Disclaimer: \par Space: Above and Beyond and its characters copyright Fox Television, characters not used \par by permission. Hopefully neither they, nor the incomparable Morgan and Wong will take \par exception. Thanks guys, for creating characters so memorable they have minds of their own.

Part Two of Three

And that, McQueen thought, was not something he really ought to be reminiscing about in a public place, even if it was dimly lit and he was safely seated behind a table. He shifted uncomfortably and tossed back the rest of his drink, then poured another shot. Glancing at his watch, he saw only a few minutes had passed. Funny how little time it took to remember something that had lasted far longer. Of course, time was strange that way. He wouldn't have thought he could remember in such excruciating detail an event that had taken place twenty-one years earlier. God, that felt like a lot longer than it really was.

McQueen glanced around the room, still wondering what he was doing there. He noticed for the first time that nearly all the patrons were couples. Interesting. On the Bacchus one didn't tend to see many couples, at least not for more than a few minutes as they headed for more private accommodations. As he pondered that, movement caught his eye, and he looked at the darkened stage, seeing a group of musicians moving into place on it, getting settled with their instruments.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen live musicians, at least not anything more than just a bass, guitar and drums. Even on the Bacchus, music was usually provided by recorded media. For the first time he noticed that there was an old-style, stand-up microphone on the stage, at the center front. A microphone? Especially one like that, a style no one had used in nearly a century. Very strange. His curiosity was definitely aroused. Just then, lights came up around the stage, footlights. Another anachronism. Then he noticed who was standing behind the microphone and stared in stunned surprise.

In a sleek, curve-hugging coffee-colored dress that made it look like she was wearing nothing but a sheath of sparkling beads, Ceese's regal presence made her seem far taller than she actually was. Her hand came up to curl suggestively around the microphone stand, and she looked out at the audience, her gaze seeking, then finding. Him. She leaned toward the microphone a little and spoke.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Apollo Lounge. I'd like to start this evening with an old favorite, for an old friend."

She smiled, then turned her head and nodded toward the musicians. Violins took sweeping flight, and she looked back out at the audience, her gaze coming to rest on him once more. He watched the beads on her dress shimmer as she drew breath, and then her voice hit him. Smooth, sultry, and astonishingly powerful, it seemed to touch him almost physically.

"What's new?
How is the world treating you?
You haven't changed a bit,
Handsome as ever, I must admit . . .""

Though thankfully she hadn't actually singled him out by name, the song was so clearly aimed at him that McQueen felt himself blushing for the second time in as many hours. He was at once astonished, and bemused. Ceese could sing? And like that? She was getting paid to sing? He lost track of the words she was singing and just stared. Just when you thought you knew somebody, they went and showed you a side of themselves you'd never suspected.

Ceese finished the first song, paused for the applause, then began a new one. He listened, captivated, as she effortlessly wove a spell of song around her audience, interspersing jazzier, more upbeat songs with sad, smoky ballads, most of which were at least seventy-five years old, he'd bet. She even sang a couple of those Patsy Cline pieces that Vansen liked to play on the Tun Tavern jukebox when she was moody.

For a bar-crowd, the Apollo's customers were surprisingly quiet while she sang, and vociferously appreciative with their applause each time she stopped. She was extraordinary. It was just so different from anything he had ever imagined about Ceese that McQueen had trouble getting his mind around the fact it really was her. Finally she brought the set to a close and disappeared through a curtained door at the back of the stage with the other musicians. He realized he hadn't even looked at his drink the entire time she'd been on stage. Taking a sip he stared off into space and mused on the unexpected.

"Penny for your thoughts, Ty?"

Ceese's voice came from behind him. McQueen turned, startled. How the hell had she gotten back there without him noticing? He couldn't think of anyone who'd managed to sneak up on him in years. Recovering quickly he stood. She was still wearing that dress, and even up close it looked like nothing but random beads over skin. He swore he could make out the darker tones of her nipples through it, and lower a hint of shadow at the top of her thighs. After the reminiscences he'd been having earlier, that was hard to ignore.

McQueen held a chair for her, and as she sat he saw that although the front of her dress came up to her collar-bones the back dipped to her waist, exposing quite a lot of the elegant length of her spine. What startled him was the narrow band of heavily beaded fabric which curved just below the secondary navel at the back of her neck. In effect it framed her navel between glittering beads and her extremely short hair. It was deliberate and defiant, not disguising, but calling attention to her status. He smiled, reassured. That was the Ceese he knew.

"So, what were you thinking?" she asked.

"Actually, I was wondering how you managed to sneak up on me."

"You were too busy thinking. And you know I meant before you knew I was there."

"Ah, that. I was thinking about how even people you think you know can still surprise you. You have an exceptional voice, Ceese."

She beamed. "Thank you, Ty. I'll accept that compliment. I have to admit, it came as quite a surprise to me that people were willing to pay me for something that was simply innate, not really a skill at all."

"The ability to create beauty is the highest of skills."

She gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. "I never really thought of it that way, but I suppose you're right." She grinned suddenly. "Thanks, now I feel a little less like I'm defrauding my employer."

He chuckled, and held out his hand, palm up. She looked at him blankly.


He looked at her evenly. "My penny?"

Ceese ran her hands down her body, as if searching for something, and he had to resist asking if she needed any help. Finally she held up her empty hands. "I don't have one on me. Guess you'll have to take it out in trade."

Her voice was suddenly husky, and he recognized the gleam in her eyes even though he hadn't seen it in seventeen years. He realized with a shock that he'd missed it. Very much. He'd been trying not to take it for granted that she might be interested after all these years, but it was clear he hadn't needed to worry. She reached out and took his hand in hers, and then placed a soft kiss in his palm. He shifted his fingers to cup her cheek, stroking softly, and she rubbed against them like a cat.

McQueen felt uncomfortable even as he ached for more. He wasn't a public kind of person, and this was the most public physical contact he'd had in years, even if it was in the dimly-lit back of a bar. He knew some of the people in this place, he worked with them. If they noticed . . .

Ceese must have felt him tense, because she drew away and studied him for a long moment, then he saw understanding come into her face. She stood up and turned toward the wall. He watched, trying to figure out what on earth she was doing, and then one of the panels in the wall behind the table slid silently open, revealing a narrow corridor behind it.

"I'll be damned," he breathed. "That's how you did it."

She smiled mischievously. "I wasn't going to tell you, but I suppose it's in a good cause. I often like to sit here after the show, but I hate wading through the customers. So I sneak in here, and no one notices, just like they won't notice us leaving. Come on." She held out her hand.

McQueen stood, and put his hand in hers. "You're on point."

