Summary: The 9th installment in the “Raising Naomi” series. Command School gets to be too much for the Thompson-Torreses, and the ship hits the fan.  The history of Kieran’s pre-B’Elanna post P’arth love life is revealed. Naomi’s experiences on Restid Three change her life forever.  If you haven’t read “One, Two, Three Naomi’s” you won’t be able to follow this story, because it refers frequently to Naomi’s hallucinations in that story.

 

Rating: R for some strong language and a lot of explicit sexual situations of the female on female variety, not always human. (No, I don’t mean bestiality, I mean sometimes an alien or two might get some.) There’s a little heterosexual action too. There are potentially taboo topics depending on your frame of reference and your general worldview, I suppose.

 

Disclaimer:  Paramount owns ‘em all except the ones I make up.  I’ve been borrowing them so long, they feel like they’re mine though. Muahahaha.

 

WARNING: THERE ARE BIGTIME SPOILERS IN THIS STORY FOR THE BOOK “MOSAIC” BY Jeri Taylor.  If you haven’t  read it, this story will give away the whole danged plot of the book. 

 

 

BOUNDARIES

By Michelle Marquand

 

(Part 2)

 

Naomi sat up abruptly, trying to get her bearings, heart thundering in her chest.  She reached out for Kieran, finding she was alone, alone and in their tent in the camping program on the holodeck.  They had gone swimming, she remembered that much, and then they had dinner.  She had fallen asleep.  God, what had she dreamt?  She squeezed the bridge of her nose, and it came back to her.  She had asked Kieran to kiss her, and they had made love.  Amazing, perfect, passionate love.  But it was only a dream.  She had been with Kieran in the tent, and Kieran had said something about wanting to remember Naomi, and then she must have fallen asleep.  But where was Kieran?

 

Naomi drew her knees to her chest, remembering the dream and how real it had felt when Kieran made love to her.  Her body was still tingling from it, and she realized she had actually reached orgasm in her sleep.  She could still feel the faint pulsing of her own walls, the warm wetness in her underwear.  She rested her face on her knees, closing her eyes against the frustration.  Only a dream.  And Kieran was not her lover.

 

“Hey, sweetie,” Kieran ducked into the tent, carrying a plate.  “I made s’mores,” she climbed into the sleeping bags with her companion.  “Did you have a good nap?”

 

Naomi nodded, upset by the dream, or more accurately, upset that it had only been a dream, but determined not to let Kieran see her true emotions.

 

Kieran took her boots back off, slipping beneath the covers.  She broke off a piece of the graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate confection, offering it to Naomi.  “They turned out perfect.  For once, I didn’t burn the marshmallows,” she grinned.

 

Naomi ate slowly.  “Mmm,” she murmured.  “They really are perfect.  God, after all I ate for dinner, how can I be hungry again?”

 

“You might have worn yourself out in your dreams,” Kieran offered.  “You were sure tossing and turning a lot.  That’s why I got up again.”

 

“Thanks for making these, KT,” Naomi hid her face in Kieran’s shirt, hugging her, wishing she could disappear.  Only a dream.  And Kieran was not her lover.

___________________

 

Kieran went to Engineering to meet up with Naomi one afternoon, planning to have dinner with Kathryn and Seven, instead of going out somewhere.  She came in her blue jeans and a white paintbrush denim shirt, because Naomi loved that outfit, with her hair freshly highlighted, sporting a huge smile for her Ktarian friend.  She said hello to B’Elanna, who was working on the latest failing system.

 

“Hi,” B’Elanna replied, not making eye contact with her.  “Would you be able to take Katie, this weekend?” she asked, still working.

 

“Sure,” Kieran agreed.  “I’d love to.  Big plans?”

 

“Yeah--I have to work,” B’Elanna scowled.  “Like always.  Thank God Naomi is still able to help,”  she said, feeling like griping.  “I’m going to have to ask the Captain to reassign people from other departments for cross training, things are so bad.”  She tossed her plasma torch on the work table.  “Naomi is up there,” she pointed to the overhead catwalk, where Naomi was working on the warp core.

 

Kieran looked up just in time to see Naomi double over, sick to her stomach.  “Shit!” she hissed, running for the ladder.  She was up it in three steps, running down the catwalk, grabbing Naomi as she collapsed.  She smacked her comm badge. “Computer, site to site transport, authorization Thompson Delta Nine.  Beam Naomi and I to sickbay.”

 

The two women materialized just as Naomi dumped her lunch on the floor.  The EMH sprang into action, giving her an anti-nausea preparation, scanning her for the latest assault on her body.  He shook his head in disgust. “Always the same thing,” he complained, slapping together a hypospray for Naomi’s pain.

 

Kieran held her, heart thundering from fear.  “I’ve got you, honey,” she assured the frail woman, shoring her up.

 

The pain medication was so strong now, that whenever she took it, it knocked her out.  Kieran caught her before she went completely limp, easing her onto a biobed.  The Doctor scanned and muttered, scanned and muttered.  “I’ve run out of ideas,” he said miserably.  “I can’t treat her effectively anymore.  If that data packet from Starfleet doesn’t come soon, she’ll die,” he realized.  “Can you get her home, or do you need an anti-grav sled?  There’s no point in keeping her here, and she always insists on leaving as soon as she wakes up from the pain medication.”

 

“There’s nothing else you can do?” Kieran demanded.

 

“I can treat the pain, that’s all,” he admitted defeat.  “If Starfleet Medical hasn’t got an idea or two, then it’s really over,” he crossed his arms, disgruntled.

 

Kieran gathered Naomi into her arms.  “I’ll take her home.  I want you to send over enough pain medication to make her comfortable through the night.  I don’t want to have to bring her back in here.”

 

________________

 

Kathryn and Seven stood by, watching with deep concern, as Kieran brought Naomi home.

 

Naomi stirred as Kieran eased her down on her bed, wrapping her arms around Kieran’s neck.  “Honey,” she said to Kieran, “are you in briefings today, or can you stay with me?”

 

Kieran had no idea what Naomi was talking about.  “I can stay, Na,” she put her to bed.

 

Naomi tugged on Kieran’s shirt, bringing her down on top of Naomi’s thin frame.  “Stay with me, KT,” she murmured.  “Noah can take care of the Klingons.  He knows we need this time together,” she whispered.

 

Seven realized Naomi was dreaming of one of her hallucinations.  “Kathryn,” she took her wife’s arm, “we should leave them alone.  Naomi needs to rest.  Help me prepare dinner, and maybe Naomi will eat later,” she requested.

 

Kieran curled herself around Naomi, holding her, listening to her strained breathing.  Naomi sighed, turning in her embrace, nuzzling Kieran’s throat with the gentlest lips.  “I love you, KT,” she exhaled, drifting off to sleep again.

 

Naomi awakened half-way through the night, teeth gritted against the pain in her chest, body aching and spent.  Kieran was instantly awake with her, soothing her with reassuring words, holding her, offering whatever she might want.

 

“KT,” Naomi stopped the flood of kind suggestions with her fingers on Kieran’s lips.  “You need to be okay with this,” she urged her.  “You have to be ready to let go.  You’re my best friend, and I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything.  But I’m worn out, honey.  I can’t keep fighting like this.  I need for you to tell me it’s okay if I go.”

 

Kieran swallowed hard, her face working with grief.  “Na,” she kissed her fingertips.  “Please, don’t ask me to be stronger than I am,” she choked out the confession.  “I want to be what you need, I want to do what’s right, but--” she clung to the frail Ktarian, unable to finish the sentence.

 

“Okay,” Naomi sighed, hugging her.  “It’s okay.  I understand if you’re not ready.  I’ll do my best, Kieran.”

 

Kieran Thompson was certain she was the most selfish individual in the known worlds. 

 

____________________

 

Kieran awoke with Naomi’s face nuzzling her throat, the kisses needful and suggestive.  “Na?” she asked softly, never certain if her companion was awake or hallucinating from the constant fever she seemed to have.

 

“I’m so glad you took my name,” Naomi whispered.  “I can’t believe you did,” she murmured.  “You looked so good in your dress whites, KT,” she remembered. 

 

Kieran gazed at her, noting how glassy her eyes were, certain Naomi was not in this realm mentally.  “Sweetie, when did I take your name?”

 

“Today, silly,” she brushed her lips over Kieran’s softly, then kissed her more confidently.  “It means everything to me, my love,” she breathed.  “You were so cute, standing there in the orchard, begging me to come down out of the tree,” she laughed lightly.

 

Kieran closed her eyes, fighting herself for control of her emotions, off balance at the forwardness of Naomi’s delirium, not sure how to respond.  “I begged you to come down out of the tree and do what?” she asked, letting Naomi’s hands cradle her head.

 

“Marry you,” she whispered, kissing Kieran once more.  “I love you so much,” she confessed.  “I thought you were teasing me, until the justice showed up,” she recalled.

 

Kieran hugged her close.  “I would never tease you, not about something that serious,” she promised.  “Was it everything you wanted, Na?”

 

You are,” she agreed.  “The wedding wasn’t the big affair I would have liked, but we can do it again,” she smiled at her companion.  “Do you like the farmhouse?  Isn’t it perfect for our honeymoon?” she asked happily.

 

Kieran’s eyes closed involuntarily.  That must have been what Naomi hallucinated.  No wonder she came back to reality angry and disoriented.  She and Kieran had been married.  Kathryn had been right--Naomi had either married Kieran or killed her.  No wonder the girl had been so traumatized.  Kieran had a disturbing thought.  The EMH had said Naomi was having orgasms, in her hallucinations.  Kathryn had insisted they keep that information out of the medical records.  Had the hallucination been that vivid--was it their wedding night Naomi had thought of?  How horrible it must have been when she awoke from the hallucination, to find she was only a child, and Kieran had a wife and a baby.

 

“It is perfect, honey,” Kieran agreed.  Let her have her illusions, KT.  It’s the first time she’s smiled in days.  “Are you happy, Na?”

 

Naomi snuggled into her.  “More than words can tell,” she kissed Kieran’s cheek.  “Are you?”

 

Kieran bit her lip.  “How could I not be?  Anyone with any sense would be thrilled to have you for their wife, Naomi,” she replied sincerely.

 

“Hold me all night?” she implored, breathing warmly into Kieran’s ear.

 

Kieran felt her body react against her will.  “Always, baby,” she agreed.

 

___________________

 

Kieran lay awake, thoughts troubled, heart aching.

 

Naomi had to be medicated almost constantly, now, and she was rarely lucid.  Kieran stayed with her around the clock, and the Doctor advised them that it wouldn’t be long until Naomi stopped suffering.  She drifted in and out of consciousness, rambling in her sleep about Cardassians and a ship called the Sagan, and apple orchards with trees to climb when your lover was unkind.  Kieran held her for hours on end, rubbing her shoulders, singing to her, telling her all the unspoken things she needed to say before she could let Naomi go.

 

Kieran had prayed to Cassidy Thompson until there were no more words, begging her to intervene, pleading with her to save Naomi.  She negotiated elaborate bargains with her sister, whatever sacrifice she needed to make, in exchange for Naomi’s return to good health.  Cassidy seemed further away than Kieran could imagine, leaving the Counselor to struggle with the table set before her. 

 

Kieran slept rarely, but one afternoon she drifted off, and Cassidy appeared to her.

 

You think I’m ignoring you, Kelsey, but I’m not, she used Kieran’s middle name, something she had teased her about as children.  I’ve heard every word, she assured her.  I was with you when you were displaced, Kels.  I was right there, in every parallel plane, watching and protecting you.  There’s something important you’re missing, something you should have realized by now.  You figured it out when you were displaced, but you’ve let it slip away again, because it frightened you.  Focus, and you’ll rediscover it.  I know it’s unbelievable, but if you open your heart, you’ll see how useless your fears are, and how pointless, because the future you know will come cannot coexist with your fear.  I showed you, Kelsey.  The one constant through all those worlds. Remember it.  Be comforted by it.  Stop fighting it. It will be a terrible road, a painful journey, and you will have to sacrifice everything, but it will result in tremendous rewards.  And I’m still right here, sis.  Always.  Lean on me, Kelsey.

 

Kieran thought her heart would shatter.  “Cass, please, help me,” she begged.  “Don’t take her from me,” she urged, reaching for Cassidy’s hands.

 

In order to have what you need most, you must surrender your fear, Kieran.  Listen to the truth inside yourself, and nothing else.  Listen to no one else.

 

Cassidy Thompson vanished into thin air, her hands dissolving in Kieran’s.

 

_________________

 

The data packet from Starfleet Medical finally arrived, and there were two suggested treatment therapies included with it.  The Doctor rushed to concoct the medications they recommended, but there was no immediate effect.

Kathryn and Seven ceased their nightly vigil, unable to bear the strain of watching their daughter dying. 

 

Kieran fed Naomi, bathed her, held her, and refused to give up. Kieran had gleaned from Naomi’s incoherent delirium that in some time and place, Kieran had been married to Naomi.  She assumed it was part of the hallucinations induced by the cerebrosporum. Naomi’s ravings frequently included snippets of the hallucinations, and it tore Kieran up to know Naomi would not live long enough to realize any of her hopes.

 

Naomi slipped into a coma, and Kieran stayed, cradling her body protectively, selfishly.  She had hardly slept in a week, afraid if she closed her eyes, Naomi would go.  She kept her lips next to Naomi’s ear, talking to her all night, telling her to stay, encouraging her to wake up again, begging her not to leave Kieran alone.  She painted elaborate verbal descriptions of the places they would go together, the plans they would make, the future Naomi would have if only she could survive this setback.   Kieran was so sleep deprived, she would have said or done anything to make Naomi live.  Finally, in complete desperation, she talked to Naomi about the hallucinations, telling her that if only Naomi would get better, Kieran would wait for Naomi, however long it took, and they would indeed marry someday, if that’s what Naomi wanted.  But, she urged, Naomi had to get better for that to be possible.

 

Ultimately, out of sheer physical need, Kieran slept, and as her brain eased into unconsciousness, she realized on a subconscious level that when she finally succumbed to sleep, and stopped talking, Naomi would go.  She tried to fight, but the instinct prevailed, and her brain shut down.  Kieran slept dreamlessly, arms tightly wrapped around Naomi, so that no one could take her body away without awakening Kieran.

 

_________________

 

Naomi Wildman bulleted down the length of the rainbow-hued corridor, streaking through what she could only describe as prismatic light, toward a blinding, pure white light that opened out into a vast expanse.  Moving head first, as if at warp speed, the journey took only a split second, but along the way, she passed by crystal clear images of every event in her short life, each one burning itself into her consciousness, reminding her of the details that had made her existence what it was.

 

She emerged from the corridor into the light, thinking Kieran was right about death.  All movement stopped as she exited the corridor, and she found herself standing in an open field, vibrating like a wavelength of light, fluctuating in time with the pulsing energy all around her.  Naomi breathed the energy into herself, smiling at the absence of pain, the lack of despair.  Her body, ethereal now, no longer encumbered her and punished her.  Across the meadow, a smiling woman approached, her gait light and airy, her face familiar.  She enfolded Naomi in wiry arms, or the impression of wiry arms, because she too, was formless.

 

“Naomi,” she said in a voice so rich, the Ktarian thought it was more like singing.  “Kieran asked me to meet you, sweetie.”

 

Naomi smiled.  “Are you Cassidy?”

 

The woman with dark blonde hair and piercing green eyes nodded.  “I’m supposed to take you to your mother.  She’s only just arrived, herself,” she explained, taking Naomi’s hand and leading her through the waving grass.

 

Naomi was perplexed.  “But she died so long ago.  How is that possible?”

 

“Not everyone crosses over when they die,” she said laughingly.  “Your mother only came because she needed to see you.”

 

“Is my father here?” Naomi had never met the man, and wouldn’t recognize him, if he walked right up to her, most likely.

 

“He is not here.  Ktarians do not believe in an afterlife, as much as a perpetual reincarnation, so he has already been reborn,” she smiled warmly at her sister’s dearest friend.

 

“Wait--so whatever you believe death to be, that’s what it becomes for you?” Naomi squeezed Cassidy’s hand, thinking how privileged she was to meet Kieran’s family.

 

“Death, like life, is what you make it to be, Naomi,” Cassidy drew her closer, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.  “My sister loves you so much.  If you decide to stay with us, I don’t think she will ever get over it,” she said wistfully.

 

“If I decide?  I get a choice?” Naomi was surprised.  “I thought if I’m already here, that’s pretty much it.”

 

Cassidy grinned, looking so much like Kieran it was unnerving to the Ktarian.  “Everyone gets at least three exit portals in their lifetime--turning points where they can choose to cross over, or to remain.  You’ve already had a few,” she winked at Naomi.  “You keep going back, for some reason.  Kieran has had her share, too.  So far, I’ve always talked her into going back.  Your Mom will tell you more,” she hugged Naomi close.  “Samantha, Naomi is here,” she called out.

 

They stood beside a stream, and suddenly, Samantha Wildman was there, holding her arms out to her daughter.

 

Naomi hesitated only long enough to get a good look at her mother, then ran into her embrace.  “Oh, Mom,” she clung fiercely to her.  “I’ve missed you so much.”

 

“Baby,” Samantha stroked her long, silken hair.  “You have grown up so beautifully,” she whispered, the words sticking in her throat. 

 

“Cassidy says you just got here yourself,” Naomi looked into her eyes in wonder.  “How is that possible, Mom?”

 

Sam smiled, tugging Naomi to sit by the stream.  “I’ve been on Ordan.  The life-force that lives there--the one that let me talk to you before?  He kept me with him until very recently.  But he had to send me to cross over, once you went to Restid Three, because that’s when everything changed.”

 

Naomi was baffled.  “Changed?”

 

Sam took her hand, and they sat cross legged together.  “Ben--that’s the life form on Ordan--showed me your future, and what would happen to you.  The events were predetermined to a degree, with room for variation along the way, but without major deviations.  Until Restid.  That’s when it became clear that all the events he had foreseen could no longer play out, and he told me you were going to die soon.  So he helped me come here, to meet you, honey.  You can stay with me, here.   Or you can go back.  It’s entirely up to you.”

 

Naomi leaned into her.  “It’s so confusing, Mom.  It’s so good to be with you again.  But if I go back, what will happen?  I’ve been so sick, how is it even feasible for me to go back, with all the problems my physical body has encountered?”

 

“I can tell you that you’re going to go into remission, if you choose to go back.  It won’t be permanent, but it will last long enough for you to settle some of the more pressing issues you’re worried about.  And it won’t be easy, sweetie.  In fact, you’re going to face the biggest dilemma of your life, soon enough, and your choices will be very difficult, but trust yourself, and follow your heart, and it will work out.  That’s all I can tell you, except that Seven and Kieran and Kathryn are all waiting for you, back there.  And I will be waiting for you here, if you decide to return to them,” she pulled her daughter closer.  “Naomi, you’ve grown up so much,” she said hoarsely, feeling the younger woman’s energy.  “I can feel how mature you’ve become, and how confident.  You’re prettier and smarter than I ever could have been.  I’m so proud of you, honey.  And you are so loved by your friends and family.”

 

Naomi sighed.  “I want to stay, Mom, but I think I need to go back.  There are just so many things I haven’t experienced, yet, and I’d like to have more time, back there.  You promise you’ll wait here for me?”

 

Samantha kissed her forehead.  “Always, my love.  Time has no substance, here, and what will be years to you will pass like a moment to me.  You go ahead, Naomi, and know I’m right here.  I can see you, I can feel you, and I can hear you.  All you ever have to do is summon me, and even though you won’t see me, I will be right there with you.  I love you, sweetie,” she assured her.

 

“I love you, too, Mom.”

 

“Cassidy will walk you back to the passageway, Na.  There’s only one more thing I want to tell you, before you go,” she looked purposefully at her daughter.  “The truest expression of love is the surrender of control.  Give your heart to the one who understands that, and place your trust in that person, and you will find happiness.”

 

Naomi nodded, then kissed her mother’s cheek, and climbed up off the ground.  “I’ll remember,” she promised.  “You’re always in my heart, Mom,” she said softly, then turned her gaze to Kieran’s sister.

 

Cassidy stood at the top of the rise above the creek, waiting for Naomi, who scaled the steep incline easily. 

 

“When you get back, I want you to tell Kieran something for me.  Tell her how much I love her and miss her, okay? And tell her I said this, so she will know it was me:  The one constant through all of those worlds.”

 

“I’ll tell her,” Naomi vowed.  “You said she loves me, but do you know how I feel about her?”

 

Cassidy laughed.  “Your love for her is like a beacon, it shines so brightly.  Go to her, Naomi.  Keep loving her.  She’s never let anyone in her life as close to her as you are right now.”

 

Naomi nodded as they reached the passageway.  “I’m glad I got to meet you.  Kieran loved you so,” she felt her eyes misting.

 

“I know,” Cassidy nodded, self-assured. 

 

____________________

 

Naomi Wildman emerged from the dark cocoon of her illness, whimpering like a kitten, weak and fragile, but surrounded by muscular arms.  She blinked rapidly, feeling a hazy sense of reality settling over her, as if her thoughts were filled with cobwebs. She gasped, drawing a deep breath that shocked her system to functionality, and she wondered if Seven had assimilated her to prevent death from claiming her. 

 

She lifted her head, forcing her eyes to focus, finding Kieran snoring next to her.  She remembered hundreds of words spoken through the mist of her unconsciousness, promises Kieran had made, dreams she had shared, secrets she had told her.  Naomi’s chest swelled with the memory of those whispered intimacies, filling her with love and gratitude, and she lifted her face, kissing Kieran’s lips, stealing that guilty pleasure without having to admit the desire.

 

She touched Kieran’s cheeks, thumbs lightly stroking, bringing the Counselor back to awareness gradually.  Kieran thought Naomi had died, and awoke smiling because she thought Naomi had taken her along, too.  Naomi smiled back at her, weak but aware.  Kieran was still not certain if she was asleep or awake, alive or dead, but she kissed Naomi’s forehead, saying “That’s the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, Na.”

 

Naomi closed her eyes, feeling Kieran’s kiss, twining her arms around the Counselor’s neck.  “I love you, KT,” she whispered.  “I feel so much better, now,” she stretched against Kieran’s body, her limbs complaining.

 

Kieran was now fully awake.  “Naomi?” she sat up, grabbing the Ktarian fiercely.  “Naomi?” she almost shouted.  “Oh, God,” she cried, bursting into tears, “you did it,” she laughed hysterically, “you’re alive,” she howled loudly.

 

Kathryn and Seven heard her shouts, thinking Naomi had finally passed away, and they solemnly went to comfort the Counselor, who had steadfastly remained to the bitter end.  Instead, they found the two women hugging and smiling and laughing, and they piled into the bed with them, clinging to each other and sharing their relief. 

 

“God,” Naomi finally said, “I’m starving.  Do we have anything good to eat?”  She hugged Kieran again, frowning.  “You’ve lost weight, KT.  You’d better eat, too,” she scolded.

 

Kieran nodded, willing to do anything for her.  “Let’s find something right now,” she agreed.

 

__________________

 

Seven put together enough food to feed an army, and Kieran carried Naomi to the kitchen while Kathryn set the table.

 

“Sweetie,” Kieran held the frail Ktarian close to her, “are you sure you can sit at the table?  You haven’t been able to feed yourself in over two weeks,” she said softly.

 

“I’m sure, KT,” Naomi rested her head on Kieran’s shoulder.  “Mom told me I’m in remission,” she murmured.

 

Kieran let the statement about her mother register, then started to ease her into the chair, worrying that the hard surface might hurt her protruding bones.  “Kat,” she stood back up, still holding Naomi.  “Get a pillow for her seat, will you?  I don’t want her to bruise.”

 

Kathryn nodded, retrieving Naomi’s bedroom pillow.  “Here, sweetie,” Kathryn placed the pillow, folded over, on the seat.

 

“Okay, Na,” Kieran settled her into the chair gently.  “Is that too uncomfortable?”

 

Naomi smiled weakly.  “It’s fine, Kieran, thank you both.”

 

They ate in silence, no one wanting to tax Naomi by making her talk.  Finally she said to Kieran, “I have a message for you, KT.  Cassidy says she loves you and misses you.  And she said to tell you this, so you’d know it was really a message from her:  The one constant through all of those worlds.”

