Alliance BlackFire
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Castellan Dralthea Thel'Starshar was sitting at her console in the Queen's Court organizing the day's schedule when there was a flash of light behind her near the Queen's Throne. She turned expecting to see the golden form of Queen StarFire, but what she saw was four of the Queen's Elite standing around a much smaller figure on the floor.

She walked up to them. "Okay, calm down guys. What do we have here?" She asked with firm authority.

Two of the guards stepped back so she could see. One of the Elite addressed her. "This unknown feline has appeared in the Queen's Audience chamber in violation of the law. What should we do with him, Castellan?"

The light blue female Dracon bent down to examine the small black and white feline. The first thing she felt was the emotional and psychic turbulence of a very freshly shattered LifeBond. "Blessed Mother, he's just lost a LifeMate. Please, stand away." She said urgently, as she stood holding the small tom in her arms. There was a rising chorus of alien song, and then a flash of light.

*'See if Prince Morin is on the grounds. Small furry males are an interest of his; he may know what this one is. He looks similar to a male Felsin teenager, but is clearly not one.'* Her mind-voice projected to the guards strongly.

Down in medical the eight foot tall mahogany female Dracon healer carefully patched the psychic damage left by the shattered bond. "His unconsciousness is due to the Bond damage, I took the liberty of giving him knowledge of Alliance Standard, so that he will understand us when he awakens. I hope no one is thinking of punishing him for breaching the Queen's Audience Chamber."

"Of course not." The light blue Castellan said firmly. "He wasn't doing anything hostile or even intentional. I'm going to stay here until he wakes up. I understand what he's going through. Would you please notify Her Majesty?" Dralthea said quietly.

"Of course, he should wake fairly soon. There was little physical damage." The healer said gently.

"Thank you. Also let Prince Morin know where to find me if he should be found." She said pulling up a chair next to the small black and white tom's bed.

Dralthea became aware of their visitor's consciousness before the tom made any outward sign of it and nodded to Prince Morin as the wine-red Dragon male walked in.

Morin looked over the small tom carefully. "Definitely not a Felsin, though I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't from a related species." He said quietly to the Castellan.

"How are you feeling, little one?" Morin said gently, sitting next to the small tom.

He opened large, crystal blue to regard them before shutting them again and curled into a tight ball with his long, fluffy tail wrapped around his body and mumbled. "Miserable."

Dralthea nodded. "I understand. I lost someone the way you have. I know how it hurts and how alone it makes you feel. But you don't have to be alone, if you don't want to be." She said, strongly sympathizing with the small tom who looked like a teenager to her.

"Castellan, if your duties require you to be elsewhere I will stay with our visitor." Morin said in his deep rumbling voice.

"Thank you Morin, but caring for someone who has lost a LifeMate is more important than managing the court schedule. Even Her Majesty agrees."

"Then I'll stay anyway." Morin said gently.

"Where am I?" Patrik asked without looking up. "Where's Jake?"

"You're in the infirmary of the Star Palace on Draconea." Dralthea said gently, trying not to shock him too badly. "As for Jake, I'm not sure who Jake is, so where is something I don't know."

The small tom shivered and let out a small sob before making a visible effort to put himself together and uncurled to face her, his long, fluffy tail tucked firmly between his legs and up his chest before curling down and around his petite waist. "What are you going to do with me?"

Dralthea smiled. "Well, maybe we should introduce ourselves before we get so far ahead. I'm Castellan Dralthea, and this is Prince Morin, she nodded to the wine-red Dracon male. "Who are you?" She asked very politely.

"Patrik Celest." He just barely managed to keep his voice even.

Dralthea nodded. "Well, Patrik, I think what you need is a little time to recover from the shock you appear to be suffering. As for what to do with you, well I don't know if we can get you back to where you came from. If we can't then we'll help you build a new life. But you should get some rest." She said gently.

"Castellan, you can list me as taking responsibility for Patrik's presence here in the Palace." Morin volunteered.

"Thank you, Prince Morin. I was hoping you would, it makes the paperwork much easier."

Morin turned to Rik, and put a gentle reassuring hand on the small tom's shoulder. "Anything we can do to help, feel free to ask." He said with sincerity in his eyes and deep voice.

"Do you have any use for fighter pilots?" He looked up with freighted blue eyes.

Morin smiled broadly. "Yes, as a matter of fact, we can always use good pilots. Actually, I'm part of a group that has several openings. Interested in giving a few sims a try, so we can see how good you are? When you feel up to it, of course." He said encouragingly.

Patrik nodded slightly before settling down into a tight ball again. "I'm not too good at sims ... they're like flying blind, but I'll give it my best."

Morin looked at him, then nodded. "Well, you're not the first pilot I've known who wasn't good at sims. For some reason, the better the pilot the worse they get along with sims. Since we're interested in your skill as a pilot, not your skill at sims; I'll get one of my pilot friends to run the tests with real aerospace fighter. Would you be more comfortable somewhere less 'clinical' then the infirmary? I know hospitals and such make many uncomfortable." The wine-red Dracon asked looking for any way to make the small pilot more comfortable.

The little tom looked between them, confusion radiating from him on every level. "Umm, I'm okay just about anywhere."

Morin concluded that maybe he was trying a little too hard to be helpful. "Okay, just checking." He paused to think.

The Healer finished making some notes and walked over. "Patrik, this Jake you asked about earlier, was he your gunner?" She asked quietly.

"Yes," he nodded as a fresh wave of loss washed through him. "Jake Clawson ... NightRazor."

"You're used to following him, aren't you?" She asked in a quiet gentle voice. She had a feeling why he was confused, but she didn't want to jump to conclusions.

He looked up at her, even more bewildered than before and simply said, "he's my gunner."

She smiled. "That's what I thought." She paused for a quiet moment before sitting on the bed next to him. "You're feeling more than a little lost without him, aren't you?" She asked so quietly, only Patrik could really hear her. The Healer gently brushed the tom's long, silky hair back trying to comfort him.

He nodded slightly under her fingers and relaxed a fraction and whispered. "I was made for him."

Her empathy made it quite clear that he was talking literally 'made', not some romantic notion. "No wonder being separated from him like this scares you. You've always lived for him, and now you have to live for yourself ... and you're probably not sure how." She said quietly and gently. "Am I close, Patrik?"

"I guess," he nodded. "I find a new gunner ... but the squad's ... they're gods only know where."

"Well, Morin may be able to help you find a new gunner, since he's part of a rather special group. Does your gunner need to be the same species as you?" She asked trying to understand the little pilot.

"Umm, no." He thought a little. "I got along with the others well enough. Just need to ... click right, for a gunner. I probably would've picked Uma, a Kantin ... canine, female, if the squad was here. I liked her a lot." He regarded Dralthea a bit. "Physically compatible and interested would be a plus, but I don't know if they'd have to be."

Morin smiled. "Sounds like I'll just have to introduce you to the NightBlades and see if anything clicks." He chuckled quietly. "As far as interested goes, I don't imagine that'll be a problem. If I know the NightBlades, plenty of them will be interested. Hope you don't mind the attention."

"I like team attention." The petite tom smiled weakly. "It's how Black Phoenix is."

The Healer smiled. "I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, for tomorrow, but it's reasonably late and Patrik has had a rough day." She thought for a moment. "Hungry, Patrik?"

"Not really, but I should probably eat." He uncurled the rest of the way and made a small attempt to put his appearance right. "It was nearly lunch when the explosion happened."

The Healer nodded. "I'll have the kitchen send something over. Fortunately, you're so close to being Felsin that we don't have be concerned about protein mismatch or other problems that occasionally occur during first contact." She chuckled. "What does your species call itself?" She asked curiously as she thought an order to the kitchen.

"Kat ... K-A-T." He pronounced carefully, then got a little bolder. "What are you?"

The Healer smiled. "We're Dracon, D-R-A-C-O-N. Not to be confused with the D-R-A-K-O-N, who aren't related at all." She said chuckling.

Morin pulled out a portable terminal near the bed, and set it up. "Just in case you decide you want to know something and one of us isn't available right away to answer questions." He said indicating the terminal to Patrik.

"Oh, cool." He brightened considerably and flicked a hand over the control panel as the terminal began to access and display data, seemingly at random. "Ohh, very cool." Patrik looked up at Morin. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." The Dracon said casually.

He relaxed significantly as he shifted his attention back to Dralthea, making him seem even younger as the terminal continued to access data. "You're nice."

She smiled brightly. "Thank you." The light blue Dracon said quietly.

While Patrik was still working with the terminal a dark blue Dracon arrived with the meal from the kitchen. Morin found a small table and put it where the small tom could reach the plate while playing with the computer. The plate was an assortment of meat slices, fruit and bread and there was a glass of red juice to go with it.

Patrik barely missed a beat, snagging random food items and munching when he found no utensils, barely taking his eyes from the information scrolling across the screen, though he periodically glanced at each of the Dracons.

Morin nodded to the happily engaged tom. "I'll see you in the morning then, Patrik." He said quietly. "Sleep well, when you feel like sleeping that is." He said chuckling, as he turned and left.

"Yes, sir." He smiled up at the Dracon. "Have a good night."

Dralthea nodded. "Patrik, I'll be in the office over there, if you should need me. Try to get some sleep at some point." She said heading for the office. "Welcome to Draconea, Patrik." She said in a very warm quiet tone.

"Thanks," he smiled at her. "I will."

Patrik delayed the inevitable nearly three hours before his mind and body refused to accept distractions anymore and he shut the terminal down, curled up, pulled the thin blanket over his head, and cried himself to a restless, dream filled sleep.

Dralthea noted the dimmed lights in the main area indicating that Patrik was actually asleep. Her telepathic hearing told her that he was sleeping restlessly, but that was part of the grieving process. She knew intellectually that it was all part of learning to deal with the lost Bond, after all she been through it, but it didn't make it much easier to refrain from soothing his dreams.

The light blue Dracon decided she didn't really feel comfortable leaving, and quietly lay down on the medical bed nearest the small tom. She figured it was the best place to be, in case nightmare caused him to bolt awake. It wouldn't do to have him panicking half-awake in unknown surroundings.

Dralthea's telepathic monitoring woke her fully twenty minutes before Patrik reluctantly drew the blanket down from his head, driven awake by a built-in need to be doing something. She gently signaled Morin that the little tom was awake, but indicated that he should wait a little while. She then rolled to sit on the edge of the bed facing Patrik. "Good morning Patrik. Did you sleep well?" She asked gently, doubting he did, but hoping maybe she was wrong.

"Morning," he blinked at her. "Better than I expected."

Dralthea smiled. "Good to hear. If you'd like to grab a shower before breakfast, there's a full bathroom over there." She indicated a door next to the office, and then handed him a pile of folded clothing. "I thought you might want some fresh clothing."

His morning smile brightened considerably. "Thank you."

She smiled. "Since it's a beautiful morning, I thought we'd have breakfast on the balcony, give you a chance to see more than the inside of medical." She said pleasantly.

"Sounds good," he nodded at her with a little perk in his step as he made for the bathroom and stopped dead as the door shut.

"Figures," he muttered softly as he took in the room designed for someone nearly twice his height. The sink rim was just over his eye level, the toilet up to his shoulder and looked very precarious to try to balance on, and the shower controls were just barely within reach.

Dralthea picked up a great deal of confusion and frustration and realized there'd be a size problem. They had few Non-Dracon guests in the Star Palace. Fortunately, her father had been the Palace architect before he retired.

She spoke loud enough for Patrik to hear her. "Patrik, stand still and not under anything. I'll adjust the size of things momentarily."

"Okay," his uncertain voice replied quickly.

She waited long enough to sense that he had complied, then reached what little mage-talent she had out to touch the building-mind that was in the medical area. She focused on the bathroom and thought quietly. *'Rego aedificium.'*

The bathroom adjusted itself to be properly proportioned to its current occupant. "Better fit, Patrik?" She asked loudly enough to be heard through the door.

"Wow, thanks." He sounded truly impressed.

She sat down, sweating profusely, because though she knew how the building magic worked, she had rarely used it. She had inherited her grandfather's psi-abilities, instead of her parents' magical abilities.

Patrik made quick work of cleaning up, though he lingered under the hot water, and again in the hot crosscurrents of the drying vents. He considered his stomach for a moment, and decided it was worth the time to primp and brush all his long, silky fur and hair into place before investigating the simple clothes he'd been provided. This was a place of power and importance, he was sure of it, even if the machine band chatter was hard to understand.

"Thank you, Dralthea." He smiled at her walked back into the main medical room in the soft, light blue jeans and deep blue button up shirt.

"You're welcome." She smiled back. "You clean up to be quite handsome, Patrik." She said easily, earning a smile. "Breakfast should be ready in a little while, if you'll follow me." She said as she led the way out of medical.

Patrik easily followed her through the ancient halls of the Star Palace, which were also Dracon-sized, and very elaborately carved and decorated. The construction was of a white stone, while many of the decorations were of gold, silver and a deep red-brown wood. In many places gems were used to accent certain carvings. They passed a varied assortment of Dracons ranging from not quite eight feet to a bit over twelve, in a wide range of colors.

Fifteen minutes of walking brought them to a broad open terrace that looked over a rugged mountain range from the highest peak. The sun reflected off the crystallized snow on the other peaks making them seem to shimmer. Dralthea led the small tom to a table with a good view out into the mountains. The table was sized so it was more reasonable for Patrik, a bit large still but not uncomfortably so.

A server brought breakfast shortly after they sat down. The usual utensils were present this time, and the food was, to Patrik's surprise, very similar to breakfast back at Cathedral; once adjustments were made for the unfamiliarity of the fruit and meat slices, and the fact that the fluffy pancakes were a dark shade of red.

Dralthea picked up a fork and started. "Breakfast isn't something I always have the time to actually sit down and eat. Usually, I just grab something before whatever the morning crisis happens to be." She said conversationally.

He chuckled knowingly and ate with neat efficiency. "Sounds like back home. If there isn't a crisis before lunch, everybody gets nervous, cause a big one's probably coming before dinner."

"Most centers of government are like that, though this is more the symbolic center of government. Most of the actual laws are made at GoldShield, where the Great Court of Draconea meets." She said as she ate. "I don't know if I was clear about it, but you should feel free to ask any questions you have. If I don't have the answer, I can probably find someone who does, and if it's something I'm not permitted to answer I'll tell you that, but I won't mind that you asked." She said trying to gently encourage the small tom.

He thought for a minute as he munched. "Are visitors like me common? Folks from worlds you've never heard of."

"Common enough that it doesn't really faze us. We usually get a species or two showing up every year that we've never heard of before, though usually they show up in starships. Visitors who arrive in a bang and a flash are far more rare. Especially non-hostile ones." She said quietly sipping at a glass of water.

Patrik chuckled softly with a nod. "About the same back home, though the ships tend to crash with few survivors. We usually picked up five or six lost folks a year. It usually works out well. Pat dealt with those that insisted on causing trouble."

"You have a large number of ships crash on your world? Doesn't your spacefleet catch the distressed ships before that?" She asked curious.

"Spacefleet?" He looked at her in surprise. "There are a few spaceworthy fighters, but nothing I'd call a fleet."

Dralthea looked a little surprised. "Oh, I haven't encountered anyone from a culture that wasn't actively exploring space in so long, I guess I overlooked that possibility." She paused thinking. "Even so, that many crashes is very strange. Space is big, and ships don't hit planets very often unless they mean to."

"Master Khan says Aristal is the anchor point for several Nexus, and that's why we have so many visitors, and so much trouble." He offered. "What any of that means, I'm not very sure."

Dralthea nodded. "That makes sense, Nexus worlds do have that reputation. A Nexus is a gathering point for various energies, dimensional folds and other phenomena that tend to draw things, especially people to them. When a Nexus anchors to a planet, the planet becomes a focus for a great deal of activity and traffic. Your Master Khan must be a very skilled mage to have determined this, since Nexus are not easy to detect. More often than not they are deduced." She said calmly.

"She's not a mage," he chuckled softly. "She's something called a Jedi. They're more like Psionics, but they can draw power from outside, and have a very ... odd ... code of behavior. She said the Nexus all but blinded her to the subtleties of the Force she works with until she figured out the local patterns."

"Really, so your planet has Jedi too. We have two, though the one trained the other. Actually, you'll probably meet one of them later, he's Morin's LifeMate." She said mildly interested.

Patrik nodded and relaxed more. "Same with Aristal. Master Khan was Coruscant trained and crashed. Her daughter was trained on Aristal. Is deep space much different from near space?" He cocked his head at her. "I've flown Amerith and a few others past the moon, but not much further. We don't stay out more than eight or nine hours."

"Very different, especially when you get into the space between star systems where the solar wind and gravity are both very inconsequential. But some of the most beautiful of natural phenomena occur in deep space." The light blue Dracon said somewhat dreamily.

"Sound nice." He smiled at her.

She chuckled as he finished the last of his breakfast. "Well, if you decide to go with the NightBlades you'll probably be the first Kat in deep space."

"Good Morning, Dralthea. Good Morning, Patrik." Morin's deep voice said from the door to the terrace as he walked up next to them. "Feeling up to showing me what you can do with some local aircraft?" He asked Patrik conversationally, briefly looking to the Castellan to see if there was any reason not to.

"Sure," the small, silky furred tom smiled and stood.

"Good, we'll have to 'port over to Castle Kar'Dranor to do it. The area around the Star Palace is strictly a no-fly zone except for the Queen's Elite." He said, quietly opening a shimmering portal.

"Mind if I join you?" Dralthea asked as she stood.

"Not at all, taking the day off?" Morin asked curiously, since Dralthea was a well-known workaholic.

"Part of it, at any rate." She said smiling.

"If everyone will follow me." The wine-red Dracon said and stepped through the shimmering oval.

Dralthea smiled to Patrik. "Morin likes showing off his Mage ability, it's just teleport gate, perfectly safe." She said reassuringly, just in case. "Go ahead, I'll be right behind."

Patrik chuckled and shook his head before stepping through.

The other side of the portal was in a large hanger containing six high-tech fighter jets. They were all the same model, but the paint job was individualized though all had some sort of flame motif. Two of the fighters, upon closer inspection were actually fighter-bombers with additional payload racks.

Morin came walking over accompanied by a tall, male Tiger with a very flat face, from a Kat perspective, who was wearing a flight suit, and carrying a flight helmet.

"Patrik Celest, I'd like you meet Nathan SwiftClaw, my LifeMate and one of the better pilots around. Nathan, this is Patrik who I told you about earlier." Morin said by way of introduction.

"Good to meet you, Patrik." Nathan said extending his hand in an open, friendly manner and smiled when the much shorter tom easily accepted it. "Morin says you're a pilot in need of new gunner and team. If you'll follow me, we can get you suited up and then you can show me how good you are."

"What are your physical limits?" Patrik grinned as he followed Nathan.

Nathan chuckled, taking a liking to the little pilot. "Probably higher than yours." He said with a friendly, competitive grin, as they walked into the locker room. The tiger indicated an illuminated circle at the end of the room. "Just stand still on the circle, and it'll manufacture a flight suit to your measurements."

"Cool." He grinned and stepped into the circle. "Does the jet we're taking include warnings, in case one of us passes out?"

The illuminated circle surrounded Patrik in a glowing column of light briefly. Then it shut off. "Please retrieve your flight suit from the equipment alcove." A neutral female voice instructed.

"It does, and the auto-pilot will take over if we both pass out." He said as he led the small tom over to where the new flight suit and helmet were waiting. The tiger handed them to Patrik. "Well, get suited up and we'll head out."

He nodded, stripped and dressed with the speed of long practice before scanning for a surface to look at himself in and took a good look in one of the full length ones. The flight suit was a perfect fit, red with black trim along the legs and sleeves. The helmet was black, with a red stylized flame on each side.

"Acceptable?" Nathan asked watching the small tom.

"Sure," he turned to face the tiger. "Opposite of what I'm used to, but it looks good."

Nathan nodded appreciatively. "That it does." He said before leading the way back to the hanger area.

Dralthea walked up as they crossed to one of the fighters. "The flight suit looks good on you, Patrik." She bent and kissed him gently on the cheek. "For good luck, not that I really think you'll need it." She said quietly.

"Thanks," he smiled at her as Nathan climbed up into the fighter's back seat to carefully run the system checks and watched in some amusement as Patrik made the front seat in two quick leaps, a touch of what was probably a very exuberant personality starting to show.

As Patrik acquainted himself with the control system, then touched the neural interface and ran a system check of his own, Nathan lowered shield covering the take off ramp.

"Nice jet," the pilot commented as the engines powered up to full take-off thrust. "Ready?"

Nathan nodded. "Launch when ready. Take some time to get used to the feel, and then head for the testing range, it's showing on the HUD."

Patrik nodded and turned the jet into an easy circle of the mountain they shot out of, slowly increasing the difficulty and G's involved until the safety system on board called him to a halt.

"How are you doing, Nathan?"

Nathan smiled. "Just fine, Patrik. Ready for the testing range?" He said as though they'd simply been cruising around.

"Actually, I wanted to turn the safety limiters off and see what she's capable of. I'm good to about twenty G's, and the frame certainly is, I was wondering about you."

Nathan carefully drew in enough Force to reinforce the various body systems that were adversely affected by such high-G's. He then disengaged the safeties, which were controlled through the gunner-commander console functions. "Go for it, Patrik." He said, thinking the little pilot must feel he had a lot to prove to take risks like this.

The Felsin gritted his teeth as the G's keep increasing, and kept a sharp eye on his pilot's shape through both Force and technology, surprised as it became obvious that the tom wasn't exaggerating and was barely feeling the eighteen and then nineteen G turns and switchbacks that began to take on a predictable pattern as they ran through the same routine again and again, upping the speed with each round.

Then the nose dropped directly towards the ground at full power, only to pull out at the literal last fraction of a second, roaring up the mountainside only inches from the treetops and continued up, spinning the craft as fast as it would go before leveling out with an enthusiastic howl.

"Still okay back there?" Patrik asked, jazzed as he set course for the testing range.

Nathan shook his head and consciously evened out his breathing. "Wow! That was some ride, Patrik." He said laughing. "You must damn near untouchable in air-to-air combat." There was serious respect in the Felsin's voice.

"It's what I'm best at." The grin was clear in his voice as the aerial course came into view. "You've got a pretty decent jet here."

"Currently the mainstay of planetary air defense." He said as checked the difficulty on the course to make sure it would challenge the little pilot.

"Good," he grinned as he guided them at nearly top speed through the course, taking every opportunity to push the jet to its true limits in an aerial dance of pure joyful adrenaline as he set up Nathan to take out the targets flawlessly.

Nathan chuckled softly to himself in amazement at the fearless, utterly enthralled mind flying the craft in the few spare moments he had before they roared across the endpoint and Patrik swung them around to head back to base. If anyone could become one with his craft, this tom was it.

"That was spectacular flying, Patrik. You're certainly good enough for the NightBlades if you want to join us. We'd sure as hell be glad to gain a pilot of your skill." He said making a few notes into the testing system.

"Thanks. The NightBlades have better jets than this?" He asked, thoroughly jazzed and quite aroused.

"Yep, leading edge technology all the way." Nathan said encouragingly, not quite sure why the little tom was aroused, but he found the scent somewhat distracting in the confined quarters of the jet.

"Cool." He rumbled lightly as they set down. "I hope you have a gunner I click with then."

"I hope so too, Patrik. You're far too good to lose. " Nathan said in earnest. "And I think the NightBlades will be a good fit for you."

"So now what?" The black and white fluffball asked as he jumped down, not showing a trace of having flown one of the most grueling runs that obstacle course had seen.

Nathan jumped down after him. "Well, now we head over to NightBlade Valley and see introduce you to the team. Hopefully, one of the gunners will be a good fit for you."

Dralthea and Morin came walking over as the two walked away from the jet. "So how'd he do?" Dralthea asked.

Nathan grinned. "Castellan, if I'm right Patrik just broke several of the long establish records for that obstacle course. He's the best pilot we've seen in some time."

Dralthea smiled, hugged Patrik in congratulations. "I knew you were good, but to get such glowing praise from the NightBlade Commander, you must be truly special."

Morin turned to Nathan. "Heading over to the Valley?"

"When Patrik's ready."

"I'm ready now," he nodded with a nuzzle to Dralthea in thanks.

"You'll probably want to change out of the flight suit, since it's fairly warm out today." Dralthea suggested, as the little tom nuzzled her.

"Okay," he smiled at her and walked at a fast pace for the locker room.

When Patrik got back from changing, Nathan was waiting for him, standing in an alcove next to the Hanger. He gestured the small pilot over. "This transporter will take us to the Valley of Guard Complex."

Once Patrik was in place the transporter hummed and after three seconds of blackness, the world reformed as an open area with numerous buildings nearby.

Nathan chuckled. "Oops, forgot to reset for the main complex. This is actually the prototype testing range, and the support buildings for testing. Main complex is over there." He indicated some buildings at distance. "Its a nice enough day to walk." He said heading off toward the buildings.

Patrik nodded and followed Nathan silently, though he missed few details as they passed through the complex and Nathan narrated. "Most of the complex is actually underground. Most of what you can see up here is recreation facilities and duplication of some of the medical and residential facilities."

They walked past a number of youngsters playing under the watchful eye of two adults. One of the youngsters, a black tiger, maybe twelve years old with sandy brown hair came running over to Nathan. "Hi, big brother. New boyfriend?" He said looking at Patrik.

Nathan chuckled and mussed the little tiger's hair. "New pilot. Patrik Celest, I'd like you to meet Timothy SwiftClaw, my little brother. Timothy, this is Patrik, he's a very good pilot."

"Nice to meet you, Patrik." The little tiger said offering a hand to the Kat not even an inch shorter than he was, but much lighter in build.

"Hi, Timothy." He smiled at the kitten.

There was a buzzer, and the other youngsters started filing off the playground. Timothy noticed and turned to leave. "Nice meeting you, Patrik. Nathan don't forget you promised Mom you'd show for dinner tonight. You can bring your new boyfriend." He said as he darted inside.

