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2a. Book 2 Toil and Trouble - Part 1: Anticipation

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Part 1 - Anticipation

Chapter 1
December 2268
Gideon marched toward the conference room with an expression of sheer triumph on his face. He’d just finished talking to General McLean, who’d ordered the refit of the Excalibur, and Gideon had convinced him that it was unnecessary for the entire command crew of the ship to stay on board while the work was being done.
There was only one fly in the ointment. How was he going to tell Sarah that she wasn’t getting the vacation that the others were? It was essential that she stayed and familiarized herself and the medical team with the new equipment as Medbay was the most important part of the refit,. Gideon felt enormous satisfaction that it was the work done by him and his team on Eriadne, and the instruments they’d brought back from there, that had led to the breakthroughs made in the four months since they’d left.
But now there was a chance to go back. He’d got McLean to agree that he and some of his key personnel could vacation on Eriadne, making it a working holiday, seeing if there were any more undiscovered secrets that could be of value. This gave him the excuse for the detour to drop them there.
Of course, as far as the General was concerned, Gideon and his team were visiting a castle abandoned by the Vorlons, and a friendly Brakiri colony that had told them they were welcome to return at any time. McLean knew nothing about the inhabitants of the castle. Gideon had made damned sure that no one in Earthforce knew anything about them. But visiting those inhabitants was high on his priority list for the trip.
[And not just visiting.] Gideon’s triumphant expression turned to a lazy smile of anticipation as he strode down the ship’s corridor. He’d contacted the bridge and called a meeting for his senior team as soon as he was off the line from the General. Now to break the good news.
________________________________________
When Gideon arrived the full team was assembled. Max and Dureena were sitting close to each other as usual, after their time on Eriadne they’d become close. Max was also happy because some of the discoveries he’d made on the planet had been amply rewarded by IPX, putting him in credit for years to come.
John Matheson stood waiting as always; he’d never sit until his captain was in the room. Sarah Chambers spoke quietly with Galen, who seemed to be spending more time aboard Excalibur recently but was as remote as ever. Gideon realized that it was weeks since he and Galen had talked privately. He wondered if he’d done something to annoy the Technomage. Unlikely, as if he had Galen would have told him. Bluntly.
Gideon stood in front of the viewing screen, leaning back on the shelf there with his legs and arms crossed. "I’ve got some news."
They quieted and looked at him as Matheson slipped into a chair next to Dureena. Gideon suspected that John could guess he had something good to tell them all despite the poker face the captain was careful to maintain. John knew his captain well and didn’t need his telepathy to be able to read Gideon’s excitement.
"You all know how much progress has been made with the equipment we brought back from Eriadne—and yes, Max, I know that most of that is down to you. We all know that you’re a genius, you don’t have to tell us again." Gideon’s mouth was quirked into a half smile as he said it and Max sat up straighter in his chair, preening slightly. "And you don’t have to tell us again how much IPX paid you in bonuses for some of that stuff either. We might ask for a cut." They were all laughing now; even Max was smiling at the joke at his expense.
"Well, the news gets better. The smart guys have figured out how to turn the Eriadne tech into upgrades for Medbay and engineering. We’re going to be refitted and we’re on our way to the shipyards at Sirius Minor for an overhaul." There were groans from around the room. Sirius Minor was known as the armpit of the sector because R&R facilities were so primitive. Gideon maintained the poker face.
"But we’re going on a small detour first." He turned to Sarah Chambers, "I’m really sorry Sarah but they’re going to need you on board for the refit. They need you to co-ordinate and get your team up to speed on the changes."
Chambers shrugged her shoulders. "That’s OK, Captain, it sounds interesting. I’ve always regretted I wasn’t with you on Eriadne B when you discovered all those wonderful things." No one would quite meet her eyes at this point. Gideon pushed on.
"But the rest of us get a short break. A working vacation."
Max groaned. "Why can’t we have a non-working vacation?"
Gideon looked over at him. "Thought IPX didn’t pay you for vacations, Max? Looking for us to chip in again? Well this time you get the chance to make a few more bonuses while having some fun." Gideon’s mouth twitched again as he knew he now had their attention.
Matheson spoke for the first time "And where does this detour take us, Captain? Where do we get to take this working vacation?" He obviously knew that Gideon had been drawing it out, building their anticipation, but had decided he wanted to know where this was going.
Gideon looked straight at Matheson, his smile becoming more apparent.
"Eriadne B."
Matheson leaned forward abruptly. Gideon could see his mouth moving, forming a single word "Lily.”
Gideon turned to Sarah and said, “Sorry you’re still not going to get chance to visit the planet, Sarah.”
