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Ironblood Interspecies Daycare

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You might think that running a daycare would be a weird job for an orc, but orcs are a clan-oriented people. Caring for and watching over the young is sort of ingrained in our nature. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Of course, since my daycare is open to all species, we have quite a few kids. There are a lot of human-only care centers, orc-only, fae-only, and so on. They’re usually pricey and exclusive, so an interspecies daycare that takes lower income families was a boon to the community.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take all the kids whose parents applied, which made me feel terrible. According to the law, there had to be one care worker per five children, and I only had four employees plus myself. I was hoping to expand, but I was having trouble finding more caregivers.

It wasn’t for a lack of wanting to pay more people, it was more a lack of experience. I didn’t hire weekend babysitters; I only hired people with professional experience in child care, whether it’s a degree or a teaching position or several years of homecare, like a nanny or au pair, accompanied with references that were nothing short of glowing. Just because these children came from poor families was no reason to think they deserved anything less than the best.

Thankfully, there was a new applicant with a degree in child psychology with a special focus on interspecies relations, and spent four years as a school counselor. She was also a registered nurse. She sounded perfect, and if hiring her meant we could take more kids, then that was all the better.

I had scheduled her interview after close of the business day, when all the kids had gone home. I always tried to be in the back when the parents arrived; some of the moms were… handsy.

After closing, the five of us gathered in the back area for coffee and so the others could grab their personal belongings to go home.

“Ms. Jones keeps asking if you’re single,” Jacob said as he grabbed his things from his personal cubby.

“Mrs. Peterson, too,” Said Lisa, wrapping a scarf around her neck. “I swear she’s gonna start camping out near the front door to ambush you when you leave.”

“Please, Karen from the grocery store has been leaving notes with her weekly fees. I keep giving them to Jukah and he keeps throwing them away.”

“They’re wildly inappropriate and very graphic,” I said, sipping coffee and looking over invoices.

“Oh, damn,” Jacob said. “If that’s the case, I’m going to keep them from now on, then. I’m not above living vicariously.”

“Why don’t you ask one of them out, Jukah? They’re clearly into you, and there’s no shortage of options,” Emily asked, putting on her coat. She was the only other person besides me who worked here that wasn’t human. She was a bright blue kobold with dark spikes along her jaw and two sets of horns. Her tail was smooth, however, and dragged the ground when she walked. She often let the smaller children ride on it to make them laugh.

“They’re too pushy,” I replied dismissively.

“I thought orcs liked pushy women,” She said.

“That’s a gross stereotype and you’re wrong for saying it,” You said playfully. “Different orcs have different tastes, just like everyone. I don’t push you toward every buff bodybuilder I see, do I?”

“Gross,” Emily said, her face scrunched up.

“See? Because I know you like skinny weirdos,” I told her, laughing.

She laughed too. “You’re right. I can’t even lie about it.”

“So what kind of woman do you like?” Esther asked me. She was the grandma of my employees, having been a pediatric nurse for decades and started working at the daycare because she refused to retire.

“Why are you people so interested in my love life all of a sudden?” I protested.

“Because it’s weird that all these women are literally throwing themselves at you and you’re not interested in even trying with one of them,” Kody said. Kody was non-binary and was a big help in teaching the kids to be respectful to each other.

“I keep my work life and my personal life separate,” I said simply. “End of story.”

To be honest, I really didn’t know why these women found me so appealing. By orc standards, I was considered extremely ugly. I’m about a foot and a half too short for an orc, and even though all orcs are born with a natural muscle tone, I was way too skinny. My tusks are too small, though that’s actually fine for my line of work. I even file down and cap them, just to be sure I don’t accidentally gore a kid when I pick them up. I don’t wear my hair long the way other orcs do, in braids or plaits; I keep it short so the kids can’t pull on it. I even catch flack because of my eye color, a flat turquoise, which is exceedingly rare among orcs.

It wasn’t just my looks that made me unusual among my people. I’d grown up in a typical stronghold, but I’m quiet, introverted, and self-conscious. I’ve never felt the same sort of personal pride that other orcs feel in being an orc. I don’t hunt or fight or spend my time in other typical orcish pursuits. Timidness and a lack hubris are seen as personality defects for my people. In the eyes of other orcs, I might as well be human, and that’s in no way a compliment.

My only redeeming features were my skin, which was the deep, dark forest green found most attractive among my kind, and my natural ability and instinct to care for and teach the young, which is a high priority in orcish culture. That’s probably the only reason I wasn’t thrown out before I came of age. When I was old enough, however, I left the stronghold with no intent to return, and I’ve never regretted that decision.

So, these womens’ attention, especially the more aggressive ones, is baffling to me. I’m nothing special, in fact, I’m downright substandard, so this new-found attention was jarring.

“Just think about it, man,” Emily said. “You’re a nice guy. It’s a shame for you to be alone.”

“Guys, seriously, stop worrying about me. I don’t need to have a girlfriend to be happy. Now git,” I said, waving my hands. “I have an interview to conduct in thirty minutes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kody said. “Whatever you say, Boss.”

I shooed them out and started cleaning up the play area. I enjoyed the time alone in the daycare after work. It gave me time to think about ways of improving the atmosphere for the kids. It was always good to have new things for them to do or they’d get bored and tear the place apart.

I heard the front door open as I was stacking tiny chairs and a voice say, “Hi. Are you Jukah Ironblood?”

“Yes, I am. Can I help you?” I called over my shoulder without turning.

“I’m Briauna Ramos, I’m here for the interview.”

“Oh!” I said more animatedly. “Of course, come in, I’ll be right with you, let me just finish up here.”

“No hurry,” She said pleasantly, closing the door.

I picked up the last of the chairs, stacked them, and turned. And stopped in my tracks.

The woman standing patiently at the door with a expectant smile on her face was petite with thick thighs and a cute little belly, wearing a flowing yellow top with black jean leggings that did nothing to hide these features. Her skin was a deep brown and her amber-colored eyes were wide, framed in long, black lashes. Her hair was silky, wavy, a little fluffy, and fell to her shoulders. She wore a small barrette in the shape of a bee to keep it out of her eyes.

She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my entire goddamn life.

“Something wrong?” She asked, her eyebrows drawing together in concern.

I realized I’d been standing with my mouth open for about a solid minute and shut it so quickly that my teeth clicked.

“No, sorry, um… please,” I said, gesturing at the door to my office. Once there, I sat at my desk and motioned for her to take the chair on the opposite side. She lay her coat over the back and sat down, pressing her her cold fingers together and putting them between her thighs to warm them. I tried my best not to stare at her thighs. I wanted to put my own hands between them and feel how warm…

I mentally slapped myself back into reality. Stop it.

Her application was on the desk in front of me, and I riffled through the papers for a moment to collect my thoughts.

“You come highly recommended,” I said, attempting to keep my voice even. “Your references and credentials are incredible.”

“Thanks,” She said. “I’ve wanted to work in childcare my whole life. Working at the school was okay, but I actually didn’t have all that much to do. Most kids who need a counseling are already in therapy, and there wasn’t much need for a nurse most of the time, so I spent hours in my office with nothing to do. I want to work more directly with children. This daycare seems like a perfect place, especially since it caters to lower income families. They deserve the same degree of care as private facilities.”

I felt myself smile. “I completely agree. That’s why I only hire the best. And you’re pretty close to perfect for this job.”

She smiled with her whole face, and I found it hard to breathe. “Thanks. I’ve applied at a few places, but I like this place the most. The facility is large and clean, and the list of activities for the kids is diverse and stimulating. You seem like you really care about kids.”

“I do,” I said. “Providing a safe environment for them is my first priority.” I looked through her papers again. “We have a former nurse on our staff, but she’s no longer practicing, so your nursing status is great. We get all kinds of bumps and scrapes here.”

“I can imagine,” She laughed.

“Well,” I said with a tired sigh. “I’m satisfied with your experience and I think you’d be a good fit here. When would you like to start?”

“Well, I just moved to the area, and I’m getting my apartment unpacked. How about Monday?”

I nodded. “Sounds good to me.” I stood and held out my hand for a handshake. “Welcome to the team.”

She took my hand, shaking firmly, and it was like an electric shock passed from her into me, making my whole body tingle. I gulped and tried to keep my professional demeanor in place.

“Great, I can’t wait to start,” She said enthusiastically as she pulled her hand away and threw her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll see you Monday, Mr. Ironblood.”

“Oh, just Jukah, please. Formality goes out the window pretty quick in this place,” I said, laughing.

