"I need to borrow him."
There was no girl on the face of the Earth as cute as Louise Hall. Logan Mills didn't think it. It wasn't his opinion. It was just a fact.
"You think you're gonna get away with this, don't you?" Louise continued, her little finger only a few inches from Logan's nose. "Well, you can forget it! You're a cheater!"
"Cheater!" He scoffed. "How am I cheating?"
"You know exactly how!" Louise's gorgeous—yes, gorgeous—amber brown eyes narrowed to slits, "You can't have outside players. Alumni only!"
"Uh-uh." He said, his hazel eyes glistening, "The rules state that I can have up to three fillers if people don't show. And, wouldn't you know? I have three no-shows."
"Who?" She sneered, "Mike? Lenny? I bet I saw your entire team at the Moose Pub last night."
"And a couple of guys had a little too much to drink. They begged off." He said with a shrug. He didn't look at her as he spoke. It was one of the reasons he liked to avoid these one on one conversations with Louise. It was too difficult to lie to her.
"Yeah! And your replacements just happen to be friggin' Vulcans!" Louise took a step back and clenched her little fists at her sides. She was really pissed. He could tell. She had spent most of the summer hand picking her team and whipping them into shape for today, but he couldn't let that affect him. Oh, no. He had a game to win, and if that meant stretching the spirit of the rules a bit, he was willing to do that. Plus, it had the added benefit of getting Louise angry, and she was so damn cute when she was angry.
"What can I say?" He said with a broad smile, his honey blonde hair falling over his eyes slightly, "A few of my academy pals expressed an interest in 'human competitive rituals', or however they said it, and I told them they could play if the need arose."
"And I just bet you made sure the 'need arose'!" Louise kicked a ball of orange ball-field clay at Logan's feet, "You…you…cheater!"
God, she's beautiful…. He leaned down a good seven inches to get eye level with her and said, "Shut your butt, coconut. If you can't win, than you can't win. I'll gladly accept a forfeit right now, if that's what you want. Then, instead of freezing our tails off on the field, we can all toast them over beer and fries at the Silver Pit."
"You can take your beer and fries and shove 'em!" Louise cried, "Oh! You're gonna be sorry. You just wait! I'm gonna…I'll—."
"You'll what?" He said, laughing. "You got some trick up that skinny sleeve?"
Louise's eyes widened, then very, very slowly narrowed. Her lips turned up in a devilish grin. For all his six foot two inches, Logan shuddered. He knew that look. That was the same look he had seen on Louise's face just before he opened his locker in the tenth grade and a paint bomb exploded in his face. It was the same look she had the day everyone was staring at him for Senior photos, and he had realized his teeth and mouth were completely green. He had never figured out how she did it, but he knew….
"You've got nothing!" He cried suddenly.
"Oh!" She shouted in that evil, vibrato way that she did, "This year, Logan. This year, you are going down. You are going to eat crow! Eat! It!"
She spun around on her tiny little feet, flipping her gorgeous raven hair at him, and stomped away across the field. Logan watched her hips move side to side as she spun around the gate and toward the street. Oh, yes. One of these days—years from now and when he had gotten tired of tormenting her—Louise Hall was going to be his wife.
He didn't think it. It wasn't his opinion. It was just a fact.
Everyone left Anna's house in the same way Lore had arrived; down the steps, onto the street, and then down the short dirt trail leading to the street below. Once on Second Street, everyone turned north to walk the seven short blocks to the school and the adjoining ball field.
Lore knew all of this because he had memorized the town map.
He looked over at Anna and smiled helplessly, the same way he had when she came back down the stairs after changing out of her stroganoff smudged clothes. She now wore a dark blue winter dress with a wide skirt, ending just past the knee. He had never seen her in a dress before, and the effect was…distracting.
"You look beautiful." He whispered.
Anna looked at her heeled brown boots clicking on the old slate sidewalk, but that did nothing to hide the blush in her cheeks. And it wasn't the cold doing it either. Lore smiled. He loved that blush. He had loved it from the first time he saw it, though he had been too stupid to know it at the time.
"Thank you." She said. She was trying to suppress a smile, and Lore knew it. He looked ahead to the group of people walking in front of them. They proceeded up the wide, tree lined sidewalks two abreast; Anna's parents, Amy and Paul, and Beth walking by herself with her hands clasped behind her back. Gene and Angie rode their bikes in circles up ahead. All of this left Lore and Anna trailing behind, which was exactly what he wanted.
"What did you tell Commander LaForge when you left?" Anna asked, "I mean, I'm sure he asks where you were going."
"Actually," Lore began, "LaForge refused to tell me where you were, but he let it slip by mistake."
"Did he?" She said with a suspicious smile.
"Yes, but don't be too hard on him. Your roommate told me anyway."
"Jasmine…." Anna muttered. Suddenly, her eyes widened, "What else did she tell you?"
Everything…. "She told me how upset you were before you left. She said you thought your career was over."
Anna shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat and pressed her lips together, "I'm sorry I just ran off. That's what I did, you know. Ran off."
"I know." He said immediately. There was no judgment in his voice, for hadn't he done the same thing so many times? He was an expert at suddenly fleeing difficult situations. Speaking of difficult situations, he was not sure if he should continue with this line of conversations, but he supposed it was better to get it over with now. It wasn't as if it would remain a secret.
"Your roommate also told me about what led up to your interview on Utopia Planetia." He continued. His voice was low and calm. He wasn't going to get angry about it again. "Owen set it up."
Anna only nodded. "Yeah. He, eh, thought I wanted to leave the Enterprise."
No. He wanted you to leave the Enterprise. Lore shook his head, "Anna, the XO at Utopia Planetia lost his niece in one of the rogue Borg attacks. I think Owen knew that. I think he sent you there knowing you would be mistreated."
