Title: Confrontations
Author: N'kala99
Disclaimer: They ain't mine
Summary: Lucas and Bridger have settled down to a normal life when the thing they least
expect happens
Author's Note: I wrote this a couple of years ago, and decided to post it to tide you guys
over while I finish my Sanctuary Trilogy. Fear not, it's coming. Just give me a little
more time. ?

Confrontations
By: N'kala99

I
The man stood perfectly still as his boss examined him. His boss nodded,
muttering several comments to himself. The man simply waited patiently for the
boss to finish.

"Good," he said. "You'll do just fine. Did you study the portfolio that I gave
you?"

The man nodded. "Yes sir. Everything you gave me has been memorized. I
won't fail you."

His boss nodded again. "Good. This should teach that bastard never to
cross me again. We'll see who's in charge."

The man nodded his agreement, although he didn't fully understand the
reason and bitterness behind the words. He wasn't supposed to. His job was
already laid out for him. He would do no more, no less.

"You're ready," his boss stated. "Get going. Don't screw this up. There's a
lot riding on this."

The man nodded once more, turned and left. His boss stared after him, an
evil grin slowly appearing on his face.

They wouldn't even know what hit them. Not until it was too late.

* * *

Lucas Bridger was hunched over his computer in the science lab, so
engrossed in his experiments that he didn't see his adopted father enter the room.

Captain Nathan Hale Bridger stopped in the doorway to the science lab and
simply gazed at Lucas. He smiled to himself, thanking the Lord above for bringing
Lucas into his life. Even though it had been because of dire circumstances (Lucas'
abuse at the hands of his parents, for one), Bridger had welcomed the adoption of
the fifteen-year-old boy openly. Lucas had filled in that part of Bridger that had
died when his own son, Robert, had passed away. Even though Lucas was still
getting used to acting like a normal teenager, Bridger knew that Lucas loved him
like a father; more than he had loved his own father, that was for sure.

Bridger cleared his throat and smiled when Lucas looked up, confused. The
smile that spread across Lucas' face warmed Bridger's heart, and he stepped
forward.

"Hi, Dad," Lucas greeted. "What's up?"

Dad. That one little three-letter word sent a whole new wave of emotions
crashing through Bridger. He fought for control as he replied, "You've been in here
all day. You gonna come out and join the rest of the world? Maybe for dinner?"

Lucas glanced at his watch, his eyebrows raising in surprise. "I didn't
realize how late it was!" he exclaimed.

Bridger closed Lucas' laptop and picked it up. "I think you've worked
enough for one day. C'mon. Let's go grab something to eat."

Lucas hopped to his feet and walked with Bridger to the mess. They had just
sat down to eat when Bridger's PAL chirped. Bridger sighed and took it out.
"Yes?"

"Sorry to bother you, sir, but we're receiving a distress call from a minisub."
Commander Jonathon Ford's voice sounded confused, almost tense. "They're
asking specifically for you."

Bridger rolled his eyes and looked at Lucas, who was busy playing with his
food. "I'll be right there." He put his PAL away and ducked his head to catch
Lucas' eyes. "Sorry, kiddo. I'll be back as soon as I can. This should only take a
few minutes. Okay?"

Lucas nodded and smiled faintly. "A captain's work is never done, huh?"

Bridger returned the smile. "Don't I know it. I'll be back in a few."

Lucas nodded again and returned to eating/playing with his food. Bridger
stood, affectionately squeezed Lucas' shoulder, then left for the bridge.

* * *

Ford looked up as Bridger stepped onto the bridge. "Sir, we're within range
of the sub. We should be able to retrieve it in a few minutes. The pilot says he's
injured."

"Anyone else aboard?" Bridger asked.

"No, sir," Sensor Chief Miguel Ortiz called out.

Bridger nodded to Lieutenant j.g. Tim O'Neill to open a com link to the sub.
"This is Captain Bridger of the seaQuest. Identify yourself."

The voice that replied made Bridger's blood run cold. "Er . . . It's Robert.
Robert Bridger. Hi Dad."

II

Lucas sighed for what seemed like the millionth time as he twirled his
spaghetti around his fork. Bridger had left almost an hour ago for the bridge.
Lucas didn't know why he was still waiting for him; he obviously got tangled up in
something a little bigger than rescuing a minisub. Lucas wasn't bitter about it. He
knew that Bridger was a busy man. The ship simply had to take priority over
dinner with his son. In any case, he shouldn't complain. Bridger had paid way
more attention to Lucas than either Lawrence or Cynthia Wolenczak ever had.

It was getting late. Lucas collected his computer and stood. Depositing his
tray into the dispenser, he headed for his cabin. Maybe he could get some more
work done before bedtime.

* * *

Bridger stood in the medbay as Doctor Kristen Westphalen examined the
man that had claimed to be Robert Bridger.

The brown hair and eyes . . . that nose . . . that small, crooked smile . . .
granted, he looked older than the last time Bridger had seen him, but it was Robert.
It had to be.

Westphalen finally stepped back, smiled at her patient, then went to talk
with Bridger.

"How is he?" Bridger asked.

"He has some bruised ribs and a sprained ankle, but other than that, he's
fine," Westphalen assured him.

"Thank you." Bridger tentatively moved forward. Robert looked up and
noticed him, offering the all-too-familiar grin.

"Hi," he said softly.

"Hi," Bridger replied.

Robert looked down. "I know that this is somewhat of a surprise . . ."

"I'll say," Bridger agreed. "Robert . . . how . . .?"

Robert sighed. "It's a long story, and one that I'm not ready to tell just yet.
What about you? What have you been doing?"

Bridger blinked, surprised. He never remembered Robert to be interested in
anything he did. "I've been okay. I . . .I've really missed you."

Robert smiled shyly. "I've missed you, too."

They stared at each other for a few minutes before Bridger finally spoke.
"Oh! You're probably tired. I'll take you where you can get some rest."

"Okay." Robert tenderly stood and limped after his father down the hall.
Bridger stopped before a pair of doors and turned back to him.

"My quarters are down the hall," he said. "In case you need anything, call.
There's a PAL in there for you to use. Are you hungry? I could take you to the
mess -." He trailed off when he suddenly remembered Lucas, waiting for him.

"Dad?" Bridger was brought back around at Robert's voice. "You still
there? I lost you for a minute."

Bridger smiled. "I'm still here. Just remembered something. Go ahead and
get some rest. We have quite a bit of catching up to do. I'll see you in the morning."

Robert nodded and entered his quarters. As Bridger moved to go, Robert
came back up to Bridger awkwardly, then wrapped his arms around his father in a
hug. Bridger was surprised, but returned the hug gladly. Robert pulled away after
several minutes, then went back into his cabin. Bridger stared at the closed doors,
stunned, then turned in the direction of the mess hall.

He felt terrible. He'd forgotten about Lucas. Something that he had
promised himself never to do, and he'd gone and done it. He hoped Lucas would
understand.

Lucas wasn't in the mess. Bridger felt panic began to rise in his throat, then
forced himself to calm down. This was the seaQuest. Lucas was fine. He was
probably in the science lab.

Wrong again. The science lab was empty.

Okay. Bridger thought of where else the boy could be. Checking the time, he
was surprised to see that it was well past midnight. He'd left Lucas in the mess hall
five hours ago. This revelation did little to make Bridger feel any better, but it also
gave him a clue as to where Lucas might be.

He was right. Lucas was safe in his cabin, fast asleep at his desk. His
computer was open, its screen displaying strings of alphanumeric codes that Bridger
couldn't possibly hope to decipher. With a pang of guilt in the pit of his stomach, he
shut off the computer and lifted Lucas into his arms. Lucas mumbled something
that sounded an awful lot like 'Dad' before sinking back under the depths of sleep.
Bridger gently tucked Lucas into bed and brushed his soft, golden hair from his
face. With a soft kiss to his forehead, Bridger quietly crept from the room.

Lucas could be told about Robert tomorrow. Right now, he'd let the boy
sleep.

III

The boss' face appeared on the man's screen. "Yes?"

"I'm here," the man said.

"Any problems?" the boss asked.

"None," the man replied. "It couldn't've been easier."

"Good," the boss stated. "You know what to do. Report back in twenty-four
hours."

"Understood." The man severed the link before he was discovered and lay
back comfortably. It would take time, but the man was patient. He was going to
accomplish his task, no matter how long it took.

* * *

Robert awoke to the sound of someone knocking on his door. Standing, he
threw on a robe that he had found in the closet and went to answer the hail.

Bridger smiled a greeting. "Good morning. I was hoping to get some
breakfast. Care to join me?"

Robert smiled. "Sure. Give me a minute?"

"Of course." Bridger sat down on a chair as Robert went to change into the
clothes that had been delivered to his room late last night. When he was ready, he
joined his father in walking down the hall to the mess hall. He noticed all of the
strange looks he was given and leaned closer to Bridger. "Why is everyone staring
at me?"

Bridger noticed too and raised his eyebrow at the gawkers. The eyes
immediately averted from the Bridgers. "They're just curious. Don't worry about
it."

They claimed a table and sat down to eat. They were so engrossed in their
conversation of small talk that neither noticed a certain blond-haired boy enter the
mess hall. Blue eyes observed the two before turning to the nearest table, which
held O'Neill, Ortiz, and Ben Krieg.

"Hey, Lucas," Krieg greeted. "Wanna join us for breakfast?"

Lucas tossed a confused glance at Bridger and his companion. "Who's that
the captain's eating with?"

Three heads turned in the direction of Bridger before looking back to Lucas.

"Apparently, that's Robert Bridger. Bridger's son," Ortiz offered.

Lucas felt as if someone had punched him solidly in the stomach. "His son?
But I thought his son was dead."

"So did everyone else," O'Neill said. "He was on that minisub we rescued
last night. I guess he wasn't dead after all."

Krieg looked at his best friend closely. "Lucas?" he asked. "You okay? You
look a little pale."

"I-I'm fine," Lucas stammered. "Um . . . I'm not very hungry. I'll see you
guys later."

The three officers watched Lucas leave, confused. "Do you think he's okay?"
O'Neill asked worriedly.

The other two looked just as concerned. "I thought that Bridger would at
least tell Lucas," Krieg said. "I mean, after all, he is his son."

"So's Robert," Ortiz reminded him. "Bridger thought he was dead. What
do you think, Ben? You knew Robert back in the academy. That is him, isn't it?"

"Of course it is," O'Neill replied. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Stranger things have happened," Ortiz answered. "Ben?"

