30. The Truth

A/N – In my haste to complete the last chapter I realised I didn't give you the song for the next chapter – apologies. Todays is Glowing by The Script. Someone asked me for the flashback chapters in chronological order, so for those of you interested (and to see how their relationship grows) they are (so far):

Meeting, The Taking of the Enterprise, Foreshadowing, Of Nightmares and Scars, The Lost Girl, Three Captains, The Boy, The Forest, Klingon Tea Party, Mother, The Spy, Ebor Dau, Three Rules, Lessons About Freedom, Saying Goodbye.

I've never actually tried to read them in chronological order – as they weren't written to be, so fingers crossed they make sense. There's one more flashback to come in Joanna's childhood, and then the flashbacks of her aged 18! We're getting near to the end of Part One.

For all of you who were also panicking over the last chapter – just to reiterate – Bones did not die (as we know as we see him after the Year War), but everyone had thought he had at the time.

So on with the story. Another rollercoaster of a ride and finally some answers! Thanks for reading.

You knocked me sideways
When you said that you were leaving.
It knocked me over
When you cried and told the truth.
And it left me speechless
The secrets you've been keeping
You're running now, 'cause someone's chasing you

And you're tryin' to save me
From your past of bad decisions
But my decision's always gonna be
To follow you.

Glowing – The Script

"Only a fool fights in a burning house."

Kang, Day of the Dove, TOS

Stardate: 2269

Jim: Aged 36

Joanna: Aged 20

It took Jim almost ten hours to realise that he'd screwed up. If he'd been in the right frame of mind, a more logical frame of mind (as the little voice of Spock in his head pointed out), he might have realised sooner and prevented what happened. But when he'd left her in that building after that awful, gut-retching moment when Joanna had pulled that trigger, he'd been angry and upset. Far more upset then he'd ever expected, given that he'd already anticipated what Joanna's job might involve. And, worse than all of that, he was disappointed, and Jim never coped well with disappointment. It was like the universe had shifted again, and everything he'd thought about her, everything he'd believed about this woman who was once that little girl, had shifted and she'd suddenly become a stranger to him again.

He didn't understand how she could do it. There was a man, begging for his life, reminding her of his family – and she'd killed him anyway. Murdered. His mind tried to shy away from that word, sickened. Her job had become more important that her belief in people, in life. And that was not the Joanna he knew - the little girl who had been so disgusted at every unnecessary death, who understood all too well how it felt for a child to lose their father. How could she deliberately do that to another?

For the last few days he'd known that Joanna, his Joanna, was in there. He'd seen her, despite her need to hide from him. But when he had seen that… Well he knew now why she hadn't wanted him to follow. How many people had she killed to keep her cover? He tried to be reasonable – after all, it wasn't as if he didn't have plenty of blood on his own hands. But his was always in self-defenceIt had been very difficult to walk that line sometimes but he had never stood opposite an unarmed man and pulled the trigger. That took a type of person that he had never believed Joanna could be – or become. He didn't understand how it was possible. He had believed in her. He'd promised once to protect her, to follow her if she was in danger – but clearly the danger wasn't just to her, but from her. How many of those people hunting her were doing so because of what she'd done – of who she'd killed? How could he protect her from herself?

He wandered the streets for a while, between the high-rises, shops and bustling people, his mind pre-occupied, his anger cooling and replaced by only an ache in his chest that he could only call hurt. Perhaps this was for the best. He remembered her this morning, all sleep-tousled and soft, those eyes gentle and smiling, when he'd done up her buttons and wanted nothing more than to undo them and slide his hands onto her warm skin and… He swallowed, pushing away the thought. He'd known he'd needed to leave – that he was walking too close to that line, to undoing everything he'd achieved when he'd left her on that planet two years ago. But he ached for her, and suddenly all he wanted to do was go back and fight this out, and find out what the hell she was thinking. He wanted to see if she was sorry with the decision she'd made. He wanted to make her sorry. He wanted his Joanna back again. And there lay the problem – the reason he should stay away. He'd been trying to imagine her as a little girl – and she wasn't, that much was clear. Joanna hadn't been a little girl for a long time. He remembered her last night, in that outfit, with her voice sultry and golden and full of promise. Was that the real Joanna – the grown–up Joanna? By refusing to see her as she was, he'd ignored what she might be capable of… He'd lost his ability to stop her. And some children had lost a father. The children… He stopped short, muttering an apology to the women who'd walked into him. What would happen to Vi's family? Joanna surely wouldn't go after them? He wasn't sure now. And the others? If the lawyer had sold Joanna out to someone… what if they were in danger?

He found a public computer, disabled the security protocols and hacked into the lawyer's computer system. He found no evidence of a family from any of his records – nor any of his communications. Maybe he had been lying? Or kept silent to keep them safe? He took a step back and searched for his bank account, then traced the transactions he had made. There was nothing but business that he could see. But then he noticed that irregular deposits of the same amount had been transferred to another bank – a smaller facility. It could be he was paying for a service – but why so irregular that it looked almost… deliberate. He moved into the new banking system, disabled the security protocols and traced this account. He knew he had minutes – banking security was high, and they'd be tracing this computer as soon as he hacked the first system. He scanned through the account and felt a wave of relief. This had to be it. Regular amounts were deposited to a Houston and Sons letting agents, others on the usual food and clothing establishments. He pulled out of the system, wiped the history and the cameras around him, then went to find Houston and Sons. Some things were better done in person.

There was a pretty woman at the desk that he had no problem bypassing. An explanation that he'd need somewhere to live for him and his three children, somewhere away from his evil ex-wife who had cheated on him and tried to sell his children into slavery to fuel a drug-habit, gained all the right attention and brought him a list of properties that would fit the bill. He dismissed these quickly for various reasons, and gave his best forlorn look.

