As always, thank you kindly to 0afan0 for proofreading, and to thyme2read, BewilderedFemale, and JustaCrazyMan for your reviews and encouragement! And thank you to all of my readers!
Guinevere went to her suite in the habitat ring in silence. When she arrived, she sank onto the sofa, trying to make sense of it all.
She was returning to Romulus, and she couldn't believe it. The tide of unresolved emotions that surrounded her earlier life there began to swell in her heart. Tævek's bloody corpse to that day continued to haunt her dreams. Lurking in the back of her mind was the question of what might have been, had he not been murdered. But she had long ago rejected those thoughts, believing it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.
Now, the vicious dogs would awaken soon. She wouldn't have to face this trial alone, but at the same time, she was worried that her marriage would be tested once again. Bochra was a man who was prone to jealousy. The fact that she had been married before had always been a major source of insecurity for him, especially since he felt he could not offer her everything her first husband could.
She had made great strides in convincing him that his station didn't matter to her, and that he was the only man she had ever truly loved. It was the truth. She would never know if she could have learned to love Tævek; but she was certain that she loved Bochra dearly. That, before all else, was why she wanted to forget the past and move on with her life.
Oh, why had she agreed to this mission? To all intents and purposes, her arm had been twisted, she realized. Admiral Ross' words echoed in her mind: If the Alliance were to deteriorate, Nua Breizh would unfortunately be caught in the middle...The Alpha Quadrant needs you. And like it or not, you and your people are a part of the Alpha Quadrant.
Anger replaced her anxiety. How could she have allowed herself to cave in from their pressure and exaggerated fear mongering? It was the oldest trick in the book! She was vexed with Cretak and Letant; yet even more, she was livid with Ross.
The doors slid open, and Bochra entered. "I just received the orders. You look as astonished as I am," he observed.
"You could say that," she agreed nervously.
Bochra's expression softened. "I know this is going to be difficult for us both, but rest assured, I will not abandon you, come what may. I swear it."
"I know," she said softly.
"Something else is bothering you, ailhun. What is it?" He held her in his arms and looked deeply into her eyes.
"I feel it is my duty to perform the mourning ritual for Tævek," she answered, deciding it was best to get right to the meat of the matter.
Her husband slowly nodded. "I thought as much." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "I will not be envious of a memory. I'm proud of you. Your commitment to duty is one of your many qualities I have always admired. Do what you must, my wife. I will be at your side."
Guinevere felt her heart fill to the brim. She had foolishly underestimated Bochra. He, too, had grown over the last few months.
"Thank you," she said softly. "I love you, Bochra. You know I would have followed you to your world. I'm sorry it has to be different."
"Shhh," he held his finger to her lips, "Yes, I know. But we agreed not to speak of that. Being together is more important than where we dwell. We have both made sacrifices to ensure that our marriage will succeed." With that, he kissed her wistfully.
"Only, say again that you love me, my beautiful wife, and it will all be worth it," he pleaded, cradling her face in his hands.
"I love you," she breathed, "I would sacrifice anything to be with you, Bochra!"
He held her close and inhaled deeply. The warmth of his cheek against hers made her heart race. Her skin tingled when he exhaled onto her neck. "My Guinevere," he whispered seductively.
She giggled as she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Bochra didn't miss a beat. He swept her off her feet, his lips all the while touching hers.
"No matter what happens," he said as he carried her off to bed, "know that I will always love you."
"I'll never doubt you again," she promised.
It was hours before they went to sleep.
USS Bellerophon, en route to Romulus
"I have so many questions about the Bajoran sector. Could you spare a moment, Doctor Bashir?" Wendell Greer looked to Admiral Ross and Senator Cretak, "Unless I'm interrupting..." he added quickly.
"Not at all," the admiral replied politely.
Cretak watched them walk away. "Doctor Bashir seems to make friends easily."
Ross was hesitant again. "Yes," he agreed, swirling the azure-colored liquid in his glass.
Cretak studied him for a moment. His demeanor had changed almost instantly after Bashir and Greer left. What was he hiding? She knew that Ross was for the most part an open man, so if he was uncomfortable then something must have been wrong. It wasn't merely that he didn't want to finish the ale, she understood. No, there was much more to it than that.
She was about to ask him about it, when he suddenly grinned at someone behind her. Commander Bochra and Lady Guinevere strolled up for a drink. Cretak, too, couldn't help but smile when she saw them. There could be no doubt of their mutual affection for each other. Bochra was gazing adoringly at Guinevere, and her countenance glowed in response.
After exchanging pleasantries, Ross said, "So how did you like Il Trovatore, Commander? I was sitting a couple of rows behind you."
Bochra smiled conscientiously. Cretak guessed he would have been more at ease if she were not also awaiting his response. "It was...better than I expected. It all seemed so realistic. I had no idea that humans were such a study in dramatic contrasts." He smiled again, this time at his wife, "Further proof that we are not so different after all." The pretty hue returned to her cheeks.
There was the slightest twinge of envy in Cretak's heart. No man, Romulan or otherwise, had ever looked at her in that manner. She had been in love once, but they had mutually chosen their careers instead. A younger image of Neral—when he was around Bochra's age—came to her mind. Not long after they parted ways, he had married another. Several years later, after his wife and children were killed in a Klingon raid, the possibility of a relationship with him presented itself a second time. However, once again, they were both too ambitious to share power.
