Disclaimer: I don't own any of the rights to anything Star Trek. They are the property of CBS/Paramount. The storyline and the new characters in it are the only things I claim as mine. I'm not making any money off of this. I'm only playing with the characters and their world for fun. Thanks.

A/N: I bet you guys thought that I had just left this story hanging; not so. I had totally intended to post this sooner, but sometimes life just gets in the way. This chapter is a little longer than most because I really didn't want to have two more chapters, but I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. I hope I did a relatively good job. Thanks to all my readers and reviewers. You guys are the best.

Please, since this is the last chapter, let me know what your overall impressions were about this story and how I ended it.

Happy New Year to everyone!!!!!

Thanks to LadyRainbow for all her time and effort put into beta reading this story for me. She thankfully reminded me that I had unfinished business with Hoshi and Malcolm, so thank her for the addition I put in this chapter. She is a rock star!!!!!

Chapter 14

Balancing Act

Captain Jonathan Archer sat in his ready room and tried to sort out three different, but equally complex problems: what to do with the Arterminian queen and negotiate for ten more of his crew that were still being held in captivity down on the planet, what kind of deal or favors he was going to have to make or offer to the Orions, and what to do about him and Mai. The last problem was probably the least important one right now, but it weighed the most heavily upon Archer; the one he found himself dwelling on the most, even though he knew it shouldn't be.

He loved her, and now he realized that she loved him too. He had arsinely let his feelings for her seriously compromise and cloud his judgment, even if it was for only a few brief moments. Archer had thought that that kind of thing would never happen to him, that he had too much experience and good self-control. He obviously wasn't as immune or in control of himself as he had so foolishly assumed. It was very humbling to learn he was as human as the next man. For all his high ideals, he was still fallible when it came to matters of the heart. The Captain shook his head at himself for what had to be about the tenth him in so many minutes.

Archer needed to concentrate on how to get the rest of his men back aboard his ship effectively and safely. That was what really matter right now, instead through, he kept coming back to how he was going to deal with Mai.

Mairead was sleeping peacefully in sickbay, under Dr. Phlox's watchful and kind care. The doctor had given her some compounds to help reoxygenate her blood and balance her electrolytes. She had some minor bruises and abrasions that Phlox attended to, but all she really needed was some good, old-fashioned rest to recuperate. That had been a great relief to Archer; one less thing to worry about. Andrus had offered to keep an eye on Mai as well. He had also volunteered to be present for when Archer had to negotiate with the Arterminians.

The chiming of the door startled him out of his muddled thoughts. He absently call out, "Come," not even bothering to ask who it was. He had the lights of his ready room turned down low so he could brood in the dim light. He barely registered the door hissing open and closed.

"My, my, my, Captain," Navaar's distinctive purr echoed all around him in the cramped space of his small ready room. "A man like you shouldn't be sitting all alone in the dark."

Navaar sashayed over to where he was sitting at his desk. He had been staring out his viewport window as the starship orbited the Arterminian homeworld. At Navaar's soft and seductive voice, he had turned to face the door and her. Her deep green skin seemed to glow in the low light, and her intensely blue eyes sparkled like sapphires. As scantly clad as ever, she was a magnificent sight, and Archer felt the old stirring of desire he had long tried to forget about.

"What do you want, Navaar?" Archer asked tiredly. "I thought we'd agreed to discuss the situation after all my crew was safe from harm."

Navaar pouted at him, looking even sexier than a moment before. "We had, Captain, but something told me we should take care of our business first."

Archer knew exactly what the Orion woman was doing; she figured she'd have more power over him to get whatever it was she wanted out of him while he was stilled concerned and worried over his people. He wondered how she had slipped past Malcolm on the bridge to end up in his ready room. Then he remembered just how sly and persuasive Orion females could be; it didn't take much really, and Malcolm was not immune to their pheromones unfortunately. Trip was the only man who could claim that honor.

"All right," Archer agreed with a heavy sigh. He just wanted to get his over with, although he had wanted to do this with T'Pol around so Navaar couldn't take even more advantage of him. "What do you want from me?" he asked wearily as he rubbed his face.

"Don't sound so forlorn about this whole situation," Navaar replied in a hurt tone, pouting further. "This doesn't have to be unpleasant," she added, coming around the desk to stand right in front of him.

"I know," Archer told her as kindly as he could. "We—I do owe you a lot of gratitude for all of your help, but—," he was cut off before he could finish.

Navaar literally draped herself in his lap; one arm going around his shoulders, and the other arm resting a green hand on his chest. He tried to breathe normally and fight off how nice it felt. "Shhh, Captain," she told him quietly. "I want to make this as easy and painless for you as possible. I genuinely like you, and I meant what I said about you being one of the very few honest men that I have met."

Archer gulped as she ran a green finger along his jaw line. "Thank you," he rasped.

"You are very welcome," she cooed, leaning into kiss his lips.

