Diplomatic Relations

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: angst romance


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This story is number 6 in the series Virtual Season Five

Diplomatic Relations

by 2Distracted

Rating: PG 13 for sexual situations

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything, so I can’t even try to publish any of this. (Assuming anyone would want it.) I’m writing it anyway… just for fun.

Genre: Romance, Angst

Summary: This is a sequel to A Cry in the Dark: The Needs of the Many. In this one, the command crew of the Enterprise get some well-deserved R & R during diplomatic negotiations with Betazed, and TnT are finally forced to say goodbye to Lianna.

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, dressed in his best off-duty slacks and shirt…clean-shaven and impeccably groomed in a manner that only an Englishman with a hot date could ever hope to achieve… walked nonchalantly down the hall toward the access corridor which led to the sweet spot. His palms were sweating and his pulse pounded in his throat.

This is bloody ridiculous! he thought. I was a covert operative for years before I signed on with Starfleet. Nothing is supposed to make me this nervous!

It really wasn’t the fact that what he was about to do broke at least two regulations that he knew of and could result in court-martial… or at least a career damaging reprimand. Despite his reputation for being a stickler for the rules, Malcolm had stretched… and even occasionally broken… regulations in the past when the occasion called for it. No… the terrifying part of all this had nothing to do with Starfleet… and everything to do with the incredibly sexy, fascinating, unpredictable… so insightful she seemed telepathic… woman who waited for him.

No woman had ever affected him the way she did. He’d had relationships before, of course… if you could call them that. Every single one of them had ended with the woman accusing him of being closed, cold and unfeeling. None of them had lasted longer than six months. Each time, he’d had to admit to himself that the ending was entirely his fault. Women needed something from him that he seemed constitutionally unable to give. Strangely enough, he was perfectly aware of this fact… and until this point had made the conscious decision not to trust any woman enough to give it. What frightened him about Hoshi was that he could feel his barriers breaking down when he was with her. He trusted her. It was enough to make him want to run screaming in the opposite direction.

Glancing down the hallway in both directions and finding it clear, Malcolm ducked through the hatchway of the access corridor and began to climb. It seemed to take forever to get to the top. Twice he stopped, thought better of his actions, and had to fight his instinct to go back in the direction from which he had come. Finally, his head topped the upper hatch. Hoshi appeared to be suspended upside down on the ceiling. She smiled at him invitingly.

“Good evening, Malcolm,” she said softly. “I’m glad to see you could make it.” She was dressed in the sweat pants and midriff baring t-shirt that she wore for their self-defense workouts. Malcolm swallowed and gave her an uncertain smile. Apparently, she planned to engage in some substantially exertional activities this evening.

“A man should never refuse an invitation from the most beautiful woman he knows,” he replied gallantly. Hoshi’s eyes widened in pleased surprise at his unexpected flattery.

“Besides…,” he went on with a teasing smile. “… Travis has told me about the benefits of zero-gravity when engaging in certain… recreational activities. I’ve never had a chance to try it…. Are you game for some zero-gee self defense?”

Hoshi laughed softly. “I suppose that’s one thing we could try,” she replied. Her eyes held his, and he got the distinct impression that self defense exercises were definitely not the recreational activity she had in mind.

Malcolm climbed through the hatch, then closed and dogged it. He climbed on top of the closed hatch, and pushed off, momentarily finding himself suspended in free-fall before landing heavily beside Hoshi on the ceiling which had suddenly become the floor. The room spun for a moment and he got a rather unsettled feeling in his stomach. He closed his eyes, waiting for the sensation to subside.

Before he could get his bearings, he felt eager lips on his, and fingers laced in his hair. His arms went around her, mostly for support, as she pushed them both off the floor with one foot and sent them spinning like a gyroscope in the zero-gee center of the room. They clung to each other, mouths tasting, hands beneath shirts caressing bare skin, legs entwined. The experience was incredibly erotic… but for Malcolm the pleasure was balanced by the distinct feeling that his last meal was about to present itself for reinspection. He opened his eyes and released Hoshi, reaching for the nearest hand-hold to stop his spin.

Hoshi grabbed a hand-hold and pulled herself down to join him, eyeing his pale, perspiring face with concern.

“Are you all right, Malcolm?” she asked.

He nodded with his eyes fixed on the wall in front of him as he used that focal point to regain his equilibrium.

“I’m sorry, Hoshi…” he replied breathlessly. “… but I just can’t do this!”

Hoshi’s eyes narrowed, and for the first time since Malcolm had known her, she completely misinterpreted what he was trying to tell her.

“I can’t believe this!” she told him angrily. “Can’t you get over your need to obsessively follow the rules for just one night! “

“Hoshi…,” said Malcolm quietly. She ignored him.

“I finally get you to break down and give in just a little, and now you’re chickening out!” she protested.

“Hoshi!” Malcolm said in a louder voice. His nausea subsiding, he shifted his gaze from the wall to her angry face, trying to get her to make eye contact. She still didn’t seem to hear him.

“I just don’t know why I bother with you sometimes, Malcolm! It’s so hard to make you see how much I…”

Malcolm’s mouth came down over hers, smothering the rest of her statement. She didn’t mind. After a second or two she’d forgotten what she was going to say anyway. Her arms went around his neck as he kissed her quite thoroughly. Her knees would have gotten weak if she hadn’t already been in zero-gee, clinging to a man who was clinging to a hand-hold for dear life.

He broke off the kiss, breathing heavily, and rested his forehead on hers.

“What I was about to say… if you’d let me get a word in, luv… is that I should have told you about my difficulties with motion sickness before I accepted your invitation.” he whispered.

“Oh…” she replied with a shamefaced expression, quite uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

“Might I suggest we retire to my quarters for the evening?” he asked with a small smile. “It may be smaller and less exciting there, but at least ‘down’ remains ’down’ and ‘up’ remains ‘up’.”

Hoshi smiled a relieved smile. She hadn’t ruined the evening after all.

“A woman should never refuse an invitation from the most handsome man she knows,” she told him.

Two days after Commander T’Pol’s successful return to Enterprise, Captain Archer called a general meeting of the command staff in his ready room. T’Pol was still confined to quarters and not yet released to active duty by Dr. Phlox, but was present, at her insistence, via comm link. Arranging the link was the only way Trip had been able to convince her to stay in bed.

“I am first officer of this vessel,” she’d insisted. “I am going to the command staff meeting.” Trip had watched as she determinedly sat up in bed, swung her legs over the side, and stood up… only to have her legs buckle under her again, forcing him to catch her and put her back to bed. All she’d done since returning from her ordeal on the Romulan ship was eat, sleep, and reassure herself by every physical means possible that her husband was not, in fact, dead… Trip felt somewhat guilty about that last part. He’d had no idea how exhausted she’d been when he’d seduced her in the isolation chamber immediately after she arrived back on the ship, but making love was the only reassurance she would accept until their bond returned. Fortunately, just that morning they had both felt the initial stirrings of a reawakening of their bond. Their celebration of its reappearance had nearly made him late for the meeting.

