Another scan was not likely to change the results of any of those before it, but Synnove Natale ran one anyway—and with the medical tricorder she had procured from the med kit in her office, she knew it would make a more detailed analysis than a standard model.
Yep, still pregnant, she noted as she looked at the scan results. And we have moved on from zygote to embryo.
After opening a secured file on her computer, she downloaded the results, then sat back in her chair. Foremost in her thoughts was how in the hell she was going to keep this child a secret from her father. Zaddo Natale was one of the most infamous crime lords in the Orion Syndicate, a feat never before accomplished by a red Orion. To earn his place—given the Syndicate was operated by the greens—he’d had to be more cunning, more clever, more ruthless and brutal. In some circles, she knew, the mere mention of his name would freeze a person in their tracks. You couldn’t run and certainly could not hide from his assassins—they always found you.
She’d run. At the tender age of 17, when she had overheard him brokering a deal with another Syndicate lord—his offer being her in exchange for a greater share of the profits in their venture—she had run. She stowed away on the first ship with a crew that appeared friendly, which really wasn’t saying much for any merchant captain that would deal with Orions, and bartered her manual labor in exchange for safe passage to Earth. There she had planned to seek asylum. Protection.
It worked for a year. Though she doubted her father hadn’t known where to find her in all that time, that he had waited so long to make his first attempt to get her back had been a surprise. She was walking out of a night club with a couple of friends. The three girls parted on the sidewalk, and it wasn’t until she was about a block away that two large-built Orion males stepped out of an alley and grabbed her. Natale had known in an instant why they were there, though not that her father had been the one to send them. At least, not right away. It wasn’t until after the botched kidnapping attempt, foiled by the sudden appearance of one angry, cursing young Scotsman, that she learned the truth.
One week after the incident, during which time she had become fast friends with Brian Wallace—whom she had learned that first night was also a cadet at Starfleet Academy on the Security track—the young Orion woman received an unusual message. It was a compilation of video clips of her and Wallace, and at the end of the video there had been five chilling sentences in text: If you want to stay free, don’t let this become more than it is. Anything else happens, the Human dies. I’ll make you watch. You become involved with anyone, and you will bear witness to pain you cannot even begin to imagine.
Remember, Synnove—you belong to me.
Natale had known with unwavering certainty both whom the message had come from, and that he would not hesitate to follow through on his threat. And so, despite being fully aware that she was indeed falling as in love with Brian Wallace as he was with her, she had forced herself to tell him they would never be more than friends. Had fended off his attempts to get her to change her mind for the last twenty years.
She’d had a few lovers over the years—no one she knew could deny their base urges indefinitely. But each and every “relationship” had lasted less than a month, and had been purely sexual. No emotional strings. She’d even made do with a holographic lover a time or two, just to scratch the proverbial itch.
That night she’d spent with Brian on the second—and thankfully last—day of the Aphrodaiquiri Crisis was the first time she’d been with a man, real or not, since before the Dominion War. Near a week had passed since it happened, and before and after she discovered her condition, she had been asking herself what the hell the odds were that a woman who’d not had sex in nearly four years would get pregnant the first time she did.
She had to protect this baby. She had to protect Brian. And right now she had not the faintest clue how she was going to accomplish those goals.
The sound of her door chime startled Natale out of her reverie. Cursing softly under her breath, she sat back and bade her visitor enter. Commander Jordan Kelley, Sanctuary’s defense officer, stepped inside. The bruise on his cheek, received from the man Kelley had hoped to have a relationship with when he’d been discovered to have spent the night with a woman, had faded to near nothing. The Human man had fallen victim to the Aphrodaiquiri Crisis, same as her and Wallace, but Rogan Enek hadn’t been able to get over it as yet, even knowing the truth.
“What can I do for you, Commander?” she asked.
Kelley cleared his throat. “We’ve just received word from the Columbia: Mr. Rek has been delivered to Deep Space Nine, and they are on their way back.”
Natale raised an eyebrow. “Thank you for the update, Mr. Kelley, but you could have let me know via commlink. No need to come in here and have to see my ugly orange face.”
He flashed a grin at her. “You’re not ugly, Captain. If I were into women and you not already claimed by someone else, I’d be interested.”