Chambers sighed. “Me too. But I wish you luck with your trip and I hope the welcome there is as warm as it was on your last visit.” Then she smiled at Gideon and winked. The doctor was the only person on the Excalibur in whom Gideon had confided about what had happened to him on Eriadne B. He’d needed to talk to someone about his nightmares, and he trusted Sarah completely.
Max smirked. “I think we can all be sure of a warm welcome, don’t you?” He turned and looked at Galen. “Oh, maybe not you so much, Galen. You didn’t really hit it off with the sisters, did you?”
Galen gave a blatantly false smile in return. "Oh, I think I’d better come along don’t you? Just in case something nasty has got out of a Box." He swept out of the conference room, leaving an atmosphere of tension behind him instead of the happiness that had existed a moment before.
Gideon watched as the door closed behind him. "Well, he sure knows how to rain on my parade." He shook his head and looked over at his XO. He knew that Matheson had spent much of the last few months thinking about Lily, missing her and wanting her. Max and Dureena started hugging each other, both smiling broadly as they talked about Ilas and how happy she’d be to see them.
Gideon stood up straight and pulled down at the edge of his black jacket. He turned back to Matheson.
"We’ll be stopping off at Deneb IV on the way, to pick up engineering crew. That’s where Luke Raven is practicing isn’t it? Why don’t you give him a call and see if he can join us?" Matheson reached out and grasped Gideon’s arm in thanks and left without saying a word. Gideon turned to Max and Dureena.
"Would someone like to say, ‘thank you, Captain’? Do you have any idea how tough it was to convince McLean to let us do this?" Dureena rose awkwardly and walked over to Gideon, standing on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.
"Thank you, Captain. Although I don’t think you’ve been entirely altruistic; I think you have a pretty good reason to want to go back there yourself, don’t you?" She smiled up at him. He gazed back and raised his eyebrows.
"Who me? Entirely disinterested. Just looking after the wellbeing of my crew." He allowed a smile to show for the first time as he looked down at her. Dureena kissed him again then turned to link her arm through Max’s and left.
Chambers stood. "How long do you get to stay there, Matt?" She knew Gideon was eager to return despite the trauma he’d gone through on his first trip.
"Two weeks, Sarah. Two whole weeks." He broke into a broad grin.
________________________________________
Gideon sat in his command chair, shuffling a pack of cards, every so often glancing impatiently at the viewing screen. Any minute now they’d drop out of hyperspace at Deneb IV. But much more importantly, this jump would bring them close enough to contact Eriadne. They’d be able to call and let the sisters know that they were on their way. From Deneb to Eriadne was less than a two-day jump.
Before the Excalibur had left Eriadne they’d upgraded the communications equipment in the castle. This was one of the areas where the Vorlons had left the women ill equipped. They’d had no way of making contact with anyone beyond the planet’s surface. So Gideon had ordered a hyperspace link installed but to make sure that it wasn’t misused, he and Deborah had agreed that the best idea was to upgrade the comm unit she had in her rooms. They’d made themselves scarce for a couple of hours while the technicians had carried out the installation, all evidence of which had later been removed from the Excalibur’s records.
So now he was waiting for his ship to drop out of hyperspace so he could call Deborah and let her know that they were on their way. Matheson was standing at the front of the bridge, watching the helm read outs, holding his headset close to his ear, listening intently. Gideon knew that his XO would let him know immediately they were ready to jump. He kept his head down and carried on shuffling the pack of cards.
Matheson turned abruptly "Ready to jump, Captain."
[About time!] "Jump." Gideon couldn’t get the word out fast enough and stood, striding forward to join Matheson at the front of the bridge. While they waited for the vortex to form Gideon spoke quietly.
"Everything OK with Raven? Is he able to join us?"
Matheson nodded. "Trace is getting the shuttle ready. As soon as we’re in normal space I’ll go get him. We’ll be back before the engineering crew arrive." Gideon nodded and watched as the hole in the surrounding redness formed and the blackness of normal space showed in the gap. With a surge of energy the Excalibur pushed through. As soon as they’d fully emerged Gideon turned to the comm station.
"Call Eriadne B. Put them through to the conference room on a secure channel and shut off recording." Gideon wanted to be sure that there was no record of this call. He turned quickly with Matheson hard on his heels. They walked through the map room and on into the conference room, letting the doors close behind them. Gideon moved to the front of the room and sat on the edge of the table.
Matheson had stopped just inside the door. "Do you want me to leave, Captain?"
Gideon looked around at him. "No, John, stay. Maybe Deborah can get Lily in on the call. You know how those sisters ‘talk’." He grinned at Matheson then turned back to the screen as the signal started to come through. After a burst of static, the picture cleared and he was looking at an empty room. An instant later Deborah appeared and he stood up ready to speak when he realized that it was a recording telling him she was unavailable, please leave a message. [Shit!] He turned back to Matheson and smiled ruefully "Looks like we’re out of luck, John." He faced the screen and spoke.
