Despite having now lived in Virginia for almost three years, Thomas, and the men who also chose to remain in the New World, make a point of returning to England every so often to visit their families. News of their encounters with the natives is widespread. Many of them are criticised for associating with these supposed "savages" and marrying into their families; but they return nonetheless, despite the scorn.
As difficult as it is being away from Kocoum, Thomas remains in England for a month, casually avoiding his parents' barrage of questions about the New World or when he's planning to come home, get married and start a family like all his old friends have. Only his sister knows about Kocoum and the life Thomas has on the other side of the ocean; she hasn't let the church influence her like it did her peers and makes a point of preparing a few little gifts for Thomas to take back with him for Kocoum and the twins.
The morning of his departure back to Virginia is sombre and full of uncertainty; but Thomas boards the ship with John despite his parent's objections (this happens every time he returns to England,) and sooner or later they will have to accept that the city is no longer his home.
His sister chases him up the ramp before they can raise anchor and carefully pushes a small basket into his hands without telling him what's in it, only that it's for Kocoum. As the boat leaves the dock, Thomas has a peep through the lid and curses under his breath.
He's so relieved to be home that he starts sobbing as soon as he's back in Kocoum's arms. He looks forward to an evening spent with the rest of the village, sitting quietly by the fire and listening to Kekata's stories over dinner, before retiring back to the hut to catch up on time missed with his husband and their twins.
But then he remembers the basket is still sitting amongst the cargo that the crew have brought back and pulls himself away from Kocoum long enough to retrieve it. The warrior doesn't make any comment about it until they're back at the hut and Thomas holds out the basket for him to take.
'You didn't need to get me anything...' Kocoum says slowly, sounding genuinely surprised despite his usual blank expression; he carefully lifts the lid, looks inside and stares. And stares. And-
'Thomas. What in the name of the Happy Hunting Grounds is that?'
Thomas anticipated this reaction and he tries to keep a straight face as he carefully holds up the basket closer to Kocoum. 'She's a kitten. A baby cat. You know what cats are, right?’
The native frowns down at the little ginger furball, his head slowly rising and dipping in a nod. ‘Cats, yes. Big cats. They live in the mountains. Feral, very dangerous.'
‘These are different sorts of cats.’ Thomas interjects quickly. ‘They’re domesticated; bred to live in the home. Perfectly tame.’
He can tell Kocoum isn't entirely convinced. He puts the basket down and lets the kitten scamper about for a bit, much to the delight of Amonute and Matoaka, who clap their hands in appreciation for their new friend and start following her around the hut.
Kocoum is still frowning. ‘Why did you bring it here?’
'It wasn't my choice; my sister bought her.' Thomas replies, cringing. 'I've always loved cats. I used to have two of them back when I lived in England. This one is unique as well - female ginger cats are very rare.'
Kocoum's eyes swivel back to the kitten unkindly, as the critter takes a swipe at his loin cloth but ends up toppling over from the effort. ‘It looks weak.’
‘She’ll grow, eventually. I think you'll love her as well if you give her a chance.' He picks up the kitten as carefully as you would a baby, holding her out for Kocoum to take. 'Try holding him. She's lovely and soft.'
The way Kocoum stares at the kitten is both absurd and comical. But he knows Thomas won't give in until he at least touches the animal, so he gingerly extends a finger and runs it along the cat’s spine, finding that a smile threatens his lips when she meows in response. He eventually allows Thomas to actually place her in his hand; she's as light as a feather and she shows her appreciation for Kocoum's attention by rubbing her small head against his cheek.
Thomas is right. Her fur is soft. As much as Kocoum hates to admit it, this miniature mountain lion is slowly beginning to win him over - even if her teeth are a bit too much on the pointy side for his liking.
‘I think she likes you.’ Says Thomas, as Kocoum rubs his nose between two furry ears. ‘Does this mean she's allowed to stay?’
Kocoum pretends to consider as the kitten starts to lick the tip of his nose with her tiny sandpaper tongue. ‘I suppose so. Providing she keeps her claws to herself.’
He puts the kitten back down so she can explore her new home and Thomas puts his arms around his taller husband as the twins shriek with excitement in the background. 'I hope this means that you're going to be nice to her from now on. I don't want to hear from Wiggins that you've been bullying a cat.'
Kocoum rolls his eyes but lands a kiss on Thomas's freckly nose. ‘You have my word that she'll be treated with respect.’
‘That's wonderful. But think fast because she's just started eating the bird you caught us for supper.’