OUTSIDE THE FIRE
Disclaimer: All rights to “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, it’s characters and worlds belong to Paramount. The “new” characters-and the events they currently face- are the product of my overactive and slight demented imagination.
Deanna Riker laced her fingers through those of her husband of twenty years. She smiled at the slight squeeze she felt. He was as excited as she.
Deanna found that thought amusing. William Riker, renowned Starship Captain, reformed ladies man, and daredevil extraordinaire, was vibrating with barely concealed excitement. First contact with an alien race? Tense negotiations between warring parties? Showdown with a fierce enemy? Nothing quite so mundane, Deanna thought with a laugh, as she stood by him in one of the many transporter rooms aboard the USS Titan.
Aware of her thoughts, Will looked down at her with a slight scowl. “I’m glad you find my emotions amusing, Deanna.”
Deanna gave him a brilliant smile. “I think it’s endearing. Really I do. Who would have ever guessed that the same man who faced down countless foes—from the Borg to the Kreptins—could be brought to his knees by a nineteen year…”
The transporter chief interrupted her merciless teasing. “Captain, the surface is signaling that they are ready for transport.”
Will nodded solemnly at the young man. “Splendid, Chief. Energize when ready.”
The transporter hummed as two forms appeared on the pad. Will gave up trying to keep up a poker face and grinned broadly, silently admitting that Deanna was right.
The two forms solidified and within seconds Will and Deanna felt like they were staring into a mirror to the past. The two people standing on the pad were almost exact replicas of them when they were much, much younger.
A whirlwind of vibrancy and youthful exuberance flew off the transporter and launched herself into Will’s outstretched arms, her ebony hair streaming behind her. Her more sedate, but equally joyful twin moved more slowly as he enveloped Deanna in a bear hug.
After a year away from the Titan, Jacen and Jaina had come home.
“Mom, you would not believe how much fun the Academy is,” Jaina enthused as she unpacked her suitcase. She looked around her quarters with fond remembrance. Her “home” had not changed a bit in the year she had been gone and was a welcome comfort.
She spun around and faced her mother, who was sitting cross-legged in the center of Jaina’s bed.
Deanna smiled with indulgence at her vibrant daughter. “Yes, I can.” She laughed. “I’ve been there. But, Jai, the Academy is not meant to be fun; it’s supposed to be hard work and dedication.”
Jaina waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, please! The stuff they teach to first year cadets is baby stuff, things we learned by the time we were ten years old. Jace and I breezed through all our classes with barely an effort. Uncle Geordi and Uncle Data taught us more about warp theory than those teachers ever dreamed of.”
“Oh the cross you must bear, being a genius. I hope the two of you weren’t too hard on your instructors.” Deanna’s voice was dry.
In truth, she was quite proud of her children. Through out the past year, she and Will had received many reports on their children’s progress, thanks to a few contacts at Starfleet Academy. Jaina was right; their classes presented no challenge to them. Will had feared that the lack of mental stimulation would have caused the twins to get bored with the academy, the way Wesley Crusher had. Fortunately, the twins had found other ways to challenge themselves, physically and mentally. They had spent their time on Earth engaging in various extracurricular activities and taking highly advanced elective classes. Deanna was immensely proud—and relieved—that they had found constructive ways to alleviate their boredom.
“Mom, you know us better than that! The instructors were so impressed, many of them began giving us the more advanced work.” Jaina spun around again, clutching the shirt she had been about to hang up. “Oh! Guess what?”
Deanna stretched out on her stomach across her daughter’s bed. “What?”
“Uncle Jean-Luc pulled some strings…”
Deanna rolled her eyes. “Again?”
Jaina went on as though she had not been interrupted. “…and arranged for Jace and me to take a special placement exam. If we pass, we will be able to skip straight to third year courses!”
Deanna jumped up and hugged her daughter exuberantly. “That’s wonderful, Jaina! I’m so proud of you.”
Jaina pulled out of her mother’s embrace and continued to unpack. “Just think, we’ll graduate a whole year earlier.”
“Now we have something else to celebrate at the party tonight. By the way, Jack is home from Le Barre. He will be with his parents when they beam up from San Francisco. Isn’t that great?”
Suddenly deflated, Jaina sat heavily on the bed. “Yeah, great.” Her voice held a note of sarcasm that Deanna found perplexing. Jacques Picard, Jean-Luc and Beverly’s son, had always been a playmate and friend. “I thought Jack was your friend.”
Jaina scowled. “Correction. He has always been Jacen’s friend. He was my tormentor.”
“He has never been nice to me. He has always picked on me and treated me like an annoyance. When he and Jacen are together, Jacen acts just like him!”
Deanna laughed. “Oh, little one. He treated you like a little sister. That’s completely natural. You haven’t seen him since you were fifteen! I’m sure he has outgrown that by now.”
Jaina’s scowl deepened. “I doubt it. Jack Picard has always been, and will always be a royal pain in the neck.”
“Jaina!” From halfway across the lounge, Emily Picard squealed when she saw Jaina step into the room.
At the age of sixteen, Emily idolized the older girl. She wanted to be just like her.
Jaina grinned, thrilled to see her “little sister” again. She was also quite relieved to see that the younger girl’s brother appeared not to be present.
“Emmy!” The two girls hugged, laughing and talking all at once. “It is so good to see you again. I’ve really missed you.”
Emily’s face dimpled prettily. “I’ve missed you too! I have so much to tell you. You really should come to see me more often. I mean, we live in the same city for goodness sake.”
“We never have time, squirt.” A masculine voice said from behind her. Emily’s face colored slightly as she turned to shyly greet Jacen. “Hi, Jacen. How are you?”
“I’m perfect now that I’ve seen you. Goodness, Em, I swear you get prettier every time I see you.”
If possible, Emily’s face got even redder.
Jaina smiled at Emily’s obvious crush. ~Careful, brother dear. ~ She sent to her sibling. ~The poor girl is on the verge of hero worship already. ~
~Nonsense, Jai. Emily is just a kid. ~
~She’s sixteen. You remember sixteen don’t you, Jace? ~
Jaina nearly laughed at the horrified expression that quickly crossed her brother’s face. He looked like he was going to choke on his own tongue. She took her young friend by the arm. “Come on, Emmy. I haven’t had a chance to see your parents yet.”
Arm in arm the girls wandered off, leaving Jacen standing there speechless, his sister’s laughter echoing in his head.
“Close your mouth, Jace. You look like you just swallowed a goldfish.” A deep, amused voice sounded from behind.
Jacen turned, and smiled broadly. “Jack!” He held out his hand to his best friend. Jacen was not surprised when his friend used the proffered hand to pull him into a hearty embrace. Jacen returned the hug, patting Jack on shoulders, immensely glad to see him.
“Good to see you, Jacen. How’s the academy treating you?”
“Great! Boring, but great. How’s your grape farm?”
Jack laughed. “Don’t ever let my father hear you refer to the Chateau Picard Vineyards as a ‘grape farm’”
The old friends wandered around the room, greeting other friends and reliving old adventures. Jacen was so glad to be back aboard the Titan. He missed the excitement of living on a starship.
He leaned against the wall beside Jack and watched the party. He saw his parents dancing, holding each other embarrassing close. As Jacen watched, his father bent forward and whispered something in Deanna’s ear, causing her to throw back her head and laugh. Jacen shrugged. He supposed there were worse things in life than having parents who still enjoyed an obviously passionate relationship.
Jacen’s perusal of the room continued. He spotted his sister at the bar, deep in conversation with Emily. As he watched, she turned in his direction. Their eyes met for a moment and she greeted him warmly. Then her eyes drifted to the left and stopped. The emotions Jacen suddenly felt from his sister shocked him. He had never sensed anything like that from her before. Concerned, he turned his head to the left.
Jack Picard was staring across the room with the same expression on his face that Jacen saw on Jaina’s. Jacen now understood what he was feeling from his sister, and he was flabbergasted. It was awareness. Surprising Jacen even more, he saw the same awareness on the face of his oldest and dearest friend.
Jaina stole quietly from the party and walked quickly down the corridor. She did not understand the sudden urge to escape, but she knew she had to get out of that room.
She walked aimlessly through the halls of the Titan, the familiar sounds bringing comfort to her troubled mind. It was so good to be home. She hadn’t realized how homesick she had gotten until she had returned.
Jaina turned a corner and suddenly realized where she was unconsciously heading. With a small smile, she stopped in front of Holodeck 2. “Computer, load Riker-Troi Hotel-papa-four.”
“Completed. Enter when ready.”
Jaina stepped through the door and into space. Millions of stars surrounded her as she walked across the holodeck floor. She knew the floor was there, but it too was covered by celestial bodies, giving the impression that she was floating through space. Jaina had designed the program herself, with the help of Wesley Crusher. She could even give herself a place to sit. “Computer, one crescent moon chair, please”
Before her appeared what looked like a small waning moon. Jaina jumped and grabbed the edge, pulling herself into a sitting position. She settled back and relaxed. The chair floated above the ground, staying stationary as the holodeck simulated impulse flight through the vast regions of space. It was relaxing, and peaceful; and to Jaina, it was the best place to think.
Jaina had been feeling a bit restless as of late. She supposed part of it was her frustration with her classes, but there was more to it. In truth, she was used to being more advanced in her studies than her peers. It was not something that she dwelled upon, it was just there. She would probably always be bored in structured classes.
Her social life was normal, she supposed. She did not have anyone particularly special in her life at the moment, but she was not particularly looking for anyone either. There was plenty of time for that. She had decided a long time ago that she would not settle for less than what her parents had.
Jaina watched in wonder as a comet flashed by her, its tail twinkling in a million different colors. Tears gathered in her eyes at the beauty of her surroundings. Realization dawned. Jaina knew what was missing. She ached to be among the stars again. She craved the excitement of sailing through the universe, discovering new places and new peoples.
As much as she loved Earth, her heart longed for the heavens.
Lost in her musing, Jaina did not hear the holodeck door slide open.
“Nice night.” The unexpected voice had Jaina jumping, almost tumbling off her perch. The owner of the voice chuckled softly as he grabbed her leg to steady her.
Jaina felt the queerest jolt as a warm hand closed around her bare calf. She turned around, and then promptly jerked her foot free. “Go away.”
Jacque René Picard raised an eyebrow mockingly. “Now Jai-Jai, is that anyway to greet an old friend?” He admonished.
“You have never been my friend, and you are not permitted to call me Jai-Jai.”
Flustered more than she cared to admit not only by his intrusion on her privacy, but also by the wholly unexpected flash of something that had passed between them earlier, Jaina found herself resenting his very presence.
Not the least bit put off by her rudeness, Jack grinned. “That seat looks comfortable. Mind if I join you?”
Jaina’s moon chair was big enough for two, but she had no desire to be in such close proximity to him. “Yes, I mind. I really would prefer to be alone.”
Jack did not seem to hear her. With a quick leap, he settled into the seat beside her, leaving barely an inch between them.
“That’s better. I was right, this is comfortable.”
Jaina sighed. “Jack, what do you want?”
He shrugged. “Nothing really. Just thought I’d stop and see an old friend.”
“I repeat: We were never friends.”
Jack lay a hand over his heart. “Jai-Jai, I’m hurt. After all we have been through together, you don’t consider me a friend?”
“Stop calling me that!”
“Alright. What shall I call you?”
“How about not calling me at all?”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “What have I done to deserve this animosity?”
Jaina gave him an angry look. “You tortured me as a child.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Kid stuff. I haven’t seen you in years. How can you possible still be mad at me for a few childish pranks?”
Jaina considered that for a moment. She supposed he was right. She should at least give him a chance. “Fine. I’ll give you that. I apologize for my rudeness, but I would prefer to be alone.”
“Why? What’s the matter?”
Jaina shook her head. “Nothing. I just don’t want any company right now.”
Jack said nothing for a moment. “Nice program.” He finally said. “Did you design it?”
Obviously he had no intention of leaving. “Yes. Your brother and I did.”
“Half-brother,” Jack said dryly.
Jack leaned closer, too close for Jaina’s taste. What was the matter with her? Jaina cleared her throat. “So, how was France?” She asked, trying to sound normal. Why did her voice crack?
“France is France. It never changes. How is the Academy?”
“Fine.” He was too close. Jaina could feel the heat from his body burning into her skin where their arms were touching. The pure masculine scent of him invaded her nostrils, playing havoc with her senses. When did she start thinking of him as a man? This was Jack, for heaven’s sake.
“Jack, I really am sorry I was rude to you before, but I would like you to leave now. I came here for solitude.”
Jack gave her a measured look. “Jaina, what’s the matter with you? You look like you are about ready to come out of your skin.” He touched her face gently.
Jaina jumped as though that simple contact burned. Agitated and unsure what was going on inside her, Jaina jumped off the chair. She “floated” through space. She began to feel a bit dizzy.
Jack floated beside her, gripping her arms lightly, forcing her to look at him. “I think I understand now. I make you nervous.”
Jaina forced out a laugh. “Nervous? Oh, please, why would you think that?”
“You felt it too.” He whispered in wonder, tilting her face up until their eyes met and held. Jack had a queer look in his eyes that Jaina found deeply disturbing for reasons she could not fathom.
“Felt what?” She questioned, trying to pull away from him.
“When our eyes met across that crowded lounge, there was a jolt of electricity. You felt it as strongly as I did.”
Jaina did pull away from him this time. She shook slightly as she put distance between them. “Electricity?” she scoffed. “You have got to be kidding. If anything passed between us, it was loathing.”
Jack stepped close to her again, too close. “Liar.”
Jaina’s eyes flashed angrily. “I’m not lying! Jack, I don’t even like you.”
Jack took her vehement words as a challenge. “Really? So if I were to kiss you right now, you would feel nothing?”
“I might feel repulsion.” She stated haughtily.
Jack pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing his lips against hers roughly.
Old memories surfaced, threatening to strangle Jaina as she pushed against his chest, trying to break free.
Sensing her fear, Jack gentled the pressure on her mouth. His kiss turned soft, coaxing, giving more than receiving.
Against her will, Jaina felt herself begin to melt against him, unconsciously kissing him back.
Jaina had been kissed before, but nothing like this. She felt dizzy and warm. She felt like she was soaring.
All too soon, Jack pulled away. He ran a finger down her face, the heat in his expression unsettling. “Still think there is nothing between us?” He whispered hoarsely.
Jack turned and left the room without a backwards glance.
Jaina stood in the center of the “universe”, speechless, her body trembling with a need she had never felt before and could not explain.
SIX MONTHS LATER:
The sun was just beginning to set as Jaina opened the door to the small apartment she shared with Jacen. She dragged herself over the threshold, allowing the door to slide closed behind her. Tired and immensely glad to be home after a long day of classes, she dropped her canvas bag on the floor. With a sigh, she flopped face first onto the couch.
Jaina could not remember the last time she had been so tired. Nine hours of classes, followed by two hours of ambo jitsu at the gymnasium. The worst part was that she had chosen to take on a heavier than average load. Gods, she thought, I must be insane.
She found it hard to believe that just six short months ago she had been complaining about being bored. She had actually looked forward to taking the placement exam that had allowed her to skip an entire semester of classes, as well as take highly advanced specializations in astrophysics and stellar cartography.
“Be careful what you wish for, you idiot.” She laughed wearily as she rolled onto her back.
A quick glance at her desk showed a flashing red light. Jaina groaned. She laid her forearm across her eyes, wincing slightly when she brushed the still tender bruise on her cheek. “Computer, list messages.”
“One message from Emily Picard, one message from Angelique Wassermann. Three messages from Ambassador Troi…”
Jaina smiled. “Only three from Grandmother? She must be busy today.”
“…one message from Deanna Riker…”
Jaina’s smile grew. Was it Friday already? She instantly felt better. The weekly communiqués from her mother was just what she needed after a grueling week.
“…one message from Jack Picard…”
Jaina sat up with a jolt, her smile fading. “Computer, halt. To who is the last message addressed?”
Why would Jack be calling her? Jaina had not seen or heard from him since the party on the Titan six months earlier. The night he had kissed her on the holodeck. Unwittingly, the memory of his lips on hers brought a tingling heat to the pit of her stomach.
Jaina shook her head, forcefully blocking the image from her mind. She had no desire to think about the kiss they had shared. The kiss he had arrogantly forced upon her.
“Computer, delete last message.” She told herself that she did not care what he wanted.
She walked over to her desk and sat down. “Computer, play back message from Deanna Riker and store the rest for later.”
Jaina could feel the tension leaving her body as her mother’s cheerful, chatty message played. Normally she would send a recorded response; however, tonight she felt the need to talk “face to face” with her mother.
Jaina rolled her head on her shoulders, easing the last of her weariness away as she waited to be connected to the Titan.
Minutes later, Deanna’s much missed face appeared on her screen. “Hi, Mom!”
Deanna smiled. “Hello, Little One.”
Jaina rolled her eyes at the nickname. “Mom, please! I am not five anymore.”
Several light-years away, Deanna was slightly taken aback for a moment, and then she began to laugh. “Sorry, Jai. I guess I’m more like my mother than I realized.”
“Bite your tongue!” A masculine voice said in mock horror from somewhere behind Deanna, out of range of the viewscreen.
Jaina laughed. “Hi Daddy!” She called out to the unseen voice.
Will Riker came into view behind his wife. He lay his hands on her shoulders, massaging gently.
“Jaina, if your mother ever turns into her mother, I’m leaving her.”
“Yeah, right,” she responded, not believing him for a second.
“You look tired, sweetheart.” Deanna commented, giving her a typical worried mother once over. Her eyes widened slightly. “That’s a pretty nasty bruise on your cheek.”
Jaina shrugged off her mother’s concern. “It’s nothing. I sort of ran into an ambo jitsu stick.”
Will winced with sympathy. “Jacen still play a little rough?”
Jaina smirked. “Yeah, well as they say: You should see the other guy.”
Deanna laughed. “I hope you didn’t hurt him too badly. Seriously though, you do look tired. You’re not trying to do too much are you?”
“I’m fine; it’s just been a long week. My new classes are more difficult than I had anticipated. I finally have a challenge.”
“Just don’t push yourself too hard. The burn out ratio is high.” Will warned. “The Academy can be brutal, especially for those who have the most potential. The better you are, the harder they are on you.”
Deanna laughed. “Says the pot to the kettle. Jai, should I tell you about the number of hours your father spent trying to break the record for fastest atmospheric reentry?”
Jaina joined in her mother’s merriment. “Or the number of hours logged in the battle simulator? Or the obsessive need to break the record for youngest captain? What happened there anyway, Daddy?” Jaina teased, already knowing the answer. “I think you hold the record for longest time between Commander and Captain.”
Will’s face was the picture of innocence. “It’s not my fault. I would have taken the first commission offered if your mother had gone with me.”
The look Deanna shot over her shoulder had Jaina laughing and Will backing away hastily, a slight grin on his own face.
“So, what are you doing this weekend? Got a hot date?” Deanna teased lightly, once again facing the viewscreen.
An unsolicited image of Jack Picard pushed its way into Jaina’s mind, disturbing her more than she cared to admit. She did not like him, wanted nothing to do with him, so why was he suddenly encroaching on her thoughts?
“Jaina? Are you all right?”
Jaina forced the unwanted image from her mind and turned her attention back to her mother. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
“I sensed a slight uneasiness in you.”
Jaina tried to shrug off her mother’s concern, grateful that Deanna was not close enough to get a more clear sense. “It’s nothing, Mama, really.”
Deanna opened her mouth as though to contradict her daughter, then judiciously opted to change the subject.
Jaina inwardly sighed in relief as her mother began talking about their latest mission and other happenings aboard the Titan.
The women talked for over an hour before Jaina ended the conversation
“I’m sorry, Mom, but I’m going to have to go. I promised Emily I would take her to a jazz club tonight, and I would like to take a short nap before hand.”
“Of course, darling. Have a good time. Make sure you give Jacen my love.”
“I will. Goodnight Mama, I love you.”
Deanna smiled mischievously. “I love you, too…Little One.”
Jaina laughed slightly as she turned off the viewscreen. With a yawn she flopped back on the couch, closing her eyes.
After what felt like mere seconds, but in reality was closer to an hour, Jaina was awoken by the sound of the door sliding open.
She rubbed her eyes tiredly and sat up. “Jacen, you need to contact Mom and Dad, they are beginning to wonder if they still have a son.”
The playful note in her voice died abruptly when she removed her hands from her eyes. She could feel the color drain from her face. Directly behind her twin brother, looking like he just stepped out of an old time romance novel, stood Jack Picard.
“Hello, Jaina.” Jack said quietly, inexplicably unable to take his eyes off his best friend’s twin sister.
He saw discomfort, anger and something slightly electric flare in her eyes. For the life of him, he could not explain why he had kissed her all those months ago, but he had not been able to get her off his mind since, and he knew in that instant that she hadn’t forgotten either. Incredibly, the mere idea that she had been thinking about him as much as his thoughts had been dwelling on her filled him with a sense of excitement that was almost frightening in its intensity.
“Jack. It’s nice to see you again. How have you been?” Jaina’s voice was impersonal, overly polite. It was the sort of voice one would use when addressing a business associate, someone seldom seen and barely known.
Jack raised an eyebrow at her tone. It irked him slightly that she so obviously wanted to ignore the attraction between them. Well, two could play at that game…
“I’ve been wonderful, Jai-Jai, just wonderful. I guess you could say I’ve been floating amongst the stars.” Jack grinned, thoroughly enjoying the crimson tinge staining her cheeks.
Jacen cleared his throat, “Jai, what were you saying about Mom?”
Jaina looked at her brother blankly. “Huh?” She shook her head, obviously trying to clear it. “Oh, ah, I said she would like to hear from you. Really, Jacen, you hardly ever send any communiqués.”
Jacen shrugged. “I’ve been busy. I’ll send one off later. Right now I have to get ready. Jack and I are going out.”
He walked toward his bedroom. “Jack, make yourself at home. I’ll just be a few minutes.” Turning his head in their direction, he gave his sister and friend one last speculative look before closing the door.
Jack stepped closer to Jaina, his smile widening when she took an unconscious step back. “What’s the matter, Jaina? Don’t tell me I still make you nervous?” Jack took another step forward. “Have you been thinking about me, Jai?”
Jack fully expected her to take another step back. He was surprised, and delighted, when she stood still, stubbornly refusing him the upper hand.
Jaina laughed shortly, her voice sounding forced and unnatural. “What makes you think I have spared you even the slightest thought?”
“How can you not, after what happened in the holodeck?”
Jaina rolled her eyes. “You really have a high opinion of yourself.”
“Deny it all you want, Jai-Jai, but when we kissed, sparks flew.” Jack stepped closer, bringing his body to within an inch of hers. Heat leapt between them. “Feel that?”