"Deborah, sorry we missed you. Maybe putting this thing in your rooms wasn’t such a good idea. I just wanted to let you know that you’re going to have some visitors, if that’s OK. John, Luke, Max, Dureena, Galen and I plan to come on a visit. Seems a bit of a crowd to turn up uninvited, but you did say that if we were ever back this way… OK we’ll be there in…" he turned back to Matheson.
"43 hours and 27 minutes, approximately."
Gideon shook his head, smiling and turned back to the screen. "What he said. See you soon." He leaned forward and hit the control that ended the transmission.
"Got any plans for the next 43 hours and 27 minutes, Lieutenant?" He picked up the deck of cards from the table where he’d left them and held them up. "When you and Luke get back maybe we could try a hand of poker?"
Matheson laughed. "Only if I get Dureena to deal my cards. I’ll see you when we get back." He started to leave but Gideon called him back.
“John, we’ll need to be sure there’s no record of the message we just sent. Remember, as far as Earthforce is concerned, the sisters don’t exist.”
Matheson nodded. “I’ll get straight onto it as soon I get back. But right now I have a shuttle to catch.” He left for the landing bay at top speed.
________________________________________
Gideon was sitting at the desk in his quarters, thinking about their impending arrival at Eriadne B. A smile broke out on his face as he thought about Deborah. He’d missed her much more than he’d anticipated and was looking forward to seeing her again, more than he’d looked forward to anything in a long time. And what really surprised him was that he wasn’t just thinking about the sex. [But great Booji, the sex was something else!]
The sex had been like nothing Gideon had ever felt in his life before. Making love to an empath who projected her orgasms had been an almost literally mind-blowing experience. So it made sense that he’d missed the sex and that he was anticipating having a lot more of it when he was with Deborah again. Since his return from Eriadne, Gideon had taken the secret picture he had of her out of its hiding place regularly. Jerking off while looking at it and remembering the things he’d done with her was the nearest thing he’d had to sex since he’d left Eriadne. So another thing he was looking forward to was asking Deborah to wear the outfit she had on in that picture and then taking it off her, slowly, until she stood naked before him and then…
Quickly suppressing the arousal that thinking about Deborah naked always brought on, Gideon decided that this time he’d take a holocamera with him on his visit, so he could take many more pictures and vids of her, in whatever state of dress or undress she would allow, all to be kept securely on a data crystal concealed in his quarters.
To his surprise Gideon found he’d missed more than Deborah’s body and the sex. He’d missed talking to her, listening to her, laughing with her. Deborah had a dry, self-deprecating humor that had left him breathless with laughter on occasions, and Gideon had needed that. Since he took command of the Excalibur he’d almost forgotten how to laugh. He wanted to be with Deborah so he could feel that way again.
As for the rest of his command crew—well, it was clear how happy they were. None of them had been able to think or talk about anything other than Eriadne when they were in private. Gideon stopped smiling as he remembered that there was one of his team who didn’t seem happy about their going back there. Galen.
Gideon leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest as he thought about Galen’s attitude. There was definitely something bothering the Technomage. Since their return from Eriadne, Galen had been more distant and brooding than ever. Gideon had assumed it was something to do with the Apocalypse Box, and that Galen hadn’t been happy about leaving it with the sisters. Gideon couldn’t blame the Technomage; he hadn’t been too enthusiastic about leaving the Box behind himself, especially where Angel could get hold of it. Gideon didn’t trust Angel to leave it alone.
Angel. Just the name brought back some very dark memories. Gideon couldn’t forget the pain he’d experienced as a result of her actions. It had been bad enough when Angel had tied him down and all but raped him, but when she’d cast her ‘spell’ he’d suffered excruciating agony. He still had nightmares about being expelled from his own body and hanging, all but lifeless, in the misty nothingness of the Apocalypse Box.
Almost worse than the memories of the pain and nothingness were the fleeting glimpses he remembered from the time when Lucas Buck had inhabited his body. Memories of hurting Deborah, Angel and Lily. Memories of shooting his best friend, John Matheson. All that was down to Angel and he still hadn’t forgiven her.
The problem was that Gideon didn’t know which was stronger: his anger with Angel or his lust for her. Because he couldn’t deny the latter. That had become blatantly obvious in the library. Whenever Gideon thought about Angel, he was hit by guilt for what he’d done there. He’d lost control; he’d been angry with her, and yes, he’d wanted her, which was why he’d taken her that way. He knew he’d caused her pain when he’d taken her forcefully, even brutally.
