"Captain, shuttles Ramon, Chawla and McCool are prepped and ready," Sulu called over his shoulder.

"Good," Jim responded, his eyes focused on the lights streaking past the viewscreen. "Time?"

"Eleven minutes, sir."

Jim only nodded in response. It had been a long twenty-eight hours in transit, but they were almost there; almost to M'Qtobau and to Marissa. His body was strung tight as a bow string. Various body parts – his leg, his eye, a foot – were twitching at random intervals. He'd tried to sleep, honestly he had, but it just hadn't worked, so he'd spent the night pacing, waiting for Pike to get back to them regarding permission to return to M'Qtobau and reading the files Queen Anidal'ai given them. If Pike only used a small portion of the information provided, Dekker and UNISTAR were in big trouble.

It wasn't like Jim had cared about getting permission. They'd barely been back to the shuttle port on Cloral when Jim had ordered Sulu to put in a course for M'Qtobau, and they'd barely touched down on the Enterprise when he'd ordered maximum warp. Spock had almost frowned when he'd given the order and Selek had almost grinned, but everyone else seemed to understand and expect his command.

McCoy's "Jesus Jim, could you at least make sure that this tin can is secured before you go flinging us through space," had caused Meredith and Chekov to giggle, and even Uhura cracked a smile.

Handing Abby over to Chekov with orders to take her to the daycare, Jim and the others had hurried to his ready room. It only took Uhura ten minutes to get Pike on the comm. with a priority one call.

"What the hell do you want Kirk?" the admiral asked as soon as he was on screen. "Priority one is to be used in urgent cases, you know? Not just because you miss talking to me."

"We're going to M'Qtobau," Jim told him, not even bothering to banter with him.

"The hell you are," Pike shot back, frowning.

"Course is already laid in, we're pushing warp six, we should be there in twenty-eight hours or less, if Sulu can finagle more speed through this area," Jim told him briskly. "I need you to get us permission to enter the system."

"Hold on," Pike said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms as he glared balefully at the screen. "Did you forget the part where I'm the admiral and you're the captain?"

"No sir," Jim replied, still pacing in front of the conference desk. "I'm just telling you what I need."

Pike audibly sighed. "Kirk, sit down and tell me what the hell is going on," he demanded. "Or better yet, Spock?" he looked at the Vulcan.

"Admiral, the Enterprise…"

"Marissa is alive," Jim blurted out, interrupting his first officer as he sat heavily in his seat. "The Queen of Cloral had one of her ministers steal a PADD from a UNISTAR representative that was courting them for their tovarpless – yes, UNISTAR has contacted them even though they are in negotiations with the Federation. The PADD has a bunch of information, but most importantly it has information about what is currently going on on M'Qtobau. They are in the middle of a civil war and Marissa is on the top of their hit list. She's been suspected to have been involved in planning several guerrilla attacks on communication systems as well as supply depots. Two weeks ago she and a dozen other rebels were cornered and asked to surrender and they refused. She's alive and we're going to M'Qtobau whether you get us permission or not."

Pike stared at Jim in shock as he absorbed the sudden rush of information.

"Admiral," Jim prodded in frustration.

"Spock?" Pike looked away from Jim.

"The captain's information is correct," Spock replied. "According to the information Queen Anidal'ai gave us, Lieutenant O'Donnell survived the bombing of Mallorabia and has been an active member of what UNISTAR terms the rebel faction. If she was indeed in the party that was asked to surrender then as of two weeks ago she was alive on M'Qtobau."

Pike didn't say anything at first, just stared at the screen blankly, his mind obviously working through different scenarios and options.

"The president is currently on Denobia," he finally said. "It may take some time to get through to him and even then… you said the information you have was stolen by the Cloralans?"

"The term the Queen used was 'borrowed,'" Selek spoke for the first time. "The PADD was returned to the UNISTAR representative."

Pike nodded. "Then if you would please send me this borrowed information, I would be interested in seeing it," he said. "I don't suppose our friend in charge is mentioned anywhere?"

"Not directly," Selek told him, "but I have not been able to look through it fully. A part of the information is encrypted, but if I am not mistaken there are account numbers and contact information included in these parts. Were you able to look over the orders that sent the Enterprise to M'Qtobau, as well as the communication from Lieutenant O'Donnell to Jim?"