Jaina swallowed visibly. “I don’t know what you are talking about.” Despite her struggle to remain nonchalant, Jaina’s voice shook.
Jack leaned forward to whisper in her ear, his hot breath sending shivers down her spine. “Yes you do.” He placed a small kiss on her temple, before shifting slightly and pressing his lips against hers.
Jack kept the kiss gentle. He longed to gather her close and deepen the kiss to a level that would match the fire in his blood. He held the impulse in check, not wishing to spook her.
Calling upon a will power that he was unaware he possessed, Jack waited until the exact moment Jaina began to actively participate in the kiss, then took a step back. The loss of contact left him feeling slightly hollow.
Jaina stared at him, her ebony eyes alight with an emotion that almost had Jack pulling her fully into his arms. He forced himself to move out of temptation’s way. “You can lie to me if it makes you feel better, Jaina, but you can’t lie to yourself.”
Jaina was spared from having to answer by the opening of a door. Jacen came out of his bedroom. “Ready, Jack?”
Jack turned and proceeded Jacen toward the door. Swinging it open wide, he gestured to his friend. “After you.”
“See you later, Jaina.” Jacen said as he left the apartment.
Jack followed behind. Just before going through the door, he turned and winked at Jaina. “Goodbye, Jai-Jai. We will finish our ‘discussion’ later.”
“What’s going on between you and my sister?”
The question was so unexpected, Jack was slightly taken aback. His surprise caused him to hesitate just enough that denying the implication would be futile. Nevertheless, Jack hedged. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Jacen gave his friend a long measured look over their glasses of synthehol. “Don’t try to snow me, Jack. We’ve been friends for way too long. I know something is going on. One would have to be a complete idiot not to feel the tension between you. Besides, Jaina was blocking me mentally earlier, something that she has never done.”
Jack took a long drink of the blue concoction in front of him. He did not want to discuss this with anyone, least of all Jacen. “What do you want me to say, Jace? Yes, I’m attracted to your sister, and I know she feels the same way. What are you going to do now, ask me what my intentions are?”
“That would be a good start.”
Jack’s eyes flashed, something akin to a challenge in their depths. “I fully intend to explore this new feeling. I intend to have a relationship with Jaina.” When Jacen opened his mouth to speak, Jack held up his hand. “Before you start beating your chest and warning me that my life will not be worth much if I hurt her, remember that Jaina and I are both adults. Whatever happens between us will be just that: between us.”
Jacen smiled slightly. “Actually, I was going to wish you luck. My twin can be pretty stubborn sometimes.” Jacen’s attention was diverted to something across the room. His eyes widened slightly. He turned back to his friend with an amused grin. “Here’s your chance. Jaina and Emily just walked into the room.”
Jacen laughed at the expression on his best friend’s face. “Now who looks like he just swallowed a goldfish? Careful, Jack, Jaina is liable to have you for lunch.” Jacen’s smile faded slightly as a note of warning entered his voice. “Oh, and Jack? If you hurt her, I will make your life a living hell.”
Across the room, Jaina stopped walking abruptly, her stomach taking a dive. She turned to Emily, hoping the younger girl had not yet spotted Jacen and Jack. “Emily, this place is too crowded. Let’s go some place else.”
Emily tossed her head, causing her red hair to bounce lively on her shoulders. “Why? This is just the kind of atmosphere I have been looking for.” She pouted prettily and twirled herself around. “I never get to go anywhere like this. I want to dance.”
“I know, but Em, we haven’t seen each other in so long, I thought it would be nice to sit and talk for a while.”
Her young friend was not listening. To Jaina’s dismay, Emily had spotted the object of Jaina’s discomfort. “Look, Jai! There’s Jacen and Jack. Let’s go sit with them.” In a flash, she was off, leaving Jaina no choice but to follow.
By the time Jaina reached the table, Emily had pulled up two chairs and was talking animatedly to the guys.
Jaina took a seat, mumbling a hello to her brother and pointedly ignoring Jack. She could feel his eyes on her, burning a hole into her soul.
Oblivious to the tension around her, Emily was having a great time. Her shyness seemed to disappear completely as she laughed and flirted with Jacen and every other male in the vicinity.
Jaina spent the next hour in abject misery. Finally she could not stand anymore. She stood up and pulled Emily to her feet. “Come on, Emmy, let’s go dance.”
The minute the two girls hit the dance floor, they were surrounding by young men vying for their attention, trying to be the first to ask them to dance.
For the next few hours, Jaina gave a pretty good impression of someone having a great time. She danced every dance, constantly changing partners. She forced herself to laugh merrily, knowing that Jack had not taken his eyes off her. After a while, she actually began to enjoy herself, laughing with Emily and their various partners, and gyrating to the music. She went from one partner to another, completely caught up in the music.
One song ended and another one, a slow one, began. With a light kiss on the cheek and a thank you, Jaina twirled away from a rather nice young cadet and right into a pair of very strong arms. Jaina smiled up into her new partner’s face and stopped cold, her smile freezing.
“I believe this is my dance.” Jack whispered, pulling her closer.
Jaina tried to push away from him. He held on tight. “I’m tired, Jack, I don’t wish to dance anymore.”
“Too bad.” Jack pulled her body flush with his, swaying slowly to the soft music. “I have been waiting all night to dance with you.”
“Jack, I don’t want to dance with you.”
“Liar,” he whispered against her ear.
The slow music, the sensuous sway of his hips and the warmth of his body against hers were making Jaina weak. Delicious sensations coursed through her body, giving her a heady, almost intoxicated feeling. After a few moments of holding herself stiff, she lost the inner battle she was raging on herself. She melted against him with a sigh.
One song ended, blending seamlessly into another, as they swayed to the music. They were locked in a world of their own, oblivious to their surroundings.
“Jaina,” Jack whispered hoarsely, his voice filled with an emotion that Jaina had never felt before. “Do you have any idea had badly I want to kiss you right now?”
Jaina stared into his smoldering eyes. Her breath caught painfully in her throat. Of its own volition, her body arched forward, raising her up on her tiptoes. She pressed her lips gently against his, feather soft.
Jack groaned deep in his throat, deepening the light pressure into a full blown embrace. His tongue slipped seductively across her lips, demanding entry into the warm recesses of her mouth as his hands roamed her fevered body.
Jaina could not breathe. She could not think. She was obliviously to everything except the warm embrace that was rapidly becoming anything but comforting.
A familiar sensation nibbled at the back of her mind, pulling Jaina abruptly from sweet oblivion. Her brother’s gently probing was like a mental clearing of the throat, reminding Jaina that she was in a crowded room. She pulled herself out of Jack’s arms. She stood there for several seconds, breathing heavy.
The enormity of what had just transpired crashed around her, bring with it confusion, uncertainty and fear. Without a word, she turned and ran from the room, barely hearing Jack’s choking plea to stop.
Jaina placed the dish of eggs beside the pancakes on the table. Stepping back, she surveyed her handiwork. She, admittedly, was not as good in the kitchen as her brother and father, but still, she thought she had done a fairly good job. The table was covered with plates heaping with pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs. Coffee and juice waited in carafes beside the dishes.
“Jacen,” she yelled. “Come on! Our breakfast is getting cold.” She took her seat just as her brother emerged from his bedroom, rubbing his wet hair with a towel. “Cold would probably be an improvement.” He teased with a grin as he sat down.
Jaina threw her napkin at him. “Not all of us can be culinary greats, Jace. Some of us have useful talents.”
Jacen made a face at his sister as he helped himself to a generous helping of everything. Jaina actually was a good cook, not that Jacen had any intention of telling her that.
“So what do you have planned for the day?” He asked after several minutes of silent eating.
Being the weekend, the twins did not have any classes. Jaina planned to take full advantage of the break. “I intend to be completely frivolous. Aunt Beverly, Emily, and I are meeting Angelique in New Orleans. We are going shopping in the French Quarter. We’ll probably have lunch at Sisko’s. What do you have planned?”
“Jack and I are going sailing.” Jacen watched in amusement as his sister colored slightly at the mention of his best friend.
“Oh, that’s nice. Have a good time.”
Jacen looked at his sister in speculation. “Jaina, about last night…”
Jaina busied herself with clearing away the breakfast dishes. “What about it?” She asked brightly.
“What is happening between you and Jack?”
Jaina closed her eyes briefly. “What makes you think anything is happening?” she hedged.
Jacen snorted. “Jaina, I’m not blind. The two of you almost set off the fire suppressors.”
Jaina felt her face flame. “Jacen, it was not that bad. It was just a kiss.”
Jacen raised an eyebrow. “Really? From where I was sitting it looked, and felt, like a whole lot more.”
Jaina gaped at her brother. “You know, that is the biggest problem with being twins and having Betazoid blood. From now on, I would appreciate it if you would turn off your ‘radar’ when I am engaged in something personal.”
Jacen had the good grace to look sheepish. “Sorry. But I wasn’t expecting for something quite that personal to happen on the dance floor.”
Jaina sat down heavily and covered her burning cheeks with her hands. “Neither was I.”
Jacen reached out and pulled her hands away from her face. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Jaina shook her head vehemently. “No! I want to forget it happened. If I never see Jack Picard again it will be too soon.”
Jacen was taken aback by her adamancy. “Why? Jack is a great guy. There are obviously feelings between the two of you. I think you should pursue it.”
“There is nothing between us, Jacen.” She hotly denied.
Jacen just looked at her. “Jaina, are you forgetting to whom you are talking? You know you can’t lie to me.”
Jaina screamed in frustration, taking her anger out on her brother. “Jacen Riker, kindly get your mind out of mine! I hate it when you do that!”
Jacen held out a hand, palm out. “Hold on there, Jai. I did not mean to upset you.”
Before Jaina could utter another word, the doorbell chimed. With one last angry look at her twin, Jaina went to answer it. Her anger diffused immediately as the door slid open. With a happy, surprised smile, she jumped into the arms of the tall man standing just outside the door. “Uncle Tommy!”
Laughing, Thomas Riker twirled his niece around in a complete circle before setting her back on her feet. “Hello, Starshine.” He yanked her ponytail affectionately.
Jacen stood up. “Uncle Thomas, it’s good to see you. Please, come in.”
“I would if your brat sister would let go of me.”
Jaina grinned impishly and stepped back, allowing her adored “uncle” to enter the room. In truth, Thomas Riker was not technically her uncle. He was an exact biological duplicate of her father, created by a transporter accident many years prior. Jaina and Jacen had heard about the accident many times, as well as the years of animosity between the two Will Rikers. Over the years, the two had come to an understanding of sorts. They had stopped seeing each other as carbon copies and had developed a surprisingly strong brotherhood. Personally, Jaina was thrilled by the grudging affection between them. She adored Thomas Riker almost as much as she adored Will Riker.
“How are you, Uncle Tommy?” Jaina asked, pushing him toward a seat and offering him a cup of coffee.
Thomas winked at his niece. Jaina was the only one in the galaxy that could call him “Tommy” and get away with it. “Just fine, Starshine.” He answered, using the nickname he had bestowed on her when she was a toddler. The two of them had a very special relationship. To Thomas, Jaina was the daughter he never had. Deanna’s look-alike little girl.
Thomas gave up being jealous of Will’s marriage to Deanna years ago. He was genuinely happy for them. Even more so since his own marriage, ten years ago. He would not trade his wife, Abigail, or his two sons, for anything. But his recent happiness did not diminish the “might-have-beens” he felt from time to time. As a result, Deanna and Will’s beautiful little girl held a very special place in Thomas’ heart.
“So, what brings you by?” Jacen asked.
Thomas shrugged. “I was in town and thought I would pay a visit to my favorite niece and nephew.” Thomas gave Jacen a pointed look over Jaina’s head.
Oblivious to the undercurrents, Jaina rolled her eyes with a giggle. “We are your only niece and nephew.”
Thomas grinned. “That makes you second to none then, I guess.”
The three of them chatted amicably for a while, Thomas sharing news of his wife and sons.
After almost an hour, Jacen, recognizing the slightly anxious look in his uncle’s eyes, cleared his throat. “Jaina, don’t you have to meet Bev and Emily?”
Jaina looked disappointedly at her chronometer. “Yeah. I better get ready. Uncle Tommy, you have to promise to come back and visit when we have more time. And next time you have to bring Aunt Abby and the boys with you.”
Thomas laughed. “I will, I promise.”
Jaina hurried to her room to change her clothes.
Jacen looked at his uncle steadily. “What’s up?”
Thomas waved his hand dismissively. “We’ll talk about it after Jai leaves.”
Jacen nodded in agreement, already dreading the conversation. Thomas never had happy news to share when he had that look in his eyes.
Jacen waited for the door to close behind Jaina before turning a speculative eye on Thomas. “What do you need me to do this time?”
Thomas raised his left brow with a smirk. “You know you sound just like your father when you do that.”
Jacen smiled slightly. “I know. It drives Mom crazy.”
“How are your parents?”
Jacen looked at him pointedly. “They’re fine. Stop changing the subject.”
Thomas stopped smiling abruptly. “I need you to do a little search and rescue for me.”
Jacen nodded, expecting something like that. This was not the first time his uncle had come to him for help.
Thomas was the head security officer for a highly placed, and high profile, admiral. He often came to Jacen when he needed “assistance.”
“You know I will help you in any way I can. I always do. What do you need me to do?”
Thomas took a deep breath “Admiral Yeats’ daughter is missing. I need you to find her.”
Jacen was surprised. “That’s it? Just a simple search?” Thomas’ requests usually were more covert and dangerous than that.
“Well, it’s not quite that simple. Jasmine, the admiral’s daughter, crash landed on a planet and no one has heard from her since. We know that she is alive, she was able to contact her father after landing, but all communication has been lost. We believe that she may have wandered into a settlement, looking for help. We have scanned the planet, but cannot find her biosignature.”
Jacen did not quite understand. “So why can’t you just send some one down to look for her? Why do you need me?”
Thomas looked uncomfortable. “The planet is pre-warp. We would have to go down incognito, blend into their culture.”
Once again, Jacen shrugged. “So? Starfleet does that all the time. Alter someone to look like the inhabitants and search around.”
Thomas did not look at his nephew. “It’s not that cut and dry. You see, Starfleet cannot have any knowledge of this. We cannot officially send anyone. It has to be top secret.”
“Why?” Jacen demanded with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He had a feeling he did not want to know.
“The planet is restricted from any Federation involvement.”
“Why?” He asked again, beginning to lose patience with his uncle.
Jacen was right. He really did not want to know. “About twenty five years
ago, there was an incident. A small exploration craft crash landed in a rural
area, and was discovered by some of the inhabitants. It was a disaster. Their
government tried to cover it up, and put out false reports, but once the general
population became aware of the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, pandemonium
broke out. They were at a very early stage of space exploration, had not yet
left their own atmosphere. The general population did not trust the government’s
exploratory measures. They were frightened by the unknown. After our craft
was found, wide-spread paranoia spread, setting their development back significantly.
The Federation put a ban on the entire solar system for several generations.
They hoped that after enough time, the tales of a “recovered alien vessel”
would fade into folk lore and they would proceed to develop at a normal rate.
The restriction is still in place for another fifty years. Starfleet cannot
find out that the Admiral’s daughter violated their missive. I need you to
find her and bring her back. And nobody can know where you are going.”
Jack opened the door to his parent’s house without ringing first to announce his presence. Although he no longer lived there, he knew there would always be an “open door” policy in his childhood home. He stood in the foyer for a moment, drinking in the familiar sounds and smells. The early French-style chateau was just the way he remembered it, right down to the smell of fresh baked croissants wafting in from the dining room.
With a smile on his handsome face, Jack followed the enticing scent down the hallway and into the small, quaintly furnished dining room, knowing he would find his parents and sister sitting around the table, lingering over breakfast.
He was not disappointed. He stood in the doorway, watching the peaceful scene with tenderness. His father, the incomparable Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, sat at the head of the table, clearly enjoying the animated voices of his wife and daughter with the quietly amused dignity he cultivated and had perfected to an art form. His still beautiful wife, Beverly Picard, current head of Starfleet Medical, reigned supreme in a chair to his left. She laughed merrily while her vibrant, vivacious daughter mercilessly teased her father.
Emily was the first to notice the young man lounging against the door jam. “Jack!” she cried happily, jumping out of her chair and launching herself into her brother’s arms. “I did not expect to see you today. I thought you were headed back to France.” Although she had just seen her brother the night before, Emily was overjoyed that he was still in town. His visits to San Francisco were seldom and usually very short.
Laughing, Jack hugged his sister close. “I could not pass up the chance to spend time with my favorite sister, Mon Cherie.”
Detangling himself from his sister’s embrace, Jack stepped forward to greet his parents. “Maman, you look radiant as usual.” He praised, kissing her lightly on the cheek.
Jack held his hand out to his father. “Papa.”
Jean-Luc gripped his son’s hand tightly. “Jacque, mon fils, wonderful to see you. How long can you stay?”
Jack took the empty seat beside his sister and reached for a croissant. “Actually, I can stay for quite a while this time. The vineyards are doing splendidly and I really am not needed there right now. The caretaker is doing a marvelous job.”
Jean-Luc nodded. “Excellent. It will be nice to have you around for a while.”
Jack agreed. “It will be nice to be home.”
Beverly poured her son a glass of juice. “How is Marie?” she asked, referring to Jean-Luc’s widowed sister-in-law.
Jack accepted the proffered glass. “Merci. Marie is doing well. She sends her love.” Jack pulled teasingly on his sister’s braid. “Cherie, I made plans to go sailing with Jacen this afternoon. Would you care to join us? Maybe we can get Jaina to come, too.”
Emily smirked at her brother, her eyes twinkling, not the least bit fooled by his casual invitation. “I’m sorry, Jack. Mom and I already have plans. We are going shopping in the French Quarter. Jaina is going with us. Actually, she should be here in a few minutes.”
Beverly watched her son closely, intrigued by the peculiar gleam in his eyes. Was that a note of interest she saw? She gave her daughter a questioning look. Emily just smiled, her eyes twinkling with teasing merriment. “Maybe we can meet up with you and Jacen later. We can go dancing again.”
Jean-Luc raised an eyebrow. “Dancing?”
“Yes, Papa, Jaina and I ran into Jack and Jacen at a small jazz club last night. It was a very interesting night.”
Jack nudged his sister under the table, shooting her a murderous glance, pleading with his eyes for her to be quiet. He was not ready for his parents to know anything about what was happening with Jaina. Especially considering that Jack was not entirely sure himself what was happening. The feelings he had when he was with her were too new, too raw to define yet.
As though the mere thought of her had the power to make her appear, Jaina stepped into the room, bringing sunshine in her wake. “Good morning, everybody!” She sang out merrily. Her radiant smile had Jack struggling to breathe. What was it about her that made everything seem sharper, more vibrant?
Jaina’s happy smile faded slightly when she spotted Jack. “Hello, Jack.” Her voice shook only slightly, barely noticeable.
Jack noticed. His heart turned over in his chest. Oh, yes, he definitely wanted to explore the heat that sprang up between them when ever they were in the same room. Her obvious nervousness only served to intrigue him more. Why was she so resistant to the undefined, yet undeniable, attraction they were both feeling?
“Bon Matin. Comment etes-vous ce matin? Vous avez dormi bien?” Jack could not help teasing her, thoroughly enjoying the flush that tinted her cheeks. For himself, he had not slept well at all. Every time he began to drift off, his thoughts wandered back to the mind blowing kiss they had shared.
Regaining her equilibrium, Jaina answered him in French. “Comme un bebe” She turned away from him deliberately, less he see the truth in her tired eyes. “Aunt Beverly, Emily, are you ready?” She asked, switching back to English. Normally, she would sit for a while, visiting with her Godfather, but she suddenly felt the urge to make a quick exit.
Emily stood up and stretched. “Sure, Jai, let’s go.” She bent over and pressed a light kiss on her brother’s forehead. “Vous voir plus tard, Jacque. S’amuser bien sur l’eau.” She leaned closer and whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry, I won’t let Jaina fall for any handsome Creoles while in the Quarter.” She laughed when he pulled her hair and scolded her with mock exasperation. “Incorrigible brat. I’ll make sure I return the favor with a certain guy I know.” He whispered, laughing when she turned red.
Jaina turned to leave the room, failing to notice the speculative look that passed between Beverly and Jean-Luc. Beverly made a mental note to interrogate her daughter at the first possible opportunity.
As the three women left the house, Jack’s eyes remained glued to Jaina’s rapidly retreating form. He continued to stare at the empty entryway long after they had departed.
“Hey, look at this one, Mom.” Emily enthused, holding a length of silky blue material against her body. “What do you think? Is this a good color for me?”
Beverly admired the periwinkle cloth. “Perfect. It is almost the exact color of your eyes.” Beverly turned to her other young companion. “Jai, what do you think? Can you see Emmy in a dress made from this?” Jaina did not seem to hear her. She was staring off into nothing, just as she had been for the past three hours. Beverly touched her arm in concern. “Jaina? Darling, what’s the matter?”
Jaina jumped, startled. “Huh?” She shook her head, trying to clear her jumbled thoughts. She looked at her companions sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I guess I am just a little distracted right now.” She did not want to admit where her mind had been. Against her will, her thoughts had been lingering on Jack all day. Why couldn’t she get his face out of her mind? Why did her wayward thoughts insist on dwelling on the feel of his lips against her own? Jaina did not understand why a few simple kisses had her tied up in knots. It wasn’t as though she had never been kissed before. OK, she admitted to herself, simple did not even begin to describe the feel of Jack’s kisses. Phrases such as “mind-blowing”, “earth-shattering”, “bone-melting”, and “explosive” came to mind. The problem was, Jaina did not want to have those kind of feelings in regards to Jack. How could she? She did not even like him.
Jaina looked up when Beverly cleared her throat, realizing she had drifted into reverie again. She noticed wryly that her Godmother and best friend were watching her with very interested—and amused—expressions.
Beverly looked at her in concern. “What is wrong with you, Jaina?”
Emily had a cat-that-ate-the-canary look in her devilish blue eyes. “I know what’s wrong,” She chirped in a sing-song voice.
Jaina shook her had frantically, pleading silently with her friend to remain quiet. Jaina could tell Beverly almost anything, but not this. Tell Beverly that she had been fantasizing about her son? Not likely.
Jaina grabbed Emily’s arm and pulled her forward. “Come on, Em. I’m starving. Let’s hit Sisko’s” Jaina dragged her younger friend down the street.
Emily laughed when she heard Jaina hiss in her ear. “Don’t you dare say
anything to your mother about last night. The last thing I need is for her
to start getting ideas.”
Jack hesitated, his finger hovering barely an inch from the door chime. From inside the apartment, he heard the distinctive sound of ancient Country music. He rolled his eyes with a laugh. What was it about the Riker family and their affinity for archaic musical forms?
