A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 5 of 7
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for friggen Everything
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Jake suddenly let Nathan's throbbing cock slide out of his mouth and looked up at his panting mate "What's the difficulty giving Storm a new body?"

Nathan took a moment to focus, having been, as usual, very unfocused "There were ... problems in the genetic code that created his first body, the scientists used an old technique to make the merger of diverse species work They used Dracon genetic material to generate the wings, flight instincts and some of the senses related to flight that Dracons have, but Felsin don't.

"The old technique left a chaos biomathematics system that destabilized causing Storm's body to suffer various neurophysical failures that eventually killed him It's something that used to happen with the Beta-series genetic creations, but was fixed with the G-series, which is my father's 'generation' It's called chaos chain destabilization, and we developed a stabilization procedure to cure it ... the problem is it won't take on a body as immature as Storm's was ... I made adjustments to the procedure hoping to make it work for him ... but there wasn't enough time." Nathan finally caught the absolutely blank on his mate's face "I just went over your head, didn't I?"

"It's okay." Jake shook himself, trying to throw off the lethargy of being overwhelmed "The gist of that was it was a design flaw, right?"

Nathan smiled and kissed the still slightly dazed tomkat "Yes, love It was a design flaw I couldn't correct in time."

"Okay," Jake nodded his acceptance of the level of understanding he had, "so what prevented you from fixing it after he died, since you have his soul?"

"Well, back home I couldn't really work on fixing the design flaws in his old body because I didn't have the time on the assignments I was on I couldn't tell anyone why I wanted to, because I couldn't deal with any more counselors telling me that I needed to accept Storm's death and grieve so I could get on with my life."

"Humph," Jake actually growled "They shouldn't talk about what they don't know."

Nathan smiled sadly as Jake licked his tears away "But the reason I couldn't find a resolution to, was the fact that Rhy was terribly uncomfortable around Storm ... and that was something that wasn't likely to change Storm's too empathically sensitive not too notice, and it wouldn't have been fair to subject him to that 'fear' on a constant basis In the end, if I'd manage to correct the design flaws I would've been forced to chose between my son and my mate ... in my heart I knew I'd already decided ... but for any empath, even one as weak as I was then, breaking a bonding is almost inconceivable, and it's extremely painful for both ... not quite as bad as death-loss, but close enough."

"Oh," Jake regarded him gently, "is that why you weirded out so badly when I started to cut off my working bonds?"

"I didn't realize that they weren't ... well, normal, I guess." Nathan shook his head "I still have a tough time comprehending a bond like what you describe them as." He fidgeted and looked at the ground "But as much as I was hurt that Rhy couldn't accept Storm ... I still couldn't bring myself to hurt him like that ... it just wasn't in me."

Jake regarded him carefully, trying to get the phasing right "You couldn't ... leave him, once you'd bonded, without breaking the bond?"

Nathan shook his head "Not really For one thing, it just isn't done that way Besides, leaving the bond would've made both our lives difficult in the future Having a bond you aren't a part of anymore is psychologically difficult for one thing, and it will interfere with bonding with any future mates ... because normally when you add a third to an established bonding it requires the agreement of both ... if you've gone your separate ways ... that isn't really possible."


He sighed "Could I have left him, yes But that would've meant more counselors, and questions, and it would have disrupted both our lives Because of the damage an improperly separated bond can do, counselors keep diligent track of bonded couples who have relationship problems It actually doesn't happen that often but it can cause serious problems when it does."

Nathan looked off in the distance and sighed deeply "The sad thing is that there was someone there, who loved Storm as much as I did, and who I even wanted to be with ... but because I was with Rhy and Rhy was too intimidated by him ... I couldn't bring him into the Triad The truly painful thing is I've known him longer than I knew Rhy, but I didn't know about that part of my life until Rhy ... and his culture didn't allow him to make the first move."

"Mmm," Jake leaned against his mate, "introduce us when we visit Alliance space."

Nathan smiled. "Love too. " He projected an image of an eight foot tall, broad chested, powerfully muscled wine red Dracon with gold accents on his outspread wings, wearing a dark blue uniform, with black accents He couldn't help but laugh when Jake licked his lips as he gave the image an appraising once over "Just to give you an idea, that's Morin Kar'Dranor, probably my best friend in Alliance space." Nathan chuckled "And he's probably at Alphard Station right now, waiting for me and confusing the heck out of the bureaucracy by claiming mate's rights to know just where the Void I am." Nathan paused for a moment "Now I wonder why I forgot that little piece of info ... you two have at least one thing in common ... he's a TechnoMage too."

"Really?" Jake perked up "Is that what he calls himself? A TechnoMage?"

"Yes." Nathan looked at his mate curiously "Though I don't think the term is used outside Draconea."

"Wow Pat and I just made the word up, to explain what we could do." He started to chuckle "I had no idea it was for real."

"Great minds, common directions." Nathan suggested.

"Or something Ashley knew ... I think she was where I got the idea from, though I didn't know it at the time." Jake stared at the image again "He has that 'I know him from somewhere I don't remember' look Maybe she met him."

"Maybe." Nathan let it go.

"So what brought Storm to the surface again?"

He sighed "Once I was here, and Rhy was dead ... I started think about it again, I've even finish correcting the design flaws ... though I really should check it using a full genetics lab And I'd still have to develop the G-tube technology to bring the body to Storm's correct age And I was still afraid to let anyone know why I was doing, what I was doing ... sometimes old cultural biases are hard to escape ... not that I wouldn't do it ... I'm just afraid of others reactions."

Nathan looked his mate "Don't take this the wrong way, but before I knew how important you were in Cathedral ... I wasn't sure I could trust Cathedral that far Trusting them with advanced technology is one thing ... but trusting them with my son's future ... I just didn't feel that sure ... probably because I don't really know anyone that well."

The tiger-tabby thought for a moment "Jake, Storm's our son ... now that the two of you have accepted each other; so this decision isn't just mine to make anymore ... and you know Cathedral far better than I do ... in a lot of ways, I still feel much the outsider."

Jake chuckled lightly "Don't worry about that, even the old timers feel that way, especially when Pat or I wander into the area It's hard to keep up with two TechnoMages in their own facility." He hesitated, a question searching for an answer before being asked "How do you get Storm's soul into the body? Wouldn't another be in there by the time it was ready?"

"The 'how' is simply the same way I was able to bring his soul over to live with mine: soul transference I shouldn't say 'simply' because I honestly don't know 'how' ... it's a small bit of magic that Xander taught me As to another being in there already ... I've wondered about that myself but according to Xander, the intention in creation is what is important and by 'naming' the new body properly it's told that it already has a soul, so another isn't acquired." Nathan shook his head "Magic is something I never really understood, but I accepted it when Xander told me it was the one way I could give Storm the chance he never really had."

The tiger tabby sighed "The science is something I've worked with for years, so that's easy for me ... but the magic, I simply have to accept because science doesn't deal with the soul."

Jake started to say something, then shook his head and smiled He purred softly and urged Nathan to his back "But all this talk of bringing our son into the world," he crooned as he slid along his mate's body, "makes me hungry for the traditional way of it."

"You are impossible sometimes." Nathan laughed playfully and gave in without resistance "Let's just try to get through it this time, humm?"

"I always try." Jake grinned before claiming a fierce kiss, effectively ending the discussion.

"Ash ..." Jake's voice choked off as his entire body went ridged against Nathan's.

"What is it?" The Felsin groaned internally at yet another problem just when things were starting to go well.

The lean tom nodded and swallowed before relaxing again, but wasn't really at ease as he stroked his mate's chest soothingly "She just scared herself It shouldn't be an issue."

Nathan carefully calmed his mind "What shouldn't be an issue, love? It's still bothering you, whatever it is." He reassuringly stroked his mate's hair.

"I ... reacted to Storm ..." she dropped to the floor next to them and took a moment to control her rebelling stomach "I reacted to Storm as a SwiftClaw male I didn't do anything, but ...." she stopped to roll away from them and vomited, shaking hard Disgust and fear quickly overpowered every other trace in her scent.

Jake stood and moved quickly between his mate and female self He hesitated a second but embraced her shoulders "You didn't That's what matters."

"How the hell can you be so calm about it?" She snarled "He's an eight year old kit."

Nathan quickly reached out his mind to Storm, when he found nothing but his son playing happily he refocused on the present He turned to Ashley, and forced himself to remain calm and centered "The old mission instincts? That's a bit of mistarget, Storm's my son but genetically he's not a SwiftClaw He didn't notice anything wrong which is fairly amazing given how perceptive he is."

"I've learned to control it very well over the years." She slowly forced deep breaths into her chest and tried to spit the taste of her vomit from her mouth.

Nathan spoke quietly "Inside the world I created for him, he's untouchable, so it's not an issue; but what has to considered is what this may mean when he's back in the real world." Nathan was trying hard to keep his disquiet from showing, and was succeeding very well.

"What do you mean?" Jake turned to his mate "She's never going ..." his eyes went wide, "you don't think I'd touch him ..."

"You wouldn't, Jake." Ashley interrupted with something resembling her normal voice "You have Nathan And you'll have the kit I don't that'll turn it off."

Nathan looked at Jake and shook his head. "No, I don't think you would, but I'm still getting the hang of all these additional people that are involved." He sighed "I'm sorry if it didn't come out right It's just that being protective is about the only part of parenting I seem to get right ... the last two and a half years, haven't been easy."

"I'm sorry." She forced herself to meet Nathan's eyes "I didn't see it coming I've kept my cool around you, I didn't think I react like that ... I didn't think I could react like that to one so young." She shuddered and tried to keep the bile down with some success "I don't believe I actually ...."

"Ashley, cut it out It's just a thought No one is punished for thoughts Not even Reaper would take it as a crime." Jake growled softly as the scene changed around them "You're not going to touch him, and that's the end of it."

"Where are we?" Nathan looked around at the open, green, campus-like place with Felsin, Lupo and other races walking about Most wore the uniforms of the Shadow Government.

"It's the Shadow Government base on Rashigrin Six." Ashley supplied uneasily as she stood, focusing on a rise to the their left "It's where I first saw your father, and understood what it actually meant to be designed to breed with him."

Whatever Nathan was going to say was cut off by the sight of a rowdy group of mismatched Felsin warforms coming into view over a slight rise There was an almost painful whine of pure need from the Black King Cheetah next to him as most of the scene grayed out to focus on Ebon, and Nathan gasped as he felt what her programming did to her at the mere sight of her target; the arousal so intense he barely resisted pushing Jake to the ground and fucking him senseless whether the Kat wanted to or not.

He looked over at Ashley, his gaze settling for a long moment on his equally disturbed mate "And you had to deal with that for, however long you knew my father." He shook his head in amazement.

"Thirty years, and the six I knew you in the Alliance, and the last year." She shook her fur out, her tail lashing as she forced the drive down to a manageable level for Nathan, even as Jake started to come out of his shock, and they both felt him slam a strong shield around part of his mind.

"You're even stronger than I thought."

"Too strong for my own good." She growled slightly as the NightBlades moved out of sight and the intensity calmed down significantly "If I'd been a little weaker, I would have raped Ebon and it would have been over with." She looked wistfully in the direction he'd gone "He would have forgiven me for it too He understood genetic conditioning as well as anyone." She looked away, anywhere but at where Ebon had gone and where his son now stood "They did too good a job on me in some ways, making me someone he'd want Loyalty, bravery, sacrifice for the good of the team, those were traits he valued a great deal I had them in spades I had it enough that I sacrificed my mission for the good of my adopted team."

She turned to look at Nathan with haunted eyes "When I was sent back to seduce you, the only part of my programming they changed was to expand my 'target' to include all SwiftClaw males I think they figured that sooner or later I'd find one that I could either force, or I wouldn't have to."

Nathan looked off a ways, and sighed "Odd thing is that if it hadn't been for a bizarre twist of fate, it was unlikely that there would've been a third generation ... by blood anyway After Storm I don't think kits with Rhy would have happened I still loved him, but the trust between us was badly damaged, and I don't know that that was something that would've gotten better."

"You never know." Jake embraced his mate "You were both young ... all sorts of things could have changed Look at how much you've changed me in the year we've known each other."

Nathan looked a little disturbed, even haunted "I know it's terribly wrong ... but a small part of me is relieved that he's dead, because it means I don't have to make a choice I hated the thought of."

"There is nothing wrong in feeling relief from avoiding something distasteful." Ashley spoke calmly "And there is nothing wrong with feeling both relief and grief at his passing."

"He could have learned to love Storm." Jake murmured softly "The kit's too wonderful not to love."

Nathan shook his head sadly "I'd like to think so, but there were two things I learned about Rhy that I'd hadn't known: He wasn't comfortable around aliens, which is how he saw Storm; and he found the 'super-soldier' design projects distasteful ... and that was how Storm came into being."

He hugged Jake close "Thank you for loving him; it means a lot to him and me."

"How could he be uncomfortable around aliens?" Jake looked between the Felsin in confusion "I thought the Alliance was pretty integrated."

"Most of it is, but many parts of the homeworlds aren't There are large sections of Felsinor or Draconea where you might never see an alien Rhymar grew up in one of those, and he never met an alien till he was doing his graduate work at the Aerospace Facility at Tygrenor From what he told me the first time he really worked closely with an alien it was a male Timber Wolf Lupo Lupos have a need to define who the 'alpha' is in every relationship they have, unless you make it clear from the start that you're not playing that game Rhymar was a quiet, relatively shy individual and from what he told me the Lupo dominated him fairly heavily I guess that kind of molded his opinion of aliens."

"Oh." Jake digested that for a while before shrugging "Not mixed team material." He shifted his gaze to Ashley "If breeding was the only reason you were sent to the Alliance, there must have been a better way."

The King Cheetah rolled her eyes and huffed "Believe me, the thought occurred to me more than once Hell, why they didn't send me as a male capable of conceiving is beyond me." She shook her head sharply "They must have known how impossible it would be to get either of you to want a female with the tools and orders they gave me I'm just glad we rebelled and left before I was sent after a third generation I'm not sure I could take dieing like that again Not knowing what it was like."

He looked at Ashley with an honestly grateful smile for her "Thank you for your restraint."

"Thank the programmers," she shuddered, "loyalty ... it's not restraint, not the way you understand it, I can not hurt someone I love like that." She stared into the distance and hugged herself "When biology forced a choice between death and betraying your trust, I died, and it wasn't really a choice."

The scene shifted to a dark quarters, with an adult Nathan was clearly visible by her enhanced night sight, sleeping in the simple bed only a few feet away All three felt the demand pounding in her blood, even stronger than the last time The knowledge that she must mate with the one before her now, or die painfully, came from the memory's background.

The smell of Nathan's arousal, even if it wasn't quite right, was intoxicating It almost allowed her to touch him, almost was enough to convince her besieged mind that this wasn't really going to be using force That he wouldn't mind as she made him come.

But her shaking fingers stopped only a hairs breath from the covers as an even stronger demand kicked in; protect the team.

The sleeping Nathan's ear twitched at her low sob, then the memory went black as Ashley collapsed silently to the hard floor of a high tech computer center and trembled as she got herself back under control.

Nathan placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and pointedly didn't respond to the serge of desire in her "That's a kind of loyalty I understand, it's the kind my father believed in It's really the only kind I know." He paused "Ashley, despite what you seem to fear, I don't think you can hurt Storm The loyalty seems stronger than the other."

She nodded weakly as he sat down next to her, and Jake settled on her other side, quietly offering support "Actually, based on some things Storm showed me, and questions he asked ... I think there's another 'instinct' involved here ... a maternal one." He smiled slightly when she nodded again "Storm only understood the concept of 'mother' abstractly from my memories, until now He just asked me if Jake being his father, makes you his mother I told him that was something he needed to ask you The feeling I got was that he thinks you are, but like many kits ... he needs it to be 'official' If you feel up to it, I think it would be good for both of you In any case, thank you for making 'mother' into something more than an abstract for him."

"Can I get a kiss in thanks?" She grinned at Nathan cheekily and relaxed a little more, despite the mating drive still being high.

Nathan quickly used a biofeedback trick to make sure that no scents relating to arousal where coming from him Then he smiled at Ashley, and kissed her chastely With a wise-ass grin on his face his whispered. "Don't want to take this too far ... it'll make Jake jealous."

Ashley dissolved into a rolling bundle of laughing black fur, knocking Jake over "Jealous indeed." She was grinning from ear to ear when she righted herself and the tomkat settled on the other side of his mate with an irritated glare for her "Thanks, Nathan." She stretched leisurely and sprawled on the grass under a wide blue sky "I did claim mother-rights for Storm before I left him, and you're right, it's partially maternal instincts that stopped me, and partially social training too Mating with an eight year old kit is just plain sick." She looked up to meet Nathan's green eyes and sighed "I may have a long term history beyond the Alliance, but I am a Felsin Medic."

Nathan nodded. "So I see, he forgot to mention that He was busy playing glide tag with Rick and Pat."

"More likely wanted you to agree to it." She smiled up at him "You are his first father No matter what I say, it's your choice to let me into his life like that."

He nodded, then grinned "So what do you think of Morin?"

"He cares about you and Storm a lot." She shrugged "I like him well enough not to object to him joining the Bond, or as your lovemate, if that's what you're asking."

Nathan sighed "I'm not sure what's going to happen there, we're still in different galaxies ... I just think it's kind of amusing that he doesn't think I'm aware of him being here I noticed him when he first arrived, and I'm grateful he did ... knowing he was there for Storm, reduced my worries from three to two ... slightly more manageable.

"Morin's many things, but a subtle telepath isn't one of them ... especially when he's trying to manage the extra power his Grandmother is loaning him When he was looking for the lecture he came very close to being visible here.

"This is the second time he's helped me through a crisis The first time was when Storm died ... Morin stayed with me for months, kept me from having to face it alone." He chuckled quietly "There are still people on Gildenfire who think that Morin's my mate Of course, when one of the Dracon Princes starts acting as if he had mate's rights ... there are few on Gildenfire who'll question it."

Nathan laid back and looked up at the sky "I still don't know how to get back, so it's not an issue."

"Who's Morin?" Jake broke in "And do you know where we are, relative to Alliance space?"

Nathan smiled "Morin Kar'Dranor, youngest Prince of House Kar'Dranor of Draconea. A very dear friend and old teammate, we served together for some time in the 34th Alliance Border Patrol He wanted more than just friendship, but the rules of his culture don't allow him to initiate intimate relations with a male smaller than himself It took me a long time to figure that's what he wanted, by that time I was Bonded with Rhymar ... and Rhymar was just too intimidated by him; no matter how polite and charming Morin was, Rhy always got this fear in his scent when Morin was around.

"I haven't been able to figure out where Aristal is in relation to Alliance space I've spent a lot of clear nights looking at the stars trying to find anything I recognize ... nothing's familiar I think they're in different galaxies but I can't be completely sure I never did deep-space astrogation, only the near space stuff need for space fighter piloting."

"Do you think Morin would know?" Ashley asked "Given he's projecting here from there."

Nathan thought for a moment "I suppose it might be possible, though I'm sure he got here by the links he shares with me and Storm I guess it's time to let him know I know he's here."

Nathan looked up at the sky, and shouted almost a roar "Hey, Rusty! Stop playing stealth Dracon and get down here." He chuckled.

There was a gust of warm, dry air and Morin swooped down on outstretched leathery red wings, flecked with gold He landed next Nathan, who stood up to greet him.

The Dracon wrapped his wings around the tiger-tabby "It is good to see you again, Cordraki How did you know I was here?"

Nathan grinned at the red dragon "By the large Dracon footprints you were leaving." He shook his head. "You're a clumsy 'path on your best days, but especially when Starfire is loaning you enough power for this kind of projection." He smiled impishly at his friend.

Morin laughed, a deep booming sound. "I should have known you had seen me when I started getting easy access to things But what made you decide to call me in?"

Nathan smiled "First things, first Morin Morin, I'd like to meet my lifemate, Jake Clawson Jake, this is Prince Morin Kar'Dranor of Draconea, my Cordraki."

Morin bowed politely while looking Jake over closely He turned to Nathan "If you don't mind my saying so Cordraki, a much better choice than last time Your taste for small males hasn't changed, but I'm pleased to see this one doesn't shy away from me."

He turned back to Jake "A pleasure to meet you Jake Clawson, and you have my thanks for being willing to be father to my nephew Storm."

"So just what is the real reason, Cordraki?" He said over his shoulder.

Nathan looked apprehensive "Morin, I don't suppose you know the relative positions of where you are to where I am?"

The dragon thought for a moment "I didn't need them to do this, but I will ask Grandmother, she'll probably know ... or she'll find someone who knows I suspect the answer will come after you're done Joining ... assuming you do plan to finish sometime." He chuckled "Not that I should be surprised ... it took you twenty years to realize what I really wanted from you."

Nathan sighed "Sometimes Morin, people don't see that sort of thing unless they're told plainly ... even after Rhy and I started dating, I still didn't see that sort of thing clearly."

"You still don't," Jake added softly, "if you had any doubts that I loved you months ago I kept my mouth shut because it's inappropriate here to approach a friend who's grieving I never was sure if you'd really come to terms with Rhymar's death, and since you weren't dating as far as I could tell, I wasn't willing to risk our friendship over my desire." He focused on the ground "Last time I let that happen, it was with Chance, and you saw what happened there."

The tiger-tabby put his hand on Jake's shoulder "You're right, I don't." He shook his head in quiet amusement "I guess I did too good a job hiding how I felt all that time, but among other things I was afraid to reveal how I felt only to find out that you didn't feel that way."

