Blood Vengeance by Djinn
Saavik looked out over the hillside, her movements slow, unhurried. The dull buff color of her clothes blended into the dirt and rocks. Her dark hair was hidden under a similarly colored cap. She would not stand out at all, provided she did nothing to call attention to her position. Or to that of her fellow rebels in the Tilyrian underground.
"Do you see them?" Carrix asked.
"Yes," she said, a smile that would have made Spock frown playing at her mouth. Perrin still lectured her when she smiled like that. It was too...Romulan for her taste. Saavik, on the other hand, had long since grown used to the more Romulan aspects of her nature. Spending time on Romulus as Rise's prisoner had helped her with that.
Spending time later with Rise had helped her with other things. She smiled again. Rise was home now. Waiting for her. Alone, in their beautiful house undoubtedly worrying about the raid. Even though she'd planned it.
Rise might have been less worried if she'd been along. But then Saavik would have had to worry about her. It was easier knowing she was safe, made it possible to concentrate on the job at hand--helping the Federation and its allies win the war against the Dominion. And if rumors were right, the war had finally turned. Victory was within their grasp.
Of course, they'd heard that rumor before.
Saavik forced her attention away from the war and back to the mission at hand. The Dominion heavy transport was just nearing the bridge. According to their source, it was loaded up with Ketracel-white from a plant in the Rondara province. White that was destined for the Jem'Hadar forces in the Alpha Quadrant. Tilyria was one of the newest Dominion bases, taken during the last Dominion retreat back toward Cardassia. Strategically located and with a peace-loving population that had been easy to put down, the planet now held far too many Dominion and Cardassian soldiers for Saavik's taste.
Saavik watched as the transport lumbered across the bridge. It was filled to the brim with Ketracel-white, the drug that meant victory--and victory was life. For the Jem'Hadar, a lack of Ketracel-white meant death. With the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant mined, no more was coming in. Local manufacturing was the only answer. But it could barely keep up. Had never been designed to.
And Saavik was going to make sure that this shipment never got through. She nodded to Carrix. He passed the word along the hillside, the message going soundlessly from one dun-garbed person to the next, through a series of simple hand signals. "Target in sight. Prepare. On my mark."
She leaned over again, wondered what kind of sensors the transport used. Would they detect the people lying in wait on the hot hillside, their body heat hidden by the sunsoaked rock face? Saavik was counting on them not showing up on any Dominion scans.
The Jem'Hadar would not be expecting the shower of heavy boulders raining down on them. Boulders that would hit the transport, would carry it away from the road, over the side of the cliff, and down. A long way down. Even the Jem'Hadar should not walk away from this accident.
But if they did, Saavik had more people stationed at the bottom of the ravine to make sure they didn't walk any farther.
The transport crossed the last span of bridge, turned onto the road, its long side facing them finally.
"Now," she said softly.
Carrix sent the message down the line. A moment later there was a loud rumble as the boulders they'd worked loose over the last few days began to slide, then to roll. Then to tumble, gathering deadly speed as they roared down the hill.
There was a crash as they began to hit. On and around the transport. Pushing it once, then twice more toward the side of the cliff. A particularly large boulder hit the top hatch, crushing it in. Saavik smiled--no Jem'Hadar would escape that way.
Another huge rock crashed down, bouncing up and into the transport, carrying it too far to recover. The vehicle went over the cliff slowly, the front falling off the side before the back. A moment later, there was an explosion.
Saavik smiled again as she and her people waited. Her sensitive ears could only detect the sound of smaller explosions, but no weapons fire.
They waited for a long time, then began to melt away, back toward their homes. Different ways for each of them.
The Dominion did not allow groups to congregate. Groups spread dissent. And dissenters were dangerous.
Saavik felt her smile die. The Dominion had no patience for dissenters. She'd seen what that meant when one of their raids had looked too little like an accident, and too much like it was planned. The Vorta had ordered everyone in the village nearest the attack killed as punishment.
No one in that village had been involved. Their deaths were senseless.
But then this war struck Saavik as senseless.
Still, she'd fight it. She'd fight it her way. With these people she called friends, on this world that she now called home.
Ever since the village had been destroyed, they'd worked damned hard to make things look like an accident. Like today's little exercise. These hillsides were known for being treacherous. And Saavik's group had made sure that there had been several close calls recently for both Tilyrian vehicles and Dominion. The area was dangerously unstable, but was also the only way through the mountains. It had been an acceptable risk. One the Dominion had to take.
One that had not paid off. As Saavik slipped over the top of the hill, she glanced back. The boulders lay all over the road, blocking any further traffic, mute testament to what had transpired.
A terrible, terrible tragedy.
For the Dominion.
She allowed herself one last smile before she began the long trek home to Rise.
The walk was dappled with spots of light, the low-lying branches providing shade against the hot afternoon sun. Rise walked slowly along the path, losing herself in the calls of the birds and the gentle brush of the wind. She could just make out houses through the trees, could hear the sounds of voices coming from the yards. She checked the path that ran down from the dwellings. It was empty--no one was watching.
Relaxing, she moved on.
It had been years since she had lived this close to others; proximity in the past had always meant danger. But Saavik had convinced her that it was time to stop putting distance between herself and the world. To please her lover, she had agreed to stop hiding behind impenetrable walls. Not that their home was defenseless. Saavik might want them to integrate into Tilyrian life, but Rise would not have been able to sleep at night if she had thought they were vulnerable. She had spent a great deal of latinum on a state-of-the-art security system, and, given the numbers of objets d'art that she and Cameron had collected, none of the Tilyrians seemed to consider it odd that she would want to protect her valuables.
The path opened up onto a main road, and Rise kept to the side. Ahead, a silver-roofed enclosure sat empty. Before the war had found them, the place would have been filled with celebrating Tilyrians. But now it was illegal for Tilyrians to gather in public. The Dominion had vast experience with occupations. The Vorta limited the populace's ability to come together and thereby lowered any risk of spontaneous uprisings. It was efficient, and when war and conquest was a way of life, it made sense to value efficiency. Rise admired the Dominion's management skills, if little else.
The path forked, the main one continuing along the road, a narrower one heading off into the woods. She followed the smaller way, breathing more easily as she disappeared out of sight of the road. The path stretched on ahead of her, eerily empty. Before the war, she had never been this alone in the woods. There had always been someone out for a stroll, or running for exercise. It had been a good place to walk the Tilyrian canines, similar enough to Earth's own canines that Rise thought of them as dogs.
An image of a pile of burning flesh--dogs and cats and the other animals she had rescued and loved--rushed over her, and Rise swallowed hard against the surge of bile that rose in her throat. The smell. And the sound. That had been the worst. Agonized whimperings from animals that had not been dead when the Romulans had thrown them on the pile. Animals that had taken forever to die. If Rise had only been stronger, she'd have forced herself to her feet and put them out of their misery. But she had been broken too, beaten by Sela and utterly defeated by the rest of her tangled life. When Shiansu had been killed, when Sela had so casually tossed him onto the pile of flesh, something inside Rise had died. As she had lain there, listening to her animals suffer, the rest of her began to die too. She didn't try to fight it, had wanted to die and she would have died. If Saavik hadn't found her and brought her back to life.
A butterfly lighting on a nearby bush startled her away from rotting carcasses and back to the present. This place was so like Earth: the animals so similar to their Terran counterparts, the vegetation lush and green as it had been in the places she'd visited with Shayla and her mother, or that she'd seen later when she'd been on Academy excursions. In fact, Rise had picked this place because of its resemblance to Earth. And because the people had seemed so welcoming. She knew that appearances were often deceiving, but she had not been wrong about the friendly nature of the place. The Tilyrians were warm and outgoing people, and they had been kind to Saavik and her from the start. It was a good place for outworlders, many others had come before them, and all seemed to have integrated. Rise and Saavik had integrated too, even if it had been against Rise's better judgment at first.
She slowed slightly, trying to look like any other Tilyrian on a walk as she neared the bridge where a larger road crossed over the trail. There were Jem'Hadar guards stationed on the bridge, their disruptors pointed down at her, but in the casual way. She was not seen as a threat, indeed probably blended in better than most aliens did. Her long tawny hair covered her ear points, and her tan skin and amber eyes were quite common on Tilyria.
She ignored the guards as she walked under the bridge, welcoming the cool darkness. Water had collected under the road again, and she saw mosquito-like animals hovering over the surface. Just hatched, she imagined. Possibly bearing disease. Her mother would have known. Rise felt a distant murmur of grief. Even after so many years, she still missed her mother. She slapped at a bug as it landed on her arm, then her attention was diverted by the antics of a bird, diving at her in a frantic attempt to keep her away from a nest built high in the bridge's cross beams.
"Easy, little one," Rise murmured. She would have liked to have stopped, but the Jem'Hadar would expect her to emerge from under the bridge quickly. If she didn't, they would come down to find her, and this time their attitude would be anything but casual. A land vehicle went across the bridge, the sound causing the bridge metal to vibrate in an odd way, lending a high-pitched warble very different from the rumble the vehicles made if you were not underneath them. Rise walked faster, chiding herself for the sudden irrational fear that the bridge would collapse on her. It had stood for a long time, would no doubt stand even longer unless she and the underground decided to destroy it.
