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Family Day

Posted on: Friday, 17 July 2020 @ 10:34am
Blatting about
More specifically

Partly pointless preamable

The title is actually terrible but it's the working title I gave the files and I can't think of a better one ^_^;

The following is the same fic from two different points of view.  I initially wrote them in breaks from ironing the tail, and was trying to figure out which one to post when I remembered that I had once upon a time wanting to try writing the same situation from the viewpoints of different characters, and must have subconsciously remembered that when doing it.

Then I got to having to do last week's progblog and realised that it would be really boring for anyone following the progblogs to have to read about how I was still fighting with ironing out the bloody tail, so I thought maybe I'll post this fic instead.  I couldn't decide which to post first so figured even if it will make a long post I would do it in one post as technically it's still one fic.

And then because I'm me, I decided I should do a sketch to go with it.

One sketch ended up being three (ostensibly so I could open with one, chuck one between and put one at the end but even that hasn't happened) and for whatever reason I decided to do some narrative thing with them too, and experiment on top of that because that's a great idea when you're kind of in a hurry (which happened after I ended up taking most of a night to work out the logistics of seating two people with wings next to each other on a bench).  So first two are roughter than usual because they were stupidly fast and I used a charcoal pencil brush instead of one of the pencil brushes I normally use, and because I decided to go for a vaguely colour pencil look with the last sketchy I used the 4b pencil brush instead of my usual mix brush to shade the rough colour sketchy.  Then the last one which was supposed to be a neat sketchy ended up being a weird hybrid of my neat sketchy style and my full on style and I will probably never do it again (but it did tell me that I need to go back to doing both sketchy colouring styles on one layer which is terrifying so I guess that's why I had to do it).

So basically what's happened is I missed one progblog and am posting this instead of  another one x_x

Oh also fair warning for some of Nar'ek's mild coarse language in his point of view (it's okay all the coarse language is internal monologue, there were kids around after all).


Svetlana looked down as Tatiana tugged urgently on the hem of her skirt.

“Sveta,” she whispered, “[I need to pee.]”

Svetlana’s blood froze and she glanced carefully sideways to where Nar’ek was perusing garments on a rack. This was their first unsupervised outing. From what she could tell from overhearing conversations, it was to see if Nar’ek could look after them on his own. They had to make a good impression, show they were good girls that wouldn’t be any trouble. If Nar’ek thought he couldn’t look after them, they might have to go back to live with Mama and Papa again.

Nata had told them that they wouldn’t, and if Nar’ek didn’t take them they would live in foster care until they became adults, but Mama had told her when Family Services had come to take her and Tatiana to the foster centre that she was going to do everything she could to get them back. Mama would tell her she was bad and ungrateful if she knew that Svetlana didn’t want to go home to her and Papa.

“[Now might not be a good time Tati,]” she whispered back, “[can you wait]?”

Tatiana whimpered and shook her head, squirming slightly. Svetlana looked anxiously at her for a moment, then took her sister’s hand and turned to face Nar’ek.


He looked over at her with that infectious smile that had put her and Tatiana at ease when they had first met. But still, Mama so hated being inconvenienced and bathroom breaks on outings were extremely disruptive and inconvenient. “Tati bezi benyadia.” She braced.

“Okay,” said Nar’ek simply. “Come on. arili.”

That couldn’t have been it, surely. Svetlana glanced down at Tatiana, saw her own confusion and uncertainty reflected on the face of her tiny sister. They followed him out of the shop and down the corridor to where the restrooms were, all the way up to the end to the non-restricted ones, in a strange but welcome silence that wasn’t even uncomfortable. Nar’ek didn’t look mad, but he was unlike anyone else she had encountered. Everyone else had some look or tone of voice where she could tell how they were feeling and knew how to act accordingly around them, even if they tried to act differently. Nar’ek had such frightening control over his emotions. One time when he had come to hang out with them, he had at one point completely stilled, there had been nothing whatsoever in his face or body, he had been like a statue, and she had no idea what to do. That had been more terrrifying than Mama saying she “wasn’t angry, just disappointed” when she clearly was angry. Right now she didn’t know if she could trust that he wasn’t actually angry just because he didn’t look it.

