TOMMY - ONE WEEK LATER

I sigh as I head to the kitchen, taking a break from work. I know I'll only have a few minutes before the cook comes in to start lunch, so this is the best time to grab a drink. My thoughts wander back to my son and his charge. There's something off there, but I can't put my finger on what it is. Zedd says that I'm just imagining things, but I know better. My instincts are much better honed when it comes to non life threatening situations than his are. Slightly frustrated that I can't figure it out, I throw the kitchen door open with a curse and am startled by the sound of shattering glass. I don't see anyone until I step around the island and find my son's boy on the floor, shaking and picking up bits of broken glass.

"Easy, Hunter, it's okay." Lowering my voice and crouching down to be more on level with the trembling boy, I carefully remove the pieces of glass he's already gathered up in his hands.

"I-I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It slipped and I tried to catch it-" Or I startled you into dropping it, whichever.

"Shhh it's fine, I promise it's fine, we have tons of glasses as Zedd tends to break them quite often as well." Helping him up and over to the sink I examine the cuts on his palms making certain he hasn't actually embedded any of the pieces into them before quickly cleaning and bandaging his injuries. "Next time don't try and pick up the pieces with your hands all right? There's a broom in the closet over here and with how you're shaking you're going to end up hurting yourself more than cleaning up, okay?"

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Moving to sit him on one of the chairs by the counter, I quickly get the mess tended to before checking to find he's thankfully settled down a bit. Though he's still nervously twisting his hands together, fingers gripping the edges of his shirt sleeves, at least he doesn't seem to be shaking as badly as before. Retrieving another glass from the cabinet and calmly pouring him some juice, I wait until I'm certain he has the cup this time before letting go.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Retrieving myself something as well, I watch him casually as he quickly downs the juice, glass held protectively to him the entire time. Recalling how he'd done near the same at dinner the previous night with his cup and plate - and has since he arrived here - it suddenly occurs to me just what the problem might be. "No one's going to take it from you." At his startled look, I continue calmly. "You don't have to guard your food, I promise no one will snatch it from you."

Swallowing hard, but giving a small nod, the cup is set down and his hands go back to pulling at the material of his sleeves covering them.

"Did Jax do that to you? Take your food if you didn't finish quickly enough?"

"T-teased with food. Would offer it, but then take it back. Sometimes..." Stopping and shaking his head, he's definitely going to make me work for this.

"Go on, you can tell me, I promise you won't be hurt or punished here."

Taking a shallow breath, but seeming to relent after a moment, his next words send my rage up, but truthfully don't surprise me all that much. "Sometimes he let me have food, but was usually tied up and couldn't get to it. He got mad, said I wasn't trying and was being lazy."

"I promise, we're going to make certain he's punished for what he did to you."

"Why?"

Taken back by his seemingly honest and confused question, I try to again remind myself that his situation isn't the same as mine was. "Because he had no right to treat you like that."

"But I'm a pet."

"Not anymore, and even if you were it doesn't matter, there's no excuse to treat anyone like that, a pet included."

"That's what Jacob said, too." Expression suddenly softening just a bit and worry seeming to fade for the briefest of moments, he almost manages a smile before continuing, "I told him I didn't mind being his pet, that I'd be a good pet for him, but he said no. He said I wasn't a pet anymore and that we'd be friends instead."

"He's right, you're not a pet, but yes you being his friend is probably a good start to learning how to get out of that mindset."

"I don't know how to be his friend though. What if I don't do it right? I don't want him to be disappointed."

"The only way he's going to be disappointed is if you give up on yourself. Jacob is very patient, so long as you try and get better and learn how to live I'm nearly certain any mistakes or set backs will not do anything but make him try to help you all the more."

"Maybe."

"How are you getting along with everyone else?"

Giving a slight shrug and looking at the counter, his answer again doesn't surprise me all that much, "Pina is nice, but I don't think Dar likes me too much."