Stepping back into the sunlight, she forced herself not to look up to see if the Jem'Hadar were watching her. She knew they would be; they watched everyone. The path ahead was in the open, running straight for about twenty meters, then turning back into the woods, out of sight of the sentries. Rise walked the path slowly, letting the sun warm her. Turning to enter the woods, she walked a few meters then waited. She counted the seconds to herself, prepared to give up if Enckar did not show within his usual ten minutes. She heard footsteps coming down the path from the bridge, recognized the slight limp of her friend. As he came into sight, she fell in line with him, walking silently by his side as they moved farther away from the bridge.
A high-pitched cry broke the stillness of the trail, and Rise looked up, searching the sky for the bird that would have made it. She finally saw him, higher up than she expected, soaring lazily as he screamed out his presence. He was just having fun, enjoying being free and strong with no need to hide his delight from potential prey. She stopped, staring at the bird as he made large circles, only flapping when he occasionally lost the updraft. On Earth, he'd have been a buteo, one of the large soaring hawks. On Romulus, a Shiarawk like her lost Shiansu. Rise wondered how Shiansu's proud son was doing on his own. She had let the birds fly free when she and Saavik had left, had not wanted to subject them to spaceflight, or to the uncertainties of her new life. They had been Romulan birds, after all; they deserved to fly Romulan skies.
Enckar said softly, "It is only a hawk, Rise."
"I know." She smiled, pulled her gaze from the sky and continued to walk.
He fell into step with her. "The mission went well last week." It was not a question. Carrix would have made his report to Enckar long before this meeting.
"Yes. It went well." Rise sighed. She had not wanted this, had only sought peace. But war had found her, had found Tilyria.
"Carrix says that Saavik is wily like a demon." Enckar did not seem disturbed at characterizing Rise's lover as an evil thing. But there were many types of demons in Tilyrian folklore. Perhaps he considered Saavik one of the more benign ones.
"Saavik is dedicated to the cause." And had Romulan blood to fire her taste for violence. But Rise did not say that. Better that Enckar believed Saavik was wholly Vulcan.
"Yes, she is dedicated. As are you." Enckar turned to her, seemed to be studying her. "Why do you fight for us, Rise? This is not your world."
Why was she fighting? She had come to this world for peace. She did not have to stay here. Despite the Dominion presence, it was still possible to sneak on and off the planet if you had the right contacts and the right ships. And a lot of latinum.
"Not that I'm complaining," Enckar said into the silence.
She smiled again. "I'm tired of running away. It's time to take a stand. Tilyria has been good to me. I need to protect it." Rise thought of how much of her life had been spent hiding or running. She was tried of that. She wanted to plant roots, to find a place where Saavik and she could make a life together. Tilyria was that place. "I think," she said softly, the idea prompting her words still new and raw. "I think that my father would approve."
"He was a warrior?"
She shook her head. Despite serving in Starfleet, Spock had been a peacemaker. Not afraid of force or even violence, as she'd found out on the bridge of the Enterprise. But not a warrior. "He was fond of doing the right thing."
She gave a small laugh at how well that summed him up. And how miserably it failed to capture the man. He was fond of doing the right thing as he defined it. Not for the first time since Spock's death, Rise felt the small tug of grief. What would their lives have been like, if he'd known he had a daughter? If he'd been allowed into Rise's life?
"Then he would be very proud of you."
Rise shook her head. "I am not so sure, my friend. But he would certainly have understood my actions here."
The path curved around, opening up into a large open field. Lightning-blasted trees stood at the edge of the grass, their bare bark filled with holes, victims of opportunistic birds in need of a nesting place. The real draw of the lightning, a small metal pumping station stood in the middle of the field. There were no Jem'Hadar guarding it--it was a secondary system and the maintenance workers who checked it once a month were the only people who ever went inside. Or so the Dominion thought.
Enckar nodded toward the building, moving carefully across the thick grass. Rise followed him, wondering why they were risking visiting one of their safe places in broad daylight.
He looked back at her and seemed to read her thoughts from her expression. "There are some people I'd like you to meet. They're here to help us."
"An unexpected source." His smile told her that he was being deliberately vague.
Rise heard the hawk again, looked up and saw that he was much closer this time. Little brother, she sent to him. He did not answer back, if he even heard her. "What kind of help?"
"Help in getting us organized, outfitted, armed. Help fighting from the shadows. Everything we need. From experts."
He shook his head. "More exotic than that." He laughed, a low hearty rumble that made her smile back.
"You are teasing me, Enckar. Just tell me who is here to help us."
He leaned in and whispered, "Tal Shiar," as if he were afraid that saying it too loudly would be risky.
Rise felt her stomach clench. She had left the Tal Shiar behind when she'd fled Romulus. But that didn't mean they weren't looking for her. Sela might have put a price on her head. "The Tal Shiar here? Why?"
"The Romulans are united with the Federation and the Klingons now. They fight the Dominion just as we do. They are excellent warriors, Rise, fierce and cunning. They can teach us much in the way of tactics."
She fought the urge to run; nothing would be gained. "I don't need to meet them. You be their liaison. That will be fitting."
He frowned. "No, it would not. I am the leader but it is you who gives me inspiration. You and Saavik. You energized me to fight in the first place, and it is you who keeps me focused. It is only right that you be with me when I greet our new allies."
Rise took a deep breath. It was dark in the pumping station. If she was lucky, no one would recognize her. And even if they did, they were all friends now. Wasn't that what Enckar was saying? "All right. But only for a moment."
He walked to the door, entering a bypass code that released the lock without alerting the central controllers. There would be no record that he had just opened the door. There never was. Letting her go in first, he followed, allowing the door to close behind him. His footsteps on the metal walkway rang out. It was the only noise in the building.
Maybe the Romulans had gotten tired of waiting and left--Rise knew she was grasping at straws. But this was her home, and if the Romulans knew she was here, she'd have to leave again. And she was so tired of running. She'd thought that she had found a home on Romulus, posing as Sureya, friend to the Tal Shiar. But Sela had found out she had been Valeris, and even knew her real name. There was little that Sela hadn't seemed to know at the end, when Rise's world had come crumbling down--when Sela had brought Rise's world down.
"Commander?" Enckar whispered into the gloomy murk. Small skylights in the roof of the building gave what little natural light was available. The regular lights could not be turned on unless the station was properly opened.
"We are here," a chillingly familiar voice responded from the far side of the room. "So nice to see you again, Enckar." Sela's smile was brittle and mocking. "And you brought an old friend, too. How thoughtful." As two Romulans stepped out of the shadows behind her, Sela moved forward, her footsteps muffled by some sort of sound-absorbing material on her boots. "What shall I call you, dear? I've gotten a bit behind, I'm afraid."
Enckar was staring at the two of them with a confused look.
For a moment, Rise could not move, felt paralyzed by a fear that seemed to come from her very soul. Sela was here. Sela would hurt her. Would hurt Saavik too. She had to run, to flee--
--No! Rise forced herself to steady. "Call me Rise. It's my real name." She was happy that her voice didn't shake.
"Rise it is." Sela pulled her close, as if in a familiar version of a Romulan hug. She whispered in Rise's ear, "When this is over..."
Rise fought back a shudder. Turned her face so that she could whisper, "Yes, watch your back, Sela. You're on my planet now."
Sela chuckled. A dangerous sound, low and breathy. She pulled Rise closer, laid her lips on her neck in the way she had when they were lovers. Then her kiss turned into a nip.
Rise did not react, other than to pull away a bit faster than was polite. She shot Sela a warning glance. "Saavik is here too."
"How wonderful. We'll have a reunion." Sela turned to Enckar. "I'll stay with them, of course."
He nodded before Rise could object. "One of my men will take you there tonight." He looked at the other two. "You can stay with me. If that's agreeable."
They looked at Sela, before they nodded.
Sela smiled, the expression was pure predator. "Won't this be fun?"
"She thinks this will be fun?" Saavik was pacing. Angry--more than angry. Enraged. She couldn't believe Rise had agreed to this.
"I had little choice. She's here to help. Enckar believes--"
"--Enckar does not understand our history with that aehallh."
"A monster who is just down the hall, Saavik."
"So I should lower my voice?" Saavik closed her eyes, but she did try to make her voice softer when she said, "Rise, this is madness."
"This war is madness. And she's here to help us fight it. When it's over..."
"I'll kill her." Saavik shook her head. "If she doesn't slit our throats while we sleep before then." Walking to the door, she began to play with the lock. That at least, she could do something about--provided she could figure out the technology behind their latest security upgrades. Where did Rise get this stuff?
Rise moved behind her, letting her hand run down Saavik's back, rubbing gently, then harder. "What are you doing?" She nuzzled against Saavik, kissing her neck.
"I'm trying to make sure she can't jimmy this." Saavik turned, so that Rise's lips fell on hers. Soft--Rise could be so soft. "I love you. I don't want her sneaking into our bed. To kill us...or for other reasons."
