Destiny

BY : Rowan
Category: +S through Z > Star Trek RPG
Dragon prints: 826
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek RPG, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Authors' notes: A Star Trek: Dauntless AU of what could have been.

Dedication: The basis of this fic was originally inspired by Che's reading of "Catalyst", an excellent Voyager fic by Diane Running Horse Smith. So this one's for her!


Destiny
by Cheile and Windfire


Zarianne Devante, lieutenant, looked out the viewport as the shuttle Jovian departed from the USS Dauntless, and suppressed a sigh. When she'd first been asked to do this mission, she'd been almost excited. Being assistant chief medical officer, it wasn't often she was assigned to away missions unless they were major ones that most of the crew was a part of. That honor usually fell to Nick Haas, the Dauntless' CMO, and he would leave sickbay in her charge. But this time--the mission was all hers, because of her knowledge in chemistry and botany. Captain Giovanni had asked her to check out the plant life on a nearby planet to see if there was anything they could use, medicinal-wise, to add to the sickbay supplies. And until she'd found out who had been assigned as her companion, she'd been quite content with the thought of having this important task all to herself.

As thatughtught crossed her mind, she stole a furtive glance at Sean Kegan, who was piloting the Jovian.

Sean couldn't believe it. Security and pilot for his dream.... He could smell her perfume and he had to fight to keep from reaching out and touching her hand. *So close....*

His mind wandered as he went through the pre-flight sequence. Back to the first time he had seen Zarianne. She had been coming out of sickbay, he coming in to have a broken wrist treated. He had been stunned by her beauty, so much that he'd forgotten all about the pain in his wrist. He had fallen in love at first sight. A love that was overwhelming in its intensity. He shook his head at the time wasted between his shyness and hers. He still hadn't really told her the truth, afraid she would reject him, crush his dreams. *I love her so much....I want to be able to tell her....*

Zari knew she should have suspected something when Kendra Vapp, ship's counselor, had told her ther her husband and security chief had chosen "the perfect escort" for her. Being Betazoid, Kendra had always "seen" something that led her to insist Sean desired a relationship with Zari. And yet Zari waited--and Sean would never say anything to her. It made her wonder if it was even the truth. *Counselor Vapp's no liar....but then what in the name of the Holies is he waiting for? If he expects me to approach him first, he's got a long wait. I'm never being that foolish again....*

She risked another glance at his profile, then made herself look away again, trying to shut out the ache that twisted her heart. But it was too powerful to ignore, with his presence here as a reminder. A very painful one.

*Face it, Devante....you're never going to know what it's like to have someone like him love you. What would anyone want with you anyway--plain-looking, too shy, too introverted, too--everything--that men /don't/ want.*

She didn't know why she tortured herself by sometimes dwelling on the miserable train of thought. Then again, there were times it was difficult to ignore--like now. Past rejections, particularly one incident at the Academy, had scarred her. She feared giving her heart again--and then having it shattered, crushed. Over time, she'd convinced herself that being alone would be better in the end than one-sided giving or further rejection.

And yet....if things remained this way, it meant she was doomed to that loneliness for the rest of her life. No one to share the years with. Never to be held at night or awaken in a warm embrace. Never know what it was *really* like to be loved.

She lunged up from her seat. "I'll be right back...." She ignored Sean's curious look as she fled for the shuttle's lavatory. Once inside, she let the few tears that had cropped up in her eyes to fall, then impatiently shoved the rest down, splashed a little cold water on her face and counted to fifty before returning to her seat.

He saw the redness in her eyes and almost reached a hand out to her, but fear stopped him. "Are you alright, Doctor?"

She nodded, her mask of calm slipping back into place. "Yes, Lieutenant. I'm fine....and your concern is appreciated." She fixed her gaze out at the stars they were flying by, refusing to look at him. It was just too much of a risk to her emotions. *Do not look his way again, I will not cry, I will not /cry/ anymore....*

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Sure you are....that's why you've been crying...."

She shot him a daggered look out of the corner of her eye but said nothing. *And if I have been? What business is it of yours??* But she refused to give him the satisfaction of that answer.

*Good job!! Piss her off....smooth move.* He mentally banged his head on the console.

The next hour passed in silence. Sean concentrated on the piloting and Zari sat back, eyes closed, letting her mind wander. She hadn't thought to bring a padd with notes for any of her chemistry projects to work on. And maybe it was a good thing she hadn't--she didn't want Sean asking nosy questions. The what-if thought only increased her inner frustration. *Maybe I'm just doomed after all....doomed to a life of loneliness.*

Before her mind could latch onto that and run with it, the chirping of the sensors made her open her eyes and sit up. It surprised her that they were already there--or almost there. The planet took up most of the view directly in front of them. It resembled Earth or Trill from this distance--icecaps evident on the poles and spreading across the northernmost lands, the center green-gray with forests, small and large patches of reddish-blue that had to be bodies of water....

And the sensors were reading a huge ion storm surrounding the planet. When she looked closer, she saw the haze of colors and realized that was why the water looked reddish-blue. The storm must have come up recently; she knew the Dauntless' initial scans had seen nothing of the kind.

"Great, now we'll have to turn back," she mumbled to no one in particular.

Sean scowled as the storm seemed to come right for them. He looked to her and spfirmfirmly. "Turning back is no longer an option! Buckle in and hold on....this is going to get...." He was cut off as the storm enveloped the shuttle, rocking it violently and rendering their sensors nearly useless.

Zari barely had gotten herself strapped down in time before the Jovian was swallowed up by the storm. She suppressed the urge to scream only by biting the inside of her cheek so hard it became a dull ache after awhile. Her fingers dug into the arms of her chair as Sean fought to keep the shuttle from hitting the worst spots in the storm. She knew if there was any kind of hull breach before they reached the lower atmosphere, they'd be dead. Squeezing her eyes closed, she silently begged the Holies to spare them both.

Sean was praying as he fought the storm. *Please, God....let me get her to safety, please....I ask nothing for myself, just let her live.* He fought with all the skill he had, but it wasn't enough. The storm took them in its grasp and the crash warnings sounded. Sean looked to her before whispering, "We're going down...."

She opened her eyes barely enough to see that they were plunging through what looked like dark storm clouds at an alarming rate of speed. "Holies...." The word came out in a murmur. Her voice may have sounded deceptively calm, but inside, her heart was pounding in terror and with every second, her grip on the arms of the chair tightened. She closed her eyes again and only moments later, felt the shuttle strike something hard.

