A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 3 of 7
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for friggen Everything
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Nathan blinked as he looked around what should be Jake's safe place It seemed to be the room they'd just been in with only a few subtle changes, and Felsira wasn't there "Jake?"

"I'm here." He touched his mate's shoulder "This is the place I have made my own. Though it is constructed on a lie, it is all I have for now."

"It is the intent that matters, that you feel safe here." Nathan blinked again, seeing Jake's view of himself for the first time While the tom was still lean and fairly short, his fur was much thicker, a nearly black brunet with very fait stripes, spots and rosettes, and his bones were much finer He bore a rather striking resemblance to a cross between Patrik and a Striped Hyena, with half solid, feathered wings of the purest black spread out from his bare shoulders Small, firm breasts and rounded hips gave him a distinctly feminine shape that was in stark contrast to the obvious sheath and balls between his legs.

"You made me feel safe." Jake shook his head, his voice slightly off as well "But this is the closest I've come on my own." He hesitated, catching Nathan's inability not to stare at the changes to his form "I wear more than just mental masks out there."

"So is this what you feel comfortable as?" He took a closer look at the form he honestly couldn't find all that attractive, but it was blatantly clear how easily his mate wore it He could get used to it, for Jake.

"I guess," He shrugged and looked around, finally focusing on a heavy security door "As much as that's going to be part of The Sharing, it's probably the greatest mask I wear."

"How so?" Nathan followed his mate as he ran glittering, crimson claws lightly along the metal surface, gathering courage.

Jake's stare never wavered as he let more and more weight set against the door "This is the greatest mask I have, the biggest lie I live I need to face this if I will ever know peace, as well as to be honest with you."

"Do you have any idea what's in there?" Nathan asked, trying to direct the tension to something useful.

"My past, who and what I was before I met Pat, before I had the body you know." Jake shuddered and dug his claws into the metal, sending sparks flying "Something I didn't want to acknowledge so badly I locked it away and made myself more afraid of opening this door than of death ... or even failure I erased those years ... no one knows." He breath quickened before he regained control "I'm much older than thirty-two, Nate That is merely how many years I have accepted."

Nathan put his hand on Jake's shoulder "Just remember, you're not facing it alone anymore Take strength from that."

"Sometimes being alone is better." Jake shifted his grip to the edge of the door and tensed to pull it open, determination set in every line of his lean body "No one to get hurt."

Nathan didn't have an answer to that as ruby claws dug deeply into metal, and with a creaking scream it surrendered to Jake's demand, flying open.

"What I built, I destroy." A low growl of satisfaction rumbled from Jake's chest.

Nathan shivered at the hungry, psychotic tone of his mate's voice, and wondered at the brightness beyond the door He'd always thought of secrets as things hidden in shadow.

"I am a creature of the night." Jake turned to look at him, eyes shining silver suns "Shadows hold no fear or secrets for me, but I do not care for the light."


"You're afraid of me." Jake made it a simple statement, focusing his full attention on the tiger-tabby "I'm no different than the tom you met in the caves a year ago Not yet."

Nathan returned his mate's gaze steadily "Afraid of you? No, that isn't it really, it's just that I'm reminded of what I really am afraid of ... me No one will ever frighten me as much as I have."

The tiger-tabby looked at the brightness beyond the door "The past helps us to understand where we are, and how we got there But, as Mother reminded me, it does not define the value of who we are now." He stepped forward and hugged Jake "Neither pasts nor forms will change the fact that I love you and always will."

"That's easy for you to say You have parents and a heritage." Jake flattened his ears with a painful growl "I was designed The only random element in my past is when I fought back, and even that was because of my programming."

"So was my father, and for all practical purposes my mother." Nathan countered calmly "What we do with what we're given is what matters My father is a genetically engineered super-assassin He was never supposed to be interested in females, but he fell in love with my mother anyway He wasn't supposed to be able to reproduce, but he sired me."

Jake stood there for a long moment, regarding his mate "You're making this difficult, you know?"

"How so?" Nathan looked up in real confusion.

"You're being more understanding than Felina, accepting everything I throw at you." He sighed in a mixture of frustration and gratitude and look at the light beyond the door "I guess not all the masks come off as easily as the physical one, or the past I'm still trying to chase you off."


"To protect myself from getting hurt." Jake just shrugged "Why did you call me a telepath, anyway? I can't mind-talk outside my bonds."

"But you do, with the base, and that door ..."

"Okay, I'll rephrase that I can't talk to bios outside of a bond." He rolled his eyes "Talking to machines is part of being a TechnoMage, and it's not really telepathy."

"You just lost me." Nathan sighed in recognition that this Bonding was not going to be a simple one, for either of them "But I am a telepath, and I'll telling you, so are you Even if it's on a very strange frequency, you are."

"Whatever you say." Jake took a long took into the brightness and sighed "Let me show you around If you have questions afterward, I'll try to answer them All right?"

"All right." He caught Jake's arm and managed a kiss to his neck "Just remember, nothing can hurt you."

"Easier said than believed, Nate." Jake sighed as he took the first step across the threshold to his lost past "It's never been physical injury that's hurt me."

"You have a very clear view of yourself." Nathan couldn't help but be surprised as they watched two large, agile Wolves battle and realized the lightly smaller one, a female with charcoal stripes on a dark brown coat, was Jake.

"I was taught at a very young age that awareness of what I looked like was critical." He swallowed uncomfortably as the battle played out, his victory clear long before pinned his opponent and ripped the defenseless creature's throat out with a triumphant howl "A free-form shape-shifter must always be aware of what face they present, more than even your average agent."

"So what is your natural form?" Their surroundings flickered even as he asked, reforming into a pristine lab that would even put Puzzleworks to shame.

"I don't really have one." He shrugged and pointed to one of the growth-tanks with a white blob floating in it "That's what I looked like before I became aware."

"Oh," Nathan nodded, "most shape-shifters I know of have a form they default to when knocked unconscious or killed."

"I'm not that kind of shape-shifter." Jake lowered his eyes as a DNA diagram appeared "You'll probably understand this better than I do, but I shape-shift by changing my genetic code itself, and then allowing the cells to take on their new purpose When I get it right, I actually become a member of the species, not just look like it Depending on how much energy I devote to the process, it can take anywhere from a couple days to years." He cast a sideways glance at Nathan "I wasn't the first of my kind, but I was the first that actually took to the training they wanted us to During the twelve years I was there, they never managed to duplicate the success When I turned on them, they stopped trying."

"Did you have anything to do with those failures?" Nathan asked innocently.

Jake scowled in confusion and stared at the Felsin "Why would I?"

"Umm, well, if you didn't approve ..."

"That came much later," he sighed "I did my best to help, to get the equipment to do what it did for me They got a couple good shape-shifters out of it, but none that was suitable for fieldwork At least not at my level."

"So what I'm looking at now ..."

"Is an amalgamation of bodies I have had in the past," he nodded with a small smile "If I were free to look any way I wished, it would be something close to this It feels nice."

Nathan stood quietly almost long enough for his mate to head off "Did you know this before you opened that door?"

"Sort of," he gave his mate a sideways glance before staring into space as everything but stars twinkling in the distance melted into blackness "I knew my genetic code was unstable, and if it wasn't stabilized, I'd continue to change in appearance The last stabilization procedure I went through is wearing off, and I'm not willing to go through it again."

"Do you want to remain a Kat? I know how to do that, and you'll never have to go through that procedure twice."

He looked up and met his mate's bright green eyes "I know it's not fair to you, having a mate that keeps changing forms ...."

Nathan stepped in and pulled his love close, crooning and touching until he relaxed a little, then tipped the tom's chin up "Jake, I love you for who you are, not what you are If you want to remain what you truly are, I'm fine with that." He nuzzled, then kissed him thoroughly.

"You don't know who I am, any more than I do." Jake growled and pulled away, his fits clenched "Crud, I'm doing it again." He looked up, meeting the bewildered look he was getting "This reflex for pushing away is buried deep."

"Then we need to find it, and deal with it." Nathan spoke softly; knowing the 'ready to bolt' look in his mate's stance a little too well "Even if only towards me The Joining won't work unless you accept me past those walls."

"I don't think I can." Jake shook his head, miserable "You're asking for something that requires a very strong bond for me, at least as strong as the one I have with Amerith, if not more."

"But this is Bonding ..." Nathan tried to assimilate the concept of bonding before Bonding "And we already have a stronger bond than you do with her."

"Yes, your way." He let out a low growl "Your Bonding Your rules You're so damn eager for this you brushed off my needs."

"No!" Nathan waved his hands in denial "No I have not I wouldn't do that."

"Then why are we having this conversation?" Jake snapped his ears back and sank into a crouch, his form shifting into a more combat-ready one "I've walked into my past Given up every secret I have, even the ones I hid from myself I honestly want this; and still my soul resists."

Nathan looked at his mate, and tried to think what the problem might be, and the best way not to have the war-form he was facing attack He knew the various theories on Bonding, and he wasn't sure what the problem could be At first he considered that there might be a genetically encoded resistance to Bonding. He didn't think that likely, because genetically encoding the soul wasn't possible, as far anyone had determined.

After several moments, he concluded that only possibility was some sort of psychic trauma, or unresolved guilt in regards to the Bonding Of course, that only helped a little since Nathan knew so little of Jake prior to a year ago, and was beginning to understand just how little of even that he knew.

He chose his words as carefully as he could, while sending calm and reassurance across the bond "Jake, the fact that your soul resists suggests that there is something that remains unresolved. The usual suspects would be either an old trauma long buried, possibly relating to someone you trusted and were betrayed by; or some present guilt, possibly over being pushed into making a choice sooner than you were ready."

"Past trauma?" Jake's harsh voice laughed "I've got a couple lifetimes worth So do you And the only choice I was pushed into ... " his voice trailed off as he looked away "You'd be hard pressed to find a choice I wasn't pushed into.

The tiger-tabby gently put his arm around his mate's shoulders, determinedly not reacting to being the significantly shorter one "I don't have enough to go on to be sure, but there's no hurry Maybe if you just relaxed and let things flow you might see just what is blocking you But don't feel rushed or pressured, time is something we have plenty of."

Nathan let his mind relax, and banished concerns and worry as best he could There were several options still available if things remained blocked He'd only use them as a last resort, but he felt fairly certain that Jake wanted the Bond, and was being blocked ... and he had a friend or two who understood such things very well.

Nathan turned to his mate as an idea hit. "I just had a possible insight, but it's going to require a little thinking back on your part Do you ever remember not pushing away like you're doing?

Jake willed himself to his familiar tomkat form "Ummm, I can't be so sure of my early years yet, but I think I've always done it." He looked at Nathan with a strange glint in his eyes.

"I think what may be happening isn't your 'soul' resisting, but your mind responding to a deeply buried conditioned response, on the same sort of level as my father's aversion to females."

Nathan's analytical mind became fully involved "An aversion to being too close, combined with your somewhat self-destructive response to being unable to bond properly would make for a very powerful control circuit." He pulled Jake close when the other tom visibly flinched "This is, of course, all speculation ... but its all within the realm of possibility; especially if there was a sufficiently talented telepath involved, though theoretically the aversion could have been done by means of genetic programming."

The tiger-tabby looked apologetically at Jake "Sorry, if that sounded really cold and analytical ... but right now, theory is all I have to go on But this reflexive 'pushing away' of yours isn't, in my opinion, good for you ... and as your mate, and a Medic I just can't ignore it." He let the rest of his statement trail off as he felt Jake relax on several levels.

"As sick as it sounds, that analytical voice is rather ... comforting."

"I think that scores a few more points to you having an aversion to getting too close, though what caused it ... that's what we need to find out." Nathan settled back and absently continued to stroke his mate, while trying to figure out how to undo such an aversion ... of course, his father's programming had come undone when Cazi had gotten him involved with Nathan's mother So the possibility existed that completing the Bonding, would undo the reflex itself ... assuming he wasn't completely barking up the wrong tree.

"Which would be easier to eliminate as the cause?" Jake gently pushed Nathan down and shifted to his 'natural' form "Or we can just complete the way I bond, here and now."

Nathan responded easily to the hungry kiss, speaking only when Jake backed off slightly to look down at him, arousal almost too strong to ignore "If it makes you feel better, I'd love to." He slid a hand up Jake's erection, playing light fingers around the smooth tip and smiled when his mate arched back with a low whimper "Like?"

"Yesss," Jake gasped, rocking his hips forward as Nathan's free hand cradled his balls "In me."

"You sure?" Nathan froze for a heartbeat, suddenly very aware they'd never mated like that.

"Yes," Jake groaned, shifting his weight to guide Nathan's rough penis inside him "Very sure."

"But prep ..."

"We're in our minds, Nate." He gently removed the restrained hands from his hips and sank down, groaning in pure pleasure as his mate stretched him open "Remember, nothing can hurt us here."

"Right." Nathan closed his eyes and tried to remember how to breathe, even as a tiny corner of his mind wondered why it felt so different from being inside Rhymar, and just as quickly wrote it off as a combination of species and situation.

"Oh, sweet Bastet ..." Jake shuddered as he arched back, greedily humping his mate With a piercing howl he clamped down and arched, his head down, still as ice "Roll over, fuck me."

With a nod and a deep breath, Nathan rolled with him, only just getting his knees under him before he crushed the tom who now had his legs wrapped firmly around his ribs Not the most graceful of maneuvers, but he couldn't help but be slightly impress that they'd pulled it off.

"Yes," Jake stretched his arms above his head and panted as Nathan began to move "Goddess, yes Fuck me."

Nathan's reply froze in his throat as he felt Jake's mind start to unlock, shooting half a dozen tendrils to wind around their still forming bond And even as it did, the Kat tried to pull back on pure reflex from an entirely different part of his mind, one flared hot in both pain and purpose.

It was the last coherent thought to pass through Nathan's mind as Jake roared, his body spasming as it came and dragged Nathan with him.

"That was intense." Nathan murmured as he regained his breath, playing weakly with the sweat and come soaked fur of his mate's chest and did his best to accept the difference in shape, even as it changed back to the newly familiar tomkat body.

"It was bothering you." Jake rolled to embrace his mate, purring in pure contentment "You really don't care for females, do you?"

"I got a lot of my dad's conditioning, that way." Nathan sighed as Jake stretched with a happy groan, treating each muscle in his lean body to separate attention He couldn't help but smile at the Kat, so pleased by such simple things.

"Mmuurrr," Jake gave voice to his internal pleasure as an outstretched had came in contact with warm, thick, soft fur He closed his eyes and purred deeply as his full focus went to scratching the belly of the creature over his hand, until he felt two good-sized paws land on his ribs and his eyes shot open.

"Murr-at?" The rich brown half feline, half weasel creature twitched its whiskers and looked directly at Jake.

"Who, what?" Nathan raised an eyebrow as the other tom swept the creature into his arms and started shaking, clutching the relaxed, purring animal against his chest and radiating pure joy as he stroked and nuzzled it.

"Erra," Jake rumbled softly as tears trickled down his face, "my baby girl."

Nathan spotted the tears and realized that what he was seeing must be from Jake's past He gently broadcast acceptance and support across the link, as he stroked his mate's hair. "I can tell something happened ... It might help if you talked about it ... and I'm always willing to listen." He offered his fingers to the creature, who sniffed them and promptly turned it's attention back to nuzzling Jake's neck.

Jake bit his lip and buried his nose into Erra's fur, breathing deeply "Everything I am today ... Razor ... and all the rest ... is because of her ... because of what ... what ... happened." His voice became tight as the imagery around them shifted to a dried out grass field under a bright summer sun that was not Aristal's.

"Jake?" Nathan shivered despite the heat at the sense of impending doom that soaked the area in an almost caustic air, and pulled his mate close "What is this place?"

"Just a field." Jake's voice was nearly dead as people and war-machines of all descriptions began to dot the landscape in a sort of freeze-frame The most notable were two male Lions standing right where they were seated, and the lithe, 8ft dragon biped with shackled wings standing in a defensive posture in the middle of the action "Where I lost my innocence."

"Innocence?" Nathan wasn't sure how someone so clearly experienced as the warrior standing defense could possibly still be innocent.

"I didn't survive the first ... when this happened." Jake took a deep breath and looked up at his mate "I'm ... not very sure if I can take it now."

"Nothing can hurt you." Nathan held Jake close, including Erra in the embrace "Remember that."

"Nothing can physically hurt us." He pushed his head against the tiger-tabby's shoulder "No one touched me on this field ...."

"Oh," he let both his hands roam Jake's body in a soothing pattern "If you're not ready ...."

"It's now or never, Nate." Jake closed his eyes and the scene went black and Erra disappeared "I can't go back ... I'm counting on you Bring me through this, or let me go."

"I'll bring us through this." Nathan promised with quiet certainty.

"Promise me, Nate." Jake grabbed his mate's scruff with the strength of desperation "We both know I'll live if you demand it ... I don't want to live broken Promise me you'll let me die if I can't take this."

"I can't ...."

"You let Rhymar go."

"There was nothing ... oh." Nathan swallowed "That serious?"

"No one touched me, but I still didn't walk off this field." Jake whispered "You know what a shattered bond is like Now be the one that ki ..." he shuddered and partially shut down, "just watch."

Nathan froze as things began to move The overall scene remained dark, the people merely blurry objects of roughly the right size and shape with target information -- an actual HUD-like display -- marking them and how, where, and when to strike and move It wasn't even smooth motion, more like a slide show than a movie, with the next target placed where it would be when hit.

He tried not to judge, not to be sick as each killing strike brought a rush as intense a pleasure as any orgasm he could remember Machine or living being, they 'felt' the same in this memory A full telepath on both frequencies, drunk in a precise frenzy of killing for no reason but that it was allowed If there was an antithesis of everything Nathan was, this was it And this was in his mate.

So he saw it coming before his drunk mate-to-be, the smaller target rushing into range, coming from where the Lions still stood, watching Saw it just in time to brace for the agony he knew would come with a violently shattered lifebond, and in time to comprehend at least the basics of why this had ripped Jake's mind apart as the blow landed perfectly, shattering Erra's body, the rush of the kill mixing with the intolerable agony of her death.

Nathan wasn't the least bit surprised that he regained consciousness well before his still sobbing mate, or the pounding headache he had from that final moment of the memory.

He thanked Felsira that he'd taken all the telepath courses, even though he hadn't been one He understood the medical/psychic course of action for dealing with a shattered lifebond, and now he even had the telepathic ability to handle it, even if he didn't have much experience.

As his medical mind handled the easy part, Nathan set himself into handling the difficult part ... the emotional damage caused by what was easily the worst way to have a bond shattered, and left to fester for decades Nathan focused his entire mind on positive emotions, forcing anything the least bit negative behind the strongest shields he had He had lost one lifemate without being able to do anything ... this time, failure was just not an option.

Nathan quickly sent a heartfelt request to Felsira. "*Mother, I think I can do this But if it's beyond me, please don't let him go ... or if that isn't possible ... let me go with him.*"

Felsira managed to hide her shock at Nathan's request "*Kitten, no one is going anywhere Do what you have to I'll see to the rest.*" The gold furred shekat strengthened her shields around the two as a storm of nearly matching intensity built in the outside world as every machine, telepath and bondmate Jake had in the area went frantic trying to find the cause of the scream, and assure themselves without success that the tom was all right.

She sent a quick message to Caito and Keltin "*Do what you can to calm his friends, and be nice about it They will be fine, but this will take a while, and I will not have us interrupted.*" She nodded at their quite assurances and focused to the real task at hand, keeping a careful watch on Jake's mind, ready to do whatever required Nathan could probably handle it, but if he couldn't she would The healer had no intention of losing even one of them, much less both.

As Nathan felt his medical mind performing the closure procedures necessary to allow the shattered bond to become 'memory' as it should, he decided on a course of action; it was risky but the cost of not risking was too high Carefully, gently, radiating all the love he felt for Jake he wound a temporary bond around the shattered one that was generating all the pain For a while, Nathan could make it as though he had been part of the bond in the first place ... since he knew the one thing that reliably allowed survival past a shattered lifebond was the presence of another lifebond ... it was the reason that Felsin tended to Bond in threes The Bond of the two made surviving the death of the one possible, if not pleasant.

While he had understood the theory, he quickly discovered the reality was another matter entirely The surges of grief and guilt were extremely powerful, almost beyond his ability to handle, but he focused on allowing some of that emotional storm to enter him ... become his own ... in that way drawing some of the pain away from his besieged mate.

Nathan breathing became heavy and labored as psychic effort became physically exhausting He released all the safety restrictions on energy use that he knew of Either he had enough strength to save Jake ... or it wouldn't matter.

The Felsin finally found Jake's splintering psyche behind the storm that raged about it and brought his mind as close as he could before reconstructed the blanket of warmth and safety around the two of them As the storm raged about them, he mind-spoke quietly to the sobbing tom. "*Jake, when that happened you were in a frenzy beyond self-control. The frenzy did the killing, not you You've spent a lifetime punishing yourself for a tragedy you had no control over.*"

Nathan tried not to panic as the psychic fracture split completely Still laying, sobbing on the ground, completely incoherent in grief was the gray dragon that had struck the blow Slowly trying to stand to face him, shaky and emotionally numb, was a rainbow feathered avian Around the central pair were others; shadowy, half formed creatures The She-Wolf from earlier was joined by a black on chocolate Felsin female and a creature Nathan could best describe as a merdolphin Notably missing was the Kat he was so familiar with.

"*You do not understand.*" The avian's voice was powerful, reminding Nathan much more of the great predatory raptors than the playful fruit eaters the body resembled.

