Clover felt like her head was going to explode.
It wasn't a pounding headache that caused the sensation, the tightness behind her forehead not due to any residual illness. Her fox ears pressed flat against her skull with irritation not even caused by any loud noise.
"Nib," she said slowly, for what felt like the thousandth time that day. "Stop running around like that. You're gonna fall, and I'm not gonna be sorry when -"
Instead of listening to her, the little girl flashed past her with a streak of color, the wooden floor underneath creaking heavily as she did.
"Hey! Are you even listening to me?" Clover tried to keep her voice even but the emotion leaked out anyways, harsh and biting at her daughter. Nib didn't seem to hear her, only giving a shriek of laughter as she rounded into the kitchen.
It was moments like these that made Clover appreciate her wife even more. The woman would be able to get onto Nib's level, talk in that serious but light voice and get the girl to understand. When it was just Clover and Nib it felt like she was sinking under the waves, clawing at any bit of stability only for it to get ripped away from her by the toddler.
She took a deep breath, grounding herself best she could. Nyx had gone on a trip into town with Clover's father, a quick errand that left her home alone with their daughter. She could take care of Nib for a bit.
But now, two or so hours later, she was ready to snap, yell at Nib or maybe cry, sit on the floor and give up. After fighting over what she would wear, what she would eat, some activity to do, the little girl wouldn't even give her the decency of listening to actual, good advice.
There were many a time the toddler wiped out, legs going faster than she could handle and crash somewhere before bursting into tears. Every time Nyx would get on her hands and knees, brush away the moisture and kiss any injury, real or imagined. Afterward she would bring her over to Clover, Nib demanding another healing kiss from her other mama.
"Stop running, Nib." Clover ordered, some steel entering her voice. The little girl turned and looked up at her at the noise, surprise painted on her face. Her pale green skin, so similar to Nyx, was deeper with exertion as she shook her head. "Is that a no?"
She took a step towards Nib, intent on sending her to her room to play quietly, or maybe even try to put her down for a nap, but before she could fully approach, the child took off once more.
"Stop it!" She shouted finally, all her frustration coming to a head. She didn't understand why Nib always listened to Nyx, but when it came to her, she might as well be an obstacle in her way.
Nib turned as she darted down the hall, towards the front door and stuck her tongue out, making even more anger flare up underneath Clover's skin. She knew she was flushed with the emotion and her hands shook, the urge to turn tail and give up coursing throughout her body.
"Alright, fine. That's it, you're gonna -" she stalked forward, intent on picking the toddler up and bringing her to her room, when she watched Nib's feet twist underneath her. There was a resounding crash as her little frame hit the harsh floors, but she sat up quick.
"See! See what happens?" Clover snapped out, but went to her knees regardless in front of Nib. The little girl started crying, high pitched cries piercing the air. Clover’s ears held flat against her skull, trying to block out just how loud it felt right now. "I told you! Why won't you listen to me?"
Right at her crescendo of anger and desperation (and more than a bit of shame of not being able to be nearly as good to Nib as her wife), the door in front of them opened. Smiling and laughing when they first walked in, Nyx and her father, Mandolin, stopped as soon as they took in the scene in front of them.
Clover was up in a flash, looking once more at the still crying Nib before she began to sniffle as well. A look of concern took over Nyx, who nodded at her father in law as the fox eared man began to stoop down to grab his grand daughter.
"I can't do this," Clover said, before her tears began to pour out with vigor. Mandolin took the crying child in his arms and began to comfort her as Nyx approached. She turned to get away from the pity written all over her wife's face, staggering back towards the kitchen. "I can't - I'm not - good at -"
She put her hands on the kitchen table and stood there, panting as she tried to catch her breath. It was one thing to be privately shameful of her shortcomings, to know the difference between her and Nyx and lock it in her chest. But to have not only her wife, but her father see such a display? For everyone she knows to see how terrible of a mother she was? It was another humiliation entirely.
She flinched at the gentle hand placed on her back, feeling it retreat as quickly as it came. When she shifted her eyes back to look, she saw Nyx beside her.
"Hey," her wife said, voice as loving and gentle as she always remembered, "Let's go for a walk."
Their feet made crunching sounds under the fallen leaves outside, almost in tandem with one another. Clover sniffled, wrapping her scarf a bit higher around her face and shook her head at Nyx.
Even with her wife being Fae, connected to nature herself, she still couldn't believe that the woman wasn't cold. She was wearing nothing but a thin blue dress, no shoes to protect from frostbite or even a coat. She seemed at peace, unlike the ever tulmutous, roaring nature of Clover.
They had left quickly when Nyx suggested they take a walk, Clover only asking her father a hushed, "is she okay?" as he cradled a then still Nib. He gave her a nod and a smile, his own foxen ears perked where hers drooped.
They were about ten minutes into the silent, peaceful walk when she spoke first. "I'm sorry."
Nyx turned to look at her, brow crinkled with confusion. "For what?"
