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Et in Arcadia est terra monstrum

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"I don't know why I'm nervous," Chris Pike said, shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans. "It's just my parents. I've brought people home to meet them before."

Number One quirked an eyebrow. The Yorktown was in orbit for shore leave on Earth, and they were standing in the transporter room in civvies, bags by their sides, conversing quietly. A few more minutes, and they would hopefully get the cue to leave from the transporter in the center of his parents' new neighborhood, Arcadia Farms.

Chris saw the quirked brow and flushed. "Well, okay, maybe I shouldn't remind you of that, but—"

"Chris," she said, cutting him off. "I trade regular comms with one of your exes. I think I'm aware of the fact that I'm not the first person you ever slept with."

"Which one?" he asked, curious, but right then the transporter chief gestured for them to come forward, and they piled onto the transporter pad, disappearing and reappearing in a smallish room with large windows. He looked around, but the room was empty other than the transport chief and what looked like the Welcome Wagon.

"Welcome to Arcadia Farms!" a perky blonde woman said; she reminded Chris altogether too much of his yeoman, who was decidedly a morning person. "Christopher Pike and—" She did a double-take at her PADD. "—Number One?"

"Yes," One said, pointedly not smiling.

"Here to visit Joshua and Wilhelmina Pike?"

"Yes," Chris said.

"Here are your visitor's badges!"

Chris blinked. He knew his parents lived in some sort of exclusive gated community, but visitor's badges? Odd. He took the badge, though, which looked rather like a credit chip, and put it in his pocket; One did the same.

"Your parents live at 405 Oak Street; Amir will escort you there. Have a nice visit!" The blonde woman smiled and showed too many teeth for Chris's liking.

Amir was, at best, eighteen, and did not resist the urge to tell them all about the virtues of Arcadia Farms as they walked the few blocks over to 405 Oak Street. He left them at the edge of Chris's parents' driveway with a cheery wave, and jogged away.

Chris looked over at One, raised both eyebrows at her, and said, "Arcadia Farms? Seriously? They might as well call it Elysian Fields, and as far as I can tell it's not even a retirement community."

"Et in Arcadia ego," One quoted, apparently in agreement.

He looked around, as he hadn't really been able to do during Amir's incessant chatter—and realized that, unlike most developments, where the houses were merely similar, all the houses in Arcadia Farms were identical. He shivered.

He shivered again when he saw one house that wasn't quite identical—his parents' neighbor to the right. Well, the house was the same, but it had no lawn whatsoever. The yard was bare sandy dirt, the usual mix found outside of Mojave. "Are you disturbed by the homogeneity?" he asked.

One looked around and shrugged. "A little," she admitted. "It's not what I've come to expect from Terrans."

"No, it isn't," he said. He looked up at his parents' door, the same shade of tan as the door of the house next door—and the house next to that, ad infinitum. "Once more, into the breach?"

One nodded, shifted her duffel to her other side, and held out her hand. He took it, feeling inexplicably giddy, and walked up to his parents door with her by his side.

He touched his fingers to the annunciator, disguised as an old-fashioned door-knocker, and a moment later, his mother opened the door, dressed all in black. "Chris!" she said, and stepped forward to hug him.

He patted her on the back awkwardly—was she tinier than the last time he'd seen her? "Mom," he said.

"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry," she said into his shoulder. "We didn't forget that you were coming, but it's turned out to be a really bad week. The next-door neighbors died—it was awful—Oh, come on in." She backed up and let them enter.

The house was significantly more personalized on the inside than he'd expected it to be; just in the front hallway, he saw holos and other random bits of artwork and furniture he recognized from the ranch in the desert, now awaiting his own redecoration. At the end of the hallway, though, stood Starfleet Admiral (ret.) Joshua Pike, also dressed in black, his hair white, his jaw square, and his carriage exactly as upright as it had been through Chris's entire childhood. "Chris," he said, his voice the booming, sonorous version of Chris's own baritone.

Unsurprisingly, their relationship wasn't exactly smooth; Josh Pike had believed firmly in military discipline, and Chris had been too smart, too rebellious, too much like his mother. Ever since Chris had made captain some ten years before, they'd pretended that all was well between them, which eventually led to the invitation to visit them in their new home.

"Dad," he said, and smiled. "How are you?"

"Just fine, just fine. Are you going to introduce us to your companion?" Josh walked—no, strode--forward, meeting the group near the doorway.

Companion. He didn't dare look at One or he'd burst into laughter. "Mom, Dad, this is Number One, my first officer. Number One, Admiral Joshua Pike, retired, and Dr. Wilhelmina Pike."

"Mina," Chris's mother said, holding out a hand.

"Josh," Chris's father said, also holding out a hand.

One hesitated for an almost-imperceptible moment and shook Mina's hand first, Josh's second. "Mina, Josh, pleased to meet you."

"Number One, huh," Mina said. "Ilyrian?"

One nodded, and Mina smiled. "Oh, excellent. Do you know anything about—" His mother started trilling a long set of syllables, probably the name of some Ilyrian scholar she was interested in.

Josh laughed quietly, catching Chris's attention. "Your XO, Chris? Could you be a little more stereotypical?"

"I don't have a ship's psychologist this time out," he shot back. Belatedly he plastered a grin on his face, hoping he could pass it off as a joke, despite the tone.

Fortunately, Josh laughed. "Couldn't be so lucky," he said. Of course, his father had merely been a lieutenant commander when he and Chris's mother—a commander when she retired, although she'd never used the rank—had gotten married, but nonetheless. "How's the ship?"

"Fine," Chris said. "We've gotten an upgrade to the warp core that should allow us to hit a full warp 7."

"I hear they're starting to build a new flagship over in Iowa somewhere. I'm sure that one will be able to go faster than warp 7."

Chris honestly couldn't tell if his father was trying to bait him or not. "I'm sure it will. It'll be a lucky captain who gets her," he replied, keeping his tone neutral.

"Sure will," Josh said. "Hey, Mina, you can talk Number One's ear off at dinner. We've got a funeral to get to."

"Oh, right, we do," Mina said, looking at the chrono on the wall. "Um. There's a spare bedroom upstairs to the left. We'll be home in about an hour. Sorry to leave you, but, well—"

"I understand," Chris said. He leaned over, kissed his mother on the cheek. "I'm sorry about your neighbors. We'll see you in an hour or so."

Chris's parents left, and the door closed behind them with a quiet hiss. "Well," he said. "Now you've met my parents."

"Your mother speaks surprisingly fluent Ilyrian," she said.

He made a face. "She'll probably continue trying to speak to you in Ilyrian."

"I don't mind, Chris. She was nice. Now, about that bedroom?" She hefted her duffel up to her shoulder again.

They went upstairs, found the bedroom in question—as it turned out, there were two spare bedrooms, but the one Mina had indicated had a queen-sized bed and attached bathroom with, of all things, a real water shower. "Oh," Chris breathed. "Let's just hope they decide to go to church without us."

One just smiled.

They explored the house, peeking into the master bedroom with its cathedral ceiling, finding the kitchen and Mina's copper-bottomed pots hanging overhead, and admiring the wood floors in the living room. "Not so bad on the inside," One said, brushing a foot over the rug.