Funny, how some things were just inevitable. Ceese had known from the moment she saw Ty again that they were going to end up in her bed tonight. It wasn't that she'd taken it for granted, but that she had just known, almost precognitively. God, there was so much she wanted to tell him and so much she wanted to know, but this had to be first. She knew need when she saw it, and Ty was as needy now as he had been twenty-some years ago. He hid it better now, most people probably never saw it, but she knew it was there. She could see it in his body, in his mouth, in his eyes, raw, aching, and vulnerable. He was hungry, no, starving for touch.

She knew how that went. He lived and worked among mostly Natural-Borns, and they didn't touch Tanks much to begin with. Ty, with his shield of aloof isolation, would be even less approachable than most. She knew where that shield had come from, though, and knew how to get through it. Or at least, she used to. He'd had a long time to build up his defenses, they might be nearly impervious now. She hoped not. She really did.

She could sense his presence behind her in the narrow corridor that led from the table back to the dressing rooms. He moved silently, and incredibly gracefully for a big man. She smiled. Of course, he wasn't all that big, he just seemed so to her. From five-two, six feet seemed gigantic. She remembered that Web had been quite a bit taller than Ty, not that it had mattered in bed.

Goosebumps rose on her skin as memories stirred. After four years with Web, and then four more with both Web and Ty . . . no wonder she'd never found anyone else to share her life with. After Web and Ty, no one even came close. She reached the end of the corridor, and slid open the wall-panel that opened into the hallway instead of the one that led to the dressing-room. Some of the band would probably still be there and she knew he wouldn't want to face a bunch of strangers right now.

She stole a look out into the main hallway, and saw only a few people, no one she knew, though a young woman who was standing at the Apollo's main entrance looked vaguely familiar. She was about to lead Ty into the hall when it came to her where she'd seen the girl before. She was part of the group that had waited behind Ty in the hallway outside the debarkation area, one of his 'kids,' as he put it. She knew that being seen by one of them right now would be the last thing he would want. The only thing worse than a roomful of strangers would be a familiar face. She put out a hand and gently pushed Ty away from the door.

"Wait a second, gotta get rid of someone," she whispered, and stepped out into the hall, quickly closing the panel behind her. Even if he thought about following her, it would take him a couple of minutes to figure out where the catch was on the panel. She hurried down toward the young woman, who looked up as she approached, her face clearly showing the 'I know you but I don't know you' expression that Ceese figured had graced her own face a moment earlier.

She stopped next to Max, the bouncer, who had been chatting with the girl, and gave him a look. He shut up, and she turned to the girl. "What's your name, hon?"

"Damphousse, Vanessa Damphousse. Why?"

"Because, Vanessa Damphousse, I have a favor to ask of you, woman-to-woman. I want you to get yourself in there," she pointed to the dim interior of the club, "and not come out for at least five minutes. And then forget you saw me here, okay?"

Damphousse's chin jutted, and her mouth tightened. "Why should I do that, lady? What business of yours is it if I want to . . ." She stopped suddenly, and looked at Ceese more closely. Her eyes widened. "Wait, I remember now! You're Colonel McQueen's friend!"

Ceese nodded. "Yes, I am. Now, please?"

Ceese could almost see the wheels turning in Damphousse's mind, then she suddenly smiled, a lovely, pleased grin. "On my way," she declared, then looked at Max. "That is, if your friend here will let me duck inside for just a few."

Ceese lifted her eyebrows at Max, who nodded. "Anything for you, Ms. Baker. Go on in."

Damphousse stepped inside, turned back, and winked. "Five mikes, right?"

Ceese grinned back. "That'll do just fine, and don't you dare tell him."

Damphousse put her hand over her heart. "On my honor, not a word." Her expression changed then, and became stern. "But you treat him right or you'll have the Five-Eight to answer to. We look after our own." With that warning, she disappeared into the club. Ceese whispered 'thanks' to Max and hurried back to get Ty, oddly pleased by the young woman's threat. It proved they cared about him, Natural-Borns though they were.

As they headed toward her cabin, Ty looked at her curiously. "What was that all about?"

"Oh, there's a fan who sometimes hangs around to chat after I finish, and I wanted to get rid of her before we left so she wouldn't be a pest."

His gaze was a little skeptical, but he didn't call her a liar. Of course, he wouldn't. He might think it, but he'd never say it. He was that way. Ceese smiled to herself, and of course he noticed.

"Why the smile?" he asked, curious, as they arrived at her door.

"Just happy," she said, truthfully. She was. Very. "Here we go." She quickly keyed in her door code and pushed open the hatch. She was about to step inside when his hand on her arm stopped her. She glanced back at him, puzzled. He turned her toward him, and one of his hands flattened on her back, his palm warm against her skin. What was he . . . ?

He leaned down toward her and she stopped wondering. She tilted her head back. If he wanted to kiss her right here in the hallway, she wasn't about to argue. She wasn't sure why he wanted to, but there was time to find that out later. His mouth found hers, tender, familiar, yet strange.

He kissed her very gently at first, cautiously, testing her, then as he felt her respond, he deepened it, his tongue tracing the inside of her lower lip. Fire shot through her, sparked by the intensity of pleasure his mouth on hers brought. She wound her arms around him and held on, since her legs were suddenly a bit shaky. Finally he drew back and nodded, as if that had taken care of whatever it was that had driven him to do it. She held onto him for a moment, waiting to catch her breath, and then he was lifting her in his arms, and carrying her into the room.

He set her down beside the bed, and stepped back, steadying her with one hand as she swayed a little, and then smiled at him. "You certainly know how to sweep a girl off her feet, Ty."

He looked amused. "You looked like you were having a little trouble."

"I was, but you weren't supposed to notice, darn it. How can I keep up my 'sophisticated older woman' act when you make my knees weak?"

Ty reached out to touch her face, his fingers warm and gentle against her skin. "You don't need an act, Ceese. Just be yourself."

Devastating. Ceese had already been willing, but that just melted her inside. Where had he learned to go right for the weak spot like that? Military training no doubt. Ty had always been intense but now he had focus too, a warrior's single-minded concentration on an objective. She discovered that being his objective made her feel a little dizzy. She kicked off her shoes, and her hand shook a little as she reached up to unclasp her dress. Ty's fingers moved from her face to catch her hand.

"Don't be in such a rush, Ceese. You taught me that. 'Slowly, gently. Make it subtle, make it last.'"

God, he still remembered that after all this time? Well, she could hardly fault him, that was one of her favorite memories too. The thought of that first night, and all the others that had followed flooded through her, heightening her arousal. His fingers left her hand and moved slowly down the front of her dress, snagging lightly on the tiny beads that littered it.

"I like the dress," he said, his fingers shifting the fine, silky fabric back and forth across one already-taut nipple. "Did you know you can see through it, just a little?"

Ceese smiled slowly. She knew it had been a good idea to leave off the slip that went under it. "Why do you think I wore it?"

He chuckled. "I thought maybe that had something to do with it," he leaned close and his mouth brushed her ear lightly. "I do appreciate the effort."

She shivered at the warmth of his breath against her skin. "And I appreciate that you noticed."

