Gabriel opened the front door and stepped out of the pouring rain.
“If you’re about to drip all over the floor, please don’t,” Hugh called from the kitchen. Gabriel glanced down at the puddles of water streaming off him and onto the polished floorboards.
“Here,” Paul said handing him a towel as he wandered past, nose buried in a PADD. Gabriel rubbed his head vigorously, his muscles warm and lose from the run.
“It’s rude to stare,” he said as he moved on to dry the back of his neck and his arms.
“I’m making breakfast,” Hugh said dryly, turning away from him.
“I need to shower,” Gabriel replied.
“No, you need to eat.”
“I will, but I need to shower and dress first.”
“No, because, you’ll shower and dress and then you’ll need to leave to make it in on time.” Gabriel raised an eyebrow, running the towel over his legs to absorb the worst of the rain.
“It’s a good hypothesis,” Paul called from where we was sitting at the breakfast bar, “that’s exactly what’s happened three times already this week.”
“Not today,” Hugh said, folding his arms and looking terribly cross.
“Well then,” Gabriel said, tossing the towel into the hamper in the bathroom on his way passed.
“Paul,” Hugh chidded as he placed scrambled eggs and toast on the table next to the fruit salad and coffee.
“Yes, yes,” the scientist mumbled, “it’s going away.” Gabriel had to suppress a smile as Paul lent away from the table desperate to finish a sentence before he had to give it up.
Gabriel tried his best to ignore his damp clothing, and enjoy the casual conversation across the table.
“Gabe?” Paul’s voice called him back to the present, “I could be wrong, it’s not really my area of expertise, but I’m pretty sure you need to actually eat the food in order for it to provide any nutritional value.” Glancing down, Gabriel saw the food Hugh had piled on his plate now looked like it had done something to personally offend him, his stomach turned at the sight of it. He swallowed thickly and picked up a corner of toast which seemed to have missed most of the carnage.
“I don’t normally eat this soon after…”
“We need to talk about this,” Hugh said gently.
“About what? Gabriel asked, genuinely frustrated. “I’ve never been able to eat straight after exercise.”
“Then how come…” Hugh stopped, frowning and there was an awkward silence that wasn’t new to them. Gabriel understood how difficult it must be for them, to have known the other him, worked and lived beside him for months. While this intimate relationship was solely between the three of them, that didn’t mean they hadn’t had these odd moments. “Ok, I’m sorry. No food right after exercise, but we do need to talk to about the fact that you’re not gaining weight.” Gabriel resisted the urge to crack his forehead off the table.
“Your corners are all corners still,” Paul said through a mouthful of melon.
“We’re quite some set aren’t we?” he asked eventually, abandoning the toast on the edge of his plate and reaching for a glass of water instead. It was true though; with the end of the active use of the spore drive, Paul had been reassigned to the research division where the lingering effects of his exposure to the Mycelial network could be better monitored than out on the front line. Hugh was a scientific miracle that no-one understood; after Discovery’s last trip through the network he had simply appeared in engineering as though nothing had happened. Compared to them Gabriel was a common-or-garden kidnap and abduction victim. The fact that his abductor had been a mirror of himself and that while he’d been languishing in another universe, this doppelganger had been masquerading as him was really only a side-note in the story.
“Stop trying to deflect,” Hugh said, “you’re over exercising and not upping your calorie intake to reflect what you’re buring.”
“I’m eating! Lord knows you saw me demolish a mountain of tortillas last night,”
“Yes, but you’re supposed to be bulking up and you must have run 20 clicks yesterday and then you were out the door first thing this morning.”
“I like running, it helps me think.”
“Then you need to up your calorie intake, I think you’ve lost half the weight we managed to put back on you and none of it’s muscle mass.”
His sojourn at the pleasure of the Terran Empire, spent mostly in an agoniser both, had not left him in peak condition. Gabriel was not naive enough that he didn’t realise they had swept through the complex as a last ditch attempt to find his body and confirm what they already knew, it was sheer luck that he’d still been drawing breath. He’d been chronically malnourished, as Hugh liked to regularly point out, and had lost so much muscle mass that he’d barely been able to walk when they’d found him. The wonders of modern medicine had solved a lot of the problems, but at the end of the day even Gabriel knew that there was an optimum exercise to calorie intake ratio for healthy weight gain and muscle building.
“When are you due to see Doctor Springer next?”
“Don’t ask me questions, you know the answer to.”
“You should have been for a check up last week Gabe,” Paul cut in looking at him with his pale, piercing gaze.
“I’m not going to see him anymore,” Gabriel replied firmly.
“Why not?” Hugh asked and Gabriel sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Look, I’m not going to force you to see him, but you need to see someone regularly or they’re not going to let you out from behind that desk you hate so much. Medical non-compliance isn’t going to be tolerated.”
“He,” Gabe said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his thighs, “Dr Springer, was very vocal with his opinion on my current domestic situation. He felt it was unhealthy and ws impacting on my recovery. He made it quite clear that as long as it continued, he would not deem me fit for duty.”
It was an unusual arrangement, even in this day and age, but it seemed to suit them. Paul and Hugh were looking at each other pointedly, and Gabriel was getting antsy.
“Look, I need to go get going,” he said, standing up.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Paul asked quietly, standing and coming over to him and pulling him close.
“I’m gross,” Gabriel protested trying to pull away.
“You smell amazing,” the scientist countered, burying his nose in the juncture to his neck.
“You should have said Gabe,” Hugh said, coming up beside the pair of them, running his hand over Gabriel’s shoulders, “I’ll make sure he never works again.”
“No… don’t… You’ll make it difficult for yourselves. It’s… I’m not…” Gabriel’s throat closed up on him, much as it often did whenever he tried to express anything about the fact that these two extraordinary men had swept him up into their love.
“Don’t even think it,” Hugh said firmly, wrapping his arms around the pair of them, “don’t you dare even think it Gabriel Lorca.” He pulled Gabriel’s head over and kissed the crown.
He knew that they thought this reluctance to accept he was an equal and worthy part of this relationship was a reflection of his recent experiences, of the guilt he felt over the actions of the other Lorca and maybe it was, but Gabriel suspected that he’d always have struggled.
“We’ll find someone else,” Hugh mumbled into his hair, “Maybe get you some more shots to supplement the amended diet if you’re going to insist on running a marathon every two days.”
“We’ll find someone who isn’t a jackass,” Paul said, “and then I’m going to sit on you and feed you ice-cream.”
“Is that right?” he asked with a silent chuckle.
“Yes. Starting now. Let’s not go in today, let’s go back to bed.” Paul the workaholic was an unlikely source of this sort of idea.
“We may not be at active war any longer,” Gabriel said, straightening up and indicating that they should let go of him. They both loosened their grip but didn’t let go, “but there’s work to be done.”
“Work that will continue quite well without us for a day,” Hugh said, stepping away and heading for their comm unit.
“I know that we were a couple first Gabe,” Paul murmured quietly, “but we were both so changed by what had happened, in ways that we still can’t understand. You, finding you has been, it’s the three of us Gabe. Not us and you.”
The morning sun broke through the heavy cloud and as it’s rays fell across the room to reach the bare skin of his legs, Gabriel let himself be wrapped up in a heartfelt embrace. Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead on Paul’s shoulder, and as Hugh returned, his frame slotting neatly in against them Gabriel realised that this was exactly where the three of them belonged.