Title: For Better or Worse
Classification: Nathan and Kristin romance
Archive: NK archives and tay’s site
Disclaimer: They belong to Amblin. I’m just borrowing them for a while. They will be returned much happier
Summary: Just read and find out.
Notes: This one is a little…to quote tayryn…eeeeeew! So if you are easily offended don’t read. I don’t really know why the muse took this path but it didn’t work any other way. So if you decide to read on make sure you read until the end. As always my thanks to tayryn for the beta and the encouragement (even though her initial reaction was, as mentioned above, eeeeeew!) The piece of classical music toward the end of the story is ‘Bolero’ by Ravel. I highly recommend it.
Nathan Bridger stared at the WHSKR view of the underwater research complex known as Selkie Station on the screen in front of him. His face was enigmatic but most of the bridge crew could tell that something important was going on in their Captain’s mind. The station was impressive but Nathan would be damned if he admitted that to himself or to anyone else. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands over his chest. Someone should be noticing their arrival very soon.
Dr. Wendy Smith hovered in the background trying to remain inconspicuous. Although she had learned never to try a direct mind scan on Nathan she was getting some very confusing peripheral readings and they concerned her. Something about this place was causing great conflict within the Captain.
Lucas also hovered nearby. He sat quietly on the edge of the moon pool chatting with Darwin and Tony Piccolo, who was in the moon pool on cleaning detail as punishment for his last brilliant idea gone sour.
Wendy moved to Nathan’s side and laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay, Captain? You seem…out of sorts.”
“Just thinking about the past, Doctor.”
“You’ve been to Selkie Station before? I thought the place had only been open a year or so.”
“Almost two years and no, I’ve never been here.”
“Sir, we are receiving acknowledgment from Selkie Station.”
“Put it onscreen, Mr. O’Neill.”
Nathan took a deep breath as the screen shifted from the ocean view to an interior office. “What is the nature of your business?” The young man at the desk asked.
“I’m Captain Nathan Bridger of the UEO. Apparently there was a problem with your scheduled supply delivery and the seaQuest was elected as the replacement carrier. I’ve got a cargo bay full of inventory that belongs to you.”
“Please hold while I verify this.” The screen went blank.
Nathan stood and turned as Ford and Brody walked up to join him. “They don’t seem very happy to see us, sir.” Brody observed.
“You don’t know the half of it, Mr. Brody.” Nathan laughed.
“Hubba, Hubba!” Tony Piccolo’s voice could be heard over the low conversation and a quick glance showed him halfway out of the moon pool with a drooling look on his face.
“Down boy!” Nathan’s spine stiffened at the husky accented voice lightly teasing Piccolo. He saw the surprise in Jonathan Ford’s eyes before he turned back to the screen. The woman standing there was indeed beautiful. Her clothing was nothing special, tight blue jeans and a sleeveless white tee shirt, but it certainly accented her marvelous body. Long sable hair hung in a ponytail over one shoulder. Deep brown eyes glittered with some unknown quality.
“Bloody military is always turning up like a bad penny.” Kristin Westphalen muttered, knowing full well that she could be heard through the link. She folded her arms across her chest and stared at Nathan, an intentional mimic of the stance he had assumed.
“We could turn around and go away. I guess you’d just have to fish for squid for the next three months!”
Nathan internalized his smile at Kristin’s slight grimace. He knew how much she hated squid and suspected that he would pay dearly for that comment.
“What did you do to our transport? Blow it out of the water?”
“I believe the problem was with the refrigeration system. I couldn’t let you go three months without chocolate ice cream could I?”
Kristin’s rigid stance softened slightly and a smile threatened to erupt on her face. “Thank you for transporting our supplies. I’ll make arrangements to have them picked up immediately.”
“My crew is already loading the pallets into launches. We should be able to move everything in the next several hours. As long as we are here how about you give me a tour of your expensive toy. I’d be interested in seeing…the winner.” Nathan’s face looked as if it were carved of granite.
Kristin appeared to hesitate for a moment before she nodded her agreement. “I’ll meet you in the launch bay, Captain.”
The screen went blank but Nathan’s countenance didn’t change. Most of the bridge crew quickly became occupied with their workstations but Tony Piccolo continued to stare at the blank screen.
“Damn! That is one hot woman! I’d sure like to get to know her better!” Several pairs of eyes snapped up to glare at Piccolo but the only one’s he really saw belonged to the Captain.
“Sorry, Sir. Don’t mean to beat your time if that is your plan.”
“I already know the lady, Mr. Piccolo.” Nathan’s voice was as cold as steel and his eyes were like ice. “I know her very well. The lady is Dr. Kristin Westphalen. She is head of Selkie Station. She also happens to be my wife.”
Nathan turned and strode from the bridge leaving several mouths gaping.
“Hey, sailor.” Nathan stepped through the launch door and found himself staring into those deep brown eyes he loved so much. He was a little unsure of how to greet Kristin, especially with several of his crew members watching them intently so he stuck his hand out then changed his mind and took her in his arms, giving her a chaste hug. Kristin returned the hug briefly before moving out of his arms to greet Tim O’Neill and then Lucas. Nathan noticed that Lucas seemed a bit hesitant but Kristin murmured something that Nathan couldn’t hear and Lucas captured Kristin in a bear hug.
“Stop that!” Lucas let Kristin go to give Tony Piccolo a punch on the arm. Lucas apparently didn’t like the way that Tony had been checking out the woman Lucas thought of as a second mother. Tony just shrugged his shoulders and returned to his appraisal.
Nathan cleared his throat pointedly and Piccolo looked away, finally realizing that perhaps checking out your Captain’s wife in front of him was not the smartest thing to do, even if she was a beautiful woman.
“Are you all going on the tour?” Kristin asked.
“I’ll be the only tourist on this trip. The guys just wanted to say hello. I expect that Ford, Ortiz and Levin will make an excuse to catch a launch later.”
“That would be lovely. I will see you again before you go?” Kristin smiled at Lucas and Tim’s nod before holding out her hand to Piccolo. “So nice to meet you Mr.…”
“Piccolo, ma’am. Tony Piccolo.”
“Yes. Don’t let me keep you. Are you ready, Captain?” Nathan was struggling not to burst out laughing as he watched Kristin subject Tony to the pleasant but distant maneuver that Nathan had once dubbed the ‘royal dismissal’. Some things never changed.
“I must admit that my rival is pretty impressive.”
“Nathan…” Kristin started to speak then stopped, unsure of what she was going to say. “I enjoy my work here. The facilities are excellent and we have little military involvement.”
“Was that why you left, Kristin? The military? I would have given it up for you, don’t you know that?”
“You know that isn’t the reason I left. Our lives were just going in different directions. Perhaps we never should have married. It was better to end it when we did."
“I don’t buy that. We were good together, baby. Maybe eloping to Vegas wasn’t the smartest thing we ever did but only because you deserved a proper wedding with all of our friends and family there. I never regretted marrying you, not for one instant.”
Nathan saw the sadness in Kristin’s eyes and he didn’t want to upset her, not when they had struggled so hard to save some semblance of their friendship. “This is some fantastic moon pool you’ve got here. Darwin would love it!”
“Perhaps he could come visit as well. I’d love to see him.”
Nathan surveyed the large saltwater pool in front of him as his mind drifted back over the few short months he and Kristin had been together. They had been so happy, at least until he’d been ordered on a three-week promotional tour with SG Noyce. Nathan had known the instant that he returned that something had changed but Kristin wouldn’t admit to anything. As the weeks passed they seemed to be getting back to normal and then out of the blue she had told him she was moving to Selkie Station and presented him with divorce papers. He’d argued and pleaded and in the end walked away before he did something he would regret.
Nathan knew that Kristin still loved him and he’d wanted desperately to keep communication open so he had decided to let her go, hoping that she would come back to him and she did. The night before she was due to depart Kristin had appeared in his bed and they’d made love the entire night. But when Nathan woke up in the morning Kristin had been gone. They’d spoken briefly a few times but not in over a year. Nathan had tried to forget Kristin, had attempted to respond to what Wendy Smith was so obviously offering, but in the end he couldn’t do it. He still loved his wife.
“That’s a hell of a set up you have there.” Nathan told Kristin, indicating the catwalk above the pool. With a nod from Kristin a technician hit a button and the walk split in half and ascended fifteen feet to the ceiling.
“We’re too deep for dolphins unless we keep them inside but there is a multitude of sea life that we’ve been studying here. We even have our own adopted pool of a previously unknown species of bioluminescent fish. They swim by every few hours. We can almost set our watches by them. I have an observation deck off my quarters where I watch them when I’m…they really are amazing!”
“Any relation to Ben Kreig’s fish poop?” They both laughed at that memory. “I would like to see them and your observation deck.” Nathan had noticed Kristin’s abrupt break and he thought he knew what the next word was going to be – lonely. She sat on the observation deck when she was lonely for him. Nathan guessed this because he stared at the aqua tubes in his quarters for the very same reason.
“I’m not sure that your Mr. Piccolo is a very good influence on Lucas.” Kristin told him as they walked down the corridor.
“Oh, I’m positive that my Mr. Piccolo is not a very good influence on Lucas. He’s not a good influence on Darwin either. I’m sorry about his little…display in the launch bay. I thought perhaps Lucas might be a good influence on Piccolo but I don’t think it’s working. He’s got courage; I’ll have to give him that. Ogling your Captain’s wife in front of him definitely takes cajones.”
“They know that we were married then, your crew? I wasn’t sure if you ever told them.”
“I hadn’t said anything but Piccolo made some comments when he saw you on the screen so yes, I informed the bridge crew that you are my wife.”
Kristin stopped walking and turned to capture Nathan’s gaze. “Was your wife you mean?”
Nathan shook his head defiantly. “I always say what I mean. You are my wife. You left the papers with me so I thought it was my decision and I didn’t want a divorce.”
Kristin’s face had gone pale. “We’re still married? We can’t be!”
Nathan gave Kristin his best little boy look and shrugged his shoulders. “We can be and we are. I don’t see what the problem is unless you’ve married someone else…you haven’t have you?” Nathan’s mouth went dry at the thought that Kristin might have fallen in love with another man.
Kristin laughed. “Of course not, silly. I just thought…” She started walking again. “Never mind. I just…”
Nathan suspected that an important piece of the puzzle was buried somewhere in all of this and he wanted to give it serious thought before he stuck his foot in so he once again changed the subject but his mind continued to race. Kristin was still attracted to him. He could tell that by the way she held her body. He could feel it emanating from her. And if she was still attracted to him perhaps she was still in love with him.
Kristin pushed open the door to her living quarters and led Nathan in. The small living area held a sofa, two chairs and several bookcases plus a massive desk covered with paperwork. Two closed doors graced one side of the room and Nathan could see a small kitchen and dining area on the other side. A long curtain covered the outside wall and Kristin led Nathan to this. She picked up a corner and slid behind the drape while beckoning Nathan to follow. He held his breath as he came through the small door to find himself facing a transparent wall.
“I lost some floor space due to the retaining wall but I don’t regret it. This is my favorite place to be when I’m not working. When was the last time you saw your little toy from that point of view?” Kristin gestured to the seaQuest floating in the distance, far enough away that the entire boat was visible from stem to stern due to her outside lighting.
Nathan’s foot caught in something as he moved and he stumbled slightly, falling against Kristin. He held her, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. Kristin allowed the embrace for a moment before she moved to the light dimmer and brought the illumination up so that they could see. Nathan found his foot tangled up in a soft pallet and he noticed a pillow and blanket at the end of the small room. He eyed Kristin suspiciously and shook the pallet out to find it fit the floor space perfectly.
“You sleep in here?” Nathan pulled off his shoes and threw them at the door before sitting on top of the bedding and holding his hand out to Kristin. After a moment’s hesitation she slipped off her shoes and joined him.
“Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping I come out here. I find it relaxing.”
Nathan absently tugged at Kristin until she was sitting between his legs, her back to his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist and held her loosely as they both stared out into the black ocean. Nathan spied what looked like a CD player in the wall and hit the play button. Soft music washed over them as they sat silently, both enjoying the closeness but neither willing to admit it.
Kristin broke the silence first. “I’ve missed you. I know that I have no right to say that when I’m the one who walked away but…I do miss you tremendously.”
“We were good together Kristin. We still could be. I miss you, too. I love you.”
“No, Nathan…” Kristin turned to look at him but her words were cut off as his mouth closed over hers. There was nothing gentle in the kiss as raw desire exploded between them.
The bridge of the seaQuest was, as always, running at its highest efficiency so Lucas couldn’t resist a smirk as he listened to Jonathan Ford recite instructions to Chief Brody and the other crewmembers. He sat on the edge of the moon pool and absently patted Darwin’s snout as he explained about the visit. Lucas knew that they were waiting on sea deck to fit Darwin with his rebreather so he sent him on his way just as Tony Piccolo appeared at his side.
“I’m driving the launch so you think I could go back on the station again?” He asked Lucas.
“Can you behave yourself or are you going to leer at the doc some more?”
“Hey, if I ain’t looking I ain’t breathing. I’m sure the Cap appreciates that his wife is one gorgeous broad.”
“She is not a broad!” Lucas stalked away from Piccolo to join the small group which was about to head over to the station. He was surprised to find that Dr. Smith had joined the group that also consisted of Ford, Ortiz, O’Neill and Joshua Levin. Lucas eyed Smith suspiciously. The new doctor had made no secret of her interest in Bridger and she’d been obviously stunned when Nathan identified Kristin as his wife. Ford was just about to move them to the launch when Piccolo’s voice was heard.
“Oh, MAMA!” They all turned to find Tony engrossed in the scene on the view screen. Ortiz had positioned the WHSKRS to give a random view of the station and the marine life around it. A trail of dimly glowing fish moved into close proximity with the station and Junior had focused in on the school. But what caught Tony’s attention and the attention of the entire bridge crew’s was the scene visible in the background.
The lighting of the observation deck made its occupants clearly visible against the dark backdrop of the still ocean. “Mr. Ortiz!” Jonathan inclined his head toward the vacant station and Ortiz vaulted the railing and quickly cut the picture. Their view had been brief but it lingered in everyone’s mind. A creamy expanse of arching back, a perfectly sculpted bottom, long white legs entwined with even longer tanned legs, silver gray hair mingling with longer auburn hair as hands roamed and hips thrust frantically. Everyone on the bridge was breathing hard at the sheer eroticism of the picture.
“Damn, I didn’t think the old man had it in him!”
“Course in this case I guess the lady had it in her!”
Ford’s voice had a hard tone that startled even Lucas. “What we just saw will not be mentioned again. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir!” But Lucas saw the gleam in Tony’s eye and knew that it definitely wouldn’t be forgotten.
Kristin lay on her side pillowed against Nathan’s chest and stared out into the black depths of the ocean. Nathan’s hand lazily stroked bare skin from shoulder to waist and back, pausing occasionally to caress a firm breast. His other hand was locked into hers and wrapped around her hips, which the blanket covered hap hazardously. Kristin’s eyes closed and her head fell back when she felt Nathan’s lips brush her temple. A single tear fell down her cheek and Nathan moved his hand to catch it.
“Don’t cry.” He whispered to her. “Please don’t regret making love with me.”
“How could I regret this? God, I love you Nathan Bridger.” Kristin’s head turned and their lips met in a soft kiss. “I just wish things could be different.”
“Why can’t they be? Why don’t you want to be my wife any more Kristin? Please help me understand.”
Kristin pulled away from Nathan and reached for her shirt as she sat up. “I just can’t. You have to accept that. I think that you should file the papers when you return to land.”
“Can’t do that.” Nathan told her glibly. “I burned them.”
Kristin stopped pulling up her pants as she stared at him. “Damn you, Bridger. You are the most stubborn human being on the planet.”
“Nope. You have to share at least equal honors for that title.” Nathan gave a short tug on her jeans, pulling them back to her knees
This action brought a hint of a smile to Kristin’s lips. “We should get to the launch bay. I’m sure the others will be arriving soon.”
“Meaning that you don’t want to talk about us any more.”
Kristin didn’t answer but began to button the jeans she had finally managed to pull to her hips. She moved to the door and bent to pick up Nathan’s shoes. “Come on or everyone will wonder what we’ve been up to.” Nathan pulled his clothes on quickly while she waited by the door. Once he was ready she pulled the drape up but stopped before stepping outside.
“Nathan, can we…please tell me that you will stay my friend, no matter what. I don’t think I could bear it if I didn’t have your friendship.”
“You hold my heart, Kristin. Of course I’ll always be your friend. I’ll take any part of you that you are willing to give me.”
Kristin had a wonderful reunion with all of her old shipmates from the first seaQuest and led them on a short station tour. Nathan noticed the smirks and smiles passing among some of the crew and knew that something was up but he couldn’t put his finger on what. Tony Piccolo’s blatant admiration of Kristin’s form had gotten even more obvious and Nathan found himself reasserting his position by wrapping his arm around Kristin’s waist several times. This earned him a withering glance from Wendy Smith each time it happened but Nathan had already guessed that he was no longer on Smith's a-list. Although their brief flirtation had come to nothing and been over for several months Nathan knew that he should have mentioned to her that he had a wife.
After a brief respite in the station canteen the group headed back to the launch bay, Nathan lagging visibly behind, holding Kristin with him. Every time the group in front turned a corner Nathan grabbed the opportunity to steal a kiss from the woman he loved.
After good-bye hugs all around – and a very stiff handshake from Wendy Smith – the group moved toward the launch giving Nathan and Kristin a moment of privacy.
