All the potat knew was safety, warmth, and the steady breathing of her sisters, not-sisters and not-brothers. Potat thought she was on her back, but there were so many new denmates that she was kind of pressed up against Dad and a few dozen other bodies; inner-ear orientation tended to not make sense when you couldn’t tell which way was up and you were drifting in and out of sleep.
And yes, Dad was here, which meant things were ok again. They were ok before cause big was big and there were a lot of bigs, but, now things were more ok. Dad was breathing softly and rumbling and potat could feel that through her body and it was comfort and it was safe and it was warm, and a little misfire of her nerves caused her leg to kick. And that was ok too. Cause Dad.
Potat felt the need to express herself and her comfort, and let out a little mouthsound. A few moments later Dad pressed his lips to potat’s chest, there was more rumbling and potat knew darkness again, because she was safe and because she was warm and because she was tired.
Then there was a shift. Potat did not know how long it was; she barely understood the concept of time as-is, but there was a shift, a ripple in the den, and at once everyone was awake.
= = = =
“[So we want to come in quietly, as you can see-]” T’ciki’briiki murmured, trilling softly as the door to the Dorarizin nursery slid open on silent tracks. The Karnakian nurse leaned forward to check around the entryway for any ambushes before stepping in, surprisingly making little noise given her larger form. Than mo followed shortly behind, minding his own footwork as he walked in. “[-ah, good. Hopefully we won’t make too much of a fuss.]”
“Nothing, it’s just…” Than mo inhaled deeply through his nose, letting his breath out in a slow exhale. “Like… a nursery. Delivery wards are always so hectic, but nurseries are the payoff. They all have a smell, like, the smell of infancy – you know what I mean? Baby-smell? Or is that just a Human thing?”
T’ciki’briiki smiled softly. “[I do. Hatchlings and disinfectant – I guess I’ve gone a little noseblind to it after so many centuries, but… yes.]” She gave a non-committal wiggle of her head, a variation of a shrug for her kind. “[It’s nice, and you can always tell the new parents from the ones on their second or third round of child rearing based on how they react to entering the nursery. That ‘baby smell’ as you put it might be part of it.]”
“So… what would that make this?” Than mo whispered, pointing to the trembling, twitching mound of fur just to their left. As if on cue the mound began to move, a single low rumbling growl being rapidly joined with higher-pitched yips, squeaks, tired screams and other mouthsounds. A large head – Dorarizin, male by the mane – tilted up, his muzzle joined by a half-dozen smaller muzzles pointing up to the sky. Eyes opened up along the mound, dozens and dozens of pairs, some focusing on the male, some focusing on the caretaker, and some focusing on the new intruder.
“?Grr’s’t’t’t’?” one of the little wiggling mounds said, the act of speaking using up too much attention for the infant, it’s body rolling down the pile as it let go of the male caretaker’s arm.
It squeaked the whole way down.
As the pup landed on the soft padded loam with a pomf, the entire mound turned as one to stare at the human.
The pile echoed and rippled the butchered human word as they all noticed the newcomer from across the floor – a few of the smaller pups trying to burrow into the neck and mane of the adult male for safety, because new was potentially spooky and adults meant safety. Than mo looked down at the ground, the one Dorarizin pup flopped on it’s back, limbs weakly treading against the air – their eyes met for the briefest of moments.
“No. That’s illegal.”
“[Mmmm? Oh! No sweetmeat no-]” The Dorarizin male started to chide one of the younglings, slowly and gently moving to try and disengage from the puppy-mound he was enveloped in. This, of course, was met with protests of various decibel volumes, causing the human to full-body flinch at the sudden sharp increase in noise. Something Big twitching usually means bad things to the infant brain, so there was now even more confused screaming and it would’ve gotten worse had it not been for the loud laughter of T’ciki’briiki.
“[Ah! I was wondering when it would all fall apart! Come along little ones, come on – no, no no.]” The Karnakian nurse cooed gently, reaching down to pick a clawful of pups, scattering them gently into the soft loam. The Dorarizin male was slowly unearthed as the daycare worker continued to strategically place pups around the room.
“[Oh, hey – oh! You’re one of the humans who was on stage for orientation! I’m Tipo!]” The Male said, holding a few orange-vested pups close to his chest as he regained freedom of movement.
