Finding Home


I hate it when I forget my story disks and wind up with not enough work to do...particularly since I was so busy last week that I barely had time to breathe. Sigh. So, which fandom should I write for? I have lots of TS and DS and crossovers to work on...at home... so, what should I do here? Who should be the focus of my endeavor? Good question...hmmmm.

I'll blame this one on Lila, who asked for more Gary Seven fic... probably going to be rated R, though, as there are 'overtones'...

She quit. Just up and quit one day, saying that she needed more in her life than work. At one time, he'd had hopes for them as a couple, but she let him know that his interest was unwelcome, so he had backed off. They'd worked together well for a decade, then she quit. She said it was time for her to move on, and he'd said he understood, even though he didn't, not really.

He missed her.

Missed her lousy coffee, her constant chatter, missed her presence. He'd interviewed dozens of possible replacements, only to find them all lacking. Mostly, they lacked imagination and initiative. He hadn't found a single one he'd dare trust with his secrets. So, he'd learned to work alone. Isis was less than helpful, claiming that she was not the secretarial type.

He missed her, on all levels.

He missed her as an employee, as a friend, as a companion, as the lover he was never permitted to have. He recognized that he was simply lonely. He and Isis, in her humanoid form, had tried to be more and, although he did love her, she was far too abusive for him to handle. He had the scars to prove it. After the last time she'd come to him and nearly disemboweled him, he'd forbidden her entry to his bedroom and kept his door locked at night. Of course she apologized, again and again, but he couldn't bring himself to trust her any longer, and his request that she be replaced had been ignored.

Still, he was only human, with the same needs as any man. Not being able to let anyone get too close, he'd done what many men had done; he found a reliable 'service' to provide his occasional needs. He was always circumspect and low-key, never asking for anything unusual, just a bit of companionship for an evening. He always met them at a hotel, and never stayed the night. Not even when he desperately wanted to. He wasn't a fool and was always careful to avoid compromising his mission. There was never much conversation, just dinner, some leisurely sex, and then he would leave.

Some nights, though, he would have loved to spend the night, holding and being held, but he always denied himself that bit of comfort, as though he felt he didn't deserve it. Isis made her displeasure at his actions known, loudly, every time he went out. He ignored her, still somewhat fearful of her claws, his scars itching every time she raised her voice in displeasure.

His superiors were not unaware, but were uncertain as to what course to follow. He was too excellent an operative to remove, he oversaw the entire planet's operations for them, and he did an outstanding job, frequently 'nipping it in the bud', before the problems got out of hand. He was respected and well liked as a supervisor, as well. That was hard to find. Isis' actions, however, had gone unreported. Had they known, she'd have been replaced.

Loyalty can be a real bitch, sometimes.

He'd gotten home after his latest liaison, only to find Isis waiting for him. She was furious. She screamed and ranted at him for an hour, before he could finally make his way to the safety of his bedroom and lock the door securely behind him. When she was in these moods, he was grateful that his bedroom had its own bathroom. She continued clawing at the door and screeching at him, to the point that trying to sleep was impossible. He was, after all, only human and a man can only take so much. He got back up and dressed to go out. He blew by her and made his escape before she realized what was happening.

In his rush to escape, he forgot his overcoat. Luckily, he didn't forget his wallet.

It was autumn, and the nights were quite cool, even cold. There was a cold front moving through and it wasn't long before he was soaked to the skin and shivering; still, he didn't head for cover. He was too miserable inside to realize what the weather was like, outside. He found himself by Central Park before he realized he was cold. Looking around, he sought shelter; he didn't really want to go inside, yet. Finding a nice big tree overhanging the fence surrounding the park, he paused to decide what to do.

The cold was really affecting him, now that he'd noticed it. He stood shivering in the dark, watching the oddly deserted streets through the rain. He heard a sound, like voices, and turned to seek the source. The voices were coming from inside the park, about a hundred feet away, apparently from the other side of some shrubbery. He began to turn away, when he heard the woman scream. Instead of running for the nearest entrance, he grabbed the fence railing and leaped the spike-railed fence and headed at a dead run for the sounds. He went through the bushes, rather than around. The three men were surprised by his sudden appearance and froze for an instant.

One instant was all he needed to see that the woman, more a girl, really, had had her clothes ripped from her body and one man was already prepared to rape her, while his friends held her down for him. In a move none of the would-be rapists had ever imagined, he launched himself into the air, spinning and hitting the first rapist in the mouth, shattering teeth and laying him out; still airborne, he continued in his spin, moving parallel to the ground, kicking the second man in the chest and punching the third man in the face, before landing heavily on his side, just past them. Using the momentum from his landing, he rolled to his feet, prepared to fight.

The first man was out for the count while the second one was regaining his feet, a knife appearing in his right hand. The third man was struggling to get up, still in shock from the attack. The one with the knife lunged, and he dodged back, just out of reach, then leapt again into the air and applied a Sabot kick to the man's head. The man moved, just enough that instead of taking the blow to the side of his head, he took it in the throat, crushing his larynx. The third man, having regained his feet and pulling his own knife, attacked from behind, slashing the Good Samaritan from shoulder to buttock.

The shock of the pain set him off. He'd been in need of a good physical fight for years. Unrealizing, he toyed with the third man, like a cat with its prey. Finally, the girl's whimper of fear brought him back, and he realized he was holding the third attacker, unconscious and barely breathing. He dropped his assailant and looked around. He didn't even notice his own wounds as he knelt beside the girl. Pulling off his slashed coat, he helped her sit up and placed it around her shoulders. He frowned and blinked several times as the realization of his own injuries registered. He handed her his cell phone and collapsed to the ground beside her.

The first officers on the scene were shocked by the carnage. When the girl explained what had happened, and that her rescuer lay unconscious and bleeding beside her, they moved quickly. The first ambulance carried the unconscious man and the victim to the hospital, despite the girl's assertion that she was unharmed. One of the suspects was dead, the other two seriously injured. Despite the girl's statement, they found it hard to believe that one unarmed man had been able to do the kind of damage they were looking at. However, since they found only the knives of the suspects, they had to accept that the guy had done just as the girl described.

The forensics team arrived, but found little to go on. There were signs of a struggle, which they attributed to the initial attack. There was very little sign of the man who had come to the rescue, save for where he had stood to fight the last assailant. They'd have to hope the guy didn't bleed to death, and that he could give a coherent statement.

That beeping sound was terribly annoying. So was the pain in his back. He lay on his right side, his left arm pinned to his chest. He took stock, trying to remember what had happened. Finally, he opened his eyes to see... a wall, painted white, with a door in it. Turning his head, albeit with some pain, he looked around and realized he was in a hospital. The memories abruptly came back and he wondered if the girl was all right. The annoying beeping noise was the heart monitor. He looked up and noticed a plastic bag, filled with what appeared to be blood, slowly dripping through the tubing and into his arm, via the IV needle he saw. He wondered if that was why his arm was restrained. Shifting, trying to find a more comfortable position, he winced. His entire left side felt like it had been scraped raw and salt rubbed in. His movement caused his heart to increase in speed, which made the infernal monitor beep more frequently. Fortunately, it also drew the attention of a nurse, who came in to check on him.

The nurse came into the room to check on her patient. He'd been unconscious for an awful long time, far more than had been expected. The man had more than a hundred stitches, most of them in his back, but quite a few as well in his left arm, where the doctors had done their best to put him back together. His pale blue eyes met hers as she entered and she smiled.

"Welcome back. How are you feeling?" She knew it was an inane question. The guy was probably hurting like hell, but the doctor wouldn't authorize any painkillers until after he'd seen the patient.

"Like my cat shredded me, again." He wanted to shift position, but the pain warned him that it wasn't a very good idea.

The nurse winced in sympathy. "Cat, huh? What kind? Tiger?" She was pleased when he returned her jest with a wan smile.

"I sometimes think so. Just a cat. Black, slender, green eyes."

"Do you remember what happened?"

"I interrupted an attempted rape. Three men, one little girl."

"The cops are all talking, wondering how you managed to take out all three of them without a weapon."

"How's the girl?"

The nurse was surprised. Most people would have been asking how badly they were hurt and when could they go home, rather than ask about someone else. "She's shaken up, mostly. A few bruises and a broken arm from when they grabbed her, but she'll be just fine. She wants to see you, to thank you, by the way."

He shrugged, wincing at the pain. "Sure." He looked uncomfortable at the idea. He'd never even really gotten a look at the victim; he had a vague, uncertain impression of ragged brown hair and bare skin. He'd been more concerned with getting her covered decently than he had in ogling her nudity. He remembered the impression of youth, however.

"You, on the other hand, kept our best seamstress busy for a couple of hours."

He frowned, "How long have I been here?"

"About twelve hours, now. It's almost one in the afternoon. You reacted rather oddly to the anesthetic, are you allergic, by any chance?" She picked up his chart to make some notations.