Nathan chuckled. "Youngest of six. And he takes after Cazi mostly, I think." He paused. "First thing we should do is get your security clearance taken care of, and besides I can't wait to see the CMO's face when she finds out you can pull 20Gs." He said as they walked past the outer buildings.

"I'm designed for it," Patrik shrugged as he followed Nathan inside, and then into a cleanly designed medical facility.

Nareena was behind a desk doing medical paperwork when the two came in. She got up and walked to meet them. "Hello, Nathan. Who's the new recruit?"

"Patrik Celest, I'd like you to meet Nareena SwiftClaw, NightBlade CMO. Nareena this is Patrik, our newest pilot if we can find him a gunner he 'clicks' with."

"Nice to meet you, Patrik." She said warmly. "If you'll just lay down on the scanner bed here, we can get your profile into the system." The tigress said indicating the medical bed. "Any shapeshift ability?"

"Not that I know of." He answered as he complied.

After a few minutes the scan completed. "Okay, now we just the hand, retina and voiceprints and you'll be all set as far as security and medical are concerned." Nareena said as she led him over to a table with two glowing squares and what was clearly a retina reader.

Patrik nodded and followed, moving as someone long used to such things.

"Okay, Patrik. You can get up, the reader's done." She said quietly, as she walked over to the console on her desk. After a few minutes, a slot on the desk spit out an ID card. "Here you go, keep this with you until Quartermaster issues you your wristcom."

"Patrik, you want to look at what we fly here, or would you like a general tour first?" Nathan asked in a tone that indicated that both were equally acceptable choices.

"What you fly," his eyes glittered with enthusiasm. "Do you have AI team members?"

"Digitals? Yes, we have two. DarkStar and SilverStar." He said as he led Patrik to the nearest teleport platform. As they stood on the platform the world dissolved in a hum, a bright light, and then darkness. The darkness resolved into an underground hanger with three advanced fighter jets painted mostly black with gold highlights.

He led Patrik over to the jets. "These are the leading edge of aerospace fighter technology; the Dragonfire 17, interceptor model."

"Pretty," the small Kat murmured as he jumped up to the wing, then redirected his momentum to land him in the pilot's seat and ran his hand just over the display and control panel. "Oh, what Jake could do to this baby."

Nathan climbed up the ladder next to the cockpit. "I take it you approve?" He said smiling.

"Oh, yeah. Nice bird." He grinned at the Tiger. "Which one is mine?"

Nathan grinned, remembering his days as a fighter pilot. He pressed a button, and the center wall drew back revealing additional hanger space, and another jet like the first three. "That one."

Patrik nodded and moved to investigate his craft from top to bottom, nose to tail, using his PsiPilot touch as much as his knowledge to inspect it.

"Does she have a name yet?" He asked over his shoulder as he ran an appreciative hand along the leading edge of the wing.

"Not yet, she's scheduled for shakedown trials tomorrow. She was just completed two days ago." Nathan said smiling. "You can run her through the trials yourself, if you'd like. Normally, one of the test pilots does it, but I'm sure you can handle it."

"Definitely." He nodded as he walked with his hand along the other wing's leading edge. "I'm a certified Cathedral test pilot, for all that means here."

Nathan nodded. "I don't need a certification to tell me how good you are, Patrik. And before too long, I imagine you'll have a bunch of Alliance certifications too." He looked around. "Now all we have to do is find you a good match for a gunner."

"Yeah," Patrik held still for a moment, then shook it off to jump up and investigate the control system.

"Do you have anything you look for in a gunner? Some pilots do, some just kinda of 'know' when they found the right person."

"Can't say I really know." He spoke with only half his attention on answering Nathan. "Pat made sure I'd be able to accept another. She expected I'd outlive Jake, and probably a couple others, but we always assumed I'd still be with Black Phoenix or a similar squad, and have a partial attachment built up when it happened.

"Honestly, I really like your little brother." He looked down at the tiger. "If he was a few years older I'd ask him to go up with me after she's proven out, but I'm not that willing to stay grounded for ... what would it be ... three, four years?"

"Technically, it's two years till he's eligible for military service. He just turned fourteen, but he's small for his age. He's certainly got the eye and reflexes for it, if his lethal performance with VR video games is any indication."

"And how long before he'd be allowed to fly, outside of combat?" Patrik perked up.

"Fourteen is the minimum age for non-combat. I had all my non-combat pilot certifications, by fifteen. Like most of my siblings, his mental development is notably ahead of his age. When he wants to be serious, he's around 18. The only real problem I see is that he has no experience, and the gunner position is something of a command position." Nathan said considering the possibility, since Ebon and Nareena had mentioned that Timothy was showing classic signs of SwiftClaw 'boredom with traditional education', and that he'd devoured the at-home schooling available on the net.

Patrik considered the Tiger for a long moment. "Do you know if he likes to bed males?"

Nathan was only briefly surprised at the question, mostly because it just so out of the blue. "Experimented with two that he's told me about. Prefers males as far as I know. I'll trust that won't take advantage of that inexperience." He said quietly, the look in his green eyes said that not everyone would be trusted so far.

"Thank you for telling me." Patrik nodded, completely serious as he jumped down to stand on level with Nathan. "I'll be careful. I would like to see if we're a good team before I get in the air with him."

"Careful is all that I ask. I hope it works it out, probably be the best for everybody. It's about three hours until he's out of school, that's probably the best time to catch up with him."

Patrik nodded and smiled. "Then to the Quartermaster and whatever else so I have time to hang out with him?"

"Right, Quartermaster to get your first day package, followed by getting you settled in quarters. Then you can catch up with Timothy." He said as they left the Hanger.

"Residences down that way." He said as they passed through an intersection. "Medical." He said passing a set of double doors with the leaf and star emblem on them. "Main labs and workshops." He gestured toward a set of closed blast doors.

"Here we are." He said stopping at a set of double doors. "Everything comes out of here; from toothbrushes to uniforms to jet engines. He walked in, and waved to the large German Shepard Canem who was checking in some supplies.

"Hello, General. What can I do for you?" The Canem inquired politely.

"This is Patrik, it's his first day. You know the drill." He said grinning.

The Canem came back with a sizeable package. "Wristcom, uniform-fatigues, uniform-dress, extra civilian clothes to get you through until you get used to the on-line requisition system. And a supply of various basics."

Nathan looked at the size of the package, and size of the Kat. "Can you get that Patrik?" He asked quietly, since the pilot was clearly not a weightlifter, and smaller than average to boot.

The small tom studied the package for a minute then shook his head. "Not likely." He looked up. "At least not without wheels on it." He looked at the Canem. "Is there a cart I can use?"

"Of course." He said pleasantly, and came back with a small handcart suitable for the job. "Please return when you are done with it."

"Yes sir." Patrik nodded easily as the Canem helped properly strap the package to the cart. When the cart was loaded, Nathan led the way through the base to the residence section. He plugged the room assignment card into the security slot, and the door opened.

"From now on, your wristcom will open the door for you." He said stepping aside to let Patrik go first.

"Cool." He left the cart near the door to explore all three rooms in a quick tour before returning to Nathan. "Way nice. Lots of space. What's next?"

"Well, we've got enough time to grab lunch, and show you the topside facilities. Which would you like to do first?"

"Mmm, Lunch, I think." He cast another glance around the room. "Is it only cafeteria, or can you eat in your quarters? Not for now, just in general."

Nathan chuckled. "You can eat in your quarters if you prefer. The on-line requisition system also allows you to request food, which is delivered by on-site teleporter." He directed Rik to the console, and gave him the quick overview tour of the requisition system.


He then led Rik to another teleportation pad which returned them to the surface, up the street from medical. He walked over to a large building. "This building is a combination of the Cafeteria and the Recreation Center. Recreation is the larger section closer to Medical." He said as they entered the bustling cafeteria.

"Nice to know there are constants in the multiverse." Patrik smiled as he took in the variety of races and smells and easily found his way to the food line with Nathan.

"Yes, the cafeteria. I think every race has some version of the concept. It is efficient though when you're serving so many, and especially when you have the Tyrfan to run it." He said indicating the strange creatures running things.

They were a hoofed herbivore from the waist down, but were Tiger-morphs from the waist up, except that they had small horns. What was unmistakable was they seemed to be having a great deal of fun running the cafeteria, and were doing so with incredible efficiency.

"It always works best when those working are enjoying themselves." He chuckled. "Pat's been trying to figure out how to make that work for years now. Pilots and researchers she can do, manual labor hasn't been figured out yet."

Nathan chuckled as they sat down. "Actually, we've never figured the Tyrfan out. Whenever the NightBlades set up a permanent camp, they show up and pitch right in. They claim they're paying off a debt, but none of us know anything about it. But we don't question too far; they're friendly, loyal and seem to love what they're doing." He said between bites.

"Mind telling me a little about Timothy?" Patrik asked.

Nathan smiled. "Not at all." The Tiger said easily. "He's bright, frighteningly so at times, and like I mentioned before he's damn good with video games. But it's not just the shooters he's good at, he's good with the more strategic ones as well. He's very outgoing, gets along with most everyone. He something of a perfectionist, and has a low tolerance for his own failures. He's far more tolerant of everyone else's. Like most of the family he's quick to make acquaintances, but the term friend is something he doesn't use casually.

"Overall, he's a good kit, but he's starting to get bored with traditional education. This happened with all the sibs, except for me, and that's because I graduated high school at thirteen. The problem is he's ahead of his peers in mental development, and so he's finished the high school curriculum." The Tiger smiled at Rik. "I hope this partnership works, cause I think it'll be good for both of you."

The black and white nodded. "What are his interested? Hobbies? Is he much of an inventor, TechnoMage?"

Nathan smiled. "His interests are computers and music mostly, though he recently talked dad into giving him martial arts lessons. Inventor? Don't know, he's never shown an interest that way, but the skill is probably there since all the sibs have it to some extent." He paused. "As for TechnoMage, it's hard to say yet. His telepathic abilities only turned on a year or so ago, and according to Morin it takes awhile for TechnoMage abilities to show after the mind awakens to psi-potential. But the genetics would certainly support it."

Patrik considered for a moment. "If I described a technology I have seen work, but don't know the exact method of, who would be able to figure it out?"

Nathan considered. "Depends, what kind of technology are we talking about? We have specialists in different areas."

"It's a material. We called it nanometal. It's really net stuff to build uniforms and jets and such out of. Best I understand it, it's a nano-robotic technology that creates a form of liquid metal that can do all sorts of things. My last jet was made out of it, and as good as that new one is, it wouldn't have a prayer against a nanometal one."

"Hmmm, that's an interesting application of nano-technology. Actually, we have research in progress on something like that. It's based off the structural material of two starships that we 'liberated' from the Mephits who had stolen them from another race." Nathan looked at Patrik, fascinated. "So what sorts of things did this nano-metal allow a jet to do?"

"One of the best tricks involves reversing the direction of the engines for sudden maneuvers. You flame out, rotate them to the direction you want and power up again, all in a couple seconds." He grinned. "You can also alter shape in flight to go through cracks or change aerodynamics. A good AI can do nearly anything with it."

Nathan considered. "Well, the vectored thrust design already allows for full 3D maneuverability, especially with the new inertial dampening field. And the fighters use shield configuration to change aerodynamics." He explained.

"Trust me, that tech has nothing on nanometal."

"The shape alteration does have potential though, especially in the multirole arena. It's a good idea; I'll pass it on to materials design and see what they can do with it. Don't be surprised if one of the design team comes to talk to you about it." He said smiling.

"Cool," Patrik grinned. "I'd love to fly one again. They are so cool. You have not seen shock until you see the face on some farmer who sees a Black Phoenix jet come down and run off as a glittering black horse."

"Jet to horse? Was that with or without crew?" He asked curiously.

"With," he chuckled. "The two of us ended up on Amerith's back when she started to run. It was lots of fun. Didn't get back to base for two days." He smirked at the memory. "It did Jake a world of good."

"I suppose the only catch will be that we don't have that many Digitals. The Awakening Project is having some limited success with Liberator, but it's slow going. There's probably a better way to wake them up, but we haven't figured it out."

"Mind if I have a look?" He cocked his head. "I've watched Jake wake a lot of AI's up. I understand what he does, even if I don't have that kind of power. I was pretty involved with bringing Amerith up."

"Not at all, power we've got no shortage of. So if you show us a better method, that'll be a big help." He looked at his wristcom. "We've got time to 'port up to Liberator, and still get you back in time."

"Sounds good." Patrik smiled and stood, looking around for where to leave his tray.

Nathan stood and walked over to where a stack of trays already was, and left his there. Once Patrik had done the same he headed for the nearest teleportation platform. The Tiger led the way from the teleport receiver on Gildenfire through the large halls of the Dracon designed station. Though the equipment was not Dracon sized, the ceilings were, giving the station a very open feel. Two Dracons in NightBlade uniforms guarded the airlock that led to the Liberator.

The two ten foot tall dark blue Dracons stepped aside, and saluted as Nathan approached. He acknowledged the salutes, before boarding the Carrier. After minutes of walking through the large, and some labyrinthine ship, they reached a secured room which contained a large numbers of computer terminals and monitors.

"This is the heart of the Liberator's computer system." Nathan said quietly, after the doors closed.

He nodded and glanced around. "You mentioned the power to do this?"

The door opened and a dragon-winged White Tiger rushed in. "Sorry I took so long dad. I was in the middle of helping Mason reconfigure the Anvil."

"Not a problem. Patrik, Storm's our strongest TechnoMage, and full telepath as well. Should be enough power."

The small tom nodded and faced Storm. "What have you been doing?"

"Mostly just exposing the proto-DS to the concept of awareness, which is what's worked in the previous cases. Normally, DS wake up spontaneously after years of operating around one or more TechnoMages, but Liberator isn't, He seems to be 'stuck'. There's a faint glimmer of awareness, but that's all. Thing is he's got all the indications of a strong mind, but for some reason communication is something he doesn't quite grasp." The White Tiger said.

Patrik stared at the Tiger, utterly dumbfounded for a long time. "Okay," he drew the word out as he mentally stepped back to the extreme basics of what Jake and Pat had taught him when Amerith was just starting to form. "Have you ever tamed a wild animal, or trained a very young pet?"

Storm nodded. "Tame a wild animal? Sure, A couple of times. We've got a pack of Tyberian suncats around here to show for it too." He said smiling.

"Okay, good." He scrambled to put something he barely thought about anymore into words. "This is about the same as getting one to take medication without having it fight you. First, you offer it some energy; toss it out so it doesn't have to really trust you to take it.

"After it's absorbed that, you make another energy-ball, but put the basics of psi language in it, and a half dozen words. When it's eaten that, try to communicate. If it responds, the next ball has a couple dozen words in it. Talk a little more. If it's following, the last energy-ball contains a link to lingual databanks.

"About that time, you try not to pass out long enough to say you'll come back."

Storm blinked. "Amazing, actively teaching communication instead of waiting for it to learn communication. It makes sense, if you think of the proto-DS organically, instead of electronically." He said as though embarrassed not to have thought of it.

"Don't you consider them people?" Patrik suddenly looked very concerned.

Storm smiled. "Definitely, they're just people born by a different method, but they always tend to seem born adult; we thought that was normal."

"Oh," he regarded the tigers. "So you don't actually create them?"

Storm shook his head. "Not intentionally no, they usually happen when an advanced computer is around a strong TechnoMage for a period of years. The computer soaks up the residual energy and wakes up, we've been trying to accelerate that process without much luck. This new approach might change that." He said smiling.

"Umm, no kidding." Patrik shook his head as Storm sat down in the middle of the computer room, and reached down to the machine-level with his telepathy. He figured this was the best place to start since this was the only level he'd ever heard Liberator on.

He carefully formed a ball of psi-energy and tossed in close to the proto-DS. It hesitantly absorbed the energy, and sat watching him curiously. He then tossed a second ball out containing the psi-language basics and some basic words, 'me', 'you', 'yes', 'no', 'hello', 'want'.

The proto-form altered slightly, taking on a more four-legged, feline shape as it stepped forward and took the second ball. It absorbed it after a moment and looked directly at Storm. *'Hello.'* Feelings of affection and recognition flowed with the word.

Storm smiled pleased. *'Hello.'* He responded warmly. He then formed another energy ball with a dozen or so words, and tossed it a little bit closer.

When it had absorbed it he gently thought toward the proto-DS, which now looked distinctly suncat-like. *'Me Storm'* He thought strongly indicating himself. *'You?'* He asked, indicating the proto-form.

*'Liberator.'* It overlaid the word-thought with an alien musical passage. *'More?'*

Storm nodded, and formed another energy ball containing more language concepts, which he tossed a little closer to him than the last one. The fatigue was really beginning to wear on him, it was as tiring as the time he done patchwork on SilverStar's inner hull during combat.

When Liberator absorbed that ball, he formed one last one with the links to the linguistic databanks, and tossed it out. *'I'll return later, if you'd like.'* He said, exhausted.

*'I would like that, Storm.'* Liberator, now a mixture of suncat and tiger, nuzzled him affectionately. *'Thank you.'*

*'You're welcome.'* He thought as he returned to his body and slumped over. He looked up at Nathan and Patrik. "Effective, exhausting, but effective."

"It's not exhausting if you start with that approach." He chuckled slightly. "What you just did is usually spread out over a couple weeks with a much less developed DS."

Storm lay on his side and chuckled. "That's okay, I think we may have five more."

"Cool," Patrik grinned. "Though there will be a lot more than that given what I've already seen."

Nathan looked at the little tom curiously. "What makes you say that?" He asked, thinking that the pilot was proving to be worth even more than he had thought.

"I've felt the edges of at least a couple dozen around the base, the main system itself has at least three, and all the aircraft are capable." He blinked between the tigers. "Can't you hear them?"

Nathan shook his head. "Afraid I'm not much on the machine bandwidth. I'm pretty strictly a bio-path."

Storm considered. "You must be more sensitive to them then we are. But then sounds like you've worked with a lot of them for some time. They must be on an odd frequency, I'll have check when I get back down." He said tiredly. "But right now, I'm gonna take a nap." He said, curling up as winged quadruped white tiger.

"He'll be out for a while." Patrik chuckled softly. "Anything I should know before goofing off with Timothy for the afternoon?"

Nathan gently patted Storm's head. "I don't doubt." He said quietly. "Only that if he decides he likes you, he'll invite you to come to dinner. You should accept, since getting on good terms with his parents will be useful if you decide you really want him as your gunner."

Patrik nodded and smiled. "And not a bad idea in general, either."

"Well, you've met his mother already, and I could tell she likes you." Nathan said with a grin.

Patrik scrambled through his memories. "The CMO ... Nareena?"

Nathan chuckled. "Yep, that's Mom. Only CMO the NightBlades have ever had."

"Hi, Timothy!" Patrik waved to the Tiger kit as he walked out of the school building.

Timothy looked over, surprised to see the long-furred black and white. "Hi, Patrik. What's up? My big bro done giving you the tour?"

"At least for today. I was hoping to kill the afternoon with you." He grinned playfully as they converged.

The Tiger kit grinned. "Seriously? I mean why would a full NightBlade want to hang with a kit?" He asked, pleased by very curious.

"Yeah, seriously." Patrik grinned. "We're about the same age, I was hoping you'd know what was fun to do around here, besides hang with the adults."

"Wow, you must have just made the age cut-off then. I got two more years before I can join. As for fun, that depends ... you like video games?" He asked, grinning.

"I'd expect so," Patrik blushed slightly. "I haven't played much."

Timothy smiled. "Well, then you're in for a treat, dad just finished upgrading the VR interface on the new 3D full immersion aerospace fighter game that came out. Bet Nate's tour didn't include the arcade." He said grinning, as he started in the desired direction, looking to see if Patrik was following, to find the tom at his side.

"No, it didn't," he chuckled. "Do you usually take pilot or gunner?"

"Gunner normally, I've got better aim than most. I've done pilot a few times, but it just doesn't feel right. But then Nathan's the hotshot pilot in the family even if he really is a Medic." He said leading the pilot through the Recreation center to a large arcade facility in the back.

The arcade was a combination of the classic floor models, enhanced by modern technology, and a variety of VR type games. Most of those present looked to be teenagers, but there were a number of adult players as well.

"Hello, Tim. Who's you're new friend?" A deep voice said from behind the two of them.

Timothy turned around. "Hiya, Uncle Arsham. This is Patrik; he's a pilot Nate just recruited today. I'm showing him where the fun stuff to do is. Patrik, this is my uncle Arsham, he's the head of security."

The tall, muscular White Tiger looked at the pilot for a moment appraising him, then he put out a hand, which was easily accepted. "Welcome to the NightBlades, Patrik. You're in good hands with Tim here, he knows the Recreation facility like nobody else." He said mussing Tim's hair with his other hand.

"So I've heard." Patrik grinned. "You might want to make a note, Liberator's awake."

Arsham grinned back. "Nathan briefed me on that shortly after it happened, Patrik. There's little that goes on around here that I don't know about. But thanks for telling me, anyway." He said good-naturedly. "Well, I'll leave you two to the games, I have to go finish my new cycle design."

"See ya, uncle." Timothy said, waving as the big White Tiger moved off. "Come on, there's an opening on one of the VR platforms." He said, dragging the petite tom along.

The VR platform turned out to be simply a lighted platform which resembled the teleport platforms. At least till the game started, and Patrik found himself dropped into the cockpit of an advanced fighter in near space.

"First board is practice to let you get used to the controls and the interface." Timothy's voice said from behind him, in the gunner position.

The petite tom squelched several curses as his reflexive pilot-lock into the craft's controls were rebuffed by the simulator and fell back on his newer training in how to actually fly one of these things mind-blind. He took a breath and tried to settle in and pay attention to what his eyes, and not his extra senses told him about his surroundings.

"Relax, Patrik. Just let it flow." Timothy voice said encouragingly from the gunner position, as he nailed a few dodging target drones. "I know it's more difficult than a real plane, but you can do it." He said sounding considerably more mature than fourteen.

"Right," Patrik nodded and tried to settle down into the sim, finding it easier that usual with the presence behind him. Finally he relaxed into it, and even started to enjoy the odd challenge of flying only with his eyes.

"Okay, here comes board two. It's interceptor duty, protecting our carrier home base. Real basic, we just engage the hostiles as far from the carrier as possible." Timothy said smoothly, as he locked up hostiles on the targeting computer. "Hostiles at two o'clock, 30 degrees down."

"Got it." Patrik grinned as he started to feel the thrill of fighting on a team sing to him, with the first touch of just knowing what his gunner wanted and needed. Even with a crippled ship, the familiar touch was there from this Tiger, and it stole all the fear and frustration to the familiar internal voice ‘just follow him and all will be well.´

Timothy was having more fun then he'd ever had. Working with Patrik flowed so much better than it did with the others kits. As the black and white adjusted to the sim, Timothy had to say where the targets were less, and concentrated on actually shooting them more. They completed the board with no enemies getting past and only minimal damage to their fighter.

As the launch sequence for stage 2 primed, the Tiger kit recognized it. "Okay, Patrik. This scenarios a bit more involved, we're defending a fleet that's been ambushed, which means we're going to be fighting around friendly capital ships. We have to avoid damaging them, and be aware of their fire patterns, since they'll be employing anti-fighter batteries against the enemy."

A voice came over the comm in front of Patrik. "Fighter Red Two, you are clear for launch. Launch when ready."

"Understood." He replied to both sets of instructions and pushed the thrusters up to full power as they roared out of the carrier into chaos. "It's showtime." He grinned softly as they danced through friendly and unfriendly fire with barely a word passed between Felsin and Kat.

As the Tiger kit knocked off enemy fighters with both missile and plasma fire, he became aware of something he'd never encountered in a sim before; the smell of arousal from his pilot. Timothy was rather inexperienced in such matters, but the smell was unmistakable and rather distracting.

Timothy spotted an enemy fighter on a strange vector, and realized what it was instinctively. "Patrik, enemy suicide bomber head for the carrier's flight deck. We're the closest, but you'll need to bring us back into fire arc." Timothy said trusting Patrick to know the how.

The petite pilot didn't even think as he swung the fighter into a sharp turn and roll to bring his gunner into position, not even noticing as velocity took them past 11 G's.

Timothy had been at high-G's before, but this was higher than he'd ever been. He felt the sensations he knew were warning signs of blackout, but he wasn't gonna do that his first time playing with Patrik. He searched inside him for just a little more strength to stay with it so he could make the shot, suddenly he had the strength, while nearby, the arcade maintenance work tried to figure out why a video machine had blown a circuit from excessive power use.

As Patrik brought the craft into position, Timothy snapped off twin bursts from the main plasma cannon and the suicide bomber exploded in blossom of fire. "Alright! We did it, Patrik!" The kit screamed overjoyed, and seriously jazzed. "First time I ever had a pilot who could get me the shot." He said with sincere approval and admiration.

"It takes two." Patrik cheered back. "That was some nice shooting."

"Thanks." Timothy said smiling, between the very difficult kill and getting complimented by a full NightBlade, the kit was completely happy. He was still a little uncertain why Patrik was so aroused, but the scent was combining with his excitement to make him begin to feel the same.

The scene shifted to a terrestrial base with a row of jets lined up ready for their pilots. "This is one of the tricky ones, Patrik. It's urban defense; hostile military forces are making a move on a major metropolitan area and we've got to minimize the damage the enemy does to the city without doing a lot of it ourselves." He said, still really jazzed. "Lot of my friends don't like this one, 'canyon tag' is too much for them. Bet it's no big deal for you though." The black tiger said with complete confidence.

"Oh, I'm good at this." He grinned brightly. "It's most of what I trained for."

"Cool. There's the scramble code. Time to kick some tail!" The kit said excitedly as they bolted for their craft.

They were in the air well ahead of the others, and still well ahead when they entered sensor range. Timothy took a look at the sensor feed, and noticed the scenario had been changed. He noted the ground forces approaching and realized that a ground attack component was included. Then he spotted the real threat, the bombers flying at high altitude. "Patrik, we need to take out the bombers pronto. Sixty degrees up, in the cloud cover." He said while setting them into the target tracker.

