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USS Aldrin Personnel Recordings image
[JL Deniaud/M.S./Salieri] Shattered

USS Aldrin Personnel Recordings


by Lieutenant Commander Gideon Salieri, Lieutenant Commander Marielle Deniaud, Master Slave
[Stardate ]

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She pinned her lower lip between her teeth and leaned to one side as she scratched at her ankle.  The stack of PADDs at the corner of her desk seemed to be growing leaps and bounds, especially since she moved in with the security chief.  It came as some relief that the half-Bajoran had to be called into his office to deal with some disruption amongst the crewmen.  Three devices were laid out side by side, and her eyes moved quickly through each one as she read the findings by her researchers, Thiross Pynsoe and Parvenu Nobody.  Exhaustion pulled at her posture, but it was easily hidden with a touch more make-up around her eyes to hide the shadows.  

He set the filter in place to give the appearance of being in a more comfortable vessel than the Hideki class cargo ship he called home away from home.  The medical tricorder was placed to the side after altering the features of his face and contacts discolored his irises to a brilliant and familiar emerald green.  His vocal chords had been tightened to lower his voice to a pleasant baritone.  The transformation was necessary because Marielle had an eidetic memory, which meant she would recognize him immediately when he appeared to her later as Cassius, and he couldn’t very well show her his true self just yet.  ‘Just a couple more months.’  The short statement had become his mantra, meant to soothe the rage that so easily welled within him.  He glanced up to the screen as he waited for the subspace transmission to connect with the Aldrin.

The three tablets were stacked together before placed to one side to join ten others.  She gathered three more, laying them out before her, as she answered the soft chirp from her computer.  “I’ll accept the transmission,” she informed the ship’s sentient computer.  Believing it was her father’s chosen possible suitor, she didn’t dare glance up from the row of devices.  Marielle lifted a finger to motion that she simply needed one more moment.  “You’ll have my undivided attention when I’m done.”  There was a flatness and an irritability to her tone that was not usual.  Fingers swiped over each screen, irises moving quickly as she read the reports before her.  

“Perhaps this is a bad time, mademoiselle,” he offered in greeting.  A warm smile pulled at his features but concern flashed in his emerald hues.  Cassius studied the diminutive woman closely and he fought to keep from reacting at noticing that she was not in her quarters, but in the security chief’s personal space.  He would ask about it later.  “Voulez-vous me rappeler? (Would you like to call me back?)”

At the sound of his voice, Marielle’s attention immediately lifted from the PADDs on her desk.  Her smile couldn’t be contained.  “Cassius!” she couldn’t help but exclaim.  In the months since meeting the trader, a friendship had quickly formed.  “Is it-,” her eyes swept to one side and she glanced down at the display on her desk.  “Heavens-  I’m so sorry.  I totally lost track of time.  I didn’t realize today was our weekly subspace communication.”  She gave him an apologetic smile.  “If you wouldn’t mind-  Just one minute so I can sign off on the reports in front of me.”  Her gaze drifted down to the devices, fingers quickly swiping over the surface.  “How are you?” came her sweetly asked question.  The harshness from her tone had disappeared entirely.  It was good to see him even though they’d met at Starbase 296 only three days prior.

His smile brightened and he nodded in agreement to her request for time.  “I’m doing well, thank you.”  Cassius did not pause as he recounted his latest acquisition.  While the information was meaningless to the diminutive woman, she enjoyed hearing about his adventures for some reason and he was glad to fill the silence until she was ready to speak with him.  “I’ve just left Ghazan X with some beautiful pieces.  Their artisan community is thriving, with artists from nearby systems coming to create new and exciting works.”  The dealer chuckled quietly and tilted his chin to the side.  “I wholeheartedly suggest visiting.  Their glass artists are genius.  If I’d stayed any longer, I would no doubt leave bankrupt.”

Her signature graced each of the three tablets and they were stacked and put aside quickly to join the devices she had already read.  Her forearms folded over the edge of the desk and she leaned forward slightly as she studied the screen.  She laughed at his quip, the sound bright with her joy.  She rather enjoyed his wit and how his voice changed ever so slightly with his mirth.  “I’m rather sure you wouldn’t have been destitute for long,” she mused with a smile.  “If I were to wager my commission at this moment, I believe you’ve already a buyer for a piece or two you’ve recently acquired.”  

“Oui,” he confirmed with a soft chuckle.  Cassius leaned forward slightly, his pose mirroring hers as he rested his forearms on the desk of his console.  “And you appear quite busy.  Is your commander overloading you?”  He tsked lightly and shook his head.  “It’s already time for another holiday, hmm?”  The antiquities dealer continued to smile to help Marielle feel more at ease during their communication.  He memorized her form without looking away from her jewel tone hues.