Nathan smiled "As to my dating, well umm... I never really have, but of course you couldn't know that I've never actually looked for a mate ... I tend to either trip over them, so to speak ... or they find me."

Nathan caught Morin about to say something out of the corner of his eye, and silenced him with a look. "*Not now.*"

Morin nodded "*As you wish, but I really think ....*"

"*I know, I know I just don't want to start an argument on that subject, right now.*"

"*Perhaps not.*"

"Is that why you were Bonded to Rhymar before you knew he couldn't accept what you are?" Jake regarded Nathan a moment "We're sharing a lot more than you ever did with him, aren't we?"

Nathan nodded slowly. "Before Rhy I'd never dated, never looked for a mate ... mostly because I didn't see a reason to It didn't advance my career or improve my skills, and those were really the only things that mattered back then.

"Okay." Jake stared at him in near disbelief.

"Rhymar decided he wanted me, and the rest is history." Nathan chuckled quietly "Would you believe that part of what attracted him was my 'rebel' reputation? I had a stubborn, rebellious streak and tended to take up dangerous hobbies and manage to survive them."

"Well, you seem to have fallen into that crowd again." Jake chuckled "Though you have yet to top my hobby for the danger rating."

"And yes, we are sharing a lot more One reason for that is that we're both telepaths and the more 'awakened' the minds Joining are, the stronger the bond, and the deeper the Sharing When I Bonded to Rhymar, I was an empath and a weak one at that, Rhymar was mind-blind with the exception of being aware of the Bond So the Joining didn't go very deep Also I know more about myself now then I did back then ... I didn't know what I am until recently."

"Oh," Jake nodded and fell silent, thinking.

The tiger-tabby smiled "And to think ... we haven't even gotten to the Sharing yet."

"Speaking of which," Ashley commented, looking at Jake, "didn't you have some Bond work you were going to do before I sidetracked things?"

"Urr, yeah." Jake sighed and looked up at Nathan "And I ask that you ... stay out ... of that space while I do it."

Nathan nodded "As you wish, Jake I'll be with Storm when you're done ... he wanted to talk to me about something Ashley, you've seen Storm's place ... show him where it is when he's done, that's where I'll be." The tiger-tabby hugged Jake, and then stepped away "Till later." He turned, shifting to the winged war-form casually He took a running leap, caught a rising thermal, and quickly soared up out of sight "*Should you need me, I'm no more than a thought away.*" His mind-voice came back to Jake.

"*Thank you.*"

Jake sighed as he shifted to the Bond room, Ashley at his side.

"You don't have to, you know." She rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder "Let the Bond dissolve if you need the energy, but they really should be given the choice."

"There's one I do have to deal with." He set his jaw and stalked to the back of the room, where a mangled bond pulsed in defiance of everything he wanted "That is going away before it causes any more problems."

"Umm, Jake, I can't let you do that."

"What?" He whirled to face her in disbelief.

"I can't let you destroy it That's a LifeBond." She faced him squarely "You may not want it, but you are not strong enough to survive the feedback ... and even if you were, in the middle of a Joining is not the time to break an existing LifeBond." She sighed softly "It'll likely rip Nathan's mind apart if you try now."

He stared at her for a very long time, then looked at the bond and growled under his breath "Show me Storm's place."

"Thank you," she let out a breath and lead the way.

Alexander Maxwell walked calmly through the halls of Cathedral, offing reassuring smiles to those still on edge from the alert as he followed his parental bond to where Nathan would be He smiled to himself at the thought that he would be able to greet his son and new son-in-law properly this time.

It faded when he remembered it was assuming Nathan wanted to acknowledge him ... at least he could always congratulate Jake on the Bonding, for whatever it really meant to Kat For all the time he'd spent with the lean tom in the past year and a half, most of how and what Jake thought was still a major mystery, and one that had a disturbing tendency to shift without warning.

Alex blinked as he placed where he was, just outside Jake's quarters, and at the desperately crying black and white longfured tomkat that was trying to claw his way through the door at apparently was unwilling to budge, even when begged.

Alex assumed his most reassuring manner before he quietly approached the desperate tom, though he made sure to come from the side instead of directly behind "Patrik? What's wrong?" He asked in a quiet voice, the one Nareena had taught him to use when dealing with an upset patient.

Patrik's claws remained dug into the synthetic metal of the door as he looked over His face was a wet mess, showing only his desperate fear "Jake ... danger ..." he swallowed and gathered himself with difficulty, "he's breaking his bonds with us."

Alex managed to keep his surprise off his face and behind shields Then he remembered that TechnoMages used varying levels of bonds, but it was still unusual to break bonds during a Joining Alex decided he wasn't going to be of any use with his abilities shutdown so he slowly powered them up until several moments later he had his full Cybermage abilities, plus his bio-telepathy.

He carefully scanned for a frequency that Patrik would sense, but that wouldn't interfere with any bonds and sent calm, reassurance, and smiled when the small tom relaxed significantly Alex knew he wouldn't be able to reach Nathan through the Joining shields, but with luck he'd be able to reach whoever was facilitating.

He gently thought into Jake's room. "*My apologies for intruding, but can I get the facilitator's attention for a moment? This is Cazimir Sunfire, Nathan's father.*" His mind-voice was very polite and apologetic.

A tired, surprised and gentle female mind-voice came back "*Cazimir? We thought you were dead ...*"

"*Umm ... We?*" Cazi didn't expect the facilitator to know who he was.

There was a mental smile "*We, the Triad This is Felsira, Cazimir I take you need information on what is going on?*"

Cazi swallowed hard, surprised to find himself mind-to-mind with one of the Triad. "*Yes, Lady Felsira I need to know if Nathan and Jake are all right There's a very frightened young tom out here who thinks Jake is in danger.*"

"*You can assure Patrik that Jake is fine, just preoccupied I'll adjust the shields to make sure Patrik's bond isn't being 'muffled' accidentally.*"

"*Thank you, Lady Felsira.*"

There was a smile as Felsira returned to concentrating on the Joining.

Alex walked over and put a reassuring arm across Patrik's shoulders, just barely catching the tom before he collapsed in relief "Rik, Jake is just fine I just checked with Felsira whose keeping an eye on him He's just preoccupied with the Joining." He quietly 'flickered' a small towel into his other hand from his quarters and offered it to Rik.

"As to the bonds, I'm not entirely sure but I don't think he's doing anything with them right now But I understand how frightening the prospect of losing a bond can be."

"You do?" The young tom looked doubtful through his gratitude as he settled against the wall and started to pat his fur dry.

Alex nodded and sighed "When I was younger, I lost two LifeMates on the same day ... but they didn't break the bond ... they died That's a pain I almost didn't survive, and that I'll never be able to forget So yes, I do understand because I felt the loss."

"You know what they're doing in there?" He asked hopefully.

Alex settled against the wall next to Rik, and nodded. "Yes, I do I've been through the experience twice myself It's called Joining, the end result of which is the formation of a LifeBond." He smiled quietly "I must admit I'm a bit surprised; I didn't even know they were dating."

"They weren't yesterday ... I guess Nathan finally made the first move," Patrik chuckled weakly, "Jake's been rather taken with him for months now." Then all the humor drained from him "I was starting to think we might be in for another round of what happened with Chance." He nearly spat the tabby's name, then looked sideways at Alex "Does Pat, Miss Dyne, know you're not from around here?"

Alex chuckled quietly "Rik, I know Nathan well enough to know he didn't make the first move ... what exactly happened is probably a lot more complicated."

Patrik actually snickered and relaxed against the calico "No doubt, with the two of them."

"I don't think Nathan knows how to make the first move." He looked seriously at Rik "Actually, you're the first person to realize I'm not from around here Pretty good deductive work on not many clues I guess saying I'd been through what they're going through gave me away, huh?" He smiled, clearly not upset at being found out.

"Mmm, it was more the towel out of nowhere, and that I can 'feel' you now ... plus Cathedral noticed you 'turn on'." He glanced at the door "How long will they take?"

Alex chuckled "The towel, well actually it was out of my quarters ...I never have quite gotten the hang of creating matter from energy But the towel translocation is just an apprentice trick.

"I've kept my talents buried pretty well 'cause CyberWizards attract a lot of attention, on worlds that don't have them But with everything that was going on ... I needed my full telepathy range, and that meant turning everything else on too."

He smiled gently "Couldn't let the two of them come out here, and find you trying to remove the door with your bare claws Nathan would feel terribly guilty about causing you that much distress ... actually, he still will feel guilty if he ever finds out." Though the tone was light, it was plain that the calico wasn't really joking.

Patrik glanced up at the deep gouges he'd left and frowned "It wouldn't listen Not like the doors obey be like they do Jake, but they'll usually let me in if he hasn't locked them, and he didn't Someone else has ... someone who is not one of ours."

Alex thought about that for a moment First he extend his cybertelepathy to 'read' the door He frowned at what he thought he heard, so he made a quick series of arcane gestures with one hand Gentle silver streams flowed from his hand and wove around the door examining it in detail Alex chuckled in pure amusement at what he found.

He looked to his side to see Rik staring at him "Sorry, the reason the 'door' won't open is that it doesn't think it is a door Someone convinced the door that is, in fact, simply another wall section ... and wall sections don't open; that isn't part of their function." He caught the disbelieving stare "I can't be sure, but if I had to guess I say it was probably the work of Keltin, the Defender Once the Joining is over, I'm sure he'll put things back to normal."

"I would hope so." The petite tom shivered and checked his gunner's presence again.

Alex looked at the battered door again "As for how long ... I don't know They've already taken longer than I've ever heard of it taking ... but I guess that's not entirely surprising, neither of them has had what you'd call an easy life."

"No ... and if there's a way to complicate a relationship, Jake'll do it ... without wanting to, usually." He shook his head "Sometimes it amazes me anyone can tolerate him for long."

Alex nodded "Well, Nathan's not easy to get rid of, especially when he decides he loves somebody, which he must have to enter the Joining I'm just glad to see that Nathan was able to get past Rhymar's death ... sometimes the death of a LifeMate makes it too painful to love again." Alex gently reached along his Bond with Nathan to check his son's condition, and nodded.

"Is that why you've keep it so casual with Heron?" He regarded the tomkat casually.

Alex smiled "I've kept it casual 'cause I don't know how long I'll be here A family friend sent me ahead to do what I could to keep Jake alive till Nathan arrived, 'cause the friend said Nathan would need him...though I think the friend may have had it a little backwards.

"I'm not sure what happens next, and I guess I'm afraid to get too involved just to find out I'm being sent home."

He chuckled quietly "Funny thing is, I've had to keep pretty tight reins on my emotions ... I found myself falling in love, and I wasn't allowed to." He sighed deeply.

"Who?" Patrik put a comforting hand on the muscular Kat's arm "They might be quite willing to go with you I know not everyone that looks happy to be here wouldn't jump at the chance to leave, if there was anywhere to go."

Alex sighed and shook his head, wistfully looking off in the distance "Much the way I fell in love with Ebon, my first mate, I found myself falling in love again with someone a lot like him."

He looked at the black and white tom "I fell in love with Jake, not too long after I got here ... but that was one thing I wasn't allowed to do." He shifted his gaze to the ground "Besides, how could I get serious with anyone while I'm pretending to be someone else, and not even wearing my own form."

"He wouldn't care," Patrik shrugged, "and this," he shoved a finger in the direction of the room, "isn't going to change much of anything He was getting married anyway."

Alex shook his head "Like I said, my getting involved with Jake wasn't allowed And while he might not care, other potential mates might not be so understanding ... and I couldn't let on who I really was until things got to the right point as far as Nathan was concerned."

He looked at the room and then at Rik, very serious "Rik, I should tell you ... it may change more than you expect The Joining is a very intense experience, it removes all the Masks between the two and often forces them to face who they really are I've never known anyone, especially a telepath, to come out of the experience unchanged."

Patrik stared straight into space, and switched to a machine band telepathy for the first time with Alex "*Nathan can't give him everything he needs, and you can fill one of the two needs he can't ... if not both.*"

Alex looked at him curiously, and responded on the same band "*I'm not sure what you're getting at Rik. What do you mean?*"

"*He can surrender to you ... don't ask me why you can and so many others can't, but he needs to be able to submit ... and Nathan isn't that ... strong, I guess.*" A mixture of image-feelings went with the statement, including that it was mostly combat oriented strength Jake saw in that way "*He also needs female company.*"

Alex smiled "I think Nathan will be able to handle the strength, as long as he realizes it's needed He's far stronger than most realize, perhaps even then he realizes I just hope Jake gives him a chance to prove that, from what I know Jake isn't always clear about communicating what he needs.

"As for the female company, well I guess Jake will just have to have two mates ... 'cause that's a shapeshift neither Nathan nor I can manage Not that that will bother Nathan any, Felsin form triads as often as they do couples." Alex looked back at the room, curiosity radiating from him "But to have the Mother of the Felsin people facilitating the Joining ... there is more to this then meets the eye, far more."

"Alex, take my word for it, everything that involves Jake is more than it seems."

"Well, I guess he's Joining with the right tom then ... cause much the same can be said for Nathan Hopefully this will help Nate come to terms with who he is, might even get him back in the air again." Alex said wistfully. It had hurt watching his son turn down the Tygrenor appointment the kit had wanted so badly, all because of those idiots at Citadel.

"So who is Nathan to you, and who, or what, is Keltin?" Patrik asked as he buried his disappointment.

Alex thought for a moment about what he'd said about Nathan flying again, and realized he'd done a pretty stupid thing Rik was probably feeling displaced by Nathan as it was, piloting was probably the only thing he figured Nathan didn't do He'd have to think of a way to reassure the little pilot that Nathan wasn't taking his place there as well ... but nothing that wasn't phony sounding came to mind right away.

"Keltin is Felsira's mate, one of them anyway, and is the Defender of the Felsin people, though I think in this case he's protecting Felsira while she's preoccupied facilitating the Joining As for Nathan," Alex smiled, "he's my son."

"Oh," Patrik blinked as he assimilated that "So you're a Felsin too?" He paused, but not long enough for an answer "If you got sent here to for him, why are you both still here?'

Alex shook his head in amusement "Yes, I'm a Felsin too And as for why we're both still here ... I keep waiting for someone to explain that At the moment, it has a lot to do with no way to get home.

"However, there's now an additional Darshar Gargoyle, the full Felsin Triad and two of the NightBlades all in Cathedral at the same time There is definitely something in the works, and I think it's even more unusual then Cathedral normally is."

"Wonderful," sarcasm dripped from the young tom's voice as he settled in for a long wait. "Just what this planet needs, more insanity."

Alex leaned back against the wall and chuckled "Insanity seems pretty routine after seventy or eighty years." The calico 'flickered' two cans of milk into his hands, and offered one to Rik. "Thirsty? I think we're in for quite a wait here." He observed casually.

"Thanks." He took the offered can with a rueful smile "I bet it does."

Jake and Ashley stopped at the entrance airlock to 'Gildenfire' There was a noticeable delay before it opened As it opened Defender advanced growling, then he noticed Ashley, after a quick sniff to make sure who it was he barked welcomingly to her Then he noticed Jake and advanced slowly on the stranger; a low growl rumbling in his throat.

"Uh, Ash?"

"Defender, it's okay Jake's a friend."

The large canine looked back over his shoulder at Ashley, and then back at Jake Suddenly, he wagged his short tail and just about knocked the lean tom over trying to lick his face in an overly friendly fashion.

"I think he likes you." Ashley observed wryly.

"Is that what you call it?"

Defender barked happily, turned and walked back through the airlock The airlock stayed open as a humanoid figure in black advanced from the shadows Jake was surprised to see the persona Nathan had named Hunter pass him and Ashley without speaking and disappeared at the far end of the boarding tube Although anger had tinged the dark-furred hunter's scent, the look on his face had been that of the professional assassin: impassionate and focused What was strange was though he was wearing the black tailored body armor Jake had seen him wearing in the Hall; he wasn't carrying any weapons.

As the two of them entered the station, Ashley noted that the station lighting was at half-power, which usually indicated an emergency situation She figured that Nathan should have some idea what was going on, so the thing to do was find him.

Morin came gliding down the wide corridor and landed in front of them As he caped his wings, Ashley caught the scent of something like burning sandalwood, and remembered that that was the scent of a truly agitated Dracon from one of the fire clans.

"Morin, what's going on here?" Ashley asked "What's with the emergency lighting?"

"Sorry, Medic Terrell Things are in a bit of disorder right now It relates to that delicate matter we discussed earlier I'm not entirely sure how, but Nathan found out and now Storm's missing, though I have an idea where; and Nathan's missing and I can't find him NightClaw is busy keeping Marauder entertained so he doesn't pick up on the disruption, and Hunter, who I think saw Nathan last, just came this way ... unfortunately I can't keep up with him."

The red dragon paused to catch his breath, and leaned heavily against a bulkhead wall.

"Hunter left the station, unarmed and definitely on the hunt, if my time as Reaper and Surin are anything to judge by." Jake supplied quickly, then turned to Ashley "Which 'delicate situation'?"

"Storm saw what Nathan got from T-Bone's mask." She replied simply, the grim expression on her face quickly matched on Jake's.


Morin nodded "Hunter is the most 'independent' of the personas, though he still seeks Nathan's approval for things ... he's far more argumentative when he disagrees And he has the strongest attunement to the exception in the prohibition Nathan has against killing."

Morin looked at the airlock "My concern is that Hunter may attempt to take control of the physical body while Nathan is otherwise occupied This alone is cause for concern, but I am uncertain of Storm's state of mind Hunter assisted by a strong TechnoMage, even if inexperienced, is not something I consider a 'positive' development."

"It's of a good deal more concern given where Feral is right now." Jake shivered and reached out through the shields "*Cathedral, whatever you do, do *not* let Nathan out of my quarters until *I* say otherwise Another TechnoMage, our son Storm, may try to force the issue.*"

"*I understand Not that the door will open anyway, but I'll make sure it stays closed too.*" There was a fraction of a pause "*Is what you're doing going to change what Rik is to you?*"

"*Of course not,*" Jake confusion was clear in both voice and face *Why?*"

"*He and Alex and outside, and the kit's very upset.*"

"Oh, great." Jake groaned and sought out the bond with his Black Phoenix pilot "*Rik, sorry about how this happened, but don't you dare think you mean any less to me for it I'm not leaving you, even if I'm not with the squad anymore.*"

"I agree, and Hunter is not easily discouraged He spent almost 10 years hunting down the members of a mercenary group who ambushed a unit Nathan had been serving with He got each and every one of them, despite them being on different planets ... and two of them were in maximum security prisons."

"Sounds like a guy I could like, a lot." Jake chuckled softly, though his tone was serious.

There was a sudden burst of golden light, and Hunter came flying through the air to slam against a bulkhead in the hallway Through the open airlock, a large golden lion with wings of burnished gold sat staring at Hunter.

"*Do NOT try that again, Hunter You may NOT move the physical body during the Joining.*" A stern male mind-voice was directed at Hunter, but everyone could pick up some of what was said.

Hunter lay against the wall and looked at the winged lion. "You just don't understand." He said in a quiet, pained voice.

"What don't we understand?" Ashley asked gently as she checked Hunter for injuries, then helped him to his feet.

He sighed dejectedly "I'm just trying to do what Nathan needs What he'll do if he has to But he's not supposed to, that's my job I take care of things so he doesn't have to He said it was okay; Storm being hurt was more than he could take Nobody understands the way I do, he won't let anybody see how much this is hurting him ... or how he thinks it's his fault this happened But if I take care of things, then he doesn't have to worry anymore ... he can let go of it."

"Storm was hurt?" Jake's growl centered attention on him even before Ashley reacted "By who?" His body shifted slightly, a mixture of Reaper and Razor's clothing on him as a pure, protective rage flashed to the surface.

Hunter sighed "Storm saw someone he's fond of hurt in a way he can't understand, and his father can't find words to explain it because he's suppressed the memories trying focus on what's happening now So Storm's confused and in no small way scared, partially because when Marquis broke us all free he broke some of the shielding that Nathan was using to protect Storm from the harshness of what was happening."

He shook his head "Storm knows how powerful a person the tom who hurt Chance is, and he has a NightBlade's view that no one outside the team can look after the team But he's not physical, there's nothing he can do ... and that's got him almost hysterical I gave him an outlet, let him help me take care of things ... but Felsira wouldn't let me."

He shook his head "I can't help him feel better, I barely understand emotions myself ... all I could do was give him a chance to help out ... and now I can't even do that."

"Chance's rape ... from the mask." Ashley shot a look at Jake "Chill, you handed ...."

"That was before it affected my son."

"Our son, and this is still not your case for the same reason you gave it up in the first place." She growled back "It's not like you won't get to carry out his punishment when he's found guilty."

Hunter sat down by the airlock, and went into a meditative state "Felsira said I can't do anything now, but I can wait I waited ten years to get the last of the Deathshrikes, I can wait a few hours." His clothing changed to a NightBlade uniform "NightBlades do not allow corruptible judicial systems to deal with those who wrong them, they deal with directly." His voice was flat, but there was a deadly certainty behind it.

"Watch who you call corruptible." Jake turned his anger at Hunter.

Morin looked at Hunter "He's right about one thing, he'll wait all right ... and if I'm any judge of Nathan's mindstate, he'll be in control as soon as Nathan goes to sleep Everyone has their breaking point, I think Nathan's hit his Of course, it would help if I could find him ... or Storm for that matter ... I have an idea where Storm might be ... maybe."