Nathan wrapped Kristin in his arms, uncaring of the group watching them. Their lips met in a tender kiss before they broke and rested their foreheads against each other.
“Can I come back and visit?”
“It is better if you don’t. I’ll contact my solicitor about sending you another copy of the divorce papers.”
“I’ll just burn them again. If you want to get rid of me you are going to have to do it the hard way.”
“Nathan, this is the way it has to be. Why do you have to make everything so difficult?”
“Agreeing to a divorce says I think our marriage was a mistake and I don’t think that. Marrying you was the smartest thing I ever did. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my life and I will until the day I die. A piece of paper can’t change how I feel about you. Can I call you at least?”
Kristin knew that she should say no but she found herself nodding, silently cursing the fates that kept her away from this man. “Your crew is waiting for you.”
“One of the perks of being the captain.” Nathan pressed his lips to hers again, pouring all of his pent-up emotion into the ravenous kiss. When oxygen became an absolute must they broke apart and stared into each other’s eyes. “How can I leave you?” Nathan whispered.
Tears appeared in Kristin’s eyes. “Just go.”
Nathan nodded and with a whispered “I love you” and a light brush of their lips he turned and walked toward the waiting group. Most of the crew had the decency to turn away as Jonathan opened the launch door but Wendy Smith continued her furious glare and Piccolo continued his frank assessment.
Nathan turned as the launch door opened for one last look at his love. Kristin gave him a tiny wave as her other hand flicked her tears away. His resolve broke when he saw her lips whisper “I love you too” and he started to move back to her but stopped when a young woman burst into the room in tears.
“Dr. Westphalen! I can’t find Maddy!” The girl cried hysterically. “She was there one minute and gone the next. I’ve looked everywhere!”
Nathan saw the panic in Kristin’s face and raced back toward Kristin followed by the rest of the crew. Kristin was shaking the girl.
“Where was the last place you saw her?”
“We were on level six in the play room and she wanted her stuffed dolphin so I went to get it. I only stepped into the next room but when I came back she was gone.”
Kristin’s face had gone deathly pale. “Oh, God, the moon pool!” She turned and raced out of the room just as Nathan reached the place she had been standing. He didn’t stop but continued after Kristin, as did the rest of his crew. Kristin hit the stairwell and began climbing two steps at a time. ‘Thank God we are on the fourth level already’ Nathan thought to himself as he followed.
Kristin burst into the massive bay with Nathan close on her heels although he didn’t think she realized that any of them were following her.
“Maddy, are you here?” She called out. Nathan could tell she was trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
“Mummy, mummy!” Nathan heard the small cry and his eyes were drawn upward. His heart stopped as he saw the toddler perched precariously on one end of the catwalk that dangled fifteen feet overhead. Nathan’s mind began to race.
“Don’t move, baby!” Kristin called out and moved to a ladder that ran up the wall near the far end of the catwalk. One of the station’s technicians had moved to the control panel and Nathan and Kristin heard the tale tell sound of the motor at the same moment.
“Don’t do that!” They both screamed at the same time.
“Kristin, get off that goddamned ladder!” Nathan screamed at her but she ignored him as she began to steadily climb upward towards her child.
“Why don’t they lower the catwalk?” Lucas had appeared at Nathan’s elbow.
“The walk doesn’t lock in until it gets to the bottom. If the child were near the middle it might work but if we try to lower it now she’ll fall into the water. At the height she’d go pretty far down before she resurfaced. I hope Kristin doesn’t cause the same thing to happen when she tries to get on the catwalk.”
A movement to his periphery caught Nathan’s eye and he turned to see Tony Piccolo stripping off his shirt and moving toward the pool. “Just in case sir?” Piccolo questioned and Nathan nodded with a grateful look in his eye
Kristin reached the top of the ladder and repositioned herself to make the three-foot jump onto the catwalk. Nathan could hear her talking to the little girl as she did so, coaxing Maddy back to the center of the catwalk.
The baby began to move toward her mother and Kristin jumped just as some idiot hit the wrong button and the catwalk swung wildly. The child screamed as she tumbled over the side and fell towards the water. Piccolo was over the wall in a flash. The corner of the catwalk caught Kristin’s head as she grasped at air and she also began to plummet toward the pool. Nathan had moved to the edge and he went over the side without any thought except to get to Kristin.
Nathan dove and took off at an angle towards the spot where Kristin hit the water. He could see a trail of blood floating around her and knew he had to get to her quickly but she was sinking faster than he had anticipated. His lungs were on fire as he grabbed for her and missed but then a familiar form shot passed. Darwin stopped Kristin’s downward slide and began to push her back towards the surface. Nathan grabbed Kristin’s arms to help and as they broke the water Nathan heard the sound of a baby’s cry. Nathan pulled Kristin to the edge of the pool where eager hands were waiting to pull her out.
A medical team had been called and both Kristin and the child were loaded onto gurneys and rolled away with Joshua Levin taking charge. Nathan found towels being pressed into his hands and he gratefully grabbed one to dry his face as he took off after them.
Nathan dried himself off and passed his wet clothes to a nurse before slipping into the med bay jumper she provided and heading out in search of Kristin. He found her in an exam room with Joshua Levin stitching the gash on the side of her head. Kristin was still unconscious so Nathan settled himself into a chair by her bedside. “How is she?”
“The cut isn’t too bad but she has a concussion. She will probably be out of it for several hours but we will keep a close eye on her. I’m glad we were here. She is the only medical doctor on the station at the moment.”
“I’m glad we were here too. How is the baby?”
“She’s fine. Piccolo got to her before she could swallow too much water.” Joshua gestured to a small window that opened into the next exam room. Nathan could see the little girl throwing a temper tantrum as she was poked and prodded by Wendy Smith. “As you can see her lungs are in good working order. You can see her anytime you like.”
Nathan nodded absently and turned his attention back to the woman in the bed. Realizing that he wasn’t needed, Joshua gathered his supplies and left the room with a soft admonition to call him if there was any change. Nathan picked up Kristin’s limp hand and held it in both of his as he rested his forehead against them.
“Why couldn’t you tell me, baby?” He whispered as he sat there with his eyes closed.
Jonathan Ford found him in this same position some thirty minutes later when he knocked lightly on the door and then entered. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. I thought you would want to know that I’ve contacted the seaQuest and told them to be prepared to stay at least another twenty-four hours. I’m planning to return there now unless you need me to stay.”
“That’s fine, Commander.” Nathan never took his eyes off the sleeping woman beside him.
“Sir, I’m sorry that Dr. Westphalen was hurt but I’m glad that your daughter is okay. We all are.”
Tears began to form in Nathan’s eyes.
“Jonathan, Kristin would have never taken my child away from me.”
It took Ford a moment to realize the import of Nathan’s words and he stood there stunned, not knowing what to say, not really believing what Nathan had told him even though he knew it was correct. No matter what happened between the two of them Kristin Westphalen wouldn’t have acted in that manner. When it became apparent that Nathan wasn’t going to say anything else Ford turned to go. He was stopped at the door by Nathan’s voice.
“Jonathan, that’s just between us, okay? As far as everyone else is concerned I am the child’s father.”
Ford nodded and left the room.
The medical bay was quiet when Nathan slipped out of Kristin’s room and nodded to the staff nurse working at the desk. He walked the few feet down the dimly lit corridor and pushed on the door to the next room.
The baby lay asleep in a makeshift crib; her thumb tucked tightly in her mouth. Soft red curls covered her head and her features were so much like her mother’s that Nathan wanted to cry. He stood by the bed and stared down for several minutes before one hand reached out to brush the wild curls.
“Hey, Maddy.” Nathan whispered into the dark. “You are such a pretty girl. I love your mama so much and I could forgive her almost anything but I wonder if I’ll be able to forgive her about you. Why couldn’t she tell me the truth? Did she tell your father either?”
A sound from the corner distracted Nathan and he turned to see a figure sitting in the dark.
“Lucas what are you doing here?”
“She’s so little. I didn’t want to leave her alone. She really is beautiful isn’t she, sir?”
“Just like her mother. You didn’t have to stay.”
“Yes, sir, I did. I had some thinking to do. I really need to speak to Dr. Westphalen. Is she awake yet?”
Nathan shook his head. “Joshua says she has a concussion. Look… what I said a few minutes ago…I didn’t know that you were in here and I’d rather it not be repeated. Maddy’s parentage really isn’t anyone’s business but mine and…” Nathan’s voice trailed off as he realized that Lucas wasn’t at all surprised. “You know don’t you? You know who her father is?”
Lucas raised his head slowly but resolutely to meet Nathan’s gaze. “I think I do.” He didn’t say anymore but he didn’t have to. Nathan gave an anguished cry at what he saw in the boy’s eyes and backed out of the room, his confusion evident.
“Sir, can I try to explain?”
Nathan closed the door firmly and took off quickly down the hall. He didn’t notice Kristin standing just outside her door until he ran into her. He automatically reached out to steady her and their eyes met. Nathan quickly dropped his hands and continued down the hall at a rapid pace. Kristin began to softly cry because in that one horrible instant she had seen in Nathan’s eyes that he knew the truth.
Kristin found Nathan sitting in the dark in her observation room; his arms wrapped around his chest as he slowly rocked back and forth while a low keen came from his throat. She didn’t know what to do so she followed her instincts and dropped to her knees behind him and embraced him, becoming a part of his rocking movement. Eventually the low cry stopped so Kristin released Nathan and moved to sit beside him. Finally Nathan spoke.
“Am I a fool? I never saw that coming. I know that I spent too much time working on the boat but for you to turn to Lucas? My God, Kristin, He’s just a boy!”
Kristin looked at Nathan with eyes full of hurt. “You bastard. You can’t really believe that I’d encourage Lucas. I love him like my own child. I never thought of him as a bed partner.”
“So Lucas isn’t that baby’s father?”
“That baby’s name is Madeleine and yes, Lucas is her father.”
“Help me out here, Kristin. I don’t have a damn doctorate but I do know that fathering a child normally involves sex. Maybe it just didn’t involve a bed?”
Kristin’s fist clenched as she fought to prevent herself from striking out at Nathan. She knew that he had to be devastated by what he had just learned but her nerves were raw and her head ached and she couldn’t stand his sarcasm.
“If you think for one moment that I willingly had sex with Lucas then you don’t know me at all.” Kristin stood up and left the room. Nathan allowed her words to sink in before he followed her. He found Kristin in her bedroom changing out of the medical gown that she wore. Tears streamed down her face. When she saw Nathan she sat down on the edge of her bed, clutching the cotton dress she’d been about to pull on to her bare chest.
“Will you tell me what happened?”
Nathan sat on the end of the bed; his back at a ninety-degree angle to Kristin’s as he listened to her voice. Kristin told Nathan how angry she had been at him because he’d jumped once again to Bill Noyce’s beck and call, leaving her alone only a week after their wedding. She hadn’t wanted to be home alone so she had volunteered to work extra shifts in the NCQ hospital ER. Lucas had assured her that he would be all right; that he had plans with ‘the guys’ that night. Kristin assumed that meant O’Neill and Ortiz so she hadn’t probed further. Unfortunately Lucas was taking advantage of both of their absences to join two of the civilian workers at a party he knew Nathan wouldn’t approve of. Lucas wasn’t home when Kristin arrived after midnight but she was so tired that she trusted him to make his 1AM curfew and went to bed.
Kristin awoke to the feeling of hands pulling at her nightgown and for a moment she thought Nathan had come home because she smelled his cologne. Then she realized that Lucas was the person in bed with her and that he was nude and very aroused. Kristin could smell the alcohol on Lucas’s breath. Her medical experience also allowed her to recognize that Lucas was quite high on some unknown substance. Lucas succeeded in ripping her silk nightgown to shreds even as she fought him. The drug had made him confused and Kristin couldn’t reach him with words even though she tried.
Lucas managed to capture her wrists together and force her legs apart in preparation for penetration but Kristin used one of her knees to knock Lucas off balance. He’d come just as he’d been about to thrust into her, soaking her sex with his semen. The ejaculation seemed to stun him a moment and Kristin had been able to push him off of her and onto the floor. He’d hit his arm on the bedside table as he fell and Kristin heard the sickening snap of bone. Lucas had screamed in pain and that pain seemed to bring him back from his drug and alcohol induced haze. Lucas realized what he tried to do and cried pitifully as Kristin dressed them both and loaded him into the car for a trip to the emergency room.
Once Lucas’s arm was set Kristin took him to a friend of hers and arranged counseling for the boy. By the time Nathan had returned two weeks later Lucas was home and Kristin and Lucas had managed to fall back into their mother-son relationship, albeit a bit uneasily.
“I knew something had happened. You were different. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I tell you? It would have broken your heart and Lucas was already beating himself up about it. I wanted to tell you, that is probably what you felt from me, but I didn’t know how. It didn’t mean anything to me except that Lucas was high and didn’t know what he was doing. My last husband raped me repeatedly for the last three months of the marriage. What Lucas did was nothing like that. He was a drunk confused kid. He didn’t even realize that it was me. Any female would have sufficed. That’s the nature of that damned drug they slipped him. Jekyll is what they call it on the streets, because of the vast change in personality it causes…. I know that pregnancy is possible without penetration but the odds are so low that I never even considered it.”
“You were on the pill.”
Kristin blushed a little. “I stopped taking them when we got married. Not intentionally, when we eloped I didn’t have a chance to pack anything. The timing wasn’t right so I didn’t worry and then I began to think about having a child, your child, and I realized that I really wanted to. I was going to talk to you about it but you came home with the news that you had to go on that damn tour.”
“We made love that entire week. Maybe…” Nathan stopped at the look on Kristin’s face, his feeble hopes dashed.
“Once you came home we settled back into our routine and things were better for a while. Then I realized that I was pregnant. I was so happy and I knew that you would be too but it just kept nagging at the back of my mind. I had to make sure. Part of me wishes I hadn’t needed to be positive. So I had my obstetrician draw an amniotic sample for genetic testing and I borrowed both your and Lucas’s DNA scans from the UEO. The tests proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lucas is Maddy’s father.”
Nathan leaned forward and banged his head against his hands over and over until Kristin was afraid he would hurt himself. She laid a restraining hand on his shoulder and Nathan turned into her and pulled her into his embrace. “You left me.”
“I couldn’t lie to you, let you believe you were the father when you weren’t. I couldn’t tell Lucas. He was only seventeen years old. He isn’t old enough to be a father and he shouldn’t have to be. Telling you would have destroyed us and it would have destroyed you and Lucas. I couldn’t leave you alone again. I couldn’t destroy Lucas’s life. Leaving was the only solution I could come up with apart from abortion and I couldn’t do that. I’m not capable of intentionally killing my child.”
“So now I know.”
“I tried to keep Maddy away from you. I wouldn’t have told either of you if we hadn’t had the accident. All of my reasons for leaving are still valid. Go back to the seaQuest, sign the divorce papers and forget you ever knew me. Make Lucas forget as well.”
Nathan pulled his head from her shoulder to stare into her eyes. Kristin was shocked to see that his deep blue orbs were full of amusement. “You are crazy as hell if you think that I am going to walk away from you again, Kristin Bridger.” He pulled the dress from her grasp and pushed her back onto the bed before covering her body with his.
Kristin tried to stop him. “We can’t do this, Nathan.” But her eyes begged him to continue.
“You’re my wife. I love you. I want to make love to you. You want to make love to me. Why can’t we?”
“I need to check on my daughter. You need to try to make peace with Lucas. Every time we make love will make it harder for me to say good-bye to you.”
“Maddy and Lucas can wait another hour. As to the other, I have no intention of saying good-bye to you so that doesn’t matter.”
“You don’t mean that. I won’t give up Maddy. The circumstances of her conception are a bit strange but I love her.”
“Of course you aren’t giving up the child. But I refuse to let you sacrifice me again either.” Nathan stifled any further argument with a kiss as his hands began to stroke her body.
When Nathan woke the bed next to him was empty but still warm. A quick glance at the clock told him that he had slept for over two hours. He quickly grabbed his clothes and dressed then headed to med bay, knowing that Kristin would be with her child.
To Nathan’s surprise the only person in the room with the baby was Lucas. The boy stood when Nathan entered, his face a mask of shame.
In spite of his anger Nathan loved the boy like his own son and that hadn’t changed. He walked up to Lucas and laid an arm across his shoulders. “We will get through this, Lucas, somehow we will get through it. Kristin told me what happened, that you didn’t know what you were doing. I wish it hadn’t happened but we can’t change it now. All we can do is try to move forward.”
“It should have been you, sir. You should be Maddy’s father. The doc left because of me…”
“Lucas!” Nathan took him firmly by the shoulders and locked their eyes. “As far as I am concerned I am Maddy’s father, from this point on. We will be a family, all of us. I’m not trying to push you out of this but you are only nineteen years old. You aren’t ready for the responsibility. Be her older brother, a loving uncle…and when she’s old enough to understand we will all explain that we did what we thought best for her because we loved her. Just think about what I’m saying, okay?”
Lucas nodded. “How can you love her? Maddy, I mean. After everything…”
“I love her because she is part of Kristin and I love her because she is part of you.”
“Captain!” Joshua Levin burst into the room. “We’ve been looking for you. Kristin…”
“What’s wrong? I thought she would be here with the baby.” Nathan looked to Lucas.
“She was here but she said she had a headache and went to find something to take for it.”