 

Kieran dropped her fork with a resounding clatter.  “Oh my God, Na, tell me everything,” she insisted.  “How did she look?”

 

Naomi grinned.  She scooped casserole into her spoon, pleased that Kieran believed immediately.  “She looked an awful lot like you, only with green eyes, and curly hair,” she laughed lightly.  “When she smiled, it was like looking at you, especially.”

 

“And your Mom was there?” Kieran pressed.

 

Naomi nodded.  “It was so good to be with her again.  I’d forgotten how pretty she was,” she smiled warmly.  “They let me choose whether to come back or not,” she confided.

 

Kathryn was listening with a skeptic’s dispassion, but hung on Naomi’s words.  “Did you see your father, too?” she wanted to know.

 

“No.  He isn’t there.  Cassidy told me that because Ktarians believe in reincarnation, he has already been reborn.  She told me that like life, death is what you believe it to be.”

 

Seven quirked an eyebrow.  “Tell us everything from the beginning, please,” she urged.  “And do not leave out anything.”

 

Naomi recounted the tale, gaining strength through the retelling and from the solid food she shoveled into her system.  She couldn’t help but notice how Kieran looked at her, as if Kieran feared Naomi would disappear any second.  Naomi saw how dark the indentations beneath Kieran’s eyes were, how haunted her face, and how terribly thin she had become.  Naomi knew the Counselor never could eat when she was upset, and she assumed Kieran had been too distraught to manage food.  She finished her story, and Kathryn and Seven exchanged meaningful looks.

 

“So you decided to come back to us,” Seven took Naomi’s hand, squeezing it.

 

“Yes.  I got the distinct impression that Mom—Samantha—thought I should, though she didn’t say so directly.  It was also pretty hard not to come back, considering Cassidy told me that if I stayed there, Kieran would never get over it,” she smiled at her friend, conveying love and acceptance with her eyes.

 

“She was right about that, Na,” Kieran agreed.  “I never would have.”

 

__________________

 

The Doctor credited Naomi’s recovery to the treatments sent by Starfleet, and although he knew there had been no cure, there was certainly a substantial remission.  He recommended plenty of rest and a balanced diet, exercise as tolerated, and no stress.  He forbade her to return to work, since Engineering was a constant cascade of crises.  Naomi was still weak, and knew she had to take things slowly.  The Doctor placed her age as holding steady at twenty-three, for the time being.  He advised her that the aging might resume at any time, and that she should inform him of any problems at the first symptom.

 

“This should perk you right up,” Kieran carried Naomi into the holodeck, easing her onto a huge blanket in one of their favorite beach programs.  “Nothing beats sunshine and fresh air for curing what ails you,” she deposited their picnic basket beside the blanket.  “You get a little color, Na, and you’ll feel 100% better,” she enthused, dropping beside her companion on the sand.

 

“You spoil me, Kieran,” Naomi scolded her as she peeked into the basket.  “Really--some of this is just extravagant,” she pawed through the collection of fruits and cheese spread, crackers and tuna salad, and a stasis preserved chocolate malted.

 

“You’re too thin, sweetie,” Kieran replied.  “So I’m on a campaign to fatten you up,” she admitted. “Besides, we’re back to normal rations, so I have plenty to go around.  Are you hungry?”

 

Naomi shook her head.  “Not just yet.  Soon, though,” she agreed.  She was feeling better every day, and although it had been three days since she came out of her coma, the experience with Cassidy and her mother still seemed very immediate to her.  “Can we go in the water?”

 

“If you feel up to it.  Are you sure?” Kieran was protective in the extreme.

 

“That’s why I asked for this program,” Naomi assured her.  “Since it’s a lake, not the ocean, no undertow or tides to fight.  This water is as calm as fallen snow,” she smiled at her friend.  “Come on,” she got to her feet with effort, her muscles atrophied from the long weeks of inactivity.

 

Kieran was beside her immediately, steadying her.  “Okay honey, but if you get tired, you hang on to me,” she instructed. 

 

They walked down the pier hand in hand, out to the edge of the deep water.  “I’ll go first, and then you,” Kieran requested.  “That way I can keep a close watch.”

 

Naomi nodded.  If she were back to her full state of health, the safeguarding might have annoyed her, but she found she needed that nurturing from Kieran, and so she allowed the over protectiveness.

 

Kieran jumped over the edge, smoothed back her streaky blonde hair, and waited.  “Okay, come on,” she encouraged Naomi.

 

Naomi stepped off the end of the dock, sank like a stone, and felt Kieran’s grip around her waist , pulling her to the surface.

 

“Not enough meat on your bones for you to even be buoyant, Na,” Kieran supported her weight in the water, hanging onto the edge of the pier with one hand, holding Naomi around the waist with the other arm.

 

Naomi slipped her arms around Kieran’s neck, gazing into her eyes, searching for a deeper connection with the Counselor.  She leaned her forehead against Kieran’s, peering into the deep brown, thinking about what Cassidy had said.  Kieran had let Naomi get closer to her than anyone else ever had.  Naomi could only assume that included B’Elanna, P’Arth, and Robin Lefler, all people Kieran had been sexually intimate with.  The thought gave Naomi a chill, and Kieran wrapped her in warm arms immediately.

 

“Are you cold, honey?” she asked softly, lips pressed against Naomi’s hair.

 

Naomi breathed into the feeling, aware of every place they touched, mind suffused with the overwhelming sensation of Kieran’s skin against her own.  “Not now,” she said quietly.  “I love when you hold me like this.”

 

Kieran closed her eyes against the rush of tenderness, wanting to absorb Naomi into her, where she would be safe and loved and adored.  “I love to hold you, Na,” she replied honestly, then wished she could take back the admission, which sounded much too much like a confession.

 

Naomi squeezed her in response, her own emotions too close to the surface, her desires dangerously close to being unrepressed.  It was all she could do to prevent herself from brushing her lips over Kieran’s throat.  It would be so easy.  It could be so subtle.  She imagined it until she could feel the touch of skin against her lips, imagined how Kieran would sigh and allow the kiss, how she might even reciprocate.

 

Kieran’s self discipline was also failing, her instincts much stronger than her will.  She realized how her mind was wandering, and how she wanted it to be her hands, and not her thoughts, wandering.  She forced herself to focus on things that were proper, on things she could accept and live with.  When the contact became torture, she made an excuse to leave the lake, saying that the water was too cold for Naomi.

 

They silently retreated from the intimacy of the water and back to their blanket, back to small talk and politeness and rigid adherence to what was appropriate.  Kieran watched the young woman beside her, acutely, painfully aware of how much she felt, and of how close she had been to losing Naomi.  Kieran remembered that when Naomi had wanted to die, she had told Kieran she loved her more than anyone or anything.  Kieran believed that with all her heart. 

 

Kieran also knew she had to gain some distance from this situation, for Naomi’s sake.  She simply could not allow the feelings between them to become more than vague longings, more than the closest of friendships.  She sublimated her own feelings, expressing them only as caretaker, only as confidante.  Surely, it was only Naomi’s deep need that had created the bond between them, nothing more.  It was a family connection, just like her love for Seven and Kathryn and Geejay.

 

Her misguided thoughts were a product, certainly, of her lack of female companionship.  Dating had never been a problem for her, before B’Elanna, and it shouldn’t be a problem now.  In fact, she had had any number of propositions, since the marriage became rocky.  Why then, could she not think of a single woman on Voyager she wanted to have dinner with?

 

“I’m going to have some fruit salad,” she announced, breaking the silence that hung tangibly between them.  “Would you like some?”

 

Naomi nodded mutely, eyes still fixed on Kieran.  Then finally, “You need it, KT.  I’ve never seen you so thin.  You have to promise me if I ever relapse, you won’t stop eating,” she chastised her friend.

 

They sat apart, both suddenly self-conscious about how much they touched each other.  “I promise,” Kieran agreed.  “But you can’t relapse.  I want you to promise me,” she insisted.

 

Naomi grinned.  “I’ll do my best,” she nodded.  “But you know Samantha told me this remission wouldn’t be permanent,” she reminded the Counselor.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I’m hoping she was wrong,” she dug into the picnic basket, retrieving the container of diced fruit.

 

“Me, too,” Naomi agreed.  She studied the lanky woman beside her, committed to memory the movement of her hands, the exacting way her fingers opened the container, the economy of the motion. 

 

Kieran noticed that Naomi was staring.  “I can make you a plate,” she offered, thinking Naomi was entranced by the food, and not by Kieran. 

 

Naomi shook her head.  “I’d rather eat off your plate,” she admitted.

 

“All right,” Kieran acquiesced, begrudgingly acknowledging to herself how much she would miss the intimacy of the meals they shared, with Kieran feeding Naomi from the same plate.  She scooped out the mixture of colorful fruit onto a dish, resealed the container, and found a spoon.  She gathered a few pieces into the utensil, holding it out to Naomi.  “Here,” she said gently, scooting closer to the Ktarian.  She was stunned at how breathless she became, watching Naomi’s mouth closing around the spoon.  Her heart raced, chest tightened, and her mouth was suddenly dry.

 

Naomi’s eyes were fixed on Kieran’s, and the silence between them spoke volumes.  Kieran continued to feed her, forgetting to feed herself, caught up in the emotion that electrified the air between them. 

 

Naomi touched Kieran’s cheek with her fingertips, her heart aching.  “What is it, Kieran?” she asked faintly, fairly certain without asking at all.

 

Kieran swallowed hard, overwhelmed by the nearness of the younger woman, throat painfully closed.  “I came so close to losing you,” she finally managed to say.  “Nothing has ever hurt so much in my whole life, Naomi.  Not losing Robin Lefler, not losing my marriage, not even Cassidy’s death.  I’ve been so scared,” she averted her eyes, feeling guilty for her weakness.  “And now, it’s like—I just have to reassure myself you’re here, and you’re okay,” she let the fears out in a rush, resting her head on Naomi’s slight shoulder.

 

Naomi cupped the back of Kieran’s head, tenderly caressing the damp strands of her hair.  “I’m here, and I’m much, much better, now, love,” she replied, voice nearly a whisper.  “Your love for me sustained me, Kieran.  It was like an anchor that kept me grounded in this life.  Everyone else had given up on me, but you,” she realized, choking on the admission.

 

Kieran sat the dish on the blanket, enfolding the smaller woman in her arms, clinging tightly to her.  “I didn’t have a choice, Na,” she said softly.  “I need you too much to let you go,” she confessed, keeping her face hidden in Naomi’s hair.  Then more humorously, she chuckled lightly “It was complete denial on my part.”

 

Naomi held to her, wishing for all the world they could stay like this all day.  “I need you just as much, Kieran,” she squeezed her companion reassuringly.  “It’s why I had to come back.”

 

Why I had to come back.  You were the reason, Naomi,  Kieran realized.  She thought about the various times she sat in some version or other of the Delta Flyer, poised at the entrance to a spatial rift, preparing to enter it to get herself home to Voyager.  And she realized with a start, that in those pre-launch sequence moments, her mind had not been fixed upon her wife, her daughter, or the ship.  She had been thinking about Naomi, and getting home to her.  B'Elanna and Katie had been in her thoughts, too, but her deeper motivation had been the Ktarian, her knowledge of how much Naomi needed her.  It had compelled her not to give up, not to accept those parallel realities as her own.

 

“Whatever your reason,” Kieran finally sighed, “I’m glad you came back.  I don’t think any of this would mean anything to me without you here,” she blurted out the truth, instantly wishing she could take back the words.

 

Naomi kissed her cheek, lingering over the softness of it, longing to make it her lips, and not the safe haven of Kieran’s lovely face.  “I feel the same way about you,” she confirmed.  She let the truth of the statement strike her.  “When you were missing from the ship, I just—felt so lost, so empty,” she recalled.  “Everyone tried to console me, but no one could.”

 

“I knew,” Kieran confided.  “I knew and I fought to get home because I knew,” she eased away, meeting Naomi’s gaze.  “Not because of B'Elanna, or Katie, or the Moms.  Because of you, Naomi.”  Kieran lost herself momentarily in the depths of those hazel eyes, cupping Naomi’s cheek in the palm of her hand, inches from kissing her.

 

Naomi’s eyes closed involuntarily, she was so overcome by the strength of the love between them.  “And I chose to come back to you, Kieran.  Because Cassidy told me you’d never get over it if I didn’t.  I couldn’t cope with the idea of hurting you, that way,” she reciprocated the connection between them, searching the deep brown of Kieran’s eyes.

 

Reluctantly, Kieran caught herself, forced herself to step back momentarily, before things got out of hand.  She shook herself mentally, withdrew her hand from Naomi’s face, and retrieved the dish of fruit.  “I forgot to eat,” she grinned ruefully.  “That must be why I look so thin to you—I just forget to take care of myself, when I’m trying to take care of you,” she laughed to fill the space between them, to deflect the look of disappointment in Naomi’s eyes as Kieran put that emotional distance between them again.

 

“I want you to think about yourself,” Naomi said pointedly.  “I’ll do the same.  Deal?”

 

Kieran took a bite of the salad, nodding approval at the combination of textures and tartness and sweetness.  “Deal,” she agreed.

____________________

 

Naomi started to gain weight, her vital organs became stable, and she no longer had frequent episodes of pain and nausea.  She felt so good, that she told Kieran to resume the command track studies and command shifts, certain that she would survive now.

 

Kieran reluctantly agreed as they sat in the holographic sailboat Kieran was piloting.  “Honey, you know how busy I’m going to get if I do,” she warned Naomi.  “You’ll never see me.”

 

“You need to finish, and I’m so much better,” Naomi assured her.  “Though I wouldn’t trade this time we’ve had for anything,” she gazed meaningfully at her friend.  “I just feel so close to you, like I never really knew you before, and now I do.”

 

Kieran smiled, leaning her forehead against Naomi’s.  “I feel the same.  And I’ll only resume my studies if you’re sure.”

 

“I’m sure,” Naomi asserted.  “It’s time.  Before you forget everything you learned.”  Naomi didn’t have the courage to complete her thoughts aloud.  And before I get in so deep with you, I can’t recover.


 ________________

 

 

Acting Commander Kieran Thompson lounged comfortably in the Captain’s chair, glad to be back on Beta Shift.  She had settled into a routine, one that would get her through her exam as expediently as possible, and felt ready to assume the First Officer’s role while Chakotay was on leave.  She had been back in command training for several months, trying to regain the ground she had lost, and though taking care of Naomi had been a substantial setback, she never felt a single iota of regret for having made that choice.

 

The tactical officer started behind her, seeing a blip on his instruments.  “Commander,” he barked, “there is a ship decloaking dead ahead.”

 

“Identify it,” Kieran stood to face him. 

 

“Sorry, Commander, but it doesn’t match anything in the database,” he replied.

 

Ops chimed in.  “They’re hailing us.”

 

Kieran turned to face the view screen.  “Onscreen,” she ordered.  She squared her shoulders.  “I’m Commander Kieran Thompson of…”

 

“Of the starship Voyager,” the tall, blonde alien finished for her, with a flourish of her hand.  “You are in Qian space.  I am Sieken,” she bowed low, sweeping back the train of her sky blue robes.  “I bring you greetings from the people of Qian.  Welcome.”  She stood upright again, revealing gleaming white teeth.  Her skin glowed a golden-bronze, almost sparkling.  She was, quite simply, glorious, with flowing white-blonde hair all the way down her back, pale green pupil-less eyes the shape of almonds, and full, dark lips.  Her robes and her body were adorned with green stones set in bracelets and necklaces and rings, and also in the fabric of her garments, stones the color of her soft green eyes.

 

“Commander,” the tactical officer alerted.  “We’re being scanned.”

 

“Forgive the intrusion,” Sieken offered, “but we detected a problem in your life support systems.  We are scanning your ship in order to better assist you,” she bowed again. 

 

A bridge officer from her ship handed her a data device.

 

“As we suspected,” she muttered.  “Commander,” she inclined her head, “has your ship recently been to Restid Three?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Yes.”

 

“We have seen this before,” Sieken advised grimly.  “Your ship is infected with a bacteria that is causing deterioration of your systems.”

 

Kieran was surprised.  “We’ve been falling apart at the seams,” Kieran agreed.  “We had no idea why, though.  Our Chief Engineer has done nothing but replace failing parts for the past year and a half.  It’s slowed our progress home immeasurably.”

 

Sieken smiled indulgently.  “Unfortunately, the bacteria is attacking your cryogenic fluid transfer system, and it is in danger of imminent collapse.  We came to offer our help.”

 

Kieran smiled.  She felt completely at ease with the tall, lanky alien.  It didn’t occur to her that it was because Sieken looked slightly human and had a similar body type to Kieran’s.  “That is very kind of you.  Please, let me advise my Captain.  She will want to discuss this with you.”

 

“Very well.  I will transport to your ship, if you like,” Sieken offered.

 

“I’ll meet you in our transporter room immediately,” Kieran replied, bowing in kind. 

 

Sieken’s image blipped off the screen.  Kieran tapped her comm badge.  “Thompson to Janeway,” she hailed.

 

The Captain immediately answered, and in the background, Kieran could hear Naomi’s piano.  “Janeway here,” she replied.

 

Kieran smiled.  “We have company, Captain.  A welcoming committee from Qian.  They scanned us and found some problems in Engineering.  I invited them aboard.”

 

Kathryn glanced at the ceiling.  “I’ll be right there,” she sounded less than pleased.

 

“Kat,” Kieran walked off the bridge, still talking, “I can handle it, if you’re busy.  You sound--preoccupied,” she noted.

 

Kathryn considered.  “It would be rude.  But I am in the middle of several things.  Can you entertain our guests for half an hour, Kato?”

 

“Absolutely,” Kieran assured her, stepping into the transporter room.  “If you’ll do me a favor.”

 

“I’m listening,” Kathryn replied.

 

“Tell Naomi she sounds terrific, for me,” Kieran requested.

 

“Can you hear her?  She wrote this piece herself,” Kathryn reported proudly.

 

“Tell her I want a private concert as soon as she has time,” the lanky Counselor enthused.  “Thompson out.”

 

___________________

Sieken, First Ambassador of Qian, arrived with an adjutant and a security guard, the Ambassador full of curious questions and eager to share information about her own people.

 

“My Captain will join us shortly,” Kieran explained. “She was detained, and sends her apologies.”

 

Kieran gave her a cursory tour of the ship, introducing her to the department heads from Beta shift at each stop.  Sieken was particularly impressed with the arboretum.  She rifled questions at Kieran non-stop, always polite and unassuming, but with keen interest in every response.  Kieran instantly liked the tall alien for her openness and quick smile.

 

Janeway caught up with them in the mess hall, where they discussed ship’s repairs and the generous offer from the Qianian government to assist Voyager. 

 

Sieken did all the talking for the alien visitors, her adjutant Sholten keeping notes of the first contact but deferring to Sieken on all things.  The security guard, Orinak, kept a watchful eye on the Ambassador.

 

“Captain,” Sieken ventured, “Commander Thompson was telling me that your daughter is a musician,” she inclined her head as she spoke, pale green eyes growing a shade lighter with excitement about the topic at hand.

 

Kathryn nodded. “My oldest daughter, Naomi, is learning the piano.  She is, by our standards, quite gifted, it seems,” she boasted.

 

Spoken like a true mother, Kieran thought.  “Naomi also has a splendid voice,” Kieran put in.  “She can be persuaded, on occasion, to give a concert to a select few people,” she hinted to the Captain to ask the Ktarian.

 

Sieken rubbed her golden, three-fingered hands together.  “Do you think she would perform for me?  If it is not too large an imposition,” she added hastily. 

 

Kathryn smiled.  “I think she might.  Let’s go ask her.  You can also meet my wife, and my younger daughter.”

 

Sieken rose to her full height of six and a half feet, anxious for the experience.  She wore a sentimental expression.  “Family is very important to my people,” she advised them.  “Is it also, with yours?”

 

“It is to me,” Kathryn offered, holding her hand out in the direction of the mess hall exit.  “Most humans would agree, though not all.  Our culture embraces the similarities of our people, but also celebrates our diversity,” she explained.  “Some of us never have children, some have very large families.  Do you have any children, Ambassador?”

 

Sieken bowed slightly as they walked along.  “Perhaps, one day.  I am considered quite young, especially for my station,” she replied without sounding haughty.  “I was promised to be joined, once, but my intended died,” she said wistfully.  “Ah, but we shall not give substance to such things by speaking of them,” she added, trying to slow her stride to keep pace with the much shorter-legged Captain.

 

“I am sorry for your loss,” Kieran put in, seeing that the admission pained the sensitive alien.

 

“I hope to have a family, someday,” Sieken offered.  “But for now, my duties keep me from such pursuits.  I am sure you both know what that is like, running a starship,” she smiled warmly at them both.

 

Kathryn also liked the Ambassador immediately, and returned the smile.  She realized that she had rarely invited an alien to her home, but somehow, it felt safe.  As they approached the Captain’s quarters, the sound of a piano concerto drifted into the corridor.  Sieken’s eyes brightened.  “It sounds wonderful, even from this distance,” she nodded approval.

 

In the living room, Naomi Wildman sat at her beloved instrument, working through the unfinished movement of a composition she had been writing.  As soon as she heard the whir of the mechanical door, she switched back to her lessons, tucking the sheet music she had been penning behind the assigned work.

 

“Naomi,” Kathryn called over the opening strains of Beethoven,  “there is someone I’d like you to meet.”

 

Naomi spun on the bench, mouth dropping open at the sight of the towering, golden-hued aliens with the peridot eyes.  She closed her mouth as quickly as it had fallen open, gracefully sliding from the bench and standing to extend her hand.  “Hello,” she murmured.

 

“Sieken, First Ambassador of Qian,” Kathryn stated formally, “this is my daughter, Naomi Wildman.”

 

Sieken took Naomi’s hand, but bowed deeply.  “I am honored to serve you, Naomi Wildman,” she replied, retaining the young Ktarian’s hand as she stood upright again.  She was mesmerized by the long, curling locks of strawberry blonde hair framing Naomi’s face, and could not turn her eyes from it.  “This is my adjutant, Sholten, and Orinak, my security guard.”

 

“Hello,” Naomi nodded at both of them.  She could tell by the splendor of Sieken’s clothing that the other two aliens were not of the same class, but whether the distinction was social or economic, or both, Naomi couldn’t guess.

 

Sholten nudged Sieken, who was still entranced with Naomi.  “Your grace,” she said softly, “you are staring.”

 

Sieken’s eyes darkened with distress, and she bowed low to the ground.  “I shame myself, Naomi Wildman.  Please, forgive me.”

 

Naomi squeezed the alien’s hand, finding it warm and strong.  “Your grace,” she repeated the title Sholten had used, “there is nothing to forgive,” she said smoothly.  “I am equally interested in looking at you,” she offered politely.

 

Sieken stood upright again, smiling.  “Thank you.  I have never seen hair this color,” she admitted.  “May I--touch it?” she asked meekly.

 

Naomi lifted the Ambassador’s hand to her tresses.  “Of course, your grace.”

 

Kathryn swelled with pride.  Naomi had the makings of a stellar diplomat.

 

Sieken caressed Naomi’s hair gently, intrigued.  “You are so beautiful,” she said softly, her mouth forming an “oh” as she felt the silken cascade. 

 

Naomi blushed.  “Thank you.  I find you quite lovely, as well,” she decided, “especially your eyes.”

 

“Your mother says you are a fine musician,” Sieken withdrew her hand, albeit reluctantly.  “I would be honored if you would play for us,” she continued to gaze at the young woman.  “Music is very important to my people,” she added.

 

Naomi bowed her head slightly.  “Music is very important to me, too.  I would be happy to play for you, if you will please have a seat.  Make yourselves comfortable,” she took the Ambassador’s hand again and led her to the sofa.

 

Sieken was pleased to be escorted, and happier still to feel the warmth of Naomi’s hand in her own again.

 

Kathryn glanced around the room.  “Na, where is Seven?”

 

“Putting Geejay to bed,” Naomi replied.  “She should be done in a nanosecond,” she slipped away to the piano bench, taking a cleansing breath before she began.

