Controlled


This one is NC-17.  Unfortunately, I don't believe I can post a PG-13 version of this without losing something important.   Sorry.

Once again, Star Trek belongs to Paramount.  However, the original characters are mine and so is the story.

I guess I should include a warning with this one.  If you are troubled by certain things in fanfic, highlight the paragraph below that lies between the brackets with your mouse to read the warning.  

[This is Kyle and Melanie's story.  Melanie was raped when she was at the Academy.  The couple have to come to terms with this before they can be together.  If this type of thing bothers you, please don't read further.  It's an emotional story that explores painful territory.

Tessa had a miscarriage in Exposed.  There is a continuation of that in this story as well. ]


Klingon Hearts and Beyond

Controlled--Limitations of the Mind

by:  Tracy L. Sobieski



He'd done it.  Soon, everything would be as it was supposed to be.  It was just a matter of time.

Time.  He hated that word.  It was too small, too ordinary for it's purpose.  In one short moment, time had ruined his life.  And become his obsession.  

It wasn't fair that once he'd set things right no one would know.  It wasn't fair that they wouldn't continue to suffer as he had.  It wasn't fair that even he wouldn't remember.  

Admiral Jackson Gellis reverently picked up the picture that sat on the table next to his bed.  It had been taken on their wedding day.  She looked so beautiful.  So alive.  They'd barely had any time together.  

He held the picture to his chest and watched the surveillance screen in front of him.  The dark-haired young woman let out another scream of agony.  Her back arched off the bed as the child within her was torn from her body by his design.

Soon.  It would all be right very soon.  


*****


The Paris Estate was a large sprawling complex.  More house than anyone could possibly need.  Three stories.  Fifteen bedrooms.  Two kitchens.  Private gardens and beach.  Even a guest house.  

It was there Kyle Riker was headed.  Melanie had been using the small separate home for the last three weeks as a make-shift office while she was counseling his sister-in-law, K'Leena.

Harsh lines etched his handsome features as he walked slowly down the path from the main house.  He'd never been in this type of situation with a woman before.  Melanie was frightened of him.  He could sense it every single time they were together.  She hid it well, too.  If he hadn't inherited some of his mother's empathic abilities, he doubted he would have realized it.  And she would never have told him.  

Kyle leaned against the open door jamb and crossed his arms in front of himself.  He watched Melanie silently for a few moments, his forehead drawing into a frown.  She sat on the sofa in the living room, furiously tapping away at the computer terminal on the coffee table before her.

"You can come in, Kyle," she told him with a smile, not looking up from the screen.  "I'm almost done."

He strode in, closing the door softly behind him and sat down on one of the bar stools by the kitchen counter that adjoined the living room.  "I just wanted to check on you," he told her.  "You looked a little stressed before."

She paused a moment before turning to face him, her expression troubled.  "Yeah, I guess my session with K'Leena got to me more than usual."

"You okay?" he asked, concerned.

"Sure, I just needed to write it down, to help me organize my thoughts."

"Is K'Leena all right?"

"I can't discuss a patient with you, Kyle," she chided gently.

"Oh, yeah.  Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

She viewed him thoughtfully for a moment.  "You could help me though."

"How?"

"Tell me about your brother."

"Lucas?" Kyle asked, surprised.  "What do you want to know?"

"I'm just trying to figure him out," she said, pulling her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.  "I've known you and Lucas for more than a year now, and I've never seen him like this.  He's almost irrational, Kyle."

He laughed.  "With K'Leena?  It doesn't surprise me."

"What do you mean?"

He shrugged.  "Just that K'Leena has the ability to get to him like no one else.  She can make him lose control in the blink of an eye."

"Control is important to him?"

"Yeah," Kyle smirked.  "You could say that."

"How important?"

He looked at her sharply, his obsidian black eyes missing nothing.  

"What do you think?  My brother is the strongest telepath I've ever known.  His mental abilities are off the scale."

Kyle paused and stood up to pace across the room.

"I remember when I was about ten or eleven, Lucas was having a really hard time with it.  In most telepathic races, the true scope of the persons gifts aren't visible until puberty.  The hormonal changes trigger it.  Up until then, Lucas was only able to use telepathy with Mom, and of course K'Leena."

"K'Leena?"

"Sure, didn't you know?  They've been connected telepathically since they were three years old."

"No, I had no idea," she replied, slightly stunned.

"Anyway," Kyle continued.  "When Lucas began to mature, the telepathy increased dramatically.  I remember him pacing around our room in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of all the stray thoughts and emotions on the ship.  It got so bad Dr. Bashir began using a cortical monitor to suppress certain brain activity so Lucas could get some rest."

Kyle grew silent as he remembered his brother's pain.  The pacing.  The headaches.  The sheer torture he'd endured.  And the anger.  It had radiated from his brother in waves.  Anger at being different.  Anger at the inability to control his gifts.  Anger at their mother for being the source.  Anger at their father for not understanding.  

"That must have been hard on him," Melanie said softly, wondering if perhaps Lucas needed a counselor more than K'Leena.  "How did he ever get it under control?"

"Lucas went to Betazed for almost six months.  They had people who could help him.  Mom could only do so much, she's just an empath."

Lxwanna Troi had come to the Enterprise and taken Lucas home with her.  He'd lived with his grandmother for more than six months, learning how to control and use his gifts from her and others of her race that could help him.  

"How is it that Lucas is a full telepath?" Melanie interrupted his thoughts.

"It has something to do with hybrid genetics," Kyle told her.  "Recessive traits can become dominant in hybrid children.  It's kinda like how K'Leena is really half-Klingon as far as her genetic make up."

"So, he learned to live with the telepathy on your mother's home planet?"

"He learned to do more than live with it.  He learned to control it and use it, but it came at a heavy price," Kyle sighed.

"What do you mean?"

Kyle briefly wondered just how much of an ass kicking he was going to get from his brother for this.  It was not something Lucas liked *anyone* to know, much less a therapist.  Lucas avoided them like the plague.  Even though he probably needed one more than most, Kyle thought grimly.  

"When he came back," Kyle began softly, "he wasn't the same person that left.  He was so quiet and controlled.  And intense.  There was a darkness about him that was almost frightening.  A dangerous quality that hadn't been there before."

"The man he is now," she realized.

"Yeah, but he was only fifteen at the time.  Kinda young to be so old, you know what I mean?  The only time he was able to relax and really let go was when he was with K'Leena.  They were inseparable."

"So I've heard."  A small grin played at the corners of her mouth.

"But K'Leena had the tendency to get into more than her fair share of trouble.  Lucas was forever covering for her.  It drove him nuts.  K'Leena was more than a little wild, Melanie, she was downright reckless at times.  Lucas felt it was his responsibility to look after her, even back then.  She was rebelling against Tom on an almost daily basis.  He was as overprotective as a father could be, and she hated it.  Lucas was the buffer between them on more than one occasion."

"This isn't a new thing now that they are married?  He's been this way with her forever."

"Pretty much," Kyle conceded.

Melanie found it fascinating that K'Leena would even consider marrying Lucas if she had such a problem with her father and his over protectiveness.

"It's an awfully archaic way of thinking for a man in this day and age?  Don't you think?" she asked in a neutral tone.  

She shouldn't do this.  Melanie knew full well that most men still considered it their place to protect and provide for a woman.  It was an ingrained instinct with the male of most species.  Humans were no different, no matter how enlightened people claimed to be.  Still, she wanted to know where Kyle stood on this.  Why it was so important to her was something she didn't really want to think about, but it was.

Kyle looked at her, slightly amused.

"Maybe, but I doubt you can stop someone like Lucas from being that way," he told her with a small smile.  "Or my father, or Tom, or Mike, or Robbie...or me."

The quiet conviction in his voice raised goose bumps on her skin.

"Why's that?" she asked on a breathless whisper.

"Because it's just how we are," he stated firmly.  "Lucas and I grew up watching our father do everything in his power to keep our mother safe.  Always behind the scenes, mind you, but always there just the same.  He turned down two captaincies to remain with her, even when they weren't a couple.  What kind of message do you think that sends to a young man?"

"I see your point," she admitted.  "But K'Leena is a capable woman.  Lucas should realize that."

Kyle almost snorted.  "In the last year, she's been almost killed in a shuttle accident, attacked, kidnapped, beaten, not to mention getting pregnant and having a baby....  Do you honestly think Lucas is being out of line by worrying about her?  If she was my wife, I think I might be a little irrational about all this too."

Melanie rested her chin on the tops of her knees.  Well, she certainly understood the dynamics of Lucas and K'Leena's relationship a little better.  What she could do about it, however, was an entirely different matter.

"Do you think your brother would consent to counseling?" she asked Kyle.

"Lucas would do anything for K'Leena," he told her without hesitation.  "But don't expect him to consent for himself.  He'll fight you every step of the way if he thinks you're trying to shrink *his* head."


*****


Sunlight streamed into the bright, spacious library of the Paris Estate as K'Leena strolled in.  Her father's love of the sea could be almost felt in this room.  With its huge picture windows overlooking the ocean and its pale blues and greens along with the whitewashed wood, you could almost convince yourself the sand was under your feet.  She was somewhat surprised he wasn't there with Lucas, it was his favorite room in the house.

K'Leena had gone looking for her husband as soon as she'd gotten Michael down for his nap.  She had very specific plans for how she wanted to spend this short reprieve from motherhood.  Unfortunately, her husband didn't seem very interested.

"It's been three weeks," she reminded him, placing her arms around his neck and gently nipping at his jaw line with her teeth.  "The Doc said I'm fine."

"You still tire easily." Lucas stepped away from her.  Away from temptation.

K'Leena growled softly, closing the distance between them with a few determined steps.  Her hands came to rest on his shoulders, in an effort to keep him from retreating yet again.  

"That's just from the nursing.  It's normal."  Okay, so she was stretching the truth a little.  The Doctor did tell her to rest a little more often, but she was trying.  And she did feel a lot better.

"But, if you want to come with me." She grinned saucily at him.  "I'll go lie down."

Well, that did it.  All the blood in his body rushed to his groin.  He almost groaned.  She stepped closer to him, running her hands over his upper arms and leaning up to capture his mouth with hers.

"Come on," she breathed heatedly against his lips.  "Michael is sleeping.  We have at least an hour."

"No."  Lucas shook his head, trying to clear it.  "I don't think...."

One small hand slipped lower to cup him.  She chuckled softly at the hiss of pain he drew in when she encounter his hard, throbbing erection.  "Good.  You think too much lately."

Lucas pulled her hand away and grasped both of them behind her back, thinking to stop the torment.  Unfortunately, all it did was bring her body in full contact with his.  Desire shot through him like lightening, electrifying him.  Still, he resisted.  "It's too soon, 'Leena."

K'Leena licked the hollow at the base of his throat.  Then, she began to move.

Lucas groaned.  The cords in his neck stood out with the tension in his body.  He put his hands on her hips to stop the slow, sensual grind she had going against him.  It was a mistake.  Just touching her nearly caused his resolve to crack.  His fingers tightened, digging into the soft flesh of her bottom.  She shuddered and wound her arms around his neck, drawing his mouth to hers.  When he kissed her with gentle restraint, K'Leena growled angrily.

"I'm not made of glass!" she hissed.  "I won't break!"

Kahless, she couldn't take anymore of his coddling!  He was going to drive her completely insane if he kept this up!

"I still think we should wait...."

"For what?!" She tore herself away from him and flung her arms out in frustration.  "Michael will be an adult before you make love to me again at this rate!"

"'Leena, please...."

"Fine!  I won't beg for it, Lucas.  When and if you decide you want to be my husband again, you know where to find me.  Until then, stay the hell out of my way!"

Lucas watched her retreating figure with a frown.  Dammit!  He was sick to death of fighting with her.  She was the most unreasonable person he knew.

"No," the denial floated down the stairs behind her.  "That would be you."



*****


Sherise sat quietly on one of the large rocks that served as a retaining wall for the enormous formal gardens on the estate.  She watched the waves crashing into the private beach, smoothing the sand further as each one came closer to the rocks.  Robbie was like those waves, she thought grimly.  He came crashing through your life, wearing you down, smoothing away the rough edges that got in his path by the sheer force of his existence.  She wondered if he had any idea of the power he had over people.  If he knew what a force of nature he was.

In one month's time, he had completely rocked her world.  Made her his mate, and the mother of his unborn child.  Nothing would ever be the same again.  How the hell could this happen in the twenty-fourth century?  The Neanderthal was taking over her life like he had the right to!  Who the hell did he think....

"Hello."

Sherise startled at the interruption, turning her head sharply.  She'd been so lost in thought she hasn't heard anyone approaching.

"Am I disturbing you?" B'Elanna asked with an apologetic smile.

"No," Sherise gave a small laugh at her own jumpiness.  "Not at all, Mrs. Paris," she greeted Robbie's mother.

B'Elanna frowned.  "Please, call me B'Elanna.  Lucas does."

"Lucas is your son-in-law," Sherise reminded the other woman.

"And you are my daughter-in-law.  According to Klingon law and tradition at any rate."

Now, Sherise frowned.  She was still more than a little angry that Robbie hadn't been upfront with her about that.

"I don't believe in that, Mrs...B'Elanna."

The older woman nodded, taking a seat on the rock next to her.  "I tried to tell myself that too," B'Elanna revealed with a self-depreciating smirk.  "A long time ago."

Considering it was Robbie's mother that was of Klingon heritage, her revelation was quite surprising.  Commander B'Elanna Torres-Paris was the current Federation Ambassador to Kronos.  

"You did?"

"Yes."  She didn't elaborate.  Sherise smiled again.  It was certainly apparent where Robbie got his stubbornness from.

"I always assumed Robbie took after his father," Sherise commented, offhandedly.  "I don't know why, but I did."

B'Elanna's eyes twinkled.  "And now that opinion has changed?"

"Hmm, meeting all you has made me revise quite a few of my opinions."

That made the older woman laugh out loud.  "I would imagine it did."

"It's almost as if K'Leena is all Klingon on the outside, but very human on the inside and Robbie is the exact opposite.  Does that make sense?"

B'Elanna nodded.  "I used to worry about them, when they were younger," she admitted.  "K'Leena embraced her Klingon heritage so fervently, I often wondered if it was because she felt the need to make up for my short-comings as one.  And Robbie wanted so much to be like his father, I think he learned to hide some of his more "Klingon" tendencies."

Sherise laughed.  "Tom Paris is just a ridgeless Klingon."

"Funny, isn't it?  Deanna has a field day with our little dysfunctional family."

"I do not!" the woman referred to spoke as she made her way down the tree lined garden path, toward them.  "And, if anybody has a dysfunctional family, it would be me," Deanna sighed.

"Hmm, the shoemaker's kids have no shoes?" B'Elanna teased.

Deanna rolled her eyes.  "The therapist's son has lost his mind, is more like it.  He's in there right now, driving your daughter to matricide."

"Did you try talking to him?"

Troi arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms in front of herself.  "Talking to Lucas about his emotions is sort of like telling K'Leena to be careful."

B'Elanna chuckled softly.  "In one ear and out the other, huh?"

"He just shuts me out.  Always has."

"Maybe Melanie can help," Sherise suggested.  

"She's trying," Deanna sighed again.  "I don't know how much she can do, though, with him fighting her every step of the way.  What I'd really like to know, is how the hell he passes his Psych Evaluation every six months."

"You're kidding, right?"  B'Elanna laughed.  "His mother is the head of Starfleet Psychiatric Services.  He knows more about pulling the wool over a counselor's eyes than anyone has the right to.  He's practiced on the best, for years.  I'm sure he says all the right things, gives all the correct answers and they buy it hook, line and sinker."

Deanna's attention was suddenly drawn to the guest house where she saw her other son escorting Melanie down the path to the beach.  She frowned causing B'Elanna to turn her head and see what was upsetting her friend.

"You don't want them together?"  B'Elanna was confused.  She knew Deanna loved Melanie like a daughter.  They were very close.

"No," Deanna shook her head.  "It's not that.  I just don't want anyone getting...hurt.  Kyle's in for more than he bargained for, I think."

"Kyle's never been one for casual relationships, Dr. Troi," Sherise reminded her.  "I think he's in love with Melanie."

"I know.  That's what I'm worried about."

The concerned eyes of a parent watched the couple as they walked....

Even though the sun was shining, the winter air was still chilly and damp.  Melanie pulled her sweater closed, sliding her hands into it's deep pockets.  With the casual atmosphere of the estate, they'd all switched to civilian clothing.  It was nice to be out of a uniform, but it also made things more intimate.  It made her feel vulnerable.  She'd taken to wearing jackets or sweaters over all her clothes.  Almost like an extra layer of protection.  Kyle noticed immediately and put his arm around her shoulders, drawing her close to his body to warm her, thinking it was the cold that made her pull inward.  Melanie froze instantly at his touch, her breath catching in surprise.  She stumbled slightly.

"Easy."  Kyle stopped and pulled her against him, an arm sliding easily around her waist to hold her there.  He frowned at her startled expression.  The broad tip of his finger tilted her chin up high so he could see into her troubled eyes.  There was a wariness there that he didn't like, but a curiosity too.  A desire that seemed to shock her more than his embrace.