Levin motioned Nathan toward the door. “Kristin collapsed while she was getting the medication. I suspect that her head wound is more severe than I first thought. She needs more treatment than I can give her here. The station’s medical facilities are limited. In case of a serious accident they would normally send to the surface but with seaQuest parked right outside…”
Nathan nodded. “You can treat her adequately there? Good, then make your arrangements.”
“Taking Kristin will leave the station without a doctor…”
“Perhaps Dr. Smith would like to volunteer to help them out until a replacement can be arranged. Where is Kristin?”
Levin pointed to the door of the room Kristin had previously occupied and Nathan moved toward it. Kristin lay in the bed unconscious, her skin ghostly white. “We will work this mess out, baby, I swear.”
Lucas and Maddy cheered as Nathan carried Kristin through the door of his quarters and deposited her on the bed. A small white bandage just above her temple was the most obvious evidence of the critical surgery that Joshua Levin had performed to stop a slow bleed in Kristin’s brain. After a week in med bay Joshua had been only too glad to discharge his fractious patient to the care of her husband with strict instructions for continued bed rest. Kristin would have agreed to anything to escape the boredom of med bay but wasn’t thrilled about being carried back to Nathan’s cabin.
“I am not an invalid.” She told him pointedly as he pulled the covers up over her legs.
“But you are under doctors orders. Commander Ford has kindly agreed to take over the bridge for the next few days so that I can make sure you get enough rest.”
“So you are saying that you don’t trust me?”
“Not when it comes to following orders from a doctor other than yourself. At least we left Wendy Smith back on Selkie Station or you would probably have been tap dancing on the bridge just because she told you that you couldn’t.”
Kristin stuck her tongue out at Nathan as she reached for her squirming daughter. “Have you been behaving yourself, little miss?”
“Mama!” Maddy wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. “Feel dood?”
“I feel much better, sweetie. What have you been doing while mama was locked in med bay?”
“She’s stayed here with me. Joshua has been keeping a close eye on her just to make sure she didn’t have any adverse effects from the fall but she’s fine. Lucas has been a big help, too.”
“Lucas!” Maddy pointed.
Kristin nodded her head. “That’s right precious. Who is that?” Maddy followed her mother’s finger.
“Daddy!” She stated firmly.
Kristin frowned. “No, Maddy, this is Nathan. Come on, say Nathan.”
The little girl planted her arms on her mother’s chest and leaned forward, a determined look in her eye. Kristin recognized the stance immediately, having been on the opposite side of the table from it on more than one occasion. Nathan had obviously been spending a great deal of time with the child.
“DADDY!” Maddy stated emphatically.
Kristin started to correct the child again but Nathan stopped her. “Lucas and I have worked very hard to teach her to call me daddy.”
She stared at Nathan before moving her gaze to Lucas and then back again. Kristin didn’t know what to say so she blurted out. “You need to take us back to the research station, now, before this all gets out of hand.”
Nathan knelt by the side of the bed. “Lucas and I had a long talk and he has been doing a lot of thinking. He agrees with me that his role in Maddy’s life should be limited to big brother. I’m going to be her father. The next time we get back up world we will take care of the legalities.”
Kristin looked chagrined. “There won’t really be any legalities. I went back to England for Maddy’s birth. Under English law if a married woman has a child the husband is listed as the father. That’s why I had the divorce papers drawn up, Nathan, why I was upset that you burned them. I didn’t list a father on her birth certificate but since we were still married at the time of her birth you are her father in the eyes of English law.”
A grin split Nathan’s lips. “Then everything is taken care of. That’s why you were so upset when you found out I hadn’t signed the divorce papers!”
Kristin held out a hand to Lucas. “And you are sure that this is what you want? Tell me the truth, not what you think I want to hear.”
Lucas took the hand and squeezed it tightly. “I honestly believe that this is the best thing. I’m not ready to be a father. You belong with the Captain and Maddy belongs with the two of you.”
Kristin shot Nathan a look. “Well, that is something that Nathan and I will have to talk about but I want you to know that where ever Maddy and I may be you will always be welcome.”
Nathan inclined his head toward the door and after saying good-bye Lucas quickly exited. Nathan picked the baby girl up and plopped her down in the middle of her play area, which was surrounded by see-through mesh. She gurgled contentedly and began to play with her toys.
Nathan shrugged out of his shirt and slipped off his shoes before climbing into the bed beside Kristin. He propped up on one elbow and stared at her, lightly tracing the line of her jaw with his free hand. “So what do we have to talk about? Seems pretty straightforward to me. I’m your husband. You’re my wife. Maddy is our daughter. Why don’t you get some rest?”
“No you don’t, Nathan Bridger! Are you telling me that you are willing to accept someone else’s child as your own, raise her and love her? I won’t make you do that.”
“Seven days ago you admitted to me that you still loved me. On the observation deck, just after we’d made love, remember?” Kristin’s blush told Nathan that she did. “Has that changed in any way? I didn’t think so. Instead of a couple we are a family. I love that kid because she is a part of you but in the last week I’ve come to love her for herself. I’d really like to see this tour through but once it is over we will decide together what is best for all of us. Now I insist you get some rest or I’ll send you back to med bay.”
The clock showed 0530 as Kristin quickly clamped her barely lifted eyelid closed again. She listened intently for any sound coming from the small alcove where the baby slept but there was none so she relaxed into Nathan’s warm embrace. A smile appeared as she felt his morning erection against the plain of her stomach. Although she and Nathan had shared the same bed in the three days since she’d been released from med bay they hadn’t made love, partly because of her recovery but mostly because a certain baby seemed to interrupt anytime things began to heat up. Kristin raised her head slightly and stared at the dim light coming from the alcove. Once she was satisfied that Maddy was sleeping soundly she turned her attention back to Nathan, arching her back slightly so that her belly rubbed across his rigid shaft. Her efforts were rewarded when a groan slipped from Nathan’s lips as he fell onto his back.
Kristin grinned in delight and quickly opened his boxers. The dim light allowed her to see his erect penis as it rose from the nest of dark curls. Her fingers surrounded it and began to rub gently.
Nathan moaned again as he awoke to the sight of lips and tongue caressing and sucking his manhood. He reached down and grabbed Kristin’s shoulders, pulling her back up to eye level as their lips met in a passionate kiss.
“Isn’t this normally where we get interrupted?” He asked as Kristin’s tongue rasped across his sensitive nipple.
“Uhm…she’s still asleep.” Kristin’s mouth trailed fire across Nathan’s chest as she rubbed her body against him. “I need you.”
Strong hands eased the straps of Kristin’s negligee down her shoulders until the garment pooled at her waist. Nathan pushed her back onto the bed and rolled on top of her. Kristin parted her legs in anticipation but to her surprise Nathan began to nibble at her breasts instead. She wiggled beneath him to draw his attention downward but he never strayed from his intended task. A whimper escaped from somewhere deep in Kristin’s throat as Nathan locked his mouth firmly around one rosy nipple and began to suck, his tongue continuing to curl around the peak.
He felt Kristin jump beneath him and heard her sharp intake of surprise. Nathan quickly lifted his head. “Did I hurt you?”
She replied by shaking her head, a puzzled look on her face. “Do that again!”
Nathan didn’t know exactly what part of his ministration that he was supposed to replicate so he started again, repeating the actions of his lips and tongue to the best of his ability. Once again, just as he latched onto the nipple and sucked, Kristin jumped.
“What’s the matter, Baby? You used to like that.”
“I still do, very much. It’s just that…no, I’m crazy. Never mind.”
Kristin tried to kiss Nathan but he wanted to know what had distracted her so he levered his face above hers and trapped her arms beneath his. “Never mind, what?”
Knowing that she wouldn’t get any relief until Nathan got his answer Kristin finally gave in. “That thing that you did with your tongue, the way you kind of roll it and curl it around my nipple…Maddy did that when I breast-fed her. I’ve never felt anything like it except from you and Maddy but I’d forgotten so I was caught off guard when you did it. I knew it felt familiar but one doesn’t normally associate breast-feeding with…well…do you think that we could possibly move this along? You know that she is going to wake up any minute and I am going to go crazy if I don’t feel you inside me soon!”
Nathan laughed as he moved to oblige his beautiful wife.
Kristin was pacing the floor frantically by the time Nathan returned to the cabin after his first bridge shift since she’d been released from med bay. She flew into his arms and kissed him then dragged him into the room and pushed him into a chair.
“Talk to me, please. Say something intelligent. Tell me about your day.”
Nathan started to laugh but, taking note of the look on Kristin’s face, decided that might not be a good idea. “I take it that you are bored?”
“Nathan, I love my daughter to distraction but I haven’t spoken to an adult since you walked out that door this morning. I know you are backed up after taking the last two weeks off and I didn’t want to bother you but I am going crazy. I’ll never be a stay at home mom. I miss my research. I need some sort of intellectual stimulus!”
“I understand, baby, but you are recovering from major surgery. You have to give yourself time to heal.”
“I’m healed. I’m a doctor so I would know. What the bloody hell do you find so funny?”
Nathan was laughing so hard he was crying. “Yes, my love. You are definitely acting like yourself again. It might please you to know that I ran into Levin on my way back and he gave me the all clear to spring you.”
“I can leave the cabin? Thank God! Let’s go.”
“Whoa! Where would you like to go? And what about the munchkin over there?” Nathan inclined his head toward the playpen where Maddy sat staring at her parents.
“I don’t care if I walk the halls of this damn tub, I just need to be out of this cabin. As for Maddy, pick her up and bring her with us.”
Kristin headed toward the door again but Nathan cut her off. She immediately became irate. “You don’t want me to leave this damn cabin do you? What am I supposed to do? Stay locked up quietly and be your love slave or something? Stop laughing, damn you!”
Nathan was trying very hard not to laugh but he wasn’t succeeding. “I’m sorry. It was just the part about you being quiet…I’m sorry…I swear. I was actually thinking that if you are up to it we might take Maddy for a swim in the moon pool. Darwin has been asking about both of you.”
Nathan saw the brief look of fear that crossed Kristin’s face, her indecision obviously at war with her desire to leave the cabin. “I know that going back into the water won’t be the easiest thing for you or Maddy to do but you know that you need to do it. I don’t want our daughter growing up scared of the water. I don’t want you to be afraid either.”
Kristin nodded, seeing the wisdom in Nathan’s words. “I think I have a swimsuit somewhere in the bag of clothes that you threw together and I’m sure that Maddy does. Will you change her while I get ready?”
“Only if you promise that we can talk about that love slave thing later on.”
Nathan stood in the moon pool with the baby in his arms, laughing when she squealed in delight as she splashed the water with her feet. Kristin stood by the pool watching, one of Nathan’s biggest shirts hanging to her knees.
“Come on in, chicken. The water feels wonderful!” Maddy squealed in agreement as she held her hands out and yelled.
Eventually Kristin ventured to sit on the side of the pool and dip one foot in. Nathan moved to the side and with quick “here” Kristin found her lap full of wet baby. Maddy giggled in delight and stood to wrap her arms around her mother’s neck.
“Ouch, mama, hurt.” Maddy pointed at the buttons on the shirt, which had poked into her.
“You put her up to this didn’t you?” Kristin eyed Nathan as she deftly undid the buttons and pushed the damp shirt off her shoulders. She rolled her eyes at Nathan as they both heard the sound of breath exhaling.
“He’s back there isn’t he?” Kristin asked.
Tony Piccolo stepped into view and gave a little wave. “Lookin’ good, doc!” He shouted before going about his business.
Piccolo’s appearance had distracted Kristin enough for Nathan to surreptitiously reach up and lock an arm around Maddy. Just as Kristin turned back his other arm went around her waist and the three of them flew back into the pool. Kristin came up sputtering, her ponytail hanging over her eyes.
“Gin, Daddy, do gin!” Maddy clapped her hands.
“You are so dead, Bridger!” She told him as she pushed hair out of her face. Kristin was surprised that Nathan didn’t respond but once her vision was clear she saw that he was too busy staring at her body in the now almost transparent white swimsuit that accentuated her long legs and shapely body.
“Like what you see, sailor?” She whispered.
Nathan nodded and moved toward her. Kristin was puzzled when he stopped but she soon understood.
“Mr. Piccolo, I would appreciate it if you would kindly get lost.”
“Yes, sir.” Piccolo saluted –somewhat facetiously- and headed towards the door muttering all the way. ‘Get lost, Piccolo, don’t look Piccolo, hell, she’s wearing more now than she was on the WHSKR view…do they think I’m blind? I’d have to be dead not to notice…”
“WHSKR view? What the hell was he talking about, Nathan?”
“I have no idea, baby.” But in fact Nathan thought he now understood the ‘you lucky bastard’ stares that he had received on the bridge that morning. He was going to have to do some snooping.
Kristin obviously didn’t believe him because she took the baby from his hands and turned her back to him as she held Maddy in the water and encouraged her to kick. A patch of gray appeared at Nathan’s side and bumped his arm.
“Darwin play. Bridger play.” Came the tinny voice through the vocorder.
“Hey, Darwin. I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”
“Kristin!” Darwin was unmistakably happy to see the woman who turned to greet him. At Nathan’s gesture she lowered the baby into the water near the dolphin as Nathan performed the introductions.
“Darwin this is Maddy. She’s…”
“Bridger Kristin cub.” Darwin exclaimed excitedly. The little girl clapped her hands and reached out to pat Darwin’s melon.
Kristin smiled and ran her free hand over Darwin’s head as well, then held the baby’s hand to rub his snout. Nathan glanced around the deck and saw that it was empty.
“Yes, Darwin. Maddy is my baby, my cub”
The dolphin shook his head vigorously. “Bridger cub!”
“Darwin, the baby is Kristin’s but she isn’t mine!” Nathan said, his voice low.
“BRIDGER’S BABY!” The dolphin flipped his tail and swam off in a huff.
“Darwin, come back here.” Nathan watched as the dolphin disappeared into the tube system. He turned back at the sound of Maddy’s screaming to find that Kristin had climbed out of the pool and the baby was crying to get back into the water, holding her hands out to the retreating dolphin.
“Kris, come back in. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I think it does, Nathan. I need to be alone for a while. Don’t come after me.” Kristin pulled the shirt on, refusing to meet his gaze.
“Kris…let me keep Maddy. You take some time to yourself. I know you have to be tired of watching her all the time.”
“I never get tired of looking after my child.” Kristin scooped the little girl into her arms and disappeared out the door.
Kristin wandered through the corridors of the new seaQuest, so familiar to her and yet so different, looking for a quiet place to hide. She knew she had found it when she pushed on the door to the horticultural section and found it empty. A quick walk through yielded a secluded bench that she sat down on to give Maddy a bottle of juice. The baby was very tired from crying for Nathan and fell asleep almost instantly. Kristin made Maddy comfortable on one end of the bench before curling up on the other.
Kristin was deep in her thoughts when a large splash startled her. She screamed as Tony Piccolo burst through the irrigation water.
“I’m sorry, doc, I didn’t know you were here. Most people on board are used to me popping up in here. I can breath underwater but sometimes I just gotta come up for air, you know what I mean.”
Kristin nodded, vaguely remembering Nathan telling her something about Mr. Piccolo’s gills. She tilted her head and caught a glimpse of them before Piccolo’s words pulled her back.
“I’m surprised that you aren’t still in the moon pool. That little girl looked like she was having the time of her life. She wasn’t afraid at all.”
“No, she wasn’t afraid. I’m glad that you showed up, Mr. Piccolo. I’ve been remiss and I want to correct that. I understand that I have you to thank for saving my daughter’s life. I’m very grateful.”
Piccolo blushed slightly. “Anyone on the crew would have done the same thing. The captain would have been the first one over the wall for her if you hadn’t been in danger too.”
“Yes, well...You were the one who saved her so it is you that I’m thanking. I’m glad I have the opportunity to do so before we go back to the station.”
“Just glad to do it, Ma’am. So you are going back? We’d been kind of hoping that you would hang around.”
“I don’t think that is going to work out. Besides if I stay around here you’ll end up in the brig for sure.”
A large grin split Piccolo’s face. “You are definitely easy on the eyes, Mrs. Bridger. Sometimes I may be a little over the top but I’m really harmless, at least when it comes to my captain’s wife. I’m not stupid.”
Kristin’s eyes sparkled “No you’re not. I think that I may have underestimated you, Mr. Piccolo. You’re brash but you did save my daughter’s life. Lucas has told me what a good friend you’ve been to him but if I ever hear of you trying to take him to a strip bar again I will personally sew your gills up.”
Tony cringed. “He told you about that, huh?”
A small murmur drew their eyes to Maddy, who was pushing herself up on the other end of the bench. The look that she gave Tony was so hard that Kristin almost laughed. A small hand came up to rub her sleep filled eyes before she whimpered. “Want Daddy.”
“Daddy isn’t here right now, sweetheart. Come give mummy a hug.”
The child shook her head. “Want DADDY!” She stated more insistently and thrust her small body into the corner as she crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at her mother.
Tony inclined his head. “She doesn’t seem too happy. You want me to call the Cap for you?”
Kristin shook her head. “Maddy is just angry because I took her out of the moon pool before she was ready. She has become very attached to Nathan in the past two weeks but I don’t really want to see him right now.”
“A fight? Everybody has ‘em. They are just a part of life. That’s no reason for you to leave. The crew likes having you around. The Captain has been much easier to live with the past two weeks. He can be a real grouch, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” Kristin replied solemnly.
“Besides, you’ve already caught the captain so we don’t have to watch you chase him all over the ship like Dr. Smith does.”
“That’s true…what? Nathan and Wendy Smith? Nathan is involved with Dr. Smith?”