"I was," Pike nodded. "It was fascinating, to borrow a phrase. And Jim," he turned back to look at his protégé, "I know this has been hard on you, but to know that she was…"

Jim shook his head, interrupting the older man. "She's not dead," he declared. "So, that's in the past. Soon I'll have her back; I'll have them both back. I just need your help to make sure I don't lose the Enterprise in the process."

"I don't suppose I can talk you into waiting for that permission, can I?" Pike asked wryly.

"No sir," Jim told him honestly. "We're going in with or without it."

Pike nodded, knowing that was the only answer he was going to get. "I'll see what I can do. And Jim?"

"Yes sir?"

"Congratulations and good luck. Pike out."

That had been almost twenty-eight hours ago and now they were minutes away from M'Qtobau. Permission to enter the system had come through an hour previously. Jim was officially under orders from the President of the Federation to observe the situation, offer aid as needed, and search for their missing away team.

"Uhura, anything?" Jim turned towards his communications officer.

"Nothing yet, sir," she replied, her hand pressed to her ear as she continued to switch through channels. "They appear to still be under a black out."

"Let me know the minute you pick anything up," he told her. "I don't care if it's a commercial for the latest fancy soap, I want to hear it."

"Of course, Captain." If she huffed at her communications display, no one paid her any mind.

The bridge was silent until Sulu spoke again. "Coming out of warp in five, four, three, two…" and suddenly M'Qtobau was before them. Jim's breath caught in his chest as he stared at it, believing that somewhere down there Marissa was alive and waiting for him.

The bridge didn't remain silent for long.

"Captain, I have a repeating radio message coming from eighty kilometers east northeast of Malloribia. They are asking for help," Uhura called out.

"The radiation shield is holding and radiation levels are negligible outside of the shield."

"Keptin, there are several areas of small arms fighting," Chekov said.

"According to local news agencies the viceroy has been overthrown and has left the planet, sir," Hannity spoke up, as others chimed in with information regarding the planet below from their stations.

"Then why the hell is there still fighting?" Jim demanded. He was still sitting in his chair, though he was leaning forward tensely. He had agreed with Spock that they needed to assess the situation before sending any landing crafts, but he was chafing with the need to get down there now. "Chekov, give me locations."

"Ze largest area of concentrated fire is eighty kilometers east northeast of Malloribia," Chekov told him, spinning slightly in his chair. "Ze same location of ze message." His eyes were wide and excited. That direction had been where they had concentrated on searching for the away team the first time. It had been the most likely way they would have travelled in order to avoid the bomb.

"Uhura, play the message," Jim ordered. "Is it radio or sub space?"

"Radio only," Uhura informed them. "And I'm not getting any response to my hails. I did manage to get through to someone in Prividan City, but they don't seem to know who is in charge. When I have someone…"

"Let me know," Jim cut her off impatiently. "Now play the message. Chekov, get me a scan of the area. I want to know what we're up against."

"Yes sir."

"…free people of M'Qtobau in opposition to the Viceroy and his UNISTAR partners. We are being fired upon. We are running short of supplies and ammunition. We need help. This is Ambassador Loular Boyarsky, leader of the free people of M'Qtobau in opposition to the…." It repeated.

Jim felt a grin spreading across his face as the message continued. The ambassador was alive. He'd bet the Enterprise that Marissa and the away team were with him.

"Chekov – visual. Now."

"Yes, Keptin," the young ensign replied. Hitting a few more switches, the view screen changed. Instead of looking at a peaceful planet floating in space there was a grainy picture of trees and rocks, a stream and smoke. "Zhere appears to be a cave entrance zhere," Chekov pointed at the top right corner of the view screen. "It iz collapsed. I count thirty-zeven life signs in the area. All weapons are projectile, similar to late twenty-first century Earth."

"Landing area?" Jim asked, standing in order to get a better view. He could just make out small figures moving through the trees. Something had just been fired at the cave location, because that area of the screen was suddenly filled with smoke and debris. Projectile weapons were primitive, but they got the job done. They were just messier.

"Point two kilometers north of the cave by the stream bed zhere iz enough room for two shuttles, Keptin."

