TALISMAN

Part I


talisman, object bearing a sign or engraved character and thought to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune (Encyclopædia Britannica)


I just woke up from a fuzzy dream
You never would believe those things that I have seen
I looked in the mirror and I saw your face
You looked right through me, you were miles away

Madonna, "Miles Away"


Leonard McCoy felt as if he were running on autopilot and had been doing so for the last several hours. He had stopped wondering, trying to comprehend and even worrying quite a while ago and was moving around in a trance-like state of shock that left him functioning like an android.

Five minutes ago, Jim, Spock and Pike had reappeared on the transporter pad and Leonard had been too stunned by the improbability of them actually getting back alive to even feel relief.

They made it back. It's impossible. They made it back, anyway.

Four minutes ago, Jim had nearly pushed the semi-conscious captain into his arms and Leonard had caught Pike reflectively, trying to steady him.

He's injured. Correct that. He's half dead. We need to get him to sickbay FAST.

A minute ago, they had arrived in sickbay – or rather, the part of it that was still intact enough to serve as a place to treat patients. It was already bustling with activity, too many people cramped into too little space, but Leonard had pushed through them rigorously.

"Get me a biobed! Now!"

After some shuffling and shouting, they had been able to lower their patient onto the bed.

Now he stood next to it, examining his injured captain and trying to assess the damage.

All around him, people were talking, asking, screaming, crying, but Leonard ignored the noise.

"Captain?" the nurse on the other side of the bed asked, bending over Pike, "Are you in pain? Can you tell us what happened to you?"

Those were sensible questions, Leonard supposed, if your patient was able to answer them. Captain Pike, however, had just slipped into unconsciousness.

Part of him still registered the voices and the movement when they brought him to sickbay, noticed that something seemed to be horribly wrong, but that part was too weak to do anything about it and it was slipping away fast.

Dizziness seized him. The universe swirled around him like water in a maelstrom, and there was nothing stable to hold onto, just odd, unconnected images and flashes of memories. The roaring storm whirled around in his mind and threw pieces of flotsam onto the tempestuous sea. Words. A melody. A fragmented mathematical equation. Colors. The image of a dark haired woman.

Stop. He knew that face, knew it intimately.

Here was an anchor to hold onto amid the swirling chaos.

He frantically tried to remember her name, her rank, the role she'd played in his life, if she ever had played any – mother? daughter? lover? teacher? – but failed.

Who are you? his mind screamed, then she vanished from his thoughts and darkness encompassed him.

"What the hell is wrong with him?" Leonard growled, puzzled by the strange readings he got of his patient.

"You mean aside from the two broken ribs, dislocated shoulder and right elbow, four broken fingers and some quite nasty burns…?" The nurse on the other side of the biobed replied sarcastically.

Leonard looked up at her with a disapproving frown. He had already come to appreciate Christine Chapels sharp tongue as well as her skills, but right now, he just wasn't in the mood for clever comments.

"I'm not surprised to find that he's got broken bones and burns after being tortured by Romulans for the last several hours. And I could understand if he'd passed out from the pain, but that's not it… there's something else. He's got symptoms that don't match – it's something of a cross between an infection and an allergic reaction."

"What do you propose we do about it?"

"You go ahead and treat the symptoms and keep him alive. I'll run more tests to try and find out the cause."

"Sounds sensible enough."

"Well, I'm glad you approve. Let's get to work."

"Got you!"

Christine Chapel looked up from the elbow she was just treating. Over the last half hour, she had mended the broken ribs and relocated the shoulder. She had treated the burns, and had been glad to find that they looked worse than they truly were and that at the very least, there was no evidence of internal burns, either. Now she was ready to relocate her patient's elbow, but a shout from the new CMO had broken her concentration.

"What is it?"

"Take a look at this."

Carefully, she let go of the injured arm and walked over to where Dr. McCoy was bent over a display.

She took one look at what he had found and felt bile rising in her throat.

"Yuk!"

"My sentiments exactly," the CMO assured her.

"What is that? And how did it get there?"

"I already sent an image of it to the science staff; hopefully, they'll be able to identify it. I'd say it's some sort of parasite… and a damn large one at that. As for what it's doing – well, currently, it seems to be pretty intent on killing Captain Pike."

"We've got to get it out."

"Absolutely. Problem is, I have no idea whether or not we can do it without him dying in the process. It's latched onto his brainstem."

He was adrift in a vast, unknown ocean. He knew not where he came from, nor where he was going. Past, present and future seemed to overlap, to blend like colors in an aquarelle painting.

