Disclaimer: See Chapter 1. Thank you so much to Fameanon (and Sorak – hi, welcome to the review page!), makaem, 09sasha, T'Sara, maba7x, and the anon reviewer for your support! You guys are all awesome!
A/N: The most common comment I got for the last chapter was "Don't break them up, put them together!" Well, well, well, dear reader, look for the sequel to this work coming soon.
Sorak landed the flitter with practiced expertise in the street in front of the Hardister household. Several flitters and aircars were parked in the driveway and some in the yard, and two had already taken up space in the street. The Hardister family had gathered at this house, and three Earth authorities (police, as they were called here) were sitting on the front porch, talking amongst themselves in quiet voices. When they saw him approaching, they all jumped to their feet, and one pointed his weapon at him.
Sorak raised his hands with his palms toward them in a universal sign of non-aggression. "I am not here to harm you, I am here to deliver a message to the lady of the house."
The oldest policeman, one of the two who did not draw their weapons, nodded. "Relax, Breckenridge, he's not the perp." The young man who had pointed his weapon at Sorak relaxed and lowered the phase pistol, and the oldest policeman came forward.
"You want to deliver a message to the misses, eh?" The man had an accent Sorak recognized as "Jersey". "What's the word?"
Sorak sighed. "The murderer has been killed and Lucy is safe. Her mother is needed at that house. The danger has passed, so I volunteered to come here and fetch Mrs. Hardister."
The youngest man let out a whoop of victory, and the other two relaxed considerably. "About damn time," the third man muttered to himself, in a "Southern" accent. Sorak simply quirked an eyebrow.
"May I go in?"
The older policeman nodded and stepped aside. "Good work, Vulcan."
Sorak raised both brows and nodded, then entered the house. At least thirty people were huddled in small groups, talking quietly, some whispering, some stunned into silence. He walked up to a woman who looked remarkably like Mina Hardister (only several years younger) and bowed his head in greeting.
"Where is Mrs. Hardister?"
"Who's asking?" the woman demanding, eying him suspiciously.
"I am Sorak, Ambassador Soval's aide. I've come to collect Mrs. Hardister and take her to her daughter."
The woman paled. "Lucy? Dear God, please say she's ok."
"She is...traumatized, but still alive. And I am confident that with the proper aid, she can make a full recovery."
There was a collective sigh of relief (everyone else had stopped talking and listened in to their exchange), and the woman nodded.
"Mina's this way."
She led him down a hallway, then knocked softly on the door at the end. "Mom, a Vulcan is here to speak to Mina," she said, and the door opened a few moments later. The woman went back to the gathering room, and Sorak stepped forward.
"Greetings, I am Sorak," he said softly. He paused. "I grieve with thee."
"What would a Vulcan know about grief?" the woman's mother asked derisively.
"More than you know, T'Sai," he said honestly. "May I see Mrs. Hardister?"
The old woman sighed. "If my daughter will see you, then yes."
She went back into the room and he heard soft talking, and then the old woman reemerged.
"You have news about Lucy?"
He nodded solemnly, and Mina's mother led him into the bedroom.
Her mother's eyes had been rimmed red with tears, but Mina's eyes were clear, her expression numb. She was staring at the wall with no expression of anger or grief or hurt or worry on her face. She was blank, emotionless...it was disturbing. Never again would he listen to anyone chastise the humans for their erratic emotions. To see them without them was disconcerting and made him feel ill inside.
"T'Sai?" he asked softly. "May I sit with you?"
She nodded, not looking at him, and he sat at her side. "I suppose my daughter is dead too?" No tears stained her cheeks, and her jaw was set firmly.
"No," Sorak replied, "your daughter is safe. Lucy is waiting for you at the house she and Dr. Strom stayed in. I was sent to collect you and take you there, if that is agreeable to you?"
She finally looked at him, and he thought he saw relief flash across her eyes before she frowned. "Ok," she breathed. "I'll go."
"Mina, your family-" the older woman started.
"-Can wait a day or two!" Mina said, her voice breaking. "Dear sweet Lord Almighty, can I get some peace and quiet in this house? I want to be left alone with my children and my grief! Is that too much to ask, Mom?"
The older woman frowned, then left the room. Sorak could hear her talking to the guests, and the door opened and closed a few times as people said their farewells and departed the house.
She was silent, still so silent as Sorak flew the flitter deeper into the mountains. He did not want to press her or force her to talk, but her still-numb expression was still making him uneasy.
"I wasn't sure whether or not to bring this to your attention," he said gently, and she looked at him with a bland expression, "but I was with your husband when he died."
Her expression faltered, and she frowned. "What?" she breathed.
"Yes, Mrs. Hardister...I tried to save him, but...it was too late. He did tell me to deliver a few messages."
She stared at him with an almost angry expression. "Well, out with it!"
He blinked rapidly a few times at her harsh tone, and her angry expression melted into shame. "I'm sorry, sir, but I..." Her voice cracked, but she swallowed thickly and set her jaw again. "What did he say?"
"He said he loves you very much, and that he was sorry for everything."
There were several beats of silence where she stared straight ahead, and then he saw it. Tears rolling down her cheeks, and finally her lips parted, and a strangled cry poured forth from her lips. She buried her head in her hands, and he carefully placed his hand on her shoulder, switching the flitter to autopilot so he could concentrate on the woman beside him.
"Mrs. Hardister, I grieve with thee. I do not know how to help you or comfort you...but I can do anything for you to ease your pain-"
His words died in his throat as her hand found his and she squeezed with all her might, and the sudden action caught him off guard. He could feel her raging grief, her anger, her confusion, her guilt, whirling around inside her like a lightning storm. He hastily constructed his mental barriers, but he let them down enough to feed her calm and peace.