"Not to my knowledge, but I've never been anesthetized before, either."

She stared at him in surprise. "Never? Not even to have your tonsils out?"

"Never had them removed," he grinned at her consternation.

She shook her head in amazement, "Lucky you, I guess. Well, I'll go let the doctor know you're awake. After he's through with you, the police are going to want to ask you some questions." Seeing him grimace in dismay, she smiled in commiseration. "Hey, that's what happens to Good Samaritans, they get questioned to death."

He took the few minutes he was alone to regroup. When the door opened again, he was composed and prepared. The doctor looked distracted, checking the chart. Looking up and meeting the clear, blue eyes of his patient, he cleared his throat. "Good afternoon, Mr. Seven, I'm Doctor Rosenfeld. You gave us quite a scare." He checked the slow drip of blood transfusing his patient.

"Why am I still getting blood? Shouldn't that have been finished several hours ago?"

"Normally, yes, but it took us a long time to get you stitched up, and until we did, you continued to lose blood. We didn't dare give you coagulating compounds, as they might have caused internal clots. This is the last unit; it took four, altogether, one before surgery, one during and two after. We had a bit of trouble getting a vein to cooperate, which is why you're still receiving blood." He bent down to check his patient's eyes and pulled back the covers to examine his back and arm more closely. He nodded as he straightened up.

"It's looking good. I do have a few questions about the scars on your back, chest, and stomach, however. It almost looks like you were mauled by a mountain lion?"

His jaws spasmed for a moment. "Lynx, I believe. Several years ago, when I used to hunt. Nailed me pretty good."

The doctor nodded. "The ones on your back almost look like a lover's marks, except that they were obviously deep and jagged. You probably should have had stitches, it would have lessened the scarring."

"Well, it took me nearly a week to get out of the wilderness and by then they'd healed too much to bother."

"Well, you were lucky. Was that why you quit hunting?"

"One of the reasons."

The doctor wasn't really interested. Making a few more notes on the chart, he smiled and turned to go. "The police still have a couple of officers waiting to talk to you. If you want to postpone the inevitable, I can tell them that you're still in no condition to be questioned, if you like?"

"No. That's all right. I'll talk to them. Might as well get it over with."

Rosenfeld nodded. "I'll prescribe something for the pain, to be given after they're finished; although, if they get too rough, just page the nurse and she'll chase them off."

"Thank you, Doctor."

There was really only one question that the police wanted answered. Their two surviving suspects had already admitted to their part in the attempted rape. Naturally, they blamed their deceased colleague for everything; until it was pointed out that the dead man had still had his pants on, unlike one of the survivors. The one who'd been helping to hold the girl (and the one who had broken her arm) quickly ratted on his remaining companion, who then told the officers how the girl's arm had been broken.

The fact that they knew that the girl's arm was broken and had continued only made the cops angrier. Several of them would have like to pin a medal on the rescuer, but also wondered why he'd been out in that area so late at night, himself. His blood-alcohol had been non-existent, so what had him out so late, in the rain, in nothing but a suit?

"Mr. Seven?"

He looked up at the new arrivals. There were two of them. One man, one woman. The woman was the one doing the talking.

"Yes, Officer?" They didn't have to be in uniform to recognize what they were.

"I'm detective Metz, and this is my partner, Detective Mayer. We need to ask you some questions about what happened."

"Of course." He tried not to squirm. He was uncomfortable, but knew that any movement could pull the stitches. "Why don't you pull up a chair, so I don't have to strain anything?"

Metz smiled at him and dragged a chair over. Mayer simply stood in the background, observing. "Thanks." She looked him over. He was obviously naked beneath the covers, and they were still pulled down to his waist from the doctor's exam. He wasn't extremely muscled, not like her partner, the body builder. Nor was he soft looking. He looked fit, trim, and of 'normal' musculature for someone who worked. "May I ask what you do for a living, Mr. Seven?"

He nearly smiled; thinking that 'saving mankind from self-annihilation' probably would raise more questions than it would answer. "I'm self-employed. I've got some investments that pretty much provide me with a living."

They'd already run a check on him. He was the owner of several older buildings; buildings which in anyone else's hands would have been called slums, but every one of his buildings was not only livable, but in good repair, with regular visits by exterminators to try and keep the vermin down. Even the walk-ups had hot and cold running water and up-to-code heating and air conditioning. His tenants loved him, in fact.

"Yes, sir. Why were you out so late, and in that area? You were a good twenty blocks from your residence and you didn't even have a coat, just your suit-jacket. What brought you out on such a night?"

He strived to be as truthful as possible whenever he could. "I felt the need to get out and walk, so I did."

"Fight with the girl friend?" Mayer asked, shifting a bit closer. Metz shot him a glower, but he ignored her.

Seven grinned, "Only if you consider Isis my girlfriend."

"Isis?" Mayer jumped on the name.

"My cat. About twelve pounds, black..." He shifted his eyes to Metz as she tried to keep from laughing at her partner.

"In heat, is she?" Metz asked.

"I don't think so. It's not very likely." She certainly wasn't spayed, but then, neither was she really a cat.

"Right," Metz grinned. "So, you went for a walk in a rainstorm with no coat. Why was that?"

He shook his head. "Stress. I got home and headed for bed, but I couldn't sleep and Isis kept yowling, so I got up, got dressed and headed out. I didn't even notice it was raining until I was almost at the park. I like the park, it's an oasis of nature in the middle of the city, you know?"

She smiled at him. "Yeah, I do. So, what happened?"

"Well, I realized that it was raining and that I was cold, so I took shelter under a tree, trying to decide what to do. There was no traffic on the street, whatsoever. I guess that's why I heard them. At first it was just voices, low, indistinct. Then the girl screamed and I headed to see what was wrong."

"Were you inside the park already?"

"No, I was at the fence, where that big old elm hangs over." Seeing what the next question had to be, he continued, "I jumped the fence." He grinned at the startled look on Mayer's face. "What, you think I'm too old to go over a six foot fence?"

Metz looked at the skeptical expression on her partner's face, knowing that he had, despite all his beautiful weightlifting muscles, difficulty getting over fences and walls. Turning back to Seven, she asked, "Those spikes are pretty sharp, how'd you do it?"

"Like swinging up on a horse, grab two rails, swing up and get a knee between two spikes, then stand up and jump down."

He made it sound so simple, but she knew it would take someone with some pretty good acrobatic skills to pull it off. Her partner voiced his own curiosity, albeit with malice.

"I'd like to see that."

"Well, maybe after I've healed, I'll demonstrate it for you."

Metz tossed a glare at her partner, warning him to back off. This guy wasn't a suspect; he was the hero, after all. "So, Mr. Seven, you jumped the fence, then what happened?"

"I ran towards them, going through the bushes, rather than around. I came out into the clearing and saw three men, two holding the girl down, she was nearly naked, they'd ripped all her clothes off of her, and one man about to rape her." He paused to let Mayer catch up on his attempt to take down his statement. When the pencil stopped scratching, he continued. "They had just looked up when I attacked. I used a Sabot move and took out the first one, then continued on, kicking the second one in the chest and hitting the third one with my fist. The first one, I broke his teeth and knocked him out, the second one got up and I used another Sabot move; unfortunately, he moved and instead of catching him in the jaw, I connected with his throat, crushing his larynx. By then, the third man had recovered and he came at me with a knife." All the talking had worn him out and dried his throat. Metz, seeing him glance at the bedside table, offered him a glass of water, which he gratefully accepted. She had to hold it for him, however.

"Thank you. Anyway, I'm not positive what happened, except that we were fighting. I think I may have blacked out, because when I was next aware, I was holding him up by the throat with my right hand and he was unconscious. I dropped him and realized that I was hurt and went to the girl, taking off my jacket and wrapping it around her. Then I handed her my cell phone and passed out. Next thing I knew, I woke up here, a little while ago."

His statement exactly matched the girl's. She hadn't known Sabot, but said he jumped up in the air and knocked all three of her attackers away from her. She was extremely grateful, as the three had told her what they had planned for her.

The police knew, too. This was the last in a long string of gang rapes in the area. The police had tried decoys, extra patrols, everything they could, but to no avail. All it took was one man in the right place at the right time, willing to take the chance to help someone in need, and one of their major headaches was gone.

Metz smiled, "Thank you. That girl was really lucky you came along; most of those guys' victims haven't survived."

"Are you sure they were the men you were looking for?"

"Not positive, yet, but we'll have the DNA tests back in a week, then we'll know for sure. The M.O. certainly fits. Grab a woman off the street, take her to the park, to some secluded little area and beat, rape and oftentimes, kill them. I sure hope these are the ones. I'd hate to have copycats out there."

"I can imagine."