A desire he shared.  One he could no longer deny.  Just a small kiss.  Just one.  Just so he would know if she tasted as good as he imagined.  If they fit together as perfectly as he suspected they did.  Just one.

His head dipped.  He stopped just before his lips met hers.  She felt the words more than she heard them.  "Kiss me."

Eyes wide, she met his gaze and before she knew what she was doing, she lifted up and kissed him.  Only a brush of her lips over his, but it was enough.  Enough to know Kyle Riker was going to be a problem.  Melanie drew back to look at him again.  He smiled, threaded his hand into her hair and brought her mouth back to his.

Then, he kissed her.

His lips were firm, but not demanding as they moved over hers.  He didn't push, he coaxed.  Soft, gentle kisses.  His hand flattened over the small of her back, pressing her closer.  She shivered slightly.  His tongue traced the slightly parted seam of her lips.  "Open for me."

He felt her hesitation, but a moment later she did as he asked, opening her mouth and letting him in.  With a growl of approval, he slid deep inside to taste her.


*****


He pressed the button to activate the surveillance camera and watched her as she slept.  Her cheeks were wet from the tears she'd cried.  Tears he put there.  Now she knew a little of what she'd done to him.  Not enough, though.  Never enough.

Gellis focused the camera in closer, wishing the bed sheet didn't cover her so completely.  His fingers stroked over the outline of her breast, feeling instead the smooth acrylic of the monitor.  

It was the one thing he regretted about the way things had played out.  He'd become her superior, her "friend."  He could never touch her the way he wanted if his plan was to work.  He would watch, though.  Whenever she wasn't looking.  At Command.  In her home, where the hidden camera's caught her every move.  At the Paris Estate.  He watched it all.  

Unfortunately, Alpha Team members had their homes monitored too closely so he'd never been able to watch her at Burns' apartment like he wanted to.  That had angered him.  Just like his desire for her angered him.  

Burns had become a thorn in his side from the minute he arranged their first meeting.  His protective behavior toward the girl had surprised him.  He hadn't planned on it.  Burns was known for never getting involved with women for any length of time.  He never went for commitment.  With Tessa, he had immediately.  It was an unexpected problem for the admiral.  

Within a week of their first meeting, the Alpha Team lieutenant had all but installed the girl in his apartment and life.  He'd show up at Gellis' office and pick Tessa up every night he wasn't on duty.  They never stayed at her apartment, either.  Burns always brought her back to his.  

Tessa had fought it for months.  She'd even confided in the admiral on occasion that she was afraid she was becoming too close to the lieutenant.  Jack had smiled in a fatherly manner, patted her knee and encouraged her to continue the relationship.  It was essential to his plans, even if Burns wasn't following the rules.

The night of the wedding between the Paris bitch and her interfering husband had gone horribly wrong because of Burns.  He needed the Paris girl and because of his failure then, plans had to be changed.  He had to accept the blame for that.  He'd become distracted.  

He'd watched Burns enter Tessa's room that night.  Watched him profess his love and watched her accept it.  He'd shook with lust and rage when he watched them make love.  She was his.  She belonged to him and no one else.  Her body.  Her soul.  Her life.  It was all his.  She had no *right* to give any of it to anyone else.  He owned her.  

When Burns had left the room to help the newly married couple, Jack was supposed to stall him, offer to help and lead him away, but he'd been so shaken by what he'd seen he hadn't been able to move for a few precious minutes, and that had been enough.

Still, in the end, things had worked out better than he'd hoped.  So much better, he thought with a grin.  



*****


K'Leena stalked up to Tessa's room, still steaming from Lucas' controlling attitude.  She knocked on the door softly and waited for Tessa's "Come in."  Mike opened the door a second later. The shades were drawn so the room was darkened but K'Leena could still see her friend sleeping on the bed behind him.

"Sorry," she whispered.  "I just wanted to let Tessa know her parents are almost in orbit and will be here in a couple of hours."

Mike nodded and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him.  He took K'Leena's elbow and led her across the way to her and Lucas' room.  She waited until he closed the door behind them before she spoke again.

"How is she?"  Concern laced her voice.  Tessa was the closest thing she had to a sister.  Even with the age difference, there had been a connection between the girls since they were small children.

"Upset," Mike sighed, dragging a tired hand through his hair.  "Angry.  Heartbroken.  You name it, she's feeling it."

K'Leena bit her lower lip.  "How about you?"

"Furious."  He was probably more than that, but right now anger seemed to be the only thing he could feel.  "Did you know the drug he used to induce the miscarriage was probably the most painful way to abort a fetus there is?"

K'Leena recoiled in horror.  She was still trying to grasp the fact that it was Admiral Gellis that had been doing this to them.  She'd known him most of her life.  A family friend to be trusted and loved.  Not a murderer.  It just didn't seem possible.

"Not only did he kill our son!" Mike raged on.  "But he *wanted* her to suffer while it happened!"

She laid a comforting hand on his arm.  "I'm so sorry, Mike."

"Do you know where Lucas is, I need to talk to him."  He changed the subject, unwilling to discuss it anymore.

K'Leena stiffened and stepped away from him, tossing her hair back defiantly.  "Don't know and don't care."

Mike raised an eyebrow at the tart reply.  "You two have a fight or something?"

"Or something," she muttered.  "He's probably still downstairs in the library."

"What's wrong?"

"Trust me, Mike.  You don't want to know."


*****


"I'm not very good at this," Melanie breathed against his mouth, her hands grasping his shoulders for support.

"Could have fooled me."  She felt him smile into the kiss.

Her hands entwined in his hair, pulling him closer.  Kyle deepened the kiss, making her head spin wildly.  She felt his arms tighten around her, drawing her to stand between his slightly spread legs, fitting his body to hers.  Melanie stiffened with a jolt when she felt how aroused he was.  Kyle's lips trailed down her neck and he chuckled softly.

"I don't know why you're so shocked," he whispered.  "I walk around like this all day long since you've been here."

Startled, deep brown eyes met his.  "Really?"

He stroked her cheekbone with the pad of his thumb and frowned.  "Why is that so surprising to you?  You have to know I want you.  Hell, everybody knows that."

Melanie's hands nervously worried the collar of his soft gray shirt.  Kyle felt the change in her instantly.  Slowly, he removed his arms from her and took a step back, letting her hands drop to her sides.

She looked at him helplessly for a moment, then a small shrug lifted her shoulders.  "I should go...."  She turned slightly to leave.

"We're going to have to talk about it someday."  Kyle didn't pretend not to know how upset she was.

Melanie froze.  "No.  We don't."

"One of these days, Melanie," he began grimly.  "This thing between us will go too far and you're going to end up flat on your back, in my bed.  I'd like to know what you're hiding before that happens."

She gaped at him.  "You're awfully sure of yourself, Kyle Riker!  I don't sleep around!"

"Neither do I.  When I make love to you it will be with my heart as well as my body."

She crossed her arms in front of her.  "Don't you mean if?"

Kyle smiled then.  He might not have the superior presence of either his dad or Lucas, but he was still a Riker.  

"No," came his arrogant reply.  "I mean when."

Her eyes widened slightly before she turned on her heel and headed up the rocky path back to the main house.  Kyle's cocky grin faded as he watched her steady, determined stride take her back to the main house.  There was a terrible certainty gnawing at his gut.  He had the feeling he knew exactly why she was so frightened of him.



*****


With a sigh, Sherise climbed off the boulder and glanced up at the estate house to see Melanie all but stomp up the path.  Guess she wasn't the only one in bad temper.  

She'd spent enough of the day hiding out.  It wasn't in her to be so reluctant for confrontation.  And confrontation was what had been brewing between her and Robbie for days now.  There were things that needed to be decided.  Issues they desperately needed to discuss, and every time she tried to talk to him he ended up making love to her.  As wonderful as frequent mind-blowing sex was...it wasn't something to base a long term relationship on.  She was also fed up with being treated like an irrational child, easily distracted when she wanted answers.  It was going to stop, and it was going to stop now.  Brushing the sand from the seat of her pants, she stalked up to the main house with determination.  

It took a while to find him.  When she finally did track him down, after meeting just about every other member of his family in her endless search through the monstrous house, Robbie grinned at her disgruntled expression.

"This was a hotel before you're grandparents lived here, right?"

"Nope."  He shook his head with a chuckle.  "Sorry.  It's been in the family for several generations."

"Figures," she grumbled.  "We need to talk."

"I really should check on Tessa...."

"She's sleeping," Sherise stopped his retreat.  "I just ran into Mike, he was hunting for Lucas in this mausoleum.  Sit down, Robbie."

He crossed his arms in front of himself and perched on the corner of Tom's desk, his long legs stretching out in front of him.  His eyes were mocking as he obeyed her curt order.  "Okay."

She hated when he did that!  Her eyes narrowed dangerously.  "I'm going back to the Dakota."

Robbie startled slightly, then shifted forward, his hands dropping to grip the edge of the desk as he leaned toward her.  "No."  

No discussion.  Not even a "why?"  Nothing.  Just--no.

Sherise bristled.  Her head tilted back defiantly.  "I wasn't asking your permission, Robbie.  I'm leaving in the morning."

The air shifted around them.  Even though he hadn't moved a muscle, Sherise got the unmistakable impression that he was poised for battle.  "No, you're not."

The low growled command was the preverbal straw.  This was going to end here and now.

"I don't see how you can stop me.  The last time I checked, I was still a free citizen of the Federation."

He stood up now, unfurling his body like a large feline, ready to pounce.  "Don't push me, Sherise."  A shiver raced up her spine at the quiet, controlled warning.

"Or what?"  Her shoulders squared with reckless challenge.  Just who did he think he was, anyway?

"Your mate."

She hadn't said that aloud, had she?  "I never agreed to that!  I don't belong to you, Robert Paris!"

"You are carrying my child!  You will not put yourself in danger!"

"This is my child too!  You have no say in what I choose!"

"Sherise," he growled.  "Don't think for a minute you can win this.  You are a Starfleet officer.  My father is an admiral.  I hold all the cards here.  Accept that you will remain with me for the time being and stop upsetting yourself.  It's not good for you or the baby."  His condescending tone infuriated her.

"I'll resign."  Resign from Starfleet?  She'd worked her whole life for this.  Damn, why was he pushing her like this?

"And you'll still stay here with me.  There's no way on heaven or earth that I'll let you leave, Sherise.  Your life is in danger.  Until that danger is eliminated, you'll be within shouting distance.  Do you understand?"

"What I understand is you are the most arrogant, stubborn man I've ever known!  I don't want to be with you!  Don't you get that?!  I don't want to be here!"

Robbie frowned.  She was getting herself too worked up.  "Hey...."  He stepped forward, reaching out to put his arms around her.

"No!"  She leapt back, striking his hand away.  "Don't touch me!  That's your solution to everything!  Well it's not going to work this time!"

Sherise stormed from the office with Robbie fast on her heels.

"Don't do anything foolish, Sherise."

"Like getting involved with you?" She tossed the bitter question over her shoulder.  "Don't worry, *Lieutenant*.  I won't leave the estate as long as you stay the hell away from me!"

Robbie watched her march up the stairs with a shake of his head.  How had it deteriorated to this?

"Problems?"  Kyle asked his friend from the arm of a chair in the living room, having witnessed Sherise's parting shot.

Robbie sighed.  "Just a few."

"Come on."  Riker motioned for Paris to follow.  "I hear there's a gym in this monstrosity you people call a house.  Basketball?"

The lure of competition was too compelling to ignore.  They'd been stuck on the estate, unable to do much of anything for far too long now.

"In the mood to get your ass kicked, huh?"  Robbie asked with a grin.

Kyle snorted.  "In your dreams, Paris."

"Just give me a minute to check on Tessa and I'll meet you down there."

"Sure.  I'll set up the court."

Robbie made a quick stop to grab the medical bag from his room then headed across the hall to check on his patient.  He didn't like not being able to admit Tessa to Starfleet Medical.

Pale and wan, Tessa was sitting up in the pillow strewn bed, half-heartedly reading a PADD when Robbie came into the room.  Her gray and white cat, Muffin, lay sleeping on her lap and she stroked the silky fur unconsciously.  Mike had gone to their apartment earlier that morning to retrieve the pet, hoping it would make her feel a little better.  They had left her in the care of a neighbor, but with all that had happened, Tessa was glad Mike had gone to retrieve her.  

"Hey."  He sat down on the edge of the bed with a smile, scratching the cat behind her ears for a second before opening the tricorder and running it over her.  He reviewed the readings.  "How are you feeling?"

"Empty."

He frowned and tucked a stray lock of hair back behind her ear.  "Are you in a lot of pain?  I can give you something."  Closing up the tricorder, he reached for a hypospray.  

Tessa shook her head, stopping him.  "No.  I'm fine."  She wasn't, but medication couldn't take her pain away.  "Can I come down stairs?  I can't take another minute in this room, Robbie."

It was the second time today she'd asked.  He was not inclined to let her out of bed just yet.  The miscarriage had been physically traumatic as well as mentally.

"I'd rather you didn't yet.  It's only been a day, Tessa."

"Please, Robbie."  The pleading catch to her voice got to him.

"If you're careful."  He gave in with a sigh.  "And promise to stay off your feet, I'll let Mike bring you down.  But you really do need to take it easy for a couple more days.  In any other situation, I'd have you in the hospital, Tag-a-long."  Robbie used the nickname he and Kyle had given her when they were kids.  Tag-a-long Tessa, they used to call her.  Even though they were three years older than her, from the time she could walk she'd been their constant companion.

"So much for medical advancement," she grumbled.

"Some things are better left to nature.  It's one of the first things you learn in medical school.  Pregnancy and childbirth are prime examples."

Robbie stayed a few more minutes to finish her exam.  He gave her a pain reliever, saying she needed it, in spite of her protest to the contrary.  Tessa promised to nap if he let Mike bring her down afterwards.  He tucked her in and dropped a friendly kiss on her head before leaving the room.


*****


Melanie pulled the soft, chenille throw from the back of the loveseat and wrapped her self up in it.  The small sitting room off the kitchen was cozy and inviting with it's touchable fabrics and comfortable seating.  It was good place to think.  Or hide.

She lightly ran the tips of her trembling fingers over her mouth, remembering the feel of Kyle's lips on hers.  When was the last time she'd kissed a man?  A year?  Two?  More?  Had it really been so long?  

She hadn't been scared with him.  She'd been safe.  Completely.  The revelation shook her.  She'd honestly begun to believe a physical relationship with a man was impossible.  She'd tried to make love in the years since the rape.  God, how she'd tried!  Good men, men she knew in her head she could trust, but it had never been possible.  The fear, the flashbacks always kept her from intimacy.  When they kissed her, she would taste him.  When they touched her, she would see him.  When she tried to take them inside her, she would feel him.  A tiny cry of pain escaped her lips at the memories.

But, none of that happened with Kyle.  None of it.  And that frightened her more than anything.

Damn him!  What right did he have to make her feel this way?  She didn't *want* him to be attracted to her.  She didn't want any of this.  Why couldn't he have left well enough alone?  Left her alone?  She didn't ask for this.

She didn't know if she could be with a man.  Especially a man like Kyle.  He was experienced.  Handsome.  An officer.  He could have just about anyone he wanted.  She didn't even know how to kiss properly.  There was no way she could satisfy him.  Not sexually.  Not emotionally.  She was damaged.  Broken.  It would be pointless to even try.  

Hell, she'd never even been able to bring *herself* to orgasm.  And that was the first step.  All the training material for counseling rape victims said so.  She wasn't normal.  She knew it.  She had proof of it.

No, it would be best if she didn't let Kyle near her again.  He made her believe in things she knew she could never have.  And she couldn't afford to do that.  There could be nothing more between them.  For his sake.  He deserved a real woman.  Not a pretender.

When she wiped away the single tear coursing down her cheek she realized she wasn't alone.  Slowing turning her head, she found Kyle silently watching her from the kitchen doorway.  His expression was guarded, but for a minute, she thought she saw raw pain reflected in his dark eyes.

Melanie quickly turned to look out the window again.

"Please, Kyle.  I want to be alone."

She knew he stood there for a long time, just watching her, wanting to say something, but, in the end, he did as she asked and left.

Kyle headed down to the gym, hoping the physical exercise would help him get his anger and frustration under control.  He just wished he knew the right words to say.  The right things to do.  It always seemed like he was making things worse, when all he wanted was the chance to get to know her.  Be with her.  Love her.

He would never hurt her.  She had to know that.  He'd never hurt *any* woman.  Ever.  He wasn't like his father, or his brother.  He'd never been a player.  Never used sex for recreation.  To him, sex was part of a loving relationship.  He hadn't lost his virginity until his third year at the academy and then with the girl he'd been dating for almost a year.  They'd stayed together until halfway through his senior year, until she'd been transferred to finish her training.  They'd ended the relationship as friends.  There had only been three other women in his life since then.  Sherise, whom he never had a sexual relationship with, but dated as more of a close friend, and two long-term romances on the Zosa.  One of those women had gone on to marry a mutual friend after their breakup and the other posted to a different ship and they had decided a long-distance relationship wasn't for them.  He still considered all four of them friends and knew they did the same.  