On many occasions since then Gideon had cursed himself for how he’d left Angel. Her calling him Lucas had made him see red, and he hadn’t given a damn how much she was hurt by his words. But despite his anger, he’d kept a secret picture of Angel, hidden in the same secure location as that of Deborah, and he’d taken it out of its hiding place on more than one occasion. Just that image of Angel was enough to arouse him. How would he react when she was in front of him in the flesh? [Oh god, that flesh!] When he saw that beautiful face, that soft raven hair, the sparkling blue eyes, the stunning body that just begged to be… Again, Gideon had to suppress the arousal that even thinking about Angel brought on.
During the previous four months of going over and over his feelings for the two sisters, Gideon had finally reached a conclusion. He was going back to Eriadne to see and be with Deborah. He’d steer well clear of Angel, and if he did see her, he’d do his best to be polite but reserved. He would not let his desire for her overwhelm him again. He wouldn’t rip the clothes off that perfect body and take her, hard, in whatever place they found themselves. He wouldn’t fuck her like he had before. He wouldn’t…
The captain felt a familiar breeze blowing from behind him and turning, looked at Galen. "I was wondering when you’d come by."
Galen moved further into the room, his expression a blank mask "We need to talk, Matthew," he said quietly.
Gideon nodded. "I agree. I was about to come and find you. Are you going to tell me what’s been going on with you? Or do I have to guess?"
Galen cleared his throat. "I want to talk to you about Eriadne."
Gideon smiled. "It’s great news isn’t it? I’m looking forward to seeing Deborah."
Galen raised an eyebrow. "And Angel too?"
Gideon paused as he thought how best to respond. Remembering his earlier conclusion he said, "Galen, I intend to keep well out of her way. She’s nothing but trouble."
"Well, Matthew, maybe you should have thought of that before you met her in the library." Galen’s voice was low and steely.

Over the past few months Galen had thought about what he’d seen many times. The brutal way Gideon had taken Angel, the cold way he’d left her crying on the table. He’d brooded about it and decided not to say anything. But now they were going back, he wanted to make sure that Gideon didn’t abuse or hurt the young woman again.
Gideon was staring at Galen in stunned silence. When he found his voice his tone was wary. "What are you talking about?"
"Matthew, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I saw what happened. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the library and found you with Angel, in a rather… compromising position. If you think of her as nothing but trouble, then why did you meet her there? Did you just want to have her again?" The more Galen spoke the less calm he became.
Gideon responded angrily. "I didn’t meet her in the library. I was already there when she appeared in the doorway. We started fighting and…" He faltered.
"And what, things got heated so you fucked her?" Asked Galen angrily.
Gideon’s eyes widened at Galen’s words. "It wasn’t like that… look, things got out of control. It should never have happened."
"You’re right, Matthew, it shouldn’t have. Neither should you have spoken to her as you did. It was cruel to throw Lucas Buck at her like that, and her sister… what were you trying to do, punish her? Make her see that you weren’t Lucas, make her see what she couldn’t have?" Galen couldn’t stop himself.
The Technomage could see that Gideon was starting to get angry. "That is not what happened." Gideon paused and took in a deep breath. "I can’t even explain it to myself. OK, yes I admit I find her desirable. But she gets me mad every time she speaks and what happened… just did. I wasn’t trying to punish her. And what I said was in response to her calling me Lucas. God dammit, Galen for a moment she thought that I was him, and I snapped. She didn’t think of me as me, but as Lucas. It was like she was using me as some kind of meat puppet to pleasure her… again. Can you blame me for leaving the way I did?"
Galen sighed. "It’s the way you left that worries me. I don’t think you have any idea of the damage you could do to Angel." Gideon opened his mouth to speak, but Galen lifted a hand, cutting him off. "Let me explain. I know what you think of Angel, that she’s selfish and doesn’t care how much she hurts others as long as she gets what she wants. But you haven’t allowed yourself to look deeper. I got a chance to see her in a different light, and Matthew, I saw someone who feels more than she allows herself to show. She is more fragile emotionally, especially after her encounter with Lucas, than you can imagine."
Galen stopped to watch as Gideon turned to sit on the edge of his desk, his arms folded in front of him, then went on, "I want you to take great care how you behave when you see Angel. She’s attracted to you, for two reasons. One, because sometimes when she looks at you, you remind her of Lucas, and two because you are what Lucas wasn’t. Compassionate and considerate. Matthew, don’t do anything with Angel, just stay away from her. “
Gideon stood up and was now looking at the Mage with irritation in his eyes. "Have you quite finished?"
"Not quite. If you were to have…” Galen paused, searching for a neutral word. “…relations with Angel again, that would give her hope that something could happen between you. But then if you reject her, and I’m afraid that you would, given your…” He paused again, “… association with Demon, you could drive her to do something that would affect everyone badly." Galen’s tone was steely on the last sentence.