 

She selected a piece she had performed in her last recital, one of her own compositions, and the Qianians listened intently.  Sieken was clearly moved by the poignancy of the piece, and even more impressed by Naomi’s skill. 

 

Kieran sat in the corner, furthest from the Ktarian, remembering the night of Naomi’s latest recital and how proud everyone had been of the young woman’s performance.  The song she played now had a lingering quality, a plaintiveness that made Kieran’s heart ache with longing for something she could not begin to identify.  She drew a shaking breath, feeling the music acutely, remembering all the times Naomi had played for her when the Ktarian had taken ill.  As necessary as it had been to put distance between herself and Naomi after that experience, Kieran felt Naomi’s absence, and wished for all the world it could be different between them, wished neither of them felt so much, or wanted more.

 

Watching now, she was startled by how at ease Naomi seemed, interacting with their visitors.  She monitored Sieken’s reaction to Naomi, thinking the alien was one of the most gracious she had ever encountered.  She saw the approval in Sieken’s eyes, the warmth Naomi’s talent inspired.  She bowed her head silently, thinking of the day spent with Naomi at the lake, of how it had felt to hold Naomi in the water, and of the look in her hazel eyes.  Months later, the impact was still absolute, the emotion overpowering, just like the composition Naomi played.

 

When the performance was over, Sieken jumped up, joining Naomi on the bench.  “That was magnificent,” she took both of Naomi’s hands in her own.  “You humble me with your aptitude.  You wrote that yourself?” she was overwhelmed by the depth of the piece.

 

Naomi flushed from her throat to her forehead.  “Yes, your grace,” she replied softly.

 

“Does this composition have a title?” Sieken enthused.  “I can just hear our symphony playing this wondrous music,” she smiled broadly.

 

Naomi swallowed hard, blushing furiously.  “It’s called ‘The Lake’s Lament’, your grace,” she admitted, wondering if Kieran would make the connection.

 

Kieran’s head snapped up, her eyes registering comprehension.  It wasn’t just my imagination, then.  She felt it, too. And she wrote that amazing sonata about the experience. Kieran gazed longingly at the strawberry blonde, her chest tightening.  She is so incredibly passionate.  So lovely. She hung her head, rubbing her eyes, feigning tiredness to hide the emotions playing in her face. 

Sieken kissed Naomi’s cheek.  “Thank you for sharing your gift,” she said sincerely, kissing both hands in turn.  “Your mother and Commander Thompson did not do you justice even with their glowing descriptions of your ability,” she added.

 

“You’re welcome, your grace,” Naomi said quietly, embarrassed.  Then to deflect the praise, she nodded in Seven’s direction as she came down the hall and back into the living room.  “This is my other mother, Seven of Nine,” she announced.

 

Sieken took one look at Seven and her color went from rich gold to brittle white, eyes from green to frost.  Her security guard, also suddenly a pale white, stepped between Seven and the Ambassador reflexively, and as he did so, he grew several inches in height.

 

Sieken grasped his shoulder roughly, moving him aside, her own color returning to normal.  “I am pleased to meet you, Seven of Nine,” she bowed to hide her embarrassment.

 

Seven’s cool exterior never registered a reaction, though her mind was acutely aware that the Ambassador’s alarm was due to the Borg implants that glared at the Qianians like an alert beacon.

 

“Ambassador,” Seven bowed equally low.  “Please, do not be afraid,” she offered apologetically.  “I was Borg, but I am no longer part of the collective.”

 

Sieken visibly relaxed.  “I am honored to make your acquaintance,” she replied.  “And I thank you for your reassurance.”

 

Naomi’s esteem for the aliens grew exponentially at the display from the security guard.  To physically change one’s appearance in the face of potential danger, she felt, was evolutionarily a huge advantage.   She studied Sieken’s demeanor and expression while the alien talked to Seven, memorizing every detail.  When Kathryn escorted the welcoming committee out of their quarters, Naomi felt the light had suddenly gone out of the room entirely.

 

Before she slipped out the door with the rest of the entourage, Kieran came over to Naomi, who was still perched on the piano bench.  “That was quite a performance,” she said, in awe.  “Will you play for me, privately, sometime?  I’ve missed your concerts so much, sweetie.”

 

Naomi’s cheeks colored prettily.  “Anytime you like.  In fact, come back later, if you have time.”

 

Kieran kissed her forehead, taking her hands.  “I’m working until late.  I think your Moms would object to a concert during Gamma shift, don’t you?”

 

Naomi leaned into her kiss, smiling.  “Probably.  But I might come by the Cargo Bay, just to catch up with you.”

 

“I’d like that,” Kieran agreed.  “You can spend the night, if you like.  I may not be the liveliest companion, after a double shift, but I’ll do my best,” she gazed fondly at the lovely young woman.  “Na?”

 

“Yes?” Naomi gazed up at the Counselor with eyes full of adoration.

 

“While you were playing that piece?  It made me think about that day we spent at the lake,” she said softly, her voice strained at the confession.

 

“That’s what I was thinking about when I wrote it,” Naomi murmured.

 

Kieran turned toward the door, where the entourage was waiting for her in the hallway.  “I have to run.  Soon?”

 

Naomi nodded. “Soon, KT.”

 

___________________

 

Kieran Thompson returned to her bridge shift, unable to concentrate on the duties she was supposed to be attending to.  Kathryn was off with their guests, and had sent Kieran back to work, which left the Counselor with plenty of time to think about Naomi’s sonata. 

 

She rested her chin in her hand, sprawling in the command chair, contemplating her own sentimentality.  Naomi’s sentimentality came out in sweet and innocent expressions, in taking Kieran’s clothing to wear, in secreting away mementos of their time together, in tender musical compositions.  Kieran’s sentimentality was relegated to the hushed and guilty confessions she had uttered when Naomi was dying, in undisclosed memories she hoarded like a miser, and one stolen item she had never told Naomi she took. 

 

When Naomi was a small girl, she had a stuffed Flotter doll, and she had slept with it until it was tattered and worn.  Flotter was a fictional character from a holodeck adventure, and he represented the element of water. Once, when Naomi had been cleaning out her closet, she had tossed the old relic in the pile of things to be recycled.  Kieran had hidden the treasure in her uniform as she was leaving Naomi’s room, and still had the little doll.  She had kept it beneath a stack of clothing all the years she lived with B’Elanna, and now, living alone in the Cargo Bay, she sometimes slept with it.  She had originally taken it, thinking someday she would return it to Naomi, perhaps when Naomi had her own child, because pieces of childhood should be preserved.  Now she doubted she would ever surrender the stuffed toy.  When she missed Naomi, which was often, she told Flotter her sorrows.

 

Beta shift finally ended, and Kieran made her way to the Cargo Bay.  She wished she had something of Naomi’s to wear to sleep in, but laughed at the thought of trying to squeeze her broad shoulders into the slight Ktarian’s clothes.  She recycled her uniform, setting it on her workstation for the morning, found an old Academy muscle shirt to wear, and retrieved Flotter, hugging the little blue-green man to her.  Stepping back from the closeness she had shared with Naomi had done little to comfort or protect her, she realized.  She had resolved to start dating again, but when the moment came to actually agree to meet someone after work, or to do the asking, she could not bring herself to do it.  She always thought of Naomi, and how hurt the young Ktarian would be if Kieran took up with someone.

 

“I think,” she said to the doll, feeling lost and alone, “I need a friend tonight.”   She slid beneath her covers, ordered the computer to dim the lights, and wrapped her arm around Flotter tightly, forgetting that Naomi had said she might come for a visit. 

Kieran was asleep in moments, and did not hear the door cycle when Naomi entered half an hour later.  The lights were dim enough for sleeping, but between them and the glow from Seven’s alcove, Naomi could make out Kieran’s face, the outline of her body, and something else.  She moved closer, trying to discern what Kieran held tucked beneath her arm.

 

Naomi pressed her hand over her mouth to control the welling of tenderness in her chest, her eyes filling.  Kieran was sleeping with her old Flotter doll, and looked as peaceful as a child.  I knew I set it aside to recycle it, and it disappeared. My God, she took it, she realized.  She sleeps with it to be close to me, just like I sleep in her clothes.  Warmth washed over her, her throat closing with love and longing.  She moved closer without even realizing she had done so, sitting in the floor beside Kieran’s cot, gazing at her with a mixed sense of affection and desire.  She lay her hand over Kieran’s hand that clutched the little Flotter doll to her chest, easing onto the edge of Kieran’s cot, smoothing Kieran’s bangs back from her forehead with the faintest of touches.

 

Kieran stirred beneath the gentle caress, smiling in her sleep.  “Na,” she whispered, thinking the Ktarian was a figment of her imagination.  She reached for her hand, kissing it.  “I miss you so much,” she murmured.

 

Naomi leaned over Kieran’s body, pressing her lips to Kieran’s forehead, heart threatening to break from the weight of her love.  “I’m right here,” she whispered.  “Never more than a thought away,” she echoed the description Cassidy had given Kieran.  She spoke inside Kieran’s dreams, her words insinuating themselves into the Counselor’s subconscious thoughts.  “I love you, Kieran.  I want you,” she admitted, voice barely audible.  She brushed her lips over Kieran’s, heart fluttering in her chest at her boldness, but unable to stop herself.

 

In Kieran’s mind, they were in the lake, Naomi cradled against her body, the water warm and gentle around them.  Kieran felt Naomi’s lips on hers, was overwhelmed by the sensation, and she returned the kiss with a needful sigh, deepening it, hands cupping Naomi’s face. 

 

Naomi breathed softly into their kiss, felt her body go liquid, lingered over the feeling of Kieran’s mouth, the taste of her breath, the velvet of her lips.  She eased away from the woman she would take as lover, if only Kieran would allow it.  Naomi knew Kieran was sleeping, knew she must stop, but the temptation was terrible.  She bit her lip, still feeling Kieran’s mouth on her own, forcing herself to sit up and away from Kieran’s body.

 

Kieran clutched Flotter to her again, frowning at the absence of Naomi’s kiss, muttering in her sleep.  

 

Naomi watched her sleeping, watched her face working. Naomi knew she had to awaken Kieran before she ruined everything by pushing for intimacy where there could be none.  Kieran would never cross that boundary, no matter how much Naomi willed her to do so.

 

“KT?” she said softly, taking Kieran’s cheek in her hand, brushing her thumb over the soft swell of tanned skin.  “Did you forget to wait up for me?” she chuckled, voice a bit louder and more insistent.

 

Kieran breathed sharply, inhaling as she awakened.  “Hey, Wildwoman,” she sounded far away.  “What are you doing here?” she smiled, pushing up on her arms, lifting up off the bed.

 

“I told you I would drop by later, remember?” Naomi teased her.  She grinned mischievously.  “I wondered whatever happened to my old Flotter doll,” she commented, eyes filled with love.

 

Kieran was wide awake now, and knew she had been found out.  Even in the dim lighting, Naomi could tell she was blushing.  “I--I--it just seemed so sad, to let him go,” she finished lamely.  Oh God, she caught you red-handed, you moron. Could you be more obvious?

 

Naomi kissed her cheek affectionately.  “Does he smell like me?” she wanted to know, her tone playful.

 

Kieran nodded, feeling ashamed. 

 

Naomi hugged her then, laughing happily.  “I think that is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said softly.

 

Kieran hugged her tightly.  “You do?  You don’t think I’m a sentimental fool?”

 

Naomi touched her face gently.  “I think I didn’t know I could possibly love you more, and now I know I do,” she said sincerely.

 

Kieran closed her eyes, leaning into Naomi’s touch.  “I love you, too, Na,” she said through the catch in her throat.  “I was going to keep him to give to your first born, someday,” she explained.  “But then I just got so attached to him, I couldn’t imagine giving him up--not even for your little girl.”

 

“How long have you had him?” Naomi wanted to know.

 

“Oh, gosh, forever,” Kieran tried to recall.  “I took him when I was first married to B’Elanna, I think.”

 

“Did she know?” Naomi was amused at the thought of Kieran bringing home her doll and B’Elanna razzing her about it.

 

“God, no,” Kieran laughed.  “She’d have never let me hear the end of it,” she hugged Naomi closer.  “I kept him hidden in my clothing.  After she and I split up, I was so lonely, I started to sleep with him, sometimes.”

 

Naomi giggled.  “And you said you’ve never been with a man,” she taunted.  “You lied to poor Noah.”

 

Kieran scooted against the wall, lifting the covers so Naomi could slide under them, laughing.  “It’s true,” she agreed.  “Flotter is my first and only relationship with a man.  But I only let him get this close because his anatomy is pretty nondescript,” she teased.

 

“Unlike Noah,” Naomi noted correctly, “who is hung like a bear.”

 

Kieran smacked Naomi’s thigh playfully.  “Do you kiss your mothers with that mouth?” she laughed loudly.  “And what have you been doing, looking at Noah’s anatomy?” she scolded.

 

Naomi slid under the covers with her friend.  “It’s a little hard to ignore, KT,” she pointed out. “Even in our uniforms, it’s obvious.  He’d scare a prostitute,” she chuckled.  Then she whispered  “When you lived with him, did you ever see him nude?”

 

Kieran drew Naomi into her arms, howling with laughter.  “No, thank God,” she admitted, “but I saw him in his underwear enough times to be afraid.  And he had the nerve to think I’d let him near me with that thing,” she laughed.

 

“Did he really think you’d go for that?” Naomi was serious now.

 

“Apparently he thought he could convince me to give it a try,” she tattled.  “He did his best to be persuasive, but as much as I love him, and as much as I think he’s an amazing man, he’s still a man.  I know I broke his heart, but the idea just gives me the creeps,” she giggled, pressing her forehead against Naomi’s.  “What about you--you’ve apparently been looking him over,” she teased.

 

“I admit I’ve been--curious, but mostly just about his body.  I just can’t quite--picture it,” she explained.  “But as far as being intimate with any man--no thanks,” she shuddered.  “I mean, I don’t want to sound closed-minded, and I think he’s very handsome, but--that part of sex still sounds messy and disgusting to me,” she grinned.

 

“Me, too,” Kieran laughed. 

 

Naomi smiled warmly at her, resting her head on her hand.  “You’ve always preferred women?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Always.  I’ve never wanted anything intimate with any man.  I kissed a guy, once, in high school,” she confided.

 

“You sure did kiss Noah,” Naomi accused, laughing.  “At the Spring Fling?” she reminded her.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Kieran agreed.  “I had forgotten--he just threw me so bad, I never saw it coming,” she recalled.  “And it was okay--I mean, he’s a pretty good kisser, for a man,” she decided.  “I even let him do it again, later, so I guess I didn’t hate it.  But I also didn’t really feel anything except curiosity, like you said.  I was very analytical about the whole thing--like, ‘Oh, this is what it feels like to kiss Noah.  Hmm.  Very nice, but not really what I had in mind’.  That sort of thing,” she grinned at her Ktarian friend.   She shook her head.  “God, how do you get me talking about this stuff, anyway, Na?”

 

“I bring out the devil in you, I guess,” Naomi teased her.  “I love it when you open up and don’t edit yourself, KT,” she encouraged.  “I feel--privileged.  I know there aren’t many people you share that with,” she said sincerely.  “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?”

 

Kieran sighed.  “Good question.  Cassidy told me I was going to have several children, not just Katie, so I guess I must have marriage in my future.  But I can’t imagine it, now.  My first was such a disaster,” she puzzled over it.

 

“Do you miss B’Elanna?” Naomi asked quietly.

 

“Of course I do,” Kieran nodded.  “How could I not?  But I also can’t get past the fact that she slept with half the ship before my side of the bed was even cold,” Kieran’s eyes darkened with hurt.  “She told me if she and I split up, she’d choose a female partner again, but I know she’s had at least one guy in her bed since then, and I suspect he’s a regular visitor, since Katie mentions him from time to time.”

 

“You’re kidding me,” Naomi breathed, feeling indignant. 

 

“I wish I were.  I mean, B’Elanna can do what she wants, and I have no qualms about her right to do so.  But it’s a little weird to think Katie might see her with Tristan,” Kieran said thoughtfully.

 

Naomi digested that tidbit, surprised that B’Elanna would be stupid enough to want any man, when she could have had Kieran.  “I get the impression that she’d take you back in a heartbeat,” she pointed out.

 

“You do?  From what?” Kieran demanded. 

 

Naomi shrugged.  “Well, for starters, she still has your wedding picture in her office.  And she still wears your wedding ring.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I noticed that the other day, too.  I wonder why she bothers?  You know, she never did sign the divorce papers,” she realized, sighing.  “Let’s not talk about her, okay?”

 

Naomi sank into Kieran’s embrace.  “Sorry,” she murmured.  “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

 

“It’s okay, sweetie.  I always want you to feel like you can ask anything,” she yawned in Naomi’s face.  “I warned you,” she advised.  “I’ve been on double shifts for the last three days.”

 

Naomi kissed her face, nuzzling gently.  “Sleep, then, KT.  I won’t be offended.”

 

“Are you tired enough to sleep?” Kieran asked, concerned.

 

“I can always fall asleep with you,” she admitted.  “I know if you’re here, I won’t have any bad dreams.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “I hope I can get back into the dream I was having when you came in,” she squeezed Naomi closer.  “It was a doozy.”

 

Naomi colored slightly.  “Really?  Tell me about it.”

 

“Enough gossip, bad girl,” Kieran scolded.  “I have to get some sleep.”

 

Kieran would die before she’d tell Naomi they had been kissing each other in her dream.  She decided she’d better have a talk with Dee, to get to the bottom of her errant thoughts, before they became a problem.

 

_________________

 

 

Captain Janeway escorted the aliens back to their ship, agreeing to make the journey with them back to Qian.   Janeway wanted, over the course of the journey, to effect a cultural exchange with the Qianians.  She felt

certain that there was nothing better than work to occupy Naomi’s active mind, and that the assignment might reveal talents and aptitudes untapped in the young Ktarian.  She also felt that Naomi was focused too intently on Engineering, and wanted to see her branch out from that endeavor, after so many months of performing grueling work for B’Elanna.  So she reassigned Naomi temporarily to work with Kieran to script the cultural exchange with their hosts.

 

Kieran also felt Naomi had gifts that she had never had the chance to develop as a member of the crew, as evidenced by her work on her first away mission, and Kieran let the younger woman take the lead on the project.  They spent hours brainstorming together.

 

“I think,” Naomi offered, “we need to download part of our database to theirs, so that they have background material to study after we’re gone,” she tapped notes into a PADD.  “We should give them all the basics--the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s Mission Statement, human biochemistry information, a diagram of our solar system, the charter that made Earth part of the Federation,” she listed off a few ideas.  She sipped at her iced tea, long, elegant legs curled beneath her on the couch in Kathryn’s quarters.

 

“I agree,” Kieran approved.  “But what can we do for an actual hands on experience?”

 

Naomi grinned, laying her hand companionably on Kieran’s thigh.  “Neelix could throw together a party,” she teased.  Then more seriously, she detailed her ideas for a reception on Voyager, one that involved the opportunity to sample different foods, mingle with the crew, listen to various types of music, and learn some of the entertainments available to ship’s personnel.  “I think the holodeck will fascinate them,” she enthused.

 

Kieran drank from Naomi’s glass, not bothering to get her own beverage.  “I like that,” she praised the young Ktarian.  “Kat was right--you do have the makings of a diplomat, Na,” she hugged the young woman close.  “And I like working with you in a professional capacity.  You’re good at this.”

 

“Thanks,” Naomi hugged her back.  “Maybe a basketball exhibition,” she suggested, mind churning.  “And a velocity demonstration.  That will show them that some recreational pursuits are just for fun, and others serve a higher purpose.”

 

Kieran knew Naomi was referring to the battle instincts that playing Velocity honed, but she grinned playfully and said “Yes, hoops is definitely a transcendent endeavor.”

 

Naomi gave her a withering look.  “Not hoops, Velocity,” she laughed, knowing Kieran was baiting her.

 

“Oh, I don’t know, Na,” she persisted. “My mantra has always been score, score, score,” she stole more of Naomi’s iced tea.

 

Naomi would have offered to get Kieran something of her own to drink, but she rather enjoyed the intimacy of sharing. 

 

“The Doctor would be thrilled if we asked him to do an operatic solo for them,” Kieran added to the brainstorming list.  “Of course, he’d be egotistically insufferable for a month,” she winked at Naomi.

 

“And that would be different from any other day how?” Naomi laughed melodically.

 

Kieran was struck by how much Naomi had changed over the last year, how grown up she looked and behaved.  She was, simply put, engaging on every level. 

 

Naomi looked up from her PADD, seeing that Kieran was staring at her.  “What?” she asked meekly.

 

“I love when you laugh,” Kieran told her.  “It makes me feel--complete, somehow,” she smiled broadly at her friend.

 

“I feel the same with you,” Naomi supplied, grateful for the insight.  “Your laughter--it just--fills my heart,” she admitted.  “I’m so glad you offer it up easily.  Even when things are tough for you, you never lose your sense of humor. I admire that,” she felt a warming in her chest, speaking of it.

 

Kieran took her hand, kissing the palm.  “Thank you for saying so.  I haven’t been at my best, this past year,” she confided apologetically.  “And at times, I haven’t been there for you, at all,” she added.  “I am sorry for that, Naomi.”

 

“That’s not true, KT,” Naomi took both of Kieran’s hands.  “You’ve made yourself available, you’ve always encouraged me to come to you.  I always know where to find you.  And I’ve always known, anytime, I could count on you if I hailed,” she squeezed Kieran’s hands lightly.  “When I was so sick, you were the one who took care of me, night and day, because you didn’t trust anyone else to do the job right,” she realized aloud.  “I’ll never forget that, Kieran.  You were my strength when everyone else gave me up for dead.”

 

“And do you still trust me to be your strength, Na?” Kieran asked, needing to know that she hadn’t failed her.  “As close as we’ve grown, over these last few months, you’ve still never told me about your hallucinations,” she reminded her.  “You know I would listen, honey,” she encouraged Naomi to confide in her.

 

“I’m fine,” Naomi deflected the inquiry.  “There’s nothing important on my mind, honestly.  Except this assignment,” she got back to business.  “But it would make me very happy if we could find some time outside of work to spend together, if you can spare the time.  I know I told you to go back to school, but I miss you.  Maybe we could play some Velocity?”

 

Kieran smiled.  “I’d like that.  In fact, how about this afternoon?”

 

“It’s a date,” Naomi agreed.

 

_______________

 

“Let’s test the program,” Naomi was saying to Kieran.  “I think it’s done.  Seven helped me out with it,” she felt a flutter of anticipation.

 

Naomi had put together a holodeck presentation for the Qianians, one that entailed a 3 dimensional slide show, of sorts, of their journey in the Delta Quadrant, then segueing into images from the Alpha Quadrant, to emphasize why they were trying to get home.

 

Kieran took her hand as they walked down the corridor, reminding herself to be physically engaging with Naomi, in case she was feeling the need for affection.  “I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with,” she enthused, knowing Naomi had spent hours on the program.  “Seven tells me it’s outstanding.”

 

Naomi smiled up at Kieran, happy to have had so much time with the taller Counselor over the last few days.  “Seven is hardly unbiased, where I am concerned,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran chuckled.  “As if I am any more objective about your accomplishments?” she noted.

 

“You’re right,” Naomi flushed with pleasure.  “You’re equally indulgent,” she agreed.

 

“Or,” Kieran said seriously, “perhaps Seven and I know something you don’t.”

 

“Flatterer,” Naomi accused, stopping outside the holodeck doors.  She keyed in a sequence of commands, and the doors whirred open.  “Now don’t hold back, KT.  If there are changes you think will make it better, tell me.  You won’t hurt my feelings.”

 

Kieran watched the presentation, mesmerized by the care and thoroughness of it.  It was a fitting tribute to the Voyager crew, an accurate documentary of their encounters with other species, and a visual panorama of beautiful scenery and astrological phenomena.  When the fifteen minute program transitioned to images of Earth, Kieran could hardly breathe.  “Oh, Na,” she murmured, watching the landscape changing around them, from the Grand Canyon to the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the beaches of the Caribbean, the outback of Australia, the rainforests of South America.  “I’d forgotten how wonderful home really is,” she put her arm around the slight Ktarian, suddenly homesick. 