Anna shook her head, her face scrunched up in a frown, "I…I don't believe that. You can't know that's what hap—."
"I know. Just because I don't have proof doesn't mean it isn't true." He looked away to hide the nasty grimace that flickered over his face. He wasn't going to get angry about this again. Instead, he thought of his response, and a satisfied smile replaced his anger, "But, no need to worry. I got Owen back."
Her heels skidded on the slate stones, "What did you do?"
He shrugged as he took her arm in his and pulled her back into a walk, "Nothing. I'm sure it's already been forgotten."
"I'm sure." She said sarcastically, "Lore, please tell me you didn't punch him or something. I know you don't like him, but he isn't John Larson—."
"I did not punch him." He assured her, "I merely got him out of my way."
"Out of your way?" She said, a little sternly.
He smiled, "Yes. I see no reason to be coy about this. Which, by the way, I haven't been. He likes you. He wants you. And I just can't have that."
As much as he knew his words were probably a step too far, he would not take them back. He had decided that there was no room for anything but honesty, and why not be honest about something that Anna already understood anyway? She knew how he despised Owen, how jealous he was of him. Any statement against that would be an outright lie. Still, he waited….
Anna was smiling.
"You're smiling." He said.
"Yeah." She breathed. She lifted her head and closed her eyes against the afternoon sun, "I guess I'm not used to be possessed over. It's kind of nice."
A burst of laughter escaped him, causing Amy and Paul to look back with amused grins. He leaned in to her and whispered, "Possessed? Is that a kinder version of 'obsessed'?"
"That's acceptable." He shrugged, "After all, I am obsessed."
She gave him another light smile as they kept walking. It was all he could do to contain his satisfied delight. If he had been sure of her forgiveness before, he was downright certain of it now. It would only take a little more time for her to articulate it, to say it outright, and he could accept that. Humans were vain, prideful creatures—just like him, by the way—and he, more than anyone, knew the suffocating nature of admitting a change of mind. The only thing more difficult that admitting one was wrong was admitting a heavy change of heart. They amounted to much the same thing.
They continued walking in silence, giving Lore an opportunity to take in the surroundings. The street on which they walked was lined with houses and leaf covered lawns. Most of the structures were quite old, but the occasional modern building appeared here and there, well camouflaged with wall vines and artistic gardening. It wasn't the homes, however, that caught Lore's attention, but rather the people coming out of them. This 'game' they were to attend was apparently a wide attraction, and other people had joined them on the sidewalks, both on their side and across the street.
It did not take long for their notice to fall on him.
Beth stumbled in her steps up ahead and looked back over her shoulder, as if Lore or Anna had said something. Her face was tense for a flash, but she immediately recovered her placidity and continued walking.
"She knows, doesn't she?" Lore muttered, "That people are staring at me?"
Anna nodded, "Probably. I won't ask her what she senses, though. She doesn't like it and she almost never volunteers."
They continued walking, and despite the stares and occasional gasps coming from the sparse groups around them, Lore was at least pleased that there had been no kind of outburst. Yet. He could only hope that these people were already acclimated to the idea of his presence. After all, the town was incredibly small and knowledge of his and Anna's relationship must be common knowledge among them.
"Louise is coming." Beth announced with a sigh. Before Anna could ask her what she meant, she saw Louise huffing around the corner of River Street, where they had been about to turn anyway. Her grey and blue baseball jersey was open at the front, the words 'Seventy' and 'Eight' flapping on either side of her.
"Yes! There you are!" Louise burst as she made a B line towards Anna. Her baseball cleats skidded on the slate stones. "Anna! I need to borrow him!"
"What?" Anna said, bewildered.
Louise pressed her hand to her side and caught her breath. Clearly she had been running full out for some distance, "I…need…a filler."
Anna shook her head violently, "Are you out of your mind? No way."
"What's a filler?" Lore asked, but neither woman seemed to hear him.
"Anna, please! That miserable sack of bird poo Logan is cheating! Cheating! He replaced—."
"Keep your voice down!" Anna hissed.
Louise grumbled and stepped onto the lawn next to them as an elderly couple walked by. She waited, then, "Anna, please. Logan replaced three of his players with Vulcans! Classmates from his friggin' academy. It's not fair! They're faster and have better coordination, and he did it on purpose. He has ringers!"
Lore's eyes widened as realization dawned on him. Faster? Better coordination? Oh, no. No, no….
"Louise, no." Anna said, shaking her head, "That's crazy. If you want to match players, take Beth. She's a Vulcan."
Beth, who had stopped along with them, remained passive.
Louise groaned, "Yeah, a Vulcan, as in one. I'm up against three here. He can make up for three, right?" Louise looked at Lore, "Right?"
He lifted his brow in a kind of sarcastic expression. Could he 'make up' for three Vulcans? His vanity bristled at the very question. Before he thought better of it, he said, "I doubt I couldn't."
"Great!" Louise beamed. Without waiting another second, she grabbed Lore's arm and pulled. She was jerked back by her own momentum when Lore did not budge. Not one inch. She gawked at him, "Whoa! Now I know I need you to fill in."
Lore looked at the young woman's eager, almost desperate expression, and felt a twinge of sympathy. It wasn't that strange. He was capable of it, after all. It was just that the scenario had come up so rarely in his life, and he had spent the last two years surrounded by the least sympathetic degenerates of the Beta Quadrant. Still, it was within his purview. He hated to lose. Clearly, Louise also hated to lose. Empathy was not much of a stretch.
"What would I have to do?" He asked cautiously.
Anna's jaw twitched, "You're…you're not considering this, are you?"
