The Targ and the Sehlat

"Since the days of the first wooden sailing ships, all captains have enjoyed the happy privilege of joining together two people in the bonds of matrimony. And it is my honor to unite you, Keiko Ishikawa, and you, Miles O'Brien, together in matrimony here..."

Lieutenant Commander Data listened to Captain Picard's words, but his eyes were on Keiko and Miles. He felt what might be considered to be a contentment and pleasure in what he saw and, had he been bold enough, he might have called it a reasonable facsimile of Human happiness. He looked over at Counselor Deanna Troi. Although Deanna was smiling at Keiko and Miles, her eyes shone brightly as if they were wet. She took a deep breath and hastily looked away, and caught Data's eye. Her mood abruptly changed and she grinned at him. He acknowledged her grin with a slight tilt of his head. She winked at him.

Data was fairly certain that the source of the Betazoid's humor was the incongruence of Miles' and Keiko's happiness in their love today with the remembrance of the way in which they had discovered it . . .

Keiko Ishikawa, a civilian botanist specializing in the adaptation of Terran plants to colony worlds, had come aboard the Enterprise on extended research assignment after similar assignments to several Federation colony worlds. Data, as Chief Science Officer and with Counselor Troi's solicited advice, took as one of his duties the integration of Starfleet and civilian scientists in his department and the android had made a particular success with Keiko.

Deanna saw in Keiko a woman who, because her life was spent in transit pursuing her research, didn't put down ties or make friends easily and the Betazoid was pleased when Keiko and Data became good friends and then, gradually, Keiko started thinking of Deanna as a friend, too. When Keiko needed several growth chambers constructed to specification so she could conduct research on the genetic drift of medicinal plants, Deanna hinted that perhaps, rather than Data taking on the project himself, he find another engineer to work with Keiko.

Data considered the counselor's request, saw that she meant by it to enlarge Keiko's circle of acquaintances, and recommended Miles O'Brien, the Enterprise's expert on transporter and replicator technology.

As the android observed the progress of the growth chambers, he also observed the progress of Keiko's friendship with Miles. The contrasts between the two Humans intrigued Data—the civilian and the Starfleet officer; the person who had never settled anywhere and the person who called the Enterprise his home; the woman who was used to making do with what she found wherever she went, and the man who never let himself or anyone else settle for less than exactly what they wanted—and yet their discussions, which often escalated into arguments, nevertheless held an underlying respect for each other and their differing viewpoints. And Keiko's research was so successful the Federation felt it warranted presentation at the Annual Botanical Symposium on Conr, where the Enterprise was due for shore leave.

Deanna hugged Keiko briefly in congratulations as they walked away from the assembly hall. "I'm so happy for you!"

"I can't believe all the people who attended!" Keiko agreed. "And the questions—I've got so many new ideas of where further research could lead! I couldn't have done it without your support, Deanna." The botanist leaned forward to catch Data's eye. "And your encouragement helped too, Data. You knew I'd never done anything like this, attend a professional conference, and you're the person who got me here. But none of it would have happened at all without you, Miles." She grinned at him. "If you hadn't built the growth chambers so I could run the experiments on—"

Miles waved her comment off modestly, reminding her, "All the work was yours, Keiko. I'm just glad I could be of some help, that's all."

"It's been really nice working on this project together these past few weeks, Miles, and getting to know you," Keiko said suddenly, her voice warm with emotion.

The engineer teased easily, "Have I convinced you yet that Starfleet's not just a military organization?"

"Yes, yes, it's about opportunities, too—"

"And about duty to a higher ideal," he reminded her. "The question isn't 'Am I ready for the challenge of exploring the unknown?'; it's 'Can I make a commitment to this?'"

"I understand that sentiment better now," she qualified with a smile. "Just remember, Miles, that in striving for a higher ideal, the individual shouldn't be forgotten. Starfleet, with its hierarchy and demands, should never keep anyone from asking, 'Can I afford to be less than who I honestly, authentically am?' And having said that, now look at me," Keiko said, laughing at herself. "My friends are all Starfleet officers!"

They turned onto what seemed to be the main thoroughfare and started looking with interest at the various businesses. Miles told them, "Based on the last time I came through here, I wouldn't recommend many of these places. Kind of rough."

"Rough for a woman?" Keiko asked.

"Rough for anyone," Miles said in no uncertain terms.

"In that case, perhaps we should return to the Enterprise and celebrate in Ten Forward," Data suggested.

"I think you're missing the point of shore leave," Deanna said, peering into each doorway they passed and reluctantly agreeing with Miles's assessment.