"He's just rough like that. It doesn't mean he doesn't like you, it just means he's upset over what Jax has done to again upset us. What about the other kids?"

"Grace read me one of her books yesterday, but Sullivan didn't seem interested in it. Mara Jane seems to be mad when I'm around her so I'm trying to stay out of her way and Lord Zedd seems a lot like Mara Jane so I'm trying to not be in his way as well."

"Again, it's not you that they're mad or upset with, but Jax. It's just seeing the damage done to you, they can't stop their tempers and power from flaring up as they both wish to fix it and punish him, but aren't sure of how yet."

"I still don't understand why they're mad he hurt me." Studying me critically for a moment he continues hesitantly. "Jacob said you got hurt a long time ago, that Lord Zedd saved you like he saved me."

"I did, and yes, he did. Long before we had Jacob or any of the children actually."

"But you got better."

"I did."

"How?"

"A lot of time and patience, along with help from Zedd, Pina, and Dar."

"Were you a pet?"

Biting back the snap response that wants to come and again firmly reminding myself he doesn't understand half of what's acceptable and isn't in our household, never mind the world in general, I finally give a tight nod. "Not exactly. I was injured in battle and those that were supposed to be helping me recover decided it'd be more fun to try and make me a plaything. Thankfully, Zedd arrived before I was past the point of saving."

"What if it's too late for me?"

Knowing exactly what he's referring to I make certain to keep my voice firm, but as non-threatening as possible, "It's not."

"But what if it is?"

"If it is, which again, it's not, we would find some way for you to still remain here with us or with someone that we knew would keep you safe and treat you properly."

"I don't know what to do if not be a pet."

"For now you just work on healing and getting better, once you're done with that we can start teaching you some basic things you need to know such as reading and writing. I'm not certain you'd do well in school at the moment however we have more than enough materials here to help you learn the basic concepts of language, science, and math and just everyday things to help you get by in the world."

"What if I can't learn them?"

"I have no doubt after talking and interacting with you over the past few days along with what Jacob has had to say on the matter that you will be more than capable of learning just as much as anyone else your age on this planet. True you're getting a bit of a late start at it, but that really doesn't mean anything as far as being able to learn goes."

Studying me intently for a long moment, he finally shakes his head slowly. "If I get taken away though I'll be punished worse if they know I was taught anything."

"You won't be taken away, as we told you, you are not a pet anymore. Listen, I understand it's hard right now, believe me I do, the first few weeks after Zedd saved me I had constant panic attacks at almost nothing and I was only in my situation for little over a week. It is going to take time for you and that's okay, time is one thing we have plenty of along with patience for helping those in situations like yourself."

"How did you stop panicking so much?"

"Pina's understanding and natural kindness helped, Dar, while rough and not too thrilled with me over an earlier rivalry was still very honest with me about things and once we got past our past he made sure to help me reach my full potential."

"What about Lord Zedd?"

"Zedd- Zedd was and is everything to me, the children aside." Unable to help the soft smile as I recall our early past together, I shake my head. "He needed some time to learn how to deal with me and my over emotional state, however he didn't lack for trying right from the start."

"Well you are bonded, yes? I mean I'm sure that helped."

"Well at the beginning we actually didn't know we were bonded. All I knew was I felt better when I was around him and he, despite his at times annoying over protectiveness, did everything he could to make sure I felt safe."

"Like what?"

"Well, like how you've been sleeping in Jacob's room-" Pausing and giving the boy a knowing look, I'm not surprised as he quickly lowers his gaze and begins to fidget in worry, "-Zedd let me do the same. I was having rather bad nightmares and being beside him helped when I slept."

"I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't sleep in his chambers."

"It's okay, knowing my son I have little doubt he insisted on the matter after your first few sleepless nights here. I will say it did take a bit of doing to calm Zedd down over the matter though." Recalling my near hour long battle with him when he'd stumbled upon he two sound asleep the other morning, I can only be thankful that I was able to remind him that our own initial sleeping arrangements where for very likely the same reason and with no intention to mate involved. "He has however assured me he won't try and send Jacob off to boarding school or feed you to any wildlife so long as that's all that's occurring is sleeping."

