Motherly Duties, Wifely Duties, Selfly Duties - Chapter 1 - draftingtides (2024)

Chapter Text

At first Carol thinks the dirty, poorly-mannered eight-year-old is another Oak-Garcia kid that she just didn’t know about. His skin is much lighter than Lark and Sparrow’s, but he has the same dark auburn hair as Mercedes and the twins. And he’s about as well-behaved as Lark and Sparrow.

And then they start dropping everyone off and Paeden doesn’t get out of the car at the Oak-Garcia house.

She looks over her shoulder at the backseat. “Paeden, are you ready to get out?”

“Uh, what?”

“We’re at your house, honey.”

“Oh, shi—shoot,” Darryl says suddenly. “Hey, Carol, can we talk for a sec?”

She frowns. “Sure.”

“You boys sit tight, okay? Here, I’ll leave the radio on for you.”

Darryl puts the car in park and gets out. Carol follows. They stand a few feet away from the car, out of view of the backseat passengers.

Her possibly-soon-to-be-ex-husband looks incredibly tired, awkward, and sheepish. “So, Paeden isn’t any of ours.”

Her mouth drops open. “You kidnapped—”

“What? No! He’s an orphan.”

“Should we call social services?”

But Darryl shakes his head. “Paeden’s from the Forgotten Realms. He doesn’t understand how things work on Earth, and he doesn’t have any—any kind of paperwork, he doesn’t have a birth certificate or a social security number or anything.”

The headache that has been forming by her temples all night starts to throb in earnest. “So what is the plan, here?”

He gives a small guilty smile. “Keep him with us, for now?”

Darryl.”

“I know, Carol, I’m sorry, but—”

“Hey, everything okay out here?” Henry Oak-Garcia pokes his head out his front door.

“Yeah, we’re just talking about, uh, ‘bout what to do with Paeden,” Darryl says. “Didn’t mean to hog your driveway.”

Understanding crosses his face. “Oh, geez, I didn’t even think about that. Do you guys need us to take him?”

Carol would be quite happy with this arrangement, but Darryl shakes his head again. “Do you even have room for him? Your boys already share a room, it would be pretty tight…”

“Hey, we can figure something out—”

“And I don’t know if it’s a good idea for Paeden and Lark and Sparrow to all be sharing a room anyway. They’re not exactly, uh, good influences on each other.”

Henry grimaces. “Okay, yep, I see your point. But listen, if you guys need help with anything, just give us a call, okay?”

Darryl gives a thumbs-up. “Will do.”

Henry gives a jaunty little wave and goes back inside.

Carol tries to keep her expression in check. “We don’t have room for another kid either, Darryl. Where’s he going to sleep? On the couch?”

“We can blow up the air mattress and put it in Grant’s room for now?”

She sighs, too tired on the downhill of her earlier adrenaline high to argue. “Fine. Okay.”

They get back in the car and Darryl twists around to talk to Grant and Paeden before he puts his seatbelt on. “Hey, Grant, we’re thinking about putting Paeden in your room on the air mattress. That sound okay?”

“Sure.” He sounds neither enthused nor unenthused. A pretty par for the course reaction, ever since he got back. She and Darryl are going to have to talk about that at some point.

“Paeden, sound good to you?”

Paeden salutes him. “You got it, baby!”

The Oak-Garcias are the only ones they have to drop off—Samantha drove separately in the Stamplers’ Prius because they knew the Odyssey wouldn’t fit everyone on the return trip—so their next destination is home. None of them say much on the drive, even though she can tell by Paeden’s fidgeting and general demeanor that he really wants to be talking but is keeping a lot of thoughts inside his head. She doesn’t mean to think negatively towards a kid, but she’s glad he can read the room.

When Darryl parks in the driveway, he just sits and looks at the house for awhile. Carol, Grant, and Paeden are all already out of the car by the time he even takes his seatbelt off.

“Darryl,” she prompts. “The keys.”

He hands her the keys, and she lets the rest of them into the house while he pops the trunk to get their stuff. She wonders what the neighbours are going to think if they see him bringing her shotgun and his battleaxe inside.

She and Grant kick off their shoes at the door, and she checks to see if Paeden is doing the same, only to realise he’s not wearing shoes at all. She looks between Paeden’s incredibly dirty feet and the living room carpet. “Hey, Paeden, do you want a shower?”