A part of Cretak always regretted that decision. She couldn't help but wonder if perhaps there was still a chance that they could be together again. But if that happens, she realized, I can kiss my seat on the Continuing Committee goodbye. "A conflict of interest," was the impediment, she recalled.
It was well-known to her that Bochra and Guinevere's marriage had come at a high cost. The Commander had the War to thank for keeping his family's good name intact. His recent victories would assure that it stayed that way afterwards, but there would always be certain positions he and his relatives would never be able to attain as a result of his association with a human. In the same vein, Guinevere relinquished her family's claim the throne of Nua Breizh when she chose to follow the inclinations of her heart.
Cretak wasn't sure she would have been happy had she made the same decision, even after Neral proposed that they keep their relationship a secret. But with men like Koval and the late Senator Vreenak running the Tal Shair, she knew it would have been utterly impossible.
"Well spoken, Commander," she said finally. "You would have made a good statesperson. Or perhaps a diplomat."
"With respect, Senator," he countered, "probably not."
Cretak chuckled. It was plain that Bochra's opinion of politicians was similar to that held by most of the Romulan military. But that was why the politicians controlled the Empire and the military did not.
"What did you think of the opera, Admiral?" Guinevere asked, changing the subject. Yes, she was the diplomat of the two.
"Who...me?" he said, choking slightly after another sip. "It was, ahem, fine. But Mozart has always been my favorite composer."
Bochra looked inquisitively at his wife. "Mozart?"
"He was from an earlier era," she explained, "You probably wouldn't like his operas, though."
"Since you know me so well, I'll leave it at that." He was making no attempts to conceal the fact that he idolized his lady. "If you will excuse us," he said, then proceeded to escort her off to a corner.
Ross chuckled once they were gone. "I was never that young."
"Nor I," Cretak had to agree. She decided it was best to delay her earlier questions for the moment. Once again, changing to another topic seemed to be the better course of action. "Tell me about this opera you attended, Il Trovatore."
Luther Sloan sipped his drink after Bashir left to go read the PADD he had left in the doctor's quarters. His eye scanned the rest of the room, and finally fell upon the commander of their Romulan escort and his wife.
A Romulan who married a human, he thought with considerable interest, Now that's not something you see every day...
Romulans were notoriously bigoted for most part, and so he was surprised to see them together. He had learned the news about their marriage along with the rest of the Alpha Quadrant, but it was still no less of an attention-grabber to see them in person. Sloan was intrigued.
Naturally, it was everyone's hope that these types of occurrences would eventually come to pass and aid the cause of peace. But Sloan, together with the rest of his colleagues in Section 31, knew better than to rely on hope alone. As a result, he was always surprised when things of this nature happened so soon on their own.
In fact, now that he stopped to consider it, the matter seemed almost too good to be true. He decided that he had better investigate. Being a military officer, Commander Bochra had of course already been checked. Aside from assassinating a former superior officer (a common enough occurrence as far as Romulans went), he was not under any suspicion.
Guinevere Allaire, on the other hand, was somewhat of a mystery to him. She had former connections to the Romulans, he knew. But how far those connections went...well, that would have to be explored further. She seemed innocent enough, but Section 31 could not afford to leave a single stone unturned. With his flawless casual manner, he oiled his way over to them.
"Ah, you must be Lady Allaire of Nua Breizh. I'm Wendell Greer from the Department of Cartography. May I ask you a few questions about your neck of the woods? It's not often that Federation ships visit the Ximenta and Berezi systems, you know." He held his hand out to her.
The Romulan quickly shook his hand instead. "And I am Commander Bochra of the Greenclaw." His look told Sloan that he was well aware that he wasn't really searching for mapping information.
Bochra wasn't a fool. Sloan admired that. "Alright, you've caught me, Commander," he grinned sheepishly, and scratched the back of his neck. "I was curious and wanted to meet the two of you. Can't help it; I'm a hopeless romantic at heart. And you're the couple the entire Alpha Quadrant is talking about."
That was at least partially true. Experience had taught him that in order to convince someone to believe a lie, one had to mix in an element of veracity with it.
"Is that so?" Guinevere smiled at his flattery. "I would have thought the Alpha Quadrant was more concerned about the War. What are you, Mr. Greer," she poked playfully, "an undercover reporter, from some attention-diverting gazette, sent to spy on us?"
Lady, it's a good thing you don't know how close you are to the truth. "Well, I sometimes I wish I was a spy," he admitted with a slight chuckle, oozing charm from every pore. "It's probably a more exciting job than charting space all day."
"If you want my advice, Mr. Greer," Bochra interrupted, "you'll stick to where your talents truly lie: in cartography. Leave the spying to the real intelligence agents." He took Guinevere's arm. "Now if you will excuse us." He escorted her away, but not before shooting Sloan another warning look.
So we have a jealous streak, in addition to the typical Romulan mistrust of everyone, eh Commander? He filed that little nugget away for future reference. I've got my eye on you two, he told them silently.