"I take it you have heard?" Morrail asked as he hung up his jacket carefully. "Nickolai's past beloved, Elizabeth, has shown up on our doorstep asking him for the gift he promised her a century ago."
"I know," Helena said patiently as she typed at the terminal. Without moving her hands the picture changed, altered; a map of the campus became three-dimensional, shifted before her. Satisfied, she moved a few fingers and the image vanished. She removed the narrow frame that settled between her ears and turned to her husband. "Nickolai is coming tonight to join us for dinner. He wants our advice."
"Nickolai is coming here?" Morrail asked. "That is surprising. Nickolai has always been very much of his own mind; I can't remember when he last asked me for advice."
"I can," Helena replied with a smile. "Although perhaps it was not so much that he asked for it as you simply pushed it upon him. You recall that afternoon at Zha's shop, don't you?"
Morrail grinned. "Of course I do," he said, thinking back. "It was so long ago, and yet it was one of those moments I have trouble forgetting. It defined how my next century would be. And it gave me a son-in-law that I have come to treasure greatly, as much even as my own daughter."
"Good," Helena said. "That was a long time ago, Morrail. We should be closer to our children and we are not. I wish I understood why that was so and I hope with this evening I can start to forge a stronger bond with them. Nickolai, especially, is intimidated by his mother and carries with him a lot of pain because of her."
"Our daughter is not so intimidated, Morrail. She is our daughter, after all." Helena wrapped her arms around her husband as he crossed the room to where she stood. "You must go get the table ready."
"I'll do that."
Morrail disappeared into the crew kitchen. Helena took her time cleaning up the small front room where she would entertain Nickolai. It would be the first time in their many years together that Nickolai would sit at the table without their daughter, Jofuran, at his side. Helena wondered if she tonight would be a disaster or not. "Nix?"
"Yes, Professor Helena?"
"Where is my daughter?"
"She is currently hiding on the Nayano Handele, seeking the company of Kennet Shardik. Would you like me to inform her that you are looking for her?"
"No," Helena said quickly. "That is quite all right, Nix."
"Professor, Nickolai is at your door."
"Let him in, Nix." She turned to see him entering the room and hurried across to embrace him warmly. "Kolya! So good to see you!"
He grinned, embarrassed by her attention and withstood the buffeting of her hug. "Hi, Helena."
"I'm so glad you called me and asked me if you could come over. We have so much to talk about and I want you to take your time telling it. Come in, come in. Sit. I'll get you something to drink; is there anything you want?"
"Coffee would be fine, Helena." He glanced around the table. "Where's Morrail?"
"He is making dinner. I understand it is to be some kind of soup; white beans and sausage, I think."
Nickolai nodded as Helena put a mug in front of him. She hoped he wouldn't be able to tell that it was formulated and not from real coffee beans; she could sometimes smell the difference. He apparently didn't know the difference and took to drinking it calmly.
Morrail appeared a few minutes later with a pot which he placed in the center of the table. A few minutes later a loaf of bread and a bowl of greens accompanied the dinner. "Here you are, both of you. I'm afraid I had to fake a few things I didn't have the ingredients for so I hope it's good."
"Whatever you make, Morrail, it will be fine with me," Helena said with a grin.
"Me, too," Nickolai agreed. They sat down to eat. Helena found the soup a little spicier than she would have preferred and Morrail noticed the expression on her face. "Too much garlic, or should I have used the kielbasa instead of the Italian?"
"I think it's mostly the sausage," Helena gasped.
"Sorry about that," Morrail admitted. "How is it to you, Nickolai?"
"It's good," Nickolai said. "Like lots of Pendorian cooking, very good."
"Good," Morrail replied. "I'll send some home to you, although I imagine by now both you and my daughter have learned to cook for yourselves?"
"And other things as well, I take it?" Helena asked.
Nickolai turned to her. "What do you mean?"
"Kolya, don't be coy with us; we have known you only one day less than our daughter has known you. I know this can't be easy for you with Elizabeth showing up." She leaned over the table and spoke gently. "Tell us what you're feeling."
Nickolai sight. "I made a promise to Elizabeth, Helena. Now I don't know if I want to follow through with that promise. I'm afraid to live up to it. I don't know if I want to have a child that I can't raise by myself."
"So have one that you can, Nickolai," Helena offered.
Nickolai frowned. "I don' t know that I can, Helena. Does Joey want a child?" Helena noticed with amusement that he referred to Jofuran as 'Joey' rather than 'Furry' around her and Morrail. It was the only time she ever heard Jofuran's pre-teen nickname.
"Have you asked her?"
"We've talked about it," Nickolai admitted. "But I haven't come right out and asked."
"Then maybe it's time that you did," Morrail pointed out cheerfully. He surprised Nickolai by taking out a pipe and lighting it. A sweet smoke floated across the room, and Nickolai could see that he didn't inhale it but just tasted it. He had rarely seen a Pendorian using a smoke before and had certainly not expected Morrail to take up the habit. Morrail grinned. "Started a couple of years ago. I find it relaxing; I don't even use a habit-forming tobacco. Back to the subject at hand, Nickolai. We are not going to pressure you, son, but I have to ask are you afraid of having a child?"
