It was never supposed to be like this. Then again, it was never supposed to be anything.
Blinky never considered himself much of a romantic. He’d always preferred his books to such things.
He regretted his lack of contentment with what he’d had now. Sure, he, personally, may have ended up here regardless, but…
Blinky gazed down at the woman cradled in his arms. He stroked a lock of hair away from her face.
…at least he’d be alone.
Barbara coughed. She stirred, and then wiggled around for a better position. Blinky’s arms immediately went to helping her find it. She didn’t look up at him. He wished she would. That, or protest, argue, tell him she was strong enough all on her own. Anything that sparked that bold, brash personality he hoped was still in there.
Breathing heavily, Barbara collapsed against Blinky’s chest. Her eyelids fluttered shut. Her skin felt cold and clammy to the touch. That worried Blinky, but it wasn’t like there was much he could do. Except wrap his arms around Barbara, hoping that would help warm her up, remind her that support was still there.
The door to their cell opened.
“Don’t you dare die on me,” Officer Kubritz greeted Barbara before her eyes went to Blinky.
He glared back. “She would be better if she weren’t locked in here!” He spat. “You have me. I can assure you, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all troll kind. You have no need for Barbara. Release her!”
“Tell me, Mr. Blinky, was it?” Kubritz strolled into the cell, her heels clicking against the cement floor. “Does that encyclopedic knowledge cover troll-human hybrids?”
Blinky glowered and tightened his grip around Barbara, but didn’t reply.
“I see. Has there ever been such a thing before now?” Kubritz regarded him with an icy expression. “Surely someone as knowledgeable as yourself would know?” Her frown deepened. “I do expect an answer this time, Mr. Blinky.”
“No, there has not.” Blinky grumbled.
“Of course.” Kubritz chuckled. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? My people have studied trolls before. We know quite a lot about your kind. There isn’t really all that much that you could tell us that we don’t already know.” She smirked down at Blinky. “You should feel proud, Mr. Blinky. You are still helping the advancement of our knowledge.” She gestured for her armed men to advance into the cell.
“Please.” Blinky gasped when he realized, even if he could fight, this is a battle he wouldn’t be able to win. “Don’t hurt them.”
After her men pulled Barbara away from Blinky, Kubritz stepped forward to inspect the doctor. “Oh, rest assured Mr. Blinky, I don’t intend to. Just study.” Kubritz placed a hand on Barbara’s very rounded, very pregnant belly. “After all, your child will be the first of its kind in the world. We wouldn’t want to jeopardize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you’ve given us, would we?” Kubritz signaled her men to take Barbara away. Once they were gone, she turned back to Blinky. “Good new for you, though. You’re being released.”
Barbara wrapped her hand around her son’s chubby fingers and moved them so she could see the illustration on the picture book page he was pointing to. “A cat,” she told him softly.
“Wuzzacat?” Arthur, named for a close friend of the father he’d never met, attempted to stick his fist in his mouth. His mother stopped him and gave him a spoon to suck on instead. Unbeknownst to her, getting a spoon had been his entire plan all along. They were only allotted so many spoons each day and his mother insisted he not eat them all at once. Arthur didn’t really get why. There would always be more spoons tomorrow.
“A cat,” Barbara began to explain. “Is a type of animal. They’re furry and they say ‘meow’.”
“Live outside?” Arthur looked up at his mother with wide eyes. He blinked, uncomprehending of why there were tears in her eyes all of a sudden.
For as long as he could remember, the ‘outside’ had been a distant, faraway concept. Kinda like the imaginary land he made up in his head and went to when the facility doctors had to run tests on him he didn’t like. His three-year-old mind couldn’t conceive of the idea that there was a world beyond his own he’d never been too. His whole life, it had always been just him, his mother, and the various officers and doctors who ran the facility they lived in.
“Yes, cats live outside.” Barbara closed the book. She wiped her tears away on the back of her sleeve. “How about you go draw for a bit? I need some rest.”
“This green is nice.” Jim showed the color swatch to Blinky.
Blinky nodded, but didn’t speak a word. Jim didn’t push. Re-Painting Day was always hard on the troll.
They sat on the floor of an immaculately-clean nursery, surrounded by an eclectic gathering of toys and necessities for a toddler. Or, at least the kinds of things the Internet told them a toddler would need. They didn’t actually know. They didn’t actually have a toddler.
“Or, we could try this light yellow.” Jim continued on through the swatches.
Originally, the nursery had been set up by both Barbara and Blinky, back when they’d found out about their pregnancy. Barbara had wanted to paint the walls herself, and had even started sketching out cartoonish animals on one (the first year they’d done the Re-Painting, Blinky and Jim had come to a silent agreement to never cover over the pencil lines).
Now, each year, on the day they calculated would be the baby’s due date, Blinky and Jim redid the room. They replaced the unused toys, books, and other things with new belongings their research told them a one year old, a two year old, a three year old would require and repainted the walls in a new pastel tone. They tried to keep things as gender neutral as possible, as they didn’t know whether Blinky had a second son or a daughter, or whether Jim had a brother or a sister.
Originally, it had been their way of trying to say they would get Barbara and the baby back. Now, it was their way of memorializing them.
They had no way of knowing their date was about a month off from Arthur’s actual birthday. He’d been born early.