"*Your good intentions have undone a quarter century of work.*" The Wolf growled as she solified "*We were well along becoming a me again Jake had incorporated much of our past already, even if he wasn't particularly aware of it.*"

The unexpected challenge caused Nathan to shift defensively to the war-form The eight foot tall warrior glared at the unfamiliar presences This was a situation unfamiliar to him but that didn't matter to the war-form He didn't understand what they meant, he only knew that Jake had been barely hang on to sanity, and was now starting to move back from the brink The war-form focused on the one sense that should be able to find Jake in all this chaos, the bond between them He tuned out all distractions and focused the great strength of the war-form on defending and protecting the other end of that bond.

Back in the physical world, Felsira was startled by Nathan's sudden shift to war-form She quickly entered the psychic storm to see what was going on The healer was surprised to find things more chaotic then expected and decided the direct approach was called for, this once.

In the midst of all the shadowy forms, the glowing golden form of the Healer appeared She looked at all the 'others' present, and spoke gently "Your quarter-century of work had already come undone whether you realize it or not Indeed, a year ago all of you would have ceased to exist because of the irresolvable internal conflicts." Felsira scanned gently yet forcefully, for 'Jake' among all the conflict, knowing that because the Wolf had referred to Jake separately he must be there, even if he wasn't visible She gazed across the gathering slowly, and then spoke in voice which was gentle but brooked no dispute "A house divided against itself will not stand; a mind is no more tolerant of such division."

The golden shekat smiled as she realized what the separate presences were, suppressed pasts partitioned into separate realms, but which had forgotten that they were just that ... pasts, memories ... they had begun to believe themselves real The warm healing light of Felsira played across the gathering "In time Jake will deal with you, as he learns to deal with his past ... but for now you will cease to force yourselves into separate existence Be at peace, and let Jake deal with the present ... your time will come to be dealt with ... but it is not now." Felsira's warm voice made it quite clear she was not making a request.

Felsira stroked the fur of the growling war-form as five forms disappeared, leaving an exhausted, unconscious, cinnamon tomkat "Nathan, that form is not needed There is no battle of that sort to be fought Return to your Felsin form, your mate needs you."

Nathan shifted back from the powerful form "Thank you, mother I didn't know how ..."

"Of course not, kitten Though you should understand ... you've had a few separate minds yourself from time to time." She smiled and disappeared as Jake struggled back to consciousness.

"*It's time to forgive yourself, and start living again.*" Nathan knelt and pulled his mate against him "*You are strong enough to survive this, and if you need to; draw strength from me.*"

Nathan continued radiating approval and sympathy trying to help start the healing as the lean tom mewed weakly against him, almost as a hungry kitten with his mother "*Jake, you mentioned my letting Rhymar go ... that was a far different situation I couldn't help him, and there was someone else who I could help ... I reacted as a Medic is trained This is different; I can help you if you'll let me ... and more importantly no one else needs me now ... I am not giving up. *"

"*Chance does.*" Jake's mind-voice was very weak, almost unaware of what he was saying.

Nathan shook his head, stroking the Kat in his lap, encouraged by any level of coherent thought "*Not as a healer, and there are plenty of others who will look after him, there isn't anyone else to help you But don't worry, I made sure Chance would be okay, I even found some people who could protect him from Feral if that was necessary They'll look after him, he's too valuable to them for them not to.*" Nathan smiled quietly. "*But understand Jake, I'm not giving up on either of the two Kats who mean the world to me ... but right now, my priority has to be on looking after my mate.*"

Jake squirmed a little further up the Felsin's body before burying his muzzle in the crook of Nathan's arm, too spent to go any further "*Just don't ask me to face him, okay?*"

"*Not until you're ready, love.*" He helped Jake sit up and smiled when the Kat's nose found its desired spot against his neck "*Nothing before you are ready You have my word, as your BondMate, your LifeMate ... I'll protect you Whatever it takes.*"

"*Why?*" The question was more feeling than word as Jake drifted off despite his best efforts.

"*Because I love you.*" He couldn't help his surprise leaking through with the projected calmness and strength "*Jake, your grief and pain is understandable but destroying yourself because of it accomplishes nothing Mother once told me that when we feel guilt for another's death, the purest way to pay that debt, whether we are truly responsible or not, is to live; to try and replace what we took from the universe Death does not repay guilt, life does.*"

The Felsin tightened his arms around Jake both physically and psychically As his medical mind repaired the last of the damage surrounding the shattered bond, Nathan carefully eased the damaged places in Jake's mind the best he could "*Jake, you are whole if you can believe that; you have just been badly injured Just rest a while, and let our combined strength heal the wounds that you have kept fresh for so long We are together, and we will make it through this. *"

"*Less talk, more sleep.*" There was a touch of humor in the thought before Jake lost his battle with exhaustion.

Physically, Nathan nodded and passed out again, having expended every ounce of strength he had.

Felsira ran her hand across both toms' foreheads; golden energy calming and restoring the memory ravaged pair She looked at the two of them and shook her head sadly "Who'd have imagined two Kats could have so much pain If misery loves company, these two must be positively ecstatic." She sighed and settled on the bed with the unconscious pair, preparing for a very long, and involved, healing processes When she sent an update to the others, she couldn't help but smile at their gratitude, and her own that she didn't have to deal with it Caito was having a royal time trying to get Cathedral to come down from red alert, and the rest weren't taking it much better.

Alexander Maxwell jerked as his mind was assaulted by a lifebond's death-scream from two directions He nearly lost his grip on his assumed form in favor of the Felsin Lion's War-form as the world around him went insane The short gold, black and tan tabby calico took a deep breath and spent a moment placing the fragmented bits of information that came through into a coherent picture he quickly realized he had nowhere close to the rank to get from anyone or anything else that might have a clue at the moment.

The quieter of the two sources was the bigger surprise; it was from, or at least via, the machines around him, even though he was very consciously keeping his 'gift' with them off Mostly it was from the base itself and the AI jets having some kind of impromptu meeting with their crews in the Hanger just on the other side of the common room from his computerized office.

The second, louder source was much more informative, and distressing The old parental bond with Nathan he'd kept open over the years screamed with pain, but it wasn't from the other Felsin, it was through him.

Alex let out a small sigh of relief that his son was all right, then felt his entire body tense as the realization that the only way he could be getting that though Nathan, was if Nathan's lifemate was experiencing it, and through that bond, Nathan himself A scream of pain nearly as breakingly strong after he accounted for the filtering as when Rhymar died.

"Oh, Nate ...." the calico rubbed the bridge of his nose as he tried to figure out what the best course of action was.

Caito groaned as he and Keltin acknowledged Felsira's order.

"Okay, first order of business, who ..." he visibly winced as Cathedral went to red alert, even as the two Black Phoenix Jedi did their best to calm their teammates down, and revive the unconscious black and white tom that was now sprawled limply under Amerith's flexing wing, the jet easily as agitated as her teammates.

"*Hay, Cathedral, he's all right.*" He tried to put his best convincing presence with the tight-band contact. "*Fel's taking care of him.*"

"*So why can't I find him?*" The facility roared back, fully into the warrior fear response.

"*Stand down!*" A new, distinctly female voice slammed through on a broad machine band broadcast. "*I give the orders here. He is not dead Now stand down."

Caito blinked in surprise as the machine bands suddenly went quiet, and easily found the source of the order standing almost stock still in the middle of the room, trembling in her efforts to control what was hers. He watched her for a moment, honestly impressed with this mortal's strength and will before offering her what support he could as she began to relax.

"*Thanks for the support.*" Pakitra looked directly at the individual she couldn't see, but felt easily enough. "*Now, what did we just hear?*"

He blinked, startled for a moment before chuckling. "*Jake just stumbled into a memory of someone very important to him dieing.*"

"*And Jake's silence?*" She tried not to growl as her own concern wore at her temper.

"*Felsira is shielding them, to protect them.*" He explained carefully as best he could. "*They are both in a very ... delicate ... position.*"

Everyone and everything suddenly went still as Jake's mind-voice gave a very tired part growl, part 'shut up', part 'what the hell' noise.

"*Love?*" Pakitra reached along the unfamiliar path, hearing most of the others greet him as well.

"*I'll be fine, just tired.*" Jake grumbled, only half-coherent from exhaustion "*Just calm down, wil'ya?*"

"Catch ...." Pakitra whispered as her legs went out from under her, too spent to stand as Jake disappeared behind the shield again.

"Well, this is turning into quite the interesting day." Caito quipped as he materialized in time to support the shekat.

Chance was startled awake by his own roar, momentarily panicked by the strong arms around him until his disoriented senses placed their owner as Brandy, and that they were in his quarters at Ameliorate He couldn't shake the soul-deep sense of loss and guilt nearly as easily.


The Hyena's concerned voice was in his ear, forcing his attention to the real world and his sweat soaked fur, reeking of fear and pain.

"Chance?" She repeated, shaking him slightly.

"Yah?" He focused hard and looked at her, not believing for a second he'd actual fool her.

"What happened?" She regarded him critically "That was more than just a random nightmare."

"I don't know." He shrugged, then elaborated at her look "I don't remember what it was, honest."

"Want a shower?" She licked his neck gently "I'll change the sheets."

He hesitated for a moment, wondering just how long it would take before he'd respond normally to an interested bedmate, then sighed "A shower does sound good ... though I think I could use some help scrubbing my ... back." He gave a good imitation of his charming grin.

Brandy woofed playfully and grinned back with a lecherous look for his fit body "Your back, sure."

Her first true awareness beyond what she was used to came with an intense flash of pain and loss along the frequency she'd always gotten comfort and assurances from Then it went silent.

"*Razor?*" She made a valiant attempt to do what she'd felt him do so many times, but there was no answer At least none from that familiar voice.

"*TurboKat.*" An unknown voice entered her awareness "*Your pilot and gunner are safe, you can't hear Razor because a healer is shielding him ... to repair damage They will both be fine.*"

"*Where?*" She set in motion the sequence T-Bone always used when they went out,

"*If you'll let me in, I'll show you.*"

She sat for a moment, trying to remember if Razor had done such a thing When no answer came, she opened the cockpit.

"*Thank you, TurboKat.*"

Felsira prepared herself for a more detailed, and intrusive, look into Jake's mind than she cared for, but the last few minutes were not something that could be permitted to happen again As she caressed the pair's hair, she gently sank both into a deep sleep that neither resisted With as much care and caution as she could, she began a systematic trek through Jake's mind, seeking out any other 'surprises' that could prove hazardous.

"Who?" An androgynous, young voice asked softly as she found one of the older memory imprints.

"I am Felsira, a friend, and healer." She turned to face the fully-grown gray dragon, with Erra perched on his shoulder "You can see me?"

"Well, yah." Facetted emerald green eyes regarded the Lioness for a time, then he smiled "You're the one that stopped the Shattering from happening again, aren't you?"

"If you mean that mess after reliving her death, yes." She nodded at the sleek creature peering at her from under the Dragon's blue-gray mane.

"Yes, that." He shivered, wrapping his wings around him and clutching Erra to his shoulder "Why have you come here?"

"I'm making sure there are no more nasty, dangerous surprises like that for Jake and Nathan to run into." She stepped up and offered her fingers to Erra, who sniffed them cautiously "I will not loose them."

"You've got your work cut out for you then." He started to phase out with a sad sigh "Erra's death was probably the most traumatic, but it's hardly the only time reality has nearly broken me."

"Wait." Felsira asked softly, bringing them back to solid form "Will you help me? You know this mind better than I do I'd prefer to touch as little as possible."

The dragon thought for a moment and nodded "I was named V'Feri when I first awoke."

Felsira nodded and smiled at him, offering Erra a scratch on the head, earning a small purr from the beast "You have a darling daughter, V'Feri."

"She's quite something." He beamed unabashedly as he scratched Erra's back "I don't care that Rachel gave her to me as a lesson, she was my reason for coming back here for a long time."

"Gave her to you?" Felsira raised an eyebrow in true curiosity "I thought she was your child."

"She is, in a lot of ways." V'Feri chuckled with a bit of a smirk *But I didn't sire or give birth to her Rachel thought I was too disconnected with my 'maternal' instincts to perform several mission types, so she gave me this fragile, nameless little lump of fur and sharp points with a bad temper and ordered me to raise it properly Erra became my first, and so far only, true lifebond, even if she has barely above animal intelligence." He shrugged and grinned, nuzzling the creature in question "They were pretty upset about that, but there's not a hell of a lot to do, since neither of us wanted to break it, and I already had a bit of a rep for tearing threats apart without a lot of provocation."

"What is she?"

"Mmm, she's a genetic creation, sort of like me." He shrugged "I think they referred to her as a weasel-cat Based off a couple creatures from planet Earth But you wanted to deal with our serious traumas, and that's a long trip with a lot of stops."

"Please, lead the way then." She bowed him forward as the scenery changed to a luxurious briefing room.

"First, I think you need to understand the nature of this mind." He smiled gently at her curious look "Last time you were here, you guessed wrong If you are going to heal the damage life has done, you must understand what we are, and what I am not." He motioned her to a comfortable seat and settled next to her as Erra jumped down to the table and proceeded to walk around like she owned the place.

"Please feel free to tell me to fast forward if I hit a section you already know." V'Feri flicked his wrist and a holofield activated above the table, a four pointed star with two DNA helix crossed in the middle "This is the insignia of Project V.F.E.R.I.; the Variable Form Enforcement Recon Intelligence project, and how I came into existence.

"Their mission was rather complicated, and not at all prone to success The basics were to create a life form that would serve as a self-contained, loyal, shape and culture shifting, all purpose protection, search, rescue and destroy unit." He chuckled "And if you think that's a mouthful, try making it happen."

"I can imagine." She nodded for him to continue.

"Combined total, we've seen about two hundred and fifty years, and as far as anyone's figured out, I'm immortal for most practical purposes."

"Immortal? And why do you keep shifting between 'we' and 'I'?" She absently stroked Erra as the creature pressed against her hand.

"I'm immortal because of how aging works, and the rather unique biology that allows me to shape-shift." He brought up a DNA display "You see, I don't shift like your Felsin, or most shifters do, for that matter I rewrite my actual genetic structure to my new form, actually becoming a member of the species, right down to the brain chemistry Because of this, my cells do not have a 'stop reproducing' mechanism, as during a shift, they are all replaced, sometimes several times."

He settled his chin on interlaced fingers "And that leads into the 'I' and 'we' business." He smiled slightly "You see, for very long missions, and ones where the personality or thinking patterns are radically different from my own, part of the shifting process is the creation of a 'personality' that is suited to the body and mission Those 'personalities' become part of me, but always retain a level of separateness that is tied to the form they were created for If we ever manage to become a whole, that separateness will disappear, though like old skills, most of them can be recalled and faked fairly well under the right circumstances."

"Interesting way to go about things." She regarded V'Feri for a moment, trying to formulate the right way to ask, without severely pissing him off "Who will form the basis for this single self?"

"Jake," he stretched and sighed, "We created him as a very unformed self so he could grow up and become his own person, have a real life, rather than a mission built personally; and to absorb each of us, and the truth about himself, as he could He's actually come a very long way, though I'm sure it doesn't look like it at the moment."

"You're right, he doesn't look like he's come far."

"Part of that is because of circumstances we couldn't control His early years were unfortunately very counterproductive to becoming a happy individual." V'Feri rubbed the bridge of his nose between faceted eyes "The reality of what he is, by simple virtue of what we are, honestly doesn't help any either It's hard to have a calm, introspective, happy life when you're driven to protect and explore, with some very aggressive instincts."

"Now that is something I understand all too well." Felsira rolled her eyes.

"Nathan?" He chuckled as Erra crawled into his lap for more attention.

"Among others." She smiled wistfully "I understand the distinction between what is happening with you and what I originally thought."

"Good," V'Feri breathed an honest sigh of relief "Now, would you prefer to start with the state of his existing bonds, or the memories that haven't been recovered from?"

"The bonds, definitely."

"Interesting way to think about it." Felsira took in the communications center like room that was Jake's perception of his bonds.

"He grew up around elite non-telepaths and the high technology for a planet-bound society." V'Feri shrugged "It makes sense, in an odd way Especially with how he uses them."

"He doesn't understand the full capabilities of his Bonds?" She arched an eyebrow at the Dragon.

"Not even close, for all he has several dozen of varying strengths and is quite comfortable with what he uses them for." He concentrated for a moment and information regarding each link appeared next to its tube as a glowing digital readout "I do like a couple things he did with imagery, especially the varying thickness for the strength and brightness indicating usage, and the positioning indicating age an importance, as well as how often they're used."

Felsira made a quick circuit of the room, taking in the overall structure and content "It's a bit convoluted, but considering what I know of Jake's upbringing, it does make sense." She gently tested the strongest bond present, and the only one that was currently glowing, the one with Nathan "At least it's doing well, but it's so different from the rest."

"Well, yes." V'Feri watched her "It's a lifebond with a telepath that has his own opinions of what one should be." He walked over and touched one of the stronger bonds "Most that he did by himself, like this one with Amerith, are working bonds, for lack of a better description Even the one with Felina is only a variant on that." He met golden eyes squarely "Remember, because of what happened with Erra, he's not really capable of forming a true lifebond without significant help But one of the side effects of how I was healed means he's naturally resistant to anything that resembles what Erra and I shared Even if he doesn't understand, anything that too closely resembles my lifebond will make him very uncomfortable."

"That's why he's 'coating' the lifebond with Nathan with his own 'kind' of working bond." She murmured in something akin to amazement as she studied the structure a little more "All things considered, he's amazingly resilient, and creative."

"Jake is a survivor, Felsira." V'Feri spoke softly "That is one thing all of us have in common We survive That will make your job difficult, we've learned to resist change we do not instigate."

"I'll keep that in mind." She nodded, grateful at least part of Jake's mind was this willing to talk to her as she began to examine other bonds For all that they were configured strangely, in a pattern that did have more inherent weaknesses, but also produced less trauma when broken, most were in good shape The strongest ones; Amerith and Patrik Celest far outstripping the strength of any others, until she found a mangled looking, but very strong, bond pushed to the back.

"That would be Chance Furlong," V'Feri informed her as she looked for the information every other bond carried, that wasn't there "It's what happens when everything goes wrong trying to lifebond, and there is no one to help, or heal." He shook his head sadly "Though it has kept the tabby alive for the last couple years."

"Jake won't kill him for fear of shattering that." Felsira murmured "I've never seen one in such bad shape."

"Love twisted to resentment, hurt, and what will be hatred, given time." He came a little closer, but was leery of the bond himself "Though it's in better shape that it might have been Nathan's helped a lot, even if he doesn't realize it So has Felina, for that matter."

"The one with Pakitra is older, but in better shape." She prompted, hoping for a clue As far as she understood it, the tom's relationship with both Kats was very similar.

"She's female." V'Feri shrugged, elaborating at the look he got "Jake had a very bad experience the first time he had sex with a female, who was Pakitra, by the way He's avoided being the top for intercourse for the most part, since It probably saved their relationship, at least on his side."

"One experience caused that much of an aversion?"

"Yes, though it wasn't as ... simple ... as that." V'Feri fidgeted.

"When is it ever?" Felsira sighed, her ears flicked down in displeasure "What else went wrong?"

"It was his first bonding, and he panicked completely when he felt her gain access to his mind through their mutual TechnoMagic gifts, that neither had any training with." V'Feri regarded the Healer with a critical eye "He started as a nearly blank sheet, but by the time he was thirteen and this happened, he'd assimilated quite a bit from us Not the least of which was a very high level of paranoia when it comes to protecting his mental space."

"I see." She regarded the mangled bond with Chance and shook her head as she began to wrap muting energies around it "This is going to be difficult to repair."

"You can't just dissolve it? Make it go away?" V'Feri asked hopefully.

"That would make things much worse, not better." She replied in her most authoritive Healer's voice, more than a little horrified at the concept "The near-death feedback of breaking the bond like that would do a lot of damage to both psyches, plus the danger of Nathan's sentinel link to Chance turning into a full-fledged Bond."

"Okay, okay, you've made your point." He backed off with hands raised "I was just wondering Life would be much simpler without it."

"I understand, but that is just not an option." She stared at V'Feri hard for a moment, before turning her attention back to buffering the mangled bond "And even I can not heal it until they are on better terms Their relationship must be improved and their major conflicts resolved before this can be dealt with."

"*Who?*" A low growl drew their attention to a sleepy eyed and very displeased large cinnamon tomcat.

"Just me, Jake I let her in." V'Feri calmly walked up to the irate cat and scratched it's ears while it stared at the Lioness "Felsira's doing some damage control, is all."

"*Your watch?*" The cat shifted its gaze to the dragon.

"*My watch, Jake Go back to sleep, I'll keep her out of where she doesn't belong.*" V'Feri .

With a low woofing growl Jake the cat turned away.

"Wait a moment, Jake." Felsira bowed slightly as he turned his head to glare at her "You're friends are quiet worried about you." She paused as he gave each link a hard look, his confusion growing.

"Nothing incoming." He stared her down.

"I've shielded your mind from it." She took a step back as the cat growled and crouched, ready to attack "It was hurting you, and Nathan."

"Unshield." He demanded, and let out a mixed howl of 'shut up' and 'what the hell' as his bonds flared to life, all of them agitated, and concerned He growled, sending a wave of energy up each link when the cacophony settled slightly "*I'll be fine, just tired Just calm down, wil'ya.*"

Felsira watched the tom's subconscious walk away as she reasserted the shields when the muted acceptance and thanks died had down "He doesn't relax much, does he?"

"He doesn't relax, ever." V'Feri corrected "That's part of the problem No one to trust that much."

"I've done what I can here, for now." Felsira turned to her guide with a nearly fatalistic determination "Now, let's see to those traumas."

Jake opened his eyes, slightly surprise to be in the physical world until he met Felsira's hesitant golden gaze, and knowledge of what had happened while he slept flooded in.

"I am sorry for not directly asking your permission first," she began before he could say anything, "but both you and Nathan were in real danger if I ...."

"It's okay." He interrupted her quietly, stroking his mate's rumpled hair before carefully unbraiding it.