Tatiana disappeared into a stall and Svetlana decided she better go too, just in case. Nar’ek waited near the sinks. When Svetlana came out he was looking inwards to the rest of the bathroom, but half-smiled at her when she came out before turning his head the other way like he was checking out the exit. Svetlana washed her hands and then Tatiana called out because she needed help to get her tights and petticoats back in order, and Nar’ek was still somehow not angry at the constant delays when he reminded Tatiana to wash her hands shortly after Svetlana did, and then they headed back into the clothes shop like it was no big deal. What was the saying? He must have the patience of a saint?

They walked quietly beside Nar’ek like good, well-behaved girls, like how Mama liked. Svetlana cast a couple more glances up. Dragonkin were tall, she knew that much, being one herself, and also from a couple of the Family Service personnel that sometimes came and went. There weren’t many around where they’d lived with Mama and Papa. She realised she didn’t even really think of it as “home” now. She wasn’t used to having to look so far up at an adult.

01 1

“mie zi vo ua ka jakine,” she offered. Sometimes if they apologised Mama wouldn’t be as mad. Nar’ek blinked and looked down at her, looking mildly surprised. A few emotions flashed across his eyes, too fleeting and distant for her to read. Svetlana felt nerves tying her stomach into knots again. She didn’t know how to act. She didn’t want to stuff this up.

Nar’ek frowned briefly before smoothing over. “na jakine.”

Svetlana looked down, once more meeting Tatiana’s confused baby blue eyes briefly. No trouble? Really? Had he really not minded having to stop what he was doing to take them to the bathroom? He hadn’t scolded them on the way there and back. But he had frowned.

“tu mezonike?” Svetlana desperately hoped she wasn’t “pushing buttons” as Mama told her she constantly did, but she had to know if he was annoyed with them. Nar’ek touched the back of her head gently. She felt a warm, comforting glow which simultaneously made her happy and terrified her for its unfamiliarity.

“naya tu, sweetpea,” he replied. It had been maybe his second or third supervised visit to their foster centre when he’d started using English terms of endearment with them. Mama and Papa had of course had terms of endearment for them too, but somehow it felt a lot more sincere coming from Nar’ek. Was it because he was her biological father? But then it should have sounded sincere coming from Mama too. He had been truthful about being annoyed, and assured them it wasn’t at them. Who then? At least not at them. Maybe she could trust the things he said.

“Mama enariru mezoni,” Tatiana piped up. Svetlana winced, and gently squeezed Tatiana’s hand.

“[You can’t say stuff like that],” she whispered. Tatiana was only 5, she wasn’t to know. Tatiana’s widened fearfully at the realisation she might have said something wrong, and she squeezed Svetlana’s hand tightly. Svetlana squeezed back reassuringly, and glanced up at Nar’ek. He wasn’t looking at them, but she felt that he was somehow aware of exactly where they were in relation to him, unlike Mama and Papa who would sometimes look around for them and look annoyed if they didn’t walk in the right place.

Nar’ek smirked. “I bet.” He didn’t translate into Sona this time, and Svetlana felt worry making her stomach flip again.

Nar’ek asked them to pick clothes they liked, without telling them which ones they should pick. Mama had always picked their outfits, all the time. They were always pretty clothes, and they were told that they were pretty girls, and Mama always got mad at them if they got dirty, because the problem with a lot of these pretty clothes was that they were hard to clean and easy to ruin. This was why they were out clothes shopping, because Nar’ek wanted them to have clothes that weren’t so fiddly to get on and off, and were easier to move in, and easier to clean. He helped them initially, and then they got to pick one outfit all on their own, whatever they wanted. It had been exhilirating and exciting. They each ended up with three outfits of “play clothes” and a pair of new shoes, and got to change into them as soon as they left the shop.

It was weird not wearing clothes they had to mind, but movement was so much easier, and the soft cloth felt so nice on the skin. The clothes were so easy Tatiana had even managed to dress herself without any help at all. It was also weird when Nar’ek told Svetlana not to bother about fixing Tatiana’s flyaways unless they were actually annoying Tatiana, who was never bothered by flyaways, it was always Mama that wanted everything to look neat as a pin. Then they went to the park.