"I don't know," Krieg said softly. "I mean, he looks like him, and he sounds
like him . . ."

"If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then chances are it probably
isn't a cow," O'Neill stated.

Krieg stood. "Well, I don't know about you guys, but I have work to do."

They looked at him. "Work? You?" Ortiz teased.

Krieg smirked and left. As soon as the doors closed, Bridger and Robert
stood and approached O'Neill and Ortiz.

"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Robert," Bridger said. "Robert, this is Tim
O'Neill and Miguel Ortiz, two of my senior officers."

"Hi, nice to meet you," Robert said, offering his hand.

The two officers took turns in shaking it. "Uh, sir?" O'Neill said. "Have you
seen Lucas yet?"

Something passed quickly across Bridger's face; too fast to read. "We were
just about to go see him. Do you know where he is?"

"No, sorry," Ortiz replied.

"No," O'Neill added.

Bridger nodded and turned to Robert. "He's probably at the moonpool.
Come on. You can meet Darwin while we're at it."

They left the room. Ortiz and O'Neill exchanged glances before standing
and heading to the bridge to report to their duties.

* * *

Lucas fiddled with the vocoder, not really paying attention to what he was
doing. His mind whirled with the sudden development. Bridger's son? Back from
the dead? Lucas was very happy for Bridger, but he was also worried. With Robert
back, would Bridger still want to be Lucas' father? After all, he had Robert back.
Did he really need two kids to worry about?

"Lucas sad?" Darwin asked through the vocoder, the device that Lucas
himself had invented.

Lucas sighed. "Kinda, but I don't want to talk about it right now, okay?"

"Lucas play!" Darwin exclaimed.

This brought a small smile to the boy's face. "Not right now, Darwin. I have
to adjust this."

"I think you can spare a few minutes, can't you?"

Bridger's voice caused Lucas to jump. He turned around and saw Bridger
walking towards Darwin to pet him, followed by a wide-eyed younger man in his
thirties.

"It talks?" he asked, stunned.

"Yep," Bridger announced proudly. "Lucas here is the one that invented the
machine that allows us to understand what Darwin says. Lucas, this is Robert.
Robert, meet Lucas- my adopted son."

Lucas flinched inwardly at this. Bridger had always referred to him as his
'son', not as his 'adopted son'. Robert looked at Bridger in astonishment, then at
Lucas.

"Then I guess that makes us brothers then, huh?" Robert said.

"Guess so," Lucas replied, still hurting from the 'adopted son' comment.

Robert looked at his father. "Looks like I'm not the only one who has some
explaining to do," he observed.

Bridger nodded. "There'll be time for that later. I want to show you the
bridge. Later, kiddo."

"Bye." Lucas watched Bridger leave with Robert, then turned back to his
vocoder. He didn't feel like working now. Tears began to burn in his eyes.

"Lucas?"

Lucas blinked his eyes rapidly, pretending to be studying the vocoder as
Krieg approached him and knelt down beside him. "Hey, buddy. How're you
doing? You left in kind of a hurry. You okay?"

"I'm fine," Lucas lied. "I have a lot of work to do, so if you don't mind . . ."

Krieg knew a hint when he heard one. He gently squeezed Lucas' shoulder.
"Okay, but if you need to talk about it, you know where to find me."

Lucas didn't dare move or breathe as Krieg stood and left. Only when he
was all alone did he allow the tears to fall.

He was going to lose Bridger.

* * *

Robert glanced around the bridge admiringly. "You designed all this?"

Bridger smiled. "Most of it. The engineers had to finish up where I left off,
but this is what I was going for."

"Impressive." Robert turned around in a circle, examining each aspect of
the bridge as if committing it to memory.

Bridger cleared his throat. Robert turned and nodded, following him into
the conference room.

"I'd like to have that talk now," Bridger stated, sitting in his customary chair
at the head of the table. Robert claimed a chair beside him. "Where have you been
all these years? Why didn't you try to contact us?"

Robert looked down at the table. "To tell you the truth, I thought you would
be angry with me. I mean, we never really got along when I was growing up. After
my plane went down, I washed up on the shore of this island, and I've been living
with the inhabitants until about a year ago, when this UEO launch found me and
brought me back. I heard all these things about you and the seaQuest, and I decided
to come find you. I finally located you yesterday, but I ran into some trouble with a
hurricane. I didn't think I was gonna make it when this huge sub just appeared on
my sensors. The rest you know."

Bridger was stunned. "I just can't believe that you've been alive all these
years. You could've come home. I'm so sorry for making you think otherwise."

Robert dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand. "It's history," he
stated. "Tell me about Lucas. And about your life here on seaQuest. I really would
like to know."

Bridger told him about how he had first come aboard the seaQuest, how he
hadn't wanted to stay. About how he first met Lucas, about several adventures that
they had encountered, finishing with a short version of how Lucas' parents had
neglected him so often that Bridger had taken it upon himself to adopt the boy. By
the time he was finished, Robert nodded.

"That was very generous of you, Dad," he commented.

"Generosity had nothing to do with it," Bridger replied, a little harsher than
he meant. He sighed. "I'm sorry, Robert. It's just that Lucas is very important to
me, and I don't want him or anyone else thinking I did it out of pity. I really do love
him as if he were my own, and I want the both of you to get along."

"I'm sure we will," Robert assured him. "How about inviting him to eat
dinner with us tonight? At the mess? I'd like to get to know more about him."

Bridger smiled broadly. "I'd like that very much, Robert."

Robert nodded and leaned back. "Great. Then it's settled. I'll see you there
tonight. In the meantime, I think I'll go back to my quarters. I guess I'm still a
little wiped out from yesterday."

"Okay." Bridger watched his son leave and sighed, content. He never
realized just how great it would be to have his son back. If only he could convince
Robert to stay, then maybe he could make up for the years he had wasted by
arguing and ignoring his son.

IV

Lucas wiped his eyes dry for the hundredth time that hour and tried once
more to focus on his computer. Doctor Westphalen was the only other person with
him in the science lab, and if she had noticed his tears, then she wasn't saying
anything. Of course, she was preoccupied with the latest algae sample, and had
barely looked up in the past few hours.

Lucas' stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten breakfast or
lunch at all that day. He remembered that he hadn't even eaten dinner the night
before as he waited for Bridger to return. He knew that he needed to eat, or he
would pass out. A wry thought floated across his brain. Maybe fainting from
hunger would get Bridger's attention. Maybe not the kind he wanted, but attention
nonetheless.

Lucas sighed and stared at the computer.

Westphalen snuck a glance up at the boy and frowned. He hadn't spoken
two words to her all day, and that worried her. She knew that if she confronted
him, he would just deny it and say he was fine.

She wondered what could possibly be making him feel so despondent. Lucas
had been ecstatic after the adoption, and had been happy since. He really loved
having Bridger as a father . . .

Then, suddenly, Westphalen realized that that was what was missing. Lucas
could never sit still without making some kind of comment about being 'Lucas
Bridger' instead of 'Lucas Wolenczak'. Those comments always made Westphalen
smile. Seeing him so thrilled about having a loving father made her feel so warm
inside.

But today, Lucas had sat at still as a statue. There was no joy in his bright
blue eyes, there was no spring in his step . . . and those were not tears of happiness
that he was trying so desperately to hide. Westphalen ached to go to him, to hug
him and comfort him, but Lucas would only pull away.

His somber mood had to do with Bridger's son being on board. Westphalen
knew that Lucas wasn't at all the selfish type, but that had to be the only logical
explanation. Something must have occurred to make Lucas feel so . . . sad? Alone?

"Lucas?" Westphalen had to try. "Is there something the matter?"

Lucas pretended to look busy. "Matter? No, everything's cool."

Westphalen sighed. She'd expected as much. "All right, Lucas, but if there's
anything I can do to help, you just ask. All right?"

Lucas nodded distantly. "Uh . . . yeah, okay."

Westphalen turned back to her samples, silently telling herself to speak with
Bridger about this sudden change in Lucas.

* * *

Lucas looked up at the knock on his door. He stood to answer it and was
surprised to find Robert Bridger there. "Um . . .hi."

Robert only laughed. "Hi. Dad and I were wondering if you'd like to join us
for dinner."

"Um . . . that's okay," Lucas declined. "I'm not very hungry."

"Aw, come on," Robert coaxed. "I wanna learn about my new little brother.
Please?"

Lucas sighed. "Okay. Hang on." He shut down his computer, then walked
with Robert to the mess hall. Bridger was already there, at a table with three
waiting trays. He smiled at them. "Hey, guys. Hungry?"

"Starved." Robert sat down across from Bridger, leaving Lucas to sit next to
him, diagonal from Bridger. He didn't utter a word as he sat down and lifted a
fork.

"How's the vocoder coming along?" Bridger asked, trying to get the boy to
speak.

Lucas shrugged. "Same as usual."

When he didn't say anything after that, Robert spoke. "What's this I hear
about you having a master's degree? Where'd you go?"

"Stanford."

Robert raised his eyebrows. "Wow. That's a pretty good school."

"Lucas currently holds that college's highest GPA in its history," Bridger
stated with pride.

"Really?" Robert said. "I'm impressed. Not that I wasn't before . . ."

Lucas listened to the conversation with half an ear, answering in short,
clipped sentences when he was asked a question. He barely ate, which surprised
him, considering how hungry he was. Bridger never even noticed his listless mood;
he was just so happy to be eating dinner with his two sons.

Sitting across the room and occasionally tossing glances the Bridgers' way
were Ford, Security Chief Crocker, Hitchcock, Westphalen, Krieg, O'Neill, and
Ortiz. They were talking in hushed tones about Robert's return.

"I don't know," Ortiz was saying. "There's just something about him."

"Give it a rest already," O'Neill told his friend in exasperation. "Bridger's
happy, Robert's happy. Leave them alone."

"What about Lucas?" Hitchcock suddenly asked. "How's he taking all of
this?"

"I don't know," Krieg answered. "He didn't look too good this morning."

"And I could have sworn something was the matter this afternoon at the
lab," Westphalen chimed in. "He barely spoke, and he looked like he had been
crying."

"Are you sure you guys just aren't imagining it?" Crocker asked. "I mean,
why wouldn't Lucas be happy? He of all people should be glad that the captain got
his son back."

"We're not saying that he isn't," Krieg said. "But look at him. Does he look
happy to you?"

They all turned to look at their young friend, then returned to their
conversation.