Captain Jonathan Archer took a mental roll call of his command staff, and found all but one present and accounted for. He looked at Commander Tucker.

“You said you’d arranged for Commander T’Pol to attend via comm link?” he asked.

“I am here, Captain,” came T’Pol’s voice loud and clear over the room’s comm speaker.

Archer smiled. “It’s good to hear your voice, Commander,” he said in relief. “Dr. Phlox insisted that we not disturb you while you were resting. We’ve all been worried about you.”

“There is no need for concern, Captain,” replied T’Pol, unflappable as usual, as if she’d been the victim of kidnapping by a hostile alien race so many times now that it was becoming routine. “I am well. Dr. Phlox is merely following his usual conservative protocols for my return to duty.”

Archer saw Trip roll his eyes at that comment, and decided to encourage Phlox’s conservative approach.

“I’m sure the doctor knows what he’s doing, Commander. There’s no rush. Enterprise will still be here when you’re well enough to return to duty,” he told her.

He was greeted with silence. Apparently she didn’t feel that his comment required a response.

“Okay…,” he said finally, when it appeared that no reply would be forthcoming. “It looks like we’re all here and ready to start.” He looked out over the attentive faces seated at the table.

“First, I’d like to congratulate Ensign Sato, Lieutenant Reed, and Commander Tucker for their intelligence and initiative in planning and executing a successful mission to recover Commander T’Pol from the Romulans.”

All three of the officers mentioned looked simultaneously pleased and embarrassed while the rest of the room broke out in spontaneous applause.

“Secondly…,” Archer continued with a more serious expression, “… I would like to announce that we have been recalled to Earth for debriefing concerning our recent encounter with the Romulan vessel,” he said.

This announcement resulted in cries of dismay from several of the crew members present.

“But Captain…,” protested Lieutenant Reed, “… What about the assistance we’re giving the Betazoids with the refitting of their vessels for security patrols? If we leave before the vessels are ready, they’ll be defenseless if the Romulans return.”

Archer nodded and raised his hand reassuringly. “I’ve already discussed that with Starfleet Command, and with the Matriarch, Mr. Reed. The Imzadi… she’ll be renamed the Saber of Betazed when she’s finished, by the way… will have polarized hull plating and phase cannons in place by the end of the week. The other ships donated by the rest of the major houses aren’t as far along, but the Betazoid engineers who are refitting the Imzadi are very comfortable with the modifications. The Matriarch has informed me that as soon as the Saber of Betazed begins patrolling the system and the sensor satellites that have been constructed are deployed, the Ruling Council will feel secure enough to allow our departure without a diplomatic incident. I have volunteered our assistance with sensor satellite deployment. A team of Betazoid engineers will arrive today at 1100 hours with thirty of the ninety satellites that we will be transporting to various locations surrounding the planet over the next several days. The plan is to be underway to Earth within seven days.”

“As this is a security issue, may I assume you’ll need me to oversee the deployment of the satellites, Captain?” asked Lieutenant Reed. His eyes actually lit up at the prospect of a challenging new project.

Archer smiled ruefully at him and shook his head. “No, Lieutenant, I’m afraid most of us in this room are going to be down on the planet for the next couple of days,” he said with a resigned expression. “The Matriarch has summoned us to another diplomatic function… something about awards for bravery and a farewell ceremony.”

Both Trip and Malcolm rolled their eyes at that one.

Captain Archer, Commander T’Pol, Commander Tucker, Lieutenant Reed, Ensign Sato and Ensign Mayweather were all summoned this time to the grounds of the Sixth House of Betazed. It seemed to Malcolm that the captain would have realized by now that leaving Enterprise inadequately staffed was a phenomenally bad idea… but, no… he’d still insisted that everyone who was invited was required to attend. In fact, the captain had stated that the junior staff had acquitted themselves so well during their encounter with the Romulan ship that he was even more confident of his decision to leave them in charge. Because Ensign Mayweather had been singled out by the Ruling Council as deserving of recognition for his role as defender of Betazed during what was now known among the Betazoid people as the “Romulan incident”, command of Enterprise had now fallen to an extremely reluctant Lieutenant Hess, who’d had to be practically dragged out of Engineering to occupy the command chair. The entire situation threatened to give Malcolm an ulcer of epic proportions.

The landing party disembarked from the shuttlepod on to the small landing field at the periphery of the grounds of the Sixth House. They were met by an open ground transport, into which their overnight bags were loaded by the handsome young driver. He then offered his arm to each of the women in turn. Hoshi accepted his assistance with a gracious smile as Malcolm looked on with a scowl, while T’Pol coolly ignored his proffered elbow and stepped into the vehicle without assistance, with one brow raised. Trip followed her, concerned about her still weakened condition, but not willing to risk her displeasure by making an issue of it.

After the rest of the men sorted themselves out, the group enjoyed the short, breezy ride to the main house. There was virtually no evidence remaining of the damage that had been done to the house and grounds by the alien attack a mere five days previously. There was no debris in evidence. Only the disruptor scars on the front façade of the ancient building remained, and it was swarming with women and men wielding chisels, mortar, bricks and paintbrushes. The entire Sixth House was gearing up for another huge social gathering… this time a gathering of joy rather than one of sadness.

The chatelaine of the huge house, a formidable woman known simply as Mariana, met the group as they disembarked.

“Welcome to the Sixth House once again, Captain Archer!” Her broad face lit up in a flirtatious smile that made Jonathan Archer wince slightly despite his determination to be polite. Although, being Betazoid, she could obviously sense his discomfort, she appeared oblivious to it. Much to the captain’s chagrin, Mariana had made her interest in him quite obvious ever since the afternoon five days previously when he’d assisted her to her feet during his attempts to help the dozens of Betazoids affected by young Lianna’s instinctive attack on the Romulan invaders. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d given her no encouragement, nor did it disturb her that she was his elder by at least a decade.

“The Matriarch is still occupied with the emergency session of the Ruling Council, but quarters for you and your crew have been reserved to allow you to ready yourselves for tonight’s celebration… Please follow me. I have had private rooms prepared for each of you,” she told him, with a meaningful glance into his eyes.

She turned to lead the way, proceeding into the entrance hall and down the hallway; her ample hips swaying in what she evidently intended to be an enticing manner. Trip and Archer exchanged worried glances. Then Trip suppressed a laugh as Archer looked back at the woman with a sick look on his face.

This is a diplomatic incident waiting to happen! thought Archer.

T’Pol surveyed the room she had been assigned, and found it more than adequate for her needs. The large double windows allowed natural sunlight to illuminate the room… a most efficient conservation of power. The view of the formal gardens through the windows was esthetically pleasing. She found the huge four-poster bed covered in pillows and a thick coverlet rather excessive for her needs, but then, this was a room usually used by non-Vulcans. A certain opulence in decoration was understandable under the circumstances. She walked into the adjoining bathing area, and was once again confronted with a singularly wasteful display of excess in the form of a basin, obviously intended for bathing, which could have easily accommodated five persons her size. She flexed and extended her fingers, still stiff and limitedly mobile following her injuries. Dr. Phlox had removed the splints at her insistence, but had recommended that she soak her hands in warm water and then perform a series of prescribed stretching exercises twice daily. As the remainder of her body also seemed to require such treatment, judging from the stiffness of all of her muscles, she bent down and began to run a bath. While waiting for the enormous tub to fill, she inspected the array of crystals, liquids, beads, and bars on the counter near the tub, opening each in turn until she found one with a pleasing odor. As she debated whether Trip would also enjoy the scent of the product she had chosen, she heard a noise behind her.