It was very, very different from when they went on outings with Mama. With Mama they would go to coffee shops and have to sit quietly and prettily, even though they got bored. When they went to parks and playgrounds, they could play on the play equipment as long as they didn’t dirty their pretty clothes and shoes or mess up their pretty hairstyles. They could sit on the grass and make daisy chains or read. Nar’ek not only encouraged them to do stuff they had always wanted to try, such as jumping in puddles and climbing trees and running across the grass as fast as they could, but he joined in, splashing just as much as they did, showing them how to climb up and down, chasing them across the grass and wrestling with them when he caught them, spinning them around and around and letting them ride on his shoulders, laughing when they screamed with delight.

Svetlana couldn’t remember when she had ever had so much fun, or when she and Tatiana had laughed so much til they were out of breath. She had seen other kids doing things like this, but Mama had always said that those kids were naughty and misbehaving and she was lucky to have such good well behaved girls. She felt somehow like she had missed out on a large chunk in the twelve years she had been alive. It was a big, uncomfortable, angry feeling that she quelled, because Mama got mad if she had tantrums.

Then Tatiana fell and ripped the knee of her new overalls. Seeing the damage, she burst into hysterical tears. Svetlana franticly tried to shush her, but Tatiana was too upset, and there was no hiding or fixing this before it was noticed. It suddenly occurred to her how dirty their new clothes and shoes had gotten, and Tatiana’s hair was a mess, and hers probably wasn’t any better. They’d blown it. Nar’ek was never going to take them now. Svetlana remained dead still with her head down as Nar’ek loomed over them. She felt his eyes on her, then he crouched down by Tatiana, expertly examining the knee, examining the leg around it, like Svetlana remembered Inessa doing for Aleksey’s broken arm. Looking somewhat puzzled, he then sat on the ground and drew Tatiana into his lap, hugging her and rocking her gently and stroking her hair, and asking her what was wrong. Tatiana buried into his shoulder and continued bawling. Nar’ek looked up at Svetlana. His expression shifted, and Svetlana hurriedly tried to think what expression to put on her face. Mama didn’t like it when they weren’t smiling, but smiling was hardly appropriate now.

“Sveta?” Nar’ek sounded confused. “What’s wrong? kena fen?”

“Tu mezonike?” she whimpered. He had to be angry now. He’d just spent a small fortune on new clothes for them and they’d already wrecked them.

Nar’ek’s confusion intensified. “ke?” he managed. And then, “keua mi mezoni?”

What did he mean why would he be angry? “Tati udi an pogin.”

“Seriously?” Nar’ek exclaimed. Svetlana flinched, awaiting the inevitable tirade. However, Nar’eks posture loosened a lot, and he absently rocked and shushed Tatiana a bit more. “Tati, it’s just clothes, bub,” he said, his voice gentle and soothing and not at all angry. “fiui pogin. Don’t cry, we’ll fix it later, okay? mie inoka civari. Okay?”

Tatiana sniffled. “Tu mezonike?”

Nar’ek looked briefly exasperated again. “Naya tu, bubba.”

He wasn’t angry at them, or about the clothes, or how they would look to other people. He was worried about Tatiana. It was so alien and good and weird and scary.

The shopping trip had been impromptu, the original plan had been park and ice cream. Tatiana didn’t want to walk. Sometimes she didn’t want to walk when she got really upset. Nar’ek didn’t get mad, he just carried her, and she clung soundlessly to him, arms clasped tightly around his neck and her chin resting on his shoulder. It was weird. Mama always told her off and to get up and walk and then get madder because Tatiana would shuffle along slowly crying all the way. Papa would sometimes carry her, but would tell her off for being a stupid girl. Usually Svetlana would carry her, but sometimes if she was really upset and didn’t want to walk for a long time she got really heavy after a while, and Svetlana would do her best but sometimes just had to get her to walk and would hold her hand and comfort her as best she could.

Svetlana started slightly when Nar’ek’s hand entered her vision. She looked up at him, once more tinted by terror at not knowing what was expected of her. He smiled, then bent down slightly and picked up her hand. He smiled so readily and easily at everything, not like Mama. Mama said she was too big to hold hands when she was 8 or 9. She had tried to be a big girl then, and in fairness she had been definitely bigger than the Terran kids the same age, but she had still felt so small. Nar’ek’s wing shut out a chunk of the world. She could shut out the world with her own wings, but being under his wing, holding his hand, felt so much safer. She figured Tatiana must be feeling safe too, all the way up where she was being carried. Nar’ek was so big and so strong it really did feel like nothing could touch them. She walked as close to him as she could, struggling to process the new feelings, and wanting to always feel this secure.