"You think so?" Saavik laughed. "Sela doesn't strike me as someone who gives up gracefully. You left her; you hurt her. And you survived when you were supposed to die. She's going to want payback."
Rise pulled away. "Saavik, please don't make this harder. You wanted to stay here and fight, and so did I. This is the price for that. This is how we're going to have to fight."
"I don't like this. Just for the record." Saavik sighed, then released the lock and pulled the door open.
Sela had her hand up, as if she was about to knock. "There you two are. I was beginning to worry." She smiled, her lips curling up slowly. "Saavik, you're looking good. We haven't had a chance to catch up."
Saavik pushed past her. "You should be grateful for that, Sela."
"Oooh. I love her when she's tough." Sela's mocking laughter followed Saavik down the stairs.
Jorase looked up as she walked into the kitchen, then she went back to chopping vegetables for the evening meal. Her movements were jerky, the knife hitting hard onto the cutting block. "Don't know why that one's here."
"That makes two of us." Saavik debated grabbing a piece of summer pepper from the pile Jorase was working on, decided she liked having fingers.
Sela walked into the kitchen, and Saavik waited for Rise to follow. When she didn't appear, Saavik reached for one of Jorase's kitchen knives, the smooth wooden hilt conformed to her hand as if made for it.
"Oh, stand down, warrior woman. I didn't slit her throat on the way down; she's in the bathroom." Sela grinned. "Although now that you mention it, throat slitting sounds very good."
Saavik's hand tightened on the knife.
"I haven't seen a single animal around here," Sela said, as she wandered around the kitchen, keeping well clear of Saavik. "Hard to imagine our Rise without her little critters underfoot."
"You killed all her little critters, remember?" Saavik decided to not tell her about T'Mal, the kitten who had survived Romulus only to die of a common feline ailment on Tilyria--an ailment that Tilyrian felines recovered from routinely, but for which T'Mal had had no natural resistance.
Their house was lonely without T'Mal, and Saavik had been surprised that Rise hadn't taken in any of the strays who occasionally bumped around their yard before seeking friendlier surroundings. But some part of Rise seemed to have shut down when Sela had killed her animals. Or maybe it was some strange kind of guilt, as if Rise felt that she had killed them herself, since she could have had them all packed up and long gone from Romulus by the time Sela showed up. She'd been ready to die, would have died, if Saavik hadn't shown up to take her away. Rise liked to say that Saavik had brought her back to life, but Saavik thought that some integral part of her had stayed dead. It wasn't a large part, but still--
"So like a Vulcan. Lost in thought when there's fighting to be done." Sela winked at Saavik as if they were old friends. "Got you thinking, did I?"
"I'm ignoring you," Saavik said, unwilling to let Sela see that she'd scored any hits. "It's easy. You make a lot of noise, but you don't say much."
"Speaking of making a lot of noise." Sela turned to Rise, smiling seductively as she walked into the kitchen. "Do you still make that trilling sound when you--"
"--How long is she going to stay?" Jorase asked, slamming her knife down. "Because with rationing and such, I don't think we can feed her. Perhaps she'd be happier at Enckar's place?"
"Perhaps you would, Jorase." Sela moved closer, her smile fading. "I was always sorry you weren't there when I went back for Rise."
Jorase picked her knife back up. "So was I."
"Stop it." Rise pushed between them. "Are you going to be all right with this?" She looked at Jorase, her expression grim.
"No. I'll not harbor a murdering bitch like this."
"It's for the war effort."
"I don't care if it's for galactic peace. I won't sleep in the same house as her."
"Then you can sleep at Enckar's." Rise's voice held a note Saavik hadn't heard since Romulus. Firm, resolved. And cold.
"You see, Jorase." Sela laughed, the sound echoing through the kitchen. "She picks me. Not you."
Saavik glared at her. "She's not picking anyone. Only coming up with acceptable sleeping arrangements. Aren't you, Rise?"
Rise nodded, but she walked away from the three of them, staring out the window. "I saw a hawk today. High above us as we walked out to meet you, Sela. Do the shiarawks prosper?"
Sela moved toward her, her voice pitched low, strangely intimate--Saavik felt left out. "They do. I see them sometimes. Hear them even more often." She leaned in. "I hate those birds." Her voice was even, the words sharper for the calm tone.
"I imagine they hate you," Rise murmured back. "They have long memories. Shiansu's son will remember you. I'd be careful, keep an eye on the sky." Rise turned, her smile crooked and mean.
"Maybe I'm lying. Maybe I hunted them down."
"I wouldn't put it past you."
"Do you want to know?" Sela moved closer. "It's not hard to kill a bird. Not hard at all."
"I don't want to know." Rise turned away, then looked back at Sela, her eyes blazing. "But if you didn't kill them, you probably should have. Because he'll get you someday. He'll avenge his old man."
"The way you avenged Cameron, my sweet little addict?" Sela laughed, her hand coming up to touch Rise on the cheek.
Before Saavik could move, Rise struck Sela's hand away. "Touch me and die. That's rule one."
"How many rules are there?" Sela's smile turned to a sneer.
"Not many. You should be able to remember them. Touch me, or Saavik, or Jorase, or anyone else that I care about. Even look at them wrong. And I'll kill you."
"Can you define looking at someone wrong? Because that's a bit vague." Sela shot Saavik a look that definitely would not qualify as right.
"Stop it!" Rise slammed Sela into the wall, her hand at the other woman's throat.
Sela just laughed. It would have been a more effective laugh if it hadn't come out so breathy. It was clear that Rise was cutting off her oxygen supply.
"What are the other rules?" Sela asked, the words barely coming out since Rise had not let up her hold.
"We're only working with you because of the war." Rise let her go and stomped away, out of the kitchen.
Saavik heard the front door slam.
"Was that a rule? Or just a general disclaimer?" Sela grinned, reaching in and grabbing one of the peppers Saavik had been eyeing.
Jorase popped the knife down but just missed Sela's fingers.
"Mmm. I always did love your meals, Jorase." With a wink, Sela walked out the back door, letting it close gently behind her.
"I'm not leaving you two with her." Jorase went back to her mad chopping.
"It's all right. If you want to stay at Enckar's, we'll underst--"
"--What I want is to stab her in her sleep." Jorase looked out the window. "What's she doing out there? She's supposed to be hiding, isn't she?"
Saavik studied Sela. In the native Tilyrian dress, she didn't look very alien. Her hair had grown since Saavik had last seen her, and it covered her ears. Blonde was not an unusual hair color on Tilyria, and Sela's skin was more tan than greenish. She didn't look half as alien as Saavik did, and she came and went as she pleased. Sela was fine out there.
"You really want her to come back in?"
"No." Jorase sighed.
"She's all right." Saavik patted her shoulder, trying to impart a confidence that she didn't feel. "It'll all be all right."
Jorase glanced over at her, then down at her other hand. "If that's so, why haven't you put that knife back?"
Saavik had no good answer for that.
Rise watched Sela as she sat curled on one of the couches and read a padd that Enckar had brought by after dinner. Rise knew what was on the padd--she'd read it first. And Saavik, who was sitting next to her, had read it next. Sela hadn't liked getting it last.
Sela looked over at her. "This is an opportunity we can't pass up."
"It's risky." Rise looked over at Saavik, who grinned at her. She always said that, and Saavik always grinned.
"When did you become the careful one?" Sela got up and walked to the window. "The Dominion War won't be won here. But we can help. We can ruin the Ketracel-white coming out of this plant." She turned to them, smiling fiercely. "And they'll never know it was sabotage."
Rise nodded. They probably never would. But probably didn't mean definitely wouldn't. The Dominion leadership on Tilyria might figure it out. And this time the Ketracel-white plant was in Rise's town. If this didn't come off the way they wanted, then it would be Rise and everyone she cared for who paid for it.
Saavik stretched in what looked like a deliberate attempt to appear casual. "What kind of team?"
"No more than five of us," Sela said before Rise could answer. "You, me, my two men, and Rise."
"Rise doesn't go in." Saavik looked up at her. "Rise stays here."
"Saavik, just because I haven't gone in, doesn't mean I can't."
"No. You stay here. You plan, I do. It's worked so far."
"Yes, and it's kept me far away from danger. Which you don't need to do. I'm as strong as you are." Rise smiled. "Well, okay, maybe not that strong. But as strong as she is." She nodded toward Sela.
"No, you're not, little one." Sela's voice held a note of mockery, turning the endearment into an insult.
"Don't argue, Rise. Just plan and let us do." Saavik turned to her, resolve clear on her face.
If it was that important to her that she stay clear of the dirty work, Rise would stay clear--but they were going to talk about this later.
Saavik got up. "I'm going to bed. Are you coming?"
"In a minute." She smiled up at her lover, knew that Saavik didn't want to leave her alone with Sela. "Can you check on Jorase?"
Saavik nodded, then walked to the back room. Rise heard low murmuring as Saavik no doubt commiserated with Jorase over Sela and the danger she presented.
"Wanted to be alone with me?"
"I don't trust you, Sela."
"So you said." Sela held her hand out. "Come here."
"No." Rise got up and walked to the other side of the room, as far as she could get from the other woman.
Sela grinned in some strange kind of triumph.
