Unrequited Love, part two, by Noelle Hay (edited by Lynne Ann Morse - my partner in crime)

Zack frowned, looking at the stack of papers the Lieutenant had brought in with her. "Oh god," he whispered.

"I need these inventory reports filled out Chief," she said. She looked sternly at him. "Every time you put it off, it only piles up. For *both* of us!"

"We just did inventory last month O'Herra!" he complained.

"You mean you just barely finished last quarter's inventory," Lt. Oherra corrected him. "Maybe if you didn't put it off so often, it wouldn't seem so bad." She put the first stack of papers directly in front of him. "Let's get started..shall we?"

Zack sighed resignedly. There was no excuse to pull him from this one. He listened to the Lieutenant intone names, numbers, equipment, etc. By the tenth page he was getting blurry-eyed. Each time he looked up, thinking to talk the Lieutenant into taking a break, she looked back with stern, unfeeling eyes that warned him to not even ask. By the twelfth page, Zack understood what an out-of-body experience was, as his mouth rattled out numbers and names without conscious command. He was numb with boredom.

As he said his third prayer for relief, Garibaldi walked in. He looked at Zack's desk piled with stacks of papers, notepads, and data crystals. He smiled. "Inventory! There's one less thing I have to worry about," he gloated. "Zack, you poor guy. I'd give you a hand but... I don't have to!"

That normally would have made Zack a bit peeved, even aware that Garibaldi was joking. Instead, he made a mental note to specify what type of relief he needed in his next prayer. However, as long as Garibaldi was interrupting them, Zack wasn't doing inventory. He said a quick prayer of thanks.

Then the alert came in.

"We have a reported disturbance in the Alliance Meetingroom 3," one of security personnel announced on the office speaker. "Security in that area, please respond."

Zack jumped to his feet. His body was moving before he even realized it. He did not glance before rushing out, not even as he brushed past Garibaldi. With uncanny speed, the security chief reached the corridor to the meeting room. He waited a minute for Garibaldi to arrive, for back-up. Zack's former boss said, slightly winded, "You were out of there like a shot. And *I* thought nothing short of a real pepperoni pizza could get you moving that fast."

But Zack was only listening for the shouts and thumps coming from down the hall. In one instinctive move, honed by years in security work, Zack pulled and charged his ppg. He could see a few security personnel rushing toward him from the opposite end of the hall.

Zack barely turned his head to speak to Garibaldi: "I'm going in. Cover me." He slowed as he reached the door of meeting room 3, now strangely silent. He heard Garibaldi charging up his ppg. Zack poked at the doorpad with his override code, and it opened.

The room was in shambles. Chairs and wall-ornaments askew. But the ambassadors were sitting completely reverent in their chairs. A human female was sitting between them, breathing a bit hard, but not entirely out-of-breath. She looked straight at Zack as he entered. She regarded him with coolness, as if butter couldn't melt her mouth. Zack lowered his ppg.

Garibaldi pushed past Zack into the room, looking around at the shambles left, and then at the inhabitants of the room.

Zack smiled at the cool-looking woman. She was attractive, even with that icy look. He said another prayer of thanks along the lines of; "Thank you, God, this was more the kind of relief I had in mind." Then he noticed: Garibaldi had frozen in his tracks, staring at the woman. Then he said something under his breath, and put down his ppg. Zack watched Garibaldi’s face turn from concern to a deep scowl.

"Is everything all right in here?" Zack asked, directing his question toward the woman.

"Everything is just *fine*," she said, looking directly into his eyes. She had the strangest hazel eyes, Zack noted. Not any one color at all, but green, gold, blue and brown, all in one. Her face was heart-shaped, with high round cheeks. The face of a woman born to smile, he thought.

The woman broke their gazing-match to address the the Drazi Ambassador, "Everything is fine here, isn't it, Ambassador?"

"Yes, oh yes, of course," the Ambassador agreed, all too eagerly.

Zack felt a building tension in the room. Garibaldi viewed the woman through narrowed eyes. Zack witnessed this battle of wills with care. He didn't have the wisdom bred in some men, but he did have instinct. Instinct, he trusted. And his instinct told him there was something between this woman and Garibaldi. It was larger than the fracas that had just taken place here. It was something ...personal. The sitting woman stared back at Garibaldi with the same cold look he gave her. They were evenly matched, Zack noted, in their coldness toward each other, despite their uneven postures.