Her hand lifted to brush back a tendril of hair.  There was the briefest flash of embarrassment in her eyes, her gaze dipping ever so slightly with her doubts.  It was easily pushed away, her smile remaining on her features.  “I’m still learning to balance different aspects of my life,” she admitted softly.  “I fear I’d ignored Gideon a bit too much when I was preparing my paper for the Theoretical Physics Conference on Lusola III.  I’ve been trying to make amends.”  There was a slight strain to her smile.  “Unfortunately, that means work tends to build.”

It was difficult not to let his frustration and bitterness come through in his expression.  He chuckled again and shook his head.  “I highly doubt that you ignored him at all, mademoiselle.  Perhaps he doesn’t appreciate simply being in the same room as you.”  Cassius tsked and hummed quietly.  “Such a needy fellow.”  His disdain for Gideon was hard to suppress.

“Now, now, Cass,” she chuckled softly.  “I’ve asked you to be kind.  Do not judge him on my words.  I only offer one perspective.  He had every right to complain.”  Marielle shrugged, forcing herself not to think of Gideon’s wandering eye.  “If you are to remain my friend, you’ll need to respect my choices.”

He tsked again and chuckled as he nodded once.  “I will always respect your choices, mademoiselle.  It doesn’t mean I have to like them.”  Cassius winked and smiled widely.  His gaze fell briefly to the ring that dangled from a chain around her neck and he briefly raised his brow in question.  “That is a pretty stone you wear, Mariëlle.  A promise ring?”  He hadn’t noticed it when he saw her at Starbase 296.

There was the slightest widening of her eyes as realization struck her.  She’d forgotten to tuck the engagement token under her shirt.  Marielle’s fingers wrapped around the ring and she glanced down at it.  “Ah-  I suppose, in a way-,” she laughed awkwardly.  She pulled at the collar of her black turtleneck and let the ring slid along her neck until the chain was hidden from view.  “Gideon proposed a few days ago.”  She laughed, though she was sure as to why.  “Thank you for pointing it out to me.  I’m supposed to be speaking to one of my father’s associates later today-  It wouldn’t do to have him see the ring.”

His reaction was carefully guarded to keep his eye from twitching and his features from pulling into a frown.  Cassius forced a small smile to his features and joined in her forced laughter.  “I suppose congratulations are in order, mademoiselle.  Though- I admit to being foreign to many traditions- don’t Terrans wear the engagement ring on a finger?”  His chin tilted slightly as he pressed her for an answer.

She scratched awkwardly at the side of her neck and she gave him an odd smile.  “You’re not wrong,” Marielle started softly.  “It’s just-  I’m-  Oh, there’s no way I can say this without sounding absolutely horrible to Gideon-  I’m just not the marrying type?  But, he looked so happy, and I love making him happy.”  She managed a small but real smile.  “He understands though-  It’s just a ring.  He’s happy I said yes.  Not wearing it doesn’t mean I meant to say no.”  She chuckled softly.  “I just have to decline this new possible interest-  I haven’t told my father yet.  I-  I doubt he’ll be pleased.”

“I agree with that statement.  Gideon may be a kind man but he offers you so little- Non, mes excuses.  (My apologies.)”  He leaned back slightly and his smile grew.  “I am happy for you.”

Marielle gave him a sad smile.  “I fear I’ve done a poor job of presenting him to you,” she winced at herself and her gaze dipped.  “It is a poor thing to complain so much about one’s significant other-  He’s a good man and I shouldn’t complain.  Honestly, I am quite fortunate-  He’s saved me more than once, and-”

His expression softened and his voice dipped slightly.  “I am not the one who needs convincing, mademoiselle.”  Cassius chuckled quietly and waved his hand to dismiss the subject.  “I wish to send you both a gift.  To the Aldrin or do you have a homestead somewhere on Earth?  In Avignon?”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Cass,” she chuckled and blushed.  The slight lift to his eyebrow and the wry curl to the corner of his lip told her instantly that he wouldn’t listen.  “I-  I suppose the Aldrin.  I’ve toyed with the idea of possibly buying property on Earth-  Something Gideon and I could call our own.  I just have no idea where to even look.  He’d prefer the forest, I’m sure-  But I would love a proper oceanside property.”

The trader hummed softly as he considered what she’d said.  “You know, local governments have property available for purchase in the most unlikely of places.  I myself have been looking at whole islands.”  Cassius smiled and leaned forward slightly.  “Perhaps there is one that is forested so that you both are happy?”  He raised a hand and pointed in thought.  “I have an associate with the sweetest red grapes.  I would like to gift you with a small vineyard.”

