The Lerteiran Chronicles

By Blackn'blue & Distracted

Rating: R

Genres: adventure angst dark drama humour romance

Keywords: Andorians bond kidnap marriage non-consensual sex(abuse) Orions pon far Romulans sickbay

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Episode 15: Home, Sweet Home (Conclusion)

Disclaimer:  We don't own the Star Trek universe.  We just go there to play.  Honest.

We do, however, own our original characters and story ideas. You are welcome to borrow them as long as no money changes hands. If we can't make anything from this, nobody else gets to either.

Summary:  The crew of Enterprise goes hunting for Damin, a confrontation is in store at Woodhaven House, and it's finally time for a wedding... or two.  The concluding episode of the Lertieran Chronicles.

Authors' note: Believe it or not, we started this series in 2007. It's been a fun ride, and we're happy to bring you this hopefully exciting concluding episode of The Lerteiran Chronicles. 

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T'Riss woke in darkness. She lay quietly and listened to the sound of Daniel's soft snoring for a few seconds before levering herself up on one elbow-carefully so she would not wake him. The Human-made chronometer beside their narrow bed showed 0600. She was pinned against the wall by his body, but she'd learned from experience that he would not appreciate being roused at such an hour, so she inched her way to the foot of the bed and climbed out that way instead of climbing over him.

The bed they shared was not intended for two occupants, but Daniel had promised to construct a frame meant for a larger mattress at his first opportunity. For some reason he'd declined her offer to do it herself, even though his more senior status aboard ship meant that he'd been assigned a greater number of more complex maintenance duties and was thus more occupied than she was. Humans had, in her opinion, some odd ideas about gender roles.

She settled on a cushion in the center of the floor for her early morning meditation, but found it difficult to concentrate. Instead, the previous evening's events occupied her thoughts. Dinner had been anticlimactic after the drama of the previous several days. Immediately following their arrival at the restaurant T'Riss had gotten the distinct impression that the confrontation she'd anticipated was already over. Conversation at the table had been calm and pleasant, focused on two primary topics: the crew of Lerteiran's plans for future commerce and Daniel and T'Riss's wedding plans.

Somewhat to T'Riss's dismay, by the end of the evening a date had been set only three days hence in a recently opened local Vulcan Golic Temple, and, after a remarkably civil discussion about Vulcan/Andorian/Human comparative wedding customs, an event called a "reception" was scheduled to take place in the very restaurant where they were dining. Precisely what she and Daniel were meant to "receive" during this activity was not entirely clear to her, but Daniel seemed pleased with the idea. He'd left the restaurant in high spirits. They'd celebrated afterwards until the early morning hours upon their narrow bed, in the shower, and as best as she could recall at least once on the floor with nothing but a blanket between bare skin and cold deck plates. 

T'Riss's mother hadn't said a single word to imply that Daniel was the least bit unsuitable all through dinner, though she did keep looking at T'Riss's father with an expression that seemed almost guilty. This was of course impossible, since T'Rel would be the first person to insist that she did not experience guilt. Immediately following dinner, Daniel's foster mother had requested a private meeting with her sons. T'Riss spent the time consulting with her mother and Daniel's foster sister on the most logical approach to coordinating their garments for the ceremony. After a substantial delay, V'Lan and her sons emerged. All three appeared more relaxed, with Daniel's brother in particular giving the impression of deep satisfaction.

In his typically mercurial Human fashion, it seemed to T'Riss that Daniel had forgiven his foster mother for whatever it was she had said to upset him the previous day. He'd explained to T'Riss that he understood why V'Lan had said what she'd said and that nothing could be done to change her attitudes. V'Lan would soon be going back to Vulcan anyway, where her opinions would be effectively irrelevant. T'Riss considered this to be a singularly mature and logical response to the situation, but it didn't stop her from being annoyed at V'Lan for distressing her bondmate. The entire evening had proven to be a most perplexing experience, now that T'Riss had the opportunity to consider it. She settled in to reflect on it, and on the ramifications of her mother's change in attitude.

#

Trip Tucker stepped out of the shuttlecraft, following Malcolm and Jon on to the rooftop landing pad of Risa City's Central Security headquarters. Travis followed him, securing the shuttlepod's doors behind them. As expected, the weather was pleasantly warm. Trip could see the tree-lined pedestrian avenues of Risa City extending outward from the plaza, where the central security building made one side of the square. It was early in the day local time. The avenues were filled with colorfully and minimally dressed pedestrians all strolling, walking, jogging, or running to their respective destinations.

"Feels like early fall in Florida," he commented. 

"The whole planet is climate controlled, remember? It always feels like early fall at this latitude...except when it feels like late spring," joked Jon. He'd been more relaxed lately, more like the friend Trip had known before the stresses of the Expanse. Despite everything, Trip couldn't help smiling in response.

"It's got to rain sometime," objected Malcolm.

"Oh, it does," piped up a female voice. It came from a woman who'd just stepped out of the shadow of the doorway at the rooftop entrance. She was dressed in what Trip guessed was meant to be a Risan police uniform. The planet's controlled climate evidently made protective clothing optional even for security personnel, for she was wearing a sidearm on a belt buckled around a pair of black stretch micro-shorts. A black halter top ornamented with a small metallic gold insignia completed the ensemble. She was a blonde with a sensible pony tail, tanned all over without any tan lines he could detect, and looked about twenty-five years old, with the muscular build of an athlete in training. She approached the men to face a wide-eyed Jonathan Archer.

"It rains every morning for two hours, just before sunrise," she told them with brisk efficiency. "Occasionally central weather control grants a request for rainbows. They require a daytime shower." She raised a brow without smiling, looking suddenly tougher and certainly not the type to care much about rainbows.  Trip pushed his age estimate up a decade. "Those are reserved for very special occasions." 

Malcolm blinked at her in puzzlement, as if he were trying to process the concept of rainbows on demand. Jon smiled, obviously entranced.

"Layla Hemlawn, Captain," said the woman, smiling politely in return. "I'm Risa City's Director of Security." She hesitated a moment at Jon's immobility, and then stuck out her right hand awkwardly, as if she were mimicking a social convention she'd heard about but had never used.

The captain blinked at her for a second or two before he noticed.

"Jonathan Archer," he managed, and shook her hand. Trip bit his lip to keep the grin off his face. The captain was obviously struggling to keep his eyes on her face and away from the rest of her. Trip wondered if there were any Risan police officers with more than ten percent body fat. If so, they must not have any body image issues if they were comfortable in that uniform. It occurred to him that he hadn't yet seen what the men's uniform looked like, and he tried to put the thought out of his head.

Director Hemlawn proceeded to shake hands with each of them, getting better at it as she progressed from man to man. She avoided eye contact. Trip couldn't decide whether she was a little shy under such close inspection by off-worlders or whether she was just preoccupied. And then she shook hands with Travis.

"Well... Ensign Mayweather, is it?" She held on to his hand a bit longer than was strictly necessary and inspected him slowly from head to foot, her eyes lingering on various parts of his anatomy before gazing into his dark eyes. "Welcome to Risa," she murmured, smiling. "Once this unpleasant business is over I'd love to show you the sights."

Trip watched Travis give the woman an uncomfortable looking grimace in lieu of a smile. He had no doubt that had the helmsman been capable of blushing, he would have done so. Trip bit his lip again. Not shy. Nope.

The captain cleared his throat.

"Director, I'd like to say how appreciative we are for your help with this situation.  I'm sure we'll be able to find..."

"Come this way, Captain," interrupted Director Hemlawn. She turned toward the door and started walking. "We should be in a secure location before we talk," she said over her shoulder without stopping. Jon looked back at the rest of them with a helpless expression. Trip shrugged back at him, and the four of them followed her into the building.

#

Sehlra crouched in the ornamental hedge. The veil that she wore over her head and face was colored a fair match for the dappled green of the leaves around her, or at least a closer match than her natural skin color. She kept her eyes on Jenrali, who looked unusually handsome and eminently respectable in his dress uniform as he walked up the drive of Woodhaven House.

No one was paying attention to him. The front door hung open and Sehlra could see the middle-aged Risan woman who'd hired Damin standing on the threshold. She was arguing with a younger man who seemed bent on leaving. Sehlra set her earpiece more firmly in her ear. Jenrali's transmitter was picking up the conversation.

"Doctor, please don't go! The Lady Arithnae is in need of care!" The woman looked more frustrated than distraught. The young doctor shrugged and shook his head, seeming equally frustrated.

"I can do nothing for her here, Mistress Namala...and her recorded instructions for such eventualities are clear. She does not wish to be brought to a hospital," he said. "You might call a Vulcan healer as the priest suggested." 

"There are no Vulcan healers in Risa City, Doctor," she retorted, "Unless you know of one who's just arrived." Sehlra clearly heard an unprofessional growl of annoyance from the doctor.

"I have other patients to care for, and the Lady Arithnae is neither dying nor in any imminent danger. She is merely unconscious, and that condition does not require my presence," he pronounced. "I'll be back this evening to check on her.  In the mean time I suggest you pursue legal means to overturn her instructions if you want me to do anything for her." He turned and started back to the vehicle in the drive, crossing paths with Jenrali as he did so.

From her hiding place Sehlra saw the woman's expression when she caught sight of Jenrali for the first time. Looking at her face one might have assumed a Servant of the Great Mother had arrived on her doorstep complete with fluffy white feathered wings. After a second or two the Risan closed her mouth and spoke.

"May I help you, sir?

From her hiding place Sehlra couldn't see Jenrali's face, but the bow he made was fit for the Imperial Court. "Captain Jenrali Dor Liuk Sefroth, at your service, my lady," he replied with a flourish of one wrist as he bowed and straightened. "I have come upon difficult times, and request the honor of applying for a position in your House as butler." The Risan woman smiled up at him as he stood beside her, straight and strong. Sehlra could see the resulting dimple in her right cheek from across the lawn, and rolled her eyes. Jenrali was doomed. 

The woman laughed lightly. "Oh, I'm not the lady of the house, sir, but I could certainly use some help. Have you experience running a household?"

"I was a supply officer in the Andorian Imperial Guard. I have experience running a regiment, Mistress...?" He paused politely for her to fill in the gap.

"Namala," replied the woman, blushing. She was looking directly at him. From Sehlra's hiding place the flush on the Risan's cheek made her look at least a decade younger than before.

She was Jenrali's type. Sehlra had to admit that. He always went for the delicate ones.  

#

Malcolm Reed eyed his surroundings. The four from Enterprise sat around a conference table in a spacious room. The room had airy windows which were shuttered now for a better view of the vidscreen. The department seemed well-equipped despite the officers' ludicrous uniforms. Director Hemlawn's conference room contained a screen almost as large as the one on the bridge of the Enterprise. At the moment it was divided into several images. She stood in front of it while she briefed the away team on the local situation.

"As I'm sure you are aware, the voluntary exchange of sexual favors between adults, with or without monetary compensation, is quite legal here on Risa," she began. "A problem arises, however, when the exchange is coerced, and there are times when our concept of contract labor is misinterpreted by offworlders as the equivalent of purchasing a slave, especially in certain markets." 

She indicated the image of a large warehouse-looking establishment on-screen.  Individuals of several different races were walking in and out of it, some with skimpily dressed companions on their arms or following behind them on leashes.  "This is the Gul'hamen Pleasure Exchange. The owner has recently reported an influx of anonymous foreign customers. Her contract brokers have complained to Central Security that their employees are being returned to them gravely injured.  Some have been tortured and interrogated, others subjected to violent sex play without their consent and sent back nearly dead or permanently disfigured."

Malcolm winced when several images of bruised and battered faces appeared on screen, a couple of them bearing ghastly wounds. Strangely, they all looked Human, or so nearly so as to be indistinguishable from Human.

"The owner now requires that all customers present ID and references in order to do business at her establishment, but all this seems to have done is to force the offworlders involved to hire local subcontractors to do the hiring for them. For obvious reasons I have been reluctant to send my officers into this situation undercover," continued Director Hemlawn. "Fortunately," she went on, "I've managed to contract for the assistance of the Darkblades. They have inserted their own operatives into the situation and are promising me a report within the next two days. Most of the victims are Betazoids, so the Darkblades have a personal interest in this."

"The Darkblades? Who are they?" asked the captain.

"By reputation? They're a minor Betazoid house with fingers in organized crime across the sector," answered Hemlawn. She shrugged. "I haven't had much trouble from them, mainly because most of what they do illegally on other planets is perfectly legal here on Risa. We have no restrictions on mood altering chemicals other than that they should be unadulterated and honestly advertised-the same goes for private acts between consenting adults. Telepaths are always in demand for keeping things honest during business transactions, and nothing beats a Betazoid companion when it comes to knowing a person's desires without being told." She smiled. "Darkblades fit right in on Risa."

"Why are the victims being interrogated?" put in Trip, surprising Malcolm with his insight. He did have a point. It was hardly the usual thing one did with a sex worker.