"For not being good." As soon as the words left she could feel the tears trying to surface once more. She huffed, forcing them back down as she rubbed at her eyes with one hand. "I'm not a good mom. I'm not a good wife. I don't even feel like a - a good person."
"Oh, love." Nyx stopped walking, instead fully turning to be in front of Clover. She reached out and ruffled the top of her head. "You're a great person. Everyone needs a minute sometimes."
"But it's not that," Clover mumbled, continuing to wipe at her eyes, horrified to find the moisture that kept threatening to leak. "I don't need a minute, it's worse than that. I feel like I can't even handle Nib without you around!"
When Nyx was around, it felt so easy. She could have time to make their meals while her wife dressed Nib. Or she could read their daughter a story whilst Nyx cleaned the house. If one of them needed help, the other was close enough to step in.
Alone, though? It looked like Nyx handled it with so much grace that Clover felt like a monster every time she let her temper get out of control, or when she couldn't find it within herself to try and parent, instead wearily giving in.
"Clover, she's a toddler. No one can handle her without help around," Nyx reassured her, and suddenly she realized that her tears weren't just a threat, they were a promise that made her vision blurry. She let out a single sob before trying to swallow the rest of them. "Hey, hey, it's okay."
Two warm arms encircled her, before one reached up and stroked through her hair. She cried into Nyx's shoulder, letting her guilt and shame seep out as she did so.
"I just don't know how to do it like you do, you always know what to say. You can make her listen, and you don't get frustrated or yell or cry and I can't do that, I'm just not cut out for this!" Clover said it all with one breath as she pulled away, unable to hold in her feelings any longer.
"That's not true at all. I get frustrated with her, and sometimes I yell and stomp when she doesn't listen, or I just let her do whatever dumbass thing a three year old wants to do." Nyx confessed, giving Clover a weak grin. "I let her eat straight up sugar for lunch a couple days ago."
"You did what?" Clover asked, shaking her head before a small giggle escaped. She felt delirious, so tired from the events of the day that what her wife said was somehow hilarious. "Why?"
"Because she wanted to, and I was sick of arguing over whether that was a smart idea or not. And guess what? She ate it all!" Nyx shook her head with disbelief, before laughing as well. They were still holding each other, so close that when Clover moved forward their foreheads bumped. "Really, I'm no better than you are. You're actually better than me. I give in way too much."
"No. I'm too harsh on Nib." She winced, thinking back to her harsh tone with the toddler before her wife and father came home.
"Well, sounds like we balance out, then." Nyx pressed a kiss onto her cheek, before pulling away enough to not be speaking right into her face. "In all seriousness, Clover, I'm incredibly proud of you."
"Wait, you are? For what?" She furrowed her brows, unable to come up with anything noteworthy she did of recent that was worthy of praise. She did the dishes, but that was a chore they traded back and forth.
"Because even though you've felt like this, not good enough, you still were trying every day. You didn't give up on yourself. You stayed with Nib when I couldn't be around. You cooked dinners, you sang songs, read bedtime stories… that's what makes you an amazing mom. You might not always like it, but you're always there."
Clover absorbed the words, finding it hard to look at Nyx with just how much love and adoration was in her eyes. She felt her face flush, heated by the appreciation. It sat uncomfortably on her shoulders, but the more it held there the more she felt it become lighter and lighter.
"So let's just agree to talk more about this sort of stuff, okay?" Nyx asked, softer than ever. She put a hand on Clover’s face, cupping it lovingly as she looked back up. "Clearly we haven't done that enough. I don't ever want you to feel like you're not good. We're kickass moms, Clover. We just need to remind ourselves."
"Okay," Clover breathed in and out, all the tension bleeding out of her body. She shut her eyes, the image of a baby Nib, looking up at her with wide, blue eyes and grabby hands, flashing in her mind. Just in the morning she looked up at her in that same way, before giggling after getting picked up. "Okay. Thanks for takin' a walk with me."
As much as she let her mind wander into such awful territory as the feeling that 'giving up would be better for them', she also knew that Nyx and Nib loved her too much to ever do such a thing. Sometimes she just needed a reminder.
"Anytime, honey." Their fingers were laced together by Nyx, before she began to gently tug her back towards their little cabin in the woods. "Let's get back. I can show you the fresh fruit I found at the market!"
Nyx looked back after a moment of silence, Clover standing there with a wide smile beginning to take over her face. Nyx smiled back, a bit confused but obviously happy. "What?"
"Nothin'. I just love you." She caught up with her wife, leaning up to give her a quick kiss. "Did you get any strawberries? They're Nib's favorite."
"I love you too!" Nyx exclaimed, trying to chase after her lips but gave up once Clover shook her head with a laugh. "Yes, yes, I did. I knew you would ask for them for her. And you say you're a bad mom."
"Maybe I'm not the worst ever. At least not when you're around."
"Well, same then. Told you we balance each other out."