Author's note: more plot bunnies decided to show up after the last scene… so, another chapter.

Acknowledgements: The chess playing J/J here come from Windjammer's excellent fic "Afterwards" as I never thought of this idea until I read it in this fic. Continued thanks to Janice for beta reading these. She's making me start to think this could end up being an AU season 2 series… but I'm getting ahead of myself. For now…

Ch 3

-x-

Jon slowly woke up in his room at the power base and did a double take as his vision was filled with honey blond hair. Then he smiled. He couldn't help staring for what seemed like long minutes at her there in their bed.

Reaching forward, he brushed aside the strands of hair from the bare shoulder of the woman stretched out beside him. The pale skin that greeted him made him realize that the events from the previous night had not been another lonely, late night fantasy, but the real thing. He was in the double sized bed in his quarters that were now going to be shared for the first time ever.

"Jennifer," he whispered softly, leaning forward to place a soft kiss along the arch of her neck.

"Hmmm," she murmured sleepily, and turned so she now faced him, her eyes slowly opening to pierce him with their icy blue hue. "Jon… I guess we fell asleep?"

He grinned wider at her simple deduction at their current state of undress and awareness. The previous evening's activities had led them to fall asleep. No doubt they'd be hearing about not joining the others for dinner all day.

It was just supposed to be his showing her the bed, not… what it turned out to be. But damn, he was only human. How was he supposed to resist the temptress in pink silk that he'd found in his bed?

He had never been happier that their power 'softsuits' reverted to the fatigues when they're powered down than he had been last night, or else he would have had to peel off her power suit to get to the pink lingerie that she had been wearing under her jumpsuit. In fact, their suits were only there when they were armored after they'd been keyed to the wearer's DNA. It made working everyday easier, and if they didn't, the suits would have been sliced up more than once or twice when they'd been injured and not armored and working in the summer desert heat would be a nightmare.

So when he'd seen those scraps of pink silk, he had to admit that the blood in his veins had taken up residence somewhere south of his gun belt. It had been a long time since he'd been with a woman, and even longer since he'd seen anything as sexy as the woman in the pink silk bra and panties that had pushed him onto his… their bed.

And the things that they'd done… that she'd let him show her had made his heart sing and his soul ache. To have been granted the honor of having been her first – and if he had anything to say about it – her only lover still awed and humbled him now. He had never thought he'd have this with anyone again, let alone her. But now here he was… Jennifer propped up on an elbow, studiously regarding him as he mused about his continued good fortune to be loved by this woman.

"Looks like. You sleep okay?"

She smiled at him then, prompting him to lean forward and kiss her lightly on the lips.

"Yeah. I think Robert and Michael must have added some extra padding to the mattress, 'cause it's a lot more comfortable than my bunk. Or maybe it was sleeping next to you…"

Jon fought a blush at the compliment. He did have to admit that he had slept pretty well too. Shuffling on the bed, he sat up, the blanket pooling at his waist. His change in position prompted her to do so as well, although she pulled the blankets up in front of her, covering her body in a concession to modesty that he found endearing.

"So, when are you moving your things in here?" he asked lightheartedly, his mind catching up with his heart on the subject of her being with him all the time now.

"Are you sure you want to share this big bed of yours every night?" she replied with a small smile.

"Absolutely. I love you. More today than yesterday, if that's even possible. Whatever future we have: a life fighting Dread and someday hopefully a future with freedom and a family…"

Her eyes suddenly closed and she swallowed hard, wrapping her arms around her chest, holding the sheets to her tightly. Last night had been amazing. Jon had been every bit the tender, giving lover that she'd expected he would be. They'd shared something so wonderful that she'd been willing to imagine that what they had, THIS, would be all they would ever need. But now, with his sudden suggestion about a future with a family; it brought forth a deep secret that no one outside the machine empire really knew. And it was one that she had been deathly afraid to share with anyone, especially Jon. But now… she knew she had no choice. He had to know.

"Jon, there's something I have to tell you…" she said softly, a slight tone of worry tingeing her voice as her eyes came up to catch his, tears starting to break from her lashes.