Turning rapidly, somewhat startled because she had believed herself to be entirely alone, she saw a familiar blonde head peeking around a door on the opposite end of the bathing area… one that she had not seen because it had been hidden behind a privacy screen.

T’Pol? Are you in here? sent Trip silently.

I am here, t’hy’la… How did you get in here? I was told we all had private rooms, she responded.

He entered the room, smiling broadly. I guess she just forgot ta mention to the others about the shared bathrooms! he sent back. He approached her and slid his arms slowly around her waist, pulling her body in contact with his and letting out an involuntary sigh at the contact. He stood there stroking her back gently through her clothing as she leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes.

“Mmmm,” he said aloud. They stood there for several moments, enjoying the unexpected luxury of complete privacy.

She opened her eyes and noted that the tub was nearly full. Too relaxed to want to exert the effort that telepathic communication still required via their only partially recovered bond, she switched to the spoken word.

“It appears that my earlier assessment of the wasteful nature of this tub was premature,” murmured T’Pol. “It now appears to be of precisely the correct size for our needs.”

Trip laughed softly and began to undress her.

Hoshi threw herself back on the huge bed with a disappointed sigh. She looked around her at the luxurious room. The bed was heavenly. The plush coverlet felt like warm velvet beneath her. The view of the garden from the window was breathtaking… and Malcolm was only one door away. She sighed heavily again. He might as well have been one light year away. Since the night they had spent together in his quarters, he hadn’t once behaved any differently toward her while there was any risk of being seen or heard by a member of the crew. Since they had not been alone since their night together, the only attention she’d gotten from him had been a few brief, admittedly blazingly hot, looks from across the bridge when the captain wasn’t looking. There was no way that he’d be reckless enough to brave the hallway between their rooms in the middle of an important diplomatic mission. Hoshi had always admired Malcolm’s dedication to duty, but in this idyllic setting she wished very much that he was a bit less dedicated and a bit more reckless. She closed her eyes, determined at least to enjoy the magnificent bed by taking a nap before preparing for the gathering that night. Her eyes snapped open as she heard the door to the bathroom slowly swing inward. She rolled rapidly to the opposite side of the bed and down to the floor, grabbing a silver candlestick from the bedside table on her way down. Whoever was trying to sneak into her room would be in for a painful surprise. A head of familiar dark curls peeked around the corner.

She lifted her head up from behind the bed.

“Malcolm!” she whispered in surprised delight. An amazed smile appeared on her face.

He gave her a sheepish smile. “The bathroom…, “ he tried to explain. “It was unlocked…”

He didn’t have the chance to complete his explanation. Her lips were on his, and she’d competently used one of the throws he had taught her to flip him on to the bed.

Archer whistled tunelessly as he laid out his dress uniform for the reception that evening. He’d checked out the bathroom… with a tub damn near big enough to play water polo in… and was looking forward to a good, long soak after nothing but showers since his last shore leave. The room was like the honeymoon suite he’d seen at a fancy hotel in San Francisco a while back. He found himself regretting the fact that Erika wasn’t here to see it… and maybe try it out a little. He’d have to find a similar place the next time they were both on Earth at the same time… Which will likely not be for several years, he admitted to himself ruefully. He sighed. It was only what he deserved for getting involved with another Starfleet captain to begin with. Perhaps it was for the best. He had no illusions about his ability to make a romantic relationship work. He was married to the Enterprise, and she would always come first.

He pulled off his uniform and wrapped a towel around his waist, then stepped into the bathroom. As he did so, he heard the door to his room open, and the throaty voice of his Betazoid admirer call, “Captain? I’ve brought you some towels and sheets!”

As far as Archer could tell, he had plenty of towels and sheets. He turned to close the door to the bathroom, eager to avoid getting caught literally with his pants down by this most persistent woman. Her hand caught the door, and they struggled briefly for control of it.


Archer heard a puzzled voice behind him and turned. Travis stood there, also clad only in a towel… obviously on his way to do precisely what Archer had originally intended to do… take a long, hot bath. Startled by the helmsman’s sudden appearance, Archer released the door, and it swung open, revealing Mariana with an armful of clean towels and a very surprised look on her face.

Her eyes flew from one of them to the other, and then she gave them both a rather strained smile.

“Well… ah… here’s some extra towels, gentlemen,” she said, looking somewhat flustered. “Enjoy your bath!” She hurriedly backed out of the bathroom, left Archer’s bedroom and shut the door firmly.

Archer and Travis exchanged an amused look, and then both of them burst out laughing.

“Thanks, Ensign,” said Archer with a grin. “You saved me from a fate worse than death!”

“Don’t mention it, Captain…,“ replied Travis. “Does that mean I get first crack at the tub?” he countered jokingly.

“Only if you save me some hot water!” said Archer.

The members of the command crew of the Enterprise were ushered into the enormous ballroom by yet another of the ubiquitous handsome young men who served as combination household guards, butlers, and, judging from the looks some of the female guests were giving them, also as ornamentation in the hallways of the Sixth House. The room was filled to capacity with ornately dressed women and their escorts, who were quite often even more elaborately decorated than the women were. Archer felt positively dull in his dress blues. There was almost no conversation going on, as most of the guests preferred to communicate telepathically, but as soon as they entered the room, all eyes turned to them, and the music came to a halt. The Matriarch and the other members of the Ruling Council… five women, and, to Archer’s surprise, one man… stood at the opposite end of the room on a raised platform. The crowd parted as if by magic, and then began to applaud as the honorees approached the dais. The Enterprise officers had been briefed on the protocol of the ceremony by a very businesslike Mariana earlier in the evening. They were to approach the Matriarch, receive their award, and then proceed down the row of council members to receive their individual thanks. Archer had met them all briefly in the chaos that had ensued after the Romulan attack, but none of them looked familiar this evening. It was remarkable what a bit of makeup, jewels, and fancy clothing had done for their appearances. Even the elderly Matriarch was looking exceptionally lovely. Archer made eye contact with her and smiled politely from across the huge room. She smiled back with a twinkle in her eye, as if she were party to an irresistible secret.

Archer, puzzled, whispered to T’Pol, who was walking beside him, “So what sort of awards are we supposed to be getting this evening?”

“As you no doubt are aware, the Matriarch plans to reward us for our roles in the rescue of her granddaughter and in the Romulan incident,” T’Pol murmured. “As my telepathic faculties have not yet fully recovered, I cannot communicate with the Matriarch unless she initiates contact,” she admitted. “I therefore am unable to provide you with details concerning the nature of our awards.”