She laughed with me. I could listen to that laugh all day.

“Thanks again,” She said, and left. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t help sneaking a peek at her ample rear as she walked away. I said down heavily at my desk and tried to calm myself.

Well, shit. So much for keeping my personal and professional lives separate.

She arrived early on Monday morning, before the others got in, and you had a few minutes to show her around.

“This is your personal cubby,” I told her, showing her a cubby on the lower shelf. “You can keep your phone with you in the common area, but try to use it as little as possible. If you have to take a phone call, either come back here or go outside.”

“Gotcha,” She said. She was wearing a powder blue sundress and darker blue leggings with her hair in a tight, fluffy ponytail two tendrils of hair hanging on either side of her face. She looked adorable.

The others wandered in shortly after the two of us put our things away and I introduced all of them. They greeted her politely and engaged her in light conversation, asking where she was from and how she was liking town so far, as they started on the coffee and pastries I brought in for them every day.

I had about fifteen minutes before the daycare opened, so I went to the waitlist to notify the families at the top that I could take them. A couple of people had already found accommodations, but the ones who hadn’t were overjoyed, two of them even asking if they could fill out the intake paperwork that day.

A paper plate with a pastry and a cup of coffee was placed in front of me. I looked up, and Briauna winked and smiled at me before returning to the back room.

Oh, god. This was bad. Love at first sight doesn’t exist, I told myself. She’s pretty and sweet, sure, but this is just an infatuation. Don’t even think about it. Didn’t you just tell your team that you didn’t need a girlfriend to be happy? Besides, dating a co-worker is always a bad idea. She probably wouldn’t be into you, anyway. Just get a grip and let it go.

The children began arriving, and I was out front to greet them, dodging the over-eager mothers as best I could. Kody, Emily, Jacob, Esther, and Briauna came out of the back when they heard the children’s voices. They quickly fell into their roles, including Briauna, helping the kids take off their jackets and instructing them to put their shoes and lunches in their cubbies.

I’d say only a third of the kids were human. The rest were a mix of orcs, fae, beast creatures, and even a little half-demon girl. Most of the children were between the ages of two and five, though we did have a couple that were under two years old, and they were mostly Esther’s responsibility. She was the best at handling the babies.

“Okay, little ones, sit in the circle and play the quiet game for a minute,” I said to the group, and they scrambled to find a spot in the big, red sitting circle in the middle of the room. “We’ve got a brand new friend who’s going to be helping us out from now on. Her name is Briauna.”

Briauna waved at them and said, “Nice to meet you!”

“I want you guys to be nice to her,” I continued, “And stay on your very best behavior, okay?”

“Yes, Kah-Kah,” said the chorus of little voices.

Kah-Kah?” Briauna asked in an undertone. “That must go over well with the Spanish-speaking parents.”

I grinned. “We’ve all got nicknames. Emily is Emmy, Jacob is Jay-Jay, Esther is Essa, and Kody… well, Kody doesn’t have a nickname, but theirs is easy to pronounce, even for the littler ones. Just wait, I’m sure you’ll have your own by the end of the day.”

Sure enough, the children had started calling Briauna Na-Na by lunchtime.

“Told you,” I said as we began laying them down for their afternoon naps. She grinned at me with the tip of her tongue between her teeth. I felt like slapping myself after wondering what that tongue might feel like on mine.

Naptime was when we took lunch. One of us was assigned to sit with the kids as they slept so that the others could eat, and there was a rotating schedule. Today was Kody’s day. I made a note to add Briauna to the schedule later.

“So, how was your first day?” I asked her over my club sandwich.

“Amazing,” She said. “It’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

“Yeah, the kids are great,” Emily said. “They almost make the pay worth it.” She grinned and stuck her forked tongue out of me. I reached out and whacked her spiny shoulder lightly.

“I wish I could pay all of you more,” I said a little regretfully. “We’re applying for low income care grant for businesses that involve children, and when the grant comes through, I’m hoping I can give you all bonuses.”

Bonuses,” Jacob, Emily, and Esther all said in unison, like zombies.

Briauna shook her head and laughed softly. “Honestly, I don’t care about the money. Today was probably the best day of my professional career. If I didn’t need to eat, I’d do it for free. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted. Kids deserve a good start, no matter who or what they are, or where they come from. I’m so happy to help do that for them.”

I stared at her in an awed silence, feeling as if my heart had taken up all the space in my chest, leaving no room for my lungs. There was no point in lying to myself anymore: I was head over heels in love with this woman.

I forced myself to look away from her, and ended up glancing at my other three co-workers, who had sudden knowing smirks on their faces. I scowled at them and lowered my eyes, eating to occupy my mouth so I wouldn’t have to answer questions.

Walking home that evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I knew myself well enough to know I’d never have the courage to just ask her out. I’ve never been that confident. All of my exes had asked me out, not the other way around. I thought about having someone ask her out for me, but I shook the thought out of my head with a grimace. This wasn’t high school. I was a goddamn adult and running my own business. I should be able to ask her out without a buffer.

Thinking that was easy, doing it was another thing entirely.

As I passed a novelty store, I stopped and looked in the window. There was a very tiny stuffed deer sitting in a little gift bag with chocolates cookies.

I stood there, staring at the stuffed deer. In the old days, orcs wanting to charm a mate would go through a courting ritual which usually involved hunting large game, like bears and deer and the like. I definitely wasn’t the hunting type, but… the point was to show your adoration through gifts, to show what you can provide for your mate. I certainly didn’t intend to leave dead animal on her doorstep, but I did want to offer her affection and companionship.

I ducked into the novelty store and bought the gift bag without really thinking about it. And now that I had it, I had no idea how to present it to her. I couldn’t just give it to her during work in front of the others; I was too self-conscious. I hadn’t seen her anywhere outside of work, so I couldn’t “accidentally” bump into her someplace else. I wasn’t going to show up at her house unannounced like a goddamn creep. I sighed, hoping I’d figure it out.

The next day, I was sure to get in before everyone else and hide the gift in my desk. As it happened, that day was my day to sit with the children during naptime. After the kids were sleeping and everyone went into the back room for lunch, I snuck quietly into my office, retrieved the gift, and slipped it into one of Briauna’s coat pockets.

After naptime, Briauna took out a book she’d brought from her own home and had all the little ones sitting in a semi-circle around her. She was naturally gifted at holding their attention. Well, not just theirs. I couldn’t stop staring at her.

I had put a high precedent on early education, so lessons on shapes, colors, numbers, and letters were a weekly thing. Not enough that it overloaded their still developing brains, but just enough to keep them engaged and help them retain the knowledge. We often did a flash card game with a points system, and the winner got a reward from the toy chest.

“You’re going to scare the kids if you keep making faces at Briauna like that,” Kody told me as they looked over the children’s worksheets.

I scoffed. “What are you talking about?”

Kody gave me a deadpan look. “Come on, man. I’m not blind. You’ve been staring at her all day. Hell, you practically drool. You’re really going to act like you’re not attracted to her?”

“Just drop it.”

Kody raised their hands in surrender, their eyebrows shooting up to their hairline. “Fine, fine.” They shook their head at you. “You’re a hot mess, you know that?”

“I’m more than aware, thank you,” I told them. Again, they shook their head and wandered off to set out the art supplies for creative time.

They rest of the day passed without incident. Briauna pulled on her coat without checking her pockets. I watched her with my heart in my throat as she left with the others. Kody shot me a meaningful look before following her out of the door.

The next morning, she came in with the giftbag in her hand.

“Who left this in my coat?” She asked.

“That was in your coat?” Emily said. “There’s no note or anything?”

“No, I found it in my pocket when I got home,” She said. “I thought maybe one of the kids put it in there, but the price tag on the bottom said it was, like, twenty bucks, and I don’t think toddlers keep that kind of cash on them.”

I winced internally. I’ll have to remember to take the tag off next time. I’d never done this before, so some mistakes were bound to happen. I’d have to be more careful in the future.

“So, which one of you gave me this? Jacob?”

Jacob snorted. “Girl, you cute and all, but I’m gay as the day is long. It was one of them,” He said, gesturing at the rest of us.

“Not me,” Kody, Esther, and Emily said in unison.

“What about you, Boss?” Emily asked.

I tried my best to look affronted. “Please, I spend enough money on coffee and donuts for you losers every day.”

“So, none of you are going to own up to this?” Briauna said. “Really?”

“Hell, maybe it was one of the kids, you don’t know,” Emily said.