She didn’t deny his assertion that she had been claimed. They both knew better. Kelley was the only member of the crew that knew she and Captain Wallace had been duped by that damn Ferengi Rek and his d’quir (a fruity alcoholic beverage which was found to illegally contain a potent aphrodisiac) like he had.
“Captain, I know it may be out of line to ask, even in light of everything we talked about the other day, but…” Kelley began then.
“But what, Commander?”
He stepped closer to the desk, put his hands on it and leaned toward her. “Are you okay?” he asked. “I know the rift between you and Captain Wallace probably hurts like hell, and maybe that’s the reason for the change in your behavior, but I’m not the only one who’s noticed.”
Natale frowned. “Noticed what, precisely?” she challenged.
“You’ve kept to yourself since the AD Crisis. You take your meals in here or your quarters and you don’t socialize anymore,” Kelley told her. “Both Grafydd and Dr. Garcia have expressed their concern to me—“
She snorted. “Grafydd expressed concern? Unlikely. He’s already told me himself that whatever I did to piss off Brian, I needed to fix it.”
“Yeah, he mentioned Captain Wallace had stopped speaking to him and hasn’t set foot on the station since your falling out. He’s worried about both of you.”
“He’s got reason to be worried,” she muttered.
“Does he really?” Kelley asked. “And why is that? What’s going on? Please, Captain, let me help you.”
Natale looked up at him with sadness in her eyes. “I don’t know if you can, Commander. I don’t know if anyone can.” With a sigh, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Maybe I should just get rid of it. That would solve at least one problem.”
“Get rid of what? Solve what problem?”
Wordlessly, she sat forward again, opened up the file, and turned her desktop monitor around so that he could see. It didn’t take Kelley long to figure out what he was looking at; he dropped heavily into one of the two visitor chairs and dragged a hand over his head.
“I’m not sure I know what to say right now,” he said as she turned the monitor back toward her.
“Sometimes I don’t, either,” she replied with a shrug. “I haven’t been with anyone since before the war. What are the odds that the first damn time I get laid in almost four years, I wind up pregnant?”
“You can’t get an emergency contraceptive?”
Natale shook her head. “It’s too late for that. Implantation has already occurred and it’s in the first stages of fetal development. At this point, the only way to keep it from going any further would be to seek medical intervention.”
The expression in his eyes told her the words she hadn’t been able to say: An abortion was the only way to “get rid of it.”
“Would you really do that?” His words were softly spoken, his tone cautious—though thankfully not judgmental.
She sighed again. “No. I’ve a life growing inside of me—I can’t just end it because its existence is an inconvenience. That would be abhorrently selfish of me. What I should have done was prevent its happening in the first place—I should have requested an emergency contraceptive that morning, like so many others did.”
Kelley studied her. “Why didn’t you?”
Natale pushed to her feet with a groan. “Because I was stupid!” she said as she began to pace. “I was so wrapped up in misery and denial… I spent the first three days after Brian and I were together hating myself for hurting him and trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to worry about it. That there was no way in hell I’d be one of those women who got knocked up the first time she did it in ages.”
“’Knocked up’?” said Kelley with a frown.
“It’s a really old Human expression for ‘got pregnant.’ Learned it from Brian, ironically enough.”
Walking over to the replicator, she ordered herself a cup of hot spearmint tea. After asking if Kelley wanted a drink, then ordering the coffee he asked for, she carried the beverages over and handed him his own steaming mug before retaking her seat behind the desk.
They drank in silence for a minute or so before he said, “You need to tell him. If Tiessi were to discover she’s pregnant because of that night, if she wasn’t on birth control or didn’t get a contraceptive shot… I’d want to know that I’m going to be a father. I’d deserve to know, and be allowed to acknowledge or disavow the child’s existence.”
“Brian wouldn’t do that,” she mused over the top of her steaming mug. “Deny his child, I mean.”
Kelley offered another light smile. “Neither would I. I’d tell Tiessi that I want to be as involved as she will let me be. Something tells me Captain Wallace would do the same.”
“He’d do more than that. He’d want us to be a family, to raise this baby together,” Natale said.
