Hello readers, guess who's back again after vanishing into the Bermuda Triangle of life? It seems the only way I can write now is by disappearing for months, flitting around the internet on various sites and joining fandoms and kinkmemes at random. I've got another D9 fic to post after this one and hopefully more in the future, but some other bunnies have been eating my brain. Hint: I just finished rewatching Beast Wars. Lord help us all.

Title: Hatchling

Warnings: Implied sex between an alien and a human. Non-explicit sex between aliens in later parts. What could be considered mpreg, though the aliens are hermaphroditic.

Disclaimer: I do not own District 9, all characters are property of their respective copyright holders. I am making no profit from this work of fiction.

A/N: This is another prompt reposted from /coq/, an intended one-shot that grew into a monster. Divided into parts based on how it was originally posted, but I decided to post it here as a one-shot for the sake of convenience. Also I apologize if the formatting is a bit odd, FF likes to screw around with my line spacing; I do my best. Thanks to everyone on /coq/ for their enthusiasm and support.

o

He'd never meant for it to happen.

He knew, in a vague way, recalled being shown informational videos, years, lifetimes? ago, that prawns were hermaphroditic and all had the capability of carrying young, but it had never occurred to him that his twisted, mutating body might have been far enough along for it to matter.

He'd never meant for it to happen.

He'd thought that Christopher would say no; and wasn't that humiliating? He'd been the one to ask, no beg, the prawn not to turn away from him when everyone else had. His wife, his own fucking species, everyone turned their backs. Everyone except a giant fucking alien.

He'd never meant for it to happen.

He'd expected it to hurt, their bodies were different after all, mismatched in the way of two puzzle pieces never intended or able to fit together, but it hadn't. And the gentle way Christopher held him afterwards as he sobbed for Tania hadn't lessened his guilt and misery.

He'd never meant for it to happen. But it had.

He'd thought he was sick at first; he'd only been in District 10 for a few weeks, dodging MNU in the inevitable bureaucratic holes that were left when you tried to move more than a million aliens to what was effectively a concentration camp. He was still unused to his new body and he thought the food was making him ill, that maybe his digestive tract hadn't changed enough to handle raw goat meat. But the pains persisted.

Panicked, he'd gone to one of the few prawns he knew, a hulking creature, thicker-bodied than Christopher, with a tan and black exoskeleton, who went by the name of Gabriel.

Gabriel had listened to his frantic clicks patiently, deciphering his still stumbling speech as he tried to form the correct words with unfamiliar mouthparts, and made his pronouncement.

"You're carrying."

Wikus stared at him.

"You're fokking joking."

Gabriel clicked thoughtfully.

"Have you had sexual contact with anyone recently?"

Wikus couldn't think of anything to say.

Gabriel clapped him on the back in a sympathetic gesture.

"I guess you better see about getting a license."

.,.

He wasn't sure what made him do it. Unlicensed prawn breeding was illegal; all he had to do was wait for it to be born and have them take it away.

He thought of Oliver, his lively manner and large luminous eyes, and took his papers to the central office.

It took two weeks. Two weeks of navigating a nightmare of red tape and prejudice, helped along by his knowledge of MNU's internal workings even as he was hindered by clumsy speech which made him difficult to understand. Two weeks, and he emerged triumphant, carrying a license to spawn, filed under the name of one Travis Dawkins.

Gabriel came to see him a few days later, armed with a trash bag of various odds and ends and half a fresh goat carcass. He proceeded to set up what looked like a strange chemistry set in the corner of Wikus' tent, suspending the carcass from one of the metal poles that held up the ceiling.

"What now?" Wikus asked.

"Now we wait."

Gabriel's calm demeanor, as though he'd seen this a million times and found it about as exciting as stewed vegetables, was both comforting and maddening. Wikus himself was almost vibrating with nervousness, his abdomen twitching with discomfort.

It was nearly midnight when it happened. Wikus was pacing back and forth in front of his small cot, resisting the urge to snap at Gabriel who it seemed had fallen asleep sitting up on a wooden box, when he doubled over in pain.

Gabriel was at his side in an instant, easing him back onto the cot. He looked monstrous, leaning over Wikus in the dim flickering light of the lamp he'd fished from the dump, and some part of Wikus' human brain flinched at the sight.

"Be calm," Gabriel clicked, "just let it happen."

Wikus felt the sickening sensation of his exoskeleton splitting and then something slipped from his body.

"Hold this for a moment," Gabriel pushed something into his hands.

Wikus fumbled with the egg, trying not to drop it with his hand which was missing a finger. It was smaller than he'd expected, covered with tiny mouths that sucked at his fingers. He felt inexplicably fascinated by it.

"There," Gabriel sounded satisfied, "you should be healed in a week's time. Let's get the egg hooked up."

Wikus clung to it, strangely reluctant to hand it over. He thought of smoke and flame and egg sacs popping like popcorn and suddenly wished he could push it back in his body, where it would be safe.

"It'll starve if you don't," Gabriel's voice was sad.

Wikus thought of Tania and of life cut off before it could begin and handed Gabriel the egg.

.,.

It grew quickly, swelling to the size of a large melon. Its outer surface was soft and leathery and sometimes in the light he could see the shadow of the tiny sprawnling inside, pushing outward, turning over as it developed. He found himself sitting watch over it, running his fingers over the side to feel the little creature push back at him. Gabriel joined him at his vigil, bringing over his own food to share and Wikus was absurdly grateful. Especially when the egg split open, spilling liquid all over the dirt floor, and the sprawnling slid out from inside it.

Gabriel helped him clean it off, wiping it down with dirty rags. It fit into his hands, gangly limbs spilling out over his fingers. The sprawnling spit up liquid, flaring tiny gills as it gulped in breath, and opened its eyes.

They were an intense green-blue, like Oliver's, Wikus realized, and he found himself wondering if they would stay that color or change as he got older, the way a kitten's sometimes did.

Gabriel was making a low, purring sound, and Wikus tried to copy it, lifting the sprawnling up to his face. It gave a little squeaking noise and grabbed at one of his mouthparts with tiny fingers.