"The victims weren't very coherent," admitted Hemlawn. "They reported being forced to answer questions about their lives before coming to Risa and about their co-workers, as if the questioner was looking for someone or something specific within Risa City's pleasure quarter."

"Did any of them get a look at the person questioning them?" asked Malcolm.

Hemlawn shook her blonde head regretfully. "Blindfolds," was her terse response. "But we do have a lead on your man. When you sent me this image of the Betazoid you're looking for, I recognized him." Damin's picture appeared onscreen, one taken in the ready room on Enterprise. He was dressed in a pastel rainbow-colored silk jacket with long black ringlets hanging around his face like a girl. The man's appearance had always made Malcolm distinctly uncomfortable. He was too bloody beautiful to be male. Hoshi had even remarked on his discomfort and mercilessly teased him about it, asking him if he wanted her to grow her hair longer and curl it. He'd had to kiss her senseless to shut her up.

"The leader of the Darkblades sent me this footage of their undercover agent being purchased by a House suspected of subcontracting for offworlders." The footage was of a slave market, or of something so close to one as made no difference. It was obviously Damin on the stage, minus most of his clothing and behaving in a much more subservient manner than Malcolm was accustomed to seeing.  He was led away on a leash to join a middle aged woman who was wearing a maroon colored blazer with some sort of crest on the breast pocket.  She looked pained and embarrassed when she was handed the leash, but she took it anyway and led him away. "His services were purchased yesterday by Woodhaven House. He's in place now to deliver intelligence. The Darkblades have people ready to retrieve him at his signal. I intend to stay out of their way until he's safe, but you're welcome to negotiate with the Darkblades once they've retrieved him."

"The last time we saw that guy he'd bought a berth on a freighter called Lerteiran along with a gang of rescued sex workers from Orion space," said Trip. "They were heading in your direction to set up shop. How did he end up with these Darkblades?"

"Evidently he's family," replied the director. "The Darkblades are notoriously insular. No one gets in without some sort of family connection."

"So he's a member of the Betazoid Mafia," Malcolm muttered. "Why am I not astonished?"

A young male officer dressed in a black mesh sleeveless shirt over stretch black mini-shorts entered the room. Malcolm felt his face go warm. Trip exchanged a look of disbelief with the captain before sticking his tongue in one cheek. Travis said nothing, as usual. As far as Malcolm could tell, the helmsman had spent the entire briefing thus far with his eyes fixed on the viewscreen, doing his best not to make eye contact with Director Hemlawn. The underdressed policeman stepped up to her and whispered something in her ear. She nodded, and he stepped out of the room again.

"I've just been informed that our surveillance team at Woodhaven House is ready for change of shift. If you'd like to send someone with our team to observe the house and confirm the presence of the man you're looking for, Captain, now would be the time," offered the director.

#

"I'll take this upstairs to her ladyship's new body servant. He's been attending her all night without anything to eat," said Llahir to the cook. He lifted a tray in both hands. Jemma was looking stressed. He couldn't blame her, with all of the new mouths to feed in the previous twenty-four hours, some of them with special dietary requirements. She gave him a grateful smile from where she stood at the counter elbow deep in bread dough. She pushed hair out of her face with one forearm, leaving a flour smudge on her nose.

"Thank you, Horga'hn. I'd forgotten all about the poor boy," she told him, and kept kneading. "Come right back, though. We've got to peel and stew those plomeek things you bought for our Vulcan guests, and I have no idea how to make them edible."

"It won't take much," he called over his shoulder. "Vulcans aren't big on seasoning." He carried the tray with its covered dish and glass of cold fruit tea down the hall and up the main staircase. Behind him in the foyer Mistress Namala was in discussion with Senek, who was still dressed as a Vulcan priest. Jenrali stood beside them looking like a hotel doorman in his uniform. Neither of the men acknowledged him, which was as it should be. He passed the timid little upstairs maid on his way up the stairs. She gave him a wary look. He smiled at her, but all that did was to make her run the rest of the way down the stairs. Llahir chuckled. The girl was like a small furry rodent, frightened of her own shadow. He supposed he couldn't blame her, though. Not where his scarred and ugly face was concerned.

Upon arriving at the second floor he walked down the hall and transferred the tray to one hand so that he could rap on her ladyships' bedroom door.

"Come in," called the Betazoid. Llahir turned the knob and entered. The lady of the house lay neatly tucked into bed, covered by a luxurious down-filled coverlet and supported by at least six pillows under her head and limbs. An intravenous line fed fluids into her right arm. Damin and Raijiin sat on either side of her bed with intent expressions on their faces. To Llahir's secret pleasure, he could sense Raijiin's state of mind through their nascent connection. He could feel her active curiosity and her intense focus on the task she was performing, whatever it was. Both she and Damin looked up at his entrance, but neither showed surprise.

He approached the bed and set the tray on the bedside table beside Damin. Damin reached out and laid a hand on his forearm, an overly familiar gesture that Llahir normally would not have tolerated. What was even worse, the little Betazoid smiled flirtatiously up at him. Llahir blinked at him, taken aback. He glanced at Raijiin when he sensed her amusement. Playing the part of love interest to a male agent had not previously been in his job description, but there was a first time for everything. He gave a mental shrug and forced himself to be tolerant for Raijiin's sake. "I've brought food for you at the cook's request," he said to Damin.

"Why, thank you. That's so thoughtful of you!" gushed Damin. Llahir felt an odd sensation in his head. Silent words followed.  "Don't say anything aloud. This room is monitored and I'm not sure who's on the other end. It may just be her security system, but it's better to be safe."

Llahir tipped his head and turned to Raijiin. "I'm sorry that I don't have anything for you to eat, Priestess, but I'm afraid I didn't realize you were up here. Cook and I will prepare your plomeek immediately." Raijiin stayed in character and merely inclined her head.

"Thank you, Horga'hn," she told him. Their newborn bond told him that at least she had the grace to feel a bit ashamed over not keeping him informed.

Llahir forced himself to smile at them both. "My pleasure. Any time." And then to Damin he said,"Why don't you taste it to see if it needs anything?" At the same time he focused his attention on a silent response. He really wasn't any good at mental communication. "You both need to get out of here," he finally managed. Llahir looked at Raijiin and flicked a glance at the door. He added an almost undetectable head tilt for good measure. With their new bond starting to develop, he couldn't be sure if he was reading amusement in her eyes or feeling it.

Damin lifted the lid from his plate, took up a fork, and tasted a small bite with the delicate manners of a debutante. His eyes closed in bliss as he chewed, and his free hand was back atop Llahir's again, patting affectionately. Llahir swallowed and stifled his annoyance.  "Perfect. Positively delicious." At Llahir's glare he sighed and added silently. "You can tell Sehlra everything is fine, but I'm not done here. This woman's got a dilithium mine of information in her head. You Vulcans are welcome to what's left when I'm finished."

Llahir smiled a thin smile. "So glad you're enjoying it. I'll be back up to take your tray." He had no trouble expressing himself this time. "But Raijiin is coming with me. Now."

Damin's flirtatious expression never wavered, but Llahir almost winced at the force of his answer. "If this Romulan wakes up and manages to send for help we'll all be DEAD. Your precious little sweetling is helping me keep the murderous bitch unconscious while I search for useful information. Would you rather risk waking her?" Then he batted his eyes and smiled. 

Llahir gritted his teeth, pulled his hand away, and looked at Raijiin. He told her, "Your companion was requesting your presence, my lady. He seemed most adamant." His best efforts could not keep the irritation from his voice. Either his years among the Romulans had damaged his control beyond repair, or concern for his mate was destabilizing him to a dangerous degree. Raijiin met his gaze with doubt on her face. He held his ground. She exchanged a look with Damin. The little man shrugged slightly, as if to say he'd tried his best. She exhaled in resignation and stood up. 

"There seems to be nothing more I can do here," she told Damin. "If her condition changes, summon me at once. Meanwhile, I shall attempt to convince the household staff to summon a Vulcan healer." She headed for the door with Llahir following close behind, radiating anger despite her bland expression.

They passed into the hallway and entered the stairwell. Instantly Raijiin slowed and barely touched the back of her hand to his. Her fury got through, along with her words. "Llahir, you can't do this. I have a job to do. Go home."

Llahir clenched his jaw. "You have no idea what the Romulans are. Orions live in terror of the Empire for good reason. Even Klingons do not provoke them. You must get out of here. Senek had no business bringing you into this."

She hesitated a half-step. "I can't leave even if I wanted to. You know that. I don't have the option."

"I will hunt down the High Council one by one and gut them!" Her shock and fear recoiled through the bond, forcing him to turn inward and fight to regain control. "I am sorry. I did not mean that."

Raijiin closed her eyes and breathed deeply just once. He felt her fear evaporate as if it had never existed. Her calmness settled him, smoothing his anger until it smoldered rather than burned. She opened her eyes and watched him speculatively. "Come and help me then. We found the access code to her secret files. You can stand watch while I scan them." He took a deep breath and nodded.

#

"She said hangar five, berth twelve, I think," said Jon. Hangars loomed twenty meters high above their heads on either side of the roadway. Risa City's spaceport did a lot of business, and visitors tended to stay a while, so most of the hangars were full. Repair teams rode from hangar to hangar in carts similar to the one Trip was driving now. Travis would have liked driving one, Trip reflected. They were very maneuverable. Too bad the helmsman was stuck back at Central Security Headquarters playing footsie with Director Hemlawn.

Poor Travis, he thought, shaking his head and chuckling, forced to take one for the team.

"What's so funny?" asked Jon. He sounded like he genuinely wanted to know. Trip smiled at him. Now that he was free of whatever residue Surak's katra had left in his head, Jonathan Archer seemed like a different person. 

"Travis. You know she's going to hit on him mercilessly, don't you?" 

Jon laughed. "And I'm supposed to do what? Feel sorry for him?" he protested.  "One of us had to stay and be the liaison." He shrugged. "I was going to do it, but she obviously likes him better, so..." He grinned mischievously, looking just like a little boy up to no good. Jon seemed now like the same person that Trip had become friends with in the first place. The time frame didn't make a whole lot of sense to Trip, since Jon's "asshole period", a term Trip had begun to use privately to contrast Jon's "old" behavior with the way he was acting now, had begun long before he'd had his run-in with Old Long-Since-Dead-and-Logical. That Vulcan healer had done more than just remove Surak's left-overs. It had to have been the stress of command, or maybe Jon's need to prove himself to his dead father. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be driving Jon anymore. He was more comfortable in his skin now, a better captain. A better friend, too.

"I've been meaning to tell you," Trip told him in a casual voice. "I've decided to stay on Enterprise." He pulled into the alley between hangars four and five. Jon said nothing. He just sat there in the seat next to him and looked at him with a funny expression on his face. Jon's silence surprised Trip. He'd expected some reaction, at least. Then he got a good look at the captain's face. Jon's eyes were suspiciously moist. 

Jon cleared his throat. "I appreciate you giving me another chance, Trip," he said. 

Fortunately for both of them, at that moment Jon's handheld communicator bleeped, or tweeted, or made whatever that funny sound was that Hoshi had programmed into the thing. Trip had to admit that it did catch his attention without being harsh to the ear. 

"Archer here," answered the captain. Trip could hear Malcolm's reply.

"Just letting you know we're in place, Captain. The house looks quiet for now.  They've got excellent surveillance equipment and someone's managed to tap into the internal security system. Damin's definitely in the building.  So is Senek, that Vulcan agent that Commander T'Pol used to work with."  He paused.  "And Raijiin, and the Andorian captain of Lerteiran, and I'm pretty sure there's another Vulcan in the kitchen."

Jon and Trip exchanged a surprised look at that news.  "All of them? Why?" Jon asked.

"I wouldn't venture a guess based on what little information I've gathered so far, sir, but I'll keep you posted," replied Malcolm. "Reed out." Jon closed his communicator with a resigned look on his face.

"I suppose we'll just have to ask Damin's friends about what he's been up to," he said. Trip turned the cart into hangar number five.

The building was huge. From inside it looked even bigger than it had outside. Twenty meters of open space to the ceiling overhead faded into a haze of moist air and diffuse lighting. The coated pavement stretched out ahead of them like a desert plain, disappearing into the illusion of infinity and distorting the apparent shape of things through tricks of perspective.

Trip caught sight of Lerteiran on the far end of the open hangar.  It looked like a child's toy. He accelerated the cart and took aim down the center aisle, spinning past shuttles, orbital sleds, and small inter-planetary cargo haulers. The wind started to whistle past their ears and Jon grinned at him.

After several minutes Lerteiran began to grow and take on detail. Trip could see a man in a green ship's coverall standing on a ladder making repairs to her hull.  As they got closer, he recognized Daniel Johansen. T'Riss, the Vulcan girl who'd been assigned to Lerteiran as a disciplinary measure by her superiors, was hanging onto foot of the ladder watching Daniel as if she expected to be forced to catch him at any moment.

