Exposed


Ooooooooh, this has been so much fun.  Thank you to Marianne and Junior for the beta reading.

Paramount's universe and a couple of their characters, the rest is mine--K'Leena, Lucas, Mike, Tessa, Robbie, Sherise, Kyle, Melanie and Michael William belong to me as well as this story.

More bodice ripping and heavy breathing, so NC-17.  Go here to read the PG version of Exposed.

I have a warning for this story.  If you don't want to be spoiled, ignore this.  If you have problems with certain things in fanfic, highlight the next paragraph with your mouse.

Tessa has a miscarriage in this story.  It's not very graphic, but it does happen.


Klingon Hearts and Beyond

Exposed--In the Light of Evil

by:  Tracy L. Sobieski



Lieutenant Robert Owen Paris, Chief Medical Officer on the U.S.S. Dakota, moved slowly through the deserted settlement.  

This was -wrong-.  

He could feel it.  Every one of his senses tingled with unease.  The muscles in his body locked tight with the tension flowing through him.  

Danger.

The rest of the away team looked slightly befuddled, but no one else displayed any signs of unrest.  They had been ordered by Starfleet Command to assist the settlers with an outbreak of the Peraton Virus.  Paris had his med-team on the planet with the Dakota's First Officer, Commander Dalari, the Chief Science Officer, Lieutenant Cupthland and only one security officer.

Paris walked over to the First Officer and the CSO.

"Commander," he spoke quietly, so no one else could hear.  "We need to get out of here.  Now."

Cia Dalari looked at the ship's doctor in surprise.  "Why?" she asked.  "The settlers might just be hiding."

"Why would they do that?  They asked for help,"  Paris pointed out.  "This is a trap, Commander.  I can -feel- it."

What happened next came so fast and unexpectedly, the ship's Science Officer, Sherise Cupthland, could barely believe her eyes.

Even as the disrupter blast hit Commander Dalari and she began to disintegrate in front of them, Paris had his arm around her waist and was propelling them to the ground, yelling to the others in the process while he activated his comm-badge.

"Get down!" he ordered.  "Paris to Dakota!  Get us out of here!  We're under attack!"

Sherise watched in horror as two other officers were hit just before the transporter beam caught them.

One moment they were under fire on the planet and the next they were lying on the floor of the Transporter Room, minus four of the away team.  Only she, Dr. Paris and Lt. Miles made it back.  

The Transporter Chief looked at them in shock.

"I lost the rest of them before I could lock on," came his dazed statement.

Robert swore viciously as he got to his feet.  "You okay?" he asked Sherise, extending his hand to help her up.

"Yeah," she replied, shaking off the stunned daze.  "What the hell happened?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Paris growled, reminding her that he was still part Klingon, no matter how human he looked.  "You all right, Miles?" he asked when the Lieutenant got to his feet as well.

"Yes, sir," the other man replied.  

--Taylor to Dalari.  What happened?--  the Captain's voice came over the comm.

Robert grimaced and tapped his comm-badge.

"We lost Commander Dalari, Sir," he informed him.  "Lt. Cupthland and I are on our way to the bridge."

--Lost her?  How the hell did you lose her?!  It was a humanitarian mission to help a bunch of sick people!--

"No, Sir, it wasn't," Paris bit out.  "We were set up.  This was an ambush."

--I want you on the bridge immediately, Doctor.--

"On my way.  Paris, out."


*****


Admiral Will Riker stalked down the corridor to Flight Control, to the offices of one Admiral Tom Paris.  

Anyone crossing the Admiral's path could see the grim set to his mouth and determined step to his stride.  Whatever Will Riker had to tell his friend...it was not good news.

Tom looked up with a smile when Will strode into his office.  It only took a moment before the smile became a frown.

"We've got a problem," Will told him without preamble.  

Sighing in frustration, he sat down in a chair facing Tom and slid a PADD across the desk for the other man to see.

Tom picked it up and began to read.  His expression darkened.  "What the hell...."

"The Dakota lost four officers, including their XO, Commander Dalari.  The rest only made it out alive thanks to Robbie, Tom.  He kept his head and acted fast, or they would have been lost as well."

"How did this happen?  Where are the settlers?"

"We don't know.  They just seemed to have disappeared.  There were over 200 people in that village, Tom.  We can't find a trace of where they went.  That's not all, either."

"What do you mean?" Tom looked up sharply.

"The Dakota.  She was sent in to help with a virus outbreak within the settlement," Will began, leaning forward in his chair.  "She wasn't the closest ship, Tom.  There were two other starships that could have responded faster."

"The Dakota is one of the larger starships, Will.  Maybe Command thought she'd be better," Tom reminded him.

"The Salk was closer."

Tom looked at his friend in disbelief.  The Salk was a medical rescue ship.  Her sole purpose was to help with situations just like this.

"Who sent the Dakota?" Tom demanded to know.

"The order came from Merron's office."

"Merron?  That can't be, Barbara is offworld, on Vulcan, if I'm not mistaken."

"You're not.  I've already spoken with her.  She didn't give the order."

"Then who...," Tom stopped, remembering who was handling Admiral Merron's office until she returned.  

"You've got to be kidding me," he said with deadly quiet.

"I wish I was."

Tom stood up and paced over to his office window, staring out at the grounds unseeingly.  It all made sense now.  Every last thing fell into place.  How could they have been so blind?!  It had been there all along.  

"Keep your friends close," Tom spoke in a whisper.

"But keep your enemies closer," Will finished for him.

"All these years he's been there, Will.  We watched him grieve and we never suspected a thing.  He lost everything because of us and we never *once* considered him."

"I know.  Hell, I'm the one who assigned Tessa to him, at his request.  He told me he could protect her if she worked for him," Riker laughed bitterly.

"Where is he?"

"Gone," Will told him.  "Starfleet Security found his house and office completely cleared out.  They think he left a couple of days ago."

"Damn!" Paris turned around.  "We've got to get the kids here, they're too vulnerable and too spread out.  I think the estate would be best.  We can add security."

"Agreed," Riker nodded.  "K'Leena and Lucas arrive on the Enterprise tomorrow.  Mike will come in on the Valiant this morning, I had Geordi cancel her shakedown and recall him.  He and Tessa can go to the estate today.  I'll contact Kyle on the Zosa and you can handle Robbie on the Dakota.  What about Mezoti, Caleb and the kids?"

"Leave them.  They're too far out to be in danger, I think.  Besides, now we know it's the biological children that he's after.  I don't think he'd have any reason to go after Mezoti, it would be too much trouble and too obvious.  I'll contact Robbie then head over to Mike's and let them know."

"All right.  Do we tell them who we suspect?"

"No, not until they're all at the estate.  I don't want to tip Jack to the fact that we know it's him."

"What about Tessa?"

"What about her?  She's in as much danger as she always has been.  He won't move against her now so soon after the incident with the Dakota, it would be a dead giveaway."

"How did we miss this, Tom?  How the hell did we fail to see this coming?"

"Because we didn't -want- to see it.  That's why.  The minute we accept that it's him we have to accept that it's -our- fault.  All of it.  Every death.  Every destroyed life.  This is -our- mess."

"What are we going to do?"

"We're not going to make the same mistake twice, that's what.  This ends now.  If we stop them before they interfere, it's over."

Will stared at his friend in horror.

"You can't be serious!"

"More than you realize."

"Tom, if we stop them...all of it doesn't happen.  Do you understand that?  Do you know what you're saying?!"

"Harry and Seven Kim are K'Leena's godparents, Will.  The best friends I will ever have.  I know damn well what I'm saying.  We don't have a choice.  You know we don't.  It has to end here.  It has to."

"They'll never forgive you."

Tom laughed bitterly.  "Will, they'll never even know I've betrayed them."


*****


Deep in thought, Sherise leaned over the Science Station console on the bridge.  Chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip, she in reviewed the information sent from Command and the readings she'd taken before beaming planetside.  

Unfortunately, she was having trouble concentrating with Paris hovering over her like a Romulan waiting to attack.  She bit down harder to stop herself from going off at him and tasted blood.  

Robbie watched her teeth sink deeper into her lip and groaned inwardly at the unbelievably strong urge he had to bite it for her.  

This was getting to be an impossible situation.  She'd only been onboard a month now and it was obvious nothing had changed between them.  He still wanted her like no other woman...and she didn't even know he was alive.

Well, that was probably an overstatement.  She knew he was alive, she just didn't -care-.  He'd never been able to get her to so much as acknowledge him as a man.  Sherise Cupthland considered him a competent officer and a decent physician...and nothing more.  What really bothered him, was that fact that it bothered him at -all-.  Why did her opinion of him matter so much?  It's not like he lacked for female companionship.  Hell, all he had to do was crook a finger and women would come.  It had always been that way.  He'd inherited his looks from his father, if the old pictures were accurate.  Finding someone to warm his bed had never been a problem.  

Why did it matter that this particular woman seemed so immune to his charms?

Why did it -still- matter?  He thought he'd gotten over her back at the academy.  Or maybe he just wanted to believe that.  Because the minute he'd welcomed her on board all the old feelings had come rushing back....

"Lieutenant Cupthland," he greeted her when she'd reported to Sickbay.  "Welcome to the Dakota."

He thought for a moment he saw something in her eyes when he held out his hand, but it was gone before he could be sure.  

"Dr. Paris," she replied, shaking his hand firmly.  "It's good to see you again.  It's been a while."

"Yes," he nodded.  "Five years next month since graduation."

"Are you still close with Kyle?"

Robbie smirked.  "I couldn't get rid of him if I wanted to.  We're family."

Sherise smiled.  "I always enjoyed his company."

She didn't need to say, "More than yours," it hung heavy in the air between them.  The fact that she'd dated Kyle at the academy never sat well with him.

"Well...let me know if you need anything," he told her, rather shortly.  "I have work to do.  I'll see you later."

She'd given him an annoyed look at the dismissal, then turned abruptly and left Sickbay....


Shaking himself mentally he forced his mind back to where it should be.  What was the matter with him?  People were dead.  Friends.  And he was lusting after Sherise like a lovesick schoolboy.

Pull it together, Paris.  Your libido can wait.  People are counting on you.

People like Sherise, who almost died today.  

And there he was, back to her again, trembling from head to toe at the thought of her dying.  His hand clenched the arm of his chair.

Face it, big guy.  You've been in love with this woman for years.

Robbie bolted up from the Science Station, pulling a frustrated hand through his hair.

"We're not going to find anything here," he told her testily.  "They've covered their tracks too well."

"If you would just shut up and let me...," she snapped back.  

He was driving her insane!  How could someone who looked so relaxed and at ease, ninety-nine percent of the time, have so much barely leashed energy coursing through him?!  

And why had she never noticed it before?  This underlying hardness about him?  This almost frightening intensity that was just churning under the surface?  The tingling she felt when he was hovering over her shoulder, his breath fanning across her skin?

"Forget it, Cupthland," Robbie growled.  "There's nothing to be found this way.  We need to go down to the surface."

"Listen, we can't...," she stood up as well, squaring off against him.  

Although she was slender, Sherise wasn't a tiny woman.  Despite nearly topping six feet in her Starfleet issue boots, she -still- had to look up at him.  There weren't many men around that could make her feel small and fragile.  It annoyed the hell out of her that this one could.   

"Paris!  Cupthland!" the Captain interrupted.  "My Ready Room.  Now."

The two lieutenants followed their captain into the other room.  They stood at attention as he took his seat, waiting while he viewed them silently for a long moment.

"Let's get one thing straight, Dr. Paris," he began firmly.  "You and Lt. Cupthland are not returning to the surface.  Understand?  There are investigators down there and you would only be in the way."