"Got it." He tipped the nose up and pushed the engines to their safe limits to roar through the formation, and Timothy raked the enemy formation with plasma fire as they passed through, converting numerous enemy fighters into fireballs.

Then Patrik flipped the tail 180 and jinked port to rush through the huge craft again.

As soon as the bomber was in his sights, Timothy fired the plasma guns ripping the huge plane in two, just before the jet streaked through the space where it had been.

"Oh yeah!" Timothy screamed, totally jazzed. His arousal was slowly mingling with Patrik's in the cockpit environment. The kit knew what he was feeling, but was a little less certain what to do about it.

"Okay, we got the bombers, time to go after the fighters in the 'canyons'." He said excitedly.

"All right!" Patrik growled hotly as he dived down between the buildings for the first fighter he saw, pulling as many G's as the game would allow him as he jinked and darted around buildings in his home environment.

Timothy had been impressed by Patrik's skill already, but he was completely amazed by the small pilot's ability to weave and dart around buildings as though he were driving a car at city speeds instead of a fighter craft at hundreds of miles per hour. For his part, Timothy piled up fighter after fighter as Patrik lined them up without needing a word passed between them.

He looked at the scanner trying to find the armor group, and realized it had been from an errant element from a separate scenario. "Okay, sky is clear! We got 'em!" Then he looked at the chrono display. "Patrik, we'll have to save here and pick up the next scenario later. There's no way I can do the next scenario, and still be home for dinner on time."

As the game closed down leaving them standing on the platform, Timothy turned to Patrik. "Why don't you come for dinner? You probably don't know many people yet, and I'm sure its okay with my mom." He asked eagerly, arousal still in his scent.

"Thanks," the small tom grinned happily, trying to push both arousal and adrenaline jazz from his system without working it out properly. "I'd love to. You're mom's Nareena, the CMO, right?"

The Black Tiger kit smiled. "Yeah, and my one dad is Ebon, the covert operations commander and the other is Cazi, he designed the hardware that runs that sim we just finished." He said as they walked through a quiet back tunnel that Timothy usually took to get home from the arcade. He hadn't felt so turned on since he'd been playing around with Darro, his puma tom classmate, at least then what to do had been obvious.

"You okay?" Patrik stared hard at his companion in the darkness.

Timothy jumped a little; he didn't figure Patrik would notice. He shook his head. "Don't know; I've never gotten so jazzed up by a sim before." He said quietly avoiding the fact that he was turned on, but he wasn't sure why.

"It was pretty incredible for a sim." He smiled and let it drop, but kept a close eye on the bigger kit as they walked.

They walked a bit further, and then Timothy stopped and leaned against the wall. He looked at Patrik uncertainly. "Patrik, can I ask you something personal?" He asked shyly.

"Sure," he shrugged. "If I don't want to tell you, I'll just say so, no harm done."

"Thanks." He said hesitating. "You ever get, well, turned on by combat?" He asked feeling a bit embarrassed to be asking.

"Except when it goes really badly," he nodded easily. "That sim was pretty intense."

Timothy paused looking at the ground for a while. "What do you do about that feeling after the fight's over? It's not like being turned on by a person." He asked quietly, feeling very confused.

"Umm, we ... my last squad ... we worked it out as a team." Patrik hesitated, desire and hope warring with his promise before loss reestablished itself with a sledgehammer. "My ... my last gunner got real turned on by it. We had each other."

Timothy caught the loss clearly, and shook his head. "I didn't know you'd lost someone recently, forget I asked." He said quietly, continuing down the tunnel. Both his scent and his stride said he was warring between desire and the need to be sensitive to his new friends pain.

"I lost Jake yesterday." Patrik caught Timothy's arm, stopping the athletic tom. "But I wouldn't be here if I wasn't looking for a new gunner and thought you might be him. Yeah, it hurts, but that doesn't change much. Life goes on, I need a new gunner, and I like you."

Timothy turned to face the small pilot. "I didn't know you were looking for a new gunner. You thought I could be your new gunner? That'd be cool, 'cause I like you too. Like you a lot." Timothy said moving a little closer to the lighter tom, his arousal becoming more evident.

"I promised Nathan I wouldn't take advantage ... he said you wouldn't be flying combat for a couple years." His voice trailed off as he closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. "You want that ... me?"

Timothy nodded shyly. "Yes, to both." He said quietly, feeling a heady rush he wasn't used to. "It's not taking advantage if I want it too, is it?" He asked softly.

"No, just if I push it." Patrik whispered, his eyes still closed as he fought to keep this the Tiger's show.

Timothy put one hand on Patrik's shoulder. "I know there something good between us, I felt it in the sim. I've never worked with anybody like that before. It just felt like we were made to work together." He said with some amazement, before he leaned to kiss the pilot. It was a clumsy teenager kiss on Timothy's part, but the passion was clear even as Patrik opened his mouth in welcome.

"You really want me as a partner?" Timothy asked, still amazed.

"Yes," he nodded and tried to remember how to breathe. "The connection's there, that's what matters." He forced himself to open his eyes and look at the face that would replace Jake's in his life.

Physically, mentally, the two were almost polar opposites, but the connection was there ... it was the same. He shuddered slightly and reached up to wrap his arms around Timothy's neck and initiated the next kiss; promise be damned, his gunner wanted this.

Timothy gave himself to the kiss, feeling happier then he had in awhile. He'd been drifting, not sure what he wanted, but now things seemed so much clearer. The Tiger did feel a little lost in one respect, his play with his peers had been pretty superficial and hadn't included the part when you still had your clothes on. On impulse, he caressed the smaller tom's back while holding him close.

Patrik purred softly as he worked kisses down Timothy's jaw, then neck. "How long do we have?"

"'bout forty minutes." The kit said softly, continuing to run his hands along Patrik's back, reaching one hand down to caress the smaller kat's ass, drawing a low gasp from his companion.

With a barely perceptible nodded Patrik moved back and made quick work of shedding his shirt, then shoes, socks and pants.

Timothy was significantly more clumsy about getting undressed, since he wasn't used to doing so quickly. When Patrik had finished undressing, the kit had his shirt, shoes and socks off, and was just starting on his pants. He paused to reach over and run his hand through Patrik's long fur, caressing the Kat's white chest. He smiled. "You have the nicest fur, Patrik." The kit said softly as Patrik rolled on his hip to bring their chests and mouths together as a deep, rumbling purr vibrated through his body.

The petite tom let his eyes drift close as he sought to learn his new gunner's body with hands and mouth without getting in the way. When the last bit of clothing was discarded he wasted no time kissing his way down Timothy's abs before taking the bright pink erection into his mouth, slowly teasing the barb-hairs with his rough tongue.

Timothy moaned with unexpected pleasure. The experimentation he had done with his classmates hadn't felt nearly as good. The pleasure drove any thought except that of enjoying it momentarily out of his head.

With a final hard suck he let Timothy slide from his mouth and shifted to all fours, looking at the Tiger-tom in the darkness with his thick, fluffy tail arched over his back.

Timothy understood this well enough, and after using fingers to make sure the Kat was loosened up, slid himself into Patrik's waiting ass. He moaned with his pilot as he got fully inside, and began to thrust in and out. Wanting Patrik to feel good too, he reached under with one hand to stroke the Kat's penis.

Despite trying to hold back, Timothy came fairly quickly. He squeezed his eyes shut as the muscle spasms shot his seed deep into his pilot. When he finished coming, he gently pulled out, and rolled alongside Patrik so he was able to use his mouth to bring him to completion.

With a soft cry as his only warning Timothy felt the warm, slightly sweet stickiness explode into his mouth as a pair of hands held the back of his head still as that Kat shuddered, mewing very quietly after his body spent itself.

Timothy squirmed around so he was face to face with Patrik. He gently kissed him, as he pulled him close. "I feel much better now." He said appreciatively, holding his pilot.

"Good." Patrik smiled as he returned the embrace and nuzzled close. "We're supposed to take care of each other."

"I like the sound of that. Maybe I can get my combat clearance sooner, that way I can see how you really fly. As good as you were in that sim, I bet you're way better with a real jet." He said, just enjoying holding Patrik close.

"It'd be cool if we could fly combat sooner, but you hardly need to wait to get combat cleared to see how I fly in a real jet." Patrik smirked. "Nathan's given me a jet already, we're taking her out for final flight tests tomorrow. As long as you're not in combat, you should be able to go up with me."

"I'll work on the combat clearance." Timothy said smirking. "But if they'll let me, I definitely want to go up with you tomorrow. But we'd better make sure to get to dinner on time, just to make points with my parents."

"After the jet's cleared." Patrik went suddenly serious as they parted with a last kiss. "A test flight is no place for a beginner, even if you are my gunner. I don't trust it that much yet."

"Yeah, my bro probably wouldn't let me anyway, before it's cleared." He said smirking as they dressed. "He's funny that way, really protective, sometimes a little too much so."

"How long before they'd be okay with us sleeping together ... if you want, that is." Patrik caught his words too late.

"I'll have to talk to them. I don't know 'cause I've never had anyone I wanted to be with before. But I do want to." He said smiling at the smaller tom as they started to walk again.

"Let's just hope your big bro doesn't decide to get 'overprotective' about this." Patrik cringed. "I'm rather hoping to avoid his temper if I can."

Timothy smiled. "Just let me handle my bro, he won't be upset once he understands that I wanted what we did. Besides, I think he likes you more than a little."

"He's got nice stripes," Patrik chuckled. "But then, so does your mother."

Timothy giggled. "Where do you think he got them from?" He said laughing. "Actually, I got 'em too but they're tough to see."

"Must take good strong sunlight ..." his blue eyes sparkled in the dim light. "We'll have to make an occasion for me to get a good look at you. Gunners and pilots should know each other very intimately."

Timothy grinned. "Well, I know this small hidden valley up the mountain where nobody goes. It's great for when you want to get away from everything, and it's got a spring fed lake that's good for cooling off in on hot summer days."

"Sounds like a good place to see how you like flying in a military grade bird." Patrik chuckled.

As they came out of the tunnel into the main corridor, Timothy walked right into a seven-foot tall black on flame red Tiger tom. The kit blinked as he recognized him. "Bryn? I thought you were off-world." He said as he hugged the much bigger Felsin.

"Good to see you too, little bro." The Tiger said in a deep voice. "Who's your friend?" He asked looking at Patrik.

"Bryn, I'd like you to meet Patrik Celeste, my pilot." He said possessively. "Patrik, this is Bryn'dar SwiftClaw, my brother and the second oldest of the SwiftClaw sibs."

"*Your pilot, Tim? So you're a gunner, now?" Bryn asked, with a raised eyebrow.


"When'd you finish the curriculum?"

"Last year."


"Big time."

"This really what you want?"

"Yes, I'm sure Bryn. Same as you were when you joined Alliance Intelligence."

"Okay, Tim." He looked at Patrik seriously. "Well, if you're his pilot then I expect you to take good care of my little brother, Patrik." He said in a way that wasn't a threat, but more of an understanding. "See you guys at home." He said moving swiftly down the corridor.

"You have an interesting family." Patrik chuckled and shook his head. "CMO, assassin, electronics genies, Intel, gunner, pilot ... what else does your clan play with?"

"Between the four sibs you haven't met yet we've got one business exec, a political analyst, an inventor and another pilot. That's just what they're doing now. Of course, that doesn't include my eight uncles who really cover a broad range of talents." He smiled. "And actually, Nathan's only sometimes a pilot, he's really a Medic. Of course, that's when he's not busy being the Commanding Officer.

"Till today I hadn't been sure where I fit in. Thanks for showing me." He said claiming a quick kiss from the little pilot.

"Thanks for being what I thought you were." He smiled back.

As they walked into the SwiftClaw residence it became quickly evident that a fair number of people were present, though none were immediately visible. Walking back, they passed the living room where five large toms were playing a card game of some sort. Timothy stopped and walked in on them.

"Hi, Guys. This is Patrik, my pilot." He said loud enough to get their attention. They looked up from the game and made various friendly greetings before returning to what appeared to be a fairly intense game.

"Okay, Patrik. The Black Lion is Mal, the Panther is Ray, the Lion is Matt, and the White Tiger is Sam, and of course, you met Bryn already. We'd better let them get back to their game, they get very serious about it."

They headed back a little, and Timothy paused. "Okay, now for the fun part, Nathan and my folks. Don't be surprised if half the conversation seems missing, we're all telepathic to some extent and linked and sometimes we think-talk reflexively not realizing how confusing it can be for those not in the link."

"I guess I'm due, after all the amusement I got out of watching everyone outside the squad try to deal with a briefing." He chuckled and shook his head.

They stepped around the corner into the kitchen where Nathan, Nareena, a nearly eight foot tall Panther, and a short but muscular Lion were sitting around talking. They all turned to look as the two youngsters came in.

Timothy shifted to the family mental frequency. *'Nobody yell at Patrik, okay? What happened was my idea, not his. He didn't even bring the subject up, I had to ask.'* He thought, very defensive of his pilot.

"Mom, Ebon, Cazi, Nathan I want you all to meet Patrik Celeste, he's my pilot. Patrik, the two you haven't met are my fathers, Ebon SwiftClaw, Covert Operations commander and Cazimir Sunfire, Systems designer and Computer defenses."

Nathan smiled. "Your pilot, Timothy? I guess you're planning on being a gunner then?" He asked quietly.

"That is okay, isn't it bro?" He asked quietly looking for approval.

"'Course, it is. We all have to find where we fit in." He said hugging his little brother. He turned to Patrik. "So, does this mean you're staying?" He asked smiling.

"As long as he is." He smiled back, eyes never really leaving Ebon.

"Better transfer Timothy over to the flight academy, so he can start picking up the gunner classes." Ebon said leaning back in his chair.

Cazi got up and walked over to the two youngsters. He carefully scrutinized Timothy for several minutes, and then looked at Patrik. "Patrik, have you worked with a TechnoMage before?"

The petite tom nodded. "Jake, my last gunner, was a very powerful one. So was our CO and a couple teammates."

Cazi smiled and mussed Timothy's hair. "Looks like your new gunner is one too. Power's just starting to emerge, but it's definitely there."

Patrik nodded. "That was kind of a given."

Cazi raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, it was kind of a given?" The Lion asked curiously.

"I was designed for a TechnoMage ... I shouldn't be able click properly with someone who isn't." He explained easily.

"That makes sense. Guess it's a good thing you found Tim, since we don't have any gunners who happen to be TechnoMages otherwise." He chuckled. "Well, Tim, it looks like you'll be needing lessons from Morin as well."

Timothy nodded. "I thought he said it'd be a couple of years, if it happened at all."

"But remember there were several things that could accelerate it. One is mind contact, like the light bond between you and your pilot. I think you remember one of the others." He said with a wink.

Timothy blushed noticeably under his dark fur. "I forgot." He said quietly.

"Enough teasing, Cazi." Nareena said quietly. "Timothy, you and Patrik are still dirty from the tunnels, why don't you get cleaned up before dinner."

"Yes, mom." He said, grabbing Patrik's arm on the way out. "C'mon, Patrik." He said as he dragged the petite tom out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

"My friends call me Rik." Patrik spoke quietly as they entered the bathroom.

"Okay, Rik. My friends call me Tim." He said as he pulled out towels. "We've got time to shower separately, but the shower is plenty big for us to shower together." He said quietly.

"I'd like that, Tim." He smiled and quickly stripped, a thin loop of gold glittering from each nipple in the bright light.

Timothy stripped quickly as well, and placed his clothes into a wall slot that slid open. "Here, through your clothes in too, the fresher will clean them up while we shower." He started adjusting the shower temperature as Patrik put his clothes in the slot. "So, how warm do you like your showers, Rik?" He asked over the water.

"I'm used to them hot." He slid a gentle hand through the dark fur of his gunner's back, feeling the stripes he could barely see. "Is something wrong?"

Tim relaxed into the touch, as the steam rose from the hot, but still safe, water. "Huh, what made you think something's wrong?" The kit asked as he stepped in, turning to pull his pilot in after him. The shower was easily big enough for three Felsin Ebon's size.

"You were so quiet, and you got embarrassed." He shifted to kiss Timothy lightly.

Timothy returned the kiss eagerly. "Oh, you mean when dad was teasing me. Well, the other thing that I'd been told could cause TechnoMage abilities to come out quicker would be the first time I had sex with somebody I actually felt something for. More then just meaningless messing around with classmates. I guess it's something about psychic and emotional energies."

He grabbed the shampoo and got behind Rik to scrub his back. "It was just weird, with him saying he knew that way. I mean, Ebon and Nathan both knew but they didn't say anything. It's just the basic weirdness of talking about sex with my parents."

"Oh." Patrik arched and squirmed under his gunner's hands, his purr deepening as the pleasure of the contact spread through his body. "What's it like, having parents?"

Tim slowly worked his way down his pilots back, carefully working through the long fur, as he tried to find an answer. "They look after you, keep you safe and don't always let you do what you want. But that's usually 'cause your trying to do something dumb. They help celebrate the good things, and help get you through the bad things." He paused. "You didn't have parents, Rik?" He asked, in a gently curious tone.

"Nah," he shook his head, making his long hair roll over his back from where he'd pushed it out of the way. "I was created in a lab as Jake's pilot about seven years ago, though I didn't look much younger than this. I guess Black Phoenix, our squad, was a family, but we were a unit pieced together from a bunch of lost wonderers, not a family like yours."

"Oh, wow. My dad, Ebon was too. Actually, all my uncles were, except Morin that is." He said acceptingly, as he was finishing up scrubbing his pilot's back. "Come to think of it, my cousin Storm was created in a lab too, twice."

"How's that work?" Patrik glance at Timothy curiously as they switched places.

"The twice bit? Oh, he died once when he was real young but Nathan managed to keep his 'self', soul , spirit, or whatever alive until he could fix the mistakes and create a new body for him. The lab guys who made the first body were a bunch of idiots, according to Nathan."

"Well, he turned out looking good this time." Patrik chuckled as he worked the shampoo into Timothy's hard ass, carefully sliding his fingers under the kit's tail.

Timothy arched a little at the touch, clearly enjoying it as a slicked finger slide inside him for a moment. "Yeah, well big bro's a perfectionist. He spent years on the design, and correcting the genetic flaws." He paused as those fingers slid along his balls, cupping and caressing as they cleaned. "If Storm wasn't my cousin, I'd be interested."

"But you're not blood relatives," Patrik's croon came from waist level. "It must be incredible to fly under your own power."

"Actually, his genetic makeup does contain both Nathan and Morin. But it'd just seem weird. If you're interested in him though, go ahead. I'm sure he'd be agreeable." He said chuckling, but he clearly meant what he said. "Yeah, both he and Nathan say flying under your own power is a trip."

"Mmm, maybe later." Patrik stood and slipped in front of Timothy, sliding both hands up the black tiger's chest and claimed a needy kiss. *'Stay with me.'* He whispered across their strengthening bond.

*'Okay.'* Timothy thought back, surprised to hear Patrik in his mind as he drew the needy kiss into a passionate one as Patrik closed his eyes and relaxed into the Tiger's strong grip.

Timothy was used to the bonds he shared with his family, but this felt different somehow. What surprised him was that he could 'see' the bond forming, and that somehow his mind knew how to make the correct connections, strengthening it.

Patrik maneuvered his gunner against a wall and slid to his knees, kissing and licking his way down the soaked fur of Timothy's chest until he reached the tip of a bright pink erection poking from the kit's black sheath and took it into his mouth, playing his tongue inside the still loose gap between penis and sheath to urge it to hardness as one hand rolled Timothy's soft balls and the other slid around his hard ass to tease the tiger's hole.

The kit arched his back and moaned in pleasure from his pilot's attentions. He reached his hands down to stroke the Kat's silky hair as Patrik began to slowly bob, swirling his tongue around hard, sensitized flesh as his hunger and desire to please flowed across their link.

Timothy's moans, as well as the pleasure flowing across the link made it quite clear that he was way beyond pleased, and headed to ecstatic. As he approached the point of no return, he slowly began to buck, fucking Patrik's mouth as the Kat relaxed and focused supporting the Tiger as he came with roar and the first splash of bitter, salty come spurted across his tongue.

As the last muscle spasm passed, Timothy slid down and gently pushed his gunner on to his back, quickly taking the small tom's already hard, pink flesh into his mouth. What the kit lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm and a decent imitation of what Patrik had just done for him. A strong desire to look after his pilot and make him happy flowed across their link.

Patrik mewed in a mixture of surprise and pleasure before he relaxed and went with it, not fighting the unexpected attention or the first roil of his orgasm, keeping only enough control so he wouldn't choke his inexperienced mate.

The Tiger was blissfully happy as the slightly sweet, stickiness exploded in his mouth. After his mate's orgasm passed, he squirmed around so he was face to face with his pilot. "We're never gonna get to dinner, if we keep this up." He whispered with a grin as he kissed the smaller tom gently.

"We keep this up, we won't need dinner." Patrik murmured lazily as warm water pooled under them, soaking their fur to the extent a shower never could. "You're being very good to me." He ran slender fingers along Timothy's cheek and kissed him blissfully.

"Of course I am. You're my pilot." He said as if that explained everything and draped his arm lazily over Patrik, and kissed him tenderly.

"I think I'm going to like it here." He murmured quietly as he snuggled against the black tiger under the shower spray.

"I hope so, I like having you here." The tiger said holding him close. "Especially, right here." He said dreamily as Patrik nuzzled him.

"At your side is where I belong."

Timothy's drowsy cuddling was interrupted by the feel of a paw on his shoulder. He craned his neck to see a small black cat looking at him. "Just a few more minutes Nathan." He said before turning back to cuddle Rik.

*'You really want mom to come looking for you?'* The cat asked quietly.

*'Door's locked.'*

The cat just looked at him.

*'Yeah, I know either dad can open it. How long?'*

*'Fifteen, better get drying. Especially that cute long hair.'*

Timothy gently nudged his mate. "We'd better get dressed and back to the main area before someone else comes looking for us." He said gently.

"Okay," he purred, completely at ease as they stood and made the quick work of drying off in the hot air blowers of one who was well accustomed to getting himself ready in less time than expected.

"She won't be upset, will she?" Patrik asked as he made short work of getting his long fur fluffed and silky black hair properly brushed flat.

"Not as long as she doesn't have to come looking." Timothy said as he pulled the cleaned clothes out and handed Rik his. "Fortunately, someone else came looking first." He said grinning at the small black cat.

"How many forms do your kind have?" He asked calmly as he pulled his clothes on and made a last check on his appearance. "I don't suppose there are hair ties I can use?"

"Most just have one, except in my family where most of us have three. Ebon has four, and Cazi doesn't really have a limit. Nathan has five, including that one, that I know about. I've got two that I've used, and probably a third but my mom doesn't want me trying it till I get older." He said as he rummaged around looking for a hair tie. "Sorry, Rik. The only person who'd use something like that is mom, and hers would look funny on you. The rest of us keep to short hair styles."

"No biggy," he shrugged easily and shook his hair out. "I'm used to it loose. Don't like long hair?"

"Never wore it myself, but that's kind of family habit. I like it on you, though." He said, looking the tom over approvingly.

The door to the bathroom opened and Nathan the cat walked out, looking over his shoulder briefly at them before heading down the hallway.

"I think that's a hint." Patrik giggled and stole a last kiss.

"I know it is." Timothy giggled, and followed his brother the cat.

Ebon smiled at them as they walked into the dining room, where the rest of the clan, except for Nareena, was already seated. "Good timing, you two." He whispered as they walked past. "Nareena was about to go looking for you."

Timothy winced a little, and guided Rik to two adjacent empty chairs.

Nareena walked in at that moment. "Okay, we can start as so soon as ..." She stopped as she spotted Tim and Patrik sitting, looking like they'd been there all along. She smiled tolerantly at the pair. "I guess we can start."

General chatter started as the food began to move around the large wooden table, becoming only slightly less noisy then a cafeteria. That wasn't really surprising considering there were ten people, most of them fairly boisterous. Patrik smiled, relaxed into the background and took his share as it came around as he started to feel out his place in his new squad, in this family. Most of the dinner talk was the family catch-up, since several of the sibs had been away on unit business for several weeks. Bryn, it turned out, didn't actually live on base. He lived on Felsinor working with Alliance Intelligence.

Nareena turned to Bryn. "Aren't your twins due soon, Bryn?"

"Actually, they were delivered a few days ago but the girls aren't old enough to travel yet. So Stav stayed home with them this time."

Ebon chuckled. "Twin girls? That's a novelty for this family, you'll bring them to visit when they're old enough?" He asked, though it was really more of statement.

"Of course, dad. I'd hardly deny mom the additional female company." He chuckled.

Ray looked across at Timothy. "So you're gonna be a gunner, good for you. This family doesn't have enough, we're mostly pilots." He said between bites.

Sam looked at the two of them. "So are you two going to be sharing quarters?" He asked rather bluntly.

Nathan, sitting on the opposite side of Rik from Tim, glared at the large White Tiger.

Timothy stammered a little. "Um. I ... well that is, we haven't talked about it yet."

Patrik remained silent, but there was a very subtle increase in his tension as he looked at his gunner.

Timothy tentatively touched their new bond. *'Something wrong, Rik?'* He asked quietly.

Nareena cleared her throat. "There is an appropriate place to discuss such things, and it is not at dinner." She said gently, but in such a way that it was clearly not a suggestion.

Sam looked a bit sheepish. "Guess that was out of line. Sorry guys."

*'I want to stay with you.'* The pilot replied simply, his uncertainty about whether he was wanted when it came down to it skirting the edge of the thought.

*'We'll talk to my parents, after dinner. And I do want you, Rik.'* The kit thought quietly for a moment. *'You've already been assigned quarters, so I'll see if my parents are okay with me staying there with you. That sound good to you?'* He asked, thinking that the little pilot would have way more space than he did.

*'Sure.'* Patrik smiled slightly and brushed his uncertainty to the side.