"What will you name him?" asked Gabriel.

Wikus didn't have the faintest idea what the prawns used as names, but Gabriel was right and his child, and God, didn't that sound strange, needed something to put down on the registration papers.

He stroked the little creature's head and watched large eyes blink, thought about the fact that this was basically Oliver's sibling, and had an absurd idea.

.,.

"Duly noted," a bored woman, the same kind of pencil pusher he'd been, was it only months ago? Stamped his form and filed it, "Registration of new citizen of District 10. Name: Jack Dawkins."

Wikus clutched his son's registration papers and wondered if anyone in this office had ever read Oliver Twist.

o

It wasn't until he'd returned to the District and Gabriel had gone home for the night when it hit Wikus that he didn't have any idea how to be a parent. Luckily, Jack turned out to be an easygoing sprawnling, he ate what he was offered and since prawns didn't vocalize in the same manner humans did, he was fairly quiet. Wikus learned to recognize the pattern of clicks he used, he wasn't forming coherent words yet, when he wanted attention and he continued to try to talk to him. He wasn't sure if the kid understood him, but Jack always seemed to listen.

.,.

He ran into trouble again when he had to leave the tent and wasn't sure how to take Jack with him. The kid was walking, and had been since he was a few days old, something that had shocked Wikus, but his legs were so short he'd never keep up. Wikus solved the problem by tearing a sheet up and fashioning a crude sling to keep the sprawnling on his back, trying to ignore how much it made him feel like a woman.

Gabriel burst out laughing when he saw the two of them. Jack had figured out that he could grab Wikus' antennae from his perch and was enchanted with this new game. The larger prawn was twitching as though he had a tic, trying to move the sensitive appendages out of the way.

"Not a fokking word," he growled.

.,.

Three years is a long time, but to Wikus, faced with the care of something beyond himself, a tiny, helpless being which relied on him utterly, the time period suddenly felt far too short.

Sometimes he'd fantasize, sitting outside his tent with Jack on his knee, about Christopher coming back, about being human again.

Then he'd come to the part of the fantasy which involved bringing a hideous alien baby, a baby that he'd birthed, home to his beautiful wife and the dream would shatter like all the windows in Johannesburg when the mothership took off.

It sounded like a B-rate horror movie from the 80's. Nice, normal couple in suburbia winds up with alien baby as a result of being blasted by cosmic rays. No, he couldn't bring Jack back to Tania.

Could he give the child to Christopher? It was sired by him after all, and Wikus was nearly certain that Oliver would appreciate a brother.

Jack chose that moment to make a playful grab at one of his mouthparts, clicking insistently in a bid for attention.

"Little bastard," teased Wikus, smoothing back his son's antennae.

No, he couldn't give Jack up.

And so Wikus watched the skies, praying to a God he didn't believe in for Christopher's return, even while he hoped the day would never come.

.,.

He stopped leaving flowers for Tania.

Doing so broke his heart; he still wanted her, his angel.

But he couldn't keep giving her hope, not when the chance of them having a normal life together had faded away. She was still beautiful, and her family was rich; he knew she'd find a new husband someday.

He'd made the decision to sleep with Christopher. It had been a moment of weakness, two beings coming together in an affirmation of life after being reminded that they were anything but immortal. No strings attached. They'd gone their separate ways, and he'd thought there wouldn't be consequences.

He should have known better.

Wikus van de Merwe was dead.

Wikus the Prawn was going to have to find a way to manage.

.,.

The day the mothership returned to Earth dawned hot and dry. Wikus was crouched in the pitiful shadow cast by the white tent, his son balanced on his knees, watching the cloudless blue sky out of habit and trying to catch the faint wind that curled through the district.

Jack tugged on one of Wikus' small binary hands.

"Thirsty," he clicked.

Wikus scooped up the rough plastic jug beside him, listening to the last of the water slosh inside. They'd have to make the journey to the central water pump today.

He unscrewed the cap with care and supported the bottle as Jack sucked eagerly at the water, thin tongue uncurling and probing for droplets.

Between rows of tents he could see two mangy dogs fighting over a scrap of meat, their outlines obscured by the shimmering waves of heat.

It felt like a storm coming, a tightness in the air that belied the empty sky. Wikus' waving antennae, one of the stranger changes that his body had undergone, could taste the restlessness of the worker prawns, a sour flavor on the wind.

"It's been three years and two months," he clicked, almost to himself.

"Bastard," Jack chirped in agreement.

Wikus winced at the reminder of his occasional raging rants against Christopher. It figured that would be Jack's first word.

Gabriel had found it hilarious.

The moon was already rising despite the early hour, pale and ghostlike against the sky. Around him Wikus could see other prawns emerging from their tents, heads tilted back.

Watching. Waiting.

A low, percussive resonance split from the sky, rumbles echoing and shaking the land. Somewhere nearby a dog howled in protest.

A pervasive buzz rose from the prawns, like a chorus of crickets.

The mothership dropped down, a dark shadow against endless blue.

"Big," clicked Jack solemnly.

Wikus closed his eyes and listened to the heavens bellow.

o

It was bedlam.

The mothership had opened its vast underbelly and released swarms of smaller ships, dropping down to settle on the edges of District 10. Wikus could hear the MNU guards shouting. Prawns were everywhere, clicking and jumping in an excitement that bordered on hysteria.

Wikus braced himself against the waves of scent molecules and tried to keep his head. He gathered Jack up and took a glance inside the tent to check for belongings. An automatic instinct, he didn't have much of anything.

A flash of metal caught his eye. A flower, one of his, left over after he stopped leaving them for Tania. A pitiful nod to nostalgia and his hopes for a normal life.

He took it with him anyway.

The streets were clogged with prawns and Wikus had to squirm and push his way to the main gate of the district. It was still closed and he clawed his way through the mass of prawns, trying to prevent Jack from being crushed.

He was shoved up against the hurricane fence. Beyond it he could see a man in an MNU uniform, arguing fiercely with a large black prawn carrying an alien gun in one hand. Beyond them more armed prawns were emerging from several blocky ships.