Jim nodded. "All right, let's…"

"Captain, I have someone from Prividan City," Uhura informed him.

Jim sighed. Glancing over he looked at Spock. He knew he had to take this. It was best that they knew as much as they could. "Fine," he replied, sitting down in his chair once more. "I want shuttles Ramon, Chwala and McCool warming up. Sulu and I will take the Ramon with Bones and his team. Scotty, Jaquith and Giotto on the Chawla, with Tibbs flying cover on the McCool, and Spock coordinating everything from there. Chekov you're in charge here. Uhura keep us all informed. Sulu get everyone ready and to the shuttles, I'll be there in five minutes. Uhura, on screen please," he ordered.

"This is James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise," he said to the M'Qtobauan on screen.

"Captain Kirk, I am named Bjarni Olegston," the man smiled widely, his words heavily accented. He began to speak rapidly in what appeared to be a mix of standard and M'Qtobauan, but Jim barely managed to pick up two words.

"Wait, wait," he called holding up his hand. "I'm not understanding you. Please slow down and feel free to speak in your language, we'll use our Unitrans." Jim waved a hand back towards Uhura to activate the system.

The man seemed to pause as he tried to decipher Jim's words, but then nodded. "I am sorry," he spoke again, this time the Unitrans translated his words easily. "It has been a most amazing day. We have finally overthrown the Viceroy and removed him from power. We are in the process of interning all of his allies that he left behind."

"The Viceroy has left the planet?" Jim asked.

"Yes," the other man nodded. "Yesterday. He left on a UNISTAR ship."

"Who is in charge now?"

Olegston shrugged. "I do not know, Captain Kirk. I am only a banker. We are waiting for Ambassador Boyarsky and Ranoyl to return from their headquarters in the mountains. Ranoyl is the brother of the Viceroy and we hope our next leader. He helped to expose his bother's corruptions and free our people from the yoke of the alien company UNISTAR."

"And this Ranoyl is with Ambassador Boyarsky?" Jim questioned.


"Well, according to a distress signal we are picking up, Boyarsky and whoever is with him are under attack in the mountains and need assistance," Jim told him.

Olegston's face paled and he frowned. "We are not aware of this," he said, before turning to talk to someone off screen, his hand covering the microphone. "Our communications system was damaged and only recently brought back online," he told them. "We will see about sending relief…"

"I have three shuttles ready to launch and can be there in twenty minutes," Jim interrupted him. "We'd be more than happy to assist in aiding the Ambassador and his followers."

"I…" Olegston hesitated, once again focused on someone off screen. "We appreciate your desire to help, Captain, but we would…prefer…to not have any more alien intervention on our planet. We can…"

Jim almost rolled his eyes. "I know you can take care of your own," Jim interrupted him again. "But you have to understand that I have a team of five people on your planet. People that we thought had died in the bombing of Malloribia. I will not leave this system without them. So whether you want our assistance or not, we will be going down to get our people. We can bring you the Ambassador and Ranoyl and then leave. The Federation has no desire to force your government to do anything, but I am retrieving my people whether you want me to or not."

Again Olegston seemed to be listening to someone, and then he turned and nodded at the screen. "That is acceptable, Captain. We appreciate your help in bringing our leaders to Prividan City."

"Excellent," Jim replied. "Kirk out." Standing, Jim looked around the bridge. "Okay, folks, keep us informed. Chekov, the conn is yours. Spock, let's go!"

"Aye, Keptin," Chekov replied instantly. "Good luck!"

The shuttle Ramon entered the atmosphere of M'Qtobau with little trouble. No warnings sounded, no alerts on the planet surface were detected. Olegston seemed to think that the Viceroy and his cronies had flown the coop, but obviously there was still fighting going on. They had to be careful.

At the helm Sulu gracefully guided the stubby landing craft through the clouds and down towards the mountainous region of M'Qtobau, northeast of the once lovely city of Malloribia, destroyed by a bomb four months ago. The area surrounding the city was a no-man's land due to the radiation from the bombs; however government officials had created radiation screens which prevented the spread of the radioactive ionic fallout and there was even evidence of primitive scrubbers in the airspace above the city.