Tony was seeing something that he didn’t understand but that Lucas would have. Kristin Westphalen Bridger was angry, but what's more she was jealous. Her face hardened into ice as she picked up the stubborn child who kept insisting that she see her father.
“Mr. Piccolo, would you like to baby-sit for a little while? You could take Maddy back to the moon pool.”
“I’m not sure ma’am. The captain did give me a job to do and…”
“The captain will not be troubling you in the next few hours. I can assure you of that!” Kristin turned and stalked out of the door without a backward glance at Piccolo or the child she had thrust into his arms.
“Doc! I didn’t say that the captain was chasing her back!” Tony’s words came too late as the hatch door slammed shut.
Nathan knew that he’d screwed up. A simple slip of the tongue had lost Kristin to him forever. He couldn’t even figure out why he had told Darwin he wasn’t Maddy’s father. For that matter, Nathan couldn’t understand why Darwin didn’t know. He seemed to know everything so why hadn’t Darwin known that Lucas had fathered Maddy.
~ Why couldn’t Darwin be right? Why couldn’t the baby be mine? God, why couldn’t I have been her father? ~ Nathan had been determined to love the child for Kristin’s sake but while Kristin had been in med bay Nathan had quickly grown attached to her for her own self. The little girl seemed to return his adoration if her reaction at the moon pool was any indication.
~ What if Darwin was right? Is there any possible way that she could be mine? ~ Nathan’s mind was grasping at straws. Kristin checked the DNA, he reminded himself. But Darwin’s words had really freaked Nathan out, made him want to believe the impossible. Nathan thought about asking Kristin to test the baby again but he quickly discarded that idea. She was convinced he’d never accept the child and would view that request as further proof.
Nathan flinched as steel screamed against steel, all of Kristin’s weight brought to bear behind the closing door. God, he knew that she would be angry but not like this. Nathan braced himself before he turned to face her.
“I didn’t come after you. I left you alone. I thought you were going to calm down so that I could try and explain…”
“Explain? Explain why you didn’t tell me that you are involved with Wendy Smith? And you a married man!”
“Now wait just one damn minute, Kristin. YOU left ME! You asked for a divorce, not me.”
“You tore the papers up. You knew we were still married but you went after her anyway. Why the hell did you bring me on this boat and leave your lover at my station. Are you trying to punish me for Maddy? Make me believe that you can love us then hurt me like I hurt you? Take me back to my station now!”
“Wendy Smith is not my lover. I never did more than kiss her. Okay, she showed up on the island and I danced with her. I tried to want her because I was lonely, because my wife walked out on me. But as hard as I tried I couldn’t do it because she wasn’t you. For better or worse, Kristin, you are the only woman who will do for me. I do love you and in spite of what you believe I love that little girl!” Nathan was just as angry as Kristin, the two shouting at each other.
“Don’t lie to me. You couldn’t even let Darwin think that she is yours. What happens when the real world intrudes? Bill and Janet, will you tell them the ‘truth’? I don’t need that and neither does Lucas. I’d rather Maddy not know anything than to know that she was conceived the way she was.”
“Maddy doesn’t have to ever be ashamed of anything. Her conception wasn’t her fault, Kristin. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened. But I won’t mention it again, I swear!”
Tears were streaming down Kristin’s face and she began to struggle as Nathan’s hands wrapped around her arms. “You can’t make that promise. Of course it matters. How could you ever want either of us? How can you forget it when I can’t? She should have been yours. I’m so sorry she isn’t yours!”
Nathan realized in that instant the guilt that Kristin felt over Maddy’s conception, guilt that she felt over leaving him, guilt that she’d never shown. He pulled her in close to him and held her up when she would have sunk to the floor. “It wasn’t your fault. Do you understand me, Kristin?” He shook her until she looked up at him. “She is mine. None of this is your fault!”
Nathan’s lips closed over Kristin’s and she opened her mouth to him, their tongues locked in a battle that had little to do with tenderness. Their embrace was as the one in the observation deck had been, raw passion and desire that couldn’t be contained.
Somehow they managed to undress each other, mostly by ripping clothing apart. A few more moments found them in the bunk although neither of them could have said how they got there. The battle continued between them, Kristin so sure she was no longer worthy to be loved and Nathan determined to show her how wrong she was.
In the end love won out. Nathan finally managed to gain the upper hand as he used his entire body to show Kristin just how much he did love her. He worshipped her with his hands and with his mouth as he carried her over the edge again and again, never letting her passion diminish until, with one final earth-shattering climax, she screamed and fell exhausted against him. Still he held her, kissing her and caressing her damp body as he gently slid into her. Nathan set an easy rhythm as he murmured his love into Kristin’s ear, holding his release back until her body was ready to climb the peak with him and falling over with her as they reached the pinnacle together.
Nathan held Kristin in his arms, her head buried in his chest. The shaking of her shoulders told him that she was crying even though no sound escaped her lips. Nathan didn’t try to staunch her tears; in fact he welcomed them as he suspected that they were the first she had cried over the whole mess. When her body stilled Nathan shifted them until they were laying side by side and cupped Kristin’s face with his hands. His thumbs tenderly traced the lines of her eyebrows as he kissed away the remnants of her tears.
“Kris, what happened doesn’t change the way that I feel about you, the way I have felt about you from the beginning. Listen to what I am saying to you. I do not blame you in any way, not for Maddy and not for leaving me. I understand why you did what you did. But we are together now and we are going to be a family.”
“I don’t want my daughter hurt, Nathan. She is already crazy about you. What if you can’t accept her, really? Darwin is a fish but you still had to tell him…”
“That isn’t fair. Darwin is not just a fish. He’s my friend.” Kristin rolled her eyes at Nathan’s words and shifted away from him but his hands tightened their grip, pulling her back.
“It wasn’t telling him the truth, Kris. I just couldn’t believe that he didn’t know it already. Darwin knows things. You’ve seen that. I was concerned because I thought Darwin might spout out ‘Lucas cub’ no matter who was around. I told Darwin because I wanted to see what he would say.”
“Darwin insists that Maddy belongs to you.”
“That’s just it, Kristin. She does belong to me in every way that is important. Maybe that is what Darwin was trying to get through my thick skull. When you walked away from the pool I thought I would go crazy. It was worse than when you left me before. I can’t let you go. I can’t let Maddy go.”
“Can you ever trust me again?”
“Baby, I never didn’t trust you. And I think that, deep down, you trust me too. You know that what I’m saying is true but you are scared, even though you know the three of us belong together. Like you said, Maddy is already crazy about her daddy. Maddy’s daddy is crazy about her too. And I have it on the best of authority that Maddy’s daddy is absolutely insane over Maddy’s mama.” Nathan’s mouth moved to capture Kristin’s lips.
Kristin bolted up in the bed. “Maddy! Oh God! I’ve got to get her. I left her with Piccolo!” She scrambled to the floor and began to search wildly for something to put on.
Nathan laughed and hit the com-link, calling for Piccolo.
“Captain, Commander Ford here. Mr. Piccolo is in the moon pool playing with Maddy and Darwin…excuse me, baby-sitting.” Ford amended at Piccolo’s shout in the background.
“Please inform Mr. Piccolo that Maddy’s mother is on the way to get her and if he has taught her any bad habits he has five minutes to unteach them.”
Nathan broke the connection and climbed out of the bed. “See, she’s just fine.” He told Kristin as he opened his closet to pull out a pair of pants.
“You don’t know that. Maddy picks things up very quickly. She’s been with Piccolo for…two hours? It can’t have been two hours!” Kristin pushed Nathan out of the way and grabbed one of his shirts from a hanger.
“Piccolo is not going to corrupt her in two hours… That’s my favorite shirt!”
“Mine too.” Kristin smiled as she fastened the last button and headed toward the door. “See you on sea deck.”
“Hey, wait for me!”
Kristin heard Maddy scream as she approached the moon pool and she dived through the hatch to find Maddy was laughing instead of crying. She was seated on Darwin, just behind his dorsal fin while Piccolo held her securely beneath her arms.
Maddy clapped her hands when she saw her mother. “Mama! Wide Dawin!”
Kristin moved to the side of the moon pool and sat down. “I see that, lovey.” Kristin smiled at her daughter’s obvious joy. “Are you hungry, sweetie? It’s time for dinner.”
Maddy’s face immediately clouded up. “Wanna stay!”
“Hey, short stuff,” Piccolo slid Maddy off Darwin’s back and began to move toward Kristin. “Remember our deal. You get out when mama says so and I’ll bring you back tomorrow if your parents say okay.”
Maddy looked at Piccolo sulkily but she didn’t protest anymore. Just as they reached the wall Nathan walked into the room and Maddy’s face once again lit up. “Daddy!” She held her hands up to Nathan, bypassing her mother completely. Nathan knew from Kristin’s posture that this upset her but he couldn’t help but be thrilled that the child was growing so attached to him.
Nathan swung Maddy into his arms. “Why don’t we get you dried off then you and mama and I will go get something to eat. I’ll bet that if you clean your plate Mama might let you have some chocolate ice cream.”
Kristin smiled at the scene that flashed through her memory and a look at Nathan’s face told her he was remembering as well. “I think that we could work something out.” Nathan slid his free hand around Kristin’s waist and they started to the door.
“Mr. Piccolo?” Tony was climbing out of the moon pool when he heard the sultry voice and turned to find that Dr. Westphalen had stopped to speak to him. “I was wondering, Mr. Piccolo, earlier today you made a certain comment, something about a WHSKR view?” Kristin’s eyebrows were raised and Tony felt himself blush under the weight of her controlled glare. “I would like to know what you were talking about.”
Tony searched his brain for a cover story but all coherent thought seemed to have left him. “I…uhm…well, you see…I can’t say, ma’am. It’s classified.”
Nathan had stopped to listen and took this opportunity to join the conversation. “I’ve not been notified of anything classified concerning the WHSKRs. Perhaps you’re mistaken?”
Piccolo felt the heat surge into his face. “I had nothing to do with it sir, absolutely nothing, I swear. Ortiz was the one in charge of the WHSKRs. We didn’t know that you and the missus were gonna be getting it on for the fish to see.”
Nathan wasn’t exactly sure how to respond to this statement. Jonathan Ford had been watching the scene, not meaning to eavesdrop but enjoying Piccolo’s discomfort. However he didn’t enjoy Kristin’s obvious embarrassment so he decided to step in.
“Captain, Junior caught a glancing view of you and Doctor Westphalen…getting reacquainted… while focused on the bioluminescent life the station was studying. The visual was very brief and cut off immediately. I ordered the crew who saw the image not to speak of it again.”
Nathan nodded with his best Captain’s mask in place. “Thank you, Commander. I think that is an order we should continue to follow. Mr. Piccolo, I believe you have a task to finish?” Tony hung his head and moved back towards the water but Kristin’s hand on his arms stopped him.
“Thank you for taking care of Maddy this afternoon, Mr. Piccolo. I didn’t give you much of a choice but she seems to have had a good time.”
Tony cast a glance at Nathan before he whispered. “I was trying to tell you that the Captain didn’t reciprocate Dr. Smith’s feelings but you left. I guess you two really went at it, huh?”
Kristin hoped Tony didn’t notice the blush that was creeping up her face. “Maybe we needed to get it out in the open. We haven’t had a fight in two weeks. That’s a record for us.”
“So you’re…things are okay? That’s good. Maybe you’ll think about staying now.”
“Maybe.” Kristin replied noncommittally and turned to go, but Piccolo’s had something else to say.
“About the WHSKR thing…I’m sorry I brought that up. It really was just a very brief visual.”
Kristin smiled. “Thank you, Tony.”
Piccolo climbed over the side of the moon pool and lowered himself into the water. He flashed Kristin a brash grin. “Maddy wanted her daddy about an hour ago so I tried to bring her home. I got the audio version then.” He disappeared beneath the water, as Kristin blushed crimson.
Nathan hadn’t overheard the exchange but he moved to her side when he saw her color change. “What’s he done now? Piccolo will never learn I guess.”
Kristin shook her head. “Leave him alone, Nathan. He’s a bit unorthodox but he really is trying to do a good job. From what I saw he was very good with Maddy and she doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects.
“Daddy!” Maddy pulled on Nathan’s shirt to pull his attention back to her. “Ice ceam!”
“Okay princess, let’s go get something to eat.”
Kristin’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her daughter. “PICCOLO!” She screamed as Nathan gave into his laughter.
“Okay, that is enough. Just knock it off!” Kristin was tempted to slam the door of their cabin in Nathan’s face and probably would have done so if he hadn’t been carrying Maddy.
Nathan was still laughing, just as he had been through their entire meal. He knew that Kristin was really pissed at him but he couldn’t help himself. Nathan would have paid any price to have a picture of Kristin’s face during dinner when Maddy had innocently asked ‘Mama hot?’
~ “No lovey, mama isn’t hot. Are you?”
Maddy shook her head. “Towy say mama hot.” ~
“I’m sorry, honey, but if you could have seen your face…besides you are the one who told me to let up on Piccolo.”
“That was before I realized that it only took two hours to corrupt our daughter. God knows what he will teach her when he takes her swimming tomorrow.”
Nathan stopped dead in his tracks; his hand still pressed against the door he had just closed. ~ She said ‘our’ daughter. She doesn’t even realize she said it. ~ For the first time in two weeks Nathan really began to believe that Kristin could accept him as Maddy’s father. A smile broke out on his face as he swooped down on the angry woman.
“Nathan…what are you doing? You’ll smash Mad…” Nathan’s lips closed over hers, one arm wrapped around her waist to hold her to him, the other keeping a firm grip on Maddy. The child wrapped an arm around each of her parent’s necks and held their faces together.
“Mama Daddy tissin” She announced to the empty room.
“Eeeew!” Kristin pulled a sticky hand away from her neck as the kiss ended. Maddy’s hands, and most of her body, were coated with chocolate ice cream residue. “You need a bath right this instant young lady. And so do I.” Kristin could feel the goo in her hairline.
“How about a shower? We could make it a family affair.”
Kristin looked at Nathan skeptically. “You think that all of us will fit in that tiny shower? We’d be packed in there like sardines.”
Nathan pulled Kristin’s hips suggestively against his. “And what’s wrong with that?”
Nathan swore when his bare foot came into contact with his desk as he hurried to the com-link. “What is it, Mr. O’Neill?” He asked as he pulled his robe on and began to towel his hair dry.
“Secretary-General Noyce is on the line for you, sir.”
“Put him through. What’s up, Bill?” Nathan asked as his friend’s face appeared on the screen. “Is this an official call or you just had an overwhelming yearning to see my face?”
Bill chuckled. “I just got a call from Admiral Smith wanting to know why you had abandoned her daughter on a research station in the middle of the ocean. Finally had all of Wendy you could stand?”
“Selkie Station’s doctor got hurt and they needed a temporary stand-in until a permanent replacement could be found. Dr. Smith volunteered.”
“That sounds right. It sounded like Sexy Lexie was more pissed about the situation than her daughter was. What happened to the station’s doctor?”
“A head injury. Levin brought her here to be treated. She’ll be fine. Bill?” Nathan saw Bill’s eyes bug as he swallowed hard. Nathan turned to see Kristin’s head sticking out of the door of the head, a bare shoulder and the swell of a naked breast clearly visible to the monitor although he suspected that even more had been showing moments earlier.
“You know, I’m beginning to get a complex about getting caught on camera without my clothes on. Hi Bill.” Kristin gave a little wave and Bill waved back, clearly still unable to speak. “Could you…” Kristin inclined her head back into the bathroom. “I need to wash my hair and it’s kind of difficult…”
Bill Noyce found his voice at that moment. “JANET!” They heard him scream.
Kristin rolled her eyes and disappeared back into the bathroom.
Nathan held out a hand to the screen, one finger pointed at Noyce. “Stay there. No, go get Janet and then come back. I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”
Kristin had climbed back into the shower and was trying to wash her hair with one hand while she held Maddy with the other but the baby wanted to help so the situation was going from bad to worse. Nathan popped the door open and pulled the clean baby out, wrapping her in a soft towel.
“I’m gonna introduce her to Bill and Janet. Is that okay?” Nathan asked as his eyes slid appreciatively up and down her wet body. “Do you want to come?”
“I’m dying to but let’s wait until the baby is asleep, okay?” Kristin laughed at Nathan’s expression when he realized the double meaning to his question. “As for the Noyce’s, I think that Bill has seen quite enough of me for one day. Why don’t you handle the introductions while I finish my hair.”
“I’d rather handle you.” Desire was thick in Nathan’s voice.
Kristin flicked her fingers toward the door. “Later, I promise.”
Nathan smiled at the promise. Kristin hadn’t mentioned leaving seaQuest since their fight earlier in the day. He hoped that she was once again willing to stay with him.
When Nathan exited the head with Maddy in his arms he saw two very shocked faces on the screen.
“Bill, Janet, I’d like for you to meet my daughter, Madeleine. Princess, this is your Uncle Bill and your Aunt Janet.”
Maddy pointed at the screen as she spoke. “Unka Biw. An Danet.” She clapped her hands as she spoke the names.
“That’s right, Madeleine. I’m your Aunt Janet. You are such a pretty girl.”
Maddy buried her head in her father’s chest, one eye peeking out at the unknown lady with the lovely smile.
“Kristin was the station’s doctor, the head of the station. She’s Kristin’s child.” Bill said, half question and half statement.
“And your child.”