"But, Captain...."

"Enough, Doctor," the Captain cut him off.  "It's out of even my hands at this point.  You've given your statements, you've researched the medical records they sent.  You've done your part.  I'm relieving both of you for the next forty-eight hours.  Lt. Miles was smart enough to ask for the time.  I see I have to order the two of you to take it."  He paused slightly, before continuing in a firm voice,  "One last thing, Lieutenants....  You are Senior Officers on board this ship.  I expect better behavior than what just took place on -my- bridge.  -Don't- let it happen again."

The Captain held up his hand when Robbie was going to speak.

"Not another word...from either of you.  Get some rest.  That's an order.  You're dismissed."

"Well, that was pleasant," Sherise drawled wryly as she and Robbie rode the turbolift from the bridge.  Turning her head slightly, she made a pretense of checking out her backside.  

"Is there anything left...or did he chew it all off?" she asked with pseudo concern.

Robbie's lips twitched.  He followed her gaze and regretted it immediately.  Swallowing a groan he faced forward again.

"Don't worry, Cupthland.  The damage was...minimal," he managed to croak out, hoping he sounded a hell of a lot steadier than he felt.

She looked like she was about to say something more, but the lift stopped and they exited as a few more crewmembers took their place.

Silence fell heavily on them as they walked down the corridor.  Suddenly, Sherise was aware of just how tired and drained she really was.  Two days off sounded pretty good right now.  She stumbled slightly and was startled when Robbie's arm instantly went around her waist.

"Okay?" he asked with soft concern.

She glanced at him through her lashes, slightly stunned at the electric shock that coursed down her spine when he touched her.

"Yeah," she replied, pulling away from him.  "Just a little tired."

The physician in him took over.  He viewed her thoughtfully with narrowed eyes.

"And suffering from delayed shock," was the diagnosis.  "Come on, it's off to bed with you," he ordered gently.  

A moment later they reached the door to her quarters.  She stepped inside and turned to face him.

"Robbie...."

"Hmmm?"

She shuffled her feet for a moment.  "Would you like to come in and have something to eat?"   

Being alone didn't seem all that desirable.  If she was alone, she would have to think.  Right now she didn't know if she could handle that.  Anxious and tense, her nerves were stretched to the breaking point.  If she had to think about it, she would snap.

"Yeah," he smiled, walking into her quarters.  "I'd like that."

Two things assailed his senses the moment he entered her living space.  Her scent surrounded him like a cloying summer day, he would have known this was her room with his eyes closed; and the neat-as-a-pin, nothing-out-of-place order of the furnishing screamed of her as well.

"Have a seat," she gestured to the couch, absent-mindedly pulling the clip from her hair to shake down the Starfleet regulation style it had been confined in all day.  "Do you want anything in particular?"

The image shook him for a moment.  He almost reached for the shining gold waves to see if the felt as soft as it looked.

"Robbie?"

"Huh?" he replied distractedly, then realized she was talking to him.  

"Oh, sorry," he blushed.  "My mind just wandered for a minute."

"I asked if you wanted anything special for dinner?" she repeated with a bemused smile.

Robbie thought about this for a second then grinned.  

"Yeah...a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich," he told her.

She looked at him strangely.  "Really?"

He nodded.  "It was...," Robbie began then stopped himself for some reason.

"What?" she prodded gently, sure that this request was far more than it seemed.

"It's just something my dad used to do, when I was little," he told her with a far away look in his eyes.  "Whenever I had a bad day at school or something...he would make me a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich and sit down at the table with me while I ate it.  By the time I was done, he would always have managed to get me to tell him what was wrong.  And I always felt better."

Sherise walked over to him and laid a hand on his cheek.

"I'm sorry, Robbie," she apologized.  "I was only thinking of myself when I asked you to stay.  If you'd rather be alone...."

"God, no, Sherise," he whispered, his arms itching to circle her waist, but he stepped back instead, putting some distance between them.  It was too hard to think with her that close.  Too hard to breathe.  

"I want to stay.  I don't want to think about what happened anymore.  That I could have saved those people if I had acted faster."

She looked at him, stunned at his words and a little hurt at his withdrawal.

"How could you have acted any quicker?  The only reason we're alive is because of you," she asserted.

"But I knew something was up the instant we beamed planet side!" he raged suddenly.  "Dammit, I should have called for an immediate beam out!  No one would have died!"

"And I knew the bio-reading I took of the surface before we beamed down were slightly off and I didn't say anything because I thought it had to do with the atmospheric conditions at the time.  So, if anything, I'm at fault," she told him.

"No, Sherise," he comforted.  "Anyone would have thought the same thing.  It's probably -why- they picked this planet in the first place.  Sensor readings from the surface here are always glitchy.  You couldn't have known."

"And you could have?" she asked angrily.

"I -did-!" he ground out.  "I just didn't act fast enough."

"There was no way you could have!  I've never seen anyone move as fast as you did!  Two more seconds and they would have had us all!"

"And two seconds sooner, the whole team would have survived!"  Robbie paced to the far side of her quarters, dragging his hand through his hair, coming to stop and gaze unseeingly out the viewport, his back still to her.

"Oh for the love of God!" she cursed.  "Are you Betazoid?  How could you 'know' something was wrong before anyone else!?"

"I don't know," he admitted reluctantly, staring out the viewport.  "Maybe it was some type of 'flight or fight' response that's just ingrained in me.  But I did -feel- something, Sherise.  The instant we beamed down, I felt it.  Dark and deadly.  I could have stopped this from happening!"

Striking the bulkhead with the heel of his clenched fist, he took comfort in the shooting pain that radiated up his arm.

"You are the most infuriating human being I've ever met!"  Sherise yelled at him in frustration and hurled the closest thing she could find at the bulkhead just beside him.

She was seething with anger, trembling with it from head to toe.  Stubborn didn't even -begin- to describe this man.  Since when did he become all knowing?

Robbie turned around, stunned at the passion in her voice and the shards of glass that settled next to his feet from the vase she'd just tossed.

Kahless.  

She was magnificent.  Bright gold hair haloed her head in wild, untamed waves.  Grey eyes flashed like a summer storm, looking almost midnight blue with her anger.  Her body hummed with energy.  He could actually feel it from across the room.  She was ready for battle...or love.    

And she was his.  

With a clarity he'd never known before, he knew this.  This woman was made for him.

"I'm not, you know," Robbie strode closer, his voice dropping to a low growl as his eyes locked with hers.

Something crackled between them.  Hot.  Electric.  Frightening.  

"Not what?" Sherise asked, disconcerted by his quick change in demeanor and the way he was bearing down on her.  

The man was the most mercurial person she knew.  Icy cold one moment and flaming hot the next.

"Human," he told her huskily.  "At least not completely."  

Setting his hands on her shoulders to prevent her from stepping back, he came to stand in front of her, their bodies slightly touching.  Sherise's head snapped back with a gasp at the contact.

His voice, his touch, the burning intensity of his gaze held her captive.  Then he lowered his head to her neck and inhaled deeply.  

Sherise swayed toward him without thought, her body responding to the unspoken message.  Robbie growled softly, moving even closer.  

Desire flamed hot and needy.  Her head fell back further while his lips roamed freely over her exposed throat.

"It's interesting," he rumbled against her heated skin, sending shivers racing up her spine.  "I've never really considered myself Klingon.  I don't have the ridges like my sister...or the temper."  

A hand threaded into her hair, bringing her half-lidded gaze to his.  

"But what I feel for you borders on violent.  When I'm with you my senses go into overdrive.  Your scent drives me insane...and I have this incredible urge to -taste- you."

He bent his head, his mouth finding the junction where her neck and shoulder met.  An instant later he sunk his teeth into the flesh there.  Sherise cried out...with ecstasy.

"Yes!"

A heady feeling of triumph blazed through him at the surrender.  Conscious thought fled completely.  He was all want and instinct, sensation and emotion.  Her clothes tore under impatient hands while she moved to undress him as well.  

Then there was nothing to separate them anymore.  Body to body, skin to skin, heart to heart.

Sherise had no sensation of being moved but suddenly the backs of her legs encountered the bed.  In a smooth move Robbie knelt on it with one knee, lifting her to lie on the cool sheets.  He covered her immediately.  Driving both hands into her hair to cradle her head, he kissed her fiercely.  They rocked against each other in desperation.  The friction of their bodies pushed them further.  Sharp nails cut into his back when he ground his hips hard.  He needed to be inside her more than he needed to breathe.

"Now!" she demanded, thrusting her hips to his in invitation.

"No," he forced out through clenched teeth.  "You're not ready for me.  I'll hurt you."

"I don't care," Sherise told him as she wrapped her legs around his waist, opening herself to him.  "Please, Robbie...."

He groaned as she lifted and pressed onto him, taking him in just a fraction of an inch.  Enough for him to feel how wet she was.  For her heat to scald him.  Finding her mouth again with his, he delved deep with his tongue as he pressed in with his hips.  Kahless, she was tight.  Too tight.  He rocked slowly, stretching her a little at a time.  His hand reached down between them to caress the sensitive spot that would distract her from the discomfort.  She gasped on a half-sob when he pressed with his fingers.

"Shh...relax."

He pressed with his fingers again.  She surged against him.  Gasping and clinging she struggled to accept him.  Her world was spinning, her senses reeling.  She began to move with him instinctively, rising to meet him, slowly taking him in a little more with each shallow thrust.  She tried to ignore the burning ache that accompanied his presence, but was unable stop the soft cry from escaping her lips when he pushed against the barrier.   

Robbie froze suddenly, unable to deny what his body was telling him.  For her sake, he hoped against hope that he was wrong.

"Sherise?"

"What?" she replied on a fractured breath.  She should have listened to him.  This hurt.  Maybe if she had told him....

"Is this your first time?" he asked softly, his breath warming her cheek.

He was met with deafening silence.  It was answer enough.

Robbie cursed mentally as he pulled back slightly.  Her sigh of relief was almost inaudible, but he still heard it.  What a mess!  There was no way he could stop now with her clamped so tightly around the part of him that was already inside her.  And she was nowhere near ready to accept him fully.  For the first time in his life he rued the fact that he was rather well endowed.  

He groaned in frustration.  Sherise tensed beneath him, tightening on him more.  Using every bit of self-control he possessed he reined in his passion and held it at bay by sheer force of will.  Drawing in a huge steadying breath, he lifted up to look at her.

Her grey eyes were wide with apprehension.  He was scaring her.  Way to go, Paris.  That's the absolute last thing you need right now.

"It's all right," he reassured her, breathing a sigh of relief when she relaxed slightly.  Stroking her cheekbone with the pad of his thumb, he continued, "I need you to trust me, Sherise.  Don't question what I tell you to do and for God's sake don't fight me on it.  This is going to be hard enough as it is, okay?"

She didn't understand what he was saying but she could see how serious he was.  "Okay," she agreed quietly.

"Unlock you legs from around my waist and bring them down," he told her.  She did it.  "Now draw your knees up as high as you can...that's it, sweetheart, just like that."

He caught her mouth in a passionate kiss and his fingers began circling again, causing lightning to streak through her.  He purposely set her on a blinding fast path to release.  Insistent pressure with no backing off.  She withered under him trying to escape the building tension, but his hips pinned her.  When she tried to surge upward the pain of him pushing against the internal barrier stopped her.  She was trapped.  The urgency increased.  It was frightening, overwhelming...electrifying.

"It's too much...," she cried, tearing her mouth from his.

"Stop fighting it...."  His teeth caught the sensitive skin under her ear to distract her when he pressed in deeper with his hips.