“Grapes do better with sun.  A forest, I’m afraid, would hinder the vines.”  Marielle hummed softly.  “An island may be perfect actually-  Perhaps one off the coast of Italy.”  Excitement quickly bubbled with her ideas.  “That would be fantastic-  An island of our own-”  She grinned.  “Cassius, you’re brilliant.”  A bright peal of laughter fell from her lips.  “Absolutely brilliant.”  She leaned back and clapped her hands softly.  “Oh, how wonderful-”  She paused then wrinkled her nose.  “But, what if he doesn’t like it?  I should probably ask-”

“Then he’s a fool,” he answered quickly, probably too quickly.  His expression softened to cover his mistake and he chuckled quietly.  “What a pleasant surprise it would be, though.  I would be absolutely thrilled to receive such a gift.”  Cassius made a mental note to watch for property transactions in the near future.  His mind was working on another gift other than the vineyard and he wanted it to be a surprise to the diminutive woman.

Marielle smiled warmly at her friend.  “You’re amazing, Cassius.”  She nodded.  “That settles it.  I’m buying a villa.”  She grinned.  “Now-  No offense to your associate, but unless he’s magically the vintner of Elysium, I’m not entirely sure I can accept.  Have you tasted it?  Absolutely fantastic.  I swear I’ve never tasted anything better-”  The rest of her statement was cut off by a chime.  Her chin turned towards the entrance and her brows furrowed.  “That’s odd-  Excuse me.”  She pushed to her feet, hands smoothed out her skirt, and moved towards the door.  Her stilettoed steps were muffled along the carpet.

The yeoman stayed in the hallway and smiled warmly at the chief researcher when the doors opened.  “Ah-  Commander,” she handed the chief researcher a silver crate.  “You received a package with our last shipment.”  She held up the PADD as the diminutive woman took the container from her hand.  “If you wouldn’t mind signing to confirm delivery.”

Cassius couldn’t help but let his gaze wander over her form as she walked away from him.  His eyelids fell closed briefly and he swallowed his whine as he shook his head.  He quickly regained his composure and smiled when the diminutive woman returned to the computer console.  He was sure to appear as surprised as she was at receiving the package.

“How odd,” she muttered as she placed the small crate on her lap.  Her eyes settled on the panel on the lid.  “There’s no name.  Did you do this?”  Marielle raised a brow as her gaze lifted to her viewscreen so she could stare at the trader.  She didn’t wait for an answer, instead opening the crate and pulling out two wrapped boxes, each decorated with a red ribbon, and a bottle of sweet red wine.  She nearly squealed with her delight at seeing the label.  “Well-!  That’s a pleasant surprise!”  She laughed as she turned the label towards the camera to show Cassius.  “Elysium wine!”  The bottle was placed on the desk and she pulled the envelope that was tucked under a ribbon. Nimble fingers pulled the small card and her smile dipped to a frown.

His head shook to answer her question regarding his involvement in the shipment.  “I couldn’t have timed such a surprise,” he mused with a subtle smirk.  Cassius chuckled quietly at the irony of receiving a bottle of the very wine they had just been speaking of.  His features fell slightly when he saw her frown.  “What’s wrong, Mariëlle?”

“I look forward to our fated meeting,” she read aloud, her brows furrowing.  “It’s signed just with the letter V.”  She slid the flat card back into its envelope and stared at the two simple boxes - one flat and rectangular and the second a sizeable cube.  Both were securely tied by a simple bright ribbon.  From touch alone, she could tell they were silk.  “I can’t accept this,” she murmured.  “This has to be from that man my father wants me to-  He didn’t even sign his name.  Not even the courtesy to introduce himself.”  She whined.  “I hate this.  I shouldn’t open this-  It’s not like I can accept it.”  Marielle wrinkled her nose.  “A peek wouldn’t hurt right?  It’s not like I’m going to like it.”  Curiosity had her fingers drumming on the top of both boxes.

“Well, if you’re not going to accept it, send me the wine.  I’ll drink it in your name.”  He smiled wryly and leaned forward to watch her closely.  Cassius was silently grateful that the package had arrived when it did, because he’d nearly revealed that the vintner of the Elysium wine was indeed his associate.

The diminutive woman chuckled softly, silently thankful for his ability to make her laugh so easily.  It melted away the tension in her shoulders.  “Well, I suppose a peek-  I always did hate not knowing.”  Marielle chuckled softly and pulled the ribbon from the flat rectangular box.  Fingers slid over the red ribbon in appreciation.  “He’s definitely showing off,” she murmured.  “Silk ribbon.”  Out of habit, she threaded the ribbon under the long strands of her hair and tied a neat bow at the base of her neck.  Fingers lifted the top.  She had intended to look and close the box immediately, but instead her eyes widened.  “Tu te fous de moi?!  (Are you frakking kidding me?!)” she exclaimed, the top thrown to the side as she pushed to her feet, the back of her knees pushing back her chair.  “En aucune façon!  (No way!)”