“Yes, uhm…did I ever happen to mention to you that Kristin and I sort of…eloped to Vegas several years ago? Right before that damned fund raising tour you shanghaied me into?”
Nathan didn’t notice the crack in the door of the bathroom or that it quietly disappeared after his answers.
Nathan and Maddy were sitting in the rocking chair, Maddy listening intently to Nathan’s voice, when Kristin exited the bathroom. They didn’t notice her until she laughed when a large yawn escaped Maddy’s lips.
“I don’t blame her. I can’t say that I find the theory of engine mechanics terribly riveting either.” Kristin’s voice caught at the clearly sensual look in Nathan’s eyes as he gazed at her towel draped body. “You haven’t dressed her yet. You do realize what a big chance you are taking holding her without a diaper don’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure where her pajamas were so we decided to wait for you.”
Kristin lifted the child into her arms. “They are under the pillow in her bed. I’ll get her diapered if you’ll get them.” She laid the baby on the bunk and deftly wrapped a diaper around the squirming body. Maddy voiced her protest as she kicked her legs at her mother. “So your daddy isn’t the only one who likes going commando, hum?” Kristin asked as she tickled the girl’s feet causing Maddy to giggle.
“Smart kid. Wait until we get her to the island and put her in the ocean. She’ll never want to wear a suit again.” Nathan said as he exited the alcove, limping slightly.
“What’s wrong with your leg?” Kristin asked with concern.
Nathan shrugged. “I kicked the desk when I was running for the phone earlier. It didn’t hurt then.”
“But it does now? Come here.” Kristin motioned for him to sit down in the bunk, sliding Maddy so that she was caught between Nathan and the wall. She sat down on the opposite end and pulled his foot into her lap.
“It doesn’t appear to be sprained.” She observed as she manipulated his ankle.
“I didn’t hit my ankle. Ouch!” Nathan jumped as Kristin probed the bruise along the outside of his big toe. He protested again when she pulled his toes apart to check the other side for bruising.
“You’ve probably broken it. There isn’t much to be done except live with it. I’ll tape it to the next toe…”
Nathan had been staring at his foot intently but looked up when Kristin’s voice trailed off. He watched the color drain from her face as she stared at his foot.
“Kristin, what’s wrong? Kristin!”
Finally she pulled her gaze up to meet his. “Your toe, the second one…it’s different.” Her eyes fell back to his foot.
Nathan pushed his other foot into her lap and wiggled his toes. “Yep, on both feet.” He watched as Kristin moved her hand to touch the toe, hesitating before contact was made.
“It’s nothing, Kristin. My second toe has an extra joint. I can’t believe that could bother you. I got it from my dad; he got it from his dad. My son got it from me. We call it the Bridger legacy.”
Kristin didn’t reply for several moments and Nathan got worried. He slipped a hand beneath her lowered face to lift her chin up. “Baby?”
Kristin finally moved; leaning over to pull Maddy out of the corner she’d migrated into. She sat the baby in Nathan’s lap facing him and slipped a hand beneath one of her pudgy legs.
“And you gave it to your daughter.”
Nathan went pale as he looked down at the small foot Kristin had pushed up at him. Maddy’s small second toe had an extra joint. Nathan grabbed her other foot and found the same thing. The blood drained from his face.
“She’s mine…oh my God…she’s mine!” Nathan threw his arms around the child and squeezed her tightly to his body, smothering her face with kisses. Maddy responded by gripping her father’s cheeks and kissing back.
Tears streamed down Kristin’s face as she struggled to process this new information. “I checked the DNA myself. I couldn’t have been wrong. I don’t understand. I swear I never would have taken her away from you…” her words were choked by the sobs that began to pour from her throat.
Nathan stretched one arm out and pulled Kristin into the embrace he and Maddy were sharing. “It’s okay, baby.”
Maddy reached out to pat her mother’s cheek. “No mama cwy.” She leaned forward and laid her own cheek against her mother’s, raining baby kisses across Kristin’s face as tears appeared in her own eyes.
“Oh my sweetheart!” Kristin tried to contain her own tears as she wiped her daughter’s away. Maddy’s tears soon gave way to yawns and the excitement of the day quickly caught up with her. She burrowed into Nathan’s chest and quietly fell asleep, one hand still resting on her mother’s damp cheek.
“Let me go put her to bed then we are going to have a talk.”
Kristin nodded in reply and sat, unmoving, until Nathan returned. He pulled her to her feet and adroitly rid her of the towel around her otherwise nude body before doing the same with his robe. He settled both of them into the bed and switched off all of the overhead lights.
“So I think our first step should be getting those tests redone. Can you do it with the equipment we have on board?”
“You’d trust me to do the tests? After the major mess I’ve made of this?”
“Sweetheart, I’ll lay odds that however this happened, it was not your fault. You are the best-damned doctor I know. So tomorrow you take a new samples from Maddy then you do the test again.”
“If it’s okay with you I’d rather Joshua did the testing. I think that perhaps we need someone impartial and I think that he would keep his mouth shut.”
Nathan’s lips sought Kristin’s in the darkness, locking on to them with unerring accuracy. The kiss was tender and full of promise but Nathan felt the tenseness in her body. He pulled her closer and began to lightly massage her back.
“She is mine, Kristin. There is no way that she could have those toes if she wasn’t. Darwin was right.”
“And I’ve put us all through hell for the last two years…”
“NO!” Nathan rolled on top of his wife, his eyes boring into hers as he disputed her statement. “You did what you thought you had to do with the information that you had. Of course I regret the separation but I don’t blame you for it. I admire you for having the courage to do what you felt had to be done. I adore you for cherishing this little life that you carried within you and I love you…I love you because I do. So I don’t want to ever hear you blame yourself again.”
“Nathan…” He felt the dampness flowing on her cheeks and moved his mouth to kiss it away, his tongue lapping every spot of the salty liquid from her satin skin. She squirmed beneath him, the feel of his tongue against her skin giving rise to more amorous feelings.
“I believe you made me a promise earlier?”
“While we were in the shower…you promised me that I could handle you…just after you told me that you were dying to come? Well I aim to please.”
“Noooo!” Maddy yelled at the sight of the needle in Joshua Levin’s hand. “Daddy!”
Nathan started to put a stop to things then and there, not wanting his baby to undergo any more pain but Kristin stepped in.
“There there, sweetheart. The needle doesn’t hurt. You’ve had shots before, remember?” She motioned Nathan to the table as she continued. “Why don’t you give your daddy a big hug and mummy will have this over with in just a jiffy.”
Levin slipped the syringe surreptitiously into Kristin’s outstretched hand as Maddy climbed up her father in an attempt to get away from the shiny metal. Kristin tenderly grasped one tiny wrist and inserted the needle into the small arm. Maddy buried her head in Nathan’s neck and whimpered.
Kristin had a gentle touch and the deed was done within moments. She passed the syringe back to Levin as a look passed between them. The two had shared a long talk earlier so that even though he had no idea who the alternate candidate for father was, Levin understood the gravity of the situation.
“I’ll start on this right away. With any luck I will have the results by this evening.”
“Thank you, Joshua.” Nathan answered as Kristin returned to his side to sooth their still sobbing daughter.
Maddy raised her head, still snuffling her eyes filled with tears. “Daddy…ice ceam?”
“You little con artist!” Kristin exclaimed but Nathan hooted with laughter.
“You can have all the ice cream you can eat, princess.”
Nathan returned from his bridge shift to find Maddy was still upset. His small cabin had been cleaned as never before. Maddy threw toys around the playpen, her mother nowhere in sight.
She held her arms out to him, begging to be held, the moment he walked into the room. The usual ray of sunshine in her face was gone and Nathan couldn’t coax a smile from her no matter how hard he tried.
A muffled response led Nathan to the head. Kristin was sitting in the middle of the shower stall, scrub brush in hand, stray strands of hair escaping from her ponytail to fall over her face. He knew immediately that Kristin was wound as tight as a drum.
“Have you been cleaning all day?”
“Well I bloody well had to do something!”
Nathan stared at her for a moment before turning and walking out of the tiny room. Kristin quickly followed and found him standing at the com link. He hit the off switch and turned back to her.
“Piccolo and Lucas are on their way to pick up Maddy. How would you like to go swimming with Darwin, princess?”
“Dar! Dar!” Maddy clapped her hands and rewarded Nathan with a beaming smile.
“I think that we need to spend some time together. What would you like to do? We can watch a movie…go for a walk in the horticulture section…make mad passionate love in the shower…your choice.”
Kristin also rewarded Nathan with a small smile. “Maybe we could start with a walk? You could actually give me a tour of this tub…show me the research your science department is conducting? Then later…we might discuss the other options.”
“Ah…you’re using me to get to my research labs…I understand now.”
A knock at the door interrupted their light banter. Maddy’s sunny disposition returned full force as her mother’s mood lightened and she crowed with delight to see Lucas and Tony. Kristin plucked Maddy from her father’s arms and disappeared into the alcove to change her into a swimsuit while Nathan went over a list of rules with the young men.
“…And last but not least you, Piccolo, are to unteach Maddy to say ‘hot damn’ and I would further suggest that you refrain from making any more comments about Kristin’s…assets…in front Madeleine as well.”
Piccolo had the good grace to blush. “She repeated that?!”
“She is a very bright child, Piccolo…good genes.”
Nathan regretted the remark as soon as it left his mouth. The tips of Lucas’ ears turned bright pink and he quickly changed the subject. Nathan and Kristin had decided not to talk with Lucas about their discovery yet, wanting to have all of their facts in order before they got the boy’s hopes up.
Kristin returned with Maddy and the baby blew her parents kisses over Lucas’ shoulder as the three departed, Tony close behind the other two with the diaper bag over his shoulder.
Nathan wrapped his arms around his wife and pulled her in for a loving kiss. “So how about that walk, Mrs. Bridger?”
“Later…” Kristin’s hands attacked the buttons on his shirt.
“But I thought…”
“I changed my mind.”
The knock at the door startled Nathan and he jumped, his quick movement stirring the woman at his side into wakefulness as well.
“Who is it?” Nathan called as he struggled into his trousers.
“It’s Levin, Captain. I have the results.”
“Just a moment.” Nathan pulled on his tee shirt with lightening speed while Kristin dressed at an equal pace. She made a quick stab at straightening the rumpled bedclothes while Nathan admitted Levin but quickly gave up and plopped down on the edge, irritated to find Levin grinning at her.
“We’re married…it’s allowed!” She snapped.
“No problem, doctor.” No way was Levin about to do anything else to upset the anxious woman in front of him.
Nathan offered Levin the chair then moved to the bunk to sit beside Kristin. Their hands unconsciously joined.
“So…what do the tests show?” Kristin got right to the point.
Levin tried to keep his face impartial but didn’t succeed. “The DNA scan showed that there was no chance at all that Nathan Bridger fathered Madeleine Westphalen.”
“DAMMIT!” Nathan’s voice drowned out Kristin’s cry. “Then the test is wrong again! I have to be that baby’s father.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you aren’t. I processed Madeleine’s DNA sample and compared it to your official sample. There was no correlation…”
“But…” Kristin knew that Joshua was a very thorough doctor and he would have double-checked everything. Her eyes closed as he continued to speak.
“I ran the test twice then I ran a cross check on the machine just to make sure. While testing the broad database I did get a positive match for Maddy’s father…”
“Lucas…” Kristin breathed the word so faintly that it was barely audible but both men heard it loud and clear.
“I’m sorry, doctor. I don’t know…I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything, Joshua, just promise me that you won’t repeat this to anyone.”
“Never…you have my word.” Levin noticed that neither Bridger nor Westphalen appeared shocked by his revelation. “Apparently this is no surprise to either of you. If you don’t mind my asking…why…?”
Kristin turned her head away as Nathan tried to answer Levin’s questions. “A previous test had also shown that Lucas was Maddy’s father but …the boy was drunk and drugged up. He didn’t know what he was trying to do to Kristin and he didn’t succeed but…the chances that he could have actually fathered that child are a million to one.”
“But the test shows that he did. I understand you wanting to verify the results but Doctor Westphalen would have never made a mistake like that.”
“Oh, Joshua, you don’t know how badly I hoped that I had. When I saw that Nathan and Maddy both have an extra joint in the same toe I knew that I had to be wrong. How can my daughter have the same physical difference as Nathan if they aren’t related?”
Levin’s face grew thoughtful. “Can I see your toe, sir?”
Nathan held up his bare foot obligingly for Joshua to peer at. “And you say that Maddy has this same abnormality?”
Nathan nodded. “We just noticed it last night but it is exactly the same.”
“I agree with Kristin, sir. This is too much of a coincidence. When you did the test, where did you get your samples?”
Kristin looked blank for a moment before she snapped back to the conversation. “I got them from the UEO. I tried to access them from the main medical computer but they weren’t there so I called a friend in records and she retrieved them for me. That was the longest week of my life.”
“It took a week? That’s strange.”
“No, it isn’t.” Nathan interjected. “Our medical records were destroyed with the previous seaQuest. I got a call at the building site one day and Lucas and I had to report to medical to give new samples. I’ll bet that was because of your request. That’s why it took a week for you to get the results.”
“You and Lucas gave samples at the same time?” Kristin asked, her eyes beginning to light up.
“Okay, now we are back in business.” Levin announced. “We’ve been going about this the wrong way. Instead of testing Maddy I need to retest you and Lucas. Our results may be wrong because we are still using data from the previous challenge.”
“Let’s wipe the slate clean and hope we come up with correct results this time.” Kristin’s hope was coming back.
“If you are agreeable, Captain, I’ll draw your sample now. I can start it processing and then go find Lucas.”
Nathan and Kristin shared a look. Nathan spoke after receiving a small nod from Kristin. “Take my sample now by all means but hold off on Lucas for a while.”
“I really should have his sample as well…”
“We know that but Lucas doesn’t know about the new revelations. We’d like the opportunity to sit down and talk to him first. I’ll make sure that he comes to med bay afterwards.”
Levin nodded and began to pull the necessary equipment out of his small med kit. Nathan stayed on the side of the bed eyeing him warily. He drew back involuntarily when Levin approached him with the needle. A soft chuckle slipped from Kristin’s lips.
“See, Maddy comes by her fear of needles honestly as well. Would you like for me to hug you while Joshua takes your blood?”
“I don’t think so. Holding you close is bound to cause me to forget everything else that is going on but it also means that there won’t be any blood in my arm either. Would you…would you do it, baby? No offense, Joshua, but…”
“None taken, Captain.” Levin gratefully turned the syringe over to Kristin. He watched with awe as she spoke soothingly to her husband cum patient, gradually getting him to relax enough that he didn’t even flinch when she slid the needle smoothly into his arm.
“See, that didn’t hurt now did it?” She asked as she deftly removed the full syringe.
Nathan looked at Kristin with tear filled eyes. “Ice ceam?”
Nathan’s comment had the desired result. Kristin began to laugh so hard that tears came to her eyes. “You are so bad.” She told him through her chuckling.
“Punish me…” Nathan replied with a twinkle in his eye.
Joshua snapped his med kit closed hurriedly. “I think that I should get this sample going RIGHT NOW. I’ll talk with both of you tomorrow…at your convenience.” By this time Levin had reached the door and he stepped through it, dragging the door closed behind him. “…If you can actually manage to get out of bed…”
Nathan and Kristin strolled into sea deck; their arms wrapped tightly around each other’s waist, a smile on their faces because their daughter’s peals of laughter had reached them down the corridor.
“She’s always been a happy child but she laughs so much more since we came here.” Kristin smiled up at Nathan.
He returned her smile. “Maybe that’s because her mommy is much happier when she’s with her daddy. Maddy’s mood mirrors yours, baby. Haven’t you ever noticed that?”
“Well, sometimes I guess. We spent so much time together…I guess it’s just natural.”
“So now daddy’s job is to make sure that both of his girls are happy all the time.”
“Mmm.” Kristin grinned and laid her head on Nathan’s shoulder. “Have I mentioned lately how much I love you?”
Maddy squealed when she saw her parents, cutting off Nathan’s response as they both moved to the edge of the moon pool. They were surprised when Maddy loosened her hold on Darwin and paddled toward her parents.
“She’s a natural in the water, part fish…well not literally but…she picked up swimming in minutes.” Tony told them.
“Darwin is the best teacher she could have.” Lucas added. “He swims close by and lifts her with his snout anytime she starts to sink.”
“I guess this means we are going to have to swim everyday, huh princess?” Nathan hoisted the baby out of the water, wetting himself and Kristin in the process.
Maddy eyed the water speculatively for a moment before turning to her father. “Ice ceam?”
“You’ve created a monster, Bridger. You’ve already conned your daddy out of ice cream today, little miss.”
Maddy’s lower lip trembled and a crocodile tear sprang to her eye. Her mother laughed as she relented. “Mr. Piccolo, would you mind taking this little grifter to the galley and getting her a small bowl of chocolate ice cream? We need to talk to Lucas for just a minute then we’ll be along.”
Tony and Lucas climbed out of the pool and dried off while Nathan performed the same service for Maddy. She departed happily with Tony, Kristin’s repeated admonition of ‘a small bowl’ ringing in his ears.
“So what do you want to talk to me about?” Lucas flopped down on the side of the moon pool.
Nathan glanced around the room and found it almost deserted. The only other occupants were working at the far end of the large space.
“We want to talk about Maddy.”
Lucas stiffened. “I thought we’d worked all of that out.”
Nathan swallowed hard. “We discovered something the other night…there is evidence to suggest that Maddy might really be my daughter, biologically I mean.”
