*Third Meal - the evening meal, supper
*Commoner Tree - a native Arlytian tree which has a unique green tint to its bark. It is fast growing and with a hard wood, so is very popular in construction and other uses.
*Mieli (pronounced Mee-ay-lee) - A word from an ancient Arlytian dialect that means "Greatly loved one". Mieli is masculine and Miela is feminine. It is considered a precious word and is usually used as an endearment between marrieds.
Upon leaving Charge Seren’s quarters, Cayson took a few steps toward the Agriculture Unit, where he was most likely to find Ozias. However, he quickly changed his mind and his direction. It was still a working day. Oz would be occupied and Cay knew his own time was better suited at the Med Unit. Currently there were no overnight patients, but he needed to do an inventory of all supplies before the shipwide exodus would occur. Depending on what Seren’s team would find on their mission, that might be sooner rather than later.
Getting to his unit and isolating himself in the stock room, he routinely counted and recorded supplies while thinking both about how he needed to apologize to Oz, as well as considering who among the medical crew would be a wise choice for Seren to take on the expedition.
He hadn’t come to a promising decision on much of anything by the time the inventory was done, and he was tempted to find other work to linger for a while. There were always productive activities to be done in medicine, but it was approaching third meal and he knew that Oz and Amrynn would be wondering about him if he was later than expected.
Actually, he had to speculate if Am would notice. She’d been so caught up in her own research that most everything else had taken a back seat. Cay was fairly certain that even now, if Oz hadn’t already gotten her, she’d be in her zone studying, testing and recording data from Neveah’s samples. Deciding to delay talking to Oz a little longer, he headed toward the Purifier ward to see if Amrynn was there and ready to go.
Those plans were dashed fairly quickly when he stepped out of the med unit and found Oz waiting for him on the other side of the door. His husband looked dangerously serene leaning against the corridor wall with arms and legs casually crossed. Oz met his eyes and slowly straightened from his leaning position. Cay stayed somewhat rooted to the spot, shame and a fair amount of wariness keeping him there as Oz approached him and got just a step closer than personal space deemed appropriate.
“Still mad at me?” Oz asked quietly, completely taking Cay off-guard, and making his shame build.
“No,” he answered sincerely and took a breath. “I’m sorry, Oz. I do know why you didn’t want me to volunteer and I reacted badly.”
Oz’s face relaxed slightly and he dipped his head to lightly kiss Cay. “I didn’t mean to make it come out quite so harshly, but I really don’t want you volunteering, Cay. It’s dangerous and unnecessary for you to go. Am and I would be worried sick.”
Cay flushed and ducked his head, no longer able to meet Oz’s eyes. His guilt was increasing significantly.
Oz’s deep voice stabbed at his heart and Cay took a shaky breath. “I did volunteer,” he barely whispered.
The relaxation Cay had seen on Oz’s face disappeared immediately. Surprise, anger, and a strong look of betrayal replaced it and Cay had all he could do to keep tears from coming to his eyes.
“Oz, I’m sorry!”
Oz took a step back from him. “You volunteered? You’re going despite knowing how I feel and without even discussing it with Am?”
“No!” Cay answered a bit loudly, drawing the attention of a couple Travelers down the corridor. “No,” he repeated a bit softer. “Charge Seren and I talked for a while and I calmed down. Oz, I volunteered because I was mad, but I realized as I talked with Charge Seren how wrong that was of me. Actually, I knew it was wrong all along, but I ignored it until I had gotten past my upset. I rescinded my request and he understood why. He’s not going to have me a part of the expedition.”
Oz’s hands were clenched. It wasn’t often he looked that angry, but even worse was the pure hurt in his eyes.
“Oz, please forgive me,” Cay requested. “I’m so sorry.”
Oz took a deep breath and let it go slowly and with a sigh. “I will forgive you…I do forgive you. I just…I’m not sure how to take this. I need some time.”
Ozias had never pulled away from him and Cay was afraid of that happening more than almost anything. “No, Oz! Please don’t leave!”
Instantly he found himself pulled into a breath-taking embrace. “Cayson…Cayson,” the deep voice murmured above him. “That wasn’t what I meant. I’m sorry. I just meant that I need some time to come to grips with what happened today and why, and I need some time to think more rationally than I feel right now.”
“I am sorry,” Cay said, his voice muffled against Oz’s shoulder.
“I know, but the implications of what has happened scares me and I have to figure it out.” He roughly kissed Cay’s temple and released him from the hug. “But not here in a public hallway. Let’s go back to our room, ok?”
Cay nodded and fell into step with Oz, feeling grateful that while the grip was loose, his husband still held his hand as they made their way back to their quarters. Oz had nothing else to say as they walked and it didn’t get any better when they reached their room. Wordlessly he brought Cay to the bed with him and urged him to lie down. When Cay complied, he laid down with him and draped an arm over Cay’s waist, holding the slightly smaller man’s back to his chest as he silently took the time he said he needed.