"No," Chris agreed. He looked out the front window. "I wonder what they're using for the lawns out here." It was much greener than the grass he was used to seeing.

"It looks like a Denobulan plant to me," she said. There were strict rules against import of non-native flora and fauna, but exceptions were made when certain genetic alterations were performed.

"Interesting," Chris said, peering at the lawn across the street. Wait—weren't there supposed to be three azalea bushes in front of the house? There were three in front of his parents' house, and three in front of the houses on either side. Huh. One of them must have died. Strange.

"Let's sit," One said, sitting down herself on one end of the couch.

Chris lowered himself down next to her. This was going to be a long visit.

By the time his parents returned, he'd relaxed enough to lean against her; she stopped stroking his hair as they heard the door open. He sat up straight and stood when his parents entered the room, still vaguely wishing he'd worn his uniform. One stood next to him, just as upright but somehow much more relaxed.

Josh Pike was shaking his head as he shrugged out of his suit jacket; Mina was saying, "—awful way to die."

Chris frowned. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. What happened to the neighbors?"

"Oh, nothing," she said, eyes looking everywhere but at Chris.

"He's a Starfleet captain, Mina; I think he can handle a little bit of murder and mayhem."

"Murder?" One asked.

Chris did not say, Mayhem? but it was a close call.

Mina sighed. "Let me change first."

Some minutes later, all four assembled in the living room. Chris's father took his usual seat, in the leather chair that had been in the living room in the ranch, or its duplicate. Mina was in what looked like her regular seat, the corner of the couch by the old-fashioned lamp, and Chris and One perched uncomfortably on what was left of the couch.

"The neighbors apparently disappeared, but there were blood spatters all over their house, and they found remains that matched their DNA," Josh said.

"Oh," Chris said. "Well, I'm sure the police are looking into it."

"Did you know them well?" One asked.

Mina shook her head. "No, not in particular. We've only been here for a few weeks."

"What happened to their lawn?" Chris asked.

Josh shrugged. "I don't know. I guess they didn't water it."

"It's icosthyria," Mina added. "You have to water it daily or it will die. Or so they tell us. Usually, even if you forget, the sprinklers will come on, but there have been problems with the irrigation systems."

Chris nodded. "And the azaleas?"

"What about the azaleas?" Mina said.

"The people directly across the street only have two. You have three."

"Oh," Mina said. "Well, I'm sure they'll replace it before too long. It's really not important."

Chris nodded again. "So how's retirement, Mom?"

His mother immediately brightened and launched into a description of her latest academic paper.

After about an hour of awkward chatter, Josh fired up the grill, and he and Chris grilled steaks while One and Mina discussed Ilyrian sexual mores—so One said later—while throwing together the sides.

"So, how long have you and Number One—is that really her name, by the way?—been together?" Josh asked.

Uh-oh. "About three years, and sort of," Chris said. "I think the way she usually describes it is that she's got a collection of syllables that describe her pedigree, and another collection that describe her accomplishments, but for all intents and purposes, her name is Number One."

"Three years, huh." Josh lifted the lid of the grill and peered at the meat.

"Yeah, three years," Chris said.

"And you couldn't tell your mother?"

"Rules against fraternization—"

Josh snorted. "If those rules were actually followed, a good deal of Starfleet wouldn't exist. Including you." He pointed at Chris with the tongs. It was true, but Chris's mom had left the 'fleet just before he was born and had taken a job as a professor at CSU-Mojave. Josh had taken primarily shorter assignments until Chris turned eighteen.

"I don't know, Dad," Chris said. What was he supposed to say? "We're pretty private people."

"Yeah, well," Josh said. "We knew anyway. When you and she changed your next-of-kin records, we received a notice."

"Oh," Chris said. He looked around the back yard. "Nice place you've got here," he said.

Josh snorted. "It's not the ranch in Mojave, that's certain," he said. "That's yours now."

"You didn't have to move on my account," Chris said. "I'm certainly not going to be on earth much any time soon."

"We didn't," Josh said, looking towards the kitchen window. "It was your mother's choice. She liked the idea of having someone who was expected to mow the lawns and fix the plumbing for us."

"Oh," Chris said again. What could he say to that? His parents were certainly getting older, although nowhere near death. Oh well. He thought about trying to start another conversation, but instead remained silent.

* * *

"So," Mina said, after most of the steak had been demolished, "Number One tells me that the two of you knew each other for several years before you decided to become involved."

"Ah, yes," Chris said.

"And that she rescued you from some giant spiders."

Chris blinked. "Well, they weren't actually spiders per se."

"She rescued you, huh, son?" Josh said. "Following in your mother's footsteps?"

He'd forgotten that his parents had gotten together after his dad had performed some sort of heroic rescue of his mother on some planet. "I could do much worse," he said mildly.

"Oh, good God, Josh, it's the twenty-third century," Mina said, poking him in the arm with her fork. "I'm sure that Chris has saved Number One's life on numerous occasions, and vice versa."

"I don't keep track," Chris said. He didn't even know how the conversation had turned this way.

"Well, don't let her save you too much," Josh said. "She might get promoted."

"I'd be thrilled if she got her own ship," Chris said, looking directly at his father, aware that his voice had gotten very quiet and very intense. "I expect she will in the next few years."

"And what will you do?" his father asked. "Get promoted to admiral?" His disbelief was evident.

"I might as well," Chris snapped. "I was, after all, the youngest ever to be promoted to captain, by several years. I might as well break the record for admiral as well. Mother, One, if you'll excuse me?" He stood, picked up his mostly-empty plate, and headed into the kitchen.

As he scraped the remains of his steak into the recycler, he heard someone come up behind him; turning, he discovered it was his mother.

"The two of you are so good at pushing each other's buttons," she said.

Chris sighed. "I'm sorry, Mom. I don't mean to make this a mess. I'm forty-three; you'd think I'd know better by now."

"Well, he's seventy-five; you'd think he'd know better by now," Mina said, her voice a little sharper than he'd expected.

"He's not going to change."

"It's possible," Mina said. "I've got empirical proof."

Chris laughed and kissed his mother on the cheek.

* * *

Of all things, they played Scrabble after dinner, in Standard. One won handily, by over a hundred points, even though Chris could see her trying not to take over the game, and his parents certainly weren't stupid or lacking in vocabulary.

Chris came in third, only about five points behind his mother. Josh came in dead last, declared he hadn't actually put much of his concentration into the game, and ignored them all to read the news on his PADD.

One politely collected the Scrabble tiles and put them back in the drawstring bag. Chris asked his mother about various family members, got the updates on who was doing what, and tried his damndest to ignore his father. It was, as always, nearly impossible.

* * *

Later that night, Chris curled up on his side under the covers and stared blankly at the wall as he listened to One brush her teeth. He heard her come into the bedroom, felt the bed move as she crawled in next to him, but didn't respond. He was just exhausted.

He felt her hand on his back a few moments later, her fingers warm even through the thin material of the t-shirt. She kept stroking his back, covering as much of him as she could reach, and he started to relax—not much, but a bit.