"You're not angry with me?" She watched him in real surprise.

"No." He didn't look at her as he finger combed Nathan's hair out "I can't be angry about anything that will spare him that much pain." He glanced up, knowing she'd see the truth behind his soothing words; no, he wasn't angry, but he still felt betrayed for now "Let him sleep, Felsira He doesn't need to feel this yet You mean too much to him."

"It wouldn't hurt you to rest a little more, either." She hoped she wasn't pushing her luck.

"I'll rest when my body and soul stop screaming for this Bond." He shifted to lay half on top of the tiger-tabby and closed his eyes, seeking the place they'd been together.

Nathan stood facing a darkened archway; behind him was a huge library stretching out of sight in every direction As faced the archway, a chill ran up his spine causing him to shiver noticeably Involuntarily, he turned away from the darkness.

"What is it, Nate?" Jake asked from slightly behind his mate.

"My greatest mask is the darkness in my own mind All the hidden places blocked from me by others Somewhere in there is the rest of the real me, but I've never been able to face what might be in there A good friend once offered to open the doors for me, but I figured that I'd lived that long without the memories ... why look for trouble But I'm tired of not knowing who, or even what I really am And more importantly, I don't want anything else coming out of the darkness to cause trouble for us."

Nathan turned and looked at Jake "You deserve to know the real me, not just this comfortable fiction I've been showing everyone for as long as I can remember. "

Jake regarded the darkness, noting far too many flickering shapes he couldn't pin down for his comfort "You have any idea what's in there?"

The tiger-tabby sighed "My kittenhood, whatever it was, should be in there somewhere, since I've never have been able to remember most of it But I somehow doubt it will be anything pleasant Aside from that, I'm not sure I really don't know how much I've forgotten due to the decisions of others."

"Do you intend to explore it all?" He hesitated a moment, "with me?"

Nathan looked at Jake "I've spent too much of my life avoiding it, and just for once I'd like to know who I really am beyond the illusions I've created to be acceptable to others."

The tiger-tabby sighed "It's taken me my entire life to be able to tell anyone else anything about my father, and I still haven't really said much ... it was always easier to be the son of one of the planet's leading surgeons than the son of the Felsin who gave new definitions to the word, 'assassin'."

"What's so bad about having a premiere assassin for a father?" Jake's uncertainty and unease showed in his voice and stance.

Nathan shrugged "To me ... nothing I loved my father, I still do I've always admired his professionalism and his skill ... even when I was trying to deny it to myself It was other people that had the problem, nobody would talk about my real father except in hushed, frightened tones My adopted mother gave me icy stares if I even mentioned his name, and my adopted father always looked disappointed I got tired of being an outcast because of who I was ... if I just went along with the program and said Doctor Solgardin was my father, people were nice to me Being a teenager is tough enough, being an outcast is worse ... I've never been a slow learner ... I learned to adapt and to be who I was supposed to be."

Nathan sighed deeply "I'm a healer, I've committed my life to healing and the preservation of life, but I'm not naive I know that sometimes black ops is the best way to deal with things The people I consider my real family were all black ops, elite Special Forces and I loved them all, I still do No, what my father was doesn't bother me ... I just got tired of fighting the whole damned world."

Nathan looked off in the distance "In a way, I'm trying to be what my father wanted me to be He didn't want me to be what he was; he was afraid that I'd end up being used by the same people who used him for so long The inhibitions my mother gave me against killing were his idea, not hers He felt it might make them leave me alone."

Nathan edged closer to the darkness trying to see beyond it somehow "In a sense, I'm discarding several masks here: the mask of heritage, the pretense I've maintained for so long; the mask of solitude, which I spent most of my life hiding my emotions behind; and the one that frightens me the most ... the mask of the unknown, the mask that others put on me to keep me from knowing things they felt it better for me not to know."

Jake looked at him, confused. "I understand two of those, but solitude through emotionless? You're been pretty high strung the last year."

The tiger-tabby smiled "I've been very unsettled for the last year I was grieving for Rhy and trying to deal with the shattered remnants of my bond with him But part of the problem was that Felsin are very much umm ... group oriented ... we almost always function in groups, even our best solo operatives are part of a group that's supporting them We become very 'uncomfortable' when we don't have a group we're sure of, especially if there aren't any other Felsin around I'd never been anywhere before where there weren't other Felsin, I was having trouble adjusting Losing the Corps was almost as hard as losing Rhy, because the Corps had become my 'family' more or less."
He sighed quietly "I was trying to rebuild everything I lost ... and was feeling pretty lost I guess it came out as high-strung."

Nathan nodded sadly "For most of my life, I had no real emotions ... I had the professional caring and so forth required by a physician, because that was duty and responsibility But personally, there was nothing for a very long time ... what others usually thought of me was cold, distant and standoffish. And they were right, till Rhymar came along He was the first to break through my self-imposed exile because he felt I was worth the effort."

"I'm glad he did." Jake scratched his mate's cheek "Even if you did almost give me a heart attack every time you came out with us."

Nathan smiled "So am I, and I'm sorry about the excessive enthusiasm ... it's been a long time since I've felt the need to prove myself to anyone I've spent most of my life just trying to live up to my reputation."

Nathan sighed, as gentle tears rolled down his cheeks "I probably would have returned to that exile except for one thing ... by the time I recovered from the shock of his death, which took weeks, I realized something ... I'd fallen in love with you." The Felsin paused a little "It took me a long time to admit it to myself ... almost too long At first, I felt guilty because I'd barely grieved for Rhy and I'd already fallen in love again When I wasn't feeling guilty, I tried my best to hide my feelings because I didn't think my interest in you was good for the team I could see there were problems between you and Chance, and I didn't want to risk being another That's the way Medics usually approach things; the good of the team is always more important."

"That much I understand." Jake looked away "I almost killed the Kat I love for the good of the team."

Nathan shook his head "You asked a perfectly simple question, and I started rambling Seems to be the norm for me lately ... you're the third person I've done it to this weekend.

"To answer your question: Yes I intend to explore it, and with you is the only way I want to do it. If it wasn't for my love for you, I probably wouldn't bother After all, I'm not very good at doing things just for my own sake ... I'm always too busy looking after everyone else."

"I've heard that complaint before." Jake chuckled "Tends to make for good teammates."

Nathan grinned "That it does, but as a Corps superior reminded me repeatedly; everyone needs to look out for their own interests once in a while ... that was part of the yearly speech which preceded him placing me on 'medical' leave for two weeks ... the only way I ever went on vacation until Rhy came into my life."

Nathan stepped to the edge of the darkness "I'll explain things the best I can, but much of this will be new to me as well." He offered his hand to Jake. "You said darkness doesn't bother you, care to take a look at mine?"

Jake smiled almost playfully "I would be pleased to look with you."

It was only with great difficulty that Nathan refrained from jumping as the shadowy shapes swooped and dove around him and Jake as they walked through the cavernous darkness Their footsteps echoed distantly in the murky blackness.

Jake tried to make out just what the shapes were but they were amorphous and hard to see against the darkness, even to his sight He had to keep reminding himself that this wasn't real darkness, but the darkness of his mate's mind "Nate, do you know what these shadows are?"

Nathan nodded uncertainly "I believe they're memories vying for my attention, but I can't see any of them clearly yet They should become clearer beyond the third mask."

Despite the shadowy darkness Jake was able to make out that his mate's form kept changing; tiger, war-form, Felsin Sometimes the forms had wings, and sometimes they didn't; sometimes Nathan's normal coloration and sometimes a dark black fur "Nate, are you all right? Your form's a little unstable."

The winged Felsin nodded. "It's a representation of the fact that I'm not sure who or what I am these days I used to know, but recent events showed me that there was a lot that I just didn't know and I haven't had a chance to figure myself out." He caught the shadow of wings and nodded "The wings are the pilot in me coming to the surface again I've always loved to fly, but its not often required of me The Exo-Frame was my compromise between my love of flight, and my duty as a Medic." He looked at Jake "I never mentioned my pilot background because I felt it best for the unit that SWAT only have one pilot, besides I'm a distant second to Chance."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that." Jake sighed at the look he got for it "Nathan, think about it Chance has flown almost every day for the last twenty years, most of it in the last ten under combat conditions Of course he's going to be better at it than you, just like he's better than I am, but you may have noticed I still fly the TurboKat when I need to If you love to fly, you should fly."

Nathan smiled "Thanks, Jake Truthfully though, I've got a pretty good feel for my potential and I could be better than I am ... but there's a difference in raw talent." Nathan chuckled quietly "Funny thing is, back home there are a lot of pilots better than me, but there aren't nearly as many as versatile I've lost track of all the things I'm qualified on, but I've never encountered anything I couldn't fly, including space fighters and some of the weirdest experimental craft."

The tiger-tabby chuckled "I was one of the few Medics who actually received flight pay, and I drove my superiors nuts by keeping my wings doing test piloting for Shadowbox." Nathan grinned impishly "There were advantages to being one of the best medics in the Corps ... I was too good to let go, so they had to put up with my eccentricities."

After a few minutes, the shifting stopped and Nathan's settled into his war-form with black on reddish-brown coloration and large, leathery gray wings The gray wings were very much reminiscent of the Gargoyles, especially when Nathan folded them back in the same cloak-like manner.

Nathan shook his head "Enough delay Time to move forward." He started walking at a brisk pace, forcing Jake to hurry a bit to keep up with the longer strides of his 8'+ tall mate.

Then there was a sudden flash of sunlight and Jake found himself in freefall Above him was a clear blue sky, though obviously not Aristal since the sun was a bit too large. Below him was a dense bank of clouds, or maybe fog.

Before his long abandoned emergency shifting reflex could kick in, the lean tom heard a rush of wings nearby, and suddenly strong, reddish furred arms caught him, and cradled him close Though the form wasn't familiar, the scent was very clearly Nathan.

"Nothing to fear, love I wouldn't let you come to any harm, even if it was possible in here ... which it isn't." Nathan said in a strong voice, deeper than normal.

"Nate, where are we? I mean aside from this being what I assume is your homeworld."

Nathan chuckled "Good guess, Jake Specifically we're high over the SnowMist Mountain range on the Northern Continent Below us is Lake Maxwell, our destination." Nathan shifted into a moderately steep dive.

Jake could smell the happiness and exhilaration in his mate's scent "You really do enjoy flying, don't you? You should have said something I could have done something."

As the fog streamed by, Nathan nodded "Yes, I do. And what I should have said isn't really important ... it's the past We have enough in the present and future to concern us now."

"I guess." Jake murmured, watching the sky and approaching ground with a gunner's eye as Nathan set down, and let him to the damp, mossy ground He didn't hesitate to follow as Nathan led the way through the thick ground fog The air was heavy with forest scents clearly identifying it as an evergreen forest In the distance he could hear the sounds of various wildlife As he was about to ask where they were going, the fog cleared revealing a large, clear mountain lake surrounded by trees with a large wooden building nearby.

There was a peacefulness about this place that Jake found appealing "Nate, this is nice but it hardly seems dark or secret."

Nathan smiled "It is nice, and it's the one place that has remained my definition of 'home' for as long as I can remember I was born here, and lived here for a while with my parents and my father's unit It's a hidden refuge that my 'family' came to after they 'retired' from the service of the shadow government."

Nathan's smiled saddened "It's also where many of my secrets begin, specially the ones involving the truth about who my parents are, who I am and what that all means Of all the masks this is the easiest to let go, so I thought it best to start here."

As they crossed the open field toward the building, Jake spotted a large commotion near the lake's edge As they got closer, he realized that the commotion was a group of eight Felsin in war-form apparently fighting over possession of something he couldn't see He pointed it out to Nathan "What's going on over there?"

The winged tabby smiled "That would be one of the most feared commando groups in Felsin history playing a game that Rifleman learned on Earth ... rugby I believe it's called."

Jake noted that the war-forms were quite varied as to coloration and build There was a black lion, a white tiger, a pair of cheetahs close enough in appearance to be twins, a tiger, a snow leopard, a jaguar and a lynx The variety made the 'rugby' game a swirling mass of color as the competition to control whatever it was, was very intense.

Suddenly, one of cheetah twins went tumbling into the lake, and the rest of the group broke up laughing, and Nathan chuckled "Don't let the adolescent behavior fool you, the NightBlades are deadly serious when on a mission, but they're anything but any other time In a way, that group of combat equipped teenagers are my 'uncles' They were also my playmates until I was about five."

Jake looked around "No other kits?"

Nathan nodded "There was just me, and I wasn't supposed to have happened Of course, being the only kit meant I tended to get spoiled rotten." Nathan grinned "It did make dealing with other kits difficult when I finally met some ... I thought everybody could take the punishment my uncles could ... I tended to play a bit rough."

He headed closer to the cabin were a muscular, black-furred Felsin tom, and a petite black on dark red tiger shekat could be seen cuddling under a tree A ways off, but within sight a small black on reddish tiger kit stalked the tail of a small male lion who was pretending not to notice.

"Is the little one you, Nate? I thought you couldn't shift till recently?"

The winged tiger-tabby nodded "Actually, I'd forgotten about this When I was very little; before I turned two, I actually couldn't do the Felsin form It happens occasionally with kits whose parents are both metamorphs, it's self-correcting and harmless But I was actually born a tiger; a tiger with the awareness of a much older kit I'm not sure why but I was born closer to five or six years old mentally, this made being a tiger a lot of fun since tigers figure out the walking and running thing much faster than normal kits."

"But by two or so, I was able to switch between forms and by the time I turned three I couldn't shift from Felsin at all I was kind of disappointed, but my family was good at distracting me when something upset me."

Jake studied the group "I guess the couple is your parents, but who's the lion? That's another shapeshifter, right?"

Nathan smiled "Actually, all three are my biological parents The black furred tom is Ebon SwiftClaw, the assassin I mentioned and the tom I always thought was my father until recently The tigress is Nareena Moonstone, my mother and a very powerful healer and telepath The lion is, indeed, a shapeshifter; Cazimir Sunfire, one of the best cyberwizards in local space and whom I only recently discovered ... is my second biological father Actually, all three are shapeshifters: my mother has a tiger form similar to mine, though smaller because she's female Ebon has, I think, at least three additional forms, maybe more."

Nathan looked at Cazimir "In a lot of ways, Cazi is really responsible for me being here He was the one who got my father interested in my mother; Cazi and Ebon had been mates for some time before Cazi met Nareena Cazi also provided the genetic material necessary to make my mother's genetic material compatible with my father's My mother's family had been practicing controlled marriages and planned breeding for so long, it was difficult for them to successfully reproduce with anyone outside a limited circle." Nathan nodded at the group, and sighed "That's something I've never really told anyone before, people don't understand the concept of more than two bio-parents, not really And, of course admitting to being the son of one of the super-soldiers is a good way to see people back away."

Nathan looked over his shoulder at the game that had resumed "Actually, Cazi's wasn't part of the NightBlades originally; he was just my father's mate But he was a talented spy and computer espionage expert in his own right Under his handle, Cypher, he was one of the few to manage to hack into Shadowbox's mainframe ... and the only one not to get caught." Nathan realized Shadowbox probably wasn't really that informative "A comparable feat would be somebody hacking, say ... Cathedral."

"Oh," Jake studied the Lion more closely before turning back to Nathan "Is he a TechnoMage, like me?"

Nathan thought about it "I'm not sure, he never used that term, but some of what he did was beyond what anybody else thought possible ... and computer systems always 'behaved better' for him than for most others As far as anybody knows, he's the only one to ever figure out how to create memory crystals that work properly."

Nathan smiled quietly "The memory crystals are a very complicated combination of nano-circuitry and telepathic impression They're how I've learned a lot of what I know about myself Every so often, one of them will activate and deliver a message Of course, there are really only two people who know about them, outside of myself."

"Cazi and your mother?" Jake hazarded a guess, smiling when Nathan nodded.

Then the scene suddenly shifted to broad marble steps leading up to a white mansion with classic architecture Every line and curve, every bush and tree simply radiated tradition and duty Jake spotted Nareena and a fairly young Nathan coming up the steps At the top of the steps an older dark tan lion Felsin waited, disapproval was obvious both on his face and in his stance Jake nudged his mate. "Nathan, who's that?"

Nathan thought for a moment, and then an expression of pain crossed his face "That's Anton Moonstone, patriarch of the Moonstone clan and my mother's father This place is Moonstone Manor, hereditary home of the Moonstone clan for over twenty generations."

Jake looked around "Wow, your family does go back a ways."

Nathan shook his head "Not my family, not really."

Nareena reached the top of the steps "Greetings, father I would like to introduce your grand...."

The lion cut her off with an angry gesture "Nareena, have you no shame? It was bad enough that you disgraced the family by Bonding to that ... that freak, but now to shove the evidence of your perversity in the face of family and tradition This is too much to be forgiven, Nareena Take your abomination and yourself and leave this estate, and do not return ... you are no longer welcome here." The lion angrily turned his back and stormed back into the mansion.

Young Nathan stood looking confused, as tears began to well "Mama, what's an abomination?" He didn't know the word, but he didn't like the sound.

Nareena knelt down and brushed the tears from his cheeks "Nate, don't worry about it They are merely angry words from a disappointed old tom, one day he may regret them But don't let them hurt you, you are special and some people don't understand." She stood up, and took his small hand in hers "It's time to return home, there's no reason to stay."

As the pair walked down the long marble pathway from the mansion, Ebon stepped quietly from behind a tree "I hate to say I told you so, but I said this was a mistake."

Nareena jumped "Ebon, how ... never mind how, but why? If you'd been seen ...."

Ebon bent down and picked up young Nathan, who put his arms around his father's neck "'Reena, you were taking our son into a place I was sure wouldn't appreciate him, of course I followed to be sure nothing happened As for being seen, it hasn't happened yet." He brushed his son's unruly red hair back "Nate, don't let that old man's small-minded words bother you ... you're part of the NightBlades, that's all that matters, right?"

The little tiger-tabby looked at his father, as serious as only a four year old can get "Yes, sir father." He grinned "Can we go home now? It's boring here."

The assassin chuckled. "Of course, little buddy." He held his hand out to his mate "Coming, dear?"

The tigress looked back toward the main house, quiet tears on her cheeks "Yes, of course There's nothing left here."

As the group walked out of sight, Jake turned to see Nathan wiping tears from his face. "Nate, are you all right?"

"I'd forgotten about that visit, forgotten how much it hurt Strange how the words of a complete stranger can hurt so much But what hurt the most was seeing my mother's tears that day; she'd gone there with such hope of healing the rift with her father, only to be turned away from everything she'd ever known." Nathan sobbed quietly "That's really when I started to hide who I was, I learned that others don't approve of or like what's different ... and I didn't want to feel that pain again, and I didn't want to see my mother cry again."

The scene shifted back to the lakeside, where the entire group was gathered around a large picnic table, obviously celebrating the kit's birthday The mood was infectiously happy, and Nathan smiled wistfully as his younger self soaked up the loving attention from the group.

Nathan smiled fondly at the group "I really wish I'd been able to get to know them better They were all brilliant experts in such diverse fields, there was so much I could have learned Unfortunately, they all died not long after I turned five I lost everyone who understood and approved of who and what I was Most importantly, I lost everyone I loved and who loved me."

There was slight shift and they were watching the camp from a hill some distance away Night had fallen, and the flashes of energy weapons could be seen in the clearing below Nathan spoke softly and with great sadness "That was the darkness night of my life, and in a way it was the beginning of all the secrets that would come after."

There was a sudden bright explosion and everything went dark, leaving Jake and Nathan standing in the amorphous shadows of Nathan's memories once again.

"Can you tell me if it was worth it?" Jake kept his voice very low, uncertain of his right to speak this, but too desperate for the answer not too.

"If what was worth it?" Nathan regarded him in true confusion.

"Was having them worth loosing them?" He looked into the darkness, not focused on anything.

Nathan was silent for a moment He'd never even considered that question before He nodded sadly "If you mean, was having them worth the pain of losing them? Yes, it was."

Nathan looked off in the darkness, missing the flash of pain across his mate's face "Much of who I am is from what they showed me in those brief years My father's quiet but unyielding commitment to family and friends has gotten me through some of the worst times, because I try to be as strong as I remember him being He never backed down or gave up when it came to protecting those he chose to care about; it's an example I've tried to follow as best I can And sometimes I truly envy the icy calm with which he could handle anything ... it didn't matter what happened nothing ever shook him."

The tiger-tabby's voice became softer "My mother has always been my guiding light, my inspiration as a healer ... maybe one day, I'll be as talented as she was ... but till then I keep trying. In her way, she was as strong as my father ... a calm, spiritual strength that never wavered She could calm even the most agitated of the commandos from frenzy ... I'm still trying to figure how to control my own."

The winged-tabby looked at Jake "But if nothing else made the pain worth it; it was the technique that my mother showed me that made you safe that would make all the pain worth it." A few quiet tears ran down the Felsin's cheeks "I'll always miss them, but I'd rather have the pain, then to not have had them."

"I'm not sure that was the answer you were looking for, but it's the best I can do."

"It's what I was asking about." Jake nodded easily "Shall we continue?"

Nathan gave his mate a long look before nodding.

Jake followed as Nathan headed down a corridor in the murky darkness He still couldn't make anything out but somehow it didn't seem quite as dark as before The lean tom noticed that his mate had changed from the winged to form to his more familiar Felsin one.

After long silent minutes they reached a large silvery door with an elaborate security panel next to it Nathan hesitated at the door, and looked somewhat baffled at the security panel.

Jake noticed the tiger-tabby's confusion "Something wrong?"

Nathan looked back at his mate "I'm not sure who I'm supposed to be to open this door."

"Nate, I'm not sure what you mean Do you know what's behind the door?"

Nathan nodded "The truth about what I am A truth I haven't known very long, and that I'm still not sure how to deal with."

"Nate, you don't need to do this You already showed me ...."

