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Author's Note: Contributions to this chapter were made by Greybear.
"Hey guys, did we miss anything?" Connie asked with a smile as he walked into Deflector Control.
"Just the usual, how are you feeling?" Darin asked with a happy smile.
"Well rested. I heard that you're the one who got breathers on everyone. Thanks for taking care of us." Connie said as he walked to the main control panel and casually looked it over.
Jimmy walked into the room looking a bit subdued.
Vincent hopped up from auxiliary station two and pulled Jimmy into a quick hug.
Jimmy looked down at him in surprise.
"I'm glad that you're okay Jimmy. I was worried about you." Vincent said honestly.
After a moment for the words to sink in, Jimmy smiled and said, "Thanks Vincent. I'm glad everyone is okay."
"Hey, where's mine?" Connie asked in playful mock-offense.
"Darin, I'm not done here, would you mind?" Vincent asked with a smile.
"I've got it." Darin said happily and gave Connie a quick hug.
"I'm glad you're okay. We were all worried about you." Darin said quietly.
Connie accepted the brief hug and smiled.
Susan walked into the room and asked, "So are you guys ready to call it a day?"
Vincent finally released Jimmy from the hug and said, "Yeah. Everything is running fine. You should have an easy night."
"What's the shield status Thaelan?" Connie asked as he walked to Thaelan's side.
"All systems are nominal. I have no variations to report. You may assume control of the main at your convenience." Thaelan said professionally.
Connie stopped at one of the system status panels and said, "This looks good, but why do you have the field harmonics tuned to this band? We normally use a lower EM setting."
"The particulate matter that we're traveling through emits a weak electromagnetic signal. I tuned the shields to a higher frequency to negate the possibility that a random confluence of the electromagnetic signals might be able to penetrate the shields." Thaelan said seriously.
"I suppose that could happen. It's better to be safe. Thank you Ensign Thaelan, I have control." Connie said seriously.
"I stand relieved. Have a good evening and call me if there is any way I can be of assistance." Thaelan said as he stood.
"I'll do that Thaelan. Enjoy your off time. Did you hear about the schedule for tomorrow?" Connie asked as he glanced back at Thaelan.
"Yes. We will relieve you at 06:00." Thaelan said seriously.
"Good. From the look of things, it should be a fairly uneventful evening." Connie said as he ran a quick series of system checks.
"We can only hope." Thaelan said cautiously.
"Thaelan, I've grabbed us some padds so we can work on our reports while we get some dinner." Darin said as he walked out of the supply room.
"Thank you Darin. Vincent, will you be joining us to work on reports?" Thaelan asked casually.
"Um, no. I've been working on reports all day. I really need to give it a rest for a few minutes. I'm going to check on Daddy Joe and Benny right now." Vincent said as he signed off the auxiliary station.
"Unngh. Reports." Jimmy said with a groan.
"Call me and I'll help you if you need me to." Vincent said seriously.
Jimmy looked at Vincent with surprise.
"I've been working on reports all day and I think I'm getting pretty good at them. I wouldn't mind helping you." Vincent said honestly.
"No. That's okay. I'm sure I can do them... I just won't enjoy it." Jimmy said quietly.
"Such is the nature of duty." Thaelan said sagely.
Vincent glanced at Thaelan and nodded his agreement.
"Why don't you guys get out of here. I bet you're ready for a change of scenery." Susan said with a smile.
"Okay. We'll be back later to see if you guys need anything." Vincent said happily.
"We'll be fine, you don't need to do that." Susan said with a warm smile.
"Um, we sleep here. So it won't be a problem, honest." Vincent said frankly.
Susan chuckled and said, "Good point."
* * * * *
"Hey Vincent." Benny said happily when he saw Vincent walk into the room.
"Hi Benny. You look like you're feeling a lot better." Vincent said as he hurried to Benny's bedside to give him a gentle hug.
"Yeah. JonJon has been taking really good care of me and Channing moved over to the bed next to mine when the security guy who was there was released and T'Lani has been making sure that I wasn't in any pain and even brought me a bowl of ice cream." Benny rambled with uncharacteristic energy.
"How long will it be before you can get out of bed?" Vincent asked with a smile at Benny's cheery state.
"Well, Dr. Perry says that I'm going to be completely fine but wants me to stay here tonight in case I have any pain from the burn." Benny said, then reached under the blanket to pull up his gown to show off his burn.
Vincent looked at the burn for a moment, then said, "It looks kind of like a rabbit."
"JonJon thinks so too. I think it looks more like a cartoon mouse." Benny said with a smile.
"So you're feeling okay?" Vincent asked quietly.
"Oh yeah. Everyone has been really great about seeing that I'm not in pain. It's kind of weird to have so many people fussing over me." Benny said as he put down his gown.
Vincent glanced over at the next bed and saw that Joe was fast asleep.
"He's fine. He just needs his rest." Benny said more quietly.
Vincent nodded that he heard.
"He's been talking with me all afternoon. I promise Vincent, he's really fine." Benny said more seriously.
Vincent turned back to face Benny and said, "Even though I'm sorry you got hurt, I'm glad that you're here with Daddy Joe so he won't have to be alone while he's here."
"If I wasn't hurt, I'd be here anyway to watch after him. He's my Daddy Joe too now." Benny said with a gentle smile.