Lucas’ face was unreadable. “What kind of evidence?”
“I have an extra joint in my second toe on each foot. Maddy also has that joint. It is an inherited trait and as far as I know you don’t have it.”
Lucas looked down at his bare feet, all toes normal. He smiled, a little unsure, but a smile nonetheless.
“Then somehow the test got messed up…”
“We hope so. Levin is already doing a new DNA work up on me and he’s done one on Maddy. He would like to do one on you as well, just to be sure.”
“I’ll go right now.”
Nathan clapped his hand on the boy’s back. “We’ll walk down to med bay with you.”
Lucas hovered by the door while the adults talked, his mind reeling with the events of the last few minutes. He didn’t notice Kristin join him until she touched his shoulder.
“Yeah…I guess…I just…I’m glad that Maddy belongs to the Captain…it’s just…she’s a great kid…”
“You are a great kid, too. And…someday…when the time is right for you and a special someone…you will make a fantastic father.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. But don’t rush things, Lucas. Take your time and find the right girl for you. Don’t settle.”
“No danger of that. No way do I want a marriage like my parents. I want someone to love me and who I can love the way the you and the Cap love each other.”
Kristin had to reach up to ruffle Lucas’ hair. “We both love you, Lucas. Don’t ever forget that.”
Lucas nodded and gave Kristin a quick embrace. “I’m gonna go rescue Tony from the ice cream monster. You’ll let me know…right?”
“Of course. You might have to put Maddy back into the moon pool to clean her up. I hope Darwin likes chocolate. I have a few more things to do here then we’ll be back in the cabin.”
After bidding Lucas good-bye Kristin rejoined the men to find Nathan pestering Levin about results.
“He can’t make the analyzer work any faster than its capacity, Nathan. The samples are properly labeled. We just have to wait for the reports. Joshua, I was thinking that you probably should take a sample from me as well. We don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Levin looked skeptical. “We already know that you are Maddy’s mother but if you think so…” He pulled the necessary supplies from storage and set up to draw a sample from the arm that Kristin was baring.
“As long as you are taking blood why don’t you run a BMP on me as well.”
“Okay…what’s going on? Is something wrong?” Levin’s eyes bored into hers.
“Nothing is wrong. I’ve just been tired lately and with the head injury three weeks ago I think that I should be careful.”
“You’re sure that’s all?” This question came from Nathan, his voice holding a worried note.
“I’m sure. I promise. Nathan, I’m fine.”
Levin picked up the vials of blood he’d just taken and headed toward the room marked lab. He was pushing the door open when Kristin’s voice stopped him once more.
“Joshua, could you…add a SPT to those tests, okay?”
A huge grin split Levin’s face. “Sure thing, doc.”
“What’s an SPT?”
“It’s just a lab test. Let’s wait and see what the results show before we talk about this, okay?”
“NO! You think that something is wrong and you aren’t telling me. I want to know NOW! I will not be kept in the dark on your health.”
“I’m not trying to keep you in the dark, sweetheart, I swear.”
“Then what is an SPT?”
Kristin sighed. “SPT stands for serum pregnancy test.”
“Preg…test? You think…Kris!…but it’s only been…”
“It could be a false alarm, Nathan. I just haven’t felt one hundred percent in the last few days and some of the symptoms are things that I remember ignoring with Maddy. I wasn’t…protected when we…I didn’t get up that morning expecting to make out in my observation deck!”
Nathan grinned like a proud little boy who’d accomplished something no one else ever had. “Another baby! That would be so absolutely fantastic. Maddy shouldn’t be an only child anyway.”
“It’s a remote possibility, Nathan. Don’t get your hopes up before we know for sure.”
Nathan’s head dipped in agreement but the silly smile didn’t leave his face as he embraced Kristin, his hands drifting down to stroke her flat abdomen.
“Would you be happy…if…?”
Their eyes met. “I’d be very happy to have another child with you, Nathan Bridger. And if this test is positive there won’t be any doubt as to who the father is. Your entire bridge crew witnessed the conception.”
“Yeah, they did didn’t they? You wouldn’t believe the ‘you lucky son of a bitch’ looks that I’ve been getting the last few weeks.”
“Damned WHSKRS! Between them and you answering the vid link at inopportune moments everyone we know has seen me naked!”
“And I’m not really very happy about that. I’m the only one allowed to see you naked from now on, okay?”
“Tell it to your crew.”
“Hey, we are lucky in one way. If Krieg were still on board he’d be selling copies of the WHSKR view to half of the UEO navy.”
“And you think that Piccolo isn’t?” Kristin chortled.
“So how long will it take Levin to get your test results back?” Nathan’s eyes wandered toward the lab door.
“You are not going to stay here and torment that man. Joshua, we are going to find our daughter. I’ll check with you later on for the results. Come on, Nathan.”
By the time Nathan and Kristin caught up with Maddy, Lucas and Tony had her ensconced in the small movie room watching ‘The Little Mermaid’ so they settled in to watch with the young people. Maddy was enthralled and fought to stay awake through the entire movie but once the closing credits started she lost the battle. She cuddled into Nathan’s chest and murmured ‘wan bastin, daddy’ before her thumb found her mouth and she drifted off to sleep.
“Bastin?” Nathan asked Kristin with a confused look on his face.
“Sebastian…the singing crab? She wants one and she expects her daddy to get her one.”
“Oh…how the hell am I supposed to find a singing crab?”
“You’ve given her a talking dolphin…don’t you know that little girls know that their daddies can do anything?"
“Okay…one singing crab coming up…Lucas?”
They strolled casually through the corridors, Nathan holding Maddy tightly to one shoulder, his other arm locked around Kristin’s waist. The happy family picture brought a smile to the face of more than one crewman as they meandered toward their quarters.
Kristin slipped into the dark cabin first and felt her way to Maddy’s small alcove to pull back the sheets and find pajamas. She heard the clang of the hatch as Nathan spun the lock and flipped on the small nightlight so that Nathan could find his way. Together they changed Maddy’s clothes and settled her into the small cot.
Kristin had reached the opening when she realized that Nathan wasn’t with her and turned back to find him kneeling over Maddy whispering in her ear. He brushed his lips across her russet curls and straightened, slightly embarrassed to find Kristin waiting for him.
“What was that all about?” She whispered.
“I was just telling her that I didn’t give a damn what those results show tomorrow…that I’m her daddy…and I’ll do my best to find her a singing crustacean.”
Love shone from Kristin’s eyes as she stared at her husband in the dim light. “Don’t forget the Jamaican accent, daddy.”
They giggled quietly as they moved into the main cabin and flipped the light.
Nathan picked Kris up and whirled her around the room, kissing her senseless as they shared their joy. For in the middle of Nathan’s desk stood a bottle of iced champagne, two champagne flutes with pink and blue ribbons, a box of cigars and a small banner that said ‘Congratulations’. The positive result of Kristin’s pregnancy test lay nearby.
Kristin hit the bunk with a loud ‘oomph’ as Nathan landed gently on top of her, his hands pulling at the buttons of her shirt. He pulled the offending garment apart to bare Kristin’s abdomen and slid down the bed to run his mouth across the flat plain.
“Nathan, that tickles!”
“Get used to it. I can’t believe that we made another baby…that a tiny little life is growing right here just beneath my hands. Maddy is going to be so…happy? You don’t think she will be jealous do you?” Nathan’s eyes held a worried look.
“We just have to be careful how we tell her, reassure her that we still love her. But no, I don’t think she will be jealous. She’s never been around other children very much but I think that she will enjoy having a playmate, someone she can boss around.”
“Your big sister is going to be crazy about you and so are your mama and daddy.” Nathan whispered into Kristin’s skin. Kristin moaned as Nathan’s caressing fingers began to stir up other emotions within her.
Nathan’s head popped up, a devilish gleam in his eye at the desire in her eyes. He climbed off the bed and headed toward the desk.
“Where are you going?”
“Just here.” Nathan picked up the champagne bottle and headed back toward the bunk. “I think that we deserve a celebration.” He deposited the bottle on the bed beside Kristin while he disposed of his clothes then efficiently wrestled Kristin out of hers. He climbed back into the bed and settled between Kristin’s legs as he carefully worked the cork out of the bottle.
“You know you are going to have to go back…you didn’t bring the glasses.”
Nathan favored her with a lecherous grin. "What makes you think I intend to drink it out of a glass?"
Nathan swatted at the insect above his head in an effort to diminish the chirping noise but it wouldn’t be silenced. He swatted harder, taking careful aim. His fingers landed on the com pad. He came awake with a jerk.
“This better damn well be important!” He muttered as he hid the audio button. “Bridger here”
“Sorry to disturb you, Captain but Commander Ford wanted me to let you know that a launch is approaching. Selkie Station’s replacement doctor arrived and Dr. Smith is returning to us.”
Nathan groaned inwardly. “What is their ETA?”
“Thirty minutes, sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. O’Neill.”
Nathan flipped the panel off and the bunk light on. He carefully eased his arm from beneath his sleeping wife’s body, tapping down on the feelings the naked sway of her back were exciting in him. He planted a quick kiss on one bare shoulder before climbing out of the bunk.
As had become his morning habit, Nathan slipped into the alcove for a quick check on the little girl sleeping there. She slept peacefully, her favorite stuffed dolphin at her side.
~ My little girl! ~ Love almost overwhelming in magnitude welled up in Nathan’s chest as he stared at the child.
A sound in the outer cabin caught his ear and Nathan returned to the main room to find it empty. He moved to the bathroom door and entered into the cloud of steam. Kristin smiled when he slipped into the shower behind her.
“Now how did you know that I was headed for the shower?” He asked as he took the sponge out of her hand and started attacking her back.
“Champagne is sticky. Did I hear you talking to someone?”
“Tim called. It seems that Selkie Station has a new doctor on board so Dr. Smith is returning. Launch should be here in about 30 minutes.”
“Oh joy! I don’t know why I dislike the woman so much. It isn’t her fault that you didn’t tell her you were married.”
“Okay, I should have done. Nothing happened between Wendy Smith and me. I swear it. We flirted a bit…She showed up at the island and I danced with her…but it was a fleeting attraction that stood no chance against the love I feel for you.”
“In that case I guess you can let her back on the boat. Now you had better get a move on. You’ve used up fifteen minutes already.”
“I don’t have to meet the launch. Dr Smith would just glare at me anyway. I’ll see her when we go to med bay later.”
Nathan’s lips froze just millimeters from Kristin’s. “Med bay!” They exclaimed at the same time.
“Levin wouldn’t let her anywhere near…”
“She is chief medical officer…”
“Hold on just a second.”
Nathan ducked out of the shower and disappeared into the main cabin, a trail of water puddling in his wake. Kristin took advantage of his absence to shampoo her hair. A loud knock followed by a sting of blue language signaled Nathan’s return so she jumped beneath the spray to rinse the lather from her tresses.
“Now that looks like fun!” Nathan’s fingers worked into the fiery strands to massage the soap away.
“Stop that! We have to get to med bay. I’ll get the baby and head there while you try to cut her off at the launch bay.”
“Relax…we’ve got plenty of time.”
“You said that launch would be here any moment!”
“That was before the unfortunate problem with the outer door opening mechanism. It will take at least half an hour to fix. Now what did I do with that sponge?”
“You just missed her, sir. Dr. Smith said she was going to med bay.” The ensign reported at Nathan’s query.
“Damn! I should have listened.” He muttered as he shook his head.
“Sir?” The young man asked, not sure if his captain was speaking to him or not.
“A word of advice, son. If you wife says you don’t have time? Listen to her…well, unless you are having a really good time…but…oh, hell! I’ve got to get to med bay.”
Nathan’s steps echoed down the corridor as he sprinted for the mag-lev, terrified at the thought of the confrontation that might be taking place on the next deck.
He was relieved that he didn’t hear any yelling as he approached the entrance door but he still stuck his head through cautiously. The main room was empty.
Nathan chewed on his lip a moment as he contemplated his next move. He suspected that Kristin might be in the lab with Joshua but by crossing the room he left himself open to a surprise attack from Dr. Smith. The decision was made for him when the lab door flew open and Wendy Smith came out of the lab followed closely by Levin and Kristin.
“You have no right to look at my medical records.” Kristin’s voice was shrill with anger.
“I have the right to look at any records that I want to on this boat. Besides, I don’t think that these records are yours, Doctor Westphalen…”
“Bridger. The name is Kristin Bridger.”
Wendy glared at the older but clearly more attractive woman. “What possible reason could Dr. Levin have to be doing a test on you involving the DNA analyzer?” Her eyes fell to the little girl glaring at her from the safe haven of her mother’s arms. “Unless…you’re doing a paternity test! That’s why you left, isn’t it? You don’t think the little brat belongs to Nathan?”
Nathan stepped into the room before any blood could be shed. “Dr. Smith, welcome back. I just missed you at the launch bay. I hope that your stay on Selkie Station was instructive.”
Wendy’s eyes narrowed. “Very instructive, Captain. I learned a great many things. For instance, if this little girl is your daughter why doesn’t she share your last name?”
Nathan glanced at Levin, clearly embarrassed at having this confrontation in front of an uninvolved party. “Look…I know that perhaps I wasn’t fair to you…I should have told you that I was married…I regret that more than you can know…but that is no reason to attack my wife or my daughter. If you are angry with me, as you have every right to be, then take it out on me alone.”
“Your daughter? I wonder…why don’t we just take a look at these results…”
“DOCTOR SMITH!” Wendy stopped, stunned at the anger in her mild mannered captain’s voice. Joshua chose that moment to grab the results from her hands.
“What does a piece of paper matter when I can access the results in the computer? You’ve answered my question anyway by your reaction. The little brat isn’t yours, is she?”
“I repeat, do not drag my family into your anger at me. Of course Maddy is my daughter. We even have the same funny toe. Those tests have nothing to do with her.”
“And pigs can fly!”
“Who knows? Five years ago you wouldn’t have believed that dolphins could talk!” Kristin sat her squirming child on the floor. “You are behaving in a completely unethical manner and I will have a note to that effect placed in your record. You’ll be bloody well lucky if I don’t have you brought up on charges before the medical review board. Go sign on to your computer and check the records.”
Wendy eyed the angry woman skeptically. “You are giving me permission to check your records?”
“Not really but you seemed to be determined to do so anyway. Let me save you the trouble. Joshua was doing a DNA test on a sample drawn from me. Not to determine Maddy’s paternity as you so rashly assume, but to do genetic testing on the child that I am carrying. Nathan’s child and mine…conceived just over three weeks ago at the station. I’m sure you remember the WHSKR view?”
Wendy blanched. “You’re…pregnant? You can’t be…”
“You saw the show, honey. That’s how it happens. And it happened to us for the second time. We are absolutely thrilled about it aren’t we, sweetheart?”
Nathan’s grin was genuine. “Absolutely ecstatic! Now, if you don’t mind my wife and I would like to consult with our doctor in private. Oh, our news is still a secret at the moment and we’d like to keep it that way.”
Joshua beckoned them toward his office and they turned to follow, Nathan pausing only to scoop Maddy into his arms from where she stood eyeing Wendy intently. Nathan barely had the door sealed when Kristin exploded.
“Dammit all to hell! How did she get down here so fast? ‘We have a few more minutes, Kristin…she won’t go straight to med bay, Kristin…can’t we try this first, Kristin…but doesn’t that feel so good, Kristin’. She’s probably signing into the computer right now!”
“I’m sorry, baby. I got here as soon as I could….”
“Dammit!” All three adults turned to stare at Maddy. She grinned and spoke again. “Dammit hewl.”
“Shit!” Kristin exploded then clapped both hands over her mouth when she realized she’d spoken out loud.
“Sit! Sit!” Maddy mocked her mother as her father barked with laughter.
“You are going to have a bluer vocabulary than your sailor father, my princess, courtesy of your mother.”
“Piccolo started it!” Kristin proclaimed defensively.
“Yes…and I’m sure she has never heard those words from your lips before.” Nathan’s eyes were twinkling as he tried to tease his wife back into good humour. “I think it’s cute.”
“She is not even two years old yet. What if she goes around repeating those words to other people? Bill Noyce for example. They will think I’m a terrible mother!”
“They will think you are a fabulous mother. I think we should delay this discussion for the moment though. Do you have the test results, Joshua?”
“The results! Doctor Dipshit out there will be accessing them.”
“Actually she won’t be.” Nathan smiled as Kristin and Joshua turned to stare at him. “While I was out of the shower this morning I took the opportunity to call Lucas…”
“Audio only I hope!”
Nathan glared at Kristin. “If I can finish? Lucas and his magic fingers put a password protection on all of your records. She can’t access anything about you without the password and nobody knows it but me and Lucas!”
“I wondered what took you so long. The results, Joshua.”
Levin handed over the paper wadded up in his hands. “I can print a fresh copy if the captain will supply the password.”
Nathan held his breath as Kristin smoothed the paper out on the desk and scanned the results. He couldn’t believe the length of time it took her and then she appeared to start over.
“What does it say?” He demanded, unable to stand the suspense any longer.
Kristin tore her eyes from the page and stared up at him, the corners of her mouth trembling. He watched anxiously as they slowly turned upward and her lips parted into a brilliant smile. “Wow, Bridger. Two kids in two days. That must be a record.”
Nathan whooped and swung Maddy in a circle, one arms snaking out to pull Kristin into the happy dance. Levin couldn’t help but smile as the little family celebrated their happy news. Maddy didn’t know what was happening but she knew her parents were happy and that made her happy.