Well, if they're all about the same, let's just try one," Keiko said.

"None of that!" Miles said, feigning outrage. "We're going to do this right!"

"If you will recall, Chief O'Brien does not believe in compensating for an inferior product," Data reminded Keiko, who smiled.

"Yes, Miles is the one who reprogrammed the replicators to make my favorite green tea even though I didn't ask him to—"

"It's my job, Keiko."

"And it was very sweet, too—but if you travel as much as I do, you don't really have a choice about it. You can't afford to demand perfect tea, perfect quarters, perfect anything because everything changes wherever you go. You're constantly making do."

"No reason to, when the possibility exists that you can get exactly what you want." Miles stopped in front of a building near an alley where a bright neon sign flashed the logo "The Targ and the Sehlat."

"Now this might be likely," he said.

"Why?" Deanna asked.

"It wasn't here last time—I don't know anything bad about it."

Keiko shrugged amiably. "Let's go." She led the way inside.

The interior was dark, the patrons just numerous enough to make things comfortably crowded. They found a table and ordered meals, enjoying each other's company and the conversation.

When their after-dinner drinks came, Miles raised his glass for a toast. "To the joys of civilian life—to people being true to themselves," he said, with a wink and a nod at Keiko.

Keiko raised her glass and countered goodnaturedly, looking him straight in the eye, "To the joys of a life in Starfleet—to people committed to higher ideals." She knocked her drink back in one gulp. Miles and Deanna, who still held their drinks in their hands, stared at her. "What?" Keiko asked innocently.

"Ah...nothing," Miles said, taking a small sip of his drink.

"I think I'm letting old stereotypes get in the way, such as, women are supposed to sip their drinks slowly and be quiet and demure," Deanna observed candidly, knocking back her drink and then signaling for another round as if to make up for her assumptions. She went on conversationally, "You know, another old stereotype was that people in the military are supposed to be drunken brawlers."

"So no fighting tonight, Miles," Keiko warned him with a smile.

"If you insist, the Marines won't be hearing from me tonight," Miles promised solemnly, raising one hand for emphasis.

Unfortunately, at the next table sat five space Marines, who downed one more drink for courage and then simultaneously shoved their chairs back and stood, facing Miles, Keiko, Data and Deanna. The four arose with defensive instinct.

The insults the Marines hurled weren't very inventive, just the regular assortment of Starfleet cliches and slurs, and Miles was more than capable of handling them without anyone's help. Keiko, already slightly drunk, couldn't help a grin at one particularly incisive retort by Miles, but the action drew the attention of Spivak, a Marine captain with a sly look on her face, who demanded,

"Hey, what's with you, Vulcan?"

Keiko stifled an impulse to touch a hand to her cheekbones, as chiseled as a Vulcan's only when she smiled wholeheartedly—no one had called her "Vulcan" since high school, and the unexpected taunt brought back years of painful memories. Spivak went on,

"Your mother—her name T'ramp? Or maybe T'ease?"

"Do you feel hostility towards Vulcans?" Data asked, curious, and Deanna yanked on his sleeve to shut him up.

But Spivak was intent on Keiko. "Her father obviously didn't. Or is it fathers? Her mother must have slept with every Tom, Dick, O'Malley and Chan to get a kid as ugly as her."

Keiko sputtered, outraged, "That's—genetically ignorant of you—" But even as she said it, she realized that Miles had tensed as soon as he'd realized she'd really been hurt by Spivak's comment and she put her hand on his arm, grateful for his sympathy but not wanting any trouble. "No fighting, Miles," she reminded him.

Spivak looked a dare at Keiko, stepped forward quickly, grabbed Miles by the head and kissed him long and hard. The other Marines whooped in derision. Miles, released, looked stunned. Spivak grinned at Keiko.

And Keiko slugged her.

"She's coming to," were the first words Keiko heard when she opened her eyes—and quickly closed them against the bright light from the back door of an all-night eatery.

"Ooooh, my head," she moaned.

"Easy there," a voice said, and a strong arm went around her shoulders. She struggled to maintain her balance as she sat upright, and then she tried opening her eyes again.

Miles's face was closest to her—he was the one supporting her weight with his arm. Deanna and Data were sitting in the doorway of the eatery, Data winding a piece of cloth around Deanna's bleeding hand. Keiko was almost afraid to ask, but did. "What happened?"

"Do you remember anything?" Deanna asked.