Finding some hidden strength of will, thanks to thinking about Mai, he swiftly stood, picking Navaar up and placing her back on the floor. Then he deftly slid past her to the other side of his desk. He knew he'd stand no chance against her pheromone-laden kiss. Navaar shook her head in disappointment, but for the time being she stayed where he had placed her.

She smiled coyly at him, however, and said, "I'm impressed, Captain. Your self-control has improved."

Not really,Archer thought to himself, but I have Mai to think about now. Out loud he said, "What do you want in return for your help in rescuing my people?" He decided to stay blunt and to the point: it seemed to help him to remain on topic.

"I want many things from you, Jonathan," Navaar softened her voice even more as she called Archer by his first name. The Captain felt his knees want to buckle, but he forced himself to stay rooted to the spot on his side of the desk. Navaar went on, "But…I will settle for a really important main one."

"Which is?" Archer asked impatiently; he couldn't take much more of this.

"Patience, Captain, I'll make my demands soon enough," Navaar chided him. "I want a kiss first. It has been far too long."

Archer felt the color drain out of his face. That kind of physical contact with an Orion female was just what he was attempting to not have; it was not a good idea. He would be overcome and lose all of his rational thinking; be complete putty in her hands. He shivered as he remembered how it had happened before.

"You know that's not fair, Navaar," he told her as one would a small child.

She smiled smugly at him again. "You can't blame a girl for trying," she said innocently. "We'll deal and you can seal it with a kiss." She was not about to give up on that point it seemed.

Archer closed his eyes, struggling not to give in to the euphoric feeling being around Navaar created in him. "Fine," he found himself agreeing in a whisper.

"See that wasn't so hard now was it, Captain?" Navaar queried, moving to stand right in front of Archer again. "What I want in return for our grand rescue is very simple. I want you to be our—the Orion Syndicate's—advocate with your Starfleet and the new Coalition you humans are putting together. We want to be part of it, but since you think of us as little more than pirates and slavers, well, you can see our dilemma."

Archer felt his jaw drop in complete and total shock at Navaar's request. It was absolutely the opposite of what he thought she was going to ask for. He was stunned speechless, not knowing how to respond to her.

"That is not a becoming look on you," Navaar seductively teased him and used her soft hand to close his mouth by pushing his chin back up.

She smelled so fresh and so sweet. Archer's head was starting to buzz, an effect of her touch and close proximity. The Orion woman took advantage of Archer's silence and hesitation by tracing his lips with one long and gentle finger. The Captain had to draw a shaky breath.

"Stop it, Navaar, please," he begged when he found his voice. "You don't need to seduce me to get me to agree with your request."

Navaar leaned closer, stepping up to kiss Archer on the cheek. Then she drew away, giving him a little space. "I'm sorry, my dear Captain," she said alluringly. "I can't help myself. You are a very prized trophy that I want so very badly. You are hard to resist. I like playing with you."

Archer closed his eyes again, making himself take big, deep breaths. He centered his thoughts back on his beloved Mai once more; her bright smile, her kind heart, her cheerful attitude, her quirky sense of humor, and her soft body. That seemed to help him find some focus again. Maybe his deep feelings for her could be an asset after all and not just a hardy complication.

"But," Navaar was continuing, "I realize that if you are going to plead our case before your superiors and leaders in the Coalition, you need to be able to have some faith and trust in us."

Opening his eyes, Archer found that Navaar had seated herself on his ready room couch, a fair distance away. She still sat perched provocatively on it, letting him get a good look at all of her fine assets, but it wasn't as bad as having her in his face.

"Okay," Archer then said, sitting uneasily on the edge of his desk, folding his arms across his chest, ready to hear Navaar out. He was extremely curious about what this was really all about. "Why does an organization like the Orion Syndicate care about the little coalition that Earth is working to put together?"

Navaar's face lit up as she smiled again at him. "I thought you would never ask, Jonathan. We are a people based on commerce and profit, as you well know. We have had our free reign of this region of space for a long time. We want to keep it that way. Going to war is a very costly enterprise." She smirked at her pun. "We would rather avoid it with Earth and her new allies. Our leadership feels that working out a contract with you would be a more profitable and beneficial solution to the problem your people's new, unexpected, and rather powerful presence out here. Your resourcefulness and influence have been very surprising to say the least."

Archer tried not to let his mouth drop open again. The Orions considered Earth and its new Coalition formidable enough to want to have some kind of accords with them. This blew his mind. Maybe we are doing some good out here, he thought to himself again. But then again when Harrad-Sar first approached us he had said similar things. Can I trust this offer? another little voice in his head said.

"I like what I'm hearing from you, Navaar," he told her seriously, "but I will have a very hard time convincing humans, Vulcans, and others to deal with a people who traffic in slaves, especially ones who are abducted against their wills."