Metz looked at her partner, who still looked skeptical, and she wondered if the man had ever even heard of Sabot. Standing up and putting her chair back in its place by the wall, she smiled at Seven. "Thank you. I'll get this typed up for you to sign, later, if that's all right with you?"

"Fine with me. I rather doubt I'll be going anywhere in the very near future."

"Do you have someone who can take care of your cat?" Mayer asked suddenly.

"She's got plenty of food down, as well as water. She should be fine for at least a week. It isn't the first time I've had to suddenly leave her for a few days."

Satisfied, the two detectives left. The nurse came in just a few minutes later and added something to his IV, promising him that it would help the pain. A few minutes later, he was feeling woozy and disorientated, just before falling into a drug-induced stupor.

When he next regained consciousness, he was aware that it was night, late at night, based on the fact that the lights were turned off. He glanced up and noted that the IV bottle had changed to something clear, most likely some kind of glucose solution. Whatever they had given him earlier had left him feeling somewhat disoriented and nauseas, but the feeling was rapidly clearing. He desperately wanted some water, however, but was unable to reach it without causing himself pain, and he was far from a masochist when it came to that. He managed to find the nurse's call button and pressed it.

But no one came. After half an hour, he pressed the button again, when he also realized that he needed to use the bathroom. Still, no one came. After an hour, he tried one more time, and when his call still went unanswered, he forced himself up and out of bed.

That was a mistake.

He managed to make it to the bathroom, but once there, didn't have the strength to get back to bed. He ended up naked and shivering on the floor of the bathroom when someone finally came and found him lying there, unconscious.

The night staff caught hell for their negligence, but instead of simply healing from his injuries, he also contracted pneumonia, which seriously laid him low for several weeks. For the first week, he was usually unconscious and occasionally delirious. After a week, his fever finally broke and he awoke coherent. His first question was where his pen was. The nurses and doctor thought he was still delirious, but he seemed lucid enough. Once he had his 'pen', he seemed content.

He thought they'd never leave. Finally alone, he pressed several spots on his 'pen' and spoke into it. There were clicks and whirrs and eventually, a worried voice responded, asking where in hell he was. He frowned in consternation.

The voice was neither his computer, nor Isis.

It was a male voice, a very worried male voice.

"Who is this?"

"832. I've been searching for you for a week! Where are you?"

"In the hospital. Belleview, I believe. No, not in the psych ward, before you ask. I got involved in rescuing a young woman and got knifed for my trouble. What's today's date, anyway?"

When he heard the date, he understood 832's concern. He'd been 'missing' for three weeks. And Isis had not called for assistance. He was curious as to what they'd do, now that he'd been able to check in. 832 asked for directions and received them from the computer. Seven was told to sit tight (as though he had any choice) and someone would be with him shortly.

Turning off the device, he set it on the small table beside the bed. One good thing, his wounds had healed while he was ill. He still tired easily, but now that he was awake, he hoped to soon be back on his feet and home.

Not that it really was 'home'.

832 turned out to be a nondescript young man who came accompanied by his partner, an equally nondescript young woman. The two looked enough alike to be siblings. They entered the hospital room silently, only to find their missing agent sleeping, deep lines of exhaustion and illness marring his features.

The woman used her own pen-like device to check him out. The information left her shaking her head in dismay. Just three months earlier, he'd had his annual physical, and he'd been in perfect health. Now, he'd lost a good thirty pounds from his already lean frame, weight he could not afford to lose. He might have to be recalled for rehabilitation, if he didn't perk up soon. Reading his chart gave them hope, however, as it was obvious that his first action upon awakening was to contact them. The woman pointed out the questions on the chart relating to some old scars, and they gently drew back the covers to see for themselves.

They exchanged shocked expressions. They knew exactly how he'd come by those scars. Both wondered why he hadn't said anything about it.

He awoke feeling cold. His eyes snapped open and he saw two strangers staring at his chest and stomach. One, the woman, lightly touched his shoulder, asking him silently to roll forward so she could see his back. He did so, unthinkingly, and then stiffened.


"Yes. William Thomas. This is Alana Hendricks. We've been very worried about you. You haven't called in for twenty-five days. Isis has been making the regular check-ins, but something brought suspicion, and we were sent to check on you. What happened?"

"I went for a walk, one night. Ended up by the park. It had started raining and I took shelter under a tree by the fence. I heard a woman scream and I went to help her. There were three men trying to rape her. I took out two of them, but the third one managed to knife me in the back. It took me a bit more time to subdue him, getting my arm cut up in the process."

"But that was three weeks ago," Alana spoke for the first time.

"I think it was my second night here. I woke up and needed to use the bathroom. I hit the call button, but no one ever came, so I got up and took myself. Unfortunately, I ended up passed out on the floor and by the time they found me, I'd already gotten pneumonia." He was embarrassed.

"You're lucky to have survived." William observed. "How soon do you think they'll release you?"

"Several days, I suspect. They want to be sure I don't have a relapse. What have I missed?" That was the big thing. How had his dereliction of duty affected the mission?

"Everything seems to be going fairly well, considering. No doubt there will be another war, soon. But that's normal for Earth, isn't it?"

Seven smiled. "Very true."

"Why didn't you report Isis?" Alana asked, not looking at him.

"Report her for what?" He couldn't hide his physical reaction, stiffening at the words.

"That she hurt you. That you are afraid of her?"

"What makes you think I'm afraid of her?"

"The deadbolt on your bedroom door?" William replied. "Those scars on your stomach and back. It's pretty obvious, you know."

He closed his eyes and sighed, too embarrassed to look at them and see the expected disgust in their eyes.

"You're hardly the first, you know," William said softly. "At least you stopped her from hurting you further. But why didn't you report her?"

Alana looked at her partner in surprise. "Loyalty, William. Misplaced, perhaps, but still..."

Seven looked up in surprise. He'd heard no condescension or reproach in her voice, only concern.

William was nodding. "Unlike most people, you didn't allow it to continue. How long ago did it happen? Her marking you, that is?"

"Fifteen years."

"And you can still work with her?"

"Yes. She still gets pissed off when I go out and won't let her into my room, but we manage."

"Is that why you were out that night? Escaping her?" Alana seemed to understand far too well. Seven looked at her, a question in his eyes.

"I've had to do a few interventions, not here, but with others. Isis' kind seems incapable of not harming their bond-mates. Their ability to shape-shift is proving of far less value than at first hoped, I'm afraid. How long have the two of you worked together, now?"

"Over thirty years." A lifetime. Forever. He couldn't honestly remember a single night's sleep he hadn't been afraid that she'd get to him again, rip him open to bleed to death in his bed...it was a recurring nightmare that he desperately wished to end. Unfortunately, he also still loved her. He wondered about that. His willingness to remain in a frightening, dangerous position, knowing that he could be badly hurt or even killed by Isis. Right now, though, he was simply tired. Tired of the fear, the pain... the loneliness.

William and Alana, now satisfied that he'd be all right and able to make their report, left him to recover.

They kept him another week to be sure he didn't have a relapse. He was still weak when he caught a cab from the hospital to his office/apartment. Entering via the office, he was surprised to find it deserted. There was no sign of Isis, no waiting messages, nothing. Firing up the computer, he began by doing his job, catching up on all that had happened in the previous month. Once he was up to date, he contacted his superiors and asked what had become of Isis. He was only slightly surprised to learn that she'd been recalled. He wondered why now? After all, he'd requested her replacement years before.

He was now more alone than ever, which threw him into a deep emotional depression. His work didn't suffer, however, so his superiors did nothing.

Something had to give.

He watched in horror as the buildings fell. He'd had no warning from his superiors, not an inkling. He was unable to turn away, even when the computer chirped, indicating an incoming message. He couldn't pull himself from the window and the scene of man's insanity, and wondered what his purpose was, if this couldn't have been prevented. Sometimes, he wished that that ship from the future would return and tell him something, anything that showed that he might make a difference.


He turned, surprised by the voice. "Yes?"

"You didn't respond."

He turned back to the window. "I'm busy."

"Doing what?"

"Watching the world come to an end."

"What makes you think that?"

"Do you have any idea how many people have just died?"

"Three thousand and more."

He shuddered, but still didn't look away. "I'm tired."

The agent frowned and regarded him. He thought of the files on this man and marveled. "Would you like to go home for a while?"

"Home? Where is that? What is it?" His voice was tinged with depression, bitterness, and exhaustion.

There was no answer and when he eventually looked away from the destruction outside, he found himself alone.

He sighed and, feeling the need of some kind of human contact, left.

The city was filled with the dust and debris from the devastating blow. He'd been in countries torn by war and the same feeling was now here. The people he saw all had expressions of shock and dismay, and he knew he looked the same.

Why hadn't they been warned? Why hadn't he been warned?