Sean frantically tapped at the reverse thrusters, trying to slow their descent. When he saw the ground approaching, he let himself go limp. Zari had to force herself to do the same, knowing all too well the results of not relaxing. The eternal moments of waitstrestretched her anxiety thin as they continued to plummet. She then heard herself scream as the Jovian hit the ground and slid for several meters before it struck something else and tumbled over, finally coming to a halt a few minutes later.

Sean acted quickly despite being upside down. He freed himself and went to Zari, cutting her free, gently long hng her to the ceiling. He shivered at the feel of her in his arms, but shoved it aside. He grabbed the emergency packs and added extra blankets, rations and grabbed two phasers as well as her medkit, plus the shuttle's smaller one. He set the shuttle's beacon after seeing that the comm was shot. He turned to her and smiled softly, trying to ease her fears. "I guess we go hunting for herbs now?"

Zari blinked for a moment, wondering at the odd quiver that went through her when he'd held her long enough to get her free from her confinement. She took one of the backpacks he offered her, strapped it on, then looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. "I suppose we might as well, but I think finding new shelter should be our first priority in case we're here awhile." She suppressed another shiver as a chill breeze greeted them when Sean pried open the hatchway door to let them out and looked up at the dark clouds creeping in above their heads. "In case those decide to open up and let loose."

Sean helped her down, hovering close by protectively. "We will get wet regardless....but maybe you'll find something good to make a tea out of. We have emergency cookware in my pack. Those cliffs look like they may have some good sized caves....let's make our way there." He smiled as he slipped his pack on, easily three times heavier than hers, but on his broad shoulders, it seemed like nothing.

"Getting wet isn't a good idea if we're stranded here, Lieutenant," Zari pointed out. "We don't even know if the beacon's signal will get past the ion storm--and if it's necessary for us to remain here indefinitely, which it very well could be, it's not a good idea for either of us to come down with pneumonia or something similar." *Especially not me--because Starfleet's triage training won't do you a damn bit of good then.* Her tone was pointed, but distant, the latter being because her eyes were scouring the ground and the trees for any sign of the plants she was supposed to be looking for.

He raised an eyebrow. "Then we had better hurry...." The first drops of cold wer were falling--big heavy drops, making loud pattering sounds as they landed.

She looked up, only to have several drops fall right in her eyes. She cursed under her breath and blinked them out before picking up her pace of walking. The rain was faster, however, and soon they were both drenched to the skin. She shook her wet hair out of her eyes and squinted into the wind and rain up at the cliffs now looming almost directly before them. *There has to be a cavern up there....I hope.* As if her thought had conjured one up, Sean tapped her hand and pointed out what appeared to both of them to be just that. It took some time and a couple close calls on the narrow path cut into the cliff but when they finally made it inside, she breathed a sigh of relief.

Sean shook off like a large animal, looking around for a way to get some heat in the cave. He hurried when he saw her shiver. Zari tried in vain to quit shivering, but of course her efforts were for naught. While he started digging in his pack for the firestarter kit, she tried to concentrate on thinking warm. When that didn't work, another idea came to mind. She first attempted to wring out her dripping hair, then quickly peeled off her uniform jacket, moving to the cave entryway to wring it out as best she could. Noticing he'd gotten a small fire started, she moved towards it to sit near it and pry off her waterlogged boots, then her socks.

Sean kept his eyes from her as he set up camp. If he looked, he would have....a problem. He pulled out two pots, one he filled with water from what looked like a natural water basin. After he scanned the water first and it read clean, he dumped dried meat and veggies in it and set it on a rock he had settled in the flames. The other he also filled, but in it he tossed a packet of instant coffee.

Zari paused after peeling off her turtleneck and laying it out to dry. She decided to take off the rest later, after they'd eaten. "Lieutenant, I'd recommend getting out of those wet clothes before you catch a severe chill. At least out of some of them."

He blushed and began to undress, leaving on the wet pants. He stirred the stew and poured the coffee into collapsible mugs. "You better eat....the heat will help."

She nodded silently, for she knew he was right. The silence stretched on as she made herself eat. Despite the fact that anxiety usually killed her hunger, her desire to be warm again won out. Once the stew was gone, she settled back with the remainder of her coffee and stared pensively into the flames, trying not to look at Sean's bare chest. She listened to the wind howl outside and the rain thunder down in sheets, suppressing a shiver. She held the warm cup against her chest, trying to soak in the warmth from it between sips.

Sean stoked the fire, adding more wood to it. This reminded him of camping trips he had taken as a kid, almost. He stared morosely into the flames, feeling awkward and clumsy. He wanted to tao heo her, to try and explain how he felt, but the rejection factor held him back. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration as he sipped from the bitter coffee. When he finally looked at her, he saw she was still almost blue with cold. He silently took a blanket and held it up near the flames, warming it. He then draped it over her shoulders and settled back in his spot, bright blue eyes locked on the flickering flames.

*I wish I could tell you, Zarianne....tell you how much I love you....*

She murmured an automatic thanks to him when he gave her the blanket and drew it closer for a moment, which pressed her still damp tank-top against her bare skin. Realizing she wasn't going to get any warmer until she got rid of the rest of her wet clothes, she tossed the blanket down and quickly jerked the tank top off, leaving only her bra covering her from the waist up. Then she peeled off her slacks, which were sticking to her skin and therefore had been making her colder. She shivered half in relief when she finally got them all the way off, and stood where she'd been sitting only moments before. She closed her eyes briefly and sighed at the feel of the fire's heat warming her chilled skin, not seeing the expression on Sean's face.

Sean swallowed reflexively as she peeled down to her underclothes. He stole one long glance before turning his head before his desire became obvious. *She is magnificent.... So beautiful and sexy....* He blushed deeply, then shivered violently. Reluctantly he stripped down to his boxers, quickly wrapping a blanket around himself.

Upon opening her eyes, she realiSeanSean was almost gaping at her and it took a moment to remember how little she was wearing. She cursed inwardly at the way her face reddened at his scrutiny and her voice came out in a nervous snap. "I'm sure you've seen nearly naked females before, haven't you, Lieutenant? There's no need to gawk at me...." *Of course there's only two reasons he's staring the way he is....either he can't believe how unattractive I am or it's the typical male "I can't believe the spots really /do/ go all the way down" realization.*

He blushed deeply, but spoke the truth anyway. "I....I just can't believe how beautiful you are...."

Her blush deepened. "I'm not beautiful," she grumbled to herself. *If I was, I wouldn't have been ignored all this time....* She sat down carefully on her blanket, wrapping it around her legs to warm them and letting the fire warm the rest of her. She pointedly avoided his gaze, knowing he was still looking at her. She could feel his eyes on her.