"Carrix will go with you. He'll be your fifth. I'm going to tell him to kill you and your men if he even thinks you mean to betray us."
Sela's grin grew. "I'm flattered. I scare you that much?"
"You don't scare me. You make me sick."
Sela's smile died. "That's not what you said once upon a time. I think you make yourself sick. Look at the evil you were willing to do for me. Look at what you did to Spock. To your precious father. I'm surprised Saavik can stand to touch you after that. She loved him--was more his daughter than you ever were."
Rise decided not to give her the power she thought she had. "You're right. Saavik was his child more than I wanted to be or could have been. And she is generous. Very generous, to have forgiven me for what I did." She smiled, let the love she felt for Saavik into the expression, so there would be no doubt. "She saved me, Sela. After you destroyed me, she put my life back together."
Sela rolled her eyes.
"But then, you only understand destruction. You couldn't possibly understand love."
"Oh, I don't know about that. I love to hunt down your damn birds." Sela moved closer. "I love to fire my disruptor and watch them fall like leadstone from the sky. They scream when they fall. Did you know that?"
"I don't believe you kill them."
Sela shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm lying. Maybe I follow them and just watch them. Maybe I marvel at their beauty and remember when you promised me one of my own." She was close to Rise, too close. "Or maybe that's the lie. Which is it, Rise?"
"I don't know. I don't care."
"Rise." Saavik stood at the doorway. Her eyes were hard as she stared at Sela. "Let's go to bed."
Sela backed off. "Goodnight, then. Don't worry about me."
"We won't. You're going to bed too." Saavik gestured for Sela to precede them.
"With you? Well, ladies, I don't think I'm interested in that, as lovely as you both are."
Saavik pushed her up the stairs. "You're going to bed alone. In the guest room." She grinned. "Jorase reprogrammed your door during dinner. It'll be tough to get out without us knowing."
Rise had wondered where Jorase had gone. Rise had thought she'd left the table because the tension at dinner was thick enough to cut with one of her beloved knives. She should have known better.
Sela's did not look pleased. "Remind me to thank her for that." At their looks, she said, "What? I can't be polite?"
Saavik pushed her into the guest room, closing the door behind her and setting the lock in a way Rise had never done before. Grinning, she turned to Rise. "That should hold her--for a night, anyway."
"Let's go to bed," Saavik held out her hand.
As they settled into their bed, Rise said softly, "You don't need to coddle me. I survived a long time on my own. Without you looking after me."
"I'm not interested in you just surviving. I'd like to see you thrive, Rise." She nestled in, kissing Rise's neck.
"You don't think I'm thriving here?" Rise pushed her away so she could see her eyes. Saavik could lie with words, but her eyes always told the truth.
But Saavik wasn't trying to lie tonight. "Before the war, maybe. Now? And with Sela here? I have enough to worry about with her on this mission without wondering what she might do to you."
"I told her Carrix would kill her if she acted up."
"Were you going to tell Carrix that?"
Rise smiled. "I'll let you tell him. I know you'll enjoy it more than I would." She pulled Saavik down to her, kissing her fiercely.
Saavik kissed her for a while, but her heart didn't seem to be in it.
"I can't help but wonder...is this because she's here?" Looking down, she made a face. "It's stupid, isn't it? To be jealous of her?"
"Yes. It is." Rise kissed her again. "If we never did this any other time, then I could understand your worry." She began to pull Saavik's tunic off. "But Sela wasn't here yesterday. Or the day before. Or the day before that."
Pulling her down, Saavik grinned. "You have a point."
Rise surrendered to her greater strength, letting Saavik pin her and kiss her until they were both breathless.
She almost forgot that Sela was down the hall, probably planning something very bad for them.
Saavik sighed. "We'll be all right. Just stay on our toes."
Rise nodded. "I love you. You know that. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone."
Saavik nodded. "I know." Cuddling in, she sighed. "Let's go to sleep. It's only going to be more mixed up tomorrow."
"I love you too, Rise. More than anything." She stroked Rise's hair, the touch soothing.
But it still took Rise forever to fall asleep. And when she dreamed, it was of burnt animals, a bird falling out of the sky to the sound of her screams, and through it all the sound of Sela laughing.
Saavik hung back behind Sela. The other woman ignored her, moving purposefully down the hall, the lab coat some other faction of the underground had stolen moving as she walked. Despite her confidence, she wasn't moving like a Romulan, had somehow modified her walk to look more like the other Tilyrians in the hallway.
She didn't turn to look at Saavik or Carrix as she rounded a corner, and Saavik realized Sela had memorized the map of the complex the same way she had. It surprised her--she was used to thinking of Sela as vicious and evil. She wasn't used to thinking of her as smart or capable.
Or strategic. But she should have known better. Romulans were infamous for their plotting. Saavik had some of that tendency herself. Could remember how, as a child in Spock's household, she would plot revenge against the full Vulcans at school who seemed to delight in tormenting her. Spock had always lectured her on not showing the others how they had hurt her. She had only ever been interested in showing them how it felt. First hand.
Carrix made a small sound, almost like a quick intake of air. A man passing by them made the same sound. There was no other indication that they'd just passed a member of the underground, possibly the very person who'd procured their lab coats. Or perhaps he was the one who had created the identity passes. Or perhaps he was not involved in this operation at all. It was not for them to know. They were only one of many arms of the underground, and they only had knowledge of their own role. Each cell operated that way. Only Rise and Enckar knew who had laid the groundwork for this operation. It was the other reason they never went on raids--it would put everything at risk if they were ever captured. Saavik looked over at Sela, wondering if she suspected how much power and knowledge Rise really had. She hoped not. Safer for her to think Rise was a low-level functionary. Safer for all of them.
Sela had left her two Romulan companions back in the alley behind the plant. Even with the lab coats, they just hadn't blended in the way Saavik and Sela did. They had not appeared happy to wait, complained even as Sela handed them her thermos full of what passed for coffee on Tilyria.
"Commander. We should come with you. It is not safe with just these two."
A sharp look from Sela had been answer enough. Her men had nodded, stepping back into the shadows. Sela had been pure Romulan at that moment. And a second later, Saavik had watched her become Tilyrian, just by the set of her shoulders, the cant of her head, the way she'd held her hands. No one had looked twice at her as they'd joined the crowds heading into the plant for shift change.
No one was looking twice at them now. Saavik had to admire the tentative way Sela nodded to one of the Jem'Hadar warriors as she passed him. As if she was scared, unsure--she was one hell of an actress, but then she'd probably had to be just to survive her childhood. Saavik knew what it was like to be a half-breed around people who didn't forgive weakness. Her own breaks in logic were probably nothing compared to displaying human weakness in a world full of Romulans.
"It's just up ahead," Carrix said softly. "First door on the left."
Fortunately, people were coming in and going out of the area so they could slip in unnoticed. This part of the plant wasn't heavily guarded, not like the power source, the comm center, or the armory the Jem'Hadar had erected in the building. And, while the Vorta had placed a heavy guard on the water supply and intake control rooms, there was little worry here, where the pipes ran through but had no outlets. Pipes that were already corroded and that could be given just a little boost so that they started leaking material into the water, material that would taint the Ketracel-white. The material would be trace amounts, it would set off no alarms. Not until the Dominion began to wonder why their Jem'Hadar were becoming more and more intractable despite the White being dispensed.
Saavik smiled. Saw Sela echoing that smile as she turned to look at her. They found workstations, called up the programs some other member of the underground had set up for them. Programs that did nothing more than make them look busy.
People came and went, mostly Tilyrians, although a few Jem'Hadar peeked in. This was not unexpected; they'd been warned that even the lightly guarded areas were subject to frequent inspections. Finally, the room was empty but for the three of them.
"Ready?" Sela whispered.
"Ready," Saavik replied, motioning for Carrix to watch the door.
The task took no time. They scanned for the unsound areas, where proximity to residual radiation from the processing equipment the Dominion had installed in the room next door had caused the metal to weaken. Once they found them, they used the tools that Rise had given them to accelerate the corrosion, to start the metal leaking into the water.
"Done?" Saavik looked over at Sela.
The other woman nodded, then stashed the tool in her pocket.
"Someone's coming," Carrix said, hurrying back to his station.
A troop of Jem'Hadar marched by, their numbers easy to see even if their features were muddled by the frosted glass on the door. The column kept going, but two of the fighters stopped, easing open the door and looking around in another surprise inspection.
Saavik kept her eyes glued to the monitor, praying that she'd left no evidence on the water pipe. She wanted to scream when Sela strolled over, handing her something to look at and asking her in a normal tone of voice if she had plans for the Kivelin holiday.
The Jem'Hadar closed the door, then Saavik could hear the door to the room next to them opening.
"You almost blew it," Sela said, glaring at her. "Don't you know the secret to this sort of thing is to act natural?"
"What the hell is the Kivelin holiday?"
"I made it up. Do you think a pair of Jem'Hadar soldiers would know that? A Vorta maybe..." Sela laughed at her expression. "Oh, lighten up, Saavik. This should be fun; you're making it very dull." Sela looked over at Carrix, as if hoping he might appreciate her wit.
