A/N: Sorry it took so long to get this last chapter up. (Admit it -- I've spoiled you with my fast posts.) But it turned out to be longer than the other chapters, and I wanted to get it just right. :)
Hoshi sat on the edge of her bed, trying not to go back to sleep, as she waited for Violet to finish dressing in the bathroom. Hopefully, this would be the last morning she'd be sleep-deprived -- her snoring roommate would be leaving today.
All things considered, Hoshi supposed she should be glad that her sleep was the only casualty during the past week. Once the would-be assassin and his accomplice, Captain Macklin, had been caught and locked in the brig, Violet's demeanor had changed. She was still bashful, but there was a new confidence about her, and she hadn't been the cause of a single klutzy accident.
Maybe Violet just needed a little confidence. Nothing like decisively preventing an attempt on your life to boost your self-esteem. But still, Hoshi thought, there was something about Violet she hadn't been able to put her finger on.
Shaking her head, Hoshi decided it wasn't worth the effort to think about. In a short time, Violet would be someone else's problem. She would be handed over to the care of the proper authorities when they reached Earth Spacedock, and she would be their responsibility until the trial.
Other authorities would be picking up the two men in the brig as well as The Bottom Line. Enterprise had had to take the luxurious passenger transport in tow with the grapplers. It was too big to fit in the launch bay.
The Bottom Line's three passengers -- they really were passengers who'd been booked on the transport to make it seem legitimate -- would also disembark and be able to go about their business.
Violet's cover had remained intact, although Hoshi thought that was nothing short of a miracle. The crew seemed to think the incident a week earlier had been an attempt to kidnap Ensign Smith for her alleged knowledge of weapons' development. Apparently one of Malcolm's staff had voiced such a speculation to Chef, who'd had then tried to come to Violet's rescue, only to have Violet wind up saving herself.
Hoshi rubbed her weary eyes and glanced at the chronometer. Malcolm should be along shortly. They'd have one last breakfast with Violet in the mess hall and by then they should be arriving at the spacedock. They'd see Violet off, and Hoshi would gratefully go back to her regular duties on the bridge.
Malcolm rang the chime to Hoshi's quarters. Enterprise would be at Earth in about an hour, and after breakfast he would escort Violet to the airlock where she'd be met by a planet-side security detail immediately upon their arrival in the spacedock.
Now that her inept tendencies seemed to have receded, Violet was a rather pleasant companion. In a reserved sort of way. If you didn't expect too much. OK, actually, she was rather boring, but at least she was quiet about it and hadn't hurt anyone in the last week.
But he couldn't honestly say he'd be sorry to see her go. Once she was gone, he'd have his office back. Every time he'd had to go in his office this past week, he'd found Violet and Hoshi in there with their noses in padds, reading some of those awful romance novels for which the linguist had a weakness.
The door to Hoshi's quarters slid open. Over her shoulder he could see Violet, dressed in civilian clothing, coming out of the bathroom. "Are you two ready?" he asked.
"I think so," Hoshi said, and glanced back at Violet who nodded and picked up her duffle bag.
Hoshi stepped out into the corridor and Violet followed. After a moment's hesitation, Malcolm took the bag from her, and breathed a silent sigh of relief that it hadn't been dropped on his foot in the process. Even though Violet hadn't caused any accidents recently, he wasn't about to relax his guard. There was still more than enough time for her to inflict significant damage before she disembarked.
The trio made their way to the mess hall where Malcolm was careful to put the duffle bag in an out-of-the-way corner. It wasn't hard to imagine someone like Trip or the captain -- Violet's two favorite targets after him -- stumbling over her bag and breaking a leg. Although, he thought whimsically, it would be a rather fitting end to this assignment. Just so long as nothing happened to him.
As if Malcolm's musings had conjured them up, the captain and the chief engineer stepped through the mess hall doorway and got in the serving line behind his group. Pleasantries were exchanged, but after Hoshi and Violet moved off toward a table, Jon asked Malcolm in a quietly urgent tone, "Is 'Ensign Smith' ready to leave?"
"Yes, sir," Malcolm said.
Jon reached into his pocket and pulled out a padd. "Here," he said. "It's the notes she made before the attack."
"You want me to give this back to her, sir?" he asked, reaching for the padd.