She leaned in and said, "On your back."

He obeyed, but said, "One, I don't think—"

"I'm not trying to seduce you," she said. "I'm trying to ground you." Kneeling over him, she ran her hands from his hips up to the broad muscles of his chest, and then down his arms to his hands. She threaded her fingers through his, pulled his hands over his head, and pinned him to the bed, leaning her whole body weight into the task. He inhaled deeply and released it slowly on her command, and then she put her lips next to his ear and whispered, "Mine."

His body instinctively relaxed under her, muscles releasing most of their tension over the course of thirty seconds or so, and he felt her smile against his cheek. She kissed him deeply, and then turned him on his side as she curled up behind him, an arm over his waist.

"Thank goodness you only use your superpowers for good," he murmured, and she chuckled.

* * *

The next morning, Chris woke up at about 0600, but stared at the ceiling and listened to One breathe in his ear until almost 0700. He disentangled himself from her and the sheets—apparently he'd had a restless night—and pulled on athletic shorts and a fresh t-shirt. As he pulled socks and running shoes out of his duffel, he heard One say, "Chris?"

Normally, if she said his name in that voice, with her hair looking like that and the sheet sliding off her shoulders, he'd be jumping right back into bed, but he really just—it—"I have to go," he said, and held up his shoes.

She nodded. "Do you want me to come with you?"

He shook his head. "No. It's shore leave. You can sleep in."

She nodded again and lay back down, but after he kissed her on the cheek and left the room, he heard the door to the bathroom open. Down in the kitchen, his mother was making coffee; he greeted her and downed a glass of water before he left.

An hour later, he returned to his parents' driveway, covered in sweat, sucking in air. The rhythmic pounding of his feet on the pavement had helped, quite a bit, and he thought he might even be able to make it through an entire meal with his father without exploding. Hearing a noise, he looked up, and saw a hovercar parking in the driveway to the neighbors' house, the one where they'd been murdered. A pretty redheaded woman got out of the car, wearing a Federation Security uniform. Something about her was awfully familiar . . . "Dana?" he called.

She turned, saw him, did an exaggerated double-take, and smiled. "Chris!" she said, and came to meet him on the sidewalk. "Your mother said you'd be visiting. How are you doing?"

"Oh, not so bad," he said, grinning. He and Dana Fox had gone to high school together, and although he hadn't seen her for twenty-five years or so, she hadn't changed. Well, she'd changed a lot, but she was still undoubtedly her. "Up in space, most of the time. You?"

"Oh, don't worry, I've heard all about the exploits of the legendary Captain Christopher Pike," she said, returning the grin. "I'm a commander in Federation Security now."

"Congrats," he said. "I'd shake your hand but, well—" He gestured at himself, covered in sweat. "I should probably go shower—"

She gave him a once-over, head to toe, and said, "Oh, don't worry about it. You're looking good, that's for sure."

"Thanks," he said, glad his face was already red from exertion. "You, too. Are you looking into the—the—whatever happened there?" He gestured indeterminately at the empty house.

"Yes," Dana said. "I can't talk about it, of course."

"Of course," he echoed. "Are you staying around here? I mean—Dinner?"

She blinked, and tilted her head to one side.

Chris swallowed and continued hastily. "Not—I mean, I brought my—I've got someone," he said, trailing off. He'd never really known what to call Number One, since 'girlfriend' had always seemed inadequate, 'partner' was inaccurate, and 'lover' too—too something. "I thought she might want to meet one of my high school friends?" God, he was bad at this, and it wasn't even remotely a date.

Fortunately, she took pity on him. "Sure, Chris. Your mother has my comm number; give me a call in the next couple of days."

"Okay," he said, and shifted from side to side. "Sorry to keep you from your job."

She waved a hand. "Not a problem. I'll talk to you later."

"Later," he echoed again, and smiled.

Turning, he went into the house, shaking his head. He went into the kitchen again, to get more water; his father was sitting at the counter, looking at a PADD, a cup of coffee at his elbow. "How far did you go?" Josh asked, without looking up.

"Five or six miles," Chris said, filling a glass and draining it quickly.

"In over an hour?"

"It's not the 'Fleet Marathon," Chris said, somewhat nettled, and set the glass down. He left the kitchen and headed upstairs, noting absently that his mother and Number One were chatting in Ilyrian in the living room.

He'd run the 'Fleet Marathon before; four times, actually—all four years he was at the Academy, even though the trainers and Starfleet Medical had recommended that he not do so. But, of course, his father had run the Marathon every year until his sixtieth birthday, and eighteen-year-old Chris was not to be outdone. He'd needed IVs and time in the hospital to recover after every single race, culminating in his final year, weeks before his twenty-second birthday. That time, a stubborn, taciturn doctor with an ice-blue Glare of Death, annoyed at being stuck on marathon duty between deployments, had told him that if he ever ran a marathon again, he'd personally come back from whatever damn end of the galaxy he was in and kill him.

On the other hand, Phil Boyce was now his CMO and one of his best friends, so maybe it had been worth it.

Chris stripped to the skin and dropped the sweaty clothing in the corner of the room. Turning on the shower, he adjusted the temperature until it was pleasantly hot, and stepped in.

He hadn't been in an actual water shower for years, and sonics were entirely inadequate for this particular kind of hydro-therapy. He let the heat beat into tensed muscles and sluice the sweat off of him for long minutes, until he heard the door open. "One?" he said.

"Chris," she said. "How are you?"

"Better now," he said. Poking his head out of the stall, he said, "Are you going to join me?"

She was fully dressed and sitting on the commode, so he was unsurprised when she shook her head no and smiled. "Maybe later," she said. "Who were you talking to outside?"

"Jealous?" he said, knowing she wasn't.

"Chris, if I got jealous every time you talked to a pretty redhead, I'd have punched Cait and Colt a long time ago." She was still smiling, though, so he knew she got the joke.

He ducked back in the shower and started rubbing shampoo into his hair. Telling her briefly about his conversation with Dana, he ended with, "I asked her if she wanted to get dinner with us—that is, you and me, not you and me and my parents—sometime soon, and she said yes."

"Oh," One said. "So she knows all sorts of embarrassing stories about you?"

"Probably, but you can get the best ones from my mother." He ducked under the spray and rinsed out the shampoo. "She's already probably told you about the peanut butter sandwich."

"No, she hasn't," One said. "We've mostly been talking about Ilyria. Your mother is inexplicably fascinated with sex."

Chris sighed. "Yeah. I try not to think about it."

"She asked if we were thinking about having children."

He stopped dead, dropped the bottle of shower gel. "What?"

"Well, she asked it in Ilyrian. I don't think your father speaks Ilyrian."

"That's not—" He buried his head in his hands.

"Well, it's a logical question," she said. "Especially since we were discussing that Ilyrians don't procreate without the permission of the elders and a proper check of bloodlines. She reassured me that there were no undesirable inheritable traits in your family and that we certainly had her permission to do so."

"Oh, God." He slumped against the wall. "I didn't think this trip could get worse. It just did."

"I thanked her politely."

"Do you want kids?" he asked, suddenly dreading the answer.

