It was a tiresome position, now being the ultimate commander of Starfleet's security officers. One had to study tactics, try every which way to enter and exit buildings and anticipate every move from everyone (requiring a study of all alien races, criminals and escapees and more than basic psychology). It was mandatory to anticipate what your friend or foe would think, have a heightened sense of awareness, remain paranoid over nothing and constantly watching one's back. It also did not allow much in the way for sleep and selfishness because one's mind always went to every possibility, suspecting that anything could happen.

Alyssa tossed and turned in her bed. It was comfortable and firm (just the way she liked it), but it did not offer her the peace of mind she craved this night. Especially after today, she would find none, shocked to the core that her professional career was now colliding with her personal. She was shocked to the core and sought control above all other things. Her training, from her years with her husband and those in Starfleet, could not have foreseen this unexpected turn of events.

She actually did not know that Kirk was going to be a guest amongst the symposium. She was not given a list of attendees. She was only informed by Starfleet that important personnel were going to be there and that she better do a good job. The delicate matter concerning the Thyrians was a thin line that the Federation did not want to cross and any incidents with security were not to be tolerated. It would mean war.

Her job description was always pretty simple, even before she was assigned and promoted as the new head of Starfleet's security by Admiral Nogura. Before the new cadets arrived for training next week and while the conference was in session, she was ordered to protect all parties involved and to take out as many intruders as she can. Cartwright also told her that she was to protect all Starfleet and current Federation personnel above all. The Thyrians were rumored to be murderous, he added.

Kirk was her chief concern though. Alyssa chanced no glance at him and chose to avoid him at all costs, focusing on her work instead. Once she had shed that coat and calmed herself into a soothing meditation (with hopes of being left alone with her men and thoughts of training her cadets later), Kevin Riley had jumped on her and reintroduced her to the admiral. She wasn't quite off-guard and expected it from the aide. The meeting was cordial and didn't betray their former relationship. However, it was eyebrow-raising to hear the admiral say that he wanted to see the children, especially Alice.

Ali, as her daughter was more commonly called, was sleeping in the next room and exhausted by the day's events. She, unlike her mother, was excited about the new assignment, and refused to let her position prevent her from nosing around. Although originally homeschooled by the Synprilox nursemaid that Alyssa employed over a dozen years ago on the suggestion of the chancellor (the ever-faithful Magda), Ali always found opportunities to check out all of the places Alyssa had worked in and investigate every culture and people. This time, stuck as she was in the daycare and with Magda and some other tutors furthering her studies, she found other ways to entertain herself.

This time, Ali was studying who was present at the meetings with the Thyrians, what impact they had being in San Francisco and a logical sequence of events that would conclude it. Alyssa learned that her daughter did not like the new race (she did not like too many, the security officer found) and that was because little information about them was discovered. That alone was disconcerting to the young girl. All and all though, Ali was able to piece together the whole picture and give Alyssa the end result, albeit it was a little vague.

It was not pretty either. Earlier at suppertime, Ali predicted that there was going to be a force that interrupts the conference, but could not tell who, what and how. She informed Alyssa and Magda that she needed more material about all of the races that made up the Federation and their history and how they are connected to each other. She would be able to deduce a culprit in no time flat and before her brother showed up from his Academy graduation too.

"Why are you so confident it would be before Ryder shows up?" Alyssa smiled. Her daughter was no better than her son. The two were so cocky and would be competing with each other minutes after the older one's entry. "Ryder is coming in two days."

"I want to impress him and I always succeed at it," Ali replied confidentially, rolling her eyes at her mother. "Duh!"

"With knowledge comes power," Magda remind Ali. She, of all people, would remember this well. It was a prime lesson on Synprilox. "Power can corrupt absolutely."

"Corrupt myself or Ryder? I don't think so, Magda. We use it for the greater good."

"Ali, using knowledge against your brother is not the point. Sometimes, the less you know, the better off you'll be."

"I disagree, but I digress. Mom, what do you think?"

Alyssa had been drifting down memory lane at that point and was not paying attention to the last bit of the conversation. Her fork made inane circles on her plate and nothing had been eaten. She glanced at Ali in a moment of dumb silence before realizing that she was being spoken to. By then, Ali had forgotten that she directed the talk at her mother and began chatting with Magda once more. This allowed Alyssa a loophole to excuse herself and skip the meal. Magda would not be pleased (she was as protective of Alyssa as she was with the children), but that was of no consequence to the security officer. She scooped the leftovers back into the pot and disappeared into her room for the remainder of the evening.

The incident also left too much room for brooding, which lasted long after Ali and Magda went to sleep. Resigned, Alyssa decided that sleep was beyond her. She got up, dressing back into uniform and checking on the rest of her household. She found them both asleep. Deeming them free of all harm, she left her apartment, walking the long blocks to her destination.

