For a Romulan woman, Tertia was very beautiful and didn't look at all like a scientist. She was more like a living description of Arwen Evenstar from the Lord of the Rings books, being neither young nor old, with lovely dark hair, blue eyes, and leaf-shaped ears. Even her hairstyle was more Elvish than Romulan, since it was not cut with the usual bangs and she had a long lock in front of each ear. In other words, she didn't resemble her brother much aside from her coloring. But their kinship was shown through their personalities, since Tertia was quite astute and appeared to have the same sort of mindset. Aura imagined that in her own circles she must be a daunting force to be reckoned with and couldn't help but feel relieved that she was a blood relative instead of a rival.

Before she made her appearance in the hallway, Vreenak had informed his sister about his relationship with Aura. Tertia had heard the rumors and was not surprised. It was all rather peculiar, but she was happy that her brother had chosen someone, human or not, and was wishing him joy when the woman in question came in.

Despite their rather awkward introduction, Tertia was determined to be friends with her prospective sister-in-law, and asked her all sorts of questions about herself. Aura in turn asked about her scientific work, what she specialized in, etc.

She replied that she was a hydrologist, and she specialized in researching the water on the various planets of the Empire. Then she mentioned the war and asked her brother about the current situation.

"Yes, you'll be interested to know that we have declared war on the Dominion," he said to Aura. "And so far things are looking favorable. We've attacked over 17 bases and completely destroyed 13 of them. They've launched a few poorly planned assaults in response, but they never even reached our side of the border. We have several other offensive operations underway which I am certain will be successful, but I am not at liberty to discuss them. In addition," he frowned, "the Senate has agreed to cooperate with the Federation Alliance-"

Aura jumped up, "You've joined the Alliance?" This was good news!

"I haven't," he corrected with a smirk, "but the majority of my colleagues seem to think that we would fare better by combining forces."

"Sa'Lloann'na icupae'edh u'Kling'hann?"* asked Tertia. "You must be joking."

"I wish I were."

"And what of Neral? He agreed to this as well?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it's all settled. But I did get one thing I wanted out of the bargain," said the seasoned politician. He poured a glass of ale for his sister and himself. "And it is a matter for celebration: Captain Sisko has been court-martialed, and is set to spend the next 15 years in prison."

"Well, at least some good came out of this."

"It serves him right, I suppose," said Aura.

"As you know, this has been a project very dear to my heart, and I consider it a personal victory," said Vreenak.

"Then why not make it a formal celebration?" Tertia suggested with a cunning smile.

"I was about to propose that very thing." He took a seat next to Aura and handed her glass of wine, since she didn't care for the ale. "What do you say, my dear? Would you like to attend an extravagant, ridiculously formal event?" He took a sip. "There'll be a bunch of speech-making politicians like myself, a few stuffy old ambassadors, ruthless officers-"

"And only the upper crust of Romulan society!" interrupted Tertia. "Don't pay attention to him. It will be nothing short of marvelous, I assure you!"

Aura said that it sounded exciting and she was delighted at the prospect. Everything already seemed rather extravagant, so she could hardly imagine what a formal event might be like.

Later that evening, as they ate dinner, Tertia asked her brother what day he had in mind for the party.

Vreenak replied that he hadn't selected a day yet, but they had to allow for preparations, and invitations must be sent. "I have an idea: since I'm always so busy and you're so in favor of the idea, why don't you be a good little sister and handle all of the arrangements?"

Tertia was only too happy to take over, but pretended that she would only accept under the condition that Miss Miller would help her. "You must come shopping with me," she said. "We'll go to the finest shops and choose the best of everything."

Aura knew that the formidable female was more than capable of handling it all on her own, but it was nice to be included.

After much discussion, they all agreed that three days should be enough time for all the necessary arrangements.

Since the Romulans had joined the Alliance, Aura was spared the task of broaching that subject to Vreenak. But she still had to talk to him about Catherine's wedding, so when Tertia left them to go unpack her things, she figured now was as good a time as any.

She found herself sitting next to him, with his arm on the back of the sofa again.

"So tell me," he said. "What have you been up to this week, besides missing me, that is?"

She could have bet her life on that one. She knew he'd tease her about it sooner or later. Time for a taste of his own medicine. "Oh nothing, just pining away and sobbing my little heart out since you didn't come back when you said you would."

He laughed. "And now that I'm here?"

"Now that you're here I can go back to despising you," she quipped, and gave him the cold shoulder.

His eyebrows went up. "So that's how it works? Perhaps I should go away again."

"So soon? I'm sure I will die of heartache!"

"Then what am I supposed to do?"

"Oh, I'm afraid you'll have to figure that out on your own," she replied, batting her eyelashes.

Vreenak sat back and put a hand on his chin. This was an interesting little game. What was she up to? A moment later he smiled and said, "What if I said that I missed you as well, would that change anything?"