He straightened slightly, as if her sudden move encroached upon his own personal space.  A light chuckle slipped from his lips as he raised a brow at the diminutive woman.  “Qu'est-ce que c'est?  Tu as l'air de te mordre, (What is it?  You look as if it will bite you.)” he mused.  “Une photo encadrée de lui nu? (A framed picture of him naked?)”  Cassius laughed quietly at the thought.

She was a mess of French, the ancient dialect tumbling from her lips at such a speed that she barely managed to breathe.  “Cela ne peut pas être réel!  Cela ne peut pas être vrai!  (This cannot be real!  This cannot be real!)” she continued to scream, her voice nearly shrill with her excitement.  She pulled the stack of ancient papers from the box.  It took what little control she had left not to grip at the loose pages as she flipped them over one by one.  “Putain de merde!  (Holy frakking shit!)”  Her face grew red, a flush moving over her skin.  “Oh gods-  Oh gods-  It’s in his writing!  His frakking writing!  I have Stephen frakking Hawking’s actual handwriting!  This!  Oh gods-  I’m going to- I’m going to faint.  Holy-  Oh.  My.  Gods!”  Her knees buckled and she flattened her palm on her desk to keep herself from melting to the floor.

His laughter was maintained as he watched her react, his own glee apparent in his features.  He was beyond thrilled to see Marielle enjoying the gift that she’d received.  “Calmez-vous, mademoiselle.  Que dire de Stephen Hawkings avez-vous reçu?  (Calm yourself.  What about Stephen Hawkings did you receive?)”  A warm smile made him glow as he delighted in her joy.

“I have-  I have an original copy of-  Oh gods,” she turned and had enough sense to wheel the chair back to herself.  She fell heavily into the seat and her gaze settled on the aged pages.  “His first paper,” she gasped, her words softly spoken with reverence.  Her hands trembled as her fingers pinched at one corner to turn the page.  “The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology,” she cried, tears pooling in her eyes.  She could only laugh with her joy and her surprise.  The pads of her fingertips brushed over the handwritten notations, the scribblings done before the famed scientist had lost all ability to move.  “Oh gods-  I don’t want to give this back.  No one’s-  No one’s ever given me something so-  Oh gods.”  Her hands came up to cover her lips when she found she could not close her mouth.

Cassius hummed quietly and grinned.  “It would be a shame to return such a thoughtful gift.  Surely it’s acceptance is not an agreement without meeting him first.”  He leaned forward once again and rested his forearms on the console in front of him.

She sniffled and wiped the tears away from her eyes, feeling rather silly at crying over a gift.  Emotions overwhelmed her.  There was adoration for the mysterious gift giver.  There was also fear easily mixed with curiosity - how a stranger could find such a perfect gift for her.  There was frustration and worry at how Gideon would possibly respond to such a package.  She was sure his jealousy would flare, and she whined with the realization that any respectable woman would not keep such a gift.  “I’m going to be very annoyed with the universe for several weeks,” she muttered.  She didn’t expand as she gathered the sheets of paper neatly and placed them back into the box.  Her touch was light, fingers ghosting over the top page.  “I’ve-  No one has ever given me something so-”  Emerald irises lingered over the title of the paper.  “I don’t want to give this back, but-  I have to, right?  It’s not-”

“I’m sure he would want you to keep it, no matter the outcome.”  The trader dipped his chin slightly as he tried to catch Marielle’s eye.  “Funny how someone so distant knows you better than those closest to you.  Could you imagine such devotion on a daily basis?”  Warmth lit his jewel green irises as he smiled at the diminutive woman.  “Your tears of joy are beautiful.”

“No one is that lucky,” she whispered softly.  Marielle straightened and she cleared her throat as she wiped away the last of her tears.  She laughed weakly and waved her hand dismissively in the air.  “I’m so sorry-  I’m sure your speakers did not enjoy the insane decibels of my voice earlier.”  The box’s cover was carefully returned and she pulled the ribbon from her hair to wrap it once around the surface.  It was placed to the side.  She glanced at the second box, chewed on the corner of her lower lip as she hesitated.  Her gaze shifted quickly towards the ancient academic papers she had put away.  ‘The second one won’t be anywhere near as good-  That’ll make it easier to return everything.  It’ll be horrible and just ruin all meaning of the first.’  Somehow, she didn’t quite believe her train of reasoning.  ‘Stephen frakking Hawking.’  She was already knew there was no way she could part with it.  She reached out for the second box.

He shook his head to dispel her fears.  “It was well worth it,” he murmured as he watched her unwrapping the second package.  Cassius was silent as he studied her closely and delighted in seeing her work through her thoughts.  ‘I couldn’t have timed this any better.  Even if she sends them back, I’ll leave them at the cottage for her.’  His chest warmed and he sighed quietly to himself.  ‘Just a few more months.’  He stared at her slender fingers as they pulled at the same silk ribbon that tied the first package.  Once again, the red was looped to harness her raven strands at the base of her neck.  He found himself holding his breath when she lifted the cover from the gift.