“Then why don’t you?” Kelley pressed. “Tell him you’re pregnant. Tell him the truth, Captain—the whole truth. I think Captain Wallace will understand why you pushed him away.”
Tears began to prick the backs of her eyes. “He would understand. And you’re right, I should tell him. A part of me wants to tell him, to see his eyes light up and his smile of joy. But my father, Jordan… If he finds out I’m going to have a child, his people will take me and Brian and he will force me to watch as the man I love is tortured until his mind and spirit are broken, and then he will kill him. Then he will lock me in chains until this baby is born, at which time he will likely sell it to the highest bidder, before selling me into the harem of one of his cronies like he tried to do twenty years ago.”
“That’ll never happen,” said Kelley in a sharp tone. “Captain, forgive me for being vulgar, but you really need to grow a set. Stop living in fear, and start counting on more people than yourself. Confide in your friends—in Captain Wallace most of all—and trust us have your back. We’ll protect you and help you keep your baby safe from that monster.”
For the first time in nearly a week, Natale felt her lips form into a genuine smile. A few tears escaped her eyes and she quickly wiped them away. “Thank you, Jordan,” she said, then drew a shaky breath. “And you’re right. Again. I know I should confide in Brian, and my friends, but… It’s so hard to let go of a fear I have lived with for more than half my life.”
“Then let us help you kick that shit out the nearest airlock,” Kelley told her. “I’m not saying tell the entire staff, though in a few months you won’t be able to keep the baby a secret, of course. But about your father? Tell only those you truly believe you can trust, and we will make sure nothing happens to you. No goon of Zaddo’s will ever get close to you.”
A few more tears fell before she could stop them. When did I get so fucking lucky? she thought. Smiling again, Natale looked to Kelley and said, “It really means a lot to me, Commander, that you would be willing to stand up for me and a kid that doesn’t even have a heartbeat yet.”
“We may not be close, but I like to think we’re friends,” he replied. “You’ve been one hell of a commanding officer as long as I’ve known you. You’ve put up with a lot of shit from all sides these last eight or nine months, and still made time to see to the comfort of your people as best you could. You’ve supported me more than once through my own personal issues—how could I not return the favor?”
He stood then and moved around his chair. “The Triumph’s plasma manifold maintenance is about done—they’ll be running final diagnostics sometime today or early tomorrow. Talk to Wallace before they take off on patrol again. Give him a reason to want to come back.”
After he was gone, Natale began to wonder just how in the hell she was going to do that.
As he returned to Ops, Kelley noted Grafydd coming up on the turbolift. The Terellian sidled up to him at the pool table instead of aiming for his usual station.
“Have you talked to the captain today?” Sanctuary’s chief engineer asked in a low voice.
Kelley nodded, then took a drink of his coffee. “As a matter of fact, I just came from her office.”
“And? She tell you anything?”
She’d told him quite a bit, Kelley mused, as he cast a sidelong glance at the larger man. “We talked, but I can’t tell you what about. It’s not my place.”
Grafydd huffed. “Why would she talk to you and not to me? We’ve been friends for fifteen years!”
A couple of the other crew turned their heads, but a hard stare quickly got them to turn their attention back to their monitors.
“Keep your voice down,” Kelley hissed. “And have you stopped to think that maybe the reason the captain hasn’t confided in a friend she’s known longer than me is because she believes you’re mad at her?”
“Yeah, I was kinda mad at first,” said Grafydd as he braced his lower arms on his hips and raised the upper pair to cup his hands behind his head. He then sighed and said, “Now I’m just worried about her. There’s something going on, something bigger than a minor tiff between her and Brian.”
You got that right. “Look, Graf, give her another hour or so, and then go in and talk to her. Let her know that you’re here for her no matter what. You are, aren’t you?”
Grafydd scowled and lifted a hand to poke him in the shoulder. “Hey, don’t you question my loyalty, pal. Me and Orange Blossom’s been friends near half your lifetime. I love that girl like a sister.”
Kelley raised an eyebrow and hid his smile behind his coffee cup. “Orange Blossom?”
The Terellian’s eyes widened. “Grozit. Uh, forget you heard me call her that. That’s my nickname for my friend—you ain’t allowed to use it.”
