"Pa! you're home!" Rudyum ran to him, and jumped in his arms. Jeremy caught him and twirled him around.
"How was you day?" he asked his son. Rudyum had been greeting him this way since he'd first return, six day ago. Jeremy could tell that Rudyum hadn't taken his absence well, and that he was worried Jeremy wouldn't return from work one day. Jeremy did his best to comfort him.
"Today we learned all about Thuruksamian, did you know he created everything?"
"I remember reading about that," Jeremy replied, putting him down. He wasn't going to be able to pick his son up like that for much longer, he was growing fast. He went to his room to change out of his work clothes. He came back to the living area to Tamirik reciting 'dadadada," as she waddled toward Gral, who had just entered their quarters.
Gral picked her up, and nuzzled her.
"Hi dad," Rudyum said. Gral had gone from father, to dad when Tamirik started speaking and calling him 'da'. There use to be a lot of warmth when he said that. Now his face was cold. What Jeremy and Gral had one through had affected their son, and he could only hope that as they healed the rift, Rudyum would start warming up to his dad again.
"Welcome home," Jeremy said, before heading for the cooking area.
Gral deposited their daughter back among her toys, and sat down in his favorite chair to read. She went back to playing.
"What do you think I should make for the meal, hatary? Or kourren?" Jeremy asked.
"Doesn't matter to me," Gral replied, not looking up for his pad.
Jeremy stifled a sigh. "Please Gral. You know that's not how this works." Gral was still being difficult about this. Jeremy didn't miss Rudyum, looking from him to Gral, frowning.
"Tary, tary, tary," Tamirik sang form where she was sitting.
"Can we, pa?" Rudyum asked. "Can we have hatary?"
Jeremy looked at Gral, ho didn't look in his direction, but at least put the pad down. "Yeah, hatary sounds good, we haven't had that in a while."
"Hatary it is." Jeremy started taking the ingredients out of the cooler and pantry. Rudyum's face lit up, and Tamirik continued with her chant of 'tary, tary, tary.' He was halfway through preparing the meal when the door opened.
Tamirik stood unsteadily, and then waddled her way to the new commer. "Toomtoomtoomtoomtoom." Jeremy found himself wishing she would greet him the same way, but at least she was no longer looking at him wearily.
Toom picked up as soon as she was within reach. "And how is my Tamirikaniesoulima," he asked, nuzzler her.
"Soulima!" was her reply, and then she giggled. Tamirik was to the stage where she could do more than string single words together.
"Toom," Gral said, putting his pad aside, and standing. "This is a surprise." He hugged them, Tamirik squeeing.
"I missed my favorite little female," Toom replied, wrapping his free arm around Gral.
Jeremy looked at them, and smiled. He was happy to see that Gral could still smile, a genuine smile, not the things he forced once in a while when looking at Jeremy.
Gral looked up at him, and gave him this genuine smile. A moment later, it was gone and Gral's eyes clouded over. Jeremy focused back on preparing the meal.
"How are you doing?" Toom asked him, standing on the other side of the counter.
"As well as can be expected," Jeremy replied.
"I wanted to give you both some space, I hope I'm not intruding."
"Of course not." Jeremy reached over to pull him closer into a nuzzle. "You're always welcome here, you know that."
Toom smiled and licked him on the cheek. "Thanks. How are the two of you doing?"
"I don't know. Better, I hope. I know he saw Leiha yesterday. But he's still being difficult on some of the things she wants us to do." He looked over toom's shoulder. Tamirik was on Gral's lap, and he was making faces at her.
"Have you seen her?"
"My session is tomorrow."
Toom put a hand on his. "You're going to get through this"
"I know," Jeremy said, smiling at him. "The Gods worked too hard to bring us together, I'm not going to let that be in vain."
For a moment it looked like Toom was going to say something, but Rudyum wrapped his arms around his belly.
"Are you going to eat with us?"
Toom rubbed his head, and scratched at the base of an ear. "I probably shouldn't, this is a time for your family to be together."
"Even more reason for you to stay," Jeremy stated, "you're family."
"Jeremy's right," Gral said. "You're as close to a near father to them as anyone of the ship."
"Thank you, both of you. I'll be honored to eat with you."
* * * * *
The meal was good, both the food and the atmosphere. There was laughter, and stories. Rudyum told them what he'd learned about Thuruksamian. Gral recounted a story of when he was a cub himself, and managed to get tangled into one of his father's tree, trying to go after the biggest fruit on it. Toom's story was about his first operation, a rescue, where he not only didn't come back with the right person, but he'd ended up bringing back his commander's mate. Jeremy talked about his family, his brothers, who loved to play tricks on everyone, his sister, who could make you feel like she was reproachful, even when she was giving you a compliment, and his mother, who loved everyone she knew, as unconditionally as she could.
