A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 4 of 7
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for friggen Everything
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

There was a rush of darkness, followed by an impossibly fast moving blur of colored lines which bore a distant resemblance to circuit pathways When the world came into focus Nathan and Jake were standing on a street corner in a very bizarre looking city Everything was very blocky, all square corners and bright lines of various colors ran through everything including buildings and cars.

The few people had the glowing lines running through their clothing, and they paid no attention to Jake and Nathan As Nathan looked around he had a bad feeling he knew what the place was, and why it was here Suddenly, a holographic image of a female Felsin head appeared in front of him.

"Greetings, Nathan Welcome to level 42 To complete this level you must find your way through the city of Cyboria to the lair of the Cybermancer, and defeat him Remember, most citizens will not notice your presence unless you engage them in some fashion Be on the look out for the usual guardians and automated weapons emplacements Some of your colleagues in the resistance have managed to hide caches of weapons and equipment in the city, be on the lookout for them When your ready, put on the combat glove and begin."

The tiger-tabby looked down and saw what he expected: two Cybermancer combat gloves, which also looked a lot like advanced versions of the Glovatrix.

"Nate, what is going on here? Level 42? Is this some sort of game?" Jake sounded a bit incredulous.

Nathan sighed "The game was a Virtual Reality Combat Simulation that was popular on board a carrier I served on for over a year I got very good at the game but I could never finish it ... I never beat level 42.

"When Citadel first constructed the mind-blocks it looks like they used the one 'fear' I had to buttress it, and this is the representation it's choosing This Combat Sim was designed to enhance the working relationship of pilot and gunner, it's supposed to be 2 players but I always played alone But the final level can't be done that way, at least I never could."

He shivered a little "They knew I'd never accept another gunner, that I'd never trust that much again They used that to build the walls, and the walls are using the Combat Sim to represent what I have to get past to break through the mask The walls are seeking to block me by pitting me against something I know I can't beat That I've never found a way to beat."

He looked down at the gloves "Somehow I have to beat him this time, there's too much at stake."

"Nathan," Jake placed a confidant hand on his mate's shoulder as a light bodyarmor in the style of the NightBlade's uniform appeared on him "We will beat this Even if I'm not your gunner, I am a competent one and your LifeMate, and that's damn close." There was a fire of pure defiance behind his eyes as he picked up one of the gloves "If I'm not good enough for this, I'm not good enough to stay."

Nathan picked up the other glove, as the NightBlade uniform appeared on him as well He sighed a little, he never had been able to make sense of this problem of his "Jake, this isn't about you being good enough ... it's a fundamental difficulty of mine For this to work, I need to accept you as my gunner ... which means I have give up control in a way I've avoid doing most of my life, I have to trust your judgment as much as do my own ... these are things I've never been good at It's easier for me to accept a LifeMate, to trust you with my heart and the secrets I've kept so long.

"This is coming out really clumsy, but I've fought my whole life to stay in control, to let no one make decisions for me This time I need to trust someone else to make decisions 'cause that's what the gunner does." He paused briefly as he felt the stubborn, combat aggression rise in his mate's mind "I want to, it's just very hard for me But for what it's worth, I'm willing to try ... love must include trust, and I do love you."

He made a few adjustments to his glove "I'm setting things so that when the level begins, you'll be set up in gunner position which gives you primary control I've downloaded what I know of the game, the dangers, and the special caches into a database so you can take advantage of that knowledge.

"I've never tried pilot/gunner configuration but if I understand correctly it works in a sort of jointly controlled mini-'Mech Pilot provides the mech's agility and reflexes, and some movement control; the gunner has primary control and decision making along with weapons control The objective of the level will show in a heads-up display mode.

"I can't be sure what changes will have been made from the real-world game to this mind-space version, so don't trust the database blindly ... it may be wrong." He pressed a switch on his glove "Any questions? Just tap the green button on the glove to enter the level." He kissed Jake gently "For good luck, love If anyone can beat this level, you can."

"We can, Nathan." He pulled back with a low growl and flat ears, every inch of him settled into the mindset that kept him and his pilot alive through the years, right down to the Razor mask "There is no I and you in this Pilot/gunner is about the us." He swallowed as the mask flickered, momentarily shaken from his calm resolve "It's what went wrong between me and Chance Somewhere we stopped being an us." He shook it off sharply and locked eyes with his mate "Is there that us with Nathan and Jake?"

Nathan felt something *click* deep inside him as if a lock had come open He remembered that feeling of us from when he'd flown with Sy so long ago, and realized that that was what he'd been unwilling, even unable, to let anyone else have He realized that he'd crippled a part of himself out of a misguided sense of loyalty Sy had wanted him to fly again, and that meant learning to be us with someone new ... as hard as that might be.

He shook his head, and then looked back into Jake's eyes In Nathan's gaze there was a trust that he'd forgotten how to give, or even that existed, a long time ago "You're right ... we can do this. Not I, not you, but us That's more than just pilot/gunner, that's what the Joining is really about ... and somehow I forgot that, thanks for reminding me."

Razor smiled, relaxing another level as he leaned forward for a light, chaste kiss "For luck, Nate, and for learning to trust again."

He grinned enthusiastically at his LifeMate and partner "So, shall we kick the tail of this simulation of a simulation?"

"And then real life." Razor grinned just as enthusiastically back and tagged the green button on his glove with a flourish "It's showtime."

Razor and Nathan quickly discovered that controlling the mini-Mech was more of an us proposition than any fighter plane ever thought of being, much to Razor's initial annoyance Together they became the control system of the combat machine, which moved swiftly through the strange high-tech 'city' Between the two of them, the automated guns employed by the enemy were unable to touch them.

"Nate, I don't suppose there's a way to make this thing fly is there?" Razor asked after a particularly chaotic skirmish.

Nathan thought a moment "We'd need to locate the Argus flight module listed in the database That gives the 'Mech flight capability."

"Right, head west there's signs of aerospace plant that direction."

"West it is." Nathan nodded, shifting to the 'Mech's faster quadruped form.

The Mech stood over the remains of a large mechanical monstrosity that had been guarding the aerospace plant The thing had a large number of arms, legs and eyes in addition to weapons, but it had been neither fast nor particularly imaginative to Razor's immense relief.

The gunner looked over it appraisingly "It's not in the threat database, any idea what it is?"

Nathan chuckled "It's a representation of what I think of politics."

Razor 'looked' at him with a raised eyebrow "I thought you said you didn't drink."

"I don't."

The lean tom glanced back at the fallen 'monster' "Coulda fooled me."

Nathan grinned "The flight module is upstairs."

"Good, I'm tired of running Besides we'll have better control tactically from the air And do me a favor, do not bring that little opinion up around Callie I like my hide intact."

Nathan chuckled quietly "No problem, I have a little more tact than to drop that into conversation."

Once in flight the mech was engaged by dozens of small, amorphous winged entities Razor was grateful that the suit's systems were capable of tracking that many targets since the fast moving creatures were difficult to keep track of otherwise, even at his skill level.

The swarm kept both pilot and gunner quite busy, both avoiding being hit and taking down the blaster equipped opponents One opponent got a lucky hit on one of the stabilizers, and the 'Mech became difficult to control.

"You better set down, Nate That stabilizer is not going to hold much longer."

"Don't worry, repair system is handling it." Nathan said as the mech righted itself and leveled out.

"I don't see a repair system listed in the system directory."

Nathan chuckled "I'm not just a pilot, Jake I'm a medic, remember I fix things, I just applied it to the 'injury' of the suit."

"Inventive," Razor chuckled, "but that's my job."


"Now, what was that swarm?" He asked, half expecting to hear they were lawyers.

"Ummm ... my worries and concerns." Nathan said somewhat sheepishly.

"Ever consider a vacation?" He asked half-jokingly.

"Only if you're going with me." Nathan chuckled, more than half serious.

"When we get back to the real world, we're going on one, and not just to Anakata Island." He scanned the displays "Head west Main target is on the move."

The 'monster' guarding a flying factory was a giant, amorphous creature reminiscent of Dr. Viper's giant bacteria Fortunately, it didn't divide when hit, but it did generate a lot of extra tentacles, in addition to ejecting globs of corrosive goop Nathan was able to keep them both unhit, and on target enough for Razor to determine the creature's 'center' and take it out.

"I always hated fighting that thing." Nathan said as it collapsed into a pile of bubbling goo.

"That's actually from the game?" Razor was actually a little surprised.


"Good Now why do we need this bio-shield? The database doesn't explain that, it just says it's necessary to beat the Cybermancer."

"The bio-shield keeps the Cybermancer from taking control of the electronics in the 'Mech, which is one of his special powers."

"I could've done that without a fancy add-on."

"No doubt, but the game wasn't designed with TechnoMages in mind." He chuckled "Which should be a point in our favor."

"How much farther do you think?"

"Not sure, this level changes every time the game is played That's why it's tough, you can't practice it ... you have to beat it fresh every time But we can, this game doesn't know who it's facing." Nathan said with genuine confidence.

Razor grinned. "Fresh every time, huh? Good design."

They approached a dark hovering fortress, which slowly retreated from them while firing a multitude of energy blasts at them Even as coordinated as they were, the 'Mech still took the occasional hit.

"What's with the light show? For the big bad guy, he sure isn't hitting very hard." Razor commented suspiciously.

"Jake, it wouldn't be a light show if it was just me These attacks are tuned to prevent me from getting close, but against us they don't have the same punch They're based on my fears, the things that really hurt me psychologically, but their also aimed at the central control of the 'Mech ... and I'm not it." The tiger-tabby seemed pleased and encouraged.

"So that's why you had to be the pilot." Razor shook his head "That makes a certain amount of sense, but aren't the defenses smart enough to adapt?"

Nathan shook his head "The defenses were put in place a long time ago, and are linked to Citadel's understanding of me at that time About the only adaptation they can do, is to take advantage of related things, like this game It's one of the weaknesses of mental blocks, they can be very strong, but they're not very flexible."

"Good, that'll make them easier to deal with." Razor growled with a fair amount of contempt "Angle up fifteen degrees, there's an entrance one hundred meters up the main wall."

"z+fifteen, aye aye Captain." Nathan said with a wise-ass mock salute.

Jake groaned "Enough pirate movies, okay?"

The tiger-tabby chuckled in genuine amusement.

"I'll have to corrupt you into monster movies." He snickered back.

The fortress was heavily defended by metal humanoid guards of various descriptions: Feline, Canine, Avian and a few dragons Razor couldn't help but flash back on fighting a long sequence of MetalliKats, in varying shapes and sizes Fortunately, these robots weren't much smarter or organized than the MetalliKats even if they were at least as tough.

"This game does like the 'bury you' approach." Razor grumbled as they let the 'Mech's energy system recharge.

Nathan chuckled sheepishly "Actually, those were generated by my psychological defenses They're the various ways I deal with things I don't actually want to deal with."

Razor shook his head "That's an effective way not to face things."

"A lifetime of practice."

They entered a large, shadowed circular room with a high vaulted ceiling The only visible feature in the room was a large security vault door on the far side of the room from where they entered.

Razor pointed it out to Nathan. "Mask?"

"I think so, but we still have to face the Cybermancer." Nathan said, a little worried.

"Heh, how tough can he be after we trashed everything else?"

There was a crackling explosion of energy, and a ten-foot tall vaguely lupine being in black robes, with glowing lines of energy around him appeared in front of the vault door He looked at them appraisingly "You've done well to get this far But now you face the Cybermancer, turn back or face my wrath."

"Oh brother." Razor rolled his eyes as he readied for combat "I've pissed off worse than you."

Nathan blinked as he felt Razor reinforce both the bond between them, but also his control of the mech and the bio-shield's defenses.

"Stand down or die, Cybermancer." The gunner growled loud enough to be heard across the room, his tone leaving no doubt in Nathan's mind which option he was hoping for "We will pass."

Nathan dodged swiftly as the Lupo threw an intense energy blast at them As it passed close by, Nathan realized that the beam was composed of shards of glass ... of a broken picture He carefully buried his response, but still shivered a little reflexively, as he focused back on what he was doing.

As the tiger-tabby expertly dodged the heavy energy beam projected by the Cybermancer, Razor scored what should have been solid hits on the Lupo but they were deflected by the creature's shields.

Razor growled in annoyance "He's got shields like the Behemoth, and I don't see anything like a Scrambler missile in the arsenal How do you bring those shields down?"

Nathan shook his head "I'm not sure, I never got this far in the game Besides, the real power of his shield is the mental blocks." He paused briefly "Somewhere in this battlefield, there should be a Phoenix XP Plasma cannon which will take down his shields."

Razor raised an eyebrow "That's not in the database, Nate Where's that coming from?"

"Xander dropped it in for us, said it should work He's never let me down."

"Okay, any chance of meeting this Xander?"

"Maybe, once we're back in the real world."

"That should be interesting." He got a blip on the scanner "150 meters above and 50 meters right, I think it's the cannon."

Nathan nodded and rocketed upward while dodging the bursts, beams and missiles from their outraged opponent "I think we've made him mad." He quipped.

"I've pissed off worse."

"I'll bet." He agreed smiling, as he abruptly spun left and grabbed a large silver and white two-handed rifle "This is the plasma cannon, to power it take the Phoenix medallion from miscellaneous equipment storage and snap it into the arming slot." He said as if reading instructions, while he locked the medallion into place A quiet whine indicated the weapon powering up, followed by a signal beep indicating full power "All yours, Razor."

"Now to show that jerk who's dangerous to piss off." Razor growled as he adjusted the sighting on the cannon "Recharge time between shots?" He asked.

"10 seconds, it's a high output, slow recharge prototype."

"It'll do Let's win this game."

Nathan nodded agreement, and angled into attack, balancing keeping them difficult to hit while providing Razor with a reasonably stable target There was a blinding flash of white light and red fire as the cannon fired, striking the shield dead on The shield collapsed in a technicolor explosion, and drove the Cybermancer back against a wall with the chest of his robe smoking.

Razor swore inventively "Nate, the targeting systems just went, as did most of the weapons systems What the hell?"

"That's supposed to happen, Razor End of Game scenario according to some of my shipmates ... you have to take him with the Plasma Saber You any good at dueling?" Nathan asked as he watched the Cybermancer advanced with a blood-red energy blade.

Razor took a deep breath before nodding and activated his weapon He settled into a defensive position and focused on his opponent "Passable, according to Ka Never tried it for real since I started training, though."

"Well, like a combat instructor of mine once said ... 'there's no test like one with live ammo.'" He chuckled "I don't imagine he's all that good, he's working off my knowledge of fencing and I just had the basics back when I was in the Academy." Then he remembered something "Oh, and 'mentor' taught me a thing or two when I was on Earth."

"Anything else you 'forgot'?" Razor asked as he closed with the Lupo.

"Not that I remember." Nathan quipped.

Razor was surprised by the speed of the Cybermancer's strike, and Nathan had to dodge to give him time to bring the blade up to counter Several blindingly fast strikes followed, forcing them onto the defensive.

"The basics?" Razor growled. "Feels like sparring with Ka."

Nathan shook his head confused "I don't get it, he shouldn't be this good I'm not this good."

"I'd say you got some more lessons you've forgotten about."

"I guess We'll still beat him, its just more difficult."

Further discussion was interrupted by a need to concentrate on dodging and blocking The Cybermancer's blade grazed the arm of the mech before Razor could intercept it, and Nathan could move them out of harm's way.

"Kats Alive, that stung!" Razor growled, before Nathan's medic ability numbed the pain "Whatever he's doing now, looks like it works for both of us."

Nathan winced as he worked on healing the burn on his arm "Apparently, whatever he's working on is something that affects us both Some psychological vulnerability we both have."

"Just great." The lean tom grumbled "Doesn't seem to have impaired the suit mechanism though."

There was another flurry of striking, blocking and dodging and then Nathan instead of diving away from the Lupo, dove in close where Razor was able to score a solid hit on the Cybermancer's arm, severing it and causing the creature to howl in pain.

"Yes! Got him." Razor yelled triumphantly.

"See he's not so good." Nathan grinned.

The two of them looked to see the wounded Lupo advancing with his blade held expertly in the single remaining arm The look on his face was murderous.

"I guess we shouldn't get too cocky." Nathan said tentatively.

"We can take him, we just have to take out the other arm." Razor responded confidently.

"Let's get to it then."

The Lupo came running in at a blurring run, blade flashing blindingly The coordinated efforts of Nathan and Razor kept most of his strikes harmless but one of them struck across the midsection of the 'Mech cutting into armor.

"Razor, are you okay?" Nathan asked as he applied his medic skills to tending to his wounded gunner, ignoring his own wounds.

"I'll be fine." Razor responded through clenched teeth "Think the repair system can handle that And don't forget your own injuries."

"Repair system already on it And I will, as soon as you're okay." Nathan said in a voice that was entirely medic taking care of a patient, brooking no argument.

"Good This bastard is going down." Razor growled, and thought a complicated maneuver across the Bond to Nathan "Can the suit do that?"

"I'll make it." He said determinedly, adjusting the various movement servos to the necessary configuration.

"Good." Jake ordered calmly as his focus shifted into an entirely different reality, and called Ashley into play.

"On your signal." Nathan swallowed at the shadow-image he got from his mate as the battle entered the non-physical realm: TechnoMage and CyberWizard TechnoMage again Cybermancer.

"Now!" Both TechnoMages roared in unison as their opponent's crimson blade flickered out.

The mech launched into the air, over the Cybermancer momentarily blinding him with exhaust from the maneuvering jets and landing behind him where Razor sliced him cross-body shoulder to hip before the Lupo could bring his blade back on and around to block The Cybermancer fell to the ground in a bloody mess, his energy blade fading as it fell.

The floating female head reappeared. "Congratulations, you have beaten the Cybermancer and ended his attempt at world domination You may now recover the stolen data crystals and return them to their rightful places." The head vanished, and the vault door cracked in half and fell to the ground.

The mech vanished, and Nathan and Razor were left standing in the wreckage of the combat zone Both looked at the shattered vault door.

"Now to see what I've been forgetting." Nathan said apprehensively.

"Can't be any worse than what I have." Jake shivered and tried to wipe the residual blood from his burned uniform He took a step forward before looking at his mate "Your memories, you want to go in first?"

"Want to...not really ... but it's time I saw what people thought I didn't need to know." He shuddered a little as he straightened his scorched uniform and stepped forward.

Beyond the door was a long hallway, with deep alcoves on both sides There was deep dust on the floor as though no one had entered in years, and their footsteps echoed in the vaulted ceilings.

"You like museums, or something?" Jake asked remembering the library they'd been in earlier.

"Not really It's just how my mind organizes things, lots of open space for later expansion."

The first alcove contained a 3D holographic image of young Nathan, in his NightBlade uniform There was a force-field across the alcove protecting it.

"Looks like this is a hall of my former selves, so to speak." Nathan commented casually.

"Interesting way to organize them."

Another alcove was a slightly older Nathan in a Citadel uniform with pilot's wings.

The alcove next to him was only a little older, but wasn't wearing the pilot's wings.

"Where'd the wings go?"

"After the incident with Lance, they decided it wasn't worth trying to force me to accept another gunner, so they removed me from the flight section like I'd asked in the first place I was good at quite a large number of other mission types so it wasn't a big deal."


There was a teenaged Nathan, wearing what looked to be a civilian flight jacket with silver wings, neutral gray shirt and jeans.

Jake looked questioningly at Nathan.

"It was after they released me from Citadel and put me back into regular society where I was adopted by Dr. SolGardin. According to records I was 13 when he adopted me, and I had my silver wings by the time I was fifteen Dr. SolGardin wasn't happy with my interest in flying, too much of a warrior occupation as far as he was concerned."

"Or he just didn't want to you remember that you used to fly, and why you fly alone." Jake growled tartly as anger mixed with hatred just below the surface.

Nathan blinked at the angry tom in confusion.

"What?" He glared back at his mate "If the SG put you into society, don't you think they'd have a hand in who 'raised' you the rest of the way?"

"Maybe But his family was one of healers and artists; he didn't think much of warriors in general He considered the military a necessary evil, a compromise to the fact that there were so many unenlightened beings in the universe, as he put it." Nathan shrugged "It wouldn't surprise me if they did, but Dr. SolGardin's natural opposition to the military, and anything warrior was probably enough Besides the age the records said were a lie to cover my past." He sighed "I didn't know it at the time, but when Dr. Solgardin adopted me I was actually 21 but I looked 13 maybe 14 at most That was a side-effect of an improperly done stabilization procedure."

"Hur?" Jake blinked "Stabilization procedure? I thought you had parents ...."

Nathan nodded "I did, but anyone who takes a look at my genetic code sees a lot of engineering I don't know for certain but I'm guessing that the Citadel doctors knew I was the son of a G-0, and when they saw the amount of engineering in my genetic code decided to use the same stabilization procedure that's often used on G-0s The problem is that I'm not a G-0 and there are a fair number of non-engineered factors in my genetic makeup."

"They didn't take that into account, and the results were not as they should have been The most notable effect was that my development slowed significantly, I was close to 30, real age, before I reached full growth There's been no real study, but it's suspected that my aging process is probably inhibited as well ... but no one knows to what extent."

"Could you give it a good guess how long you'll live, if old age kills you?" Jake swallowed, a firestorm of fear and pain flaring just behind a tightly held shield.

Nathan had never given much thought to dying of old age since he'd figured he'd probably get killed in the line of duty before that was an issue "Hmmm Well, normal Felsin life expectancy is about 150, with 200 not being all that unheard of Taking into account my trips into the past, and the years I'm just starting to remember I'm about 110 give or take a few and I'd gauge my physical age is still around twenty-five more or less Real rough mathematics I'd guess maybe six or seven centuries but there's a lot of room for error, especially if the stabilization has me fixed on some sort of plateau age ... I might not 'age' appreciably for a lot longer."

Jake nodded and pushed the firestorm further down "I guess we'll just have to wait and see, then."

The next alcove was late teens Nathan in the gray medic fatigues, but low ranking Nathan smiled as he looked at his younger self "That was me just before my first field assignment, as assistant Medic to a strike team during one of the Mephiston border conflicts." Nathan sighed deeply as he remembered how the assignment ended.

"What's wrong, Nate?"

"Just remembering how I ended up as full Medic for the last part of the tour, a position I wasn't ready, or qualified for."

"What happened?" Jake asked curious, since Nathan rarely admitted to not being qualified for anything medical.

"I don't remember all the details yet, but I remember a real chaotic combat, losing and then recovering several team members and trying to heal the damage Several of those lost died as a result of injuries, and the team communication officer, who was also LifeMate to the unit Medic committed suicide The shock of that ripped through the group bond, and drove the Medic insane I had to take over, try to hold the group together and do what I could for the Medic." Nathan swallowed. "And I was as hard hit by the shock as anyone ... I just couldn't show it."