Her sudden worried tone brought Jon up short. Something was definitely wrong here, and the way she was looking at him made his throat constrict in concern. What had happened that she needed to tell him something now, something that was obviously painful for her? Had what they'd done last night changed things? He'd thought she was happy with the change in their relationship… had he been wrong? The only thing he could do was to somehow give her whatever she needed… time, support, space… anything he needed to do to show her that he loved her, no matter what.

"Jennifer, whatever it is, nothing is going to change how I feel about you," he replied, his hand swiftly coming to cup her cheek as his thumb brushed at the tears.

She swallowed hard, grasping onto Jon's love for her in her soul as she unburied this ugly deed of Dread's and drug it into the light of day.

"Part of being a soldier for Dread… they… did things to all of us; things that made us… less human."

He understood, having heard some of this before… the repression of feelings, the revulsion of organic beings, and the litany of the machine. Dread had made the Dread Youth into shells of human beings. Jon shifted so he could catch her face in both hands now, patiently waiting as she continued to struggle to tell him whatever she needed to say.

"Emotions are signs of weakness," she reminded him, and he nodded slightly, not wanting to speak and disturb her. "One emotion is love, obviously, and in a way, so is lust… Dread wanted to make his human soldiers better than their base emotions, control them with chemicals… but they did more than that… they…"

A sob cut off her voice as she closed her eyes, her hands moving to wring the cloth before her, the material barely covering her bare skin as she worried it with her fingers. He moved his own hands from her face to cover them into his own, holding them tightly, trying to infuse all the feelings he had for her into the touch.

"All the Dread Youth, the Overunits… they're all… they're sterilized with… castration and… hysterectomies… before puberty," she finally forced out, her eyes coming up to latch onto his, pain and regret radiating within their depths.

In a heartbeat, Jon felt as if someone had sucked the air out of his chest along with his very heart. They… Dread… oh God, he thought, as he looked at the amazing woman before him and realized what she was trying to tell him.

He'd never even considered that Dread would consider the natural biology of the Dread Youth to be such an issue as to surgically alter them all in such a permanent way. But if he had to look at it from a strictly totalitarian way, it made some sense. Sexless soldiers able to fight and serve without any of the physical detractors of their gender made for a more reliable pool of mindless slaves. In all the years that they'd been fighting Dread Jennifer had been the only Dread Youth to actually defect, so no one really had known what they went though… she'd never alluded to him, Matt or the others the physical scars she was forced to bear along with the emotional and mental ones.

And the only reason she was even telling him this now was because… damn, he thought despairingly, he'd been waxing poetic about a possible future with her and she had realized that she had to tell him what she couldn't give him; being with her meant that they'd never have children of their own.

At one time that thought might have led him to ponder the choice he was making for a while, but following everything he'd been through without her there with him, the utter completeness and joy he felt being with her now on top of the agony that was so visible in her eyes, he knew it didn't matter. What did matter though was making her realize that he loved more than anything and he moved to embrace her, his arms pulling her tightly into his chest as he felt her tremble in his grasp, her arms pinned against his bare chest as she sunk into his embrace.

"I'm so sorry Jennifer. That Dread did that to you… to all of them. But… it doesn't matter to me if we can't have children. I need you with me, more than anything else. If my future is to simply be with you, the amazing, strong, kick-ass yet compassionate woman that you are, then it's everything I could ask for… I love you; that will never change."

"I love you too," she replied, her voice muffled in his chest as she let herself accept his words and love as she acknowledged that while Dread had cursed the Dread Youth and Overunits to a sexless, loveless, childless future, she had at least escaped to find the one man who would accept her and love her for who and what she was.

-x-

They eventually had to pull themselves out of bed and make an appearance with the rest of the team. When they arrived together in the command room, everyone gave them knowing looks. But neither of them responded to or recognized them, leading to some questioning glances by the three other members of the team.

"Scout, any news on getting that last piece of data on troop movements in the north?" Power asked, trying to focus on work even as Pilot busied herself with other tasks across the room.

"Nothing yet Captain. We're hoping to get something more from our contact in Tech City soon."

"Keep on it. We need to use our time wisely before Dread figures out we're back to full strength."