The man shouted something Wikus couldn't hear, gesturing in adamant refusal. The alien responded by grabbing him up and marching him over to the locked gate.

"Open it," he ordered, in the tone of one that expected to be obeyed.

Shivering, the man did and the prawns surged through the opening, carrying Wikus with them. The armed prawns were shouting, but with the buzz of the refugees permeating the air their words were indistinguishable. Wikus was bundled onto one of the ships, narrow constructions with thin metal benches on either side. Drop ships. He hunkered down on one of the benches, Jack tucked against him.

The ground gave a sickening lurch and they were rising.

.,.

The doors of the ship clanged open and they were herded into an enormous central chamber. To the left and right Wikus could see streams of prawns emerging from other small ships, crowding and bunching together.

A clawed hand came down on his shoulder and he jumped before he recognized the prawn. Russell, a red shelled worker with a missing eye; one of the gang who had rescued him from Koobus. He had peeled the identification tag off one of the prawns killed by the mercenary and attached it to Wikus. Dragged Wikus into his own shed and buried him beneath a nest of newspapers until the last of the transformation agonies had ceased.

"Russell," Wikus clicked in relief, "It's good to see a familiar face." Jack squeaked with delight and waved tiny arms at the other prawn.

"Had to make sure you hadn't been squashed," Russell clicked, producing a shiny marble from some mysterious pocket on his mismatched clothing and handing it to Jack. The little prawn immediately stuck the glass bead in his mouth, "Come on, I've got a spot by the wall."

He shepherded Wikus over to a small pile of military issue blankets, snapping at a younger prawn who'd been trying to poach one. He handed one of the grayish brown blankets to Wikus.

Wikus' antenna waved in embarrassment, "Blankets."

Russell gave a strange rasp that indicated amusement, "I figured you'd not have thought of it. Sometimes Wikus, I swear you've got no sense," he gathered up another blanket before tossing the last to the youngster cowering nearby, "You forget I was on the ship when it first came. It's a mining ship, doesn't have living quarters for so many; we're in for a long campout."

Wikus wrapped the blanket around himself and his son, crouching down and leaning against the smooth metal wall. Jack was squirming in excitement, clicking nonsense words.

"Here," clicked Russell from beside him, "hand the brat to me."

Wikus passed his son over and Russell hefted Jack up to sit on his knees, "How about it, you little terror, want to hear about how Old Russell lost his eye?"

"Eye!" chirped Jack and Wikus huffed through his gills in an attempt to swallow a laugh. He himself had heard nearly nine versions of the same story, and the scenario varied from gunfights against MNU soldiers to wrestling an angry lion.

A slight commotion drew Wikus' attention. Several large prawns were wading through the crowd, moving a large container between them. The refugees swarmed around them, hands outstretched, grasping at something he couldn't see. He stood and craned his neck, but still couldn't see above the heads of the others.

"I'll be back in a minute," he clicked to Russell.

He pushed through the crowd as best he could, suppressing a familiar flash of annoyance at his small stature. The nanites in the alien's strange fluid may have been able to rebuild him from the DNA up, but they couldn't pull additional mass out of nowhere and he'd been left a good head shorter than the average adult prawn. He squeezed between a yellow and brown prawn and a package was shoved into his hands by a hulking soldier before he was ejected from the crowd by the eager refugees.

He stumbled back to Russell and Jack and sat down to unwrap his prize. The strange thin outer layer fell away, revealing what looked like half a dozen soft red-brown bricks. He stared in puzzlement, but Russell reached over, snatched up one and shoved one end into his mouth, making a sound Wikus had never heard a prawn make outside of, well it didn't bear thinking about.

"What are those?" he asked, faintly embarrassed.

"Ship's rations," the other prawn moaned, "never thought I'd miss the deep space slop."

Wikus cautiously broke off a corner and stuck it in his mouth. It tasted a bit like well cooked beef, bland and a little gamey, but otherwise edible. He took his son back from Russell and offered Jack a piece. The sprawnling swallowed the lump and chirped for more.

o

The meal made Jack sleepy and Wikus settled him across his legs, covering the small prawn with part of the blanket.

He was preparing to lean against the wall and catch some sleep as well when a murmur among the prawns drew his attention. A message was rippling through the crowd, a wave of low clicks and scent cues, searching, calling. Wikus, Wikus, Wikus.

His stomach turned over with nervousness. Christopher was here.

Russell was watching him with some concern, "Why don't I take the kid for a few minutes?"

"Yes, thank you," Wikus' hands were shaking slightly. He passed Jack to the other prawn, taking care not to wake him. He straightened, adjusting his ragged clothing and marched off through the crowd, trying to ignore the curious stares of the other aliens.

For several minutes he moved blindly through the prawns, but then the crowd parted and he saw him.

Christopher looked much the same as he had three years ago. Oliver lurked near his father's side, bigger now, but still small in comparison. The young one noticed him first.

"Sweetie man!"

Christopher's head turned in his direction and he made a pleased click. "Wikus," he moved forward to offer his hand in greeting, "My friend, it is good to see you."

"Likewise," Wikus curled his fingers around Christopher's in an awkward gesture, "I wondered if something happened."

"I apologize for my lateness," Christopher clicked, "It took my people longer to mobilize than expected. But I have spoken with some of our scientists and we have the means to change you back."

Wikus realized he was wringing his hands and stopped, "I'm grateful, but circumstances have changed since you left."

"Changed? How so?"

Wikus swallowed, "I have a son now."

A surprised sound, "I see. Do you require that someone take responsibility for the child?"

"No!" Wikus startled himself with his vehemence and tried to calm, "No, he's my son, I'm not going to abandon him. I hoped I might be allowed to return with you."

"You're welcome to do so," Christopher seemed pleased, "Where is your child?"

Wikus beckoned them back to where Russell sat near the wall. He found himself reaching for his son, wanting contact and the red prawn passed him up. Jack snuggled under his chin and made a sleepy sound. Wikus stroked his antennae back to calm him and turned to Christopher, who was watching the three of them with an unreadable expression.