“Oh! Yes I was. I take it you’re one of our new students?” Than mo said, slowly beginning to walk around the nursery as a few determined pups started to crawl towards him for investigation and maybe-he’s-edible purposes. “It’s good to meet you properly. We’ve got a meet-and-greet scheduled for next week, but there’s no reason why we can’t get ahead of the game.”
Than mo began to walk in very purposeful circles as a growing handful of Dorarizin pups attempted to crawl, wiggle and sometimes hop their way onto the human’s legs. “So, how did you enjoy your first day?”
“[It was awful.]” Tipo deadpanned, gently running his thumb over one of his pups’ heads, much to the little one’s delight. “[I mean, we’ve all done some first aid training, but. That was a lot worse than the training stand-ins.]”
“Yeah. I mean, that’s the point! Some days are fine and you coast along, and then right after lunch it all goes to shit.” Than mo said sagely, lifting a leg to let a Dorarizin pup sail past underneath. “Although we do want to be good neighbors, you’re not applying to deliver our food or help us with landscaping; shit’s going to hit the fan, and it’s going to keep hitting the fan until you retire.”
“[Why…]” Tipo worryingly looked at Than mo, tilting his head. “[That idiom – I hope it’s an idiom – didn’t translate.]”
“Ole!” Than mo said, dodging the telegraphed tackle of another pup. “Really helps when they full-body wiggle before the pounce like that. And sorry, I mean, there’s always going to be emergencies, all the time, and if you can’t handle one day of it you can’t handle a career of it.”
“[Makes sense.]” Tipo murmured, slowly standing up to the remaining protest of a few pups. “[Still.]”
“It was a mean trick to play, I know.” Than mo said, stepping up and over a raised foam barrier to lose his ever-growing crowd of adoring followers. “So, are you coming back?”
Tipo looked at his pups, who were busy wiggling around with the infinite burst of energy that youth provides. He smiled – until his eldest decided to bite his forearm. “[… Yeah. I love ‘em, but, I want to do something with my life.]”
“That’s the spirit!” with a little hup and a little hop, Than mo made his way around a few more waist-high barricades, deftly dodging the determined Dorarizin denmates. “We’d love to have you, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Tipo shrugged, a bouquet of puppies in his arms as he made his way to the exit. “[The good things in life are rarely easy, but they’re always worth it.]”
“[Well said!]” T’ciki’briiki laughed as she started to run interference, scooping up the more determined puppies and letting them be claimed by the loam-pit by their younger siblings. The two men exited the nursery to the defiant cries of random children, and as the door slid shut the couple were bathed in sudden silence.
“So are those yours? Or can anyone just-”
“[Oh!]” Tipo laughed, turning towards the smaller human. “[Yes, these are mine – first time father, but, I’ve got family local so it’s not that hard. Come on babies, say hi!]”
Than mo smiled and leaned a little bit forward, raising his hand to wave playfully at the puppies as they stared at him in confusion and curiosity. In doing so, however, he forgot a very simple fact:
Potat. Together. Strong.
And with a defiant wiggle one of those very potats launched themselves from Daddy’s arms, successfully latching onto Than mo’s face.
That’s when the screaming really began.
= = = = =
“[Hold still.]” T’ciki’briiki said, holding the applicator with clinical precision.
“[I’m really sorry.]” Tipo whined, purposefully keeping a hand on the shut tram that his pups were all jumping around in.
“It’s alright.” Than mo grinned, then grimaced as the spray-on bandaid was applied, the sudden change in pressure causing the mix to come out really cold. The potat, for all it’s supposed fury was really more or less just curious, and so when it successfully latched onto the thing it expected to sniff, snuggle, burrow and bite to figure out what it was. What the potat did not expect was the thing it landed on to start screaming.
That was potat’s job.
So she started screaming. This caused her sisters to start screaming, and then Dad started to scream and absolutely no burrowing got done. Instead, potat was lifted from the human’s head, but not before her dewclaws left a few cuts on his face and neck. The risk of death was nonexistent, but the risk of infection was a real thing, and so… well. A well-used first aid kid was currently open on the welcome desk, Than mo’s sandwich pushed to the side and all but forgotten. Than mo was no stranger to the order of operations for cleaning and dressing a wound, and was just thankful that the damage wasn’t worse.
