Chapter 1

Kat was on her way to the hospital and was feeling more nervous than she was willing to admit. She hadn't seen Pan since their return to the Citadel two weeks ago. On the return trip that had found very little time to be alone and discuss the change in their relationship, much less a chance to actually explore those new feelings.

When they arrived at the Citadel, the medicos insisted that Pan be whisked away to the hospital where he was immediately quarantined while they ran a battery of tests. His patient records from the captured ship had alarmed them and they were not willing to let him go until they had confirmed that the unknown biological infection had been eradicated.

Kat had managed to talk the admins into letting her into his apartment and had sent him his own clothes to wear, but other than a couple of uncomfortable conversations on the Comm, they hadn't really talked. It was left unsaid, but neither of them wanted to discuss things over the Comm where the conversation was surely recorded, even if by rote. It wasn't something that Kat wanted to share with anyone, especially since she was unable to sort out her feelings in her own head ... or heart.

Minerva had insisted that Kat take a day or two to recuperate before jumping back in to her training schedule. When Kat protested both the forced vacation and her apparent exclusion from the on-going investigation, Minerva put her foot down.

"You will take at least forty-eight hours off or I will have you confined to the hospital, under guard, until I feel you are ready to be released. Since I am a very busy woman, it might be a while. Do I make myself clear, Themis?"

Kat had no problem imagining Minerva doing just that, and had submitted meekly. Or as meekly as she could manage.

Minerva had thrown her a bone in the form of a compromise. If she could attend to her training schedule, catch up on the work she had missed and keep up with her classmates, she could sit in on the briefings for thin investigation into both the Pirates and the kidnapping.

Kat had taken that to heart and had jumped back into training with gusto. It took her a week of late nights to catch up on the assignments she had missed and she even retook the Navigation exam that had been interrupted the day she was pulled out of class. The only class that she didn't have to struggle in was her Path training.

Not because she was so skilled that she could afford to miss training, but because Chief made it a point to keep her after hours and pound her into jelly for a week straight. When she worked up the courage to ask about the intensive schedule, Chief was phlegmatic about it all.

"You managed, half trained, to get into more trouble than any of the dozen Agents I helped to train in the last three years. Bob tells me you did pretty well, for a beginner, but I don't want you embarrassing me when you inevitably get into more trouble."

Kat stared at him, nonplussed by his criticism. It wasn't like she had deliberately gone seeking trouble!

"Besides..." Chief continued, wincing, "Do you have any idea the kind of hell I got from your boss for helping you out of channels?"

Kat spun away from him, facing the wall. It was all she could to do to keep from giggling and she knew the Chief would make her pay dearly if she did. When she got herself under control again, and was able to adopt a solemn expression, she turned back and nodded at the Chief.

"I understand, Chief, and I will do my best not to embarrass you."

The Chief scowled at her, but patted her on the shoulder. "Be here early tomorrow, I have a new set to show you."

Now it was 7th day and Pan was being released today. When she arrived at the hospital wing, she was left cooling her heels in a waiting room as there had been some delay in his release. The nurse either could not, or would not, give her any details on the delay, just that there was one. She scolded herself for being so flighty, but instead of sitting, she was pacing back and forth, staring at the door.

She had finally stopped pacing and was staring at a vidscreen that showed a view of a windswept plain, lost in thought, when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.

Spinning around, she saw Pan, standing there unaided and on his own two feet. She must have had a silly expression on her face because Pan started chuckling, grinning from ear to ear. He reached behind him and tapped on the closed door. When it opened, a doctor was standing there, also grinning, and holding a set of crutches.

"I just wanted to see your expression." Pan laughed, and snugged the crutches up under his arms. Kat, now standing in front of him, looked up at his face, searching for something but unsure of what to expect.

Pan opened his arms, inviting her closer. "Did you change your mind?"

Kat stepped into his arms, her head on his chest and blurted, "No, I just forgot how damned tall you are." She sniffed back a tear, not wanting to let him see her being so emotional.

Kat stayed there in his arms, willing it to go on forever, but knowing that people were probably staring already. Taking a breath, she pulled back and reached for the bag that the orderly was holding out to her.

"Can you work those things or should I get you a wheelchair? It's a long walk back to the residential section." Kat asked, concerned, unable to keep from peeking at his covered leg. He had obviously been fit with a prosthetic, though from the research she had done, she thought it was probably just a temporary one. It would take a while for the leg to be fully healed and for them to create a custom prosthetic. There were a lot of issues that could arise with damaged nerves, Nanite adaptation for the interface, discomfort and other, less common problems that plagued some patients.