"We would agree to leave any species in the Coalition alone, in that regard, if you agree to not interfere with how we do business otherwise. I have been instructed to tell you that should you ever be in need of our aid, you shall receive it. We would like your money, not your lives. Trade with you would open up whole new markets for us."

So it all comes down to lucre, money, Archer thought bitterly. Well, it is a place to start. Then another thought occurred to him, which he voiced out loud. "So this whole rescue you mission you helped us with was to curry favor with us? You wanted to show us your softer side?"

"You are not only handsome, Captain, but intelligent as well," Navaar purred. "You catch on quickly. We did indeed want you to see that we are willing to work with you; that we are not all that bad. We can be friends."

"Like I said before, it will not be easy to fulfill your request, but it is a very reasonable one. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to get talks going. I think it would be a mutually beneficial thing to have happen," the Captain said, relieved that the demand or favor was so straightforward and uncomplicated.

"Excellent," Navaar said as she sprung up from the couch and closed the distance between them again. "I knew you would do the right thing."

"You know," Archer told her sincerely, "all you would've had to do was ask me to entreat my superiors and the Coalition Council. You didn't have to go through all this whole dog and pony show to get my help."

Navaar's beautiful face was marred by confusion at Archer's human colloquialism, but then she laughed heartily at his comment once she understood it. Her laughter sent waves of pleasure tingling throughout the Captain's body, and he had to grip the desk to suppress them. "We wanted to prove our sincerity to you. We wanted to impress upon you just how serious we were to gain you as allies and not have you as our enemies, Captain. Our last encounter did not leave a very favorable impression, I know. I was simply determined to change your mind," she explained as she pressed herself into him as she spoke.

Archer tried to back up, but his backside met the desk; he was trapped. Navaar slowly and tantalizingly slipped her arms up and around his neck. She captured his lips with hers. The Captain resisted her for a moment, attempting to extract himself from her and push her away. It was a losing battle for him, however, the instant Navaar deepened the kiss, tasting all of his mouth. Archer's hesitation quickly became a thing of the past and he kissed her back greedily.

His arms moved to encircle her waist, pulling her even closer to him. Her green flesh was warm, soft, and oh-so-inviting. The Captain was vaguely aware of Navaar backing them up toward the couch. He knew things were escalating out of control, but he was starting not to care, enslaved by Navaar's pheromones.

Navaar tasted like some sweet nectar that he couldn't quite get enough of. Her mouth and lips felt electric. I can't do this, the more rational part of his mind cried. I can't fall into this trap again. Archer turned his thoughts to Mai to try and break Navaar's spell. Real love, he hoped, would work in his favor over chemical manipulation. The MACO major's sunny face took shape in his mind. Thinking about her brought remembered delight at their compatibility and mutual love of exploring and discovering the new. This delight began to flood his synapses.

The Captain reached down deep into his core, his soul, and fought Navaar's influence. Just as she reached down to unzip his jumpsuit uniform that he was extremely happy to be wearing again, he grabbed her wrist forcefully, stopping her. "This isn't going to happen. Not this time, Navaar," he found himself growling at her, breaking their lip lock.

"Now, now, Captain," she scolded. "I'm afraid it is." Snagging his lips with hers again, she grew even more aggressive as she pulled him down onto the ready room couch.

For more control of the situation, Navaar flipped them so she could straddle him as he lay on the couch. All the various movements they made together sent his hormones into overdrive; his thoughts of Mai quickly dissipating. She increased her pressure on his mouth, gently letting her body rub along his.

"I've missed you, Jonathan," she whispered in his ear, kissing along it and then his jaw line. "You are one of the only ones who got away, but not anymore."

Archer had to use every bit of Starfleet training to make himself sit up and push Navaar away again. It took herculean effort, but his new found relationship with Mai, a woman who was priced far above rubies, meant more to him than anything. He was not going to lose what had taken him over a decade to find, just because some alien woman was trying to wrangle him into a compromising position.

"I have someone important in my life now, Navaar," he suddenly blurted out, trying to voice his thoughts.

That statement got the Orion woman's attention. She let Archer stand and walk away from her. "That is a new and unforeseen development," she said with strange edge in her voice. The Captain turned to see her jaw was set in a hard, clenched line, and her eyes had a cold fire burning in them. "It is only a minor complication, however. I can make it so you'll forget she ever existed."

"Somehow, I serious doubt that," Archer found himself snapping at her, annoyed she would dismiss his feelings for Mai so callously.

"You have only seen a small part of how much control I can exercise over a male, Captain," Navaar said threateningly. "You owe me. I told you the price for our help would dramatically increase; you are the prize that I want."

Here was the real intent Navaar had had all along; he was her true price. Archer realized he was her "white whale", like from the novel Moby Dick come to life. He was the one man she hadn't been able to dominate and make hers. She wanted to rectify that situation, protect her reputation, and come out the victor just like she had every other time. Navaar didn't like to lose and was determined to win this rematch.