"What do you mean drive her… you’re not saying that she’d try to replace me with Lucas again are you?" Galen could hear the fear in his friend’s voice and his attitude softened a little. He knew how the experience of being banished from his own body must have been terrifying for Gideon, especially considering his previous experiences when Galen had saved him from dying alone in space.
He shook his head "No. Despite what you think, Angel loves her sister and would never do anything that would take you away from her." Gideon gave him a skeptical look and Galen hurried on " I know what you think, but you’re wrong. Matthew, I suspect that Angel is still in love with Lucas, and if you give her hope of there being something between the two of you and then reject her, I’m afraid that would drive her toward him."
"Lucas is gone!" Gideon frowned.
"No, Matthew, he’s still in the Box. Angel and Demon wouldn’t let me destroy him. And he still has a hold on Angel. Lucas created a bond, which although abusive, may never be broken. And I fear that if hurt and rejected Angel would turn to him."
"Are you saying that Angel could get him out the Box again?" Gideon asked with concern.
"Anything is possible where magic is concerned. Which is why I’m telling you, don’t get involved with Angel. I know it wouldn’t be your intention, but she’d be hurt and the consequences could be catastrophic." The sound of Gideon’s commlink buzzing interrupted them.
Gideon turned and lifted the comm to say, "Yes?"
"Captain, you said to inform you when Lt. Matheson returned," said the Ensign on the bridge.
"On my way." Gideon switched off the Comm and turned to Galen. "Sorry, Galen, but I have to go and welcome Dr. Raven." He paused at the door, saying, "Galen don’t worry, I have every intention of staying away from Angel. I like her sister and I don’t intend to do anything to hurt her. So you don’t have to worry, nothing will happen, now or ever, between me and Angel." Gideon moved forward, and the door opened. Before he walked out he looked back at Galen, a smile on his face. "Stop worrying so much, Galen, this is going to be a vacation. Nothing bad is going to happen." And with that Gideon walked out, the door closing behind him.
Galen looked at the closed door and shook his head, "That’s tempting fate, Matthew." Galen stood silently for a moment, and then placing his hood over his head, he left Gideon’s quarters.
________________________________________
Dr. Luke Raven's home and practice on Deneb IV was situated on the outskirts of a small town called Tripoli. John landed his shuttle in a clearing in a nearby grove of trees. He walked down the ramp and stood there, looking around at the scenery and taking a few deep breaths of the clean air. [A nice place to live.] Then he took the short walk to Luke's house.
John walked up the steps and paused in front of the door, suppressing his nervousness, then entered. He saw a reception area where a fair skinned brunette was sitting behind a desk, typing into her computer. She looked up at him and smiled as he approached. "Can I help you, Sir?"
"Good afternoon. Could I talk to Dr. Raven?"
"Do you have an appointment, Mr. ...?"
"Matheson, John Matheson. And... kind of."
Recognition blazed in her eyes as soon as she heard his name. "Oh, Lt. Matheson! You called ahead to ask if he'd be available over the next couple of weeks, right?"
John could have sworn that an amused smile played around her lips now, almost as if... [I must be imagining this - she can't know!] "Exactly. And call me John, I'm off duty."
"Okay, John. I'm Sara. Nice to meet you." She offered her hand and John hesitated for a moment. Luke obviously hadn’t told her that he was a telepath or she didn’t know that telepaths didn’t touch others if they could avoid it. He strengthened his shields and they shook hands. "Well, John, before I got chance to pass on your message, Luke told me he wasn't to be disturbed. He's had me cancel all his appointments for the rest of the day so he could catch up on his paperwork." Before John could say anything, she continued, "Just knock and go in, and prepare to duck in case some file or book comes flying at you." She indicated the door opposite her desk, smiling.
"Thanks a lot." John grinned and nodded, then did as he'd been told.

"What-is-it-now?" Dr. Luke Raven asked in a resigned voice when he heard the door open. "Sara, please don't tell me there's another emergency -" He looked up from his terminal and stopped mid-sentence when he saw who his visitor was; for a few seconds he just stared, his mouth open. "John? John! Tell me I'm not hallucinating, PLEASE!" He jumped up and grabbed John by the shoulders, looking at him wide-eyed. John noticed the rings under his eyes, and he seemed even thinner than the last time he'd seen him.
John said straight-faced, "OK, you’re not hallucinating," then smiled.
"Thank God!" Luke wrapped his arms around John for a fierce hug and ruffled his hair. "Darn it, it's good to see you again!" He held the young lieutenant at arm's length and eyed him suspiciously. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"The Excalibur has to be refitted with new equipment based on what we brought from Eriadne B. The command crew has been allowed to go on a working vacation of sorts for two weeks... to Eriadne B." There was no mistaking the sparkle in Luke's eyes when he mentioned their destination. "Since Dr. Chambers is needed on the Excalibur for the Medbay refit, and you’re the only other doctor who has experience with the Vorlons’ equipment, we wanted to ask if you could come with us."