He sighed and sat down beside her, holding his hands out to the flames. "You are, you know."

"Then why...." She stopped herself short before she could blurt out her frustration and turned away again. "Never mind....believe it if you want to. It doesn't matter to me either way...." She couldn't hide the dull note of finality in her voice--the quiet, resigned acceptance of one who was used to being put down.

He spoke softly, firmly. "Stop it. Stop buying into the crap others have to say. I see you as beautiful because you are.... Inside and out. I don't care what anyone else thinks....to me, you are a beautiful angel."

How dare he try to lecture her? Zari turned to him, hazel eyes blazing with rarely seen anger. "You wouldn't understand....you...." It seemed to leave as quickly as it had come and she stopped, turning away again and managing to shift herself a few inchway way from him. "Never mind. Forget I said anything."

He turned her back to face him, his face set in a stern mode. "I wouldn't? Try being a piece of meat! A trophy!! Someone they could show off!! NEVER treating me like a person....just a quick FUCK! So you don't hold the market on angst, MISS Devante!"

The anger in his eyes terrified her, even though her mind was raging at his attitude. *At least you've had lovers, been admired--which is better than being ignored and overlooked, watching and wishing for what will never be yours!!* But she knew it would be the wrong thing to say, so she stayed silent until she had a chance to move out of his grasp. She didn't speak until her back was to him once more. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant....I shouldn't have yelled at you."

He spun her around to face him. "I am NOT a lieutenant right now! I am SEAN....get mad....yell....do something other than hurt yourself!" Before he could stop himself, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her deeply.

Shocked at his sudden move, she was frozen for an eternal moment as her head reeled and she almost felt on the verge of blacking out. Her struggles were futile--or maybe they just felt that way to her. Finally she felt her hand connect with his bare chest and managed to push him back far enough to escape. She stumbled back another few feet, putting a little distance between them.ger ger and terror swam in her vision as she stared at him.

He stared at her in absolute horror as he realized what he had done. "Zarianne, I....I....I'm not sorry about the kiss, but I am sorry that I scared you. Please....please forgive me."

Zari continued to stare at him silently, her heart pounding in fear. Finally she managed to make herself move to the other side of the fire, across from him, and sat down slowly. Her haunted look remained as she finally spoke. "I forgive you....just don't ever do that again...." Her voice was a faint whisper, barely audible over the howling of the wind outside their shelter and the crackling of their fire.

He lowered his head in shame, knowing he had acted like an animal. He then got up, went to a corner of the cave, knelt down, and began to pray. She watched him for a long minute, then moved to lie back, focusing her gaze on the cavern ceiling. She thought she could hear him murmuring to himself, but it wasn't loud enough for her to understand what he was saying. *Since it looks like he's praying, it's none of my business what he's saying to Whoever he's speaking to....*

After several long moments, he curled up into his bedroll beside her. He closed his eyes, whispered, "I'm sorry," and said no more.

Zari wrapped the blanket tighter around her and forced herself to relax, using an arm to put her head on, and stared into the flames, shutting out the screaming wind outside. Finally, she too drifted into an uneasy sleep. Her exhaustion eventually dragged her deeper, so she was sound asleep when Sean awoke. She was totally unaware of how he was looking at her--or that he'd moved carefully to her side.

Sean stared in wonder as the firelight played over Zarianne's skin. He couldn't stop himself as he reached out one hand to lightly caress her bare belly. She murmured a sigh in her sleep, turning her head in his direction, but not yet awakening. Her mind had yet to process that the touch was not that of the dream it was currently wrapped in. Nor did it realize that the next few minutes were not a cause of the dream.

He leaned in to kiss her neck and shoulders softly, almost moaning at the taste of her skin. *She is so beautiful, so desirable....* He took the risk and let his fingers brush over the surface of her panties. Still caught in the dream, she let out another sigh and shifted under his touch but still did not awaken.

She sighed softly at the gentle hands caressing her. As always, she could never see his face, but it didn't seem to matter. The only thing that mattered to her was that she felt loved.

"I love you," the voice murmured against her skin.

"I love you...." was her answer as she wrapped her arms around his neck. She could feel likisskisses over her shoulders--and another touch, further down, and trembled.

He slipped a finger under the edge of her panties, gently probing. He kissed her again, deeper, moaning against her lips.

She squirmed slightly when his fingers gently slid to tease her, then she suddenly felt the touch and the awareness of him starting to fade and felt an edge of panic. "Don't leave me," she pleaded softly.

"I won't ever leave you...."

Zari's eyes slowly flickered open, the inevitable sensation of loss and heartache washing over her. She found herself staring up at Sean in confusion first, then when she realized where he was touching her, her look changed to shock. Had he caused her dream? She didn't know--and some part of her didn't care. It seemed that he planned to make it more than a dream. Her instinct reacted to the way he was still touching her and a faint moan rose from her throat.

He looked into her eyes and kissed her again, softly, lovingly. "Let me love you...."

Her eyes widened a little, but she forced herself to shut away the warning voice in her mind and gave him a hesitant nod. Speaking, she knew, would be nearly impossible at this point--if not completely.

He slipped his fingers into the waist of her panties and slowly slid them from her, letting his hand stop at her wetness. He caressed her teasingly as his lips moved to her nipples. Her whimper was one of surprise at the intense shivers that suddenly began coursing through her. She writhed slightly, her hips rising a little to meet his hand. His other hand had reached up to undo the bra's front hook catch and a shiver of a different kind rose in her when it snapped open, baring her to his gaze and the faint chill in the air. She tried to cross one arm over her breasts but he caught her wrist in his hand, shaking his head slightly as he kissed her fingers. He then returned to his former plan, and she moaned when one breast was captured in the warmth of his mouth. "Ohhh...."

He smiled as he teased her, letting his finger slip inside her. He paused as he met resistance. *She's never....* He withdrew the finger carefully, looking into her eyes once more. "All you have to do is say no.... I won't force this on you."

Zari blinked, aware that he had stopped, but not quite processing what he had said for a few moments. She finally shook her head numbly. "Don't leave me like....this...." *This may be my only chance....*

He moved downward, kissing, nibbling until he reached the sweet wetness so recently uncovered. She tried to lift her head to look down at him in confusion. "Sean...." Her voice trembled. "Wh-what are you....you're not...."