"I notice a lot of things about you," he said, his mouth moving softly down her throat until her dress stopped him. "And I wonder if you still taste the same, and make those little sounds when you like something--"

"What little sounds?" she asked, then his hands were on her waist and he was moving her, turning her so he could take advantage of the skin bared by the back of her dress. He trailed a finger down her spine, and she shivered. "Mmm, nice."

"That little sound," Ty said, sounding amused. "Among others."

He held her still with his hands resting lightly on her hips, and she felt his mouth against her back, just below the collar-band. He marked her lightly with his tongue, and heat seemed to sink inward from that spot, centering low in her belly. He moved an inch or so down and repeated the caress.

Ceese swayed and shifted her feet further apart to keep herself upright. She wished she had something to hold onto, because all her blood was rushing away from her brain and it was hard to maintain either a coherent thought or her balance. Ty continued to kiss his way down her back, distracting her so completely that she didn't even know he'd taken his hands off her hips until she felt his hands against the outsides of her thighs, and realized he'd been slowly inching her dress upward until the hem was above her knees. She wondered giddily if that was part of his military training, too. Stealth fingers.

Almost as she realized that fact, he shifted position behind her, going to his knees, and slid a hand slowly up her inner thigh to cup her mons. She sighed in pleasure as his fingers found her bare flesh, and he chuckled.

"I thought so. Like I said, that dress is pretty see-through."

"Damn, I was hoping to surprise you," Ceese said in mock-disappointment, closing her eyes as he stroked the inside of one thigh.

"I do a very thorough job at reconnaissance," he said, sounding amused.

"And here I thought you were a gentleman," Ceese teased.

His fingers parted her, found where she was already hot and slick, from desire, and memories. "I don't know where you got that idea," he said huskily against her back as he slid two fingers deep inside her.

Ceese moaned, hands clutching at air as if it could support her, her whole body shaking with desire. As if sensing her weakness, he wrapped his free arm firmly around her hips, supporting her as he tried very hard to drive her out of her mind with just one hand. She suddenly realized exactly what he was doing, and knew she had to stop him. This wasn't what she wanted. This wasn't right.

"Ty, please!" she whimpered. "Stop!"

He stopped instantly. In fact, too instantly. It worried her and she tried to see his face but no matter which way she turned, she couldn't quite manage it with him right smack behind her. He gently withdrew his fingers, then let her go, putting his hands on her hips to make sure she could stand unsupported. She turned and sank to her knees, looking into his eyes and seeing exactly what she'd feared there. Doubt. Apprehension. What the hell had women been doing to him for the last seventeen years? The old Ty would never have misinterpreted her plea that way.

She held his gaze steadily, and reached for the hand he'd just been making her crazy with. She lifted it to her lips, and started sucking on his fingers, one by one, running her tongue down each one from tip to base, then back up again. The hesitation in his eyes began to fade, and by the time she got to his little finger it was nearly gone. She leaned forward, brushing her lips lightly across his before drawing back. Sure she had his full attention now, she took his hand between both of hers.

"This isn't just about me, Ty. You used to do that a lot, and it drove me nuts, always putting my pleasure ahead of yours. I won't let you do that this time. This is for both of us, equally. Not just for me."

The last of the anxiety fled his eyes, but he shook his head. "Your pleasure is my pleasure, Ceese. You know that."

"Of course I do, but what you don't seem to understand is that it's the same for me. That's how it should be. Give, and take, both. Let me give, Ty. I need it too."

His gaze softened, finally, and he almost smiled. She got the feeling that slight upward lift of just the outer corners of his mouth was as much as he usually allowed himself anymore, and it broke her heart. But, was she any better? Seeing him today had made her realize how empty her life was. No friends to speak of, no family, not even a lover. Did other people look at her and wonder if she ever really smiled?

Ty considered her request in silence for a moment, then finally he nodded, and lifted her hands to his lips. "Then give, and so will I, and in giving we both take."

Ceese was struck by his words, they sounded like she should know them. She frowned slightly, trying to place them. "Is that from something?"

He shook his head, not meeting her eyes, a slight flush rising beneath his skin. "No."

That was even more surprising. She studied him for a moment, puzzled by his reaction. "That was beautiful, Ty."

He looked at her a moment longer, his gaze intent and focused, then he reached out and drew her to him, finding her mouth with his, thoughts veiled behind closed eyelids.

Ceese stopped wondering what he was thinking, and concentrated instead on making him feel. His mouth left hers and moved to her throat. She put her arms around him, loving the texture of him under her hands. Though working the mines had made him physically strong, he'd still been young then, with a boy's leanness. Now he had the delicious solidity of maturity about him. She stroked his back, feeling the width of his shoulders and the strong lines of muscles that framed his spine. Suddenly she wanted to do more than imagine, she wanted to see.

Sitting back she started unbuttoning his shirt. Surprisingly, he let her. He was being good. She smiled. She'd have to think of something special for a reward. She tugged the tails free and finished with the front, then unbuttoned the cuffs and pushed it off his shoulders. He let the shirt fall to the floor, and sat there, waiting. Ceese looked at his chest and knew he was waiting for her to express dismay, or revulsion. She felt neither. She ached for him, for the pain that had made those scars, but to her eyes he was just as perfect as the day she'd coaxed him out of that storage locker.

She traced the line of the most prominent scar with a finger, then leaned to kiss it, using her tongue to follow it downward over the hard curve of pectoral muscle until it ended, then moving lower to catch his nipple in her teeth and tug gently. He caught his breath sharply, she wasn't quite sure if it was in surprise or pleasure, or both.

She traced a path up to his throat with her tongue, and found she could feel his heartbeat against her lips, strong, and fast. He smelled good; clean, and male. He tasted faintly of salt, and that indefinable, essential 'Ty' that made her feel like she'd come home. She needed to get closer, to feel more of him. She tried to change position and found she was trapped. She'd managed to kneel on her dress, and couldn't move without tearing it. She felt like an idiot.

"Ty?" she whispered against his ear, taking the lobe in her teeth gently.

"Mmm?" He made a sound that was a lot like her sound, only with a question mark at the end.

"I can't move."

He seemed to consider that a moment, then he slowly leaned back and took in the situation. Then he grinned. A real, honest, open grin. "You do appear to have a problem," he said, laughing softly

Ceese nodded, bemused by his smile, by his laughter, by his eyes. It was worth feeling stupid to see his smile reach his eyes again. He shook his head, still chuckling, then he stood up, leaned over, picked her up and set her on her feet.

Their eyes locked, and without speaking, she reached up to undo the hooks that held the gown in place and it fell to the floor with a soft clash of beads. Stepping out of the pool of fabric, she reached for his pants, unbuttoning, unzipping. She wanted him now. Right now.