Trip raised a hand and waved, but neither of them noticed. Daniel had a welding hood on, so he had a good excuse. T'Riss, on the other hand, seemed oblivious for no obviously apparent reason to everything except the man at the top of the ladder. Trip smiled. It was nice to see that he and T'Pol weren't the only ones who made a good team. As they closed in he got a better look at the ladder and the hull it was attached to. Suddenly the way T'Riss was hovering didn't look quite so illogical. That old ship needed a facelift. Badly.

#

There were times, like now, when Namala truly regretted that she'd chosen to wear her hair long. She felt beset and beleaguered, and really wanted to rake a hand across her scalp the way men could, but with everything going on in the house she had no time to brush and re-braid. It just wouldn't do to walk around looking like she had a bird's nest on her head.

After watching the doctor drive away in exasperation and escorting their handsome new butler to his quarters to change into livery, she turned to climb the stairs to Lady Arithnae's chambers. Perhaps that Vulcan priestess had been able to find out what was wrong with her. Although the more she considered it, the less she liked the whole situation. Regardless of the shape of the woman's ears, Namala was reasonably certain that Arithnae was no Vulcan. The doctor had given no sign that he suspected foul play, yet there was no denying that both Vulcans had been with her when Arithnae collapsed.

Namala was half relieved and half suspicious to find Damin alone with her ladyship. "How is she?"

The lovely young man smiled wanly up at her, plainly worried sick. "She's resting, but not comfortably, I fear. We really need to get a qualified healer of some kind in here. That doctor was useless."

"You may be right," Namala sighed. "Where did the priestess go?"

"She got called away," he told her. "I think her priest wanted her. I'm not certain." Namala patted him reassuringly on the shoulder and went in search of the woman. As it turned out, she wasn't with the priest, who told Namala that he thought her quarry might have stepped outside for a brief moment of fresh air and solitude. Namala felt an unexpected pang of sympathy. Maybe the priestess had the right idea after all. It seemed a marvelous plan to go somewhere, sit down, and think things through. The library was probably empty, and it was as likely to be quiet as anywhere in the house right now. With luck she might get fifteen minutes of undisturbed time to get her head straight. A cup of tea would be nice, but that was probably too much to hope for.

The leather covered lounge in the most private corner of the library had never looked so inviting. Namala leaned back and closed her eyes briefly, trying to settle her mind. Eventually errant thoughts of that cup of tea came drifting back. Jemma always had a kettle on. Why not? She sat up and swung her legs around. Then she stopped and stared. There was a spot of grease on the woodwork next to her ladyship's office door. Nothing blatant, just a thin swipe on the corner of the doorframe, as if it had been applied in passing.

She knew for a fact that the room had been thoroughly cleaned to her most exacting standards the night before. Where had it come from? Her ladyship had not taken time to visit her office before collapsing. Had one of the visitors put it there?

She stood up and walked over, then touched the spot and sniffed her fingers. It smelled like salt-meat fat, Jemma's favorite cooking grease. Jemma would never dare to enter her ladyship's office, but they had just hired that odd new kitchen helper. Perhaps he was unaware that the office was strictly off limits. Or maybe someone else was in there-someone not as harmless as a kitchen helper.

Namala tip-toed back to the library desk and input her personal code. The secret compartment opened and revealed a disruptor pistol. She held it ready, then pressed her thumb against the door. Nothing happened; the door was already unlocked. She steeled herself, grasped the door handle, and suddenly shoved the door aside, bringing the disruptor to bear on anything that might appear in the doorway.

The priestess and the new hire, Horga'hn, stood side by side with their hands folded primly at their waists, staring at her with expressions of pure innocence. "Explain yourselves," she demanded, training the disruptor on Horga'hn's chest. He gave a nervous grimace, but said nothing.

"Your weapon is unnecessary," the priestess assured her. "We required privacy for an important discussion."

"You needed privacy badly enough to break into locked room for it?" Namala inquired in disbelief.

"The door was not locked." Horga'hn protested, and then flinched when she glared at him. "It's true, Mistress. Please," he pleaded. "Point that thing in another direction, I beg you. Weapons terrify me." He was so obviously frightened that her heart softened and she lowered the disruptor. "Mistress Namala," Horga'hn said in a timid voice, "Lady R'Jin asked me in here because she has made a most upsetting discovery. While attempting to ease Lady Arithnae's distress with a mind meld, the priestess discovered that she is wanted on Vulcan for involvement in....criminal activities..." The last part came out in barely more than a whisper.

Namala snapped a look at the priestess, who inclined her head with a solemn expression. "I deeply regret to confirm this. Assistant Horga'hn was present when I made the discovery. He seemed to be the only staff member without pressing duties, and so I decided to speak privately with him in order to obtain his advice on the most logical way to deal with this information."

"Do you have any real evidence of this other than your unsupported word?" Namala demanded.

"I give you my personal assurances," the priestess said with dignity. Namala barely held back a snort. She also raised the disruptor again.

"I 'deeply regret' that the personal assurances of a Vulcan are not legal tender on Risa," she said coldly. "In fact, given the past history of your High Command, it rather tends in the opposite direction. Even if you did have some physical evidence, the fact that a Vulcan produced it would place its credibility in doubt. Our people have considered severing ties with your planet more than once in recent years due to your habit of violating agreements on a whim." Both Horga'hn and the priestess winced. Namala felt a twinge of remorse for her harsh words, but her disruptor didn't waver.

"Our government has undergone a recent purge of undesirable elements," R'Jin conceded with a nod. "But our people have rediscovered our ethical foundation, and we are committed to rebuilding our reputation." Her expression seemed unusually pleading and sincere for a Vulcan. "I implore you to believe me. Surely you have seen enough to realize that your mistress does not behave like a normal Vulcan? Yet even the doctor who was here acknowledged that she is, in fact, a member of our species." Namala wavered. Arithnae wasn't a typical Vulcan; that was beyond argument. If she was a wanted felon on Vulcan it would be best to let them deal with her. But there was such a thing as loyalty to one's employer. She couldn't just...

"I have a suggestion, Mistress," Horga'hn offered. "Perhaps you could summon a Vulcan healer from the embassy. Her ladyship is in need of attention in any case. A Vulcan healer would have access to embassy records and could confirm her identity without difficulty."

Namala suddenly let out a sigh of relief and smiled. "Of course. Why didn't I think of that? Horga'hn, you just earned a raise. I'll call the embassy immediately. In the meanwhile, I suggest we vacate this office. I'll assign someone to stand guard until the lock can be repaired." She eyed R'Jin. "Since someone took the trouble to break in, it would be a good idea. Don't you agree, Priestess?"

"Absolutely. That would be a logical course of action," R'Jin told her coolly. The pair passed by her on their way out, with Namala stepping well back to give them plenty of room. R'Jin hesitated for an instant, as if she wanted to approach Namala, but Horga'hn touched her arm with two fingers and she appeared to change her mind.  The disruptor pointed in her general direction might also have had something to do with it.

#

Trip followed the captain into a broad park across the boulevard from Woodhaven house. The pair wove their way between and around a series of hedges, down a meticulously trimmed walkway, and past a moderately obscene fountain to a pair of benches under a lovely shade tree.

"Hard at work, I see," Trip grinned at the sight of Malcolm leaning back with a moisture-beaded glass in one hand and one of the local woven straw sun hats tilted forward to shade his face. He was a little overdressed for a Risan in his standard issue Starfleet coverall, but otherwise seemed to be doing his best to blend in. "Must be terrible."

"You have no idea, my friend," Malcolm murmured. He took a sip. "In the past hour there's been a bloody cyclone of activity around that place. I have a bet going with my Risan colleagues as to which is more likely to happen first, a Vulcan invasion or a raid by that Betazoid syndicate." Trip eyed his surroundings. To his right were a couple of old guys at a table under a tree. They were playing something that looked like Vulcan 3-D chess and were thankfully wearing more clothing than the younger citizens seemed to favor. There were also a few minimally dressed joggers on the walkway. None of them looked like police officers, but most of them probably were. Trip joined Malcolm on the bench.

"Where's your money riding?" Jon sat down on the opposite bench, extended his legs, and crossed his ankles, looking up into the leaves as if he were at peace with the universe.

"My money is on the Vulcans," Malcolm told them. "Agent Senek and Raijiin are both in there, along with that Llahir devil. They already have an advance beachhead established. The Betazoids are struggling along with only one frilly little man in place. They're badly outclassed."

"Well, here comes someone else," Trip announced. "Maybe you'll find out."

An unmarked ground car pulled up to the main entrance. A servant in house livery opened the passenger door to allow a tall grey-haired Vulcan wearing a healer's robe to climb out. "Hah," Malcolm said. "I knew it."

"One geezer in a green cape hardly counts as an invasion, Malcolm," Jon objected. "You have to be realistic here."

"Never underestimate the advantage of having an established force already in position," Malcolm maintained. "The Vulcans own the place now. Those Risans owe me a keg of free beer."

"I presume you were planning to share?" Trip inquired.

"Get your own Risans to swindle," Malcolm huffed. "Did you sit here during the heat of the day with nothing but fruit juice to quench your thirst, I ask? No, you did not."

"Heads up," Captain Archer snapped. The three of them turned to watch a stretcher being carried out.

Malcolm casually reached up to adjust the brim of his hat. In a second he said, "It's Arithnae. Unconscious, it seems."

The stretcher was loaded gently into the back of the ground car while the old healer doddered his way to a seat. In a moment both Senek and Raijiin came out and climbed in after him. The ground car rolled smoothly away.

"That leaves Damin, Llahir, and Jenrali. I wonder what they're up to?" Trip speculated.

"Will you look at that?" Malcolm wasn't facing the house. For some reason he was eyeing a corner of the park not far from their position. "Captain, Commander, perhaps you might join me for a stroll?"

A little over a hundred meters along the path, Malcolm suddenly stopped and faced a bush. "I like to talk for a moment, if you don't mind." Trip looked closely, and then felt like smacking himself. Once he started paying attention, the outline of a humanoid figure was plain to see against the branches. The figure stirred and revealed itself to be Sehlra. She was wearing a veil, but he recognized her.

"Hi, Sehlra," Trip offered a friendly smile. "Nice day for a walk. Don't suppose you could put us in touch with Damin, could you? We got word he was in that house over there and we want to hire him for a quick job. No travel involved."

She flipped up her veil to show her tight lipped cerulean face. "I have no idea where Damin is. I was waiting for Jenrali." She paused. Trip got the distinct impression that she was trying to come up with a believable lie. "He's...um... courting... the head housekeeper in that big house across the street." Trip gave her a skeptical look.

"You sunburn pretty badly?" Jon asked in an innocent voice. "I mean, badly enough for you to need a veil? I seem to remember from the last time I was there that the solar radiation on Andoria is pretty fierce."

"I got tired of being stared at, all right?" she growled. "Leave me alone." Sehlra turned and stomped off; leaving the three Humans trading puzzled glances.

#

Sehlra tucked her veil into the right hip pocket of her faded green coverall and walked down the boulevard along the fence line bordering the Woodhaven property. Either she was getting too old for this or that Human security officer was more astute than he seemed. Either way, the situation was annoying. Twenty years ago she would have been virtually invisible in that hedge. Of course twenty years ago she would have been hiding under a proper layer of snow with proper equipment. Hiding in snow was considerably easier than trying to blend in with all this Mother-cursed greenery.

She circled around to the back garden entrance, which was a wooden gate in the twice-head-high brick wall overgrown with vines and locked with a rusty padlock. Upon close inspection, barely visible at the top of the ancient gate only because she knew it was there, was a not-so-ancient motion sensor of Romulan design. She kept her distance and tapped the comm in her left ear.

"L2 to L1... seeking clearance for rear entry," she murmured. Over a minute passed before Jenrali's voice whispered in her ear.

"Negative, L2. Situation is under control. Do not enter."

Sehlra closed her eyes and exhaled in frustration. She tapped her comm again. "That's not your call, L1," she growled between clenched teeth. "Is it clear or not?"

"Not clear. Local law enforcement is on the way. Stay out." He paused, obviously waiting for her acknowledgement. When none was forthcoming, he finally gave in. "The sensors are deactivated," conceded Jenrali in a resigned tone. Sehlra reached up to her comm again. "But if you blow our cover I'll..." One tap silenced Jenrali's voice mid-threat.

Sehlra pulled a Starfleet issue conceal-carry laser pistol from her left hip pocket, set it on continuous beam, and proceeded to melt through the rusted padlock. The beam burned nicely through the weathered wood as well, creating a hand-sized hole for her to pull the door open. She deactivated the beam and waited for the hole to cool while she inspected the palm-sized little weapon with a fond smile. The tiny but deadly thing had been a gift from Daniel for her birthday five years ago. She had no idea where he'd gotten it and hadn't asked. She'd never expected to use it for breaking and entering, but Damin was trapped in that house. Those thrice-cursed Darkblades had another thing coming if they expected her to just sit around and wait for some Romulan spy to take revenge on Damin for what he'd obviously done to the erstwhile lady of the house. For all Sehlra knew that Namala woman might very well be one of them.