More pain, more pressure...more pleasure.  Quicksilver lightning began to streak from her womb to the tips of her toes, causing her legs to tremble uncontrollably.  Her nails sank into his upper arms as she fought against the storm.  

"Robbie...."

"Let it take you...," he demanded roughly.  "Let me have you."

"Too much," she moaned again, tossing her head.  "I can't...."

She was shaking now, overwhelmed by the sensations coursing through her.  His other hand caught hers to lace their fingers tightly on the pillow next to her head.

"I'm right here...don't be afraid" he whispered.  "Let go...."

Arching off the bed violently, she cried out as it took her...and he took her.  

Up until that moment, she hadn't realized...hadn't known.  She was his, completely.  He claimed her body thoroughly, stretching her painfully.  Even the intense pleasure coursing through her wasn't enough to mask his possession.  The strength of it stunned her.  

Robbie watched as she lay trembling beneath him.  Her head was turned into the pillow; eyes screwed shut against the pain of his entry.  Grimacing, he brushed the honey blond hair from her face and waited....

Her fingers relaxed their death grip on his shoulders in tiny increments.  Little by little, breath by breath, she eased about him.  

He withdrew almost completely then pressed slowly in again.  Her eyes flew open and met his in surprise.  Only pleasure remained now, her pain was gone.  

He smiled down, stroking her slow and deep again, just so he could see her eyes flare with delight one more time.  This time she moaned and rose to meet him.

That was all it took to rip away the last of his control.  

He was rougher than he should have been, more demanding than he had the right to be.  She was new to this and he pushed her too far.  He knew it, but he couldn't stop.  

She matched his intensity with breathtaking passion and pushed him further herself.  They drove each other on until nothing remained but fire and heat.  When she finally reached her release, she thought for a moment she was dying.  And maybe she was.  Somehow, she knew instinctively that after tonight she would never be the same again.

Her unrestrained scream, the rhythmic internal ripples of pleasure and her nails raking down his back sent him over the edge with such force it almost scared him.

It seemed like hours before they returned to reality.  It might have been, they couldn't tell one way or another.  He moved off her carefully to gather her in his arms, back to chest, legs entwined.

"You okay?" he asked gently.  His hand softly stroked from her hip down the length of her thigh.

She moved in his arms like a sleepy feline.  He half expected to hear her purr.

"I'm wonderful," she told him with a contented smile.

"You should have told me, Sherise.  I could have really hurt you if I hadn't realized in time."

"I didn't think you'd want me if you knew I was inexperienced.  I didn't have anything to offer someone like you."

Robbie felt a flash of anger.  

"I don't suppose you'd believe me if I told you this was the best I've ever had, would you?" he asked grimly.

"No," she replied with a soft laugh.

"I always thought K'Leena was exaggerating when she talked about being Lucas' mate," he said almost to himself.  "I never really believed she actually -felt- it like she said she did."

"Felt what?" Sherise asked, confused.

"Did you know Klingons mate for life?" he continued, ignoring her question.

She laughed shakily.  "You're not very Klingon, Robbie.  I wouldn't worry about it."

His reaction was not at all what she expected.

"As far as you're concerned, Sherise...I'm -all- Klingon," he told her harshly, possessively.  

She trembled at the fierce statement and wondered just what she'd gotten herself into.

They lay silently for a long time, listening to the sounds of the ship around them.  As she drifted off to sleep, still in his arms, a faint word whispered across her cheek.

"Tlqwlq."


*****


Sherise rolled over and groaned feelingly at the aches and pains in her body...and between her legs.  With a grimace, she sat up slowly.  She was alone.  Something for which she was extremely grateful.  She needed time to think.  Too much had happened and she was having trouble assimilating all of it.  

But it did bother her that he seemed to even know that.  Was she such an open book to him?

Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she winced again as she stood up and made her way to the shower.

Making love with Robert Paris was not something a woman was likely to forget--with her mind or her body.  She felt as if he'd left his imprint on her.  

An uneasy thought came to her as she stepped under the sonic field, that it was exactly what he had intended.  For her to feel it even after he'd gone.  For her to know that she was -his-.

He'd made love to her a second time in the dark of the night.  Just as demanding and passionate as the first, maybe even more so.  

She'd always imagined he would be a gentle, teasing lover.  The man who had taken her last night was anything but.  And taken was the appropriate word--she may have consented but he never allowed her the chance to give--he took what he wanted, almost ruthlessly.  Not that he didn't give in return.  Far from it.  It was just that he had never let go of the control he had over her.  

Fiercely intense and wildly passionate, he'd surprised her completely.  

It was strange, really.  To know Robbie you wouldn't think he was anything more than what you saw--fun, carefree, relaxed.  He never appeared to be anything other than that.  

Sherise knew differently, now.  She'd seen him when those officers had died.  Saw the anger...and helplessness at the situation.  She saw him take command and save them when everyone else was still trying to grasp the situation.  It was intimidating, really.  To see him in that light.  She hadn't known who he was until now.  She'd only seen the persona he wanted everybody to see.  

Robert Paris was a complex man.  A fact which he demonstrated again more than once last night.  Sherise had the feeling there were many more surprises that awaited her in this relationship.

Like the fact that it was a relationship.  He'd left her with no doubt about that.  

Their conversation after he made love to her the second time made that point blatantly clear....

She had been sprawled out on her stomach, the pillow he'd placed under her hips a short time before still supporting her.  She hadn't had the energy to move once he finally laid down next to her.

Sherise viewed him with half-lidded eyes as he caressed the bite mark on her shoulder with his fingertip, sending little shards of pain darting from the wound.

"I've marked you," he told her in a gravely voice.  "You belong to me."

"I marked you too," she whispered back.  "Does that mean you belong to me?"

"Forever."

His blue eyes were intense with some unidentifiable emotion.  Sherise trembled under his touch.  For some reason, she felt the need to break the spell he had her held in.  Shakily, she rose from the bed, wincing at the interesting little pains that shot through her.

"Sore?" he guessed.

She nodded, not meeting his gaze.  "I think I'll take a hot shower."

He rose to stand beside her.  "A bath would be better," he whispered, his arms encircling her tightly for a moment before disappearing into the bathroom to fill the tub.  

When he retuned to her she was sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapped up in a dressing gown.

Unconcerned of his own nudity, he knelt down in front of her, taking her face in his hands to kiss her passionately.  After a few moments, he broke the kiss.

"I want you all over again," he whispered, dropping soft kisses all over her face.

She moaned, drew him into her arms and laid back on the bed, offering herself to him.

He lifted her up and carried her into the bath instead.

"Later," he promised.  "I'll just hurt you now.  I've already done more than I should for your first time."

"I don't mind," she told him seductively.

Robbie groaned and set her on the floor.  "Bath," he growled.

As she dropped her robe and stepped into the heated water a fierce frown creased his brow when he noticed the blood streaking her thighs.

Sherise sank into the hot water and almost bolted out again when it reached the sensitive, abused flesh between her legs.  She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from gasping.

Robbie sat down behind her and pulled her into his arms to lean back against him.  He bathed her gently in the warm water.  She shivered when he carefully brought the soft cloth to the throbbing, tender skin at the junction of her thighs.    

"Did I hurt you very much?"

Grateful she was facing away from him, Sherise blushed from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.  He was so blunt.  Did anything embarrass him?  Probably not, he was a physician.

"Sherise?" he prodded again, not willing to take her silence as an answer.

"It hurt more than I thought it would," she told him honestly.  

His lips touched the damp, heated skin at her temple.  "I'm sorry," he apologized, tightening his arms around her.

She turned her head to look at him.  "Don't be, please," she begged.  "It was wonderful and...."

"And?" he prodded.

"And I'm glad it was with you."



*****


Robbie glared at the computer terminal.  He'd left Sherise sleeping alone to take a priority one message from Command, only to discover it was his father and he had to return to Earth immediately.  

He was not pleased.  Leaving Sherise and the Dakota right now was not an option he wanted to consider.  They both needed him.  There had better be a -damn- good reason for this.

"What's this all about, Dad?  Why do I have to return to Earth?" he demanded.

"Robbie, please," his father sighed.  "I'll tell you everything when you get here.  This channel might not be secure.  It's imperative you come home.  Immediately."

"I should say no," he retorted.  "You're damn lucky I have a physician on board to cover me.  I'm the Chief Medical Officer on this ship.  I have responsibilities here, you know.  I can't just walk away from them on a whim."

"Dammit, Robert!" Tom snapped, losing his patience.  "This is not a whim!  People's lives are at stake!  I need you home!  NOW!"

His father's agitated state shocked him.  It was a rare occurrence when Tom Paris raised his voice.  Something was very wrong.

"All right," Robbie gave in.  "I'm sorry.  I should have known you wouldn't ask this without a good reason.  I'll be in a shuttle within the hour.  I just need to say good-bye to someone."

Something in Robbie's voice gave Tom pause.  A seriousness that told him whoever this person was, they were important in his son's life.

"Who?" he asked bluntly.

"What?" Robbie couldn't believe his dad was prying like this.

"Are you involved with someone?"

Where did his dad get off asking him that?  He was twenty-six years old, for the love of Kahless!  

"I really don't see how that's any of your concern," he replied in a curt voice.  

"I don't have time to argue with you, Robert!  Are you involved with someone or not?"

"Yes!  All right.  I am.  Are you happy?  I can't see what this has to do with anything," he grumbled.

"Bring her with you," Tom ordered.

"What?!"  His father couldn't be serious.  

A warp core breach would have -nothing- on what Sherise would do if he told her she was to come home with him.  Meeting his family was out of the question.  She was too uncertain of her own feelings right now.

"That's an order, Lieutenant.  I want your mate on that shuttle with you in less than an hour."

"Who said she was my mate?"

"Robert, we don't have time for games.  If you love this woman you better make sure she stays with you."

His eyes widened with sudden insight.  

"It's still going on, isn't it?  The people who were after K'Leena and Lucas...you're worried they might come after me and Sherise."

Realization dawned.  Robbie met his father's gaze in shock.

"Kahless!" he cursed.  "They already did!  This was because of me!  Those officers lost their lives because someone wanted -me- dead!"

Tom sighed.  "Just get home...fast."

"All right, we're are on our way."

Robbie set about packing his things after signing off with his father.  He was still in shock.  

People were dead, because of him.  His shipmates.  His friends.  For no other reason than someone wanting -him- dead.  What a pointless way to die.  Pawns in someone's little game of revenge.

What had Lucas done?  

Maybe it wasn't Lucas....  

Maybe it was K'Leena....

Or maybe it wasn't them at all.

What if this went further?  They'd gone after Lucas and K'Leena more than once now.  Now they had come after him.  

What if....

"Son of a bitch!" he swore.

His parents.  Everything led back to them.  Why else would their children be stalked.  

The door of his quarters chimed.

"Come in," he called out.

"What the hell is this?" Sherise demanded a moment later, storming into his quarters holding a PADD.

"I take it you got your orders," Robbie replied calmly.

"Yes...from an Admiral Paris...a relation of yours I'm assuming--I'm to accompany you back to Earth immediately."

"Admiral Tom Paris...he's my father."

"What is this, Robbie?"

"If I knew, Sherise, I would tell you.  All I know is I have to return home and I'm to bring you with me."

"Why do I have to go?"

"You're in danger...because of me."

"What kind of danger?"

"I don't know, but we have our orders."

"This doesn't make sense.  I'm just your friend."

Robbie gave her a hard look.  She was a lot more than that, and she damn well knew it, but now was not the time to debate the issue.

"Sherise," he growled.  "Get packed, we have to go."

"Oh, all right," she conceded ungracefully.  "But I don't have to like it!"

