An Irish Tale

It was only a few days after the Romulan Emissary had come aboard; four days, if one wanted precision; five days after the dinner she and Ciaran had co-hosted with the Kahallans here in their home on the holodeck. At the moment, Moira wanted precision. She'd asked Duffy to meet her here, on the holodeck... she wanted to tell him a story, to assume the role of Scheherazade tonight, she'd told him, and it was a story that could best be told on the holodeck. She was afraid, she was nervous. So many things could go wrong in so many ways.

But she trusted Duffy. More than that, she loved him without reservation, knowing that she would not — could not — love anyone else as she loved him. And she'd already hit him with the most outrageous thing about her, hadn't she, when Danu manifested? And he'd barely blinked.

She had to trust this would go well.

Mo, it will be fine, Padraig said. You're worrying too much.

Moira was sitting on one of the sofas in the Great Room, bare feet tucked close and arms wrapped around her legs; her temple rested on her knees as she looked out the glass doors into the sun-filled garden, long unbound hair tumbling all around her.

"Do I, Paddy?" she whispered. "Oh, mayhap I do. Ye think I'll nae hae cause te worry?"

Well, I didn't say that, he responded with a laugh. You're the weirdest bloody woman I've ever met, and I'd say that even if you weren't my sister, he teased. But if your Goddess didn't send him running... and I promise it would have sent me running... then I think you probably have no excuse to worry. Especially since a certain brother of yours has vowed to be on his very best behavior.

She snorted. Best behavior, Aintín Colleen's big gouty foot! A certain brother'll nae e'en know th' meanin' o' th' words! she said with a smile.

There. You're smiling again.

And indeed, she was.

So she simply waited and watched the butterflies flutter among the flowers, a soft smile on her face. That's how Duffy would find her when he came through the front door.

The tall security officer stepped through the archway. His pace was comfortable, easy, wolfish and lanky, as he looked into the holodeck.

He nodded to Moira with his small smile, then taking in the butterflies and all the flowers.

"Apologies..." he offered in greeting his words of soft tones and gentle voice.

"If I had known you already had a bright colored garden... I would have... brought chocolates or something..." He held out to her a dozen carnations of so many different colors. "... else?"

She turned to him with a smile, comfortable and bright. Moira unfolded herself and stood. She very nearly glided across the room to meet him, her bare feet making nary a sound on the wooden floor. Today, she wore a pair of denim shorts and a green scoop-neck t-shirt the exact shade of her eyes.

"Aon, aon, Duffy! 'Tis perfect," Moira said, accepting the flowers and inhaling their delicious, spicy aroma. "I'll hae copied Mam's garden, an' th' soil refused te let carnations thrive. Besides..." She looked back at the bright holographic garden beyond the windows and doors. "...I kinnae enjoy yon flowers in me quarters. These I kin," she said glancing down at the flowers she held cradled in her arms, before standing on tiptoe and kissing his cheek.

"I'll be but a moment te put these in water, then I'll tell ye me tale," she said, a myriad of emotions dancing across her features. Inclining her head toward the sofa as she took a step back, she said with a grin, "Sit an' watch th' butterflies. I'll hae cheated in their programmin'... most ye'll nae see in Ireland, some ye'll nae e'en spot on Earth."

It didn't take long to fetch a fine crystal vase from a hidden cabinet, fill it with water and arrange the colorful flowers artfully. Setting them on the low table in front of the sofa, she looked at him somewhat apprehensively.

The lieutenant is still as he watches Moira tend to the carnations. Her kiss, it had been gently intercepted, a lingering intimacy held but for a heartbeat or two and remembered much longer.

"We'll both be havin' secrets that ought not be spoken o', an' 'tis nae a terrible thin' te keep some thin's from e'er seein' th' light o' day... as 'twere." Moira took a deep breath, as if steeling herself for a difficult task, before continuing. "But th' whole story o' me twin will nae be one o' those. Ye know wee bits, as I'll hae mentioned him now an' again, an' mayhap could find all th' official files in yer role as... security officer. But ye'll be so close te me heart, Duffy, that I'll want ye te be knowin' him as Ciaran an' I see him.

"So, O King... are ye prepared te hear th' tale o' Padraig Breandan Christopher O'Shaughnessy?"

"Prepared... yes," was his quiet reply.

"The real question, however... are you?

"Today, tomorrow or tomorrow's tomorrow. It is a tale that would be told sometime. I've never asked because the only one who could choose the right time was you."

A soft smile lingered as she sat beside him on the sofa, looking into his eyes, leaning close... safe and warm. "Oh, sea. I'll nae hae decided te tell th' tale if 'twas nae so. 'Twill nae be th' easiest o' tales te tell in parts, an' yet th' most painful parts o' th' story'll, mayhap, be th' most notable.

"'Tis near impossible te explain th' way o' twins, an' Paddy an' I... well, we'll hae been e'en more unusual than most as we'll hae discovered o' late." Moira sighed softly as she snuggled closer, looking out the windows as she told her story. "All o' th' O'Shaughnessy twins — an' there'll be five pair o' us — kin speak mind-te-mind with their twin. 'Twill be why we'll nae hae worried o'erly much when Ciaran'll hae been on th' border, or when we'll hae heard th' report o' th' Stargazer. Maire'll hae been keepin' tabs on him. Though, havin' had a conversation or two since he joined th' Clarke," she said with a tone of sisterly annoyance, "I'll be thinkin' when he'll hae told her he was 'fine', 'twill hae been a mighty peculiar definition o' 'fine'." She shrugged. "Well, he'll be fine how, an' that'll be what'll matter te th' family." She smiled the kind of indulgent smile one could have only for a sibling who was always standing between trouble and those he loved.

"We'll hae been Mam's fourth pregnancy, an' her fourth set o' twins." She shook her head. "I kinnae e'en imagine havin' so many wee ones, that'll be th' truth. She'll hae gone on te hae a full dozen o' us! Ah, but Mam is old fashioned that way, an' nae a one o' us e'er doubted she loved each o' us with all her heart, nae a one o' us e'er felt she held another up as a favorite." She chuckled as she looked up at him. "Unlike her eldest son, who'll hae made no secret o' th' fact his youngest sister'll hae always been his favorite," she said, looking not the least bit ashamed or embarrassed by Ciaran's favoritism.

But then she sobered and looked back out the window. "I donnae really remember when Da started drinkin' more, but I'll be rememberin' him as a violent an' angry man when he was about it." She shuddered slightly. "Ciaran'll be thinkin' 'twas sometime between findin' out Mam was pregnant with Noel an' Noel bein' born. Paddy an' I'll hae been only three or so; Ciaran an' Maire'll hae been mayhap ten."

Moira was still, absorbing the beauty beyond the glass to mitigate the horror of the past.

"Da always wanted te hurt th' smallest o' us," she said, barely above a whisper. "Ne'er th' babies, but once ye got te walkin' about, ye were fair game. An' he'll hae had a distinct dislikin' fer Paddy, e'en after Noel an' Seamus an' Seosamh an' Kevin'll all come 'round.

"Ye see, Paddy'll hae always been th' best o' us... ne'er an unkind word fer a soul, an' always doin' fer others e'en when 'twould himself be goin' without. Ah, th' times he'll hae given up his lunch at school or a sweater or a toy!" She smiled at the memories but shook her head.

"Th' Federation'll want te spread th' myth that nae a citizen o' Earth'll want fer aught, but we'll hae still had poor folk in Ireland. We'll nae hae been wealthy... nae with so many te feed an' clothe... but we'll nae hae been wantin' either. Paddy... ah, he was always givin'.

"Da, he'll nae hae cared fer Paddy's generosity one wee bit. So Paddy'll hae gotten more o' Da's beatin's than the rest o' us. Sure an' I'll nae hae been more than five or six meself th' first time I stood between Da an' Paddy, an' told Da he'd best nae be hurtin' me brother. Ciaran always seemed te be right where ye needed him, an' I kin remember clear as though 'twas yesterday th' look on his face as he was standin' in th' open doorway ready te snatch Paddy away from Da." A soft chuckle and the flutter of red waves accompanied the shake of her head.

"Da... well, his face'll hae been turnin' red with fury, but o'er his shoulder Ciaran — I'll be thinkin' — could nae decide on bein' proud o' his wee tiny hellion or frightened unto death fer th' damage Da was lookin' te inflict."

She looked away from the window and up into Duffy's eyes. "Hae ye e'er encountered a child so angry she'll hae tossed caution te th' compost heap, wiser than her years'll hae given her credit fer? Well, ye throw a bit o' red hair, a bit o' Irish stubbornness, an' th' protectiveness o' a lioness fer her kits onte th' fire, an' that'll hae been what me Da was facin'... what Ciaran was fearin' fer." Moira smiled, but it was almost feral. "When Da raised his hand te me that day, he'll hae forgotten he possessed two hands. An' th' one nae bein' raised'll hae been th' one I latched onte with nails an' teeth."

She paused, letting the mental image of such a scene almost sketch itself in the air around them. In truth, she could have programmed it; the incident had occurred — as so many of Sean O'Shaughnessy's fits of rage did — in the kitchen. But that was not the point of Irish storytelling; not at all, at all.

"Paddy scooted out o' th' room; Da was so surprised he fell te th' floor actin' like the whole o' the Gardaí was beatin' him. Later Ciaran'll hae told me 'twas nae til he pried me away that I'll be lettin' Da go." Moira had a decidedly satisfied look on her face. "Eight stitches he'll hae needed... an' me loose tooth popped right out."

Again, she paused, looking at the rainbow of colors in the flowers Duffy had brought.