Sehlra reached through the ash-rimmed hole in the garden door and yanked.  Hinges creaked and vines popped, but she managed to get it open far enough to wriggle her way through. Then she dropped down and belly-crawled through the overgrown garden. Whoever tended it believed in letting nature take its course; that was certain After an unfortunate meter or so she began actively avoiding the rose bushes to save her skin, taking a circuitous route to the rear windows of the library, through which she could see several figures. Once she'd curled up beneath the windowsill of the central window with her back to the brick wall, she reached up and tapped her comm. Jenrali's microphone was still functional.

"...called this staff meeting to clear the air and put certain rumors to rest," said a female voice. Sehlra couldn't see who was speaking but she recognized the voice as belonging to the woman who'd spoken with Jenrali earlier, the housekeeper called Namala. "The local police have asked for our cooperation. In a minute an officer will come in to interview each of you. Please be honest. Do not be overly concerned about salvaging what remains of Lady Arithnae's reputation. Woodhaven House was here before she purchased it and will be here long after she pays for her crimes." Dead silence followed her statement. Sehlra grinned. The girl came straight to the point. It was an admirable trait.

"Now that the Lady Arithnae is... incapacitated," Namala went on,"I anticipate that this estate will soon be sold, and I cannot promise that the new owner will choose to keep all of you on." Sehlra heard murmurs of dismay in the background. "I fully understand your concern, and I will be happy to write letters of recommendation for any of you who choose to seek alternate employment, but a house the size of Woodhaven will always be in need of experienced staff. If you will be patient with me I will do my best to convince our new employer that all of you are the very best candidates for your jobs."

A chorus of "Thank you, Mistress" followed, in several parts. Sehlra raised a brow, impressed. In just a few seconds this Namala woman had managed to turn a room full of panicked domestic workers into a family, drawn together by unfortunate circumstances into a cohesive unit. Sehlra had no objective proof, but her gut told her that the Risan was no Romulan agent.

"Don't move! Risa City Police!" The voice was stern, male, authoritative, and definitely wasn't coming from her earpiece. Sehlra could see the entire back garden from her vantage point. There was no one there, so she looked up. A police officer in riot gear was looking down on her over the edge of the roof. He looked like a teenager. She looked down at her chest to find a tiny red dot glowing in its center, his rifle's laser sight. Sehlra exhaled, closed her eyes, rested her head in resignation on the brick wall behind her and raised both hands over her head.

Ambushed by an infant, she thought in disgust. By the Mother's ample ass-cheeks, I'm getting old.

#

"I was merely inquiring about the status of your away mission, Captain," said T'Pol in a bland tone of voice. "Ensign Mayweather's reports have not been very informative. Apparently, he is currently at lunch with the Risan Security Director and is unavailable for comment."  Trip bit his lip to keep from laughing. T'Pol was too far away for him to sense what she was feeling, and yet for some reason he just knew that she was practically dying of curiosity.

"Everything's under control, Commander," the captain told her. "We've found Damin and we're about to make our recruitment pitch. Cross your fingers. Archer out."

Trip chuckled. "'Cross your fingers'? You just love to dig at her, don't you?" Jon grinned.

The two men followed Malcolm and his Risan cohorts across the street. The Darkblades had given the local police full cooperation, with the understanding that their agent was to be released after questioning and his cover story accepted at face value. This was apparently fine by the Risans, since Damin hadn't broken any laws, or at least none that they knew of.

Malcolm hung back from the group of Risans to join his superior officers at the front gate. "They'd like us to stay here for safety purposes," he told them. "One of their blokes captured an armed intruder a few minutes ago. They're interrogating her now." He paused with a strangely amused expression on his face. "She's Andorian."

"No! She wouldn't be so stupid!" protested Trip.

"Apparently she would," Malcolm replied, and tipped his head toward the front entrance, where a cuffed and embarrassed-looking Sehlra was being escorted by two armed police officers into the house.

"I'm sure she was just trying to help Damin," said Trip. "We should get in there and be character witnesses or something." He started forward and kept walking. By the time he'd gotten to the front door he was flanked by Jon and Malcolm. The police officers guarding the front stoop made no attempt to stop them as they walked right in.

The entrance hall ceiling was two stories tall. An elaborate crystal chandelier hung suspended, illuminating a marble parquet floor and a huge wooden staircase which led up to the second floor balcony. The graceful curve of the staircase's double railing met the railing of the balcony, which extended the entire width of the entrance hall.

"It's like Tara, only bigger," whispered Trip, gazing around him in awe. Malcolm gave him a puzzled look.

"The plantation house from 'Gone With the Wind'," clarified Jon. Based on Malcolm's expression his explanation wasn't much help.

"It's a very old movie. Not a horror flick," Trip explained.

Malcolm's expression suddenly cleared. "I've seen old images of similar architecture," he said. "Especially in texts referencing the South during the U.S. Civil War."

"Exactly," Trip agreed.

"May I help you, sirs?" asked a familiar voice. Trip turned, opened his mouth, and then immediately closed it again. It was a close call, but he managed not to blow Jenrali's cover. The old Andorian looked amused. He tipped his head, the model of a discrete upper servant, neither too friendly nor particularly servile.

"We've been told Damin is here," said Jon in a dry tone. "Is he available?" He obviously recognized Jenrali, despite the fact that he'd met him only a couple of times to Trip's knowledge, and that over the comm screen.

"Please follow me. He is in the library with the rest of the staff," Jenrali told them, and led the way down the hall. They entered a large sunny room filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves. The shelves were packed with ancient-looking leather bound books. The room was illuminated by two large picture windows looking out onto the lush back garden. Three Risan police officers in typically skimpy uniforms were clustered around a cuffed and rather shamefaced looking Sehlra, who was seated in an over-padded chair in one corner of the room. On the other side of the room were about a half-dozen people wearing matching maroon blazers and tan slacks. They sat together in a worried looking group on wooden chairs that looked like they'd been pulled from a dining room table. Damin was in the center of the group, deep in conversation with the scar-faced Vulcan, Llahir. As Trip watched, a police officer exited an adjoining office with a teenaged boy in tow. He deposited the young man with the group and exchanged him for a portly middle aged woman who wore an apron over her uniform. He took her back into the office with him and closed the door. A slim middle-aged blonde with her hair in a bun detached herself from the group and walked across the room to meet the three Enterprise officers. She had an air of authority about her. When she was halfway across the room one of the police officers who had been interrogating Sehlra intercepted her. Trip couldn't help but overhear their conversation.

"Excuse me, madam, but the intruder claims that she was just trying to see you about an employment issue. She says that she's changed her mind about an employment contract and had come to discuss it with you when she saw police officers everywhere, became alarmed, and concealed herself." His tone was skeptical. "Do you know her? Did you sign an employment contract with her?"

The Risan woman looked startled. She turned to inspect Sehlra from across the room. After a moment she said slowly, "I suppose she might be the woman I hired Damin from the other day. It's difficult to tell. I saw her only once and from a distance, but the woman who held his contract before I hired him was an Andorian military officer." She pointed in the direction of the group of house staff milling around on the other side of the room. "See that young man with the black curls over there? The pretty one? Ask him. He'll be able to vouch for her if that's who she is. If he thinks she's trustworthy then I won't press charges for trespassing." Her tone was brisk. The officer nodded and departed. Then she turned her attention directly on the trio from Enterprise, moving on to the next task at hand.

"May I help you, gentlemen?"

Jon stepped up and extended a hand. The Risan tilted her head at him, assessing him with cool blue eyes, and extended her hand in a firm grip.

"Captain Jonathan Archer, ma'am, U.S.S. Enterprise," he said with a broad smile. "We're looking for one of your employees. His name is Damin."  He tipped his chin toward the group at the other end of the room. "I see he's here. We'd just like a few words with him if you don't mind. It's about an employment opportunity."

"I am Namala, the steward of Woodhaven House," replied the woman, releasing Jon's hand after a single squeeze. She didn't return his smile. In fact, she looked more than a little annoyed as she crossed both arms over her chest. "Damin is in my employ and under my protection." Behind her Trip saw Damin take notice of them from where he stood in conversation with the police officer. The Betazoid turned from the officer and began walking rapidly toward them. He made eye contact with Trip and shook his head slightly, as if in warning. Trip wasn't sure what he was trying to tell them, but he suspected that the telepath was concerned that they were about to blow his cover sky-high.

Namala was still talking. "We've all had a difficult day, and we're all exhausted. Would you mind telling me what's so important that it can't wait until the police are finished here and my staff has had the opportunity to rest?" Trip bit his lip to keep from laughing at Jon's expression. Two good looking women in one day had failed to fall for his best smile. It was enough to make a guy doubt himself.

"Ah...well..." Jon fumbled awkwardly. Fortunately, at that moment Damin arrived.

"It's all right, Mistress," he said in a quiet, gentle voice. "Thank you for your concern, but I will speak to them if you will permit it. They are... old friends." He smiled at her and batted his long lashed eyes. Namala's expression was skeptical. She didn't look like she was buying the "old friends" line, but she stepped away, shaking her head and looking amused. There was no telling what she thought Damin's relationship might be to them, but given Damin's cover story her assumption probably didn't bear repeating in polite company.

Damin turned his thousand-watt smile on the three of them. Trip noticed that it didn't quite reach his eyes. To Trip's discomfort, Damin reached out and linked arms with him. Jon got the other arm whether he wanted it or not. "Come this way, gentlemen," he said softly with his smile fixed on his face. They exited the library as a group with a red-faced Malcolm trailing behind.

#

"Would you like me to try to contact the landing party again, Commander?" Ensign Sato's words jarred T'Pol back to the present. The young comm officer's diligence was a fortunate thing. T'Pol was dismayed by how easily distracted she'd become in the weeks since her husband's announcement that he was contemplating leaving Enterprise. She had told him the truth when she'd reassured him that she would join him without hesitation if he chose to leave, but that didn't mean she looked forward to the prospect. Trying to envision a future without Enterprise and the annoying but stimulating group of humans that made up her crew was proving to be a daunting task. She'd grown accustomed to them, and was forced to admit that she would certainly miss them. Trip would probably say that she'd grown fond of them, but he was prone to exaggeration.

"Perhaps you should," was T'Pol's diffident reply as she straightened her posture in the command chair, stretching slightly and surreptitiously. "How long has it been since our last communication?" Hoshi gave her a surprised look before responding.

"Two hours and fifteen minutes, Commander... and he's supposed to check in every two hours," said the girl, looking concerned. T'Pol raised a brow. She had not previously noted a tendency on Ensign Sato's part to hover protectively over any particular member of the crew, or at least not until very recently, but the young woman's use of the word "he" was telling. There could only be one "he" to which she would refer in this way, and it wasn't the captain, the helmsman, or the chief engineer. That insight was not one that T'Pol would ever reveal to the girl where any other member of the crew might overhear. Each of them had their secrets to protect.

She inclined her head. "Go ahead, Ensign."

"Enterprise to landing party. What is your status, sir?" Hoshi's tone was all business now. She activated the bridge speakers and the captain's voice filled the room.

"Archer here. Our mission was successful. We'll be bringing Damin aboard within the hour." There was a murmur of voices over the comlink just below the level of audibility. After several seconds the captain continued. "Put me through to the ready room, Hoshi. I need to speak with Commander T'Pol in private." Hoshi exchanged a surprised look with T'Pol, who nodded and rose to take the call.

"Yes,sir. I'm transferring it now," said Hoshi behind her as the door to the ready room swished closed, isolating T'Pol from the bridge crew and their eager ears. T'Pol took a seat at the table near the computer console and activated the audio.

"T'Pol here, Captain." She tried not to feel concerned over why the captain felt the need to speak with her in private, but it had been some time since she and Trip had been so far apart. Certainly they had not been so physically distant from each other since their marriage ceremony. Sensing so little of her husband's emotional state was unsettling. She felt certain that she would know if something was seriously wrong with him, but the captain's secrecy was disconcerting, even so.

"I've been notified of a potential threat to the ship," began Captain Archer. "I'd rather not alert the entire crew and risk causing a panic until the threat's been confirmed, but Damin has informed me that the Romulans intend to dispose of our prisoner and they've already dispatched an agent to do the job. I don't know whether he or she is aboard yet. Damin wasn't able to determine that from his source. But it could be anyone who has come aboard since we captured the prisoner."

"The Vulcans," replied T'Pol, suppressing her sudden anger at the idea of a Romulan assassin masquerading as one of her own people. "Do you wish me to interrogate them?" She barely heard Trip's voice in the background protesting vehemently.

"It would be much safer if you waited until the rest of us were aboard so that Damin can interrogate them," said Archer, "since one of them is a telepath."