Suddenly Kristin broke free. “What happened, Joshua? Why were my readings so wrong?”
“Just what we thought. Somehow the Captain and Lucas’ samples must have been switched. The sample that you had labeled Nathan Bridger actually tests out as that of Lucas Wolenczak and vice versa. Someone must have mislabeled the samples the day that they were taken.”
“That is gross incompetence. Who took the samples? They should be reprimanded.”
“Actually that would be Doctor Dipshit…Smith…Dr. Smith. That day that Lucas and I went to the lab was the first time I ever met her.”
“SMITH! That woman! She did it…she couldn’t have done it on purpose…could she? No one knew why I wanted the samples. I told my friend that I needed your charts to close out some information on my research. The only other person that knew I was pregnant was my doctor.”
“Does it really matter why? The fact is that it happened and because of her negligence we lost over two years that we can never get back. I’ll be honest. I want her off my boat and out of our lives but if we force this issue a lot of questions might get asked that we don’t want to be asked.”
“I can’t just let her get away with this, Nathan.”
“I don’t want that either, sweetheart. All I am saying is lets bide our time. I’m going to talk to Bill about getting her removed from the sub. If I know you, the names of the people you are going to ‘have a private word with’ about the good doctor are already lining up in your head. Today is a happy day for us. Let’s go celebrate.”
“Ice ceam, daddy?”
Nathan shrieked. “Oh my princess, I adore you. You are truly both your mother and father’s daughter with your love for chocolate ice cream. What do you say, Mom?”
“She hasn’t had breakfast yet!…Well…maybe…but just this once…and after something nutritious. Lucas will never let me hear the end of it if he finds out.”
“Speaking of Lucas, I think we should go have a talk with the young man…Joshua, you will take care of correcting the records, discretely?”
“Of course, Captain. And congratulations again.”
Nathan shook the younger man’s hand then led his family back through the main room. Wendy Smith was waiting for them.
“It’s the strangest thing, doctor. I tried to access your records but they seem to have become password protected.”
“What can I say? It pays to have friends. Stay away from my records, Wendy. Stay away from me. Your only connection to anyone in my family is in your professional capacity in service to this ship. Maddy and I are not part of this crew. Dr. Levin will attend to any medical needs that we may have. Now if you will excuse us, our daughter is hungry.”
Kristin stalked angrily toward the door with Nathan carrying Maddy close behind. They had just reached the exit when Nathan heard a childish voice in his ear.
“Bye-bye doc dipsit!”
“This isn’t funny, Nathan. Your two year old daughter can not go around calling people dipshit!”
“She was just copying her mother!”
“I believe that you said it as well and if her daddy says it then it must be okay. You have to remember that she picks up things very easily, don’t you precious?”
“Okay, it’s okay for her to repeat if I say it? I am not the one who said d-a-m-m-I-t or s-h-I-t now am I?”
“I think she heard them from Piccolo first.” Kristin replied defensively.
“I’m sure you are right. How about we let the guys take Maddy swimming and we go celebrate?”
“You! What did we do this morning in the shower if not celebrate?”
“We didn’t know for sure then so that doesn’t count. I was thinking a romantic dinner…a little dancing…maybe generate enough sweat to justify another shower.”
“It’s barely lunch time.”
“It’s all your fault, darling. It’s all your fault. You just make me incredibly horny.”
“Howni.” Maddy proclaimed her newest word to the horror of both her mother and her father.
“Okay, we never speak in front of the child again. Princess, you are never to repeat that word. If you are forty years old and I hear you say that I will wash your mouth out with soap.”
Maddy just beamed at her father and patted his cheeks. “Ice ceam?”
Nathan eyed his daughter suspiciously. “Are you sure she’s just two? I think she’s a fully grown midget con artist masquerading as a two year old.”
They had reached the galley and Nathan volunteered to get the ice cream, knowing that he would be more liberal with the scoop than Kristin. She knew it as well but sent him to the freezer anyway while she settled Maddy into a chair. She stayed settled until Nathan’s butt hit his chair before sliding down and climbing up into his lap.
Lucas found the three of them a few minutes later, their mouths full of chocolate ice cream.
“What a healthy meal, Doctor Westphalen!”
Kristin favored the boy with one of her famous glares. “It’s dairy…that’s acceptable for breakfast. And it’s a special occasion.”
A large grin split Lucas’ face. “I take it that the news was good?”
“It seems that somehow our samples got mixed up…mislabeled in the lab…so our DNA profiles were swapped. A damned stupid mistake that had some very unfortunate consequences for all of us…but now we know.”
“Sit!” Maddy chimed in.
“Okay. I never turn down a chance to see your mother eat such a nutritious meal. What was that look for?” Lucas noticed the glance that passed between Nathan and Kristin.
“Oh nothing,” Nathan replied. “Just wondering which brand of soap tastes the worst.”
“So you want me to take the munchkin to the moon pool after I get off duty? Darwin has been asking about her.”
“That would be fantastic, Lucas. Maybe you could watch that movie again with her afterwards.”
“Bastin!” Maddy proclaimed as she banged her spoon on the table.
“Aren’t you going to eat, Lucas?”
“I just came in to grab a drink. I’d better get back.”
“I’ll walk with you, Lucas. I need to go check things out on the bridge anyway. Why don’t I meet you two in a few hours…back at the cabin?” Nathan asked Kristin, a gleam in his eye.
“I think I’ll take Maddy down to the horticulture lab for a while. Why don’t you meet us there?”
“The horticulture lab…sounds great.” Nathan gave his wife a wicked wink then walked away with Lucas.
“Damn but your daddy has a good ass, Maddy.” Kristin murmured.
“Ass! Ass!” Maddy repeated gleefully.
Kristin was delighted to find the horticulture lab deserted once again and she and Maddy played for several hours before the baby finally gave into exhaustion. Nathan found both of his girls curled up on a bench about thirty minutes later. He knelt beside them and fingered his daughter’s tiny russet curls before moving his fingers to stroke her mother’s face. Her eyes popped open.
“I thought you were asleep. You look so beautiful…the two of you curled up together. I’ve got to start carrying a camera around.”
“Oh no you don’t, Bridger. I don’t like to have my picture taken.”
Nathan helped Kristin loosen Maddy’s grip and climb off the bench before walking to the com unit and hit a button. Soft music filtered into the room.
“A few words with Mr. O’Neill. Dance with me, Mrs. Bridger?”
“Now? What about Maddy?”
“She’s asleep. Besides I just want to hold you in my arms.”
“I’d love to dance with you, Mr. Bridger.”
Nathan took Kristin in his arms and they began to sway together as they let the music wash over them. Few words were spoken for they weren’t necessary.
Once piece of music ended and another began, the faint opening strains bringing a slight moan to Kristin’s lips. Nathan felt the change in her body as she pushed closer to him and moved her hips seductively with the music. ~ Bolero…God, how did Tim know? ~ The piece of music playing was one of Kristin’s favorites, especially in the bedroom.
Kristin’s fingers slid into his hair and pulled his head down, her lips attacking his ravenously. Nathan allowed himself to be swept up in her growing excitement and instinctively began to move his hips in counter point with hers.
Kristin’s kisses grew even hungrier as the tempo of the music began to build slightly; the intensity of them distracting Nathan until her felt her hands on the bare flesh of his chest. Somehow she’d managed to undo the buttons of his uniform shirt and untuck the tee shirt beneath. To his surprise Nathan found that his fingers had also been busy and Kristin’s shirt hung open as well.
She pushed the top shirt down his arms and off before pulling the tee shirt up as far as she could. Nathan obliged her by stripping it over his head. Her lips moved to attack his naked torso. A voice in Nathan’s head told him that the Captain of the UEO flagship should not be caught making love to his wife in the middle of a lab but he quickly blocked it out. He loved the way this piece of music affected the woman in his arms.
Kristin continued to assault his sensitive skin with her fingers and her tongue, licking and pinching his flat nipples and his muscled torso. He followed her lead and allowed his hands to roam beneath her shirt, to find and open the front closure of her bra. Her freed breasts spilled into his palms, filling them to overflowing.
Nathan broke the kiss to trail his lips down her neck; an attempt to slow things down that failed. Kristin shrugged out of her shirt and bra and drew his lips back to hers, telling him that she wanted his kisses. She pulled his hands back to her breasts, her own fingers spread over his, showing him how she wanted to be touched. Nathan knew that she was going to explode at any moment and, truth be told, he felt the same way.
His eyes opened and scanned the room, searching. A small desk provided exactly what he was looking for. He carefully maneuvered Kristin toward the desk, their lips never breaking except to gasp a breath. The tempo of the music was building toward its climax and Nathan knew that they both would be right with the melody. He slid his hands down to Kristin’s bottom and yanked her skirt up to cup it as he lifted her up to the edge of the desk. He pushed his body between her legs as his hands roamed her thighs. He gasped to find her juices already flowing down her legs as he yanked her damp panties free and flung them across the room.
Kristin lifted her legs to Nathan’s waist and wrapped them around him, trying to pull him closer.
“Just a second, baby…let me get the zipper…” but Kristin couldn’t hear anything but the beat of the music and the pounding of her heart.
Nathan freed himself and pushed forward, driving completely into her warm passage in one thrust. A hushed cry escaped Kristin’s lips as she tightened her legs and recaptured his mouth. The joining was frantic, the music driving Kristin and Kristin driving Nathan higher and higher. Their mouths locked together as they exploded, smothering their cries as the music peaked then died away.
Kristin fell limply against her husband, her hands clinging to his shoulders for support. His hands grasped the edge of the desk for the same reason, his legs trembling in the aftermath of his orgasm. Gradually the world stopped spinning around them, the new piece of music playing softly in the background inspiring calmness rather than passion.
“Damn, Mrs. Bridger…” Nathan whispered, his lips seeking hers for a light caress.
“Oh, Nathan…I…I can’t believe we did that…Maddy could have woken up…”
“Shh…she didn’t. And you’re the one who started it! Maddy is just going to have to get used to having a horny mama…a hot, sexy horny mother.”
A soft smile touched Kristin’s lips. “I didn’t hear you protesting…”
The sound of a loud splash broke her sentence. Nathan jerked his head around to see Tony Piccolo’s head emerging from the irrigation canal, facing away from them yet with his hand clamped over his eyes, a delicate scrap of lace underwear hanging from one ear. Kristin ducked behind Nathan to hide her nakedness.
“Dr. Smith and Lucas…one minute away, tops!” The young man yelled and disappeared back into the water.
Nathan slid Kristin off the desk, soothing her as his semi-erect member slipped from her body. They scrambled for shed clothing, cursing silently as buttons refused to cooperate.
“Nathan! Where is my underwear?” Kristin hissed as the outer door began to swing open.
Nathan made a silencing motion with his hand. He’d seen Tony grab the cloth as he’d removed his hand from his eyes during his departure but now wasn’t the time to tell Kristin. He also knew by the way that Tony had appeared that he’d already visited the lab a few minutes previously and gotten quite an eyeful.
Lucas’ voice came through the crack in the door.
“I’ll be glad to tell the Captain that you need to speak with him, Dr. Smith. I don’t even know for sure that he’s in the lab.”
“If she’s here then he’s here too.”
Nathan motioned to the bench, his meaning obvious, and Kristin dove back in beside the sleeping baby just as Lucas and Dr. Smith entered the room.
“Sh…” Nathan laid his finger across his lips and pointed at the bunk.
“I need to speak with you, Captain…privately.”
“I’ll be glad to set up an appointment with you…”
“This really can’t wait, Nath…Captain.”
Nathan glanced at the bench where Kristin’s eyes were shut tightly. He also noticed the grim line of her mouth.
“Lucas, are you off duty?”
“Um…not yet sir. I just had a minute and wanted to check what time I needed to pick up Maddy for her swimming lesson.”
Nathan nodded and moved to the bench. He shook Kristin’s shoulder lightly and she fluttered her eyes open, a small yawn escaping. A sweet smile touched her lips but Nathan could see the anger in her eyes.
“I’m sorry to wake you, sweetheart. I was going to let you sleep but Dr. Smith needs to have a private word with me and I didn’t want you to wake and wonder why I wasn’t here.” Nathan’s hand caressed her cheek as he gave her a surreptitious wink.
“Okay…” Kristin gave a small but cat-like stretch, her blouse pulling tight against her breasts. “I’ll wait for Maddy to wake up then wait for you in our cabin.”
“Sounds good…I won’t be long.” Nathan bent to kiss her. “You are evil!” He hissed into her ear as he stole a look down her cleavage.
Maddy must have sensed her daddy’s presence because she began to stir. Nathan moved to pat her back but she popped up on the bench.
“Daddy!” She held her hands out to him and Nathan had no choice but to pick her up. Maddy snuggled into her father’s neck as she struggled to wake up.
“If you are ready, Captain.” Wendy’s voice cut through the air like a knife.
Maddy’s head popped off her father’s shoulder and she glared at the woman.
Kristin leapt on Nathan the moment he walked through the hatch door, both literally and figuratively.
“What did that woman want?” She asked the moment she’d released his lips.
Nathan eased his back away from the door that he’d slammed shut when she jumped on him.
“Where is Maddy?”
“Lucas came to get her ten minutes ago. Now answer my question!”
Nathan scooped Kristin into his arms and carried her to the bunk, dimming the lights as he passed the switch.
“Oh no you don’t…not until you tell me what she wanted!”
“Perhaps it was classified.”
“Bullshit. There was nothing classified about that conversation.”
“Speaking of profanity…I see that Maddy learned another new phrase and I’m ‘bloody’ sure that this one didn’t come from Piccolo.”
“It just slipped out! I swear!”
“Um hm…Have I told you lately how very much I love you Mrs. Bridger?”
“Stop that! Tell me what that witch wanted or I’m sleeping with Maddy tonight.”
Nathan laughed and rolled onto his back, pulling Kristin into his embrace. “The witch wanted to apologize for the little confrontation this morning. She tried to put the blame completely on you but I wouldn’t let her get away with that. She was upset about Maddy calling her doctor dipsit, which I can understand…but I reminded her that Maddy is not yet two. We had an invigorating discussion.”
“And then I left her and came back to my cabin to spend the rest of the afternoon celebrating with my beautiful, gorgeous, magnificently sexy wife.”
“That’s it? You just left it like that?”
“Not exactly…Kris…how would you feel about going back to my island…to live I mean? I know that you told Malcolm you couldn’t live on his island…”
“I couldn’t live on Malcolm’s island because you weren’t there. You were here so this is where I stayed. It would take some adjusting but I’m sure that we’d be very happy on your island. Between us we have the knowledge and the capital to put together an excellent research lab and I’m sure we could find…other things…to occupy the down time. But what about the seaQuest?”
“Would you be willing to come back to seaQuest if say…the CMO position came available?”
“Would they let me come back? With two children? As your wife? It seems that we might be crossing a lot of lines there.”
Nathan shrugged. “Back when I first designed this tub it was with families in mind. Carol would have come with me if I’d stayed on.”
“But Carol wouldn’t have been a staff member…and one of the few people able to relieve you of command.”
“Yep, that torpedo thing might work against us but…”
“That was not my fault, Nathan Bridger. I was trying to save lives.”
Nathan kissed Kristin back into silence. “So…where was I? Oh yes, our options…Kris…God, your hormones must be raging. I don’t remember ever seeing you so horny. But we can’t do this right now…”
Kristin barely glanced up from her task of unbuttoning Nathan’s shirt. “Why not? I thought that’s why you arranged the swimming lessons?”
“It is but…oh lord…I’m expecting…a…ahhhhh…a call...”
“Umm...okay…I just…hope…it comes…soon.”
Nathan rolled, pinning Kristin beneath him. “Behave yourself!”
“I’ll be very good…I promise.” She breathed huskily. Nathan couldn’t resist the lure of her red lips or the promise in her voice and moved to meet her halfway.
They both groaned at the chirp from the com link a few minutes later and Nathan groped for the switch.
Both of them sprang from the bunk as Bill Noyce’s face appeared on the view screen.
“Audio only, dammit!” Kristin hissed as she struggled to pull her blouse back together.
Nathan quickly zipped his pants before turning to face his friend. Bill sat patiently; eyes fixed on the ceiling. “This place needs a new coat of paint…” he was heard muttering.
“Sorry, Bill. Thought I hit the audio button.”
“No problem, Nathan. Is it safe to look now?”
“Hello, Bill.” Kristin chimed in, her clothes back in place. “So nice to see you again.”
“Kristin, you are looking well…Um…I mean…It’s good to see you…oh hell. You know what I mean. I’m glad that you and Nathan have patched things up…you have haven’t you?”
Kristin grinned as her hands drifted to her flat abdomen. “I think it’s safe to say that Nathan and I are together to stay.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Bill. I just wanted to give you advance warning. When we get to port I’m going to be turning in my resignation.”
“What? That’s crazy, Nathan. Why would you do a damned fool thing like that? Kristin, talk to him.”
“I am doing it because I want to be with my wife and with my daughter. Sure, I’d miss the seaQuest but I can continue my research elsewhere. I could probably even get the guys backing Selkie Station to take me on there. They’d make a fortune on my stuff.”
Kristin fought to keep the smile off her face, knowing that Nathan was playing his friend’s aversion to the private sector.
“You’d hate it!”
“I’d be with my family. But you could be right. Maybe we’ll just give it all up and go back to the island. Maddy would love it there. You and Janet could come visit on weekends.”
“We can find something with the UEO in New Cape Quest for Kristin. She’d be there every time you docked and Janet and I would love to help her look after Maddy.”