He was about to say 'why not?', when the answer to that question became all too apparent to him. Anna's eyes were wide with apprehension, and it made part of him sink. Participating in this game, which was clearly a very public endeavor, would only make his presence more noticeable, and thereby only increase Anna's exposure to the potentially negative reactions of others. His heart sank a little further, but why? Was this not the very reason he had left, to spare Anna the ill will of strangers? What kind of a hypocrite would it make him to be upset by that fact now?
Beth sucked in a quick breath, drawing their attention. For a moment, Lore worried that the empathic woman was reacting to him, but her eyes fell on a small group of woman who were coming up the sidewalk. They stepped down into the street to get by, despite having more than enough room on the sidewalk. Their furtive glances at Lore and Anna were more than enough of an explanation.
Don't be an idiot, Lore. He shook his head, "It's probably not a good idea."
Louise's shoulders sank in overblown dejection, "Fine. Beth, I know it's hard for you to deal with the crowds, but you mind—."
"No." Anna said suddenly. Lore looked at her, and her eyes were firmly fixed on the backs of the women who had just passed them. The soft flesh at the edges of her eyes twitched, flexing from wide to narrow, as if she were fighting some internal reaction. She brought her focus back, sharply, "Why not? I don't see a problem, unless you don't want to play?"
It was obvious what she was doing, and Lore did know whether to feel pleased or guilty. He stepped very close to her and said, "Anna, you don't have to—."
"Like hell I don't." She said fiercely. She accented that with a smile and a very purposeful look into his eyes, "Do you want to help Louise with her cheating?"
"I'm not cheating! Logan is!" Louise sniffed.
He stepped in front of Anna, blocking her from Louise and Beth's views. "Are you sure?" He whispered. He was hopeful. Damned if selfishness had not prevailed, but he was hopeful!
There was a moment's hesitation, then Anna stretched up and kissed him on the cheek close to his ear. She said, "Absolutely."
He remained perfectly still, so still, just letting that gloriously warm feeling sink in. He had not understood it the first time it happened, and he did not understand it any better now, but did it matter? Not to him. Oblivious, he reached for her.
"Jeeze, love birds!" Louise cried, "I've got a game to win here!"
Lore leveled an ominous glare at Louise, but the young woman seemed utterly immune to such signs of warning. Instead, she clenched her fists and wiggled in a bizarre little victory dance.
"Oh, yeeesss! Logan is going to rue the day he ever heard the name Hall! Let's go." Once again she grabbed Lore's arm and moved to pull him along. Lore shot Anna a farewell grimace and followed Louise at a standard pace.
"Come on!" She insisted.
"I'm not running." He declared, freeing his arm from her, "I've already agreed to make myself a spectacle. There's no need to increase it."
She grumbled and pulled a little data pad from her pocket, checking the time. "Fine. Let's go this way so we can come around the field off Fourth Street without being seen."
Lore smirked as they made the opposite sidewalk and continued along River Street, away from Anna and the others. "Is there a point to that?" He asked, "My participation is going to be public, right?"
"Oh, yeah." She said in a satisfied tone, "But not until the moment is just right. I don't want Logan to see a thing coming, so we have to plan. Are you any good at pretending?"
Lore scoffed and shook his head in amazement, "Do you know anything about me?"
It had once occurred to Lore, several months after living aboard the Enterprise, that his experience interacting with humans had always been remarkably narrow. The Omicron Theta colonists had, for the most part, been scientists and professionals trained for deep space travel. After that, almost all of the humans he had ever met or spoken to had been Starfleet officers. At the time, this realization had been a passing thought, for he had not entertained the idea that a human civilian was any different than a human Starfleet officer.
He had been wrong.
Stepping onto the sidewalk now, he felt attention fix on him in a manner he had never experienced aboard the Enterprise or even aboard the dry dock station. Officers glanced at him, maybe faltered a bit upon first seeing him, but then they quickly recovered their professionalism and moved on. These people seemed incapable of doing it.
"Excuse me." Lore said quietly to a man who was blocking the entrance through the chain length fence.
The man, busy laughing and trying to find something in a crate at his feet, half turned, "Oh, sorry, pal. Just let me move this—." He followed that up with a sharp gasp.
Move! Lore forced a smile, but it was amused. He might seek to control his temper today, but he wasn't about to play—how did LaForge put it?—Mr. Congeniality.
The man gawked and made one backward step, but made no move to shift the crate blocking the path. Lore sighed and rolled his eyes, "No need to trouble yourself. I can get by." He stepped over the crate and, making certain not to look back, continued along the path and to the main walkway between the spectator stands and the 'dugout', as Louise had termed it. She had dragged him off to explain their so-called plan, which had been entirely unnecessary. She could have explained everything in Anna's presence, but somehow be thought that Louise relished the theatrical nature of what she was doing. It had, however, left him in the uncomfortable situation of walking by himself to the ball field to find Anna and the others. No doubt his being alone only made his presence more startling to people.
"Ah, there he is. Anna." Eugene called over his shoulder. Lore spotted the man and immediately headed toward the end of the stands. Anna and her family had managed to take the first and second row seats at the far end against the railing. Anna stood and he saw her release a very noticeable breath.
"Were you worried about me?" He whispered as he joined her in the second row. He sat against the railing, having no desire to be closer to the other people who were now trying not to stare at him. Hell. At least they were trying.
Anna shook her head, "I was just wondering what kind of nonsense Louise has in store for you."
He smiled, "I'm the 'secret weapon'."
She laughed against her hand, "You sound awfully proud of that."
He shrugged, "And your sister has a real penchant for theatrics, judging by the script she just went through."
"Script?" Anna's eyes widened, "You're kidding."
He shook his head, "The only thing missing was the fact that it wasn't written down."