"His name is Jack Dawkins," he offered lamely; Christopher would have never read Dickens, why should it matter?

Oliver moved forward, standing on tiptoe to see the child and Wikus crouched down to let him have a better look. The small prawn lightly touched Jack in the middle of the forehead and the sprawnling chirped, squirming in response to the tickling sensation.

"He's so small."

Wikus snorted, "No smaller than you were, pipsqueak," he teased, laughing when Oliver made a face.

The little prawn laid a hand on his arm, the left one with the missing finger. "We missed you," he said.

Wikus softened, "I missed you too, kid."

"Little one," Christopher's voice was subdued, "I'm sure that Wikus is tired. We should let him and his family rest," the green prawn made a farewell gesture, "I hope to see you again."

"Yeah, you too," Wikus clicked, trying to hide his disappointment. He poked Oliver gently on the forehead, "Take care, little guy."

Oliver gave Jack a final pat and scampered after his father.

Wikus slumped back beside Russell and watched them go.

The red prawn made an amused sound, "Well, I'm impressed."

"Why?" Wikus tried to squelch the irritation in his voice.

Russell held up one hand, "Handsome, intelligent, fertile, not to mention a drone; I'd carry a torch for that for three years too."

"I am not carrying a fokking torch," Wikus snapped, "What the hell's a drone anyway?"

Russell rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, "Can't quite think of a way to explain it. They're not leaders, but a class above us workers or soldiers. Thinkers, designers. You're lucky, he'll give your kid good genes."

"Yeah," clicked Wikus, pulling Jack close, "Real fokking lucky."

.,.

Wikus didn't see Christopher again for several days, though Oliver came to visit and play with Jack. He felt restless, the central chamber of the ship had no windows and it was easy to fall into the feeling of being trapped, that time wasn't passing.

Bored and irritable, he left his son with Oliver and Russell, who seemed perfectly content to laze about, and made his way on one of the ramps to the upper levels of the ship. He made a beeline for one of the windows and looked out.

He didn't see anything recognizable, just endless black peppered with glowing stars; they obviously weren't in the same solar system anymore, but the reminder of the outside world calmed him and he leaned against the wall, letting his mind drift.

The soft tamp of footsteps pulled him from his reverie.

"Wikus?" the note of concern in Christopher's voice dredged up an unreasonable feeling of resentment, "Is something wrong? What are you doing up here?"

"Nothing's wrong," snapped Wikus, "I just needed to look at something besides fokking blank walls before I go nuts."

Christopher was silent for a moment, "I apologize. I should have brought you up sooner. Most of the refugees are workers, content to stay below deck."

"Yeah? Well I may be a prawn, but I'm not an idiot."

"I'm not so sure, breaking into MNU and hijacking the command module don't speak well for your intelligent nature."

Wikus made a rude gesture that Russell had taught him, "How the fok did you know I was here anyway?"

"I smelled you."

"Among two million others? Not fokking likely."

"I am very familiar with your scent,"Christopher's voice was quiet and Wikus' hands curled into fists because he can remember; Christopher pressing him down, running mouthparts and antennae over his still-human face and neck, telling him that he smelled wonderful.

"I need to get back to my son," he said, turning and heading below deck.

He refused to look back.

o

Despite the extensive, and likely embellished, tales Russell had told him of the prawn's home planet nothing could really prepare Wikus for the reality of stepping onto alien soil. He'd stayed below for the rest of the journey, mostly to avoid Christopher and so had missed their descent. When the doors of the drop ship had opened he'd been momentarily rooted in place.

The sky was blue and the grass was green, but the huge earth and metal structures stabbing up into the heavens like massive termite mounds reminded him that this was most definitely not Earth.

Russell huffed a laugh at his astonishment and pushed him forward. Wikus stepped out of the ship, tall grass parting around his feet and stood for a moment, antennae waving as he tasted the breeze. The sour, metallic scent of the ships and refugees was still prominent, but beneath he could smell the sweetness of partially dried grass and dirt. The sun was warm after the chill of the spaceship and despite the knot of uneasiness which still lurked in his stomach, Wikus found himself relaxing.

"Come on," clicked Russell, "I want to see what my berth looks like after not being cleaned in thirty years."

Wikus followed the red prawn across the expanse of grass to the base of one of huge structures. They were peppered with entrances and prawns swarmed in and out, climbing easily along the steep textured faces of the outside. He was so distracted by the strange construction of the city that he nearly lost Russell once or twice.

They traveled upwards, following narrow winding paths which crisscrossed the outside of the mound. The lower levels seemed devoted to manual labor; he'd seen prawns pushing carts of butchered flesh or hauling odd shaped hunks of metal. They moved beyond the working levels and into a tunnel in the side of the mound.

It led to a narrow hallway, lined with metal doors and hung with glaring florescent lights. Russell was squinting at the scratched lettering on each door.

"Those bastards better not have cleaned out my house yet," he muttered to himself, "Ah, here we go." the door latch gave a disgruntled squawk as he twisted it and beckoned Wikus inside.

It was small, structured a bit like a crude flat, with a larger main room and two smaller rooms attached on either side. The walls were earth, smoothed with a light brown plaster and he could see parts of the metal struts which seemed to provide the support for these huge mounds protruding in places. One main window, though it was more of a clear sheet embedded into the wall, provided light to the common area. The furniture was metal, tables and stools mostly, all littered with a strange collection of knick knacks, and one piece which resembled a rough couch was covered with a thick mat of dried grass.

Russell flopped down onto the couch and groaned.

"Ugh, this is rotting out, need to get it replaced."

Wikus clutched his son and the folded military blanket to him. He hadn't been given time for the alien city to faze him much, but now, faced with Russell's home and possessions, he was keenly reminded that he had nothing, was still a refugee.

"Look," Russell turned his head to face him, his voice suddenly serious, "I don't know what's going on with you and your drone, but you're welcome to bunk with me until you get things straightened out. I've got an empty room, not big, but it should be able to fit you and the little one."