She could only stare as she peered into the box.  Her expression softened as her lips parted ever so slightly to take in a long and quiet breath.  There was a skip to her steady heartbeat that she missed, her focus on the item just beyond her grasp.  Gently, carefully, as if afraid to break it, she reached inside and pulled out the pottery she’d been gifted.

The bowl was fairly heavy, made of thick porcelain and hand dipped.  The color of the glaze varied from the rim to the bottom, a gradient of midnight blue to the richest green tinted cobalt, with firing marks that dotted the inside.  Thick lines of gold marred one side, the precious metal placed in the cracks where the bowl had once broken and been mended.  It was kintsugoi, an ancient Japanese tradition to highlight faults as beautiful mistakes.

“I didn’t think anyone did this anymore.”  There was amazement and awe in her soft voice.  Her finger slowly travelled along the fine lines.  “It’s-  It’s perfect.”  The gold was flush, the surface so smooth that it had appeared as if the bowl had never been broken.  “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” she whispered.

His features softened and he smiled tenderly at the sight of her marveling over the bowl.  It was hand made and then dropped to create the fractures.  Flaked gold filled the cracks.  He didn’t need to see the piece of pottery to know what it looked like.

“Oh, Cassius,” she managed finally.  “What am I going to do?  I can’t accept these-  If Gideon knew-”  Marielle carefully placed the bowl on her desk and moved the empty box aside.  Unknowingly, her hand came up to rest over the bruise on her shoulder that was hidden under her blouse.  “But I can’t return these-  I love them.  I can’t even tell you what this means to me-  The historical significance-  The philosophical meaning.”  The pad of her fingertip moved lightly over the lip of the bowl.  “I-  I can’t even meet with this man-  Gideon would be able to tell how I-  He’ll-”  A pained expression moved over her features.  “How did a stranger pick out such gifts for me?  The paper-  I can understand that one.  I’ve published, and it’s not hard to figure out something that’d strike my interest-  But this-”  She struggled for words, something she never truly experienced.  

He barely suppressed his frown as he saw her tenderly caressing her shoulder.  He could only imagine that her bicep was sore from their meeting several days prior when the half-Bajoran had held her possessively.  “Perhaps he has been admiring you for quite some time and finally reached a place in his life that he could measure to both you and your father.”  Cassius spoke from his heart, smiling gently as he considered his words.  “Gideon knows that you love him- you’ve accepted his proposal.  That will have to be enough so that you can listen to your heart.”  He tilted his chin slightly as he studied her.

“It’s awfully selfish of me to accept these gifts, right?  To accept such meaningful tokens and not return the sentiment?”  It was clear that she struggled between her selfish desires and the right thing to do.  “It took affection to pick these out for me-  Thought and-  No one has ever been this thoughtful.”

The antiquities dealer chuckled quietly and shook his head.  “Consider it an honor to him to keep them.  He has given you these gifts to inspire you.  Cherish them as such.”  His irises shifted slightly as he watched her battling with herself over the near anonymous gifts.  Cassius leaned forward to lower his voice, as if telling her a secret.  “I wish I had thought to get you such things.  You would leave Gideon for me, non?”  A wry smile pulled at the corners of his lips.

“I’m a horrible and selfish woman,” she muttered to herself.  Marielle looked up at the trader and she offered him a weak laugh.  “I wear the hairpin you gifted me every week,” she revealed softly.  “But, even such wonderful gifts such as these wouldn’t pull me away from Gideon.”  She chuckled despite herself.  “I don’t know why, but something tells me I’m where I need to be.”

His hand lifted briefly to his heart.  “Ah, ça me réchauffe pour le reste de mes nuits.  Même dans le rejet, je suis honoré que vous portiez mon cadeau. (Ah, that warms me for the rest of my nights.  Even in rejection, I am honored that you wear my gift.)”  His smile was still tender and fondness brightened his jewel tone green hues.  “Ce V est sûr de ressentir la même chose.  Garde les.  Il sera heureux de savoir qu'il a illuminé ton âme. (This V is sure to feel the same.  Keep them.  He will be happy to know he's brightened your soul.)”

Marielle laughed softly and smiled serenely at the trader.  “I’m so sorry,” she began softly.  “You’ve spent all this time listening to me screech like a banshee.  You haven’t told me much about your last week, your wonderful adventures.”  The chief researcher affectionately placed the bowl back into its box and set it atop the first one she’d opened.  Already she was thinking of where to place them.  Her office seemed like the most logical choice.  It’d allow her to admire without worry.  “Have you found a lovely woman yet?  I still have many friends who would find you appealing.”  She chuckled softly and turned her attention once more to the trader.

