PLAYING WITH KNIVES

By Shayenne and Cassatt

Disclaimer: Paramount owns them, but Cassatt owns Martis.

Rated PG-13

Author's Note from Cassatt:  My many, many humble thanks are given to Shayenne for her willingness to co-write this chapter.  As always, it was a completely enjoyable collaborative writing experience.  Thank you, Shayenne, for this and for so much more.   And to my S.O. - this one's for you.


Graphic by Cassatt

Captain Janeway signaled to Harry to end the transmission. She flicked a glance at her first officer, standing at the tactical station. "Chakotay?"

"The cargo bay is clear, Captain. The telepaths are all in transporter suspension. B'Elanna is erasing the transporter logs now."

"Good." The captain opened a ship-wide link. "All hands, this is the captain. We will shortly be boarded by another Devore inspection team. Please give them your usual cooperation." She moved over to her chair.

From his position at tactical, Chakotay thought she appeared very calm. Her hands on the padded supports were relaxed, her legs crossed in her normal fashion. Looking at her, one would never know that she was engaged in a deadly game of cat and mouse. His gaze moved to Tom. Tom's shoulders were stiff, worry evident in every tense line. Chakotay shared that worry -- all the crew did -- but Tom's set posture would surely alert the Devore inspection teams, who were used to reading the unspoken, silent secrets in the body language of alien crews.

"Relax, Tom," he muttered under his breath, silently willing his lover to recover his normal careless poise.

He heard the familiar whine of a teleporter. The Devore were here, and getting more confident, more aggressive with each inspection. This was the first time that they had materialized directly onto the bridge. Chakotay stole another glance at Tom. He needn't have worried. Tom lolled at the conn, his arms behind his head, legs stretched in front of him, the very picture of relaxed insolence.

Inspector Kashyk and his second, Prax, materialized directly in front of the captain. "Captain Janeway." The oiled dark-silk voice contained amusement as well as contempt. "Once again, I have the pleasure of visiting you. Please..." The inspector held up a gloved hand. "Do not get up to greet me."

"Inspector Kashyk, we meet again. What is this - the third time you have inspected my ship?" Janeway's voice was smooth. Chakotay heard the subtle lowering of pitch. Kathryn's voice was whiskey-dark and smoky, no trace of nervousness in her well-modulated tones.

"The third time," Kashyk agreed.

"And the last, I hope." No trace of irritation colored the captain's tones.

Kashyk walked up to the command seats in the center of the bridge. For a brief moment Chakotay met his eyes. A slight smile crooked the thin lips and the inspector appeared to be hiding his amusement. Then the contact was broken as Kashyk turned his attention to the captain. "Well, that depends on you, Captain."

"You know by now we're not hiding any telepaths." Kathryn brushed an imaginary piece of lint from the black pants of her uniform and met the dark eyes calmly.

"So you say," the inspector agreed. "But I have a few questions for you." He raised his voice slightly, projecting it to carry to the far corners of the bridge. "Crew, step away from your stations."

Chakotay closed the open link and stepped away from tactical. He watched the bridge crew each take two paces away from their stations, a smartly executed maneuver. In front of him, Tom drew in his sprawling limbs and uncoiled himself to his full height. His movements were slower, ragged around the edges, not the swift, snapping to attention that the Devore expected. Tom's game was a dangerous one; walking the line between insolence and defiance, drawing the Devore's attention, diverting some of their concentration onto himself.

"Prax, take the bridge crew away. Keep a close eye on them."

Prax motioned with his weapon towards the turbolift. Chakotay saw Kathryn give a subtle nod of agreement, but she made no move to join them. He hesitated, waiting for a non-verbal cue from her as to what he should do. Tom too, was slouching slowly towards the 'lift.

"Captain, if you and the commander will remain behind."

"We were not going anywhere." Again, the even controlled tones. "The commander and I will remain on the bridge."

A vague wisp of premonition flitted across Chakotay's mind. The inspector was restrained and contemptuous, just like before, but this time there was an underlying edge to his words. Knowledge withheld; Chakotay could read it in the twist of the sensual lips, the flick of a fingernail against his thigh.

Tom still lingered. "Captain," he began. "I should remain at the helm..." He didn't meet Chakotay's eyes, but Chakotay knew that Tom wanted to stay and play his part at diverting the Devores' attention.

"No." Kathryn stared fixedly ahead. "Do as the inspector asks. The commander can take the helm for the duration of the inspection."

"Very well, Captain." Tom left the bridge without a backward glance, resisting Prax's attempts to hurry him into the 'lift with the rest of the bridge crew.

Kashyk remained staring at the lift after the doors closed. "An interesting man, Lieutenant Paris," he mused, seemingly to himself. "So young, such fire and passion. He would be an interesting... subject." He turned back to Kathryn, his eyes running with practiced insolence up and down her body. "Maybe you already know his predilections, Captain. After all, a captain as fine as yourself can have her pick of her crew."

Kathryn remained silent, not rising to the deliberate ploy. Kashyk studied her for a moment longer, his eyes lingering on the hidden curves of breast and hip, smoothed to a unisex shape by the loose uniform.

"Commander, please. Resume your seat." He gestured to the empty chair on Kathryn's left.

Chakotay took his seat, feigning a nonchalance he didn't feel. Kashyk's comments about Tom and the predatory look in his eyes as he faced off against Kathryn, had the fine hairs on the back of his neck prickling into awareness. He sent silent support to his lover, hoping that Tom would carry off his dangerous game with his usual aplomb. They were playing for higher stakes this time. Voyager carried a group of Brenari - a telepathic race who were routinely rounded up by the Devore, who had a pathological distrust of telepathic races in general, and the Brenari in particular. No telepaths were allowed in Devore space.

Chakotay had been slightly surprised at Kathryn's willingness to flout the Prime Directive to transport the Brenari to the rendezvous with their ship. But coming as it did, hot on the heels of the Monean incident, he supposed that she still felt the need to show that she would take a stand when necessary. She had called him into her ready room and explained what she intended to do. His token protest had been cut abruptly short, when she reminded him that Voyager's own complement of telepaths would also be in danger. Tuvok, Vorik, Suder, and Martis would all have to remain hidden with the Brenari. That reasoning hadn't entirely explained why she was willing to do the transport, in his mind, but he'd kept quiet. He had been too worried about the safety of his daughter.

Her plan was a simple one. When the Devore inspection teams notified of their imminent boarding, the telepaths would be placed in transporter suspension for the duration of the inspection. It was risky -- the longer they remained in suspension the great the risk of molecular decomposition -- but there was no other way. Kathryn had been very direct with him, telling him that the risk was greater for the children, and for Martis.

