XVIX.

"You did what?"

She knew she was in sickbay the moment she opened her eyes. It was like a second home to her now. She was there so often—sometimes without warning—that the very smell of the room was instantly familiar. She hesitated a moment before she very slowly drew a deep breath. It worked. Easily, in fact, and she knew that Dr. Crusher must have given her a hearty dose of the respiratory stimulant that had kept her going in those first few terrible weeks. It was a dangerous crutch, as Crusher always reminded her, but it was the only thing that made her feel normal again. Actually, one of the nice side effects of the respiratory stimulant was that it made her feel strong, very strong, if only for a short while.

She gasped and clenched her eyes shut as reality finally settled on her. Had it happened? Was she finally losing her mind and beginning to dream while she was awake? If that was the case, it was over. They could drum her out of Starfleet and she would spend the next few months wallowing in her old bedroom at her parents' house until she figured out what to do with herself.

She waited until her eyes were fully adjusted to the light, then turned over and sat up. Crusher was already standing there, a hypospray in her hand.

"Take a deep breath." She instructed as she tilted the hypo and pressed it to Anna's neck. It hissed and a sudden, almost twitchy high went through Anna's limbs.

"Whoa." Anna shuddered, "You're giving me more?"

Crusher frowned, "I don't want to, believe me. But, I'm worried you might need it."

Anna stared at Crusher, trying to make eye contact, but it seemed as if she were purposefully avoiding it. Did it happen? Was it real? Anna wanted to burst forth with the questions, but she had no desire to sound crazy. Instead, she just leveled Crusher with a near pitiful look that begged explanation.

Crusher cleared her throat and consulted her tricorder, "Lore will probably be here soon, once he's out of the brig."

It's true! Dear God, it's true!

"Brig?" Anna sputtered, "Why is he in the brig?"

"They arrested him for trespassing and no doubt a litany of others things." Crusher replied. The woman looked uneasy. Finally, she faced Anna directly, "Anna, did you know about this?"

"Know about what?" Anna said, shaking her head. Did she know that Lore was alive? Did she know that he had somehow survived the blast on Ohniaka III? Of course not! Would she have just stood by all this time if she had?

"No." Anna continued, "What happened? How did he survive the outpost?"

Crusher looked down and appeared to be shifting her eyes in an uneasy fashion, "Anna, he….He'll be here soon, no doubt, and you can get your answers from him."

"You don't know?" Anna pressed, "He hasn't spoken to anyone about it?"

"He should tell you everything." Crusher replied, "Look, you really need to take it easy. You burst quite a few capillaries and the hyperventilation almost caused you to go into a seizure."

"I was surprised." Anna said, pressing her lips against a wide grin. She was beginning to feel a little ridiculously giddy, a sensation that was no doubt heightened by the respiratory stimulant rushing through her veins. She tried to suppress her sudden joy only because she knew how much Crusher disliked Lore—still disliked him—and it made the whole situation a little funny.

Crusher moved back to her office, leaving Anna sitting upright on the bio-bed. Anna watched her go and could not help but be a little disappointed. Crusher did not like Lore, she knew, but why was she acting so uneasy? Surely she could at least be happy for her. Very slowly, she began to suspect that something else was going on. Crusher would never be upset over someone not being dead; she wasn't like that.

She turned her attention to the entrance at the right side of the room. Any moment…. She closed her eyes a bit and tried to relive the moments in engineering just before her lungs had seized and the world had fallen apart. He looked different. His eye and skin color were changed, and she could not help but laugh to imagine how he might have been forced to blend in over the past two years. But, blend in where? And why for so long? She looked toward the exit with growing anticipation. Maybe she could go to the brig and see him….

"Dr. Crusher is taking you off duty for the next thirty-six hours."

Anna barely registered the low Australian accent speaking right beside her. She looked up and saw Owen looking down at her. His expression was nearly as awkward and shifty as Crusher's, though in a much more profound way. He gave her a weak smile.

"What? Oh, that's fine." Anna said distractedly as she continued to watch the entrance. She didn't care if she was off duty for a day. Hell! She didn't care if she was off duty for the next month!

Anna was too absorbed to notice the progressively low look on Owen's face. He too glanced at the entrance and his shoulders visibly sank. "Ok. Well…I'll leave you to rest then."

"Thanks." Anna mumbled. It wasn't until he had left her side, after several hesitant moments, that Anna finally came to her senses and looked in the direction of the office he had just entered. Her stomach flipped with guilty butterflies.