The banter slowly resumed, returning too less weighty matters as dinner was followed by desert. After desert, the group split into smaller groups; some playing cards, some watching the latest action movie that Bryn had brought from Felsinor. Ebon, Cazi, Nareena and Nathan retreated to talk in a small breakfast nook.

"What next?" The small Kat glanced at his new partner.

"Now, we go talk to my folks. I think the only real problem may be mom. I'm pretty sure both my fathers will be okay with me staying with you. I know I like the idea." He said, gently kissing the small tom.

Patrik nodded with a nervous glance at Nareena. "Let's get it over with, then."

Timothy walked over to where the adults were talking. "Mom, Ebon, Cazi, I'd like your permission to move in with Patrik. He's my pilot now, and I want to be with him." The kit said without preface.

Cazi chuckled. "Well, it's not like it's that far away. I take it you two are serious about this relationship."

"Yes, dad." Timothy said, without hesitating.

Ebon nodded. "If they're going to be a combat team, it's a good way for them to solidify the relationship. If they can't manage to share quarters on the ground, there's no way they'd function in the small space of a cockpit." He said in a purely practical mode.

"Now just a minute, Timothy is ...." Nareena started.

"Not on Felsinor, mother." Nathan interrupted. "Besides, it's pretty clear he understands what he's doing. Ebon's right, it's a good start on team building. Especially if Timothy is going to get his combat clearance early, which I expect he'll want to."

Timothy nodded, and smiled to his brother gratefully.

Nareena bent down and put her arms around the Black Tiger kit. "Is this really what you want?" She asked quietly.

"Yes, mom. I want to be with Rik. We'll be right close by." He said trying to reassure her.

She brushed an errant tear out of her eyes. "I know, it's always tough when the youngest moves into his own place."

"Then it's okay with you?" Timothy asked quietly.

"Yes, dear. I think you two were meant to be together." She said standing up. "Need any help getting your stuff together?"

"No, I think we can handle it." He said, tugging at Patrik's arm. "C'mon."

"Thank you." The petite Kat smiled at them before dashing after his gunner.

"They grow up so fast." Nareena shook her head sadly as the pair disappeared.

Nathan chuckled quietly. "I don't know about that, I'd been a commando for eight years when I was his age. He's just moving in with his boyfriend."

"Oh, you!" She turned to face her eldest with mock fury. "But you were forty-four before you got a boyfriend." Suddenly she smiled seductively at her mates. "Seems it's time to try for a daughter of my own."

Nathan chuckled. "Well, I had one when I was twenty-nine, but it took me a few years to figure that out. Fifteen years actually."

Ebon and Cazi smiled first at each other and then at Nareena. In an old familiar routine, the three of them left the nook headed for the bedroom, Nareena nestled between the two males.

Nathan smiled, wondering if his mother would get a daughter this time. The last three sibs had also been attempts at daughters. He poured himself a mug of coffee from the freshly brewed pot, and sat back so he could discretely keep an 'eye' on his little brother and his newest pilot.

Patrik scanned his new gunner´s room, making a quick calculation on how long it would take to move him. The room wasn't all the big. There was looked to be, from the unimaginative design, a standard bed, dresser, desk and chair. On a metal stand there was an elaborate electronic keyboard, the musical kind. A small black instrument case was sitting on the desk, next to a large collection of labeled datacards. Several framed posters occupied the walls. They looked to be movie posters, though Rik didn't recognize the movies, they seemed to be the same kind that Jake liked: grade B horror flicks.

Timothy was carefully putting his portable computer in its carrying case as Patrik walked up to the keyboard and brushed his hand over it without actually touching anything and glanced at the Black Tiger. "Do you play?"

Timothy nodded. "Yep, my mom taught me. I do it to relax and unwind." He said closing the computer case, and moved to put the datacards in a protective box.

"Show me when we unpack?" He asked hopefully as he walked over to the closest poster and carefully took it down and set it on the bed as the start of a pile.

"Glad to." He smiled, putting the keyboard into a specially designed carrying case, then folding up the stand and placing it on top as Patrik got the last of the posters down

The petite kit looked around. "Keyboard, computer, posters, datcards ... what else?"

"Flute." He said picking up the black instrument case, and setting it next to the computer. "Clothes." He said grabbing a pair of suitcases from under the bed, and throwing clothes from the dresser into them. "I never was big on collecting stuff, of course being able to keep my sheet music, movies and books on the datacards makes packing a lot faster."

"We can probably get it moved in one trip with the dolly-thing that's still in my quarters. Know how far it is walking-wise? Nathan had me teleporting tell I got all turned around."

"Yeah, the tour goes like that. Shouldn't be too far, I'd check the computer but I just put it away. Your wristcom will guide you to your quarters, and since we gotta go get the dolly thing anyway, we'll find out how far it is." Timothy said enthusiastically.

"Works for me." Patrik grinned back. "Take a couple small things over now? The flute and computer shouldn't be hard to trek over."

"Sounds good to me." He said, as threw the carrying strap of the computer over his shoulder, and grabbed the flute in his other hand. "We should be able to get everything over, before it gets too late. If you're supposed to be test piloting tomorrow, you'll need to get some sleep beforehand." He added, looking out for his pilot's well being.

"Good a reason as any to get worn out the fun way." Patrik winked with a playful grin as they walked out of the room.

"Sooner we get this moving done, the more time we have to play." Timothy grinned back as they passed the nook where Nathan was sitting reading a datapad. "Hey bro, where's mom and dads?"

Nathan looked up. "They went to see about getting mom a daughter." He said matter-of-factly.

"Oh, well. Nothing important, we'll be back to get the rest of my stuff once we get a dolly-cart from Rik's." The black tiger said as he and Patrik headed for the front door.

"Don't stay up too late playing, you two. Patrik has a test flight in the morning." He chuckled, still in older brother mode.

"We'll only be up till we fall asleep." Timothy grinned as they walked outside.

"Unpack wherever." Patrik waved into the empty space of his quarters as they moved the last suitcase off the dolly. "I've got to return this."

"Okay, I'll have things unpacked by the time you get back." Timothy smiled, as he planned how to decorate.

"Cool." Patrik smiled as he pulled the dolly out of the room.

Patrik smiled at his new jet as he walked around it fully, touching every control surface and control with understanding, seeking hands as he tried to find the tiny spark in it that Jake swore was in every craft and construct.

He sighed in disappointment when he couldn't find it, and shook his head before returning to his quarters, wanting little more than to crawl into bed and sleep without dreams. When he entered, he couldn't help but notice that Timothy had indeed decorated. The posters were on the walls; the keyboard was on its stand with a chair behind it. There was a desk with Timothy's computer and datadisks on it, next to the one that had been there before.

Timothy was on the couch, wearing running shorts and a t-shirt with the words GildenFire Station Crew on it. He was lying on his stomach, reading something on a datapad.

"You work fast." Patrik smiled as he teased the fur of his partner's neck.

"There wasn't that much to move really. The additional furniture would've been more difficult, but Sam stopped by and moved it for me. His way of apologizing for his rather blunt question at dinner." He said rolling to face his pilot. "You wanted me to play something?" He asked looking at the keyboard.

"Something ... soft ... if you know any." He knelt and kissed the Black Tiger. "The day's starting to catch up with me."

Timothy smiled. "I do indeed." He said kissing the black and white tom as he stood. He walked over, sat behind the keyboard, turned it on and began to play. Though the music was a little alien to Patrik's ears, it was very soothing and quiet. The kit's playing was smooth and effortless; indeed Patrik noticed he didn't have his eyes open.

"So, wha'dya think?" Tim asked, when he finished. He turned to look when there was no answer, and noticed his pilot was flat out and smiled. "Guess he did have a rough day." He whispered to himself. The kit considered how to get Patrik from the living room to the bed, and realized that he wasn't strong enough to carry him safely. Then he grinned, and remembered what Nathan had said about rules once.

The kit concentrated and after several moments his form shifted to that of an adolescent Black Lion war form. Not nearly big as an adult, but strong enough to carry his ninety pound pilot. He gently picked up Rik and carried him back to the bedroom where he laid him gently on the bed. He shifted back to his normal form, and decided that Rik would be more comfortable sleeping without clothes. Very gently the kit worked at getting his partner undressed for bed, the petite body responding without waking to assist the effort a little.

Once Rik was undressed, the kit quickly undressed and climbed in next to him. He cuddle up next to his partner, pulled the light sheet over them, and easily drifted off to sleep, thinking that it was much easier to sleep with Patrik, than without.

Timothy woke in a cold sweat with an unfocused feeling of dread and loss eating at his heart. He managed to calm himself down with difficulty, and tried to figure out 'where' the out-of-place feelings were coming from. He couldn't come up with a reason _he'd_ feel that way, and eventually traced it to a spillover from Patrik across their working bond.

Timothy cuddled up behind the curled up Kat, and put his arm over Patrik, as if to hold him close. Then he sent comforting, supporting feelings across the link as he tried to 'cuddle' psychically, as well as physically. He remembered that Patrik had mentioned losing his previous gunner the day before they met; he figured his pilot was still hurting bad from that.

Slowly, the foreign feelings faded and Patrik uncurled slightly as tense muscles relaxed into a more normal sleep.

Timothy waited a little while, and then let himself drift back to sleep, still cuddled close to Patrik. He though maybe if he could keep his partner from feeling alone, it might help keep the pain away.

Patrik drifted awake feeling better than he could ever remember; not even the rare occasions Jake had stayed with him at night made mornings this nice. He smiled and rolled within Timothy's arms to teasingly kiss the Black Tiger awake as one hand slid between them to stroke the Felsin's exposed cock the rest of the way to hardness.

Timothy's eyes slowly opened, and he gently kissed the Kat back. "Morning, Rik. Sleep good?" He asked, rumbling happily at his partner's attentions. "What a way to wake up."

"Better than usual," he murmured with a smile. "And yes it is. 69?"

"Me too." The kit grinned while trying to remember the significance of the number. "69, my favorite number." He smirked, twisting around to get his face in front of pilot's sheath. He gently teased the slightly emerging erection the remainder of the way with the rough side of his tongue as Patrik rubbed the long fur of his cheek-ruff against the Tiger's groin.

He gave Timothy a few suckles as a head start before seeing just how fast he could send his gunner over the edge.

It wasn't much of a race, as Timothy went over the edge far quicker than he could send Patrik. However, once he caught his breath after the muscle spasms subsided he happily finished the task. Timothy seemed completely satisfied as Patrik's seed spurted into his mouth.

"Skill vs. enthusiasm." Patrik chuckled with his head resting on Timothy's thigh as he caught his breath. "I think I'm going to enjoy mornings with you around."

"And to think I used to hate morning." The black tiger grinned, breathlessly resting against Patrik's thigh. "I'm really happy you decided you wanted me as your partner."

"Had less to do with choice than that we click right." He smiled and squirmed around to snuggle against the Felsin's body. "But I'm glad it worked with you too. You're very nice."

"Guess it's just the way I was raised, I couldn't see being any other way. Glad you like it though." He kissed the pilot gently. "You're very easy to be nice to."

"Do you have anywhere to be?" Patrik asked as he got comfortable against the bigger tom.

"Not till they tell me what my new class schedule will be." Timothy said absently tracing patterns in Patrik's flowing fur. "Was today when you were supposed to do the test flight?" He asked relaxing happily.

"Yes, though I didn't get told when exactly." He chuckled. "If it's like any of the others I've done, they won't be ready for me till afternoon."

Timothy decided to see if his brother was awake. *'Hey, Nathan. When's Rik's test flight?'*

Nathan's amused voice came back. *'Late afternoon, it's not the first test of the day. I'll let you know when he should come over.'*

*'Thanks, bro.'*

*'No problem.'*

The kit turned to his partner. "Nathan says it's not till late afternoon. They got some other stuff on the test range schedule before then. He said he'll let me know when you need to come over."


"Which means the day is pretty much ours." Timothy grinned.

"Very cool." Patrik nuzzled him. "I was hoping you'd watch from the control room, or one of the chase planes."

"I was planning on it, from the control room since the chase planes are single person craft." He grinned, gently caressing his partner's back. "Any ideas on how to spend the day?" He smirked.

"Right here?" Patrik crooned with a teasing flick of his silky tail over Timothy's body.

"Sounds like fun." Timothy chuckled, pulling the Kat into a passionate kiss.

“Nareena SwiftClaw.” A powerful voice called to the tigress Felsin as she slept.

Nareena snapped her eyes open to a white, light filled space and reflexively reached for the gold symbol of Felsira that she always wore, only to find it missing along with her quarters and mates.

She quickly extended her telepathy to find anything around her and ran solidly into a mind as powerful as any she had encountered as a glowing bird of white and rainbow flames appeared before her.

*'I am Phoenyx.'* It spoke with a mixture of incredible power, wisdom and affection. *'I understand you seek another child, a daughter.'*

"I have for some time, but the genetics do not seem to go that way." She said quietly. "Of what interest is this to you?" She asked politely, yet with the assurance of one who had spoken with beings of power frequently.

*'I am seeking a Felsin mother for my next offspring, and you are the best suited to raise a Phoenix Spirit, Nareena. I have waited some time for you to be ready for another kit.'* It regarded her with swirling, gem-like eyes. *'I can promise you a daughter, and a spirited one, beyond the kit you raise for me.'*

"Then you would be talking about twins? Hardly unheard of. I would ask one thing; my daughter should be the daughter of both my mates, that's what all the kits save one have been." She said, feeling strangely comfortable with this previously unknown spirit.

The great firebird nodded. *'All your children from this agreement will be of all three of you, though the daughter I promise will not be born with the Phoenix Spirit child. It would be very dangerous for her.'*

"Very well, that's not entirely surprising. Is there anything I should know about this Phoenix Spirit child in advance? Any special requirements, or needs?" She asked assessing the situation from a Healer's perspective.

*'Nothing you do not give all your children.'* It chuckled softly. *'Love, understanding, an open mind. I chose you because you give what is needed on your own. The new one should be a Felsin kit in most respects, just a little stronger in the telepathy range until it is past infancy.'*

"And once it is past infancy?" She asked curiously.

*'Is anyone's guess.'* The firebird inclined its great head. *'That is why parents and families must be chosen very carefully. All that is certain is that they are never very 'normal' children, and as they age they will gain access to the powers of the adult: our shared memory, shapeshifting and love of flight. Each Phoenix is very much an individual in personalities and abilities, though. How they turn out as adults is very much a factor of how they are raised.'*

Nareena chuckled. "I'm not even sure what a 'normal' kit is like, mine have all been very special. It's been a joyful adventure with each one, though my youngest surprised me. Fourteen, and I think he's already found a LifeMate." She said fondly.

*'Likely making up for your eldest.'* It chuckled softly. *'Do you have any other questions?'*

"I don't see any other concerns at the moment. Can I assume that the pregnancy will be reasonably normal?" She asked.

*'As normal as any of yours are.'* It smiled mentally at her. *'You can call me if you need me.'*

Nareena opened her eyes to her own dark room and the breathing warmth of her mates, one on each side. She considered the encounter, and decided that there was no urgent need to tell her mates. She would in due course, but not right now. The tigress considered for a moment, and then curled in closer to Ebon, with Cazi curled behind her. Neither of them woke, after so long such adjustments were instinctive.

She woke sometime later to Ebon nuzzling her affectionately. *'Try a little more for a kit?'*

The Tigress ran a finger teasingly down his black chest and abdomen. She smiled when she noticed his penis already peeking from its sheath. *'What a lovely way to start the morning.'* She rumbled.

*'Definitely.'* He chuckled as his mouth was occupied by hers.

*'Hay, bro.'* Nathan nudged his youngest sibling's mind on the family frequency. *'Think you two can make it to the testing hanger in half an hour?'*

Timothy giggled mentally. *'I think we can manage that.'*

The Black Tiger nudged his pilot. "Big bro wants us in the testing hanger in half an hour."

"Then we'd better clean up ... and not get distracted like last time." The petite tom pulled himself grudgingly off the bed, then looked at his gunner. "Where'd you put my uniforms, anyway?"

Timothy grinned. "Yeah, we'll have to leave distractions till later. And your uniforms are hanging in the closet, they stay neater that way." He said as he rolled out of bed and followed Patrik to the bathroom.

"Do I have everything on right?" Patrik asked as he regarded himself in the bedroom's full-length mirror and assessed the overall impression of a black uniform with his long black fur. He wasn't all that sure he liked it, but it did make his white chin and throat and blue eyes stand out. He couldn't say the gold striping on the legs and sleeves was to his tastes either, though it did go with the gold pilot's wings and gold lettering on the red name badge.

Timothy murred. "Oh yeah. You look even better in uniform, Rik." He said approvingly as he straightened out the uniform he was wearing. It was medium gray, with black shoulders, and had the same silver bordered circle with a black field containing crossed gold swords in front of a red starburst insignia as on Patrik's right sleeve.

He nodded and fingered the silver bar with two gold slashes under his name badge. "What's this mean?"

"Full lieutenant, starting rank for newly recruited pilots who didn't come out of one of the other Alliance military services." He said easily, having learned to read rank bars at an early age.

Patrik regarded himself for a moment longer before turning to claim a quick kiss and headed out, all business as they walked to the testing hanger and his new jet. As they got there, Timothy directed Patrik into the locker room to get suited up. The flight suit was the same design as the uniform, just that it was a flight suit. The helmet was black with the gold sword and red starburst insignia on the sides.

When the two entered the hanger, Nathan was waiting by the plane. He walked up to them. "Morning, Tim. Morning, Patrik. Ready to give your plane a good shakedown?" He asked in tone that indicated that he was being friendly, not that he had any doubt.

"Morning, Nathan." The petite pilot nodded. "I definitely am. Are you filling in for my gunner?"

"Yep, since Timothy isn't cleared for combat or test range yet. We'll work on getting him cleared a little ahead of schedule though." The Tiger said grinning. "Tim, why don't you head up to the control room, you can watch from there."

"You bet, bro." The kit grinned, and grabbed a quick kiss from his pilot. "Knock 'em dead, Rik." He said before he sprinted for the stairs to the control room.

Nathan patted the small pilot's shoulder. "He's happier than he's been in months, thanks to you." He smiled. "The G-safeties are already off, since I recall you like to push the outer boundaries." He chuckled as he vaulted into the gunner's station behind the pilot's position.

Timothy turned into the control room, which was two rows of telemetry receiving stations, along with several large screens for displaying images from the chase planes. The kit spotted his uncle Samson supervising the control room, and Morin just watching. Numerous technicians in NightBlade uniforms watched the telemetry stations.

He found an unoccupied station with a view of the screens and sat down, waiting for the show to begin. It didn't take long for the chase plane cameras to show the sleek black jet fighter dart into the sky, and smiled at the thrill and peace he felt from his pilot as the craft responded to him as they raced through the basic maneuvers and then test course, cutting every corner possible.

"You've cleared basic checks." A female Coyote Camen reported both to those watching and the craft in the air. "You may begin freeform testing now."

"Understood." The voice came over was clearly Patrik's despite the distortion of the comm system. Timothy felt the pilot come alive inside as he mentally reached out for a true connection with the craft he was in.

"That was an 18G maneuver they just completed, and they're headed around for another sequence." A male black tipped white Foxen reported, startled. "Looks like Tony may have some competition for highest G tolerance." He said, as the rest of the room looked on in surprise.

"Any problems showing on telemetry?" Samson asked calmly.

There was a chorus of 'all-clears' from around the room. The large White Tiger smiled in response, pleased that things were going smoothly. Nearby, Morin watched the craft at the edge of TechnoMage powers. As the pilot sought a connection, the Dracon began to feel the 'spark' form in the jet and Patrik's increased attention and delight in it.

Timothy watched in nervous fascination as the G's kept increasing, finally topping out just past 21 before Patrik brought the craft around for the hanger.

"Control, I'm going to drop Nathan off, then try the last round on my own." Patrik's voice came over calmly.

Nathan's voice came through shortly thereafter on the pilot-gunner commlink. "What's this about dropping me off? It's unnecessary, Patrik." He said evenly, in a conversational tone.

"This one is my risk alone." The pilot replied just as easily. "The gunner _never_ comes on this test."

"As long as you tell me what it is first. I've got no problem with you doing it solo, but I want to know how serious the risk is." Nathan replied in a tone that was clearly a Commander looking after those he was responsible for. "We don't normally have any tests where the gunner isn't along." He explained.

"I turn all the computer controls off and fly her by myself. It's high risk, but I start and stay at a high enough altitude to restart the system if I loose control or can't do it."

"Just to see how she handles completely fried." Nathan nodded. "Yeah, I've done that one a few times. You don't need to go all the way back to the hanger, just hover outside the control tower ... I'll get off there." He grinned. "Just to let you know, all our planes are equipped with what we call the DBS, or Dead-Bird System, it's an anti-grav mechanism that cuts in at 1500 feet if the control system is dead, or the pilot unconscious."

"All right." He shifted course for the control tower and opened the channel. "Correction, dropping Nathan off at the control tower."

Once they reached the control tower, and Patrik had the plane hovering, Nathan opened the canopy. He walked out on to the wing, and leapt the intervening 40 feet to land on the tower roof, waving to Patrik before climbing a maintenance ladder into the building.

Timothy's voice came in over the radio. "Be careful, Rik." He said, though the emotions coming over the link said volumes about his concern for his pilot.

*'I'll be fine, Tim.'* He touched the new bond with his gunner. *'This is our bird. I need to know her limits, and mine, before I risk your life.'*

"Lt. Celest, this is control. You are clear for dead system test, minimum altitude to start test is 60,000 feet."

"Understood control. Going to 85,000." He replied and forced himself to relax as he gained the necessary altitude. He took a deep, calming breath and flicked all the systems off, including the DBS and other automatic systems.

As the engines flamed out he reached out to fully integrate his mind with the fighter's systems, entwining them so he took the place of the computer and pilot.

Watching the fighter suddenly flame out, it's readings all going dead, Timothy felt Patrik's mind slip out of awareness as the fighter powered back up and began a simple series of maneuvers.

Nathan spotted telemetry indicating that the DBS was off. "Now that's an unnecessary risk." He muttered under his breath, before he turned to a St. Bernard Canem wearing the NightBlade Rescue Service patch. "I want the tractor/presser projector locked on that plane until further notice. If drops below the DBS threshold, catch it." He said, with a mild tone of irritation in his voice.

"Acknowledge, General. Projector and auxiliaries now locked on in stand-by mode." The Canem reportedly smartly.

Then he looked at the readings from the plane. "Not bad, he's managed to synchronize with a plane not designed for it. Have to examine the full telemetry later." He said quietly to himself.

Timothy wasn't sure what to make of the lack of awareness, but he looked at Nathan, who wasn't showing any signs of concern, and decided it must just be something that pilots understood. That didn't keep him from holding on white-knuckled to the console wondering what was going on.

Patrik's mind sang with joy as he became the jet; thinking, possessing, reacting and feeling through the metal and synthetic frame and mechanical sensors. The raw _knowing_ of what he was and could do, the strain of maneuvers and rush of power as he flew as close to having his own wings as he ever would.

He soon felt the familiar call to abandon his flesh body for this kind ... to be free and strong and independent. With a last twirl and full power dive upwards he reluctantly back out and stuffed his consciousness back into his flesh and blood body as the computers came back on line in their own right.

He blindly set the autopilot to hover with a last touch of his mind and drew deep breaths to fight back the tears of loss as he settled back into his given form.

Timothy could feel the loss through the link, and gently reached out to his pilot. *'Rik, are you alright?'* He asked compassionately, his question clearly not asking about the pilot's physical condition.

*'Yeah.'* The pilot's mind was weak. *'Giving that up is always hard, especially now.'*

*'You done testing, Rik? I'll go down to meet you in the hanger if you are.'* The kit's mind-voice was gentle and supportive.

*'I guess.'* There was almost a wistful tone to the thought.

Timothy switched to his family bond with Nathan. *'I think Rik's gonna need to rest, something about that really drained him.'* The kit said in a very mature gunner looking after his pilot mind-voice.

"Lt. Celest to Control, I'm coming in now." His voice betrayed none of what his gunner knew to be there.

Nathan looked at his brother. *'Go look after your pilot, that's all he had scheduled for today anyway.'*

*'Thanks, bro.'* He said shifting to Black Tiger form and dashing to the hanger, where he shifted back. He waited a little anxiously for Patrik's plane to land as it came in flawlessly.

Patrik leaped out of the craft and pulled his helmet off, letting his long hair fall loose again, as he approached Timothy. It didn't take the Tiger long to realize the Kat's fur was plastered flat with sweat, and despite his steady gate, was very close to a breaking point. He tried to remain calm. "Come on, Rik. Time to go home, you've had a rough day." He said walking close, ready to catch the Kat at any moment. He reached along their bond, and did his best to let the Kat lean on him mentally.

Patrik nodded without comment and walked to the locker room. When the door closed he sighed and closed his eyes, leaning against Timothy's broad frame. "I've never heard the call that strongly before."

"Heard what call?" The kit asked as he helped the pilot out of the flight suit.

"Pat called it the PsiPilot's Siren, but it's the ... desire ... call ... to leave your flesh and blood body behind, to stay with the jet and all it offers. To become like the AI's." He sighed and rolled around, nearly naked, to claim a tired, reassuring kiss from his gunner.

As they parted Patrik's eyes drifted closed. "She was right about it too, we only come back for our gunner. I wanted to be free, to stay with her, but it wasn't worth leaving you."

Timothy kissed his pilot, both frightened and reassured at the same time. "I'm glad you came back, I would have missed you terribly." He said gently caressing his pilot, though his scent and the emotions along the bond said it was far deeper than that. "You need to be in bed, though." He said as he gently dressed his pilot.

He went to the family bond. *'Nathan, I've got to get Rik back to our quarters, but I'm gonna break one of those rules you said, sometimes has to be.'*

*'Which one?'*

*'The one about the war-form.'*

*'That's more of a guideline, but do what you have to for your pilot.'* Nathan thought supportively.

*'Thanks, bro.'*

Timothy shifted to his war-form, and gently picked up the tired pilot and headed for home, taking the shortcuts he could. When he got home he gently laid the pilot in their bed, and then shifted back to his Felsin form.