"I need you, Ty," she whispered, pushing loosened fabric out of the way, sliding her fingers beneath the waistband of his shorts so she could push them off too. His skin was warm and resilient beneath her hands, his flanks as solidly muscular as he was everywhere else. She wanted that weight on her, wanted to feel the power contained in those muscles. She looked up at him, her hands on his lower back, holding him close to her, feeling the hard pressure of his erection against her belly.

"It's been so long, Ty. I don't want to go slowly, I don't want to be subtle, and I don't care how long it lasts. I just need to feel you inside me again."

He put his hands on her arms and moved her back a little, looking into her eyes with an odd distance in his. "Ceese, I can't make any commitments . . ." he began.

She sighed, and shook her head, interrupting him. "What, you think I'm some Natural Born nitwit, Ty? Of course you can't. I'm not talking forever, I'm talking about here, now, tonight. An hour, or four, or twenty-four, if that's all I can have, I'll take it." She reached up and took his face between her palms, and kissed him fiercely, then drew back. "I'm not a fool, Ty. If you need me, I'll be there for you, but I don't think either of us are cut out for happy endings. Now, shut up and take me to bed you stubborn Tank!"

His gaze narrowed, and Ceese thought for a moment she'd gone too far, but then she saw his mouth twitch, and humor filled his gaze. The next thing she knew she was flat on her back on her bed, with Ty above her, warm, and solid, and strong. She was trying to figure out how he'd managed to get them there without tripping over his pants when he leaned down and put his mouth against her ear.

"How?" he breathed, doing wonderful things with his tongue.

"I was just wondering that," she began, then it came to her that he didn't mean that. He meant how did she want him. Rational thought ceased instantly, she couldn't speak. A thousand memories surged through her, and a thousand more late-night fantasies. But what she really wanted was very simple. Him, in her. Nothing complicated or acrobatic, just the basic, primal act.

Ceese shifted her legs apart and as his knees found the bed between her thighs she slid her hands down his sides, caught his hips and moved him over her. Keeping one hand on his hip, she lifted the other to his mouth, and traced her finger over the firm, determined curve of his lower lip that kept his mouth from looking too pretty. Ty caught her finger and sucked on it, and she felt the tug inside, sparking an itch deep in her belly. She drew her hand slowly toward her face, and he followed as she'd known he would. When he was close enough she slid her finger out of his mouth and lifted her head so their lips touched. He brushed his mouth across hers once, twice, then settled in for a real kiss, parting her lips, finding her tongue with his. The itch inside her became a glow, hot and shining, like a coal as his mouth spoke promises of delight against hers.

She let her hand rest on his shoulder, exploring the heavy line of his shoulder, the strong curve of triceps, then she slid it to the beautiful convex expanse of his chest, the flat, solid plane of his belly, learning the changes time had wrought in his body. He was heavier, thicker, though none of it was spare flesh; he was simply different, he had a man's body now, and a man's touch. Ty's hand went between her thighs, gently parting her, finding the slick, wet center of her. He slid two fingers up inside her, using his thumb to circle her clitoris until her hips lifted, echoing the cadence he set. She moaned, bucking against his hand, wanting more, though his touch was wonderful.

When he didn't immediately respond to that hint, Ceese let her hand move lower on his belly, stroking the silver-gilt curls that framed him before she curled her fingers around the heavy thrust of his penis. He was hot and silky in her hand, and she stroked her thumb over him, feeling him push against her hand. She shivered hotly at the deep rumble of pleasure he made in his throat as he bent to her breast, suckling hard as she continued to stroke him. Her insides clenched in response to the delight he gave with his mouth and fingers, but she resisted coming. She wanted to wait until he was inside her, but knew she wouldn't be able to hold back for very long.

Ceese moved her hand from his hip to the hard, round muscles of his butt and pushed. He didn't move. She pushed again, lifting her hips in invitation. He didn't move. He shifted his mouth to her other breast and she whimpered in frustration.

"Ty! Please!"

He lifted his head. "Please what, Ceese?" he asked huskily, curling his fingers upward, finding that place inside her that made her wild. A tiny quake blazed through her sex, and she moaned, knowing she had only seconds left if he kept this up. He wasn't going to make her say it, was he? How was she supposed to think clearly enough to form a sentence with him torturing her like this?

"Ty, don't tease," she begged. "I need you inside me."

He must have seen her desperation, because he gave in. He sat back on his heels and gently slid his fingers out of her, then pressed her thighs apart. She guided him, and finally he was pushing inside, slowly opening her, filling her. With a cry, Ceese let go of her resistance and her body shook with deep, racking waves of delight.

Sometime later, when she could think again, she realized he was holding there, motionless inside her. Waiting. She opened her eyes and looked up at him, puzzled. His face was serious.

"I shouldn't have teased you, Ceese, that was mean."

Ceese wondered again just what kind of horrible lovers he must have had since she'd known him to make him so uncertain. It was a tragedy. She reached up and touched his face. "I like it when you tease me, Ty. You're really good at teasing, or couldn't you tell?"

Her touch, her words, and her smile seemed to do it. The seriousness faded from his face. "You think so?" It was a question, but not a serious one. He was smiling.

"I know so, darlin'. You can tease me anytime, so long as you make it up to me later."

"How much later?" he asked, stroking once, slowly out, then back.

Ceese caught her breath shakily at the renewed surge of desire his movement invoked, and pretended to calmly consider the matter. "Oh, now would be good."

He leaned down and rubbed his nose against hers. "You're insatiable," he growled against her mouth, moving again, one slow retreat, and resurgence before halting again.

She grinned. "You knew that already. But I do like the way you at least try."

He chuckled, and she liked the way it bounced his stomach against hers. He started to move again, still excruciatingly slowly, but at least not stopping now. She studied his face, noting his intent expression, and realized he was controlling himself far too well for her liking. Giving again, not taking. He was such a brat sometimes. She had to smile at that, figuring it had been a very long time since anyone had thought of T.C. McQueen that way. Well, she could fix that giving thing. She remembered all the old tricks that used to drive him crazy. Surely one of them would still work. She slowly brought her legs up and crossed her calves over his butt, then braced her hands against the bed and pushed, twisting her hips to reverse their positions.

It worked, but she figured it was only because he wasn't expecting it. The expression of surprise on his face made her laugh, delighted. Putting her hands against his chest she pushed herself back until she was upright. Sitting very still, she closed her eyes and concentrated on using her internal muscles on him. She felt him shiver, and heard him sigh as she tightened around him.

"Ah, damn, it's been a long time Ceese," he breathed, sounding almost reverent.

She smiled, feeling superior. Clearly whoever he'd been with had never bothered to learn the trick. She didn't understand why more women didn't. It wasn't that hard, and the results were definitely worth it. After a minute or two, Ty shifted a little beneath her, unable to hold still. Her smile deepened, and she bent to his mouth, teasing his lips with just the tip of her tongue, until he reached up and held her head with both hands so he could kiss her deeply, possessing her mouth with his. This time the ripple of her body around his wasn't deliberate, but he shuddered just the same. Then he let her go and drew back, and she could almost see him reaching for his control once more.