"I'll be fine!" Pan insisted, and rapped on the leg with his knuckles. "I had a lot of practice aboard ship, before I broke my crutches, that is. If I didn't think the doctors would stick me back in isolation, I'd offer to race you." Pan was smiling down at her. There was something in his eyes, though, that bothered her. She didn't know if he was in pain or if there was some other issue bothering him.

It could wait. Bag in one hand, and her other hovering near Pan, Kat led him out of the medical wing and into the public corridors. There, much to her surprise, waited Bob. He nodded at her and switched his attention to Pan, looking him up and down.

"You don't look half as bad as I heard." he said, smiling at Pan. They had met, briefly, on the ship, but Bob had spent most of his time with the Marines.

"What are you doing here? I didn't even know you were on planet. I sent you a message, to your home on Clerc." Kat exclaimed, giving Bob a hug.

Bob looked embarrassed, looking at his feet for a moment. "Well ... I got to talking with Minerva on the trip back. I told her that I was going a little stir-crazy back there, working in a damn flower shop, fer christ's sake. I sort of asked for a job."

"Wait, you are working for Minerva now?"

"Well, no. Not really. She said I could come back with you, and if I could pass the medical, she might be able to find me something to do. I didn't finish the testing until yesterday. They had a problem finding someone who could work on the old tech I got in this here leg. They wouldn't pass me until it had been adjusted properly and they could get good readings or some such nonsense." Bob hitched up one leg of his pants, exposing the calf of his metal prosthetic. "Damn fool medics wouldn't listen when I told them it worked just fine on Aste."

Bob sighed and shook his head. "Anyhow, now I got to wait until Minerva gets the results."

Kat looked up at Pan and cocked an eyebrow. If the tests were done, Minerva had the results five seconds later. Pan shrugged minutely, showing he was having the same thoughts.

Changing the topic, she asked again, "But what are you doing here?"

Bob smiled down at Kat but jabbed his thumb at Pan. "I thought that us one-legged butt-kickers should stick together. Besides, I don't have a lot to do at the moment and thought I could help." Bob nodded like there was nothing else to say and relieved her of Pan's bag.

Kat didn't really want company, other than Pan's, but she just couldn't kick Bob when he was down. So, smiling, she slipped her arm through his and grinned at them both.

"Sounds like an excuse to get some lunch and celebrate Pan's release!"

By the time lunch was over, Pan and Bob were getting along like old friends. Kat was surprised to see that they were much alike, in many ways. She was content to sit back and listen to them exchange jokes and war stories.

When the bill arrived, Kat thought that the sudden friendship was over and that she was going to have to separate the two of them before it came to blows. She reached across the table, grabbed the check and glared at the two of them.

"I will get the check and if I hear one word out of either of you on the issue, you will be eating alone from now on. Clear?"

They looked at each other, then at Kat, and both men burst out laughing, holding their hands up in mock surrender.

Bob looked over at Pan. "Remind me to tell you about Aste. I, for one, am not going to argue with her, she's dangerous!"

Pan arched an eyebrow. Then, sneaking a look at Kat, smiled. "I am counting on it!"

Kat blushed, glaring at Pan again, but her heart wasn't in it.

Bob parted company with the pair when the three reached the residential levels. Bob was billeted in the Transient Quarters while Kat and Pan had apartments in the section set aside for Agents. Most agents kept a room there, but rarely used it. Some owned homes or kept apartments wherever they were assigned, but it was comforting to know that if they came to headquarters, they had a place to stay.

When Kat and Pan reached their section, there was a moment of uneasy hesitation. They started to speak at once, then paused, then tried again. Flustered, Kat put a hand on Pan's chest to stop him.

"I like you. A lot. I am not sure when it started or how the hell we got to where we are today or where we are going. I just know that I want to find out. I want to take a chance."

"I want that too, Kat. More than you know." Pan touched her cheek with the balls of his fingers, his eyes locked on hers.

Kat moved her cheek into the touch, an electrified feeling shooting through her. Shaking her head, she pulled back. She needed to say this and he needed to hear.

"I don't know you. Not really. I need to; I need to know more about you. I don't even know your real name!"

Pan started to answer, but she waved him off. "Not right this instant. What I am saying is that I want to take this slow. I want to, I don't know, exactly. Date? I have never had a relationship with a man. I don't mean that I am a virgin, but I have never been in love and, frankly, the whole thought is a little scary. Does that make any sense at all?" she asked him, sounding unsure of herself.

Pan leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. "Yes, of course it does. And I am willing to do whatever you want. To wait as long as it takes."

Kat took a deep breath, feeling the tight band around her chest loosen a bit. The tension she wasn't even aware she had begun to flow away, leaving her a little light-headed. She smiled up at Pan.

"Let me walk with you to your room, at least." she batted her eyes at him. "If you behave, I may even let you kiss me good night!"

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