"I probably shouldn't say this…" The woman gave him a smiling look beneath her lashes. "But there may be one more. I've only just found out it's going to be vacated, so it'll need to stay between us for now since the family is still in the building. I'm sure you understand. It's remote – out on the ice-plains. There's state of the art security technology…" Jim let her voice prattle on and focused on the map she'd produced with the exact location. This was undoubtedly it. He extricated himself when he could and went to find Yasaren Vi's family.

He hadn't dared rent a turbobike from a reputable lender – first because he wasn't sure if he'd return it, but also because he couldn't be sure whether the alias Vi had established was now compromised. He supposed it didn't matter now – since Joanna was long gone, but he knew his presence might trigger some questions he wasn't going to want to answer, and something made him hesitate about revealing his presence on this planet. Instead he went to find one of the backstreet bars that existed everywhere, and after an hour and a few rounds of drinks he drove off on a beaten-up but functional turbobike towards the ice-plains to the north of the city.

He knew they'd see him coming. It was impossible not to given that he was wearing a black jacket and was the only moving object amongst the miles of flat white tundra. Would whoever had compromised Yasaren Vi also come after his family? Would Joanna have gone for them? He couldn't imagine why she would – but then if she suspected that the Andorian had shared information with his family… Well it was clear now that he couldn't predict what Joanna would do. He prepared himself for a fight, primed the weapons on the modified bikes - there were other good reasons why he hadn't used a mainstream dealer. But he never had the chance to use them. He drove all the way to the gated house without any phaserfire. In fact, it wasn't until he was dismounting that he heard the familiar charging sound that suggested he might want to move. He rolled himself to the ground as a short burst of phaser fire flew over the top of his bike where he'd recently been seated. He ducked to the side, using the bike as a shield as he tried to get a look at who was shooting at him before he decided to shoot back.

"Who are you?" A bold female voice called out. Undoubtedly the one with the phaser, but a good sign nonetheless. Jim knew how to deal with women.

"I mean you no harm." He moved up from his crouch to glance over the top of the bike with both arms in the air reassuringly. An Andorian woman wielded it like she knew how to use it, and was looking at him with no small amount of fear behind the fierceness in her eyes. Scared people did stupid things – he knew that too well. "I'm guessing you're related to Yasaren Vi. I came to warn you."

"Warn me what?"

He glanced up. "That he is dead, and that you might be in danger."

There was a pause, and the suspicion in her voice grew. Not a good sign. "Who are you?"

"I'm…" Hell, how did he explain everything? "There's a woman… She's..." He tried again. "I saw him die, and guessed he might have a family. I wanted to check you were alright."

"You know the woman that killed him?"

Jim frowned. How did she know that a woman had killed him? Had Vi warned her? Had she already been here? "Yes."

He watched her lower her weapon and he stood slowly, hands still in the air.

"Did she send you?"

"Not exactly."

"Then why are you here?"

"As I said – to warn-."

"We need no warning. We already know." He saw now, behind the fence, that there was a landspeeder filled with boxes. They were leaving. "The woman came after she killed him, as planned. All has been done properly. My husband will be at rest now on the fields of Andoria."

Wait, what? "You knew? This was… planned?"

Another woman appeared at the door to the building, a small child on her hip. "What is going on?" She asked in a soft voice.

The other woman held up a hand to her, stopping her from leaving the building, and gave Jim a frank look. "Who are you? I believe you are not here to harm us – are you after the woman? My husband said that there were many trying to harm her." She cocked her head, eyes steely. "We will not give her up. She did us a great service."

His heart leapt, even as he tried to make sense of what she was saying. "She's here?"

"No. She is gone – probably from this planet if she is wise." He could see no lie on her face.

"I mean her no harm." He said seriously. That was true. He'd never harm her. "I came, as I told you, to warn you. I had thought… I watched her kill your husband."

The Andorian woman didn't speak, and watched him with hard eyes, but the other, with the soft voice, spoke. "Of course she killed him. They made a blood oath."

He had a sinking feeling. That horrible sick feeling that he might have got things very wrong. "An oath?"

The Andorian at the fence nodded. "Of course. He would help her to make things right, to avenge our son. When he was found by the Syndicate, she would kill him to protect his soul, and all of us."

His mind worked quickly, amalgamating what he knew of Andorian culture. Then he thought back to the scene at the office. He'd assumed the man was pleading for his life. But what if he wasn't… All those people in the office had been dead and Joanna certainly hadn't killed them. That meant the Syndicate – or whoever - had come for Vi, as Joanna had been worried about. And she'd made an oath. To kill him. He'd been pleading for her to kill him. Oh hell. He remembered her eyes now. Those desperate eyes, begging him for a chance to explain. He swore under his breath.

"You are surprised."

"I hadn't known…" Hell, if they came after Yasaren, was she compromised? They were after her – of course they were. And he'd promised to protect her. "Do you know where she went?"

"No."

He felt a wave of fear grip him. He'd left her – left her when half the galaxy wanted her and he'd seen first-hand how close they'd come to killing her. That wasn't what friendship was. You didn't leave just because someone did something you didn't like – else Bones and Spock would have left him years ago. You tried to understand, or you got over it, but you kept their back. He'd thought that what she'd done was unforgivable. She'd murdered someone. Only it wasn't quite murder… More assisted suicide. He wasn't sure why that made all the difference to him, but it did. Damn it. Damn, damn, damn.

He heard the sound of a shuttle in the sky and glanced up to see a small aircraft preparing to land. It had Starfleet plates. He suddenly wasn't surprised. "We are leaving." The Andorian told him, as another woman appeared at the door, and a small boy ran to the fence. Jim gazed at the boy, who looked back at him thoughtfully, antennae twitching. She'd been trying to protect them. Even when her whole world was exploding around her she'd wanted to make sure Vi's family were safe. Of course she had. The ache in his chest intensified. He had to find her. And he had to get out of here before someone recognised who he was. He'd certainly made a mess of things.

He gave a rueful smile to the woman. "Well, I'm glad you're all safe."

There was a flash of amusement in the woman's eyes before it disappeared in to her usual serious expression. "And perhaps you are glad that I reversed a few of your misconceptions?"