"'Twill mayhap seem that'll hae been more a story o' Moira than Paddy, but 'twas a turnin' point fer me twin," she said. "He... well, there'll be no way te explain it better than te say he blossomed. He'll hae tossed away whate'er reticence he'll hae been harborin' an' became e'eryone's best friend. 'Twas nae a wee bit o' fakery in th' lad; he'll hae been genuinely likin' near te e'eryone in th' town." She smiled at the memories, wonderful, happy, joyous memories. "Sea, he'll hae been better with th' pranks than I, but he ne'er had a difficult time talkin' me inte one o' his schemes. An' e'en those'll hae been done fer th' purpose o' cheerin' someone up. Ah, an' th' lad'll hae been so smart, too! Smarter than I, I'll be thinkin'... though he'll hae used a considerable amount o' breath arguin' that." She rolled her eyes.

"Th' next six or se'en years... til we were near te thirteen... they'll hae been, well, normal. Sea, Da'll hae yet been a miserable an' ornery an' violent drunk, but between Ciaran an' me an' Paddy when he got bigger, we all stayed safe enough."

Moira paused again, a long pause stretching out, stretching back into the past.

"Hae ye e'er tried te keep a secret from someone ye love, Duffy?" she asked softly, after several false starts. "Someone who'll know ye as well as ye know yerself? Someone who kin truly get inside yer head?"

He listens, quiet, intent, savoring each and every word... an anchor, a calm against the coming storm.

He remembers quiet fell words earlier.

"There are no secrets between Kat and I."

"Ah, 'tis a blessing, ye know," she said, looking up into his eyes for a moment, before turning back to gaze at the bouquet of color on the table in front of them.

"Near about when I'll hae turn ele'en or twelve, Da startin' sayin' thin's te me," she said after a long pause. "Thin's a father ought nae say te a daughter. I ne'er said a word o' it te Mam or Ciaran or Seanmháthair e'er, an' only told Paddy o' th' account later. Sure an' I kinnae tell ye why nae," she said with a shake of her head.

"'Twas after Kevin was born, though he was still so wee an' tiny he'll nae hae been able te sit up... Paddy an' I'll hae been comin' onte our thirteenth birthday... Ciaran an' Maire'll hae been comin' te their nineteenth nae long after that."

"'Twas a terrible thin' tryin' te keep Paddy from knowin' what Da was sayin'. He..." Moira shook her head, remembering. "He'll hae likely tried te hurt Da, an' he'll hae been hurt somethin' fierce, as he'll hae nae yet been grown te his full height. Or mayhap 'twould hae been that he'll hae done a smarter thin' an' told Ciaran about it." She shuddered slightly. "Ye know Ciaran; he'll hae beaten Da unte death, an' I've nae a doubt o' that. Deservin' or nae, 'twould hae been a terrible thin' fer Ciaran te kill Da."

Moira looked out the window at the butterflies and — yes — tiny fairies flitting about the flowers in the garden. She sheltered close and safe to Duffy in the silence, the long silence, dreading the next part of the tale.

"Ciaran was at a football game with his mates. Mayhap that'll hae been why Da thought I'll hae been defenseless." Her voice was soft and quiet, almost as if she were talking to herself. "He'll hae been staggerin' drunk, that I'll be rememberin' clearly. He'll hae said somethin' that he ought nae, but I just ignored him... 'twas my turn te get supper started, an' vegetables donnae slice themselves, sea? Sure an' I remember th' knife I was usin', too... 'twas th' big one, fer slicin' a whole row o' carrots at once.

"He'll nae hae liked me ignorin' him, I suppose, fer he came 'round th' table..."

She paused, taking a deep breath.

"Th' last thin' I'll be rememberin' was him comin' up behind me an'... an' bein' inappropriate."

She ducked her head, pulling herself even closer to Duffy, needing those arms around her now. After a few minutes, she looked up, green eyes clear and free of the tears that so often came with the thoughts of that night. But the pain was there, and something else, too. Something... otherly.

"Next thin' I know, I'll be leanin' against th' counter weak as a newborn, an' Da will be lyin' on th' floor screamin' like a bean sí with me knife stickin' out o' his arm, an' near te th' whole clan standin' about starin' at me as if mayhap I'll hae gone mad makin' th' Catholic sign o' banishin' evil, an' me thinkin' th' same thin', that mayhap I'll hae gone mad." She paused to take a deep, shuttering breath. She leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"That'll hae been when Mam'll hae yanked th' knife out o' his arm an' told him te leave an' ne'er return. Oh, Duffy! I'll ne'er hae seen me Mam so angry before or after that day!" she said softly. "While she kicked an' pushed an' prodded him inte doin' her will, Katie'll hae come o'er te hold me up, help me te sit meself down. Ah, I'll ne'er ferget what she'll hae said." Moira dropped her brogue for a moment when she repeated her sister's words, and it was clear that it wasn't an easy or simple thing for her to speak pure, unaccented Galactic Standard. "'Piscín ghile, our Lady spoke through you, that's why you're so weak,' she said te me. 'You won't remember what She said, or what you did, so don't be upset by that.'" A faint smile appeared. "Bright kitten... 'twill be what piscín ghile means, an' that'll be what Katie'll always be callin' me... e'en te this day."

Again, a silence surrounded them; Moira anchoring herself in the now with Duffy's solid presence. This was the first time this story had been told aloud, and Duffy was only the second person to know the truth. Even Ciaran — her protector, her savior, her knight — had never known the whole truth.

"Paddy came an' sat beside me, silent an' as pale as I. Well, seemin' silent te th' others as he clutched me hand. In me head, he'll hae been yammerin' an' yammerin' an' yammerin'. I'll be supposin' Seanmháthair'll hae noted his expression an' me face an' knew just what th' Brat'll be doin', fer she stepped right o'er th' bit o' blood on th' floor an' slapped his head good before fetchin' rags an' soap te clean th' floor." Moira smiled crookedly. "Sure an' wasn't he contrite an' didn't he apologize so sweetly fer makin' such noise in me head?" The smiled faded again as she continued. "But he'll hae told me what the Lady said te Da... Touch me again like that, Man, and your death will be swift... so didnae I hae te tell him that Da'll hae been sayin' inappropriate thin's te me? Ah, an' didnae he near te jump up te follow Da an' maphap give him an extra kick or two? But Seanmháthair'll hae returned with th' rags an' bucket o' water an' will hae started cleanin' th' floor, an' she'll hae gripped Paddy's leg fiercely an' said, 'I know what ye're thinkin', young Padraig...'

"Though, there'll be no way she'd be really knowin', Duffy, but fer th' fact that she'll likely be e'en better than ye at readin' people." Again, her smiled returned for a moment. "Ye'd like her, Duffy... an' I'll be speakin' true in sayin' she'll be likin' ye, as well.

"So, she'll hae said, 'I know what ye're thinkin', young Padraig, an' ye'll stay right where ye are, beside yer sister, an' ye'll nae move til she gives ye leave te do so.'" Moira chuckled. "An' then she'll hae just finished cleanin' th' floor an' pushed e'eryone out o' th' kitchen te leave me an' Paddy a bit o' peace.

"O' course, th' peace'll nae hae lasted long when Ciaran'll hae gotten home. Noel an' Seamus an' Seosamh were lyin' in wait, burstin' te tell him how their elder sister'll hae stabbed Da — Noel likely tellin' th' tale, him bein' eight or so at th' time, an' th' youngest twins, bein' only four, actin' it all out fer their eldest brother — an' talked all strange, an' how Mam sent Da off, an' how Mo an' Paddy were lookin' sickly in th' kitchen. I'd be guessin' that'll hae been th' point Ciaran started runnin', an' came crashin' through th' back door causin' such a racket that Mam came in te speak a few harsh words. I'll still be guessin' at what happened then, fer Paddy an' I were jus' sittin' on th' bench holdin' one another, heads tegether an' in our own conversations... but likely Mam took one look at Ciaran's face an' jus' nodded, while hustlin' th' young ones out o' the room. That'll hae been when Ciaran near te fell onte th' floor in front o' us an' hugged us both so tight."

She opened her eyes again, looking up at Duffy. "Ne'er once in me life hae I e'er seen Ciaran cry. Nae once, Duffy. An' if he'll be tellin' me he'll ne'er hae cried since his third birthday... well, I'd be believin' him. But he came close te cryin' that day, he did. An' it scared me that I was so important te him that he'd come so close te cryin'... fer me. I know ye understand what he'll hae been feelin', fer I'll hae see ye an' Kat, an' I'll hae seen what ye lived through, so... sea.

"But how Ciaran'll be feelin' about me, an' how ye'll be feelin' about Kat... that'll always hae been me feelin's fer Paddy. Except..." She shook her head slightly. "Except mayhap e'en more, fer we'll be twins.

"That feelin' fer Paddy... that'll be important later in the story, sea?

"But that day... that'll hae been another turnin' point fer all o' us."

Moira took a deep breath and relaxed again, the first of the worst parts of the story over. With eyes closed again and her head resting on Duffy's shoulder, Moira continued the saga.

"Fer Ciaran, 'twas th' encouragement he needed te get movin' on te his own life. Nae long after, he enlisted in Starfleet. Ah, we'll all hae been so proud o' him. 'Twas then that Paddy an' I decided we'd be joinin' Starfleet, too, but we'd be goin' te th' Academy, we would!" Moira chuckled. "We'll hae been silly gits, Duffy, thinkin' goin' te th' Academy'll hae been as simple as sayin' we'd be goin'." She paused. "Sea, an' we'll hae been romanticizin' it, too. I know better now. An' I look at Ciaran, an' I kin see there'll be thin's he'll ne'er be tellin' me. He'll be a fool thinkin' I'll nae know o' them, fer at times he'll be fergettin' I kin read emotions — especially those o' me family — easier than I kin scan lines o' computer code." She shrugged slightly. "But as ye said earlier, if he'll be wantin' te tell th' tales, 'twill be at a time o' his choosin'. An'... well, havin' seen some o' Cecil's demons, I'll be understandin' why Ciaran'll nae want te be sharin' his with his sister." She let out another soft sigh.