"What could be wrong?" Ford asked.

"Has he mentioned anything to anyone?" Westphalen added.

Everyone shook their heads.

Lucas was all too aware of the glances he was being thrown by his friends
from across the room. Deciding that he couldn't take another minute under their
scrutiny and in Robert and Bridger's presence, he stood.

"Um . . . I'm not feeling to well," he announced. "I'm gonna go back to my
bunk and lie down."

Bridger shot him a worried look. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Lucas said. "Just a little out of it. I'll see you later. G'night,
Robert. Captain."

He turned and walked out of the room, missing the look of utter confusion
pass over Bridger's face. Captain? Lucas hadn't called him 'captain' since the
adoption. What was going on?

"Dad? Hello? Earth to Dad? Come in, Dad!"

Bridger blinked. "What? Oh, sorry, Robert. I was just thinking."

"Apparently," Robert replied. "What about?"

"Stuff." Bridger covered his concern with a smile. "Don't worry about it."

Robert nodded. "'Kay, Dad. Whatever you say."

* * *

The man called up his boss. His boss' expression was unreadable. "Yes?"

"The mission is underway," the man stated simply.

"How long?" his boss asked.

"Unknown," the man replied. "But, judging from the situation, not long."

His boss nodded. "Good. Call me again in twenty-four hours."

The man nodded and severed the link.

* * *

Lucas lay listlessly on his bunk, not in the mood to do anything. The minute
he'd shut his door, the tears had forced their way to the surface, overwhelming him.
He didn't want to let anyone know how he felt, because they'd only laugh at him.
But they didn't understand. He didn't want to lose Bridger. He wanted to stay
Bridger's son. More than anything. He didn't want to get sent into foster care. But
with Robert back, that just might happen. Bridger had no room for two sons. Just
one. And that one was Robert.

Lucas refused to let anyone know this small fact. He would never wish for
Robert to leave. Robert was Bridger's first and only son. Bridger may have only
loved Lucas because he was a substitute for Robert, but to Lucas, that was
wonderful. He was more than willing to get whatever kind of love given to him, just
so long he was loved. But now, with Robert back, what purpose could Lucas serve?
Other than being some computer geek, he was pretty useless.

There came a knocking on his door. Lucas didn't feel like talking to anyone,
so he shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep. He could hear the door being pushed
open, followed by someone walking softly closer. Lucas felt the shift in weight on his
bed as someone sat down, and sighed inaudibly at the touch of someone brushing
the bangs back from his face. The touch was very comforting, but Lucas still didn't
feel up to talking.

The person sighed, but didn't move. The hand rested ever-so-lightly on his
cheek, and Lucas suddenly knew that it was Bridger. Bridger was the only one who
could calm him simply by touching his cheek. He opened his eyes, but slowly, as if
he'd just awoken.

Bridger smiled down at him. "Hey, kiddo. Sorry. I didn't mean to wake
you."

"'S okay," Lucas mumbled. He looked up at Bridger expectantly.

"I came by to see if there was something that you needed to talk about,"
Bridger stated. "And to apologize. I didn't mean to leave you all alone at the mess."

Lucas shrugged noncommittally. That particular incident was
understandable, and it didn't bother Lucas.

Much.

"You okay?" Bridger asked.

Lucas nodded.

Bridger smiled. "What do you think of Robert?"

Lucas winced, but managed to recover before Bridger caught the look. "He's
cool."

"It really means a lot to me that you like him," Bridger told him. "I've
missed him so much . . ."

Lucas closed his eyes, fighting back the tears. It was so obvious in Bridger's
voice that he loved Robert more than him. He wondered how long it would be
before Bridger sent him away.

Suddenly, Bridger stopped talking. Lucas could feel his eyes on him, and he
pretended to be asleep so that he would be spared any further grief. He was
surprised when he felt Bridger kiss him gently on the forehead and pull a blanket
over him, but knew that it was only a matter of time. Bridger would slowly begin to
forget about him as Robert stayed and got to know his father.

Not Lucas' father. Robert's father.

The minute he heard the door to his room close, Lucas dissolved into tears.

V

Westphalen went to Bridger's cabin and knocked on the door. She and the
other senior officers had agreed that, if there was something the matter with Lucas,
then she would have to be the one to tell the captain. Westphalen was the logical
choice; she loved Lucas as if he were her own son, like Bridger, and they also knew
that anything coming from Westphalen would be taken very seriously. Others
joked around and kidded with Lucas, but Westphalen never joked when it came to
Lucas' welfare. Not to say that the rest of the crew did, but Bridger always seemed
to listen to Westphalen with more care than anyone else.

Bridger opened the door and smiled at his visitor. "Well, hello, Kristen. To
what do I owe this visit?"

Westphalen sighed. "Nathan, I wanted to talk about Lucas."

The smile froze on Bridger's face. He stepped aside, allowing Westphalen to
enter. "What is it?"

Westphalen met Bridger's gaze firmly. "Nathan, I don't know how to tell
you this . . ."

Bridger's worry tripled. "What?"

"Does Lucas seem out of it to you?" Westphalen tried.

Bridger thought for a minute. "Now that you mention it, I guess he does. I
visited him, though, and he just told me that he felt a little under the weather.
Nothing too serious."

"Nathan, when was the last time Lucas told you something was wrong?"
Westphalen pointed out wryly.

Bridger sat down at his desk. "Point taken."

Westphalen sat down in the chair nearest him. "When Lucas was in the lab
this afternoon, he seemed very depressed. Of course he tried to hide it from me, but
it was so obvious. Nathan; the poor boy was trying so hard not to break down in
tears, and he wasn't doing a very good job of it!"

"Why?" Bridger asked, trying to think back to why Lucas could possibly be
feeling so bad.

"That seems to be the question," Westphalen stated. "I'm not the only one
who's noticed. Ben and Tim and Miguel saw him this morning in the mess hall, and
they said that he looked very pale. Katie and Jonathon are also concerned. We all
saw him leave the mess hall this evening, and he didn't look too well. Nathan, he
listens to you; hell, he adores you. I've never seen him so happy since the adoption,
and now this. We need to know what's going on so that we can help him. He isn't
about to come out and say that anything's wrong. In fact, he'll downright deny it.
But he needs to know that he can come to us for help. No matter what. You have to
be the one to tell him that. He won't listen to the rest of us."

Bridger nodded. "All right. He's asleep now. I'll talk to him tomorrow."

Westphalen smiled faintly. "How's your visit with Robert going?"

The smile returned to Bridger's face. "Wonderfully," he replied. "I can't
tell you how great it is to have him back here. I can finally make it up to him; all
those years I wasted while he was growing up. It couldn't be better."

Westphalen leaned back comfortably and listened as Bridger spoke with her
about his son.

* * *

Krieg went to Lucas' cabin the next morning to see if there was something
that he could do to cheer the boy up. He knew that Lucas had been feeling badly,
and he wanted to help. After all, he was the supply and morale officer.

He knocked on the door. "Lucas? You up yet?"

No answer. Krieg knocked again, then pushed the door open.

Lucas was lying in bed, curled up on his side. Krieg couldn't see his face,
since his back was to the door.

"Hey, Lucas," Krieg said. "Rise and shine, buddy. I got some stuff back in
my cabin that might interest you."

Lucas moved to rub his eyes and turned to face Krieg. Krieg was shocked to
see that his eyes were red-rimmed, his face tear-streaked. He realized he was
staring, and cleared his throat, sitting beside him on the bed. "Lucas?" he asked
gently. "What's wrong?"

"Uh . . . nothin'." Lucas sat up. "What stuff?"

"Um . . . some computer stuff." Krieg continued to stare at Lucas' sad eyes
that, at the mention of computers, lit up with interest.

"Computer stuff?" Lucas echoed. "What kind?"

"I don't know," Krieg replied. "I was kinda hoping you could tell me. Get
some clothes on and come on."

Lucas seemed genuinely excited as he jumped out of bed, grabbed a change
of clothes, and disappeared into his bathroom. He was ready to go within ten
minutes. Krieg had recovered from seeing Lucas in tears and had begun to joke
around with him. Lucas had just started to laugh when they passed Robert in the
hall.

"Hey! Lucas! Wait up!" Robert raced up to them. He nodded at Krieg,
then looked down at the boy.

"You feeling okay?" he asked. "You left kinda early last night."

"I'm fine," Lucas mumbled, looking down at the deck.

Krieg moved protectively closer to Lucas. "Hey, Robbie. I didn't get the
chance to see you since you've been on board. How've you been?"

Robert gave him a strange look, which vanished before Krieg could catch it.
"I'm much better since you guys picked me up."

Krieg nodded and slung an arm around Lucas' shoulders, earning him a
half-confused, half-relieved look from the boy. "Well, I gotta get Lucas to check out
a new shipment of computer parts that just arrived. Very boring, if you ask me, but
he seems to like it. We'll see you around."

Robert nodded. "All right. Bye. See ya later, Luke!"

Lucas flinched visibly as Robert left. "I hate it when people call me that!"

Krieg steered him in the direction of his cabin. "Well, just tell him that. I'm
sure he'll stop. Anyway, I think you'll like what I got."

He was glad to see the boy smile in anticipation and made a mental note to
talk with Bridger or Westphalen about what he had seen that morning. Maybe they
would be able to do something about it.

* * *

Bridger sat in his chair on the bridge, thinking about Lucas. His talk with
Westphalen last night really had him worried. How could he not have noticed
Lucas feeling bad? Bridger had always prided himself on noticing every little thing
that was bothering him. What had happened? Why couldn't he be as perceptive as
he once was?

"Sir?"

Bridger looked over at Ford, who was watching him with a look of concern
on his face. "Yes, Commander?"

"Are you okay, sir?" Ford asked. "You seem a little distracted."

Bridger sighed. "Just thinking. Er, listen: would you mind taking the bridge
for awhile? I need to do something."

Ford nodded as Bridger stood and left. He went down to Lucas' quarters,
surprised to find him missing. Confused, he headed down to the science lab, only to
see that Westphalen was alone, working on something on her computer. She looked
up at Bridger's entrance.

"Is something wrong, Nathan?" she asked.

"No," Bridger replied. "I'm just looking for Lucas. Have you seen him?"

"Not since last night," Westphalen replied. "Ben stopped by earlier to ask if
he could take Lucas to his cabin to look at some computer supplies. He thought that
would cheer him up. You might want to try there."