There had to be a way to show Melanie she could trust him.  What he felt for her was like nothing he'd ever had with a woman before.  She occupied his thoughts almost exclusively.  When they were in the same room, or in close proximity, there was even more.  It was telepathic, of that he was certain.  He could almost hear her in his head.  It was quiet.  Just a whisper, but it was there.  And it was happening more and more often.  Strengthening.  Intensifying.  Just now, he'd known exactly where to find her.  He'd felt her distress and had been drawn to her like a moth to flame.  The pain at knowing he was the cause of her distress was eating away at him, but he didn't know how else to get through her defenses.  She'd built up so many over the years to protect herself.  They were like an impenetrable wall.

If she would just let him in, give him a chance, he knew they could have something special.  Maybe even something more.  Something permanent.  Something like....

Imzadi.


*****


The captain's quarters on the U.S.S. Enterprise were dark and quiet when he entered.  Too quiet.  Too insulated.  Even the sounds of the ship were muffled to almost silence.  

"We'll be in orbit in an hour.  How are you doing?"  Harry Kim asked his wife after his eyes adjusted to the absence of light.  Seven was sitting on the sofa, staring blankly out the view port.

"I am fine."

He shook his head and sat down next to her.  She would probably tell him that if the warp core was breaching two feet away from her.  Some things never change.  His arm crept around her waist, pulling her against him.  "Maybe...."

"No." She stopped him with a raised hand.  "Do not say it.  We knew from the beginning it would all be taken from us."

"I don't believe that, Ani.  It happened once, it could happen again."

A tear slipped silently from the corner of her eye.  She reached up to brush it away.  "Once the circle is complete, the paradox will cease to exist, Harry.  It is a basic law of temporal dynamics.  We can't change it.  No one can."

Captain Kim almost snorted.  "Since when?"

"I will not violate the Temporal Prime Directive."  Her voice wavered.  She wanted to.  She wanted to be like he was.  Like Captain Janeway used to be.  But she couldn't.  It was wrong to change the timeline for personal gain.

"Do you remember the day she was born?" he asked her with a sad smile.

"Every detail," she sighed.  It was not something a mother could forget.  

The memories assailed her.  A sob caught in the back of her throat as she was instantly transported twenty-four years earlier....

"Just a little longer, Seven.  How are you doing?" Harry asked concerned, working feverishly over his Ops console on the main Enterprise bridge.

"I am...uncomfortable," came her terse reply over the comm.  "I would like to get out of this turbolift."

"I'm working on it," Harry reassured her.

"Work faster."

Commander Tom Paris almost burst out laughing at Seven's curt order.  

Will looked over at his first officer curiously.  "She seems to be handling it just fine," the captain said.

Harry glanced quickly at Tom after he signed off with his wife.  

"I'm a dead man."  His tone was slightly frantic as he quickened his pace, popping off a panel with a grunt and dropping it heedlessly to the floor.  "Of all the days for the transporter to burn out," he muttered, ripping out a fused isolinear chip and flipping it over his shoulder.

Riker was confused.  "Harry, Seven sounded just fine.  Why are you so upset?"

Tom couldn't hold back anymore.  "You have to understand "Borg", Captain," he told him with a laugh.  "'I am uncomfortable' roughly translates into 'This hurts like hell,' and 'I would like to get out of here,' really means 'Get this damn lift working NOW or you're never touching me again.'  Right, Harry?"

"Yep," Harry replied distractedly.  "That's pretty much it."  

Another chip went sailing across the bridge, landing at the captain's feet with a soft 'click.'

Captain Riker fought the grin that threatened.  He missed the days when he was a first officer and could have laughed at this.  "Does it take long to learn Borg?"

"Don't ask me."  Harry took the time to toss a long suffering grin over his shoulder.  "It took me forever to figure out 'I enjoy your companionship' was really 'I love you.'"

Harry managed to get the turbolift working in time to get Seven to Sickbay.  Four hours later, after threatening to assimilate him more than once so he could *share* the experience, Annika Hansen and Harry Kim became parents.

When he looked down on his tired and weakened wife, there were tears coursing unheeded down her cheeks as she held their daughter for the first time.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

Raising her gaze to him, he saw the wonder and joy shining in her clear blue eyes.

"Yes.  I was just thinking...."  Seven paused with a little smile.

"Thinking what?"  Harry smiled back.

"That she was...perfect."


*****


"Six to four, you're falling behind, Paris!"  Kyle tossed Robbie the basketball along with the good natured taunt.

Robbie shook his head. "Sorry, I guess my mind's not in this."

"Naw, you just suck at basketball."

When that didn't even bring a chuckle, Kyle walked up to his friend and took the ball from him.  "Want to talk about it?"  Not that he really wanted to listen, but Robbie was his friend and if he needed to talk....

"Not particularly."

Kyle grinned at the growled warning.  "Oh.  It's Klingon Robbie this afternoon, is it?  Damn, and I forgot to bring the blood wine."  Anyone else would have backed off at Paris' expression, but not Kyle.  "Let me guess.  You pulled the "Lord of the House" bit with Sherise and she didn't appreciate it?"

"I'm not about to let her go back to the Dakota, Kyle.  It's not safe and you know it!"

"So does, Sherise.  She wasn't serious, Robbie."

"They hell she wasn't!"

"Are you really that blind?  She just wants to *talk* to you!"

"We talk all the time."

Kyle snorted.  "No, you command.  She can't get a word in edgewise."

"Don't be ridiculous!"

"When was the last time the two of you had a conversation that didn't end with her either storming off or you seducing her?"

Robbie looked at him blankly.

"You don't even see it, do you?"  Kyle was incredulous.  "Good Lord, Robbie!  You married the woman without her permission!  Got her pregnant...."

"That wasn't intentional."

"Doesn't matter, she's still pregnant, and now you think you have the right to control her life.  You don't ask, you dictate.  You don't listen, you seduce.  And you wonder why she's so angry?  I'm surprised she hasn't skewered you with  your own bat'leth!"

"You don't know what you're talking about," Paris insisted, making another circuit around Kyle with the ball.  "You don't know her."

Kyle snorted and lunged under Robbie's arm, stealing the ball from him in a smooth move.  "I know her better than you do, pal.  I dated her longer."

Baiting Paris with that was risky.  Kyle's relationship with Sherise at the Academy had always been a sore spot between them.  

"Yeah, well if the two of you were so damn close, how come I was the first man in her bed?"

"Are you sure you were?"  It was one step too far and Riker knew it.  Pushing Robbie to this degree was likely to get him beat senseless, but Kyle could think of no other way to get the other man to talk about this.

Paris stopped and surprised Kyle with a wicked grin.  "Don't even try it.  I'm sure."

Kyle smiled back.  "Then what are you so damn afraid of?  If she waited this long for you, do you honestly think she's going to let you go?"

A pained look flitted across Robbie's face.  "Yeah, she will.  She won't admit she loves me.  She won't accept that I love her.  She says it's just physical.  That it won't last.  She doesn't want it to last."

"Have you asked her why?"

"I know why," Paris ground out.  "The minute she admits to any of it, she thinks she's going to lose her freedom.  That she won't be able to be herself anymore."

"And why do you think she feels that way?" Kyle persisted.

"How the hell do I know?" Robbie snapped back.  "I can't read her mind.  And when did you get your degree in counseling anyway?"

"Runs in the family.  Can't help myself."

"Try."

"You're just sore 'cause you know I'm right," Kyle smirked arrogantly.  

"I wouldn't be so smug, if I were you, Riker.  I don't see Melanie jumping at the chance to be alone with you either."

A dark shadow crossed Kyle's face.  "Leave it alone, Paris.  You don't know what you're talking about."

Robbie's eyebrows rose in disbelief.  "What?  You can lecture me but I can't return the favor?  No dice, pal.  Someone around here has to say it.  You better decide just how involved you want to be with her before you go any further.  There's a line you're about to cross, and if you're not up to what's on the other side you're going to hurt her in ways you can't possibly imagine."

"And how would you know anything about it?"  Kyle demanded harshly.  

"I've got eyes, Kyle.  I can see it in her whenever you're close to her.  She's frightened.  Of you.  Of men in general.  I'm a doctor.  I can recognize the signs of an abuse survivor.  Are you ready to deal with that?  Do you even have a clue what you might be up against?" Robbie sighed with feeling.  "Be careful, Kyle."

Kyle swallowed hard.  "I know, Robbie.  I've known for a long time, even if I didn't want to admit it to myself.  You might be able to see that fear, but I *feel* it."



Two floors above the basketball combatants, K'Leena carried a sleeping Michael into the kitchen with her to get something to drink.  She loved to just hold him, his tiny body curled safely against her chest.  He spent more time in her arms than he did in his cradle.  

A smile lit her face when she saw Sherise sitting at the table with Melanie.

"Oh, good.  Sane company."

The other women laughed.  "So," K'Leena began, grabbing a mug from the rack and reaching for the coffee pot.  "What's up?"

Melanie stood up and swiped the carafe off the counter before K'Leena could poor any into her cup.  "Sit down, and let me do that before you spill something.  Geeze, K'Leena don't you *ever* ask for help?"

The young mother frowned slightly as she sat at the table.  "I just don't think if it.  I can pour a cup of coffee one-handed."

"Why should you?"  Melanie sat the cup down on the table in front of K'Leena.  "Sherise and I were both just sitting here and you never even considered asking."

"But I didn't need help."

Melanie rolled her eyes.  "Stubborn."

"Runs in the family," Sherise muttered.

"What did my dear brother do now?"  K'Leena grinned behind her coffee mug.

"Arrogant, controlling, stubborn....  I can't believe we're mated.  He never even told me, did you know that?  Just up and married me like it was all his decision!  He never even ASKED!"  She stood up and paced to the other side of the large, sunny kitchen.

"So," K'Leena shrugged.  "Divorce him."  Robbie was going to kill her for this, but as far as K'Leena was concerned; it served him right.

Sherise looked at her in shock.  "Just like that?"

"Sure."  K'Leena shifted Michael to her other shoulder before she continued.  "The Federation recognizes a Klingon mating ritual as a wedding ceremony, and they recognize a Klingon divorce as well.  Although, since you only performed the ritual and didn't speak the words, I'm not even sure you are married, but...."

"K'Leena."  Melanie shook her head in warning.  "I don't think you should get involved in this."

"She has the right to know.  Robbie married her under Klingon law and tradition, she has the right to know she can divorce him under those laws."

"How?" Sherise demanded grimly.

Melanie's eyes widened at Sherise's determined tone.  "K'Leena--" she warned again.  

The defiant part-Klingon continued on anyway.  "All you have to do is say, 'I divorce you.'"

"That's it?"  Wasn't that too simple, Sherise wondered.  Should divorce be long and drawn out?  Painful?

"Yep, that's it."

"And he can't fight me?  I just say it and it's done?"

"That's all you have to do," K'Leena nodded her head.


*****


Tom and B'Elanna met Harry and Seven at the San Francisco spaceport when they beamed down from the Enterprise.  Starfleet Command only allowed incoming personnel to beam down at certain approved points on the planet.  Even the captain of their flag ship.  It took another half hour to clear the check out procedure before they could make their way back to the estate in Tom's private shuttle.  It was a good thing the flight was a short one.  Tension was high in the small craft.  Tom knew as soon as they landed, he was going to have a fight on his hands with his best-friend.  The argument was not something he looked forward to.

It was only a matter of seconds after B'Elanna took Seven to see Tessa before Harry spoke.

"I'll do whatever it takes to stop you, Tom."  Cold determination resounded in Harry's words.  This was his family that was being threatened.  Friendship or no, he would not allow anything to happen to Tessa.  

"Harry, please," Tom sighed.  "I know what you're going through....."

"You don't have a clue about what I'm going through!"

Enough.  He'd had enough.  Why was everyone so convinced he didn't know what he was doing?  

"How dare you say that to me!?" Tom ground out, advancing on Harry.  

"I don't know what it's like?" he asked.  "I've never been here?  Do you remember what happened the day K'Leena was born, Harry?  Because I sure do.  It still haunts me at night.  And I'm still paying for that decision.  Lucas can't even look me in the eye he hates me so much.  And now I find out K'Leena has remembered parts of that life and is blaming herself for everything!  So don't you stand there all righteous and self-serving!  I watched my daughter die to save my life and there wasn't a DAMN thing I could do about it!"

"This isn't the same thing!" Harry flung out his arms in frustration.  "And you know it!  If they don't go, people will die!  Thousands of people, Tom!"  

"People who were supposed to die in the first place, Harry!  We don't have the right to change that!  Not then and not now!  Don't you understand?  I have no choice!"

"Dammit, Tom!" Harry yelled.  "They have to go!  You can't alter history now!  Think of the ramifications.  My God, Tom!  Think of the paradox!"

"That's what I am thinking about!" Tom replied angrily.  "All the paradoxes, Harry.  All of them."

"You can't do this.  You can't take her from us now."

"Do you think I want to?  I love her too.  But I don't have a choice.  The Temporal Prime Dir...."

"I don't give a damn about the Prime Directive, temporal or otherwise.  This is my life!  My family!  I won't let you endanger Tessa's life, Tom," Harry reaffirmed, ice coating every word.

"Neither will I," Mike stepped forward, making his presence known for the first time.

"Mike," Tom began feelingly.  "You don't...."

"Don't what?  Don't understand?" Mike shook his head in disgust.  "The hell I don't.  I understand everything.  I understand that sometime in the near future we're going to be tangled up in some type of paradox.  The results of which is what's been stalking us for almost a year now.  We thought it was you they were targeting.  But it wasn't, was it?  It's always been us!  Something we have yet to do is what this is all about.  And Tessa," he took a deep breath before continuing.  "It's a lot more than that with her.  The only reason she exists is because of what is still to come.  Tessa herself is a paradox, isn't she?"

"Mike, we can't...."

"You don't have to," he cut Tom off sharply.  "Tessa told me how her mother was unable to have children.  And how, by some miracle, Dr. Bashir was able to reprogram Seven's nanaprobes to support Tessa instead of destroy her as a fetus.  If I remember my biology and Borg history the only way he could have done that was to have a sample of Tessa's DNA before she was conceived.  And there's only one way he could have gotten that."


*****


Seven slowly opened the door to her daughter's bedroom.  The curtains had been drawn closed and she was just about to back out of the darkened room when Tessa stirred.

"Momma?"

The broken plea tore at Seven's heart.  She was beside her daughter in an instant, gathering her in her arms like a small child.

"I'm here, Tessa.  I'm here."  She rocked back and forth unconsciously in a effort to sooth the trembling girl.  No, woman.  Her daughter was a woman now, she needed to remember that.

"Why?" Tessa sobbed.  "Why did he kill my baby?"

"Shh."  It was all the consolation she could offer.  She couldn't explain it even if she wanted to.  Which she didn't.  Tessa didn't need to know why.  It would only cause more pain.

"There will be other children," she lied to her daughter.  "You and Mike are young and healthy."

Tessa pulled away from her mother suddenly angry.

"Why does everyone think that makes this all better?" she demanded to know, dashing the tears from her eyes.  "I can have more babies, so this one doesn't mean anything?  Is that it?"

Seven smiled sadly at a distant memory.  "I remember asking the Doctor that once myself.  And I remember being just as angry as you are now.  No, honey, it doesn't make it all better.  Nothing does.  I think people feel the need to say it because it gives hope."

Tessa sighed.  "Does it get better?"  Right now she didn't believe it possibly could.

Her mother reached out and took her hand.  "Eventually."




*****

Lucas turned off the consol in front of him with a deliberate 'click.'  Damn.  Pren's update had been disheartening.  It was worse than he thought.  Gellis had spent years planning all this.  He'd left nothing to chance.  No clues to his whereabouts.  No indication of his next move.  Nothing.  The only thing Lucas knew with absolute certainty was that the estate was no longer safe.  Tessa's miscarriage proved that.  Neither was the Valiant or the Enterprise.  That left them with one place left to go.  One place that gave them a fighting chance.  When K'Leena and her mother first suggested it, he'd been incredulous.  But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense.



*****


"I divorce you, Robert Paris."

Robbie's eyes widened in shock.  "What?"

"You heard me.  I divorce you.  The Federation recognizance's a Klingon divorce as well as a Klingon marriage.  So, we're divorced."

"Like hell we are!"

"If you can marry me without my permission than I sure as HELL can divorce you without YOURS!"

"Sherise," he growled softly.  "You're just upset and emotional because of the preg...."

"You arrogant son-of-a-bitch!" she seethed.  "This has gone on long enough!  I am no longer your "mate" so you have no say over me.  Understand?  I make my own decisions, Robert Paris.  Whether you like it or not.  Stay away from me.  Once the baby is born we can work out some type of shared custody, but from this moment on...you are my EX-husband!"

"Don't do this, Sherise," he warned again.  "You don't want this anymore than I do.