Then she turned on her heel and stalked out the room as fast as she had entered it.
Robbie grinned and shook his head as he went back to packing.  He was going to like being her mate.



*****



"Your dad is furious with me, you know," Mike told Tessa as he moved the dresser against the wall of the bedroom.  They had been unpacking her stuff all afternoon.

"Really?"  She grinned mischievously.

"Yes.  And your mother didn't help matters much when she told him his feelings on our living together were irrelevant."

She laughed.  "Uh oh, Momma must be pretty ticked at him.  Dad goes off the deep end at the "I" word.  She only uses it when she -really- wants to annoy him."

"She does?"  Mike was surprised.  Seven didn't seem like the kind of person to do something like that.  Although, every now and then, he did get the impression that she was laughing up her sleeve at things.

"You bet," Tessa told him.  "It's the fastest way to set him off, and she knows it."

Mike opened a box and lifted something from it.  

"You have a doll that looks like your Mother?" he asked with a grin.

Confused, Tessa turned to see what he had, then burst out laughing.

"Oh God!" she exclaimed.  "-Don't- let her hear you say that!"

"Why not?"

"Momma -hates- that doll.  Uncle Tom gave her to me for my sixth birthday.  She was my favorite toy.  I took her -everywhere-.  She came with lots of clothes and a house and I would play with her for hours on end."

"Why didn't your Mom like her?"

Tessa rolled her eyes.  "You know what Uncle Tom is like.  I think he picked this doll -because- it looked like Momma.  Aunt B'Elanna couldn't stand her either, said she was a bad role model for girls.  K'Leena was never much for dolls and such, so she never had one."

Mike chuckled.  It wasn't hard to picture Tom Paris doing something like that.

"She does have some -interesting- proportions," he admitted with a smirk.

"Oh!  Give me that!"  Tessa grabbed the doll from him.  "Quit leering at her like a sex-fiend.  She's just a child's toy."

"Did she have a name?"

"Sure, she was called Barbie."

The door chime sounded a second later.  Mike left the bedroom to answer it with Tessa following right behind him.

"Admiral Paris," Mike greeted their unexpected guest.  "Please, come in."

Tessa grinned and gave her uncle a quick hug and a kiss.  "Hey, Uncle Tom, what brings you here?  You gonna yell at Mike for 'dishonoring' me like Dad did?" she asked with a smirk.

Tom laughed.  "I probably should, huh?  But I happen to know it's you who won't marry him, so I figure if anyone is being dishonorable around here...it's you."

"See," Mike wagged a finger at her.  "I told you.  I have my reputation to think about, you know.  Now everyone thinks I'm easy."

Tessa's lips twitched.  "Uh huh.  Cause you would never sleep with someone you're not married to.  Right?"

"Of course not!  What kind of a man do you think I am?!"

She rolled her eyes.  "What's up, Uncle Tom?"  Changing the topic of this ridiculous conversation seemed her safest bet at this point.

"Actually," Tom began seriously.  "Can we sit down for a minute.  I need to talk to you."

"Sure," Tessa replied, gesturing to the couch.  "You want something to drink?"

"No, thanks anyway.  I need you two to pack a bag or two and come with me to the estate," he told them plainly.

"Why?" Mike asked calmly.

He didn't fool Tom for a second.  Mike Burns was not a stupid man.  He probably knew more about what was going on then either Will or Tom had given him credit for.  Lucas too, for that matter.

Meeting the younger man's gaze head on, Tom spoke:

"Can you just trust that we will tell you what this is about as soon as we can and that right now, it's imperative you come with me."

Tessa felt the tension in Mike.  She looked up at him in confusion.

"I'm going to hold you to that, Admiral," he warned Tom.  "We'll come with you."

"You can go with him if you want," Tessa said.  "But I have to go to work tomorrow.  I'm not traveling from the estate everyday when Command is three blocks away from our apartment."

"Tessa...," Mike growled, but Tom interrupted.

"I've already spoken to Admiral Gellis, Tessa.  You've been assigned to me temporarily.  We're going to the estate."

"You did what?" she asked quietly.

"I had you assigned to me.  I'm ordering you to the estate."

Tessa glared at him.  "Yes, Sir," she snapped smartly, then got up and left the room.

Mike whistled under his breath.  "I'm glad I wasn't the one who had to do that."

Tom sighed.  "Yeah, well, what's one more person angry at me?  Robbie tore strips off me already this morning.  I figure B'Elanna is next," he stated grimly.

Mike chuckled.  



*****



K'Leena leaned against the shower wall of their temporary quarters on the Enterprise, trying to stay upright.  This was a really bad idea.  Taking a shower was draining her more than she thought possible.  Closing her eyes against the mind-numbing dizziness she started to sink to the floor.  

Lucas' strong arms caught her an instant later.  The curse he used raised the temperature in the room by at least ten degrees.

"What were you THINKING?!" he yelled at her.  "I can't even leave you alone for ten minutes!"

"I just wanted to take a bath...I didn't think it would tire me so much," she said weakly.

"Stubborn woman!  You just had a -baby-!  Yesterday! for crying out loud!  You should be in bed!"

"Other women...."

"Other women didn't go through what you did, Blaze.  Trust me," he reminded her impatiently.  

She let him help her from the tub and towel her off before she told him she could manage the rest on her own.

"You sure?" he asked, not at all convinced she wouldn't pass out the minute he left her.

"I'll be fine," she snapped, more than a little annoyed.  "I can brush my teeth and get my nightgown back on without your help."

"Maybe...."

"Lucas," she threatened.  "Get.  Out."

He hesitated and her eyes flashed angrily.  With a nod, he left her alone.

When she left the bathroom a few minutes later, she wasn't surprised to find him hovering right at the door.  

K'Leena rolled her eyes.  

"Would you -please- find something else to do besides following me around like a puppy?"

Lucas frowned darkly.  

"If I hadn't been here, what would you have done?" he demanded to know.

"I would have sat down for a few minutes until I got my strength back and finished my bath," she told him calmly.  So she got a little dizzy.  It was no big deal.

"You might have fainted and hurt yourself, K'Leena!  What about Michael?  If you were lying unconscious on the floor, how could you take care of him?"

"So...not only am I too stupid to take care of myself.  I'm also an unfit mother?"

"That's not what I meant!"

"Could have fooled me," she retorted, trying and failing to keep the hurt from her voice.

Lucas stilled and took a deep breath.  What was he doing?  She didn't need this.  

"I'm sorry, 'Leena," he apologized feelingly.  "I just got so scared when I found you like that...."  He drew in another breath to steady himself.

K'Leena sighed at his distress.  She put her arms around his neck and let him pull her to him.

"It's okay," she reassured him.  "It kinda scared me too."

"Do me a favor?" he asked.

"What?"

"Take it easy for a few days.  Please?  You had a hard time of it, Blaze.  Give yourself some time to recover."

"Lucas, I'm part Klingon.  We heal faster.  I'm fine, really.  Just a little tired," she insisted.

"A week, K'Leena.  That's all I'm asking.  Is that really too much?"

She wanted to tell him it was.  She was fine, she didn't need to be treated like a china doll.  The determined look on his face made her stop cold.  It would be a battle if she said no.

"You're damn right it will," he told her in a firm, quiet voice.

"One week, Lucas."  She gave in, hoping it wasn't a mistake, but also knowing she wasn't really up to fighting with him right now.

To his credit, he didn't gloat.  He didn't even smile.  Lucas just helped her back into the bed and sat down next to her.

"I'm going to take Michael to Sick-bay, the doctor wants to check him out and your Aunt Ani has been waiting to see him, but she didn't want to disturb you.  We'll be back in a couple of hours.  Get some sleep while you can, I'm sure he'll be hungry when we return," Lucas told her with a smile.

She slept, even though she thought she couldn't possibly sleep another minute.  Michael's insistent crying woke her sometime later as he demanded to be fed.

Lucas brought the baby to her in the bed so she could lie down to nurse him.  It took a few minutes to get him properly positioned.  By that time, his tiny face was beet red from his screaming.

"I guess his lungs are okay," his father commented wryly.

"Guess so," K'Leena chuckled.

Then silence fell heavily as he latched on, causing his mother to draw in a sharp breath.

"No one ever tells you it hurts," she muttered.

Lucas grimaced in sympathy.  "Can I get you something?"

"No," she replied.  "I'm fine."

"What about dinner," he asked.  "Are you hungry?"

She shook her head.  "Not really."

"K'Leena," he sighed.  "You need to eat.  You're nursing now."

Like she could forget that with the little glutton hungrily attached to her breast.

"Later, Lucas," she appeased.  

It was going to be a -long- week if he kept this up.

Wisely, Lucas dropped the issue.

"Your Aunt Ani is so good with him.  I'm surprised they only had Tessa.  I remember how much she loved having us kids around."

"Yeah," K'Leena smiled at the memory.  "Who would have thought a former drone would be such a good mother?"

"Your Uncle Harry, I guess," Lucas deadpanned.

She rolled her eyes.  "Somehow I think Aunt Ani's parenting skills weren't what Uncle Harry was...attracted to."

Lucas grinned broadly.  "Really?"

K'Leena shook her head with a little laugh.

After Michael finished Lucas took him to the small crib they were using and settled him down.  He paused over the sleeping child, amazed that this tiny, helpless being was part of him and K'Leena.  Just the thought of it almost brought tears to his eyes.  -They- had created this little person.  He was the best of both of them.

When he turned around, Lucas was surprised to find K'Leena asleep again.  

He frowned.  She still looked so frail.  Why was she fighting him every step of the way?  All he wanted was for her to take time to recover.  Was that really so much to ask?  Didn't he have the right to be concerned for her?  It was his responsibility to take care of her.  And Michael.

She was just going to have to learn to accept it gracefully.  

Uh huh.  And he was going to sprout wings and fly.

With a self-depreciating chuckle he kicked off his boots and changed out of his uniform before crawling into the bed with her.  

Dinner could wait.  He was kind of tired himself, now that he thought about it.  It had been a rough couple of days.

He pulled her into his arms, curling his body to hers.  Within minutes he was sound asleep, dreaming of another time and place....


Hi, I'm Lucas.  My daddy's the Cap'n.

Lucas Riker, you're just a big mean boy!

Mommy is always so sad.  I wish Daddy was still alive.

Do you want to dance with me?

Can I hold your hand?

What do you mean you're leaving?!  Why does everybody leave me?

It's just two years, then we'll be together at that academy.

I want to kiss you before I go.

Lucas, no...I can't...please don't be mad.

I'm not mad, 'Leena.  I understand.

Cadet Paris, welcome to Starfleet Academy.

Stay with me, Lucas.  I've missed you so much.

If I stay, 'Leena, I'm going to make love to you.

I know.

I love you.

jiH dok....

This bed is too small, we should live off campus.

I, K'Leena Isobel, take you, Lucas Ian....

I've never seen her smile like that before.  She was so happy.  Why did he have to die?  She needed him!  I needed him!

Lucas!  I got it!  The Time Bound Project!  It's mine!

I was thinking...after the time jump...well, I think I might want to take a break and...have that baby we talked about.

I'll be back before you know it.

You better be.

Lucas slowly came awake to her sobbing.  She was still asleep.  

Damn!  He never wanted her to know.  Their link was getting stronger everyday.  He should have realized she'd be able to pick up on his dreams now, like he could hers.

"'Leena,...wake up.  It's all right.  It's only a dream."  Lucas sat up and pulled her into his arms.

"Nooooooooo," she cried, brokenly, into his warm chest.  "It's not...it's not a dream!  Kahless, Lucas!  What did I do?!"