A little longer, and he'd lose himself completely…

There were voices, talking, whispering, but he did not understand. One voice, though, rose clear and unmistakably above all the others, and it was calling for him. Calling for him to come along, to follow the ghostly silhouette of the brown-haired woman to a place he already knew.

He'd been there.

A long, long time ago. Or maybe he hadn't, and it was a place he was going to be in the far distant future?

All he knew was that he absolutely had to follow the voice.

He was lost in a labyrinth, and there was only one way out.

She was his Ariadne, and her voice the red thread that would show him the way.

"Come. Follow me."

"I will… I'm trying… don't go away…"

But it was hard to follow her through the swirling, troubled waters of the ocean.

"Where are you leading me?"

"Follow me, my love."


I am near you
You don't see me
Can you feel me
I'm closer than close

The Rasmus, Ghost of Love


It was not standard Starfleet protocol for a captain to personally pick up his first officer, but this was her first assignment as such and a somewhat special situation.

Special, because the person originally intended for the position had died less than six hours ago. Transporter accident. Two heartlessly nondescript words for a particularly gruesome way to die.

It was his first day as captain of this ship and he had already lost an officer. A brilliant, talented and highly decorated officer. A man who left a pregnant wife and two small children behind.

Starfleet would take care of them. Sure.

But all the money in the world wouldn't be enough to compensate Sheila Vanger for the loss of her husband or to replace Connor's and Trinity's Daddy.

He felt guilty. It wasn't his fault, but he somehow couldn't rid himself of the feeling that he should have been able to prevent that accident from happening. It was a captain's duty to protect his crew. He also wondered whether he'd be able to protect Anthony Vanger's successor from suffering a similar fate.

If she even agreed to become his successor.

She was on personal leave and Starfleet hadn't been able to contact her about this new assignment. During the entire journey from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, he had been trying to figure out what to tell her.

"Hi, nice to meet you, I'm your new captain. Please stop whatever you're doing and accompany me to the ship."

Surely not.

He was well aware of the importance of good first impressions; and he wanted to do everything just right. But nothing in his Starfleet training or his working experience had prepared him for such a situation.

Starfleet had provided him with a name, an address and a picture, nothing more. He knew virtually nothing about this woman. And yet she was to become his closest companion for the next months, maybe even years. It felt strange.

He stood in front of the door to a well-kept, sizeable house in a middle-class neighborhood of the city and he still didn't know what to say.

How would she react?

The door slid open and curious brown eyes looked up at him from below his waist. The child reminded him of a perfect little porcelain doll, her light skin contrasting with coal black hair and dark eyes, her blue and white dress all prim and proper and ribbons tied into her ponytails.

"Hello. Are your parents home?"

She looked at him questioningly, then turned around to shout something into the house. It took him a moment to recognize the language as Spanish.

A minute later, two women appeared in the door frame, both dark-haired as the girl. He recognized one of them as his first-officer-to-be. She looked exactly as in the picture he had seen, her hair straight and a little over shoulder length, her face serious and unsmiling, even though the curiosity was visible in her eyes.

The other woman was certainly the prettier one, a graceful, slender beauty, who smiled at him, showing very white teeth.

"Yes?"

"Captain Christopher Pike of Starfleet. I am here to see Lieutenant Mondego." He looked at the woman in question.

She raised an eyebrow. "That would be me. How may I help you, sir?"

"I am sorry to bother you while you are on leave, but there has been an accident and Starfleet has chosen to give you a new assignment."

She studied him for a moment. "On your ship," she then stated.

He nodded. "As first officer."

The other woman gave a surprised squeal, but Sofia Mondego just nodded. "If you are willing to wait for half an hour, I will accompany you back to San Francisco immediately." She turned to her companion, who seemed a little overwhelmed. "I am very sorry, Eva."

The other woman took her hands and shook her head emphatically. "No, no, you must go, of course you must go, it is such an opportunity…!"

"It is," Sofia Mondego admitted quietly, "I just wish it wouldn't have come to me through the misfortune of another." And turning back to him she added: "My predecessor… he is dead, isn't he?"

He swallowed and nodded.