"Thanks." Bridger turned and walked down the hall towards Krieg's cabin,
but slowed when he heard voices coming from Krieg's cabin. One was Lucas'; filled
with excitement and awe. He could also hear Krieg laughing and answering Lucas'
questions to the best of his knowledge. Bridger smiled, knocking on the door.

Krieg answered and was surprised to see Bridger on the other side.
"Captain! To what do I owe this visit?"

"I need to talk with Lucas," Bridger stated, stepping inside. He found his
adopted son busy studying several components that looked like it belonged to a
dismantled computer. Lucas looked up, the smile on his face suddenly not so
genuine.

"Hi Captain," he greeted, looking down at the part in his hand.

Bridger frowned slightly and knelt down in front of Lucas. Lucas didn't
look up. Bridger glanced back at Krieg, his eyes silently asking for him to give the
two some privacy. Krieg nodded and left the room.

Bridger turned his attention back to Lucas, who was fiddling with the part.
He placed his hand over Lucas', halting the boy's rapid movements. Lucas stopped,
but still didn't look up.

"Lucas, I need to talk with you about the past couple of days," Bridger
began.

Lucas froze, feeling his blood turn to ice. This was it. Bridger was telling
him that there was no room in his life for both Robert and Lucas. He was leaving.

Bridger lifted Lucas' chin and saw the tears that were swimming in Lucas'
bright blue eyes. "Lucas, I know that something has been bothering you for the past
couple of days. I'd like to talk to you about that."

Lucas swallowed heavily. He didn't want to hear what the captain was about
to say. He wouldn't be able to hear it. It was bad enough that his own father had
turned him away; he didn't want to hear Bridger do the same. Not when he had
finally found a place where he was happy.

"Lucas, why have you been acting like this?" Bridger wanted to know.
"You've been moody, depressed, and unresponsive. What is it?"

Lucas nervously licked his lips. "I told you," he replied, his voice wavering.
"I don't feel too good. I must've caught something. It's nothing."

"Lucas, don't lie to me," Bridger said. "It's something else, and you aren't
telling me. Why not? Are you afraid of what I might think? Or say?"

Lucas didn't answer. Fear shown in his blue eyes.

Bridger sighed. "Lucas, you have to learn that you can trust me. I won't
hurt you. Please; tell me what's wrong."

Lucas' chin trembled, but he refused to cry. "I told you," he said firmly.
"It's nothin'."

Bridger sighed again. Lucas could be very stubborn when he wanted to be.
"Lucas . . ."

Lucas pulled away and stood, dropping the computer part that he had been
holding. He didn't say a word as he ran from Krieg's quarters, nearly running
Krieg over in the process.

"Hey Lucas!" Krieg shouted. "Slow it down!"

Bridger stood and joined Krieg at the door. "Did he tell you what was
bothering him?"

Krieg shook his head. "No, but when I went to get him this morning, he was
crying. I'm telling you, I've never seen him look this sad."

Bridger bit his lower lip. "I'm worried about him. He won't let me get close
enough to talk about what it is that's bothering him. I have no idea what to do."

"Maybe I can try," Krieg suggested. "Couldn't hurt."

Bridger nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

He turned and walked back to the bridge. Krieg looked in his quarters and
winced at the mess of computer parts scattered over his bunk and across the floor.
Lucas needed time to cool down, and, anyway, he was on a submarine. It wasn't
like he was going anywhere. He had to pick up the mess that they had left.

* * *

Darwin swam through the aqua tubes in the seaQuest, looking through the
glass at a few of the passing crewmembers. He was bored; Lucas hadn't played with
him in awhile. Maybe he was waiting for him. And maybe Darwin could convince
him to play this time.

Darwin swam to the pool where he usually played with Lucas and was
delighted to see the boy already in the water. It wasn't until he got closer that he
saw that the boy wasn't wearing his shiny skin, but the rough skin he wore on dry
land. He was also floating in the water face- down, and he wasn't swimming; he was
floating. Darwin nudged him with his nose, but Lucas didn't move. Truly worried
for his friend, Darwin swam through the tubes to where he knew Bridger usually
stayed.

* * *

"Lucas swim!"

Bridger looked over at the pool where Darwin had appeared. "Sorry, pal,"
he said. "Lucas isn't here."

Darwin wasn't at all happy with this response. "Lucas swim! Breathe
water! Not shiny skin!"

This new revelation drew the attention of the entire bridge crew. They all
turned to the dolphin as Bridger approached the pool. His face was ashen.
"What?"

"Lucas swim!" Darwin exclaimed. "Lucas breathe water. Not shiny skin!"

Bridger felt sick to his stomach. He pulled out his PAL and shouted for a
medical team to meet him at the moonpool as he took off running.

He beat the medical team to the moonpool and almost collapsed at the sight
before him. Lucas was floating, facedown, in the pool. Darwin was once more at his
friend's side, nudging him in the hopes of eliciting a response.

Bridger ran forward and lifted the still boy out of the pool, laying him gently
on the ground. He discovered that Lucas wasn't breathing, and that he had no
pulse. Panicked, Bridger began to perform CPR.

"Come on, Lucas!" he cried, tears falling unabashed down his cheeks.
"Don't leave me! Come on! Breathe!"

The medical team, led by Westphalen, ran into the room. Westphalen
gasped, but knelt down to help Bridger bring life back to the child. After several
unresponsive minutes, Lucas finally gasped for air and coughed, spitting up
mouthfuls of water. Bridger cried out with relief as Westphalen and her team
loaded Lucas onto the stretcher, covered him with a blanket, and whisked him off to
medbay. Bridger refused to leave his side the entire time.

Westphalen made him wait in the waiting room as she and her team took
Lucas into a room to pump the water from his stomach and change him into a
hospital gown. The procedure took longer than expected, but when Westphalen
finally left the room, relief colored her face.

"He's going to be just fine," Westphalen assured Bridger. "I was worried
about him having myocardial arrest in response to the shock of suddenly being
drained of the water from his stomach and lungs, but he's out of the woods."

Bridger let out a giant sigh of relief. "Can I see him?"

Westphalen nodded. "He's still unconscious, though. I don't know when
he'll wake up, but go ahead."

Before he could move, though, one of Westphalen's nurses approached them.
"Doctor, I think you'd better take a look this."

Westphalen waved Bridger back to the room and went with her nurse.
Bridger resumed his pacing.

Westphalen returned, this time pale. Bridger went up to her, worried.

"Kristen?" he asked. "What is it?"

"Nathan, I think you'd better sit down," Westphalen said.

Bridger sat down, scared. Was Lucas all right?

Westphalen sat down beside him, still trying to adjust to the shock. "Nathan,
I don't know how to tell you this . . ."

Bridger swallowed hard.

Westphalen met his eyes, her own eyes horrified. "There are bruises on
Lucas' arms and around the back of his neck."

Bridger blinked. That was all? Bruises?

Westphalen saw the confusion on his face and quickly elaborated. "Nathan,
Lucas was attacked and held underwater. This wasn't an accident. Somebody tried
to kill him."

Bridger only stared at her, too stunned to do anything else. When the reality
of her words hit him, he grew furious. His eyes flashed in anger.

"He- was attacked?" Bridger echoed. "Who in God's name would try and
kill a defenseless boy? A child? I'm going to find whoever did this, and they are
going to answer personally to me."

Westphalen was frightened by the look of pure rage burning in Bridger's
normally calm, laughing eyes, and she stood. "Why don't you go in and sit with
Lucas? I'm sure that he would appreciate hearing you talk to him."

Bridger took a deep breath and nodded, standing. He followed Westphalen
into the next room, his breath catching in his throat at the sight of Lucas. A cannula
fed oxygen to his body. His skin was pasty white, and he looked so tiny lying in the
giant bed. Bridger went to his side and gently took his hand.

"God, kiddo, I am so sorry for what happened," he whispered. "I promise
you that the person who did this will pay dearly for doing this to you."

Lucas didn't respond.

VI

The boss wasn't at all happy. "You what?"

The man drew himself straighter as if that would shield him from his boss'
fury. "The plan didn't quite work. He survived."

"Did he see you?" the boss demanded.

"No," the man replied. "I made certain of that."

"You also made certain that he had perished," the boss pointed out. "Finish
the job, or don't bother leaving."

The boss' image immediately winked off the screen. The man stared at the
blank screen for a few minutes before leaning back. He had more planing to do
before he could continue.

* * *

Robert peeked his head into medbay and smiled faintly at the sight of his
father fast asleep at Lucas' side, tightly gripping Lucas' hand as if Lucas would
simply disappear if he let go. He crept silently up to Lucas' side and took the boy's
other hand, brushing the hair from Lucas' eyes.

Bridger sensed the change in the room and stirred. He opened his eyes and
was surprised to see his son standing in front of him.

"Hey," Robert greeted. "I heard what happened and came down to see how
he was doing. How is he?"

Bridger sighed and rubbed his face tiredly with one hand, his other still
clutching Lucas'. "He's going to be fine. Apparently, someone attacked him." Pure
anger radiated from the older man. "Kristen notified security. The person
responsible is not going to get away with this."

Robert nodded. "The important thing is that Luke is going to be fine. You,
on the other hand, look like death warmed over. You should get something to eat.
Come on."

Bridger appeared torn. "I don't know," he said. "I don't want to leave
him."

"He's not going anywhere, and we can have a guard posted on his door in
case the attacker tries again," Robert reasoned. "Come on. You won't do Lucas
any good if you aren't in top condition when he wakes up."

Bridger sighed. "Okay. You win." He stood and kissed Lucas softly on his
forehead before following Robert from medbay.

* * *

Westphalen had just finished her routine examination of her patient when he
suddenly moaned and moved his head to the side. When he opened his eyes, she
smiled.

"Well, hello there," she greeted the child. "How do you feel?"

"N-Not so good," Lucas replied wearily. He looked around, hoping to find
Bridger, and was disappointed to see that, other than Westphalen, he was alone.

Westphalen seemed to pick up his shift in mood and said, "Captain Bridger
is at the mess hall with Robert, eating dinner. He'll be back later to visit."

Lucas wasn't at all consoled by this empty promise. Before he could stop
himself, tears poured onto his cheeks. Westphalen became concerned and leaned
over to hug him.

"Shh," she hushed. "It's okay. It's all right."

Lucas cried harder. "P-Please," he managed to choke out. "Please . . . don't
let the captain send me away! I-I don't want to leave!"