"You have no idea of what I want.  You never did."

The quiet certainty in her voice cut at him.  He reached out and softly touched her arm.  "Sherise...."

She stilled.  "It won't work, Robbie.  We're too different."

"We have something special, going here.  Give it a chance," he implored.

"The only thing we have going, is sex."  Her voice was bitter with the admission.  "It's always been physical, Robbie.  From day one.  Remember?"

"Obviously better than you," was his grim reply.

"I'm tired."  Her shoulders drooped in exhaustion.  "I'm going to bed.  Alone."

She didn't wait for his reply, instead turning and leaving the room with her head held high and her spine painfully straight.  Why did this hurt so much, she wondered.  This was what she wanted.  Right?

She tried to tell herself it was just the pregnancy hormones that were making the tears fall from her eyes as she undressed for bed and crawled between the empty sheets.  

Across the hall, Robbie was still standing in the same spot she'd left him in, his hand clenching and unclenching as he tried to get his anger under control.

He was going to kill his sister.  He had no doubt it was her that had given Sherise the recent lesson in Klingon mating rituals.  This time the runt was going to pay.  She'd gone too far.  With a determined stride, he went in search of her.

"Goddammit, K'Leena!"  Robbie roared when he found his sister in the kitchen.  She jumped slightly at his enraged stance.  "How DARE you interfere in my marriage!"

Her eyes widened.  "I didn't interfere!" K'Leena defended herself.  "She had the right to know, Robert!  You don't own her!"

Robbie just barely bit back a growl of frustration, slamming his hand on the table instead.

Lucas and Mike came into the room a second later

"What the hell is going on here?!"  Lucas asked, immediately noting just how angry his brother-in-law was and how defiantly his wife was standing in front of him.  What had she done now?  Didn't they have enough to deal with?  People were trying to kill them, for crying out loud!  The last thing they needed was a family feud.

"I'm going to kill your wife, Lucas.  Get out of the way."

Mike grabbed a hold of Robbie before Lucas got to him and pulled him back.  "Sorry, big guy.  If I can't kill her, you can't either."

Lucas turned to K'Leena, ready to wring her pretty little neck.  "How many other people in this house have you pissed off today?  Am I going to have to stop Kyle and my Dad from killing you too?"

She tossed back her head and flounced out of the room in a huff.  A very derogatory "Men!" could be heard from the hallway.

Lucas shook his head in disgust.  K'Leena was spoiling for a fight like no one's business.  


*****


With a very unladylike curse, Melanie threw back the comforter on her bed and sat up.  It was obvious she wasn't going to fall asleep anytime soon.  

"Arrogant jerk," she grumbled while pulling on the rose satin robe that matched her nightgown, cinching the sash with a vicious tug.  

"'I mean when,'" she mimicked with a snort, jamming her feet into the slippers on the floor next to the bed.  

"Just who does he think he is?  God's gift to women?  Like I'm going to just *fall* into his bed because he decrees it."

"I mean when.  I'll show him when.  When hell freezes over, that's when."

"Go get him, tiger."  The laughing taunt brought Melanie up short.  She looked around in shock.  When had she left her room?  

K'Leena was nursing Michael on the small sitting room couch that was just off the set of bedrooms they'd all been using.  A broad grin lit her face at Melanie's confusion.

"Um, sorry," she apologized self-consciously for interrupting  the new mother.

"Don't apologize!  You're the most entertainment I've had all night."

Melanie didn't know how to reply to that, so she just turned and left with a shake of her head.  She was losing it.  Kyle had officially driven her insane.

"Get used to it," K'Leena's soft voice followed her retreat down the hall.  

K'Leena's smile disappeared when she felt Lucas enter the room from the other doorway.

"Can I get you anything?" he asked softly.

"I'm fine."  She didn't bother to look at him.  Michael was half-asleep, she should probably lay him back down and go to bed, but she didn't think she could lay next to Lucas tonight.

He sighed.  "I'll sleep out here if you want," he offered.

"Might as well."  She flipped her hair back.  "You're not willing to give me what I want."

"'Leena, please...."

"Just go, Lucas.  I've accepted the fact that you don't want me anymore.  I'm sorry my body has changed and it isn't attractive to you anymore, but I can't help that."

Lucas bit back an angry retort.  She knew damn well that had nothing to do with it.  She was as beautiful to him now as she ever was.  Maybe even more so.  The sight of her bared breast nourishing their son had made him hard the instant he'd entered the room.  She knew it, too.  She felt it.  She was just baiting him with this nonsense.

"I'm not going to do this, K'Leena," he told her calmly.  

She growled softly.  "You don't do much of anything lately."

Lucas crossed the room and took their sleeping child from her arms, lifting him up to his shoulder, patting his back lightly.  "It's time for bed, big man," he said quietly then strode back into their room.

K'Leena glared as he disappeared into the darkness.  With a snort of disgust, she grabbed the old blanket off the back of the sofa and laid down to sleep.

When Lucas came looking for her again, after settling down Michael, he shook his head at the sight of her sleeping on the couch.  With a muttered curse, he picked K'Leena up and carried her to their bed.  She curled her body into his, melting in his arms with a sigh.

"Love you," she mumbled in her sleep, momentarily forgetting her anger at him.

Lucas dropped a kiss on her forehead as he laid her down.  "Love you too."  

He stood over her for a long moment, watching as she slept.  He didn't know how much longer he could stop himself from giving in to her.  He wanted her so much, it hurt.

With a sigh, he tapped the vibrating Alpha Team communicator imbedded just under his ear to shut it off.  He hoped his orders had been carried out.  They needed to move fast.   


*****


Tessa was awake when Mike crawled into bed that night.  She was laying on her back, staring up at the ceiling.  He was surprised.  After bringing her downstairs to have dinner with the family and seeing how much it took out of her, he'd been sure she'd be sleeping the minute her head touched the pillow.

"Are you okay?" he asked quietly, propping his head up with his hand to look down on her and reaching with the other to stroke the petal soft skin of her pale cheek.

Her eyes met his and instantly filled with tears.  "No.  Are you?"

"No."  Mike pulled her into his arms, cradling her against his chest as silent tears fell.  "I'm so sorry, honey."  Unshed tears of his own made his voice deep and husky.

"I want you to find him for me, Mike," she demanded suddenly,  shocking him with the venom he heard in her.  "Find him so he can explain why.  I need to know why."

"Tessa, there isn't a why.  He's insane.  He...."

She jerked away from him violently and sat up, dragging the heavy dark hair off her face in an impatient gesture.

"Don't you try to tell me that, Mike Burns!  I know what's going on here.  Maybe not everything, since you and Lucas don't seem to want to fill us in, but I'm not stupid.  I know K'Leena didn't have Michael on purpose.  I know Sherise didn't get pregnant because Robbie 'forgot' a booster.  I know I sure as hell didn't get pregnant because you forgot.  You were annoyingly diligent about that.  Made me wonder sometimes why you thought it would be so bad to have a child with me--"

"That wasn't why!" he interrupted her harshly, sitting up as well to face her, the sheet dropping to expose the wide expanse of his naked torso.  "I didn't want to force you into anything.  You weren't sure of your feelings.  If I did 'forget' and you ended up pregnant before you'd admitted that you loved me, you would have been furious.  It had nothing to do with not wanting a baby with you, Tessa."

Her eyes narrowed at the impassioned statement.  Damn, he was good.  But not good enough.  "Quit trying to change the subject.  I know what you're up to here.  You think if you side-track me long enough or get me angry enough I'll forget all about Gellis.  Well, it's not going to work.  I want you to promise me, Mike.  You find him for me, do you understand?"

Mike bit back a curse.  "Revenge is a nasty thing, Tessa," he warned with a defeated sigh.  "You don't want this.  Trust me."  

He, of course, did.  And he would have it.  Soon.  But, it wasn't going to touch her, not in his lifetime.  

"If you don't do it, Mike, I'll do it on my own," she threatened.  

"Over my dead body!"

"Don't tempt me."  She was incensed.  "I'm not K'Leena and you're not Lucas so don't think for a second you can pull the 'protector' thing with me.  I want Gellis to answer for this.  Answer to me."

"It was my child too, Tessa."

"That's why we do this together or not at all.  Got it?"

"And if I say no?"

"Irrelevant."

Tension leapt like flames of an inferno between them as their gazes locked in silent battle.  The soft knock at their bedroom door was like an explosion in the room, making them both jump.  A moment later Lucas stuck his head in.

"Get your ass out of bed, Commander," he whispered with a small smile.  "We have work to do."

Tessa's head whipped around to pin Lucas with a menacing glare.  "I don't remember telling you to, 'Come in," she stated icily, an eyebrow raising high on her forehead.

Lucas didn't even have the grace to look ashamed.  He grinned wickedly at her.  "Quit your sniveling, you're still in your jammies.  It's not like the last time."

She winced at the memory.  The louse would have to remind her of that.  Mike had moved with lightening speed to roll her under him and cover her when Lucas barged into their room that time, but she still remembered the mortification.

"You have a sick sense of humor, Lucas Riker," she grumbled, then noticed Mike was barely repressing his laughter as he dressed.  "You both do."

Lucas chuckled softly as Mike and he headed down to Tom's office.  He wasn't about to tell Tessa that he never actually 'looked' when he barged into their room, just as he knew Mike didn't when he did the same thing to him and K'Leena.  Mike had confided in him just after he and K'Leena had hooked up that he was only still doing it because it made her so angry.  K'Leena and Mike went out of their way to annoy each other sometimes.  When Mike had found Tessa, Lucas continued the tradition.  If he was completely honest with himself, at the beginning it was to convince himself that Tessa was all right.  She was the closest thing he had to a little sister.  It took him a while to accept that Mike's intentions were honorable.  Lucas didn't like to think about that.  It bothered him that he'd doubted his best friend.  It was probably a good thing Michael was a boy, because if he and K'Leena ever had a daughter he would have had a really hard time accepting any man as her mate.  Damn, he sounded like a Klingon.

Lucas shook his head at the thought and made another circuit around the office as they waited for the Valiant to contact them.

Michael Ryan Burns did not pace.  To him, it was a wasted use of energy.  In fact, Lucas tended to drive him a little insane when he would start with it.  Waiting for information like this never sat will with his captain.

Back and forth.  

Like a caged animal.  

"Lucas," he growled.  "You're getting on my nerves."

"Huh?" Lucas looked at his best friend, slightly dazed.

"Sit down!  Dammit!"

"Oh," he grimaced in apology.  "Sorry."

Mike rested his elbows on the table and fisted his hands in his hair.  Lucas flung his head back and groaned in frustration.

"There has to be a way...."

"Not if Tom and your Dad won't tell us what happened the first time," Mike said grimly.  "Hell, it might be too late already.  We could wake up tomorrow and it could over."

"At least we'd never even know she'd existed, we'd remember nothing."  

Mike met Lucas' anguished look with one of fury.  "Like you didn't remember?" he ground out.  

Lucas' head jerked back as if he'd been struck.  

"I won't even get a second chance with her, Lucas.  She won't even be here."

"I'm sorry," Lucas apologized, his heart aching.  "That was cruel.  Losing K'Leena was the hardest thing I've ever endured.  I do know what you're going through, Mike."

"Maybe, Lucas," Mike conceded.  "But at least you knew she was alive.  You could see her, touch her...love her.  You could fall in love with her all over again.  I won't have that.  She'll be taken from me as if she never existed."

He paused to rub a tired hand over his face.

"I love her, Lucas.  I love everything about her.  I love that fact that I can't talk to her in the morning until she's had two cups of coffee.  I love that her feet get cold at night and she sleeps in my socks.  I love that she's afraid of thunderstorms and makes love to me just so she doesn't have to listen to them.  Hell, I even love that damn cat of hers.  I can't do this, Lucas!  I can't lose her!"

The computer consol beeped, cutting off Mike's tirade.  

Lucas logged on angrily.  "Riker," he snapped.  "You better have good news Pren!"

The Valliant's Chief Helmsman ignored his captain's bad mood, smiling broadly.  "Yes, sir.  It's done.  You were right, by the way.  We couldn't believe it ourselves.  Talk about a breach of security...."

"Damn," Mike shook his head in disbelief.  He wasn't really surprised, but to have it confirmed was disconcerting.

Lucas just nodded.  "Wait to hear from me.  I'll be in touch when it's time.  Riker out."

"So, we're going to do this, huh?" Burns asked.

"Yes."

The air stood still for a moment at the gravity of what they had decided then Mike stood up quickly, almost knocking his chair over in the process.

"Where are you going?" Lucas frowned.

"To get Tessa.  I'm going to ask Tom to marry us.  Here.  Tonight.  If there's no tomorrow for us, I'm not going to waste another second."

"Mike," Lucas stopped him.  "Wait until morning.  She's exhausted and in pain.  A few hours won't matter.  I'm pretty sure whatever it is we're going to do in the past, won't happen tonight."

Mike stared at him for a long moment, then nodded his head.  "Night, Lucas," he said quietly.

"Goodnight, Mike."


*****


Melanie found herself wandering around the lowest level of the estate, where the gym, swimming pool and recreation holosuite were.  Only Tom Paris would have a holosuite installed in his home.  She shook her head with a chuckle.  Most people didn't realize that Admiral Thomas Eugene Paris designed holo programs in his "spare" time.  His "Captain Proton" series was wildly popular.   So were his children's stories, "The Delta Quadrant Adventures."  

She was still smiling when she entered the semi-dark pool area.  It only took a micro-second to debate whether or not skinny-dipping was a good idea before she slipped off her nightgown and robe and dove head first into the warm water.

When she surfaced, Kyle was standing at the pool edge, dressed in just his pajama bottoms, watching her.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to swim alone?" he asked.

Melanie shot him a withering look.  "Turn around!" she demanded, crossing her arms in front of her breasts.

"I wouldn't be a very good life-guard if I couldn't see you."

"I don't need a life-guard.  Get out of here Kyle."  Melanie shrunk back into the far corner of the pool.

"Sorry, I just don't think I should do that," he mussed.  "But," Melanie's eyes rounded as his hands went to the drawstring at his waist, loosening it as he spoke with a dangerous lilt to his voice.  "I could join you if you're uncomfortable with me watching."

She just managed to unglue her gaze and turn away before plaid flannel dropped to the tile floor.  A second later a small splash announced his presence in the water with her.  She shivered.  Her hands gripped the edge of the pool, but before she could haul herself out of the water, he was behind her.  Hot and hard.  He moved closer, pressing himself against her.  Her eyes closed at the feel of his naked skin touching hers.  He was aroused and he didn't care if she knew it.  He wanted her to know it.

Melanie gasped softly when his arms came around her waist, pulling tight against him.  The water felt cool compared to the heat radiating from his body.  A moment later, she felt teeth grazing lightly over the sensitive skin of her neck.  A tiny fissure of fear shot through her, but it was overwhelmed by eroticism of his mouth fastening on her skin and sucking.  She arched in his arms.

One hand moved up to cup her breast, his fingers brushing over the pearled tip in light, barely there strokes.  His other hand, dropped to her belly, pressing her back more firmly so that his arousal was nestled in the small of her back.

Melanie's head lolled back on his shoulder.  "Kyle," she cried brokenly.

The hand on her belly traveled lower.  And lower.  His lips captured the lobe of her ear.  She shuddered with pleasure.  Then, his fingers delved deeper.  Parting her, stroking her, teasing the tiny bundle of nerves he found until she couldn't even stand up anymore.  He supported her weight easily with the water's buoyancy, extending the play, all the while whispering words of encouragement.

"That's it, love.  Come for me."

And she was close.  So very close.  Melanie arched again with another small cry.  The tiny sounds of passion coming from her were driving him insane with want.

In the next instant she was turned in his embrace and pushed up against the cold tile of the pool wall, his body trapping hers.  

She looked up at him, wondering just how far she could take this.  If maybe this time she could do it.  

His hands slipped lower, caressing her bottom and the sensitive backs of her thighs.  Slowly, so slowly, his head dipped until his lips touched hers.  His strong hands cupped her bottom.  He groaned and ground his hips into hers. She moaned slightly at the intimate contact.  She could feel him throbbing against her.  The kiss deepened.  Tongues tangled and Melanie's arms crept around his neck to pull him closer.  She felt him smile into the kiss.  

Abruptly, he lifted her up, parting her thighs so he could step between them.  

Then, he was pressing against her.  Into her.

She froze, fear coming down on her out of nowhere, choking her in the process.  Kyle groaned when she squirmed to escape.  His mouth came crashing down on hers, mistaking her movements for demand.

NO! her mind screamed.  

Then, as suddenly as she was trapped, she was free.  

Kyle stared at her in horror, soundly cursing his own stupidity. What the hell was he thinking?!  He never even asked!  He deserved to be flayed alive for letting his body overrule his head.  He was better than that.  

Or so he'd thought.  Damn!  He was no better than the man who'd hurt her.  The thought doused any remaining desire he had. Not that there'd been much left after hearing her scream, "No!"

Melanie watched him with trepidation, her hand pressed over her mouth, huddling in the corner of the pool, shaking.

