Once again, my sincere thanks to all readers and reviewers, most especially the loyal LornaWinters, Tribal Graces, BewilderedFemale, and Ahlysha.
And as for the mysterious "Senator Koval," thank you! Your comment was not only quite entertaining, but it also filled up that little plot hole nicely.
After Cretak left, Aura spent the rest of the night sorting everything out.
It didn't take long for her to come to the conclusion that she loved Vreenak. She loved him very deeply, she was certain of it now. That's what made the beginning of the evening seem so enchanting, what made his alleged betrayal hurt so much, and what made her current state of suspense so horribly nerve wracking. But did she love him enough to attempt to build a life on this unwelcoming world?
On the other hand, the "safe" life without him seemed terribly boring, miserable and lonely. Every other man she'd ever met seemed so dull and apathetic compared to Merken Vreenak. They couldn't hold a candle to his wit, and they didn't have those pointy ears and eyebrows she loved so much. Or those icy blue eyes… That impertinent Romulan rascal had grown on her. She'd come to adore the way he looked at her, and her day just didn't seem complete anymore unless she'd exchanged a few smart-alecky words with him.
About an hour before dawn she had almost decided. She'd much rather take the chance that they'd be happy together than spend her life wondering and watching the clock tick in solitude. She knew full well that if she accepted Vreenak both sides would have to make cultural adjustments and compromises and face a lifetime of contempt from Romulan society. There would also be considerable disapproval from her side of the family, but she was prepared for that. There was just one more thing that was bothering her: that recurring gilded cage suspicion. That was the one thing she could not put up with. She had one final test for him, and if he was selfless enough to let her go, then she'd stay.
As the first few shafts of light crept up over the horizon she fixed her hair and put on the Earth outfit she arrived in. Then she quickly tidied up the house and headed up the path.
She ran into him in the hallway. He was wearing the Senatorial robes and was apparently on his way out the door. He was accompanied by the usual two guards, who went ahead outside to bring the shuttlecraft. Vreenak took a moment to observe her appearance, understood what it implied, then averted his eyes before saying, "You still wish to leave."
She didn't answer, since it was more of a statement than a question, and that was the impression she was trying to give.
He continued, "I've spoken to Letant, and he's agreed to bring you as far as Deep Space Nine. The transport leaves tomorrow morning. You may take whatever you wish." He walked past her out the door.
That was all she needed to hear. "Could I speak to you for a moment?"
"What more is there to say?" he answered coldly.
"I know what really happened. Cretak told me."
"Yes, you're all too ready to believe others."
His resentful attitude cut her to the quick. "You're right. I should have given you the benefit of the doubt. I'm sorry…"
The shuttlecraft landed in front of them and the door opened.
"It doesn't really matter now, does it? But of course you had to get that off your conscience before leaving." He began to move toward the shuttle.
Aura steeled up her resolve and stepped in front of him. "I'm not leaving."
There was the faintest flicker in his eye, but then he resumed his indifferent manner and looked away again. "Don't be ridiculous, Miss Miller. I have work to do and you clearly don't belong here. Go back to your home." He attempted to go around her.
"I am home," she answered, then grasped the medallion around his neck and kissed him. "I love you and I want to stay here with you." She put her arms around his neck and kissed him again, but he just stood there like a statue. "What's wrong? You don't care for me anymore?" she asked, then her eyes welled up with tears. "You're giving up on me?"
He stared at her for a moment, then put his hands on her shoulders and gave her the gravest look ever. "Aura, I am not human, and I can't take this uncertainty anymore. If I forgive you, if you stay, you must be my wife. You must decide once and for all: will you marry me?"
"Yes, I will," she whispered.
"Say it again," he insisted, taking her face in his hands.
"Yes, I will marry you," she repeated, and when he kissed her the tears finally fell, but now they were tears of joy.
"Come." Vreenak waved the shuttle away, then swept her up and marched off down one of the paths into the garden to find a more beautiful setting for their nuptials.
We're engaged! Aura thought, feeling like she was floating on cloud nine. Now she could start planning her own wedding! She kissed her Romulan on the cheek and laid her head on his shoulder. "I love you," she sighed contentedly.
"Jol-ao au khei," he replied, and stepped up the pace a little. He wasn't going to waste another moment. He was going to marry her right now, before she had time to change her mind!