But he had agreed. They had no other option. And now, for the third time, he watched his captain play a dangerous bluffing game with the alien inspector.

Kashyk leaned back against the conn, his long leather-clad legs stretched out in front of him. "I've had a chance to review the ship's database a little better since we last met." He raised his voice slightly. "Computer, play musical selection Mahler Symphony Number One." The complex musical themes swelled to fill the uneasy silence. "One of your selections I believe, Kathryn."

"I prefer Tchaikovsky."

"A little unsubtle for my tastes." Kashyk pushed himself away from the conn and moved to stand in front of the captain. "I also had a chance to review your crew listings. There seems to be a few members unaccounted for."

"Oh?" Kathryn arched an eyebrow. "You better inform me who they are. We don't allow anyone on this ship to not pull their weight."

"I can imagine, Captain. You run a tight ship. You have to, so far from home, so many unfriendly species out there, so many enemies..."

"We are peaceful, unless provoked." Her slim fingers curled slightly into the padded armrest. Chakotay watched the slight tremor. This was the fine edge they were all walking now. One misstep, one inadvertent revelation, by gesture or word and Voyager's journey home would be cut short. The Devore impounded ships that disobeyed their laws and sent their crews to detention centers. A euphemism for concentration camps, Chakotay was very sure about that, without needing to be told.

"Tuvok, Vorik - they are Vulcans. Suder and Stadi are Betazoid. Where are they now?" The words were quietly said, but no less deadly in their intent.

"They are all dead." Kathryn's reply was terse. "Stadi died when we were pulled into the Delta Quadrant. Suder, Tuvok, and Vorik were killed in a shuttle crash a couple of months ago."

"I'm sorry, Captain." Kashyk's mouth curled. "Their... convenient... deaths must have been a great loss to you."

"It was. They are missed." She faced him calmly.

"How lucky for you. If they had not died when they did, they would have put your entire ship and crew at risk. Still. Let us talk of more pleasant matters."

Chakotay's skin crawled with sudden premonition. He knew the talk of the telepaths wasn't the main reason Kashyk had delayed the two of them on the bridge. He waited with sickening certainty for the blow to fall.

Kashyk appeared to be in no hurry. He pulled off one of his dark leather gloves. Chakotay's gaze was caught by those unnaturally white fingers. Pale, ghostlike fingerlings of flesh. Puffy and plump, they didn't appear to belong to the rest of his body. He suppressed a shudder as a sudden image of those white fingers, crawling with deliberate intent over his flesh, superimposed itself on his vision. Kashyk snapped the glove against his thigh.

"I've been worrying about you, Captain." The tone was patently false. "So alone out here. Who do you turn to in your quiet hours? Who holds you through the long nights, stroking that fragile body of yours? Whose fingers dance over your skin?" The tone was seductive, mesmerizing, and the words so close to the phantom images in Chakotay's own head that for a panicky moment he wondered who really was the telepath around here.

"It must be hard for you. Wanting what... who... you can't have."

"I'm content." Kathryn's answer was short.

"Are you? Are you really? Do you lie alone in your quarters, dreaming of a golden body over yours? Or do you accept a substitute, one of the firm young bodies on your crew? They wouldn't refuse their captain anything. Most of them, those muscled lithe males, those sweetly curved females... any of them would pleasure their captain, if only she asked." Kashyk loomed over her, his hands on either side of the chair, one soft white hand, one cruel black gloved hand, both pushing into the padded armrests. He leaned closer to Kathryn. "I think you remain alone. Dreaming of your first officer. Wanting his tawny body to cover yours, his thick fat cock to push into you..."

"That's enough." Chakotay couldn't let this continue. He made to rise, to face off against the Devore, but Kashyk moved with panther swiftness, pressing him back in his chair, leaning over him so close that Chakotay could feel the hot metallic breath on his face, see the uneven skin tones on his cheek.

"Does she know how you spend your nights, Commander? Does she know whose sweet and pale body knows your loving?"

The words dropped into the heavy, dragging tension on the bridge. They crawled over Chakotay's skin, their insinuations coloring his perceptions. Kashyk the wordsmith, Kashyk the master. They raised shadowy images of dark sex and fierce copulation. The heated bloodlust of male arousal, unrestrained fucking, games of power and control. He knew that Kashyk wanted Tom, he had seen it in the eyes that followed Tom's slouching figure off the bridge, and the knowledge grew when he saw the avid look as Kashyk talked of Tom's pale skin. And Chakotay knew too that he wanted Kathryn, that was evident in his predatory gaze as he stared at the captain in her chair.

"The commander's personal life is his own, Inspector." Kathryn rose from her chair and moved to stand behind Chakotay's. She rested her hands on his shoulders and he felt the reassurance of her touch. 'I'm here for you,' her touch conveyed. 'Don't let him get to you. We'll get through this, together.'

Kashyk straightened. His gaze was level, assessing. "So protective of those you love, mama-captain. Maybe you want both of them. The pale-skinned pilot and his golden lover-boy. Maybe the sounds of their lovemaking, through those thin walls, turn you on, so that you writhe and twist in your lonely bed, longing for their plundering hands and sweet mouths on your own body."

Kathryn chuckled, a ripple of pure amusement. "You really don't know me very well, do you, Kashyk? I'm pleased my friends are happy. But if you think I'm pining away for anyone you are sadly mistaken. My own tastes are... a little different than most." A subtle squeeze of Chakotay's shoulder, and she moved out from behind his chair.

He watched the russet wing of her hair as she flicked it back drawing herself up to her full height. He watched her as she moved confidently into Kashyk's space, placing a hand on his chest -- a gesture she had done so often to him, and to those she was close to. Her fingers curled loosely against the smooth leather of his tunic. From where Chakotay sat, it was almost a caress.

She was so close to him that their toes touched. If she swayed forward, if his hips thrust towards her in brazen mimicry of the sexual act, they would be touching, their lower bodies aligned, fused. She straightened the stiff collar of Kashyk's uniform and deliberately scratched his neck with her short, square nails. The marks stood out lividly, even against the flush creeping over his skin. "You don't know what I like." With a final scrape of her nails she whirled and walked away to retake her chair.

Chakotay found his breathing was shallow. The sound of Kashyk's breath was loud and fast and the marks on his neck faded slowly. He put up his ungloved hand and caught the single drop of blood on his finger and brought it to his mouth, sucking it off. "Maybe I do know, Kathryn. I think you've just shown me."