Briauna rolled her eyes. “You guys are impossible.”

“You like it,” Kody said, grinning.

Two days later, a teddy bear and some caramels found their way into her pockets. A week after that, there was a stuffed tiger and gourmet hard candies.

On her day to sit with the kids at naptime, I brought her a coffee, and she whispered, “Who do you think is leaving me the presents?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Could be any of them, really. Well, except Jacob.”

“Not you, though,” She asked shrewdly.

“I’m your boss,” I said. “Wouldn’t that be inappropriate?”

“I guess,” She said, shrugging. “But I thought you said formalities went out the window here.”

I gulped my heart down. Thankfully for my slowly crumbling facade of professionalism, the soft bell that alerted the end of naptime went off, and it was time to get the kids up for afternoon playtime outside.

That evening, while I was alone in my office, I was going through this months invoices while also looking at edible fruit and chocolate arrangements on my phone, when I saw my office door open. Kody stood there, leaning on the doorframe with their arms crossed.

Putting my phone face down and fixing a neutral expression on my face, I said, “What’s up?”

“Dude, do you really think I don’t know what you’re doing?” They said.

“I’m filing invoices,” I said.

“Come on, man, you know what I’m talking about. I know you’re the one leaving Briauna the gifts. Esther’s married, I’m asexual, and Briauna’s not Emily’s type. It has to be you. You’re not that slick.”

I sighed. I knew they’d caught me. “Are you going to tell Briauna?”

“No,” They said. “You are.”

“I can’t,” I said, scrubbing my face with my hands.

“And why not?”

“A lot of reasons,” I replied, reclining in my chair.

“Name one,” They said.

“I’m… weird.”

Kody laughed. “We’re all weird, Jukah.”

“It’s...” You sighed. “I doubt she’d even be into me. I’ve got… a lot of baggage, and not everyone is strong enough or willing to carry it with me. Trust me, I know. Every girlfriend I’ve had has seemed to buckle under the weight.”

“So you’re saying she’s not enough for you?”

“No!” I retorted, sitting up. “I’m saying I’m not enough for her. This place,” I gestured at the walls. “It’s all I’ve got. I’ve got no family, no friends besides my co-workers, no life outside of my work. Hell, I don’t even have my health. I’m a shit excuse for an orc. I mean, I’m too damn shy to ask a girl out. What does that tell you?”

“Maybe she likes shy guys,” Kody argued.

“Orcs aren’t supposed to be shy,” I said with a scowl.

Kody sighed in frustration. “Why are you so obsessed with what orcs are ‘supposed’ to be like?”

“You don’t understand, Kody,” I said with a return sigh. “I grew up in a stronghold, a traditional one. The pressure they put upon us to be the best orc possible was suffocating. I wasn’t the only one who who had to deal with it, but I was the only one who couldn’t live up to the expectation, the only one who didn’t grow up into the orc I should have been, and that has severe repercussions in orc communities. I was my stronghold’s biggest shame. None of my family speaks to me. My clan won’t even acknowledge my existence anymore; I’ve literally been erased from the book of clan lineages.”

“Dude… I do get it,” Kody said. “When I told my family that I was non-binary, asexual, wasn’t planning on having kids, wasn’t a Christian, and had no intention of taking over their business, they fucking lost it. I was their only kid and they had placed all their expectations for the future on me without asking me how I felt about it. They kicked me out, cut off my tuition, wrote me out of their will, refused to see me or take my calls. I went from working on a degree in medicine to living on a park bench. You were the one who gave me a chance. You gave all of us a chance.” They came in and laid a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t really give a shit what other orcs think of you, and you shouldn’t either. You’re worth so much more than they’d want you to believe.”

“Thanks, Kody,” I said. “It’s hard to undo an entire lifetime of being told you’re not enough.”

“I know,” They replied. “But do you really think Briauna is the kind of person who would think that? And if you do, why would you want to be with someone who does?”

“I don’t think she’s like that,” I said. “That’s one of the reasons I like her.”

“Then ask her out.”

I sighed sharply and ducked my head. “What if she says no and things are awkward, and she decides it’s too weird to work here? I’d have to kick out all the new kids we just took in,” I shook my head, resolved “I can’t do that. The kids come first.”

Kody groaned and rolled their eyes. “God, you are insufferable!” They walked to the door and leaned out. “Would you please come in here and put him out of my misery?”

To my complete shock and horror, Briauna walked in with a sheepish smile on her face.

I stared at Kody in disbelief. “Wow… you are… just… so fired.”

“Please, you need me,” They said, backing out of the room. “I’m basically your conscience.”

“You are the exact opposite of that thing.”

They laughed as they made to exit the building. “You kids have fun.”

Briauna stood there with one of the stuffed animals in her hands. “So it was you, then?”

I stood up and raked my hands through my hair. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? It was sweet. A little creepy, but mostly sweet.”

I snorted. “I wasn’t trying to be creepy. I just wanted to get your attention.”

“Well, it worked.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a little stuffed bunny, something I hadn’t given her, and held it out to me. “Would this be enough to get your attention?”

I laughed and took it. “Yeah. And… maybe… dinner when you’re free?”

“I’m free now,” She said. “And there’s a curry place I’ve been dying to try since I moved here, but I’ve never had the chance to go.”

“That sounds perfect,” I said, grabbing my coat.

“Kody’s right, you know,” She said as I opened the door for her, stepping out into the chilly winter evening. “You shouldn’t care what people think about you. Well, except for me.”

“And what do you think about me?” I asked her.

She put her arm around my waist. “I think you’re really cute. I did the day we met. I was hoping the gift giver was you. And I think shy guys are adorable.” She lay her head on my chest. She was a short little thing. “I’m also hoping you won’t be too shy to kiss me goodnight.

I put my arm around her shoulder in return and lifted her face with my other hand. I kissed her softly and she pressed into it, parting her lips as if asking for more. My tongue reach out to toy with hers, and she moaned into my mouth. I pulled away, licking my lips.

“Dinner first,” I said, smiling.

She snorted. “You might regret that. It is curry.”

“I’ll take my chances,” I said, leading her down the street.

Chapter Text

Mid-winter had hit the town hard. The weather forecast had been threatening a full-on blizzard for days and several businesses had already closed. It was fortunate that it was nearly the holiday season, since the daycare would be closed for a full week, but half of the parents had already pulled their kids from daycare due to the expected snowfall.

It was the Friday morning before the holiday break, and the cold had been getting to Emily. I had already given her the next three weeks off to hibernate. The three week hibernation period was enough to keep her going till spring, but for now, it was just Jacob, Kody, Esther, Briauna, and me.

Briauna and I had been dating for a week, but it was the best week of my life. We had only been on a few dates but hadn’t gone farther than kissing and cuddling, and neither of us had gone to the other’s apartment yet. I felt so comfortable with her, more than I ever had with anyone else before, and I didn’t want to mess things up or rush it. Briauna was important to me. I still couldn’t believe she was actually attracted to me, too, and it took some time to wrap my head around that.  

Jacob, Emily, Esther, and especially Kody were just happy to see me happy. The mothers hoping to catch my interest, however, were pretty annoyed and gave Briauna the sour side eye. She simply smiled at them, bordering on but not exactly smug. The only downside was Jacob lamenting that Karen from the grocery store no longer left lewd letters for me with her weekly fees.

“You’ll survive,” I told him, laughing.

“But they were so salacious,” He said, making his coffee. “I can’t find smut that good anywhere. She should seriously write sex novels.”

“You’re terrible,” Esther said.

“Hey, you could give me my sex fix if you want to share some details about you and Briauna,” Jacob said, nudging me.

“Don’t be disgusting, Jacob,” Kody said.

“Thank you, Kody,” I told them, whacking Jacob lightly in the stomach. “Our relationship is none of your business, you perv.”

“Oh, okay. You guys ain’t had sex yet. Gotcha,” Jacob replied, smirking.

I opened my mouth to retort when Esther asked, “Where is Na-Na, anyway?”

“Running some errands,” I said. “She still needs to change her address at the post office and the bank and get her nursing registration changed over to this state and stuff. She should be in before lunchtime. Not that she really needs to be here, though. I’ve already had five parents call in saying the kids were staying home.”

“How many kids does that bring us down to?” Esther asked.

“Ten,” I said.

“If that’s the case, you mind if I head out?” Esther asked. “My grandkids are coming and I’d like to be home when they get in.”

“Sure, take off,” I said. “Take a donut with you.”

Esther grabbed her coat and a bear claw, giving me a peck on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re not going to be alone this holiday,” She said, patting my shoulder.

