XXVI.

"I told you so."

Who is Arik?

Anna stared at the young Bajoran woman who had stopped in the middle of the room. She had noticed her a moment before Blake tried to direct her out. Perhaps she was looking for another civilian who had wandering into the restricted area? It wasn't until she glanced at Lore that she realized something different was going on. He was stiff as a board and his eyes like disks. He spun around suddenly, bumping his hip into the control table so hard that it actually shifted.

"Teni?" Lore gasped.

Anna looked at the woman, confused, and saw her give Lore a kind a guilty shrug. Anna's mind was blank for a moment as she watched the space between the two of them. Did Lore know this person? She raised her hand, just about to tap Lore on the back of his arm, when all his composure broke.

"What are you doing here!" He cried, demanded.

Teni jumped a little, but did not appear at all afraid, "I was in the system, so I just thought I would say hello."

Anna looked at Lore, for she could not think of what else to do. She was trying to react, somehow, but knew too little about what was going on. Who is this person? How does she know Lore? And why the hell would she call him Arik?

Lore's expression became incredulous, "'In the system.' What!"

Teni folder her arms over her chest, and Anna could not help but notice that it was a substantial chest. In fact, she suddenly could not help but notice everything about the woman. She was just slightly taller than Anna with long mahogany hair and skin like a porcelain doll. Her long dress hugged a smooth, hourglass figure that could rival Seven's physique, and that was certainly saying something.

"Remember, I told you my cousin was coming to pick me up at Risa." Teni continued, apparently unperturbed by Lore's less than friendly greeting, "It turns out he's part of some Federation good-will thing, or something. We're here while his freighter is getting engine upgrades. I get to see Earth. Isn't that great!"

Cousin? Risa? Anna's expression was blank, almost numb, and did nothing to betray to unhindered turmoil beneath.

Lore brought his hands to the sides of his head in a most uncharacteristic show of frustration. He turned around and looked at Anna, his eyes still wide. She looked at him, but her expression was empty. It only seemed to make his distress worse.

Teni walked a little further into the room, her eyes twinkling with some kind of amusement, "Wow, you….You really look different."

"This is what I really look like." Lore said through clenched teeth, "You shouldn't be here, Teni."

She frowned a little, "Oh. Oh! Because of the civilian thing? It's not like I'm some Dominion agent come to steal secrets." She laughed, "There really should be guards or something if they don't want people down here."

"That's not what I meant!" Lore hissed.

Anna looked at the woman again, and when she once again saw almost no reaction to Lore's bad mood, her stomach sank. Everyone reacted badly when Lore was mad. Except her, but that was because she knew better, she knew him. Did this woman know him too? Her brow contorted into a short burst of pain. Why did she suddenly feel sick?

"Um…." Anna muttered absently. She took a step away from the control table just as she snatched up a tool kit she did not need, "I think I'm going to—."

"Anna, wait." Lore blurted out, his eyes darting between the two of them. He looked at Teni, then at Anna, before his expression sank and something seemed to occur to him. Something troublesome.

Yeah, Anna thought, ruefully. She felt the heat rising on the back of her neck and knew, as she always did, that her cheeks were red. Damnit! She took another step away from the table. She wasn't thinking clearly. She wasn't thinking at all. She just knew she wanted to get away from the nausea rising in her throat, and hiding in the Jefferies tubes felt like a good way to do it.

"Oh! You're Anna?" Teni said, her brow rising.

Yeah. Who the fuck are you? Anna bit the side of her tongue harshly, "Yes."

Whether it was intentional or not, Anna could not say, but Teni's eyes made a quick head to toe pass over Anna. She smiled.

$#%&! Anna snatched one of the data-pads from the table, added it to her kit, and turned toward the junction room.

"Anna!" Lore cried.

"I'll ask Geordi to give you a pass today. You're clearly busy." Anna mumbled as she moved quickly to the junction room. She didn't know why she was fleeing like this. It was childish, stupid. She didn't know anything about this woman and…did she care? Did she have a right to care? Hypocrisy was something people saw in the light of day, and right now she felt like a dark cloud was eating her up. She reached the junction room door, praying that Lore was not following, and immediately reached for the panel to close it behind her. When the door closed unhindered she sucked in a deep breath. She hadn't realized she wasn't breathing. The Jefferies tube hatch was open, the dim void calling her like an island in the sea. She climbed in and slammed it shut behind her. She paused a few seconds, waiting for the sound of the junction room door to open, waiting for Lore to come rushing after her. When she heard nothing, she was immensely relieved. Briefly. Then the worry set in.

Maybe he doesn't have to explain anything. Maybe it's all obvious.

She rubbed her hands over her face, trying to smooth the turbulent thoughts out of her head. What the hell was wrong with her? Wasn't this what she wanted, in some fashion? Hadn't she decided that she needed to move on, that she already was moving on? Sure, she had agreed to work with him today, but that had just been a common courtesy, right? There was no need to be nasty and uncivil. It wasn't as if the thought of being alone with him all day had sent her insides to melt, even only for a moment. No. She had made this decision. She had thought about it! In fact, wouldn't it all be so much easier if Lore had a reason to direct his attentions elsewhere? Then everyone could happy.

Anna's gut knotted again. She tapped her badge, "Hall to Blake."

"Blake here."

"Forget about working with Seven today. I'm going to nacelle control now."

"Oh." Blake replied, followed by a pause, "But…I thought you and Lore were going to—."

"We can just work on our original schedule."

A long sigh came through the comm,"Understood."

"Thanks." She tapped her badge again and began the slow crawl to the ladder well. It was only zero seven hundred hours, but Anna already knew that she would be skipping lunch today. Her stomach was not going to allow anything else.

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

Teni turned back to Lore, a bright open smile on her face, "Oh, she's very pretty! Kind of shy though."

