"Shore Leave: I Can't Help Falling in Love with You"

Historian's Note: This story takes place on board the USS Intrepid approximately two years before Stev's shuttle "accident"

Helm Log: Stardate 2308.11.09

We have docked at Starbase 27. Umbilical power lines and pressurized gangways have been extended and secured. Helm is at standby.


Stev set the appropriate systems at his station to standby and leaned back in his seat, his mind on thoughts other than the bridge of the Intrepid. He stood and walked to center seat.

"Captain?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?" replied the deep vibrato of the commanding officer.

"I am requesting the use of the Essex for my shore leave, sir."

Dar Lenartin arched his eyebrow in a most non-Vulcan manner, the grin on his face giving way to a knowing smile. "What's wrong with the commercial transports, Stev?"

"Nothing, they are adequate for their function. The Essex is in need of a complete systems workout to make sure it is functioning to specified norms. The repairs it needed after our last mission have been made and it needs an experienced pilot to put it through its paces.

"That is a logical reason isn't it Lieutenant. Yes, you and T'Aiya may use the Essex to get to Earth. Just don't run out of gas," he concluded with a grin.

Stev suppressed his comment and nodded. He then made his way to communications. His friend Ensign Cary would have to help him with one last preparation before he packed. Buffy readily agreed to help the Vulcan out. She assured him that the matter would be taken care of discreetly. Stev wondered to himself as he left the bridge, why his crewmates were taking such an active interest in his and T'Aiya's shore leave.

Stev packed what few casual clothes he had and left his quarters. He still needed to drop Phread off at Charles's quarters before he left and for some reason the thought of having T'Aiya see the Essex in the disarrayed state it was currently in was almost enough to provoke an emotional response.


From the communications console on the bridge, Ensign Buffy Cary paged T'Aiya in her quarters. She had just notified Stev of the completed arrangements in Paris and wondered why this Vulcan couple would want to go to Earth. Before she could answer herself, T'Aiya answered at her computer.

"Lieutenant Llire," Buffy began, "prepare to receive a transmission from Starfleet Headquarters. Instructions were to deliver the message directly to you rather than your e-mail."

"Understood Lieutenant." Responded T'Aiya as she put a disk in the computer console to receive the message. "You may begin download."

After signing off from Lieutenant Llire, Buffy wondered briefly what all the protocol was about. The message was not classified and the captain had already been informed of the unusual procedure. He did ask to see the message, but then gave permission for her to deliver it. She even read it herself, as it was her job to screen anything that seemed unusual. All the message said was that T'Aiya had permission to do some research in the Starfleet Communications Archives. Then the console lit up, demanding Buffy's attention and she forgot about the incident, she had more important matters to attend to.

In her quarters, T'Aiya read the message that had been downloaded onto a disk she had prepared for this particular file. With the stroke of a key on her keyboard, the message developed a second layer. With another stroke, a brief, hidden message was revealed.

"Your request to view the communiqué originating from the Romulan Empire for the date you specified is granted. It will be waiting for you at the appointed place, computer address included. Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated."

T'Aiya memorized the computer address of the "appointed place" and deleted the message, as well as the specialized program that revealed the hidden part of the message. As far as she knew, no one would ever be able to decode the hidden part of the message without the program. Even though it would remain in the ships archives, the message itself was programmed so that the hidden message would deteriorate after twenty four hours.

She was finally beginning to look forward to the shore leave she and Stev had planned to take on Earth. T'Aiya had been quite willing to stay shipside, as she had a lot of work to catch up on after being incapacitated from her incident in engineering, but both Doctors Sarak and T'Kara had insisted she take leave.

Sarak had tried to talk T'Aiya into going to Vulcan with him, but she would not hear of it. T'Aiya's family still wanted nothing to do with her and in spite of Sarak's best intentions; T'Aiya saw no reason to stir old memories. When Stev asked her to accompany him to Earth, T'Aiya saw the opportunity to visit the many arboretums and Xenolife centers available there as well as spend some quality time with the man who was becoming more important to her. Given the deepening nature of their relationship, T'Aiya also knew that it was time to tell Stev her secrets.