But he did. He let his tongue slide along the outer lips slowly, shivering at the sensation. He licked her this way for what felt like hours before slipping it inside to brush over the rigid button. She writhed under his touch, her voice rising in a cry of wonder. Her eyes had long since fallen closed. Keeping them open was impossible--the entire cavern seemed to spin around her if she did. She tossed her head back and forth and her hands clenched and unclenched at the blanket beneath her, trying to gain a hold of--something--just beyond her reach.

He sucked at the throbbing flesh, almost crying out with his own need. But he kept it all for her, teasing and caressing. Her cries were almost of desperation now--she could feel what she was trying to reach--and still couldn't take hold of it. Her squirming grew so much that he had to press a hand gently down on her stomach to hold her in place even as he continued the relentless teasing. His other hand moved to lightly touch the spots on her hip, brushing touches so light that it helped to finally push her towards what she was reaching. Her keening cry echoed off the cavern walls as she finally tumbled over the edge into first climax.

He didn't stop. He lapped eagerly at the juices flowing from her, hands caressing as hungrily as his mouth was. He drove her over the edge time and time again until he had to move, had to feel her around him. He moved over her, rubbing the tip of his erection against her button. "Do you want this, sweetheart?"

She whimpered at the feel of his hardness against her. Her eyes finally opened, and she blinked to try and focus on his face, her gaze pleading with him to take her, because her voice refused to work at all. One shaking hand reached up enough to touch his hip, pressing there just barely, not having the strength to draw him towards her.

He kissed her tenderly. "It will hurt, but for only a minute.... I will be as gentle as I can, my beautiful, beloved Zarianne...." He slowly pressed against her, easing in by the smallest possible increments. He cried out at how tight she was around him and when he was finally fully sheathed inside her, he kissed her passionately and whispered, "I love you...."

The pain his entry had caused was still evident, but fading. Notice of it faded away totally as tears welled in her eyes. How long had she waited to hear those words outside of her dreaHow How long had she ached to be held like this, to feel beautiful and wanted? To be looked at the way Sean was looking at her now--with such adoration as his hands tenderly caressed her while he let her get used to the feel of him inside her.... She clung to him, not wanting to let him go--ever. Even though deep in her heart, some little part of her feared this wouldn't last. She pushed it away and her hold on him tightened, her gaze uncertain as it met his.

"I have dreamed of this for so long, Zarianne....of holding you, loving you." He began to move slowly, easing in and out of her as he looked into her eyes.

Her eyes closed as she gave in to the slow building of pleasure rising in her, Sean her only anchor. The storm outside had become more intense again, she could faintly hear it--or was that only the pounding of her heart in her ears? She shivered when his hand skimmed her spine and one tear escaped, slowly moving down her cheek until she felt his lips there, kissing it away. Her eyes opened again, meeting his....so close. His gaze was almost hypnotic, drawing her in and not letting her free. She arched against him when a stronger shiver moved through her and she managed to find enough voice to whisper his name.

"I'm here, baby....and I love you so much." He leaned in to suck and lick her nipples gently, moaning as he moved slightly faster inside her.

Her moans echoed his and one hand tangled into his hair, wanting to keep him right where he was. She almost wanted to scream when he started nipping at her breasts--even though the nips were careful ones, it only aggravated the ache. Never in any of her dreams had it been this intense.

He could feel her getting close again and he was getting to the point where he could not hold back. He pressed all the way inside her, almost sobbing in pleasure. "Come with me, Zarianne, join me in the abyss...." His voice was deep, filled with love.

*Abyss....?* She belatedly realized it was an apt description for when he'd brought her to her peak over and over....the swirling darkness where one couldn't see and sometimes couldn't hear, but only feel the intensity of every sensation. "Take me....with you...." Tears had built in her eyes again and she arched desperately, her nails digging into his shoulders, feeling the tremors starting to take hold.

With a shuddering cry, he buried himself within her only to withdraw almost completely. When he plunged into her again, he felt her climax rush over her and he called out her name as he exploded deep inside her.

For what seemed like an eternity of a moment, she was lost in that swirling darkness as the ecstasy shuddered through her in wave after wave. Her screams echoed back at her for long moments, then finally faded into silence. Exhaustion took hold and she slumped back onto the blanket, holding Sean close to her. She trembled from head to toe, but couldn't release her grip on him--and didn't want to.

He rolled onto his side, holding her close. He kissed her temple gently. "You have made me whole...."

She stared into his eyes in surprise at his words. Surely he didn't mean that.... But his look never changed. She lowered her gaze and tried not to burst into tears at that moment. But her voice betrayed her with its trembling. "I n-never thought anyone would want to l-love me...."

"You are beautiful, Zarianne....sweet, kind, loving...." He kissed her gently.

*Too shy....too introverted....withdrawn....* And yet none of that seemed to matter to him. She pressed her face against his chest, as if she could hide from her insecurities that way. "Thank you...." Her voice was a shaky whisper.

He tilted her face up. "No....thank you....for coming into my life."

She lifted her eyes to meet his, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks at the love in his gaze. She leaned forward to kiss him hesitantly, then buried her face into his chest again, comforted by the sound of his heartbeat in her ear. She shivered when the wind found a way and snuck in from outside, nipping at her bare shoulders and back and she tried nestling closer to him, seeking his warmth..

He pulled her closer, tugging the blankets over them both. His voice was a deep whisper. "My prayers have finally been answered. God has given me a wonderful gift in you, Zarianne...."

"The Holies have done the same for me, Sean." She gently caressed his chest with her fingertips. "I didn't ever think I would find a man like you--one who would look past my....problems and see me for myself. One who would consider me worthy of being loved...." Her breath caught on a suppressed sob and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep it from escaping. She felt his hand rub her back soothingly beneath the blankets and made herself focus on the touch, trying to be calm again.

He held her tightly as he rubbed her back gently. "Let it go, baby, just let it all out. I'm here and you're safe with me."

His words were enough to unleash the flood. Once she started crying, it seemed impossible to stop. All the years of rejection and loneliness, all the hurt she'd carried around for most of her life, demanded to be remembered--all at once. It was almost too much for her to take. She clung to him as he held her and she could sense the echo of her sobs somewhere in the background. Any attempt at calming down was lost--for now.

He held her and just whispered soothing sounds to her, letting her sob until she had no more. When she slowed, he kissed her tenderly. "I love you...."

Hearing him say it again almost made her begin crying anew. But she did her best not to, and instead looked at him. "I love you, too...." Her voice still shook, but her gaze remained steady, fastened on his.

He smiled and kissed her nose. "Leave it to me to finally get my dreams in the middle of a crisis." He gave her a crooked grin.