Lore ran his hands from the side of his head and down over his face. What the hell had just happened? Everything had been going so well, and then…this! He stared at the junction room door, the door through which he should be running right now, and felt his skin crawl. Why would Anna leave so quickly? Lore was an intelligent person, but his ability to conjure up possibilities that he found ridiculous was rather limited, and the idea that Anna would be jealous of Teni was something he would definitely find ridiculous. Anna knew that he loved her, that he could never love anyone else. Surely. After all, that fact was obvious. Wasn't it?

Isn't it? He looked at Teni again, and for a brief moment he acknowledged her overall feminine beauty. Oh, shit. No!

"Damnit, Teni! What the hell are you doing here?"

Teni frowned, the way one would at a screaming child, "I told you. I'm here with my cousin Rolt and I wanted to see how you were doing. I thought you were here because….Well, I looked you up after you told me your name and the personnel file said you lived on the Enterprise before you left, and here's the Enterprise, so I thought 'what the hell?'"

"'What the hell', is right!"

"Why are you so angry?" Teni said, crossing her arms tighter, "Doesn't everyone know where you were while you were gone and all that? I mean, does it matter?"

Lore looked at the junction room door again. There was no point in explaining, for at this moment all he had was his own conjecture. Worried, painful conjecture. He thought of the strange blank way in which Anna had stared at Teni, and it made his shoulders tighten. This was great. This was just great!

"Why are you here, Teni?" He asked again, and this time his voice was low and dark. He really wanted to know, and he was not thinking about her damn cousin and his stupid ship.

Teni sighed again, about to retort with the same answer, before something in his harsh gaze stopped her. She cocked her head, confused, before realization dawned, "Oh. You mean, why didn't I run for the hills as soon as I found how who and what you are? Is that what you mean?"

"Yes!" He hissed.

She shrugged, "I read the entire Federation profile, Lore. Besides, you can't be all bad. You helped me."

Un—be—lievable.

Lore cast his eyes to the ceiling for a moment before throwing up his hands, "Fine. Fine. That's how I'm doing, Teni. Now you can go."

She rolled her eyes, "Prophets! You're still such a jerk!"

Blake belted a laugh, which came through his hand like some sort of hiccup. Lore narrowed his eyes at Blake before he stepped to Teni's side and applied a very serious pressure to her back, pushing her toward the exit.

"Hey, hey! I'm going!" She said as Lore continued to press her into the corridor. She looked at Blake as they moved swiftly by, "Is he always this mean?"

Blake could only laugh some more before as they disappeared into the corridor and Lore pulled her in the direction of the turbo lift. Once they were out of sight of main engineering, Teni spun around. A good portion of her amusement was gone, and Lore was a little surprised to see that she looked genuinely hurt.

"Why are you being so mean to me?" She asked. She clutched her hands against her stomach in the old anxious manner he remembered, "Is it so much to want to say hello to the person who saved my life? Is this…is this because of the kiss?"

"Shut up!" Lore turned around, checking the corridor frantically. The fact that he didn't see anyone lessened his panic only slightly, "Be quiet, Teni!"

Her eyes widened, "Oh, God. It is, isn't it? I don't feel that way anymore. I swear! You told me about Anna. I wouldn't try to—." Teni stopped talking suddenly. Her brow furrowed in a look of intense worry, and Lore could only imagine what was going on in that head of hers.

"You just had to come here, didn't you?" Lore said, shaking his head, "You've ruined everything! She was going to forgive me, I could see it, and then you had to show up and put ridiculous ideas into her head!"

Teni's jaw fell open, "Oh, no. Oh, no! I'm sorry, Lore! She—she can't think that you and me…." Teni brought her fingers to her lips and began anxiously chewing on one of her finger nails.

"Please, just leave. I…." He sighed. He could see that Teni was sincerely apologetic, but what did that matter? He knew better than most that apologies were next to worthless when it came to fixing anything.

Teni looked up, still working on her finger nail, "Maybe I could talk to her, let her know that it isn't like that."

"No." He said sharply, "Just stay away from her."

Lore stared at her until she nodded in understanding. They were only a few yards from the turbo lift and Lore pressed her lower back again in that directly. She walked silently, her shoulders slumping in a way that really made him feel bad, but he was too worried about Anna to spare charity for anyone else, including Teni. They approached the lift and Teni stopped at the opened door. He was ready to push her in and send her on her way before she turned and gave him a devastating look. Blake would call it the 'you-killed-my-puppy' look.

I don't need this….

"Lore," Teni began with a sigh, "you said Anna had 'almost forgiven you'. What does that mean? Is she angry at you for leaving?"

He clenched his jaw, "Don't worry about it. It isn't your concern."

She sighed again, "I knew it. She's really angry, isn't she? I would be too. I told you so."

I told you so! "Good bye, Teni." He pressed her into the lift, gentle but firm.

"Okay, okay. Crying out loud!" She muttered. He released her and Teni smiled, actually making a little laugh, "Ha! I knew you weren't so mad about seeing me. It's Anna you're mad about. Well, good luck. Really, I mean that." She pressed the panel on the wall, "Maybe I'll talk to her if she still won't forgive you."

"No—."

"Bye!" The lift doors hissed shut and she was gone.

Lore groaned aloud as he turned and stomped back toward main engineering. Blake, Briggs, and an entirely oblivious LaForge stood around the control table. LaForge was focused on the screen before him, but Briggs and Blake both gave Lore uncomfortable stares.

"Who was that?" Briggs said, giving Blake a conspiratorial look.

"Yeah." Blake agreed quickly.

Lore approached the edge of the control table and slowly rested his hands on the edge. "Shut. Up."

LaForge looked up finally, his sleep deprived eyes rimmed in red, "What's going on now?"