He was glaring at her too, but Saavik thought she saw a ghost of a smile playing on his lips.
"Let's get out of here." Sela walked to the door and strode out of the room and back down the hallway, pretty much the same way she'd walked in--as if she had every reason to be there, or to leave. There were a few other workers going out, and they joined their group, passing by Jem'Hadar guards who did not stop them even if they stared at each one of the workers.
They turned a corner and Sela ducked into an alley. "I need to go get my men." She looked at Carrix. "You should leave us. You'll be safer alone."
He looked over at Saavik, who nodded. The less often they were all seen together, the better.
"Good hunting, my friend," she said.
Carrix smiled, his teeth gleaming, then he walked away.
"How Romulan of you." At Saavik's look, Sela said, "That goodbye. It didn't sound very Vulcan."
Before Saavik could answer, Sela was gone, heading back up the alley to her men. Saavik waited, then heard the sound of weapon's fire. A moment later, Sela was back, looking annoyed.
"I can't get to them. There's a Jem'Hadar patrol between us." She looked thoughtful for a moment, as if trying to figure out a way to get to her men, then she shrugged. "They'll make their way back to base. It's standard operating procedure. They're probably already heading back to Enckar's."
"I heard shots."
Sela nodded. "Apparently the Jem'Hadar don't like cats. Or else they're bored enough to shoot at anything." She reached toward Saavik, seemed to realize she had stiffened. "I just want the thermos."
"Sela, we can't stay here."
"Why not? In case you haven't noticed, the street outside is deserted except for Jem'Hadar patrols. Shift change is in an hour--we should have waited for that." She grinned--a self-knowing expression. "You'd think I'd learn not to be so impatient; we were safer inside."
Saavik refrained from commenting, but Sela laughed anyway. "You're so transparent, Saavik. No matter. We can disappear with all the rest of the workers when they come out--no one will notice us."
She reached again for the work thermos, and Saavik pulled it off her shoulder before Sela could touch her.
Pouring a cup out, Sela set it in front of Saavik, then sipped at the rest directly from the thermos. "In the meantime, we can catch up."
Saavik didn't want to give her the satisfaction of drinking, but the coffee smelled good and she was very thirsty. She picked up the cup and sipped. "Why don't you tell me how you know so much about this place. And these people."
Sela smiled--a look that was not pleasant. "It's my business to know."
"I wonder." Saavik tensed as she heard footsteps approaching, but it was just a Tilyrian merchant making deliveries--he didn't even glance into the shadows where they were hiding. "Your arrival here was fortuitous. You: on the very planet Rise and I settled on."
"The gods drop us as they will."
"Oh, I think the gods had very little to do with it."
Sela smiled slightly. "You can think whatever you like." She took a deep pull from the thermos, then put it down and said, "Why do you think I'm here, if not to help?"
"Against whom?" Sela's eyes held hers relentlessly. "Against Rise? I hate to break it to you, Saavik, but I've had my revenge. She nearly died from my revenge, or so she tells me."
"She did. You should be thankful she did not." Saavik wanted to throttle Sela, and Sela seemed to realize it--not that she appeared bothered by it.
"Rise is a child in many ways, Saavik. She isn't a warrior like us."
"I'm nothing like you."
Sela smiled. "You don't think so? Take a good look in the mirror, my dearest." She ran her hand under her hair, over her ear points. "Half-Romulan, both of us. Rise is mostly human, despite how Vulcan she may have looked at one time." Sela smiled. "She doesn't look like any of those things anymore. I used to think of her as my little panther. Back when she was Sureya. Back when she was pretending to love me."
Saavik let one eyebrow go up--a perfect rendition of Spock's expression. She knew Sela had seen it. Knew the woman would recognize it. And wasn't disappointed. Sela's smile died, her eyes went cold.
"Rise never loved you."
"Yes, I know. That's why I said pretending." Sela definitely sounded testy.
"She does love me, on the other hand. Very much."
"You just keep telling yourself that. I'm not sure Rise knows how to love. I mean...look at what she did to Spock."
Saavik took a deep breath. This was dangerous ground only if she forgot that Rise had let Spock go. And that she'd let Saavik--her hostage--go too, to be with him when he died. She hadn't had to, but she'd let Saavik go. It was what Saavik had held onto during those moments that Rise's expression became unreadable, or when she'd installed yet another security upgrade that she'd forgotten to mention to Saavik.
When Rise had let her go, it had been the beginning for them. Rise had no longer been the enemy, no longer been just a woman to be played, but someone that Saavik had been finally able to love.
And Spock had never stopped loving Rise. Even if he'd never known his daughter very well. Even if she'd nearly gotten him and all his friends killed. She'd still been his child. Saavik wasn't sure that Rise understood how much Spock had regretted all that had passed between them.
Not that it mattered now. Spock was dead. And Rise was with Saavik. A new woman. A sweet, kind, gentle woman. A sad woman--with a few too many secrets. But her love.
In large part because of the woman who sat next to Saavik smiling so innocently.
"Drink your coffee," Sela said.
"It's not coffee."
"It's close enough." Sela leaned back. "My mother taught me to love coffee. Did you know your mother, Saavik?" Her smile was sly.
"Don't go there."
"Did you even know which of the Vulcan whores on Hellguard was your mother?"
Saavik frowned. How had Sela known her mother was Vulcan?
Sela smiled. "I did some research. Found out some interesting things about you, little cat."
Saavik froze. Only Spock called her that. Spock and T'Mal so long ago. Not this woman. Not this damned Romulan bitch.
"Did I hit a nerve?" Sela pushed the thermos away. "I find this bitter. Don't you? Not like human coffee. Tell me, Saavik. Do you like humans?"
Unsure where Sela was going with the question, Saavik just shrugged.
"I don't like them."
"Your mother was one."
Sela chuckled. "Yes, she was. I resemble her greatly. I hate that." She looked down, then back up; her eyes were hard and cold. "Did Rise ever tell you about my mother?"
Saavik shook her head. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear about her now.
Sela wasn't giving her a choice. "She tried to escape. Tried to take me away from my father. I yelled. I was only a child but I knew enough to yell...in Romulan." She picked up her cup, stared down into the dark brew as if it was some sort of black mirror. "He killed her for that. So...I killed her, really. I killed my own mother." She took a sip, her eyes slowly traveling up Saavik's body to finally stop when their eyes met. "I may have killed yours too. I spent some time on Hellguard, working with--that's a euphemism for torturing, by the way, just so we're clear--working with the prisoners. It's a common assignment for young Tal Shiar officers."
Saavik did not react.
Leaning forward, Sela smiled. "You're strong. I admire that."
"You're a raving psychopath. And I loathe you."
Sela laughed, the sound louder than Saavik expected, but not loud enough to carry out of their hiding place. Sela might be dangerous, but she wasn't reckless. "You're far more amusing than Rise. Although my Sureya was fun...while she lasted."
Saavik decided to refrain from comment, sipping at her coffee and staring blandly out at the alley. Sela seemed about to say something, then let it go.
They waited in silence until the work shift ended and they could disappear into the crowds and go home.
"Has there been any word on the latest Ketracel-white batches?" Saavik was pacing, making Rise antsy and a bit irritated, although she'd never admit that in front of Sela.
"It'll be a while before those batches are shipped. We may not hear anything."
Saavik sighed, turning away. Sela laughed softly, earning herself a glare from both of them.
"She's not strategic, Rise. She's not about the big picture, or about waiting, are you, Saavik?" She smiled, got up and began to pace in time with Saavik, until Saavik got angry and went and sat down. "Saavik is all about the now. All about tactics." She smiled again, the ugly, sly grin Rise was getting very tired of. "Tell me, Saavik. How many times did you take the Kobayashi Maru test?"
Saavik did not answer.
Sela smiled. "Perhaps the better answer is, how many times did you fail it? And not just failed it, but failed it miserably?"
"Everyone fails it, Sela," Rise said. "That's the whole point."
"Kirk didn't." Sela laughed.
"Admiral Kirk reprogrammed the scenario so it was possible to win." Saavik's mouth turned down in some long-remembered disapproval.
"I know. Isn't that wonderful?" Sela's grin was a real one. "He should have been a Romulan. As one of our less illustrious generals can attest to--she spent a lot of years on the far reaches of the neutral zone making up for letting him steal our cloaking technology right out from under us."
"Like you did when you let Picard steal Spock away right out from under you?"
Sela smiled at Saavik like she was a very simple child. "I was Tal Shiar. We don't serve in the far reaches."
"You do seem to be indestructible," Saavik said softly.
Rise ignored them, going back to the resource convoys that were expected in the next week--she had work to do, and these two were going to sit here bickering all day. Suddenly, she felt hands on her hair in a brief caress, and smiled. Saavik always knew when she was annoyed with her. And she always knew how to make it right. She looked up at her, smiled again when Saavik laid her hand against her cheek.
"That's so touching." Sela sounded anything but moved. She laughed softly. "I almost envy my men staying in Enckar's house. Maybe they have something to do." She got up in one sleek move and headed toward the kitchen. "I'll go help Jorase."