I smiled. “Thanks, Essa. Have a good break with your family. Call me if you need anything.”

Esther smiled and put the bear claw in her mouth as she shrugged on her coat, waving as she left.

“I may let the rest of you go when Briauna gets in,” I said to Kody and Jacob. “I’m fairly certain most of the kids will be picked up early. They usually are the day before the break.”

“Do you and Briauna have plans for the holidays?” Kody asked.

“We haven’t talked about it yet,” I said. “But it would be nice to spend a human Christmas celebration with her. Giving each other thoughtful gifts is sort of the foundation of our relationship right now.”

Kody laughed. “You’re welcome to come to Christmas Eve dinner at my place, as always. You should bring her with you. And that awesome dip you make.”

“I’ll ask her about it, but I don’t see her objecting. It’s kind of my only holiday tradition at this point.”

“You coming, too, Jay-Jay?” Kody asked him.

“Hell yeah, I am,” Jacob said. “Jessie make the best casseroles.”

The kids began to arrive shortly after, and the three of us went out to greet them.

Briauna arrived around eleven, and two of the kids had been taken out of daycare by the time she arrived. I sent Jacob home and asked Kody if they wanted to stay.

“I’ll stay till naptime. You guys shouldn’t need me after that.” They helped Briauna take off her coat and hung it on the rack for her. “Hey Na-Na, my best friend-slash-roommate and I host a Christmas Eve dinner every year. Jukah always comes, and I wanted to extend an invitation to you, too.”

“That sounds great!” She said. “Can I bring pie?”

“Oh, girl, if you bring pie, you’ll have to fight my friend off with a stick. She loves pie. So yeah, bring pie,” Kody said. Briauna laughed.

The snow began to fall just after Briauna got in. Kody left at naptime, and over the course of the next few hours, parents arrived one by one to collect their kids. By three in the afternoon, the only one left was Isaac, a four year old gnoll. Isaac’s mom worked in a fishery as a biologist. She was helping to repopulate the river after over-fishing had threatened the ecosystem and left a lot of the local wildlife without a food supply.

“Why don’t you head home, Briauna?” I said, taking her hand as Isaac occupied himself with legos. “The snow’s getting heavier and I don’t want you to get snowed in.”

“No, I’m happy to stay,” She said. She called to Isaac. “Hey, you want me to stay or go home?”

“Stay!” The fuzzy toddler said, not looking up from the dinosaur he was building.

Briauna gestured to him. “You heard the boss man.”

I sighed, smirking. “Fine, but if it starts to get bad, I’m sending you home. I don’t want you to get caught in a snow storm.”

“Okay,” she said, leaning forward to plant a swift kiss on my lips.

“Gross! You guys are gross,” Isaac said.

Another hour passed, and Isaac’s mother still hadn’t arrived. Her normal pick-up time was 5:15 and that was still an hour away, so I didn’t think much of it until Briauna’s phone got a text alert, and she went, “Uh-oh.”

“What, uh-oh?” I asked. She handed me her phone and I read the notification: >The National Weather Service Advisory issues a heavy snow fall warning for your area. Estimates range from 9 to 11 inches of snow per hour starting at 4:23 p.m. Avoid travel. Find shelter and stay inside. Updates to follow as they occur.

“Shit,” I said in an undertone, hoping Isaac hadn’t heard me. I looked outside, and sure enough, the snow was falling much heavier than it had been twenty minutes ago, obscuring everything that was farther than three feet from the windows, and I just hadn’t noticed. There was already about three inches on the ground against the glass of the door.

The office phone rang. I gave Briauna back her cell and answered to find Isaac’s mom on the other end.

“I’m so sorry,” She said. “We’re snowed in here. We can’t even get out of the bay doors. Our facility doesn’t have windows, so we didn’t even realize how bad the snow was getting until I got the notification. The boys are working to get the snow off the doors so we can get out, but with how much snow is falling, I’m not going to be able to pick up Isaac until at least tomorrow.”

“It’s okay,” I told her. “We’re fine here. The heat’s on and I’ve got food. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Isaac until you can get here.”

“Thank you so much, I’m so sorry. We should have shut down, but--”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Ketch,” I assured her. “Isaac is in a safe place. Focus on keeping yourself safe right now.”

“Okay,” She said, relief clear in her voice. “Thank you.”

I hung up and turned to Isaac. Kneeling down, I said, “Hey, buddy, you’re mom got hung up at work, so it looks like you’re going to get to sleep over. Sound like fun?”

“Yeah! Can we play outside?”

I glanced out of the window and shook my head. “It’s too cold to play outside. But, I’ll tell you what, you can come into the back room and have dinner with me and Na-Na. None of the other kids have ever gotten to do that before. How’s that?”

“Okay,” He said, standing up.

“Do you have more than cheese sticks and applesauce back there?” Briauna asked skeptically.

“I’ve got a secret stash of food in my office,” I replied. “Blood sugar issues. If you’ll get down the plates, I’ll go get some chips and sandwich stuff.”

After a dinner of sandwiches and apple juice that I had gotten from my hidden mini fridge in my office, Briauna and I took Isaac back out to the play area and played catch, tag, keep-away, and demolition, which involved building an elaborate city of blocks and logs, only for Isaac to pretend to be a giant monster and crush it all while snarling. That’s my favorite game.

After cleaning up after the baby kaiju, Briauna asked, “What’s your bedtime, buddy?”

“Midnight!” Issac said with a large toothy grin.

Briauna narrowed her eyes. “I somehow find that very hard to believe. What about eight?”

“Aww,” Isaac said. “Can I have a snack before I go to bed?”

“Sure you can, buddy,” I said.

Around seven thirty, I got Isaac a packet of cheddar sandwich crackers and a cup of juice, and put him on a napping pallet and covered him with blanket.

“We’re gonna be in the back room if you need anything, and we’re going to leave the door open so it won’t be dark.” I told him.

“I’m not scared of the dark,” He said sullenly.

“Do you want me to close the door, then?” I asked, smirking a little.

He was quiet for a moment before responding in a small voice, “No.”

I chuckled. “Okay.”

“Can I have water?”

“You just had juice.”

“But now I want water.”

“If you drink too much before you go to sleep, you could wet the bed.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

“Tell you what,” I said. “How about if we wait thirty minutes, and if you still want water then, I’ll give you some. Sound good?” I asked.

“Okay,” He said.

I tucked him in and said, “Goodnight, Isaac.”

“Night-night,” He said, snuggling in.

I stood up and turned to see Briauna watching me from the door of the break room, a soft smile on her face.

“You’re so good with kids,” She said quietly.

I shrugged. “Lots of practice.”

She shook her head. “No, you’ve got, like, a natural gift with them. They all just love you immediately.”

I laughed a little self-consciously. “If only everyone was as easy to please as kids are.”

“I’m easy to please,” She said with a saucy grin. I raised my eyebrows at her, and she laughed. “Want to play cards for a while?”

I kissed her cheek. “Sounds like fun.”

She pulled out a deck of cards from her purse and we sat at the table in he break room. Isaac was visible from the doorway. Sure enough, he was already dozing off. I smirked.

Just a few minutes into the game, however, an alarm on my phone went off.

“Oh, sorry, just a sec, I’ll be right back,” I said, standing.

“Sure,” She said.

I went to my office and pulled my med-bag from a locked drawer in my desk. I opened it, took out two bottles, shook a few pills into my hand before zipping up the bag, locking it back in the desk, and returning to the break room. I sat in my chair and washed the pills down with some water before picking up my cards again.

I looked up to find Briauna watching me curiously.

“What?” I asked.

She opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it again.

“Nevermind. None of my business.”

I huffed a laugh through my nose. “You know, we are dating. It’s okay to ask me about my personal shit.” I said shit in a very low voice, just in case Isaac wasn’t as asleep as he seemed.

“We’ve only been dating a week, though. I don’t want you to think I’m prying,” She said, shrugging a little.

“I hope to be dating you for a lot longer than that, honey,” I said. “It only makes sense that we learn about each other, even if what we learn isn’t always pleasant.”

She made a little thinking face, which was really cute, because her nose scrunched up, and said, “How about I don’t ask, but you tell me as much as you’re comfortable with telling.”

I nodded, accepting the compromise. “Okay.” I put down a card and pulled a new one from the deck. “So, to start it off light, did I ever tell you my parents divorced because of me?”

Briauna’s mouth fell open in shock. “What?