For the first time, T'Aiya turned her attention to packing the few items she felt she would need.


Stev walked to the shuttlebay where the Essex sat on her berth. While he conducted a pre-flight walk around and manually checked all her systems, he spot-cleaned the pristine shuttle. The Essex checked out optimum on all levels but Stev was still unsatisfied with her appearance. Stev thought to the poetry from Terra's mid-twentieth century of which he was so fond. He now had an idea why poetry about mating rituals of adolescent humans seemed to spend in inordinate amount of time talking about ground conveyances. Stev smiled to himself and whistled the tune to a poem he had recently finished translating, "Little Deuce Coupe". He then pick up a cloth and began polishing the Essex's exterior as he waited for T'Aiya to arrive.

T'Aiya arrived momentarily carrying her duffle. She approached the shuttle opposite the side that Stev was currently polishing. Stev could feel his pulse quicken at her approach. His telepathy was beginning to key in on her presence. They had been dating for a little over a year and he found himself thinking more and more of a 'them' when thinking ahead: 'What will we do for dinner?'; 'Shall we go see the concert in the ship's lounge?'.

"I am over on this side T'Aiya," he said loud enough for her to hear.

"How did you know it was me?" She called back.

Stev stopped polishing the now gleaming exterior and walked around the front of the shuttle to find his shonmano. "If I were human I would undoubtedly say something romantic at this point. Since I am not, I shall simply tell you that I am beginning to telepathically sense your presence."

"But we, as a race, are touch telepaths."

"True but in this instance as in all things Vulcan, I am somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to our race."

T'Aiya smiled, "Stev you are the master of the understatement."

Stev, in the Vulcan equivalent of a kiss, brushed the first two fingers of his right hand against her face and smiled back. He took her bag, palmed the hatch, and in a two-handed gesture indicated she should enter.

After making sure that each of them were strapped in Stev fired up the Essex's engines.

"Essex to Intrepid," Stev said as he toggled the communications channel.

"Go ahead," Buffy's voice came clearly over the comm.

"Requesting permission to depart."

Instead of Buffy's voice Captain Lenartin's answered back. "Permission granted, Lieutenant. Just make sure you fill the tank and have T'Aiya home by midnight."

As laughter from the bridge echoed across the comm line, Stev replied, "Aye sir." Closing the channel he looked at T'Aiya's amused expression.

"I believe our shipmates are having a good laugh at our expense," she said.

"I concur. Though you will notice our Captain did not specify which midnight I need to have you home by."

Un-Vulcanlike laughter filled the tiny craft as it departed the Intrepid's shuttlebay.


The Essex sliced through the quiet emptiness of space with a grace and sense of purpose that belied the conversation taking place inside.

"What do you mean you don't want to go to Graceland?" Stev asked T'Aiya. "I was planning on showing you the home of the legendary 20th century poet Elvis Presley." For some time he had been planning on sharing this momentous portion of the trip with the woman who meant so much to him.

"That was thoughtful of you Stev," T'Aiya replied. "But I do have business that needs attended to with Starfleet Communications Archives; it will only take half a day," she paused. There simply isn't enough time for all that you have planned on this shore leave," she added thinking of Stev's rather lengthy list 'must sees' and shook her head. "Besides, I would rather spend time walking through an arboretum than reliving the poetry of Mr. Presley."

Stev arched his eyebrow, "Unless I am mistaken, you show a clear dislike of Mr. Presley's work."

"Let's just say that after my tour of duty on the Exeter, too much of anything will take its toll on someone. Now what about the rest of the trip?"

"I had planned on landing at the Des Moines spaceport since the arboretum is in Des Moines and Admiral Kirk's birthplace is only a short tram ride away. It should not take me too long to get to Memphis and back. I had then thought about the two of us taking the tram to Riverside to visit the Kirk memorial after the arboretum and then taking the Essex to the special surprise tonight."

T'Aiya arched her left eyebrow at Stev's last comment. An almost imperceptible look of resignation crossed her face before she replied, "That is the most logical course of action, and Des Moines would be fine. I can access the Communications Archives from Starfleet Offices located there, and I would rather visit the arboretum with you."