Damn. It was working, but not as well as she'd like it to. Why couldn't he let go? She tried to imagine what his life must be like, why he would need to have such total control over himself, because understanding it was the only way she could figure out how to get through it.

He was long-term military. He was an officer. Not only did he have to control himself, he had to control others, he commanded troops. Natural-Born troops. Something clicked inside her. Of course. He could never slip, not for an instant, being what he was. No doubt he was watched all the time, by vultures just waiting for him to make a mistake so they could take away everything he'd worked so hard to earn. He had to take every insult, every passing over, every loss, without flinching. He had no outlet for his anger and pain. No wonder he couldn't let go. He couldn't afford to. For Ty, letting go could be dangerous.

She hurt, recognizing this wasn't something she could fix with a night's comfort. This was a lifetime's work, and they didn't have that much time. Right now, the best she could do was let him be what he needed to be, instead of what she knew he could be. She reluctantly released the memory of the boy she'd known seventeen years ago, and replaced his image with the man she held now. If he needed to give, she could let him do that. Ceese closed her eyes to hide the pain of her realization, and leaned to kiss him with all the sweet, aching tenderness she felt for him. He responded to that, his mouth softening under hers, his hands coming up to hold her, stroking her back. Then they stopped, and he pushed her away a little, studying her face.


She tried to keep her gaze bright, and unconcerned. "What, hon?"

"What's wrong?"

She closed her eyes again, shaking her head. "Nothing's wrong, Ty. Nothing at all."

"You feel . . . different."

She sighed. "Just memories, that's all. Even good ones sometimes are hard." She knew he would think she meant Web, not him, but she had done that mourning a long time ago. This was a new pain.

Ty nodded. "I know. Things can't ever be the same."

She shook her head, feeling tears trying to come and willing them back. "No, they can't." She lay down, hiding her face against his neck. "Make love to me, Ty. Give me who you are now," she whispered.

McQueen wasn't sure what had just happened, but he knew something was hurting Ceese and all his instincts were to comfort her. He held her close and rolled onto his side, so she couldn't hide from him any more. Her eyes were closed, but her lashes were wet. He kissed her eyelids and tasted salt. He kissed her mouth, gently, and she responded almost desperately, wrapping her arms tightly around him, tipping her hips forward and curling her uppermost leg over his, as if trying to get more of him inside her. He stroked her thigh softly, rocking a little, letting her feel his presence since she seemed to need it. What had she meant, "Give me who you are now"? Strange thing to say.

Or was it? With sudden insight, he began to understand. Maybe they both had gone into this seeing the past, instead of the present. In some ways they were more strangers than two people who had just met for the first time. They had four years of shared history, and seventeen separate. The people they had been no longer existed. Facets of them did, parts of the whole, but not the whole itself. It came to him then that when Ceese had mentioned memories and he had assumed she meant Web, she hadn't. She'd meant him. The person he had been when she'd last seen him.

Who was she now? What had she seen and done since they'd last been together? What lost parts of her would he mourn? What new depths waited discovery? McQueen suddenly wanted very badly to know. He had found one already. She was stronger than he had ever guessed, to figure all this out and not pull away from him, but to move closer, to be willing to give herself to the stranger he'd become. Or, was it just that she was as needy as he was?

For a moment McQueen considered stopping, then he knew he couldn't. He needed the refuge she offered, the comfort of her body, and her willing spirit. He didn't like admitting that, but he was a realist. He needed her. They needed each other. It was perhaps not the best of places to be coming from, but it was genuine, and that was a far better foundation than self-delusion. He tightened his arms around her, resting his chin on her head.

"It's all right, Ceese. We may not be who we were, but there's time to learn. At least we're both still here."

He felt her tense, then she pulled back and lifted her head, looking searchingly into his eyes. Finally she sighed, and smiled sadly.

"You always were too smart for your own good, Ty. I didn't mean for you to figure that out."

He shook his head. "It's better this way. It's honest."

Ceese nodded, and reached over to stroke his face, fingers lingering along his jaw. "I'm glad that's important to you."

"It's not always comfortable, but it's always right."

Her smile was so gentle it almost hurt. "Be honest then, Ty. Do you want to be here?"

He met her gaze frankly. "I'd already be gone if I didn't, Ceese."

Her eyes filled with tears, but she was also smiling. She closed her eyes, leaned close and kissed him again, her mouth soft, and warm, and faintly salty with the taste of tears. He returned the kiss just as softly, a gentle, searching exploration. As they kissed, she rolled onto her back again, taking him with her. Her hands went to his hips, tracing patterns on his skin, urging him to move, to feel. Conflict resolved, he did.

Each intimate touch filled the aching void inside him a little more, and he wondered if she could possibly touch him enough to satiate it completely. He hadn't realized just how much he missed simply being touched. During his hundred-and-twenty days in solitary after Port Riskin, he'd learned that if you didn't let yourself think about something, you didn't miss it. He'd trained himself not to need anything more than what he had at any given moment The lesson had taken very well, reinforced over the years by his career, and then the collapse of his marriage. Even now, in the safety and comfort of Ceese's arms, admitting need scared him a little, but there was no turning back now.

She was hot and sleek, both inside, and out. Wherever they touched, he could feel the heat of her, sparking fires in him. He arched over her, lowering his head to one nipple, catching it between teeth and tongue, tugging gently until she moaned. He moved to the other, and repeated the action, feeling her response deep inside, where she surrounded him. He went slow, concentrating on the clasp of her around him, the way she seemed to try to hold onto him when he withdrew, and the way she yielded when he entered again. Nothing new, yet completely unique. The soft catch in her breath each time he opened her fully sent dark pulses through him, made him drive deeper, just to hear it again. God, it had been a long time.

Too long, he began to realize, as urgency began to build inside him, demanding more. Ordinarily he'd hold back, refusing himself that demand, but Ceese was an In-Vitro, like him. Despite her slight stature, she was strong, and not at all fragile. For the first time in a long time he felt no fear that he might accidentally cause pain. He let the burn build, forcing himself to stay slow, stay controlled, not because he was afraid of hurting her, but because it stoked the blaze inside hotter.

Beneath him, Ceese moved too, her hands, her mouth roaming his body, catching a nipple in her teeth, then laving it with her tongue before moving on to new territory; the curve of his shoulder, the hollow of his throat, the whorls of his ear, building more pleasure. When he drove into her, her hands tried to pull him deeper, and her body met his, welcoming him. He felt her shiver, knew she was getting close. At least that hadn't changed, he could still read her body, her responses. She never hid her need, it was open, and rich.

"Ty," her voice was husky with passion. "More."