"I'm sorr...," she began.

Kyle shook his head once, water spraying from the wet strands of hair that he flung back in frustration.  "Don't you dare apologize!"

Her eyes were wide with fear and Kyle swore again.  He took another step back and turned around.  She watched the tension play across his back with morbid fascination.

"Get out of here, Melanie," he growled.  "While you still can."

His chest constricted painfully as he listened to her scramble out of the pool.  She barely took time to snatch up her nightgown before running from the room.




*****


Mike came out of the bathroom attached to his and Tessa's room with a towel wrapped around his lean hips, vigorously rubbing his hair dry with another one.  

She was sitting at the small vanity, already dressed in casual soft blue tunic and matching drawstring pants.  The loose flowing style of the outfit clung to her every curve.  His heart skipped a beat at the sight.  He wondered if he would even lose that feeling of awe when he looked at her.  That sudden surge of love and possessiveness that gripped his insides every single time he saw her.  Somehow, he doubted it.  

She caught his gaze in the mirror and smiled slightly, her eyes roaming over his barely clad form in appreciation, coming to rest on the towel covered section of his anatomy.  Her tongue darted out, wetting her lips.  

Mike groaned.  "Quit it," he growled, feeling himself respond shamelessly to her teasing.  "I can't make love to you for at least two weeks and you know it."

He could have shot himself for reminding her of their recent loss when pain flared in her eyes.  She dropped her gaze to the dresser, and sorted through the hair bands, in a pretense of picking one as she tried desperately to get control of her emotions again.  She'd cried enough.  

"Marry me, Tessa," Mike stopped her suddenly.

"What?" she rounded on him, completely shocked.

"Now," he insisted.  "This morning."

"Why?" Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  He was up to something.  She knew him too damn well not to see it.  "What's the rush?"

"I just want to get married.  I don't see the point in waiting."  All innocence and sincerity.  She didn't buy it for a second.

"Uh huh."  

Mike groaned silently as she stood and crossed her arms in front of herself, taking a defiant stand.

"I don't think so," she drawled, toe tapping on the plush carpet.  "I want a big wedding.  Long white dress.  All of it."

She didn't, of course.  It didn't matter to her how they were married.  She loved him and wanted to spend the rest of her life as his wife, but she wasn't going to let him get away with this manipulation.  

"The whole family is here," he insisted.  "You could wear the dress K'Leena wore to her reception.  I know she keeps it here."

Tessa's lips twitched.  Only a man could be that dense.  Not only was she at least four inches taller than K'Leena, she probably weighed a good ten kilos more.  Although Tessa was very fit, she certainly didn't have the thin athletic form of her friend.  

"Mike, I couldn't even fit into K'Leena's shoes.  Now, what the hell is going on?"

"Nothing, I just want to get married."

"Okay," she nodded, taking her seat at the vanity again to finish brushing her hair.  "Then we'll wait until we can do it right."

"No, I don't want to wait."

"Then I think," she looked at him through the mirror determinedly.  "You'd better tell me just what has put this bee in your bonnet."

Mike sat on the edge of the bed with a sigh.  "Can't you just accept that it's important to me and I don't want to wait?"

Tessa wavered at the emotional plea.  It was important to him, she could see that.  "Why?" she asked again, softly.

"Because we don't know what tomorrow will bring, okay?"  He surged to his feet, dragging a hand through his still damp hair.  "Gellis wants to hurt you.  Possibly kill you.  I want to marry you now, before anything else has a chance to happen."

Tessa nodded.  "Okay, I'll marry you on one condition."

"What?"

"That before we go to bed tonight, you tell me everything.  You don't have to do it now, but I won't sleep with you again until you do.  Understand?"

Mike grimaced.  "Yeah, I understand," he conceded with a reluctant shake of his head.  She'd outmaneuvered him.  And he never saw it coming.  He was losing his touch.

Tessa went back to styling her hair, a triumphant smirk hovering at the corners of her mouth.  


*****


They were married in the gardens with their family surrounding them.  Tessa wore a simple white satin sheath she'd replicated, determined to concede at least that much to tradition, regardless of their circumstances.  For her hair, K'Leena lent her the strand of Betazoid crystals she'd worn to her own wedding.

Mike smiled when Tessa walked down the "aisle" on her father's arm.  Who would have thought she'd go for the traditional stuff like this?  She was always so straight forward and sensible.  Her insistence on a "real" wedding in spite of everything, was almost funny.  

His gaze floated over to Seven, causing a frown to flicker across his face.  Tessa's mother was looking at her daughter with such an odd, pained expression, Mike suddenly realized she knew everything.  

Then, Tessa was standing before him.  She was pale, but a broad smile lit her face.

"Okay?" he whispered, taking her hand and pulling her to stand with him.

She nodded then Mike turned to shake Harry Kim's hand.

"Don't let me down," the older man said quietly, his hand grasping Mike's in a tight grip.

"I won't," Mike promised, understanding the double meaning of the request instantly.  There was a short, emotion-laden moment before Captain Kim nodded his head and took his leave.  

Mike then stepped over to Tessa's mother.  Mike put his arms around Seven and pulled her close.  She trembled with the effort not to break down.

"I won't let her go," he whispered to her.  "Not now.  Not ever.  I'll find a way, trust me."

Seven drew back to look into the eyes of man who would marry her daughter.  The strength and conviction she saw there brought tears to her eyes.

"There's no way.  I knew it from the start.  You have to accept it."

"The hell I do," he whispered fiercely.  "You go right ahead and give up, if you want.  I won't."

Mike turned back to Tessa and grasped both her trembling hands in his.  "You ready?" he asked with a lop-sided grin.

"Oh, yes," Tessa smiled back.  

He dropped a small kiss on her mouth before they faced the Admiral.

"Since the days of sea vessels," Will Riker began with a smile.  "Ship captains have been allowed to perform marriage ceremonies.  Although I'm no longer actively serving as one, that privilege is still one I am allowed to keep...."
The exchange of vows and rings was short, but poignant.  Tessa's voice trembled when she spoke, but didn't falter.  She'd finally left her misgivings behind.

Mike smiled gently down at her when he placed the thin gold band on her third finger of her left hand, his voice strong and clear.  He never had any doubts.


*****


Robbie watched Sherise nervously pull at the hem of her dress.  She was sitting alone in the living room, the wedding ceremony having finished up a short time earlier.  He hated the look of despair on her face.  He hated knowing he put it there.

"Can we talk?" Robbie sat down in the chair directly across from her.

Sherise grimaced and met his searching gaze.  "I don't know, can we?"

Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned forward with a self-depreciating chuckle.  "We can try."

There was a long silence as Sherise waited for him to continue.  She wasn't about to make this easy on him.  He was the one that had gotten them to this point.  She almost jumped when he finally spoke.

"I love you."

She shook her head slowly.  "No.  You don't, Robbie.  You don't know me well enough to love me."

His jaw clenched slightly.  "I know you better than you think, Sherise.  I've loved you longer than you've known too."

"We've only been together a month, that's hardly enough time to--"

"I've been in love with you since the Academy."  The flat out conviction in his voice shook her.

"All we did was argue back then.  Every time we met, we fought," she reminded him.

"Not every time."  

Sherise frowned at the reminder.

"It was dark, I thought you were Kyle."

"It wasn't that dark."

No, it hadn't been.  But, it had been dark enough to pretend.    

"What did you want to talk about?" she changed the subject, not willing to go where Robbie was leading.

Robbie opened his mouth to talk when his Dad walked in.  "It's time," the admiral told them.  

The curse that left the younger Paris' lips was colorful and not generally heard in mixed company.  It earned him a severe scowl from his father.

"Don't let your mother hear you talk like that.  She have you eating soap for a week."


*****


"And this is Voyager's bridge.  Although, you already know that," the guide said with a nervous laugh.  

Her group this morning consisted of most of Voyager's original senior staff and their grown children.  Giving them the tour was unnerving.   These people knew the ship better than she did.  She watched as they separated and each headed in different direction.  Torres to the Engineering console.  Paris to the Captain's chair.  Lucas Riker to tactical.  Kim to the Operations Station.  The Borg woman to the Science Station along with her daughter.  She noted that K'Leena Riker took a seat at the helm, interesting.  The rest of the group stayed with her.

"Computer, recognize authorization Paris--tau--sigma--two--one--eight," Tom commanded.

Before the guide could speak, Mike had his hand over the guide's mouth and a firm grip on her.

**Authorization recognized.**

"Computer, transfer command codes to Thomas Eugene Paris."

**Transfer complete.  U.S.S. Voyager is now under the command of Admiral Thomas Eugene Paris.**

"Harry, transport the tourists to the space dock," Tom instructed.  

Mike let go of the guide a moment before she shimmered out, then took a place next to Lucas.


*****


It had been a frighteningly long time since Tom Paris had walked these corridors.  Had the ship always been this small?  It was almost claustrophobic.  How had he managed?  He hated small enclosed spaces.  

Paris shook his head with a self-depreciating chuckle.  Just like him to pick a career that made him face that fear every single day.  

It's funny though.  He didn't remember Voyager as too small or crowded.  What he remembered when he looked back, was the people.  He could almost hear them now.  Ghosts of the past swirled around him like an early morning mist.  Cool.  Refreshing.  It made him feel young again.

When the Shuttle Bay doors opened he was taken aback to see his wife leaning against the Delta Flyer II.  In full Starfleet uniform at that.  Since her appointment as the Kronos/Terran Ambassador, she'd taken to wearing civilian clothes.  Damn, he'd forgotten just how well that Starfleet uniform fit her.  Were grandmothers supposed to be so hot?

"Took you long enough," she drawled seductively.  

Tom Paris grinned broadly.  


*****

With the wedding and all the following commotion of their "borrowing" Voyager, it was quite late before Kyle was able to seek out Melanie.  He found her in the Mess Hall, staring out the view ports at the moving starfield.  

"Are you all right?" he asked softly.

A sad smile curved her lips when she turned to face him.  "Yes, Kyle.  I'm fine.  I'm so sorry about...about last night."

"Don't apologize!" he hissed, angry that she was blaming herself for his aggressiveness.  "It's my fault.  I went too fast."

Melanie shook her head with a grimace.  "No, you didn't.  I just...well, never mind, I'm sorry."  She turned to leave, but Kyle's next question stopped her cold.

"Were you raped?"  He hadn't planned on asking. He knew he was pushing and should back off.  Last night taught him that much.  He already knew the answer, but for some perverse reason he needed to hear her say it.

Silence stretched between them, tightening the tension that surrounded them painfully.  Her hand shook as it came up to smooth back the windblown strands of hair that were getting into her eyes.

"Yes."  The almost inaudible whisper barely made it pass her bloodless lips.

"Not all men hurt, Melanie," Kyle said softly.

She turned to him again and reached up to touch his face with a hand that trembled.

"I know."  There were tears in her deep sable eyes.  "I know that in my head.  I know a man a woman can be together and it can be wonderful...but it's hard to tell my body that when I start to panic.  And I will, Kyle.  I always do.  That's why I don't even try anymore.  I don't think I will ever be normal again.  It's just something I'm going to have to accept and live with."

"It'll be different with me.  I promise."

"How can you promise that?"

"Because none of the other men you've tried to be with loved you, Melanie.  I do," he told her quietly, turning his head to kiss the palm of her hand.  

She pulled away suddenly.  "You can't mean that."

"I can and I do, Imzadi.  He used the Betazoid endearment and smiled at how right it felt.
"No...," she moaned in despair, shaking her head in denial.  "Please, don't...."  

Melanie turned suddenly and hurried out of the mess hall, tears blurring her vision.

Kyle stood there for a long time, staring unseeingly after her.  Then he heard the doors swish open behind him.

"Sometimes, Robbie, I'm ashamed to call myself a man," he told his best friend, not even turning to face him.

Robert Paris grimaced in sympathy and walked over to the replicater to get Kyle a drink.

"Two Aldeviran whiskeys."  Something told him, Kyle could use it.

The two men talked quietly for a while before Kyle went in search of his bed.

When the door to his assigned quarters opened, he was shocked to find Melanie waiting for him.  In the bed, no less.

"Did you mean what you said?  About loving me?" Melanie asked quietly.

"Yes."

"And...and...you'll stop...if I want you to?"

"Before you'll even have to ask, Melanie.  I can feel what you feel.  I'll know if you're scared or in pain, just like I did last night," he told her gently.

She nodded and took a deep breath.  Maybe it just might work.  He was so gentle.  Maybe she could trust him.  

"I want to stay.  I want you to show me what it's supposed to be like.  I want you to love me, Kyle."

"I do love you."

Kyle slowly undressed then crawled into bed with her.  He only hesitated once before drawing her close.  Then, tucking her head against his shoulder, he kissed the top of her head and said, "Go to sleep, Melanie."

Confused, she looked up at him.  

Kyle smiled, "I got absolutely no sleep last night, and I have the feeling you didn't either.  We've got the rest of our lives ahead of us.  There's no need to rush."

She stared at him blankly for a moment, then smiled back.  "I've never slept with a man before."

"Good," he growled possessively.  

Melanie settled back down, sprawled across his chest, her leg thrown casually over his leg.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  She fell asleep with his hand still lightly stroking her back.

It was sometime after midnight when they woke together.  Melanie startled slightly, forgetting where she was, but then relaxed instantly at Kyle's whispered, "It's all right."

Slowly, she turned to face him.  Her fingers lightly tracked up his arm, to his shoulder...neck...jaw line.  Then, over the harsh planes of his face, memorizing every detail.  When they brushed over his mouth, he captured one gently between his teeth.  She smiled as his tongue laved over the tip of her finger.

After a moment he released her finger and kissed the center of her palm before bending his head down to kiss her mouth.

"What do you want, Melanie?" he breathed the question against her lips.

"You."  Her arms pulled him close when he deepened the kiss at her response.

They lay together for a long time, kissing, touching, getting to know each other's bodies.  It was an unrushed, gentle exploration.

Each touch brought a new freedom for Melanie.  Each kiss a new pleasure.  He seemed to know exactly the right thing to do when she needed it the most.  Her breasts were on fire, then he was there, taking the pebble hard tips with his hot mouth until she cried out with the intensity of it.

Then, he moved lower.  His lips skirted over her stomach with tiny sucking kisses causing her hips to jerk in response and anticipation as his mouth moved even lower, over the tight dark curls to where she was slippery and wet for him.

He slid down between her thighs, his arms catching her behind her knees to make room for himself, then paused and looked up at her.

"Can I taste you?"

The desire in his voice shot straight through her causing every muscle in her body to tighten with pleasure.  Her head fell back with a moan.  "Please, Kyle!" she begged then almost came off the bed with a scream when his mouth took her.  

Kyle groaned and began to feast.  She was hot and wet.  For him.  He'd been terrified he wouldn't be able to arouse her, but the sweetness he found now reassured him completely.  She wanted him.  

Melanie shuddered as his talented mouth brought her to the brink of orgasm.  She'd never been this close.  He found her center and began to suck.  Her hands gripped the sheets of the bed and her hips undulated under his ministrations.  She was gasping, crying, and all but begging.

When a single finger glided into her, Kyle let out the mental breath he'd been holding when she didn't tense or fight him.  He stilled his hand to let her get used to the feeling and moved up, finding her mouth with his once again.

Melanie returned his kiss with fierce passion, reveling in the taste of herself on him and the feeling of his finger sliding into her.  It didn't hurt!  She almost cried at the realization.  Kyle was touching her intimately, he was inside her, and she wasn't in any pain.  It felt...good.

His lips rocked off her mouth and trailed across her cheek.  He was breathing heavily...so was she.  When she moaned softly and pressed herself closer to him, he almost smiled.  She was amazing.  She was his.  With slow gentle movements, he began to stroke her with his finger.

"Is this all right?" he asked with tender concern.  His voice was thick with desire.

Melanie nodded.  It was more than all right.  It was wonderful.  

"Yes...."

He kissed her deeply, stroked her gently, his thumb found that place on her that made the world shake.  He didn't rush.  She deserved to feel it all.  Enjoy it all.  After a while, her hips began to meet his slow steady rhythm.

"That's it, sweetheart," he encouraged huskily.  "Let it happen...."

It was soft and gentle, so different from what she'd expected.  There was tension, too, but it wasn't unpleasant.  It seemed to be building to something.  Something that she couldn't quite reach...but knew she wanted.  And he knew.

"I can take you there," he told her softly.  "Trust me, Melanie....  Let me show you how."

"Kyle...please...."

"Just a little more, beautiful."  He slid a second finger along side the first and carefully...very carefully, entered her with both.

Her eyes flew open at the fullness inside of her.  Kyle was watching her with a burning intensity.  It felt strange...but it didn't hurt.  She gave him a tremulous smile.  He returned the smile with a gentle one of his own.  Then his thumb began caressing her center while he withdrew slowly then stroked in again.  Her eyes fluttered shut.  *This* is how it's supposed to be.  

The tension increased.  She surged against his hand.  Soft, sweet cries of delight passed her parted lips.  He lowered his head to her breast and took one hardened peak into his mouth, sucking deeply.  Her back arched off the bed.  The feelings grew.  She hesitated, unsure.