 

The presentation ended, and Kieran stood there long after, thinking.  “It’s perfect, Na,” she pronounced.  “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

 

Naomi snuggled into her.  “Good.  I’m pretty pleased, if I do say so myself.”

 

Kieran was flooded with memories of home, her expression far away and melancholy.  “I hope my parents live long enough for me to see them again,” she murmured, thinking of their home in Florida.  “But,” she added, “I’m glad they never met B’Elanna, or had to see me go through that mess with her.”

 

Naomi squeezed Kieran tightly, wishing she could lend comfort.  “You’ve hardly ever spoken of your parents, or your sister,” she prodded gently.  “Why don’t you tell me about them all?” 

 

The invitation was a thinly disguised ploy to get Kieran to pour out her misery to Naomi, and Kieran smiled at the veiled attempt.  “You really want to hear about them?”

 

“Yes,” Naomi assured her.  “Let’s go back to my room, where we can really talk,” she moved them both to the exit.

 

_______________

 

Kieran stretched out on Naomi’s bed, Naomi wrapped in her arms, strawberry blonde curls falling across Kieran’s chest.  She told Naomi everything she could think of about her family, including the hard parts about her sister, Cassidy, her illness and premature death.  Naomi listened attentively, asking an occasional question when Kieran faltered, helping her disclose the things that she needed to say.  Kieran let it all out, crying when she talked about Cass, laughing when she told Naomi about her days at the Academy.  Naomi was transfixed by the stories, and sharing them made the two companions feel even more bonded than ever.  Kieran didn’t stop with home, though.  She told Naomi everything about P’Arth, the entire sordid mess with Robin Lefler,  her aspirations and how they were cut short when Voyager was lost, and how ultimately, they were fulfilled when Kathryn discovered her, thanks to B’Elanna.  Naomi wanted more.  She asked about B’Elanna, how Kieran and she had become involved, what it had meant to Kieran.  Kieran divested herself of all that her heart held, as if the maelstrom of information that started now demanded release, and she couldn’t stop herself from talking.  When their bodies were stiff from lying together for too long, they shifted comfortably together, as if their thoughts were one.  Kieran thought how it was something like a dance, this synergy they achieved together.  It struck her that they were not only compatible as companions, but as co-workers, and she thanked Naomi for being part of her life.

 

Naomi came away from the day with a knowledge and insight into Kieran that was startling in its precision.  Finally, she felt she completely knew the Counselor as one adult to another, and not just the carefully constructed image that Kieran had always presented to the younger woman.  Rather than falling from some lofty height in Naomi’s esteem, Kieran became infinitely more real to her, and she only loved her more for the trust it took to reveal herself.  Naomi wanted to return the favor, but her courage failed her when she realized that her hallucinations were the one thing Kieran didn’t know about her, and the one thing that would likely break Kieran’s heart.  She resolved never to tell Kieran about them, no matter how much the Counselor coaxed and cajoled.  She could never let Kieran know how much she truly wanted from her, because it would be unfair to Kieran.

 

Kieran actually fell asleep talking, she was so spent from all the late hours of planning the cultural exchange.  Naomi covered them both carefully with a comforter, lying in Kieran’s arms and thinking about everything Kieran had shared.  Although she didn’t want it to, her mind wandered to forbidden thoughts, her hand splayed over Kieran’s stomach, where she could feel the muscles beneath her shirt.  She thought about how it would feel if she could touch the bare flesh, how Kieran’s muscles would move if they made love, and the arousal threaded through her slowly, warmly, until she physically hurt.   She knew she shouldn’t, but she wanted to kiss Kieran, and the temptation got to be too much. 

She exercised every ounce of restraint she could muster, forcing herself to only kiss Kieran’s cheek, but it was definitely a lingering, nuzzling kiss.

 

Kieran felt Naomi’s lips brush over her face, felt the soft exhalation of breath that slipped over her throat, and her brain forced her back to consciousness, sleepy, drowsy, sensual consciousness, thinking how beautiful Naomi was, and how good it felt to hold her.  Kieran’s body tingled where Naomi’s fingers caressed her stomach, and it was all the older woman could do to force her mind back to objectivity.  She had promised Naomi she would hold her, anytime Naomi liked, and here she was, aroused by the contact.  She tried to hide how appalled she was at her own weakness, reminding herself how wrong it would be to ever go down that road, but her body wasn’t listening.  She tried to be subtle, stopping Naomi’s hand from its tireless tracing of her abdominal muscles.  “That tickles,” she lied, her voice thick with desire.  “Sorry I fell asleep,” she murmured, trying to shake the cotton from her brain and the confusion from her body.

 

“I’m not,” Naomi said quietly.  “If you’re here, I don’t have nightmares.”  She was disappointed when Kieran disengaged from her, thinking that for a split second, Kieran had actually been feeling the electricity between them.

 

Kieran rolled over to face her, no longer enveloping her, propping her own head on her hand.  “You promised a long time ago to tell me about them.  You never did,” she reminded the young woman. 

 

Naomi reached for Kieran’s hand, lacing their fingers together, while she lay her head on her other outstretched arm.  “The details are usually different, but the theme is consistent,” she began, gauging Kieran’s reaction to her touch, which she tried to make intimately suggestive without being obvious.  She slid her fingers into Kieran’s, then slid them out, as if the contact were made absently.  She was rewarded by Kieran trapping her fingers, not letting her continue to move them in Kieran’s.  She saw Kieran’s pupils dilate, heard her breathing change, and knew she was making her excited, even if only mildly.  She made her voice soft and inviting.  “In the dream, someone is always trying to hurt me,” she explained, “Hirogen, Maltanians, Kazon, sometimes even Voyager’s security team.  I’m being chased, or more accurately, hunted down as prey, or as a lab subject, or as a prisoner,” she continued, rubbing the palm of Kieran’s hand with her thumb.  “Sometimes I can’t see them, until they’ve caught me, and sometimes I can.  They always catch me, and you always save me, only you get yourself killed in the rescue attempt,” she breathed, suddenly more frightened than aroused.  “It’s so real,” she closed her eyes, shuddering. “I’ve seen you take a thousand shots to the chest, the head, the back, always because you’re compelled to rescue me,” she peered at Kieran intently.

 

Kieran withdrew her hand, touching Naomi’s lips with one outstretched finger to silence her.  “Maybe it’s because I tried, on Tampa, Na.  It sounds like you’re remembering a few real events, and superimposing them on some imaginary ones.”

 

Naomi kissed Kieran’s finger, then her palm, then the inside of her wrist.  “It terrifies me, KT.  Promise me, if it ever happens, you won’t sacrifice yourself.  I couldn’t live with knowing you had.”

 

Kieran’s heart thudded in her chest, watching Naomi’s lips.   “How could I just stand by and watch you be hurt?” she murmured, thinking there would never come a day when she would let Naomi be in danger. She blinked several times, clearing the improper images of intimacy from her mind, attributing her errant thoughts to exhaustion.  “That night on Tampa, trying to grab you away from those men, that was instinctual.  Now, my love for you would make it even more imperative to stop anyone who tried to hurt you.  I’ve never forgiven myself for being a step too slow and letting them get you.  Don’t ask me to promise you something I could absolutely never live with.”  She touched the Ktarian’s cheek, caressing it with the back of her knuckles.  “I lost you, in one of the alternate universes I visited, and believe me, I couldn’t bear it.”

 

“There’s something more to it,” Naomi advised.  “In some of the dreams, there’s a young woman, Kit McCallister, who I’ve never known in real life.  She is from one of my hallucinations on Restid Three.  She’s often been captured, in the dream, also, and I’m begging you to rescue her, but you tell me she’s not real, and then you get killed.  Only Seven and I found out there really is a Kit McCallister in Starfleet’s records--she exists.  And although she is only in high school, she looks like the teenaged version of the woman in my hallucinations.  What do you think that means?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Maybe you saw her in the database before, scanning through some photos or something.  Maybe she stuck in your mind, and your hallucinations used her for content.”

 

Naomi propped her head up on her hand.  “I guess that could be it.”

 

Kieran sat up abruptly, realizing that she had stayed far too late again, and that if she didn’t leave immediately, Naomi would ask her to spend the night, as she had the previous two nights.  Kieran didn’t think she could stand that torture.

 

“Aren’t you going to stay?” Naomi was clearly disappointed.

 

“Do you need me to?” Kieran asked, resigned to yet another sleepless night, lying beside the young woman struggling with her own impure thoughts and motives.

 

Naomi realized she was probably suffocating the Counselor.  “No, but I love it when you do,” she admitted.

 

“I think if you have a bad dream, you can hail me, and I’ll come back--fair enough?” Kieran asked hopefully.

 

“That’s fair,” Naomi agreed, grinning.  She was aroused, and now she’s running away! Naomi crowed silently.

 

Kieran pulled the covers over the gorgeous Ktarian, stooping over to kiss her forehead.  “Good night, love,” she whispered, “sleep well.”

 

Kieran practically ran from the room, as if the hounds of hell were snapping at her ankles.

 

__________________

 

The holographic version of Deanna Troi was mightily amused.  “I think,” she told Kieran, “you need a priest, not a therapist,” she laughed.

 

“Damn it, Dee,” Kieran smacked her thigh angrily, “that’s not funny.  What the fuck is wrong with me?  She’s a little girl!”

 

Dee smiled, reaching for Kieran’s hand.  “I’ve seen her in the last week, and I assure you, she is not a little girl.  Your feelings are perfectly natural.  Naomi is stunning, and she is not a child any longer.  Whatever happened to her body, she passed from childhood through adolescence in the last year.  She is a grown woman, and a gorgeous one, at that. You remember my son, don’t you?  It happened to him, too.  He grew up in a matter of days,” she reminded her friend.   “Don’t beat yourself up over this, Kieran.  It’s not like you’ve done anything sexual--have you?” Dee’s dark eyes glittered.

 

“Of course not,” Kieran bristled defensively.  “It’s bad enough that I inadvertently think about it sometimes. God, strike me dead if I ever let myself touch her,” she vowed.

 

“I would imagine that Naomi thinks about you the same way,” she advised.  “The desire is most likely there, but the taboo is awfully strong.  She knows where the lines are drawn.  But I ask you, should there even be lines drawn?”

 

Kieran scowled.  “Hell yes,” she contended.

 

“No, think about this, KT,” she counseled.  “How many species have you known of in your career that don’t conform to human growth and development, to human morals and customs?  There are dozens of species that practice incest, multiple partner marriages, even the sexual teaching of the young by the elders.  Klingons practically beat their partners senseless, at times.  To a human, most of those things are repugnant.  Naomi is a unique species, because she’s the only human-Ktarian hybrid I’ve ever encountered.  Just because she’s half human doesn’t mean she should be wedged into the expectations a human family would have.”

 

Kieran was having none of it.  “This is Naomi, we’re talking about, not some text book case.”

 

Dee chuckled.  “I’d expect a more open mind from you.  You were, after all, married to a Klingon.  You said yourself that your human friends were shocked by some of the things they found out about you and B’Elanna.  Why is it okay for you to be with a Klingon who drew blood when she had sex, but not okay for you to care about someone who is an adult, but chronologically a child?”

 

“Because I helped raise her, Dee,” Kieran argued.  “I shouldn’t be able to be attracted to her.  My morals should be strong enough that the mere suggestion turns my stomach.”

 

“But they aren’t, and your stomach doesn’t turn,” she stated flatly.

 

“Yes, it does, but not when I’m with her.  It’s like my morals kick in on a time delayed circuit, or something,” she reported with utter self-contempt.  She settled her uniform impatiently, tugging at it with an agitated yank.

 

“In other words, you have the feelings and then beat yourself up for having had them,” Deanna pointed out.

 

“Exactly,” Kieran agreed miserably.  “How do I stop feeling this way?”

 

“I could give you electric shocks while you look at pictures of Naomi,” she offered facetiously.

 

“That’s barbaric,” Kieran complained.

 

“And it doesn’t work, either.  Maybe you should tell Naomi that you’re having uncomfortable thoughts, because of the closeness you’re sharing, and that you need to step back from it.”

 

“That would break her heart,” Kieran realized sadly.

 

“Then you’d better learn to live with your attraction.  I’m sure it’s nothing worse than what everyone else on the ship is feeling.  You’re not the first person who has come to me with the same issue, surrounding Naomi.”

 

Kieran’s color drained from her face.  “I’ll kill them,” she hissed.

 

“You’re one of the most high strung people I know, morally speaking.  Don’t you think there are a lot of people who care much less if they have lustful thoughts about her?”

 

“Oh my God,” Kieran held her face in her hands.  “You’re right.  She is like my own daughter, and if I feel this way, holy shit,” she wailed.  “There must be a dozen men who’d love to lure her off to their quarters.
 

Dee smiled at the Counselor’s misery.  “A lot more than a dozen,” she confirmed.  “You have to be there for her, Kieran.  She’s going to have to make choices soon, because her body will demand that she start to act on her needs.  Help her make good choices.  She is so easily influenced by you.”

 

“That’s exactly what frightens me,” Kieran admitted.

 

_____________________

 

 

First Ambassador Sieken ushered the away team through the crystal hall of the Capital City of Qian, acting as tour guide and emissary to the Voyager contingent.  She had taken an apparent shine to Kieran, who was the only member of the crew she didn’t have to look down at.  The two women found an instant rapport, and Sieken enjoyed the Voyager crew immensely.  The Qianian government had generously offered to make repairs to Voyager, eradicate the bug that was eating away at their ship, and to provide shore leave for the entire complement.  The first contact contingent had finalized the plans that morning, and Sieken was showing off her home world to the visitors.

 

“You shall all be my guests this evening,” she was saying, her hand making a regal, sweeping gesture. “This is our national concert hall, and our symphony will perform a special concert in your honor.”  She smiled warmly at the Ktarian beside her.  “Naomi, you shall be my guest of honor, because you were so generous to play for me when first we met.”

 

Naomi slipped her hand into the alien’s, squeezing it gratefully.  “You humble me, your grace,” she replied, using the vernacular of Qian.

 

Kieran and Kathryn were almost breathless at the expansive auditorium, which was constructed, or rather, carved, from monolithic cliffs of pale green stone, known as hemet.  The building seemed to glow when the sun struck the opalescent walls, and the effect was awesome.  “Sieken,” Kathryn breathed appreciatively.  “This place is magnificent.”

 

Sieken smiled at the auburn haired Captain.  “My dear Kathryn,” she lay a familiar hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder,  “This is one of our simpler edifices.  I have many things to share with you, my friends.  Qian is a study in magnificence,” she promised them.

 

Chakotay’s eyes twinkled brightly at the Ambassador, whom he found stunningly beautiful.  “Surely no more magnificent than the beauty of our hosts,” he flattered her like a true diplomat.

 

Sieken laughed a lilting chortle, almost derisive.  “Commander, you are quite charming,” she decided, taking his arm and then taking Kieran’s, as well.  “Is it a characteristic of the rank you share?” she teased the two Commanders.

 

Kieran smirked.  “Chakotay is a full Commander, and First Officer.  I am but a lowly Counselor,” she advised the Ambassador.  “He outranks me in spades,” she added.

 

Sieken squeezed her arm companionably.  “Spades?”

 

Kieran smiled winningly.  “It means he dwarfs me, by comparison,” she explained.

 

Sieken laughed pleasantly.  “My dear Commander Thompson,” she chided her, “I am the only one in present company that dwarfs you,” she said honestly, thinking Kieran meant height.   She glowed when the away team laughed at her joke.  “The town square,” she announced as they exited the national concert hall.  “Here, your crew may partake of the local cuisine, barter for trinkets, even acquire musical instruments to learn.  Our street performers are some of the best in the quadrant,” she bragged.  “The orlow are particularly tasty, this year,” she added, snagging a foodstuff from a vendor, breaking it open, and holding  out the bright red husk filled with orange nuggets to her guests.  “It is a fruit that grows in the highlands of our planet,” she explained, smiling pleasantly at the vendor, who bowed to the assembled visitors.

 

Kieran took several of the nodes and popped them into her mouth.  “This is delicious,” she pronounced, which encouraged everyone else to try it.  “Like a cross between a mango and a watermelon,” she decided, munching the succulent orbs.  She turned to Naomi.  “Try it,” she held a piece out to her, and Naomi took it with her mouth.  Kieran flushed from her throat to her ears as Naomi’s lips brushed over her fingertips.

 

“Mmmm,” Naomi murmured, “this is luscious,” she agreed, looking at Kieran mischievously, as if she knew exactly what she had just made the Counselor feel.

 

Even Seven of Nine made an appreciative sound as she tasted the fruit.  “This would make a wonderful juice drink,” she noted, thinking she might procure several orlow before going back to the ship. 

 

Sieken stiffened slightly as the former Borg drone spoke. 

 

She had had a similar reaction to B’Elanna, Kieran realized.  It must be the facial hardware that bothers Sieken.  B’Elanna’s starburst--Seven’s optical implant.  I wonder when the Qianians ran into the Borg?

 

“Seven is our resident culinary expert,” Kieran complimented the young Astrometrics officer.  “Perhaps, if you are very fortunate, she will cook something for you, Ambassador,” Kieran pulled the Borg closer, slipping an arm around Seven’s waist. 

 

Sieken relaxed immediately, seeing that Kieran was openly affectionate with the Borg.  “Seven,” she asked hesitantly, “may I ask you a personal question?”

 

It was Seven’s turn to stiffen reflexively, but Kieran’s hand on her back worked the muscles of her shoulders, a silent plea to respond in kind to the Ambassador.  “Of course,” she acquiesced.

 

“How did you ever escape from the Borg?” Sieken’s voice dropped to a near whisper.  “Was it with your Chief Engineer, as well?”

 

Seven almost smiled, the corners of her pale pink lips curling faintly.  “Captain Janeway rescued me,” she said simply.  “I am the one that assimilated B’Elanna,” she added forthrightly.

 

Kieran’s face registered panic.  “She means,” she hastily put in, “she assimilated B’Elanna to save her life,” she clarified.  “B’Elanna was dying, and Seven’s nanoprobes saved her.”

 

Sieken’s eyes widened.  “Do tell,” she twined her arm through Seven’s, leaving the rest of the crowd several steps behind.

 

Chakotay shrugged and leaned over to whisper in Kieran’s ear.  “Fickle,” he decided of Sieken.  “Seven always lures them away,” he complained light-heartedly.

 

Kathryn leaned over as well.  “She’d better not be luring anyone,” she joked darkly.

 

The group of uniformed officers moved on through the town square, seeing the sights, and sampling the foods. Naomi Wildman slipped her hand into Kieran’s, smiling up at her.  “Are you having fun?” she asked brightly, thinking again of how she had made Kieran blush.

 

Kieran nodded eagerly.  “I love it here,” she enthused.  “Are you?”

 

“I am now,” Naomi squeezed her hand.  “Aren’t the Qianians gorgeous?” she breathed appreciatively, gazing at Sieken.

 

Kieran felt a sharp pang in her chest.  Naomi was actually attracted to the tall alien.  She forced a smile.  “They are.  Though not a one of them has anything on you, sweetie,” she felt compelled to be honest.

 

“You’re sweet,” Naomi replied, smiling warmly at her companion.

 

I’m sweet?  God, my thoughts are anything but, Kieran chastised herself.  She felt Naomi pull her hand free, running up ahead to see a street performer eating fire, leaving Kieran standing there to watch her strawberry blonde hair streaming behind her.  Kieran’s chest ached, her head throbbed, and she wanted to go back to the ship and pull her covers over her head.  Not a little girl, not anymore, she realized the truth of Dee’s words.  A perfect, untouchable woman, surrounded by vultures.  Kieran drew a shaking breath, gazing at Naomi, who was talking to Sieken, her face animated and happy.  God, she’s so beautiful. A vision of perfection.   

 

Naomi’s lilting laughter echoed over the group, amused at some anecdote Sieken had told her.  Kieran swallowed the urge to run after Naomi, to regain her attention.  She forced herself to stay back in the group, unobtrusive in her friend’s life, refusing to give in to her own selfish desires.  It had to be enough, to be her closest confidante, her Counselor, her friend.

_________________

 

The concert was, as Sieken promised, magnificent.  Kieran sat on one side of Naomi, Sieken on the other, both watching Naomi’s face as the symphony played.  The instruments looked nothing like the ones from Earth, but some of the sounds were the same, and the performance was very moving.  Once, in a particularly poignant part of the program, Naomi reached over and took Kieran’s hand, squeezing it, tears welling in her eyes.  Kieran put her arm around Naomi then, letting her lean her head on Kieran’s shoulder. 

 

“Isn’t it exquisite?” she whispered to Kieran.

 

“It’s very good,” Kieran agreed, “but I prefer your music,” she complimented her young companion.  “Will you play for me later?”

 

Naomi nodded, then hushed her.  The wind instruments were pushing the tempo from lento to adagio, the strings building to a crescendo, and then a lone stringed instrument, high and sweet, completed the passage.  Naomi gasped and clasped her hands to her chest, feeling the passionate piece in her soul.  “That was incredible,” she breathed appreciatively when the lights came up.

 

Sieken smiled placidly.  “We’re very proud of our musicians,” she advised.  “Can I interest either of you in a late dessert?” she invited hopefully.

 

Kieran smiled, but shook her head.  “I have another engagement,” she apologized, “with Naomi.”

 

Naomi bowed slightly to the Qianian.  “Another time, perhaps, your grace,” she offered.

 

Sieken’s eyes dulled, but she pretended not to be disappointed.

 

_______________

 

Kieran lounged on the couch in the Captain’s quarters, listening to Naomi play.  The crew was staying on Qian, having been given guest quarters, and only a few crew remained aboard the ship.  It was very late, but Kieran loved to be in this space, comfortable and filled with positive memories.  She loved knowing that the three women she loved most in the world lived between these walls, went through their daily routines here, laughed and loved and argued and grew here. 

 

Naomi kept her head down as her hands moved over the keys, eyes closing in concentration, feeling the music more than thinking it.  It was a form of spiritual communion for the Ktarian, the piano an extension of her consciousness, the music an offering of her heart and soul.   Kieran could listen for hours, and lately, had coaxed a concert at every opportunity.  She found the music healing, and in an odd way, clarifying.  In passages where her heart used to ache over the loss of B’Elanna, she felt centered, resolved, and was able to project a future for herself.

 

Kieran listened through the music, beyond the melody, hearing the meaning behind the notes, feeling the sweeping sentiment, buffeted by it. Laid bare emotionally by it, she watched Naomi's hands, aching inside with something unnamed, unacknowledged, something she could not allow. It pierced her, impaled her, left her bleeding, an agony so deep and so consuming, how could she ignore it? It seeped into her consciousness to scream at her for recognition, insidious and cruel, badgering and punishing. She threw her head back, stared at the ceiling, forced herself to deny it, refused to bow to it.

 

Notes surged, high and yearning, pulling, beckoning. Holding fast to her denial she closed her eyes, willing the awareness into submission.

 

This love could not be, would not be, was not.

 

The keys moved down, up, down, up with the brushing of soft fingers, tinkling like wind chimes, delicate the stroking, heartfelt the sound.

 

Kieran retreated into herself, withdrawing, exposed, fearful. The knowledge of her emotion asserted itself, reared in her chest like a horse with its hooves clawing the air, nostrils flared and steaming in the brittle morning cold, cold that settled in her like a snowfall, enveloping, suffocating, bitter.

 

The one constant through all of those worlds.  

 

Kieran yearned for blanketing darkness, where hidden, forbidden, the desires wait, lurking in corners to ambush, to devour, to confront and disclose.  Nothing sacred or protected save for the protection of solitude, nothing left to ambiguity, everything laid naked, a harsh honesty she could not protest or defend.

 

She lay with her arm over her eyes, letting the notes carry her, feeling the passion of the composition.  Powerful through the bridge, resolving to sweet agony in the closing bars, Kieran felt like weeping.  When Naomi finished,

Kieran found herself staring at Naomi’s back, speechless, wanting to touch her.

 

“That was breathtaking,” she murmured.

 

Naomi smiled, but didn’t turn around.  “I thought you’d fallen asleep,” she said softly.

 

“I was on another plane of consciousness, because your work is so transcendent,” Kieran said sincerely.

 

“I wrote that piece for you,” Naomi said almost inaudibly, head bowed over the keys.