The Brakiri was about to speak when the woman turned sharply toward him, to silence any interruption. The Brakiri ambassador sunk into his chair instantly silenced by the gesture.

Zack found her distractingly attractive, with her eyebrow raised provocatively like that. She returned her attention to Zack. In her hair, burgundy highlights shone like a warning flame beneath the cold, faint and deep beneath the predominant ash brown. The image piqued his interest in her all the more.

Then Zack saw her gaze shift and catch on Garibaldi. Something flashed in her eyes. For a moment, Zack thought it was regret, but it disappeared before he could put a name on it. Her eyes turned back to him.

"You *sure* everything is okay here?" he asked, his question including her and Garibaldi, as much as the meeting with the ambassadors.

"Thank you for your concern, Mr. Allen," she said kindly, but her eyes warned him not to interfere. "We were just finishing up in here." She stood, looking intimidatingly over the ambassadors, "That is, unless either one of you has any objections?" The ambassadors shook their heads, copying the human gesture of their interrogator emphatically.

"Good," she said dryly. "We can pick up where we left off tomorrow morning." She picked up her briefcase and walked briskly past the gaping crowd of onlooking security personnel, who had been spectating the scene.

Zack looked as Garibaldi gazed after her, a mix of emotions on his face.

Zack hazarded a guess, "Friend of yours?"

Garibaldi's response was a look that could have sliced the hull. It was a clear warning not to ask that question again.

Zack cast about for a different approach. "This is definitely going to take a while to straighten out for a report," he said, using a thoughtful tone. He looked sidelong at Garibaldi, who he could see was still fuming over the woman. Though Zack couldn't understand why. "You do realize, I'll have to write up a report on this? It's obvious that something is missing from Ms. Hatch's security profile. I'm going to have to have a talk with her." He faced his former boss directly, to get his attention. "Unless you can tell me something about her?"

Garibaldi pursed his lips and scowled. Zack knew something was wrong. Something about this woman knocked Garibaldi off-balance, and that was far too serious for Zack to ignore.

Zack was still trying to figure out how to broach this new insight, when the Drazi Ambassador came up to Garibaldi.

"Ms. Hatch is a friend of yours?" The Drazi asked.

"Uh," was all Garibaldi responded with.

"Would you be so kind as to help me contact her?" the Drazi inquired. "I wish to pay her respect."


"Yes, yes. Her room number, or perhaps a comm unit at which I can reach her. It would be most inappropriate for me to ask her directly. But since she is a friend of yours...I thought perhaps you would help me? Unless she is your breeding mate?" he asked.

"No!" Garibaldi said abruptly.

"Very well," the Drazi said disappointed. "I will have to wait until you finish breeding, or she breaks your ribs or tires of you. I understand human males do not have the stamina we Drazi do."

"I'm not "breeding" with her!" Garibaldi insisted hotly.

"You aren't?" the Drazi asked stunned. "Are you sick? " The Drazi's face twisted in confusion of culture shock. His eye's brightened as he came to another conclusion. "Perhaps you are unable?"

"No!" Garibaldi practically shouted, clearly frustrated at the turn of this conversation.

Zack tried not to smile or laugh, but failed rather miserably at both.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," the Drazi said, "I hear it is quite common in your race. Fortunately it is not something we Drazi suffer from."

"I'm not unable," Garibaldi growled.

The Drazi shrugged in good-natured confusion. "She is good breeding quality, Mr. Garibaldi, especially for a human female. You should reconsider." With that the Drazi hurried down the hall toward the transport tube.

Zack chuckled.

"I'm *so* glad you're enjoying this, Zack," Garibaldi grumbled sarcastically. "I hope you're ready for more. As long as Ellen's here, there's no telling how much of this sort of "enjoyment" you'll be getting."

"Her kind of trouble, I think I might like," Zack said, his voice dropping to a gravelly, defiant pitch. He smiled his most mischievous grin.

Garibaldi made an expression between a pout and a grimace. As an expression, it was hardly noticeable, but Zack noticed. In less than one hour, she had him in a tail-spin -- and now, without even being in the room. Zack weighed the facts. If Ms. Hatch was trouble for Garibaldi, she must certainly be trouble for him. But even if that conclusion were correct, he knew he had to find out for himself.