Commander Tucker, walking at T’Pol’s opposite shoulder, snickered softly. “Ya coulda just said, ‘I don’t know!’” he said in a teasing whisper. She raised a brow at him and kept walking.

Ensign Sato walked with Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Mayweather, three abreast behind the trio in front of them. Hoshi was amusing herself by surreptitiously observing the guests’ reactions to her two very handsome but polar opposite escorts. Malcolm seemed oblivious to the admiring glances being thrown in his direction by nearly every unescorted female… and quite a few of the escorted ones… to her left. He had a dreamy, introspective smile on his face that hadn’t budged since their enthusiastic exploration of the luxurious bed, the thick pile carpet, and the huge tub in her assigned guest room and bathing area earlier that afternoon. Travis, on the other hand, was responding to the female guests on her right with broad smiles and winks as they admired him and occasionally dared to touch his hand or his cheek… fascinated by his physical beauty and unusual coloring.

“I really wish we could stay here for a few more days,” he whispered to Hoshi under his breath. “I’d sure like to make some new friends!” Hoshi just grinned and shook her head.

The lead three finally arrived at the dais. The Matriarch beckoned to the two Commanders to approach first.

Commander T’Pol and Commander Tucker…, began the Matriarch silently. Trip’s eyes widened and his head began to hurt. Despite the fact that his bond with T’Pol had not yet fully recovered, the old woman’s message came in loud and clear. He looked past the dais to a back door… leading to the kitchens, it appeared… and caught sight of a small head of jet black curls peeking into the room. That explained it. Lianna was in the link.

… in recognition of your great service to Betazed, and to the Sixth House in particular, I wish to welcome you both as adopted members of the Sixth House.

She stepped forward, and, much to Trip’s amusement and T’Pol’s discomfort, kissed them each ceremoniously on both cheeks. Trip smiled at her in gratitude. T’Pol, realizing the magnitude of the honor that they had been given, attempted telepathic communication.

We are honored by your generosity, Amelia of the Sixth House, she sent solemnly. The Matriarch smiled. T’Pol’s message had been received.

A small form insinuated itself between the Matriarch and the two newest members of the Sixth House. She was dressed in a miniature version of her grandmother’s ornate maroon gown with her curls piled elegantly on top of her head. The kitchen staff had apparently been bribing her to keep her still, however, for her royal appearance was somewhat spoiled by the ring of uttaberry pie filling that encircled her mouth.

Hi, cousins! I have presents for you! Lianna sent with unintended forcefulness. Both Trip and T’Pol winced.

The Matriarch looked down indulgently at her granddaughter. Softly, Lianna! They are still recovering!

Lianna looked up at both of them repentantly. Sorry, she mentally whispered. Trip grinned at her and picked her up.

“Let’s go say ‘hi’ to these nice people, and then we’ll go look at what you have for us, okay?” he said aloud. Lianna nodded her agreement as she sat in Trip’s arms, grabbed T’Pol by the hand, and the three of them turned toward the line of Ruling Council members.

The Matriarch beckoned to Jonathan Archer, indicating that he should stand to her right. She smiled at him briefly, and then turned her attention to the trio of Enterprise’s more junior officers.

She first presented an engraved plaque to Malcolm. He showed it to Hoshi, who translated aloud.

“In commemoration of exceptional bravery in the defense of the Sixth House of Betazed, Malcolm Reed is awarded this commission in the Honor Guard of the Sixth House,” she read. She looked at him with a barely suppressed grin and stepped closer to whisper in his ear.

“Congratulations, you’re a hallway decoration!” she murmured.

He fought the urge to smile and gazed back at the Matriarch with what he hoped was an appropriately honored expression. She turned to her left and received a long, wrapped bundle from a member of the household guard who seemed to be older than the others, and actually appeared to have a few scars, indicating that at some point in the past, he might have seen combat. The Matriarch unwrapped the bundle and presented Malcolm with a beautiful antique ceremonial saber. He bowed solemnly and accepted the weapon, inspecting it with a broad smile and a connoisseur’s eye.

Next, the Matriarch turned to Travis. She handed him a framed document. Once again, Hoshi was pressed into service as a translator.

“In commemoration of his heroic service to the people of Betazed, Travis Mayweather is hereby awarded with a commission in the Royal Navy of Betazed…” Hoshi paused, not believing what she was reading for a moment. “Travis…,” she said, looking up at him disbelievingly. “This says your rank is captain… They’re offering you your own command!” Travis gave Hoshi a dumbfounded look, and then looked at his own captain, who was in turn gazing at the Matriarch. She exchanged an innocent look with Archer, as if she’d had no idea that the Ruling Council had plans to try to steal his helmsman out from under his nose. She spoke aloud for the first time that evening, in deference to her non-telepathic guests.

“An honorary commission for now…,” she clarified to Travis, then glanced sidelong at Archer with a small smile, “…at least until your time with Starfleet is at an end,” she finished. Travis smiled his gratitude. “Thank you, Matriarch,” he said enthusiastically. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

The Matriarch then gave Hoshi a small wrapped rectangular bundle. She carefully removed several layers of antique leather wrappings to uncover an ancient-appearing leather-bound book.

“This is one of only five original copies of the oldest existing history of the nine most prominent Houses of Betazed. This copy is now yours. All we ask is that you provide us with a copy of each translation that you complete, in any languages that you choose to use,” said the Matriarch. Hoshi stroked the cover of the ancient document reverently, with a delighted smile on her face. Then she looked up reluctantly at the Matriarch.

“I can’t accept this,” she said. “This book is an irreplaceable treasure.” She attempted to hand it back to the Matriarch, who pushed it back into her hands.

“Then consider it a loan,” insisted the Matriarch. “You may return it when you have translated it into every language that you know.” Hoshi’s eyes widened as she began a mental calculation, and realized that the project that the Matriarch had charged her with might very well consume all of her free time for the rest of her natural life. She smiled. It sounded like fun.

As the last of the Enterprise crew joined the receiving line to greet the members of the Ruling Council, the Matriarch turned to Jonathan Archer.

“There is a tradition among my people which allows a woman of authority to honor a man whom she respects and admires. I do not wish you to misunderstand my intention,” she told him. “This ritual is usually performed by an older woman who wishes to honor a much younger man. When it is completed, you will be entitled to legal rights very similar to the rights I granted to your two Commanders by adopting them into the Sixth House. I will also be considered responsible for your continued well-being while you are on Betazed. Do you have any objection to any of the aspects of the ritual as I have explained them to you?”

Archer looked at her doubtfully. “No….,” he said, “…at least I don’t think so.”

The Matriarch smiled in relief and nodded to a young woman standing at the periphery of the dais. She handed up a garland of flowers woven into a circle. The Matriarch smiled broadly and held it up over her head. The room erupted in murmurs and excited laughter. The Matriarch indicated that Archer should kneel. Then she lowered the garland onto Archer’s head and, to his amazement, leaned down and kissed him gently on the lips in the presence of the entire gathering, eliciting cheering and applause. Archer smiled rather stiffly, and then softly asked the elegant, diminutive, white-haired woman standing over him, “What just happened, exactly?”