At no time during the meal did Gral speak directly to Jeremy, but he did glance at him, and the smiles were genuine. This was the first meal that had felt normal since his return. After the meal the five of them sat in the living area and continued talking, until the cubs had to be taken to bed.
After that, Toom excused himself, needing to go back to his quarters for the night. Jeremy wanted to ask him to stay, He was part of their family, and he shouldn't have to sleep apart from them, but he didn't. It wouldn't be fair to Toom to bring him in while he and Gral still had so much work to do. He nuzzled him, and wished him a good night.
After that, silence descended on their quarters. Gral went back to his pad, and Jeremy pulled up reports from engineering that had come in after he'd left for the day. When bed time arrived, they both undressed and sat on the edge of the bed, on opposite sides, their backs to each other.
Jeremy closed his eyes. "I love how safe I feel when I'm with you." It wasn't a lie, not so long ago, being in Gral's arms had been the safest place, and he knew that it would be the same, one day. He didn't move.
There was a deep breath form Gral. "I . . . I love how determined you are. How you will keep to a hunt once you set your mind to it. How you will confront what ever obstacle that finds itself in front of you, that you will stay the course, regardless of the consequences." He got in the bed.
Jeremy turned before sliding in. Gral's back was to him. This hadn't been Leiha had instructed them to say, but he didn't care. He could tell in the tone that it was genuine. Normally he'd sleep with his back to Gral, but he found he didn't want this time. The bowl shape naturally moved him so he was pressing against his back, and he tentatively put an arm over Gral's side. When his Heart didn't shake him off, he pressed a little closer.
"I miss you," Jeremy whispered.
After a moment, Gral took his hand, and squeezed it.
* * * * *
Jeremy and Gral were panting on the bed. The sex had been amazing, as it usually was. It wasn't the first time, it had taken them six month to reconcile enough that sex together became a regular part of their lives again, and for the year after that, it had just gotten better, but this time, it felt different. Jeremy couldn't say why, but now that they were catching their breath, covered in sweat and bodily fluids, he felt more at ease in his Heart's arm.
"I'm afraid of loosing you," Gral whispered.
Jeremy looked up at him, that was a strange thing to say. "I'm not going anywhere."
Gral shook his head. "When you hurt those males, who tried to kidnaps the cubs, the idea that you might be taken from me hurt. After the operation you ran, I was afraid the humans would take you, and find a way to make you hate me. It hurt so much I didn't know how to deal with it."
"It's alright, they won't take me, ever."
Gral smiled at him. "It doesn't matter. I'm terrified of how much it will hurt if I do lose you. I'm so afraid of it, that I want to lock you away, someplace no one, not even the Gods will be able to get to you." He was silent for a moment. "I know it's stupid. I'm not really going to do it, but that fear is always at the back of my mind."
"I wish I could tell you that I'll never leave, but we're hunters, we live dangerous lives. All I can do is promise that I'll do my best to always be here for you."
"Thanks," Gral nuzzled the top of his head.
"That operation I ran, against the humans. The reason I did it, was because I'd realized that you and the cubs were in danger because of me. I was scared that if I didn't make the point hard with the humans, that they would keep coming and one day I'd lose one of you."
They were silent, and Jeremy realized that he felt a weight lifted from him, now that he'd admitted why he'd done what he'd done.
* * * * *
Jeremy was preparing some tatsuro. He didn't particularly like the dish, but he wasn't doing this for himself.
The door opened, and Toom ran in, panting. "What's wrong?"
Jeremy looked up, and stifled a smile, Toom's pants were on backward. Gral calmly stood from his chair.
Toom looked from one to the other, confused by their calm demeanor. "I got a message to come here urgently."
Jeremy washed his hands.
Gral was next to Toom now. "What's wrong," he said, "is that we were wondering why you weren't home yet."
Toom frowned. "I was home. I was almost asleep when I got the call."
Jeremy joined them. "That isn't home," he said, putting a hand on Toom's cheek. "Your home should be here."
Toom was obviously confused. "I don't understand."
Gral nuzzled him. "We're told you over and over, you are family. You are our family."
"You, you want me to be your mate?"
"Yes," Jeremy answered. "The cubs already treat you as their near father, an we both love you. If you'll have us, we want you to be our mate."
Toom hugged them tightly, and rubbed his muzzle against both their face. "Yes," he whispered. "The Gods be praised, yes."