To Chakotay, the words held an underlay of promise, an anticipation of pleasures swift and feral. The vibrations between the pair were palpable in the air that surrounded them.

Kashyk jerked away and his laughter shattered the hung tension. "It seems my source was wrong about certain elements, here on Voyager," he said.

Kathryn's eyes met Chakotay's briefly, and he could read her puzzlement; it matched his own. Source? That implied a spy, here on the ship.

"Commander, come with me."

Chakotay hesitated, uncertain where this sudden twist was going. He stood slowly, and Kashyk cupped a solicitous hand underneath his elbow, drawing him towards the ready room.

"I think it's time you reacquainted yourself with an old... friend."

The anticipation in his voice had Chakotay's heart rate jumping. So much menace and glee in his tones. There was no doubt in his mind that Voyager's spy awaited them in the ready room.

Kashyk steered him towards the door. Over his shoulder he said, "Kathryn, my dear. I think you should come too."

The doors opened and Kashyk ushered him inside. "I hope you don't mind if I watch your lovers' reunion."

The figure behind the desk rose, and for one fractured moment he thought he would faint; disgrace himself in front of her, his captain, and their torturer by falling in a crumpled heap on the ready room floor. The stunned expression on Kathryn's face told him that he wasn't hallucinating. He took a deep breath to quell the sudden surge of nausea, then another to slow his pounding heart. The roaring in his ears faded, and he knew he would have to be very, very careful.

"Seska. I can't say it's a pleasure to see you again, but it is a surprise."

Seska moved around the desk. He noted her appearance; the high Cardassian forehead, and the long, stringy hair. All traces of the Bajoran woman he had once bedded were gone. She crossed to Kashyk, entwining herself around him, fitting herself into his side. One thin hand rested on his chest, toying with the buttons of his uniform. Briefly Chakotay thought of Kathryn's hand, resting on that same chest, with the same intent. Unconsciously he moved closer to the captain.

Seska watched through narrowed eyes. "Still the gentleman, Chakotay? Protecting your little captain. Worshipping her from afar, letting her remain on her lonely, lofty pedestal, keeping her at arm's length if she dares presume too much, or come to close."

"Hardly. We're friends, good friends. You've always known that. Stop trying to twist it into something it's not."

Seska's eyes flickered to Kathryn, then back to Chakotay. Her mouth twisted up, mocking contempt in her smile. "So you're still with Tom, your lover, are you? Doesn't the captain have something to say about that? Two of her senior staff shacked up together?"

"You're covering old ground, Seska." Kathryn's voice held the crack of authority. "Why don't you tell us what you're doing here, and what you want. Dalby reported you dead."

"Obviously, I'm not. Dear Dalby should learn to take a pulse before he reports back to you. I escaped your teams, stole a Kazon shuttle and commenced my own journey towards the Alpha Quadrant. I joined with the Devore a few months ago. And when I heard that Voyager wanted to cross Devore space, well, let's just say the opportunity was too good to pass up. I worked hard to join Inspector Kashyk's team, I provided him with certain information that he found very interesting. And now, it's time for my payback."

"Which is what, exactly?" Chakotay strove to keep his voice level.

Seska studied him. "You'd love to know," she purred. "My prize, in exchange for information about Voyager, is something that I want badly. Very badly. And to get it, all I have to do is tell him where you've concealed, not only the telepathic members of your crew, but the Brenari that we know you're hiding."

"We've been inspected before. There are no telepaths on board..." Chakotay's words were cut off by her uplifted hand.

"Spare us the histrionics, please. They're here on board. When I give the word, they will be rounded up and imprisoned by the Devore. Voyager will be impounded, and you, lover, will be left with the rest of your crew on a pleasant little barely-M class planet a few light years from here. You'll be cold, you'll be hungry and the indigenous viruses will probably claim a few dozen of you, but most of you will survive long enough to be truly miserable. Your precious captain probably won't last long -- she isn't tough enough for those conditions -- but you, Chakotay. I'm sure you'll live to an unhappy old age." She paused, and her eyes narrowed. "Of course, I might be persuaded to offer you another option. Return to me and my bed. You always were the best. If you were suitably repentant, I might be persuaded to take you back."

"I don't think so." Chakotay watched her, taking in her words, but assessing her for a weakness. Her façade was impenetrable, and the united front that she and Kashyk presented reinforced this. If she was indeed the Devore's lover, as she obviously wanted him to believe, then it was likely she had the controlling hand. But Seska's eyes weren't on the Devore; Chakotay felt pinned by her hungry gaze. And Kashyk was staring at Kathryn.

Abruptly Seska seemed to tire of her game. "As you wish. But it's your loss, Chakotay. If you change your mind I might be tempted to extend my offer. If you are suitably persuasive, of course." She whirled back to Kashyk. "Inspector, tell your men to check Voyager's transporter logs. Look closely for missing or fabricated logs. The telepaths are there, hidden in transporter suspension." Kashyk moved away from her, and summoned Prax. A whispered conversation, and Prax was hurrying out of the door.

"Wait," Seska halted him. "Round up Voyager's crew and put them all in the cargo bay. Now that we have the proof of their duplicity we have no further need for them."

Prax nodded once in acknowledgement and strode out.

Seska returned to sit behind the desk. Her eyes flickered once over Janeway, then returned to Chakotay. "You're very lucky that you know me, " she said. She pulled open one of the desk drawers, rifling through the contents. Out of the corner of his eye, Chakotay watched Kathryn's impassive face.

Seska pulled out a Vulcan meditation candle and dropped it disdainfully on the floor, crushing it under her boot. "Yes. Transporting telepaths through Devore space is a serious offence. Many crews who do so are impounded in prison colonies. Others unaccountably never arrive there. It's only my irrational feelings for some of this crew that are giving you the freedom of a planet. You loved me once, that has to count for something. B'Elanna thought she was my friend, Harry was... kind to me." Her laugh appeared forced. "Poor Harry. But he has a sort of puppyish appeal."

"And the telepaths? What will happen to them?" Chakotay forced the words out through his closed throat.

Seska studied him, consideringly. "I didn't realize you were that fond of Tuvok. Why do you care what happens to him? And you do care... I know you, lover. I can read the tremble in your hand, your nervous fingering of your collar. You care, and badly."

Chakotay consciously loosened his tight muscles, feigning a relaxed state. It was hard, he could feel his belly rigid under the turtleneck, knew that his leg muscles were wound tight as he controlled the impulse to spring at Seska and wrap his hands around her neck.

