Will to Power V:
Gazing into the Abyss

Angyl and Orithain

March 2004

Disclaimers: Neither of us is the ghost of Gene Roddenberry, so no, not ours. Except for Loki.

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

~ Beyond Good and Evil; Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886

Tyr sat back and stared at the message that heíd just received in his quarters, grateful that this was Harperís shift in Engineering. He needed some time to think about this, to decide how best to proceed, before saying anything to his mate... if in fact he ever did.

He looked at the images sent to him by his brother Balder, whom he had sent to Earth to discover the whereabouts of Harperís family and to see if the Dragansí grip on the human home world was quite as firm as they would have everyone believe.

Balder had not been overly pleased by the mission, sharing many Nietzscheansí opinion of the value of and proper place for kludges, but he was not ready to challenge Tyr for his position, and so he went. Tyr had to admit to a certain relief in having his brother far away from his new wife, Elsbet Mossadim, the former Sabra First Daughter, the woman Balder had wanted for his own First Wife.

His discontent notwithstanding, Balder had fulfilled his mission, even sending back a picture of the one remaining member of Harperís family, a cousin whom Harper had mentioned frequently when talking about his past, Brendan Lahey. Now Tyr had to decide what to do about it.

He knew if he told Harper, the human would want to rescue his last living relative, but even though the Drago-Katzov prideís status was slipping, they had a strong grip on Earth. It would be a battle to wrest it from them, and while Tyr was confident of his abilities, was this the right time to make the attempt?

The door opening let him know that he had to make the decision now, and he hesitated for an instant, then allowed the image to remain on the monitor as Harper entered their quarters.

"Hey there, tall, dark and uber," Harper grinned as he strolled into their quarters, removing his tool belt and placing it neatly by the door. Whoíd have thought his perfect lover was a perfectly anal neat freak? The human chuckled to himself as he toed off his work boots and nudged them sort of into the corner before walking up behind Tyr in order to bury his face in the dark, fragrant mass of his mateís hair, burrowing in long enough to press a kiss on the Nietzscheanís neck.

"So, what are you working oóBrendan?" Harperís jaw dropped, and he moved around to Tyrís side to take a better look at the older cousin heíd looked up to with hero-worship during his barely remembered stay in the slave camps on Earth. Heíd idolized his cousin with everything he had and had tried to live up to Brendanís example of resistance and defiance... which had led to his banishment from Earth to the slave factories of the Orca.

The last heíd seen of Brendan, the older boy had been fighting with the Dragans with every fiber of his being, trying to get to Harper as he was being led onto the slave transport, and then Brendan was shot and falling. Harper had thought his cousin was dead, and it had been another cross for him to bear in silence, but now... "Brendan is alive? But how? Where? Tyr, whatís going on?"

"Iíve been checking up on your family, trying to find out what happened to them. He," nodding to the image, "is the last one left alive. Although Iím frankly amazed heís survived this long. Heís a member of the human resistance against the Dragans, one with a price on his head. Heís managed to annoy them quite thoroughly, to the point that theyíre about to go after him specifically." Left unsaid was the fact that Brendan wouldnít stand a chance if that happened.

"Oh God." Harper stumbled over to the couch and sat heavily on it, his mind working at slip drive speed while his body tried to keep up. Brendan alive. And a resistance leader and... "I need to go help him, Tyr. I know it might be hard for you to convince your PrideóI mean Iím a kludge, and soís Brendanóbut I need to go. Will you let me go with the Maruís crew, please?

So quickly the moment of decision had come upon him. He could let the humans go, keeping Kodiak out of it, or he could take the chance of expanding their influence and give Harper something he wanted at the same time. It wasnít much of a choice.

"We may be able to gain both our desires," he said, turning to face Harper, brown eyes sharply focused. "You to save your cousin, and I... I to destroy the Drago-Katzov influence once and for all."

"You realize that youíre talking about going to war with the biggest Pride in the Nietzschean Empire, right? I mean the first pride, the one that was named after your progenitor guy. I know Kodiakís almost as big, and now it has Sabra as allies, but do you really want to do this?" Harper asked slowly. He loved Tyr just that much more for offering, but he couldnít in good conscience let his lover go to war over his cousin. He could go to war but not the Kodiaks.

"For the first time Kodiak is in a position to change that, to take the Dragans down and be rid of them. I have been toying with the idea for some time, but certain other considerations distracted me, and then the Orca attack made it impossible for a time. But now, with the alliance with the Sabra, we are more powerful than ever. It is time to seize pre-eminence."

Harper looked at his mate with shadowed eyes. "And then youíll be the Pride Alpha of the strongest Pride in the known universe, well, the known united one. Itís what you always dreamed of." And what I fear more than anything, even Magog infestation, Harper thought to himself.

Taking a deep breath, he buried his fears, for they were his and his alone. He trusted Tyr to be Tyr and the Nietzschean he loved. "On the bright side, if Loki finds out thereís another ĎHarperí out there, he might leave yours alone," the human chuckled. "Not that heís tried anything since you warned him, but heís still fascinated. Why I just canít figure out, but he is. Whoíd have thought with all your genetic superiority that you would have one fatal weakness - Harper loviní?"

"My son has good taste... and a disturbing lack of sense of self-preservation," Tyr half growled. Now he was determined to find this cousin. He had not considered the possibility, but if Loki could be distracted, it would please him. He was amused by his sonís desires but not to the point that he would allow him to touch Harper.

"Like father like son," Harper grinned, sprawling on the couch and relegating Brendan to the back of his mind until he had some alone time to process itólike when he was putting the final tweaks and touches into Rommieís avatar body. "Seems to me you have very little self-preservation when it comes to the Harper as well, chasing around the galaxy, risking life and ship, raiding brothels and training facilities..."

"Getting you out of the trouble you manage to find is a full-time occupation." Tyr shook his head, pushing away from his desk and pacing toward Harper, tossing aside his shirt as he did. Coming to a halt in front of the couch, thumbs hooked into the waistband of his leather pants, he grinned down at the blond. "And a thankless task apparently."

"Ahh, but I wasnít in trouble at Uncle Sidís. I was an employee," Harper grinned, knowing he was pushing his luck but not caring. Growly, possessive Tyr was his favorite of all the various sides of his lover. There was something safe in the way Tyr claimed ownership at those times, almost like coming home. "Made damn good money too, almost enough to buy my own ship, can you believe?"

The furious snarl that escaped the big Nietzschean was still reverberating in the room when he landed on top of Harper, pressing him down into the cushions. "No one else touches you," he growled. "You. Are. Mine!" He bit down on Harperís throat, just short of breaking the skin, lifting himself just enough to tear at the blondís clothes.

"Oh, God, yes!" Harper moaned, luxuriating in the way Tyr just took over and dominated him. "I know Iím yours now. Then I was confused and scared and angry but now... all yours, only yours. Forever yours!" the human swore fervently as Tyrís tongue lapped at the blood his second bite had drawn, making Harperís body shudder with ecstasy.

"Yes." The single word was all that Tyr was willing to take time for, his mouth more pleasurably occupied with seeking out all the sensitive spots on Harperís body, making his mate squirm and moan. Still wearing the tight leather pants, Tyr wedged a leg between Harperís and rubbed the smooth fabric against Harperís dripping cock, arousing him still more.

Writhing against Tyrís leather clad leg, his cock dripping with pre-come as he rubbed against something hard and firm and... "Oh God!" the young man whimpered as he found and worried a patch of the Nietzscheanís skin between his teeth, all the while continuing his grinding dance against his loverís leg.

Grunting and moaning and gasping as they teased each other to greater arousal, Harper felt himself begin to shake with arousal. So close, so very... "TYR!" the young man wailed as his body tensed and shook, and he came against the leather of Tyrís pants just from the foreplay alone.

"Thatís one." Tyr picked Harper up and carried him to the bed, putting him down at the edge before pulling off his own pants. Staring down at the limp and satiated human, Tyr stood between his legs and pressed inside him slowly, a fraction at a time.

"One?" Harper whimpered as he felt Tyrís thickness slide into him inch by excruciatingly slow inch. "Oh fuck, itís gonna be one of those nights, isnít it?" the younger man continued, not sure if he should be pleased at the fact he was going to be a well fucked pile of goo or worried for his vocal chords and the shredding he knew they were about to receive.

"Yes." Tyrís voice was a possessive growl, and he lightly scraped his arm spikes over Harperís nipples then along his cock, knowing how his lover reacted to that.

Breath hitching, Harperís body responded on contact like the good little Pavlovian dog he was when it came to being played with by his lover. And he didnít really mind the comparison, not when it came to Tyr. After all, anyone in their right mind would love to wrap their mouth around his loverís Ďboneí, but that was something only Harper did... Well, Harper and the bitch planetside and whatever other wives Tyr took eventually, but Seamus wasnít going there.

Moaning, the humanís head thrashed back and forth, and his hands fisted on the comforter that had found its way onto the bed some time ago when Tyr had found out that Harper got cold in space. Just one more of those little things that had the human head over heels crazy for his Nietz.

Wrapping his legs around Tyrís waist, Harperís feet pressed against the older manís ass, trying to get him to go faster, get deeper. "Címon, Tyr, please?" He begged without shame. "Just fuck me already."

"I am. Canít you feel me?" To make sure that he could, Tyr suddenly slammed forward, driving as deep inside Harper as he could go, then stilled, holding Harper motionless as he filled him.

"Oh God!" Harper gasped, body arching and jaw going slack as he was filled to the point of exploding. Heíd forgotten to stick a butt plug in this morning, and now he was virginal all over again, thanks to the nanobots.

Thank God they also repaired the damage caused by being cherry picked over and over again, so Harper knew heíd actually be able to sit in the morning and eat solid food too. Gross but a fact of his life heíd come to live with; after all, when you had a lover the size of a fucking tree...

Moaning, the younger man felt his body adjust and give even as he lunged up to bite Tyrís shoulder hard. "Youíre not moving, so how can that be fucking? Now move!" he demanded hotly.

"Demanding little Pet," Tyr laughed, slowly pulling back, inch by torturous inch, until only the very tip of him remained inside Harper, then slamming back inside him again. He repeated the motion over and over, never releasing his iron grip on Harperís hips so all the human could do was lie there and take it, mewling for more.

"Da-damn straight I am. Oh God, Tyr!" Harper wailed, as he was fucked hard and fast until he felt like one giant, throbbing nerve. His eyes fell shut, and his breathing became labored while his hands clenched and unclenched on the comforter.

It didnít take much for a body trained to be a sex toy and a man in love with his mate to be re-aroused, and all too soon he felt the burn at the base of his spine that heralded an orgasm, and then he was coming, streaks of semen splattering across his stomach and chest as Tyrís cock continued to plunge in and out of him.

Tyr laughed darkly, never stopping, simply changing his rhythm as he continued to pump in and out of Harperís receptive body. Tonight he wanted Harper again and again, planning to keep him up all night and wring every last bit of response out of him. For whatever reason, all the Nietzscheanís possessive instincts had been roused, and he intended to claim his mate thoroughly.

He growled as the spasms of Harperís climax rippled around him, but he was nowhere near losing control and simply rode them out before shifting them so they were lying on the bed, his hips never faltering in their rhythm.

By the time third watch rolled around, Harper was a severely dehydrated, totally hoarse and completely well fucked Nietzschean pet. He had been taken on the bed in every position possible, up against the wall, in the shower, over the couch, in the chair, on the floor, on the dresser, over the table, against the door, against the com unit, over a desk, on the bathroom counter, straddling the toilet and a few more ways that his tired brain couldnít remember.

Even now Tyrís cock was once more buried in his ass as his lover was spooned up behind him, moving slowly and almost lethargically, petting and stroking his human soothingly. "Tyr," he managed to croak out, his throat feeling like it had been through a blender, "canít come anymore; Iím well and truly fucked, really I am!"

His hand curling around the not quite soft cock, Tyr chuckled and bit gently on the nape of Harperís neck. "Oh, I think that you can manage one more... and then you can sleep." He wanted to come as well, finally sated by their night of sex, the room reeking of them now, which soothed him.

Whining weakly, Harper let his head sag back against Tyrís shoulder, feeling his body, impossibly, rouse again. Only Tyr could do this to him, play him so well that even when he wanted to do nothing more than drag his sorry ass into the shower, hose off and then crawl back into bed and sleep for a month, he felt himself spring back into action one final time. "Youíre trying to kill me, arenít you?"

"Never. Youíre mine, Harper, mine." The growl came directly in his ear an instant before sharp teeth closed on the lobe, nipping and tugging, and Tyrís hips began to move fractionally faster. His hand continued to move on Harperís erection, arm spikes brushing his belly, adding a spice of danger.

Whimpering, Harper twined his fingers through Tyrís and held on weakly as his lover laid claim to him one last time this night. He could feel every ridge of Tyrís shaft as the older man moved within him, could count his loverís heartbeats on his back. It was comforting and arousing even though he was sore and tired and so dehydrated that his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his throat felt like raw hamburger.

In spite of all of that he was hard again. Harper guessed he was well and truly a slut when it came to Tyr, butóhe grinnedóthere were worse things in life to be around his uber lover. Mewling in near silence, he let his eyes fall shut and let Tyr move in him and over him and around him, riding his arousal instead of letting it ride him.

Tyr continued stroking Harperís sticky cock in time with his almost languid thrusts inside him, their arousal almost gentle this time after hours of hard fucking. Slowly, it built, finally breaking over both of them almost simultaneously.

Collapsing, spent, onto the bed, Harper whimpered almost painfully as Tyr pulled out. He felt raw both inside and out and knew that he had to be dripping come from his ass constantly, but he was too damn tired to do anything about it. He also wanted some Sparky cola, but there was no way he was going to get up and get it.

Mewling as Tyr picked him up and carried him into the bathroom, he snuffled and buried himself into his loverís chest, trusting Tyr to take care of him completely. The Nietzschean captain easily supported his lover as he washed them both in the shower, dried them off and carried Harper back to the bed. He laid him down against the pillows, veering off to get a can of that sugared caffeine that Harper loved before sliding in beside him and pulling the comforter over the exhausted human.

Sipping the cola slowly, feeling the carbonation give his raw throat a pleasurable burn as well as begin to hydrate his parched body again, Harper lounged against the Nietzscheanís chest. "So, he whispered, not yet willing to strain his vocal chords even though he was sure the nanobots were busily repairing the damage to his body, "youíre really going to war against the Dragans.

"Does anyone else know about Brendan?" he asked, his mind already spinning scenarios. It was actually eerie how Nietzschean-like in his thinking he was becoming, not that heíd ever say that to Tyróthe uber might let it go to his head, after all.

"Only my brother Balder. Heís the one who tracked him down. But he and his ship are still just outside the Terran system, waiting for orders from me. No one will use your cousin as a hostage, Harper. Iíll do everything possible to get him free."

"I canít believe Iím going to say this, but right now Iím more concerned with someone using your obvious affection for your human kludge of a lover against you. And before you start growling, I know you donít think of me as a kludge and neither do the command staff and the engineering staff as well as a good portion of the ship, but theyíre in the minority, Tyr, and you need to be realistic about this.

"If someone wants to challenge you for position, this would be the way theyíd do it; youíre declaring war on the oldest pride over a kludge. Youíve got to play this right and play it smart. And you can start by making sure your brother stays quiet and busy. I wouldnít trust him farther than I can throw him. Iíve done some reading up on your next sibling and... well, you need to watch your back; thatís all Iím gonna say on the matter."

Harper took a deep breath and continued. "If youíre gonna do this, youíre gonna have to let me and the Maru do our part. You take care of the war, and we take care of Brendan. That way, if no one but you knows what weíre doing, itíll look like I took advantage of the situation to get my cousin out of danger and not like you did this just to make me happy. Balder can say what the hell he likes, but there wonít be any way to link you if no one knows, not even Rommie."

Tyr didnít like it, but he knew Harper was right. "I will not send you entirely alone, even though I did plan to make use of the Maru and its crew. Agravaine Rhade will go with you, however." Seeing that Harper was about to protest, he continued, "I do not believe he would allow Hunt to go without him, Pet."

"What do you mean?" Harper asked, glancing back over his shoulder to see the amusement written all over Tyrís face. "You mean Dylanís letting a Nietz do him? No fucking way! And a male Nietz at that. Does Beka know?"

"You must be the only person on the ship who doesnít know," Tyr said, amused. "And yes, Captain Valentine is aware. I believe she helped them along, since Rhade was constrained by the unique status of your friends aboard this ship, and Hunt appeared rather blind to the whole situation. That woman would make a stupendous matriarch."

"Sheís human, Tyr. I somehow donít think thatís allowed. I mean can you picture Beka Valentine as the Kodiak Pride matriarch? Your progenitor would roll over in his grave or something," Harper snorted. "And hey, Iíve been kinda busy taking care of my baby and giving her a body and having you do wicked things to my body. Besides, I havenít seen them since we got back from... oh man, you mean theyíve been doiní it since you got married to the viper? And no one told me?! How rude!"

"I didnít mean of my pride, Harper! But she has the right attitude, if humans had matriarchs.

"And yes, Hunt, Valentine and Rhade reached some sort of an accommodation while they were on the planet. I have not inquired too closely since it is none of my concern. Rhade will have to marry soon though. Fortunately, one of my sisters finds him interesting and is not likely to object to his human lovers so long as no child results."

About to jump to the defense of his Ďsisterí, Harper wisely bit his tongue, knowing that it was an argument that neither would win and both would end up hurting from. A human and a Nietzschean just shouldnít discuss anything to do with opinions on mating, procreation and worthiness. Especially when said human and Nietzschean were sleeping together.

Grunting noncommittally, Harper quickly finished his cola and snuggled back into Tyrís arms. "Night, Tyr," he yawned, closing his eyes and willing his mind to stop its hamster on a wheel spinning in circles thing that it had going on. "Talk in the morning, Ďkay?" Or hopefully never again on this particular subject.

Tyr left for the bridge the next morning after suggesting that Harper talk to Beka and Hunt and see if they had any ideas for getting them all onto Earth. "Including Rhade," Tyr added emphatically. "Youíre not going without him. And you might want to see if your friend Rafe wants to go along as well. It might help him to strike back at someone. And if he goes, so will the purple girl. I have a feeling that she may prove to be more than she appears."

"Yes sir, Captain Anasazi sir!" Harper saluted smartly before ducking the hand that was aimed at his ass. "Hey, I was agreeing with you!" he grinned, running around the other side of the sofa to avoid a stalking Tyr. "Youíre gonna be late if you donít get to the bridge, and I need to plan a rescue mission. And you are staying out of it from this point on!"

Tyr growled but had conceded that he was going to be late at least and left a chuckling Harper behind him.

"Rommie, can you have Beka, Dylan, Rafe, Trance and," Harper sighed and conceded defeat, "Mr. Rhade come to the captainís quarters, and then engage privacy mode when they get here. Not even you can overhear, Rom-doll."

"Understood, Harper. But if I might suggest, if you can have my avatar up and running by the time we get to Earth... the captain wonít utilize it, but it could aid you."

"Great idea, Romster, thanks!"

Shortly afterward, the people Harper had summoned arrived at the captainís quarters, Rhade somewhat surprised to be included with the humans and very curious as to what was going on.

Trance watched Rafe closely, a little worried by how heíd react to close proximity to a Nietzschean, no matter that Rhade was Kodiak not Orca. She also had some disturbing flashes of their future and promised herself to be on her guard.

"Whatís up, Harper?" Beka wanted to know, settling on one end of a sofa, Dylan and Rhade taking the other two spots.

"Rommie, engage the lock so that no one can get in, even Tyr, and then engage privacy mode please," Harper requested first, despite the raised eyebrows and Rhadeís openly hostile look.

"As you wish Harper. Privacy mode being engaged, Andromeda out."

Taking a deep breath, Harper looked at everyone in the room, his face more serious than it had been in a long time. "First of all, this isnít a coup, Rhade; Tyr knew about the meeting and suggested your presence. Well, actually he ordered it, but he also figured you wouldnít let," and at this point Harper actually smirked, "Dylan and Beka go anywhere without you. Oh and thanks for keeping me up to speed, purpleness; when Tyr told me, I nearly choked!"

Dylanís blush was more than amusing, but the look of shock that Rafe turned on his sister was unexpected. "Okay, so maybe I wasnít the only one who didnít know."