They were expecting to be handed strawberry ice cream, because Mama always got them strawberry ice cream. Just like with the clothes, Nar’ek asked them to choose. The choices were dizzying. They were allowed to taste a few that they liked the look of, and Svetlana ended up with a cookies and cream, Tatiana had chocolate and Nar’ek got himself a lemon sorbet.

It wasn’t that they didn’t like strawberry. It was just the flavours they got for themselves were new and exciting and that made them taste better.

The ice cream was delicious and cold on her tongue, and the sun was warm on her back, and Svetlana felt safer and happier with the biological father she had only known for a month or so than with the biological mother and stepfather she had known her whole life. She wondered if this was how other kids felt with their parents every day; what it would be like to always have a loving parent to snuggle with and listen to a story every night, to be able to choose treats and clothes, to be able to run and jump and play and even fly as much as she wanted, to not have to constantly watch to make sure she was acting right so Mama wouldn’t be angry, and make sure Tatiana was acting right so Mama wouldn’t be angry at her. He even let Tatiana sit on his lap even though it had to be making it harder for him to eat his sorbet.

The big feelings welled up again from her stomach. Svetlana didn’t want to go back to Mama and Papa. She didn’t even want to think of them as Mama and Papa anymore, and she definitely didn’t want their name. She wanted to go to North America with Nar’ek, she wanted to belong to him, to his Tribe, to have his family tattoos when she grew up, to speak his language. The big feelings spilled out as fat, salty tears and out of habit she muffled them, because Mama always got mad at her when she was crying for no reason.

The friendly wing came up, blocking out the rest of the world, and Nar’ek’s arm curled protectively around her. Svetlana shuffled closer, pressing against him and sobbing silently against his shoulder.

“Lots of big feelings huh,” he said gently. “Ta sene.”

She nodded soundlessly in response to the Sona she could understand as the big feelings continued, and continued leaning against him when the tears and sobs finally stopped. He somehow knew she was feeling big feelings. He hadn’t told her to stop crying for no reason, to stop being stupid. He’d hugged her instead of telling her to go to her room and come out when she was ready to behave herself. Like all the good parents in stories. She sat back and wiped away the tears, and stared earnestly up at her father.


“Yeah bub?” he looked inquiringly at her, but with that gentle smile again. His expression told her that he cared about her all the time, not just when she’d done something to be proud of.

“mi aloke kihala tu Papa?” Did she actually have to ask her biological father if she could call him as such?

Nar’ek seemed to turn into a statue, all expression leaving his face and body. Svetlana stared fearfully at him. Had she done the wrong thing? The smile returned quickly though, and he hugged her gently.

“Of course you can. sameni, sweetpea.”

If Svetlana hadn’t been out of tears at that moment she could have cried with relief. Maybe her biological father wanted her after all. Maybe they didn’t have to go back to Zhenya and Nikolai. But wait. Nata had said that only Svetlana could go with Nar’ek if he wanted, because they were blood related. Tatiana could only go with them if Nar’ek agreed to adopt her, as she wasn’t his biological child. Demid had said Nar’ek wouldn’t want Tatiana because she was a Terran. Aleksey had said that wasn’t true and Demid was a racist idiot and Demid had threatened to break Aleksey’s other arm. She took a breath, steeling herself to ask the most important question.

“mi ge?” Only a rising inflection turned Tatiana’s protest into a question. The breath squeezed out of Svetlana’s lungs. Mama might have answered or might have been mad depending on her mood in the moment.

Nar’ek chuckled. “Yes, you too. ui, tu ge,” he replied agreeably, pulling out wipes to clean up the ice cream Tatiana had gotten all over her face and hands. He didn’t even care that Tatiana had been eating messily. Mama would have scolded for ages about how filthy she was.

Svetlana’s hopes soared.

“mie aloke ru li North America so tu?”

“ken tu cu.”