K'Leena's sobs were tearing him apart.  She was going to make herself sick if she kept it up.

"Shh...don't!" he rocked her back and forth as he spoke.  "It's not your fault!  You had no choice.  That life was never meant to be.  You had to do it...I know that."  

And he did know it.  Any lingering anger he had disappeared upon seeing her distress.  This was the life that the two of them were destined for.  What they knew before was a mistake.  They found each other again, that was all that mattered.

"I'm so sorry, Lucas.  How could you ever forgive me?  You must be so angry," she cried harder, shaking from the tears.

"You stop this right now!" he demanded harshly and forced her to look at him.  "That was another life and another time!  You had no choice!  We're together now, that's the important thing."

"But...."

"No!  You are not going to make yourself sick over this!"  

"Lucas...."

He groaned.  Why did she -always- argue with him?  He bent his head and covered her mouth with his, kissing her gently as he brought her back down to lay in his arms.

"Enough, K'Leena," he breathed into her wildly tangled hair.  "You can't second guess something you did in another life.  That woman wasn't even really you."

Quiet came over them as he curled his body protectively around hers, his hand softly stroking over her.  

"I really -hate- this nightgown," he told her, inching the hem up so his hand could slide underneath in an effort to distract her.

K'Leena smiled slightly through the tears.  "Yes, you've mentioned that before."

His fingers lightly caressed the top of her thigh them moved higher still to the hollow of her hip and across the still soft expanse of her stomach; causing her breath to hitch.

"How long do we have to wait?" he asked huskily.

She moaned softly.  "Two weeks."

His hand gently massaged her stomach, where she was soft and swollen from childbirth.

"Does it still hurt?" he wanted to know.

"A little," she admitted shyly.  "Especially when he nurses."

Lucas purposely ran his finger over the scar on her lower abdomen.

"Why won't you let the doctor remove this, Blaze?  It would only take a few minutes."

"It doesn't bother me, Lucas.  Why does it bother you so much?"

"Because I know why you keep it," he said angrily.  "You think it a well-deserved punishment for putting Michael at risk.  You keep it to remind yourself, everyday, that he almost died.  And you're convinced it's your fault.  I don't like you beating yourself up like this, K'Leena!  It's not healthy."

"Maybe not, but it is the truth."

"Dammit, 'Leena!  It was not your fault!  The shuttle was sabotaged!  You can't blame yourself for all this."

"Yes, I can.  I shouldn't have been in that shuttle in the first place," she told him stubbornly.

"-I- was the one who brought you with me.  I thought you would be safer."

"Only because I forced you."

"Arrrrgh!  You are the most stubborn woman I've ever known!  Michael is healthy and strong.  It's over."

"It will never be over for me!  Don't you get it?!  I almost -killed- our son with my recklessness!  I don't keep this scar as penance!  I keep it as a reminder.  A reminder that my life is not my own anymore.  It belongs to you...and it belongs to him.  I won't be the cause of pain to either of you ever again with my thoughtlessness.  That's why I keep it!"  She was sobbing again by the time she finished.

Lucas bit back a curse.  She was taking everything he said the wrong way today.


*****



"Hey, gorgeous," Kyle greeted his mother's assistant counselor with a grin.  "Is the old man in with Mom?  I need to talk to him."

Melanie smiled at the handsome man sitting on the corner of her desk.  Kyle Riker was the biggest flirt.

"Yeah, he's in there...but I wouldn't barge in on them if I were you.  She asked not to be disturbed."

Kyle smirked knowingly.  "Hell, you'd think the two of them were newlyweds."

She shrugged.  Melanie thought it was wildly romantic herself.  The Admiral and his wife had something that you didn't come across everyday.

"What are you doing here, Kyle?" she asked him.  "I didn't know the Zosa was in orbit."

"It's not," he replied, a bit annoyed.  "I received a 'royal' summons from the Admiral.  He'd better have a good reason, too.  I was right in the middle of the flight evaluations for my department.  Now I'll have to start all over when I get back."

Kyle was the Chief Helmsman on the Zosa.

"Oh...sorry.  That must be frustrating."

"Yeah, but I'll get over it.  How long have they been in there?"

"About ten minutes."

"Hmmmm.  They'll be a while.  Want to go and get some lunch?  I haven't eaten yet."

Kyle knew what her answer would be.  He'd asked her out before.  He steeled himself for the rejection.  

Melanie's knee jerk response hovered on her lips.  Then she considered the man in front of her.  It was just lunch.  She could do this.  Kyle posed no threat, she'd known him for more than a year now.

He watched her closely, wishing he had his brother's telepathic abilities.  This woman was such a mystery to him.  Smart, drop-dead gorgeous, funny, incredibly sexy...and she never dated.  Ever.  He'd asked his mother about it once and was told point-blank to mind his own business.

"Yeah," she agreed with a voice that shook almost imperceptivity.

Kyle's eyes widened slightly.  He got the unmistakable impression that this decision was far more than it appeared.

"Great!  Any place in particular you'd like to go?"

She stood up and gave him a small smile.  "Do you like pizza?"

Kyle grinned broadly.  "A girl after my own heart.  Come on."  He held out his hand.  

His smiled dimmed when she cringed from him.  Hell and damnation!  She was -scared- of him!  Dropping his hand he gestured to the door instead.

Kyle was a weak empath and didn't use the ability much.  It was a struggle for him to read anything other than faint impressions of people.  As they walked silently through the hall though, he realized the feelings of unease and fear he was experiencing were coming from her.  

"You okay?" he asked.

Melanie jumped slightly.  "Sure...why wouldn't I be?"  She should have been an actress.

"Just a feeling."

They enjoyed a quiet lunch.  Chatting amicably about everything and nothing.

Kyle did his best to appear relaxed, but for the life of him, he just couldn't shake the feeling that someone was -watching- them!

A couple of times he scanned the restaurant with his eyes, trying to pinpoint the source of his unease, but he couldn't identify who, or what was bothering him.

Being an empath was a pain in the ass, if you asked him.  What good was it to -know- something was up, but have no clue as to -what- it was?

Melanie was oblivious to it all.  So surprised to discover how much she liked just being with him, she didn't realize how tense he was under the charm he exuded.  

The soft tone of his voice seemed to almost embrace her and his gentle, soothing manner put her at ease.  Something she hadn't had with a man in a very long time.

"Hey," he broke into her reverie softly.  

She looked up with a guilty smile.  

"Sorry," she apologized.  "Just 'gathering some wool' as my grandma would say."

"It's okay," Kyle assured her.  "You just looked so sad.  Something wrong?"

"No," she denied with a shake of her head and a little chuckle.  "Something was actually...right."

Kyle returned the grin.  "Good."

They finished their meal and Kyle walked her back to Command, careful to stay close because whoever had been watching them earlier, was still with them.  He knew that for sure.

When they returned to his mother's office, his parents were waiting for them.  Kyle reluctantly left Melanie to speak with them in private.

"You mean to tell me that not only are these people targeting K'Leena and Lucas, but -all- of us?"  Kyle asked his father, stunned that someone could be so ruthless as to kill innocent people just to get at Robbie.

"I'm afraid so," Will replied in a frustrated voice.  "Anyway... we feel it would be safer if all you kids were together until we can take care of this.  We've set up extra security at the Paris estate.  Once everyone is there, we'll fill you all in on the rest."

"Who's there now?" Kyle asked.

"Lucas, K'Leena, the baby, Mike and Tessa.  Robbie and Sherise are inbound from the Dakota...."

"Sherise?  Not Sherise Cupthland?"

"Hmmm, yeah, I believe that's her name.  She's someone Robbie has been seeing.  I guess they're pretty serious...serious enough that Tom insisted Robbie bring her anyway.  It's become obvious these people enjoy using you kids against us."

Kyle considered this for a moment.  "They've been watching all of us, haven't they?"

"Yes, for a while."

"Damn," Kyle cursed.  He had been right.  They were being watched at the restaurant.

"What?" Deanna picked up on her son's distress instantly.

"I was being watched today.  They're going to believe Melanie and I are involved."

"Why on earth would they think that?" his mother demanded to know.  She didn't like this.  Melanie didn't need this.

Kyle sighed.  "Because the very first thing I did after beaming planetside was come straight to your office and take her out to lunch."

"Melanie went out with you?"  Deanna was stunned.

Kyle frowned at the shock radiating from his mother.

"Yeah.  Amazing, isn't it?  Someone would actually want to be with -me-?" he mocked.

"Watch your mouth, Thomas Kyle," Deanna replied sharply.  "It's just that...well, never mind.  What's done is done.  You're right, she needs to be there too.  I'll tell her I need help dealing with all of you and what's going on."

"What?" he snorted.  "You really think she'll believe we need her counseling services?"

"Listen, Kyle.  I have the feeling you're hoping for something a little more than just lunch with Melanie.  If that's the case, the last thing you need is her feeling pressured.  Trust me.  I'll tell her K'Leena needs some help and won't talk to me anymore because I'm Lucas' mother.  It's the truth."

Kyle's eyes narrowed.  He would leave Melanie and his relationship alone for now, he was worried about his brother and sister-in-law.

"What's wrong with K'Leena?"

"Michael's birth was very traumatic for her.  She refuses to discuss it with me.  She refuses to discuss anything with me anymore.  I can understand it.  I am Lucas' mother.  But she needs to talk to someone.  Maybe Melanie can help."

"How's Lucas doing?"  Kyle knew his brother, when K'Leena was hurting, he was hurting.

"About as well as you're imagining," she replied grimly.


*****


K'Leena was avoiding him.  Ever since they'd arrived at the estate this morning, she'd been keeping to herself.  He could feel the emotions churning inside her.  Things were more than a little tense between them since she'd had that dream and remembered.

Lucas clenched his fists as he watched her nurse the baby.  There were tears in her eyes.  Her face was pale and taut.  

God!  He -hated- seeing her like this.  So quiet and withdrawn.

So...beaten.

And it was all his fault.  Having Michael was too much for her.  He could see that now.  

"You okay?" he asked finally.

K'Leena startled, so lost in thought she hadn't heard him come into the room.

"Yeah, just thinking."

Thinking.  She couldn't -stop- thinking since that damn dream.  

And remembering.

And wondering.

"How long have you remembered, Lucas?" she asked quietly.

He sighed and sat down on the couch across from her.  "A while."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously.  "How long?" she insisted.

"The dreams started right after the time jump," he admitted.  "It took a couple of weeks to figure out what was happening."

"Before the Breen captured me," she whispered, realizing her worst fears.  

Oh God!  He was in love with -her-!  The other K'Leena, the one he'd lost!

"NO!" Lucas all but shouted.

She flinched at the force of his anger.

"Don't you EVER think that again!" he ground out, almost jumping from the couch in his agitation.  

"I love -you-, K'Leena!  From the time we were teenagers.  I didn't want to admit it for a while, but it was always there.  I had decided to mate with you long before the time jump.  If I hadn't been called back to Command the night of the reunion, K'Leena, I would have made you mine then.  I was on my way back to your room when Mike showed up, that was the only thing that stopped me.  It was why I was there for the time jump as well.  I hadn't been able to get away.  The mission was too sensitive, but I knew I had to be there for the jump.  If my job hadn't gotten in the way again, we would have been married then and there, on the Enterprise.  All our families were there and I wasn't going to let you get away again."

His words should have reassured her.  It should have been enough.

It should have.

Lowering her lashes, she gazed down on her son, who'd fallen asleep while nursing.  K'Leena busied herself righting her pajama top and bringing Michael up to her shoulder to burp him.

Lucas frowned darkly.  "K'Leena," he begged.  "Don't do this, please.  Don't doubt my feelings for you."