Stev smiled inwardly as he caught her reaction, "What about Neila?" he inquired. "It has been very quiet." Stev thought that the little shifter would have been more than excited about this trip.

"As you know" T'Aiya explained, "Neila does not actually sleep. Even when I am resting, it keeps a meditative watch over me. I am, after all, its host and its survival does depend on mine and vice versa. However, especially after aiding me through my recent injuries from our last mission, even shifters like Neila need to rest."

T'Aiya gently caressed the golden-spotted, bangle-shaped, shifter that was wrapped so tightly against her wrist, something she would not do in front of many people. However, T'Aiya, after more than a year of being around him, was feeling more and more comfortable around Stev lately. She did find it disconcerting that there was no response from her little companion, even though she knew its injuries were severe.

"For the duration of our shore leave and perhaps a little while after, Neila will be in something of a deep trance, unaware of events or its surroundings. It is my turn to look after Neila's safety during this time. This rest is quite overdue and Neila is very deep into it."

Stev said nothing as he brought the Essex in for a landing. The little craft settled into dock in the Des Moines spaceport smoothly and efficiently. Stev opened the hatch when she had nestled to a stop.

As the pair began walking towards the terminal Stev asked, "How much time do you need to access those files from Starfleet's archives T'Aiya?"

"Three hours should be enough time."

"That is fine; the trip to Memphis will take approximately 20 minutes. The tour of Graceland will take approximately 90 minutes. Shall we meet at the arboretum at 1500 hours?"

"That is acceptable. I will see you then."

Stev caught a transport bound for Memphis as T'Aiya boarded the downtown tram.


20 minutes later Stev was walking through Memphis. He walked with his feet ten feet off of Beale. However without T'Aiya, did he really feel the way he felt? He had purchased an information PADD about Elvis at the Memphis terminal. He opted for voice output so he could absorb the information and reach his destination quickly. The device lit up and began its narration.

"Elvis Aaron Presley is one of the most well known personalities of the twentieth century. His songs have been translated into every major language of Earth, Andorian, both major groups of Vulcan, as well as many other languages of the Federation. Work is now underway to translate his poetry into Klingon as part of the cultural exchange between..." Stev paused the oration and scanned the PADD for information on Elvis's home as he turned onto Union Avenue. He half expected to see the ghost of Elvis but did not.

"Graceland," the PADD started its new narrative. "Graceland was Elvis's home for most of his adult life. It survived intact, the Eugenics wars of the late twentieth century as well as the nuclear holocaust of World War three. It is one of the few North American landmarks dating back to the 20th century to survive completely unscathed." Stev stopped the device as he entered the line of people from all over the Federation waiting to gain admittance to the home of the king.

Stev's sharp eye noticed that he was the only Vulcan standing in line. He also noticed that he was receiving curious looks from the other tourists. Stev choose to ignore the stares. As he walked through the line he realized that most Vulcans would never have come to such a place which glorified such an illogical lifestyle. Stev thought about what attracted him to poetry of Terra's twentieth century and realized that it was an illogical notion, but he was attracted to the simple beauty of the imagery.

The tour encompassed the entire bottom floor of the residence. The tour guide explained that no one except custodians had been upstairs in nearly 250 years. Stev walked silently amongst the group and began to wonder why a trip which he had been anticipating for some time was not meeting his expectations. The notion that he was missing something nagged at the back of Stev's mind throughout most of the tour. When the tour stopped in the Garden of Meditation, Stev gazed at the resting places of the Presley family. He had almost identified the piece that his subconscious kept saying was missing, when his gaze fell on the side by side graves of Elvis and his wife Priscilla. Stev knew what was missing from this trip to Memphis; he pulled out his communicator and requested a direct beam out to the Des Moines arboretum. He wasn't going to let the missing piece go missing much longer.


The trip to the Des Moines spaceport had been blissfully uneventful. After all the excitement on the Intrepid, T'Aiya was grateful for the quiet journey. Even Stev's occasional jokes branded with his own personal humor (though she did admit to herself she was beginning to appreciate that unusual aspect of her shonmano as well) did not dissuade her from appreciating the view of multitudes of stars extending out beyond the imagination and admiring each of the planets as they glistened like colorful gemstones as they approached the Sol system. As an engineer, T'Aiya did not get to see as much of the treasures of space as she would like. The view was, for her, a gift in itself.