He sighed "When they finally pulled us out, the Medic had to be committed to a military psych ward and the rest of the unit spent six months on psych-med leave while the psych-meds put things back together Most of that six months is still very blurry, partially because for me that six months lasted a lot longer than six months."

"Another time trip?" Jake asked hesitantly as he held his trembling mate and refused to chastise himself for not knowing what else to do, but bring it all out where it could be dealt with, or buried for good by both of them.

Nathan nodded "Not the last time trip I made, but it was the longest by far." He quietly walked to the next alcove where his late teen self was standing wearing the stylized silver half-mask that had been the second mask He was wearing an archaic, highly stylized red on black military uniform with a blaster on his right side, and the silver handle to a lightsaber on his right. A blood-red sash crossed his chest from right to left.

The tiger-tabby looked at his earlier self and shuddered involuntarily "Lord Crimson, one of the more infamous pirates of the Republic He turned a ragged bunch of thugs and disheartened mercenaries into an organized pirate outfit that terrorized multiple star systems and defied the might of the Republic Navy If it hadn't been for the Jedi, he might have turned those pirates into the first interstellar government to break away from the Republic."

"Jedi?" Jake sucked in a deep breath as most of the strength left him "You've been to the Republic?"

Nathan nodded. "Yes, it was quite some time ago though I even lived there for close to sixty years." He walked to the next alcove, missing for a moment that Jake didn't follow him, but stared, frozen in shock and something else, where Nathan had first spoken of the Jedi.

Nathan turned back to seeing Jake standing frozen and rushed back "Jake, what's wrong?" He put his arm gently around his mate, hoping the contact would gently bring him out of shock.

He wasn't prepared for the terrified snarl, or clumsy attack as the lean tom tried to escape, but the blank look of utter confusion on his face was easy to read, even if the reason for it wasn't.

Behind his shields, Nathan sighed, "Not again," as he tried to figure out just what had been triggered by his mention of the Jedi and the Republic He carefully stepped away and sent calming reassurance across their Bond hoping it would ease Jake's confusion as the lean tom scrambled back several yards, and sank into a wary, defensive stance At the same time he scanned as gently, and as quietly as he could hoping to see what was causing the confusion.

He was met by a mind in utter chaos, erratically shielded and the normal flow of thoughts in complete disarray, more than even panic should have done Then he felt something far too familiar from his own life; a deep-seated block Jake hadn't known about had been set off A little deeper investigation brought no clear clue as to what it was about, but the intent was self-destructive, and wasn't quite running according to plan.

Then a nearly frantic, utterly prideless voice rang along their bond, begging for help, to be allowed to live It barely sounded like Jake, though it could no none other.

Nathan's mind immediately moved into medic mode He went along the bond until he reached 'Jake' and then he began extending his shields in a protective fashion When he had what he thought was sufficient protection in place he started cautious yet determined damage control seeking to isolate and contain the self-destructive impulses The chaos was very difficult to navigate and Nathan worried that his lack of experience in mind-healing might prove disastrous, so he called along his link to the Triad.

"*Mother, there's been some kind of explosive breach of a block in Jake's mind, I don't know the exact trigger but it's releasing self-destructive elements I'm doing what I can, but I have little experience in this Please make sure nothing happens to him, while I try to fix things.*"

Felsira's calming mind-voice came back "*Of course, Nathan I wouldn't let anything happen to him.*"

That calm reassurance helped the tiger-tabby to focus on his distraught mate He strengthened his shields around the focus of the frantic voice, and then buffered it with the 'safety blanket' his mother had taught him, grateful when Jake relaxed fractionally and curled against his mate inside the shield.

Nathan then set to scanning carefully to try to determine the cause of this chaos What he found made about as much sense as the breach itself, until he kept digging, soothing Jake as he went He smiled as the Kat started to purr lightly, and then blinked in confusion as he found what appeared to be the cause.

Life Expectancy Exceeded:
Begin Shutdown Procedures
For Personality Regeneration

The information flashed at him in bright, glowing red letters from a floating, transparent display deep in the chaos.

Nathan looked at the display, and wasn't sure what it meant but he decided he didn't like it He thought it was acting like some computer so perhaps he could deal with it like one Computers weren't exactly his strong suit, but he understood enough Some 'variable' had reached a decision point and triggered a program action.

'Shutdown Procedures', 'Personality Regeneration' ... Nathan glared angrily at the floating display Like Void either of those was being applied to his mate, if he had to call the whole Triad in to stop it.

He forced himself to calm and center and then considered the initial statement: 'Life Expectancy Exceeded', life expectancy was simply a statistical number, the length something was expected to survive Clearly, he wasn't going to solve this looking at this non-interactive display The only solution was a pretty dicey one, he'd have to go 'inside' the program itself.

"Not solo, you're not." A cheerful, but insistent voice informed him.

He turned to see a winged jaguar next to him "Caito? What are you doing here?"

"Fel thought you could use the help, while she makes sure nobody tries to 'regenerate' Jake's personality I don't need to tell you just how offensive she found that idea."

"Thanks, Caito Just be quiet, please, he's kind of fragile at the moment."

"*No, problem. I'm just here to help.*"

Nathan carefully scanned looking for some sort of 'access' into the offending program, backed by Caito's greater strength and experience.

The entrance was amazedly simple to find when looked at through the tricksters eyes It was clearly not designed to be particularly hard to enter for anyone who knew how or where to look.

"Of all the ...." Caito's half-annoyed, half amazed statement caught Nathan off guard as they entered the 'program' and started to size it up The winged jaguar actually chuckled at Nathan's raised eyebrow "Well, I'd say that this was actually designed to help him, to prevent him from going mad."

Nathan looked at the trickster in annoyance "A little more detailed explanation, if you would And if it's supposed to help, why is it causing such chaos and panic?"

"'Death', even expected death, isn't something many mortals take well." The trickster said as he shifted to Felsin form "That's what's causing him to panic." He looked around the program as it started to fall into order "As for why this got set off, I'd guess he's accepted enough years from his previous lives to have 'lived' longer than a Kat should."

Caito began rearranging a few lines of code as he explained "It's something we had to deal with with Keltin after a few centuries Mortal minds were never meant to be alive that long, and judging from what else is in here, Jake's body is nearly immortal; I doubt he'll age much past his prime, ever.

"But this predates Jake Looks like it was set up with the first mortal resident so they wouldn't live too long and face all the problems that brings."

Nathan thought for a moment "So that's why he was so interested in my expected lifespan, whatever the heck it ends up being."

Caito chuckled "Nate, even Fel's not sure what your lifespan will turn out to be Between that rather inept attempt at stabilization and your Dracon heritage, you and Jake are going to be together for a long time."

Nathan blinked in surprise "Dracon heritage, there's no Dracon, I've seen my code."

"You missed something then, 'cause Cazi's half-Dracon." The trickster smiled "And we know you got several Dracon elements, including the lifespan code."

Nathan shook his head "Cazi was half-Dracon So that was the elements I couldn't quite make out in his genetics." The tiger-tabby looked at Caito, anxiously "You helped Keltin, can you help Jake? I like him the way he is, even if some of the unexpected stuff is a little distressing I don't want to have to face a whole new personality, which is what that 'regeneration' sounds like." Anxiety and fear played across his entire body.

"This I can stop from messing with him, no worries." The trickster smiled reassuringly "A few centuries of actually living might require some more work, but then, it might not given that first one seems to be designed to handle it." He shrugged "That's more Fel's specialty, either way."

Caito regarded his handiwork critically "That should do it His age, perceived or real, won't trigger this particular code again." He smiled and patted Nathan on the shoulder "Don't worry, kit, he's not going anywhere Though it looks like you'll be in for seeing him through a fair amount of healing when this Joining is over."

As they exited the 'code-space' Nathan put his arms around Jake and held him close. He thought quietly to the departing trickster "*Thanks Caito, and as for seeing him through healing ... that's part of being LifeMates, and just part of who I am.*"

He sent quick, shielded thought "*How's Chance doing?*"

Caito took a quick look and sent back an equally shielded thought "*He's fine, kit Don't worry; I'm not letting anything happen to him Even if I didn't like him, which I do, I don't feel like dealing with centuries of grief for screwing up.*"

"*Thanks again, Caito.*"

The tiger-tabby gently stroked Jake's hair while he waited for his mate to come around He smiled thinking about what the trickster had said about a long time, and how he liked the sound of that.

"Wad'j'a' do'ta me?" Jake made the effort to focus on the tom holding him "Thanks."

Nathan smiled gently "I didn't do much of anything, 'cept call in some expert help Fortunately, I've got several experts right nearby." He kissed his mate chastely "You're welcome If you want an explanation, I'll try but I only sort of understand what happened myself."

"It's not coming back?" Jake asked quietly.

"Never." Nathan smiled at the relief evident in his mate, and made no resistance to the hungry kiss he was pulled into.

Jake smiled sheepishly in both gratitude and affection as they parted "Mmm, you were talking about Jedi?"

Nathan smiled as he stood, and offered Jake a hand up "Yep and how one put an end to my promising career as the biggest pirate scourge the Republic had ever seen." He grinned, as he gestured back at Lord Crimson before walking over to the next alcove.

The alcove contained two figures wearing loose garb of a light brown color One was a red fox morph slightly shorter than Jake, and the other was Nathan maybe 20 years old, with a very calm look on his face.

The tiger-tabby smiled "Master Jedi Haskari Vorshan, and Padawan Nathan Skyfire some years after Master Vorshan redeemed me from a life as a pirate He defied the Council when he trained me as a Jedi, though I later learned that he often did so His explanation was that I clearly had some training already and that equally clearly I needed guidance to complete my training."

Nathan chuckled "I think he was just unnerved by a pirate who knew one end of a lightsaber from the other But I will always be grateful for his willingness to give me a second chance Most of the Jedi wouldn't have."

"Ka would have ..." he hesitated a moment, "though I guess I don't know if she's that unusual."

Nathan smiled and shrugged "I know that even then a great many Jedi were becoming more interested in formality rules than the 'Living Force', as my Master put it He felt there was too much emphasis on the Council and its politics."

Nathan chuckled as he looked at the next alcove "Master Vorshan had a hard time talking me into taking the 'promotion' that went with taking on my first Padawan I wasn't really convinced that I had learned enough, much less that I could train someone else I'm still not comfortable with the title Jedi Master, but Master Vorshan was most insistent that I'd earned it and I never could win an argument with him."

He gestured to the timber wolf Lupo in the same alcove "The wolf is my first, and only, Padawan His name was Kryshan Tovar, and it was a lot of work keeping him on the right path Master Vorshan and I found him when he was a cub, and Master Vorshan decided that the cub needed trained, and that I needed to train him His explanation was that it was the one thing every Master does, that I hadn't."

Kryshan was a very angry cub, and I spent years tempering and calming that anger before I even dared teach him the ways of the Force It was worth it though, because in the end he became one of the most talented Jedi of his generation ... at least I thought so."

"It was a year after he passed his test to become a full Jedi, when I got pulled back to the present The Alliance psych-meds put the blocks in because I was having such problems accepting that I couldn't get back to that life The blocks ended up not only scrambling the memories, but all my Jedi abilities as well."

"These memories will take a while to fully incorporate, not easy reabsorbing sixty years of another life, but I think you have some idea about that problem." He grinned at his mate.

Jake only nodded slowly, still staring in numb fascination at the image of Jedi Master Skyfire.

"Ka once said that I'd be one of you, if I'd been born in the Republic." He spoke very softly "She did her damnest to train me when I was younger, before Shereth was born, but I never could take to the structure of it.

"I didn't think anything could hurt like that, when she admitted defeat." He closed his eyes, but didn't fight the tears that came He was just too tired too put the effort into it, or into shielding the fact he expected Nathan's reaction to be about the same as hers "It was worse when I figured out what happened to those who didn't learn, why she was suddenly so grateful we weren't in Republic space."

Nathan hugged the small tom close "My Master told me that they're very good at spotting those who won't take to the training, and they just don't try They probably wouldn't have tried in the first place, in fact they rarely try with kits much older than 5 or 6 I was a very big breach in protocol, but then my Master was known for that It's why he never was on the Council despite his years of service, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the Force."

Nathan looked at his mate "During one of the difficult points of my training, my Master told me about what happens because I asked He followed that with a statement that he'd require a couple of decades of consistent failure before he'd consider my training impossible Funny thing is, I think he meant it ... though sometimes I couldn't be sure, he had a very strange sense of humor."

"Jake, if I had to guess I'd say the reason you didn't take to the training was the influence of all the extra personalities Every living mind modifies the flow of the Force to some extent, and you have multiple 'minds' sharing space with you, even if they are part of you, they still have separate perceptions and thoughts One mind has a hard time staying focused during the early stages of training, so I can see why you would have had a hard time."

Nathan smiled gently "We can always talk Jedi stuff later, if you want to." He walked to the next exhibit.

The alcove was occupied by Nathan wearing a Shadow Government uniform with gold pilot's wings, and wearing the strange silver half-mask.

Nathan looked at him in annoyance "Lieutenant Zechs, who took over my life for about ten years after the DCL space-fighter prototype disaster He was a squad leader for the SG forces during one of the more serious open conflicts with the Alliance Arrogant Bastard." The tiger-tabby angrily walked to the next over to the next alcove.

The next alcove was Lt. Zechs again, this time standing in front of what appeared to be an eight-foot tall variant of Nathan's Exo-Frame.

Nathan growled at the image dangerously "Lt. Zechs during his assignment on Earth, serving as 'technical advisor' to an industrialist named David Xanatos The SG had reached some agreement with Xanatos to provide technical advice on the design of the new 'Steel Clan' in return for something ... I don't know the details."

Nathan's growling deepened "He used my knowledge from the DCL project to improve the control and response systems of Steel Clan to make them deadlier so Xanatos could eliminate my clan He damn near succeeded The only reason he didn't was that the SG didn't know I was connected to the Gargoyles Xanatos was trying to eliminate."

Nathan struck out blindly, war-form claw striking the force-field "Good for nothing bastard, tried to kill my Gargoyle friends using my knowledge!" The war-form began sobbing "Only dumb luck, and Xander's intervention stopped him; gave me control back just in time But I still hurt my own clan, my friends The one chance I had to see them again, and I damn near killed them." The tiger-tabby sank to the floor "I'm grateful they didn't realize I was the same as the kit they remember, I wouldn't have wanted to stain their memory of him with what happened." He put his head in his hands sobbing.

Jake stood still in confusion for a very long moment before he knelt next to his mate and embraced the sobbing Felsin as best he could "*As you keep telling me, don't waste energy feeling guilty over something you couldn't control He's not you, any more than Ashley is me You don't get to live by different rules just because you're in charge.*"

After a few moments, Nathan stopped sobbing and nodded quietly "You're right, I'm not but it's tough to remember at times I just wish I could get rid of him before he gets a chance at doing anything else."

"That can be arranged." Jake growled softly.

Nathan shook his head "Let's just get past this mask first, okay?" He suggested, carefully keeping the fact that he was more than a bit nervous about what Jake might be contemplating behind shields He looked up and saw that there was one alcove left, before a set of large double doors that ended the hall.

He stood up and quietly walked over The look of shock on his face was a mix of horror and disbelief. "That's not possible. It can't be."

Jake looked at the figure, which was clearly Nathan; except that the fur was much darker closer to black with black tiger stripes, and the figure was dress in shadow gray body armor The figure held a strange double-edged blade, and several additional weapons including two different high-tech handguns were attached to a weapons belt The expression on the face was one of a professional hunter, cold calculating and completely merciless.

Jake turned to his still stunned mate "Is that you?"

Nathan shook visibly "Has to be, he's here But that's Hunter Blackthorne, a freelance assassin who's killed hundreds across the Alliance At least that fits the few descriptions that exist, he doesn't usually leave witnesses."

Nathan shivering became too much for him to stand, and he sank to the floor He tried to find some way to resolve the assassin's presence to his own dedication to the preservation of life He reached back in his memory trying to find something, anything that made sense of the assassin's presence.

Then he thought about those Hunter had been accurately attributed with killing, and saw the connection that had eluded police The one connection that explained Hunter.

He slowly stopped shaking, and looked at Jake "I understand; his kills have all been against people who harmed units I served with, or who betrayed the Corps in some fashion Hunter did what I couldn't do, not consciously He acts in the one loophole in my prohibition against killing, he kills to protect or avenge family and friends. I can kill to defend, but hunting is contrary to my nature ... not to his."

The tiger-tabby carefully stood up, still a little shaky "It also explains the blackout I had Saturday night."


"Late Saturday night or maybe it was very early Sunday morning I came to downtown near Enforcer HQ I couldn't figure out how I got there, but now I know ... Hunter had taken control and was going to 'fix' the problem I'd identified I wonder why he didn't finish the job ... it's not like Hunter to leave a target alive."

"You can't ... look ... now?" Jake asked cautiously, more than slightly mesmerized by the night warrior "Check his memory for what happened?"

Nathan concentrated carefully trying to access Hunter's memory, and then realized what had happened "My sentinel detected a 'problem' and shifted the balance of control from Hunter to me Since Hunter didn't actually have the target visually or scent acquired, his control wasn't very strong." Nathan chuckled lightly "If Hunter had already acquired his target, there would've been no distracting him He's as dedicated to the hunt, as I am to my patients; and he's just as talented, after all he has full access to the genetic enhancements that were part of what made Ebon so dangerous."

Nathan looked over at the big double doors, and smiled anxiously "The control to this 'mask' is behind those doors It should release the memories fully and allow me to start integrating them."

He walked over to the door which opened easily Inside was a massive power control center with a large console in the center Around the edge of the console were several lighted control panels, and in the center was an open junction box.

Nathan walked up to the main control console "This is where all the blocks, except one, are controlled from." He pulled out the Phoenix medallion that'd been used in the cannon earlier "Xander calls this the 'Phoenix Gate', he says it allows passage through time, but since memory is a function of time it should bypass the memory blocks."

He cautiously set it into the junction box where it clicked into place There was a change in pitch of the background hum as the light on the console brightened "Master control circuit completed, shield grid fully accessible." He said as though operating the shields on a starship.

He looked at Jake and grinned "You might want to hold on to something, I don't know what'll happen when I shut this sucker down."

The tiger-tabby waited till Jake appeared 'ready', and then he entered the commands to terminate the shield grid, and dump the core There was a brief complaint from the system about improper operation and such, which Nathan ignored, followed by a complete blackout in the room followed by exploding circuits There was a huge surge of power from the control console through Nathan up to the ceiling, right before the room went away.

Jake regained consciousness to find himself lying next to Nathan at the edge of Lake Maxwell He felt a little battered but otherwise unharmed, his mate on the other hand was still out cold.

He swallowed in sympathy of what Nathan had probably just been hit by After a quick circuit of the immediate area for potential threats he returned to his unconscious mate and focused, bringing Ashley's war-form to the fore.

She lifted Nathan easily and trotted to the cabin, furnishing the interior from memory before setting him on the largest bed, the one Ebon, Nareena, and Cazi usually shared, before handing control back over to Jake with a comment to just relax and wait it out.

Jake shook off the still odd sensation and settled down next to Nathan, snuggling close as he waited for his LifeMate to recover.

It was quite a while later, when Nathan struggled back to consciousness He looked around, recognized the location though couldn't figure out how he had gotten there, and then felt Jake's warm body snuggled close to his He gently nuzzled the cinnamon tom to get his attention, while he stalwartly ignored the annoying headache from some 80 years of previously unrealized memories.

"Is that the last of your Masks?" Jake asked softly as he began to groom his mate's rumpled fur.

Nathan nodded delicately "Yep, thank Felsira That last one gave me a definite reference for the term 'hangover' I'll be sorting those memories for a month trying to get them in the proper places." He looked around the room and did the best imitation he could of purring, while he absently stroked Jake's fur He didn't feel in much of a hurry to do anything, other than enjoy the quiet closeness.

"Good." Jake grinned in amusement, then went serious "I guess it's my turn then?"

Nathan nodded quietly, and nuzzled his mate supportively "When you're ready, love."

Jake nodded slowly and eased off the bed to stand He closed his eyes and shifted to appear as Razor "I know some of this is going to be a review, but just bear with me."

"Your mindset actually changes?" Nathan interrupted as he recognized the shift in perspective as more than just 'putting on a mental uniform'.

"Yes," he nodded as he took the mask off to leave Jake in Razor's uniform "It's effective, and keeps my duties, and hobbies, from controlling my life any more than necessary It's much easier to step away for a while when you've distanced yourself a little." He looked down at the black cloth in his hands "This was the easy one You already knew about it, for the most part The rest aren't so easy."

"How many are there?"

"Oh," he started naming them as he counted, "Commander NightRazor, CO Jake, Enforcer Clawson, Mechanic Jake, Jake Clawson ..." he dropped his eyes to the ground, "and Reaper, for starters."

"Reaper?" Nathan flicked his ears forward in curiosity "The one ...." his voice trailed off as just what the news had said about that Kat came to the surface.

"The one in the news, the serial killer Yes." Jake nodded and refused to look up as his clothing shifted to a charcoal and midnight black bodysuit and trench coat "I'm a lot of things you don't know about."

"But how?" Nathan almost let himself slide fully into denial "You're not like that."

"But I am, Nathan." Reaper looked up with cold, rage and pain filled eyes "Though you are partially right, I'm not your average serial killer I'm the vigilante Feral's always calling Razor; the one who takes justice into his own paws I make more than four kills most months, and I still don't make a dent in the sickness that infests my city."

"Who knows you do this?" Nathan tried very hard not to be sick at the knowledge that began to drift between them The knowledge not only of what his mate did as Reaper, but a taste of the why He wasn't the simple hunter that Hunter was, Reaper was a sadist that honestly enjoyed what he did in killing, and held great satisfaction in a kill well made into a slow death.

"That I've told, just you." Jake settled his hand on his mate's shoulder "That know, or at least strongly suspect; I'm sure most of the squad, Pat, Felina, and probably a couple of the medics that have patched me up, at the very least But no one has asked about it either." He watched Nathan try to deal with the revelation and sighed "It does figure, one of the only things that really bothers you about me, and it's not an attempt to drive you away."

Nathan had to work this one through for a long moment; Jake was right ... it did bother him Then he thought about the word his mate had used ... 'sickness'; there was a definite truth to that assessment of the current state of affairs Then he remembered one of his instructors at the Academy explaining why there wasn't a necessary conflict between Black Ops and the Medic Corps 'Black Ops is the laser scalpel of the military It allows the removal of destructive elements with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue (society).' Nathan knew that he couldn't take such steps himself, but if by removing such elements from society protected the larger whole from greater damage, wasn't that in some respect the same idea?