"Yes, I'm glad of that too."

Jim remounted his bike, and watched the shuttle land safely on the ground fifty metres from the fence.

"Do you know who she is? The woman?" The Andorian asked as he powered up.

He nodded, a thought crossing his mind. "Yes. Do you?"

The woman tilted her head again. "Perhaps. But there are some secrets worth keeping, are there not?"

He met her eyes, and saw the knowledge in there, the bargain. "There are some secrets worth dying for." And then he left, pushing the bike up to its top speed and watching the white ground move into a blur as he made his way back to the city.

Where would she go next? Joanna would be able to hide herself easily if she wanted to, and was hardly predictable – which was part of why he liked her. Where would she go? She wouldn't stay on this planet, that was for sure. Hy'Lar would pick her up in the Vulcan ship. And then where? She had some sort of meeting with the Syndicate – she'd told him that, but he didn't know where or when. They could go anywhere – could stay out in space and find a nice nebula to hide in if they needed to. But he had to find her. If she'd been compromised nowhere would be safe for her – not as Antonia, or Joanna or any other persona she went by. And Joanna dead… His mind shied away from that agonising memory and he forced himself to think. Think! What did he know about Joanna? She'd killed Yasaren Vi, then gone to warn his family. Despite the hardness in her eyes, that would not sit easily with her, especially after what he'd said to her. Regardless of his few hours of doubting, he knew in his heart that Joanna was no more killer than her father was – perhaps it was why his mind had rebelled when he'd seen it. She'd want to go somewhere safe, somewhere comforting. The old Joanna, the little girl he'd once known, would have come to him or her father. But this wasn't that little girl, he'd hurt her too much for that, and she'd created her own protection in the time that he hadn't been there. She'd go to the only place he'd seen her relax. She'd go back to her home on Jaros II.

He boarded the first shuttle he could, ignoring the curious looks when he asked for Jaros, and kept his head down. They'd be plenty of people that might recognise him on that flight – people visiting prisoners in the Stockade, people travelling to nearby Federation planets. It was a risk – but he'd attract too much attention hiring a ship of his own. He took the risk out of desperation and used his fake identity. It seemed to work – apparently Vi's work managed to cover him even in death. He disembarked as soon as he could and made his way back into the scorching heat of Jaros.

It was night on the planet, but the temperature didn't drop like it would on an Earth desert. The rental company next to the spaceport was entirely dead, and he was the only customer. The man behind the counter, a Baterax he guessed, gave him a dubious look at his appearance and spoke in halting Standard.

"What you wanting?"

"Something fast." The distrustful look deepened.

"I have many fast but they all taken. We out of stock."

Jim gave his brightest smile as a bad feeling rose from the pit of his stomach. "Sounds like people are here for a party."

"No. No party. Military men. Big guns. You best wait until they gone."

"Military? Were they Starfleet?" Had someone escaped from the Stockade? He immediately thought of the man there, Breakwater.

"No, no Starfleet. But bad." Hell. Had they come for her? Surely not – Joanna would never had returned if she thought her home was still dangerous. And if anyone had been going to find it, they would have come days ago. Even so, he found his need to get back to her increase exponentially.

"Well, I'm in a bit of a hurry and can't wait. You must have something for me."

"No, no. I have nothing, sir."

Jim didn't have the time or the patience to extend a haggle. He gave his most persuasive smile. "Of course you do. You always have one tucked away. They don't call you the best on the planet for no reason."

"Well, they do, it's true. But I-."

Jim's patience ran out. "I can pay." He dropped a pile of credits on the desk. Enough to buy a decent bike outright if they'd been anywhere close enough in this desert.

The man's eyes widened with greed, then a smile broadened. "Well, I recall that there is one. My nephew borrowed today – it is his most favourite, but it can be yours."

"Fine. Show me."

The Baterax led him out to the empty warehouse adjoining his office, then pulled the cover off a bright yellow, beaten up, speeder. It had been built for extra power, with a large engine, and an extended computer – definitely a young man's toy. It was going to be as noisy as hell. It would have been perfect if he was entering a drag-race- which he wasn't. So much for stealth. But he hardly had a lot of choice, and besides – Joanna wasn't probably going to be in the right mood to be snuck up on. They exchanged money and Jim pulled the bike out of the warehouse.

"Which way are you heading?" The Baterax asked as he counted his money. Jim deliberately pointed in a direction opposite to Joanna's home in the desert. She'd definitely been paranoid for a reason. "Ah, that is very good."

"Why?"

"There is a big sandstorm coming from the north. Big big. They come at this season. But if you go south there is no problem."

Great. "How long?"

"You do not need fear, my friend. The cities all have shielding."

"How long?" Jim repeated with a bite in his voice.

The man stepped back. Jim must have sounded more threatening than he meant. "Two, three hours. Who knows?"

Not him, apparently. This didn't bode well. Jim didn't think he'd find his way back to Joanna's in a sandstorm. He wasn't sure he could find his way back to hers irrelevant. He kicked the engines into life and headed south, then looped back on himself, and sped North to Joanna.

He'd driven for an hour, and crested a sand dune close to the beginning of the field of rocky pillars before he saw it. He slowed to a halt and studied the horizon. Grey rolling clouds sped towards him, hiding the moon and stars, kicking up the sand into a wave that looked like a moving, living organism. But that wasn't what had caught his attention. It was flickering light in the distance. Flames and smoke rose up in a dark plume in the moonlight, being sucked backward towards the static of the storm.

Panic suddenly filled him as Deja-vu crashed into his mind. He'd seen this before, hadn't he? It wasn't one of the clear memories, like some he had of her - just smoke and blinding panic. Then he remembered that time before he'd know who – or what – she was to him. Once upon a time there was a Girl with a Red Balloon who'd made a promise, a promise that her friend hadn't understood. His own subconscious trying to tell him – to warn him. Hell, it was all happening. It was coming true. And he'd been blind to it, like the last time. Fear, so potent he could taste it, filled him, and he put his head down and kicked his bike into gear. Her home was burning. They had come for her.