"It's all right," he whispered.  "Don't stop now, let yourself feel it.  Come to me.  You can do it."

Melanie gave herself over to the sensations.  She could feel Kyle's love engulfing her and it gave her the strength to face her fear.  Higher and higher, more and more...until something deep inside her snapped.

"Oh!"  Her whole body went rigid in his arms.  "Kyle...," she whispered in awe as the spiraling sensations broke free inside her.  Undulating waves of pleasure washed over her again and again.

Tears pricked the backs of his eyes.  He held her trembling body close as she rode out the storm.

"I love you, Melanie."

"I didn't know...I've never...."  Putting together a complete sentence was impossible, she was overwhelmed.

"There's more," he whispered.  "Let me show you."

Melanie looked up into his dark eyes, seeing the love and tenderness shining there, and nodded slightly.  She could do this.  She wanted to do this.  

"Make love to me, sweetheart."  Kyle rolled onto his back, brining her with him.  "I won't move, Melanie.  I won't touch you.  You're in control here.  You can take me in at your own pace...or not at all.  I only want you to do what you want.  Understand?  Don't do it because you think I want it."

She hesitated for a moment, meeting his intense gaze, then slid her legs to either side of his hips.  Sitting upright slowly, she nervously placed both hands flat on his chest.  Love.  Utter and complete love was all she saw in his face.  She could trust him.  She wanted this...him.  She needed to love him, like he loved her.

Dipping her head down, she kissed him tentatively, softly.  Then, grew bolder.  Kyle desperately fought the urge to put his arms around her as he returned the kiss.  He trembled when she sensuously slid the lower part of her body over him, brushing his painfully hard erection with her liquid heat.  He felt her smile against his mouth when he couldn't stop the groan of agony--ecstasy.  

His body tightened more.  It had been a long time since he'd been with a woman.  Restraining himself was harder than he imagined.  His desire was like a caged animal, throwing itself at the bars, desperate to get out.

Leaning forward slightly, she reached between them and guided him to her entrance.  He hissed in pain at her cool touch.

Then, their eyes met and held.

Time seemed suspended and for a moment, the old fear flared inside her.  She tensed slightly before shaking it off, determined to see this through.  Kyle would never hurt her.  If she could just get passed this....  

Kyle saw the flash of panic skirt across her face as she started to lower herself on him.  

"Stop!" He didn't even recognize the harsh voice coming from him.  The fear in her eyes beat back the animal howling to be satisfied.  He shook his head.  <<Stop.>>

"It's all right."  She smiled and pressed down with her hips, ignoring his plea, taking him slowly before stopping with a gasp.  There was resistance, a stretching that almost bordered on pain.  Considering she'd never been with anyone after the rape, she probably should have been expecting it, but she wasn't.  

Kyle swore.

"Don't, Melanie."  His hands grasped her hips to prevent her from sliding further down.  He hadn't been expecting this either.

"You promised not to touch me," she reminded him.  Kyle released her immediately.

She smiled again.  Beneath her fingers she felt his heart beating in time with hers.  "I *want* you, Kyle Riker." Melanie shuddered slightly as she rocked her hips, trying to take him deeper.

"Touch yourself," he rasped in a tortured voice, wanting desperately to do it himself.  "It'll help."

Her hands hesitantly went to her breasts.  His eyes flared.  She felt him buck slightly beneath her, unable to control himself.  The movement sent him deeper.

"Lower," Kyle whispered.  

The sight of her hand sliding over her belly to the dark curls between her legs, where he was half inside her was almost enough to send him over the edge.  He throbbed heavily.  Her eyes darkened at the sensation.

Then, her fingers touched the point just above where they were joined.  Her head fell back with a soft moan.  It was amazing.  Her fingers slowly circled and pressed as she took him in more.  And more.

A groan rumbled deep in his chest.  God...she felt wonderful.  Soft, warm...and so tight.  He balled his hands into fists, straining with the effort to remain still and concentrated on taking his next breath.  And the next.  He felt her clench hard on him and knew she was close to coming apart.  

Kyle's was so linked to her empathically now he could almost hear her thoughts.  She was holding back, afraid to let go.

"I won't hurt you, Melanie," he rasped in a tortured voice.  "We can do this."

"I know," she replied at the same instant she took him in completely.  

Her breath caught.  

So did his.

Time stopped.  

The universe faded away.

Nothing existed but the two of them.  

Together.  

One mind....

One soul....

One heart.

<<Imzadi.>>

Melanie's eyes filled with tears as the climax rolled through her.  Huge, heart-rending tears.  They began to course down her cheeks.  

A pained cry caught against the back of his throat.  Kyle curled up into a sitting position then pulled her tight against his chest.  She wound her arms around his neck and held fast, shaking from emotion.

"Let it out."  His voice was gruff.  "I'm here now, let it all out."

Silent, soul-shattering sobs racked her small body.  The pain and anger radiating from her became a part of him as well.  He felt it all.  Her head fell back and she moaned in agony.  The sound of a wounded animal.  It broke his heart.    

Kyle rocked back and forth, whispering words of comfort and love, stroking her back with gentle hands, using his body to soothe her.  She clung to him, desperately, and let go of all the pain and fear bottled up inside her.  Melanie cried until there were no more tears left.  Safe in his arms, she could finally let it go.  

Then, she fell asleep.  Exhausted.  With Kyle still inside her.

Carefully he laid back, bringing her with him, rolling her to lie next to him, disengaging them in the process.  A sigh escaped her lips when he withdrew.  Kyle smiled.  He pulled the blankets up and wrapped his body securely around hers.  No one would ever hurt her again.  Not as long as he there.  

Listening to her steady breathing, he vowed to always be there.

Sometime later, Melanie slowly opened her eyes.  It was still dark.  She lay on her side with Kyle curled protectively around her like two spoons in a drawer.  She'd never felt safer in her life.  Or more loved.

His arms tightened their hold.  "How do you feel?" he asked quietly.

"Alive."  She smiled into the darkness.  Wonderfully, completely alive.  As if she'd been asleep forever and just woken.

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

"You're not angry, are you?"

"Angry?  Why would I be angry?"

"Well...we didn't really...finish," she said shyly.  "It couldn't have been very good for you."

"Melanie, what happened tonight was the most incredible experience of my life."

She found that hard to believe.  "You're just saying that.  You don't have to, you know.  It was wonderful for me, but I know you weren't satisfied."

Kyle turned her to look at him.  There as just enough light in the room to make out his features.  His expression was one of sorrow.

"You still don't understand, do you?" he asked gently, his finger tips stroking the flushed skin of her cheek.  "The only way I can be 'satisfied' is if you are.  Being able to bring you pleasure when all you've known is pain was more satisfying to me than any other time in my life.  God, Melanie!  I could have come just watching you."

He smiled wryly.  "Hell, I almost did.  There's no difference between your pleasure and mine.  Your pain and mine.  Your life and mine.  We are Imzadi, or soul-mates or whatever you want to call it.  We are one.  You are only for me and I am only for you, for all eternity."

"It must bother you that another man has had me then."  She should probably avoid this, but she needed to know.

"Yes, it does," he began darkly.  "But not in the way you imagine."

"You sound so sure."

"That's because I am sure.  This is the beginning of our life together.  Nothing that came before matters."

She looked at him doubtfully.  "You don't want to know what happened?"

"I do.  I think we need to talk about it to put it behind us, but it won't change the way I feel about you."

"I haven't talked about with anyone except your mother," she said distantly.

"I'm glad she was there for you."

"I couldn't have survived without her, Kyle."

"I know."

"I know I need to tell you what happened," she said softly.  "But not now, okay?"

"Okay."

"I just don't want him to be a part of us tonight.  He's been a part of me for too long.  I finally feel like I'm free.  I don't want to think about it at all right now."

"I understand.  We should probably get some sleep."

Reaching up she pulled his head down.  "I don't want to sleep, either," she breathed just before his lips met hers.

Desire flickered then exploded upon them.  Her mouth opened under his.  Their tongues tangled.  They couldn't get close enough.  She pulled him on top of her.

Kyle immediately rolled onto his back so she wasn't trapped beneath him.  With a groan he kissed her again.  Slipping a hand between them, he found her wet and slick.  She arched up when he stroked her.  

Melanie slid up on her knees to straddle him.  His hands moved to her hips and held her.  She felt him at her entrance and shivered.  He pushed slightly, slipping inside just a little.

"Open your eyes and look at me, Melanie."  She did and he saw anticipation, but no fear.  It brought a smile to his face.

Slowly, carefully, he guided her down on his hard length, shuddering as the velvet warmth gripped him tightly, encasing him in liquid heat.  She was so small it was almost frightening.  

"You feel so good," he told her huskily.

She was stretched and full of him.  It was almost too much to take.  Her eyes closed and she took a deep breath.  Then another.  She began to make small movements, sliding up and down in tiny increments.  His hands roamed over her back and legs, encouraging her to lift higher, then take more of him.

After a while she did, moving in long deep strokes, marveling at the feeling of him inside of her.  Kyle let her do as she pleased, remaining as still as possible, only allowing his hands to touch her in gentle, non-threatening caresses. He held out as long as he could, but eventually it became to much.

His hand slipped between them and found her center to stroke her as she continued to make love to him.  He felt her tighten around him, and shudder over him.  His fingers pressed harder and moved faster as she ground down on him in desperation.

"Kyle...please."

His other hand cupped her breast.  He rolled the hard, pink tip between his fingers, knowing exactly what it would do.

"Now, Melanie.  I need you to come now."

It was only sheer determination that kept him from letting go when he felt her inner muscles begin to contract around him at the soft spoken order.  Her eyes flew open and when Melanie met his fierce gaze, she climaxed with a soft cry.  

Kyle groaned, fighting the urge to follow her.  She was killing him.  He began to move before she even came down, sending her higher still.  Deep, steady strokes.  He loved her so completely he was sure he'd lost himself within her.  

They would never again be separate individuals, but two halves of one whole.


*****


Kyle strode into the Mess Hall in a much better mood than he'd left it the  night before.  Melanie was still sleeping, it was early and she was exhausted, but he wanted to bring her some breakfast before his turn at the helm.   His brother was in the Galley, pouring a cup of coffee.

"You okay?" Lucas asked him.  

Sometimes being a telepath was extremely hard.  Even with all the techniques he knew for blocking out the unwanted and stray thoughts of others, when something as emotional as what Melanie and Kyle went through last night happened so near him, he couldn't block it.  

Kyle looked at his brother and realized what had happened.  He wasn't a telepath, but his empathic abilities were blazing with Lucas' pain.

"Oh, hell, Lucas, I didn't think...."

"Don't worry about it," Lucas stated emphatically.  "I just want to know if you're all right."

"Yeah, I think we'll both be fine."  He smiled at his brother.  "How much did you pick up on?"

"All of it.  It was impossible to block.  K'Leena too, she's still sleeping, it upset her.  Reminded her of things she'd rather forget."

Kyle grimaced and strode over to the replicater to order up breakfast.  "Damn.  The last thing she needs is to lose sleep.  I've never seen her so beat, Lucas.  Having Michael was hard on her."

"Yeah, I know," Lucas paused.  "I almost lost her...I don't want to risk having any more children.  Not after what she went through."

"How does K'Leena feel about that?"  Somehow he didn't think his sister-in-law was going to like this.

"She doesn't know."

"You're not planning on making the decision all on your own, are you?"  Kyle looked at his brother, realizing he was.  "Jesus, Lucas!  She'll kill you!  You have to at least talk to her about it.  This is her decision too."

"It's for her own good."

"You're an idiot if you think she'll take that from you, Lucas.  Think carefully about this.  She might not forgive you."

"I know," Lucas said quietly.

"I don't know what it is about you and her...," Kyle began scathingly, his gaze glancing over Lucas' shoulder briefly when the door opened.  "But when it comes to K'Leena, you seem to lose every bit of common sense you were born with.  Don't do this without talking to her...please.  You'll tear your marriage apart."

"I've already done it, Kyle," Lucas admitted.  "The minute we were back on Earth.  I won't ever put her through that again."

Kyle looked at his brother, stunned.  "God help you, Lucas."  Then he picked up his tray and left the Mess Hall, shaking his head.

"You're a stubborn son-of-a-bitch," came Mike's voice from behind him.

"Et tu Brute?"

"I can't believe you did this so cold-heartedly," Mike said in amazement.  "What the hell were you thinking?!"

"That I wouldn't kill my wife by childbirth, Mike."

"Lucas, she would have been just fine if you'd been here.  People have children by Cesarean transport all the time.  The risk came because you didn't have proper medical access.  It would be different the next time."

"You can't promise me that.  You know you can't.  Anything could go wrong, just like it did with Michael.  And the next time Tom might not be around.  I won't risk it.  I won't gamble with her life."

"Kyle's right.  She won't forgive you for this.  She adores Michael.  She told Tessa she wanted to have another baby next year."

"I know."

Mike looked at his friend intently his eyes narrowing into small slits.  He'd known Lucas for too many years.  Something just wasn't right.  

"But then...that's what you want her to think, isn't it?  You want her furious with you.  That way she won't guess the real reason you did this.  She can't have anymore, can she, Lucas?"

Lucas nailed him with a hard stare.  "I didn't say that."

"You don't have to.  None of this made any sense.  It just didn't fit.  Not unless it's her that can't have anymore children.  What happened?"

Lucas sighed.  "Tom had a tough time stopping the bleeding after he delivered Michael.  She's not built to have children that big, Mike.  It's too much of a risk to have anymore."

"So you're going to take this all on yourself," Mike said knowingly.  "Let her think you made this sweeping decision out of unfounded fears, not facts."

"I don't want her feeling like she's failed somehow."

"You're underestimating your wife, my friend.  What about Tom?  He'll tell her the truth, you know."

"No, I've spoken with him.  He thinks it's better this way, too.  She's been through so much this last year."

"Lucas, she's going to find out.  You can't keep this from her.  I've seen the link you two share.  She knows you.  Inside and out."

"She hasn't yet."

"She will, you can bet on it."


*****


Melanie rolled over and spied the empty pillow next to her.  Sitting up slowly, she wondered when Kyle had left.  Her hand trembled as she reached up to push the wildly tangled hair away from her face.  Reaching over, she grabbed Kyle's t-shirt from where it had landed on the nightstand and pulled in on to cover herself.  It was far too big, but she liked the soft comfort it offered.  It even smelled like him.  Soap, citrus aftershave and man.  That unique scent that was just his.  She closed her eyes and brought the ribbed collar to her face and inhaled again.  A delicious shiver coursed through her body.  The memory of their love making was still fresh.  She could almost feel him.  Even the little aches in muscles she didn't know she had reminded her that everything was different now.  Everything had changed.  She had changed.  She was free.  

Almost free.  She still had to tell Kyle about the rape.  Melanie bit her lip at the thought.  It had been hard enough telling Deanna and she was a trained counselor.  Her own mother didn't know.  She hadn't been able to go to the authorities either.  God!  How was she going to tell him?

"You okay?" Kyle asked when he came back into her bedroom with a tray of food.  Bagels with cream cheese and strawberries.  Her favorite.  Melanie was sitting in the middle of the bed, curled up in a ball, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs.  

She smiled tentatively at him.  "Sure."

She was a terrible liar.  Kyle frowned, put the tray on the nightstand and sat down on the bed, facing her.  This must be what it was like for Lucas all the time.  He could hear her thoughts so clearly she might as well be speaking aloud.

<<Don't lie to me, Imzadi.>>

Melanie's dark brown eyes flew to his in shock.  "How did you do that?!"  Her voice was barely a whisper.  

"It's called 'Imzadi,'" he explained softly.  "We're bonded, Melanie.  Just like my parents.  Just like Lucas and K'Leena.  I thought you understood."

"N-no...I didn't realize...."

She all but jumped off the bed and moved away from him.  Kyle resisted the urge to follow her.  Damn!  She was frightened again.  Of him!

"Melanie, please."  He reached out with his voice.  "Don't...."

"You can read my mind?!"  There was more than a touch of anger in her voice.  "You're not a telepath!  You're barely an empath!"

She couldn't deal with this.  She didn't want him in her head!  He had no right to her thoughts!  They were hers!  Only hers!

Kyle cursed violently and stood up, causing her to shrink from him more.  "It's not like that!"

She grabbed her clothes and held them in front of herself protectively.  "Get out, Kyle."  The dead coldness of her voice tore at his heart.  

God, no!  Not again!  She couldn't shut him out again, he wouldn't allow it.  "We need to talk."

"No, we don't.  You can just read my mind and find out all you want."

"I wouldn't do that!  You don't understand!  I don't want anything from you that you won't give me freely! Dammit, Melanie, don't do this!"

"I want to be alone."  She clutched the garments closer to her chest, eyes pleading with him to just turn and leave.  "Please, Kyle," she begged.

Kyle took a step toward her and froze when she flinched from him.  There was an actual physical pain that tore through his heart at the sight of her cowering from him.

"I'm sorry," he apologized roughly.

