Two Weddings and a Funeral

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure drama romance


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This story is number 17 in the series Virtual Season Five

The Warp Six Project: Two Weddings and a Funeral

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: The title’s not original... but you probably figured that out already. Paramount owns Enterprise and everyone on her.
Genre: Romance, Action/Adventure

Summary: This is a sequel to A Wolf in the Fold, and it’s the last story in the Warp Six Project Arc--part of my "Virtual Season 5" series. Never fear, though. In the next story, Enterprise is on to bigger and better things with everyone back on board... and a few surprises. As far as the plot summary goes... the title pretty much says it all.

Captain Erika Hernandez sat at tactical on the bridge of the Columbia, watching Admiral Black as he sat in her command chair. His posture was stiff, as if he found the chair uncomfortable, and the expression on his craggy face was severe. The man was getting old... he was nearly seventy and his hair was entirely grey. He had a bad back, and a disposition that was even worse... but she’d heard rumors that he was the best tactician in Starfleet. He’d taken great pains to assure her that she was still in command of her own ship, but that he was assuming the command chair in order to conveniently command the “strike force” of which Columbia was now a part, but it certainly looked as if he’d simply come on board and placed himself in command of her ship and crew. She was not a happy camper.

The admiral had arrived less than twenty-four hours prior to Erika’s moment of discontent, with top-secret orders from Starfleet Command, and accompanied by no less than four of the brand-new Daedalus class battle cruisers. The Daedalus, Archon, Carolina, and Horizon now cruised in formation with the Columbia toward an as yet undisclosed destination. The four smaller ships were officially rated at a maximum speed of warp 4.5, but they had been effortlessly matching Columbia’s warp 5 for some hours now, and they were armed to the teeth. Erika was certain that they weren’t headed for a diplomatic discussion... at least not one that involved sitting around at a table discussing peaceful options for avoiding conflict. It appeared that Starfleet had dumped the war with the Romulans right in her lap... and to hell with peaceful exploration.

Columbia dropped out of warp at the admiral’s command. He gave the same command via the headset he wore, which bypassed the Columbia’s comm station and transmitted his orders directly to the cruisers, and all four of the other ships followed. They approached the periphery of the Salem system, a sparsely inhabited dilithium rich system sporting no less than three semi-automated mining stations. The stations orbited a gas giant within an asteroid belt containing asteroids of near-planetoid proportions. Under the guidance of the navigation specialist that the admiral had brought on board, the helmsman guided Columbia into a huge crater-like depression within one of the enormous asteroids. Grappling hooks were extended to stabilize the ship within the cavity, and then all unnecessary ship’s systems were powered down. The battle cruisers took similar positions.

“Call in the construction teams,” Erika heard the admiral say into his headset. Then he turned toward her.

“I’d like to see you and your command crew in the ready room, Captain,” he told her briskly. “It’s time for a mission briefing.”

Jonathan Archer stepped from the sidewalk onto the grass of Golden Gate Park with a smile on his face. The day was warm, with a brisk breeze blowing in from the bay. He was dressed in a well-worn “2132 Southern California Regional Water Polo Championships” t-shirt and drawstring cotton knit shorts. It felt wonderful to be out of uniform. Archer looked down at Porthos, who was straining against his unaccustomed leash. The poor dog had been cooped up in Phlox’s menagerie room for three days now, awaiting the end of his master’s debriefing, and he was eager to investigate the fascinating smells wafting through the air of the park. Archer caught sight of Elena at the entrance to the park and waved. She waved back with a broad smile on her face. Her white tank top and shorts displayed a lovely expanse of smooth shoulders and long, bronze legs. He called to Porthos and tugged on the leash, but the beagle would have none of it. He was bound and determined to investigate the melted ice cream bar on the sidewalk, and nothing would dissuade him. Elena strolled up to meet them with an amused look on her face. She reached for Archer’s free hand and pulled him to her for a brief but eager kiss. Porthos took note of the interaction, and came to investigate. Elena released Archer’s hand, and crouched down, holding her hand palm-up for Porthos to sniff.

“Hello, mi niño... I’m Elena,” she whispered. Porthos sniffed at her hand, and then cocked his head at her, as if wondering who this strange woman was.

“Don’t take it personally if he doesn’t seem to like you right away,” said Archer hastily. “He’s not around women very much. As a matter of fact, T’Pol was the first woman he’s ever taken a shine to, and that didn’t go over too well,” he added with a rueful grin.

Elena slowly reached out and began to scratch Porthos behind the ears. To Archer’s surprise, the beagle not only tolerated her caress, but he responded exactly the way he usually responded when his master rubbed the same spot... by flopping down on the ground and rolling over on his back so that she could reach his belly. Archer laughed in surprise.

“Looks like you’ve got all of the Archer men in love with you now,” he told her jokingly. She smiled up at him, still rubbing. Porthos had his eyes closed in total bliss.

“When I was very young, I was afraid of dogs,” she admitted. “But with six younger brothers, we always had dogs in the house. The boys left to go to college one by one, and I ended up being the one who had to take care of the dogs. By the time that Arturo was the last one left, he and I were taking care of four dogs. My favorite was our beagle, Nariz. She was a sweetheart,” Elena said softly. She gave Porthos a final gentle pat and stood up. She followed Porthos with her eyes as he rolled over and once again began an eager exploration of the world at the end of his leash.

“Jeffrey was allergic to dogs, and after the divorce, I never thought it would be fair of me to get a dog and then ignore the poor thing because I was working all the time,” Elena told Archer wistfully. He reached out with his free arm and pulled her to him.

“Maybe we should get Jon Junior a dog, then?” he said with a smile. Elena grinned back.

“Jon Junior?” she asked archly. “We don’t even know if I’m pregnant yet!”

“If you’re not, it won’t be for lack of trying,” he shot back. “I haven’t had any sleep in three days!” She laughed aloud and tucked her arm into his elbow as they began to stroll slowly in the direction of the park entrance, following Porthos’ nose.

Archer exhaled happily. Although he was tired, he had no complaints. Elena made love just like she did everything else... aggressively, and with great attention to detail. It was an explosive combination. She’d been the same way with their wedding plans. Within 48 hours of his proposal, she’d had the whole thing planned from soup to nuts. All she required of him was his presence at the appropriate time in full dress uniform. He found her efficiency comforting. He could relax when the people around him knew what they were doing. It was refreshing to be able to step back and let someone else take charge for a while... especially when there were such terrific fringe benefits.

Erika Hernandez sat at the table in her ready room with her command crew surrounding her. They clustered around the vid screen, where a live feed from one of the surveillance sensors surrounding Station Salem One showed them a most amazing sight. The station, which, until days before had been a rough structure whose sole purpose was to provide a docking and unloading facility for the automated dilithium ore miners that roamed the asteroid belt, now possessed what appeared to be well-occupied living quarters and three space dock bays, two of which seemed to be filled with partially completed Daedalus battle cruisers. Seemed was the operative word, for Admiral Black had just informed them that the transformation of the station was nothing but an elaborate ruse.

“The Station is currently occupied by the construction crews responsible for building the mock-up of the shipyard and assembling the ships’ empty hulls,” the admiral told them. “I’ve just recalled the crews. The lights and sensor baffles they’ve installed will mimic occupancy and prevent the Romulans from discovering through scanning that the station is unmanned. The Romulans were given the location of this station several days ago, with the unknowing assistance of an Earth-based Romulan sympathizer who still has their trust. Now we wait.”

Erika looked up from the vid screen in surprise. “An Earth-based sympathizer? What kind of sick human being would sympathize with the Romulans?” she asked in an appalled tone.

Admiral Black sighed. “The sympathizer is not Human... he is Vulcan,” he stated flatly. Erika’s eyes widened in alarm as she realized what that revelation was likely to do to Earth/Vulcan relations if it ever became public. She heard murmurs of outrage from her bridge crew as they protested the extent of what they assumed to be Vulcan treachery. The admiral raised a hand.

“Before you make assumptions, people, let me tell you that the person who revealed the existence of the enemy operative to our intelligence agents was also Vulcan, and that the Vulcan government in no way supports the Romulans in this conflict,” he told them firmly.

Captain Hernandez regarded the admiral with a puzzled look. “If you’ll excuse me, sir... there’s just one thing that I’m confused about. This seems to be an awfully expensive way to guarantee a battle victory. This place is nearly mined out. There’s not enough dilithium ore here to give this system strategic value. Why are we here?”

Admiral Black’s brows both went up at her question. He seemed to be suppressing a smile. “What I should tell you in response to that question, Captain... is that we are here because we’ve been ordered to be here,” he told her wryly. “...but since you’re new to the discipline of battle conditions... and because you asked so nicely... I will explain.” He smiled at her fleetingly before his face returned to its usual stony expression. Erika looked at him askance, trying to decide whether he was flirting with her, or whether she just reminded him of someone... his granddaughter perhaps?

“One month ago, when Earthgov declared war on the Romulan Empire...,” continued the admiral, “...Starfleet was not yet fully prepared. We have new ships, the people of Earth are behind us, and we have the backing of several allies. The one thing we lack is information. We have almost no knowledge of Romulan weapons capabilities or battle tactics. This is a fact-finding mission first and foremost. We’re here to observe the Romulans... to glean as much information as we can about their tactics using this unmanned decoy as bait to minimize casualties. Then... and only then... will we blow them the hell out of our space.”

Trip Tucker gasped as the air was slowly squeezed out of his lungs.

“Mama!” he wheezed. “We’re gonna see ya’ll in a week at Kov’s weddin’! Ya don’t have ta hug me a year’s worth yet!”

Catherine Tucker released him and stepped back, wiping her eyes and laughing. Charles Tucker, pale skinned once again, and with a bristly grey-blonde crew cut, stepped forward and gave his son a hug as well. Trip returned it carefully. His father was doing well, but the scar tissue still pained him some. Catherine faced T’Pol and extended her hand.

“Thank you for takin’ such good care of our boy, my dear,” she said with a smile. T’Pol nodded gravely, and then shook her mother-in-law’s hand.

“I intend to continue to do so,” she said reassuringly. Then she turned to Charles Tucker and offered her hand to him. Charles’ eyes went wide, and then he grasped her hand with a smile.

“It was an honor workin’ with ya, Commander,” he said sincerely.

“Likewise, Mr. Tucker... but for your wife’s sake I sincerely hope it will be the last time,” she told him dryly. He chuckled as he released her hand and gathered his wife beneath his arm.

“Oh... ya don’t need ta worry about that,” he said with a grin. He looked down at Catherine fondly. She returned his gaze with a loving smile. “I’m retired from the espionage business. I’ve got lots ta do at home ta keep me busy!”

Trip could sense T’Pol’s amusement at his father’s statement, and caught a glimpse of her thoughts about exactly what his parents were finding to occupy their time before she raised her barriers in his face. He laughed out loud for a second before suppressing his surprised reaction. He eyed his parents again. Come to think of it, they have been behavin’ like love struck teenagers with each other since we got here last weekend, he thought with a grin.