His engine echoed around the pillars, and any attempt at stealth was abandoned. His one thought was to get to her. The sky overhead darkened. He could taste the sandstorm coming. He followed the smoke.

Flames licked up the walls of the house. The cloaking device was down, at least partially, so that the building flickered in and out of existence like a hologram, and the smoke intermittently appeared to come from nowhere. Soldiers surrounded her house in a ring, firing through the windows. There must have been forty of them. Jim recognised the tattoos of mercenaries. One of the elite orders, if he was correct. Hell, they were trying to burn her out. He wished he had his phaser, but had given it up through security on Boradis. He saw return fire flicker out through one of the windows, catching one of the soldiers, and felt a wave of relief. Someone was alive in there – at least for now.

He was climbing the pillar next to him before he'd realised he had a plan. He would never get through that circle without a weapon – so he'd go over it. The darkness would keep him hidden to a certain extent. And people were usually too preoccupied to look up. He jumped pillar to pillar, then onto the roof of the house. Sweat poured off him, made worse by the flames. Fire was burning up through the roof. He removed his jacket, covering his nose and mouth, and lowered himself from the roof into a window.

Everything was burning, and the heat was near overwhelming. He wasn't sure what room he was in, his eyes too sore to look too closely. He stumbled around the bed and into the hallway outside. Flames licked the walls. There were already holes in the floors. The whole house was going to collapse inwards. They didn't have a lot of time.

Half blinded and coughing he tripped over an object on the floor and came face-to-face with Hy'Lar. Jim scrambled off quickly, his heart beating hard. The Mazarite was dead – there was no question there. His body was already charring with the smell of cooking meat, but the signs of phaser wounds were unmistakeable. He swallowed bile. Hell. Poor man. No one should have to die this way. Phaser fire broke his reverie. Joanna. He needed to get to Joanna. He pulled himself away, and down the collapsing stairs.

There were bodies all over the floor, licked by the flames. Clearly they'd tried to come in and get her. Given their numbers someone knew how dangerous she was, and had chosen to cut their losses quickly and smoke her out. He moved into the living room, where flames ate the rug by the window and licked the wall.

"Joanna." He shouted her name, then inhaled smoke and coughed up his chest. A shot thudded into the wall next to him, punching a hole and sending shards of rock everywhere. An ominous creaking was coming from overhead. The ceiling was going to cave in. He covered his mouth and moved to where the shot had come from as another barrage of phaser fire shuddered into the house from outside. Clearly they were becoming inpatient – and rightly so. No one was going to be able to stay in here for much longer.

She was half-sitting behind the kitchen counter, gasping. There were three bodies around her, one man still half on top of her with a knife in his back. That wasn't quite so striking as the fact she was covered in blood – her cheeks smeared and sooty, her clothing torn. She looked up at him, her eyes blank, and aimed her phaser at him again with a shaking hand.

The shot shuddered next to him, missing him by a hair. "Damn it, Joanna. It's me." He moved quickly and knocked the phaser from her hand without much difficulty. She didn't fight him, but continued to look at him with those large brown eyes, reflecting the fires around them. He wasn't sure what she was seeing, couldn't read their expression.

Then the ceiling started to collapse. "It's time to go." He pulled her to her feet. She was limp, and he realised she might be seriously injured. How much of that blood was hers?

"No." Her voice was hoarse, her eyes suddenly wild and violent. He knew that look. It was a look of a captain who went down with their ship.

"Joanna, it's gone. It's over. You can't fight them in a burning house." He could barely breathe. The heat was unbelievable, his clothing was charring. They had no time for argument. He saw her sway, picked her up, and looked for an exit.

The ceiling totally blocked the way he'd come in. Hell, he wasn't going to last much longer. "Joanna, how do we get out of here?" He gasped and shook the half-conscious woman in his arms.

"Down." She half-mouthed the word.

A garage. She must have a subterranean garage. He dropped her none-too gently, grabbed the phaser of a dead soldier, and shot a hole in the floor. It had clearly been about to give – as the whole thing collapsed and they dropped a few feet into the fire-lit murkiness of the cellar. Every part of him hurt, but the air was fresher here, and he took several deep breaths.

"Joanna?" She was face down on the rubble, a bag slung over one shoulder. He turned her over, and shook her but she merely moaned. He felt another wave of panic and fought it away. He threw her over his shoulder, bag and all, and found the controls for the garage doors. They opened noisily. The mercs were going to be on them in seconds. He started the first bike he was close to, tied her to his chest using his jacket, and picked up the phaser with his free hand. Time to get out of here.

He kicked off, switched on his full beams and accelerated hard. They emerged from the garage with a roar and a blare of light. He watched the mercs jump out of the way as he broke their circle. Shots came in every direction, but his lights had blinded them briefly, and he fired indiscriminately over his shoulder as he sped out into the columns.

Breathing wasn't much better out here. The sand storm was accelerating towards him. He heard the engines of several bikes behind him and swore under his breath. It looked like they weren't going to give up. He weaved in and out of the columns, avoiding phaser fire, as they drew closer.

His options were few. Losing them was going to be difficult, taking them down even more so. How stupid did he feel like being? He smiled to himself. His luck was in. He turned his bike and turned straight into the sandstorm.

Everything became near silent except for the sound of the wind. He swallowed a mouthful of sand and pulled his shirt over his mouth and nose, and did the same for Joanna. Sand burnt his eyes and skin and made his engine stutter. Visibility was extremely limited in the night and the storm, and rock formations seemed to come out of nowhere. They could be following and he'd never know until they were on top of him. He switched on the bike's computer and watched it jump with the interference – both a blessing and a curse. They wouldn't be able to track him in here – but he wouldn't be able to find anything either.