He pressed the button and waited. No response. He pressed it again. He could faintly hear the chime echoing, practically indiscernible above the din of a surprisingly good guitar rift. He pressed the bell again, harder. Still no response. Giving up, Jack keyed in the access code Jacen had given him years ago.
The door slid open, blasting Jack with music. Jack stepped inside and stopped short. He stared at the sight before him, his mouth going dry. In the center of the room was Jaina, her back to him. She was bent in half at the waist, touching her toes; giving Jack a very interesting view of her scantily covered backside. Jack could not help himself, he whistled wolfishly.
Jaina yelped in surprise and spun around. “What are you doing here? How did you get in?” Jaina could feel her face burning. Embarrassment made her voice crack. “Computer, pause music.”
Jack grinned lecherously. “Anybody ever tell you that you have a nice butt?” His eyes roamed her body from head to feet and back again. The front was rather nice to, he thought. She was wearing the skimpiest, tightest workout suit he had ever seen.
Uncomfortably aware of his perusal, Jaina folded her arms across her chest self-consciously. “Stop leering.” She demanded crossly.
“I wasn’t leering, just being properly appreciative.” He took a step toward her. The fire in his eyes had Jaina taking a step backwards. Jack moved closer, Jaina moved away.
Jack chuckled. “Jaina, stand still. I’m not going to bite you.” He winked. “Unless you want me to, of course.”
His somewhat lewd remark snapped Jaina out of her nervousness. She gave him a cool look as she picked up her towel, slinging it across her neck, effectively blocking his view of her cleavage. “What do you want, Jack?”
Jack smirked. “Do you really want me to answer that, Jai-Jai?”
The look she gave him could have frozen fire. “Do not call me that. Only my friends are allowed to call me that.”
Jack nodded as though he agreed. “In that case, I’ll have to think of something else to call you. Something special, just between the two of us.”
Jaina frowned. “Why?”
“Because sooner or later, we are going to be a great deal more than friends.”
Jaina forced a laugh, not wanting to admit even to herself just how strongly she was affected by his words. “Have you always been this delusional?”
Jack shook his head mournfully. “Jaina, Jaina, Jaina,” he scolded teasingly. “Why do you continue to deny what is written so clearly on your face?” He took another step toward her, advancing until she was backed against a wall. Jack placed his hands on the wall, one on either side of her head, effectively trapping her. He leaned toward her, stopping barely a breath away. “Am I going to have to prove it to you again?”
He was too close. Jaina swallowed hard, her entire body infused with liquid fire. “No.” she whispered, hating the breathless quality of her voice. “Please move.”
“Why? Do I disturb you, Jaina?”
Jaina raised her chin defiantly. “Hardly. When are you going to get it through your thick skull that I do not like you?”
“Sorry, you asked for it.” Jack whispered just before their lips met. He kept the kiss light, gently coaxing. Her lips were so incredibly soft and warm, pushing his resolve to the limit, bringing fire to his veins. He drank in the sweetness that was unique only to Jaina.
Reluctantly, he stepped back, breaking the gentle contact. He closed his eyes, willing his body to calm down.
Jaina took advantage of his momentary inattention and slipped under his arm, moving away rapidly.
Jack collapsed languidly against the wall. He turned around slowly, leaning back with deceptive casualness, his legs crossed and his arms folded. He regarded her through hooded eyes as she paced, obviously agitated. “Do you still insist that you do not like me?” he asked quietly
“Yes!” Jaina practically shouted, bringing a hint of a smile to Jack’s lips. She faced him squarely, her eyes flashing icy daggers. “Don’t look at me like that!”
“Like I am a piece of chocolate cake you can’t wait to devour.”
Jack quirked an eyebrow. “Interesting imagery.” He stepped away from the wall. “Jaina, why can’t you admit that there is something between us? Your body knows it, why can’t your mind accept it?”
Jaina flopped down on the couch with a screech of frustration. She covered her face with her hands, not answering him.
She moved her hands and faced him with equal parts anger and vulnerability. “Fine. I admit that I am attracted to you. But I do not intend to act on that attraction.”
“Why not?” he questioned gently, hope flickering to life in his chest.
“Because I don’t want to be attracted to you. I spent most of my life disliking you. Why would I want to get involved with someone I don’t like as a person?”
“Oh, is that all?” Jack laughed, completely unconcerned. “You keep going back to our childhood. Jaina, you haven’t seen me in years. We have both grown up a lot. In all honesty, you really do not know me at all. At least not who I am now.”
Jaina snorted rudely. “So? Your point?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “The point, my ebony eyed angel, is that you should at least give this thing between us a chance. Who knows? You might find that you like me after all.”
Jack smirked. “What’s the matter, midnight angel, are you afraid you might be wrong?”
“I’m not.” Jaina was not quite so sure of herself.
She gaped at him. “Excuse me?”
“Go out with me. On a real date; dinner, dancing, the works.”
“You have got to be kidding.”
“Chicken.” He accused, thoroughly enjoying the fire that danced in her ultra dark eyes.
“You are the most annoyingly arrogant person I have ever met.” Jaina fumed half-heartedly.
“Is that a ‘yes’?” He pushed.
Jaina could not resist the challenging look on his too handsome face. “On one condition.” She warned.
Jack bowed regally. “Votre souhait est mon ordre.”
“After I prove you wrong, you go back to France and leave me alone.”
Jack just grinned.
“Jacen, hurry up!” Jaina yelled, banging her fist against the bathroom door. How could one person spend so much time in the shower?
“I’ll be out in a minute!” She heard from the other side of the closed door.
Jaina clenched her fists. “That’s what you said twenty minutes ago!” She stomped angrily away. Jaina stalked into her bedroom, agitated. She glanced at the haphazard pile of clothes on her bed. She grunted in disgust. She had only an hour to get ready for her date with Jack. She was never going to make it. She still had not decided what to wear, and if her brother did not get out of the bathroom, she would never have time to take a shower.
Jaina threw open her closet door and stared at the sparse contents. Most of her wardrobe had already been rejected, as evidenced by the mountain on her bed.
What was wrong with her? She had never been so worked up about a simple date before. Why was she suddenly nervous? What was it about Jack that made her react like an anxious teenager on her first date?
~You are a teenager, Jaina, remember?~
Jaina whirled around to see her brother standing in the doorway, watching her with amusement. “Get out of my head!” She yelled, causing her twin to take a step back in surprise.
“What did I do?” He asked.
Jaina grabbed her towel and shoved past him. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is to always have another person hearing your every thought? Invading your privacy?”
“Invading your…” Jacen started. He frowned at her in confusion, genuinely surprised by her outburst. “Jaina, you know I never purposely read you. You were broadcasting quite loudly.”
“I was not!”
“Jaina, what is the matter with you? You have been jumpy and on edge all day.”
Jaina walked into the bathroom. “Leave me alone, Jacen. I have a date to get ready for.”
Understanding dawned on Jacen. “Is that why you have been so agitated? You’re nervous about your date with Jack?”
“Mind your own business.” Jaina slammed the bathroom door in his face.
“Fine! Be that way!” He yelled before entering his own bedroom to dress. ~If dating Jack is going to make you bitchy, maybe you shouldn’t go out with him.~
Jaina answered his thought cast by rudely suggesting he do something anatomically impossible. She then slammed a mental block in place.
Jacen was fully dressed and in the process of packing when Jaina emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later. He winced slightly when her bedroom door slammed shut behind her. Jacen shook his head and rolled his eyes at his sister’s bad mood. Under normal circumstances he hated fighting with his twin and would have made more of an attempt to draw her out, but at that moment he had more important things to worry about than his sister’s love life. He would be leaving soon to go on Thomas’ mission. A potentially dangerous mission. He could not afford to be distracted. Besides, despite her completely unwarranted burst of anger, Jacen really was not that worried about her. That was the wonderful thing about being as close as they were. They may drive each other crazy, and often fight like worst enemies, but they never stayed that way for long. He knew she would be in to apologize soon.
He looked up at the sound of a throat clearing. Thanks to her mental block, he had not sensed his sister’s approach. Jaina stood in the doorway, a contrite look on her face. “Jacen, I’m sorry I was so bitchy. I suppose I am a bit on edge about going out with Jack.”
Jacen continued to fold clothes into a duffle bag. He smiled briefly at his twin. She had appeared faster than he had anticipated.
“Don’t worry about it, Funny Face. I’m pretty used to your insanity by now.”
Jaina made a face at her brother as she entered his room. She finally noticed what he was doing. She looked at him in surprise. “Where are you going?”
Jacen hedged. He had promised Thomas not to tell anybody, but he had to tell her something. “I have to make a trip.” He evaded simply. “I won’t be gone long.”
Jaina looked at him reproachfully. “Jace, please tell me Uncle Thomas doesn’t have you running all over the galaxy for him again.”
“Now who’s invading whose privacy?” he asked lightly.
“Jacen, you can’t keep taking off like this. What about your classes?”
“Thomas has taken care of it. He arranged a deal with the administration. They think I am going to be helping out on the Titan for a while. I am even going to get class credit.”
Jaina’s eyes widened. “The Titan! Jacen, that’s impossible. Dad would never allow…”
Jacen grinned. “Dad will never know. The Admin will have no reason to contact him. Not when he has already spoken to them, and the Titan will be out of touch for a while.”
“Already spoken to them?” Jaina asked suspiciously. “Jacen, please tell me Uncle Tommy didn’t impersonate Dad again.”
“Alright, I won’t tell you. The less you know the better.”
“Jacen…” Jaina began, a hint of worry in her voice.
Jacen knelt in front of her, smiling persuasively. “Don’t worry, Jaina, everything is going to be fine. This is not the first time we have done this.”
“That’s what I am afraid of,” she responded dryly, looking into her brother’s twinkling eyes. “You and Thomas take way too many chances. If Dad finds out, you are not going to have to worry about what Starfleet thinks. Dad will kill you both.”
Jacen turned up the wattage on his most coaxing smile. “Dad is not going to find out, because you are not going to tell him. Are you, Funny Face?”
Jaina stared at him steadily, unmoved. “Don’t bother using Riker charm on me, Jace. I’m immune, remember? What does our dear uncle want you to do now?”
Jacen stood up and resumed his packing. “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know.”
“Yes, I do.” Jaina pouted prettily, using her own special brand of charm.
Jacen ignored it. “No.”
Jaina’s expression turned pleading, tears welling in her eyes. “Jacen, please. You can’t just take off on a potentially dangerous adventure without telling me anything. What if something happens? How can you keep me in the dark? Give me some idea of what is going on, for my own peace of mind. I won’t tell anybody. I just won’t be able to stand it if something happens to you.”
Jacen started clapping. “Beautiful performance, Jai. First class. I’m still not going to tell you.” He picked up his bag and carried it into the living room.
Jaina scowled at her brother, her tears drying as quickly as they had started. She followed him. “C’mon, Jacen…”
Jacen shook his head firmly. “No!”
Jaina sighed angrily. “You are so stubborn. What am I supposed to tell Mom and Dad if they call looking for you? Can’t you at least tell me how long you are going to be gone?”
“I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone. Don’t worry about Mom and Dad. Just tell them I’m out, or something. They don’t call that often.”
“I could just tell them what’s going on, then you won’t be able to do this anymore,” Jaina mused.
Jacen turned on her threateningly. “Don’t you dare! Jaina, you have to trust me. I have to do this, and you have to promise me not to tell anybody. Especially not Dad.”
Jaina tried again, her concern for her twin, making her voice caustic. “Why do you have to do this, Jacen? Why can’t Uncle Thomas find someone else? Doesn’t he know what these clandestine ‘missions’ can do to your career? Why would you even want to jeopardize your future like this?”
Jacen sighed. “Because he trusts me, and I’m bored. Do you have any idea how frustrating being here is for me? I need to be out there, Jaina, doing things that actually make a difference.”
Jaina did understand, she felt the same frustration at times, but… “Jacen, our time will come. After we graduate. We have our entire lives ahead of us.”
“I know, but doesn’t it ever bother you? Being here? We grew up out there amongst the stars. We have more practical experience than most of the graduates. Even with the strings Jean-Luc pulled, we still have to wait to get back out there. Then we have to start out where everybody else will be. At the beginning.”
Jaina shrugged. “So? Once we are there, we can prove ourselves.” Jaina stepped closer and placed her hand on his arm, soothingly. “It won’t take Starfleet long to see what we can do. They already see our potential, and have made a lot of allowances for us. How can you ask for more?”
“I know, Jai. But, we traveled back in time for Gods sake! We saved our mother and countless other lives. That should count for something!”
Jaina shuddered at the memory of their harrowing trip to the past. “Why? Why should it count? For one thing, our trip through the wormhole is not common knowledge. For another, we almost failed! Don’t you see, Jacen? Yes, we know a lot. Yes, we have hands on experience. But that does not mean we are ready for the kind of commitment Starfleet entails. We still have so much too learn. There is so much the Academy can teach us. Maybe we had it too easy. Maybe we are spoiled. We had the kind of childhood that most people can not even imagine. We had practically everything handed to us, by virtue of our last names and our IQ’s. But the Riker name, and our intelligence level did not stop us from royally screwing up in the past! We almost got ourselves and our parents killed, remember? Yes, what we did should count for something, but only on a personal level. We should use that as a reminder of where we want to go in our lives. We can use it as a learning experience. We had little more than determination and arrogance on our side. Yes, it turned out alright. But, look at all the mistakes we made. Look at what our lack of maturity and life experience almost did. That is something the academy can give us, outside of the knowledge and skills we are acquiring.” Jaina stopped and took a deep breath. “Jacen, think about it. What are you going to do if you blow your chances with the Academy? Do you really want to fail again, for the sake of adventure? Jace, it’s time to grow up. Let Thomas get someone else to do this.”
Jacen closed his eyes, considering his sister’s words. “Jaina, I understand what you are saying, but I need to do this.” He held his hand up, silencing her when she began to speak. “I promise to think about it, but I made a commitment and I will fulfill it. Promise me you will back me up on this, and don’t say anything.”
Jacen cut her off, somewhat harshly. “Promise me, Jaina.”
Jaina sighed again, giving in. “Fine. I promise. But…”
“No, no ‘buts’. Trust me.” Jacen changed tactics, his voice taking on a teasing quality. “Don’t you have a date to get ready for? You better hurry, you don’t want to keep Jack waiting.”
“All right, all right. I’ll let it go for now” Jaina wrapped her arms around her brother, hugging him tightly. “Just promise me you will be careful, OK? Don’t do anything stupid.”
Jacen returned her hug briefly, before shoving her playfully away. He smiled disarmingly. “When have I ever done anything stupid?”
With a laugh, Jaina entered her room, closing the door behind her. ~How
long ya got? I have a very long list.~
Jaina stood in front of a full length mirror, perusing her reflection with a skeptical eye. The dress she had finally decided on was purple silk. The cool material clung to her frame, from one inch wide straps to waistline, then flared out over her hips to swirl around her legs softly, stopping just above her knees. She looked good, maybe too good. She nervously smoothed her hand over her stomach. The dress was too slinky, too low cut. She groaned. Why did she choose this dress? Maybe she should change.
From the other side of her closed door, Jaina heard the doorbell ring. A few seconds later, she heard her brother greeting Jack cheerfully. Too late to change now.
With one last glance in the mirror, Jaina took a deep breath and entered the living room. Her eyes met Jack’s from across the room. Appreciation darkened his blue eyes as he looked her over from head to toe. He swallowed, hard. “Wow. Jaina, you look…incredible.”
Shyly, Jaina stepped forward. “Hello, Jack. You look very nice yourself.” Understatement of the century, Jaina thought. Dressed all in black, his reddish brown hair combed back and his eyes smoky with unmistakable desire, he made Jaina’s breath catch painfully in her lungs. A small lock of his hair fell forward over his forehead, giving him a somewhat roguish appearance. Jaina had the strangest urge to run her fingers through his hair, to push the errant strands back into place.
“Jaina, are you ready to go?”
Jaina reddened in embarrassment, realizing she had been staring, as she looked up at Jack’s slightly amused expression.
She regained her composure quickly. “Yes, let’s go.” She stopped in front of her brother and hugged him. ~Stay safe, big brother. Hurry back.~
Jacen returned her hug. The very brief tightening of his arms around her was the only evidence of his own apprehension. His sister was the only person in the universe he allowed to see any vulnerability in his confident demeanor. ~You just have a great time, and don’t worry about me, Funny Face. I’ll be back before you know it.~
Jaina moved out of her brother’s arms and stepped to Jack’s side. With a smile, he offered her his arm. Jaina hesitantly placed her hand in the crook of his elbow, allowing him to lead her out the door.
Over her shoulder she gave her twin one last look before the door slid shut.
“So, where are we going?” She asked as they walked down the hallway toward the elevators.
“It’s a surprise.” Jack answered mysteriously.
They came to a stop before the elevator. Jaina reached out to depress the call button. Jack touched her hand, stilling the motion. “Wait.”
Jaina looked at him quizzically. “What? What’s wrong?”
In answer, Jack leaned down and kissed her, deeply. “There,” He said when they parted. “I just wanted to get that out of the way first.” He pressed the call button.
Jaina just stared at him. “Huh?”
The elevator door slid open with a ding. Jack held out his arm, indicating that she should precede him. He waiting until the elevator started to descend before answering her with a teasing smile. “Now you don’t have to worry all night about when I’m going to kiss you again.”
Jaina tried to glare at him, but found herself smiling instead. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “You are incorrigible.”
Jack looked at her thoughtfully. “Incorrigible, huh?” He mused. “I guess I’m going to have to work on that. I was aiming for irresistible.”
You nearly are, Jaina admitted silently.
“So, when Aunt Marie asked me to oversee the vineyards, I couldn’t say no. She is a remarkable woman, but she is getting too old to shoulder the responsibility on her own anymore.”
Jaina picked up her half empty glass of wine. She swirled the deep crimson liquid around in the glass absently. She listened with rapt attention as Jack talked about his family’s vineyard in France. The deep, husky timbre of his voice settled over her like a warm blanket.
Jaina was surprised to find that she was having a wonderful time. Jack was surprisingly good company. In the two hours that they had been sitting in the small dimly lit restaurant, they had talked about everything from her studies to his work to their respective families. She was pleasantly surprised to find Jack to be not only very intelligent—which she already knew—but also insightful, caring, and quite funny. Jaina could not remember when she had last laughed so easily, or so much.
The soft romantic glow of the candles, the beautifully unobtrusive music playing in the background, and Jack’s warm attentiveness, were going a long way toward breaking through the last of Jaina’s defenses.
As the night wore on, she gradually stopped seeing her childhood nemesis and began to see the man he had become. She liked him, truly liked him. “What does Jean-Luc think about you running the vineyards?”
Jack shrugged. “It’s difficult to tell with my father. Naturally, he is pleased that the yards will stay in the family, but I think there is part of him that is disappointed that I did not go to the Academy.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Follow in his footsteps, and all that.”
“I’m sure he is very proud of you, and doesn’t care if you don’t join Starfleet. Besides, it’s not like he will be the last of the Picards to go into space. Emily is already starting to study for her entrance exams.”
“And let’s not forget his protégé, Wesley the Wonder Captain.”
Jaina raised her eyebrow at his sarcastic tone. “You don’t like your brother much, do you?”
“Half-brother.” He corrected. “And I don’t have anything against Wes, other than the fact that in my parent’s eyes, he is the perfect everything. Bridge officer at the age of fourteen, boy genius, all powerful extra dimensional traveler, third youngest captain in Starfleet history, wonderful husband, wonderful father, etc. etc. etc.”
“Mental note to self.” Jaina intoned, trying to put the smile back on his face. “Discussions involving Wesley Crusher make Jack angry little boy.” She raised her glass to her lips, watching him over the rim.
It worked. Jack smiled at her sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I guess I am a bit touchy about Wesley. Do you have any idea how hard it is to live up to a legend?”
Jaina laughed, almost choking on her wine. “Jack, are you kidding me? Are you forgetting that my last name is Riker?”
Jack laughed, too. “Technically, your last name is Troi.”
Jaina rolled her eyes. “Well, if you want to get technical, it’s actually Riker-Troi, hyphenated. That just makes it worse. Try being compared to not only William Riker, but also Lwaxana Troi. I’m expected to be both a devil-may-care risk taker and a serene, aristocratic Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed. Top that.”
Jacen raised his glass in mock salute. “ I humbly bow before your oxymoronic existence.” Jack shook his head in bemusement. “What a combination. How do your parents do it? Don’t they drive each other insane?”
Jaina’s eyes twinkling. “Of course. They just decided a long time ago that they would rather be crazy together than sane apart.”
“Would you say you and Jacen are more like your mother or your father?”
Jaina gave this serious thought. “I think we got the best of both of them. Jacen is a lot like Daddy. He takes too many risks, always has to be the best. Usually is the best. But there is a sensitivity in him that comes straight from Mom. Neither of us are Empathic per se, our Betazoid blood is too diluted, but Jacen has this extraordinary instinct that makes him more aware of everything.”
Jack nodded, agreeing with Jaina’s assessment of his best friend. “And you?”
Suddenly Jaina felt shy. Jack was watching her intently, as if he were trying to look into her soul. “Me? I don’t know. I guess that depends on who you ask.”
“In that case, I’ll ask myself.”
Jaina cocked her head to the side and looked at him questioningly. “What?”
Jack picked up her hand from where it lay on the table. He ran his thumb over her knuckles, sending shivers up her spine. “Let me tell you what I see when I look at you.” His eyes turned smoky. Jaina felt her pulse quicken. Jack smiled, aware of the reaction he was causing. “I see beauty, sweetness, gentle serenity, intelligence, a kind spirit, a reckless streak, and a devilish sense of humor. I see a girl who can humble me with a look, or brighten my day with a simple smile.”
Jaina felt warm all over. “Thank you.”
Their eyes locked and held. Jaina thought she just might drown in the naked desire she saw in his gaze. “What else do you see?” she whispered huskily.
“A see a question in your eyes. I see passion bursting to be let loose.”
Jaina could not deny his words. Rather than try, she pulled her hand out of his and changed the subject, bringing the conversation back to neutral ground.
The walk back to Jaina’s apartment was accompanied by a compatible silence. Jaina walked beside Jack, wondering what would happen when they reached their destination. Would Jack ask to come in? Should she invite him? Could she kiss him again and resist the flames? She openly admitted, at least to herself, that she wanted him. Wanted him with an intensity that frightened her. She had never felt anything like what she was feeling right then.
Before she knew it, they were in the elevator, going up to her floor. She stepped off the elevator and walked to her door with out being aware of what she was doing.
Jaina turned to Jack. She cleared her throat and looked him directly in the eye. “Well, Jack, thank you. I had a wonderful evening.”
“It isn’t over yet, Angel.” He whispered just before covering her mouth with his own.