He went into a bar and there learned of the other devastation and lost lives. With the other silent men, he drank, and when he could drink no more, he left, hailed a cab, and went back to his office. It was empty, as it always was. He sighed and went on through to his apartment, beyond. He wondered why he'd agreed to stay, all those years ago. He knew why, of course, the girl, Roberta. He sighed. That had been a mistake of the first magnitude. But then, so had his relationship with Isis. Numb now from the scotch he'd drunk as well as the shocking events of the day, he stripped down and fell into bed, too heartsick and soul-weary to do else.

He was unaware when the transporter activated and a figure entered his domain. He was oblivious as the figure entered his bedroom and watched him sleep.

She frowned at the man in the bed. He was curled into a fetal position, at the moment. She watched for a while, trying to read him. He shifted, straightening out and turning onto his stomach. His movements were jerky and agitated.

She continued to watch as he thrashed in his sleep. To do what she came here for, he'd need to be still long enough for her to gain physical contact while he was still unconscious. She waited patiently, controlling her own agitation as his nightmares kept him moving. Finally, he stilled. Taking a chance, she carefully stretched out behind him, easing into physical contact with him.

She stiffened as though she'd grabbed a high-tension electrical wire as his emotions battered through her protective walls. His emotions were very strong, and his depression and emotional pain was almost more than she could absorb, but absorb it she did. Her purpose as an empath was to absorb the emotional distress of operatives such as 194. When she'd received her instructions, she'd been surprised to discover he had never had any contact with one of her kind. True, when he'd been sent here thirty-three years earlier, those with her abilities weren't used for this purpose, but they'd discovered that humans required far more emotional support than they'd at first imagined. Despite their strong sense of self and determination, even the strongest of them needed help, sometimes. Even though he'd feared Isis, she'd at least provided someone he could talk to, although he hadn't trusted her enough after she'd almost disemboweled him nearly two decades earlier. His emotions battered her with hurricane strength and she was in physical pain from it, but she held on, absorbing as much of his pain as she could; easing his distress until he was able to fall into a dreamless, truly restful sleep. Finally, he was calm and relaxed for what was probably the first time since he'd been permanently assigned here.

She was exhausted, physically as well as emotionally. She needed to get home and download before he awoke and found her there. She'd have to come back to finish the job, maybe more than once. She slid from his bed and staggered into the other room and to the transporter. She was shaking and barely coherent enough to manage to activate the device; she stumbled into the transporter beam.

When he awoke, he was at first confused, but a quick glance around informed him that he was in his own bed. He shook his head, wondering what was different. He looked around and listened, but it was as silent as it usually was, just the sounds of traffic from outside. Shaking his head, he arose to face the day. The moment he turned on the television to see the news, he remembered. Sighing, he hung his head in defeat, but then pulled himself together to perform his morning routine before making his reports.

Dressed for the day and drinking his first cup of coffee, he settled into his desk chair and turned on the computer. He pinched the bridge of his nose, hard; his eyes closing in pain, then sighed.

"Computer, take a report," he began. Then followed four hours of all the details of the previous day's happenings, including his questions as to why he hadn't been informed so he could have stopped them. By the time he was finished, he was exhausted. Too depressed to bother with anything to eat, he poured himself a tumbler of scotch and sat down in front of the television to watch the continuing drama, sipping at his drink and bitterly wondering what his purpose was, here, if he couldn't have prevented the previous day's happenings.

The phone rang, but he ignored it. He didn't want to talk to anyone. Later, the computer indicated he had a call from 'home'.

"I have no home." And he took another sip of his drink.

Finally, the computer announced the arrival of an investigating team. They found him sitting in front of the television, where they were showing the destruction, yet again.


He didn't reply or even acknowledge their presence, merely sipped his drink and kept his focus on the television.

"Gary Seven!"

He flinched, but still didn't respond.

The visitors looked at one another in consternation. The man and woman turned to look at the third member of the group.

She'd wanted to wait another day before coming back. She wasn't ready to take on his pain again so soon, but they'd insisted. With a sigh, she approached him.

"May I?"

He didn't move, except to take another sip of his drink. Taking that as agreement, she sat beside him on the sofa, not quite touching him. She just wasn't ready for his pain and anger, and now that he was conscious, the anger would no doubt be foremost.

They watched quietly as the news covered the previous day's occurrences yet again. She could understand his dismay and even without touching him, she was picking up his emotional distress.

The other two finally looked at one another and, with a shrug, sat as well. Their focus was on their agent, watching him and waiting patiently for him to acknowledge them.

He wasn't going to. They could all go to hell, as far as he was concerned. He knew if he spoke to them, he'd have to ask why he hadn't been warned, why they hadn't done something to prevent it or at least informed him as to why they were going to allow it to happen. He lifted his drink to his lips, but his hand was shaking too much, so he lowered it.

This was her chance; she saw his shaking hand and quietly reached over and touched him, taking the glass from his trembling fingers and grasping his hand in hers. She again stiffened in pain as his emotions practically overwhelmed her and she whimpered.

The woman's whimper got his attention and he turned his head to look at her. He could see the pain etching into her features and wondered what was causing it. He looked down at their hands, but he wasn't holding her that tightly. Still, she was in pain, so he tried to pull his hand back from her. To his surprise, she tightened her grip on him and finally he realized what she was. Furious with them for sending her and putting her in this position, he lurched to his feet and pulled away from her. He turned to the man and woman who accompanied her.

"Get out. Go home. How dare you?" His voice was as cold and hard as frozen mercury. It was bad enough he had to suffer through this - but he had a stake in what happened on this planet, they weren't personally involved, like he was, and to send an empath and force her to absorb his misery? That was unconscionable. He turned to the woman and saw her looking up at him in consternation. He wanted to touch her, but didn't dare. He knew his emotions were too volatile to allow her too close; he had no desire to cause her to feel the same agony he was going through.

"Go on. You don't want to do this," he gently told her.

She tipped her head to one side, puzzled. She wasn't used to anyone being concerned with her feelings. She was an empath, one who absorbed others' pain and emotions. No one had ever considered how it made her feel, or cared that it caused her pain, as well.

"It is what I do," she explained.

"Not to me." He turned to the other two. "Where were you when it might have done some good? You're far too late to change anything now. Why don't you just take your empath and leave?"

The two scowled. "194, you're damaged. You need...."

"What I needed was you to listen to me when I first requested Isis be replaced. I needed you to read my reports and understand what I was going through. I needed someone, anyone to talk to - that I could speak freely to when things were difficult. You've waited too long. I can't let you kill her with my pain. If you want to replace me, fine, but you can't let my damage destroy anyone else."

She stared up at him and realized he didn't understand her abilities. "I can help you."

He turned to her. "At what cost? What will it do to you?"

She frowned. "I will feel and share your pain, I will understand what you cannot say...."

"And I can't allow you to do that. It's too much."

She nodded. "Yes. You cannot bear it alone. I will share."

He stared at her in consternation. "Why would you want to?"

She looked surprised. "It is what I am. It matters not that there is pain. Pain shared is halved."

He scowled. "And joy shared is doubled. I have no joy to share, only pain, and that's not fair to you."

She glanced at the silent couple, who gave her no clue as to what to do, so she simply allowed herself to speak what she truly felt. "But unlike you, I can dismiss others' pain. Yes, it hurts when I take it on, but then I am able to dismiss it as not my own, but understand it, and can help you to cope with it."

He shook his head. "Why would you want to?" he said very softly, plaintively.

"Because it is what I am. Will you not even let me try?" She realized that to mention that she'd already been here and taken some of his pain would only anger him, but she understood him, and marveled at his strength in not wishing his pain on anyone else. It was a consideration she'd never encountered before. Usually, people were more than pleased to give her their pain and anguish - and some even went so far as to physically abuse her, as well - and that was something that frightened her every time she was sent out; yet, here he was trying to send her back without taking the relief she offered, and it intrigued her.

"I wouldn't wish what I know on anyone, least of all a...." He stopped and shook his head and looked at the two handlers. "I've sent my reports. I'll continue to do my job to the best of my ability, but to force another to take on what I'm going through is cruel. We are not cruel, are we? Have we become like them? Forsaken our upbringing and training to serve? To help others?"

"No. She is merely a tool to help you," the woman began.

"She's another human being!" He froze when she touched him again. He turned his considerable glare on her and saw her flinch. "Don't. Please. Just...don't." he whispered, knowing what she was doing and hating himself for the pain he saw in her eyes.

She smiled. "It will be all right. I will stay," she softly whispered. He shook his head, not wanting her to cause herself harm in trying to help him. She came closer to him, sliding her hand up his arm to his face. "You will not harm me. I am willing," she insisted. She looked over at the other two and told them, "Go. It will be all right. I will stay."

The man scowled and then shook his head. He motioned his companion that they would go, and they did.

When they were gone, she gently pulled him back down onto the sofa beside her.

"I don't want you to do this."

"It will be well. I am willing."

"I don't want to hurt you." He was trying to be reasonable, but even as he argued, he felt her easing his pain, taking in his emotions and giving back comfort.

