Under and Over

Residential area, Ruiz, Ivlya

Running his hand through his hair, Nicolás Islas Mercedes stepped through the doorway of his single-story home. “Honey, I’m home,” he wearily called out. Eyes half-closed, he smelled the wafting aroma of an almost-ready dinner as he stumbled into the bedroom to change out of his workwear, passing his young son watching an annoyingly loud TV show. A minute later, dressed in a loose t-shirt and sweatpants, Nicolás emerged looking more relaxed. Glancing at the screen, he said, “Kiddo, turn that off.”

“But daaaad,” Matías protested, “I wanted to see what Turnip Rickanov did at the Setznan embassy to the counter-revolutionariiiiies…”

“Are you watching that Strataric show again? ‘Rickanov and Shorty’?” Nicolás heard his own voice rising in irritation, and took a moment to calm himself and breathe deeply. “It’s propaganda, kiddo.” He slumped down on the couch beside his son, clicking on the remote to pause the program.

“Dad, what’s propaganda?”

“It’s… it’s… it’s when a government or news organization tries to make you believe something by lying.” He clicked the TV off, causing the image of a turnip with various limbs from rodentia to quickly fade to a black screen. “Besides, that show’s really violent. Don’t watch it, alright?”

Matías’s face looked so innocent and curious. “Alright, Dad.”

“Good.” Patting the confused juvenile on the head, Nicolás stood and walked to the kitchen. The smell of pikan pyrih in the oven grew ever stronger upon entering. His wife, a lovely but visibly exhausted woman, looked up from her preparation and walked over to him, her long skirt swaying elegantly as she did so.

“Welcome home, mi amor,” she said softly, standing on her tiptoes for a moment to give him a peck on the cheek as they embraced.

“It’s good to be home, my dear Fiorella,” he replied, thoughts of the previous day of work clouding his thoughts. Unbeknownst to him, his eyes must have noticeably darkened, as Fiorella drew back slightly.

“The factory owner denied your request for a raise again, didn’t he?”

His face feeling hot with shame and anger, Nicolás nodded. After a moment of silence, Fiorella drew closer to him.

“It’s alright, mi amor,” she said as soothingly as she could manage. “You’ll find another job, or get a raise, or something. I just know it.”

Nicolás sighed, his fingers lacing through her long dark hair. “I hope so, bonita. I hope so.”

Residential area, outskirts of Harkhire, Ivlya

“Honey, I’m home!” boisterously bellowed Avgustin Stratov, striding through the small anteroom and into a living room. His house wasn’t exactly a mansion, but his salary allowed for some luxury.

“Tato!” two of his children, small Khrystyna and smaller Ramis, rushed to him. Well, toddled to him, but speedily. Scooping them up in his arms, he kissed each of them on the cheek once, feeling their whiskers against his furred face.

“And how have you two kits been? Have you bothered your mother much?”

“No, Tato,” they responded almost in unison, with Ramis saying it ever so slightly faster.

“Good, good. I wouldn’t want you vexing her. It’s a lot of work to educate you two scamps, after all.” Avgustin looked around. “And where is she now?”

“Bedroom, Tato.”

“Well,” he set Khyrstyna and Ramis down, “I’d best go greet her.” Walking purposefully up the stairs and turning into his bedroom, he couldn’t help but grin at Anichka relaxing in a tasteful, yet perhaps slightly shorter-than-need-be, nightgown. She smiled up at him, a twinkle in her eye; and set down her book, Mystetstvo Uhody, as she rose from the bed.

“Hello, my sweet tsukor,” she crooned as she loosened his tie. “How was work?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, my vodyana liliya,” he replied. “Only a malcontent requesting more pay than he deserves.”

“Mhm, the nerve of him,” she commented, removing his jacket and letting it fall to the floor. “Is he the one who…”

“Indeed,” Avgustin interrupted, caressing her back. “The one who pronounces “Stratov” with a b instead of a v. But what else would you expect from a human?”

Her eyes widened in surprise slightly, as she unfastened the top buttons of his shirt. “You always know just what I’m thinking.”

“We’ve been married too long for me not to, darling.”

“Hmm,” Anichka mock-pondered that. “And what am I thinking right now?” She winked, ever effortlessly seductive.

Avgustin chuckled, gently stroking her furred face. “The same thing that I am.” The two passionately embraced.