"Yes. You give it to her. Or better yet, give it to her new keepers. Anyway, I have no intention of getting close to her while there's hot coffee around," Jon said, glancing down at the cup he was holding.
"Understood, sir," Malcolm said, keeping the grin off his face until the captain walked off toward his private dining area. Turning toward Trip, he asked, "You joining us?"
"Yeah. Can you help me with this?" Trip asked, waggling his splinted finger by way of explanation. "I still can't carry a plate and a cup at the same time."
Malcolm adjusted his grip on his own plate and then picked up Trip's, and together they walked over to join Hoshi and Violet where they were sitting. Violet still got that puppy dog look whenever Trip was around, Malcolm noted as they approached. He also noticed that Trip took the seat across from Violet, perhaps to avoid any last-minute lateral incursions that could damage any more of his body parts.
There was some inconsequential small talk at first as everyone began eating, but eventually the conversation turned to Violet's departure.
"Bet you're glad we're almost home," Trip said to Violet with a smile.
"Ye...yes," Violet stuttered. "No offense, b...but this is one trip I'd like to forget."
Across the table, Hoshi caught Malcolm's eye. Why was she frowning at him? It was almost like she was warning him of something.
"Well," Trip said with a gracious smile, "I'd say this has been one of our more memorable journeys."
Why was the man flirting with her? Violet was going to be gone in less than an hour. Or maybe that was the point -- now that Violet's departure was imminent, maybe Trip was feeling a bit more confident that he wouldn't be harmed again. Personally, he wasn't taking any chances until Violet was in the protective custody of other security personnel. He idly wondered if he should warn them about her -- for their own protection, of course.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Violet was saying with a shy smile for the handsome engineer.
"That's the way it was intended, darlin'," Trip responded with his typical charm.
Malcolm couldn't help it. He rolled his eyes but did manage to keep from snorting. As he took a bite of his toast, he glanced at Hoshi to see if she had gone into sugar shock from all the verbal sweetness and was surprised to see her shaking her head at him as if he were a dim-witted child.
And that's when Violet crossed her legs and one of her feet slammed against his knee. His good knee. The one opposite of the knee she had kicked a week or so ago in a similar situation.
And just like the first time Violet had kicked Malcolm in the knee, Trip was unaware of what had happened under the table. "You all right?" he asked as Malcolm choked on the toast he had in his mouth at the moment of impact.
Malcolm carefully swallowed. "I'll be better in about an hour," he said hoarsely, rubbing his injured knee. He switched his glare from Trip to Violet, who was staring back at him with wide, innocent eyes. A quick shift of his gaze to Hoshi showed him she was biting her bottom lip, trying not to laugh.
All the good will he'd been feeling toward Violet over the past week evaporated. The woman was still a menace. He'd be lucky if he wasn't a cripple by the time he got rid of her.
Malcolm was about to suggest they head for the airlock when Chef made a grand entrance from the galley. He had hoped they might avoid Chef before Violet's departure. The man had been embarrassed that he'd failed to assist Violet in her dilemma in the armory, but was taking what seemed to be an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that it had been his frying pan -- and not Malcolm -- that had felled her would-be assassin.
"Mon cherie!" Chef said when he reached the table. "I have heard that you are leaving us. I could not let you go without a token of my affection for you."
Revealing the hand he had kept behind his back, Chef presented Violet a small silver salver on which there was one tiny cake with white icing.
"A single, perfect petit four! Unique -- just like yourself!" he exclaimed, then lowered his voice. "No chocolate. It is lemon. We don't want to aggravate the allergy, eh?"
Malcolm caught himself before he could roll his eyes again. He pushed back from the table -- out of range, he hoped -- and announced, "It's time to be going."
"It's lovely, Chef," Violet said. "Thank you. But I think I'll save it for later." She quickly wrapped the tiny sweet in a napkin.
Chef beamed and grasped her free hand and bowed over it, although a warning growl from Malcolm stopped him from placing a kiss on it. In the meantime, Trip had gotten to his feet and stepped over to pull Violet's chair back for her. Unfortunately, Violet leaned back just as he put his fingers over the back of the chair, and she mashed both his splinted broken finger and his bandaged burned ones.