Instantly, Archer knew he was in deep trouble. He tried one last diplomatic approach, before he called security. "You said the price for your help would go up if you aided us in getting back the rest of my men still trapped down on the planet. You also made that statement after you agreed to help me negotiate Hippolyta and Lydia's fates with the Arterminians. You have done neither of those things. So technically, I don't owe you any payment for that."

Navaar stood abruptly, clearly angry; it made her even sexier than a few minutes ago. Archer could see she knew his point was correct. Apparently she didn't care, however, for in the next second a warm and heady feeling overcame him. He felt like he was majorly drunk and his mind seemed to grow very foggy. His last reasonable thought was, She must have amplified her pheromone output somehow. The next minute all he could think about, all he wanted was Navaar; she was his only desire.

This time he was the aggressor, grabbing her roughly and pulling her sexy, feminine body back against his. His mouth found hers hungrily, feasting on her. Navaar gave him no resistance, only encouragement, liking this more savage side of Archer. They didn't make it to the couch; they found the floor instead, full of passion and lust.

At that moment, Archer's ready room door hissed open as T'Pol, Trip, and Andrus came pouring through it. Trip and T'Pol were armed with phase pistols, but not Andrus. Neither Navaar or Archer registered their entrance.

"It looks like you're right, Tam," Trip proclaimed. "Our Cap'n is in trouble. I'm sure glad you picked up on his unusual flux of emotions."

Navaar, upon hearing Trip's voice, pulled back from the Captain again, sitting up with her back against the bottom of the couch. "Don't you know how rude it is to interrupt an Orion at work," she hissed, eyes narrowed at Trip. "Oh, it's you," she spat in addition when she recognized Trip.

"Yeah, darlin', it's me," Trip drawled sarcastically. "Yer favorite man."

T'Pol raised one of her eyebrows at Trip's flippant comment, but she really expected no less from him. Andrus silently shook his head in slight amusement. The Captain, on the floor, was not amused in the least. He was down-right angry at being disturbed, the Orion pheromones still coursing through him.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing, Commander?" he demanded with a snarl directed at Trip as he sat up.

"Rescuin' your ass. Whatda think were doin', Cap'n?" Trip returned.

"What!?" Archer asked in a rage, confused. "Get the hell out of here!"

"Sorry, sir, but I can't follow your orders for your own sake," Trip said firmly.

"You are not in control of your own faculties, Captain, " T'Pol broke into the conversation with a calm voice. "Your mind is not your own. You are under an alien influence."

Navaar slid closer to Archer to whisper in his ear. "Don't listen to them, Jonathan. They only want to take your ship and command away from you."

"Is this mutiny, Commander?" he accused T'Pol. "You and the Vulcan High Command want my ship is that it? You want to see us fail."

Andrus interrupted before T'Pol could answer. "His current condition is causing him to dredge up old grievances and past fears. They are a distortion of what he is really feeling."

"Andrus Tam," Navaar's soft and silky voice drifted toward him. "I have been looking forward to meeting you formally. D'Nesh can't stop talking about you," she said charmingly.

The feeling of her pheromones suddenly hit the Betazoid full blast. Despite his best efforts, he caught every lustful thought that Navaar threw at him, especially the ones of what D'Nesh thought about him. A silly smile broke out across his face. "Really?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," Navaar said, making her voice purr again. "She thought you to be a fine male specimen; handsome, strong, and well-built. I have to agree with her assessment. You are singularly attractive. I can see why the Arterminians kept you."

Andrus was warm all over, enjoying the green woman's flattery. His body felt like liquid, and he wanted nothing more than to melt into Navaar. She was truly a breathtaking beauty. He was compelled to walk over closer to her.

Archer didn't like all the attention Navaar was giving the other man. "Take one more step this way, Tam, and I'll break you in half," he grimly informed Andrus as he stood. The Captain's hazel-green eyes flashed his seething anger and jealousy. His hands also balled into tight fists at his side.

Trip and T'Pol shared a worried look. They could see where this was headed, and they knew Navaar was manipulating the situation to try and gain the upper hand. Making Archer jealous enough to strike out would solidify her hold on him; tie him to her that much more strongly.

"Cap'n," Trip said cheerfully. "Let's just go see Dr. Phlox. He would be the best judge of your mental state. Then we can go on from there."

"There's nothing wrong with my mental state, Commander," Archer barked at him. "I never thought I'd see you side with the Vulcans, Trip. Some friend you've turn out to be." The last part was spat out at Trip.

T'Pol both felt, through her bond with Trip, and watched him work on not letting the Captain's words hurt him. She could see it in his eyes, as well as feel his emotional turmoil. She herself had to fight the sting of his words. While the accusations Archer was hurling at them were not valid and were things that she and the Captain had moved passed, they still bothered her more than she would like to admit. Trip's influence on her emotional control was sometimes a blessing and sometimes it was a curse.

"You know me better than that, Jon," Trip replied through tight lips.