Jaina snaked her arms around his neck, leaning into the kiss. She realized she had been waiting all night for this. She pressed against him, trying to deepen the kiss. She ran her tongue over his lips, trying to gain entry. However, Jack kept the kiss light, kept a tight reign on his desire.
He broke the kiss and stepped back. He looked at her silently for a moment, drinking in the sight of her wet lips and flushed face. He ran his finger down her cheek. “La bonne nuit, l'Ange. Rêves doux.”
With that he turned and walked away, leaving Jaina standing outside her
apartment, staring at his retreating back in frustrated bemusement.
“So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye. So you think you can love me and leave me to die…”
Jaina tapped her foot in the air in time to the music. She lay flat on her back, holding her Astrophysics PADD above her head. She had a test to study for, had backed out of a date with Jack in order to do so, but was in reality paying more attention to the ancient rock and roll song playing loudly in the background.
She could not seem to concentrate on anything. She tossed her PADD on the table with a grunt. She had no interest in dry statistics and scientific theories at that moment. Her life had been a whirlwind for the past two weeks. Practically every waking moment that she wasn’t in class, she spent with Jack. The time they spent together was incredible. He was great company, and he made her feel so special. When she was with Jack, everything else seemed to vanish from her thoughts. Which is why she had cancelled their plans for the night, explaining that she had neglected her studies, and did not want to fail the upcoming test.
Jack, needless to say, had been disappointed, but he had understood. He had even offered to help her study. With a laugh and a light kiss, Jaina turned down his offer, knowing that she would get nothing accomplished if he were there.
“Not that you’re getting anything done anyway.” She reminded herself wryly. “You should have taken him up on his offer, at least then you would have an excuse for not studying.”
She picked up her PADD again as the opening notes to another song began.
“I had no choice but to hear you. You stated your case time and again…”
Jaina groaned. Why did so many songs from the Twentieth century remind her of Jack?
Over the husky female voice, Jaina faintly heard the ding of an incoming transmission.
Absurdly grateful for the interruption, Jaina practically ran to her desk. “Computer, halt playback.”
She queued the subspace message, smiling broadly when her mother’s face appeared. “Mom, hi.” Her surprise evident in her voice.
“Hello, Jaina.” Deanna’s melodic voice drifted across the open channel. “I’m not disturbing you am I?”
“No, not at all. I’m just surprised to hear from you on a Wednesday.” Jaina schooled her expression, hoping the unexpected communiqué did not have anything to do with her brother.
“We are hosting a delegation from Thelonia for the next few days. This is the only chance I’ll get to speak to you for at least a week.” Deanna smiled. “So how are things? Anything new and exciting happening in your life?”
Jaina rolled her eyes at her mother’s too innocent expression. “You’ve been talking to Aunt Beverly, haven’t you?”
Deanna’s smile broadened. “Just a little.” She admitted playfully. “She tells me that you have been seeing a lot of Jack lately.”
“And you just had to hear the gossip first hand, right?”
Deanna feigned shock. “Now, Jai, you know me better than that. I would never presume to meddle in my daughter’s love life. I’m calling out of motherly concern only.”
“Uh-huh.” Jaina intoned dryly.
Deanna looked at her expectantly. “So?”
Deanna grinned again. “So spill. I want to hear all about it.”
“Mother!” Jaina exclaimed, exasperated. Jaina could not hold back her own grin. She relented. “Alright. Yes, I’ve been seeing Jack practically every night for the past two weeks.”
“And?” Deanna prompted.
Jaina thought for a moment. “And it’s been wonderful. I was wrong about Jack, Mom. He’s amazing. We have so much in common, we can talk about anything. I enjoy his company. I really like him.”
“Just like him?” Deanna prodded, watching her daughter carefully.
“I don’t know.” Jaina admitted, shyly. “I know that I look forward to seeing him. I know that I think about him constantly, and miss him when he’s not around. He makes me feel cherished and beautiful. When he kisses me, it feels like the world has stopped spinning.”
Sometimes Jaina wished her mother wasn’t so empathic. “But,” she continued reluctantly, “I’m a little scared. I have never felt this way before, and I am terrified that it won’t—can’t—last.”
“Because, he is Earthbound and I need to be out in space.”
Deanna nodded her understanding. “And you are afraid to start something that could potentially fall apart when it comes time for you to fly again? Believe me, I’ve been there.”
“So what should I do?”
Deanna sighed. “Little One, I can’t tell you what to do. The only advice I can give, based on personal experience, is to let things progress as they will. Enjoy the time you do have together, let yourself be happy, and don’t worry so much about the future.”
“But what if…”
“Sweetheart, if things are meant to be, you will find a way. But you will never know if you give up. Don’t let fear consume you. Regardless of what happens, let it happen. Otherwise you will spend the rest of your life with ‘what if’s.”
Jaina was still pondering her mother’s words the next day when she stepped out of the Science building after her last class. She was so preoccupied with her thoughts, she did not notice Jack was there until he was standing right in front of her. “Hi.” He greeted, leaning down to give her a kiss that made her toes curl.
“Hi, yourself,” she returned breathlessly. “What are you doing here?”
With a heart melting smile he relieved her of the half dozen PADDs she was carrying. “I missed you last night, and I could not wait until later to see you.”
Jaina warmed pleasantly. How could she resist him when he was being so charming? I can’t, she admitted silently.
“I missed you, too.”
Jack placed his arm across her shoulders, hugging her to his side. “Are you done with your classes for the day?”
“Good, come on, I have a surprise for you.”
Jaina’s interest peaked. “What is it?”
Jack grinned down at her as he led her to a waiting ground shuttle. “I told you: a surprise.”
Jaina looked at Jack curiously as they entered the nearly deserted holoclub. “Jack, what are you up to?”
Jack smiled enigmatically. “ I rented a holosuite for us for a few hours. I found a program that I thought you would really like.”
They stopped outside Holosuite 4. “Now close your eyes, and keep them closed until I tell you.”
Thoroughly enjoying his attempt to be mysterious, Jaina complied. She allowed Jack to take her by the hand and lead her into the holosuite. They walked about three meters before he stopped. “Computer, load program Picard one.”
Suddenly, Jaina felt the floor give way. She seemed to be floating.
“Open your eyes, Midnight Angel.”
Jaina opened her eyes and gasped in surprised pleasure. It was her program. Except that instead of her customary moonchair, what appeared to be a blanket floated in the center of the “universe”.
“Jack, this is wonderful.” She whispered. “How?”
Jack smiled, pleased by her reaction. “I conned Wesley into getting me a copy of it and making a few minor adjustments. Do you like it?”
Jaina smiled into his twinkling eyes. “You know I do.” She leaned up onto her toes to place a kiss gently against his smiling lips. “Thank you.” She looked at the “floating” blanket. “What’s this?”
Jack took her hand and guided her to the item in question. “Computer, lower carpet by one meter.” The computer complied and the carpet lowered to a level that was easily accessible. Lying on the “carpet” was several dishes. “I thought it would be a novel experience to have a picnic while floating through space.”
Jaina stared in amazement. “Jack, this is incredible.”
“Come on, mon ange, your magic carpet awaits.”
Jaina took a seat in the center of the carpet. “Magic Carpet, huh? That’s a bit whimsical for you, isn’t it?”
Jack placed himself at her side. “Not at all. I got the idea from that song that you were playing the other day. How did it go? ‘Won’t you come with me, little girl, on a magic carpet ride’?”
Jaina laughed. “So, what is in those wonderfully aromatic dishes?”
With great flourish, Jack uncovered the dishes, revealing mouth-watering treats from Earth and Betazed. He picked up a chocolate covered strawberry and placed it against her lips. Jaina placed her hand on his wrist, holding his arm steady as she bit into the delicious fruit. She wrapped her lips around his finger, gently sucking the juice it. She ran her tongue over his skin, pleased when she felt his pulse jump against her hand.
Jack gently extracted his finger from her mouth and laid his hand against her face, tangling her fingers in her hair and rubbing his thumb over her cheek. Cupping the back over her neck her pulled her to her knees in front of him. Their eyes locked, speaking volumes.
Without breaking the mesmerizing eye contact, Jaina picked up another strawberry, offering it in the same manner he had. Jack took a small bite, allowing the juice to drip onto his lips. Jaina leaned forward and licked the sweet liquid from his warm lips.
Jack groaned low in his throat. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her flush against him, capturing her teasing lips in a searing kiss.
Jaina tangled her hands into his hair, kissing him back eagerly. She pressed her body as close to his as possible, rubbing suggestively.
Needing no further encouragement, Jack twisted around so that she lay on her back, him above her. He cupped his hand over her breast, squeezing gently. Jaina moaned.
Breaking the kiss, Jack trailed his lips across her cheek to her ear. His hot breath sent shivers along Jaina’s spine as he whispered. “Do you want me, Jaina?”
“Yes,” she whispered huskily.
Jack unfastened the tunic of her cadet’s uniform, baring her breast. His hot wet mouth burned a path down her throat to her chest. He took one rosy nipple into his mouth, sucking gently at first then harder as Jaina whimpered and moved against him in pleasure.
“You’re sure?” he asked. “You won’t change your mind? Because if we go much further, I don’t think I can stop.”
Jaina forced him to meet her eyes. The smoky passion she saw cleared any doubts she may have had. She wanted this, wanted him, so bad it was a physical ache. “I won’t change my mind. Make love to me, Jack.”
Jack groaned again. “Mon bel ange,” he whispered. Their lips met again, hungrily, their tongues tangling together to taste and stroke. Jack ran his hands down her body, removing her uniform as he went.
He knelt above her, drinking in the radiant magnificence of her as he removed his own clothing.
Noticing his stare, Jaina tried to cover herself, suddenly shy. Jack grabbed her hands, pulling them away. “No, let me look. You are so incredibly beautiful.” Jack bent forward to place a kiss on her flat stomach, dipping his tongue into her navel. His hand moved between her legs, cupping gently, his thumb rubbing against her most sensitive spot.
Visions of an old nightmare flashed through Jaina’s mind for one brief horrifying second before she forcefully pushed it away. This was Jack. He would never hurt her. She wanted this. She focused her mind on that thought, months of therapy with her mother paying off as she fought down the panic.
Jack noticed the slight change in her body’s reaction. “Jaina? Angel, what is it?” The concern in his eyes calmed the fear she felt. His eyes were so gentle, so caring. Just as suddenly as it had come the panic subsided. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Tears in her eyes, Jaina nodded. “Yes.” She whispered hoarsely.
Their eyes still locked together, Jack watching for any sign of displeasure in her gaze. He slid his finger inside the warm recesses of her body, rubbing gently. He saw her eyes glaze over with desire, and he groaned. He hungrily captured her lips in a deep, passionate kiss. He made love to her mouth with his own as his fingers brought her body to a feverish pitch.
He moved over her, sliding into her wet center with one fluid thrust.
Jaina cried out in equal parts pleasure and pain as he filled her, breaking through her innocence.
Jack stilled for a moment, allowing the pain to subside. He began to move slowly, feeling her body close around him tightly as he moved in long gentle strokes.
Jaina felt a need growing inside her, spreading through her body. She could not verbalize what her body and soul was crying out for. She lifted her hips, pushing against him, meeting him thrust for thrust. She wrapped her legs around his hips, taking him deeper. Jaina cried out again as pleasure rocked through her.
Jack felt her entire body begin to convulse, heightening his own pleasure
and bringing him to the brink. His slow, easy strokes became frenzied. With
one last thrust, he held her tightly, kissing her deeply, as their souls shattered,
and were reassembled into something new, something that would forever be interlinked.
Jaina watched in pleasure as a comet flashed overhead. She stretched, enjoying the feel of Jack’s strong arm across her bare midriff. She sighed in contentment. “Jack?”
“Hmm?” Jack inquired, distracted. He did not look up, continuing to place kisses along the column of her neck lazily.
“How long do we have this suite for?” She arched her neck, giving him better access, thoroughly enjoying the attention.
Jack did look up at that. “About two more hours. Why?” He cupped her breast, rubbing gently, smiling against her throat at her quick intake of breath.
Jaina pushed herself into a sitting position, dislodging him from his pleasurable pursuit. “Well, it would be quite embarrassing if someone were to walk in right now.”
Jack laughed quietly, propping himself up on one elbow. “It would be a bit difficult to explain. Although I doubt anyone would be too shocked.” He ran his hand up her inner thigh suggestively. “I can pretty much guarantee we are not the first ones to use a holosuite in this manner.”
Jaina moved away from his questing hand, suddenly shy. She reached for a leafy piece of her favorite Betazoid delicacy. “Where did you find Oskoid here on Earth?” She asked, feigning great interest in the edible plant, willing her heart to stop beating so erratically.
Jack sat up, wrapping his arms around her from behind. His arms crossed in front of her, one around her waist, the other cupping her breast. She melted against him as she felt his tongue dip into her ear. She turned her head until their lips met, her tongue darting out to taste him. They kissed with a slow liquid passion, just enjoying the feel of each other.
The arm around her waist shifted lower until he cupped her fully, rubbing his hand against her unhurriedly. Jaina froze.
Jack moved his hand away. He gripped her arms and turned her to face him. “Jaina?” he whispered questioningly, watching her bowed head in concern. Moving past the curtain of hair he lifted her chin with his forefinger, forcing her to meet his eyes. The unshed tears in her eyes startled him. “Why do you freeze when I touch you? That’s the second time you’ve done that.” Jaina did not answer him, she turned away, moving to the other side of the blanket. “Jaina? What’s wrong? Talk to me,” he demanded, his voice slightly pleading.
Jaina was silent for several minutes. Jack waited patiently while she wrestled with the demons haunting her. Finally, she began to speak in a low, weak voice. “Did Jacen ever tell you what we did two years ago?”
Jack knew what she was talking about, but he failed to see where it had any bearing on the conversation at hand. “Yes, he told me that you and he traveled through a temporal wormhole. He said you went back to save Deanna from someone who was trying to kill her.”
“Did he tell you that we almost failed? That I ended up getting kidnapped right along side Mom? Did he tell you what happened while we were being held captive?”
“No,” Jack said slowly, afraid he knew what she was going to say next.
Jaina took a deep, tremulous breath. She fought back the tears that threatened to fall. “Our captures beat my mother and me repeatedly while they dragged us across the Everglades. One of them, the female, had a personal vendetta against Mom and wanted to punish her. When she discovered that I was her daughter, she let her partner…” Jaina stopped speaking, the tears she fought choking her. “He tried…he tried…” She stopped again, crying in great gasping sobs.
Jack put his arms around her with extreme tenderness, rocking her against his chest like a small child. “Shh, it’s alright. You don’t have to say anymore, I understand.” He did not want to hear anymore. His heart ached for her as hatred for the unseen foe welled inside him.
Jaina cried out her lingering horror against his bare chest. “He did not succeed. His partner got tired of the game and shot me, leaving me for dead. My father and brother found me a few hours later.”
Jack rocked her as she cried, whispering words of comfort. Several minutes later, Jaina pulled away from him and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Jack cupped her cheek tenderly. “Why?”
Jaina’s voice shook with left over sorrow. “I went through months of therapy after we got back home. I thought I had come to terms with the entire horrible experience. But when faced with an intimacy, it all came flooding back. I’m sorry my past experience came between us, even for a minute.”
“I’m not.” Jaina looked at him with wide eyes. “I’m sorry for what happened to you, and I’m sorry that our lovemaking brought it back to the surface. But I’m not the least bit sorry that I am the first person you allowed to get that close.”
Jaina smiled through her tears, warmed by his words. “This whole thing is so new, so incredible. I don’t want an old nightmare to mar that. I don’t want to see his face when you touch me. I want to see only you.”
Jaina pulled his face toward hers, kissing him hard, and groaning deep in her throat when she felt him harden in response. With out conscious thought she wrapped her hand around him intimately. “Make love to me again, Jack. Make love to me until I can’t think about anything else but the feel of you.”
With a moan of pleasure, Jack pushed her gently onto her back, worshipping her body with his hands and mouth. He whispered her name repeatedly, incoherently, as his slow ministrations brought them both to the edge.
“Je t’aime,” he whispered against her throat as he entered her.
Jaina watched Jack as he slept, her mind troubled and clouded.
After leaving the holosuite, they had returned to her apartment, walking slowly. If Jack had noticed her preoccupation, he hadn’t commented.
They had made love again. This time slow and unhurried, taking the time to explore one another, to discover every sensitive spot. Where as their earlier joining had been frenzied, this one in contrast was slow, smooth, with no more urgency than a lazy summer stroll. They rode the tide together, their eyes locked, until they floated into a satisfied sleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.
Now hours later, Jack still slept peacefully while Jaina lay awake at his side, her mind in turmoil. Had she really made love to him not once, but three times? Everything had happened so fast, Jaina could not get a handle on the cacophony of emotions she was feeling. Just the night before she had been expressing her reservations concerning their relationship to her mother. She was still unsure of him, of herself, of them. The fears she had confessed to her mother still held true, she still had reservations. Yet now, the equation had changed, because now they were lovers. They had taken a step forward. A step that could not be taken back, and she was terrified.
Had he really whispered words of love? Jaina knew she was definitely not ready for that! She did not know what to think, what to feel. Was she in love with him? She knew that she liked him, and liked being with him. She knew she wanted him with an aching need that had only intensified now that she knew what it was like to have him. She knew that he was always on her mind and that she missed him terribly when he was not around. But did she love him? It was too soon. Everything was happening too fast, but she did not know how to slow it back down. She wasn’t sure that she even wanted to slow down. Part of her wanted to wrap herself in his love and cherish it, but another part wanted to run away. She was so scared. What if she allowed herself to love him?
Who are you kidding?, an inner voice chided scornfully. You are already in love with him, and you know it.
Silently, Jaina acknowledged the truth. She had fallen head over heels, irrevocably in love with Jack Picard. She knew it the moment their bodies and souls had come together in rapture. She knew it was the all consuming, forever after kind of love, and that terrified her. Jaina wondered how fate could be so cruel. She had found something more incredible than she had ever imagined, and it was with someone who was destined to remain planetside, while her future lay in the stars.
Jacen swore violently as yet another system began to fail. He was down to rudimentary communications, propulsion, life support, and some shields. His warp drive had been the first to give out. Just before his sensors had stopped responding, he had picked up the signs of an energy field surrounding the planet, right outside its atmosphere. He had not been able to identify the composition of the field, but it was obviously some sort of protective shield designed to drain energy from any vessel trying to enter Eliga’s upper atmosphere.
Jacen struggled to keep control of the small transport as he began to descend. He did not panic, but knew that he was going to go down. He now had a pretty good idea what had happened to Jasmine Yeats’ shuttle. She must have come too close to the energy field.
Jacen knew that anyone that came looking for him, if anyone knew where to find him, would experience the same fate. Unless he could send a warning.
But who could he warn? He could not contact his parents, that was out of the question. Likewise any body else in Starfleet. He could not contact Thomas. His uncle had specifically warned him against any communication until after the mission was complete. That left only one person. His uncle would have a fit, but there was no other way.
Making a quick decision, Jacen began punching codes into his computer, praying his communications system would hold long enough to get the message out. He transferred all his data on the mission, his sensor readings, and a short set of instructions into an encoded message that only two people alive could decipher, and sent it through subspace. He took a deep breath and braced for impact as he entered the atmosphere. Hull temperature raised to a dangerous level and the ship began to shake violently, but the shields held. He breathed a sigh of relief when he cleared the dangerous outer atmosphere. Approximately 1000 kilometers from the ground, Jacen engaged reverse thrusters, counterbalancing gravity and slowing his descent.
His small transport hit the ground with surprisingly minimal difficulty, sliding to a halt 500 meters from touchdown.
Jacen swore again as the last of his systems died. His only hope now was the encrypted message he had sent. He hoped his sister got it.
The first thing Jack noticed as he opened his eyes was the smell of fresh brewed coffee, the smell assaulting his senses pleasantly. The second thing he noticed was the distinctive sound of country music. He groaned, then smiled. Jaina never ceased to amaze him. She was a bundle of contradictions. He had teased her during their first date about having an oxymoronic life, but it was true. She was as high tech as anybody in Starfleet, doing things with astrophysics and engineering that he could barely understand, yet at the same time preferred old fashioned cooking to replicated food and listened to music that had been written four centuries ago.
Her eccentric nature was just one of the many things he loved about her.
Jack got out of the bed and pulled on his pants. He did not bother putting on a shirt. He ran his fingers through his sleep tousled hair as he stepped out of Jaina’s bedroom.
He paused in the doorway, watching her with tender amusement. She was dancing and singing loudly, in not-so-perfect harmony with the twangy male voice. He smirked. Obviously, singing was not one of her many talents.
Jaina grinded to an abrupt halt when she saw Jack lounging in the doorway. She grinned at him, only slightly embarrassed. “Good morning, Jack.”
Jack advanced on her, his eyes alight with suppressed laughter. “Good morning.” He kissed her lightly before moving to the counter to pour himself a cup of coffee. He leaned his hip against the counter.
“Who is your duet partner?” He teased, indicating the surprisingly talented male voice.
Jaina laughed. “I believe his name was Garth Brooks. My Ancient Earth Culture professor said that he was one of the most popular performers of that time period. Late twentieth Century, early twenty-first. He’s pretty good. So far I haven’t found a song of his that I don’t like, although I confess I don’t understand the context of some of them. Music of that time dealt a lot with contemporary social issues. Issues that no longer exist today.”
“So why do you like these songs? If they are dated and have no meaning in today’s society, why would you want to listen to them?” He asked, not really caring about the topic, but enjoying the animation on her beautiful face.
Jaina rolled her eyes and explained patiently, as though speaking to a small child. “Because they’re fun! Besides, not all of them are invalidated. Some of them are timeless, the sentiment behind them holding true for any age.”
“And this one?” he asked, calling her attention back to the song she has just been dancing to. “What universal, timeless, sentiment does it convey?”
“This one is called ‘Friends in Low Places.’ And I believe it conveys the same message now as it did then.”
Jaina grinned impishly. “Kiss my ass.”
Jack choked on his coffee and sputtered. “What?”
Jaina laughed at his expression. “You heard me. Now sit down and eat your breakfast before it gets cold. I have to get ready for class.”
Jack just stared at her in amused wonder as she left the room. He laughed when he realized he had just been put in his place. He shook his head. His Angel was something else. No wonder he loved her so much.
Jaina was still in the shower when Jack finished eating. He placed his dishes in the reprocessor then wandered around the room looking at the many mementos of Jacen and Jaina’s life. Photos adorned every flat surface. Plants were shattered through out the room. Jack noticed that some of the plants were not from Earth. Along one wall was a shelf filled with miniature ships, all done to scale. Never particularly interested in Starships, Jack, nevertheless, did recognize two of the models. His father had the same models on his desk. The Enterprises D and E. Jack wasn’t sure, but he thought one of the other models was a replica of the USS Titan. He moved away from the display and saw a blinking red light on Jaina’s desk. Hearing the shower stop, he called out, “Jaina, sweetheart, you have 15 communiqués waiting.”