"That is true," conceded T'Pol.

"We'll be back in less than an hour. Keep the Vulcans secure. Post extra guards," ordered Archer.

"Yes, Captain."

"Archer out."

T'Pol remained seated, contemplating her options. The captain would want to ascertain the safety of the ship before turning his attention to interrogating the Romulan prisoner. He would therefore send Damin to interrogate the Vulcan security officers as soon as he returned. If the Vulcan telepath proved to be a Romulan assassin and he possessed greater skill than the little Betazoid, then they might lose Damin, and thus forfeit the chance to glean valuable information from the unconscious Romulan who was still in confinement in sickbay.

Her other choice was to interrogate the Vulcans herself, relieving Damin of the dangerous task and ensuring that he would then be alive, hopefully able to provide the Humans with valuable tactical information-and incidentally able to reveal to all interested parties her people's most closely kept secret.

The captain would not be very pleased with her. Neither would Trip, she was certain of that. But she hadn't actually been ordered not to interrogate the prisoners. And if she could confirm that neither of the Vulcans were Romulan agents, their aid could be invaluable in capturing the spy. The decision took only a few seconds. I am a Starfleet officer, she told herself grimly.

#

"No, Senek," Raijiin snapped. "The bench goes over there. You can't put it in the center; the priest will be standing there. Llahir, come and help me with this gong, or chime, or whatever it is."

Senek obediently transferred the stone bench to its designated location. Raijiin had become de-facto supervisor for the project since neither of the men had any practice at decorating nor any real interest in wedding preparations. Under her direction the sunlit courtyard at the rear of the temple was taking shape nicely as far as Senek was concerned. Raijiin seemed convinced that it was insufferably inadequate.

"Is this the venue in which the ceremony will be conducted?" The distaste in Lady T'Rel's voice was profound. She stepped through the doorway from the temple and eyed the preparations with an expression of pain.

"Lady T'Rel." Raijiin's breath left her in a gush. "Thank-, I mean, it is most agreeable to see you. As you can see, preparations are barely begun and these men are helpless. They are quite willing to carry and place under direction, but they lack the slightest understanding of what is appropriate."

"Typical," T'Rel said tiredly. "The priest is due to arrive at sundown and the wall hangings are not even on display yet."

Raijiin gritted her teeth. "I acknowledge this. Your assistance would be helpful."

T'Rel gestured acceptance. "Where are the decorations stored? I will undertake responsibility for the display items, if you and your male assistants can complete the rest of the preparations."

"Senek-will-show-you-where-to-find-them," Raijiin spit out the words like a pulse rifle. She shot him a look, accompanied by a telepathic jab as sharp as a salad fork in the ear. He jumped and glared before turning to T'Rel.

Senek conducted T'Rel to the main storage area. He watched mystified while she dove into various containers, digging and sorting cloths, ornaments, garlands, wind chimes, and esoteric objects that not even an agent of Senek's experience could identify. She laid aside a vast and impressive stack in accordance with some incomprehensible standard and told him to bring them. He scooped up the debris without a word and marched behind her as if he were back in basic training.

#

Enterprise's second in command, Commander T'Pol, entered the cabin that Solis had been sharing with Jowan for the past subjectively interminable three and one quarter days. The senior Vulcan security officer was forced to admit that it came as a relief, if only because it meant an end to the monotony. Starfleet officer the woman might be, but at least she was interesting, not to mention esthetically pleasing to look at.

He caught a glimpse of one of the security guards stationed outside the door before it closed behind her. Surprisingly, Enterprise's first officer chose not to bring either of them into the room with her. Jowan sat up on the bunk where he'd been resting and swung his legs over the edge, staring intensely at T'Pol from beneath his disturbingly primitive unibrow.

The casual contact Solis had previously experienced with Jowan during the course of his duties had not prepared Solis for prolonged contact with him. He'd noticed from the first that there was an air of brooding menace about the man which was only made worse by his brutish looks, but it was highly illogical to judge an individual by his appearance. After over three days alone with Jowan in peace and solitude, Solis had nearly convinced himself that he was imagining things and that the man's size and unusual appearance were influencing his opinion of him. But then he caught sight of the expression on Jowan's face. A chill went up his spine at the flash of hatred in Jowan's eyes before the big man dropped his gaze and once again pulled on his mask of cool logic. Solis turned back to T'Pol and rose from his chair to face her.

"It is agreeable to see you again, Commander," he told her quite sincerely.  T'Pol raised a skeptical brow.

"Somehow I doubt that is the case, Centurion," replied T'Pol, "But I am willing to overlook your insincerity in exchange for information. I want to know everything you know about the Romulan prisoner."

Solis raised a brow back at her. "We have discussed this matter before, Commander."

"Indeed," she replied in a cool tone. "The situation has changed. Starfleet has hired a powerful telepath to probe her. If you tell the truth now you may be able to avoid prosecution when the truth comes out."

T'Pol's gaze flickered beyond him, presumably to Jowan, although Solis couldn't see the man from where he stood. Her eyes widened slightly. Solis turned. Jowan was staring at her again with a look of burning anger that had no business being on a Vulcan face. Solis cleared his throat and signed peremptorily with one hand while fixing his gaze on his subordinate.

Control yourself!

He stared Jowan down. The big man's lack of control reflected badly on both Space Fleet Security and the Security Directorate. Solis couldn't help his annoyed reaction. Jowan's gaze flickered to Solis's hand and then down at the floor again, his expression that of a petulant child. What was wrong with the man?

"By the look on your colleague's face, I deduce that my original conclusion was, in fact, correct. You are concealing information in violation of the agreement that you made when you came aboard." T'Pol continued in a dry voice. Solis turned back to her. He studied her face. She seemed calm and determined, but there was a trace of something else. Calculation, perhaps? "His overly dramatic response only proves that he is, in fact, as stupid as he looks. Particularly since we have received information confirming that one of you is a Romulan agent."

Behind him, Jowan's roar of rage drowned out any response he might have made. The crewman launched himself at her, his ham-sized hands closing around her throat. Solis immediately jumped on Jowan's back, trying to get a purchase on his non-existent neck for a nerve pinch. Jowan simply raised his bulky shoulders up to his ears, released T'Pol with one hand, and used his free hand to backhand Solis across the room. The lights went out. 

#

"Thank you so much, Director Hemlawn," beamed Jon, pumping the woman's hand enthusiastically. "We couldn't have done it without you. I just wish we could have been more helpful to you with your investigation." The away party plus Damin stood on the roof of the Central Security Headquarters beside the shuttlecraft.

The underdressed blonde tipped her head at him with a cool smile. "You are most welcome, Captain. The Vulcan authorities were reportedly 'gratified' to have our assistance with bringing a wanted criminal to justice. They weren't very forthcoming about precisely what crimes she's being accused of, but our investigation indicates a clear connection between several patrons of her illegal import/export business and our mistreated sex workers. We have some excellent leads. The Darkblades have also provided us with some useful information in that regard thanks to the cooperative agreement we've reached." She tipped her head at the curly-headed telepath, who looked almost masculine for a change dressed in a maroon jacket and tan slacks with his hair braided in a tail down his back. He acknowledged her with a nod and a smile but did not offer to shake hands. 

As soon as Jon released her hand, Director Hemlawn stepped up to Travis, tucked her fingers into the crook of his arm, and smiled up at the young helmsman. Travis smiled back, a bit shyly Trip thought, but certainly not reluctantly. After a second or two she raised a brow at him expectantly. Only then did he seem to realize that everyone was waiting for him to say something. He cleared his throat, looking self-conscious.

"Ah, Captain? Lay...I mean... Director Hemlawn has invited me to stay for dinner. Do you need me to... that is, may I have your permission to..."  

Trip squared his shoulders, clamped both hands together behind his back, and bit his tongue to keep from laughing.

"Yes, Ensign. I'm perfectly capable of piloting the shuttlecraft back to Enterprise," interrupted the captain, sounding amused. "You are as of this moment officially on leave."

Travis grinned. "Thank you, sir!"

Trip exchanged a look with Malcolm, who looked like he was about to bust. Sure enough, as soon as the shuttle doors sealed shut the Brit voiced a protest. "Does anyone else find it strange that the junior-most officer is the one that gets the girl?"

"She must like the strong silent type," joked Trip from the back seat, where he sat next to Damin.

Jon laughed. "Don't worry, Lieutenant," he told Malcolm as he ran through the flight check. "You'll get your chance. As soon as we deal with the current situation I'll be granting the crew three days leave."

Malcolm looked dubious. "I'm not certain I want to try it again, Captain. Leave on Risa didn't go so well for me the last time." Trip snickered. Malcolm shot him an aggravated look over his shoulder.

As the shuttle reached low planetary orbit Trip began to sense T'Pol, now within only a few hundred kilometers back on Enterprise. He closed his eyes and smiled. It had been less than a day, yet still too long without the sense of her, warm and familiar in his head. She was concentrating on something, intense and focused. Must be working, he thought, and remained at a distance, not wanting to distract her from whatever she was doing. He opened his eyes and caught Damin looking at him with an oddly wistful expression on his face. The telepath looked away quickly, and Trip ignored him. It was a little creepy sitting right next to the guy when he knew Damin could read his mind. He tried to think of something else.

Sehlra's strange behavior that afternoon came to mind. Trip didn't know her all that well, but the level-headed Andorian didn't strike him as the type who typically pulled stupid stunts like the one she'd pulled at Woodhaven House. The Risan cops might have killed her. What could possibly have motivated her to risk her life like that?

"I wasn't reading you, you know." Damin's voice was soft; his long-lashed pupil-less black eyes were sincere. Trip gave him a skeptical look. "You were sending... very loudly, as a matter of fact," Damin clarified. He smiled an eerily feminine smile. "I thought Human males usually chose younger females."  He shrugged. "I generally prefer a more experienced woman, of course, but I didn't realize we had similar interests."

Trip studied the telepath for a second or two, and something clicked. He shook his head and grinned wryly. Damin had strange taste in women-and selective blindness, evidently-if he was comparing T'Pol to a grizzled Andorian war veteran.

"It was you Sehlra was trying to rescue back there...the reason she almost got herself killed," he said. Damin's eyes narrowed.

"What makes you think that?" he asked. His nonchalance would have been believable had Trip not already figured everything out. 

"She'd only do something that stupid for someone she really cared about," Trip replied. "Daniel wasn't around, she knows very well that Jenrali can take care of himself, and she doesn't give a rat's ass about Raijiin or the Vulcans. That leaves you."

Damin studied Trip, revealing nothing with his expression. "I fail to see why Sehlra's personal life is any of your concern." 

Trip smiled and shrugged. "It's not," he told the little telepath in a casual tone. "But I just thought I'd give you a heads up. Daniel's a friend of mine. He cares a lot about Sehlra...just as much as if she were his own mother, from what I've seen...and we Humans can get pretty pissed off if someone hurts our mamas."

Damin looked surprised. He nodded slowly, pursing his lips. "Duly noted...but I have no intention of allowing Sehlra to be hurt...by myself or by anyone else."  His tone was matter-of-fact. Oddly enough, Trip believed him.

"Good enough, then," Trip replied. He met the telepath's level gaze, wondering about the Betazoid's motivation. Could he honestly be attracted to a woman who looked old enough to be his mother?

If T'Pol were Human she'd be old enough to be my mother, his conscience reminded him. If she'd looked her age in Human years when we first met would I have given her a second glance?

If he was going to be totally honest with himself, he knew that had she been wrinkled and grey-haired he would have run in the opposite direction as fast and as far as possible when she dropped that robe. But he hadn't been raised on Betazed where such pairings were the norm.

"Is it true that Betazoid men usually stay at home to raise the children while the women run the..." he began, and then was abruptly unable to speak. He raised both hands to his throat, struggling for air. It felt like someone was choking him. His hearing was muffled, his attention focused on his inability to draw his next breath. Distantly, Trip heard the captain on the comm getting clearance to enter the shuttle bay. Damin lunged forward, looking concerned. He placed a hand on Trip's shoulder. For a moment Trip wondered if the telepath was somehow the source of his trouble; but then he recognized the desperation in his head. It wasn't his-or at least not entirely.

"T'Pol!" Trip gasped.

#

The impact of the older Vulcan's body hitting the bunk vibrated through the room. He collapsed in a heap on the deck. Choking, T'Pol tried to ram her knee into Jowan's groin. He twisted and deflected her effort, slamming her against the bulkhead with overwhelming mass. The Romulan spy's free hand came back, but instead of returning to her neck he reached for the contact points on her face.

T'Pol's hands flashed up like a set of striking talons, digging deep into her attacker's eyes. He bellowed and staggered back long enough for her to suck in a lung full of air and scream, "SECURITY!"

Jowan snarled and shook his head, blinking blood. He braced himself and started to charge again when a phase pistol blast caught him in the side and knocked him off course. "Commander," a human voice yelled, "get down!"