"You are not harming me." And with that, she gently leaned against him, her head resting against his shoulder as she continued to hold his hand.

He closed his eyes and gave in.

He was not like anyone else she'd helped, before. His pain was strong, and he tried so very hard to keep it inside, but she simply retained physical contact, and like the tides, eventually she took on his pain and washed it away. Oddly enough, it was as tiring for him, fighting her, as it was for her to absorb it.

Exhausted, they slept.

When he awoke, much later, he was at first confused. There was a woman, and they were on the couch in his apartment. Then the memories returned and he anxiously turned to the young empath, worried about her and what his raging emotions might have done to her.

He saw her face in the never-truly-dark and gasped. She was smiling! Hesitantly, he touched her cheek, wondering how it could be that she no longer felt his pain? He knew she'd taken much of his agony, but what did she do with it, and how did she cope? And could she truly help him? Then he shook his head and eased away from her. No, she was just here under orders and once he was suitably 'repaired', she'd be gone again. With a sigh, he left her to sleep and prepared to meet the day. Alone, as always.

When she awoke, it was to the scent of coffee and the sight of her patient watching her with trepidation. She sat up and stretched, easing the muscles that were complaining of the uncomfortable position she'd slept in. She smiled uncertainly at him. Tilting her head to one side, she softly asked, "You are refreshed?"

Refreshed. Interesting term, he thought. "I suppose so. Are you all right?"

She rolled her head, a slight expression of discomfort on her features. "A little stiff, but all right." She watched him. She'd remained awake long after he'd slept, waiting for him to awaken and, like so many before him, hurt her. But he'd slept, and she'd remained in physical contact with him, so that she'd shared his dreams as well as his emotional agonies. She couldn't help wondering how he'd survived for so long with no one to help him, but he had. She stood up and approached him, taking his cup from his hand, she sipped the contents as he watched her in surprise.

Handing him back the cup, she smiled. "What is that?"

"Coffee. You're welcome to a cup of your own."

Her smile widened and she nodded. He stood up and went into the small kitchen and poured her a cup. He paused for a moment, and then added cream and sugar to her mug. He felt her eyes on him and as he turned, he met her gaze with uncertainty. He was totally at a loss as to how to act. He knew that she was considered a 'tool', but she was human, as well and despite his desire to have her ease his pain, he truly did not want to hurt her. He handed her the cup and their fingers touched for a moment before he let go and turned away.

She watched him, aware of his disquiet and wondering why? She sipped at the contents of her cup and blinked in surprise. Though she'd liked how he drank his own coffee, she preferred this, and wondered how he'd known?

He sat again and took a sip of his coffee, then turned to the newspaper he'd been perusing when she awoke. He felt tense in her presence, knowing that she'd gotten too close and he was embarrassed that she should have come to experience his deepest hurts, yet he also felt better, as had been their intent in sending her. Still, he wondered how she could possibly cope with it. He'd only managed by forcing his feelings deep down inside him, but every now and again, they'd bubble up to the surface and swamp him for a time. At those times, he'd generally drink himself into oblivion and a day or two later be able to again take up his tasks and continue on.

He didn't look up when she stood and approached him. He lowered the paper as she sat on the arm of his chair and lightly touched his face.

"Don't, please."

She tilted her head and frowned. "Why not? Do you not like to be touched?" She knew from their previous contact that he had, despite the circumstances, enjoyed it.

"I like it too much, I think." Her fingers ran through his hair and he closed his eyes at the sensation. "You should go home. You've helped me, so your work here is done."

Because she was in physical contact with him, she knew perfectly well that he lied. He wanted her touch, but he wanted more, as well, and that frightened her - and intrigued her, as well. Others had forced themselves on her, leaving her always afraid of each new assignment, wondering if they would abuse her. But he didn't want to hurt her; he wanted something much more.

"If I... If I agree to stay with you, will you be kind?"

He looked at her in surprise. "What?"

She ran her hand down his chest and felt his body's response to her touch. "If I agree to remain with you, will you be kind?" Her hand drifted lower, stopping just above the waistband of his trousers. To her surprise, he dropped his paper and caught her hand.

"No." He forced her hand away from him and stood up, shaking. He started to speak, then changed his mind and began to pace. He glanced at her again and shook his head. "You should go back."

There was something so very different about him and it intrigued her. She wanted to remain with him. Yes, his emotions were among the strongest she'd ever experienced. This was a passionate man, one who felt for...oh. She felt a thrill of discovery and she stared at him in amazement. He was like her! She smiled, understanding. She rose and approached him, knowing what he needed.

He stiffened when she embraced him, but involuntarily, his arms came up to hold her and his face lowered to rest his cheek on the top of her head. He could feel her inside his head, but at the same time, felt her own misgivings and fear. Frowning, he lifted his head and softly asked, "Why are you here if you're so afraid of me?"

Her heart fluttered at this indication that she was right about him. She'd never connected to another empath, before. They were carefully kept away from one another to prevent their bonding to anyone. But he'd asked a direct question, and she was unable to evade the memories of others who had misused and abused her. He stiffened in her grasp, but she tightened her hold on him and pressed her cheek against his chest. After a few moments, as his understanding grew, he relaxed and held her closer.

She was in at least as much pain as he had been. Surrounded by people and their emotions, her loneliness was far greater than his own. Understanding what she'd been through, he sighed and held her. To his amazement, that cold, hard knot of loneliness began to ease. With a sigh, he drew her with him back to the couch, where they sank down and simply held one another.

It may have been hours, or even days later when they stirred. They hadn't slept, but simply felt, communicating on some deep, elemental level; they had bonded.

When her keepers returned, they were not going to be pleased.

"Can you stay?" he asked softly.

She sighed. "I do not know. They will not be pleased with me."

He growled softly, the caution of the alpha wolf prepared to defend his mate, though they'd not been physically intimate. "Well, I'm not very pleased with them. How many times were you hurt by those you intended to help?"

She burrowed closer to him. "Too many." Yet, here she was, clinging to him like a limpet. He smiled and held her close.

"I'd like it if you wish to stay," he gently offered.

Her stomach fluttered with excitement. She could sense his resolve and strength. Her superiors would be furious, but it was their own fault for not recognizing this man as an empath. "I wish to remain with you." He had, untrained and unaware of his abilities, absorbed her fear and pain and banished them. It was going to be interesting when they returned for her and he refused to give her up. Even more interesting would be to see their reaction to the discovery that he was an empath. Unrecognized, but still, he was like her. Perhaps when he was tested, they made a mistake. Perhaps not. All she knew for certain was that she felt safe in his arms and content to be near him. It was a very different feeling than any she'd felt before, and it was inordinately comforting.

Each one comforted by the presence of the other, they slept, limbs entwined, temples touching, minds and souls communing even as they slumbered.

"317, it's time to go."

"She's staying with me." He had placed himself between her and her handlers. To take her, they'd have to get through him, first, and even though there were two of them, he felt confident in his ability to repulse them.

"317," the tall blond woman said insistently, "Come!"

Looking miserably at 194, the empath then lowered her head submissively and moved over by her handlers. She kept her gaze on the floor, not meeting anyone's eyes.

He watched in dismayed surprise as she prepared to leave. Even though they'd only been together less than twenty-four hours, he felt his insides churn with the agony of grief. Clenching his jaw, he forced himself to remain still. If she didn't want to stay, he wouldn't force her. But he'd been so certain that she had.

The tall blond woman shoved the empath, "Let's go, 317."

He scowled as 317 stumbled and for just a moment, he saw her face, and there were tears in her eyes. His breath caught as he realized that 317 did want to stay with him. "Please," he whispered. She cast a quick, furtive glance his way, but then turned away.

"Althea, stay, please."

She froze for a moment, and then turned to stare at him, her eyes wide with surprise and hope.

"Althea Sulis, will you stay with me?"

Her expression brightened like the sun breaking through heavy cloud cover. Her posture straightened and she dodged the blonde's reaching hand and ran back to him and into the protective circle of his arms. She clung tightly to him as he raised his voice. "She's staying here, with me," he announced. There was a challenge in his eyes and posture and for a moment, he thought that the blond woman was going to challenge him. Her companion, however, drew her away.

"We'll be back," the tall blond announced. "With an Overseer." With that threat, she and the man who'd accompanied her when they brought 317 turned and entered the transporter, leaving them alone.

He shivered. He'd never had an Overseer come check on him, before. Not in all his years. Still, she had stayed with him. He held her close and lowered his head so that their temples were touching, and they just felt one another. And he knew that she was where she wanted to be.

It was only a few hours later that the transporter again activated, depositing the tall blond woman and what looked like an elderly man...the Overseer.

"There she is, Overseer. She refused to return with me." Her tone was imperious, with just a slight underlying of anger at having been disobeyed.