Trance giggled slightly. "How was I supposed to know that you were totally oblivious to what was going on under your nose?" Seeing the look Rafe now turned on her, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You had no way of knowing; you donít spend time with them, Rafe. And neither Beka nor I was sure how you would react. We thought it was better to wait to tell you."

"What exactly are you planning, human?" Rhade wanted to know.

"Geez, keep this up and Iím gonna tell Tyr to rethink letting his sister marry you, Mr. Grouchy pants," Harper shot back, sticking out his tongue at the first officer before shooting Dylan a Ďweíre gonna talkí look.

Rafe watched the interaction between his sister, Hunt and the Nietzschean with hooded eyes. He wasnít sure what he thought about this right now. He couldnít deny that these Nietzes werenít like the Orca, but they were still boneheads. Only time would tell. His hand unconsciously reached for Tranceís, his lifeline and his sanity. "And finding out like this was better?" he asked Trance, his voice low and private.

"You werenít going to like it regardless," she shrugged, moving a little closer, fingers tightening on his.

"I was going to tell you, Rafe, just not yet. I didnít think you needed to hear about it yet... and frankly, Iím still not sure exactly where this is going." Beka glanced across Dylan at Rhade, who met her gaze.

Rhade simply nodded, also uncertain. Heíd started this because he wanted Hunt, but somewhere along the line heíd found himself wanting the human female as well. As for the other... "I do not believe my marriage is any concern of yours, Harper," he said coldly.

"Knock it off, Rhade," Dylan ground out before Harper could open his mouth. "Harperís family to not only Beka and me but to Tyr; besides youíre being obnoxious."

"Umm, thanks boss," Harper grinned shyly. "So Iím still part of the family, hunh? Means a lot to hear that."

Ducking his head to hide the blinking away of sudden moisture in his eyes, Harper cleared his throat. "What Iím going to say canít leave this room. Tyr knows Iím telling you, so itís cool that way, but... Kodiakís about to declare war on the Dragans. First target is Earth."

Rhade stood up, irritated both with Harper for talking about what did not concern him and Dylan for his comment. "I will speak to the captain. If he insists that I accompany you, I will do so. Otherwise, you can keep this in your Ďfamilyí."

"Oh for cryiní out... Look, Iím sorry I made that crack; Iíd never say anything like that to Tyr. Thatís between you and him and his sister, and I know that. However, Iím gonna damn well protect my family from the same sort of hell I went through when I found out after the fact, so youíd better get used to that too," Harper snapped, glaring at the Nietzschean, not the least bit intimidated by the uber attitude.

"Nice to know that youíve been guarding my sorry ass for all these months and you think so fucking highly of me, Rhade," the younger man continued bitterly. "Now will you sit down, and shut up for a minute because Iím not through."

Hesitating, Rhade stood at the door for a moment, then turned back to face them, arms crossed over his chest. Although he remained in the room, he did not relent far enough to sit back down.

Turning back to the others, Harper tried to unclench his fists and relax. "The other news is that my cousin Brendan is alive and is leading the human resistance against the Dragans. Heís been targeted to die for his constant interference and his ability to organize and lead a bunch of dumb ass kludges with no weapons against the Dragans and turn them into a damned good resistance movement that is actually gaining ground.

"Tyr gave the Maru crew carte blanche as to what we do when we get to Earth. Meaning we can rescue Brendan and aid the resistance within reason while the Kodiaks engage the Drago-Katzovs. Iím hoping you guys will help me. Well, not everyone will be there to help me, that much is obvious, but... I hope my family will give me a hand," he finished, looking at from Dylan and Beka to Trance and Rafe.

"Of course weíll help, Harper," Dylan replied immediately, getting up to go stand next to his friend. "Friends help friends, and so does family."

"Have I told you how glad I am to call you my brother, Dylan Hunt?" Harper replied with a watery smile.

"As glad as I am youíre mine, Seamus Harper," the Maru first officer replied, ruffling Harperís hair.

"Carte blanche?" Rafe asked, his eyes lighting up with something truly deadly. "And will we get the weapons we need to pull this off?"

"If the captain has, in fact, approved this, then he will ensure that we are properly armed," Rhade put in from his position by the door.

Trance frowned, not liking the tone of Rafeís voice, but perhaps this was what he needed to exorcise his demons. Still she would keep an eye on him, and she knew that Beka would help her.

"So when do we leave?" Beka wanted to know.

"Tomorrow. Tyr, for reasons Iím not going to get into, canít know what weíre doing. He needs to, for his part, remain ignorant of our actions until itís Ďtoo lateí. Letís just say heís already given up a lot for me, and Iím not going to jeopardize his role in his pride any more despite what others might think of me. I protect my family as much as I can, and heís my family too," Harper replied, his chin jutting out in defiance.

"If I had my way it would be just humans going. Hell, I can just see the reactions we get when we bring... Never mind, itís not worth it," the younger man continued bitterly.

"And you humans accuse Nietzscheans of prejudice," Rhade said quietly.

Beka frowned at him, but she couldnít disagree, and Trance... well, Beka wondered if Harper even realized that heíd just excluded her as well.

"There might be one more Ďpersoní coming with us, if I can get her finished in time. I hope I can because Iíd really like her muscle along. I have basic information, and God, I hope we can find him in time because it sounds like the Dragans are serious."

Swallowing, Harper looked at the humans in the room. "You gotta know. Earth is like what the Orca slave camps were, only itís the whole fucking planet. Humans are expendable and worthless. The Dragans will look at you as cannon fodder, something to fuck whether you want it or not, something to hunt for sport and to kill because theyíre bored. Stay low and stay out of their sights; itís the only way to survive. Because if they catch you and theyíre in a mood, you better pray for deathóitís kinder."

"Harper," Dylan said thickly. He remembered too well what he and Beka had rescued their friend from and later what they had rescued Rafe from. To hear Harper tell them so baldly about what the conditions on Earth were like was, well, it was terrifying frankly.

"I wanted you to know so you had the chance to say no, okay?" Harper replied, gruffly. "Tyr doesnít understand what itís like. Not really. Heís always been on the other side of the fence, and most Nietzscheans, well, they couldnít care less what the living conditions of humans are. Weíre just kludges and stuff, but I never, ever want you guys to be on the receiving end.

"Itís bad enough I couldnít save Rafe, but, Bek, you and Dylan... Iíd rather die than have that happen to you. Youíve always been free, so youíve got no real idea. I just want you to be really sure, okay?" Because regardless of whether or not Dylan, Rafe, Trance and Beka were going, Harper was. He owed it to Brendan.

"Iím in," Rafe told the younger man firmly. "Nothing you can say will talk me out of it. I remember too, Harper, and Iím more than willing to help you make a dent in the Dragan population. Time to get a little of our own back," the older Valentine grinned ferally. "Show Ďem that weíre even better survivors than they are. After all weíve survived them!"

"And if you think that Iím going to let you two idiots go without me to keep you out of trouble, youíre nuts!" Beka put in, standing up to hug Harper. "If your cousin is anything like you, Iím going to have my hands full."

Trance looked a million miles away, then focused on all of them, her eyes moving from the humans to Rhade and back again. "Youíre going to need... me." She hadnít seen clearly and thought that something odd might happen, but she knew that she had to be there, or they would almost certainly all die.

"And after hearing this, I can see why the captain insisted that I go along," Rhade admitted, his anger at hearing his potential as a husband insulted having subsided. "I am the only one who can infiltrate Dragan installations."

"Trance, itís not that I donít want you to go along," Harper said, coming to kneel before his friend, "I just donít want you to get hurt, purpleness. Hell, I donít even want Rhade to get hurt despite the fact that he obviously hates my guts. I just know what enslaved humans think like. Theyíre gonna look at you and be freaked; theyíre gonna look at him and hate so bad that theyíll want to kill. I might have only been a little kid, but I remember," Harper trailed off.

"But I also know that you know things the rest of us donít, so if you say you gotta go, then you gotta go. Just... be safe, okay? I donít want you dyiní on me, not for anything."

Glancing over at Rafe, the young man continued. "Youíll take care of her and keep her safe, right?"

Rafe, who had been gleefully planning how many Nietzes heíd kill, sobered immediately. He hadnít considered the ramifications of... "Donít worry, Harper. Iíll make sure sheís okay. I promise."

Nodding, Harperís glance skittered over Rhade to rest somewhere to the far right of his shoulder. "You need to be careful too. Humans are gonna want to rip you limb from limb just because youíre a Nietzschean. Doesnít matter what pride youíre from, youíre still a bonehead to them, and theyíre gonna want you dead. Iíd rather not have to explain to Tyr why he needs to find a new first officer, thanks all the same."

"Harper," Dylan grinned, "your heartís in the right place, but you really need to work on your people skills, you know that?"

Sighing, Rhade stepped away from the door, coming to a halt in front of Harper. "I do not hate you, Harper. I would think you would know that by now. Then again, I would have thought you would know better than to joke about marriage and procreation by now. I sometimes think you are selectively blind when it comes to my people." He shook his head, amazed that Harper still hadnít grasped how fundamental that was to a Nietzscheanís very identity.

Harper ducked his head, not bothering to answer but thinking to himself that he was actually doing damned good when it came to Nietzscheans after a lifetime of hatred. Here he was with a Nietzschean lover that he adored, his loverís kids whom he actually liked and was working in engineering with a whole bunch more of them, living on a ship full of them. But everyone saw things differently, he guessed.

"Yeah, well, I just donít want to see Bek and Dylan get hurt is all, so sorry if I stepped on toes or something, but I need to look out for them first. They were the only family I had for more years than I can count, so I need to look out for them first."

Beka sighed. "Harper, thatís sweet, and I appreciate it, but... how would you feel if we tried to interfere between you and Tyr? Hell, you reamed us out for exactly that. I donít know how this is going to work, but we have to figure it out... and it will have nothing to do with whomever Rhade marries. Any more than Tyrís marriage changed things between you two. Theyíre Nietzscheans. They procreate with Nietzschean females. Thatís who they are."

Surprised by Bekaís defense, Rhade turned to look at her, then smiled slowly. "Itís a shame you arenít Nietzschean."

She laughed, knowing it for a compliment.

"Whatever, I was just looking out for you. Meeting adjourned and I gotta go," Harper muttered, getting to his feet and hotfooting it out of there. He just couldnít win some days, and he was getting pretty darned tired of trying. Everyone on this ship was frigginí nuts; that was all there was to it.

"Harper, wait!" Dylan called after the younger man, but he was gone in a shot, leaving his own quarters to the others. "And probably heading for a hidey hole no doubt," the Maruís first officer muttered to himself. Harperís heart was in the right spot, and he had meant well, but he probably shouldnít have interfered. Yet Dylan couldnít fault him for wanting to protect his friends. Hell, he still fought the urge to rip Anasazi a new one when he saw the occasional kicked puppy look in Harperís eyes or spotted a new bruise. However, he figured that they had to work it out for themselves.

But Harper, being Harper, always jumped in where angels feared to tread if he thought his family should know something and now... Sighing heavily, Dylan looked back at Beka, Rhade and the others. "Iím going to go talk to him. Alone."

Beka defending Nietzscheans and chewing him out, no matter how nice she was about it, Dylan sleeping with a guy, Beka and Dylan sleeping with a Nietzschean, Trance and Rafe looking cozy... maybe he was the one who was goiní nutsóno surprise there.

Heading for his machine shop, Harper breathed a sigh of relief when he locked the door behind him. "I really, really, really hate days like this!"

Feeling uncomfortable in the captainís quarters once Harper had left, the others headed back to their rooms almost immediately afterward. Beka and Rhade went to the room she shared with Dylan to wait for him to return, and Trance followed Rafe back to his.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Rafe? You can help without going to Earth, you know. Iím worried about how this will affect you." Trance paced around the room, her tail almost lashing as she darted concerned glances at him.

"Damn straight I do," the older Valentine growled, barely containing his agitation and his need to get to Earth. "And what do you mean how it will affect me? How could giving some of those bastards back what they did to me... I mean to humanity, affect me in any way but positively?"

"I just donít want you to lose yourself in your anger. I happen to like you, Rafe Valentine." Coming to a halt in front of him, Trance cupped his face with one palm and leaned in to kiss him. Not wanting to spook him, her closed lips brushed over his lightly, then she leaned back very slightly, allowing a breath of air between them as she waited for his reaction.

Rafe licked his lips, not sure how to react. Before... well, before heíd have charmed her and taken her up on her offer, but now... God, he hated that he was scared, but the truth was that heíd been made to think of sex as a punishment, and the idea of hurting this wondrous woman who was trying so hard to help him...

Taking a step back, he smiled sadly. "Thank you for caring about me, but I canít do... Well, I may never be able to again. I never got to the pleasure part that Harper had; I just remember the pain," he stated baldly.

"I wasnít offering out of pity," Trance said, advancing a step that put her right back in his personal space. "Nor am I trying to pressure you into something you arenít ready for. But remember, Iím not a Nietzschean, and I would never hurt you. And I do like you, Rafe. So when youíre ready..." She shrugged and brushed another kiss over his lips.

Rafe didnít know what to do. She kept getting close, and he wasnít sure if he wanted her to, but she just kept doing it, and then there was the way she touched him and the way she looked at him, as if Trance knew all his secrets and was promising to keep them but... "If Iím ever ready, donít you mean," he replied backing up yet again and feeling the wall brush his shoulder blades.

"If Iíd meant that, I would have said it." She followed him again, kissing him once more, this time allowing her lips to part and her tongue to trace his, seeking entrance, although no other parts of their bodies touched.

Groaning almost silently, Rafe began to wonder if a steamroller would have been subtler than the purple menace that was Trance Gemini. Turning his head to the side, Rafe gently extricated himself from the young womanís arms. "Iím sorry but I canít, and unless that crystal ball of yours tells you differently, Iím not sure Iíll ever be able to."

Trance sighed softly. "You will when you believe you can... and when you want to." She shrugged slightly. "Weíre still friends, Rafe, even if you arenít interested in me that way. When you find the right person, youíll be fine. Youíll see." Sheíd hoped it might be her, and while she could exert herself and make him want her, she wouldnít do that to him. Not to mention that she would prefer not to have the Nietzscheans realize what she was capable of.

"Trance," Rafe hesitantly touched the young womanís cheek. "If it could be anyone, it would be you, believe me," he admitted gruffly. "I like you, really like you, and I think youíre beautiful, caring and funny, pretty wonderful all around. Itís just that... certain things donít work anymore, okay? For anyone."

"Not okay," she retorted, glaring at him. "Rafe Valentine, are you going to let them beat you? Yes, what happened to you was horrible, but you survived. Donít let them take anything else away from you. Sure, there are going to be flashbacks, but youíre stronger than that. You can get past it... when you decide you want to rather than saying that you canít."

"Anyone ever tell you youíre a pushy little thing?" Rafe asked conversationally, looking down at the mighty mauve termagant who was glaring up at him.

"Often. Usually when Iím telling them truths they donít want to hear."

"Apparently it hasnít stopped you yet because you just keep coming," the human replied, rolling his eyes. "And I thought Beka was a pain in the ass, ha! You take the cake, lady."

"I donít like to see my friends hurting. Especially when thereís no reason for it."

"You just like to butt that pert little nose in even when people donít want you to!" Rafe retorted, flicking Trance in the nose. "They used to have a name for you back on Earth. A busybody!"

"No wonder youíre not interested if thatís what you think." She took a step back and moved away, wandering around his room restlessly. "Well, I should go. You should get as much rest as you can before we leave for Earth. It wonít be pleasant."

"Trance," Rafe groaned. "You are the most stubborn, opinionated, frustrating person I know. Even when Iím not the one whoís in the wrong, you still make me feel like I should be the one apologizing and wanting to beat my head into the wall," he sighed. "I told you I liked you! I told you if it were any other time in my life, Iíd be interested, but you only hear what you want to. Argh!"

Trance cocked her head slightly and smiled. "But youíre not moping anymore, are you?" she pointed out smugly.

"I wasnít moping to begin with!" Rafe was ready to tear his hair out. Of all the stubborn, opinionated, pain-in-the-ass women! "Youíre even worse than Beka, you know that?"

"I really donít want you to think of me as a sister, Rafe," Trance said, again backing him against the wall, this time with her tail curling loosely around his lower leg.

"You never give up, do you?"

"No," she replied cheerfully. "And itís only fair to tell you that I always get what I want." She brushed another kiss over his lips, gave him a sunny smile, and headed for the door.

Staring at the closed door, Rafe bit back the scream of frustration that threatened to erupt. "What a complete pain in my ass!" He snarled. "I wish I could figure out why I seem to be such a glutton for punishment?"

Dylan sighed and fought against the urge to bang his head against the nearest bulkhead. Heíd combed what areas of the ship he had access to and no Harper. And the AI wasnít telling either. He might look like the Dylan Hunt of old, but the Andromeda only answered to Tyr Anasazi (and Seamus Harper, not that anyone would ever admit that out loud), so all in all, his hunt for his friend had been fruitless.

Entering his quarters, he grabbed the bottle of rotgut whiskey he kept for Ďmedicinalí purposes and poured himself a tumbler full. Who knew where Rhade and Beka were and what they were doing. Hell, Rhade was probably pissed with him, and he wasnít altogether sure just how he felt right now. Dammit, Harper was only trying to look out for them. Badly maybe, but it was still family looking after family.

Wouldnít Rhade want to cut the balls off of anyone who hurt his family? Harper needed to learn tact, no doubt about that, and he tended to put his foot in his mouth more often than not, but Dylan really couldnít fault him for the sentiment.

Sometimes the first officer of the Eureka Maru wondered where his neat, ordered and perfectly heterosexually sane life had taken such a radical left turn. Before their head on collision with the Andromeda Ascendant his life had made sense, had had purpose. Heíd been a freedom fighter, a first officer, Bekaís lover, Harperís friend and a member of the tiny and incredibly secret order of the High Guard.

Now... what was he? Swallowing the whiskey in one fiery gulp, Dylan poured himself another with the intent of quietly getting shit-faced drunk.

Before he could take another drink, the door to the inner room opened and Rhade and Beka stepped out, the Nietzschean in skintight leather pants and nothing else, and Beka in an incredibly short blue silk robe that matched her eyes.

"íBout time you got back here," Beka said, neatly taking his drink and swallowing it herself. "We--all of usóneed to talk." Rhade simply watched, leaving it up to Dylan how they would proceed. It was not his preference, but the human woman had convinced him that anything else would only serve to put the other man on the defensive and defeat his purpose.

"Have I ever told you that I really hate it when you say that?" Dylan groused, stealing back his glass and pouring himself another drink. "Itís one of those patented Beka Valentine ĎIím gonna kick your ass whether you like it or notí sort of tones of voice, and it never bodes well.

"Oh, and Harper is hiding, and the ship isnít gonna tell me where, so I didnít get to talk to him yet. Iíll talk to him laterómaybe after he gets laid again; that always seems to mellow him out a bit."

Seeing that Dylan was in full avoidance mode, Rhade sighed and went back into the bedroom to retrieve his shirt before heading for the door. "When--if--you decide to discuss this rationally, Iíll be back." He had no idea how the captain survived dealing with a human every day; he was already frustrated.

"What did I do?" Dylan asked, looking from Beka to Rhade and back again. "You mean this wasnít gonna be one of those Ďletís try and wrap Dylan around my little finger so I can get away with murderí sort of talks?"

Beka smacked him... hard.

And Rhade hesitated, then turned back, realizing that maybe Dylan hadnít been trying to avoid him. "No," he said, "it was going to be one of the Ďletís figure out what the three of us are doing and how this is going to workí kind of talks."

Dylan rubbed his sore arm and blushed. "Well, I thought it was kinda obvious what we were doing; I mean, well, to put it crudely, you had your cock buried in my ass. A great number of times. And Beka was... under me when you were on top of me. Iíd say thatís a pretty accurate description of whatís been going on."

Sighing, Agravaine sank down into a chair, staring moodily at Dylan. "As with marriage, my people take lovers very seriously. Tyr and Harper, though perhaps overly emotional, are typical of that. If we are to continue, I must know that we are working toward something... permanent."

Beka sat silently, leaving this up to the Nietzschean. Her relationship with Dylan did not depend on his with Rhade, but she found that she enjoyed Rhade for himself and hoped the three of them could work something stable out.