"Well, just be sure that you don't go and 'knock up' our pilot, or else we'll be back down to four again and then Hawk's gonna be the one stuck flying the Jumpship…"

Scout's teasing was quickly cut off as Pilot abruptly left the command center, resulting in confused looks from the others and a pained expression on Power's face. Three sets of eyes turned to regard him and he ducked his head briefly as he agonized as to what to do, what to say. After long minutes of consideration over sharing what was a very painful and private issue, he realized that there were few secrets in the team that could be kept for any length of time. Plus, the information wasn't just about Jennifer… it affected all of the humans Dread had 'working' for him. They deserved to know… even if it was hard to hear.

"Captain?" Scout tentatively questioned, the worry in his voice evident. "Did I say something…"

"It's… no Scout… Robert, it wasn't…" he verbally stumbled, and then took a deep breath before soldiering on with simply relaying the information in as straight forward a manner as he could without having it hit him in the gut again. "None of the Dread Youth or the Overunits can have children."

Once the words left his mouth, the silence in the room had been deafening. None of them had known, just like Jon hadn't before Jennifer had told him. It was another sobering reminder of how evil Dread was and why he had to be stopped.

The stretch of quiet became oppressive, and Robert and Michael made some excuses and left the room. Now alone with Jon, Matt regarded their Captain and his friend. The truth was that the older man considered Jon almost like a second son, and Jennifer… she'd looked up to him like the father he doubted she ever had. These bombshells about Dread's human army… about Jennifer… it made his heart ache for both of them.

"Jon," Matt started, moving to his friend's side before easing into one of the seats there as Jon slowly folded into the one across from him. "Are you okay?"

Jon started to nod, but stopped himself. If he was honest, then no he wasn't really okay. Jennifer's stark admission had done three things: one, it had ripped away any fantasy he'd had of them having children and two, it had made her feel as if she wasn't meeting his expectations, which hurt him worse than the idea of never having kids and three, it had cemented in his mind what kind of evil Taggart had become.

"Not really Matt. The fact that Dread could do that to her… to all of them… it makes me angry, furious even. And the idea that she could think that I wouldn't want to be with her because of it… it's crazy. I told her I wanted her however long we can have… that I need her more than anything else. Because being without her… that's something I can't live through again Matt…"

His friend nodded. He understood what it felt like to lose the woman he loved. It was not something he'd wanted Jon to have to face again any time soon.

"And the fact that if you guys stay together… get married, that you can't have kids…" Matt suggested subtly, wanting to know if Jon had dealt with that aspect of this yet.

"I know," he replied, running a hand through his hair as he faced that future once again. "But it hasn't changed anything in my mind. Sure, carrying on the family name, raising a child with Jennifer would have been… but we're still in a war Matt. We couldn't do that even if we wanted to. So the reality is that what's important to me is having her with me… the rest… it's all icing on the cake, you know?"

"Yeah, I get it. But it looks like she's still upset about it, if that hasty retreat earlier was any indication."

"She's worried," Jon said simply, looking Matt in the eyes with a fearful gaze. "I tried to assure her it didn't matter, that I loved her no matter what but…"

"She's being Jennifer and over-analyzing, huh?" Matt replied, and Jon gave a slight grimace. "You want me to say something to her?"

Jon considered his friend's offer. Maybe Matt could get through to her where he couldn't, he thought. If Masterson acting as surrogate father could relieve Jennifer's concerns and help him convince her of his sincerity on this issue, he'd do anything.

"Are you sure?"

"No problem. Just be sure that you two sit down and fix this for good once she comes to you… I don't wanna keep having to play referee."

Patting Jon on the shoulder, Matt got up and went looking for Jennifer. Having helped with her re-education, he didn't have to think where to look for her. His love of flying paled next to hers, and if she needed to think, she was either in the air or in the Jumpship.

Entering the hangar bay, he saw the door to the Jumpship open, and climbed inside. Turning to the front, he barely saw the slight figure in the pilot seat. Making his way through the ship, he sat down in the co-pilot seat and glanced her way. She sat there, spanner tool and component chips in hand and wires poking out from beneath the navigation console. Matt shook his head slightly at the memory of finding Jon here nearly two months ago with the same kind of need to be busy while fighting off the pain of having lost her.