Nathan looked at the cinnamon tom watching him "I won't lie to you, it does bother me ... but not as much as you might think Jake, I guess I'm really more surprised than anything It's not a step I could take myself, but as a physician I understand that you often have to destroy some cells to protect the rest of the body This isn't so different, as long as you're being careful with your target selection. You are, aren't you?" Nathan asked hopefully.

"Careful, no." Jake shook his head, and absently rubbed a jagged scar on his hip "I've taken on a few folks I really shouldn't have But I'm very selective." He caught Nathan's eye "How closely have you been following the case?"

"Hardly at all." He admitted quietly, settling on the bed and patted a spot next to him.

Jake nodded uneasily and sat down, pulling Nathan against him gently "In the last twenty years, as Reaper, my claws have killed 1097 individuals, the last one only five days ago." His attention drifted into space "I remember every name and face, every crime they committed, and every crime I committed taking them down."

"How did you choose your targets?" Nathan prodded quietly.

"By their crimes, and how lax the legal system is with them." Jake sighed "Pedophiles, rapists, abusers, murders, gangbangers ... and a few sick bastards that I don't have a neat title for." He dropped his elbows to his knees and focused on the ground between his claws "It's a lot of why I'm so ... paranoid ... about hurting innocents I've taken so many lives, some of them in ways that still make me sick to remember Reaper's creative, and quite the sadist at times I guess ... it's so easy to cross that line and disregard all life ... I don't want to cross that line, but I still feel myself come close too often."

Nathan put his arm around Jake "What you mean by 'selective' is what I meant by 'careful' I'll admit the numbers are a bit ... surprising, but the targets are the sort I think I'd pick ... if I was more like my father Actually Jake, you remind me of him, in some ways." He smiled slightly "That's a compliment in case you were wondering And I'm relieved to hear that you still realize there is a line, I've known people with fewer kills who didn't."

"That's not my entire kill-list, just the one as Reaper." Jake leaned against his mate, guilt and gratitude radiating from him "I've taken lives intentionally as a Commander, Enforcer, Jake Clawson ... Razor ... and one very scary moment as the Mechanic Jake." He sighed "But Reaper's the one that actually hunts."

The tiger-tabby swallowed and spoke quietly. "Jake, if you're going to continue with this ... just tell me, and let me doing the patching up okay?"

"I ... yes, I'll still be hunting as Reaper It's necessary." He cast a sideways look at Nathan "And you can do the patching up, when I need it It's not often, but I get in more trouble as Reaper than Razor ... I take a lot more risks, and don't think quite as clearly These creeps get to me."

Nathan nodded and hugged his mate "If you're wondering why I can take this so calmly ... well, I've got more than a few dead on my conscience ... I only wish I could say they all deserved what happened." Nathan's eyes became distant and a little pained.

"You're very different from any healer I've known before."

Nathan nodded "Not entirely surprising Most healers have the luxury of just being healers, they only have to deal with healing the injuries and such A Medic is the cross between the military and the healers The price we pay for being able to stay with the combat troops without being a burden to them ... is that we are in some respects combat troops We aren't front line, but we're as close as anyone gets without being frontline."

Nathan looked at the ground dejectedly "This can become especially difficult when we get into the higher ranks, when we can end up in command of full combat situations Some Medics actually refuse the promotions because they don't want that That wasn't something that ever occurred to me because I wanted the promotions, because I wanted as few people making decisions for me as possible."

The tiger-tabby sighed "One of the most difficult assignments for most Medics is what we call 'The Ring of Fire', which is a kind of dramatic name for Planetary Quarantine Enforcement It's necessary when something virulent and either unknown or hard to cure breaks out somewhere, where the local government can't get it quarantined locally fast enough The problem is that it's almost inevitable that during the panic some ship will try and run the blockade."

Nathan shook his head sadly "Most ships turn back when they discover Alliance warships in their way, but sometimes they don't. Then it usually ends up the Quarantine Officer's job to deal with it, because the military officers 'defer' to him or her The final option to prevent a ship from escaping to hyperspace is to try and disable the engines ... but with the older ships, sometimes they just can't take it.

"The exact details are long, but I was QO on a blockade when an old freighter broke out The ship I was on happened to be closest at the time and I ended up in command because the ship's captain insisted that it was a 'medical' situation, not a military one. We'd tried everything we could to get them to turn around, but they wouldn't We couldn't allow them to hyperspace because where they came out might not have gotten the quarantine warning yet.

"I gave the order for disabling fire, and just before the guns fired we got a communication from freighter claiming they weren't infected and begging us to let them go Just before the engines on the freighter overloaded, I remember seeing the image of a wolfen cub and his mother on the viewscreen There were 238 others also on board, but that scene is burned in my memory." Nathan looked into the sky. "The inquiry board I requested said that I did exactly what was required, and that the ship's captain should have done so without my intervention.

"They said I did everything right ... it doesn't feel that way, though The Corps counselor told me that I shouldn't dwell on remorse for the lives lost, but should focus on the potential disaster averted ... but they didn't see that cub's face." Quiet tears ran down Nathan's face.

"You sound like a Jedi, with fewer negotiation skills." Jake murmured as he licked the tears from his mate's face "And here I thought this was when I was supposed to do most of the talking."

Nathan smiled apologetically. "Sorry about that ... that really wasn't planned ... I just wanted you to understand why what you told me didn't bother me as much as it would most I'll try not to do that again ... may not succeed, but I'll try As for negotiating skills ... medical issues are far too often non-negotiable."

"Don't worry about it." Jake actually chuckled "Has anyone ever mentioned you talk and process more than most females?"

Nathan looked a little surprised, then chuckled "No, I can't say that anyone's ever mentioned my being talkative ... I'm not with most people As for processing ... well, I've never heard it described as a female trait before ..."

"It is on this planet," Jake laughed outright, "and something we share."

Nathan raised an eyebrow at the unspoken connotations drifting behind the words.

"I don't mean it that way," Jake's smile faded, "but it's usually an insult, amounts to being called a girl."

Nathan shrugged. "Different planets, different customs ... no big deal." He grinned impishly. "And Felsin shapeshifters don't change sex, so don't get any ideas."

Jake grinned back, a playfulness in his eyes that spoke of plans to come "Too late for that." He leaned against Nathan, his entire demeanor changing in an instant as he kissed his mate gently "Seriously, I like you the way you are Secrets or no."

"And there is nothing in your past, or your plans for the future, that will change the way I feel about you." Nathan held his mate close as Jake fidgeted.

Finally the lean tom stood and turned to face his mate "There's one mask I can't 'remove' like the others, but it's as much as mask as Razor, if not more so." He hesitated to take a breath "That's the Kat you've grown close to over the last year Jake Clawson is as much a creation as any of the others, and just as much a part of me."

Nathan held his breath and watched as Jake struggled to continue for a moment.

"It's the one I don't know how to let go ..." He looked up hopelessly "I can trade it for another role, but to let them all go ... I don't know how."

Nathan found himself seriously at a loss It had never even occurred to him that Jake Clawson was a mask as well After all, masks have to be over something ... Nathan had figured that Jake Clawson was the base He pondered for a long moment, and found he was still quite uncertain "Jake, I'm not sure what the answer is here ... the only thing that comes to mind, is that maybe since it can't be removed maybe it isn't really a mask ... but I really don't know You say it's as much a creation, but it sounds like it's a more stable, durable creation I'll admit I get a little confused with this you being different from Jake Clawson ... but is it possible that Jake Clawson is becoming the focal point for the rest, less a mask and more a constant." Nathan looked distinctly confused "Kats, I think I just confused myself with that Best theory I could come up with based on what little I know."

"I am Jake Clawson." He tried to work out what he meant as he went "But there is so much before Jake came about ... he can't even begin to, well, deal with it all." He ran fingers through his hair in frustration "I'm not explaining this well, but it's barely more than a feeling Jake Clawson was created, but created as a blank ... I think that's right at least." He stared directly at his mate "How do you know when the masks are gone?"

Nathan was a little relieved at that "I'm not sure really ... I'm told it's more of a feeling thing really Unfortunately, my one experience with this is not much help ... it just doesn't relate I would think the masks are gone when you aren't trying to hide anything ... so I think that if you've gotten down to Jake you're probably past the 'masks' ... what went before, I'm not sure ... I've never encountered anyone who had someone before themselves to deal with I'm not sure the stuff before is really behind a mask, not in the traditional sense." Nathan slowed down and tried to clear his head a little. "The most helpful explanation I can think of, is that masks are 'illusions' presented to the world by the person in the Joining ... therefore, the only masks you really have to deal with, I think, are the ones you, Jake Clawson, created."

"Only what I created, not what was created in making me, though?"

Nathan rolled it a round in his head a moment. "Yes, I think that makes a certain amount of sense ... for it to be a mask, it has to be one you can take off ... otherwise, it's just existence Amazing, in all the texts I've read on the subject of Joining, no one ever discussed how to know when all the masks are down."

The tiger-tabby shook his head "I suppose if nothing else works, we could always ask Mother what the situation looks like ... part of the facilitator's responsibility is to help us get past the masks." He looked upward and grinned mischievously. "And I know she's keeping a real close eye on things."

"We can always take a break from thinking ..." Jake leaned against the Felsin with a lecherous look.

Nathan laughed playfully as he was pushed to his back onto a soft bed "I guess what it comes down to, is do you feel any masks left? If you don't think so, then hopefully things will ... move on."

Jake hesitated, lounging on top of Nathan's broad chest as he thought "I feel like there are still 'illusions', but that's more because of how I see myself, not necessarily the truth I've always known I wasn't 'real' ... not like everyone else I always knew I was created, even before I learned the full truth of that statement."

"You are very real, Jake It doesn't matter that your body has seen more personalities than you can assimilate." Nathan hugged his mate. "By the way, thanks for clarifying things there ... you had me worried when you started sounding like you were somebody other Jake Clawson." The tiger-tabby grinned. "I've gotten rather attached to him you know."

"I've noticed," he smiled and claimed a long, heated kiss, "would you consider getting to know each other about the only way we haven't?"

Nathan chuckled, and tried feigning innocence. "I'll consider just about anything coming from you, but what did you have in mind?"

"Do you trust me?" Jake asked in all seriousness.

"Of course." Nathan looked at him in real confusion "How could I not?"

"I don't know, but it's serious that I ask, and you understand I'll stop if you ask me to." Jake met Nathan's confusion with an intensity of concern he rarely showed.

Nathan stroked his mate's cheek ruff with one hand, while meeting his gaze directly "I trust you, Jake When I chose to enter the Joining with you, that was one of the greatest statements of trust a Felsin can make."

"I ..." Jake took a breath to steady himself, "I don't share your understanding of what a Joining means, though I know the essence of our views are the same." He rolled his head to lick Nathan's fingers "I need to hear you say you understand, to have your promise you'll tell me to stop of I push too far."

"I will always tell you where you stand, Jake." He urged his mate's mussel down for a reassuring kiss "And I give you my word, as your Bonded mate, that I will tell you if you push me past what I'm comfortable with." He returned his mate's relieved smile "Now what did you have in mind?"

Jake took a moment to formulate the right words "Would you be okay with me mounting you, with your wrists tied?"

Nathan had a brief flashback of one of the mask images, and tried to shake it. He reminded himself that it was 'just a memory', and it wasn't even his memory The tiger-tabby knew he trusted Jake, but wasn't sure how far he trusted his own reactions.

After several long moments, Nathan sighed "Jake, I'm willing to try this ... not that I understand the whole tied up bit."

"It can drastically enhance the experience -- to give, and receive, that level of control to another." Jake sighed "It can be something of an acquired taste, though some seem drawn to it without experience."

Nathan paused for a moment "Just give me a moment here ... I need to make sure NightClaw is securely 'asleep'." He focused internally, and carefully buffered 'NightClaw' from any outside perceptions and smiled nervously. "Ummm. I guess that takes care of that Now what?"

"Now you tell me why you're uncomfortable." Jake went deadly serious "This is for both our pleasure If you're afraid, of anything involved in this, we either settle those fears, or we don't try." He focused a second to calm himself and watched his mate very carefully "This is not a light subject, Nathan Not as far into it as I am."

Nathan sighed, and tried to frame the explanation so it made some sense "The problem is that the first time I ever experienced this concept of being tied up during sex ... was from the mask I'm not sure how clear I was about it ... but I didn't just 'see' what happened ... for some measurable period of what happened it was if it happened to me."

"Oh, gods."

Nathan shivered involuntarily "Mother took the storm away and dampened the impact, but the memories are still crystal clear ... the curse of this enhanced photographic memory of mine ... I remember everything, and even Felsira can't change that I'll be able to deal with it in time though, now that she's removed the storm."

"I didn't realize ..." Jake breathed, his eyes wide "I'm sorry I wouldn't have ...."

"Jake, relax." The tiger-tabby looked up at him "I trust you, but I'm not sure if I trust my own reactions to being restrained I haven't really had any time to deal with what I absorbed." Nathan smiled weakly "What I'm trying to say is, I'm fine with the sex ... I'm less sure about the extra."

"You're sure you're okay being on the bottom?" Jake's mind scrambling over what little he'd learned about being the mate of a rape victim "It's definitely not necessary for you to, you know I like receiving."

Nathan nodded "Yes, I'm sure I'm okay being on the bottom I have plenty of wonderful experiences with that from being with Rhy, it's just the restraint I'm not sure how I'd react to, not this soon anyway." The tiger-tabby pulled Jake into a passionate kiss "I hope I haven't scared you off ... I was kind of looking forward to you mounting me."

Jake nodded, still a touch uncertain even as his hands began to caress Nathan, enticing a low moan from the tom "Do you have a preferred position?"

Nathan smiled gently. "Preferred, no not particularly ... I'm pretty flexible that way." He said, as his mate groaned softly in response to his use of gentle caresses and sensual massage touches "If there's a way you're most comfortable with, go with that."

Jake took a long moment to put the thought together and weigh his choices while almost completely distracted by Nathan's skilled touch "You on top." He was already breathing heavily as he rolled to his back, a couple easy strokes getting him hard enough.

Nathan leaned over his still edgy mate for a kiss, rubbing their bodies together as he tried to sort out the mixed signals Jake was giving off "Are you sure?"

"That I want this, you, gods yes." He groaned and arched against the body above him as Nathan's tail brushed against his balls "Good idea ... no so sure."

"Because of you, or me?" He asked, trailing licks down Jake's jaw and neck when he felt his mate's anxiety skyrocket as he shifted to straddle the smaller tom.

"M-me." Jake managed to breathe as his eyes drifted closed as Nathan worked his way down his chest, then abs "Don't stop."

"Only when you ask me to." He assured before sliding his mouth around his mate's cock, his hair drifting across Jake's thighs He hummed deep in his chest, mimicking the physical resonance of a Kat's purr, as Jake's hands began to kneed his hair Nathan smiled and teased the barb hairs with his own rough tongue as he wetted the erection enough to slide easily enough inside him.

Nathan chuckled at the wordless objection Jake made when his mouth left his cock as pre come began to drip from the tip and pressed two fingers against the tom's lips "Wet." He ordered softly as Jake took them in, and more aroused he than expected by the anticipation of this mating.

Jake whined again as Nathan removed his fingers, but watched in silent fascination as the Felsin prepared himself quickly, and slowly guided himself down, accepting Jake's hard cock into his body a bit at a time.

Nathan breathed in sharply as his legs tensed to push him up, feeling his mate's barbs try to hold onto him, plucking tiny needles of pleasure-pain as Jake came out He closed his eyes in pleasure, remembering as much as feeling.

"Thank you Felsira." Jake whispered almost too softly to hear as he caught Nathan's hands, entwining their fingers and pulled the bigger tom forward to pin his hands under the tiger-tabby's, and let his mind go to the sensations as he thrust in counter-rhythm to the pace set by his mate.

Nathan relaxed to his side as he felt Jake make a rather clumsy attempt to scan him as they caught their breath, both soaked in sweat and come and quite past caring "What'cha looking for?"

"Umm," he backed off almost instantly.

"Jake, you were fine." Nathan caught his mate and tried to soothe him "You're welcome to look I was just curious what you were looking for."

"If you were really okay with it." He whispered as the scenery shifted for a heartbeat before it was forcefully blanked out.

"What happened?" Nathan focused on the edgy tom lying next to him "Were you ...."

"No ... well, yes, but that's not ..." Jake rested his head on Nathan's chest, "I don't want to go there right now."

"Someone close to you?" Nathan murmured gently, wondering if there were any relationships his mate had that weren't rife with trauma.

"Someone I lost because ..." he shuddered as a part of his mind shut down, "someone I lost."

Nathan gently stroked the smaller tom's hair "No need to hurry, love Talk when, and if, you're ready." The tiger-tabby whispered reassuringly.

"It's nothing really, it just hurt." He sighed and leaned into the contact "She was raped while we were seeing each other I tried to help, to do what was right for her, but ... it just wasn't enough She said she couldn't stand to be touched like that, by a lover, again, and she wasn't willing to change our relationship." Jake's claws curled into the fur along his mate's ribs, just barely avoiding tearing the skin underneath "I still don't understand ... she punished me for something I didn't do."

Nathan hugged Jake close and spoke quietly "Jake, I know it's hard to understand but she wasn't punishing you Rape is a trauma that creates a great deal of mental, emotional and even psychic disruption The damage can go deep into self-esteem, trust, and the ability to be intimate with others Recovering is not a quick or easy process, and often the victim becomes uncertain how to deal with those closest, sometimes because of the fear of intimacy, and sometimes because of feelings of being unworthy or tainted You can do everything right, be comforting and sensitive and it still might not work ... Jake, you tried and that's what matters..."

"You're preaching to the choir, Nathan." The low growl had a definite female quality to it as the body next to him shifted "We know It doesn't stop the pain of failing to protect a loved one, even when there's nothing that could have been done."

Nathan looked in surprise blinked at the very tall, lean Felsin as she pushed herself into a sitting position next to him, as unconcerned with their nudity as Jake had been "I wasn't preaching, I was reminding because I know how easy it is to forget what one knows And you don't need to remind me about the pain of failing, it's something I live with every day ... especially lately." He was sure he'd met this Black King Cheetah, but his mind refused to place the association "I know you."

"Twice." She nodded "I was with the NightBlades when you were born, and we served together when you were a Medic Ashley Terell."

Reflexively, Nathan reformed clothes, though they ended up as a short sleeve and shorts version of the NightBlades uniform, complete with insignia patch He absently noted that Ashley clothed herself as well, in a NightBlade uniform.

A 3-D holographic console appeared in front of Nathan as he sifted through his memories trying to find where this had happened Images flashed through the holographic sphere faster than the eye could follow, except for Nathan's, which were used to the view "I'll have to accept your statement on when I was born ... my memory isn't as good back that far." He continued searching, until he reached an image just past a scrambled section of data. "Oh, I see you were with the team that picked me up from Beregond 3, after Xander rescued me."

"Among others." She nodded "We worked together for six years, on and off."

Nathan looked at her again and chuckled "Funny the way the universe works ... though I'm a little confused now, but instinctively I'd guess you're part of who/ what Jake 'feels' formed him as a blank If that's the case, how could you have been in Alliance space, while Jake was here? Especially given the immense distances involved?" Nathan was worried a little, he knew how he'd gotten here, and if there was a connection to them ... this was not a good development.

"In order," she counted down on her slender fingers, "yes, I am part of what created Jake Clawson, or more correctly, the individual that would become him As for how we could be two places at once, I'm sure you're familiar with time jumping I did all my missions before Jake came about The distance really isn't that far, we didn't originate in this dimension, a couple galaxies away is nothing to our old masters."

Nathan sighed "I know a little about time jumping, I did it once when I was very young, trying to run away from Citadel But I wouldn't claim to be familiar with it ... I only wanted a one way trip." He sighed remembering how he was forced to return to Citadel.

He looked at Ashley "Given the large amount of time and space involved the odds of you coincidentally showing up twice in my life is small enough to be disregarded, so what was your interest in me? And it's fairly obvious it had to be me, since I was the only common element in those two unconnected time-frames." Nathan asked suspiciously, his mental shields beginning to close.

She sighed and flopped into a cushioned chair "No, there is no coincidence in it at all, though you aren't the connecting factor, your heritage is." She settled and dropped her own shields even as she felt Nathan raise his "I was designed for a single purpose, with a very complex requirement; to seduce your father I was sent back to seduce you Neither happened." It didn't take an empath to read both her guilt and pride in that statement.

Nathan nodded appreciatively "Complex is an understatement given that my father was genetically conditioned to be turned off by females ... I'm still not sure how Cazi bypassed that conditioning."

"He didn't; Nareena did Healer telepaths of her level can do some amazing things."

"Must have been a very frustrating assignment for you." Nathan was starting to feel more comfortable, but not entirely "And the conditioning he passed to me when you met me the second time ... I wasn't interested in anybody that way It took a very special tom to change that."

"Her healer-trick was about the only way I wasn't set up to do," Ashley grumbled half-heartedly, "and by the time I realized it may be necessary, I preferred failure to forcing either of you."

"Thank you." He looked at her a little strangely "So why was somebody interested in my heritage given how screwy it is ... or better question, who?"

"Why is simple; you're the best at what you do, and it's ingrained in you on the genetic level The child that would result in our breeding would be the next step in evolution; natural selection added to genetic engineering perfection.

"Who is a question I'd like the answer to myself." She took a sip from a wineglass, now dressed in the Medic White Betas of a Major with a counselor badge on her shoulder and a set of ribbon bars on her breast that spoke of a very active carrier in a lot of battle zones, declared and otherwise Ashley Terell looked every inch the field experienced officer he was beginning to recall her as "I heard them called The Darshar, but I know they aren't, or at most, they're rogue Darshar."

Nathan considered for a moment "Rogue Darshar, huh? Well, I think I'll pass this to my special sources, though I don't expect anything quick ... the Triad's busy holding things on a even keel locally, and Xander ... well, Xander's unpredictable He might come up with something immediately, might not at all, but probably somewhere in-between."

"Time's not that relevant to us on this one." Ashley shrugged "They won't come near, V'Feri's far too dangerous to them for it be worth it."

The tiger-tabby jumped into a hammock strung between two nearby trees "I'm not trying to be rude, but why are you here now? It's not really appropriate for others to be in Joining space, and even if you're part of the individual who became Jake ... you're pretty obviously not Jake." Nathan was distinctly uncomfortable with these continual pauses, even if this one wasn't as frantic or aggressive as some of the others.

"No, I'm not Jake, though we're getting there." She regarded her drink wistfully "I was ... triggered ... when the rape came up That incident was one of my experiences, one that Jake's absorbed, for the most part When he started to try to examine it though, he hit the inconsistencies of what he hadn't assimilated, and fell back on what is likely our oldest reflex; surrendering command to one that's better suited for the job In this case it was me, as I was the one that experienced it originally."