They'd hiked around here on the way back from the Stockade. He was relying on the ruins being in the direction he hoped he was driving – and that the mercs wouldn't know about them. However, driving in a straight line proved difficult in the wind and he knew they'd need to take shelter before long. The bike wasn't going to keeping running for long in these conditions. He wasn't sure how long this sandstorm would continue – Joanna would have more of an idea, she was still limp before him and he wasn't feeling much better.

"There." Joanna's voice caught on the wind, and he saw her arm extended to the left. Clearly she had been more conscious than he'd thought. She was pointing at gloomy masses that might have been anything, barely lit by his bike's light in the storm. He slowed and changed direction, guided by her arm and flashes of stone. They stopped outside a building that was formless in the darkness and he pulled himself off, then helped Joanna who was almost knocked over by the wind.

The room had no windows and was pitch black. Joanna lit a torch from her bag, and Jim pulled in the bike with them to stop it flying away. He found some large stones in the room that had perhaps been used for a table once upon a time, and set about blocking the entrance from the sand. His ears were ringing from the wind after he shut it out, but it instantly became warmer and easier to breath.

Joanna was sitting in the corner of the room, head back against the stone wall. Her face looked grey in the dim light and made him nervous. He found himself, once again, lost for words in her presence. She was still covered in blood, though he wasn't sure what was her own and what was her victims. All he suddenly wanted to do was to pick her up and hold her, and check that she was okay. No, if he was honest he wanted to do more than that. He wanted to press his mouth to hers and show her how sorry he was, not just for leaving but for doubting her. He wanted to hear her tears for Hy'Lar and take on her grief. But he just stood there, uncharacteristically indecisive, unable to move and unsure how to make this right.

"You okay?" He finally broke the silence.

She said nothing, but her eyes flickered open. She looked at him, unreadable again, then reached out for her bag and pulled out a medical kit. She ignored him as she shrugged off her shredded jacket and shirt, then stood in her bra and began to heal her wounds. Always ready for the next fight. He would have thought she was totally unaffected by all that had just happened, would have thought she were a robot, but her hands were shaking. Her dad's hands shook too, when he was upset.

"Joanna…" He tried again, stepping closer. "Do you need me to help...?"

"No." Her voice was short. He watched her inject herself with something, and her posture stiffened.

So this was how it was going to be. She was hardly the most communicative of people of late - she kept her feelings close for good reason. But they'd been making progress – and he'd let her down, despite promising that he wouldn't. Joanna was upset – with him, with herself, with life itself probably, and she had every right to be. He couldn't blame her. He'd hurt her by leaving again, by being so quick to judge her – he'd seen it in her face when he'd left and pretended to himself that he hadn't. But she'd almost died again. There was no way that he could make this better, could protect her now, unless they were on even footing. He needed information, and given the situation, he needed it quickly.

So he had two options. The first was to continue to do what he'd been doing and win her trust again – following blindly, making wrong assumptions, and running the risk endangering them both through his ignorance. It had worked the last time until he'd screwed up, and was the preferred method because this way he didn't run the risk of losing her friendship – or whatever they had left now. But when she'd tried to tell him something, he hadn't been willing to hear it. And now people were dead, and he would not, not, let her die. That left the other option - to push her for information, force it out of her, which, in her current mindset, might have serious consequences. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't do it the hard way like he had in the airport when they'd first met, that he'd let her volunteer the information, that he'd be patient and listen when she finally spoke. But he could no longer wait, he could no longer be patient, and he had to know what the hell was going on if he was going to protect her. These people were serious. And that meant that he was going to have to push the only way he knew how.

He straightened and watched her across the room as she continued to fix her wounds. She was strong, Joanna - the strongest person he knew. Independent, and fearless. She could take this. Hell, he hoped she could.

"Who were the people at the house, Joanna?" He asked softly. She didn't answer. He was unsurprised. "I assume they came for you and not Hy'Lar. He must have been caught in the crossfire trying to protect you." She went still and he knew he was going the right way for a fight. "Or did he get in your way and you killed him?"

Her eyes flashed as she pulled herself to her feet. "What the hell do you-." Her voice was molten.

"No – I don't think you killed him in cold blood." He kept his voice calm and reasonable, interrupting her ruthlessly. "You seemed to like him more than Vi. Perhaps it was an accident. Or maybe he sold you out and you gave him the consequence of his disloyalty."

Joanna punched him square in the face before he'd realised she'd crossed the room. His head snapped backwards, but he managed to grab her hand and force it behind her, preventing a second blow. They stood chest to chest, him towering over her, her eyes volcanic in fury.

"Don't you dare speak of him. Don't you dare." Joanna was rigid. "You know nothing, nothing, about that man's loyalty."

"Loyalty? Is that what it was? What a shame on a man who was loyal to you. He followed you blindly and was rewarded for his efforts. How many men do you expect to die for you, Joanna? How many men will you be the downfall of before you trust someone with the truth?"

Her eyes went dark and he thought he might have gone too far. He held her arms tighter to prevent her lashing out at him. "I asked no one to die for me. No one. And there's no one I can trust. What would you know?"

"I know nothing because you tell me nothing."

"Of course I tell you nothing. How the hell could I trust you?"

"Because you know me."

She laughed humourlessly. "Exactly. I know you. You couldn't to handle the truth, Jim. You couldn't handle the least of what I've done."

"Well you'd better hope I can, or my blood will be on your hands too."

She struggled against him and he pressed her back, against the wall. "No it won't be. I don't give a damn about you. I didn't ask for your help and I don't want it. We'll part as soon as we get out of here. I wish you'd never come back."

"So you wish you'd died in that house? Your death won't erase the blood on your hands."

"If you're talking about Hy'Lar - of course his blood is on my hands. Is that what you're trying to get me to admit? That I'm a murderer? That I'm a liar? Of course I am. What were you expecting?"

Her eyes were fiery and beautiful and every instinct screamed to let her go, but he held on tightly. He was too close. "That you're Human. Don't pretend that you don't feel, Joanna. I know you do. I found out the truth about Vi – you're no murderer. You're not a Vulcan either, no matter how much you want to be. So I want the truth so that we can deal with this mess. You promised it to me, and I'm going to get it."