Nathan interrupted "I showed you who my family was, and to a certain extent who I am by extension But who I am is a different issue from what I am." He sighed deeply "I can accept who, I'm still not sure about what."

Jake was both worried and a little annoyed "Would you stop beating yourself up? It can't be that bad."

The Felsin sighed resignedly. "Easily said, Jake Easily said." He turned to the door and put his hand on the security pad.

An androgynous voice came from the door. "State Identity for Security Protocol."

"Colonel Nathan SolGardin, Galactic Alliance Medic Corps."


"Advanced Genetic Design Laboratories"


"Matrix 0 Design Group, Code Name: Proteus."



"Secondary Access Code?"

Nathan paused for a moment, not remembering there even being a Secondary Access Code Then he shrugged and went with the first thing that came to mind "Cathedral."

There was a pause, and then the sound of locks unbolting The security door slid open revealing a dimly lit corridor beyond "Colonel Nathan SolGardin: Access Granted and Welcome back to Proteus." The computer voice said in a strangely friendly fashion.

As they walked through the dimly lit corridor, Jake thought it seemed strangely familiar and yet alien at the same time When Nathan stopped at an intersection, seemingly confused he decided to ask "Nate, what is this place? It seems like Cathedral, but doesn't at the same time."

Nathan turned and looked the smaller tom "It isn't really anywhere that exists It's a sort of a merge of Cathedral and the AGDL It's not surprising that it doesn't seem 'right', after all even if it were supposed to be Cathedral exactly ... it would be missing the chatter you get from the base itself ... since that isn't part of how I perceive Cathedral."

"Okay, but why Cathedral at all? It can't be that important to you."

The tiger-tabby smiled "Well, it is that important ... now But actually, it has to do with the fact that it was at Cathedral that I really discovered what I am The techniques I learned at Proteus, but it was in the Cathedral labs that I made the discovery."

"What discovery?"

"Easier to show, than to tell." He looked around "Oh, there it is I knew it couldn't be that far." He walked into a nearby lab.

Jake followed him in; as he looked around the cinnamon tom recognized the layout as being Cathedral, but much of the equipment wasn't In fact, the equipment was significantly more advanced then Cathedral's He guessed this was probably another merger of the two facilities.

Nathan was seated at one of the computer stations As he typed four expanded double helices appeared in the large holographic array in the center of the room "The top three DNA patterns are Ebon, Nareena and Cazimir respectively The bottom DNA pattern is a genetic analysis I ran of myself Sunday afternoon."

Jake nodded, regarding the display blankly "Okay, so where's the problem?"

The Felsin sighed "The problem is that over 80% of my genetic code is identical to my father's It's not that I merely share traits with my father, but 4/5 of the genetic programming that made him a galactic-class assassin is part of me The genetically programmed skills, reflexes and responses are all there At the most fundamental level, I'm as much an assassin as my father was." He finally looked up and noted his mate's expression "Something wrong?"

"Not really," he shrugged, "I don't understand genetics." He held up a hand when Nathan opened his mouth "I can't understand genetics." He corrected himself, shaking his head "I've tried, but every time I just glaze over, even when it's mine, and important."

"What do you understand about it?" Nathan asked cautiously.

"Mmm, I know it defines a lot about a person ... the basis for heredity And I can memorize patterns very easily That's about as far as I ever got."

"You can memorize DNA patterns?" Nathan raised an eyebrow "But not understand what they are?"

"Urr, yah." Jake looked away "I could reproduce all four patterns you showed me, but they don't mean much beyond name association right now."

"How can you change ...."

"Probably the same way you created the power armor's plans for your team." Jake actually chuckled.

"But that's not my field." Nathan protested "I could understand ...."

"Nate, just take my word for this one, okay?" Jake put a restraining hand on his mate's shoulder "I can memorize them, associate the pattern with the end result if I'm told it, and reproduce it exactly, but the extent of my ability to deal with genetics Now, you were going to tell me what the other 20% of yours is."

Nathan sighed quietly "Mostly my mother, with some small traits from Cazimir Mostly things like coloration and apparently psi-talent What I got from Cazimir is still unclear, since I don't understand his code very well ... there are some unfamiliar elements."

The tiger-tabby's shoulders drooped "I used to be sure who and what I was But now I can't be sure ... am I some sort of sleeper weapon without even knowing it? The ultimate concealed weapon, an assassin pretending to be healer ... what a perfect cover." He put his head in his hands "What a perfect fraud I am Felsira only knows what I've done that's hidden behind these mental blocks I've committed my life to healing and saving lives, but blessed Mother ... how many lives have I taken and I don't even know it?"

"What does it matter?" Jake set himself on his mate's lap and accepted the incredulous look he got for the statement "I may have been pretty well out of it, and I can't say I'm real sure of what set it off, but I still caught that bit about the purest way to repay the guilt of death is with life; that whether we are truly responsible or not, to replace what we took from the universe."

"That's different." Nathan growled, slightly disconcerted as Jake's presence on his lap turned affectionate.

"Yes, you've actually saved lives, directly." He nuzzled Nathan's neck insistently, breath quickening as he focused on his mate "I've caused more death and destruction than I'll ever be able to heal, even if I had your gifts."

The Felsin's first reaction was his usual to try to ignore being allowed mistakes, but for once it just didn't work Felsira had told him the same thing on several occasions, but for reasons Nathan didn't feel like figuring out this time he actually listened He absently stroked his mate's fur "Maybe I am making more out of this than I should Guess it was just a bit much for me to try and face alone Thanks for pulling me out of that downward spiral, Jake." He looked at the fading lights on the consoles "I guess self-doubt has been part of my life for so long, I don't even realize when I'm doing it."

Nathan looked at the broken mask lying on the ground "Well, that was the easy one I actually wanted to talk about that The other two won't be so simple." He urged Jake to his feet and stood, the lean tom pulled close as the background changed again "But first, I think I owe you dinner and a dance."

"Hur?" Jake blinked at the otherwise empty ballroom that spoke of military traditions, and the feel of a dress uniforms on him and his mate as Nathan gently lead them in a slow waltz to music from nowhere.

"It may not have worked out to do this before we started The Joining in the physical world, but that's no reason for me to neglect to court you, even if it's in here, and a bit out of order." He chuckled as Jake's gaze covered what he could see from so close "It's the dress uniform of an Alliance Medical Corps Coronal."

"Oh," he slid back to check out his mate's tailored white and gold uniform and caught a look at himself as well "Mind telling me what I'm dressed as?"

"Well, I guess I'd call it a SWAT Kats dress uniform." He chuckled and let Jake take the lead as the music changed to modern slow dance from MegaKat City "I couldn't think of anything else appropriate."

Jake quirked a smile and made a few alternation to the dark blue and crimson uniform "Black Phoenix Dress Blues They've never been worn, but we did design them for the eventuality." His voice trailed off.


"I'm going to miss them." He dropped his eyes, moving more by reflex than anything.

"There's no reason for you ...."

"Not for you, I know But I'm tired of fighting, Nate." He looked up into worried green eyes "And more to the point, I'll have changed so much by the time this Joining is over, I don't ... whoever and whatever I am when we're Bonded, it won't be the Kat that earned their trust I can already see that."

"Isn't that a choice for them to make?" Nathan pulled Jake close, disturbed for a reason he couldn't name.

"Not when I can't know myself," he whispered, shaking "Nathan, please ...."

He closed his eyes and nodded, unable to take the silent, desperate plea from his mate "*Jake, I'll support any choice you make, please believe that.*" The silence before Jake nodded and smiled slightly made him want to die then and there "*You are the most important thing in my life, Jake Clawson.*"

"Jake SolGardin-Swiftclaw." He corrected, his head resting on Nathan's shoulder.

Nathan kept in step without thinking for a long moment as the music lost any attachment to known scores "Clawson-Swiftclaw." He spoke softly as the music became more and more alien, though still beautiful, and soothingly romantic.

"Jake and Nathan ThuaFaren." Jake offered back, chuckling at his mate's bewildered look "Literally, Claw-Swift-Son." He turned serious "We're both aliens, Nate, no matter how comfortable we've made ourselves here or anywhere else; and very much only what we make of ourselves, why not acknowledge it in this small way?"

Nathan thought about it for a long moment before realizing how much sense it made Neither of them with any strong attachment to any existing tradition, why not create something new? He smiled, and kissed Jake tenderly as the music picked up slightly "ThuaFaren I think I like the sound of it And you're right; we are both what we make of ourselves Something I think we both need to remember more often."

"What do you want to make of yourself?" Jake asked softly.

Nathan thought about that for a long moment For as long as he could remember, he had never questioned that he was Medic and always would be, but now he wasn't sure what made sense He decided maybe the truth was the best place to start "I've been a Medic all my life, and I've never thought beyond it I guess that's because I never felt a need to, I always knew who I was, where I was going and was pretty sure what was coming next The next promotion, next assignment ... that sort of thing There was no uncertainty, every was planned and ordered neatly."

His eyes became somewhat distant "But I've never thought of life outside the military because I've never really had one It was easy to say what I'd make of myself, when the path was clear and charted Aside from what's happening now between us, I'm not sure of much It's a question I should be able to answer, but this is the first time I've ever thought about it."

"I seem to be doing that to you a lot." Jake murmured as he molded his body a little closer to his mate.

"They're important questions." Nathan sighed "I just don't really have a good answer for you I know what I was, but I'm not sure about 'will be' ... I'm not even sure where to begin Up until now, I did everything with a focus on the unit, and 'the mission'. Everything I did, everything I was, was decided with those two things in mind I'm not sure what comes next now, and I think that frightens me a little."

Nathan chuckled quietly "It's ironic isn't it? I can handle complex surgery without pause, complex medical problems without a second thought and any combat situation without blinking; but when it comes to what do I want to make of myself ... I freeze."

The Felsin paused for a moment. "I don't think I have an easy or quick answer to this one. But there has to be something beyond the battle lines, doesn't there?" There were equal amounts of hope and confusion in his eyes and voice.

"I hope so." Jake refused to look up "But I don't know if fate, or our souls, will let us near it for long."

He looked at his mate. "I think I just managed to turn 'I don't know' into a thesis dissertation In all seriousness though, have you answered that question for yourself?"

"I want a family, a place and mate I don't have to live a lie with." He answered quietly "Beyond that, that's why I asked you We're both easily employable anywhere, and have the skills to survive anywhere we aren't employable." He hesitated before continuing "Some of my choices will be determined by how many of my working bonds survive our Joining, and how those who knew me feel about the changes The rest ... I think are yours.

Nathan looked down at the lean tom in his arms and smiled gently "A family, a place ... those are things I can truly understand wanting since I've missed both for a long time, and together we can find them for both of us And by the time we're finished with the Joining, living a lie won't be necessary for either of us."

Jake shivered "No more hiding ...."

"Kind of a scary thought, isn't it?" Nathan smiled reassuringly and gently held his mate close when Jake started to pull away in a near panic, shattering their surroundings into a dimly lit, high-tech complex "Shu, love I won't hurt you." He moved one hand from the shaking tom's back to caress Jake's face as the tom struggled "*I could never hurt you, Jake.*"

"Let me go." There was no force behind the cinnamon tom's words, but a desperation and nearly consuming fear was.

"*I swear, I could never hurt you, love.*" Nathan watched in confusion as his mate backed away, readying to bolt "*Whatever this is, we will face it together.*"

"*No,*" the lean Kat froze, shaking his head sharply, "*no, I won't risk you too.*"

"*Jake! Wait!*" Nathan ran after his mate, but lost any trace of him within paces He stood in the strange hallway, casting about for any sign of the tom before shifting his focus to his bond with the Triad "*Mother, I think I have a problem.*"

Felsira's soothing voice came back to him. "*Stay calm Nathan I'll have to 'find' him, and see what's wrong; but it'll be easier to do if you aren't panicking as well.*"

"*Of course, Mother.*" The Felsin was completely frustrated ... every time, things seemed to going well they fell apart And worst thing was, Nathan was helpless to do anything about it Figuring that everywhere was really the same place, he just started walking, disregarding the current scenario.

He wasn't entirely surprised when he found himself back by shores of Lake Maxwell He walked over to the tree where his parents were sitting "I wish you were really here, I don't know what to do I've never even heard of this many problems happening in one Joining Wouldn't be so bad, but there's nothing I can do, but wait for Felsira to fix whatever's gone wrong this time."

He sat down under the tree next to Cazimir "What I'm afraid of is that one of these times, even Fel won't be able fix the problem ... and I'll lose him I couldn't take that, I just couldn't." Pained tears began running down his cheeks "Nothing I can do but wait Well, if this can't be fixed ... saves me the trouble of trying to figure out what to make of myself Won't have to make anything at all." Tired, and completely frustrated he shifted into tiger-form, curled up under the tree, ready to sleep this latest problem out.

"*Nathan ...*"

Jake's uncertain mind voice pulled the tiger to his feet in an instant, and the sight of a lean, dark cinnamon cat, one smaller than any feline form Nathan had ever seen, held the Felsin stock still.

"*I'm sorry.*" Jake the cat ducked his forebody down and rolled his head as far to one side as he could, exposing his throat to the stunned tiger as he inched forward.

"*Jake, what happened? Are you all right?*" Nathan's mind-voice was full of compassion and concern, and an unspoken undertone of wanting to help but not even being sure how to ask.

"*I don't know.*" The cinnamon tom replied miserably, shaking in place "*I ... just ... panicked.*" He whimpered softly "*I don't know if I can do this, Nathan But I know I need to.*" He inched closer "*What happens if I can't ....*"

Nathan paused for a brief moment, and centered himself concentrating on being completely positive and supportive "*If you need to, then we will find a way.*" His mind-voice contained no indication that failure was possible "*If we can't by ourselves, we still have Mother's help ... and she will find a way to make things right It may not be easy, but we will find a way I won't let anything happen to you.*" He looked squarely at his mate "*I know you can do this, I believe in you Believe in yourself. We will get through this together.*"

Nathan projected out across his bond with the Triad "*Mother, something's wrong with Jake, he's panicking again ... I thought we got past that I'm too inexperienced to handle this ... and I'm too close.*"

He lay back down with his head near Jake as the cat slowly settled his haunches and edged as close to the tiger as he could "*Mother will fix this I, know she will ... she has to We just have to wait for her, no pressure Please ... don't run again.*" The tiger was torn in how to behave because he was afraid to scare his mate away again.

"*I don't want to run.*" Jake fought to make sense of his own conflicting desires "*I didn't then either.*" He shivered again, deep in the core of himself "*I just couldn't ... there's something there I have to face alone.*"

Jake growled in pure frustration, his body vibrating in tension "*No lying, Clawson No lying!*" The snarl was matched by the lashing movement of body as he lunged to his feet and paced "*No lying.*"

The cinnamon cat's body suddenly flowed into a good approximation of the Felsin War-form and faced Nathan squarely from about thirty feet away "Fight me."

"What?" He just stared, stunned.

"Fight me." The war-beast repeated in frustration "I need this To know what you're capable of."

Nathan stood up into Felsin form and looked at the war-form. "This is insane, you know There is no point to physical confrontation in this realm As for knowing what I'm capable of, there's no way for me to unleash my war-form that way against you, I can't."

Nathan sighed in resignation "Jake, this pointless violence is contrary to everything I believe in I can't fight for the sake of fighting, I only take the path of violence when there is no other way to protect and preserve life." He stood still, looking at Jake "I don't pretend to understand what is going on, but it doesn't matter Do as you need to, but I will remain true to who I am." Nathan said, wondering just how much this was going to hurt "I'm sorry, Jake But I said no more lies, and I meant it To engage in this fight would be as big a lie as any."

He stood stock still, waiting calmly "But understand, this insanity does not change the fact that I love you, and always will."

"I would like to hate you for that." Jake's frustrated voice clearly came from a Kat's throat He sighed in defeat, but didn't move, just held himself and watched the Felsin "I hoped you'd let me understand what you can do, here, where no one can actually get hurt I ... it hurts to treat you as an inferior, you know I know you aren't, but I can't let that guard down until I've tasted my own blood on your claws Until you've proven to some archaic part of my mind, that you're as safe in your own hands as you are in mine."

Jake sighed and shook it off, walking up to his mate His hand stopped half way to Nathan's shoulder, uncertain of it's welcome "I know it's insane, and irrational, but it's what I am." He met emerald eyes with frustrated affection and admiration "You're probably stronger than I am, you know, to your beliefs I can only hope you don't eventually resent me for mine."

Nathan sighed, this was difficult "Jake, the problem is in the fact that I barely understand the war-form ... I've only had that power for a matter of days It really only exists in frenzy, and that frenzy is directed at one Kat ... and you're not him."

The Felsin putted his hand on Jake's shoulder without hesitation "As long you can live with what you believe then you don't need to worry about my resenting it." He sighed and looked at his mate. "Is this combat really that important to you? There may be a way, but it's important for me to be sure that this is important to you and not just some moment of insanity." Hw watched Jake's reaction carefully "*As my father once pointed out, sometimes you have to push the limits of who you are for the people who truly matter to you.*" Nathan's mind-voice was resolute and patient.

Jake looked away "Have you ever noticed my taste in lovers and mates? What they all had in common ... the ones I trusted, felt comfortable around."

"Not really." Nathan could only shrug, confused "It's not something I ever thought about, again."

"They're all fighters." Jake spoke softly "Chance, Felina, Pat, Sheir But you and Patrik ... he's tried, but he can't put me on my back, hasn't bloodied me." He cast a sideway glance at his lifemate-to-be "And I treat him differently than the others He's as fine a pilot as any on the plant, and he's good at taking care of himself He needs my protection about as much as Chance does, but ... somehow it doesn't matter I treat both of you like rookies because you haven't bloodied me, and I hate myself for it Because you deserve better." He paused for a wistful moment "It's why I never pursued Callie I couldn't even ask her to fight me, much less take it seriously."

Jake finally met Nathan's glaze, caressing the tiger tabby's cheek with the back of his fingers "Yes, it's that important to me to fight you, and it's that important to me that you don't turn your back on who you've chosen to be so bravely." Jake shook his head "There is no clean answer I want to trust you with your own safety, but I never want you to betray who you are, especially not for me."

The tiger-tabby faced his mate squarely "I don't have to betray who I am for this The way you first asked I wasn't sure what was going on, I certainly wasn't sure if you were sure I had to know why you wanted this."

"I've never had to ask before." Jake grumbled "You're the first that hasn't started the fight before I hit this point."

Nathan smiled hesitantly "I'm trained to understand and deal with cultures quite different from my own, with their varying customs and ways This wouldn't be the first time I fought to prove myself, and the previous times were to people who weren't as important to me.

"I said that I avoid violence unless it's necessary You need this to feel that we're equals, and it's important to you that you feel we're equals, so that makes it necessary I don't fight meaningless battles, but this is clearly not meaningless."

The tiger-tabby stepped back and looked into the sky He sent a strong message along a barely remembered, rarely used path "*Okay, Xander You said you could get me past the blocks if I wanted to I need this one out of my way.*"

A moment later a glowing of ring of fire appeared nearby. A strong male voice came from glowing heart of the circle "You sure about this, Nathan? You've never handled the full combat capabilities of the war-form."

Nathan growled slightly "Yes, Xander, I'm sure."

The voice chuckled. "As you wish." The voice changed to an even deeper, more powerful voice. "Phoenix flame and Luna's light unlock this one's long hidden might." There was a burst of silver flame from the circle of fire that engulfed Nathan, making it appear for a moment that he was on fire.

As the fire died out, Xander spoke "Well, hope this is really what you want Don't forget to ask if you need help with the rest So, Soron's playing games here too huh? Goliath really ought to keep better track of his boyfriend." The voice faded to nothingness as the circle vanished.

As Lake Maxwell vanished and was replaced by an ancient arena, Nathan's form slowly shifted into the midnight black furred war-form. As the transformation completed the eight and half foot tall warrior roared Internally, all the programmed reflexes connected to the long dormant commando training as the war-form prepared for combat Nathan looked at his mate with intense yellow-green eyes "Still want that fight, Jake?" He asked in a much deeper voice than his normal.

Jake didn't speak, but sank into an extended crouch with a slow nod, presenting a long, shifting profile to his opponent He reached deep inside and switched off the safety restraints he'd abided by for centuries and let himself settle into his first form, the gray skinned Dragon, bringing lifetimes worth of experience on line with it.

Neither moved for a long, tense moment as they assessed each other.

Nathan clearly had a weight advantage, though not height.

Jake could fly.

Visible natural weapons were reasonably well matched.

Reflexes, training, speed and strength were all untested, though Nathan likely had at least a small strength advantage, and Jake had training and experience.

Neither saw an easy victory.

Inside the WarKat's mind there was a careful shifting of control, as Nathan backed away from the coming battle as NightClaw took over As the dragon took to the sky, NightClaw reviewed what he knew of flyers in combat Experience and training indicated that normally flyers try to avoid sustained close combat, as they usually aren't as strong as a committed ground fighter.

NightClaw knew that it would be tactically unwise to allow the enemy to dictate the terms of the battle; he needed to bring the dragon to ground ... the sooner the better At the edge of peripheral vision, he saw the ruins of the seats of the arena, categorized them as makeshift missile weapons, and sprinted for the bleachers.

Jake saw the WarKat bolt for the side of the arena and swooped to take advantage of the opening offered At the last moment, NightClaw heard the approaching wings and rolled swiftly to one side to avoid the attack As he did he felt talons catch the outside of his right arm, and though they only just barely drew blood, the scratches burned like hellfire He lashed in that direction hoping to catch the Dragon, but only caught air as the flier was already gone, only to strike from the opposite direction too fast to be possible Talons dug deep into NightClaw's leg, nearly hamstringing him, before the flash of gray soared skyside.