 

Kieran wasn’t sure how it happened, when or how she moved, but she was suddenly on the piano bench, Naomi’s face in her hands, peering into hazel eyes and a breath away from kissing her.  “I don’t know what to say.  There was so much emotion in it, I--” she tried to breathe.  “I’m honored,” she concluded weakly.  “It made me want to cry.”

 

“That’s how I felt when I wrote it,” Naomi murmured, willing Kieran to close the distance between them.

 

Kieran could see the plea in Naomi’s facial expression, knew what Naomi wanted her to do, felt the pressure in her chest, could hardly find enough air.  Instead, she closed her eyes and pressed her lips to Naomi’s forehead, praying for the ability to do the right thing, to calm the craving that drove her.  “I love you, Na,” Kieran told her, knowing it was the safest thing to say, because on any level, it was true and not likely to be misinterpreted.

 

“I love you, too.  You must be my muse,” she closed her eyes, memorizing the sensation of Kieran’s lips on her skin.

 

They sat there for long moments, Kieran’s kiss pressed firmly against perfect pink flesh, neither speaking, throats closed with love and longing.

 

“I’m so tired,” Naomi finally said, sounding so vulnerable Kieran’s heart lurched in her chest. “Please, stay with me. I don’t have the energy to go back to Qian.”

 

Kieran hugged her, wondering how they would ever get through the night with any propriety intact, but she could deny the musician nothing.

 

“Come on,” she tugged her from her seat, insinuating her arm around Naomi’s shoulders and leading her to bed.  “Call the Moms and tell them where you are, sweetie,” she insisted.  “I’ll turn down the covers.”

 

Kieran stripped to her tank shirt and underpants, sliding into Naomi’s bed.  Naomi finished her conversation with Seven, changed into her nightshirt, which was nothing more than one of Kieran’s old t-shirts, and lit a candle on her nightstand.

 

Kieran lay with her hands beneath her head, watching every move the Ktarian made.  “Is that one of Tuvok’s candles?  It smells nice,” she said faintly, trying to think about anything but how good Naomi looked in her old shirt.

 

“Yes,” she moved the container to a safe location.  “He gave me this for my last birthday.”

 

She wordlessly crept to the bedside, lifting the covers and sliding into Kieran’s arms.  She propped herself up on her forearms, staring down into Kieran’s eyes, as if she were trying to search the hidden intricacies of Kieran’s thoughts and emotions.  Kieran felt the familiar weight on her lungs, drew a shaking breath, returned Naomi’s gaze with equal fervor.  They stayed that way for almost two hours, neither wanting to break the spell, neither brave enough to do more.  Naomi touched Kieran’s face with the faintest caress of her fingertips, but there were no words.  Kieran could swear she heard Naomi speaking inside her mind.

 

When exhaustion won over passion, Kieran started to drift off, and Naomi kissed her cheek then.  “You need to sleep, honey,” she told the older woman.

 

Kieran thought, before sleep claimed her “She called me honey.” 

 

Her mind drifted away, hearing the piece Naomi had played, and with sudden insight, Kieran recalled her near death experience.  You’ve already met your soul mate, Kelsey, Cassidy had told her.  The one constant through all those worlds. 

 

Then Cassidy’s words rang in her, words she had heard when Naomi lay dying, and Cassidy came to her in a dream.

 

You figured it out when you were displaced, but you’ve let it slip away again, because it frightened you.  Focus, and you’ll rediscover it.  I know it’s unbelievable, but if you open your heart, you’ll see how useless your fears are, and how pointless, because the future you know will come cannot coexist with your fear.  I showed you, Kelsey.  The one constant through all those worlds. Remember it.  Be comforted by it.  Stop fighting it. It will be a terrible road, a painful journey, and you will have to sacrifice everything, but it will result in tremendous rewards.

 

Kieran groaned in her sleep, refusing the realization.  Naomi Wildman had been the constant through all of those worlds, even in the reality where Naomi had died, because her absence was so acutely important.  Always Kieran’s touchstone, always the refuge she sought.  You’ve already met your soul mate, Kelsey, Cassidy had told her.  The one constant through all those worlds. 

 

_________________

 

 

Kieran lingered over a vendor’s stall, examining several items of jewelry.  The hemet stone parapets in the concert hall had so captivated her, she decided to purchase several pieces of the stone for her collection. 

 

“Commander,” Sieken slipped up beside her.  “Did you enjoy the concert, last night?”

 

Kieran smiled broadly, taking the Ambassador’s hands.  “Immensely, your grace,” she replied formally. 

 

“And are your quarters satisfactory?” Sieken asked anxiously, wanting so to please her guests.

 

“They are opulent, your grace,” Kieran merrily replied.  “Qian is paradise.”

 

Sieken kissed Kieran’s cheek, unable to contain herself.  “I am so glad you think so.  Hospitality is one of my first duties, and if I failed to please your crew, my superiors might well recall me.”

 

“Everything is perfect, your grace,” Kieran assured her.

 

“Please,” Sieken insisted, “do not address me so.  I am only Sieken, your humble servant,” she pleaded, embarrassed by the grandeur of the term ‘your grace’.

 

“Then call me Kieran,” the lanky Commander returned. 

 

Sieken smiled expansively.  “Let us be equals, then,” she kissed Kieran’s cheek again.

 

“Familiars,” Kieran added in the vernacular of Qian, returning the brief embrace.

 

Sieken studied her awhile longer, clearly taken with the attractive woman.  “Are you looking for souvenirs?” she asked, still not quite ready to look away from the pleasing angles of Kieran’s face.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I wanted to take something back to Naomi,” she murmured, still gazing into alien eyes as green as the hemet stone itself.  “Something she can wear to the banquet tonight.”

 

Sieken nodded, her cheeks glowing bronze at the thought of the lovely Ktarian.  “Is she enjoying Qian?” 

 

“She adores it,” Kieran assured her, squeezing her three fingered hands.  “We’ve promised her an outing that she will not soon forget,” she chuckled.

 

Sieken relaxed visibly.  “I am glad.  May I help you pick out something--appropriate?” she offered kindly, still facing the Counselor.

 

Kieran finally forced herself to look away.  “I think this will do,” she pointed to a small, tear-drop shaped stone, suspended on a fine gold chain.  “And I am going to purchase these for myself,” she moved her finger over to two large, unpolished chunks of stone in the display case.  “I have a collection of rocks from places we’ve visited,” she explained.

 

Sieken smiled again.  “Please, it would honor me to purchase these for you,” she offered, clearly not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer as she reached into her robe and removed a small change purse.  She counted out the coins and pushed them toward the vendor, who had been watching the women intently.

 

Kieran tried to stop her.  “Ambassador--”

 

“Tut!” Sieken interjected.  “I insist.”

 

Kieran blushed.  “I will accept your generous offer, then, but only if you allow me to purchase the necklace myself.  It is a gift for Naomi, and only proper if I pay for it,” she explained.

 

Sieken nodded.  “As it is with my people, as well,” she agreed.  “Naomi will love this gift, if only because it comes from one so lovely, herself,” she added.

 

Kieran blushed again, laughing.  “No wonder you’re an ambassador,” she noted wryly. 

 

“Kieran,” Sieken began as the vendor wrapped up the package and took Kieran’s currency.  “I have a favor to ask of you,” she began slowly, as if formulating her thoughts as she spoke.

 

Kieran accepted the bundle from the vendor, and turned to the Ambassador, linking arms with her again.  “Yes?” she replied.

 

“I would like it very much if--if you would show me your collection,” she settled upon as the couple walked through the town square.

 

Kieran grinned.  “Only that?  That is hardly a favor, your gra--I mean, Sieken,” she corrected herself.

 

The taller alien seemed lost in thought.  “Not only that,” she amended.  “Will you have dinner with me tonight?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “We all shall, at the royal hall.”

 

Sieken seemed to have forgotten.  Addas!” she swore.  “I did schedule that, didn’t I?” she ground her teeth in self-reproach.  “I find that you leave me--unbalanced,” she struggled for the proper description.

 

Kieran squeezed her arm.  “And why is that?” she flirted unabashedly.

 

Sieken’s mouth seemed suddenly non-functioning.  “It is a mystery,” she finally managed to say.  “I should be paying equivalent attention to your entire landing party, yet, I find I allow myself to gravitate toward you.”

 

Kieran chuckled.  “Chakotay will be heartbroken,” she noted playfully.

 

Sieken’s eyes went wide.  “I do not mean to offend,” she apologized immediately.

 

Kieran patted her arm.  “I was kidding,” she explained.  “Though Chakotay is quite smitten with you,” she informed the attractive woman.

 

“He is an intriguing individual,” she responded in kind.  “However, he is--different from you.”

 

“Yes, he is.  He is from a very different culture,” she explained.

 

“No, not that,” Sieken grappled with the right phrasing.  “He is--genetically different.”

 

“You mean he’s a male?” Kieran inquired.  “Unlike Kathryn, Seven, and myself?”

 

Sieken made a sound of assent.

 

“Is that different good, or different bad, or neutral?” Kieran wanted to know.

 

Sieken considered.  “It is forbidden on Qian.  Males and females may not intercourse,” she explained, though she mangled the wording.

 

“Then how do you procreate?” Kieran wanted to know.

 

“Females with females, males with males,” she explained.  “The males create more males, the females create more females.”

 

Kieran marveled at the concept, wishing to know more, but not wanting to seem intrusive.  “I would like to purchase one more thing before we go,” she mentioned, tucking Naomi’s gift box into her pocket.  “And then if you’d like you could see my collection now.”

 

Sieken nodded eagerly, having adopted the human means of agreement.

 

“I want to find a schelanatta for Naomi.  She might enjoy playing something similar to the piano, but with a different sound,” Kieran explained.  “Are there any vendors you know that sell good ones?”

 

Sieken smiled.  “I know the best place,” she agreed, taking Kieran’s arm and moving her in the right direction.

 

Not yet satisfied with the conversation, Kieran resumed her train of thought.  “What would happen if a male and female were to try to procreate?” she ventured.

 

All the rich golden hues drained from Sieken’s face and her lovely eyes darkened to emerald.  “It is forbidden,” she reiterated.  “Please, do not suggest it,” she added, clasping her hand to her chest.

 

Kieran steadied her momentarily as they stopped at the next vendor’s stall.  “My apologies, Ambassador,” Kieran bowed low to the ground, as the Qianians did in the face of an unintended but grave insult.  “I shame myself,” she added formally.

 

Sieken pulled her upright.  “It is a misunderstanding, my friend,” she replied.  “We will not give it substance by speaking of it.”

 

Sieken’s color gradually returned to normal as she pointed out the fine musical instruments.  “This one is very compact, and possibly the best choice, since your Captain’s quarters are cramped,” she offered graciously.  “It is particularly well made.”

 

“That’s perfect,” Kieran dug out her currency, smiling.  Naomi would love the gift, she was sure.

 

____________

 

Seated on the small cot in the Cargo Bay, Kieran allowed Sieken to examine every stone in her collection.

She was explaining the origin of each one, when Noah Lessing wandered in.

 

“KT,” he began moodily, “we have to talk.  Don’t you think it’s about damned time? You’ve ignored my messages for months,” he chastised her, coming around a stack of cargo containers “Naomi is fine now, and I was out of my head, thinking you could ever love me.  But are you going to punish me for the rest of this stinking trip home?” he continued angrily. He stopped short as he spied the alien, who was just getting up.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company,” he apologized.

 

Sieken had risen to her full height by then, taking umbrage to his tone of voice, and bristling protectively in defense of her new friend.  Her eyes had gone white, as had her skin.  Noah shivered inadvertently as the Qianian towered over him menacingly.

 

Kieran was stunned at the transformation in Sieken’s appearance.  “It’s okay,” Kieran grasped the alien’s forearm.  “This is my friend, Noah,” Kieran offered.  “He’s safe,” she tried to sound convincing.

 

Sieken immediately shrunk down to her usual size, face a placid gold, eyes once more pale green.  “He did not sound safe,” Sieken whispered to Kieran.  She studied him momentarily, then smiled.  “However, his skin is beautiful,” she nodded approvingly.

 

Noah swallowed hard, holding out his arms to let the alien examine him.  “African American,” he explained as she touched his almost ebony forearm.

 

Sieken quirked an eyebrow.  “Is that your planet?”

 

Noah smiled, and the flash of white teeth amid the dark skin made Sieken jump.  “No, ma’am.  It’s my ethnicity.  Kieran and I are both from Earth.”

 

Sieken walked around him twice, looking him over.  “But you are so different,” she murmured, disbelieving.  “Your skin, your facial features--even the texture of your hair is different,” she was astonished, touching his close-cropped haircut with an outstretched finger.  “You are both--exquisite,” she concluded.  “How is that possible?”

 

Kieran chuckled.  “Genetic diversity, I guess,” she grinned at Noah, who was looking amused at the inspection.  “If you think he’s something, you should see my daughter,” Kieran winked at Noah.

 

Sieken’s face fell in disappointment.  “You are joined?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “Not anymore.  B’Elanna Torres and I have a child together, though.”

 

“The other Borg,” Sieken remembered.  “You were joined with her?”

 

“Briefly,” Kieran admitted.  “Long enough to have a daughter.  Would you like to meet her?”

 

Sieken smiled brightly, as if suddenly delighted.  “I would like that very much,” she bowed. 

 

Kieran turned to Noah.  “Sorry, bud, but whatever you wanted to tell me will have to wait.  Okay?”

 

Noah frowned, but nodded curtly.  “Just don’t forget,” his tone was aggressive again.

 

The change in his demeanor startled Sieken, who once again grew several inches in response.  “I do not like the way you sound,” she informed him.  “You will not address Kieran in this manner,” she said imperiously.

 

Noah scowled at them both, shaking his head as he walked away.

 

Sieken’s arm seemed to have grown a meter in length as she reached for him and grabbed his shoulder, yanking him back toward them.  “You will apologize,” she ordered him indignantly.  “Your behavior is unacceptable.”

 

Kieran didn’t intervene, rather enjoying Noah’s discomfiture.  He looked at Kieran furtively, but she ignored his silent plea.

 

“I’m sorry, Kieran,” he obediently said.  “I was out of line.”  He glanced at the alien, whose crushing grip was about to drive him to his knees. 

 

“Better,” Sieken pronounced, but gave his shoulder one last squeeze as a warning.  “Though not entirely sincere,” she added.

 

Noah slinked away as soon as Sieken released him. 

 

Kieran touched the alien’s arm, grinning.  “I have a holographic doctor I’d like you to meet,” she licked her lips in anticipation, chuckling wickedly.

 

___________________

 

 

Kieran Thompson rang the chime of the guest quarters assigned to the Captain’s family, looking dapper in her dress whites.  The banquet would begin in less than an hour, and Kieran had agreed to escort Naomi to the festivities.

 

“Good evening, Commander,” Seven greeted the Counselor.  “You look stunning,” she held the taller woman at arm’s length to study her, then kissed her cheek.

 

Kieran whistled appreciatively as she returned the lingering look.  “Seven, you’ve outdone yourself,” she breathed, admiring the emerald green dress that dipped provocatively to her cleavage.  “You’re more beautiful than Sieken,” she complimented the Borg, turning her with a delicate hand to get the full effect.  “Your hair is perfection,” she murmured, words suddenly taken away by the sight of the devastating woman. 

 

Seven blushed prettily, gathering her long tresses from her shoulders and letting them fall again. The crown of her hair was braided in a ring, shimmering in the light like spun gold.  Kieran swallowed hard, her cheeks flushing.

 

Kathryn watched from the hallway, taken aback by the worshipful expression on her best friend’s face.  She knew her wife was a vision of loveliness, and she trusted Kieran implicitly with Seven, but it struck her for the first time, as Seven preened for Kieran,  that Seven was attracted to Kieran, every bit as much as Kieran was attracted to Seven.  It had always been a bit daunting to have everyone breathless in Seven’s presence, but to see Seven equally breathless was a lot to process.  She tugged at the jacket of her dress whites, clearing her throat to get their attention.  “Maybe you look too good, Seven,” she gave Kieran a piercing look.  “I don’t want to have to fight off every guest at the banquet,” she added.

 

Kieran refocused immediately.  “My apologies,” she bowed her head.  “I didn’t mean to stare.”

 

Kathryn chuckled.  “Yes you did.  But then, how could you help yourself?” she rested a forgiving hand on Kieran’s back.  “Darling,” Kathryn held out her hand to her wife, “I don’t deserve you,” she kissed the back of Seven’s hand, eyes closing at the cherished sensation.  “I will be the envy of everyone tonight, as I am every day,” she drew Seven into her arms, kissing her softly.  Kathryn had learned a lot about the futility of jealousy in her years with Seven, and she always deflected it now with humble gratitude for Seven’s presence in her life.

 

“Kathryn,” Seven giggled, hiding her face in the Captain’s hair.  “Stop,” she insisted, though not forcefully.

 

Kieran watched the couple enviously.  They are so lucky, she swallowed the heartache that threatened.  Then composing herself, she asked “Is Naomi almost ready?”

 

Seven kissed Kathryn lightly.  “Let me check,” she offered, tearing herself from Kathryn’s embrace.

 

Kieran watched the Borg sailing down the hallway, still in awe of her beauty.

 

“I feel that way every time I look at her, Kato,” Kathryn advised her closest friend.  “It never wears off.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I’m glad, Kat.  Some people never appreciate what they’ve got, until it’s too late.”

 

Seven returned momentarily.  “She’s about done.  You can go back, if you like,” she nodded down the hallway.

 

Kieran grinned.  “Will I ruin her big entrance?”

 

“I think she wants to make it on your arm,” Seven chuckled, thinking of Naomi’s hallucinations.

 

Kieran crept down the short hallway, tapping lightly at the bedroom door.  “Na?  Can I come in?”

 

Naomi checked herself in the mirror one last time.  “Come,” she called out nervously.

 

The door swung open and  Kieran beheld a vision of pure beauty, standing before her, elegant and breathtaking, shrouded in strawberry blonde clouds and sapphire blue silk.  She was speechless.  “Oh Na,” she murmured appreciatively, “you’re--you’re--” she searched for something adequately eloquent to describe the perfection before her. 

 

“What?  Is it too much, KT?” she turned self-consciously, the backless, sapphire blue dress flowing behind her.

 

Kieran took her hands.  “You are truly beyond beautiful,” she kissed her companion’s cheek, struggling to compose herself.   “When did you turn into such a phenomenally gorgeous young woman?” she asked, her voice a near whisper, taken by surprise at the shapeliness of the Ktarian’s body.  Naomi had blossomed, her alabaster shoulders bare and freckled, her breasts full and nearly spilling out of the bodice of the dress, the roundness gone from her cheeks and replaced by a grown-up angularity.  High cheekbones flushed at the stammered appraisal, a barely perceptible change in coloration, the response of a woman, not a girl.  Kieran tried to control the quaver in her voice, the tremor in her hands, but the sight of her young companion was simply overwhelming.  Seeing Naomi in a dress, instead of the boxy uniforms they seemed to always wear, Kieran could hardly believe her eyes.

 

“While you were in command school, maybe?” Naomi replied, laughing, face radiant from the praise.  Her strawberry blonde hair, perfectly curled, hung in elegant swirls around her bare shoulders, bouncing softly when she laughed.

 

Kieran fought the lump in her throat, and the immediate visceral reaction to being with a beautiful woman.  She gazed appreciatively at the young Ktarian until the silence between them was palpable.   “I have something for you,” she remembered, though the words came out sounding like a sigh.  She fished in her jacket pocket, pulling out the small wooden box from the street vendor and presenting it to her date.

 

Naomi opened the box, drawing a quick breath when she spied the necklace.  “Oh Kieran,” she murmured.  “It’s so pretty,” she removed it gingerly.  “Help me put it on?”

 

Kieran took the tiny clasp and opened it, draping the chain around Naomi’s slender, fragrant neck while the Ktarian held her hair out of the way.  Nervous, Kieran fumbled briefly to close the tiny metal fastener, then threaded the chain back through the pendant to hide the clasp.  “The stone matches the flecks of green in your eyes,” Kieran realized, resting her hands on Naomi’s bare shoulders, the sensation pure velvet against her palms.  “No wonder I thought it was so lovely.”

 

Naomi blushed again.  “Your pips are crooked,” she said so softly it was nearly inaudible.  She reached for Kieran’s collar, smiling.  “Must be the extra one, throwing you off,” she teased, unfastening the unruly black pin.  She affixed it in a perfect row with the two gold, admiring her companion.  “Much better,” she decided, standing on tip toes to kiss Kieran’s cheek.  “Thank you for the necklace.  I’ll wear it forever,” she promised. “It was very thoughtful of you.”

 

“I was taught than whenever you accompany a beautiful woman, you take her a gift to express your appreciation for her companionship,” Kieran smiled fondly at the spectacular young woman, feeling a bit melancholy.  Naomi was growing more lovely every day, and Kieran was just growing old.  She held out her arm to properly escort her companion, and they looked at themselves in the double wide mirror mounted on the closet.

 

Naomi almost fainted.  They looked exactly like they had in her first hallucination, right down to the last detail of her dress and the necklace Kieran had given her, only they were younger than in the hallucination.

 

Feeling her companion sinking, Kieran grabbed the smaller woman, instantly concerned.  “Honey, you’re white as a ghost.  Are you okay?” she asked, a worry line creasing her forehead.

 

Naomi clung to her, arms around her neck, hiding her face.  “I’m just a little overheated,” she lied.  Looks like the medication the Doctor gave me needs to be strengthened, and this remission is winding down, she worried.

 

Kieran gathered the smaller figure under her arm, guiding her out into the hallway.  “Let’s get you some air, then,” she took charge. 

 

They stood in the hallway, Kieran supporting her flustered companion while Naomi tried to catch her breath.  Kieran leaned Naomi against the wall, holding onto her tiny waist.  “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked plaintively, searching hazel eyes for a clue as to Naomi’s sudden instability.

 

“I’m fine, honest,” she stammered, fanning herself.  “I just had a rush of very intense déjà vu,” she admitted.

 

Kieran quirked an eyebrow.  “Really?  When?”

 

Naomi was lightheaded and off guard, and said more than she meant to.  “When we were standing there, just now--it was just like the night of the Captain’s ball,” she explained.

 

“Captain’s ball?” she gazed down at the slight Ktarian, deep brown eyes soft with concern and tender regard.

 

Naomi realized she had been babbling.  “It’s nothing.  Just something from Restid Three that I remembered,” she admitted, wincing.  “But I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

 

Kieran leaned her forehead against Naomi’s, and closed her eyes.  “I wish you’d tell me, Na.  I know whatever happened, it hurt you, and I want to help.  Don’t you trust me anymore? Don’t you trust my love for you?” her tone was pleading. “Don’t you know there’s nothing in this world you could say that would make me love you less?”

 

Naomi touched Kieran’s face with her fingertips.  “KT, I do know that.  But telling you wouldn’t help me, and it would cause you tremendous pain.  Trust me on this. Trust my love for you.  For once, let me be the one that protects you,” she reasoned.  “Besides,” she kissed Kieran’s forehead where her brow protrusions had pressed into it, as if to soothe the wound, “I told Seven everything.  And she agreed, knowing would only make you sorry you asked.”

 

Kieran held her possessively, but resolved to trust her judgment.  “Okay then.  I respect your decision.  But you don’t ever have to protect me, Na.  I would gladly endure any amount of hurt, if it meant I could take it away from you,” she said sincerely.  She smiled down at her young friend.  “Kathryn told me you probably either married me or killed me,” Kieran joked, fairly certain it was the former, not the latter.  “She said either was equally distasteful, and no wonder you were traumatized.”

 

Naomi laughed aloud, though it was more from nervousness than mirth.  “K-Mom is such a wise-ass, sometimes,” she deflected the backhanded inquiry. 

 

Seven stuck her head around the corner.  “Are you two coming sometime this century?” she demanded.

 

Kieran stepped away from Naomi, still holding her shoulders.  “Okay?” she asked, making sure the Ktarian wasn’t going to pass out.

 

“Okay,” Naomi smiled reassurance.

 

Kieran took Naomi’s hand, just for insurance.  “Yes, your Borgness, we’re ready,” she reported, saluting smartly.