"Having a child is a big responsibility, Nickolai," Helena tagged in. "It takes time away from your studies, from your beloved, from everything you've ever done before. Do you want to do that? Because if you choose to try and stay with Elizabeth that is what the price will be. If you try to have a child with Jofuran, that is what the price will be."
Nickolai crumpled up the cloth napkin and left it on the table. "I don't know, Helena, I just don't. Joey and I we've been good to each other for so long I don't know if I can stand the strain of knowing I have a child out there that I'm not influence and I don't know if I could stand the strain of having such a demanding creature between Jofuran and I."
"We did it with Jofuran," Helena said, nodding toward Morrail. "You can do it, too." She reached out and put a hand on the confused human's shoulder. "There is nothing to be afraid of, Nickolai. Really, there is not. You have concerns and those are good. But you shouldn't let those concerns scare you away from the life you desire."
Nickolai sighed. "I'm sorry, Helena, Morrail. I want to be a good husband to your daughter even if we never did really have a ceremony, but I'm afraid that I'm never going to be everything."
"Nobody ever is," Morrail interrupted.
"I know, Morrail. That doesn't mean I can't try."
"Try and you fail. Just be enough, Nickolai. Now, about this Elizabeth girl, what is she really looking for?"
"She's looking for a sperm donor as far as I can tell." Nickolai picked up his coffee again. "It's cold." He poured himself some from the carafe in the center of the table. "She's here for a year; she wants me to get her pregnant and then she wants to raise the child herself."
"Sounds like she has her plans. Has Furry agreed to allow you to be the donor?"
"Yes," Nickolai sighed. "I think so. I mean, she said yes but she looked really upset when she said I could. I'm just this has brought so many feelings to the surface."
"Feelings are good," Helena pointed out. "As long as you have someone to talk to about them."
"Of course you do," Morrail said. "You have us. We are family, Nickolai, whether you care to believe it or not. We have always worried about you not spending enough time talking to us."
Nickolai took that in with a curious expression on his face. It had never occurred to him that Helena and Morrail would want a relationship with him; they had always been Jofuran's parents and, while Morrail had talked some sense to him early on in his relationship with Jofuran, it had been years since he had seen them.
He took a deep breath. "I guess I want to talk to Joey about this some more," he said.
"You do that, Nickolai," Helena said. "Because I would not be averse to being a grandmother."
"Ah, the truth is out!" Morrail chuckled.
"Mory, please. I have made no secret of that."
"I know, my beloved. And it's fair that we voice our selfish wants to Nickolai. Think of it this way, Nickolai. If you make us grandparents, you will at least have someone to watch the baby once in a while." He paused. "And only once in a while. It is the grandparents' duty to spoil the child, not raise it."
Nickolai grinned. "I'll give it some thought."
Helena turned over to her husband. "What did you think of our talk with our son in law?"
"I think it went rather well," Morrail said quietly. He lay on his back, looking up at the ceiling. "Helena, do you ever think about moving on?"
She reacted strongly. "Morrail! You are not leaving me!"
"No, no, I have no intention of committing suicide anytime soon at all, Helena. I am not remotely that tired. I was asking you."
"No," she said firmly. "I have never considered kelana since I met you."
He chuckled and wrapped his arms around her. "Since you met me?"
"Since I met you," she repeated. "Before then, I do not remember much. Maybe I did, maybe I did not. Since we have been together, I have been happy every day, even the miserable, wet, cold, rainy ones. You are always there to keep me warm."
His hands stroked her in their embrace. "And wet?"
"That too," she smiled, kissing his cheek, tickling a whisker or two. "Why did you ask such a shocking question?"
"Because it is just a little more shocking than asking you if you wanted to give Jofuran a sibling."
Helena tried to snuggled just a little closer to Morrail. "I have done my duty and given Pendor back my genes. I have no desire to have another one." Her hands strayed down the length of his body.
"I think I feel the same way. Still, there are times when I would like the sound of little feet again."
"Then we will have to work harder on Nickolai and Jofuran." Her fingers tickled the sides of his thighs, arousing him with their familiar magic.
"That may be difficult with this new love in Nickolai's life."
"That will work itself out, eventually," Helena said. She had brought his sex to life with her distracting ministrations; now she slid her entire body on top of his, positioning herself above him and taking his hardness within her. "I am sure."
He closed his eyes. "I am sure, too."
Helena sank all the way down, arching her neck and rolling her head back, allowing his sex to nestle deep within her, to hit those spots that almost hurt but not quite. She leaned forward and looked down into his smiling eyes; he rested his hands on her hips and together they set a rhythm that, for a while, made them both the center of the universe.
And when both had had enough, Helena eased herself down beside the mel she'd loved for two centuries and slept, content.