"Mine too." JonJon said firmly.
"How are you doing JonJon?" Vincent asked as he moved to give JonJon a hug from the side.
"I'm fine. Fizgig has been really good all day, but I think I need to take him down to use his box again and maybe somewhere so he can run around for a while." JonJon said as he looked at the dog in his arms.
"Well, there's this place on the ship that's kind of like a park, it's a garden. It's down on the pool deck. I bet he'd like to run around there." Vincent said quietly.
"I don't want to leave Benny alone." JonJon said as he glanced at Benny.
"I'm fine. You were here to take care of me while I was hurt. Now I just need to rest for a while to get better. Go take care of Fizgig then come back and tell me all about it." Benny said happily.
"Are you sure? I don't want you to be alone." JonJon said with concern.
"JonJon, this is the least alone I've felt in my entire life. I know you and Vincent are here if I need you..." Benny said happily.
JonJon opened his mouth to say something, but Benny continued before he could say it.
"... and Fizgig too." Benny finished with a smile.
Vincent giggled at the statement and nodded his agreement.
"Besides, I think I could use a little bit of alone time to think about things. Go take care of Fizgig and I'll be here waiting when you're done." Benny said peacefully.
"Are you sure?" JonJon asked cautiously.
"Completely sure." Benny said with a smile.
JonJon reluctantly nodded, then slowly carried Fizgig to the sickbay door.
After the door had closed, Benny turned back to see Vincent looking at him with concern.
"I'm really fine." Benny said seriously.
"You probably saved my life today." Vincent said as he looked Benny in the eyes.
"I did?" Benny asked hesitantly.
"I was the one who got off the turbo lift on the J deck. You screamed that it was a trap, then Ensign Gianni shot you." Vincent said seriously.
Benny nodded, then said, "I was afraid it was you. I remember you saying that you'd check on us."
"You saved me Benny. Because of you, I didn't get hurt or captured." Vincent said seriously.
"Then it was worth it." Benny said with a peaceful smile.
Vincent returned the smile and was happy that Benny was at peace with everything that happened.
"Is there anything you need right now?" Vincent asked with concern.
"Well, yeah. But it's going to sound kind of weird." Benny said frankly.
"You're not going to ask me to give you a sponge bath or something like that are you?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Benny chuckled and said, "No. I wouldn't do that to you."
Vincent waited to find out what he could do for Benny.
"I don't know if you ever saw that security guy, but he's the one who helped us on the pool deck." Benny said as he pointed across the room.
Vincent looked over and saw who Benny was talking about.
"Yeah. That's Neil. I saw him this morning." Vincent said seriously.
"I've been watching him for a while now. I mean, not staring at him, but... he's really worried about something." Benny said with concern.
"Do you know what?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No. But it must be pretty bad. Every now and then another security guy will come in and give him a break, then he'll come back in here looking more worried than before." Benny said seriously.
"I'll talk to him when JonJon gets back." Vincent said decisively.
"I was serious when I told JonJon that I could use some alone time. If you could take care of Neil it would really make me feel better." Benny said as he looked into Vincent's eyes to convey his sincerity.
"Okay, but you call me if you need me." Vincent said firmly.
"Count on it." Benny said with a contented smile.
* * * * *
"How is Korrigon?" Vincent asked as he approached Neil.
After a glance at his prisoner, Neil responded, "He's going to be fine. He's been asleep most of the day, from the pain medication I think. He, um... has a burn."
Vincent smiled at the statement and said, "A phaser burn, I know. I'm the one who shot him."
Neil looked at Vincent with surprise and said, "I was just told to watch him. Lieutenant Simms isn't really in a mood to be giving out details right now."
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked curiously.
"What do you mean?" Neil asked as a facade of unconcern came over his face.
Vincent giggled and said, "Nice try, but I already saw that you're worried about something. If you tell me, maybe it's something I can help with."
Neil glanced at his prisoner again, then said, "I don't think there's anything you can do to help with this. I'm just worried about Lieutenant Simms."
"What's wrong with him?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I think he sees just about everything that's happened since we left Earth as a failure of his security department. The modified control circuits, the chaos of the evacuation of the Kimber colony and now finding out that Matt was a spy and everything else that happened because of it..." Neil trailed off, unsure of how to voice his concerns.
"Are you afraid that he's going to quit?" Vincent asked quietly.
"I think that's a very real possibility. He's good at his job, he's done his best and not only wasn't it good enough, but if the rumors are true, the only reason Matt wasn't able to get away with his plan was because of you, Ensign Cooper and that kid in the bed over there." Neil said as he glanced at Benny who was watching them.
"That kid's name is Benny and he's worried about you." Vincent said quietly.
"He is?" Neil asked with surprise.
"Yeah. He saw how worried you are and wanted me to find out what's wrong." Vincent said simply.
"Why?" Neil asked with confusion.
"I guess because you were nice to us on the pool deck. That kind of makes you our friend and we worry about our friends." Vincent said frankly.
"Oh. Well, that's what I'm worried about. Like I said, I don't think there's anything you can do to help." Neil said with concern.
"Maybe not. But I can try. I doubt that I could make things worse." Vincent said in consideration.
Neil nodded his agreement.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "I've got to make a quick sub-space call, then I'll talk to him."
