Uluki saw the tears in Kaydee's eyes, and felt guilty. Hadn't Kaydee suffered enough already? Uluki should have been able to make her feel better, not added to her distress. But of course, potential separation from people you cared about was always hard, no matter what pretty words you used. "It's alright. Take your time. It means a lot to us that you're even considering it. We know we're asking a lot."
Uluki was grateful for the hug, and would have prolonged it, but Kaydee seemed eager to be on her way, and Uluki didn't want to make her stay and continue talking about a painful subject. Once the girl had left, she turned to Rollick. "She has a point."
"I was thinking that too. It seems wrong to simply... flee, when others face the same danger here. And yet by staying, we might sentence our children to death, along with others who care about us. Whichever choice we make, it feels incorrect to me."
Uluki nodded. The same thoughts had crossed her mind. "I had an idea, though. I don't think we can stay in Marn. But maybe we shouldn't stay with the nomads, either."
Rollick was interested in the direction her thoughts were headed. "Where would we go?"
"I'm not sure. Well I mean, not exactly. But we could find a place that was relatively defensible, and make a home there. Then people from Marn who were in danger could come stay at our house, and we could protect them. Like we did before, when guests came and stayed with us."
"Perhaps. But I am only one warrior. We can't break our promise to the Dash and Zee not to make them fight again. What if we can't defend ourselves, let alone anyone else?"
"That's true, but it could be true if we had a hundred warriors and an underground stone bunker. We can never be sure any strength of arms is enough. We've faced bad odds in the past, and we're still here." She paused, reflecting. "We couldn't help everyone. We are just one family. But maybe we could help a few people. That's better than nothing."
Rollick was warming to the idea. "We could find some sort of cave, perhaps. Then we would only need to worry about defending the entrance, if it came down to a fight. Of course, we would run the risk of being cornered, so we would need some sort of escape route, but we would be less likely to be overwhelmed by enemies if the terrain was such that only a few could attack at a time. That would make our numbers less of an issue."
Uluki nodded. "That's true. And it would be easier for our friends to visit us if they knew where to find us. If we were always in one place. Then we'd be less alone. We'd just have a different home. I'd like that better."
Rollick raised an eyebrow. "You would? You don't miss traveling like that? Being a nomad?"
Uluki had to think about that a moment. "No," she said finally. "I still like to travel, but I like a home to go back to. When I used to wander, I always felt alone. Even my family made me feel like I was a stranger, because I was different from them. Being settled, living in one place... it was hard at first, but that was where, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. Like I'd found my niche. It was the first time I was ever really wanted. My home is wherever you and the children are, so as long as I have you, I'll be alright. But if we had a place to stay, too... I'd like it."
Rollick nodded his understanding. "So would I. And if that helps others too, even only the few people who could share our home at any one time, it would feel... more right than just leaving. Than just serving our own needs."
Uluki's mood became solemn again. "What if Kaydee... and Dash...? Rollick, I don't know what we're going to do."
His forehead creased with worry. "I don't know, love. I don't know. It would be difficult to bear. Uluki... I'm so sorry. I'm so very, very sorry. This should never have happened."
"No!" Uluki's voice was firm, insistent. "No. You do not have to be sorry for this. It's not your fault. A bad thing happened, as bad things do. And we'll survive it. I will not stand here and listen to you apologize for being tortured!"
Rollick was about to respond, when he noticed Kira approaching them. As usual, the girl's face was difficult to read. "Kira, we had something we needed to talk to you about."
She nodded. "Leaving."
"Yes, how did you...?"
"Heard Dash yelling at you. She's loud." Then, completely nonchalantly, "Still want Kira?"
"Of course," Uluki assured her. "I mean, if you're willing to go."
"Go is fine." Kira was surprised that it was even a question. What did she have that wasn't with them? She barely even knew anyone else, since she was generally too shy to talk to people. What was there for her here, besides the family?
"Good." Uluki's relief was obvious. "Good."
"Had a question, though. Can it be a little different?"
"Probably," Rollick said tentatively, reluctant to agree to something before being told the terms. "Different how?"
Kira paused a moment, trying to figure out how to word the complex thought. "Could talk about it differently. Could say, 'These are our daughters, Dash, Zee, and Kira.' Not tell people about the bad father. Not be the one who isn't like the others."
Uluki and Rollick exchanged a look of surprise. This was definitely not the reaction they expected to their bad news. "Yes, that's what we'll do," Uluki said with a smile. "We'll say it like that." Uluki wasn't sure how far Kira wanted to take this. Did she want to think of herself as their daughter, or did she simply not want to be reminded of the abuse every time she was introduced to someone? Did she just want to fit in, or was there some deeper desire behind it? They could talk about all of that later, at a better and less stressful time. For now, they would just honour her request.
Kira graced them with a rare smile, then darted off down the hallway. "At least something is going well," Rollick commented dryly to Uluki.
Dash lay on her mattress, staring at the drawing. She hadn't cried. Not a single tear. She felt cold and dry inside. It was the family portrait she held, the one she'd drawn in happier times. The family all together.
Dash was suddenly disgusted with herself. The only thing she'd ever wanted was a family. There were other things that were nice, other things she enjoyed. Things like drawing. But having a family was all that had ever really mattered. The only dream that had kept her awake at night, wishing.
She wouldn't leave them. Not really. She was angry and she'd said bad things, but she knew that when it came down to it, she wouldn't be able to watch them walk away. Which meant she would have to go too, and she was still upset about it.
Dash stood abruptly, allowing the drawing to fall onto the mattress. With a wordless cry of dismay, she punched the wall.
"Ouch! Damn it all, ow!" Her hand had gone straight through the brittle plaster. Her knuckles were scraped and bleeding, and two of her fingers were sore enough she thought she had broken them. Fragile, hollow bones were not made for punching.
After she was done inspecting the damage to her hand, she reluctantly turned to look at the wall, where there was a round hole about the size of her fist. "Damn," she repeated, surveying the hole with dismay.