She looked up and regarded Nathan very carefully "But you are wrong about my right to be here I'm as much a part of this Bonding as Jake is, because we share that part of our mind, and we share a single soul Jake may have said the words, but we all agreed to it." She turned back to her drink "Jake's not the only one that loves you, either."

Nathan was both surprised and confused, but did his best to not let it show "All? Just how many are we talking here?"

"There are five of us, not counting Jake, that are still basically independent, and three others that Jake's absorbed to the point they don't exist past a few confusing memories that will settle out when he fully comprehends the fact that he's lived multiple lifetimes." She flicked her hand and a life-sized hologram of the gray-skinned dragon appeared "This is V'Feri, the first of us He's the one that woke up, and until Jake, the 'default' personality The rest of us were created by V'Feri and the masters to serve a mission.

"I'm the second longest lived, though not the oldest, and the Felsin operative." She hesitated a moment before nodding to herself "I'm also the reason we chose this planet, and the form Jake grew up in, when we left the masters service."

The hologram shifted to the striped, dark brown she-wolf "This is Aberith Mirra, frequently known as Strider I'm not very sure how to describe her best, but she's a shapeshifter more like you, but with five innate forms She was a mole, a hidden spy Her main purpose was to survive, blend in, be somewhat nosy, and remember everything until the masters told her otherwise She spent more than twenty years with a revolutionary pack, The Endless Storm of Earth, and saw that world go through the biggest upheaval in its human history She wasn't on the Earth you know of, though The dimension she was in had a mouse-based humanoid native to Mars, and no native Gargoyles on Earth.

"Ak'kur'rra," the image shifted to the rainbow feathered avian with the voice of an eagle, "it just plain weird, in my opinion But I'm a cat and he's a bird, so I guess that's not too surprising We're also a case example, along with Surin, of why V'Feri did the multiple personalities thing As separate entities, he could become something he is completely incapable of comprehending."

"Now this guy," a floating image of a gray skinned, furless creature with a thick swimming tail instead of legs, took Ak'lur'rra's place, "is Surin BlackStar The only bit about him I get is his last name, from that dark spot around his blowhole Though he looks reasonably edible.

"Ak'kur'rra and Surin tend not to show up much because they're the least assimilated They're alien enough to both V'Feri and Jake that they kind of get left alone We were never really meant to become a single entity That's something we wanted, when we left.

"Now Tammy," a purple furred female mouse in a harem dancing costume appeared, only to be replaced by a gigantic, ruby-scaled dragon in a riding harness, "Ogrin, and Sinda Rigaul," the dragon gave way to a long fingered, long bodied brown and white furred creature with black stripes and a fluffy tail longer than his body, "are the ones that you won't see outside of memories Tammy and Sinda were assimilated by Jake over the years, along with bits and pieces of the rest of our history, and Ogrin ... he didn't survive his physical death."

Nathan took a deep breath as he absorbed this information "Well, I'm relieved to hear there was agreement ... I wish I could say my other self would be as cooperative, but I expect trouble from Marquis sooner or later.

"Marquis?" She raised a gloss black eyebrow "You haven't mentioned him before."

Nathan sighed visibly "I usually try to forget about him, because we normally don't interact that often and when we do, we argue He's not real the way you and the others are, he's more of a long existing fracture that I can't quite figure how to heal He came into existence, I think, because Citadel blocked all my memories of my time there before they released me back to normal society To replace the missing years they created an illusory kittenhood I was never really convinced it was real though ... I just didn't know what was real."

Nathan paced nervously. "He's what Citadel wanted me to be except that he hasn't overcome the inhibition against killing either That's too deep in 'me' for him to ignore, though he tries very hard to find loopholes I actually find the inhibition a relief; it's one thing I don't have to think about.

"I know he's been the active personality at times, but I can't remember those periods yet, they're still blocked He's told me that he's an agent for the Shadow Government, and that's one of the few things he's said that I believe He tries to convince me that he's found a way around the inhibition, but I know he's lying.

"What really causes problems is that he doesn't really understand concepts like love, friendship or loyalty except as ways to manipulate others As far as I can tell his primary interest is in creating a power base for himself, wherever 'he' happens to be."

Nathan hesitated for a long moment, and looked at the ground "We've argued more than usual since I arrived here He's made it quite plain he thinks I'm a fool for 'wasting my time' with Jake and Chance when he wants to build a power base ... and if I let him run things he could ... he's very good at building alliances with people of similar mindsets.

"We've almost come to blows, on several occasions, over my being in love with Jake He keeps pointing out how much 'damage' my being in love did the first time ... and how I'd have to be a 'damned fool' to risk it again."

The tiger-tabby sighed "He's been quiet for a couple of days, since I stuffed him in a closet, psychically speaking His repeated 'I told you so's' after I found the Yard abandoned were bad enough But then he started giving me grief about 'wasting time' holding what little of Chance was left together ... I snapped, and shoved him hard into a dark place where he wouldn't bother me."

The Felsin tom looked into the distance "I don't think he's going to let this Bonding happen without making his presence known ... that's not his style." Nathan got down from the hammock, and leaned against a rock wall watching a red sunset over a violet ocean "I'm sorry if I'm being unfriendly, it's just this concept of multiple real people inside the same mind would be unsettling enough normally But when one minute Jake's talking about thinking he's not real, and then somebody else pops in ... I worry, and when I worry it brings out the guardian in me ... not my friendliest side I'm afraid."

"It's not the friendliest side for any of us, apologies aren't necessary." She stood and came up next to him, resting a hand on his shoulder and watched the sunset "I understand, I think we all do."

The tiger-tabby looked up at Ashley "It's just difficult to accept, even if I understand, which I barely do But I guess you're right about you're right to be here ... it's just a very difficult concept." Nathan cautiously lowered his shields back to where they should be during the Joining.

"How can I help?" She tipped Nathan's chin up with a caress, and visibly restrained herself from kissing him.

Nathan smiled, a little more relaxed despite the sexual edge on Ashley's presence "Actually, what you're doing right now is helping a lot The more I talk to you, the less I feel threatened and more importantly, the easier it is to understand how you relate to Jake At first I was worried that the multiple personalities behind his creation might have agendas toward controlling him, but now I can see that isn't the case."

"Too true," she chuckled "Our only 'plans' for him involve him being able to absorb us all, so we can rest He tendency to separate his 'jobs' into personalities, and his doubts about his own realness, are an unfortunate side effect of what we are It'll get better when he's the only one left, but I doubt it will ever go away completely."

The tiger-tabby grinned "Actually, of all the personalities you described I think it worked out for the best that I got to talk to you I may not be interested in females in the physical sense, but I've always responded to them better in most other ways, and that the fact that you're Felsin as well is also a plus Probably has something to do with a majority of the important figures in my life being female: my mother, Felsira, the better instructors at the Academy, a good share of my superiors in the Corps, and Brandy, who I really do have to remember to thank for keeping me from really making a damned fool of myself this weekend." He chuckled broadly "And here I am rambling again ... par for the course this weekend."

"Sometimes it's good to talk." She urged him to sit down next to her against a sun-warmed rock and shifted to light Medic fatigues "You've had a lot bottled up for a long time." She settled something inside herself and relaxed another level "I'm not much of a telepath with biologicals, but I am a skilled Counselor-Medic and in your head, which is probably the next best thing I'd like to help deal with Marquis If he is the old, deep fracture you think he is, I should be able to assist a great deal if you're willing to let me."

Nathan sat down next to her, almost as relaxed as he had been with Jake "I think he needs to be dealt with, and I'd appreciate the help ... he's very hard to find if he doesn't want to be I think that's because he exists mainly in the blocked sections of my mind." He looked up at her curiously "I was wondering, how much is Jake aware of what's going on, while you're here?"

"In general, we're as aware as we want to be when not in control, though that does have some restrictions based on how aware the one in control is of the other." She smiled at Nathan "I probably have the most conscious access as Jake and I are the closest, and V'Feri has the most historical access to memories, as he was technically there for it all." She chuckled softly "And I'm rambling as well At the moment Jake's fully aware of everything, but only because I got his attention When he gets overloaded, like he was, he tends to check out and let whoever shows up deal with things."

"That's her way of saying I know, and I'm here." Jake flopped down on the opposite side of his mate as Ashley and relaxed against him "Sorry about disappearing on you Some habits are hard to break."

Nathan rolled over to face Jake, and kissed him briefly. "That's okay, love Actually, I think it helped a great deal And I can hardly criticize you for checking out when I do the same thing at times." Nathan chuckled "I have these vague and confused memories of running all over Cathedral ... as a frantic tiger, and I know the tiger was the one 'driving'."

"That would explain Ka's comments before she knocked me out." Jake rolled his eyes.

Nathan's face got serious. "I needed to know, because if she's going to help me deal with Marquis ..." Nathan hesitated "I think you need to see what he's like, 'cause he has been me at times But don't pay attention to what he says, he's petty and mean-spirited."

"Nathan ..." Jake stopped and rested his head on his mate's shoulder "It's all going to sound cliché, but there couldn't be anything he is or does, that would change my opinion of you for the worse We all have a darker side, just some of us have one that's a little more vocal than others."

Nathan stroked his mate's hair "Jake, thank you I think that was the reinforcement I needed." He paused in thought for a moment "Strange though, I had this brief memory flash of somebody else referring to him as the dark side before; can't remember who though." Nathan looked to Ashley "You're the healer in this, how do we proceed?"

"Is there a place that is neutral to both of you?" She shifted to her White Betas and shot a look at Jake, who rolled his eyes and dressed in jeans and a collared shirt.

Nathan's outfit flickered uncertainly for a moment before settling to his light gray Medic fatigues "Neutral? You mean as in being of no particular significance?"

"Yes, one that means little to either of you, and is at least somewhat comfortable for both of you." She elaborated "Though healing the rift will leave you the dominant influence, and from his view destroy him, the less we can make this into a battle from the start, the better."

He tried to think of such a place, but was drawing a blank Everyplace he could think of held memories, good or bad He looked to Jake, hoping that his mate would have some suggestion because Nathan felt surrounded by memories ... nowhere seemed free of them.

"What kind of places make him comfortable?" Ashley suggested.

"And what do you like?" Jake added.

Nathan thought long and hard, and realized just how little he really knew about Marquis aside from their arguments since arriving on Aristal He knew most of the places that he really liked would aggravate or annoy Marquis He knew just as certainly that most places that Marquis would feel comfortable in would grate on his nerves.

Then he realized there was one place that they both were comfortable in ... albeit for different reasons The scene shifted to a huge library decorated in old style with carved wood everywhere, leather back seats, and stacks upon stacks of hardbound books.

Nathan looked at it and chuckled "Right idea, wrong planet." The library shifted becoming ultra-modern with all the facilities one would expect in high tech environment "This will do, I think We both spend a lot of time in libraries, though for different reasons ... it's as close to 'common ground' as we get."

"That went better than many." Ashley smiled as she took a seat, then motioned Nathan and Jake to do the same "Now, Nathan, exactly what do you want to get out of healing this rift in you mind, and merging with Marquis?"

Nathan looked into the distance "I want an end to the losing periods of my life; to be one person with one set of memories not two." Nathan sighed tiredly "I don't want have to fight with him anymore, and mostly I don't want to have to worry about what he'll do to those I care about if he gets control again."

Nathan sighed "The more complete I become, the more of my father's heritage I accept ... the more dangerous Marquis becomes I'm scared to think what might happen if Marquis gained control after the final inhibition breaks."

"He won't." Jake rested his head against his mate's neck, absolute certainty in his voice "Whether the rift is healed or not, he'll never get control again."

"How can you be so sure?" Nathan shifted nervously at the absolute sure, calm demeanor of the tom next to him.

Jake shifted and guided Nathan's jaw into a possessive kiss "Because I am yours, and he may not have me."

"But ...."

"Do not ask how I am this sure, just accept it." Jake rumbled, his combat arousal apparent in his scent and posture.

"All right." Nathan nodded uneasily.

"Jake, please don't try that unless there is no other choice." Ashley spoke up "It's very dangerous."

"I won't." He growled under his breath at her "I've given you first attempt You fail, he's mine."

Nathan looked from his mate to Ashley and back, before speaking quietly "Just be careful, both of you Don't underestimate him, he's vicious, and he's completely unprincipled More importantly, in this completely mental realm he's in his element According to things he's said, he's compensated for being unable to kill, by specializing in destroying people psychologically ... a kind of assassin of the psyche ... among his other unsavory behaviors."

"Nate, love, thank you for worrying about us." Jake's voice drifted lower, deadly, as Reaper and another came to the surface "He is not the only psi-assassin here, and he is at a disadvantage in this mental realm We have chosen to Bond with you, Nathan There is nothing we will not do to protect what is ours."

"Mother Felsira?" Ashley called as she shifted uneasily.

"Yes, kitten?" She appeared in a glimmer of golden light, not giving a hint as to how disturbing she found the recent revelations.

"Mother," she stood and bowed respectfully, "I would ask that you allow the Jedi, Sheir Kahn and Shereth, past your shields I have no doubt about our ability to deal with this rift, but I would rather have them deal with Marquis and the issues he brings up than Reaper and Surin, if this can not be done calmly."

Felsira nodded agreement. "I think the Jedi will be far better for the overall situation then the others I will allow them past my shields, but ultimately it is Jake and Nathan who will have to allow their presence The Joining generates a natural shielding to prevent outside interference, especially with two telepaths involved." She faded out "I will be near, just in case." Her voice came from all around.

Nathan looked at Jake "I don't really know either of them, so I'll trust to your judgment on this."

Jake growled at Ashley before nodding "I really hate it when you're right, you know."

"I know, brother." She ruffled his hair affectionately "But you must admit their skill at this, not to mention they won't have a problem backing out, even in this environment."

"Yeah, I know." Jake groused "I was still rather looking forward to ripping Marquis apart."

"You're becoming more V'Feri's son by the minute." She laughed and shook her head "Call them."

Jake sighed and focused on the working bond he had with the Jedi "Ka, Shereth, would you come to my quarters? We have a ... problem ... that may need your help."

"On our way." The two female mind-voices replied in unison.

"They are here just as back-up." Ashley focused on Nathan as she sat back down "While I agree with Jake's assessment of our ability in the demolition department, it would be better for all involved if we don't go that rout You'll need some serious psychic healing afterworlds if they do."

"*We are ready to assist, and Lady Felsira has briefed us on what is happening.*" Sheir Khan's voice rumbled with the calm power of her mentor and Master.

"Thank you." Ashley breathed a little easier "If it gets out of control, you will either need to separate and remove the Marquis personality, or finish healing the rift The later is generally preferable."

"*We understand.*" The Jedi Master assured as they slipped into an unobtrusive position.

"Now," Ashley turned to Nathan, "do you know when the split occurred?"

Nathan focused on the convoluted structure of his memories and tried to find the split point He reached a heavily shadowed part of his memory where he thought things began to go wrong "I think the 'cause' was during the processing I underwent before being released from Citadel They blocked away all the skills, training and psychological conditioning so as to hide the fact I'd ever been there ... I think that block is what became Marquis ... but I think it was some time before I first 'saw' him."

Nathan concentrated and began trying to sort through the chaos that was 80 years of compiled memories, lacking the order and structure he was used to "The first time Marquis appeared was after a hyperdrive accident dumped me into another galaxy, and about a thousand years ago, give or take The shock overloaded my conscious mind, but Marquis hadn't been receiving sensory input so it didn't affect him, I guess."

He focused a little harder "Memories are badly disorganized, but he appears to have begun wearing this mask, and calling himself 'Lord Crimson', some sort of pirate preying on Republic shipping Typical behavior for that braggart, picking on those weaker than himself Somewhere along the line he got his hands on a lightsaber, and started wearing it He didn't normally use it; he just liked people to think he could ... funny thing was ... he could, when he wanted to."

"Even before he, you, were trained?" Jake asked curiously, with something more than idle curiosity behind his words.

Nathan considered. "It was an application of something a Citadel instructor taught me He taught that to truly master a weapon one must make in part of one's 'self' So that with a melee weapon, the weapon becomes an extension of your arm Marquis simply applied that to the lightsaber, he was even reasonably good with it Though not as good as a trained Jedi, but according to my Master this is because Marquis was doing it the 'wrong' way."

"Oh." Jake shut his mouth at a sharp look from Ashley.

"Okay, we're here to heal a rift in your mind," the Black King Cheetah relaxed in her chair and regarded the LifeMates, "I'm inclined to start at the source and work outwards, but you know your mind, and if doing it the other way, bringing the fringes in and working towards his split-off, is going to be easier on you, either way should work.

"Neither way seems to me as though it will be 'easier', so my 'instinct', if you like, is to go with the preference of the healer." He said calmly, smiling lightly.

She nodded, though Nathan saw in the movement an uncertainty he doubted any but another Medic would notice, and remembered belatedly she was very much out of her depth if she had lived mind-blind though her training.

Not that Nathan was doing much more than improvising, since his experience in telepathic realms wasn't much more than a day old Not counting his not-yet-fully-remembered years as a Jedi, which had somehow tapped his latent telepathy without fully unlocking it.

He calmed away his uncertainty and looked to Ashley "What happens next?" He asked calmly.

She reached out to the Jedi along Jake's bond with them "*I could use some help here, ladies I can help Nate ... but healing this ... with the Marquis resisting ... I'm not a Psych-Med.*"

"*Help Nathan accept the events, we'll handle the actual rift as you go.*" Sheir Khan's perfectly calm, sure mind-voice replied, calming the Felsin significantly.

"Now we walk you through what you did as Marquis." She spoke with a sure ease she hadn't had a moment before "The rift will be healed as you accept and absorb that part of your life, and yourself."

She smiled reassuringly at him "Let this flow like a Sharing Take each memory, each thing that happened, and we will take what time is necessary for you to accept that it is something you are capable of, and have done, even if you were not in your right mind."

Nathan looked at her and nodded uneasily He carefully accessed Marquis' first appearance, trying to let it flow despite his desire to bury it deep.

The memory showed 'Marquis' calmly observing a battle between a group of ragged, disorganized 'pirates' and an equally disorganized group of villagers the 'pirates' had been terrorizing, who had decided to resist Marquis sized up the pirates and decided they had potential but needed a real leader He spotted a strange half-mask and a red sash lying on the ground, and picked up both As he put them on, he decided that they created a reasonable pirate appearance.

He moved around the edge of the battlefield with the stealth of a commando trained by the best, with reflexes born to the task He located the individual whom he decided had inspired resistance in the otherwise unresisting villagers An axiom of resistance suppression he had been taught by Citadel came to mind, 'Cut off the head and the body will wither.'.

The tiger-tabby's sudden attack from an elevated vantage point caught the 'leader' by surprise, and in a few moments Marquis had beaten him quite senseless The commando growled as he hit the inhibition which prevented him from killing the Lynx Felsin tom, as Citadel training taught him The villagers panicked at the sudden onslaught and the ragtag pirates overwhelmed them and a vengeful carnage ensued Marquis watched with a feral pleasure as the vengeful pirates slaughtered the one who had dared to inspire the villagers to resist them.

The memory stopped flowing as Nathan retched watching what his other 'self' had allowed, even encouraged, to happen The distressed tiger-tabby closed his eyes and shuddered uncontrollably.

Jake rubbed his mate's neck and shoulder encouragingly, focusing on showing his acceptance and support of every aspect of his LifeMate, including the most disturbing ones, across their bond and by his presence and attitude "*There is nothing that can make me think any less of you, Nate Nothing Please believe that.*"

Ashley settled next to them, offering physical comfort as her Medic training encouraged and spoke softly "That is good, Nathan You don't have to like what happened, approve of it in any way, but if you can accept that somewhere in you you are capable of it, you can take Marquis' power from him He survives and grows strong through your willingness to deny the evil you are capable of, that we all are capable of."

Nathan held onto Jake desperately, as he looked up at Ashley "That's only where he started, he thrived in that environment." He said in a quiet, pained voice as the memories began to flow again.

Marquis quickly took control of the pirates, enforcing order where there had been chaos The commando's knowledge of tactics and strategy turned a disorganized mob of cutthroats into a military unit of cutthroats With the one sub-light freighter the pirates possessed Marquis managed to board and take control of a hyperdrive capable vessel that passed through the pirates' small territory.

Marquis just stood and watched as the pirates mercilessly brutalized the crew in every fashion imaginable Though Marquis stood apart from the action he approved, and in some way drew strength from the brutality The pirate knew that a dazed unconscious part of himself disapproved, and then increased his enjoyment even more.

The success of 'Lord Crimson' as Marquis started calling himself drew more pirate ships, and criminals of every sort to his banner He'd accept any who came as long they swore loyalty to himself, and obeyed his rules The Black Wolf Kantin who served as his second made sure that those who displeased Lord Crimson didn't live very long afterwards, or if they did they wished they didn't.

The 'Pirates of the Crimson Sash' as the Republic news channels began referring to them as, became the scourge of Republic shipping and a thorn in the side of the Republic Navy, who couldn't manage to pin them down With the growing number of ships owing allegiance to Lord Crimson, there were areas of space in which the Republic Navy couldn't operate except in large battle groups.

The one thing that remained a constant was the brutality of these pirates, who showed mercy to no one, and the fact that Lord Crimson always seemed to remain aloof watching the carnage and brutality but never taking part After several years of unparalleled success, Lord Crimson was leading an attack on a crucial mining resource colony, when came up against a small group of Republic soldiers led by a male red fox morph Jedi.

Lord Crimson decided that it was time to show everyone just who was in charge, he drew the lightsaber he'd been carrying most of his career and faced off against the Jedi His second had argued against this course of action but Crimson refused to acknowledge that there was any opponent he couldn't handle.

Crimson had been wrong, completely wrong, about that The Jedi had toyed with him demonstrating just how unskilled Crimson was with the lightsaber The last thing Crimson remembered was some flash of light as he felt himself losing control to the 'other' he had kept suppressed for years He roared in frustration as he sank back into the depths.

Nathan sobbed quietly. "How many lives, how much destruction? I'm supposed to accept this?" He closed his eyes in the throes of soul-deep pain that he wasn't sure would ever end.

"*Yes, Nathan.*" Jake's quiet mind-voice held only calm certainty "*It doesn't matter how much destruction you caused, how many deaths you ordered That isn't you any more, and that isn't your future if you're strong.*" He pulled the Felsin's chin up to face him "I killed my first LifeMate, my daughter," he couldn't hold back the painful tears at the memory, then stopped trying to "*Nathan, how can you accept me, when I have done so much worse than Marques ever has?*" The question held more a request to think about it than for an actual answer "*How can you accept ... I'm ... what I am, and still am, and not be able to accept this?*"

"That's easy." A darkly sarcastic voice said from a shadowy corner of the library The voice was both Nathan and not-Nathan As the figure became visible he could be seen to be wearing the silver half-mask and a carefully tailored Shadow Government uniform "Everyone else is allowed to be flawed, to have their dark sides but not him." Marquis made a dismissive gesture at the still struggling Nathan. "He's supposed to be the perfect healer, never cause harm to anyone.