The Federation Headquarters, situated near the ancient (and much rebuilt) bright red Golden Gate Bridge, loomed ahead fifteen minutes away from her off-base Starfleet residence. Alyssa verified her identity through the entranceway computer and clicked her heels through the echoing chambers that sounded more haunting than lonesome. Few lights were on, indicating busy workers (or officers keeping away from their spouses and other loved ones), but that was nothing unusual. She inanely met with a few people from her unit, heard their reports, and executed the usual salutes. Then, she followed a pathway to the dimmest office light and rang the bell for permission to come in. She knew there would be an inhabitant inside.

Immediately the door opened for her admission and then closed behind her. She stared at the man behind the desk, writing his reports on the tablet before him. He contemplated pulling out an old keyboard for typing purposes instead of using the stylus and declined that, instead greeting his visitor with eyes that were more sad than hurt.

"Can an old friend sit?" Alyssa asked quietly. She was not ready to cut to the heart of the matter, hoping that small talk would due. It would certainly be the best conversation starter.

Kirk waved his hand, putting the pen down and rubbing his sore hand. "Sit. Drink?"

"Not tonight," she said. She noticed that Kirk did not look at her yet. She sat down before his desk. "I am trying to remain sober."

"Ahh, well, I never knew you to be a heavy drinker."

"Well, I used to be. It was a long, long time, in a galaxy far, far away…"

"You know, I don't think I ever told you that your cultural references from the twentieth century were amusing. They never ceased to amaze me."

"You should study them sometime, Jim. You can learn something new about the age I came from."

"I think I learned enough, thank you."

Words choked in Alyssa's throat. When had their relationship come down to this kind of bitterness? When they no longer could laugh at the silliest things they remembered from their childhoods? They were older, much wiser and maybe a little rusty when it came to friendship. Their loneliness had been their downfall and their careers the focal point of their lives. Other than her children, Alyssa had spent her time protecting people she never liked and risking her own skin to ensure smooth diplomatic assemblies.

And Kirk? Other than regaining his starship time and again, he hadn't done much other than settle for desk duty and a brief retirement with a cabin and another woman and no children. That was a tough blow, even to one who had been promised much more than just signing documents, conducting inspections and sitting in boring circles. Lori Ciana had trapped Kirk into a duty he no longer appreciated and it aged him. Alyssa recalled him in the prime of his life in that captain's chair – alive, free and young – and saw the man before her now as the opposite of that Enterprise captain.

What had happened? What have I done?

Alyssa blamed herself partially for Kirk's spiral downward. She was not there when the promotion happened, far away as she was in Synprilox, but she complicated his life forever afterward. She would always be the thorn in his side, constantly reminding him that there was always something between them…and possibly still was. She could not tell yet. She was more guarded than anything else and did not want to make the wrong move. However, the spark inside of her remained fluttering.

"What brings you here, Alyssa?" Kirk folded his hands together like he was praying, although Alyssa never knew him to be religious.

"Curious, I suppose," she answered. She rubbed her sore hands. "I wanted to know how you were doing…how you were feeling…"

Kirk wanted to confess everything all at once to Alyssa. There had been a gap of over a decade they were apart and by their own choice and the time closed in on him. It wasn't that he hated her. Indeed, he was trying to keep his emotions reined in as logically as he could. He wanted to hold her in his arms, stroke her black and white hair and tell her that everything was fine and that he still cared. Instead, he remained a brick wall. He had to in order to survive the emotional wave.

"No, what brought you back to Earth?" Kirk meant it the other way, but he needed to change the topic. He kept his lips pursed tightly to keep from talking more than he should.

"After the planet's total destruction, I had to accept a new position." Alyssa's voice was small. She did not want to recount how Synprilox was attacked and its underwater world fractured beyond repair. "I had nowhere else to go and Nogura found my work exceptional and the position perfect. They kept me at arm's length from Earth for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to be…well, home. I suggested it since I did not want to go back to another ship. They welcomed the idea and stationed me in Louisiana until recent events brought me here as head of security. I managed to get a place of my own and am contemplating sending Ali to an actual school. Poor Magda is getting quite cross with her."

"Ali?"

"Alice. Ali what is she prefers to be called. Ryder nicknamed her because he couldn't pronounce her name. Don't you remember?"

"Vaguely. In any case, Alyssa, I don't think it's a good idea to send Ali off to another school when the Federation can suit her fine. Another school might prepare her for a Federation career she might not want. Here, she can at least pick and choose and understand what we're here for. It's not propaganda."

"Why do you say that? They will suit her just fine and might have more skills to handle her intellect. I don't want her going into the Federation or Starfleet unless she wants to."