“We’ll see y’all next week!” he told them both cheerily as he hoisted his duffel to his shoulder. T’Pol did the same... with considerably greater ease... and walked with him toward the private departure gate where Ensign Mayweather was waiting with Shuttlepod One ... or rather, Lieutenant Mayweather... the young man’s promotion had finally come through while the two commanders were stationed on Earth... something about him piloting the Enterprise unscathed through the Galorndon System’s asteroid field... not just once, but four times.

“Make sure ya tell Jon congratulations, and that we’re sorry we couldn’t make it!” Trip’s mother called after them. Charles wasn’t quite up to two weddings in two weeks, and Kov had asked him to be a groomsman. Trip smiled and waved his acknowledgment as they proceeded down the hall. Then he turned to T’Pol, who seemed rather preoccupied.

I guess it’s kinda hard ta block things out with that sensitive hearin’ of yours, he sent to her in amusement.

Indeed, she replied succinctly. She showed no outward evidence of it, but he could sense her embarrassment.

I’m sure Mama and Daddy wouldn’t have minded if they knew you could hear ‘em, he sent back, attempting to reassure her. It’s not like they couldn’t hear what we were doin’ most times.

T’Pol eyed him with one brow raised, and then turned her head to gaze rigidly forward as they walked. Her face flushed a pale green as she clenched her teeth. Trip gave her a rueful glance.

Guess that didn’t help much, did it, darlin’? he sent apologetically.

No, Trip... it did not, she told him, with her barriers firmly in place.

Rosemary St. Clergy was on her knees in the dirt. A pile of uprooted weeds lay at her side, and she was busy pruning canes from the antique climbing roses with an ancient pair of hand-held clippers. The fragrance from the delicate pink blooms was overwhelming from her position in the center of the tangle. She sat back on her heels, wiped perspiration from her forehead with the sleeve of her oversized t-shirt, and inhaled, enjoying the scent.

“That’s lookin’ better already!” said Ralph, as he approached the house from the back pasture. He had a sledgehammer over one shoulder that he’d been using to drive in fence posts to repair a section of the fence that Red Man habitually used as a scratching post. His t-shirt was slung over his other shoulder as he mopped his brow with it, leaving him bare to the waist. The muscles in his upper arms and chest were prominent after the use he’d put them to. Rosemary eyed him with an appreciative grin.

“Just wait ‘til I finish the pruning and get the mulch down... you’ll hardly recognize it,” she told him. Resting a hand on one knee, she began to rise to her feet with effort, her knees stiff after kneeling for so long. Ralph hurriedly dropped both his shirt and the sledgehammer, and reached down with a calloused hand to help her up. She straightened with a groan.

“It’s sure hell getting old,” she told him ruefully. Her eyes met his as he continued to hold her hand long after she no longer had any need for his assistance. He looked down at her with a smile.

“You sure don’t look old ta me,” he murmured. Their eyes held, and the smiles left their faces as he leaned his head down toward hers. She held her breath... waiting for his kiss...

“Aunt Rosemary!” called Janie from the back porch. “We’re supposed ta be at the seamstress in half an hour for my final fitting. Don’tcha think you should come in and get changed?”

Ralph dropped her hand and stepped away. They both exhaled heavily and smiled at each other shyly. “You’d better go on... ya don’t wanna be late,” he told her. She nodded reluctantly and turned toward the house.

“Rosemary?” called Ralph after her. She turned and gave him an inquiring look. “Ummm... How about we leave Sam with Janie tonight and go out somewhere?” he asked with a hopeful look. “I know a great barbeque place. We could even dance if you wanted to.”

She gave him a puzzled look. “Dancing, Ralph? I thought Baptists didn’t dance?”

He grinned back at her. “Like I said before... Wendell and I don’t always see eye-to-eye about things. As far as I’m concerned, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” he joked. Rosemary’s eyes sparkled as she gave Ralph a broad smile.

“Sounds like fun,” she said. “It’s a date.”

Erika Hernandez stepped onto the bridge, still shrugging into her jacket. She took the command chair.

“What have we got?” she asked Commander Cross as he left the command chair to his captain and took his position at the weapons console.

The Columbia’s First Officer looked grim as he replied. “A squadron of Romulan Warbirds just decloaked without warning in a formation surrounding Salem One, and began firing on the station with disruptors set at wide dispersal. It’s only been five minutes, and the living quarters are already breached. If that station had been manned, Captain, the inhabitants wouldn’t have stood a chance.” The turbolift doors swished open, and Admiral Black stepped on to the bridge. Captain Hernandez stood, offering him the command chair. He shook his head.

“I’ll be more comfortable standing, Captain, “ he told her. His face showed the strain of nearly three days with very little sleep, and he moved stiffly, as if his back were causing him pain. She nodded.

“As you prefer, sir,” she told him, and sat back down. She’d grown to respect him in the days of their silent waiting, after many discussions about battle tactics and the state of the political situation on Earth. He took a position behind her, grasping the back of the command chair to steady himself as he spoke into his headset.

“Hold positions. Do not reveal yourselves and do not engage,” he told the commanders of the cruisers. He glanced at Jansen at the science station.

“You getting all of this, Lieutenant Commander?” he asked briskly.

“Yes, sir... every bit, sir,” she answered calmly with her eyes focused on her monitor in fascination.

The Romulans made a final destructive pass, and then Jansen spoke up.

“I’m detecting matter transmitter activity from one of the Romulan ships into one of the hulls in space dock,” she said. The admiral nodded decisively. Erika knew what was coming next. They couldn’t allow the Romulans to inform their superiors that the station was a ruse.

“Detach and engage... detach and engage,” said Admiral Black into his headset. He leaned forward and spoke softly into Erika’s ear. “We’ll stay here for the time being... just watch my boys and girls in action,” he said proudly. Erika rolled her eyes at his paternal tone, and then her jaw dropped as his “Boys and Girls” proceeded to mop the floor with the Romulan Warbirds, despite being outnumbered two to one.

The advantage of complete surprise had a great deal to do with their success. The cruisers took full advantage of the one bit of strategic information that Starfleet had managed to glean from the confrontation at Galorndon Core... the Romulan ships had very inadequately shielded warp cores. Direct hits from precisely targeted torpedoes hit their targets simultaneously, disintegrating four of the Romulan ships in an instant and evening the odds. Then, each cruiser chose a target, mercilessly pursuing that target and landing a series of phase cannon bursts, while gunnery crews prepared yet another torpedo for another attempt at the Romulans’ warp cores. The Romulans recovered from their surprise after a short delay, and directed return disruptor fire at each of the cruisers. Their helmsmen seemed gifted at evading the shots, and the few that got through appeared to be dispersed a few feet before reaching the hull by an unseen shield that surrounded the cruisers, protecting them from the worst of the disruptors’ effects.

“What is that, sir?” asked Commander Cross at tactical. “I’ve never seen hull plating that could do that before!”

Admiral Black smiled in satisfaction. “These ships have shield generators, Commander. They have energy fields surrounding them that are capable of absorbing up to eighty percent of a typical phase cannon blast. This is our first run against disruptor fire, though. I’d say they’re holding up pretty well.”

Erika watched in amazement as the Romulan Warbirds were eliminated one by one. After the last Warbird was destroyed, a shuttle was dispatched to the station in the attempt to rescue the Romulans who had transported there earlier in the battle. Admiral Black quietly communicated with the Daedalus, the cruiser that he had chosen for this mission. Apparently, the sensor baffles that had been installed to fool the Romulans had also prevented the Daedalus from locking on to the Romulans and beaming them aboard. Unfortunately, by the time the Daedalus’ away team arrived, all that was left of the Romulans were the ashes and debris left by a hand disruptor at wide dispersal. The Romulans had incinerated themselves completely rather than be taken by the enemy. It was a rather anticlimactic end to a very long-awaited confrontation.

“Well...,” said the admiral in a rather disappointed tone. “At least we have plenty of information on battle tactics.” He pushed away from the command chair and made his way slowly toward the turbolift. “Send the teams out to analyze the debris and collect samples, “ he said into his headset. “Inform me when the job’s done so we can head back to Earth with the information.” He turned to Erika as he stepped onto the turbolift. “You have command, Captain... I’ll be in sickbay if you need me.” The turbolift doors swished closed.

Aidan Cross exchanged a baffled glance with his captain. She smiled back at him, equally at a loss to explain the events of the past few moments.

“You heard the admiral, people... get the data together so we can get back home and figure out how to get Columbia fitted with some of the admiral’s new toys,” she said ironically. The bridge crew grinned at her, and turned back to their stations as the cruisers began to transmit their recordings of the debris.

“And then she said, ‘Just go along with it... you can always change your mind,’” said Archer with a broad grin. He took a sip of his wine as they sat at the table after dinner. Elena took the opportunity to chime in.

“Then he said, ‘Who says I’ll want to change my mind?’” she added, rolling her eyes.

Trip cracked up. “That was really good... smooth proposal, Jon!” he teased between gasps of laughter. Archer’s mouth opened in protest.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I did it right later!”

“Two hours later!” countered Elena jokingly. “He kept me hanging... trying to figure out if he was serious or not... for two hours!”

Her eyes met Jonathan Archer’s, and her face sobered. He reached out and took her hand, and then brought it to his mouth, grazing the knuckles gently with his lips... his eyes fixed on hers. Trip abruptly stopped laughing. His hand sought T’Pol’s under the table as he gazed in fascination at his closest friend... obviously head-over-heels in love with this woman he barely knew. His fingers touched his wife’s hand as his eyes turned to T’Pol. She had the expression on her face that he liked to call her “almost smile”, and he could feel her satisfaction in the bond. One more thing to check off on her list of things to do... a wife for the captain... check.

“When and where do you require us to report for the ceremony tomorrow, Captain?” asked T’Pol with efficient brusqueness. Elena turned to her, suddenly all business, and responded in a similar manner.

“My brother Ricardo arrives tomorrow at 0900. He’ll be performing the ceremony in the chapel at Starfleet Headquarters. We’ll have a rehearsal at 1100 hours at the chapel, followed by a brief lunch... and then a dressing period. The ceremony begins precisely at 1800 hours. I’ll need everyone here at 1700 hours sharp for photographs. All Starfleet personnel in the wedding party are to wear their dress uniforms. In your case, Commander, I’d prefer your standard Starfleet uniform so as to blend in with the others.”

T’Pol raised a brow, impressed with the woman’s efficiency, and glanced at the captain, who had a bemused smile on his face. He made note of T’Pol’s expression, and smiled at her. “What she said,” he confirmed jokingly. Trip grinned and smothered a laugh behind one hand. He knew now who’d be wearing the pants in this relationship. Who knew that he and Jon would end up marrying women who were so much alike?

Kov and Janie were in Janie’s bedroom that evening, packing her belongings for their move to College Station, which would take place immediately after their wedding reception the following weekend. Since classes began the very next Monday, they were cutting things pretty close.

“So all the furniture is moved in and you’ve got your class syllabi done?” asked Janie as she folded clothing and packed it into a suitcase. Kov nodded. He wrapped a music box that Janie’s mother had given her carefully in several layers of tissue paper before placing it into the box he was packing.