"Just go.  Please!"  The request came out thickly, her breath catching on a sob.

She sank to her knees at the sound of the door hissing closed, trembling uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face.

Kyle leaned against the door he'd just exited, softly banging the back of his head on the gray metal.  Had he ruined everything?



*****



Melanie managed to avoid Kyle for most of the day, hiding out like a coward in Sickbay on the pretense of working.  It was late afternoon before she ventured out to take a walk down to try and clear her head.  She ended up in the holodeck.  Out of curiosity, she ran the famous "Resort" program that Voyager used in it's early years in the Delta Quadrant.  She found herself sitting on one of the large, coal-black breaker rocks watching the waves roll in.  The warm moist air was soothing and she soon found her self in a better mood.

She'd done it again.  Reacted out of fear.  Kyle was better off without her.  She couldn't even control her emotions.  The minute she felt threatened she struck out blindly, hurting the closest thing.  If she became involved with him, he would always be the closest thing.  It wasn't fair to him.  She was broken.  Damaged.  He deserved someone whole.  Someone who could love him back completely.  Without fear.

"Hey there," Lucas interrupted her thoughts her gently, hesitantly.  "Got a minute?"

Melanie startled slightly, then turned her head and smiled.  "For you?  Always.  What's on your mind?"

"I'm worried about a friend."

Confusion spread across her face.  "Me?"

He nodded.  "I thought maybe you could use someone to talk to."

"I think that's my line."

"Please."  Lucas held up both hands in surrender.  "I'm just concerned for you, Melanie.  And Kyle."  He took a seat next to her on the enormous rock.

She viewed him thoughtfully for a moment, tucking her knees under her chin and hugging her legs tighter against her body. "Been peeking into my mind, Lucas?"  She couldn't keep the anger from her voice.  Dammit, they didn't have the right to just read her mind like that!

"Not intentionally, honest.  But, sometimes...."

"You can't help but 'overhear?'"

Overhear.  It was as good a term as any, but it wasn't anywhere near accurate.  He didn't just "hear" their thoughts.  He felt their emotions.  And the stronger the emotion, the deeper he felt it.  It was impossible to block all the time.  If he dropped his guard for even a moment, it would crash into his consciousness.  K'Leena was the only one he could be around and not have to maintain the mental blocks.  Even though she didn't realize it, over the years she'd learned to erect mental barriers of her own to protect him.  He could get through them if he wanted.  A small push with his mind was all it took, but it still took actual effort.  He could relax with her like he could with no one else.  Most of the time anyway.  Lately all they seemed to do was fight.  

"Yeah," he admitted with a grimace.  "Sometimes, I overhear."

"That must be difficult for you."  Always the therapist.

Lucas groaned.  "Not today, Melanie, huh?  Can you just stop being a counselor for one damn minute and let me help you?"

A grin twitched the corners of her mouth.  "It just bugs the hell out of you, doesn't it?  If there's a problem you have to fix it.  If there's a woman in distress you have to save her.  Lucas Riker has to be the hero, doesn't he?"

"Attacking me won't make your problems go away, Melanie," he told her softly.

"And rescuing me won't make yours disappear either, Lucas."


*****


Lucas met Kyle on his way out of the holodeck.  Kyle's dark mood did nothing to ease his mind.

"Don't, Kyle," he told him.  "She doesn't need this from you right now."

His brother saw red.  "Go to hell, Lucas!  This is none of your business."  He tried to push past the older man, but Lucas grabbed his arm.

"I said 'Don't.'"

Kyle froze.  "Let go before I knock some sense into that thick skull of yours.  You of all people have no business giving relationship advice."  The icy contempt in Kyle's voice was impossible to miss.

"Maybe not," he conceded, tightening his grip.  "But I do know she doesn't need your anger now.  And I'm not about to let you go down there looking for a fight."

"I warned you!"  The younger Riker growled before twisting out of the tight grasp.  An instant later, his fist connected with Lucas' jaw, sending his brother staggering away from him.

The second punch Kyle threw didn't hit his mark.  Lucas deflected it, almost effortlessly, but the third hit him in the solar plexus, almost winding him.

"Would you knock it off!" He yelled, catching his breath harshly and dodging yet another swing.  "I'm not going to fight with you!"

"What's the matter, Lucas?  Scared you'll lose?"  It was a ridiculous taunt and Kyle knew it.  Lucas could kill him with one blow if he chose to, but Kyle was too angry to care.

"Oh, for the love of God!" Lucas swore.  He blocked the next punch, grabbed Kyle's arm and faster than he could take his next breath, Lucas had him pinned face first into the ground, his knee on the center of Kyle's back to prevent him from getting up.  "Settle down, you idiot!"

"Lucas!  Get off your brother!"

Kyle and Lucas groaned in unison at the sound of their father's voice coming from down the dimly lit corridor.

"What the hell is the matter with the two of you?!" Will barked, all but yanking his eldest child off his youngest by the scruff of his neck.

"Nothing," Lucas lied with a grin.  "We were just wrestling, right, Kyle?"

Kyle stood up sheepishly. "Yeah, wrestling."  He gave Lucas a grateful glance.

Will was not impressed.  "Wrestling, huh?"  There was a long pause while the admiral let his sons squirm.  "Lucas, your wife is looking for you.  You can explain to her why you have a split lip and torn uniform.  Kyle," he turned to his youngest child.  "I would like a word with you."

Kyle felt like a naughty child as he followed his father to the Mess Hall.

"Sit!" Will commanded as soon as they were alone.

"I really don't have time for a lecture, Dad."  Kyle made for the door, deciding he didn't want to do this.  So, he and Lucas had a fight.  Big deal.  Brothers fought all the time.

"Make time."  It was the "admiral's" voice that stopped him.  

If nothing else, Lieutenant Thomas Kyle Riker was a well trained Starfleet officer.  With everyone back in uniform and being onboard a starship, his actions were almost programmed.  Kyle spun back around stiffly and stood at attention, saying nothing and waiting with military precision for his commanding officer to give him his orders.

"Sit down, please," his father implored.

Kyle merely assumed an 'at ease' stance.  "Sir?" he prodded after Will just looked at him for a long moment.

With a sigh, the eldest Riker sat down in then nearest chair.

"What was going on outside they holodeck just now?" he asked Kyle.

"Nothing."

Will rolled his eyes.  "Right, and I'm the Tooth Fairy."

Kyle chuckled.  "Aren't you?"  He cocked his head to the side slightly.

"No, I'm Santa, your mother's the Tooth Fairy.  Now stop trying to avoid my question."

"Lucas and I had a disagreement.  That's all.  No big deal."

"This disagreement wouldn't have been about Melanie, would it?"

"I don't remember."

Will sighed heavily.  Being a father to Kyle was harder than being one to Lucas.  He understood Lucas.  His motivations were never a mystery to him since they were so much alike, but Kyle was different.  He was more like his mother.  Will wondered how to broach the subject that Kyle obviously needed to talk about.  Straight forward, he decided after a moment.  It was probably the wrong thing to do, it seemed most of his decisions concerning his youngest were, but he didn't know how else to go about it.

"Did you spend the night with her?"

Kyle's head snapped back in surprise.  Enough was enough.  "You don't seriously expect me to answer that, do you?"

"Dammit, Kyle!  I'm just trying to help."

"Trust me, Dad," he drawled bitterly.  "Nothing you say is going to help."

"What if I told you I knew what you were going though.  That I'd been there and understood?"

The scathing reply died on his lips as the implications of what his father just said sank in.

"Mom?" he managed to choke out.

"Yes," Will nodded, his voice shaking as well.  "Not the same way as Melanie, but a violation just the same.  Maybe even worse in some ways, I don't know."  His shoulders dropped with a heavy sigh.  These memories were hard to revisit.  It'd been very difficult for Deanna and him.  Both times it had happened.  The first time, with Jev using a memory of him had been bad enough.  It had taken the better part of a year for Deanna to feel comfortable with him again.  But the second time... God!  They'd been married then, completely bonded.  He'd felt it all.  He'd known her pain as if it was his own.  She'd just come back to him after a separation.  They'd finally managed to work through their problems and have a real marriage and he'd almost lost her again.  

Kyle was confused.  "What do you mean, 'not the same?'"

"Mental rape is still a violation.  So, if you think I don't know what you're going through, you're dead wrong."

"Gods," Kyle breathed, shocked to his boots at the revelation.  "Does Lucas know?"

Will laughed harshly.  "Lucas would go hunting if he knew."  Which was precisely what Will had done.  He'd killed a man in cold blood and never regretted it.  Never would.

"And I wouldn't."  Kyle bristled at his father's assumption that he wasn't as protective of his family as Lucas was.

"No, you wouldn't."  Kyle was more level-headed than Lucas, or himself for that matter.

The simple confidence in his father's voice, cut Kyle deeply.  "Of course not!" he snapped.  "Not Kyle.  He would never do something like that.  He'll never measure up to Lucas."

"Measure up...?" Will broke off, appalled.  "You don't really believe that, do you?"

"What?  That I'm not the son Lucas is?  Why should I believe otherwise?  Everyone knows he's perfect."

Kyle stood up to leave and Will rounded the desk rapidly to stop him.  

"Wait a minute," he demanded.  "You can't just throw that out there and leave."

"Sure I can.  It's the truth."

"Dammit, Kyle!" Will grabbed his son's arm when he turned to leave.  "It's not the truth!  I have never once held you up to Lucas' standard!"

"But Lucas is the 'standard,' isn't he?"  The cold conviction in Kyle's voice stunned his father.

"Lucas isn't perfect, Kyle," he told him quietly.  "And I never wanted you to be anyone other than who you are."

"Since when?"  And with that, Kyle stalked out of the office, leaving his father standing alone is shocked silence.


*****


Mike's lips twitched with a barely repressed grin when Lucas exited the turbolift doors on the Bridge, looking like something Tessa's cat dragged in.  

"Finally pushed her too far and she hauled off and hit you, huh?"  The laughter was just screaming to be let out.

Lucas rolled his eyes.  "It was Kyle, not K'Leena."  He spoke slowly, testing his sore jaw.

"Damn.  Sorry I missed that.  I haven't seen you get your ass kicked in a while.  Could have used the diversion."  

"Don't you have something better to do?" Lucas asked bitingly.  

Mike grinned broadly.  "It's my turn on the Bridge."

"Great."

"What's up with Kyle, or did he just hit you for the hell of it?"

"You don't want to know, trust me.  How's Tessa?"

Lucas noticed the fist Mike clenched at the question.  "Okay, I guess.  She's quiet.  Withdrawn."

"It's only been a couple of days, Mike.  Give her some time.  She lost the baby before she even knew she was pregnant."

"She'd finally agreed to marry me.  Did I tell you that?"

Lucas shook his head.

"The night before she miscarried.  I was so happy when I woke up that morning.  I couldn't wait for Harry and Seven to arrive so we could get married.  Can you believe that?  Me, Mike Burns, wanting to get married.  I can't imagine my life without her anymore.  She's everything to me, you know?"

His friend smiled.  "Yeah...I know."


*****

Deanna glanced up with a smile when her husband strode into their assigned quarters, only to have it wiped from her face at his expression.  His anguish was a physical blow that struck her square in the chest.

"What?" she gasped, leaning back against the dining room table and setting her coffee cup down behind her, afraid she'd drop it.

Will looked helplessly at her for a moment before speaking in a quiet, broken voice.

"Was I that bad of a father?  Did I hold them up to such unreasonable expectations?  Is everything that's happening with them now my fault?"

Deanna took a step toward her disheartened husband.  "What happened?"

"I found Kyle and Lucas fighting.  About Melanie, I think.  I never found out for sure.  I just wanted to talk to Kyle, let him know I was there for him.  That I understood what he was going through.  But he was so angry with me.  Said I always expected him to be like Lucas.  God, Deanna!  He thinks I'm disappointed in him because he's not."

She laid a hand on her husband's cheek, offering any comfort she could.

"Will...."

"Kyle thinks he doesn't measure up to my expectations and Lucas damn near kills himself on a daily basis trying to be what he thinks I want him to be."

"It's not a simple as that, Will," she told him softly.  "They're grown men and responsible for their own actions."

"Influenced by the way *I* raised them.  My own son thinks I don't love him."

"Kyle knows you love him," she reassured.  "He's hurt and angry and lashing out at whoever is convenient.  First Lucas and now you.  Don't read anymore into it."

"He may have said the words in anger, Deanna, but he sure as hell meant them.  And what about Lucas?  He's become so overprotective and controlling with K'Leena since Michael was born.  What does that remind you of?  They are acting this way because it's what I taught them to be!"

"You listen to me, Will Riker," Deanna began menacingly.  "You were a damn good father to those boys!  Kyle's issues are with his own feelings of inadequacy rather than with your parenting.  And Lucas' problems are more my fault than anyone's.  I'm the one who didn't see how hard being a telepath was on him.  I'm the trained therapist who didn't know her own son was begging for help all those years!"

"No, Imzadi...," he began only to be cut off.

"Don't," she stopped him.  "Let me finish.  Yes, we made mistakes.  All parents do.  But I'm not going to let you blame yourself for what's going on now.  Lucas is going to have to deal with his hero complex sooner or later, or he's going to lose his wife, just like you did.  And Kyle is going to have to work through his anger if he ever wants to have a relationship with Melanie, just like you did.  You can't tell them how to do it, Will.  They have to figure it out for themselves.  Just.  Like.  You.  Did.  And that's what this is really all about, isn't it?"

He rubbed his hand over his face with a heavy sigh.  "I just don't want them to hurt like I did.  I never have.  I thought I was a better parent than my father.  I thought I could prevent it from happening."

"They're Rikers, my love.  You could no more stop them from being who they are than your father could stop you."


*****


Kyle viciously kicked one of the smaller rocks that had "washed up" on the beach during the last tide.  He watched with cold detachment as it disappeared beneath waves.  If the holodeck beach had been real it probably would have taken that rock ten thousand years to find it's way to land, and with one action, he'd have condemned it to making the trek all over again.  He smiled with grim satisfaction.  At least then he wouldn't have been the only one beating against the tide.

It was his fault, of course.  All of it.  He should never had made love to her without dealing with her past.  But, he'd been weak.  He'd known it was the wrong time.  He'd known it was too soon.  He'd known it would complicated things impossibly.  Hell!  He'd known it was just plain stupid from the first kiss, but stopping just hadn't been an option.  Not with her.  He'd wanted her for too long.  Loved her for too long

Now what?  Did he keep his distance?  Let her come to him?  He shook his head with a bitter chuckle.  She wouldn't come to him.  She would close herself off again and try to forget what happened between them.  It was easier that way.

He couldn't let her do that.  Even if she never spoke to him again, he had to push the issue and get it out there.  

Damn.  He didn't want to do this.  He didn't want her to hurt anymore.  What he wouldn't give for five minutes alone with the bastard that did this to her.  His fist clenched at the thought.  Just five minutes.  

"It won't help," Lucas said from behind him.

Kyle turned slowly.  "I know, but, damn.  It sure would feel good."

Lucas smiled.  "Yeah."

It was as close to an apology either of them would ever get.  

"She's in the Mess Hall," Lucas told him.  "She's alone."

"I know."  

His brother's eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  "How are you doing with that?  Are you able to control it?  I can help...."

Kyle smiled.  "I'm okay.  It's not bad.  I'm sure it's nothing like what you have.  It's just me and Melanie.  I can sorta block it if I have to."

Lucas nodded.  "Good."

Kyle grimaced, gave his brother a small salute and headed back up to the holodeck exit.

Melanie was curled up in one of the large sofas in the Mess Hall next to the view port, reading a PADD.  She had on her nightgown and robe.  Kyle was shocked when he realized just how late it had gotten.  He'd been wandering around that stupid holodeck for hours.

She was aware of his presence immediately, but refused to look up and acknowledge him.  Maybe if she ignored him long enough he'd leave.

"If you really think that, you don't know me very well, Imzadi," he replied to her unguarded thought out loud, knowing it would upset her.

She snapped the PADD off, tossed it down on the small table next to her and glared at him, crossing her arms in front of herself.

"I didn't give you permission to read my thoughts, Kyle," she hissed angrily.  "Go away!"

Her eyes narrowed with menace when he firmed his stance, letting her know silently that he wasn't moving an inch until they'd settled this.

"Fine."  She flung herself upright and headed for the door.  "I'm going to bed, you can stay here all night for all I care."

He caught her by the arm before she took three steps.

"No."

She raised a disbelieving eyebrow at his audacity.  "Let go."

Kyle shook his head and loosed his grip, but still kept hold of her arm.

"We need to talk."

"No."  She could give as good as she got.  Dammit, he wasn't going to win this.  She didn't owe him anything.

"Dammit, Melanie!  We have to talk about this!  I have the right to know!"

She spun out of his grasp in fury.  "The right?!  You have the *right*?  Who the hell do you think you are?!"

Kyle reached for her again but she shrugged off his hand violently.  "What about my rights?!  Don't I have the right to keep this to myself?!  It's my life.  My body.  My mind.  You don't have the right to any of it!  Do you understand?!  No right!"