"It looks like you have a plan." Neil said speculatively.
"Not yet, but that's why I need to make the call." Vincent said with a smile and hurried away.
* * * * *
"Lieutenant Simms, can I talk to you for a minute?" Vincent asked from the doorway to his office.
"Is it important? I'm kind of busy at the moment." Lieutenant Simms said with distraction.
"I think this will only take a minute or two." Vincent said carefully.
Lieutenant Simms looked up from his terminal and asked, "What can I do for you Crewman? Is this about your report?"
"Um, no. I'm almost done with that. Is there any way we could talk to each other like people instead of like Lieutenant to Crewman?" Vincent asked hopefully.
Lieutenant Simms considered for a moment, then said, "We can do that. For the next few minutes we will disregard rank. Have a seat and tell me what's on your mind."
"What do you do when you do your best and it isn't good enough?" Vincent asked seriously.
"You're new. I don't think anyone expects you to know everything yet." Lieutenant Simms said thoughtfully.
"No, it's not that. It's more like, trouble seems to be following me around. Wherever I go there's another disaster." Vincent said carefully.
"I don't think that's the case. Several incidents have come up since we've left Earth and you seem to have been involved in most of them in one way or another. Things happen that way sometimes." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.
"So these things just happened and I was there? It's not my fault?" Vincent asked slowly.
"No. I've read the reports. Unless you're talking about some kind of bad karma or something like that I don't see any evidence that you're the cause of anything that's happened." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.
"Are you?" Vincent asked seriously.
"Am I what?" Lieutenant Simms asked in confusion.
"Are you the cause of all this? Or is it like you said, a series of things just happened?" Vincent asked firmly.
"That's different Vincent. It's my job to make sure that this ship is kept safe from malicious attacks. Since we've left Earth we've had one security failure after another... and the worst part is, I've followed procedure all along the way. I've checked and rechecked and I can't find where I've made an error in my judgment... That being the case, it could happen again." Lieutenant Simms said distantly, working out his own thoughts more than talking to Vincent.
"So you followed procedure and did what you were supposed to do and everything still went wrong?" Vincent confirmed.
"That's right." Lieutenant Simms said as he looked down into Vincent's eyes.
"Then maybe that's your problem." Vincent said carefully.
"I don't follow." Lieutenant Simms said cautiously.
"The procedures. The guys who rigged the control circuits knew about the procedures so they knew what you would and wouldn't check. That let them work around security and get their stuff on the ship. Ensign Gianni knew the procedures and was able to figure out ways to disable the shields and mess with the internal sensors. I think it's like football, the other team has your playbook. If you're thinking about leaving, you're not solving the problem, you're just giving it to someone else." Vincent said seriously.
Lieutenant Simms thought about it for a moment then slowly nodded his head.
"You've got a guy down in Sickbay who could probably give you some ideas about where you need to make changes." Vincent said carefully.
"Korrigon?" Lieutenant Simms asked incredulously.
"Yeah. I bet he knows all kinds of ways to work around Starfleet security. And from the way he was acting in the meeting, I bet all you'd have to do is ask him and he'd help you." Vincent said speculatively.
Lieutenant Simms nodded slowly in thought.
"I think my two minutes are up. Thanks for talking to me." Vincent said as he stood.
Lieutenant Simms nodded and said, "Thank you Vincent. You've given me some things to think about. You're a pretty smart kid."
"Well, I need to be honest about something. I didn't come up with all that stuff on my own. Before I came in here to talk to you I made a call and got some advice." Vincent said shyly.
"From who, if you don't mind me asking." Lieutenant Simms asked curiously.
"From my Uncle Brady." Vincent said with a smile.
"Brady Thompson?" Lieutenant Simms asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. Before I came on the Yorktown he said that I could call him if I ever needed anything." Vincent said and finished with a dismissive shrug.
"Vincent, you were smart enough to ask for help when you didn't know how to identify a problem for yourself. I think that's a skill that will serve you well in the future and one that I may need to consider using more often." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.
"I hope it helped. I've got to go to the shuttle bay now. I'll have your report done before the end of the night." Vincent said as he walked for the door.
"I'll be looking forward to it." Lieutenant Simms said with a smile as he watched Vincent leave the room.
* * * * *
Vincent walked onto the shuttle and noticed that Lieutenant Walking Bear was sitting in the pilot's seat with his eyes closed.
As Vincent was about to leave, Lieutenant Walking Bear opened his eyes and said, "I'm glad you came to visit again."
"If you're sleeping I can come back later." Vincent said quietly.
"No. I was just resting for a few minutes. Have a seat and tell me what questions you brought with you." Lieutenant Walking Bear said peacefully.
"I wanted to know if you would tell me about the Great Spirit." Vincent said as he took the copilot's seat.
"Tell me what you already know." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.
"I don't think anyone's ever told me anything about him before." Vincent said in thought.
"Perhaps not. But don't tell me what you know here..." Lieutenant Walking Bear said as he placed his fingertips on Vincent's temple.
"...Tell me what you know here." He continued and placed his hand over Vincent's heart.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "I guess that the Great Spirit is everywhere. Part of you and me and this shuttle and even the dust that we're traveling through."
"So you think that the Great Spirit is all matter?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked in a leading tone.