T'Pol let her knees buckle, and she curled up at the base of the bulkhead. The two guards stood in the open hatchway, taking aim. As Jowan lunged, both of them fired simultaneously, the two beams intersecting at the huge man's head. He stopped cold and weaved an instant. Then he collapsed like a falling tree, stone dead. Not even a Vulcan brain could take the force of two phase stun beams at point blank range.

Lieutenant Burke knelt beside T'Pol while her partner checked Solis. "I am intact," T'Pol assured the anxious security officer. "Your assistance is appreciated." She refused the offer of help to stand up, and walked over to see about the surviving Vulcan officer.

Solis stopped rubbing his eyes long enough to look up at T'Pol. Even though he'd recovered his equilibrium, she could clearly read the shock on his face. The tableau was broken by the whistle of the intercom.

"Bridge to Commander T'Pol. Commander Tucker calling. He says it's urgent."

T'Pol pressed her lips together. At the back of her mind she could feel Trip. Now that the distractions had passed she could also feel his emotional state. Her husband was going to scold her over this, she just knew it.

#

In defiance of probability, the wedding preparations were completed with 0.4 hours to spare. The women were universally radiating an air of self-satisfaction. The males were universally radiating relief. As the time loomed closer, Sehlra, Damin, Jenrali, and the rest of both families gradually showed up and were conscripted to assist. Everyone except Daniel and T'Riss were put to work. The principals were herded off in opposite directions and strictly ordered to stay put until called for.

Finally the priest was in position and the observers were assembled. The groom took up the hammer and struck the gong in the center of the courtyard.

Senek stood well back and observed the proceedings with the thoroughness of long habit. Both of the Andorians wore expressions that, coupled with the position of their antennae, indicated satisfaction. The bride's parents were standing with properly impassive faces, watching their daughter walk toward her Human bondmate. Somehow Senek was unable to believe that they were actually as undisturbed as they presented themselves, but it was not his business. The groom's Vulcan family seemed considerably more pleased with the situation, as was only logical. For Daniel to marry a Vulcan was no doubt the best possible outcome as far as his adopted clan was concerned.

Daniel struck the gong a final time. "Kal-i-farr!" He waited calmly.

Senek considered the recent past and realized that the boy likely would have stood just as calmly had he known that a challenger stood waiting to step forward. He was a remarkable young man in many ways.

T'Riss paced forward with slow dignity. Her gown, in concession to her husband's culture, was pure white to show that she had never been married before. Senek had no need of telepathy to detect the joy that she was radiating.

The pair knelt in front of the priest. The ceremony began with an unusual but not inappropriate ceremony. Humans apparently exchanged rings as an outward symbol of the marriage union. The solid platinum bands were unobtrusive and almost Vulcan in simplicity. The words were equally straightforward. Although Vulcan wedding ceremonies usually did not involve spoken vows, the words Daniel so clearly recited in ceremonial Vulcan-and T'Riss's softer response, blended seamlessly into the ceremony as if they'd been written for the occasion.

"With this ring, I thee wed."

After the exchange the pair touched fingers in the ozh'esta. Senek's mind was swept back through the years to the day when he had pressed his fingers against those of his own bride. Despite the decades that had passed, he could still smell the incense and see the light in her eyes...

He closed his eyes and recited the disciplines. Such indulgence was inappropriate. The past was done. The present was all the mattered, so that the future could be built securely.

The priest placed his hands on the temples of the betrothed pair and concentrated briefly. Then he made the ritual announcement that a mating bond already existed, and declared the pair before him to be husband and wife.

Indefinable tension flowed out of the watching group. As people began to separate into pairs and trios for conversation, Senek noticed Llahir touch Raijiin's arm and urge her toward the priest. He felt a sharp jolt of surprise through the handler's bond between them and moved in protectively.

"We wish to be married as well." Llahir's words clarified the emotional storm that Raijiin was starting to radiate. Her reaction was strong enough to cause curious looks from the Vulcans.

Senek suddenly realized something. His telepathic handler's link with Raijiin would probably be detectable by Llahir once the ceremony was finished. It was too late to say anything now. He winced internally and hoped that Llahir wouldn't kill him before he had time to explain.

#

Raijiin clenched her hands together, trying to stop their trembling. It was like a landslide. She had been waiting tensely for this moment. Now, it was suddenly here in a shocking instant.

The thought of refusing or asking Llahir to wait never occurred to her. A husband of her own? Perhaps even a home someday? Nothing was going to stop her from seizing this chance. It was the culmination of a lifetime of dreaming.

The second ceremony was a good deal more abbreviated. Neither of them had family present, so the preliminary rituals could be ignored. The courtyard was already prepared and the priest was present and agreeable. Risan law was quite flexible about such things, particularly regarding off-worlders marrying each other. She knelt opposite Llahir and offered him her fingers, feeling alternating waves of fire and ice crashing back and forth in her blood. The trembling would not stop. She did manage to sink her teeth deep enough into her tongue to prevent any embarrassing sounds.

Raijiin closed her eyes and reached deep when she felt the priest touch her temple. This was critically important. Even after the time she'd already spent with Llahir, she did not have enough experience with his unique mental differences to be sure of establishing a permanent link with him unassisted. But the priest knew what he was doing, and Llahir's instinctive hunger guided her as well. In an instant it was over. They were joined. They were one.

She opened her eyes and saw her bonded mate looking back at her. The priest took each of their wrists in his hands and forced them apart, but the connection remained. She couldn't stop the tears this time, and didn't try. Llahir's presence in her mind was a blaze of heat and possessive strength. His head came up. His nostrils flared. Her core felt molten; her knees shook. She was his for life. The realization was exhilarating, and she smiled through her tears. Dimly, she heard a gasp of shocked surprise from a few of the witnesses, but she couldn't maintain a Vulcan façade, not now. She'd have to deal with the consequences later.

Llahir rose to his feet and extended two fingers. She rose and completed the ozh'esta, for his sake pulling the tattered remnants of her Vulcan persona together. Her expression sobered and they turned to face the other occupants of the room. T'Riss stood beside her new husband in a similar pose. Her parents and Daniel's family weren't looking at their newly wedded relations, though. Everyone in the room had their eyes on Llahir and Raijiin.

Suddenly Llahir's head jerked toward Senek, who was standing in the back of the room with a stoic expression on his face. Raijiin both saw and felt the moment when Llahir sensed the barely perceptible thread of her handler's bond. Senek had shut down the link as thoroughly as he was able, but it still shone at the periphery of her awareness like an unbreakable metallic thread, leashing her to the older Vulcan agent as thoroughly as a slave bracelet and chain. Llahir's lip curled, and his fury filled her mind. She reached for him in an attempt to restrain him, but he pushed her aside and stalked over to Senek to confront him face to face, male to male. Had a blade been available, Raijiin was certain that it would now be at Senek's throat. As it was, Llahir's tone of voice was equally cutting.

"Release her," he growled softly. "She is mine."

Senek faced him squarely. "We should take this inside," he warned.

Of course, thought Raijiin. The existence of handler's bonds was classified information. No one else in the courtyard had sufficient clearance to witness their confrontation.  She placed a gentle hand on her new husband's forearm.

"Please," she begged in a barely audible whisper. "We must do this elsewhere."

Llahir's jaw clenched. His nod was jerky. He waved a hand at Senek, directing him to lead the way, and followed with Raijiin's forearm securely in his grasp. She accompanied them willingly into the building, her heart pounding in trepidation. The door closed behind them, practically in the faces of the curious wedding party.

The problem had to be addressed. It had been unwise of her not to broach the subject earlier, but Llahir had surprised her with the wedding and its resultant marriage bond. The prospect of getting married now-not eventually, not at some point in the future, but immediately-had driven everything else out of her head.

"This...bond...you have with my wife," rasped Llahir grimly to Senek. "It is an abomination."

Senek raised a brow at him. "Did your new wife fail to inform you that she is a wanted felon? Our agreement with Starfleet specifies that she be under constant surveillance. You know very well that mechanical surveillance is insufficient for a telepath and that Security Directorate protocol requires that she be mentally linked to an active agent at all times," he explained with forced patience. "This precaution was part of our custody agreement with Starfleet. Any violation of our agreed upon conditions gives Starfleet the right to take her back. Would you prefer that she be living in a Human penal colony? " Senek didn't appear in the least concerned, but Raijiin could detect a trace of apprehension from him. Did he think that Llahir was unaware of her legal status? That he would become violent when he discovered it? To her astonishment, Llahir gave a dry chuckle.

"That is hardly a likely scenario," he said. His face sobered. A chill went through her at the icy anger permeating their bond. "I would not permit it." He released her arm and stepped up to Senek, toe-to-toe and glaring. "Just as I will not permit you this obscenity," he growled from between clenched teeth. "She is bonded to me. I will be her handler. You will release her. I will discipline her should discipline be required." Raijjin stared at him wide-eyed. What had she gotten herself into?

"I hardly think that the Security Directorate will trust you to keep one of the most dangerous telepaths in the sector under control," scoffed Senek. "Not only are you the least telepathically talented Vulcan I have ever met, but you are officially retired and emotionally compromised." He shook his head. "It's quite obvious to me that Raijiin has you under her spell, and yet you apparently have no idea of the danger you're in."

"I trust my wife completely," countered Llahir in a dry voice. He reached out and grasped the front of Senek's shirt in both fists, lifting the shorter man up to his toes. Senek's face finally showed a modicum of alarm. "You, on the other hand, are the one that has no idea..."

"Please, Llahir. Don't hurt him," interrupted Raijiin. She laid a hand on his corded forearm. Tears clouded her vision. "He's right. The Security Directorate will never agree to what you suggest," she admitted to him. "I'm sorry. This is my fault. I should have told you." Llahir turned his head to look her in the eyes. She could feel his determination in their newly forged connection. He smiled a tight, feral smile, and then turned back to Senek, both fists still twisted into the older man's shirt.

"This is what we will do, then," Llahir said in a decisive tone. "I will enter active service again. You will break your bond with Raijiin and form a handler's bond with me." Rajiin felt her jaw drop as she stared at him. "You will have access to her mind through me via my bond with her, or not at all."

"Llahir! No!" protested Raijiin. "He'd have control of you whenever he desired it, perhaps even without you realizing it! "

Llahir ignored her, his eyes fixed on Senek's face. To Raijiin's horror, Senek seemed to be seriously considering the proposal. Llahir released him then, and stepped back with his arms crossed over his chest, waiting.

"I will not, of course, influence you in any way unless it is a matter of life or death," Senek vowed in a wary tone. "Your talents are much too valuable to us. It would make little sense for me to cloud your thinking during a mission with attempts at mental control. You may trust me in that regard." He eyed Llahir with a doubtful expression. "But you will require some training if you plan to act as a conduit between telepaths. Raijiin and I could damage you permanently unless you are properly trained."

Llahir turned back to Raijiin. She shook her head at him. Why?

His scarred face held a peculiarly tender expression. It is the only way to protect you, said his voice in her head, surprising her by his ability to respond without physical contact. Apparently her efforts to ensure a permanent link between them had been more successful than she'd anticipated.

"Then teach me. I am ready," he said aloud. His tone brooked no argument. Raijiin realized only then how much of a challenge she now faced being married to the man. Fortunately, she quite enjoyed a good challenge.

#

Trip left Damin in sickbay and hot-footed it to his cabin. He was starving, filthy, and exhausted, but his first priority lay in ascertaining first-hand, preferably with both hands at once, that T'Pol was all right. After that he hadn't decided whether he was going to kiss her in relief or kill her for doing something so all-fired stupid. With those goals in mind it took him less than fifteen minutes to shower, shave and change and only five minutes to make his way to T'Pol's door. He could feel her in his head the whole time. She wasn't worried anymore, just impatient. Before he had the chance to ring the bell she opened the door, hauled him in by one sleeve, and shut the door behind them. A second later she was in his arms. He forgot all about being hungry and tired and wrapped both arms around her.

T'Pol molded her body against him with a quiet, heartfelt sigh of relief and squeezed the breath out of him. Trip opened his mouth to say something to her about her recklessness, but all he had time for was an inarticulate moan before her lips covered his. Their fevered heat and velvety softness put every other thought from his mind. The clean clothes he'd just put on came right back off again, closely followed by T'Pol's robe, which, as it turned out, was her only garment. He quickly decided to skip the argument and go straight to making up. The glorious feel of T'Pol's skin beneath his hands, her soft sounds of love, her wide, liquid brown eyes fixed on his face as he pleasured her-these became, in that moment, the most important things in the universe.

#

Damin approached his mother's sickbed. The ship's captain and chief security officer hung back, with the Denobulan doctor standing between them. Damin could sense wariness from the three of them, but the officers' weapons remained holstered. He had not expected trust on such short acquaintance, but at least they didn't seem poised to immediately shoot him if he made a wrong move. It was a relief. Not having to be concerned about being shot in the back always made a task much easier.