Luke's heart leaped at the prospect of seeing Lily again, but then reality crashed in on him. "I would love to, but my patients are killing me, there's one emergency after another, and I didn't get any real sleep for about a month now and YES OF COURSE I’LL COME!"
John grinned delightedly. "Great! When can you finish here?"
"Right now!" Luke was rummaging through his office, picking up some medical equipment and putting it in his bag. Saying, "Let’s go," Luke stormed out the door. "Sara, you have two weeks off! Cancel all my appointments or send them to Dr. Roberts if it's urgent."
Sara smiled. "I will, boss!"
Luke was putting on his jacket, mind still racing. "I'm sure I forgot something..." he murmured while he tried to get his arm into the second sleeve.
Sara grinned and helped him. "Don't you worry, I'll cover for you. While you're on your trip, send me some means to contact you in case of a real emergency, and then forget that your office and I exist." She patted his shoulder and handed him a bag. Apparently she’d packed for him while he'd been talking to John. “Now go!" She lowered her voice and said teasingly, "I think I can guess where you’re going, lucky boy!"
Luke looked at her and shook his head. "I should know better than to tell you these things..." Then he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and shouted, "Bye!" when he stormed out the door pushing John ahead of him. John turned to shrug at Sara, grinning, and waved his hand as he left.
________________________________________
"You actually told her what happened during our stay on Eriadne?" John couldn't imagine telling his receptionist, if he'd had one.
"Yes." Luke shrugged, as if this was the most natural thing. Then he looked at John and grinned. "Oh, I forgot to tell you... Sara's my sister."
John stared at him, awestruck. "She isn't!"
"Course she is! But no one believes it at first because we don't look alike at all. Sara and I are very close - we always have been, despite the seven years age gap between us and our different temperaments. Maybe because of them."
He sat there musing for a while then shook his head as if waking up and looked at John, a smile spreading on his face. "Do they know we're coming?"
Back on the Excalibur, John led Raven to his quarters, which were the same rooms he’d occupied during his stint as replacement doctor for Sarah Chambers.
"Welcome home," John said as Luke sauntered into the room.
Luke sighed, stretching slightly, his back still turned. "Almost feels like it." Both men smiled.

 

Chapter 2
It had been over four months since Angel had visited the Apocalypse Box. She still struggled, trying to remember what had happened then. She remembered going down to the cellars and sitting on the ground with the Box in front of her, and how she’d felt irresistibly drawn to it. Next thing she knew her head had hurt and she’d sensed that something significant had happened. She’d suddenly felt afraid; she’d had the feeling that Lucas had spoken to her. Not in her imagination, but in reality. Angel had jumped up, quickly closed the Box, placed it on the shelf and made a hasty exit, resetting the binding and alarm spells as she’d left. She hadn’t been back, and she hadn’t heard any voice since, real or imagined.
Angel closed her eyes and leaned her head back. For some time she’d managed to put it all behind her. She’d tried not to think about Lucas. But Lucas wasn’t the only one she tried not to think about. Gideon. She couldn’t seem to stop thinking about him, either. She stopped pacing and sat on the edge of her bed, casting her mind back to the last time she’d seen Gideon in the library. Her stomach did a back flip at the memory of what had happened.
Angel heard his words echoing in her head. "You really are a bitch you know. You don’t care how much you hurt people do you? Me, your sister, anyone who gets in your way, you just trample over them to get what you want." She’d been so hurt that she’d struck out at him. And then… Angel shook her head, trying to clear her mind of what had happened. But she couldn’t, especially those last few moments. When she’d forgotten, because of the way he’d just taken her, that he wasn’t Lucas, and she’d whispered that name in his ear. Gideon’s last words were spoken with contempt.
"I’m not Lucas. Lucas is gone. And this will never happen again. You may hate your sister, but I don’t." He’d left abruptly, leaving her lying there sobbing and feeling worse after what he’d said than after anything Lucas had ever done.
She wondered again for the hundredth time about her feelings when it came to Lucas and Gideon. She could no longer decide if she was attracted to Gideon because he reminded her of Lucas or because he was different from Lucas. The only thing she did know was that she had on many occasions been angry that Gideon wasn’t Lucas. But that she wanted him because he wasn’t Lucas. Angel remembered how she’d watched Gideon and Demon on the terrace that day. Seeing how caring and gentle he’d been with Demon. That was what Angel wanted for herself. Everything that Lucas hadn’t been with her.
Angel let out another sigh and lay down. It really didn’t matter anymore. Lucas was gone and she no longer imagined hearing his voice. And she had to forget Gideon and not let him get to her. She reinforced her promise to herself that never again would she do anything to hurt her sister.