NightClaw examined the injuries as he moved, assessing them as superficial despite the pain Neither hampered his movement extensively, though the leg wound could if he wasn't careful, and the blood loss would not be significant He recognized the effects of a mild caustic or toxin, and added a note to avoid those claws more than usual Even though it wasn't that dangerous, it hurt.

NightClaw turned his attention to the bleachers, and ripped out roughly spear-like pieces Carrying his improvised arsenal under one arm he leapt back to the arena floor, and hurled one of vicious implements skyward, aiming for the Dragon's beating wings as it circled, readying for another dive.

Jake twisted in an attempt to catch the projectile, figuring he could just as easily hurl it back, but found the strength behind it at this range was more than he could counter and let go, sending him spinning He easily righted himself and dodged the additional missiles thrown by the WarKat, but was blindsided by the bolt of electricity which came up alongside the last projectile.

NightClaw watched the Dragon tumble, estimated where he would hit ground and ran to intercept his downed opponent He was extremely annoyed when the flier righted himself awkwardly and returned to sky, out of reach of both claw and bolt, recovering quickly The WarKat added 'resilient' to his growing assessment of the Dragon's capabilities.

Jake shook his head to clear the shock from being struck by lightning, as he stayed, he hoped, out of range The lightning bolt had not been something he'd thought his opponent capable of, and cursed himself for not being more careful with an unknown He knew better Even Jake knew better.

Within a single heartbeat Jake assessed his opponent's options, the SWAT Kat's Gunner slipping easily into V'Feri's mind to add a specialist's view Rumbling with pleasure deep in his chest the Dragon began a spiraling dive, hoping his opponent would miscalculate his final speed and position, as he had no intention of pulling out normally.

NightClaw crouched as the Dragon gathered speed, instinctively calculating where he'd need to be to avoid the strike, and to take advantage of having his opponent within claw range.

The blurs of gray and black met, howled in pain and separated before Felsira could blink She shook her head and sighed, muttering something about warriors under her breath as the pair assessed the results.

NightClaw felt his vision go red in the mixture of toxin and broken bone induced pain cascaded through his brain Three broken ribs, four more cracked, and long gashes deep into his side and another across his face.

On the other side of the area, Jake righted himself with one wide, gray wing bent unnaturally, its membrane torn and oozing scarlet blood to the dusty floor.

The WarKat didn't even think as he rushed the downed flyer, stunned as it launched skyward at the last second, and sharp teeth delivered a crunching bite to the top of his muzzle before escaping But not before he scored another clawstrike to Dragon's shoulder.

The pain of the toxin reminded NightClaw that he knew about such things, and their antidotes Quickly, he estimated how long he figured this fight would last, and drew off some the energy reserve to allow his body to counter the internal effects of the toxin He couldn't prevent it from hurting like hell, but he could keep it from impairing his combat-worthiness any more than that His metabolism increased, and his body began to regenerate properly ... too slow to seriously affect the outcome of this fight, but any edge was worth having.

NightClaw's eyes went bright glowing red as the WarKat entered frenzy, despite Nathan's desperate attempts to prevent it As the frenzy surged a blood-red haze formed around the WarKat, just before he vanished.

Jake looked around trying to quickly locate the suddenly missing WarKat, just barely keeping himself in the air with only one good wing The missing WarKat was quickly relocated as the 400 pound snarling warrior slammed into the Dragon ... from above The velocity of impact was sufficient to momentarily stun Jake.

As the swirling blur of black and gray hurtled into the ground, Felsira winced reflexively She knew they couldn't do any permanent damage, but it still looked painful.

The Dragon attempted to pull out, but discovered that the WarKat was deliberately fouling his wings, and doing a serious amount of damage in the process Jake managed to slash into NightClaw's legs drawing both blood and a howl of pain from the massive creature By some miracle, the Dragon managed to turn the tumble at just the right moment so the WarKat ended up on the bottom as they hit ground.

NightClaw woofed as most of the breath was knocked out him by the high speed impact, fortunately the plasma fire had temporarily reinforced his skeletal system minimizing any further broken bones, however he wasn't so sure that there wasn't additional internal damage Jake slashed into NightClaw, seeking to pull away, but the WarKat sank his teeth deep into the already badly damaged wing.

With a keen of agony Jake twisted, power crackling deep purple around his right hand as he struck down, shattering bone and slicing through heavy leather as he severed his useless left wing, surrendering it to the WarKat as he put some real distance, and elevation, between them, settling on top of the ruins and desperately tried to catch his breath.

With a grimace of pain Jake turned inside for a moment, reconstructing himself ... and the attempted the impossible.

Ebon Swiftclaw overlaid Ashley Terell ... patters of life, power, knowledge Blindly matched, dissected, parts chosen over others ... implemented A risk too great to take and accepted anyway as one of the deepest parts of the Dragon's mind cracked, surrendering to survival's need.

Across the arena, NightClaw found his feet, impressed with his opponent's willingness to accept injury over capture as he dropped the still quivering wing A sudden keen of agony brought his focus to his target, and even the frenzied WarKat blinked in surprise as a midnight black Felsin War-form hit the ground with a thud As muscles moved experimentally, even blacker markings of a King Cheetah showed across the hermaphrodite's heavily muscled body.

NightClaw watched as the enemy became more powerful before his eyes The frenzied WarKat didn't understand how this was possible, but that lost importance as the bloodrage deepened and took complete hold NightClaw's reason clouded mind concluded that there was only one explanation ... this was the demon he'd been hunting, though the quiet part of his mind had restrained him to attend to other things.

But now he understood why the quiet one had asked him to fight this enemy, this was the one living being that the quiet one was willing to kill, because of what it had done to the pilot He didn't understand how it was here, or why, but that didn't matter. The Feral-demon was here and NightClaw would kill it .... no, the demon was becoming too powerful NightClaw sank to the deepest level of bloodrage, and Marauder emerged.

Jake watched in surprise as the WarKat suddenly gained over two feet in height, and probably another 100 lbs in solid muscle mass Blood red energy crackled across Marauder's body, and dripped like blood from the saber-like claws.

Marauder turned his glowing red-eyes to face his enemy "Now Feral-demon, Marauder will make an end of you You can not hide from Marauder." He proclaimed in a deep, thunderous voice.

Deep inside, Nathan frantically fought with NightClaw to regain control, terrified by whatever had just emerged This was not supposed to be happening, it wasn't supposed to go this far Worse yet he didn't know who or what Marauder was, besides insanely dangerous, and after his mate.

Felsira watched the various transformations, and then looked in horror at Marauder She wasn't sure how that had come into being, but she had to make sure it remained a construct of mind only "*Keltin, here now! Something is going terribly wrong, and it may take the both of us to fix it.*"

Jake let lifetimes of experience, and the gifts of his new body, wash over him as he once again found himself the weaker in the contest He sank into a defensive crouch, preparing for the bloody onslaught he saw facing him and actually chuckled "Then come, Marauder You can not defeat me in my own Protectorate."

Suddenly, Nathan's mind-voice projected across the link to the Triad. "*Not necessary, Mother I can handle it.*" His voice was unnaturally calm, and stronger than usual.

"*Are you sure, Nathan?*" Felsira mind-voice was both doubtful, and concerned.

"*Yes, Mother.*"

"*Very well, but be careful.*"

Both combatants noticed a figure in white and gold approaching from the far side of the arena As it approach, they both realized that it was Nathan in Felsin form, wearing the white and gold dress uniform of the Medic Corps A silver-white light radiated from him, but was nowhere near as noticeable as the sheer force of will behind it.

He walked up a small set of risers near Jake that brought him to eye level with his mate's new form and stared the warrior directly in the eyes "Well, I told you there was a reason I don't like the war-form Now you see what it is Well, he's not supposed to be involved so you just stay put while I uninvolved him." The tone of his voice was complete command, no hint of request or suggestion.

As he started back down the risers he turned back to his mate "And I mean it, just stay there Don't cross me on this one, Jake, or I'll just have to finish this fight myself ... and you really don't want me to do that."

He walked over to Marauder, leapt up and hovered in mid-air so he was eye-to-eye with the giant WarKat and glowered at the big warrior "Now listen close, Marauder I realize that thinking is not your strong suit, but that," he pointed at Jake. "is NOT Feral, it is Jake And you make one move toward him, and I'll take you out myself. Do I make myself perfectly, crystal clear?"

Much to Jake's surprise the giant actually nodded submissively.

"Good." Nathan nodded "Now, one more thing ... GET THE HELL OUT OF MY BODY!" The mental force behind the shout caused ripples in the landscape of the arena, and the giant disappeared, leaving only a rather shaky NightClaw.

Nathan floated down to be eye-level with NightClaw "Now let's try that again, without any stupid leaps of logic, shall we? You're supposed to be the combat expert, but one more sign of that sort of stupidity and I'll just have to do this myself." He glared at the WarKat until NightClaw acquiesced.

Nathan leapt acrobatically to the ground, and headed to the exit from the arena As he passed Jake, he looked the new form up and down "Interesting form, love Combat effective I'm sure, but aesthetically ... I just don't know See you after you finish this, at least that had better be the next time ... 'cause if I have straighten things out again, it's not going to be a pretty sight." He grinned mischievously as he headed off.

"Nathan, wait." Jake looked between the two versions of his mate "There's more than one of you?"

"Hmmm. Physically, no Mentally, that's a little more complicated." Nathan said as he sat down on a fallen log, that hadn't been there before His clothes had changed to gray and gold military fatigues.

"There's really two different answers to that question, and both of them are right The first is that Medics are trained to separate their emotional/personal mind from their professional mind when necessary The most common reason being when they have to treat someone close to them, separating the two allows them to maintain the objectivity necessary for proper treatment There are other reasons, but its not supposed to be done for very long or very often."

The tiger-tabby sighed "I probably use the technique far too often, but its hard for me not to For most of my life, I was only my professional mind since my emotional mind had 'died' when I was quite young It took someone who cared enough to reach past the walls and illusions to bring the two parts of my mind back together."

Nathan looked off in the distance "I probably spent almost six weeks emotionally comatose after Rhymar died while I tried to figure things out I've only done it briefly since then, when I had to."

The Felsin looked across at the WarKat who was still watching Jake warily "As for him, he's necessary because of all the mental blocks I have He can access all the genetic programming, as well as the years of extensive commando training that's in here," He tapped his head. "somewhere Maybe one day he won't be necessary, but for now he is ... besides he can do things I won't He really shouldn't be so 'separate, he should be just a sort of functional set of instincts, which he probably would be if I didn't have the mental blocks and was more comfortable with the war-form."

Nathan sighed "Marauder is an aberration, he definitely shouldn't exist The best way to explain him, is that he's a manifestation of the anger and rage I felt over what happened to Chance Eventually, he'll fade away but I don't know how long that'll take."

The tiger-tabby looked at the ground "He's part of the reason I went to Cathedral Sunday instead of going on shift at the Hospital. It would have only taken one accidental encounter for all hell to have broken loose."

Nathan looked over at the tiger sitting at the opposite end of the log. "He's purely instinctive, really only exists because he understands being a tiger better than I do He's only separate if I became mentally overwhelmed while in tiger form ... it doesn't last."

Nathan looked at his mate. "I think there may be one more personality, but I've never seen him I think he was me in the time periods I can't remember ... but I'm not sure I'll have a better idea once the mental blocks are gone." He smiled at Jake "Important thing is ... I'm the one in charge, and when I give orders they obey ... well ... sometimes I have to shout."

A small stick flew through the air just past Nathan, who snap drew the laser blade from his side and neatly sliced it up He looked down at the ground He chuckled. "Well, Dang. Only six pieces ... supposed to be seven Ah well, I'm not really in the right frame of mind for those exercises anyway." He extinguished the blade, and clipped it back to the belt on his uniform.

He grinned at his increasingly disturbed mate. "So, any other questions? Or would you like to finish now?"

Jake cast a glance between Nathan and NightClaw before taking a deep breath "You can call him, and that form, anytime you're in trouble?"

Nathan rolled his eyes and nodded.

"What do I look like?" He hesitated "I remember doing something very stupid ... and you said ... aesthetically questionable."

Nathan looked at his mate and shrugged, bringing up a large mirrored surface for Jake to see himself in "I said it's no doubt a very effective war-form, I just didn't know about the look of it much Too female."

"I actually did it." There was a mixture of awe and disbelief in Jake's voice at he stared at himself, eyes wide "How in the world ...."

"What did you do that's special?" Nathan took a closer look at his mate's form An impressive black hermaphrodite WarKat, much what he'd expected Jake's would look like, really, much like his father ... but with the markings of a King Cheetah in a slightly darker black.

"I mixed patters to get this, Nate." He rumbled, fascinated by his reflection "No one showed me this one It's part Ebon, part Ashley I needed both their abilities to win ..." he turned bright green eyes on his mate "I just did something I can't do."

Nathan smiled "It's amazing what we discover under stress Shapeshifting used to be something I couldn't do, and the war-form was not only something I couldn't, it was something I shouldn't have done." He looked at Jake's warform closer "Well, on second appraisal it's actually fairly attractive." He raised his eyebrow in mock irritation and shook his head, laughing "But borrowing my father, to beat me, now that's rather tacky Jake."

"I didn't have many choices." Jake growled defensively "That," he waved at his mate's war-form, "is damn good at its job."

"I'm sure father'd approve, actually." Nathan laughed broadly "He'd probably find it quite amusing." The tiger-tabby thought a moment "In all likelihood you probably could do it all along, you were just blocked from knowing you could do it Probably because somebody felt you'd be too dangerous, if you knew you had that kind of flexibility."

Jake nodded "I was dangerous before ... this ... with a little training and experimentation, I'd be nearly unstoppable." He stopped dead in the thought and closed his eyes, slowly shifting back to his Kat form, injuries and all "I'd be back on the front lines, for good."

"We can make a home there too, you know." Nathan cupped Jake's face "As long as we're together But whether you go back to the front lines or not, is a decision only you can make; I'll support you no matter what you decide."

"But it's no place for kits, or peace." He whispered, leaning into the touch.

"True," Nathan sighed, "it's not." He looked carefully at the naked tom standing before him, assessing both damage and stance "Are you done fighting with me?"

"I seem to remember you drawing a good deal more than just blood Something about a missing wing." He looked up into gentle green eyes and smiled "You've quite proven me wrong."

"But you want something more." He regarded Jake curiously Nathan's jaw went lax as realization hit "You find the violence sexy?"

"Intoxicating." Jake's breath caught in his throat as he found himself on his back, pinned under a midnight black WarKat, jaws closing on his neck He shivered once before his battered body surrendered, offering himself without reservation to the warrior who'd bettered him.

Nathan took in the heady mix of his own latent combat induced adrenalin and the submissive arousal of the bloody tom under him He slid his fingers along a deep gash in Jake's side, soaking his fur in his mate's blood and lifted them to the Kat's mouth, even as he healed the wounds it came from.

"Your blood, on my claws." Nathan shivered as Jake played his rough tongue along the offered fingers, then suckled them, washing all trace of violence from a single digit.

"My blood, your victory, my love." Jake breathed, his eyes half-lidded in desire "*Complete the circle, Nathan-NightClaw Pain to pleasure Blood to life Claim what is yours, and only yours.*"

Nathan closed his eyes for a second and tried to remember how to breath properly as his mate's newly won trust washed over him, along with a not-to-subtle sense of what the temperamental Kat was hoping for He rumbled deep in his chest, honestly aroused by the disturbing imagery of domination and aggression behind the mating.

"I'm very glad no one else will see this." Nathan growled as he bent to kiss his prisoner, suddenly realizing just how much bigger he was than the Kat as it sank in that he could easily take Jake's entire head between his jaws.

For his part, Jake only mewed in anticipation as he was positioned, his ass in the air, tail willingly arched over his sloping back as his wrists were pinned so far forward it brought his chest to the dusty ground With a last bit of coherentness he shackled his wrists in place and bound his thighs to the ground behind him, effectively removing any option he had of movement, even if the WarKat looming possessively over him let go.

"Ready?" Nathan whispered in his mate's ear He growled lustfully when the tom begged without words for the offered sexual punishment and allowed the desires his mate's images generated loose on the helpless tom, thrusting hard in a rut as all encompassing as any bloodlust.

Nathan held Jake close against his chest, playing light fingers gently through the other tom's sweat, blood and semen soaked fur, and marveled at how calm the Kat was Even asleep, passed out from exhaustion, Jake kept his hiding shields in place, but now, all but a couple were gone.

"*What happened?*" Nathan murmured between their minds.

"*Bonding ... trust.*" Jake absently strung the concepts together; relaxed on a level he wasn't used to "*The bond was completed ... you're so much stronger than I am, I can finally relax, let my guard down.*" He purred and rolled to snuggle into his mate in the blood soaked dust "*You'll protect me while I rest.*"

"*Always.*" Nathan pulled the Kat a little tighter against him and nuzzled his hair "*I will never let anything hurt you Not in here, and not out there.*"

"*I know.*" Jake whispered as his eyes closed "*Look around if you like, just let me rest for a while It been too long.*"

"*Yes, it's been far too long.*" Nathan shifted them to the bed in his apartment, and clean "*Rest, love I'll keep this watch.*" He allowed his mind to drift over Jake's as the tom rested, and wondered at the openness of it Of the hundreds of tightly held memory and thought shields he knew of, only a handful were left to bar his casual investigation.

"Did that fight mean that much to you, love?" Nathan murmured, knowing Jake couldn't hear him "Or did I do something else that allowed you to trust me so? Even I can tell you've never let your guard down nearly this far, never truly rested."

Nathan puttered in the kitchen; the familiar action allowing his mind to quietly sort through and place his memories of the last four days while Jake slept peacefully At the same time he kept a watchful eye on his mate through one of his sentinels, an interesting talent he had discovered he had It had taken some thought before Nathan had decided that a quiet, casual dinner would probably be a good change of pace for both of them.

Nathan paused the time around the kitchen while he stepped to the balcony to set the environment for dinner He looked at the 'real' balcony to his apartment and shook his head The balcony view of MegaKat City was quickly replaced by a lofty view from a castle terrace into a stony valley that glittered with reflected light.

The table for two set on the terrace was slightly more formal with candles, in candle holders of black and clear crystal Everything else was chosen with an emphasis on a casual and relaxed environment, rather than a formal one Nathan chuckled to himself "The last attempt at a formal event turned into bloodsport, better to try something different."

He started back toward the kitchen when his sentinel told him Jake was beginning to stir Leaving the kitchen 'paused' he headed back to the bedroom.

As Jake drifted back awake he didn't recognize where he was, though it was comfortable and he could smell Nathan on everything The one thing missing though, was Nathan himself A quick look around revealed the tiger sitting on the floor watching him.

Jake smiled at the tiger "There you are, Nate So where are we?"

The tiger woofed quietly.

Jake laughed "Playing the tiger to the hilt are you?"

"What else would you expect a tiger to do, Jake?" Nathan voice asked amusedly from behind him.

Jake turned to see Nathan standing in the doorway wearing casual clothes, with an apron over them He smiled at the tiger-tabby "I thought he was you Who is he then?"

Nathan walked over to sit on the bed next to his mate "Technically, he's just a projection of me, a sentinel that I used to keep watch while I was doing something else So how are you feeling, now that you've had a chance to rest?"

Jake grinned and stretched leisurely, reflexively checking for any lasting effects of the damage he'd taken "Much better So where is this anyway? And why are you wearing an apron?"

"This is my apartment in MegaKat City, and the apron is because I've been cooking."

"Those are both new, aren't they? You never mentioned you could cook."

Nathan shook his head "Not really, I've had the apartment since shortly after I started working for the hospital, and I've known to cook about as long as I've been a Medic It was self-defense against other people's ideas of camp cooking." Nathan's chuckle was quickly joined by a knowing one from Jake "As for my never mentioning it, you always seemed to get such enjoyment out of cooking, there was no need I enjoyed watching you enjoy doing it, more than I enjoyed doing it myself I would have said something if I thought you found it a chore to do it."

"You're just full of hidden talents, aren't you?"

"You have no idea." Nathan grinned mischievously "But seriously, I thought that we both could use a little change of pace from the hectic roller coaster we've been on, and I thought that a quiet, casual dinner would be a good way to do that I need to finish in the kitchen There's a full bathroom if you feel a need to get cleaned up, and then just pick clothes you feel comfortable in; no need to be formal Dinner will be ready when you are." Nathan kissed his mate briefly "Take your time, no need to hurry." He left the room, humming a light tune.

Jake groaned in pure pleasure as the hot water and shampoo removed all trace of stickiness from his fur, grateful for the moment of calm to be clean again, and organize his scattered thoughts.

"So much has happened since Thursday, however long that's been." He murmured to himself as the water cascaded down, soaking him to the skin and washed away all trace of his activities but a mild touch of Nathan's scent "Nearly killed Chance, walked away from SWAT, left Black Phoenix, got engaged to Felina, marrying Nathan, learned the truth about myself ..." He rested his head against the cool tiles and let the tears come, carefully shielding it from his mate "What the hell am I doing? Besides going mad."

Jake slowly opened his eyes and tried to figure out why the rain was so warm, and the world nearly featureless white.

"Shower," he pushed himself to his feet carefully and rubbed his forehead, "it's been a while since I went that far into shock Hope I didn't do anything too weird."

He shook his head once more and did a quick scrub before turning the water off, the air jets on, and grabbed a towel to finish drying off.

"Let's see, causal is jeans and a shirt." He absently rummaged through a folded pile of clothes before picking out a deep blue shirt that offset his fur and chuckled as he headed out of the bathroom, fully dressed "Now to see what that tom of mine has planned."

He glanced around the main living area of the apartment as he left the bathroom, noting the remarkable lack of personal touches for a place Nathan had had for over nine months He could hear his mate's humming coming from where the kitchen must be, and felt a warm summer breeze blowing in from the open balcony door.

