"Permission to speak freely, sir." Leo had been boiling inside since Picard's self-righteous insults to Admiral Jarok on the bridge. To condemn him for having been maneuvered into sacrificing everything, it was far beyond unfair.
"Granted." Picard had been in no good mood himself, juggling the decisions between war and peace. He knew Leo's feelings on the matter, and why they were so strong. He knew the difference between defector and traitor as well as she did, thank you, perhaps better. As captain of the Enterprise, however, he didn't have the luxury of not forcing the one into being the other for the sake of being even-handed. Still, her rage took him by surprise.
"How dare you!" she exploded in fury. "How dare you belittle such a man for acting on his conscience!"
Ignoring the gross insubordination he simply replied, "Madam like it or not, and at times like this I do not like it at all, I balance the future of this crew and the peace of the Federation on the substance of my command decisions, and the decisions I've made have been wholly dependent upon those of this man of conscience. We both have our hard choices to make."
She lowered her voice. "When you make yours, sir, it's with the full power and support of Starfleet and the Federation." She gestured in the direction of the bridge. "He made his solely with the power and support of his desire to leave his family and people a better world than the one he grew up in. You don't have to admire him or even like him, captain, but you are in no position to judge him. Whatever happens we of the Enterprise will be left with praise and honors. Admiral Jarok will be left with nothing, and nobody but his own unhappy reflection in the mirror. So why don't you tell me whose choices are harder." She turned on her heel and left without requesting leave. Picard let her go without comment, seeing no point in attacking what he knew was a sincere belief in the Admiral's nobility. She was right, in her way, but "right" wasn't good enough in this context. There were no options at his level of command that could depend upon goodness of heart. He would apologize to the Admiral for his unprofessional comments at the proper time. Unfortunately nobility was a worthless currency in the current situation, and enlightenment was the realm of philosophers in the safety of their cafés.
Leo was on the bridge to witness the galactic pissing contest between Commander Tomalak and the Enterprise as it played out. She saw no redeeming qualities in the exaggerated righteousness of the Romulan commander, after all he'd savaged an officer who was willing to sacrifice everything he was to ensure the safety of his people. Long minutes of posturing ensued as threat and counterthreat was exchanged. Leo was reminded of the Cold War of her time, when everyone threatened and nobody dared cross the final line, because nobody on any side was insane enough to want the ultimate responsibility, or sure enough of their own position to believe it was worth the price. She was standing close enough to the Admiral to hear him muttering to himself in bitter disbelief.
"I did it all for nothing. My home, my family, I did it all fornothing." He seemed to shake himself from his stupor and strode toward the turbolift.
"Admiral, no," Leo caught up and seized his arm in a blatant breach of protocol. "You did it for everything," she insisted before he pulled away. As the doors slid shut his eyes locked with hers and her outrage turned to a realization of how personal and non-political his torment suddenly had become.
"Permission to leave the bridge, sir."
Picard looked her over cautiously. Leo was upset, to be sure. Perhaps a little breathing room wouldn't go amiss. "Granted."
"Guest quarters deck," she told the computer, and went directly to Jarok's quarters. "Admiral, it's Lt. O'Reilly. I'm sorry, sir. I'm sure it's not a good time, and I realize I'm completely insubordinate, but I insist on speaking with you."
When the door opened she was confronted by the saddest, wryest smile she'd ever seen. "Lieutenant. There is nothing you can add that I haven't already gathered from our brief conversations."
"I know this is different, sir, it's different than what I'd told you about myself. What you've risked, what you've left behind, I can hardly comprehend it. I just wanted to tell you, Admiral, we'll help you, whatever way we can, to establish a new life. If the captain seems resistant right now," she hesitated, then asked, "May I come in for a minute?" He seemed a bit ill at ease, but stood aside graciously.
Once inside Jarok contemplated Leo for a moment. "You are not the only one who has believed the sincerity of my intentions. You are the only who has said so in so many words. Your rank permits you the luxury to think and behave as a philosopher and not a warrior."
Leo felt absurdly out of place. She hadn't planned any of this and she was acting on emotion alone. "I'm not sure why I'm here. I'm just concerned… I know how alone you must feel."
"Do you?" The question was challenging, albeit not unkind. "According to your story you left because there was no reason to stay. I had every inborn, newborn, and lifelong reason to stay, but I left because the risk of not doing so was too great."
Leo stared at the Romulan, secure in his decision even as he cursed it. "You're right, of course. Forgive me." What was the point? Nothing she could say could alleviate his pain and guilt. The Romulans had manipulated him into defecting, and Picard had manipulated him into becoming the traitor to his people he'd sworn he'd never be. Both used his dedication to planet and family as leverage."I'm sorry, Admiral Jarok, I guess that's all I can say that makes sense. I know in the past you've done things you regret, I know that. I'm not believing you're a saint. You're a man, but a man can change, and I just wanted you to know that some of us here know that you have."
Jarok's expression lightened from deep sadness to something resembling fondness. "My wife speaks her mind as you do, but with much less ambivalence. Thank you, Lieutenant. Don't judge your captain too harshly. He is much like I am, driven to defend his people and his crew. I harbor no ill will toward him."