"Ow!" Trip said, his face scrunching up in pain until she leaned forward again.
The attention of everyone in the mess hall was on them by now. "Let's go," Malcolm said, gesturing for the group to get moving before anything else could happen.
Trip, trailed by a profusely apologizing Violet, led the way to the door. Malcolm retrieved the duffle bag from where he'd stashed it, and met Hoshi at the door. Out in the corridor, Trip and Violet were already halfway to the turbolift. As they began to follow the other pair, Malcolm asked Hoshi what was going on.
Hoshi gave him the same blank look he was used to seeing on Violet's face. "What do you mean?" she asked innocently.
"What was so funny in there?" he demanded.
"Oh, I've just figured something out about Violet," she said, a grin appearing on her face.
"I don't think most of her accidents were accidents at all," Hoshi said. "I think she's one of the best actresses I've ever met. That's what I was trying to warn you about in the mess hall."
They were catching up to Trip and Violet who were waiting at the turbolift, so he put out an arm to stop Hoshi. "Warn me about what?" he asked.
"Right before you rolled your eyes, I knew she was going to kick you again if you did that."
Malcolm stared at her a moment, then shook his head. "The woman's a klutz," he said, careful to keep his voice down. "She didn't kick me on purpose."
Hoshi shrugged. "Think what you like, but she's a calculating klutz. You didn't see the look on her face each time after she kicked you."
With that, Hoshi resumed walking toward the turbolift and Malcolm had no choice but to follow.
Trip didn't join them in the turbolift, claiming he had to get to Engineering before they docked. As the rest of them boarded the 'lift, Malcolm pondered Hoshi's comments. There was no way anyone could pretend to be as clumsy as their passenger had been. For one thing, it took a lot more coordination and timing than he thought she possessed to pull off a consistent performance like that. No, Violet just had a natural ability to cause disasters large and small, he concluded.
It was a short walk from the turbolift to the airlock, and as they approached, Malcolm could see that the indicator signaling docking was underway was lit. Just a few more minutes and they could open the airlock door and send Violet on her way.
He felt the slightest of bumps through the deck plating as the docking process was completed. He'd have to remember to compliment Travis on a good job. Then he turned his thoughts back to the situation at hand as a light flashed on the control panel next to the airlock. They could open the door now.
On the infinitesimal chance there might be one last attempt on Violet's life, Malcolm had strapped on a phase pistol this morning. His hand rested on the weapon at his hip as he nodded to Hoshi to open the door. At the same time as Enterprise's door slid to the side, the door on the opposite side of the airlock opened.
Three people were standing there. Two were security personnel, which was what Malcolm had expected. But the third -- a slightly stocky, unremarkable man of middle height with hair brushed back from his forehead -- was a most unwelcome sight.
"Welcome back, Miss Bloom," Harris said. "Good to see you made it in one piece."
It was all Malcolm could do to keep his jaw from dropping. What was his former boss in covert operations doing here? As Violet moved to step past him toward the waiting group, Malcolm's hand shot out and grabbed her arm.
"Wait a minute!" he said. "You're supposed to be meeting someone from the prosecutor's office."
Next to him, Violet slowly straightened to her full height. Her gaze was steady on his and there was a confidence in her voice he'd never heard before. "I'll meet with them. But first, I have to be debriefed," she said without a trace of her stutter. A smile curved the corners of her lips. "Surely you're familiar with the procedures following a mission?"
Now Malcolm's jaw did drop. Violet was an agent? And she knew about his past with this particular intelligence organization? He glanced at Harris, who was smirking at him.
"Violet is one of my most valuable agents," Harris said. "She will testify, but her testimony will be presented in absentia. Don't want to ruin her career, do we? Her wonderful memory would go to waste if that happened."
Malcolm could readily see the potential of an agent such as Violet with her photographic memory. There would be no need for recording devices on a covert mission to obtain information, no physical devices in her possession if she were caught. Bloody brilliant!
But bloody embarrassing for him as well. He'd been protecting an agent who most likely could take care of herself just as well -- if not better -- than he could.
"You could have told us," he hissed at Harris.
"No," Harris said. "That would have made a difference in how you treated Miss Bloom. Your own belief that she was nothing more than an insecure secretary added to the illusion of what she appeared to be."