On board the Ramon, Jim sat uneasily in his seat. Bouncing his leg and tapping on the arm of the chair, he definitely was not presenting the image of a cool, calm captain firmly in control of his feelings. Next to him McCoy was doing his best to ignore Jim's fidgeting, but could not help the occasional grimace or eye roll as Jim's twitches became more and more noticeable.

Finally, Bones reached over to grab Jim's arm. "Damn it, Jim! Be still. You're messin' with the damned shuttle's stability controls. Sulu can barely keep the thing level for all your cavortin'. She's there. She's there and you're gonna see her in just a little bit."

"God, Bones," Jim shook his head and consciously gripped his fingers together in an effort to stop moving. "She's got to be there. She has to be. If she's not…" the tortured face he turned towards his friend was at once hopeful and desperate, "I can't stand it – what's taking so long?"

"We're getting there Jim," McCoy told him with a comforting pat on his leg. "Sulu's flying this tin can as fast as he can. We don't want those troops knowing we're coming. Not if they happen to have any heavy fire power Chekov wasn't able to see."

"I know Bones, I know," Jim replied, sitting forward and rubbing his hands through his hair in agitation. "I'm the one who devised this mission. I just…" he turned to stare out the porthole, watching the ground grow closer and closer."

"Captain, we're in range of standard weapons systems," Sulu said over the speakers. "Our shields are at one hundred percent."

"Good," Jim replied through his comm. "Hannity, what are the scanners showing?" he called over to the communications station.

"They are continuing to fire upon the hillside, sir," she replied promptly. "The cave opening shows debris; access may still possible, but we'll have to do some digging."

"Sulu, how soon can we be in range for phasers?" Jim asked.

"Ninety seconds, Captain."

Jim sighed heavily. I'm coming, Marissa. Hold on for two more minutes. I'm coming, he thought urgently.

"Captain, I've picked up a recorded broadcast from near the cave," Hannity said, a huge grin on her face. "You have to hear this."

"This is Lieutenant Roth of the USS Enterprise. Our away team is stranded on the planet M'Qtobau, grid quadrant 71 by 54. We are without provisions and under attack. We request aid from any Starfleet ship within hearing. Stardate mark 2260.90. I repeat this is Lieutenant Roth of the USS Enterprise. We are in need of immediate assistance and evacuation…"

"Holy shit!" Jim declared, looking over Bones and grinning.

"They're here," McCoy smiled back, slapping Jim on the back heartily.

"Why the hell didn't we pick this up sooner?" Jim demanded, unstrapping from his harness and going over to stand next to the communications station.

"It's a very weak signal, sir," she told him. "I had to boost it through our array to even hear all of it."

"Can you get through to them?" Jim asked, watching her fiddle with the console in front of her.

"Negative, sir," she shook her head. "It's broadcast only. I don't think the receiver's working."

"Keep trying," Jim told her. "And good job," he added, patting her on the shoulder.

"Thank you, sir," she smiled up at him, her eyes shiny, before turning back to her station.

The shuttle suddenly rocked as something impacted against the shield.

"Sulu?" Jim called, working his way to the cockpit.

"Shields are holding," Sulu said over his shoulder, maneuvering the craft out of the path of another projectile. "It was a lucky hit."

"Set phasers to heavy stun, wide spread," Jim ordered, he watched as Ensign Tolkev fiddled with his controls in the co-pilots seat. "Fire!"

The shuttle wasn't as sturdy as the Enterprise and the firing of the phasers in atmosphere made it vibrate as the energy beams were released, causing McCoy to curse loudly.

Tolkev looked over the scanners. "Scans show all ground personnel immobilized. No weapons are being fired, Captain."

"Okay," Jim replied, turning back to the main cabin. "Hannity, hail the Chawla." After a few clicks, Lieutenant Jaquith responded and Jim had her patch him through to Scotty.

"Scotty, we stunned the ground troops. They're out for the count," Jim told him. "What are you seeing on your side?"

"They fired on us, too, but our shields held without a problem," Scotty told him heartily. "Sulu hit 'em with a heavy stun I see, so they should be out for a wee bit longer than usual," he chuckled. "No further movement in this region."

"Good Scotty," Jim replied. "Set her down and start working on the cave entrance, got it?"