"Then let's try to find him." Ashley sighed in frustration at the male felines "At least I can try to explain what he saw, and what is being done about it."

"Command Center is where we start if my guess is right." The red dragon said calmly He looked back at Hunter "Truth of the matter is Hunter doesn't trust organizations much, especially not ones that remind him of Citadel and I'm afraid that Jake's earlier comment about the lack of real privacy in Cathedral did just that." He gestured "There's a faster way to command than the tour route."

"Well, I'm not surprised." She grumbled and followed Morin without bothering to see if the males were coming "From what I understand, about the only real difference between the two is the value they place on operatives, and that is Jake's doing Pat's not quite so moral."

Morin sighed "It does seem that operating as a law unto oneself engenders such behavior, if one achieves any significant power." He walked up to a wall panel and tapped a rapid series of digits onto a command panel. "Emergency Command Deck access grav tube, if you're unfamiliar with them you may be more comfortable if you hold onto me on the way up ... the first time can be very disconcerting."

"Okay," she wrapped her arms around the Dracon's waist that was only a couple feet taller than she was, "but with her, it's more a case of she was never raised with them Her father is much worse."

Morin stepped into the tube which shifted from 1G slowly to 0G during which Morin pushed off, and then the tube shifted to -1G pushing them upward rapidly, until it reversed the procedure to bring them level with a doorway which opened on the Command Deck.

Morin grinned. "Fast, efficient ... and hell on anybody who doesn't take 0G well." He went over to the one console, and tapped a few buttons to verify something "That's what I thought, he went out the sentinel link again, only this time he's just sitting at the other end; watching, I guess."

Morin looked at the readout, and sighed "Shards and shells, the kid's a fast learner I never taught him how to form Kin-Bonds but he seems to have figured it out."

"Who did he bond with?" She asked apprehensively.

The Dracon sighed "Chance I can only guess at the kit's logic but its possible he's concluded that nobody cares but him, and that if he bonds himself to Chance then people will have to care That's a guess, of course, but he shares many of Nathan's traits ... and it's the sort of thing Nathan has done before."

"That should be an interesting story in the Sharing." She shook her head.

He shook his head "If only the kit didn't have the TechnoMage abilities this wouldn't be possible ... Felsin can't bond this way ... unfortunately, TechnoMages are quite capable of bonding without the other person knowing."

"I know," she sighed in frustration "Jake and I both do it unintentionally as well Got a clue where the kit is though?"

Morin nodded and tapped the second largest bond indicator "Yep, like I said he went out on the sentinel link To put it another way, he's basically in a holding pattern in Chance's general area If the pilot was at all psi-sensitive, there'd be a good chance he'd see Storm, 'cause the kid generates too much 'noise' to stealth properly."

"Well, he is a PsiPilot, sort of." She considered for a moment "Though I'm not sure I'd classify him as psi-sensitive He's like me that way; he can only access certain frequencies Though a TechnoMage like Storm may broadcast on the right frequency I rather hope he doesn't notice That Kat has had enough shocks for six lifetimes already."

"Well, in any event we really have two options: one, we wait for Storm to come back in, or two, one of us has to go out there and talk to him And actually as far as option two; I think the only option we have is for you to go, since I'm carrying a lot of excess energy due to the distance I have to project ... I can only imagine the effect of that much energy coming through the sentinel." He chuckled grimly "The pilot would probably see me, Storm and probably numerous other interesting things ... and if luck holds the way it has been, the sentinel would probably absorb enough energy to become a LifeBond."

"I do not want to think about the repercussions of that, but just how can I go?" She tried to think of a way "I'm not a bio'path ... I'm downright mind-blind on that level."

The Dracon chuckled "I'm just going to take advantage of that 'extra' energy Grandmother is sending and expand the frequency range of the sentinel ... expanding it into the 'mechanical' range which both you and Storm share I will only hope that I do not hit a frequency that the pilot senses ... unfortunately, I don't know him so there's no way for me to be sure."

He concentrated and a portal opened alongside the console "Storm just dives into the console, but I thought you might find a more 'conventional' image easier." He focused and the portal brightened and steadied "That should do it, just try not to do anything too creative while you're out there ... any additional energy I have to dump in to keep things stable increases the chance of the pilot seeing what he doesn't need to see."

"I understand that much." She nodded and walked through the door "I'll try to be 'quiet'."

Ashley had sensation of 'sliding' followed by a sudden 'thump' as the world came back into focus She was in fairly standard Ameliorate guest quarters, though they were translucent, and not really solid to touch either Storm was sitting cross-legged on the bed, looking somewhat despondent.

Chance was asleep in the bed with his arms loosely wrapped around a Brown Hyena she quickly placed a Brandy Ressa, the Cathedral Recruiter.

"Hi, Storm." She sat next to the winged White Tiger kitten and did her best to ignore the thought that she needed to get him out of here before either of those two woke up "What'ca doing?"

Storm looked up briefly "Hi, Ashley." He said quietly "Just lookin' after Uncle Chance."

She nodded easily "Why does he need looking after? He's a grown warrior, with friends who want him safe."

Storm shook his head "He's not safe ... the other one's still out there Everybody else is too busy, or doesn't care Being a grown warrior didn't help before ... but I can."

Ashley noticed what looked to be a small sword in Storm's hand, only it was constructed out of pure psi energy, and destructive psi energy at that.

"The big brown tom that hurt him?" She asked gently "The one you saw in your father's mind from T-Bone's mask."

The little White Tiger nodded reluctantly, never taking his eyes off of Chance.

"You don't have to guard Chance against him. " She put a gentle hand on the kit's shoulder "Jake saw to it that he's locked away until he can be properly dealt with."

The kit shook his head "He's one of the people who does the locking away, he won't stay locked up long NightBlades don't rely on others to protect teammates; they take care of things themselves Hunter was gonna take care of it, but Felsira wouldn't let him So I gotta look after Uncle Chance until Hunter can fix things."

"Storm, Jake had him locked away, here in Cathedral Feral doesn't have any authority here in Jake's domain, no power to free himself before Jake deals with him." She paused "Or is your new father not a NightBlade?"

Storm looked at the ground. "He is ... but he said ... he was too close to both of them." He looked up at Ashley, confused "NightBlades don't have divided loyalties, the team is everything If Jake can't be sure where his loyalties are, how can the other people who aren't NightBlades be trusted." It was hard for Ashley to see that Storm was handling the concept very well "Would only take one of them for him to get loose." He sighed deeply.

"Storm, please try to follow this, it's rather complicated." She settled in with all the calm patience of her profession Then she cocked her head, considering "Or perhaps not too complicated, in principle What do NightBlades do when one is accused of hurting another? NightBlade vs. NightBlade?"

Storm thought about it "I don't know, Dad doesn't remember it ever happening They just don't, I mean not deliberately Just playing too rough, or something like that I mean the team is too important for them to do that."

"Well, Jake is in a position as team leader where a member of his 'team' is both victim and attacker." She glossed over as many details as she could "It's not something Nathan would know, but Ulysses Feral, that giant brown tom, is as much a part of Jake's team as Chance is.

"That is not a choice you rush into, killing a teammate, and he felt the need to be very sure this wasn't a trick by some outside party trying to destroy them But he took steps to ensure that the two wouldn't come close to each other until he was sure And when the attacker is sure of, he'll deal with him, teammate or no." She let a small breath out "But Storm, Chance is being protected, from both Feral and an outside force, by those Jake trusts."

Storm looked at Ashley "What 'team' are you talking about? I don't think it's the one Dad thinks of." The look on Storm's face clearly said he knew things were being left out.

"No, it's not." She spoke softly "Nathan thinks of the first of the front line as SWAT; just Jake, Chance and himself It's the only members he was introduced to But SWAT is a good deal bigger than that, and Ulysses is part of Jake's unit, even if Nathan wasn't introduced to him yet."

"Oh, Dad's met him They've crossed paths professionally a few times Dad didn't like him even before, now forget it But it isn't really Dad that'll handle it anyway Hunter deals with those problems Betcha Chance didn't know Feral was on his team either ..." he looked seriously at Ashley "Did Feral know he was on the team? He sure didn't act like it I saw him on TV a couple of times ... those weren't very nice things he said."

"No they weren't, and quite intentionally so." She sighed "Politics are confusing at the best of times and this isn't one of them." She paused a moment, not sure how much of what Storm knew "Has Nathan let you in on how Cazi would lie about how he really felt or thought for the good of the team and mission? Sometimes in public?"

"Cazi?" Storm paused for a moment "Oh, you must mean Grandpa Cazimir ... now wait a minute, everybody knew Grandpa Cazi was on the team, and that he'd have to say certain things So why's Jake the only one who knew Feral's on the team ... didn't he trust Dad or Chance?"

"I honestly don't know if Chance knew, or what he knows, kitten." She brushed a stray bang from Storm's face "I wasn't very active until your father showed up." She sighed wistfully "But I know most of the Black Phoenix team knew As for Nathan ... Jake hasn't been able to think clearly around him for a long time By the time the trust was there, it didn't occur to him to say anything By then Jake was more concerned with not hurting Nathan by saying something wrong than explaining the intricacies of MegaKat City shadow politics to him, when they didn't affect day to day life."


"Of the most annoying kind, as far as I'm concerned." She grumbled.

"Gee, Dad'll be relieved to hear that He thinks Jake was referring to something a lot more personal I'm not sure exactly what he means by that but he doesn't like the idea whatever he means."

"Considering the level of miscommunication between the two of them, I'm not at all surprised." Ashley shook her head "Things may not be perfect between Jake and Chance right now, but it's not that serious a problem in the long run They just need to actually talk to each other."

Storm giggled "That's what my jaguar friend said." He looked at her "But I still don't know, I mean judging by what Hunter says this Cathedral's a really big place, Jake can't know everybody There could be somebody who doesn't care what Feral did, and might let him loose That's the problem with big organizations it's easy to have to a few bad people slip in At least that's what Hunter said."

She nodded a little reluctantly "Yes, Cathedral is quite large, but the place Feral is being held is not accessible by anyone outside the team's security officers, and he does know all of them Plus Brandy there," she indicated the female in bed with Chance, "is quite protective of her mates while she's with them I wouldn't want to cross her."

Storm started to relax "Do you think that Jake and Chance still like each other? With what Jake said about wanting Chance far away it seems like Rhymar and Morin ... only one of them was ever around, 'cause Rhy didn't like Morin." Storm looked very concerned.

She smiled sadly and hugged him close, carefully avoiding the psi-blade "Yes, Storm, I think they do They are both hurting a great deal right now, and don't want to be around any reminders of that hurt, including each other But their hurts can be healed, unlike Rhy's issues with Morin." She backed off a little to look Storm in the eyes "Jake and Chance love each other, they really do, but sometimes things get to the point you don't know any way to deal with your hurts anymore, but to run from them They're hurting like that right now, is all It may be a while, but they won't be like this forever."

The little tiger smiled "Good, 'cause I don't like to see Dad as upset as he is right now You know, he hates not being able to help ... but he gets even more upset when he thinks his help did more harm than good." The psi-blade slowly faded away "Besides I was hoping I'd get to meet Chance for real, not just watching like this.

"So these friends of Jake will keep Feral locked up safely away from Chance?" He asked as though needing reassurance.

"Yes, they will." Ashley was utterly convinced of her own words "If you know how to navigate out here, I can show you."

Storm shook his head "I believe you, besides we better find Dad He was pretty upset I think maybe I asked something I shouldn't have."

"Any idea where he could have gone?" Real concern crept into her voice "Morin doesn't know, and no one else seems to be coherent enough to even look for him."

"Can't Jake find him?" The little tiger seemed worried "I thought they were LifeMates."

"Jake and Hunter were arguing last time I saw them." She sighed in real frustration "No help at all I suppose I could deck him and get his attention, but sometimes it's useful to leave the agitated ones out of it."

"I think he's still on the 'station' but he's probably in one of the unused sections somewhere." Storm suggested, not at all sure.

"Then let's get back to the control center The scanners should provide a starting point, or Lord Morin can."

Storm giggled "Jake and Hunter? I'll bet 'cause Hunter argues with everybody, even Dad." He stopped to gently pat Chance on the head "Morin sure makes enough noise, but there's a faster way back."

Suddenly Storm's wings expanded to engulf them both, before they appeared suddenly in the Command center "Hey, stealth dragon! You can take out that extra channel." The little tiger yelled while giggling "You're just lucky I saw that channel coming in, you almost put Ashley straight through on the main Black Phoenix frequency." He looked at Ashley "Wonder what Uncle Chance would have made of that?" He grinned broadly.

The Dracon chuckled and the doorway vanished He shook his head "What is it about tigers, that they insist on roaring at the oddest times?"

"Storm thinks Nathan is still in the station, just an unused section ... or if someone can clue me in on how, I can use the bond to find him."

Morin looked at Storm for a moment, then nodded "It should be possible to trace the LifeBond pathway from here, since it's the strongest bond passing through Given that we know where one end is since Jake hasn't moved, the other end logically ... must be Nathan."

Storm nodded. "Yep, which means ..." He looked at his bond diagram console "Dad's in Medical, which doesn't see much use lately but does have the second heaviest shielding; and its somewhere he'd feel comfortable." He looked to Ashley "Since Jake's busy arguing, maybe you ought to try and talk to him, he seems comfortable around you."

Ashley looked over the diagrams and control panels "I have *got* to get one of these." She chuckled a little sheepishly at the others "Yes, I'll talk to Nathan If nothing else, he may not be happy to see Jake, since he didn't make a sound across their bond." She shook her head "To shield whatever happened that heavily ...."

"Okay," she shrugged it off, "how do I get to Medical?"

Storm pulled something out of a drawer and tossed it to Ashley It was a 'standard' Alliance wristcom, with one of the functions being 'get me where I need to go' "You remember how those work, right?"

She noticed it was already directing her to medical.

The station was strangely quiet, normally even on graveyard shifts the stations machinery generated a certain amount of noise Even that was muffled It became evident when she entered the unused portions of the station, as the dust on the floor had only been disturbed by one set of footprints recently.

The closer she got to Medical the dimmer the lights seemed to get The doors also seemed slower to open, and the lifts moved slower. But eventually she did reach the Medical section.

She stopped in front of the main door to Medical and tapped the door, hoping it would open without major tweaking She still wasn't very sure whether this place would respond to her gifts.

The door opened onto a typical Alliance Medical facility, with a very untypical activity going on Nathan, dressed in Medic Whites was doing the reverse of setting up a medical facility He was methodically taking every item and putting it back in the protective packing it came in.

"Hi, Nathan." She couldn't stop the sick knot growing in her stomach, but did keep her voice fairly light "Mind telling me what you're doing?"

"I'm stopping myself from meddling anymore Everything I touch falls apart, everyone I get near gets hurt I just can't seem to do anything right, so I just need to stop."

He started rambling while packing "I befriended Sy and he died; I loved Rhymar and he died I got involved with SWAT and it fell apart ... not only that but in the process of trying to hold it together I hurt Jake, and almost got Chance killed Then the one time I might actually have done some good I wasn't even there, I was at some damn fool conference If I'd been where I should've been I could've caught on to what was happening, kept Chance from going that night But I screwed up, and wasn't even there ... and now because of that Storm's been hurt too ... as if my failing him the first time wasn't bad enough And now he thinks I can put SWAT back together, and I can't but he insists on believing I can so I'll end up letting him down again But I can't do it, I won't meddle again I can't risk hurting them even worse by trying again."

He stood at a medical bed apparently stumped at trying to figure out how to pack it.

"Colonel SolGardin," Ashley knew she was taking a terrible risk, but every shred of training she had screamed at her to do it, "do you honestly believe that?"

Nathan sat down on the bed looking dejected and significantly smaller "What else can I believe? It all fits It was only dumb luck that got me back from the conference in time to do anything at all And even that required someone else to make work ... there wasn't anything I could do on my own Medic's supposed to hold the team together, looks like I did a real abysmal job of that." He gestured at a desk where a shattered picture lay ... it was the picture he had dropped Friday of the three in their SWAT uniforms.

He shivered as she sat down next to him and embraced him across the shoulders "You know what really scares me? What'll happen once we leave Joining space In here I have some control, I can keep the disasters away ... but out there, what'll I screw up next? Who'll die cause they got close to me? I don't know if I can live with the answers, to say nothing about anyone else being able to."

"Gods, between the two of you ..." real frustration broke her professional calm for a moment "Nathan, are you willing to look at this logically in the light of real facts, or are you content to stay with your delusions?"

He shivered quietly "I thought was looking at facts, wasn't I?" He asked, with a hint of desperate hope in his voice that maybe he'd been wrong.

"Half truths at most, blatant misconceptions for the most part." She sighed and sorted her mind out "I don't know about Sy and Rhymar, but from the last year, you haven't checked into reality any more than Jake has.

"Okay, bottom line, if you hadn't interfered that first time, Jake, and SWAT, would have been dead a year ago Makes the rest moot *And* Black Phoenix wouldn't have been ready to do anything yet.

"As for you hurting Jake to keep the team together and nearly getting Chance killed for it, that's the biggest load of bullshit I've head in a long time You've done more good for Jake in the last year than I have in the last thirty He's actually made a few steps towards being saner, instead of the other direction.

"And Nathan," she tipped his chin up and met anguished green eyes, "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Storm when he asked.

"Jake and Chance do still love each other, but sometimes things get to the point you don't know any way to deal with your hurts anymore, but to run from them They're hurting like that right now, is all It may be a while, but they won't be like this forever They need friends willing to fight them to heal them, friends who love each of them enough to do the hard thing and heal them when they are so injured they don't even recognize it anymore."

Nathan stood and went to a sink He got a glass of water and slowly sipped at it as if drawing strength from it When he looked up from the water, the anguish in his eyes had been replaced by determination; though there was still a lot of fatigue.

"Thank you, Ashley." The tiger-tabby said gratefully. "I think I needed someone to just point out where I went wrong in my reasoning." He sighed quietly. "I did know the truth, but it was easier to deal with the delusion The delusion let me feel important when I was having a great deal of self-doubt, and let me feel significant at a time when I was having feelings of insignificance."

She stood with a nod and embraced him "Just like Jake is dealing with many of his hurts," she spoke softly, "the difference is that you want to see the truth, and he's actively avoiding it for the most part."

Nathan nodded slowly in grim understanding "I actually knew that they still loved each other, indeed I think that's part of the problem Every time Jake says that Chance doesn't care that much about him or something similar I just want to point out how wrong he is ... but I'm afraid to, afraid he'll run away again."

Ashley guided his chin up so they were facing again "Nathan, he will run, I can all but guarantee it, and if he can't, he'll fight like a cornered animal." She shook her head "I can't say I understand exactly what is going on, but he is utterly terrified of facing that truth It's not even a matter of not wanting to see the truth anymore; something very basic happened in his mind, and he's founded his very existence on the 'fact' that Chance doesn't want him anymore."

Nathan sighed "I think I saw part of that in the letter he left for Chance, which Chance never saw, couldn't see at the time." He shook his head sadly "Chance hasn't a clue what Jake wants, that much was pretty clear Heck right now, I'm not even sure Chance knows what he wants much less anyone else."

The tiger-tabby reversed what he'd been doing and started put things back where they belonged, and blinked at Ashley when he found her strong, black hands helping out unobtrusively "I'm just glad Brandy was able to encourage Chance's pilot nature back to the foreground before Storm saw what was going on ... I wouldn't want to try explain the complexities of emotional overload and shutdown to an eight-year old."

He shook his head as he put several old medical texts on a shelf "If hadn't been for my psychometric training, I wouldn't have had a clue The psych-med training I've got is the equivalent of first aid."

The medic carefully put delicate surgical tools away in very meticulous fashion. "All I was ever supposed to do was hold things together until the real counselors took over." He looked at several databoards before putting them away "Now I have to be the counselor as well, looks like I'll just have to improv my way through."

"My Phych-Med is only a little better than yours, but we've got a couple folks in here that specialized in the mind," she tapped her head, "and you have the advantage of having all of us interested in seeing this work."

He walked over and carefully started put the broken picture back together "That is, of course, assuming Chance will even talk to me after he finds out just why I couldn't make to see him like I said I would." He shook his head in quiet amusement "Last time the subject came up I was still trying to do what I thought was best for the team ... pretend I wasn't in love with either of them ... try not to introduce another problem."

He chuckled and shook his head "Funny thing was it was even less true then, then it ever had been ... I was in love with both of them by then."

"That sounds like a good place to start to me." She cocked her head and regarded him "He is rape-scared and feeling very betrayed and abandoned from what I've gathered, but telling him, showing him, you love him without bringing sex into the equation may get to him enough that he listens.

"And if you want my advice, dodge the question of exactly what you've been up to when you see him." She brushed his cheek with a gentle finger "Don't lie to him, but don't explain or say any more than you have to."

Nathan nodded "That's probably a good idea, and you're correct on how Chance is feeling, even my limited empathy was able to pick that up But lie to him, no that's something I won't do."

He chuckled "I have to admit, my helpfulness almost put Jake and Chance right back in the same unit According to Caito, Chance was offered a spot in Black Phoenix but turned it down For about the same reason I turned down my appointment to the Tygrenor Academy."

The tiger-tabby looked around "Guess that's back to 'normal'." He looked at the Black King Cheetah watching him carefully "My fear, well that was real enough but misdirected I can deal with problems as they happen, but what I'm not sure how to deal with is all the people who are going to unhappy with me for upsetting their status quo Black Phoenix for one, is a group I just prefer to be indivisible to, since I can't imagine there going to appreciate the disruption I just caused."