After arriving at the Des Moines spaceport and arranging the rendezvous with Stev, T'Aiya headed directly for the Starfleet Communications Archives Annex in Des Moines, across the street from the gold-domed Capitol Building. As she approached the building, T'Aiya began to think about the information she might find. Before now, she had not allowed herself the luxury of pondering its content. Perhaps she was more afraid of what she would not find, and her Vulcan training would not allow her to speculate on what she did not know. It would have been a waste of time and energy and that was illogical. None-the-less, the very sensitive Antosioan part of her did tend to nag.

The grounds around the Starfleet Office were perfectly landscaped. Trimmed, but not controlled, creating a very natural, relaxing atmosphere. As she entered the high ceilinged building, the huge room and simple decor reminded her of some of the official offices of Vulcan. A "get your business done" no-nonsense type of feeling. She approached the front desk and gave her name.

"Yes Lieutenant, if you will please go to room 307, the files you requested have received special clearance, your eyes only, and are waiting for you," said a very professional receptionist.

After a brief trip in the glass elevator, T'Aiya found room 307. She entered, locked the door, seated herself in the only chair and accessed the terminal. The room was simple a cubicle with one door and no windows, one computer terminal and one chair. All in a boring beige.

T'Aiya accessed one of the files at the computer address she had received earlier. There were two files in two different locations. One location was quite obscure and it actually took a few moments to access the site. T'Aiya never found out exactly where that file came from or who provided it for her. She downloaded the data file from the obscure location and the communiqué from another.

It was a more or less standard procedure. She would not be allowed to discuss the contents of this message with anyone without direct permission from Starfleet HQ. After going over all the conditions she must agree to prior to reading the communiqué and promising absolute secrecy via voice recording, T'Aiya was finally allowed to access the file.

The communiqué was the latest transmission from the Romulan Empire by Romulan operatives working for the Federation. The message did not say much beyond the usual updates, nothing terribly secret about its contents. T'Aiya proceeded to overlay the message with the data file as she had done on the Intrepid with her first message. The last paragraph of the transmission held her attention.

"Attempts to transmit the schematic for the cloaking device failed. Lives were lost. Since the brave people who died in this effort cannot be honored in the Romulan Empire due to the secrecy of their mission, please see to it that their names are honored in the Federation. I have received information that my sister is alive in Federation's space. Please find her and inform her I survive in Romulan space.

T'Azar Llire"

After several minutes, T'Aiya finally exhaled the breath she did not know she was holding. She remembered a story her father told her once, and only once.

T'Aiya was only seven at the time. They were sitting by the Emerald Falls of her homeworld. It was twilight and the double moons were just beginning to appear. The blue one was at quarter and the blue green at half. The last light of the setting sun was glinting off the playful waves of the small, gentle falls, sending opalescent green lighting through the water to touch the large, rose colored flowers that blossomed at the lakes edge.

It was here he told her how she was separated from her twin sister when they were both only three years old.

A band of scavengers made up of different species had found their little planet. They seemed in a hurry and were clearly hostile. Her parents had taken the girls to hide in a well concealed cave. The scavengers knew the family was there by the small house they had found and were looking for slaves to sell.

As her parents were making ready a trap, T'Azar had managed to wander out of the cave and quite a distance from the entrance. The scavengers found the cave with the help of a tracker and at that moment, T'Aiya's father set an avalanche that completely sealed the entrance.

Of course, the scavengers thought if there was anyone inside, they were or would soon be dead. Besides, the baby had been found wandering about. She would bring enough profit to make this stop worthwhile, no need to go digging about in rocks.

By the time T'Aiya and her family had exited the cave by another opening, the scavengers had left. Not having any spacecraft to follow them, T'Aiya's parents could do nothing more than morn the loss of the child they would never see again.

T'Aiya had not thought about the story much. She was too young at the time to remember anything, much less her sister, and her parents never spoke of it again. Now her mind filled with hundreds of questions with no way to find the answers. She deleted the data file that decoded the document and closed the terminal.