“I have given our landlady the first month’s rent, at her insistence. She informed me that as soon as furniture was placed in the apartment, we owed her rent, whether we were occupying it or not,” he replied wryly. “This was not something that she found necessary to specify prior to Ambassador Soval’s announcement last week.”

Janie sighed. “If things get too tough for ya here, Kov... I suppose we could always move ta Vulcan.”

Kov shook his head in response as he reached for another breakable knick-knack. “We will remain here so that you can get your degree. I can deal with disapproval. I am quite accustomed to it,” he told her stoically. He continued his careful wrapping. “Have you received your class schedule?” he asked.

Janie grinned. “All eighteen hours of it! I can’t wait ‘til I get to advanced warp theory so I can take a class by this really great up-and-coming young professor. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He’s supposed to be so handsome... and rumor has it that he’s Vulcan!” she told him teasingly. Kov raised a brow at her and “humphed” in amusement. He placed several layers of tissue on top of the box he’d just filled, and then taped it securely closed. He marked it with the words, “Fragile... Handle with Care... and This Side Up... in neat block letters before lifting it from the bed and stacking it on the pile with the others.

“That’s the last of it,” he told her. “It’s getting late, and we have to muck stalls early in the morning. Do you wish to shower first, or shall I?” He’d been staying at the Turnbull farm when he was in town between trips to College Station, rooming in with Sam in the second single bed in the boy’s room while Janie’s Aunt Rosemary had the guest room. It was a cozy arrangement that afforded them little opportunity to break their vow of premarital celibacy. It was a good thing, because Janie found herself getting more and more impatient as the days passed... and, thanks to their bond, when Janie was impatient, so was Kov. Janie approached him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He was virtually the same height as she was, so this position put his mouth at ideal kissing height.

“Sam’s in bed, and Mr. Turnbull’s gone out again with Aunt Rosemary,” she whispered. “Why don’t we just stay in here for a little while and fool around?” she offered softly. “We don’t have ta actually break our promise... just a little bit of neckin’, that’s all.” She smiled at him invitingly and then caught his lower lip gently between her teeth. Kov pulled his head back to escape and raised a brow at her. He lifted a hand to her temple and gently pushed her smooth straight auburn hair behind one ear.

“I don’t believe it would be wise at this point to begin something we don’t intend to finish,” he told her seriously. His eyes were fixed on her lips as he spoke. She chuckled.

“Your mouth says no... but your eyes say yes...” she whispered teasingly. Then she kissed him. Her arousal hit him like a blow to the abdomen, making him gasp. He gripped the back of her neck with one hand, and one curvaceous hip with the other as his mouth opened to return her kiss hungrily. She reached both arms around his neck and laced her fingers into his hair as she eagerly explored his mouth. He’d begun to pull frantically at the back of her western style work shirt to untuck it from her jeans and get under it when the rattle of someone pulling up into the circular gravel drive sounded through the window. Janie groaned into Kov’s mouth and pulled away with effort, leaving him wide-eyed and hyperventilating in the center of the room. She smiled at him regretfully.

“I did it again, didn’t I, honey?” she whispered. He swallowed, and then closed his eyes, trying to bring himself back into control. Janie closed her eyes, centered herself, and then extended two fingers to touch his.

“I’m real sorry, sweetie... I forget how hard it is for ya to stop once we get goin’,” she told him apologetically. His fingers touched hers, and he exhaled fully. As rapidly as she’d gotten aroused, it seemed, Janie was able to calm herself. Kov had yet to attain her level of control. He was uncertain if he ever would, but he borrowed it in that moment. Within seconds, his heart rate and respiratory rate returned to normal, and he was able to bask in the sensation of Janie’s love for him without further loss of control. He gazed at Janie with adoration for a moment, and then his expression changed to one of puzzlement. He hadn’t heard anyone come into the house. It had been over three minutes since a vehicle had pulled into the drive.

Kov walked across the room and peered out of the window. His brow went up in surprise, and he beckoned Janie to the window, indicating with a finger to his lips that she should be silent. Janie approached him and wrapped one arm around his waist as she gazed down at the front lawn. Her Aunt Rosemary’s truck was parked in the circular drive with the engine running. The lights were on, but no one was making any move to get out. As they watched, the engine and lights were turned off, leaving the front lawn in near darkness in the moonlight. Janie reached to the wall and turned off the light in her room. As her eyes grew adjusted to the darkness, she saw Mr. Turnbull get out of the truck and go around to open the door for her aunt. They proceeded across the gravel drive hand in hand, making no sound. Just before they got to the porch steps, Ralph Turnbull pulled a smiling Rosemary into his arms and kissed her passionately. She appeared to be enjoying the embrace considerably... and it certainly looked like it wasn’t the first time they’d kissed that evening.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” whispered Janie with a grin. “They were neckin’ in the truck!”

“It appears so,” replied Kov softly. He turned to Janie with an amused Kov-smile. “Perhaps you should make note of the numbers for the caterer and the florist. Your aunt might find them useful at some point in the future.”

“So what should I call him?” asked Archer somewhat anxiously. “Father?... He’s younger than I am! Ricky?... The man’s a priest for Pete’s sake!” Elena laughed lightly.

“If he’s nervous enough to call you by your title, Jon... then you call him by his,” she teased.

“Nervous?” asked Archer in disbelief. “I’m the man you told your clergyman brother that you were sleeping with before marriage! Why would he be the nervous one?”

“You’re the hero of the Xindi war, and a planet-wide celebrity, Jon. He admires you a lot. Of course he’ll be nervous,” she countered.

Her face brightened as she caught sight of the topic of their conversation as he walked through the arrival gate carrying an overnight bag. Ricardo Sanchez was dressed in jeans and a casual solid green button down shirt open at the collar to expose a large gold crucifix that he wore suspended on a chain around his neck. His jet-black wavy hair was long enough to reach his collar, he was movie star handsome, and he was wearing cowboy boots. He looked like a country music star... and absolutely nothing like a priest. Elena rushed to his side and threw her arms around his neck.

“I’m so glad you came!” she exclaimed. He smiled at her with impossibly white, perfectly straight teeth, returning her embrace.

“I couldn’t miss this, ‘Lena... You promised this time it would be forever if I performed the ceremony, remember?” he told her only half jokingly.

She met his eyes squarely with a suddenly serious expression. “This time it will be, Ricky. You’ll see. Just wait ’til you get to know him.” He rolled his eyes and grinned at her naiveté. Jonathan Archer was a man she’d known for less than three months... and most of that long distance. She hadn’t even had time to “get to know him”.

Elena wrapped an arm around her brother’s waist and walked back with him to where Jon was waiting for them. Ricardo Sanchez caught Jonathan Archer’s eye, and his smile vanished, replaced by a look of cool consideration as he eyed the man who intended to wed... and was already sleeping with... his only sister. He extended his hand.

“Captain Archer? Elena has told me so much about you,” he said ironically.

Archer smiled somewhat sheepishly and grasped the younger man’s hand firmly. “It’s very nice to meet you, Father Sanchez,” he told Elena’s brother sincerely. “Please call me Jon.”

At 1800 hours precisely, Father Ricardo Sanchez stood before the altar in the chapel at Starfleet Headquarters. He was dressed in full-length white vestments ornamented with metallic gold embroidery. Two gold-toned candelabra filled with white tapered candles graced the altar. Candles also filled the side niches and virtually every flat surface in the chapel that was not intended as seating for the congregation. The overhead lights were dimmed, and the shadows in the recesses of the chapel were relieved only partially by the candlelight. The chapel was filled with the heady scent of hundreds of white roses, placed on the altar and fastened to the pews by blue ribbons that were the same shade as the groom’s dress uniform.

Ricardo Sanchez had spent the entire day observing the man who was about to bond with his sister in the sacrament of marriage... and he was still puzzled by Jonathan Archer. The media had made him out to be a hero... some sources claimed he was arrogant... pitiless... insistent on his way or no way at all. That image simply didn’t fit the man who’d happily gone along with every detail of his fiancée’s elaborately planned wedding... the man who hadn’t even blinked when he’d found out, a mere hour before the ceremony, that Elena had managed to locate all of her brothers and gather them together in one place for the first time in three years... and so instead of a Best Man and one groomsman, he now had six groomsmen, five of which, lacking dress uniforms, were all decked out in matching black tailcoats and grey pinstripe trousers from the closest tuxedo rental shop. He’d simply shrugged and made a joke about “finding some more bridesmaids or the wedding will be lopsided.” Elena had laughed at him, and then her sisters-in-law had stepped forward, all in matching dark blue floor length sleeveless dresses that coordinated perfectly with the dress uniforms worn by the remainder of the wedding party... dresses apparently “left over” from one of her brothers’ weddings three years before. The wedding party standing at the altar now included Commander Charles Tucker as Best Man and Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed as groomsman, along with the entire assortment of Sanchez brothers. The men were balanced by Commander T’Pol of Vulcan, Lieutenant Hoshi Sato, and all five of the bride’s sisters-in-law.

Ricardo had been rather surprised by the Vulcan’s inclusion in Elena’s showy little ceremony, given the media attention it was receiving and the poor public opinion of Vulcans that everyone seemed to have these days. The woman was apparently truly a friend of Archer’s, if the rather stiff and exceedingly brief embrace... initiated by Archer but not rebuffed... that they’d exchanged before the ceremony had been any indication. Ricardo had never seen a Vulcan tolerate a hug from a Human before. The guy must have something going for him if he rates a hug from a Vulcan, he thought wryly.

As the organist continued to play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, Elena entered on the arm of her good friend Mike Johnson, his dark face beaming at the inside joke of Elena having to be “given away” to anyone. From above, in the organ loft, Mike’s wife Louella worked the pedals and the keys of the organ with a broad grin on her face as she watched the two of them process down the aisle. Elena wore a simple floor-length long-sleeved and high-necked dress of ivory lace and carried a nosegay of greenery and red roses. Her hair was coiled on the top of her head, and adorned with a comb from which hung a Spanish-style mantilla. Mike escorted her to her groom, shook Jonathan Archer’s hand politely, and then took his seat in the second pew. Jonathan Archer looked at his bride with his love for her written plainly on his face. She returned his gaze with the look of a woman who has found the father of her children. In that moment, Ricardo Sanchez became convinced that he was doing what God intended by marrying his sister to Jonathan Archer. He smiled sincerely at the two of them as they turned toward him, and then turned his attention toward the congregation to begin the Rite of Holy Matrimony.

Ambassador Soval of Vulcan still sat in his office in the Vulcan compound despite the late hour, watching live video coverage of the Archer-Sanchez wedding. He’d received an invitation, delivered electronically only forty-eight hours before the ceremony, and accompanied by a brief apologetic message from the bride. There had apparently been insufficient time to print and distribute “proper” invitations. His secretary had nevertheless printed out the invitation on card stock, as per the instructions accompanying it, and had hand-delivered it to his office. He’d politely declined the invitation, of course. He had no wish to divert attention from the event by introducing political controversy.