"Mine too...." Her smile was a faint one but it reflected in her eyes now that she had blinked back most of the remaining tears. She stifled a yawn and moved to snuggle into his chest. "Can we talk more....later? I'm so tired....don't know why."

He chuckled softly. "Sleep, sweetheart, we have a lifetime to talk."

She closed her eyes and nestled herself against the warmth of his skin, drifting off almost immediately into a dreamless, content slumber.


**


Zari opened her eyes slowly, aware of her drowsiness still looming over her like a heavy cloud, but she forced it back in order to attempt awakening. The wind had stopped howling but after several minutes of careful listening, she could heard the rain still pounding steadily on the ground outside and against the rock that sheltered them. The memory of being soaked in the frigid rain made her shiver briefly and she was grateful for Sean's nearness and the warmth of the blankets around them. He'd obviously gotten up at some point during their sleep--one of his blankets had been folded into a makeshift pillow for her, while the other was wrapped snugly around them as added protection to keep away the chill. He was still asleep, one arm beneath his head, his breathing deep and even. She couldn't help tracing her fingertips over his lips--then leaning forward to kiss him gently.

He stirred and made a small sound of pleasure as he pulled her close to him. But he didn't open his eyes yet so she concentrated on kissing across his chest in random patterns, daring to mix in gentle nips over the warm skin. Sean moaned softly as her touches registered in his sleeping mind. He reached down and caressed her hair. "Good morning to you too, baby."

Zari lifted her head and saw that he'd finally opened his eyes. She leaned up to kiss him again, her hands sliding over his back. "I had to wake you up somehow," she murmured innocently.

He chuckled and looked downward. "Well as you can see, you did a good job, honey...."

Realizing what he meant even without looking down, her face slowly turned scarlet. "Oh Holies," she mumbled, hiding her red face in his shoulder. "I didn't think about that happening...."

"Well....it did. What should we do about it?"

Her blush deepened at his teasing tone. "I suppose more of what we did earlier....since I would feel guilty about leaving you--like that...."

He looked at her with a sensual smile,n hen he rolled onto his back. "I am all yours, baby. Do with me as you will."

She blinked in surprise, then blushed even worse than before. "But I've never....you know that....you were my first. I do want to learn....but I might need a little help. Since they don't exactly teach cadets about situations like this in Academy medical classes...." She had to smile at that thought, remembering some of the stern professors she'd had. "That--and I wouldn't want to hurt you at all." Her eyes met his.

He kissed her deeply, letting it linger. "Just do what feels right, baby...." He took her hand and placed it on his erection, shivering at the touch. She hesitantly wrapped her fingers around him, knowing that his reaction had to be due to the coolness of her skin as well as the erotic sensations. She kept her touch light at first, taking a few long minutes to caress every inch of him. He was mostly silent but for an occasional sigh or soft moan. Encouraged, her touch grew a bit bolder and she leaned down to kiss across his chest again, never pausing in the stroking.

Sean moaned and arched as she stroked him. He touched her face, eyes glittering. "Zarianne...."

She lifted her head from his chest to meet his eyes again. The intensity of his look made her tremble but it also seemed to give her daring another push. She managed a soft smile. "Yes, laschaen?"

He pulled her up for a deep, passionate kiss. All he could do was look at her with eyes full of desire. She broke the kiss first, giving him another quiet smile before returning to what she'd been doing. Eventually, her kisses moved further and further down until they reached his hip. She paused there to look up at him again, but her fingertips were still caressing him. Finally, she leaned down to brush her lips against his length, a touch so light it almost couldn't be felt. His moaning cry startled her and she almost looked up again. But she made herself keep going, gently running soft kisses along every inch.

He cried out and his erection twitched as she teased him. "Oh God....."

She let one hand move to rest on his stomach, while continuing the kisses, then let her tongue trace along the heated skin, much as he'd done to her earlier. With the other hand, she ran her fingertips over his hip and outer thigh to add to the sensation. When her tongue touched him, Sean gasped and arched up. He reached down to stroke her hair, eyes closed. "So sweet...."

Like with the kisses, she continued for a few moments more before pausing again to look up at him. He didn't even open his eyes, and she sensed he was lost in the mental ecstasy, just as she had been. She then lowered her head and carefully took him in her mouth, not sure if she should dare to go *this* far, but wanting to see how'd he react.

His reaction was to cry out and press against her mouth. One hand tangled in her hair, the other gripped the blankets. She shivered at the sound of his cry, but didn't stop, sucking gently, then taking him in as far as she could without choking. She repeated the moves a number of times and felt him become more and more tense. She finally released him, moving up to nip at his stomach, her hands moving to hold and caress him as she had done in the beginning. "Ni laschaen...." she murmured lovingly against his skin.

The coolness of her hands made him jerk in surprise, but it was oddly....erotic. He looked at her and, with a smile, pulled her on top of him. She took the opportunity to kiss him again, cupping his face in her hands, before finally pulling back and leaning her brow against his. "I love you, laschaen," she managed to breathe.

"And I love you...." He shifted until he pressed against her. "The next move is yours...."

She moved back to take him within her, sucking in a breath of surprise at the sensations. She still felt a little sore from the first time, but overriding it was the heat of him and the warmth starting to creep up her spine. Her eyes fluttered closed and she moaned quietly, leaning her head against his chest for a brief moment as she attempted to catch her breath. u feu feel so good...." she murmured, hardly aware that she'd spoken.

He chuckled. "That's nice to know."

She moved to nuzzle his neck as she shifted her hips a little to try and start a slow, teasing rhythm of motion. "What about me?"

He grinned. "You feel....incredible...."

She let out a soft little sigh at feeling hisds mds moving slowly along her back to her hips. Then he traced a fingertip over her spine before both hands returned to her hips to help guide her as she rode the waves that were slowly but surely bringing her up to the peak. He moaned as she increased her movements. He caressed her gently as he moved with her, his eyes sparkling. "I love you."

"Laschaen...." she gasped, locking her fingers around his arms as the first tremors shot through her. But they seemed to qui quickly, bringing her down before slowly pulling her back up. His caressing was only adding to it all. "Don't stop touching me...."

He delicately traced around each of the slightly raised spots on her skin, moaning as it made her shiver, tightening her around him. *I have to remember this for later....*

She cried out as his fingertips crept up her side, running over each spot, then they moved back down once again, repeating the exploration. Her rocking upon him had increased to a near-frantic pace, driven by his discovery of the sensitive spots. His other hand had drifted to her stomach, tormenting her by tracing small circles over her skin there, circles that were making their way downward.