"Fer me, fer Paddy... we'll hae started a game o' tryin' te outdo th' other in our studies an' sports. 'Twas all good-natured, an' there'll hae been a fair amount o' humor in all o' it, that'll be th' truth." She smiled fondly at the memories. "I'll hae said Paddy was bright, but te that point, he'll nae hae been as focused as he might hae been. Ah, he'll hae become focused then, an' with a vengeance! 'Twas a powerful funny thin' that fer th' first time in th' history o' our school, there'll hae been two valedictorians fer th' graduatin' class... fer no matter if one o' us did better in one subject, th' other'll hae done exactly th' same in another. Th' school administrators... they'll hae been baffled an' suspicious an' they dinnae truly know what te do about havin' two students havin' exactly th' same score te six decimal places, especially with us bein' siblin's an' twins an' O'Shaughnessys... e'eryone knew th' O'Shaughnessys were a bit fae, 'tis th' truth. But we'll hae rarely gotten th' same grades in th' same classes, so they'll hae no choice but te make us co-valedictorians. Mam an' Seanmháthair... they'll hae thought 'twas a brilliant joke Paddy an' I played on th' school, e'en though we'll nae hae been able te pull it off if we'll hae been tryin'.

"So we'll hae taken all th' tests an' such te go te th' Academy. When I'll hae been granted entrance, an' Paddy'll hae hae been... well, ye might imagine he'll hae been a mite upset." She opened her eyes again and laughed. "Sea, sea... 'twas certainly more than a mite upset he was," she said with a twinkle in her eye as she glanced up at Duffy, before looking out at the garden again. "E'en th' next year, they'll hae chosen others o'er him, an' he was..." The smile on Moira's face was something comfortably familiar to Ciaran, but a rare treasure still for Duffy. It was peace, it was contentment, it was true happiness. "Well, my teasin' him wasn't helpin' any, I suppose. But on his third attempt, th' Academy'll finally hae relented an' admitted that mayhap Paddy'll hae th' makin's o' a upstandin' officer.

"I'll hae graduated two years ahead o' him, an' as we were hopin' te be assigned te th' same ship, when th' Dean o' th' Computer Science department asked if mayhap I'd care te teach a few o' the Holoprogrammin' courses, I'll hae been happy enough te do it.

"Now, I'll be lyin' if I said I thought 'twould be easy teachin' folk near te me own age, but..." She glanced at him again, smiling brightly. "...'twas fun, sea, an' that 'twas! An' 'twas nae as difficult as I'll hae been makin' it out te be either." Her sigh this time was contented as she turned again to watch the butterflies and fairies.

"Paddy, he'll hae a wee bit o' problems at one point. I'll hae been thinkin' at th' time 'twas because some o' his year mates were in one o' me classes, an' were givin' him a wee bit more teasin' than he'll hae liked. But..." She shook her head. "Ciaran'll hae ways o' ferretin' out information, especially when 'twill involve family. 'Twas nae a case o' teasin' gettin' out o' hand, but Paddy — again — goin' out o' his way te do, well, mayhap th' wrong thin', but fer all th' right reasons. No real harm came te him from it; 'tis jus' a blip in his academic record, should any trouble te look.

"The best thin' that'll hae happened, though, was that he'll hae met Gloria."

Moira's gaze was diffused, almost as if she was looking beyond the created reality of the holodeck, beyond the bulkheads themselves, and seeing the reality of the past.

"Gloria Whitehorse. She'll hae been full-blooded Navajo, a rarity e'en more remarkable than folk who'll still be speakin' Gaeilge. So beautiful, with hair black as night, long an' straight, an' eyes almost matchin' th' darkness o' her hair... an' smart as Paddy, an' funny, an' jus' one o' th' nicest people I'll hae e'er met. 'Twas nae a surprise te anyone — except Paddy, I'll be thinkin' — that they fell so deeply in love e'en those without me gift could see th' love swirlin' around them. Sometimes, 'tis true Duffy, I'll nae be knowin' if this thin' about bein' able te know what others'll be feelin'll be a gift or a curse, but when I'll hae been with Paddy an' Gloria... 'twas nae a more beautiful thin', I'll nae lie te ye.

"Some amadán once asked me if I'll e'er hae been jealous o' Gloria, seein' as she — in their words, mind ye — took me twin away from me. Oh, I kinnae tell ye how hard I'll hae laughed at that! 'Twould be like askin' if mayhap I'll be jealous o' th' perfect ray o' sunshine happenin' te shine on me favorite flower. Such a daft notion!"

Once more she looked at Duffy, suffused with the happiness of the memories, but serious all the same.

"'Twould be like askin' Paddy — if 'twere possible today — if he'll be jealous o' ye. A daft notion, te be sure!"

She shifted so she could look at him more comfortably. "O' course, they'll hae gotten married right after graduation, an' were assigned te a science survey ship, while I'll hae stayed on teachin' an' shuttlin' up te Starbase One te work with Doctor Zimmerman on th' EMH program. 'Twas a bit o' an embarrassment when Gloria'll hae turned up pregnant, as... well, 'twas nae supposed te be possible at th' time, we'll jus' say," she said, with a shake of her head and a shrug. "A science research ship'll nae be th' best place fer a wee one, but 'twas nae so dangerous as other types o' ships, sea? Jus' nae configured fer families." She waved a hand to dismiss any arguments. "Sea, sea... Kat'll hae been with ye on th' Hawkin'. But she'll nae hae been a wee baby, sea? Near te an adult in age, an' I'll be guessin' a fair match intellectually te that Vulcan Chief Engineer o' Lucara's," she said with a wicked twinkle in her eyes.

"Ah, well... finally, though, they'll hae returned home te Earth. Mhari'll hae been..." She tilted her head in thought. "...near te three years old, I'll be thinkin'. Such a bonny wee thing, with hair like her Mam an' green eyes like her Da. 'Twas a joy seein' Paddy an Gloria again, an' knowin' they'd be on leave fer months mayhap waitin' fer an assignment te a more family-friendly ship... ah, th' clan'll ne'er hae been happier, 'tis true. Paddy an' Gloria e'en sat in on one o' me classes, pretendin' te be..." She laughed. "Truth be told, I'll nae e'en remember what they'll hae been pretendin', only that th' cadets were nervous as mice when th' cat'll be around, an' I could barely keep from laughin' though class."

Her smile faltered then, and the silence refilled the space... and lingered.

"I'll hae been at Starbase One that day... when it happened."

She swallowed, hard, but wouldn't break her eye contact with Duffy. This part of the tale, the worst of the worst, needed that connection. For this part of the tale, she needed to know, to see that she was not alone. The whole family knew what happened, and she'd even told Emerald much of it. Records existed, as dry facts, for anyone interested in seeing them. But her next words had never been spoken before... to anyone. Not to Seanmháthair, not to Ciaran, not to Emerald, not to any of the dozens of counselors she'd seen over the years. These words she would give only to Donovan Kahallan.

"I knew th' moment th' accident happened," she said, eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I felt him die, Duffy. I..." She took a breath, and then one more. "I felt me brother, my twin, die... an' that'll hae been th' first time I nearly died meself."

Duffy simply sat quiet as the story was told, the history set out of family and tragedy.

There were so many words, and they all must have been spoken, at one time or another. The sympathy, the caring, the words — if listed — probably could fill volumes, write poems, create sonnets, bring tears, bring laughter.

He was still for even longer. Until...

His strong hand covered Moira's strong fingers, pressing until they twined and linked... until she was tucked beneath his arm, within that protective loop.

The kiss that followed was soft yet so powerful... just for her, a promise that he would never leave.

And al of it conveyed without another, extra, extraneous, unnecessary word.

Linked fingers and a protective arm... these were so remarkably like the comfort her eldest brother had offered when he had returned home for Padraig's memorial service.

But the kiss... and the promise it gave...

Moira allowed herself, finally, to surrender to that promise... to believe.

She had resolved to tell the tale, the whole of it, without tears. But this... this soft, quiet assurance nearly broke that resolve. She could feel a prickling at the back of her mind, but for now... for once... it would go unheeded, ignored. Just for now. And that was... that was as it should be.

Silence, just a few minutes, looking into eyes of glimmering brown and getting lost there... finding that being lost in those eyes was, perhaps, the safest place she'd ever been.

"This is my prayer fer ye," she whispered, hardly audible, "there fer ye, e'er true; each, e'ery day fer ye in e'erythin' ye do. An' when ye come te me an' hold me close to ye, I bless ye an' ye bless me, too."

It was from an old, old, truly ancient song that had come from an even older Wiccan prayer... but it was yet another promise made.

Eventually, she was able to continue the tale, though this part... this was the softly spoken part, with the whispers of magic and madness, though perhaps they were one and the same. Such is the way of things in an Irish Tale.

"'Fer... two, mayhap three months after th' accident, e'eryone on Starbase One'll hae been more than a wee bit worried fer me. I'll hae been..."

Moira closed her eyes and leaned her head on Duffy's shoulder again. "Th' simple explanation'll be that I'll hae been dyin'. Th' doctors... they'll hae nae known why. All th' machines could say was that this bit an' that part'll be failin'. Could nae say why, though. E'en I'll nae hae been able te say why until... well, nae so long ago.

"Th' counselors... ah, they'll hae been agreeable enough, kind enough, an' tryin' their best te help, but they'll nae hae been able te say aught but me mind'll hae been tryin' te sabotage me body. 'Twas nae th' case, but 'twas the explanation that'll hae made them comfortable.