"I... God." Dylan ran his fingers through his hair and noticed absently that they were trembling. "Itís not that I donít take it seriously, Rhade; itís just that... until you Beka was my penultimate mate, you know? And then we get captured by the Andromeda, and I feel like Iíve entered a parallel universe, and everything I ever thought about myself has gone right out the window, and I, I donít know who I am anymore."

"Why should adding something new change everything that you already knew and were? Life is change; you could not expect to remain static forever. You are still with Beka, and she and I can deal well together as well. Whatever you and I work out does not affect that."

"Thatís just such a fucking Nietzschean thing to say," Dylan sighed. "I used to believe I was monogamous. And straight. Now I find Iím neither. I used to know my place in the scheme of things and... and I used to hate Nietzscheans with every fiber of my being. Since the Andromeda, since you, I canít do that anymore, and I feel like a traitor to the cause I was born to be a part of, and yet part of meóa great part of meódoesnít really care anymore. And that scares the shit out of me," Dylan admitted quietly.

"Then tell me to leave. And I will. I can easily transfer to another Kodiak ship, and you would never have to see me again."

"I canít do that."

"So what do we do now?" Rhade wasnít willing to back down, not after the confrontation with Harper.

"How the hell do I know?" Dylan snarled, suddenly standing and pacing the room. "I didnít even realize I was fucking bi until we nearly had our tongues down each otherís throats on the basketball court, and even then I was praying it was an aberration. But I kind of had to admit that I was when your fucking cock was reaming out my ass and I was begging for more!"

Even now that first time both haunted and heated him. His cock ached and throbbed in the tight confines of his pants, and he could feel his heart rate speed up and his pupils dilate. Fuck, he was getting aroused just from a fucking memory.

Snarling in frustration, Rhade gave up on words and rose to his feet, grabbing hold of Dylanís arm on his next pass. He wrenched the human against him, mouth unerringly finding his, and he kissed him savagely.

Pushing hard on the Nietzscheanís chest, Dylan only managed to send them both sprawling to the floor, him on top. Luckily for him Rhade had thrown his arms wide so he hadnít been impaled on Nietzschean arm spikes. "Damn, didnít expect that to happen," the human said conversationally, looking over his shoulder at Beka, who was stifling her laughter behind a fist stuffed in her mouth.

Looking somewhat startled, Rhade stared back at him. "I didnít really expect you to throw yourself at my feet, you know."

"Only in your dreams, bonehead."

"I should have stuck to fucking. At least that stopped you arguing!" Rhade glared at him, refusing to look at the laughing woman behind them.

"Yeah, but then I wouldnít respect you in the morning," Dylan shot back, almost enjoying the banter and trying to ignore the love of his life and resident nutcase.

"I would!" Beka put in, snickering.

"Perhaps we should stop talking and stick to acting for now. We seem to do better at that."

"I donít think he likes foreplay, Bek," Dylan smirked as he winked over his shoulder. "I mean Valentine and I snap at each other for hours before we canít hold out anymore and decide to fuck like minks. But then we donít have your total lack of humor either," the first officer continued with a bright smile.

Agravaine groaned. "Two of them." Deciding that his previous idea had merit, he tangled his fingers in Dylanís hair and pulled the other manís head down to ravage his mouth.

After giving in for a few brief moments, Dylan resisted and pulled back. "Thereís a perfectly acceptable bed in the next room. I for one have no desire to end up with rug burn just because youíve decided to get your kink on."

"Iím not the one who put us here," Rhade pointed out, rising to his feet. "But I agree that a bed would be more comfortable." He made sure to stand close enough that Dylan rubbed along his body as he stood up in turn, and he remained pressed to the human maleís back as they moved toward the bedroom, Beka following them eagerly.

"Actually, you are, you tackled me remember?" Dylan grinned as he turned and fell back onto the bed so that he could look up at his two lovers. "Whoíd have thought that Nietzscheans could be so contrary, eh, Bek?"

Stretching one arm above his head and wrapping the other hand around his cock to stroke it idly, Dylan waited to see who would pounce first.

Although Dylan had actually been the one to knock them to the floor when Rhade grabbed and kissed him, the Nietzschean didnít see any benefit in arguing about it. Instead he shed his pants and shirt and moved onto the bed, crawling up the length of Dylanís body, his cock painting a glistening trail of moisture. Once even with Dylanís mouth, he dropped on top of the human, moving in for another kiss.

Watching them, Beka bit back a moan and pulled her robe off, sitting naked amidst the pillows as she let Rhade have the first moment.

Moaning around the tongue that was attempting to reach his tonsils, Dylanís hands came up to scratch their way down Agravaineís spine to his ass. Big, butch Nietz that he was, Dylan had to wonder if anyone had ever topped Rhade or if Rhade had been the one doing all the topping. One way to find out...

Letting a finger slide between the Nietzscheanís cheeks, Dylan pressed it gently inside the man on top of him and waited for a reaction.

Rhade stiffened slightly in surprise, dark eyes shutting momentarily as a shudder of lust ran through him, then they opened and met Dylanís as he relaxed again, his full weight pressing the human into the mattress. "Be sure you can handle what you reach for," he purred, nipping sharply at Dylanís throat.

"I think Iíve been handling you quite fine for the past few weeks, despite some peopleís opinions," Dylan replied as he added a second finger to the first and continued to stretch his lover out. "Afraid, Agravaine?" he taunted.

Rhade simply chuckled. "Hardly. Iím looking forward to it." He arched upward, taking the fingers deeper while Beka watched. "Weíre a good fit," he admitted, watching the human hungrily.

"Wouldnít know, havenít fit myself in you yet," Dylan leered. "Of course, we can correct that any time youíre ready.

"Bek, feel like getting me ready for him?"

"Talk about your stupid questions," the blonde muttered, shifting closer as she coated her hand with slick lubricant and wrapped it around Dylanís cock. Concentrating on him, she moaned when she felt Agravaineís fingers exploring, making her bite her lip as she tried to remain still.

"Mmm, feels good, lady," Dylan moaned as he thrust his hips up into her hand. Grinning at her gasp, he figured out she was getting teased by the Nietzschean. "Getting a little distracted there, Bek, does that mean Iím ready?"

"Yeah, and so am I!" she moaned.

"Perhaps we ought to adjust the positioning then," Agravaine suggested, smirking. "I have no objection to being in the middle."

"Gee, how big of you," Beka sniped, then moaned. "Fuck, Dylan, do it. I need someone to fuck me."

"Then tell the one on top of me to get the hell off so we can change positions," the first officer of the Maru pointed out a little exasperatedly. "Or have you both forgotten that heís on top of me?"

"Just making sure you were in agreement," Rhade chuckled, rolling off and positioning himself on his side with his back to Dylan.

Beka didnít waste a moment in stretching out in front of him, one leg hooking over both men as she arched into him. "God, fuck me," she moaned, feeling her wetness dripping along her inner thighs.

"With pleasure," Rhade murmured, pressing into her while Dylan positioned himself behind him.

As Rhade slid into Beka, Dylan did the same to the Nietzschean sandwiched between them. Groaning at the bliss of being buried inside the tight body of his alpha lover, he had to chuckle as he bit down on Rhadeís shoulder. "Bet you never thought youíd be the filling in a human sandwich, did you?"

Agravaine had to laugh as well. "Stranger things have happened, but I canít imagine what," he managed to gasp, fingers tightening on Beka. His back arched to take Dylan deeper, and he moaned hungrily, unable to do anything. "Move, dammit!"

"Seems to me youíre in no position to demand anything," Dylan laughed wickedly. "Iíd say we got him between a rock and a soft place, donít you think, Bek? Maybe we should take advantage of it."

"Sounds good to me," Beka purred, tightening her inner muscles around her Nietzschean lover. "I enjoy taking advantage of a good man."

"And I being taken advantage of," Rhade admitted, thrusting as much as he could between them.

Pressing a little farther into the man trapped between them, Dylan stilled all movement and then reached between Beka and Rhadeís bodies to worm his way down to his ladyís clit. Massaging it gently, he made sure his thumb brushed back and forth across Agravaineís cock, teasing the Nietzschean incessantly. "Do you really? And here I thought you just like to take advantage?" Hunt purred, nipping at the base of Rhadeís neck.

"Versatility is the hallmark of a superior intellect," Rhade gasped, fingers gripping Bekaís hip tightly enough to bruise, not that she was complaining.

"Pretty and smart. Lucky us," Beka purred an instant before her mouth met Agravaineís in a hungry kiss.

"You can say that again!" With that Dylan pulled back and then slammed into the man beside him with all his strength, driving Rhade into Beka at the same time. "And heís got a great ass too!"

The other two could only moan, bodies matching Dylanís rhythm as he took control. Rhade reached back with one hand, pulling Dylan closer, and he released Bekaís mouth to twist his head back, trying to kiss Hunt.

Nipping hard at the Nietzscheanís lips, Dylan continued to plow into the hard body. "So fucking tight, God, to think I was positive I was a hundred percent straight. If Iíd have known what I was missing..."

Rhade growled at the words, making Beka giggle even so close to coming.

"You sound just like Tyr about Harper."

"I think not!" Dylan snorted. "Compare me to the kid again, woman, and youíre not getting any for a week!" Hunt scowled in disbelief. He didnít, however, stop slamming into Agravaine.

Rhade laughed as well, if somewhat breathlessly. "I begin to sympathize with the captain," he panted, body tightening as his climax neared. Bekaís spasms as she came were nearly enough to tip him over the edge, and he moaned, back arching.

"Oh, shut up and take it like a man, Rhade," Dylan retorted, nipping at the Nietzschean's earlobe. "But yeah, you should sympathize with the guy; youíre just as owned as he is."

Not wanting to argue just then, Rhade simply snorted, then cried out sharply as he came, convulsing between his two lovers.

Dylan bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood as he continued to thrust into the convulsing channel that sheathed his cock. He was so close he could taste it. Thrusting harder and harder, the human roared as his loverís still pulsating body drove him over the edge, and he filled Rhade with his seed.

They lay in a sweaty, sated heap, and Rhade had never felt more content. He brushed back a strand of pale blond hair and drew Beka close to kiss her, enjoying the sensations of all of them still being linked. "This is going to be a very interesting journey," he murmured.

"Itís gonna be a freakiní nightmare," Dylan corrected. "Harper. Without his daily, hell, hourly fix from his lover. All alone in deep space. With us. Death might be preferable."

Beka snickered. "You know heíll use the implant to deal with his cravings. And weíll just hide."

Rhade sighed. "A very long trip indeed. Facing the Dragans single-handedly might be less painful."

"The implant may stop the cravings, but it wonít use up the energy," Dylan replied mournfully. "Can we lock him in the engine room? We might have the Maru as good as new by the time we get Earthside."

"Weíll let Trance deal with him. Sheís so perky sheíll never notice," Beka sighed.

"Perhaps Iíll lock myself in the engine room," Rhade muttered.

"Well, it does have a lot of lubricant stored down there," Dylan offered.

"And what have you been doing in my engine room?" Beka wanted to know, eyeing him narrowly while Rhade chuckled.

"Absolutely nothing, most gorgeous captain in the universe," Dylan sweet talked, cowering behind Rhade. He was more than willing to admit that while Nietzscheans were terrifying, hell had no fury like Beka Valentine on the warpath about her ship. It would strike terror into the hearts of even the Magog.

Tyr held Harper tightly for a long moment before forcing himself to release his mate. "Be careful. You wouldnít want to responsible for me destroying Earth because you were harmed, would you?" he rasped.

"Nahh, you wouldnít do that," Harper replied, trying very hard to put on a brave front even though the idea of being so far away from Tyr actually terrified him. "Think of all the ammo youíd have to waste, and that would leave you depleted, and then the Dragans would attack, and it would just snowball from there."

"You think I would care if anything happened to you?" Tyr growled. "But nothing will, so the point is moot." His warning glare at Agravaine warned that nothing had better happen to Harper. "Bring your cousin back safely... and donít take too long," he murmured, drawing him into a hungry kiss.

"Aye aye, Captain! " Harper saluted, hoping that the sheen in his eyes wasnít visible. All he needed was for Rhade to see what a wuss he was being about saying goodbye to Tyr; that would just take the cake.

Tyr smiled painfully, stepping back and watching as Harper disappeared into the Maru with the others, wishing he could go with them. Still, he knew that the humans considered Harper family and would protect him, as would Rhade. Turning, he made himself return to the bridge and his duties.

"It wonít be long, Harper," Trance said comfortingly, hugging her friend. "And then you can introduce your cousin to Tyr and watch the sparks fly," she teased.

"Sparks? Did I mention that Brendan is one of the heads of the Dragan Resistance? The only good Nietzschean is a dead Nietzschean as far as heís concerned, no offense, Rhade. Heís gonna go apeshit on my hide when he realizes I not only live and work with the Alpha of Kodiak Pride but I sleep with him too. Iím expecting to be pounded into dust, quite honestly," Harper replied with a wry grin.

"We will have to teach him that not all Nietzscheans are like the degenerate Dragans," Rhade said calmly. "Surely if we can convince you, Beka and Dylan, we can convince one more."

Beka snickered. "Planning on sleeping with him too?"

Rhade simply looked at her, not deigning to reply, while Trance giggled.

"Oh yeah, I can see that... Not!" Harper snorted in reply. "Brendan would rather kiss a Magog."

Dylanís eyebrow quirked. "Are you saying we have bad taste in lovers, Seamus?"

"No, Iím saying Brendan would rather kiss a Magog. Heís expressed the sentiment enough that I remember it well. He considers Nietzschean women black widows and Nietzschean men... well, I wonít repeat what he thinks of them in the presence of ladies. I do have some standards, after all."

Beka snorted. "Suuuure you do. But having heard you talk before the advent of Tyr, I can imagine."

"Regardless, I will be with you when you go. I do not intend to tell Tyr that I allowed you to get yourself killed," Agravaine put in. "I would rather kiss a Magog."

"Is there any way to, well, to camouflage those things on your arms? Itís kinda obvious youíre a Nietzschean with those bone blades flashing all the time. You might up dead real fast down there, and no, Iím not forgetting youíre you. I just happen to know what weíre gonna be walking into. Theyíll swarm you and then beat the shit out of you until you die."

Eyebrows rising, Rhade shook his head. "I suppose I could wrap something around them, but that would be rather obvious, not to mention depriving me of a weapon it sounds like Iíll need."

"And no offense, Harper, but I kinda prefer the big guy alive. Weíll just have to be careful." Beka frowned, seeing Harperís point, but there really wasnít any way to disguise Rhade as anything other than a Nietzschean.

"Hey, itís your funeral," Harper replied, not entirely sure if he would be safe walking around Beantown with a Nietzschean bodyguard. For the umpteenth time the diminutive human wished that his mate wasnít quite so rabidly protective of him. Or that he could somehow convince Rhade to stay on the ship. But seeing as how neither was a realistic possibility, heíd have to try and make the best of itóand make sure they only went out after dark when there was less of a chance that Rhade would be seen properly.

Rafe, who had been sitting as far away from Rhade as possible and trying very hard not to freak out at the idea of his sister willingly fucking a bonehead, snorted softly. Personally he agreed with Harperís cousin. The only good Nietzschean was a dead Nietzschean.

They were far enough away from the Andromeda that he could unbuckle and move around, and the still emotionally scarred man was the first one to bolt out of the cockpit area, needing to get away from Rhade as fast as he could.

Frowning, Trance stood up to follow him, but Beka stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Let him go, Trance. He needs some time alone. I know heís having trouble with this. What they did to him-"

"I know that, Beka! But he canít let them win. He has to take his life back!" Shrugging free, Trance went after Rafe.

"What..." Beka stared after her, confused by her reactions. She hadnít even known that Trance had a temper.

"She wants him. Isnít it obvious?" Rhade said.

Harper watched the scene unfold and found himself flooded with memories of his own time among the Orca. "She might want him, but I donít think he wants himself at the moment," the young man said quietly. "Dragans might be brutal and oppressive, they might hurt you physically and treat you like kludges, but Orcas... they mess with the mind and soul. Orcas like to break a personís will, their spirit, so that all thatís left is a mindless husk.

"Itís not easy coming back from something like that; I mean, look how long it took me. Trance has a heart of gold, and she means well, but if she pushes too hard, she might do more harm than good. Then again, if Rafe doesnít start fighting back soon, heíll lose himself. I wish I could help both of them, but each person has to find their own way back. Rafe has the advantage of having people who love him and want to help him. He also wasnít there as long as me; theyíd barely started to break him. I mean, if I could come back, anyone can."

"Harper..." Dylan remembered his friend only too well. "The Harper is a human dynamo, and heís one of a kind."

Beka smiled sadly. "Yeah, Rafe would do well to take some lessons from you, Harper, but like you said, everybody has to handle it his own way. I love my brother, but thereís nothing I can do to help him right now."

Seeing Bekaís pain, Rhade reached out, drawing her into his arms, and he suddenly realized that while he might have started this to get Dylan, heíd come to care for her just as much. "No Valentine would ever give up," he said quietly, trying to comfort her.

"Heís right," Dylan replied, walking over to the other side of Beka and adding his support. "Valentine Smart and Valentine Smarter, remember?"

Harper took this as his cue to get out of the area and let the cuddle bunnies cuddle. Besides it was making him miss Tyr even more. Getting up surreptitiously, he snuck out the cockpit and made his way down to the engine room to give them their privacy.

They were two slip points from Earth when Trance appeared on the bridge, her hand tightly wrapped around... Loki.

"Look what I found in the cargo hold."

Dylan looked up from where he was taking his turn in the flight seat and groaned. "Has Rhade seen him yet? Or Harper for that matter?"

"No, I was hoping theyíd be here," Trance said, ignoring Lokiís futile struggles to get free, much to Rhadeís interest as he entered behind her.

"Why are you here?" Rhade growled, arms crossed over his chest as he stared at the sullen youth.

"To protect Harper," Loki growled, glaring defiantly.

Beka and Harper walked in, made curious by Dylanís cryptic request to get to the bridge to see the latest twist, just in time to hear Lokiís boast. Groaning, Harper tried to make a break for it, only to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hauled back into the room by Beka.

"Youíre the protectee and Tyrís mate; heís your responsibility too," Beka murmured as she shoved him into a chair with a glare to stay put before walking over to Loki.

"You know, stowaways tend to be vented out the airlock when theyíre discovered; itís the law of deep space, and besides, Tyr has other spawn to take over for him," the captain of the Maru informed the young Nietzschean casually.

"You wouldnít!" Loki exclaimed, wide-eyed as he stared at the blonde. He hadnít had occasion to interact much with the other humans, and just then, he felt like he was facing his own prideís matriarch.

"Yes, she would. And sheíd be perfectly within her rights, as Tyr would be the first to admit," Rhade replied coolly.

"Letís see, you stow away on my ship, you eat my food, you breathe my air and..." Beka leaned over and sniffed the youthís hair, "you use my shampoo. In a less civilized time that would be considered a hanging offense. Give me one good reason why I shouldnít. And protecting Harper isnít one of them; heís got Rhade and the rest of us for that."

"Because you need all the help you can get," Loki replied, meeting her stare.

Rhade rolled his eyes, but Trance frowned, eyes going unfocused as she seemed to look within. "Heíll make a difference," she said abruptly, becoming the focus of a universal stare.

"And the mystic purple one has spoken," Harper sighed from where he sat. "Well, I guess that settles it. If anyone needs me, I was right in the middle of tweaking the AP matrix, and you know how delicate working with anti-protons can be. Next time make sure itís a real emergency, will ya?" the younger man groused as he headed back to Engineering, leaving with a baleful glare at the rest of the crew in general.

"Oh and for the record, I am not the protectee. I can frackiní well take care of myself; just ask Dylan!"

The first officer suddenly found the star field in front of him a great deal more interesting than moments before. He knew that the crew in general, including Tyr, had been aware of him teaching Harper a few things. However, they hadnít been aware that, on top of the few things heíd taught the younger human, heíd been teaching Harper High Guard Argosy class secret ops maneuvers in the Maruís hold where there was no AI monitoring them.

"Iíd rather not know anything that Iíd have to lie to my captain about," Rhade observed, staring at the ceiling with apparent fascination.

Beka snickered. "Gee, even Nietzscheans can learn."