“Five from your grandmother…”
“Why am I not surprised?” She called out dryly.
Jack chuckled. “One from my sister. One from Angelique. Seven from various instructors.”
“My exam results.” Jaina came out of the bathroom, wearing a robe and rubbing her hair with a towel. “I probably failed them all. I’ve been a little…uh…distracted lately. You are a bad influence.”
Jack gave her a lecherous wink. “You just let me know when you want to be influenced again. I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you would.” She glanced at the view screen. “Was there anything else?”
“Yes, there is one more.” He looked closely at the screen. “That’s weird. I can’t tell who it’s from. It seems to be encrypted.”
Jaina’s heart stopped. She knew of only one reason she would be getting an encrypted message. “Encrypted, huh? Probably someone’s idea of a joke. There is a girl in my Warp Theory class who does stuff like this all the time.” She hoped her voice did not convey her fear. “I’ll look at them later. I really have to get to class.”
Jack dismissed the messages with a shrug. “I’m going to take a shower. I have to go to Le Barre for a few hours. I, too, have been neglecting my responsibilities for more pleasurable endeavors.”
Jaina moved into his arms, kissing him sweetly. “I’ll be leaving in about five minutes, so I’ll see you when you get back.” With one last kiss, she pulled reluctantly out of his arms. “Bring me back a bottle of your best vintage, OK?”
Jack laughed as he closed the bathroom door. “You got it.”
Jaina finished getting ready in record time. She wanted to decode the encrypted message before Jack finished his shower.
She pulled the message up and punched in the decryption code that was known only by her and Jacen. The encryption was something they had developed years before. On board the Titan, it had been their way to secretly communicate without teachers or their parents being able to decipher what they were doing. They had not used the code in years.
Within seconds the message was decoded. Jaina’s heart began to pound erratically as she read the details of his mission, the sensor logs, and lastly his personal message to her.
Her hands shaking uncontrollably, Jaina returned the logs to their encrypted
state. With fear clogging her throat, she rushed out the door, all thoughts
of Jack and her classes leaving her mind. Jacen was in trouble, and she had
to find a way to help him.
Jaina pressed the button and listened to the chime echo through the interior. She tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for her presence to be acknowledged. Fear clogged her throat, making breathing difficult.
Damn her brother and her uncle both. She knew eventually their games would get Jacen in trouble.
Jaina had never heard of the planet Jacen had gone to. It was no wonder, considering the entire system had been deemed off limits. She prayed that he was alright, vowing that when she found him, she was going to kill him for putting her through this agony.
The door slid open. Thomas stood in the doorway, his face lined in surprise. “Jaina! Hi. Please come in.” He moved aside, allowing her to pass. “What brings you by?”
Jaina stepped past her uncle and entered the spacious living room. First, she thought darkly, she was going to kill her beloved uncle. “Uncle Thomas, is there some place we can talk privately? I don’t think you want Aunt Abby or the boys to overhear this conversation.”
Thomas looked at her warily, shocked by the anger in her voice. “T.J. and Peter are in school. They will not be back for hours. Abigail is at work. We are alone.” He studied her closely. “Jaina, what’s wrong? Did something happen? Are your parents OK?”
“My parents are fine,” she assured him harshly. “Although they might not be when they find out what you have done.”
Thomas’ eyes narrowed incredulously. “What I’ve done? Jaina, what are you talking about?” Studying her angry features, realization dawned. “Is this about Jacen?”
“Brilliant deduction, Thomas.” Jaina said sarcastically. “How dare you put my brother in danger! Who the hell do you think you are!”
Thomas was speechless. He had never heard Jaina quite so angry. “Jaina, what happened?” He repeated impatiently, not liking the way she was speaking to him.
“I received an encrypted message from Jacen this morning, detailing his ‘mission’.” Her voice began to shake, the anger draining away as quickly as it had come. “Uncle Thomas, he lost control of his ship and was going down while entering Eliga’s atmosphere.” Briefly, she filled Thomas in on what little she knew. When she finished, her voice was once again strong, she had regained her control.
Thomas shook his head. “Jaina, I’m sorry. I do not know what to say. I thought Jacen was a good enough pilot to land on the planet undetected. I never imagined there would be a defensive shield. The Eligans are not supposed to be advanced enough for that kind of technology.”
“Is that all you can say?” She demanded, once again angry. “Sorry, my mistake? You should have known better! Sorry is not going to get my brother off that planet.”
Thomas bit his tongue to keep himself from lashing out at her attitude. He knew she was right, but it irked him when she sounded like her father, as though she had the right to reprimand him. “Jaina, don’t worry. I will get him off. I’ll go after him myself. You said you have his sensor read outs for the shield?”
Jaina took a deep breath. “Yes, I have them. But you won’t need them, because I will be the one going.”
“Like hell you are!” Thomas shouted, surprised that she would even suggest such a thing. “Jaina, are you insane? You can’t go. What happens if you go down too?”
“I’m not going to. I know what to look for.” She assured him, self-confidently.
“Jaina, you are not going!”
Jaina’s eyes flared hotly. “Yes, I am! Jacen sent the message to me. Not to you. He trusts me. I’m going.”
“You are not!”
Jaina remained stubborn. “I am going. Now are you going to help me prepare?”
Thomas folded his arms across his chest. “And what if I refuse to help you?”
Jaina smiled sardonically. “Well, then I guess I’ll just have to call Daddy, and ask for his help. I’m sure he will be very interested in knowing what you and Jacen have been doing. How do you suppose he will react?”
Thomas just stared at her. He wasn’t sure whether to be angry at her impertinence or impressed by her ingenuity. “That’s blackmail!” He sputtered.
“Yes, it is.” Jaina agreed mildly. She started reeling off a list of supplies, as though her going was a done deal. “Let’s see: I’ll need to arrange transport. I suppose I’ll have to hop a freighter since Jacen has our ship. I’ll need rations, medical supplies, probably some credit slips. You can arrange that, right Uncle Tommy?”
Thomas shook his head. “No.”
“No?” She questioned. “Why not? I will not need that much…”
“You will not need any,” He interrupted her. “because you are not going.”
Jaina rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Really, Thomas, how are you going to stop me?”
Jaina hummed to herself as she crammed clothing into a small duffel bag. She had spent the better part of an hour arguing with her uncle, but in the end she had won.
Thomas knew that she would make good on her threat to call her father, ruining his career—and his relationship with his brother—in the process. So, although he hated the idea, he had finally relented—on the condition that they go together. Jaina had protested, leading to another twenty minutes of arguing.
Thomas leaving would call unwanted attention to their mission. With her finals over, and no more classes for two months, Jaina knew that nobody would be looking for her immediately. Thomas, on the other hand, had a wife and two children to contend with. Reluctantly, Thomas agreed, and Jaina won that battle.
While Jaina gathered medical supplies and other necessities, Thomas arranged passage for her on a transport headed for Titan, the largest of Jupiter’s moons. From there she would have to secure a “ride” to Space Station J11, where Thomas assured her she would find plenty of small shuttlecrafts at her disposal. Exactly how she was supposed to commandeer one of these “available” crafts was anybody’s guess.
Jaina finished her haphazard pack job and carried her duffel bag into the living room, dropping it carelessly on the sofa.
Jaina went to her desk and decoded Jacen’s message again, downloading the information onto a PADD, which she then dropped into her bag.
Moving quickly, knowing time was of the essence, she changed out of her uniform and pulled on black slacks and a black and green shirt. She took her leather jacket out of the closet, depositing it on top of her duffel bag.
Back in her bedroom, she twisted her long black hair into a serviceable knot on top of her head.
Jaina took one last look around her apartment, feeling like she was forgetting something. With a shrug, she gathered her stuff and headed to the door. Just as she reached the entryway, the door slid open. Not looking where she was going, Jaina plowed into a hard unmoving object, causing her to drop her duffel bag, its contents spilling out and skidding across the floor.
Startled, she looked up, her eyes colliding with an equally surprised pair of very blue eyes.
“Jack,” Jaina croaked. Oh, Gods, how could she have forgotten about Jack?
Reacting instinctively, Jack wrapped his arms around her, preventing her from stumbling. “Anxious to see me, Angel?” He teased, bending forward to place a kiss against her lips.
Jaina allowed herself to lean into his chest for a few seconds, willing the panic she felt to subside. She pulled out of his embrace with what she hoped was a light laugh. “Hi, Jack! I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.” She dropped to her knees and began shoveling items back into her bag.
With a quizzical smile, Jack knelt beside her, absently picking up a PADD that had fallen from her bag. His smile faded slightly. “Are you going somewhere?”
Jaina did not look at him for several seconds, her mind racing frantically to come up with an excuse, any excuse, except the truth. She mentally kicked herself for her oversight. In her hurry and concern for her brother, she had failed to cover all her bases. She stood and purposefully moved away from him. “I have to go off planet for a while.” She said with a shrug, her voice neutral, giving away nothing of what she was truly feeling.
Jack stared incredulously at her nonchalance. “Where are you going, Jaina?”
“To the Titan.” She said carelessly. “Since classes are over, I decided to spend some time with my parents.”
Jack’s eyes flashed with anger and something akin to deep hurt. It made Jaina’s heart ache. “When were you planning to tell me? Or were you just going to slip out while I was in France?”
She laughed harshly. “Really, Jack, you make it sound like I need your permission to leave.” Please, Jack, let it go, let me go, she cried silently. Don’t make me say something I can’t take back. I have to go! Jacen needs me.
“Of course you don’t need my permission, but some common courtesy would be nice. You can’t just leave without a word. You owe me…’
Jaina raised her brow at that. “I owe you what, Jack? What makes you think I owe you anything? I don’t answer to you. If I want to go home for a little while, I will.” She picked up her duffel bag and moved past him, headed for the door.
Jack grabbed her arm, swinging her around. “Wait just a minute! Where is this coming from? Maybe you don’t owe me anything, but after last night I do have some rights where you are concerned. I think that at the very least you owe me an explanation. You can’t go from sharing a bed with me one night to leaving without a word the next.”
Jaina closed her eyes, tightly. Misery washed over her. Jaina felt the bile rise in her throat, hated herself for what she was doing, what she had to do. “Last night was…incredible. But I have to go.”
“Fine! Then I will go with you. I haven’t seen Will and Deanna in a long time.”
Jaina closed herself off from the pain. When she spoke, her voice was cold, harsh. “Don’t you get it, Jack? I don’t want you to come with me. I need time away. This whole thing is moving too fast. I need to step back.” Oh Gods, why couldn’t you just let it go? I don’t want to hurt you, but my brother needs me.
Jaina pulled away from him. He let her go, too stunned to speak. Jaina walked out the door, the sight of his crestfallen face burned into her brain.
Jack stared at the closed door for an eternity, anger burning a whole in his stomach. “Goddamn it!” He swore, hurling the data PADD he had not realized he was still holding across the room. It crashed against the far wall, knocking over several miniature starships.
Damn her! How could she just nonchalantly walk away? After everything that had happened?
Maybe he was mistaken about her feelings. Maybe their being together meant more to him then it did to her. Was it possible? Had he been falling in love alone?
No! His heart screamed. Maybe he was fooling himself, but he could not believe his feelings for her were unreciprocated. Their time together had been so wonderful, he could not accept that it was all one sided. So, what? Was he moving too fast? Did his blatant feelings scare her? No, Jaina was too level headed, too sure of herself to allow things to progress further than she wanted.
He paced around the room, anger making his movements stiff. He blindly picked up the fallen starships, putting them back in their place.
The memory of the previous night, the passion he felt from her was too strong, too powerful for it not to be real. There had to be another explanation.
He picked up the data PADD, barely glancing at it.
Maybe he should follow her, demand…
The words on the PADD came into focus. Jacen’s name popped out. Curious, he began to read.
Jack dropped heavily onto the sofa as what he was reading began to make sense in his clouded mind. Suddenly, he remembered the encrypted message Jaina had received just that morning. The one she had laughed off as a prank. His mind cleared as her strange actions began to make sense. Jaina wasn’t going to the Titan. She was mounting a rescue mission.
Jack jumped up and ran for the door. He would be damned if he allowed her
to go it alone.
The fierce wind pounded incessantly against the outer hull of the shuttlecraft, screaming to be let in. The badly damaged vessel was little more than a makeshift shelter wedged into the side of a snow drift; however, the hard duranium shell provided a secure, dry defense against the harsh, unforgiving elements.
Jacen Riker listened to the demanding voice of the wind as he surveyed the dismal contents of his emergency rations. The steady rhythm was strangely entertaining to the young man. It amused Jacen to imagine himself inside a bass drum.
The dilemma he found himself in, however, was anything but funny. By his estimation, three standard Earth days had passed since he had crash-landed on the surface. The first day had been spent exploring the immediate area, searching for any signs of life. What he found was a frozen tundra: harsh, bitterly cold winds, snow as far as the eye could see, and no sign of life. On the horizon, craggy mountains of rock and ice stabbed menacingly upward, sentinels of the surrounding gloom, as though daring the sky to be anything but a dismal gray. The complete cloud cover blocked out the planet’s sun, making it next to impossible for Jacen to ascertain his position, but based on the weather conditions and the shuttle’s trajectory at the time of the crash, he was reasonably sure he had set down in the northern polar region. Unfortunately without being able to study the planet’s solar rotation, he had no way of knowing for sure.
Acknowledging the obvious dangers presented by the unforgiving, desolate terrain, Jacen turned his attention to basic survival. Inside the shuttle, he took inventory of his emergency supplies. He calculated that he had enough rations to last several weeks if necessary. He had warm clothing and an adequate supply of water. What concerned Jacen was his unsatisfactory power reserve. The damage to the shuttle was extensive. It would certainly never fly again. Between the planet’s defensive shield draining his power and the physical damage upon impact, Jacen estimated that he had enough power to last four or five days if used sparingly. After that, he would lose the ability to control the temperature inside the shuttle. Without a heat source, the thin metal hull would rapidly absorb the cold from the outside, effectively creating a gigantic refrigeration unit.
Staying with the shuttle was not a viable option. Once his power supply was depleted, he would be faced with the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia. His only alternative was to set out on foot, and brave the elements.
With that thought in mind, Jacen began to gather what supplies he could. Thanks to his father and the time they had spent backpacking across rough Alaskan terrain, Jacen was quite confident that he could put together a serviceable survival pack. Thermal pup tent, thermal blanket, rations, insulated freeze resistant canteen, two phasers, two lanterns, flint and steel, and a tricorder. Jacen knew that the power on the phasers and tricorder would diminish quickly, but he reasoned that if he used them sparingly, they could be used as a heat source and a directional guide, respectively.
Jacen used a small amount of the ships remaining power to download the information Thomas had given regarding the Eligans onto a blank PADD. He then lightened his hair and applied the facial prosthetics needed to make him look like one of the indigenous inhabitants. Once he was done, he surveyed his makeup job with a grimace. With pointed ears, white blond hair, sharpened cheekbones, and almost pointy chin, he decided he looked like an Albino Vulcan.
Confident that his sister had received his message—and was sending help—Jacen used more of the fledging power to leave a log of his planned route. He shut down all remaining power, leaving what was left in reserve for his rescue party to use to access his log.
Satisfied that he had done all he could to help expedite his rescue, Jacen took one more step to assure his survival in the mean time. In his cramped living quarters, hidden in a footlocker was a D’k tahg, a gift from Alexander Rozhenko. He slid the Klingon dagger from its sheath and ran the tip of the menacing blade across the palm of his hand, smiling in satisfaction as the razor sharp edge pierced the skin, leaving a bloody trail.
With his bleeding hand wrapped in a piece of cloth, Jacen slid the weapon back into its sheath and strapped it to his thigh. He took out a med kit and repaired the self-inflicted wound, then tossed the kit into his backpack, strapping it on as well.
The fierce wind bit into the exposed skin on his face the second he stepped outside the shuttle. He pulled up the hood of his heavy coat, wrapped a scarf around his nose and mouth, and strapped on protective goggles. Jacen pulled out his tricorder and punched in a few commands with his glove-covered fingers.
Reasonably sure that he was near the North Pole he programmed his tricorder to map out a southern route. After studying the hilly terrain for a few minutes, Jacen groaned slightly. The route he had planned would lead him higher into the dangerously opposing mountain range. He had hoped to avoid them.
Jacen took one last long look at his shuttle. He knew that the vessel would have to be completely destroyed before he left the planet. The Eligans could not be exposed to the highly advanced technology. He shook his head despairingly. This was the second time his personal shuttle had been destroyed in an effort to save another’s life.
With a mournful sigh, he turned and began hiking toward the gloomy mountains.
Jaina slumped dejectedly in her seat, waiting dispassionately for the transport to Titan to take off. Though she tried to focus her mind elsewhere, her thoughts continued to dwell on that last horrible scene with Jack. She closed her eyes in misery. She could still see his beautiful face, etched in anger and hurt.
Her heart felt heavy in her chest, like a lead weight. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She wished she could go back and erase the words she had spoken in desperation. She wished that she could have told him the truth. It hurt more than she could have ever imagined not being able to.
“I’ll make it up to him,” she whispered to herself. She was not sure how she would ever explain what she had done, even if he was willing to listen. She just hoped that he would understand that she had never meant to do what it seemed she had done. Would he understand that she had no choice? Her brother’s life depended on her, and she could not take the chance of trusting Jack with the truth.
Jaina’s stomach jumped slightly as the transport vessel slowly started to ascend. She watched out the porthole as the ground fell away, the buildings getting smaller and smaller as they continued to climb. Within minutes, the ship left Earth’s atmosphere and orbited the rotating planet. A few stray tears leaked from her eyes as she watched Europe, then Australia move past. As the small passenger shuttle broke orbit, Jaina choked back a sob, knowing she was leaving her heart behind on the rapidly retreating planet.
With a painful sigh, Jaina brushed the wetness from her face and reached for the duffle bag at her feet. She rummaged in the bag for the PADD she had loaded with Jacen’s instructions. She hoped studying the data would force her mind away from Jack and onto her mission.
When her hands did not immediately locate the PADD, she pulled the bag onto her lap and started searching the contents frantically.
“Oh, no!” She moaned aloud. The PADD was not there! Suddenly she remembered dropping her bag when she collided with Jack. Her mind’s eye played back the image of the PADD sliding across the floor. She dropped the bag to the floor and slumped back in her seat, closing her eyes in horrific realization. Without the valuable information on the PADD, her chances of finding Jacen were significantly reduced. Now what was she going to do?
Locked in her own despair, Jaina failed to notice anyone approaching until she felt a presence right behind her. She opened her eyes, jumping slightly at the hand in front of her face. A hand holding a PADD tightly in its grasp.
“Looking for this?” a voice bit out caustically.
Jaina swallowed hard and turned to face the angry young man behind her. Unable to speak, she simply stared in stunned silence at his stony expression.
Jack dropped the PADD into her lap and took the seat across from her. “Surprised to see me, Jai-Jai?” He asked mockingly.
Jaina did not know what to say. She seemed to have been robbed of the ability to speak. She could not believe he was there. Her heart leapt with hope then plummeted hard when he continued to sit there, looking at her accusingly.
“I…ah…” she cleared her throat. “I see you found my data PADD. So I guess you know what’s going on.” Jack remained silent, not giving an inch. “Um, thank you for bringing it to me. I would not have gotten too far without it.” Still nothing from Jack. Jaina lowered her eyes, so as to not see the cold condemnation in his eyes. “I am sorry for what I…”
Jack finally spoke—his voice devoid of emotion—cutting her off. “You lied to me.”
“I know. I am…” Jaina began, only to be cut off again.
“You purposely hurt me.”
Jaina shook her head in denial. “No, Jack, you can’t believe…”
“Save your apologies and excuses, Jaina. I don’t really want to hear them right now.”
Jaina closed her eyes tightly against the pain his words were causing. Deep inside she knew that she deserved his anger, but still it cut like a knife. “Jack, please, if you will let me explain.”
Jack’s eyes flashed. “I don’t need your explanations, Jaina. I know all I need to know. You don’t even think enough of me to tell me the truth.”
“That’s not true. I care about you a great deal. But my brother…”
“I said to save it, Jaina. I really don’t care at this point. That is not the reason I am here.”
Justifiably angry or not, Jack’s condescending attitude was beginning to rankle. “Then why are you here?”
“ I’m here for my best friend.”
Jaina raised her eyebrows in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Simply put, I’m going with you.”
Jaina scoffed. “You’ve got to be kidding! Jack, you don’t know the first thing about…”
Jack leaned forward abruptly, anger apparent in his hot eyes as he brought his face close to hers. “Jaina Riker, if you finish that sentence, I swear to God, I will punch you in the face. Just because I’m not a member of Almighty Starfleet, doesn’t mean I am a complete idiot. I do have a few useful skills. I’m not an ace pilot like Jacen, but I can fly a shuttle reasonably well. You need my help, whether you think I’m capable or not.”
Jaina was at a loss for words. “But…but, you can’t go with me!” She protested.
Jack sat back and raised an eyebrow. “Really? Why not?”
“Because…because, its going to be very dangerous. You have never done anything like this before. You have no experience in something like this.”
“Oh and you do?” Jack snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah, you and your kamikaze brother have done this sort of thing before. I forgot. Well, you did such a fine job there, didn’t you?”
Jaina’s jaw dropped. She could not believe he was being so cruel. “That was completely uncalled for, Jack Picard.”
Jack shrugged. “You’re probably right. It was.” He agreed with no hint of apology in his voice. It was as if he was purposely trying to hurt her.
Perhaps he was, Jaina thought. Maybe this was his way of getting back at her for hurting him.
“Jack, be reasonable. How would you explain your sudden disappearance to your parents?”
Jack shrugged again. “I’ll think of something. What excuse are you going to use?”
Jaina tried again. “Jack, please. I don’t want you getting mixed up in this. It would be better if you go back to France and forget all about this.” She had to get him out of there. It was bad enough that she was worried sick about her brother. It would kill her if anything happened to Jack.
“Jaina, shut up. You really are too intelligent to say something that stupid. Do you honestly believe I can just walk away and let you go off on your own? Your brother should never have asked you for help. How dare he endanger your life this way?”
Jaina blinked, not believing what she was hearing. “How can you say that? I thought Jacen was your best friend.”
“He is, but he is still a fool. He takes too many risks and now he has pulled you into it. You are just like him. You two stubborn idiots are liable to get yourselves killed. I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Why? If you think we are both fools, and after everything I said to you, why do you even care?”