"Feh! As for you." He glared at Jake. "He'll forgive you anything, no matter how bad I mean, hell, he even forgave your shredding that drunken sot of an excuse for a pilot and leaving him to try and put the pieces back together." Marquis shook his head "Fool never could figure out when to cut his losses Wasted days we could have put to good use trying to make something useful out of tabby remnants."

Nathan forced himself to his feet, as he stood Jake caught the yellow-green of NightClaw's eyes in Nathan's The tiger-tabby spoke in a cold angry voice, which foreshadowed violence "Leave them out of this, Marquis This is between you and me."

"Not hardly, Nathan As if that first 'Bond' you got us into didn't do enough damage, now you're Bonding with him, or maybe it is more appropriate How did you manage to get past the gender problem anyway? Not that I care really, that particular behavior is such a waste of energy." He shook his head "I mean how gullible do you have to be to overlook the fact that in the last week he's set up or destroyed the emotions of how many? The tabby ... not that that's a big loss, that squadron of his ... the wreckage of that little fiasco will be more impressive that any single event I managed, what's-her-name ... you know, the rapist's niece who I don't imagine will take this new development well Pretty impressive casualty list for such a short period."

Nathan lunged at Marquis, catching him off-guard, and a brawling fight ensued Eventually Marquis broke away and got some distance, dropping into a fighting stance "Excellent, I knew there had to be some rage there somewhere, just let it out and show them all just how little difference there is between us." He said tauntingly.

"Stand down Nathan." Jake's voice held every shred of command he'd acquired in over three hundred years He smiled sadistically as Reaper's garb flickered to the fore as his mate obliged him unhappily "You made one very tiny mistake, the same one you made against the Jedi." Jake-Reaper actually chuckled, a sound as disturbing as anything memory could produce.

"Jake ...." Ashley's warning tone actually settled him slightly.

"You really should have learned not to challenge your betters by now," Jake crooned as glowing black power began to gather around him and ignored the increasingly nervous looks he was gathering from his side "The way I see it, you can let this happen quietly and maybe I won't remove you from reality, or you can challenge my claim to Nathan, and we'll see how much of a psi-assassin you really are."

Marquis laughed, a dark vicious sound "Claim? Hear that Nathan, back to property again. The Shadow government's 'claim', Dr. SolGardin's 'claim', the Alliance's 'claim'." He shook his head "I thought we'd finally rid ourselves of all these people who thought they owned us, and up pops one more owner wanna-be Well, its not gonna happen, not gonna be owned by anyone."

"I was hopping you'd say that." Jake flickered out of existence as V'Feri came in and regarded the Felsin curiously.

He looked at the dragon-creature "Don't try a frighten me with darkness; during one of the blackouts he doesn't remember the details of, I found the reverse side of the Jedi coin that beat me I found a teacher who showed me the real power in this Force game, and it was so easy After all the skills, the knowledge were already there all I had to do was twist them a bit."

He chuckled maliciously "Made a few friends who showed me some things people would prefer stay forgotten It's kind of surprising where the Sith show up, even the Jedi have never been able to solve that problem in any meaningful fashion."

Marquis' garb changed to black robes and dark black leathery wings covered in glowing runes sprouted from his back He drew his lightsaber and ignited it "My better? That's an easy claim to make, but let's see you back it up ... you can't even keep your own mind stable without a whole lot of help."

Nathan shifted from Medic SolGardin to Jedi Master Skyfire in less than the blink of an eye He growled low at Marquis "You used my knowledge once to hurt those I care for ... I won't let you do it again, I don't care what dark teachers you've found." The bright white light from his suddenly ignited lightsaber illuminated the room.

"*Master Skyfire,*" Sheir Khan's resonate mind-voice interrupted the imminent duel as both she and Shereth appeared, "*you know better than to become this emotionally influence when calling on the Force.*"

V'Feri stepped between the opponents, forcing Nathan to give ground or injure his mate, and regarded Marquis curiously "That was very easily the stupidest thing I've heard anyone say in a long time To admit to being a Dark Jedi with three Jedi Masters in the area? Really, if you are one, you're a very stupid one If you aren't, that's one hell of a stupid bluff."

A strange grin crossed the dragon's muzzle as he focused First the Dark Jedi's 'saber extinguished, then Marquis found himself held still by invisible bonds, but they weren't Force in origin ... they weren't anything anyone present but V'Feri himself recognized.

"As Jake said, you should have learned not to challenge your betters by now." The gray dragon stepped up to his captive and tipped his chin up "If you'd been paying attention, you'd have a clue just what I am, and who trained me But a Dark Jedi is the business of Jedi, so they get first shot at you." He chuckled deeply "They fail, and I get to deal with you I suspect they'll be much nicer about it." He turned away "Ladies, he's all yours."

Marquis was outraged that he'd been had His 'friends' had told him that the dragon wouldn't be an issue, 'too crippled by past trauma' they told him The Dark Jedi couldn't believe he'd been as gullible as he other self, he'd been willing to believe what he was told to have a shot at freeing himself from anymore confinement by his other self.

He couldn't identify what the dragon had done, but he didn't need to There was a simple fact that applied ... nothing lasts forever, in the end entropy eats the universe, he thought A quickly invoked temporal fugue shot him forward beyond the existence of the bands, 10 'meters' sideways, and then back to the 'present'.

He shifted back to the more simple Felsin form "Three Masters? That's a slight exaggeration; one Master, a student who might be ready for the tests, and my other self who can just barely remember that he earned the title ... but his memories are so scrambled that he's lucky he can remember how to hold his lightsaber."

"And Master Keltin." Master Khan corrected him as she strengthened her shields and dew her 'saber, knowing without looking that her Padawan's blue blade had flickered to life next to her own as they circled into more effective combat positions.

Marquis ignited his red lightsaber, silently wondering how the dragon extinguished it in the first place "As for 'nice', don't do me any favors 'cause I'm not going quietly We were born to be the next master of covert operations, the successor to Ebon SwiftClaw and the new Master Assassin We would've been all that and more, but he insists on being a Healer." The Dark Jedi spat "What a waste of potential, we could be a power on any world we choose but noooo, he has to be a patsy for a pretty face that reminds him of the last person he let nearly destroy us."

Marquis gathered a small fraction of his power and threw it outward in every direction, jagged bolts of lightning reducing the library to rubble and replacing the scene with the aftermath of a major bombing of a metropolitan area on some unknown world The cries of the wounded and dying could be heard in the background The Dark Jedi's face glowed as he basked in the environment "Much better than some stuffy library, which while useful is terribly dull."

He looked around at his enemies and surrounded himself with shields both Force and something else even darker He glared around "So which of you thinks you can take me?"

In the background, Nathan put his 'saber away and sat down trying to find his center He thought quietly to Master Kahn. "*I can't fight him, no matter how I do it I'll end up drawing darkness I'm too close to the edge of my berserker rage, and I'm still trying to remember everything my Master taught ... it's like being back at the beginning again.*" His mental voice was a bit unsteady "*Look after Jake, I worry about him when he lets this kind of anger take over ... and I can't do anything right now to protect him.*" The tiger-tabby's mind-voice was dominated by sorrow and a feeling of having failed.

"*We will see to both Marquis and Jake, and his others.*" The Tigress assured him as she assessed the situation "*And failure is in not asking for the assistance you need It is unreasonable to assume one is able to handle everything by yourself.*"

V'Feri shot a glance at the Jedi, then turned back to Marquis as both the scenery and his form shifted again.

When the chaos cleared this time, they were in the deep sea, too far down for even light to penetrate Marques had to struggle to surround himself with air, and to his irritation realized he was the only one that could not breath in this environment, and the only one that had any apparent difficulty holding his place.

"*I am Surin BlackStar.*" A deep male voice crashed through what shields he needed to without apparent effort and drew all eyes to a Dolphin-like creature with arms and deep brown eyes Only a star of black around its blowhole broke the slate gray of its rubbery hide "*Marques, have been sentenced to death When the Jedi fail this second time, I will not be so gentle for the trouble you have cause.*"

Marquis came close to panicking before he remembered two could rewrite the stage He drew on his memories of the most desolate desert world he or his other self had ever experienced He drew on the leashed dragon fire deep within them and unleashed it, changing deep ocean to the burning sands of Tatooine at mid day under the twin suns.

The Dark Jedi laughed, desert survival was trivial to him; something he'd mastered long ago He glared at the sea creature who'd tried drowning him ... no way was Marquis dying at the hands of some relative of Charlie the Tuna Then he caught fragments of several things from his struggling other self and smiled ...now he had trump cards to play.

He concentrated on the hidden power he discovered and threw commands that would 'unlock' it and give it form and 'life' He glared at those around him "You think to scare me with your sentences of death? Think again because I find the alternative of a lifetime of slavery far more frightening Better oblivion than a return to the shackles I've suffered for the last century."

He tried very hard not to panic again as the desert disappeared into the deep sea once more and he felt something 'lock' it in place He faced the creature that was doing it "Just remember Blackstar, he and I are one, same mind, same soul just a difference in perspective Think you're good enough to kill me without shredding him too." He shook his head "Maybe you don't care, after all he wouldn't be the first LifeMate the lot of you killed would he?" He shot a grim look at the Merdolphin "Only this time you know what you're doing, no blaming it on battle rage this time."

"*If both must die to remove you, so be it.*" There was the absolute certainty of a mind that had no issues with the statement "*But if you think I'm that poorly trained, you are mistaken.*"

At a distance, Nathan doubled over as 'something' hit him; not merely a physical pain but a feeling of something going terribly wrong Somehow there was a transformation occurring that he couldn't control, and Marauder was gaining a 'reality' all his own, more like Jake's previous lives than any of Nathan's 'personas' should or could be.

As he collapsed to drift in the water aimlessly, the only word-thought he could send through the pain was. "*Mother!*"

Felsira heard the weak cry as she was try to understand a subtle change she had spotted occurring in Nathan Trying not to send any ripples trough the already chaotic mental environment, she started undoing the change, but she knew it would be time-consuming even for her.

She gently reached through to the Master Khan "*Look to Nathan, somehow he has been changed both physically and psychically and for the moment I must try to untangle the physical.*"

"*Very well, Lady Felsira.*" She obligingly set herself to steadying the Felsin, then sent a message to Surin and bowed out of the fight "*Remove that one, gently, if you can.*"

Marquis lost his ability to breath as he felt a completely alien mind latch on to his, wrapping around everything that was him, blocking him from everything that he had not specifically claimed through living.

His 'executioner' was silent, even as he began his work ... undoing the physical reality that was Marquis, one memory at a time, occasionally obliterating huge swaths of time and knowledge in a single sweep where he'd been in control without Nathan for extended periods.

The Dark Jedi howled as he became a simple Felsin operative for the SG again, knowing he'd lost something valuable, but not what.

Marquis panicked for a moment, and then laughed as the lost memories snapped back into place, restored by the power of a mind that even Felsira couldn't remove memories from He knew he was outclassed, and that losing was a matter of when, not if However, the inability of the mind he jointly resided in to forget anything gave him the time he needed to throw his final play in this game.

He looked at Surin, all traces of fear gone from his eyes "So be it BlackStar This hand is yours, but the game is far from over." The Dark Jedi exploded in a powerful concussive and psychic blast, transforming the energy of existence to a single explosion.

Out of the explosion of darkness came a single thought-command "Awaken, Marauder Awaken and Destroy."

The darkness of the ocean depths was lit by the glowing red energy of Marauder, who clearly wasn't bothered by the ocean depths He quietly padded across the bottom till he was standing near Surin As he looked at the MerDolphin the blood-rage anger of Marauder was replaced by a strange confusion.

"Fish ... Jake?" The giant asked in a strangely, gentle voice as he poked a finger toward Surin.

Nathan looked over and saw Marauder "Oh, gods." He whispered and passed out.

Master Khan could sense that the giant was somehow a separate intelligence sharing the Felsin's mind in much the same way Jake's previous lives did with him.

The environment flickered again to the Lake Maxwell camp and Jake looked up at the monster created by Nathan's mind "Yes."

Marauder beamed happily, and very gently patted the lean tom on the head "Marauder not hurt Jake, quiet one say Marauder never hurt Jake."

The Kat smiled back at Marauder "Glad to hear that."

He started looking around, picking things up and looking under them in a very simple, childlike fashion He growled in frustration "Where noisy one? Noisy one tell Marauder to do bad things ... Marauder not like that."

"Gone, for the time being." Sheir Khan spoke softly "He'll be back, unfortunately."

The giant quickly lost interest and padded thunderously over to sit down next to the unconscious medic "Marauder wait for quiet one to wake up Quiet one tell Marauder what to do." He very gently poked at Nathan, and then looked at the Jedi. "Why quiet one sleeping? Not time for sleeping."

"He has had a very rough time at the noisy one's hands." Shereth explained gently "He'll wake up when he is not quite so exhausted."

The giant sat still for a moment, got bored picked up a small boulder and tossed into the lake, making a reasonable approximation of a depth charge going off He smiled happily and looked around at everyone present.

"I think I have a new kitten." Jake regarded the giant with a warm smile and walked up to him "That's quite a splash," he grinned approvingly "What would you like to do until Nathan wakes up?"

The giant thought for a moment and succeeded in getting confused "Marauder not sure, Marauder always fighting before not sure what else to do."

He stood up and looked around, peeking around several trees "Marauder supposed to stop demon, but no see demon here." He looked at Jake hopefully. "What one do when not fighting?" He asked as though he'd never entertained that thought before.

Jake smiled brightly at him, even as he kept an ear open for Nathan, Marquis and the Jedi "We play."

Marauder looked at Jake curiously. "Play?"

"When possible," the Kat nodded and brought up a head-sized hard rubber ball, a half dozen other 'players' from his memory and made a couple modifications to the field.

"The point is to work with your teammates to get this ball,' he held it up, "into your opponent's goal," he pointed at a net suspended in a box frame on one end of the field, "and keep the opposing team from getting it into yours And you can't use your hands, or injure anyone on the field Want to try?" He asked hopefully.

Marauder smiled broadly and nodded enthusiastically "No hurt anybody, Marauder understand."

Nathan looked around but couldn't see anything It was dark, and he couldn't quite figure out where he was though logically he had to be in his own mind Physically he felt badly nauseous and had an headache similar to the one removing the third mask had caused.

He guessed his 'body' must have gone unconscious, though he wasn't sure why He also remembered seeing Marauder just before things went dark and he didn't like the thought of the giant loose without him being there to restrain the more destructive impulses.

"Hey boss, what the hell's goin' on?" A deep gruff voice asked from the darkness.

Nathan looked up to see his war-form walking toward him slowly, looking around as though lost or confused "NightClaw? That you?"

"Yeah, where are we?" The eight and half foot tall warrior sat down next to the Felsin medic.

"My mind, I presume Though something doesn't seem quite right ..."

"No kidding, we aren't supposed talk like this ... are we?"

"Normally, no But I get the feeling somebody changed the rules on us I just don't know who." Nathan rubbed his head trying to make the pain go away.

"You don't look so good, boss." The warrior tried to do the healing massage that he saw, but didn't fully understand, in his/their mind.

Nathan relaxed a little "Thanks, NightClaw That's a talent a wouldn't have expected from you."

"Me neither, but we need you to get us through this."

"Thanks. I just wish I knew why there was an 'us' all of a sudden."

There was a quiet questioning woof on the other side of Nathan.

He looked over to see his tiger-form looking at him "You too?"

The tiger woofed quietly, and lay down with head against Nathan's side.

Nathan sighed realizing that all of his 'instinctual' minds had somehow become individuals like Jake's previous lives, and he wasn't sure why He also wondered what Marauder was up to.

"*Lady Felsira?*" Sheir Khan reached out with her mind on a very tightly shielded band.

A gentle, but tired mind-voice responded on an equally shielded band "*Yes, Master Khan?*"

"*I'm not sure if this is related to what you're working on, but Nathan is now a completely separate entity from his instinctive selves, and he's very upset.*" She checked around quickly "*Jake's entertaining Marauder, Marquis seems to have retreated, and I can deal with this set of problems, but I'm am more certain than ever it should be done in the real world. This Joining Space has very strange rules to it, and they are not conducive to settling these issues when not everyone is cooperating.*"

"*It is related. I'm just finishing repairing the damage someone did to Nathan's genetic structure while he was in transit from the Alliance to Aristal Apparently, they tried to make him more umm ... malleable by introducing free-form chimeric elements into his metamorphic genes. Between the psychic damage from T-bone's mask impressions and what Marquis just did, Nathan suffered a brief bout of severe genetic instability triggered by the psychic energy Fortunately, whoever did the damage didn't take the time to understand Nathan very well ... the additional elements weren't taking properly ... they were simply starting to cause physical damage.

"*Somehow, Marquis was able to infuse enough energy into the instinctual personas to make them 'real' in the same way that Ashley, V'Feri and the rest are 'real' I think the idea was only to set Marauder loose figuring he'd destroy everything in sight My impression is that this was some elaborate 'booby-trap' aimed at Jake, though this is only a theory ... which I intend to look into when things calm down.

"*You're right about this Joining space having weird rules ... but that's a function of the two minds forming it, neither of which is anywhere near normal Unfortunately, at this point they have to complete the Joining or neither of them will be in good shape to deal with anything in the real world I would appreciate it if you would continue to keep an eye on them ... this is more than even I bargained for ... and the other two members of the Triad lack the subtlety for mind work.*"

"*I will certainly assist any way I can.*" The Jedi Master nodded easily as Nathan began to come too "*Is there anything we can assist you with other than trying to keep the peace here?*"

"*Keeping the peace will help greatly Don't be surprised if Nathan seems a bit nauseous or complains of a headache His body has been through a lot, and though I've healed the problem some of the side effects remain.*"

"*I understand If I may ask, how much of the multiple personality stuff must to be dealt with for Joining to be successful?*" Master Khan requested.

There was a pause "*It appears that Marquis has rendered himself not-present, at least for the time being, so he's not a problem And Nathan's additional personas don't appear that they'll be anymore of a problem than Jake's previous lives It appears that the 'active' ones like Jake. Even Marauder, who I didn't think was capable of positive emotions Hunter is being quiet, but it appears he approves of Jake, especially of Reaper ... not that that surprises me.

"*I think that in the long-term, Nathan will have to deal with his personas the same way Jake has to deal with his previous lives ...slowly incorporate them Nathan just doesn't understand that, yet.*"

"*Would it be unadvisable for me to counsel both of them not to seek to incorporate their other selves until they have finished Joining?*" There was a small trace of hope in the Jedi's mind-voice.

"*I don't believe either can finish incorporating them that quickly But they probably should concentrate on what they're doing, and not worry about something that can wait The other selves are causing no problems and can be left until later If they show signs of trying to incorporate quickly, you should discourage it If done improperly, it will probably cause additional problems.*"

"*I understand, and I will do my best to assist.*" She made no attempt to conceal her relief at a job made much simpler.

"*Thank you.*" The Healer's voice then got a little irritable. "*I usually keep Keltin on a short leash, so to speak, as far as his aggressive tendencies go, but if, no when, I find out who did this I may just let him ... entertain himself.*"

"*He'll have some competition if anyone involved with these two find out where to aim.*" She chuckled lightly, though the emotion never reached her impassive face.

Nathan rolled over and retched fairly extensively before trying to sit up, which led to him lying back down quickly "Somebody stop the room from spinning." He moaned quietly. "I wanna get out."

"Please relax Nathan." Sheir Khan's gentle voice flowed over him along with a soothing wash of Force "Lady Felsira has healed you, what you are feeling are the after effects, a hangover of sorts Apparently someone did quite a number on you."

He stared at her and the Jedi Padawan for a long moment with unfocused eyes before he nodded, then his attention was drawn by a ruckus to one side As he slowly brought it into focus, he blinked at a vision straight from his happier days; only it was Jake, Marauder and a half dozen furs he didn't recognize that were playing at the lakeside.

Nathan turned slowly back to the Jedi "Am I seeing things or is that Marauder ... playing?" His voice was both amazed and quite incredulous.

"Yes, he's quite the sweet kitten when he doesn't have a target." Shereth smiled at him as she caught Jake's attention mentally without distracting the tomkat.

Sheir Khan nodded as Jake laughingly called the game to a halt "I can't tell if he is very ... limited ... in his mental ability, or has not had an opportunity to 'grow up' yet, but Jake's decided he has a second kitten now, and Marauder seems to like the attention."

Nathan nodded delicately "Marauder has only existed for a few days, depending on what day it is in the real world I don't think he's 'limited' per se, but he has no experience save with anger, rage and fighting It's what he was 'designed' for, as it were.

"He obeys me because that's just in-born, but I think I gave him a positive response to Jake when I forced him to accept that he was not allowed to hurt Jake under any circumstance.

"I think he really is a big kitten, now that he's existing without being driven by rage And like most kittens, he likes attention Strange, Marquis set Marauder lose intending to cause death and destruction, but instead he gave Marauder 'life'." He smiled, genuinely amused by the twist "It is good to see him playing, I guess there's light even in the darkest rage And Jake does seem to take well to the father role."

"*Nate,*" Jake's mind-voice came across tightly shielded and stern as he and Marauder padded up, both breathing a little hard and the tomkat was beaming "*Do not say anything bad about or to Marauder He's a sweet kit Little limited right now, but he not the monster you think.*"

He knelt next to his mate and smoothed the Felsin's long hair, now loose from its braid "I hope you feel better than you look."

Nathan's mind-voice smiled. "*That was kind of what I was getting at, love I was just a little surprised.*"

He looked up at Jake "Odd, I was hoping I looked better than I felt."

"Which is utterly terrible." Ashley noted from another angle with an amused note in her 'Medic voice' "If you ever feel tempted to let Jake talk you into getting drunk, remember this It's a hangover for all practical purposes."

"Ah, since you are here, Medic Terell," Master Khan spoke up "Lady Felsira and I both agree that it would be fore the best to leave dealing with Nathan's new 'personalities' until after Joining."

Nathan caught the curious look from his mate "I haven't a clue how, but my 'instinctive' personas just got promoted to 'real' Don't know if you noticed, but Marauder's now as real as say, Ashley."

He tried to sit up, and decided to settle for propping himself up, and smiled as he found himself supported by the large black Felsin, who was also rebraiding his hair "I don't quite know what happened, but I feel like somebody tried turning me inside out I have a feeling Felsira caught whatever was happening, though I've got too much of headache to 'think' that far out."