The young witch knew that the Excalibur would be arriving any day now and she’d better be totally over Gideon. She’d be miserable otherwise. Gideon would be coming to be with Demon and it wouldn’t do Angel any good to wish it were otherwise. She didn’t want to upset Demon, especially not now.
Angel made a silent vow that no matter how much Gideon hated her, or showed his contempt for her, she wouldn’t let it make her fight with him. And it was for the best that she should forget Lucas, as she could never bring him back.
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Demon paced the floor of her white room, becoming more nervous as the time passed. Nearly two days before, she’d returned to her rooms and found the message from Matthew. She’d called her sisters to tell them the exciting news and been delighted to see Lily and Ilas so happy. Angel took the news more calmly, but that was inevitable. She didn’t have the same interest in the crew of the Excalibur as her sisters. Demon felt guilty again. When she’d asked Angel to give up Gideon she’d had no idea just how much she was asking Angel to sacrifice. What Angel had done after that was hard to excuse, but Demon knew just how much Angel regretted what had followed.
But the result was that Angel had fallen in love with a man who’d been taken away from her forever and Matthew returning would only re-open those wounds, as his appearance would be a constant reminder of what Angel had lost. It was a horrible situation, in which either Angel or Demon had to lose the man they loved; they couldn’t both be happy. Guilt washed over Demon again as she realized that she wanted Matthew more than she wanted her sister’s happiness. What sort of person did that make her? Selfish, but she couldn’t help it.
She’d tried to call the Excalibur to tell them how welcome they would be but had been unable to get the comm equipment to work. Demon was sure she was doing exactly what she’d been instructed to do but just couldn’t get through. But none of that mattered now. Matthew was coming back! But would he still want her? The thought of him being there and not wanting her was torment. Demon remembered the short time they’d been together when the Excalibur had visited them. They’d spent less than four days together in all, but during that time Demon had fallen hopelessly in love. She’d tried not to let Matthew see how strongly she felt, thinking it would frighten him away, but she now wondered if he might have thought she didn’t care.
Demon knew that her outward appearance of calm and control fooled most people into thinking that she was cold and remote. Had she misled Matthew as well? Did he think she’d just wanted sex with him? Which she did, but that wasn’t all she wanted. But she did want his body. She’d never been so aroused by a man. Just thinking about some of the things they’d done together excited her. Standing by her windows looking out Demon realized that she was aroused now; just watching Matthew’s message and thinking about him made her want him, all of him, as deep inside her as she could get him.
[Stop it!] Demon took a deep breath and brought herself back under control. Fortunately, she wasn’t sending these days or half the castle would have known that she was having erotic thoughts again.
So now Matthew was coming back. To see her? Or was it Angel he wanted? Demon couldn’t forget how she’d sensed him and Angel together when he first arrived in the castle. She knew how much he’d enjoyed Angel despite the pain she’d caused him.
Then, as Lucas, he’d taken Angel for his own. How much of that did Matthew remember? How much of that was driven by Lucas’ mind and how much by Matthew’s body? Demon tried not to let those thoughts fill her with doubts, remembering how things had been during their last two days together. Matthew had been warm, kind and caring. As far as she knew, he and Angel had only met once during that period, and then they’d argued. Demon wished they could have dealt with the issues that lay between them. She’d sensed a lot of anger from Matthew toward Angel. The tall blonde wished she could sense her sister’s feelings, to know how Angel felt about him.
Demon’s thoughts turned to Angel and she paced again. Her sister had not been the same since the Excalibur had left. Angel had always been headstrong and reckless, but that was what gave her life and energy. She was a brightly burning flame that could warm or burn, but that flame had been quenched recently. Angel had been subdued, withdrawn from her sisters, often leaving them for long periods when they didn’t know where she went or what she did. She still carried out her duties in the village diligently, helping the villagers when they fell ill or were injured but the enjoyment she’d got from giving that assistance seemed to have left her. Demon decided that was the whole problem; Angel didn’t seem to get any joy from anything she did any more.
As she thought this Demon’s anger grew. Her hatred of Lucas had grown since the Excalibur had left. Lucas had hurt her when they’d been together, he’d been rough and she remembered the injuries Raven had healed for her, but she was ashamed when she remembered how much she’d enjoyed much of what he’d done. He was so different to Matthew, but it was Matthew’s body that had used her, and she’d taken everything he’d given, relishing nearly every moment. Later, when it became apparent that it had not been Matthew she’d been with, her shame and anger had grown.
The hatred had started when he’d hurt Lily; Demon was very protective of her sisters, especially Lily who was so tiny. She knew that Lily could take care of herself, but the memory of how Lucas had grasped her neck and threatened to break it made her temper rise, and the fact that he looked like Matthew doing it, only made it worse. She’d thought it was over when they’d put him back where he belonged, and it was only her fundamental respect for life that had made her support Angel when Galen wanted to destroy the Box. She honestly believed that everyone was redeemable, even Lucas in time.