Vincent considered the words, then said, "No. Not just matter. The Great Spirit is also the movement of the stars and the colors of light."
"So matter and energy then..." Lieutenant Walking Bear said more quietly.
Vincent shook his head and said, "Probably more than that. The Great Spirit would probably be everything that has already happened and is happening and... I guess what will happen..."
"...Might happen." Lieutenant Walking Bear said carefully.
Vincent looked at him in question.
"The Great Spirit is all those things, but he is also a force of will that exists in all possible futures. It is by his guidance that we grow into something better than we currently are." Lieutenant Walking Bear said calmly.
"I still don't know what I should do. I mean, how I can know when I'm helping the Great Spirit or when I'm working against him." Vincent said seriously.
Lieutenant Walking Bear looked down at Vincent's leg for an instant, then reached into his shirt and pulled out a small leather pouch on a necklace.
"Do you know what this is?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked quietly.
"Rawhide leather?" Vincent asked curiously.
Lieutenant Walking Bear smiled at the response and said, "Yes, it is that. But it's more. This is my medicine bag. Do you know what that means?"
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Not really. I've heard of a medicine bag before, but I never really thought about what it is."
"This carries my personal totems." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.
"What's a totem? Is that like the poles that I've seen in books?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Something like that. A totem is something that holds a special spiritual power. It can be an oddly shaped stone or a strand of someone's hair. The person who holds the totem is the only one who knows the power that it possesses." Lieutenant Walking Bear said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"So how do you get a totem?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"They are provided to you. Only you can recognize the power of a totem and it's power is just for you." Lieutenant Walking Bear said firmly.
"But how will I know when I find one?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Tell me Vincent, do you have something in your pocket right now? Something that you carry for luck?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked in a leading tone.
"Yeah, I have..." Vincent began to say but was interrupted.
"I don't need to know what it is. That's your totem and it's power is yours. Keep it with you and when you need to draw on the strength that it provides, it will be there for you. As you continue your spiritual walk, you will find other totems and may get a pouch like this to store them in so you'll always have them with you." Lieutenant Walking Bear said softly.
"I think I understand... But how did you know I had one?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Instincts and omens. I carry my medicine bag all the time and generally don't give it a thought. While I was talking to you, I felt it. I noticed it's presence. That prompted me to discuss totems with you. Make sure you carry your totem because it is there for a reason." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.
"I will." Vincent said in thought.
"And a time may come when someone else needs the strength of your totem. Don't be afraid to give it away. When the Great Spirit is leading you to do such a thing, you end up gaining much more than you give away." Lieutenant Walking Bear said distantly.
Vincent studied Lieutenant Walking Bear's expression for a moment, then quietly asked, "Have you ever done that?"
Lieutenant Walking Bear seemed surprised by the question, then quietly answered, "No, I have never been blessed in that way."
Vincent nodded and stood.
"I have a feeling that it will be quite a while before we see each other again Crewman Winters." Lieutenant Walking Bear said as he stood.
"Yeah. I feel that too. But I know you'll be there when I have more questions." Vincent said peacefully.
Lieutenant Walking Bear smiled and said, "I am honored with the blessing of being one of your guides on your spiritual path."
"I think the Great Spirit is honoring us both." Vincent said, then on impulse said, "Dif-tor heh smusma - Lieutenant Walking Bear."
"Peace and Long Life - Crewman Winters." Lieutenant Walking Bear said reverently.
Vincent gave a small smile, then walked out of the shuttle.
* * * * *
"Hey Vincent, how are you doing?" A familiar voice called from behind him.
Vincent turned from his dinner to see Brock, Gary and Randy approaching from the serving line.
"I'm fine. Would you guys like to sit with me?" Vincent asked happily.
"Yeah, thanks. How are things going?" Randy asked as he sat his tray on the table.
"Pretty good. I'm just having dinner before I get back to working on my reports." Vincent said with a happy smile.
"I've been hearing some stuff about you today and wanted to know how much is true." Gary asked quickly.
"What have you heard?" Vincent asked with a smile, then took a bite of his grilled cheese sandwich.
"Okay, true or false. Did you capture an intruder all by yourself?" Gary asked with an expectant smile.
Vincent thought about the question and finally answered, "True."
"Cool. I heard that you shot him with a phaser when he was trying to beam aboard." Brock said as he leaned forward with interest.
"Yeah. That's it. He was beaming in, there was a phaser laying out on the desk beside me, I made sure it wasn't set to kill, then shot him." Vincent said seriously.
"Wow. I've been on the ship over a year and never had anything like that happen to me." Gary said in wonder.
"Beginners luck." Vincent said with a smile.
"True or false. Did you hit the security guy who took hostages so hard that you knocked him out?" Randy asked with a grand smile.
"False." Vincent said seriously, then continued, "I hit him in the jaw and knocked him over, but he wasn't knocked out."
"Close enough." Brock said happily.
"Yeah." Gary interjected.
"Okay, my turn. True or false. Did you really get married?" Brock asked curiously.
"True." Vincent said with a big happy smile.
"Come on. Give. What happened?" Randy asked with excitement.
"My Vulcan grandfather arranged my marriage. It's a Vulcan tradition." Vincent said, trying to keep his smile restrained.