Cay did his best not to squirm or speak. He hoped quiet compliance and respect now would bring Oz into a better frame of mind as well as earn him some brownie points. More than an hour ticked by before Oz’s silence broke.
“We need Amrynn here,” he said plainly.
Cay’s heart sunk a little deeper. This meant that Oz saw this as a family issue and not an incident that could be handled between the two of them. He clearly wasn’t going to decide on a closure to Cay’s poor choices without Am’s input.
Sitting up on the bed, Oz reached for his communicator and called Amrynn’s line. When she didn’t answer, he called the Purifier ward, assuming she was still there.
“Who is this, please?” he asked when someone answered. “Backer Vina, is Charge Amrynn still there? This is her husband.” He paused, obviously listening to the other end. “Yes, I realize she’s testing but I need to talk to her. If it’s not an emergency or a danger for her to stop what she’s doing, I’d like you to please let her know I’m calling.”
It was a couple more minutes wait before Amrynn got on the line.
“Am? It’s late and I’d like you to come home now. Cay and I need to talk to you.” After a moment, Oz frowned slightly. “Amrynn, you know the standards of whether you’re truly able to leave or not. Can you really not stop for the night?”
Another pause and a slight nod from Oz.
“If you can leave in ten minutes, then I expect you here within twenty. We’ll see you soon.”
He ended the call in a way that Cay knew would probably tick Am off. He wasn’t deliberately cutting her off, but it was clear that Oz believed the conversation to be done while Cayson thought that Amrynn would probably not agree.
Cayson was right in his silent assumption. Not too much later, Amrynn stalked more than walked into their stateroom and threw a glare at Oz.
“Ozias! What is so important that I had to cut off my testing, and why did you hang up on me? I hate it when you do that! Just because you had your say didn’t mean I was done having mine!”
She stopped her angry ranting. Of the three of them, Oz could always say so much with so little, and he’d voiced a full reproof and a comforting ‘Calm down. It’s ok.’ with that one word. Amrynn finally took a good look at his face and then turned her eyes to Cay, easily reading in his expression the disgrace he was feeling. She sat down on the room’s loveseat and spoke in a very different tone.
Oz took hold of Cay’s hand and brought him over to the sitting area. He settled Cay on the reclining chair and then sat down by Amrynn. “Cayson, tell her,” he ordered lowly.
Cay hated it when Oz made him explain his misdeeds. It was easier when Oz would explain and he could just nod in agreement.
Not being able to look her in the face, Cay’s eyes stared at his knees as he told Amrynn of the argument he and Oz had at mid-meal, the volunteering and subsequent talk with Charge Seren, and the frustrations he’d been feeling lately with being so enclosed.
There was a long and uncomfortable silence when he finished with an “I’m sorry”. It was so long that he finally found he couldn’t keep from looking at his wife and husband anymore and he raised his head to see what they were doing. He was surprised and heartsick to see that Am had leaned into Oz and was crying slow and silent tears. He immediately went to his knees in front of her and rested his hands on her thighs.
“Am, I’m so sorry! I promise I’m not going on the mission.”
Amrynn straightened from her lean against Oz and put her hands over Cay’s. “It’s not that, Cay,” she said tearily. “I just hate that I didn’t know how disturbed you were feeling; and I hate that it seems you couldn’t tell us. We’ve always told each other everything. When did it change that you couldn’t talk to Oz and me?”
Cay dropped his head to her lap, his words muffled against her legs. “I didn’t mean to hide it, Am. I think it snuck up on me, but seeing Neveah through the screen when you collected your samples just made the penned up feeling so much bigger. Then, when Oz told me I wasn’t to volunteer for the first trek with Seren, I just got so mad.”
“And you let your anger lead you to do exactly what Oz told you not to do,” Amrynn said directly, her tears starting to fade. “That wasn’t right. You know that if any one of us thinks someone is being unfair, we need to talk about it. We can’t just go and do whatever we want or defy each other without harming our marriage.” The tears appeared in her voice again. “Our family and closest friends are thousands of miles away. We’re all each other has, Cay, and I won’t lose you or Oz. I won’t!”
Cay’s eyes filled but he kept the tears from falling. “I’m sorry. I won’t do that again. You’re more important. You and Oz are everything to me,” he choked out.
Amrynn slid from the seat to her knees with Cay and hugged him. After a couple minutes, the feel of Oz’s touch helped pull them together and the three of them squeezed onto the loveseat. Oz had been quiet throughout the whole exchange, but now his deep voice spoke to Cayson.
“Cay, be honest with us, please. Was part of the problem that Am and I weren’t available to you to share what was going on?”