Again, letting them choose. It was terrifying and exhilirating and liberating and she felt for the first time that her life might actually belong to her, and she loved him for making it so. But they still had to know the answer to the most important question.

“Tati ge ke?”

He tilted his head slightly, frowning again but this time puzzled rather than annoyed. “sameni.” No hesitation. Svetlana wasn’t sure how she ended up in his embrace again, but he barely moved, having apparently expected it before even she knew what was going on.


“Rik?” Nar’ek turned his head towards the source of the inquiry, using the motion to locate the two monitors. There they were, casually “shopping” line of sight away, far enough apart and dressed differently enough to not look associated with each other. As far as he could tell from their behaviour, they weren’t aware that he’d picked them soon after he and the girls had left for their first “unsupervised” outing. He focused on the girls, quickly reading their body language. They’d been whispering in Russian and were now staring nervously up at him.

Svetlana was always nervous no matter what he did. He had experimentally quietly masked around her all of once and felt her anxiety spike through the roof. It made sense as the poor kid would have spent pretty much her entire life figuring out how to read Zhenya to try to avoid the crazy bitch’s random tantrums. The psychs had mentioned that she spent an inordinate amount of time watching and being ridiculously careful about how she acted and behaved around adults. He kept his expression friendly, trying to indicate to her that she didn’t have to walk on eggshells all the time.

Svetlana seemed to steel herself. “Tati bezi benyadia.”

Nar’ek glanced over his biological daughter’s tiny half-sister. The poor kid did look like she desperately needed the bathroom. “Okay,” he said. “Come on. arili.”

It was a short stroll out of the clothes shop and down the corridor to where the restrooms were located. The girls were still nervous wrecks. He’d always been pretty good with kids. Part of being his prince’s bodyguard had involved minding him as a child, and he could always think of fun things to do with Mya’le, and the cadets in the classes he ran always seemed to mostly enjoy themselves. Shu’karr was right though. It was completely different when it was your own kids. He didn’t know what to do or say right now. He wondered if they were nervous wrecks because he wouldn’t put it past Zhenya to make a huge thing out of being “grossly inconvenienced” because a kid needed the bathroom while she was in the middle of her things which were infinitely more important than anyone else’s things could possibly ever be, regardless of what those things were.

He took them into the non-restricted bathrooms up the end just so he could go in and make sure everything was cool. Statistically the chances of anything happening in a public restroom in an area like this were pretty remote, but the horror stories he had read during his research was enough to make him feel that little bit overprotective. The girls disappeared into stalls and he settled against the wall with unfettered view of the entry door and the stalls the girls were in, and waited, the mask dropping into place out of habit. He didn’t have to wait long before one of the monitors wandered in and looked at him as though asking if he was in the non-existent queue for the ample number of stalls. Smirking slightly, Nar’ek waved them on and they went into a stall further up.

Not long after, Svetlana emerged and Nar’ek felt her anxiety jump again. He focused on her and smiled gently, feeling her relax only slightly. He wanted to ask why going to the bathroom seemed like such an ordeal, but chances are she wouldn’t know either, and then Tatiana called out to her, and Svetlana had to go in there and help her sort out her clothes.

The plan had been to go to the park for a play and then get ice cream, but when the girls had come out in these frilly affairs completely inappropriate for easy running around and playing in, and it had been revealed that all their clothes were similar if not even more inappropriate, well this was a situation that had to be remedied.

The girls finally emerged, with Svetlana saying something to Tatiana in Russian. Nar’ek reminded them to wash their hands, and then they headed back to the shop they’d left. The girls walked quietly beside him, Tatiana clinging to Svetlana’s hand. He had been observing other similarly aged children around the shops. The kids Svetlana’s age were usually animatedly chatting to each other and the adults they were with. The kids Tatiana’s age were animatedly chatting at best and skipping around at worst. Outliers were crying or having tantrums, or walking quietly or being carried because they looked tired. How these two were acting was decidedly not normal.

“mie zi vo ua ka jakine,” Svetlana’s voice piped up timidly from beside him. They were sorry for causing trouble? What trouble? Nar’ek blinked in surprise and looked down at Svetlana, who was looking up nervously at him. Tatiana was pressed close to her side, staring fixedly ahead. Because he didn’t want to mask and scare Svetlana further, the frown touched his face before he could get rid of it.