You were the answer
All that I needed
To justify, justify my life

The Rasmus, "Justify"


"… I have not slept for two days and I can see that they a worried, but no one dares to utter a word in my presence. It is not that they fear me, they have simply come to respect my decisions and trust in my abilities and if I seem a little more than human to them, all the more reason to believe that I can face and master anything. There is also another reason – they are all afraid and weary themselves and they seem to fear that if I admit weakness, everything will collapse. What hope is there, when the person you look up to can take no more? So we dance around each other carefully, trying to preserve the façade and I pretend to possess superhuman strength and be unperturbed by all the horrible reports that have reached us, but I do not know how much longer I can keep it up. My Vulcan lieutenant, Simar, took the news of the destruction of her planet with remarkable calm, but today, when I went to look for her in engineering, I found her hidden in a corner, crying. I never thought that Vulcans even knew how to cry and I found no comforting words for her. What can you tell someone who has just lost her family, her friends, her entire race and even her planet? When she received those news, Lieutenant Simar's world collapsed. And she is not alone. Although Simar is the only Vulcan among my crew, there are many who share her pain, as they have lost friends, lovers, children. Those who have as of yet not received any bad news from home are terrified of what may lie ahead of us. The insecurity, the lack of information about what really happened, makes our situation all the more unbearable.
I am dead tired. But Cristo, I shall not rest until I know whether you will live or die. Is there even a chance that we will make it to Earth in time for me to sit by your bed and hold your hand? Or are all my hopes in vain, and will I arrive to find nothing but a bronze plate bearing your name and a date?"

Personal Log of Captain Sofia Mondego, USS Serenity

It took him about two days to figure out that Sofia Mondego was quite probably one of the most capable Starfleet officers he had ever met. On the other hand, it took him about two hours to figure out that she was not an easy person to get along with.

She was a study in contradiction.

No one could have questioned her loyalty, her commitment to Starfleet and to her crew or her personal integrity, but she remained distant and somewhat cold to all of her crewmates. She kept them at arm's length and moved cautiously among them.

She had a brilliant mind and turned out to be a very reliable judge of character.

Yet she always appeared as rigid and formal as her immaculate uniform and straight, unembellished hair. Small talk seemed an alien concept to her, and she never volunteered any personal information. She did not ask for it, either.

At the end of their first week, he called her to his ready room for a private conversation.

"Lieutenant, are you unhappy with this assignment? I know that it must have come to you very sudden, and I'd understand if you were feeling apprehensive about it…"

She turned to look at him, her clear grey eyes studying his face. Faced with that gaze, he always felt like he was being evaluated by an impartial and merciless judge, who'd see right through all of his masks and uncover all the little flaws and imperfections he was straining so hard to hide.

"No, Captain. I am perfectly content with this assignment."

Huh.

She knew that he was watching her constantly. She could feel his eyes on her back when they were on the bridge, she felt his gaze follow her when she walked past him in the long corridors of the ship, and when he was talking to her, she could see him look at her, as if he was trying to read something of her face.

It was somewhat unnerving, but she was determined never to let him know that it bothered her. This was her first assignment as first officer, and she was going to excel at it.

Besides, apart from the sidelong glances and curious looks, he was surprisingly easy to get along with. It didn't take her long to find that he was an able captain, and that there was a good reason for his popularity with the crew. He treated everyone friendly and fairly and managed to find the right balance between companionable and professional.

She felt that he actually respected her judgment and listened to her suggestions.

They worked well as a team, at least on a professional level.

Privately, it was a little more difficult.

On a starship, you virtually had no choice but to spend your free time either alone or with the same people you worked with all day. She preferred to be alone, or so she told herself, but from time it was unavoidable to participate in crew activities.

Her refusal to participate in card games caused some frowns. Her apparent disinterest in movies and sports caused a few more. She was not a very talkative person, nor was she able to entertain her crewmates with jokes or stories – or at least, she refused to do so.

The captain, however, was not discouraged by any of this.

He insisted on conversing with her and it did not seem to bother him that he was doing most of the talking, while she remained silent, studying his animated face as he told her of past missions and adventures. She would rather have bitten of her tongue than admitted to him or to herself that she actually enjoyed listening to him. His voice was a pleasant, soothing baritone, the voice of a man, who would someday tell those same stories to his grandchildren and build dream-castles for them to explore.

He invited her to participate in card or in board games, until she grew exasperated enough to give in. She trounced him at chess and beat him at nearly every card-game he could come up with, much to the surprise and amusement of the crew, and he always laughed, complimenting her skill, and challenging her to a rematch.

He asked her to join an improvised game of volleyball and when she insisted she didn't like ballgames, the next time he proposed a sparring match. At first he tried to be careful, as if he was afraid of harming, or even touching her, but when he saw that she stood her ground, the match became more spirited. She knew that he not only had the advantage of being taller and more muscular than she was, but she was also acutely aware of the fact that he got much too close for her comfort. She felt a constant tingling on her skin and wished the match was already over, but she couldn't bring herself to surrender. Her pride would not allow defeat.