"You two cannot make it simple, can you?" he said with a light, almost teasing voice. "Robert and Michael go to all that trouble to get you guys a bed and then you have to complicate things with worrying about the future. A future that isn't even here right now and never may be, if we don't win this war."

"It's not that simple Matt," Jennifer complained, flipping one of the component chips end over end with her fingers.

"Why not? We all know you love Jon more than anything, and he feels the same way about you."

"If we do this… if he stays with me…"

"Stop," Matt said suddenly, cutting off anything more she might have said and making her swiftly turn her head to regard him. "Jon's not with you for kids or a picket fence or some far off hazy future. He's with you because he can't be without you. I found him right there, where you're sitting not more than seven weeks ago, ready to fall apart because you were gone."

"I…"

"You didn't see him Jennifer. He was lost without you. He would do anything, bear anything, sacrifice anything as long as it meant he had you."

Jennifer swallowed hard, her eyes misting over at Matt's words. She'd wanted to believe Jon when he'd said it didn't matter about her not being able to have children, but Robert's joke had made her question his sincerity on the still raw subject.

She shouldn't have doubted him, she thought angrily. Of every single person she'd ever met, he was the one true, honest person that she knew. And if he said something… he meant it with his whole heart.

Including loving her no matter what.

She smiled at Matt, an honest to goodness happy smile and reached over to catch his hand in hers.

"Thanks… I think I better go find Jon and have a talk with him."

"Good. Just remember… we're all here for you, you know."

She nodded and moved to get up from her seat, her grip loosening on Matt's hand as she pulled away, intent on finding Jon and assuring him that she had no doubts about how much she loved him and wanted to be with him for as long as they lived.

-x-

48-3 Mark 7

Days had passed following a long, heartfelt discussion with Jon about their future wherein Jennifer had let her heart lead her back to his arms and their bed. Once she was certain that he knew what he was getting into and that he was okay with it, that he really wanted her with him, baggage and all, she'd agreed to move into his quarters and out of hers.

Luckily she still didn't have much beyond her clothes. Everything that she'd had been lost at the old base, just like everything the guys had. Still, Jon was trying to rebuild his meager library, having found a few books on scouting missions.

Jon had cleared a few drawers for her clothes, and had taken some perverse delight in looking over her shoulder as she put away her underclothes.

"Go away," she mock-growled with a smack of her hand to his intruding arm. "Can't I put my clothes away without you hovering? You'll get to see these all in time."

"Promise?"

She smiled and turned to give him a kiss. Then Jon's wrist comm buzzed to life.

"Jon… Jennifer with you?" asked Matt, a soft laugh in his voice obvious as he was sure the older man knew that she was with him already.

"Yes Matt. What's up?"

"Robert has those data disks analyzed from our contact in Tech City. Sounds like Dread's got a new plan."

"On our way."

Jennifer slammed the drawer shut quickly as she moved to the door of their room, Jon a half step ahead of her. They swiftly made their way to the command room where Robert, Michael and Matt were all waiting for them.

"What have we got?" Jon asked as he eased over to stand next to Robert.

"Dread seems to have started up a new project – the details on the disk seem to indicate a terror like campaign. There's plans in here for introducing poisonous chemicals into the water supply… the first one looking to be the remains of the Colorado river."

"If Dread makes that water undrinkable, thousands of people will die of thirst," Matt said quickly, horror tingeing his words.

"And any plant or animal life depending on that water will be contaminated," added Michael.

"Do we have a location where Dread is sending his troops?"

"They're going to the source – the headwaters of the river in sector 27 – Colorado. They can't go into the mountains, so they'll be focused on the first flat stretch of the river… around here," Robert noted, pointing to a spot on the map.

"What about the lab Dread is using to make the chemicals? Shouldn't that be our focal point?" asked Jennifer, her eyes cutting to Jon as she worriedly crossed her arms over her chest.

Jon regarded her seriously. The data they had was identifying more than one location for the water contamination, but they had only one pinpointed place for Dread's troops to attack. The best course of action would be to stop the chemicals from getting into the river as well as destroying the lab to prevent future attempts. But it all depended on time…

"Robert, is there a timeline in there?"

"Dread's forces are supposed to deploy in 48 hours. Which means if we're gonna take down the lab, we have to do it before then."