“My eyes do not wander, mademoiselle.”  Cassius waved his hand dismissively and chuckled lightly.  “I will be spending quite some time in Klingon space these next few months.  They are an amazing people- brutal, but loyal.  They’re not big on art, but some of the surrounding worlds within their territory have some interesting things to offer.  I don’t have a specific timeline for my stay- perhaps long enough that you’ll be at the conference on Lusola III- to meet you and your paramore for dinner some night.”  There was a pregnant pause before he smiled warmly.  “So I might better get to know him.”  

Gideon sighed heavily as he tapped on the panel to open the door to his quarters.  His fingers lifted to his collar and he pulled off the pips as he stepped over the threshold.  He lifted his gaze to search for his fiance as he called out to her.  “I’m sor-”  His words were silenced by the sea glass chime like laughter that filtered through the space.

Marielle laughed softly.  “I haven’t heard from the conference committee yet if my paper is accepted,” she smiled warmly at the trader.  “Though, your faith in my abilities is much appreciated.”  Her elbow rested on the edge of her desk and her chin rested on her open palm.  Emerald irises remained fixed on the man on her viewscreen and she failed to notice how the half-Bajoran had returned home.

He fought to keep the pained expression from crossing his features as he noted the security chief in his peripheral vision.  Cassius didn’t shift his gaze, however, intent on keeping the diminutive theorist’s attention for as long as he could.  “I am two hundred percent sure you will be accepted into the conference,” he assured her with a smile.  “In fact, I would wager on it.”  He winked and tapped a thick finger on the console in front of him.  

The Betazoid mix grumbled quietly when he noted the time.  “It’s fawn over Cassius time,” he muttered to himself as he pulled the zipper of his uniform jacket down.  Gideon walked toward her desk and slid his hand over her shoulder as he leaned closer to Marielle.  His hardened gaze focused on the trader in the viewscreen as he gave his fiance a chaste kiss on her temple.  “I’m sorry I’m late,” he murmured.  “I’ll start dinner after I change.”  The security chief shifted his eyes to look down at the physicist.

She tensed but warmth was easy to force into her expression.  The researcher tipped her chin up to stare at the half-Bajoran and the forced smile looked natural.  The days following her surprise visit with the trader had resulted in an odd tension between herself and Gideon.  “We’re almost done,” she soothed softly.  Marielle reached out to grab his hand before he could move away.  “Cassius was saying that when I get into the conference, he may be able to meet us for dinner.  It sounds like fun.  What do you think?”  There was a slight plea to her tone, a twinkle of hope in her eyes.  

The antiquities dealer watched the half-Bajoran with barely muted loathing.  He stared at the man who was so much like himself, yet seemed to latch onto all of his worst qualities.  ‘I’m so much better than he is.  This cannot happen soon enough.’  Cassius forced a smile to his features and he nodded in agreement with Marielle.  “I would be pleased to treat you both.”

Gideon gently squeezed her fingers and made a show of lifting her hand to kiss her knuckles.  “If you get into the conference, sure,” he murmured, his lips brushing over her skin as he spoke.  It wasn’t that he doubted she would get in, but suddenly he wouldn’t be unhappy if her paper was rejected.  The half-Bajoran could think of nothing worse to interrupt their time together during the work holiday.  He smiled and then raised a brow as he caught sight of the boxes on the corner of the desk.  He lowered her hand to motion toward them.  “What’s with the boxes?”

The ‘if’ in his statement bothered her more than she cared to admit.  The tension that appeared in her shoulders and neck was almost too much and she was sure the colour had drained from her face.  Her gaze shifted to the boxes.  “Uh-  Gifts,” she managed with a careful smile.  “A bowl and old papers.”

“I found them,” Cassius spoke up quickly.  “I saw the paper at an auction on Drosius and found the bowl at Ghazan X.  As soon as I saw them, I knew they belonged to Mariëlle.”  He glanced toward the diminutive woman quickly and smiled, hoping that she would play along to save herself the trouble of explaining to the half-Bajoran where the gifts had actually originated - though he hadn’t been lying.

She flashed the trader an appreciative smile, but she shook her head.  Gideon was already wary of her friendship and she didn’t want any reason for the half-Bajoran to dislike Cassius.  “Don’t listen to him-  He’s being a friend.”  The diminutive woman turned her chin to look up at the security chief.  “It’s one of my father’s associates,” she started carefully.  “Don’t worry about it.  It’s just a bunch of old papers and a bowl.”  She downplayed the significance, her excitement.  Her heart palpitated furiously against her chest.