“Yeah, when I was about four or five. My dad accused my mom of cheating on him with a human or some other smaller, weaker species. No offense,” I said quickly.

She shook her head. “No, please continue.”

“I mean, it’s not uncommon for orcs to take human mates, and it’s not uncommon for orcs to have open marriages, but my parents had made a promise to be monogamous. Like, publicly, during their wedding. That’s how orcs make the terms of their marriage known to everyone, they basically tell everyone during the wedding that their open to having other partners or that they’re off the market. And my parents were the ‘off the market’ types.

“Mom swore up and down that she never cheated, but Dad didn’t believe her. He moved out and got remarried and had three sons that were obviously full-blooded orcs. He loved rubbing it in my mom’s face. He was super spiteful about it. So, Mom blamed me for him leaving. And because she blamed me, my siblings did, too. The whole community looked at me like I was some kind of freak.”

“I’m so sorry,” Briauna said.

“Oh, it gets worse,” I told her. “I finally left the community when I was nineteen and started working in a factory that makes adaption devices for non-human creatures who have fewer or greater than two arms and legs. Like, ramps for centaurs and nagas and such.”

“Right,” She said, laying down her cards. “Gin.”

“Shit,” I said, counting my points. “Well, I had health coverage through the company, so I went to a doctor and asked him to do a DNA test, to determine if I was a full-blooded orc, and sure enough, I was. So Mom was right and Dad was wrong. But I started to wonder why I was so different, so I asked my doctor to do some tests for any illnesses or disease.”

“Did he?” She asked, redealing the cards.

“No, he laughed me out of his office.”

“What? Why?”

I sighed, taking my cards and rearranging them. “There’s a pretty widely believed misconception that orcs are not susceptible to illness or disease, and that’s mostly true: orcs are pretty unlikely to develop illnesses. Hell, most orcs don’t even get colds. But, on very rare occasions, orcs do get sick, they’re just too stubborn to admit it. I swear a friend of my mom’s died of cancer, but no one would ever say so.”

“So what did you do?”

“I went to several other doctors to see if they’d help me, and they all pretty much had the same reaction as the first one. And then I tried a support group, and that was… not great. So I tried online, anonymously, so that no one would know I was an orc. I got a lot of good advice, specifically from this one guy name. Kovak, who was a troll. Trolls are like orcs in that their a big, tusky species that doesn’t get sick easy, and he had a degenerative connective tissue disease, and it took him forever to get diagnosed for the same reason as me. So I reached out to him and told him my story, and he referred me to a doctor that specialized in abnormal interspecies medicine. It took months to get an appointment, but God, it was so nice to finally talk someone who was willing to listen.”

“So did they find something?” She asked, getting up to refill our coffee.

“Yep,” I replied, turning in my chair to face her as she did so. “Hyperthyroidism. I produce too much of the thyroxine hormone, which makes my metabolism go into overdrive. It causes Cachexia, which creates a wasting of the muscle and a difficulty or inability to gain and maintain weight or muscle mass. And I’d likely either had it since birth or developed it in very early childhood, so it stunted my growth, which is why I’m so short and skinny. The closest approximation in humans is something called Grave’s Disease, but as far as I know, I’m the only full-blooded orc to ever have it, so it doesn’t have an official name for my race. They wanted to name it after me, and I told them absolutely not.”

“Jeez,” she said, setting my mug back down in front of me. “Are there treatments?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m on beta blockers and a thyroid control medicine, which helps me maintain a healthy weight and prevents muscle loss, but it won’t help me gain height or make me stronger. This condition also can affect the parathyroid glands, which makes my bones far more brittle, so I have to take calcium supplements, too.”

“Have you told your family?” She asked, abandoning the game and staring at me with a gentle expression of sympathy.

“There’s no point,” I said, reclining in my chair. “Having a chronic illness is just as bad as being an unwanted bastard, so telling them would just add to my family’s shame.”

“Having a chronic illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” Briauna said.

“For a human,” I said, grimacing.

For anyone,” She insisted. “Look, my dad had this friend since they were kids who was this big, brawny army guy, muscles on muscles, but he’d had pain that he couldn’t explain for decades, even before he was in the army. Doctors just told him it was left over from his army days, but my mom and dad always thought it was something else. He didn’t get diagnosed with fibromyalgia until he was nearly sixty eight. He was relieved to finally have an answer. Lots of people have a chronic illness, not just humans. There is no shame in having a disease that you can’t control.”

I set my cards down on the table and stood up, facing away from her and bracing my hands on the counter.

“Look… I know you’re being comforting and supportive, and it’s sweet and I appreciated it… but… all my life I’ve been told things like I’m not a real orc, and I’m not really sick, that there’s nothing wrong with me, that I’m just making a big deal out of nothing. To suck it up and lots of people have it worse than me and to be happy with what I have and stop trying to create problems where there aren’t any. Almost everyone I’ve ever met has made me feel like a failure and a fake and ashamed of myself for existing. And I believed it. I believed all of it. That’s a really hard mentality to break out of.”

I hadn’t heard her, but she had stood and come up behind me, putting her arms around my waist and laying her head on my back.

“For what it’s worth,” She said, the sound of her voice a little strange with her cheek smushed against me. “I think you’re perfect.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked her, rubbing my hands over her forearms and linking my fingers with hers. “Why’s that?”

“Well, I’ve always been attracted to orcs physically, but personality wise…” I could feel her shrug against me. “Most orcs I’ve met have been… loud and aggressive and… I don’t want to say pushy, but that’s the word that comes to mind.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“You’re the only orc I’ve never been scared to talk to. I feel really comfortable with you.”

“So, if I were a real orc, you’d be too scared to talk to me?”

“You are a real orc. Having a disease doesn’t change that.”

“Some people would disagree with you.”

“Remember what Kody said?” She said, moving so that she was standing in front of me, her arms still around my waist. “Stop caring what other people think. You are what you are, and what people think doesn’t change that. And don’t you ever dare think that I see you as less because of this one thing you have no control over. I like you just as much now as I did the day we met. More so. Moving here was worth it just to meet you.”

I couldn’t help but smile down at her and hug her close to me. God, she was warm. I bend my head and pressed a kiss to her lips. Her hands slowly worked their way from my waist, up my chest, and around my neck. My hands roamed up her back to grip her shoulders, pressing her into my chest, and back down to trap her waist again.

Somewhere in the process of all the touching, the kiss got deeper. And hotter. And faster. Before I knew it, I had lifted her up onto the counter and positioned myself between her legs, kissing down her neck. She ran her fingers through my hair and threw her head back, sighing. Her legs wrapped around my waist and the heels of her feet pressed me into her, and I could feel the heat there through both of our clothes. My hand cupped her breasts over her shirt as I kissed my way down her clavicle. She let her breath out sharply as my hand reached between us, her thighs tensing around me--

And then we heard Isaac snore just outside the door.

“Fuck…” I whispered into her skin. I pulled away from her and helped her down from the counter. “Not here.”

She nodded in agreement. “Not here. Soon, though.”

“Soon,” I said, kissing her softly as I let her go. “So… I’m hungry again. Want another sandwich?”

She nodded again. “Is the hyperthyroidism why you keep extra food here?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Even with the medicine, my metabolism is a bit up and down. If my sugar gets too low, I get really cranky, which isn’t a good mood to be in when you’re dealing with kids.”

“I get that,” She said. “I think it’s really good that your taking your condition seriously, though, and taking care of yourself properly. I’d be worried if you weren’t. Worried as in annoyed.”

I chuckled. “Now that I finally know what’s wrong, keeping it in check is important to me.” I got the sandwich stuff from the fridge. “I always hold out hope that maybe I’ll outgrow it, and then I can be what I was supposed to be, but I know that’s just a fantasy.”

“There’s nothing wrong with what you are,” Briauna reminded me.

“I know, I know,” I said, sighing regretfully. “Between you and Kody, I’ll find a way to be okay with myself by the time I retire.”

“Baby steps,” She said. “As long as it happens, I’ll be happy.”

The two of us ate a second dinner and played more cards. Isaac woke up around ten needing to go to the bathroom, then he fell asleep again almost immediately after lying back down.

Around eleven, I said, “Maybe we should try to sleep, too. Isaac’s mom isn’t going to be here until tomorrow. All we’ve got are napping pallets, but it’s better than nothing. Besides, the floor is bouncy.”

She smiled. “Yeah, I’m pretty tired. Come on, I’ll help you lay out the pallets and double up the blankets.”

“Thanks, babe.”