He knew what she wanted, this hadn't changed either. Ceese had always liked to finish hard. There was no reason not to give that to her. He leaned down and kissed her, meaning for it to be soft, but it turned fiery. He broke the kiss before he lost his concentration, and moved his mouth to her ear.

"As much as you want," he said, slowly withdrawing from her, ignoring her protest, and his own body's as well. Bracing his arms, he used his weight to spread her thighs wider, slid a hand under her butt to lift her, then guided himself back to her. He teased her a little, for no reason other than wanting to; entering a bare inch, withdrawing, repeating it. Her body followed his, trying to keep him, and after the third time, her eyes opened and locked with his, smoldering.

"Tyrus Cassius McQueen," she said threateningly, her voice low and feral, but her eyes betraying amusement. "I swear I'll kill you if you don't stop that right now."

He tried not to smile. He knew he shouldn't do it, but he couldn't resist, it had been too long since anyone had let him be playful. "Okay," he said, and started to pull back.

Her hands went to his hips, nails right on the verge of digging painfully into his skin. "Don't you dare," she hissed like an angry cat.

He chuckled, deciding that maybe now wasn't a good time to tease. He gave her what she wanted, using the full strength of his thighs to thrust home. She yielded, taking him effortlessly. He drew back and did it again. She moaned, her hands lifting to clutch his shoulders tightly.

"Yes, Ty, perfect!"

Her response fed his own, he rode her hard, lifting her off the bed with each thrust. Tension exploded in him, pushing at his boundaries, trying to break the iron grip he held on his control. Ceese's fingers tightened painfully on his shoulders suddenly, and she arched, with a cry they could probably hear two decks down. He felt her body bear down around him, impossibly tight as her orgasm rocked her. That was what he'd been waiting for. He could let go now, she was satisfied. He pushed into her one last time, hard, deep, feeling her tighten again, then he joined her in the breathless ecstasy of release, gasping as his body emptied into hers in shuddering waves.

Ceese lay beneath Ty, feeling comfortably surrounded and warm, enjoying the feel of his body against hers. Even now he kept enough of his weight off her so she could breathe easily. Unable to keep from touching him, she ran her hands down his back, stroking lightly. After a minute he sighed, lifting his head to look into her eyes. She grinned at him, and he smiled back.

"Liked that?" he asked.

As if he needed to ask, she thought, blushing. Thank God the Bacchus had been designed with excellent soundproofing. She looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Oh, just a little," she teased. "It'll do for starters, anyway."

He sighed deeply. "I suppose you want me to keep going."

She nodded. "Of course. I mean, you weren't really going to stop now were you?"

He pretended to yawn. "I am kinda tired . . ."

She shook her head sadly. "I see living with Natural-Borns has corrupted you. What a shame. I thought we taught you better than that. Really, falling asleep! How . . . tacky." She sniffed haughtily.

Ty laughed softly and rolled his shoulders under her hands. "If I promise not to fall asleep yet, will you keep doing that with your hands?"

She laughed. "Get off me and I'll do it right."

He tried to look hurt, but didn't quite manage it. "Get off me? That's all you have to say?"

"Okay, get off me, please?" she amended.

Chuckling, he moved, lifting away. Ceese shivered as he left her and air hit her sweaty skin. Reaching to grab the covers, she realized they were lying on top of them.

"Gosh, we weren't in a hurry or anything, were we?" she asked, sitting up and looking at the still-made bed.

"Who, us? Never." McQueen stood up so she could pull the covers back and slide beneath them. She stretched out and when he would have joined her she held up a hand. He stopped, waiting, eyebrows raised. She studied him, trying for impartiality. His face had a lot of character, a lot of strength, and not a little pugnacity; his glacier-blue eyes drew attention first, but once you managed to drag your gaze away you noticed other things, like the fact that his jaw was stubborn, and his mouth hard, yet sensitive. Overall there was a curious, almost boyish innocence in his face, despite the experience etched into it.

She let her gaze range downward, admiring the way the column of his throat widened into broad, strong shoulders; beautifully sculpted chest flowing down into latticed abdomen, powerful thighs, and strong, hard calves. For the moment she ignored his other assets, she had first-hand experience that they were more than adequate. He looked athletic, powerful, and so well proportioned he could have modeled for Praxiteles. He really was beautiful. It wasn't just because she was prejudiced.

Ty cleared his throat. "Done yet?" he queried evenly.

She looked into his eyes, and saw he was looking amused again, and a little embarrassed.

"I suppose," she sighed. "Do the Marines do a calendar?" she asked earnestly.

He looked puzzled. "A calendar?"

"Yeah, like 'Marine of the Month club' or something. You should pose."

Ty threw back his head and laughed, a full-out guffaw. It did lovely things to his abdominals. He dropped inelegantly down beside her on the bed, leaning down to kiss her, which felt funny because he was still laughing when he did it. "I like that you make me laugh."

"I like to see you laugh, so I guess we're even there. Lie down and turn over so I can do your back."

He shook his head. "Changed my mind."

She looked up at him, curious. "You did?"

He nodded, but didn't tell her what he'd decided to do instead. Maybe she shouldn't have encouraged him to tease her. He was certainly taking full advantage. He stretched out on his side next to her, making her feel small. Of course, she was small, but while she usually hated for people to make her notice that, she didn't mind when he did. He reached out with a finger and touched her breast. Her nipples hardened instantly, though it hadn't even really been a caress, just a touch.

He let his finger drift over until it was between her breasts, and then slowly drew it down the center of her body, past her ribs, over the soft curve of her abdomen, and finally over her mons, stopping just above the cleft. She held her breath, waiting, and finally he dipped his finger into the cleavage there. She gasped and shuddered as he touched her clitoris lightly, barely even a touch at all. Instinctively her thighs parted, encouraging him to touch her deeper. He didn't. Just stayed there, playing, tormenting her. She definitely shouldn't have encouraged him to tease her.

"Having fun?" she asked, somehow managing to keep her voice steady.

He looked up. "Definitely. You?"

"I could stand more," she said, swallowing heavily. "If you were up to it."

His lips twitched, she could tell he was controlling a smile. "You could, could you?"

She nodded. "I thought the military didn't believe in torture any more."

He looked up at her sharply, his gaze oddly serious. "It has its uses."

Though his words sounded light, almost flippant, his eyes told her otherwise. She studied his face, looked down at the scars that littered his body, and suddenly knew without being told that not all those scars were random battle injuries.

"Oh, Ty--" she began, feeling tears well up.

He shook his head, cutting her off. "Over and done, Ceese. Forget it."

His finger returned to teasing her, flooding her with an ache in her belly far more pleasant than the one in her throat. She reached for his hand to stop him from distracting her with her own need.

"Forget it?" she demanded. "Forget it?"

He looked into her eyes steadily. "We can't change the past, Ceese. You know that as well as I do. Forget it. I'm a soldier. I didn't get to be where I am without getting blood, or silicon, on my hands."