Gideon stared at Cassius on the monitor, as if he hadn’t heard Marielle’s explanation at all.  His jaw clenched as he resisted the urge to lean over and cut the transmission.  ‘It’s bad enough I have to deal with Adam bumbling around with her.  Now I’ve got this stronzo sending her inappropriate gifts.’  The half-Bajoran grunted softly and turned his gaze down to the diminutive woman.  His brows furrowed.  ‘Yet, she didn’t lie either.’  He shook his head.  “All right, whatever,” he muttered dismissively.  “I’ll drop them off at the quartermaster’s tomorrow morning.”  The implication that the gifts would be returned was obvious.  He squeezed the researcher’s hand again and stepped away to change.

“Wait-  What?  Why?”  Marielle spun quickly in her chair to let her eyes follow him.  “Why?  I’m keeping them.”  The thought of losing the prized ancient academic papers and the beautifully repaired bowl bothered her far more than she thought possible.  Her hand immediately reached for the boxed items and settled to protectively rest over the smaller of two gifts.

The jacket fell from his shoulders and he turned to face his fiance.  “Are they engagement presents?  Wedding gifts?”  His brows raised.  Gideon’s expression was hard and his eyes volatile.  Negative emotion rolled off of him and he dared Marielle to dispute him.

Cassius leaned forward and spoke in soft French.  “Dites-lui simplement qu'ils étaient des cadeaux de fiançailles de moi.  Ce sera plus facile pour vous deux sur le long terme. (Just tell him they were engagement gifts from me.  It will be easier for you both in the long run.)”  He felt the change within the half-Bajoran and wanted nothing more than to protect the researcher as best he could.  “S'il vous plaît. (Please.)”

“Non,” she answered carefully, both to the trader and the security chief.  Marielle pushed to her feet and turned to look at the trader.  She kept her voice low.  “I’ve got to go.  Same time next week?” she asked softly.  She gave him an apologetic smile.

He smiled tenderly and nodded in response.  “Je compte les secondes.  Au revoir. (I count the seconds.  Until next time.)”  Cassius tilted his chin slightly in silent support for the diminutive woman and then reached forward to cut the transmission.

Gideon had turned and retreated into the bedroom so he could continue changing.  He stood in the closet in a pair of lounge pants, his hands resting on his hips as he stared at the selection of t-shirts.  Jealousy had gotten the better of him.  He muttered quietly and worked through the emotion to keep from snapping further at Marielle.  ‘She’s choosing me.  Over Adam, over Cassius, over anyone her father offers.’  His gaze lifted to the ceiling in silent plea to the prophets.  ‘I’m not good enough for her.  Some day she’s going to realize it.  I have to marry her before she does.  She won’t be able to leave me.’

She turned the moment the screen turned black.  There was a smile on her face as she prepared to soothe his doubts, only to find him missing.  Quiet steps took her to the bedroom and into the closet.  Her hands slid over his sides and her ear rested on his back.  She was careful to keep her voice calm despite the emotions that threatened to have her turning into a blubbering mess.  “It would be rude of me to return them, Gideon.  This is one of my father’s associates.  We have to handle this carefully if we want my family’s approval,” she whispered softly.

“You’ve returned other gifts,” he noted quietly, with a dangerous edge to his voice.  He remained standing as he was and dropped his chin with a heavy sigh.  “What makes this associate so special?”  There was some emphasis on her choice of words - calling the originator of the gifts anything but a suitor.  Marielle’s father didn’t allow his partners to entertain his daughter, only potential husbands.  The thought had his back tensing.

Her foot slid back quietly along the carpet, but she had failed to realize her body was physically pulling her away from the half-Bajoran.  “Nothing.  I don’t know him,” she answered softly.  The half-lie tumbled freely from her lips in an attempt to calm her fiance.  She didn’t know the mysterious man who sent her the gift, but his choices had captured her attention.  Marielle wanted nothing more than to find out who he was.  She studied his face, her smile strained as she fought to keep the upward pull.  “But, he’s the last one I’ve got to reject before I tell Papa about us.  I just need him to be in a good mood- and sending back the gifts will do exactly the opposite.”  It was also as simple as not wanting to return the thoughtful gifts.  She could spend hours simply letting her eyes trace the handwritten notations on the academic paper or admiring the gold that filled the cracks of the bowl.

His body turned to face her as he snatched a grey t-shirt from the shelf.  “Why are you going to start lying to me again?”  The accusation was snappishly made, as if he hadn’t heard anything past the semi-false statement.  “Keeping them will insinuate interest, which I’m starting to believe.”  He shoved his hands through the arm holes and roughly pulled the shirt over his head.  The hem was tugged down quickly and he pulled his fingers through his hair to set it back in place.