Kirk wanted to spit out a million reasons. He loved the children more than he'll admit and wanted the best for them. He also didn't want to separate the family more and most certainly wanted Alyssa nearby. Her presence before him was slowly becoming a respite, even if their stiff demeanors prevented them from touching each other. The way things were now would always keep him from moving on to another assignment, to erase away the horrible partings and bitter words. He only had to recall Antonia and the way she cried over his decision to return to Starfleet that made him wish that Alyssa would stay with him.

He observed her without discrimination, his eyes drawn to movement. He noted that her hand twitched at her side. She ached to reach out and comfort him, but could not with so many people watching and the computers recording their every move. All the same, after eleven years, it would not have been the best choice to be so bold. Decorum demanded them to be professional, especially in the face of personal tragedy.

She misses me too. Dammit. Dammit!

"I don't know." Kirk wasn't going to lie and decided that the most noncommittal answer was the best. He sighed, thinking that he didn't need the comfort after all because he had been without for so long. "She's your daughter. You should make the choice for her."

"I'm afraid she'll be a misfit anywhere she goes, although she has the mouth to get her in and out of trouble. You should listen to her, Jim. She's great." Alyssa grinned, wishing her anxious worries about Ali would drift away. Being the proud mother for a moment was the best mask. "She already has this conference mapped out. A scary prospect, I believe. I don't want to think it would end negatively. The Thyrians have been known to have their own agenda. It's suspicious that they suggested meeting here."

"They're a tough set with many difficulties," Kirk confirmed. "I wouldn't want the conference to end the way your daughter suggested either. I was hoping it would end on a positive note."

Alyssa felt that there was nothing more to contribute to their meeting. The interview was over. She stood up gently, brushing her skirt free of imaginary dirt, and smiled at Kirk wanly. He copied her, putting his hands behind his back and nodding his permission to leave. She did, but before the office could close shut behind her, the admiral called her back.

Their privacy was better protected when Alyssa faced him. "Yes?"

Kirk was in front of her in seconds, his hands resting on her shoulders. He leaned in and kissed her quickly on the lips, hoping that she would not mind. She didn't and returned it eagerly, wishing that more would pass between them. By the time they had mutually decided to part with sore lips, their bodies hungered for something else. It was a dimension that they dared not reach for and could not afford to. They separated completely, fingers lingering before hiding behind their intentions against the red fabric sides.

"I love you still," Kirk blurted out without deliberating.

Alyssa blinked once like she was struck hard and that it did not faze her. Again, words were hard to form, but when they did, she could only go back to her old movie references from the past. "I know, Jim. I know."

~00~

It wasn't usually a long journey from one planet to another, but this one cut the cake. While the USS Juniper was a starship that would have beaten the Enterprise in speed, it still would not have avoided the parties and other obstacles ahead. Instead of taking a few days to drift to the Gramma XVII sector and attach to a space station above Synprilox, it took two weeks. In-between stopping at several docks to inspect, dealing with frivolous dinners and even running into some unexpected guests (just as Lori promised), it was quite the trip. Even Scotty, isolated as he was down in Engineering, commented loudly about it. He had to dress up and actually behave himself.

However, his worst complaint had been that they were trapped inside a "bucket o' bolts" that could hardly navigate the traps, but that was beside the point. Kirk believed that any ship that was not the Enterprise would bear that name from Scotty. But that was not the engineer's only complaint. Being away from the Enterprise was worse. The refitting was stagnant and Scotty loathed to work on a ship he was not overseeing.

On the other hand, the admiral could not complain, especially about his quarters. Apart from being away until late at night and not commanding the bridge (his other comfort since it brought back bitter memories), they were relaxing. It was very much needed after a long day. It brought solitude and sometimes companionship when Scotty was not busy.

Finally, Synprilox loomed below them, its grey waters murky even as life glowed underneath the waves in the protective sphere. It had been almost six years since Kirk stepped foot in the world where political suicide was the main game and the advisors controlled their chancellors and the propaganda easily. After the defeat of their adversaries, the return with Commander Elma and her son Ryder and adding Synprilox to the Federation, it was a quick and closed deal. In the aftermath of her decisions within Starfleet and the meetings with Admiral Nogura, the commander was reassigned as part of a security team heading the Federation presence in Synprilox and never seen again.

McCoy had kept in touch with Alyssa Elma often enough. He was closer to her and constantly making a call to her when the chance arose. He never talked about her much unless someone asked. He did let out tidbits here and there to Kirk during meals in the cafeteria though, to keep her memory alive. After grumbling about the restrictions on his food card (which McCoy would gloat openly about), Kirk would listen to the doctor recount stories about its local Starfleet resident and Synprilox's ever-changing social and political atmosphere.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, Kirk remembered as he packed his luggage when the announcement of arrival came. The brief mentions of his former security officer reminded him of the adventure they had undergone and the planet they left behind in her care. It also taught him to never underestimate a crew member again and to trust his initial instincts. It would be easy to forget a face as he did, but it was a lesson every starship captain should learn. Every person has a place on the ship and skills needed to keep it functional. The resourcefulness of each should be taken into consideration at all times.