His statement rocked her, adding yet another facet to her view of him. So complex, this man. She had to quit thinking of him as the boy who'd left the Dragon in a troop transport seventeen years ago. She looked up at him and saw a wary distance in his gaze, knew he was waiting for her to push him away in disgust at his confession. Forget it. Okay. She looked down at where she still held his hand in hers, and guided it back between her thighs.

"I can think of better things for you to have on your hands, Ty," she said with a wink.

She could see his surprise in his eyes, and feel it in the way it took him a minute to react to what she'd done. Then he started to smile, and his fingers moved on her, making her catch her breath. She closed her eyes to concentrate, and his hands moved down to her inner thighs, urging her legs farther apart. Taking the hint she opened so his hands could have more freedom. She felt the bed give as he shifted position, and sighed in anticipation as she felt his thumbs press her open.

When it came, having expected fingers, the hot, slick touch of his tongue was shockingly delicious. She gasped and arched in delighted surprise as that incredible tongue touched her, then slid from the top of her down to delve deep inside. She writhed, and he caught her hips in his hands, holding her still. He licked up into her, then moved back up to flick his tongue lightly over the engorged, aching bud at the top of her cleft before returning to dive within once more.

His short-cropped hair tickled the insides of her thighs until she wanted to scream, but she was too busy whimpering as he used his mouth to push her closer and closer to the edge. When he fit his mouth against her and used his tongue to press the sensitive flesh of her clitoris against the hard ridges of his teeth she lost any vestige of self control and bucked against him wildly, sobbing as pleasure tore through her in wave after wave of pure sensory overload.

While the pleasure was still pulsing in her, he moved up, wedging his hips between her thighs, fitting his cock into her in a sleek, smooth thrust that prolonged her orgasm almost past bearing. She wrapped herself around him and held on as his body drove into hers with the same ferocious intensity he'd given her before. She loved that. She loved it gentle, too, but for some reason Ty made her want it hard. He always had. Something about the intensity of his passion made her crave that. Unfortunately at the moment, she was too played out to respond as she normally would. It was too soon after the last one.

Apparently realizing that she was too spent to follow him, he suddenly slowed, and shifted. Moving back onto his knees, he brought her with him until she was spread like an offering on the altar of his thighs, his body still hard in hers. He lifted her hips in his hands and guided them in slow circles as he moved in and out of her with excruciating slowness. Ceese felt desire begin to stir again, a slow, gentle throb that echoed his penetration. She opened her eyes and looked up into his face. His eyes were closed too, his expression intent. She found it hard to breathe for a moment. It was, as she'd suspected it would be, rather overwhelming to feel herself the focus of that single-minded concentration.

She let her gaze drift down his solid, compactly muscled body to where she surrounded him. Experimentally she tightened her inner muscles, and heard his breath hiss over his teeth in reaction. Ty let go of her hips and lifted one hand, moving it to her stomach. He spread his fingers wide, nearly spanning the distance between her hipbones and pressed down with the heel of his hand just above her mons, at the same time pushing deeper into her. Ceese gasped as pleasure shocked through her, swift, and intense. He pushed harder, and she pushed back, arching toward the source of that delight, heels on the bed for leverage, pushing herself onto him.

His free hand slid beneath her to lift her in a rhythm that echoed the pleasure pulsing through her, gliding her down the length of him, pushing her up, bringing her back again, over and over, until nothing in the world existed except the hot, wet ache he caused inside her. He moved forward over her, his chest brushing her aching breasts, his firm, flat belly against hers, then he shifted onto his side, pulling her with him, hooking a hand beneath her knee to bring her leg up over his hip. She moaned, tiny tremors of pleasure sparking through her as the change settled him even tighter against and inside her.

Ty's teeth grazed her shoulder, a gentle, but definite bite and she shuddered. There was something incredibly possessive about that touch, and from anyone else it would have disturbed her, but at the moment it felt right. It woke something primitive inside her and Ceese pushed at him, whimpering softly with loss as he yielded to her insistence and withdrew from her. She rolled over onto her belly, and he caught on instantly, moving over her. His thighs spread hers, his fingers opened her to him, then his cock was probing, finding, entering in a ruthless thrust that forced a sob of pleasure from her. He was hard, warm, and silky, stretching her deliciously. His hips rocked in a slow, smooth rhythm, his body moving liquidly in hers, each stroke seeming to take him deeper within her. Surprisingly, within moments she found herself over the edge again, gasping and shuddering at the sweet, clenching ache in her belly and between her thighs.

Ty went completely still as her climax swept through her, letting her feel it, but as soon as it began to fade his hands caught her hips and pulled her up onto her hands and knees, his body pounding hard into hers, his breath coming in labored gasps as he finally relinquished his control. She braced herself against his thrusts, tightening herself around him, until with a shuddering sigh he drove deep into her and in complete silence, let himself go. She felt the heat of him spill into her. Finally, they both collapsed into a tangle of sweaty limbs. Ceese sighed contentedly and he began to kiss the back of her neck and shoulders, sometimes brushing against the scar of her secondary navel, sending shivers through her. It wasn't exactly a sexual feeling, but it was very intimate, something only another Tank would ever understand.

"Still think I've been corrupted by living with Natural-Borns?" He asked, sounding altogether too pleased with himself.

Ceese shook her head, too spent to even lift her head and look back at him. "I take it back."

"Good. Can't have my honor impugned like that."

"'Course not. Anybody ever does, send 'em my way and I'll straighten 'em out." She stretched experimentally and felt aches in muscles that hadn't gotten this much use in years. "Damn, Ty, I won't be able to walk tomorrow."

He laughed. "So, don't go anywhere." He disengaged from her, pulling the covers up before she could get chilled, and lay on his back beside her, one arm behind his head. He sighed, and yawned, then shot a look at her. "Is it still 'tacky' if I go to sleep?"

She smiled, and shook her head. "Go to sleep, Ty. You earned it."

He nodded, closed his eyes, and within moments his breathing had taken on the slow, deep cadence of sleep. Ceese figured he must've had to learn to sleep anywhere, at any time, to be able to just drop off so quickly like that. She wished she could. Probably he didn't usually sleep so deeply, though. He'd have to feel safe to do that. It pleased her that he trusted her enough to do that here.

Watching Ty sleep, she tried to sort out her feelings. When she looked at him she felt such conflicting emotions. He was magnificent. Not just physically, though he was that, but the man he'd become. She could see a lot of Web in him. He had Web's sense of honor, his need for justice, his honesty. Not that it was surprising Ty had internalized those things. Web had been his male role-model for the first four years of his life. She wondered if there was anything of herself in him, after all, she'd been there for those four years too.