"Which means more like 24 hours," Jon announced honestly, regarding the members of his team. "We've worked in tighter timelines than that before. Matt, Jennifer, get the Jumpship ready to fly in the next six hours – everything in the best condition it can be in. Michael, check over the armory and assess if we have enough therm grenades to blow a large size Dread installation. Robert and I will pinpoint the lab's whereabouts and prepare a plan. Get moving people – we've got a lot of work to do."

-x-

Having gotten the location of the new lab Dread from the data disk, Power had analyzed information they had on the facility and established a plan to infiltrate and destroy the lab Dread was using to create the chemicals for his project. Once everything was ready, the team had boarded the Jumpship, headed west, just north of the first planned attack on the water supply.

Pilot landed the Jumpship beyond the ruined trees that had surrounded the area closest to the lab, but still within walking distance. They had one shot at this, and they had to hope that the troop levels listed on the intelligence disk were accurate, or they'd be in a lot of trouble.

"Alright everyone, suit up," stated Power as the others moved to join him by the door to the ship.

"Power on!" called the five members of the team as they activate their power suits.

Moments later, armor in place, the team exited the ship. It took them a few minutes to clear the tree line that separated the ship from the clearing where the Dread lab was located. But once they were ready to step out into the open area, they paused, checking for any security patrol.

"Okay, remember, quick in and out. We find the control room and the power generator and blow them both. Any resistance…"

"We got it Captain," Tank replied, knowing the directive on engaging the enemy.

"Tank and Pilot, you have the power generator. Hawk, Scout and I will take down the control room. Fifteen minutes everyone."

With that the team carefully moved in. Scout jimmied the lock to the door for the facility and the team hurried inside. Just within, Tank and Pilot split off, heading to the left and down a ramp that they expected would lead them to the power core. Power, Hawk and Scout followed the main corridor, cautiously looking out for bio-mechs as they hunted for the control room that oversaw the facility.

Tank and Pilot navigated their way past a few troopers and found the power core to the complex. Tank watched their back as Pilot set the timer, placing the device deep within the works of the machinery. With their part done, they headed back to the door, prepared to take down any bio-mechs they chanced into.

For Power's team, they weren't as lucky, and had ended up using their laser stars and a knife or two to take out the clickers guarding several passageways and the doors to the command room. When they got inside, they'd quickly destroyed the bio-mechs within the room, and the human workers went running. The alarms began to sound, and they knew they were out of time. Scout quickly set the timers on his charges and inserted them into the consoles controlling the chemical manufacturing.

Once done, the three of them hurried out of the room, firing at the bio-mechs trying to cut them off from the exit. Pilot and Tank were at the door, pinning the mechs between their blaster fire and the Captain's team.

With the floor of corridors littered with metal parts, Power, Scout and Hawk raced to catch up with Pilot and Tank, who were already out the door. They'd rushed out of the main doors, the sound of explosions following them as the charges blew, the last three members of the team being set flying at the force of the blast. As Scout, Power and Hawk picked them selves up, Pilot and Tank turned back to regard them, Tank moving to give Hawk a hand as Pilot watched as the building behind them spewed black acidic smoke and orange flames.

"Bio-Dread!" yelled Scout anxiously as he saw the metal machine come into the clearing while he was getting to his feet.

Pilot rapidly turned at the sound of Scout's voice, blaster in hand and then froze. The Bio-Dread in question was twenty feet away but closing. It was the first time since the original base had been destroyed that she'd seen Blastarr, and the way he was now stopped told her that he remembered the explosion and HER as well.

"You!" it growled menacingly, a roar coming through its circuits as its hand came up to point at her, lasers ready to fire.

Before Pilot could move, she saw blaster fire hit Blastarr square in the chest, making the technological monster stagger. Then the Captain was suddenly in front of her, his arm moving backwards to push her back as he kept firing, almost wildly. They were alone against the Bio-Dread for only a moment before Tank, Hawk and Scout were there, throwing laser stars and therm grenades at the thing as well as shooting the monstrosity with all the firepower they had.

In what seemed an almost unfair fight, Blastarr found itself assaulted by an onslaught of firepower. It didn't even have the chance to fight back before it was over. As its head lolled forward, Power knew they had disabled it – for now.