Shaking her head, Trance looked over at Rafe. "Come on, I could use some help organizing the stuff we brought."

Following silently behind Trance, Rafe left Beka, Dylan and the Nietzschean to deal with the baby Nietzschean, wanting to spend as little time with that race as he had to for this trip.

Dylan began to whistle silently under his breath, wondering all the while if heíd made a mistake teaching Harper what he had. If only the kid had kept his mouth shut.

Beka watched her human lover with a quirked eyebrow and a look that said as soon as they were alone together, she would be asking him what heíd been teaching Harper.

"What are you going to do with me?" Loki asked nervously, watching the remaining trio.

"Well, I suppose spacing you would be a waste," Rhade said reflectively. "What do you think, Beka?"

"I think youíre a Nietzschean, so you can take charge of the baby Nietzschean," she replied sweetly, ignoring Lokiís growl at the description.

"Maybe Dylan should take him in hand... since heís been able to teach Harper so much."

"Hell no!" Dylan retorted immediately. "Taking care of Harper is a full time job on its own. I happen to agree with Beka, and since sheís the captain and Iím the first officer, Iíd say youíre outranked. Have fun, guys, and try not to break Bekaís ship, okay?"

"Very funny," Rhade snorted, then sighed. "Very well, since youíre here and thereís nothing we can do about it short of returning to the Andromeda and losing several days, I will continue your lessons. We will go to the mess and work out."

"Why not the cargo bay? Thereís more room there," Loki asked, confused.

"Because Trance and Rafe are there, and Rafe is uncomfortable around Nietzscheans right now. Be more aware of the people around you, Loki." Not giving him a chance to reply, Rhade strode away, expecting him to follow as, of course, he did.

"Well, I have to admit, Bek, I donít envy Rhade at all right now. Heís gonna have to explain to Captain Anasazi why the Kodiak Prideís heir managed to sneak on board the Maru and avoid being detected while the Andromedaís first officer was on board. I have a feeling that our Nietz is gonna get more of a reaming than I gave him the other night," Dylan chuckled after Rhade and Loki had left the bridge. Pulling Beka into his lap, the first officer smiled. "So how shall we occupy ourselves while everyone else is busy?"

"By planning how weíre going to find Harperís cousin and keep from getting killed for consorting with Nietzscheans," Captain Valentine replied.

"Are you all right, Rafe?" Trance asked finally, tired of the silence that had reigned since they left the bridge.

"Iíll survive," the elder Valentine replied with a derisive snort. "I seem to be able to do that well, at least." Holding up his hand to the purple woman next to him, Rafe forestalled any comment. "And donít start lecturing me, Trance. I know I need to try and get along. I know I need to be friendlier to our hosts, and I know I canít let them win. Easier said than done. At least Iím not cowering in shadows and avoiding the boneheads at all costs like I used to. Thatís an improvement at least."

Trance sighed, for a moment tempted to take action herself, but she liked being the harmless mascot to her friends. Sheíd never had friends before. "Just... donít close yourself off to possibilities."

"You and your endless possibilities and one perfect future," Rafe replied with a small smile. "How is it possible to stay so optimistic in a galaxy thatís so dark and dangerous? What is your secret, Trance Gemini?"

"Believing that we can achieve that one perfect future if we make the right choices." Trance shrugged, not about to tell him that lately all the possibilities she saw were getting darker. "You should try it sometime."

"If youíd said that to me a year ago, I would have told you I did it every day. Times change, and people and places get colder and older. Itís the nature of the beast." Rafe shrugged. Walking over to the weapons locker, the human began to double-check that their entire ordinance was secure and accounted for. Never hurt to be careful when going to a Nietzschean-controlled world.

"But if you stop looking for better things, then all thatís left is the cold. It seems a very... sterile way to live." Trance watched him, wishing there were some way she could get through to him.

"Maybe," Rafe conceded, not sure what to say to the young woman. "Then again maybe to some being left in the cold seems to be the safest place of all. You donít feel anything when youíre frozen. When youíre frozen, not even memories can hurt you," he continued softly, speaking more to himself than his companion. "I used to love to burn. I used to feel so alive when I did, now... God, I hate feeling like this."

"Give yourself some time, but let the rest of us help you. You donít have to do this alone, Rafe. Your sister is here for you; Harperís here for you; Iím here for you. Donít shut us out."

"Iím trying not to, really. Itís just real hard for me to ask for help, you know? Consider it a guy thing."

"Well, consider my refusal to be shut out a Trance thing," she retorted, moving closer and kissing him lightly before he could flinch away.

Backing off a step, Rafe looked down at the diminutive woman. "Youíre even more stubborn than Beka, you know that?" he managed to get out at last.

She simply smiled and turned back to the locker to continue their checks.

Harper snuck onto the bridge after everyone else was sound asleep. Well, after Rafe, Loki and Trance were. What Beka, Rhade and Dylan were doing in the Captainís room he didnít want to know. Sitting in the pilotís seat, the young man punched in the coordinates to call up the communications system.

"Hey, big guy," he began. "Weíre far enough away that thisíll take about a day to reach you since I donít dare communicate directly. I thought Iíd be the one to tell you that Loki stowed away. It wasnít Rhadeís fault; just donít tell him I said that, okay? Weíre still not the best of buds, and I donít want him to think I actually like him or anything, even though he is kinda all right. I mean heís not you, but heís pretty okay as far as it goes.

"Anyhow, itís my fault Loki got on board without the alarms going off. I was tinkering the night before, and I forgot to reactivate the security system, and then we had to leave pretty fast, and there was really no time to go over the Maru again, so if you need to burn Rhade, donít burn him too badly, okay?"

"Iíll try and keep an eye on your kid. I promise not to let him get too friendly. Iím really hoping that heíll grow out of this crush soon; it was cute at first but now... I just donít want to come between you and your son, you know?

"I miss you, Tyr. I canít sleep without you, not very well anyway. My bed is empty, and Iím always so frackiní cold in deep space. I just... miss you. Well, Iíd better try and get some shut eye. Donít marry any more women while Iím gone, okay? Elsbet the Evil is more than enough for at least a year, okay? Anyhow, Harper out."

Signing off, Harper encrypted, coded and sent the message with a sigh. Nights really were colder without his Nietzschean.

Receiving the message a day later, Tyr alternated between cursing his son creatively, snarling what heíd do to him when he got his hands on him, and thanking the progenitor that he was all right. When he calmed enough to form a coherent sentence, he sat down to reply.

"Harper... First, thank you for letting me know my son is well. I had feared a spy had kidnapped or killed him. Instead, I will do that when I next see him, and you may tell him that!" Forcing himself to stop growling, Tyr took a deep breath.

"I miss you too, Pet. Miss having you stealing all the covers, miss having you bounce off the walls after too much of that revolting cola you insist on drinking. I just missing being able to talk to you." He smiled painfully. "Hurry up and save your cousin so we can both sleep again." He raised his hand to end the recording and transmit, then whispered, "I love you," before doing so.

"Earth: if ever there was an asshole of the universe, this is it," Harper said as he negotiated the Maru into a close orbit around the moon, avoiding Dragan patrols. "Home sweet home!"

None of the others had ever been to Earth before, and they all stared avidly. "Itís so beautiful from up here," Trance said quietly. "Just like it used to be... in the old pictures in the archives," she added hastily.

Harperís eyebrow quirked at that, and both Beka and Dylan sent knowing glances to one another. Rafe simply ignored the statement, if he even heard it at all in his distraction at his first sight of Earth.

"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving, dollface," Harper replied after a moment. "When the Dragans arenít torturing, killing, raping, maiming, enslaving, oppressing, brutalizing, and generally fucking over the humans on Earth, the Magog are coming down and wallowing in a veritable Garden of Eden ripe for the plucking and eating. Earth is definitely not one of your vacation getaways. Danteís Inferno brought to life, maybe, but thatís about it. It did used to be beautiful though. Once upon a time before the Commonwealth, before Earth really knew what was out there in the big, bad universe."

"Oh, not before the Commonwealth," Trance argued. "Pollution wasnít very pretty. But during the heyday of the Commonwealth, it was a beautiful place, almost as lovely as Tarn Vedra itself... Iíve heard."

"But weíre not here on vacation," Rhade pointed out. "Where are we likely to find your cousin, Harper?"

Eyeing Trance strangely, Harper took a few minutes to answer. "What used to be Boston in the United States of America. Thatís where we Harpers are from," he replied at length.

"So thatís where we look. After dark," Beka said, eyeing Rhade and Loki with exasperation.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Dylan replied quietly. "I suggest everyone try and get some shut eye in the meantime. Weíre hidden from Dragan scans, but just to be safe, Iíll activate the cloak that the crew of the Andromeda installed. Weíll need to do a weapons check and make sure weíre all geared up properly before we leave the moonís orbit."

"You know, it would make much more sense for you to stay on board and monitor us from here," Beka said in a last ditch effort to reason with Rhade.

The Nietzschean simply crossed his arms and stared at her silently, and after glancing at him, Loki copied his posture.

Throwing her hands up in frustration, Beka stomped off, muttering under her breath about stubborn asses.

"Sheís very... unpredictable," Loki observed.

Rhade smiled wryly. "Itís one of her charms. Now come along; I wouldnít put it past her to find a way to leave without us."

"I heard that!" came the snarled reply from down the corridor. "If you think flattery is gonna make me give you any later on, youíve got another thing coming, Rhade!"

"Looks like someoneís in the doghouse to me," came Harperís glib remark as he came out of Engineering in time to catch the exchange. "No offense, guys, but you got a lot to learn about human women. I have a lot to learn about human women, and Iím a human male. I donít think anyone has ever, in the history of humanityóany male that isófully understood a human woman. It canít be done."

Beka reappeared, hand on the butt of her gun. "If you comedians would care to join me at the airlock, perhaps we could get started tonight?" she bit out.

"Yes, boss," Harper replied meekly, following behind the Maruís captain. He knew better than to mess with Beka Iíll-fry-your-ass-if-you-say-another-word Valentine when she was in this mood. Patting the side pocket of his leather jacket to make sure his force lance was where he stuck it, Harper hastened his step so as not to irritate the woman more.

"You sleep with her?" Loki whispered, staring at Rhade and Dylan with increased respect.

Dylan leaned over to whisper in the young manís ear. "And you thought your father was scary when he was in a bad mood, didnít you?" he teased the teen.

Wide-eyed, the teen could only stare after the blonde human woman and shudder.

"Now!" Bekaís snarl got them all moving, and soon they were standing on Terran soil.

Trance actually growled as she looked around, seeing the signs of Nietzschean predations, and she wished for just a moment alone with the Drago-Katzov elders to show them what she thought of what theyíd done to this beautiful planet.

"You know, it feels like I never left," Harper muttered sarcastically as he looked around before handing Loki and Rhade each a pair of what looked like earplugs.

"You might want to use them just in case anyone recognizes you for a Nietz and tries to use a shriller on you. One of my finer inventions, I might add. Shrillers work at a frequency that causes excruciating pain to anyone with Nietzschean hearing, but humans canít hear it. Those were what I was working on last night. They should block the frequency of the shrillers without affecting your hearing much."

Rhade frowned and eyed the earpieces with disfavor, but he put them in, so Loki did as well. "You are the most likely to know where to find your relative, so lead the way, Harper," he suggested.

"Letís just hope that the family stayed close to the area we grew up in," Harper muttered. "Thereís no guarantees here, you know that, right?"

Beka, whoíd been keeping close watch around them, suddenly whispered, "Time to move, people; the natives are restless, so weíd best head for cover."

"If weíre hiding," Loki pronounced the word with distaste, "how are we to find Harperís cousin?"

Rhade reached over and grabbed the young Nietzschean by the ear, hauling him over. "Stop questioning and follow orders," he barked, though remembering to keep his voice low."

"Both of you, move," Beka snapped, motioning with her gun for them to follow Harper.

"Why donít you just send up a flare that says ĎNietzscheans are here, come and get usí? Geez! And if you donít shut your trap, Loki, I swear Iím gonna nano-weld your mouth shut, got it?" Harper snarled under his breath. "Dylan and Beka can handle Rhade."

Dylan quirked an eyebrow at that and looked back over his shoulder to his lovers, amused by the smirk on Bekaís face and the scowl on Rhadeís. "Iím quite sure Beka and I could come up with something to keep Agravaine quiet," he murmured mildly, following Harper into the shadows.

Rhadeís eyebrow rose. "And would it be something for public viewing?" he inquired dryly, again speaking so softly that his voice would not carry beyond them, finally letting go of Lokiís ear.

"I just asked a question," Loki muttered sullenly.

"Donít," the others chorused, making him cross his arms over his chest and fume as he followed along.

Rafeís lip curled in a smirk. Apparently some things never changed no matter what species they were. Kids were still smart mouthed, and they still got slapped down when necessary. Glancing down at Trance, he saw her watching him, a smile dancing on her lips. "Donít think Iím going soft on the boneheads; it was just amusing to watch is all."

Beka, whoíd been listening to the exchange, smiled. That had actually sounded like the old Rafe Valentine. It was the first thing that had in a long, long time.

"Brendan, weíve got movement in the old tunnels we donít normally use. Four humans, two Nietzscheans and a purple thing with a tail."

"Are they Dragans?"

"Not if the Dragan tracking party thatís hunting them is any indication."

"Well then, I think we need to go take a look and see what we can find." Hefting his pulse rifle over his shoulder and tucking a couple of knives into the tops of his boots, Brendan Harper Lahey called a few of his best guerilla fighters and headed off to Ďwelcomeí his guests.

"It feels like weíre being watched," Trance muttered, moving a little closer to Rafe, her tail curling up and around his waist.

"We probably are," Beka replied from her position slightly ahead of them with Dylan at her side. Theyíd decided that having humans in the lead would be a good idea; it might save their lives. "If I lived here, I would keep a close eye on any access points. The last thing the humans want is the Dragans sneaking up on them."

"Yeah, and weíre not even in the main access tunnels. Not that I really know where they are anymore, just that this one has obviously not been used in forever. The human resistance isnít going to take the chance that the Dragans can find them by making it easy to just waltz on in," Harper replied softly. "I was actually hoping that we would get the attention of human patrols and theyíd alert the command and Brendan would..."

"Brendan would what?" came the disembodied voice from the shadows in front of them just before the owner of the voice, Brendan Lahey himself, stepped out of the shadows. "Howíre you doin, cuz? Long time no see."

The others left it to Harper to greet his cousin, Rhade watching the shadows with narrowed eyes, knowing that hostile gazes were trained on him and on his alphaís heir. "Stay close," he breathed to Loki, not wanting to have to tell Tyr Anasazi that he had allowed his firstborn son to get himself killed.

Loki darted a frustrated look at his companion before turning his attention back to Harper and his cousin. The slightly older human didnít look like Harper, yet in some way he did. It was interesting.

"Brendan, thank God!" Harperís whole body sagged in relief, and Dylan was immediately there to stop him from going down without anyone being the wiser.

"Keep it together, Harper; nowís not the time to show weakness. You know that," he whispered urgently, making the younger man stand up straighter.

Brendan, whoíd been observing the whole scene, quirked an eyebrow. "Care to explain that statement, boyo? And explain why youíre with a couple of stinkiní boneheads while youíre at it and that purple.... lady?"

"Theyíre not Dragans, Bren, and theyíre not stinkiní boneheads. Theyíre... Agravaine is my bodyguard, and Loki is... well, itís a long story and one for your ears only. Thing is, we came across information that said that the Dragan hold on Earth is slipping and that theyíre pissed enough that theyíre trying a couple last ditch efforts to get rid of any resistance. Biggest effort being to get rid of you. Apparently youíve made quite the name for yourself," Harper replied passionately.

"Can we finish this somewhere less... exposed? Weíre being tracked by a hunting party."

"What? Dammit, Harper, why didnít you say anything?" Bekaís gun was powering up, and she was looking past the humans to try and peer into the darkness beyond.

"Some things you never lose, no matter how long youíve been gone, Bek, and surviving on the hell that is Earth is one of them. So, Bren, what do you say?"

"Brendan, you canít bring a couple of boneheads into the compound; thatíll compromise us!" someone muttered. "Besides, the people wonít stand for it."

"Relax, Iím not going to, but Seamus is right, this canít be discussed in public, and heís my family. I want to hear him out. Weíll take Ďem to the last base of operations before this one. Weíre still at least a couple of bases ahead of the sweeper parties. It should be safe."

"I donít like it, Brendan. It could be a trap."

"Objection noted, letís move it."

Observing silently, Rhade nodded approval at the humanís commands. Logical. He eyed Harper with more interest. Apparently there was more to this family than met the eye. Interesting. He should have known that Tyr Anasazi would never choose an inferior specimen.

Beka remained close to Harper, glancing back nervously now that she knew they were being tracked. Suddenly she was glad of Agravaine and Lokiís presence, knowing that they had strength to match that of their pursuers if it should come to that.

"We need to leave now," Trance said suddenly, frowning and moving closer to Rafe, "or it will be very, very bad."

"If Trance says itís time to move, then itís time to move, Brendan. If you donít believe anything else out of my mouth, believe that sheís telling the truth about this. Trance has a way of knowing things, if you catch my drift, kinda like Granna used to know, remember?"

Brendan was taken a bit a back by that. His ma used to say that Granna had the Ďsightí. In fact he and Seamus had seen Grannaís abilities more than once when theyíd been caught out getting into mischief when they were sure no one but no one should have known what they were doing. None of their parents had known what he and Seamus had been up to, but Gran, Gran always had.

Based on that alone, Brendan made a snap decision. "All right, people, letís move. And make sure a couple of surprises are left behind for my cousinís friends. Weíve improved some on your shriller design, Shame; they explode and send shrapnel as well as cause auditory distress now. Translation, we deafen Ďem first, then kill Ďem when theyíre distracted."

Dylan barely managed to hide his disapproval. It seemed a bit... underhanded to kill a person while they were down, but he could almost understand it. Almost.

"You didnít grow up here, Dylan, so donít judge. Brutal is a nice word for the way we grew up. Between Dragans and Magog, survival really was of the fittest, and we needed to fight dirty to make sure that humans held on to what was ours. This was where humanity was started, and by God, we were gonna hold on with teeth and bloody bones if we had to," Harper murmured, walking next to the High Guard officer.

"Iím trying, Harper, itís just..."

"Hard, I know. Just try and keep an open mind, and if you canít do that, keep your mouth shut. Youíll stay alive longer."

"Everything all right back there, cuz?" Brendan queried.

"Yeah, just fine, thanks, Bren," Harper replied, giving Dylan a look.

Rafe, who had been silently following the conversation, had to agree with Harper. Survival meant using whatever you could to your advantage. Something he had to start remembering again.

Loki opened his mouth to ask a question, only to be silenced by a glare from Agravaine. The older Nietzschean was well aware of the sentiments of the humans around them toward their race, and heíd prefer not to die because of Lokiís curiosity.

Trance moved closer to Rafe after having been separated from him when the Terrans had joined them. "Are you all right?" she murmured, glancing at him worriedly. There were so many possible outcomes to his presence here on Earth, both good and bad, and she wasnít sure what to do to influence their path toward the good ones.

"Fine, better than I have been for a while. These people have the right idea if you ask me," he murmured. "Wipe Ďem out before they wipe us out. And donít give me that look; you know damn well the Nietzscheans on this planet have done more harm than good. They get what they deserve."

Beka shot her brother a dirty look but said nothing, preferring to stick close to both her lovers just to ensure they all survived.

Leading them through winding tunnels and half bombed out buildings, Brendan brought them to a semi-safe location far from where they had been, but not far enough away that they didnít hear the explosions and screams caused by the shrillers detonating.

Even with the earplugs in, both Loki and Rhade winced, hands automatically covering their ears in an attempt to block out the sound.

"That is... unpleasant," Agravaine observed, straightening up, actually accepting Dylan and Bekaís support momentarily.

"But anything that kills Dragans is good," Loki said fiercely.

Pausing, Trance seemed distant for a moment, then smiled and nodded. "Weíll be fine here for a while."

"And the purple one has spoken. I guess the threatís passed for now. So are we there yet, Bren?"

"Weíre here. All right, boyo, start explaining."

An hour later Brendan sat there, stunned at what heíd heard. The details of Seamusí life, corroborated by the other humans, the purple girl and even the Nietzscheans, painted a picture he didnít want to think about but had to.