Jack rolled his eyes and sat back in disgust. “You really don’t get it do you? Just because I am angry with the both of you, doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
Jaina wasn’t sure she would ever understand him. One moment he was being nasty, the next… “But, just a few minutes ago, you were so angry, you wouldn’t even let me explain…”
“And I still am. You lied to me and you didn’t trust me. After everything we have been to each other these past two weeks. I’m not ready yet to forgive you for that.”
Jaina shook her head, trying to clear it. “Then, why?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Jack leaned forward, until his face was barely an inch from hers. “I’m going to say this once and only once, so listen closely. Jacen is my best friend, and despite the fact that I am going to kick his ass when I see him, I happen to be very fond of him. So, I will do whatever it takes to help him. And as for you…You, Jaina Riker-Troi, are the most stubborn, exasperating, pig-headed, and irrational person I have ever met. When this is all over, you and I are going to have a very long talk about a lot of things. I am very disappointed in your obviously low opinion of me. Despite all that—and this is the part I have no intention of repeating any time soon—I happen to be very much in love with you.”
Jaina stared silently out the porthole as the shuttle orbited Titan for the third time. Heavy traffic into the spaceport had them in a holding pattern. Frustrated, Jaina wished they would hurry up and land. She was anxious to get going. The inactivity and the uncomfortable silence were draining on her nerves.
After his rather abrupt declaration, Jack had lapsed into a brooding silence, refusing to speak to her.
For her part, Jaina at first did not mind the silence. Her mind and emotions were in a whirlwind. He loved her. She knew he had said it once before, in the throes of passion, but she could scarcely believe it. Jack Picard loved her. She was not sure how she felt about it. True, she loved him too, she admitted to herself, but that did not change the facts. They were too different. Their current situation was testament to that. Despite her fear for Jacen, she was actually excited about this potentially dangerous rescue mission. She craved the excitement, thrived on the danger. Jack thought she was a fool. Jaina was afraid he would never understand her need for adventure. Granted, he was willing to risk his life to save Jacen and keep her safe, but that did not change the fact that he would rather be on Earth, tending to his grapes. What kind of future could they possibly have together?
With a sigh, Jaina pushed aside her maudlin thoughts. Her relationship with Jack did not matter at that moment. She needed to focus on the situation at hand. In a few moments, they would be landing, and there were a lot of details to be seen to.
She looked at Jack sitting across from her. She cleared her throat, hoping he had dealt with some of his bad feelings. “Jack?”
Jack did not look up. “What?”
So much for that thought, she mused. He was determined not to give her an inch. Fine, if that was the way he wanted to play it… “We will be landing in a few minutes. There is a communication center on the surface. As soon as we disembark, we need to contact our parents.”
“Fine,” he said coolly. “What is our cover story?”
“I had intended to send a communiqué to my mother telling her that Jacen and I are going skiing in the Alps with friends. I will explain that we will be out of touch for a while and not to worry.”
He nodded. “Fine. I’ll tell my parents that I am going with you. They’ll believe it.” He smiled sarcastically. “I’ll just explain that I couldn’t stand to be apart from you for that long.”
Jaina did not comment, unwilling to admit how much his sarcasm hurt.
Jaina genuinely smiled for the first time, the thrill of adventure overcoming. “There is a freighter leaving in a few hours for Space Station J11, we are going to have to con our way onboard. A few slips of latinum should do the trick.”
Jack gave her a curious look. “And once we get to J11? Then what?”
Jaina shrugged with a grin, unconcerned. “I don’t know. We have to get our hands on a shuttle.”
Jack scowled. “That’s your plan? Bribe a freighter captain, and then hope we can get a shuttle later? Great planning!”
Jaina’s excitement faded. She stared at him, pain filling her heart. “Do you have to be so sarcastic? I know you are angry, but are you planning to be hateful the entire way?”
Jack’s expression shuttered, became closed off, unreadable. “Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”
Jaina felt herself getting angry. “You know Jack, I never would have guessed that you could be such a jerk.”
Jack smiled mildly. “Watch it, Jaina, you really don’t want to know what I think of you at this moment.”
Jaina turned away to stare out the window again; relieved to see they had started to make their descent. “So much for warm, fuzzy feelings.” She muttered under her breath.
If Jack heard her, he gave no verbal indication. However, if she had been
looking at his face, she would have been gratified to see the emotion that
flickered in his eyes, softening his stony features.
Jacen swore violently as he stumbled on a slick patch of ice. He threw his arms out, making a grab at a low hanging branch. He caught hold, narrowly avoiding a head first plunge down the steep incline.
When he had first left his makeshift camp, he held very little hope of finding anything beyond the barren wasteland he had crashed on. After days of hiking, however, he began to see signs of life. A few trees here and there dotted the mountains, some dead or dying, stripped of any color they may have once had. Others sprung majestically toward the gray sky, vibrant with color. From a distance, they looked remarkably like Earth’s Evergreens, however as Jacen got closer, he could make out very distinct differences. For one thing, the “needles” were three times larger than their Earth cousins, and were filled with sap. For another, they were a deep rich purple.
Jacen continued his upward climb, using the sparse vegetation for leverage. After another hour of strenuous exertion, Jacen pulled himself over a ledge, standing upright on a relatively level plateau. From this vantage point he could see for several kilometers. He looked out into the deep valley below, and to the sharp incline on the other side. He pulled out his tricorder and scanned the area. Using the way he had just come as a focal point, he located what he believed to be magnetic north. He was disheartened to discover that he had strayed too far east. He would have to descend into the valley to get back onto a southern route.
The decision made, Jacen took off his pack and began to set camp. Night would be falling within a few hours and he wanted to be inside shelter before the setting sun dropped the temperature to a dangerous level.
Jacen set up his tent quickly and efficiently. Within an hour, he had a nice fire going and was preparing himself a nourishing, albeit, meager meal.
Jacen settled in for the night, staying alert for any sounds out of the ordinary.
Deep in the night, his light sleep was disturbed by the sounds of a low feral moan. Instantly awake and alert, Jacen grabbed his tricorder and turned it on. Picking up nothing, he stepped cautiously from his tent. With a lantern in one hand and his tricorder in the other, Jacen slowly made his way around the camp. He approached the edge of the plateau with caution, peering into the valley below. His tricorder started to beep faintly, picking up life forms below. To his amazement, Jacen spotted the vague glimmer of what seemed to be a campfire. The tricorder, of course, could not identify the life forms it was picking up, but they were definitely closer than the fire suggested. Jacen surmised the moan he heard was the call of some as of yet unseen wildlife. He was not surprised by that, he had assumed he would soon be seeing signs of animal life. What surprised, and concerned him, were the obvious signs of humanoid life. He had not once expected to find civilization in this remote, inhospitable tundra.
Deciding he was in no immediate danger of being discovered, Jacen returned to his tent, vowing to investigate his findings thoroughly in the morning.
It was late morning by the time Jacen had descended to the valley floor. He estimated that the camp he had seen the night before was approximately ¾ of a kilometer south of his current position. His tricorder, however, had not picked up any more life signs.
Using extreme caution, and sticking to the now dense foliage, Jacen continued south. After about ½ a kilometer, Jacen found obviously bipedal tracks coming from a westerly direction. Curious, he followed the tracks, correctly deducing that the tracks would lead to a clearing. Jacen could smell the remnants of a fire. Mixed in with the scent of smoke was a rather pungent smell. With a sinking feeling in the pit of stomach, Jacen realized that the underlying stench was that of a dead animal.
Moving more cautiously now, his phaser in hand, Jacen stepped into the clearing. The sight that greeted him caused his stomach to roll forcefully. He fell to his knees, retching.
Around the still smoldering embers of the fire he had seen from above, lay three humanoid bodies. Blood spilt from gapping wounds, soaking the surrounding snow, turning the white powder a ghastly pink.
The rickety old freighter shook slightly, making Jaina’s stomach roll uncomfortably. She moaned miserably and clutched the edge of the bed for support. She could not believe it. She, Jaina Riker-Troi, was experiencing space sickness of all things! She would never live it down if her brother found out. She stole a glance at Jack out of the corner of her eye. He seemed perfectly fine. The Rat!
After a few minutes, the ship leveled out—Jaina’s stomach along with it. She would be fine now, at least until their “Captain” decided to change speed or course again.
Jaina smiled ruefully at Jack. ‘Ugh! I swear this bucket of rust has the worse inertial dampers I have ever felt!”
Jack grunted. “I wouldn’t know. I’m not well versed in these things.” He responded tonelessly.
Jaina rolled her eyes with a sigh. What did she expect, anyway? She’d been getting the same sort of noncommittal—boarding on rude—responses from him for the past four days. He went out of his way to avoid her; a task not easily accomplished considering they were stuck together in the freighter’s only spare quarters.
Four days stuck in a very small room with someone who refused to speak to her. Jaina felt like screaming, or committing homicide. Contemplating which of them to kill provided Jaina with many hours of pleasure. Thomas, Jacen, or Jack? Today, she decided, it was a toss up.
Thankfully, in approximately twelve hours, they would arrive at Space Station J11. Then all they had to do was find a vessel. Thomas had, of course, assured her that J11 was a bustling station, and that finding an available ship should not be too difficult. Not that she was inclined to take anything her uncle said at face value.
Jaina looked in Jack’s direction again and was surprised to see him staring back before he quickly turned his head. The look in his eyes was unsettling. What was he thinking? Not for the first time, Jaina wished she were telepathic, or at least, empathic.
For four days now, he had been holding onto his determination to shut her out. Up until that point, Jaina had been inclined to let him, knowing that he would eventually get over it. She did not want to push, did not want to make the situation worse. But her patience was wearing thin, and she found herself wanting to start shoving. She wondered how long he would be able to remain cold and remote if she applied a little pressure. Could she push him over the edge?
Jaina decided she was frustrated and bored just enough to give it a try. But what to do?
Inspiration hit, bringing a slightly wicked grin to Jaina’s face. She quickly forced the smile from her face.
Jaina stood up and stretched languidly, reaching her arms high above her head and arching her back so that the hem of her shirt rode up, baring her midriff.
She crossed the room and began rummaging through her duffel bag, her hair falling over her face like a veil. As she searched through her bag, she stole furtive glances through her hair at Jack. He wasn’t even looking at her.
She found what she was looking for and stood up with a small smile. She pulled a small device from her bag and tapped a few buttons. She smiled in satisfaction as music began to waft from the handheld device. She turned it off and set it aside. Returning her attention to her bag, Jaina pulled out her workout clothes. She disappeared into the lavatory, only to return a few minutes later, dressed to exercise.
When Jaina had packed her leotard, she had no other thought beyond continuing her daily workout routine while in route to her various destinations. If the skimpy, skintight clothing could serve a higher purpose, well then, who was she to argue?
Jaina turned the music back on and began stretching. For several minutes, Jaina went through her normal routine, watching Jack out of the corner of her eye. He seemed to be completely oblivious to her efforts. Damn him! Was he made of stone?
She knew she should, on some level, be ashamed of her blatant—and rather childish—efforts to get his attention, but Jaina found she just did not care. She could not stand the deafening silence anymore.
Deciding she needed to step it up a bit, Jaina shifted from stretching exercises to gymnastics. Using what limited space she had, she proceeded to perform some of the more basic moves. Jaina felt Jack’s gaze on her as she executed a perfect back walkover, ending in a split. Gratified that she finally had his attention, Jaina prepared to do a backwards handspring, positioning herself so that the complicated move would place her right in front of Jack’s chair. She leapt backwards, twisting her body perfectly. Just as she was landing, the ship lurched again, causing her to lose her balance. She tumbled backwards, flailing her arms. Unable to stop her backwards momentum, she landed hard—right on top of Jack.
Smiling, she turned around, situating herself firmly on his lap. “Sorry.” She whispered, not in the least bit.
Jack grunted, slightly winded from receiving an elbow in his gut. “Are you all right?”
Jaina nodded. “I’m perfectly fine. How ‘bout you?”
Jack ignored her question. “Do you want to get up now?”
Jaina wrapped her arms around his neck, lightly playing with the ends of his hair. “Nope. I’m quite comfortable. Thank you.”
Jack stared at her for several seconds, his eyes darkening perceptibly. He looked as though he wanted to dump her onto the floor.
The ship lurched once again. Jack’s arms instinctively wrapped around Jaina as the momentum of the ship pushed her against his chest.
“The hell with it,” he whispered harshly as he crushed her lips with his
The place was a dive. No doubt about it. If such an old-fashioned term could be applied to anything in the galaxy, the ambitiously named “Starlight Pub” was definitely it. When Jack had first entered Space Station J11’s only bar, he had almost turned around and left. He could not believe anything like it existed in this day and age. From the scarred tables, to the dirty floor, to the shady looking Ferengi behind the bar, everything seemed somehow seedy. Even the Dabo table in the center of the dimly lit room held no appeal.
The docking port attendant had to have been wrong, Jack thought as he made his way to the only free table in the room, keeping his eyes open for Jaina. This could not possibly be the right place. The attendant, a young Andorian male, had assured them they would find what they were looking for there. Jack had serious doubts.
After docking at the station, he and Jaina had made a few inquiries regarding the availability of spacecrafts. Rumor had it that an ex-Maquis member possessed two decommissioned Danube class runabouts. One of the merchants on the Promenade had suggested that he might be willing to part with one of them, if the price was right.
Jaina had gone on to the bar while he secured accommodations in the Station’s unimpressive guest quarters. Planning to meet her there when he was done, Jack was grateful for the time to himself. After five days alone with her, he was ready to explode. Especially after the kiss they had shared. He hadn’t meant to kiss her. Although his anger had cooled considerably, he was not quite ready to forgive her yet. She had hurt him deeply. He understood why she had lied to him, on a surface level, but deep inside he was smarting from her obvious lack of trust in him. The ironic thing was that he had already known where Jacen had gone. He had been privy to Jacen’s exploits since he had first started “working” for his uncle. He did not approve of Jacen’s reckless behavior, but he had never interfered. Of course that was before Jacen had dragged his twin into the fray. Jack intended to give his best friend hell about it. Risking his own life and career was one thing, risking his sister was unacceptable, at least in Jack’s mind.
A scantily clad waitress appeared at his side. He ordered a drink offhandedly, barely looking at her. He scanned the room anxiously. Where was Jaina?
A husky little laugh drew his attention across the room. A group of males of various species clustered around the end of the bar, their attention fully on the woman standing against the bar. The men blocked most of his view. Jack could see only a long pair of very nice legs. Jack smiled, amused by the rapt adoration the unseen woman attracted. She laughed again, the sound coy and flirtatious. “You guys are just so nice, offering to buy me a drink.”
Jack’s smile abruptly turned to a frown. He recognized that voice! He stood up, ready to push his way through the throng of admirers when one of them—a very large Klingon—moved to the side. Jack plopped back into his seat with a thump, staring disbelievingly.
Jaina, his Jaina, was draped across the bar, wearing a miniscule dress that was hardly more than a bandage. She was laughing and flirting outrageously with half a dozen males.
He watched in fury as she accepted a glass from the bartender with a smile and a wink. What the hell was she doing?
“Now which one of you can tell me where to find Avrem Chianti? I’ve been looking for him all evening.”
“He doesn’t usually come in for a few more hours.” An Orion answered, draping his arm around her shoulders.
Jack bit back the urge to forcefully remove the man’s arm—from its socket.
Jaina pouted prettily, “Aw, that’s so disappointing. I really need to see him.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll be happy to keep you company until he gets here.” The green skinned male suggested with a leer. His hand slid down her back to brush against her butt.
Jack had seen enough. Outwardly calm, but inwardly seething, he stomped to the bar and took Jaina by the arm. “Sorry, gentleman, but this one belongs to me. Bought and paid for. You’ll just have to find other companionship for the night.” With that he dragged Jaina out of the room into the deserted corridor.
The second the door closed behind them, Jaina jerked away from him. “What do you think you are doing?”
Jack’s eyes flashed murderously. “What am I doing? What the hell were you thinking, letting them grope you like that? And what the hell are you wearing?”
Jaina looked down at her clothing, then back at his furious face. “It’s a dress. Don’t you like it?”
Oh yeah! “No!”
Jaina smiled impishly, and put her arms around his neck. She pressed herself against him suggestively. “Want me to take it off?”
Jack pushed her away. “At this moment, I’d like to turn you over my knee and give you the spanking you so richly deserve.”
“Ooh, sounds like fun. But I can’t right now, I have to wait for our ex-Maquis guy.”
“You are not going back in there!” Jack yelled.
“Yes, I am.” Jaina yelled back. “And what do you mean, ‘bought and paid for’? How dare you suggest that I’m a…”
“Well, you are dressed the part.” Jack sneered.
Jaina punched him in the stomach, hard. “Jerk.” She turned and went back into the bar, not waiting to see if he followed.
She stomped to the empty table Jack had recently vacated. She signaled the waitress and ordered another martini.
She sipped her drink slowly, waiting for Jack to join her. She had no doubt he would. Despite his angry stance, she knew him well enough to know his attitude stemmed from jealously. She smiled, inordinately pleased with herself. He was coming around.
She spotted him the second he entered the crowded room. All other males paled in comparison. Her stomach clinched painfully. She really did love him, even when he was being a stubborn creep. She wondered briefly where he had inherited his penchant for holding a grudge. Not from Aunt Beverly, that was for sure!
She turned her eyes away from him as he approached; scanning the room for anyone who looked like the sketchy description she had received of Avrem Chianti. Her hopes for a serviceable spacecraft rested on the reputed mercenary. She wondered where an ex-Maquis operative got his hands on twenty-five year old Federation issue Runabouts.
She barely acknowledged Jack as he sat across from her. “I’m not speaking to you.” She informed him in her best aristocratic voice.
Jack shrugged, unconcerned. “Fine. I’m not speaking to you, either.”
They sat in silence for a minute. “So,” Jaina said conversationally. “How much do you think Chianti will want for the Runabout?”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “I thought you weren’t speaking to me,” he replied mildly.
“I’m not.” Jaina waited a heartbeat. “So, how much?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I have no idea. My guess is the amount will be exuberant. One does not abscond with a runabout then sell it cheap.”
“If he is even willing to sell it.”
“True.” Jack agreed.
Jaina pondered the issue for a while. She placed her elbow on the table, resting her chin in her upturned palm. “I suppose I could drop a few names. That could help.” She stirred her drink idly with an olive adorned toothpick. She lifted the makeshift swizzle stick to her lips, sucking the olive into her mouth.
Jack forgot how to breathe for a moment. He cleared his throat. “What name? Your father’s, maybe?”
Jaina shot him a drop-dead look. “No, smart-ass, I was thinking along the lines of my uncle. He used to be Maquis. Chianti may have heard of him.”
“We will only use Thomas’ name if absolutely necessary. I’m sure I can work out a deal with this guy. Leave it to me.”
Jaina batted her eyelashes at him. “My hero. Jack, what would I do without you?”
“Probably get yourself into a mess of trouble.” He said dryly.
It was Jaina’s turn to roll her eyes. “See, this is the reason I’m not speaking to you.”
Jack could not help himself, he grinned. “Angel, for someone who is not speaking, there is an awful lot of noise coming out of your mouth.”
“Shut up, Jack.” She returned mildly, warming inside at the endearment.
They lapsed into a surprisingly compatible silence, taking turns monitoring the door for their quarry.
Two hours later, their patience was rewarded. “There he is!” Jaina said excitedly, sitting up straight in her chair.
Jack looked toward the door. He watched the tall, bearded human male make his way to the Dabo table. “Are you sure?”
“No, but he fits the description.” She stood up and pulled Jack to his feet. “Let’s go find out.”
Jack grabbed her wrist, halting her. “Wait. We can’t just approach him out of the blue.”
“Sure we can.”
“No. I have a better idea. Have you ever played Dabo?”
Jaina shook her head. “No, have you?”
“Once or twice. Let’s get into a game. Drop a few slips of latinum.”
Jaina looked at him quizzically. “Why?”
“Listen, I play a few games. Let him win. I’ll casually let it be known that I am in the market for a runabout, and that I have latinum to burn.”
“And what will I be doing while you are losing our latinum?”
Jack winked at her with a grin. “With that outfit? You get to be a distraction. You’ll have him drooling all over himself. He won’t know what hit him.”
Jaina smiled coyly. “What about you, Jack? Do I make you drool?”
Jack just shook his head in exasperation. “Come on, Angel, it’s time to play.” He started toward the Dabo table.
“Wait!” Jaina called after him. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Jack did not turn around. “I’ll answer when I’m speaking to you again.”
Jack punched a few commands into the navigation console, putting their newly acquired Runabout onto autopilot. He settled back in his seat and closed his eyes with a small satisfied smile.
He marveled at the strange twist fate had given his life. If anyone had told him a month ago that he would be doing what he was doing, he would have thought they were insane. Nevertheless, here he was, on course for a planet he had never heard of in search of Jacen Riker. Better than that, he was piloting an old style runabout that he had won by hustling a guy at a Dabo table. He laughed. Avrem Chianti had never seen him coming. He started by “losing” a few rounds. Then when he had Chianti convinced he was a novice, he turned the tables on him, taking the mercenary’s latinum rather rapidly. After cleaning the guy out, it was quite easy to finagle a trade. The Dabo earnings—plus a bit extra—in exchange for one of the runabouts. Jack was extremely proud of himself.
And then there was Jaina. She had played her part perfectly. Through out the “lost” games, she pouted annoyingly, complaining that if he did not stop losing all their funds, they would never be able to afford the ship he had promised. She whined like a spoiled brat. Then when Jack began winning, she instantly turned into a vamp. She leaned on the table, giving everyone a nice view of her cleavage. She draped herself all over him one moment, flirted with Avrem Chianti the next.
Jack thought she was playing it up a bit too much, but he did his best to suppress his admittedly unwarranted jealously.
Jack shook his head fondly. His Angel was simply amazing.
Jack sat up with a sigh. He could not hold onto his hurt feelings anymore. He needed her too much. He missed her horribly. He no longer had any desire to hurt her.
Jack was deeply ashamed of the way he had been treating her. His behavior was completely out of character. He could hardly believe that he had said the things he had.
He would talk to her when she woke up, he decided. He would apologize. Then he would make love to her until neither of them could move.
If she let him touch her. He really could not be sure. She would probably forgive him instantly, but then she could just as easily torture him for a few days. Knowing Jaina, she’d do both.
He realized he was looking forward to either reaction. He smiled in anticipation.
He leaned back in the seat again and closed his eyes, drifting into a very pleasant daydream.
He was just contemplating crawling into bed beside her, when the small ship vibrated with an ear-piercing scream.
Jack almost stumbled in his hurry to get out of the pilot’s chair. “Jaina!” He sprinted through the living area, jumping over a chair rather than going around it. He skidded to a halt in the sleeping quarters, dropping to his knees beside the bed.
Jaina thrashed in her sleep, screaming.
Jack shook her gently, then with more force when she did not respond. “Jaina, baby, wake up!” He noticed absently that she was clutching her right arm, as though in pain. “Come on, Angel.” Jack sat on the edge of the bed, lifting her into his arms.