Seska accessed the terminal on the desk. And her smile grew. "But of course," she whispered. "Your precious Martis is telepathic. She's in suspension with the others. Kes' wonderchild -- such a pity she carries Paris' DNA and not your own. "

"What precisely do you mean by that?" Kathryn's voice cracked across the room, cutting through the buzzing in his head that said that surely this couldn't be real, that surely he was misinterpreting Seska's malevolent interest in the child.

Seska turned glittering eyes on the captain. "Nothing. Merely an observation that it was an unusual choice. Surely there were more suitable donors on board? Chakotay, for example."

"The decision was Kes's to make." Chakotay envied Kathryn's apparent calm. Even a passing interest in Martis was more then he could handle from Seska.

"Indeed," Kashyk's tones were smooth and his eyes never left the captain. Abruptly he seemed to tire of his game. "The telepaths will go directly to one of our penal colonies. They are no longer your concern. Forget the child. Come captain, commander. I have things I must do." His weapon prodded Chakotay in the back. "If you wouldn't mind walking this way."

The cargo bay was empty apart from themselves. As soon as the doors closed, leaving them alone, Kathryn turned urgently to Chakotay. "Listen to me. This might be our only chance to talk. I have a plan of sorts." She started to pace, and he watched her tense figure as she walked restlessly back and forth in front of him. "They are going to put us all in here. I want you to work on Seska -- she will be back to gloat if nothing else. Try and overpower her, or disable her in someway. I'll distract Kashyk." For the first time she looked at him directly. "He's interested in me, Chakotay. I can turn that to our advantage. He'll need my codes to take control of the ship successfully, so he'll be back for me, using that as an excuse. He's the more dangerous one. Seska, for all her bluff and malevolence, is more likely to be swayed by her emotions. If we can organize our crew to be prepared for a fight, and if you can take care of Seska then there is a chance this might work." She smiled wryly. "You have the harder job."

"Kathryn..." He grabbed at her arm to stop her pacing. Putting a hand under her chin, he forced her to meet his eyes. For a moment he was silent, searching her face, trying to read her feelings. "You don't have to do this," he said quietly. "We'll find another way. You needn't be the price of our freedom."

"Ah, Chakotay." Gently she touched his cheek. "You do look out for me, my friend, don't you? You know me so well, yet at times you don't know me at all." Her eyes slid away from his. "I don't trust him, not in the least, but he does attract me. This won't be a hardship. It will be dangerous, but this elemental flirtation is something I've missed. You have Tom. I don't have a lover on board, and I think it unlikely that I ever will. But this way, I'll have some small pleasures."

He caught the vibrant edge of anticipation in her voice, and fancied he could smell the sharp scent of her arousal. It was difficult for her, that he knew. She was a woman, even as she subdued it under the uniform, and she would have a woman's urges. "Be careful, Kathryn. He's dangerous."

She nodded once. "I know. And thank you."

Thank you for not trying to stop me. He felt the subtext in her words.

She caught his hand and pressed his fingers gently. "Try not to worry about Martis. She'll be safe. I won't let Kashyk or Seska get their hands on her."

"I know you won't." He suppressed the worry he felt, a parent's concern. "Kathryn... we need to let all the crew in on the plan, they need to be prepared."

She nodded, and for a moment longer they remained close together, gaining comfort and reassurance in each other's presence, and the bond of trust between them.

* * *

The cargo bay doors opened to the sounds of Voyager's crew being herded in like so many cattle. The low rumble of barely contained anger actually heartened Chakotay. The remaining senior staff were in front, and Tom, in the lead, headed directly for him. He quickly looked to the guards, to see if they were around, observing movements and interactions. The Devore walked out, uninterested in anything, apparently, other than those people who were hiding. The doors shut behind them just as Tom reached his side.

In any other circumstances, on duty in front of the entire crew, Chakotay would have kept his professional distance, and Tom would have, too. But he needed to take a moment, just a moment, and hold him. Tom knew it and came into his arms silently. There were no white, plump fingers touching his lover, only his strong, bronze hands, clutching Tom's waist, and shoulder blades, and finally soft hair.

"Chak," said Tom quietly in his ear, "what the hell is happening?"

He understood what the real question was. "She'll be fine, Tom, fine ," he whispered. "We have no intention of handing this ship over to them. And I'll be damned if I let anything happen to our daughter."

Tom held him closer. "You and I both know what we'll do, but...," Tom's soft voice faltered. He cleared his throat. "But if it happens, I just have to tell you, that I love you..." Again he stopped abruptly.

Chakotay's knees felt weak. "Tom. I've never doubted that."

"Yes, you have." Tom's smile could be heard, and Chakotay loved him all the more for it.

"Yes, I have, but I no longer do. I love you, too." There were no more questions for either of them. His lover was right. They both knew what they'd do. Their deaths would be worth it, if their child survived.

Over Tom's shoulder, Chakotay saw other couples move together, some embracing, some merely holding hands. Greg approached with Ken to stand with the senior staff. The temporary Chief of Security placed a possessive and comforting arm across Harry's shoulders, both making clear eye contact with their captain, who nodded. Ken stood with B'Elanna, holding her hand tightly, encouraging her to relax, and be ready. Chakotay let go of Tom and joined them.

Kathryn began to speak, and after telling everyone that Seska was back there was a full ten seconds of complete and utter stillness as the shock set in. Then the rumble began again, but before it could really gather force, Chakotay barked out an order for quiet. Silence was the response.

The captain explained most of the plan. Chakotay felt Tom's hand jerk in his when he heard that Seska was to be led on, made to believe that he wanted her, would go along with her desires. He turned, to see Tom's eyes betray a hint of jealousy, and hurt.

Kathryn said to them alone, "We will do what's necessary, Tom, to make sure Martis and the others are safe. Whatever is necessary."

"Yes, Captain," Tom replied, taking a deep breath, pressing Chakotay's palm with his. "I'm ready." She acknowledged him with a slight dip of her head.

Chakotay watched as his superior officer told her crew the final part - that she would distract Kashyk. She said nothing more than those words, and unlike Tom, she betrayed none of her feelings. He took a deep breath of his own.

The rumble was laced with electricity this time. The crew had a plan, and as they talked it over amongst themselves, he walked with Tom at his side, reassuring them all that it would work. That they were more than capable of taking the ship back. After making the rounds, he and Tom returned to the center of the group and sat with their closest friends. Waiting.