"But you wanted to, didn't you?" Randy asked with concern.
"Oh yeah. But I think that because I'm Human, grandfather wouldn't have arranged the marriage unless I wanted him to. It just wouldn't be logical." Vincent said in thought.
"Okay, it's my turn again. True or false..." Gary began to say, but was interrupted by the public address speakers.
"Crewman Vincent Winters, report to sickbay. Crewman Vincent Winters, report to sickbay." A female voice said tonelessly.
"We'll have to save the rest for later. I've got stuff to do." Vincent said as he stood and started to gather his dishes onto his tray.
"We'll take care of it. Go on." Randy said with a smile.
"Okay, thanks. I'll talk to you guys later." Vincent said, then hurried away.
"Five bucks says that he's about to have another adventure." Brock said seriously.
"No bet. I think that's a given... you know, suddenly I think I'm not feeling quite right. I think I need to go to sickbay... you know. Just to be safe." Randy said speculatively.
"Yeah, me too... I bet it's this roast beef." Gary said with a playful smile.
"Well, someone needs to go with you two to make sure you get there okay." Brock said with a chuckle.
"Let's hurry before we miss seeing him in action." Randy said quickly as he picked up the remains of his dinner.
The other two quickly followed suit and were soon rushing to the nearest turbo lift.
* * * * *
Vincent walked to Dr. Perry and seriously said, "Crewman Winters reporting as ordered."
"At ease Crewman. It wasn't me who called you. If you'll go into my office, Ensign Collins is waiting for you." Dr. Perry said with a smile.
"Thank you Doctor." Vincent said seriously, then walked to Dr. Perry's office as he tried to remember who Ensign Collins was.
As he walked in the door of the office he smiled as he recognized her. Ensign Collins was the woman who had sat with him and his Daddy Joe on the trip from San Francisco to TerraMain.
"It's nice to see you again Ensign Collins." Vincent said happily.
"Please Vincent, call me Dani. I'm not conducting Starfleet business right now." She said warmly.
"Oh, okay Dani. Why did you need me here?" Vincent asked curiously.
"To take some measurements of you." She said as she pulled out a tricorder.
"What kind of measurements?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Well, if all goes as planned, you're going to be attending a ceremony in a few hours and you'll need ceremonial Vulcan wedding clothes." Ensign Collins said with a smile.
"Really? Captain Byrne was able to figure out a way to do it?" Vincent asked happily.
"Hold still or you're going to look like your wearing a potato sack at your wedding." She said sternly, then in a more pleasant voice she said, "Yes. Captain Byrne explained that you and your wife didn't get to have a key part of your wedding ceremony, so the Enterprise and the Yorktown are both being diverted from their courses to meet up so you two can have your bonding ceremony... isn't that just the most romantic thing ever?"
Vincent thought about the statement, then smiled as he realized that his bonding ceremony was giving a public reason for the two ships to meet up.
"I'm finished. I'd love to stay here and ask you about a million questions, but I've got to hurry and get T'Lani's measurements if I'm going to have your wedding clothes done before the ceremony." Dani said with excitement as she rushed out of the room.
* * * * *
Vincent walked out of Dr. Perry's office to find Randy, Brock and Gary looking at him expectantly.
"We kind of figured that you were about to have another adventure and thought maybe that if we were here, we could be part of it." Randy said shyly.
Vincent giggled at the statement, then said, "The Captain is just trying to work it out so T'Lani and I can have a bonding ceremony. We didn't get to have one when we got married."
The three men looked at each other and almost seemed to be speaking telepathically.
"Husband, are you well?" T'Lani asked as she approached him.
"I'm fine. Did Ensign Collins get your measurements?" Vincent asked with a gentle smile.
"Yes, though she did not explain the purpose. She seemed to be in quite a hurry." T'Lani said seriously.
"She's going to make our clothes for our bonding ceremony." Vincent said with a smile.
"You have made arrangements for a ceremony?" T'Lani asked with surprise.
"I talked to the Captain and he's working on it. Since Ensign Collins is taking our measurements, it looks like it's probably going to happen." Vincent said happily.
T'Lani reconfirmed her emotional control and said, "It pleases me that you have done this husband."
"It pleases me to do this for you, my wife." Vincent said, then took her hand and placed it on his cheek and held it there.
T'Lani caressed his cheek for a moment with her thumb, then noticed the three men shyly watching them.
Vincent followed her gaze and said, "T'Lani, these are my friends from Engineering Supply, Gary, Randy and Brock. Guys, this is my wife, Ensign T'Lani.
"Wow." Randy said in wonder as he looked at the beautiful Vulcan woman.
The other two snickered at his reaction, then Gary said, "It's nice to meet you Ensign T'Lani. Vincent has been our friend since we first met him, so now that you're married, that includes you too."
"If my husband claims you as his friends, then it is logical for me to do likewise." T'Lani said formally.
"So you two are about to have some kind of wedding ceremony?" Randy asked quickly.
"The bonding ceremony is traditionally a component part of the Vulcan wedding." T'Lani said carefully.
"Cool. Then, if you don't have anything else planned, we could throw together a bachelor party." Gary said happily.
"I'm not a bachelor." Vincent said firmly.
Gary rolled his eyes, then said, "Okay, call it whatever you want, it's just a little celebration before your bonding ceremony."