Suddenly Leo felt desperately inept. "I wish there was something meaningful I could say…"
"You have said it already. It is appreciated. But I am weary, and must ask you to leave."
Something in his voice spoke to her of plans. Leo chose to interpret it as considerations for the future. Liar. He had no future.
"Of course." As she stood in the doorway she was seized by an irresistible impulse and told him, "You inspire me, sir."
Admiral Jarok didn't reply except with a slight smile and nod.
When the call to the ready room came half an hour later Leo couldn't say she was surprised. The captain dashed to the turbolift with her close on his heels, picking up Data on the engineering deck. The scene in Jarok's quarters was remarkably serene. He'd dimmed the lights and lain down on the bed as if preparing himself for a state funeral. Beverly and Will stood by. Beverly explained Jarok had ingested some poisonous chip whose name Leo couldn't possibly retain. She couldn't help noticing the look of peace on Jarok's face. She assumed it to be peaceful, she had never seen him with it before. The inescapable, miserable certainty of it all caused her a physical pain; there really had been no way out for Jarok, even their short acquaintance made that obvious. Still, she longed for an easy target to blame, and blaming circumstance simply wasn't good enough. As it was she turned a doleful look on the captain as he remarked on the Admiral's bravery. Leo wanted to remind him of his derisive comments uttered so recently, but couldn't summon the venom. Jarok had made his decision, and he had made another to follow it. Both were equally of his own volition. But he'd made them in such utter solitude… that knowledge beyond any other broke Leo's heart. She turned and fled the room.
"Dismissed, Mr. Data," Picard didn't need to elaborate. He was very much aware of Leo's uniquely non-military perspective and how the events of the past days had affected her. There was no explaining such things to the uninitiated; there had been no time, in any case. This was not Earth in the late 1960's or the early 21st century, and Admiral Jarok had not run to escape being drafted into an unjust war or to find an exciting new life. He was already a soldier, understanding every nuance of his actions and, regardless of the heart behind them, once set in motion they could not be undone. Even if Picard had known of Jarok's ultimate plans for himself – and deep down he supposed he had – he wasn't at all certain he could have attempted to dissuade him, in good conscience. It had likely been part of the Admiral's strategy all along.
Data had no difficulty locating Leo. He found her in the conference room next to Holodeck 1, standing at the large viewport where she always went to wrestle with her most difficult thoughts. She saw his reflection in the glass as he approached her in silence but gave no sign of acknowledgment. When he embraced her from behind it wasn't in the playful way he sometimes crept up to slip his arms around her waist and interrupt her at whatever she might be doing at the time. This time he surrounded her entirely, binding her back against him as if she were a living wound. Data bent his head forward to press against the side of Leo's face and kissed her cheek gently, saying nothing. What was there to say? Her introduction into the cold reality of Starfleet-Romulan relations had spoken entirely for itself, and Data had no doubt that she understood exactly why things had happened as they did. That they were emotionally unacceptable to her was as unavoidable as it was irrelevant to the proceedings. She'd said it on other occasions, "Life doesn't ask your permission." He was also mindful of another of her truisms: some things aren't for fixing. Even an android could tell this was one of those things.
Leo realized once again that Paul had been right about her, she always expected things to be as simple as she saw them. It was a vulnerability she couldn't seem to defend against. A bolus of rage, frustration, and blunt-edged pain forced itself out through a violent hitch in her breathing as she turned to face Data. He framed her face in his hands and rested his forehead against hers.
"I will keep you safe until you heal," he promised as Leo buried herself against him, not quite crying but not quite calm.
"I love you D," she breathed unsteadily as if it were her last chance ever to tell him.
"I would love no other," he whispered in reply. He hugged her as closely as he could without hurting her, and repeated moments later, "I would love no other."
The next day in the ready room the captain spoke first.
"Lieutenant, I would like to think that the unfortunate events of the past few days haven't damaged our ability to work together." He meant far more than that but left it, as always, unspoken.
"Captain, I," Leo was unsure what to say. "No sir, no permanent harm done, after all we were all caught in the same vise. Some of us just crack easier than others. I know things happened the only way they could." All the right words. After an awkward pause she added sincerely, "I would never doubt your intentions or authority."
"That's a generous fib, Lieutenant, but knowing you'll behave as if it were true is sufficient. For what it's worth, the most valuable experience in Starfleet usually is gained the hard way."
"Well I guess then my record is perfect so far." Like Picard she wanted things to return to normal, but the bruises were still tender. "Will that be all sir?"
"Yes. Dismissed." There was a sense of dissatisfaction hanging between them, something not quite settled. As Leo turned to go to her office the captain stopped her.
"Leo?" Something in the way he said her name erased all formality. She returned to stand in front of him and looked him straight in the eye, her gaze full of the elemental things unspoken by her as well.
"I would have had things end differently. I wanted you to know that."
"I never imagined otherwise, sir." This, he could believe.
For a moment Leo thought Picard might actually hug her, and wasn't sure what she'd do if that happened. Instead he extended his hand without comment. She took it and for a moment both squeezed firmly; it was as if a subtle current of reconciliation flowed between them. They disengaged simultaneously.
"Yes sir. You know where I am if you need me."