Jaina stopped screaming, unconsciously clinging to Jack. She moaned deeply, whimpering incoherently. Jack rocked her gently, trying to wake her up. He ran his hand over her arm, probing for some sort of injury. He found none.
Suddenly, Jaina bolted upright, wide-awake. She arched her back and let out the most agonizing scream Jack had ever heard.
“Jaina!” He yelled, thoroughly terrified. She seemed to be in great pain, but he could not fathom why. Not knowing what else to do, Jack got up and grabbed a medkit from the cabinet above the bed. He loaded a hypospray with Terakine, an analgesic. He administered the drug, hoping the powerful painkiller would bring her relief.
After a few minutes she stopped screaming, collapsing in his arms as though exhausted. She began to sob.
Jack held her tenderly, brushing her hair from her eyes. “Jaina? What is it, Angel? Where are you hurt?”
“Not…not…me…” she managed to get out between sobs. “J-Jace-cen.” She started to shake violently, her sobs coming harder. “J-Jack, it’s Jacen. He’s hurt. Oh, God, Jack! I can’t bear it. Jacen!”
Feeling helpless, Jack continued to rock Jaina, rubbing her back, as she cried hysterically, calling her twin’s name.
Jacen had found new heights of frustration. Technology, which he had always been able to depend on, had failed him. His tricorder had stopped working two days before, just a few hours after he had come across the mangled bodies. He had found tracks that obviously belonged to an extremely large creature, and had made a wide berth around them, backtracking about ½ a kilometer eastward before continuing south. He was concerned about the existence of a large, obviously predatory creature, but he reasoned that he would be able to avoid a confrontation by using his tricorder to scan for life forms. Unfortunately there was some sort of interference, rendering his tricorder useless.
He had cautiously continued his southern trek, barely sleeping, keeping a close eye out for any large tracks. He had found none.
With a disgusted grunt, he tossed the useless tricorder into his backpack.
To his frustration he had also failed to locate any sort of village. Where had the unfortunate campers originated from?
Bone-tired, needing to rest, Jacen pushed forward. He wanted to cover at least another 2 kilometers before nightfall.
Just before dusk, Jacen admitted to himself that he could not go any farther. He searched around for a reasonably safe place to make camp, finally settling on a small clearing, about ¼ of a kilometer from the path. He set to work assembling his tent.
The only warning he received was the sudden loud rustling in the foliage behind him. He spun around, instinctively pulling his phaser. He fired off a shot just as a very large paw descended on him, its razor sharp claws ripping into his right arm. Jacen staggered back from the blow, hitting the ground hard. He looked up. Hovering over him—ready to pounce—was a three meter tall bearlike creature. It snarled at him, baring its teeth. His arm throbbing and gushing blood, Jacen aimed the phaser at the creature again. He fired. The creature reeled back, his white fur singed from the blast. It recovered quickly, making a lunge for Jacen again. Jacen instinctively rolled, trying to dodge the animal, screaming in agony as the large claw tore into his back. In indescribable pain, and rapidly losing blood, Jacen pulled his D’k tahg from its sheath. The creature pounced. Jacen shoved the Klingon blade hard into the predator’s neck, slicing outward. Black, tar-like fluid gushed from the wound, covering Jacen.
Weakly, having very little strength left, Jacen jerked to the left, narrowly escaping being crushed by the now dead creature. He lay there, panting for breath, feeling his blood seeping out of him. Using one arm, he crawled toward his pack, hoping there would be something in his medkit to staunch the steady flow of blood.
The fight with the creature and his last desperate lunge for safety had taken too much out of Jacen. He collapsed to the ground about a meter from his pack, unconscious.
On the bridge of the USS Titan, Deanna Riker jerked up right, a startled scream dying on her lips. Intense fear and agonizing pain ripped through her. Only years of training kept her from giving into the agony.
Captain Will Riker turned to his wife, startled. Concern etched lines into his bearded face. “Deanna? What is it?”
Deanna looked around the bridge as though she did not know where she was. All eyes in the room were on her.
“It’s the children, Will,” she gasped out, struggling to breathe. “Something has happened to them. Something horrible.”
Jack Picard had never in his life felt as inadequate as he felt right then, standing helplessly by while Jaina cried in great gasping, heartbreaking sobs. He could do nothing to help her. She cried as though she would never stop, while he held her gently in his arms. She had been altering between crying and whimpering incoherently for hours.
Jack had left her only once, just long enough to verify their heading and increase their speed. He still was not clear on what had happened to Jacen, but he knew they had to get there as quickly as possible.
“Shh,” he murmured against her hair as he rocked her. “It’ll be all right.”
“No! Oh, God, Jack, he’s dying!” Jaina trembled violently in his arms. “Jacen! Oh, Jack, I can feel it. He’s dying and I can feel it.” Jaina started to hyperventilate. “I can’t take this! Make it stop, Jack. Please, please make it stop.” She screamed again as pained rocketed through her body. She curled into a fetal position, rocking back and forth on the bed, screaming her brother’s name over and over.
Jack did not pretend to understand the psychic link between the twins, but he was deathly afraid that if the connection was not severed, Jaina may never recover, physically or emotionally.
Jack loaded the hypospray again, this time with a sedative. He pressed the device to her neck. “Come on, Angel, fight it!” He pulled her back into his arms, fear making his voice harsh. “Damn it, Jaina! Block it out!”
“I can’t!” She whispered brokenly.
“Try! You will be no help to Jacen if you don’t block your mind from his!”
“It hurts! Oh, God, it hurts so much. I can’t stand it.”
“I know, baby, I know.” He soothed. “You have to break the link.”
Jaina took a deep, agonizing breath. She tunneled all her mental energy into shutting off the feel of her brother’s pain. She could feel his life slipping away. She did not want to let go; terrified that she may never feel him in her mind again. But she knew Jack was right. She could not function while experiencing Jacen’s agony.
Jaina clung to Jack, needing the support of his strong arms. She focused her mind inward, trying desperately to implement the technique she and Jacen had used to block Deanna when they went through the wormhole. Slowly, the pain began to dull. She slumped against Jack, the mental strain and the mild sedative draining away the rest of her energy. She was asleep within minutes.
Jack lowered her head to a pillow and covered her with a blanket. He took off his shoes and slid under the covers beside her. Gently, so as not to wake her, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She turned in his arms, snuggling against his chest. He held her close to his heart, listening to the soft sounds of her breathing.
Will Riker took the mug from the replicator and placed it gently in his wife’s trembling hands. He sat on the edge of his desk, waiting patiently while Deanna took a small sip. He could see her trying to force down the panic.
“Thanks.” She said with a small smile.
“No problem.” Will watched his wife carefully. “Imzadi, what happened?”
Deanna shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s all jumbled. I felt two things simultaneously: extreme physical pain, and great mental anguish. My guess would be that one of the twins got hurt and the other felt it.” She was amazed at how calm her voice was. “Remember when they were little? Jacen had a sore throat for two weeks when Jaina had tonsillitis.”
Will smiled slightly. “Yeah, I remember.” He moved around to sit at his desk. “Are you getting anything else from them?”
Will punched a few buttons on his computer console. “I’m sure it’s nothing. They went skiing, right? Your son was probably showing off for some girl and hurt himself. I’ll send a message to the ski resort and find out what happened.”
Deanna sipped her hot chocolate while Will placed the call. She tried to calm the uneasy feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach. Will was probably right. There was no reason to panic. She just couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrible had happened. Even full Betazoids could not pick up images over such a great distance, unless it involved extreme trauma.
She felt confusion coming from across the desk. She brought her head up sharply. Will was speaking to some one over subspace. She could only hear his side of the conversation. “I don’t understand. They told us they were going to be there for the next month at least. Are you sure you have no one named Riker registered?” Will listened for a moment. “What about Jack Picard? No? Angelique Wasserman? You do? Can you put me through to her room please? Yes I realize it’s after 10pm there. This is important.” Will looked at Deanna while he waited to be connected. “They are not registered.”
Deanna choked on her chocolate. “What?” she croaked.
Will turned his attention back to the screen when Angelique appeared.
The girl looked at him in surprise. “Captain Riker? Is there something the matter?”
Will smiled at the young cadet. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Angie. I was looking for Jacen and Jaina. The front desk said they are not registered. Do you know where they are staying?”
Angelique shook her head, confused. “They’re not here, Captain. They were supposed to be, but Jaina cancelled two days before we were scheduled to arrive. Said she decided to go home instead. I assumed she meant the Titan.”
Completely flabbergasted, Will bid Angelique good night, after assuring her there was nothing to worry about.
His eyes met Deanna’s, reading his fear in her eyes. “Angie said Jaina told
her they were coming here.”
Jack yawned loudly and glanced at the navigational controls through bleary eyes. The display was fuzzy and there seemed to be two of everything. He blinked rapidly, forcing the images back into focus. He needed to sleep. He had been up nearly twenty-six hours now, alternating between piloting the runabout and sitting by Jaina’s bedside, watching her sleep.
Concern for Jacen’s life, as well as Jaina’s state-of-mind, made sleep elusive. Every time he closed his eyes, images of Jacen—broken and bloody—danced through his mind. He struggled internally to hold on to hope. Jacen would be all right, he told himself, repeating the thought in his head every few minutes as though offering up a prayer. He had to believe it. The mere thought of losing his best friend ripped his heart to shreds.
Jack had known Jacen his entire life. Barely six months older than the Riker twins, Jack could honestly not remember any time in his life when they weren’t there. Granted, the twins had spent most of their lives on the Titan, while he had spent his formative years on Earth. Still, he and Jacen had always kept in close contact; communiqués, shore leaves spent together—both on Earth and aboard the Titan. Before his father had been promoted and stationed planetside, the boys had spent their school breaks wrecking havoc aboard the Enterprise. Jack could not bear the thought of losing his best friend now. Jacen had to be all right. Jack could not accept anything else.
Then there was Jaina. It shook Jack to the core to see her so distraught. Jack had never seen two people as close as the Riker twins were. They were like two halves of a whole. How would she ever survive losing the other half of her soul? If just the feel of Jacen in pain brought her to her knees, what would losing him completely do to her? Jack vowed that he would do what ever it took to see that it did not come to that.
Maybe it was just lack of sleep, but Jack was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed at the enormity of what they were doing. He had had no doubt that he and Jaina could handle this mission on their own, but that was before Jaina had woken up screaming. Now he was not so sure. Finding Jacen while he was alive and well—and no doubt leaving a trail—was one thing. Finding him while he was badly injured—possibly dying—was another. Secrecy no longer seemed to matter; they needed reinforcements.
Jack let his head fall back on his shoulders, closing his tired, itchy eyes. Yes, he thought, it was time to call in the cavalry. But who?
“Sleeping on the job?” A lightly teasing voice whispered from behind.
Jack blinked his eyes open and sat up straight. He smiled warmly as Jaina slid into the copilot seat. “Hey,” he greeted softly, watching her carefully. “How are you?”
Jaina shrugged diffidently. “Kinda numb, actually. Fuzzy. Like I’ve just woken up from a horrible nightmare, only to discover that it’s not a dream.”
Jack took her hand, squeezing gently. She turned her hand over, lacing their fingers together. She held onto his hand as though she needed tactile contact to anchor herself.
Maybe she did, Jack thought. “Anything more from Jacen?” He asked carefully, not wanting to break the fragile calm she was holding onto by a thin thread.
Jaina shook her head, squeezing his hand tightly. “No,” she whispered in a small, weak voice that nearly broke Jack’s heart. “I haven’t opened my mind back up. I’m afraid to.”
“I can understand that.”
Jaina fell silent for a moment, staring at the image of star lines on the viewscreen. “When we get there, I’m going to have to let the block down. I’ll need to be able to sense him if we are going to find him.” Her voice broke painfully, tears gathering in her eyes. “If he is still alive, that is.”
Turning in his seat, Jack placed his free hand on Jaina’s cheek, lifting her face until their eyes met. “Jaina, listen to me. You can’t think like that. We have to believe that he is still alive.” His voice was insistent, almost pleading. “Angel, you can’t give up hope.”
Jaina rubbed her cheek lovingly against his hand. “I’m trying to hold on, but, Jack, I’m so scared.”
Jack pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. “I know, Angel. I’m scared, too.”
“What am I going to do without him?” Her voice was muffled against his chest. “Jack, it felt like he was being ripped apart.” Tears coursed freely down her face, wetting his shirt.
“Shh. Don’t, Jaina. Don’t do this to yourself, please. You are just going to make yourself sick.”
Pulling out of his arms, Jaina returned to her chair. She sniffed loudly and wiped the wetness from her cheeks. She struggled to reign in her emotions. “I’m sorry. I seem to be falling apart, don’t I?”
Jack smiled tenderly and wiped a stray tear from her lashes. “That’s ok. You are allowed to.”
“Rikers don’t fall apart.” She joked weakly. “It’s encoded in our genetic makeup.”
Jack laughed, inordinately grateful to see the slight spark of humor on her face. She was going to be all right. “I promise I won’t tell a soul. I wouldn’t want to damage your hard-as-stone reputation.”
Jaina made a face at him. “Big of you.” She studied his beloved face for a minute. “Thank you.” She whispered softly.
Jack looked startled. “What for?”
Jaina touched his face fondly with the tips of her fingers. “Just for being you. For being here when I need you.”
Jack captured her hand, placing a light kiss in the palm. He caught her gaze, his eyes as serious as she had ever seen them. “I will always be here when you need me. No matter what.”
Jaina swallowed, hard. “Really?”
“You can count on it.”
Jaina suddenly felt a bit shy, knowing he wasn’t just talking about their current situation.
Feeling warm all over and a bit nonplussed by the look in his eyes, Jaina turned to face the view screen again. She busied herself with checking the navigational display. “I—ah—“ Jaina had to clear her throat. “I know you must be exhausted. Why don’t you go get some sleep? I’ll monitor things up here.”
Jack hated that she closed herself off at the slightest mention of a lasting commitment between them. But, considering her current emotional instability, he let it slide. For now. He vowed silently that when this was all over, and they were all safely home, they were going to have a very long conversation.
Ignoring the slight twinge of pain in his heart, as well as her suggestion that he sleep, Jack decided to broach a subject that he knew she would not like. “Under the circumstances, I think we need to get in touch with somebody. Let someone know what is happening. Maybe get some backup.”
Jaina shook her head vehemently, momentarily shocked at the abrupt change of subject. “No! Absolutely not! Nobody can know about this.”
“Jaina, I know you are concerned about repercussions, but this is not just about your and Jacen’s careers anymore.” Jack argued reasonably.
Jack shook his head. “Be reasonable, Jaina. Jacen is hurt, maybe severely, and we have no idea where on the planet he is, or what happened to him. We may be in over our heads. We need help. What if something happens to us? Then what? We need to file some sort of report. Just in case.”
Jaina stamped down her panic and considered his point. He was right, she decided after several minutes of inner deliberation. They had to let somebody know what was happening. What if Jacen did die? How would she ever be able to explain to her parents? What would it do to her parents if they both disappeared?
“Ok, fine. But we have to find someone who won’t balk at keeping everything quiet. This whole thing could end the careers of anyone involved.”
Jack considered that for a moment, surprised at her relatively easy acquiescence. “I don’t know. Your parents?”
“No!” Jaina insisted emphatically.
“No, I guess not. Not my parents, either. My dad would have a coronary.”
Jaina agreed. “What about Wesley?”
Jack snorted. “Captain Regulations?” He said derisively. “Not a chance in hell. He would run straight to my father.”
Jaina sighed. “That pretty much leaves Uncle Tommy.”
“Won’t he tell Will?”
Jaina shook her head. “No way! He’s the one that got us into this. He loves us enough not to care about his own career, but he also knows that if this gets out in the open, he will have to face Daddy. Trust me, he’ll keep it quite.”
“Fine. Then we send a message to Thomas.” Jack stifled a yawn. “Can I assume he has a secure frequency?”
Jaina nodded. “Yeah. I’ll take care of it. You need to go get some sleep.”
Jack waved off her concern. “I’ll be fine. You need me up here.”
Jaina snorted, torn between annoyance and tender amusement. “Jack, you can barely keep your eyes open. Go get some rest.”
“Jaina, I don’t want to leave you alone.” He insisted.
Jaina’s face softened. “Jack, I’ll be all right.” She assured him.
He did not look convinced. “Are you sure?”
Jaina raised her eyes to his, her love for him shining clearly in their bottomless depths. “I’m not going to fall apart again. I really am fine.”
Jack stared at her silently, searching her eyes solemnly. “OK.” He finally agreed. He stood up and stretched. “Call me if you need anything.” He bent down and placed a light kiss against her soft lips. He turned and left the cockpit without a backwards glance. His uneven gait betraying the exhaustion he had tried to hide.
Jaina watched him enter the sleeping quarters—love swelling in her heart—before
she turned back to the display panel. As she monitored their trajectory, she
felt some of the fear and tension she felt begin to melt away. Jack’s tender
concern and comforting words had brought her a measure of peace she had not
thought possible just a few short hours ago.
Will Riker pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh of frustration. Torn between anger and fear, he forced himself to calm down, not wanting to inflict his dark emotions on his empathic wife.
Sitting on the other side of the room, Deanna looked at him in understanding, grateful for his attempt to shield her. Not that it mattered, she thought. Her emotions were a perfect mirror image of his.
“There has to be some mistake,” she insisted quietly, unwilling to believe her daughter had intentionally deceived her. “They wouldn’t just take off without telling anybody where they were going.”
Will looked at her as though she were delusional. “Deanna, you do realize we are talking about our kids, right? Of course they would.”
“Will!” Deanna protested.
Will shook his head. “Come on, Deanna, you know as well as I do that those two are capable of anything.”
As much as she hated to, Deanna could do nothing but agree with Will. “Well, where ever they are, we have to find them. One of them is hurt.”
“Right. So I think we should place a call to the Picards, Bev might know where they are. I wouldn’t put anything past Jaina and Jacen, but I can’t imagine Jack ever doing anything so irresponsible.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Deanna went to the replicator and ordered another cup of hot chocolate while Will placed a subspace call to San Francisco. Holding the warm mug with both hands, she sat on the edge of Will’s desk and sipped the sweet beverage slowly.
Within minutes, Beverly’s smiling face replaced the Starfleet insignia on the small viewscreen. “Hi, Will! This is a nice surprise. How are things in deep space?”
Will’s answering smile was weak. “I wish I could say everything was fine, Beverly.”
The redhead’s smile faded. “What’s wrong?”
“Honestly, I’m not too sure. Deanna felt the twins in danger and now we can’t find them.”
Beverly’s face paled in alarm. “What do you mean you can’t find them? They went skiing in the Alps with Angelique.”
Will shook his head. “No, they didn’t. I spoke to Angie. She thought they were coming here. I was hoping Jack had told you where they were really going.”
If possible, Beverly’s face went even whiter. “No. Will, Jack told me the same thing Jaina told you. Will, what’s going on? What did Deanna feel? Are they OK?”
Deanna gripped her mug tighter, trying not to panic. She turned the view screen so that she could see her friend’s face. “I don’t know what happened. I felt physical pain from one of them and extreme mental anguish from the other. I don’t know anything about Jack.”
“Bev, calm down.” Will said softly. “When did you last see them? Did they seem distracted or secretive?”
Beverly shook her head. “I saw Jaina a few days before they left. She seemed perfectly fine.”
Beverly looked thoughtful for a minute. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Jacen in a few weeks at least. He hasn’t been coming around. He usually spends a couple of hours a week with Jean-Luc, but he hasn’t been over in a while. I didn’t think too much about it, I figured he was busy with finals.”
Placing her mug on the desk, Deanna reached blindly for Will’s hand, squeezing it tightly.
Will said goodbye to Beverly, promising to let her know as soon as he found anything. She promised to do the same.
Will continued to stare pensively at the viewscreen long after Beverly’s worried face faded back to the familiar blue logo. No longer trying to block his emotions, they poured out in great waves. Deanna winced as his feelings eclipsed hers.
“What are you thinking?” She asked her husband quietly, her own fear blocking her ability to read his thoughts.
“When was the last time you heard from Jacen?”
Deanna shrugged. “I don’t know. Jace has always been bad about sending messages.”
Will nodded. “Ok, when was the last time Jaina mentioned Jacen in one of her communiqués?”
Deanna opened her mouth to answer then closed it abruptly. Knowing that her brother rarely sent his own greetings, Jaina always made it a point to tell Deanna everything she could about Jacen whenever she talked to her. However, the last few times…
“Jai didn’t mention him at all the last few times we talked, except when she sent word that they were going skiing.”
Will rubbed his beard as he considered this. “Doesn’t it seem strange that Jaina would suddenly stop mentioning Jacen? As though she did not want his name brought up?”
Deanna picked up his train of thought. “So she would not be forced to lie to us if asked where he was?”
“Exactly. I think I will give Michael Montgomery a call.”
Deanna looked at Will quizzically at the mention of his old friend. “Isn’t he a professor at the Academy now?”
“Yeah, Metaphysical Theory. Jacen was in his class this past semester.”
Will once again turned to his computer, keying in the proper commands to reach Starfleet Academy. He watched Deanna pacing the room as he waited to be connected to his old friend.
Deanna tuned out Will’s conversation with Montgomery. She focused her thoughts inward, using an old Betazoid technique to calm her troubled mind. She was not sure what she was supposed to be feeling. Anger at her children’s obvious duplicity warred with an overwhelming fear for their lives. Fear won.
Unexpectedly, Deanna felt a fresh wave of intense anger from Will. Surprised, her head snapped in his direction. “Will, what is it?”
Deanna jumped when Will slammed his fist down on his desk, his face red with fury. “Damn them!”
Fear clogging her throat, Deanna went to his side. “Will, tell me. What did Montgomery say?”
“Mike was quite surprised to hear from me. He expected the Titan to be out of communication range for a while.”
Deanna was confused. “Why would he think that?”
“Well, it seems that I told him that myself, when I requested that Jacen be released from his last two weeks of classes so that he could help with a special research project here.”
Deanna blinked. “What? But you didn’t…”
Their eyes locked as realization dawned in Deanna’s mind. “Thomas,” she whispered dully.
“Thomas,” Will agreed furiously, hitting his desk again hard with his fist.
Thealonia grunted as she pulled the heavy-laden sled through the hard packed snow. She stopped and looked over her shoulder at her cousin. The younger woman had once again fallen way behind. “Uri! Hurry up. I want to get these saplings back to the village before sunset.”
Lazily, Uri shuffled her feet as she approached. Preferring a slower pace, the young girl never hurried anywhere.
“I don’t know what the hurry is. It’s not like these stupid trees are going to wither before we get there. You know, Thea, you would enjoy life so much more if you would take the time to notice it.”