Oh, no….

But she could not allow herself to think on that right now. She refused. Anna leaned back on the bio-bed with her eyes toward the entrance. Despite the drugs Crusher had so reluctantly given her, she soon fell into a light sleep.

)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

"Hello."

Lore watched as Anna's eyes fluttered for just a second before flying open. She pushed herself to a sitting position and instantly reached her arms up to wrap them around his neck.

"I can't believe you're here! I thought I might have been hallucinating!" She gasped, her voice cracking into a joyful laugh as she gripped him tighter.

Lore laughed as he tilted his face forward and kissed the side of her neck. He could not help himself as he drew a deep breath against her hair. Sunflowers.

"It's no hallucination. Are you all right?" He felt her give him another tight hug before she pulled back enough to see his face. Her cheeks were flushed and raised up by the most beautiful smile he had ever seen, despite the happy tears threatening to fall at any moment.

"Yes. That's fine. I'm fine." She said quickly, "I was just startled when I saw you, I guess."

"Apparently." He said, giving her a playful smile. It was bitter-sweet, though, and he brushed his fingers over her cheek a little sadly, "I'm sorry, Anna. If I had known that you were ill, I would have found a far less…mmm…theatrical way of seeing you."

Lore glanced around the room briefly and was quite thankful that there was no one around. No doubt Crusher was making a point of leaving them alone for a moment, for which he was silently grateful. He took her face in his hands and gave her a gentle kiss. He pulled back an inch, "I missed you."

"I missed you too." She continued to smile up at him, amazed. Finally she said, "And I'm glad that at least your kiss is still the same."

Lore gave her confused look just as she reached up and ran her fingers through his hair and made a sour face. He laughed. "Oh. You don't like my new look?"

She frowned and shook her head, "Not at all."

"Then I'll be sure to revert it immediately, Lieutenant. I wouldn't want to be out of your favor." He said with a smile. He kissed her again and wondered how much longer Crusher wanted her to stay in sickbay. He wanted to talk to her about everything that had happened, about the Enterprise collision and Data's death. No doubt she would have some questions about his motives for leaving, but she did not appear to be angry, which was an immense relief.

Anna pulled back but left her hands on his arms. Her expression became thoughtful all of a sudden, "So, what happened?"

Lore lifted one of her hands to his lips and kissed her fingers. It was impossible not to touch her. "Happened with what?" He muttered.

"The outpost." She said, "How did you survive the explosion Reed set? How long were you stranded on the surface?"

Lore's smile fell almost immediately. She didn't know. Worst still, she had not guessed. "No one spoke to you?" He asked, "Crusher didn't explain anything?"

Anna shook her head, "No. I don't understand why the Enterprisedidn't find you. We did so many scans, and when they didn't find anything I begged Data to redo them." Her voice was beginning to catch a little, "Lore, I…I knew something was wrong, and I was right!"

Lore's heart sank. A mental image of Anna pleading with Data to keep searching for him was a sudden blight on his happiness, and for more reasons than one. Data had lied for him, repeatedly, and no doubt with much anguish. And he could never thank him for it. Thanking seemed a mute point though, as he was now beginning to believe that the whole thing had been a horrible mistake.

He closed his eyes for a moment before he forced himself to meet hers, "Anna, Reed did not rig the destruction of the outpost. I did."

Anna was still for a few seconds, trying to absorb what he had said. Lore watched nervously.

"W—wait a minute. You did what?" She laughed a little, as if she could not accept that what he was saying was serious, "Why?"

He gripped her hand, sorry that he was going to have to hurt her, but he was certain her anger would pass. After all, Anna would understand his reasoning. He was sure of it.

"I didn't want you to be hurt anymore. I was convinced that Reed was just the first, and if I stayed someone else would eventually try to hurt me through you. I asked Data to help me, and he tried to—."

"You…." He words caught in her throat, and she swallowed hard as she suddenly pulled her hand out of his, "You staged your death? Data helped you?"

Lore looked on with growing worry as her cheeks began to turn red and her expression hardened. "Anna, I'm sorry." He said, "It was a horrible mistake because I should have known I wouldn't be able to go through with it for long. Troi's message was an excuse for me to come back, but I would have eventually. I'm sure of that now."

"Troi!" Anna cried suddenly, pressing her fists to the sides of her head, "Troi knew too!"

"No." He said, "Data left a message for me, to be sent if anything happened to him. Troi sent the message. Anna, please understand why I did it. I was trying to look after you."