"Right away, Capt'n."

"Get me the McCool," Jim ordered Hannity again.


"Yes, Captain?"

"How are things looking from up there?"

"There are no conscious life signs within ten kilometers of your landing sight," Spock informed him. "Our scanners are mostly blocked by the cave walls, but we are able to detect life signs within the cave. The cave system seems to be very large consisting of several large caverns and many branching tunnels and pathways. I would guess over two kilometers in total. And the source of the broadcast that Lieutenant Hannity picked up is near the original M'Qtobauan broadcast sight."

"Excellent," Jim grinned. "Keep an eye on things up there and let us know if anything is coming for us."

"Of course, Captain. Spock out."

Jim turned back to his seat and McCoy gave a small chuckle as he sat back down again.

"Think you can settle down now?" he asked.

"No way, Bones," Jim said, rubbing his hands on his thighs and rocking slightly back and forth in his seat. "Not until I have her in my arms. Not until I see her and hear her voice. Not until I can hold her and…"

"Whoa!" McCoy held up his hand in protest. "That's enough, kid. I don't want any more details."

Jim shook his head wryly. "I just want to hold her again, Bones," he said softly. "I just want to know that she's all right. That they are all right."

"I know, kid. I know," McCoy told him. "We'll be there soon."

"Ground contact in thirty seconds," Sulu announced. The Ramon shook as the retro-thrusters fired and within a few seconds the shuttle settled gently onto the planet's surface."

Jim was the first person standing. "Sulu, remind me to write you up for some really great flying, okay?" Jim said as he slapped his pilot on the shoulder while waiting for the port to open. Once the space was large enough several security members exited first with Jim right behind them. Looking around there was some pretty heavy damage inflicted by the small arms projectiles. They were crude but powerful. Jim was glad that it had only been a small contingent of soldiers. From what Uhura had been able to find out from Olegston the crumbling of the UNISTAR fronted government had happened rapidly once the Viceroy had fled the planet with his cronies.

The militants attacking the cave really didn't know how to effectively use the weapons or, more importantly, when a cause was lost. They only wanted to attack those who had defeated them. One last order by the Viceroy as he had evacuated the planet had been fanatically followed by a handful of armed soldiers.

Jim was impressed with how the truth used as propaganda was such an effective weapon. Apparently Boyarsky's group had managed to tap in and take over the planet wide communications system about two and a half weeks ago. With spies feeding actual footage of what UNISTAR and the Viceroy were up to, along with broadcasts of Boyarsky speaking and explaining how this was costing the M'Qtobauan people, the government had crumbled quickly. The rebellion had won without too many shots being fired – until now. It was too bad that the Viceroy's iron grip on the interstellar communications array hadn't lessened until he fled. The Enterprise would have been here much sooner.

Now a handful of militants wanted to wipe out Boyarsky's group at the last command of their vaunted – and defeated – Viceroy. They seemed to have been doing a pretty good job of sealing off the cave. Of the thirty-seven life signs that were scanned when they'd first approached the cave, all but three were currently in the custody of Scotty's security team. The other three had died when they were stunned; either from the stun itself, or by accident because of their location at the time of the blast.

From what Uhura had been able to piece together the cave had been under siege for over two weeks, cut off by the militants from their support in the valley below, but only under attack for a day or two. Olegston seemed sure that Boyarsky was there and Jim was pretty sure Marissa would be with him, but it was over two weeks since the surrender request and her response, and a lot could happen. She could have moved, she could have been injured, and Jim's mind spun with all the possible scenarios as he paced and waited for the cave to be opened.

He was so close…

Finally an opening was made and Jim was standing next to Scotty peering into the darkness.

"Ahoy the cave!" Scotty called, his hands cupped over his mouth.

"Ahoy, Scotty!" a deep voice returned, the man it belonged to already emerging. He was pale, bedraggled, and covered in dust, wearing a native long sleeve shirt, along with Starfleet issued pants, but Lieutenant Roth was instantly recognizable despite his impressive facial hair.

"Roth, laddie," Scotty laughed jovially. "How are you doing man?" he asked, shaking the man's hand enthusiastically.