“Our friend, Grafydd,” said Kelley. “Our friend.”
Not for the first time, and probably not the last, Grafydd wondered why in the hell the engineers who designed the kipper tin that was a Defiant-class starship made the corridors so narrow. There were big folk in the galaxy too, and they needed space to move! As much as he loved Brian Wallace, he was glad not to be serving with him on this tiny little escort—he’d more than likely develop a crippling case of claustrophobia.
He waited only half a heartbeat after pressing Wallace’s office chime before he heard the barked command to “Enter!”
Triumph’s captain looked like hell—Natale’s rejection during the AD Crisis (which he surely knew all about by now) had really done a number on him. He looked like he hadn’t slept, showered, or shaved the entire week since. What he’d come here to do wasn’t likely to make the Human feel much better, but at least it would explain. What he did with the knowledge would be up to him.
Grafydd had followed Kelley’s advice and waited before approaching Captain Natale, and almost as soon as her office door had shut behind him, she’d engaged the privacy mode seconds before rounding her desk to fling herself into his four arms. He had held his Orange Blossom gently and allowed her to cry her fill, before demanding in as kind a manner as he could that she tell him what the hell was going on.
Nothing could have prepared him for what she had to say.
Now here he was on the Triumph to deliver a message. Natale had acknowledged that she should deliver it herself, but she was too emotionally drained at this point to handle another intense confrontation. She didn’t think she could stand up to Brian’s anger, his censure of her actions over the past two decades. Grafydd had understood her reasons for keeping her distance from the Scot, and hoped like hell he would understand too.
If he doesn’t, he had thought on the short walk from the airlock to the captain’s ready room, then he doesn’t deserve her.
Wallace looked up only briefly from the PADD in his hand as Grafydd moved into the small office space. “Commander Grafydd, what can I do for you?”
Grafydd stood in front of the desk and handed over an iso chip. “Take a look at this.”
Wallace frowned. “What is it?” he asked.
“Something you need to see,” was the Terellian’s only reply.
The Scotsman heaved an aggravated sigh and dropped the PADD, then snatched the iso chip and plugged it into his computer. Grafydd knew what he would see—Natale had shown it to him—and it was clear from the change in Wallace’s expression that it was something he never could have imagined seeing.
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“Where do you think?” Grafydd countered. “Watch to the end.”
The images on the screen caused a number of emotions to flit across the other man’s face as he watched the 20-year-old video. His startled mask fell into an angry scowl after a time, and Grafydd knew he had just read Zaddo Natale’s message to his daughter.
Wallace looked up again. “He threatened her? Threatened me? That’s why she never let me—“
“She was protecting you the only way she knew how, Brian,” Grafydd told him. “If you know anything about Synnove’s father, you know he’s not one to make idle threats. There are stories, my friend, of his torturing people for days—weeks, even—before putting an end to their misery. He gets off on making their loved ones watch, doubling his sick pleasure and their pain.”
“Why am I just now learning about this? Why am I hearing this from you and not her? Why the bloody hell did Synnove think she couldn’t trust me?”
“It’s not about trust, it’s about love. She loved you so much that she forced herself to let you go, to keep you at arms’ length for two decades because she couldn’t bear the thought of having to watch you suffer. Because she couldn’t bear to lose you,” said Grafydd. “I’m telling you because she can’t take any more pain, and you are being told because the two of you are no longer alone in the equation.”
He moved toward the door, pausing when it slid open to turn back. “Synnove is scared out of her mind. Do the right thing, Brian. For all three of you.”
Wallace now had the hints that Natale had authorized him to drop. It was up to the Scot what to do next.
Do the right thing, Brian. For all three of you.
What did Grafydd mean, all three? Wallace sat back in his chair, staring at the ominous text on the screen, wondering what his long-time friend’s parting words meant.
Only a minute passed before he jerked upright, suspicion now coursing through his thoughts. He and Synnove had spent the night together. Granted, they were drunk on a heady cocktail of alcohol and triglobulin—a mix they would neither of them have indulged in knowingly—and neither of them remembered actually doing the deed, but they’d had sex.
Before the thought had time to fully form in his mind, he was out of his chair, out of his ready room, and running for the transporter.