"I don't know," she said, and he lifted his head enough to look out the stall door. "I really don't," she said, her face clear. "Maybe someday. I'm Ilyrian. I have another fifteen or twenty fertile years without medical intervention."

Chris sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. "Yeah. Okay. In other words, let's not think about that until later." He bent to retrieve the shower gel, stood, soaped himself quickly, and rinsed off. "You know, this was supposed to be shore leave, not Pick Apart Chris's Psyche Week."

One held out a towel as he shut the water off and opened the door. He took a moment to enjoy the look on her face as she watched him dry himself off.

"I thought I'd warn you, just in case she brought it up again."

He sighed. "Thanks."

Great. Now he didn't want to be around either of his parents.

* * *

His mother decided that a walk around the neighborhood would be a good way to spend the morning. Chris thought about protesting, especially after a five-point-six-mile run, according to his shoes, but didn't. She pointed out everything she thought was important, from a statue of the architect responsible for Arcadia Farms to houses that contained various important personages, in between continuing a conversation with One in Ilyrian.

Normally Chris lamented the fact that he barely spoke any Ilyrian and therefore couldn't actually pronounce his (girlfriend/partner/lover)'s name properly, or woo her in her native language, but not today. On the other hand, it meant he had to pretend to talk with his dad.

"So who's your chief engineer?" Josh boomed, his stride military-correct.

"Lieutenant Commander Caitlin Barry," Chris said, resisting the urge to roll-step. "Class of '37, top of the Engineering track. She was on the Aquino before I poached her."

"Sounds vaguely familiar," Josh said, frowning for a second and then shaking his head as if to clear it. "How's the still?"

"What still?" Chris asked, and then grinned. "If, perhaps, there were a still on the ship, I would tell you that it appears that our latest batch of engine-room hooch has been compared favorably to the Lionheart's, but as I have no knowledge of a still, I can't say."

"Heh," Josh said. "I always said you can judge the quality of an engineering department by the engine-room hooch."

Cait wasn't terrifically fond of the presence of the still, but Phil Boyce had bribed her into ignoring it. Chris had never asked quite how and never would. "Well, then, we've arguably got the best engineering department in the fleet."

"That's my boy," Josh said. Chris ignored the twin pangs of revulsion and hope.

"And that's where Evelyn Mauer lives," Mina said, pointing to a house that, well, to Chris's eye, looked exactly like every other house in the neighborhood. As it turned out, they'd looped back around, and it was the house across the street from his parents'. However, inexplicably, there was now only one azalea bush in front of the house. Huh. He hadn't noticed that this morning, but then again, he'd been distracted by Dana.

Lunch was sandwiches; that afternoon, Josh had a meeting at SFHQ, and Mina claimed she had to get some work done, asked for a couple hours. "I need to organize some of this information that I got from you," she told One. Chris suppressed a smile.

After his mother had holed herself up in her study and the front door closed behind his father, he pulled One into his arms and kissed her solidly. She wrapped her arms around him and held on tightly. "Thank you for being here," he whispered in her ear.

"You're welcome," she said.

They curled up on the couch, One's back against the armrest, Chris sitting between her legs and lying against her chest. He asked the computer to play some music, quiet Andorian blues, and picked up a PADD to catch up on the news. One held a PADD as well. "What are you reading?" he asked.

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," she said, and he turned his head to look at her. "What?" she said. "It's fiction."

"Sounds Gothic," he said.

"It's by Anne Bronte," she said. "I'll tell you about it when I've finished."

He took the hint, kissed her wrist, and went back to his news. A few minutes later, One snickered. He resisted asking her what about, since it was most likely the book, but a few minutes later, she snickered again. "Funny story?" he asked.

"Your mother thinks we're having sex," she said.

Chris closed his eyes and groaned. "On the couch?" Normally he wasn't against sex on couches, but not on his parents' couch.

"She left a message on my PADD. 'When you get done, can you spell the name of the last scholar you mentioned, with the work on non-marital sex? Thanks, Mina.'" One's imitation of his mother's tone was spot-on and somehow disturbing. "I sent her a note back with the proper spelling, and her response was, 'Oh, thanks. I didn't mean to interrupt!'"

Chris groaned again. "Did you tell her that she wasn't interrupting anything?"

"Yes, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't believe me."

"Next time I think it's a good idea to visit my parents, please remind me of this, okay?" He pinched the bridge of his nose.

"All right," One said.

Chris set the PADD down on his chest and closed his eyes, head to one side, concentrating on her heartbeat under his ear and the rise and fall of her chest. He dozed off as she stroked her fingers through his hair, only waking up when he heard the front door open.

"Sleeping in the middle of the day? Getting old, there, Chris?" his dad said, striding into the room.

"Relaxing," Chris said, sitting up and scooting forward to detangle himself from One. "Some of us are on vacation." He smiled, to pretend it was a joke, but based on the look on One's face, figured he wasn't entirely successful. "What's new, Dad?"

"All sorts of stuff," he said, "all beyond your security clearance, either of you. Got plans for this evening?"

Chris tried not to bristle at the first part of his father's statement—Josh was semi-retired and it really wasn't the same thing as, oh, being an active-duty captain—but thought he managed to keep his tone even as he said, "No, not in particular. You?"

"There's a good restaurant not too far away; Mina and I thought we'd take you there one night. Might as well be this one."

"Sure, why not," Chris said. "One? Any thoughts?"

She shook her head. "What kind of food?"

"Some sort of fusion stuff—a mix of Asian, South American, and Andorian cuisine."

"Oh, good," Chris said. "I haven't had anything hot in months." He grinned at his father, who returned the smile, and Chris felt a little zing run up his spine. He'd forgotten about their mutual love of sinus-clearing food. This evening might actually be pleasant, he thought.

* * *

And it was. The food was excellent; Josh was on his best behavior, and Chris managed to relax enough to be what One called his "usual charming self," without sarcasm this time. His father reminisced about early missions, and Chris talked about some that had failed in spectacularly hilarious fashions, and when Josh made comments that tended towards one-upmanship, Chris somehow managed to ignore them.

After dinner they played a game of Trivial Pursuit; the team of Josh Pike and Number One managed to win while Chris and Mina only had two pie pieces. When they made it back to their bedroom, finally, Chris lay on his back on the bed and watched One change into her pajamas with interest.

"You seem more relaxed," she said, sliding an oversized t-shirt—actually, it was one of Chris's—over her head.

"Yeah. Maybe it was the run. Sure you need those?" he said, gesturing to her clothing, only half-joking.

One paused as she pulled on her pajama pants, her eyebrows raised. "How soundproof are these rooms?" she asked.

"I don't know," he admitted. "And even if they were guaranteed absolutely soundproof, I'd still feel a little weird making love with you in my parents' house, with them just down the hall."

"I'm pretty sure they know we're sleeping together, Chris," One said, tying the drawstrings at her waist. "And they did put us in the same room."

"I know; it's just—" He sighed. "I can't explain it. Damn, I'm how old? And I still feel like I did the first time I snuck someone into my room—like I'm getting away with something, having you here, and I shouldn't push my luck."