Turning her head to look out the window so he wouldn't see the tears gathering in her eyes, but the breath she took sounded suspiciously like a sob.

"I don't, Lucas," she told him shakily, trying to convince herself as much as him.


*****


"Sherise Cupthland, huh?"

"Go away, Kyle," grumbled Robbie.

The youngest Riker brother smiled at the surly retort and sat down next to his old friend.

"I heard she transferred over to the Dakota a couple of weeks ago.  I do have to admit, it took you less time than I thought it would."

Robbie raised an eyebrow.  "Really?" he drawled.

"Sure," Kyle grinned evilly.  "The way she used to shoot you down at the academy I figured it would be at least a two months before she'd give you the time of day."

"Considering all that, I have to wonder why you even thought I'd pursue her."

"Are you kidding?" Kyle laughed.  "The only woman who turned down the great Robert Paris?  It wasn't a matter of 'if,' buddy.  It was only a matter of 'when.'"

Robbie frowned.  "Is that what you think?  This is just me soothing a bruised ego?"

Kyle stopped chuckling at his friend's concerned question.  

"No, Robbie," he answered seriously.  "I never thought that.  I was just giving you a hard time.  I can see how much she means to you."


*****


K'Leena wandered into the living room after settling Michael down for his nap.  Her conversation with Lucas foremost in her mind.  She sat down on the sofa and stared unseeingly down at the PADD she'd brought with her.  

Why couldn't she believe him?  Why was she so unsure of him, now?

Because he's keeping something from you, a little voice warned.  He's closed part of his mind off to you, that's why.  

An old Klingon saying her grandmother was fond of came to mind.  "Hov ghajbe'bogh ram rur pegh ghajbe'bogh jaj."

A day without secrets is like a night without stars.

Lucas was keeping secrets from her, she could feel it.

"K'Leena?" Sherise began hesitantly, not wanting to disturb the new mother, but needing to talk to her all the same.

"Hmmm?" K'Leena glanced up from the PADD she was reading.

Once again, she was taken aback by the vibrant beauty of her brother's mate.  Robbie had chosen well.  This woman would be his match in all things from the looks of it.  She wasn't one to quietly sit by and let life happen to her.  Sherise Cupthland controlled her own destiny.

Or so she thought.

K'Leena smiled.  "Have a seat," she gestured to the chair across from her.  "What's up?"

Sherise took a deep breath.  No sense in beating around the bush.  It was not something that came naturally to her anyway.  Straightforward to the point of bluntness was something she'd been accused of on more than one occasion.

"What does 'tlqwlq' mean?" she asked baldly.

Wide-eyed with surprise, K'Leena met her determined gaze.  

Sherise was disconcerted by the familiar blue eyes that stared back at her.  Robbie and his sister were a lot alike.

"It means 'of one heart,'" K'Leena replied neutrally after a moment of consideration.  

She was unsure of just how much to tell the woman her brother was sleeping with.  Unsure of how much her brother wanted Sherise to know.  

"Does it have a special significance?  Or is it just a Klingon endearment?"

Kahless, now what?  She was going to kill Robbie when she saw him next.

"It can be used as an endearment," she evaded truthfully.

Sherise was a smart woman.  She saw through K'Leena like transparent aluminum.

"But it's more than that, isn't it?"

She sighed.  "Yes, it is."

"Out with it, K'Leena," Sherise demanded.

"You really should ask Robbie this."

"I'm asking you."

K'Leena grimaced.  Sorry, Robbie, I tried.  

"It comes from an ancient Klingon legend," she elaborated quietly.

"When a couple is destined to be together their hearts will beat as one, their minds will think as one and their souls will feel as one.  It is said when this happens," she paused, trying to keep her emotions under control.  

Swallowing hard, she fought the tears burning the back of her eyes.

"It is said when this happens," K'Leena continued, her voice trembling slightly.  "It means they are destined to be together for all eternity.  According to the legend nothing can stop the beat of two joined Klingon Hearts, they are invincible as long as they are together."

Sherise looked at her with a raised eyebrow.  "You sound like you actually believe that."

"I do," K'Leena admitted, reaching up to unconsciously trace the almost invisible scar on her cheek with the tips of her fingers.

"Really?!"

"Have you met my parents, Sherise?"

"No, not yet."

"You'll believe it too, once you've met them.  Not even the gods...," her voice caught.  "Not even the gods...."

"...can stop the beat of a Klingon Heart," Lucas came into the room, his gaze was intent on his wife.

Sherise suddenly felt like they didn't even know she was in the room anymore.  

"Not even across time and space," K'Leena replied, her eyes locked with his.

"Not in this life...," Lucas said.

"Or in another," she finished for him, grasping his hand tightly.

If you asked her, Sherise could not have told you what she'd just witnessed, but she did know it was something not of this world.  Quietly she got up and left them alone.  

They didn't notice.  Somewhere in the middle of all of it, they stopped existing in the same reality as the rest of them.  There were tears in her eyes when Sherise walked out the patio doors to get some fresh air.  

Deep in thought, she strolled down to the beach.

"Hey," Robbie broke into her reverie.

"Hey," she acknowledged on a breathless sigh.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm not sure...," she frowned.  "If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?"

"Always, Sherise."

"What am I to you?"

"I'm not sure I understand you."

"What do I mean to you, Robbie?  What am I to you?"

Damn!  What brought this on -now-?  He didn't want to have this conversation yet.  She wasn't ready.

"Why are you asking this?"

"Because I need to know."

Now Robbie frowned.  "Why?"

"Because I think it's important."

Crossing her arms in front of her, she patiently waited for an answer.  He wasn't going to weasel his way out of this.  

"You're a lot of things to me," he admitted with a tender smile.  "My co-worker, my friend, my lover...."

"Your mate?"

Blue eyes met grey.  He couldn't lie to her, but the truth was going to make things difficult.  

He grimly contemplated his next statement.  Kahless, she was stubborn.  This was not something he'd wanted to deal with just yet.  Why couldn't she have left well enough alone?

"Robbie?" she prompted.

"Yes," he affirmed with a nod.  "My mate as well."

"What -exactly- does that mean?" she demanded to know, tapping her foot in the sand, hands on her hips.

Oh, hell!

He should have expected this.  She was not one to let things be.  The status of their relationship was too ambiguous for her.  She liked things in their proper place.  He didn't fit into one of those nice neat little slots she had for the things in her life.  He kept encroaching on those other aspects of her life and she didn't like it.  

He wasn't going to lie to her, however.  Sherise wasn't going to like the truth, but she deserved to hear it.

"It means you are the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing at night.  It means I can't be in the same room with you and not be drawn to your side.  It means my heart beats in time with yours and I can tell what you're thinking by just looking at you.  It means my body belongs to you alone and yours belongs to me....  It means I love you more than life itself, Sherise.  Not even death can break our bond.  We are 'of one heart'...."

"And not even the gods can stop the beat of a Klingon Heart," she finished for him, tears running unchecked down her face.

He smiled sardonically.  "I see you've been talking to my sister."

"I never agreed to be your mate," she accused, dashing the tears from her face with the back of her hand.

"Yes, you did," he told her coolly.

"When?" she asked disdainfully.

"When you gave yourself to me.  The night you first took me into your body.  That's when."

She stared at him is shock.  "You can't be serious!?  I know for a fact I am not the first woman you've had," she sneered.

"I am -completely- serious," he told her with deadly quiet.  "You are the -only- woman I have given my heart to, Sherise.  What came before you was meaningless."

"This is ridiculous!"  She threw her hands up in the air.  "It was just sex!"

Robbie's face became an unreadable mask.  Hard.  Cold.  Intimidating.

"Don't you -ever- dismiss what happened that night like that again!"

He advanced, grabbing her by the arms to pull her against him.  

"Not only is it an insult to what we have, it is insult to -you- and I won't allow you to dishonor yourself like that."

He was furious.  She trembled slightly, not from fear, but from emotion.  

"I'm sorry, but I think you're making more out of our relationship than there really is."  Why did it feel like her heart was tearing in two?

He smiled suddenly and laughed out loud.  Sherise blinked at the sudden change in mood.  Damn the man!  He never acted the way she expected him to.  She was still in shock when he kissed her, his arms sliding around her to pull her close.  By the time he drew back her head was spinning.

"Twenty-five years, Sherise.  You were a twenty-five-year-old virgin.  What were you waiting for?  The right time?  The right place?"

His voice dropped to a low growl, "The right man?"

"It just never...."

His lips traced the hard line of her jaw and her knees almost buckled.  "Never what? Sherise?"

"It never...."  Her mind blanked in mid-thought.  She couldn't think with his tongue laving the hollow of her throat.

"What?" he breathed against her neck.

"It...."  His hand moved to her breast and she lost all conscious thought.

"It never happened because it never felt right.  Because it couldn't!  Not without me!"

"No," she gasped in denial, but she knew he was right.

"-Yes-!" he asserted.  "You were meant for me, Sherise...and I was meant for you."  

His lips met hers in a bruising kiss.  She sobbed against his mouth because she was scared he was right...and that was more than she could handle.

Robbie swept her up into his arms and carried her up to the guesthouse.  He couldn't get her inside fast enough, pinning her up against the wall the minute they were in the house.  He pulled her skirt up tore her underwear, not wanting to bother with undressing her.  He only just released himself from his pants before lifting her onto him.  She was hot and wet, and so ready for him.  When her silken heat closed around him in a rush, his head fell back with a moan.

"Tell me this isn't right!" he demanded huskily.  "Tell me you don't feel it like I do!"

Sherise shook her head violently.  "It's just physical," she gasped.  

He was wrong.  He -had- to be wrong.

Robbie met her defiant gaze with a grim smile.

"Then fight it, Sherise....  Fight me.  Don't let me in.  Don't even let me close," he warned her ominously.

"You're wrong," she whispered when he lowered his head to take her mouth again.

"You're -mine-!" he breathed against her lips, thrusting hard with his hips, touching places in her that he'd never reached before.


*****


Some time later Sherise made her way back to the main house to find K'Leena, Tessa and Melanie sitting around the kitchen table with their coffee cups.  Michael was sleeping soundly on his mother's shoulder.  She'd obviously just finished nursing him.

Grabbing a mug of her own, she joined them.

"What's is like, K'Leena?" Tessa was asking.

"Nursing?"

"Yeah, and being pregnant, having a baby...what's it like?"

K'Leena considered her friend for a moment.  "Mike been pushing you about this?"

"No, actually, he hasn't.  If you can believe that," she said with a grin.  "I was just curious."

"Uh huh."

"Oh, all right!  I've been thinking about it!  There.  Are you happy?  Will you answer my question now?"

K'Leena grinned broadly.  "Mike hears you say that and it's all over but the crying, kiddo.  It's just what he needs to get you to marry him."

"Yeah, I know...but I think I might want it too."

"Even if he is a 'possessive, domineering Neanderthal?'"

"Are you -ever- going to let me live that down?"

"I doubt it," K'Leena laughed.

"Well?"  Tessa prompted.

"It's the most incredible thing you'll ever do, Tessa.  Trust me.  Every ache and pain is worth it.  I want to have another one next year."

"Really?!"

"I think I should be insulted," K'Leena complained.

"It's just...I never pictured you...."

"Never mind.  I'm a little shocked at it myself," K'Leena admitted.

"I think we're shocking Sherise and Melanie.  They aren't used to this yet."

K'Leena laughed.  "Are we shocking you?"

"Hell no," Sherise smirked.  "I've known your brother a -long- time.  I think I'm shock-proof."

"What about you, Melanie?" Tessa asked.

"I was just thinking how nice it is that you all are so open and loving with each other," she replied.  "My family isn't like that at all."