"Yes, 709, I see." He approached the couple, watching the empath for a few moments. She was withdrawn, but not in fear. She'd withdrawn into the embrace of 194. "317?" He softly asked. The only reaction from the empath was to press more tightly to her protector. The Overseer frowned slightly and turned to 709. "You said he called her and she went to him?"

"Yes, Overseer."

"What did he call her?"

709 looked confused. "I'm not certain, Overseer. I couldn't quite make out the words." When the Overseer turned back to the couple on the sofa, she sneered at them with a vindictive little smirk on her face.

"Child, come and speak to me." He said it with command in his voice.

194 sighed and released her. He rubbed his cheek against hers, resting their temples together for a moment and then gently urged her to go to the Overseer. Her eyes met his and she smiled.

He felt his heart break. All his life he'd been taught that to have an Overseer come to check on you meant that you were in the very worst kind of trouble. But he wasn't willing to give her up without a fight. If only she were capable of helping him stand firm.

The Overseer looked down at the frightened empath. He dimly heard 709's snide comment about the empath being typical of the breed and telling 194 that empaths weren't intelligent and were unable to function on their own. His attention wavered from the girl when he heard 194's reply.

"It's called Autism, and it has nothing to do with intelligence."

The Overseer looked at him for a brief moment, noting the anger and the defensive posture. So, he understood, then. Much better than 709 did. He turned back to 317. "Child, may I communicate with you?"

Her gut was churning with fear. She was positive that she would not be allowed to stay with 194. But he'd called her by name! And she'd not told it to him! When the Overseer's hand gently slid across her cheek and his fingers cradled the side of her head that was the first thought she sent him.

The Overseer's breath caught. He gently probed the empath's mind and realized the truth. He smiled at her and reassured her that it was all right. She gazed up into his eyes, surprised, but then moved quickly back to 194 and into his arms.

The Overseer turned to 709. He was frowning. "They have bonded, 709."

The statuesque blond frowned and shook her head. "That's not possible," she said, insistently. "They can't have bonded. There wasn't time, and she's not smart enough to form a bond with anyone."

The Overseer raised an eyebrow at her. "They are bonded. There is nothing more to be done." He turned from 709 to 194 and 317. "Is this what you wish, 194?"

"For her to stay? Yes, Overseer."

"There wasn't enough time for them to have bonded, Overseer!" 709 interjected, angrily. "Besides, he didn't touch her!"

The Overseer turned to 709 and smiled. "Of course they've touched. Perhaps not in the sexual sense, but they have touched. Hearts and souls, 709. They are bonded. He knows her name."

"He can't," 709 hissed. "She knows the punishment for telling. Even I don't know her name."

"194, what is her name?"

"Althea Sulis, Overseer."

"And how did you come to know it?"

"I... I'm not sure, Overseer. Only that she was willing to remain with me, and that I wanted her to stay. But when 709 told her she had to leave, she was going, and I knew that there was no way to keep her here. I could tell that she wanted to stay, but she couldn't. Her training wouldn't allow it. Then I simply asked her to stay. I don't know how I knew to call her by a name, rather than her designator, but I did. And I don't know how I knew what name to use."

The Overseer smiled. "You are bond-mates, 194. We will not force you apart."

"She should be punished for telling him her name!" 709 snarled. She didn't realize that the Overseer was becoming annoyed with her. After all, she'd called him in to back her up on this. It hadn't occurred to her that she might be found at fault.

"709, tell me," the Overseer softly asked. "How many times was 317 abused by those whom you sent her to help?"


"How many times was she physically abused? Surely you know how many times, don't you? How could you not know?" He turned to 194. "Gary Seven, how many times was she abused?"

"Eight." He held her close, comforting her with his proximity and touch. His calm demeanor eased her fear and soothed her hurts. Even his anger at 709 didn't affect her, as she knew his anger was not directed at her. For her, he had only gentle thoughts and kindness.

The Overseer nodded and turned back to 709. "Eight times you have allowed your charge to be physically abused by those she was sent to help. Did you take pleasure in her pain, 709?" Unbeknownst to anyone else in the room, he'd done his homework. He'd ingested all the files and reports on each of them. He was dismayed at the misuse of 194, how his subtle cries for help had gone unnoticed and unheeded. But what had been done to 317 - that had been deliberate on 709's part. Now, he wanted to know details that had never been in any reports. He watched 709 very closely. She scowled sneeringly at 317.

"She's hardly even aware of anything. She can't even talk properly."

"709, that is hardly an excuse for abusing a fellow human being."

709 laughed rather nastily. "She's hardly more than an animal that can almost speak. She's a tool, nothing more."

"And did you take pleasure in her pain?" The Overseer's voice had gone very soft. 194 looked up, recognizing it as a danger signal. Seeing that the elderly man's attention was directed elsewhere, he relaxed, but kept vigilant, his focus divided between 317 and 709. His primary concern was protecting his empath. Her mind touched his and he smiled. She was amused by his possessiveness, but then admitted that she was feeling rather possessive of him, as well. His arms tightened around her for a moment, and then relaxed as he watched the drama unfolding before them.

He knew of her Autism. He'd met children who were Autistic, and it had broken his heart to see how hard it was for them to try and function in the real world. He'd recognized the symptoms, but when she'd touched him, he'd become far more aware of her than he was of 'normal' people. She needed him, or someone like him, to act as a buffer between her and 'out there'. She was fully aware of everything going on, but from his point of view. And she could understand it. If he could filter the rest of the world for her, he was more than willing. Just as long as she stayed with him. He'd become closer to her than he'd ever been to anyone else in his entire life, in the past two days. What had begun with her empathic ability to soothe and heal his raging emotions and aching heart, had formed into a connection that he would die rather than allow anyone to sever. And she agreed with him.

"709, answer me." There was imperious command in the Overseer's voice, and 709 suddenly realized her danger.

"If she's not smart enough to protect herself from her clients, then she should get used to it."

"And where were you when it was going on?"

"On duty, Overseer."

"On duty. So, you were present when she was abused?"

709 didn't answer, but her eyes no longer met the Overseer's gaze.

"You did nothing to protect her? You not only allowed her to be abused, but you stood by and watched?"

709 began to fidget.

The Overseer's expression was stormy. "Yet you had the audacity to come running for help when she bonded with someone while you weren't looking." He trembled slightly from trying to control his rage. He turned from 709 to look at the pair that had brought him here. "194, are you able to help her?"

"I don't know, Overseer."

"Have you been intimate?"

"We've slept together and formed a," he hesitated a moment, searching for the right word, "we've communicated. Both emotionally and mentally." The bond they'd formed didn't include physical intimacy, but being inside someone else's mind was perhaps an even more intimate connection than anything that was merely physical.

"He slept with her," 709 sneered. "He's distracted her from her duties, not that she's all that aware, so you have to punish her," 709 insisted.

317 tightened her grip on him. "Gary?" she softly asked, distracting him for a moment.

He took a deep, shaking breath and held it for several long moments, trying to control himself. Her body pressed against his, her hands on his shoulders and the touch of her mind in his helped him calm down. "Althea, she allowed you to be hurt and took pleasure in seeing you suffer."

She cocked her head at him and smiled. "I know. But you've... repaired me." She closed her eyes and leaned against him, and he couldn't help but lower his head and press his temple to hers. Neither of them was aware that the Overseer recognized this physical gesture as one between bonded empaths.

"709, we will return, now. 317 and 194 have need of completing the bonding process."

"But she can't bond with him!"

The Overseer laughed. "She's already bonded. Were you not aware that 194 has empathic abilities, as well?" Seeing the surprise on 709's face, he shook his head. "Foolish child. Every individual chosen and trained to be a supervisor has at least some empathic abilities. How else could they possibly deal well with others? 194 has worked for three decades without ever having an Overseer called on him." He scowled at her. "His superiors have ignored his pleas for help, for understanding, for compassion, and companionship. The fact that not one Overseer has been called before indicates just how excellent a man he truly is. You, however, thought to use the Overseers as a weapon against him. He requires a confidant, a helpmeet, and a friend. Should they become more - that is permitted. Haven't you ever noticed that except for supervisors all other functions go as pairs? A male with a female, for the most part? You were sent with this empath in hopes that you might learn from her. Instead, you have misused your authority and caused her damage." He shook his head. "All you've done by calling me in is to get yourself caught."

709 stared at them all in shock. She'd called in the Overseer to try and regain control of her empath, but instead, her own crimes had been discovered and she would now be punished. She dumbly followed the Overseer like one of the animals she'd accused 317 of being.

"194," the Overseer softly spoke.

"Yes, Overseer?" His eyes were hooded, still mistrustful.

"Take care of one another. Complete your bonding."

"How? I...I can't touch her, physically. I might hurt her."

The Overseer smiled softly. "Be gentle, connect mentally and emotionally, and the physical will take care of itself. Evil times are coming, 194, and you will be needed. Prepare now and we will triumph. It is well that you've found one another at this time."