"Thank you," clicked Wikus.

Russell rolled to his feet, "Let's go get some food before we go replace the bedding. It's going to be a bit of a chore."

.,.

Food turned out to be a communal affair among the prawns, and was provided in large long halls located in the lower levels of the living quarters. Wikus balanced Jack on his hip as a skinny orange prawn filled his metal bowl with lumps of strange meat.

Long metal tables lined with stools ran down the center of the hall, all filled with prawns clicking and buzzing to each other as they ate. Wikus followed the red flash of Russell's exoskeleton and took a seat beside him, ducking his head as though absorbed with feeding his son, to avoid the curious gazes of the prawns Russell was chatting with.

The meal seemed to take far too long, but finally Russell was ready to leave. They took an internal tunnel to one of the lower floors, turning at a large metal door. Russell pushed it open.

The room was filled with sunlight, filtering down through several vents above their heads, and filled with piles of dried and drying grass. A number of prawns were scattered about, binding the hay into bundles.

A large grey-green prawn stalked over towards them. It let out a buzzing click that Wikus didn't understand, then spoke, "So, the humans didn't eat you after all. Back to try to swindle me again?"

Russell's antennae twitched in irritation, "I wasn't trying to swindle you."

The prawn snorted, "You tried to sweet talk me into giving you twice as much as was allotted."

"He gave it to him, too," a small brown prawn near Wikus piped up, "Just admit it, Boss, you've got a soft spot for him. When the hell are you two going to stop dancing like molting adolescents?"

The larger prawn snapped out a series of sharp clicks and the small one laughed.

"If we could steer this back to the matter at hand?" Russell clicked, "I need bedding for two, plus a replacement for the bench."

"Two?" the large prawn glanced at Wikus as though he'd just noticed him, his sharp eyes scanning over the small prawn and settling on Jack. His eyes narrowed, "I see you've been busy."

Russell made an exasperated noise, "It's not like that. Wikus is a friend."

The prawn scoffed, "I wasn't hatched yesterday."

"It's true," Russell's clicks were firm, "He's one of the refugees too; he just needs a place to stay for now."

The other prawn crossed his arms across his chest and regarded Wikus for a moment or two, "Very well," he repeated the buzzing click and turned to one of his workers, "Bring two sets, plus a bench cover."

The worker hopped to his feet and scampered off, eventually returning with what looked like a large pile of hay, though on closer inspection it had been divided into two bundles, with a mat tucked beneath.

"Here," Russell passed the mat to Wikus, "If you carry this one I can manage the others."

Wikus bundled the mat under his free arm and they turned to leave. Russell raised a hand to the other prawn, "Goodbye." He made two short chirps and a buzz.

The prawn turned away in a huff, cuffing the little brown prawn, who was muffling laughter into his project.

Later, as they spread the clean hay into the scooped earth structures that served as nests, Wikus asked, "What was that sound the foreman kept making?"

"What sound?" Russell asked, and Wikus repeated the buzzing click as best he could. Russell looked puzzled for a moment, and then laughed, "That's my name."

"Your name?" asked Wikus dumbly and kicked himself because of course the prawns didn't have English names; those were just something MNU had given them.

Russell nodded, "I don't suppose it would translate into anything in your language."

Wikus watched the other prawn fuss with the bedding for a few moments.

"Do you know-?" he started to ask, but stopped.

Russell looked at him, waiting.

Wikus swallowed, "Do you know Christopher's name?"

Russell thought for a moment and let out two clicks and a protracted chirp.

Later that night, with Jack asleep beside him, Wikus whispered Christopher's name to the dark room.

o

Wikus spent the next few days helping Russell clean his home, sweeping out the dust and wiping the windows down. It wasn't a completely new job, it hadn't been practical to clean house in the district, but he'd participated in the chores at home.

The memory made him ache for Tania.

He was scooping up dirt and short bits of grass to be hauled away by Russell in a waste box when there was a rap at the door.

It was Gabriel. Wikus did his best to wipe the dust from his claws before offering his hand, "This is a surprise."

"A good one, I hope," clicked Gabriel, ducking through the doorway, "I apologize for not visiting sooner, though I'm glad to see you found a place to stay."

"I thought I'd be seeing you around before this," remarked Russell, who'd emerged from the back room at the sound of their voices, "Though I suppose you had other matters to attend to."

Gabriel made a sound of amusement, "My mate was not so keen to let me out of our quarters."

"I'm sure. Thirty years is a long time. You're lucky he didn't find someone else."

"Very lucky," clicked Gabriel quietly, "Though it would not have been unexpected. Our hatchling is fully grown now."

"Best of luck to the both of you." clicked Russell.

Gabriel nodded, "Thank you, though I didn't come to make a social call," he turned to Wikus, "I spoke to my mate about you; he thinks he may be able to find work for you."

"What does he do?" asked Wikus.

"He works in the Hall of Records," Gabriel clicked, "When I described your previous employment as a," his antennae waved and twisted as he tried to think of the word.

"Bureaucrat?" offered Wikus.

"Yes. He said the organizational work you performed would be very similar to what they do in the Hall. Since you can read our written language, you might do well there."

Become an alien librarian? "I'm not sure," Wikus clicked, though he wondered what he could do if he turned this down. He had no other skills.

"You'd be able to take your child with you, if that encourages you," Gabriel clicked, "The Hall of Records is a safe place."

Wikus let out a slow breath through his gills, "Sure, why not?"

.,.

A yellow prawn, who introduced himself with three clicks as Gabriel's mate, came for Wikus the next morning. He was a slight creature, only a few inches taller than Wikus, but full of energy. He trotted ahead as Wikus followed, carrying Jack to make better time.

The Hall of Records was located in the upper levels of the structure and consisted of a huge double level room, filled with metal tables, a good deal of which were covered with stacks of thin metal sheets and small rectangular devices that Gabriel's mate referred to as data pads. The earth walls were embedded with metal shelves for holding materials, and several windows set in the ceiling filled the room with soft light.

Gabriel's mate approached a prawn standing at one of the tables, poring over one of the metal sheets. He addressed the prawn with an extended trill and the creature looked up.