Vincent looked at T'Lani and asked, "Is it acceptable?"
T'Lani considered for a moment, then said, "There is no Vulcan equivalent for this tradition, but perhaps it fulfills some Human need to receive the acceptance of one's peers before the impending ceremony."
"Okay guys. But you've got to promise, no drinking, no strippers, no porn." Vincent said firmly.
"Where would we get those things?" Gary asked innocently.
"That wasn't a promise." Vincent said firmly.
"Very observant, husband." T'Lani said with approval.
"Yeah. We promise. It'll be a nice party and we won't do anything that your wife would disapprove of." Gary said reluctantly.
"Okay." Vincent said with relief.
"Be well husband. Thank you for making the arrangements for our bonding." T'Lani said quietly as she caressed his cheek again.
"I don't know what the bond will feel like, but I don't think it's possible to love you more than I already do. Be well, my wife." Vincent said as he put his hand over hers and snuggled against her palm for a moment.
"We seriously need to find some girlfriends." Gary said at the touching sight.
"At least." Randy said with a note of longing in his voice.
* * * * *
"Hey Vincent, congratulations!" Rad said as he and Darin walked into the cargo bay that was filled with music and happily chattering people.
"Hi guys!" Vincent said happily.
"We were going to go get something to eat and heard about a 'married-bachelor' party and decided to check it out." Rad said with a chuckle.
"Yeah. The supply guys came up with this. Are you guys hungry? They've got snacks over there by the cargo transporter." Vincent said happily.
"Sounds good." Rad said and was about to go when the music changed to something with a hard pounding beat.
"What do you say Darin? Want to dance?" Rad asked with a smile.
"I don't really know how." Darin said shyly.
"Just move to the music. Come on." Rad said and guided Darin out into the middle of the room.
A few other people followed their example and moved as couples to start dancing to the music.
Vincent hurried over to Gary, Randy and Brock who were watching everyone with happy smiles.
"Come on guys, let's dance." Vincent said happily.
"Vincent, we're not..." Randy said uncomfortably.
Vincent rolled his eyes and said, "I'm not talking about close dancing. But there's more guys than girls here and I want to have some fun."
"Care to dance?" Gary asked Brock and extended his elbow in a gentlemanly manner.
"You dork." Brock said and took hold of the elbow to drag Gary out to the dance floor.
"Let's do it." Randy said with a smile and followed Vincent to begin dancing.
Rad saw that Vincent was dancing and smiled with delight.
He even stopped dancing long enough to show Darin.
The party went into full swing after that as more and more people arrived and were caught up in the uninhibited atmosphere.
* * * * *
"Crewman Winters and Ensign Cooper, report to conference room one." Interrupted the music in the cargo bay.
Randy quickly moved to the computer console and stopped the music then called out, "It looks like it's time for our guest of honor to go and have his bonding ceremony. Come on everyone and let's send him off with a cheer!"
"Hip Hip HOORAY!"
"Hip Hip HOORAY!!"
The sounds of the cheers could still be heard in the distance as Vincent and Darin boarded the turbo lift.
"That was the best party I've ever been to." Darin said as effervescent bubbles of laughter welled up within him.
"Conference room one." Vincent said with a smile, then looked at Darin and said, "It's the first real party that I've ever been to, but I can't even imagine a better one."
"You were dancing like you've been doing it all your life." Darin said with a glorious smile.
"You were looking pretty good too. You and Rad look really good together." Vincent said happily.
"Thanks. Your approval means a lot to me Little Brother." Darin said peacefully.
As the doors to the turbo lift opened, Vincent said, "You've got it, Big Brother."
* * * * *
Vincent and Darin walked into the conference room to find Captain Byrne and Captain Spock waiting for them.
"I can't say that I understand all that is about to happen because, quite frankly, very few Humans have ever been witness to this ceremony. But Captain Spock is here to prepare Crewman Winters for what is to come." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"Nephew, it will be necessary for me to awaken the Plak Tow within you." Spock said reverently.
"Um, I'm all sweaty and stuff. Should I go shower before we start?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"That will not be necessary Nephew. Your mate will be instinctively drawn to your natural scent. Proceeding as you are will only enhance the effectiveness of the coming ceremony." Spock said carefully.
Vincent nodded that he understood.
"Be at ease Nephew. There is no need for apprehension." Spock said as he slowly raised his hand to the side of Vincent's face.
Vincent smiled and said, "I think I'd worry if it was anyone else but I trust you Captain Spock."
Spock slightly inclined his head in acknowledgement of the statement, then in a trance-like voice he whispered, "My mind to your mind... My thoughts to your thoughts..."
* * * * *
"Are you okay Vincent?" Darin asked as the turbo lift left the conference room.
"Yeah. I can feel it though." Vincent said carefully.
"What's it like?" Darin asked quietly.
"It's like my blood's on fire. It's like every cell in my body knows what I have to do." Vincent said in concentration.
"What do you have to do?" Darin asked cautiously.
"Join with my wife. Become one. That's the only thing that will keep the fire from consuming me from within." Vincent said in a distant voice as the turbo lift doors opened.
"You don't sound like yourself. Did Captain Spock give you those words?" Darin asked as he led the way to Deflector Control.