"What!" Westphalen stared down at the boy in shock as the tears he had so
valiantly fought for two days finally came pouring down his cheeks. He couldn't
hold it back any more. He had to beg them not to make him leave.

"Lucas, sweetheart, he would never do that!" she exclaimed. "He loves you
too much to do that!"

Lucas shook his head violently against her shoulder, which was damp with
his tears. "N-No," he replied. "He loves Robert. He has his son back . . . he doesn't
need-need me anymore. I-I'm okay if he doesn't want me anymore, but please . . .
don't send me off of seaQuest! I don't want to leave!"

Westphalen's heart broke as she realized how Lucas had been feeling the
past two days, when Robert had been on board. She hugged Lucas even tighter.

"Lucas," she said, trying desperately to console the hysterical child. God, he
didn't even think it was possible he could be loved for himself. Not as a substitute
for the real thing, but the real thing itself! "Lucas, Captain Bridger loves you very
much! He would never send you off of the seaQuest! Of course he still wants you!
Just because Robert is back in his life doesn't mean he loves you any less! He loves
you just as strongly as he always had! He would never, ever, turn you away. Ever.
Do you understand?"

Lucas didn't respond. Westphalen looked back down and saw that he had
fallen back asleep. Gently, she tucked him back underneath the covers and kissed
his cheek. When Bridger returned, they were going to have a long talk.

* * *

Bridger entered medbay after a relaxing dinner with Robert, took one look
at Westphalen, and knew that something was wrong. "Kristen?"

Westphalen didn't speak. She merely pointed to her office and walked
inside. Bridger followed her in and sat down. Westphalen sat on the edge of her
desk and simply stared at the captain. From close up, he could see that she had
been crying.

"Kristen, what's wrong?" Bridger asked. He became panicked. "Lucas? Is
he okay?"

"Lucas is asleep," Westphalen replied. She sighed and studied Bridger,
deciding how to word her speech. "Nathan . . . since Robert's been on board . . .
have you spent any time with Lucas? Any time at all?"

Bridger frowned. "Well, the three of us ate dinner last night, and this
morning . . . this morning I tried to talk to him, but he got scared and ran. That was
right before . . . before Darwin found him."

Westphalen nodded. It all made sense now. "Lucas woke up while you were
at the mess hall, and he . . . told me what's been bothering him."

Bridger waited. "Yes?"

Westphalen felt her stomach twist into knots at the memory of Lucas' broken
words. "Lucas is afraid that, with Robert back, you won't want him anymore."

Bridger looked ready to protest, but Westphalen held up her hand. She
wasn't finished yet.

"Lucas is terrified, Nathan," she continued. "He has never had any siblings,
and he never even thought that anyone could love him for him. He still doesn't
think that. So, when Robert returned and you spent all of the time with Robert that
you used to spend with him, he thought he was being replaced."

Bridger stared at her in stunned silence, unable to speak.

"You should have heard him, Nathan," Westphalen went on, her voice
beginning to waver. She paused to regain control before pushing forward. "He was
so sure that you only loved him as some kind of replacement for Robert. He doesn't
want to be sent off of seaQuest so badly that he even said that he doesn't care that
you wouldn't want him anymore." Tears brimmed in her eyes. "Oh my God,
Nathan. The words he spoke . . . he's absolutely convinced that you don't love him,
want him, or need him anymore. He loves you more than anything, which is why he
couldn't tell you any of this. He doesn't want you to lose Robert, and he's willing to
step aside, even at the cost of losing you as his father."

Westphalen fell silent, unable to go any further. Bridger sat perfectly still,
feeling sick to his stomach. He had no idea that Lucas would react to Robert this
way. As he thought more about the past two days, he realized that he had been
seeing less and less of Lucas. Him waking up alone was only proof of that. Bridger
couldn't feel any guiltier if he tried.

A small cry coming from the next room broke the silence. Bridger was on his
feet and at Lucas' side before he even realized that he was moving. Lucas was
tossing and turning, muttering something incoherent. His face was a mask of fear.

"Shh, shh," Bridger cooed as he gathered the small child into his arms for a
hug. "I'm here now. It's okay. I won't let you get hurt. I promise. I'll never leave
you. Shh. It's okay."

Lucas didn't awaken, but he seemed to sense Bridger's presence in his dream
and immediately calmed down. He burrowed comfortably into Bridger's arms and
slipped into a deeper sleep.

Bridger gazed down at Lucas, Westphalen's words ringing in his ears. How
could he have missed something like this? He silently promised himself and Lucas
that he would make it up to the boy, somehow.

Bridger tried to set Lucas back on the bed, but the boy let out a tiny cry of
protest and lapsed back into whatever hell that his mind seemed determined to
plunge him into. Bridger saw only one option. He stretched out beside Lucas on the
bed and gathered the child into his arms. Lucas found a comfortable spot using
Bridger as a pillow and fell into a dreamless sleep. Bridger looked up and saw
Westphalen watching from the doorway to her office, a small smile lighting up her
face. Bridger smiled back and returned his gaze to Lucas and kissed him softly on
his forehead, then relaxed, allowing himself to join Lucas in oblivion.

* * *

When Lucas awoke early the next morning, he was surprised to find that he
was using his foster father as a kind of cushion. He looked up into Bridger's
peaceful face and simply stared, wondering why he was there.

Westphalen entered the room to check up on Lucas, but stopped when she
saw that he was awake. She smiled brightly. "Good morning, sleepyhead."

Lucas looked at her. "Er . . . why's Captain Bridger in my bed?"

Westphalen didn't miss the 'captain' reference and hoped that Bridger
would be able to sort through all of this with Lucas. "You wouldn't go to sleep last
night without getting nightmares, except for when Nathan held you."

"Oh." Lucas was still confused as to why he'd even been in the medbay, but
this explanation seemed to satisfy him.

Bridger sighed and opened his eyes. He smiled at Lucas when he saw the
boy's blue eyes staring right back at him. "'Mornin', kiddo. Sleep well?"

Lucas looked down and nodded. Westphalen quickly did her routine check,
then left so that Bridger could talk to Lucas.

It wasn't going to be easy. Lucas was already shifting uncomfortably,
avoiding Bridger's gaze. Bridger moved to the chair beside Lucas' bed and turned
the boy's face so that he could see Lucas' eyes.

"Lucas, we need to talk," he stated. "About yesterday, about the past couple
of days, about a lot of stuff."

Lucas gulped.

"Kristen told me what you said yesterday," Bridger continued.

Lucas had to think back to what he was talking about. When he
remembered, he turned away in shame and in embarrassment.

"Hey." Bridger refused to let him look away. "Why didn't you tell me that's
what you thought? Never in a million years would I send you off of the seaQuest. I
love you very much, kiddo. You're stuck with me."

Lucas sniffed, a few tears breaking free. "B-But you've got Robert now. Y-
You don't n-need me anymore."

The sheer conviction and certainty in his eyes made Bridger see why
Westphalen had been in tears the night before. Hell, he felt like crying at that
minute himself.

"Lucas, of course I need you!" Bridger exclaimed. "Just because Robert is
back in my life doesn't mean I love you any less! I could never love you any less! I
know that I haven't been spending as much time as I probably should have with
you, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, kiddo. If I had known that this is what you were
going through, I would have spoken up a lot sooner. Believe me. Never would I
ever want to hurt you. Do you understand?"

Lucas swallowed, barely able to hold back the sobs that threatened to
overwhelm him. "B-But . . . when you introduced me to-to Robert, y-you said . . .
you said that I-I was your- your adopted son. You've never said that before. I
mean, my-my parents could hardly love me when there was just me. I was afraid
that you'd stop loving me, 'cause since all I did was give you someone to love, since
Robert was gone. And when he came back, I-I thought th-that you didn't need me
anymore, and that you'd send me away to a foster home, or m-my parents."

Lucas was shivering by the time he finished. Bridger wrapped the blanket
around the boy and hugged him tightly, ashamed and shocked. He had no idea that
Lucas' mind processed situations this way.

"God, Lucas, I can't tell you how sorry I am," Bridger said. "If there was
some way I could go back and do it all over again, I would. I would do it in a
heartbeat. I hate to see you so miserable. Could you ever forgive me?"

Lucas pulled away and stared at Bridger in absolute shock. "Forgive you?
But you did nothing wrong. I-."

He was silenced as Bridger placed a finger over his lips. "Yes," Bridger
interrupted him. "Lucas, none of this has been your fault. You reacted exactly as
you knew how, and I should have seen how much this was affecting you. Adults
aren't perfect. I'll be the first one to admit that. I've made a lot of mistakes so far
this week, and I'd like a second chance. What do you say?"

"O-Of course," Lucas stammered.

Bridger smiled and hugged Lucas again. "Thank you. I love you, kiddo. I
haven't said that very much lately, but that doesn't make it any less true. There's
nothing in this world that will make me feel any different."

Lucas sighed, feeling as though an enormous burden had been lifted from his
shoulders. Bridger kissed the top of his head affectionately, not wanting to release
his son.

They were interrupted by a knock at the entrance to Lucas' room. Father
and son looked up and smiled when they saw Krieg, O'Neill, and Ortiz in the
doorway.

"Hi," Krieg said. "Did we come at a bad time?"

"Not at all," Bridger replied as he pulled away from the hug and looked at
Lucas. "If you don't mind, I'm going to run out for a few minutes. I'll be back in a
few minutes, okay?"

Lucas nodded.

When Bridger left, the trio of newcomers approached Lucas' bedside.

"Hey guys," Lucas greeted. "What's up?"

His friends crowded around him, their expressions filled with concern,
worry, and relief. "You okay?" O'Neill asked.

Lucas rolled his eyes. "I'm fine."

"Darwin was the one who found you in the moonpool," Ortiz told him.
"Scared the crap out of everyone. 'Specially Bridger. I've never seen him so
panicked."

"Huh?" Lucas had no idea what they were talking about.

The three officers exchanged frowns, then looked at Lucas. "You don't
remember?" Krieg asked.

Lucas thought hard. "I remember . . ." He closed his eyes, his brow
furrowed in deep concentration. "I ran to the moonpool, 'cause I didn't want
anyone to bother me. It all happened so fast . . . the next thing I knew, someone
grabbed me from behind and picked me up, forcing me underwater in the
moonpool. I almost got away when that person grabbed my neck and holds me
under." Lucas shuddered. "I think I blacked out after that." He opened his eyes
and saw the angered expressions of his friends and smiled weakly, hoping to lighten
the mood. "Guess I really must've ticked someone off this time, huh?"