"Do I?" Archer snapped.

"Yes, you do," Trip said without hesitation. "You know I'm only tryin' to help you."

Andrus had used the momentary argument to stand right next to Navaar. He leaned over and breathed in her intoxicating aroma. It was too much for Archer to take. "Back off, Tam," he snarled.

"Make me," the Betazoid growled tauntingly back.

"Gladly," the Captain told him and pushed the other man back roughly.

Before Andrus could strike back, Trip stunned him with his phase pistol. He grunted and collapsed on the ground before Navaar.

"Thanks, Trip," Archer said, looking at the commander in pleasant surprise.

"Oh, don't thank me, sir," Trip said hoarsely.

"Why not? You just proved me wrong. You are still loyal to me," the Captain said with pride.

"And I always will be," Trip told him with a sad smile, "but you'll have to forgive me."

That statement confused Archer. "For what?" he asked.

"This," Trip said and fired the phase pistol at his superior officer and friend.

The Captain arched as the stun beam hit him, and then he crumpled to the ground like a sack of potatoes next to the unconscious Betazoid at Navaar's feet. T'Pol winced slightly at Trip's forceful actions, but she saw them as logical, necessary evils to solve the problem.

"I suggest you tone things down, return to your quarters, or I'll throw your pretty little ass in the brig. We owe you, but don't press your luck lady," Trip spoke boldly to Navaar.

"I could order my battle cruisers to fire on your ship," Navaar threatened, clearly unhappy.

Trip decided to call her bluff. "And risk your precious hide in the process? I don't think so."

"Oh, I don't have to destroy Enterprise, just cripple it," Navaar told him menacingly.

T'Pol spoke up again. "I do not think you would logically want to jeopardize the improved relations between the Earth and the Orion Syndicate this whole situation has generated," she said stoically. Vulcans did not make guesses or assumptions, but all the facts T'Pol had put together could only lead to this one hypothesis.

Navaar glared at the Vulcan woman. It was only because of her that Navaar's mission had failed the first time. Archer and the Enterprise would be hers if it wasn't for T'Pol. Not surprising to Navaar, the Vulcan female was intelligent and had done all the math to figure out what part of the Orions' plans were.

"If you refrain from letting greed outstrip your business astuteness," T'Pol said meaningfully, "you will achieve your objectives here. Commander Tucker is correct in saying that we are logically in your debt. We will not, however, let you overstep your bounds or take unfair advantage of us. This will be a business contract."

"In other words, quit while you're ahead, and you'll come out smellin' like a rose," Trip interrupted colorfully.

Navaar couldn't help the small smile that curved her lips. "Well put, Commander Tucker. All right," she sighed heavily, full of regret. "I will do as you request, but Captain Archer and I still have unfinished business that will need to be addressed."

"That'll be up to him," Trip hedged, not fully wanting to commit the Captain to anything. "Once his head is clear, that is," he stressed in addition.

"Agreed," Navaar gave in and let Trip escort her back to her guest quarters while T'Pol called security to take Archer and Tam to sickbay.

Archer woke up on a biobed trying to remember how he had gotten there. To his unexpected delight, he found Mai in the biobed next to him. She was awake and staring at him with a smirk on her pretty face. What happened to me? he wondered.

"'Ello there, Cap'n," she said with amusement thick in her voice.

"Hi," he lamely replied. "Why do I feel like I'm missing something here?" he then asked.

"Oh, it's jist the fact that Trip had ta shoot ya and relieve ya of command for a while. T'Pol's in charge right now," Mairead informed him, her smirk turning into a bright smile that lit up her whole face.

"Huh?" Archer asked dumbly, still not getting it.

Now Mairead laughed right out loud at him. It was a delightful sound to Archer and made him feel warm and content. "You really don't remember what happened ta ya?" she questioned.

"Think green and female," Andrus Tam said from another biobed on the other side of Mairead.

It was then that all of the memories came flooding back to the Captain, threatening to drown him. He shivered as he realized what Navaar had done to him, again. His face grew hot, and he knew he was blushing a furious red.

"Blimey," Mairead said humorously. "It must be comin' back ta him now."

"That is a good guess," Andrus commented in return.

Archer looked at Mai in horror, it dawning on him that she somehow knew all about the incident in his ready room with Navaar. He then glanced at Andrus. The Betazoid seemed to sense the Captain's shift in mood.

"Yes, I told Mai about what happened with Navaar," Andrus started to say, and he hurried on at Archer's darkening look, "but don't worry, I also told her all about how I was affected too; how I challenged you."

"Don't worry, Jonny," Mairead said lightly, gently reaching out to pat Archer's arm. "I don't think any less of ya, lad. I jist can't help but find it hilarious."

The Captain blushed an even deeper red at Mai's words. "What do you find so funny?" he managed to ask her, his voice hoarse.

"That fer some reason women are gettin' the better of you today," Mairead told him with another bright smile. "It's jist not somethin' I thought I'd ever see."