After docking, Kirk was called to the Transporter Room. He took his bags and took off, passing the engineer near a turbolift. Scotty opted to stay behind on the Juniper, muttering all the while about how the engines were overheated and smoking and that he had no time to waste. It amused the admiral to no end. He smiled at Scotty, saluting the proper farewell and preparing for the five-month voyage below. Upon his placement on the pad, the familiar sensation of beaming enveloped him and sent him down.

As soon as Kirk and his small landing party of two appeared in almost the same spot as he had on his initial mission, they were immediately escorted to the doors by the leader's guards, who had been ready for their arrival. The populace around them was cold and distant and kept to one side, mumbling incomprehensible words that worried the admiral. While apprehensive of this, Kirk appreciated the security efforts, taking it in stride as the group walked with them to the marble palace ahead and introduced them. Chancellor Amelia Synprilox, now on her second term and the first to survive her planet's typical political suicide, greeted them cordially at the top of the stairs and began a long speech about the Federation's wonderful friendship.

Bored (especially with the Freedom Riders chiming in here and there), Kirk did not pay attention to the words and nodded every once in a while, to indicate he was listening. He executed the perfect bow when the time was right, said his greeting, and allowed his hosts to escort him inside. All the while, his thoughts ran back to the people outside. They were not so happy to see him and he wondered why.

That would have to wait. Kirk shook his head free of the reception and focused on his mission. In the hallways his eyes soon landed on the beautiful woman who was giving orders to some tan-shirted Starfleet officers. She was so familiar and yet so different all at once, mature and fine-tuned. Her black hair had been cropped up to her shoulders in a boyish manner. Her hazel eyes demanded respect in her imposing position, but were also darting often to check for the diaphanous details around her. Her posture was stiff and unfeeling, her face chiseled into stone.

This woman, so much changed from the girl from Kirk's yesteryear, had no room for shenanigans. She was serious. Nothing was going to stand in the way of her duty.

Amelia Synprilox noted that Kirk was staring at her and nudged him discreetly, causing him to cease. He heeded this gesture. The way Alyssa worked was something that did not merit that his visit be transformed into a circus show. He was supposed to be on display too, but in a different way than this security officer. He would need to wait for her acknowledgement before moving onto the nitty gritty details of a more personal nature.

When Alyssa finished instructing her subordinates and ensured that nothing was amiss, she turned to them and saluted him, the chancellor and her advisors and the others in the party. "Admiral, Chancellor, gentlemen."

The admiral nodded. "Commander."

Amelia Synprilox grinned warmly as a lover would do. "Alyssa, so grave today?"

While returning the glance at the admiral awkwardly, Alyssa uttered something softly about some disturbances and how they were handling it, excuses that did not seem relevant to the issue at hand. Her face turned red explaining. Her eyes checked with Kirk's every few seconds. She was surely nervous, but kept her composure.

Kirk paid no heed to the words. He was more interested in the way Alyssa ticked because of the stories McCoy told. She transformed from the mysterious woman and desperate mother to a tougher security officer and serious secret keeper. Granted, she was pretty stern stuff under his command. However, she had morphed into a developed, functioning officer of Starfleet that assimilated into the role assigned to her and had taken command without complaint and with ease.

Certainly, he made an impression on her too, then and now. In order to draw Admiral Uriah out, he had gone out to a bar with her. Even though it wasn't even a day after her husband was killed, Alyssa fell right into the role…and into Kirk's arms. Had the situation not been serious and the stakes so high, Kirk would have easily pulled her aside and asked her out for another drink and a good conversation.

When Kirk snapped out of his daydream, Alyssa had disappeared like she had not existed. His welcoming committee continued on and morphed into a newly-announced tour that the chancellor and the Freedom Riders insisted he endure. Kirk wanted to sigh, to scream out that he had enough of the formalities, but smiled anyway and accepted the kind formalities. He followed his numerous hosts, bickering amongst each other about the palace history and recent developments, and kept a diplomatic stance through it all.

It was going to be a long five months…and Lori was going to pay for it. Kirk did not appreciate being sent into a hotbed of nails scrapping against a chalkboard. His only solace already was a ghost.

However, first's things first – getting through the boring meetings and inspections. There was a light at the end of that tunnel. Soon enough, he'll be with Alyssa and reacquaint himself with her. Five months was long enough to get to know someone. Alyssa was surely an enigma waiting to be opened. Kirk was eager to resume the game.