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Carthoris laughed as he scaled up the green Martian, who was holding her middle limbs just right for the attempt.

"You spoil him," Dejah Thoris said, but her face was wreathed with a smile, and Sola returned it.

"Among my people, we are the caretakers of the young. We teach them all they need to know. Among your people… all people do it, from what I have observed."

"Yes, but some would say you are overly indulgent in Carthoris's raising," Dejah pointed out. "As you encourage him to be a tiny white ape, scrambling all over your limbs like they are branches of a tree!"

Carthoris gave a laughing shriek, as his mother lunged from her working desk to where they were playing, her fingers tickling up his ribs. She then stood, just in Sola's personal space, the smile still there.

"You love that I do, princess," Sola commented, even as she made certain Carthoris was in no danger when he flung himself to the floor.

"I love much of what you do with and for both of us, my dear friend." Dejah took one of the lower hands, then the other, and did not protest when Sola's upper arms came down around her, holding her there.

John Carter might be lost to them, for now, but they had each other.

"You never, ever fire until you are certain the round will strike where you aim," Sola said, kneeling behind the small boy as he focused down her barrel, sighting with her. "The rounds will explode, yes, but you wish them to explode where they will kill or, at the least, cripple!"

Carthoris considered that. "And I will only have a rifle in hand if there's no other way," he said, dedicating himself to his father's strangeness without even knowing the man. Sola had to smile, and she used her right middle hand to stroke the boy's hair.

"Your father would say war solves nothing, but even he knows the value of defending one's family and home."

"As you defend us in his absence?" the boy piped up, and Sola would have flushed if her blood ran like a red Martian's.

"Your father is my friend, as is your mother. Tars Tarkas, my father, deems my presence here a worthy task for a Thark as our people work out alliances."

"And you love us," Carthoris declared, insistently.

She could not deny him then. "Yes, child of my heart, I love you."

Dejah Thoris spun and whirled in swordplay against Sola, who was wielding a long sword in a lower hand, and a short one in the upper.

Carthoris watched in glee and study alike, as his mothers, for what else was Sola but another special nurturer to him, demonstrated red versus green techniques.

"And what do I win if I disarm you, my loyal Sola?"

"I would think, my princess, that you would not count such a victory likely," Sola said, even as her glib use of a red Martian endearment sent Carthoris into giggles and covering his mouth. "When you have yet to win a single of these matches against me."

"Perhaps, my fierce one, I have not had stakes to entice me to my full effort," Dejah countered, her eyes sparking at the endearment. John Carter was her husband… and this woman was her heart's companion after trials shared.

"A kiss!" Carthoris yelled out, and the thought of it distracted Sola long enough to lose the long sword, only barely guarding herself with the short one before Dejah had her trapped against a wall.

"I like his suggestion," Sola admitted, letting the short sword fall. "I have never had one."

"Then I will have to oblige," Dejah said, her own sword falling so she could reach up and pull Sola's head down more to her level.

"Mother!" Carthoris, half-grown now, came running back in from their journey. "I helped round up the thoats when they scattered, and Tars Tarkas made me metals of the Thark style to wear, and he said he would let me go on the next campaign to turn the Warhoons away from the waterways!"

Sola came in behind him, shrugging eloquently for the exuberance of their shared child. Dejah Thoris merely shook her head, smiling, and caught Carthoris in a hug.

"And you will have to tell Kantos Kan, so he can aid in that endeavor, since it is our waterways they are moving to protect," she told her son. "A good visit to your father, Sola?"

"A tiring one, as Carthoris proved he had to be at least as good as the young green ones," she answered.

That his skill had been praised, in her hearing, so many times was a crowning achievement for her. She, who had borne the brunt of her people's hatred for so long, had been found to be a proper and strong mother to the boy, for none of his skills had found fault.

"Well, the egg never falls far from those that make it," Dejah said, pleased the visit had gone so well.

Eventually, John Carter would return to them.

Eventually was not now.

Dejah lay comfortably within the twin sets of arms holding her, the long body of her companion a solid comfort to her in the perpetual grief of her husband being missing.

"You think of him," Sola said, voice soft in the quiet of their night.

"Yes. I think of how happy he will be that you keep me safe even now, and that we are more than friends," Dejah answered her.

"You do not think he will be as some men are, and resent this?"

Dejah rolled over so that they looked eye to eye, only possible when lying abed like this. The tusk under her cheek like this was a reminder of Sola's fierceness, but the eyes were quiet and worried.

"He will embrace this, for he loves you as well. Together, we shall be a family."

"May your words be so."