For some strange reason, relief washed through Archer. Mai was not mad at him for being tempted by another woman; she was amused by his predicament instead. She wasn't holding it against him; she was happy to see he had his weakness like everybody else. He decided to chalk it up to the fact that she had always looked up to him, thought he was perfect and could do no wrong. He had started their friendship out as her mentor and part of her had idolized him. Now she could see just how much a regular guy he really was.

Andrus, still unable to not block out the humans' surface thoughts, picked up on the fact that Mai and Archer need to talk privately. Dr. Phlox, however, was hovering near by, preventing any intimate discussion. The Betazoid made the decision to intervene and help the two humans out a little bit.

"Dr. Phlox," he called in a friendly manner. "Isn't it about time for you to feed your unique collection of creatures?" he then asked innocently.

Phlox stepped out from behind a curtain with a large smile on his face. "Why, yes it is," he said jovially.

"I think it would do me a world of good to get up and take a leisurely walk and accompany you. I would love to get a look at them," Andrus continued on, subtly winking at Mai and Archer.

"That sounds like a wonderful idea, Mr. Tam," was Phlox's happy reply, oblivious to Andrus' true intentions. "I just need to check on the Captain first." He then walked over closer to Archer's biobed, glancing up at the Captain's readings. "How are you feeling, Captain? More yourself I hope?"

Archer felt himself blush again despite himself. "Yeah, Phlox, I'm fine, except for being a little dizzy and slightly lightheaded."

"And that is perfectly normal for when someone is coming down off such a pheromone high," Phlox informed him. "Navaar hit you with a very large dose. She must have really felt she needed your total compliance with her wishes, Captain."

"She wouldn't take no for an answer no matter how many times I said it," Archer now remembered. "She didn't like being rebuffed, so she spiked my punch so to speak," he added with a small smile.

"I'll say," Andrus responded. "The minute I walked into the room, I was totally overcome. It was almost like I had hit a physical wall. You must have made Navaar really have to throw it at you."

"That's the Captain Archer I know," Mairead said without her usual Irish accent. Her eyes held a deep respect for her friend and colleague.

Andrus carefully got off his biobed and wobbled over to Phlox. "Let's take a look at those fine specimens of yours. Then you can update your Captain on the current situation."

Phlox seemed to agree with the Betazoid. "Yes, letting the Captain rest for a short while longer would be a wise thing to do," he said, grabbing on to Andrus to steady him and lead him away from the other patients.

Once the two were out of earshot, it was Mairead who jumped at the chance that Andrus had given her and the Captain. "I'm sorry about what happened down there. I made a stupid, rookie mistake and almost cost us everythin'," she gushed.

"It's me who should be sorry, Mai," Archer said looking at his hands suddenly as if they were something more interesting than they were. "I let my feelings for you cloud my judgment, and I almost did something I would have deeply regretted. I now really understand the no frat rule."

A quick glance at Mairead made Archer want to take back his words instantly. Her whole demeanor had changed; her head was hanging, her eyes glistened, and her bright smile was replaced with a panic-stricken look. "This is all me fault. I should never have taken the assignment aboard Enterprise. It tis foolish ta think that we can work together like this. I'll write up a request fer transfer as soon as Dr. Phlox releases me from sickbay. I don't want ta cause ya anymore problems, Jonny," she said frantically.

"Slow down, Mai," Archer tried to say calmly. "That's not what I meant. I don't want you to be reassigned. We just need to find a balance between our professional relationship and our personal one."

"How do we do that?" Mairead demanded, her tone showing some anger. "I know what it's like ta lose someone on the job. I lost me husband that way. I can't go through that again. Instead of worrying about the safety of the crew as a whole, I know I would find meself worrying more about you, lad. Me judgment would be too compromised, and so would yours; I know you."

Archer knew she had a point, but something told him they could handle this, if they worked it through. "How long have we been friends, Mai?" he suddenly asked her.

"What has that got ta to with it?" Mairead asked in annoyance.

"Just answer the question, Mairead," he said with more authority. "How long?"

"Over ten years," she sighed.

"And in all the time, we had feelings for each other that went beyond just friendship, right?" he continued to quiz her.

"Yeah, I guess," Mairead reluctantly admitted with her arms crossed in front of her.

"Did they ever interfere with our duties? Weren't we able to contain them, hide them away from everyone else, including each other?" he queried.

Mairead grew thoughtful as she considered his words. "No, they didn't interfere with us doing our jobs. And yes, we got good at suppressing them."

"I've had to learn how to balance close friendships with my role as Captain," Archer then explained to her. "Some of that learning cleaned my clock. Trip and I have been friends almost as long as we have. I'd even consider him family, a brother. I had to learn the hard way just how far I was willing to go for a friend. I did some incredibly selfish things in the Expanse during the Xindi conflict concerning Trip. What I discovered about myself scared the shit out of me. The road I started to go down led me to a dark place I didn't want be. It turned me into a person I didn't want to be. I'm not going to make those same mistakes again; I'm going to learn from them. My experiences have given me a new perspective to work from, even though I messed up back there with Hippolyta; it will not happen again."