_____________________

 

 

Kathryn and Seven were sharing off the same plate, talking to Kieran and Naomi,  when some of the crew began moving tables to clear the floor for dancing.  Sieken had hired a string quartet to provide accompaniment, and the Voyager crew was lively on their feet.

 

Icheb practically set fire to the soles of his shoes in his haste to get to Naomi first.  He held out his hand and bowed, like the Qianians, and said in his deepest voice, “Will you dance with me, Naomi?”

 

Naomi hesitated.  She really preferred to be with Kieran, but she didn’t want to be rude.  “Just once,” she smiled at her friend.  As she stood to join him, half the men in the room turned to look at her.

 

Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose, forestalling a raging headache.  “Kato,” she squinted through her own fingers, “you’d better stick to her.  If I try to keep the men away from her, she’ll get pissed.  But she’ll let you dominate her dance card,” she instructed.  “Christ almighty, have they forgotten she’s only eleven?” she complained, thinking a good ass-kicking might be in order.

 

“I’m on it, Kat,” Kieran bristled protectively at the leers coming from some of the crew.  “As soon as Icheb gets through a few steps, I’ll cut in,” she shoved her chair back, already pushing through the throng.

 

“That’s why she’s my best friend,” Kathryn advised her wife as she watched Kieran parting the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.  “She understands exactly where I’m coming from.”

 

Seven smiled, but only said  “Yes, dear.”

 

“What?” Kathryn demanded.

 

Seven cleared her throat.  “Naomi is a young woman.  She may be only eleven, but she does not look it, nor does she act it.  Ktarian girls often have lovers by the time they are her age.  We cannot make her decisions for her forever, Kathryn.”

 

“We won’t.  But I’m sorry, Seven, she is just a little girl.  Sex is the farthest thing from her mind, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Kathryn sounded annoyed.

 

Seven sighed.  “Have you forgotten what the Doctor told us when Naomi was under the influence of the cerebrosporum?  She was having orgasms, Kathryn,” Seven argued quietly, making sure no one could hear.

 

“Probably a side effect of the endorphins they created,” Kathryn waved her hand dismissively.  “A physiological response, not a psychological one.”

 

Seven knew better, but she could not break Naomi’s confidence.  “Maybe.  But we have to be delicate, not heavy handed, Kathryn.  The Doctor told us Naomi’s maturation was accelerated on Restid Three.  We have to be mindful of that, and not treat her like she is only eleven.  Despite what you want to believe, Naomi is a young woman, not a little girl,” Seven tried to keep her tone neutral, though she was frustrated with Kathryn’s stubborn refusal to admit the truth.

 

“A child is a child,” Kathryn shot back. 

 

Seven smirked.  “Kes was only three, but she had adult relationships, from what Mr. Neelix has told me,” she reasoned.  “How is it different?  If a three year old is capable of mature sexual interaction, why not Naomi?”

 

Kathryn scowled.  “Kes wasn’t my daughter,” she stressed, eyes pleading for an end to the uncomfortable discussion.  “And the Ocampa only live to be about seven years, so their life is crammed into a brief span.”

 

Seven lay her hand over Kathryn’s.  “My love,” she tried to sound persuasive, “look at OUR daughter,” she inclined her head in Naomi’s direction.  “There is not a man or woman in this room who hasn’t looked at her and felt attraction.  Do you see a little girl?”

 

Reluctantly, Kathryn looked at Naomi.  “No,” she admitted.  “I see a grown woman, physically, and she is lovely.  But psychologically, I don’t see a grown woman.  She is more like a teenager.”

 

“And how old were you when you slept with Cheb Packer?” Seven reminded her.

 

“Damn it, Seven,” Kathryn’s face went white, “I was seventeen, not eleven,” she hotly contended.  “Is there a point to this discussion?”

 

Seven sighed.  “Kathryn, the Doctor has said Naomi is physiologically at least twenty-three years old.  Kieran’s testing places her psychologically in her twenties, as well.  We are going to lose Naomi if you insist upon believing she is a child.”

 

“But she said herself, she wants to be,” Kathryn argued.  “After Restid Three, she was ready to quit her shifts in Engineering, she started to play with Tessie all the time--”

 

“She did not, however, quit her shifts.  In fact, she is back to working eight hours at a stretch, and more, when she thinks she can get away with it.  Tessie has become like a little sister to her, not a peer.  I am only saying that we have to be open minded, and tread very carefully, if we expect Naomi not to close us out of her life.   Naomi is smart and resourceful.  I, for one, trust her judgment.”

 

Kathryn patted Seven’s hand reassuringly.  “I do too, love.  But I feel better knowing Kieran watches out for her.”

 

Seven agreed with that sentiment, at least.

 

__________________

 

 

Kieran kept Naomi dancing for over an hour, and although Sieken was obviously disappointed at having been ignored, Kieran was certain she could explain herself to the gentle alien.  Naomi was absolutely ravishing when she smiled, and Kieran kept her laughing, if only to bask in the pleasure of seeing that smile.   Every man and woman on Voyager took notice of the junior Engineer, who had seemingly gone from an infant to a lovely young woman before their eyes.

 

When Kieran led Naomi back to their table for a break, the crew practically besieged the Ktarian to compliment her on her dress, her hair, her dancing.  Kieran listened to the praise proudly, knowing that Naomi deserved it all, and more. 

 

“What are you smiling at?” Naomi leaned in closer to Kieran, who was sitting beside her, wearing the sappiest expression on her face.

 

“You, Na,” she answered honestly.

 

“I know that, but why?”

 

Kieran rested her face in her hand.  “Because you’re beautiful.”

 

Naomi’s cheeks pinkened with pleasure.  “Thank you,” she said humbly, thinking there was no one else whose opinion truly mattered to her. “Will you dance with me again?”

 

Kieran snapped to action.  “I’m all yours,” she agreed, pulling out Naomi’s chair.

 

“You know,” Naomi advised her as they traversed the room in graceful tandem, “Sieken is practically dying to talk to you.  She’s been giving you moon-eyes all night,” she nodded in the direction of the forlorn alien.  “I promise, if you want to talk to her, I won’t let anyone accost me.  And K-Mom won’t have your head.”

 

Kieran started.  “You knew about that?”

 

“I knew you were trying to keep the wolves away,” Naomi laughed.  “How stupid do you think I am, KT?  I know you have a crush on Sieken,” she said more as a test of Kieran’s feelings than a statement of fact, “and I know you’d rather be flirting with her than babysitting me.”

 

Kieran tightened her hold on the younger woman, nearly overcome by the delicate fragrance of her body pressed to Kieran’s.  “Na, I’m right where I want to be.  I admit, I have been keeping the wolves at bay, but that’s because I love you so much, I don’t want anyone to say or do anything to spoil your night,” she offered apologetically.

 

Naomi slipped her arms around Kieran’s neck, hugging her.

 

“What was that for?” Kieran squeezed her back.

 

“For being so sweet to me,” Naomi whispered, still holding tight to the taller woman.  “It’s cute, the way you try to protect me,” she lay her head on Kieran’s shoulder.

 

Kieran cradled Naomi’s head against her, her large hand gently cupping the Ktarian’s soft curls, cherishing the closeness.  “What makes you think I have a crush on Sieken?”  God, Na, can’t you see Sieken is the last thing on my mind?  Aren’t I totally transparent to you?

 

Naomi laughed again.  “If anyone knows the signs, it’d be me,” she tickled Kieran’s ribs.  “I’ve made a career of it, don’t you think?” she kept her face hidden in Kieran’s shoulder. 

 

Kieran was genuinely surprised.  “What do you mean?  You mean with me?  Na, you haven’t had a crush on me for ages.  I can hardly remember when you even acted like you did,” she kissed the crown of the Ktarian’s head.

 

You’re right about that, because it’s a lot more than a crush, now, Naomi thought.  “Still,” she covered herself, “I remember what it was like.  And you definitely have a crush on that alien,” she taunted the Counselor.  “So why are you avoiding her?”

 

Kieran lifted Naomi’s chin with two fingers, tilting her face upward.  “Because I’m otherwise engaged,” she grinned at her companion, gazing into the most incredible eyes she had ever seen.

 

Naomi forgot to dance.  Kieran’s face was a breath from her own, and for a moment, she thought Kieran would kiss her.  Instead they looked into each other’s faces, suddenly out of step.  Naomi covered again by smiling. “I guess I must be getting tired,” she made the excuse.  “My feet aren’t listening to me anymore.”

 

Kieran looked away, suddenly self-conscious.  “Mine either.  But then,  B’Elanna always told me I was a lousy dancer,” she laughed at herself.

 

Naomi frowned, taking Kieran’s hands again, planting one on her hip, holding the other.  “You are a great dancer.  It’s me who keeps falling out of step.  B’Elanna doesn’t know anything,” she defended her friend.

 

Ouch, Kieran noted, hit a nerve that time.  “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she smiled down at her partner.  “You always have seen the best in me, even when I couldn’t see it myself.”

 

“It works both ways, KT,” Naomi agreed.  “But you should at least talk to Sieken.  Let’s have some dinner, and invite her to join us.”

 

Kieran blushed faintly.  “Are you trying to play match maker?” she asked, a bit dismayed at the notion of Naomi pushing her in anyone else’s direction.

 

Naomi shrugged.  “If you and B’Elanna aren’t going to come to your senses, why not?  Unless you want to wait for me,” she smiled flirtatiously,  “like you promised when I was sick.”

 

Kieran’s eyes widened.  “You heard that?  You remember everything I said to you?  Jesus, I was half out of my mind, Naomi.  I thought you were dying.”

 

Naomi touched Kieran’s cheek with her long, fine-boned fingers.  “I thought it was incredible, that you’d offer,” she said warmly, “but that’s at least six years of celibacy on your part,” she added.

 

Kieran’s jaw dropped.  “You think I’d date a seventeen year old?” she protested indignantly.  “Anyway,” she nuzzled the crown of Naomi’s hair, “you shouldn’t tease about something like that,” she winked at the Ktarian.  “You might convince me,” she flirted back.  It wouldn’t take a hell of a lot of convincing, she realized.

 

Naomi waggled her eyebrows.  “In six years, you won’t be able to resist me, KT,” she teased.  “And I didn’t say you’d date me.  I said you could wait that long to be with me.  As in married to me.”

 

“In six years, your mothers might think about letting you date someone closer to your own age,” she argued playfully.  She laughed.  “Where in the world did you come up with seventeen being the magic age when you can settle down?”

 

“It’s in the data base.  Women on Earth used to marry at seventeen all the time, back in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I figure that’s the youngest I could ever get away with convincing the Moms to let me go,” she reasoned.

 

Kieran hooted.  “So not only are you thinking six years, you’re already talking marriage?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I know you, KT.  You’re the serious type,” she challenged, teasing.  “Besides, it’s not like I could ask you to wait ten more years, or fifteen.  If we want kids, we’d have to tie the knot sooner than that, before you get to an age where you don’t want to chase a toddler around,” she explained.  “So I figure, if I really work them over, the Moms might let me marry at seventeen.”

“Figure again, Wildwoman.  Your Moms are not going to entertain that idea for a nanosecond.  Back in those centuries, people only lived to be fifty to seventy, so they had to marry young.  Nowadays, people routinely live to be 120.  You’ll be lucky if you’re allowed to date before you’re 25,” she smarted.  “Besides,” she was laughing in earnest now, “I’m already to an age where I don’t want to chase a toddler around,” she howled.  “Katie just wears my ass out.”  Kieran considered a bit longer as Naomi’s logic sunk in.  Obviously, the young woman had given their situation a good deal of thought, and that gave the Counselor pause.  Then more seriously, she asked  “And what happened to your telling us all how being a grown up was a pain in the butt?”

 

“Do you want to talk to Sieken, or not?” Naomi drummed her fingers impatiently on Kieran’s shoulder.

 

Kieran smiled expansively.  “God, I’ve missed wrangling with you, Na.   Before we came to Qian, I was feeling like I never get to see you anymore,” she said regretfully.  “I think I got spoiled when I suspended my studies.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I got spoiled, too.  You were the focus of my existence for months on end, and now that things are back to normal, I--

 

“What?”  Kieran was instantly sober.

 

“I miss us,” she admitted.  “As for the grownup thing, I vacillate.  I watch you and B’Elanna screwing up your lives, and I think, ‘I want no part of that mess’.”

 

“Are we, Na?” Kieran asked softly.

 

“What?” Naomi didn’t follow.

 

“Screwing up our lives--B’Elanna and I?” Kieran looked intently at the younger woman.

 

“You tell me, KT,” Naomi gave her an incredulous look.  “Look,” she stressed,  “I don’t see how anyone could ever get over you, and I doubt seriously B’Elanna has. Deep down, she’s absolutely miserable.  If she weren’t trying to cobble Voyager back together as we speak, I’m sure she’d be telling you so herself.” Naomi let her words sink in, trying to evaluate Kieran’s reaction to the suggestion of a possible reconciliation.  She got the response she wanted.

 

“I don’t even think about B’Elanna anymore,” she advised, “and that speaks volumes, in and of itself.”

 

“You wouldn’t be open to it, if B’Elanna wanted to get back together?” Naomi asked, serious now.

 

“That ship has sailed,” Kieran replied, hiding her face in Naomi’s hair.  “Something fundamental has changed for me, and I don’t feel that way about her anymore,” she said softly, knowing that the fundamental thing was her love for Naomi.

 

Naomi held Kieran tightly, feeling the warmth of her body, surrounding herself with it.   She had the answers she needed, and she knew the futility of her own wishes.  Only now, she knew they were Kieran’s wishes too.   “I think we need to talk to Sieken,” Naomi said, swallowing the lump in her throat.  “She’s staring so hard, she’s boring holes in my back.”

__________________

 

Sieken extended her senses around the couple as she watched them dancing.  Naomi’s love for Kieran was so strong, the alien’s face went momentarily ashen, her pale green eyes darkening to sky blue. 

 

And then the sense of frustration and longing hit her, and Sieken’s knees nearly buckled from the impact.  It was coming from Kieran. 

 

Sieken shook her head to clear the impressions assaulting her.  Why would the blonde alien withhold her love from the smaller one, she wondered.  Kieran exuded it from every pore, yet she denied it to Naomi and to herself.  Sieken could feel in the center of her being that Naomi yearned for Kieran, but the Ktarian schooled herself in restraint.  And the same emotion was in Kieran, blindly forced into submission, stuffed away like a crime.  The energy between them was forceful and conflicting, and Sieken had to withdraw from them to regain her composure.  As they approached from across the dance floor, she silently hoped her color had returned to normal.

 

Sieken was so pleased at Naomi’s dinner invitation, the alien glowed a metallic golden. Kieran and Naomi escorted her to the long table where Kathryn and Seven were finishing dessert, and the three women joined the Captain and her spouse.

 

Sieken was curious about the relationship between Naomi and Kieran, and after a polite interval following the meal, she invited Naomi to dance.

 

Kathryn nodded subtly to Kieran, indicating she felt Sieken was a safe choice, and Kieran stood to make way for the Ktarian to exit the table. “Have fun, sweetie,” she kissed Naomi’s cheek.

 

Kieran eased back into her chair, fixing Seven of Nine with a stern glare. “I have a bone to pick with you, your Borgness,” she intoned coolly.

 

Seven appraised her without a change of expression. “Oh?”

 

Kieran stood again, holding out her hand. “In private. Let’s dance,” she demanded, rather than requested.

 

Seven turned a bemused expression to Kathryn, but shrugged and allowed the Counselor to lead her to the dance floor.

 

They fell into step together easily, matching each other nicely in height and dimension.

 

“Well?” Seven asked calmly.

 

Kieran took a deep breath. “Why did you tell Naomi not to confide in me about her hallucinations, Seven?” she asked petulantly.

 

If Seven was taken aback, she hid it. “Naomi told me everything,” she simply stated.

 

“And?” Kieran spun her and brought her back.

 

“And she felt better. She did not think it necessary to tell you, as well, I suppose,” Seven feigned ignorance of the volatile content of the hallucinations.

 

“That’s not what she told me,” Kieran advised. “She told me that you and she both felt that telling me would hurt me.”

 

“That, too,” Seven admitted. Seeing the Counselor was not satisfied with the response, Seven softened her tone. “Trust me, Kieran, when I tell you that you know everything you need to know about it. I will not break her confidence—”

 

Kieran was insulted. “I’d never ask you to, Seven,” she was peeved. “But to tell her not to trust me?” her face plainly showed hurt.

 

“Those were not my words,” Seven insisted. “Counselor,” she dropped her voice to a near whisper, “I would never undermine your position, not with Naomi, not with anyone. I respect your work, and you have helped my family on many occasions. Moreover,” she flushed slightly at the personal revelation, “I hold you in the highest esteem. But this is Naomi’s choice, and I agree, she has made a good one.”

 

Kieran relaxed a bit at the endorsement. “Thank you,” she replied. “But she told me she’s still having nightmares,” the Counselor asserted. “I’m worried about her.”

 

“She’s better recently,” Seven assured her. “We talk often about her hallucinations, and it seems to help with the nightmares.” Seven searched Kieran’s eyes, knowing that she had exhausted what was appropriate to say. “Naomi loves you very much, Kieran. But she is entitled to her privacy. Don’t try to usurp her options,” she urged wisely.

 

Kieran sighed. “Sometimes,” she sounded far away, “she looks at me, and it’s like—I don’t know—like I can see her need, and I want to meet it.  Only I don’t know what it is she needs from me.”

 

Seven hesitated, knowing Kieran would never allow herself to provide what it was Naomi needed. “She needs you to be her good friend, which you are. This is a difficult time for her, after all.  She is a chronologically a child, but her mind and her body changed so quickly, and she is struggling to accept that she is an adult.   It  doesn’t help that Kathryn insists on treating her as if none of the physiological or emotional changes happened,” she sighed, aggravated at Kathryn’s stubbornness.  “The Doctor wanted Naomi to see you, to talk through some of the issues confronting her.  You know from her testing scores that intellectually, she is a grown woman. She is easily my match.”

 

Kieran chuckled. “I doubt anyone is your intellectual match, your Borgness,” she smiled warmly at the younger woman, admiring once again just how stunning she truly was.

 

Seven colored prettily. “You flatter me. But Naomi is very close, if not equal.”  Seven considered a bit longer.  “In fact, I am beginning to see gifts in her that I will never have.”

 

“Such as?” Kieran smiled fondly at her dance partner.  Seven could always find a way to fault herself.

 

“I believe Naomi is mildly clairvoyant,” Seven reported.

 

Kieran almost stopped dancing.  “You’re teasing me.”

 

“I am perfectly serious,” Seven replied.  “I have seen things come to pass that she has described from her hallucinations,” she added.  “Not precisely as she envisioned them, but remarkably similar.  I believe the ability is dormant, for the most part, but if she developed it, it could someday be quite strong.”

 

“Can you give me an example, without breaking her confidence?”

 

Seven concentrated.  “Yes.  The necklace you gave Naomi this evening?  You gave her one just like it in one of her hallucinations.”

 

“That’s amazing,” Kieran agreed.  “And there are other instances?  Not just an isolated thing or two?” she was elated.

 

“There have been several instances.  They are becoming more frequent, in fact,” Seven reported.  “Please, do not mention it to Kathryn.  She is a hardened skeptic about such things.”

 

“You’d think, given all the aliens we’ve encountered with empathic abilities, she’d be more open minded,” she criticized. Then Kieran waggled her eyebrows.  “It feels naughty having a secret,” she chuckled, pulling Seven closer with a flirtatious air.

 

Seven smiled indulgently.  “And you, no doubt, enjoy being naughty,” she replied playfully.  “I have it on good authority from Seven of Nun, tertiary adjunct of Dominatrix of Zero-One.”

 

“Kathryn told you that?”  Kieran asked shyly.

 

“Kathryn and I do not have many secrets,” Seven advised the Counselor.  “Although I find lately there are things I keep from her regarding Naomi,” she admitted, feeling a bit guilty.  “As much as I dislike it, it feels--necessary.”

 

Kieran looked skyward, as if pleading for intercession. “How do you and Kathryn handle having a daughter that is a myriad of contradictions? A child, a young lady, and a grown woman, all in one?”

 

“Badly, apparently,” Seven joked. “You’re better qualified to tell me that than I am to guess. I think Kathryn is too protective of her, and so are you. But Naomi isn’t rebelling, much, so perhaps I’m mistaken.”

 

“I can’t help it,” Kieran excused herself. “I saw the way the men looked at her when we came in tonight. Even Harry ogled her. It makes me crazy.”  Then scolding herself inwardly, she asked “Should I let up?”

 

Seven laughed lightly. “You sound like Kathryn. She is like a rabid dog, where Naomi is concerned.  But I believe you, particularly, should ease up a bit, Kieran.  Naomi needs to test her independence, and you hold her back.”

 

“I do?“ Kieran asked regretfully.  “I know she’s not fragile, exactly, but—I don’t know, I just don’t trust people to be respectful.”

 

“I understand. But for all we know, Naomi might wish someone would be less respectful,” Seven stated with a glint in her eye.

 

Kieran’s face darkened.  “Well they’d better not let me catch them,” she warned.

 

“That is precisely the sort of reaction you need to temper, Counselor,” Seven advised her pointedly. More importantly, Counselor,  Seven wondered, how do you deal with the myriad of contradictions?  The little girl who idolizes you, the adolescent beauty who adores you, and the provocative, brilliant woman who is in love with you?  How long until you succumb, like everyone else has, to your own desire?  Seven studied Kieran’s troubled eyes, doubting the Counselor had even admitted to herself that her need to protect Naomi was partly born of her desire to possess Naomi.  Seven could only hope that when the realization came, Kieran would find a way to forgive herself.

 

_____________________

 

“Ambassador,” Naomi said smoothly, “you dance divinely.”

 

Sieken swelled with the compliment.  “Thank you, Miss Wildman,” the proper alien replied.  “I am pleased with the results, considering I’ve never tried before.”

 

Naomi grinned.  “Your people don’t dance?”

 

“Not in this manner,” she indicated the various places their bodies touched.  “I watched you and Kieran, and I am simply mimicking her steps.”

 

“You’re a quick study, then,” she said approvingly.  “But I rather think you’d like to dance with Kieran, more than me,” she added honestly.

 

Sieken dropped Naomi’s hand and bowed low to the ground, flustered.  “I shame myself,” she apologized.  “I did not mean to offend.”

 

Naomi tried to inconspicuously draw the tall alien upright.  “You did not offend me,” she was bewildered.  “Please, your grace, get up,” she encouraged her companion.

 

“You would allow me to approach her?  You do not wish to be joined to Kieran?” Sieken was clearly confused.  “My interest in her is not too familiar?” her eyes had gone almost black, she was so distressed.

 

Understanding registered in the young Ktarian’s face.  Sieken could tell Naomi loved Kieran, and assumed it meant there was reciprocity of the sentiment.  “You are quite perceptive, your grace,” Naomi resumed the dance posture.  “I would very much like to be joined to Kieran.  But it is forbidden.”

 

Sieken was deeply concerned.  “Because you are not human?”

 

Naomi shook her head sadly.   “No, your grace.  Because I am too young.  It is taboo.”

 

“But you do not seem too young,” the Ambassador assured her sympathetically.  Sieken was suddenly aghast.  “Have I violated your taboos by dancing with you?”

 

“No,” Naomi assured the nervous diplomat.  “But what you mean by joining--with Kieran--that would be unacceptable to my people--well, to my human family, anyway.”

 

“And this pains you,” Sieken stated sympathetically.

 

“Deeply, your grace,” Naomi admitted, eyes closing involuntarily with the anguished admission.

 

“Then we will not give it substance by speaking of it,” Sieken decided.

 

“Actually,” Naomi sighed, “it’s nice to be able to tell someone.”

 

Sieken’s heart nearly broke at the loneliness in Naomi’s voice.  She pulled the much smaller woman closer, trying to lend solace.  “I am sorry for your unhappiness,” she said softly.  “I will not make it deeper by pursuing my feelings for your beloved.”

 

“Your kindness touches me,” Naomi hugged the alien back.  “But I want Kieran to be happy.  She likes you very much,” she smiled wistfully.