Damin turned his attention to the sallow-faced woman in the bed, trying to remain objective. She was a prisoner he'd been hired to interrogate, not the woman who'd borne him. And definitely not the woman who'd tortured him by alternately granting and withholding her affection, the one individual he'd striven in vain to please for virtually every waking moment of his life.

Sienae was hooked to a tube-feeding device and an intravenous fluid infusion. Her head was wrapped, but the dressing was clean and fresh. She'd lost weight, a consequence of being unconscious for several weeks, he was certain, and not a reflection of maltreatment judging from the excellent medical care she was receiving. Damin stepped to her bedside and lifted his hands, pausing to collect his thoughts for a moment before initiating the meld.

The captain had told him of the Romulan spy aboard ship and his attempts to break the shield Damin had planted inside his mother's mind, a shield installed by her order many years before for the express purpose of preventing what the spy had tried to do. The man was dead now, killed only moments before Damin had arrived on board during an ill-advised attempt at interrogation by the ship's second in command. It was a pity that there had been no opportunity to turn him. He would have been a useful ally once given an attitude adjustment. The man had obviously been a very powerful telepath if he'd been able to force Sienae into this state. Her mind was conditioned to shut down in this way only in the case of a grave threat to the integrity of the shield.

It was all such a terrible waste. She'd known so much that could have been of use to the Coalition, and now, providing his shield had functioned in the way that it was intended to function, all of it was probably gone. The shield was not designed to protect the integrity of the consciousness behind it; it only protected the information within that consciousness by destroying the mind behind it, leaving the body behind to lead the interrogator into futile and resource-wasting efforts to break through the shield. Had he told the Humans this, Damin felt certain that he would not have been believed. He was going to have to show them.

Damin steeled himself. For a Romulan death was of little concern, but he was not Romulan, at least not entirely, and the body on the bed was still that of his mother. He extended a hand with fingers splayed, gingerly made contact, closed his eyes, and sent out a cautious probe. Her shield was intact, an impermeable and featureless barrier preventing any contact he might have made with her thoughts, but he knew how to get in through the back door. Going rooting around in her mind felt more than just a little ghoulish, assuming that it was now destroyed, but he searched for the entry point he'd implanted anyway. He forced a mental image of the door into her unresponsive mind and finally found the place he was searching for.

Massive, metallic, and windowless, the imaginary door's substantial twin had hung at the entrance to a tiny chamber in their home back on Romulus, a chamber where he'd spent an inordinate amount of time during his formative years. His mother's methods of discipline had included incarceration without food and water for days in a cell too small to lie down fully upon the floor, but the thick rocky walls of the chamber had ended up fortuitously shielding him from her twisted thoughts. It had become a refuge from her anger, a place of peace. Damin reached out a figurative hand to the figurative latch and opened the door.

Behind it, as he'd expected, was nothing. No secrets. Not even any unconscious thoughts. Her heart was still beating; she was even still breathing on her own, but his mother was dead. For a moment relief was all he was capable of-relief and guilt. He'd killed her, or rather, his shield design had. But he refused to allow the woman to cause him any more pain. She'd commissioned the shield, had guided him in its design, had insisted that it do precisely what it did so well. So she was the one responsible.

Ending what remained of her life would be so easy-a tweak of her autonomic system right there and her heart would stop. It was the merciful thing to do, but his mother had not taught him mercy. It would be justifiable revenge, but he'd learned over the years that revenge did nothing but cause trouble. And her death during a meld with him would anger his current employers. The Humans would pay well for his services in the war to come. It wouldn't be very intelligent to antagonize them. So he opened his eyes, ended the meld, and lowered his hand to his side.

Damin gazed down upon the shell of his mother. The stomach-twisting mixture of hatred, fearful respect, and fervent need to please that he'd always felt in her presence didn't apply to this thing before him. He was finally free.

Above his head a high-pitched beeping began to sound. The Denobulan doctor elbowed him briskly out of the way and busied himself at her bedside. Damin felt a touch on his shoulder. He turned to face a stern-looking Lieutenant Reed. The captain of Enterprise stood behind him with his arms crossed over his chest and an expectant look on his face.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but her mind is gone," Damin told them with a helpless gesture. "It was too late the moment a powerful enough telepath attempted to breach her shield."  Archer and Reed exchanged a startled look.

"You mean all this time she's been..." Archer began.

"Brain dead," finished Damin with a grimace and a nod.

"Not precisely," put in Phlox. "If she were brain dead she'd require respiratory support. The dysfunction was confined to her cerebral cortex. Her brainstem function was intact until just a few seconds ago." He gestured at the monitor above her bed. "But now her autonomic control is beginning to deteriorate." He gave Damin a suspicious look. Damin realized that he'd better explain.

"I deactivated the shield. It was designed to support her autonomic function and fool her interrogators into thinking that her mind was still intact behind it. She won't live much longer without it, but now any telepath can confirm the fact that she's not a valid source of information," said Damin. "If you wish independent confirmation I would suggest doing so within twenty four hours." He lifted his chin and stared the three larger men down.

"Crewman Jowan said that you were the one who placed her shield, " said Reed with a challenge in his tone. "That's why we came to Risa after you."

"I did," Damin confirmed. "I implanted it at her order over fifteen years ago." The Humans knew more than Damin had suspected. This Jowan person must have been Tal Shiar.

"I thought you told me that Commander Sienae wanted you dead when we first met. How could she trust you enough to let you into her head one minute and then want to kill you the next?" asked Reed.

Damin smiled a wry smile and shrugged. "She was a psychopath," he said.

Archer's arms were still crossed over his chest. He jerked his chin at Phlox. "Tell him," he told the doctor.

"Crewman Jowan told us something else about you," said Phlox. "He said that you're half-Romulan... and that this is your mother. My analysis confirms this." Damin didn't deny it. There was no point. He sighed. There was no reason to conceal anything now.

"If I weren't fully committed to being your ally I would have killed her outright," he told them. "She was a cruel and heartless bitch, but no Romulan would want to remain alive in her condition."

Reed tipped his head at that, as if it made good sense to him. Archer still wasn't satisfied.

Damin paused, considering his response. "She was a low-level member of the Tal Shiar with delusions of grandeur, a blood-thirsty sadist, and the commander of one of the smaller and more expendable stealth vessels in the Empire...take your pick," he told them. He hesitated. "And, yes, she was also my mother." He shrugged, "I betrayed her when I left the Tal Shiar. She wasn't very big on forgiveness."

#

Trip lay on his back staring at the ceiling, trying to breathe. The sweat coating both of their bodies had begun to dry, and T'Pol shivered. He forced himself to move, capturing the blanket from the edge of the bed between his feet and dragging it up to within reach. Then he pulled it over both of them and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, pulling her against him back to front. They were both half-asleep. The bond vibrated with sensual satisfaction, but something still niggled at him. He truly hated to rock the boat, but T'Pol's risky behavior had to be addressed.

"Might as well do it now," he reflected. "There won't be a calmer time."

"You're a hypocrite, you know," he murmured. His tone wasn't accusing, merely stating a fact.

T'Pol wiggled her hips, tucking herself more firmly against him and provoking an inevitable response. "What have I done to displease you now?" she asked sleepily.

Trip sighed and smiled a wry smile into the top of her head. With some difficulty he kept his focus on the question at hand. "How many times have you tried to shield me? How many times have you lied to me, by omission if nothing else, because you thought you were trying to keep me safe? How many times have you preached, and even ranted, about how it was your job to protect me because you're my mate?" She went still in his arms. He could sense her disquiet in the bond. "But you did it anyway," he went on. He couldn't keep the anger out of his voice. "You put yourself in danger with no thought of how I might feel about it." His grip around her tightened. He squeezed with all of his strength, tighter than he would have dared with a Human woman. She was strong, he knew that, but not so strong that she was immune from all harm. "Dammit, T'Pol! You nearly died!"

She turned and buried her face in his neck. He felt her lips moving against his skin as she softly replied, "I acknowledge that confronting the prisoners alone was not the optimum course of action." Her formal words belied the contrition that filled his mind, pounding in waves through the bond, mixed with her love for him. He stroked her hair. She wrapped both arms around his neck, pressed her warm nude body desperately against him and insinuated one smooth leg between both of his. Trip closed his eyes in relief. She was truly sorry. Maybe-just maybe-it meant that she wouldn't do it again. He could only hope.

"Thank you," he breathed. Then he pulled back from her embrace, laced the fingers of one hand in the hair on the back of her head, and tugged until she released him. Their eyes met. His face was serious, his voice stern when he said, "But fair warning, T'Pol. The next time you take an idiotic risk like that, especially when there's no real reason for it, I'm going to harass and berate you about it for the next fifty years." He made a fist in her hair and tugged once for emphasis. "I mean it." Her eyes were wide, her breathing rapid. He could sense her arousal, but he ignored it. The fact that she liked it when he was a little rough with her was beside the point right now. "Do you believe me?"

She winced, her chest heaving-another distraction he ignored. "I believe you."

"I mean it," he warned. "At least once a day, every day, until I am too old and senile to remember my own name, I will bring it up and chew you out for it. That is a solemn oath."

"I said I believe you, husband." She didn't fight him, even though he knew she was perfectly capable of it. Instead she pressed her head back into his hand, baring her vulnerable neck. The action only served to push more delectable portions of her anatomy against his bare chest. Maintaining his grip on her hair, he reached out with his free hand to trace a finger lightly along the tense muscles on the left side of her neck and down to her delicate looking collarbone. T'Pol's eyes remained fixed on his, her breathing rapid. "I will extend my best effort to avoid such behavior in the future. At minimum, I will avoid it unless the situation is critical, and I will attempt to discuss it with you beforehand whenever possible."

"Fair enough." Trip told her, biting his lip. His hand reached the upper curve of her breast. It was getting very difficult for him to maintain his focus. "And I'll try to avoid jumping straight into crazy stupid dangerous situations unless I think I really should. I'll also try to tell you first whenever it's conveniently possible." He smiled sweetly and cupped one golden breast in the palm of his hand. He flicked the nipple once with his thumb.

She closed her eyes, her lips moist and parted. "Point taken," she said with a gasp. "I will do my best."

He kissed her while her eyes were still closed, unable to resist taking advantage of her position of abject surrender. T'Pol moaned and fervently returned his kiss. They were both most pleasantly distracted for some time afterwards.

Trip came up for air long enough to ask a question. "Would you mind if I didn't resign my commission just yet? I'm only starting to get used to this bunk."

Her eyes widened. He felt her sudden fierce joy in the bond, and suddenly he was flat on his back, pinned to the bunk by a double armful of happy, naked Vulcan.

#

Sehlra stood at near-attention in the embarkation lounge of the Risa City Spaceport, her face fixed in her best attempt at Vulcan social politeness-in other words, expressionless. She was at the end of her rope with these people. The reception had been an exercise in painful social correctness. The parents had even refused to dance. Daniel had been forced to take T'Riss's hand and dance with her alone under their disapproving eyes, at least until Jenrali had taken pity on him and pulled Sehlra on to the dance floor. Stern and Jara had followed, awkwardly but with good will. The parents still hadn't budged.

Vulcans must be the most terminally stubborn beings in the known universe.

T'Riss stood beside Sehlra watching the departing Vulcan wedding party walk toward the waiting shuttle. Her face was very slightly but noticeably wistful. Daniel had at least had the opportunity to shake Stern's hand and to give his foster sister a brief, hesitantly reciprocated hug. There had been no embraces for T'Riss, even though it was entirely possible that it would be years before she would see her parents again. As far as Sehlra was concerned, the ta'al was a Mother-cursed poor substitute for a goodbye hug.

"You and Daniel have plans, girl?" she asked in a brusque voice. T'Riss blinked. After a second or two she turned to Sehlra.

"He wishes to leave our quarters aboard ship and stay in a hotel for an entire week," she replied in a slightly baffled tone. "I told him that it is an unnecessary expense, but he seems insistent on following this Human custom of...ah... 'sugar moon'?"

Daniel chuckled as he approached them after completing his farewells. "That's 'honeymoon', sweetheart....," he laughed, "...and I guarantee you'll like it."  Sehlra bit back a grin. She made a shooing motion with both hands.

"Off with you, then. Jenrali and I will expect you back in seven days at 0800 precisely, ready to work," she announced. They didn't have to be told twice.

Sehlra watched them walk side by side-T'Riss hadn't quite gotten to the point where she was comfortable with public handholding, but their shoulders were practically touching-down the sidewalk in front of the spaceport in the direction of the largest luxury hotel in Risa City. Her vision went cloudy for a moment. Then she blinked and pulled herself together.

You've got an appointment, woman, she reminded herself, and started walking in the opposite direction. When she reached the entrance to the Betazoid embassy she felt him. Damin had been aboard the Human vessel. His task was apparently completed there because he was very close now, meeting her here as promised. She felt her face soften in an involuntary smile. She did love a man who kept his promises.

