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Found Family

Chapter Text

It wasn’t the first time in their lives that Noel and Flare were glad that military experience had made them early risers, but it was one of the rare times in their lives that they felt truly happy to be awake early rather than duty-bound, mostly because of a presence that had just knocked on Flare’s bedroom door and was followed by the voice of their to-be youngest daughter.

“Noel-mama! Flare-mama!”

Nene, as Noel and Flare had both discovered, didn’t have much of a sense of personal space; and while she was arguably the slowest in the uptake as far as understanding her adoption was concerned, the youngest of the to-be Shiranui children had since flipped her perspective and now including both of her parents within her own boundaries.

A second voice joined Nene’s, this one belonging to the middle sister: Polka.

“Nenechi, don’t yell like that! We need them to like us!”

Noel and Flare both stared at each other for a brief moment, frowning. They weren’t that ignorant, and while Nene and Polka were both naturally hyperactive children with seemingly boundless energy, there was a distinct difference in the manner of trust that the two of them had for their newfound parents.

Nene trusted them wholeheartedly, and had no reservation about simply being herself around them. As far as she was concerned, their love was unconditional.

Polka, on the other hand, didn’t. There was a sort of playfulness that she had around her friends in captivity that seemingly disappeared when around Noel and Flare; in general she seemed to attempt avoiding interaction with the two of them, a behavior likely learned from more abusive authority figures.

And, as such, Noel and Flare took a brief moment to think about the interaction that had just occurred in the last few seconds.

“Fuu-tan,” Noel whispered, “We need to talk to her sometime. Maybe not right now, though.”

Flare nodded, and then finally responded to Nene, speaking aloud.

“Don’t worry; we’re both awake. Come in if you want to.”

The door opened to the enthusiastic glee of Nene and the remarkably contrasting silence of Polka, with Lamy behind the two looking very tired.

“You three slept well?” Flare asked.

The three of them looked at each other, seemingly a little unsure of how to answer, then looked back to their adoptive mother and nodded.

Noel and Flare, on the other hand, didn’t buy it for a second.

“Okay, for the record, if you’re going to try and do the thing my wife does where she tries to pretend she’s more well-rested than she actually is - and yes, I’m aware I do it too - I’m just going to let you know that we both have years of experience in seeing it in each other and in trying to hide it. You do not, and thus it’s not going to work on us.”

Lamy frowned, Polka looked awkwardly off to the side, and Nene just blinked, seemingly bewildered.

“Look,” Flare explained, “the last few months have been probably more eventful than anyone wants them to be. And I understand that, for all of the playful energy you three give off, two out of the three of you have learned to be far more observant as a matter of survival. But you can talk to us, and not just when it’s about your past.”

Polka and Lamy both froze at the accusation.

“I get it.” Noel continued, “You’ve probably spent the last who-knows-how-long in a trustless environment where authority figures weren’t exactly the kind of people you’d want to talk to. But I’ve noticed how, in particular, you, Polka, don’t seem to be comfortable around me. You’re a good older sister to Nene and lord knows she’s definitely happier for having you around, but you-”

“It’s stupid.” Polka interrupted. “I know it’s stupid. But I’m waiting for you to snap. I know you aren’t going to just throw me away, but I keep wondering if there’s a line that I need to avoid crossing. I keep quiet because it’s the only way to be sure that I don’t cross a line that would make you no longer want us around.”

She paused, thinking about her words.

“I know you aren’t going to throw me away, but I keep thinking that you could do it. I’m not Lamy; I’m just some tagalong kid. I don’t know what I’m looking for or even what you could do right now that would make me feel safe. I can’t just trust anyone, even you, even though you’ve been nothing but, but-”

She teared up slightly, but brought herself together and attempted to avoid crying.

Flare, on the other hand, simply walked up to her middle daughter and wrapped her arms around her.

“Take all the time you need; I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, and I can only imagine how hard it is to trust us. Though, I do have one question: if you’re not willing to trust us immediately, why did you trust us with Nene’s nightmares so quickly?”

Polka cried.

“Because I care more about her being happy than about my trust issues.”

At that point, Polka suddenly felt Nene hug her from behind.

“Then you should be happy too!”

“I know!” Polka replied, “I don’t know why I’m like this! You and Lamy didn’t have any issues with it!”

“I think I can guess,” Flare replied while letting go, “They have their reasons for being much quicker to trust us.”

Lamy looked down at the floor, frowning.

“I still remember my parents. I’m the eldest sister, after all, and I’m an elf, which means I’m naturally blessed with a long lifespan. Despite being kidnapped first, I’m the oldest among us, and that means I still remember what it’s like to have parents. I still know what it means to call someone my mother. You two might have some memories but you don’t have the idea of having parents ingrained into you like I do. Flare-mama, Noel-mama, they’re both our parents.”