“[Listen, really, I didn’t mean for-]”
“It’s all right, Tipo.” Than mo said, rolling his jaw to work the blood into his cold cheek, the applicator gel starting to harden and warm up. “It’s fine. I’ll see you at next session, yeah?”
“[Yes, again, sorry-]”
T’ciki’briiki chuckled, capping the applicator tip and twisting it off from the body of the can, tossing it into the trash. “[Oh brightsong, if I haven’t had to stop someone bleeding once a shift then I’m not doing my job. He’s fine, you’re fine, your children are fine, it’s fine.]”
“What she said.”
Tipo sighed and gave a little bow and wave, taking his stroller-full of pups and pulling it behind him to beat a hasty (and awkward) retreat. The two nurses watched him go and then shared a silent look with each other, before Than mo hopped out of his seat. “Well, that happened.”
“[Mmm. Honestly, never seen a human roll around so quickly.]”
“It’s not my fault, ok?” Than mo grinned, pointing at the retreating form of the Dorarizin family. “That little bastard latched onto my face and that’s just spooky, alright? It was warm and soft and screaming.”
“[Ah. Welcome to fatherhood.]”
“If you’re about to tell me how chicks are made, then you can skip it.”
“[Fair enough, but I do have diagrams.]” T’ciki’briiki laughed, wiggling her forearm feathers coyly. “[But, I believe we had some other places for you to visit?]”
“Oh! Yeah, sure, let’s see your chicks!”
“[My chicks are a couple hundred years old, Than mo.]” T’ciki’briiki continued as the human inhaled to correct himself, “[But I know what you mean. I’d be more than happy to show you around, but let’s… keep you in the visitor’s section, shall we? I’d rather we not have any more incidents until we get you a proper suit.]”
The Karnakian checked her terminal and keyed in a few commands. A few minutes later a Dorarizin female showed up, and after the cursory small talk, introduction, stealth headpat attempts and stealth headpat dodges T’ciki’briiki and Than mo were freed for a 30 minute break. As they walked down the hallway, the corridor began to change; from earthy hues and rounded furniture to more gray, rocky tone with flat and even concave furniture. It was all basically still the “eggshell beige” that all hospital corridors were, but each species apparently had their own take on the nondescript color and the universally semi-comfortable waiting room decor. The small talk turned from the changing of the seasons, so to speak, to the overall layout of the hospital, parking situations, where the good cafeteria was, and even which doctors were a bit pissy before their coffee-analogue hit. All that talk ground to a halt when they rounded the corner, the wall a transparent one-way mirror into the nursery within.
The Karnakian nursery.
“No way. No way.” Than mo laughed, pressing his face up against the glass.
“[What? What seems to be the problem?]”
“I just… this. This.”
This was, of course, the nursery and the children within; as T’ciki’briiki began to explain what each mound, toy and instrument inside were, Than mo just let himself take in the spectacle. The Karnakian chicks were, for all intents and purposes, just little versions of their eventual adult forms – barring the fact that they universally had a very light-grey down covering their entire bodies. These little beachballs-with-mouths ran around the nursery at a breakneck pace, mouths wide in joyful cries as they dove headlong into what looked like a standing analogue for tall reeds. Much like the Dorarizin these reeds were very fake, but, it tickled something in their hindbrain and made them happy. There was a mound in the center-left, against the wall, as apparently being the tallest in the room was a universal need, and dozens of chicks took turns climbing to the top, knocking others off, and generally getting into mayhem. However, that’s not what captured Than mo’s rapt attention; it was a couple of chicks who were standing on top of one another. The top one would wiggle and crouch, and then just…
…just yeet the other one into the air by what looked like a deadlift maneuver. The two of them would then float down to the floor, slowly, before running around in childlike joy and scrambling to do it again.
“No problem, just. That’s incredible.” Than mo murmured, watching the karnkian chick do the equivalent of deadlifting itself into the air.
“[Hm? Nah, that’s just upsies.]” T’ciki’briiki said, shrugging. “[Eventually their down will fall out and gliding becomes harder. They’ll also gain a lot of weight, and at that point it’s nothing more than a nice memory.]”
“You can fly. Your kind can fly.”
T’ciki’briiki grinned. “[That wasn’t flying. More like… falling with style.]”