"He gave me understanding of what is happening to me and what is to come." Vincent said in a measured tone.
"Well, just so you know, you sound really Vulcan right now." Darin said with concern.
"Don't worry Big Brother, trust that our family won't let anything bad happen." Vincent said and glanced up at Darin with an assuring smile.
"Okay. I think I can do that." Darin said with a smile and led the way into Deflector Control.
* * * * *
"Hey Vincent! It seems like every time I turn around you're getting married." Connie said happily.
"Who told you?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Well, let's see... Rad, Joe, Thaelan, Debbie, Benny, JonJon, Lieutenant Simms, Ensign Collins..." Susan said absently.
"Everyone knows?" Vincent asked in wonder.
"Well, I think there might be a hermit on the far side of Mizar who hasn't heard yet, but I'm sure he'll be filled in before the end of the day." Connie said with a smile.
"Word of the party probably spread. Let's get you dressed, they're waiting on us." Darin said seriously.
"Oh, um, yeah." Vincent said with distraction then turned to walk into the supply room where he knew his wedding clothes would be waiting for him.
"Congratulations." Jimmy called to Vincent's back as he walked into the supply room.
* * * * *
"I have a diplomatic message for Crewman Winters." A voice called over the comm professionally.
"He's in the next room. Put it through to deflector control auxiliary two if you would." Connie said quickly.
Jimmy jumped up from his station and ran to the supply room doorway.
"Vincent, you have a diplomatic message." Jimmy said quickly.
"Thanks Jimmy." Vincent said absently as he walked to the auxiliary station.
"Hi Vincent, I just thought after all the stuff that happened yesterday that I'd check to see how you're doing. Has everything calmed down?" Cory asked happily.
"A security guy tried to gas all of us, then he shot my Daddy Joe, kidnapped my brother Darin, shot my friend Benny and I hit him and knocked him over and now he's dead and then this other guy tried to beam onto our ship and I stunned him with a phaser and Mr. Chilton from the Federation tutoring center was a dickweed so I enrolled at the Vulcan Academy of Science and right now I've got the Vulcan Blood Fever so I'm going to go get bonded. Gotta go. Bye." Vincent finished gruffly, then slammed the comm button to disconnect the transmission.
"Winters out." Vincent mumbled absently as he walked for the door.
"He's going to have to replay that a dozen times before he can begin to make any kind of sense of it." Darin said as he hurried to follow.
"They're waiting on us. Let's go." Vincent said as sweat was starting to form on his forehead and upper lip.
"Um, yeah." Darin said cautiously and followed Vincent down the catwalk.
* * * * *
"Are you feeling alright. You look kind of flushed." Darin said as he led Vincent off the turbo lift.
"I'm... the fire... it's growing." Vincent said in a gruff voice.
"Captain Spock is right there by the shuttle. He'll know what to do." Darin said as he started walking faster.
As they got closer to the shuttle, Darin quickly said, "I think something is wrong with Vincent."
"Nephew, please trust that this is the proper way. Vincent must experience the Blood Fever to fully accept the bonding." Spock said seriously and extended his arm to indicate for them to enter the shuttle.
Vincent seemed not to notice the gesture, so Darin gently guided Vincent to walk.
* * * * *
"Is he supposed to be sweating like that?" Darin asked in a whisper.
"Yes Nephew. His body is generating the scent that his mate will imprint upon." Spock said seriously.
Joe looked at Spock with question, and finally said, "It sounds so... animal."
"Mating is one of the most primal urges of any species. It is logical that our mating rituals recognize and accommodate this fact." Spock said calmly.
"Why isn't T'Lani going down with us?" Darin asked carefully.
"The separation is necessary at this point of the Blood Fever so my nephew will be in the proper state of mind when he participates in the ceremony." Spock said calmly.
"Is this... Plak Tow the reason that the family elders were worried about Vincent bonding before he reached puberty?" Darin asked speculatively.
"That is correct. The consequences of awakening the Blood Fever in a prepubescent Human could have adverse and life long consequences to his psyche. The increased hormone production and resulting change in body chemistry associated with puberty will allow Vincent to endure the Plak Tow without lasting effect." Spock said seriously.
Joe and Darin both watched Vincent sitting quietly with a look of intense concentration as sweat beaded on his face.
* * * * *
"I thought we were going to the Enterprise." Darin said as he stepped out of the shuttle onto the sandy ground.
"Father found this location to be acceptable for our purposes." Spock said as he emerged from the shuttle.
Joe guided Vincent out of the shuttle, steering him by the shoulders.
"Are you well enough to be out of sickbay?" Darin asked Joe in a whisper.
"I'd be here on two broken legs to attend Vincent's wedding." Joe said seriously.
"You didn't answer me." Darin said as he looked Joe in the eyes.
"I'm fine. As soon as the ceremony is over I'm going back to sickbay. Dr. Perry approved me being here." Joe said sincerely.
"Okay. I'm glad you're going to be here for this. I wouldn't want to miss it either." Darin said with a smile.
A moment later several columns of light appeared revealing Ambassador Sarek, Captain Kirk, Captain Byrne, Commander Dodds, Lieutenant Keith Wilson and Rory.
"Follow." Ambassador Sarek said and led the way to an outcropping of rocks some twenty meters away.