Thealonia scolded Uri reproachfully. “You wouldn’t feel that way if you got stuck out here after dark.”
Uri laughed. “Don’t tell me you are afraid of the dark!” She teased.
Thealonia sniffed rudely, affronted. “Of course not! But with all the yeti sightings lately, only a fool would be out here after the sun goes down.”
Uri opened her mouth to speak when something caught her eye in the distance. “What is that?”
Thealonia looked in the direction Uri was pointing. “What is what? I don’t see anything.”
Uri grabbed her arm impatiently. “That! There is something over there, lying in the snow.”
Thealonia shrugged, straining to see what her cousin was looking at. “Probably a dead animal. I told you there are yeti all over this area.”
Uri took off running, moving faster than Thealonia had ever seen her. “Let’s check it out.”
“Uri! Get back here!”
The younger girl did not listen. Irritated, Thealonia left the sled there and followed.
“Oh, no! Thea! It’s a body!” Uri screamed.
Shocked, Thealonia ran faster. Out of breath, she skidded to a halt beside her cousin. She stared in horror at the scene before her. On the ground lay a body, obviously male. Around him the snow was a grotesque shade of pink.
Thealonia watched, unable to speak past the bile in her throat, while Uri approached the body.
Uri knelt down in the discolored snow and turned the heavy male over. There were several deep gashes on his back, and his arm was severely damaged. She felt for a pulse. She found none. She started to rise, assuming they were too late to be of any help, when she saw the very slight rise and fall of his chest. She jumped. “Thea! He’s alive.”
Still frozen by the sight of the blood, Thealonia at first did not hear what Uri was saying. “What?”
“He’s alive! Quick, go get the sled, we have to get him back to the village.”
Thealonia broke from her paralysis as Uri’s words registered. She turned and ran back to where she had left the sled. Within minutes she was back. Working together, the women labored to get their patient onto the sled.
The sun was just beginning to set when they finished. They hurried away
from the scene, determined to get the dying man to Kasbek before it was too
Jean-Luc Picard absently sipped a cup of Earl Grey as he perused the report he had just received. Though officially retired, the ex-Starship captain still had plenty of contacts. Within a few short hours of Beverly apprising him of the current situation, Picard had full details on when and how Jacen, Jaina, and Jack had left the planet.
“Beverly, look at this.” He motioned his wife over. “Three and a half weeks ago, two days after that bogus request was made to the Academy Administration, Jacen filed a flight plan with Air Traffic Control, destination Sector 103. That’s where the Titan was at the time. Naturally, he was in the Double J.”
“What about Jack and Jaina?” Beverly questioned anxiously.
“The day they were supposed to leave for the Alps, Jaina and Jack booked passage on a shuttle headed for Titan. The moon, not the ship. That’s where we lose them. Where they went from there is anybody’s guess.”
“So, Jacen went off on his own, and for some reason the other two followed two weeks later. But, why?”
Jean-Luc shook his head. “I have no idea. I must say, I am surprised by Jack’s behavior though, considering his aversion to space travel.”
“Jean-Luc, Jack is not averse to space travel, he just prefers living on Earth.”
“Be that as it may, it is not like him to just disappear like this.”
Beverly smiled slightly. “Don’t be so sure. Love makes people do unusual things.”
Jean-Luc looked at her in surprise. “Are you saying you think Jack is in love with Jaina?”
“I don’t think so, dear, I know so.”
Picard harrumphed. Beverly narrowed her eyes. “What? You have a problem with Jack being with Jaina?”
“Of course not. I am quite fond of Jaina.”
“But…” Beverly pressed.
Jean-Luc sighed. “But I don’t see how a relationship between them could possibly work.”
Beverly was taken aback. “Why on Earth not?”
“Jaina has a very promising future in Starfleet ahead of her, and Jack’s future is in the soil, in the upkeep of our ancestor’s legacy. I’ve seen even the strongest relationships deteriorate under that kind of diversity.”
“I don’t think you are giving either of them enough credit. But that is an issue best left for another time. The important thing now is figuring out where they went. Deanna firmly believes they are in trouble.”
Picard agreed. He walked to his desk and sat down, turning on his computer. Minutes later, he was connected to the Titan, Will Riker’s worried face staring at him over subspace.
“Admiral, good to see you. I hope you have some good news to share.”
Picard regarded his former Number One carefully. “I don’t know if it can be considered good news or not.” He filled Riker in on what he had discovered. Riker then shared his suspicions regarding his “brother.”
“Will, I am going to pull some strings and have the Titan recalled home. I think it would be best for you to deal with Thomas face to face. I will also see if I can get you placed on detached duty until this is resolved. That way the Titan will be at your disposal.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“You’re welcome. Now get yourself back here as quickly as possible.”
Jaina was a really bad poker player, Jack decided after more than three hours of beating her at every hand.
They were still twenty hours from Eliga. In an effort to pass the time and to distract Jaina from her steadily increasing fear, Jack had replicated a deck of cards. He convinced her to play with him. Three hours and countless hands later, Jaina’s supply of chips had dwindled down to almost nothing.
He watched in surprise as she bet the last of her chips. There was no way she could have a better hand than he did. He met her wager and called. She had a pair. He had a straight. With a sad little shake of his head, Jack scooped the last of the chips onto his side.
Jack just sat there for a minute staring at Jaina, completely bewildered.
Jaina raised her eyebrows questioningly. “What?”
“How can you possibly be this bad at poker?”
Jaina lowered her head mournfully, a slight smile playing on her lips. “I know, horrible, isn’t it? Daddy tried to teach me, but finally gave up in disgust. I think he is ashamed of me.”
“I can see why,” Jack teased. “You are a disgrace to the Riker name.”
Jaina threw a poker chip at him. He caught it deftly in the air and tossed it back. Poker chips began flying back and forth across the table. Laughing merrily, feeling lighter than she had in days, Jaina scooped up a handful of chips and held them over Jack’s head, letting them trickle through her fingers. Jack grabbed her wrists with one hand, holding her arms straight up in the air, and began tickling her with his other hand.
Trying to twist away from him, Jaina allowed her knees to buckled and lurched backwards, pulling Jack out of his chair. As they tumbled to the floor, Jack managed to twist his body around so that he landed first, pulling Jaina down on top of him. Laughing in her face, Jack wrapped both arms around her waist and rolled over, reversing their positions.
“Looks like you’re trapped now,” he laughed.
Jack’s laughter died abruptly when he realized Jaina had stopped laughing and was staring up at him silently. The look in her ultra dark eyes had his breath catching painfully in his chest.
He hadn’t touched her. In the four days they had been aboard the Shenandoah, he had made no move toward her in more than a comforting fashion. He had wanted to give her the space she needed. He did not want to do anything to fracture her fragile emotional state.
Jaina brought her arms up around his neck, pulling his head down until their lips met, kissing him hungrily. Jack kissed her back for several agonizing seconds, drowning in his need for her, before pulling back.
“Jaina, don’t,” he whispered hoarsely. “You don’t need this right now. You need to…”
Jaina placed her fingers against his lips, halting his half-hearted protest. “Yes, Jack, I do need this. I need to feel good, to forget why we are here for a little while.” She pulled his head back down for a kiss.
Jack groaned. “Ahh, Angel.”
“Please, Jack, please make love to me. I need to feel alive.”
Unable to fight the plea in her voice or his own want, Jack crushed his lips against hers.
Her lips parted eagerly, inviting his tongue inside. They kissed deeply, passionately as they fumbled with their clothing.
Not wanting to make love to her on the hard floor, Jack stood up with Jaina in his arms and carried her into the sleeping quarters. They fell to the bed together, their lips never breaking apart.
They made love slowly, sweetly, cherishing each other with their hands and mouths. Jack slipped inside the warm recesses of her body with agonizing slowness. Jaina arched her back, taking him fully with a low moan of pleasure.
Tears rolled down Jaina’s face as she came apart in his arms.
Later, as they lay side-by-side, Jaina trembling in his arms, Jack felt
tears of his own begin to gather in his eyes. With her wet face pressed tightly
against his neck, Jaina whispered hoarsely, “I love you, Jack.”
Deanna Riker gripped her husband's hand tightly as they approached Thomas' house. Will's body was tense with barely suppressed anger. Deanna sent soothing thoughts to him through their bond, attempting to diffuse his negative emotions.
"Stop it, Deanna!" He snapped. "I don't want to calm down."
Deanna tugged his arm firmly, bringing him to an abrupt halt. "Will, at least give your brother a chance to explain before you lay into him."
"Deanna, I'm not going to lay into him." He assured her with a frustrated sigh. "Give me some credit. I'll let him tell his side of things."
"Good," Deanna smiled briefly, relieved.
"Then I'll rip his head off," Will said succinctly.
Deanna sighed, giving up. She allowed Will to pull her toward the front door. She had hoped to temper Will's anger before they confronted her brother-in-law. Will tended to have a short fuse with Thomas.
Will rang the bell, announcing their presence. Deanna listened as the musical chimes resonated through the house. From within the interior she could hear the scurry of small feet. The door flung open with a whoosh.
Deanna smiled brightly at the towheaded urchin and knelt down to his eye level. "Hello, T.J. Do you remember us?"
Thomas Riker, Jr. grinned, showing a gap where one of his front teeth was missing. "You're Aunt Dena." He pointed at Will; his head tilting back to see the tall man's face. His grin widened mischievously. "And you are my daddy's copy."
Deanna laughed. She sensed Will's emotions shift. Where anger was at the forefront just moments before, amusement replaced it. Reacting as expected to the old game, he scooped his nephew up, turning him over to dangle him by his feet. The child screamed with laughter. "I think you are mistaken, Champ. Your daddy is my copy."
T.J. squirmed. "Put me down, Uncle Will!"
Will flipped T.J. over, setting him back on his feet. "Where are your parents, Champ?"
"In the study. C'mon, I'll show ya." He turned and skipped down the hall, chanting, "Copy. Copy. Copy. Copy. Copy."
Chuckling softly, Will followed the child.
T.J. opened the door to the study without knocking first. "Daddy, Uncle Will and Aunt Dena are here."
Entering behind the child, Deanna sensed guilt and fear pass through Thomas. Strangely though, she sensed no surprise. He seemed to have been expecting them. That fact stoked the smoldering embers of her anger.
Thomas stood up. "Will, Deanna, what are you doing here?"
"Where are my children, Thomas?" Will asked bitingly, dispensing with any pleasantries.
Abigail smiled hesitantly and moved toward the door. "I'll.ah.leave you three alone." She took T.J. and left without a backwards glance.
"I don't know what you mean," Thomas hedged.
Will moved to step toward his brother. He never got the chance. Deanna stormed past him, her hands clenched into fists at her side. She stopped barely inches from Thomas. "You damn well do know what we mean, Thomas Riker!" She yelled. "Where are they?"
Thomas took a step back. There were very few beings in the universe that could unnerve him. Deanna was one of them. "Deanna, I haven't seen the twins in weeks." That much at least was true. "Has something happened?" he asked innocently.
One step too far, he thought belatedly as Deanna's fist connected with his jaw.
He looked at her in surprise. "Ouch." He said, rubbing his sore face. He looked at Will. His brother looked as angry as his sister-in-law. No help there.
"Do not lie to me again, Thomas." Deanna said very carefully, as surprised as he at her violent outburst.
"Deanna, really, I don't." he stopped speaking when Deanna raised her arm menacingly. He looked from Will to Deanna and back to Will. He thought for a moment about the communiqué he had just received. He abruptly decided to play it straight. They needed to know what was happening. Besides, he thought wryly, lying to an Empath was pointless and based on Deanna's reaction, hazardous to his health. "Alright. Will, Deanna, sit down. There is something you need to know."
"So, after receiving the encrypted message from Jacen, Jaina went to Thomas and the two of them hatched this hare-brained rescue mission." Will sat back wearily against the soft sofa cushions. After hearing Thomas' story, Will and Deanna had immediately headed to the Picards'; where they now sat in the parlor, filling the older couple in.
Will was quite impressed with his restraint. Despite the fact that he could not remember when he had been angrier with his "brother", he had managed to walk away without resorting to violence. Deanna on the other hand.
Will smiled slightly, remembering Deanna's rather impressive right-hook. "Anyway," he continued, "Thomas was unaware that Jack had gone with her until he received a message from them."
Beverly spoke for the first time. "Where are they? Are they alright?"
Will held up his hand, staunching the flow of questions. "Jaina and Jack are fine. They are enroute to Eliga. Jack is the one who sent the message. It seems that Jaina experienced a sort of psychic echo coming from Jacen. They believe that Jacen was injured and Jaina felt it."
"Injured, how?" Picard questioned.
Deanna shook her head. "Nobody knows." She took a deep shaky breath. "We have to assume that it was fairly severe to cause Jaina such extreme trauma. According to Jack's message she had to sever the link, block her mind from Jacen's. She could not func..tion." Deanna choked on the words, fear clogging her throat. Will slipped his arm around her shoulder, hugging her tight against his side. He rubbed his hand along the length of her arm, trying to bring a measure of comfort. Deanna leaned into him, grateful for his gentle support.
"Those poor kids," Beverly mused in sympathy. "I can't even imagine how horrible this must be for Jaina. At least they were thinking clearly enough to call for help."
Will sighed. "I doubt it was 'they'. I'm willing to bet Jack had to browbeat Jaina into admitting they are in over their heads."
Unable to dispute Riker's words, the four adults sat quietly for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts.
It was Picard who finally broke the silence. "I've arranged for you both to be granted shore leave. It will be harder to finagle detached duty for the Titan. Command is not going to be too pleased, to say the least. It is going to take a lot of fast talk to get them to agree to an official rescue mission."
Will nodded. "I understand. But, I also need to state right now that I am going, with or without Command's consent."
Picard acknowledged that with a slight incline of his head. "You two start making preparations. I'll try to have an answer for you by the time you are ready to leave. I assume Thomas briefed you on the particulars of the planet?"
"Yes, Sir, he did. He had also insisted on going with us."
Picard raised his eyebrows at that. "Big of him."
Will shrugged. "He is feeling a great deal of guilt and self-loathing. He knows he screwed up."
"His actions are inexcusable. Not only has he placed their lives in danger, he has greatly jeopardized any chance for Jaina and Jacen to have a career in Starfleet. As for him, he'll be lucky if his career is all he loses."
Uri pushed aside the ragged curtain and entered the small thatch roofed hut. On the far side of the room her cousin sat beside the still unconscious male, bathing his skin with a wet rag.
"How is he?" She asked in a hushed whisper.
Thea looked up briefly. Her attractive face was lined with fatigue and worry. "I'm not sure. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, but he has lost a lot of blood."
Uri stepped closer to the bed. She gazed down at his handsome, albeit bruised and battered face. "Is he going to die?"
Thea sighed. "I don't know. He has been running a fever since last night, and I believe he has developed an infection. I'm afraid he may be beyond my ability to help."
"Maybe we should confer with Doctor Erister."
Thea shook her head. "No, I don't think we should."
Uri started. "For heaven's sake, why not? Thea, he obviously needs medical attention."
Thea smoothed the cold rag across her patient's brow, a thoughtful expression on her face. "I don't know, Uri. I just have a strange feeling about him."
Uri narrowed her eyes. "What?"
Thea shook her head again. "I can't define it. It's just a feeling I get. My instincts tell me that we should keep his presence here to ourselves."
Jaina looked into the small mirror and winced. A stranger's face stared back at her. She found it impossible to turn away. It was fascinating-even slightly surreal-to look at her reflection and see nothing familiar. She felt like a different person. Jaina was strangely excited at the thought.
The soft sound of footsteps alerted her to Jack's presence. She whirled around and smiled. "What do you think?"
Jack stared, stunned speechless for a few long seconds. "You.um.look.um.great."
Jaina laughed at his expression. "Yeah, right. I look horrible as a blonde."
Jack smiled faintly. Stepping closer, he fingered a few strands of her much lighter hair. "Well, I must admit I like it better dark, but the blond isn't bad." Bending down, Jack nuzzled her neck. "And the pointed ears are kinda sexy." He playfully nipped at her earlobe.
Jaina shoved him away with a laugh. "Oh, please! Jack, I look like an Albino Vulcan."
Jack grinned lecherously, "I know. It's an incredible turn on."
Jaina rolled her eyes. "You are a seriously disturbed individual." Jaina walked over to a storage locker and pulled out two heavy backpacks. She started packing the supplies they would need.
Jack watched her silently for a minute. "But you love me anyway." He needed her to say it now, fully awake, not just in the aftermath of passion.
Their eyes met. The unfamiliar blue of her eyes disturbed him slightly. He was already beginning to miss the beautiful onyx.
Putting down the medkit she was holding, Jaina moved back to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. She laid her head on his chest and closed her eyes, squeezing tightly. "I love you, Jack. You know I do."
Jack rested his cheek on top of her silky hair. "Yeah, I do know. It's nice to hear it though."
With one last squeeze, Jaina stepped out of his embrace and resumed her packing. "Of course, I don't know how long this relationship can last. I don't know if I can be with a man who has an ear fetish."
Jack, in the process of helping with the packing, threw the thermal socks he was holding at her. "Brat. Does this mean we can't keep the ears?"
"Jack, shut up." Jaina said simply, hiding her smile.
Jack swallowed his own grin. "Yes, ma'am."
"Angel, we are within sensor range of the planet." Jack called back to Jaina from the cockpit four hours later.
Jaina slid into the seat next to Jack and keyed in a few commands. "Great. I'm bringing us out of warp. We'll go the rest of the way on impulse power. I want to get close enough to get an accurate reading of their defensive shield, while still maintaining a safe distance."
Jack watched in admiration as Jaina deftly took over the navigational controls, bringing them smoothly out of warp.
"We should now be able to get a visualization of the planet." Jack punched a few commands into his own console. The planet, Eliga, appeared on their viewscreen.
Very similar to Earth in geographical design, the small planet rotated slowly on its axis. Jack noticed several differences immediately. Less water, more land, reddish haze rather than white clouds.
Jack felt his heart tighten in his chest. Now that they had arrived, his trepidation had returned. He knew that they would soon be going to the planet's surface, and that Jaina would have to open her mind once again. He was afraid of what she might find when she did.
He turned to Jaina, who seemed to be thoroughly engrossed in something on her console. "So, Captain, what's the plan?"
"Hmm?" she mumbled, distracted. She did not seem to notice his slight teasing.
Jack tried again. "Jaina, what do we do now?"
Jaina looked up. By the slightly confused expression on her face, Jack could tell that she had not really heard his question. "What?"
"I asked what course of action you want to take now." Jack explained patiently.
"Oh.um.I want to orbit the planet a few times, get as many readings as we can. We need to know as much as we can about the defensive shield Jacen warned against as well as the planet's surface."
Jack took over the navigational controls, moving them into a high orbit, about 2000 kilometers from the atmosphere. "There," he said with satisfaction. "That should keep us far enough from their shield."
Jaina was once again distracted. Jack tapped her on the arm. She looked up with a slight scowl. "What?"
"Jaina, what is the matter? What are you looking at?"
Jaina smiled sheepishly. "Oh, I'm sorry, Jack. I was looking at the sensor data. It's the strangest thing."
Jaina shook her head, baffled. "I don't know for sure. Based on the information Jacen sent, we should be getting the same data as he did."
"And we're not?"
"No, we are, but the readings are fluctuating. Becoming stronger in some points, and non-existent in others."
"Meaning what?" Jack questioned. Jaina shrugged. They sat silently for several minutes as the runabout continued its slow orbit. The sensor readings continued to ebb and tide, strengthening and weakening in an almost steady pattern.
After the third orbit, Jaina sat up straight in her seat. "Jack, look at this. The pattern changes slightly with every pass. Move us in closer, to 1000 kilometers."
Jack hesitated. "Are you sure that's wise?"
Jaina shrugged. "Probably not. But we need to get more precise data."
Jack moved the runabout closer to the planet's atmosphere. There did not seem to be any change in their condition. After a minute, he released the breath he had been holding.
Jaina insisted on making three more passes around the planet before she would speak. "I don't get it. Jacen said it seemed to be some sort of shield, but it can't be. I am reading heavy electromagnetic and ionic energy, but nothing that would suggest any sort of technology involved. An artificial energy source would remain steady. A defensive shield is of no real use if it is heavy in some places and non-existent in others."
Jack rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Jaina, are you saying you think."
Jaina looked at him with excitement in her eyes. "This interference is not a shield. It is a naturally occurring energy band."
Jack caught her excitement. "Then we should be able to slip through one of the 'holes' and land safely."
"Exactly. The hard part is going to be to find a 'hole' in a remote region, and hope it is not on the other side of the planet from Jacen."
"Can't we scan the planet's surface for human life, or something?"
"Under normal circumstances, yes. It would be a simple matter of locking onto Jacen's biosignature and beaming him up. But, the EM energy in that band makes it virtually impossible. Our sensors are not strong enough to punch through. I'm going to try anyway. Maybe we'll be able to pick something up through the holes."
Jack sat back and let Jaina work. He waited with growing impatience while she took them into orbit after orbit, continually scanning the surface.
After their fifth orbit, Jaina sighed in frustration. "Nothing. It's no use. I'm showing no sign of Jacen anywhere in the open areas."
"Why don't you try searching for the Double J? At least that would give us a starting point."
"Jack, Jacen lost control because he ran into the field. We are not going to have any better luck finding it then we did finding him."
"Well, if you have any better ideas, now would be a good time to implement them." Jack ran his hands down his face wearily. He wanted to scream.
Jaina laid a hand on his forearm. She was trembling. "Jack, there is one way." She said quietly.
Jack could see in her eyes what she intended to do. He shook his head. "No!" he insisted emphatically. "Not yet."
Jaina touched his face, rubbing her thumb gently across his cheekbone. "I have to. Electromagnetic ionization has no effect on telepathic activity. It may be our only chance."
Jacen put his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her forward until their foreheads touched. He closed his eyes and sighed. "I just don't want to see you in pain again."
"I'll be fine. Trust me."
Jaina sat up straight in her chair and took a deep breath. With one last look at Jack, she closed her eyes and allowed the mental barriers she had erected to slowly dissolve. At first, nothing changed. She had no sense of Jacen at all. Then suddenly an overwhelming wave of heat washed over her. Sweat broke out on her face.
Jack slid out of his seat and knelt at her side, alarmed by her suddenly pale, sweat drenched face. He touched her face. She was burning up. "Jaina? Baby, what is it?"
Jaina began whimpering.
Jack shook her gently. "Turn it off, Angel. Turn it off now!"
Jaina was only dimly aware of Jack's voice. She felt like her entire body was on fire. She knew she was reacting to Jacen, but she could not separate herself from it. She tried desperately to restore the barrier as the light around her began to dim.
Jack caught her in his arms as she slumped over, unconscious.