It was hard to measure the passing of time in the darkened cargo bay. Illumination was low, and after the first initial rumblings from the crew as everyone was brought into the plan, for the most part people settled down to rest as best they could. Some slumped against the wall, others lay spooned together on the hard floor. Chakotay sat, his back against the wall, and watched his lover sleep. Tom's chest rose and fell in an even rhythm, his legs were crossed at the ankle and his hands clasped on his chest. The posture was one of death, of repose, and Chakotay put out a hand to touch Tom's leg, desperate for the warmth of the living man.

One blue eye opened a crack. "It's okay, Chak." Odd that now Tom was the one offering reassurance. "Get some rest." His hand shot out and fastened around Chakotay's wrist, tugging him gently.

Chakotay looked over to where Kathryn was squatting down, talking to some of the engineering crew. Even from this distance, the dark smudges underneath her eyes were visible.

"Just a moment." With his eyes, Chakotay indicated the captain.

"Only a moment, then I'm coming for you." Tom's voice was as lazy as if they were comfortably in their quarters, wrangling amicably over who would get up to get the glasses of water from the replicator. Chakotay envied him his ability to relax, even if he thought most of it was a front. Tom too, was playing his part for the crew.

Standing, he moved over to where Kathryn was chatting quietly. "Captain, you should rest," he said softly, when he had her attention. "We'll all need our wits about us for this to succeed."

He thought she would argue with him, but she simply nodded, and allowed him to pull her to her feet. He settled back down, on his side, one arm over Tom's body. He didn't need to look at Kathryn, on his other side, to know that she remained awake, staring sleeplessly at the ceiling.

He must have slept as the swoosh of the cargo bay doors brought him instantly to wakefulness. Sitting up, he saw Kashyk, accompanied by Prax, enter the cargo bay. Beside him Tom stirred, and although he still lay quietly, Chakotay knew that he was alert and ready. On his other side, Kathryn was already on her feet, standing poised and waiting.

Kashyk swaggered over to her. "Kathryn, my dear. Would you be so kind as to accompany me to my ready room? There's a simple matter to remedy -- a few missing command codes. And we can discuss the relocation of your crew at greater length. "

Kathryn nodded once curtly, and turned to leave, striding out of the cargo bay ahead of Kashyk. The guards posted at the door moved briefly to stop her, but fell back under her glare.

Chakotay knew he had to act now, there might not be another chance. "Inspector, one moment of your time, if you will." Deliberately he straightened, ignoring Tom, who was now coiled into alertness at his side.

A corner of the Devore's mouth curled. "Yes, Commander?"

Chakotay forced himself to concentrate on Kashyk's face. "I have had a chance to reconsider Seska's offer of... allegiance. I would like to talk to her."

"No...Chakotay, no!" Tom was on his feet, his hands grasped Chakotay's arm imploringly. "Chak, you can't do this. I love you."

Even though he knew Tom was acting, the desperation in his tone tore at him. The impulse to grasp Tom's hand in comfort was strong. He controlled it by clenching his fists at his sides, and keeping his eyes on Kashyk. "Don't do this, Tom." His tone was harsh. "You knew that what we had was temporary. You'll find other lovers."

He could feel Tom staring at him in disbelief. Abruptly, Kashyk laughed. "Well, this is a new development. The perfect commander rejects his lover. What exciting new possibilities this brings!" His gaze latched onto Tom, and Chakotay suppressed a shudder. It was hot and hungry, a feral assessment of the possibilities for pleasure contained in Tom's slender body.

"Inspector," Kathryn's husky tones cut through the strung tension between the three of them. She pressed herself to Kashyk's side, grasping his bicep with both hands. "Do you really want to keep me waiting like this?"

The hunger and sexual vibration in her tone was palpable. Chakotay found he couldn't look at his friend; if she was acting, she was good, very good. If the need was real, then he didn't like to think of the implications.

Kashyk looked down at her, then back over at Tom with an assessing glance. "Interesting possibilities," he mused. "Maybe Lieutenant Paris should join us to discuss the crew's fate."

No. The shock was so great that for a moment Chakotay was afraid he'd shouted the word aloud. No, that he wouldn't survive, Tom, Kashyk, and Kathryn. No. He forced himself to remain still.

"I don't think so," Kathryn moved even closer to the Inspector's side. "Tom is not part of the decision making process in this instance."

Chakotay forced himself to breathe. He knew that if it came down to it, Kathryn would order Tom to join them, and that he didn't want to think about.

Kashyk hesitated for a moment, and Kathryn spoke again. "Let the commander talk to Seska. There will be time enough for you to get to know Lieutenant Paris, later."

For a suspended moment the tableau hung, then Kashyk turned. "Indeed. Prax, bring Seska to the cargo bay to talk to the commander. And do not disturb me. I will be in the ready room in conference with the captain."

The gamble had worked. He sent a mental prayer of thanks and strength to Kathryn, but concentrated on appearing unconcerned as he waited for Seska. He didn't know whether they were being watched, and they couldn't afford to take chances. He could feel the burn of Tom's eyes on the back of his head, and the betrayal in the gaze. Tom too, was playing his part.

***

Kashyk walked too close to her as they moved along the corridors towards the bridge. Kathryn knew her heart was pounding; anticipation, fear, and that undeniable edge of arousal that had been present in all her dealings with this man. She could smell the sharp alien scent of his sweat, and she knew that he was as aroused as she. Ironically, there was no pretense between them. They both knew what they were going to do. It was only the outcome that was still to be determined.

The doors closed behind them and Kashyk moved to the replicator. Fine, he wanted to go through the motions of negotiation first. That was all right with her.

"Coffee. Black." He offered her a mug.

She took it and sipped, leaning with false nonchalance against the desk.

Kashyk watched her, his eyes sharp under the heavy brows. "You seem very willing to be cooperative, Kathryn. Maybe you are planning your own salvation -- with me."

She set the mug down, deliberately on the desk and moved closer to him, into his space so that they stood toe to toe. She raised her chin so that she could look him in the eye. Close up, his scent was even more noticeable. Tangy and elemental, it spoke of fierce passion temporarily held in check. Deliberately she let her mind dwell on what their coupling would be like. It would be fast and hard. He would not be gentle, and she needed to be ready. She placed both palms on his chest, parting his jacket to slip her hands over his chest. A small shudder as she brushed his nipples through the shirt. The answering throb between her own legs heightened her own awareness of self. Oh yes, she was ready.

"No." Her voice sounded raspy, even in her own ears. "I stay with my crew." Her hands dropped to the waistband of his pants and rested there, her fingers hooking into the stiff leather, her thumbs trailing lower, just brushing over his cock, starkly outlined through the covering.

Kashyk's hands, sleek in the black gloves, rose to brush her breast. "I could let you keep Paris as your pet. We could share him."