He slipped his hand between them to gently rub at her button, moaning loudly as she spasmed around him. His other hand went up to tease her nipples tenderly, stroking the taut flesh lovingly. His hips rose and fell faster as he moved with her. His face was a mask of passion and love as he looked up at her. Every thrust made him moan and cry out, the sight of her beautiful face contorted with passion making the whole scene even more erotic.

"My beautiful Zarianne.... My precious jewel...."

At those words, everything started to spin around her, sweeping her over the edge. She let out a keening cry and threw her head back. Shockwaves raced through her from head to foot, rendering her almost breess ess in the next instant. Her reaction seemed to bring his and she faintly heard him cry her name, felt him arch up again as his grip tightened on her hips.

He pulled her to his chest as his body shook from the intensity of his orgasm. He covered her face in fevered kisses, whispering her name over and over. She clung to him, waiting a long time for her own shaking to stop before she sighed and buried her face in his neck. It was all so overwhelming to her. Less than a day ago, she had been alone and--so she thought--unwanted. Now she had everything she'd ever longed for and the end to her loneliness wrapped up in the form of the man who even now held her, caressed her and continued to whisper soft words of affection. Part of her was frightened by the suddenness of the events, but she made herself push that away so she could revel in the feeling of being loved for the first time.

He pulled the blanket up over them and continued to hold her tightly as tears of happiness slipped from eyeseyes. "I prayed so hard for this day to come....I have loved you for so long, Zarianne...."

Zari looked up when she sensed the tremor in his voice and was startled to see that *he* was crying. She lifted a hand to gently brush his tears away. "You should have said something sooner....then at least you wouldn't have tortured yourself for so long, watching me....and longing." Her voice was quiet, her words hesitant, because she wasn't quite sure if anything she could say would comfort him. "I still would have been scared, but...." She stopped, not sure how to continue.

"I was....I was afraid you wouldn't want me...."

*Why not?* But she kept herself from asking that question. "I would have....and you now know I do--want you." He moved to shift them to their sides and she murmured a soft sound of protest as the motion separated their intimate connection. "Even if it would have taken me time to get used to the idea...."

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I thought maybe I just wasn't good enough for you....that you wouldn't want a human."

"Why me, Sean?" At his confused look, she hastened to explain. "I just mean--what did you see in me that all other men never did? What made you willing to want to try when they wouldn't even look twice at me?"

"I saw a beautiful, intelligent, sexy, fascinating woman....someone that I would gladly spend my life with. Someone I would love for the rest of my life. I look at you and I see the missing piece of my soul."

*I will not cry again, I will /not/....* She didn't, but it almost took every last bit of willpower to keep from doing so. She wasn't able to prevent the tears that lingered in her eyes. "I never would have rejected you for not being a Trill, Sean." *Why did I ever think he was like all the others--that he wasn't sincere?* "Maybe I would have realized it for myself sooner--if I wasn't so afraid of my own emotions...." She touched his lips gently with her fingers. "The worst rejection out of all the others I've suffered....when it happened...." She paused to take in a steadying breath. "Sometimes I think it--scarred me. I didn't want to try again. I didn't want to suffer again if I chose the wrong person a second time. Some little voice in my head made me believe that being alone was easier; that way--no one could ever hurt me again...."

He kissed her deeply, gently. "Now we are not alone....we have each other, forever."

"Forever...." she echoed in a whisper, looking into his beautiful eyes. They fell silent for a long time before she finally spoke again. "This may be a ridiculous question, Sean....but is making love always so....exhausting? I feel like I could go back to sleep again."

He chuckled and hugged her tightly. "It is if it's done right." He kissed her and nuzzled her neck.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning her head back against the blanket-pillow as he continued to nuzzle. "Or do I sense you're trying to make up for lost time, laschaen?" she said, her voice coming out in a soft laugh.

He snickered then licked her nose playfully. "I will let you sleep....a little while." He grinned and snuggled her close to him, sighing as he kissed her temple.

She looked at him through half-closed eyes. "I didn't wear you out? Hmm....guess that means I have to learn some way how to...." She let them close the rest of the way and drifted into sated slumber.


**


Sean had awakened, finding he needed to get up and stretch his legs. He smiled as he tucked the blankets around her carefully. He wandered further into the cave, just looking really, then he spotted an opening. He took a quick peek inside and hurried back to Zari, not wanting her to wake up alone.

Zari stirred, unconsciously sensing his missing warmth, but didn't completely awaken until she felt his hand on her hair. Her eyes opened and she looked up at him, noticing that he was half-dressed and looked more alert than she felt. A lazy smile lit up her face as she set a hand on his thigh. "Hmm?"

He grinned excitedly at her as he leaned down to kiss her softly. "Feel like some exploring? I found another cave back there....looks interesting!" He was like a child with a new toy, eyes alight with the prospect of something new to see.

"A cavern connected to this one?" She sat up, the blankets falling around her waist, but she ignored the blush that filled her cheeks as she reached for her own clothes. Getting dressed only took a few moments and she quickly scrambled to her feet, catching onto his arm when her knees tried to give out on her. He steadied her and she took a few minutes to regain her sense of balance before looking up at him. "Show me what you found."

"C'mon!" He happily led her to the passageway he had found. Stepping in, he could feel moisture....and warmth. Halfway in they saw a deep pool, warm steam rising from it. He snagged her tricorder from her pocket and scanned it. "A mineral spring!" He grinned slyly at her. "Feel up to a warm bath?"

Zari knelt down to test the water with her fingertips, knowing that sometimes, the tricorder wasn't always the best judge of water temperatures. At least in her opinion. "Might as well....no chance of ever having something like this to ourselves again...." She peered down into the water, making sure that there was a bottom she could see. While she wouldn't have refused getting in if she couldn't, she still preferred knowing something was beneath her. "How deep do you think that is down there? Looks at least six feet...." She was already back down to underclothes again and had sat at the edge to dangle her legs and feet in to get used to the temperature. "At least one of us will have our head above water."

Sean dow down to....nothing. He slipped into the water, sighing with pleasure. "I'll hold you up, baby. Wet naked Trill....mmm, sounds fun!" He waggled his eyebrows at her playfully.

She blushed again but got to her feet long enough to strip out of the last two barriers. Then she slid into the water herself, letting the warmth soak into her skin before crossing the distance between them and catching onto his outstretched hands. He pulled her close, running his hands over her body suggestively. "Mmm, you feel so good, honey...." He leaned in and nibbled her neck lightly.