"They... th' doctors... they'll hae said 'twas jus' a response te grief, an' th' sooner I'll be workin' through it with th' counselors, th' sooner I'll be on th' mend."

She sighed softly. "Mayhap Seanmháthair'll hae known right off what ought te hae been done, but ye'll ne'er see th' woman leavin' Ireland, ne'ermind leavin' Earth. An' th' doctors... ah, well, they'll hae nae let me out o' their sight te go home.

"In me first holoprogrammin' class, we'll hae been instructed te recreate a favorite place. 'Twas easy enough fer me... there'll be a field out back, an' in th' field there'll be a tree as fit fer climbin' as any ye'd e'er see an' a boulder near as tall as I. 'Twas our favorite place, fer all o' us. O'er th' years, I'll hae tinkered with an' tweaked th' programmin'." She chuffed out a bit of a laugh. "I'll hae shown it te Ciaran th' other night an' he'll hae been believin' 'twas nae a wee bit different than the real thin'." The corners of her mouth turned up for a moment. "Ye an' Kat, ye'd nae care fer it a bit... 'tis too open an' spacious.

"So, there came a day I'll be sittin' in th' holodeck, havin' managed te scamper atop th' boulder, an' I'll jus' hae sat there fer..." She shrugged, a tiny movement. "...I donnae know, an' 'twill nae matter in any case. But 'twas a fair good bit o' time.

"That'll hae been th' point when I thought I'd be losin' me reason. Sure an' could I nae hear Paddy speakin' te me? 'Get on with yer life,' he said. 'I've nae left ye, an' I'll nae leave ye.'"

Moira paused, knowing she was safe, knowing the fear she'd felt when she thought for certain her mind was failing her as willfully as her body... that was a fear and a day long in the past. But after all that had happened since that day, it was a fear that would always make her tremble.

"In Paddy's beliefs, his spirit ought te hae gone te his Catholic hea'en. In me own beliefs, 'twould hae mayhap rested a while an' then started th' circle o'er again. I donnae think either o' us truly'll hae believed in th' hauntin' sort o' ghost, but..."

Opening her eyes again, she looked up and tightly gripped the fingers still entwined with hers.

"But that'll hae been what happened, what we'll hae believed te hae happened, sure an' I'll nae be lyin' te ye, mo ionúin.

"I'll nae hae told a single soul o' that moment fer nigh unte two years an' more; nae until I'll hae been posted te th' Eclipse an' met Emerald. Ah, but that'll be gettin' ahead o' th' story by a wee bit."

She looked out at the garden, a faint smile playing across her face. "'Th' doctors... they'll hae said I'll hae finally dealt with th' grief, an' me body went on mendin' itself. 'Tis true enough, though 'twill nae hae been th' lack o' grievin' that'll hae done th' trick, fer I'll still hae been grievin'. I was whole again, though, an' that'll hae been th' turnin' point. Th' counselors..." She shook her head, her smile turning wry for a moment. "Silly gits. I've naught against counselors, mind ye, but 'twill be a rare one that'll be understandin' those o' us with th' Gift, an' e'en rarer'll be th' ones who kin understand what I'll be havin' rattlin' around in me head.

"So, th' truth'll be I've had me brother hauntin' me fer these past three years, an' 'twill had been..."

Moira sighed. "Well, I donnae suppose there'll be a way te put it inte words. There'll hae been a while, such a small bit o' time before Legion, mayhap I'll hae been able te show ye."

She looked up at Duffy again. "Yer walls used te let me in, te feel yer heart, when ye dinnae catch yerself quick enough an' fell inte yer wee accent o' yers." Her smile was sad and wistful. "Legion'll hae done some fair powerful thin's te all o' us. Bricked up all o' our walls hard an' fast, an'... well, that'll be a later part o' th' tale, sea?"

She closed her eyes again and leaned into his strength. "Havin' Paddy takin' up permanent residence in me head'll nae hae been much o' a difference o'er havin' him alive an' always yammerin' at me. He'll hae been yammerin' at me near te th' whole time I've been tellin' ye me story, an' he'll be wantin' me te point out te ye that he'll nae be any kind o' yammerer, but truth be told, Duffy, th' lad'll be more talkative than I, an' ye know I kin go on a bit." Without opening her eyes, she smiled... brilliant and joyous. "He'll be hidin' in part o' me brain that'll be storin' music memories whene'er ye kiss me, though." And then she giggled. "He'll nae be wantin' te hae any part o' that." Again she looked up at him, radiating joyfulness. She relaxed against him, utterly content.

"Workin' at Starbase One'll hae been gettin' more difficult, though... folks always askin' after me health, an' wantin' te know how I'll be gettin' on, an' wantin' te... I suppose I'll hae been thinkin' they'll hae been smotherin' me. So, I requested a transfer... an' there I was, findin' meself th' Holodeck Specialist on th' USS Eclipse, arrivin' th' day o' Captain Yeade's weddin'. O' course, th' only way Doctor Zimmerman would be allowin' me te leave was te promise I'll be keepin' up me work on th' EMH program." She rolled her eyes. "E'en now, Captain o' me own ship, an' he'll still be wantin' me te work out th' problems with th' program's personality. That'll be a losin' battle as th' program'll be usin' his personality as a base, an' th' man'll nae hae a personality!"

Moira chuckled softly, and then was quiet for several long minutes.

"'Tis strange te think I'll only hae been aboard th' Eclipse fer twelve days before ye an' Lucara an' all th' others'll hae come te th' rescue. So much'll hae happened in so little time... Captain Yeade marryin' Doctor MacLeod, th' lab accident that'll hae near te killed him; settin' off fer th' Trill homeworld so they mayhap could at least save th' symbiont — th' wee porcelain cat I'll be havin' in me quarters'll be Yeade's; given te th' first host as a gift, an' they'll hae all kept it. Doctor MacLeod'll nae hae remembered te take it. I'll be wantin' te return it someday." There was another brief pause as she tilted her head. "Somewhere in there, Emerald an' I'll hae become Imzadi, an' I told her o' Paddy. What with her bein' a telepath, th' two o' them could actually do some conversin'. An' then there'll hae been th' pirate attack, an' th' arrival o' th' Hawkin'.

"An' then we went chasin' after them, an'... well, havin' been taken o'er by th' agent o' Legion'll hae left a hole or two in me memories... fer Paddy, too. I know I tried te kill Lucara, an' I know I hurt ye somethin' fierce, though I kinnae imagine where I'll hae found a knife te do th' stabbin'. Sure an' I'll be havin' nae a single o' idea how 'twas possible fer me te e'en get close enough to ye te stab ye, though if ye were protectin' Lucara — as ye would, sea? — mayhap ye were jus' in th' path o' me wrath. Sometimes, I'll be thinkin' I kin remember that much... whate'er bits o' Legion took us o'er, they were powerful angry. Th' next thin' I'll be rememberin' is wakin' up in Sickbay, with Doctor Stern lookin' down at me sayin' I was goin' te be fine."

She shuddered. "Sea, but we know that'll hae been so verra, verra wrong. E'en then, I'll hae known HE was there, fer I could nae find Paddy anywhere, an' I could nae find Emerald; I could nae e'en find me Lady Danu."

Moira looked up into Duffy's eyes again. "Oh, ye kinnae e'en imagine how hard I tried te tell ye I was nae fine. But e'er time I thought mayhap I could tell ye — somehow — that th' foul demon'll hae his grasp on me still, he'll be snatchin' away th' opportunity... an' then punishin' me — again — fer tryin'. An' then th' day I looked inte yer eyes, an' saw th' demon starin' back at me an' laughin'..." She took a deep, shuddering breath, letting it out slowly, and then shook her head. "I thought mayhap 'twould be a good time fer dyin' then, I'll nae lie te ye. Had I known ye purposefully taunted him..." She just looked at him, finding it hard to express everything those thoughts conjured up.

"How did ye know, though? He'll hae found his way te grasp th' two most powerful psis left on th' Eclipse, leavin' Emerald in a coma, sea. But nae a one o' th' remainin' crew'll hae guessed there mayhap was somethin' wrong me... except ye. He'd nae allow me th' slightest deviation from me normal behaviors, fer he was burrowed that deep inte me head.

"How did ye know, Duffy?"

Duffy listens quietly and at the end his shoulders shrugged. Moira was right. It was something that could not be explained in words. He simply placed two fingers on his chest and pressed, just above his heart.

He then reached over and pressed them gently atop hers.

She smiled and shook her head. Sea, sometimes... it was just...

...something for which there were no words.

It had been so hard to believe then. And yet... he did what he could do, and although it had left her confused and skittish, it still helped. And after all that, maybe that's what had spurred her anger at his demotion... his alleged demotion. Lies had to be told. The telling of lies was a different thing that simply not speaking the truth, and that made her angry.

"I donnae know at what point ye charged him, or how long th' time seemed fer ye, but...

"Kerl Tarvik'll hae said 'twas naught but six weeks that th' demon'll hae held me prisoner but, sure I kin tell ye 'twas two years an' more it'll hae seemed te me. I donnae think ye kin quite understand what that'll hae been like fer a psi, bein' alone in me head an' in me heart fer so long. Mayhap that'll be why 'twas feelin' like so long." Moira shrugged.

"An' he'll hae been playin' games with me, too... usin' ye, an' all th' crew, against me. Showin' me all th' thousands heaped atop thousands o' ways he could kill ye, an' them. I'd nae e'en met Kat, an' he'll hae found a way te take her away, too, an' te use her te take me Paddy away from me again."

She was still, staring out the window again, and she'd begun shaking... trembling like a leaf in the wind.