There was much yelling from that room, then Sela came back out, holding a piece of meat still steaming from the oven. "She doesn't want any help." Popping the meat into her mouth, she sat back down and picked up a padd, seemingly losing herself in it.
The door chimed softly, and Saavik hurried to get it. It was Enckar, who pushed past them.
"What's wrong?" Rise said, rising from her chair.
He looked at Sela. "Your men? Are they here?"
She shook her head. "They aren't at your place?"
"They never came back yesterday." He sat down next to Sela. "We would have heard something...if they'd been captured, especially with the news coming in that the war is over."
"Over?" Sela asked, her eyebrow going up.
Enckar grinned. "The Dominion has signed a cease fire. The news is jumbled but it appears that the Changelings were dying. The Jem'Hadar are pulling out, but they are in no mood to do it peacefully. You know what they say?"
"Victory is life," Sela muttered.
"Yes. So surrender--or anything short of victory--well, one must assume that's the opposite."
Rise nodded. This was good news. Great news. They would be free. And maybe, somehow, they had helped the effort with their little underground?
But it would be bad from here on out. Dangerous.
"I want to go look for my men," Sela said rising. "They may still be in that alley." She looked over at Sela. "They may be dead." She actually sounded sad.
"Maybe it wasn't cats the Jem'Hadar were shooting at?"
Sela nodded. "Or maybe they were, but maybe cats weren't what they hit."
She looked almost panicked, and Rise felt a frisson of sympathy for her. Sela was alone here--utterly alone if her men were dead.
On the other hand, Sela was a wicked person who killed without remorse. Rise would do better to feel sorry for a crocodile.
Enckar patted her hands. "We'll help you look."
"No. This is my problem. A Romulan problem." Again she looked at Saavik.
To Rise's surprise, Saavik nodded. "I'll help her look. No one will see us."
Rise remembered Saavik's attack on her Romulan stronghold. Her state-of-the-art security measures had seen her coming, but had she been a Jem'Hadar soldier patrolling the streets of a planet he no longer owned--whose system might even now be being flushed by tainted drugs--then she might not notice two half-Romulan shadows moving by.
"Be careful. The Jem'Hadar...we don't know if they're getting the White we sabotaged or not. They could be very, very unpredictable."
"We'll be careful." Sela smiled at her, as if Rise had been talking to her.
Saavik just rolled her eyes, leaning down to kiss Rise. It was a longer kiss than Rise expected. Passionate and sweet--and probably intended to irritate the hell out of Sela.
Laughing, Rise pushed her away. "Take some weapons."
Saavik's smile was feral. She so rarely got to carry weapons. For a moment, she looked a bit like Sela.
"I want some too," Sela said.
"No way." Saavik walked away from her.
"I'm not going out into a possible firefight without a weapon." Sela followed her; Rise could hear her nagging Saavik all the way down to their secret storeroom in the basement.
"They're quite the pair," Enckar said softly.
She nodded, then looked over at him. "This is what we've been working for."
Neither of them seemed very happy.
"You're worried they'll pull this planet down around us when they leave?" she asked.
"So am I."
"We have to be ready, Rise. If their leaving is a violent one, we have to be ready to fight. We'll need an army, not just a resistance."
She walked over to him, laying a hand on his shoulder, letting it stay there, warming him. "You've been our leader. I know you say that I'm indispensable to you, but you've done it. I've just helped you. The cells will follow you, and the people will follow them. We won't let them destroy Tilyria. We've worked too hard to let it come to that."
She realized, to her shock, that she sounded very like her father.
Enckar smiled up at him. "I want to be happy, Rise. We'll be free again. But I know it won't be easy."
"Nothing worth having ever is." She smiled at him. "My aunt used to tell me that. Just before she went out on her next smuggling run."
They both laughed, but it was an overly-emotional laugh, one fueled by hope and fear and the knowledge that someday the hated Dominion occupiers would be gone and Tilyria would be free again.
Rise suddenly blinked back tears, but some escaped, running down her cheeks.
He touched her face, gently wiping the tears away. "What is it?"
"This is home." She took his hand, squeezed it tight. "I've never fought for anything--well, anything good--in my entire life. But I'm fighting here. Because I love it, I love this planet and I love these people. And it's home."
"Yes, Rise. It's home." He stood up. "And home is going to need us. I'm going to call a meeting of the cell commanders." It was something they had never done. It was something it had never been safe to do.
Until now. Peace. Freedom. Autonomy again. All within their grasp.
Nodding, Rise said, "I'll be there."
He smiled at her. "Tomorrow night. After last meal." Then he turned and walked out.
Rise forced her emotion down, called on the Vulcan inside her--called on Spock too. He'd been a diplomat; he would understand what was needed here.
"Give me wisdom, father," she said softly.
He didn't answer. But then, he never did. Neither did her mother or Shayla or Cameron. Gone, dead, all of them.
She heard a sound, thought it was the keen of a Shiarawk, but it was just a Dominion transport flying high over the town. Hopefully the first of many transports.
She put the padd down and grabbed a different one. It was time to make provisions for guarding the planet's treasures. She would not be surprised if the Dominion planned to take as much wealth as they could with them. It was what the Cardassians had done when they abandoned their occupation of Bajor.
It was what all conquered conquerors did. Taking a deep breath, Rise began an inventory of the most vulnerable locations, already planning how to protect them.
Saavik kept behind Sela--she'd finally yielded to the woman's demands and given her a weapon. But she didn't plan on turning her back to Sela.
They moved through the dark alleys and back streets of the town. It was quiet now; work was over, and most people were at the last meal. She and Sela hid in the shadows whenever the Jem'Hadar, or even too many Tilyrians, walked by.
Saavik heard a sound that Sela hadn't, yanked her down behind some canisters. She ended up close, her face near Saavik's.
"You like this," Sela said so softly it was barely breathed. "You live for this."
"No," Saavik said.
"Yes." Then Sela pulled her close and kissed her.
It wasn't a lover's kiss. Not arousing exactly. Certainly not tender. It was more like a kiss of comrades. A kiss of like recognizing like.
As soon as the patrol passed, Saavik slugged Sela in the face, knocking her away from her as she wiped her mouth off with the back of her hand.
"You're just like me," Sela said laughing. "And ouch." The look she shot Saavik was impressed.
Saavik couldn't remember the last time she'd been able to hit out at something full strength.
"Hitting me felt good, didn't it? You're so strong. And you have to hide that here. You have to hide it wherever you go." Sela moved closer, watching Saavik's fists carefully. "On our home world, we'd embrace that strength."
Her eyes shone in the low light of the alley, and for a moment, Saavik understood Ulysses's dilemma with the sirens. Sometimes, it took an enemy to understand deep longings. Fortunately, this enemy understood nothing about Vulcan discipline.
"I am not a Romulan."
"You're not a Vulcan either." Sela stroked Saavik's hair. "You're something in between. Just like me."
"And like Rise."
"No. Rise has made her peace with what she is. She doesn't have Romulan blood calling to her. She's only human and Vulcan." Sela's fingers moved more firmly, away from Saavik's hair, onto her skin. "She's the weakest part of us."
Sela's fingers on her skin felt...nice. Saavik forced herself to pull away. "You're just doing this to hurt Rise."
Sela laughed. "Not true. I also kind of like you." Her smile grew. "I find your ferocity compelling. And the parallels in our lives, well, I find those...fascinating." Her emphasis on the last word was definitely mocking.
Saavik pulled away. "Let's go find your men." She led the way, no longer caring that Sela might shoot her.
Sela's mouth was far more dangerous than her weapons--in so many ways. Saavik wiped her lips again, and she heard Sela laugh.
They traveled the rest of the way in silence, the quiet between them broken only by Sela's gasp of dismay when they found her men lying dead in the alley.
"I just left them here," Sela said, her voice strangely broken. "They were loyal to me when no one else was, and I just left them here. They stuck by me after Spock...after Rise." She crouched down, touched one, then the other, gently, almost reverently. "I'll never have men this good again."
Saavik didn't say anything, wasn't sure what she could say other than "I'm sorry," which seemed trite.
Sela checked the setting on her rifle, adjusting it to vaporize. In Romulan, she said, "You will be remembered with honors." Standing up, she backed up a pace or two. "Is the alley clear?"
Saavik peeked out. "It's clear."
Sela's weapon blasted twice, and the bodies disappeared. Then there was only quiet again--until one, then two, then five more Jem'Hadar rushed around the corner.
"Oh, this can't be a good thing," Sela said, bringing her rifle up. But she didn't step out from the shadows to fire, and neither did Saavik.
The Jem'Hadar rushed past them, apparently on their way to some other more urgent task.
Saaavik let out a breath. "I thought..."
"Me too." Sela grinned at her, and for the first time it was open and lacking in any poison. She looked very...human.
Saavik found herself smiling back.
"Let's go home," Sela said, no mockery in the word "home," no glinting sneer in her voice. Finding her men lying dead in this back alley had hurt her--more than Saavik had expected.
As they continued on their way, Saavik heard a low whine.
"Did you hear that?" Sela asked.
Nodding, Saavik led her to a small indentation in one of the buildings, where a dog had built a small nest for four puppies. It looked like she'd been trying to get to them when she'd been shot. The puppies, sensing people, began to whine louder.