"Aní you stayed with him, despite the fact that you were hardly better than a sex slave tíhim?"

"If thatís all I was, he wouldnít have come after me when Freya sold me off, Bren. If I was just a kludge to use and discard, he wouldnít have risked life, ship and the extermination of Kodiak Pride, and he did. They may say differently, Tyr, Agravaine and the others, but I know.

"If it hadnít been for me, Tyr wouldnít have attacked Orca Pride. If it hadnít have been for me killing Guderian and Tyr protecting me, the Orcas would never have gone after Kodiak. I mean, my God, Bren, Kodiak is the protector of the remains of Drago Mussevni and one of the strongest prides in the Nietzschean Empire. Stronger than even the Dragans with all their slave laboróand the humans under Kodiak rule have been given their freedom and have chosen to stay with them. Doesnít that tell you something, like maybe not all boneheadsósorry, guysóare bad?

"Tyr let me go, let me and the humans that serve with him come to Earth to get you, Brendan. You canít stay here anymore. Itís not safe for you now that the Dragans have targeted you. He let us go, armed us, improved our shipís defense systems and gave us the information we needed to get in and get out. Does that sound like a bad guy to you?"

Brendan had to grudgingly agree to most of what his cousin said, but it still rankled. "It sounds like a good deal, Iíll give ye that, but looks, and sounds, can be deceiving. You always were far too trusting, Seamus, despite the way you grew up."

"Brendan, if you stay here, youíll die!" Harper yelled, frustrated beyond measure.

"Aní if I go, my people will die. One life for a hundred? Not a fair trade, cuz. Not a fair trade at all."

"If you stay here, youíll be killed and so will others trying to protect you," Loki spoke up suddenly. "Whereas if you leave with us, the Dragans will have no reason to attack the people closest to you, and you will be able to plan... and perhaps convince my father to assist in attacking the Dragans and freeing Earth. Enslaving a planet only proves that they arenít worthy to be called Nietzscheans. Besides," he added with the blunt honesty of the young, "heíd do almost anything that would make Harper happy."

Beka and Trance both had to turn away abruptly to hide their amusement, and Rhadeís expression was particularly wooden as he coughed behind his hand, managing to keep a straight face.

"Umm, thanks, Loki, thatís a great piece of advice. Now will you let me do the talking?" Harper asked resignedly, knowing that the young Nietzschean was only trying to help, but the kid really needed to learn when to keep his mouth shut.

"The... child... has some good points, even if his manner is a little tactless," Brendan admitted. "Give me twenty-four hours to think on it, okay?"

"Iím not a child!" Loki snapped before he was silenced by the unanimous glares of his companions. Subsiding into a sulky silence, the young Nietzschean scowled at the human whoíd insulted him.

"We canít afford much more than that," Beka said bluntly. "The longer weíre here, the greater the likelihood that the Dragans will find us, and none of us would exactly be invited home for dinner."

"If we wait longer than that, nothing will matter because weíll all be dead and there wonít be any more hope," Trance said abruptly, not looking at anyone though her hand clutched at Rafeís arm and her fingers were cold.

"Trance, do you know something?" Harper asked quietly, watching his purple-skinned friend carefully. When she gave him a look, the kind that said, ĎIím not telling you a thing, so quit asking,í he decided to keep his mouth shut for now.

"So, do you have a place we can bunk for the night? I mean if weíre here for the next day, weíre gonna need a place to rest, and the least we can do is help with patrols and that, well, the humans anyway. And sorry, Agravaine, but I am not being followed around by a Nietzschean when Iím patrolling a human sector of Earth. That would make me a bigger target than not."

Rhade frowned, but he had to agree with Harperís logic. "So long as Dylan and Beka go with you," he conceded reluctantly. Seeing the small humanís protest on his face, he added, "Them or me. I promised the captain that you would be protected."

"Besides, if anything happened to you," Beka put in, looking amused, "none of us could ever go back to the Andromeda."

Harper grumbled under his breath but agreed to the conditions. "I really donít need bodyguards, though. I mean, I grew up on this mudball. I know what Iím doing!"

"Take the bodyguards with you, Seamus," Brendan grinned. "It never hurts to have muscle with you when youíre on the streets of Beantown. You and your... friends can stay here. The Nietzscheans are gonna have to stay in this area, and I need to post guards. Itís for their protection as much as ours. Stray boneheads meet bad ends in this section of town.

"It would probably be better if your purple lady doesnít stray too far either. Earth has been ravaged by far too many alien races of late, so a purple girl with a tail will probably not be considered a friend, if you catch my drift. The humans can help with patrols, but they go with my people. Jackson will set you up with patrol mates if thatís your choice.

"Shame, you can bunk with me if you like; itíd be good to have family around again. And I could use your input on a new device weíre working on. If your bodyguards will let you come, that is," Brendan finished.

Trance frowned slightly, darting a concerned glance at Rafe that no one saw, their attention on Harper and Brendan, but she remained silent, apparently deciding to keep whatever it was to herself. Instead she offered, "I brought some medical supplies with me. Iíd like to check everyone out and help where I can. If nothing else, you could all use immunizations and vitamin shots."

Rhade wanted to offer help with the security, but he knew that the humans would not accept it from a Nietzschean. Since he could do nothing else, he would keep an eye on Trance, even though he suspected that she could take care of herself much better than anyone believed.

"So where do you want us?" Beka asked, remaining close to Harper though she spared a look for her brother.

"You can bunk down here. Iíd rather keep you all together. Someone will escort... Trance, right?... to the infirmary in the morning, and weíll have people drop by after youíve had a few hours rest to pick up Rafe for patrol. Harper, you and your bodyguards will have third patrol with me. Fair enough?" Brendan asked.

"Yeah, sounds good, Bren. Youíll all be okay here, wonít you?" he asked his crewmates.

"Get out of here, kid. Have fun with your cousin, and donít forget Beka and me when itís time for patrol, okay?" Dylan chuckled, sending Harper on his way.

"You heard the man, Harper, go catch up on old times," Beka agreed with a laugh.

Harper came tearing into the room to see the remnants of the team that Rafe had gone out with covered in blood and sporting plasma burns. "Rafe! Brendan, whereís Rafe?" he bellowed over the tumult of moans and screams of pain.

Harperís jacket was grabbed as he passed. "It was dark. They thought he was Brendan, so they took him. The Dragans took him."

Following on Harperís heels, Beka stopped dead in her tracks, causing Dylan to plow into her, and only Rhadeís reflexes prevented the same from happening to him and Trance. "Dear God, Harper, Rafe wonít survive being captured by Nietzscheans again. His sanity certainly wonít," she moaned, nearly frantic.

"Weíll find him," Trance said, only to stop, her eyes widening as she stared over Bekaís shoulder at something.

"You know what we have to do," another, familiar voice said, making everyone spin around to stare in shock at... Trance?

"Eek!" Harper let out what was shockingly similar to a girly scream as the second Trance appeared in the room. "What, where, how??"

It was recognizably the same face, but gold with bronzy highlights instead of purple, and the short pale blonde hair had been replaced with a long, copper-bronze mane partially braided back. Most startling of all, however, was the lack of a tail and the very warlike leather outfit and weapons.

"Is it that bad?" purple Trance asked, approaching her double.

"Very bad," gold Trance replied. "Rafe died, and Harper, Beka and Dylan were killed trying to rescue him, and that caused a lot of events that... Well, it wasnít good. But I know where we made mistakes, and I can fix them."

Purple Trance nodded, and she looked back at her friends. "I have to go now, but not really. Iíll still be with you," she nodded at the other version of herself, "just a bit different."

"Trance," Beka started, reaching for her friend, one hand catching hold of her wrist.

"It has to be, Beka. If it wasnít necessary, I would never have come back to tell myself." She smiled. "Just remember that itís still me."

She hugged Harper hard, smiling into his confused face and stepped back, turning away to walk past gold Trance and simply vanishing.

The new version of the enigmatic alien stared at the stunned faces surrounding her. "We need to go find Rafe now. It would be easier if you came with me?" she suggested, trying to get them moving.

"Are you really...?"

"Yes, Beka, Iím Trance. The same person whoís been your friend for years, just older and wiser now. I made some very bad mistakes the first time Ďround, and this time Iím going to fix them. Iím not going to let Rafe be destroyed... or anyone else."

"Cuz, I hate to say this, but youíve got some really whacked friends, there," Brendan muttered under his breath. "However, if youíre mounting a raid on the Dragans, weíre up for a party. So is bronzed warrior babe the one in charge?"

"Uhhh, I guess so," Harper replied, backing up behind Rhade as he stared at the new incarnation of Trance, not at all sure if he liked it at all.

"How did a spacer like you get on Earth?" A hand came out of the dark and backhanded him hard. "Answer me, kludge, how did you get to Earth?"

"Fuck you, bonehead," Rafe snarled and then howled as a vibro blade was driven into the fleshy part of his thigh and left there.

"Next time itíll go someplace more vital. So I would suggest you reconsider your answer by the time we come back."

Growing impatient, Trance stood up suddenly, startling the many people around the scarred table who were arguing details of the plan to save Rafe. "If you keep worrying about the details, heíll be dead before we ever move," she snapped.

That brought Beka to her feet as well, and she moved to Tranceís side, though not without another sidelong glance at her changed friend. "I want my brother back, and if youíre not going to help us, weíll do it ourselves." A tiny bit of the tension relaxed in her when Rhade stood and joined them as well. Whether he agreed or not, he was clearly going to help them.

However, it would take some time to get organized, and while they did that, there was another, small matter that could be taken care of: the matter of Brendan coming with them when they left Earth.

Brendan, surprisingly, was the one to broach the subject first. To his cousin, of course. "I donít trust Nietzscheans, Seamus. You of all people should understand that. But if youíre sure this Kodiak of yours can and will help me..." Brendan paused. "Iíll have some demands of my own. Iíll need to be able to communicate with my people and have them communicate with me. And if I need to come back, Iíll be allowed to. Sound fair?"

Harper nodded. It did sound fair to him, but he wasnít the one in charge. Oh, he could sway Tyr, of that he had no doubt but... Calling Rhade over from where he was discussing options with Trance and some of Brendanís people, Harper told him what Brendan had suggested. "I can say yes because Iím Tyrís lover, but it would be more official coming from the second in command. Agravaine? Would Tyr really go for it?" Harper asked quietly, watching the Nietzschean intently.

Rhade shrugged. "You yourself told us that he has decided it is time to mount an offensive against the Dragans. I believe he had already decided to assist the human resistance if there was any chance of success, and I think there is." He concentrated on Harperís cousin. "For your own safety, however, while on board the Andromeda, you should have a... liaison. Harper has made his own place, as have the crew of Maru, but... not everyone is as pleased by the presence of humans.

He glanced over at Loki and smiled faintly. "And since Loki has no other duties as of yet, I think heíll be perfect for the job."

Loki gaped at Rhade, then looked at the human who kept referring to him as a child. "Sir, Ió"

"Are you refusing an order?" Rhadeís eyebrows rose, and Beka had to turn away to hide her amusement.

"No! No, sir!" Loki looked like heíd eaten something that disagreed with him.

"And heís your loverís eldest son?" Brendanís eyebrow quirked up in disbelief. "I thought boneheaóI mean Nietzscheans matured at a faster rate than us," he whispered to Harper. "So why is he acting like a wet behind the ears sprout?"

"íCause he is wet behind the ears," Harper whispered back, knowing full well that Rhade and Loki could hear every word. "He stowed away on Bekís ship because he figured I needed protection. Loki has a warped Oedipal complex, if you get my drift."

"You mean he... ewwww," Brendan replied succinctly.

"Um, hello, people? Iíve still got a brother held by the Dragans. Weíre gonna go get him, remember?" Beka growled, exasperated and growing impatient. Her trigger finger itched, and she wanted to get to Rafe before he was traumatized further by any more Nietzscheans. While she had come to see the Kodiaks as the exceptions to the rule, the fact still remained that most Nietzes were anything but pleasant.

"I am not wet behind the ears, and youíre not my father," Loki snapped. "And Iím not a kid! Iím fourteen!" Which for a Nietzschean meant that he was old enough to be assigned adult duties and be treated as an adult.

Rhade ignored Lokiís comments, knowing it would be futile to engage in a debate with a hormone-driven teenager. "Bekaís right. We need to find Valentine quickly. Are we ready to go?" he asked Brendan.

"Youíre the ones whoíve been yammering on about things that could have been settled later," Brendan replied with a sardonic drawl and a quirk of his eyebrow at the kidís temper tantrum. If this was the way Loki was gonna be on board this ship, maybe Brendan would be better off facing the Dragans here on Earth, but heíd given his word to his cousin, so heíd keep it.

"Sully, distribute the weapons to our friends, including the shrillers. Make sure theyíve got enough ammo. We need them to cover our backs as much as they need us to help. We hit the boneys hard and fast, and we donít leave survivors. We make for the detention area, no stopping to sightsee. If we get the chance, we free other POWs, but we donít go out of our way. The longer weíre in, the more vulnerable we become. While we infiltrate, the second team takes out the ammo dump as a diversion. You know the drill, people. Letís move."

Harper quickly locked and loaded, patting his side to make sure his hidden force lance was readily available. Loading up on shrillers and extra clips, he quickly forgot about the life heíd lived after Earth. He was an Earther, and by God heíd do what it took to keep his people alive and get them out of there in one piece.

Dylan efficiently went over his own weapons and calmly waited next to Beka, confident that theyíd succeed in getting Rafe out alive and in one piece.

After a last uneasy glance at Trance, still uncertain about this new incarnation of the already decidedly odd female, Rhade took his place beside Harper. Much as he wanted to be with his own lovers, Harper needed his protection more... and Tyr would flay him alive if anything happened to the engineer.

Aware of Rhadeís discomfort, Trance ignored it in favor of concentrating on what she could sense of Rafe, keeping track of the changing possibilities. If anything happened to him...

Loki moved to Brendanís side, not letting his expression deter him, relaxing when he saw Rhadeís approval. Apparently his new duties had already started, as heíd suspected.

Rolling his eyes, Brendan stifled a sarcastic remark... barely. "All right then, I can assume weíre ready tígo then?" he asked the gathered crowd.

Beka and Harper nodded silently and began to check their weapons with almost frightening efficiency. Both had been involved in a rescue mission of this sort far too often, and both had been up against the Dragans enough times to know what they were in for.

Dylan grinned ferally. "Letís bring it."

"Try not to get yourself killed," Rhade said harshly, one hand curving around Dylanís neck to pull him into a possessive kiss. "Keep him out of trouble," he added to Beka when heíd released Dylan, then sighed as he remembered that it was Bekaís brother they were trying to save. "And yourself." He brushed a thumb over her lips, a touch as intimate between them as a kiss.

"You too," Beka replied, wondering when sheíd gone from accepting Rhade to loving him. When this day was over, she wanted all her men, brother, lovers and friend, back where she could keep an eye on them.

"Itís time to go," Trance said suddenly, a hand resting familiarly on the gun at her hip.

Rafe spat out another mouthful of blood. The Dragans seemed to be having a great deal of fun roughing him up without... well, raping him. Apparently the Orca were one of the few prides that went in for sexual domination of humans. Not that Rafael Valentine would have allowed that to happen again. No matter what it took, this time he wasnít going to be anyoneís bitch!

"Stupid kludge, heís not going to tell us anything. If we were on the station, Iíd say space him, but put him in the cage with the other dissidents. In the morning heíll be executed along with the rest of the rebel garbage in the holding tanks," the one in charge growled as he wiped the blood off his fist before turning to walk out the cell. He had better things to do than to beat a prisoner... like find that bastard Lahey and put an end to the human rebellion once and for all.

"Hurry," Trance hissed, growing more agitated as she sensed Rafeís time growing short. She had a duty, one sheíd followed for longer than her companions could begin to imagine, but if anything happened to Rafe...

"If we all get ourselves killed through lack of caution, Valentine will be equally dead," Rhade pointed out coolly from where he crouched at an intersection of corridors, peering carefully around the corner to make sure no Dragans were nearby.

"And if Rafe dies because of you dragging your feet, youíll wish you only had the Dragans to face," Trance snarled back, eyes narrowed.

Watching her, Lokiís eyes widened, and he moved closer to Brendan, insinuating himself between the golden alien and the human who was his responsibility.

"Leave off, will ya, kid?" Brendan growled, pushing his way past Loki to tower over Trance. "And as for you, Miss Golden Hair, letís get something straight. I donít plan on anyone dying tonight, but this is my planet, my city, and no one knows the Dragans better than my people. We play things by my rules, and everyone gets out alive. You go charging off half cocked, and youíll more than likely get your Valentine and every last one of us killed too.

"Now I appreciate wanting to get someone you care about out of harmís way as much as the next guy, but I donít do it at the expense of other peopleís lives. Now simmer down and letís do it by the book, okay?"

Harper raised an eyebrow, not sure if there would be bloodshed or worse. Her purple perfectness wouldíve backed down, hell, sheíd never have been so Warrior Princess in the first place, but this Trance... well, this one was still a bit of a mystery.

Figuring that the last thing any of them needed was a pissing contest in Dragan-controlled territory, Harper cleared his throat softly. "Hey, guys, tick tock, remember? We got a friend to rescue, so letís get to it."

Giving the Nietzschean a last focused glare, Trance turned her back, ignoring him utterly. Rafe was her only concern now, and this time when she got him back, she was going to make sure he stayed with her. He got into far too much trouble on his own.

"I think I liked the purple one better," Rhade grumbled softly to Harper, making Beka laugh as she overheard him.

Nodding vehemently, Harper fell into line with the other humans, glancing at Beka for her reaction to the woman whoíd become her best friend.

Beka, not sure what to think of Trance at the moment, concentrated on the issue at hand. "I want my brother back. Alive. We play this smart and safe because that way weíll be sure to get him," she muttered through clenched teeth. "Now weíre burning valuable time, so, Brendan, can we get our asses in gear, please?!"

Before anyone could reply, a pair of Dragans rounded a distant corner and after a few steps noticed the strange group. Hands flashed toward weapons, but they never had a chance as they were cut down by fire from the invaders.

"Now we have to move quickly," Rhade said, straightening up from his defensive crouch. "When they donít report in, the alarm will be raised. We have only a short time left before this whole base is on alert."

He looked at Trance. "Do you have any idea where he might be? Or you?" he added, looking at Brendan on the assumption that he might know where prisoners were usually held.

Rafe looked up as the lock blew on the holding cell and grinned tiredly as first Dylan and then Beka, Harper and Brendan poured through the door. Finally a strange golden woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to Trance brought up the rear, leaving the Nietzscheans to guard their backs. "Never thought Iíd say this but youíre a sight for sore eyes, Hunt. And you, Valentine Smart, youíre beautiful as always. Whoís the disco queen?"

"Rafe, oh God, we..." Beka took a deep, calming breath. "We gotta get you out of here, now. Can you walk?"

"Lead the way, baby sister."

Trance snorted. "You know perfectly well who I am, Rafe Valentine," she said harshly, trying to hide her reaction to seeing him. She wanted to hurt those who had hurt him, but she knew there was no time. "Just you wait till we get back to the Andromeda. Iím going to make sure you take care of yourself properly from now on."

Eyebrows rising, Rhade remained silent, not believing that either Rafe or Trance would appreciate hearing that she sounded like a Nietzschean matriarch taking her husband to task.

Rafeís one eyebrow attempted to shoot up into his hairline, and only the pain of his beatings stopped it. "What, you go change skin tone on me, and you become sort of warrior goddess on a rampage?" he snorted, looking at the golden woman before accepting the sidearm that Dylan handed him.

For the first time since the Orcas got hold of him, Rafe wasnít a cowering mess, and heíd be damned if heíd go back to that. Her former purpleness would have to deal, and that was that. Rafe Valentine was the captain of his ship once more.

"Um, guys, big ugly Dragans, little bitty Harpers, can we go already?" Harper urged, getting more antsy by the second.

"Iíll second that request," Brendan whispered, motioning the other prisoners out of the holding cell and handing them each a weapon as they passed him. "We need to get the fuck out of here before the alert goes off!"

"Finally, someone makes sense," Rhade muttered, waiting till the last of the humans had passed before falling in behind at Harperís side. As heíd expected, the blond engineer had refused to leave till every prisoner was freed, and as first officer of the Andromeda Ascendant, it was Agravaine Rhadeís unenviable task to make sure he survived his altruistic impulses.