"Th' worse o' it..." she whispered, "well, 'twould be hard te say if tellin' me Lucara was a Romulan spy an' puttin' me in charge o' th' Eclipse, then killin' people one by one was th' worse o' it... or if usin' ye te punish me fer fightin' back that'll hae been th' worst.

"I love ye, Duffy, an' fer whate'er strange reason there'll be, I'll hae loved ye from near te th' first moment I laid eyes on ye. Mayhap... mayhap that'll be a wee bit o' th' how ye'll hae known nae all was right with me.

"He knew that; knew how I'll hae been feelin' about ye. But he knew about me loyalty te me family an' friends an' shipmates, too. An' he'll hae used all o' it against me." She gripped his fingers tightly with her own, her voice getting even softer. "Ye'll be a man capable o' violence, an' yet would ne'er e'en think te hurt one o' yer own. I know that now, an' I'll hae known it then. But he tried lyin' te me fer what seemed te be two years, puttin' on yer countenance te hurt me in e'ery way a person kin hurt another. Near e'ery night, he'll hae left me lyin' broken an' battered an' bleedin' on th' floor o' me quarters, hopin' fer death... lookin' fer that escape... an' e'en though I'll nae hae truly wanted te die, feelin' 'twas th' only way te escape.


"Then there'll hae been a day — after ye were taken, so I'll hae thought, by th' demon — we docked at a space station... I'll hae looked it up since, Duffy, an' there'll be no such facility known te th' Federation. Nae ours, nae th' Klingons nor th' Ferengi nor th' Cardassians nor any race we'll e'er hae encountered. 'Twas called Shadrach.

"I'll hae studied th' family's holy book, an' Shadrach'll hae been one o' three lads who'll hae stayed true te their beliefs in th' face o' certain death."

She laughed, sharp and bitter. "Seems me Lady an' Padraig'll hae been tryin' te find a way past th' demon... an' as he'll hae decided te take me an' th' Eclipse te a space station, they'll hae used a symbol from Paddy's faith where naught from me own could hae been slipped in. I dinnae understand then, though, what they'll hae done. But 'twas yer preoccupyin' th' demon fer a wee bit that'll hae let them sneak a wee symbol o' hope inte me mind.

"But that'll hae been th' day, too... th' night, really... when ye returned te me quarters after me daily beatin', an' I'll hae been so frightfully terrified. A body kin only take so much pain, a mind kin only take so much torture before 'twill be goin' te places that'll be hard te escape. Ye'll remember that when I get te th' part about Cecil.

"But that night... 'twas nae th' demon in yer form. Aon, somehow ye managed te slip past th' beast yerself. Ye just held me, like ye'll be doin' this verra moment, but so soft an' gentle. I'll nae know how long it took fer me te believe 'twas really you, each night, jus' holdin' me, an' I'll nae know if ye had in yer mind te be doin' what ye did, or if 'twill hae only been yer thoughts o' protectin' me... but I thank ye, fer 'twas what gave me strength te keep fightin'."

She shook her head, and chuffed out another laugh, though this one held a hint of humor.

"I'll nae know yer perceptions o' fightin' with th' demon... I kin only say how 'twill hae looked te me. Ye did th' strangest thin' though, laddie... while we'll hae been docked at Shadrach, ye an' yer entire Security department'll hae been out crawlin' o'er e'ery inch o' th' ship... paintin' her black. I'll be rememberin' that clearly, fer I'll hae been thinkin' ye were daft... but th' demon? By th' Lady, ye'll hae confused th' bastard an' sent him inte a tizzy, ye did! 'Twas th' beginnin' o' th' end, that'll be th' truth.

"'Twill hae been... mayhap..." Moira paused, trying to remember. "' day I'll hae been called te th' Immelt an' Admiral Ryan'll hae told me he'll be wantin' me as Captain fer his ship. Ah, 'tis a good thin' th' Admiral'll hae been knowin' me since I was a wee girl, fer th' devil'll hae been dancin' jigs o' happiness thinkin' o' th' mayhem that'll be caused with havin' a starship an' her captain in his claws.

"After Sarkon an' his bloody fierce neck pinchin', 'twas a moment — nae more than a second, mayhap two — where ye must hae distracted him powerfully, fer Paddy was there tellin' me I'll hae th' answer, an' th' way te fight meself free. An' then 'twas back inte th' nightmare, with me on th' bridge an'... Cardassians, mayhap?... tryin' te blow us te th' tiniest o' bits. Th' doctor — nae any on th' Eclipse, an' I'll nae hae e'er seen nor heard o' her — she'll hae tried tellin' me ye were unfit fer duty. Sea, well, an' dinnae THAT jus' set me inte a respectable fury? Mayhap I'll hae said a rude thin' or two te th' doctor, before insistin' that ye get yerself te yer station on th' bridge... an' that'll hae been th' moment, Duffy, that one moment there when I'll hae been tellin' ye te stand with me, that'll hae been what started th' dominoes fallin'.

"Commander Kahallan... yer duty station is on th' bridge, an' I expect ye te report here. Immediately. That'll hae been what I said, an' I'll hae been a wee bit vexed in th' sayin' o' it, sure an' that'll be th' truth. Then there'll hae been... a distortion, a malfunction, somethin' on th' viewscreen, an' 'twill hae reminded me o' some song. An' I realized there'll hae been bits an' pieces o' songs goin' through me mind fer a while... 'twas likely th' bit o' hummin' that Kerl Tarvik liked te do, but I'll hae heard it first as songs from me childhood... a line here, another there.

"Hae ye e'er heard th' wolf cry te th' blue corn moon...

"Glory be te th' Mother an' th' Daughter an' th' Holy of Holies...

"The whole o' one o' th' Irish blessin's...

"May th' road rise up te meet ye, may th' wind be e'er at yer back, may th' sun shine warm upon yer face, an' th' rain fall softly on yer fields. An' until we meet again, may th' Goddess hold ye in th' palm o' Her hand.

"Other snips an' bits...

"I've been alive fore'er an' I wrote th' verra first song...

"All me life's a circle... there're no clear-cut beginnin's...

"Th' songs an' th' music were sendin' the demon inte a frenzy. Oh! How he'll hae been hatin' the verra sound o' it. That'll hae been when... well, ye know one o' th' thin's I kin do is hear a thin'... hear someone speakin' about a thin'... an' then paint it, or — with a wee bit more work — turn it inte a holoprogram. So, I'll hae been takin' th' sounds Kerl Tarvik was makin' an' th' songs floatin' through me head an' started weavin' them inte... well, nae quite a tapestry, but somethin' like that if a tapestry'll be made o' sound. 'Twas all discordance at first, then I'll jus' be pluckin' out a note here an' there til I'll hae been makin' a chord... one chord after another, an' before long I'll be weavin' chords inte melodies an' harmonies. 'Twas near te a symphony, 'twas. An' then... then I'll hae set it aside, with jus' a single pure tone ringin'... 'twas ringin' through me head, 'twas ringin' through e'ery cell o' me body, 'twas me perfect note. 'Tis th' sound o'... well, if me mental shields were te hae a sound, that'll hae been th' one.

"Kerl Tarvik said 'twas more than a few hours fer me te weave me symphony, but 'twill nae hae seemed so long te me. One minute I'll hae been weavin', th' next I'll be surrounded by me Lady again, an' Paddy'll be yammerin' at me, an' I could feel Emerald, an'... an' by all th' Gods an' Goddesses o' me ancestors, 'twas bloody fookin' loud on th' Immelt, an' e'eryone pressin' in on me with all th' feelin's!"

She sighed. "Sea, well, 'twould seem th' demon'll hae left me a wee partin' Gift... I'll hae near te Emerald's power o' telepathy, an' me own Gift'll be frightfully sensitive.

"An' there ye were, pacin' back an' forth outside me walls. Well, 'twas a fierce wolf doin' the pacin', an' Paddy was nigh unte convinced ye meant me harm, but Paddy'll nae always be usin' th' brains he'll hae been given an' I'll nae repeat what he'll be sayin' at th' moment, nae at all, at all."

Moira looked at him, smiling. "Ye DO look like a wolf with yer lanky self lookin' all fierce sometimes, an' bein' so quiet an'... well, prowlin' th' corridors, or so 'twill seem te some. Many." She grinned. "Near te th' whole o' th' ship."

She laughed softly at the image of Duffy as a wolf, then said more seriously, "An' sea, th' whole sordid tale o' th' demon'll tie inte Paddy's story. Th' wall I'll keep up near te e'ery moment o' e'ery day, they kin be compared te th' ship's shields, fer th' sake o' simplicity. Before me little encounter with th' bloody demon, 'twould be enough te keep th' shields at fifty percent power; now I'll need te be keepin' them closer te eighty percent. An' I'll hae needed te be modulatin' them te keep out th' thoughts o' somewhere close te a thousand people. An' I'll hae needed te be doin' all that powerful quickly te keep from goin' mad.

"'Twould happen te be that Paddy'll hae been a shield technician when he'll hae been..." She made a face, somewhere between annoyance and frustration. "...occupyin' his own body. He'll nae hae needed th' shields I do, an' as Seamus does — Seamus'll be a touch telepath — but he'll hae been studyin' mine fer near te three years, so he'll hae understood how te increase th' power te th' shields, so te speak, while I did th' modulatin'. Sure an' 'twill hae taken us but a few minutes te set thin's right, an' I'll hae been able te open me eyes fer th' first time in six weeks knowin' I could trust what I'll be seein' was real."

She laughed again, light, soft, having returned to a place of joy.

"Wouldn't ye know th' first thin' I'll be seein' is the face o' Kerl Tarvik peerin' at me? I might hae laughed then, too, hae me throat nae been so raw an' painful from all th' caterwaulin' th' demon was doin' while I'll hae been weavin' me symphonic tapestry.