In a very unVulcan, dazed manner that puzzled the receptionist who watched her leave, T'Aiya departed from the Communication Archives. She knew she was in a mild shock and was finding it difficult to concentrate. Somehow, she managed to hail a transport to go the Des Moines arboretum where she was to meet Stev.


T'Aiya entered the lobby of the Des Moines arboretum, still dazed and distracted. She was surprised to see Stev waiting for her. She had thought she would have some time alone to sort out what she had learned. Pulling on all her Vulcan discipline, T'Aiya approached her friend.

"Hello Stev. Did you enjoy your visit to Graceland?" T'Aiya said in a tone that was just a little more distant that she wanted. Control was difficult, but she felt herself becoming more balanced as she pushed all the events of the morning to the back of her mind, it would be dealt with later.

The small smile that had started to form when Stev recognized her approach evaporated when he caught the tone of her voice. Logically he knew that whatever business she had at the communications archives had upset her enough so as to break her control. He knew that it should not be discussed now and that he would have to take her mind from her troubles.

"The visit was enough to hold my attention. Though it was not what I expected." He paused briefly. "I suggest that we explore the arboretum. There are many fascinating examples of native and off world flora."

T'Aiya simply nodded in agreement.

The Des Moines Botanical Gardens and Arboretums were expansive, covering approximately 50 acres. This included flora and fauna native to Earth as well as samples from many planets. There were numerous greenhouses, all with carefully controlled environments which ranged from weightlessness to excessive gravity and all types of atmospheres. T'Aiya had a fondness for Orchids and orchid type plants from all worlds. Since the Greenhouse of Exotics Type C for those type of exotics was in itself a one acre building, Stev suggested they concentrate there.

As Stev and T'Aiya approached the building, Stev gently, unobtrusively offered T'Aiya his arm. T'Aiya, recognized his offer as one not only of his arm, but of his recognition of her distress in spite of her efforts to cover it, his respect for her privacy, and his support for whatever she might be going through. T'Aiya gracefully slipped her arm around and over his.

The Greenhouse of Exotics Type C was almost transparent in the front and opaque toward the back to accommodate the different species of flowers inside. The Forward section was designed similar to the Royal Botanical Gardens just outside of London, with its high ceilings, conservative feel, yet typical greenhouse structure. As they entered the greenhouse, Stev and T'Aiya were greeted by intoxicating fragrance from the blooms of the Quilium.

"The Quilium are blooming," T'Aiya said, almost coming out of her distracted state. "I hope to acquire some of the specialized bulb while we are here. Neila enjoys them so."

As she thought back to the first time she and Neila had seen the Quilium bloom, she quickly put aside the memory and wondered just how much Stev knew about her heritage. Since he had been a communications officer, she was not sure how much information he was privy to. She stopped walking and gazed forward. If their relationship was to continue, he needed to know. She removed her arm from his and turned to face him.

Looking him squarely in the eye, "Stev," T'Aiya asked, "what do you know of my heritage?"

"Only what Starfleet Personnel Records show, that you are of Antosioan-Vulcan ancestry with Vulcan citizenship." Stev answered.

T'Aiya hesitated. In light of recent events and of the relationship that was growing between her and Stev, he deserved to be told.

"That is what the public records say," T'Aiya finally had the conviction to speak. "Starfleet Classified Personnel Records show that I also carry Romulan blood from my father's side."

T'Aiya fell silent in anticipation of Stev's reaction. Although he had stepped away from traditional Vulcan ways, many Vulcans shun hybrids such as herself, and to have Romulan blood is to some, an unforgivable stain. She did not know how he stood on this issue. For the second time that day, T'Aiya was not aware that she was holding her breath.

"Ah, that explains the discomfort you had on that classified mission into Romulan Space about nine months ago." Stev paused for a moment, he caught T'Aiya's intake of breath and realized that she was holding it. "Why do you bring it up now?" he asked.

"I... I needed to know if you held the same opinion of hybrids as most Vulcans," she stated in an almost quivering voice.