 

Sieken bowed her head.  “Your selflessness humbles me, Naomi Wildman.  May I someday be so gracious and forgiving.  And may I be even half as beautiful as you.”

 

Naomi’s eyes misted briefly at the magnitude of the compliment.  “But you are so much more beautiful, your grace,” she replied sincerely, thinking the Qianians some of the most lovely people she had ever seen. 

 

“Please,” Sieken murmured, breathing the scent of Naomi’s skin and finding it intoxicating.  “Call me Sieken.  Let us be equals,” she offered, kissing the young woman’s cheek.

 

Naomi returned the kiss, a gentle caress on the Ambassador’s face.  “Familiars,” she echoed.  “I’d like that very much.”

 

Sieken’s preoccupation with Kieran Thompson vanished with that kiss.  When the song ended, she held her arm out to Naomi, smiling from the center of her being.  “Would you like to see the lights of our city from the balcony on the terrace?” she offered, eyes brightening to the palest shade of green.

 

“I’d love to,” Naomi’s face blossomed into a radiant smile as she took the alien’s arm and allowed herself to be led away.

__________________

 

Kathryn and Seven talked quietly with Kieran, waiting for Naomi to come back with Sieken. 

 

Kieran watched Naomi anxiously, her expression a mixture of concern and self-interest.  She is so graceful, so elegant.  She looks so sad, though.  What could Sieken be saying to her to make her look so despondent?  There it is again--that pained look, that agony. Kieran recognized the emotion that colored her own interaction with the lovely Ktarian--longing. 

 

Seven watched the Counselor with amusement, but also with sympathy, knowing the torment Kieran must feel.  And Seven’s love for B’Elanna Torres made the former Borg ache with regret for the marriage that was certainly a lost cause.  The way that Kieran looked at Naomi told Seven there would be no reconciliation, not in this lifetime.  Seven became conscious of Kathryn’s discerning gaze fixed upon the Counselor, and before Kathryn could identify the attraction Kieran felt toward Naomi, Seven interceded. 

 

“Counselor,” she broke the silence, “would you be so kind as to refresh my drink?” she asked politely.

 

Kieran was on her feet immediately.  “Of course, Seven.  I apologize for not offering, in the first place,” she returned, gathering everyone’s glasses.  “Kat?  Get you something?”

 

“I’ll have whatever Seven’s having,” she returned absently, eyes darting between Kieran and Naomi, who was dancing still with Sieken.

 

As Kieran walked away, Seven leaned into the Captain’s line of vision, kissing her to distract her.  “You are looking tempting, this evening,” Seven flirted with her wife.  “Would you like to slip away early?”

 

Kathryn felt a tingle in her fingertips.  “That’s the best idea you’ve had in an eternity, love,” she smiled at her spouse.

 

Kieran returned presently, fresh drinks in hand.  She sat back down, stretched and yawned, scanning the dance floor for a glimpse of her friends.

 

“I don’t see them,” she said aloud.  “Did you notice Sieken and Naomi leaving?”

 

Seven had noticed, but kept her own counsel.  “They are probably finding something to drink.  That last song was quite draining,” she pretended to have been listening to the quartet.

 

Kathryn didn’t seem concerned.  “Sieken is one of the nicest leaders we’ve ever met,” she toyed with the food on her plate.  “These people are so open and giving.  They didn’t ask for anything in exchange for the repairs to the ship,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran nodded agreement.  “They are impressive.  You should have seen Sieken this afternoon,” she proceeded to tell them about the incident in the Cargo Bay.  “I thought she was going to take Noah’s head off,” Kieran laughed.  “He didn’t care for her much,” she grinned.

 

“Speak of the devil,” Seven glanced up as Mr. Lessing approached.

 

“KT,” he was out of breath, “I need to talk to you--right now,” he snatched her hand and dragged her out of her seat.

 

“Noah,” Kieran protested, “this isn’t the time or place,” she argued as he pulled her along the floor, assuming he wanted to resume the discussion from earlier in the day.

 

He wheeled on her, dropping her wrist, letting her regain her balance. He checked to make sure the Captain and Seven could no longer see them among the other guests.   “It’s Naomi,” he hissed in her face.  “Come on,” he insisted, feet pounding in the direction of the balcony.

 

Kieran’s heart rate jumped exponentially.  “What’s happened?”

 

They skidded to a halt at the double doors leading out onto the second story terrace.  Sieken and Naomi were there together, Naomi leaning against Sieken. Sieken was perched on the balustrade, and the two women were locked in a passionate embrace.

 

Kieran was frozen in place.  She gripped Noah’s forearm, uncertain of what to do.  She thought about what Seven had said, and tried to quell the surge of protectiveness that swelled in her.  She knew she couldn’t embarrass Naomi, or cause an interplanetary scandal with Sieken.  And this was Naomi’s choice.  Her right.

 

“KT,” Noah said under his breath, “get that damned alien off her.”

 

Kieran’s throat ached.  Naomi looked perfectly enraptured.  “I can’t, Noah,” she turned away, willing the image from her mind.  “It can’t be me that tells her what to do,” she explained, face downcast.

 

“If you won’t, I will,” he jerked his arm free, heading toward the balcony again.

 

“No,” Kieran stepped in front of him.  “You have to handle it properly, damn it,” she snarled at him.  “Just excuse yourself and tell her her mothers are asking where she’s gotten to.  That’s all,” she ordered him.

 

“What if I’d rather kick Sieken’s ass?” he demanded hotly, eyes still fixed on the couple.

 

“What if I’ll kick yours, if you do?” her tone brooked no argument.  “Noah, this is critical.  You can’t make Naomi feel ashamed,” Kieran insisted.  “Pretend she’s your daughter.  Pretend she’s OUR daughter,” she urged him.  “How you react to her being with Sieken is so important--you have to validate her right to be an adult.”

 

Kieran considered her own words, gauging their impact on Noah.  He was having none of it.  She reconsidered.  “You know what, I can go out there.  I’ll handle it.  You go back to the party, bud.”

 

She turned back toward the balcony doors, settled her uniform resolutely, and slowly walked out into the night air.

 

Her footfalls did not alert them.  Sieken touched Naomi’s face with golden fingertips, lips dark as blood brushing lightly over the Ktarian’s pale pink ones.  They breathed together, eyes shut, bodies pressed tightly against one another, kisses fleeting then deepening. 

 

Dee warned me this was coming.  I guess I misread the signs with Na.  I thought there was something powerful going on between us.  Kieran cleared her throat.  The couple did not acknowledge her.  Breathe, KT.  Do the right thing for her.  Let her make her own choices.  Support her in them.  “Excuse me for the intrusion,” she tried to keep her voice steady.  “Naomi, your mothers are beginning to ask where you’ve gone,” she looked at the ground, trying to respect her friend’s privacy.

 

Naomi stepped away from Sieken’s embrace, but her eyes never left the alien’s.  “I’ll be right there, KT,” she murmured.  “I promise.”

 

Kieran smiled, though she felt as if the earth had disintegrated beneath her feet.  “Don’t be long, sweetie,” she was careful to keep any reproach from her voice.  “You don’t want Kathryn to find you,” she forced a chuckle, and turned to go.

 

“KT?” she implored softly.

 

Kieran stopped but did not turn around, unable to bear the sight of them again.  “Yes?”

 

“Thank you,” Naomi said from the shadows, conscious of how difficult it must be for the Counselor to walk away.

 

Kieran smiled, though Naomi couldn’t see.  “I love you, Na,” she whispered to herself as she walked back into the ballroom.  As she stepped back inside, she closed the double doors behind her, affording the young couple some additional solitude, at least for the moment.  She leaned heavily against the doors, trying to compose herself, steeling her heart against the pain of seeing Naomi with someone else.  I have no right to feel this way, she told herself sternly.  She is a girl.  A child.  Only a friend, she lectured herself inwardly.  God, then why does it hurt so much? 

 

Kieran closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry, ordering her legs to function.  She wanted to turn back, to throw those doors open and profess her love and devotion to Naomi.  She wanted to be the one kissing her.  She would beg if she had to.  One more chance.  One more night gazing into each other’s eyes, and this time, she wouldn’t falter, wouldn’t let her fears win over her love.  But she knew herself, knew her inability to follow her heart past a boundary that was absolute.  She would love Naomi for the rest of her days.  She would never allow herself to act on it.

 

Kathryn was heading toward her at a rapid pace, and Kieran nearly panicked.  Kathryn would kill Sieken if she saw the alien kissing Naomi.    “Kat!” she rushed forward, taking Kathryn’s shoulders and turning her back around, simultaneously slipping her arm through Kathryn’s.  “It’s about time you came to dance with me,” she moved the older woman as far from the terrace as she could.  “My feelings were hurt,” she tried to deflect any suspicions.

 

Kathryn’s brow furrowed, but then relaxed.  “Actually, I was looking for Naomi and Sieken,” she smiled amiably, “but I’d never deprive you of a dance with your Captain,” she held up her hands to lead. 

 

“Sieken is showing Naomi the view from the balcony,” Kieran lied.  “I just left them.  Naomi is perfectly enchanted with the city,” she added.  Naomi is enchanted all right, but not by the view.

 

“How nice of Sieken to be attentive,” Kathryn warmed at the information.  “Naomi impresses me beyond words with her diplomatic aplomb.”

 

Kieran hid her face by pulling Kathryn closer.  Diplomatic aplomb, indeed. “She’s becoming the consummate Starfleet Officer,” Kieran agreed.  “When are you going to make her an actual Ensign?”

 

Kathryn chuckled.  “Soon, Kato.  You thought it had never crossed my mind, didn’t you?” she chided the Counselor.

 

“Yes, I did,” Kieran admitted ruefully.  “I underestimated you, I see.”

 

Kathryn explained in detail her plans to promote her daughter, and Kieran pretended rapt attention, checking on Naomi and Sieken secretly as she danced with Kathryn.

 

________________

 

As Kieran walked away, Sieken extended her senses to the older woman, taking measure of Kieran’s state of mind.  The flood of emotion that came back on the wavelength nearly doubled the alien over.  Sorrow, jealousy, need, regret, anger, passion, lust, remorse, outrage, and self-recrimination swept over the alien like a tsunami, but at the core of it all, there was love, deep and abiding and unselfish.  Sieken withdrew her senses from Kieran, though her heart ached for the loss Kieran felt.

 

Naomi Wildman was certain her body was turning to liquid as Sieken touched her face, kissing her deeply.  Naomi sighed into their kiss, the soft exhalation skating provocatively over the taller alien’s burgundy lips.  Sieken pulled away, suddenly aware that they had been standing there a very long time.  “Is the pain better, Naomi?” she asked tenderly, referring to Naomi’s sadness over her situation with Kieran.

 

Naomi twined her arms around the alien’s neck.  “Almost completely gone,” she realized, smiling. “How did you do that?”

 

Sieken kissed her again, lingering over the sensation.  “My people have a gift, although it is not always pleasant,” she noted wisely.  “We--absorb, if you will--the sentiments of those around us.  We can amplify them and give them back, or diffuse them purposely,” she explained.  “My familiarity with you allows me to lessen your sorrow by partly diffusing your feelings for Kieran.  Does that make sense to you?”

 

“Yes,” Naomi murmured, seeking out Sieken’s embrace yet again.  “But I do not believe I am feeling merely the absence of sorrow,” she gazed into pale green eyes, tangling her fingers in soft, white-blond hair.

 

Sieken smiled.  “Your feelings have become your own,” she affirmed, “and not merely a transference of what you feel for Kieran.”

 

“So this is real, then,” Naomi reassured herself.  “Is it also a reflection of your own feelings?”

 

“Oh yes,” Sieken enfolded the smaller woman in her arms, kissing her passionately.  “You are perfection, my beloved,” she held Naomi possessively.  “So gifted and so lovely.”

 

Naomi’s chest swelled in return, the desire so intense that her fingertips ached with tenderness.  “I want to be alone with you,” she murmured softly, the words ghosting over Sieken’s cheek.

 

Sieken arched in response, a rush of adrenaline coursing through her body.  “I want that, as well,” she whispered, kissing Naomi again. 

 

“We can go to Voyager,” Naomi suggested.  “There’s only a skeleton crew aboard,” she calculated the risk.  “K-Mom--Captain Janeway,” she corrected, “would be very displeased, so we have to make sure she doesn’t find out,” Naomi explained.  “Is that terrible?”

 

Sieken laughed liltingly, a sound that was perfectly melodic to Naomi.  “It is sometimes the same with parents on Qian,” she understood completely. 

 

“Kathryn thinks I’m a child,” Naomi confided disdainfully.

 

“Clearly,” Sieken kissed her once more, “you are not.  Shall we go, then?”

 

Naomi gazed confidently into the eyes of her intended.  “I will leave first. I’ll make an excuse about not feeling well.  Follow a few minutes afterward, and meet me at the guest quarters.  We’ll beam aboard Voyager from there,” she instructed.  Then on tip toes, she kissed the alien full on the mouth.  “Don’t be long.”

_____________________

 

Kieran had seen enough of the interaction between Naomi and Sieken to deduce that any moment, Naomi would leave the banquet and Sieken would follow soon after.  When Naomi came to find Kathryn, excusing herself from the party,

Kathryn stepped away from Kieran and turned a worried eye on her daughter.

 

“Sweetie,” she cupped Naomi’s cheek and felt her forehead.  “If you’re not feeling well, Seven and I should come home with you,” she insisted.

 

“Oh, that’s not necessary, K-Mom,” Naomi flushed, suddenly afraid her subterfuge would fail.

 

“No, you stay here, Kat,” Kieran offered.  “I’ll walk Naomi home and look after her.  Seven so rarely gets an evening of dancing with you,” she pointed out reasonably.

 

Kathryn frowned.  “Are you sure it’s okay, Naomi?”

 

“I promise,” Naomi affirmed.  “Kieran always takes good care of me,” she smiled warmly at her friend.

 

Kathryn hesitated a moment longer.  “Kato, you don’t mind?”

 

“Not at all,” Kieran asserted.  “Go have fun, Kathryn.  Entertain your lovely wife,” she encouraged the older woman. 

 

As Kathryn walked away, Kieran held out her arm to Naomi.  “So this is how our first date ends?” she hid her desolation behind a careful façade of amusement.  “You’re going to sneak off to meet up with Sieken, and abandon me?”

 

Naomi’s face went white.  “How did you know?” she demanded incredulously.

 

Kieran led her out of the ballroom, smiling grimly.  “I am not always dense, when it comes to you, Na,” she defended herself, tapping the controls to the turbo lift. 

 

“I saw how you diverted K-Mom from the balcony,” she said gratefully.  “I appreciate it.”  She looked straight ahead, waiting for the lift to stop.  “Why did you cover for me?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Because I knew she’d overreact.  And I think she doesn’t give you enough credit,” Kieran admitted.  “Neither have I, until now. I’m deeply, deeply sorry, Naomi.  Can you ever forgive me?” she asked sincerely, taking the Ktarian’s hands as they stepped out into the night.

 

Naomi stood there, confused.  “I’m not sure what you’re asking me, KT.”

 

“I’ve treated you like a child,” Kieran explained.  “I’ve assumed you are too immature, that you needed my protection, that I could shelter you from things.  As a result, I’ve made you miserable.  Haven’t I?” she peered earnestly into Naomi’s face, desperate for absolution.

 

“I’ve been miserable,” Naomi replied, “but it’s not your fault you can’t love me,” she concluded wistfully.  “I know that you look at me, and you see the little girl who used to crawl into your lap for bedtime stories.  I know that blinds you to any other vision of me.  I’m trying to accept that,” she looked frankly into Kieran’s eyes.  “Sieken is the first person I’ve ever known that doesn’t define me that way.”

 

Kieran closed her eyes against the sudden lancing pain.  “I do love you, Na.  I always will,” she said hoarsely.

 

Naomi’s heart leapt momentarily, but she had to ask the deeper question.  “You love me,” she repeated, “but are you in love with me?” she asked faintly.

 

The inquiry shredded through Kieran like a jagged blade, knocking the wind from her lungs.  She could never tell her the truth.  The truth would require action.  The truth was too much to face.  The truth could destroy everything.

 

Kieran Thompson looked into the hazel eyes of the woman she loved, loved with all of her being.  She gazed into those eyes, aching with the emptiness she was condemning herself to.  And she lied. 

 

“No, sweetie, I’m not,” she replied, leaning her head against Naomi’s, the words barely a whisper, hanging between them profoundly.  Kieran hurt so deeply, the pain nearly drove her to her knees.  She closed her eyes, resigning herself to the agony of that lie.  “I’m sorry, Naomi,” she choked on the words, wanting to believe herself.  “Believe me when I tell you that the truth of the matter is, I want someone better for you than me.  Someone much more intelligent, much more attractive, someone truly, wholly worthy of your love.  If I ever meet anyone I think is good enough for you, I’ll tell you,” she forced a grin.  She gazed into crystalline eyes, certain her heart would never be able to bear the strain of this sacrifice, sighing.  “Come on,” she broke free of Naomi’s hands.  “Your chosen is waiting.”

 

Naomi sublimated her disappointment, resigned to the fact that Kieran was not in love with her, after all.  The words “No, sweetie, I’m not” echoed in her mind, assaulting the Ktarian’s heart.  They walked on in silence, Naomi reclaiming Kieran’s hand.  She felt unsettled, nervous about what she intended to do.  There was no point in denying herself this.  Kieran did not love her.  She wondered if Kieran was shocked at her behavior. 

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Kieran squeezed the fine-boned fingers in her much coarser hand.  “I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t a little afraid for you, love.”  Afraid, and envious.  Kieran swallowed her own disappointment.  “Where are you supposed to meet her?”

 

“On Voyager,” Naomi replied, voice retreating.

 

“Do you want me to come with you?  Stand sentry at the door?” Kieran offered.

 

Naomi stopped short.  “You’d do that for me?”

 

Kieran nodded, hoping Naomi could not see the sorrow in her eyes.  “I’d do anything you ask, Naomi, provided that I know you won’t be hurt.  The very last thing I want is for Kathryn to come looking for you and find you--indisposed,” she replied delicately.

 

Naomi considered.  She was a bit nervous about the gravity of the situation, and relented.  “You come with me, and then if I get in over my head, you’ll be there.  Is that the idea?”

 

Kieran could barely swallow.  “Yes.”

 

“Thank you,” Naomi agreed.  “Let’s wait here,” she stopped outside the guest quarters facility.  “Sieken will meet us here.”

 

Moments later, the towering alien came striding up the sidewalk, breathless with joy at seeing Naomi again.  Her smile dissolved when she saw Kieran waiting beside the smaller Ktarian.

 

“Sieken,” Naomi headed off her disappointment, “Kieran is here to take us to Voyager.  She is going to make sure no one intrudes on our privacy,” she explained.

 

Sieken’s face softened.  “That is kind of you, Commander,” she acquiesced.

 

Ah, we’re back to formalities, Kieran noted silently.  Then tapping her comm badge, she said “Three to beam up, Voyager.”

 

___________________

 

Kieran rigged the controls for a site to site transport, locking in Sieken’s biosignature.  “If anyone comes, I’ll beam you back to the planet, Sieken.  Give me the coordinates for your home, so your privacy is also protected,” Kieran requested, frightened by her own deceptiveness.  Kathryn would phaser her dead if she only knew what was happening.  “Naomi, if Sieken is suddenly beamed away, your story is that you and I came back to the ship to get some of your personal belongings.” 

 

Sieken provided the coordinates, smiling gratefully. 

 

“Truly, this is the mark of a friend,” Sieken noted approvingly.  Her senses enfolded Kieran momentarily, to convey her gratitude, but the feedback from Kieran’s psyche bombarded the alien with the sense of how deeply this gesture cost the Commander.

 

Naomi led Ambassador Sieken down the hallway of the Captain’s quarters and into her bedroom, sealing the door behind them.

 

Kieran collapsed on the couch, arm flung over her eyes to block out the light, yearning to find a blanket to pull over her head.  Just knowing what was happening in Naomi’s room shook her to the core.  She tried to think about anything else.

 

But Sieken, in her passion, forgot to shield herself from Kieran, and the entire experience was amplified and transmitted to Kieran as she lay on the couch, fist pressed into her mouth to keep herself from making a sound.  Kieran thought it was her own imagination working overtime, but as the experience intensified, she realized she was actually feeling what the two lovers were sharing.

 

Naomi kissed the alien tentatively, at first, then more assuredly.  Kieran could feel the surrender of Sieken’s body, the heat in her veins, the arousal pounding between her legs.  Naomi’s tongue was shy, exploring Sieken’s mouth, and Sieken lay the smaller woman on the bed, covering Naomi’s body with her own.  They kissed endlessly, their intensity growing as they moved against each other.  Kieran was suffused with the awareness of Naomi’s kiss, battered by the knowledge that she had wanted to kiss Naomi so many times, but it was Sieken who Naomi had chosen.

 

The emotion overwhelmed Kieran, and she actually lost consciousness for several seconds.  She could feel the amplification and reflection of everything Sieken experienced, and everything Naomi projected to Sieken, and the power of it flattened her to the cushions of the couch.  When she came back to herself, she felt and sensed that they were making love, felt the ache of it, tasted and smelled it.

 

Naomi sat in Sieken’s lap, naked and trembling from the need awakened in her, letting the alien stroke between her legs.  She shuddered involuntarily as they touched, inflamed and opening to the penetration of gentle fingers.  Kieran could see it perfectly, felt it as completely as if she were acting it out and as if it were happening to her, the exploration and the response tearing through her like a ragged claw.  When Naomi cried out in release, Kieran groaned aloud, her body echoing the climax, rigid and brittle, then poured out like water.

 

The sound reached Sieken’s ears, and she realized with humiliation that she had failed to draw in her senses.  She knew the Commander would be weakened by the experience, and overcome by the multiplied passion.  She sent out a blanketing warmth to the spent woman, enveloping and strengthening her, and Kieran came partially out of the fog she had been in.  The shielding in place, Sieken and Naomi made love to each other again and again, while Kieran sat in a stupor, her consciousness reduced to the memory of loving Naomi’s body.

 

The weariness overcame her, oppressive and thick, the sense of loss piercing and powerful.  Kieran waited for the lovers to finish, unable to stop the barrage of images and tastes and sounds and tactile sensations.  Kieran could hear them making love, even with the psychic shielding in place.  She closed her eyes against the excruciating pain, the jealousy, the need.  It could have been me, making her moan like that, making her gasp and cry out and come.  I could be the one holding her naked, perfect body in my arms, starting again, teaching her, initiating her.  She wanted it to be me, and I wouldn’t.  I did this to myself.

 

Kieran was in a fog by the time the two lovers emerged.  Naomi and Sieken were lost in their own thoughts, hands laced together as they headed for the transporter room.  The trio beamed down to Qian, and Naomi and Sieken said their goodbyes.

 

Naomi could not look Kieran in the eyes.  “I’ll walk you home, KT,” she offered, moving in the direction of the guest quarters.

 

“That’s okay,” Kieran protested numbly.  “I’d rather walk alone.  Good-night, Naomi,” she said hollowly.

 

“Are you sure?” Naomi took her hands, peering up at her.  “Are you okay?”

 

“Sure,” Kieran said unconvincingly.  “Just tired.  I’ll see you at breakfast.  Give my love to the Moms,” she said quietly, heart rending at the sight of Naomi’s placid face.

 

Naomi’s gentle kiss on her cheek was the breaking point.  Kieran steeled herself against the agonizing loss of her beloved, spun on her heel and hurried into the darkness, keeping her sorrow in check until she was far enough from Naomi that Naomi wouldn’t hear her breaking down.

 

Back in her room, Kieran cried herself half sick, knowing Naomi the girl was gone forever, and in her place, Naomi the woman would always be, flawless and untouchable and alluring, always on the other side of the boundary between the permissible and the forbidden.  Gone equally with the ignorance was the innocence, and the single mindedness of first love that Naomi had always felt for Kieran.  Naomi would remember Sieken as her first, and from what Kieran had experienced of their intimacy, no other, human or alien, could ever supplant or surpass the experience.