Anna laughed again and wrapped her coat more tightly around her. The wind was picking up, "So…shouldn't you be in the dugout?"
"Louise wants a delayed entrance. Her words." He rolled his eyes.
"Okay." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "Did you, um…have any problems getting over here by yourself?"
Her tone of voice was more tense than she let on, but that was more than understandable. "No." He said with a bitter laugh, "But I think I am going to get more attention than this game."
At that, Anna made a sly look over her shoulder, disguising it as her attempt to pull her hair out of the wind. At least a dozen people were staring right at her. Her shoulders tensed.
"I don't have to do this." He whispered quickly, "In fact, we can leave any time. I have a site to site transporter."
"No." She said sternly, "It's their problem, not mine."
"Gosh! Aren't you cold?" Came a childish voice. Lore looked over the railing just in time to see Gene and his friend Trevor maneuvering their bikes into the space in front of the stands. Trevor looked up at Lore and grinned in a satisfied kind of way. "You found the Halls!"
"Hello." Lore sighed, "Again."
"So? Aren't you cold, or what?" Trevor asked again. The boy's volume and tone demonstrated that he found nothing at all wrong with this question.
Lore looked down at his fair weather clothes and smirked, "Actually, it's terribly hot. I'm sweating to death."
He did not expect the small burst of laughter that came from the other spectators within earshot. He glanced around, and some of them had shifted their eyes with guilty embarrassment. Oddly enough, the laughter had not sounded…unkind?
Trevor made a raspberry with his lips, "Hot? Jeeze! You must be from someplace like Alaska or something. Is your planet really cold?"
Ah, that's right. Lore had left the boy in the dark. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Planet?" Gene guffawed, rolling his bike backward, "He's not from a planet. He's an android, stupid!"
"Boys." Eugene chastised, "Go park your bikes outside. There's no room in here."
Gene grumbled and started backing up, but Trevor was too shocked. He gave Lore a look of pure adolescent outrage, "You told me you were a Lore!"
"No." Lore said, "I told you I was 'called' Lore. That's my name."
Anna shot him an amused, questioning look, no doubt wondering about the exchange Lore had had with the boy. Gene started laughing in the way only a victor can.
"You're such an idiot!" Gene said, pushing Trevor.
"Whatever!" Trevor spat back as he too finally began to maneuver his bike back out of the path. "I met him first, anyway. Loser!"
"So? He had dinner at my house."
This childish back and forth was stopped only when Eugene stood and looked over the railing at the two boys, "Speaking of my house, you tell your older brother that I know it was him this afternoon. He'll know what I'm talking about. If this stuff doesn't come to a stop, and I mean now, I'm going to have a talk with your father."
Trevor's neck shrank into his shoulders and he nodded mutely. The fact that he didn't look confused only demonstrated that he knew all about his older brother's antics at the Hall house. "Okay, Mr. Hall." Trevor muttered.
Lore watched all of this with mounting amusement. He had virtually no experience with children, but from what he could see so far they were the more entertaining segment of humanity, mostly owing to their lack of tact.
"Captains to the field!" Boomed a voice through a loudspeaker. People all around began to quickly take their seats and direct their attention to the field.
A tall man wearing some kind of protective body pad over his front stood near the center of the field. Lore watched as Louise and a blonde man of similar age walked out to a raised mound of dirt at the center of the field. The padded man spoke to them privately, whatever he said causing both Louise and the other man to shoot nasty looks at one another, then he raised his hand and made some kind of signal. Immediately, people from the far 'dugout' ran out onto the field, spreading into particular positions.
Lore had no idea what was going on.
"One of the Vulcans is pitching." Anna muttered, "I bet Louise isn't happy about that."
Lore scanned the field and saw two Vulcan men, one standing on the top of the dirt mound, and the other standing a few yards away in the field. He wasn't sure which was 'pitching', but he assumed it was the one on the mound.
"Play ball!" The large man shouted as he hunkered down just behind the fence. Almost immediately, the Vulcan on the mound stood sideways and pressed his hand into a large leather glove. He raised his knee, and upon bringing it down pulled a white ball from the glove and threw it at the two players closest to the fence. For a fraction of a second, Lore suspected this was indeed a blood sport, but one of the targeted players swung a thick wooden baton, striking the ball on the edge and causing it to sail directly upward. The other player, the one wearing even more protective padding than the first one, stood, waited, and caught the ball as it descended.
There were mixed shouts of joy and distain from the crowd.
"Oh. Too bad." Anna said, clapping her hands politely.
"You didn't want him to catch the ball?" Lore asked.
"No. He's on the Seventy-Seven team." Anna clarified, although it clarified nothing to him. He merely nodded and continued watching. Anna had vaguely described baseball back at the house, but that was because he had not shown very much interest. He knew it was a confrontational team sport featuring a ball and a wooden bat and 'three strikes', but that was it.
Frankly, he wasn't particularly interested now, despite the fact that he would be participating at any moment.
"If Louise wins, I'm sitting up all night on the porch with the garden hose." Eugene sighed heavily, directing the comment to his wife, "I don't trust that Mills kid any further than I could throw him."
Katherine laughed and leaned into her husband's side. The game continued, and Lore watched with growing fascination as the ball was thrown twice more for two different 'hitters', and each was dismissed when the padded man yelled "You're out!"
Louise stood before her dugout and kicked angrily at the ground. The blond man from across the field smiled and laughed with the utmost satisfaction. The people in the field ran back to the opposing dugout and Louise's people took their places. This exchange took longer, but eventually came to an end when the last hitter, a Vulcan, struck the ball and sent it over the fence and into the river beyond. His fellow players ran in, stomping on the 'plate' as they did. Louise's furry only seemed to increase.