"You might be surprised," she chuckled softly "I know them very well, and once the shock wears off, most of them will appreciate what you're doing If I were in your position, I'd be much more concerned with Felina's reaction She just went from engaged to Jake as first LifeMate, to watching him marry another, all in a twenty-four hour period." She shook her head sadly "She also doesn't understand the depth of Jake's illness, and the squad does."

Nathan smiled quietly "One person, I can handle displeasure from one person An entire commando unit being unhappy with me is a far bigger concern, so I hope you're right about them." He paused and thought for a moment "Do you happen to know who the little black and white tomkat in the hangar was? He was far more upset than most of the squad." He asked, not sure why that particular team member had caught his attention, but being concerned all the same.

"He's Patrik 'BlackFire' Celest, Jake, as NightRazor, and Amerith's pilot in Black Phoenix." She swallowed slightly "He's a genetic creation, like Jake and your father, but designed for Jake He hasn't been 'alive' quite four years yet."

Nathan stopped abruptly "Four years? Storm's about that old Designed for Jake?" He looked at Ashley, shaken.

She nodded a little sadly "He was Pakitra's best effort to provide Jake what he needed that he wasn't finding on his own There were already tremendous problems between Jake and Chance by then You have to give her and the genetics team credit, they did a very good job given the lack of information they had He is damn near perfect, for a third of Jake's needs in a mate, and the only one so far able to deal with Jake's mood swings and shifts."

"Blessed Mother, no wonder he's upset He probably thinks Jake's leaving him for me, which leaves him not sure what to do." He paused switching to the Triad channel briefly, and then relaxed a little "Thankfully, Felsira adjusted the Joining shields to keep Patrik's link with Jake from being muffled accidentally And there's another Black Phoenix member named Alex keeping him calmed down."

The tiger-tabby shook his head "Well, nothing to be done from in here I hope he hasn't been hurt too bad by this, it's not like Jake has to leave him for me or anything." Nathan grinned weakly "Actually, he's kind of cute."

"Do me a favor, ask Jake what he intends with Rik." She went completely serious "It's quite possible he hasn't figured out you don't expect to have him to yourself."

"I will," he nodded, still a little shaken "I better find Storm ... I probably scared him retreating like this."

"You scared him enough to go 'protect' Chance himself, with an assassin's Psi-Blade." She shivered at the memory of the time she saw the results of one of those used first hand, and followed him out "I talked him out of it, but he's very worried about everyone he cares about What happened with Tygrenor Academy?"

Nathan chuckled "Psi-blade, huh? Sounds like I need to have little talk with Hunter about what is and isn't appropriate to show an eight-year old."

As he walked through the hallways, the lights began to return to normal "Tygrenor Academy is the top Aerospace Academy on Felsinor It's where the best of the best pilots go to get their gold wings, the military certification." He paused for a moment "After I got put back into normal society, I wanted to get in there more than anything And by the time I was 15 I had my silver wings and several instructors who'd written glowing recommendations to get me in ... despite the fact that the minimum age is 16, since Tygrenor is military service."

He paused looking into the distance "On my sixteenth birthday, well what I thought was sixteenth, I guess it was actually more like my twenty-fourth, I got the appointment letter All I had to do was pass the entrance physicals and the psych screening My adopted father was furious that I had chosen a military career At any rate, I passed the physicals easily, after all I'd been a pilot for years and I still had the benefits of years of commando training, even if I didn't know it then.

"During the final meeting with the Academy Commander, I asked him if I'd have to have a gunner When he said 'Of course, all flight trainees are paired pilot/gunner by a very careful selection and screening process, I handed him the appointment letter back and said I couldn't do it.

"He asked why, to which I remember replying 'I can't trust anyone that much, not again.' He tried talking me into trying, but I wouldn't change my mind ... I still hadn't recovered from Sy, my first gunner's, death I walked away from the one thing I'd wanted more than anything, rather than trust anyone that way again."

Nathan paused at an intersection "According to Caito, Chance's reasoning behind turning down Black Phoenix was similar He'd 'lost' his gunner, and wasn't ready to work with another one."

"I can't say I blame him." Ashley shook her head "From what I've gotten from him and others, he's really taken Jake's betrayal of their partnership to heart." She sighed in frustration "Even though I know it's probably not safe, I want to get those two in a room and lock the door until they actually talk to each other."

"Just give me some warning before you do that, okay? I'll need to get my shields reinforced so as to avoid a month of migraines from the feedback." He smiled weakly "Not that I think its necessarily a bad idea, but you'd better have some method of knocking them out available so they don't kill each other, even accidentally.

"So how long do you think they could go before they managed to talk to each other, as opposed to say yelling at each other?" He asked with only a slight touch of humor.

"Depends on how long my temper holds out." She chuckled with a mixture of seriousness and warped humor "Personally, I think they could manage for several more decades left to their own devices, but I have no intention of letting it be that easy on them." Grim determination crossed her face "Between the Jedi and myself, we can wear their resistance to common sense down eventually."

Nathan looked something between determined and amused "Decades? Oh, I don't think my patience will last that long Besides, this unpleasant separation isn't doing either of them any good, and I can't just ignore something like that." He chuckled quietly "Of course, I better calm Storm down, before he ends up LifeBonded to Chance Not that he'd be any more of that one then he is the other one."

"That does not sound good." She groaned "He's in the Command Center with Morin, I hope."

Nathan concentrated, then smiled. "Yes, he is Morin's teaching him a strategy game, chess Should keep him distracted for a while, especially if he decides to teach the Gargoyles to play.

"He must have decided things are 'safe' for now, since he 'let' Morin distract him So I don't think he'll enhance the Bond again right away I guess he must have seen what I did earlier using the Bond between me and Jake to make sure Felsira wouldn't let anything happen to Jake."

They got in the lift to the Command Center "I guess I overdid things when I tried to shield away all my concerns and worries so I could focus on the Joining It's tough for me to be off-duty, I'm always worrying about the team This once I wanted to be off-duty, so I could give Jake all of my attention, so I stuffed everything that I was worrying about behind tight shields.

"I should've realized that Storm would notice that I'd shielded everything about Chance, just so I wouldn't accidentally bring up a memory where Jake would see it Good intentions ... not so good execution."

"Been there, done that, now let's fix the fallout." She rolled her shoulders back "Say hi to Storm, and back to dealing with Jake." She cast a look in Nathan's direction "I don't suppose you have a clue why we haven't entered the Sharing yet? If Jake has another mask, he's hiding it way too well, since even V'Feri can't find it."

Nathan shook his head "Not really, though I think it probably has to do with the fact there's a lot of extra psychic 'clutter', for lack of a better word I've never heard of Joining with this many 'minds' involved, especially now I've got mine running loose There's also the extras, like Storm and Morin in here, who wouldn't be normally Plus, the facilitator's had a lot more work than normal trying to hold things together Hopefully, once I get Storm calmed down we can get things back on track."

He looked at her, as if something had just occurred to him. "By the way, where is Jake?"

"Last time I saw him he was arguing with Hunter over who had kill-rights on Feral near the entrance to the station, and Felsira ... or at least one of her major assistants ... was standing guard to make sure neither of them tried to move their physical bodies before Joining was over."

Nathan chuckled openly "Sounds like Hunter all right, nothing he likes like a good argument ... or any argument for that matter."

The doors opened onto the Command Deck, and Storm turned to see his father and Ashley exit the lift He left the chess game, and ran to his father.

Nathan bent down on one knee to catch the little tiger in his arms He hugged the kit tight "Sorry I worried you Storm But you don't need to protect Chance, he's already being taken care of."

"I know, Ashley explained that Sorry I asked ..."

Nathan gently hushed the kit "No, there was nothing wrong with you asking, it's just something that's going to take time, probably a lot of time, and it's not easy for me to deal with." He gently brushed Storm's hair back with his hand "Now I have things to take care of with Jake, so I need you to stay here on the station ... okay?"

Storm smiled "Okay, I'll stay out of the way."

Nathan stood up and smiled "You're not in the way, but this adult stuff will just bore you."

"Yah, I guess." He ran back to the chess game with Morin, who waved at Nathan from across the room.

"*Do you plan to finish this Joining at some point, or were you planning on permanent residence in Joining space?*" The Dracon asked in an amused mind-voice.

"*Oh, I didn't see any rush I figured we'd just laze around the station for awhile.*" Nathan grinned mentally.

"Okay, Ashley I think we can move on, let's go find Jake."

She frowned in irritation "He hasn't moved, physically, psychically, or in the argument."

Nathan chuckled "I'm not surprised, especially about the argument After all, Hunter is me and I'm very stubborn Especially if I think I'm right ... and Hunter always thinks he's right He has an absolute certainty about what he thinks and does ... I'd say feels, but emotions are not something Hunter does ... it's why he's so good."

He smiled as they took the lift back down to airlock level As the two toms came into view, Nathan whispered to Ashley "If I was in a more mischievous mood right now, I'd set off the sprinkler system just to break up the argument."

"Do it!" She tried very hard to keep the squeak of delight from drawing the male's attention "They need to cool off."

Nathan could barely repress a giggle as he turned and whispered to a command panel "Gildenfire, please test the sprinkler system in docking collar 12B, water 10 degrees Celsius Command override is Alpha-One-One-Seven-Beta-Four." He looked at Ashley "You know, there were a couple of his arguments with Chance I wanted to break up this way ... but the fire control system wasn't nearly as cooperative."

"Command override acknowledged Executing fire control system test in docking collar 12B." The computer confirmed quietly, just before concealed jets thoroughly doused the airlock area with cold water.

Ashley didn't bother to restrain her laughter as the males howled in displeasure as their first priority became escaping the freezing deluge.

"That is not funny." A sopping wet, shivering Jake Clawson growled at the snickering pair.

Nathan noted Hunter had headed the opposite direction before he kicked a wall panel and pulled out a large, fluffy red towel with the Gildenfire logo imprinted on it He handed it to Jake, while making a valiant, yet futile effort not to grin He managed a fairly straight-faced mental image of quarters being nearby where Jake could get warmed up and dried off.

Nathan carefully picked a frequency Ashley could 'hear' and sent a shielded thought "*Do you think this would work for him and Chance?*" The thought was clearly the product of suppressed giggles and a warped sense of humor.

"For a while." She purposefully spoke out loud, considering.

"Whatever you two had planned, can wait." Jake grumbled and he grabbed Nathan's arm, a look of pure playful malice on his face "You froze me, you can warm me up again."

Nathan grinned over his shoulder at Ashley, before he was dragged away "Sounds like fun, have anything specific in mind?" He asked with a distinct leer in his voice.

"No," Jake growled again, his discomfort clear in his voice as he tagged the door open and let go of Nathan's arm as he walked in "I'm cold." He finally lost the battle with his body and started to shiver for real as he looked around for the bathroom.

Nathan gently guided the shivering Kat over to the bathroom, which contained both a large shower and a large whirlpool bathtub Nathan pressed a button on the wall, which added warm air jets to the room He considered and turned the shower up to the temperature he remembered Jake liking.

He gently helped his shivering mate out of cold, wet clothes and into the warming shower when the tom's own attempts proved more frustrating than effective. "Better?" He asked, concerned and without a trace of humor.

Jake nodded weakly as he shifted to put as much hot water along his body as possible, and as much of the rest along his mate's warmth "I don't get cold." He sighed as spasming muscles relaxed in the steam and direct pressure of hot water "Not like this Water wasn't that cold."

Nathan nodded "You're right, the temperature of the water was cold but not dangerously so, and you weren't in it that long." He said as the tub quickly filled He gently guided Jake into the tub, until his shivering mate was fully immersed He then held him close to add body heat to the warmth of the water.

The tiger-tabby gently scanned telepathically looking for something else to be wrong, and carefully maintained a calm demeanor, even as he found nothing obvious The Kat's mind 'felt' cold, but no apparent cause was there.

Nathan quickly thought out to Felsira "*Mother, would you check Jake over, physically If I didn't know better I'd say he's suffering from hypothermia, which doesn't make sense.*"

A quiet nod acknowledged his request, as the Healer checked the lean tom over thoroughly, and found nothing wrong besides a few cramped muscles, but certainly nothing close to what was going on to the Kat in Joining space.

Nathan sent a quiet mental order to the Medical bay, bringing it online and dispatching a mobile delivery unit with his Healer's kit.

Jake was warm to the touch and relaxed by the time the unit arrived, and quickly acquiring an interest in the fact that both of them were naked in a large whirlpool "Whatever that was about, I feel better now."

Nathan silently told the unit to park out of sight in the bedroom, smiled and absently ran his fingers through Jake's fur "I'm glad to hear that, you had me worried." He said quietly, but made no move to leave the whirlpool.

"*I* was worried." He shivered once along his spine before pulling himself up to strattle Nathan's lap He kissed the Felsin soundly before slipping his tongue out, seeking admittance to his mate's mouth.

Nathan accepted the passionate kiss, and encouragingly rubbed his mate's back, while he waited to see if the tom had something specific in mind He carefully shielded any guilt about the sprinkler prank, and he reminded himself had been harmless ... something else had happened, at the same time, even Jake recognized that.

He felt Jake reach out to try to get the lights off and guided his mate's mind to the switch and flipped with without hesitation as Jake caressed him hard.

"Tell me if it gets too much," Jake whispered as their mouths parted and the lean tomkat pulled away, turning so his back was against Nathan's chest as slid down, his knees outside his mate's legs One hand guided the hard shaft into position, the other brought Nathan's hand around to his own swelling cock.

Nathan needed no further encouragement as he slid easily inside his mate's body A back corner of his mind recognized that he wasn't buried in Jake's ass, but the feel of his mate's twitching cock in his hand, the Kat's balls brushing against his thighs as the came together and the heady musk of male arousal was enough to silence his reflexive doubt about it being a male in his arms.

"Take your time." Jake whispered as he leaned back, bringing as much of their bodies into contact as he could The position placed Nathan's chin just over his shoulder as Jake rolled his head back, exposing his throat as he groaned in pleasure and desire "Want this to last."

That was one request Nathan was more than willing to grant, since there was fatigue building in places he hadn't realized got fatigued But a metabolism trick here, the right touch there and things went, so to speak, according to plan Nathan was so busy concentrating on making the pleasure for both of them last, that he mostly suppressed any doubts about whatever form his mate was in now.

What Nathan found he couldn't ignore was the fact that he just so tired, and it was getting worse He decided he needed the energy on the mental plane more and carefully pulled back energy from 'extraneous' functions of the unconscious physical form He began to feel better, though he had no doubt it was a temporary victory.

Suddenly, there was a soft voice in his head "*Just what are you doing, Nathan?*" Felsira's voice asked, concerned.

"*I just needed the energy elsewhere, nothing dangerous.*"

"*If you're going to insist on operating in a 'physical' fashion, then you need to tend to 'physical' needs, especially the way you've been throwing energy around You both need to relax so I'm going to send Heartfire over with breakfast for the two of you.*"

"*Mother, you don't ...*"

"*As your facilitator my role is to get you through this ... and I'd like to get you two into the Sharing at some point, and back to the real world ... preferably before Patrik needs my services in the Psych-med department.*" Her voice was concerned, and a little fatigued.

"*Yes, mother.*"

Nathan shifted the caresses and kisses from extending their play, to reaching a conclusion A low noise from Jake seemed to question the change in focus Nathan applied to gentle kisses to turn the questioning noise into a far more excited one.

As they lay in the large bed in the master bedroom, Nathan discretely checked several of his responses for fatigue symptoms and discovered that Felsira was right, he was pushing too hard He looked at Jake lying against his chest. "Sorry about the 'rush', but I needed to rest and as much as I was enjoying playing, it wasn't exactly rest Oh, Mother's sending room service up with breakfast shortly." He said tiredly.

"Sorry," Jake whispered as snuggled closer to kiss Nathan's jaw "Rest, and stay there until you feel better." He insisted with a mixture of exasperation and sternness as he licked the tiger-tabby's nose "You're supposed to be the Medic, not me."

"Yes, Jake." He replied with mock meekness.

"I'm serious Nate." Jake didn't bother to hide his concern "You're hurting yourself." He shifted to look his mate in the face "It's one thing getting hurt by taking a shot for me, but this is just sex."

Nathan lay quietly looking at Jake "It wasn't the sex that caused the problem ... it's just that I didn't realize how big a drain splintering off the new personas was If I'd had my 'path abilities longer I'd be a better judge of energy use, but as it is ... I don't realize I've over done it till I start falling over ... it just happened to coincide with the sex."

Jake took a moment to sort threw his own new memories and nodded before deliberately touching minds He offered a sort of digest version of how he worked around the issues, and the early warnings he got "At least all but one is cooperative."

Nathan smiled. "Thanks for the briefing And as for that one, well ... I think Surin scared him pretty badly, and I don't expect to see him again for quite a while Probably not till he thinks he has an ace-in-the-hole, so to speak."

Jake shivered "Yes, that's not going to be a pleasant process He can't be gotten rid of the easy way ... speaking of which, what the hell happened with the memory restoration?"

"I'm guessing you're asking why Surin couldn't simply delete the physical/ chemical process that encodes the associated memories I'll try to explain it, but even Felsira's not entirely sure."

He concentrated for a moment "For most people memory is simply a chemical process of encoding neurons into given patterns This is why Surin can 'erase' memories, and when memories fade and degrade over time normally." He paused briefly "For some reason, my memory has at least one, and possibly more 'metaphysical' backup procedures Essentially, what happened was the backup utility came through, noticed a discrepancy in the memory patterns, and 'restored' them to the correct pattern.

"Felsira has learned over the years of a way to temper the memories so they become blurred ... I'm not sure why the backup process doesn't notice but I guess the blurring doesn't quite meet the 'error' criteria.

"Unfortunately, this won't help with the problem personality, because tempering has no effect ... Felsira's tried that once before it didn't work."

Nathan laid back and relaxed. "This is mostly hypothetical, Felsira doesn't think it's a problem Quite the contrary, she thinks its some sort of survival mechanism combined with the way my mind sorts and organizes memories linked to my unusually long life expectancy."

Nathan turned to look at Jake. "Did I answer the question you were asking ... or did I just give you a dissertation on an unrelated topic?" He grinned quirkily.

Jake nodded slowly, sending the information to the sections of his mind that dealt with it better "Okay, what did you want to talk about?"

Nathan sighed "There was something that Ashley told me, that I wanted to talk to you about ... it's 'outside' world related, so it can wait if you want to leave 'outside' world stuff till later." The tiger-tabby said quietly, letting his mind drift calmly until breakfast arrived.

"If you have something ... please talk." Jake settled in with a glance at the door.

Nathan hesitated briefly, since he'd been vaguely hoping Jake wouldn't want to talk "I'm pretty sure that this going to come out really clumsy, so bear with me Clumsy mostly 'cause back home it wouldn't be an issue, and here, well, I'm not sure if it is or not."

He caught a slightly impatient look "I know, I'm beating around the bush." He took a deep breath, and then dove in headlong, verbally speaking "Okay, ever since we left the hanger, back in the real world, I'd been trying to figure out who the little black and white tom who looked so devastated was Mostly 'cause he was the last person I saw, and the look on his face kind of stuck in my mind Well, I was talking to Ashley a little while ago and she told me that that was Patrik, your pilot, but that still didn't make sense until I stuck a few other things together and realized that he's a lot more than just your pilot; I may be off base but I think he's more like your mate and well it occurred to me that you might think I expected to have you all to myself and I just wanted to make sure you understood that I don't expect, heck I don't want you to think that 'cause I don't. I don't know if you've given any thought to what all this is going to mean as far as your relationship with him, but from what I see I think he's good for you, and well I wouldn't want you to do anything rash in that department."

The tiger-tabby stopped as his lungs pointed out the necessity of breathing "Put more simply, if he's willing to share, so am I." He smiled exhaustedly, with complete sincerity overlaying his thoughts and words.

Jake took a long moment to sort out what Nathan said, and another to figure out what it meant before shaking his head "Honestly didn't think about it at all He's just sort of there ... and yes, he's my mate, and pilot, and everything I kept trying to be with Chance." He sighed dejectedly as something hit his consciousness "And I'm just screwing everything up, aren't I?"

Nathan rubbed the lean tom's shoulders comfortingly "No, not really Things have happened very fast for both of us, and we haven't had a lot of time to think But that's why I brought him up, I want you to know that you don't have to change how things are with him."

He gently licked Jake behind one ear "I don't know him, so I can't tell how he'll react ... but for me, it really isn't an issue."

He held Jake close "I don't understand how things are here, but I'll try to explain my take on relationships to give you some understanding of where I'm coming from.

"For Felsin, threes or triads are almost as common as couples as far as relationships, Joinings and marriages go Kind of relates to our primary deity set, the Triad, who are all mates to each other.

"Actually, for toms triads are rather more common, especially in military circles A fair number of our small commando units are Bonded Triads, it's the way we do things ... for one thing it makes life a lot more bearable if one member of a Bonded Triad dies, because the other two have each other to lean on.

"Triads normally start as a Bonded Pair, and then one of them finds a suitable mate, who's equally acceptable to the other What this means is that it's fairly normal for the members of a Bonded Pair to date outside the pair from time to time, or more often depending on the mates in question.

"This works only where trust exists and open communication As I understand the basic principles; one-night stands are pretty much okay; longer than that and there's an obligation to at least 'tell' the other mate what's going on, and who the new person is Under ideal circumstances, it's a good idea to actually introduce the two The other basic principle is no dating someone who actively dislikes, or is actively disliked by the other partner This is just basic courtesy since the Pair's loyalty is supposed to be to each other first and above any others.

