((Continued from: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1445&st=0&sk=t&sd=a
As Uluki, Rollick, Metellus, and Merohl headed back to the base, they walked in silence for the most part, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Uluki kept looking at Rollick, trying to gauge how he was taking what had just happened, and the things they had learned. She suspected he was still processing it all. As she looked at her husband, she was once again deeply proud of him. He’d been so brave tonight, so strong, kept such self-control in the face of so much emotional pain… which was even worse than physical pain, as she well knew. She was also very glad he hadn’t believed that foolish lie Panterras had told.
Having an affair was not something Uluki found tempting. The biggest part of it was how much she loved Rollick, how deeply she felt bonded to him, and how well suited she was to the stability of being married. That wasn’t the whole of it, though. The idea of sex with somebody besides Rollick wasn’t just unappealing… it was scary. She trusted Rollick completely, felt safe with him, and knew he would never hurt her. The sheer vulnerability of sleeping beside someone, of being naked together, would always require that level of trust for her. She wouldn’t have that with another man, and what if he hurt her? What if she got scared and he wouldn’t stop? Uluki was incapable of so much as a fantasy without that fear coming up, let alone actually acting on it. It wasn’t that she had desires for other men besides Rollick and suppressed the urge, it was that her marriage made her feel safe, and it was only when she felt safe that she wanted to have sex. She clung tightly to Rollick’s hand, glad he was the one who shared her bed.
There was a street vendor sitting on the sidewalk with his wares laid out on a blanket. He had all kinds of things, an astonishing assortment of items with no apparent connection to each other. His merchandise was inexpensive and in fairly good condition, though most items were used. The vendor liked to take things in trade just to keep his inventory fresh whether or not he profited directly from the deals, so people would bring him household cast-offs that were still in good enough shape to sell, and take the cast-offs of others in exchange. What wasn’t traded he sold cheaply, keeping his prices as low as possible to appeal to buyers of modest incomes, his most likely customers anyway. If the local authorities seemed to be taking an interest— or words like “permit,” “transient,” or “proper district” were getting thrown around too much— he would simply scoop up his entire setup, blanket and all, and go do business on a friendlier corner.
Uluki wondered idly if this was the person Jenny had gone to when she had been so helpful in trading the shoes, but Rollick took a greater interest and wanted to stop. He had been given some money as part of the spoils of the battle, and it had been such a long time since the children had gotten anything new. He and Uluki loved bringing them gifts, but money had always been tight, so all their income was generally reserved for the necessities with nothing much left over. They ought to save this money too, really, he supposed, but they were going to have a regular wage that should cover their expenses, and they weren’t in immediate need of anything. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to splurge this once… like a celebration of their new home.
With Uluki’s help, Rollick picked out a paintbrush and some paints for Dash, a soft and furry stuffed dog for Martin, and a book of stories for Zee, who would enjoy the bright colours of the illustrations and the happy endings of all the tales, but wouldn’t find the text too complex to read.
It passed unspoken between then that they should buy something for Kira too since she was essentially a part of the family now that it had become clear she would never return to her father; they were her godparents, after all. Uluki reminded Rollick they should also get a baby gift for her own tiny namesake. They saw a little dress and soft blanket that would be perfect for Nina-Uluki, who had arrived before her clothes were finished, and a smaller size than expected. Kira was more difficult to buy for since they barely knew her and didn’t have any idea what sort of things she liked, but there was a pretty locket— obviously not real gold, not that this price nor available for purchase in such a situation, but nice-looking nonetheless, and it seemed an appropriate gift for a new family member.
Rollick spotted a small keepsake box of the sort a young girl might use to store her treasures, wood carved with flower designs, and he pointed out that it might be a nice thing to give to Kaydee, to which Uluki agreed. The girl wasn’t technically part of the family, but they saw no point in splitting hairs. Kaydee hadn't brought any such girlish treasures with her, but giving her the box suggested that she would have some in the future, so it was a sort of promise, in a way. A promise that she would have a better life in the future, that Kaydee would be safe and protected now, surrounded by her many friends.
Rollick noticed Uluki’s eyes kept coming back to a small, delicate pair of earrings shaped like butterflies. Since their daughters didn’t have pierced ears and she didn’t recall that any of the others did either, she hadn’t suggested them as a present for anyone, but it was clear she liked them. When Uluki’s attention was elsewhere, Rollick signaled to the vendor that he wanted to buy the earrings too. The vendor seemed to feel he’d had great luck in selling so many items at once, so he kindly provided them with an empty sack to carry their purchases.
And that was definitely the end of the money, though under the circumstances of their shopping it had gone quite far. Rollick felt it was money well spent. He only wished he had enough to buy presents for all their friends. Regardless, he was happy with what they had purchased, and he hoped the gifts would please the recipients.
There was one more thing they had already decided they needed, but it wasn’t something they would buy. They kept their eyes open till they saw what they were looking for… a pair of dirty, skinny stray cats pawing through a pile of garbage at the end of an alley. One was a grey tabby, and the other was solid brown and was missing an ear. Uluki knelt down and extended her hands to the cats, and after a cautious moment they approached and sniffed her, then started rubbing against her. She nodded to Rollick; the cats were clearly used to being around people and liked attention, though they were now living as strays. Uluki picked up the tabby, and Rollick took the brown cat.
Metellus gave them a puzzled look, and Rollick explained, “They’ll keep mice away from the food stores.” That was the main reason, of course… but Dash and Zee loved animals, as did their parents, and maybe the other young people would as well. It would be good for them to have pets to look after. It would also be nice to see the grubby, half-starved cats leading a more comfortable life at the base. With their sack of newly-bought gifts and now their strays too, they were ready to head home.
As they continued walking, Uluki’s mind kept drifting back to Kira. She tried to remind herself that Kira was safe, and she knew that was a good thing, but it couldn’t change the past. Uluki longed to run home, embrace Kira, hold her and comfort her and make everything alright, but she couldn’t. Everything wasn’t alright. There would always be scars. There was too much fear for Kira even to accept a hug from her or Rollick, and that made Uluki both sad and angry. It shouldn’t be this hard. Kira didn’t deserve this.
Must as she wanted to, Uluki’s caring could not erase the pain that had already been inflicted. She wished she could have prevented this. She wished Kira was her daughter, and that Kaydee was too, and that she could have protected them. She wished Dash and Zee had always been under her care, never hurt, never exploited. Uluki felt desperately maternal, but utterly unable to act on it, unable to comfort those who needed peace. The thoughts kept circling through her head… Kaydee naked and left to die, the log book dispassionately recording Kira’s sufferings, Kaydee telling her Snyde wouldn’t have allowed her a new dress till she made more money, Kira shying away from her and Rollick as though she expected to be attacked… words and images rushing by till Uluki wanted to scream at the injustice of it all.
Uluki hugged the stray cat closer to her body, and the small creature start to purr and nuzzled against her chin. She smiled at that, and couldn’t wait to be home.