"It…might," she said evenly.

"You must know that only the gravest of circumstances could keep me from your side," he said, coming closer and speaking in a much lower tone.

Darn, his voice was amazing, and he knew it. It was becoming rather difficult to think clearly, but she managed to maintain her pretended indifference a bit longer.

"How responsible of you," she replied, taking a sip of wine. "But I'm afraid it won't do."

Despite her dismissive attitude, it did not escape him that she was happy to see him. Her face lit up every time he looked at her.

"Well then, I'm at a loss. But there must be some way to regain your good opinion…" He gave her a searching look. "Some sort of gift, perhaps?"

"All joking aside, there is something I want," she admitted.

He thought so. "And what would that be?"

"I'm afraid you won't like it."

"Name it."

"I want to go to Catherine's wedding."

He frowned and put his glass back on the table. "That's quite a request."

"I know, but this is important to me."

He narrowed his eyes. "When and where?" Of all things, why did she have to ask for that?

"Trill, in 10 days."

"You do realize that we're in the middle of a war?"

She nodded.

"I'm sorry, but the answer is no. Trill is in Federation territory, and-"

"But, the Alliance-"

"-It doesn't matter. I have serious obligations to fulfill here, and even if I could spare several days, we'd have to take a cloaking ship with an armed escort, and there's no way I could justify such an unnecessary trip at this time."

"I could go alone," she pointed out.

"Absolutely out of the question," he said sternly.

She did not like that one bit. Forget about the wedding. This was a much bigger issue. "Why not? Back on the station you said that I could leave whenever I wanted."

"The alpha quadrant has become a dangerous place since then," he said gravely. "The Jem'Hadar have shown that they can seize entire planets deep into Federation space, and I refuse to let you get yourself captured or killed over this."

"You refuse to let me?" she repeated, standing up. "I don't see what right you have to tell me what to do with my life, unless I really am a prisoner after all?"

"Why must you always look at it like that? Can't you see that I'm concerned for your safety?"

"I think you're just afraid that I won't want to come back!" she snapped.

"You might not be able to come back whether you wanted to or not, have you considered that?" he snapped back. "Of course you haven't. And what kind of friend would ask you to risk your life over something so trivial? Unless perhaps you'd like to spend the rest of your life in a Dominion prison?"

Aura slammed her glass down on the table and went over to the window. This conversation was getting much too heated and she had to get a hold of herself. She was steeped in negative emotions. But as much as she hated to admit it, Vreenak was right about the danger. For the most part she believed that he was genuinely concerned about her, but he didn't have to be such a jerk about it. And in the back of her mind there was always this sneaky suspicion that he was lying when he said she could leave, and this little exchange didn't do very much to convince her otherwise. She considered leaving the room, but the thought of ending the day on such a bad note didn't sit well with her.

Vreenak hadn't meant to be severe. It normally took quite a lot to make him lose his composure, but she'd struck a nerve. Now he could see that she was emotionally fraught and if he didn't diffuse the situation quickly it could be a major setback. It was time to employ the sympathy factor.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to upset you. It's just that…" He sighed. "It hurts me when you accuse me of holding you prisoner."

She glanced over her shoulder at him. He was staring at the floor in a most agitated manner.

"What's more, you still don't believe in my feelings for you. You would not have said that if you did." He bit his lip. "I realize that I can be a most…disagreeable fellow, and I've always known that you didn't care for me much. But I thought you were joking when you said you despised me… I suppose if you didn't before you do now."

Aura was already on the verge of exploding or crying, and this emotional display was all that was necessary to push her over the edge. Vreenak looked positively desolate, and when he pinched the bridge of his nose (one of those things men do when they're trying not to cry) her heart melted completely.

"Oh Merken! You know I don't hate you!" she cried. In an instant she reached her arms up around his neck and even kissed his hollow cheek once or twice. "I'm sorry I snapped at you! And I did miss you, but you can be such a jerk sometimes!"

"I know. I'm sorry," he whispered sadly, putting his arms around her. His little strategy was working like a charm and better than he anticipated.

"I don't really care about the wedding all that much. It's just that I hate feeling like I have no choice, and I'm worried about my family, you know?" She sniffed and wiped her tears away.

"Then let's make a deal. You stay here with me, and I'll do everything I can to ensure their safety."

"Really?" She looked up into his eyes. "How will you do that?"

"I can have them monitored, and be more…supportive of our new allies," he answered, the last part rather grudgingly. Oh well. Supporting the Federation was the popular thing to do anyway, so he may as well get something out of it.

Wow, she thought. This was a big deal coming from him. But there was still one thing she needed to know. "Would you really have let me go if these were peaceful times?"

He looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Yes." He was a man of his word after all.

But thankfully these were not peaceful times, and if all went well, she'd be his adoring little wife long before those times returned.

* With Federation failures and Klingons?