"That's why I don't have a problem with you staying with Patrik, I know who he is and I don't have any reason to dislike him and more importantly ... I think he's good for you.

"As for the other relationship, if you don't mind I think I'd like to table that issue for some other time." Nathan carefully shielded the thought that he wanted to table it, cause he didn't feel like arguing.

Jake took a deep breath and nodded, filing the information away to be actually comprehended past the basic gist of it later.

"I kind of meant how I've been treating Rik." He rested against Nathan's chest and closed his eyes "I've been trying so hard with Chance, that I never saw I had what I wanted, just in a different body." He shivered "Might have even saved what was left with Chance if I'd noticed."

Jake looked up at that distressed, exhausted face of his mate and shook his head again "Sorry, Nate You're supposed to be resting." He shot another look at the door "Where's the kitchen? I'll fix something up while we wait for room service."

There was a loud knock on the door at that moment, which caused Nathan to grin broadly "Room service didn't want to interrupt." He stated evenly, as a large cart came in pushed by a larger winged lion, who left and came back with a second cart.

The lion looked at the two and a stern, deep male mind-voice told both of them "*Breakfast is courtesy of Lady Felsira, who expects that both of you will eat and relax.*" The Lion then leaving the two of them with a rather large breakfast assortment to choose from.

Nathan laughed in cheerful amusement "Never thought I'd see Heartfire delivering room service Mother must really be serious." He paused "Mother said to tell you not to worry about Rik, she and somebody named Alex is looking after him." He noticed the previously not-present table now set for breakfast for two He nodded at the table "I think that's a hint."

"And I think it would be a bad idea to ignore it." Jake smiled and offered a hand to his mate as clothes appeared on both of them "You're a little too tempting naked," he chuckled at Nathan's raised eyebrow, "and I'd rather not piss her off any more than she already is Now sit, I'll serve, and pass my thanks along to her, for breakfast, and the news Alex has been a good friend, and lover, to both of us."

Nathan chuckled as he obligingly sat at the table "Actually though, she's not pissed off, she's just concerned ... you haven't seen her pissed off and you don't want to For one thing, if she gets pissed off, that pisses off Caito and Keltin, who are far more volatile and dangerous." He smiled quietly "Those two have been uncommonly well-behaved all things considered."

"So I've heard ... something about Caito trying to calm down Cathedral when the real world freaked Amerith was rather impressed ... though she didn't know he was a god at the time."

"And she said she doesn't mind looking after Rik, though I guess Alex is really the one who calmed him down."

"He has a gift for it."

Nathan laughed loudly, leading Jake to look at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Sorry, Mother just commented that Rik reminds her of me, a long time ago." Nathan shook his head in amusement. "I don't know, I don't think I was ever that cute." He said with a quirky smile.

"Don't remind me," Jake rolled his eyes as he poured a nearly neon pink juice into two glasses, "I rather like not remembering how young he is."

Nathan sipped at the pink juice. "Young? Oh right, that years lived thing ... I could see how that could be umm ... disconcerting, but that's a deceptive measure of age anyway Seeing as he's an accomplished pilot, he must be mentally somewhere in the late teens at least possibly older and that's what's important. Well, that's my loud-mouthed opinion anyway." He said calmly, nibbling at breakfast as Jake sat down to his own.

"Mentally, I don't know, I swear he acts younger than he looks out of the cockpit and bed," he shivered sharply and refused to look up, "and it's not years lived ... kit looked fourteen when we met, he's about sixteen now, mentally unchanged in four Just makes me feel like a pervert sometimes I've killed over touching a kit that young, especially considering how old I am ... though I was ... whatever." Jake made a decided effort to eat the meal he'd lost interest in.

Nathan thought about it for a moment, then quietly got a divine second opinion He smiled gently "Jake, I think the best way to look at it is that Patrik is who and what he is, and you're nothing wrong by accepting him that way In fact, you'd hurt him if you didn't I expect." Nathan looked thoughtful for a moment "I do have to wonder what the design team was thinking though."

"That's what bothers me." He let a long breath out "It just makes me wonder sometimes, that I could find a body that young a turn-on, much less what about me made them design him that way It wasn't a technology issue, we can create adults, there's something in my profile that make his apparent age ... desirable."

Nathan paused for a moment "Mother agrees a little more emphatically; something about love that is willing and wanted is no perversion." He shrugged "Never argue with Mother."

"I know," he smiled weakly "I don't hold it against him, I just don't like to remember that if it was anyone but him ..." he shook his head "It's just unnerving to remember someone I've been with for almost four years is still considered statutory rape if I ever took him into the city I just don't like what it says about me."

Nathan quietly spoke to Felsira for a little bit "Jake, have you ever considered that you probably wouldn't respond the same?

"Urr, no." Jake blinked, appraising that idea.

"Based on what Felsira tells me, Rik loves you unconditionally and that's something anyone responds to As for technology, the aging process is never perfect; a three or four year discrepancy especially in the teenage range isn't that uncommon Maybe they were aiming for eighteen and got fourteen instead ... I don't know."

"Really?" He actually sounded fairly hopeful "I never got into it, but I never got the feeling his age was anything but intentional."

"Trying to grow someone to a full adult that quickly is an uncertain possess at best." Nathan nodded "And given how much it bothers you, I don't think you're any danger to anyone As for that statutory rape bit, well that's a legalism that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, culture to culture and I've seen places where twelve was legal, and other places where twenty wasn't." Nathan shook his head remembering a very bizarre shore leave.

"Jake, I'm as protective about kits as anyone and I don't think your relationship with Patrik says anything about you, except that you love someone who loves you a great deal If it helps any, on my homeworld it would have been legal even when he was fourteen, because any social telepath would have seen that there was no coercion involved; the primary determining factor in legality between the ages of 12 and 16, absent parental approval."

"Sixteen?" Jake prompted.

Nathan nodded. "Yes, sixteen is the legal age of consent on Felsinor, not surprising since it's also the earliest age of military enlistment I guess somebody figured if you're old enough to handle weapons, you can probably handle sex It's also the general Alliance age of consent, though individual planets can have different laws."

He smiled. "For example, I think the Ferrin abolished age of consent entirely, but then again they're the Alliance's definition of 'sexaholic'; they have sex at the drop of a hat ... any hat Of course, I've never heard of a Ferrin saying no to sex anyway."

"Please excuse me if I still think of our kits as 'kits' until they're eighteen, and we are not visiting that planet till they're in their teens."

Nathan chuckled "That planet is kind of on the outskirts anyway, and I've never been there I certainly wouldn't put it on a list of family trip destinations."

Jake shook his head "But then, my only real comprehension of the concept comes second hand It never really applied to me or anyone I know, combat or sex ... or drinking for that matter I think I get a little up tight about it sometimes."

He smiled "Jake, I'll probably think of them as 'kits' well past eighteen, many parents do But I think we need to wait and see, maturity is highly species dependent ... so I'm not exactly sure how things will work out in that department."

"Oh, that." Jake nodded uneasily "That would be a bit of an unknown."

"Of course, kits are kind of a moot point till we get out of the Joining, and see what kettle of fish we've stirred up in the real world We've given everyone hours to try and guess what we're doing."

"Speaking of which, the masks are down ... why hasn't the Sharing started ... or has it and we just haven't noticed?"

Nathan chuckled. "You know, Ashley asked me the same question not that long ago I'm not sure, but then again nothing in this Joining has gone according to protocol, so I don't know why the Sharing would Though we've shared a good deal more than a lot of Joining pairs do ... I'm really kind of at a loss."

He shrugged "We can't be too far off course, Felsira hasn't given us a shove yet In fact, she just sent breakfast to make sure we'd slow down I think some of the difficulty is that we have a veritable crowd of additional people milling about, which is very unusual for a Joining ... not that I mind, actually I've been rather grateful for Ashley's presence on a number of occasions."

Nathan's face lit up as a realization hit him "I think I know what part of the problem is." He laughed "This location, Gildenfire station is not in Joining-space, it's a specially created subsection of my mind that I created for Storm, to give him a home until I could fix up a new body. I think we kind of took a detour, and didn't realize it.

"Speaking of 'tours', Storm still wants to show you the 'special place' I created for him It's only a short walk, and it's kind of important to him."

Jake chuckled "Finish breakfast first, and then you are taking a nap."

"Yes, sir." Nathan shook his head meekly, then chuckled "The things we find to talk about over breakfast, and all I was trying to say was that I was okay with the way things are between the two of you."

Jake chuckled with real humor in the tone "I suggest you get used to it Between the squad and Pat, this is a pretty normal meal, all things considered."

The Kat regarded a piece of bright red fruit the size of his fist as his face fell "As for hurting Rik ... I know." He shifted uneasily and continued to eat "I decked him the first time he kissed me Those first four months were painful for both of us, but more for him than me I just had to accept that my pilot was younger than I was comfortable with He had to deal with me." Jake finally looked up "Not sure if you know the kind of jerk I can be when I'm fighting myself like that, but it's nothing I'd inflict on an enemy, much less a teammate It still amazes me that he put up with me that long, much less forgave me."

Jake shook his head "Now I'm blabbering," he sighed "Nothing about that situation sits well with me, even after four years."

Nathan got up, walked around the table and put his arms around Jake gently "After all the blabbering I've done, you're entitled And an old friend of mine once told me that sometimes it helps to talk about things How often have you really gotten to talk about this, I mean really talk?"

"Never," the answer came too easily to his lips "I don't *get* to talk like this, about anything."

Nathan smiled calmly "Well, that's not the case anymore, and I don't mean just in this Joining-space You can talk to me about *anything*, I won't always agree but I'll always listen Sounds to me like you need to talk like this more often." There was a calm certainty in the tiger-tabby's words.

Jake looked up over his shoulder, a mixture of hope and fear giving an uncertain edge to his smile as he covered Nathan's hand with his own "Thanks."

Nathan leaned a little and kissed Jake chastely "Anytime." He barely suppressed a yawn, then realized that Jake had noticed it "I seem to recall someone saying I was supposed to take a nap, actually two people told me that." He yawned again, not hiding it this time "I guess it's not a bad idea after all."

The tiger-tabby headed for the bed, then looked over his shoulder at his mate. "Care to join me?" He said, clearly have ideas other than a nap in mind.

"You are incorrigible." Jake laughed and shook his head "I'll join you after you fall asleep." He turned back to his plate "I'm actually still hungry, for *food*."

Nathan laughed as he climbed into bed, pulled the covers up and then removed his clothes with a thought As he drifted off to sleep, an errant thought drifted across his Bond with Jake. "*You try a year of cold showers, and see how 'incorrigible' you are.*" The thought was mostly amused, but there was a small thread of regret for having waited so long But it was hard to tell if the thought came from the conscious mind, or the unconscious.

"Oh, I've got a pretty good idea." The Kat whispered as he watched his new LifeMate drift into dreamland.

Chance opened his eyes in a cold sweat, and only the strength of training kept him from physically panicking from the unlabeled fear in his half-awake mind.

A quick assessment didn't tell him why either ... he was naked in bed, on his stomach and with a decidedly pleasant smelling female Hyena snuggled against him Okay, he was in a strange bed, but considering the number of nights he's spent sleeping all sorts of less comfortable places, that wasn't it.

This was one of the better ways he could think of waking up, all in all All that was missing was ...

That was it.

His partner had abandoned him, just after Feral ... abused him ... humiliated him ... stole what little hope he had left of a real life.

With a low shudder he squirmed to his back, caring more about not presenting that vulnerability than not waking up his bedmate.

"What's wrong, handsome?"

He looked over at Brandy "Nothin', just a dream Sorry I woke you." He said evenly.

She regarded him intently for a moment before nodding and settling against his side again, her voice soft "Don't worry about it, handsome."

Jake settled on the large bed where he could keep a hand on Nathan's arm while keeping a physical distance from the Felsin and closed his eyes.

"*Rik, Amee?*" He carefully opened a meeting space in his mind.

"*Jake!*" Their join response carried the mixture of relief, concern and curiosity.

"*No shouting, please I'd like Nathan to sleep a while longer.*" He spoke quietly "*How's it going out there ... and how long have I been gone?*"

"*You've been 'in there' (insert time please), and things have calmed down out here.*" Amerith replied professionally "*Pakitra passed out getting Cathy to come off red alert, but she's fine Caito's quite the interesting fur Rik freaked, but ....*"

"*I had *cause*, Amee.*" The pilot snapped.

"*I know,*" Jake broke in, "*my apologies for that I didn't realize what was going on till too late.*"

"*It's okay, Jake.*" Patrik murmured with a mental glitch indicating just how exhausted he was "*I just wasn't ready for that.*"

"*Rik, go to sleep There's a god making sure nothing too bad happens to me, take care of yourself.*"

"*Alex is keeping me company.*"

"*Have him keep you company in *bed* then.*" He tried to make it stern, but didn't quite manage it with the image that statement brought to mind "*Please, Rik, get some rest We have a lot to deal with once I get back out to the real world.*"

"*All right, Jake.*" He didn't bother to hide his reluctance.

"*Rik, please.*"

"*It really worries you that much?*" Patrik sounded a little surprised.

"*Yes.*" Jake took a breath to steady himself "*I don't ... I'm sorry I've treated you so badly the last four years.*"

"*You haven't ....*"

"*Rik, I *have*.*" Jake let his guilt show a touch "*I've taken a lot out on you I shouldn't have ... that you had nothing to do with I'm sorry ... just please, take care of yourself till I can try to make it up.*"

"*All ... All right.*" The pilot stammered, utterly stunned.

Jake reached a little further to catch the base's attention "*Cathedral, would you make sure Alex knows his only duty to the squad till I get back to the real world is taking care of my pilot?*"

"*Will do.*" The base replied gamely.

"*Is there anything that needs my attention?*" Jake requested of his team.

"*Just Nathan.*" Patrik shooed him away, still stunned.

"*Agreed.*" Amerith backed out of the meeting.

Nathan waited half-listening until the 'meeting ended Then he quietly rolled to face Jake "He worries more about you than he does about himself I hardly know him, and I like him already." He said quietly, and little dreamily.

Jake jumped slightly "Sorry if I woke you ... I though I was being quiet."

Nathan smiled quietly. "Nothing to be sorry about, I was already waking, and in here its tough to be 'quiet' enough that I don't hear After all, you had to pass Gildenfire's shields to get outside." He grinned "There does seem to be a spreading epidemic of people not knowing when to get sleep, though."

Jake leaned down for a quick kiss "He saw it first and second battle today." He smiled softly "There are few things that can make you feel more *alive*, but once the adrenaline burns off, it can be a hard crash if you're not used to it." He willed his closes off and squirmed under the covers to snuggle close "Back to sleep, love Unless you're hungry?"

"No arguments from me on the adrenaline rush effect, I remember my first battle ... feels like it was a century ago." He chuckled quietly "Well, actually it was a little longer than that."

He gently kissed his mate, and held him close "I think cuddling and sleep will do just fine."

"Good," Jake purred softly and let his eyes close, only then acknowledging how exhausted he was.

"Just got out of a conference with Jake," Patrik struggled to his feet and looked at Alex, "and ...."

"Jake has restricted your duties to taking care of his pilot until he is done with ... whatever he's doing." Cathedral's female voice broke in quietly "You are both to head to bed, and stay put until Patrik is no longer on the verge of passing out."

Alex stood up and looked at Rik "Cathedral's right, Rik ... you definitely need some sleep Where you want to sleep is up to you, but this corridor is not an option."

"Is battle come-down always like this?" He focused on Alex "And whoever's quarters are closest ...."

"Mine are." Alex put a steadying arm around the pilot and led the way to his quarters "Cathedral, let Jake know Rik's in good hands, not like he had to ask; I was doing that anyway."

"Will do." The base responded easily.

Alex thought about Rik's question "Not sure about 'always', my direct combat experience isn't that extensive My specialty was infiltration and espionage, but the adrenalin rush can be something if you're not used to it."

As they reached the door to his quarters, Alex gently 'asked' the door to open, allowing him to keep both hands on the exhausted pilot He guided him to the bed and got him to sit down on the bed, so Alex could help the smaller tom undress.

"Can't believe what the last twenty-four has covered," Patrik groaned in relief as he settled into Alex's arms under the covers "Never crashed this hard before."

Alex smiled "The next twenty-four will probably be even more interesting, so you'd better get some rest." He said soothingly, as gentle hands massaged the pilot's fatigued muscles In the back of his mind, Alex remembered the last time he really crashed, and suppressed a small shiver.

"Feels good," the petite tom's voice was already drifting off as his mind gave up trying to keep his body awake.

Nathan drifted awake to the pleasant mixture of Jake wrapped in his arms, the scent of their arousal heavy in the air, and a basically unshielded sexual dream crossing their bond.

He quietly set a portion of his mind to sorting through all the new memories, while he lay back and let his mind simply float in the dream that was crossing the bond He was enjoying this quiet time and just holding Jake in his arms far too much to want to change anything.

As he drifted in the dream, he started to place parts of it He wasn't surprised that he was in it, though what Jake had him doing ... that was a new idea Even as it turned his body firmly off to picture licking between a female's legs, he found it interesting on a more intellectual level, and the sensations, emotional and physical, that washed through their bond went a long way to make it more interesting.

Nathan quietly filed the dream under 'useful on Jake later', but didn't give it too much thought otherwise After all, the only person with female attributes that he had any interest in would be the form Jake would get to in time ... and that was still Jake It wasn't like Nathan had any intention of looking for a female partner He relaxed and let his mind drift, and left a few of his more interesting fantasies involving Morin open ... just in case there was any space that need some erotic filler.

He tried not to chuckle when his fantasies almost immediately began to weave into Jake's dream, though Morin was not immediately involved Not too surprisingly Jake translated the Dracon's presence into his own dragonish form, and locked onto one in particular ... that of the Dracon fucking Nathan high in the air, using gravity and maneuvers to intensify each thrust as arms and tail held him tightly They plunged to the ground, roaring their completion Then wide wings snapped out and beat hard to pull them out of the dive just in time, the intense G's pulling another orgasm from them.

Nathan smiled quietly, thinking that this was strangely like daydreaming, and yet more intense because it was shared Feeling strangely satisfied, the tiger-tabby slipped back into real sleep and not surprisingly he dreamed of Jake, flying and sex ... in a fairly dizzying array of combinations.

The next time Nathan drifted to awareness it was to an empty, though still warm, bed and the sticky results of coming in his sleep He could smell the beginnings of breakfast on the table, and heard the shower running in the bathroom.

As much fun as he thought playing in the shower might be, he decided to take the time to run through some basics; checking on Storm, who was asleep, his persona group; who were also asleep and Morin, who was watching Storm Then he started letting more memories sort into place, and decided to see if he could get through the weekend's memories before Jake finished with the shower.

He wasn't the least bit surprised to hear the water, and then the drying jets, turn off well before he was finished, and smiled brightly at his LifeMate when he came into the room.

"You are looking decidedly improved." Jake purred with a real smile "I also found the kitchen, so do you want to deal with hungry, tired or dirty first?"

Nathan grinned "I think tired has been dealt with sufficiently for now, so I think I'll deal with dirty first." He said cheerfully as he headed for the bathroom, stealing a quick kiss as he passed Jake "I could actually get to like morning, if more of them were like this."

"We'll just have to make time for it." Jake got a playful gleam in his eye, "think you could use some help scrubbing your back?"

Nathan smiled playfully back "Now that you mention it, I suppose I could." He shot a playful leer back at his mate before heading into the bathroom.

Jake followed him back into the steam-filled bathroom and watched, considering, as Nathan got the temperature set He calmly took the shampoo bottle away from his mate with a serious grin as they stepped under the spray "Against the wall."

The tiger-tabby quirked an eyebrow at his mate as he complied He wondered what the inventive tom was up to, as he found that the combination of uncertainty and anticipation was a very distinct turn on, on top of the stimulation provided by being in a warm, steamy environment with Jake.

Nathan closed his eyes at his mate's rubbing touch, finding it erotic despite the almost clinical methodology as Jake worked him from ear tips to toes, even the inner ring of his ass was attended to.

He groaned softly as warm, soapy water was pored into his sheath, then the loose skin was massaged to clean the inside, as well as coax his penis out so it could be cleaned of dried semen and days old lube He couldn't hold back the complaining whimper as Jake's hands left his lightly trembling body.

"Shu, love." Jake's voice held the promise of a reward for patience as the shorter tom slid to his knees behind his mate and gently held the tiger-tabby's thick, round tail to one side, against Nathan's thigh.

The Felsin drew a deep breath as two thumbs gently parted his cheeks, exposing him to the Kat kneeling behind him He shuddered with a low cry as he claws dug into the glass tile walls when the slick underside of his mate's tongue traced a light circle along the ring of nerve dense skin.

"*Accept,*" Jake's light mind-touch commanded.

Nathan swallowed and tried to nod as his world rapidly narrowed to the alternating slick and rough caress of his mate's tongue over his anus when something hot and wet enclosed his hard cock, and began to work it expertly He couldn't make himself care about the impossibility of it as a gentle hand on his balls added even more sensation to his overloading brain.

The last thing Nathan was even vaguely aware of was the balls-deep roar his lovers drew from him.

"Hi love," even Jake's voice held the smirk that Nathan eventually focused enough to see "I take it you liked that?"

Nathan grinned happily, not caring how he'd gotten on the bed "A gift for understatement among other things," he said in a bemused voice, before pulling the lean tom into a passionate kiss.