The ritual had just reached its most riveting moment... the point when Archer’s bride began her vows in a clear, strong voice... “I, Maria Elena, take you, Jonathan, to be my husband...”... when the ambassador’s call-waiting tone sounded. He reached forward and began recording the remainder of the ceremony, with a nearly inaudible sigh of displeasure at the interruption, and then took the call. Admiral Gardner’s face, slightly off kilter through the camera of a portable vid phone, came on screen.

“Ambassador, I just received notice that the media will be reporting the destruction of Station Salem One within the hour,” said the admiral softly. Soval’s keen hearing picked up the sounds of the wedding ceremony in the background. Gardner was calling him from the chapel.

“I understand, Admiral,” replied Soval calmly. Gardner gave him a rueful smile.

“Earth owes you a great deal, Ambassador. I’m sorry we can’t thank you publicly,” he said.

“Vulcans do not require gratitude, Admiral... but when Earth and its allies win this war, I would ask that you keep our assistance in mind,” Soval replied. Gardner nodded.

“I’ll make sure Starfleet Command is reminded of it regularly, Ambassador,” he replied reassuringly.

“Please convey my wishes for a fruitful and mutually beneficial marriage to Captain Archer and his spouse,” added Soval blandly. Gardner’s mouth twitched at the ambassador’s choice of words.

“I’ll be sure and do that as well, Ambassador... you have a nice evening.” Soval simply raised a brow at that, and cut the connection. He sat before the darkened vid screen for a moment, absently fingering the edge of the wedding invitation in his hand. Then he pulled the necessary item from his desk drawer and closed his eyes in meditation for a moment to prepare himself. When he opened his eyes, they were empty of emotion.

“Spek, I require your assistance,” he stated calmly over the office intercom. Despite the fact that it was now 18:17 hours, Soval was confident that Spek would still be in his office. His assistant rarely left the office before Soval did. When Soval had inquired about this habit, Spek had told him that he considered it part of his duties to remain until Soval had completed his tasks for the day, so that he would be available in the event the ambassador required assistance. Such extreme dedication to duty was quite useful... but not entirely logical.

When Spek entered the room, he found Ambassador Soval sitting at his desk, studying a hard copy of the wedding invitation that he’d declined earlier that week with apparent interest. He continued to hold it upright in front of him as he spoke.

“Your skill in comprehending these Humans has been valuable to me, Spek,” he said without meeting his assistant’s eyes. “...but there comes a time when one must judge relative value versus risk.” He looked up at Spek. His eyes were cold and distant. “Your superiors will soon discover that you are of little value to them now. If you choose to remain here in the Vulcan compound, under twenty-four-hour guard, I may be able to keep you alive. I will, of course, require you to cooperate with questioning.”

Spek’s eyes grew wide as he realized the import of what Soval was saying. The old Vulcan had known all along! Spek’s head came up defiantly, his jaw clenched in disdain as he reached into the pendulous sleeve of his ambassadorial robe. His eyes widened in shock as the phase pistol beam sliced through the wedding invitation in Soval’s hand and into his right lower chest, puncturing his heart. The miniature disruptor which he carried hidden in the folds of his sleeve dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers as he fell to the floor with an astonished look on his face, clutching his side. Soval rose from his desk with the phase pistol still trained on his assistant.

“It is regrettable that you have chosen to respond to my offer in this manner... but not unexpected. There is still time to save your life if you so choose,” he said dispassionately.

Spek smiled... a bitter smile of hatred.

“I would prefer death over being kept like a pet for the benefit of Vulcans,” he said viciously, with green-stained lips. Soval raised a brow at him.

“As you wish,” he told him in resignation. Then he raised the pistol slightly and shot Spek precisely between the eyes. He watched as the smile faded from the Romulan’s face, and then returned to his desk, sitting down heavily into his chair with a sigh. After placing the phase pistol carefully on the desk in front of him, he activated the office intercom and entered the code for after-hours emergencies.

“Security... What is your emergency?” responded the calm voice of the security officer on duty.

“This is Soval. Contact Security Chief Tyvok,” he blandly replied. “I require his presence in my office immediately.”

“Okay... okay... I think I’ve got it now!” laughed Jonathan Archer as he stood with one arm around Elena’s shoulders, holding a champagne glass, while he gestured at the tuxedo-clad crowd standing around him with the other hand.

“Ricardo,” he pointed over their heads at the serious fellow in unrelieved black and a clerical collar that stood across the room talking to Admiral Gardner, and then pointed at each of his laughing companions in turn. “Fernando, Rodolpho, Ernesto, Juan, and Arturo!” he finished with a flourish before taking another sip of champagne. Laughter greeted his triumphant recitation.

“Okay... now do the English!” challenged Arturo teasingly. Archer rolled his eyes and thought for a moment. Elena reached up and whispered in his ear.

“Hey, no fair!” exclaimed Arturo. “That’s cheating!”

Archer grinned back at him. “Rick, Fred, Rudy, Ernie, John, and Art,” he rattled off happily.

“I don’t think it was a fair test,” protested Fernando. “Elena cheated.”

“Test? What test?” asked Archer in puzzlement.

“Oh... we could always tell when a boy was really interested in Elena when he could recite all of our names in order,” replied Rodolpho with a grin. Or, at least Archer thought it was Rodolpho. Elena’s middle three brothers... Fernando, Rodolpho, and Ernesto... were triplets. It was virtually impossible for a non-family member to tell them apart. They all had the dark Latin handsomeness of the Sanchez clan, though. Standing with them in a group was like being surrounded by a cluster of movie-star clones.

“You mean, you tested their resolve by forcing them to learn all of your names in order,” retorted Elena with a tolerant smile as she sipped her ginger ale. She was taking no chances with the alcohol. It was too early to tell yet, but somehow she just knew that she was pregnant.

“It mostly worked, didn’t it? We chased the creepy ones away,” said Ernesto. He gazed at Elena thoughtfully. “Come to think of it... I think most of us were grown and moved out by the time Jeffrey came along... we never did test him.”

Elena chuckled dryly. “It’s too bad you didn’t, Ernie... might have saved me a lot of trouble.” She looked up at Jon with a tender smile. “But now’s not the time to talk about the past, guys. This one’s a keeper,” she told them.

“Hey! That’s a good one!” laughed Arturo. He turned to the room at large and held up his champagne glass. “To Jonathan Archer!” he cried. “He’s a keeper!”

Archer rolled his eyes and shook his head, laughing as the guests at the reception all raised their glasses to his new brother-in-law’s rather unorthodox toast.

Jonathan and Elena Archer stood in each other’s arms to one side of the line of Enterprise personnel waiting in the San Francisco Spaceport to board the chartered flight that would take them to Yosemite Station for the first leg of their journey back to oversee the refit of the Enterprise. It was the day after their wedding... and a week after the Enterprise’s arrival home. Repair crews had already been hard at work for a week, repairing battle damage and installing the structural reinforcements that would allow routine travel at speeds up to warp six. The publicity surrounding the warp six testing had been allowed to die down, and although the Enterprise’s upcoming refit wasn’t top secret, no one was discussing the actual modifications publicly.

“I suppose it’s a good thing that we had our honeymoon before the wedding,” Archer whispered ruefully. He wrapped his arms around his wife and buried his face in her hair.

“I’ll be waiting for you next weekend in Houston,” Elena whispered back with her cheek pressed against his chest. She gave him a firm squeeze and then stepped back. “Besides... I need to get back to work. I have a court appearance scheduled for Monday morning at nine am, and several more after that to make up for this week I’ve spent just lying around in bed.” she told him briskly.

Archer gave her a disappointed look. “I was hoping you’d be here waiting for me on Friday so we could fly to Houston together,” he told her.

Elena reached up and placed her hand on his cheek, smiling at him indulgently. “I’d love to be here, querido... but my schedule simply won’t allow it. You understand, don’t you?”

Jonathan Archer sighed. He’d known when he married Elena that her work was very important to her. He was beginning to see how important, now. It was going to take some getting used to. He gave her a reluctant smile.

“Then I suppose I’ll see you Friday night at 1800 hours at Houston Hobby,” he said. His face sobered as his eyes met hers. Her brown eyes shone invitingly as they both remembered their last encounter in an airport reception area.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to get a reputation for making out in public places,” she told him slyly, her eyes cutting to the media representatives filming the departure of the Enterprise crew. Thus far, none of them seemed to have noticed the couple conversing in the background, perhaps because Archer had chosen not to wear his uniform jacket in the airport.

Archer chuckled and pulled her back into his arms. “To hell with reputations... I’m gonna kiss my wife wherever I damn well please,” he told her with a smile, and then proceeded to do so... with considerable enthusiasm.

Janie Rafter sat in the reception area in Houston Hobby where her father had asked her to meet him. Her Aunt Rosemary sat beside her, holding her hand and talking with her softly. Kov could see that Janie was worried, although he stood at least ten meters away from her, watching the planes unload through the windows. He couldn’t feel what she felt, though. Their bond would not strengthen sufficiently for him to sense her emotions without physical contact until after their marriage. That is... if it ever did.

Until the Kir’shara was made public, many modern Vulcan couples had chosen not to attempt the mind meld that would result in a full marriage bond, relying on the primitive mating bond that invariably occurred with consummation and proximity to draw them together during the Ponfarr. Then melding became acceptable, and it was no longer shameful to perform it in public as part of the marriage ceremony. The practice had never completely died out, but until recently, it had been done in secrecy. Kov’s parents had melded at their wedding ceremony... a meld that had resulted in the closest bond that Kov had ever seen between mated partners. Kov’s mother’s death immediately prior to his initial departure from Vulcan to join the V’tosh Katur had been one of the reasons for his father’s drastic decline in health... the decline that had eventually led to the near-fatal illness that had brought about his reconciliation with his only son. Although Kov did not relish the idea of what breaking a strong marriage bond would do to him in eighty or ninety years when Janie died, he nevertheless craved the intensity of what he’d seen his father... and his best friend... share with their mates. He and Janie had discussed the issue, and a Vulcan priest would be on hand at their wedding ceremony in three days to “bless” the new couple. It remained to be seen whether the meld would result in anything but a headache for Janie on her wedding night. Humans were not telepathic. Just because Commanders Tucker and T’Pol had successfully established a marriage bond did not mean that all Humans were capable of it. Kov had to keep reminding himself of that fact to prevent himself from expecting too much. Janie was his chosen mate... his ashayam. Whatever the extent of their bond, that fact remained unchanged. He would be content.

“Hey, Daddy... lemme take that,” came Janie’s voice, bringing Kov out of his reverie. He turned his head to see Thomas Rafter embracing his daughter as she took his bag from him. Rosemary, Rafter’s younger sister by a mere fifteen months, according to Janie, embraced her brother warmly.

“Hey, Tom... it’s good to see you again,” she said simply. Thomas Rafter smiled at his sister.