"You're sister has a short temper." Lore commented.
Anna grinned and shot him a sarcastic look, "Pot calling the kettle."
"I know what that means." He replied. They were sitting so close, and Anna's coat was so bulky, that he had no trouble taking her hand without anyone noticing. He caressed the back of her hand with his thumb and merely stared off into a field, a very satisfied smile on his face.
Anna flushed, but continued to watch the field. One of Louise's players, running in from the infield, tripped suddenly. It appeared that he had turned his ankle and stepped on the side of his foot, and he went down with a startled look of agony. Louise ran out immediately and helped pick him up, her face a picture of nurturing concern.
"She is a good actress too." Lore said.
"What do you mean?" Anna asked.
"This is her plan."
Anna looked out again and, sure enough, she saw the same suppressed grin on the 'injured' player's face as Lore did. The man hobbled, very convincingly, back toward the dugout, as Louise made a large T with her hands.
"Time!" The Ref called. The blonde man, whom Lore now knew to be the infamous Logan Mills, stalked out onto the field with narrow, suspicious eyes. Louise joined him with a little bounce in her step.
"You're going to listen, aren't you?" Anna said with a smile.
He nodded and listened.
"I need to bring in a filler." Louise announced. Her voice was thick with artificial regret, "Chris twisted his ankle. Can't keep playing."
"Oh, yeah!" Logan spat, "I want to see a tricorder readout. I bet he's fine."
"Sure." Louise replied, "Let's see the doctor's notes for Mike and Lenny and Sarah. Hungover, my butt!"
"Tone it down, you two." The Ref grumbled, "Hall, you got an alum to fill in?"
"Nope. Wouldn't you know? Not a single Seventy-Eight available." Louise grinned at Logan.
"Guess you forfeit then, huh?" Logan's teeth were clenched and he was looking at her sideways.
"Actually," Louise drew out the word, "I was worried about not having anyone on standby, so I asked a family friend if he would fill in. You know, if the 'need arose.'"
Lore's gasped a little, in disbelief.
"What?" Anna said, "What did she say?"
"Nothing." He dismissed it.
"Lore." She pressed, squeezing his hand.
He closed his eyes, "She called me a 'family friend.'"
Anna squeezed his hand back. Lore continued to listen.
"Oh, yeah? Who?" Logan challenged, "And what position is he playing?"
"Third base. I'll get him." Louise grinned broadly.
"Who!" Logan demanded, but the Ref had heard all he needed to hear. He was already walking away from the mound, waving his hand to indicate the continuation of play.
Louise ignored Logan and jogged over to the fence. Lore sighed heavily. This was also part of her plan. He leaned close to Anna, "I think you'll see another example of her acting abilities right now."
Louise reached the fence in front of the stands, breathless, "Lore! Hey! You won't believe this, but Mark sprained his ankle. I need you to stand in!"
Just as Louise had requested, Lore stood with a show of irritation, as if participating in this game were the worst kind of imposition. The stands erupted into a cacophony of noise. Loud boos and calls of 'not fair' emanated from the far stands, while those nearest him were full of self satisfied laughter and applause.
Lore was shocked, and the surprised look on Anna's face showed that she felt the same. He had expected anything but a good reception. In fact, he had expected outraged silence, if not unanimous objection.
Eugene and Katherine turned around and gave him a reassuring smile. Katherine said, "Never underestimate the power of baseball. They want to win."
Clearly. He stepped down from the stands and quickly swung around the post next to the field. He took the few short steps into the dugout and stopped dead. Ten faces stared up at him. Including Louise and the young man with the fake leg injury, either others gawked at him with mixed expressions of shock and delight.
"Yes!" Louise said from the other end of the dugout. She rushed toward him, "Okay, what your shoe size? I think I've got a few extra pairs of cleats around here."
"I don't need them." He assured her, "I'm not going to lose my footing."
"Fine. Glenn, you're up!" Louise shouted. A man at the far end grabbed a bat and headed out to the plate. Louise pressed her face to the chain length fence, "Hopefully, Glenn can get on base, then Kate, and then you can bring them in."
"Bring them in?" Lore repeated.
"Yeah." Louise's eyes were focused on the game.
"Um…." A heavy voice from the back of the dugout rang around, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this."
Louise turned around, "Hey, we didn't start this. Logan had every chance to play fair. He's only got himself to blame."
The man crossed his arms over his chest and sat back. "I wasn't talking about that," He grumbled. Lore glanced at him and immediately met an unfriendly glare.
And it begins….
Louise spun around like an angry little top, "What? We have some kind of problem, Jason? Cuz' I can get my sister Beth to step in if you don't want to play."
Jason worked his jaw angrily and shook his head, "I didn't say that. Just thought you could have picked someone…else. That's all."
Lore shrugged and looked back at the field. He had a problem when people directly their dislike of him towards Anna, but he couldn't give a shit about people who disliked him alone. Louise, apparently, did not feel the same way.
"Is Jason the only one? Huh? We have a bigger problem here?" Louise demanded, her little face pinched in a scowl.
"Strike three! You're out!" The Ref boomed. Glenn came skulking back into the dugout. He angrily shoved his bat into the stand near the exit.
"You can't hit a damn thing off that guy!" Glenn seethed, "I can barely see the ball!"
Louise ignored him and continued to glare at her team. Lore was shocked that she was defending him in such a way, especially considering that no more than three hours ago she had brandished a knife at him and called him nuts. It was probably just because she wanted to win the game, and she didn't need her team defecting. He was sure that was it.
Jason stood, "All I'm saying is—."
"All you're saying is you don't like him. Well, I don't give a crap who you like or don't like. If it weren't for him my big sister would be some red smudge on a shuttle bay wall. Yeah, that's right! You heard me!"
