By Keiran O'Sullivan
A short time after At the Top of the Tracks and Class is in Session
-=The Afterthought Cafe', USS Serendipity=-
A short time after At the Top of the Tracks and Class is in Session
-=The Afterthought Cafe', USS Serendipity=-
The Sera's top law enforcement officer slowly swirled the last of his morning dose of caffeine in the bottom of his cup.
Fleur had brought this variety to his table especially- knowing that he liked his coffee so strong that it bordered on what others would consider pure acid.
She had procured a supply of especially dark roasted beans while they'd been in reach of Earth, and she had ground them fresh and then presented the beverage in a small press pot- the kind that allowed just a few tantalizing grounds to mingle in with the liquid as he drank it.
Most would just set the grounds aside with the last sip and leave them to go cold- but not this man. He whirled the cup in a quickening circle to be sure to get every last, bitter molecule mixed into the remaining brew, and then downed it all with a swift motion of his wrist before they could settle on the bottom again.
He set the cup aside, and then picked up the PADD he'd been staring at for half an hour already.
The slow hiss of a sigh escaped from his lips, as he ran a hand over his bearded chin.
Finally, his fingers began to tap words onto the PADD.
Personal Log, Stardate 80502.7.
It's interesting to note that the word 'guardian', though pronounced differently in the local languages, exists in the life and lore of so many otherwise dissimilar species. I've found in fact, that the concept has some sort of meaning for almost every culture I've encountered in the course of my travels.
Of course, there is the Catholic idea of guardian angels and patron saints, as I was taught along with my Hail Marys and Our Fathers as a but a boy. Then there is the Trill idea of the symbiont Guardians, which that curiously amusing, wisp of a man called Rigin
enthusiastically schooled me about that night at the Mardi Gras party.
That night that seems to have happened a lifetime and a half ago, by now.
Parents are considered guardians of the welfare of their children. . .but even-
He stopped and looked up as he heard a small giggle from across the way, and observed Lair Arie propped up on a high stool beside Fleur's counter.
The child was laughing, as was her mother, as Arie had bitten off an extraordinarily large chunk of powdered donut and had ended up with most of the powder on the ridges of her nose, and somehow, even in the chocolate colored locks which framed her face.
Lair Kellyn took a napkin from Fleur and whispered something to the child, as she brushed traces of the confection from her features. A moment later Arie's father, Commander Salvek joined them at the counter, and they were apparently now holding intensive negotiations as to whether or not Arie was going to finish her orange juice in addition to eating the pastry.
For an instant, something inside of Keiran stung- the reopening of yet another tiny wound that was much more painful than it should have been for its size, because it was part of a much deeper, larger underlying injury.
He poured the very last drops of the almost solidified coffee from the press pot into his cup and downed it quickly. Its bitterness jolted him back into his previous frame of mind.
He erased the previous sentence he'd typed, and then tapped upon the PADD once more.
Then, there are the Guardians, in a Temporal sense.
This is what she has been to Salvek, and this she remembers.
This I have been to her- but she does not know and must not remember.
Myself, I was not supposed to remember. But then I suppose that some people, some places and times can so change a man, burn so deeply into his soul and flesh and bones that he has no choice but to live with the scars that they leave behind.
She was meant to protect others.
I was meant to protect her.
Somehow, in the 'now that was', I failed her.
Somehow, in the now that is, I must never fail her again.
There are those who are asked to make great sacrifices to protect what most spoiled citizens of the Federation have come to consider their barest acceptable standard of living. They do not realize that they live like kings and princes in comparison to those of so many worlds.
In comparison to those of her world.
She would tell them, make them understand. Lord knows, the woman has tried when she could. Somehow, so few of them ever grasp it.
Even if they could know all the work that entities like Temporal Investigations put in, every hour of every day behind the scenes of their everyday lives to make their extraordinarily ordinary existences possible, they still could not, would not accept it.