Nathan came walking out of the kitchen humming happily, with a bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other He smiled when he spotted Jake "Excellent timing, everything is ready." He gestured toward the balcony "It's a perfect spring evening, so I thought we'd eat on the terrace."

Jake chuckled at the exuberant Felsin, who seemed happier than Jake could ever remember him being "Okay, but it feels more like summer than spring." Jake grinned as he headed toward the balcony.

The tiger-tabby chuckled "Depends what planet you're on, now doesn't it?"

Jake humphed with a light smile before stepping out on the balcony, and was slightly surprised to find that the 'balcony' was really more like a castle terrace overlooking a deep rocky valley, bringing almost instant flashbacks of Megalith City and Callista ... and a disjointed sense of 'home' he couldn't place Though the valley was in shadow, brightly colored flashes of light could be seen every so often making a strangely enticing pattern.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Nathan said, wistfully "I don't get here nearly as often as I'd like."

"So this is a real place?" Jake asked curiously as Nathan handed him a glass with something blue in it that seemed to shine with its own light "What's this? You said you don't touch alcohol."

"This", he gestured to indicate the terrace," is one of the better views from Castle Myrikardranor That," he gestured to encompass the valley, "is the Valley of Laughing Starlight, one of the most breathtaking sights on Draconea and one that not many non-Dracon's get to see." He held up his glass "And this is Chimra'shen, which loosely translated means 'Water from the River of Stars', a Dracon specialty which no one else has figured out how to make."

Nathan smiled at his mate "Chimra fills the social role of alcohol, without the unpleasant side effects on psi-abilities It also differs in one other important aspect; unlike alcohol Chimra is not a depressant Quite the contrary, it enhances the positive emotions but not in a ridiculous fashion."

Jake looked around, noted the fancy candlesticks on the table and looked back at Nathan "Looks kind of formal for casual, or are you using a different definition of the word?"

Nathan chuckled "A little mixed I suppose, but I meant casual more in mood than anything Honestly Jake, before this morning we hadn't seen each other in three months and things have been moving so fast since then, I just want to slow down for a little while."

"That would be the understatement of a lifetime." Jake chuckled "It's okay, Nate I just wasn't sure I'd dressed for the occasion properly."

Nathan grinned "You're just fine, love Why don't we sit down, dinner's ready."

As they sat down, Nathan noticed Jake looking curiously at the crystal candlesticks again "They were a gift from my adopted brother and sister when Rhy and I Bonded Shareena, my adopted sister, knew who my real father was, and it never bothered her She used to tell me that everyone contains light and dark, the difference was that I knew I did, where as most people never figured it out The candlesticks were her way of making sure I remembered that."

Nathan held up his glass "To us, and this moment of happiness and peace."

Jake touched his glass to Nathan's and smiled a little shyly "To us, and peace."

The cinnamon tom looked at what his mate had prepared "Interesting mix of MegaKat City, and I'd guess Felsin cuisine Smells good."

Nathan nodded happily "Yeah, I thought a mix appropriate considering the occasion."

Jake took an experimental bite "This is pretty good Is there anything you don't do well?" He teased.

Nathan grinned mischievously "Quite a few things actually, but I make an effort not to do them, or at least not where anyone can see me."

Jake chuckled "That's an approach I definitely understand."

Dinner moved into a comfortable, small talk mood with nothing important being said But that was, of course, the point.

"You realize this means you're going to have to cook more often." Jake smiled with a small giggle as they finished eating "I may like cooking, but you're too good to deprive myself of this more often."

"I'll be happy to." Nathan grinned as Jake stood with the easy grace of a relaxed body and calm mind.

"Come, dance with me." The Kat held his hand out to the Felsin and giggled again, despite an attempt to keep a strait face "I think I'm drunk." He snickered with a lopsided grin.

"You can't get drunk on Chimra'shen, Jake." He accepted the Kat's invitation, uncertain whether to be pleased that his mate was so relaxed, or worried that he seemed to be overreacting to the drink.

"Maybe not, but I feel pretty loopy."

"Not to mention we're in our minds ..."

"Maybe I'm drunk on you, then." Jake cocked his head and regarded his mate for a moment as they began to move in rhythm to the flashes of light in the valley "I think I like it."

"There are at least much worse things to get drunk on." Nathan whispered as he followed with instinctive ease to the unfamiliar motions "Or maybe you're just more relaxed than you've been in a long time."

"Mmm, either way, I like this." Jake purred as he let his subconscious guide their drifting movements.

"Ever played shower games?" Jake asked out of nowhere as they continued to sway to unheard music.

"Urr, I assume not, since I don't have a clue what you're referring to." Nathan chuckled softly.

"You never got out much, did you?" he quirked an eyebrow at his mate "Ever played any sex-games?"

"Ummm, no." Nathan grinned sheepishly "Rhy was my first ... and neither of us ... well, got all that creative in that area Besides, we weren't together that long ... it all still seemed kind of new to me." Nathan looked a little wistful.

"Oh," Jake stretched up to kiss Nathan's cheek, "I didn't realize you were ... that ... young." He settled against the Felsin's chest with closed eyes "I'm sorry When you said you were lifemated and almost as old as I was, I assumed you were reasonably close to my level of sexual experience too You kept up pretty well before we started Joining."

"I'm good at winging things, especially when they're important." He smiled at the shorter tom "And you really weren't trying anything that unusual, though I can't say the same of what you've instigated in here." He hesitated before voicing the concern that had been bugging him since their battle "Which is more, well, normal, for your desires?"

"The one you don't care for." Jake sighed "I've got pretty extreme tastes, though if you can accept me being with another, you don't need to be a part of that I have lovers who enjoy it."

Nathan thought for a moment "Jake, I honestly can't say what I think about that area, because I haven't really had a chance to sort things out in my own head What happened only happened a few days ago, and I haven't had time to deal with me at all, I've been too busy worrying about you and Chance What I'm trying to say is, I need some real world time to sort things through before I can honestly say what I think." He winked suggestively.

"In the meantime, Nate." Jake swallowed, uneasy in pushing the issue "It can take years to recover from a rape, and that bondage ...."

"You never know, I might enjoy it ..." he interrupted, "after all almost every other hobby of mine is pretty extreme I just don't think I can answer honestly, right now." He grinned mischievously "Just an example, I used to consider test piloting a vacation."

Jake rolled his eyes in mock aggravation "Bastet save me from hyper pilots I'll never get away from you guys."

"Hyper pilots?" Nathan cocked an eyebrow.

"Pat, Chance, Rik, Felina, now you ... bloody near every important person in my life seems to be a pilot, and a damn good one." He grumphed "Rik thinks test piloting is a blast, too."

Nathan looked serious "Jake, I guess it's difficult to explain precisely, but recovering from psychometric trauma like the one I had is entirely different from what a rape victim goes through I just need to put it in proper perspective, because it didn't really happen to me, and part of me knows that ... and part's confused It's just there's been so much else going on that nothing's in the right place, so to speak."

"Oh," Jake took a moment to try and make sense of that "So even though you experienced it through the scan, it's not like living it, once you're out?"

"Something like that." Nathan looked a little embarrassed "Truthfully, I'm just glad none of my instructors know what happened I forgot two of the big rules in psychometric scans, especially scanners with empathic abilities Rule 1: Never scan when you're upset, because strong negative emotions (fear, anger etc.) can leave cracks in one's shields. and Rule 2: Empaths should never do investigative scans where somebody they care about is involved."

"Sounds like the rules for any investigation." He lost his smile "It's why I handed off the responsibility for investigating what happened between Chance and Uly I'm too close to both of them to deal with it correctly."

Nathan's eyebrow just about shot off his head before he forced the response down He decided he just didn't want to know what Jake meant by that, not right now anyway Nathan thought about what had been going through his mind for the last three days and sighed.

"Well, truth is I only have very basic training as an investigator ... but I'm too much my father's son to trust team matters to anyone outside I'm just glad that I was too busy being Medic to let myself be Ebon's successor ... I almost did Saturday night." Nathan shuddered thinking what he'd almost done He smiled gratefully at Jake "Thanks for taking it out of my hands."

The tiger-tabby shook his head "I panicked and pulled a serious rookie stunt, I'm just lucky I pulled out before anybody got hurt But seriously, recovery from psychometric trauma is usually relatively quick ... should be even quicker since Felsira healed a lot of the damage already."

He grinned mischievously, and then whispered "Truthfully, there was something decidedly exciting about that scene you set up at the end of our little fight Of course, I think part of it was you were so turned on, you were turning me on." Nathan added as his mind began to accept that it was okay because Jake enjoyed that sort of play.

I am glad to hear that," he smiled "Though we're still talking about a while before I'd feel all that comfortable showing you the more intense aspects of what I like It's not something to be taken lightly."

"That serious?" Nathan prompted, his unease growing again.

"It can be," Jake nodded sadly "Think about what we did after the battle, and the battle itself, in the real world Now change the intent to causing pain, not defeat That's a little much for me, but I've seen it, and it's not that far off Even what I'm into can be very dangerous in inexperienced or angry paws I trust you with my life, and a great deal more, but the kind of trust required for those games can only be built up through experience I have to trust you know what you're doing when you dominate me, and I'd be ... disturbed ... if you didn't need the same."

"Why not show me something very light then, for now?" He winked even as he squished the flash of discomfort at the scene Jake described "After all, we can't get hurt here, and I trust you not to push to far."

"Thank you." Jake smiled seductively "What I originally had in mind is very light No bondage or anything, just an unusual setting."

"Sounds fun," Nathan willingly followed his mate into the bathroom, only to find it wasn't the one in his apartment.

"The shower here is better suited for two." Jake smiled playfully as he started to undo the buttons on Nathan's shirt.

"Nate?" Jake started tentatively some time later as the two toms leaned against the terrace ledge, watching the lights below and sipped at half full glasses of Chimra.

"Yes, Jake?" Nathan replied, feeling very relaxed.

"Wasn't there something we were supposed to be doing?" The lean tom asked as though he might have forgotten.

Nathan nodded "I guess there is, I'm just not in a big hurry at the moment." He looked across the valley as though he could see something beyond the darkness "I guess peace and quiet doesn't last forever."

Jake sighed "No, not for our kind."

The tiger-tabby sighed "Time to move on, but we should try to grab moments like this in the real world as well."

Jake nodded and nuzzled his mate's neck "When we can." He chuckled softly "Heron will enjoy making sure we do She always said I was too serious for my own good."

Jake shivered as a gust of bone-chilling wind blasted across the rock outcropping he and Nathan were standing on Above them was the rocky face of the mountain while below was a drop-off a mile high, perhaps two In the distance, the cinnamon tom thought he could make out a building perched on a rocky plateau.

He turned to his mate "I thought you didn't like the cold, where is this place anyway?"

Nathan turned to the smaller tom "Cold? It's a warm spring day, must be almost 90 ... oh, I forget that's how I perceive it I think the 'cold' you're feeling is my heart trying to keep everyone away." He smiled warmly "But I can do a little something about that." The war-form spread his wings and as runic patterns on them flickered to life, a warm golden light surrounded the outcropping "Better, love?"

"Much better, thank you So where is this, again?"

Nathan looked across the rocky valley "It really isn't anywhere in particular, but its closest real-world relative is the Valley of Storms on Draconea The valley isn't that significant, it's just an obstacle to anyone getting too close The real important place is over there." The winged tiger-tabby gestured across the valley at the distant structure.

"I can't quite make it out."

The Felsin took a high tech pair of binoculars from his belt "Try these, they should bring things into focus."

Jake took them wondering where they'd come from; he knew Nathan hadn't had them a moment before As he looked through them the structure came into view; it looked like a castle right out of the era of Megalith City One very noticeable feature was the presence of six very realistic Gargoyle statues on the battlements ... at least he thought they were statues.

He handed the binoculars back to Nathan "History buff, huh?"

Nathan shook his head "No, not really I don't know why it looks like that, but it has, as long as I can remember I never have understood why the Gargoyles are there; I mean, the only planet I know of that has that species is Earth." Nathan grinned "Correction, I thought Earth was the only planet that had them ... I was very surprised to see two of them on Aristal."

"The Darshar sisters aren't native, and the ones across the valley aren't the same species." He looked across at the castle again "I guess that's where we need to go?"

The Felsin nodded "Yes, that's were the mask is There's only one way across though ... fortunately, storm-riding is an old hobby of mine." He spread his wings to their full extension. "Ready, Jake?"

The lean tom put his arms around his mate's neck and kissed him soundly. "I am, if you are."

The winged tabby smiled and hugged Jake in close "Hold on, this can get pretty wild." He stepped back as far from the edge as he could, ran full speed to the edge and leapt into the air There was a moment of free-fall until he caught the thermal he was looking for, and then he soared into the air.

He swooped and soared chasing the barely predictable thermals that made up the non-stop storm in the Valley Laughing happily, the war-form rode the storm vortices that raged through around the sharp crags For a while, he became lost in the adrenalin rush of riding the storm.

"Hey, aren't we supposed to going somewhere?" Jake shouted, trying to be heard above the roaring winds.

Nathan laughed ecstatically "That we are, love I've never done this before on my own wings ... I always had to use a clever storm-glider some of my Dracon friends came up with ... Now I see how they can lose themselves storm-riding for days ... it's incredible Okay, hang tight we're almost there."

Suddenly, the winged war-form went into a power dive toward the floor of the valley and at the last moment caught an incredibly powerful thermal and shot up the side of the plateau the castle perched atop Between the high-speed ground hugging flight and the G-forces being pulled, Jake began to wonder if Nate would be able to stop when he wanted to, and absently wondered why he wasn't getting woozy yet himself.

Abruptly, the thermal wind cut out and Nathan continued the upward glide, until finally his upward momentum cut out Without thinking he landed on a outcropping on the side of the plateau still probably a 100 meters below the edge.

Jake looked at the imposing climb above and sighed as a Glovatrix appeared on his right arm and grumbled as he took aim "You could have landed someplace with less of a climb."

"No need for that, love." Nathan laughed and folded his wings back "Climb on to my back, and hold on tightly since I'll need my arms for this."

Jake looked a bit dubious, but settled himself firmly on his mate's broad back "You sure about this?"

The winged tabby chuckled "Of course, I wouldn't risk it with you along, if I wasn't." He extended sheathed claws from both hands and feet and began to climb the sheer rock face.

Jake held on as Nate slowly ascended the cliff using nothing but claws and muscle power Eventually, they reached top of the plateau, a barren rocky plain in front of the castle.

"Not the easiest place to get to, Nate." Jake commented, as his mate took a moment to catch his breath.

The Felsin nodded "Not many people have, but that's sort of the idea In a sense, this castle is my 'heart' and I've always been wary of letting anyone too close Solitude is very safe, but it's also quite lonely ... though I didn't really notice until Rhy forced his way into my life I almost came back here a year ago because I didn't know what else to do after Rhymar died."

As they walked across the barren plain, Jake noticed a large figure standing at the front of the castle When they got close enough, the cinnamon tom realized that the figure was a twelve-foot tall red, winged reptilian wearing old-style chain armor and holding a double-bladed axe nearly as tall.

He nudged Nathan and whispered "Uh, Nate? Who's the big guy?"

Nathan blinked as though his mind had been elsewhere "Hrmm. Oh, Garalth? Don't worry about him, he's just part of the castle guards." The winged tabby continued walking unconcerned.

"Guards? That's kind of what I thought Is he going to be trouble?"

Nathan chuckled quietly "Garalth, trouble? No, he's here to protect me, or perhaps more accurately my 'heart' In a way, he's the last barrier to people getting too close." The war-form looked at his mate "Don't worry, he already knows you're allowed Actually, he usually figures out who's gotten close to me before I do But it's not difficult to keep track of, there are very few people who do."

As the pair came up to the guard, the Dracon warrior set down his weapon, bowed deeply to Nathan, and greeted him in a deep, authoritative voice "Welcome, Lord Swiftclaw You have been gone a long time Should I have your rooms prepared?"

Nathan smiled "No, Garalth that won't be necessary I'm not staying, I'm just showing my mate around."

The big warrior laughed, a deep booming sound, as he regarded Jake closely "So you're Jake Clawson I had wondered who had snuck into HeartKeep without my noticing Well, your presence makes Lord Swiftclaw happy, so you are most welcome." The Dracon gestured at the gate, which opened smoothly.

"Lord Swiftclaw? What was he talking about Nate?" Jake asked as they crossed the large empty courtyard.

Nathan stopped and looked around "My father's name was Ebon Swiftclaw, and the name I was born to was Nathaniel Skyfire Swiftclaw I've been Nathan SolGardin for most of my life, but my heart remembers my true name, as does Garalth I think he's waiting for me to reclaim my birth name, though I'm not sure why it matters to him As for the Lord part, the Dracon are a very formal people and they still use the ancient titles of nobility."

"I thought we couldn't interact with anybody but each other in the Joining, but he seemed pretty interactive." Jake thought the warrior had seemed almost too interactive.

"Garalth is a special case, I think Truthfully, I've never been sure what to make of him He's always been here, and I didn't make him up But he's always been friendly to me; in fact if he existed outside my mind ... he'd probably be my oldest friend There were many times in my life, when he was my only friend."

"Nate, are you sure you know where you're going?" Jake asked as they turned down yet another corridor The combination of huge and empty made the place creepy after a fashion.

"I think so, though it wouldn't be the first time I've gotten lost in my own mind." Nathan chuckled, as he looked around "Well, this wasn't were I was trying to get."

Jake looked around "Looks like another corridor with wooden doors, even if they do have strange plaques on them."

The winged tabby smiled "These are the 'living quarters', if you can call being here living The plaques represent 'assigned' rooms, the room with the black border around the plaque is Rhymar's."

"Okay, Nate So who are the other rooms?" He had his suspicions, but was curious all the same.

Nathan looked at them "Rooms are a sort of representation of the fact that I've allowed myself to actually care about someone. Obviously, you're one of them You know, or have met most of the others, I think."


Nathan felt a sudden need to move on "I didn't plan to come this way but my mind doesn't always do what I want or expect The Great Hall should be this way." He turned and started walking.

Jake glanced down the hallway at the four 'assigned rooms', and then followed his mate.

Nathan stood in the Great Hall looking the elaborate silver mask sitting on the throne Every time he tried to pick it up some unknown force pushed him back The war-form growled at the mask "This is my mind and I will not be denied." He charged full force at the throne, only to be hurled half way across the Great Hall.

Jake rushed to his mate's side "Nate, are you okay?"

The winged tabby forced himself to his feet and shook himself off "I'm fine, Jake There's no way to be injured in here, but I am beginning to lose my patience with that." He looked at the mask while he considered a new plan of attack.

The lean tom stepped in front of Nathan "Maybe you're going about this the wrong way, the harder you push the harder it pushes back."

The Felsin growled in frustration "I know, but I need to get past that mask." His shoulder's slumped "My own mind won't let me get to it."

Jake nodded, then he reached up and stoked his mate's cheek ruff "Let me get it for you, if it is some mental block it probably wasn't meant to stop anyone but you."

Nathan shook his head "That's too dangerous, Jake I don't know what'll happen if you touch it. "

The cinnamon tom smiled at him "We can't be hurt in here, remember?"

The winged tabby nodded slowly "Yes, but as you pointed out that only means physical harm ... that isn't a physical danger."

"If it's a danger at all." He gently stroked his mate's fur to calm him. "Nate, you've been very good at saying we'll get through things lately But you always mean that you'll help me This time, let me help you."

Nathan sighed in resignation, sat down and looked at Jake "You're right, that is what I've meant, because that's just the way I am I'm very protective of those I love, but I expect to be able to handle everything myself It's difficult for me to admit that I can't Just be careful, love." He pulled Jake into a brief, passionate kiss that nearly degraded into a major distraction. "I don't know how far the defenses will go."

After a long moment, Jake pulled away and grinned at him "Don't worry, I can take care of myself Besides, I don't think the 'defenses' will even notice me."

Nathan watched anxiously as his mate crossed the Hall As Jake neared the throne the winged tabby stood up and crouched in a combat ready position as he estimated how long it would take him to cross the Great Hall at full sprint.

Jake cautiously put out a hand toward the mask, and feeling no resistance he lifted it from the throne As he started back to where Nathan was waiting, he heard a sound like glass breaking and noticed that a crack had appeared in the mask Suddenly, the ceiling started to come down and the floor gave way.

Nathan watched in paralyzed horror as Jake disappeared in the cataclysm of collapsing stone He charge forward, only to be thrown back hard by the same unseen force as before "Jake, NO!" He roared in frustration, fearing the worst.

As he attempted to tear the barrier down with his claws, there was a rush of wings behind him He turned to see Garalth landing, holding a very dusty, cinnamon tom who jumped down as soon as the Dracon landed He rushed to over carefully looking over his mate for injuries "Jake, are you alright?"

Jake grinned impishly "I'm fine, your big friend caught me as floor collapsed." He kissed Nathan quickly "But thanks for worrying."

The winged tabby looked up at the big warrior "My thanks Garalth, for your help."

The Dracon nodded "My duty is to protect you, Lord SwiftClaw If Jake had come to harm, that would have hurt you I could not, therefore, permit that."

"Duty or not, you still have my gratitude There is no one more important to me."

The guard nodded and vanished in a rush of wings.

Jake nudged him "I think you wanted this." In his hand was the slightly cracked silver mask.

Nathan nodded "I'm not sure I want it, but I do need to deal with it." He took the mask "I'm not sure what created it, but it's time to see."

As Nathan stood trying to figure out what to do next there was a sudden flash of bright light from the mask.

Jake and Nathan followed as the young Nathan was given a tour of some large, militaristic facility They passed numerous kits of varying ages, some as young as five and some appearing to be nearly adult They all wore the same black and silver uniform, with a red sleeve patch that simply said: 'Citadel'.