Thankfully, his friends returned the smile. "I'll say," Krieg teased. "Must
be for the first time, though. The rest of us know to just hide your CDs."

Lucas' eyes widened. "That was you! I should've known!"

They all laughed. Westphalen entered the room carrying a tray of food,
which she placed in front of Lucas. "I expect you to eat everything in front of you.
If you don't, I'll be forced to keep you here another day or two."

Lucas scowled, but dutifully lifted his fork and began to eat, if only to
appease Westphalen. Westphalen smiled and left for her office.

"So, when you bustin' out?" Ortiz asked.

Lucas shrugged. "I dunno. Whenever Doctor Westphalen decides that I've
bothered her enough."

Krieg grinned mischievously. "I know a way you can speed that process up a
bit," he stated.

"Don't even suggest it," came Bridger's voice. "Or Doctor Westphalen will
find a way to admit you to the sickbay and torture you."

Lucas grinned at that thought. "That could be fun."

O'Neill and Ortiz laughed at the thought of Krieg and Lucas together, in
medbay, harassing Westphalen. The three officers bid Lucas and Bridger goodbye,
then left to report to their shifts on the bridge.

Lucas ate his breakfast quickly, overcome with relief that Bridger still
wanted to keep him around. Maybe having a big brother would be cool, too. Even
though a lot of the senior crew, particularly Krieg, already saw him as a younger
brother, it might be neat to share a last name with a sibling. He'd always wanted a
brother.

* * *

Lucas was finally released from medbay that afternoon by a very reluctant
Westphalen. She was very much aware, as was Lucas, that his attacker still hadn't
been caught. Lucas promised to stay in public areas where no one would dare to
hurt him so that Westphalen would agree to release him. Thanking her for taking
care of him, Lucas bounded out of medbay before she could change her mind.

With Bridger on the bridge and most of his friends on duty, there wasn't
much for Lucas to do. Normally he would be in his room working on his computer
or at the moonpool playing with Darwin, but at the moment he really didn't feel like
doing either. So Lucas decided to wander the halls, hoping to come up with
something to occupy his bored mind before it became creatively bored.

Why had someone tried to kill him? What had he done now? Lucas was
very scared. No one had ever sought him out to kill him. He had no idea as to the
reason behind the attacker's emotions.

Lucas shook out of the morbid direction that his thoughts had taken. He
decided to go see his 'brother'.

He reached the cabin that he knew were Robert's and knocked on the door.
When he didn't get an answer, he called out. "Robert? You in there?"

Still no answer. Lucas wondered if he were somewhere else on the ship, but
then remembered that there wasn't much for Robert to do. There was a recreation
deck where he could have gone. Lucas turned to look for him there when a low
moan emanating from behind the closed doors drew his attention back to the cabin.
He knocked again. "Robert?"

Receiving no answer, Lucas took it upon himself to bypass the lock and
entered Robert's quarters.

He found Robert on the floor, bleeding from a gash in his forehead. Lucas
ran to his side and pulled out his PAL, calling for Westphalen.

What was going on?

* * *

Bridger ran into the medbay and found Lucas sitting on the bed that stood
beside Robert's. He looked at his two sons, then went to Lucas first. He looked
Lucas over himself, worried. "You okay, kiddo?"

Lucas nodded, his eyes wide with fear and confusion. "I-I found him on the
floor of his cabin," he told Bridger. "Doctor Westphalen says that he's just got a
concussion. He's going to be fine."

Bridger hugged Lucas with relief, then turned to Robert. Robert stirred and
opened his eyes. Seeing a pair of brown eyes and a pair of blue eyes looking at him,
he smiled weakly.

"Hey, guys," he said. "What's going on?"

Relief flooded through Bridger. He placed his hands on Robert's bedrails,
one arm encircling Lucas protectively. "I was hoping you could tell me," Bridger
replied. "What happened?"

Robert closed his eyes and groaned, touching the white gauze bandage that
was wrapped around his head to protect the stitches in his forehead. "I don't
know," he admitted. "I was in my quarters. I guess someone was waiting for me,
'cause someone rushed me and hit me upside the head with something. That's the
last thing I remember."

Bridger's face was grim. "This is getting ridiculous," he muttered. "First
Lucas, then you. Why? Who could be doing this?"

Lucas and Robert looked up at Bridger as he backed up and pulled out his
PAL. "Senior officers, report to the wardroom." He looked at his sons, then pulled
Lucas forward. Kneeling down, he gripped Lucas' arms and said, "It's too
dangerous for you to be by yourself. Stay here and keep an eye on Robert for me.
Whoever is doing this won't try anything while the two of you are here, together.
Okay?"

Lucas nodded. Bridger stood, hugged him, the returned to Robert's side.
"I'm going to be posting a guard outside your door. Only Doctor Westphalen and I
are going to be coming in here. I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"

"Okay, Dad," Robert replied.

Bridger smiled faintly, hugged Robert, then left. Robert looked over at
Lucas, smiling lopsidedly. "Hey Luke. You doin' okay?'

Lucas shrugged and hopped back up onto the empty bed, deciding not to
correct Robert on his name. "I could've done without finding you on the floor of
your cabin, though."

Robert chuckled. "I agree with you there. What were you doing looking for
me, anyway?"

Lucas looked down, suddenly shy. "I was wonderin' if you wanted to go to
the rec deck and do something. Life can get to be a little boring on a sub."

Robert's grin widened. "Tell you what," he said. "As soon as I'm cleared to
leave, you and I will go to the rec deck and find something to do. Sounds good?"

Lucas smiled and nodded.

VII

Bridger looked around the table at his senior officers. He was beyond angry;
he was furious. Both of his sons' lives had been endangered. This had to stop, and
now.

"What is the current situation?" he demanded.

Crocker was the one to answer him. "There's no trace of the perp anywhere,
in either of the scenes. It's like he vanished out of thin air."

Bridger slammed an angry fist on the table. "Dammit! Two people's lives
have been endangered! The person responsible is still on board this ship, and I
want him caught!"

His officers nodded. "I'm putting all of my men on the case," Crocker
offered.

"I've been over both scenes looking for some kind of clue we could use,"
Hitchcock added. "I'll look again."

"We'll all help catch this guy, sir," Ford stated firmly. "He isn't going to
escape punishment."

Bridger nodded, dismissing his officers. He rubbed his face wearily. Why
was this happening now? Both of the targets had been his own family. Was
someone looking to get to Bridger through them?

But then, Bridger realized, the person had to have been on board for awhile.
Working alongside them, eating and joking with them. Plotting his heinous acts.

But Robert had only been brought aboard three days ago. The attacker
must have seen Robert as an opportunity to get to Bridger, and decided to use that
option.

Which meant that, once the attacker realized that he had failed both times,
he would be going after Robert and Lucas again.

* * *

Krieg, O'Neill, and Ortiz sat at a table in the mess hall to eat their dinner
and discuss what they knew about the case.

"Who could be doing this?" Ortiz asked his friends. "Why would you attack
two people in the middle of the day?"

"Both of the victims are the captain's sons," O'Neill pointed out. "The
attacker could actually be targeting Bridger through them."

Krieg shuddered. "Who? The seaQuest hasn't picked up any new crew since
the beginning of her tour."

"Which means it could be anybody," O'Neill pointed out unhappily.

Ortiz frowned. "Something about all this doesn't feel right."

"No kidding," O'Neill said sarcastically.

"Not that," Ortiz argued. "The attacks themselves. Lucas was nearly
drowned. Robert was hit on the head. Lucas' attack was more calculated; whoever
got to him meant to kill him, and didn't leave until he was sure he had."

"And?" O'Neill asked.

"Well, how come he didn't just finish Robert off in his cabin?" Ortiz asked.
"He had plenty of means and opportunity. Why didn't he just do it?"

"Maybe he decided not to," Krieg suggested.

Ortiz scoffed. "Yeah, that's it. Our would-be killer develops a heart and
decides to only nearly kill a fifteen-year-old boy and just hit a thirty-year-old man.
That makes a lot of sense."

"I didn't say it had to make sense," Krieg said. "Just that maybe he decided
not to kill Robert. You know. Send Bridger a message that he can get to either of
his sons whenever he wanted."

Ortiz shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe."

"You aren't thinking Robert had anything to do with this, are you?" O'Neill
hissed in disbelief.

"Why not?" Ortiz asked. "This all started after he came on board."

"It's just a coincidence," O'Neill stated. "That's all. You're paranoid."

"With someone running around trying to kill my friends, I would think so!"
Ortiz exclaimed.

"Maybe Migs has something there," Krieg spoke up.

O'Neill groaned and rolled his eyes. "Oh no, not you too!"

"Hear me out," Krieg said calmly. "If it were someone else, they might have
done all of this sooner than now. Waiting two and a half months into the tour isn't
something a killer would do. They'd wait one month, tops. Staying here is a waste
of money for them."

"How would you know that?" O'Neill asked, curious.

"I know this guy who knows this guy," was Krieg's mysterious reply.
"Waiting this long just doesn't make any sense."

"So Robert being involved in all of this does?" O'Neill asked.

"How do we even know that it's Robert?" Ortiz countered.

"That does it. I'm outta here. You two are nuts." O'Neill stood to leave
when both Ortiz and Krieg pushed him back down into his seat.

"This is just a thought, but how do we know that this is Robert?" Ortiz
asked.

"Why wouldn't he be?" O'Neill snapped.

"Don't you think it's a little suspicious for him to be missing for so long
without contacting someone to let them know he was alive?" Ortiz pressed.

O'Neill looked unconvinced.

"Look," Krieg said. "We're not saying that Robert is responsible. We're
just saying that he hasn't been totally honest with everyone. I mean, yesterday
when I ran into him in the hall, he acted like he didn't even recognize me."

O'Neill sighed. He knew that he wasn't going to win this argument.

"Let's just do a little checking up on him," Ortiz suggested. "We don't tell
anyone else about this. You're probably right, and it's nothing but our
imaginations running away with us. But we will feel better about the whole thing.
What do you say?"

O'Neill looked back and forth at the two of them, then nodded, defeated.
"All right," he said. "You win. But what if it is Robert? Who's going to tell the
captain?"

Ortiz and Krieg looked at each other uncomfortably. Neither had thought of
that.

"Er . . . that's worry about that if and when we come to that," Ortiz said.

"So, where do we start?" O'Neill asked.