"Good," Jake purred smugly as he snuggled close "You realize you just had a blow job from a female work?"

Nathan looked confused "Huh? Now, I know you were behind me, so unless you've found a way to be in two places at once ..." He stopped, thoroughly confused.

"Ashley was in front of you." He spoke softly "That's why I asked you to accept what was about to happen You were so turned on; I thought it might just work Made her very happy, and one more strike against your programming."

Nathan chuckled quietly "Not to argue, but I was so turned on I barely realized there was someone in front of me, and I certainly didn't know that the person was female." He smiled "Glad I made Ashley happy though, after what Dad and I put her through." He grinned broadly "So we now know that the programming doesn't work if I'm so turned on, that I'm pretty out of it Come to think of it, it wouldn't surprise me if that was part of how Cazi got Ebon and Nareena together the first time."

"I don't think she holds it against you, though I know she still has a hope that you will fuck her just once." Jake's breath caught as his mate teasingly touched erotic hot spots with expert hands "Nareena gave her a hope that just won't die."

Nathan chuckled quietly "There was a time when I would have said that wouldn't happen; but lately, I guess I'll leave it at anything's possible." He purred gently "Do feel free to run experiments like that whenever the mood strikes you." He said in a quiet voice that was equal parts humor and serious.

Jake bit his lip, stopping whatever he was about to say, and turned his attention to grooming his mate's rumbled fur into place.

"Something wrong Jake?" Nate said quietly, having sensed 'something' but not really sure what since he wasn't really trying.

"Nothing wrong ... you just gave me a thought ... that's probably not quite time for yet." He looked up and regarded his mate "Not real sure you realized I'm a bit of a voyeur, yet."

"Voyeur?" Nathan asked, surprised "Nope, that hadn't crossed my mind So how does that relate to this?" He asked, intently curious.

"I, umm, I'd like to watch you and Morin go at it," he blushed through his fur, "for starters."

The tiger-tabby grinned "Now there's something I didn't think I'd see, Jake Clawson blushing." He said, clearly teasing, and caused his mate to blush even harder.

Nathan chuckled broadly "Funny you should say that, I kind of thought it be interesting to watch you with Morin After all, he's more on your experience level in that respect."

The decidedly sexually hungry look he got managed to take Nathan off guard again, and he smiled "Just a pointer for dealing with Dracons on an intimate level: if you're smaller than the Dracon you're interested in, you have to ask him. The Dracon Code of Honor doesn't allow him to ask you; he might hint, but he'll be very restrained about that as well." He chuckled a little more quietly. "But seriously, Morin and I have never actually been together that way."

Jake looked at him quizzically "I thought you were mates, just not LifeMates."

Nathan smiled quietly. "Depends on how you define things Morin and I have been extremely close friends for a long time, he's the one who showed what being friends really means, it was something I'd forgotten.

"But I was ready to have a mate, until after Rhy and I got together And well, Rhy was really uncomfortable with Morin, so my dating Morin was out of the question as long as Rhy and I were LifeMates.

He looked into the distance "Then Storm came into my life, and as Rhy drifted away from me Morin was there more and more Eventually when Storm got really sick, and Rhy went back to Felsinor, Morin started staying with us He was the emotional support I desperately needed, and I would've slept with him then.

"But Morin felt he would be taking advantage of a hurting friend if he did that All the same he was everything a mate, a LifeMate, was supposed to be He even legally, became Storm's uncle In Dracon terms, that meant if anything happened to me, he'd take Storm as his own son."

"It was a sincere heartfelt gesture, and it did wonders for Storm, for awhile What Morin didn't know, and certainly didn't intend ... was that it very nearly made me leave Rhy for good Morin was everything I wanted in a LifeMate but I couldn't have him.

"Then Storm died, and Morin was all that pulled me through He stayed with me the entire time, never asking anything, just being there Eventually, Rhy came back asking me to forgive him, wanting to try and make things work And part of me still loved him enough to try, and of course, when Rhy came back Morin slowly backed off.

"So sex never really worked out, anymore than being LifeMates ever did Funny thing is, he's still waiting, but that's not uncommon for Dracons ... they can be absurdly patient at times Unless I tell him that I don't want him, and that there's no chance of anything ever happening ... he'll wait centuries if he has to, and he won't begrudge it either."

Jake blinked and swallowed before he squirmed up to burry his muzzle against Nathan's neck "You know I don't mind you being with him, even if it doesn't work for the three of us?" There was a subtle urgency in the Kat's tone.

Nathan smiled, and stroked Jake's fur "Thanks Jake, I appreciate that But let's not go assuming it wouldn't work; but I guess the question becomes are you interested in him at all? I'm pretty good at reading him and I know I saw interest in his eyes."

"Yes, he's attractive," Jake nodded easily, "and I don't dislike him ... but ... look, I just don't want to you walk away from a relationship like that because I don't love him." He watched Nathan intently "Just like I have no intention of walking away from Rik, even if you two are never more than passing acquaintances."

Nathan nodded quietly "I think that we have a lot to work out in the real world And Morin and I are Cordraki and that's a life-long relationship even if it never becomes anything else, but I'm glad to hear you say that." He smiled "At least this time we're seeing things the same But this is all speculative, until we're all on the same planet at any rate." He said quietly, happy that at least Jake wouldn't object to his being with Morin ... if that became an issue.

"But we are," the Kat purred playfully "We are on the same world."

Nathan chuckled "Okay, you got me I forgot that at least the three of us are all here in this little world I created for Storm I guess I was thinking of the real world, but there are a lot of options here, makes a wonderful playroom You want me to invite Morin in here?"

Jake regarded him seriously "Do you intend to peruse a relationship beyond Cordraki with him?"

The tiger-tabby sighed "Jake, that's a complicated question ... because there are two levels as it were Since Morin and I have never been sexual partners, that 's something we'll probably explore ... when the opportunity arises This is not really a level beyond, its just part of the relationship we've never explored.

"The level beyond would be LifeMate, and that's more complicated because of certain cultural issues But to put it in perspective, the only thing that would change if we became LifeMates is the level of the bond ... we already mean that much to each other, it's just not 'official' so to speak.

"However, both Felsin and Dracon views on LifeMate bonds don't allow the adding of a third unless both partners in the existing Bond are ready for that.

"But Morin and I can be together without the LifeMate Bond, and I know Morin will be stubborn about things being done properly."

Jake regarded him blankly for a long moment as he tried to translate that into something that made sense "Okay, so all that means you are interested in having a sexual relationship with him, regardless of how specifics work out?"

Nathan chuckled "Yeah, that would be the translation of what I just said." He shook his head "I can't say anything briefly lately."

"It's okay, I'm getting good at paring it down." He grinned "Call him, then, if he wants to come."

Nathan smiled "Okay Just remember what I said about Dracons."

"I will, I'll ask him after you two have gotten acquainted." Jake nodded easily, relaxing against his mate.

He focused across the Bond that Morin had created a long time ago "*Cordraki, if you can tear yourself away from what you're doing, I need to talk to you.*"

"*Of course.*"

There was a knock on the door almost immediately, and Nathan grinned "Okay Morin, you can come in."

The red Dracon entered with his wings caped back "You needed to see me, Nathan?"

Nathan walked over and looked into the Dracon's gold eyes "Morin, we've been Cordraki for years and I do love you I'd like us to become the one thing we haven't been despite the closeness of our relationship, lovers."

The Dracon looked pleasantly surprised "Nathan, I've often wondered if you would ever want that of me, but this is a strange place ..."

"It may be the only place we get for some time, Morin." The tiger-tabby said quietly.

"And I'm not sure it's appropriate to do so, inside a Joining." He objected quietly.

"Morin, Jake and I tossed out the Joining rule book a long time ago."

"And I'm not sure what your mate will make of this." He said, weakly raising another objection.

"I asked him to invite you." Joke broke into the conversation from the bed, watching them both with intently interested amber eyes "I suggested here and now," he stood and walked over to the individual over half again as tall as he was and smiled up at him "And if you find me as ... interesting ... as I find you, I would like to see how compatible we are in bed as well."

Morin grinned broadly, and laughed "Cordraki, I knew there was a reason you had become so bold as to ask me in less than a century's time." He looked down at Jake "Do I find you interesting? That would be putting it mildly But I also find you attractive, and I would be more than willing to find out how compatible we are in bed."

Nathan stood back and smiled happily He was half expecting them to find that they were more compatible with each other in bed then they were with him The tiger-tabby didn't think that would be a bad thing either.

"Good," Jake rumbled deep in his chest and grinned playfully "You and Nate are the near LifeMates, and I'm the voyeur, so you two first ..." he grinned conspiratorially and looked directly at Morin, "or shall we gang up on him?"

Morin grinned and a laugh rumbled deep in his broad chest. "I'm all for ganging up myself, I've always wanted to know how one of these triads worked in bed."

Jake felt a touch on the inside of his leg, and noticed an agile tail teasing its way upward and smashed a sharp sprit of panic before it reached his exterior, but not before both Dracon and Felsin noticed.

Nathan looked at Morin, and then at Jake and Morin's friendly tail "*You okay, Jake?*"

"Yeah," he regarded the quickly withdrawn appendage in confusion "I have no idea what ..." he looked at the Dracon apologetically "Maybe the first plan is a better one for now."

"Of course," Morin covered his own disappointment, and dread, by sweeping Nathan off his feet and depositing him on the bed.

"You can make his brain go off line licking his ass." Jake offered helpfully as he settled in to watch as his LifeMate and his lover explored each other, then sent the truth on a very tight band to Nathan "*I ... trust isn't that strong yet, for him to lead.*"

Nathan sent back comfortingly "*Then get aggressive with him, if you want to, he'll love it And he won't try to initiate again until he's more sure of what you want, he's afraid of having a repeat of what happened with Rhy.*"

"*That won't happen, you trust him too much.*" Jake smiled slightly as he watched the pair kiss intimately for the first time, and rumbled appreciatively at feeling, as well as seeing, the effect on his mate "*And I'm not afraid of him, much less on principle ... just not that relaxed yet.*" He licked his lips and rolled forward to claim his LifeMate's mouth as Morin moved further down the Felsin's chest "*Shu ... just enjoy.*"

Nathan quietly closed his eyes and obeyed without comment, groaning into Jake's mouth as Morin breathed over his strengthening erection He shuddered as the Dracon lifted his legs, rolling his hips up to expose his ass As the distinctively earthy, Sandalwood-laced scent of Morin's arousal drifted up to him he cried out and arched as the Dracon's wide, rough tongue teased his opening, before sliding in, past the first ring of muscle and all thought ceased.

Jake chuckled softly as the look of pure rapture on Nathan's face, and chocked up another advantage to having a third partner; he got to watch that look happen Then he turned his attention to the broad, wine-red scaled head that was causing that look to appear and gave into the growing desire in his own body "*What do you like, Morin?*"

There was a pleased rumble from Morin both physically and mentally He chuckled mentally "*Quite a bit, Jake Do you what you feel comfortable doing, we can work on more elaborate things later.*" He said, sincere The Dracon wanted to get a better feel for the Kat's appetites before he suggested too much.

"Just let me know if I find something you don't like," Jake purred as he caressed Morin's back, and then side ... more taking inventory of what was there than in any erotic intent, though he smiled when stroking the heavy sheath, covered in tiny, soft scales, and the soft skinned, bright pink penis the worked from it, earned him an appreciative rumble.

"*Of course,*" he replied calmly, his mind holding real satisfaction as Nathan shuddered with a roaring howl as he came over his own chest, then collapsed on the bed, panting.

Morin made no resistance as Jake tipped the Dracon's chin up and made an awkward attempt at kissing, unsure quite how to do it with the significantly longer muzzle and facial configuration.

With a mental smile the bigger male shifted and carefully guided the contact as they tasted each other under Nathan's approving, if slightly glazed over, watch He smiled as they parted, the Kat significantly more relaxed.

"Willing to top me?" Jake purred, relaxing on a level that went past physical.

There was a pleased rumble from Morin's chest. "If you're comfortable with that, yes Do you have a position you prefer?" He asked quietly, his hands running through the lean kat's fur.

Nathan watched happily, somewhat drunk on the heavy arousal in the air from his two mates, to say nothing of his own.

"Yes," Jake closed his eyes as sighed before pulling away He slid his body along Nathan's, claiming his LifeMate's mouth as he raised his tail, offering as blatantly as he knew how.

As Nathan engaged Jake in a passionate kiss, he slipped one had between them to encourage the Kat's arousal He was pleased to find, that while his attention were clearly appreciated from the dribble of precum that slicked his fur and pads, it was hardly necessary.

Morin watched the pair as he coated his fingers with lube from the nightstand and carefully stretched the lean Kat As obviously experienced as Jake was from the ease he accepted the first two fingers, the Dracon doubted he'd taken a male as thick as he was recently, and there was no way he'd risk hurting the tom, especially not with the show of trust this was.

Nathan's kiss muffled his mate's low cry of pleasure as Morin entered him, stretching the Kat further than he had been in years Together Felsin and Dracon worked Jake's ass, mouth and cock until Jake was trembling, nearly on the edge They willingly surrendered to the pheromone rich arousal in the air, even as Jake lowered his shields, letting the pleasure his mates were giving him wash over them as well as his body stiffened, riding just on the brink until Morin shifted his angle slightly to press against his prostate.

The Dracon had to exert every ounce of self-control he had to hold himself back until Jake's roar died down, then gratefully surrendered to the building pressure in his own balls He let go with voice and control as he thrust hard into his mate, his roar rising and falling in conjunction with his last few thrusts.

Nathan gently guided the slowly collapsing pile so that all three ended up on the bed, with Jake between Morin and Nathan He leaned over and kissed Morin gently, and then did the same to Jake The tiger-tabby was surprised to find that all this activity actually made him feel more energized than before.

He though quietly to Morin. "*Told you waiting would be worth it.*" His mind voice was both humorous and grateful, and contained the love he felt for the large male.

The thought that came back wasn't very coherent, but definitely agreed with him.

He then lovingly touched his Bond with Jake, as he gently kissed the Kat's neck "*Thank you, love.*" Nate stopped at that, unable to put the gratitude he felt into words He relaxed completely and lay on the bed holding his Mate.

Morin smiled and then kissed the small tom from the opposite side "Ganging up was a wonderful idea, thank you."

Jake made an indistinct gurgling noise, though his though was significantly more coherent, and held a touch of frustrated humor "*So much for the clean sheets, and clean Nate.*"

Morin chuckled deeply and simply lay next to Jake, letting the heat from his higher body temperature soak into the Kat as Nathan grinned broadly, then kissed the tom soundly "*I've had enough 'clean sheets' to last a lifetime, love.*"

"*Well, I like being clean.*" His tone was half whine, half teasing "*Though I have to admit a 'sweaty' Dracon smells fairly good Certainly better than a sweaty Felsin or Kat.*" He teased.

Nathan laughed happily "*I guess it's back to the shower for us, love Or would you like to soak in the whirlpool?*" He said indulgently, clearly way too happy to get upset about anything.

Morin looked at the two of them "As much as I'd love to keep at this, the two of you having something to finish And I'm going to go bother Grandmother about finding out where Aristal is relative to Draconea, I want to try this in the flesh." He said, clearly serious.

"Yes, I like that idea Though sex in here is much better than in the real world, for the most part." Jake rolled over to claim another kiss from Morin "*I look forward to getting to know you well enough to see if we may be a triad.*"

Morin laughed "There is definitely something to that, but fortunately between the three of us, we can probably drop in here without too much trouble, even outside of Joining." He stood up and bent down to kiss Jake then Nathan "*I look forward to it as well, but even if we are not I am still grateful for how happy you make Nathan; it is not an emotion he gets enough of.*" The Dracon slowly faded out, leaving Jake and Nate in the not-clean sheets.

Nathan put an arm around his mate, as he looked at the ceiling "And to think, I had him within arms reach for a year and did nothing." He chuckled as he thought about what he'd said "Seems like par for the course."

"Yes," there was real sadness in Jake voice, "we've all been quite blind ... to think this started with me expecting to rape you." He shuddered, and pulled Nathan close.

Nathan wrapped his arms around the smaller tom "Only 'cause somebody thought to dump us in the same room I know I passed out in Brandy's bed, over at Ameliorate." He smiled slightly "I guess somebody was thinking clearly, I know it wasn't me."

"Her for starters, and Pat, Ka, and who knows who else." Jake sighed softly "It has every sign of being arranged by the entire upper echelon of Cathedral, and most of my squad."

Nathan absently made patterns in Jake's fur with one hand "Well, I can't claim to be upset, not really After all, kept me from making six kinds of idiots of myself I guess we must have convinced them we weren't going to handle things on our own."

"That, love, was blatantly obvious." He chuckled softly "Trust me, everyone on the planet knew, but us.

"To say nothing of a few not on the planet." He smiled "Everyone on the planet huh? New levels of unsubtle, I suppose."

"And stubborn pride," Jake murmured "That whirlpool sounds very good My fur is starting to itch."

Nathan got up, and offered a hand to Jake He chuckled "I figure sooner or later, we'll make it out of this apartment." He said, laughing as they headed for the whirlpool.

"Any reason we'd want to?" Jake's tone was completely serious as he followed.

Nathan nodded as they got into the whirlpool "Pure practicality for one thing, we need to finish the Joining at some point 'cause our physical bodies won't just hang out forever."

"What happens if we don't got back in time?" His tone was completely neutral, even as he sighed in pleasure as the hot, swirling water loosened his fur, letting the silky mass flow gently in the currents and closed his eyes.

"That isn't a concern." Nathan said as he relaxed in the comfortably warm water "Mother will 'move' us along before then, it's part of the facilitator's job Is there some reason you don't want to go back, Jake?" Nathan's tone was concerned.

"Same reason I mentioned going to Alliance space," he sighed contentedly, completely at ease "I'm tired of fighting all the lies in my life there Sometimes, it's easier to do the cowardly thing and run away, then face a problem and fix it I can't even make myself care enough to 'fix' it."

Nathan nodded "If it wasn't for one thing, I'd say we could leave as soon as we got out of Joining space But I am who I am and I can't leave an injured teammate." He said quietly, no hint of blame or accusation.

"Chance," he nodded, not quite surprised, but clearly the tabby's fate occurring to him for the first time "How long do you think that will take?"

Nathan sighed "I wish I knew I'm not a psych-med, as much as I wish I was right now And until I can talk to him, I can't be sure what the damage really is I can't really trust any of my perceptions from the last time I saw him ... I wasn't exactly stable myself."

Jake nodded easily without opening his eyes "Ka and Shereth could do a lot to help They're Jedi, and Shereth's a skilled healer Heron's a Darshar, if that means anything to you She's our MO for a reason." He opened his eyes to look at Nathan "I'll help any way I can."

Nathan nodded "Thanks, but I'll need to handle it myself at least to start I'm probably the only person who can talk to him about it, without forcing him to 'reveal' anything. I'm the only person he probably thinks knows what happened." Nathan sighed "Part of the problem is that pride is all that's holding him together, but it's also what'll keep him from talking about it."

He looked at Jake "Darshar? That sounds distantly familiar, but I can't place it Heron was the Gargoyle, right?"

"Yes," he nodded easily and closed his eyes again with a soft sigh "They're a highly magical breed ... the ancestor-type of the Gargoyles you knew A rouge group were what created me, or at least ordered it They are very powerful, easily on pare with the Jedi, and the older females can be much stronger."

The tiger-tabby nodded quietly "I'll keep that in mind, but I need to assess the situation myself first But that'll wait till we finish here." He said calmly and quietly.

Jake nodded his acceptance and dropped all discussion, content to lounge in the same water as Nathan.

"I suppose we should finish the tour with Storm ... and get back to Joining." Jake sighed and leaned forward for a soft kiss before pulling himself out of the water.

Nathan smiled, as he pulled himself out of the water and joined his mate in the air jets to dry "He'll appreciate that He's very proud of the station, and he's totally thrilled to have 'real' people to show it to But he especially wants you to see it; you've become very important to him."

"He's made quite an impression on me too, on a lot of levels." Jake smiled a little wistfully "So have you ..." he shook his head, "you have any idea how much we've changed in the last few hours?"

"Enough that if I was back home they'd insist on redoing my command psych eval." He grinned slightly "But seriously, everything I read said that Joining was an experience that changed one, especially when two 'paths were involved ... but I think we've gone even beyond that."

"I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm a telepath ..." He shivered "I never liked telepaths, too easy to control others."

Nathan kissed hi mate gently "As the Jedi would put it, that's just the Dark side of telepathy You haven't been exposed to the Light side, the telepathic healers ... I've seen a lot of people get a second chance at life where conventional psychotherapy wouldn't have worked." He paused "Just be careful about the bit about telepaths, Storm is one and he might take that the wrong way."

"He's family ...." Jake regarded his mate in confusion "like you."

Nathan smiled "I know that, Jake But kits don't always realize that a general comment doesn't include family...especially Storm who's had some difficulties in the past because he's different." He gently kissed the confused tom "That's why I warned you, didn't want you to walk into it accidentally."

"Okay, I'll be careful." He nodded, still not completely sure of why, but willing to comply.

Nathan sighed "I think we may have some explaining to do, when we get out of here." He shook his head "Of course, when I hit tiger mode Sunday morning I knew I was in for a transformative period I'd gone from no shapeshift ability to two forms in under forty-eight hours."

"Yeah, I can see the 'I'm in for it now' value in that." He murmured and quickly finished drying off, and dressed in his civilian jeans and collared shirt.