When physical contact broke Patrik's eyes snapped open for a second, then they drifted closed again as he reached out to pull the Black Tiger into bed next to him. *'Love you.'*

Timothy gently got them both undressed, and then slid under the covers next to Patrik. *'Love you, too.'* He said nuzzling the pilot tenderly, just getting comfortable.

"Tim?" Patrik partially rolled over in the Black Tiger's arms to be greeted by a relieved smile. "You up for meeting Agreth?"

"Who's Agreth?" Tim asked curiously, before he claimed a quick kiss.

Patrik nuzzled his gunner and rolled to rest of the way to face the Black Tiger. "Our jet, and third teammate."

The kit's eyes got wide. "Whoa! You mean we got a DS jet? Cool. How'd that happen, I knew there were DS slated for the Gundam project, but I didn't hear anything for the air squads."

"It wasn't your brother's plan. When I linked up with our jet I felt the possibility and did my best to wake her. She's just starting to come around, and it'd be good if you're as involved in educating her as I am."

"This is cool, but we'd better tell Nathan anyway. Just so he can file the 'birth' paperwork, so her citizenship is set when she fully wakes. Don't worry, he won't mind. He rather likes DS actually. Rik, did my brother introduce you to Silver and Dark?" He asked as he rolled out of bed.

"I don't think so," he tried to sort through all the folks he had met the previous day as he picked his uniform up, then shook his head and headed for the bathroom. "I need a shower before I'm seen in public again."

"Quick shower, or the other one?" Tim asked playfully.

"You coming?" Patrik winked over his shoulder as his tail danced along his back.

Tim quickly caught up with his pilot, then he slipped around and started the water, adjusting it to the temperature he'd set before. He turned, pulled Patrik under the water and claimed a deep kiss that was eagerly returned.

"Did Storm tell you anything about how to wake a DS up?" Patrik asked quietly as they neared the hanger with their jet.

"Nope, but before yesterday I wasn't a TechnoMage so there wasn't a reason to. How's it done?" He asked curiously, cocking his ears at the subdued commotion up ahead.

"Well, the gist of it is you feed her information as she's willing to absorb it, starting with the basics of Psi communication and a few words, eventually upgrading to access to major databases when she's ready to deal with that. It's a lot like raising a kit, but she'll go from basic awareness to an adult in a few months at most."

Tim smiled. "Cool. So, did what you did bring her to basic awareness or is that what we do next?"

"She's aware." Patrik nodded. "But she might not be ready for language. I'm not sure ... I don't communicate like that with them. Triggering awareness is about as far as a PsiPilot can get. The rest takes a TechnoMage, or at least a telepath who can hear them. Just don't strain yourself. Storm almost passed out feeding Liberator."

Both kits stopped dead to see their jet fully powered up, the refueling and maintenance crews held at bay, and a white Lioness and Black Lab trying to talk to the jet with little success.

"What the ...."

Tim looked around. "The White Lioness is SilverStar, one of our DS, and the Black Lab is DarkStar, her brother. The other guys apparently were trying to do their jobs, and I think Agreth objected."

Patrik shook his head before running up to the jet and made a flying leap up to the cockpit and a serge of communication and power flow between the two. After several minutes the pilot leaned out. "Sorry folks. I didn't realize she was that territorial yet."

SilverStar looked up at him. "Very territorial, but no language comprehension, not a good combination. Can you get her to understand that the maintenance crews are for her benefit?" She asked patiently.

Patrik focused through the part of his mind that didn't talk with language as Timothy made his way to the jet, and scrambled up into the gunner's position.

The Black Tiger put his hands on the interface contacts, and let his mind-sense reach out, trying to find the jet's awareness and came up with a highly agitated presence that was slowly calming down with the flow from their pilot.

"She _should_ be okay with them now." Patrik turned to SilverStar. "But it'd be best to make sure the same individuals work on her until she's a little more in tune with how things work. It may be a couple weeks before anyone else can really communicate with her."

"I'll pass that on to maintenance and supply." SilverStar replied. "Thank you, Patrik." The Lioness said casually.

"Maybe you'd better introduce us." Timothy suggested from behind Patrik.

The pilot turned around in his seat to look at Timothy in confusion and a little worry. "Can't you link to her?"

"She just seemed a bit agitated, I didn't want to upset her." Timothy said quietly, trying to get a focus on the center of the jet's awareness again.

"Oh, she's expecting you." He hesitated. "I haven't done this very often. It's usually the TechnoMage that handles this early stuff. I was just brought in when Amerith was waking up because she was my jet."

"Okay." He let his mind slip on to what felt like a 'mechanical' frequency, and then 'looked' for what might be the jet's awareness. He created a small ball of energy that he thought might get her attention when he found her.

As he watched, he 'saw' Patrik nudge the proto-mind towards him.

*'Toss it out ... like you'd win the trust of a young pet, or wild animal.'*

The kit nodded and tossed the energy out so that she wouldn't have to move much toward him and watched as the vaguely quadruped and winged for bolted forward, then all the way back to Patrik before examining the offering and taking a little.

*'It's all right.'* The pilot mentally caressed them both as Agreth spat the core of Timothy's offering, the information packet, back out.

Timothy looked at Patrik. *'Now what? Is that her way of saying she doesn't like me?'* He asked worried.

*'No, it's her way of saying 'I'm not ready for that yet'.'* The petite tom smiled affectionately as he caressed the controls. *'Sometimes it takes a while for a newborn to be ready for even that. We just keep her company and be ready for when she is. We're her 'mothers' and teachers until she's old enough to find things on her own.'*

*'Oh, any good way to figure out when she's ready? Or is it just a try once in a while sort of thing?'* Tim asked curiously as he mentally relaxed, getting used to the feel of things.

*'Jake just _knew_, but he'd woken a couple dozen up by the time I helped with Amerith and have a good feel for it. He always described it as a combination of parenting and training ... but since we don't know, we'll just have to muddle along and hope we don't screw things up too badly.'*

*'Yeah, I guess it's just a good thing we're not muddling with one of the Gundams.'* He chuckled gently, keeping an 'eye' on the 'jet'; hoping to feel something that would be an indication of readiness.

*'Not like anyone else around here has more of a clue from what I had to teach Storm.'* He shrugged and settled into a relaxed U in the pilot's seat. *'I don't expect I'll be going anywhere for a week or two.'*

*'From what I understand, the first DS was a somewhat unexpected accident, and when the others simply 'appeared', people got the idea that that was the 'normal' way for it to happen. Storm will straighten 'em out, I'm sure.'* He said confidently.

*'You actually plan to stay in the cockpit for a week or two?'* Tim asked curiously. He knew enough about jets to know that couldn't possibly be comfortable, or a whole lot of fun.

"If that's how long it takes." Patrik shrugged. "It's hardly the worst place I've crashed for that long. She's our jet."

"Okay." Tim said casually, as he mentally kicked back and telepathically connected to Hyperion, the base research AI, who happened to be telepathic. Hype was always good for a game or two of one of the combat games. The kit divided his attention between his game with Hype, and watching Agreth. It was a handy trick that Hype had taught him; the computer called it multi-tasking.

"I guess the difference in how we handle it comes from the history." Patrik spoke absently, most of his attention on the craft he was lounging in. "On Aristal, the first DS was a very intentional event. Jake was working on a more traditional AI, and I guess he saw something more in one and brought Casheth up. One even transferred to a biological body a few years ago after she fell in love with one of the researches in Medical."

Tim nodded absently, his attention divided three ways. "Guess so. Our DS use solid holographs to handle the 'love' thing, rumor has it that DarkStar has a long term relationship with my uncle Samson, but neither of them admits it." He said in tone that indicating it was no big deal.

Patrik was quiet for a moment. *'It's not the physical part, Tim. The reality of an immortal energy being and a flesh and blood mortal ... she chose to become a Kat for the same reason I chose to stay one earlier today.'*

*'Oh.'* The kit's mind-voice was a little stunned, he was still a little shaken by the whole concept of 'becoming a jet.' He was also shaken by how close he felt he'd come to losing Rik.

*'Amazing.'* DarkStar murmured as the two DS watched the infant one from a respectful distance.

*'Agreed, they're definitely doing this differently then any of the others. Does seem to be working faster though.'* SilverStar concurred. *'I hope Timothy isn't getting in over his head, his TechnoMage powers are only just awakened.'*

*'Perhaps it would be good to ask Storm or Morin to join us?'* The Black Lab suggested. *'They know more of the abilities ... though I wonder if Patrik is just a TechnoMage under another name with what he did.'*

*'Perhaps, but it felt like Patrik was at the limit of his abilities when he did it. I'll ask Morin, Storm is still on board Liberator working with him. I believe they're doing system integration and Liberator's working on a more presentable self-image.'*

Shortly after, Morin walked into the hanger, and walked over to the two DS, keeping a respectful distance from the infant jet. *'SilverStar, DarkStar.'* He nodded politely. *'Any new developments on this front?'*

*'Patrik got her to calm down and accept the crews, though she doesn't like them touching her.'* SilverStar reported. *'Timothy tried the trick Storm used to teach Liberator language, but she refused it. Patrik thinks that's because she's not ready for it yet.'*

*'She's approachable now, but about as easy to communicate with as a baby.'* DarkStar added.

*'If I understand the approach being used, she _is_ a baby at this point. It's not a stage we're used to seeing in mobile equipment, and frankly one I find a little disturbing in military hardware. One does not give a baby missiles and plasma cannons.'* He said quietly.

*'Perhaps we can disconnect them until she's older?'* DarkStar suggested. *'Patrik seems to have a lot of control over her.'*

*'I think we will have to trust that control.'* SilverStar commented. *'She barely tolerates the ground crews for routine maintenance, even with his calming her. I don't think she'll sit still for mechanical changes, and we don't want her panicking.'*

*'Maybe if he makes the changes?'* The Black Lab suggested.

Morin nodded. *'That might work, I'll discuss it with Patrik.'* The Dracon reached until he found a frequency the pilot would hear. *'Patrik, I hate to distract you but there's something important I need to discuss with you regarding your jet.'* He said quietly.

*'Okay.'* He sent back, then turned to face Timothy. "Stay with her. Morin wants to talk with me."

*'Not a problem, I'm not goin' anywhere.'* The kit smiled. *'I'll keep her company.'* He said warmly patting the control interface.

With a quick nod and pat for the jet Patrik leaped down and walked over to the much taller Dracon. "What's up?"

"A concern over the developmental state of your DS, and the fact that she has control of heavy weapons. I believe that it may be a good idea, until she's matured some, for you to disconnect the weapons systems. One does not give a baby sharp objects to play with, and I believe that to be a prudent course here as well. Does she have a name yet? I prefer to refer to DS by name as soon as they decide on or accept one." The Dracon said in a parent to parent mode.

"Her name's Agreth." He nodded, and glanced at the jet. "The weapons aren't much of a problem to disconnect, except I don't know how. I fly'm, not fix'm."

"How good are you at picking up technical things? I can have one of the maintenance guys explain how to do it. It's just she's very sensitive about anyone but you and Timothy touching her, so I thought it best that you handle this." He said slightly surprised, most of the NightBlade pilots could handle maintenance on their own craft.

"Umm, I'm not sure." He considered the jet for a moment. "I never really got a chance to find out. Jake or one of the other TechnoMages always did the work on the Black Phoenix jets. Something about making sure it was all compatible or something." He shrugged. "The rest of us didn't get to work on much. I take it that's not how things work here?"

"Well, Agreth is something new. We haven't had a DS jet before, though Silver and Dark have both used jet forms, it isn't their primary. But our other flight teams are trained in maintaining their aircraft, in case they have to operate in the field away from the maintenance crews." He considered. "The required change is not that complicated, I could send the directions to you step-by-step, while you actually handle the jet."

"Every team had a TechnoMage, so somebody knew how to deal with them." Patrik shrugged. "And step by step works for me." He regarded the Dracon, considering something. "How complicated would it be to hook up a simple force field system for her to use? It'd make her feel more secure, and is a hell of a lot safer than what she's doing now."

"We don't have quite so many TechnoMages, actually you and Timothy are the first flight team with a TechnoMage. Hooking up a simple force field will be easy enough; I'll have maintenance bring a portable field generator down. I can show you how to connect it to the in-flight force field controls she already has."

"Thanks." He nodded before turning back to reassure the jet by running his hands along each of her major surfaces.

Nathan walked up and noticed the force field. He gently nudged the two in the jet mentally. *'Rik, Tim. How long are you guys planning to stay in there?'* He asked curiously.

"Till she's comfortable with us leaving." Patrik answered simply as he patted the jet and the shied went down.

Nathan nodded. "Well, I'll have them set up some temporary accommodations down here then, and a requisition terminal so you can get your meals in here. Just make a point of getting out of the cockpit and stretching occasionally, okay?"

He directed a channel to Patrik. *'How are you feeling, Rik? I sensed how close you came to merging with the jet earlier. As a pilot, I understand the temptation ... even gave into it once. I'm just glad you found the strength to come back.'* He thought quietly, in a tone that was more like one would use with family then anything else.

"Sure, bro. We can stretch without losing contact." The kit smiled impishly.

*'I couldn't leave Tim ... not even for that.'* The Kat whispered back as he met the Felsin's green eyes. *'Probably when I'm alone again.'*

Nathan nodded. *'I probably would've come back on my own if I'd had someone when it happened. Don't expect to be alone again anytime soon, SwiftClaws are a long-lived and durable bunch. And I don't see him leaving you for anything.'*

*'Good.'* A wealth of affection and pleasure flowed with that simple statement. *'He's more than I ever expected ... you have a very special brother.'*

*'I know.'* The Tiger responded with a strong sense of brotherly affection. *'But you're the one who's given him the focus he needed. Thank you for proving me right.'*

"When's the last time either of you got anything to eat?" Nathan asked simply.

"Ummm ... dinner, I think." Timothy answered a little sheepishly. "I suppose we should get something, hu?"

"I'm not hungry," Patrik said easily, "so you go if you want something."

Nathan caught the look of reluctance on his brother's face. "The terminal over there just came on-line, so if you want something you don't have to go far."

"Thanks, bro." Timothy relaxed; he hadn't really felt like going too far.

"Well, as long as things are calm down here. I'll leave things to you two. Just make sure you both get some sleep." He said in a light tone that had serious undertones. He waved to them, and turned to leave the hanger.

Timothy jumped down, ran over to his brother and hugged him. The Tiger mussed the kits hair affectionately. *'What was that for?'* He asked amused.

*'Patrik.'* The kit whispered. *'There were a lot of real gunners you could've assigned.'*

*'You're welcome. But he wanted you, Tim. With pilots and gunners it's not as simple as just assigning them, doesn't always work out that way.'*

The kit nodded and hopped back up into the gunners seat.

"Thought you were going to eat?" Patrik looked over his shoulder at the Black Tiger.

"I was just being agreeable, he was figuring we'd been down here so long we'd missed dinner. I don't normally eat late." He said leaning back. "Like he said the terminal's right over there, there's no hurry."

Patrik nodded and settled in, easily drifting to sleep in the pilot's seat with the humm of the force field in his ears and the light presence of his teammates in the back of his mind.

"Time to eat, Tim." Patrik nudged his gunner from behind. "I can hear your stomach growl."

Tim stretched a bit. "What time is it anyway?" He asked as he considered what he wanted for breakfast.

"Who cares?" The black and white Kat shrugged and held a sealed container of orange juice and a handful of meal-bars in front of the Felsin from overhead. "I grabbed munchies."

Tim grinned and accepted the offerings. "Good thinking, Rik. You're right, doesn't matter what time it is." He said opening the juice enough to drink from it.

"Not with us staying here for a couple weeks." Patrik nuzzled his gunner from where he was lying on the fuselage. *'Up for trading histories? Getting to know each other a little better.'*

*'Sure, it's a good way to pass time.'* The kit agreed.

*'You start?'* Patrik asked, trying to hide just how nervous he was.

*'Sure. I'll understand if you fall asleep, it's not very interesting.'* Timothy laughed quietly, and closed his eyes.

*'I was born fourteen years ago, the youngest of the SwiftClaw sibs. I was actually born as a four-leg tiger cub, first sib to have that happen since Nathan. Lady Diamantha was the healer, she still teases me about my primal form, I like her.'* He said thinking about the Silver Dragon.

*'I was a tiger cub till I was three, that was a lot of fun. Cubs figure out walking, running and climbing a lot faster than kits do. But with the uncles and sibs I've got, I couldn't get into too much trouble, but they were all like big playmates.'* He said fondly.

*'When I was four, my parents went on a real honeymoon and their ship disappeared. Took the NightBlades over two years to figure out where they'd gone, and how to get them back. Nathan took care of me while they were missing, that's why we're so close.'* He said with brotherly affection. He paused to sip at the orange juice.

*'What happened?'* Patrik asked, honestly curious.

*'Oh, you mean where'd they disappear to? Turned out that their ship got caught in a graviton stream that steered them into what's called a Nexus remnant. It's the remains of a destroyed planet that used to be a Nexus world, I'm not sure but somehow the planet got copied into a dimensional fracture and that's where Mom, Cazi and Ebon got stuck. Took two years to find the fracture and force it open. They said it was the creepiest place ever, with specters of the dead hanging right where they were when the planet died.'*

The petit Kat shivered reflexively. *'Nexus worlds are scary places to live, and depressing to try to defend.'*

Tim looked up at his pilot. *'You're from a Nexus world, Rik?'* He asked curiously.

*'Yeah. We call it Aristal, for what that matters. It's not anywhere the Dracon even have rumors of.'* He replied quietly. *'We usually saw a planetary crisis two or thee times a month. We didn't loose many to the enemy, but two pairs had to 'retire' because they couldn't keep the pace.'*

*'Name's not familiar, but I'd bet money it's the world we Felsin call Origin. See we're not native to our homeworld Felsinor, our ancestors moved there a long time ago 'cause of some impending disaster or something. According to the ancient texts, during the evacuation and the Long Search, our appearance changed becoming what it is today.'* He thought quietly. *'Ebon and Cazi have always been curious about Origin, 'cause Ebon's one form is supposedly a throwback to the old appearance, I think he looks a lot like a Kat, taller than you though. But a lot shorter than the form you saw.'*

Patrik nodded. *'I'm short for a Kat. _Very_ short. Jake was below average, shorter than most shekats, and I'm shorter than him. I'm built very light too.'*

*'I know how that goes; I'm small for my age. Most people think I'm twelve, and a short twelve at that. Runs in the family, we don't tend to finish growing until twenty or so. Nathan could pass for thirteen when he turned twenty-one, at least that's what I've heard.'* The kit chuckled.

*'I doubt you're mistaken for a girl very often though.'* Patrik chuckled in a mixture of irritation and resigned amusement. *'Do you like girls?'*

"No, can't say I've had that happen." He chuckled. "I guess, though I've never been as interested in them as I am in guys. For one thing, teenage girls don't take small guys seriously." He sighed, remembering his one attempt at dating a fem.

"Hu?" Patrik blinked at the Black Tiger. *'That's different.'*

The kit looked back at him. *'What's different?'*

*'Being short being a turn off.'* He regarded the Felsin. *'But I guess when both CO's are short, and like short, it makes it less of a big deal. They did always say Cathedral was a law unto itself.'*

Timothy shrugged. *'Seems to be the girls that have that problem. The guys are okay with short.'* He chuckled quietly. *'Heck, in my family shorter mates are usually the rule. Well, except for Morin, he doesn't fit the pattern at all.'*

*'From what I've seen, your family doesn't have much of a choice in the matter.'* Patrik snickered. *'I mean, your dad is huge.'*

*'Ebon? Yeah, and you haven't seen his really big form. He's the tallest of the nine brothers, some of the others aren't quite as big. But even Nathan's 6' 4", and he's about the shortest in the family. Well, except for Cazi who's usually about 5' 5" give or take.

*'Though when I say smaller, I mean maybe 5' 6" or less. There's a built in need to protect, and it's easier to feel that way with a small mate. At least that's how Nate explained it to me.'*

*'Somehow, I just not surprised.'* He half groaned, half laughed. *'I was designed like this cause Jake was the same way. He needed a mate that could keep up with him, and still look like he needed protection. Though I sometimes wonder why they didn't just make me a fem while they were at it.'*

Timothy stretched up and kissed Rik. *'I, for one, am glad they didn't. Sounds like the question my uncles always ask about their designers; they were designed to be completely unable to function sexually with fems. It was supposed to prevent breeding, but no one could ever figure why the designers didn't make them sterile.'*

*'Why would they care if the guys breed?'*

*'Ebon and his 'brothers' were a super-soldier experiment. Nine designed soldiers created from blank genetic material, not in-vitro like most genetic creations. No one was sure what would happen if a generation 0 creation bred with a normal Felsin, so they tried to short circuit the possibility.'*

*'Obviously that failed miserably ... but why would taking fems out of breeding options matter if two toms can have kits?'*

*'That tech hadn't been developed when the guys were engineered. It was almost fifty years later before that came into use. Besides, left to their own devices the guys probably wouldn't have had kits. Except for Ebon, they still act like they're sixteen or seventeen much of the time.'*

Patrik frowned and did some quick math. *'They're like two hundred years old years old? How come Nareena's still so young-looking? She must be way past life expectancy.'*

*'Not way past, the average Felsin Life expectancy is around 175, I think. I'm not entirely sure what mom's secret is, though its possible she's found a way to heal the damage that aging does. The only thing she's ever really said, is that there's no way she was going to leave Cazi and Ebon unsupervised by dying.'* He chuckled. *'We think she was joking.'*

*'Probably not.'* Patrik snickered. *'She reminds me a lot of Pakitra, just a lot taller.'*

*'Who's Pakitra?'* Timothy asked curiously.

*'She's the head of Cathedral, along with Jake. He handled the military and covert ops, she did most of the politics and money.'* He added an image of the 5' 4" silver-white shekat with hard green eyes. *'She's the one who wrote up my specs.'*

*'Well, she's got very good taste in designs.'* He smirked with warm approval. *'Something about the eyes though is kind of frightening, the hardness sort of reminds me of Ebon in what Nate calls assassin-mode.'*

*'Yeah, she can get like that. She's the only person that's ever been able to control Jake, and scaring the perfect assassin/ protector into obedience is not the easiest thing in the world to do. She's nice most of the time though, and a lot of fun in bed.'*

*'Yeah, I guess being in charge is like that. Even Nathan gets that way once in a while, and he's really laid back normally.'*

*'It sure did to Jake, and a few others.'* Patrik nodded. *'Kind of makes me glad that that kind of command's not in my future.'*

*'Yeah, it doesn't seem like much fun. Fortunately, it's not something I'm likely to end up with either.'*

*'Probably another reason I like you.'* Patrik nuzzled his gunner. *'It's seriously stressful being the partner of a leader. I never liked that aspect of it ... but then, you didn't hit me when we first met either.'*

*'Your gunner hit you when you first met?'* Tim asked surprised. *'Why? You're so likeable.'* He thought sincerely.

*'I was forced on him.'* Patrik shrugged acceptably. *'Pakitra had me created for him, but he already had a pilot, just not one that could deal with the squad. He was a genetic creation too, one that rebelled against his master, and he hated being manipulated.

*'And I was a major manipulation. I really was perfect for him. Not only did he hate that, but I looked about fourteen when we were introduced, and I kissed him. It was what he wanted, but legal age there is eighteen, and it made him feel like a monster, the kind of person he hunted and killed, that he could respond to someone that young.

*'It took more than six months for him to get over my age enough to be with me, and he never quite got over it. Especially after I still looked like a kit after years. I still look about sixteen, and I'm starting to seriously doubt I'll ever really 'age'.'*

*'Whoa, yeah I guess that was a rocky start. I know about the age thing; that was the objection my mom started to raise. Legal limit on her homeworld is sixteen, so I'm still two years shy. But this isn't there, but I think the real thing changed her mind was that Dad had his first kills before he was my age, and Nathan was a full combat pilot and commando by nine. As for your aging, I like the way you look. Besides, my family ages really slow, so we don't put much stock on apparent age. You'd probably never guess my big bro's age.'* The kit smirked, 'cause nobody ever got it right, since Nathan still looked in his late twenties.

Patrik did some math in his head, then hazarded a very uncertain guess. *'Hundred forty?'*

Timothy looked surprised. *'Closer than anybody usually gets, actually he's one hundred sixty five, or one hundred five depending on whether you count years lived, or date born to present.'* He paused. *'I'm curious though, how'dya come up with hundred forty?'*

*'Well, I know Ebon's close to two hundred, Nathan wasn't born until he'd 'retired', has five younger siblings probably spaced almost a full childhood apart, so I guessed given that he couldn't be much younger than Ebon to have that work.'*

Timothy chuckled. *'Good call on the spacing of the sibs. Yeah, the parents like to raise one of us at a time. Probably be a new sib in the next year some time. Be nice for mom if she got a daughter this time.'*

*'Why not just tweak the odds?'* Patrik asked curiously.

*'Mom doesn't like tweaking anymore than is absolutely necessary. Which is to say the tweaking necessary to make it possible for both Ebon and Cazi to be our biological fathers at the same time. Other than that, she doesn't do anything that isn't medically necessary. She figures she'll get a girl eventually.'*

*'Not necessarily, particularly given Ebon's heritage.'* He considered, then shrugged. *'It'll be cool to have a kit around though.'*

*'Yeah, little kits can be cool. Uncle Mason has a three year old and a four year old that I've looked after on occasion. They're a lot of fun.'*

*'Have you ever thought about kits?'*

*'Seriously? Not really, but most don't at my age. But I figured I would eventually, once I had a LifeMate. Never thought it'd happen so soon.'* He thought quietly, clearly still happy but a little uncertain about something.

*'What's got you uneasy?'*

*'Well, I guess I'm feeling like I've been acting like we're LifeMates, but we've never actually discussed that, and I know I shouldn't assume that. Pilot and gunner, that I'm sure of, and I like the whole sharing an apartment and all the rest. Guess I'm afraid to ask about the LifeMate part, 'cause I'm afraid you wouldn't want a LifeMate commitment.'* He blurted, clearly stumbling mentally over a lot of ideas.