"But now, we both know how each other really feels," Mairead dredged up. "I love ya, Jonny. I really do."

"I love you too, Mai, and I love that I can freely say that to you now," Archer said to her, reaching out and taking one of her hands in his. "I don't want you to have to ask for reassignment. I don't want this assignment to be a blemish on your spotless record. We've talked about this before, sweetheart."

He looked her right in the eye, squeezing her hand. "Like a said earlier, we've denied ourselves deep feelings for each other for a long time, but it was out of fear and uncertainty. We can surely deny ourselves a little longer with the comfort of knowing that we now have hope and confidence in how we each feel about the other. I'll say it again; finish your tour here aboard Enterprise. Then we can decided what to do from there. We will be professional, but we can find solace in the fact that we are more than friends. Besides, it was thinking about you and how much you mean to me that allowed me to fight off Navaar's influence for as long as I did. You saved me until the cavalry arrived, Mai. "

That got a relieved and pleased smile out of her. "I am kinda gittin' tried of this military lifestyle anyway," Mairead confessed. "Maybe after this last tour I could retire. I've always wanted ta teach. Trainin' the next generation might be appealin'."

Archer felt his heart break at what she said. "I don't want you to give up your career because of me. I don't want you to lose out on exploring space and protecting people," he hurriedly said.

"Oh, Jonny, lad," Mairead sighed, bringing his hand to her lips and kissing it lightly. "I only picked me career thinkin' it would somehow bring me closer ta you. That was obviously the wrong call. I won't let it keep us apart now. Besides, if I do decide ta stay here on Enterprise, I would get ta do all the explorin' I'd ever dreamed of. That would be more than enough, if I knew that I got ta have you, too, in the end."

"Then, let's agree to work on our balancing act," he entreated her. "If we, or those around us, see a real slip in how we perform our duties, then we can revaluate things then. We can make this work, Mai. We just have to be logical about it."

Mairead laughed heartily at his statement. "Your Vulcan first officer is really rubbing off on you isn't she?" Mairead said her real bright smile back on her face.

"I guess she is," Archer laughed along with her.

"Okay, Captain Archer, we'll give this the old college try," Mairead told him, squeezing his hand back, "and see if we can handle it."

Hoshi sat at her communications station on the bridge, contently going about her normal routine. She and Malcolm had just finished up their important "talk" over breakfast that morning.

"How are you feeling?" Hoshi had asked him. "Fully recovered from your ordeal?"

"I'm feeling much better. Thank you for asking," he had said carefully.

"So…," Hoshi had tried to cautiously broach the main topic of their breakfast meeting. "About what happened on down on the planet…between us…"

"Yes, that was...an unexpected… revelation," Malcolm had told her, "but not an unpleasant one," he added hastily.

Hoshi had felt herself blush. "You've always treated me so kindly and I've always enjoyed your company, but I think there's something more to it than that," she had finally confessed.

"I feel exactly the same way, Hoshi," Malcolm had concurred. "The thing is—," but Hoshi had cut him off.

"You're my superior officer and that could make things complicated," Hoshi had supplied for him.

Malcolm had had an answer for that. "You're due to be promoted soon anyway."

"So are you," Hoshi had pointed out.

"Let's just let nature take its course," Malcolm had compromised. "Spend a little more time together, off duty, nothing formal, mind you, but some activities that could let us get to know each other not in our assigned starship roles."

"I might be game," Hoshi had hedged, looking at the sincere expression on her friend's face.

"You're a beautiful and talented woman, Hoshi Sato, and I would be a total git if I passed the opportunity by to see what lies ahead with someone like you," Malcolm had blurted out. "I don't want to end up like my counter part on the second Enterprise from the Expanse. I don't want to live my life alone. I'm not good at communicating how I feel, but I'm willing to learn from you. I'm willing to take a personal risk here for you, because something deep inside tells that you are worth it."

Hoshi had known her eyes were glistening as she had listened to him fumble through his speech. "How long did you practice that in front of the mirror?" she had then joked to ease both of their tension.

"All night," he had laughed guilty.

"Well, it was worth it, because I got the message loud and clear," Hoshi had replied, watching the relief pass over Malcolm's face. "I'm willing to explore our possibility too," she had ended the conversation with a smile.

Now, on the bridge, Hoshi looked up to find Malcolm smiling at her. She smiled back and winked at him. This is one adventure that I'm sure will be interesting, she thought to herself. Interesting and beautiful.