“Why, Jonathan…I thought I explained it to you,” she answered him in a puzzled voice. “You just became my consort!”

“Do you realize what an honor she’s paid you, Captain?” said Hoshi, as she valiantly suppressed an amused grin at his hopeless expression. The entire landing party had all piled into Jonathan Archer’s room following the ceremony to figure out how to prevent the inevitable diplomatic disaster that was going to result from the Matriarch’s little surprise.

Archer sighed and wearily rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. “I understand that she believes it’s an honor, Ensign… Can you explain to me why she did this?” he asked helplessly. His face had the bewildered look typical of a man attempting to understand female behavior.

“It’s really not as strange as it seems, Captain,” Hoshi answered. She paused, collecting her thoughts. Everyone in the room watched her face with bated breath. “The consort relationship is not a marriage,” she began. “It’s more of a legal recognition of a woman’s regard for a man… and not always necessarily a demonstration of sexual interest.”

Archer looked somewhat relieved. “You mean she might not expect me to…”

“I can’t be sure of that, Captain,” Hoshi hastily interrupted. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to ask her what her expectations are.”

Archer swallowed with a sick look on his face.

“However…,” Hoshi continued. “What I’ve seen and read of Betazoid customs suggests that when there is so great an age difference, most of the time the consort relationship is more that of mentor to protégé …and an indication of profound admiration and respect. The woman is responsible for supporting the man financially… and in many instances, she is the one responsible for finding him a wife when he is ready to marry. He also becomes one of her heirs if she dies while they are both unmarried. Since the Matriarch is a widow, Arianna was her only child, and all of her previous consorts are married, her only heir besides you is her granddaughter. She’s put you in a position to potentially become an extremely wealthy man.”

“But I don’t want her money!” Archer protested.

“I believe she knows that, Captain,” Hoshi replied. “I think she did this to express her gratitude for your role in protecting her people from a Romulan invasion, and for returning her granddaughter.” She gave him a mischievous grin. “I also get the impression that she thinks you’re cute!”

Archer rolled his eyes. “You’re not helping, Ensign!” he told her in an exasperated voice.

“Sorry,” she said, looking down and suppressing a grin.

Archer turned to the rest of the group. “Did any of you speak with any of the guests at the party about this?... What do the Betazoid people think about it?”

Travis grinned and cut his eyes at Malcolm. “Everyone seemed very pleased for the Matriarch, sir,” he said cryptically.

Archer looked at him expectantly. “And why is that, may I ask?” he asked sardonically.

Malcolm stifled a laugh. “The comment I heard most often was that you looked like you had lots of stamina!” he choked out. Travis laughed out loud, and then covered his mouth with one hand.

Archer closed his eyes and, resting his forehead in the palm of his hand, sighed heavily. “Commanders T’Pol and Tucker… any thoughts?” he asked bleakly with his eyes still closed.

T’Pol considered his question carefully. “It would seem logical to question the Matriarch concerning her expectations prior to making any decisions about an appropriate course of action,” she said reasonably.

Archer opened his eyes and dropped his hand, looking at T’Pol with a grateful expression. “Thank you, Commander…You’re the first person in this room to treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves.”

T’Pol nodded solemnly in acknowledgement of his gratitude.

“Ya might wanna get some sleep first, Cap’n,” added Trip with an evil grin. “A man needs rest ta keep up his stamina!”

Archer glared at Trip and then shook his head in disgust and smiled reluctantly. “You people are no help at all!” he said with a rueful chuckle… the humor of the situation finally overpowering his fear of a diplomatic meltdown. “Get out of here and let me get some sleep! I’ve got a date for breakfast.”

Trip smiled sweetly in his sleep, and murmured unintelligible endearments as she gently stroked his brow. T’Pol had awakened before sunrise, as was her wont on any planet’s surface, but had been reluctant to leave her husband’s side. They so rarely had the opportunity to wake in each other’s arms that she did not wish to deprive him of the experience. There was also the fact… however illogical, she had to admit to herself… that remaining in the soft, warm bed with him in her embrace was quite possibly the most wonderful experience that she had had in a very long time. She studied his face as he slept, admiring his beauty as one would admire a work of art. The light of sunrise had begun to illuminate the room, shining through the window and transforming his tousled hair into burnished gold. She stretched out a hand, ran her fingers through the soft strands of hair at the nape of his neck, and gently touched her lips to his forehead to wake him.

His eyes opened. Their azure brilliance, as usual, took her breath away.

“Mornin’ darlin’,” he murmured sleepily and smiled. “Sleep well?”

“I appear to be well-rested, husband,” she answered.

Her calm, monotone delivery of this piece of information caused him to chuckle. She sounded like a Vulcan, but she sure didn’t look like one wrapped around him in nothing but her skin and gazing at him like that with what could only be described as ‘bedroom eyes’.

He looked over her shoulder at the sunrise, and then looked back at her reluctantly. “What did the Cap’n say about when we were supposed to meet for breakfast?”

T’Pol raised a brow and rubbed a warm, smooth leg against his as they lay tangled in the sheets. “It was my impression that the Captain required privacy at breakfast to discuss his relationship with the Matriarch… I do not believe that our presence is expected,” she told him softly.

Trip smiled broadly and reached for her to draw her more securely into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his abdomen, laid her head on his chest, and began to gently stroke the smooth skin of his hip. Their bond suddenly flared to life, and this time, it felt even stronger than before. She could feel his sleepiness abruptly fade away, replaced by desire. Her response in the bond made him gasp. He pulled back, made brief intense eye contact, and then kissed her hungrily. Her arms went around his neck as she rolled on top of him, eagerly returning his kiss. Breakfast would have to wait.

As Jonathan Archer finished dressing, he heard a tap on his door. He crossed the room to answer it, and was confronted with a pair of nervous appearing young men in household guard uniform. He looked inquiringly at them.

“The Matriarch sends her respects, sir,” said the one on the left with a polite smile.

“We have been sent as an honor escort to show you the way to breakfast,” said the one on the right.

Archer looked at them both in surprise. Did the woman think he was going to run away?

“Members of the Royal House never go anywhere without an honor escort, sir,” clarified the one on the left.

Archer sighed. Apparently, he was now a ‘member of the Royal House’. He wondered what other surprises the Matriarch had up her sleeve.

“Lead the way, gentlemen!” he said ironically, as he closed the door and followed them down the hallway.

They walked to the opposite end of the house. The halls were quiet at that time of morning. The revelry had extended into the wee hours of the morning for some of the attendees at the party, and so most of the guests were still sleeping. Only the staff roamed the halls, briskly going about their business. He noticed curious glances from many of them, and a few respectful nods. Obviously word had already gotten out that he was due the royal treatment. If that was not entirely the case, then the stiff, formal demeanor of his twin escorts would have gotten the message across just as well.