"Everyone back to the ship!" he called out, moving with a hand around Pilot's upper arm as the others quickly headed to the ship.

The team hurried through the makeshift barrier of the tree line that had hidden the Jumpship from the Dread facility. As Scout cleared the trees first, he had the door of the Jumpship open as Hawk and Tank arrived behind him, Power and Pilot following, but at a slower pace.

"Power down."

Four unarmored members of the team stood by the Jumpship and moved to climb in. However one still hovered at the ramp, armor still in place. Power turned back as he realized that Pilot was still outside, standing stock still like she had when faced with Blastarr.

"Hawk, can you fly us home?" Power asked, looking to where Pilot stood at the steps of the Jumpship ramp.

"Sure. You guys can grab a couple of seats in the back, yeah?"

Power nodded in reply as Hawk headed to the co-pilot seat to get the ship off the ground. Scout and Tank moved to their stations as well, noting their Captain's concern radiating off him.

Still worried about Soaron or more troops showing up after destroying Dread's chemical factory, Power wanted to get Pilot on the ship quickly, but the fact that she was standing outside 'her' ship instead of being inside it told him that something was wrong.

"Jennifer, are you alright?" Jon softly asked her, his hand coming to rest on the silver metal covering her shoulder.

She slowly turned to him, the dark visor partly obscuring his vision of her eyes. Finally she powered down and he could fully see the haunted look in her eyes.

"I…" she started, swallowing convulsively as she fought to control the overwhelming range of emotions surging through her before she dropped her head and let herself fall into Jon's embrace.

Jon caught her in his arms, pulling her tight to his chest. Seeing Blastarr had obviously disturbed her. They'd been out on raids and missions since her return, so he and the others had simply assumed that she'd moved past the ordeal of her captivity and brain washing by Dread. But they hadn't run into Blastarr until now. And in seeing it…

Carefully he led her up the Jumpship ramp and into the seats in the rear of the Jumpship. Seeing them enter the ship, Robert moved to close the door and then gave Matt the high sign to take off. Jon strapped them both in just before he heard the engine thrust roar to life.

As the vehicle took to the air, Jon brushed a hand across Jennifer's face, his fingers coming away damp. "Jennifer… talk to me, please?"

"I'm sorry," she said finally, her eyes coming up to meet Jon's, a few tears slowly escaping them. She lifted her hand to lay over his where it rested on her cheek. "I don't know what happened out there. It was just… seeing Blastarr… EVERYTHING just came back to me in a rush…"

"There's nothing to be sorry about. We… I didn't even think that seeing Blastarr after everything that happened to you might trigger…"

She smiled wanly at his attempt to redirect her reaction to Blastarr to somehow be his failing. But the truth was that she'd been unprepared for the memories that had flooded her mind at the sight of Dread's monstrous creation.

"You didn't do anything wrong," she started as she gently wrapped her fingers around his hand and pulled it away from her face so she could regard him fully. His hand gripped hers, not letting her break contact from him. "I had no idea either. When I turned and saw him (it) there, I… I was suddenly back in the base, staring it down, waiting to die. I knew you… all of you would be safe so I was okay with it. But then the feeling of being ripped apart piece by piece by the digitization beam…"

Jon didn't know what that pain felt like. Having heard from Athena how she'd been willing to do anything to prevent going through it again; from having him have to experience it, he expected that the sensation was painful, and with Jennifer's injuries, potentially more so.

"I'd buried that feeling… and standing there looking at it so angry with me, I felt the pain again. Then suddenly I was waking up at that Dread lab again, feeling afraid… alone. I remembered that I should have been dead, but I wasn't. I tried to recall what had happened… I remembered getting to the base, and Mentor telling me that the data disk was empty," she said slowly, her tone grave.

Jon felt a surge of anger spike his blood at the reminder of that betrayal. He had yet to encounter Locke since he'd lured them into the meeting with false information and the blank data disk. It had only been the promise he'd made to value all human life that he hadn't hunted down the man who he'd thought caused Pilot's death. That and his underlying belief that the man had to have been turned, perhaps tortured to cause him to deceive them.