Roth smiled at Scotty, the expression seemingly etched on his face, then turned to Jim. "Captain," he saluted smartly. "Lieutenant Roth reporting that the away team is all present and accounted for and very relieved to see you, sir!"

"Lieutenant," Jim replied, saluting before stepping forward to shake his hand and clap him on the shoulder. "I knew I could count on you."

"Yes sir," Roth smiled. "We're all a bit worse for wear and could use some hot water, clean clothes and real food, but we're all healthy. All of us," he told Jim pointedly.

Jim did his best not to let his relief be too obvious, but couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "That's good to hear," he peered behind the taller man. "Where?"

"She's towards the back, past the pool and to the left of the green stalagmites," Roth told him, not even pretending not to know what Jim was really asking.

Jim clapped his shoulder again in thanks, moving towards the entrance. After three steps he seemed to remember himself and his job. "Scotty?" he looked over at his chief engineer.

"Go on, Captain," Scotty shooed him away. "You won't be any good to us until you find your lassie. With Lieutenant Roth's help, Sulu and I have everything under control. Go find her."

"Thanks," Jim called over his shoulder, already dodging the Enterprise relief workers and M'Qtobauans who were going in and out of the entrance. Bones gave him a quick nod. He was too busy organizing the unloading of medical supplies to be brought into the cave to do more than offer Jim an encouraging smile.

Stepping inside, Jim forced himself to stop and let his eyes adjust. When he could finally see more than black he began to move slowly, not knowing how smooth the floor actually was. The farther he went the easier it became to see; it wasn't because his eyes had adjusted, but because there was a strange lichen-like plant glowing on the walls, and if he wasn't mistaken there were veins of something on the floor, walls and ceiling that seemed to shimmer and add more light. Guess he wouldn't need that flashlight after all.

The damage to the cave lessened considerably the farther he went and by the time he reached the pool there was no evidence at all of any attack except for the fine coating of dust. The pool was obviously the central meeting area. He saw rocks and boxes, as well as a few decrepit chairs that were apparently used for seating, spread around. There was also what looked like an ops center diagonal from where he stood carved into the cave wall.

Following Roth's instructions he continued on, seeing living and sleeping quarters branching off the aisle he was moving down. They looked primitive, just cots and not a lot of privacy, but it was better than nothing.

Angling left when he reached the glowing green stalagmites, Jim realized instantly that he had reached the infirmary and felt his stomach drop, before he reminded himself that Roth had said they were all healthy.

"Jim, move it," McCoy's voice came impatiently from behind him. "I've got a sled of equipment here."

"Sorry, Bones," Jim automatically responded, moving forward and out of the doorway. He began scanning the room. Too many people were walking around or occupying the cots and floor space of the large cavern and he didn't know if she was one of the ones moving or lying down.

Screw this, he thought to himself. "Marissa!" he called loudly, his voice echoing back at him and dozens of heads turning his way.

"Jim!" she immediately called back.

Turning towards her voice, Jim saw her stand up from where she had been kneeling next to a cot in a secluded corner and his heart almost stopped, then sped up so fast it was practically knocking against his rib cage. She was here. She was alive. He'd barely allowed himself to believe it, even after he'd convinced just about everyone else that only Marissa would reply "nuts" to a demand of surrender.

She was alive and well and running towards him, dodging quickly around people and cots.

He managed to take a few steps towards her, feeling that he was moving through permacrete, and then she was in front of him, her eyes wide and shining with tears. She seemed to pause for a moment, her eyes roving over his face, but then she was in his arms, her face buried in his neck, and everything was all right again.

"Jim! Jim! You're here! You're here!" she repeated over and over again.

"I'm here," he told her, squeezing her tightly and burying his nose in her hair. He breathed in deeply trying to control the emotions that were suddenly surging through him. After being numb for so long, it was overwhelming. Then he smelled it and he almost lost what control he had; it was mixed in with the smell of the cave and dust and everything else, but he recognized it and his body responded. It was the smell of Marissa that he had missed and that had haunted him all these months, a mixture of vanilla and baby powder and just…her. It was real and she was here.

"I'm here," he whispered again, kissing her hair before pulling away. "Let me see you," he managed to unlock her arms from around his neck and pull her away slightly, leaving his hands on her shoulders. "You're skin and bones," he told her once he finally got a good look at her.