The two young men stopped at an ornately carved set of double wooden doors. Two guards were posted there, wearing the same uniforms as his escorts, and looking enough like them to be brothers. Archer finally gave in to his curiosity.

“Why do you guys all look alike?” he asked his escort in a puzzled fashion.

“The members of the honor guard all descend from the same family line, sir,” explained the left-hand twin. “All of us are brothers or cousins, and there are strict physical criteria in height, weight, and coloring for the Honor Guard of the house itself. Those of us who do not meet the criteria serve in other capacities.”

Archer looked at him in puzzlement. “So when she gave Malcolm a commission?...”

The young man stiffened in poorly suppressed disapproval. “Your Lieutenant Reed is the first member of the Honor Guard in five hundred years who is not a member of my family, sir. If he chooses to remain on Betazed, I’m sure the Matriarch will find some use for him, but he will not be allowed to serve as a guard within the house itself. He is too short to meet the physical criteria.”

Archer smiled slightly, suppressing a laugh. “I’ll be sure that he is made aware of how great an honor has been bestowed on him. You have no cause for concern, though. He’s too useful to me in his current position for me to allow him to remain on Betazed.”

The young man appeared relieved. “We are honored to welcome him as a member of our brotherhood, sir,” he hastily added.

Archer just nodded with an ironic expression. I’m sure you are, son… just as long as he doesn’t stay and rock the boat, he thought with wry amusement.

The double doors behind the guards began to swing inward silently, pulled open by two female attendants. They glanced at the guards shyly as they performed their duties, and the young men stood noticeably taller under their admiring gaze. Archer rolled his eyes. Did these people have nothing else on their minds? He entered at the young women’s silent invitation, and found himself in the antechamber of what was quite obviously a lady’s boudoir. They escorted him through a room containing a huge and lavishly decorated curtained bed, a dressing table, and a large desk covered in both data pads and paper correspondence, then through a pair of open doors leading to an open-air walled garden. A small table was set with two place settings and two chairs. The Matriarch sat at the table, dressed in a simple floor-length robe of sky blue satin that favorably contrasted with her silver hair, reading from a data pad she held in one hand, and sipping something warm from a cup held in her opposite hand. She laid both on the table and rose to greet him when he arrived.

“Jonathan…,” she said with a gentle smile. “Did you sleep well?” She approached him and took both of his hands in hers. He looked back at her with a resigned smile.

“I’m afraid not…,” he hesitated. “…Amelia?” he ventured. She smiled at him approvingly. “I had too much to think about… and too many unanswered questions to rest very well last night,” he told her honestly.

“I understand that human customs are not like ours,” admitted the elderly woman. She led him by the hand to the table, and indicated that he should sit. She sat across from him and gave him her full attention. Her pupil-less black eyes seemed to bore into his soul. He could see why she had become the ruler of her people. Her gaze inspired devotion and trust. She was looking at him as if his opinion was the only thing that mattered to her, and he wanted to please her.

“What questions would you like me to answer, Jonathan?” she asked softly.

Archer hesitated. He had no wish to hurt her feelings, and wanted to somehow express his admiration for her without giving her a false hope that there could ever be anything physical between them. As the thought occurred to him, she smiled and laughed like a young girl.

“Oh, Jonathan… what a sweet boy you are!” She raised her hand to his cheek and looked him in the eye with an amused smile.

“I have no illusions that a man of your age could ever find an old woman like me physically attractive…. I’m old enough to be your great-grandmother, dear!” Archer looked at her in surprise. She didn’t look a day over seventy.

“The Betazoid life span is somewhat longer than a human’s, Jonathan,” she clarified. “Let’s just say I’m a bit over a hundred years old and leave it at that, shall we?” She gave him a flirtatious smile. “Now if I were only thirty years younger… you might have had something to worry about!” she said teasingly.

Archer swallowed and tried to put his two cents into their rather one-sided conversation. “So… can you read everything I’m thinking?” he asked uncomfortably.

Amelia smiled reassuringly at him. “I’m only reading surface thoughts… To a Betazoid, non-telepaths broadcast the thoughts and feelings that most concern them at the moment. Still, most Betazoids can only clearly read a non-telepath if the person they are attempting to read is also attempting to contact them. I have more power in that area than the average…and Lianna is a dramatic exception to almost every rule.”

Archer smiled and laughed. “I noticed that,” he told her. His face became serious again. “So far… this consort relationship seems awfully one-sided if you’re not expecting…” he paused to put it more delicately.

“Conjugal rights?” she finished for him. He shrugged and nodded with an embarrassed smile.

“To be honest with you, Jonathan…, “ she told him seriously. “…my intent with the consort ritual… besides to provide myself with an attractive breakfast companion…,” she interjected with dry humor, “…was to provide you with the political leverage necessary to establish formal diplomatic relations between Earth and Betazed prior to the departure of your vessel.” She sighed. “It is an unfortunate aspect of my culture that men are not often taken seriously in matters of state.”

Archer gave her a puzzled look. “But I saw a man on the Ruling Council!”

Amelia nodded. “Elren is a respected administrator… but frankly, he would have never been able to serve in his current position had he not been the consort of one of the most powerful members of the council more than thirty years ago, and later the spouse of the administrator of the Fifth House. His family connections gained him the initial respect that he has since earned with his own actions.”

“So you don’t think the Council will listen to me unless I’m somebody’s consort?” demanded Archer in disbelief.

The Matriarch sighed. “I have already experienced difficulty with certain members of the council who do not feel that a mere male is qualified to represent his planet during diplomatic negotiations of this magnitude,” she told him in disgust. Her eyes met his. “Since we have insufficient time to change their prejudicial attitudes, I though it best to lend you some of my authority to aid in your negotiations.”

Archer smiled at her wonderingly. “That still doesn’t answer the question of what you get from this arrangement,” he said in a puzzled tone. “Why not just have T’Pol take over the negotiations? She’s a full-fledged member of Starfleet and a command level officer.”

Amelia shook her head adamantly. “After the incident with the virus which killed everyone on board the Imzadi, the members of the council would be even less well-disposed to a Vulcan than they would be to a man,” she told him. “Believe me, Jonathan… the consort ceremony was our best option.” She looked at him seriously. “As far as what I get out of this…Let’s just say that one four-year-old girl is not sufficient defense from an entire empire of power-hungry aliens. Betazed needs allies… and Earth is an excellent start.”

Archer looked at the Matriarch with growing respect. A young woman appeared at his elbow with a tray piled high with fruit, cheeses, and baked goods.

“Eat, Jonathan… a young man needs his strength!” said the Matriarch, smiling at him indulgently. “We have an appointment with the Ruling Council to discuss Earth-Betazed relations in one hour.”

Malcolm opened his eyes to bright sunlight streaming through the huge picture windows of the bedroom. He groaned and covered his face with the pillow. Hoshi had kept him up until nearly dawn and, although he was not complaining, he felt as if he’d gotten no sleep at all. He rolled to his side, shading his eyes from the blinding rays, and checked his wrist chronometer, which he’d adjusted to local time upon their arrival the day before. It was 0930. He’d gotten all of three and a half hours of sleep. He rolled back over and closed his eyes again, and then he heard a noise emanating from the adjoining bathroom. It sounded like splashing and… singing?