*'How's LifeMate any different that what we are?'* Patrik asked carefully.

*'Formality mostly, though the mind-bond is stronger, it's a LifeBond formed during a special ceremony. It's just that not all pilot/ gunner pairings are permanent, but I've been assuming ours would be, same as if we were LifeMates. I shouldn't assume a LifeMates commitment without asking, though maybe where you're from the pilot/ gunner pairing is permanent.'*

*'Till death.'* Patrik nodded uncertainty. *'If you want the extra ceremony, I'm fine with it.'*

Timothy relaxed completely. *'No rush, knowing you want it permanent, same as me is enough. Probably should give my TechnoMage abilities some time to settle first anyway.'* He thought warmly.

*'Do you know how long you'll live?'*

*'Hard to say really. No one's sure exactly what the combination of genetically engineered heritage and Dracon heritage does to lifespan. Felsin lifespan is around one hundred seventy five, on average. But my folks are all beyond that, with no signs of slowing down. Then again the Dracon can live for thousands of years. Do you have idea how long you'll live?'*

*'Not really. Kats can expect to live about a hundred and twenty if old age gets them, warriors don't usually make it past thirty, but Pat had me designed to survive several gunners and given how slowly I'm aging, it'll be a long time. I'd guess four hundred or more if the last seven years hold true.'*

*'Guess we'll just have to see, but sounds like we'll be together a long time. I like that.'* He thought happily.

*'So do I.'* He smiled softly. *'The longer you live, the fewer times I'll have to go through this.'*

*'I'll keep that in mind, ideally I'd like to keep you from having to go through it again, ever.'* He thought in a combination of warm affection, and protectiveness.

Patrik's reply was cut off by an insistent nudging from under them. He instantly focused his full attention and energy on the jet, and coaxing her a litter further towards awareness.

Timothy quickly dropped into the mental space with the jet's awareness. He carefully prepared a sphere of energy with the very basics of communication, and gently tossed it to where the 'jet' could get it easily, only having to move toward him a little more than the last time.

This time she bolted forward to grab the energy, and retreated into Patrik's embrace before settling down to absorb it slowly as he stroked her affectionately.

Eventually she nudged the Kat's hand and he smiled at his gunner. *'Toss me another ball, but just a little bit of info.'*

Timothy nodded, formed another ball, and included the simple concepts 'yes', and 'no' in it. He figured that counted as a little bit. He tossed it to Patrik, as requested, and watched as he carefully feed it to the spark as it began to form a visible sense of self and form.

*'More? Or enough for now?'* Timothy asked quietly.

*'Yes.'* She demanded.

*'No, sweetie,'* Patrik ruffled her affectionately. *'You'll give yourself a migraine going too fast.'*

*'More!'* She growled with a partial whine. *'Yes.'*

The petite Kat regarded the forming personality in his mental arms and lowered his head to touch her partially formed one for a brief moment before they parted, and she settled into his embrace with something akin to a mental burp.

*'Sounds like she needs some time to digest what she's got. At least that's what that last reaction would mean in any other infant.'* Timothy smiled affectionately.

*'Yes, she does.'* Patrik smiled affectionately and diverted enough of his attention to keep tabs on his body, still lying on the fuselage. *'Come here, as long as she doesn't react, and snuggle with us.'*

Timothy walked slowly over to them, so as to not startle Agreth, and sat down in such a way as to be able to snuggle both his mate and his jet.

*'Fly?'* Agreth nudged the snuggling pair.

Timothy looked at Rik, with a raised eyebrow. *'Learns quick. Think it's safe to?'*

*'They do.'* Patrik smiled. *'And the jet's safe to fly, so it is.'* He nuzzled the still-not-quite-embodied mind. *'But I'm doing most of the flying this time. You're along for the ride till you get a feel for it.'*

She grumbled a little but eventually nuzzled him back. *'Okay. _This_ time.'*

Timothy slid his body back around, so he was facing the right way in the gunner's station as Patrik launched over his head to somersault into the pilot's position. He checked the jet's position for launch, and noticed that they weren't on the lift properly. He turned to Agreth. *'Would you move so your wheels are all inside the blue circle on the floor?'* He asked gently, visualizing where the jet needed to be.

*'Yes.'* She concentrated for several moments, with a couple false starts before finding the correct part to move, and how.

"BlackFire to Control." Patrik called in.

"This is Control." A pleasant female voice replied. "What can we do for you, BlackFire?"

"Agreth, our jet, wants to take a flight." He explained. "I'll be doing all the control work, but she and Timothy will be along for a very easy tour of the area."

"Acknowledged, BlackFire. You are clear for launch, raise platform to launch position two." She said crisply.

"Understood." Patrik nodded and prepped for launch, not bothering to change as he had no intention of taking more than a couple G's. "Ready back there?"

"Ready." Timothy responded excitedly, as he went through the gunner's portion of launch prep.

Patrik chuckled softly as he powered the engines up while they rose into position and put just enough power behind them to get airborne. He plotted a lazy spiral around the valley, keeping well above the ground and slowly increasing the speed. *'How's everybody doing?'*

*'Great.'* Timothy thought happily as he looked around.

*'Faster!'* Agreth squealed in delight.

*'First _you_ turn us ten degrees starboard.'* Patrik chuckled. *'The sooner you can control this body, the sooner you can go as fast as you want.'*

Timothy chuckled. *'Careful near the northeast edge of the valley, there are some tricky crosscurrents near SplitRock Peak.'*

*'Uh-hu.'* Agreth humphed and made the ten degree shift required.

*'Ag, we want to go starboard, not port.'* Patrik chuckled slightly. *'That means turn right. You want to tweak the left wing.'*

Timothy watched as the jet made the correct adjustment. *'Good job, Agreth.'* He thought warmly supportive.

*'Yes ...'* Patrik paused as a thought cross his mind. *'Hay, Tim, where's that spot you were telling me about?'*

*'Western side of the valley, about three quarters of the way back, there's a stream that comes down from it.'* Tim explained. *'Wha'cha got in mind?'* He asked curiously as they veered that direction.

*'A little fun in the sun, and relaxing away from curious eyes, and a VTOL landing practice.'* Patrik smirked.

Timothy purred a little. *'I like the sound of that.'*

The jet passed over a sizeable wide-open plain, with what appeared to be a large obstacle course/ training area, before crossing over a large coniferous forest. Agreth turned to follow a stream that Timothy pointed out which lead up into the jagged mountains. The stream valley was too narrow for the jet to follow easily, so Agreth flew above it.

The stream valley suddenly widened out into a valley about two hundred meters across, split down the middle by the stream. A sizable stand of evergreens dominated one side of the bank, while the other was an open field of grass, with the occasional tree.

*'So any spot in particular?'* Patrik asked as he took in the scenery, helping Agreth with the controls only as he had to. *'You're getting better, Ag.'* He smiled warmly.

*'It's getting easier.'* She grinned back. *'Land soon?'*

*'My favorite is there where the stream hooks around, there's a 'beach' of sorts, and the water is deep enough to play around in, with being fast flowing.'* Timothy suggested. *'The open field just up from the beach probably would make a good landing spot.'* He suggested to Agreth.

*'Got it.'* She replied and altered course slightly. *'You better land.'*

*'All right.'* Patrik smiled softly as he took full control and set them down gently. "Very nice looking." He grinned at Timothy as the canopy slid back.

"I've always loved coming here, it's so peaceful." He said, climbing down. "Nobody really comes up here."

"Except you ... us." He hugged the Tiger around the ribs with one arm. "Swim, play, sunbathe ...?

"All of the above?" He grinned kissing the petite tom on the cheek.

"Which _first_?" He chuckled as he began to strip. "They're all done naked, after all."

Timothy grinned, as he stripped. "Play? We can swim to cool off afterward." He suggested winking.

"Mmm, I like how your mind works." Patrik purred before he bolted. *'Catch me!'*

Timothy chuckled, and ran after his pilot determined to catch him without shifting to tiger mode.

*'Are you three going to come back tonight?'* Nathan's amused voice prodded Timothy as the pair lay sunbathing in the sand, Agreth content to watch the world nearby.

Timothy nuzzled Rik. "Big bro wants to know if we're coming back tonight." He whispered with a satisfied, amused tone to his voice.

"I don't care. It's as comfortable out here as in the hanger."

"Okay, I like camping during the summer anyway." He said, as he kissed the pilot lightly. *'Bro, I think we're gonna stay here for the night. Shoot the some of the camping gear up would you? You know where I am.'* He grinned, since he was fairly sure Nathan had followed him once, out of curiosity.

*'Imp.'* Nathan mentally ruffled his brother's hair as a pile of camping gear appeared nearby. *'Have fun, you two.'*

He leaned on one elbow to look at Rik. "Nate said to have fun, and sent up the camping gear." He chuckled.

"Ooo, I don't think we'll he headed back for a while." Patrik's blue eyes glittered in the fading light.

Patrik woke in the middle of the night to the resting presence of Agreth and Timothy in his mind and the Felsin's physical embrace against his back and around his chest.

With a soft sigh he closed his eyes again, and wondered just how life could be so different with a new gunner. That Timothy could feel desire and love for him without the guilt and resentment. That a gunner would want to play and just lounge around in the sun and snuggle. That a group the size and as tight-nit as the squad could all be related, and still welcome him and trust him with their newest member.

That he was first in his gunner's heart.

With a soft sigh of too many things in one thought he closed his eyes and drifted back off, accepting the pit of loss and grief as the price of sleep.

Timothy woke in the cold hour before dawn, feeling the quiet presence of Rik in his mind, and the pilot snuggled in his arms. He thought he could feel Agreth's mental presence too, but he wasn't as sure yet.

It was still too early to get up, so he closed his eyes, and thought about how amazing the last two days had been. Three days ago, he'd been adrift, not sure what he wanted to do at all. Now he was a gunner, with a DS jet and an incredible pilot. The thought of the long-furred black and white brought a smile to Tim's face, as he thought how remarkable it was that he had such a devoted LifeMate. A few days ago, he hadn't been doing anything more than the occasional fooling around with some of his friends, now he had Rik.

Quietly holding the fond image, as he held the real Kat, the Tiger kit drifted back to sleep.

Patrik woke gently; a slow, pleasant return to consciousness he wasn't used to in the arms of his mate and gunner. For the first time in his life, he felt no need to rush back to the outside, and no guilt for the pleasantly lazy desire to just lie in the Felsin's arms.

Timothy woke a while later, at first not remembering where he was until his nose caught Rik's scent and he felt the soft fur under his hands. He gently nuzzled his mate. "Morning, Rik." He said softly.

"Morning," he purred softly. "Life is good."

"That it is." He agreed snuggling, and making a happy rumble in his chest. "I'd been waiting for the right person, to bring someone here. Finally found him." He nuzzled happily.

"Them." Patrik rolled his head over his shoulder to nuzzle back. "Agreth too."

Timothy smiled. "Agreth too. Guess I'm just not as sure there, she adores you ... I think she just kind of accepts that I'm here." He said quietly.

"And she tolerates no one else." He nuzzled his mate. "Amerith was the same with Jake and me. He woke her up, and she always favored him. She likes you, trust me."

"Always." He said quietly with a gentle kiss that quickly turned invitingly passionate. Timothy eagerly accepted the passionate kiss, while caressing the Kat's back through long silky fur, then froze at an uncertain nuzzle at his neck and slender hands on his back that did not belong to his mate.

He suppressed a sudden reaction, and turned to look over his shoulder at a black shekat in her early teens with wavy brunet hair spilling over her shoulders. His first breath facing her brought no personal scent.

*'You figured that out _fast_.'* A mixture of warm approval and shock flowed from Patrik as he looked up over the Black Tiger's shoulder.

*'Agreth?'* Timothy thought with surprised approval. *'I think I see a color theme here.'* He chuckled warmly looking across the three of them.

*'This is part of being a team too?'* She asked uncertainly.

*'It usually is, but it doesn't have to be.'* Patrik answered quietly, looked between the two of them.

*'Yeah, if everybody wants it.'* Timothy agreed, as he looked at Agreth. *'You're pretty, Agreth.'* He said quietly, a little uncertain.

*'Thanks.'* She grinned brightly and ran her hands along Timothy's sides, mimicking the motions Patrik used before she leaned forward to kiss him awkwardly.

Timothy turned to guide the kiss gently, having picked up a lot being with Rik already. He somewhat awkwardly ran his hands along her sides, not really sure how to proceed.

*'Never been with a fem?'* Patrik asked quietly on a private line.

Timothy responded sheepishly on the same line. *'I told you I was more interested in toms, I was still figuring out things on that side. Only sort of managed a boyfriend, before you came into my life.'* He said, with warm affection in the last part.

The petite Kat smiled and rolled out from under his gunner and reached to trace the back of his hand along Agreth's side, and smiled a little more when she shivered. *'Keep kissing her, slow and relaxed.'* He instructed warmly as he slid behind the DS and rubbed his full chest along her back, nipping her neck and shoulder experimentally to find her hot spot.

With sure, gentle fingers he slid a hand between her spread legs, seeking to feel if she was ready, and smiled to find her swollen and slick. With soft pressure against her ass as he teased her, she was eased forward. With the same care Patrik slid his other hand along Timothy's hard cock, brushing the barb hairs up before easing it into position to slid between his fingers and into her welcoming body.

Once in place, Timothy got the idea, and began to thrust slowly, getting the feel for the difference between fucking a tom and a fem. He was tentative at first, but slowly gained confidence as Agreth began to move counter to him under Patrik's subtle guidance. As the petite Kat's breathing quickened his reached both hands around, one fondling her breasts, the other massaging and pressing her erect clit against Timothy's cock and fur as they moved against each other.

Slowly her body began to shiver, then tremble as her muscles contracted out of her control. With a high whine of pure desperation and fear she curled fully against herself, pressing her pelvis against Timothy's. As she lost the last shred of control she howled in terror even as Patrik whispered assurances.

Timothy's eyes widened at the howl of terror. He gently smoothed her hair back, and kissed her gently, trying to reassure. *'What's wrong?'* He asked Rik on a slightly panicked private channel.

*'First orgasm. Pain and pleasure as so close together ... she doesn't know this, and she can't control her body. Just hold still, she'll calm down.'*

Timothy nodded, forced himself to calm down and tried to keep warm, comforting thoughts going to Agreth. He held still, though that wasn't easy with her body contracting around him as tightly as anything he could remember. Slowly her howl turned to deep sobbing breaths as she forced her body to uncurl, shuddering with another hiccupping sob every time over sensitized skin touched anything, though she didn't try to pull away.

Eventually she stated breathing a little more normally and sank down to Timothy's chest as Patrik stroked her back.

*'Intense,'* was the only thing she could come up with, not too sure she like it.

*'Good way to describe it.'* Timothy agreed easily as she continued to twitch lightly.

*'It won't be like that all the time.'* Patrik nuzzled her gently as her breathing began to settle.

*'Good.'* She shuddered as she pulled away from them and then rolled to one side, watching the toms as Patrik winked at her and went down on his mate without warning.

Timothy moaned in surprised pleasure, and then deftly twisted to turn it into a 69, which he thought really fun the last time. He gently teased the Kat's barb hairs with his tongue as he moaned quietly in pleasure from his mate's attentions.

With a playful tongue and purr from throat to chest as he suckled, Patrik pushed his gunner to the very edge only to back off, time and time again, teasing the Black Tiger mercilessly.

Timothy did his best to imitate the technique, and then he'd switch from sucking to playing with Rik's balls, and then he'd go back to sucking. But he didn't have his mate's experience and he missed the sign and he pushed him over the edge. As the Kat came, the Tiger swallowed the sticky slightly sweet fluid happily as the moaning shudder briefly disrupted Patrik's concentration, turning an attempt to back off into a hard suck, quickly bringing Timothy to orgasm.

"Pretty boys." Agreth purred as the toms panted where they lay.

Timothy lay and smiled. "Definitely better than hanging out in the hanger." He said blissfully.

"Yes." She smiled and crawled over Patrik to snuggle between the toms, nuzzling them both. "Much better."

Timothy gently nuzzled Agreth back, before just lying back and enjoying the warm morning sun.

Patrik soothed his teammates back to sleep as he slipped away and dressed before climbing into the jet.

"BlackFire to Control." He kept his voice low, and fairly steady.

"Control here. What can we do for you, BlackFire?" A friendly, female voice answered.

"I ... who's your ... grief councilor?" He asked, uncertain of just what they were called here. "Who helps deal with loosing partners."

"We have several, but I'd say Nareena's the best. Would you like me to patch you through to her?" She said quietly.

"Urr ... yes." He answered quietly.

A few moments later, Nareena's calm voice came over the radio. "Hello, Patrik. Control told me you needed someone to talk to." She said quietly.

"Yes ... I ... I guess I'm starting to feel Jake's ... death." He started uncertainly. "I'm used to face to face ... I ... I just don't want to take this out on Tim or Agreth." He curled into a ball with his back on the seat and his tail wrapped around him tightly. "I'm ... I'm really starting to ... I'm not sure how to deal with this anymore."

"Hold on, Rik." She said quietly, as she requested an emergency teleport from Morin.

Moments later there was a momentary displacement and Patrik was lying on a single bed, with Nareena gently brushing back his hair as his startled combat tension relaxed. "Okay, Rik. I thought this was overdue." She gently checked the Bond healing that the Dracons had done, and found it to be holding and healing naturally.

"You said you were starting to something, what was that?" She asked in soothing voice, letting soothing mental emanations play across him as she took a quick moment to contact Timothy, and brief him.

"Overloaded," he shifted so he was as close to her as he could be. "Kind of like when I woke up the first time, but then ... everybody was explaining things and I knew how everything worked and who I was supposed to be. Even before I met Jake, I knew what I was."

He looked up at her with a touch of desperation in his blue eyes. "Now I'm watching myself reconfigure for Timothy, and Agreth, and a world that keeps changing on me."

He paused and shivered. "I know it's what's supposed to happen, but it's so much at once ...."

Nareena sat down on the bed, so Patrik could lean against her if he wanted physical contact and the Kat almost immediately curled against her. She gently stroked his long hair, and tried to soothe some of the disquiet. "Change is always frightening until you get used to it. Agreth was certainly unexpected, but as far as the world that keeps changing ... maybe camping is the right idea. Things are quiet up in the mountains, and you can focus on adjusting to two new things. How does the world seem to keep changing, Patrik?" She asked softly, with an encouraging tone.

He easy sank into the familiar, calming pleasure of her touch and presence. "Maybe not changing, but it's like I can't keep up anymore. Every time I turn around it seems like something major's happening. I'd bonded to my new gunner before I really understood Jake was gone. I'm glad I got to her, but Agreth's so young ... I've never brought up a DS by myself. I only barely know what I'm doing, and she's already way ahead of me. She figured out how to do solid forms this morning. I didn't realize she knew it was an option yet. I just ... I don't have time to breathe. I don't want to leave them, but sometimes I just want to curl up alone and cry for what's gone. But it upsets Tim. I don't want to upset him." He finally stopped to take a breath as tears formed.

Nareena gently brushed the Kat's hair back. "Patrik, maybe the first step is to realize that Tim wants to be there for you. My son is very sensitive and he knows you've lost someone very important to you. Crying would probably be healthy, but there really is no reason to be alone. Have you considered letting Tim hold you when you need to cry? It might help."

The petite tom stopped moving, trying to work that concept through his head. "But it disturbs him."

Nareena nodded. "Yes, but it disturbs him more that you won't let him help you. Part of relationships, is helping each other through painful times, often one partner is strong when the other needs to be weak. Especially through loss and grief." She said quietly. "There are some traits that run true in the SwiftClaw line, one of them is that they are always there for their mates. He can be a great strength for you, but you have to let him."

He looked at her for a very long time, searching her face for something before he nodded.

"As far as Agreth goes, maybe you should introduce her to SilverStar and DarkStar? They've been where she's going, and can probably help a lot. Raising a child is not something that has to be done only by parents, sometimes it takes 'aunts', 'uncles', and 'grandparents'."

He nodded. "As soon as she's willing to trust someone outside the teambond. Until then, she needs me."

Nareena nodded, since that was a very true statement. Young DSs tended to have trust issues with any but a few select people. "Hopefully, she'll learn trust soon so that you don't have to carry the entire responsibility yourself."

"Timothy already shares it." He smiled weakly. "She likes him."

"I'm glad to hear that. It would be a serious problem if she didn't. I know he was worried that she didn't much care for him at first. I expect it's just a matter of her being closer to the one who woke her."

"Like Amee and most of the others always liked Jake a little more than anyone else." He nodded easily.

"I think one thing you should let yourself do is talk about Jake when you feel the need to, if you don't feel you can talk to Tim about him, then come talk to me. Acknowledging the loss and pain is an important step in healing the pain."

"He ... he's very different from Timothy." Patrik started slowly. "As different as any two I think I know. It's still pretty weird to realize there's nothing ... negative ... for him in being with me."

"Indeed, what he has with you seems to be entirely positive for him. He actually isn't sure what he's done to deserve you. I take it, that it wasn't like that with Jake?" She asked, gently encouraging the small tom to talk.

"No," he shook his head slightly, still snuggled tightly against her. "I was designed for him, but by his commander, and without his knowledge. I was less than a day old when we were introduced, and he hit me for kissing him ... or more really, for the desire my kiss brought.

"I looked a couple years younger than I do now, and he couldn't stand that a kitten could turn him on. I figured out later that for a thirty year old to desire a fourteen year old is a massive cultural taboo. He hated himself for the reaction ... it ... it took six months to get over it enough to touch me, and he never did completely relax about what I looked like.

"I think he resented that I was a gift too. He'd been created like me, but he started life as a pet. At some point he got control of most of his life, but he was never really free, and every once and a while he'd forget I was in the room and rant against his fate. Those were the only times I was ever really afraid of him. He'd get consumed by his rage and all the stuff he buried to do his job and protect the city and lash out and whatever presented itself. I know one time Pat took advantage of his rage and 'arranged' for an enemy to be in the area when he lost his temper.

"I didn't see it, but they never actually got the blood, scorch marks and claw gashes out of that room. Jake never forgave her either. He was broody and temperamental for months." Patrik suddenly stopped and looked up at the Tigress. "He's not all bad ... I guess that's just what I remember right now. How different he was."

"I'm sure there must be quite a bit good, since you still have good feelings toward him. But beginnings are important, and things began well for you and Tim partially because it was by choice, and partially because you are close in age. But right now the difference is new and novel so it's easiest to see. In time you'll remember the good as well." She said gently.

Patrik nodded and let his mind drift over his old gunner. "He always made sure I enjoyed our time together. He's a brilliant TechnoMage, and excellent gunner." Patrik's voice quieted, but took on a bitter edge. "He spent most of his time with his other pilot, T-Bone. Jake had a massive crush on him, and Chance never noticed. I'm still not sure what I feel about that mess, other than it made life more difficult for me. It hurt Jake so much, but he just wouldn't let go. I never understood what Chance gave him I couldn't."

"From what it sounds like, it wasn't what Chance gave him, it's what Chance didn't give him. Some people are attracted to what they can't have, the more unobtainable the more they want it. And crushes are hard too, it sounds like Jake was truly in love with Chance, and couldn't accept that Chance wasn't returning his love." She said quietly. "Of course, the other thing is that Jake may have been the sort to enjoy a challenge, which Chance was. You loved Jake without hesitation; he didn't have work to earn your love. It may have been too easy for him, I can't be sure."

Patrik considered that. "Maybe all of it." He said softly. "He did truly love Chance, but he truly loved Pat too, for all he hated her sometimes, and he never quiet forgot she owned him." He sighed. "Timothy's so simple to understand, I guess I wonder what I'm missing. No one around Cathedral is that simple."

"Timothy's only fourteen, SwiftClaws don't get complicated till they get older." She smiled gently. "Most people wouldn't consider a shapeshifting, telepathic, TechnoMage simple. Though if you really want complicated there's always his older brother, Nathan. Sometimes I'm not sure I entirely understand my oldest."

"Not complicated that way." Patrik chuckled. "He motivations, what he does and what he wants ... it's so very easy to follow. I'm used to having to outthink everybody on that level to stay alive. Predicting and anticipating moods and desires ... he's very easy to please, to keep happy." He sighed sadly and nuzzled against her. "In a way I'm glad I'll never see Jake again. I'm not sure ... after how Tim treats me ... I don't know how I'd react to him anymore. I thought what I had was love ... I thought he was nice to me ... now I'm not so sure."

Nareena gently stroked Rik's hair. "It probably was love, as he understood it. Sounds like he simply may have had a very different understanding. Tim treats you the way he's seen the rest of his family treat their LifeMates. It really doesn't occur to him to treat you any other way."

"I like Tim's way better." He closed his eyes, more than a little ashamed. "It doesn't feel right to say that, but I like the way he treats me better."

"There's nothing wrong with saying that you prefer to be treated a particular way. It's perfectly normal." She said gently.

He thought about that for a very long time. "It just seems ... well, like I'm saying bad about Jake ... that I like someone else more."

"That's because you're very loyal, Patrik. But it really isn't that at all. It's possible for you to like someone else more, without liking Jake any less." Nareena explained gently.

He mulled that over as he leaned against her warmth. "I guess I can see that." He looked down at his hands. "It's going to hurt for a while, isn't is?"

"I wish I could say it wasn't, but it is. The death of someone you love is never gotten over quickly. But the pain will dull with time." She said quietly.

He nodded, the acceptance of one who always accepted what the world threw at him. "Do you ... is bonding stronger than the teambond we have now something you do?"

She nodded. "Did Timothy mention something called Joining to you?" She asked quietly.

"No ... though he's mentioned being LifeMates."

"Okay, Joining is the ceremony that formalizes being LifeMates. LifeMates is a stronger, deeper bond than the teambond you share now." She explained.

"Good." He smiled and relaxed a little. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I take it that's what you want as well." The Tigress asked gently.