"I don't think so." His cock twitched as she rubbed a thumb up the thick length of it. "He's not to my taste."

"We understand each other well, Kathryn." Abruptly Kashyk moved to drop the jacket from her shoulders. His hands fumbled with the turtleneck. "Take it off."

So be it. Turning, she stripped the turtleneck off in one smooth movement, dropping it to the ground. As it came over her head, she saw him unfastening the black gloves. Those white puffy fingers. "No," she said. "The gloves stay on."

And when he smiled that feral grimace, and lunged for her body, pushing her back on the desk, imprinting her skin with the black gloves, she knew indeed that they did understand each other well.

***

The only way that Chakotay could play his part convincingly was to ignore Tom. He knew-- hoped -- that Tom's hurt was feigned, but if he turned and met those blue eyes, then he would be lost. If the plan was to succeed, then that couldn't happen. So he remained with his back to Tom, waiting for Seska to arrive.

He didn't have to wait long. She arrived, flanked by six Devore guards. Briefly, he wondered if that was her own doing, or if Kashyk too, didn't trust her. She dismissed the guards, who took up positions around the entrance to the cargo bay, weapons at the ready.

"Chakotay, my sweet. Are you more amenable to talking now?" Her eyes flickered over his face, and he concentrated on appearing friendly. Amorous would be harder; he hoped no physical demonstration would be needed. Simply the thought of kissing those thin lips had his stomach churning in revulsion.

"I am." Deliberately he took her arm, steering her away from the rest of the senior staff. He could see them, ranged around the wall in seemingly casual poses. He knew they were watching him, ready for the cue that would alert them to make their move. He concentrated, instead, on Seska. "If I were to come away with you, where would we go?"

She laughed, and his spirits fell. That laugh wasn't a pleasant one. "Who said anything about coming away with me?" she inquired. "I don't think Kashyk would like you tagging along. No," her nails scratched down his chest, "I was thinking more of a few days of pleasure before we leave you behind." She moved closer to him, and he felt her hot breath on his face. "We could have a lot of enjoyment again. You were good before, maybe now you've even learned a few new tricks? I'm sure I have... ones that will make you weak with wanting me."

"Would a few days be enough for you?" He made himself move closer still, his hands settling on her waist, mere inches above the phaser she wore. "You were pretty insatiable before."

"It will have to be." Her hand curled around the back of his neck, the pressure forcing him to bow his head, his lips moving closer still to hers.

Spirits, but he didn't want this. Even this acting was a betrayal of his lover. But greater things than one man's love were at stake here. He let his lips drift closer.

"And a few days with me will make it easier for the child to adjust." Seska's words, whispered into the hot air between their mouths, jolted him out of the role he was playing.

He straightened. "What do you mean?" The words cracked between them, and his fingers tightened on her waist.

Seska's smile was pure malice. "Did I forget to tell you?" she purred. "My reward for the information I've supplied to the Devore, is your child. Martis... that name will have to be changed. It reminds me too much of Kes."

He couldn't maintain the pretense any longer, even to save his life. "No," he said hoarsely. "You can't have her."

"Oh, but I will. I'm sure she will adapt to her life with me. Such a pretty child, I'm sure the holoimage in the database doesn't do her justice. Kashyk will love her, as will I. He has a weakness for small, fragile things." She stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers. "Don't worry. I won't let him hurt her. Not too much, anyway."

With a roar, he lunged for her, crushing her into a pseudo-embrace, his hand moving swiftly over her hip to grab the phaser she wore. Dimly, over the roaring in his head, he heard crashing and noise, the sound of phaser fire. The crew would have reacted, but his only concern was to get his hands around Seska's neck, to crush the life out of her, shake her like a rat until she hung limp from his hands. Somewhere in the back of his mind he registered the shouts, but all he could see was Seska's face in front of him, lips slowly going blue.

"Chak... Chak, release her." Tom's voice, hoarse in his ear. "We need your help." It penetrated the fog of his anger. Consciously he released Seska. His fingerprints were livid on her throat, individual marks already purpling on her dark skin. She slumped down, air wheezing into her lungs as she fought for breath.

"Chak," Tom's voice again, his hand on Chakotay's arm, urgency in his tone. "She won't get her. She won't. We've got control here. She's lost."

He looked around him. The Devore guards were herded into a corner, Ayala, Dalby, and Jerez stood guard over them. On the ground, he could see a yellow uniform, the splayed legs telling him that the owner was not all right. "Who...?" he croaked, indicating the fallen crewman.

"D'Tang, from shuttle maintenance." Tom's eyes conveyed regret. "He's the only one. Chak... I heard. She wanted Martis..."

The anger left him abruptly. Softly he touched Tom's cheek. "She didn't get her."

"I know," Tom's eyes held no condemnation for his actions, just the steady love and understanding he had come to expect.

He crouched down slowly, his stomach roiling as he recalled his anger that had inexplicably slipped away from him. Whatever Seska was, whatever she had done or wanted to do, she was still a part of his past, and as such deserved a small measure of his respect, if nothing else. She was on her feet now, hate in her eyes. He looked up at her, their eyes met, and in that moment when he would have thought her too weak to react, she moved. With a snarl she lunged at him, towards his crouching figure, fingers outstretched, aiming for his neck, to strangle him much as he had crushed her.

"Chak!" Tom's warning was too late. In slow motion Chakotay saw Tom raise the phaser he held, aim, and fire. Seska's face contorted in mid leap, as the shot hit her in the back. She crashed to the deck and lay still.

Tom crossed to Chak and embraced him, pulling the dark head down on his shoulder. Chakotay felt Tom's strong hand rubbing his back through the thick uniform and for a moment allowed the touch. But he knew enough not to take Seska for granted. After all, she had been left for dead once before. He straightened and moved away, kneeling down next to her body. His fingers groped for a pulse -- it was there, weak and thready, but still present.

Abruptly he felt sorry for her, sorry for the woman she had become, in spite of all she had done. Briefly he remembered his earlier non-reaction when told of her death before. Then he had wondered what sort of person he really was that he couldn't feel anything for her. After all, for all that she had plotted against him, he had still counted her as a friend, a lover... once. She had double crossed him at every turn, used his attraction to her against him, and finally, betrayed him in the most elemental way by plotting to kidnap his child and subject her to... the spirits knew what. But she was a woman of passionate beliefs -- not so different from himself. And like himself, she had been torn away from her people, thrust without care into a harsh world. She had tried to make the best of it, toughed it out, clawed her way to acceptance in the Maquis, and fought to hold onto a lover who had moved on. Rejected by the people she had cared about in her own twisted way, she had tried to survive in a world that turned against her at every opportunity. Gently, he touched her hair. She may be alive now, but the color of her lips, the blood seeping onto the cargo bay floor, and her tortured rasping breath all told him that she wouldn't last much longer. The compassion welled up in him, and he didn't try to supress it.

