Jeremy walked through the ship, alone. He was the only on in it. The repair crews had left, now that they were done. On top of repairs, upgrades had been done. The two generators had been replaced with the newest models, more powerful, more efficient. He could already hear Alix cursing.
One of the cargo bay had been modified to house twelve fighter ships. He'd need to find pilots for them. They were turning his ship into a full military vessel, not just a patrol ship.
Probably the most galling thing they had done, was to put a captain's chair on the bridge. He wasn't *that old. When he could no longer stand on his own two legs, he'd pass the captainship on to Tamirik. As soon as his crew was back on board, he'd get Sayane to remove it.
The walk through confirmed what he'd suspected. The ship didn't feel the same. It wasn't just the modifications, he no longer felt Gral walking the halls with him.
He step into their room, currently empty. He hoped that when their things were back in, he'd feel Gral again, at least here, because, as far as he could tell, the ship's Heart was gone.
* * * * *
"You don't have to do that, Pa," Tamirik said, standing in the doorway.
Jeremy looked up at her, while continuing to pack the few things on the desk. Gods, she looked amazing, she was tall, proud, a captain.
"I don't mind going back to being communication chief, until you're ready to hand over command to me."
"And demote Rasilin? I don't think so, he worked hard to get there. It wouldn't be fair to him."
"This isn't fair to you either, this is your ship."
Jeremy shook his head, and paused. "To tell you the truth, the ship hasn't felt like mine since the repairs. Those last six years have been, difficult." He ran a hand through his hair, which was now more gray than not. "I'm happy to hand it to you."
"What will you do now? Retire groundside?"
Jeremy laughed. "Groundside? Me? Can you really imagine me just lying in the sun days in days out. No, I belong in space. Anyway, unless you're kicking Toom off the ship, I'm staying with him."
"Gods no, I'm not kicking my near father off. He's still the best pilot I've ever seen."
"Good. And I can be useful, I can watch over your cubs, I can't believe you managed to raise three of them, and still left the Academy with the highest honors. I can't remember getting much sleep when you were that young."
"Rostol helped, as did Xenial, before the ship was ready."
"Xenial helped with cubs?" Jeremy asked, surprised. The male had never mentioned that.
"He was quite good with them. He would have been near father to them, if he'd been willing to stay groundside with us."
Jeremy sighed, and missed his friend. "The Gods honored him," he said.
"Only until he made off with their possessions," She added, with a wry smile. "He is going to make their lives interesting."
Jeremy smiles wistfully. "No, your father is going to keep him in check." He forced himself to back to the present. "I can also help with dealing with the humans on Paradise, if you're planing on keeping the patrol route I had."
He'd been offered, and had accepted, a new patrol route, which included Paradise. It allowed him to be back there every year, and he saw their settlement grow and prosper. The patrol had become vital when the Human government realized that not only were the leafers on Paradise surviving, they were thriving. Building an economy and trading with the federation.
The humans had complained that they had been tricked, but that didn't last long, since they would have to reveal their own trickery to explain it. They settled on discreetly trying to disrupt trade, which had lead to putting more ships to patrol the trade routes.
Jeremy had smiled when he learned that Patrick had been made leader of the settlement, much to the male's bafflement. Jack had outright refused. He was done with politics. He spent what time wasn't taken up with his mate advising Patrick, but that was the extend of his involvement.
"I'm keeping it. I don't trust the humans not to do something stupid."
"At least they aren't part of the Federation."
"Yet. The Federation council is still seeing them allowing the exodus as a good gesture. Talks, to restart the process, are on again."
"Gods," Jeremy sighed. "Nothing good will come of that."
"I agree. That's why I'm keeping the patrol route. The Leafers are about the only good thing to come from the humans, they need to be protected."
* * * * *
Jeremy settled quietly into retirement. As he'd promised, he looked after Tamirik's cubs, when needed, as well as anyone's cubs. He still took the bridge, when she needed him to, and he found himself regretting having the chair removed. As he aged, remaining standing became more of task than it had been.
Over the years, his title went from captain, to grandfather, and he found he enjoyed it. He and Toom became the ones to take care of the cubs, entertaining them with stories of their lives, bringing Gral back to life for them.
The humans eventually left the crew, to settle on Paradise, first the unattached ones, and eventually even those who had built relationships with kelsirians. Alix's Heart was the last one to leave, when one morning, Alix didn't wake up.
Jeremy didn't hold it against any of them. The crew had never been their family, like it was his. Even with the change in personnel, he could never leave them, and they wouldn't want him to.
One day, Toom fell sick, and none of the wonders they possessed made him better. Jeremy almost lost his will to live then, but the crew rallied around him, and he remembered that he wasn't alone. He was even more surprised when Roumalger joined the crew. Jeremy still wouldn't be his mate, but that didn't stop the male from moving in with him.
Jeremy found another reason to live when he learned that the Federation was considering making Paradise a member colony. He found that he needed to be there to see that happen, no matter how long it took.