“Hey, Rosie... thanks for helpin’ with all this, since I couldn’t be here,” he told her gratefully. She grinned and shrugged, and then wrapped her arm securely around Janie’s waist and squeezed.

“Wouldn’t a missed it, Tom... it’s been a really enjoyable trip,” she said. Janie grinned and bit her lip to keep from laughing.

Rafter seemed frailer now than the last time Kov had seen him... during the fateful vid phone call just prior to his suicide attempt. He’d lost weight, and his smile when he looked at his only child was unsure. Kov approached them with something resembling compassion beginning to stir in his Vulcan heart.

“Hello, sir,” he told Thomas Rafter respectfully. Rafter eyed him warily. Kov took the bag from Janie without a word. “Plane travel can be fatiguing,” he said to Janie’s father matter-of-factly. “You will no doubt wish to rest. The car is this way. I will drive you to your hotel.” Then he turned and began to walk toward the exit, bag in hand. Janie and Rosemary exchanged surprised glances. Shrugging, they grinned at each other, and each of them took one of Thomas Rafter’s arms, pulled him along as they followed Kov toward the exit.

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed was overwhelmed. While most of the command staff had four... perhaps five... work crews reporting to them, he had twenty. The engine and structural refits were the most obvious alterations to the ship, but were by no means the most complex. The Enterprise’s three phase cannons and five torpedo tubes, all situated to the fore, were considered by Starfleet to be inadequate firepower for battle conditions. Her polarized hull plating was now obsolete as well. Reed’s job was to oversee the installation of five more phase cannons, placed on the starboard, port, inferior, superior, and aft aspects of the saucer section... along with the power supplies and redundant power systems necessary for the reliable functioning of the weapons in combat... as well as five more torpedo tubes aft. This required the services of eleven work crews. The remaining nine crews were busy installing the shield generators and field emitters, which would produce the energy shield that would eventually surround and protect the ship in combat. Malcolm was more than eager to see the results of his crews’ efforts... but overseeing the actual labor was proving to be a bit more than he could handle alone. He walked briskly down the corridor toward Engineering with a PADD containing nothing but requests for clarification and assistance clutched in one hand, and started on his daily problem-solving rounds once again. He’d been at this now for four days straight, with virtually no time to eat and blessed little time to sleep, and he was beginning to get a bit peevish.

He stepped into Engineering, and entered an area of organized chaos. The slightly larger new engine had been beamed into place and installed within the first day. The challenge for the engineering crews had been to install the structural reinforcements, higher tolerance warp coils, and enhanced plasma buffers... modifications required to prevent the new engine from destroying a ship not capable of dealing with its sheer power. To Malcolm’s eye, it appeared that the work on the engine was almost complete, but appearances could be deceiving. He approached Commander Tucker, who was obviously not simply supervising... judging from the stains from various noxious substances on his jumpsuit.

“Commander, do you have someone you could spare to assist me with supervising weapons installation? I’m having a bit of difficulty with twenty crews to oversee,” said Malcolm to Trip Tucker rather diffidently. He hated to ask for help. It smacked of incompetence... but he didn’t want his exhaustion to affect the weapons installation either. Their lives would soon depend on these weapons.

Trip looked at him in astonishment. “Twenty! Jeez, Mal! Why didn’t ya tell me?” He looked around the engine room. As he caught sight of Commander T’Pol, her head came up. She looked at Commander Tucker with a questioning expression, as if he’d called her. A second later, her face resumed its usual unperturbed calmness, and she began walking in Malcolm’s direction. Commander Tucker looked back at Malcolm as if nothing untoward had happened.

“T’Pol says she’ll help ya,” he said matter-of-factly. Then he turned and walked toward Lieutenant Commander Hess, who was beckoning for his attention.

Malcolm stood staring after Commander Tucker in puzzlement until a quiet voice at his side startled him from his reverie.

“Shall we retire to a quieter area and discuss the division of labor, Lieutenant Commander?” As Malcolm turned to face T’Pol, she noticed the dark rings beneath his eyes and his rather haggard appearance. “I suggest the dining hall,” she continued. “It is now fully operational, and the food there is infinitely preferable to the food in the Jupiter Station crew’s mess.”

Malcolm chuckled. He was exhausted, but he could still appreciate T’Pol’s dry sense of humor. “Anything is infinitely preferable to the food in the Jupiter Station crew’s mess,” he responded, as they turned and walked together out of Engineering. T’Pol looked at him and blandly nodded her agreement.

“Your Honor... I would like to request on behalf of my client that this pre-trial hearing and the subsequent proceedings, if any, be closed to the public. The publicity... both positive and negative... that this case will receive, in view of the identity of one of the victims and the current political climate, will make a fair trial impossible,” stated Elena Sanchez-Archer in her first statement to the court since her legal name change. The judge shook her head.

“Counselor,” responded the grim faced grey-haired woman, “If you’re referring to the political situation with the Vulcans... I disagree. Your client is not accused of injuring a Vulcan. His alleged victim is Human. Your request is therefore denied.”

“Your Honor...,” protested Elena politely. “I am prepared to present evidence that proves Terra Prime’s involvement in this case. Public opinion of the Vulcans would then be intimately involved.”

The judge looked at her in puzzlement. “I don’t understand your objection, Counselor. The current political situation would seem to favor your client.”

Elena sighed in frustration. “Only if he were truly a member of Terra Prime, Your Honor. I am prepared to prove that he isn’t.”

The judge shook her head again. “A preliminary hearing is not the time or the place for this, Counselor. We are here today simply to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. After a review of the evidence, I am prepared to rule that sufficient evidence exists. Does the prosecution have any objections?”

Mike Johnson stood up, eyed Elena regretfully, and then addressed the court. “No, Your Honor... no objections,” he said.

The judge nodded briskly. “In view of the violent nature of this crime, the defendant will continue to be held without bail. Arraignment is set for Monday, September 13th at nine am.” Her hammer came down, and that was that.

Elena watched in disappointment as Jack Gardner, dressed in shackles and shapeless neon orange overalls, was led away by sheriff’s deputies. He had a hopeless look on his face. Virginia Gardner approached her son’s lawyer.

“So I guess he’s gonna get paraded around like the poster boy for Vulcan haters, now... huh, Ms. Sanchez?” asked the grizzled old woman in disgust.

“That’s Sanchez-Archer...” Elena corrected absentmindedly as her eyes followed Jack Gardner out of the courtroom. Then she gave Virginia Gardner a determined look. “...and I won’t let the media make a hero or a scapegoat of your son, Mrs. Gardner... not if I can help it.”

Elena stood in the private reception area near her husband’s scheduled arrival gate. Commanders Tucker and T’Pol exited first, and were greeted warmly by Kov, Janie, and an older couple Elena assumed to be Commander Tucker’s parents. She’d been studying the elder Charles Tucker for some time now while waiting, trying to figure out exactly where she’d seen him before. It was on the tip of her tongue, but she just couldn’t seem to make the connection. Damn! I hate getting old! she thought in frustration.

She pushed the puzzle of her senior moment aside when she caught sight of Jonathan coming through the door. He had an overnight bag in one hand and a pet porter in the other. Elena rushed to meet him and take his bag. He put the pet porter down with a relieved sign and looked down at it with a fond smile.

“You’re getting fat, Porthos. We’re gonna have to put you on a diet,” he said to the travel kennel’s occupant. A brief pitiful high-pitched whine from the depths of the cage let everyone within earshot know of Porthos’ displeasure. Elena’s welcoming expression turned to one of pity as she knelt before the kennel and held her hand out to be licked.

“Oh... pobrecito!” she told the dog in a tender voice. Then she stared up at her husband accusingly. “He hates it in there, Jon. Why did you bring him?”

Archer smiled at her reassuringly. “He hates any cage, Elena... and he’s got a lot better chance of running around free for a while at the Turnbull farm than he would have if I’d left him cooped up any longer in Phlox’s menagerie. I thought it was time that he had a little vacation, and Ralph Turnbull agreed. It seems he’s got a purebred female beagle in heat that he wants to breed. You’ll get pick of the litter,” he said with a grin. Elena gasped in delight. Archer continued to smile broadly as he enjoyed the sight... and feel... of his oh-so-proper and mature wife jumping up to hug him around the neck just like a child at Christmastime. He began to laugh... until her eager lips stifled his laughter and his attention became occupied with more urgent matters.

“Okay, you lovebirds... knock it off or we’ll be late for the rehearsal,” said Trip jokingly.

The newlyweds separated with reluctance. They gave no hint of embarrassment, but grinned good-naturedly at the rest of the group. The new arrivals grabbed their overnight bags... Elena insisting on carrying Jon’s bag so that he didn’t have to struggle with it and the pet porter, and everyone headed for the exit and the Turnbull farm to introduce Porthos to his new girlfriend.

Trip stood up and tapped his fork on the side of his glass to get everyone’s attention. Conversations quieted slightly, and most of the wedding party stopped cracking peanuts long enough to listen to what he had to say. They were in the private dining room of the King’s Ranch Barbeque Barn. A fitting place for the young couple’s wedding rehearsal supper, it was the location of their first date.

“First of all... I’d like ta wish the bride a very happy eighteenth birthday!” he announced with a lifted water glass. “Here, here!” came Ralph Turnbull’s reply as the smiling occupants of the table lifted their glasses in salute. “I know I’m a few days late, but I remember when I turned eighteen... and let me tell you... it’s the one birthday ya think is never gonna come. Enjoy it now, darlin’! Ya won’t be eighteen forever!” Janie laughed and blushed at all the attention as everyone applauded. Trip continued with a grin.

“Well, in case there’s anybody here who doesn’t know me yet...” That comment got generalized laughs, since Trip had been very vocal during the wedding rehearsal... mostly with his constant joking and griping about having to wear a tux. He continued. “... I’m the Best Man... and as the Best Man I get ta tell a story about the groom... a real embarrassin’ story... and because I’m the Best Man... he can’t stop me!” That got another round of laughter. Trip grinned, reveling in the attention. His parents looked on indulgently. T’Pol, sitting across the table from the men between Janie and Elena, exchanged a straight-faced brow raise with Kov. Archer, the only one who noticed that interaction, lost it completely and began laughing uncontrollably. Elena kicked him under the table as he gasped for air.

“Jon! Hush!” she chided him with an amused grin. He looked at her helplessly and just pointed, first at T’Pol and then at Kov. Both of them returned Elena’s puzzled look with expressions of utter innocence, which just set Archer off again. Trip ignored him completely and continued with his story.

“I was talkin’ with Ralph Turnbull earlier this evenin’, and he was tellin’ me all about when Kov and Janie first met. How Kov would always call her ‘Miss Rafter’ and never her given name, and how he was always so serious and stiff and polite.” Ralph Turnbull grinned from across the table where he sat with his arm slung casually over the back of Rosemary St. Clergy’s chair. She’d taken the opportunity to just scoot right on into the resulting cozy hollow, and looked pleased as punch to be there.