"Then the rest of it just rushed through my mind… I couldn't move…" she said suddenly, bring his attention back to her from his violent thoughts. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been there… you and the team. It probably would have blasted me before I could have shaken it off…"

"But we were there for you… I was here this time…" he said softly, the old recrimination creeping into his voice from when he'd let her go alone last time… to what had nearly been her death.

"You were. But what about the next time? If I see Dread in person, or Blastarr again… will I freeze again or have I gotten past it all now? Is it really over now?"

"It's over Jennifer," Jon reminded her sympathetically, his hands raising hers to his lips where he pressed a light kiss to the back of her hands. "You survived Blastar, Dread… everything and came back to us, to ME even stronger. And you have my promise that you won't ever face it or Dread alone. I'll always be with you."

-x-

48-3 Mark 14

Jennifer had been working at the work bench in their room at the base when she sighed and leaned back to stretch out her back. Jon and Matt had gone on a scouting mission and she, Michael and Robert were at the base, working on a variety of maintenance projects. Putting down the circuit board she had been fighting with for the last hour, she got up and regarded the room and all their things. Her eyes settled on the chess board that Jon had managed to procure somewhere in The Passages. He'd gone back for the one at City Lights bookstore after the incident with Athena, but it had been lost in the destruction of the old base.

Now this new one sat on a small table in their quarters.

Her mind wandered as she stared at the pieces. When they'd gotten back from dropping Athena off in The Passages so long ago now, Jennifer had gone to Mentor, looking for more information on chess. She'd wondered just what the activity was that Jon had shared with his father's former lab assistant… and instead ended up having Jon himself explain and then teach her to play. Every so often they'd sit and play. They often played late at night, when one or the other couldn't sleep or when they'd been wound up with a Dread raid.

She'd found out that she was pretty good at the game once she knew the rules, and Jon had been a good teacher. Just like he was in a lot of arenas.

She smiled as her gaze slid to their bed.

She remembered the spike of fear when she'd gone with Jon to old San Francisco to locate Athena and he'd talked about her in such… affectionate terms. She didn't know it was jealousy at the time, but now, so many months and emotions later, she knew she'd been fearful that he still loved Athena.

Instead it was Jennifer that he'd been unable to live without…

The door opened, and she looked up to find Jon coming in, his hands at the latch for his gun belt as he slowly stripped it off and laid it on the chair by the door. His eyes caught hers and she smiled.

"Hard day?" she asked teasingly as she walked to him, her fingers trailing across the chess board as she moved to meet him.

"Matt and I ran into company while on recon," Jon replied as he rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the ache out of them from slamming into the rocky ground after being hit twice by the bio-mechs' blasters.

"You okay?"

"A little banged up, but fine otherwise."

"Dread needs to be a little more considerate of my property. I do not like it when you come back from a simple recon injured," she said with a mock-growl to her voice as she moved to kiss him lightly on the lips.

"I'll be sure to let him know next time we cross paths," he replied with a grin as he moved to sit in one of the chairs beside the chess table. "How go the repairs?"

"Slow, as usual. I wish we had better components but we'll make do. Robert's on dinner duty…" she remarked, looking at her watch and realizing they had an hour or two before Robert would 'finish' his attempt at cooking, "you want to play a game and then head down to see what he's made?"

Jon glanced from the chess board to Jennifer's face and then his gaze glanced to the bed on the opposite side of the room. A wicked thought popped in his head and he turned back to regard her with passion-filled eyes.

"That works. And after dinner, we can come back here, you can let me see you in one of those nightgowns you got in The Passages and I can read you some of that Tennyson we found last week and see if poetry really is as romantically mood setting as they say it is."

She gave him a small, wicked smile, knowing that just the sound of his voice rumbling in his chest as she laid her head on it as he read to her would be just the prelude to an amorous evening.

"Sounds like a plan…" she replied as she moved to her side of the chess board, her fingers lightly playing with his before she laid a finger on a white pawn on her side of the board, and then sliding it forward one square, "but don't think that I'm going to take it easy on you because of it."

"I never would want you to," he answered in turn, his own hand moving to the black side of the board and mirroring her move with one of his own before reaching across the table to catch her hand in his. "I wouldn't want it any other way than like this."

-End-