I don't miss the disappointed drop of the eyes or the mumbled agreement even as I hear my son calling for the boy. "Hunter!"

He glances at me, clearly for permission and I nod quickly. "It's fine. Go ahead."

"In here!" he calls back.

Jacob bursts through the door, but stops short at the sight of the boy clearly unharmed, even if still uneasy. "Are you okay?"

Hunter nods, but my sharp eyed son catches sight of the bandages on his hands. He turns on me even as he pulls Hunter into an embrace. "What did you do?"

Raising an eyebrow at his tone, which is much like his other father, I reply calmly, "Bandaged him up after he cut himself on a broken glass."

He looks at Hunter, who drops his eyes and nods smally. "I'm sorry. I was just going to get something to drink like you said I could and your father came in and I dropped it. I won't do it again. I promise."

Jacob takes a calming breath. "It's all right, Hunter. Accidents happen. You won't be punished for that." For some reason, this makes the boy fidget even more, in spite of Jacob's gentle tone and caresses. "What's wrong, kalleimat?"

Shocked over his use of the endearment, I can't speak even as Hunter looks ever more nervous. "Please, just tell me what the rules are. I don't know what I should and shouldn't be doing and I'm afraid I'm going to do something I shouldn't and I won't know it and-"

"Hunter, stop!" Quickly trying to calm the boy, Jacob looks almost as upset as Hunter does. "I told you - there aren't that many rules here. Stay out of rooms you aren't supposed to be in and don't leave the house alone are the two biggest ones you have to follow right now, okay? You are allowed to eat and drink when you're hungry or thirsty. If you want to take a nap, just let someone know where you are so we don't panic."

Making sure my own voice is soothing, I tell him, "Even if you break a rule, Hunter, you aren't going to be hit or worse for it. We'll simply remind you of the rule." Seeing panic creep into his eyes, I quickly clarify. "Verbally. We don't give physical reminders in this house."

"You'd have to mess up really, really badly before anyone tried to raise a hand to you" Jacob adds. "I've only ever been struck once in my life for discipline and it wasn't all that bad."

"You were nine and you risked your life for a couple of squirrels, Jacob."

"But I'll never forget it, even though it wasn't that bad. That was the point, wasn't it?" Speechless again, I simply nod. Jacob looks at his new friend, shock clearly on his face. Turning my attention to the boy, I'm shocked to see that he looks well and truly pissed off.

"You hit Jacob? When he was only nine? How could you?!" And if I didn't know better, I'd think that he's about to launch off the stool and attack me.

Jacob intervenes quickly. "No, wait, Hunter. He didn't hit me like you've been hit. It was a few swats on the butt with his hand. Nothing serious. I promise." Gently, he pulls Hunter off the stool and toward the back door. "Come on, let's go outside for a bit and I'll explain things to you."

Watching them leave, I can't understand Hunter's protectiveness over Jacob - even to the point that it overrides his training. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think- Uh oh. Remembering how Jacob reacted to Hunter's anger when he wasn't even looking at him, my heart sinks even as I pray to the powers that I'm wrong. Quickly, I head out to find my husband.

As I approach his office, I can hear he's on a call, so I slip in silently and wait impatiently. It takes forever, but he finally disconnects the call. "What's up, love?"

"I think we might have a problem."

He exhales heavily. "What now?"

"I think that Jacob and Hunter might be bonded." At his shocked look, I quickly fill him in on what happened in the kitchen. He, however, looks doubtful.

"I think you're overreacting and misreading the situation, Thomas. Hunter might indeed feel protective of Jacob, but to him, Jacob's his savior. Likely, it's just gratitude."

"Maybe, but I don't think so."

"Well, we'll keep an eye on things, but I really don't think we have anything to worry about."

"I hope you're right, Zedd. I really do."