"I know," she said. "I understand. I don't share the same feelings, but I know that you do, and I wasn't actually expecting otherwise."

"We can make out a bit," he suggested. "Or, you know, a lot."

"Is that all you used to do when you'd sneak people into your room?" she asked, smiling.

"Come here," he said, patting the bed next to him, and she slid under the covers and into his arms.

* * *

The next morning, Chris went for another run, not so much to clear his head but just for the joy of being able to run outside. Even his father's disgruntled, "When I was your age I was still running ten miles every morning," only garnered a, "Yeah, I'm not you, Dad," in response.

Which was the heart of the problem, wasn't it? He snorted as he untied his shoes.

He found a message waiting on his PADD from Phil when he checked it after his shower--Chris, what the hell are you doing running on pavement?. He answered it with, Stop stalking me, you cranky bastard. If you want to know how I'm doing, you can damn well call.

His comm rang less than a minute later, and he answered it with a laugh. "You want me to scan my knees so you can make sure that I'm not doing anything stupid?"

"Now what would you do if I said yes?" Phil said, laughing as well. "Hi, Chris. How's the visit going?"

"An unpleasant combination of great and awful," he said. "My mom's still obsessed with everyone else's sex lives, and my dad is, well, still my dad."

"You know," Phil said, "it's probably better for the world that your mother has never met Cait."

"Never were truer words spoken. Speaking of, how's that going?"

"She left yesterday evening." He could almost hear the other man shrug. "I don't know. She might be back."

"Didn't tell her?"

"Nope."

"Okay." Phil may have been his best friend but there was only so much meddling that he was willing to do. If he decided it wasn't time to tell his on-again, off-again, non-exclusive girlfriend that perhaps he wanted something more, Chris wasn't going to say anything.

"Sure everything's okay?" Phil asked, concern obvious in his tone.

"Yeah."

"All right. Call me if you end up in the hospital. Boyce out." Phil hung up, and Chris clicked his comm closed.

He left Dana a message after breakfast; it took two or three tries before he got a message that didn't sound exceptionally stupid, and when he finally hit 'send,' he heard One snort behind him from her spot on the couch. "What?"

"I love you, Chris, but you can't leave a concise message to save your life."

"I can!" he protested. Turning, he stared out the front windows absently. "Just not, apparently, when there are women involved." Something was strange about the house across the street. He frowned, took a second look, and realized that all of the azalea bushes were now missing. Huh. "Come here," he said, gesturing behind him.

One came up, rested a hand on his waist. "What is it?"

"There aren't any azalea bushes across the street anymore," he said.

"Strange," she said.

Just then his comm buzzed, and he answered it.

"Hi, Chris, it's Dana. 1900, at the Thai place on Playa del Rey?"

"Okay," he said. "See you then."

"Yup. Fox out."

Chris found himself staring at the comm for a second after he closed it, and One snorted again.

* * *

"There aren't any more azalea bushes across the street," Chris remarked at lunchtime.

"Hm," his mother said.

"What, does it offend your sensibilities?" Josh asked, and snorted.

"No," Chris said, struggling to keep his tone even. "I would have thought the HOA wouldn't be happy with it."

"Well, these things do happen," Mina said. "Pass me the bread?"

One handed it to her. "What are the rules surrounding non-native flora and fauna around here?" she asked, obviously trying to redirect the discussion.

Unfortunately, Josh had to get one last shot in. "You're getting soft in your old age, son."

That was it. Chris stood. "I am not soft," he said, dangerously quiet. "I broke the counterinterrogation specialist at Starfleet Academy. And if I were soft, if I did have compassion, it would only make me a better captain and a better human being." He turned on his heel and strode out of the room, shoulders stiff, fists clenched.

As usual, the only thing he could do was leave, and he headed straight out the front door and marched down the street. On his second circuit around the block, he saw One sitting on the curb outside his parents' house, he slowed down as he passed her, and she stood.

"I know," he said. "I know my father is insanely hyper-competitive, and I know he picks fights with me because I respond, and I know it's stupidly juvenile to respond, and—" He sighed. "I just can't stop myself."

"He's also mad because you're so different from him, and yet you've beaten him by every possible objective metric."

Chris frowned at her.

"What, did you think your mother and I were only talking about sex?" she asked. "No. She thought I ought to be warned about something like this happening."

"I don't even know anymore," he said, and dropped to sit on the curb.

One sat next to him, a few inches separating them, but didn't say anything.

"I never beat his time for the 'Fleet Marathon," he said, after a few moments of silence.

"I know," she said. "I did, though. Come on, let's go."

* * *

As it turned out, there was a city park not too far away from the development, and they walked in companionable silence on the sandy path.

"The other thing," Chris said eventually, hands still stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, "is that my mother is approximately twice as smart as my father. She just . . . isn't competitive, and doesn't have his ambition. I guess it's the only way they can work."

"Another way in which you and your father differ," One said. He raised an eyebrow at her. "You don't seem to have a problem with misdirected competitiveness."

"What, you mean you?" Chris said. She nodded, and he grimaced. "Be glad you didn't know me when I was younger."

"I asked Phil about it once," she said, surprising him. "He confirms—the only person you compete with like this is yourself."

"It's not even myself," he said bitterly. "It's the shadow of my father."

"I know," she said.

* * *

He'd calmed down somewhat by the time they left the park, but seeing his father enthroned in his leather chair when they returned to the house heated his blood back up, and he hid in the bedroom for the rest of the afternoon.

Coward. He could hear his father's voice, even though it was only in his own head.

* * *

They left to take a hovercab to the Thai place at 1840, and Chris clenched One's hand until she stroked his wrist. He backed off the pressure immediately. "Sorry," he said, with a half-smile.

She leaned over and kissed him, gently at first, but as he responded, she opened her lips against his, touched her tongue to his own, and teased him with gentle nips until he could think only of her mouth and hands. When he felt his shoulders relax, she pulled away and looked at him, obviously concerned.

"It worked," he said, and she nodded and tucked herself into his side until the trip ended. He buried his face in her hair and deliberately thought of nothing. By the time they left the car, he at least felt competent to act the part of the successful, happy captain.

Dinner was good, the company better, and by the end of the meal, Chris was stuffed and vaguely sleepy and happy. He kissed Dana on the cheek and said, "If for some reason we can help in any way with the investigation, feel free to call."

"Of course," Dana said, and shook Number One's hand. "Lovely meeting you. Keep Chris out of trouble, okay?"

"I'll do my best."

* * *

They got home around 2200, and by then, Josh Pike was snoring in his chair. Mina put her finger to her lips as they walked in, so as not to wake him, and tiptoed into the kitchen. "Computer, mute kitchen sounds to the outside."

"Confirmed," the computer replied.

Chris and One exchanged a quick look, and he definitely stored that piece of information away for future reference.

"How was your dinner with Dana?" Mina asked.

"Good," Chris said. "That's a damn fine Thai place you have out here."

"Yeah, your father likes it as well. I prefer the Sawatdee, but we're in San Francisco enough that I can get my fix. Chris . . ." The look on Mina's face told him where she was headed next.