Jake nudged the quiet winged tabby "What is this place, Nate? Some sort of military academy?"

Nathan nodded sadly "In a way, that's true, but it's far less friendly This is Citadel, the shadow government's hidden commando training facility The kits you see are all commandos at various levels of training Except for the very youngest and brand new 'recruits' most of them have already seen action in the field ... and a good share of them have already killed Citadel was where I lost my kittenhood, but that wasn't the only thing I lost It's also where I learned to wear this mask."

Jake opened his mouth to say something, then shut it, unsure of how to voice what he felt, and wary of its reception.

Jake and Nathan watched as Nathan and his new roommate, a slightly larger Jaguar Felsin tom sized each other up There is a moment of uneasiness and then something appears to click; by the end of the night they are talking like old friends.

Jake looked at his mate and noticed a wistful look on the tiger-tabby's face "Who's the other kit, Nate?"

Nathan sighed "His name was Syrildar Marelkon, but nobody called him that Most called him Syril, but I always just called him Sy He was the first person my own age I'd ever gotten to know, and he became my best friend, my partner and the replacement for the family I was still grieving for. "

Jake caught the past tense and decided to wait and see what other memories showed up, doubting it would be good.

Memories flowed by quickly as time passed, and the two became inseparable They studied together, worked out together and shortly thereafter entered the pilot training program together Scene after scene showed them outperforming other piloting teams, with few cadets being able to match Nathan's skill as a pilot or Sy's skill as a gunner.

"Nate ... is the gunner/ pilot relationship the same ... was he your leader?" Jake asked uneasily, not quite able to match up what he expected to see in a successful pairing.

Nathan nodded absently "In the air, yes He had a brilliant tactical mind, and was a genius at analyzing combat situations regardless of how complex or confused On the ground, we reversed because he was unsure of himself in situations involving close combat, and I had a better sense of such things. "

The memories slowed for a moment showing the two slightly older kits sitting in their room looking out a window with gold engraved award cases on the windowsill next to them.

Sy turned to face Nathan. "Partners forever, right?" He put out his hand.

Nathan grasped Sy's hand tightly "Forever, and one day we're gonna fly right out of here. "

The jaguar looked at him and smiled "Yeah, then nobody's gonna tell us what to do."

The scenes began to rush past at a blurring pace, becoming difficult to see Jake turned to the winged tabby "What's with the blur?"

"That's the effect of some of the memory blocks that still exist, plus the third mask is still in place." Nathan replied quietly.

One thing became evident, young Nathan was significantly better than his friend at the non-flight commando training, seeming to be a natural at it Sy, on the other hand, seemed to struggle with much of it, though Nathan helped him through as much as he could The blur continued until it slowed down at a scene with Nathan by himself if a high tech looking room, the young tiger-tabby seemed a few years older, maybe seven or eight years old.

A voice came from the air "Okay, Nathan We're going to try this exercise again You have to locate and deactivate the sensors in order to release the door lock You need to do it faster than before, we expect improvement, especially from a commando with your potential."

The young Nathan looked defiantly around the room "You know I'm not very good at this, why are we wasting time with it?"

The voice was stern "You could be better, if you would just focus on what you're doing. So we've decided to give you an incentive." A wall panel opened up revealing a bomb on a timer.

Young Nathan looked at it unimpressed "Everybody knows you kill commandos who don't meet your standards. " What had appeared to be the corner of the room opened up to reveal an unconscious Sy lying on a table.

Young Nathan looked around horrified "That's not fair, I'm the one you're testing not him."

"True, but we needed to give you something you would care about enough to try harder. His life is now your responsibility You should get to work, the timer is running."

Young Nathan looked horrified for moment before his face became all concentration, as he looked around the room.

Jake looked at his mate, who was clenching his fists "Nate, what's going on here?"

Nathan sighed deeply "It's a test of ElectroMagnetic Perception, the ability to perceive the EM signatures of various devices and deactivate them by means of micro-telekinesis I was never very good at it, but they didn't want to accept that ... they expected me to excel at everything."

The two observers' attention was drawn back by an audible 'click' as the door slid open Young Nathan quickly started trying to drag his friend out of the room, but had difficulty as he was small for his age, and Sy wasn't He was almost to the door, when the explosive detonated hurling them both out of the room.

Young Nathan shook off the explosion relatively quickly, and crawled over to check on Sy The young jaguar was badly burned and unconscious "Come on Sy, wake up." He pleaded, tears starting to well "You can't leave me, don't leave."

Sy's eyes opened weakly "Sorry, Nate I don't want to..." he coughed harshly, "just remember, we're partners ... forever Whenever you fly, I'll be there with you Fly free, Shockwave ... fly free." His eyes closed as life departed.

Young Nathan roared in pain and anguish "Sy, No! Fly free, Longshot ... wherever you are You're the only partner I'll ever have, I'll never need, or have another." As shock began to set in he slumped against the body of his dead partner.

Several days later young Nathan was resting in an infirmary bed, when a Black Lion tom in the uniform of a Citadel Instructor walked in He turned to speak with Nathan "It was unfortunate about your gunner, but unfortunately there are consequences when you don't do as instructed You will, of course, be assigned a new gunner." The instructor turned to leave.

"That won't be necessary." The young tiger-tabby said icily.

The instructor turned, surprise showing on his face "Of course it is, all planes are configured for pilot and gunner operation."

Nathan stared directly at the Lion "Then take me out of the flight section, I don't want another gunner."

The Lion's voice became low and dangerous "You will remain in the flight section, and you will be assigned another gunner Remember your place, commando You don't make decisions here, you follow orders."

Young Nathan watched as the Black Lion left In his heart he knew that Sy had died because he'd been friends with Nathan, if they hadn't been friends then the instructors wouldn't have thought to use him that way The hurting tiger-tabby decided that he wasn't going to let anyone get hurt because of him, and he slowly started shutting his feelings away ... he didn't need anyone he told himself, he was a tiger ... one of the solitary hunters and he didn't need anyone.

Jake noticed that the young Nathan appeared now to be wearing a strange half version of the mask he had picked up off the throne He nudged Nathan "What's with the half-mask?"

Nathan wiped tears from eyes "I was trying to protect anyone from being hurt by being my friend Sy had died because he was, and I refused to let it happen to anyone else I failed him so badly, I wouldn't let it happen again ... I didn't want to have another friend's life in my hands It's only a half mask, because I wasn't very good at constructing shields so there was still a chance for someone to get through to me Though it would be three years before it happened."

The winged tabby sat down, his shoulders slumped forward "It's been so long, but it still hurts like it was yesterday, I guess that a side effect of the block being there for so long I only wish he was the last person I cared about that I failed ..."

Jake sank down, his forehead against Nathan's in shared grief, ears drooped and his voice very soft, almost thinking as he spoke "It can be a good pain, driving us to improve, or a bad pain, keeping us locked away and slowly killing from within."

Nathan sighed quietly "It actually became both for me I became driven to improve, to excel at everything; even excellence became less than acceptable I was never certain that I was good enough to avoid another disaster I also went to great lengths to make sure no one ever saw me try to do something; I only wanted them to know about things I could do well."

He brushed tears from his eyes "But I also learned to keep my distance, to not let anyone close If I didn't become close to them then the instructors wouldn't be able to put their lives in jeopardy the way they had Sy's I could accept the consequences of my failure, but I refused to let anyone else be at risk because of it."

As Nathan spoke, images began to flow as time passed "And I did improve, in everything but piloting They had forced me to stay a pilot, but they couldn't make me care; I did everything mechanically because any passion for flight was gone I was also a gunner's worst nightmare, because I resented anyone I was assigned to work with I didn't want or need another gunner, and I made no attempt to hide how I felt."

"About the time I turned eleven they assigned me another gunner; his name was Lance Goldmane He was Black Lion several years older than myself, an experienced gunner whose pilot had 'washed out' of Citadel Lion's tend to be personable sorts, real solid leader types and I guess the instructors figured that combined with the age difference might make me more amenable to working with him It didn't quite work as planned."

The images slowed to show Nathan sitting at a desk studying intensely The door to the room opened and a teenaged Black Lion walked in, tossed some books on his bed, walked up behind Nathan and clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder "Hey partner, enough studying already If we go now we can still get in on a game of warball, and everybody knows how you enjoy trouncing the seniors Be a good way for you to burn off some of that aggression too." The Black Lion's voice was friendly and sincere.

Nathan growled and shook off the hand on his shoulder "Lance, I'm trying to study How long is it going to take for you to figure out that I work with you in the air because it's required On the ground, just don't bother me." He turned a page, and deliberately ignored the older tom.

Lance looked a little taken back, but recovered quickly "I know all about what happened, and how you've driven away more gunners than any pilot in Citadel But I also know you still happen to be one of the best pilots here, so I figure we need to find a way to work together on more than the mechanical level we've managed so far Just what do I have to do, to convince you to trust me, Nate?"

The tiger-tabby exploded into the larger Black Lion They were a flurry of red and black as they rolled across the floor When they collided with the door, the enraged Tiger was on top of the bruised and bloodied Lion The startled and terrified Lance went submissive trying to calm down the smaller tom who was pinning him to the ground.

Nathan growled low and dangerous at the larger Lion "Don't call me Nate Never call me Nate, you haven't earned that right." He grabbed his field jacket and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

The tiger-tabby ran through the corridors of Citadel until he found himself in a quiet hallway by himself He sank to the floor, sobbing in shock over what had happened and fear of letting it happen again.

Jake looked at Nathan "Umm. Nate, what just happened?"

Nathan shook his head, sadly "I still don't understand exactly, I just know that Lance's innocent attempt to be friendly triggered an explosive release of pent up anger and rage If it hadn't been for my programmed inhibition against killing, I probably would've killed him ... and I knew that What scared me was that I almost killed someone for trying to be my friend, and I couldn't be sure I wouldn't explode like that again ... so I bolted, tried to get away from Lance before it happened again."

The winged tabby sighed "I'm not sure if I was more afraid of hurting him again ... or of lowering my guard enough to be friends, which was what I'd have to have done to avoid another outburst I'd only had one friend my age before, and it ended so painfully I was afraid to try again.

The scenes began flowing again as the young Nathan wandered through the corridors of Citadel, until he came to a door labeled 'Temporal Transit Studies' Nathan looked at the door for a moment, and then concentrated hard on the locking mechanism After a few minutes there was a 'beep' from the door and it opened He looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then ducked inside.

Jake looked at the door "Time Travel?"

Nathan nodded "Yep This is the Citadel Advanced Projects Division, and there's very little they don't or haven't researched Time travel was added to the list of less than successful projects, courtesy of my younger self."

The scene shifted to young Nathan studying the controls of a very complicated device After a long period of study he started throwing switches and pressing buttons Finally, the device began humming as it charged up Nathan spent the charging period tampering with several circuits in the machine near the portal generator Suddenly, the machine beginning beeping and the portal activated a swirling maelstrom of color and light The tiger-tabby looked at it for a moment, and then dove through.

When the flash of light cleared Jake and Nathan found themselves standing in a forest at night The weather was cold, and the sky was clear Nathan stood staring at the sky for several long minutes.

"Nate, now where are we?"

"That's what I'm trying to determine." Nathan's voice was distracted as stared at the night sky.

"Oh, by stargazing?"

"I memorized what the stars would look like on many of the Alliance worlds, I'm trying to see if this is one of them Though it's difficult, without knowing how much time travel was involved."

"Any luck?"

"Only sort of I'd say that this is probably Earth, somewhere in the northern hemisphere, but that's a rough guess ... these stars are off a bit, but that's probably just temporal distortion."

"You don't remember? You were here before, right?"

"Yes, but I didn't know where the time portal was going when I activated it ... I just wanted to be away from Citadel."

"How'd you plan on getting back?"

"I didn't There was nothing for me there; my family was dead as was my only friend As far I was concerned it didn't matter where I went, every place was the same ... as long as it was away from Citadel and the Instructors."

Young Nathan stared at the castle in the distance, and watched the hard to see flying forms with fascination To be able to fly under one's own power; now there was true freedom He wondered what kind of world he had found, but thought that it had to be better than the one he had left.

Jake looked at the castle as well "Nate, isn't that ..."

"HeartKeep, or more accurately it's real world inspiration: Castle Wyvern."

They watched as the young Nathan approached a small village, and tried to talk to one of the humans Suddenly, the scene became one of the young Nathan running from a group of very agitated humans He eluded them fairly easily, and vanished into the nearby forest.

"That didn't go very well, did it?" Jake nudged the silent tiger-tabby.

Nathan chuckled "That was a rather clumsy effort at first contact on my part It didn't help any that I didn't speak their language I forgot to consider that I might be far enough in the past that Earth hadn't become part of the Alliance yet, so Standard wouldn't be a known language yet."

"But you knew it was Earth?"

"I figured it was because I saw humans, it was their homeworld."

"Just a few assumptions there, huh?"

The tiger-tabby grinned "Well, there's a reason they don't usually put eleven year old kits on first contact teams."

The two toms watched as young Nathan stalked a human male who looked only a little older than himself He sprang from the bushes and after a small commotion he had the teen pinned to the ground with his hand over his opponent's mouth to quiet him, and a knife at his throat The young Nathan stared directly into the human's eyes and there was a quiet rush of power that both watchers felt.

Jake looked surprised "Nate, what just happened?"

Nathan looked a little embarrassed "I'm afraid my younger self was being rather rude That was the application of a Citadel technique known as linguistic acquisition It quite forcibly copies knowledge of a language from the target to the user Useful for learning languages, but it's a cheap imitation of the Medic technique of linguistic transference."

"There's a difference? Sounds like semantics."

Nathan nodded "The difference is subtle but important Linguistic transference is more difficult for two reasons: (1) It is far gentler on the target, and (2) It gives a language in return for the one learned The two techniques are the same in that neither reads any thoughts Citadel trains their commandos to use acquisition as standard field procedure in an area where they don't know the language.

"Medics only use transference to learn a language where they lack one in common with their patient, since communication barriers complicate healing significantly In case you're wondering, that's how I learned the local language when we first met You may or may not be aware of it, but you picked up Alliance Standard during that meeting."

"I noticed, not that it's much use, even at Cathedral." He grinned "Though it's made for one hell of a good base for codes."

Their attention was drawn by a low growl from young Nathan as he stared at his prisoner He held up the knife blade where the teen could see it "Yell or scream and you're dead Same goes if you try to escape Understand?"

The scared boy nodded.

"Good." He took his hand away "Now this is real simple I'm going to ask you some questions; answer me truthfully and I'll let you go Refuse to answer or lie to me and you're dead Understand?" There was pure command in his voice, no hesitation, no threats, just simple fact.

Another nod.

"Very good." He said pleasantly "Now, what's your name?"

"Michael." The teen said uneasily.

"Okay, Michael Now what's the nearby castle called?"

"That'd be Castle Wyvern."

"And who'd be in charge?"

"Why everybody knows that ..:" He caught the cat-demon's warning glance "Princess Catherine, of course."

"Very good." The young commando's voice was even and quiet "What do you call the winged beings that I saw around the castle?"

"They're gargoyles, of course." Michael said with a bit more spirit, beginning to think that the cat-demon wasn't going to kill him after all.

"Of course, they are." Young Nathan smiled "Now what is it that you think I am, that makes you so afraid of me?" He was a little amused, the human was bigger than him but his fear made him no threat at all.

"You're a cat-demon, aren't you?" The teen asked in confusion.

The young commando grinned predatorily "Maybe I am, at that." He stood up, and pulled the taller teen to his feet "Now get back to your village, and be quiet about it or I might decide to kill you after all."

As he watched Michael run off quietly, young Nathan lounged against a tree considering his next move; he might have gotten more info out of the captive but he didn't think the boy knew much Survival priorities were food, water, and shelter, but he really wanted to find out more about the Gargoyles One thing he made a note to remember, these humans were not going to react positively to him so contact was to be avoided as much as possible.

He froze as he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye Slowly the movement came into view and though the commando wasn't sure exactly what it was, he did recognize the quadruped as being in the same category as the non-sentient plant-eaters back home: food Suddenly, the commando shifted to tiger form and pounced; with one swift motion the tiger snapped its victim's neck Looking around carefully the tiger detected no competitors so he settled down to eat.

Nathan looked a little queasy "I'd heard that the primal form can really act like its wild equivalent, but its still a little surprising to see myself doing it."

Jake nudged him "Where'd the shapeshift come from? I thought that was recent."

Nathan considered that for a moment "The latent genetic markers were probably activated by the energy from the time portal, and deactivated by the return trip ... at least that'd be my guess."

They watched as the second half of the mask began to appear in a shadowy outline He sighed sadly "This ability to hunt successfully is the beginning of the second half of the mask He'd kept everyone at a distance, and now he's starting to believe he doesn't need anyone else ... which is what he wants to believe, because if he doesn't let anyone close, doesn't let himself care about anyone ... then no one can leave him again." Nathan sighed "I remember that feeling, that desperately not wanting to feel left behind again ... complete independence seemed the only way to go."

"Makes sense to me."

The scene shifted to Nathan carefully making his way through the forest at night As he crossed an open glade he detected movement in his peripheral vision and darted quickly into the cover of nearby undergrowth He looked around to get a better view of what the movement had been He realized with some surprise that the movement had been above him, not behind as he had thought.

He pulled his binoculars from his pocket and was pleasantly surprised to discover what had he'd seen was a gargoyle Based on the fact that the gargoyle was still in the area, Nathan guessed he was looking for something Further observation failed to detect any others, and this seemed like a small one The young commando decided that he probably wasn't going to get a much safer chance to talk to one.

Nathan waited till the gargoyle came around again and then walked out into the clearing He carefully watched the gargoyle for signs that he was going to attack The young commando noted that the flight behavior was more characteristic of a glider rather than flier, but then remembered that flight would be energy intensive so gliding might be used to conserve energy He just hoped the gargoyle would choose to land instead of flying off.

The young Gargoyle debated whether he should get some of the others before checking out this 'cat-demon' he'd found but decided that there was only one, and a small one at that He might be small, but he was still a Gargoyle and he could handle this.

Felsin and Gargoyle stood about thirty feet apart quietly sizing each other up for some time Nathan was a bit larger, but being small for his age ... not that much larger Neither were really looking for a fight, and both were rather curious.

The Gargoyle didn't think he was looking at a demon, probably some kind of cat but probably not a demon Then he realized he couldn't remember if any of the stories the humans had told mentioned the cat-demon talking "Can you understand me?" He asked tentatively, hoping the cat did.

Nathan nodded He'd been wondering if the Gargoyles used the humans' language, but he'd forgotten to ask the humans he'd 'talked' to He smiled cautiously "You're a Gargoyle, right? What's your name?"

The Gargoyle grinned "Of course, I am We don't have names What's yours?"

"Nathan." The commando looked puzzled "You don't have names? Isn't that ... well ... confusing?"

"Not really, we know who we are." He replied thinking that the cat had the same need for names that the humans did "What are you? I've never seen anyone like you."

"I'm Felsin." Nathan answered evenly "Not surprising, I'm not from anywhere nearby." He added tentatively, not sure how he'd explain time/space travel when he wasn't really too clear on it himself.

The small Gargoyle figured there had to be more of these 'Felsin' around, since he was sure Nathan was only a child, since he was about the same size as a human child "Do your parents know you're off by yourself, these woods can be dangerous ..."

"Don't talk down to me like I'm some untrained kit I'm a warrior, and I take care of myself." Nathan interrupted indignantly "Besides, you're smaller than me Do your parents know where you are?" Nathan snapped back.

The gargoyle backed off apologetically "Sorry, I didn't mean that as an insult Besides, I'm a warrior too." He smiled, feeling a bit foolish for jumping to the same conclusion about Nathan that he always got annoyed about people jumping to about him.

"That's okay, I guess us small guys gotta stick together, huh?" Nathan grinned, and put out his paw in a friendly fashion Despite some bad memories he decided that maybe he didn't want to stay alone after all.

The gargoyle smiled, deciding that he liked this Felsin He grasped the offered paw "Yeah Look I'm supposed to be patrolling, you can follow along if you think you can keep up." He said in what was clearly a friendly challenge.

Nathan laughed "Hah, if I knew where you were going you'd be the one trying to keep up."

The gargoyle quickly used the surrounding trees to gain enough altitude to glide properly Nathan followed nimbly moving branch to branch in the trees.

Jake watched as the two moved away and the scene didn't follow He looked at Nathan to see his mate smiling sadly "Nate, I thought you said he, I mean you didn't want to let anybody close ... looks like he just made a friend."

The tiger-tabby nodded "Yes, I did The mask wasn't complete, and Felsin aren't solitary, not even tiger-kin like myself We don't really like solitude, and he feels the pull to find a new 'group' to belong to ... and that little gargoyle was close enough in age that they/we became good friends pretty quickly." Nathan found talking about himself in this combination of present and past tense confusing.

Jake recognized the light sorrow behind his mate voice and refrained from asking what happened right away He had a feeling it wouldn't be good, whatever it was.

Scenes flowed quickly showing the two meeting up on other nights Nathan kept watch to see where his friend would head when he left the castle, and sprinted to meet him near the forest edge The two got into a couple of small scraps with individual raiders lurking in the forest, but between the two of them it was no problem.

The scenes slowed to a moonlit night with Nathan leaning casually against a tree trunk.
There was a rustle of wings and his Gargoyle friend landed nearby.

"Hi, Nathan."

Nathan looked at his friend and grinned "Nice night, huh?"

"Yeah, pretty quiet No sign of raiders."

"Nope You know you were followed, right?" Nathan said casually as though discussing the weather.

"Huh? Where?" The gargoyle asked looking around.

"Another Gargoyle, he just passed over I'd say he's probably turning around at the moment."

"Oh, I guess one of my friends got curious about my new friend I really think you should meet them."