Sela exhaled sharply, the sound holding some kind of amusement. "This is too perfect. Really. I couldn't have ordered it up better."
Saavik heard her adjusting her weapon setting. Turning, she said, "What are you doing. They're just puppies." Then she realized the weapon was trained on her, not on the dogs.
"You were smart earlier, not to turn your back on me." Sela smiled gently at her. "I've set this to stun. I'm not sure I'd have done that if we hadn't had this little adventure. I find I like the idea of a world with both of us in it."
"Sela. What are you doing?"
"War's over. At least as far as I need to concern myself with it. And it's time for me to go home." Sela's smile turned grim. "And before I go, Rise and I need to finish something."
Saavik felt her heart drop. "Sela. No." She held her hand out. "You were right. I am like you. We connected. You don't have to hurt her."
"It won't hurt...much." Sela almost looked apologetic. "I am sorry, little cat."
Saavik leaped at her, but Sela's fire caught her before she got close enough to grab the other woman. She landed on the floor of the alley, next to the dead dog.
"Goodbye, Saavik. It was fun," Sela said, as she fired again.
Saavik groaned, then the world went black.
"Rise," Jorase's voice echoed through the house, then there was a loud thump.
Rising from the desk, Rise ran out into the kitchen, found Jorase crumpled on the floor near the sink. She looked around, saw that the back door was open. She ran out, was surprised to see Sela waiting for her.
"Hello, Rise." There was something eerily familiar in Sela's smile as she put her disruptor back in its holster. It was the one from Romulus, the one she'd worn when she'd killed her animals, when she'd hurt Rise.
Had she hurt Saavik? Had she killed her?
Sela moved closer. "The war's over. And we have unfinished business."
"She's fine. Provided she's not found by a Jem'Hadar patrol. I only stunned her...and Jorase. Although that can be remedied. Shall I walk in there and kill her now? Put her out of any misery quickly?"
"Sela. Why?" Rise moved enough so she was blocking her path, so she would have to go through her to get to Jorase.
"This is how I wanted it, Rise. Just you and me."
"There is no you and me. Not anymore."
Sela laughed. "Oh not like that. But haven't you always wondered which of us was really stronger?" She glanced back at town, a nostalgic smile playing at her lips. "No question Saavik's the strongest. That's why I had to get her out of the game, level the playing field."
Rise shook her head. "We're not going to fight."
"That's right. Because you don't fight. When did that happen? When did the little fireball who killed every single one of Cameron's murderers, stop killing?"
Sela laughed. Then her laugh died, and she tilted her head, staring at Rise thoughtfully. "It's you. You and Enckar. You're the leaders." Sela threw her head back. "That is such a relief. Here I thought you'd turned into a pacifist--or worse: a coward."
"Sela, you helped us."
"Yes. I did." She smiled; her expression gave no quarter. "I still want to fight."
"Fine." Rise moved closer. "This has been coming since you got here."
"Only you thought that Saavik would be the one fighting me."
She wasn't wrong; Rise had thought that. It didn't matter. Rise forced her body to remember what it had been like to fight, what it had been like to hunt down Cameron's killers. To fight and kill. Without remorse.
They began to circle each other. Sela's expression was one of predatory expectation. The thrill of the hunt that she and Saavik both seemed to feel written in her taut body.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just kill me?" Rise asked, trying to play for time as she studied Sela for weaknesses.
"Easier, yes. More fun? No." Sela seemed to tire of waiting for Rise to make her move. She launched herself, one leg coming up in a sharp kick that Rise blocked with a move she hadn't known she remembered from her Academy training.
Rise followed the block with a sharp punch to Sela's jaw.
Sela stumbled back a step, then recovered with a grin. "Nice moves, Rise. Good to know that a Starfleet education never goes to waste." Sela whipped around, turned the movement into a high kick that connected hard with Rise's shoulder, throwing her across the lawn. "My mother never got the chance to show me those Academy moves. But I imagine that a Tal Shiar education is just as handy." She waited for Rise to get up.
Shoulder throbbing, Rise pushed herself to her feet. "We don't have to fight, Sela. There's another way."
"What happened to the woman I knew? What happened to that rage? Without it, you're nothing, Rise."
"That's not true."
"Doing good all the time isn't going to keep you alive." Sela's voice was taunting. "What did all those good deeds on Romulus get you? Did any of those people you worked so hard for reach out to help you when I destroyed you? After you left, they went through your house, Rise. Took everything that was there. Ripped the fixtures from the walls. They didn't love you. They didn't feel anything for you."
"Well, what can you expect from Romulans?" Rise said, surprised to hear Saavik in her voice.
Sela's eyes were hard. "You think that these people here love you? You think they'll be loyal to you, Rise? You think any of them will remember what you've done for them?"
Rise let a slow smile grow. Sela didn't understand. Sela would never understand. She'd given the Romulan Empire her life, worked every day to be worthy of it and would never, ever feel a part of it. But she didn't understand that Rise had gotten there. Rise had found home.
"I'm not going to fight you."
Sela stared at her. "What would Shiansu think of that?"
Rise looked down.
"Or all those dogs and cats? Do you remember them, Rise? Do you remember how they smelled after we fired on them? Do you remember how they sounded as they died?"
"Shut up." Rise moved closer. She looked up at Sela, couldn't see the woman who had once held her in bed, could only see the monster who had taken everything from her.
"So you finally feel it, just a little? The anger...the hate. It's all there is, Rise. There is no good. No mercy. Nothing except this raw rage. And vengeance." Sela laughed, the sound harsh and mocking. "Go on. Make me pay. For what you did to your father on my behalf. For the animals. For your damned bird." Sela smirked. "He died bravely. Which is more than I can say for you."
"Shut up!" Rise ran the three steps it took to close the distance between them. Anger made her strong, hate made her savage. Blow after blow landed, and she barely noticed Sela's counter punches and kicks. But rage faded, and hate couldn't keep her body from tiring after taking Sela's blows. Rise kicked out, and Sela blocked her. She punched, and Sela took the hit, countered with a strong kick of her own that sent Rise reeling. She recovered, turned and twisted out of the way of Sela's next punch. Landing a strong hit to Sela's chest, she tried to follow it up with another, but Sela fell back, her legs coming up in a hard kick to Rise's gut that took her breath away. She landed on her back, tried to get up, but Sela was already there. Rise rolled away, fought to get up again, but a scissor kick from Sela knocked her back to the ground. She lay panting, watching the other woman as she crouched, barely breathing hard.
"Get up, Rise."
Rise rolled away again, and saw Sela launch herself toward her. She tried to twist, get her legs up to block Sela, to kick her away, but she was too slow. Sela landed hard on her, punched her once the face, then again. Rise tried to kick, and Sela twisted her so she was face down in the grass. Rise felt the cold metal of the disruptor against the back of her head.
"Who wins?" Sela's voice was cold as ice.
Rise didn't answer.
"Just say it, and it'll all be over. Who wins, Rise?"
"You do." Rise let herself relax against the ground. She wouldn't fight this. There was a logical inevitability about this moment. It should have happened that day by the mews, when Sela had killed the animals that Rise loved. Sela should have killed her too; Rise had just been living on borrowed time since then.
Borrowed time, but happy time. Rise thought of Saavik, of their time together. Rise may have lost to Sela, but she'd never be like her. She'd never have to ask anyone if she'd won the real contest or not. It had taken her this long, but she'd figured it out. She'd won.
She loved Saavik. Saavik loved her. And this was their home--a real home, not just a stopping place on the way to someplace safer. What more was there?
"I'm sorry, Saavik," Rise whispered. "I wasn't strong enough." She felt the disruptor pressed harder against her head, and she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
Then the weapon was abruptly pulled back, and Sela moved off her. Rise turned over slowly. Sela's disruptor was pointed at the ground.
Frowning in confusion, Rise asked, "What are you doing?"
Sela's eyes were calm, no emotion showed in them. "I just wanted to hear you say that." She grinned then, an open expression that was no less threatening than her other more intimidating smiles.
Sela rolled her eyes. "You heard me."
"It's so important to you to win?"
"It is." Sela turned and walked to the small storage shed. She came out holding a large container. "Here, these are for you."
She thrust the box at Rise, who grabbed it shakily. Four puppies looked up at her.
She turned to Sela in shock. "I don't understand."
"What's not to understand? They were in the alley I left Saavik in, whining in that same annoying way they're doing now. There was a large dog lying dead next to them--I guessed that was the mother. I thought you'd want to help them."
Rise reached down and stroked the puppies. Four wet noses pushed against her hand. "They're hungry." Her tone was more accusatory than she meant it to be.
"So feed them, Rise. That's what you do, not what I do."
"But you saved them." Rise felt off-balance, unsure what to do or say to this Sela who she was understanding less and less with each passing minute.
Sela turned away. "I've done exactly two good deeds my entire life. This was one of them."
"What was the other?"
Sela looked over at Saavik. "You like to say that Saavik brought you back to life, but I remember doing that first. When I found you, you were barely living."