"Mom." He held up his hand. "I don't really want to talk about it. Dad's not going to change."

"He loves you, you know."

"Yeah, well. It's late." He made a show of yawning. "See you tomorrow morning, Mom." He leaned in, kissed her on the cheek, and headed for the stairway.

One came upstairs a few minutes later; he figured she and his mother had talked but didn't want to know what about. "Hey," he said from his position on the bed.

"Hi," she said, and stopped at the foot of the bed. "Am I correct in guessing you don't want to talk about any of this?"

He nodded. "Not yet," he said. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?"

"You didn't exactly sign up for—this—" He gestured all around him. "—when you said you'd come meet my parents."

She smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "No, I did. For better or for worse."

Chris started. There was no possible way she didn't know that was part of the old Terran Christian marriage rites. "One—we're not—I mean—"

"I know," she said. "But it's not for lack of feeling on either of our parts."

"No," he agreed. "Not in the least." He swung his legs off the side of the bed and stood, holding out a hand to her. "Let me undress you?"

"Okay," she said, and stood.

Chris took her face in his hands and kissed her slowly, sensuously, until she trembled beneath his fingers; he pulled away just as slowly and watched her shoulders heave. Next he knelt at her feet and stripped away her shoes and socks, letting her rest her hands on his shoulders for balance. Sliding his hands up the outer seams of her jeans, he reached her waistband, undid the button and fly, and pulled them over her hips and down her legs, sinking back to his knees and letting her step out of the pooled fabric, one foot at a time.

He looked up at her, and her eyes were wide and dark. Wisps of hair were starting to come out of her braid, and his heart gave a leap in his chest. God, he loved her.

Retracing his route up the sides of her legs, he slid his hands under her shirt and pulled it over her head, discarding it off to one side. Her bra hooked in the back, and he undid it one-handed, just to prove that he could. She smiled, and he brushed the straps off her shoulders and the cups away from her breasts. The bra fell to the floor, landing on top of his foot, and he flicked it aside with a quick motion.

Kneeling for a third time, he dotted kisses over her hipbone, hooked his fingers in her underwear, and pulled them down slowly, keeping up the line of kisses down her thigh, just above the band of the underwear, finally ending with a kiss to the top of her foot. She lifted one foot and then the other, freeing herself from the cotton and elastic; he dropped it on the pile of the rest of her clothing, and stood, his body mere inches from hers. "I love you," he said.

"I love you, too," she said, and he was momentarily distracted by the rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. "Although I somehow think this still isn't going to end in sex—"

He shook his head no, lips twisting. "Sorry."

"—let me undress you?"

"Please," he said, and dropped his hands to his sides.

She started by tugging the tails of his shirt out of his jeans, and then unbuttoned it slowly. He had an undershirt on—actually, one of his uniform undershirts—so he couldn't feel her fingers on his skin yet, but she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and went for the black fabric next. It was stretchy and pulled over his head with a snap, and they both laughed.

Sweeping her hands down his chest, she scratched gently through his chest hair and made short work of his belt and the fastenings of his jeans. He'd kicked his shoes off when he first got to the room, so after she pushed the pants off his hips, they fell to the floor and he stepped out of them and toed them to the side. She knelt as she dragged his boxer-briefs down his legs, and helped him out of them and his socks quickly.

Standing up, she wrapped her arms around him and pressed close. "I'm impatient," she murmured in his ear before biting his earlobe.

"That was still fun," he murmured back, and she laughed.

* * *

Sometime later, Chris woke up and sat up straight in bed, his body apparently having decided to go from a dead sleep to fully awake without consulting him in the meantime. On the other hand, One was awake too. "Did you hear that?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe." He slipped out of bed, padded to the window, and said, "Computer, second pane on the right—full transparency." It obediently cleared, and he looked outside.

Their room faced the street, and—something was wrong. "Computer, what time is it?"

"It is 0230."

There was a light on in the house across the street, in what was probably the dining room if the house had the same interior as his parents' house. More importantly, though—"One, come here."

She did, and stood next to him. "What is it? Oh—the house across the street doesn't have a lawn anymore."

"It had a lawn earlier, didn't it?" he asked.

She nodded.

He heard a crash, and something came flying out of one of the upstairs windows across the street. "Shit," he said, and went to pull on his clothes. One did as well.

While he was struggling into his shirt, he grabbed his comm unit and told it to contact Dana Fox. She answered as he ran downstairs, stomping his feet into his shoes. "Dana, Chris Pike here. There's something happening at the house across the street from my parents."

"You should call the regular police," she said.

"The lawn is missing," he said, stopping to pull the back of his shoe into place.

"Oh. Shit," she said. "I'll be right there. Don't leave your house."

"Yeah, I'm not sitting inside and waiting, Dana," he said, and hung up. He turned, and One was right behind him, pulling on her left boot.

"What's the plan?" she asked.

"Do you have your phaser?"

"No," she said.

"Shit. Well, I guess we just look right now." He went to the front door; it slid open, and they looked across the street.

Silhouetted in the front door of the house across the street was—something. Something large and not even remotely human, it was a lumpy shape against the faint kitchen light. Its head flew up a moment or so later, and it let out a roar and started charging across the street.

"Fuck!" Chris yelled; they ducked back inside, and he said, "Computer, lock all windows and doors and any possible way in or out of this house and do not release to anyone but emergency personnel!"

"Confirmed," the computer said.

"Where does your dad keep his weapons?" One asked.

He didn't ask why she thought his father might have more than a phaser, just said, "They were in the basement at the ranch."

One headed for the basement door, and Chris followed, but they ran into Josh at the foot of the stairs. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"There's something going on out there, and it's coming this way," Chris said, pointing towards the front door. "I don't have my phaser. Dad, you should—"

"What should I do, son?" his father asked, voice deadly. "Hide? Because there's something scary out in the dark?"

"Or you should get a fucking weapon," Chris said. "I don't have time to fight with you right now. I'm going to the basement because last time I checked—" He grit his teeth. "—you kept the good stuff down there."

"It's mostly projectile weapons these days," Josh said.

"I don't care," Chris said, shifting his weight, his hands balling into fists at his sides. "We need to get them quickly."

"I need to make sure your mother's safe," Josh said, and turned to go upstairs.

Chris sighed in frustration and took off, jogging, only pausing long enough to let the basement door open. In the basement, behind the pool table that he irrelevantly wished he'd known about earlier, he found a familiar-looking cabinet with an old-fashioned combination lock; spinning the dials to 413, his mother's birthday, he popped it open and started sorting through the contents.

"That one's pretty powerful," Josh said over his shoulder, pointing at a gun.

Chris pulled it out, looked at it, and threw it to Number One. "I can't use it, Dad; it's keyed to righties."

"You're right-handed?" Josh asked One.

"She's Ilyrian; she can outshoot both of us with either hand. Where are the bullets for this?" He held up a twenty-second century 9mm semi-automatic.

"On the bottom."

Chris found the ammo box and flipped both the bullets and the gun at One, who started loading it. "Don't you have any phasers?"

"I have three," Josh said, and showed him one of them. "I left the others with your mother."