His jaw clenched.  "You gave me that right when you told me you loved me.  It may be your life, but your life is part of mine!  It's your body, but it's also our relationship.  If you don't tell me, Melanie, we have no future.  It'll always be there between us.  Dark and evil.  Eroding away at the very foundation of our relationship."  

He dragged a weary hand though his hair.  "I won't let you throw away the best thing that's ever happened to either of us because you're scared.  You might as well tell me now, because I will be at you about this day and night until you do.  People wait their whole lives for what we've found with each other.  I'm not about to walk away from it."

"You can't force me to tell you, Kyle."  

"I shouldn't have to!  You should want to!  I care about you more than any other person in the universe.  I love you!  I'm part of you and you're part of me.  There should be no secrets, Melanie."

The impassioned plea cut into her like a disruptor blast, burning everything in it's path with it's white-hot energy.  She struggled to take a breath, wrapping her arms tightly around her body as if to ward off yet another unseen blow.

"I can't, Kyle."  Her voice caught on a sob.  "I can't!  Don't you see?  I can't bear to see the disgust in your eyes.  Or the anger.  I can't do it, please don't make me."

Kyle caught himself and took a deep breath.  This was getting them nowhere.  Again.  His stance relaxed as he smiled sadly.

"Come here."  He held out his hand, beckoning her.

"Kyle, please...."

"Just...."  He sighed heavily.  "Just come here.  We don't have to talk about it right now, okay?  I just want to hold you.  I don't like seeing you this upset.  Just... let me hold you."

Melanie looked up at him, wanting so desperately to do as he asked, but unable to make her body take that step toward him.  Instead, she turned away with a shake of her head, staring with unseeing eyes out the glass viewport into the vast darkness of space.

She caught his reflection as he came closer.

"Don't shut me out, Melanie," he said when he finally stopped right behind her.  She could feel the heat of his body through her thin nightgown.  How she wanted to sink back into his arms.  Let him hold her.  Comfort her.  Just be there for her.  Why couldn't she do it?  Why was she fighting him?  God, she was so screwed up.  He deserved better.  A silent tear slipped down her cheek.

His arms, warm and solid, slid around her from behind.  Her breath hitched on a sob when he pulled her into his embrace.

"You're not alone anymore!" he whispered fiercely against the back of her neck.  "You can tell me.  Nothing will change the way I feel about you.  Nothing!"  He hauled in a ragged breath.  "Trust me."  

Then lifted her into his arms, striding over to the small sofa and sat down with her in his lap, tucking her head into the hollow of his shoulder.

Melanie sat there just listening to his heartbeat, battling her inner demons.  With each trembling breath she desperately tried to work up the courage to tell him.  

It was an agonizing long while before she noticed the steady stroke of his hand over her back comforting her.  Soothing her.  His strength seemed to seep into her.  Slowly a gentle calm slowly settled over them.  

A shared breath....

A linked thought....

A single heartbeat....

And this time it didn't frighten her.  Even as he surrounded her, became part of her--she became part of him.  

This wasn't an invasion.  It was a joining.  

Now she understood.

<<Imzadi.>>  The word echoed from her mind with the joy and wonder she'd found.

Kyle's strong hands cupped her face and brought her gaze to his as he replied, <<Imzadi.>>

"I'm so sor...."

"Shh," he hushed her, placing a fingertip over her parted lips.  "No apologies."  His mouth brushed softly over hers for a moment before pulling her back down into his arms.

Melanie snuggled more securely against the warm, smooth skin of his chest....

And told him.

Told him of the pain and fear.  The self-disgust and loathing.  Told him how she blamed herself for years for even being in a situation where it could have happened.  Told him how, at a party her first year at the academy, she'd drunk too much, flirted too much... trusted too much.  How she ended up separated from her group of friends.  Alone with a forth year cadet she didn't know.  How she told him 'No' and how he didn't care.  How she fought and how it didn't matter.  How scared she was and how he liked that.  How badly he hurt her and how he liked that even more.  How she barely made it back to her dorm room.  How she sat in the shower all night long with the water so hot it burned her skin red.  How she never went to the authorities or the Medical Center because she was so ashamed.  How no one knew until she had taken Commander Troi's Introduction to Psychology a year later and Deanna had picked up on it.  How hard it was just to date.  How she had tried to be normal again, but hadn't been able to.  

Until he had come along.

"That was the hardest part," she revealed quietly.  "How he was there.  Every day.  Haunting me.  Controlling me.  Taking my life from me.  The life I should have had.  He didn't just rape me.  He killed the girl I was that night."

Kyle stiffened under her, his arms pulling her closer as he fought to stay in control of his emotions.  This was harder than he imagined it would be.  The tenuous grip he had on his anger was slipping more and more as each second passed.  To relive this with her, share these painful memories so intimately...it was almost too much.  He wasn't a trained telepath like Lucas.  He didn't know how to deal with the sheer force of the imagery he was receiving from Melanie. He was caught a storm of emotion that he had no way of controlling.

"God!  I would have given anything to have been normal again!  To not live in fear.  To just be able to trust again!"  She stopped to wipe the tears from her face.  When she glanced up at him, she froze.

Agony.  There was no other word to describe his expression.  She cried out in pain as well, then reached up to wipe away the moisture that had gathered at the corners of his eyes.  

"Kyle...."

He shook his head.  "Don't stop.  We need to get through this."

She gave a watery shrug.  "There isn't anymore.  That's pretty much it."  A great sense of relief filled her.  It was finally over.

Kyle smiled, framing her face with his hands.  He dropped a soft kiss on her tear streaked cheeks, first one, then the other.  Finally, his mouth brushed hers.  "I love you," he whispered against her trembling lips.  

"I love you too," she whispered back.  God!  It felt so good to say that!

Kyle pulled her to her feet and tucked her protectively against his body then led her to his quarters.  They were asleep within minutes, completely exhausted, but totally secure in the knowledge that they had the rest of their lives together.


*****


Tessa looked at her husband in shocked disbelief.  Then, around Voyager's mess hall table, past the breakfast food sitting untouched, to K'Leena and Lucas.  

"You can't!" she exclaimed in horror.

"Try and stop me."  There was steel in Mike's voice.

She shook her head.  "No.  If I'm not meant to be here, then I'm not."  Tessa was amazed she managed to say that without her voice breaking.  It was stunning to know she was nothing more than a paradox.  That she didn't really exist.  

It must be killing her mother.  Tessa understood so much more now.  No wonder her mother had been so overprotective and controlling.  She'd known all along it was going to end someday.  

Tears gathered in her eyes.  She hastily wiped them away.

"We are *not* going to violate the Temporal Prime Directive," she told them all.  

"How do you know we're not supposed to do this?" Lucas asked quietly.  "If this wasn't they way time wanted it, how come we're here?"

"It doesn't work that way," K'Leena told him.  "This alternate time line was created when we went back into time and changed the outcome of a single event.  If we don't do it again, the timeline will revert back to it's proper destiny."

"But it's Gellis who's changed history," Mike insisted.  "If we go back to try and stop *that* aren't we preserving the correct timeline?"

Tessa's breath hitched.  She looked at K'Leena.  "You're the expert.  Is there a chance we're supposed to do this?"

K'Leena paused.  Her eyes met Lucas' in a haunting gaze.  What if....

"He's right, K'Leena," Lucas said quietly.  "It's *Gellis* that created the paradox.  Not us.  We have to stop him."

"We can't know that for sure," she wavered.  K'Leena wanted to believe them.  She didn't want Tessa to cease to exist, but she knew the dangers of time travel more than most.  "Paradoxes destroy lives, Lucas."

"I know, that's why we have to stop this."

K'Leena nodded.  "Yeah, I think we do."


*****


Tom Paris lay on the bed he and B'Elanna shared on Voyager, staring blankly at the flat gray metal of the ceiling above him.  A dull headache thudded mercilessly at his temples.  If he stopped them from going back, was he preventing it from happening?  Or would it be worse if Gellis was allowed to follow through with his plan.  What was his plan?  Was he after Enterprise?  Or the Breen?  Would this save lives or destroy more?

Damn!  He hated this.  Temporal mechanics baffled him in the best of circumstances.  How could he make life and death decisions when he didn't understand what was going on?  What right did he have to do this?

What right did he have not to?  

If they could just catch up to Gellis before it was too late.  If they could stop him from ever leaving their time and altering the past, then the paradox would cease to exist.  

Then, it would finally be over.  


*****


In the Shuttle Bay, K'Leena boarded the Delta Flyer and nodded to Mike, who was already taking the weapons offline to route power to the warp core.  They'd need every bit of it to convert over to Temporal Drive.  

"I don't like taking this thing back without any way to defend ourselves," Mike grumbled.  It didn't seem to matter how long he'd been in command, at heart, he was still a Tactical Officer.  

"Sorry." K'Leena pulled out a hyperspanner and crawled under the helm to adjust the controls.  "Can't afford the power drain.  This thing's thirty years old, it'll barely get us there as it is."  

"I still don't like it," he groused again.

K'Leena rolled her eyes with a barely repressed snort.  "Just shut up and finish rerouting that power conduit.  We're due on the bridge in twenty minutes.  Sherise and Lucas need this done so they can install the Temporal Drive components she's replicating in Engineering.

"And just how is she doing that, by the way, with your mother down there?"

"Robbie's going to distract her.  She can't see the upper replicating unit from her office.  He's going to say he needs her advice about Sherise."

"And she's supposed to buy that?  Robbie's not exactly known for his heart to heart talks, K'Leena.  Your mother will be suspicious."

"Maybe, but I don't think Mom's the one who's going to have a problem with what we're doing.  It's Dad I'm worried about.  Since when did Admiral Riker take orders from him anyway?  Why isn't he running the show?  He outranks Dad by a good ten years."

"I don't know for sure, but in Alpha Team it's not always the highest ranking officer that commands the team.  It's the officer with the most knowledge and experience or special training to handle the situation.  There have been times that Lucas has been under my command."

K'Leena grinned wickedly.  "I bet he loves that."

"He knows it's for the safety of the team and the mission success."

"Uh huh."

Mike chuckled.


*****


"Mom, can I talk to you?"

B'Elanna turned around in surprise at her son's request.  "Um, sure."

Robbie motioned to her office.  "In private?"

In private?  There was no one else in Engineering.  She hid a smile and walked into her old office.  With a casual flick of her wrist, she activated the upper level monitors when she rounded her desk to sit down.  Robbie didn't notice.  With the desktop computer screen turned toward her, he couldn't see that she had complete view of Engineering.

"I wanted to ask your advice...about Sherise."

It took all the self control she possessed to keep her features blank when she saw her son's mate creep stealthily to the part replicater on the upper level monitor as he spoke of her.

"Sherise, huh?  You still having problems?"

"She divorced me, Mom!"  Robbie looked at his mom incredulously.  "Yeah, I think we might still be having problems."  

Could he sound anymore like his father?  "Uh huh," B'Elanna tweaked again, just because she could.  "So, what did you want to talk about?"  

Hmmmm.  Temporal Drive schematics being downloaded into the replicating unit.  B'Elanna's lips twitched just slightly.  So, that's how they were going to do it.

"I don't know how you can think this is funny," Robbie said in astonishment, completely amazed at his mother's apparent callousness.  "My marriage is falling apart here, Mom."

B'Elanna's attention immediately focused on her son and the pain in his voice.  Regardless of the fact that he was acting as a diversion, his problem was real.  "Well, who's fault is that?"

He scowled fiercely.  "By the tone of your voice, I'd say, "Mine?"

"Was it ever in question?  No woman likes to be dominated like that, Robert Owen Paris.  You didn't treat her with the respect or *honor* she deserves.  Why would she want to remain your wife?"

"She loves me...and I love her.  Isn't that enough?"

B'Elanna sighed.  "Do you love her, or want to control her?"

"What kind of question is that?"  Well, that was nice.  His own mother doubted his motives.

"A valid one, all things considered."

"Kahless!  I didn't marry her to control her!  It just happened.  I couldn't have stopped myself if I even wanted to.  After we...," he trailed off uncomfortably.  He might be a doctor and sex was a natural, healthy thing between consenting adults, but hell, this was his *mother.*

"Yes?" B'Elanna prodded with a rather wicked smirk.

Robbie glared at her.  "She took me as her mate.  She made the choice.  All I did was accept that choice and make it official."

"Without telling her."

"I was planning on it!"

"When?"

"When she was ready to hear it.  I didn't want to scare her off."

"Then she wasn't ready for the mating ritual, Robbie, and you know it.  You deceived her.  She's got every right to be angry with you."

He slumped back into his chair with a defeated sigh.  "I know."

"So, what are you going to do about it?"

"Grovel?"

"It's a start."


*****


When Sherise finally made it down to the Shuttle Bay with the newly replicated parts, Lucas had everything waiting for their installation.  It took them less time than they thought it would and the Delta Flyer was ready for the temporal jump well before K'Leena and Mike had finished their shift on the Bridge.

Unfortunately for Sherise, that meant another run in with Robbie.  He arrived to see how they were progressing just as Lucas and she finished up.

"Can I walk you back to your quarters."

"No, I don't think...."

"Just to your quarters, Sherise.  I won't ask to come in.  We don't even have to talk if you don't want to."

"All right," she sighed.  "But you're not coming in.  I'm tired."

"I know."

They walked in silence, but it was a comfortable one.  No expectations.  He didn't speak until they reached her door.

"Get some sleep," he told her softly.  "I'll see you in the morning."  

Robbie dropped a gentle, chaste kiss on her forehead then left without another word, leaving her to wonder what he was up to now.


*****


The chronometer on her wrist read oh two hundred.  It was time.  

Tessa nervously ran her hands over the form fitting black Alpha Team uniform before heading to the Shuttle Bay with Mike striding along side of her.  They'd decided the plain, insignia free uniforms were their best choice for clothing.  All identical.  All anonymous.  

"I hope we're doing the right thing," she muttered under her breath.

Mike grasped her hand and held it tight.  "We are.  We have to be."

Hand in hand they entered the Shuttle Bay to find Lucas and K'Leena already aboard the Delta Flyer half way through the pre-flight.


*****

On the Bridge, Seven found what they had hoped they wouldn't

"Admiral," she said.  "I've located a temporal trail near the outer edge of the Badlands.  We're too late."  Too late to stop Gellis, maybe too late to stop everything?  Could Mike be right, could he save Tessa?

"Damn," Paris swore violently, sharing a grim look with Will.  "Intercept course, Kyle.  Paris to Torres.  I need you on the Bridge, B'Elanna."

--On my way.--

A moment later, Deanna exited the turbo lift, much to Tom's surprise.  It only took a second before he realized she would have felt the tension and known what was happening.


*****


"I'm picking up a temporal disturbance off the port nacelle," Tessa announced from the science station.

K'Leena nodded then turned to her husband.  "Captain?"

"Launch when ready, Commander," he ordered.

"Opening Shuttle Bay doors."  Mike overrode the security lock out with ease and encoded the doors so they couldn't be closed again.

K'Leena took a deep breath and engaged the thrusters.


*****


On the Bridge, an alarm sounded.

"The Shuttle Bay doors have been opened," Seven told Tom.

"Dammit!  Close them!  Now!"

"I can't, I'm locked out.  The Flyer is being launched."

"Voyager to Delta Flyer," Tom bit out.

Silence.

"Voyager to Delta Flyer, you are ordered to stand down."

Again, nothing.

"Captain Riker," Admiral Paris commanded harshly, his heart turning to stone.  "Stand down, or I will fire."

"They're responding."

"Onscreen."  

"I can't, Tom," Lucas' voice was just as hard and his face just as determined as his father-in-law's.  "You're wrong.  We have to do this."

"Don't make me do this, Lucas," Tom warned again, stalking over to Tactical and targeting the weapons himself.  The cold blue of his eyes was terrifying.  Lucas knew in that moment Tom would kill them to keep them from going.  "Stand down."

"No!" B'Elanna cried out, as she came on the Bridge, racing to pull Tom's hands away from the console.  "You can't stop them," she implored.  "You don't understand what's at stake."

"Dammit, B'Elanna!" Tom struggled with her, but she held tight to his hands.  "I do understand.  Too much.  This has to end and it has to end now!"

"No!"  She said again, holding tighter, she had to make him understand.  It was so clear now.  They should have seen it before.  "Don't you see?  They weren't warning us then.  They were warning us now!"

Tom looked at her like she'd finally lost her mind completely.  "What the hell are you talking about?  Who was warning us?  We don't have time for this.  We have to...."

Deanna's eyes widened in shock.  "When evil lurks and darkness reigns...," she whispered.

"...It will be the new generation that will save you," B'Elanna continued fiercely.  He had to see.  He had to.  All depended on it.  The warning had been for him and him alone.  "Don't let your narrow minds blind you to what MUST be done!"

Tom looked into his wife's eyes.  It wasn't just her fear for their children he saw, but an understanding of something he hadn't been able to grasp until now.

"All will be lost if they cannot fulfill their destiny," he realized, slowly.  

Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the view screen.

"God-speed."