Good Lord! he thought in resignation. How can anyone possibly be so bloody cheerful after so little sleep?

He sighed and tried to return to blessed unconsciousness, but his traitorous imagination kept flashing him images of what was going on in the next room. Visions of a wet, soapy, slippery, naked Hoshi intruded upon his consciousness until a certain portion of his anatomy let it be known that he was not likely to get back to sleep any time soon. He wearily sat up in bed and ran his fingers through his hair in a fruitless attempt to tame the dark curls that always seemed to stubbornly spring up overnight and require a firm combing each morning to subdue them. He grabbed the robe on the end of the bed and shrugged into it, wrapping it around his nude body, and then realized the robe was Hoshi’s. A brief search of the room revealed no other clothing he might use to conceal his rather embarrassing state of interest in the goings-on next door, so he decided to keep the robe on, and walked across the room to the bathroom in the powder pink knee-length garment that barely tied across his broad, muscular chest.

He poked his head around the door and caught sight of Hoshi, afloat in a sea of bubbles, extending one slim leg straight up to the ceiling as she stroked the foam from it with both hands. He cleared his throat. Her head turned and she smiled a smile of invitation.

“Good morning, sleepy head!” she told him with a gentle laugh. He smiled back and entered the bathroom, momentarily forgetting what he was wearing as he admired the portions of her anatomy peeking out from between the bubbles.

Her face broke out in a delighted grin as she took in his appearance. “Decided to do a little cross-dressing today?” she asked him teasingly. His face reddened. “I couldn’t find my clothes,” he muttered in an embarrassed voice.

She extended a hand to him and he walked toward the tub to take her hand in his, his eyes still focused on the view beneath the water.

“I think the last time I saw your clothes, they were on the floor in the other bedroom where I threw them last night...,” she told him, “… but you don’t need clothes to take a bath.” She looked at him innocently and then tugged at the sleeve of the ridiculous garment he wore. “Why don’t you just take this thing off and come scrub my back?”

Malcolm shrugged off his minimal covering. She didn’t have to ask twice.

The landing party, minus one member, met at noon over lunch in the informal dining room. An entire wall of patio doors led to the garden in the rear of the house. The view through the multiple window panes was breathtaking. Luncheon was laid out on the buffet, and consisted of several types of soups, both vegetarian and not, fruits and fresh salads of various descriptions, and fresh baked breads served with butter and a variety of cheeses.

As everyone in the room except the captain had chosen to skip breakfast and sleep in, there was very little conversation as the entire group made quick work of the delicious meal. Commander Tucker swallowed a large mouthful of bread and cheese, and then looked at the Captain inquiringly.

“How’d it go this mornin’, Cap’n?... Where’s the Matriarch?”

Archer chuckled and took a bite of his soup. “Everything’s just fine, Trip,” he reassured his friend. “Amelia and I have come to an understanding. She’s still in session with the Ruling Council, but she said she’d join us for tea before we return to the ship this afternoon.” Archer looked back down at his bowl and took another bite.

Trip made eye contact with Malcolm. Amelia? he mouthed silently with a surprised look on his face. Malcolm grinned and shrugged.

“Has anyone seen Ensign Mayweather?” asked Archer curiously.

“I haven’t seen him since our conference in your room last night, Captain,” answered Malcolm. “I’d assumed he was in his room.”

“I checked there after my session with the Ruling Council this morning,” said the Captain. “His room was empty… and, unless the housekeepers had already come in to make up the bed, it didn’t look like it had been slept in either.”

Hoshi smiled and laughed softly, almost choking. She finished chewing her bite of salad and swallowed. “I believe at the party last night he said something about wanting to make new friends,” she said with a mischievous glint in her eye.

T’pol arched a brow and suggested quite practically, “Perhaps we should ask the household guard to search for him and inform him of our departure at 1600 hours today.”

“I’ll do that, Commander,” said Malcolm quickly. He was mortified that he’d allowed Travis to disappear in the first place. As security officer, it was his job to know where every member of the landing party was at all times. He’d allowed his personal recreational activities to interfere with his duties. He glanced at Hoshi, who was looking at him in sympathetic understanding. He returned her gaze in disbelief. How was it possible for her to know what he was thinking all the time? The woman was uncanny!

The sound of soft, womanly laughter interspersed with the rich baritone of a male voice sounded behind them as a trio of smiling young people entered the room. Travis had a beautiful raven-haired girl on each arm. He smiled at each of them and bent down to whisper something to first one, and then the other. Whatever he said to them, it caused both of them to blush furiously as he laughed teasingly at them. They each took turns kissing him, by all appearances trying to outdo each other in their enthusiasm, and then released his arms, bidding him a reluctant goodbye. He wistfully watched them leave the room, and then turned back to his crewmates with a huge, satisfied smile.

“Well… I’m hungry!” he announced. “What’s for lunch?”

Trip folded his change of clothing and packed it into his overnight bag. He put his toiletries on top, and then picked up Lianna’s gift, unsure whether it would be safer to pack it or to simply carry it in his hand. Lianna’s smiling face shone out from the 2-D still photograph. She held hands with Trip, who looked down at her with an indulgent smile, and T’Pol, who, though unsmiling, also looked at the child with obvious affection. The picture was a candid one, taken by a Sixth House historian from the edge of the landing deck of the space station on the day when the crew of the Enterprise had returned the Imzadi and Lianna back to Betazed. Lianna’s joy at seeing her grandmother again, and her eagerness to introduce her new friends, radiated from the little girl’s face like a ray of sunlight. To frame the photograph, Lianna had constructed a slightly skewed wooden frame, painted in a multitude of bright colors and studded with numerous small shiny stones that…she had proudly informed him… she had collected herself from the streambed that wound through the garden behind the Sixth House.

I’m really gonna miss her, he thought sadly as he gazed at the photograph.

I will miss her as well,. came a soft voice in his head, a voice that he had only recently become accustomed to again after much too long of an absence.

He turned and opened his arms to T’Pol as her sorrow in the bond hit him full force. She stepped into his arms and held him. He cried silently for both of them, the tears streaming down his face as he smiled wistfully and tried to comfort her. Dry-eyed, she pulled back and looked at the photograph. In one hand she held Lianna’s gift to her. Trip took it from her and handed her the photograph. He inspected the candle that Lianna had given to T’Pol. She’d had help from one of the cooks, she’d told them. The same one, apparently, who’d developed the habit of bribing her with uttaberry pie during state functions. This woman was, for obvious reasons, Lianna’s favorite among the household staff. They had poured the candle in layers of five different colors. Flower petals and leaves were imbedded in the wax. It leaned slightly to one side, as if it had been removed from the mold by an impatient little girl before it had had the chance to harden completely. Trip thought it was absolutely beautiful.

We’ll see her again, darlin’, he reassured T’pol as she gazed solemnly at the photograph. I promise.

