Inari was my size, closer to five feet than to six, with dark brown hair and eyes.  They both had long hair that made me envious. Their english was the precise version of people not used to idiom. Their orc, Tapio, was always lurking in the background, but I never heard him say anything.  That wasn’t inherently unusual, orcs had a thing about addressing women they weren’t connected to.  

 

All three of them had a relaxed attitude that I hadn’t seen in any other human/orc relationship. 

 

Mind you, I wasn’t really in a position to see how the other Mothers in the compound were treated behind closed doors. Quiet inquiries suggested my little family was the only one with adopted boys. Even if no one talked about that.  I don’t talk about the boys not being biologically mine. They are my sons. But the other women didn’t consider that valid. They said I had a choice where they didn’t.

 

I don’t consider leaving an infant to die a valid choice.

 

But I was outnumbered so I didn’t push that.  The way I see it, pain isn’t a competition. I hurt.  They hurt. Neither one diminished the other. At any rate, Inari and Ansa quickly joined the Kings and me in the shunned parents’ corner of the park.   The first time they tried to send Armo to play with the other boys and the other boys were called away, they joined our camp.

 

Inari was noticeably pregnant.  She was also strangely the centre of attention.  Orcs went out of their way to see the boys, to the point where I was almost sure our daily outings to the park was the boys being put on display.  If the boys were rockstars, Inari was treated like a goddess. She drew a crowd anytime she came to the park.

 

At first, we thought they didn’t seem to be able to speak english either.  At least Harry, Martin and I knew not to yell at them. I broke out my best pantomime skills, to get them to come over.  Then I asked Bear to tell Tapio to tell them that I was very sorry but I only spoke english.

 

They flat out giggled at that.  “We speak English, but badly,” Ansa said softly.

 

I blinked, “You barely have an accent!”

 

“Slowly, please.” Inari asked.

 

I blushed, “I’m sorry.  I am excited to have new people to talk to.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes, “What are we, chopped liver?”

 

Inari and Ansa both looked puzzled.  

 

“Yes, you still count.  But I want to talk to women sometimes.” I concentrated on each word to try to slow down.  It was harder than I would have thought.

 

They both smiled at me.  I smiled back. It was nice.  I didn’t say anything about Inari’s baby bump.  I thought it was too presumptuous.  

 

Harry had no such compunctions, “So, who’s the baby daddy?  And when are you due?”

 

They both looked blankly at him.  Martin elbowed him sharply. “Please excuse my husband.  He has no manners.” Martin was also speaking slowly.

 

Tapio muttered something I didn’t catch and understanding dawned on the women’s faces.

 

“Ah!” Inari said.  “Since Ansa had Armo.  It is my turn. Father is Tapio.”  She was smiling as she said it. I was taken aback by that.  The Kings had stiffened slightly.

 

“Um…” I said, intelligently, before nervously asking  “Was that your choice?”

 

“Yes?” she genuinely didn’t seem to see that it could be any other way.

 

“Oh.”  I didn’t know what else to say. I really wanted to ask Inari how she had gotten pregnant, but I couldn’t figure out how to not be horribly rude.  I mean, I knew how she got pregnant I was interested in the why. 

 

Armo was the same appropriate age as all the other boys. The product of one of the first waves of invasion. None of the kids seemed bothered by the lack of common language.  I had so many questions for his moms but was too shy to ask.  

 

“I would invite you over for tea sometime, but we aren’t allowed to have food in the house.  If you ever want to come over for a visit, Armo can play with the boys and I can offer you a glass of water.” It sounded completely lame as I was saying it. Inari and Ansa smiled at me anyway. 

 

Inari nodded, “So many boys! I would like to see how they all live together.”

 

“We have one room set up as a nursery. They all have their own beds but tend to all crowd in together,” Martin explained. 

 

“Ah! One room for boys, one room for humans?” Ansa asked. 

 

Harry looped his arm through Martin’s. “We’re married we have our own room.”

 

She was suddenly looking at me intently. I stiffened and waited for the question to come. She must have noticed because it never did. 

 

Instead she reached over and rubbed Inari’s belly affectionately.  “Baby will sleep with us when he comes.”

 

“Do you know when?” Martin asked. 

 

“Three months more we think. They don’t have good information from when the other boys were born.” Inari explained. 

 

Harry went back to interrogation mode. “So how did you two meet?”

 

“At camp,” Inari explained. “Ansa is very beautiful, especially when she was pregnant.”

 

“That’s so sweet! And when did you meet Tapio?” Harry continued. 

 

“At the end of summer when they came looking for boys,” Ansa answered. “I picked him because he let me bring Inari with me when we left. 

 

Martin frowned, “How did you pick Bear, Kari?  You never said.”

 

“I let Max decide.  I didn’t understand that I was choosing for me.  I thought I was choosing a father. So I asked him to pick.”

 

Ansa frowned, “Did they not tell you you were choosing a mate?” I shook my head, no.  “But they let you talk to all of the choices, yes?”  