Cay tensed and wiped absently at his face. It took several swallows for him to find his words. “Maybe,” he hedged lightly. “It’s not an excuse. You and I were together for meals, but sometimes I wanted to say something to both of you and…” He stopped, looking thoroughly miserable and ashamed to finish what was on his mind. His spouses caught on quickly though.
“But I’ve been glued to my work for the last week,” Amrynn stated truthfully. “I know I get too focused sometimes, and I should have seen the signs…”
Her words faded briefly and a slight flush colored her features.
“No, that’s not right,” she corrected. “I did see the signs that I was over focused, but I was ignoring them. I kept telling you two that I couldn’t leave the lab, but the truth was that I wanted to do the tests myself and not let others take anything away from me. I wasn’t being honest with you and I was letting my work become more important than my marriage. I know we’ve talked about all of us having a tendency to do this sometimes, but this time it was my fault and I knew better. I wasn’t being entirely open with you…or myself…and if I had been then maybe you would have had the chance to talk with us, Cay. I’m sorry for not being there,” she apologized sadly.
Am and Cay were sitting on either side of Oz and he took one of their hands in each of his. “Are you both being honest now?” he asked as he squeezed their hands.
“Anything else to say or add?” he questioned.
They shook their heads.
“Then judgment is mine this time,” he determined. Neither one argued with him and he angled himself slightly towards Cay. “Cayson, you chose not to share something with us you should have shared, you defied and disobeyed me, and you risked harm to yourself and our marriage. Is any of that unfair to say?”
Bright red, Cayson shook his head. “No, Oz.”
Oz squeezed his hand. “Then go to the bed and bend over.”
Wilting slightly, but obeying, Cay moved across the room to their bed, automatically took down his pants, and bent over with his elbows and forearms resting on the mattress.
Leaving Amrynn to observe where she was, Oz extracted their board from the room’s one wardrobe. The long, oval-shaped implement wasn’t overly big, but the green-tinted wood made from Arlytia’s native Commoner tree was hard and packed a significant sting. Oz went to Cay’s left side and placed a hand lightly on the small of his back. He gave no more warning than one tap to Cay’s bottom before swinging the board down with a fair amount of force. Cay jumped slightly and hissed at the immediate pain that spread across his cheeks. The hisses continued with the second and third strokes, but soon turned to whimpers as Oz steadily paddled him.
Neither Cay nor Oz were given to sobs, but there was a continuous flow of tears running down Cayson’s face, accompanied by an occasional yelp as the board hit a particularly sore spot. Cay felt thoroughly chastised by the time Oz determined a fair punishment had been dealt.
Cay stayed where he was after the board stopped landing, knowing he was expected to stay in position until given permission to rise. He felt Oz’s hand rub briefly on his back before he heard the quiet voice speak to him.
“Come here, Mieli.”
Cay choked on a quiet cry at the tender endearment and rose to receive Oz’s hug. It was tight, almost to the point of cutting off Cay’s breathing, but he didn’t care. That hug was always Oz’s silent promise that they were good and back where they should be.
The embrace lasted for several minutes before Oz bent to replace Cay’s pants and then held a hand out to Amrynn. Their wife hurried over, anxious to be a part of the reconnection as well. She hugged Cay first, not as hard as Oz but still a tight and all-encompassing embrace. She followed it up with a kiss, first on Cay’s damp cheek and then on his lips; her own way of letting him know she forgave him completely.
After the kiss, Oz placed a hand on her shoulder and with gentle force brought her to the edge of the bed. She and Cay both looked confused for a moment before Oz spoke.
“Amrynn, you weren’t entirely honest with us and you chose to put work others could have done or helped with over a lifelong love and commitment. Is that unfair for me to deduce?”
She swallowed once and glanced at Cay, quickly putting her hand against his chest to stop the defense he wanted to give on her behalf. “No, Oz,” she answered.
Oz looked to Cay. “Is it unfair, Mieli?”
It took a moment, but Cay finally shook his head. “No,” he decided.
Oz nodded once and a hand on Am’s back had her bending over the bed as Cay had done. Oz slipped his fingers in the waistband of her pants and gripped it, pulling the material tightly against her bottom.
“This is for mixed up priorities and dishonesty to Cay…”
He brought the board down hard, making her yelp.
Another firm smack that elicited a squeak.
“And to yourself.”
The third whack was hardest and she let out a brief sob before Oz pulled her into a hug that matched the one he’d given Cay. She cried against him briefly and then turned to get a hug from Cayson as well. Oz put his arms around both of them and kissed what he could reach of their faces.
“Are you ok?” he asked, addressing them both.
“Yes,” they said in unison.They said nothing else, but remained in one another’s arms for a good part of the evening.