"Well, a five star resort this place is not," she told him, self consciously reaching up to fiddle with her hair. "I must look terrible. We haven't had enough water for washing in over a week."

"You look beautiful," Jim told her. Abruptly he pulled her back into his arms. "I missed you. Gods, don't ever leave me again," he whispered hoarsely into her hair.

"Never, Never again," she replied thickly, squeezing him tightly. "I won't leave you. Not ever. I promise."

"Good," Jim pulled away again and used a hand to lift her face up towards his. He smiled softly as he wiped away her tears with his thumb, caressing her face. "I'm glad," he told her softly, "because I love you and I don't want to live without you." He'd enunciated the words clearly, making sure she really heard him and by the widening of her eyes he was pretty sure she did. "These past months…" his voice broke and he shook his head, unable to find the words.

Marissa leaned up and kissed him. "I love you, too, Jim," she told him, her smile wide and dazzling even as tears continued to streak down her face. "And I promise I won't ever leave you again. You're stuck with me. "

"Good," Jim smiled, "because I'm planning to ask you to marry me when we get back to the Enterprise. Just so you know," he told her with a quirk of an eyebrow.

Marissa grinned and began blinking rapidly, trying to stem her tears. "Thanks for the heads up. And just so you know, my answer will be yes this time."

"That's good," Jim grinned back at her. "Otherwise I'd have to lock you in our cabin until you agreed." He leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss. "Though I just might do that anyway."

"Only if you lock yourself in with me," Marissa told him, leaning up on tip toes, she offered her lips to him and he didn't hesitate as he finally kissed her, letting all his love and passion for her flow through it.

It took a while before either of them heard the applause and catcalls from the M'Qtobauans and Enterprise medical staff that were near enough to observe their reunion. When they did pull apart finally they were both grinning widely.

Please Review

Author's Note (which is probably TMI):

So, this is where I get to tell you the Complications is over. Jim and Marissa are reunited and all it well. I know you're thinking "but what about…Abby and Dekker and Jim and Marrisa's relationship? What happens with all that?" And probably also: "When are they getting married?" That's for the next story: Completion, where there will be the resolution of all that.

You're probably wondering why I'm doing it this way and the answer is complicated. ;-) I like to post when I am 5 or 6 chapters ahead of the game and right now I do not have that. I have a couple scattered chapters and an outline. The problem is my life has turned pretty sh*tty lately and I haven't really written anything new all summer.

You might have head of a bookstore called Borders? Well, that's where I work – and have worked for the last 9 years. I've held every supervisory position as well as just being a normal bookseller. I loved my job and the impact I was able to have on the community with my story times, American Girl club meetings, book groups, educator and business outreach, and as coordinator of charity book drives. The pay was crap, but I loved my job. But that is all ending now. Borders is going out of business and I am caught up in the death throes of my once beloved store.

On top of my physical therapy for my knee – I am walking with a cane now! – I am working full time at a store that sucks the life out of me. It's no longer fun. The spark that I loved about the store is gone because it's all about the discounts now and getting people through the register lines as quickly as possible. Customers, for the most part, have been great and supportive – or at least polite, but there have been too many jerks who want to yell out us for going out of business and 'inconveniencing' them by no longer allowing our loyalty program discount. As if it's our fault at the store level! Believe me, I'd much rather stay in business and give them their 10% off and keep my JOB, but I don't have that luxury.

So, if you live near a Borders, by all means take advantage of the discounts – they're pretty good, even if the pickings are slim at the moment, but please be kind to the booksellers who are working. And please, please, PLEASE don't leave a mess or a pile of books on the floor or table or display. We're all short staffed as it is and it's disheartening to see our beloved stores trashed on a daily basis and not have the time or energy to clean it up.

This message was brought to you by RogueAngel, who is trying to find a new job and trying to get her writing grove back. ;-) I'm sure once things have settled (or ended) I will be able to write again, but until then I'm just surviving. The story of Jim and Marissa is not over – Royalpinkdogs and I have things planned for after Completion, believe it or not – it's just on hiatus until my life returns to 'normal' whatever that is.

Cheers - RA