Anna covered her face with both hands, and for a moment Lore thought she was crying. But when she finally looked up again she glared at him with angry, hurt eyes. "How could you? How could you do this to me?"

He struggled to find words that would make her understand, make her accept his reasoning. Instead, he said perhaps the worst thing he could have, "Anna, it was for your own good."

"My own good!" Anna cried. She pushed at him, forcing him away from the bio-bed as she hopped down and ran to the other side, putting the object between them. She leaned over the bed, still pressing her hands to her temples, "Do you have any idea what I've been through? How much I cried for you!"

Lore was struck silent. This wasn't going well. This wasn't going well at all. He grew increasingly worried as her anger only seemed to grow with each passing second. Not knowing what else to do or say, he reached across the bed to take her hand, and was shocked when she roughly pulled it away.

"Get away from me!" She cried.

What? "Anna, please—."

"My own good?" She continued to shout, "You decided what was for my good! You—you—you asshole!"

Lore took a step back as if she had actually struck him. He had expected she would be upset, but nothing like this. He was at a loss. What could he say that he had not said already?

"People were mistreating you, Anna." He countered, "I thought you would be better off without me. I still think that, but I'm too selfish to stay away."

Anna's eyes widened with outrage. She opened her mouth to say something else, but smothered it when she pressed her palms over her eyes again. She was starting to shake either with rage or agony, Lore could not tell which. Finally, she looked up, her face marred with drying tears.

"I thought I could trust you."

Oh! "You can trust me!"

"Until you decide I'm better off without you, right?" She shot back. She pressed a hand to the center of her chest and breathed hard, "Lore….Get out."

"What? Anna—."

"Leave! I don't want to see you! I can't believe you did this to me! I can't believe Data helped you!" She clenched her teeth together and groaned, "Oh, God! I'm so stupid! It makes perfect sense now. I asked Data over and over why you went back down there, and he never answered me. I should have known then!"

No. No! Lore moved to go around the bio-bed, but Anna turned away from him and fled to the office at the back of the room. The door closed behind her, and Lore did not have to guess that she had locked it. Another door at the other side of the room opened and Crusher rushed out. She did not say anything, but only looked at him. She had no doubt heard everything.

"Today should be a wonderful day for you, Doc!" Lore said bitterly. He pressed his hand to the office door for a moment, but did not entertain the idea of going in. He hoped that all she needed was some time to see his reasoning, but her words! I cried for you. That was almost more than he could bear, though he could not delude himself into thinking she would not have. He had known that all along.

Crusher shook her head and folded her arms across her chest, "As much as this may surprise you, Lore, I neverrooted against you."

Lore turned away from the door and headed toward the exit. He refused to allow his heart to completely sink, for he knew—he had to believe—that Anna was just angry and would come around soon. Of course she would. She loved him!

"Where are you going now?" Crusher asked cautiously.

Lore gave her an angry look, "I'm going to get some answers, if that's even possible. Care to join me?"

Her eyes narrowed in surprise.

"Oh, I'm sorry." He continued sarcastically, "I thought we were friends now, since you just lied to me in a pathetic attempt to spare my feelings."

"I was not lying." She countered, "You may not be my favorite person, Lore, but I never rooted against you."

"Whatever you say." He sneered. "Where is Troi? She said she had something else to tell me. As if I need something else!"

"Ah." Crusher nodded.

"You know what it is?" He said, "Well, isn't that nice? I guess I'm the only one in the dark around here."

"Troi's waiting for you in the observation lounge. I'll take you there."

"I don't need a babysitter." He barked.

"Just shut up and come on." Crusher sighed.

Lore followed her, reluctantly, toward the exit. Just as they reached it, he could not help but look back at the office door behind him. Anna had been angry with him before. She had refused to speak to him before, but she always forgave him. That was some solace, and he latched onto it in a kind of hopeful desperation. A few hours, maybe a few days, and everything would be okay. Right?

Right.

)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Crusher quickly looked around the promenade and was immensely relieved when she didn't see any members of the press. They were usually easy to spot, though she knew that some of them could be quite tricky, and were not above hiding in plain sight. Like everyone who spent most of their careers on Starships, Crusher had been hard pressed to acclimate herself to the non-stop media frenzy atmosphere of Earth. There was simply no place like Earth.

"What happened to Anna?"