“I’m not-  You can’t be serious,” she couldn’t help the scoff that escaped her.  “This is about politics, Gideon.  Nothing more.”  The diminutive woman motioned to the walls around them.  “I’m living with you.  I’m engaged to you.”  A few steps carried her closer to him and her hand settled on his arm.  “You can’t seriously believe that accepting two gifts means interest-”  She paused, deciding perhaps maybe the truth would be best.  “Gideon, I can’t return them.  They’re amazing.  I just can’t.  Please don’t make me.”  Her fingers curled slightly as she pulled him out towards the main living space.  “You have to see.  They’re beautiful and-”

“I don’t want to see!  I want them out of my quarters!”  His arm lifted and turned to wrench her fingers from his sleeve.  Gideon stopped at the threshold of the bedroom and pointed out into the living space.  “It was inappropriate for anyone to send you gifts that aren’t for our engagement or the wedding.  You get rid of them!”  His command was urgently spoken.

“I am not getting rid of them!” she screamed.  “I don’t care if it’s inappropriate!  I’m not giving up Stephen Hawking’s first paper and I’m not going to give up a piece of my culture!”  She rushed towards him and quickly turned to slip past him.  “I told you it wouldn’t do to anger Papa right now and returning them would do just that!  If you can’t understand that, then I can’t do a thing to get it through your thick head.”  Her frustration had reached new heights and she wondered if she’d ever truly known the man she called her friend.  His sudden flashes of anger were foreign to her.

He turned to face her, glaring after the diminutive woman.  “That’s a convenient excuse, El!  You just said that they were amazing and beautiful!”  The half-Bajoran took a step into the room, his finger raised in accusation.  “Which is it?!  Do you want to keep them because-”

“Why can’t it be both?!”  She turned and positioned herself between the gifts and her fiance.  “No one’s ever given me anything so-”  The words froze on her tongue and her head shook furiously.  “I’m not giving them up.  That’s final.”

Fury simmered in his eyes and caused his lip to twitch.  Gideon snarled and muttered under his breath in Bajoran as he stalked toward her.  He gave her no warning before reaching out and gripping her arm.  He forced her aside and reached for the cubed box.  Without knowing what was inside, the security chief simply threw the cube against the wall.  There was some satisfaction in hearing an earthen and thick shatter and he watched as the lid fell apart.  Blue shards of porcelain tumbled from the tissue paper.  “Choose,” he demanded.

“No!”  She stumbled onto the floor and crawled towards the open box.  The tears gathered in her eyes and she ignored the sting to her arm from the force of his grip.  The researcher hid her face from him and shook her head.  “I did!  What the hell is wrong with you?!  What’s gotten into you lately?!”  Glassy eyes lifted and she glared at him.  “A gift shouldn’t make you feel threatened!”

“I shouldn’t have to feel threatened, El!  I should be comfortable in knowing that in every aspect of your life, you choose me!”  He waved his hand down toward her and the shards of pottery.  “But then you do stupid shit like accept gifts from strange men and fawn over manipulative traders!”  Gideon raised his hands to his head and pulled at his hair as if it would bring him down from his anger.  “Even other officers are talking about you!”

“About what?!” she challenged.  Her sweet voice had turned shrill with her accusation.  There was a hint of fear as she considered what possible rumours could be circulating again.  The diminutive woman thought she’d moved far past such childish chatter.  Tears fell from her eyes but she was so focused on the half-Bajoran that she didn’t even notice.

His hands ripped from his hair and his fists swung at his sides as he took a step toward her.  “How you’re so godsdamn favorable with my security officers!”  The half-Bajoran released his frustration in a short and primal yell before throwing his hands in the air.  “Ho bisogno di bere un cazzo!  Non voglio sapere chi hai visto alle mie spalle.  Sono sicuro che la lista è lunga quanto il cazzo!  (I need a drink!  I don’t want to know who you’ve been seeing behind my back.  I’m sure the list is as long as frakking pi!)”  Gideon pushed into motion to escape.  Long strides carried him toward the door.

She’d failed to notice the furious beating of her heart against her chest, failed to notice how her breaths had become clipped and ragged.  The palms of her hands came up to rub roughly at her eyes, smearing the black lines that brought attention to her flawless jewel green irises.  She did not know how long she lingered on the floor or how long she cried quiet tears.  She sent Erik Vaeros away when he had inquired about her, the Draconian avoiding any sort of detail as to what he had heard exactly.  Eventually, Marielle gathered the broken pieces into its original box and cleaned the subtle paint from her face.  ‘If people are talking, then-  I just need him to see.  I’ll focus on him a bit more and everything will be okay.’  The hours ticked away and she had toyed with the idea of calling Cassius in order to simply cry on someone’s shoulder, but she managed to avoid the temptation - mostly frightened what would happen if Gideon returned while she spoke to the trader.  Instead, her handwriting graced her stationery as she wrote to the mysterious gift-giver to thank him for his thoughtfulness and apologize for the broken bowl.  The boxes were carefully packaged - though she had dared to save the red ribbon that had been wrapped around the package of academic papers - and she called for the quartermaster to pick up the crate before collapsing into bed.


   
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