"Yes." He smiled softly. "I should be getting back to my team soon too." He nuzzled her. "I meant thank you for being you too. For being ... you're like someone at Cathedral ... this is the first familiar thing I've run into. It's comforting past what you've done, that _something_ is like it was ... and a nice part too."

Nareena smiled. "I'm glad I could help. I'll have Morin 'port you back when you're ready. It's always good to find something familiar, when you're building a new life."

"I think I should get back to them." He said quietly. "I'll try to let Tim be strong for me."

"Okay, and remember you can talk to me any time you need to." She kissed him on the forehead gently.

There was a brief darkness, and when it cleared he was lying next to Timothy on the sand.

"How you feeling, Rik?" Timothy asked concerned, as he took the Kat in his arms while Agreth snuggled against Patrik's other side.

He took a deep breath and took the plunge. "Scared, hurting, mostly."

Timothy nodded and pulled the Kat close. "Dealing with the loss of your other gunner?" He kissed the Kat gently as he nodded. "I'm here for you, Rik. Talk if you need to, or just cuddle. Whatever helps you." He said supportively.

He nodded again, hesitating as experience warred with 'how things are here' before reaching out to touch minds. *'I ... I'd like you to ... I want to show you my past.'*

Timothy accepted and supported the contact. *'Share whatever you need to, Rik.'* He thought quietly, carefully shielding nerves about what it might be. *'I'd like to know more about you.'* He thought sincerely.

Patrik nodded slightly and let his memories drift as he created a stable place in his mind to share the more coherent things that came to mind.

The first to drift to the surface started with the feeling of something 'click' very strongly inside Patrik's heart and mind, something he'd never felt before. Then Timothy's grinning face came into focus as Nathan introduced them.

The image faded to one of an incredulous cinnamon brown tomkat that looked much like Ebon's ancestor form. "_You're_ a fighter pilot? You're what, thirteen, fourteen?"

All three felt the stinging pain of those first words, and the confusion just behind the hurt. "If you want to get technical about it, I'm about 26 _hours_." He cocked his head at the one he'd been created for. "Age is irrelevant with a genetic creation, you know that."

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

"So?" Patrik spoke softly as he stepped into Jake's personal space and looked up. "I'm a fine pilot, and everything you've been searching for." He purred wantonly and rose to his toes to claim a hungry kiss and slid his arms around the older toms neck, desiring this Kat with everything he was, even after the sharp blow across his face sent him to the floor and his gunner stormed out.

Timothy licked his pilot's forehead gently. *'That was a rough way to start. Especially considering how much you wanted him. Did he ever apologize for hitting you?'* He asked quietly, not seeing that Patrik had done anything to deserve being hit.

*'No ... it was six months of flying and working together before he overcame his guilt over what I looked like.'* He went quiet for a moment. *'I looked your age ... he was thirty ... it's something he believed was very wrong to find me attractive, much less anything more.'* He tried to explain. *'He never was comfortable with how young I look.'*

*'Some adults do, it's too bad he never accepted that it was okay because you wanted to be with him.'* He said as he hugged the smaller tom. *'I wonder why whoever made you for him didn't see that age would be a problem. Might have made things better for you, if you'd looked maybe eighteen.'* He wondered aloud. *'But I like you just the way you are.'* He said with warm affection.

*'I never understood that either.'* Patrik nuzzled them both as a few tears started for form with a new memory.

Everything was physically dark, but all around there were voices, mostly female. Many 'smiled' at him, crooned to him, even talked to him in words he didn't understand between their business chatter.

Underlining it all was a sense of warmth and wonder at the thought-universe he could 'see' all around him. Dozens of people, thousands of voices, all friendly as he watched them go about their routines.

*'Even then, I wanted to join them.'* Patrik thought very softly. *'It's such a beautiful world in the net. But Cathedral, the oldest of them, urged me to stay where I was and not to wonder off. Eventually I opened my physical eyes and saw the lab as they drained the tank.'*

Timothy was amazed. *'Wow. You can actually remember being born. Well, I'm glad you didn't join them. I know what you mean about the net, Cazi's taken me net-surfing with him a couple of times it's a totally intense experience.'* He thought quietly.

*'I hear it calling to me every time I fly ... it's why I get so wound up.'* He thought quietly. *'Sex is an intense physical experience ... it sort of balances out ... makes sticking around worth it. Reminds me why I haven't taken off yet. It's so beautiful out there, but there's a lot to be said for being physically real.'*

*'Yes, there is. There's a lot neither of us has experienced yet.'* He said encouragingly. *'Psi-pilots aren't the only ones who get tempted to leave the physical behind. Morin says TechnoMages feel it to, especially when they get into more powerful magics.'*

*'Tassy was like that, though she liked having a body enough to put hers in stasis when she went wondering.'* He half chuckled. *'Drove Pat and Jake nuts when she'd disappear for months, or even years, at time, and come back like nothing had happened.'* He smiled softly. *'I think they were more irritated that she'd never tell them much about what she found out there. Said they both could go find out, if they really wanted to know.'*

*'That sounds kind of cool, once I got the hang of netsurfing that is. If we could make sure you were anchored properly we could go exploring together.'*

*'You know how to anchor yourself?'*

*'I've seen Cazi and Morin both do it, and I understand the principle. But I'd like to try it with them double-checking me at least the first couple times.'*

*'What's the principle?'* Patrik asked curiously. *'I never heard anyone talking about doing that before.'*

*'According to Morin, it was derived from the old magic/psi ability known as astral projection, or the ability to let the soul travel while the body stayed still. In that case there was a natural connection, the so-called 'silver cord' which connected the two, reminding the soul where it belonged.

*'The principle of the 'silver cord' was redeveloped for netsurfing. It serves as a reminder to the traveler of their physical body and how to get back to it. The trick is that it isn't natural to do it, when one merges into the net, so there has to be a conscious effort to create the cord. That's the technique I haven't really practiced.'*

Patrik regarded him in more than a little confusion. *'You mean you can get lost?'*

*'Well, it's supposed to prevent people from succumbing to the siren song. Supposedly, you can get lost or maybe just confused in the boundless reaches of cyberspace.'*

*'I guess.'* He snuggled in between his teammates, pulling Agreth into an open embrace and nuzzled the fur between her small breasts until she started to purr. *'Tim ... have you ever been ... wrong about someone?'*

*'Wrong in what way, Rik? I'm not sure what you're asking.'* He said, snuggling up against the Kat's back.

*'Well, like you thought you could trust them, but found out you couldn't?'*

Timothy shook his head. *'No. I take it you have?'* He asked gently.

*'I don't know.'* He replied quietly as he absently stroked both his mates. *'I'm still trying to figure that out. I ... I guess I'm still trying to understand how I can be so ... positive ... a thing to you.'*

*'Rik, you're the best thing to happen to me in a long time. You gave my life direction when I was drifting, you're so loyal I feel hard-pressed to deserve that loyalty, and you love me. You've been nothing but positive for me, I just hope I'm as good for you.'* He thought with a warmth of affection that almost glowed.

Patrik was quiet for a very long time. *'I ... Tim ... I've never known anything but resentment mixed with the desire and love. Before yesterday, I thought that was how it always was. That you don't feel that way ... it's a hard concept for me ... it doesn't ... it's not how things are. I'm trying to believe you. I want to believe you. I just ... I don't understand how it is possible yet.'*

*'Then I guess I'll have to keep showing you.'* He grinned affectionately, as he nuzzled his pilot.

*"I'll try.'* He pressed back against Timothy as a few small tears soaked into his fur. *'I'll try to be worthy of you ... both of you.'*

*'Rik, you are worthy. I have no doubt.'* He said utter certainty.

The petite tom had no answer to that, so he remained silent as his opinion warred with what his gunner said.

*'Timothy ... you said once you acted like we were LifeMates. Do you want to be with us like that?'*

*'Yes, I want to be your LifeMate, Rik.'* He said quietly.

*'What stops you?'* He has, half afraid of the answer.

Timothy nuzzled him gently. *'The only thing we have left to do, is the final Bonding. The Joining as its called, it makes sure the Bond forms correctly. I tried to ask once before, you didn't seem very interested in the stronger bond.'* He said quietly.

*'You did?'* He twisted to look at the Black Tiger in confusion. *'I guess I was more out of it than I thought. Or I just didn't understand what you meant. I do want it.'*

*'Maybe I wasn't that clear. It's not like I ever proposed to anybody before. Technically, I gotta get my folks permission since I'm underage but it's just a formality. My family adores you, especially Mom.'*

*'You're mother is a wonderful woman.'* He thought with the warm comfort he'd felt in her arms flowing with the thought. *'And Agreth?'*

*'What about me?'* She shifted to look over Patrik's shoulder at both of them.

Timothy blinked at Patrik. *'I was wondering the same thing, Agreth.'* He said in confusion.

*'In the LifeBond, as with our teambond.'* He tried to explain something he only knew on a very instinctive level.

*'In time I'm sure, but LifeBonds are fairly intense. I think Agreth needs to grow up and solidify her sense of self first.'* Timothy thought quietly.

*'What's a LifeBond?'* She asked curiously.

*'Do you understand what a teambond is?'* Timothy asked.

*'Ummm ... no.'* She eventually admitted.

*'She was born with a bond with me,'* Patrik supplied. *'And an instinctive reflex to bond with her teammates, same as I have.'*

*'Instinctive reflex to bond? That's different. I have to actually think about it.'* Timothy admitted.

*'I ... we probably ... don't.'* Patrik explained. *'It's part of what I am. I bond with my teammates. I think it was originally designed so I wouldn't be overwhelmed by the team, and to help Jake. He had real trouble completing bonds, so my reflex made it work pretty well.'*

*'That's neat. I guess it's part of what I am to have to think about it, though the TechnoMage abilities let me form the lighter bonds that a lot of Felsin have problems with.'* Timothy rambled. *'Okay, the teambond is how we're able to think-talk easily like this. It also gives us a little awareness of how the others are feeling, especially strong emotions. It's a light connection between our minds. Does that make any sense?*' Timothy asked.

*'Oh, you mean like why I always know where you two are, but not anybody else? And why I trust you?'* She prompted.

*'Yes. That's what a TeamBond does. A LifeBond is a much stronger, deeper bond. You begin getting strong insights to what the other person is feeling, as well as sometimes sharing dreams. Often in the formation of LifeBond you end up sharing memories, which can be a very intense experience.'*

*'So why should I wait for this?'* She looked at Timothy curiously.

Timothy thought about that one. *'I guess I'm not sure why. I guess it was more of an instinctive reaction, maybe because you haven't been awake very long. I know most people would think I'm rushing it, taking a LifeMate at my age. Not that I care.'*

*'Don't worry about it Ag.'* Patrik chuckled. *'It's not stuff that concerns us.'* He nuzzled the young shekat.

*'Yeah, I just tend to babble.'* The Black Tiger grinned as he leaned against Rik's back. *'Family trait. Team LifeBond's aren't exactly new, a fair number of three person commando teams of Bonded like that.'*

*'Yes.'* Patrik murred as he ran his fingers down Agreth's chest all the way to her crotch as he kissed her gently. *'Try loving again?'*

*'Sure,'* she shivered a little nervously.

Timothy settled in to take an observer role. He figured watching the male-female sex routine was a good follow-up to his first time doing it. Especially, given that Rik seem really experienced at it.

Patrik smiled and focused his full attention on his youngest teammate as he rolled her to her back and slid his body over her gently with a soft, teasing series of kisses as she squirmed.

*'Agreth?'* He suddenly stopped and looked her in the face. *'You can say no.'*

*'I ... rather not.'* She whispered uneasily.

*'It's okay, Ag.'* He shifted off and hugged her. *'Say what you want.'*

*'But you ... want ....'* She looked at him in confusion.

Patrik smiled. *'Ag, I have the sex drive of a teenager in heat. I'm almost always going to want to. That doesn't mean you have to if you don't feel like it.'* He nuzzled her affectionately. *'Just cause I didn't have a choice doesn't mean you don't.'*

Timothy leaned over. *'Don't worry Agreth; if you don't feel like it, I'm willing. He'll get to play one way or the other.'* He grinned at the other two. *'Family trait, it's rare that we're not in the mood.'*

Nathan and Morin walked into the dining room at the SwiftClaw residence where Cazi, Ebon and Nareena were waiting for them. The tiger nodded to Cazi.

"How's Storm doing with Liberator?" Ebon asked.

"Fairly good." Nathan smiled at his father. "Apparently Liberator was somewhat aware before, but had a communication block which Storm was able to remove with Rik's guidance. That new technique could lead to significant number of new DS over time, it's far more effective than our old technique."

"I'd hardly call what where were doing a 'technique'." Cazi chuckled softly behind his coffee. "I'd love to get ten minutes with his last gunner, though. If Patrik picked that much up just hanging around."

Nathan smiled. "It's as much a technique as what we were doing before. From what little I've heard, his last gunner sounds like a very interesting person. But I have this nagging feeling that his gunner isn't really dead." Nathan said staring at the steam rising off of his coffee.

"That could be decidedly unpleasant." Nareena commented. "Given he's already bonded with Timothy and Agreth. And I, for one, do not want to meet Jake. He has some very ... unpleasant ... traits."

"From what Tim tells me, Rik's very divided on the subject. But this is all hypothetical, assuming he is alive he's still somewhere in another galaxy. Now Tim mentioned that the relationship between Rik and Jake started bad, but were there other things ... just in case, someone should transport him to us as well." Nathan said, sincerely hoping that wasn't going to happen.

Nareena nodded more than a little stiffly. "There were. I do not want my new son-in-law anywhere near his former gunner, even if he does turn up live. The bonds are quite gone. There is no reason to put any of them through that."

"Mom, I agree that Rik doesn't need Jake in his life again. And I certainly don't want to put Tim through the stress and uncertainty that would cause. Unfortunately, Rik's an adult and if Jake turns up, it's his decision whether to see him or not." Nathan said quietly. "We've been treating Rik as an adult and an equal, I'm not going to go back on that just because he might do something I don't approve of."

"I know," she nodded. "But my reservations are as much medical as personal."

"The medical ones I should hear, since he is a NightBlade now. Besides, you know how close Tim and I are." He said quietly. "Son-in-law? Well, that's a nice change to hear considering you were opposed to his moving in with Rik originally." He smiled affectionately. "It honestly worked out a lot better than I expected when I agreed to introduce Rik to Tim."

"That was before I really saw them together." She smiled softly. "How could I object after watching them interact? Even if he is only fourteen."

Nathan smiled. "It is pretty remarkable. Rik said he was made for Jake, but looking at him and Tim together ... I'd think it was more like was made for Tim, but just ended up with Jake first."

Ebon nodded with a slight smile.

"Is it just my perception, or is Rik actually confused by Tim's complete acceptance of him?" Nathan asked his mother.

"Completely baffled and more than a little concerned by it." She shook her head. "Even beyond what I know, I doubt he's ever known acceptance, unless it was to get something from him. It may not fall under the traditional definitions, but he responds as an abused kitten to my eye."

"I suppose that does raise some concerns regarding Jake, then. Well, it's not like Rik has a shortage of people looking out for him now. I thought his eagerness to please was somewhat strange, but in the context of an abused kitten ... it makes sense. He's used to every request carrying an implicit penalty for noncompliance." Nathan shook his head. "It's a shame, he's such a nice kit, I can't imagine why anyone would treat him that way."

"Abusers rarely see that." Nareena sighed. "I doubt Jake truly saw the person his pilot is, not with what I know about it already. Gifts to control are rarely received well."

"True, though from what little I've heard about Jake it sounds as though he's probably an abused kit as well, under it all. I think the person I truly suspect of abuse is whoever created Rik for Jake. Creating one sentient being as a gift to control another, that's truly callous." He shook his head.

"True, though Rik's survived amazedly well for it all." Nareena smiled affectionately. "And he's not so badly hurt that time and love won't heal most of the mental scars. His connecting with Tim so quickly is probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Guiltless and unreserved love can do amazing things."

Nathan smiled. "And that was just a chance encounter. Tim just happened to be outside when I was passing by with Rik, and Rik decided he liked the look of him. I wasn't paying attention, but I'd suspect either Keltin or Caito of having a hand in it." He smiled.

"Or other forces." Nareena chuckled. "They aren't the only ones interested in this family."

"Maybe not, but those are the meddlers I'm familiar with." He chuckled. "At least the ones I care to think were involved."

"Ever heard of Phoenix?" She asked curiously.

"Xander's mentioned something he calls Phoenix energy on a number of occasions. Some sort of primal energy of creation, and apparently it sometimes develops sentient manifestations." Nathan said casually.

Morin nodded. "Phoenix, or The Phoenix is mentioned in numerous arcane texts, and Grandmother speaks of having met her. Though from what I understand there is more than one Phoenix."

"Well, one of them wants a child from this family." She said softly.

Ebon and Cazi both looked at Nareena somewhat astonished. Ebon recovered first. "You mean one of the Phoenix asked you to give birth to one of them?" He said simply.

"Yes," she nodded slightly. "It said it was time for a Felsin to raise on of them, and it wanted us to. It said that what a baby Phoenix needed was what we give our kits naturally, and it was been waiting some time for me to be ready for another kit.

Cazi smiled. "So, did it offer anything in exchange for this very significant favor?" The Lion asked curiously.

"A daughter, specifically," she chuckled. "And the standard pluses for having a greater power looking out for you."

Ebon stood up walked over and hugged Nareena. "The daughter alone is enough. I know how much you've wanted a daughter. One little phoenix can't be any more difficult than the six kits we've raised so far, or even the abused one we've adopted." He grinned.

Nathan turned to Morin. "You probably should brief StarFire, if another greater is going to be around, she should be told why."

Morin smiled. "I was just doing that. She had already spoken to Phoenix on the matter. Apparently, this was not a snap decision on its part."

"No, it wasn't." Nareena chuckled. "Though now I know what my next two kits will be, it kind of takes some of the excitement out of it."

"I don't know about that, dear." Cazi smirked. "Most of the excitement with our kits has come after birth. Usually as soon as paws hit floor." He chuckled.

Nareena rolled her eyes. "It's takes some of the anticipation out of it. I'm looking forward to both though. A Phoenix Kit should be interesting."

Ebon smiled. "A daughter will make for interesting change. I wonder how the old programming will handle that." He grinned.

"We'll find out as soon as you two do your part." She purred with a challenging twinkle in her green eyes.

Cazi chuckled. "Well, I guess we'll have to keep trying till we get it right. You'd think after all these years we'd know what we're doing." He grinned broadly.

Ebon smiled. "That would be true if it were a science, but I think it's more an art."

Nathan chuckled listening to his parents 'play.'

Timothy SwiftClaw woke with a start when his mind recognized something had changed. He looked around, his senses keyed, but couldn't find anything different about their small campsite, or his two companions. Patrik was still sleeping soundly with a light aura of contentment in his arms. Agreth's mind was drifting gently in the psudo-sleep that DS at rest did, a mixture of amazement and pleasure as Patrik held and snuggled close to her.

Timothy brought his telepathy up, and carefully swept out to the edge of the valley looking for something 'different'. Then he carefully checked his teambonds, family bonds, and his special bond with Nathan and finally placed it ... he wasn't in the physical world anymore.

He resisted an urge to panic, 'cause like Dad always said panic never helped. Easy for him to say, the tiger thought. If he wasn't in the physical world, he had to be _somewhere_. Given he was still with Rik and Agreth, the next logical thought was cyberspace, he knew what that felt like so he cautiously 'felt' around to see if that's where he was.

While it felt similar, it wasn't quiet right for that either. Then Patrik stirred in his arms, not quiet awake, but getting there in his own time.

Timothy frowned, then he realized he'd forgotten to check an important basic. He checked to see if he was actually in his body, or if he could feel a physical detachment from self that always occurred with any sort of out of body experience, and got to cross that one off the list as well. He decided to call for an expert opinion, and he reached along his shielded parental bond to Nareena. *'Mom?'* He said quietly, but there was no hiding the edge of worry in his voice.

*'Yes dear?'* Her reply was almost instant, and flowed with a comforting energy and calm.

*'Umm, I think something's wrong. Rik, Agreth and I aren't quite in the physical world, but we're not in cyberspace, and we're not out of body either. I'm not sure what's happening, do you have any idea?'* He said in a distinctly kitten looking for mother to solve the problem voice.

There was another wave of energy as she gently felt out their minds as Patrik blinked his eyes awake. A trickle of shocked disbelief came across before she controlled it.

*'Son ... I believe the three of you are in Joining Space.'*

*'Uh, mom ... I thought you couldn't do that without a facilitator?'* Timothy asked worried.

*'So did I.'* Her voice was soft in a mixture of concern and reassurance. *'What were you trying to do?'*

*'We weren't trying to do anything. We were just sleeping.'* He said quietly.

"Where's this?" Patrik blinked as he looked around the not quiet right campsite as Agreth opened her eyes to look at the males.

"It's Joining space." Timothy said quietly.

"Joining ... oh." He snuggled in and relaxed. "What are we supposed to do here?"

"I've kinda been getting pointers on that. I know a little, but it's not something I know much about. Usually you get instruction in it, before the facilitator takes you in. Somehow we got into Joining space without a Facilitator." He said confused.

Nareena gently projected herself into the unusual Joining space with the three Kits. "Joining space means you're half-way to forming LifeBonds. What happens next is a sharing of important memories between the three of you. The memories will generally 'pick' themselves so don't make any real effort to control things, just let what happens, happen." She said comfortingly. "Don't worry about how you got here, it's not important right now."

Almost immediately the world darkened and the sensations became completely alien in what was a comfortable data overload. Winding his presence around it all was Patrik's mind.

"You were awake when I linked up?" The startled Kat looked at Agreth.

"I guess." Agreth smiled warmly at the comforting sensations. "That felt good, so safe with you wound around me."

Patrik smiled softly and hugged her close. "I remember that time before my body. It was nice, just surrounded by the flow of data and friendly minds."

"Why'd you take a body?" She asked as he leaned into the embrace.

"I was needed." Patrik shrugged slightly.

"Why stay in one?"

"Because ... because ... umm...."

Timothy snuggled up to Rik on the other side from Agreth. "Because there are good things to being physical as well." He nuzzled the tom affectionately.

"Yeah," he grinned at the heavier tom and leaned into the contact, pulling Agreth with him. "There are good things."

Timothy rumbled happily in his chest, and put on arm as far over as he could trying to encompass Rik and Agreth at the same time. He didn't say anything, but the warm, emotional radiance was extremely clear, and in diametric opposition to the background confusion, loneliness and general feeling of being trapped as the only presence Agreth knew moved away, leaving her in a dark void.

She spent the time needed to link up with the sensors, only to find unknowns all around, _doing_ things to her.

"Sorry about that." Patrik nuzzled her. "I didn't realize ...."

"Neither did anyone." She shrugged. "Though it would have helped if I'd picked up enough during the flight to understand somebody."

Timothy moved around so he could nuzzle Agreth supportively. He was kind of out of the loop here, so he stuck to being silent emotional support.

The scene shifted to a younger Timothy, maybe seven or eight years old, lying on his stomach on the floor watching television in a large room, which Rik recognized from his visit to the SwiftClaw residence. Nathan walked in, sat down on one of the deep, plush couches and watched his little brother until the Black Tiger noticed him

"Hiya, bro." Timothy said over his shoulder, smiling at the sibling he saw the most of. "What's up?"

"We need to talk, Tim." Nathan said quietly.

The kit could hear the stressed tone of his brother's voice. He turned off the television, and bounded over to land on the couch next to Nathan. "This is about why they're so late getting back, isn't it?" He asked, referring to his parents' long delayed return from their honeymoon.

Nathan nodded. "Nothing new, except that there's been no sign of their ship yet. Tim, until they come back, I think it would be better if you came to stay with Morin and me. There's no need for you to stay alone."

"But they could be back tomorrow." The kit started to protest.

"I want to believe that too." He said looking very tired. "But we have to get on with our lives till they do. They'd expect that." He said pulling the kit into a hug.

Timothy started to sob quietly, as he leaned into the embrace. "They have to come back, they just have to."

"Until they do, Morin and I are here for you, no matter what." He said quietly. "I think you'll be more comfortable not being alone."

"I guess, thanks." He said as he went to pack. "How'd you draw kit sitting?"
"No draw about it, I chose to. I know what it's like, to lose them." He said very quietly. "I was alone, I won't let you be."

The kit turned and looked at the older tiger, and then ran back and wrapped his arms about him, while Nathan gently patted his back.

Before anyone could reply a not-quite-memory presented itself from Patrik's mind.

Jake sitting up from a huge, ornately carved golden sarcophagus as it's top opened mechanically.

A petite white shekat with short, strait hair walked up to him with a sad, apologetic look. "We couldn't revive him." She said quietly with a hand on his shoulder. "There wasn't enough left."

Jake nodded slightly before he stood and swung over the edge to stand in a small medical facility. "I know."

There was a flicker and the image reformed of Jake sleeping in the arms of a burly tabby, a smile on both their faces.

Tim looked at Patrik. "That wasn't a memory, Rik. What was it?" He asked a little worried, since only memories were supposed to be involved.

"An assumption that's almost a memory now." He explained quietly.

Tim gently nuzzled his mate. "Huh? I thought Jake was dead. He'd have to be for the LifeBond to break." He asked, very confused.

"He was, but he wouldn't be a couple hours later." The petite tom sighed. "Cathedral has the tech to resurrect and heal the body as long as most of it's still there. The bond breaks, the dead one gets healed, and we put it back together again."

"Ugh. That sounds miserable. Getting to go through bond breach over and over again." He shivered at the thought. "He'd still have suffered the breach as well, he'd hardly have much to smile about. And that images assumes the other pilot was even interested in other toms."

Patrik shuddered as a wave of shock and sickness slammed through him. He shook his head violently as he frantically tried to back out of Joining space, instinctively drawing on enough power to shatter it if he had to.