"We have to stick together, you see," Tessa told her.  "Otherwise those men we sleep with would run roughshod over us constantly."

Melanie burst out laughing.  "Over you guys?!  I've never seen a group of men so firmly under women's thumbs as those three.  They worship the ground you walk on."

"Yeah, but we don't let them know it," K'Leena whispered, conspiratorially.

There were tears in Melanie's eyes by the time she stopped laughing.

"What's up with you and Kyle, anyway?" K'Leena asked bluntly.

"What do you mean?"

"He's in love with you, you must know that," Tessa said.

"No, we're just friends.  I'm only here because Deanna needed some help."

"I don't think so," K'Leena said.  "Kyle wanted you here.  He was worried you might be in danger."

"Why, we're just friends.  None of what's going on affects me."

Tessa grinned knowingly.  "If you say so."

K'Leena stood up with the baby.  "I'm going to try and get this little guy to lay down for a while so I can take a nap," she told them before heading out.



*****


Tessa heard the baby fussing from the hallway.  

Peeking past the slightly ajar door of K'Leena and Lucas's bedroom, she saw K'Leena sleeping on the bed, her hair still damp from the shower she must have taken before lying down.  

Michael was in his little basket near the corner.  With silent steps, she slipped into the room and picked the baby up.  He quieted as she held him to her.  

"Come on, little one," she whispered as she took him out of the room.  "Your momma needs some sleep.  Auntie Tessa has you."

She carried him downstairs and put a fresh diaper on him.  He calmed down, content to just be cuddled.  Holding the tiny baby against her chest she stood by the patio doors and watched the waves crash into the beach, singing softly to the baby.

Mike watched her as she swayed unconsciously to lull the baby to sleep.  Her voice drifted to him, in the darkening room.  He loved to listen to her sing.  She didn't do it nearly as often as he would have liked.  

After a few minutes he moved closer, sliding his arms around her waist from behind, pulling her back against his chest.

Tessa sighed, melting into his embrace.  God, she loved this man.  Tessa blinked in surprise.  She did.  She loved him.  With all her heart.  Tears gathered in her eyes.

Mike brushed his lips across her temple.  One of his large hands splayed over her flat stomach.

"You know...," he whispered seductively.  "I'd love to feel our child growing inside of you."

Her legs almost buckled at the rush of liquid heat his words and touch brought on.  

"I don't know, Mike," she began breathlessly.  "I think we should get married first, don't you?"

Mike went completely still.  He swallowed with some difficulty.  He was having trouble breathing.  "You sure?"

"Have you changed your mind?" Tessa asked with a grin.  "Maybe you don't want to marry me anymore, I guess I was being presumptuous...."

"Tessa?"

"Yes?"

"Shut up and kiss me."  

She did.

"Quit that you two," Lucas interrupted them.  "You're corrupting an innocent child."

Mike tossed a grin over his shoulder.  "Any child of yours, Lucas, can't be very innocent."

"You should talk," Lucas grumbled and took the baby from Tessa.

"Where's K'Leena?" he asked.

"Resting," Tessa told him.  "I took Michael before his crying woke her.  She's really beat."

Lucas frowned.  "Yeah, I know."

<<Lucas!>>

<<I've got him, 'Leena.  He's fine.>>

She flew into the room a moment later.

"I woke up and he was gone," she cried.  

"I'm sorry," Tessa apologized.  "You looked so tired I didn't want him to wake you.  I didn't think of how worried you would be."

K'Leena took the baby from Lucas, drawing him into the protective circle of her arms.

"It's okay...just don't do it again, all right?"

"Sure.  I didn't mean...."

"I know, Tessa," K'Leena reassured her.

Later that night, when Tessa crawled into bed next to Mike she was more than a little nervous.  

For crying out loud, she'd been sleeping with him for more than six months.  What the hell was the matter with her?  

She lay flat on her back, stiff as a board, trying to steady her breathing.

Mike curled up along side of her and rested his hand on her bare stomach.  

"What's the matter, honey?"

"Would you believe...I'm nervous about making love to you?"

Mike propped his head up on his other hand to look down on her.

"It's kinda like the first time all over again, isn't it?" he asked with a gentle smile.

"Yeah."

He bent his head to kiss her tenderly then pulled back to look in her eyes again.

"Good...I didn't do such a good job the first time I made love to you.  I like having the chance to do it over."

Tessa frowned at his serious tone.  "That still bothers you, doesn't it?"

"Hell, yes," he asserted.  "Every time I think about that night, I can still hear you scream."

"You know what I remember most about that night?" she asked softly.

"The pain?" he asked grimly.

"No...I don't remember that part very much at all," she told him honestly.  

"What I do remember is feeling like I was the most beautiful woman in the world.  I remember gentle hands, soft touches.  I remember whispered words of encouragement and comfort when I didn't know what was happening to me.  I remember being taken so high it was terrifying, and flying apart in your arms.  I remember wishing I'd told you.  I hated seeing you so angry with yourself.  I remember soothing words chasing the pain and fear away.  I remember feeling so...cherished when you insisted on taking care of me.  And most of all...I remember falling asleep in your arms wishing I could stay there forever, because with you I was just like everyone else.  I was someone that could be loved."

"Gods, Tessa," Mike said hoarsely, tears threatening.  "I think I loved you from the first moment I saw you."

"I think I did too.  It just took me a while to admit it."

"How soon will you marry me?" he asked, sliding his body over hers to rest between her legs.

Trailing her hands over his broad shoulders, she licked her lips, considering his question.  Mike groaned.  She felt him enter her in one smooth deep stroke, stealing the breath from her body at the intensity of it.

"Tomorrow soon enough for you?" she asked on a small gasp.

Mike grinned in triumph.  "I suppose I can wait that long."


Sometime before dawn Mike was awoken by a restless Tessa, trying to find a comfortable position.  His large hands pulled her to him in a warm embrace.

"W'as wrong?" he asked sleepily.

"Cramps," she mumbled in reply.

He began to gently kneaded her belly in comfort.  "Better?"

"A little," she nodded.

"Want a hypospray?"  

This was nothing new to him.  Tessa suffered greatly each month...but there was something about this time that didn't seem quite right.  Something that he should know, but it was escaping him at the moment.

"Later," she was drifting back to sleep.

When Tessa woke again, it was morning.  Stumbling into the bathroom on shaky legs, she felt as if she was wrapped in cotton wool, everything was fuzzy.  Splashing cold water on her face, she tried vainly to clear her head.

Then the pain hit.  Sharp and deep.  There was no stopping the cry that tore from her lips.  She gripped the edge of the counter for support.  Then Mike was there, gathering her in his arms.

"Tessa, honey, what is it?" he asked, looking down on her anxiously.  She was pale as a ghost and clinging to him for support.

"I don't know...," she met his gaze with clouded, pain filled eyes.  "Something's wrong, it hurts...."  Her hand moved to her lower abdomen.

"What hurts," he was starting to get very worried.

She didn't answer.  The agony tore through her again, causing her knees to buckle beneath her.  His arms were the only thing keeping her upright.  Clutching frantically at his shoulders, Tessa looked at him with wild, confused eyes.  A pained gasp escaped her lips as another wave of torture struck and warm, sticky blood rushed from between her legs.  Mike swore viciously, catching her up in his arms.  

"Robbie!" Mike yelled as he carried Tessa to the bed.

Robbie was in the kitchen with K'Leena and Sherise when they heard Mike's panicked cry.  He was bounding up the stairs two at a time within seconds, to find Mike placing an unconscious Tessa on their bed.

"What happened?" he asked, going immediately to 'doctor' mode.

"I don't know, she said her stomach hurt then she collapsed...she's bleeding, Robbie," Mike told him, meaningfully.  

As he said the words he realized the significance behind them.  Realized what he'd been trying to wrap his sleep-fogged mind around last night.  Tessa was pregnant.  The cramps she'd had last night were out of place because she hadn't had a period last month.

"Sherise!"  Robbie yelled.  "Get my med...," he stopped to see her already coming through the doorway with it in her hands.  Robbie spared a quick moment to smile his thanks as he took possession of it.

Sherise moved to the other side of the bed, knowing Robbie might need assistance.  That's when she noticed the blood coming from between Tessa's legs.

"Mike, we need you to wait outside," she told him, but looked at K'Leena.

K'Leena's eyes widened, slightly.

"Come on, Mike," she grabbed her friend's hand and led him out of the room.  "Let Robbie check Tessa out."

"I want to stay," he resisted.

"Out, Burns!  Now!"  Paris ordered.  Mike had no choice but to obey.  Reluctantly, he let K'Leena lead him to the living room where everybody had gathered, anxious and waiting.

K'Leena met Lucas' worried gaze.

What's going on?

I'm not sure, but I think Tessa is having a miscarriage.

Miscarriage!?  I didn't know....

I don't think -they- knew, Lucas.

The implications of that struck Lucas square in the chest, sucking the air from his lungs.  Of course Tessa and Mike hadn't known she was pregnant.  Mike was diligent about his boosters, just like Lucas had been.  You didn't play around like they used to and not be.  It was just a fact of life.  God...it was just like with Michael.  Someone had messed with Mike's boosters.  His shocked looked registered with Mike.

"Tom's office," he ordered Lucas.  "Now!"

Lucas hesitated a moment then followed Mike.  He closed the door behind them with a decisive click.

Mike was staring out at the ocean, his body tense and alert.  

"She didn't even know, Lucas.  I have to tell her she lost our first child, and she didn't even know she was pregnant."

"Mike...."

"Don't!  It's not your fault.  Damn!  Why didn't we realize this might happen, Lucas!?  We should have seen this coming!  It's never been just you and K'Leena.  It's been all of us, from the very beginning."

"Your boosters must have been neutralized at the same time mine were," Lucas commented off-handedly.

"No," Mike disagreed.  "I've been thinking about that.  They couldn't have been.  Chances are I'd have gotten another woman pregnant before I met Tessa if my booster had been deactivated earlier.  It must have been done *after* she and I hooked up."

Lucas frowned.  "You're right.  I wasn't with anyone else after K'Leena's shuttle accident, but you were still playing around."

"Not many people even knew Tessa and I were seeing each other before your wedding.  And I think Tessa is more than two months pregnant, so it would have been the booster I got just after I *met* her."

Lucas sat down at Tom's desk and motioned for Mike to take the chair opposite him.

"How did you meet her, Mike?" he asked quietly.  

Mike shrugged.  "At the Officer's Club.  I was having a drink after work, like I usually did on a Friday.  We used to go together all the time."

"Yeah, I remember.  It was pretty common knowledge that we could be found there if we weren't on assignment.  But Tessa isn't much of a drinker.  She never went to the Officer's Club.  Did she ever tell you why she was there that night?"

There was a pause as Mike tried to remember.

"Hmm...," he thought.  "I think she told me she was dropping off something for Admiral Gellis."

"Gellis wanted her to bring something to him at a bar?"  Lucas found this hard to believe.  The man was known for working his staff mercilessly and rarely socialized himself.

Mike went still.  Snippets of conversations floated back to him.  Feelings of unease whenever he'd been in the Admiral's presence resurfaced.  His intense dislike of the man weighed heavily on his mind.

"How much do we know about Gellis' past, Lucas?"

"Not nearly enough, I'm beginning to think."

"Tom made a point of having Tessa assigned to him after the attack on Robbie, you know.  I didn't think anything of it at the time, but now...."

"Yeah," Lucas agreed.

Mike lifted his gaze slowly and pinned Lucas with a hard stare.