Chris rolled his eyes. It was probably a good idea, overall, but he would have felt much better with at least one energy weapon he could have himself.

As they sorted through the guns, they heard a crashing noise upstairs. "Shit," Chris said. He ran upstairs, where the—whatever it was—had just managed to get what looked like an arm through the front door. "Shit shit shit! STAY BACK!" he yelled; naturally, no one paid any attention to him.

Chris fired off the entire clip from a different, more modern semi-automatic that he'd used for target practice as a kid; it severed the arm, and he felt a quick jolt of relief—that disappeared as the arm regenerated. One shot the arm five times, in rapid succession, and nothing happened—the holes filled instantly. She dropped that particular gun—the 9mm—and fumbled for a different weapon. Josh fired his shotgun, loaded with something a little more interesting than buckshot, as it exploded a hole in the arm; unfortunately, as before, the arm regrew almost immediately. It tore out a portion of the wall, and the house's alarms started shrieking.

"Computer, shut the fuck up!" Josh shouted, and the alarm silenced, but now they had a good portion of the monster, dripping some sort of dark fluid on the floor, inside the house. He switched to the hand phaser, and shot blast after blast, ineffectually, at the monster.

"Computer, call Dana Fox, tell her that the fucking monster is in the house with us now!" Chris bellowed, and the computer beeped in response. He fired mechanically, round after round, severing as many pieces of the monster as he could. He could hear One and Josh doing the same thing, but it kept coming, kept heading towards them, even as they backed into the kitchen. But they couldn't let it get upstairs, couldn't let it get to Mina.

A moment later, though, from behind them, he didn't quite hear some sort of subsonic boom, and the monster froze, outlined in blue, before exploding in bits of what felt like dirt mixed with—was it blood?—all over the foyer and the three—no, four—occupants.

Chris turned around slowly, saw that One was apparently unharmed other than being coated in mud, saw that his father appeared to be the same, and then turned to see his mother standing on the stairs. "Well," she said. "That was unexpected."

"What the hell is that?" Chris asked, looking at the enormous, rifle-like weapon in her hands.

"It's a compression phaser rifle," Mina said, matter-of-fact.

Chris turned to his father. "Those are experimental! Why on earth do you have one in your house?"

His father looked smug. "That 'experimental' weapon just saved your life, Chris."

"I know, but—"

"FEDERATION SECURITY!" yelled a woman outside, and the door—or what was left of it—slid aside, to reveal Dana, flanked by seven or eight fellow officers in full battle gear.

"It's dead!" Chris called, waving at her.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"You see the mud all over the place?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

Dana took in the room, slowly, and finally lowered her phaser. "What the hell did you shoot it with?"

"A compression phaser rifle," Mina said.

"Never mind that," Chris said. "What in blazes was it?"

"We're not even sure," Dana said, "but some of the scientists seem to think that the lawn is actually the immature version and the dirt monster is the adult version."

"Oh. Oh dear," Mina said. "Josh, I think we're going to be moving soon."

"Don't worry," Dana said. "The HOA has agreed to pull out and replace all the lawns in the next day. They'd agreed to that this afternoon; we just had no way of knowing that one was going to mature tonight." She winced. "I'm sorry about your neighbors."

Josh shook his head.

Dana and her team took their statements, took samples, and downloaded security footage; two hours later, they finally left, and Chris, Josh, Mina, and One stared at each other blearily.

Chris stood from where he'd been sitting on a plastic tarp, and held out a hand to his mother. "Mom, you saved our lives. Thanks are inadequate, but . . ."

"I know," she said. "You're welcome." She smiled at him. "Now go shower. You're a mess."

"I am," he agreed. "Dad, I have never quite been so grateful for your gun-hoarding tendencies."

Josh let out a roar of laughter. Chris shook his head, gave his dad an ironic salute, and headed upstairs.

He saw One follow him, but didn't hear her excuse; after they were both inside the bedroom, he heard her say, "Computer, mute all sounds in this room and the attached bathroom and lock it against everyone, security code Pike Alpha two three seven."

He turned to her even as the computer said, "Confirmed." The heat in her eyes stole his breath and lit a fire in his midsection; a moment later, he was pinned to the wall, wrists in her hands, and she was kissing him as if there were no tomorrow.

Which, actually, there almost hadn't been. "We almost died," he said in between pants, when she'd finally let him up for air.

"I'm not interested in psychoanalysis, Chris," she said in his ear. "I'm interested in you, me, and that shower in the other room."

"Yes, oh, yes," he said, and she released his wrists, only to push his shirt over his head.

He hadn't bothered with socks or underwear, and neither had she, so they stripped in record time and raced into the bathroom, trailing mud and dirt all over the floor. She hit the button to turn on the water, gave it a cursory temperature check, and pulled him under the spray after her.

The mud came off easily, but he still soaped his hands and ran them over every single inch of her body, head to toe, kneeling to wash her calves, ankles and feet. He bent down, ignoring the muddy water running in his face, to place a kiss on top of her foot, tasting water and clean skin and the faintly-lemon-flavored shower gel. "Mmm," he said, and licked a trail up to her ankle, up the inside of her leg, past her knee, before she stopped him.

"Not while you're still filthy," she said, reaching behind her for a bottle.

"I thought you liked it when I'm filthy?"

"Hygienically filthy," she said, grinning, and rubbed shampoo-coated hands over his head.

He ducked and laughed, and let her wash his hair, scrubbing at his scalp with the tips of her fingers until the foam started dripping onto his shoulders and chest. Then it was her turn to dump shower gel on her hands and wash him carefully, paying special attention to his hands and his erection, where it stood out from his body, bobbing faintly. He let her play for long moments before it became too much, and he stilled her hands with another laugh. "You first," he said.

He stepped back under the shower spray, rinsed himself off quickly, and sank back to his knees, kissing her hip and lifting her leg over his shoulder. She leaned against the wall, grabbing a hold of the rail along the wall with one hand and his hair with the other, and sighed in obvious pleasure.

She tasted faintly of salt and lemon and her, familiar and still so incredibly arousing. Normally he would slide his tongue into every single fold and hollow of her body, but now—now, he wanted to see her come as soon as physically possible. He flattened his tongue over her clit, rubbing briefly before he started sucking, and sank two fingers inside her.

He knew her well enough—he'd cared to learn her body well enough—that he felt her orgasm start even before she clenched her fingers in his hair, even before she said, "Chris," in that tone. He spread his knees just a little wider and clamped his hand on her hip as she shuddered and came, her knees almost giving out on her. Standing, he pulled her into his arms before she fell over, and she buried her face in his neck. "You're so good at that," she said, slurring with pleasure and probably exhaustion.

"Thank you," he said, gently, and steered her under the spray to rinse off the last of the suds in her hair. When he was satisfied that her hair was clean enough, he shut off the water with one hand, still holding her against him, and then grabbed a towel to wipe them dry.

She'd roused enough to help by that point, and dried off certain parts of him enough to make sure that they were very, very dry—and very, very hard—and he stole the towel from her to rub it over her breasts, making the nipples stand up in hard points.