* * *

Bridger found both of his sons playing basketball on the rec deck. Smiling,
he leaned against the doorway and watched as the two of them played. He didn't
remember either of them showing any interest in the sport, but there they were.
Bridger watched as Robert 'lost' the ball, allowing Lucas to get it and dribble it up
to the basket. Robert grabbed Lucas from behind and lifted him up so that he could
slam-dunk the ball. Bridger clapped, catching both of their attentions.

"Hey Dad!" they both called. They looked at each other in surprise, then
laughed.

Bridger never heard a sweeter sound. He picked up the ball as it rolled to a
stop at his feet. "I had no idea that the two of you liked to play basketball."

Robert shrugged. "It was something to do. Wanna play? Two-on-one?"

"You two against me?" Bridger asked. "I don't think you stand a chance."

Robert looked at Lucas. "I think that was a challenge. Feel up for a little
schoolin'?"

Lucas grinned. "Anything to teach him a lesson."

Bridger raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh really? Well, it just so happens
that I played a little basketball at the naval academy. I could wipe the floor with
you two, and with one hand tied behind my back."

"We'll see about that." Robert ran towards the court and turned to face
him. "Whenever you're ready, old man."

"Old man?" Bridger dribbled the ball around Robert, faking first to the
right, the left, and finally driving straight through him to slam-dunk the ball into
the basket. He met the two gazes of disbelief with a smirk. "I think I still have a few
good moves left in me."

They played three games, the first two having been tied; both teams winning
one game. The third game had Bridger winning by one point until Robert threw the
ball back to Lucas, who threw it straight into the basket with ease, tying up the
score. The next basket would win the game.

"Ready to call it quits?" Robert taunted his father.

"As soon as I win this game," Bridger replied. He drove the ball past Robert
and was about to leap up to dunk the ball when Lucas appeared out of nowhere and
snatched the ball straight from his hands, running back to the other basket. He was
too fast for Bridger to recover and catch up, and he made the winning basket before
either man reached half-court.

"All right Luke!" Robert shouted, giving the boy a high-five. "Way to go!
That's showing him!"

Bridger grinned and ruffled Lucas' blond hair fondly. "Good game, guys. I
don't know about you, but I really worked up an appetite. Let's hit the showers,
then grab some dinner."

"Good idea," Robert agreed. "You smell terrible."

Bridger laughed with his sons and threw a mock punch at Robert's arm.
"You're no rose garden, either."

Robert grinned sheepishly and ran his hand threw his hair. "Okay, I'll give
you that one. C'mon. I'm starving."

They went their separate ways, promising to meet each other at the mess hall
for dinner. Lucas was the first one to reach the mess hall and sat down at their
table, waiting for the rest of his family to show up.

Family. That one word held so much meaning for Lucas. He'd never known
how fun it was to have a real family. His parents had always been too busy playing
into the media and the social scene to pay him much attention. But Robert and
Bridger both found time for him. Lucas couldn't remember being so happy.

Robert arrived next. He made his way to the table and grinned at Lucas.
"Guess you're as hungry as I am. Let's go get some food before they eat it all."

They had just sat down to eat when Bridger finally arrived. "What's this?"
he asked. "Eating without me?"

"Too slow, Dad," Robert replied. "We're hungry now."

Bridger retrieved his own tray of food and joined them. They spent dinner
laughing and joking with one another. Bridger was sure to pay equal attention to
both Lucas and Robert, so that Lucas wouldn't feel left out.

At the end of dinner, Robert excused himself from dinner, saying his head
was beginning to hurt and that he wanted to go get some rest. Bridger watched him
go, then turned back to Lucas.

"I'm glad to see the two of you getting along so well," he commented.

Lucas grinned. "He's a lot of fun. I've never played basketball before, other
than on my computer."

Bridger raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really? I never would have
guessed."

"How long did you play?" Lucas asked.

Bridger's face grew thoughtful. "Oh, quite a long time when I was growing
up. Then, when I graduated the naval academy and got married, I just didn't have
time for it anymore."

Lucas nodded. The two stood and deposited their trays in the recycle bin,
then walked from the mess. Bridger walked Lucas to his quarters to say goodnight,
then left. Lucas switched on his computer and flopped down on his bed.

He really had enjoyed himself that afternoon. He smiled at the memory of
Bridger grabbing him around the waist and tickling him until he dropped the ball.
Robert had managed to grab the ball before Bridger could get to it and scored a
point for their team.

Lucas sighed happily and logged onto the internex, feeling in the mood to
simply surf and see what he could find.

He hadn't been on long when he detected a satellite link coming from the
seaQuest. Lucas quickly checked the ship's systems and saw that the signal wasn't
coming from them. Lucas frowned. It was cleverly disguised; if he hadn't stumbled
onto it by accident, he would have never found it.

He wondered who could have done such a thing. Curiosity got ahold of him,
and he traced the link. Suddenly, without warning, the communication ended
before Lucas could get a solid track. He got far enough to see that whoever was
making the call was calling World Power.

Lucas paled. World Power was where Lawrence Wolenczak spent all of his
time. Could the person have been calling him?

Lucas forced himself to calm down. There were hundreds of scientists and
engineers working at World Power. The odds that the call could have been made to
him were slim to none.

Lucas diverted his attention to something more harmless. It wouldn't do for
him to panic over nothing. The call had been none of his business. He wanted to
keep it at that.

VIII

Krieg, Ortiz, and O'Neill tentatively entered medbay and looked around.
Westphalen was gone. Safe with that fact, they crept into her office.

"If we get caught, we're going to be in serious trouble," O'Neill hissed.

"Then we just better be careful and not get caught," Krieg replied.

"Are you sure it's even here?" Ortiz asked.

"Where else would it be?" Krieg countered.

"How do you know she even has one?" Ortiz wanted to know.

"I, uh, don't," Krieg admitted.

"What?" Ortiz squeaked.

"Shh!" Krieg hushed.

"I don't even know how I let you guys talk me into this," O'Neill grumbled.

They were so busy searching for the object of their concern that they didn't
see Westphalen enter medbay. Westphalen stopped in the doorway to her office and
folded her arms, not at all thrilled with the three officers snooping through her
things. "Is there something I can help you gentlemen with?"

Their reactions would have been hilarious if it had been another situation.
They immediately jumped up and away from Westphalen, Ortiz and O'Neill
pushing Krieg towards her.

Westphalen glared at them. "Well? I'm waiting."

Krieg fumbled with words for a minute before speaking. "Er . . . that is, we
were looking for, um . . ."

"Yes?" Westphalen prodded.

"Tell her!" Ortiz hissed.

"Shut up!" Krieg hissed back.

"Tell me what?" Westphalen demanded.

Krieg sighed. "We're just satisfying our curiosity . . ."

"Your curiosity," O'Neill corrected.

"Our curiosity," Krieg continued, glaring at O'Neill. "We got to thinking
about the attack on Lucas, and we decided to have our own investigation."

"What does that have to do with you three sneaking around my office?"
Westphalen asked.

Krieg licked his lips nervously. "We were looking for, um . . .any blood
samples you might have taken recently."

"Why?" Westphalen asked suspiciously.

"'Cause . . ." Krieg couldn't continue.

Westphalen looked at O'Neill. "Maybe you would like to tell me."

"Well, the current theory floating around, well, among us, anyway, is that . . .
well, one of y-your patients could possibly be the attacker," O'Neill stammered.

Westphalen sighed and looked at Ortiz. "Miguel? While we're all still
young?"

Ortiz summoned up all of his courage. "I thought that it was odd that
Robert wasn't in as much danger as Lucas and asked these two to help me find his
blood sample so we can see if he really is Captain Bridger's son," he said, all in one
breath.

Westphalen stared at the three of them incredulously, not sure how to react.
The three men under her scrutiny shifted uncomfortably, waiting for her response.

"Why in God's name would you think such a thing?" Westphalen demanded
angrily. "Robert hasn't done anything to endanger anyone on this ship."

"That we know of," Ortiz added.

Westphalen shook her head. "This is absurd!" she exclaimed. "If it wasn't
Robert, then Nathan would know. Ben, you went to school with him. You don't
believe it's him?"

"I don't know," Krieg admitted. "I just want to be sure. I mean, this is
Lucas' life we're talking about here. I want to make sure that Robert is who he says
he is before something worse happens to Lucas."

"Will you at least help us?" Ortiz asked. "Please?"

Westphalen sighed. Normally, she would turn them away, but they were
right. This was Lucas' life that was at stake, and if anything did happen to him, she
wanted to be able to say that she did everything that she could to help.

"All right," she relented. "I did take a blood sample from him this afternoon
after his attack. I also have the captain's blood on file. I'll run the two through the
computer and let you know of the results. They should be ready in the morning."

The men looked relieved. "Thank you, Doctor," O'Neill said gratefully.

Westphalen nodded. "Oh, and, gentlemen? If I find you in here again
without my express permission, I will personally see to it that the three of you will
receive a thorough proctologic exam."

The men gulped audibly and scooted out of the room as quickly as they
could. It wasn't until the door shut behind them that Westphalen allowed herself a
small smile.

* * *

Lucas was walking down the hall early the next morning on his way to the
science lab when he encountered Robert. He smiled brightly. "Hi, Robbie."

"Hi, Luke," Robert replied, returning the smile. "Where are you off to?"

"Science lab," Lucas replied. "Doctor Westphalen wanted me to work with
her today on some of the algae samples that we've been collecting the past few
weeks."

Robert made a face. "Ooh, fun," he commented. "I was coming to get you. I
wanted to know if you wanted to go to the rec deck and toss around the ol' pigskin."

"Huh?" Lucas asked.

"Football," Robert lamented.

"Oh," Lucas replied. "I don't know when I'll be done."

"I'll come with you and see if I can't get you out of it," Robert offered. "You
can't be expected to work all the time."

Lucas grinned and led the way to the science lab. Westphalen was leaning
over her computer, looking intently at the screen. Lucas walked up to her with
Robert in tow.

"Doctor Westphalen?" Robert spoke up.

Westphalen didn't look up. "Yes?"

"I was wondering if I could steal Lucas for a few hours this morning,"
Robert said.

Westphalen looked at him, then at Lucas. "If you promise to help me later,
then I guess you can go," she agreed.

Lucas beamed. "Great! I'll see you later!"

He and Robert ran out of the room. Westphalen smiled after them, glad that
Lucas was in a better mood. The smile froze on her face when the information that
she had been waiting for appeared on her screen.