"This is Wikus," Gabriel's mate clicked.

The prawn made an incredulous noise, "The human?" he snorted at Wikus' look of surprise, "Don't be so shocked; our hivemate's tales about your blasted planet are already trickling in. Of course most of it sounds like gibberish, but then the workers never are very eloquent," he stalked over to Wikus and examined him critically. Up close, Wikus could see that his exoskeleton showed losses of pigmentation in several spots, "Rather small, aren't you?"

Wikus narrowed his eyes, "Size isn't everything, Grandpa."

The prawn barked a harsh laugh, "You've got guts, I have to give you that," he beckoned Wikus toward the table where he had been working; "You can start with helping me separate the truth from the nonsense in these travel accounts. Your species didn't really try eating ours, did they?"

Wikus winced, "Actually, that bit is true."

.,.

Wikus fell easily into work in the Hall. The repetitive filing was actually quite soothing, and the system simple enough to pick up. The old prawn, who Wikus still privately referred to as Grandpa, was shockingly intelligent and would divulge dizzying amounts of information about the materials in the Hall at the slightest provocation. Wikus learned about the prawn's history, their mythology. They even produced a certain amount of literature and poetry, though a great deal of it was incomprehensible to him.

He was organizing a stack of metal sheets etched with old star charts on the second level when he heard the old prawn calling for him.

"Hey, youngster, bring down the group of blueprints from the third shelf, north quadrant."

Wikus slid a chart into place, "Coming, old man, don't get your antennae in a twist," he trotted around the upper level and selected the correct data pad before scampering down the ladder. The old prawn was bent over a wide chart spread out on a table. His claw was outstretched, automatically reaching for the pad, but Wikus froze.

Christopher was standing beside him, examining the chart from a different angle. He glanced up and his eyes widened.

"Come on, brat, don't stand around gawking," the old prawn gestured impatiently. Wikus unlocked his legs and passed the pad over.

"Wikus," Christopher began, but Wikus was already hurrying away.

"I'm going to take my lunch break now," he called to the old prawn, snatching up Jack from where the sprawnling was playing beneath one of the tables with a stack of colorful blocks, a gift from Gabriel's mate.

The old prawn grunted in agreement and Wikus fled.

.,.

Wikus dawdled over his meal as long as he could, but at last he couldn't put off returning any longer. He hoped Christopher might have left, but no such luck. The green prawn was sitting alone at one of the tables, head down over a data pad, and a stack of them at his side. Wikus slunk in as quietly as he could, setting Jack down with his blocks before climbing to the second level and returning to his star charts.

He twitched at the sound of another climbing the ladder. It wasn't the old prawn, the newcomer was climbing much too quickly and a twitch of his antennae told him that it wasn't Gabriel's mate.

He faced the wall with determination and continued sorting.

He felt the movement of the other prawn nearby and glanced out of the corner of his eye. Christopher was carrying a small pile of data pads. One was in his hand and he was examining the shelf before him with a slightly puzzled expression.

Wikus sighed internally, "You don't have to put those back. I'll take care of it."

"It's not a bother," clicked Christopher, still scanning the pads in front of him.

Wikus made a sound of annoyance, "You don't even know how they're organized. Here, give them to me."

He extended a hand and Christopher reached to place the pad in it but paused, looking at his hand.

Wikus looked down at his own claws and realized he'd reached out with the left one. Self conscious, he curled the scarred stump against his palm and made to pull it back, but Christopher was too quick. The pad was transferred to the stack and a hand wound around his, pulling it up into the light.

Christopher examined his hand for a few moments. He hadn't been able to take very good care of it and it had healed poorly, the scar tissue ridged and lumpy. "Does it still hurt?" he asked, one of his fingers stroking absently along the edges of the old wound.

Wikus shivered, "Not much, anymore," he fumbled; the gentle rubbing was distracting and he trembled at the stimulation. His fingers had always been a bit sensitive.

Christopher glanced up and Wikus was enveloped in a wash of scent, familiar and overpowering. His antennae jerked, because even though he'd smelled Christopher's arousal before, earthy with a metallic edge, his sensitive new organs amplified and sharpened his awareness of it.

His fingers clenched around Christopher's as his prawn body responded to the assault of pheromones. His legs shook. Christopher put down the stack of pads, reaching for him.

A clatter from the lower level and a curse from the old prawn startled him and Wikus gasped, sucking in air as if surfacing from underwater, pulling his claws from Christopher's.

"I need to get back to work," he clicked, bracing against the shelf to steady himself, "Leave the pads here; I'll take care of them."

Christopher was silent for a few moments, "Very well, take care, Wikus."

.,.

Although Christopher left, his pheromones lingered and Wikus found himself on edge the rest of the day, his body twitching in uncomfortable arousal. The rest of work passed in a haze as he avoided the curious glances of the old prawn, and he barely made it through feeding his son and settling him down for the night before he was hurrying off to the showers, desperate for any bit of privacy.

Wikus' experiences with self pleasure in his prawn body had been limited, mostly fumbles in the dark in those first few weeks while carrying Jack, his body a soup of unfamiliar hormones. Now he crouched in the shallow metal basin of the shower, shivering as warm water flowed over him. His cloaca was slightly swollen, wet with grayish fluid and he could feel his organ pressing out from between the plates of his exoskeleton, strange doubled sensation that his human mind still had difficulty grasping.

He braced his feet against the wall of the shower and tried to stimulate himself, running his fingers over his organ as he would have if he'd been human.

It wasn't enough. A groan rasped from his throat and he slid his hand further down, claws pressing a timid touch against his cloaca. The small opening clenched around his fingers and he slid one inside as best he could at the awkward angle, squirming. His gills hitched as he gulped in breath and he pressed up, twisting the digit until at last he felt the little convulsion roll through him as he climaxed.

He slumped against the floor of the shower and stared at the ceiling.