The tiger-tabby nodded as he finished drying off, and shifted to the light gray medic fatigues "Especially when shapeshift abilities never emerge that late in life."

As they exited the quarters into the hallway, they got 'tackled' by a small white blur with wings Storm grinned up at both of them. "Hi, Dads."

Nathan reached down to hug the little tiger affectionately "Hi yourself, Storm Glad to see you're in a good mood."

"Up for giving me that tour, before we head back to Joining space?" Jake smiled at the kitten.

Storm beamed happily "Sure, follow me." He said brightly as he headed down the hallway, followed by the two adults.

The kitten insisted on covering the entirety of the station, briefly describing things at a rapid pace, and leaving Nathan to explain any of the basics of an Medic Orbital Command Center, that Jake asked about At one point, Storm ran off for a moment to 'check something', leaving the adults to wait.

"I haven't seen him this animated in a long time." Nathan smiled "In case it wasn't clear this is actually a trimmed-down version of the real Gildenfire station The actual station is significantly larger than Cathedral, with a population to match It's the sector HQ for the Alliance Medic Corps and a command I'm likely to have at some point ... at such time as I get back."

Jake nodded absently; not even bothering to fake interest without Storm present, though he seemed genially interested enough with the kit around.

Storm came gliding back momentarily "Sorry 'bout that had to check something."

The tour went without further interruption, though Nathan wasn't paying a lot of attention, after all he'd designed it and more importantly Storm was showing off for Jake's benefit He didn't mind, he was glad they were getting along so well, he was just well, a tad bored Fortunately, he'd had to sit through more than a few presentations by Generals so he'd gotten good at looking interested when he wasn't.

They eventually reached the door to the Aerodome Storm smiled happily at Jake "This is the best part of the whole station." He exclaimed as he led them in.

Nathan noted a significantly higher moisture content in the Aerodome than usual, and managed to erect a Force-bubble around the three of them just before a large water balloon impacted, spraying warm water everywhere.

Nathan laughed and looked around "Keltin's claws! What was that?"

A grinning Marauder peeked out from behind one of the few bushes large enough for him to hide behind "Marauder playing." He said happily.

Nathan rolled his eyes "So I see, Marauder." He grinned amusedly.

NightClaw walked out from behind the same bush "Sorry about that boss, I didn't know he was targeting you I figured it was probably Rifleman or one of the others."

"Rifleman? Okay, NC what are you up to?" He quirked an eyebrow.

"Well, Morin told me to keep Marauder entertained So I came up with the idea of a kind of war-game, only using water weapons instead of real ones Well, Marauder got into and started throwing Marauder-sized water grenades." The warrior was grinning ear to ear.

"And you need more players so you borrowed the NightBlades." He looked around "Hunter playing?" He asked hopefully.

"Nope, he was sulking last time I saw him."

There was a blur of olive-green, a surprised shout from Storm and a lot of giggling from a rolling pile of olive and white As the pile came to a rolling stop, Storm was on top of Rick "Got 'ya this time 'ya silly 'Goyle."

"Okay, this time Just let me up, okay?"

"Sure." He led the little gargoyle over to Jake "Father Jake, this is Rick, one of my oldest friends Rick, this is Jake Clawson, my new dad." The little tiger said proudly.

The gargoyle put out a hand "New dad, Storm? Cool Nice to meet you, Jake."

"Nice to meet you too, Rik." He shook the little Gargoyle's hand, though he couldn't quite take his eyes off him, a mixture of confusion and fascination about him.

Nathan picked up on the confusion quickly "*Something wrong, Jake? You seem a little out of it.*"

"*I didn't know Gargoyles ... okay, I knew ... but I've only really met Darshar ... he looks ... odd ... to me, for a Gargoyle Names are rather disconcerting too.*"

"*He is a little odd looking for a Gargoyle, but he's the smartest of the ones I know Though I always thought the big canine one was odder looking, he doesn't even wings.*"

"*He's just a guard beast.*"

"*The names are courtesy of Storm, who got confused with them not having names, so he split the name he does use in half and gave half to each of them.*" He smiled mentally "*Actually, the only Gargoyle I ever knew who actually had a name was Goliath, and that was the humans of Castle Wyvern called him They don't normally use names, at least that's what I was told.*"

"*'Nother difference Darshar have names, like most people.*"

Just then a larger reddish gargoyle swooped in and landed "Hi Nathan, Hiya Storm Who's the new Kat?" He asked curiously.

"I was wondering when you'd show up, Pat." Storm said, grinning "Jake, this is Pat my other oldest friend Pat, this is Jake Clawson, my new dad."

"Hi, Pat." He offered his hand.

"Glad to meet you, Jake Hey Storm, this is like the fourth outside person today, what's up?" The gargoyle shook Jake's offered hand, while turning to look at Storm.

"Nothing big, Pat They're just getting Joined, and I guess Ashley's part of that too And I think stealth dragon's just trying to keep everybody else out of trouble." He laughed happily.

"Joined? Oh, you mean like married? Well, that's pretty cool You up for water-war?"

"Maybe later, Pat After my dads get back to what they're doing."

"Stealth Dragon?" Jake chuckled "He must have quite a job with this mob running around."

Nathan chuckled "Yeah, my nickname for Morin He asked how he could help things along, so I told him to keep this group out of trouble." Nathan grinned "He groaned and said he was hoping I'd ask for something easy like bringing a starship this way, since he thought it sounded like we both wanted a vacation off planet."

"*Don't we?*" Jake actually sounded concerned.

Nathan considered. "*Well the last time he and I talked about it, I wasn't really sure if you were comfortable with leaving the planet or not And I didn't want to presume that you were.*"


He smiled "*Mind you, it wouldn't entirely surprise me if there was a ship already on its way Morin's Grandmother may have decided to send us the 'vacation' as a Joining present.*"

"*Umm, if she can do that ... why are you still here after a year?*"

Nathan looked confused. "*Honestly, I don't know It's entirely possible that she couldn't find me, until the crisis spilled over the link between Storm and Morin Or for all I know, there's something larger going on involving the Spirit Court that I don't know about It's a big universe to try and find one missing Felsin in.*"

Jake nodded and focused back on Storm, who'd picked up that he parents were having a private conversation "Sorry, kit." He ruffled the tiger's hair "You were introducing your friends?"

Storm smiled "Well you just met the two important ones ... they've been here since Dad built the station, along with Defender, who you probably already met." He grinned "Other people come and go occasionally and right now NightClaw's got the NightBlades plus a few more Gargoyles playing water-war, and everybody's getting really wet Hunter's off sulking somewhere, 'cause Felsira won't let him play blaster tag like he wants to." The kit said animatedly.

Nathan smiled slightly "Blaster tag isn't appropriate during Joining Maybe later." He said darkly.

Storm giggled "That's just what Hunter said."

"Why don't you go play," Jake smiled in a way he hoped showed he was perfectly willing to be distracted further. "Once Nate and I finish with Joining, we can start to work on getting you a real body."

Storm grinned and wrapped his arms around Jake's neck in a tight hug "Okay, thanks father Jake." He then quickly bounded over to Nathan, who lifted him up into a hug "Okay Dad, I'll bug stealth dragon, you two better get back."

Nathan grinned and kissed the kit on the forehead "Right, and who knows between me and Jake, we might get your real body done in time for your birthday."

Storm grinned ear to ear. "That'd be cool." He said as he grabbed a water pistol and went looking for trouble.

Nathan turned to Jake "Ready to head back?"

He nodded, and followed Nathan into the halls "When's his birthday ... it'd would be his fifth, right?"

"Fifth or ninth, depending on how you look at it."

"Which do you two go by?"

"Ninth, it's the closest match to his mental age and it was a close approximation of his physical age." Nathan thought for a moment "It's not quite a year from now ... his birthday was Friday." He said quietly, as they headed back toward the docking ring.

"Humph, that'll be as easy as anything Amerith took less than a year." He turned to look at his mate, raw hatred in his eyes "*Just a note Hunter is not welcome to Feral.*" Jake growled stubbornly as they walked to the exit "*If he's guilty, the bastard betrayed *me* first His life is *mine*.*"

Nathan growled equally stubbornly. "*IF? Fine, have your doubts But I know what I saw, felt, smelled, heard and blessed Mother ... tasted Even the psychic residue on the mask was right I have no doubts.*"

"*You haven't checked into the reality of SWAT very well then.*" Jake snapped, bristling "*I don't doubt Chance was raped But I'm not so convinced it's as simple as it looks If it is that cut and dry, it'll be a first.*"

Nathan bristled equally. "*If I haven't its because I figured I'd been told the reality, which I realize isn't even close to being the case.*" As angry as he was getting he bit his tongue and shielded what he was really thinking This wasn't supposed to be happening.

Jake actually stopped dead and stared at him "Before today, why would I tell you anything that wasn't necessary for you to know?"

Nathan sighed "A foolish mistake of mine I'm afraid, I didn't realize how cheap the word team is on this planet Translation is such a dicey thing, even when you think you know the local language you just can't be sure."

"It's as cheep as those involved make it." He growled softly, starting to shake "You kept some damn important things from me, when I asked At least I never lied to you."

"Such as?" He said quietly.

"Such as when I asked what 'teammate' meant to you, what I meant to you." He gave up trying to control the hurt and anger bubbling to the surface "You never said a word about it being normal for teammates to be lovers, even though you knew Chance and I were Never hinted that was an option."

Nathan shook his head "Based on all the damage and anger I saw, I didn't think it was an option Things were barely holding together as it was.

"It didn't have to be that way."

"As for it being normal, it's not normal for me I'd never had a teammate as a lover I'd never had anyone but Rhy."

Jake started to say something, then shut his jaw in confusion and let it go "I didn't even know that." He dropped his eyes to the floor "You never said you gave a damn about me, beyond being a Medic."

"That's only because you weren't paying attention." Nathan sighed "Maybe I didn't explain it well enough, but I don't use the word 'friend' casually or with very many people But I did tell you that I considered you my friend, and that was as close as I could get to the word 'love' for a long time."

"Just like Chance is my 'friend'?" He spat "It never stopped him, or Pat, or anyone else from taking what they wanted Never stopped him from using you against me." He looked up slightly "I never wanted to be your 'friend' Nathan It was just all I was offered ... and you ... you meant too much for me to challenge your choice."

Nathan shook his head "Like I said 'friend' means a lot more to me, but I didn't explain it As for Chance using me, I'm not sure what you're talking about but it was nothing I would've put up with if I'd known." He sighed "And I guess I never realized you wanted more from me than friendship Granted that at least part of that was because I felt guilty about what I was feeling, so soon after Rhy's death." He looked up tiredly "Neither one of us is very good about letting others know what we want, but if you'd paid attention to what I did you might have noticed just how damn protective I was of you, always was."

"You're protective of everyone, Nathan." Jake spoke softly "I ... you didn't treat me any different from Chance, or anyone else I saw you around Maybe I was the only one that cried in your lap, but I dare you to tell me you wouldn't comfort anyone who came to you for it Care is part of your nature."

"You really weren't paying attention, I did treat you different I always looked after you first ... and other people noticed, even if you didn't I can't deny that caring is part of my nature, but I've always cared more about you...even when it was difficult for me to admit it to myself."

Nathan sighed deeply, missing a flicker of mixed hope and hate flash across Jake's face "Did it ever occur to you that just maybe your obsession with Chance, might make others think they wouldn't even be able to get noticed by you?" Nathan's shoulders shook a little "That's what I thought before today."

"You weren't paying much attention either, then." Jake shuddered, sick in the pit of his stomach "Why would I refuse you, considering how many lovers I've had in the last year? Did you actually miss how many times I came back smelling of another, or spoke of this mate or another? I've never been monogamous It's not in my nature, or upbringing Chance and I fought over our dating habits often enough."

"I guess I never quite understood, but if I had noticed that wouldn't have changed anything, if you were with that many I would have figured your not saying anything meant you weren't interested."

"You'd just lost a LifeMate!" Jake nearly exploded in undisguised horror "What kind of ... of ... creature goes after a new widow?"

Nathan shook his head "I'm not claiming that I was completely logical about it, but most places I've been someone who was interested would have said something, well not right away, but certainly after six months ... if they were really interested."

"Six months?" Jake looked truly stunned "Have someone remind me to get the hell out of Alliance space when you die I ... god, don't even want to go there ...."

The tiger-tabby concentrated, and things dropped back into Joining-space abruptly, amongst the junk piles of the Salvage Yard. "If we're going to argue the past, and what we should've done, and didn't; this is more appropriate, besides I don't want this spilling over onto Storm." He said resignedly and sat down tiredly and looked at Jake "I know I took too long, to admit I loved you both to myself and to you And I'm sorry if I hurt you by doing that I just didn't think you cared.

"I couldn't say anything because I'd convinced myself that the only way I could continue to patch things up, was to stay not-sleeping with either of you, because to admit how I really felt would be to give up the neutrality which I thought I needed to have any credibility as a mediator No matter what I wanted, I did what I thought was best for the team Right or wrong, that's how I do things ... no matter the cost to me personally.

"For what it's worth, I didn't think you were interested so I didn't figure my not showing how I felt affected you."

Jake finally dropped to the ground, laughing with a hysterical edge on it "We are quite the pair, aren't we?" He shook his head before a low sob escaped "How many more of these are we in for, I wonder?"

Nathan got up, walked over to Jake, sat down and put his arm around his mate pulling him close "As long as we're together it doesn't matter."

Abruptly the salvage yard dissolved to the familiar main parking complex at Cathedral.

"No," Jake whispered before shivering and letting the memory go forward "I never did get over this one."


"Jake," the petite white CO of PumaDyne Cathedral stopped her second in command as he entered the underground city-complex, "your new pilot is waiting in your sleeping quarters."

"I have a pilot." He didn't even blink at her.

"Not one that can fly a PsiJet." She reminded him firmly "Patrik's a good kid, and *exactly* what you desire Just go talk to him Amerith already likes him."

"That is cheating." He grumbled as they walked towards to lift to his quarters.

"No, it's making sure you give him a fair chance." She shot back with a smirk "A good deal of effort went into him, and I have no intention of letting you toss him away without a fair hearing."

"Hate I you sometimes." He growled low in his throat.

"So does everyone." She shrugged as he entered the lift, smiling at his back.


Jake set his jaw as he tagged the lock on his door, not completely sure what Pat had done, but quite determined not to like it.

"Oh, hi, Jake." A light, male voice greeted him from a lean ball of black and white fluff that stood from his desk.

"You're a fighter pilot?' He didn't have to fake the incredulous tone as he glared that a kitten that was even smaller and lighter than he was "You're what, thirteen, fourteen?"

"If you want to get technical about it, I'm about 26 hours." He cocked his head at the one he'd been created for "Age is irrelevant with a genetic creation, you know that."

"Like hell it isn't." Jake snapped, his ears flat and teeth barred "You're a cruddy kitten!"

"So?" He stepped into Jake's personal space and looked up "I'm a fine pilot, and everything you've been searching for." He purred wantonly and rose to his toes to claim a hungry kiss and slid his arms around the older toms neck.

Jake felt his gut rolled over as every other part of him eagerly respond to the blatant advance and yanked himself out of the embrace He barely felt the strike as his hand impacted Patrik's face, or registered the halls as he stormed from his sleeping quarters, to his private ones.


"Hell of a start to a relationship, hu?" Jake spoke quietly as the scene froze.

"Yeah." Nathan said quietly "But it was one hell of lousy setup Not really fair to either of you And who taught Rik his opening line? That was just awful." He said briefly, determined to keep his mouth shut.

Jake hesitated a moment before swallowing and giving up "Marquis did tell the truth on one thing didn't he ... you'll forgive me anything?" He actually sounded more afraid than anything.

Nathan sighed "Well, not anything but you'd have to work at it to hit something I wouldn't forgive But don't work at it, okay? Most of it would be stuff Marquis would do, now that you mention him." He shrugged slightly "I guess love does that to you."

Jake nodded very uneasily, hoping for something else to come up, and get him out of the reminders of his worst mistakes.

Instead, the world shifted to the murky, not-quite-real reality of a dreamscape The arousal ... need ... pleasure, desire ... the mixture of the kind of sex he had with Nathan those first few times before they Joined was heavy in the air.

But the object of that need wasn't getting nearly the tender treatment the Felsin had received ... the level of raw domination radiating from the dream-Jake as he pounded Patrik's ass was unlike anything he'd shown his LifeMate.

Without a break they were standing in the Black Phoenix hanger, though it was significantly emptier than the one Nathan had seen The knowledge that four months had passed drifted between them as Jake shivered and tried to look away as a black, TurboKat-like jet Nathan didn't recognize was caught in the kinetic net and slowed to a halt.

Jake, in a basic Cathedral flight suit, jumped down, quickly followed by the younger Patrik They were both clearly jazzed from the flight, though in the background was Jake's guilty acknowledgement that it wasn't in him to deny that this kitten was his pilot any more, and Pat had been right. He was perfect ... young, but still perfect.

So when he responded a little more intensely than usual to the petite tom's after mission kiss, he earned a curious look, and another, slower kiss.

"Change your mind?" Patrik asked quietly as he pressed close, almost instantly keying into the shift in his partner's reaction He barely waited for the weak nod before sliding his hands along Jake's butt, his breathing already increased.

With a low whimper the Jake standing next to Nathan squeezed his eyes closed against the memory and refused to acknowledge it was happening, much less that he was getting turned on by it as he sank to the floor, pulled his knees to his chest and cringed.

But it didn't stop it from playing for Nathan as the pair undressed, Patrik taking the lead until he was rubbing his naked body against Jake's fur, then the older tom took over, his ability to restrain himself breaking.

But it wasn't a repeat of the dream ... not really He did dominate the smaller tom, but with the lusty growls and half-voiced demands made it obvious enough to Nathan that Patrik was getting what he wanted, even as he felt the sharply familiar feel of a bond beginning to form between the pair.

The scene stilled after they had both came hard Then Patrik spooned happily against Jake's chest on the floor as they recovered their breath, still joined together, neither of them apparently intending to move for a while.

Nathan quietly knelt and put his arm around Jake, pulling the trembling Kat close He sent gentle reassurance across their bond, and spoke very gently "Love, you finally accepted him the way he wanted, had wanted for months So why are you so hard on yourself about it? You made him very happy by accepting him as he was meant to be There was no harm in that." He gently kissed his mate's cheek, and waited for him to come around.

"*Haven't a fuckin' clue.*" He finally answered, unable to make his voice work "*I ... I can't accept it ... not even sure it's anything about him anymore I know it's nothing involving logic.*"

Nathan looked concerned, but continued hold the upset tom close trying to reassure him He thought very gently. "*If it's not about him what is it about, love?*"

"*How should I know?*" There was a touch of testiness in his mind-voice before he controlled himself and mentally sighed "*I've made all sorts of mistakes, none of the others make me sick like this once I've accepted it.*"

Nathan continued to send reassurance "*I think part of the problem may be that you're not entirely accepting it.*" He paused. "*You accept Rik the way he is, but you continue to question yourself for doing so.*" He put strong reassurance behind his voice "*You need to stop rejecting yourself over this, it's quite obvious that you wouldn't do anything with anyone that young other than Rik You wouldn't even accept him until he tried for four months to win your acceptance.*"

The tiger-tabby moved around to face the unhappy tom "*Understand this Jake, I've accepted you as a father to my son If I thought you were the way you accuse yourself of being, I wouldn't have done that.*"

Jake nodded weakly "*Easy to say, harder to believe, harder still to accept.*" He finally looked up, more confused than anything "Here's the thing ... I don't know why I have a problem with it I sure as hell wasn't raised to care about age, I didn't really ... I mean, I've accepted advances, and made a few of my own ... not quite that young, but still ... I was ten and Pat thirteen our first time." He shook his head "Hell, not even Ashley thinks it's wrong, and she has a problem with kittens and sex." He sighed dejectedly and closed his eyes "Just so damn tired of fighting."

Nathan moved back around so he could take Jake in his arms, and just hold him He wasn't entirely sure what the problem was and that bothered him He gently stroked his mate's hair trying to comfort him He thought about something, and thought it was a possibility "Love, is it possible that your problem is because the way Rik was 'given' to you by Pat, stirs memories of how Erra was given to V'Feri? That ended tragically, maybe subconsciously you're afraid of something similar happening with Rik."

"And how I was given to her," he whispered "Possible, yes Just like I may be resenting the lack of choice he had, and I had There was never any doubt I'd give in eventually; she knew what she was doing Or resenting him for giving me a way out ... a reason not to put every effort into getting things to work with Chance Take your pick." He sighed against Nathan's shoulder "I'm sure there's more."

Nathan nodded "I don't think you need any more, love. That's quite enough to explain any problem But I think what you need to do, is let go of the background issues and just accept what you have with Rik on its own merits." He put up a hand to block an expected objection "I know, easy to say, and it is But as someone pointed out to me, just because it's easy to say doesn't make it any less right."

"Eventually," Jake murmured as he sagged against his LifeMate's support, utterly exhausted "Eventually."

Nathan sighed as he recognized the scene of himself waiting at a table in a small nightclub, sipping at a glass of water.

He looked at Jake "Last night on Felsinor." He said simply before the scene took over.

The blonde female puma checked the note again as she walked into the small nightclub She wasn't sure which she found stranger, the choice of meeting place or the person who had sent it But when a newly appointed Sector Commander asked for a private meeting it seemed a good idea to find out what he wanted.

She tapped a waiter's shoulder to get his attention.