T’Pol simply nodded. She had no illusions about the likelihood of them returning to Betazed again before the little girl was grown, but she refrained from challenging his promise. There were times when believing in the possible, however illogical that might be, was preferable to insisting on the probable. They each wrapped their treasures within the change of clothes in their overnight bags, and then left together to join the Matriarch for tea.

The landing party, with overnight bags in hand, stood in the entrance hall waiting for the ground car to take them to the landing area where the shuttlepod awaited them. Trip and T’Pol sat on a bench at one side of the hall with Lianna between them. She held their hands. To the Enterprise crew, they appeared to simply be sitting in silence, looking sadly at each other.

Gramma says I can record letters and transmit them to Enterprise once we get the sub… I mean the trans-thingy...

The subspace transmitter, corrected T’pol gently.

Yeah… that…, replied Lianna with a grin.

We want a lotta letters, added Trip with a tearful smile. You send us one anytime you feel like it, and we’ll sent one back.

Lianna put her small hand to Trip’s cheek and wiped off his tears. Don’t be sad, Trip-T’hy’la… I’ll send you lots and lots of letters, she promised.

Trip laughed softly through his tears. I’m not gonna be able to get you to quit callin’ me that, am I?

Lianna giggled and looked conspiratorily at T’Pol. She told me you like that name!... You can’t fool me!

Trip laughed again and pulled Lianna up into his lap. I don’t think anybody can fool you, you little rascal!

She put her arms around his neck and held on tightly for a few seconds, and then kissed him on the cheek. Then she turned to T’Pol and held out her arms. T’Pol didn’t hesitate for a second before she held her arms out to Lianna and gathered the child into her lap. They sat for several moments with their foreheads in contact with each other. Trip sensed no exchange of words. All he could sense was the emotional exchange between the two of them. The intensity of the love the two felt for each other nearly brought him to tears again. He sensed pride, encouragement, and sadness from T’Pol. Lianna was sad as well, but basked in the Vulcan’s approval like a sunflower turning toward the sun. He turned toward the entrance hall when he noticed that it had fallen silent. Every telepath in the room was looking at the pair with tears in their eyes. The eyes of the Enterprise crew were riveted on the sight of their cold and logical first officer holding a child so tenderly in her arms.

The Matriarch smiled at the two of them, and then turned to Jonathan Archer.

“I am pleased that our negotiations were so successful, Captain,” she told him formally. “I am looking forward to meeting Earth’s first ambassador to Betazed when she arrives.”

Archer raised a brow at her and smiled. “She…Amelia? What if the ambassador is a man?”

The Matriarch smiled at him in amusement. “Old habits die hard, Captain… but I will try to keep abreast of the changing times,” she told him.

He took her hand in his. “Whatever happened to ‘Jonathan’?” he asked her with a teasing smile.

“Please, dear… not in front of the children!” she murmured, laughing softly.

Archer lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. His eyes met hers with affection. “This has been a truly memorable mission, Matriarch,” he told her warmly. “I want to thank you for your kind hospitality.”

“The pleasure was mine, Captain,” she told him. This response got some very peculiar looks from the members of the landing party who had been observing their interaction with interest. “Please feel free to return and visit us any time you choose.”

The Matriarch then did something which would be the subject of rumors for weeks once they returned to the ship. Placing her hands on either side of his face, she rose up on her toes and reached up to kiss him soundly on the lips. Instead of recoiling or seeming to be shocked, the Captain smiled at her fondly, and then turned to board the waiting ground car. Hoshi and Malcolm exchanged amazed looks behind the captain’s back. This would definitely go on record as the oddest diplomatic mission they had ever participated in.

Lianna led Trip and T’Pol to the ground car, then released their hands reluctantly and ran to stand beside her grandmother, holding onto her hand for comfort with one hand while she waved at the car with a rather forlorn expression on her face until the car was lost to view. Trip stayed turned around in his seat waving back at her from inside the open ground car the entire time. Although T’Pol kept her eyes fixed directly ahead of them and never once turned back to wave at Lianna, Trip could sense her firmly clinging to her link with Lianna, communicating a telepathic farewell to the child that lasted much longer than visual contact with the car. She stubbornly maintained the link even after they had boarded the shuttlepod, and inhaled sharply as distance finally broke it when they entered orbit. He refrained from touching her, but tried to send comfort to her through their bond. She closed her eyes. He felt her gratitude and a slight lessening of her profound sadness. Here in the shuttlepod, in the presence of others, it was all he could do.

After exiting the shower and dressing for bed, Trip lay in his bunk and sought out T’Pol in the white space. He had a busy day ahead of him tomorrow assuring that the Enterprise’s engines were ready for their return to Earth, but he could feel his wife’s grief like a nagging toothache in the back of his mind, and knew neither of them would sleep very well unless he could find a way to help her with it. He was grieving as well, but his link with Lianna had been the tip of the iceberg compared to T’Pol’s total communion with the motherless telepathic child. The loss of her link with Lianna combined with the recent emotional trauma she had sustained while incarcerated on the Romulan ship had greatly compromised her emotional control. He had no idea if he would be able to help her, but he was determined to try.

Opening his eyes again, he found himself sitting across from her as she sat with her eyes closed in the midst of shining emptiness.

Are you okay, darlin’?” he asked her in a concerned voice, reaching two fingers to touch hers as they lay motionless in her lap. T’Pol’s eyes opened. The pain in their warm hazel depths made her look like a wounded child. She reached out two fingers to touch his reassuringly. Even when performed only in their minds, the gesture calmed them both and intensified their connection.

It will require time, t’hy’la… but I will soon be well,” she told him. He sensed an upwelling of sorrow from deep within her and instinctively drew it into himself, trying to bear it for her. It brought tears to his eyes.

T’Pol sensed what he was attempting to do. There was no logic in it. She would have to bear her own burdens. Bearing her grief would interfere with his sleep. She refused to allow it.

You must rest, Trip,” she told him gently. Go, now… I will remain here alone and meditate.She raised her hand to touch his face in gratitude.You cannot assist me in this… It is something that I must do alone.

Trip gave her a bittersweet smile, and leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead.’Night then, darlin’,” he whispered.Don’t stay up too late.He stood, and then vanished from view.

T’Pol closed her eyes again and focused on controlling the pain that welled up within her. When she sensed that Trip was nearing sleep, she began erecting a barrier in her mind that would block her thoughts from his. He had his own grieving to contend with. He didn’t need to deal with hers as well. As the barrier went up, the full force of her sorrow threatened to overwhelm her control. She hadn’t realized how much of her burden he’d already taken upon himself. For a seemingly endless time, she fought for control and serenity, repeating the tenets of Surak within her mind in a continuous litany. Two hours and thirty-seven minutes later, she had reached a state of fragile equilibrium which she believed would be sufficient for sleep. She opened her eyes.

Gazing down at the lit meditation candle before her, she leaned forward to blow it out in preparation for bed. A single errant tear fell unheeded from her cheek to land on the candle, clinging to a flower petal imbedded in the wax like a dewdrop on a rose petal, and then evaporated in the heat.

The End


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