So where does that leave me- now that I know what I have been to her? What we have been to each other- in that 'now that once was'?
It leaves me repeating to myself in the dark of sleepless nights, the empty regulations and codes of conduct becoming an officer and an operative.
Reminding myself continually that some are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for their duty.
For some, like me, that ultimate sacrifice is not the giving of the lives that we have.
It's the giving up on the lives that we know we might have, if we could but stretch our arms wide enough to outreach the grasp of the Fates, just once.
Keiran typed his security encryption code into the PADD, and then shut it off. He had to go; he had an appointment to keep soon, and there was some last minute set up required for it per orders of the she that he never dared name in his logs, just in case anyone ever stumbled upon them and was able to retrieve the data.
For his own sake, he did not need to use her name. Even if he knew for certain that it was safe to do so- it would be far too painful to have to look at it in connection with feelings that could only be released as words on a screen in cloaked, vague sentences which could never do her - or what they had been- justice.
Waiting patiently in Holodeck One, Keiran checked the time again. Finally, his student came rushing through the door.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry that I'm late, Sir." February Grace tripped over her own toes as she caught the edge of the training mat with her boot. "Counselor Tryst is still trying to corner me. I told him that I had to reschedule because the Captain wanted me to modify the training sim for our new conn officer, and,"
"No need, Miss Bru. Please, take a moment to gather yourself, and then we'll begin."
He watched as she twisted an out of control head of tri-colored hair, lightest blonde on the top ranging to darker tones beneath in the back, up into a knot on the top of her head and secured it with a pin to keep it out of the way.
A moment later, the doors opened once again and his second pupil, the one he least looked forward to having to work with, appeared before him.
[[I'm sorry that I'm late, Lt. Commander,]] Jariel signed, as Bru translated for him. Keiran was quick with languages and had picked up a good basic understanding of USL by this point, but he was still working on his vocabulary. [[Services ran over- I lost track of the time. Everyone had a lot of questions.]]
"No problem, Vedek. Get ready and we'll start with some simple blocking and sparring techniques."
Knowing that there was no way that he could expect the mild mannered priest to ever take a swing, even in training, at the young Lt. Grace, Keiran walked to a panel in the wall and began to program a few potential threats for the Vedek to defend himself against. He didn't think that the man would have the. . .confidence, to take him on personally.
"I'm not going to have to hit him, am I?" Bru asked nervously, biting her lip. She jerked a thumb in the direction of the Vedek. "Cause, I can't do it, you know? I mean, look at that face. Those big brown eyes. He's like a little deer fawn. You couldn't harm a hair on his head."
Jariel blushed, and Keiran smiled politely, thinking *Hunters do. . .duck season, rabbit season. . .Vedek season. . .* in his head as he considered the metaphor. Then, he internally condemned himself.
Jariel was the man Liis loved in this life and time- he was going to have to come to terms with the fact. There was nothing he could do to change it, and he certainly couldn't let it keep him from doing his own job.
Today he was going to make his first honest attempt at learning to exist with it. This was imperative, especially since (unknown to his superiors) every day his memories of Zanh Liis grew clearer and more difficult to set aside.
[[I don't mean to sound like I'm boasting,]] Jariel began shuffling his feet, as he waited for O'Sullivan to begin their 'test'. [[But I do know how to defend myself, hand to hand.]]
Now, O'Sullivan was intrigued. He had a good four inches on Jariel in height- and he also outweighed him by quite a bit.
Then he began to wonder if perhaps, like the ancient orders of monks and priests of his homeworld, the Bajorans didn't implement some sort of physical training into their daily routines. Liis had never mentioned it, at any point, but he supposed that if the average Vedek on the streets did know how to rip your own arm off and then beat you to death with it in no time flat, it is not the type of thing they would widely advertise.
"Do ya, now." Keiran raised his brows. He surveyed the stance of the man, and Jariel glanced at Bru. Her eyes sparkled with affection as she looked at Jariel, leaving Keiran to ask himself "Why couldn't he go for spotted blondes instead of . . ."