Stev arched his eyebrow. "I believe that the opinions of most Vulcans are shackles which hold them back. I have chosen to discover as much as I can about life and the lives of those around me," he paused. "I have discovered someone interesting in the person of T'Aiya Napa Llire." He gently grasped her shoulders in his hands, "That has not changed just because you have Romulan blood. I wish to go on discovering you as a person," releasing her shoulders he once again offered his arm, "Shall we continue our walk?" He could not help but smile as T'Aiya twined her arm once more through his.

The couple continued their walk past some of the most exotic species of plants the galaxy had spawned, through the darkened room which housed the Stelam Laggas of I'Vat. These flowers bloom only at night and only when exposed to specific emissions of starlight. Stev heard T'Aiya's intake of breath at the beauty surrounding them. He thought to himself that only one who lived among the stars could appreciate just how much like starlight the blossoms were.

They strolled through a hydroponics bay where edible plants of all kinds where grown. Stev made a mental note to pick up some Howya Beans from the gift shop. Genetically bred to grow on the harshest of planet surfaces, they should grow quite easily in the Intrepid's hydroponics bay. Stev wanted to try some because they purported to giving a euphoric lift to most humanoids across the galaxy.

They entered a domed area of the arboretum. Stev noticed a comfortable rise in temperature but also began to feel the uncomfortable humidity of the room as well. Their attention was drawn to a large a sign proclaiming this room to be one the arboretum's prize displays. Biologists and geologists had labored many months to produce an active controlled volcano in the heart of fertile farmland. Once the volcano was active more scientists were called in to have it mimic the area needed to host the plants destined for this site. T'Aiya recognized it immediately.

"The Firefalls of Gal Gath'Thong," she said quietly.

"The fire falls from where?" Stev asked.

"No, The Firefalls of Gal Gath'Thong," she repeated a little more plainly her mind off her troubles momentarily. "The Il'Licep grows amongst the lava flows. They both need the molten rock to survive and also purify the rock as well. The plant stores the impuritants and coats them. When the plant has absorbed and coated as much as it can handle it spews out a pearl like object which is prized not only on Romulus but throughout the quadrant."

"I can't imagine why anyone would risk their life to run into a lava flow to get a gemstone, no matter how valuable." Stev stated.

"Those pearls are used in the Romulan irokaisha ceremony." she said flatly.

"Oh, the engagement ceremony. Now I understand why men would brave the falls."

"On Romulus the women do as well." T'Aiya replied a small smile forming at the corners of her mouth.

Stev absorbed that last comment and began thinking. He glanced back towards the falls as an idea formed. If it could be done it would fit in with the arrangements that Buffy had already made for him. It would be a risk, but what was it that someone had once said 'Risk is part of the game.'?

He glanced at his chronometer. There wasn't much time to get everything to fall into place and still make the reservations that had been made. He could tell from the look on T'Aiya's face that her thoughts were still on what ever news she had received earlier today.

"T'Aiya, did you not tell me earlier that you wanted to purchase some Quilium bulbs for the Intrepid's arboretum?"

"Yes, I did. Thank you for reminding me Stev."

"I wanted to purchase some of the Howya Beans as well," Stev offered as a convenient excuse to head in the completely opposite direction. "I see that the arboretum will be closing in 30 minutes and the kiosks for these items are at opposite ends of the complex. Shall we meet at the exit in 30 minutes?"

"That would be acceptable. 30 minutes then."

T'Aiya walked off in the direction of the greenhouse. Stev watched until she was out of sight. He knew he would have to hurry if he wanted to stop by the Firefalls and still have time to purchase his beans. Twenty-seven minutes later, nearly out of breath, Stev was waiting at the exit. His package of beans under one arm and a small box tucked away in his pocket.

Stev felt his pulse quicken. He was mentally preparing himself for a life altering decision. He glanced her way when he felt T'Aiya's presence draw near.

"Ready to go?" she asked simply.

"Yes I am," Stev answered T'Aiya and his own inner doubts.


After the pair had returned to the Essex, Stev purposefully flew the tiny craft across the Atlantic Ocean from the North American continent to Europe. He landed his ship at the Federation Spaceport on the outskirts of Paris, France. The hydrofoil he had Buffy charter to take them up the Seine River was waiting for them. Stev and T'Aiya entered the boat and sat down next to each other. Stev casually placed his arm around her shoulders and the two marveled at the sights seen from the windows.