The embassy building was glass-fronted and airy, not the sort of construction that would have been practical on her home world, but it suited both Risa and the Betazoids who occupied it. She stepped through the transparent double doors into a lobby furnished in organic-looking bent wood furniture. There was a handsome young man sitting at a desk across the room. She approached him.

"I'm here to see Ambassador Melaine."

The young Betazoid gave her a polite smile and turned his head toward the wooden door of the office behind him. A moment later it opened. Another young man gestured for her to enter without saying anything. She swallowed and walked past him into the office. There was an ordinary looking middle aged woman sitting behind a desk across the room. She was matronly, with grey streaked black hair piled on top of her head, not at all the type Sehlra had expected. But then, what exactly did the head of a planet-wide crime syndicate look like? She'd never met one until today.

Damin was standing in front of the desk. He tipped his head to the woman, who looked back at him for several seconds before gesturing to Sehlra to approach. The silent communication between them all was unnerving. She joined Damin at the desk. He smiled at her, and the expression in his dark eyes made her forget her discomfort.

"I'm pleased to see that you've regained your freedom from the Risa City police, Lieutenant U'len," said Melaine aloud. Her smile didn't reach her eyes. "Damin tells me that you have chosen him and that you are interested in joining us." Her smile vanished. "Unfortunately, I have reservations about that. It took months to set Damin up as bait with the Romulans, to make them think that he was persona non grata with us so that he would be allowed close enough to collect information from the owner of Woodhaven House, and you almost blew the entire operation with your misguided rescue attempt. How can I accept you as a member of the family if I can't trust you not to behave stupidly?"

Sehlra blinked back at her. Months? Her gaze flew to Damin, who grimaced apologetically.

"I'm sorry, Sehlra. I didn't know either," he said. And that's when Sehlra got mad.

"So... let me get this straight," she said with icy calmness to the woman in front of her. "You deliberately set Damin up as a target for this sting of yours without his permission?"

"Damin is part of this family," replied Melaine with equal coolness. "He does what he is told...as you must if you decide to join us." Her smile returned. Oddly, it held a bit more warmth, as if she approved of Sehlra's protective attititude. "I assure you that there are benefits as well as responsibilities associated with membership ...if you're still interested. We take care of our own."

Sehlra bit back an angry retort. She met Damin's eyes. They entreated her to keep her temper. For his sake, she kept a lid on it. "Like you took care of Damin?" she retorted.

Melaine smiled broadly. "Exactly so. He's alive and well, isn't he? And very wealthy now." She sounded very satisfied with herself. Sehlra turned to Damin for an explanation. He shrugged and grimaced sheepishly.

"You're looking at the new owner of Woodhaven House. Melaine bought it and signed the deed to the property over to me just a minute ago," he said. He smiled. "Share it with me?" he begged, his dark eyes wide and pleading.

Sehlra sighed shook her head. The man was irresistible. It just wasn't fair. She turned back to Melaine.

"I'll take your vow on one condition. I want to be informed first. No more secret machinations involving Damin or myself. You will tell us not only what and when, but why." Sehlra paused and glanced once at Damin's hopeful face. "And then I will obey without question," she conceded. Melaine beamed maternally. Sehlra gritted her teeth. Then Damin reached out, took her hand, and smiled at her. She could sense no attempts at mental persuasion from him at all, but suddenly her decision felt profoundly right. She smiled back.

#

Namala sat in her office, looking out through the window at the sunset with a glass of golden wine in her hand. She normally didn't drink before dinner, but it wasn't a normal day. Arithnae was in custody, the future of Woodhaven house, and thus her own future, was in complete disarray, and nearly half of her staff had quit. She couldn't blame them. It wasn't as if she had anything for them to do-or even any money to pay them, for that matter.

The ones who'd left were the newest hires. There apparently hadn't been time to gain their loyalty. She wished them well, although she would definitely miss the new butler. Captain Jenrali Sefroth was the most appealing man she'd met in a very long time, and not just because of that stupid uniform.

The entry bell sounded, and Namala sighed. Opening the door fell to her, since Jemma was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Callen was in the garage changing the oil in the car, Karin was tidying the house, and old Mateo was weeding the vegetable garden. She was comfortable, though, and didn't particularly want to get up.

The entry bell sounded again. She levered herself up out of the chair, wine in hand, and walked into the entrance hall. Through the cut glass panes on either side of the door she caught sight of a familiar figure with a bouquet of flowers in one hand, and her heart skipped a beat. What in the world was the man doing here?

She set her wine glass on the table in the entrance hall and gave her appearance a quick once-over in the mirror on the wall. She looked like she always did, efficient and neat in her blazer and slacks, with her hair caught in a bun at the nape of her neck. Oh well, it can't be helped, she thought.

And then, without really considering what she was doing, she reached back, pulled her hair out of its confinement, and shook her head. Grey-streaked golden waves fell past her shoulders. The wine had given her cheeks a flush. She bit at her lips to redden them, and then turned to answer the door.

Captain Sefroth was wearing civilian clothes, a slim-cut dark grey sport coat over a crisp white shirt with pleated tan slacks that showed off his trim muscular form to great advantage. In one hand he held a half-dozen long-stemmed red Risan roses. He smiled at her with an air of confidence.

"Good evening, Mistress Namala. May I come in?"

Namala smiled a bemused smile and stepped back to let him into the house.  

 

End of Series


Comments:

Distracted

Test comment 8/8/12

Distracted
Distracted
SavanaSahara

I love this story so was very pleased to see the finale up! I have followed this story avidly but admit to being disappointed by this last chapter. Not sure why but it seemed rushed and some of the "ends" tied up hurriedly. Other loose ends were never tied up so to speak. And Senek? And if Sehlra goes off with Damin and Jenrali with his new love...what happens to the partnership with Daniel and the Lerteiran itself? What happened to the Vulcan ships Sehlat, La-Matya, and the hospital ship Kau-Surak, I think it was called? Were the other Vulcan kidnap victims ever rescued? What did happen with Raijiin & Llahir besides their marriage? I had the impression they wouldn't remain with the Vulcan Security Directorate for long. T'Riss' family seemed to just fade out so it would have been great to see more of them. I really would have loved to see all those loose ends come together somehow. But that said, this has been one of the best stories I have read online about STE yet! Thanks for the long but fun ride! Your OCs are wonderful and well written! Maybe you'll think about continuing with another edition but I think I'll wait til it's complete before reading. Thanks again!

sabadov

I agree more Lerteiran Chronicles.

I was disappointed with the Chapter 15, the conclusion. I got the impression you (both) were tired of the story and wanted to end it and move to something else.

I agree with Transwarp's comments about Damin and Raijiin.

I don't think Sehlra would join a crime family even for love. She seemed to me a highly ethical and moral person. I feel that if you join an organization then you approve of their actions and policies. Will she really approve of the harm crime does. Yes, I know everyone has free will to make their own choices. If you choose to borrow money from a loan shark then you are responsible for your choices and consequences of non-payment. Will she be the leg-breaker?

I enjoyed the first 14 chapters and eagerly awaited each chapter posting. I am sorry as well that the story ended.

 

Transwarp

300,000 words?  Really?  Wow.  Time filies when you're having fun!  Seriously, I did enjoy this. Very much!  But there were two tiny things that marred my otherwise complete delight:

Tiny thing 1) Damin.  I just don't like him and never did and never will.  Part of my dislike of Damin stems from an irrational (I admit it) loathing of all things betazoid stemming from Troi and her mother in TNG.  And for him to end up paired with Sehlra (a character who I really, Really, REALLY like) just left me >blech<

There was a hopeful moment when Sehlra was meeting with Damin's family and they gave her what amounted to an ultimatum:

"Damin is part of this family," replied Melaine with equal coolness. "He does what he is told...as you must if you decide to join us." Her smile returned. Oddly, it held a bit more warmth, as if she approved of Sehlra's protective attititude. "I assure you that there are benefits as well as responsibilities associated with membership ...if you're still interested. We take care of our own."

I was intensely disappointed when Sehlra didn't tell them where they could stick their family and turn on her heels and leave.  If Damin had joined her, he might have even earned a small measure of my respect.  Instead, this proud combat veteran gave in to their arrogant demands, and agreed to become part of what is evidently the Betazoid mafia.  Rather sad, from my perspective.

Tiny thing 2) Raijiin.  I believe you were trying very hard to build some sympathy for the plight of poor Raijiin, but if so it didn't work on me.  I was hoping to the end she would be caught and brought to human justice, which is what I believe she deserves for her actions.   But instead of justice, she was rewarded by being paired with Llahir, yet another character I grew to really, Really, REALLY like.

What's up with that?  The two OC's I like the most end up marrying the two I like the least!

It's a cold, cruel universe indeed.

 

In every other respect, this was fabulous!

 

 

Distracted

Success! Thank you. :D

Alelou

A very satisfying conclusion, with almost all the good guys all getting married or happily ending up in each other's arms or likely to do so at some point, and the bad guys not even haunting their relatives anymore.  Even Travis got to have a good time! I also enjoyed Malcolm's blushing, and  I loved Trip and T'Pol's finale scene most of all.  This feels as if it could segue into new adventures of Daniel and T'Riss on their (hopefully re-fitted) ship, which I'm sure we wouldn't mind.   

And this is my third attempt to leave this feedback so I hope it works, or I'll just give up and go to ff.net to do it.

Nemo Blank

This has been quite a ride. I enjoyed the story very much. Thanks for the hours of entertainment and the excellent original characters. I believe that I came to like them better than TnT.

Distracted

Hey, Senek's still single, too!  I'm restraining myself. I promise. : )

Thanks, guys.

Cogito

More Lerteiran Chronicles, Yay! But it's a bittersweet moment, because this is the end. :(

It's hard to believe it's been 300,000 words since the story began because they've flown past. I still remember, those four years ago, reading the first chapter and wondering whether I wanted to read any more because, after all, there didn't seem to be any TnT in it. Considering how thoroughly your characters have hooked me in and how eagerly I have looked forward to each new chapter, it seems absurd now that I could ever have doubted you.

With a story this long and detailed it would be silly to try to pick out all the highlights, we would be here all day, so I will focus on this last chapter. It draws a lot of loose ends together. Which is nice in some respects, but feels a bit disconcerting, almost as if you've cut the story off. I'd almost rather have the loose ends trail off into the future so that I can wonder how that worked out...

But you've done it so affectionately that I can't complain. And I couldn't help chuckle when I realised that you'd paired off virtually everyone except poor old Archer. :D

Of course the scenes with TnT in were particularly welcome, but without exception the Danial/T'Riss scenes were all extraordinarily appealing. They are just so darned cute together, both ernestly trying to do the right thing. :)

And in this last scene, I thought "and as best as she could recall at least once on the floor" drew a beautiful picture of how they'd spent the last night.

But the image that stays with me, and I'm sure will stay with me for a very long time indeed, is Trip with a double armful of happy, naked Vulcan.

Thank you both, and well done for a masterpiece. I hope you will both feel you deserve a well-earned rest.

Before you come back and tell us what happens next. ;)

 

 

Asso

And I didn't say I didn't enjoyed them. But let me say that for me (for me, I repeat) they are as not beautiful as those with Trip and T'Pol. My fault? My limit, as I have said? I don't deny this.;)

Asso

Hey Dis! But you know I read everything! And I didn't skim all the parts without Trip and T'Pol. Simply... ahem... I have read them a little hurriedly. :p

Paul S.

Ah, lovely completion to the series. Thank you for the enjoyment I've had over the years, checking the site for a new episode and settling in for a pleasureable read when I found one. Blessings to you both!

Distracted

Thank you for your honest commentary, Asso. Although you know it isn't fair for you to say you don't like the rest of the story when all you're doing is skimming it looking for the TnT parts, don't you? : P

Asso

Well, only a small addition, just to avoid the risk of being misunderstood.
Of course my previous comment comes from what in effect is my personal limit.
I am unfortunately rather limited: it is difficult for me to conceive of a fresco as wide as yours, in which Trip and T'Pol are only a part.
Of course they are the most beautiful part.:p;)

Asso

I think it is well known that it is extremely difficult for me - I would say impossible - to fully enjoy stories (also delicious and well written as this one) that are not centered on Trip and T'Pol.

So, I'll just say three things:

 

First. The story is undoubtedly beautiful.

 

Second. The final scene between Trip and T'Pol is one of the most beautiful I have ever read and - alone - it is worth its weight in gold (and its weight is immense).

 

Third. To be honest, this scene, and the unspeakable beauty with which it is painted, much more - excuse me if I say this - than all the rest, leads me to say that probably, indeed certainly, you two get the greatest inspiration just from this pair. I think it's fair to say this, so that you can be able to draw the conclusions that you deem most appropriate.

 

Thank you for this great story and thanks, above all, for this marvellous final scene between Trip and T'Pol.

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