"Go to hell. I'm not telling you anything." She pulled away, turning them both, but Jim grabbed her arm, forcing it back behind her. She swung a punch with her free hand. It wasn't as strong as it would have been – she definitely had been injured – but it was loaded with anger, and it smacked his head off the wall behind him. He did his best not to hurt her as he spun them around and pinned her against the wall again. She fought him every step, but he was the taller and heavier of them, and pinned her with his whole body.

"We're going to stay here until you tell me everything, Sassy."

She moved her leg to loosen her knee, but he immediately added a painful amount of pressure. He pulled her arm down and pinned it behind her back, twisting until she grimaced with pain. He felt sick but didn't let up. It was necessary, he told himself.

"Stop fighting me. I want to know everything, Joanna."

"No."

"Everything."

"Go to hell." She head-butted him but he didn't lose his hold. He'd been in plenty of bar-fights. He knew how to fight dirty, and those sort of tricks didn't faze him.

"Stop fighting me." He pressed his body harder against hers. "I want to know what's going on. We're not leaving until I get some answers."

"Why?" Her eyes flashed angrily.

"Because I'm a Starfleet captain, and I have a duty to maintain the law and protect the Federation."

"So go and tell your precious Starfleet what you know. I'm sure they'll be interested."

"Maybe they will be, but I have no proof."

"Since when does the great James Tiberius Kirk need proof? He merely has to speak and everyone does his bidding."

"You know that's not true."
"Do I?" She scowled. "What makes you think that I have any proof – or that what I know has anything to do with what you think?"

"Because there are a lot of people trying to kill you, and I think it's about more than selling a biological weapon."

"And so what if it is? It's not your fight. Let them come."

"So you can be burnt to death in your home again?"

"Maybe."

"Don't be an idiot, Joanna. Hy'Lar did not give his life so that you could die so easily. Or do you think so little about your friend's sacrifice."

"Shut the hell up."

"Just talk to me."

"No."

Jim felt his patience wear thin. She was more stubborn than her father. "Joanna, I'm trying to help you. I'm trying to protect you – and I can only do it if you tell me what's going on."

"I won't say it again – I don't want or need your protection."

"You don't have to want it – but you'll have it anyway."

"Sure I will – for as long as you're bored, or I behave in the way that you think is right. Then something will happen and you'll be gone. I'd rather not rely on you, thanks. Good-weather friends are useless in the rain."

"Maybe if you'd explained I wouldn't have left-."
"You didn't give me the chance to explain."

"Then you should have told me everything to start with."
"Why – so you could have left even earlier? Don't bother. Just leave. Hell, go now. You're lucky - a sandstorm is nothing to you."

"I'm not going to leave you, Joanna. I made a promise to your father and I'll be damned if I break it."

"Well I guess you're going to be damned. If you won't leave me, I'll just leave you."

He pressed her sore arm and she winced. "Not without telling me something."

"How long do you think you can hold out here Jim? Eventually you're going to get hungry and thirsty and you're going to have to leave. I can wait a long time."

He frowned at her. "Don't think I'm above stunning you – because I'm not. I'm not afraid of continuing this at a more comfortable location. But, since you seem to have half the galaxy after you, I'd appreciate not to have to."

"Well that's unfortunate for you. You'd better think of some better forms of torture too – because frankly this is pathetic."

Torture? He almost lost his temper. "Joanna, stop acting like a child. I'm offering you help, and you refuse to take it because I've hurt your feelings. You know that you need it – or do you need me to rescue you from a few more near-death experiences? Grow up. This is about more than you and me."

She looked him squarely in the face, and for a second he thought she might attack him again. But her words, instead, were furious. "This is all about you and me. You're a distraction that I don't need. If it weren't for you I'd have never gone back to my home after it had been compromised. I would have done my normal checks on the house rather than leaving it to Hy'Lar, rather than sitting in my room. I'd have noticed that the fire system had been switched off and we would have left immediately. Instead I was… I was distracted." She'd been upset. He could see the admission in her eyes. His anger disappeared in a flash. "You're a liability Jim – one I can't afford. What the hell do you want to know? Do you honestly think that if I had proof of something I'd be running around the galaxy with a price on my head? Do you honestly think I'd be avoiding my own handler? My secrets come with a price, and they're too dangerous for you. You need to call the Enterprise and you need to leave."
"I've never been scared of a bit of danger."

"That's the problem." She took a breath. "Damn it Jim. Stop trying to protect me, and go home."

"No."

"I'm not going to tell you anything. Just give up."

"No."

"Yes. Just leave it. Leave me. You had no problem last time. Don't make it a problem this one."
"No."

"Jim-."
"There is nothing you can say or do right now Joanna that is going to make me leave. I want to know everything."

"I can't tell you everything."

"Yes you can."

"Damn it Jim. Just… Damn you."

He never understood why, but out of pure instinct he bent down and kissed the top of her head. All the tension seemed to drain out of her, and he felt her lean against him. He released her arms but continued to stand close. He could hear her breathing shuddering. Something inside him felt the same way.

"I don't know what to tell you." She said in a very soft voice.

"Just the truth, Sassy."

"Are you sure you want to know it? You won't like it."

"It doesn't matter."

She pulled away from him, to the other side of the room. He missed her nearness immediately, had to stop himself from moving closer and made himself give her space.

"I don't know where to begin." She stared at the floor.

"Tell me why you joined Starfleet Intelligence, Joanna."

She took long moment. The wind howled around their small haven. Finally she let out a long breath and he knew he'd won. It didn't feel like a victory. "You must know that Starfleet Intelligence has been struggling since the Year War. Not just for recruitment – but retention. Our agent's mortality rates seemed to increase exponentially with each year." He nodded. He was well aware of the difficulty getting good intelligence, and the short life expectancy of its officers. "Then, during the war with the Klingons two years ago the numbers of Intelligence officers dropped by 75%. There was increasing evidence that Intelligence officers weren't just dying in the line of fire, but might be deliberately being targeted."