Both Polka, Noel and Flare noticed the way she emphasized the inclusive pronoun like it was the most wonderful word in the world.

Nene let go of Polka, and then wandered into Noel, who promptly wrapped her arms around her youngest daughter.

Polka took a long look at Nene, remembering the scars.

“And Nene always jumped ahead like that without thinking. It’s why she was punished so often. She just wasn’t the kind of person who picked up the skills to avoid it.”

Noel frowned.

“What you’ve been through is horrible. I know it’s simplistic to say it out loud like that, but there’s nothing else we can say. In your position I’d probably be no more trusting of anyone acting nice because of the underlying thought that it could go horribly wrong. Hell, it probably comes off as weird that we haven’t done anything even remotely abusive. And, yeah, we’re making an active effort not to provoke any bad memories you probably have.”

Polka nodded.

“Thank you so much. I know I should like you two. And I do, you two are perfect, but…”

Flare shook her head.

“We’ll make our share of mistakes too. If anything, it’s not a great sign that it took until now to notice that this was an issue; and it means that including you into our family, which we want to do, requires we be slightly proactive on occasion. That does raise a question, though, and I wanted to ask: given that you’re not naturally a trusting person, what made you put your trust in your friends in captivity?”

Polka paused, thinking about her answer for a little while, while Flare and Lamy examined her face. The fennec girl noticed, and sighed, while Nene seemed to suddenly tune into the conversation again.

“Ugh, it’s embarrassing, but Nene’s just too innocent to assume badly of her. Whenever I see her, the only thing I can think of is how, uh…”

“...You feel the need to protect her smile?” Lamy asked.

“Don’t say it out loud like that!”

Nene laughed, smiling brightly.

“You make me happy, Omarun!”

Lamy smiled.

“I think that’s been a universal constant for everyone who’s met her, myself included. You missed this because you didn’t see it, but while Botan might have calmed down about Nene’s scars, her initial reaction to seeing them was…”

Polka looked down at the ground.

“I can imagine. That’s why I trusted Botan, really; she got angry for something worth being angry about. She’s always been like that for as long as I’ve known her; she was willing to spend a lot of time locked up in a cellar for her defiance.”

Lamy nodded.

“I can vouch for her being like that from day one. She’s always had a strong protective instinct, most notably towards Aloe, but it was present with the rest of us, too.”

Nene nodded.

Noel’s eyes suddenly widened.

“I get it now. I understand exactly what it is, and why you’re finding it so hard to trust us.”

Everyone present stared at Noel, who continued speaking.

“We’ve never made any sacrifices for being your parents. We’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had to choose your well-being over our own. We’ve enjoyed an easy life, and, I suppose partially because you’re so cooperative, at no point have we ever made a decision where giving up on you was the easy option. Botan was willing to be punished because of a protective instinct when saying nothing would’ve been easier. Nene, bless her heart, drags you around everywhere because it’s her way of caring about you, even if it can be hard to keep up with her sometimes. And, while she’s never said it, I’m pretty sure that taking care of you was a large part of why Lamy refused to become Uno’s weapon, even when giving up and just following orders would’ve been easy.”

Lamy froze, and then nodded slowly, smiling nervously as she did so.

“Botan would’ve never forgiven me if I gave up. And it would’ve broken the younger captives if I harmed them directly.”

Noel nodded.

“Empathy’s powerful like that. And that’s the thing; in comparison, we’ve never had to make a real choice about the three of you.”

Flare smiled.

“We can say that you three are worth the trouble, but we’ve never had any trouble to compare your worth with. And that’s where your trust issues are, Polka: you aren’t sure of your value to us, aren’t sure how far we would go to keep our family together when things aren’t going well.”

Noel continued: “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you are worth a lot of trouble, and that goes for all three of you; I’d be willing to risk my own life for the safety of you three. The bad news is that what I’m saying is just a bunch of empty words until I prove it, and to be honest, I don’t plan to. You see, I really hope I’m never in a situation where I have to prove it, because after how awful your lives have been you deserve a peaceful life.”

Flare frowned.

“I hope we don’t end up proving that either. I’d like to think we deserve a peaceful life together, too, and I want you by my side for as long as possible.”

Nene, Polka, and Lamy all looked at each other.

Lamy smiled, tearing up slightly.

“I hope that we can enjoy a happy life together. But if our happiness is denied, then I’ll believe in you. I believe that you’ll care for us, even if it’s hard.”

Polka followed, her lips slowly curling into a faint smile.

“It’s hard, but I’ll try to believe in you, too.”

Nene grinned.

“I also believe in you! We’ll stay together forever!”

Flare found it impossible to not grin at Nene’s sheer unshakable optimism.

“I hope we can stay together too.”