He set her down in the most beautiful part of the garden near a fountain surrounded by flowering trees and shrubs. It truly was a very romantic scene, with the sun rising in the background, the dew sparkling everywhere, and the ancient looking structures adding solemnity to the occasion. Taking one of her hands, Vreenak clenched a fist over his heart, then began to recite something very solemnly in the Romulan language. She understood enough to know that it was a series of promises, and occasionally he would switch back to Federation Standard to prompt her to make some promise of her own.
How sweet! An engagement ritual, she thought. Cretak hadn't mentioned anything like that. Promise after promise she made without a second thought, her angelic face glowing the whole time. She was so emotional that she alternately giggled and cried between sentences, in sharp contrast to his profound gravity. When the ritual was over he gave her a kiss that was so dizzying that she was forced to rely on him for support, then he picked her up again and went down another path.
Engaged to a Romulan, she thought. Her family was going to flip when they heard about this! But they'd get over it. They'd have to. Besides, her new fiancé could talk circles around any objections they might have. That was one of the benefits of marrying a seasoned politician, she thought with a smile.
When they were about halfway there, she realized that he was carrying her toward her house. Then she became aware of an unnerving gleam in his eye, and he chuckled to himself in a most unsettling manner.
"Yes, my love?"
"What are you thinking about?"
"Don't pretend like you don't know," he answered, then flashed her a smile that left no doubt in her mind.
"Oh no we're not!"
"Oh yes we are."
"But we have to get married first!" she protested.
He stopped. "But…we just did," he said, halfway confused.
Aura's jaw dropped. "That was it?!" she exclaimed, pointing toward the area they just came from. "I thought that was an engagement ritual or something!"
"No. We've exchanged vows. According to Romulan law, we are married," he stated firmly.
"There's no public ceremony? And no paperwork?"
"Yes, yes. But all that comes later," he replied dismissively, as though those things weren't very important, and started walking again.
"So you're telling me that we're already married, and what you call a wedding is really just a reception?"
"Precisely." Evidently they did things backwards on Earth. But then again, considering how weak-willed humans usually were, he supposed it made more sense for them to put things in writing first.
"But I always wanted to have a dreamy, elegant wedding, with all of our friends and relatives," she sighed.
"Yes, of course. We'll talk about that later." They just reached the door.
Aura felt her temper flaring up again. This was important to her, but it seemed her new husband only had one thing on his mind! "I want to talk about it now," she said in a warning tone.
Vreenak shook his head. "In all candor, you're going about this the wrong way, my dear," he said with a smile. "There's a much easier way to persuade me-"
"You're not going to gyp me out of my wedding!" she snapped. "You already gypped me out of my friend's wedding-"
"What? I thought she postponed it!" he blurted out, then he realized that he just let the cat out of the bag.
"How did you know that?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. "You've been eavesdropping on me, haven't you?" Then another thought occurred to her and she gasped. "Have you been watching me, too? Please tell me I didn't just marry a peeping Tom!"
Vreenak looked offended. "How dare you accuse me of such a shameful thing! I am a nobleman, not an ogling lecher! Have I ever treated you as anything less than a lady?"
"Well…no," she admitted.
He sighed. "After you asked me about attending your friend's wedding I spoke to her and we made an agreement."
"So… you didn't listen in then?" she asked with a hopeful look.
"Well…" He hesitated and his face went green. It was better to get it all out now. "Alright. I admit I did tap in a few times, but it was only so I could gain insight and minimize the inconveniences."
"Oh, is that what you call it?" She crossed her arms. "Just for that, you're not getting anything from me until we get married the human way."
All the color drained out of his face. "Am I to understand that you're refusing me? On our wedding day?" he choked out.
Well, when he put it that way it sounded really pitiful. And at least he owned up to what he'd done. She decided to cut him a little slack. Afterall, she was far from perfect herself. "You promise you won't do it again?" she asked in a softer tone.
His face brightened. "Fair enough. I promise."
"Any more secrets floating around in that Romulan head of yours? If so you'd better put them all on the table now."
"No, no more secrets." There were state secrets, of course, but he was fairly sure that wasn't what she meant.
She smiled at him. "Then hurry up and cross over the threshold before I change my mind."
When on Romulus, do as the Romulans do.
AN: So there it is! My first wedding chapter. I hope it lived up to your expectations. What do you think, readers? Is this a good place to end things? If so then the next chapter will be an epilogue.