 

Again, no.  Now they were both frowning, they turned to glare at Bear, who shifted uncomfortably.  It felt like it had been months, I couldn’t remember if I had ever talked to him about the day we met.  I didn’t think he had ever brought it up. I wasn’t going to.

 

“You are happy now?” Inari asked softly.

 

I shrugged, “I am happier than I was living in a refugee camp.”

 

Martin said softly, “That is a pretty low bar.”

 

Ansa nodded, “Lots to get past?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Bear’s fault?”

 

“No.”

 

The ladies relaxed a little at that.  Inari blurted out, “Tapio is very gentle.”

 

I opened my mouth to say that Bear was too, but I remembered him dragging me through the halls that first day.  He hadn’t done it again, but I was always aware that he could. “Bear has been very patient.”

 

Ansa’s eyes narrowed as if she had picked up on what I wasn’t saying, but she didn’t push me further than that.

 

It was a few days, maybe weeks before they did come over to visit.  I had invited them a few times, but somehow Bear and Tapio hadn’t let it happen.  It was the most awkward visit. The two orcs almost squaring off. We sat in the kitchen and drank water because there was nothing else.  Bear got me a glass. Tapio brought cups over to Ansa and Inari.

 

We made small talk about the weather and the boys.  I showed off my necklace that Bear had given me for Christmas.  Tapio had gotten each of them leather mittens. I could almost see the mental calculations each of the orcs were doing as to who had given the better gift.  Just as I was thinking that, I made eye contact with Ansa, who has dimples when she is trying not to smile. We both giggled.

 

“I wish I could offer you tea,” I said softly.  

 

That made both of them sigh, and Inari whispered, “Coffee!”

 

Which sparked a slightly bitter but mostly nostalgic conversation about the foods we missed.  Once again, food was a censored topic, because Tapio and Bear broke up the party pretty quickly after that.  

 

After they were gone, Bear turned and frowned at me. I panicked a little and took a step back.   “You want food, you tell me, not them.”

 

I hung my head, “Sorry Bear.”

 

“What foods you want?”

 

Ice cream, hamburgers, homemade pizza with cheese from the little cheese shop downtown.  A bag of chicago style popcorn. Things there was no way to get. I just shook my head.

 

“Kari?  You hungry?”  This was asked in a much softer voice.

 

I swallowed the lump in my throat, “No.  You do a good job of providing food.” I felt like I wanted to cry.  He was beaming like I had just paid him the best compliment. Maybe I had.

 

That night, when I was lying in bed, I realized that I really didn’t ever say thank you.  I wasn’t sure it fit. He did what he was going to do. There really wasn’t anything I could do about whatever he decided.  He made things happen, and I found out as they were happening. Or sometimes after.

 

Like Christmas.  I didn’t know it was happening until the day before.  There wasn’t time for me to plan anything or make anything for me to give as a gift.  That left me with a botched handjob as an offering. I also didn’t ask for things, so it was odd to say thank you for him doing as he pleased.  Still, “This is a very nice house, Bear. Thank you for arranging it for me.” I didn’t look at him, but the words ringing in my brain were ‘arranging it so you could sleep in my bed without the boys seeing.’  It wasn’t a fair thought. Bear was fully prepared to spend each night in his own damn bed. He was only ever in mine with an invitation.

 

He didn’t say anything, so eventually, I rolled over to look at him.  He looked so proud. I shivered and burrowed deeper under the covers.



Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, Bear was asleep. He usually managed to wake when I did.  Or I guess I managed to wake him when I woke. This time it wasn’t a bad dream that did it.  I dreamt about making donuts with my dad. I woke just as I was biting into one. It was a strange feeling.  It had been so long that I almost forgot what it was like. I was warm and comfortable in bed. I was confident that my sons were safe.  Bear was as non threatening as it was possible for a more than 7 foot tall space orc to be, currently with a bonus helping of extra nonthreatening since he was snoring slightly.

 

Whatever weird chemical factory in my brain that makes hormones and squidgy brain juices had rolled a twenty.

 

I was … happy?  How did that even work?  I lay there staring at the ceiling for a while trying to understand what had changed.  I even poked at my happy feeling a couple of times, reminding myself that the whole world was a wasteland and I was privileged to live in one of the few safe enclaves.

 

It was true.  But I was still happy.  

 

It was god knows what time it was. I should really have tried to go back to sleep, but I didn’t know if I would still feel OK in the morning.  So I lay there, holding my fragile happiness like the precious thing that it was. I fought sleep because I didn’t want to lose the peace I had found, but eventually, I blinked and sleep found me whether I wanted it or not.

 

Some of that peace carried me forward until morning.  It made me daring.

 

“Bear?”  We were all getting ready to go have breakfast at the other house but I wanted to say this where Harry and Martin could back me up. “I know there are a lot of cultural differences around food between how you understand it and how we do. Is there a way for us to be able to make breakfast here? Could you pass it off as teaching the boys to cook or something?  We have a stove and pots and pans. The chickens are right out back. It would be nice to have breakfast as a family.” I stopped talking because all four orcs were looking at me like I had just suggested we poison the children. 

 

Harry blurted out, “It’s important for families to eat together.”