“na jakine,” he replied. He felt more like Zhenya had made a big deal about other people wanting to do things that weren’t or interfered with what she wanted. They were only freaking kids. How obnoxiously selfish could a person get and still somehow take themselves seriously?

“tu mezonike?”

That clinched it for him. He most definitely was angry, but absolutely not at them. He chose not to lie. How were they supposed to trust him otherwise? And they really needed to be able to trust a parent, as it seemed they had gone their entire lives not trusting the ones they’d had. “Naya tu, sweetpea.” He scroffled the back of her head affectionately, like he did Mya’le, and still even did with Zul’jinn and Zara (which required catching her first because she was slippery as) because even though they were very much adults now they would always be kids to him. He caught another of her rare, genuine smiles, and once more quietly resolved to get rid of the terror that tinged it.

“Mama enariru mezoni,” Tatiana piped up. It was an effort for Nar’ek to not laugh at the unexpected “kids say the darnedest things” proof of his suspicions. He pretended not to notice Svetlana’s frantic Russian whispering and Tatiana’s baby blue eyes widening in fear.

“I bet,” he murmured just because he needed to do something with the pent up exasperation seeing as he hadn’t been able to release it in a sarcastic laugh earlier. Yep, he felt that Zhenya always getting angry was a pretty safe bet.

His next cause of annoyance was when the girls seemed to not know what to do when they were back in the shops and he was trying to get them to pick out clothes that they liked. Bloody Zhenya would have of course picked out all their outfits for them. She had a good eye, there was no doubt of that, but seriously. He reduced the number of choices for them initially, selecting a few pieces he thought would both look cute and be easy to move in and wash, and getting them to pick a couple more off just one rack, and assuring them that there was no right and wrong, just what they liked and didn’t like. Their excitement grew at picking stuff off the rack and then they each managed to pick a third outfit and a pair of shoes on their own.

Then it was back to the restroom for them to get changed and Tatiana was so proud of herself for being able to get dressed all by herself. Looking at the outfit she’d been wearing after Svetlana had handed to him, he wasn’t surprised. She would have needed help with all those buttons and zips and Nar’ek couldn’t even tell which way round the dress was supposed to go with all the petticoats puffed out like they were and one of the tights legs were inside out but he had no idea which one. Getting clumsily dressed had caused several flyaways in Tatiana’s neatly braided hair. On seeing Svetlana start to fuss over it, Nar’ek suggested leaving it unless Tatiana wanted it fixed. When Svetlana looked first shocked and then nervous at this apparently outlandish suggestion, Nar’ek figured that the crazy bitch must have assumed her daughters were animate dolls to be kept pretty looking at all times. The poor kids really needed to chill.

This was further proven when they got to the park. After once more working out where the monitors were, the next thing Nar’ek discovered was that they didn’t know how to play. Not didn’t like highly active running around kind of playing, literally didn’t know how. Zhenya and Tatiana’s biological father had taken them on outings and things, but mostly they hit up fancy coffee shops where the girls just had to sit with their babycinos while the adults chatted, sometimes they had books to read, and sometimes Zhenya’s friends had kids they could chat and sometimes even walk around with. If they went to the park they could wander around looking at the flora and fauna and sit on the grass making daisy chains and not much else by the sounds of things. Something about Zhenya got annoyed if they got their clothes and shoes dirty and their hair came undone.

It was bad enough that Svetlana was the weakest and most nervous flyer he had ever come across as a combination of Zhenya apparently shrieking at her about how dangerous it was coupled with clothes that had to be kept clean at all costs were prohibitive, but kids not being allowed to be kids was way too far.

So he took them sprinting across the grass, or sprinting as fast as Tatiana could go anyway which was a comfortable lope for him, played chasey with them, they found some puddles to jump in, Tatiana rolled cheerfully down a slope, he spun them around and gave them shoulder rides and tossed Tatiana up in the air a few times, and was amazed at how much he loved the sound of their laughter. It took a while for them to just cut loose, he guessed Zhenya must have gotten annoyed with them laughing too loudly as well.