Keiko concentrated and was surprised by the headache her effort cost her. "Oh, no," she said in a small voice as she relived the whole bar erupting into a spontaneous donnybrook as if only waiting for a first punch—hers.

Thinking this was an admission of her lapse of memory, Data stated helpfully, "While Chief O'Brien was rendering one of the Marine lieutenants unconscious with textbook fistfighting techniques and Counselor Troi was using her knowledge of Klingon self-defense maneuvers to dispatch an inebriated bar patron, I endeavored to improve the odds of our successful departure—"

"You were throwing people out of the bar three at a time, Data," Deanna corrected, then flinched at Data's ministrations. "Ow! Where's Beverly with a medikit when you need her?"

"And you were telling me not to fight," Miles said, amused. "That was quite a display you put on back there, especially you, Keiko."

"I seem to remember your honor being impugned, Miles," she managed to tease him.

"Well, two marines TKO'd—no one's ever defended it so gallantly." Their gazes met and Miles traced the edge of her bruised eye lightly with a finger. "That's going to be a real beauty in an hour or so. Does it hurt?"

"Only when I—" she said automatically, then after a small pause, "—can't think of anything funny to say." She hardly dared breathe, caught by Miles's concerned gaze and her own surprisingly intense feelings. He'd touched her so gently when earlier that evening he'd made a fist hard enough to knock someone out . . .

Miles found he was holding his breath, too. He'd stopped hoping that someone would look at him the way she was now, her eyes bright and warm and somehow meant only for him. He finally broke the silence. "It doesn't have to be funny, you know," he said softly.

Data started to ask, "If we have sufficiently remedied our appearance, should we not beam—"

Deanna, letting herself feel the last effects of the synthehol, swatted his arm. "Hush, Data." She propped her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands and adoringly watched Keiko and Miles.

Oblivious to her audience, Keiko wondered aloud, trying to sort out her feelings, "I've never fought for anyone before. That must mean something, right?"

As she continued to look up at him she remembered how she had always been able to say goodbye, to her family, her home, her friends because she was good at making do, at substituting for what she left behind. But had she fought for Miles because he was the first person she couldn't make do without? The one person there was no substitute for? The only person she couldn't see herself saying goodbye to?

"Marry me, Miles?" she found herself asking him, and her heart stopped as she waited for him to laugh at her.

He grinned slowly, easily, but he didn't laugh. "I'd love to," he said.

Then she smiled, too, relieved, incredibly light-hearted. She reached up, brought his head down to hers and kissed him.

Deanna rested her head against Data's shoulder as she gazed dreamily at Keiko and Miles. "Isn't love wonderful?" she sighed.

Data took a quick look at Deanna's expression and then mirrored it. He sighed, too. "Indeed."

Miles put his arms around Keiko and deepened their kiss, but Keiko suddenly jerked in his arms. "Oh, Miles, I'm so sore!" she half-laughed, half-despaired. Then she did laugh, because Miles was massaging his jaw tenderly.

"I guess we should take it slowly for a little while," he said, cheerful despite the ache in his jaw.

"I guess we should." They smiled at each other, and then Keiko suddenly remembered Deanna and Data. She looked up at them, beaming. "I feel like celebrating!" she announced.

The brightly flashing sign of "The Targ and the Sehlat" beckoned to them at the end of the alley.

Data thought the sign particularly appropriate at that moment. The other three, however, said in unison, "But not there!"

The memory of that night was as vivid as a positronic brain could maintain it, and the android raised his glass for the first toast to the newlyweds and said solemnly, "To Miles and Keiko. If you fight, may you fight for love." The O'Briens started to blush as he went on, "If you shout, may you shout with joy and if you cheat, may you cheat misfortune itself."

Deanna raised her glass and her bright dark eyes mirrored Keiko's own as she added, "And when you lie, may it be in each other's arms—forever."

Amid the cheers of "To Miles and Keiko!" Keiko suddenly bent her head as if hiding tears. Miles put his arm around her and murmured so softly only Keiko and Data could hear, "Now, what's this, sweetheart? The best barroom brawler this side of the Orion Nebula, crying?"

"I suppose that's the only reason you married me," she said, her smile watery as she looked back at him.

"A man needs someone to protect his virtue," Miles conceded.

"Why, Miles Edward—!" She took his face in her hands and kissed him soundly, to everyone's applause.

Data leaned over to Deanna and, in a perfect imitation of a drunk Betazoid accent, he sighed, "Isn't love wonderful?"

She laughed with surprise and delight at the android's attempt at humor. "Indeed!" she agreed.