“Not good enough, Bill. I want us to be together all the time. Kristin is going to need me a lot more in the coming months.” Nathan stepped behind her, his hands joining hers. “Our family is growing you see. We’ve got another little one on the way.”
“Damn…oh, Congratulations! That’s what I meant to say. Congratulations! Look…maybe Kristin could stay with you on the boat…at least until the baby is born.”
“Wouldn’t work unless she had her research, Bill. She’d go crazy with nothing to do and she’d drive me crazy. Plus I’d never get any work done. Too many distractions. When she’s bored she gets incredibly horny. She’d be calling me from the bridge all the time…making my crew jealous…”
“Nathan Bridger! Behave yourself. Besides there is no way in hell that woman is delivering my child. Of course if I have my way she won’t have a license to practice medicine by that time anyway.”
“What’s going on here? I know you, Kristin. You wouldn’t make a statement like that rashly. Has Smith done something dangerous?”
Kristin glanced at Nathan and gave a slight nod of her head before breaking the embrace and walking out of range of the view screen.
“Let’s just say that we’ve discovered that Dr. Smith was inadvertently responsible for mine and Kristin’s separation.”
“Come on, Nathan. You didn’t even know Smith then.”
Nathan hesitated before speaking. “I first met Wendy Smith when Lucas and I reported to medical to have blood tests done for a new DNA typing. Our old results were destroyed with the first boat and they’d had a request for new ones. Wendy drew the samples and handled the results. But she botched it, mixed mine and Lucas’ samples up. We only discovered this a few days ago.”
“I agree that’s a serious accident but how could that have affected you and Kristin?”
Nathan looked to Kristin again.
“It’s okay. He’s our friend.” Kristin whispered.
“Are we on a secure channel? Because what I’m going to tell you is very private and very personal and we’d like it kept that way. While I was gone on that damned fundraising tour Kristin was…attacked. She fought her attacker off before he could…but there was the slightest possibility…well… Kristin checked the baby’s DNA for paternity and due to the incorrect filing she came to the conclusion that I wasn’t Maddy’s father.”
“When I found out about the baby I discovered that it didn’t matter…she quickly became mine in my heart. Then we noticed…you remember that toe they gave me so much grief about at the academy? It seems that I passed it along to my daughter. So we had Levin redo the test results and discovered the snafu.”
“Kristin didn’t tell you about the attack?”
“There were reasons, Bill, and that’s all that I am going to say. I know what happened now and I understand why Kristin did what she felt she had to do, but we are together and going to stay that way. I was a part-time father to Robert. I won’t accept less than full time for Maddy and the new baby. I want to be with my family, Bill.”
Noyce sat quietly for a moment, a thoughtful frown on his face. “You’ll be in port in what…a week? I’ll meet you at the dock. Do not do anything until then…promise me?”
“I’m not going to change my mind.”
“Kristin, make the man promise me…just until we can talk in person.”
Kristin walked back into the frame. “I won’t let him do anything rash before he talks to you. But I will support him fully in whatever decision he makes.”
Bill rolled his eyes. “You two drive me crazy sometimes. You’ve only been back together a month and already you are reeking havoc on my nerves. Let me work on some things and I’ll get back to you. Oh, Janet is ecstatic you are back together. Wait until I tell her about the one in the oven. I can tell her, can’t I?”
“You can tell Janet…but don’t tell anyone else, please?” Kristin asked with a smile.
“Not another soul, I swear…In fact I think I’ll go home now and tell her. I’ll be waiting at the dock, Nathan.”
Bill broke the connection and the screen went black.
“He’s putty in my hands.” Nathan said with a smug grin on his face.
“Your friend knew exactly what you were up to. He is a very smart man. But I think that he will try to help you. Bill knows that you belong in command of this boat.”
“I belong wherever you are, where my children are. And right now you belong with me in that bunk.”
“What ever you say, Captain.”
True to his word, Bill was waiting at the dock, his lovely wife at his side. They waited patiently while the crewmen lucky enough to receive leave bid their farewells to their captain and his family. It was obvious to the couple that Maddy was well loved by all the crew. She laughed and cooed at each sailor in turn, sometimes holding her hands out or calling their name. Bill also noticed the tension in the air when Dr. Smith took her leave, as duty required, and the way that Kristin clamped her hand over the child’s mouth while Smith was nearby.
Finally the last man was gone and Bill and Janet moved to greet their friends. Words weren’t enough and Janet quickly had Kristin locked in a hug while Bill and Nathan vigorously shook hands.
“Unka Biw! An Danet!” Maddy wrapped her arms around the older woman’s neck so that when the two women broke Maddy went with Janet.
The pretty brunette smiled with delight. “I’m so glad to meet you, Maddy! My…aren’t you a pretty girl!”
Maddy blossomed under the attention and began to babble and coo to Janet. Kristin took the opportunity to slip across the room and lay an arm across Lucas’ shoulders. Nathan’s eyes followed the pair and Bill’s gaze followed Nathan’s.
“No…No. I think Lucas is feeling a bit left out. Kristin is making sure he’s going to meet us at the house. He’s going to take my motorcycle and I’ll find someway to get us there. We’ve got to get a car seat…hell; we’ve got to get a car a car seat will fit in. I doubt that it is going to fit in Kristin’s two-seater and it sure as hell won’t fit on the back of my motorcycle. I guess its back to the dependable family mini-van.”
“Well you have no one to blame but yourself. What’s this I hear about you and Kristin in the horticulture lab?”
“SHHHH! Do you want me to get killed? She has no idea that Piccolo saw us and I’d like to keep it that way.” ~ Took me three days and a two week leave to get her underwear back. ~
“Then keep her away from base. I’ve even heard rumors of a tape…something about an observation deck…”
“Piccolo is so dead. I am going to KILL him!”
“The tapes turned out to be fakes. Security is trying to trace that rumor back to its source. So Lucas is having some trouble coping with a baby sister?”
“Something like that…”
Bill’s eyes narrowed as he stared across the room but he didn’t give voice to the suspicions that were forming in his mind. He quickly tucked them away, never to be thought of again.
“Janet and I thought about a car seat. We keep a spare for when our grand children come to visit. We’ll take you home if you like and you can keep the seat until you get one of your own. We’ll even lend you Janet’s car until you can buy a…mini-van.” Bill snickered.
Janet and Maddy joined them as Kristin started across the room toward the group. Maddy decided that she wanted to meet her ‘Unka Biw’ and dived toward him. He caught her, but just barely. Maddy just giggled.
“Buddy hewl, Unka Biw!”
Kristin blushed scarlet, having gotten close enough to hear Maddy’s proclamation, while Nathan simply buried his shaking head in his hands to hide his laughter. Bill and Janet looked shocked for a moment before smiles cut across their faces.
“I see that Maddy…pays close attention to conversation.”
“Much to our chagrin. Mr. Piccolo started a trend and unfortunately her mother has expanded on it.” Nathan supplied by way of explanation.
“Excuse me? Her mother? And her father had absolutely nothing to do with it? I seem to recall at least one word that came from your vocabulary?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about. The princess never hears anything but the King’s English from me.”
Maddy’s brow furrowed at the biting tone her parent’s were using. “Mama howni?” She asked innocently.
A triumphant look crossed Kristin’s face. A shocked look crossed Bill’s face. An embarrassed look crossed Nathan’s face. And Janet began to giggle…uncontrollably.
“HAPPY, princess. The word is happy, remember? Mama happy!” Her father pleaded.
“Howni!” Maddy announced again as Nathan shushed her. “Maybe we should take this to the car?”
“Come to mama, sweetheart, and let Uncle Bill and Daddy go get the car, okay? I’ll go get our bag from the luggage area.”
Janet was still giggling at the gleam in Kristin’s eye as she watched the two men walk toward the exit. Or, to be more specific, watched Nathan’s back end.
“I can see that Maddy was right about her mama’s state.”
Kristin blushed at being caught ogling. “It’s just that he has such a…” Kristin broke off with a glance at her daughter.
“Daddy dood ass!” Maddy finished her mothers thought.
Janet simply popped an eyebrow into the air. “Well, she’s got you there. You can’t punish her for speaking the truth!”
“I never had any problem with her until we got on that boat. I never used profanity on the station.”
“How boring for you then. I wouldn’t worry. All children go through a stage…with an English mother she’s bound to grow up using bloody. As for…horny…my guess is that with daddy around mama goes from horny to happy very quickly so Nathan will soon reprogram that one as well.”
The house had been thoroughly cleaned and fresh flowers graced every room, courtesy of Janet. Nathan proudly led Kristin down the hall to show her the small office that had been turned into a lovely nursery, also courtesy of Bill and Janet acting at Nathan’s behest. Maddy settled in immediately, curling into the bed with her stuffed dolphin for a nap.
The ladies retired to the kitchen for refreshments, leaving the two men alone to talk.
“Did you do anything stupid?” Bill blurted out the moment they were gone.
“No, Kristin wouldn’t let me send my resignation. I’ll deliver it in person tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Bill…look at that woman…I have an amazing, incredible, gorgeous, sexy wife. Only an idiot would leave her here alone to go back to sea. I have a lovely baby girl asleep down the hall that is more precious to me than gold. Can’t you understand? I missed almost two years of Maddy’s life. Kristin and I have missed two years of our life together that we can never get back. I’m not willing to lose any more time.”
“I repeat. You don’t have to. Did you think I would let you down? It took some maneuvering but Smith is being transferred, kicked up as it were. Her mother was suspicious but how can she complain about a promotion, even if it is to an obscure office where Wendy can do little damage. She’ll be happier in Psi research anyway. So you have an opening for a CMO. The job is Kristin’s if she wants it and I pray that she does.”
“What about Maddy…and the baby? What about that little piece of paper that makes her Mrs. Nathan Bridger?”
“I don’t have to describe to you the ‘pleasure’ that the military brass took over that piece of news.” Bill said facetiously. “But the bottom line is that right now they want you as Captain of that boat and if that means a wife and kids aboard as well then you get them. They actually cheered up a bit when I reminded them of Kristin’s qualifications. Truth be told she is without doubt the most qualified person on the planet for that job. That’s why we hired her the first time. Smith was UEO and she had the medical degree but she didn’t have a research background that could touch Kristin’s.”
“So they agreed. You know that I want to stay…but I’ll have to talk to Kris. We have to decide together what’s right for us and our children.”
Bill nodded. “I understand. But I think that your wife loves you enough to realize that you need that boat.”
“And I love my wife enough to walk away from that boat if that’s what she needs.”
“Luckily she doesn’t need that. I’d live in a grass shack as long as I could live with you, Nathan Bridger.”
“I think that Kristin and I need to have a few words alone. We’ll be right back.” Nathan laid a hand on his wife’s elbow and led her toward the porch, making sure to close the door firmly behind them.
“William Noyce! You come sit your end down on this sofa and stop trying to peek out of the window!”
“But Janet…I went out on a limb for Nathan with this.”
“That doesn’t mean that you have to watch their discussion!”
“I need to know if she’s going to accept the position. If she turns it down after all of my arm twisting and favor calling, I’m going to look very bad.”
“She won’t turn it down.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Janet pondered the question a moment. “When Nathan told us about Maddy, told us that Kristin was back in his life…I was furious. Even though Kristin was my friend she hurt Nathan so badly that I knew I couldn’t forgive her for that, especially when I found out that she’d taken his daughter away from him. I was prepared to be polite to her, for Nathan’s sake, but I knew that we could never be as close as we were again.”
The sofa seemed to have suddenly grown too small so Janet stood and began to pace. “Then you told me why she left, that she was attacked and that damned mix up made her think that Nathan wasn’t Maddy’s father. That only made me madder because I knew that Nathan would never have held that against her. He would have understood…he would have loved the baby without question. To be honest, I still don’t understand why she didn’t just tell him the truth.”
A tiny niggling suspicion tugged at the back of Bill’s brain but then Janet continued to speak.
“But when I saw them today, when they stepped out of that launch, it was there between them, that…something that I can’t define but you can almost see the pull between them. The way that Nathan looks at her…the way she looks at him…I can’t describe it but I’m amazed that they stayed apart as long as they did.”
“I know what you mean. I feel it too, anytime they are together.”
“That’s why Kristin will take the job, why I find that I still love her like a sister…I can forgive her anything…because I only have to look at them to know that she would do anything…and I mean anything for that man. She would die for him if she had to, Bill. She loves him that much.”
“He feels the same about her. He would walk away from everything he has if she asked him too.”
“But she won’t ask. She knows that seaQuest is the best place for all of them, at least right now. That may change…when the baby comes or when Maddy gets a little older…but wherever they are I know they will be together.”
“Looks like they are about to be together on the porch…and I do mean together! I didn’t know you could do that on a swing…”
“Bill! Get away from that window!”
Janet returned to the sofa and Bill joined her there. They sat silently for a few moments before he slipped his arm around his wife and pulled her close to him.
“So…wanna make out too?”
“Bill? Janet? Maybe they are in the back with Maddy…” Nathan’s voice trailed off as Bill’s head appeared over the top of the sofa, what little hair he had in disarray, lipstick smeared across his face.
“We can go back outside for awhile if you’d like the privacy.” Nathan grinned.
Janet’s head bobbed up as she pushed Bill off of her. “Shut up, Nathan! It’s your own damned fault.”
Nathan started to walk into the seating area but Kristin’s hand on his arm held him back. “Why don’t we go check on Maddy? We will be back in just a few minutes.”
“What did you do that for?” Nathan asked once they were in the hall.
“To give them a few moments to…compose themselves. You were about to walk in and there was no telling what state they might have been in below the couch line. Besides, this way we are prolonging Bill’s agony. Who knows? They may even finish what they started.”
“And where does Janet get off blaming it on me?”
Kristin stared at him dumbfounded. “We were on our front porch. Bill probably looked out of the window; Mr. Nobody will notice us! Apparently it gave him ideas.”
Maddy continued to sleep peacefully as her parents stood by the crib and watched.
“We are going to need a bigger house you know. We don’t have anywhere to put this little one and Maddy is really going to need a bigger bedroom as she gets older. We could look for someplace new while we’re on leave or we could add on to this one.”
“Whatever you think. We could make due for a while. We won’t be here that much.”
“Um…I wish that they would leave. We haven’t had the joy of a really big bed yet and there is one in the next room just waiting for us.”
“Bill isn’t leaving without an answer. He put himself on the line for you, Nathan. They would never have offered me the job otherwise. They might have overlooked our marriage but I don’t think they would have overlooked Maddy or the baby in training.”
“So let’s give him an answer and kick them out!”
“And you have the audacity to say that I’m the one who’s always horny?”
“You think they’ve had enough time?”
They walked back down the hall slowly, Nathan stomping his feet and making hemming and hawing noises as they went. Just before they reached the entrance to the den Nathan popped his hand over his eyes and stepped out, his back to the open room.
“All clear?” He asked.
Nathan heard Kristin’s sharp inhalation and knew he’d made a mistake. He dropped his hand to gaze at her pale white face.
“He saw us didn’t he? Piccolo…he’d already popped up while we were…oh God!”
“It doesn’t matter, Kristin. I was clothed…well almost and I was blocking most of you. He didn’t see much.”
“But he saw it at a hell of a lot closer angle than they did on the bridge. You knew! And you didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be embarrassed. Piccolo won’t say anything. If he hadn’t seen us then come back to warn us Lucas and Smith would have really gotten an eyeful.”
“I am never taking off my clothes again…NEVER!”
“Would either of you like a cup of tea?” They turned to see Bill and Janet sitting properly on the sofa each holding a cup.
“That sounds heavenly.” Kristin dived for the saucer Janet was holding out to her.
Bill waited until they were both seated before pouncing. “So is someone going to give me an answer?”
“Oh, thank you, Bill. I accept the UEO’s kind offer to be CMO and chief scientist onboard the flagship and promise to do my best to perform my duties faithfully and keep the Captain healthy and happy.”
“Well it damn well took you long enough to tell me!”
“I apologize for my husband’s behavior. I don’t know what’s gotten into him this afternoon.” Janet offered.
“Maybe it’s what he wants to get into.” Nathan quipped as Kristin’s elbow dug into his side.
Bill blushed but he took his wife’s hand and pulled her from the sofa. “Now that you mention it…we’ll be going. I’m sure you two would like to…readjust to land living. We’ll bring one of the cars out tomorrow so you can have practical baby transport.”
They walked to the porch with the Noyce’s and waved as they drove away. Lucas passed the exiting car as he piloted Nathan’s motorcycle into the garage and emerged with a wave. A flash of silver from the ocean caught all of their eyes and Lucas took off to greet Darwin.
Nathan moved to stand behind Kristin and wrapped his arms around her to hold her close to him. They stared out into the blue water made orange by the setting sun, Kristin’s head resting on Nathan’s shoulder.
Nathan planted a light kiss on her lips before turning back to stare at Lucas and Darwin playing at the edge of the water. His thoughts drifted back over the last two years, how lonely he’d been, and then through the last month. His life had certainly been turned around by one simple delivery job and he’d never been so thankful for anything. The emptiness and the loneliness was gone, filled by the woman in his arms, the little girl asleep in the house and the child nestled safely in his wife’s womb.
A sleepy murmur caught their attention and Kristin pulled from his embrace.
“I’ll go check on her.” She whispered with a kiss.
Nathan caught her arm as she moved away and swung her into his arms.
“What are you doing, silly?” She giggled.
“I am carrying my wife over the threshold. Welcome home, my love.”
~ fin ~