Trance, on the other hand, had made sure that she and Rafe were the first to leave, with Harperís cousin close on their heels and Beka close enough to be mistaken for her brotherís shadow.

"Weíll be able to return to the Andromeda soon," she murmured. "Brendan agreed to come."

"First we get the prisoners out and safe, and then we leave these bastards a little surprise," Rafe replied somewhat forcefully. "I owe them, Trance, I owe them and the Orcas big. Since I canít get those animals, these ones will have to do."

"Hey, you think Iím gonna go into a major Drago-Katzov compound and not leave a few parting gifts?" Brendan snorted from behind Rafe. "Harper and I didnít get much sleeping done the other night, but we did tweak a few surprises to really get this party started."

Wit that Brendan touched a remote detonator heíd palmed, and the Dragan prisoner complex started to go up like the Fourth of July. "God, I love Independence Day, donít you, cuz?"

"Oh yeah," Harper chuckled, not bothering to stop and admire his handiwork. "Iím just a boy with his toys!"

"Tyr will be so upset to have missed it," Rhade said blandly, eyeing Harper while Loki choked.

"Men," Trance uttered in tones of total disgust while Beka rolled her eyes in agreement.

"Pity theyíre so useful in some ways. Weíd be much better off without them."

"I think my father was smart to pick Harper after marrying his wives," Loki muttered.

"Letís not talk about the uber bitch, okay Loki?" Harper growled quietly. "Your father knows better than that. I get... cranky when sheís mentioned," the human continued without missing a step. "And he doesnít get any either, which makes him cranky!"

"Ewww!" Loki made gagging sounds. "Haaaarper," he whined, "heís my father! And heís old."

"In that case I wonít warn you where not to stick your hands the next time you come into the machine shop after... weíve polished the tables." Harper grinned wickedly while Brendan chortled quietly in the background.

Loki rolled his eyes. "I still think youíd be better off with me," he retorted, moving closer, eyes fixed on Harper.

"If youíre so sure of that, Iíd suggest you discuss it with your father. After all, you never know, he might actually give me up... and the Magog will become vegetarians."

Grumbling under his breath, Loki crossed his arms over his chest and growled at Harper as he stalked along at Brendanís side, then growled at the other human when he noticed that he was doubled over with laughter.

"Something wrong, little Nietzschean?" Brendan asked with an innocent mien, trying to suppress his laughter in order to spare the puppyís pride somewhat. Biting his tongue for security as well as to prevent the peals of laughter at Lokiís expense, Brendan quickly led his people back into the tunnels and away from the Dragan patrols that had finally begun to look for the kludges whoíd dared to attack one of their strongholds.

"Quiet now, all of you. Weíre passing under Dragan-controlled areas."

"íLittle Nietzschean?í" Loki snarled, looking remarkably like his father at that moment, spikes flaring along his arms in reaction to the adrenalin rush. He bit back the comment he wanted to make, not willing to draw the Dragans down on them, but he vowed that he and the brash human would have a long discussion as soon as possible.

"Young Nietzschean?" Brendan offered with a bona fide smirk.

Harper, trying very hard not to laugh out loud in order to spare Lokiís feelings, walked just a little slower and fell back enough to get out of the range of hearing before he busted a gut.

Beka and Dylan smirked as they watched the interaction between yet another Nietzschean-human pairing in the works. They couldnít wait for the fireworks to start once they got back to the Maru... provided that the fireworks didnít intrude on the trioís time alone together.

"It would be helpful if you would hold off on the mating displays till we are somewhere more secure," Rhade said dryly, eyeing the two of them.

"Mating disp..." Brendan choked. "Not in this lifetime, buddy! First of all, I prefer the fairer sex more often than not, and secondly, I prefer humans. Thanks all the same. Besides, Iím not ready to make a dowry offer for the lad; heís still got some growing up to do," Brendan continued, deciding to nip that line of thought in the bud.

About to agree fervently that he was totally disinterested in Harperís cousin, Brendanís last comment brought Loki up short, and he turned to glare at the human with narrowed eyes. "I am not a child," he growled, moving closer until Brendan was forced to tilt his head back to meet the tall young Nietzscheanís eyes.

"Height does not equal maturity, or havenít they taught you that?" Brendan replied casually. "Harper tells me that you stowed away on the Maru and that Beka was ready to space you. He didnít go into the details, but the intent was rather obvious. Seems to me youíre still a walking hormone testing his legs. So, until you prove otherwise, Iím standing by my assessment."

That said, Brendan skirted around the Nietzschean teen and took point to lead his people back into the tunnels so he could give some last minute advice before he was whisked away from Earth and his own personal windmill, the overthrow of the Dragan contingent on his planet.

Loki desperately wanted to argue his case, but he knew it was neither the time nor the place. Gritting his teeth so hard they should have cracked, he followed Brendan, remembering that it was his duty to protect the infuriating human. No matter that heíd much rather tear the manís head off himself.

"Things ought to be very interesting on the ship for the next while," Rhade murmured to Beka, who had ended up at his side as they moved through what had once been Bostonís subway system.

"Youíre telling me," the blonde replied with a grin. "Talk about oil and water."

"Theyíre either going to kill each other before we get back to the Andromeda or melt a couple bed frames. I think Harperís planning on sleeping in Engineering just to avoid the fallout of either possibility," Dylan added as he moved to join the conversation while he watched the young man in question jog ahead to join his cousin.

"As if either Harper or Tyr will be seen outside their quarters for a week after this time apart," Rhade snorted. "It appears that the two families strike sparks off each other. We should be careful to keep the other children away from any other relatives Harper may have," he sighed, "unless we want to live in a constant war zone."

Trance glanced over at that comment, but she remained silent and her focus returned to Rafe almost instantly.

Beka shuddered at the thought. "Two Harpers is more than enough to unleash on an unsuspecting universe. Letís just hope that Brendan isnít too much like his cousin, or the Andromeda might not be big enough for the both of them!"

Rafe managed a low chuckle. "Oh, I donít know, I think theyíre kind of cute. Too bad that I seem to be off the market or Iíd have risked getting to know the older one a little better since getting to know the younger one would get me killed," he continued, glancing sideway at Trance.

"Nice to have you back among the living, Mr. Valentine," was the only comment Dylan had to add as he was more interested in making sure their backs were still protected, just in case.

"íBout time you admitted it," Trance murmured, reaching for and lacing her fingers through his momentarily before releasing him so theyíd both have hands free in case they ran into any Dragans.

Rhade rolled his eyes and hastened his stride, following Brendan and Loki through the tunnels toward the humansí hidden stronghold. After breathing the air of Earth, in which he could taste the desperation and despair, he was eager to finish up here and return to the Andromedaís sanitized cleanliness.

"Like I had any choice. Youíre one scary lady when you want to be," Rafe replied, moving quickly out of striking distance.

Brendan watched Earth fade into nothingness before they entered slipstream. "I know it was the only choice, but why do I feel like Iím leaving my people behind to die?" he asked no one in particular.

Harper laid a hand on his cousinís shoulder in comfort. "Because youíre a good man and you care. I gotta go call the big guy, and then weíll break out some of the good stuff and remember the people weíve buried like good Irish lads are supposed to do."

"We gonna get shit-faced then?" Brendan managed a wavering smile.

"Oh yeah," Harper replied. "Anyone who wants to join the Lahey-Harper family wake will adjourn to the mess in exactly thirty minutes!" And with that, he was off to call Tyr.

"Harper!" Tyrís distracted gaze sharpened when he saw the image on the viewscreen, the ship not having told him who was calling before putting it through. "Tell me youíre on your way home," he demanded, dark eyes drinking in the scruffy-looking blond, checking for signs of injury.

"Iím on my way home," Harper smiled, desperately happy to at least be able to see his behemoth of a lover. "We just left the Sol system and transited into slipstream. We should be home in three or four days, which will give me and my nanobots enough time to sober my gorgeous self up."

"Sober up?" Tyr repeated quizzically. "Has Loki been that obnoxiously persistent?"

"He was at first, but now he might very well be joining me. He and Brendan... remind me of us when you and I first butted heads, and then heads if you get my drift. Rhade assigned Loki to be Brendanís personal security since Bren is family and Iím yours and well... you get the picture."

Tyr blinked as he tried to follow that, then his eyes widened as he realized what Harper was saying. "My son and your cousin?" He started to laugh. "I wonder if I should warn Loki off? A Harper is a bit of a handful, especially for a first time."

"Excuse me?!?" Harper snorted in disbelief. "Well, I will admit to being more than a handfulóhell, Iím more than a fistful, but weíre not talking about that. And for your information, Brendanís used to being large and in charge, so I think your son is gonna be learning humility faster than even I could have taught it! So there, ya mook!

"Someone sure isnít looking to get some when I get back," he finished, muttering under his breath.

Tyr simply rolled his eyes, well aware that Harper would be at least as eager as he was if not more so. "I think we should lock ourselves in for a week or two and let them battle it out alone. Iíd much rather concentrate on you than our somewhat combative families."

"You wonít hear me complaining. Iím in the mood to be tied to the bed and fucked so hard and so many times I pass out from dehydration. And then I want to do it all over again," Harper purred, sucking an index finger into his mouth and tonguing it for Tyr to see.

A tiny smile curled Tyrís lips, and he pushed his chair farther away from the screen as one hand fell to his lap, now visible to Harper. "I think I might be able to accommodate you. Again." Eyes never leaving Harperís, he unfastened the tight, black leather pants and fisted his stiffening cock, a small groan escaping him at the sensation.

"Mmm, is that a gauss rifle in your pants, or are you eager to see me?" Harper smirked. "And I hate to tell you this, big guy, but the Maru isnít the Andromeda, no privacy. If you want everyone on board to check out your wares, all you have to do is wait a little longer and... Hey! Beka, some privacy, please!"

"Harper what are you... oh my! Ummm, going to the flight deck now!"

Tyr started laughing again, hands falling to his sides as he shook his head. "Get home soon, Pet, and Iíll make sure you canít walk straight for a week."

"If thatís the best you can promise, youíre getting rusty. I donít want to be able to move for a week!" Harper growled, staring daggers down the corridor toward the sound of muffled laughter. "Sheís a dead woman. Dylan will still have Rhade, so he wonít miss her that much, will he?" Harper asked almost plaintively. "No one will miss her if I space her, right?"

"You would," Tyr pointed out, trying not to laugh. "Besides, after that, she probably headed straight for Dylan and Rhade, and I very much doubt even your infamous ingenuity could figure out how to kill all three of them at once."

"Iím sure I can think of something. Theyíre all probably fucking like minks and here I am, the one with the addiction, and I canít get any for another four days. It isnít fair, Tyr," Harper whined. "Excuse me while I go drown my sorrows and my extreme horndog state in alcohol. Good thing booze depresses the libido; I have a feeling Iím gonna need it!"

"Just make sure you stop drinking at least a day before you get here so youíre neither drunk nor hungover when you hit our bed... which will be approximately ten seconds after the Maru lands in the hangar bay!"

"Nanobots are a drunkardís best friend," Harper grinned, blowing Tyr a kiss as he signed off.

"I cannot Ďgo the hell away,í" Loki snapped, trying to remember why he couldnít shove Harperís cousin out an airlock. "I was assigned to protect you, and that means staying close."

"We are on Beka Valentineís god damned ship in the middle of slipstream on the way to your fatherís fucking warship. Tell me, little man, why would I possibly need protecting here of all places? Even Rhade isnít occupied with guarding my cousin; heís too busy fucking either Captain Valentine or her first officer. If he can have mind blowing sex instead of watching Harper, Iíd say weíre fairly secure, wouldnít you?" Brendan snarled, fighting the urge to break out a shriller just to get the brat off his back.

"If you say that where either Rhade or Beka can hear you, youíll need protecting from them," Loki retorted dryly. "Iím somehow supposed not only to protect you physically from those members of my fatherís crew who donít approve of kludges having the freedom of the Andromeda but also from getting yourself killed or maimed for insulting someone. And considering the friends Harperís managed to make, talking about him the way you just you just did about the others could be what gets you killed!" He really wished he could just gag the annoying man.

Brendan growled low in his throat and spun on his heel to walk rapidly down the corridor into the mess hall. He was gonna kill the kid before long, really he was. Okay, so maybe he was a little coarse, but living the way he had for as long as he had tended to leave its mark.

As if heíd ever do anything to insult or hurt the only living relative he had left in the universe. HA! Heíd die before he hurt Seamus, and Seamus knew it. He also knew that what came out of Brendanís mouth was just plain olí Boston street talk. Those bloody boneheads living their fancy life in fancy ships and never having to worry about bare bones survival were the last people who had the right to judge.

Unfortunately they would be the first to do so because kludges were just slave labor, cannon fodder to use until they couldnít be useful anymore and then killed and thrown out with the trash. That was something Brendan had seen all too often and knew far too much about. And now the snot nosed, spoiled brat of a firstborn son of one of those bloody dictators dared to reprimand him about his foul mouth? Not bloody likely!

"Heís a good kid, under it all. Really," Harper said quietly, handing Brendan a glass of Irish whiskey, the real stuff. "And heís seen more than youíd think. The Kodiaks were nearly slaughtered by the Orcas... because of me. It wasnít far off of what we went through, Bren. We just had to live through it longer and got so used to the violence that it takes some fairly big shit to shock us anymore."

"Aye, that it does. But it doesnít mean I like him. Just so long as we have that straight."

Snarling at the stupidity of the irritating Earther, Loki scowled at the door before deciding not to follow Brendan in. He was fairly certain that Harper would take his cousinís side, and he really didnít want Harper mad at him. Still fuming, he stalked away, not even noticing when he nearly flattened Trance.

Stumbling backward, Trance flailed for balance, latching on to Rafeís arm. Once steady again, she stared down the corridor after the young Nietzschean, then turned laughing eyes up to Rafe. "I think that pairing may be even more volatile than Harper and Tyr. Just remind me to watch out for him. I donít think Iíd make a very attractive rug."

"Darlin, in the mood that one is in youíd be a gold smear on the floor, never mind a rug," Rafe chuckled, wrapping his arm around her waist and heading into the mess to join Harper and Brendan. "So, someone mind explaining what set the mini-Tyr off this time?" he asked to the two men already on their second glasses of whiskey.

Tyr ignored the knowing smirks on several faces as he practically vibrated with anticipation, waiting for the Maru to dock and Harper to step off the ship. He hoped Harper had taken of whatever he had to, because Tyr intended to toss him over his shoulder and drag him back to their quarters the moment he saw him.

Inside the Maru Dylan and Beka watched with amusement as their little Harper bounced in from cockpit to hull door and back again. Rafe figured someone was gonna gag him if he asked, ĎAre we there yet?í one more time.

Brendan, on the other hand, looked at the Andromeda with mixed emotions. He was about to set foot on the flagship of the Kodiak pride, one of the foremost Nietzschean prides. He really needed to have his head examined. A ship full of Nietzscheans and he was willingly going aboard it. "Right fucking mad is what I am," he muttered under his breath.

"You might want to stand farther back," Loki said quietly, trying not to laugh as he watched Harper. "You really donít want to be between Harper and the exit when heís been away from my father for this long." Much as Loki wanted Harper himself, he didnít delude himself about the strength of Harperís attraction to Tyr.

"Never thought Iíd see the day," Brendan admitted. "Harper head over heels crazy in love... and with a Nietzschean. And no, Iím not trying to be insulting; itís just a simple fact. Where we grew up falling in love with a Nietzschean was a death sentence either by the boneys or by our own kind for being a Ďtraitor to the causeí. But there he is, ass over teakettle madly in love, and itís... sweet." Brendan shook his head. "I canít believe I just said that."

Frowning now, Loki stared fixedly at Harper, who didnít even seem to notice. Heíd never thought of it like that, never realized what Harperís life had truly been like. Maybe... maybe there really wasnít any hope for him with the human man; maybe he should accept that Harper only truly wanted Tyr. He slumped slightly, realization and disappointment washing over him.

"Hey, cheer up, kid. Iím sure before long your father will arrange to get you a nice Nietzschean wife or ten, and you can start procreating to your heartís content," Brendan replied, awkwardly patting Loki on the shoulder. "Besides, you really donít want your dad to kill you for poaching, do you?"

Loki darted a glance at him. "I never realized," he started awkwardly, then sighed. "I never... liked... anyone the way I do Harper," he mumbled, now staring at the flooring.

"Thatís Ďcause heís like a wriggly little puppy dog. Heís cute and cuddly and sassy and obnoxious but not too obnoxious all rolled up into one neat and tiny bundle. It makes him eminently likeable to anyone with good taste.

"Heís also fiercely loyal, honorable and the sort of person you want guarding your back. Hell, if he werenít my blood, Iíd probably be interested in him too. But lemme give you one tiny piece of advice when it comes to the people from the Harper and Lahey clans. When we love, itís all consuming, and itís until one of us dies, usually us of the Harper and Lahey clans. If we manage to outlive our mate, we go on but... we still love only one person.

"But God help the idiot who breaks our hearts. Thereís usually not enough left to fill a test tube when weíre done with them. Thatís just the way our genetic makeup runs."

"God dammit, Beka, canít you fly this bucket of bolts any faster? Just because youíve been walking around for the past few days like a cat in cream doesnít mean the rest of us have a milk supply available, you know?" Harper bellowed from the bowels of the ship where he paced in front of the airlock, frantically waiting to get out.

Everyoneís eyes rolled, making them all snort when they realized what theyíd done.

"Yes, Beka," Trance said, "please dock soon before weíre forced to do something drastic to him. If Tyrís anywhere near as bad as he is, there may have been a mutiny on the Andromeda."

"I heard that!" Harper bellowed from the back. "Watch it, goldie, or Iíll tell Rafe all about the things you used to do to unsuspecting people with your tail!"

The minute the airlock depressurized Harper hit the button and managed to get himself out of the door before it had even opened wide enough for a human body to pass through. If heíd been thinking about what heíd done, he might have been rather smug about his ability to squirm through tight spots, but the human had only one thing on his mind. He wanted his mate, and he wanted him now!

Tyr was standing outside the Maruís airlock, glaring at the innocent metal as if it were personally responsible for keeping him from Harper, so he was able to catch Harper in his arms the moment the blond squeezed through the still opening hatchway.

"Harper." He breathed his mateís name an instant before his mouth covered Harperís hungrily, arms tightening around the wiry body and drawing him close.

Squirming and trying desperately to wrap himself as tightly as possible around the large, black Nietzschean, Harper bit down on Tyrís lower lip before laving at it. "Bed, now," he gasped when he was finally allowed to breathe again. "You have a vid call to finish!"

Brendan, who had followed his cousin at a more laid back pace couldnít help but stare at the man that Harper was clinging to, limpet-like. "Well, bugger me, ainít he a big one?" the Bostonian muttered under his breath. "Kinda makes a man think twice about being het, he does."

"Who did you think I took after?" Loki snorted as he pushed past, glancing around to see who was in the landing bay. The last thing he needed was for Brendan to annoy someone and get himself killed before they even made it all the way onto the ship. Fortunately, it seemed no one had wanted to be around Tyr while the captain was waiting for Harper, so the place was conspicuously empty. "Weíd better get you a room," he sighed, knowing that he was going to have to spend most of his time watching over Harperís cousin instead of working with Harper.

"I was thinking of staying here on the Maru or at least close to Harper or the other humans," Brendan began nervously.

"If you want, you can bunk with me," Rafe offered, coming up behind Brendan and Loki. "Believe me, I can relate to what youíre going through. In spades. Besides, us bachelors have to stick together, donít we?"

Rafe had a feeling that this wouldnít fly too well with Trance but... while he was back among the living and definitely healing, there were some things he still wasnít ready for. Logically intimacy with a woman shouldnít have scared him since heíd been raped by Nietzschean males, but... it seemed like it had only been yesterday when heíd been taken by Orca Pride, and he had a lot of healing yet to do.

Besides, he really did understand where Brendan was coming from, and until Harperís cousin was more comfortable being on a ship full of Nietzscheans, Rafe would be more than willing to play buffer. It was the least he could do. And he still owed Harper huge. Besides if there was one thing that Rafael Valentine always did, it was pay his debts, and this would be a step in that direction.