[[Yes. So, if there is some sort of exercise by which I could prove it to you, perhaps by sparring with you personally, and then move on with the rest of my day, I am interested in ending this exercise as expeditiously as possible.]]
Camen couldn't have said why, but he didn't like the way that this man looked at him- or the way that he looked at Liis. It wasn't a dark motive that he sensed in him- but it was something that Camen had a healthy dread of- and that fostered a desire to give the man as wide a berth as possible.
"Very well. Gracie, if you'll just stand aside a moment,"
February nodded emphatically, blonde strands flopping free of her up-do, and moved to the edge of the gymnasium mat.
"Defend yourself," Keiran raised his arms and Jariel assumed an appropriate counter-posture.
The larger man approached, throwing a punch squarely at the Vedek's sculpted, unbelievably symmetrical face, something that was far too satisfying for him to admit to himself honestly.
Jariel caught the punch, deflected it deftly and a moment later, without knowing quite how he got there, Keiran was lying on the mat, looking up.
His cheeks took on a slight ruddiness beneath his prickly beard. "Congratulations, Vedek Jariel. You graduate."
The Vedek pressed both hands together and tilted them toward O'Sullivan in a gesture of gratitude, before offering the man a hand up off the floor.
Keiran waved him away and Jariel, wanting to spare the man's pride further injury in front of the lady, stepped back. He wiped at his brow with the cuff of his shirt sleeve, and he nodded to February.
He signed something quickly to her that Keiran didn't quite catch, but the remark elicited a giggle from the willowy Trill, and she waved at him as he nodded to O'Sullivan once again, and then went along on his way.
February caught the look on O'Sullivan's face, and stifled her laugh as she repeated Jariel's words again in her mind, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall, little Angel. Remember that."
"Now, what about you? Are you in a hurry to get this over with, as well?" Keiran asked, getting to his feet. "Shall I give you a holographic opponent and we'll give it a go?"
February bit her lip again and shook her head. "I barely passed self defense class in the Academy, Commander."
She threw her hands up into the air hopelessly. "Hell, I almost killed myself in a freak punching bag rebound accident when a friend tried to teach me to kick box once. I'm a pilot, not a fighter. Can't you just give me a phaser and send me on my way?"
"Sure," O'Sullivan moved over to a nearby bench, where he had left his phaser after removing it to prevent anyone's accidental injury during their exercises. "Here you go."
He held the weapon out, handle first, toward her.
"Thank you," Bru said curiously, unsure even as she accepted it. She looked at him sideways as she fingered the controls. "But what was the point of,"
Keiran whipped around behind her and suddenly the phaser went flying across the mat, as he knocked it out of her hand and in one more motion had her in a headlock.
He grabbed her by the hair, and held her fast. "Now what good is your phaser, Lt. Grace?"
February's heart began to race. She saw the image of another man's face transposed over his in her mind in a flash of light and memory- and she was frozen.
"No one can help you, now. It's just you and me, what do you do? Do you let me win?"
Still unable to move or respond, February whimpered softly as Keiran grasped her hair more tightly. He didn't want to hurt her, but he did want to teach her this lesson well because it might save her life one day.
"Don't be afraid to hurt me, come on! I'm threatening your life, or the life of someone you care about! I'm what's between you and safety. Others are counting on you to save yourself- Bru, for god's sake, do something!"
February began to shake, and Keiran suddenly realized that she was no longer with him in the moment- she was somewhere else, very far away.
He released her, and February backed up as far as she could go until her back was against the wall and he couldn't possibly get behind her. She continued to tremble, and she wrapped her arms around herself even as Keiran heard the sound of her teeth rattling together.
His fatherly instinct kicked in, and he kept a distance from her, but held his arms open in surrender. "February," his eyes reflected both an anger, and a sadness as he took another step closer and she winced. Someone had obviously mistreated her in times past and like a pup smacked on the snout by an abusive owner, she bristled even at the slightest wave of a hand in her direction.