When in the end he had her neatly pinned to the floor, a smile spreading over his sweaty face and lighting up his eyes, she glowered back at him, and as soon as he let her go, she fled to her quarters.

"Are you still mad at me?"

She looked up from her PADD that showed the results of the latest personnel review and raised her brows.

"Sir?"

"About the match," he clarified.

"You won."

"Yes, I know. I was just wondering whether you'd hold it against me for the rest of this mission or if there is some way I could make it up to you."

"It was a game, sir," she stated, shifting her weight slightly from one foot to another. This conversation bothered her.

"To you, it's never just a game. You take everything seriously, and you make it your personal duty to be good at it. To be good at everything. Sometimes you scare me, Number One." She could see that he was teasing her by the familiar glint in his eyes.

Hesitating a moment, she tried to decide how to best reply to this statement.

"I want to be a good officer," she said in the end.

"Trust me, you are an excellent officer. It's just that your perfection can be a little scary sometimes. Think about it, Number One."

"Excuse me, captain, but why are you calling me that?"

He looked at her for a moment, before replying with a small smile: "Because you are, aren't you?"

It was the first time anything went wrong since they had been working together, and that time, it went horribly wrong.

Pike had sent her to lead an away mission to a colony that was at that time on the verge of civil war. She was supposed to evaluate the situation on the planet, while he tried to contact the leaders of the opposing factions and try to convince them to meet and draw up a peace treaty.

As she was walking through the streets of the colony's capital city with her team, trying to gain a picture of the overall atmosphere, violence erupted in the market place and spread through the neighboring quarters like a wildfire. Two of her team members were shot as they tried to disarm the insurgents and to protect some innocent bystanders.

The rebels managed to kidnap her and another female officer, Ensign Kelyra Kelriss. They were taken to a hiding place and separated. She could not see what happened to Kelyra, but she could hear her scream, even through the walls of her prison.

Helplessly, she threw herself against the door, knowing fully well that it would have been her job to protect Kelyra, and that now there was nothing she could do for her.

When they came for her, she fought them with every ounce of strength she had left, but she was overpowered in the end.

He arrived to a raging chaos, and at first had trouble orienting himself. His team swept out, taking down as many of the rebels as they could without getting harmed themselves, but once he realized what was going on, he didn't care about injury, or even death, anymore.

They had abducted and killed one of his crewmembers.

And he did not even want think about what else they might have done to her, prior to killing her.

Ensign Kelriss!

But despite his shock and the white-hot anger searing through his brain, there was something that mattered above all else right now.

His first officer was down here somewhere, and he had to find her.

When he did, he committed the first murder of his life. He had killed people before, but always in self-defense, or to defend others. Actually, he killed the first two of the men just for that cause – in order to save Number One.

The third one, though, was another matter.

But when he remembered her face, ghastly pale, scratches and bruises disfiguring the fair skin, her eyes so very, very wide, her mouth opened as if she was silently screaming, he couldn't bring himself to care about those men he'd killed.

Without thinking, he crossed the room and took her into his arms, pressing her close. He led her outside, and arm around her to stabilize her, and he did not remember what he'd said, only that those words had been soft and betrayed a lot more of his true feelings than he'd have given away in any other situation.

And when later she clung to him, crying tears of helpless rage into the front of his uniform, he felt like crying with her; and he knew that for better or for worse, something had changed between them.

It took all of the crew a while to cope with what had happened during that away mission. They grieved for the three officers that had been lost, and especially for Ensign Kelryss. Pike had no more interest whatsoever in playing peacemaker to the colonists and told his superiors at Starfleet Command so quite bluntly.

He used a somewhat more diplomatic wording, but his message was evident: They can go ahead and annihilate each other, for all I care, and in fact, I wish them all a slow, painful death.

The admirals frowned, but relieved him of his task. He set out to take care of his first officer instead, and found that no, she had absolutely no desire whatsoever to talk about it, but she appreciated his concern.

He was insistent and made a point of sharing evening meals and large cups of herbal tea with her. She barely spoke, but she listened.

One night, about three months after the incident, when they were both up late and he was complaining about the quality of the peppermint blend, comparing it to what he knew from home, he caught her hiding a smile. Suddenly he felt as if he'd just won a very important victory.

And a moment later, he knew with painful clarity what he should have known all along – that his personal feelings for this familiar stranger smiling into her cup of tea, went a lot deeper than the loyalty and trust between captain and first officer.