"You feel even better, laschaen." Her arms wrapped around his neck and she ran her fingers through his hair. By leaning one way, she was able to return the love bites as he continued to kiss and nip at her neck and shoulders. Her fingers ran along the nape of his neck and beneath the water to caress his back, then up again.

He moaned softly as he felt himself becoming aroused again. "You drive me wild, sweetheart....all you have to do is touch me...."

"The way you look at me arouses me, Sean....you don't even have to touch me." She used the buoyancy of the warm water to keep herself partly afloat as she stretched up to kiss him deeply. "Could drown in those eyes of yours," she murmured against his lips a long moment later.

He brushed his lips across her ear, whispering softly. "I want you, my sweet Zarianne. I want to feel you around me, hear your sounds of pleasure...." He pressed her closer to him, his erection brushing against her skin.

"Take me, Sean....I'm yours to claim." She pressed against him beneath the water, trembling in anticipation.

He lifted her up and, with a moan, pressed into her, his hands grasping her buttocks. He began to raise and lower her slowly, kissing and nibbling her neck passionately. "I will never get tired of making love to you...."

She gasped at the feel of him so suddenly deep within her. "I can't imagine having enough of you doing this to me...." Her voice trailed off in a moan of surprise when she felt her climax already rising within her and she began moving with him, creating little waves on the surface of the water.

He cried out and gripped her tighter, urging her on by raising her up and down faster. "My love....my life...." As he realized they were going to climax together, he kissed her deeply and as he cried out her name, he cried out a request. "Oh Zarianne!! Be my wife!! Marry me!!"

The pleasure that shook her kept her from replying right away; instead her shrieks of ecstasy rang through the small cavern, accompanied by Sean's cries. When the last shivers faded and she eventually found her senses back, his request finally sank in. *He wants to marry me? Is he serious?* "Do you really mean that?" she whispered. "You want to...." She swallowed a lump in her throat, afraid he'd say no and that it could ruin the moment.

He tilted her head up and kissed her gently. "I meant every word of it, baby--will you marry me? Spend the rest of your life being treated like the precious, beautiful woman you are...."

"Yes," she managed to choke out before tears flooded her eyes. "Oh Sean...."

He held her tightly, his tears mingling with hers. "Thank you....thank you for loving me...."

"I should say the same, laschaen. You're the first to even give me a chance." Her arms tightened around him.

He leaned back against the side of the pool, kissing her tenderly. "God finally answered my prayers....He sent me my angel."

"I'm honored you think so highly of me, Sean." She touched his cheek gently. "But I'm curious--were all the women you knew so foolish to pass you by? Or were you just waiting for the right person....that eventually being me?" She smiled softly. "I just can't imagine anyone turning you down....except me when we first met--because of my own idiocy."

He smiled. "I knew that someday I would find the one woman that would fill my heart and my life....and the moment I saw you, I knew I had found that woman. No one has ever made me feel the way you do. No one. You are the universe to me....you are the missing part of me....you are my life."

Zari blinked back the last of her tears and leaned forward to brush her lips against his. "I only hope I can live up to that, lasc." ."

"You will. You are what I have longed for, prayed for my whole life. I love you so much."

"I love you too." She kissed him again, then reluctantly broke away from him. "Maybe we should get out of the water before being this warm puts me back to sleep. I want to see what else is in here."

He smiled and kissed her nose. "Good idea. Let's go explore."

After taking the time to get dressed again, they spotted what appeared to be the only other way out of the small room. After a careful tricorder scan, they stepped into the narrow tunnel, Sean going first. It ran for about ten meters before opening into a much wider room. When Zari stepped out of the tunnel, the new cavern just looked like plain rock--as the rest of them did. But when she shone her wrist beacon on the opposite wall, her eyes widened in surprise. "Sean! Look...." Her voice was hushed with awe.

He turned and looked, eyes going wide and jaw dropping. He wrapped an arm around her as they both gazed in awe at the beauty before them.

"This is amazing! I have never seen anything like this...." He reached out to touch the stones and felt a mild tingle run through his fingertips. "Scan them, baby....they seem to have an energy to them. I felt it!"

Zari got out her tricorder and tried a few scans, but shook her head. "That's odd--it just gives the wall's composites. Nothing about an energy field." She couldn't resist touching the wall for herself and nearly dropped the tricorder at the strange tingle that ran through her upon contact. She returned her attention to the tricorder and did another scan, this time turning slowly in a circle to aim the scan at the far walls opposite and the ones behind them. But it still showed nothing. "Energy scans negative still.... It must be something the tricorder can't pick up, Sean." She moved her beacon's beam to the near wall, bringing out the luminescence in the stone. "It's still so beautiful." She reached out again, letting her fingers trace the apparent pattern in the wall--tiny veins of pinks, greens, and light blues--brought out by the light.

He plucked a piece of stone from the wall and gasped as it shook in his hand. She turned her attention to it as well and watched as it eventually stilled, but the hidden colors still made it glitter. "It's almost like it's....alive." She looked up at him in surprise.

"It feels like it!"

She had to smile at his look of excitement. She touched the stone in his hand with a fingertip and felt a much fainter tingle. "It must lose its connection with whatever the energy source is once separated from the wall," she said musingly. "Do you think we should take it with us? Something to remind us of this place once we return to Dauntless...." She blushed darkly and kept her gaze fixed on the little rock, realizing how ridiculous she probably sounded.

He smiled and kissed her tenderly. "Why not? We can at least have proof we did more than make out the whole time...."

"Sean!" Now she *really* couldn't look at him. *Even though he's right....* Just that thought made her face even redder.

He snickered and hugged her close. "I want the whole ship to know that I love you....so get used to it!"

"You're going to make me die of embarrassment," she mumbled against his neck laughingly. But her heart was singing. *So this is what it's like to be loved....* She had to fight down the tears that wanted to spring back up yet again and instead tightened her arms around Sean. Part of her didn't even want the ship to come back for them. In that moment, she would have been happy to stay here on this world, alone with him, for the rest of her life. "Should we go back now? I don't see any tunnels in this room leading other ways...."

He held the light up and looked further in. "Let's look anyway....might just be out of sight."

Zari nodded and started forward, but after walking several feet, her beam caught another obstruction, she stopped short, Sean bumping into her from behind. "Your idea was a good one, laschaen, but we won't be able to continue--unless you see a way around that." She shone her beacon at the dark chasm that lay only inches in front of them.

He looked around in the darkness for a moment, coming ss ass a narrow tunnel leading further back. He came back to her with a grin. "Found a tunnel, honey....shall we?"

"As long as the way there and back is safe....I don't want you getting hurt." She lifted a hand to touch his cheek. "I don't want to lose you so soon after finding you."