"By who?"

"There are any number of anti-Federation groups that would happily try to make Starfleet more unstable by cutting off their Intelligence. But one group particularly were thought to have the power and resources for such a coordinated attack. They are called The Syndicate."

She paused and Jim's mind worked feverishly. The Syndicate – the body Joanna was trying to infiltrate. He knew a few things about the Syndicate – not just from Joanna's time with them, but in his time spent destroying biological weapons. They'd were coordinated and organised, and had become powerful very quickly. He indicated for her to go on.

"The Syndicate were a sort of target that few agents could hope to breach. They had links and eyes everywhere. They weren't a military based threat, like most the SI were used to – but business based, its anti-Federation policies purely financial rather than political. So the SI decided to try something desperate."

She swallowed and sat down on the cool stone floor. "I was recruited into a new order of Intelligence. I was trained to have… looser morals, more lee-way from the Starfleet Charter. The SI felt that to fight the enemy we had to act like the enemy. We were given the right to act as we see fit in times of an extraordinary threat."

Jim looked up. He'd heard that before. "Section 31? Intelligence have reinstated a new Section 31?" Section 31 was in reference to Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter. This allowed extraordinary measures to be taken at times of dire emergencies to the Federation. A clear grey area if there ever had been one. Admiral Marcus had used Section 31 to wake Khan, and used him to build new weapons to target possible threats to the Federation after the destruction of Vulcan. Since the Order had never officially existed, it could never officially be taken apart, but Jim had assumed that after Marcus' death it would fall - that when you cut off the head the beast would die.

"Not officially." Joanna said. "Few know about us. It gives most of the Federation full deniability. We answer only to Intelligence, and are outside all other laws."

Jim felt his chest tighten. That Joanna was with Starfleet Intelligence was bad – but Section 31? That she could do whatever she wanted without repercussions? That was… terrifying. No one should be allowed to be outside the law. That Intelligence had done this without the knowledge of the rest of Starfleet… That was serious. "But Breakwater is in prison."

"He chooses to be." She met his eyes. There was a heaviness in them that suggested that she hadn't even neared the worst of the story.

"Go on."

"After my training I was posted in various places, looking for ways into the Syndicate. I began in small weapons dealing and climbed my way up from there. I was good – Chapman's Protégé in fact. I rose very quickly. Then I was given an assignment to transport a Starship across the Quadrant. My handler told me that it was to build up my image but… Well…" She gave him a bitter smile. "You know Jim, you never did ask how Breakwater had managed to destroy Talos IV." His heart went cold. No… "The ship was a new build – similar to the ships we'd seen on Omicron. I had a skeleton crew and I knew how to basically captain a starship – I'd seen you do it enough times. I assumed we were just trying to catch some attention. I brought it to the space around Talos IV – and Breakwater took over as I followed orders and took a shuttle off to go to my next assignment. But… I was curious I suppose. I stayed longer than I should have. I assumed the ship was to be some sort of deterrent for the hostile life-forms on the planet. Then I watched the ship destroy the planet – nearly taking my shuttle with it, and realised something else..." Her voice shuddered. She'd watched a genocide. She clearly felt partially responsible for it. He wanted to comfort her – she wasn't to know. But she would not appreciate that. Not now.

"You said the official line is Breakwater was mad."

"Yes. No one was the least bit curious as to how he conveniently came to have a Starship capable of destroying a planet. He was an easy scapegoat."

"He was ordered?"

"Yes."

"By who?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out." She shook her head. "I've never trusted the SI. Of course not. Maybe that's why I was selected for Section 31 in the first place. When they asked me what I knew, what I'd seen…. Well maybe that was why I lied and didn't tell them. I couldn't help but be suspicious. I was told that Breakwater was dead, the Starship destroyed with it. I was recommended for his place. Clearly I could obey commands – and seeing as I was directly involved with Talos IV, I wouldn't be able to say anything without incriminating myself." She stopped, smiling bitterly to herself, then stood up, and began to pace irritably.

"So you've worked your way up the Syndicate to find out why they're targeting Intelligence agents."

"Yes. And in the meantime, I was trying to look into who could have given that order. But clearly I wasn't discreet enough. Because someone paid Trasta to take out a hit on me." She shook her head. "And not just Trasta. Clearly I know too much. I'm obviously getting close to something." She shook her head. "You saw what was on Omicron. Someone's building an army."

"Who?"

"Given what I know so far – someone at the very top of Starfleet."

Jim sat down heavily and took a deep breath. There were always conspiracies – power made many people mad - but building an army..? "Well, it's hardly the first time we've had this sort of thing happen in Starfleet." He commented.

"Maybe not. But have you ever seen someone get so far with so little resistance? They've built an entire army. They've destroyed two planets. They're killing people left, right and centre. And no one sees what's going on – I'm one of the few who even has suspicions. They've been killing anyone who's even voiced a concern, anyone with any involvement in their operations. Whoever this person is – they must have been laying the ground-work for this for years."

"But why? What do they want?"

Joanna shrugged. "To start a War? I don't know."

Jim studied her. "But?"

"But… I do think that whoever this person is, they're linked to the Syndicate. The timings, the organisation… it all fits. I think that the Syndicate was created – is headed - by someone in Starfleet."

Jim stood up abruptly. "Why? To trade weapons? To make it easier to…" He met her eyes and the pieces flew into place in his head. "Because if the Syndicate killed agents, Section 31 would be created to stop them. Someone wanted a new Section 31."

Joanna nodded. "The same person who wants a war."

Jim wiped his face. The implications of that… They might be looking at martial law. "Hell Joanna. What have you got into?"

"It's worse Jim." Joanna continued to pace. "Because it's not just Trasta after me – or the Syndicate. And whoever these other people are, they know that Joanna McCoy and Antonia Salvatori are the same person. There are only eight people that knew that – including you and me."