There had been times since then, seeing Angel sad and withdrawn, when she’d regretted that decision and wished they’d burned the bastard. It also worried her that Galen had entrusted them with the Box only because Demon could sense if Lucas ever tried to escape and take over another body as he’d done with Matthew. But she couldn’t do that anymore, and it concerned her.
Which brought her thoughts back full circle. What would Matthew say when he saw her? Would he still want her? Or would he turn around and walk out without a word? She heard rumbles of thunder; no, not thunder, the shuttle’s engines. Time was up; she’d find out soon enough.
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Lily was too excited to sit or stand still. One minute she lay on the hides and cushions in her lounging pit, the next she sat on the windowsill playing her harp, or lay on the bed, or aimlessly walked around in her room. Not even her book of spells - or any other book from their extensive library, for that matter - could hold her in place. She'd been in this state for two days now, almost unable to eat, and when she did she had to force herself to take in as much food as her body needed. Despite getting only a handful of hours sleep the past couple of nights, Lily had never felt more awake.
[They're coming!] She thought for probably the hundredth time, beaming.
Lily had been contentedly playing her harp when Demon had called all of them together. She’d felt excitement in her sister's sending, and when she’d heard the news she’d shared it, along with Ilas. Only Angel had taken the news calmly.
Lily's smile gave way to a sad and worried expression. [Angel... how will she get along with Gideon this time? Oh, if only she had someone too...]
But with the memory of the Excalibur's captain came the memory of his first officer, and the time she’d spent with him and Raven. [If only I knew if Luke will be with them...] she thought. [I had the feeling that they’d both come when Demon told us, but maybe that was only because they were here together last time, and because I want them both to come.]
She walked over to her four-poster bed and fell back on the mattress, letting her mind wander while her right hand unconsciously massaged her belly. Four months had passed since the Excalibur had left Eriadne B, but from time to time she'd had the feeling, always just for a moment, that John or Raven or both of them were here with her.
Lily sighed happily.
[They're coming!]
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Ilas sat in front of the mirror in her bathroom, thinking about Max and Dureena. They’d had such fun together during their last visit. She remembered all the things she and Max had done together, here in her rooms, outside the castle, in the shuttle… her pale blue nipples stood out from her full breasts in excitement.
And it had got better! Once Dureena had joined them Ilas had discovered what it was like to be a male making love to a female. She’d never done that before. She’d taken on the form of a male many times, but the things she’d done as a male had been entirely new and very exciting. She wondered whether she should wear her Zanderi male body to greet them when they arrived.
Ilas stood in front of the mirror and watched herself ripple as she changed form. She changed very, very carefully these days. It was difficult to change her external appearance while keeping her internal organs unaffected, but she was now practiced at it. The Zanderi male she now saw in the mirror was handsome by his species standards, and Dureena had told her that she was very well endowed! Ilas giggled as she looked down at the Zanderi male reproductive organs. They didn’t look anything special to her, not like Max… She bit her lip as she remembered what it had been like the first time Max made love to her in the bath and felt herself becoming aroused. She looked down and giggled again. Being a male certainly had disadvantages. Everyone could tell when a male was excited.
No. Although Dureena might like it, Ilas decided against the male Zanderi form. Too much effort to maintain. So what else could she do? She smiled again and shifted, watching her legs grow longer, her breasts become heavier and her hair grew, curled and changed color. In a moment she looked at Demon in the mirror. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Captain Gideon’s reaction if there were two Demons waiting for him? Ilas thought he’d probably faint at the thought of what he’d have to do to keep two Demons happy. Perhaps one of her other sisters? Her legs shrank and her whole body contracted, while her hair grew even longer and the shade darkened to red. How would John and Luke react if they each had their own Lily? But Max wouldn’t be amused if she had fun with John again. She smiled as she remembered the brief time when John Matheson had joined them in her rooms.
But it wasn’t John she wanted to please. It was Max. Which form would please Max most? She shifted back to her blue form: her face as white as alabaster, her eyes lavender, her hair the palest blue. She looked down; blue all over. She giggled again. But was this his favorite? No.
She allowed herself to relax completely and stood looking at her natural form. She rarely showed this face in public. Dark lavender hair and red eyes, golden skin with full breasts and a narrow waist. Leaning forward Ilas looked more closely in the mirror, running her fingers down the scar on her cheek. She didn’t remember how it had happened, but knew it was a visible reminder of the price of rebelling against the Vorlons. Max liked this body. And when he’d made love to her in that form it had been especially wonderful.
Ilas made her decision. This was the body she would wear to greet Max. Her own.