“As a matter of fact, he was so blasted polite that Ralph was startin’ ta get a little worried about the boy... ‘til one night when he caught ‘em neckin’ pretty hot ‘n heavy on the couch in his livin’ room!” That triggered some whoops and whistles from the wedding party, and a nice Christmas-colored display from the soon-to-be-newlyweds.

“Seems he had ta give ‘em a little lecture about proper behavior in a Christian household... but he stopped worryin’ after that... Nothin’ wrong with that boy’s libido!” Cheers and whistles... and even more dramatic shades of red and green... rounded out the response to Trip’s story. Thomas Rafter smiled and leaned toward Jonathan Archer.

“That’s a relief!” he whispered with a grin. “I wasn’t quite sure how ta go about askin’ a Vulcan a question like that.”

Kov leaned backward and spoke to his fiancée’s father behind Archer’s back. He had, of course, heard every word. “There is no need concern yourself with that, sir. You will find that I have little difficulty answering questions that most Vulcans would find intrusive. You may feel free to ask me anything,” he told Thomas Rafter earnestly over the pandemonium.

Rafter smiled at him with a puzzled look on his face. “You’re not at all what I expected, son,” he told him.

Kov returned his smile with a subtle one of his own. “And is that a good thing, sir?” he asked curiously.

Rafter chuckled and nodded. “Yes, Kov... It’s a very good thing.”

Thomas Rafter was nervous.

She’s too young for this... she’s barely eighteen!... I’m too young for this! he thought wryly. He stood in the front hall at the entry doors to the sanctuary. He could hear the piano player warming up the room with “Amazing Grace”. The conversation in the sanctuary had died down as the guests awaited the wedding procession. Commander Tucker stood at the door quietly talking with Rosemary. Tucker was dressed identically to all of the other men in the wedding party... in a black cutaway coat with grey trousers, tie and vest. He’d drawn the line at the gloves, though, and kept sticking his finger beneath his tie and craning his neck, as if working on it might stretch it a bit.

Rosemary, the Maid of Honor, was lovely in a Kelly green dress with long flowing sleeves in a nearly transparent green fabric, which contrasted nicely with the smooth satin sheen of the rest of the dress. Behind them, Ralph Turnbull, one of the groomsmen, stood with an absolutely stunning Elena Archer in a green dress that matched Rosemary’s. Strangely enough, Ralph seemed to be completely ignoring his gorgeous companion. His eyes remained fixed on Rosemary, and he had a rather dreamy smile on his face. Charles Tucker, Junior... the second groomsman, had been paired with Commander T’Pol in the curious mix-and-match game that often resulted from wedding party formalities. She looked coolly stunning in green as well, and stood conversing in a serious manner with her escort. Samuel Houston Turnbull was running laps around the entrance hall until his father brought him to heel. He was dressed in a miniature version of the men’s formal wear. Ralph squatted, looked him seriously in the eye, and then handed him a pillow, to which the wedding rings were securely tied. Sam’s eyes went wide, and he stood perfectly still after that, holding the pillow in front of him as if he were afraid it would disappear before the ceremony.

Kov entered the hall and beckoned to the Tuckers and Ralph. They left through a side door to take their positions at Pastor Green’s right hand. The ceremony was about to start. Rafter could hear the strains of Pachabel’s canon being played by the violinist. The doors opened to allow Rosemary to enter the sanctuary. He could see everyone’s expectant faces turned toward the door. The small sanctuary hall that the First Baptist Church of Greater Houston used for wedding ceremonies was beautifully decorated with the bouquets of greenery and Texas wildflowers that he’d helped Janie, Kov, and Rosemary gather by the armful from the pastures of the Turnbull farm the day before. Elena Archer followed Rosemary, and then T’Pol processed inside... followed by a very solemn Sam Turnbull. Rafter turned as his daughter entered the front hall and took his arm with a look of pure joy on her face. Rosemary had really done herself proud. Janie’s pristinely white gown, cut in an off-the-shoulder southern belle style with a small hoop skirt, was sweetly romantic. Her flame-bright, shining hair was caught in circular braids around her head. Woven into the braids were more wildflowers... delicate sprigs of bluebonnet and baby’s breath. She held a nosegay of every wildflower they’d found in the pasture, with a few pink antique roses thrown in for good measure. He gazed lovingly at her with unshed tears in his eyes.

“You’re so beautiful, sweetheart,” he told her. “Your mama would’ve been so proud.”

She smiled back at him with shining eyes, and then they stepped forward to join the rest of the wedding party surrounding Pastor Green.

“I, Kov, take thee, Ida Jane, to be my wife, and before God and these witnesses I promise to be a faithful and true husband,” repeated Kov solemnly. Janie smiled tearfully. Kov’s lips twitched upward in a tiny, nervous smile in return. Then his gaze returned to the preacher. It was time for the rings. Sam Turnbull offered the pillow to Trip Tucker with the look of someone who was handing off a burdensome responsibility. Trip smiled at the boy, and then removed the rings, handing them to Pastor Green. The pastor gave the larger one to Janie with a smile. Janie turned to Kov and grasped his left hand with trembling fingers. The physical contact calmed them both. He sensed her nervousness, to be sure, but he also felt her calm certainty that they were doing the right thing. Her trembling stopped, and she met his eyes as she slipped the ring on his finger.

“With this ring I thee wed, and all my worldly goods I thee endow,” she said in a strong, sure voice. “In sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, ‘til death do us part.”

The Pastor handed the smaller gold band to Kov. He cleared his throat nervously, and then took Janie’s hand, adding the simple band to her finger atop her engagement ring.

“With this ring I thee wed,” he repeated. His voice grew hoarse and he had to clear his throat for a moment before continuing. Janie smiled at him encouragingly. “... and all my worldly goods I thee endow. In sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth...” He paused as if the next phrase pained him. “... ‘til death do us part,” he finished.

Pastor Green brought out the Marriage Certificate as the pianist began to play and sing a classic old hymn... “God of Wonders”. Janie smiled as she rose to sign the document. It was her favorite hymn. As she bent down to sign her name, she heard something. She looked over at Kov in astonishment. His eyes were fixed on her, he had a sweet Kov-smile on his face... and he was humming! It didn’t seem to Janie that he’d realized he was even doing it. His voice was beautiful... a rich tenor that she could feel vibrating in her bones from where she stood nearly touching him. She held her breath and smiled back at him, unwilling to call his attention to what he was doing... afraid he’d stop if she did. The ceremony came to a halt as they gazed at each other. Pastor Green finally tapped Janie on the shoulder with an indulgent smile on his face, and nodded at her hand, indicating that she should give Kov the pen. With the moment broken, Kov took the pen from her with a puzzled look, still unaware of what he’d done, and bent forward to sign the marriage certificate.

With the paperwork taken care of, the young couple stood before the preacher once again. Pastor Green nodded politely to the side of the sanctuary, and a solemn young Vulcan priest, obviously one of the many young Vulcans called to the priesthood by the recent discovery of the Kir’shara, stepped before the two of them to offer his “blessing”. Kov extended two fingers to Janie. She touched his fingers with the tips of her own, closed her eyes, and exhaled, trying to prepare herself for what she knew was coming. As far as the wedding guests were concerned, all the Vulcan priest appeared to do was to lay his hands gently on the crowns of their heads for several moments. Both Kov and Janie appeared stunned when the priest stepped back. They stared at each other in obvious astonishment. Janie’s face was wreathed in a broad, tearful smile. Kov visibly struggled for control as a single tear made its way down his cheek. Then he smiled. The Vulcan priest stepped aside without a word, and Pastor Green took his place.

After glancing at Kov and Janie with a slightly puzzled expression, he announced, “I now pronounce you husband and wife... You may kiss the bride.”

Kov and Janie, still reeling from the aftereffects of total mental union, paused for a moment with fingertips touching. Although a kiss seemed anticlimactic after what they’d just experienced, Kov realized that one was expected. He raised a brow at Janie.

Behave yourself... all right? he requested in stern silence. She grinned mischievously.

Only ‘til we get somewhere private, you sexy man, you, she replied inside his head.

His face had the slightest green tinge to it as he touched his lips lightly and chastely to hers. The intake of breath, followed by dozens of “Awww’s” followed, and then the sanctuary was filled with enthusiastic applause.

Rosemary St. Clergy stuck her head into the barn. She was only one of several adults searching for one small boy. It was time to clean up after the reception, now that Kov and Janie had made their grand exit to the hotel... running to Kov’s ground car while being pelted with birdseed. They would return in the morning to pack the last of Janie’s things and make the drive to College Station. The two of them had had to make compromises in their wedding plans once they’d realized how much the hall... and the florist... and the caterer... were going to cost, and Ralph Turnbull had been more than willing to pitch in. The Turnbull farm had been a wonderful place for the reception. The weather was dry and hot, without a single cloud to mar the pristinely blue sky. The canvas pavilions Ralph and Kov had set up had provided a nice bit of shade, though... and everyone had enjoyed Ralph’s barbeque. Rosemary had even given him her family’s secret recipe for baked beans... she didn’t cook, but she had an extensive library of recipes that she liked to eat... and she’d had to go out at the last minute to purchase the key ingredient. Apparently, bourbon was not something Ralph Turnbull kept around the house.

“Sam?” called Rosemary softly. She heard sniffling and the shuffling of feet coming from Two Bit’s stall. She entered the barn and peered over the stall door. Sam stood with his arms around the neck of the horse, still wearing his tuxedo... his tear stained face pressed into the horse’s warm brown neck.

“Go away,” said the boy grumpily, refusing to look at her concerned face.

Rosemary smiled at him gently. “That’s a really nice horse ya have there, Sam... mind if I come in and pet him?”

The boy said nothing. Everyone at the reception had had tears in their eyes when Janie had handed over Two Bits’ reins to Sam, telling him that “college is no place for a horse, so I guess you’ll have ta take care of him from now on”, while Ralph Turnbull and Thomas Rafter had both smiled proudly at Janie for being so grown up.

Rosemary entered the stall cautiously. It wasn’t that she disliked horses exactly, it was just that she was always careful around anything that was so much bigger than she was. She placed a hand on Two Bit’s withers and began to stroke him.

“Your daddy’s looking for you, Sam... It’s time to change clothes.” She eyed the boy’s filthy tuxedo ruefully, and gave a mental shrug. Oh well... dirt washes off, she thought with a wry grin.

“Don’t wanna change clothes,” replied Sam sulkily.

Rosemary sighed. Time to get to the nitty gritty.

“You’re gonna miss Janie, aren’t you, Sam?” she asked him softly. The boy sniffed, ignored her question for a moment, and then nodded.

“I’m sure Janie’s gonna miss you too... but she’s married to Kov now, and she’s got to go live with him,” explained Rosemary.

Sam’s face scrunched up into an expression of total misery. “So why couldn’t she just marry Daddy, then, and stay here with us?” he asked in a teary voice.

Rosemary laughed. “Janie’s not in love with your daddy, Sam... she’s in love with Kov.”

Sam wiped tears from his face with the back of one grimy hand and thought about her words for a moment. Rosemary could see the wheels turning as he gave the concept some serious consideration.