“Nope, I’m good,” he says confidently.

Fortunately, Darryl comes up behind them in time to hear the conversation. “You gotta shower, dude. Listen to Mo—Car—uh, Mrs. Wilson.”

Then Darryl also looks between Paeden’s feet and the carpet. He gingerly sets the weapons and Carol’s backpack on the bench by the door and just picks Paeden up. “Come on, I’ll show you how the shower works.”

Grant went right to the kitchen when they came in. Carol follows and finds him making a PB&J.

“Do you want a real dinner, baby?” She’s no Darryl, but she’s gotten better at cooking since he's been gone. She wonders if he knows Grant is trying to be vegetarian now.

“Nah. ‘M tired. Just wanna eat and go to bed.”

“Okay. Make sure you shower when Paeden’s done, okay?”

He gives her a thumbs up. She ruffles his hair and goes to check on the Paeden situation.

The shower is running behind the closed bathroom door, and Darryl is getting the air mattress out of the hall closet. Darryl sees her and smiles tiredly.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” She folds her arms and holds herself. “So, Grant told me about some of the stuff that happened on the other side of the portal, but we still need to talk.”

He looks down, and she braces herself to have to force the issue, but—“Yeah. As soon as the boys are asleep, we’ll...we’ll talk.”

Oh. Huh. Somehow, paradoxically, she thinks this is going to make things harder than they were before.

Several loud clunks come from behind the bathroom door.

“Paeden? You alright in there, buddy?” Darryl calls.

“Yep, doing great! Just dropped some—” More clunks. “Ouch!”

“I’m gonna go deal with that real quick,” Darryl tells her, jerking a thumb at the bathroom door.

“I’ll get the air mattress set up.” She takes the mattress from him and gets the pump with her other hand.

The air mattress is a queen, which is great for when their parents come to visit and they can put it in the living room, but is not so great for putting in Grant’s room. It takes up most of the floor. Technically, she could put it in the living room again, but it seems like Paeden’s going to be with them for awhile, and she doesn’t want to deal with an air mattress in the living room for however long it ends up being.

Grant comes in as she’s finishing up and she leaves to let him change into PJs. He very obviously hasn’t showered, but she can tell that he’s as tired as she is and nothing good will come of making a big deal out of it. She’ll just wash his sheets in the morning, they’re due for it anyway.

She runs into Darryl and Paeden on her way out. Paeden’s skin looks cleaner, but he’s back in the raggedy clothes he was wearing before. She almost makes a fuss about it before she realises he probably doesn’t have anything else to wear, and he definitely won’t fit any of Grant’s clothes.

“Got the air mattress set up. Did he brush his teeth?” she says, indicating Paeden with a nod of her head.

“Yeah, I set him up with a toothbrush from the dentist stash.” They have a stash of extra toothbrushes under the bathroom sink because they get sent home with a new one after every dentist appointment, but they all use electric toothbrushes. Most of the time, the only times the toothbrushes from the dentist stash get used are when Grant invites people for sleepovers and the kids forget to bring their toothbrushes. “Grant in his room?”

“Yeah, he’s changing now.”

“Right, good. I’m gonna get him and Paeden in bed and then we’ll…”

“Right. I’ll be in the kitchen. Goodnight, Paeden.”

“See ya in the morning, Mrs. W!”

She makes coffee, despite it being so late at night. It’s a bad habit she’s picked up from long nights with the girls, planning and theorising on how to save their husbands.

It isn’t long before Darryl joins her in the kitchen. “D’you want me to make dinner?”

“No, I’m—I’m not very hungry.” And her stomach is twisting with nerves. Kind of kills any appetite.

“Okay.” He sits at the kitchen table and she goes and sits next to him. He shifts to face her better. “So, before we start, I just wanted to say…” He clears his throat. “I know there’s a lot to say on my end, and I think the same is probably true on your end, but I—I know we can handle it together. And maybe it won’t be the kind of together that we’re used to but—but you’ll always be my best friend, Care Bear. And I’ll always try my best to take care of our family.”

Dammit, her throat is already getting tight. She sips her coffee and nods her head. “Same. Everything—same for me.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Okay. Let’s talk.”

Motherly Duties, Wifely Duties, Selfly Duties - Chapter 1 - draftingtides (2024)

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