"Parts o' th' next few weeks ye know.

"Our wee misunderstandin' when Kerl Tarvik let us out o' his Sickbay. Th' Lady speakin' te ye. Ye'll likely nae know I'll hae been more than a wee bit worried o'er Emerald, e'en though Kerl Tarvik an' Lori'll both hae said she'll hae been... well, mayhap nae fine, but well enough that they'll nae be concerned. But I'll still be havin' th' bond with her, an'..."

Moira sighed.

"Again, 'tis another thin' that'll be hard te place inte words, but she'll hae changed as both ye an' I'll hae changed by th' contact with Legion.

"Only... she'll hae been gripped harder an' longer than ye or I, an' seemed as though, mayhap, a wee bit o' th' demon stuck te her mind." She furrowed her brows. "Nae th' part o' evil, I'll be thinkin', but... a wee bit o' someone who'll hae been caught by Legion as we'll hae been, an' nae able te break free.

"She an' I'll hae had a spat, an' I'll hae closed me shields down a wee bit too hard..." She stopped, sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine. I'll hae foolishly slammed me shields down entirely too hard an' too fast — are ye happy now, ye Pest? — an' gave meself a bloody awful backlash headache. 'Tis somethin' like a migraine, only worse. That'll hae been when I told Kerl Tarvik about Paddy, an' I kin tell ye, Paddy'll nae hae been th' least bit pleased about it. But Kerl Tarvik... his folks'll hae been doin' what Paddy an' I'll be doin' fer — sea, well, he dinnae say, but 'tis what his race does. So, he'll be havin' two separate consciousnesses in one body, an' he'll be thinkin' if havin' Paddy in me head'll nae be causin' me te act in a way unbecomin' a Starfleet officer — an' how could it, with both o' us bein' Starfleet officers? — or affect me decision-makin', that there'll be no problem in his opinion.

"Em an' I tried te patch thin's up, sure an' that'll be th' truth. We'll e'en hae gone te see Lori tegether, te work out where we'll be havin' issues an' disagreements an' such. O' course, I'll hae told Lori about Paddy, too, an' by this time me poor brother is wonderin' if mayhap I'll jus' be postin' th' fact on all th' news channels." Moira chuckled, resting comfortably against Duffy, head against his chest and her hair half-obscuring her face. "Ye'd think th' lad'll be trustin' me after all these years, knowin' I'd ne'er do a thin' te harm him.

"So, I'll hae thought thin's were workin' out between us, when... well, that'll hae been th' day Cecil'll hae had his... meltdown, I suppose ye'd say." She was quiet and still, as if replaying the incident in her mind.

"Seanmháthair'll be a Healer... in th' old ways. She'll be carin' fer folks' bodies, minds, spirits an' — fer th' psis — psyches. An' she'll hae taught me, hopin' I'll be followin' her footsteps, nae only as Priestess but Healer, too. She'll hae been a mite annoyed when I'll hae decided te follow Ciaran off te Starfleet, she was! She'll still be a wee bit miffed, but I'll jus' keep tellin' her that our Lady'll watch o'er me, an' when me adventure with Starfleet'll be finished, sure an' won't I come home an' take up th' Healin' again? Nae that I know how te manage that with ye an' Kat nae likin' th' open sky an' such, but we'll nae worry fer thin's that'll be so far in th' future, sea?

"But when Cecil'll hae gotten th' wee case with th' message from his Belinda... sure an' I'll nae know how Cecil'll hae managed te put all o' his pain an' rage an' loss out inte th' place fer psis te hear. Mayhap 'twas simply his mind's way o' preservin' itself, fer th' power o' those emotions...

"I'll hae said me unique Gift o' empathy — o' feelin' th' emotions o' others — 'twill hae been increased powerfully. An' because o' th' Imzadi bond, nae only did I feel th' full force o' Cecil pain tearin' through me shields almost as if they'll nae e'en hae been there... e'en with me shields bein' set higher than I'll hae been used te... part o' his pain spilled through th' bond te Emerald. There'll nae hae been a way te keep that from happenin'; nae with a psi blast that hard. 'Tis a miracle e'ery psi on Ekton dinnae hae a violent headache from that, sure that'll be th' truth."

She sighed again.

"Ye know what ye saw, ye know th' outcome o' that night. Te understand what'll hae finally come out o' that, I'll need te be explainin' — or tryin' te explain, anyway — how 'twill hae seemed te me. An' te Em... fer I want te be fair.

"Em'll hae trained as a psi therapist on Vulcan. So when she'll hae felt Cecil's pain, her first instinct was te help. 'Tis nae what I'll hae been faultin' her fer, 'twas only th' way she'll hae done it. Em'll be a telepath, nae an empath. Most folks, they'll nae know nor care that there'll be a difference, a distinction. 'Tis all one thin' te them. But Em'll know th' difference, an' should nae hae forgotten that she'll know th' difference. Telepaths'll deal with th' thoughts, an' thoughts'll be centered in th' mind. Empaths'll deal with th' emotions... an' there'll be no center te emotions, e'en if some'll claim 'twill be th' heart. 'Tis nae so. Emotions'll be through th' whole o' a person's body.

"So Em... she'll hae focused on Cecil's mind, tryin' te hold th' emotions in there, an' givin' a wee push te convince Cecil te let her inte his quarters. I'll hae gotten te his door jus' as she gave her wee push, an' Cecil — thinkin' 'twas his Belinda callin' te him — had th' computer open th' door. He'll hae been there, hands torn te bloody bits again, ragin' on th' floor jus' lookin' at th' holo-message from Belinda. I'll hae called Medical as I was flyin' down th' corridor meself, an' Lori arrived jus' after we did.

"Next'll be th' thin' that Em ne'er should hae done. She wrapped her arms around him. She'll hae made skin-te-skin contact." Moira closed her eyes and shook her head. "Em'll hae barely had control o' her Orion pheromones an' I'll hae told her an' Lori that'll hae been a concern fer me. She'll hae said later 'twas te ease his pain that she'll hae touched him — an' knowin' Em, sure an' that'll hae been her intention... te ease Cecil's pain. Then she'll hae started buildin' a shield around his mind... te keep Cecil from washin' th' whole station with his pain, she'll hae later said.

"But ye mayhap kin see th' problem there, sea? Puttin' a wall around his mind, when th' pain was comin' from th' whole o' his body, sea?

"An' then she'll hae tried gettin' Cecil te let her inside his mind."

She was quiet for a few minutes, though obviously tense.

"I'll hae shut off th' holo-message, an' Lori'll hae given Cecil a sedative. When I'll hae seen what Em was doin', despite some argument an' dissent from th' shield tech in me head, I cut all power te those shields an'... well, I suppose th' nearest thin' te explainin' would be that I'll hae wrapped Cecil in a cocoon o' soothin' emotions. Th' whole o' him, as one ought. An' when Em'll hae put her shield around his mind, Paddy an' I'll jus' hae modulated me shields te match... makin' sure th' whole o' Cecil was wrapped in soothin' emotions. As one ought.

"I'll hae known when th' med techs arrived, an' I'll e'en hae noticed when ye arrived. E'en then, I'll hae thought that... unusual, though I kinnae say 'twas a thin' that I found displeasin'. But poor Cecil! Ah! Lady, 'twas so much pain there, Duffy, an' ye standin' there watchin' o'er us, ye'll nae hae likely e'en known how much pain was in th' room that night.

"But again, Em was tryin' te poke inte Cecil's mind... nae understandin' — mayhap nae rememberin' — that'll nae be th' way te deal with emotional pain. I'll hae kept beggin' her te stop, but she'll nae hae listened, she'll nae heard... or mayhap she'll jus' hae thought she'll hae been doin' th' right thin'. That'll hae been what she said later.

"That'll hae been, mayhap, when Em realized she'll nae hae th' right o' thin's, but te undo what she'll hae done would hae surely ruined Cecil's mind. He'll hae gone te a place inside, deep... far inside... his mind, te a place that'll hae allowed him te survive his... stay... with th' Cardassians."

She swallowed, but still... still... she was going to get through this tale without tears. By the Goddess, she would!

"Em'll hae opened a door, an' Cecil'll nae hae recognized her. He'll hae been thinkin' 'twas th' Cardassians comin' fer him again. She'll hae tried te coax Cecil out o' his hidin' place, but... Cecil dinnae know her. She'll hae had th' presence o' mind te realize mayhap, jus' mayhap, Cecil would recognize me.

"Ah, Duffy... th' next moment near te tore me in two. Em'll hae opened a door fer me te see inte Cecil's hidin' place, but at th' verra same moment, I could feel Rika... right down th' hall... an' she'll hae been filled with a sense o' peace that'll hae made me weep were I nae lookin' at th' terrible hell o' Cecil mind.

"Since Rika'll hae been there later, I'll be guessin' I asked ye te call her.

"An' then I'll hae walk through th' door inte Cecil's hell."

Moira took a deep breath.

"Ye recall I'll hae said earlier that a mind kin only take so much torment before it'll be goin' te places that'll be hard te escape. That'll hae been th' sort o' place Cecil'll hae found himself. He'll hae looked... we'll, I'll hae sworn nae te say how I'll hae found him, an' so I'll nae. He'll hae nae believed 'twas me fer a moment, but then he'll hae been admonishin' me fer bein' there. As I'll hae come te realize, 'tis so verra like Cecil te hae chastised me fer goin' inte a terrible situation such as I'll hae found him. A wee bit like a certain... Lieutenant... I'll happen te hae th' joy o' knowin'.