She did not release his hand, and he stared at their hands, entwined, joined, together, and he felt beneath her raging emotions a strong devotion to her husband and children, and a great well of love and affection. It stunned him, and he could feel the tips of his ears burn a little as the beast opened one eye and sniffed the air, curious about this devotion and love and affection she held inside her.
No, Sorak, he chided himself vehemently. She was just recently widowed, and it is highly inappropriate for you to think that way about her! Remember your discipline and your decorum!
He breathed in and banished the curiosity, but it stayed, subdued, in the darkest depths of his being. He would explore it and cast it out later, but for the moment, he squeezed her hand back and let her hold on to him as her world as she knew it changed forever.
Strom sighed as he walked side by side with Lucy to the waiting shuttle. Oratt had not been able to punish him with a hearing for his actions, but Strom knew he was being punished. He was being forcibly recalled to Vulcan, with no appeals, and he had no choice but to trudge to the shuttle and bid his little Lucy goodbye.
She's not yours! his logical side chided, but he simply sighed again and tried not to cry. He had felt rather depressed since the news of his recall reached his ears, but he put on a brave face for the remaining Hardisters and had graciously thanked Mrs. Hardister for hosting him, and had told her that her husband's memory would not be forgotten, not by him in any case. He grieved with her and Lucy, and Arturo, but mostly with Lucy, who had lost a father and had a twisted bond forced upon her. No matter what Oratt said, he would never regret fighting an honorable fight for Lucy.
"So you'll write to me, right?" Lucy murmured as they approached the shuttle. He glanced at her and knew she wasn't taking no for an answer.
He drew a PADD from his robes (Oratt had donned them for their departure, and Strom thought it might be best to follow his lead, though he did not particularly want to wear them) and tapped it, and it connected with hers, giving him her net address. He stared at it and had it memorized within five seconds, and he looked up at her.
"You're really leaving," she said, her voice heavy, disappointed...she doesn't want you to leave, the beast purred, waking from its drowsing state deep in the cave to add that comment.
Hush, he chided himself. Don't dwell on that.
"Yes," he said with finality, lightly touching her shoulder. "Though...your presence will be...keenly felt."
"And yours," she whispered, taking his hand in hers. He could feel the familiar tears building behind his eyes, but he blinked them away and delved into his controls to steady himself.
"Doctor!" Oratt called harshly, breaking the moment. Strom turned his head toward him, but Lucy released his hand and placed it on his cheek, turning him back to face her.
"You have three years, ashaya. Three years to come back and find me. Any more than that, and I will find you. I want an answer, doctor, not your doubts. Until then...my love."
He breathed in sharply, lifting her chin, desperately wanting to kiss her, but he turned again at Oratt's impatient summons.
She pulled him roughly back to her and sealed her lips over his, kissing him furiously, deeply, desperately. He could not pull away. He could not deny her this, deny himself this. It was pain and pleasure and fire and the chill of another relationship ended, but the flame flickering in her eyes gave him hope.
"Three years. Any more..." She smiled wickedly, and he kissed her one more time on the forehead before she bolted off to the house. He thought he had seen tears in her hazel eyes...
Oratt could no longer be ignored, so Strom boarded the shuttle and settled himself down for some heavy meditation.
He set his bag down in his quarters on the Vulcan ship, sighing as he was alone again, but he refused to let the tears tumbled down his cheeks. He blinked them away and set his jaw, determined to return to logic and discipline and not let the beast win over him. It was dangerous to give in to these emotions, and he did not want to live dangerously.
He laid down, suddenly overcome with exhaustion from his experiences, but he sat up when he heard a scratching and mewling sound coming from his bag. He got out of bed and unzipped the bag, and Mousse leaped out and stared up at him with its bright yellow eyes, mewling in protest of its long confinement.
It was only when Strom searched his bag (thinking Truffle might have sneaked in as well) that he found a PADD addressed to him, and a shirt that was not his on the top of his things. He sat down on the bed, and the kitten leaped into his lap, and he absentmindedly petted it while he read the PADD.
My dearest Strom,
Until I heal, I know you won't accept all that I am and all that I have to offer. Like I told you, you have three years. Until you find me again, here is Mousse to give you the love and devotion I want to give to you. Take care of him for me, and think of me, and know that here, still stuck on Earth without you, I'm still thinking of you.
Write to me, and feed Mousse what you'd give a sehlat, only in a smaller portion. He'll need a litterbox, but sand from the desert should do just fine. Give him water every day if you can.
P.S. I stole one of your shirts. That shirt you found is mine, and you're free to do with it what you will. Give Mousse a scratch behind his ears for me. I knew he'd mewl and pine for you when you left, so here he is. I hope that until we find each other again, he provides you with some decent company.
Keep me in your thoughts, and know that I love you, more than I've ever loved a man in my life. So don't forget your Lucy, dutifully waiting for you here.
All my love, and always yours,
Strom did not realize until he was done with her letter that there were tears streaming down his cheeks. He lifted her shirt like a precious artifact and buried his nose into it, inhaling the scent that lingered in the fibers. Pumpkin pie spice...Lucy...
He was tearing up again, but he swallowed it down. Three years...so be it. She needed time to heal and get her education and career started, but he would find her. He would make her his. After all, she had just declared it.
He had nothing to lose. When the timeframe was up, or before then if he could manage it...he would find her. You are mine, little Lucy, he thought to himself, inhaling her scent once more. You are mine, now and always.