He knew Tom was looking at him in incomprehension. Tom, who found it so hard to forgive those that had wronged him -- he had found it hard to relate to Dalby from their time in the Maquis. That wound had taken time to heal.

"Seska." Again, he stroked her hair once. "Rest now."

Her eyes opened, cloudy with pain, and she looked past him, before moving back to his face. "Chakotay..." Abruptly, she seemed to gain a modicum of strength, and her hand found his, fingers curling into his palm much as they used to do after lovemaking. A trusting gesture, so unlike her normal independent exterior.

He squeezed her hand softly. "I'm here."

"Do you..." she hesitated over the words, "forgive me?"

He heard the harsh gasp of Tom's breath, and knew what it was costing his lover to remain silent. But Seska was dying, and he could give her this. "I do."

"Kiss me..."

He hesitated, but pity and compassion won out. He bent close to her, meaning to brush her lips gently with his. And drew back abruptly, her blood-tinged spittle running down his cheek.

"Fuck you," her voice was weak. "I don't need your pity, Chakotay. Not then, not now." Her breathing was labored, and he sat back on his heels, not moving to wipe away her spit. Even now he could offer her something, even if it was his own humiliation.

"Let me keep my pride..."

"You've got that, Seska." Ignoring the curious stares of the crew, he picked up her hand, and held it, a finger carefully on her pulse, until it grew too weak to feel. Her breath rattled out of her lungs, in a final long exhale. Only then did he wipe his cheek and stand up.

"She's dead." He met Tom's eyes with trepidation, but saw only understanding.

Her hand felt clammy to his touch. He rested it on her chest, picking up her other hand, and in an impulse he didn't stop to analyze, crossed them on her chest in the age-old human symbol of death.

Taking a deep breath he turned to Tom, becoming aware of the ring of silent crew around them. Waiting for him to assume command. Swiftly he ordered a security detail to remain in the cargo bay to watch the Devore guards. He armed the senior staff with the stolen phasers, and outlined the plan. There were now two priorities. They needed to retake the ship, and for that they had to have weapons. It was also imperative that they release the telepaths from transporter suspension. He hoped that the Devore had left the weapons lockers intact. Tom and Harry would lead the group to the transporter room; he, Greg, and some of the burlier crew would lead the assault on the bridge. Deep in the back of his mind was the knowledge that if Kathryn were not all right, then he should be the one to find her. He divided the rest of the crew up into smaller groups, and ordered them each to search a section of the ship. The Devore would be held prisoner in the cargo bay.

Their luck held. The crew armed themselves from the weapons lockers, and spread out in a silent wave to retake their ship.

***

Tom and Harry reached the transporter room without incident. The solitary Devore guard they encountered was swiftly placed in the cargo bay under the watchful eye of the security detail. Harry crossed to the controls and activated the transporter. The telepaths materialized on the pad, some staggering slightly, others looking around in disorientation. One woman slumped to the ground, her face pale.

Urgently Tom looked for Martis. There she was, protectively holding the hand of a smaller child.

"Da!" She saw him, and released the child to the care of another woman and rushed over to hug him. She was willowy and slender in his arms, her taut frame vibrating with worry. He allowed the hug, relief at seeing her tempered by his concern for Chakotay and the fact that time was still against him. Gently, he set her away from him.

He had no sooner let her go when a group of Devore rushed in. Tom ordered his daughter to return to the telepaths, motioning frantically to Tuvok. The Vulcan nodded and took the child in hand. Tom quickly joined the fray.

**

Martis clutched Mr. Tuvok, her eyes riveted to the fight before her. Da was grappling with a man, whose weapon was now lying on the deck. As she watched in fear, she picked up a greater fear behind her. She turned. Lon Suder's black eyes locked with hers.

Tuvok's grip tightened and she turned back. "Martis," he said, "you must remove yourself." His eyes shifted behind her. "Mr. Suder - you will take the child to your quarters. Now."

He handed her over to Lon. "Yes, Mr. Tuvok," the man answered, "I understand. I'll see that she's safe."

She clasped Lon's hand as they made their way around the fight to the corridor. As she was exiting, she made very brief eye contact with her father. He was telling her that she'd be fine. She had a momentary sense of happiness that he trusted the man who's hand was in hers. She trusted him, too.

**

Lon Suder ran down the corridor with Martis in tow, not letting himself think too carefully about what had just happened to him. He had a feeling that the turbolifts would not be the safest route to his quarters, so he opened the first jeffries tube hatch they came to and dove in. His heart was pounding. His hands were sweating.

"Lon," said Martis, as they started to crawl, "the ship - the Devore's have taken it, haven't they?"

He stopped their progress. "Don't you worry. This crew will get it back. Don't worry." She looked at him with those big eyes that in normal light were the clearest blue he'd ever seen.

"Da. He trusts that we'll be okay."

He didn't know what to say. For all of the work he'd done with Mr. Tuvok over the years, the overwhelming emotions he felt right then were almost more than he could handle. So he just smiled at her and encouraged them on their way.

Eventually, they crawled out on deck seven. Standing, he heard footsteps running toward them. He peeked around the corner. His heart stopped. A Devore was approaching, and quickly assessing the man Lon noticed there was no weapon in evidence. The enemy's eyes met his.

He turned around and ordered Martis back into the tube. She balked for an instant, then jumped in head-first. He slammed the hatch closed and turned.

The Devore was on him within a second and Lon knew nothing but the urge to protect the child entrusted to his care. Nothing but the urge to be the man that her father believed him to be. Tom Paris had decided in less than a second that his daughter would be safe with him. Lon followed his instincts. He fought the man, with a red-hot, pulsating beat in his temples. He grabbed the Devore's neck and with one motion, snapped it. The man crumpled at his feet.

The pulsating beat crescendoed. Lon focused for the first time and saw the dead man. His heart stopped again, for much longer this time. He was freezing cold. And sweating profusely. He'd done this. Killed. Murdered. Again. All the years of work...

Confused, he stumbled in the narrow space of the corridor alcove. Someone else was approaching and he tried to figure out who, or what, it was. Another Devore. This one with a weapon, as confused as he, trying to decide what to do, how much of a threat Lon was. Behind him, a Voyager crew member was following.