Lore gave her a sharp look, "Don't justify me to him."
"Why not?" She shot back, "I think a lot of people around here could do with a little more information, if you ask me."
"Seventy-Eight! What's the hold up?" The Ref called, "You got twenty seconds to get your batter out here!"
"Kate, go!" Louise instructed. A girl with blonde pixie hair struggled with her helmet and ran out to the plate. Louise turned her attention back to the group, "So? Where are we?"
Everyone muttered their agreement, and even a few were more enthusiastic about it. Jason sighed and retook his place on the bench.
"I just want to win!" Glenn cried.
The thunderclap of the bat striking the ball drew their attention. It sailed through center field as the little blonde girl, Kate, ran full out towards the first base. She made it, but continued no further.
"Okay, you're up! We've got Kate on base!" Louise said, bouncing. She grabbed a bat from the stack, looked at it, then took a heavier bat instead. "Come on."
Lore removed his suit jacket and hung it on a hook before following her out into the bright, windy afternoon. The spectators demonstrated their favor or disapproval loudly. Lore glanced over the dugout and made eye contact with Anna. She gave him a tense smile, he responded with an amused roll of his eyes. He couldn't believe he was doing this nonsense.
"Okay," Louise began, shoving the bat into his hands, "I need Kate to make it home, and she's slower than a drunk turtle. So just make sure you get a good hit into the outfield. Hell, get a homerun if you can."
Lore looked down at the bat, which he was holding incorrectly, and said, "Is there a particular area to which you want me to direct the ball? Does one space garner more points than another?"
"Points?" Louise frowned and looked over her shoulder. The Ref was getting impatient, "No, just make sure you—Oh, God! You don't know jack about baseball, do you!"
Her voice was loud enough for all to hear, and the stands erupted into laughter. The opposing side, especially, devolved into raucous hoots. Lore lowered the bat and held it the way he had seen the other players do.
"I don't need much information, just tell me what to do." He said irritably.
Louise groaned, removed her cap, then replaced it after running her hands through her hair, "Okay. He's gonna throw the ball at you, you hit the ball with the bat and then you run to the first base—."
"I'm not running." He said dismissively. He wanted to help Louise but he was had no interest in making a fool of himself. He could run—that was a givin—but Lore was of the strong opinion that most people look ridiculous while running.
"What? You have to run, unless you get a homerun, and even then you really should—."
"Home run? I'll just do that then." Lore said, smiling. Then, "What is a homerun?"
"We're waiting, Hall!" Logan cried from the far dugout. He had his nose pressed to the chain-length and was glaring.
"Damnit." Louise muttered, "Just…just hit the ball as hard as you can. And," Here, she leaned in and whispered, "do me a favor? Ham it up a bit."
"Ham it up?"
"Yeah. Show off, you know. I wanna rub Logan's face in the smelly crud of defeat!"
Lore rolled his eyes at her melodramatic choice of words and headed toward the plate.
"Oh, wait! Here!" Louise extended a protective helmet towards him.
Lore laughed and waived his hand at the thing. The spectators found it just as amusing, and a few people shouted, "Like he needs it!"
He continued toward the plate and, remembered Louise's request, tossed the bat into the air and flipped it end over end a few times as the narrow point landed in his hand. He did this with a practiced show of boredom
"Good grief!" Katherine cried from the stands. Lore glanced over and the woman was laughing, giving Anna an amused look. Anna shook her head and smiled.
Enough. Get this over with. He took his place at the side of the plate and waited. The Vulcan pitcher, not at all discomposed by Lore's presence, acknowledged a signal from the catcher and winded up. He released the ball with substantially more power than he had wielded against the other players, but it didn't matter. Lore saw the ball coming as if it were in slow motion, seeing ever backward spin as it moved. He drew back and did precisely what Louise had asked him to do.
He hit the ball as hard as he could.
The wooden bat split up the length and shattered in a spray of yellow wood. The ball fared little better as the red stitched busted under the straight and a line of stringy gut burst out, creating a tracer trail as the remains of the ball sailed clumsily back toward the pitched. The Vulcan caught it, easily, and lifted it for view.
The people in the stands rose to their feet in a chaos of excited shouts. Lore looked down at the bat handle in his hand and frowned, "Shit."
"No! That's great! That's a homerun!" Louise cried from the dugout. "Yeah! Hey, Logan! Can I borrow a bat? I seem to be down one. Ha!"
Lore shrugged and head back toward the dugout just as Kate cleared the home plate with a happy stomp. As he passed, he saw Anna standing in the stands behind her mouth. She had her hands cupped over her mouth, no doubt hiding one hell of a grin. Her eyes spoke to it. He rolled his eyes playfully before descending into the dugout. This might actually wind up being fun.
Louise explained enough of the game to allow him to play his third base position proficiently, since the task mostly required being able to catch the ball. He would have been happy to continue batting in his previous manner, but Louise informed him, with some amusement, that bats were at a premium and he should just shoot for getting the ball over the far fence rather than destroying it. He did just that three more times before the game concluded. In the final inning, Jason was called out on the catch and Glenn simply couldn't make it home before the ball reached the catcher. Louise's team lost by one point.
Despite performing his tasks perfectly in every way, Lore was only one player, and baseball was not a sport designed for single player dominance.
"I don't believe this…." Louise groaned into her hands as the Ref called the game in a loud voice.
The rest of her team sulked out of the dugout and formed a line across the line. Louise took up the end position as the two teams passed each other, slapping hands. It was not a professional display. Louise's team was visibly miserably, while Logan's players looked like shaken up bottles of soda, waiting to burst. Lore remained in the dugout, which no one seemed to mind, and watched as Louise reached Logan. She took his hand in a shake and Lore saw Logan's satisfied grin falter with a twinge of pain. No doubt the woman was digging her finger nails into his flesh.