"Fokking prawn," he clicked, covering his face.

o

To Wikus' dismay, Christopher became something of a semi-permanent fixture in the Hall. He was suspicious of the other prawn's presence at first, but since Christopher never bothered him after that first day, absorbed as he was in the heaps of research materials on his table, they fell into a sort of mutually acceptable ignorance of each other.

Jack however, was intrigued by Christopher's presence and took it upon himself to investigate this strange, new adult. Wikus descended from the second level one day and nearly panicked at the realization that his son was not under any of the tables.

"I've got him," Christopher said, glancing up at hearing Wikus' frantic clicking calls. He was working one-handed, Jack cradled in one arm. The sprawnling was watching the holographic projection from one of the data pads as the older prawn rotated and manipulated it.

"Sorry if he's been bothering you," Wikus mumbled, reaching for his son.

"It's not a problem," Christopher clicked, offering back the little prawn, "He's much less excitable than Oliver was."

"Where is the kid, anyway?"

"At our home, studying. He helps me with my work sometimes, but he still has more to learn before he can take it on full time," Christopher paused for a moment, "He would very much like to see Jack, if you wished to bring him over."

"Really?" Wikus was surprised, "I thought there was a bit of an age gap."

"My son is still quite young for our species," said Christopher, his shoulders sagging slightly, "And his upbringing has left him a bit different from the others his age. He has not made many friends."

Wikus shifted uncomfortably, "Fine, we'll stop by after work. Where is your home?"

"I'll show you."

.,.

Christopher's home turned out to be located two levels above Russell's, on the northward facing side of the giant mound. It had the same structure as Russell's flat, but where Russell's furniture had been covered with strange knickknacks, Christopher's house was filled with alien computers. The walls were clear, but Wikus was still reminded of his shack back in the District.

Oliver was perched on a stool, watching rows of alien letters flash by. Jack chirped loudly at the sight of the other prawn.

"Jack!"

Wikus put his son on the ground and the sprawnling toddled over to Oliver, who promptly scooped the other up. Jack squeaked and waved his arms over his head.

"Please, sit," Christopher clicked, "Would you like something to drink?"

Wikus took a cautious perch on one of the empty stools and accepted a shallow bowl of water from the other prawn. He sipped at the bowl and watched the two young prawns play, Oliver gently wrestling with Jack as the sprawnling shrieked and trilled, struggling to pin the other down. Christopher sat on another stool and took a drink from his own bowl.

"We never spoke of what happened after I left," it was a statement, but Wikus could hear the curiosity in his tone.

He toyed with the bowl, simultaneously grateful and hurt that Christopher didn't seem to want to discuss what happened before he'd left "What's to say? The others stopped Koobus from putting a bullet in my brain. I spent the next week hiding out in Russell's shack and snuck into District 10 under an assumed name. Jack was born about a month and a half later."

"That quickly?"

"Well, yeah," clicked Wikus, puzzled. It had seemed quick to him as well, but then he wasn't an expert on the gestational periods of prawns.

Christopher looked slightly disturbed. He took another drink, "Did you give birth alone?" he asked with some concern.

Wikus shook his head, "No, Gabriel helped."

"Gabriel? Why not Russell?"

"Russell?" Wikus made a noise of derision, "Russell's pretty sharp for a worker, but he's never had a hatchling before," he shifted on his seat, "What's with the sudden interrogation?"

"I was worried," Christopher clicked softly, "When I left you were injured, up against huge odds. I wasn't sure you'd even survived."

Wikus made a sound of harsh amusement, "I'd say I'm pretty hard to kill, but without the others I probably wouldn't have."

"We shouldn't have split up," Christopher clicked, half to himself.

"Absolutely not," said Wikus firmly, "Someone had to hold them off. That fokking mercenary would have brought down your damn ship otherwise."

Christopher looked down at his bowl. If his facial structure had allowed for it, Wikus would have scowled, "You are absolutely forbidden from feeling guilty."

"It is difficult not to," there was an edge of annoyance in Christopher's voice.

"You had your son and two million of your people to think of," Wikus clicked, "The number of people affected if I had died was minimal in comparison," his shoulders slumped and he looked out the darkened window, wondering if Tania was alright.

Christopher gave a slight jerk and rose, putting his bowl down on the table with a metallic clunk and striding over to the window. Wikus glanced up in surprise.

"It is amazing to me sometimes, how you can be completely selfless and yet utterly selfish at the same time," Christopher's clicks were pitched low.

"Selfish?" Wikus snapped, suddenly angry. Where did that fokking prawn get off telling him that?

"Did you think that no one would have been affected if you managed to get yourself killed?"

Wikus was thrown by the seeming non-sequitur, "Well, of course my wife would have been upset—"

"I was not talking about your wife!" Christopher's clicks rose.

"Father?" Oliver's voice startled them and they turned to see the small prawn staring at them. Jack was perched on the little one's back, hiding his face against green exoskeleton.

Christopher seemed to sag, "I am sorry for shouting, little ones," he approached the two small prawns and crouched down, offering a conciliatory claw. Oliver nuzzled against his father's hand and Christopher stroked Jack's antennae back, provoking a satisfied trill, "It is late, and perhaps it is time to sleep."

"Right," Wikus rose, setting his bowl down, "We'll just be going,"

"No," Christopher's voice was steely, "Oliver has extra room in his nest. It is time, beyond time, that we talked."

"Now just a fokking minute," Wikus began, but Christopher was already scooping up the youngsters and bundling them off into one of the side rooms.

Wikus stood in the common room, his irritation mounting as he waited on the other prawn. Finally Christopher emerged and gestured for Wikus to follow him.

"Where are we going?" Wikus demanded.

"Outside," clicked Christopher shortly.

o

Christopher didn't stop outside, but began climbing up one of the steep trails on the face of the mound. The night air was chilly and it was surprisingly dark once they had climbed past the levels of living quarters. Three of the seven moons were visible above the horizon and in the distance Wikus could see the shadows of other mounds, small lights winking in the darkness like jewels.

Just when Wikus was beginning to wonder if they were going to climb to the top of the mound, Christopher turned off the trail, sitting on one of the lumps of earth. Wikus sat beside him.