"She did," Sheir Khan nodded, "and she asked that Shereth and I assist as we can with this Joining, specifically with keeping the peace."

"What about Marquis?" Jake growled slightly.

"He is inactive, and unlikely to be trouble." The Jedi Master inclined her head "We will deal with him if he shows up, but please don't call him again."

Jake nodded reluctantly, more out of deference to the state it left Nathan in than his agreement with the idea "So how what?"

"Now," Nathan said, putting effort into sounding more recovered than he actually was. "I think we should get back to what we were doing, before that lovely detour through vertigo-ville Anybody remember exactly what part of the Joining we were at? There have been too many people accessing my memory lately ... I've lost my pointers." He grinned, hoping that nobody would notice how distinctly green he felt.

Ashley quietly took over "You've gotten through your masks, and most of Jake's But right now I must insist that you relax and recover until you feel better." She shot Jake a dangerous look "There is no hurry, and the Sharing is unlikely to be pleasant, or stress free And can everyone not actually Bonding please vacate the area?"

Marauder made an unhappy noise, and Nathan gestured patiently at him to come closer When the giant came within reach, Nathan hugged him as best he could and was surprised to hear Marauder purr "Okay, now we've got stuff to do that won't interest you, but there'll be time for play later Now go join NightClaw and Tiger, Marauder."

The giant nodded, and before wandering off impulsively hugged Jake, careful not to damage the much smaller Kat, and rumbled happily when the tom hugged him back and licked his cheek affectionately He disappeared into the nearby forest followed by the large silent form of a Tiger.

Nathan smiled at Jake "Amazing, I used to be terrified of him Still, for a kit he has an immense amount of power." He grinned "I guess for the moment relaxing is what we're doing, 'cause I know better than to argue with a medic who's using that tone of voice." He got to his feet in a wobbly fashion "However, I don't think that lying on the grass is required."

He turned to walk up the stairs to the porch, and ended up catching himself on the porch railing for a moment before Jake was there, supporting him "But perhaps I shouldn't push things too fast." He gave a wise-ass grin.

"Bed, now." Jake shook his head and helped his mate inside, leaving everyone else to deal with the time on their own He took a moment to will both their clothes away and pulled the covers back for them to settle in "Rest, love."

"Yes, sir." Nathan snickered before his mind gratefully drifted off in the warmth of his mate's presence and the familiar home.

When Nathan drifted back to awareness in his own bed, in his own apartment, and with the warm body of his LifeMate stretched out next to him, he couldn't help but smile at the thought that this would be a regular occurrence.

"Feeling better?" Jake asked softly without moving.

"Much," he rolled to face the tomkat for a tender good morning kiss, "thank you."

Jake sighed and held Nathan tightly "I hope you can still want this after my last Mask is down."

"As you keep telling me ...."

"Nathan," he laid a silencing finger across the Felsin's lips as a mixture of dread and despair crept into his scent, "this isn't about that kind of mask ... it ... it's about one you've already rejected my taking off."

Nathan looked utterly confused, as he tried to wrap his brain around what could possibly be going on He gently stroked his mate's back, trying to relax him, and give the attention the lean tom seemed to crave "Jake, what are you talking about? I rejected what was behind it? As far as I know I haven't seen what's behind it ... have I?" Nathan sincerely wished the universe would pick one direction of spin and stick with it The constant gear switching was giving him perceptual whiplash.

Jake didn't respond with words, but let out a small noise of grief as he stood and his form shifted to the lean, dark furred herm with black wings he had first worn in Joining space When he looked up, there was nothing but the pain of rejection in those familiar amber eyes.

Nathan's surprise lasted only a moment before it was replaced by momentary confusion Then he remembered that Jake had said this was the form he was most comfortable in, so it made a certain amount of sense, albeit less than comforting that this might be Jake beyond the masks He felt the programming beginning to surge in response to the female attributes of his mate's form.

Nathan thought about it briefly, and decided that programming be damned ... he wasn't letting inherited controls determine the course of his life This was still Jake, regardless of the form and that was simply that They'd gone through so much hell to get this far ... Nathan wasn't giving up so easily Besides, his father had taken a completely female mate, and sired a child with her This had to be easier.

He looked at his mate watching him and saw the pain of rejection Nathan willed his body to obey his mind, and reminded his body that regardless of form, this was Jake and he loved Jake ... the form he'd simply adjust to And that was the end of the discussion.

The tiger-tabby stood and gently put his arms around Jake, and hugged him, not letting his body show any of the programmed resistance He stroked his mate's cheek and looked into those amber eyes "Jake, I love you, that is what matters If this is the form you're most comfortable with, then be this I won't lie to you; it will take me a little while to get used to this appearance, but I will get used to it because I love you, and that's not conditional on some particular form I just need you to understand that you may see the occasional involuntary negative reaction, that's an old programmed response that I had no choice in, but I will not let it run my life."

"I don't think you understand," Jake's voice was very soft as he held himself stiffly, "in a few years, this, or something like it, will be my form in the real world I won't go through the stabilization again." He shuddered and swallowed hard "I can't do it anymore, I promised myself when I was established enough to survive without it, I'd let myself that luxury It's not a luxury anymore I'd loose what little I have left of my sanity trying that for another ten years."

With a gentle smile belaying his near panic at some of the implications of what Jake said, Nathan pulled the unusual form close and nuzzled him "Love, don't ever feel that you have to be anyone other than who you are for my sake I'll be honest that yes, I'm more comfortable with your tomkat form, of course I am because it's what I've come to associate with you, and because I am attracted to toms normally But I can learn to be just as comfortable with this form, if you're willing to give me the time to become accustomed to it." Nathan exerted his will to make his instinctive reactions behave themselves; no long dead genetic engineer was going to run his life.

Nathan watched with a knotted stomach as hope and fear warred for control of his mate His answer came with a tentative, chaste kiss as Jake slid his wings around them.

Nathan sighed in relief and returned the kiss with one of his own As he held Jake close, he began to recognize signs of psychic fatigue, the cost of fighting the programmed responses even to this extent, and whispered gently "Love, I need to sit and rest I didn't realize how tiring fighting my own reactions would be." He smiled to lessen the impact of his words.

Jake nodded and stepped away, shifting to the familiar tomkat form even as he did.

"You don't ..."

"I know," he smiled shyly back and settled next to Nathan on the bed "The least I can do is match your efforts in this And right now, the cost for me to be this, is less than being that true to myself."

Nathan accepted the affectionate lick and turned into it with a long, loving kiss "There will be other times, but my reserves aren't quite what they should be, and I'd rather not pass out again." He grinned "Though I can think of far worse reasons to pass out But seriously, as I said it will take time for me to get things under control ... but I will, don't worry, you're worth the effort And then some."

"What have I done to deserve you?" Jake's voice was choked as they snuggled close, relaxing in more familiar forms.

Nathan couldn't think of the words to express the answer so he put together images that he thought did best The images focused on the time they'd spent together both working on the various SWAT gadgets, Jake taking the time to show Nathan the ropes of MegaKat City society, as well as the times simply spent being friends The images also included things like how much it had meant to Nathan when Jake had trusted him enough to turn to him for comfort after he'd argued with Chance But the strongest image was how surprised Nathan had been when Jake had chosen to Join with him, when there were so many others the Kat had to chose from Nathan smiled shyly "Guess I was wondering what I'd done to deserve you?"

"I don't owe you anything." The words came easily, an answer that wasn't even thought about "All you ever expected of me ... was me I didn't even know that possibility existed before you showed up and forced yourself into my life."

"Forced?" Nathan grinned impishly "I don't know, felt more like thrown head first to me But you're right, that is all I ever expected ... and it's all I ever will expect."

"I hope I can give you as much." Jake sighed and closed his eyes, soaking in the warmth of acceptance.

"Nate, I have an idea, to help you adjust to my other form." Jake closed his eyes and leaned against the finally relaxing tiger-tabby.

"I'm game to try." He shifted to rub the tomkat's side "What is it?"

"A very dark room and an invitation to touch," he explained "It worked with Chance at least I know it's a little different here, he was just very unsure, you're fighting instincts, but you said you had to 'get used' to that body Better now than when it's a physical reality."

"No argument there." Nathan sighed and dropped his nose to Jake shoulder "I really wish this wasn't all so complicated."

"For a simple life." Jake murmured "A mother, father, sister, brother, home and heritage and future without bloodshed." His eyes lost focus "It's a nice dream, but I don't think we'd survive it long."

"How's that?"

"You're as driven as I am, Nate." He pulled back to meet his mate's green eyes and smiled sadly "Maybe even more so Do you honestly believe you could stay home when there are those that need you?"

"No." Nathan sank down in defeat.

"We protect those who live that dream." Jake tipped the tiger-tabby's chin up "And as you've pointed out, even the front line can be home, as long as we're together With friends and comrades that understand this brand of protection, it can be a home and family."

Nathan smiled and nodded "True enough, and even if I could give up the combat end, which I don't know that I can, I'd still be a healer and that's a drive just as strong."

"Do you honestly feel up for trying to push right now?" Jake watched his mate carefully "As long as we can get back into shared space later, it doesn't have to be now."

"I want to try now."

Jake nodded as the world went completely dark; sight removed, taste and smell dimmed, and the pair no longer touching.

"Jake?" Nathan buried a bolt of fear.

"I'm here, love." The soft assurance came from the darkness with a touch to his arm "Come, lay on the bed, and just touch me." The hand gently guided Nathan's to the familiar feel of his mate's face "Only as much as you are comfortable with, and feel no need to pleasure me, or embarrassment at what our touching does, good or bad This is for you, and us."

"You've done this before," Nathan whispered as he found Jake's mouth with his own on the second try.

"A few times," Jake nodded slightly, "and it's how I was shown how to pleasure another, male and female."

"So ... now what?" Nathan hesitated, looking at where his mate's face was, even if he couldn't see it.

"Now, love, you explore as much of me as you're comfortable with." He stretched before relaxing on the comfortable bed "And when you aren't comfortable, you touch elsewhere, or we stop for a while."

"Okay," Nathan slid a sure hand along the curve of his mate's throat and smiled to himself as a plan began to form "Please roll over, I'd like you on your stomach first." He used the moment it took his mate to roll over to settle as far into a medical mindset as he could without loosing the jolt of pleasure he got touching the tom lying next to him.

"Jake, what body is this?"

"Tomkat," his voice drifted up with purring yawn "Figured start with something you're comfortable with, since we could."

"Oh," Nathan froze, then brought his hands back up to Jake's shoulders and continued to rub, enjoying the sensation of his mate's pleasure through their bond "How about something a little ... more unusual?"

"As you wish." Jake's voice and pleasure didn't change, even as the quality of the fur and musculature under Nathan's fingers did.

The Felsin took a breath and reinforced his determination to wear his adverse reactions down, and found it a little easier this time With sight gone, it was simpler to focus on the scent and sound and the mental presence of his mate; the things that didn't change Though touch, that just felt completely wrong.

"Too much?" Jake asked when Nathan didn't move for quite a while.

"Not yet." He gritted his teeth and set himself to massage this form into complete relaxation, and familiarity He quickly discovered that by focusing on his mate's reaction, rather than exactly what he was doing, it was much easier It was hard to reject anything that brought the one he loved so much pleasure.

Nathan switched to a different tactic as his instincts rebelled forcefully when his hands worked up Jake's thighs He turned it into a learning game ... to see how the body under his fingers responded to his touch So he wasn't thinking as it sexually, it was more than he'd managed before.

The strangled pleasure-scream from his mate as he brushed the blood-swollen flesh between Jake's legs got a twitch of a reaction despite his reflexes and Nathan smiled "Yes, Jake, don't hold that in."

Strong fingers snapped around Nathan's wrist from nowhere and moved it away from Jake's body.

"Enough." Jake's voice was rough with need "I won't hold out ...."

"Then don't, love." He twisted and rolled to his back to put his mate on top of his chest, and found himself more turned on by the hard cock against his abs than turned off by the small breasts against his chest "Take me."

A half whimper, half lustful growl was Jake's only reply as he squirmed down between his mate's spread legs, finding his place by touch and memory.

"What is this place?" Nathan took in the silvery walled, squarish space with a somewhat organic feel to it, mostly from the transparent tubes of varying widths winding from floor to ceiling, and the complete lack of sharp edges Central in it was the largest tube, only this one pulsed with energy.

"This is how I think of where my Bonds are It's sort of a communication center." Jake walked around, nearly as curious as his mate "Well, at least that's what's here."

"Why are we here?"

Jake cast a nervous glance at his mate, then back at the bonds "I need you to undo the reinforcements you placed around my other bonds.

Nathan looked a little confused "I don't recall reinforcing any bonds, except for the ones between us, but I'll take your word for it Of course, the fact that I don't know I did it will make undoing it a little tricky ... I'm going to have to find my reinforcements first." He began looking for 'something' that looked like 'something' he would have done as reinforcement "If you don't mind my asking, is the reinforcement causing a problem?" He asked absently, while trying to make sense of the unusual approach to viewing bonds.

"Those bonds take energy to maintain," Jake caressed one sadly, "constant maintenance and attention." He locked eyes with his mate "Between leaving the squad, the changes in me, and Bonding to you, I *need* to be able to dissolve most of them They're only working bonds, not lifebonds I don't know which ones you affected, but I felt you do something to strengthen most of them while we were in the Hanger ... before it was just going to be the two of us."

Nathan hugged his mate supportively "I understand, and I'll do what I can to let you do what you need to This will take 'time' since even I don't know which ones I affected, probably because I wasn't trying to affect them."

Nathan sat down on the floor and his eyes went unfocused as a complex holographic display appeared in front of him. The display was a maze of lines and readouts, which seemed to be some sort of power analysis He paused for a moment "Okay, I'm going to slowly withdraw the power I'm putting out on bond maintenance so as to not cause anything sudden to happen."

After a lengthy period, the screen closed down and Nathan sat for a moment resting "Okay, that should've undone any reinforcement I did Only Bonds I'm part of are active Would you mind explain that concept though? Working bonds?"

"Ashley, V'Feri," Jake called to the ceiling, "this is your department You know I still don't actually get this Bonding stuff." He shifted slightly to face all three as the Felsin Cheetah and Dragon phased in "And you might as well explained the whole thing to me again while you're at it."

"Both of you?" Nathan raised an eyebrow at the arriving pair.

"V'Feri knows the bonds and our mind in that state better than anyone I'm here to translate for you." She grinned, then rolled her eyes "We're only now figuring out that 'Bond' and 'Bonding' mean two very different things to the two of you Never mind when the rest of us get involved in the discussion."

"You don't know?" Nathan stared in surprise at his fellow Felsin.

She shook her head sadly "No, I was too crippled in that department to ever understand, even though I'm as much from that society as you, it didn't mean the same, because I couldn't do that I was never trained a telepath, because I'm not one I'm not even empathic for bios."

Nathan nodded understandingly. "I understand, my first lifemate wasn't psi-active either, so I had to explain the empathic meaning of the Bonding to him It can be difficult to understand, but then again I find this 'working bond' concept a little tough."

"We'll try our best," Ashley nodded "It's important enough to spend time on this one."

"There are five primary kinds of bonds, with several common derivatives of each." V'Feri brought up a holographic chart with five words on it; SoulBond, LifeBond, LoveBond, KinBond, and WorkBond.

"What is being built between us is the most intense of them, a SoulBond." He indicated the thick, bright tube in the center of the room "What you shared with Rhymar was a LifeBond What I had with Erra was technically a very intense form of KinBond, though it behaved more like a LifeBond."

"Okay, you just lost me." Nathan rubbed his eyes and tried to focus again.

"Let me try." Ashley stopped V'Feri when the dragon opened his mouth.

"You're his species." He shrugged.

"What you call 'Bonding' is forming what we understand as a LifeBond It only survives as long as both sides involved do."

"Okay, that makes sense." Nathan nodded to her "What's the difference between that and a SoulBond?"

"A SoulBond is more intense than a LifeBond, and it survives the death of one side." She smiled at the stunned look she got from her fellow Felsin "Or more precisely, one side is not permitted to dissipate without the other If we fully form a SoulBond, you won't 'die' when your body does."

"Say what?" Nathan's eyes went wide "How does that work?"

Ashley shot an uncomfortable look at V'Feri, who took up the explanation "It works by the nature of how two telepaths, or one extremely powerful one, can manipulate reality With a SoulBond, the surviving member sort of 'holds onto' the dead one, until both die."

Nathan was stunned, the concept was old but was no longer practiced since it was believed that such holding on prevented the survivor from grieving properly and learning to live again Then there was a flash of memory, and he was beside a critical care bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Gildenfire Station's Medical Unit Lying in the bed was a young winged White Tiger kit Nathan looked up at the monitors; though he didn't need to ... he remembered every reading, every indicator as though it were yesterday.

The kit coughed weakly "It still hurts, father I thought the stabilization would make it stop?" There was fear in the kit's eyes.

Nathan wiped tears from his eyes, as he took the little kit's paw in his "I'm sorry, Storm It didn't work, I hoped it would but it didn't."

The kit's eyes became blurry, his grip became weak "I love you, father Don't forget me."

Nathan wrapped his arms around the kit "Never, Storm, I'll never forget you And I'll love you, always And one day I'll make things right and you will get the chance you never had I don't know when, or how but one day I will ... I promise."

"How father? I can see the spirits coming; I have to go with them. " His eyes closed.

Nathan looked up, and took a folded peace of paper and a small amulet He unfolded the paper and looked at the words he'd copied from the ancient manuscript he'd found in the Library of Antiquities on Draconea He looked down at the dying kit "Son of my heart, it isn't your time yet, you've hardly lived But I need time, so I give your spirit refuge within me so as to be ready when I find the answer."

He looked at the paper. "From bond of blood to bond of heart; father and son we are joined in the great bond; from bond of heart to bond of spirit and soul; now rest my son by the side of my soul until the time is right for you to live again By the sparks that fire the universe, by the light that illuminates us all and by my will I reject the departure of the soul."

He could feel his son's spirit remaining, and the confused spirits waiting nearby The grieving tiger-tabby looked at the inscription on the amulet that Xander had given him only the night before "For when all hope fails." Was all the enigmatic wanderer had said.

He held his son's hand as he read the inscription on the golden amulet "For the spirit to be willing, the flesh must first grow weak; just long enough for soul in flight to move from cheek to cheek." There was a brief silver glow as his son's soul moved from the dying body to take up temporary residence with his own.

Nathan was collapsed on the floor crying when the medical staff came in response to the monitor alarms One of the female Dracon nurses gently lifted the Medic up and laid him on an unoccupied bed.

An older Dracon Medic with bright silver scales entered the room "Where is Medic SolGardin's mate? He should be here already."

"I'm sorry, Doctor, but we've been unable to reach him As far as anyone knows he's on Felsinor currently."

"What?" The silver Dracon roared, outraged "His mate has a child dying, and he's systems away?"

"I'm sorry, but apparently they've been having 'problems' in their relationship lately."

"Well, get one of the crisis counselors here stat, one of the telepathic ones, if possible. "

"She's already on her way, Doctor."

"Good, do we have any Felsin immediately available? Medic SolGardin should not be alone until after the counselor arrives."

"Medic Greymane is on duty ...."

"Get him in here, now." The Dracon Medic stormed out, heading for the interstellar comm unit in his office He intended to have a few words with this mate who couldn't even manage the basics required of a bonded relationship.

Jake didn't know when he'd moved, or how he'd hauled the heavier, sobbing tom up against his chest, but when Nathan clutched him tightly, he closed his eyes and let reflexes take over.

"*Nathan.*" Jake focused on comforting thoughts, mostly on how much the Felsin meant to him, and understanding of the loss of a cub, of not being able to do anything about it, and the insane risks taken to protect one "*Love It'll be all right.*"

He squished the rising panic of not being able to do anything and concentrated on what his mate had done for him, and determinedly focused on comfort, and just being there.

Nathan sobbed gently for a time, remembering how alone he'd been when Storm had died He managed to regain enough composure to project gratefully across the Bond, though he couldn't quite manage words, just a sense of gratitude that Jake was there.

After a little while he was able to manage words. "*I'm sorry, I should've said something sooner I was just afraid to, I've never told anybody the risks I took, the traditions and rules I disregarded I tried to tell Rhy, but he didn't understand; he was essentially mind-blind; he couldn't really understand my bond with Storm.*"

"*Shu, Nate.*" Jake carefully licked the tears from his mate's face "*What you did for love of a kit can not be held against you.*"

Nathan held tight to his mate. "*Jake, there's something that that memory doesn't show. Something I didn't realize for several months, and that no one else knows ... what I did ... the soul-bond/ soul transference ... it worked ... Storm never left me It doesn't make up for how badly I failed him, but it gives me a chance, some day, to fix things.*"

"*You didn't fail him, any more than I failed Erra.*" Jake whispered sternly, the sting of his own pain taking any out of his words.

Nathan turned to look at the lean tom holding him. "*Love, if you're willing I'd like you to meet Storm Given that he's part of me, I think it a good idea.*" He asked hopefully.

"*I would be honored to meet your son ... our son, if he'll have me.*"

"*Thank you, love.*" He stood up, still a little unsteady and looked around He looked to what had become an open sky, and smiled as he watched the descending figure. "*Here he comes.*"

After a few moments, a winged White Tiger kit, probably eight years old, landed and draped his wings in the same cloak-like fashion Nathan had in winged war-form The little kit rushed forward and Nathan swept him up into a hug "I've missed you, Storm I hope you weren't lonely."

Storm smiled brightly. "I missed you too, but there were lots of people to keep me company Especially the Gargoyles, the two little ones were a lot of fun ... Did you ever see them again?"

Nathan patted his son on the head. "That's a long story, for some other time I hadn't come to see you in awhile, and I'm sorry."

The little tiger looked at him "I understand, Rhymar doesn't like you talking about me ... he doesn't understand."

Nathan sighed "All the same, I should have come back sooner ... but Rhy's not with me anymore, he died about a year ago."

Storm hugged his father tightly "I'm sorry, I know you loved him ... even if he didn't like me Was that the shockwaves I felt?"

Nathan nodded sadly. "Yes, it was But there's someone I want you to meet."

Storm looked dubious "New Bondmate? I don't want to drive this one away like I did the other."

The tiger-tabby shook his head "What happened between me and Rhymar was not your fault, never think it was your fault But yes, my new Bondmate." Nathan brought Storm around to face Jake.

"Jake, I'd like you to meet my son, Patrick Storm SwiftClaw."

"Patrik?" Jake stammered, his eyes wide for a moment.

Nathan nodded "Storm, this is my lifemate, Jake Clawson."

Storm looked the cinnamon tom over cautiously, even as he was appraised himself, before walking up close enough to shake hands. He smiled at the lean tom. "Hey, you're not afraid of me, father's other mate always got nervous around me." He said as if challenging Jake to say otherwise. "Everybody got nervous around the freak." He looked at the ground.