"I'll hae tried coaxin' him out... I'll hae known when Rika arrived... I'll hae known that Em was in a powerful bit o' pain... Ah. That'll be a bit I'll hae forgotten te mention. She'll hae seen ye as... a rival? I'll nae be sure I'll e'er quite be understandin', but near as I kin work out, she'll hae been thinkin' in absolutes, an' dinnae think I could continue te hae feelin's fer her if I was in love with ye. A heart'll be a powerful large thin', an' if 'twas nae possible te love dozens o' people... well, sure an' I'll hae ne'er become th' person I am. An' mayhap bein' an empath'll be part o' understandin' jus' how powerful a heart'll be. I donnae know, an' like as nae, I ne'er will.

"Finally... well, I'll finally hae coaxed him out, an' Em... sea, I'll be thinkin' th' strain'll hae caused her te pass out. Sure' an' I felt meself startin' te slide toward th' floor. Rika... that lass'll hae quick reflexes, that she will. An' I'll hae been hearin' Lori goin' on about goin' te Sickbay. Pah! I'll hae needed a decent meal an' half a day's sleep, but Sickbay? Ah, but then ye were there.

"'Twas... ah, how kin I explain? Sea, I'll hae felt yer arms around me. But th' ragin' I was set on givin' Lori... 'twas yer peace that'll hae spilled a bucket o' water o'er me fire. 'Twas, fer a moment... likely because me shields were completely down an' I'll hae been run ragged through both Em's an' Cecil's emotions... but fer a moment, 'twas as if ye an' I were one. When I closed me eyes — donnae laugh at me now, Donovan Kahallan! — I'll swear te th' Goddess I'll hae seen a great black wolf sittin' up on a ledge jus' starin' down at me. Nae threatenin' or th' like... jus'... watchin'. Well, an' then th' transporter'll hae grabbed us, an' that'll hae been th' end o' that. I'll ne'er hae seen past yer wall since."

She shrugged lightly.

"Oh, an' jus' fer reference purposes, sendin' a psi through th' transporter like that... without shields, an' a wee bit battered? 'Tis a terrible idea. 'Tis also excruciatingly painful. Ye'll nae hae known, but Lori ought te hae known better.

"Sea, so, an' th' next day, ye may recall, Rika'll hae come te me with th' problem o' Cecil reactin' te Em's pheromones, an' me confinin' Em te her quarters."

Yet again, his fiery Celtic queen was silent for quite a while. It soothed her now, his silence, where once it maddened her. Now, especially now, she treasured it, for it allowed her to tell her account her way, as it should be told, and uninterrupted. She smiled behind the curtain of her hair. This next bit... well, probably the strangest parts had already been covered, right? Probably.

"At some point later in th' day, Em'll hae done whate'er she need te do te break th' Imzadi relationship between us. She'll ne'er hae said, but she'll hae hinted 'twas painful. But what Paddy an' I'll hae noted was jus' th' frequency o' me shields'll hae changed. Mayhap, fer a moment, 'twill hae seemed as if a clean, gentle breeze'll hae passed by... but naught else.

"But between then an' th' day o' th' Clarke's arrival — a full eight weeks — I'll hae noted a change in th'... I suppose construction'll be a good word... o' th' shields. 'Twas gradual, that'll be true, but I'll hae been livin' inside them fer near te me whole life so I'll be noticin' th' changes sure as ye'll be notin' e'erthin' that goes on around ye.

"It'll hae taken those whole eight weeks, though, fer Paddy te figure out what'll hae happened, an' e'en then I'll hae had te prod him inte makin' all th' proper connections." Her voice held all the merriment she'd felt that day as she had teased her brother.

"Now, te retrace a wee bit — 'twill be a bit o' information makin' more sense now than tellin' it as it'll hae happened — when I'll hae told Kerl Tarvik about Paddy, we'll hae worked out th' reason fer me nearly perishin' after Paddy died, an' th' reason fer Paddy returnin'... e'en, ultimately, th' reason fer th' change in th' construction o' me shields. As I'll hae explained te Ciaran — oh! An' Paddy'll hae thrown th' worse o' temper tantrums THAT night, I kin tell ye that true! — would seem that we'll hae nae gotten our fair share o'... well, th' Catholics o' th' family'll call it 'soul' an' I suppose that'll be a decent enough word te use. 'Twas as if, mayhap, th' universe dinnae notice there'll hae been two o' us growin', or mayhap th' universe'll hae figured there ought te hae only been one o' us. But e'erythin' that'll hae happened... me near te dyin', an' recoverin' fine as a fiddle once both halves o' our soul snapped back tegether, an' th' torment both o' us were goin' through when Legion separated us, e'en te th' reconstruction o' me shields... kin be accounted fer by th' theory.

"I'll be freer in some o' my beliefs an' more constrained in others than most o' th' family, but if proper Catholic lads such as Paddy an' Ciaran'll nae find th' concepts objectionable..." She shrugged. "Who'll I be te say 'tis nae so? My Lady'll say naught on th' topic, so I'll be fine thinkin' as we do.

"But th' night th' Clarke'll hae arrived at Ekton... ye'll recall we'll hae had a wee chat with Admiral Savrik, sea? Oh, an' that'll hae been when ye an' Kat were reunited, an' I'll finally hae had th' chance te meet her. Almost meet her. An' that'll hae been when I learned me favorite Elder Brother'll hae been assigned te me ship." The smile began behind the curtain of flame-colored locks and grew as she looked up again, shaking most of the hair from her face. "Hae I mentioned I'll be quite fond o' yer sister? Ye'll nae be wrong sayin' she'll be th' smart one... there'll be times I'll be thinkin' th' lass'll be e'en smarter than I!" Moira chuckled softly before resting her head back down against Duffy's chest. "After th' meetin' with th' Admiral, as I'll hae been gettin' ready te meet me new ship, an' hae th' silly Assembly, Paddy'll hae asked if I'll hae been worried about th' Shan, with them bein' telepathic or empathic or whate'er they're supposed te be. Sure an' I'll nae hae seen any evidence o' either, but fer that once when he'll hae been... singin'?... at th' reception. That'll hae been a blast o' emotion, I'll nae be lyin' about that! Near te knocked me right o'er, it did. But Paddy's concern, e'en before we'll hae met th' Ambassador, was that me shields had changed since Emerald'll hae broken th' bond between us. Sure an' did it nae take him long enough te notice, I ask ye? So I told him te go outside th' shields an' take a look at them... he kin do that, an' I kinnae, an' we'll be supposin' 'twill hae somethin' to do with him nae havin' his own body an' will hae been used te seein' them from th' other side. But... 'twill jus' be a guess. Now, he'll nae hae wanted te do that, fer th' last time he'll hae done so... jus' after we'll hae been freed o' th' devil's grasp... 'twas like bein' electrocuted, or so he said. But I'll hae encouraged him te at least be touchin' them from th' inside."

She giggled, and it was most certainly the giggle of a sister who had played a brilliant prank on a brother.

"Oh, he'll hae stepped out... fallen out, more te th' point when he'll hae leaned against them as if they'll hae been a wall... an' 'twas a good twenty minutes before he got back in.

"He'll be described th' shields as feelin' like — an' I'll be quotin' his exact words, fer they're a keen reflection o' his poetic soul — velvet an' honey an' love an' sunshine an' our favorite place out in th' field. Ah, sure an' 'twill be a blessed place inside me head since then, fer I'll add 'twill feel like peace an' goodness, too.

"O' course, once he'll hae fallen out, he'll hae had th' devil o' a time gettin' back in. He'll hae been tossin' th' equivalent o' rocks at me shields, an' I'll nae hae felt a thin'. I'll finally hae had pity on th' poor lad an' let him back in, fer I could see him liftin' bigger an' bigger rocks. He'll hae barely been able te lift th' last one, so I relented. An' me bein' able te see through th' shields... that'll hae been part o' th' reconstruction, too. Before... ah, they'll be th' prettiest thin's, Duffy, I kin tell ye that! O'er a latticework o' wood there'll be growin' beautiful ivy vines, an' twinklin' amidst the vines'll be gems an' jewels o' all th' colors o' th' rainbow, an' then more, an' then all th' flowers that'll be th' Lady's protection. But 'twas always verra solid, truly like a wall o' vegetation. Now... e'en though I kin still see th' wood an' the ivy an' the jewels an' the flowers, I kin see right through them, too. 'Tis true that I'll hae gotten a wee bit o' a headache until I'll hae figured out jus' how te look.

"Oh, an' Paddy'll hae mentioned a large black wolf pacin' back an' forth outside. E'en then, ye'll hae worried th' poor lad. I'll hae seen th' wolf there e'ery day, I'll hae gotten used te seein' it. But Paddy, he kinnae see through th' shields as I kin, but then I kinnae go outside them, so I'll be thinkin' 'tis a fair enough trade. So, there was th' poor lad worried yet about th' great black wolf. My reckonin'll be that 'tis jus' me mind remindin' me that ye'll be watchin' out fer me... fer yer Captain, fer yer lady Moira... te compensate, I suppose, fer nae bein' able te feel past yer walls. An' like bein' able te see through me shields instead o' passin' through them — I'll hae te be touched te want te leave them behind in any case — seein' a wolf pacin' outside'll be a reasonable compromise.

"But th' fact that Paddy'll tossed th' biggest thin' he could find an' I'll nae e'en hae noticed... well, he'll hae been thinkin' I'll be powerfully frightenin'. An' 'tis true that me shields'll be... I'll nae say impenetrable, but nigh unte, when it'll come down te it. But that'll nae hae been a gift o' th' demon, fer I'll hae then instructed me daft brother te carefully be inspectin' th' shields.

"'Twill hae taken him a bit, but he'll hae figured out that part o' him'll hae been incorporated inte th' shields. 'Tis like diamonds becomin' part o' th' wood... an' ye know how hard diamonds'll be.