Rise remembered the state she'd been in when Sela had found her. Enmeshed in grief for Cameron, not even trying to fight the addiction to the powerful medicine that kept her from feeling too much. Sela had helped her find her feet again. It was hard to remember through all the lies and hate, but for a short time, they'd been happy.
"So that's my other good deed. You." Sela laughed. "As far as the balance sheet goes, that's probably not much of a counterpoint to all the bad I've done. And all the bad I'll no doubt do in the future." She stuck her disruptor into its holster. "The way I see it, the only chance I have to balance that out is to let you live. You can do the good deeds for me."
"You could do them for yourself." Rise stood up slowly. "You don't have to go back. You could become someone else, live a new life."
Sela's eyebrows rose. "Why would I want to do that? I'm going to go back to the Tal Shiar. Rejuvenated and refreshed after a very lively leave of absence."
Sela's normal smirk was back in place. "Did you really think the Tal Shiar would be interested in helping this little nothing of a planet? I'm here because I found out you were here."
"But your men?"
"Sadly killed by the Jem'Hadar." She shot Rise a sly look. "Or were they?"
"You killed them?"
Sela ignored her. "They'll be listed as casualties of war. Their families will receive the iron sword. They will be honored." Her face grew sad. "I'm afraid the only one who will be able to say what happened here...is me."
"We weren't finished, you and I. And now we are." She turned her back on Rise, waited for something only she could hear.
Saavik stumbled into the yard.
Sela waved a jaunty hello. "Sorry about that. Disruptor went off accidentally."
Saavik looked over at Rise, clearly expecting the worst. Then she saw the puppies and frowned. "You rescued them?" she said shakily.
"Someone had to. Doctor Do-Good here needs to find them homes."
Saavik started to move toward Sela; her weapon did not appear to be set on stun.
Rise stepped in between them, to her own--and probably everyone else's--surprise. "Saavik, Sela was just leaving."
"Yes. It is definitely time for me to leave." Sela laughed.
Saavik looked over at Rise, and their eyes locked. Rise could tell that Saavik was seeing all the places she was hurt from the fight with Sela. Confusion was warring with anger, and Saavik looked about ready to blow.
Rise tried to send her reassurance. "Could you go get her stuff?" When Saavik didn't move, she said, "Please?"
Saavik finally nodded tightly and headed into the house.
"I like her. She's got spirit. And she makes me laugh." Sela grinned. "She seems more Romulan than she did the first time I met her. Obviously you're a good influence on her."
Rise ignored the jibe as she walked over to Sela. "So you're just going to leave?"
"It's worth it to see how much this bothers you. You'll be worrying about me coming back for months. Vengeance is sweet." Sela's face lost its mocking expression as she stared at Rise.
"Is it? Sweet?"
Sela nodded, but she didn't seem able to meet Rise's eyes. Then she reached up and unhooked something at the back of her neck, drawing a gold chain from under her uniform. "I believe this belongs to you."
Rise saw Cameron's garnet and suddenly couldn't breathe. Sela stepped behind her, her hand brushing along Rise's skin as she fastened the necklace for her. Blinking back tears, Rise touched the stone.
Sela's breath was hot on Rise's neck as she whispered, "In all my life, I've only loved one person." Then she stepped around and said in her normal voice, "Not you, of course. Someone else. Anyway, it's a cheap chain. Turned my neck black. I don't want it anymore."
"Thank you." Their eyes locked. Rise was the first to look away. "I'm sorry."
Sela shrugged. "What is that human saying? All's fair in love and war?"
"I suppose." Sela shrugged. "My report won't mention you. In fact, while I was here, I heard that Sureya was last seen on the Klingon home world."
She grinned again, and this time Rise grinned back.
"Or maybe it was the Gamma Quadrant. I don't remember now. Why would I worry about one measly woman when there was glorious war to be fought with our enemy?"
"Why indeed?" Rise heard Saavik coming and turned.
Saavik handed Sela her pack. "You won't be back." The threat in her voice was unmistakable.
Sela laughed and looked at Rise. "Definitely more Romulan." She shook her head as if chastising Saavik. "We're allies, remember?"
"Only by circumstance."
"All alliances are by circumstance. Don't you know that yet?" Sela turned to go, then she looked back. "Unless of course people are together because of love. That's different."
A hawk sounded high in the sky. Sela looked up and followed its flight. "You should get back into that, Rise. The birds were special."
Rise thought back to their earlier conversation. "Did you hunt them down?"
"I thought you didn't want to know?"
"I do now," Rise said.
"They fly free." Then Sela smiled grimly. "They will live long and prosper as that stupid saying goes."
Rise pitied anyone who got in the way of that prosperity. "Thank you."
Sela shrugged. "They are Shiarawks. As the symbol of the Tal Shiar, they must fly free. No one will ever fetter us." She was suddenly the picture of Romulan hauteur. "I'd love to drink a toast to our victory over the Dominion, but I have a shuttle to catch. It will hopefully be more comfortable than the cargo ship I stowed in on. I hope we never meet again." She studied them both for a long moment, then winked. Turning on her heel, she strode away.
"I missed a lot while I was unconscious, didn't I?" Saavik asked, not taking her eyes off Sela until the other woman rounded the corner out of sight. Then Saavik noticed Cameron's necklace. "She gave it back?"
"Uhhh." Jorase leaned up against the doorframe. "Rise, she's back."
"She's gone," Saavik said.
Jorase studied both of them. "I think I got the best of it." Hearing the whines of the puppies, she walked over to them, weaving a bit. "What's this?"
"Present from Sela."
Jorase shook her head. "I'll go see what I can find for them to eat."
"Don't bother. I'll go to the store." Rise smiled. It had been a long time since she'd bought food for animals.
Jorase nodded. "They still need water." She turned, and made her way back across the lawn to the kitchen.
Rise could hear her digging through the pots and pans. Reaching up for the necklace, she rubbed it gently, the way she'd done for so many years.
"I know how much you missed that." Saavik pulled Rise to her, held her tightly. "What the hell happened here?"
"You don't want to know." She felt Saavik stiffen. "Not that." She kissed her tenderly. "Just hold me."
The whining of the puppies finally made them pull away from each other. "Help me with them?" Rise asked.
"So you're getting back into the rescue business?" Saavik's grin was softly teasing.
"I guess so." Rise looked at where Sela had disappeared. Odd to think the person who had taken it all away, could put it all back. It didn't make a lot of sense.
Saavik followed her gaze. "I hate to admit this, but I think I'm going to miss her...a little."
"Romulan blood calling to you?"
Saavik nodded. "I guess so. Funny when you think about it. We're all half-breeds. And we're all so..."
"Lost," Rise supplied the word.
Saavik shook her head. "I'm never lost when you're around." She thought about it. "Complicated."
"That's a very nice way of saying screwed up."
"I thought so." Saavik chuckled softly, then looked skyward as the hawk called again. "You going to try to tame him?"
Rise thought of Shiansu and shook her head. "Let him fly free. Some things should stay wild." She picked up two of the puppies. "And some of us need to be tamed."
Saavik picked up the other two. "Which one of us?"
"Both of us," Rise said with a smile.
As they walked to the house, one of the pups made a grab for her necklace and she pulled him away. Sela had said she'd only done two good things in her life, by Rise's count there were four plus one for saving her. Maybe Rise should keep a ledger that she could send when her life was wearing down, so Sela would know how her balance sheet was looking. Of course, Sela didn't really need any additional encouragement to be evil. Rise decided to keep her good deeds to herself.
"Whatever you're thinking about, it must be amusing," Saavik said as she tried to keep the puppies from squirming out of her arms.
"Just thinking about right and wrong, good and evil."
Saavik laughed softly. "Deep things."
"Deep things." Rise touched her. "I love you. And I love the home we've made."
Saavik smiled tenderly. "You know, if you're going to start up with the animals again, I think we're going to need a bigger place. I know Jorase will want a bigger kitchen. If she doesn't leave us for harboring Sela."
Rise smiled. "She'll stay. We're family."
"So she has no choice?"
Rise stroked her cheek softly. "No, we choose to be family. That's the best kind." She gave Saavik a quick kiss. "I'm going to go get some food for them."
As she started to walk away, she heard Saavik say, "Sela loves you."
She didn't turn around as she answered, "I know." She heard Saavik sigh and hurried back to add, "It's a dangerous love, though. Not like ours. I'd never feel truly safe with her. Not the way I do with you."
Saavik laughed. "I already know that."
Rise turned around. "If I weren't here, would you have been interested in her?"
Saavik waved her off. "No."
"Not even a little?" Rise saw a sheepish grin beginning on Saavik's face. "Maybe your Romulan side liked her?"
"All my sides like you. A lot. Now go get these critters some food before they decide that my leg would make a good meal."
Rise laughed as she ordered the puppies not to eat Saavik. She hurried out of the house, making her way quickly down the street to the store for food for them. As she passed the spaceport, she hefted the bag to her other side so she could peek in the window.
She thought she saw a blonde woman just walking into the boarding area. "Goodbye, Sela," she whispered. "Good journey."
Then she hurried to add, "And don't ever come back," before heading home to Saavik and the rest of her family.