The black leopard turned to face her. "Yes, ma'am?" He said spotting her rank insignia.

"I'm looking for Colonel Solgardin." She said quietly.

"Of course, ma'am This way." He said professionally.

The reddish-brown Tiger Felsin stood up to meet her "Thank you for coming, Counselor I wasn't sure if you would." He pulled a chair out for her, pushing it in as she sat down.

"Sparkling water." She said simply to the waiter.

"Yes, ma'am." He hurried away.

"Why here and not my office, Colonel?" She asked quietly as he sat back down.

"Nathan, if you please."

"Only if you call me Cerise." She said coyly.

"You have a deal And what I need to talk to you about I'd like to keep unofficial ... for the moment." He said hesitantly.

Her ears perked up. "You're resigning?" She guessed, it was probably the number one reason for 'unofficial' conversations.

"Hmm." He looked confused. "No, nothing like that It's personal."

"Oh, I see." She sipped at the water the waiter had set down quietly. "Having problems with Rhymar?" She asked, remembering all the sessions she'd been through with the two getting them back together."

He nodded quietly "I need to know how difficult it will be to get divorced How difficult it will be on both of us." He said quietly.

"Both of you?" She asked quietly "I take it you still care about him then?"

"I don't want to hurt him, if that's what you mean." He sipped at his water "I just don't think I can live with him anymore."

"I see What brought on the sudden change?"

"I want to be a father again." He sighed deeply "And after Storm ... I can't trust him that way again."

The puma sighed "Nathan, this is serious. I really think we need to talk in my office, in the morning."

He shook his head "There isn't time. I ship out to Alphard Command in the morning, I just want to know what's involved."

"Does Rhymar know?"

"About my wanting another child, probably About my wanting a divorce, no ... not yet. I want to understand what's involved before I tell him."

"I see."


The scene paused, as Nathan slumped a little. "I didn't have the courage to tell him it was over, I had to hold secret meetings in night clubs to try and find the courage."

"Sometimes that's what it takes, being given permission to do what we need to." Jake sighed and held Nathan, though he was using the bigger Felsin for support too.

"Maybe." Nathan said, not entirely convinced.


The scene shifted to a moderate-sized bedroom, which showed all the signs of being moved out of, including two footlockers open against one wall A small male Jaguar lay nude on his stomach reading a databoard, his tail twitching in apparent impatience.

He looked up as the door opened and Nathan walked in, and began stripping down for bed "You're late, Nathan. I was beginning to worry." He said quietly.

"Personnel briefing ran later than expected." Nathan said quietly while taking off his boots.

"I missed you." The jaguar said leaning on the tiger-tabby's back.

Nathan turned and kissed him. "Missed you too, Rhy."

Rhymar pulled the larger tom down on to the bed, on top of him. "I finished packing, so we have the rest of the night to ourselves." He said leering at his mate.

The medic sighed "Rhy, we have to be at the dock at 0530, we should get some sleep."

"We can sleep on the transport." He said teasing at his mate's nipples with his fingers.

"Rhy, I've had a long day of meetings. I'm not really in the mood."

"Let me work on that." The little jaguar said running his hands up the inside of Nathan's thighs When he realized he wasn't getting any response he laid back and sighed "I guess I'm trying to forget about moving."

Nathan lay quietly looking at the ceiling, as he realized the argument that was about to start again. "Rhy, we've covered this already You don't have to come with me You could stay here, we're you're more comfortable."

"Pfah. I want to be with you, but why can't you get an assignment closer."

"Because I've only been a Colonel a week, the closer assignments are held by people with more time in rank."

"But they're not as talented." The jaguar said petulantly.

"Rhy, talent is only part of how things work in the military."

"That's stupid."

Nathan rolled and looked away, tired of trying to explain the facts of military assignments.


There was another pause Nathan felt a little sick "He was trying so hard, and I just didn't feel anything." He looked at the ground, feeling tired.

Jake nuzzled his mate comfortingly "It happens, when you fall out of love."

Nathan sighed "Is that what it was? I just thought there was something wrong with me."

"Not likely If it was something wrong with you, you wouldn't be here now."

As Rhymar slept peacefully, Nathan tossed and twitched, clearly agitated, sweating profusely.

The scene became unfocused for a moment, and then somewhat foggy almost dreamlike.

Nathan looked around not recognizing the foggy, cavernous environment Then he saw Rhymar a distance away and heard the 'crack' of a weapon shot He saw blood spurt from Rhymar's chest as he fell.

"No!" He screamed, as he ran toward the wounded jaguar Off to one side he could see another small figure lying on the ground, but it hardly registered.

When he reached Rhymar, he couldn't find a pulse and his mate's breathing had stopped ... and then he felt the Bond shatter He screamed incoherently as he collapsed on top his dead mate.

"Do you have time for that?" A sultry female voice said "You have another patient."

The word 'patient' reached past the death-grief to Nathan's medic-self, and he looked up Standing before him was hooded and robed female figure, beyond her was the small figure he'd seen before.

Somewhat automatically he walked over and began tending to the badly injured tom "Who is he?" He asked the mysterious figure.

"You're future mate." She said evenly.

"That's absurd, I can't take a new mate, Rhy just died."

"Did he?"

Nathan looked around and something clicked. "A dream ... I guess not But I still can't take another mate, unless Rhy was comfortable with him." He said as if that ended the discussion.

"Not if Rhy's dead And you're free like you want to be."

Nathan growled low and dangerous "I don't want him dead I still care for him."

"But you don't love him, and you do want to leave him."

"I don't know, but I don't want to hurt him."

"Dying would be a briefer pain then divorce."

"I'd never hurt him. I can't."

"But you wouldn't be sorry if he was dead."

Nathan turned, eyes blazing. "Yes, I would be He doesn't deserve that."

The female figure sat down on a rock that appeared out of the fog She looked at him with glowing, crystal blue eyes that seemed to go right through him "Be honest with yourself, is he really what you want in a mate?"

"Mostly." Nathan said uneasily.

"Hmm ... What do you want in a tom?"

Nathan thought about something he'd never really thought about before. "Intelligence, creativity, good looks, smaller than me."

"Smaller than you? That's interesting."

"I like to feel protective, even if my mate doesn't need my protection, it's nice to think that maybe he does."

"Oh, no dominance issue then."

Nathan glared at her "No." He said flatly with his ears back.

"Rhy seems to cover all of those, so what's the problem?"

"I need to able to honest about who I am, need someone who understands the charge one gets from combat, danger, that sort of thing."

She nodded. "I begin to see a problem, Rhy's combat shy and certainly no adrenalin addict And I take you don't think he could handle you being Ebon's son."

"He's afraid of genetic creations, he'd never be able to handle it."

"That's probably true There's something else though, something more important ... isn't there?"

Nathan sat down and sobbed quietly "I need someone who can accept Storm, better still someone who'd be willing to be his father as well."

The female figure walked up next to him "It's not as hopeless as you think, he exists and you'll find him in time But there is a cost you realize." She faded away.

Nathan founded himself back looking at Rhy, as the blood spurted from the jaguar's chest.

He sobbed quietly "I'm sorry, Rhy. I wish things worked out different."

Nathan sat up suddenly in bed, sweat dripping down his forehead Rhymar turned and looked at him "You okay, love? You haven't been sleeping well the last few nights ... are you sure about this move?" He said hopefully.

The tiger tabby sighed in frustration and got him and looked out the window, he shivered slightly "Yes, Rhy I'm sure You don't have to come, you know There's no reason you couldn't stay back here with your consulting practice We both get enough vacation that we be able to see each other regularly until I got an assignment closer in."

The jaguar looked at him "We've been through this, Nathan I want to be with you, not seeing you on weekends and vacations like I'm nothing more than your boyfriend We're LifeMates, we're supposed to be together."

"I guess." Nathan said, wondering where this insistence on being together had been when Storm had been dying.

The scene paused Nathan shook his head quietly "I knew he shouldn't come, but he wouldn't listen." He felt a knot in his stomach "I should have tried harder, but part of me wanted the freedom the dream promised even though I knew it was wrong."

"Were you ever Rhy's master?" Jake asked softly, trying very hard to keep his own grip on 'reality' in some order This he wasn't ready for "He'd chosen to come, why deny him his choice?"

"Master?" He shook his head. "No, that's not me But I knew what was going to happen, he didn't I told myself that he was an adult, had to make his own decisions ... but I knew that he wouldn't survive the trip." He sobbed quietly "I was supposed to protect him, but I didn't The part of me that wanted to be free, was strong enough to weaken the resolve I should've had."

The tiger-tabby's scent became tinged by deep guilt "He died because he followed me, because I didn't try hard enough to stop him."

Jake fell silent for a very long time, trying to understand this concept of being responsible for a mate doing what he should, by following "He made his choice ... and he made the right one for what he was Even as a Medic he must have understood there was some danger involved in following you around."

Nathan nodded "He didn't follow me into combat situations, I mean he wasn't qualified, but he always was as close as possible."

He sighed "I just wanted him not to for once I mean he had no problems leaving me when I needed him, why couldn't he stay behind when I didn't?" The bitterness and pain became evident in the medic's voice, scent and the tension in his frame.

Jake tried to comfort his mate, against his own growing fight-reflex "I can think of a few, none of which you're going to like."

"Huh?" Nathan looked up, a little confused.

"They say more about me, than him." Jake hedged "I don't know him well enough ...."

Nathan sighed quietly "I don't think I did either.

"I never should've gotten back together with him after Storm died, if I hadn't he be safely somewhere else, alive But despite all that happened I was willing to try one more time when he came back to me ... because I couldn't hurt him by saying no."

"And I've quite sure he knew that." Jake tried very hard not to let his growing dislike of the dead Jaguar show.

"I'm not sure I actually ever stopped loving him ... it was just the trust wasn't there anymore And besides, Storm needed me."

"Nathan," he gently forced the tiger-tom to look at him "There is nothing wrong with still loving someone you leave because you can't trust them anymore." He leaned forward for a tentative, warming kiss "*It happens People change, they find out about each other Sometimes it just doesn't work.*" Lifetimes worth of loves left because the bad outweighed the good floated in the background of that statement.

Nathan nodded reluctantly, still uncertain. "I guess, it's probably easier to understand if you actually have something to go on I didn't."

"*Neither did I, when I left Chance I just knew I had to.*"

"It would've been easier if I hadn't had counselors telling me that go back with him was the right thing to do; that it was the best way to deal with my grief ... and so on.

"Why couldn't just one of them see that it wasn't going to work out, before it ended up killing Rhy?" The tiger-tabby sobbed quietly "Maybe I couldn't be with him anymore, but blessed Mother I never wanted him dead ... I didn't even want him hurt."

Jake did his best to hold Nathan, soothing him despite it wasn't what his instincts were telling him to do "And if I had been stronger, things would have never gone so far with Chance I never wanted to hurt him either, and doubt he wanted to hurt me, but it *happened*, and happened once too often for both of us." He spoke softly "*It doesn't matter what I still feel for him, I want it over with, any way I have to.*"

Nathan became very quiet, as he carefully avoided thinking anything This was running smackdab into a subject he'd forbidden himself to even think about until after the Joining was over But still it just wasn't as easy to keep those shields in place.

For long moments things simply hung in place as though suspended between ticks of a clock. The scene seemed to be moving, but the movement had become glacial in its slowness.

"Nate?" Jake looked between the Felsin and the scene "I just said something, didn't I?"

Nathan felt trapped On the one hand he didn't want to discuss this now but it went against his nature to outright lie to Jake He stared at the scene willing it to move, to change ... anything to change the subject.

As the scene refused to change, Nathan found himself caught, frozen between two actions he desperately didn't want The internal tension shot up rapidly and Nathan felt like he was going to tear apart caught between as he was.

And then the scene 'shattered' as though it had been a stained glass window that someone had just tossed a large rock through.

There was a moment of shimmering, swirling chaotic darkness that somehow wasn't entirely dark, but didn't have light either In the middle of the darkness was one light space, which appeared to be the inside of jail cell, or ship's brig A bruised, dirty and battered Nathan was sitting on the floor holding Rhymar's head in his lap.

"Shu, Rhy Things will be okay, the Alliance will find us soon."

Rhy coughed and groaned "How can you be sure?"

"Just trust me, Rhy. They will."


Suddenly a glowing mist filled the cell, and the scene blanked out, leaving Jake and Nathan hanging in the strange swirling darkness Somewhere in the distance they could see a vague light, and hear muffled voices but they couldn't get any closer to it.

"Bet you'd like to see what's actually going on." Marquis' voice commented from the darkness.

When they looked Jake and Nathan could see him, sitting on laboratory bench in a NightBlade uniform, and not wearing his mask.

"Not particularly," Jake shrugged, the honest lack of caring on the subject easy to read.

Nathan sighed thinking that this was not what he had in mind by change of subject "What are you playing at Marquis?" He said evenly "Didn't get enough last time?"

Marquis put up his hands. "Whoa, Whoa I'm not here for a fight, Nathan." He paused. "Look, I hate you, you hate me. That's just the way our relationship works but this isn't about that.

"What it's about is the one thing we both hate, being used by others And this time we we're both used by the same group I knew what was going on but they lied to me They assured me that the dragon, V'Feri I guess his name is, was comatose from emotional damage ... something to do with a broken lifebond was what they said And Keltin's Claws, they never mentioned the Dolphin psi-assassin, and that just burns me ... they were using both of us.

"Look, I know you've got know reason to trust me Hellfire, I wouldn't if I were you But this time I'm on the level 'cause I want to stick it to the bastards for double-crossing me and I'd think you'd be interested in dealing with them ... at least before they come up with an even more creative way to try and eliminate your new LifeMate."

He sat on the table calmly looking at the two of them, waiting to see what would happen.

Nathan turned to Jake "*I think I find him more disturbing when he's being polite like this.*"

"*There are worse things He can't show us anything we wouldn't eventually learn, and that will prove or disprove.*" Jake shrugged "If you want to play show and tell Marquis, go for it." He cocked his head at his mate's polar opposite "Just now badly do you want to get even?"

Marquis smiled quirkily. "Bad enough that I'm willing to be polite, and as Nathan can tell you that doesn't happen normally At any rate, I can't get even unless he does 'cause he's got the physical body ... and I don't see that changing any time soon."

"Okay, let's put things in perspective Those Mephits that kidnapped Nathan and Rhymar, weren't doing it on there own ... they were hired mercenaries.

"I don't know what they were paid, but it must have been pretty good The little buggers don't work cheap.

"It was supposed to be a pretty good deal for me too, since they said I'd end up with permanent control of the physical body They said their little operation would end up trashing him, something about irreconcilable psychic trauma Beats me, it sounded good at the time.

"I'm no genetic engineer, but I guess they were going to majorly expand the physical body's shapeshift capabilities which I thought sounded majorly cool I mean an assassin with free-form transformation at the genetic level, totally unstoppable.

"They also had to release a few genetic locks that were holding back our psi-potential, that was supposed to make Marauder the perfect weapon to take out their renegade agent Apparently, whoever these employers are, they're trying to correct what they consider an outstanding problem.

He looked at Nathan "How did you manage to stop Marauder anyway? Once I gave him independence he should have taken the Dolphin apart as the first threat he saw."

Nathan grinned in amusement "I'd already talked to Marauder and told him he wasn't allowed to hurt Jake under any circumstances Marauder recognized Surin as Jake and did as I told him; he's a good kit really.

Marquis looked poleaxed "Marauder? A good kit? Nathan, I do believe you finally lost it Marauder is an engineered psychic destroyer, not a lost kitten."

Jake actually snickered at the look of stunned shock "Until he was given a life of his own That comes with a few things that don't come when he was just a partial personality, like he was."

Despite the amusement apparent in his mate, Nathan could feel the carefully shielded knot in the pit of Jake's gut.

Nathan carefully shielded his Bond with Jake. "*What's wrong, Jake? I can feel something's bothering you.*"

"*I have a pretty good idea where this is going, and it's a bad thing Let him talk.*"

Marquis looked dubious "I suppose All I know is that he was supposed to be a destructive engine capable of eliminating the problem Of course, all the others weren't supposed to become real at the same time ... it was only supposed to be me.

"Of course, the dragon and the dolphin weren't factored in ... and there was no expectation that you'd actually Join with the target I mean when they said you'd fall for him immediately, I brought it up ... I know how you are But they said, he wouldn't be able to handle a LifeBond, prior damage supposedly was blocking that.

"I was supposed to trigger Marauder after the chimera activated which would have allowed Marauder to take real-world form where his destructive psychokinetics would have been sufficient, supposedly.

"I wonder if the chimeric elements will actually work or not Well, if you start having problems with form stability you'll know why." Marquis got a strange look on his face "Given your problem with females, I wonder what would happen if you turned into one? What happens if one is turned off by one self?

"Less trouble than being turned off by your LifeMate." Jake supplied quietly "Have you seen who set this up?"

"'Fraid not Whoever he was, was damn careful about sticking to shadows where I couldn't see him I say 'him', cause I heard his voice a few times It was deep, powerful and distinctly male I think he had wings, 'cause I heard a rustle that sounded like wind across leather wings ... sort of like the Mephits only bigger.

"The big clue I've got I can't do anything with, but Nathan might be able to Try throwing this past Xander and see what he makes of it I saw this glowing in the dark just after I woke up from the 'modifications' procedure Quite frankly, be grateful you don't remember that ... it hurt like hellfire.

Marquis closed his eyes and concentrated Suddenly, floating in mid-air, glowing scripts and runes appeared.

Nathan looked at them "Meaningless to me Ever seen the like, Jake?"

"Yes," his jaw locked as the kind of hatred only centuries of careful tending could produce flickered into a very palatable aura "Damn fool."

Marquis lost his composure and vanished completely into the mists and shadows of Nathan's mind He didn't want that hatred pointed at him What he faced before was bad enough, and this was much colder.

Nathan looked at his mate "Umm Now that he's gone, do you think you could tell me what's going on here? I think I'm out of the loop on this one." He said, feeling extremely nervous, even bordering on frightened.

"Remember how I was created?" He forced the rage back under control as Nathan nodded "And now I left them?"

"I remember several mentions of rebelling against former masters, yeah ... and this relates how?" Nathan asked, getting a very strong feeling he didn't really want to know.

"That was Darshar magic ... specifically Tartirin's." He spat the name "She headed the group that created me Even if Marques is lying, he's got some damn interesting info to back it up from somewhere, and more than enough to remind her just why they let us walk in the first place.

"The pathetic thing is, she's nearly immortal ... all she had to do was wait for me to die I was never a threat, until now."

Nathan looked bemused "So my evil twin has been making deals with near immortals to try and get control?" Nathan shook his head "I knew he'd work with anybody, I guess he finally found somebody to pull one over on him."

"No, Nathan He made a deal with a fallen god." He growled as he tried very hard to settle himself until it was time to let that rage loose "Tartirin is nearly as powerful as the entire Triad."

Nathan shook his head "Well, that was a definite bonehead maneuver on his part Lovely, at the rate things are going we're going to need the whole Spirit Court before matters are settled."

"No," Jake shook his head "I can take her out, and what we have can deal with her minions, it just comes with a high price."

Nathan looked at Jake seriously "And just what would this high price be, exactly?"

Jake chuckled "I have to let go of this form, and the one I want Face her on her own ground ... with the extras she gave me The price is if I haven't assimilated yet ... I'll have to do it *fast*." He slid his arms around Nathan's Neck and kissed the tiger-tabby thoroughly "*She won't come, or even try again, until she is sure this attempt has failed We have a few years.*"

Nathan nodded and decided to let it go for now "Magic huh? I'll bet that glowing writing was invisible to most But I've probably got just enough of Cazi's CyberWizard genetics to be able to see the magic energy.

"Bet whoever was pulling the strings, doesn't know that Marquis saw that writing ... he probably wasn't supposed to."

"Probably not, though what he said proved it wasn't expected to matter After all, it wasn't like he'd have told me if things hadn't gone so wrong with the plan And what he was told is nearly a perfect match for what she knew of me when I walked away to start a new life."

Nathan looked into the darkness "I'm really beginning to think a division or two of Dracon Marines would be a wonderful thing to have around."

"Honestly, Black Phoenix and the Triad have much better odds against her." Jake got himself mostly under control "I'm sorry if I scared you."

Nathan chuckled weakly "I'm still a little shaky I think That would explain the 'problem' that Felsira fixed earlier ... she must have caught the chimeric elements trying to activate." An annoyed looked crossed his face "I rather resent being re-engineered like that."

All of the sudden Nathan chuckled "I think one evil tripped another up this time I'll bet the intense psychic spin the mask impressions put on my system derailed things just enough After all, the mask would have created something like Marauder, so it must have modified him somewhat, and of course my metamorphics came on-line, which they shouldn't have."

Nathan sat down feeling a bit exhausted "Just when I thought things couldn't get any stranger ..." He thought quietly "*I guess even evil occasionally turns to some good ... it did bring us together.*" There was a distinct 'purr' in the tiger-tabby's voice.

"Yes," Jake settled in his mate's lap and held him, not even fudging about how hungry he was for his mate's touch, and purred as he was embraced, then his face groomed "*Love you, Nate.*" His mind voice included all the fear, affection, desire, rage, hopelessness, defeat, hope and everything else the last few days encompassed.

"*And I love you, Jake.*" Nathan responded with a hungry kiss, even as the back of his mind wondered if the roller coaster would ever stop and let him off.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3         Part 4         Part 5         Part 6         Part 7        

A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 5 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

219 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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