He saw Tatiana trip and fall while running. She cheerfully rolled over and started sitting up, then looked at her knee and started up a blood curdling scream. The fall hadn’t looked that bad, Nar’ek figured she had scraped her knee or something and was likely just having an over the top reaction because Zhenya didn’t seem to have let them do anything fun. He saw Svetlana run over and crouch beside her, felt their fear intensify, and quickened his pace, making himself remain calm. Svetlana didn’t look up from where she was kneeling beside Tatiana. Nar’ek glanced at her, not understanding why she was acting like that, and crouched beside Tatiana, asking her what was wrong. He got no response but frantic sobbing. Her knee was fine, the overalls had done their job, an area over the knee she was favouring had ripped and she’d ended up with some tiny scrapes and grass stains on the skin. Just in case, he checked the area around it. She was fine. He sat down properly and gathered the tiny child into his lap and hugged her, rocking her and smoothing down her hair and saying random stuff to try to comfort her, but the sobbing continued. And she was shaking like a leaf. Puzzled, Nar’ek looked up at Svetlana, wondering if maybe Tatiana would respond if it was Svetlana talking to her in Russian, and his confusion intensified when he saw the fear on her face.

“Sveta? What’s wrong?” Sona, idiot. “kena fen?”

“Tu mezonike?” Svetlana whimpered. What the actual? Is this why they never played? Because that crazy bitch went psycho if they hurt themselves?

He managed a “ke?” initially in his confusion before formulating an actual sentence. “keua mi mezoni?”

“Tati udi an pogin.”

The tension left his body in an explosive “Seriously?!” Did they literally think he was going to be mad at them because Tatiana had torn her overalls? Did Zhenya fly off the handle if a speck of dirt or a stich unpicked in the over the top ridiculously delicate outfits she bought them? With Svetlana bracing like she was expecting a furious tirade and Tatiana wailing, that wouldn’t surprise him in the least. He hated that worthless bitch for what she’d done to these kids, he hated himself for selfishly protecting his own mental health by completely avoiding her, not even checking her profile for news of the child he knew he had impregnated her with before he’d kicked her out, because he also knew through the grapevine that she’d been spinning narratives that made her out to be the innocent victim in everything. If he’d checked, he might have actually done something.

But then if he had, there would have been some really unpleasant court battles and more than likely they’d have to split care, which would mean he’d actually have to deal with her and he didn’t want to do that even through a mediator so he wouldn’t have to have direct contact with her. As it was, Svetlana had spoken to her school facilitator who had referred her on to the school counsellor who had then reported to Family Services, and after way too many failed attempts with parenting workshops and whatnot, Family Services had determined Zhenya and her allegedly drug using partner to be unfit parents and had taken the girls. They couldn’t be placed with relatives as Zhenya’s mother was apparently at least as bad as Zhenya herself, and the other guy was estranged from pretty much his entire family and none of them wanted anything to do with him or even with his completely innocent daughter. How they couldn’t want her was completely beyond him. Unlike her mother who had the ugliest soul, Tatiana was gorgeous both inside and out. The main thing was, none of them had to deal with that ugly soul at all now.

She wasn’t nearly as badly damaged as Svetlana, because Svetlana had shielded her as much as a 12 year old child knew how to, but it was blatantly obvious now moreso than ever that there was still damage.

“Tati, it’s just clothes bub,” he murmured soothingly to the distraught child on his lap. “fiui pogin. Don’t cry, we’ll fix it later, okay? mie inoka civari. Okay?” The clothes were going to be so much quicker and easier to mend than their fragile psyches.

Tatiana sniffled. “Tu mezonike?” She looked up at him, her eyes disproportionately terrified given the situation.

He was angry. Really angry. But not at them, and he said as much again. “Naya tu, bubba.”

Now seemed like as good a time as any for ice cream. Tatiana was clinging to him like a leech, so he pushed himself up with his tail and just carried her. Svetlana fell in beside him. There was a certain spot that she walked regardless of which side she went on, it seemed. Always easily visible in his peripheral vision. She walked quietly with her head down. That clothes thing had been an even bigger deal than the bathroom thing. He put his wing over her and picked up her hand, feeling her gripping tightly on and stepping closer when he did.