“Are you in love with my daddy?” were the next completely unexpected words out of the child’s mouth. Rosemary just looked at the boy with her mouth open, trying to figure out what to say. She’d known nothing good would come of Sam catching her kissing his father in the barn earlier that week... and what if she told the child yes ... which was honestly the first answer that had popped into her head... what would he expect from her then?

Before she could come up with an adequate response to Sam’s question, Rosemary was saved by the sound of whimpering and whining coming from the paddock just outside the open barn door. She gave Two Bits a final pat and exited the stall to investigate. Catching sight of the source of the disturbance, she stifled a laugh and leaned against the stall door for a moment to prevent Sam from coming out until Porthos and Belle were done with their tryst, and then turned to Sam as he exited the stall.

“How did the dogs get out, Sam? I thought they were all in their kennels for the reception?” she asked the boy with a grin.

Sam looked up at her in all innocence. “That other dog kept trying ta bite Belle and climb all over her, so I let ‘em out so she could get away,” he told her. Rosemary chuckled.

“It’s okay, Sam... Porthos won’t hurt Belle. They’re just playing.” She looked up as the two of them began to get frisky again. Reaching to the floor of the barn, she grabbed a clod of dirt and threw it at them to break them up. Then she put her arm over Sam’s shoulders.

“Okey-dokey, smokey...” she said briskly. “... let’s go put ‘em back in the kennel. I don’t think they’re quite finished playing yet.”

Janie rolled carefully out of bed with a slight wince, and walked to the honeymoon suite’s enormous mirrored bathroom to clean up and finally change into the pretty new nightgown that Aunt Rosemary had bought for her wedding night... the one she hadn’t worn yet because they’d barely made it to the bed, much less the suitcases. She inspected herself in the mirror as she washed her face and brushed her teeth. She didn’t look any different. She didn’t feel any different either, except for the occasional twinge when she moved the wrong way. The pain really hadn’t been that bad, though. Aunt Rosemary had been right. Horseback riding definitely helped.

She turned the light off in the bathroom and approached the bed, gazing down at her new husband in the semi-darkness. The main difference, she decided, was emotional. She was still trying to deal with the total intimacy of the mind meld, and her realization that the man she had just married was the most innocently good person she’d ever met. He truly loved her... beyond anything she could have possibly imagined... with a strength that would allow him to give his life for her without even thinking twice about it. The knowledge awed and shamed her. She felt unworthy of him... and yet he seemed not to have the slightest awareness of how truly special he was.

Janie slipped under the sheets and moved to wrap her arms around Kov as he slept. Even when he was unconscious, his presence in her mind warmed her from within just as thoroughly as his body heat warmed the bed they shared. He stirred as she embraced him.

Janie? he thought muzzily from the depths of sleep.

I’m here, honey... go back to sleep now, she reassured him.

Kov smiled sweetly with his eyes still closed, pulled her against his body, and promptly fell back into a deep sleep. Janie sighed in contentment, closed her eyes, and allowed herself to join him.

Early that Sunday morning, long before sunrise, Elena Archer rose from her warm nest in the bed beside her husband and went quietly into her bathroom. Lacking the services of a fancy sickbay scanner, or even a tricorder, she resorted to an ancient but still widely used means of finding out what she wanted to know... the home pregnancy test. The next day would be the two-week anniversary of their first night together, and the doctor had told her to wait two weeks... but Jon was leaving to go back to San Francisco at noon, and she’d decided that she needed to tell him in person... one way or the other. She sat on the vanity stool in her bathroom with the tip of her thumbnail between her teeth. It was an old habit... the only remnant of three years of sucking her thumb as a baby. She only reverted to it when she was scared to death. She decided after about thirty seconds that she couldn’t stand to wait alone.

“Jon! Jon, wake up... come and see this!” She shook him by the shoulder until he rolled over and sat up in bed, blinking blearily at her in the semi-darkness. He squinted at the light coming from the bathroom, and then looked at the bedside chronometer.

“It’s five am, Elena! What are you doing?” he asked her indignantly.

“A pregnancy test! Now get up and help me read it!” she told him, in a tone that brooked no argument.

He sighed, ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth and made a face, then swung his legs out of bed and trudged reluctantly to the bathroom, dressed in a t-shirt and Starfleet issue blues. When he got to the bathroom, he made straight for the bottle of mouthwash without even glancing at the test on the counter and painstakingly poured himself a capful. He downed half of it, offering the other half to his wife. She took the cap from him with a bewildered look and watched as he swished and spat. He stepped away from the sink to allow her to do the same.

“Jon!” she protested. He grinned at her and nodded at the mouthwash in her hand. She rolled her eyes at him and downed it, making a face at the medicinal taste, and spat it into the sink.

“Happy now?” she asked him in exasperation. He nodded and smiled at her, and then he picked up the test and studied it closely. There was a large pink “plus” sign on the thing. Elena could tell from across the room that it was positive. Archer continued to study it with great concentration. Elena stared at his face closely. He was suppressing a grin.

“Well?” she said. This was starting to get annoying. Was he happy?... or was he changing his mind?

He nodded in satisfaction. “Looks like we did it,” he said matter-of-factly. He put the test down, grasped Elena by the hand, and pulled her out of the bathroom.

“Jon? Where are you going?” asked Elena with a laugh. She could see that he was making a beeline back to the bed.

He grinned back at her mischievously. “We’ve got three hours before we have to go pick up Porthos. I’m going back to bed with my wife to celebrate properly.” He pulled her into his arms by the side of the bed and picked her up, spinning in place for several seconds. “’Cause we’re gonna have a baby!” he said exuberantly. They fell over together onto the bed, laughing and dizzy. The room was still spinning when they began their celebration.

Trip Tucker opened his eyes at sunrise, and found T’Pol gazing at him solemnly. It was their last morning planetside, and neither of them wanted to waste it sleeping. He reached for her smooth, warm form beneath the covers. Neither of them had worn any clothing to bed for weeks now. It seemed a wasted opportunity to deprive themselves of the sensation of skin-against-skin when it could be a very long time before they’d experience it again once they returned to Enterprise.

After Janie and Kov’s wedding reception the previous afternoon, they’d returned to their apartment... still theirs for less than a day now... and packed what little remained to be packed before making love most of the night. Despite their nocturnal activities, both of them had awakened early, as was T’Pol’s habit... after only a couple of hours of sleep. Trip was sexually sated for once, but still couldn’t get enough of the feel of his wife in his arms. They wrapped themselves around each other and simply lay there, enjoying the closeness that only skin-to-skin contact afforded.

I will miss this, T’Pol sent dreamily.

Not wakin’ up with you in my bed is the worst part about bein’ on Enterprise... except for not goin’ ta sleep with you in my bed, quipped Trip.

I will have to discover a way around that problem... perhaps another white space fantasy is in order, replied T’Pol.

If ya do one... make it feel just like this, said Trip contentedly.

I will do my very best, she replied as she wriggled closer to place even more of her in contact with him. Trip smiled and sighed. Getting up early was so much fun.

“We’ll be in-system for two more weeks at Jupiter Station. Is there any way you might be able to take some time to come and see us off?” Archer asked softly. He stood... again... in an airport reception area with Elena in his arms. This time Lieutenant Mayweather was waiting with Shuttlepod One at Houston Hobby to take Archer, his First Officer, and his Chief Engineer directly to Jupiter Station. Phlox was back from his vacation, and had moved his menagerie back on board, so Porthos was coming too.

“I’ll certainly try, Jon... but I’ve got a lot of cases to catch up with after taking so much time off,” said Elena doubtfully. She sighed. “We might just have to make do with a ‘phone call,” she warned him. He nodded reluctantly.

“I understand,” he told her sadly. “Just do what you can do... and take care of Jon Junior,” he added with a teasing smile, placing his hand on her completely flat abdomen.

“You mean little Maria Whatever, don’t you?” she teased back.

“Well, that’s a catchy name!” chuckled Archer. “I’ll see if I can come up with some other options to go with Maria before it’s too late.” He looked over Elena’s shoulder to see Trip beckoning him on. Travis was ready to go. Archer looked back down at Elena. She was still forcing herself to smile, but she had tears in her eyes. He smiled gently at her and took her face in both hands.

“I love you,” he whispered, and then kissed her softly. She promptly wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss that rivaled their very first. When they finally broke apart, she smiled up at him with tears on her face.

“I love you, too... now go before I start crying and can’t stop,” she laughed.

His eyes began to fill with tears then, so he nodded a wordless farewell, slung his duffel over his shoulder, grabbed the pet porter, and left her without looking back.

Starship captains don’t cry in public, he told himself firmly. He clenched his jaw and repeated that fact to himself all the way to the shuttlepod. It didn’t help much.

“Have either of you seen the captain since he got back?” asked Hoshi. She sat with Travis and Malcolm in the dining hall at breakfast. The refit was progressing well, and Enterprise’s support services were fully functional, a fact that had the entire crew breathing a sigh of relief. Malcolm was apparently not the only crewmember with the opinion that anything was better than the Jupiter Station crew’s mess.

“The last time I saw him off duty was when I piloted the shuttle that brought him and the Commanders back on board two days ago. Since then, I don’t think he’s come out of his quarters when he wasn’t overseeing the bridge refit. He’s even having Chef bring him his meals there,” replied Travis.

“The poor man...” said Hoshi in a sympathetic tone. “... to find her, only to lose her again... it’s so tragic!”

“He hasn’t lost her, Hoshi... she married him,” protested Malcolm.

“You know what I mean, Malcolm... so close, and yet so far!” replied Hoshi dreamily.

Travis and Malcolm exchanged wry glances. Hoshi was making the captain sound like some kind of romantic hero. If she wasn’t careful, she’d soon have every unattached woman on the ship longing to comfort the poor captain in his loneliness. This could get interesting.

Travis’ attention was caught by another puzzle of a romantic nature. He jerked his chin to the left, over Malcolm’s shoulder. “Speaking of so close... what do you guys make of that?” Hoshi glanced over Malcolm’s shoulder, and her eyes got as big around as saucers.

“When did that happen!” she whispered in astonishment. Malcolm turned around nonchalantly, and was faced with a vaguely disturbing sight. Phlox, who’d just come back from a two week vacation on Earth with his wife Feezal, and had just seen her off back to Denobula the day before, was sitting rather cozily tête-à-tête with Crewman Liz Cutler, feeding her morsels of food from his breakfast plate.

“Oh... you know Phlox... he’s always offering his food for everyone to try,” replied Malcolm with an uncomfortable expression

“No, Malcolm... look!” Hoshi insisted. Malcolm looked again. He saw Phlox take a bite of a strawberry, and then offer the other half to a smiling Liz Cutler, who took it directly from his hand with her lips, and then licked the tips of his fingers before she chewed.

“Ohhhh... kay!” whispered Travis with a grimace. “Do you guys wanna tell them to go get a room, or should I?”