Crusher looked up at Lore's sharp question, which he asked without looking at her. As irritated as she was, she could tell that he was genuinely worried. She sighed, "She was in torpedo bay two trying to keep the weapons online. When the collision happened, we think the force field generator at the end of the launch tube was destroyed. There was sudden decompression in the room and….I suppose she panicked, forgot her training. She didn't blow all of the air out of her lungs, she held her breath. Her left lung burst and her right suffered severe circulatory damage."

Lore stopped in his tracks and starred at her. The look on his face was….Well, Crusher had never thought she would see a look like that on his face. He looked like he was in pain.

"How did she make it?" Lore asked quietly. They were standing practically in the middle of the promenade gallery, but no one appeared to be giving them much notice.

Crusher rubbed two fingers against her temple. Technically, she was not supposed discuss patients' medical histories without their consent, but she could not ignore this situation. The desperation in Lore's eyes, and the sheer novelty of that look in him pushed her beyond her professional ethics.

"Her lungs were completely shot. If Briggs hadn't managed to set an emergency field and get in there as quickly as he did, we wouldn't have been able to do anything." She sighed, "There was a method I read about, using holograms. We were able to program a set of holographic lungs and set them into her chest cavity, but in order for it to work we had to make sure that she couldn't move at all. I had to paralyze her."

Lore drew a deep breath, and his pained look only seemed to intensify, "But, organ transplants are simple operations. Why is she still ill?"

"Her physiology. She's half human, half El'Aurian, and it caused complications. She would have rejected standard organ replication. We had to grow a new set of lungs for her from her own stem cells, and the lungs are still young and weak. It took….Well, it took some time."

"How long?" He demanded.

"Two weeks."

"What!" Lore clenched his jaw like a vice and looked away from her, "She was paralyzed for two weeks?"

"She made it through, Lore. She's damned lucky." Crusher looked away from him then, for even though she was breaking every rule of doctor-patient confidentiality already, she could not tell him about those two weeks. She could not tell him about Anna's delirious screams and the things she had said, the things she had begged for. A shiver went up Crusher's spine as she remembered. She had never spoken to Anna about them, and she hoped desperately that she did not remember any of it.

"You saved her life." Lore said, "Thank you."

Crusher nodded silently. She looked out over the promenade and continued walking. It was the middle of the day and the gallery was busy at the lunch hour. Against the opposing wall from the promenade café was the large corridor that led to the Enterprise airlock. The shift change was on, and a large number of people were coming and going through the passage. Crusher surveyed the crowd to see if Geordi or Worf might be among them when she spotted a white face near the entrance. Crusher gasped as she recognized B-4. He appeared to be hesitating at the corridor entrance, his eyes looking over the promenade in wonder.

Shit. B-4 knew that he was not supposed to be on the station, not after Maddox's little hissy fit. She wondered just what the hell he was doing, but could not do anything about it at the moment. As if deciding that the promenade no longer interested him, B-4 suddenly turned away and began to walk back through the corridor toward the Enterprise.

"Data?" Lore's voice rang out as his eyes focused on the corridor ahead. He had seen him.

"No, Lore. Stay here." Crusher said quickly, trying to block his path.

"Data!" Lore shouted. He turned angry eyes onto Crusher, "You lied to me. Why would everyone lie to me!"

"You don't understand!" Crusher shouted, but it was no use. Lore was already around her and running in the direction of the corridor. He pressed against the wall to get past people without shoving them aside, Crusher desperate to maintain a distance behind him. She had no idea what his reaction would be. No one knew anything about Lore's relationship with B-4, or if there even was one. Would he even know him?

"Lore, wait!" She shouted.

"Data, stop!" Lore said a final time as he reached B-4 and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Data, why would you—." Lore gasped and took a step back.

Crusher stood frozen a few feet behind Lore, looking on the scene in useless trepidation. She had no idea what was going to happen, but she certainly did not expect what happened next.

"Bee?" Lore gasped. He narrowed his eyes and seemed to examine B-4's face very closely.

"Hello, Lore." B-4 said brightly, "How have you been?"

Lore's expression was frozen for several long seconds before it finally cracked.

"Bee!" Lore's voice broke in a sudden, almost hysterical laugh. He rushed forward and wrapped his arms around B-4 in a hug that would have killed anyone else instantly. "How did you get here!"

B-4 smiled happily as Lore finally released him, "I walked from my quarters to the turbo lift, then instructed the turbo lift to take me to deck six, then walked—."

"You haven't even changed!" Lore shouted. He looked as if he were about to hug B-4 again, but seemed to collect himself quickly. He turned his eyes to the ceiling, closed them for a moment, then turned to Crusher. "Where did he come from? How did you find him?"