I laid another blanket over Isaac, just to make sure he was warm enough. When I stood, I saw that she had laid out a makeshift bed, and noticed she had made a large single pallet instead of two separate pallets. I smirked at her.

“No funny business,” I whispered to her.

“No promises,” She whispered back, sticking her tongue out at me.

We laid down together and she piled the short, toddler sized blankets on us in layers. When we were properly buried, she snuggled up to me and I wrapped my arms around her.

“So,” I said quietly, staring at her face in the mostly dark. “Do you have any unpleasant personal stories you’d like to share? It’s only fair, you know.”

She laughed gently, her eyes soft. “That’s true… hmm… lemme think…” She looked up and squinted her eyes in thought. “Oh, one time I put gum in a girl’s hair ‘cause she said my thighs looked like hams.”

I snickered. “Well, to be honest, I kind of agree.” I leaned close and whispered in her ear. “I’d really like to sink my teeth into them.”

She shivered and bit her lip, slapping my shoulder. “Now who needs to behave?”

I smiled devilishly. “Go to sleep, baby.”

She turned over and pressed her body into mine, and I curled up around the warmth of her skin. We fell asleep fairly quickly, my last though being how good her hair smelled.

I woke up to the sound of tapping on glass. Blearily, I woke up and disentangled myself from Briauna and staggered to my feet. Isaac’s mom, Mrs. Ketch, was standing on three feet of snow and had to crouch to be able to see into the glass of the door. Beyond her was a snow plow slowly schlogging through the street, clearing it of snow so that people could use the roads. She likely caught a ride with them.

Since the doors opened inward, I was able to let her in, as well as several buckets of snow.

“Sorry,” She said, shaking the snow out of her fur.

“No problem,” I said. “Isaac is still asleep.”

She went over and knelt next to him. “Wake up, my baby,” she said, gently shaking him.

Isaac groaned. “Noooo… sleepy…”

“You want chocolate chip pancakes?”

Isaac was awake immediately. “Pancakes!”

You helped Mrs. Ketch and Isaac get back out of the door and turned to Briauna.

“We’re going to have to clear some of this out by hand to get to the road. I’ve got some snow shovels in the broom closet. Just push it back into the street. No one is going to be driving today, anyway.”

“I hope that’s not true. I live ten miles away and my car is outside. I’m pretty worried it’s covered and I’m stranded.”

“We’ll see,” I said, putting on my coat and getting to work.

It took an hour and I was pretty exhausted by the time we were done, but we finally managed to clear a path from the door of the daycare to the road. Sure enough, Briauna’s car was half covered in snow.

Augh,” She groaned. “What do I do now? I really don’t want to have to walk ten miles to get home.”

“I only live four blocks away. You… could come and stay at my place for a day or two,” I ventured. “We are going to Kody’s place for Christmas Eve together, after all.

She smirked slyly. “I don’t have any clothes.”

“We can wash what you’ve got on, and I can lend you one of my suits, if you’d like to go to the party fancy. I’ve got some shirts that are long enough for you to sleep in while you’re there, too. Or,” I said a little bashfully. “You don’t have to wear anything at all.”

“I like that better,” She said, putting her arms inside my coat and pulling me close. I kissed her slowly, wrapping my coat and arms around her. We started walking down the middle of the empty street toward my apartment.

Chapter Text

We got to my apartment just fifteen minutes after leaving the daycare, shaking snow out of our hair and shucking off our coats.

“Hungry, Brie?” I asked.

“Starving,” She said. “But I also want to take a hot shower.”

“I’ll cook breakfast while you wash up. First door on the right down the hall is the bathroom. There’s clean towels and a pack of toothbrushes in there, and I’ll find you something to wear. I’m sure I’ve got a long band t-shirt that would cover most of you.”

She smirked wickedly. “Do you want it to cover most of me?” She pressed her body into my side.

“During breakfast, yeah,” I replied. “After that… let’s play it by ear.”

“If you say so, cariño,” She said, giving me a kiss and squeezing my rear before prancing down the hallway. I followed her and pulled a shirt from my closet, handing it to her and watching her disappear into the bathroom, listening as she knocked about and turned on the water. I smiled and went back to the kitchen.

She emerged shortly, toweling her hair, just as I was plating omelets and toast. The shirt I’d given her fell just half an inch past her buttocks. If she raised her arms straight up, I’d see everything.

“Where do I put my clothes?” She asked.

“Laundry room is off to the right, there,” I said, clearing my throat and trying not to notice how smooth and curvy her thighs were. “Just throw them in the washing machine. Orange juice or milk?”

“Juice,” She replied, taking both plates and putting them on the table and retrieving silverware from the drainboard as I poured the drinks. It was strange how at ease we both were, moving around each other in the kitchen as if we’d been living together for years, despite the fact that we’d only known each other for about a month and she’d never been in my apartment before. It just felt… natural.

“What kind of pie are you making for Kody’s party?” I asked. “We can walk to a corner market not far from here and pick up what you need, assuming they’re open before then.”

“I was debating doing two, actually: a fruit pie and a cheesecake, for people who don’t like fruit pies.”

“Ooh, that sounds good.”

“Thanks. Apple seems to be a universal crowd-pleaser, and I can do pretty things with the crust, maybe little pastry poinsettia flowers as decoration. I was also thinking of doing three different sauces for the cheesecake, so people can pick.”

I laughed. “Damn, you don’t mess around, do you?”

“Not when it comes to desserts,” She said, happily munching on toast. “If I hadn’t gone into childcare, I’d have been a pâtissier.”

I smirked at her. “Well, hell, dating you might actually get my weight up.”

She nodded, sipping her orange juice. “You wanna get fat, I’m your girl.”

I snickered. I finished my breakfast while Briauna was still eating. I stood to put my dishes in the sink and turned to look at Briauna, leaning against the table as she ate and scrolling through worried texts from her family, who lived in a state that didn’t get snowstorms.

The shirt I had given her wasn’t quite long enough to cover her bottom when she sat down. She was also sitting in such a way that I could see between her legs, and she was not wearing underwear. The soft apex of her core was flush against the cool, polished wood of the chair in which she was sitting, the lower parts of her butt cheeks pressed flat. Man, that plump flesh would feel so good in my hands…

I looked away quickly, blushing. “I’m going to take a shower, too.”

“Mkay,” She said, giving me a kiss as I passed and returned to eating her eggs. I switched on the washer as I went.

My heart was thumping in my chest and I felt myself growing hard as I made my way to the bathroom, turning on the water. It had been a few years since I’d been with anyone, and I was a bit pent up. I was hoping Briauna and I would take that step today, so I didn’t want to… take care of it myself.

I undressed and got into the shower, my swollen cock knocking into the doorframe as I got it, making me flinch. My shower was the kind that didn’t have a tub; it was glass enclosed, tiled, and with a drain in the floor. It’s one of the reasons I chose this apartment. I hated baths. It felt to me like I was stewing in my own filth.

The glass was warped and frosted, so I could see the outline of everything outside, including the door opening and the silhouette of Briauna stepping into the room.

“Brie?” I said. “What’s up?”

She opened the glass door and looked at me, all of me, and bit her lip. I fought the urge to cover myself. I had been self-conscious about my skinny body all my life, and I was a little concerned she would be turned off when she saw me naked.

Turned off was definitely not words to describe the look on her face. “It looks like you are,” She said, pulling the shirt over her head, leaving her standing nude in front of me. God, she was gorgeous. “Room for one more?”

I smiled and took her hand, pulling her into the shower with me. “It’s a good thing your hair isn’t dry yet,” I said.

She giggled and kissed me, pressing her warm skin against mine, my arousal trapped between the flesh of our stomachs. It pulsed against her, and she giggled again.

“Can I help you with that?” She asked, putting her hand between us and stroking me as the water cascaded down her body. I groaned and my head fell forward onto her shoulder. I kissed and nipped at her skin. With her other hand, she ran it through my short hair and gripped it, holding me against her neck.

She knelt down while holding my eye and smiling slightly, and oh God, just that single fluid movement was so sexy that I had to brace a hand against the wall.

She took me in her hand, pumping me a few times. Her tongue came out and she slowly ran the length of it over the tip and I gasped.

“Moan for me, querido,” She said, and I couldn’t help but oblige her. A sound escaped out of me that I had never heard myself make before.

Ay, si, cariño. Te voy a hacer sentir tan bien.

“Remind me to take Spanish lessons,” I huffed, struggling to stay upright.

“I’ll teach you,” She said, smiling up at me as she stroked me in her hand. “You’ll be cumming in Spanish by the end of the month.”