She was his Number One, after all.


Someone as beautiful as you
Could do much
better it's true
That didn't matter to you
I tried so hard to be the one
It's something I couldn't do
Guess I was under the gun

The Rasmus, "Justiy"


She remained a mystery to him.

After a routine de-briefing following an away-mission, she hesitated at the door of the meeting room.

Pike turned to face her. He was in a particularly good mood, since they were just two days away from a long expected shoreleave. "Yes, Number One…? Is anything bothering you about the mission?"

Usually, she only lingered if she had important facts to add or doubts to voice. Casual small-talk just wasn't her thing.

"Not bothering me, sir, but…"

She wasn't usually this hesitative. He surveyed her closely, concern rising in his chest, and he could have sworn that he saw her flinch momentarily.

Something was wrong.

"But…?"

"I was wondering, sir… and I should probably wait to ask you this until you are off duty, since it is of a private nature… but would care to accompany me to a ballet performance on the evening of our first day of shoreleave?"

Pike stared at her. He was completely taken aback and it took him a moment to regain control of his voice.

"Are you asking me out, Number One?" He fought hard, but couldn't quite keep the grin off his face.

Well, now… if that wasn't an interesting development…

She blushed slightly. It was the first time he had ever seen her blush and she tried to hide it by assuming a particularly stoic face.

"I merely thought you might be interested. You told me earlier that you enjoy the music of Tchaikovsky."

"And I do, I was just a little… surprised. You never asked me to spend time in private with you."

"The Metropolitan Opera House hardly qualifies as a private location," she argued, but he thought that he'd seen the hints of a suppressed smile around the edges of her mouth.

"Never mind. I would feel… honored… to accompany you."

"Are you trying to make fun of me, sir?" She had obviously misinterpreted his grin. It was strange to see her this insecure; apparently the matter meant a lot to her. Knowing that, Pike would not have missed this opportunity for the world.

"Not at all. I will be there, and thank you very much for the invitation."

She hesitated a moment, studying his face as if trying to judge whether his words were sincere, then she nodded.

"Very well."

...

An engine failure on the day before shoreleave had them all cursing life, the universe and everything and made their chief engineer the most valuable man aboard. Number One remained as stoic and unperturbed as ever, but Pike, who kept watching her closely, could discern the first signs of nervousness around dinner time. They were working at top speed down in engineering, and the first officer's eyes kept darting to the clock.

They'd be late for their date.

Secretly, Pike called it a date, although he suspected that she'd strongly object to that term. Well, of course she would. But to him, it was a start.

He personally urged Corelli to do the best he could, and the chief engineer worked several small miracles that day, but it just wasn't enough. Even at top speed and with newly restored full engine power, it was evident that they would not make it in time.

Twenty minutes before their estimated arrival time, Pike leaned over to her. "Go."

She looked at him questioningly. "What?"

"I suspect that you weren't planning on attending the performance in your Starfleet uniform. We'll have to make a run for it, so go downstairs and get dressed!"

She kept looking at him with that bemused expression he had come to cherish. "You're serious," she stated incredulously.

"Of course I am. Now go, and hurry, because I'll have to change into my civvies too, and one of us has to be on the bridge during docking procedures."

"It would be inappropriate for me to perform my duties not wearing uniform."

"Nonsense, as long as you do your job, you may wear snow boots and a bikini top, for all we care. Besides, I've always wanted to see you command this ship dressed in an evening gown." He grinned at her, and she would later claim that it had been that roguish, boyish grin that made her counteract Starfleet protocol.

Ten minutes later she was back, wearing a deep blue dress that hugged her slim body lovingly and accentuated all the right places, and Pike was left open-mouthed and slightly breathless.

She caught him staring at her, and he could have sworn there was a mischievous glint in her dark eyes when she sent him away to get dressed himself.

...

They arrived well within the first half of the recital and were shown to one of the loges by a frowning liveried attendant. The people already sitting in the front row of the loge turned around as they settled in the back as quietly as possible, but it was too dark to see their faces.

Pike felt too overwhelmed by the fact that he was here, with her on a private engagement that had nothing to do with Starfleet and/or the ship, to really listen to the music. It was beautiful, though. Everything was beautiful tonight.

He watched the dancers, once again amazed by the immense flexibility and breathtaking grace a human body could show; and somehow, the prim ballerina seemed oddly familiar. He had seen her before, but not on a stage.

A house in a moderately rich neighborhood of Buenos Aires… the door opening, a little girl emerging… shouts, then – Eva! The woman now dancing the black swan was Eva, Number One's companion the day he had first met her. He still didn't know in what way they were linked to one another.