"It's a long story." Crusher said, shaking her head in shock. This was not at all what she would have expected. The look of sheer joy on Lore's face was something she would have expected from anyone else, but not him. She forced herself to continue, "And I doubt you're going believe it without proof, which Troi has. In the observation room. Now, would you please come with me."

Lore turned to B-4, still shaking his head in a most wild kind of wonder. "We were never able to find you, Bee. We searched for as long as we could, but—." Lore suddenly stopped talking as he glanced quickly at Crusher.

She looked from Lore to B-4 and back again. Lore had questions, but so did they, and it appeared that Lore knew more about B-4's past than any of them did.

Lore shook his head and turned back to B-4. He motioned with his hand, "Come on. Let's go see Troi."

B-4 did not move, "I am sorry, Lore. I am not allowed aboard the station."

Lore frowned, "Why not?"

Crusher felt the bottom of her stomach turn to lead. This was not going to be good.

"The station manager told Captain Picard that I am not allowed aboard the station." B-4 replied.

"Yes, Bee, but why would the station manager ban you?" Lore pressed.

Crusher was surprised at the ease with which Lore spoke to B-4, phrasing his question in a way most likely to get a correct answer. Lore knew B-4, obviously. It was a glimpse into both their pasts.

"I did something bad." B-4 said, his tone falling slightly. He even looked away from Lore, as if he was ashamed.

"What?" Lore demanded. He was clearly growing angry now, and he kept shooting questioning looks in Crusher's direction.

B-4 frowned, "I struck Captain Maddox and injured him. Captain Maddox says I am dangerous, so the station manager thinks I am dangerous, and that is not good."

Lore's expression darkened to the point that Crusher actually took a step back. He glared at her, opening accusing. "What was Maddox doing here?"

"You'll have to ask Geordi." Crusher said slowly, trying to calm him, "Anna knows about it too. She was there."

"I don't want Bruce Maddox anywhere near him!" Lore fumed.

"Lore, could we please not discuss this in the middle of an airlock gangway." Crusher sighed. She was on her last nerve with him. Really.

Lore grumbled and grabbed B-4 by the sleeve, "Come on."

"Lore, he can't board the station." Crusher groaned.

"You know what, Doc? I recently learned a new phrase that I think is quite appropriate here. Screw them." With that, he pulled B-4 in the direction of the station and did not release him until he was sure that he would follow. Crusher led the way back into the promenade and to the left, where they quickly entered a narrower corridor leading to a glass door. The room beyond was small but sported the strange design of having multiple glass circles in the floor. Below, one could see a massive view of the Enterprise under repair.

Troi got up from the sofa against the far wall and sighed when she saw B-4. She shrugged, "I guess there's no point in me telling you, then."

"Why didn't you tell me you had B-4?" Lore demanded.

Troi threw up her hands in a huff, "I'm not even going to dignify that with a response. You don't listen to anyone when it doesn't suit you. Bee, you know you're not allowed to be on the station right now."

Rather than frowning, which Troi would have expected, B-4 beamed a happy smile and said, "Screw them!"

"Oh, that's great." Crusher muttered.

Troi looked from Lore to B-4 slowly, "So, you know him?"

Lore cocked his head as if he was confused, "Of course I know him. Why wouldn't I?"

Troi shrugged, "We know almost nothing about his history. When he was built, when he was deactivated. We weren't sure if Dr. Soong deactivated him before or after creating you."

Lore laughed, but it was a bitter sound, "Deactivated? Is that what you think? Oh, my dear Counselor, my father did not deactivate B-4. Who spun that little tale?"

Troi and Crusher exchanged worried glances before Troi met his eyes against, "What do you mean? What happened?"

Lore clenched his jaw for a moment and looked at each of them. Troi could sense the indecision warring within him, but she said nothing. Finally, he looked down through one of the windows in the floor and said, "The colonists killed him. They ambushed him on the path between my father's lab and the village. They incapacitated him and then took him apart piece by piece."

Troi's cheeks went pale, and Crusher only had to look at her to know that Lore was absolutely telling the truth.

"But…." Crusher began, "Why? Why would they do that?"

Lore scoffed, "Why else? They thought he was me. He didn't tell you any of this?"

All three of them turned their eyes on B-4. He was looking around the room with wonder, as if their conversation was not of much interest to him. Suddenly, he glanced at Troi with a very guilty smile.

"I am not supposed to be aboard the station."