Before I could reply, she had sucked me into her mouth down to the base and I cried out. I put my hand on her head as she sucked, combing my fingers through her hair and caressing her cheek. The litany of sounds I was making certainly weren’t dignified, but the hell if I cared. It felt incredible. Briauna knew what she was doing, and I was more than happy about it.

She sucked faster, sealing her mouth around me, and I nearly fell.

“I’m going to cum,” I whispered. She didn’t pull away, instead reaching underneath to massage my balls. Lightning struck my body, every muscle in my body wound tight, and I came straight down her throat, gushing over and over. She didn’t spill a drop.

As I was gathering my breath back with my arm on the wall and my forehead pressed into my elbow, I gasped, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Spunk is bad for drains,” She said. “Wouldn’t want to clog up your pipes, now, would we?” She stood up and kissed me deeply, moaning into my mouth. Then she reached for my soap and started scrubbing me down.

“Don’t you want me to… uh… reciprocate?” I asked as she washed my back.

“I’m going to be here for a couple of days, huh? Plenty of time. No reason to rush it. I just saw you make a quick dash for the bathroom with a blush on your face and thought you could use a hand.” I groaned as she scratched that spot in the middle of my back that I could never reach. “Besides, I wanted to see that cute bubble butt in the flesh.” She popped my left cheek, making me jump.

I rinsed off the soap and turn the water off, stepping out onto the mat and reaching for a towel. She took a second one and ran it through my hair, wiggling my head and laughing.

This felt really good. Just… being close and playing around and just the general feeling of peace. I hadn’t felt like this in… ever. Comfort. That’s what it was.

I bent my head and kissed her, soft and lingering, holding her damp body against mine.

When I pulled back, she laughed, a sweet light in her eyes. “What was that for?”

“Just ‘cause,” I said.

“That’s a good reason,” She said, smiling and kissing me again.

We spent the morning mostly naked, watching Christmas movies while her clothes got cleaned. When they were dry, we both got dressed and headed to the market. Someone had gone to the trouble of shoveling the sidewalk so that people could travel on foot, but most of the cars were still buried, Briauna’s included.

“So what are we looking for?” I asked her.

“Well, you already have flour, butter, and sugar, so we need cream cheese, vanilla bean, apples, cinnamon, strawberries, blueberries, and some cooking chocolate.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “Have you been to this market before?”

“Nope,” She said. “I usually go to the supercenter nearby my apartment.”

I shook my head. “No, no, no, this place is far superior.” I raised my hand in greeting. “Hey, Mrs. Tailor!”

“Hey, Jukah!” The elderly woman at the counter said. “Who’s that with you?”

“I’m his girlfriend, Brie,” Briauna said, waving. I looked at her with an eyebrow raised. She smiled. “Aren’t I?”

I grinned and kissed her temple. “Yes, you are.”

“Oh, isn’t she pretty? I’m glad you’ve got a girl for the holidays,” Mrs. Tailor said.

“Thanks, Mrs. Tailor,” I replied.

“What are we looking for, niños?” Mrs. Tailor asked.

Oh, hablas español?” Brie asked happily.

Sí, conocí a mi esposo en Cancún.” Mrs. Tailor pointed at me. “Es muy guapo, te parece?

Sí, señora,” Brie replied. “Y él tiene un trasero muy lindo.

The two of them laughed.

“I feel like you’re laughing at my expense.” I said suspiciously.

“You’re right,” Mrs. Tailor said.

“But in a good way,” Brie said, kissing my cheek.

“So, what are you two looking for?” Mrs. Tailor asked.

“She’s actually making some pies for a party we’re going to. Want to help us pick out the best produce?”

“Pies? Oh, honey, you’re talking my language.” Little Mrs. Tailor hopped off her stool and came around. “What kind of pies?”

Mrs. Tailor spent twenty minutes with us, helping us pick out the best berries and apples, the finest vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks in her store, and packs of cream cheese and graham crackers. She even gave us a discount.

“Aw, you don’t have to do that, Mrs. Tailor,” I said.

“Don’t you worry about it, baby,” She said. “Happy holidays, you two!”

Gracias! Fue un placer conocerte! Feliz Navidad!” Briauna said, waving at Mrs. Tailor as we left and slowly walked back to my apartment.

Cuídalo, cariña!” Mrs. Tailor called after us.

“She’s super sweet,” Briauna said, taking my arm.

“Yeah, she is. Mrs. Tailor was one of the first people I met when I came to town, and she’d been looking out for me ever since.”

“Aww,” Briauna cooed. “That’s nice. It makes me happy that you have so many friends.”

I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess I did have a lot of friends. Maybe I just didn’t think of them as friends because I didn’t think they saw me as a friend.

Ugh. My head hurt.

We got back to my apartment, and she put everything in my fridge. It was around lunchtime, so I made us both a Caesar salad with ham chunks and cheddar cheese, and some garlic toast.

“You’re good with food, too, huh?” She asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Since my metabolism is so high, I have to eat a lot, so I figured it was good to learn how to make actual food and not just eat instant ramen and peanut butter on saltines.”

“Smart man,” She said, pinching my left butt cheek, startling me.

“You just like seeing me jump, don’t you?” I asked her, rubbing my behind.

She laughed wickedly. “You have no idea.”

“What happened to the sweet girl I started dating?” I asked her playfully.

“She’s still here. People are more than one thing, you know,” She said, kissing the back of my neck as I set our plates on the table.

“I know,” I replied, smirking at her.

After lunch, she helped me wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. When we were done, she wrapped her arms around my waist and I held her close.

“So, more Christmas movies?” I asked.

“Actually…” She said, letting me go and walking backward toward the bedroom, tugging me by my shirt. “I have a much better idea.”

I let her lead me to the bedroom and start stripping me of my clothes. She peeled her own clothes off and stood before me in all her glowing, naked glory.

It was easy for people to underestimate my strength because of my size, but I was still an orc, after all. I was easily able to lift her in my arms and throw her onto the bed. She landed with a bounce and a giggle. I pounced and she laughed more as she kissed me.

She pushed me onto my back and climbed onto me, kissing me, pushing her tongue past my lips. I put my hand in her curls and made a fist, tugging up her head so that I could bite at her neck, making her gasp and release her breath sharply. She pushed my arms down and moved up my body, so that her dripping slit was presented to my face. Holding onto the headboard, she lowered herself down so that I could reach that swollen clit with my mouth, and I licked at it hungrily.

She moaned above me as I gripped her thighs, working my tongue up, over, and down her lips. The sounds she made caused my body to react, making my cock harder than I had been that morning in the shower. Her pelvis rocked slightly as I sucked and slurped at her, her moans increasing in volume and pitch. The rocking got faster, and I sucked harder, feeling her sweltering entrance tremble against my mouth.

“Oh, fuck,” She whispered as I pushed two fingers into her wetness. I sucked in her clit, shaking my head as I did so, and she gripped my hair as she came, crying out and falling against the headboard, her face pressed against the wood.

Oh, sí cariño, que se siente tan jodidamente bien!” She cried, and again I made a mental note to learn Spanish as soon as possible.

She fell sideways onto the bed, on her back, and I rolled over her, rearing up to kneel between her open legs. I let her catch her breath, bending down to take a nipple in my mouth and gently run my teeth over it, pinching the other into a peak with my hand. She whimpered and writhed a little underneath me.

I switched breasts and sucked as much of it into my mouth as I could fit, flicking the tip of my tongue over it. She moaned again, louder, and I let her breast go with a pop. I pulled myself up to kiss her red lips, and she wrapped her legs around my waist, tilting her hips up, silently insistent.

I looked her in the eyes as I pushed myself inside her, and her eyes rolled back in her head as her mouth fell open. At first, my thrusts were tentative, but she opened her eyes, held my head in her hands, looked me in the eye, and said, “Do not be gentle with me.”

I got back up on my knees and grabbed her hips, ramming myself into her at top speed and intensity, and she shrieked in pleasure, holding onto the underside of the headboard. The wet smacking of our bodies as we connected with each thrust spurred me on. I worried that I was being too aggressive, but whenever I’d ease up, she’d shout, “Harder!” And I went back at it with renewed fervor.

I felt her clenched around me as an orgasm shook her body, and she screamed out, telling me not to stop, to keep going, and I listened. I whipped my hips into her as hard and fast as I could, and she begged me to keep going, even as her orgasm ebbed. Her thighs twitched and her stomach spasmed.