"I would have cared," Christopher's clicks were harsh, "Leaving you behind, even knowing that I had to, even with the responsibility for my son and people weighing on me, was one of the hardest things I have ever done."

Wikus' fists curled in anger, "You've got a funny fokking way of showing you care."

"I thought you were taken care of here. You have a family and a place to stay. You seemed content. I thought my attentions would have been unwelcome."

"Content?" Wikus clicked angrily, "You dropped me and your own damn kid and left us to beg off my neighbors!"

"Mine? How could Jack be mine?" Christopher seemed startled.

"Stupid fokking prawn!" Wikus snarled, "You think I went around screwing every worker in the damn District? There was only you, you bastard!"

"Impossible," though Christopher sounded a bit doubtful, "You shouldn't have been transformed enough."

"Don't ask me how your fokking fluid worked! I'm telling you, there was no one else!"

"Then Russell…"

"A fokking friend! Fok you're dense! I don't know why I fokking bother!"

Wikus jumped up to leave, but Christopher was quicker, grabbing his hands. Wikus thrashed, lashing out as best he could, but the larger prawn pinned him against the side of the mound, his secondary limbs catching Wikus' when the smaller prawn tried to scratch him.

"I am sorry," his clicks were contrite, "I assumed…when I saw you together, I assumed you had taken a mate."

"Foker," snapped Wikus, sagging against the wall. Christopher's mouthparts trailed over his face, stroking in an attempt to soothe him, "Foker."

"I suppose I am," Christopher rested his forehead against Wikus'. His clicks were soft and a little sad, "I had already given up on there being anything more between us. When you said you had a son, that you wanted to come with us, I couldn't believe my luck. But then I thought you had paired with Russell, and it seemed like a cruel joke."

"You're an idiot," clicked Wikus, "Are you saying you wouldn't have cared if Jack wasn't yours?"

"Our social rules are different from yours," Christopher said, "It would not have mattered."

"Why me?" Wikus asked, "I was a fokking jerk to you and your kid."

"You also saved both our lives," Christopher's antennae brushed against his own and Wikus shivered at the pleasurable tingle, "You were alone, injured, frightened, but you showed as much courage as a seasoned soldier."

"I was desperate. You were my only chance at a normal life again."

"And yet you gave that life up for the sake of child you didn't want."

"He was my responsibility."

"Is he still only that?"

"No," Wikus' heart ached at the thought of his son, "No, he's more."

Christopher gave a pleased purr, "And you wonder why I would want you as a partner in all things?"

Wikus shook his head, "Crazy fokking prawn."

Christopher pressed against him and their mouthparts entwined, stroking and pulling gently. It didn't feel like a human kiss, but it still made Wikus tingle all over. Christopher moved his head, mandibles nipping gently at the edges of his exoskeleton.

Pheromones washed over Wikus again but the taste was different. Arousal, but with a sweet undertone. Not the sharp desperation of a prawn seeking a mate, but the calm certainty of one who has already found one. His cloaca throbbed in response and he felt the strange, never quite normal sensation as it lubricated.

Christopher gave a low rumble and one hand trailed down to catch Wikus' organ as it slipped from between the plates of his exoskeleton. Wikus' breath heaved through his gills as the prawn's clever fingers manipulated him.

"Stop teasing, you bastard," he hissed. Christopher made a small sound of amusement, "What?"

"I was wondering why Jack kept calling me that," Christopher's tone was wry.

"Shit," Wikus groaned, gasping as Christopher hiked him up to compensate for their different heights and pressed him back into the side of the mound "I've been trying to get him to stop saying that."

"I don't know," teased Christopher, "As nicknames go, it has a certain charm."

"Fok!" Wikus clawed at Christopher's shoulders, "Stop killing the mood."

Christopher shifted and Wikus felt the press of the other prawn's organ against him. His breath hitched.

"Still think the mood is gone?" Christopher purred. And then he was pushing inside.

Wikus squirmed and gasped, unable to form a coherent sentence. The hard scrape of the wall behind him, the not quite painful stretch, they were all overwhelmed by the sheer satisfaction of having his lover inside him again.

"Fok, yes," he rasped out.

It was brief; it had been too long for both of them, but when his climax came it shook Wikus to the core, a sweeping, shaking release that was as much emotional as physical. He went limp in Christopher's arms, absently running his hand along the other prawn's back as he jerked in his own orgasm.

He was dimly aware of Christopher letting his legs down and leaning on him, warm breath touching his face. Mouthparts trailed over Wikus' exoskeleton as the green prawn bent to butt and nuzzle against him.

"We should get back," he murmured.

"Fok that," Wikus clicked, "I don't think I can move."

Christopher gave an amused chirp, and before Wikus could protest, he scooped the other prawn up. Wikus gave a rasp of surprise.

"Fine, fine, put me down damn it!" he grumbled as Christopher complied, "I'm getting too fokking old for this sort of shit."

They took a brief detour to the showers and spent some time under the warm water, cleaning off the sticky residue of sex. By the time they returned to the flat Wikus could barely keep his eyes open. Christopher maneuvered him down into the nest and curled beside him.

Wikus had almost dropped off when the sound of soft footsteps roused him and two squirming bodies dropped in with them. Wikus automatically shifted to let the little prawns crawl in between himself and Christopher.

"Are you guys done fighting?" Oliver clicked softly. Jack chirped and snuggled against Wikus' side.

Christopher gave a soothing hum, "Yes, little one," he clicked, though his voice held a slightly questioning note.

"Good," clicked Oliver.

"Go to sleep already," Wikus grumbled, letting out two clicks and a protracted chirp.

Christopher fell silent for a moment, "Even now, you still manage to surprise me."

"It's good for you, keeps you young."

"Stay with me?"

"Of course."

"However, I get to name the next hatchling. 'Jack Dawkins' sounds like one of your human brands of liquor."

"Idiot," Wikus snapped, cuffing the other prawn as best he could in the darkness. "Should have named him 'Dodger' instead," he grumbled to himself.

o

Feedback is always appreciated. Thank you for reading.