 

Martin added, “and breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

 

It didn’t really help. Well, there went my happy buzz. 

 

Andrew was adamant, “Not make you-“

 

I interrupted, “yeah, I got it you won’t let me prepare food. Fine. But I’m sure Harry or Martin can cook eggs and I bet I could talk them through how to bake bread without ever touching the ingredients.”

 

The Kings stared at me in amazement.  It was Harry who actually said, reverentially, “You know how to make bread?”

 

“Yeah man, I got skills!  I expect it will be a sourdough, but it isn’t that hard. If they can dig up some wheat, that is. Oatmeal bread is good but it doesn’t have the same crumb.”

 

We all looked eagerly at Bear.  He was frowning slightly. I sagged. Well, happy was fun while it lasted. 

 

The day was one more in an unchanging string.  The predictability of it was a comfort but it made it really hard to keep track of time.  It had been a while since Christmas but I couldn’t say how much. Max had outgrown his mismatched squeaky light up shoes.  All the boys were at least a clothing size bigger than when we had arrived here. Inari looked even more pregnant but that wasn’t exactly the easiest way to tell time.  

 

Apparently, it had been long enough for them to know me.  “Something happened,” Ansa observed.

 

I shook my head, “It’s fine.”  I liked them, but when we were together, Bear and Tapio were always listening.  I wasn’t going to upset him by going off script in front of them again.

 

Harry frowned, “No, it isn’t!” He would have continued but I elbowed him as hard as I could.  I have very pointy elbows.

 

Now Ansa and Inari were really worried.  Inari leaned in, “Did Bear hurt you?”

 

“No!  Nothing like that!” I assured her.  “I just… keep asking for things I can’t have.”

 

Ansa pulled me into her lap and rubbed my back.  “Yes. I keep asking for a dog. Tapio sees it as having predators who could eat your children in your house.  They don’t have dogs in their culture.”

 

I nodded slowly.  “Does he look angry when you ask?”

 

Ansa nodded slowly, “He looks angry, but he is hurt that I ask for something that could endanger Armo.  He doesn’t understand that it isn’t like that.”

 

“Yeah.”  It was more important to Bear to be seen as a good provider than for him to let me have a hobby.  “It’s more important to Tapio to be seen as a good protector than it is for you to be happy.” The ladies wrinkled their brows at me.  Harry and Martin’s eyebrows went up. Bear and Tapio both looked pissed. I hunched in on myself and muttered, “or something like that.”  

 

I didn’t have a whole lot more to say after that.

 

The boys had afternoon nap.  Ansa and Inari did not come over to chat and drink water.  I watched as Bear collected the eggs from the chicken coop.  My Christmas book was a copy of Emma. I had read it several times since then.  I felt like I could almost recite it by now. I wasn’t over impressed with it the first time.  There wasn’t anything else to do, so I read it again, until it was time to get the boys ready for supper.

 

Supper was food.  That was the thing.  Before Bear came into my life, having enough food to eat had become a distant memory.  Mere months later, I was so spoiled I wanted food to be interesting. After supper, I played tag with the kids.  I liked tag. It was one I could participate in. I didn’t fit on the playground equipment, I couldn’t just go for a walk.  Tag was awesome. The guys played tag football with the kids. I was discouraged from joining in since I had ended up covered in bruises at the bottom of a pile of five oversized three year olds.

 

The snow was melting.  It had to almost be Max’s birthday again.  It also meant it had to be close to six months that I had been in Bear’s care.

 

That night Bear was clearly hoping for an invite to come to bed.  I was ignoring him, Finally, he got the hint and set up his own bed.  I was just about asleep when he said, “Tapio is good protector.”

 

“I bet he is,”

 

“He wants Ansa to be happy.”

 

“Does he?”

 

“Yes.  He wants his family to be safe.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I want you to be safe.”

 

“Good.  I want to be safe too.”

 

“You are not happy.”

 

“I am happy you do not hurt me.”

 

Bear growled softly, “but you are not happy.”

 

“No.  I need to do things to be happy.  But this is better than before where I spent all my time trying to keep me and Max alive.  I just miss self determination. I get frustrated that Harry and Martin have more of that than I do.  But to be fair, the first time you brought me to this house, you did warn me that you are, as a species, not good valuing women.”

 

That made him sit up. “We value you!” he protested.

 

I stopped talking then.

 

“I protect you!  I provide for you!”

 

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

 

That made him freeze.

 

“Help me understand,” he said finally.

 

“I don’t know.  I just feel like I’m living in a human zoo.  I have food and shelter and some socialization.  Not much. I have four other adults I can talk to.  But no environmental enrichment. Nothing to stimulate my brain.  No decisions, nothing really to do.”

 

“Hmmm.”

 

It was the last thing either of us said that night.  I don’t know if Bear was awake longer than I or if he was just laying so that he wouldn’t snore.  I lay awake staring at the ceiling for a long time before I fell asleep. He wasn’t making sleep noises in all that time.



Chapter Text

“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.”

 

“What?”

 

“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.

 

“Yes.”

 

“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.”

 

I nodded.

 

“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.

 

“I’m blind!”

 

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.