Friends? Relatives? Lovers…?

No. If she had a lover, I'd know by now…

But some doubts remained, and they were poisoning his evening.

When the curtain fell and a tremendous uproar of applause erupted in the entire hall, Pike was still pondering his puzzle. When the curtain was swept aside to make room for the reappearing cast and people jumped up from their seats to salute them and honor their performance, the black swan was in the front row, smiling graciously at her audience.

He noticed that everyone in the loge had risen and was joyously applauding. He also noticed tear-streaks on Number One's face.

A man, probably the director, came onstage to hand out large bouquets of flowers to the top dancers. The prim ballerina smiled at him over her bouquet of roses and carnations, then her gaze travelled up towards the loges, and the man standing in front of Pike cheered her, shouting "Bravo, Eva!" and something else that he did not catch.

When the applause finally subsided, the man turned, a smile lighting his handsome face as he walked up to them.

"Sofia!" The next moment, Pike had trouble recognizing his first officer, as she was crying and laughing at the same time, clinging to the man and to the other woman, who had joined him. Someone nudged him and he looked down to see another familiar face.

The little girl had grown a bit, but apparently she remembered him just as well as he remembered her.

"Did you come to bring auntie Sofia back?" She asked him curiously, and Pike had to smile despite himself.

Just as he was about to answer, the door to the loge opened once again and a slender shadow carrying a large bouquet of flowers slipped inside.

"Diego! Sofia? Sofia, mí vida!" More hugs and kisses. Pike felt a little left out and was somewhat astonished to see Number One so emotional.

Finally, they seemed to realize that he was even there and three pairs of curious eyes turned towards him.

"Captain Pike!" Eva, still in her ballet dress, smiled at him. "It is so nice to see you here! Sofia did not mention anything…"

"You didn't…?" Pike asked, raising his eyebrows at her, and to his delight, Number One blushed once again. Before she could reply anything, he turned back to Eva, congratulating her on her performance.

"Thank you. I'm glad you liked it."

Number One stepped to his side. "Captain… I do not believe you have met my family." She pointed to the man standing next to Eva. "My brother Diego, his wife Diana and their daughter Emilia." The little girl winked at him. "And my sister, Eva."

"Oh, but we already know each other!" Eva protested. "He personally came to tell you about your new assignment."

But Pike was too distracted to acknowledge the comment.

Sisters. Eva, the black swan, is her sister…

He felt… relieved. So relieved that it seemed almost ridiculous.

He looked up to see her watching him, a soft, almost shy smile touching her lips. And suddenly, it hit him with the force of a lightning bolt. She had brought him here to meet her family. She, who rarely offered a private word, who never spoke about her past, who had perfected the façade of the cold, unemotional stranger… his ice princess… a few days ago he had thought that she did not trust him, and now she had taken him to meet her family.

He returned her smile, his heart constricting in a sudden surge of affection.

...

Diego and Diana, who knew their way around New York, insisted on taking them to dinner. The restaurant was Vietnamese, upscale, yet very comfortable and the atmosphere friendly.

Eva dared Emilia to try a number of strange dishes and everybody watched and laughed as the little girl bravely sampled her way through the meal.

Pike had rarely seen Number One so happy. She was not – like her sister, brother and sister-in-law – chatting animatedly, but rather listening, yet her expression was one of quiet joy.

Diana seemed genuinely interested in Starfleet and their work and her questions betrayed that she was very well informed. It turned out that both she and Diego were architects who were currently working on a number of rather prestigious projects all around the globe.

"My favorite is the new Vulcan embassy," Diana confided. "It will be a blend of traditional Vulcan and 23rd century human architecture – ambitious, but also a lot of fun."

"Don't let her continue, or she'll pull out the building plans and tell you more than you ever wanted to hear," Eva cut in, laughing.

Diana smiled. "You are right of course. I sometimes get a little too excited about our projects… and this is your night, hon."

"And Sofia's," Eva smiled at her sister. "We get to see you so seldom. But it's good to know that you're happy up there. Next time, though, you need to time your shoreleave better. This is probably my only evening off for the next month or so, and Diana and Diego are on their way to visit Diana's parents in Ottawa."

"I'll see to it," Number One promised, apparently amused.

"Well, but if you've got some time for yourself…" Diana began, then reached for her handbag and took out a small piece of white paper, "… you should probably go there."

Her eyes briefly darted to Pike, then back to her sister-in-law and there was a thoughtful smile on her face. He wondered what she was up to.