"That'd be difficult, unless they come out here ... humans don't react very well to me, and there's a lot of them at the castle." Nathan said, though he thought he could probably sneak in unseen, but he didn't want to risk causing his friends trouble.

Lexington turned to see Brooklyn land in the clear space behind him When he turned back he noticed that Nathan was missing "Now where'd you go, Nathan? He's my friend, you don't need to hide."

Brooklyn walked over "Your friend's a little jumpy, huh?"

The little Gargoyle looked over his shoulder "You should've told me you were coming along."

"I just thought I ought to know who this new 'friend' is."

Nathan voice drifted down from the leaves and the two Gargoyles looked up to see him reclining on a branch "Sorry about that, I'm just cautious with those I don't know But if he, " He indicated Lexington. "says you're a friend, that's good enough for me."

Brooklyn looked at the small cat-person and thought he looked somewhat like a human child, except for the face and the tail "You're a warrior? " He asked somewhat doubtfully.

"You want a demonstration?" The little commando glared challengingly at the larger Gargoyle with the big beak.

Brooklyn laughed casually "You're joking, right? You might be a cat, but you're a kid just the same."

"I wouldn't say that." Lexington tried to warn the larger Gargoyle.

"Come on." Nathan challenged "Put up, or shut up." He dropped into a sparring stance He didn't really want to fight the Gargoyle, but he hated people not taking him seriously.

Brooklyn shook his head "Okay, but just till someone yields, okay?"

The Felsin nodded "Of course, I don't really want to hurt you." He grinned impishly.

The two of them circled each other for a moment, and then Nathan lunged suddenly catching the Gargoyle by surprise The combat turned into a rolling on the ground wrestling match with Nathan's ferocity and training making up for the difference in size.

Lexington was so occupied watching his two friends brawling about the clearing that he didn't notice Goliath land next to him.

"I don't suppose you'd care to explain what's going on?"

The little Gargoyle jumped "Oh, umm, well... They're settling a little difference of opinion."

"Oh." Goliath raised an eyebrow "And just what would that be?"

"He, " Lexington indicated Brooklyn. "said Nathan was just a kid, and Nathan objected saying he was a warrior They decided on this to settle it, no real harm just till somebody gives."

"I see." He looked at the two fairly evenly matched opponents "I think the point has already been settled." He walked over and separated the two by putting himself between them.

Brooklyn looked up startled. "Oh .. hi, Goliath I bet you're wondering what's going on here, aren't you?" He looked a little sheepish "Just friendly sparring, nothing serious." The Gargoyle felt a little foolish since he'd been unable to get the upper hand on someone he'd called a child.

Nathan nodded agreement, feeling intimidated and yet somehow comforted by the big Gargoyle's presence "Yeah, we were just playing, no harm intended."

Goliath looked at Brooklyn "I assume the matter is settled then."

Brooklyn nodded "Yeah, I guess I made a mistake."

Goliath turned to look at Nathan "So you're the cat-demon the humans keep talking about It would seem that the descriptions were a bit exaggerated."

Nathan nodded "Humans panic too easy, they fear what they don't understand...and they don't try to understand what's different from themselves." He wasn't terribly fond of humans.

"Not all of them are that blind, though many are But you live alone in the forest? Where is your clan?"

Nathan stared at the ground "Clan? You mean my family? They all died years ago, but my father taught me to take care of myself I lived with another clan for awhile but their goals where the opposite of what I'd been raised to believe ... so I left, eventually I ended up here."

Goliath nodded "I've been told you've been helping patrol the forest."

The little commando nodded "Yeah, that's what he," He indicated Lexington. "was doing He's my friend, so I thought I'd help That's what friends do."

Goliath smiled, warming to the little warrior "It is indeed." He thought for a moment "Would you like to see what you've been helping defend?"

Nathan smiled "Is that possible? The humans don't react very well."

Goliath picked up the little tiger-tabby "There aren't usually any where we're going."

Nathan smiled happily "Good."

The scene blurred as time began to pass again Nathan smiled sadly watching the scene.

Jake turned to the winged tiger-tabby "What's wrong, Nate?"

"Nothing's wrong, Jake I'd just forgotten these people who meant so much to me And realizing I'll probably never see them again..." He sighed "He/I had found something we'd missed for a long time; family The Gargoyles became a kind of replacement for the family I'd lost ... especially Goliath, around him I felt 'safe' for the first time since my father died."


Young Nathan got back early from hunting, so he decided to be there when the Gargoyles woke up He'd never actually managed that before, since he usually was still in the forest when they woke up The tiger-tabby was still more comfortable in the forest than in the castle, so he didn't usually stay long.

As he surveyed the entrance to the castle from a concealed location, he realized that a number of small cats came and went without anyone paying attention He concentrated for a moment and was pleased as his form shifted to become like the little ones, only a reddish-brown coat with black points.

He was pleased as he wandered into the castle, and none of the humans paid the slightest attention to one more cat entering Moving quickly he made his way until he reached the tower where Goliath was sleeping The small cat put his paws up on the stone parapet and watched the sun begin to set.

The cat jumped back when the stone cracked and Goliath stretched and roared He was amazed; he'd been told they turned to stone during the day ... but it was far different to watch the return from stone.

Goliath noticed the cat on the tower looking at him because usually there wasn't anyone on the tower when he awoke The colors looked familiar though and there was something familiar about the eyes.

Lexington landed on the tower and saw the cat "Hi, Nathan." He said casually.

Goliath looked at him in disbelief "Are you saying that that, " He gestured to the cat "is Nathan.?"

The small gargoyle nodded "He turns into cats kind of like we turn to stone during the day...only he has more control."

"Sorcery?" Goliath asked suspiciously.

"No, he just does it."

The cat stood up on two legs becoming the small tiger-tabby "It's not magic, Goliath ... it's just part of who I am." He said, hoping the big Gargoyle would believe him.

Goliath was not sure, but the small warrior had been a faithful ally so he decided to accept that it wasn't sorcery, for now "Interesting What brings you up here so early?"

"Nothing really, I just finished hunting early and decided to greet you when you awoke."

Goliath smiled "Well, as long as you're here you can join us for breakfast And then I can assign the night's patrols."

Nathan smiled happily as he followed Goliath down from the tower The castle was actually beginning to feel like 'home', something he had missed having for a long time.

There was a sudden scene, it showed the Gargoyles driving a large group of attackers away from the castle Nathan was right there with them in thick of the fighting, usually working with Bronx, who also didn't have wings.

A brief scene showed Nathan back to back with one of the castle guards, holding off Vikings There was a brief pause in the fighting which allowed the guard to get a look at his 'partner' "Yur an odd gargoyle aren't ya?" He asked curiously, looking for wings.

Nathan chuckled quietly, as Bronx went past chasing a Viking "We don't all have wings, you know."

The guard nodded, feeling a bit foolish "Aye, that's true enough."

After the Vikings were driven back, Nathan went looking for Goliath, to see what was next The little commando's training said that they should finish off the attackers before they could regroup, but he wasn't in charge His keen ears picked up what sounded like arguing From the voices he thought it sounded like Goliath, Goliath's mate, one of Goliath's rookery brothers and the human Guard Captain.

The arguing stopped before Nathan could make it out clearly, but he saw Goliath and the older Gargoyle Goliath called 'mentor', flying out in the direction that the Vikings retreated He thought about it and concluded that they must be planning to scare the Vikings away, instead of actually finishing them off.

Nathan decided that since he knew the forest well, and was an excellent tracker ... he should go along to help Unfortunately, he had a lot of ground to make up ... but it wasn't like he was doing anything else.

Nathan was rather frustrated, he'd found the Viking camp but there had been no sign of Goliath or 'mentor' Since he doubted that he was up to taking the entire camp single-handedly, he headed back to the castle Dawn had already broken as he spotted two statues on the open plain, just outside the forest Feeling something bad had happened he bolted to the statues to discover that they were actually Goliath and 'mentor' in stone form.

The little tiger-tabby concluded that there must have been a diversion, probably the missing horses, that had drawn his friends far enough away that they couldn't return in time With Vikings in the area, Nathan sat down in small cat form to keep watch on the two vulnerable Gargoyles He could think of reasons why someone would want to draw the Gargoyles away from the castle, but without Goliath to back him up ... he knew the humans wouldn't believe anything he said.

There was another scene jump and Nathan was looking in stunned horror at the ruins of Castle Wyvern and the shattered Gargoyles He immediately bolted to the rookery from where Goliath had set him down, hoping that the cold knot in his stomach was wrong this time The little commando's heart just about leapt out of his chest when he saw the four Gargoyles coming out of the Rookery His whole body relaxed in relief to see that his friends had survived the disaster.

There was another blur, and when it cleared young Nathan was watching a Viking run away in terror He looked around searching for another Viking, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he knew something was very wrong He switched to tiger mode and sprinted back to the camp looking for his friends who had also been chasing Vikings As he approached he could see all the Gargoyles, except Goliath, surrounded by some strange green glow The young commando couldn't identify the glow but he didn't like it.

He bolted to the edge of the glow nearest Lexington and tried to reach through the glow to pull the little Gargoyle free, but the glow was a tough as any forcefield He carefully extended his troublesome ElectroMagnetic Perception trying to understand the field but it didn't help In desperation, he threw his full weight against the field at full speed but was still repelled Then he was blinded for a moment by a flash of light, when it cleared the glow was gone and all the Gargoyles were stone.

The little commando spotted the Magus standing on a nearby rise, and realized that what had happened was 'magic' and that the Magus was responsible He charged up the cliff and knocked the weak human to the ground , hard He was going to force the Magus to undo his spell when he saw Goliath land nearby He immediately ran over to report what had happened.

As angry as Nathan had been, Goliath's rage dwarfed it by comparison Nathan slowly walked over to Lexington and ran his hand gently along the little Gargoyle's face In the background he could hear voices, but none of it really mattered The world lost focus as Nathan felt everything slipping away again, same as when his parents had died.

It was very early morning, dawn was still hours away and Goliath had just finished putting the last of the Gargoyles into their traditional positions Nathan listened as Goliath asked Princess Catherine to look after the eggs in the rookery Then Nathan heard Goliath ask the Magus to cast his spell of sleep one more time Nathan rushed up the stairs to the big Gargoyles side.

"Goliath, if you're going to sleep with the rest ... can I too? I don't want to be left behind." The little tiger-tabby didn't care about dignity, if there was a chance to keep this 'family' he'd take it; no matter how slim the chance.

Goliath looked down at the little warrior He was surprised to see tears beginning at the corners of Nathan's eyes "There is no guarantee of waking up, Nathan."

"I know But it's the only chance I have to keep what little family I have left." Nathan blurted out, not caring who heard.

Goliath was somewhat surprised at this open expression from one usually reserved He put his hand on the little tiger's shoulder "I understand We both seek the same thing here, to keep what little clan we have left together Very well, if the Magus is up to it."
He turned to look at the wizard.

The wizard looked downcast "I'm sorry, the spell only affects Gargoyles."

Nathan was so crushed he didn't even react when Princess Catherine put a kindly hand on his shoulder, and spoke softly to Goliath "Do not worry about him Goliath, we will see that he is well taken care of."

Nathan shook off the hand "Thanks, but I don't need to be 'taken care of' I'm a warrior and I was trained in survival by the best If I can't join the clan in sleep then my duty is to stay here and protect them while they sleep I have to make sure other humans don't come along and finish what some humans started." His voice was firm and resolute.

Goliath put a hand on his shoulder "Nathan, you should go with them You will be alone here if you stay I don't expect you to spend your life alone, watching for a day that may not come."

The little tiger looked up at Goliath "I know you wouldn't ask me to, Goliath But it's what I choose to do, and besides in a crowd of humans ... I'd still be alone You've seen how most humans react to me, I'd rather spend a life alone then a life dealing with that kind of ignorance."

The big Gargoyle nodded "We each must chose our own path, but if someday you decide your path is elsewhere follow it, I will understand."

Nathan impulsively hugged Goliath "If I'm not here when you wake, please know that I stayed as long as I could." He stepped back "We'll see each other again, I know it."

Goliath smiled "I certainly hope so, Nathan You have certainly proven that a non-Gargoyle can be part of a Gargoyle clan."

The Magus cleared his throat "The spell must be cast before sunrise, Goliath."

"I understand." He took his familiar place on the high tower.

Nathan watched as the Magus cast his spell and as Goliath turned to stone so did Nathan's heart He was alone again, alone with the pain and grief of loss He quietly sat down beside Lexington, quietly putting away the heart he no longer needed ... or wanted.

He barely noticed as the Magus left the battlements When Princess Catherine came over he paid little attention He just wanted the humans to leave, and let him get on with his watch They had caused this disaster, and he wanted nothing to do with them.

"You could still come with us, Nathan Goliath was right, it will dreadful lonely here once everyone is gone." Her voice was truly concerned.

The little commando shook his head "Princess, I will be alone no matter where I am Here at least there is the chance, however small, that my clan will wake up No, I will stay You should concentrate on the promise you gave Goliath to look after the eggs in the Rookery, I think that will require all the influence you have." He looked around at the other sleeping Gargoyles "Don't worry about me, cat-demons are used to being alone."

"Aye, and that promise will be kept dinna worry about that." She turned and left the battlements, pausing briefly on the stairs "I dinna think yur quite the demon ye say."

As far as Nathan was concerned, she'd already left In fact, all the humans had So long as they left the sleepers alone he didn't care about them at all.

As Jake and Nathan watched the Mask could be seen returning fully formed.

Jake nudged the silent tiger-tabby "Why the mask now?"

Nathan spoke quietly, hesitantly "Three major losses in not quite six years was more than I/he could take My parents, Sy and now the Gargoyles ... the pain of loss was too much for someone so young to deal with He/I didn't want to hurt like that ever again, it just wasn't worth it ... so he put his heart away, sealed it up where it wouldn't ever get involved again And it stayed there for a long time."

"But I thought..."

Nathan turned and placed a gentle hand on Jake's cheek "As an adult years later I can understand what I gained from having them in my life, and I realize that it was worth the pain, but that's something that a not quite twelve year old kit couldn't see All he could see was the pain, and the loneliness." There were quiet tears in his eyes.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years Nathan settled into a routine of hunting, foraging, watching and sleeping that served his purposes Once the humans were gone the only loneliness was what he felt at sunset when none of his clan awoke Everyday at sunset he stood on the battlements watching, and everyday nothing happened.

With his stealth abilities and his tiger form he found it easy enough to keep humans from taking any serious interest in the deserted castle Months later he was amused when he overheard humans talking around a campfire about the cat-demon of Castle Wyvern That was part of his plan to keep the Gargoyles safe, make humans regard the castle as haunted or cursed He had learned that they gave such places a wide berth, no matter how desirable they might be otherwise.

Nathan hunted quietly in the woods at night as he always did, careful not to trip any hunters' traps that might be there There was a shadow overhead, he looked up to see a common avian flyer and sighed remembering how he first met the Gargoyles he missed so much There sudden snap and then hard blow and the world went black.

He woke to the sound of five adult human male voices arguing As he attempted to get up he realized that his ankles and wrists were tied together, and that the rope was stronger than he could break.

"I still say we should kill the demon and be done with it." A gruff male voice suggested.

"Ah, yur full of it Bill. Ye know we haven't got the means to kill a demon for good, it'd just come back stronger." A harsh voice said.

"I think we can, it bleeds so it must be killable." The gruff voice, probably Bill, responded.

"Yer both daft and missing a far more interesting possibility." A somewhat slippery-voiced individual interjected Nathan could smell the lust and alcohol in the scent of the speaker "Look at the nice form on him." Rough hands turned the kit around, and caressed him intimately "Like a young girl."

There was a round of guffaws and then a quiet voice spoke "Yer the daft one Thomas, consorting with demons will get ye a one way trip to hell and ye know it Besides, form or no that one's a bit fuzzy for the women I prefer." He chuckled darkly "But right normal for your bedmates ah wager."

There was more guffawing, but Nathan tuned them out as he realized that their intent was either to kill him, rape him or both He started to panic, then remembered that the ropes were tied to hold his Felsin form, not his small cat form He shifted quickly and as the startled ruffians reached for their weapons he shifted to tiger mode and attacked He quickly scattered the cowards, leaving them with varying wounds to tend to The little commando was angry enough to kill, and yet something stopped him.

Satisfied that he had scared them off, he went back their fire to examine his Felsin form for any wounds He discovered that his wrists and ankles had noticeable abrasions, which heal soon enough and that he had an incredible headache probably from being hit on the head He accounted his injuries as the price of learning not to daydream while walking, and of learning that humans were capable of anything.

Nathan was awoken early by a strange beeping sound He looked around trying to identify it, when he realized that it was the communicator built into his field jacket That meant that a team from Citadel was not far away He realized that he couldn't let Citadel know about the Gargoyles because Citadel would either try to use them, or destroy them to make it so Nathan had nothing to guard or stay for.

Sadly he walked over to Goliath "I'm sorry, I'm not strong enough to kill all of them and I can't let them find you The only way I can protect you is to leave you, and I don't think I'll be able to get back once I'm gone." He put his arms around the sleeping giant and thought as hard as he could to the stone, hoping he'd be heard. "*I have to leave to protect you, Goliath. I just hope that when you wake, maybe you'll remember me.*"

He quickly moved down to Brooklyn and repeated the goodbye When he got to Lexington he put his arms around the little Gargoyle and cried "*I'll miss you, you're one of the best friends I've ever had, and probably ever will have I just hope you make it through okay, and maybe remember me.*"

As he walked down the stairs toward the exit to castle, he careful packed up all of his memories and feelings regarding the Gargoyles and locked them behind the strongest barrier in his mind The one none of the psych-meds at Citadel could touch, the one his mother had put in place to prevent him from killing save to protect family or friends After he made one last sweep to be sure nothing was left, he locked the door and threw the key over into the block as well.

He walked out of the castle as though he had merely been taking advantage of it as shelter There was no sign or trace that Castle Wyvern meant anything to him When the recovery team found him, their psi-scan revealed that he had been living on his own in the ruins of a human castle and had had no contact with anyone in this timeframe They suspected that wasn't true, but they had no proof so they simply took the missing commando back to Citadel.

As the scenes faded to black Nathan sat on the ground sobbing, holding the cracked mask He looked up at Jake, tears in his bloodshot eyes "They meant so much to me, and I forgot them ... not because anyone else made me but because I did." His body shook quietly "I wonder if they ever woke up ... I guess I'll never know."

"The mask...?"

"Those who I need past it, I can now get past it But I think it will be awhile before I can really give it up I can't take that pain for just anybody." He looked up at Jake and smiled weakly "Only those I really care for."

Jake hesitated a moment before steeling himself "I can find out, if you want."

Nathan looked up with curiosity shining in his eyes "How? Earth is in Alliance space, I know that much, I just don't expect to be returning to the Alliance Not that I mind anymore, not much anyway."

"We can get there." He hesitated again "I have access to a few ... things ... that aren't really acknowledged." He looked anywhere but at his LifeMate "I wouldn't mind ... a clean start."

Nathan smiled quietly "This isn't something I expected to ever have to think about But first I'll have to figure out where the Alliance is relative to here.

"Not the way we can get there." Jake spoke softly "All I need is a sharp memory of a place that won't change in appearance and 'feel'.

Nathan pulled his mate close "Sharp memory? I don't have any other kind, so I guess that's not a problem There are a few places in the Alliance that'll work, when the time comes."

Jake shivered and nodded acceptance.

Nathan smiled softly "This is a big decision, and I think it should wait till we're back in real space to make it." He gently brought Jake's gaze back to meet his "Love, even if I'd had a way to get back I wouldn't have felt right asking you to leave Aristal ... but if you want to leave, and there's a way ... we can think about it If you want a clean start, the Alliance is certainly an effective way to do it." The tiger-tabby sighed "I just can't rush into the decision right at the moment There are ... loose ends."

"Just let me know when." He shrugged with near indifference "It requires little prep on my part past a suitable destination."

The tiger-tabby nodded understanding Part of him leapt at the thought of being able to get Jake away from the politics of Aristal, but part of him knew that it wasn't that simple He gently filed it away under 'things to do after Joining.'

He looked around, trying to figure out how to get to the third Mask ... or even what it would be He shivered briefly, the second Mask had been rough enough emotionally ... what would the final Mask hold?

"We can handle it." Jake spoke with gentle certainty "You survived it, we'll handle it."

Nathan smiled weakly and kissed his mate gently "Thanks Jake, I guess the next one worries me, because it's the one I had nothing to do with creating It'll probably also be the most resistant to being undone But you're right, we'll handle it."

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3         Part 4         Part 5         Part 6         Part 7        

A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 3 of 7

NC-17 for friggen Everything
Het Level is Low
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

227 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written April 1, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka, Todd McCall, Vorex and Lailokos

Setting: Galactic Alliance, SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Darshar, Felsin, God, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Abuse, Betrayal, Death, Mpreg, Violence

Pairings: Nathan SwiftClaw/Jake Clawson/Patrik Celest and many others.

Notes: Part of the infamous STD set of stories that began the monster that is Fur and Fantasy. This was the first spin off, and second story we ever started.

Once upon a time, on a list called SWATKats_Adult, a conversation resulted in Vorex posting a snippet to the effect of 'Chance as requested; fucked, abused and a little confused' and invited me to add the Jake parts to the series that would become Secrets Too Deep.

Around pt 7 of that, a nut case going by Todd McCall joined the fray and created a divergent timeline with me, which became this beast, Variant B. Known elsewhere as 'Secrets Too Deep: SWAT Kats Three' and 'STDB', among others.

Now the six of us involved in writing various variants have taken over our own list for it, because we chatter too much.

Originally released in 41 parts, it's now compiled for archiving.

Blurb: With the third SWAT Kat away at a medical conference, all hell breaks loose at the Yard, and getting his partners back together are the very least of Nathan's concerns soon enough.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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