Nar’ek had been hoping for a different result when they hit the ice cream truck, but was completely unsurprised when the girls just stood by instead of excitedly examining the offerings as kids usually did. They looked surprised when he prompted them to pick. They didn’t know what anything other than strawberry tasted like. Strawberry had been Zhenya’s favourite so of course she would have decided it had to be the girls’ only flavour. He got them to pick a few they liked the look of and to ask for testers, and their eyes shone when they received flavours they had picked on their own possibly for the first time in their short lives.

They sat on one of the benches around the nearby lake to enjoy the ice cream. Tatiana timidly pressed close to Nar’ek, apparently wanting to sit on him but looking too afraid to do so. They at least looked less shocked when he parked Tatiana on his lap.

03 0

Svetlana seemed to be brooding over some heavy thoughts, and as Nar’ek was wondering how to prompt conversation to see if the kids could talk out some of their issues, tears started streaming down her cheeks. She sniffled, quickly stuffed the last of the ice cream into her mouth, sniffled again and rubbed an arm across her eyes, trying hard to stifle the sobs.

Were they not even allowed to cry?

Probably not, because that crazy bitch couldn’t tolerate even an iota of attention being on anyone other than her.

Nar’ek tucked Svetlana under his wing again and she pressed up against him, the sobs finally escaping. He put his arm around her and rocked both her and Tatiana gently. “Lots of big feelings, huh,” he said, keeping his tone low but making sure she could hear him. “Ta sene.” She nodded and continued crying, and he let her get as much of all the feelings she had been repressing out as she could.

The sobs eventually subsided. She stayed nestled against him for a moment before sitting up. “Rik?”

“Yeah bub?” he turned to make eye contact, and wondered if he would ever get used to seeing his own burnished orange eyes staring back at him like that, and hot on the heels of that, how long it would take before she stopped looking like she was expecting at least an ear bashing for daring to ask a question.

“mi aloke kihala tu Papa?”

He froze for a second. He had been pondering that very question on the flight over. It had once again been Svetlana that triggered their meeting. Shortly after entering foster care she had asked their caseworker Nata to find out about her biological father, and shortly after that he’d been contacted by Russian Family Services. He’d been repeatedly assured that if he didn’t want to or thought he wasn’t able to take responsibility for them, that they would be looked after in foster care with no contact with Zhenya or her partner til they were adults, and he could have contact or not as he liked. He knew he was capable of parenting them, and even if he had felt otherwise doing better than Zhenya wasn’t going to be particularly difficult. He also knew he didn’t want to impose on them and had let them call him by name, choosing to leave it up to them whether they accepted him as a parent or not.

She was staring at him, once more with that fear that she may have said or done the wrong thing and was about to be punished for it. He hated that look. He hated her mother. He loved these kids more than he thought he could ever love anything.

“Of course you can,” he answered before translating: “sameni, sweetpea.”

Her eyes brightened hopefully.

“mi ge?” Tatiana inquired anxiously from his lap. He couldn’t help but chuckle at her face, covered in sticky ice cream as a happy child’s should be. It was likely she was just copying Svetlana because she always did as Svetlana did, either because 5 year old children did that anyway or because it was survival instinct, either way he felt honoured that she wanted to call him her father too.

“Yes, you too. ui, tu ge,” he replied, pulling a wipe out of his pack to clean her up with.

“mie aloke ru li North America so tu?” Svetlana asked. He guessed they wanted him as a parent if they wanted to go home with him. Which was good because he didn’t really want to leave them in care. They would definitely have better opportunities in life with him.

Still, what he answered them with was “ken tu cu.” If you want. Letting them know they almost always had a choice, that while the adults were there to guide them, they were in control of their own lives.

“Tati ge ke?”

And there it was, probably the most important question. A couple of weeks ago, Nata had floated the idea of him adopting Tatiana, taking great pains to assure him that there was no obligation and he could just take his own child, and they were just letting him know it was an option as he seemed to get on so well with both of them. The girls were inseparable so it was a no-brainer for Nar’ek. “sameni.”

He felt Svetlana move and was ready when she suddenly reattached to him, and returned her tight hug. The hope and excitement in the girls’ eyes when they looked at each other further convinced him he was doing the right thing. He’d come to Russia on his own and would be leaving with two daughters. Most of his mind remained in the moment with them, while a part skipped ahead and started planning out all the things that would need to be done so they could start the new chapter of their lives.

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