“Flip me,” She said, and I pulled myself out, whipped her upside down, grasped her hips, and jerked her toward me. I shoved myself back into her and she groaned with pleasure. I grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her face up out of the pillows so I could hear her moans and breathy gasps. I loved those sounds. I wanted to record them and listen to them on a loop for days.

I loved the way her butt jiggled every time my body collided with hers. I loved how she kept swearing in Spanish and how she arched her back when she was close to climaxing. I loved… her.

Now wasn’t the time to declare myself, though. It had only been a week.

I felt the swell of pleasure rising up in me as she clamped down again. She must have realized I was close, perhaps feeling me pulsate inside her, because she breathed, “Cum for me, querido.”

I seemed conditioned to obey any command she gave me, because at that exact moment, I came so hard I saw spots in my vision. I released her hair, letting her fall forward, as I felt every shot fill her up and drip out. I bent over her, braced on my hands, and kissed her back. I thrust slowly to milk out the last traces of pleasure, then stopped while still inside her, breathing hard.

“Don’t move, I’ll clean you up,” I told her breathlessly, moving off the bed and getting a warm washcloth from the bathroom. She was still laying ass-up when I returned and I carefully cleaned up the mess I made. When I was done, she simply plopped over on her side and sighed contently. Giving myself a cursory wipe with the cloth, I chucked it into a hamper and climbed back into bed, snuggling her back against my front.

“You good, sweetheart?” I asked her, my nose in her hair.

“Mmm…” She said sleepily. “I’m great.”

“I’m also great,” I replied, giving her a squeeze that made her squeal. “And I’m hungry again.”

“You did just burn off a bunch of calories,” She said with a smile.

“True,” I said. “Good thing I have some protein bars in my night table.”

She laughed. “Can I get one of those, too?”

I tossed her one, which she made no attempt to catch. It landed squarely on her sternum between her breasts.

“Whoo! Got it between the goal posts, two points for you,” She said.

I laughed at her as I tore open the wrapper of my protein bar.

“Do you always have food stashed in your room?”

“I have food stashed everywhere. Never know when my sugar is going to decide to tank out of nowhere.”

“Doesn’t the medicine help you manage that?” She asked with her mouth full, like a lady.

“To a point,” I said. “It works the majority of the time, but there are some times when my thyroid goes, ‘haha, you’re about to be real tired and grouchy, so buckle up, asshole,’ and I have to put something edible in my mouth with a quickness.”

“Makes sense,” She said. “I’ll just have to keep a fresh supply of cookies and cakes and pies for you.”

You leaned forward and kissed her with gratitude. “You won’t hear me complaining about that.”

After a nap, Brie got up to start on the pies. She taught me how to make a quick crust, and as I worked on crushing the graham crackers, she asked, “So… you haven’t spoken to your family in… how long?”

“Oh, god…” I tried thinking back. “I left when I was nineteen, so… ten years?”

“You really don’t think they want to hear from you?” She asked hesitantly.

“Nothing from my upbringing would suggest otherwise,” I said, shrugging.

“Yeah, but…” She paused. “Ten years is a long time. A lot could change in ten years. People change. Attitudes change.”

I laughed. “You’re not overly familiar with orc culture, huh?”

“I mean… I just think… maybe if they knew about your condition, they’d be more understanding than you think.” She stirred the strawberry sauce in the pan. “I mean, it’s the holidays. It’s a time to be with your family. I’m not saying you have to contact them, but… maybe it’s something to consider?”

I paused in my crushing and sighed. “I’ll think about it.”

She stopped stirring and put her arms around my waist. “Sorry. I don’t mean to insert myself into your problems.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said, kissing her, linking my fingers behind her back. “You’re just concerned about me. It’s sweet and I like that about you.”

“Aww,” She said, grinning. She gave me a last kiss and went back to stirring.

The next day, we carried the pies and sauces, as well as the bean dip I usually made, to Kody’s apartment, which was just a few blocks down the street from my building.

“Hey, guys!” Kody said, giving us both a hug as we came in. “Briauna, this is Jessie, my best friend.”

Jessie came up and gave me a hug, then shook Briauna’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Briauna said.

“You, too,” Jessie said, taking a the pies off her hands and setting them on the counter.

Jacob and Emily were already there, and Emily had brought a date. He was a lizardman but not a kobold, like her. He looked a lot like a chameleon, actually, complete with independently moving eyes.

“Taking a break from hibernating, Emily?” I asked as I gave her a hug.

“Yeah, I had Torin wake me up for the party,” She said, jerking her head at the chameleon man.

“He’s new,” I said.

“He’s fun,” She replied, winking at me.

Jacob came up and nudged me.

“Can’t help but notice that Brie is still wearing the clothes she had on at work that last day,” He said with a sly smirk.

I rolled my eyes. “Her car got buried under snow, so she’s been staying with me.”

“Sure, sure,” He said, glancing at Emily. The two of them shared a knowing look.

“Oh, grow up, you two,” I said, shaking my head.

The dinner was amazing, just like every year, and hours later, Brie and I wandered back home.

“That was fun,” She said as I unlocked the door. “I kind of want to fool around, but I also feel like I might puke from eating so much and just want to pass out.”

“I’m with you there,” I agreed. “Even I ate too much, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

She laughed and pulled off her scarf. “I could see my car from the distance. It’s almost thawed out. I was thinking maybe going home tomorrow and packing a bag and coming back to spend the rest of the week with you. Sound good?”

“That sounds great to me,” I said. “But… aren’t you going to see your family for Christmas?”

“I was going to, but I told them about you and they said to stay. Besides, I’ll go see them for New Years. Want to come?”

My head rocked back. “You want me to meet your family?”

“Yeah,” She bit her lip. “Is it… too soon for that?”

I smiled slowly. “Is it too soon for me to tell you I love you?”

She returned the smile. “Nope.”

“Good,” I replied, pulling her into a tight hug. “Because I do.”

“I love you, too, Jukah,” She said, muffled against the fabric of my coat. “So you’ll come meet my family?”  

“I’d love to.”

After I took my meds, we both undressed and got in bed, falling asleep almost instantly.

I woke in the middle of the night to her stroking me to attention from behind. I purred appreciatively and rolled over, letting her straddle me and putting my hands on her hips. When she bent down to kiss me, I reached between us and held myself steady as she lowered herself down and took all of me inside her.

She rode me in the dark, moving against the pale light shining through the curtains, glowing against the soft brown of her skin and the curl of her hair. I could hear her stilted breathing and soft moans. She was so beautiful.

I dug my fingers into her hips and thrust up into her, and she fell forward onto my chest, letting me take over. She kissed my neck and sank her teeth into my collarbone, and I groaned, my toes curling. I clapped a hand on her butt, feeling the jiggle, and she yelped and laughed.

She pushed herself up and rocked faster, grinding her body against me as she came loudly, crying out wordlessly. When her pleasure ebbed, she climbed off of me and sucked me into her mouth, bobbing up and down fast, massaging with her hands and clawing at the inside of my thighs.

It didn’t take long before I released, and like before, she took all of it. No muss, no fuss. I lay back with a sigh of relief, and she plopped down next to me, kissing me slowly until, eventually, we fell asleep again, not a word spoken.

As the first light of dawn filtered into the room, I woke up feeling hungry. Brie was still sleeping, the gold light of morning making the dusting of fine freckles stand out on her exposed chest. I looked at her for a moment with a smile on my face, feeling lucky for the first time in my life.

I got up, pulling on my boxers, and walking into the kitchen. I spotted a box of fruit bars on the fridge and grabbed one, scarfing it down to get my sugar up, when my eyes fell on my phone, which I’d left on the kitchen counter.

I picked it up and looked through my contacts, finding the number for the Floodwater Stronghold Communications Center. My finger hovered over the call button for at least five minutes before pressing it. With my hands shaking slightly, I held the phone up to my ear.

“Floodwater Stronghold Communications.”

I cleared my throat. “Yes, can you connect me with Gorcha Ironblood?”

“One moment.”

There was a waiting tone, and then the dialing tone. With each ring, my anxiety rose.

There was a click, and a voice came over the line.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Yep, that was my mom.

“Um… Hey, Mom. It’s, uh… It’s Jukah.”

There was a full thirty seconds of silence over the line before she responded. “Jukah? I… Hi… How are you?”

“I’m good, Mom. I’m good.” I took a deep breath and released it sharply. “Um… I’m sorry it took me so long to get in touch with you, but... Listen, there’s, um… There’s something I need to tell you.”