"Is it really okay for us to be here for this?" Darin asked Joe in a whisper as they guided Vincent between them.
"It is permitted." Vincent replied in a neutral tone. "The male's closest friends and family are permitted to attend this ceremony."
"You're sounding even more Vulcan now Little Brother. Are you really alright?" Darin asked with concern.
"Yes. But I must prepare myself mentally. We will begin soon." Vincent said as the group emerged into a wide clearing surrounded by rocks.
"Captain Spock, can you tell us more about this ceremony?" Joe asked as he surveyed the area.
"It is a ceremony that is deeply rooted in Vulcan tradition." Spock replied solemnly as Vincent walked over to look at a large metal disc that was suspended from a tubular frame.
"It was the best Scotty could come up with on such short notice." Chip said as he noticed Vincent's careful inspection.
"It will be sufficient." Spock said seriously.
Vincent took the hammer that had been hanging on the side of the frame and struck the gong with all his might, causing it to go off.
Within minutes, the wedding party, led by Sarek's wife, the Lady Amanda walked into the clearing.
T'Lani followed next, dressed in traditional Vulcan wedding attire. Accompanying T'Lani was Dr. Perry, Dr. Raul and Nurse Young.
Once the Lady Amanda was in place, she turned her attention to Vincent and asked, "Are thee prepared, young one?"
Spock whispered to Joe and Darin, "As matriarch of the house of Surak, Mother is performing the ancient rite in the traditional fashion as is her proper place."
Vincent, looking at T'Lani with a deep and intense desire in his eyes, strained to keep his emotions in check. The Blood Fever was running rampant inside him, causing him to sweat profusely. "I am, Ko'mekh-il (Grandmother). My eyes are flame. My heart is flame."
"Come forward, Vincent," the Lady Amanda instructed. Vincent slowly walked over to her and knelt in front of her. Amanda looked to her husband and waited as he walked to her side.
"Being Human, Mother is unable to perform the telepathic aspects of the bonding, so father is doing this in her stead. She will conduct the ceremony, but he will perform the bonding. The balance seems somehow symbolic." Spock finished speculatively.
Sarek placed his left hand on Vincent's pressure points, initiating a mind meld.
Amanda then turned and said, "T'Lani, come forward."
T'Lani walked to where Ambassador Sarek and the Lady Amanda were standing side by side and knelt in front of them, beside Vincent.
Sarek placed his right hand on T'Lani's pressure points and initiated a mind meld.
Amanda then looked down on the couple in front of her and said, "Face one another, my children."
Vincent and T'Lani turned to face each other.
Sarek released his melds on the pair as the Lady Amanda reverently said, "T'Lani, bond with thy mate. Make him one with you."
T'Lani placed her right hand on the pressure points on the left side of Vincent's face.
Within seconds, T'Lani was whispering, "My mind to your mind, my heart to your heart, my love to your love."
Vincent instinctively placed his right hand on the pressure points on the left side of T'Lani's face and repeated what T'Lani had said. "My mind to your mind, my heart to your heart, my love to your love."
The couple remained in their trance for several minutes with their eyes closed.
Once they broke the meld with each other, Vincent and T'Lani turned to face his grandmother and said, "It is done, Ko'mekh-il."
Vincent whispered in a distant voice, "I can feel T'Lani in the back of my mind, a warmth I've never felt before. One of contentment and love. I feel the love she has for me."
The Lady Amanda turned and gently asked, "And you, T'Lani?"
T'Lani looked up at Amanda, with her eyes also glazed over, and quietly said, "I feel the warmth. I feel Vincent in my mind as though he had always been there. I feel the love he has for me as well."
Ambassador Sarek returned his hands to the pressure points on the couple as Amanda looked to the assembled crowd and announced, "Vincent and T'Lani have bonded and are one with each other. The Blood Fever that possessed Vincent has passed."
Once Sarek broke his second meld with them, Vincent and T'Lani faced each other again, their lips joining in a long, tender kiss.
After many silent minutes, Vincent and T'Lani finally stood as one and walked to the gathered friends and family.
"Thank you Grandfather Sarek and Grandma Amanda for bestowing this honor on me and my wife." Vincent said reverently.
"We wish to thank Captain Kirk and Captain Byrne for allowing us the opportunity to be bonded. There are no words to adequately express our appreciation." T'Lani said honestly.
"We also want to thank our Vulcan family, Captain Spock, Commander Dodds and Lieutenant Wilson, for being here to show your support of our marriage." Vincent said sincerely.
"I wish to thank Rory Teeter who is here to represent my husband's Clan. You grant us a great honor with your presence." T'Lani said as she looked Rory in the eyes.
"I want to thank my Human family, Daddy Joe and Darin for being here to see me get married. And don't worry I still love you both." Vincent finished with an impish grin.
"And I wish to say to my co-workers and friends, Dr. Perry, Dr. Raul and Nurse Young. You, my Human family have adequately served in the place of my Vulcan family who could not be present. You have done me a great service... Thank you." T'Lani said as she looked each in the eyes as she said their names.
Vincent took firm hold of T'Lani's hand and said, "Thank you. All of you who have attended. It is our sincere wish that each and every one of you have the opportunity to know the love and peace that we have found today. We love you all... now let's go home."