In that moment, Lon was crystal clear about his fate. It was time. He held up his hands to the enemy, showing him he was no threat and let the Devore get close. But as soon as the man was near, he said, "I killed your crew mate. I did this."

He felt the searing pain hit his chest and spread outward as he collapsed. He heard a second noise and saw the Devore fall, with his own crew mate running toward him. He hovered near unconsciousness.

"Suder, Suder," said Lewis urgently. "Hold on, I'll get you to sick bay."

Lon reached up with some disembodied strength and grabbed his arm. "Martis... Jeffries tube..." Was that his voice sounding so wobbly? Blood gurgled up from his throat. "Martis," he tried again. Blackness was encroaching on his eyesight, but he did see Lewis look toward the hatch and nod to him. Martis... thank you, was Lon Suder's final thought.

***

Chakotay lowered himself back into his command chair. It had been less than twenty-four hours since he had last sat here, but on that occasion he had felt a very real fear that he might never sit in it again. Glancing around the bridge, he saw the rest of the crew taking their stations. Tuvok was absent; he was occupied in organizing the security for the Devore in the cargo bay. Exactly what Kathryn intended doing with them he didn't yet know. Harry gave him a thumbs up from the Ops station, and he could see the back of Tom's head as his fingers flew over his station, before his hands came to rest confidently on the helm controls.

Chakotay keyed a few commands into the computer using the armrest console. Now that the ship, the telepaths, and of course Martis, were safe and secure, his priority was the captain. Her location was the ready room, life signs strong and stable. There was one other life sign in there with her -- Devore. He was hesitating to page her, reluctant to interrupt, when his own comm badge chirped.

"Janeway to Chakotay."

In spite of the computer's readings, he was reassured by her call. "Chakotay here, Captain."

"Well done. Please report to my ready room with a security detail. We have one more prisoner to take care of."

"Acknowledged, Captain."

When Greg and the security team arrived, he rang the chime on the ready room. The room was orderly, although the Vulcan meditation candle that Seska had crushed still lay in pieces on the floor. Kathryn stood in front of her desk, a catlike expression of satisfaction on her face. She held a phaser trained on Kashyk, who lounged in insolent fashion in her chair, his booted feet on the desk, arms behind his head.

She nodded to Greg. "Take him to the brig. Ensure that he remains there alone, under close watch. Don't put him with any of his men." She jerked the phaser at Kashyk, who rose slowly to his feet. His eyes were inscrutable under the heavy brows, but the cocky swagger was gone. Chakotay knew a bested man when he saw one. Kashyk rounded the desk slowly, and came to stand in front of Kathryn. Chakotay saw that his uniform was clumsily buttoned, rumpled as if it had been recently disarrayed.

"It's been a pleasure, Captain." The Devore's voice was low. "Maybe another time, circumstances will be better."

"Maybe." Kathryn's gaze didn't waver, but she stroked his cheek, just once, her slim strong fingers pale against his dark cheek. "Under those different circumstances you would have made a fine addition to my crew."

Greg jabbed him in the side with his weapon, and they were gone. Chakotay turned to follow them, thinking that Kathryn would want some time alone.

"Chakotay, just one moment." Her voice recalled him, and he turned around.

He returned to perch on the edge of her desk. "How did you know we had regained the ship?"

"I've been monitoring life signs in the cargo bay," she replied. "Fify-six Devore, six human. And one dead Cardassian. I knew you had control. Are the telepaths all right? And Martis?"

He nodded. "They're all fine. Martis is okay, she's with the telepaths now, helping with the smaller children. The only casualties are Ensign D'Tang who was killed when we retook the cargo bay, and.... one other." He would tell her about Suder later, and about the plans he had in mind for a full memorial service for both crew members. He hoped she would join with him, Tom, and Martis to acknowledge Lon's heroic act, in a separate, private service in their quarters. Tom wanted it, too. For them, and their daughter, who was grieving for her friend. And Seska. Kathryn already knew the outcome there, but she would want the details - Seska had been as much of a threat to the ship as the Devore. There would be stories to tell -- later. "What will you do with them?"

"The Devore? Our priority is to get the telepaths to safety. When they are gone and we're beyond Devore space, we can find somewhere to leave our prisoners so that they can be collected by their people."

He studied her more closely, trying to determine if she really was all right, or if she was hiding a physical or mental hurt. Her lips were puffier than normal and her neck was flushed. A sex flush, he realized abruptly. The skin sheen of a satisfied woman. He looked away, unwilling to intrude. But he had to know.

He stood and moved away, towards the door. As he drew level with her, he reached out a hand, finding hers and clasping it for a moment. "Are you okay?" he asked. "Really all right?"

She didn't pretend to misunderstand him. Her crook-corner smile, a feline curl of satisfaction was his answer. "More than all right. But thank you for asking." She squeezed his hand and withdrew.

In the doorway, he looked briefly back towards her. She was at the replicator, requesting coffee. She saw his concern and gave him a saucy wink over her shoulder.

He was smiling broadly as he retook his chair on the bridge.

***

Though Martis was too old to be tucked in, her fathers sat on the edge of her bed as she settled in for the night. She was glad they still did. Tonight especially.

She had intense waves of sadness moving through her every hour or so. She kept thinking about Lon, and the last thing he'd said to her, which was nothing more than an order to get back into the tube. But the force of his order was in direct contrast to what she'd felt from him, which was fear. She was beginning to understand, as she got older, that these people who ran the ship she lived on all felt it at one time or another. However, she found it so unbearably sad and disquieting that the man who'd saved her life, her friend, had spent his final moments in it.

She reached out and took their hands in hers. There was some other tension she could feel in both of them, but she didn't pry. They all stayed that way for a minute or two, in the quietude, until she could feel her heart relax. As though Da and Tayo could, too, they leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, saying their goodnights.

After they left the room, however, she silently rose from her bed and snuck to the doorway. She looked around the corner.

Her fathers were holding each other tightly, in the middle of the living area. As she watched, they moved enough to kiss, and she got that fuzzy feeling in her stomach that she loved so much. Da and Tayo kissed with a long kiss, then pulled apart just enough to walk to their bedroom, their arms around each other. Da kept kissing Tayo on the side of his head, all the way there.

She crawled back into bed with a smile on her face. Curling under the covers, she let the fuzzy feeling spread until she was almost asleep. She hoped, again, that some day she'd find a person to love, who would love her as much as her fathers did each other. Thank you, Lon, for saving me, was her final thought as sleep claimed her.

End Chapter 13 TBC

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