When the ship stopped after the tour, the pair of Vulcans emerged from the hydrofoil and stepped out into a city that had been regarded as a City of Love, long before the native inhabitants had known of other races and cultures living out amongst the starry field which inspired them. Once again, Stev saw that Buffy had been true to her word. The horse drawn carriage was waiting for them at the dock. The driver was holding a white placard with Stev's name on it.

"Is this what you meant by a surprise Stev?" T'Aiya asked with a reserved expression on her face.

Stev grinned because he could see the delight in her eyes despite the expression on her face. "Yes, well no, I mean this isn't all of it."

The pair climbed up into the carriage. The driver snapped his reigns and the horse trotted off. The ride took the Vulcans through some of the more picturesque settings the city had to offer. Paris had changed little in 300 years. The new was skillfully blended in with the old; the monorail looked like it belonged with the Eiffel Tower. Even the gleaming glass tower which housed the offices of the United Federation of Planets didn't seem out of place.

As the carriage neared the UFP Building, the driver slowed the horse and brought it to a stop. Stev stood and opened the door for T'Aiya.

There was almost a look of disappointment in her eyes as she said, "This is the big surprise? I was not expecting a tour of the Federation's main office building."

"You underestimate me," Stev grinned. "The big surprise is yet to come and the UFP Building is not our destination." Indicating the other direction, he continued, "This is where we are going."

Stev lead T'Aiya across the street to an open air cafe. The Cafe des Artistes had all the charm that one would expect from a French cafe. The outside dining area was set up so that the view of the Eiffel Tower was not obstructed by the building across the street. The Vulcans walked to the entrance.

"Ah, monsieur Stev," the waiter said as the couple approached. "We have been expecting you. Your table is ready just as you requested and your account has already been debited for the evening."

"Merci," Stev replied as the waiter led them to their table.

"Stev, how did you manage the hydrofoil, the reservation, the carriage ride? I know you didn't do it enroute you were too busy telling me 'Rap-rap' jokes."

"Ensign Cary helped. She said it would be her pleasure to make sure we had a memorable evening. So far, everything has been ready just as I requested."

He then ordered for the both of them in fluent French. The waiter bowed and left to fill the order. As the waiter left the tall Vulcan spoke.

"T'Aiya, I was wondering if you could tell me just where you found Neila. I have never encountered a species like it before."

"Shifters like Neila were not uncommon on Antos," T'Aiya began as she caressed the spotted bangle at her wrist, "even though they seldom reproduce and have very long life spans. Because of the symbiotic relationship, a shifter tends to stay with one family, however, crossovers to other families and even other species were known to happen. That is why I hope some day to find another of Neila's kind. Although these shifters are asexual and can reproduce alone, even shifters can get lonely for others of their species. Neila has been passed down through my mother's family for 800 Federation Standard Years," T'Aiya gazed thoughtfully at her little companion. Stev waited for her to continue.

"When we, uh, I was born on M113, the planet where my mother and father chose to live in peace, Neila and I were immediately compatible. So, while Neila stayed by my Mother, most of the time, it did form a bond with me. It was agreed that by Antosian custom, I would become Neila's symbiant when my mother died. Well, that happened sooner than any of us expected."

"I was sixteen when an unusually violent magnetic storm caused a cave in at the ruins my parents were studying. Neila was the only survivor. I was too young for our bonding, but Neila's life depended on it. As a result, we simply cannot be separated for more than a few hours."

She finished just as the waiter returned with their meal. The pair began to eat the meal and engaged in light dinner conversation. As they finished the meal, T'Aiya's face tightened for the briefest of moments. Stev noticed and paused; instead of inserting the last spoonful of chocolate mousse into his mouth he placed it back on the plate."

"Is there something the matter?" he asked.

"Your personnel record does not indicate why Vulcan sent you away vrekasht. It just states that you are an exile from your homeworld. You have never brought it up before and I was wondering if you would tell me why?"