Malcolm didn't know what to say to that. The man -- damn him! -- was right.
Harris stepped through the airlock and took the duffle bag from Malcolm's unresisting hand. Harris offered his other arm to Violet and escorted her through the airlock to the other side. Just before they stepped through the doorway, Violet turned to look back at him and winked.
Malcolm continued to stare after them, his expression a mixture of outrage and disbelief, as Harris and a surprisingly graceful Violet disappeared around the curve of a corridor on the far side.
Hoshi pushed the button to close the door on Enterprise's side, then took Malcolm by the arm and turned him around, leading him away from the airlock.
"I take it you know that man," Hoshi said.
Late that night, Malcolm wandered into the mess hall in search of a cup of tea. More than half of the crew was already on shore leave, and he wasn't expecting anyone to be in the mess hall, which was fine with him. The surprise of finding out he'd been protecting an undercover agent for two weeks was finally beginning to subside, but other than the captain, T'Pol, Trip and Hoshi, there was no one he could talk to about it. He wasn't even sure he wanted to talk about it.
He entered the mess hall to find Hoshi seated at a table, a vista of Earth visible through the windows behind her. She glanced up and gave him a smile as he walked in, but went back to something she was doing with a padd. He got his tea and went to join her.
"What are you doing?" he asked as he sat down. "I thought you'd be off to see your family by now."
Not looking up, she said, "I will tomorrow. But I neglected the comm station on the bridge for so long with Violet here. The logs are in a terrible mess. I wanted to get them straightened out before I left."
Watching her work with the padd reminded him of something, and he reached into one of his pockets. "I forgot to give this to Harris," he said disgustedly, putting the padd the captain had given him that morning on the table. "It's the notes Violet made right before the attempt on her life."
Hoshi glanced at it. "Hey! That's one of my padds," she said, picking it up and turning it on.
"You probably shouldn't look at what's on there," Malcolm said. "It might be considered classified information, at least until the trial."
"I don't care," she shot back. "I was wondering where my copy of 'Life, Lust and Liechtenstein' went to."
She keyed in a few commands, gasped, read a bit, and giggled.
"I assume from your reaction that 'Life, Lust and Whatever' is still on the padd," he said dryly before taking a sip of his tea.
"No, it's not that," she said, entering another command on the padd and handing it back to him.
He took the padd and looked at the screen where an index of files was displayed. The first thing listed was the reading material of questionable taste. He skipped that and opened the second file, which was titled "Notes." Considering the surprises to which he'd already been subjected today, he wasn't startled when the information on the screen disappeared as he started to scroll down it.
"So much for making a copy of what she knew," he murmured, holding the padd so that Hoshi could see the blank screen.
"You erased it!" she said. "Most likely she encoded some sort of password. But that's not what I was laughing about. Look at the next file."
Malcolm went back to the index. There was only one more file, titled "Apologies." He put down his cup in order to devote his full attention to this new curiosity. He opened the file and began to read out loud.
"To Lieutenant Reed, please believe me when I say I am truly sorry for all the things I did to you, but they were necessary to keep my cover intact. If you would, pass on my deepest apologies to Commander Tucker as well. In his case, the broken finger was truly an accident. Sincerely, Violet."
As Hoshi began to laugh, he set the padd down on the table with more force than necessary. "I don't believe it. She did all those things on purpose?" Glaring at Hoshi, he added, "It's not that funny."
Hoshi visibly forced herself to stop laughing and said, "I tried to tell you that this morning. You know, she had a thing about Trip, so she probably didn't mean to break his finger. She specifically apologized for that. But..."
Malcolm waited as she went off in another gale of laughter. When she'd calmed down, he asked, "But what?"
"You realize what this means, don't you?" Hoshi said. "When she shot you in the armory -- it was deliberate."
Malcolm stared at her as she resumed laughing. Then from the direction of the galley came Chef's voice. "I heard that. It could not have happened to a more deserving person."
Malcolm hung his head for a moment before straightening and getting to his feet. "I'm never going to hear the end of this from Chef," he said.
"I heard that, too," came Chef's voice again. "And you are right -- I will never let you forget."
A dangerous gleam came into Malcolm's eyes. "Where's that frying pan? I'm going to use it -- a la Violent Violet -- on Chef."