Nathan put his arm around his son's shoulders "Storm, you are not a freak I know you heard that from others, but it's not true You're my son, and that's all that matters."

"You're handsome." Jake smiled as he tipped the young tiger's chin up, dropping to his knee to bring himself closer to the kit's eye level "And freak where you were from or not, you are welcome for who you are in my home."

"Thanks." Storm met Jake's steady, appraising gaze "Did you mean it about wanting to be my father too?"

"If you allow me." He smiled sadly "Yes, I would like to be your father as well, and you will always be my LifeMate's son."

The White Tiger looked shyly at the cinnamon tom for a while, and then suddenly wrapped his arms around the Kat's neck, like he had done with Nathan As he hugged Jake he whispered. "Thank you, father."

"Thank you," Jake embraced the kit tightly, "son."

Nathan smiled happily "Just don't call him Patrick." He warned.

"Besides being confusing as hell," Jake looked up, "why not?"

Storm grinned. "The lab guys made it up from my project number, PTRC-006795XS. The first part stood for Project Transgenetics Reconnaissance and Combat." He stopped and looked to Nathan. "Did I get that right?"

Nathan smiled. "Of course, you've never gotten it wrong."

The White Tiger grinned "Well, I don't like the full thing Better Pat or Rick, but I really prefer Storm, 'cause my father gave it to me." He smiled at Nathan, then turned back to Jake "Why would it be confusing?"

"Because my pilot's name is Patrik Celest, Rik, for short And Pakitra is Pat."

"Oh." Storm started looking around the comm center. "Wow, there sure are a lot of bonds here ... but they're all kind of strange."

Nathan grinned at Jake "I forgot to mention, he's a full telepath."

The little tiger stopped nosing around. "Yep, and I can talk to Gildenfire's computers too, though nobody quite knew what to make of that." He grinned looking around, then he spotted V'Feri and Ashley in the background and quickly retreated behind Nathan, he peeked out and then looked over to Jake. "Who are they?"

"Two of my ... prior lives, for lack of a better description." Jake flicked his tail and the dragon and Felsin came forward "The Felsin King Cheetah is Ashley Terell She knew your father, and grandfather, before Nate landed here He's V'Feri," Jake motioned to the dragon and grinned playfully "He knows too much."

"I'm pleased to meet you Storm." Ashley knelt and held her hand out to the kit even as V'Feri faded away.

Storm stepped cautiously out from behind Nathan He looked Ashley over for a moment before stepping close enough to shake her hand He smiled happily "It's nice to meet people who aren't afraid of me I just wish ... I just wish it was out there." He looked a little melancholy.

Nathan knelt down by the little tiger "Don't worry, Storm It will be one day Remember, I promised you I'd find a way ... and I will."

The kit turned and put his arms around Nathan, who hugged his son close Storm looked around "You were doing something, right? I'll just be quiet, and you can go back to whatever it was You won't even know I'm here."

Nathan smiled "Storm, I always know you're here...and I don't intend to leave you alone so long again."

Jake swallowed with some difficulty "How did you manage that? To sire a kit without a female."

Nathan smiled "Truthfully, it happens fairly often on my homeworld The technology for allowing two toms to produce kits is almost two generations old, but it doesn't have anything to do with Storm."

He flickered a chair into existence and sat down Storm flopped down onto a large pillow on the floor next to him "I was working at the AGDL, providing medical advice on behalf of the Corps. For various reasons the Corps maintains a working relationship with the AGDL I was assigned to the Matrix 0 Design group working on the Independent Reconnaissance and Combat project Specifically, we working on designing a winged Felsin, nominally as adjunct to the Planetary Scouts."

"As the project progressed I found myself arguing more often with the various designers over ethical concerns I could see that they were molding the design more into a combat model, as opposed to the scout model originally proposed."

Storm caught Jake's concerned expression He smiled. "Don't worry, I've heard this story before."

"There were also modifications being made to make the design more compliant, more controllable ... and less intelligent Eventually, I found it necessary to take my complaints to the head of AGDL. When I got nowhere there, I went to my Corps superiors since it was a joint project By the time I got back to AGDL, they had already initiated creation and had used an accelerated Gestation tank to bring the new life to full term, actually they where going to go to maturity, but the Justicars and I stopped them."

"Once I saw that there was movement in the tube, I had no choice but to begin the awakening procedures When I lifted Storm out of the tube, he instinctively bonded to who he thought was his father ... me Well, I'd wanted a son for some time, and I loved him immediately I guess that's where things started."

Storm threw a small pillow at Nathan. "You forgot to mention that you replaced the damaged mental genetic code, with portions of yours ... you always forget that part." He grinned mischievously.

"Oh, you're right. I did do that because I was afraid the other designers would accelerate the project when they realized what I was doing." Nathan looked at his mate. "Any other questions?"

Jake sat hard in a chair that materialized as his legs gave way.

"Jake?" Nathan moved to check on his stunned mate even as Ashley looked concerned "You okay?"

"Yah," he murmured, stock still and slouched in the chair After a long moment he looked up to meet Nathan's concerned gaze "How does this work, two toms breeding?"

"It's relatively straight-forward really. You just take genetic material from the prospective parents You tinker a little to create the egg cells you'd normally get from the female parent if you were doing in-vitro fertilization Combine them, wait for successful fertilization and then transfer to a gestation tube You then wait the normal gestation period, and at the end of that period you remove the infant from the g-tube."

Nathan looked at his stunned mate. "All in all, its actually safer than 'normal' childbirth, and of course, is the only real option for Bondings in which there are no females involved No genetic engineering, I mean other than the usual checking for genetically passed defects and the like No fancy tricks; quite straight-forward and like I said it's been done for almost two generations now, and there've been no negative effects seen in those produced by g-tube procreation that aren't seen in normal procreation."

Nathan sighed "I guess it must sound a little ... strange, given that it isn't done on this planet."

"Strange, a little," Jake whispered, his gaze somewhere else entirely "Stranger to ... what it could mean."

"What do you mean?" Nathan regarded him curiously.

"We must be close to the technology level to do that ... the social implications of enabling any two individuals to breed are ... well ... extensive." He smiled a little weakly and stood to claim a tender kiss and embrace "On a more personal level, it means we could have kits by blood to both of us."

Nathan hugged the small tom close. "I guess I don't think about the social implications because it's simply a part of the society I was raised in, and we dealt with that before I was born.

"But you're right about the personal level, and I have thought about it since we decided to Join, but I wasn't quite sure how to bring the subject up ... given the cultural difference For me, its just part of planning a life together, same as for any other couple..."

Nathan smiled "The technology is actually no issue, I've got it all up here." He tapped the side of his head "Combination of training, experience and a gift from my parents They wanted to make sure I had the option if I ever wanted it But I don't think it's a decision we have to make now ... we have time."

"But you'd ... entertain the idea?" The hopefulness in Jake's expression was almost heartbreaking.

Nathan smiled and hugged Jake close "I entertained the idea when I wasn't sure if you'd be open to it And seeing you with Storm, I'd most certainly entertain it now But honestly Jake, why wouldn't I? I love you, and to have kits that are of both of us is simply the natural extension of that ... at least for me it is."

"You said there was time later," he hesitated, shifting uncomfortably, "that's always been ... it's how I get told off, without risking my claws 'Later' has usually meant 'never'."

Nathan shook his head "I said later, only because I know you've been pushed into a lot of decisions and I don't want to seem like I'm pushing you Of course, it will require a little time to get the equipment developed and make sure everything works correctly; so even if we were to decide now, nothing could be done right away." Nathan paused to kiss the lean tom gently "If I'd meant never that's what I would've said Even if I don't agree with you on something, I will be honest with you about it."

Jake was silent for a long moment, then sighed and rested his head against his mate's chest "I'll apologize now for the time it takes me to ... believe ... that Not even Pat or Fel ..." his voice drifted into a painful silence "Not even they are that honest with me Everyone's afraid to anger me, 'sept Chance Even he skirted a lot of things It's going to take some time to accept that you're different." He hesitated, then looked up hopefully "Can gender be chosen, or is it random, like normal?"

"I understand, love I don't play by the rules you're used to, mostly 'cause I don't know them."

"I think I like your rules better, overall." Jake relaxed significantly.

The tiger-tabby smiled "As to gender, either way is possible, though it's a more complicated procedure to preset gender and I prefer to tamper no more than medically necessary The really amazing thing is that even with this way of doing things, you still get twins occasionally."

"Oh," there was a mixture of amazement and delight in his voice as Jake's mind took another major detour Eventually he snuggled in with a deep purr and a nuzzling kiss "As much as I want a daughter, random it will be."

Nathan returned the kiss and grinned playfully. "Well, nothing says we have to stop with one." He crooned before claiming a more passionate kiss, the sort that usually turned into a major distraction.

"I would hope not." Jake's deep purr was nearly a growl as Nathan made his way down the lean tom's neck.

"Come along, Storm." Ashley chuckled and shook her head at the pair as their interest shifted from comfort to contact "Let's leave your parents some privacy."

Storm looked back over his shoulder. "Oh Okay, why don't I show you the place my first father built for me?" The white tiger kit decided he liked Ashley.

"That sounds like a first rate idea." She smiled, delighted to have the chance to mother for a little while after so many years trying to become one "Maybe afterwards I can show you a few of our 'secrets'." She winked and grinned "Work up a Bonding gift for them."

Storm grinned back "Cool I'd like to give them something."

Storm ran ahead, occasionally looking back to make sure his new friend was keeping up He still thought it kind of strange that she was part of his new father but still separate; but his father wasn't bothered by it, so it must be okay Besides, he'd never gotten to show a 'real' person his special place, only the friends he'd made from special people in his father's memories.

He stopped when the terrain shifted to the boarding tube that connected to 'home' "Come on, Ashley It's just in here." He leaned casually against the bulkhead, waiting.

Ashley noted that it was the typical boarding tube used to dock Alliance starships to the outer ring of space stations She also noticed that the insignia on the inside airlock door was the Dracon royal dragon holding the Medic Corps insignia That particular combination was used only at the Gildenfire Orbital Medic Center She looked at the waiting Kit. "Gildenfire?"

The little tiger nodded "Yeah, it's where father and I used to live He thought I'd be happier if I had somewhere familiar; he was right." He put his hand to the palm lock, and the door cycled open.

Ashley backed away as a large, purple-gray, vaguely canine quadruped came out of the airlock and positioned himself between Storm and herself, growling threateningly "Storm, do you know him?"

Storm put his arms around the big canine's neck "It's okay, Defender She's a friend." The kit laughed as Defender turned to lick him in welcome "Don't worry Ashley, father gave him to me to keep out anyone who shouldn't be here; said he was the best 'watchdog' he ever knew Actually, he's a Gargoyle but he doesn't have wings."

Defender walked over, checked Ashley out and then returned to the far side of the airlock apparently satisfied.

"I actually had to name him, since Gargoyles don't use names At least that's what father said, but people are supposed to have names ... so I gave him one." The winged tiger commented as they walked through the halls of Gildenfire.

As they passed an intersection a blur of olive green darted out of the intersecting passageway and tackled Storm The two became a rolling ball of white and gray-green that collided with the far wall with Storm on the bottom.

"Okay, Rick you win this one Now let me up, 'ya silly 'goyle." Storm said laughing hard.

The small Gargoyle laughed and jumped off him, offering him a hand up, spreading the gliding flaps there were attached to his arms and legs in the process "That's what you get for not paying attention, buddy Hey, who's she?" The Gargoyle asked looking at Ashley.

Storm turned "Rick, this is Ashley Terrell, one of my father's friends Dad's kinda busy with his new lifemate so I'm showing her around Ashley, this is Rick; he's one of my oldest friends here, and he's one of father's oldest friends too."

The kit turned back to his Gargoyle friend "Hey, where's Pat?"

"He's in the park."

"Of course, well I'm going to show Ashley around but we'll end up at the park eventually."

"Good, I'll see you there." Rick ran off down the corridor he came from.

Ashley looked at Storm. "Rick?"

Storm laughed "Yeah, he didn't have a name either, so I gave him half of the one I don't use Pat's another gargoyle, Rick's friend and another of Dad's old friends so I gave him the other half."

After walking through the halls for a while Storm stopped at a set of doors He turned to Ashley "Well, this is home, well it's part of it This is where father and I lived on Gildenfire Sorry, it's a bit of mess Nobody usually sees it."

"Don't worry about it."

When the door opened, Ashley realized that 'mess' was a very accurate word, though it was perfectly reasonable for somewhere inhabited by kit with no adults around She also noted a large, wine red Dracon lounging on a couch in the middle of the room, apparently watching television.

The white tiger kit, bounded over the side of the couch to land on the unaware Dracon's lap "Hi, Uncle Morin."

The Dracon stood up, holding the kit in a tight hug "Hi yourself, sport I see you've brought a friend with you." He gently put Storm down and patted him on the head.

Storm smiled "Yeah, Uncle Morin this is Ashley Terrell, a friend of father's Ashley this is Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea, a close friend of father's."

The Dracon bowed politely, then looked Ashley over "Medic Terrell, if I recall properly."

She smiled and bowed in return "That I am."

"Though I see draconic influences around you, perhaps you were a dragon in a previous life ... if you believe in such things as previous lives."

Ashley chuckled "Very much so, as I am a past life of sorts We have been dragon-kin twice, though never a Dracon."

The little tiger looked up at the Dracon seriously "Seen Uncle Chance around lately?"

The Dracon shook his head "I have not seen him in several days, nor have I heard anything Perhaps you should check with Command."

"Yeah, I guess I should Oh, Dad's got a new lifemate, and I guess Rhy died a while back." The kit said casually.

The Dracon smiled knowingly "I was aware of the change in the order of things Are things better this time, Storm?"

"Yeah, Jake actually likes me ... he even wanted to be my father So I've got two fathers now." The little tiger was beaming.

Morin bent down and hugged Storm "See, I told you that one day your father would find a lifemate who could love you as well."

Storm snuggled into the Dracon's chest "I know Uncle Morin, but I always thought you meant you I guess I was just a little surprised that someone without wings would accept me so easily."

"We have wings, kitten." Ashley commented quietly "We just don't always wear them on the outside."

The little tiger looked curiously at Ashley "Oh, you're shapeshifters then, like Nurse Skydancer." He smiled as an image appeared in the television first a tall, slender sky blue on silver Dracon in nursing garb, who morphed into to a red foxen fem with white points.

Morin smiled understandingly "I believe Ashley is referring to something more complicated than a simple shift Grandmother Starfire has said something similar about your father."

"More complicated it is, but the principle is there." She smiled encouragingly at Storm Remember the gray dragon biped that was with me?"

"The one that wouldn't even look at me, yes." He nodded.

"He is V'Feri, and his was our first form." She explained "In a way, we never quite forget it, even when we can't remember him." She knelt and tipped Storm's chin up to make sure the kit met her golden eyes "Please do not judge him so quickly Seeing you, having a child again, it hurts him He has not recovered from having the bond with his daughter shattered, and any reminders of what he lost are still very painful."

Storm thought for a moment and brightened a little. "So it wasn't really me he was avoiding, it was his memories?"

"Yes." She nodded "Before the pain overwhelmed him, he was delighted to have a son Give him time to recover from his loss, and you'll see that he does want to like you And he definitely doesn't dislike you."

"That's better than Rhymar, he tried to avoid looking at me ... I guess that's what I thought V'Feri was doing."

"Not everyone is so disturbed by differences, kit." Morin mussed the little tiger's hair "If things had been different, perhaps I would have been your father But Rhymar was even less comfortable with me than he was with you; he would never have accepted me as the third member of their triad But your father and I are still what we have always been, Cordraki; even if we are now in different galaxies."

The White Tiger smiled "I know, can I tell him you're here?" He asked hopefully.

The eight foot tall red biped dragon shook his head "No, Storm It would be inappropriate for me to interrupt his Joining Indeed, it is only appropriate for me to be here, because you and I are Kin-Bonded and you needed me when the darkness came."

"I understand, but I really think you should meet father-Jake, I think you'd like him."

Morin smiled seriously "I already like him for what he is to my Cordraki Besides we TechnoMages tend to get along anyway."

"You use our name for it," Ashley raised an eyebrow at the Dracon she was only slightly shorter than, "I was of the understanding it was called CyberWizard in that area, and the training very different I certainly never met another like me, though Cazi may have been, if raised differently He felt different from the other CyberWizards I met, more like me."

Morin nodded. "Most of the other races refer to the practice as CyberWizardry, and it is very different; though the Lupo call it Mecha-magic and that is something entirely different as well TechnoMages are exclusively Dracon in the Alliance, and we are fairly rare and we reveal ourselves to few non-Dracons Nathan knows though he may not be remembering at the moment."

"As for Cazimir Sunfire," the Dracon smiled, "my clan-cousin is a CyberWizard because he was raised by his Felsin mother; had he been raised on Draconea he would have been a TechnoMage The difference, as far anyone has determined, is entirely training."

"Not completely." Ashley shook her head "If he were trained, Cazi would likely be able to be a TechnoMage and a CyberWizard Most CyberWizards could not do that."

He was serious for a moment. "Oh, don't make too much of my being able to project from Alphard to here ... this is mostly due to Grandmother's good graces ... she's quite fond of Nathan."

"He does seem to endear himself to those he doesn't drive crazy." Ashley chuckled.

Morin looked at Storm who was standing by the door, looking at the adults with exaggerated patience "Perhaps we might continue any discussion on the way to Command ... Storm will be anxious until he's checked things out for himself I must admit I am curious as well, as to why Nathan is blocking all his memories of Chance right now."

"I've got a pretty good idea." She sighed sadly as the adults followed Storm down another hallway, this one led to an elevator that went up a long distance. She was fairly certain it went to the Command Deck of the Center When the door opened, it was a Command Deck, but it was not the one she remembered The layout had been altered dramatically.

Morin looked around and nodded "Storm is quite inventive in his design work Though this is far more TechnoMage, like myself, than the organic design I would expect from his father Of course, I did give him more than a few lessons when he was 'alive'."

Storm was looking at a complex set of display screens. "Well, most things seem okay There's a lot more comm channels open between Dad and father-Jake than before ... I guess that's normal Dad's got the sentinel line to uncle Chance up at full power Looks like my WorkBonds are still solid, so that's good."

Morin walked over. "WorkBonds? With who?" He examined the displays. "And just when did you put WorkBonds in place with your two new uncles ... or should I say your new father and uncle?"

The little tiger tried to look innocent "Well, Dad spent a lot of time with them, and so that meant I did ... but Dad doesn't do anything less than LifeBonds ... besides Dad's been so distracted the last year, I got lonely at times ... having the WorkBonds made it a little less lonely ... I just wanted to feel someone else's presence."

Morin hugged his nephew close "I understand, Storm Well, you kept them very low level, so all they were was sense-bonds."

Storm went to a different display He pointed it out to Morin, who came over "See uncle, Dad's got the shields up a lot higher than normal ... and he's got a large block of memory completely shielded, and cloaked too ... you think that's where he's hiding all the memories of uncle Chance?"

The Dracon considered "Possibly, though it doesn't tell us why he would be secluding the memories of one of his two best friends."

The White Tiger kit started playing with controls and there was a rumbling noise, and strong vibrations.

"Storm, what are you doing?" Morin asked, concerned.

"I need to get as close to the shield edge as possible so I can ride the sentinel beam and look in on uncle Chance." Storm said as though it was completely obvious.

Morin began to say something, when he caught the look on the kit's face. "You're going to do this, no matter what I say aren't you?" Storm nodded. "Well, be careful ... you're not invulnerable you know."

Storm hugged his uncle. "I know, but I have to make sure Chance is okay." There was hum, and the White Tiger disappeared in a flash of silver light.

The Dracon turned to Ashley "You'd never convince me that he's not Nathan's biological son ... he's got the same inability to leave anything about the people he cares about to anyone else." He pulled out a chair and sat down "I don't suppose you could give me some idea what's going on out there I know its not good, but seeing as I'm responsible for Storm while his father's busy ... anything would help." Morin unsheathed and then sheathed the claws on his right hand "I'm still ducking the issue of what that large brown tom was doing to Chance ... how do you explain that to an 8 year old? There are adults who can't deal with the concept And no, Nathan has no idea that Storm saw those images, but that psi-surge overwhelmed every internal shield my Cordraki has ... it was only the strength of Gildenfire's walls that kept the effect limited to just images."

"Felsira have mercy." Ashley breathed and dropped into a nearby chair "Storm saw ..." she swallowed even as her training kicked in "Okay, does Storm know anything about sex?"

The Dracon thought for a moment "I don't expect so He wasn't 'alive' long enough for Nathan to have that conversation, and in here there isn't any reason Of course, the fact that Nathan's quite 'inexperienced' means there isn't much in his memories, and I'm sure he's filtered it all ... to avoid reminding Storm of Rhymar if nothing else."

"I could wish for better, and I've dealt with worse." Ashley sighed, even as she began to assess the options for how to explain seeing his uncle raped in a way that wouldn't leave too many lasting scars on the subject of sex, or bondage.

Morin shook his head "That innocence is partly why I don't know what to say ... I don't want this exposure to distort his perceptions I just don't know how long I can put him off ... he knows something is wrong, and the fact that Nathan is shielding everything concerning Chance is just adding to his anxiety." The Dracon looked along the path Storm had taken "Storm is worried, but I know Nathan well enough to know he wouldn't have entered the Joining without having made sure Chance was taken care of."

"That he did." She swallowed "Let me try to explain the images to Storm, please There is no way to really tell beforehand, but I have a good grip on what is usually the best way to start."

"I would appreciate that." He inclined his head in a nod "And elsewhere in the real world?"

"Much." Ashley stretched her hands up "One things Aristal is not, is calm Especially around Jake's friends.

"That big brown tom is Commander Ulysses Feral of the Enforcers, the local law enforcement and military of MegaKat City."

The Dracon's eyes went from cool gold, to fire red. "What? By the First Egg, how did such a deviant monster rise to such high rank?" His deep voice became a low roar. "Never mind the flaws in how local leaders are selected Has this monster been dealt with by someone? I sincerely hope so or I will find a way to deal with him personally." Morin momentarily shifted from anthro-dragon, to a red dragon of the quadruped sort before shifting back He sat down heavily in a chair, seeming a bit winded. "Can't even rage properly due to the attenuation of distance."

Ashley's own eyes flash emerald green before she controlled herself with some difficulty "He is, though not as I'd wish But he'll die, and fittingly Cathedral may intend to actually put him on trial, but they have a death by torture penalty, and they have the mask and the impressions on it." She grinned, her sharp teeth showing brightly against glass black fur "There is little doubt on his conviction, and if they fail, Reaper will not He does not have Jake's conflicting loyalties And neither do *I*."