He just hoped his golden lady friend didnít decide to bash him for it.

Trance rolled her eyes, but she knew she and Rafe still had a long way to go. "Iím sure you wonít mind if I borrow Rafe every so often," she said, smiling at Brendan. "Right now I think Iíll let Ďyou bachelorsí settle in while I go check on my plants." She pressed a quick kiss to Rafeís cheek before heading away, noticing with no surprise that Harper and Tyr had already disappeared.

Sheís an... interesting lady," Brendan replied after long moments. "I think Iím glad sheís on our side... and sheís all yours."

"Gee, thanks," Rafe replied dryly. "Is it too late to have me rethink my offer?"

Harper had his shirt off before the door had even started to close, and his pants were unbuckled and unzipped. His shoes got toed off on the way through the living area to land with muffled thuds on the carpeted floor. He thought he managed to toe off his socks too, but he couldnít be sure, and he really couldnít give a ratís ass about it either.

"Three fucking weeks. Itís been three fucking weeks since you fucked me. God, Iíve been going crazy. Get that trouser monster in me now, will ya?"

Tyr groaned a laugh at Harperís usual colorful language, but he was stripping as rapidly as the human. His grip shifted, grasping Harperís buttocks, two fingers rubbing against and slipping into the slick opening. "Got yourself ready for me, Pet?" he chuckled, pulling Harper down onto him. A harsh groan of pleasure ripped from him as he felt the tight heat sheath him.

"Oh fuck YES!" Harper yelped as Tyr reclaimed his virginally tight body all over again. Three weeks had given the nanobots plenty of time to repair and recalibrate, so to speak, and now they were both reaping the benefits of the time off. Panting hard, Harper clawed his way up Tyrís chest so that he was basically spitted on the Nietzscheanís cock while his mouth claimed his loverís in a fierce kiss. "Love you, big guy," he managed to get out. "Now enough with the sweet and lovey, fuck me already!"

"If you canít tell thatís what Iím doing, we really have some catching up to do!" Tyr slapped Harperís back against the wall, bracing him so he could pound even harder into the yielding body, one arm briefly sliding between them to rake his arm spikes over Harperís nipples.

Mewling happily, Harper latched onto the side of Tyrís neck with his mouth and held on for dear life as he was pounded into with the force that only a Nietzschean could muster. He lasted all of two minutes before wailing and coming, sending streams of hot white seed between their slapping bellies. "God, yes, do that again!" he begged.

Tyr never stopped his fierce thrusting, only growling harshly as he felt his mate ripple around him. "Never letting you go away from me again," he rasped, then took Harperís mouth again. "Going to make you come till youíre a limp puddle."

"Sounds like a plan to me." Harper smiled beatifically, pulling Tyr down for another hot kiss and ignoring the first part of what his lover had said as nothing more than Tyr being emotional and not at all logical.

"But how about we take this to the bed? I believe you agreed to tie me down and fuck me through the deck plating?" he continued, tightening his anal muscles around the cock impaling him.

"I donít believe tying will be necessary," Tyr chuckled darkly, lowering them to the bed in a controlled fall that drove him even deeper inside Harper. "You arenít going anywhere."

"I didnít say it would be necessary, idiot," Harper replied after he had a chance to regain his senses from the extreme bliss of being so deeply filled. "I just said I wanted you to do it. Itís a kink of mine. Beside I trust you completely; I know youíll never do anything I donít want you to.

"But that can wait until a later date. Right now," Harper trailed the metal barbell piercing his tongue down the side of his loverís neck until he found a hard nipple and then began to flick it back and forth, flaying it with the metal. "Right now, you were doing something different. You may continue."

Both eyebrows rose so sharply they almost disappeared into Tyrís hairline. "I may, may I? You are a very pushy pet. Itís fortunate that youíre cute as well." Tyr slammed into him again, then stilled, buried to the root inside Harper while he lightly dragged his bone blades over the head of Harperís cock.

"A-and you love me, donít forget that," Harper panted as he brought one hand down, his fingers brushing lightly against Tyrís erection as it powered in and out of his body, loving the feel of being claimed, the way his ass clung so tightly to Tyrís cock, squeezing down on him with every thrust.

"Ah yes, there is that," Tyr agreed, somehow managing to sound calmly contemplative while the sweat of exertion dripped from him and pleasure twisted his face. "I suppose Iíll just have to keep you satisfied."

"Yup, after all a happy Harper is a Harper that stays out of trouble," the younger man smirked, his breath catching in his throat as his prostate was slammed over and over. It wouldnít be much longer before he was once more coming buckets all over himself and Tyr; his body was well and truly deprived of the loving heíd grown accustomed to. Being addicted to Tyr wasnít nearly as traumatic as being addicted to sex with any Nietzschean. In fact, it was like comparing apples with Magog or whatever that old analogy was.

Tyr actually paused in mid-stroke to gape down at him in disbelief. "When have you ever stayed out of trouble?" he demanded, slowly starting to move again.

Harper wailed at the cessation of motion, truly distraught at the whole interruption of motion. It was only after Tyr started to move again that he could form a coherent reply. "Umm, when youíre buried balls deep inside of me, like you are right now?"

"Then Iíll just have to keep you here all the time," Tyr rumbled, reaching between them to rub his thumb over Harperís cock, teasing the sensitive head as he drove him.

Harper nodded, or at least he thought he did. He was much too concerned with the fact that his balls were boiling and he was that close to coming. Wet noodle never sounded more attractive than it did right now. Limp, exhausted, sweaty, semen-covered and totally sated: That was his goal for the next few hours, not making small talk.

Deciding that Tyr wasnít doing things hard or fast enough at that particular moment in time, Harper bit down on his loverís nipple hard enough to make Tyr jerk forward in surprise and then grinned and proceeded to do it again.

"Hard, then?" Tyr said, eyeing his smugly smirking mate. "I think I can accommodate you." He moved his hands to either side of Harperís head to brace himself and let go, pounding into Harper as hard as a human body could stand.

Gasping in happy reaction, Harper reached up with his hands and wrapped them around Tyrís wrists, holding on for dear life as he was given exactly what heíd been asking for. Writhing and mewling and cursing and begging incoherently, the human let his need take over, and all too soon he was shooting another load of come all over his stomach, and still Tyr kept pounding into him, giving Harper everything he needed and then some.

"Thatís two. But youíve been gone for twenty-one days." Tyr gave him a very toothy smile as he growled and arched hard, coming as well, though he never stopped moving, not nearly satisfied yet.

"This mean youíre gonna make me come twenty-one times before weíre done?" Harper asked breathlessly.

"You think you only come once a day?" Tyr gave him another shark-like smile before rolling to his back. Big hands gripped Harperís hips and moved him like a rag doll on the shaft impaling him while Tyr took advantage of the new position to draw a reddened nipple into his mouth and bite down.

"You mean youíre gonna make me come more than twenty-one times in the space of a single night? Itís not humanly possible! Not even for me," Harper yelped, still panting and trying to recover from his last orgasm. If Tyr was determined to turn him into a come machine, he was a dead Harper!

"But just think how much fun weíll have trying," Tyr retorted, releasing the now rock-hard nipple and switching his attention to its companion.

Squirming in reaction, his sticky cock grinding against his loverís stomach, Harper answered with a whimper. He was gonna die, but what a way to go! "Never thought Iíd actually be praying for something to happen which would require the captain on the bridge, but that might be the only way to save my life at this point!" he teased.

"And within fifteen minutes, youíd be there too to drag me back... or go for it right there," Tyr shot back, grinning. He loved that Harper could keep up with him and was so demanding. "I donít think Iíve done you over the railing on the bridge yet."

"Not with people present!" Harper yelped, terrified at the thought of other Nietzscheans seeing his sweet little ass.

Tyr rolled his eyes. "No, Iíd prefer not to put on a show for the crew. But I am the captain after all. I could clear the bridge." He thrust up harder, smirking as Harperís cock began to stir.

"Sure, and if something were to come up, other than you or me that is?" Harper snortedóor attempted to before the thrust to his still sensitive prostate made him whine pitifully. "Damn, you really are hungry, arenít you?"

"After famine comes the feast," Tyr intoned, then chuckled. "And donít even try to convince me you arenít just as hungry, Pet. I saw you come off the Maru. If that hatch hadnít opened, itís debatable which of us would have ripped through it first."

"Yeah, but gluttony is like one of the seven deadly sins, and resting is a good thing, gives the nanobots time to make me all nice and tight assed again. And you know how much you like my tight ass when itís practically virginal all over again," Harper wheedled shamelessly.

"I wasnít aware either of us was Christian, let alone followed beliefs of Earthís early Medieval period," Tyr replied dryly, never faltering in his rhythm. "And I find your ass deliciously tight just as it is right now."

"Hey, any port in a s-storm and all that," Harper gasped, knowing heíd lost the argument and not really caring one way or another. Wrapping his arms around Tyrís neck, he sighed and held on tight. "But after this round I really gotta get a little rest; I havenít slept well since I left. Deal?"

Tyr actually paused to look down at him, one large hand brushing the sweaty blond strands out of Harperís face. "Nor have I," he admitted. "I would very much like to sleep with you beside me again. Or maybe I should say on top of me," he added wryly, referring to Harperís penchant for curling up on his chest like some over-sized housecat. His hips once more moving smoothly, he made sure to rub Harperís renewed erection between them with every stroke.

"Hey, you love it and you know it. Besides I keep you warm at night," Harper laughed, tugging on Tyrís hair until the Nietzscheanís mouth was at perfect height for nibbling on. Moaning, he thrust up into Tyrís body, his legs clinging to his loverís hips as he rode out his ever increasing arousal.

"The fact that the ship has to lower the temperature in our room so that we can be comfortable is beside the point?" Tyr snorted. "You have a prodigious talent for skewing facts to suit yourself. Most admirable." He bit at Harperís lips, tugging and nipping as the pleasure rose in them yet again.

"Hey, reality is what we make of it and all that crap. Now do you really want to ta-talk about existentialist crap right in the middle of our welcome home fuck orrrrrrróGod, do that again!ódo you wanna get nasty?" Harper grumbled playfully.

"I think I want to keep fucking till you scream so loud they hear you on the bridge." Tyr reached down, fingertips lightly rubbing the straining flesh gripping his cock so tightly.

"You... fucking hell and little fishes, Tyr!" Harper gasped as the fingers caressed him. "You soundproofed the bedroom, remember, when the kids moved onto the Andromeda? Didnít want to rupture their little eardrums with Harper screams."

"Just makes it more of a challenge," Tyr purred, trailing a string of bites along Harperís jaw.

"Sadist," Harper panted. "If I shred my vocal chords, you wonít get to hear me sing in the shower anymore."

"Pet, you always sing for me." Tyr grinned wickedly and sped up his pace, jabbing into Harperís prostate with every torturously pleasurable thrust. "Sing for me now, Harper," he rasped, trembling on the brink of his own climax.

"OhgodohgodohgodOHGOD!" Harper panted, feeling the need to come race through him yet again. It was truly pathetic, he thought with a grin; all Tyr had to do was say come, and Harper did. Talk about your Pavlovian responses. Of course, knowing that he did it didnít prevent him from doing it, and all it took was a few more stabs to his prostate and Harper was wailing like a banshee of old, his cock spewing come onto his stomach.

The tight clenching of Harperís body around his over-sensitized cock tipped Tyr over the edge as well, and they came nearly simultaneously, the Nietzschean crying out almost as loudly as the human before he slumped over his smaller companion.

"I donít know if I should go away more often or never leave again," Harper panted after long moments of recovery. "The welcome home was so fucking good it damn near killed me, which would have been a bad thing!"

"Iím sure your purple friend would have found a way to revive you," Tyr muttered, face still buried in the pillow over Harperís shoulder. He had noticed how odd things happened around her, but he chose not to pursue it so long as she seemed fond of Harper and he of her.

"Uh, yeah, about that," Harper coughed, searching for a way to say what he had to without sounding completely crackers. "Well, thing is, sheís not purple anymore. She changed colors on the planet. When the Dragans grabbed Rafe and we had to go into their compound and rescue..." Harperís hand clamped over his mouth when he realized heíd been on another one of his full tilt rants and said more than he should have. "Oops."

Tyr seemed to have been turned to stone, rigid, silent, immobile. Very, very slowly, his head rose and deliberately calm eyes focused on Harperís. "You went where?" he asked in an admirably level tone... that was belied by his arm spikes flaring and piercing the mattress on either side of Harperís body.

"Umm, we went to rescue Rafe?" Harper obfuscated.

The sound of the mattress shredding further seemed an adequate expression of Tyrís opinion of that statement. "You are never setting foot off this ship again without me," he stated emphatically, the level tone gradually shifting to a snarl. The sheer terror that had struck him when Harper first spoke was already changing to anger.

"Hey, I was with Rhade, Dylan and Beka; they never left me alone, honest. I felt like Nightsider royalty surrounded by all the guards. Geez, Tyr, Iím not a complete idiot; I do know how to take care of myself yíknow. Did it for a long time before you decided to turn me into a pet," Harper groused, getting slightly miffed but also feeling a case of the warm and fuzzies that his Nietz was so protective of him.

"Harper, I donít care if you single-handedly overthrew the Vedran empire! You could have been killed!" His arms closed convulsively around the blond, as if to prevent anything from happening to him.

"Anyone ever tell you that youíre cute when you get all snarly and overprotective like that?" Harper sighed, snuggling closer to his mate. "Itís kinda sexy in a cuddle bunny sorta way."

"I am not cute!" Tyr snapped in a tone of utter disgust.

"Okay, how about it was adorable in a manly sort of way?" Harper snickered.

Tyr flipped them over and brought his hand down sharply on Harperís ass.

"Oooh, a kinky and adorable cuddle bunny!" Harper shrieked in pained laughter.

Groaning, Tyr rolled him off and stood up, shaking his head. "You are an absolute brat," he sighed, stretching luxuriantly before striding toward the bathroom, needing a shower.

"But you love me all the same," Harper smirked from his prone position on the bed, yawning and closing his eyes contentedly.

Tyr simply grunted, knowing it was true.

"Bed, now," Beka said emphatically, catching hold of both her menís arms. Seeing Tyr and Harperís overwhelming sensuality had her wet and aching, and after the lack of privacy since leaving the Andromeda, she thought they were due some time to themselves.

Rhadeís nostrils flared, and he smiled tightly as he caught the scent of Bekaís arousal, his own body leaping in response. Thank the forefathers Tyrís sister was willing to marry him and not interfere in his relationship with the two humans so he would never have to give this up.

Even as he pondered the situation, his feet were already moving toward the humansí quarters, his body hard and ready.

Dylan smirked and let himself be dragged away by the voracious blonde. "So, who thinks Harper wonít even make it back to his quarters before heís fucked through something?" he smirked, amused by the events of the past few minutes. "And how long do you think itíll take Loki and Brendan to stop sniping and start humping like their father and cousin?"

Rhade laughed while Beka looked at him like he was nuts, then paused as she thought about it. "You think? Hmmm, could be. But could we discuss their love lives later? Right now, we need to concentrate on ours!"

Rhade tumbled her through the door and onto their bed, landing between her spread legs and pressing close. "What did you have in mind?"

"Us, hot, sweaty, naked and conjoined. I leave the planning of the details to you two," Beka smirked as she began to strip out of as much clothing as she could with Rhade on top of her. "Get your ass on the bed, Hunt."

"Yes maíam, captain maíam!" Dylan saluted smartly and then perched on the end of the bed.

"Good man!" Beka approved, groaning as Rhade pushed into her, his pants down around his knees. "Oh yes!" Her knees rose to grip his ribs tightly, and she consciously kept her legs from wrapping around him, wanting to leave room for Dylan.

"Think you can figure out your part?" Rhade taunted over his shoulder, dark eyes sparkling at Dylan.

"The choices, the choices," Dylan chuckled. "Seems to me I have two targets, not one. Do I join the battle already engaged or do I strike elsewhere?" he pondered. "Maybe I should investigate further, an exploratory foray so to speak."

Rhade and Beka rolled their eyes at each other.

"Would you just get over here," Beka grumbled.

"Anyone ever tell you youíre a pushy woman?" Dylan asked mildly even as he calmly stood to strip off and neatly hang his clothes on the back of a chair. "And an impatient one at that too, and letís not go into the horrific traits the Nietzschean is displaying."

"Dylan, either shut up and join us or you wonít be fucking anyone today," Rhade was driven to say. The man could be infuriating at times.

"You think?" Dylan asked with the quirk of an eyebrow.

"No, he knows. Now you heard the man, fuck him already," Beka agreed cheerfully, moaning as Rhade hit just the right spot.

"You should listen to her. She is your captain, after all." Rhade stopped talking in favor of kissing Beka until she was breathless, fingers tangling in her hair.

"Some people are too damn pushy. Ruin all my fun, why donít you?" Dylan groused even as he slicked up his cock and slid inside the Nietzscheanís body. "Did you ever think that I actually enjoy teasing you both from time to time? Canít be Mr. Straight and Narrow twenty-four/seven, you know."

"Dylan Hunt wanting to stray off the straight path of righteousness?" Beka gasped while Rhade snickered. "Can I survive the shock?"

"As long as you move, you can take any path you want," Rhade put in somewhat breathlessly, dark eyes heavy lidded as he peered over his shoulder at the other man.

"Keep up the insults," Dylan growled, "and the only path Iíll take is right out the door!" he promised direly.

Rhade simply clenched his ass, muscles rippling around Dylanís cock.

"Boys, boys, will you stop flinging the testosterone around and just fuck already," Beka moaned, reaching around Rhade to take Dylanís hips and slam them forward into the Nietzschean, who then drove into her. Much better!

Dylan groaned, took the hint, and began to power into the Nietzschean beneath him, his thrusts making both his partners and the bed shake with their intensity.

Rhade took Bekaís mouth in a kiss as possessive as his cock driving into her, and he groaned harshly as Dylan hit his sweet spot again and again. Like his ancestor, the original Dylan Hunt, this one had a heavy-worlder mother, giving him almost Nietzschean strength, something that Rhade enjoyed very much at times like this.

Rhade did spare a moment to wonder about the possibility of Beka becoming pregnant by him, something that no longer seemed as abhorrent as it once had. It would be her choice, and his was not to ask about it. He cried out when Dylan bit down on his shoulder, his ass clenching around the cock driving into him.

"Whatís the matter, Rhade?" Dylan purred, licking his way to the other shoulder and adding another, matching mark on it. "One would think that you couldnít keep up or something. How does it feel, my cock driving into you, yours driving into Beka? I bet sheís hot and wet and sweet, isnít she? Does it feel good, being sandwiched between us like this? Losing control, getting taken and aroused beyond even your self control?" the High Guard panted, nipping at Rhadeís ear.

Had it been anyone else, blood would have been spilled, but Rhade had to admit, if only to himself, that Dylan was perfectly correct. It felt wonderful being sandwiched between them. He rocked back and forth, wanting to fill and be filled at once. His body tensed, and he clenched down on Dylan, determined to make the human come first.

Dylan groaned and fought for control of his body. He knew the game that Agravaine was playing, and for once he intended to win it. "And after this round my ass is all yours, lover, any way you want it," Dylan purred in his ear. "Havenít you wanted to play games with me? Tie up the human and fuck him into a stupor, manacle him to the bed and not let him come? Beka can help you. She can put a cock ring on me and ride me while you fuck my mouth or my ass. Sheís even got a strap on dildo; you can watch her take me too. Bet you didnít know about that little kink, did you?" Rhade shuddered, the images of what Dylan was suggesting assaulting his mind, and he lost his much vaunted control, crying out harshly as he came, buried deep inside Bekaís yielding body.

The sudden savagery of Agravaineís thrusts had Beka crying out as well, and her first climax took her, making her body clench around the Nietzscheanís. "God yes!" she wailed, trying to arch beneath the weight of both her men, grateful that they partially supported themselves.

Pounding harder and faster, letting loose now that Rhade had come, Dylan only lasted a few more strokes before he was coming, his arms quivering with the strain of supporting himself when all he wanted to do was collapse, exhausted, onto the bed.

"Now thatís what I call a housewarming!" Beka chuckled underneath her men, exhausted and sated.

"You canít just go roaming around the ship," Loki growled in exasperation. "Not till my father has a chance to let the crew know who you are. And in case you didnít notice, thatís not going to happen for a while. I doubt he would have noticed you if he tripped over you, unless you happened to get between him and Harper.