Tim tapped through his family heritage linkages to Dracon power to counter the foolish thing Rik was trying to do, holding Joining Space together by force of will and Dracon magic. *'Rik, stop it! Do you realize the kind of damage your going to do?'* He projected strongly on a shielded channel to his mate. *'Do what you're trying to, and I hope you don't mind a 'dumb' jet, 'cause you won't have a DS left.'* He said bluntly, hoping the tom was listening.

The panicked energy-storm froze for a second, then dissipated, leaving Patrik sobbing in a fetal position.

Timothy was terrified beyond words, but he forced his terror back and put his arms around Patrik, and gently stroked his hair. As he tried to comfort his friend, it began to occur to him that Patrik wanted out because he didn't want him, since Jake was alive. He tried to focus on looking after Rik, but he could feel the world crumbling.

*'Nathan, help.'* Tim's panicked and distraught mind reached out to the person who was always there, even when the worst had happened. He didn't know what to do, but he was sure that finishing the LifeBond now would be a colossal mistake.

*'With what?'* The older tom's mind came back quickly with a calming hug.

*'I ... I ... I don't know.'* The kit's mind-voice was terrified. *'The whole Joining thing, it's turned into some kind of nightmare, and Rik tried to break out, and now he's collapsed. I just want out of here, he doesn't want me, he wants Jake. This whole LifeBond thing is a mistake.'* The young kit sobbed uncontrollably.

*'Tim, focus on me for a moment. What happened?'* He asked with as strong a blanket of comforting support as he could manage, and smiled softly as he felt his mother reinforce it.

There was a long period of sobbing while Tim tried to focus enough to mind-talk. *'He had this assumption becoming memory of Jake and Chance together as a couple and smiling because Rik was gone. It was bothering him, so I reminded him of what he told me that Chance hadn't even wanted to be with Jake that way. Then he started panicking and tried to shatter Joining space to get to Jake, I tried to calm him down by reminding what it would do to Agreth if he did. Then he collapsed, and now he won't even acknowledge that I'm here.'*

*'I don't want to be in this here. It's cold and frightening, and I want home.'* He said desperately, his mind trying to scramble away from the Joining toward Nathan. *'I thought he wanted me ... I was just a substitute, as soon as he thought he could get Jake back, he forgot all about me.'*

*'Nathan, that is not what I saw.'* Nareena's voice came on a separate, shielded channel. *'I think the desired memory was Rik's attempt to feel better about finding a new mate and team so soon, knowing that Jake will be alive. I felt Patrik's response came more from fear of hurting Tim, though I'm not sure why. I'm trying to revive him; he drew a lot of power with nowhere to send it.'*

*'Okay, but what do we do with Tim in the meantime?'* Nathan replied on the same channel. *'He feels he's been used and abandoned by someone he cares about more than anything.'* He sighed. *'Keeping him in Joining space is going to be difficult.'*

*'Try to explain to him that Patrik's been abused and isn't reacting the way most would, and that jumping to conclusion is not helpful. I am _certain_ Patrik loves him.'*

*'Have you gotten any impression from Agreth, I thought she was in this joining too?'*

*'Very little, and confusion for the most part. She seems to be in an 'along for the ride' mentality more than anything, but she _is_ only a few days old. I'm sure she don't truly comprehend what this means.'*

*'Probably not. I know Tim had some reservations about involving her in a LifeBond this early in her development. I'll do what I can with Tim, after I let Morin and my first officer know what's going on. There's no way I can split focus on this one. You focus on Rik, I'll look after Tim, and I'll hope that Agreth's 'along for the ride' mentality will keep her out of trouble.'*

*'Agreed.'* She said before turning almost all of her attention to getting through the catatonic feline.

*'Nathan, aren't you going to do something?'* Tim's mind-voice asked, so close it felt like he was curled up next to his brother, and shivering.

*'I need to tell Morin I won't be available,'* he did his best to hold on to his brother and sooth him. *'I don't think this is as bad as you think.'* He opened a separate line to his Lifemate. *'Morin, Tim needs me, make sure everyone knows I'm _completely_ unavailable.'*

*'Understood, I'll let your first officer know, and have everything routed to him. If you need any help, just ask.'* The Dracon said affectionately. *'What should I tell Ebon and Cazi if they ask, you know how they have a sense for family trouble.'*

*'That Tim's Joining is going roughly.'* Nathan replied before closing out his concerns with the outside world and focused everything he was on his youngest brother. *'Tim ... mother is positive that Rik loves _you_, and I agree with her. I would never have let him near you if I didn't believe his interest was sincere.'*

*'Then why did he try to claw his way out of the Joining like it was a cage? He couldn't get away fast enough.'* The shaking kit asked as he did his best to hide from everything 'behind' the safety that Nathan represented.

*'I don't know, but mother sensed he was acting out of a fear of hurting you.'* He hugged the kitten close. *'He doesn't understand Joining space like we do, and ... Tim, we're pretty sure he's an abused kit. His logic may not be like ours.'*

*'Abused?'* The kit asked quietly. *'By who? Why would anybody do that, he's so easy to get along with.'* The teenager wondered in confusion.

Nathan hesitated a moment before sighing. *'By Jake, most likely, and by the one who created him. It seems that the world he's from, or at least a part of it, doesn't see intelligent beings the way we do. And Tim ... like dads, he was created with a lot of programming meant for a very different situation than he's facing now. We've shielded you from the worst of what that can do to you, but programming can override all sorts of logic. But believe me when I say that beneath it all, he cares for you deeply.'*

Tim nodded uncertainly. *'What's wrong with him now? I can't hear him, and he won't talk to me.'* He asked very quietly. *'I never heard anyone describe Joining space as this cold and frightening.'*

*'He drew a tremendous amount of power when he panicked, and then when he stopped trying to get out, that power had nowhere to go, except into him. Mother's trying to get through to him.'* He nuzzled his brother reassuringly. *'In trying to protect you and Agreth he took a mental blow he wasn't prepared for. Mother will put it right. It's cold and scary in here because that's the state Rik is in.'*

*'Will you stay till Mother makes Rik better?'* The kit asked, clinging to the mind-voice of his older brother.

*'Of course, Tim.'* He hugged the younger tom. *'I'll be here as long as you want me to be. I have no other obligations right now.'*

*'Thanks, Nathan. I know I should wait for Rik, but I can't face this place by myself. I think I'd run, if you weren't here.'* He said leaning into the embrace.

*'We're family,'* he said simply.

*'Nathan?'* Nareena contacted him privately. *'It would be very good if Tim was next to Rik when he comes too. Patrik is _very_ scared.'*

*'That makes two of them.'* He replied on the private channel, as he gently picked the kit up, and carried the clinging Black Tiger back to where his mate was.

Tim climbed down on his own, and put his arms around Rik, though he never took his eyes off of Nathan. The kit gently stroked the Kat's hair back, trying to comfort him.

A second latter there was an explosion of motion from the long-furred Kat as he hugged Timothy. "Don't hate me ... please ... _please_ ... I ... I was only trying ...." Patrik sobbed into the Black Tiger's neck as he clung with the desperate strength of someone to a life preserver in rough seas.

Timothy pulled the sobbing Kat into a tight hug. "I don't hate you, I couldn't. You just scared me, I thought you were leaving me." He kissed the Kat gently. "I couldn't deal with thinking that." He said quietly, as he gently licked away Rik's tears.

Patrik nodded weakly and he nuzzled in close, calming quickly at the affection. "I didn't want to hurt you. You said how horrible it would be ... I just ... I don't want you to live something horrible."

Tim kissed him gently. "I meant the repeated bond breaches you mentioned. The one breach is just what you accept for all the good things a LifeBond is, I just couldn't imagine having to suffer the breach repeatedly. I'd never heard of someone dying more than once." He whispered. "Horrible would be living without you." He said quietly.

"But that's real." Patrik said quietly. "If I die, I'll come back. You'll face the same thing."

"Then let me deal with it, Rik." He said firmly. "Every happiness has its price. At least I know it's coming, it was just a shock to learn about. Around here, people die once, at least in a fashion that would cause a bond breach. Besides, I don't intend to be so careless as to get my pilot killed." He said with a strange blend of protectiveness and humor.

Patrik nodded as the last of the tension, and most of the strength, drained from his body. "It's not normal back home either, but creations have their own rules, and that's one of mine."

"Well, then it's okay, 'cause I love you. If that's part of who you are, then well, that's the way things are." He smiled, as he held the Kat close. "I think we're gonna need a vacation to recover from this Joining." He grinned impishly, as he let some of his strength flow across the link into Rik.

The petite tom looked up with a mixture of awe and bewilderment as he snuggled close.

Tim decided nothing more really needed to be said, as he gently nuzzled the tom in his arms. *'Nothing like a warm mate, after a bad scare.'* He looked over at his quietly watching brother. *'Thanks, Nathan.'* He thought quietly.

*'Anytime, bro.'* He smiled in relief and support as he backed to the periphery of Joining space. *'Anytime.'*

The Black Tiger relaxed and waited to see what memory would come along next, though he had some concern after what the last one had inspired. He didn't have long to wait, and like the last one Patrik provided, this wasn't a normal memory either.

The only imagery was snippets, flashes and stills of their time together. The importance was in the thought behind it: a simple question that consumed much of the petite tom's awareness.

Why are you treating me like this?

I love you.

I don't understand.

Tim nuzzled Rik gently. "It's what I was taught love means. I know you've experienced things that make it hard to understand, but it's true." He said softly. "I just hope, with time, you'll understand." He said quietly. "But there's no pressure, it's not like I could treat you any other way."

Patrik nodded, no closer to understanding, but calmer in accepting his gunner's statement.

Timothy didn't say anything, but just nuzzled his mate acceptingly. He figured understanding would come with time, and consistent behavior on his part.

The scene became blurry and obscure, and the cleared to an evergreen forest. A large number of primitive wooden huts surrounded a large central fire. Two small, feline figures were tied to stakes near the largest hut. Both figures were wearing uniforms, though neither seemed old enough to be in uniform. The one uniform was clearly a NightBlade uniform, the other familiar to Rik as the Black Phoenix uniform.

Occupying the clearing were many Canine and Bear morphs bearing primitive tribal fur dye markings. The intent of their holding the two was unclear but it seemed hostile. A large Doberman approached the Black Phoenix with a very deadly looking metal blade.

Suddenly, the scene collapsed leaving only a shivering Tim as evidence of what had happened, and a very shaken Patrik trying to comfort him as Agreth nuzzled up in a cat form the size of a yearling tiger.

"When will that be?" Patrik asked with carefully controlled fear when Timothy had calmed down.

"I don't know." He whispered. "I first had that dream almost two years ago, I didn't recognize the other teenager then. All I could be sure was that it was me, and somebody I hadn't met. I've had it occasionally since ... the last time was the night before I met you. The dream doesn't always end there, but I try not to see what follows." He said trying to pull himself together. "There have been a lot of different things that follow."

"At least in one we survive it." Patrik said simply, completely sure of his words.

"I never actually saw one where we didn't." He said quietly. "Some reason it seemed they didn't want either of us dead, but hurting was okay." He said softly. "About half of them involved sex, in some fashion." He smiled weakly. "Pretty amazing, considering I hadn't been with anyone at all when I first had the dream."

"Then why's it so bad?" Patrik frowned in confusion.

Tim shook his head. "I don't know. I just feel something bad is going on off-screen that I can't quite see. It's like we're bait for some trap or something. I don't know, besides some of the things that happen are pretty brutal, I don't know where my mind got the pictures from." He said snuggling in closer to the petite tom.

*'Nathan?'* Patrik tried to catch the older tom's attention clumsily.

*'Yes, Patrik?'* The Tiger's reassuring mind-voice came back.

*'Are these creatures anything you know?'* He added mind-pictures of the individuals he'd seen, carefully editing out what was going on.

*'Canem's and Bear-morphs occupying the same camp? He's mentioned that dream before. The tribal markings are unfamiliar, but I'll see what I can find out.'* He said quietly.

*'Thanks ... it'll probably come true. Just a matter of when.'* The petite tom said as he nuzzled his mate. "It'll be okay, Tim. Something's always going on in the background, and it's never good. The Squad ... family ... protects us, just like we protect them."

"I know, 'cause we'll just have to wait and see what happens." He said snuggling close.

"Tim ... Can you love more than one person?"

"That's pretty normal for Felsin really, assuming you're talking more than one mate. But I guess I'm not sure if you're asking if _I_ can, or if it's possible in general. Though I'd say yes to both, really."

Before he could form a reply a new set of thought-memories rippled up, though Patrik squirmed and tried to stop it. After a time he shivered and let it flow.

Again there were moments Timothy and Patrik spent together, conversations ... mostly about how the Felsin felt.

And behind them, the growing guilt and fear that though Patrik cared for his new pilot as much as he had ever cared for anyone, it wasn't like that for him.

I can't give you what you give me ...

Tim nuzzled the petite tom affectionately. "I know you love me, and that makes me happier than I've been in a long time. There's no need for guilt." He said reassuringly. "You just learned about love differently than I did, I know that. And it's okay."

"But ... you deserve someone who feels like you do." Patrik stammered uneasily. "You care so much more than I can."

"Rik, you care as much as you can. That's all I ask." He said firmly. "Don't sell yourself short, you care more than a lot of people I know." He said warmly.

The petite tom nodded, clearly still bewildered by it, but he accepted it with the same loyalty as he accepted Timothy loving him in the first place.

The Black Tiger smiled, and nuzzled his mate affectionately. He wondered to himself what the Joining would come up with next, since memories weren't the only thing being involved.

Patrik was quiet for a long time, then he looked up at the Felsin holding him. "Tim, what if Jake comes for me?"

"You don't belong to him, Rik." Tim said quietly. "What happens is your choice, though obviously I want you to stay with me." He said reassuringly.

"I was created for him ..." the Kat said uneasily. "He can take anything he wants. He's very powerful."

"Sentient beings are _not_ property." The Tiger said forcefully. "And if he tries that here, he'll find out what powerful really is." The teenager said, a low defensive growl building in his throat. "He doesn't deserve you."

Patrik cringed fractionally, his eyes wide as he stared at Timothy. "Oh, okay."

Timothy forced himself to calm down. "I'd rather it didn't come to something like that, but LifeMates look out for each other." He said gently.

"Why would Jake come here?" Agreth asked curiously. "You're dead to him."

"He can get possessive ..." Patrik explained quietly. "The bond might be broken, but he knows, Pat knows, I'm alive. They might even be able to trace me here."

"Don't worry about it. It's not like they have any authority here. If they came here, they'd end up with a lot of explaining to do." He said firmly. "Mother doesn't like the way they treated you, and her views carry a lot of weight, especially with my big bro." He said quietly.

Patrik nodded slightly and relaxed into the protective embrace of his new gunner as the background shifted once again.

The image was one of flying over a deep valley range, as the sun was setting. It took a moment for Rik to recognize that the memory was from Tim's perspective being carried by his older brother, who had dark gray wings on a larger, more aggressive feline form than Rik had ever seen him in.

Suddenly, in the darkness below there was a sparkle of colored light, and then another, and another until the entire valley became a cascade of intricate colored lights. Tim in the image was absolutely awestruck for several minutes and then he turned and nuzzled Nathan.

"Thanks, Nathan." The small kit said quietly. "I'll never forget this."

"Happy birthday, little bro." The winged panther rumbled.

"Way cool." Patrik purred in quiet awe. "To fly like that."

"Yeah, I'm hoping maybe I'll get wings when I get older. Nathan didn't have his till he was over a hundred, though I'd rather not wait that long." He grinned. "That was probably the coolest birthday present I've ever gotten. Our folks were missing, and he was pulling out all the stops to make me happy on my birthday ... worked too." He smiled.

"Must be nice, to have him be so interested in making you happy." The petite Kat said awkwardly.

"It is." The teenager said easily. "It's one of the reasons I treat you the way I do. I've grown up with people like Nathan looking out for me." He said with brotherly affection.

Patrik settled against Timothy and coaxed Agreth into his arms for a quiet moment.

"What do you want to know about me?" The petite Kat finally asked.

Timothy had to think, he thought he knew the important things. "Well, do you have any interests outside of sex and flying?" He grinned, making it clear that he was teasing, and yet was curious.

"Umm," he paused to think. "Well, I like playing in the computer system. I really haven't done much else. Sleep, eat, train, fly, mate. About all we did, really."

"Oh, wow. Well, you'll have time to look at other things now." He said easily. "It makes life more interesting, to have additional interests." He smiled.

"Like what?" Patrik rolled in Timothy's embrace to snuggled against the Black Tiger's chest. "Can't say I ever thought about other stuff."

"Well, in my case there's my music, and the old science fiction and horror movies. And sometimes I'll go sightseeing in the capital, if my folks decide it's okay. Basically, they're things you do for fun, not because they really serve any purpose."

Patrik couldn't keep the utterly bewildered look from his face. "Oh."

"Yeah, I bet that sounds totally weird if you've spent a long time in a military environment. For example, that 'simulator' we played the first day we met, is actually a game that kits play for fun. The actual training simulators are kept elsewhere." He smiled.

Patrik nodded slowly. "I thought it was a bit ... unrealistic. And it is fun. Weird, but fun. Kind of like the time Heron took us into a dream world she created."

Tim chuckled. "Yeah, they discovered that most kits wanted a 'story line' in the flight simulator, so that's what resulted. Actually, we've got some other variants on fantasy sims, video games are really popular with the teenage set."

"I can see how those could be useful." Patrik nodded easily. "Especially if you see the weirdness Aristal does."

"Well, this world sees less, but that's because StarFire doesn't like too much nonsense near her home. But the Alliance as a whole, has probably seen every kind of weirdness imaginable." He chuckled. "At least that's what some of the team reports read like."

"Lots of megalomaniacs trying to take over?"

"I don't know about 'lots', but we have 'em. In a population as large as the Alliance, it's sort of inevitable. Invasions by the Hive, every thirty to fifty years, and the repeated annoyance of the Mephits."

"I guess so." Patrik shifted so Timothy could hold both his bondmates. "Bonding's almost done."

"I kinda thought so, when we got to discussing hobbies, video games, and the general misbehavior of the universe." He grinned.

"So ... now what?" He looked up curiously.

Tim looked around. "In theory, the LifeBond should be complete and we should shift back to normal perception. Give things a little time to settle. Mom's keeping an eye on things, so I'll ask her if it takes too long."

Patrik nodded and settled in to wait.

"Good morning, LifeMates." Nareena smiled at the threesome as they roused.

Tim sleepily opened his eyes, nuzzled Rik and Agreth, and looked up at his Mother. "Morning, Mom." He grinned. *'Thanks for putting Rik back together.'* He thought on a tightly shielded channel.

*'Happy to do so. He's family.'* She smiled before focusing on Patrik and Agreth. "How are you two feeling?"

"Reasonable." Patrik stretched with a yawn. "Now I need a nap." He groused.

Agreth smiled and nuzzled him. "I'm okay."

Tim chuckled. "Preferably a nap, that doesn't get as exciting as our last one." He grinned, as he nuzzled the petite tom. "I didn't know Joinings were that tiring."

"They are usually done with more preparation." Nareena smiled softly.

The Black Tiger chuckled. "Couldn't be done with much less." He grinned. "Well, everything worked so no problem."

Nareena nodded. "Everyone made it out, with their own mind. Now, the three of you will probably be tired for a few days. Will you be staying up here?" She asked curiously.

Tim looked at the other two. "Works for me, how about you two?" He asked in a very casual mood.

"I like it." Patrik nodded.

"No reason not to." Agreth added.

Nareena nodded. "Okay, but if you have any problems I expect one of you to call in." She said sternly. "And no leaving the Valley without checking with me." The tigress said as Morin's teleport gate opened. "Congratulations, to all three of you." She said as she stepped through.

"Yes ma'am." Patrik chuckled.

Tim waited until the gate disappeared. "So, are we all feeling the need for a nap?" He asked with a slight yawn.

"Top idea." Patrik smiled as he pulled Agreth close and settled in so Timothy could snuggle against his back.

Timothy snuggled in close to the petite tom's back, and reached a hand over to gently touch Agreth. He didn't want her to think he was only paying attention to Rik, and felt her sigh in contentment.

*'Morin, are you busy?'* Nareena contacted the Dracon as she stepped back into Medical the next morning.

*'Just finished checking up on Storm and Liberator. Is there a problem with Agreth?'* He asked quietly, being aware of the strange emanations coming on mechanical frequencies from the new DS.

*'Not a problem so much as a very unusual development. She has a physical body, a biological one.'*

There was a definite flicker of surprise from the Dracon. *'A biological body, that's an interesting trick. Any indication how it happened?'* He asked curiously. *'I'm sure the other DSs will want to know.'*

*'Not precisely, but however she did it, it's nothing she finds unusual. Given they just finished Joining, I didn't think it was an appropriate time for questions that could wait.'*

*'Interesting, that would seem to indicate that its possible for all DS, since there was no indication that she differed significantly from the others in energy makeup.

*'Considering she is effectively from a different galaxy, I can't say I'm surprised she does things we haven't thought of. They did have a significantly different approach to waking one up, after all.'*

*'True, though the DS Core apparently was already present. Based on the initial telemetry on Agreth's jet body, we believe that we may have a significantly larger number of DS than originally thought.'*

*'Not too surprising, really, considering how advanced in their mental growth they have to be for us to recognize them usually.'* Nareena shook her head. *'The changes one alien kitten can bring.'*

*'I don't think we've seen the end of the changes yet.'* Morin said quietly. *'The patterns of the universe play almost as strongly around that one as they do around any of your other kits.'* The Dracon said cryptically.

*'It makes sense.'* She chuckled. *'I seem to be adopting powerful kittens lately. Two in as many days.'*

Morin chuckled. *'Then he's been twice adopted, because Nathan has as well. I haven't seen this level of protectiveness except with Storm and Timothy.'* The Dracon thought approvingly. *'He is very easy to feel protective of, though.'*

Nareena smiled. *'For all I know he's seen and lived through, he has such an aura of innocence about him. Rik just seems to radiate 'come protect and love me'.'*

Morin smiled mentally. *'Yes, that's about right.'* He chuckled. *'Would you believe that I've had offers from the Lady Castellan, the Queen's Medic and two of the Star Palace Elite offering to take him in, if we decide we don't want him.'* He said shaking his head. *'They were a little disappointed when I said he was fitting in quite nicely. They all wanted to be the one to look after him.'*

*'Oh my.'*

There was a deep Dracon laugh mentally. *'And I thought I was bad about small furry males.'*

*'I think this one has less to do with small, furry and male than it does about who he is.'* She murmured. *'And I expect he'd be just as bewildered by all that interest in him as he is by Tim's love.'*

Morin nodded. *'I expect so. Anyone of those would have just spoiled him rotten I'm sure.'*

*'As if we're not going to.'* She chuckled softly.

*'I'd ask when his birthday is, but some created are sensitive about that question.'* He thought a moment. *'Your youngest just got Joined, I think that rates some sort of large party, don't you?'* The Dracon grinned mentally.

*'Oh, definitely, and Patrik got commissioned, Joined, an Alliance citizen ... all sorts of things rate a first class NightBlade bash. _After_ they come back on their own.'*

Morin grinned. *'Well, planning the party will take time. We have to do this right.'* He chuckled.

*'Most definitely.'* She grinned conspiratorially. *'This will be the biggest bash this family has ever had.'*

"Hi dad, what's up?" Samuel, a White Tiger Felsin, replied from his office on Betel Station.

"Your mother is planning the bash of the century." The big Panther Felsin shook his head with a chuckle. "Timothy just got Joined, your new brother-in-law just got commissioned and citizenship, and 'Reena finally has a daughter-in-law."

"Whoa, daughter-in-law? Who actually got together with a shekat besides you and Cazi?" The Tiger asked in amazement. "Timothy got Joined? Was it that cute little tom he brought to dinner the last time I was visiting?"

"Yes, his name's Patrik." Ebon grinned in a mixture of amusement and resignation. "And they're a triad with a DS female named Agreth."

"A triad with a DS? That's something new, so when are DarkStar and Rifleman going to admit they're a couple?" He said chuckling.

"Who knows," The Panther shook his head. "It's not like everyone doesn't know." He suddenly cracked a plotting grin. "I think I'll have a little talk with them, see if we can't make this an even bigger party."

"Can we just keep the press out of this party? I remember Nathan and Morin's wedding, what a circus." He shook his head. "Maybe just call the whole thing classified."

Ebon roared with laughter. "Oh, that is a grand idea." He chuckled for a while. "At least they won't be as interested in this one. None of the participants are Dracon royalty."

"No, but one maybe two DSs, one of the SwiftClaw sibs, and maybe one of the original NightBlades ... Dad, the press would find that very interesting. Especially, the whole DS in a Joining angle, as far as I know that's never happened before." He said easily. "But don't worry, I'll take the next shuttle out. I don't think Mom will be taking excuses."

"No, she won't. The Triad help anyone who disrupts this one." Ebon shook his head, still chuckling. "Though I think I will classify this one. At least Rik and Agreth do _not_ need the press."

"So, how's Nate taking his little buddy getting Joined at such a young age?"

"He approves, from what I've gathered. He assisted during the Joining." He smiled. "I'll see you in a couple days. We may be adding a celebration of the seventh SwiftClaw kit on the way to that list too."

"No surprise there, the next kit usually does follow the last one moving out, or precede by a little if the last one takes too long moving out." He grinned. "Think Mom will get her daughter this time?"

"Maybe." Ebon shook his head and chuckled. "She's going to get one soon, I think her patience is starting to run out. See you soon."

"See you soon." Sam said as he signed off.

Alliance BlackFire

NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

265 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written December 1, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall

Setting: Cathedral, Galactic Alliance

Primary Races: Felsin, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Romance (Teen)

Pairings: NightBlades, Patrik Celest/Timothy SwiftClaw, Patrik Celest/Agreth/Timothy SwiftClaw

Blurb: While helping Jake and Kelly out with a long range teleportation project at Cathedral, Patrik Celest finds himself a lot further away than he expected and without his gunner to back him up against the big winged lizard-folk staring at him.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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