Just minutes after Grafydd had sidled through his door, Wallace materialized in the middle of Natale’s sitting room. He heard a gasp to his left and turned toward the bathroom, where a startled Synnove stood in the doorway.
“Brian, what are you—?”
He didn’t give her time to finish. In four long strides he was before her, his arms were wrapped around her, and his mouth was on hers. He felt her stiffen for a moment before she melted into his embrace and allowed the kiss to deepen. When the need for air began tighten his lungs, Wallace lifted his head and cradled hers beneath his chin.
“Tell me the truth,” he said softly. “Do you love me?”
He heard her sniffle. “I have always loved you,” she replied.
“And I you.”
Drawing a breath Wallace stood back a fraction, not letting her go, but needing to look into her eyes. They were wet with tears, and he lifted his hands to hold her face, lightly brushing them away with his thumbs as they began to fall.
“Tell me something else. Am I right? Am I going to be a da?”
Synnove nodded. “I should have gone to Medbay for an emergency contraceptive, but I was so upset after you left that morning, and I kept telling myself it couldn’t possibly happen. Even though I’m smart enough to know better, my fool, naïve self thought there was no way the first time in almost four years would result in me winding up pregnant. Clearly I was wrong.”
He kissed her nose. “Clearly it doesn’t matter. I know it’s been hardly a week, but knowing it’s started, that we’ve a child coming… It’s all I’ve ever wanted, Synnove. A life with you—a family, with you.”
Her eyes took on a panicked expression, and for the first time in all the years he had known her, he caught a glimpse of not only raw vulnerability, but true fear. “Brian, if my father finds out—“
Wallace scowled. “To hell with your fat'er—lit'rally. I’ll nae let tha’ bastard anywhere near ye. Our family will be safe, mo ghaol. I promise ye tha’.”
She was silent for a moment, studying him. He prayed she could see in his expression the conviction he felt in his heart—he would protect her and their child, would see them safe from Zaddo Natale if it was the last thing he ever did. But he did not say the words, not wanting to aggravate her fear any further.
“Do you forgive me?” she asked. “I never wanted to hurt you, Brian. Never. I died a little inside every time I had to push you away, more this last time than any other.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” he replied. He wasn’t just saying the words, he meant every one. Knowing what she had done for him, the sacrifices she had made… “Though I do wish ye’d confided in me a helluva lot sooner.”
“I wish I had too, but every time I thought about telling you the truth, I would remember those awful words. He meant them, Brian. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know he meant every one. My father doesn’t make idle threats. If he finds out about us, about this baby—“
Wallace silenced her with another kiss. “Do nae let yer fear control ye anymore, mo ghaol. Trust in me, in our love. Be the badass babe I know ye can be.”
“You think I’m badass, huh?”
He chuckled, feeling relieved that she seemed to be relaxing—seeing her so terribly overwrought and frightened had unnerved him. He’d never seen her that way before, and hoped to God he never had to see her that way again. His badass, beautiful, intelligent, sassy, snarky woman, brought to heel by words on a screen? No, that would not do at all. Wallace vowed he would not only do whatever it took to make her forget her fear, but he would do whatever it took to bring Zaddo Natale down.
“Och, I thought ye were badass the first time I e’er saw ye! Wee little thing like you, takin’ on those ugly green brutes alone? I’m sure ye coulda taken ‘em, but bein’ the gen’leman I am, I couldnae stand by and do nothin’.”
A small smile broke through, and she sniffled. Her tears seemed to be drying up, for which he was grateful. She then leaned against him, tightened her hold on him. “We can do this, right? Allow ourselves to love each other out in the open, and keep our child safe?” she asked.
Wallace gave her a gentle squeeze. “Aye, we can. I’ll stand by you, Synnove Natale. I will never desert you.”
He felt her draw a breath and release it. “I’ll stand by you, too, Brian Wallace.”
Laughing softly, he said, “About damn time.”
Synnove echoed his laugh, then stood back, “True. How about we make up for the time we lost? I promise that you won’t forget a single moment.”
The suggestion was completely unexpected, but not at all unwelcome. With a grin, he picked her up and carried her into her bedroom, where they spent the rest of the evening and most of the night.