"Feb, darlin', what in the name of,"
"Don't call me that." She snapped, rubbing her hands up and down her arms. "Don't ever call me that."
He waited patiently, even though it took a moment for her to find the words, and enough trust in him, to continue.
"Because that was what he always called me right before he hit me."
Keiran felt his blood begin to boil. He had gained enough of a hatred for Grace's parents through the communications he'd stumbled upon between her and them, now to find out that violence may have played a part in her family life as well. . .he asked himself how some men were ever allowed by the universe to become fathers.
"Lieutenant," he moved very slowly, gesturing for her to sit down on the bench, while he made a few adjustments to the holodeck controls and then gestured again to ask if he could sit beside her. She nodded.
"Any man who has to prove his power by committing acts of violence against a child, is neither a real man, nor a real father. You understand that, don't you?"
She shook her head, still very much looking like the wide-eyed child whose picture he had seen in her Starfleet profile.
"You know. In your head, and your heart, and for heaven's sake, inside of that ancient being called Grace, you know how to defend yourself, February. You've survived more already than most people could begin to fathom. You just have to believe." He stopped, noticing that she had finally ceased looking at the floor, and was now looking him in the eyes.
"That when it comes down to it, that February deserves to be saved, and she can save herself."
Keiran rose from the bench and tapped the controls once more. "I think we're done for today. Why don't you,"
[Security to O'Sullivan! Intruder alert! Deck 8, replimat!]
"On my way!" Keiran called, and without looking back at Grace, he sprinted into the hall.
When she heard the sound of a small scream, she followed.
"Help me! Mr. O'Sullivan, help me!" Lair Arie screamed and kicked as an alien in armor that February didn't recognize held her by the arms, trying to affix a transporter device of some sort to her neck. "Don't let them take me! Please!" She was trying to bite and punch the man, but his armor protected him.
"Release her!" Keiran shouted. Suddenly the intruder was joined by a companion, who pulled out a weapon and fired. In a split second, he was down on the deck, and Bru realized that if she didn't do something, that no one else could get to the child in time.
She screamed, an ear-shattering, guttural scream, and charged both aliens. With a roundhouse kick she disarmed the one who had shot O'Sullivan, grabbed him by the arm and slammed him head first into the bulkhead.
Next, she turned on the being holding Arie and within a second she had grabbed him by the helmet. Without a thought, she twisted his head backward until he went completely limp. His arms released the child, and February gathered Arie up into her arms, and ran.
As she rounded the corner, she was stopped by a security detail- including the real Keiran O'Sullivan. "Computer, end program."
"WHAT?" Grace shouted, as the vision of Arie vanished from her arms.
"Bru, listen to me. This has been your test," Keiran waved the rest of the detail off, and waited for February to finally lower her arms to her sides. "After you heard the intruder alert, I ran out, then ducked down around the corner. The image of me you saw shot was a hologram, just like the Arie you saw taken captive."
"What the hell was the point of that?" February gasped, as she tried to remember how to breathe.
"I wanted you to understand, young one, don't you understand?" Keiran approached her and gently put a hand on her arm. "You couldn't protect the little girl that you were. But you're grown now. You can protect yourself. You can protect anyone on this ship, including that little girl you love, if you have to."
He stepped back, allowing her to process his words. "You are worth protecting. So use what you know. You can do it." He backed away from her slowly, and he nodded to her before leaving. "Well done, Miss Bru. Well done."
February's heart continued to pound so hard she thought it might leap from her chest.
She began to realize that perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing she had that appointment rescheduled to talk with Vol Tryst this evening, after all.
Lt. Commander Keiran O'Sullivan
Chief of Security
USS Serendipity NCC-2012
Lt. Commander Keiran O'Sullivan
Chief of Security
USS Serendipity NCC-2012