Stev grinned slightly, Seeing T'Aiya's raised eyebrow he spoke. "It is no big secret. The actual reason is that the masters of the Kolinahr didn't want me disrupting their total control in the teaching of olzhika. I believe that Surak's teachings have been greatly misinterpreted by modern Vulcans."

Noticing that her eyebrow only raised higher, he continued. "I have read the journals of Captain Spock detailing his years of service under human captains. He mentions repeatedly that humans can arrive at a logical solution to a problem much quicker through the use of their instincts, something that springs from their emotions. I came to the logical conclusion that if instincts were quicker than logic in solving problems then I should not shut out my emotions completely."

"So you endeavor to let your emotions run free?" she asked.

"No, not exactly," he paused. "I control my emotions, but do not suppress them entirely. It still requires mental control but not nearly as much as suppressing them would. I have found that by letting my emotions run a little more free than most Vulcans I have the best of both logic and instinct," Stev stopped momentarily, a look of concentration crossed his face. I suspect that the Masters remembered the problems of the V'tosh ka'tur and the problems that Spock's half brother have caused. To keep incidents such as those from happening again, the masters of the Kolinahr did not want that teaching made public. To keep their control, they forced my vrekasht through the government."

As T'Aiya's eyebrow came back down Stev made one last comment, "Right now my instincts are telling me that you are curious about the remainder of the surprise."

T'Aiya gave Stev a look that told him he'd guessed correctly. He stood, came over to her side of the table and helped her up. She took his offered arm and together they walked out. Curiosity won out as she asked.

"So, where is it?"

"You'll know when you see it," was all he said with an impish grin.

The couple walked down the street. As they continued the walk their arms slid down and each grasped the other's hand. Passers-by grinned at the thought that the city of love even worked its charms on Vulcans. They came to the Eiffel Tower.

"Would you like to see Paris from the top?"

"I don't know Stev. It will be getting dark soon."

"I've been told the city is especially beautiful at night. Shall we?" Stev made a sweeping gesture with his arm towards the waiting elevator.

T'Aiya nodded her assent and together the pair rode to the top of the famous tower. As the elevator came to a stop, the door opened and T'Aiya saw a red rose in a place where red roses are not normally found. Her inquisitive nature directed her steps over to it. As she walked she noticed Stev was following right behind. As she got nearer the fragile bloom she saw an old-fashioned envelope and hand inked line. It stated simply 'T'Aiya'. Her curiosity piqued, she took the envelope and opened it.

Silence hovered over the top of the Paris landmark as she read the card inside. The intensity of sensations that she had held in check all that day suddenly broke free. T'Aiya found all the Vulcan walls of control within her slipping and for the first time since before her parents had died so many years ago, she smiled broadly. Slowly, she began to turn back towards her companion.

"Stev, I am deeply touched by . . ." she stopped as she completed her turn and saw him down on one knee.

"T'Aiya, I was unsure of how to ask you this," Stev began tentatively. "However, since we are on Earth, I thought following their customs would be appropriate," he paused. "Would you marry me?"

Stev stayed on one knee as he reached into his pocket and produced a small box. He waited for her response. Without saying a word T'Aiya walked over and grasped the small box. Opening it she discovered an Il'Licep Pearl nestled in a gold band. Wordlessly she took the band from its box and placed it on the fourth finger of her left hand, and then she offered her hand. Stev took it and stood. T'Aiya reached up and placed her fingertips along the right side of Stev's face. Stev reciprocated the gesture and together at the top of the tower they spoke.

"My mind to your mind: my thoughts to your thoughts: never touching and always touched: apart but never parted or apart yet one."

Sol continued on its path through the galaxy as Terra's rotation gave illusion to its setting in the west. The colors blazed through the atmosphere as twilight marched across the sky. The stars winked on casting their spell over the city. The two Vulcans stood there oblivious to it all and found themselves in each other's eyes.

Lexicon:

shonmano – Unbonded adult in romantic relationship

(roughly analogous to human boyfriend/girlfriend)

olzhika - a distinct form of logic

V'Tosh ka'tur – Vulcans without logic

(Vulcans that do not believe emotions should be suppressed, Sybok was one)

Vrekasht - exile