Of course, then he just had to taste them, getting them wet again, which necessitated another towel rub, and she gasped again, pulled the towel out of his hands, dropped it on the floor, and said, "Down."

When she gave him directions in that particular tone of voice—a slightly throatier version of her command voice—he could do nothing but obey. A moment after he sat on the bathmat—fortunately oversized, thick, and mostly dry—she straddled him and pushed his shoulders until he was flat on the floor and shoved a wadded-up towel under his head. "Hands, where?" he asked.

She ground down against him and he groaned. "My breasts," she said, and he rushed to obey, filling his hands with her breasts and rubbing the bases of his thumbs against her nipples. God, he loved it when she took control.

Apparently so did she, because she was humming deep in her throat as she leaned over to nip at his collarbone. He tipped his head back, giving her more access, and she took advantage, biting at the tendon and tonguing the mark she left. His hands slipped from her breasts to clutch at the bathmat; she grabbed his wrists and pulled them over his head.

He pushed against her grip, testing her, and she bit the other side of his neck, somewhat lower. "Vampire," he said.

"You love it," she said, and swirled her tongue in the hollow of his throat.

"I love you," he said, and she chuckled. "And your vampire-like tendencies," he added. She chuckled again, and squirmed, causing him to gasp, until the head of his erection was right at her entrance. "Are you ready?" he asked. He knew she probably was, trusted her enough to know her own body as she trusted him to know his, but . . .

"You can check if you like," she said, releasing his left wrist.

. . . he wanted to check. Pressing his hand between them, he found that--oh God--she was wet, slippery against his fingers with more than just leftover bathwater. Even though he'd done it just minutes ago, he wanted to taste her again, wanted to feel her pulse under his tongue. Maybe later, he thought, and withdrew his fingers, licking them as she watched. "Yeah, I think you're ready," he said, one eyebrow raised, and she shook her head with a smile.

"Are you?" she asked, and he nodded vigorously. "Good." She reset herself and, with a twist of her hips, took him inside her.

Shit. They'd done this hundreds of time over the last thousand days or so—hell, the very first time had been something like this, although on his bed rather than the bathroom floor—and still, every single time, the tight, wet sensation of her enveloping him, especially from above, drew a gasp from him and the fastest mental recitation of Starfleet regulations surrounding biohazards in first-contact situations imaginable.

Of course, the more he tried not to think about his imminent orgasm, the worse it got, and One knew it, too. She deliberately tightened as she raised and lowered herself, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

She rode him as he desperately tried to maintain control of himself at least long enough to let her finish again, but it crossed over from "almost impossible" to "completely impossible" when she sat up, licked her first two fingers, and started rubbing her clit herself. "Oh, God," he said, sitting up just far enough to see himself disappearing into her body, mere centimeters away from her fingers. He made one last desperate attempt to distract himself with statistics, and fell back to the bathmat, surrendering to the inevitable and pouring out what felt like his heart, his brain, and his soul inside her.

He vaguely felt her collapse on top of him, panting, a few moments later, and he wrapped his arms around her. As he came back to himself, so did the events of the evening, and he started shaking, although not with cold. We're fine, he told himself, and repeated a few times in his head for good measure.

Maybe it was the words, and maybe it was the warmth and weight of the woman he loved resting on top of him and absently stroking his arm, but he managed to relax a few minutes later, shoulders and neck and back unknotting. "I love you," he said into her hair. "With my body, I thee worship."

She huffed a quiet laugh. "That you do," she said. "I love you too, Chris."

They disentangled themselves, rinsed off quickly, and curled up in the bed, Chris spooning One. "I love you," he murmured again in her ear, licking a stray drop of water from her skin.

She turned enough to kiss him, did so, and said, "And I love you. Sleep. Everyone is safe and sound."

"Yes," he said, and buried his face in the back of her neck.

* * *

Later that morning, they went down for breakfast—or perhaps brunch—around 1030, and found Josh Pike attempting to repair one of the small cleaning robots. One immediately went over to help him, and Chris stood back with his mother, watching.

It only took thirty seconds or so before Josh realized that One knew a hell of a lot more about electronics than he did, and he shoved the whole mess, including his screwdriver, at her. She smiled and bent her head over the counter, deftly untangling wires.

"Chris," Josh said, "can I have a word with you?"

Chris shrugged. "All right, Dad."

Josh led the way into Mina's study, and when the door shut, paced the length of the small room. Chris sat in his mother's desk chair and waited. "Your mother says I should apologize to you, but she won't tell me why."

"That usually means you're supposed to figure it out yourself," Chris said.

"I know that." Josh frowned at him. "I can't figure out if I'm supposed to apologize for being who I am, or for pushing you when you were a kid, or for being 'rude' in front of Number One—" Josh did the air quotes, despite his tone quite clearly indicating that he had no idea when he might possibly have been rude. "—or what."

"Yeah, well." Chris spun himself from side to side. "Implying that I'm less than you constantly, especially in front of Number One, that's pretty rude. Implying—no, saying straight out that I'm soft—oh, that's pretty rude, too."

"What?" Josh said, and to his credit, he did actually look startled. "It's just teasing, Chris. You've broken all of my records at the Academy and afterward—except my marathon time, of course—and you know I'm proud of you, right?" He coughed.

"No," Chris said. "It's pretty hard to know that you were proud of me when all I ever heard was 'not good enough.'" He looked away. "You know, just once, maybe sometime before my fortieth birthday, it would have been nice to hear this."

Josh looked so stricken that he relented a bit. "Well, all right, I did know you were proud of me because you told Captain April when I made captain and he told me. But other than that, every time I did something good, the next thing you did was remind me that you'd somehow done it better. You're hypercompetitive, and I know that, and I don't expect you to change, especially now, but—" He sighed. "Can you at least not imply that I'm not man enough in front of my girlfriend, who can actually kick my ass at pretty much everything? My ego's taken a hell of a blow this week, between you and my mother having to save me . . ."

His father laughed, as he was supposed to. "Your mother was pretty impressive back there, wasn't she?"

"Yeah, but it was a really big gun."

"True," Josh said. "Still."

"Still," Chris agreed.

His father rubbed the back of his head with one hand. Despite the fact that it was the wrong hand, Chris recognized the gesture like a blow to his gut, and said, "I know you think I'm nothing like you since I don't look like you, Dad, but—"

"I know," Josh said, interrupting. "It's—" He sighed, and dropped into a nearby chair. "It's a little difficult when you realize that your own child is smarter than you are before he turns two."

Chris didn't know what to say to that—he hadn't, until that moment, been sure that his father knew that Chris was the smarter of the two of them. He also never realized how much it bothered his father not to be in control, not to be the best. Some genius he was. "I'm certainly not going to apologize for that," he said.

"I know," Josh said. "You shouldn't. And I shouldn't care, but . . ." He spread his hands. "I'll try not to insult you anymore."

"I'll try not to snap when you do."

It was the best he could expect.

* * *

Later that night, after they muted the rooms and checked to see if bathroom sex was just as awesome the second time—turned out yes, it was, if not more so—Chris rolled over, looked at One, and said, "If we ever retire, no planned communities, okay?"

She laughed. "Okay."