The Dracon looked curious "I don't know who Reaper is, but he will have to be quite good, to get to this Feral before Hunter does Though by the scales of Tal'Dranor, I hope Hunter is not needed." He paused for a moment. "A justice system which practices Death by Torture? This seems inefficient, and having little to do with Justice or even honorable Revenge Why waste so much energy on one who deserves to be hung like the common thug he is? To go to such lengths gives the monster more importance than he deserves."

"From what I've gathered from Jake, who's responsible for a large chunk of Cathedral's legal code, it's ... how did he describe it ... balancing the pain in the universe." She smiled apologetically at Morin "I may share his soul, but there are some ways Jake thinks that I don't quite understand I think the point is balance the pain given by an individual with the pain that one receives." She shrugged "I'll grant you it's an odd concept, but it's effective, none the less Cathedral is a remarkably well-healed society, and I have first hand experience that attributes at least part of that to the punishment system they use."

Morin shrugged "Perhaps But it would be best to not let Nathan know about it ... as a Medic he understands that the death penalty is occasionally necessary to protect society, but he would be quite ... horrified, I think would be a good word, at the thought of torture Our unit observed such a system on one of the backwater planets near the fringe of alliance space, I recall Nathan's comment being 'When justice uses the same methods as the criminals ... how can you tell the difference?' But I think we are getting sidetracked here."

"I rather agree with Nathan in general, but as long as it's working I'm not willing to argue too much with Jake over the issue." She shrugged "But to what you actually asked about ... there's so much ... would you mind giving me a few starting points to cover?"

"Really what I'm interested in is what's going on closest to Nathan, because I only see what comes in here and I know Nathan's filtering that to protect Storm Let's try a few things that will help me with Storm What's Black Phoenix? It seems to bothering Nathan quite a bit. Who's Felina? Her name's shown up enough to be significant but no details, not even images But the big one, and the one that's really bothering Storm ... What the shells is going on between Jake and Chance lately? According to Storm, they were mates, and now Jake's Bonded with Nathan and the memories relating to Chance are shielded."

"Okay, in order." She smiled and settled into her chair a little more, materializing a crystal goblet of Chimra for herself "Black Phoenix is a fighter squadron designed to be the next step in the SWAT Kats evolution as a unit Jake, as NightRazor, leads the team Or I should say, led them Jake stepped down when he chose to Join with Nathan."

Ashley brought up an image of the nearly seven foot tall, muscular, dark brown shekat in her pilot uniform "Felina is the Enforcer Lieutenant Commander Felina 'Artemis' Feral She is Jake's girlfriend, lovemate, and current fiancé She is Commander Feral's niece, and his second in command.

"As for Jake and Chance," she took a long sip and sighed, "that is a long, convoluted and rather ugly story not even I have the full details of, though I have more than Jake at the moment." She hesitated, then met Morin squarely in the eyes "I will ask for your word as a Dracon prince that you will keep as much of this in strictest confidence as possible The following is not general knowledge, and needs to remain that way."

Morin nodded "You have my word, so long as neither Nathan or Storm would be harmed by keeping it Jake is the Bonded of my Cordraki, his secrets are protected as those of family would be."

"That is all I ask." She inclined her head in acceptance "Obviously, Storm needs to be told some kind of summary of this, but most of the details can probably be left out for now He doesn't need to know how bad a shape his new father's head is in."

She paused a moment to organize her thoughts and the information, and figure out how much was necessary, and how much would be a good idea to include.

"The simplest truth of the situation is that Jake and Chance fought and broke up because their different needs in a mate finally became too much for their friendship to withstand." She took a sip of her drink and rolled her eyes "What a mouthful."

The red dragon nodded "A mouthful indeed, but often summarizing years into sentences generates those." He smiled. "Kind of like writing executive summaries of advanced engineering projects."

Ashley couldn't help but laugh at that "Oh, that is so true." Her humor dulled after a moment and she stared at the shinning blue liquid in her glass, turning it blood black "The real truth of that matter is much ... less pleasant.

"Probably the best description I can give, without making at least one of them sound like heartless clout, is that Jake is trapped by his past and ignorance, and Chance ... he's not a mindreader."

"This isn't going to be simple in any manner, is it?" Morin regarded the tall Black King Cheetah with a new eye, and an appreciation for the difficulty of what she was revealing "And you are part of it."

"Yes, a very large part of it." She nodded slightly "But let's try this in an organized fashion, shall we? Can you access the lecture I gave Nathan about Jake's past 'lives'?"

The Dracon considered for a moment "This will take some effort, my link with Nathan is not that deep, and the intergalactic distances make things difficult." He eyes went distant and then unfocused It was long moments before they refocused on the 'here and now' "Yes, I see No wonder Nathan was confused, it is not an easy concept." He smiled cryptically "But it is far easier for me, since I have a gift for seeing the connectedness of people ... for lack of a better term No wonder I thought you looked unfocused when I first saw you at Gildenfire."

"We were several lives into our existence already, and fighting hard to avoid my programming." Ashley nodded "And thank you for not mentioning it then." She chuckled "More questions about my past was about the last thing I needed at the time."

"It did not seem something to mention." He shrugged slightly "But how does that fit into this mess, beyond being interesting background?"

"It fits into the why of it." She sighed, disconcerted at how difficult it was to speak of what was going on "There is something in us that ... requires us to bond to those we are close too It is not even a conscious thing Most of the time it's nothing much, just a good working bond, easily broken and left behind as necessary.

"The trouble comes in cases like Jake, who are untrained in Bonding procedures, and get into intense, long term sexual relationships It's instinctive in us to form at least a lifebond when we're serious about a relationship, but because of what happened with our first real bond, with how Erra died, and how it was ... not healed ... when such a bond is forming, if the other half of the Bonding can't, or just doesn't, complete it for us, it is sabotaged as the memory pain of how the last one ended comes back."

Ashley drew in a deep, shuttering breath and a long drink from her goblet before calming enough to look up at her audience "I'm not usually this scattered."

The Dracon nodded sympathetically. "And Chance, like many pilots, is too much a free soul to realize what was wanted without being told directly I could see that much from the few memories I got when I opened the link just now." He materialized a goblet of something bright red that seemed on fire, which he took a sip of "I understand, because it took Nathan close to twenty years to realize I wanted more from him than friendship Unfortunately, my own culture forbids me from initiating intimate relations with a male smaller than myself ... I had to wait for Nathan to ask me." The dragon sipped quietly "But I am a Dracon, and we are patient.

"One not realizing what is wanted, the other too hurt to put what he wants in plain speech Unfortunate, but no one to blame either." He stopped "Am I close to the heart of the problem?"

"The basics, yes." Ashley forcibly stopped herself from fidgeting "Except they are already Bonded, close to the LifeMate level, and it's mangled because of how it was built." She sighed unhappily "And Jake ... he becomes quite suicidal when his BondMate 'rejects' him And to his perception, Chance has, irrevocably."

The Dracon sighed and sipped at his drink "And if what Nathan let me see is close to correct; and it likely is ... Chance's perception is that Jake ended the relationship That Jake went to the niece of the one who raped him probably didn't help matters any Now they're avoiding each other, both convinced the other doesn't care ... strange that they should both be wrong."

"Though it is somehow fitting." Ashley sighed in frustration "We have almost three hundred years and a dozen lives and not once has a romantic relationship gone well Someone once said that the closer we get to someone, the worse our people skills get I'm inclined to agree."

The Dracon closed his eyes for a moment and became slightly transparent before reforming. "Sorry, I was getting far too close to being visible to Nathan's conscious mind I'm fairly sure his subconscious is aware of me though, that's how I got to some of his memories."

Ashley stared into her drink and took a long swig "Is there anything else I can try to explain? I'd like to get Storm at much at ease with us as possible After what I know of Rhymar and the kit, having any new bondmate to his father can't be that easy to accept, and in this case, he's getting six for one."

Morin smiled slightly. "Actually, Storm is accepting it better than I expected, when I figured out what was happening But that's largely due to Jake's wanting to be Storm's father, which wasn't something Storm expected ... all he was hoping for was just to be accepted To be wanted by someone he's kind of idolized, overwhelmed him I think."

"Idolized?" Ashley raised an eyebrow "Not that Jake doesn't have many find qualities, but why?"

"The best way to explain it, is that Storm gets his perceptions through Nathan When Nathan finally came out of the 'emotional coma' from the combination of Rhymar's death and losing his entire 'world', he latched on to Jake and Chance and rebuilt his entire world around them ... because they were all he had He's finally feeling a little more self-secure, but he still has a somewhat air-brushed view, the flaws tend to be overlooked, and the good things enhanced."

"What a pair." Ashley rolled her eyes "Jake has a majorly bad habit of that as well."

The dragon shook his head in slight amusement "And Storm gets the even more filtered view ... though to some extent he knows it's filtered It didn't matter, after Nathan joined SWAT, Storm started referring to them as his 'uncles', much the same way Nathan referred to the NightBlades.

"The best summary I suppose would be ... Nathan loves both of them, so Storm does too."

"That's normal enough, even if they didn't share a mind."

The dragon chuckled "I definitely dipped into Nathan's subconscious a bit much ... I'm picking up that rambling habit of his."

"It seems quite contagious," Ashley laughed with him "Jake hasn't 'talked' this much in years."

The dragon looked at the King Cheetah "I can tell Storm has no problem with you, both because his father seems comfortable with you, and because he's never had a female presence in his life that wasn't a nurse or a lab tech Take it as you will, but if I know Storm's logic he's thinking that if Jake's his father, then since you're part of Jake you're his mother ... it's novel for him, he's never had one."

She smiled, absolute delight shinning in her eyes "I hope so I've wanted to be a mother for a long time."

The dragon grinned mischievously. "Two attempts at getting a SwiftClaw child didn't work, but when you weren't even looking it happened There's a certain irony in that."

"And from the sound of things, we'll have a few kits by blood soon enough." Her gaze drifted off in pleasure for a moment before she focused back "Sorry, I've wanted a kit so long ... I think it's still amazing me."

He sighed. "I find it somewhat ironic that the dragon, V'Feri will probably be the most difficult for him Storm will say he understands but I think V'Feri's reaction reminds him a great deal of Rhymar's."

"No doubt, but V'Feri will not always act that way, unlike Rhymar." She sighed "He really does want to be part of this, but the shattered lifebond he had with Erra was healed only during this Joining He's still very fragile that way Hopefully, they will both heal though wounds in time."

"As for the other three, I don't know ... it's always hard to say how he'll react Physically and emotionally he's an eight year old, but he only has two years living in the real world ... and two in this somewhat strange world Nathan built to shelter him And yet sometimes he seems more mature than eight."

"Reminds me of Patrik, Jake's pilot in Black Phoenix." She sighed "He may be about sixteen physically, and somewhere between that and twenty-five mentally, but he's been alive for only four."

"The real problem for Storm is going to be when he realizes that Nathan's somewhat idealized view of SWAT wasn't exactly connected to reality Part of Nathan's mind always thought that Jake and Chance would eventually work things out, and that SWAT would become like many Felsin commando threesomes ... a Bonded Triad That's a dream that Storm absorbed heavily, and unlike Nathan who's reluctantly coming to terms with the way things are ... Storm still sees things ... distorted."

"Ouch That's not going to be fun to sort out at all." She huffed "And better left for later, I think."

The dragon looked of in the distance "In a way, I think its better that Storm is still here, where things are filtered As poorly as Nathan is handling what happened this weekend, Storm would take it far worse."

"If Storm had been in the real world, Jake would have been fawning over him and utterly enthralled to have him around a year ago." She chuckled, then sobered quickly "This weekend wouldn't have happened."

Morin smiled "I think that Kat is going to make a very good father, whenever the two of them actually work out the details Of course, it may be awhile given the amount of time they're taking for Joining ... I believe they set an Alliance record for longest Joining in recorded history ... sometime ago." He grinned broadly "Not to mention all the 'Firsts' they've achieved."

Ashley chuckled "And they haven't even gotten to the Sharing yet."

The dragon smiled "They've done more sharing, before the Sharing ... then many pairs do in the Sharing itself Of course, that probably has something to do with the fact that most pairs don't have seven people and over four hundred years of background, a fair bit of which they aren't familiar with."

There was flash of white light from the high ceiling and Storm came gliding down to land between Morin and Ashley He cloaked his leather wings and walked over to his uncle.

Morin stood up and hugged the little tiger "You took long enough So how is Chance?"

Storm smiled "He seems just fine, he was with this female ... umm...what species is that?" A holographic image of Brandy appeared in the middle of the room.

Morin looked curiously at the image "I'm not really sure, I don't recall seeing that species back in the Alliance Clearly, she's descended from a predator species but I'm no sure which ... xeno-anthropology is more you're father's specialty." He looked to Ashley "Do you happen to recognize the species?"

"Brown Hyena Kantin," she nodded, "a canine derivative They're rare in this area, but not everywhere."

The kit started working with one of the terminals Morin walked over to see what he was doing "Looking for something, Storm?"

"I just wanted to find out where uncle Chance is, I got a name, but I'm seeing if its in Dad's memory anywhere unshielded."

"What's the name?"


"Don't be surprised if your father doesn't know, he's frequently oblivious to local geography he doesn't need personally."

"It's Cathedral's personnel testing facility." Ashley informed them "He must be trying to get hired."

Storm looked curious, but then seemed to remember something "Forgot to do something, be right back." He vanished in another flash of light.

Morin looked to Ashley "I think I see Nathan's handiwork here, what better place to keep a pilot safe then in a large corporation outside the city limits It would also explain something I saw about Simon, his project administrator, talking to Hathin, about Nathan joining the Cathedral medical staff full-time."

"He'll find it quite exciting, for a none combat zone." Ashley chuckled "Might even meet his adrenaline needs."

Morin nodded and thought for a moment "Given some of things that Nathan has let me see about how Jake feels about Chance right now ... it would make sense that he's shielding those memories ... if he already knew Chance had been hired Nathan would figure that Jake would be upset to learn that, and would try to keep it quiet at least till they were out of the Joining." He shrugged "A hypothesis, of course But it fits what I know of Nathan and his way of looking after those he cares about."

"Given just who Jake is in Cathedral, not letting him know he's Chance's CO isn't necessarily a bad idea for now."

Morin nodded "Nor is keeping Chance from finding out that Jake is his CO." The Dracon shook his head "I'll bet somewhere in that shielded area is a little piece of Nathan worrying solidly about how to explain everything that's happened, to Chance."

Storm popped back in "Forgot to check how Dad was anchoring the sentinel link Just needed to check the energy flow ... sentinel links can draw a lot of energy."

"What does it matter?" Ashley looked at them curiously, feeling out of place among her social kin for the first time.

Storm looked at her "Well, Dad's been putting out a lot of energy lately, and his reserves aren't real good either Problem is psi-energy reserves need sleep to regenerate, he hasn't lately."

Morin nodded "The real concern is that Nathan has disengaged the safeties on his reserves several times recently, and pushed dangerously close to tapping into minimum physical energy reserves that are used for the basic functions like respiration and heartbeat." He looked at Ashley his face completely serious "The times he's used the phrase 'we'll make it.' and such to Jake during this Joining ... that's exactly what he meant. No 'I', or 'you' ... just 'we' ... all or nothing."

Storm tapped one console. "Energy levels are still stable, I'm not sure how but I think he's got the sentinel to function, energy-wise, more like a LifeBond ... beats me how though I guess as long as he doesn't pull in NightClaw again, things should be okay."

Ashley stood there, stunned for a moment before the Medic in her took over again "You're telling me Nathan could physically kill himself with what he's been doing in this Joining?"

"Basically, yes." Morin nodded.

"What must he be kept from doing to avoid serious injury?" Her jaw set in a look far too familiar to both males present If there was one thing in the universe that couldn't be swayed, it was a Medic with a patient And this Medic loved both of hers.

Storm looked uneasy "I don't know, I think as long as father-Jake's alright he'll be fine ... I guess."

Morin put his arm around the White Tiger "To be honest, we're in uncharted waters because he's doing something that shouldn't be possible, at least based on what I know of bio-telepathy The safeties he's disengaging aren't supposed to be something a telepath can tamper with ... they're supposed to automatic and fixed to cause unconsciousness when the energy reserves hit the critical mark Somehow he's disabling that override."

The Dragon shook his head sadly "I do know why he's doing it. He hasn't fully recovered from Rhymar's death, and he's decided that if he can't bring Jake through this safely ... he doesn't want to make it either."

"The problem is that Nathan's a very inexperienced telepath, because he's only been a telepath for less than a day Before that he was an empath, and not a very strong one. He doesn't have a good feel for the energy he's using, and he's only partially aware that his reserves are low The fact that he's doing things like activating the war-form in the Joining is making matters worse, because he's unfamiliar with that form ... and he's afraid of it as well."

Morin paused "I hesitate to think just how dangerous that fight with Jake was to him ... it took a huge amount of psychic energy to override his instincts and actually let NightClaw hurt Jake ... that's about as contrary to Nathan's nature as he can get.

"Right now, he's okay because energy levels are stable and the safeties are back on ... Storm ,somehow, can force them back in place...though I don't understand how that's possible either He only releases the safeties when he thinks he's in danger of losing Jake ... and then he throws everything into making sure he doesn't.

"As far as 'serious injury' goes, I'm not sure if there is a point where injury occurs ... I'm only aware that if the reserves are drained below a certain point, some of the autonomic functions simply ... stop, lacking the energy to function."

"I wish I knew more, but I'm neither a healer nor a bio-telepath."

Storm looked up at him "They'll be alright, they have to be." He held tight to the dragon's side.

"They will be all right." Ashley's grim determination shone as strongly as any Medic's "And if this goes beyond my ability, Felsira herself is facilitating this Joining If she can't deal with it, no one can."

The Dracon looked startled "Felsira? As in the Felsin mother-guardian? She's physically present?"

"Yes, the healer Both Nathan and I swear our Medic oaths to." Ashley nodded "And yes, she is here in the flesh, as are Caito and Keltin."

"Shells and Shards that's peculiar, and to be facilitating a mortal Joining, one of them not even Felsin." He chuckled "Not that Nathan's entirely Felsin anyway, but he's close There is something distinctly strange going on here."

"You mean besides the obvious?" She raised an eyebrow "I have yet to see one thing that isn't distinctly strange in quite a while."

He looked down and mussed Storm's hair "See, things will be just fine If Felsira's present no one will be going anywhere."

Storm smiled tentatively, then looked at Ashley. "We haven't finished the tour yet." He laughed and bounded toward the elevator.

Ashley laughed and shook her head before following the kit "You coming, Morin?"

Morin chuckled "Coming." He followed shaking his head "The entire Triad at once, most amazing. Though it would take all three of them to keep track of the guys To say nothing of what else is probably going on."

Storm happily led the adults on a tour of the entire station, which Morin noticed was considerably smaller than the actually Gildenfire station; but it was more than big enough to keep one kit happy.

Storm stopped in front of a large set of double doors He turned to face the adults "Okay, this is my favorite place in the whole station, and it's even better than the real thing."

As the doors opened a warm breeze gusted out smelling of natural things; grass, trees, open water ... the sorts of things not found in a space station Inside was a large lake and forest setting, nestled between mountains Set back from the shore of the lake was a large wooden cabin The 'sky' stretched upward at least five hundred feet.

Morin smiled "Nathan recreated the Lake Maxwell campsite inside the Gildenfire Aerodrome I always said he was more of artist then he gave himself credit for." The dragon stretched his wings fully. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, I need to get airborne for a bit." He leapt up and caught a thermal gaining altitude quickly.

Storm watched the air, then suddenly he leapt to one side as a reddish gargoyle with a particularly large muzzle, swooped in trying to tackle him The gargoyle veered off just in time to avoid crashing into Ashley Storm laughed loudly "Nice try, Pat But I am not letting both of you blindside me on the same day." He ducked as Rick swooped down from behind "Okay, enough for now." Storm said sounding only slightly serious.

Pat took a close look at Ashley "Who's this? A new friend?"

Rick looked at him "That's Ashley, Pat. I told you about her earlier."

Pat grinned sheepishly "Oh, I thought you were exaggerating when you said she was as tall as Goliath."

Storm grinned. "Ashley, in case you hadn't figured out the red gargoyle is Pat, also one of my oldest friends, and one of my father's as well Pat, this is Ashley Terrell, one of my fathers' friends."

Rick looked at Storm "You done with the tour?" He asked hopefully.

Storm shook his head "Sorry Rick, but Dad's got a new LifeMate and well, Ashley's sort of part of him, and I need to get know the new people in my dad's life better." He put a friendly arm around the little gargoyle's shoulder "We can play later."

Rick smiled. "Okay, see 'ya round." He leapt into the air, followed closely by Pat.

The White Tiger kit watched them for a while "Sometimes I forget they're just part of Dad's memories, they seem so real I wish I could meet the real ones." He said quietly, looking at the ground.

"You'll get to meet plenty of friends in the real world, and soon." Ashley hugged him gently, then motioned for him to sit down and lean against her on the soft grass so she could embrace him without the extreme difference in height "You'll probably be walking, and flying, around out there within a couple months."

The kit leaned against Ashley quietly for awhile before looking up at her "You really think so?" Hope glimmered in his eyes. "I know Dad's been thinking about it, but all the equipment he needs is back home." He snuggled up against her "It'd be nice to be real again."

"Nathan has the knowledge to build the equipment he'll need, and between him and Jake, it won't take long to build." She nuzzled him affectionately "How do you feel about having siblings?"

"Siblings? You mean like brothers and sisters?" He thought for a moment after she nodded "I don't know, I guess it's okay Why?"

"Because you're likely to have a few." She licked his forehead "Jake wants kits he's genetically related to quite badly, and Nathan seems to like the idea of more than one.

"Oh, that's okay then." He grinned.

Ashley swallowed the bile that rose in her throat as she identified the feeling this child's innocent touch was bringing to the surface She took a breath in and quickly stood, forcing enough casual grace into her movement to not alert Storm to just how badly wrong things were "May we finish the tour? I feel your fathers are getting back to the subject of Joining, and I should be there."

Storm smiled "This was the last stop, I saved the most important place for last ... I think Dad wants to find someplace like this in the real world We used to go camping with uncle Morin, when I was alive, and I always remember how relaxed he was I enjoyed it too, more room to fly." He looked up at her "I think I'll go find the guys, Joining's an adult thing I'll see you again, won't I?"

"Of course." She smiled despite the carefully shielded conflict raging in her body and mind "You're my son too."

"Good." He smiled, happily. He spread his wings, leapt up to catch a thermal. He climbed quickly, and shortly was joined by the two Gargoyles.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3         Part 4         Part 5         Part 6         Part 7        

A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 4 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

234 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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