Soval of Vulcan, Ambassador to Earth, sat on a meditation cushion placed on the floor of his office in the Vulcan Compound, contemplating nothingness. Doing so was the only way to prevent himself from contemplating many other pressing problems... problems that were seriously disturbing his emotional equilibrium. He sat with his back to the door, a position which was not entirely safe, given the known presence... at least until recently... of at least one Romulan agent on Earth. His position was necessary to his peace of mind, however, for it spared him the sight, whenever he opened his eyes, of the persistent green stains on his office carpet... stains that appeared to be permanent, given the effort that the cleaning staff had taken to remove them without success.

It was illogical of me to expect him to accept my offer of clemency.

The thought intruded itself into his attempts to remain mentally and emotionally detached.

Before he could suppress it, another thought asserted itself.

There was no other option available to me.

Spek’s face, with a gradually fading smile and a slightly smoking, black char mark directly between his eyes, was the next intrusion.

He was a talented operative. Had I been able to turn him, he would have been an extremely valuable ally.

Soval considered this last thought for a moment, and discovered that, despite the fact that he’d realized within the first week of the young man’s posting that he couldn’t be trusted, he’d actually developed quite an illogical fondness for the boy. It was this inconvenient emotion that was giving him so much difficulty. Admittedly, the young Romulan had been an untrustworthy, lying, psychopathic killer... but, under the proper guidance, he could have been so much more.

I regret being forced to kill him, he finally admitted to himself. ... But regret is an emotion, and as such, should not be allowed expression.

He sighed, and closed his eyes again. Perhaps more meditation was the answer. He emptied his mind once more... and then heard the soft tones of his call-waiting alert. Abandoning his attempts with a slightly frustrated exhalation, he rose to his feet and sat at his desk to take the call.

When Soval saw the face on the screen, he instinctively sat up a bit straighter in his chair and inclined his head politely. His face showed none of the surprise he felt at being contacted personally by such an important member of the Vulcan High Council.

“Minister Kuvak, it is agreeable to see you. How may I be of assistance?”

The grizzled grey-haired minister inclined his head solemnly in return. “I require information,” he responded rather obscurely. Because the matter was foremost in his mind, Soval assumed that Minister Kuvak was speaking of Assistant Ambassador Spek’s forced retirement from the Vulcan Diplomatic Corps.

“I made every attempt to include all pertinent information in my report, Minister Kuvak. I was unfortunately unable to persuade my former assistant to cooperate. I saw no alternative to deadly force,” said Soval in a resigned tone. Kuvak raised a brow at him.

“I have reviewed your report, Ambassador... and I agree with you completely. The Romulan posed a threat to Earth’s security, and needed to be neutralized. In addition to that, the risk of the discovery of his genetic origin required that he be eliminated, and his body disposed of, before it could be studied by the Humans. You accomplished both goals quite admirably.” The minister paused briefly. Soval could see that he was struggling with something... embarrassment perhaps?

“The information I require is unrelated to the Romulan, Ambassador,” Kuvak finally admitted. “I would like for you to perform a task for me. It is a personal matter... one I would deal with myself if I were able to do so. Unfortunately, neither my health nor the nature of my responsibilities allow me the freedom to travel to Earth.”

Soval nodded briskly. “I would be honored to assist you in this matter, Minister Kuvak,” he said. “What task would you like for me to perform?”

The minister swallowed. Then he said, ”I want you to find my son, Ambassador. Kov is missing again. I obtained a posting for him with the Warp Six Project over ten months ago. I was receiving regular reports of his progress through Chief Engineer Storr until three weeks ago when the project was officially terminated. Since then, I have received a single communication from him, indicating that he has obtained a teaching position, and that he plans to remain on Earth indefinitely. He did not provide me with any contact information, and told me that it would be better that I not contact him. I believe now that I have discovered the reason why. Earlier this week I was contacted by a young Vulcan priest stationed at the Vulcan Consulate in Houston, Texas... Do you know of this place, Ambassador?”

Soval nodded. “It is in the southern part of the United States of America, the same nation in which I am stationed, but several hours by air to the southeast from where I am speaking with you, sir,” he replied.

Kuvak nodded in understanding. “This young priest claimed to have officiated at a bonding ceremony and “marriage” between my son and an eighteen-year-old Human female,” said Kuvak. His control wavered with his statement, revealing his amazement and disbelief. “He also claimed that my son misrepresented the situation to him... telling him that I was aware of the relationship, and approved of it. It was only during the meld that the priest discovered my son’s duplicity, but by that time, the bonding was complete. He contacted me immediately, of course.”

Soval raised a brow. “Are you certain of this priest and his information, Minister? Eighteen seems young... even for a Human.”

Kuvak exhaled. “I have no reason to doubt him. The priest is naïve and sheltered, but he has no reason to lie.”

Soval nodded. “I understand your concern, Minister. I will certainly investigate the situation thoroughly.” He gazed at the minister in a manner that, for a Vulcan, approached true sympathy.

“May I point out, sir, that this situation may not be as dire as you suspect. Your son breaks no Human law by wedding an eighteen-year-old. Human females are physically mature and are recognized as legal adults at that age. Perhaps, if he has for some reason made the decision to forgo a mate of his own species, he has simply made a very logical decision to mate with a Human capable of providing him with the longest possible period of companionship,” replied Soval, attempting to reassure Kuvak as best as he was able under the circumstances. Kuvak looked somewhat skeptical.

“I would prefer for you to locate my son so that I may discuss the reasons for his shameful behavior with him myself,” replied Minister Kuvak. He did not sound as if the discussion would be a very pleasant one.

It was 2200 hours, and Jonathan Archer was in his quarters on Enterprise, on his bed, moping. It was an extremely bad habit to get into, one unworthy of a starship captain... but he just couldn’t seem to get motivated to do anything else off duty.

“We’ve got to snap out of this, Porthos,” he said to his companion in misery, rubbing him gently behind the ears. Even the dog had seemed depressed lately, spending most of his time lying in bed next to his master, not even begging to go out for a walk.

“So she’s not here... we can deal with it. It’s been just the two of us for years. Two weeks on Earth and one little wedding ceremony don’t change that. We’re tough... right boy?” He grinned and looked down at his companion. Porthos wasn’t buying it. He looked up soulfully at Archer for a moment, and then flopped his head back down on the bed. Archer could have sworn he heard him sigh. He laughed ruefully.

“Well... you’re certainly no help!” he told the dog.

Suddenly, an attention tone sounded over the comm, and Ensign McNamara’s voice sounded loudly in the confines of the quiet room.

“Captain, Admiral Gardner’s on the line for you, sir... can you take the call now?” The entire crew had been tiptoeing around him during his off-duty hours since his return, as if they could sense that he wanted to be left alone.

“Go ahead, Ensign... I’ll take it in my quarters,” replied Archer. He rolled out of bed and sat at his desk, positioning himself in front of the vid screen with an interested look on his face before activating the screen.

Admiral Gardner’s face appeared. As was usual for these unannounced late night calls, he did not appear pleased. Archer wondered what catastrophe now loomed on the horizon. At least it would get his mind off Elena for a while.

“I’ve got two things I need to discuss with you, Captain,” began Gardner without a greeting. Archer nodded, and tried to look even more interested.

“First, I need to know how the refit is coming.”

Archer smiled at Gardner reassuringly. “Everything’s moving along quite well, Admiral. We’re actually a little bit ahead of schedule,” he said.

“Good... I need you to speed up the pace. Admiral Black is returning on Columbia from Salem One, and he’s requested that she be refitted immediately. I want the Enterprise refit wrapped up by the end of the week so we won’t have to split our best-trained workers between two ships when the Columbia arrives. I also want the Enterprise up and running before the Columbia goes into space dock... just in case we have another incident.”

Archer eyed the admiral in protest. “But Admiral... we were told we’d have four full weeks. We may lose some of our skilled workers to exhaustion if we force them to work double shifts.”

“Then fill in the gaps with your own crew, Captain. Either way, I want Enterprise ready to roll by Friday.”

Archer nodded brusquely. “We’ll do our best, sir,” he said.

Gardner sighed, and then said, “There’s something else, Jon... and I’m not sure how you’ll take this, given the circumstances. It seems that the Matriarch of Betazed is very ill. The Betazed ambassador won’t commit herself, but we suspect she may be dying.”

“Oh, no... not Amelia,” whispered Archer. His face took on a pained expression as he remembered the strong and lovely woman who’d been solely responsible for his success in drawing Betazed into an alliance with Earth. He’d known she was quite old... that fact was obvious... but somehow he’d never envisioned her dying any time soon... she’d seemed too vigorous for that.

“It’s a really sensitive time for the Ruling Council right now,” continued Gardner. “They have no single strong voice to lead them, and I’m afraid they’ve gotten wind of your marriage. It’s created a serious diplomatic problem. According to their laws, a woman’s consort is not allowed to marry without being released from the consort relationship. The Ruling Council is taking your marriage as a personal insult to the ruler of their planet, and has threatened to cut diplomatic ties completely if the situation isn’t rectified. We’d just begun negotiations to allow Betazed citizens to serve in Starfleet within the Department of Intelligence. Having telepaths working for us would give us a tremendous edge in this war, Jon. It’s critical that the negotiations continue.”

Archer sighed and nodded. “What do they want me to do, Admiral?”

“They’re demanding your presence on Betazed as soon as possible. You’re to present yourself to the Ruling Council for judgment... and they’re insisting that you bring your wife with you.”

Archer’s eyes widened. He hadn’t told Elena about his arrangement with the ruler of all Betazed. There hadn’t seemed to be a reason to, and he’d thought it would simply muddy the waters to bring up the fact that he was technically “almost married but not quite” to a woman old enough to be his great grandmother. Not only that... but leaving Earth for several months at this point in her career was not something Elena was going to be willing to do without a fight.

Elena’s going to kill me, he thought ruefully. I’m in serious trouble this time.

T’Pol awakened, alone in her quarters on Enterprise, at precisely 0500 hours. She was fully alert. Trying to get more sleep was out of the question. She’d spent an hour each evening for the past two nights in meditation, attempting to prepare herself for a night of sleeping alone. Meditation had not helped very much. Ever since her return to the Enterprise, her sleep had been restless... disjointed. She had the nagging sensation that something was missing. She knew, of course, precisely what that something was.

She rose from the bed, and settled herself into a seated position on the floor in the center of the room. It was time to try something else. Closing her eyes, she entered the white space. Within it, she painstakingly reconstructed the bedroom that she and Trip had shared in their small apartment in Houston. It was complete in every detail, including the water stains on the ceiling. Within it, she placed their bed, with its too soft, rather lumpy mattress and the green bedspread with the hole in it. She stood, and her clothing vanished. She climbed into the bed. Then she focused on Trip’s sleeping consciousness.

Trip?” she sent gently. She felt his mental stirrings, and brought him into the white space with her, also conveniently sans clothing. He opened his eyes.

Am I dreamin’, T’Pol?he asked sleepily.I thought we were back on Enterprise?

T’Pol wrapped herself around him contentedly. He sighed and smiled.

Don’t concern yourself with where we are, t’hy’la,she told him with gentle reassurance.Just go back to sleep.

The End (For Now)


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