"You're not sending us back?" 194 asked in surprise.

The Overseer shook his head. "You've been mismanaged, but that's hardly your fault. If you would prefer to return, however, that would be permissible."

Gary shook his head. "I've been here more than half my life. I have nothing there that would even be familiar, now." He glanced down at Althea and smiled. "There's a saying, here. 'Home is where the heart is.' If it's true, then I'm home." He looked up at the Overseer and smiled. "Will you tell me why we were given no warning?"

"From what I can discern, it was decided to allow it to happen. It will draw most people together against the threat of madness. There will be other tests to come. But eventually, humankind will come to understand cooperation. Perhaps even in your own lifetime, 194."

"Gary Seven. My name is Gary Seven, and this is Althea Sulis." There was a challenge in his eyes, his voice, and his physical stance. The Overseer smiled.

"And you have finally learned who and what you are. You are a man, Gary Seven. A good man who has slaved over his tasks for far too long without proper compensation or even concern. You will not be overlooked again, I promise."

"I don't care about recognition, Overseer. Only a little support, now and then."

"And a companion. One with whom you may share your most intimate thoughts and feelings. It was the very least you deserved. She will provide for your emotional needs, and perhaps, one day, your physical needs as well. Be patient, Gary Seven, and your needs will be provided for."

Gary lowered his head, nodding his understanding. "Yes, Overseer. I can be patient a little longer." At least, he could be patient now that he had someone to be patient with.

The Overseer watched as Seven dropped his head to again touch temples with his bondmate - Althea. Turning to 709, he frowned. "Come, 709. It is time to go." With a final glare of hatred at the couple staying behind, she followed the Overseer.

Time. Yes, it would take time; time for the world to come to its senses, time for the fear and anger to subside, and time for their bonding to solidify and become complete. He took Althea to a specialist, who said that she was a very high-functioning Autistic, capable of almost normal interaction with others. Gary smiled, knowing that by using him as a buffer, she could function fully as well as any normal human. He protected her from the myriad input of the world around them, and she gave him an emotional foundation and support that provided him with all the things he'd needed for so very long and had not been allowed to have. Together, they could take on just about anything.

Even each other.

From the beginning, they'd slept together. The physical contact had enabled her to do her job as an empath; but his own nascent empathic abilities had created a fertile ground for more. The initial bond had been dependant on his part, his need for emotional release and solace. It had quickly changed directions as his empathic sense turned to trying to meet her needs and heal her wounds. Understanding the nature of her abuse at the hands of others she'd been sent to help, he was more than patient. He subordinated his physical desires in exchange for the comfort and safety of just the emotional. But he still had those same physical needs. The major difference between Althea and Isis, was that she didn't become angry - and he didn't go out. He simply controlled his desires, but never lost them. In fact, his desire for her grew daily, with every mental, emotional, or physical touch.

She knew about his desire and felt his want. And after a time - after experiencing his dreams about her, one night, she initiated physical contact. He was dreaming about her, again. He'd been having dreams of them almost nightly, and as he pressed against her, she gently touched him. His body responded to her touch, and she closed her eyes to better feel what he felt. Gently and with great trepidation, she explored his body. His dream became more lucid, and she felt the heat radiating from him. Even in his dreams of her, though, he was gentle. There would never be any force involved, she realized, and then knew that she wanted his conscious participation.

For the very first time, she kissed him.

He dreamed of her every night. Imagining how it would feel to be able to touch her, and what it would be like if she were to touch him in intimacy. This dream was a little different, in that he was imagining what it would be like to kiss her.

He decided that his imagination was getting a bit more graphic, the longer they were together. Until he realized that it wasn't a dream, and that her lips really were pressed to his. He brought up a hand to run through her soft, heavy hair and shifted just enough that he was now kissing her back. He allowed his kisses to drift down her jaw to her throat, and then up to her ear, where he gently suckled on the lobe. He felt her shiver, but they were also connected mentally and emotionally. He felt not only her fear, but also her curiosity and desire. He carefully put into practice those things he'd dreamt about and knew that she was curious enough to want to feel them for herself. His hands were gentle as they held her and his lips were soft and warm as he taught her some of the finer points of kissing. After a very long time, when her breath came in soft pants and her body reacted to his lightest touch, he permitted one hand to drift down and lightly caress her breast. Her breath caught and she pressed into his hand, encouraging him to do more. With their mental connection providing encouragement, he did.

His hands were gentle as they stroked and fondled her body, eliciting gasps and soft vocalizations of pleasure. She'd shared his dreams and become curious, but his dreams had given her absolutely no clue as to what the reality might be. His lips, soft and warm, trailed kisses down her throat and across her shoulder, slowly working their way down to her breast, where he very gently suckled, causing her to gasp and arch into him at the sensation.

Her breath caught for a moment and then started again, with quick, sharp pants of desire as his hand drifted down her abdomen and between her legs. Her heart was pounding as his fingers did things that brought her feelings she'd never imagined, before. She shuddered and softly cried out as her body spasmed in ecstasy. As he slowly drew her legs apart and shifted over her, her mind suddenly flashed back to those who had hurt her in the past and she stiffened in terror.

He was enjoying himself, exploring her body and teaching her the pleasures two people could provide one another. He took his time, until he could feel her desire radiating in heated waves from her body. Careful, still, he slid his hand down to her knee and gently parted her legs. Shifting over her, he was about to join their bodies, when he felt her fear. He immediately reacted by pulling away from her and rolling onto his back, not touching her at all. He trembled with need and want, but forced himself up and away. Wordlessly, he stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He stepped under the warm spray and after a few frustrating moments, turned the hot water off and nearly cried out at the shock of the icy cold water. There was truth in the old adage about the effects of cold water on one's ardor. Turning the water back to a warm spray, he stood beneath it, the warm water mixing with and hiding his tears.

She lay there, gasping in a combination of want and fear. He'd brought her such pleasure as she'd never known before, but his body above her had sent her into panic. Still, she could sense him and knew that he wasn't angry, only hurt. Hurting for her, and himself. She rolled onto her stomach, grasped her pillow and sobbed out her frustration.

When he returned to bed, she'd cried herself to sleep. He eased into the bed beside her, carefully taking her into his arms. He felt her disquiet and gently soothed her. Emotionally exhausted, he pressed his temple to hers and, cradling her body next to his, went to sleep.

Awaking in the morning, she felt his warm, loving arms around her. There had been no recriminations, no anger from him, only his anguish at her fear. She tried to work her way through her feelings, but was unable to. He had never once given her any reason to fear him. His touch was always gentle, always kind, always loving. She was angry with herself for her reaction, particularly knowing the pain she'd given him for his tenderness. But she couldn't find a way past the many times she'd been abused. True, none of them had given her any consideration, but it was the looming presence of a man, any man, poised above her that sent her instantly into a panic. She sighed in frustration, not knowing what to do.

"Don't worry about it. It's all right, Althea," he softly murmured. "It'll be all right."

"When?" she asked plaintively. "I do not wish to hurt you, but I have. I want you, so much, but...."

"Shhhh, I know. Some day, I hope, it'll get better. It's all right, Althea."

And, somehow, it was.

Her reaction had been unexpected. He realized that although he knew what had been done to her by others she'd been assigned to 'help', she was still terrified. Even of him. But she remained in his arms and his bed; and their bond continued to grow.

He wanted her so badly that it was an almost constant ache.

And he didn't have any idea what to do to alleviate her fear.

They went back to their normal lives together. He fulfilled his missions, oversaw the other teams on the planet, and she provided him comfort, solace, emotional support and stability, and love in every manner but the physical.

But he wanted more.

It never occurred to him to seek physical release with anyone else. He loved her too much, and even the idea of looking at another woman was anathema to him. He tried to be satisfied with everything she could provide, but his need and desire for her only grew, instead of diminishing. But instead of withdrawing from her, he held her closer, needing her more, instead of less.

She tried to entice him into simply taking her, despite her fear, but he wouldn't. He loved her far too much to ever willingly hurt her. She, too, became frustrated. She'd thoroughly enjoyed his ministrations that night, and was furious with herself for the fear that had blindsided her and ended it. He would still touch her, but she felt it was unfair to take pleasure from him when she couldn't reciprocate. But he loved her, and he enjoyed giving her pleasure, even though it left him in pain and frustrated.

"Is there not some other way?" she asked softly, one night. "Is there not some way I can give you pleasure as you give me?"

He looked at her and softly smiled. "I'm all right." He didn't explain that there were other ways to give pleasure. He wanted her, completely. Anything less was simply that. Less.

She wanted physical intimacy, as well as all the other ways in which they were intimate. They no longer needed to be in physical contact in order to communicate, for example. They could converse across miles, not just a room. In every way but one they had bonded, and she wanted that bond, as well.