"It doesn't stop with us," he reminded his Captain.  "Robbie was attacked already and Kyle is sure he was being watched the day he got back to Command.  How much do you want to bet neither of them have had a real booster in a while?"

Lucas' eyes widened.  "Not more than I'm willing to lose, that's for sure."

There was a knock at the office door and Robbie strode in a moment later.

Lucas stood up and rounded the desk.

"I'll leave you two alone," he told Mike, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze as he passed.

They waited for Lucas to close the door behind him before facing each other.

"There was nothing I could do, Mike,"  Robbie told him, gently.

Mike nodded, unshed tears burning his eyes.  He'd been hoping....  Well, it didn't matter now.  There was no hope anymore.

"How's Tessa?" he asked Robbie, his voice gruff with emotion.

"Resting.  She's upset, she didn't know."

"No, we didn't know.  Is she going to be all right?"

"Yes, Mike.  She'll be fine.  You'll be able to have other children, but...."

"What?" he asked sharply, not liking the tone of Robbie's voice.

Paris gave him a pained look before continuing, "The miscarriage wasn't natural, Mike.  It was drug induced."

The bald statement hung heavy in the air.  Mike struggled to draw in a breath, his lungs felt like they would explode any moment.

"Induced?" he croaked.  "Someone did this -intentionally-?"

"Yes," Robbie replied.  "Do you know why...?"

"I need to see her," Mike cut him off.  It was the most important thing in the universe right now.  He had to be with her.

"Of course."

"Thanks, Robbie...for everything."

Paris smiled grimly at him and just nodded.

Mike walked to the door and paused before he turned the handle.  "Robbie...?"

"It was a boy, Mike," he told him softly, watching the other man's shoulders straighten before he opened the door.

Lucas and Kyle passed Mike as they entered Tom's office.  Lucas stopped briefly to give his best friend a meaningful look, confusing Kyle even more.  His brother was furious at something, but he couldn't tell what.

After the door closed and just he, Lucas and Robbie remained in the office, his brother turned to them with a grim expression.

"I don't know exactly how to say this, so I'm just going to come right out with it," Lucas began in a rather harsh tone.  "I think it's a very good possibility that your contraceptive boosters have been deactivated."

Of all the things his brother might have said, this stunned Kyle the most.

"Why on earth...?"

"Just listen.  Whatever is going on affects all of us.  Mike and I didn't realize it until today.  We thought it was just K'Leena and I.  Michael wasn't a planned pregnancy.  Somehow my boosters were messed with.  And now we know the same was done to Mike....  It's logical to assume it was done with you two as well."

"Kahless!"  Robbie exclaimed in horror.

"For how long," Kyle asked.

"Several months at least."

"Well, I haven't had a woman in my life for more than six months now, and I know that she's not pregnant, so even if I am unprotected, it wouldn't matter," Kyle informed them.

"Six months?" Lucas asked.

Kyle snorted.  "Unlike some people, I don't go around making a game of how fast I can get a woman into my bed, Lucas."

His brother grimaced at the well deserved cut.

"That was a long time ago, Kyle," he defended himself, but couldn't stop the flush from creeping up his face.  His behavior as a single man left a lot to be desired.

"Regardless, I'm in the clear," Kyle stated.

"I'm not," Robbie realized suddenly, doing some quick counting.  "And I don't think Sherise knows, either."

"Just like K'Leena and Tessa didn't," Lucas reminded him.  "Why would they?  It's not something women think of nowadays.  And I have the feeling that's exactly how they wanted this to play out.  I just wish I could figure out -why-!"


*****


Mike sat down on the edge of the bed.  Tessa's eyes fluttered open.

"Hey there, beautiful," he said softly, brushing the hair back from her face.

Tears filled her eyes.  "Oh, Mike!" she sobbed.

He pulled her into a fierce embrace, holding her tight as she cried.  

"I didn't know," she hiccupped through the sobs.

"I know, honey."  Mike stroked her hair, reassuringly.  "It's all right.  We'll have other babies.  As soon as you want, okay?"

Tessa nodded into his chest, but his words didn't comfort her.  She wanted -this- baby.  She wanted him back inside her this very instant.  She wanted to nurture him, watch her body grow to accommodate him, give birth to him, nurse him at her breast.  

Tessa wanted her son.  With an tortured wail, she clung to Mike's neck, sobbing in agony.

He rocked her trembling body until she cried herself to sleep.  Mike couldn't remember ever being so angry in his entire life.  Gellis was going to pay.  He would see to that himself.


*****


Robbie found Sherise down by the beach, walking barefoot through the surf.  She stopped when she felt his presence, but didn't turn to look at him.

"I'm pregnant," she told him plainly.  

It hadn't taken much for her to realize after Tessa miscarried.  She was ten days late and faced with Tessa's unexpected pregnancy, something which was practically unheard of in this day and age, it had gotten her mind whirling.  The tricorder confirmed her suspicions in a matter of moments...and changed her life forever.

"I know...I'm sorry, I didn't...."

"It's all right," she faced him now.  He couldn't read her expression, it was so shuttered.  "I know you didn't do this intentionally."

"You do?"  

"You may be a lot of things, Robbie.  Demanding, arrogant, irritating...but dishonest isn't one of them.  You would never do something like this."

He moved closer, wanting to take her in his arms, but something held him back.  A wariness about her.

"What do you want to do?" he asked, gently.

Sherise laughed, humorlessly.  "I'm not sure we have that many options.  I won't have an abortion."

A wave of relief washed over him.  He hadn't realized how much he'd been dreading that possibility until just now.  Robbie smiled broadly and pulled her into his arms.

"Would you consider marrying me?" he asked her, completely serious.

"Not right now...maybe later.  I need time to think about all this, okay?"

It was more than he could have hoped for, but it wasn't all that he wanted either.

"I'm not a patient man, Sherise," he warned her ominously.

"That, Robert Owen Paris, is not something I'm likely to forget."


*****


"Do you think it will work?" K'Leena asked her mother.

"It has to, we don't have that many options.  Not after what happened today.  If they can get to Tessa, they can get to all of us."

"Who are 'they,' Mother?"

B'Elanna and Deanna exchanged guilty looks.

"We can't tell you that," Deanna answered.

K'Leena crossed her arms.  "Why the hell not?!" she demanded.  "Seems to me I'm one of the major players in this little game.  It would help to know the rules."

"There are things beyond our control, K'Leena," her mother said.  "Directives that can't be violated."

"Directives?  Like the Prime Directive?" she asked.  "Or maybe the -Temporal- Prime Directive?"

B'Elanna stiffened.  "Why would you ask that?"

She shrugged.  "I had a dream last night.  But I think it was more of a memory than anything else.  I was on board the Enterprise.  We were under attack and I was very young.  We hadn't been on board very long.  The ship must have been under General Quarters because the nursery was locked down with all us children inside.  And I remember a console exploding near me...."



The tall, dark stranger ran and pulled her out of harm's way just before the console exploded.  Holding her close to his chest he took a moment to catch his breath.  

Only to lose it again when he looked into the innocent bright blue eyes of the fiery-headed little girl in his arms.

He couldn't speak.  He just stared at the child in shock.  

She stared back at him in confusion.  Reaching up to touch his cheek with her small hand she looked from him over to the other side of the room where the children were huddled.  Where her Lucas was.  

Her eyes were enormous when she met his gaze again.

Lucas?

With shaking arms he lowered her to the floor.

"Go back to the other children, K'Leena," he told her gently.

She turned and began to run but stopped after a few steps.  When she looked at him again, she was smiling.

You're all growed up.

He smiled back.  Yes, I am.



*****



Will motioned to Tom and they retreated into the office.

"The Enterprise is en route.  Harry and Seven will be here tomorrow."

Tom nodded.  "Good, Tessa is still very upset.  Seeing her mother will help."

"The estate isn't safe anymore, Tom," Will informed him.

"I know," he sighed.  "I saw Robbie's medical report.  Tessa's miscarriage was induced."

Riker slammed his fist on the desk.  "Will he stop at nothing?!  These are innocent children he's threatening...and killing!"

"Yes," Tom agreed with deadly quiet.  "Innocent children."

The significance of the statement was not lost on Will.

"That was different and you know it!"

"Do I?" Paris argued.  "Maybe.  But that doesn't really matter, does it?  Our view on what happened isn't what the problem is.  It's his."

"When the Enterprise arrives, we'll transfer to her and cut off from Command.  We should be safe there."

"The hell we will!" Tom exclaimed.  "He'll have any number of his people on board her, Will.  We won't know who to trust.  She's not our ship anymore.  Harry's been in command for almost a year now.  We don't know the crew like we used to."

"Then what do you suggest?!" Will asked angrily.  "I'm running out of ideas here.  The estate can't be secured, not being linked to Command."

"The Valiant," Tom countered.  "She's independent and small enough for us to handle, we wouldn't need a crew."

"No.  Alpha Team has been mixed up with this from the start.  I don't think the Valiant is secure either.  Not anymore, she spent too much time in space dock, she was too vulnerable."

"He's right," Lucas said from the doorway, flanked by Mike.

"Lucas and I decided she wasn't secure a while ago.  Too much of what's happened is based in Alpha Team."  Mike continued as they came into the room.

"What do you mean?" Will tried to bluff.

Lucas laughed.  "Forget it, Dad," he began, crossing his arms in front of him.  "By the way, 'Uncle Tom' sends his regards."

The elder Riker sat down on the couch in defeat.  "How long have you known?"

"We just figured it out this morning, after Gellis killed my son," Mike told him coldly.  "You were good at covering your tracks, but we are the best, you know."

Tom looked at his over to his old friend, amusement dancing in his blue eyes.  "I thought we were the best."

Will returned the smile.  "So did I."

"That still leaves us the problem with where to go," Tom reminded them.

"We have an idea," B'Elanna told them as she, Deanna and K'Leena strode into the office.



*****


Sherise was sitting up in bed, her chin resting on her knees when Robbie came into the room after checking on Tessa for one last time before bed.

"How is she?"

"Tired," he sighed.  "And upset.  I gave her a sedative.  Finding out that the miscarriage was induced was hard on her.  And Mike is furious with me for even telling her in the first place, but I felt she had the right to know."

"You were right to tell her, Robbie.  He'll get over it."

"I know, but I understand his desire to protect her.  I'd probably want to do the same thing with you."

"You wouldn't, would you?"

"No," he replied honestly.  "But I would be tempted."

Sherise smiled at his fierce statement.  After meeting his family and spending the last three weeks with them, she'd come to the conclusion that Robbie was far more Klingon than even he knew.  

"How are you doing?" he asked gently, interrupting her thoughts.

"Huh?  Oh, I'm okay, I guess.  Still in shock I think."

"Yeah, I know the feeling."

"Did you want children, Robbie?"

He sat down on the bed and faced her.  "Yeah, I do.  What about you?  Did you want children?"

"I hadn't given it much thought, actually.  I suppose I figured I'd have a child when I found the right man."

"Am I that man, Sherise?"

Her eyes locked with his.  Tension tightened around them both.

"I don't know," she breathed.

"Really?" he asked huskily, just before his mouth found hers in a gentle, sweet caress.  

"Are you sure?" he whispered against her lips.

Sherise trembled as his arms closed around her and drew her down to the bed to roll her under him.

Was she sure?!  Right now she wasn't sure of her own -name- much less anything else with him kissing her like that!  

In the last three weeks he'd turned her life completely upside down and inside out!  

Oh, hell.  Don't touch me there!  She couldn't think when he did that!

Arrogant....

Oh, my!

Bossy....

Oh, please!

Stubborn and -far- too sure of himself.

Wow, do that again!

He was really starting to tick her off and she was going to tell him so.

Right after he finished doing -that-!