In a way she and Web had been Ty's parents even while they'd also been his lovers. Natural-Borns wouldn't understand that, it was as foreign to them as it was natural to Tanks. Born full-grown with both a child's and an adult's needs and desires, the two roles often coincided. There was rarely any genetic reason to hold back, as there was with Natural-Borns. She couldn't help but be proud of the man Ty had become, even while it was painful to realize what he must have gone through on the way to becoming.

She thought about Vanessa Damphousse's threat, and understood what had motivated it now. She could well imagine how rare someone like Ty was in the military, someone who still had heart underneath his steel. His 'kids', as he'd put it, were obviously well aware of how lucky they were. They would fight to keep him the way he was, with good reason.

His kids. She felt a pang at that. When he'd asked if she had any, she'd almost told him. Now she was glad she hadn't. For all his strength, Ty was emotionally rather fragile. She was sure that came from the constant, uphill battle against prejudice; from having to be letter perfect, every moment. She'd been relatively lucky, having spent most of her life in the company of her own kind, without having to face the kinds of limitations and insults Ty did.

No, she'd made the right decision in not telling him. It would do no good, and possibly much harm for him to know that she'd been pregnant when he left the Dragon, though she hadn't known it herself, then. She hadn't realized it until, caught in the same cave-in that had claimed Web, she'd miscarried, badly. The effects of it had left her sterile. She'd never even known if the baby was Web's, or Ty's, not that it would have mattered to her, or to any of them. They'd been a family then, as much family as most Tanks ever got.

She sighed, pushing away those memories. Remembering only made her sad, and she didn't want to be sad right now. She had Ty back, for a little while anyway. She should just enjoy it while it lasted. Stretching out beside him, she snuggled up against his warmth and closed her eyes.

Vanessa sat in yet another bar, sipping something virulently green, dying to tell someone what she'd found out. Unfortunately she couldn't find anyone she trusted enough to talk to. All her squad-mates had scattered, leaving her alone. She'd almost followed Paul, but decided at the last minute that maybe that wasn't such a good idea. The last time had been a disaster. Tired of being hit on, she'd decided to go satisfy her curiosity about where McQueen had gone, since she knew Shane would want to know, even if she said she didn't. Well, she'd found out. In spades.

Actually, she'd kind of liked that "Ms. Baker" woman. She had guts, coming right out and telling Vanessa to make herself scarce. Max, the Apollo's bouncer, had told her the woman was the club's singer, and a very good one at that. It was hard to believe McQueen knew any entertainers, especially well enough to go home with. But, the fact of the matter was, Vanessa had seen it with her own two eyes. Of course, she really shouldn't have followed them, but it was just such an unexpected turn of events that she'd wanted to confirm it. Besides, someone had to watch his six.

She'd been stunned almost into carelessness when she'd come around that corner and seen McQueen and Baker kissing right in the middle of the hallway. Not just a little peck, either, but a full-bore, go-for-the-gold kiss. \par She'd stood staring, boggled at the idea that their incredibly uptight colonel would ever allow himself to be seen necking in a corridor. She'd ducked back around the corner just as they ended the kiss, and peeked around a moment later to see something that boggled her even more. He'd picked Baker up. He'd honest-to-god picked her up and carried her into the room. Oh man, it was a good thing Shane hadn't been there. She'd have been torn between seething jealousy and melting into a puddle of hormonal goo. Hmm. Maybe she shouldn't tell Shane at all, come to think of it.

Her thoughts returned to the Colonel, and his erstwhile lady. Actually, they made kind of a nice, if high-contrast couple; her so teeny, and dark, and him tall and fair. Both very intense, too. Baker had the same laser-like stare the Colonel did, even if her eyes were brown, not blue. She was old enough for the Colonel, too. Not like some of the fledglings Vanessa had seen hit on him in the past, only to be zapped like bugs by that megawatt stare. Baker and McQueen seemed pretty well-matched, but looks could be deceiving. God help the woman if she hurt him, but she had been warned. Vanessa grinned ferally. She didn't think Baker would be up for what the Five-Eight could dish out if she did.

"Lieutenant Damphousse?"

She snapped to, turning and automatically saluting, though it felt a little strange to do so in civvies. "Commodore Ross, Sir. Can I help you?"

Damn. Ross was not someone she really wanted to see right now. Surely his presence could mean only one thing. As soon as she thought it, she realized that wasn't true at all. No way would the Commodore be recalling her from leave with a personal visit. She waited, mystified, for him to speak.

"As you were, Lieutenant," he said crisply, then looked around the bar, seeming a little puzzled. "I was looking for Colonel McQueen. He's not in any of his usual haunts."

Vanessa giggled, tried to stop it, and failed miserably. Too much booze. Ross couldn't not notice, of course.

"Are you feeling all right, Lieutenant?"

"Yes Sir, sorry, Sir."

"Have you seen Colonel McQueen?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Recently?" he prompted.

She glanced at her watch. "No, Sir."

He gave her a narrow look. "When did you last seem him?"

"About two hours ago." She took a sip of her drink, then realized she'd forgotten something. "Uh, I mean, Sir. Sorry, Sir."

Ross looked at her a moment, then chuckled. "You're on leave, Lieutenant, and you're at least one sheet to the wind, if I read you right. I'll let that one pass."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

He grinned. "So where did you see him last?"

Vanessa frowned, studying Ross. He wasn't in uniform, so he must be on leave too. If so, there was no reason for her to tell him. "Is this official, Sir?"

The Commodore looked surprised that she would question him, then shrugged and shook his head. "No, I was just going to invite him to a poker game, why?"

She grinned. "I don't think the Colonel would be interested in playing any poker right now, Sir."

Ross studied her for a moment. She winked at him.

He wasn't stupid. He knew she wasn't flirting. His eyebrows went up. "Ty?"

He sounded as incredulous as she'd felt. It came to her that the Commodore was the only person she'd ever heard use the Colonel's first name, until today. They were friends. He wouldn't gossip. She felt a surge of relief. Finally, someone she could safely tell. She nodded.

"He ran into someone he knew right after we came aboard. He said her name, but I didn't catch it. The guy at the Apollo called her Ms. Baker." It occurred to her that the Commodore probably wasn't interested in details, so she jumped ahead. "I saw him with her a couple of hours ago, they were, um . . ." She paused, how to put it? She got it after a moment, and grinned. "They weren't paying much attention to the view."

"I see." The Commodore regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, then slowly, he began to grin too, conspiratorially. "I'll be damned. I thought maybe he'd forgotten how."

Vanessa snorted. "Not from what I saw. Uh, I mean . . ."

Ross held up his hand, forestalling her apology. "Thank you for the information, Lieutenant Damphousse. I trust you'll keep it confidential?"

She looked at him, offended. "Of course, Sir!"

Ross nodded. "Very good, Lieutenant. Carry on."

He left. Vanessa looked at her drink, and decided it had probably better be her last one if she wanted to have any control over her mouth at all.

Next : Part Three
Previous : Part One

Kellie Matthews-Simmons © 1998