"It's safe, baby....trust me." He took her has tas they walked. When they came out the other end of the tunnel, he froze. "Shhh.... Be quiet." He could hear voices and they were coming closer!!

Zari stopped short, her hand tightening in his as the fear washed over her. *I thought the scans said there was no sentient life here!!* She shrank behind Sean when she caught sight of a shadow shifting nearby. The murmured voices grew a little clearer and her fear grew. They were trapped--and Sean had left his phaser behind in their cavern. But did she still have hers? Her hand drifted to her hip even as her eyes remained fastened on the moving shadows. It was there. Trying to make as little noise as possible, she slipped it out of the holster and pressed it into his hand.

He took the weapon and pressed her behind him. "Stay behind me, baby."

The voices grew closer, still muted, some sad, some angry....some joyful. One stood out--deep, commanding. Zari shuddered and held onto Sean, burying her face in his back, silently pleading with the Holies not to let any harm come to him from whoever it was coming towards them. *I don't care what happens to me, just don't let him get hurt....please....* She peeked around Sean and saw the shadows coming closer.

Sean looked closer and realized....he could see right through them! "Ghosts.... Who are you?"

The larger form swooped in, circling them. "I was the letikra, leader....before the dark times came...." The voice was ethereal, deep and eerie.

"Wh-what do you want?!" Zari's voice quavered and she clung to Sean fearfully, eyes wide with terror when the one who'd called himself the leader came closer to her.

"We want to be free....to move on...."

It made sense. Most legends Zari had read--including Trill ones--claimed that spirits or ghosts existed because their souls were trapped in some way in the living's plane of existence and unable to cross over into whatever place their people called the afterlife. "But what can we do....? We're not of your people."

"Find us....set us free...."

Zari looked at Sean in confusion. "What are they talking about?" she whispered.

He shrugged helplessly. "I have no clue."

She turned back to the ghostly shapes surrounding them, trying to force back her fear of them. If they had malicious intent, she didn't want them preying on her fear. "How are we supposed to 'find' you? How do we free you?"

The spirit swirled faster around them as did the others, voices getting louder, more insistent. The leader seemed to wrap himself around them, his voice taking on a pleading tone. "Love....they have love....FREE US!! Free me to be with she that was my soul!!"

Sean shivered as he stood between Zarianne and the agitated spirits. The pain in the voices was a tangible thing and he felt pity for them. "Tell us and if it is within our power, we will help you!"

The leader settled in front of Sean and a tendril reached out and touched him almost gently. "Seek the living lights...."

Zari fought for control over her fear as they closed in on her and Sean. She felt the cold touch of something on her back and quickly moved up to his side, not wanting to turn and see what had caused the chill. She was comforted slightly by the arm he wrapped around her, keeping her to his side. When the leader mentioned living lights, she tried to make sense of the meaning. It had to be something within the caves--she doubted he meant the stars, which had been her first thought. Then it hit her. "The energy in the stones....the hidden colors....is that....all of you?" Her voice was a faint whisper but she kept it as steady as she could and forced herself to look at the leader.

The spirit wrapped around her gently. "Free us from the living lights...."

A choked cry of terror escaped as the spirit separated her from Sean. "No....please....don't separate us...." But it didn't listen, and actually started to carry her back towards the tunnel they'd come out of. Fright brought her tears back as she tried to struggle. It was as if she wasn't even putting up resistance. "Sean!!"

Sean followed, not sure what to do. "Just take it easy, baby....he seems to be taking you back to the other cave."

It was the truth, but it didn't comfort her. She remained tense and fearful until they were back in the larger cavern, the glow from the spirits and their lights bringing out the hidden colors once again. When she was finally released, she fled to the safety of Sean's arms, burying her face against his chest and trying to battle down her terror. Being near him helped to calm her enough to turn and face the leader again. "Wh-what are we supposed to do now that we're here....?"

"Free us....break the barriers."

Zari looked at Sean again. "I'm sure they want this cavern destroyed. But--how? A hand phaser's power isn't enough to trigger a cave-in....even if you were able to go get yours....and I don't think they will let you." She cast an uneasy look at the ghostly shapes who had circled around them again.

He picked up a stone, shivering at its energy. He gently squeezed it, praying that he could just simply crush it.... And to his shock, the stone became dust in his hand, and a small....*skeleton* fell from it into his hand. "Zarianne.... LOOK!"

She nearly screamed at the sight that met her eyes, it came as such a shock. If that was just inside one rock, then the whole cavern....was a burial ground. Somehow, that terrified her more than the spirits hovering nearby. She knelt down next to Sean, finding a rock of her own and tried the same thing. Soon, her hands were full of dust and fragile bones. Sheer will kept her from dropping the entire handful. Remaining in croucrouch, she looked up at the leader again. "Is this the way to free you? Or do we need to do something more?" The bones they held looked like they could have belonged to children....which meant the adults had likely been sealed inside the walls themselves.

Sean looked around and an idea hit. "We can set a phaser on overload. This is far enough in that our section should be safe."

The leader swirled around them anxiously. "We will protect...."

Zari looked around for a possible spot to place it in. She finally found a niche very near the chasm in the floor at about waist level. "This spot might work. Power goes off, it should hit the whole wall, then cause the ceiling collapse...."

"Then let's do it and get out of here!" He set the phaser to overload and grabbed her han"Mov"Move!!"

She needed no further urging. Together, they fled into the tunnel leading back the way they'd come. They'd barely made it back into the room with the mineral pool when the explosion sounded behind them. The force of it caused her to trip and fall hard on her knees, but she waited until the shaking had stopped before trying to get to her feet again. "Do you think it worked?"

Before he could answer, there was the sound of singing, thousands of voices crying, laughing, all sounds of immense joy. In front of them, two figures formed. A small man and a smaller woman. The Voice came from the male. "Thank you....you have freed us. Our hearts can sing once more....love once more...."

Zari blinked back unexpected tears. "You're welcome....we're glad we could help."

The female was silent until that moment. She looked at Sean and finally spoke. "She has a sensitive soul. Keep her heart close to yours--guard it well."

Sean held Zarianne close. His voice was reverent, soft. "I have every intention of doing that. She is my life."

Both spirits lingered long enough to look pleased, then they vanished simultaneously. The singing also stopped at that moment, but its echo still rang through the cavern for long minutes afterward. It sent another shiver down Zari's spine, but her fear was gone. She leaned against Sean, and sighed quietly. "All that energy....was really them, trapped behind the stone."

He looked around as the singing faded. "Th


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