Good. This is over. We can leave now.
Lore exited the dugout and was immediately met with the press of people exiting the stands. He stood back and waited in the entrance, which wasn't the best place to stand since everyone was to take their turn in staring at him. He frowned.
"Oh, don't worry." Said a middle aged woman towing a little kid along with her, "You did your best."
Lore's eyes widened, "Eh…thank you."
He waited for the rest of them to pass, being momentarily stunned when an occasional person smiled at him or gave him some kind of sympathetic shrug. The majority, however, either gave him furtive looks or made a point to ignore him completely. That was fine by him.
Anna shot him a broad smile as she stepped down from the benches. It had gotten considerably colder, and her shoulders were hunched up around her ears.
"Now, that was entertaining." Eugene said with a laugh. He gave Lore a nod as he and Katherine followed the crowd away from the stands.
Without any hesitation he swooped in and took Anna's arm in his, pulling her close. "We can leave now."
"Yeah." She said, shivering her agreement. They walked a little distance behind Katherine and Eugene. They crossed to begin the trek up Third Street. In the open area just ahead, the members of Logan's team were celebrating as they loaded their gear into little land vehicles and made loud suggestions about their dinner plans. Logan was parading a large gold and white trophy over his head, but his eyes were seemed fixed away from his fellows. Lore followed the man's eyes and saw Louise still near the dugout, also loading her gear into another land vehicle. She looked dejected.
Logan's exuberance faltered.
"Is that the prize?" Lore asked Anna, nodding toward the trophy, "That is what all of this was about?"
Anna hummed a bit and shook her head, "Not really. That's just the proof."
"Don't be a sore loser." Logan said suddenly. He had regained—or forced himself to regain—his cocky satisfaction. He looked at Lore and grinned, "I guess you weren't much help."
Lore did not take the comment personally. Why should he? He had performed his tasks flawlessly.
Logan continued, "I guess the class of Seventy-Eight just doesn't have what it takes!" His fellows laughed and he held the trophy up a little higher.
Anna groaned, "Louise is going to be a train wreck for days. That girl can't handle losing. She never could."
Louise, who could hear all of this, looked up. She didn't look angry. She looked beaten.
Anna stopped, bringing Lore to a halt. It was Beth who had suddenly stepped forward from the shadows, her hands still clasped behind her despite the cold. Lore watched curiously, for Katherine and Eugene had also turned around as if they were expected something bad. Anna too had a look of concern.
Beth stepped across the grass and stopped in front of Logan, looking up at him.
"Hey, Beth! You should have replaced another player." Logan said loudly, "That would have made an android and a Vulcan. She might actually have tied with us!"
Beth took another step forward, so close that Logan had to take a step back. He frowned, wondering what the woman was about staring up at him like that, her eyes so wide.
"What's your problem?" Logan demanded.
For the first time since meeting her, Lore saw Beth smile. She said, "You love Louise."
Logan's jaw dropped like it had become unhinged. His teammates hooted their sure disagreement, but Beth continued. She tapped the side of her head with one finger, "I know. You love Louise. You have for years."
Logan took another step back as Beth seemed to be stalking him. "That—that's bull crap! I don't care what you think you know, half Betazoid! You're lying."
"Nuh-uh." Beth shook her head, "Vulcans don't lie."
At this, even Lore could not resist devolving into laughter. He could only imagine Troi doing something like this, suddenly wielding her empathic abilities like some kind of weapon.
Logan sputtered and shook his head, but he could not make a coherent rebuttal. Beth had him. She was an empath, so she knew his mind, and she was a Vulcan, for whom honesty was a known trait.
"Oh, my God, I knew it!" One of Logan's teammates shouted, to much accompanying laughter.
"Shut up!" Logan burst suddenly. His eyes were across the street. Louise was standing stiff as a board, her arms full of leather mitts. Her face was frozen in a look of shock.
"Good evening, Logan." Beth finished. She turned and continued her walk along the sidewalk, all placidity firmly back in place.
This is too funny. Lore watched at Logan suddenly shoved the trophy into someone else's waiting hands and ran across the street towards Louise. As he approached, she dropped the mitts and took up a bat.
"Oh, crap." Anna muttered.
"Is that true!" Louise shouted, raising the bat.
"Hey! Stop!" Logan cried, "Listen to me!"
"Listen? You chopped my hair off in the sixth grade!" She swung the bat, missing and striking the land vehicle.
"I'm sorry!" Logan cried as he jumped back.
"You let the air out of my bike tires every other day!" Swing! "You told everyone in school I never wore dresses because I was trying to hide a tail!" Swing!
"You turned my teeth green!" Logan shot back as he dove behind the vehicle.
Lore nudged Anna, "Is someone going to…eh…intervene in this?"
Anna shook her head, "I'm not. This is a long time coming."
A passing couple stopped near them and looked back at the ongoing display. The man shook his head, "You were right, hon. Those two are going to kill eachother. It was only a matter of time." The woman mumbled some agreement and they continued on their way.
"Calm down! Let me talk to you!" Logan kept trying to dodge the bat and get close to her.
"And all this time you—you—Argh!" Louise swung again.
Anna pulled on Lore's arm. "Come on. I have a feeling I'm not going to see Louise until much later."
'But this is entertaining." Lore laughed. Anna gripped his hand, and his attention was easily drawn back to her. She was smiling up at him. "Okay." They continued their walk back toward the mountain, with the sound of Louise and Logan's shouts fading into the distance.
It was completely dark now, the sun setting early in the October sky. Katherine and Eugene moved up the pitch black path with a flash-light, shining it back so that Amy and Paul could see their own steps. Lore kept Anna close and directed her. He did not need the light.