"So stop complaining and let me show you to your room!"

"I remember where my room is just fine, thanks all the same, and Iím in the human are of the ship, or so your computer informed me. I should be safe here, shouldnít I? Besides, Iím well aware of the fact that Iím bunking with Rafe, remember? He showed me where it was. Donít you have something..." Brendan circled his hands expressively and rolled his eyes, "Nietzschean to go and do? You know, polish your bone blades or sharpen Ďem or something."

Loki snarled wordlessly. "I am doing what I should, which is staying with a stubborn, annoying human to prevent anyone else from being driven to kill him!"

"Awwh, donít tell me you want to kill me? Just think what finding that out would do to me sweet cousin. Heíd be devastated. Now you wouldnít want that to happen, would you?" Brendan asked with an insincere smile. Why he had to be saddled with a love struck pest of a pubescent Nietzschean was beyond him. And it was irritating that he was actually... decent to look at. Not that Brendan Lahey, red-blooded Bostonian boy that he was, would ever think of anything other than a sweet, soft woman to slake his needs on.

"Why do you think I havenít Ďsharpened my bone bladesí yet?" Loki retorted with a toothy smile. Heíd never admit it, but this verbal sparring was the most interesting conversation he had with anyone aside from his father and Harper.

"Because youíre too young to know where to stick them?" Brendan replied innocently.

Loki let out a growl that made a crewman jump, thinking the captain had suddenly appeared, and without thinking he grabbed Brendan and pulled him into a hard but undeniably talented kiss. "Still think Iím too young?" he retorted.

Brendan gawped at the Nietzschean for a moment and then chuckled. "Aye, that I do, but apparently they start to teach you these things from the cradle, so youíve had some experience. Either that or youíve been spying on Harper and your da," he replied with a chuckle. "Next time, however, you may want to ask first and grab later because as flattered as I am, you really donít have my preferred choice of equipment."

Loki gazed blankly at him for a moment before understanding dawned, and a look of half-amused, half-disgusted disbelief covered his features. "You really limit yourself to only one gender for pleasure?" He shook his head. "Guess I should feel sorry for you," he shrugged.

"This coming from a lad whose raceís entire reason for being is procreation," Brendan laughed. "And I didnít say I was limited, youngster. However, being raped by some bonebladed Dragan isnít the best way to be introduced to such things, and after that I rather lost my taste for experimentation. Iíll stick to me own kind and the fairer sex, thanks all the same. They donít try to kill me when Iím asleep."

Loki snorted. "You think my father tries to kill Harper? That Rhade tries to kill Hunt or Captain Valentine? Sounds like you just prefer your little box." He shrugged. "Rafe and Harper both went through a lot worse, and you donít see them hiding." Loki knew a lot more than his elders gave him credit for, in part due to his growing friendship with Andromeda, who was willing to tell him things the adults held back.

"You saw where I came from, child," Brendan growled. "Tell me, do you think any one of those Dragans wound have thought twice about killing a kludge like me? The humans who made it into space are the lucky ones; they donít know what itís like, and I wouldnít wish them to know. Youíre a foolish little boy who only sees what his father allows him to. A father whoís one of the few exceptions of the Nietzschean race, not the norm. So donít you dare call me a coward or tell me Iím afraid. Iíve lived in hell all my life. Nothing scares me anymore. Especially not some mewling mamaís brat who thinks he knows about life when he hasnít even begun to live it yet!"

And with that Brendan wheeled and stormed down the short corridor into the room he shared with Rafe, locking them soundly behind him.

Loki stared after him, suddenly intrigued. Who was Brendan trying to convince? After all, it hadnít escaped his notice that Harper came from the exact same place and through a lot more hellish experiences, yet he was more open to possibilities than his cousin.

"Rommie?" He glanced to one side when the holographic representation of the shipís AI appeared. "Do you have any files on current Earth and him that I could see?"

"Are you sure you want to be doing this, Loki?" the AI asked quietly. "He might not appreciate having his privacy invaded. Humans are funny that way."

Sighing as she recognized the same stubborn tilt to the chin she witnessed on her captain, Andromeda searched her databanks. "Downloading all I have on the subject of current Earth and Brendan Lahey to your quarters. But I urge you to think carefully before reading Mr. Laheyís file."

"I think I need to understand him, Rommie. Harper went through a lot worse, but Brendanís harder." Both cousins would have been startled by Lokiís insight. "It has to be because he was on Earth longer. I canít help him if I donít know whatís wrong."

"And what if he doesnít want your help?"

"Rhade made him my assignment. My first assignment." Loki shrugged. "Thanks, Rommie. Let me know if he comes out of his quarters. It really isnít safe for him to wander around alone yet."

"I will, but I think itís safe to say he wonít for a while. Heís somewhat... agitated," Rommie replied after a few moments. "It might be better to let him calm down a bit before... continuing your discussions. And Loki? Perhaps he is harder because he must be a leader of men and send his people out to die. He is your fatherís human counterpart. Your father cannot afford weakness, though he is learning to let certain people in. Neither can Mr. Lahey, not when the freedom of his planet is at stake."

Loki glanced over his shoulder to make sure the door to Brendan and Rafeís quarters was securely closed. "Rommie, he could no more effect the freedom of his planet than I could. Actually, I could more easily because my father would come after me if something happened to me. I know heís a leader," he added when he could see Andromeda starting to say something, "but he has a group of a few dozen, a couple of hundred at most, on a planet that even now is home to a couple of billion humans. It would, will, take concerted, organized action from every part of the world to release the Dragan stranglehold. He couldnít do it in his lifetime, though he has made an admirable start that probably would lead to a human uprising in a few generations."

"You might be surprised what a human being can aspire to, Loki," Rafe said quietly from the shadows down the hallway. Heíd been standing there for a few minutes listening to the debate the Nietzschean heir and the ship were having.

"The very nature of a human being is to overcome insurmountable odds in face of unequal opposition. We are the original survivors, though your people took it to an art form. If we havenít been destroyed yet, it will take a lot more than the occupation of a planet to do it.

"And Rommie is right, you might want to consider treading lightly on this one; you might end up stepping on a land mine."

Loki nodded sharply, acknowledging their advice, but it was clear that he didnít intend to take it. "Heíd probably be happier with human company just now, but call me if you need to leave him alone," he requested. "I wish my brothers and sisters were still here," he added thoughtfully. "Itís hard to hate the idea of a whole race when faced with a two-year-old girl crawling into your lap," he said, smiling slightly. "Even Harper crumbled."

"Loki, if he hated your whole race, he wouldnít be here right now, death sentence or no death sentence. Iíd say that he is even more stubborn than Harper; heís had a lot more practice at it," Rafe replied, with a genuine smile and a shake of his head. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, Rommie. Youíd best give the fool the files he wants, I think." And with that he headed down the hall to his rooms and the irate Earther.

Several hours later Loki was far better educated on the state of Earth and what it meant to be a human living there since the Fall. Only one file remained unread, and he was hesitating over it: Brendanís file. He started to open it, paused, then resolutely shut the system down. If necessary he could read it later; for now, he would take Rommie and Rafeís advice and let it be.

And seeing as it was approaching the time that the main shift ate, he should go see if Brendan was ready for a meal.

Staring at the door a few moments later, he wondered if the human would even bother opening it.

Brendan stared at the door, debating whether or not to open it. He knew who was on the other side, and he wasnít quite sure if he was ready to deal with the brat just yet. On the other hand he was starving, and he was on a strange ship full of Boneys... Nietzscheans.

Sighing at his indecisiveness, Brendan hit the door release and stood there, scowling at Loki. "Well? Come to insult me more, have you?"

Loki rolled his eyes, but all he said, in a relatively neutral tone, was, "I thought you might want to go get something to eat."

"With you?" came the immediate reply.

"Yes. Until my father, Harper, or Rhade says otherwise, Iím responsible for keeping you alive and preventing a riot on board. Which means that when youíre going to be around Nietzscheans, Iím around you."

"Afraid I might say something indelicate or afraid someone might try to claim me for his little bed toy, just like your father and Rhade have done with the other humans on board?" Brendan asked, cocking his head to one side and waiting to see the answer.

Loki burst into laughter. "B-bed toy?" he finally managed to sputter. "Oh, I would love to see you say that to Harper, Dylan or Beka! I could sell tickets!"

"Whatever, Iím not hungry, now go away!" Brendan growled and tried to retreat back into his quarters.

Loki sighed, not moving out of the doorway, knowing Rommie wouldnít shut it on him. "I think watching out for you includes making sure you donít starve yourself to death while youíre here. Now come on, you can ask questions and find out all the awful horrible things we do to the humans on board," he coaxed.

"And this is supposed to be a selling point?" Brendan asked, rolling his eyes. "Iím beginning to think that I was better off on Earth. At least there I knew where I stood, and I knew who my friends and my enemies were. This is very... strange," he said with a shake of his head. "And, child, I donít need a keeper or a minder, thank you all the same. Iím old enough to know when I want to eat, when I want to sleep and when I wanna take a shite, got it?"

"Well, Iím certain that you can handle the last two on your own, though youíre likely to get any number of offers for company for the sleeping partóHarper in particular and Dylan and Captain Valentine as well have interested the crew. But unless you intend to play well with others, dinner without me would lead to both of us having to swab blood off the decks. And Rommie would make us do it by hand too."

"Not like it would be the first time, Iíve had to clean up blood before," Brendan said with a shrug of his shoulders. "And it sure as hell wonít be the last time. All right, kid, lead the way to the mess hall or whatever itís called on this ship. And letís not talk about my sleeping arrangements, all right? Youíre waay too young for that."

Loki just gave him a look over his shoulder. "Would you like me to introduce you to one of the women who works in Medical? People in that profession know exactly what to do for you." He smiled smugly as he continued toward the mess, afraid that the human might faint if he told him that this so-called kid had recently spent a very enjoyable two days with both the woman in question and one of her male co-workers.

Snorting in reply, Brendan made no comment, just followed the young Nietzschean into the mess hall. Conversation soon began to die down, and then another sort of buzz began as there were whispered, called out questions and out and out speculations. He decided the best way to handle it was to brazen his way through it, basically ignoring everyone and everything but the food.

Filling his plate quickly, he took a seat at an empty table as far away from the crowded section of the room as he could and began to shovel his food in as if he didnít have a care in the world.

Loki made his own selections a bit more slowly, then joined Brendan, wondering if it would do more harm than good to point out that he could eat more slowly, that it wasnít going to be taken away and there was no limit on how long they could stay. Deciding that it would, he sat quietly, picking at his own meal, and he looked up with true relief when Trance arrived.

"Can I join you? I was hoping to find Rafe, but he doesnít seem to be here yet." The golden alien ignored the renewed murmurs her arrival and changed appearance had started.

"Of course." Loki gestured to the empty seats around them. "Take your pick."

Brendan looked up at the gold-skinned alien that Harper seemed to trust so much and set his fork aside. "So, what exactly are you?" he asked bluntly, wondering if heíd get a straight answer. "And how well do you know my cousin?"

"Iím Trance Gemini. Anything more specific wouldnít mean a thing to you. And Iím Harperís friend. I was a member of the crew of the Maru for a little over a year before we encountered the Andromeda Ascendant. And I suppose I know Harper as well as anyone, though I wasnít there when Beka, Dylan and Rafe first rescued him."

"Hrmm. Was he happy at least? Living among the stars like that, after what was done to him?"

"In time. It took a while for him to get over what was done to him, and honestly, I donít think he ever got over all of it till he met Tyr. Heíd turned part of himself off, becoming totally celibate to try to deal with the conditioning. It wouldnít have worked long term. But he and Tyr..." She smiled. "Once they stopped fighting each other, it was obvious to everyone, even them as stubborn as they are, that theyíre perfect for each other.

"And Harper was made to be out here. Iíve never seen a better engineer in my life... which has been rather longer than you might think," she added dryly.

"Whereas Iím already missing Earth, nasty, polluted, nightmarish mudball that it is," Brendan sighed. "But Iím happy for him then; heís found a home at last. One of us should be able to claim that."

"You might be surprised how much youíd like it here if you gave it a chance." Amused blue eyes, the only thing unchanged about her, moved from Brendan to Loki before returning to her plate as she took a bite of her salad.

"With recirculated air and metal under my feet and no hint of a breeze, no oceans to look at, no sunrise or sunset to see?" Brendan asked, slightly aghast. "Are you mad, woman?"

"Sometimes," she said enigmatically, rising to her feet with a smile to draw Rafeís attention when she saw him come in.

"Donít waste your time trying to understand her," Loki advised, grinning. "She was confusing enough before she changed, but sheís twice as bad now."

"The woman is vaguely terrifying," Brendan agreed under his breath, turning his attention back to his food.

Loki stared from Brendan to Trance and back again. "I have a feeling it would be a lot more than vaguely if she tried." He noticed Rhade, Dylan and Beka come in, and he waved them over. He wanted Brendan to get to know the Nietzschean-human pairings and realize that they were far from slavery.

Brendan observed the young Nietzschean with hidden mirth. He seemed bound and determined to make Brendan eat his earlier words about sex toys and whatnot, parading the Ďhappy couplesí in front of him like shining examples of cross-species marriages. Ah well, if it made the kid happy, he thought, greeting Beka and Dylan warmly and Rhade with reserved respect. Having seen what that one could do in a firefight, Brendan wasnít about to get on his bad side.

"No Tyr and Harper, huh?" Beka asked with a laugh as she sat beside her brother, who was facing Brendan. "What a surprise that is."

Rhade snorted. "What would be a surprise is if we were to see them within the next three days. I imagine it will be that long before they get back out of bed." Seated between his two lovers, he nodded at the others, still somewhat wary of Tranceís new incarnation.

"Do they do that often," Brendan asked, "the whole disappearing for days on end until theyíve rubbed their dicks raw or whatever else they do?" he continued, using the local Earther slang for being exhausted after sex.

"Well, usually only for a few hours," Loki was the first to reply while several of the others were muffling snickers. "But this was a rather long separation. They donít handle those well," he admitted with an expressive grunt worthy of his father.

"Gee really?" Rafe snorted. "Couldnít tell. Nope, not at all."

Beka smacked her older brother upside the head. "Behave, thatís Lokiís father weíre discussing. But I swear, if Harper had asked, ĎAre we there yet?í one more time, I woulda spaced him!"

"And then my father would have had to kill you, and Dylan and Rhade would have tried to kill him, and things would have gotten ugly," Loki laughed. As if Beka would ever do anything to hurt Harper.

"Only if anyone told him. Could have spaced you too and everyone else would have kept their mouths shut," Beka grinned.

"Iím fairly certain my father is not so oblivious as not to notice that you returned without his lover or his eldest son," Loki pointed out dryly, sounding remarkably like Tyr.

"Died on Earth," Dylan chimed in, enjoying teasing the young Nietzschean. "Harper did something harebrained, you followed and thatís all she wrote, two idiots dead at the hands of the Dragans."

Brendan observed the conversation with a quirked eyebrow. "Does Harper know you plan his demise on a daily basis?" he asked mildly.

"Sometimes he even joins in," Rommie put in dryly, flickering into being next to the table. "His plans are the worst, whether for himself, the captain when theyíre arguing, or anyone else. That young man has a very wide vindictive streak."

"Almost Nietzschean," Rhade praised.

"Guess again, my friend. That particular streak is pure Boston Irish," Brendan replied. "We tend to like to hunt our victims down, do away with them in a particularly heinous fashion, dance a jig on their grave and come back once a year for the rest of our lives to repeat the jig. Just to make sure the victim is well and truly dead."

Everyone burst into laughter, nearby Nietzscheans as well. "Yes indeed, that does sound like our Harper," one of the engineering crew agreed. He turned to face Brendan. "I hear youíre his cousin." He eyed the human. "Donít have much of a look of him, but he has good genes. Welcome to the Andromeda Ascendant."

"I... unh, thanks, and we Laheys and Harpers have always had good genes," Brendan replied, slightly confounded.

The Nietzschean nodded. "Wouldnít know it to look at you, which threw us at first, but brains like that... better than some of us Iíve known." The unfriendly look he gave a man across the hall put him squarely in that category.

"Um, well, thank you, I think," Brendan replied cautiously, not wanting to find himself in the middle of a Kodiak mess hall brawl. "But Seamus is really the brains of the family. I do all right, but heís the one with the God-given talent. Iím better at... organizing," the human continued vaguely.

"Everyone has his own skills," the Kodiak agreed before turning around to continue his dinner.

"Better watch it, Brendan," Beka chuckled, "or youíll be taking over Harperís position as mascot. I think the crew is starting to think of him as their lucky charm."

"Better than a box of Fruit Loops, I guess," Brendan replied with an amused chuckle.

Everyone stared at him blankly, not getting the joke.

Brendan sighed and shook his head. The people back in Boston sector would have understood. It just reinforced the fact that he was all alone up here. "Forget it, just some Earther humor, nothing important."

"We donít understand Harper half time either," Beka agreed. "Then again, weíve lost him a few times too. Spacers and dirtsiders have different frames of reference. The whole idea of weather..." She shuddered.

"God, I think I miss that most of all. There was a time when Earth wasnít quite so dirty, and the oceans were blue, and the rain was like a cool kiss from heaven. And snow, how I loved snow as a child. Tiny works of art made out of frozen water, each unique and special, each an entire world of wonder in something the size of a drop of water. Iím going to miss that so bloody much," Brendan sighed.

Beka still looked baffled since as far as she was concerned, the only thing to do with snow was get away from it, but sheíd learned with Harper not to argue. "Well, just thinking about it has made me cold, so if youíll excuse me, Iím going back to my quarters for a nice long, hot shower." She nodded to Brendan and Loki as she rose and made good her escape; handling Dylan and Agravaine was all she was up to for the moment.

Looking at the remaining people at the table, Brendan asked. "Was it something I said?"

"Nahh," Rafe replied good-naturedly. "Beka just hates real weather. I once took her to a winter resort because I thought sheíd like to be a snow bunny and tried to get her to join me in a snowball fight by throwing one at her. She screeched like a Magog and refused to leave the lodge until it was time to go. She really doesnít like natural weather," he chuckled.

"And we should probably go after her or weíll be looking for other quarters," Rhade said, pushing away from the table, "which would be annoying when Iíve only just moved in.

"If I had only known," he muttered as he and Dylan started after the blonde.

"If you had only known what?" Dylan asked with a grin, following closely behind Rhade, close enough to truly admire the show his ass put on.

"As you can see," Trance said to Brendan, looking amused, "around here dinnerís more a state of mind than a set time. Just be grateful you werenít here when all of Tyrís children and many others of the pride where on board. Total chaos!"

Eyeing Loki carefully, Brendan turned to Trance. "God help me, thereís more of them than him? Had I known that, Iíd have brought the Harper family burial shroud. Sounds like my cousin may well need it!"

Ignoring the laughter with what dignity he could muster, Loki stated, "I am the oldest of my fatherís children. There are sixteen of us living, seventeen if Elsbet has given birth."

"But that would mean that she conceived while Seamus... oooh, I bet that went over like a lead balloon. We Irish tend to be a mite possessive of our mates. Hopefully your father was up front about it, if he knew what was good for him. Not that itís my place to say anything. Seamus seems happy enough, so I suppose I ought not stir the pot, so tíspeak."

"It would be best," Trance agreed with a shudder. "They find plenty to fight about on their own."

"They are passionate," Loki defended his father and Harper.

"We know," Trance sighed. "We hear it often enough."

"Well itís comforting to know my cuz gives as good as he gets. We have the Harper/Lahey honor to think of, yíknow," Brendan replied mildly.

Rafe chuckled at this. "Two Irish on the Andromeda. Life can only get more interesting. I wonder if Tyr really understands what heís let himself in for?"

"I should hope not; what fun would there be in that, I ask ye?" Brendan replied with a smirk and a wink.

"My father is equal to any challenge," Loki announced fiercely.

"Spoken like a young man with a serious case of hero worship for his father," Brendan chuckled.

"Hey, Iíve learned to never bet against the house," Rafe laughed and then paused. "But then again Iíve seen the luck of the Irish in action more than once so Iíve learned to never bet against an Irishman either. This should prove very interesting."

END

  since 02-17-07

 

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