And he knew it.

And there was no one he could trust to ask what to do.

They continued as they were for a long time. Every now and again, they'd try, but always her fear would manifest and he'd back away again. He tried to analyze the situation.

And came up with a plan.

She awoke to his caresses and smiled. He always surprised her with his gentle, arousing touch. She made a soft sound and shifted into his touch. He was, as always, gentle and concise in his movements and touches. She felt her body react to his touch and wanted him so much, but even now, the flutter of fear was raising its ugly head.

"Come with me," he murmured, turning away from her and rising. She looked up in surprise. He wanted to stop now? Her body was on the brink of that most wondrous place and he wanted her to get up and go into the other room? She stared at him, confused.

"Please?" he softly added, knowing her annoyed frustration.

Confused, she rose and took his hand. He led her from their bedroom into the living room. He had grabbed their pillows and now set them on the sofa, which had a sheet and towels spread on it. She allowed him to guide her to a position sitting on the edge of the sofa, the pillows behind her for support. It was a bit awkward feeling, but not uncomfortable. She watched him in the dimness as he placed a pillow on the floor and knelt before her. His hands again began to touch her, intimately. She smiled and gave herself into his care. When he shifted between her knees, rising, she didn't react. When she stopped shuddering, she felt his breathing change and opened her eyes to watch him. He was on his knees, between her legs, leaning close to hold her, and she felt...oh!

It was such a simple solution. He'd never been particularly inventive. Isis had liked sex on her terms, and the women he'd hired had been simple receptacles for his need. But for Althea, he'd needed to find a solution that would prevent her reliving her abuse at the hands of others. It finally came to him one evening as they'd bathed together. She'd been sitting on the edge of the tub, while he washed her hair. He'd glanced down and realized her position was accessible, but he'd not be above her. He started considering the best location to try it, and opted for the living room. The bedroom had too many memories of their failures.

He'd awakened her with his hands gently caressing her body to arousal. He thoroughly enjoyed pleasuring her, even though it left him aching even more with his own desire. When she was nearly at climax, he withdrew and stood up. Her incredulous expression almost made him smile. She was uncertain, but followed him. She didn't understand, but was willing to follow him. He got her positioned on the sofa and himself on his knees before her. He'd been wise enough to kneel on a pillow to cushion his knees from the hard floor. Even with carpet, it would have been too uncomfortable before very long. He began touching her again, his mouth suckling at her breasts, his hands rubbing her body, and eventually, one hand between her legs. Because of the way they were situated, her legs naturally fell open, giving him access to that most intimate part of her. Even as she shuddered in climax, he gently shifted, rising up and very slowly joining himself with her.

When she realized what he was doing, she was at first shocked, but only for a moment. There was no fear, because he wasn't crushing her beneath him. Had she wanted to, she could have escaped him. But she didn't want to escape. She wanted him, completely, totally...and as he entered her, their mental and emotional bond exploded.

They'd been close for months, knew one another's most intimate thoughts and experiences. They shared literally every thought, memory, and emotion. But now, with their physical joining, their bond became all-encompassing. They didn't know where one left off and the other began. They had no specific memory of their coupling, only the total joy of completeness and the ultimate satisfaction of finally being together.

Afterwards, they returned to bed, to sleep, and to remember, and their bond solidified and strengthened.

And in the early hours of the morning, Althea awoke, and gently aroused him. He awoke and responded. When she took the initiative, and the superior position, he smiled. Apparently, his inventiveness was contagious. And the way she was moving... she was far more inventive than he, much to their mutual delight.

Children. He'd never considered the idea of their having children, but of course, they hadn't taken any precautions. He made his report, and waited. He was well aware that his child might be taken from him, to be raised as he had been, in a group 'home', where it would be trained, as he had been, tested, pigeonholed, and taught to serve his world.

The very thought tore him apart. Having discovered love and the strong bond he and Althea had formed, there was plenty of room in both of their hearts for a child, or even two, or more. But loyalty had been ingrained in him from his earliest memories, so he followed the rules and made his report.

To his surprise, there was no response. No censure, no one came to investigate, and most importantly, no one came to take their daughter.

Joy. It was a descriptive name that suited how their daughter felt to them both. Even before her birth, they were both well aware of her and her needs. It was an odd feeling, to be in communication with an unborn and developing fetus, but it was wondrous and wonderful, as well. When the time came for her birth, the doctors were amazed by the seemingly instantaneous bond formed between the parents and their new child.

They'd only been home with their daughter for a few days when the Overseer came.

He didn't know what he'd do if they wanted their daughter. He stood protectively in front of his family when the Overseer arrived.

The elderly Overseer smiled. "There is no need for concern, Gary Seven. I am here only to see that you and your family are doing well?"

Gary sighed with relief and relaxed his aggressive stance. Smiling, he nodded. "We're doing very well."

"Your child is well?"

"She is," Gary stepped aside and allowed the Overseer to view his wife and child. He relaxed when their visitor showed no interest in actually touching the infant.

The Overseer nodded. "It is well. She already recognizes you both?"

"Yes, Overseer," Althea replied. "And she speaks to us. Not in words, of course, but she tells us her needs."

Gary grinned, his pride in his child apparent. "The doctors were concerned that she doesn't cry enough."

The Overseer raised an eyebrow in question.

Gary shrugged. "She doesn't need to cry, as she can tell us her needs." Seeing the Overseer's concern, he continued. "She's trying to talk, already. But it's not crying. She laughs a lot, and she talks to herself. The doctors were surprised and said she must be highly intelligent to be trying to vocalize so soon. She's only three months old, after all."

The Overseer smiled. "She will do well, then. There have been no problems?"

"Only the usual ones, Overseer." Gary shook his head and sighed. "The never-ending problem we humans have with one another."

"Yes, you are, of course, quite right. Will you have more children?"

Gary blushed. "I don't know. Is it permitted?" As much as he loved his family and would like to expand it, he didn't want to run afoul of any rules. It had never been a concern, before. But now, he couldn't help wondering if his work would suffer from the distraction of home.

The Overseer smiled. "It is permitted. If you wish to cease working, that, too, would be permitted." He watched closely as he saw the sudden hope flash in Gary Seven's eyes, but then it dimmed as he shook his head.

"No, Overseer. As much as I'd like that, I know where my duty lies."

"Will you take on an assistant, then?"

Gary frowned in confusion. "An assistant?"

"One for you to train to replace you when it is time. Your record is the best in our history of our involvement with your world. We would like you to train your own successor, and, if you are willing, to remain available should the need arise for your assistance and experience."

Gary looked at Althea and the Overseer could see that they were discussing it, telepathically. They'd tried, over the ages, to encourage such talents, but it had been a rare occasion when a human was any good at it. Yet here they were, readily communicating without words. It was an enormous leap forward. It was also apparent that they were already communicating with their daughter. It was tempting to try and take over, but he realized that to do so would negate any progress they'd made. Perhaps, when they were old enough, the children would agree to become a part of the plan to keep humankind from destroying themselves? It would be very interesting to watch them and see how they dealt with the problems of raising truly telepathic children - he couldn't see them settling for just the one when they'd been given permission to have more. From the expression on Gary's face, it was only obvious that he adored his family; yes, it would be best to let them go, now, to bring up what might, perhaps, be the next step in the evolutionary process for mankind.

Freedom. Freedom from the responsibility of seeing to it that his kind didn't destroy themselves and their world. Freedom to care for and concentrate on his growing family. Freedom to love and be loved.

He smiled at his wife and children. Due to his genetic advantages, his age was not a factor in their decision to have more children. He was as healthy and strong as he'd been when he first arrived on the planet. Their eldest children were in school and doing well. The teachers had been a bit concerned that Joy was so reserved, but once they'd explained that not everyone could talk mind-to-mind like they could, she became a vivacious, outgoing child, well liked among her peers, yet respectful and obedient to her elders. Her younger brother was an active boy, rather advanced for his years. They had decided to teach him at home, as they had their eldest, until she reached an age where social interaction seemed advisable. The Overseer came to visit every now and again, and the children thought of him as they might have thought of a grandfather, much to the adults' amusement.

There had been no instance of his wife's disability, although all their children were empathic, though not to the degree of their mother, more on a par with their father. That innate ability prevented any of them from becoming bullies. They all preferred to protect those weaker than themselves, and as a group, even those older, bigger, and stronger would back down. As they grew, their circle of protection was growing, as well.

Perhaps this was what the Overseers had had in mind all along. Humans working in cooperation with one another, protecting those weaker than themselves, and defeating evil, one at a time.

It was an interesting thought.

As Gary looked over his family while they played in the park, he rested his temple against Althea's. She rubbed her cheek against his and smiled. They no longer had to consciously work on their communication, it was automatic and instantaneous. Gary tenderly kissed her and smiled.

Life was good.

Very good, indeed.

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