"What are we going to do about Louise?" Katherine whispered to Eugene. The dark was so still and complete that even the faintest whisper carried to all.
Eugene grumbled and shook his head, "Hell, I'll just be sure to leave the front door open. If she doesn't sneak in eventually, the Sheriff will bring her by after she kills the Mills kid. I'm sure it's a misdemeanor."
Katherine chuckled and walked ahead as they reached the steps. Lore gripped Anna's arm and held her back. Clearly he was not going to retire with the rest of the Halls, but he desperately did not want to leave. She turned and looked up at him. His tense expression told her everything.
"Ma? I'll be up in a bit, okay?" Anna said softly. The dark was making everyone very quiet.
"Okay." Katherine nodded, "Um…Lore, it was good to meet you. Really."
"Ditto." Paul chimed in. Amy laughed and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder before they continued up the steps as well. Beth followed. Lore waited until everyone had cleared the steps and disappeared across the black lawn toward the house. He and Anna stood at the foot of the steps near a large tree that had pressed itself through the timber retention wall decades ago.
"I don't believe it." He muttered.
"Believe what?" Anna said.
"I'm finally alone with you." He put his hands on her waist and stepped close, pressing his forehead to hers. He could hear her heartbeat thump into an increased rhythm, and the sound was thrilling. Still, he couldn't get ahead of himself, "I suppose we have a lot to talk about."
She sighed, "No. Not really."
Oh? He drew back, "We don't?"
She shook her head, "Not much. I understand why you left, why you thought you had to leave. You were very clear."
"I was also very wrong." He said, frowning. He could clearly see her face in the dark, but he knew she could not read his. "I thought it was for your own good, but I…I didn't help. Instead, I just left you alone."
She nodded. He felt it against his forehead. "It was worse because I knew, I knew, something was wrong. I tried to talk to Guinan about it, but she was so damn vague." Here, her voice cracked a bit, "I couldn't get over it because it felt so…wrong. It was like I knew you weren't really gone, and I couldn't square that with everything I was being told. Data was very thorough in making sure everyone believed you were dead."
He closed his eyes. That sting was regret was almost physical now, "I'm sorry."
"I know." She said. He waited, not knowing what else to say or do. He just held her with the hopes that it would last longer than he feared. But, soon Anna stretched up and pressed her lips to his cheek. She whispered, "I've missed you so much. I love you, Lore."
He made some kind of relieved groan as he lowered his head onto her shoulder. Just the sound of those words was enough to drive away any all concerns he had in the world. Everything would be okay now. This was all that mattered. He smiled, laughed joyously, and kissed the side of her neck.
"Then…you forgive me?" He whispered.
She shook with silent laughter, "Oh, God. Of course, I forgive you, stupid."
He wrapped his arms around her tightly and continued to laugh, all of the anguish and worry he had felt dissipating with the sound. He was forgiven, and she loved him.
"I love you." He whispered, "I…I don't want to leave, Anna. Please, come with me."
"Come with you? Where?" She pulled back to see his face, despite the dark.
He shrugged, "Anywhere. It doesn't matter. You have ten day, don't you?" He was speaking quickly now, he was so excited, "I have my ship. We can go anywhere you want, within a five day journey."
Anna laughed happily and kissed him. She rubbed his cheeks, kissed him again, and drew back, "Nope. Your ship is impounded. Remember?"
He rolled his eyes, "I suppose breaking that would not keep me in Picard's good graces."
"Um…no." She laughed. She brought her arms up and wrapped them around his neck. "Lore, just so there isn't any more confusion, any more doubt. I love you. Only you. I'm…I'm sorry. I was so angry, and finding out you were alive all this time when I was—." She broke off and calmed her breathing, "I told you I didn't want to see you again. I'm so sorry."
Lore sighed. He would never cease to be amazed by Anna's ability to place herself at fault. He shook his head, "You're not supposed to be apologizing to me. I caused all of this." He took her face in his hands and rubbed his thumbs over her cheeks, "But it doesn't matter now. Will you come with me? Even if my ship is…" He rolled his eyes, "impounded, we can still be alone there."
Anna narrowed her eyes playfully, "I see. And why would you want to get me alone?"
Lore could not blush, but his expression showed the same reaction. To answer the question, he leaned in and kissed her, this time letting it linger until she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and fell against him. She hummed against his lips.
Humans. Are. Wonderful.
Anna drew back. Her cheeks were flushed and she was smiling. "I, um…I need to go tell my parents. I can't just disappear on them."
Lore nodded and followed her quickly up the steps, his hand still in hers as they reached the top. He waited outside as Anna went into the softly lit house. She returned a few minutes later, smiling, with a bag over one shoulder.
"We're going directly to your ship?" She asked.
"No. My security measures aren't exactly humanoid friendly." He laughed, "We'll can go directly to the Enterprise, then leave from there."
She nodded and stepped close to him, "I'm ready."
So am I. He reached into his pocket and pressed the small transmitter there. They both disappeared into a blur of green light.
It was barely three minutes later that a chaos of sirens and lights illuminated the mountainside. Half a dozen land vehicles, followed by THD soldiers on foot flooded up the High Street hill and down the drive into the Halls' dark, leaf strewn lawn. Eugene had been good on his word to leave the front door open, which left no hindrance when the THD soldiers flooded in, phasers raised. They wanted to know where Lore was, and they wanted to know now.
**Wallace is a real town in Northern Idaho, very close to the Montana border. I lived there as a little kid for a very short time (age 7 to 10), but it will always be vividly imprinted into my thoughts. The location of the Halls' house corresponds to a real spot as well, where my friend Becky lived on the side of the mountain=) -LG