Forgetting about Lucas and Robert, Westphalen copied the information onto
a disk, popped it out of the computer, and took off at a run for the bridge.

* * *

Bridger looked up as Westphalen burst onto the bridge. Seeing her
concerned face, he frowned. "Kristen? What's wrong?"

She held up the computer disk in her hands. "Nathan, I have something you
should see."

Bridger nodded, still uncertain. "All right." He turned to Ford.
"Commander, you have the bridge. Kristen, let's take this into the wardroom."

"Captain, if you don't mind, I'd like it if Lieutenants O'Neill and Krieg and
Chief Ortiz could join us as well," Westphalen said.

Bridger nodded. The five of them made their way into the wardroom. When
Krieg, Ortiz, and O'Neill looked at Westphalen, she nodded. Bridger sat down in
his customary chair.

"Whenever you're ready," he prodded.

Westphalen took a deep breath. "Captain, what I'm about to say, you aren't
going to want to hear," she began. "But I would like it if you would wait until I am
finished before commenting. Please."

Bridger nodded. "Of course."

Westphalen put the disk into the computer and powered it up. "Last night,
these three," she gestured to the officers clustering around the computer behind
Bridger, "brought something very interesting to my attention. They pointed out to
me that the attack on Lucas was much more severe than the attack on Robert, and
wanted to check out a theory. Now, I didn't want to believe them at first, but I
agreed to help them. I found out this morning that their theory was correct. We
have found Lucas' attacker."

Bridger looked at her sharply. "Spit it out, Kristen."

Westphalen steeled herself. She turned the computer screen to face Bridger
and called up the information on the disk. "This is Robert's genetic structure." She
showed him the correct DNA strand. "This is yours." She called up Bridger's DNA
strand. "They don't match."

Bridger looked at her, uncomprehending. Or not wanting to comprehend.
"What are you saying, Kristen?" he asked darkly.

Westphalen took a deep breath. "Robert . . . this Robert . . . is not your son."

Krieg, O'Neill, and Ortiz backed up as the information sunk in. Bridger
stared at the screen for several minutes, then looked up at Westphalen.

"You checked out my son?" he said quietly.

Westphalen braced herself for what she knew was to come. She tilted her
head to the door, telling the others to leave. They gladly left.

Bridger slammed a fist against the table. "How dare you do that! What
were you thinking? Robert is who he says he is! I know! I'm his father, dammit!"

"Nathan, you are Robert's father," Westphalen said. "But this is not
Robert."

Bridger didn't want to hear this. "How can that be? He remembers
everything. He looks the same . . . he sounds the same. How dare you say that he
isn't who he says he is!"

"Nathan, stop and look at this objectively!" Westphalen shouted. "The
attacks started after he came on board! He was only hit on the head! Lucas nearly
died! Look at the evidence in front of you! This man is not Robert!"

Bridger fought to control the emotions coursing through him. "He . . .I . . ."

Westphalen's heart went out to him, and she hugged him. "I know that this
is hard, but you have to accept this. This man, whoever he is, is not Robert. And he
wants to hurt the son you do have."

Bridger pulled back abruptly. "Where's Lucas?"

Westphalen paled. "Oh my God . . . he and Robert came in when I was
waiting for this information . . . Robert wanted to take Lucas somewhere. I don't
know where!"

Bridger leaped to his feet. "We've got to find them!" He pulled out his PAL.
"All security personnel, search this ship top to bottom! Find Lucas and Robert!"

He ran from the bridge, ignoring the shocked stares he received as he took
off to join the search. Westphalen was close behind, silently cursing herself for
being so stupid.

Krieg fell into step behind them, not having a station to man. They all
stopped at the moonpool, but didn't see either person there.

"Where could they be?" Krieg asked.

"Nathan, think," Westphalen said. "Do you know of someplace where
Robert and Lucas like to go? Someplace out of the way?"

Bridger paled. "The rec deck!" he exclaimed, taking off again at top speed.
He silently prayed for them to reach the two in time.

'Please, God, don't take Lucas from me,' he thought. 'He's all I have left!'

* * *

Robert laughed as the football he'd thrown went sailing over Lucas' head.
"Oops! Sorry, Luke!"

Lucas scowled good-naturedly and turned to chase after the wayward ball.

The football finally rolled to a stop at the corner of the room. Racks of
various sports' equipment that lined the walls surrounded them. Lucas stooped
down to pick up the ball when he was suddenly grabbed from behind, none-too-
gently. He craned his neck around and saw Robert, his eyes dull and devoid of
emotion. "Robbie? What are you doing?"

Robert didn't answer as he turned Lucas around and squeezed the boy's
throat tightly. Lucas clawed at the hands around his throat, gasping for air. What
was going on? Why was Robert doing this?"

"Robert! Stop!"

Robert whirled around at the disturbance, releasing his choke-hold on the
boy. He brought Lucas around in front of him, one arm around Lucas' neck and
the other around his stomach, pinning Lucas' arms to his sides. Lucas saw Bridger,
Westphalen, and Krieg standing in the doorway to the room, all focused on Robert.

Bridger stepped forward, his hands raised placatingly. "Robert, please.
Don't do this."

"I am not Robert," Robert sneered. "Although I had a lot of fun playing the
part."

Bridger fought to control his anger and fear. He looked reassuringly into
Lucas' wide, fearful eyes, then looked back at the man. He no longer looked like
Robert. He looked evil; menacing.

Dangerous.

"Whoever you are, please, just let him go," Bridger pleaded. "He hasn't
done anything to you."

"That is not why I'm here," the man replied. "My employer is paying me
good money to do what it is I do best."

"Your employer?" Bridger echoed. "Your employer wants you to kill a
fifteen-year-old boy? What kind of a monster would do such a thing?"

"My father," Lucas breathed, disbelieving.

All eyes turned to him. "What?" Bridger said.

Lucas' eyes filled with tears. "I traced a comm link back to World Power
from somewhere on this ship. My dad hired someone to kill me because he couldn't
stand the fact that I'm no longer under his control."

Bridger looked sharply at the man. "Is this true?"

The man didn't reply. Instead, he tightened his hold around Lucas. Lucas
let out a brief cry of pain at the sudden movement.

"Please," Bridger said, taking another step forward. "Just let him go. He's a
boy. He can't hurt anyone."

"I was paid to do a job, and I'm not stopping until that job is done," the man
replied tonelessly.

Lucas knew that his life was going to be forfeited if he didn't do something,
and fast. He struggled against the man, swinging his leg back to connect solidly with
the man's shin. The man grunted in pain, his hold on Lucas slackened. Lucas
wriggled out of his arms and started to run when the man recovered and seized
Lucas' shirt, pulling him back to him. Lucas struggled against him, but the man
was too strong. The man wrapped his hands around Lucas' throat and squeezed as
hard as he could.

Bridger ran forward and pried the boy out of the man's grip. Without the
man's support, Lucas fell to the ground, coughing violently. Westphalen and Krieg
converged on him, checking on him.

Bridger wound his fist back and punched the man squarely in the face. The
man fell to the ground, unconscious. Bridger rubbed his bruised knuckles, then
looked at Lucas. "How is he?"

Westphalen looked up at him. "He's a little shaken, but he's going to be
fine."

Bridger nodded and knelt beside Lucas. Lucas' eyes were shut tightly as he
fought to regain control of his tears. He looked at Krieg.

"Lieutenant, could you see to it that R- . . . that that man be escorted to the
brig?" he asked, scooping Lucas into his arms.

Krieg nodded and called for security as Bridger and Westphalen took Lucas
from the room.

IX

Lucas paused uncertainly in front of the doors that led to Bridger's quarters.
The man who had posed as Robert had committed suicide in the brig by way of
cyanide in a false tooth shortly after the attempt on Lucas' life yesterday afternoon.
Since the incident in the rec deck, Bridger hadn't said much. He hadn't been on the
bridge at all, and had barely said anything to Lucas. Lucas felt terrible. He knew
that none of what happened was his fault, but he felt bad nonetheless. Bridger had
to go through so much pain after hitting the man he had so recently believed was his
son and had to choose between believing Westphalen and saving Lucas, and
dismissing the evidence as false, thereby ending Lucas' life. Taking a deep breath,
Lucas knocked on the door.

The door opened after several minutes to reveal a haggard Bridger. His hair
was disheveled, and there were dark circles beneath his eyes. He looked as if he
hadn't slept at all. Seeing Lucas, he stepped aside, allowing Lucas to enter. He still
didn't speak as he shut the door and sat down in his favorite chair. He watched
Lucas expectantly as the boy searched for what he wanted to say.

He chose the direct route. "I'm sorry."

He had Bridger's attention. Bridger stared at Lucas curiously. "Why?"

Lucas looked down at the ground. "For what happened," he said. "I know
how much you wanted to believe that Robert was alive, and how much it hurt to
find out that he wasn't who he said he was. A-And I'm sorry that you had to . . . to
hurt him to keep him from hurting me."

He looked up and was surprised to see that, instead of anger, he saw
compassion in Bridger's eyes. Bridger stood and wrapped Lucas into a tight hug,
then pulled him to the couch to sit down. His hug around the boy never loosened.

"As much as I wish that this hadn't happened, in a way I'm glad that it did,"
Bridger said. "Without him meaning to, that man gave me something that I always
wanted. Just a few more days with my son. The man I hit was not Robert. He was
a stranger. And it was a stranger that tried to kill you. I couldn't let him take away
both of my sons, now could I?"

Lucas rested his head on Bridger's shoulder. "Are you gonna be okay?"

Bridger chuckled lightly. "I imagine I will. I already grieved over Robert's
passing once. I guess I'm just trying to adjust again. Bottom line, I'm going to
live."

Lucas smiled faintly. It was late, and he felt his eyelids drooping. Before he
knew it, he was fast asleep in Bridger's arms.

Bridger smiled down at Lucas, glad that the boy had come to see him. Since
the incident, he hadn't wanted to face life beyond his quarters. The pain was too
great.

And then there was Lucas. The boy brought so much love and
understanding without even knowing it. He only had to say hello before Bridger felt
himself start to heal. He was grateful for having the boy with him.

Bridger had made one call to Noyce right after the incident, telling him about
the man and the evidence of Wolenczak's involvement. Noyce had promised to take
care of everything.

Lawrence Wolenczak had been arrested yesterday afternoon on the charges
of attempted murder of Lucas Bridger.

Bridger sighed and rested his head on top of Lucas' golden hair.

Sleep claimed him quickly.

The End