"Who?" She didn't answer. "Who, Joanna?"

"You and I. Hy'Lar, Yasaren Vi, Julie Powell. My handler. And Admiral Chapman and Admiral Brooks."

"Hell. You're saying that one of the leaders of Starfleet Intelligence is involved with all this."

"Yes."

"Who run Section 31."

"Yes."

"And you work and report to them."

"Yes."

He made sure he understood correctly. "And they're trying to kill you."

"One of them is, yes. Although discreetly." She swallowed. "And you forget Jim – you were bugged. They knew about you too."

Jim gave a grudging laugh. "Hell Joanna. I don't think you could make this any more complicated if you tried."

Her eyes darkened. "It can always get more complicated."

That was true. "So what will you do now?"

"I have to meet the leaders of the Syndicate in a few hours. I have weapon-testing."

"Weapon testing? You can't be serious. Joanna. A bunch of people just tried to kill you."

"And more will try to kill me, undoubtedly. I know the risks. But if I don't show, I'll lose my only chance to see who's at the top, and to work out their motives. This is a chance in a lifetime. It's not going to come around again."

"What about that Cardassian? Won't he be there? He's not going to be happy that you stole from him."

Joanna shrugged, but there was a frown in her eyes. "I can deal with him."

"What exactly did you want from him?"

"Information. He's been involved with the ship building on Omicron."

"He's-. Joanna – you're telling me that he's involved with the whole conspiracy, that they all might be, and you think you're just going to walk in there. They might know who you really are."
"They might. Or they might not. Sarkat doesn't, not yet at any rate. As for the others. Well… we'll see, won't we? I've been planning this for a while, Jim. I've taken precautions. Antonia Salvatori is safe yet."

Jim shook his head. "Hell. Anything else you've neglected to tell me?"

Joanna shrugged, face expressionless. "Many things, I imagine."

"Anything I might find crucial to the situation?"

A look passed across her eyes, fear perhaps, and then it was gone. "No. Nothing."

He didn't believe her. How could he? The secrets she'd kept were nothing short of incredible. There would always be more with Joanna. But from what she'd told him… How was he supposed to protect her from this? How could he protect her from her fate? Tonight it had played out how he'd seen it. He had to break it somehow. He had to. But how?

"Jim… you need to leave here. You need to get on the Enterprise and forget about all of this. Forget about me."

"I can't. How can you ask me…?"

She crouched down in front of him. Her face was serious, eyes steady. "Things are going to get really bad, Jim. You know what I've had to do… I'm going to have to do more. Worse. And I'm probably not going to survive."

"No." He folded his arms. "I refuse to leave. I refuse to let it happen."

"Jim – if they find out you know… you have more than you to think about. Think about your ship. Your crew. My dad, Jim. You have to protect my dad. He can't know. He can't."

"Joanna…"

"I'm just me. I'm no one."

He took her by the shoulders, fear threading through him like a barb. "Enough of that talk, Sassy. I'm staying here, and you're staying here, until this sandstorm ends. Then we'll work it out." He felt her shake and gave her his best smile. "Admit it, I've taken this all better than you expected."

She scowled. "That's not hard." He felt some of her tension ease.

"Always a pessimist." He tried to pull his mind to more important matters. She felt nice, under his hands. But she was filthy – with blood and sand in her hair. "Now, you look awful. How injured are you?"

"I'm fine." She shrugged, and tried to stand but he stopped her with a hand.

"Don't lie to me anymore, Joanna."

She frowned and looked at the floor. "I've healed the worse of it. Just some burns, and some cuts and bruises. The odd glancing phaser shot."

Jim chuckled. "The odd glancing phaser shot… You've been doing this too long."

"Don't laugh." She shook her head, her eyes sad. "I deserve it. I deserve worse. You were right about me, you know."

"No. I wasn't. What I said…"

"I'm a murderer. People die around me, Jim. And I lie. I lie so much that outside of my lies I have no life of my own. My dad would be ashamed of me. Ashamed." There were tears in her eyes.

He wrapped his arms around her. "Your dad… He might not understand… But I do."

"Don't lie."

"I'm not." And he wasn't, he realised. How many other people would be as brave as her, would have done all that she had, and was still doing, to keep people safe? He did understand – understand what people did in desperate situations. That was his Joanna. That was the girl he'd once known – that woman that she now was.

"You wouldn't have done it. You would have done it all differently."

"I'm older than you. I have experience to fall back on." He smiled at her, tilted her face to look at him with those sad, older eyes. He wiped off a smear of blood from her cheek. "You and I - we are the same, Joanna."

He felt her tremble and she looked away. The wind screamed outside, the torch flickered, and Jim felt like himself again – the way he always did when she was there.

"I'm sorry about Hy'Lar." He told her softly. He saw her eyes fill and she swallowed, unable to reply. Her hurt moved him. "I'm not going anywhere, Joanna." He promised her. "We're in this together now." He kissed her on her wiped cheek, and knew with absolute certainty that this was the only place he should be.

It was only later, as he watched her sleeping, aching in a way he couldn't quite understand, that he realised she'd never answered that first question. She still hadn't told him why she'd joined Starfleet Intelligence. He smoothed her wild hair from her face and laid down next to her, studying the woman that she now was, wondering what would induce her to join something like the SI when it would keep her from the Enterprise and from him. He stroked her face with a finger as she slept the sleep of emotional exhaustion, around those eyes and those high cheekbones, to her lips. He wondered if he'd ever stop wanting her, aching for her. Perhaps if he took her to bed he would. He pressed his lips to hers briefly, inhaling her warmth and softness. His mind screamed a warning that he ignored. Because Joanna felt right, she always did. And he wouldn't abandon her now, couldn't dismiss her trust. He could keep his heart safe. He had to.

"Always." He whispered the promise.

A/N: Sad times but finally we know a bit of what's actually going on! The end of Part One is drawing closer – can you feel it? The song for the next chapter is Ledges by Noah Gunderson. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think.