He watched his first officer read and was surprised to see the same thoughtful smile appear on her face. "Thank you, Diana. I will… think about it."

...

"Now I am curious," he said when they had said goodbye to Diana, Diego and Emilia and walked Eva back to her hotel, which was only a few blocks from the restaurant.

"Oh?" She turned to face him, looking pale and beautiful in the semidarkness of the nightly street.

"About the card Diana slipped you…?"

"An address and an access code. You see, due to their job, Diana and Diego travel a lot, and since they both aren't too fond of living out of a suitcase, they have several apartments all across the world."

"Seems sensible," he acknowledged, trying not to get caught up in the glimmer the streetlight painted on her dark hair.

"Yes. This one is in Rome."

"Rome." She was dazzling. The bare flesh of her shoulders seemed like ivory against the deep blue silk of her dress.

"Mhm. I was wondering…"

"Yes." He looked up, their gazes locking.

"You wouldn't even let me ask!" she stated, sounding almost indignant.

He took her hand, slowly trailing his fingers over the soft skin of her wrist.

"You don't need to ask."

"His vital signs are stable," Nurse Chapel reported and her voice sounded exhausted. They had been up and about for more hours than they could remember, and the last six or seven of those had been spent fighting for Captain Pike's life.

Slowly, a tired smile crept on Leonard's face. "Cheer up, Christine," he told her. "I think we just won. It's one to zero for us against the Centaurian Slug."

She looked up, smiling back at him.

"I guess so… I wonder – he's obviously not unconscious anymore, he's sleeping, and from those readings I get, he's probably dreaming right now. He should be having some horrible nightmares after all he's just gone through, but actually, he looks quite happy."

Leonard turned his gaze to the sleeping Captain and had to agree with her. There was a peaceful, almost benign impression on Pike's battered face. In fact, he looked happier than Leonard had ever seen him when he was awake.

"Well, maybe he knows that he's just won the second battle in two days. He'll be a legend. But more importantly, he'll be a living legend."


Don't go wasting your emotion
Lay all your love on me
Don't go sharing your devotion
Lay all your love on me

Abba, "Lay All Your Love On Me"


Message from Commander Trygve Thorsteinsen, USS Serenity, to Captain Francis Campbell, USS Boreas

Francis, I suppose you're pretty busy right now what with all the bad news we've received during the last 72 hours, but this is rather urgent. My Captain is on the verge of a complete breakdown, I'm afraid it'll only be a few more hours till she drops dead with exhaustion. Unfortunately, though, I've got neither the means, nor the authority to order her to her quarters to get some rest, and even if I did, I suspect that she wouldn't follow that order. She is as shocked and grieved as any of us, but she obviously can't let it show. There's more to it, though. I wouldn't dare to intrude upon her private matters, but it appears that someone she cares about was either killed or injured in the massacre. Given her age it can't be a son or her father, so I'm guessing it's either husband, lover or brother. I don't want to subject her to a formal reprimand by turning to her superiors, but you share her rank and I was under the impression that you got along pretty well, so I'm asking you to speak to her. Make her see reason, Francis; she's a danger to herself and everyone on this ship if she continues like this.

Let's hope we all get out of this alive. Part of me still insists that it has to be a bad dream, all of it. Trygve.

...

"Admiral, I have to know."

Admiral Archer, his kind, wrinkled face sympathetic, studied the woman looking at him pleadingly from the viewscreen. To him, she appeared young, but she was already the Captain of her own ship, and an accomplished officer.

"My dear, you must believe me that I would like to help you, but Starfleet has classified that information. There is a lot of confusion about what happened right now, and we are still trying to assess the damage. So many people have been killed, and all over the Federation, people are worried about their friends and relatives. Starfleet is making every effort to sort out this situation as quickly as possible and to determine how many people have been killed or injured."

"But he is the Captain of the Enterprise! You must know what happened to him!"

"Captain Mondego, Sofia, please. I simply cannot tell you. Maybe if you were a close blood relative, but even then I'd have to bend the rules almost to the breaking point. But…"

"… I am not," she finished the sentence for him, sounding defeated.

He nodded. "I'm sorry. As soon as I'm allowed to tell you, I promise to contact you."

"Thank you, sir."

Archer saw her look away and realization struck him.

She hates me now. I never knew they were that close, but apparently, he is one of the most important persons in her life, and I wouldn't tell her anything.

Poor girl.