"Th' important thin'... th' best thin'... about th' diamonds saturatin' th' wood an' growin' right along with it... well, 'twould mean our soul'll hae finally healed an' knit itself back tegether. Mayhap havin' th' Imzadi bond with Emerald'll hae slowed our healin', or mayhap 'twill hae stopped it altogether... there'll be no way o' knowin'. O' course, Paddy'll then hae decided tegether we were powerfully frightin', though te this day I'll keep insistin' 'twill just be makin' us safer.

"After th' Assembly... ah, but dinnae Ciaran an' I hae a grand reunion! Talkin', an' him fiddlin' an' me with me harp, an' talkin' e'en more. As I'll hae said, that'll hae been when I'll hae told Ciaran about Paddy, an' Paddy's fierce temper tantrum that'll hae had me head poundin'. There'll be a reason me nickname fer him'll be 'Pest', sure enough. An' with th' new telepathy bit I kin do... th' two o' them... Ah, now that'll be a memory o' such joy, I'll be near te cryin' jus' thinkin' o' it, an' I promised meself there'd be no tears in the tellin' o' this story." Once again, she looked up at him, the joy radiating from her in almost palpable waves. "Think o' th' thin' that'll hae made ye th' happiest in th' whole o' yer life an' double it, at least. That'll hae been what th' O'Shaughnessys'll hae been feelin' that night. I promise ye I'll hae been weepin' tears o' happiness, 'tis true."

Moira looked at Duffy for a moment, then her expression changed — slightly, so slightly — to include a hint of suspicion.

"Ye'll note that I'll hae mentioned e'er time I told another person about Padraig, e'en his own beloved brother — ESPECIALLY his own brother — th' lad'll hae had a fit o' temper. But fer th' past two weeks, e'er since Padraig an' Ciaran reunited, Paddy'll hae been yammerin' at me an' pesterin' me an' generally bein' a nuisance — which he'll hae promised Ciaran he'd nae do anymore, by th' way — wantin' me te tell ye all about him. So now, there ye'll be havin' th' tale o' Padraig Breandan Christopher O'Shaughnessy. Mayhap he'll quiet himself a bit, an' keep his promise te our Elder Brother.

"O' course, I donnae think he'll be understandin' ye quite as I do," she said with a wink. "This'll be th' point where he'll be expectin' a flood o' questions, despite me tellin' him that a man who'll simply be remarkin', Now that is something one does not see every day when the Lady comes upon me 'twill nae be one who'll be havin' a flood o' questions."

"Well then, lassie... I'll be nae t'e one to be disappointin' thee."

And with that, Duffy quietly tucked Moira beneath his shoulder, resting her head to his, as they looked out to the garden...


The two sat in companionable silence, in peace, for only a few minutes before a voice could be heard from the upper level... swearing... indicating that something had gone awry.

Or not... Moira had begun giggling.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, you little Witch!"

Moira didn't move from the comfort of Duffy's embrace, nor did her gaze drift from the garden outside the windows.

More cursing, both in Standard and Irish — though mostly the former — could be heard, along with footsteps moving through the upper hallway and across the balcony overlooking the Great Room. The footsteps paused a moment, though the tirade did not, before moving down the stairs and across the room.

A young man in his late twenties, hair of flame like Moira's and emerald eyes flashing with exasperation as hers had on more than one occasion, stood across from them with hands on hips... beyond the table, beyond the other sofa... a distance far enough away that he perceived himself to be safe. He wore jeans, a royal blue polo shirt and what appeared to be standard-issue Starfleet uniform boots.

"Why the hell are you always RIGHT, Moira Maeve?!"

The red haired lass just smiled as she looked up at Duffy.

"He'll always hae hated bein' told, 'I told ye so.' Duffy, this'll be me brother, Padraig. Ah, or at least a holoprogram fer th' lad te control an' feel part o' th' world. But 'twill be th' bit him livin' in me head, poor temper an' all."

Moira looked at her brother with a devilish grin. "Because I'll th' older an' wiser o' us? Behave yerself, Paddy. This'll be me heart's true love, Donovan Kahallan, an' ye'll mind yer manners or..."

"Yes, yes... I know," he said, interrupting her. "You'll tattle to Ciaran. Blabbermouth."

Not quite as tall as Ciaran — in fact, at only a fraction of an inch over six feet, he was the shortest of the O'Shaughnessy lads — he was as trim and fit. In the blink of an eye, his annoyance disappeared, and he grinned... a smile that was almost identical to his twin's at her happiest.

Beyond looking between the two of them, Moira still hadn't moved. She merely watched as Padraig moved to the opposite couch to take a seat. Lacing his fingers together and leaning forward to rest his forearms on his legs, he said, "I'm glad to meet you finally, Commander. What Mo only hinted at is that keeping this little secret..." He pointed to himself and Moira. "...from you has been making her crazier than she already is."

She lightly shrugged as she looked up at Duffy again. "Sea, well... th' lad'll hae me there, 'tis true."

Her smile though... ah, it was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it was.

The dark haired survivor watched as Padraig approached, dark eyes measuring him with each step and each word. And when he arrived he was silent for a bit, considering his words carefully, fully realizing while she was clearly the more attractive twin... here tucked beneath his arm... that he was claiming half of a familial set was also part of the fact.

Wolves understand about territory.

"Actually I do have a question for Moira Maeve O'Shaughnessy's brother.

"So..." as he claims his, "Tell me of her dowry...

"...Brother Paddy."

"Only SHE gets to call me 'Paddy'," he said out of reflex before the remainder of Duffy's words caught up.


The younger twin looked at the elder quizzically for a few seconds, before his attention turned back to Duffy.

"What the heck is a dowry?" Padraig asked, honestly confused.

Moira laughed, and gently tapped Duffy on the chest with her free hand as she looked up at him. "Now, that'll be downright cruel te th' lad. Ancient history'll hae nae been his best subject at school." She shook her head, grinning, as she looked at her twin with raised eyebrows.

Padraig's expression went from confusion to interest to understanding and then back to confusion over the space of a minute or so.

"Okaaaaay," he said finally. "Isn't that something you should be asking of our Da, Commander? Well, assuming you could find him, which I'm not doubting, as there are only so many pubs and back alleys in County Tipperary... or perhaps Ciaran, as the elder brother?"

He leaned back on the sofa, both arms spread along the back and one leg crossed over the other.

"However, that said," he continued, grinning, "there is no way you are going to get me involved any negotiations involving my sister's heart. I might not be as brilliant as some folks on this ship, but I'm not stupid either."

His grin softened to a fond smile as he looked at Moira, looked at the two of them together across from him.

"Besides, you great galloping fool... she's already given you her dowry."

"Then, Brother Paddy..." He let his voice drop quietly. "You see, I do understand just how special a lass I 'ave tucked under my arm. No question. You, however, need to understand, you've invited the last English wolf into your family. And no matter how it scares you...

"That dark dire predator that haunts this place... protects me... and protects mine."

"I..." Padraig began, then sighed and shook his head. "You tell him," he said, looking at his sister. "But later."

The young man refocused his attention on the Security officer, resuming his intense posture with feet flat on the floor, leaning forward with forearms resting on his knees. He was still, almost contemplative, for minutes that stretched longer for him that those who'd become accustomed to silence.

"I had a reason for pestering Mo," he said, finally. "I wanted to get outside her head, and take your measure with as little of her influence as possible." Honesty... that had always been one of Padraig's strong suits. "It's not that I don't trust her judgment, for I do... I always have... and I always will. But I did need to see with what passes for my own eyes just who this Donovan Kahallan is. From inside, it's hard to integrate the man and the predator. Well, for me, at least. The Witch seems to have done a fine job of it."

He smiled a crooked grin. "And yes, I'll admit that the predator is more than a little intimidating. But by seeing you like this..." He gestured to the two of them. "I find it easier to see it as she does."

He looked between his beloved sister and her alleged Lieutenant, his infectious smile lighting his face.

"For what it's worth... and it may be worth more to Moira than you, Commander... but I approve."

Padraig leaned back again and said, simply, "Welcome to the family, Brother Duffy."

Moira just chuckled. "Well, now, Paddy... dinnae I nae tell ye? Oh, sea... need te see fer yerself, ye amadán." She rolled her eyes at him before looking up at Duffy and patting his chest with her free hand.

"So, mo ionúin, we'll jus' need te be jumpin' th' broom then."

"We can't..." His words were soft, quiet, gentle.

But before Moira can reply, before Padraig can speak, he silences his beloved with a pair of fingers lain lightly upon her lips.


"You have nine hundred and twenty two days to find one."

Moira only smiled while Padraig held up his hands in surrender.

She kissed Duffy's fingertips and held his hand lightly; both of his now captured by hers.

"Sea, ye've tangles te unweave, ye do. A bride ought te be makin' her own broom in any case, muirnín," she said. "An' we'd best nae still be servin' with th' El-Aurian... th' lass'll be makin' a tremendous deal out o' somethin' that ought te be simple."

A peaceful heart, a peaceful soul...

Well, most of a peaceful soul...

"It has to be one of your pagan ceremonies, doesn't it, Witch?"

But it was said more in affection, less in exasperation, and unconditionally with joy.

He got up and walked behind the sofa where the couple sat, and kissed the top of his sister's head. "I'll be upstairs, reading a book of my own choosing. Just give me a moment's notice before you shut down the program so I can mark my place."

Padraig's return to the upper level was quieter and calmer than his descent.

"Ah, I knew ye'd like him, Duffy," was all Moira said, settling close and comfortable to her beloved, watching butterflies and fairies flit about the garden outside.

© Kelly Naylor and Mike Naylor