When Phlox had determined that the Captain was fit for duty again, Archer headed straight for the bridge. He was worried about the rest of his men still trapped on the planet and what to do with the queen and Lydia. T'Pol had informed him that all was well and that the situation had been resolved. Archer couldn't quite believe it, so he rushed up to the bridge to find out what had happened. Mairead talked Pholx into letting her go as well. She wasn't about to let the Captain deal with the circumstances all by himself. Andrus quietly accompanied them up to the bridge too.

"T'Pol, report," was the Captain's brisk command as he swept out of the turbolift.

"It is agreeable to see you more in character, Captain," T'Pol greeted him with. "As it is you, Major Donnelly."

"What's going on, T'Pol?" Archer asked impatiently.

T'Pol merely raised a pointed brow at his tone. "The Arterminians have allowed our crewmen to return to the ship. They are now holding Hippolyta and Lydia in preparation to try them for crimes against their people," she quietly informed him.

"How did that happen?" Archer found himself wanting to know.

"You can thank our green friends," Trip spoke up from his seat near Malcolm's tactical station. "They conducted a lot of the negotiations, using their Orion Syndicate muscle and financial influence. They threatened war and an embargo of the entire system."

"You've got to be kidding me," Archer said dumbfounded.

"We also lucked out that most of the younger Arterminian generation decided to rebel and throw off their archaic past," Trip mentioned.

Mairead grasped as realization came to her. "Dione got the word out. She said there were many who didn'ta share their traditional beliefs, that there were those that wanted equality among their men and women. She mustta cultivated a lot of support," she guessed.

"They have called a special assembly to discuss the adoption of new laws and ordinances and ways to dismantle their current government and replace it with a new one," T'Pol continued on as if she had never been interrupted. "The use of control chips is to be the first item to be repealed and then they will be removed from their men. They are also debating on how to free the alien men that had been enslaved. Some want to let them return to their homeworlds, while others would like them to remain and help them rebuild their culture."

"Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle," Archer proclaimed, earning a chuckled from Trip and those humans with in earshot on the bridge.

"I do not see how humans at your evolutionary level could still be related to other primates on your world," T'Pol said, not getting the joke.

Trip and Mairead laughed even harder at how deep T'Pol's lack of understanding really was. Trip attempted to explain, but couldn't. "Oh, I'll tell you about it later," he roared instead.

"So we changed their way of thinking not through force or any kind of battle, but jist through our example?" Mairead wondered out loud. "Wow."

"I'll say," Archer agreed with a smile. That smile faded quickly, however, as another thought occurred to him. "What do we owe our Orion comrades for this turn of events?" he asked with dread.

"Navaar only said it was her gift to you, Captain," T'Pol told him. "That she fulfilled her end of the contract and that you would now be obligated to fulfill your end."

Archer tried not to let the gulp he felt coming on show. He could easily plead the Orion Syndicate's case before his superiors and before the Coalition Council. It was the other part of the bargain he was worried about. Navaar had seen him as her prize; he was her deal sealer. What did that mean? What would he have to do for her now?

"Did she say anything more?" he asked T'Pol, feigning ignorance.

"Just that she would call upon you at a future date and expect the debt to be repaid," was all T'Pol said.

"I think you got off lightly, Captain Archer," Andrus finally piped up. "She could have demanded much worse."

Archer considered the Betazoids words carefully. "True. Owing her a favor might not be that bad a situation, but I don't like to be in anyone's debt that way."

"Just consider yourself fortunate, Captain, and do not turn it into something it is not," Andrus advised him. "Navaar genuinely likes and respects you. She and her sisters may turn out to be some of your most handy allies."

"I'll try to keep that in mind, Mr. Tam," Archer said, then quickly changed subjects. "Can we drop you off home?"

"That would be most kind of you, Captain Archer," Andrus said with a smile. "I think your example throughout this ordeal will go along way with my people. They may be very interested in this new Coalition of Planets you are trying to build."

"Well then, let's go ring their doorbell, shall we?" Archer said, anxious to leave this planet and experience behind him.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he sat down in his captain's chair. He watched Mairead walk over and join Malcolm at his tactical station to confer with him. He also noticed Trip get up and stand behind him.

"So, what's going on with you and Mai?" Trip asked candidly.

Archer decided to be honest with his good friend. "We discovered each other in a whole new light down on that planet, Trip. Now we're gonna to have figure out how to deal with it, but we will deal with it and make it work."

Trip looked sideways at his captain. "Well, good luck with that, Cap'n," he said glibly, "because T'Pol and I are still tryin' to figure that out."

"Does it get any easier?" Archer found himself asking.

"Hell no," Trip remarked with a gleam in his eye, "but it's one hellva ride."


What's the verdict? Good, bad, somewhere in between. Let me know what you think. Also, if enough people are inclined I could possibly write another story with Mai aboard the Enterprise and carry out how well or not so well she and Archer deal with how they feel about each other. If I can see that there is some interest, I'll strongly consider writing one. If not, no sweat either. Thanks again for taking the time to read my humble, little story. Fanfiction readers and reviewers rock!!!!