Message from Captain Francis Campbell, USS Boreas, to Commander Trygve Thorsteinsen, USS Serenity

Trygve, going behind your captain's back like that won't make you very popular with your commanding officers if it becomes known. I'm glad you informed me of this, though and I will make that call to Captain Mondego. I've been trying to get more information on who exactly has been killed or injured – I think we all have – but so far, the name "Mondego" hasn't turned up on any of the lists. Whoever it is, either they don't share a common name, or he may have escaped unscathed. Besides, I seriously doubt that there is a husband or lover. I'm even having trouble imagining her having any close personal friends. The woman is an ice princess with the brain of a Vulcan and the personal charm of an armed phaser. Might be a brother, though. But don't worry; I'll see if I can talk some reason to her. Francis.

"Personal log of Captain Sofia Mondego, USS Serenity, Stardate – hold on. I just cannot do this. This is the fourth time I tried, and the fourth time I failed. I simply cannot dictate those memories to a log, not even a personal one. They are to intimate. I have no trouble talking about myself, explaining what happened to me, or why I am anxious, and I can even talk to you, Cristo, as though I was writing a letter, but I cannot talk about us. It is not so much because I am afraid of discovery, but there seems to be an invisible barrier in my head, that lets me remember everything, but won't let me document it. Maybe I am afraid that when I write it out or dictate it to the computer, everything we shared will become nothing but a tale told between book covers, an unlikely story of sappy romance and overflowing feelings. No, I cannot, I will not. But I miss you so much, and I have never been so scared in my life, not even on Catreus II, when the rebels attacked Kelyra and me…"

"Hello Sofia. I hear that you're giving your poor crew hell in space." Captain Francis Campbell's friendly round face appeared on the screen in front of her.

She scowled at him.

"Now, now. There's no reason to blame me, I didn't do anything. It was that Romulan madman, who blew up Vulcan, remember?"

"Francis, if you have something to say, spit it out."

"What? Using my first name? Since when have I been upgraded to that honor?" He grinned.

"I'm supremely annoyed. Does that serve as a sufficient explanation?"

"Well, maybe I can help to brighten your day. It just so happens that I was told you were particularly anxious about an old friend…"

Her heart beat faster, but she forced herself not to betray her feelings and kept quiet.

"Well, anyway, how come you never told me you served under Pike? And for such a long time, nonetheless. All in all, almost five years."

"It's none of your business."

"My, aren't we charming today. Anyway, it may ease your sorrows to hear that he and his ship haven't ceased to exist, and even though he is not well, he appears to be alive enough to keep the people in sickbay happily busy."

She stared at him for a moment, before asking apprehensively: "And how do you know that?"

He winced slightly. "I had to call in a favor. And Sofia – DO NOT ASK. Not now. Not ever. Anyway, your former Captain seems to have been through hell, but he made it so far, and he's a tough guy, so there's a good chance he'll be able to chase villains around the universe for many more years."

She was quiet for a moment, concentrating on breathing evenly and not showing her emotions.

"Thank you," she said softly.

"You're welcome, hon. Now go get some sleep. You look like you need it."

She was still wearing her evening gown when they caught the next shuttle flight to Rome. At this time, there were few other passengers aboard and the cabin crew dimmed the lights right after take-off. For all she cared, they might have turned them off entirely, or played Andorian music at top volume or whatever else they could come up with.

She barely recognized her surroundings, they were irrelevant.

Instead, she marveled at the fact that Captain Pike still held her hand.

He didn't let go of it during the entire flight. They barely spoke ten words, and they both slept for the greater part of the journey, but what really mattered was that he didn't let go of her hand.

She watched him beneath half-closed lids, tenderness spreading in her chest as she saw his features softened with sleep, his dark hair slightly mussed.

- "Go."

- "What?"

- "I suspect that you weren't planning on attending the recital in your Starfleet uniform. We'll have to make a run for it, so go downstairs and get dressed!"

Go downstairs… it was one of his endearing quirks to call the lower decks of the ship, where the crew quarters were located, "downstairs".

- "I've always wanted to see you command this ship dressed in an evening gown."

She smiled to herself. You shall see a lot more than that, Captain, she silently promised the sleeping man at her side.

Message from Commander Trygve Thorsteinsen, USS Serenity, to Captain Francis Campbell, USS Boreas

You're just spiteful 'cause she wasn't impressed by your attempts at flirting, Francis. Thanks for the help, though. She now is back in her quarters, sleeping. Of course, the sedative I slipped her after a prolonged discussion with Dr. Naphiti might have something to do with that, too. By the way – if you ever tell anyone about this, I'll do something truly horrible to you. Trygve.