 

God, why did I lie to her?  Why didn’t I tell her I’m in love with her?  Why didn’t I confess everything and beg her to come away with me, to let me love her, to let me be her first?  How can I face her, now, knowing how her body feels, how she tastes, how she sounds, and knowing I will never be the one making her sound that way?  How can I ever look at her again and survive knowing Sieken has been with her, the way I want to be with her?  I can’t bear it.  I can’t.  God, why did I lie to her? 

 

The knowledge of Naomi’s passion was burned into her mind, into her sight, into her being, threatening her sanity.  She lay awake, unable to stop the parade of images, the sensation of Naomi beneath her fingers, the acute experience of Naomi’s responsiveness, the sound and feel and taste and essence of her desire.  Kieran’s awareness was transfixed by the memory, her own desire raging in her veins, her brain unable to process the depth of it.  She staggered out of bed and to the comm system, punching in a code.  “Sieken,” she gasped, “please help me,” she begged, her body suffused with piercing need, her brain dangerously close to a complete overload.

 

“I am on my way,” Sieken replied, as if she had expected the hail.

 

Sieken came to Kieran’s quarters with her adjutant, Sholten, and the two Qianians conferred after extending their senses around the emotionally shattered human.

 

“It was careless of you, your grace,” Sholten hissed angrily at her superior.  “I warned you about becoming familiar with these aliens,” she continued the lecture hotly, her face pale and eyes the color of snow.

 

“She is suffering, Sholten,” Sieken pleaded.  “Will you help her?”

 

“You should do it,” Sholten argued.  “It is your responsibility.”

 

Sieken hung her head.  “But I was with Naomi, and that will only transmit back to Kieran, with the experience so recent.  It is the source of Kieran’s distress.  I cannot help her, Sholten.  Please, do this for me.”

 

Sholten was less inclined to bond with the visitors than Sieken, but she finally relented.  She placed her hands on either side of Kieran’s temples, closing her eyes and concentrating.  Kieran sat on the edge of her bed, panting, bathed in sweat, shivering from the mental agony the images created in her.   As the alien surrounded Kieran’s consciousness with her own thoughts, Kieran began to relax.  She felt a warmth permeating her senses as Sholten blanketed her raw nerves with healing energy.

 

The tall alien pressed Kieran back upon the bed, hands still at her temples, speaking inside Kieran’s mind.

 

Look at me, she commanded.

 

Kieran’s eyes opened reluctantly.

 

Sholten kissed her then, and the flood of damnable images of Naomi stopped.  Kieran’s body responded immediately to the projected sense of desire and healing Sholten conveyed to her,  and they began to touch each other, fingers brushing lightly over cheeks and throats, mouths hungrily searching. 

 

Leave us, Sholten projected the thought at Sieken, and Sieken obediently slipped into the outer room.

 

Kieran was only vaguely aware of what was happening, her mind was so numbed by the events of the evening.  But her body knew instinctively that she needed the balm of Sholten’s lovemaking, whether she wanted it or not.  Kieran’s brain superficially registered the fact that the alien undressed her, and then stripped naked as well.  She was removed emotionally from the reaction to seeing a naked alien in her bed, though she did register mild surprise at the appearance of Sholten’s genitalia.  The Qianians were hermaphroditic, possessing a phallus and an orifice that was shaped like a small flower or a cup, positioned above the phallic appendage.  The phallus was slender and longer than a human penis, but not nearly as thick, and it looked like any other part of Sholten’s body, golden and smooth.  The flowerlike orifice was a tiny structure of muscles that flexed under Sholten’s control.  She parted Kieran’s legs gently, entering her slowly, and as she pushed into Kieran’s walls, the flowerlike orifice surrounded Kieran’s labia, closing around her clitoris.  As Sholten rocked into her, the orifice massaged her, and she started coming in slow, rolling waves.  Sholten amplified the sensations back to Kieran, in an attempt to overcome the images  and sensations of Sieken touching Naomi.  Sholten reflected Kieran’s own response back to her mind, and Kieran was flooded with the awareness of their motion, their passion and pleasure, soothed and aroused simultaneously.

 

Much less objective now, Sholten’s own desire asserted itself, and she thrust repeatedly, moving in tandem with Kieran’s hips, which lifted rhythmically to meet every stroke.  She groaned in Kieran’s ear, hips thundering faster and faster, until her body went rigid and she climaxed.  Long after she came, the flower around Kieran’s sex continued to squeeze and massage, and Kieran came several more times.  Her eyes glazed over, Sholten wrapped her senses around Kieran, easing her to sleep.  She withdrew from Kieran’s opening, carefully removing herself from Kieran’s naked, wasted body. 

 

“It is done,” Sholten stepped out of Kieran’s bedroom and  announced to Sieken.  “Let us never give this substance by speaking of it again,” she demanded as she stormed out the door.

 

Sieken watched her leave, then crept back into Kieran’s bedroom.  She dressed her protectively, and pulled the covers up around the sleeping alien’s body, pity tingeing her features.  “I am sorry, Kieran,” she whispered.  “I shamed myself.”  She kissed Kieran’s forehead, careful not to let her senses envelop Kieran again, lest she contaminate the Commander with the memory of loving Naomi.  “Sleep well, my friend.”

____________________

 

Kieran Thompson did not come to breakfast, as she was supposed to, the next morning.  When they had parted company the night before, Naomi felt Kieran was dazed and confused, and the Ktarian had worried about it all night, which of course triggered nightmares about Kieran.  The same theme ran through the dreams as before.  Naomi was in trouble, and Kieran sacrificed herself for Naomi’s sake.

 

Naomi picked at her food, preoccupied with thoughts of Sieken, concern for Kieran, and the vague sense that something was terribly wrong.  Sieken came into the dining hall of the consulate building, greeting her guests one by one, making her way through the crowd to Naomi. 

 

“Good morning, your grace,” Naomi stood and bowed, using formalities so that Kathryn and Seven would be none the wiser.

 

“Good morning,” Sieken smiled knowingly.  “May I join you?”

 

Kathryn pushed away from the table.  “Seven and I were just leaving.  We have to check in with the ship,” she explained.  “Stay as long as you like, Naomi,” Kathryn encouraged her, kissing her cheek.

 

Seven’s ice blue eyes glistened.  “Enjoy each other,” she said, winking at Naomi.

 

Naomi almost dropped her spoon.  “Damn,” she swore under her breath, “Seven doesn’t miss a beat.”

 

Sieken laughed.  “She is nothing, if not perceptive.  I am glad to be alone with you, my beloved,” she began.

 

Naomi interrupted her train of thought.  “Have you seen Kieran since last night?”

 

Sieken stiffened visibly.  “Why do you ask?”

 

“She was supposed to meet us for breakfast.  It’s not like her to skip out and not at least hail us with an explanation,” Naomi toyed with her juice glass.  “She was not herself, last night, after we beamed back to Qian.”

 

Sieken nodded.  “Sholten and I saw her in the early hours.  Naomi,” Sieken leaned closer and lowered her voice, her pale green eyes darkening with embarrassment, “last night, when we were intimate, I made a grave error.”

 

Naomi thought the alien meant the error was being intimate.  “I’m sorry,” she blushed furiously, starting to push away from the table.  “I thought--”

 

“Wait,” Sieken grabbed her wrist to restrain her.  “My error was that I did not shield Kieran from the experience,” she quickly amended.  “She was--exposed to our joining.”

 

Naomi sat back down, a sick feeling winding its way up her alimentary canal.  “Exposed?  What exactly does that mean?”

 

Sieken sighed gustily.  “I am so sorry,” she wrung her hands.  “In my eagerness, I was negligent to protect her. She--experienced it with us, in a manner of speaking,” Sieken detailed, waving her hands.  “It was as if the experience was happening to her, with her.”

 

Naomi held her face in her hands, humiliated.  “Are you telling me she knows what it’s like to make love with me--with you?  With us?” she demanded, exasperated.

 

Sieken nodded.  “Amplified by a power of nearly ten,” she added.

 

“Kahless’ balls on a bat’leth,” Naomi swore, jumping up.  “No wonder she was out of it.  I have to make sure she’s okay.”

 

“Please, I assure you, she is fine.  Sholten--” Sieken hesitated, thinking Naomi might not appreciate that Sieken had supplied Kieran with a sexual consort.

 

Naomi stopped, stomach churning.  “Sholten what?” she stomped her foot impatiently.

 

“Sholten cleansed her.  She should be fine,” Sieken tried to take Naomi’s hand.

 

“I’d like to see for myself,” Naomi hustled in the direction of the guest quarters, Sieken hot on her heels.  “And find out if she’s still speaking to me.  God, could this be more embarrassing?” she implored, looking skyward.

 

_______________

 

Naomi pounded on the door repeatedly, but there was no answer.  “Get someone to open this door,” she ordered Sieken impatiently.  “Hurry.”

 

Sieken obediently hailed hotel security, and within minutes, the door was unlocked.

 

Naomi found Kieran, lying in her bed, eyes glassy, barely breathing.  “What did Sholten do to her?” she straddled Kieran’s waist, listening to her heart and checking her pulse.  Kieran never blinked, but she was drooling from the corner of her mouth.

 

Naomi smacked her comm badge.  “Voyager, I have a medical emergency,” she reported.  “Beam Counselor Thompson and myself directly to sickbay.”

 

She turned to Sieken.  “You’d better get Sholten to the ship, because our Doctor is going to want an explanation,” she advised the alien angrily.

 

Naomi and Kieran materialized in sickbay, the EMH activating as they appeared.  “State the nature of the medical emergency,” he began, but instantly snapped into action, scanning Kieran’s body.  He frowned, not liking the readings he was getting.  He scanned a second time, then clicked the interface closed.  “Help me get her on a biobed,” he shouted to the medic on duty. 

 

Kieran still hadn’t blinked, and she showed no response to stimuli.  “COUNSELOR,” the Doctor peered into her face.  “If you can hear me, blink your eyes.”

 

Naomi’s heart sank as the glassy expression remained.  “What’s wrong with her?” she grabbed his forearm insistently.

 

“Her neural synapses appear to be--blocked,” he puzzled over it.  “As if they all overloaded at once.”  He took another reading and prepared a counteracting agent.  “This might even some of the chemicals out, but I’ve never really seen anything like it,” he muttered.

 

Sieken and Sholten materialized then, looking guilty and worried.  Naomi practically jumped down Sholten’s throat. “What the hell did you do to her?” she snarled, stepping into the alien’s personal space.

 

“I only cleansed her psyche,” Sholten contended.  “It is not dangerous.”

 

“Well uncleanse her,” Naomi shook the alien’s arm.

 

Sholten bowed her head.  “That is not possible.  I merely did what Sieken asked of me,” she shrunk smaller in stature.

 

Naomi turned on the alien she had so recently slept with.  “You did this to her?”

 

Sieken reached over Kieran’s body, touching her temples.  “She needs a second cleansing,” Sieken informed Sholten.

 

The EMH spoke up.  “I don’t know what you’re proposing, but a second ‘cleansing’ might kill her.”

 

Sieken turned to Sholten.  “Contact the medical directorate, have them transmit the data on our neurochemistry,” she said tersely.  “Naomi, I assure you, this was not intentional.”

 

Naomi glared at them both.  “I want a detailed description of everything that happened.  Tell the Doctor, and don’t leave out anything.”

 

Sholten looked to Sieken for authority to speak.  Sieken nodded.  Sholten gave them a blow by blow account of her sexual encounter with Kieran.

 

The Doctor listened carefully, then reviewed the information streaming in from the medical directorate.  “This data means very little to me,” he explained.  “But based upon what you’ve said, I think I know what might be wrong.  I need a blood sample from you, if you don’t mind,” he said to Naomi.

 

Naomi flung her arm out.  “Take it all,” she said miserably.  “Just get her back,” she was on the verge of tears.

 

Sholten enfolded Kieran’s psyche with her own, shaking her head.  “I sincerely doubt you will be able to retrieve her consciousness,” the alien advised.  “She is wholly subliminal.  And she has no desire to come back to this plane of consciousness.”

 

“I have to try something,” The EMH took the blood and ran it through the gene sequencer, tapping in additional information.  He waited for the computer to concoct the modified DNA sequence, one that incorporated Naomi’s endogesterone hormone into a compatible mix with Kieran’s chemistry.  “You two can go,” he said to the aliens.  “You’ve done quite enough.”

 

Naomi grabbed Sieken’s arm.  “Wait.  I’m not done with you,” she snapped impatiently.  “I need your help.”

 

Sieken bowed.  “Anything, my beloved,” she agreed succorantly.

 

“I need you to get me into her head, let me talk to her.  Can you do that?  Can you make her feel me?”

 

The alien’s eyes darkened.  “I can do as you ask, but you must realize, Naomi, you will also feel her.  You may not be prepared for the intensity of her state of mind.”

 

“I don’t give a damn about me, Sieken,” she hissed.  “I have to try to reach her.”

 

The Doctor interceded.  “I don’t think you should risk it, Naomi,” he said gently.  “I know this dredges up a lot of issues about your mother, but if Kieran’s gone, then you must let her go,” he urged.

 

“I can make her want to come back,” she insisted.  “I know I can.  I’ve done it before, when she died from contact with my mother,” she reminded him.  “I can do it again.”

 

The Doctor bit his lip.  “All right.  I won’t stop you.”

 

Sieken touched Kieran’s forehead, closing her eyes.  She reached for Naomi, touching her forehead with the other hand, forming a link between them, and shielding them both from her own mind.

 

 

_______________

 

Kieran stood in an open marsh, tall grass waving in the breeze, cypress trees sighing with the ebb and flow of the humid, cloying air.  She loved these estuaries, where the Great Blue Herons gingerly fished, their comical long legs drawing up beneath them with every step.  She waded up to her knees in swamp, gathering samples of water for her mother and father.  The wetlands hummed with life, fishes and birds and snakes and insects, sun high overhead, baking her scalp.  Florida in Spring, she realized, home.

 

From a distance, Kieran spotted someone wading toward her, setting a break-neck pace.  Naomi?  How did she get here?

 

The marsh evaporated and they stood in a green meadow, gazing into each other’s eyes.  “What are you doing here, sweetie?” Kieran asked softly, reaching for the smaller woman’s hands.

 

“I came to bring you home,” she squeezed Kieran’s fingers.  “Please, come with me.  I need you,” she whispered fiercely.

 

“No more than I need you,” Kieran wrapped the woman in sinewy arms.  “I love you so,” she spoke from the wellspring of her soul.

 

Naomi clung to her, battered by the onslaught of Kieran’s emotions, nearly torn away from her embrace by the torrent.  Naomi struggled for balance, reached into herself for strength, shielded herself from the guilt and self-hatred coming from Kieran.  “You do not need to feel this way,” Naomi instructed Kieran.  “Your love for me is nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

Kieran breathed and opened herself on a deeper level.  Naomi felt a sucking sensation, as if dragged into a whirlpool, bathed in Kieran’s feelings,  the tenderness, the beauty, the light, the ugliness, the baseness, laid bare to her. 

 

Naomi touched Kieran’s face, eyes intent upon one another, and their lips suddenly came together, softly, slowly, searching, surrendering.  Deepening their kiss, Naomi consciously let go of her walls, opening herself to Kieran’s mind, letting the Counselor feel her emotions in kind.  She knew there would be no going back, once she revealed her feelings to Kieran.

 

Kieran was filled with Naomi’s emotions, buoyed by them, elated to find that amid the desire and angst, there was firm resolve, commitment, strength, and a clarity of purpose.  There was deep, enduring love at the core of it, a foundation solid as granite, and a gentle acceptance of the consequences of that love.  Kieran knew all of Naomi, in that instant, her dreams, her heartaches, her needs, and even her hallucinations.  The shock was overwhelming, but Naomi’s arms surrounded her, kept her from drowning, gave her purchase.

 

“Now you know everything,” Naomi spoke inside Kieran’s mind.  “No reason to hide any of it.”

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran gasped, overcome by the honesty of it.  “Are you sure this is for me?”

 

Naomi’s emotion enveloped Kieran completely.  “Only you, my love, always and only you,” she affirmed, gazing into doe soft eyes.  They stood together, breathing into each other, acclimating to the emotions.  Naomi reached into Kieran’s mind again, tendrils of thought wrapping themselves around Kieran’s thoughts.  “You have more to show me, love.  Trust me, now, and open yourself to me,” Naomi beseeched her.

 

Another boundary crumbled in Kieran’s psyche, and the wall fell at Naomi’s feet, no more substantial than a menial pile of gravel.  “This is for you,” Kieran replied, sharing the ultimate truth of her being.

 

Naomi felt Kieran’s love surround her, protective and passionate, urgent and fragile in its vulnerability, imperfect in its fearfulness.  Everything Kieran had dreaded appeared to Naomi, every insecurity, followed in succession by the surrender of resistance against the love she held for Naomi.  Liberated from the crushing weight of the expectations Kieran had of herself and the expectations of those around her, fear forgotten, misgivings set aside, Kieran’s love poured out of her, leaving Naomi breathless and suffused with the healing warmth of it.  Kieran was in love with her, and now, Naomi knew it, felt it, experienced it with all of the passion, the longing, and the self-denial Kieran had harbored.

 

“I knew it,” Naomi kissed her triumphantly.  “I knew you loved me, in your heart, despite all the ways you’ve denied it to me and to yourself.”

 

Kieran kissed her back, finally free to express what her heart had held for so long.  “I will never deny it again, my love,” she promised. 

 

“Then come with me,” Naomi took her hands, leading her.  “I need you to be with me,” she moved them both along, toward the light in the distance.

 

_______________

 

Sieken and Sholten prepared to return to Qian, knowing they had done everything they could for Kieran, who was still unconscious. 

 

Sieken took Naomi aside, wanting to say goodbye.  Her golden features were dull and defeated, her eyes barely green.  “Now you know how she really feels about you,” Sieken said softly.

 

Naomi smiled.  “Thank you,” she kissed the alien’s cheek.  “I needed to know.”

 

“And now I know how you still feel about her,” Sieken hung her head.  “In spite of my attempts to help you diffuse it.  Sometimes, an emotion is too strong to dispel it,” she explained.  “It is rarely the case, but in this instance, it will not be denied or overcome.”

 

“I know,” Naomi agreed.  “I’ve always known.”

 

Sieken touched Naomi’s cheek.  “I will take my leave of you, then, Miss Wildman,” Sieken reverted to formality.

 

“As you wish, your grace,” Naomi acknowledged the break from familiarity.

 

“It is not as I wish, but as you wish,” Sieken replied honestly, turning to go.

 

_____________________

 

Kieran Thompson blinked rapidly, brain finally engaged in conscious thought.  Her head ached as if she’d been pummeled, and she winced with the sharpness of the sensation.  “Jesus Christ,” she groaned.  “My head,” she tried to sit up.

 

Naomi was right there.  “Don’t move, KT,” she eased the woman back onto the biobed.  “Let the Doctor check you over.”

 

The EMH seemed surprised that Kieran was conscious.  “Stay still,” he admonished her, scanning.  “The readings look normal,” he stated.  He administered a hypospray to ease the searing pain pounding in Kieran’s skull.

 

 “What happened?” Kieran squinted at Naomi, the bright lights blinding her.

 

“Give me some saline wash,” the Doctor asked his attendant medic.  “Hold still, Counselor, this will help with the glare,” he dribbled the liquid into her eyes.

 

“That’s better,” she agreed, blinking the salty fluid away.

 

 Naomi took her hand.  “Do you remember anything?”

 

Kieran smiled.  “I remember that you were the most beautiful creature at the banquet,” she touched Naomi’s face gently. 

 

Naomi laid her head on Kieran’s chest and cried, divesting herself of all the worry and fear she had felt for the past two hours.  “I love you, KT.  I’m so sorry,” she murmured.

 

Kieran held Naomi’s head to her chest.  “It’s okay, sweetie.  Don’t cry,” she soothed her, stroking her long tresses, smoothing them down.  “Hey,” she tried unsuccessfully to hush the weeping Ktarian, “Na,” she forced her body upright, taking the smaller woman in her arms.  “Honey, please, stop,” she wrapped herself protectively around Naomi’s body.

 

Naomi sniffed.  “I can’t help it, KT.  God, you scared me.”

 

Seeing the EMH eavesdropping, Kieran hugged her.  “We’ll talk about it in private, later, okay?”  Then she put her lips against Naomi’s ear.  “Do the Moms know?”

 

“No,” Naomi breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“Thank God,” Kieran nearly collapsed.  “Doctor, whatever has been discussed here, whatever you have learned about the events leading up to my illness, I want it kept strictly confidential.  No one is to know, not Seven, not Janeway, not my ex-wife, no one.  Are we clear?” she implored the EMH, wanting to protect Naomi’s vulnerability.

 

“Of course,” he nodded, though the disappointment was evident.  “I would never disclose anything without good reason.”

 

“Thank you,” Kieran supplied.  “I’d like very much to get back to normal.”

 

The hologram nodded.  “You’re free to go when you’re feeling steady on your feet again.”

 

Kieran rubbed Naomi’s back, still trying to calm her down.  “Honey, I’m absolutely fine now,” she assured her.

 

Naomi held tighter to her.  “Can you ever forgive me?” Naomi already deeply regretted sleeping with Sieken, not only because it had resulted in Kieran’s condition, but because now she knew how deeply it had hurt Kieran.

 

“There’s nothing to forgive, love,” Kieran lifted her face with two fingers, peering into her eyes.  “You didn’t know--Sieken didn’t know.  It’s nobody’s fault.”  Kieran kissed her forehead, wishing she would believe.  “How did you keep from having a reaction to Sieken?” she asked quietly.

 

The EMH spoke up.  “Ktarian physiology.  Naomi has a hormone you don’t have, and it has a protective effect against the Qianian’s psychic probing.  Her neural synapses were not adversely effected by their abilities.  What I’m not certain of is whether the adverse reaction came merely from their probing, or from the probing coupled with your sexual contact with Sholten.  I suspect the combination was to blame.”

 

Kieran clutched Naomi to her.  “Oh my God, if you weren’t Ktarian--”

 

The Doctor interjected.  “She’d be dead.  You nearly were.”

 

Kieran swung her legs over the side of the biobed, jumping down.  She realized she was still in her boxer shorts and tank t-shirt, without shoes.  “Nice,” she surveyed herself, grinning.  “Let’s go to the Cargo Bay, so I can get showered and dressed,” she said to Naomi.

 

Kieran put an arm around her, pulling her close as they left the sickbay.  They walked in silence, each thinking again of the psychic joining they had shared.

 

Kieran keyed the Cargo Bay entrance, led Naomi to her cot, and sat down with her.  Neither spoke, shaken by the lack of boundaries between them.  Kieran took Naomi’s hand, stroking the palm with her thumb.  “Now what?” she asked meekly.

 

Naomi’s lips curled faintly.  “I don’t suppose you’re ready to confront Kathryn, are you?”

 

Kieran’s eyes closed involuntarily.  “Dear God, she is going to kill me,” she murmured.

 

Naomi laughed gently.  She thought about their situation some more.  “Would you have ever told me?” 

 

“Not likely,” Kieran replied.  “I had convinced myself it was wrong, that I don’t have any right to be with you.”

 

“And now?” Naomi drew Kieran’s hand to her lips, kissing the knuckles tenderly.

 

“You know everything in my heart, so there’s no point in trying to be noble,” Kieran replied miserably.  “I can’t pretend I’m not in with love you.  You’ve seen everything,” she emphasized again.  “So I ask again.  Now what?”

 

Naomi considered.  “Now you take a shower.  You get the stench of Sholten off of you.  And when you’re done, we’ll figure out what to do, then.”  Naomi stood up, bringing Kieran with her.  “Come on,” she led her into the portable ensuite, opening the heavy metal door to gain access to the glass shower, reaching in to adjust the water. 

 

Kieran started to pull off her tank shirt, but Naomi stopped her hands.  “Please,” she murmured, “let me.”

 

Kieran grabbed Naomi’s hands, not letting her remove the shirt.  Kieran kissed her roughly, backing her into the glass door of the shower stall, her lips almost bruising in their ferocity.  “Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve lain awake, aching inside, because I was dying to do that?” she demanded, kissing her passionately again, not waiting for the reply.  She felt Naomi’s mouth open beneath hers, yielding, a sound of surrender escaping Naomi’s throat. “Do you know how much torture I’ve been through, trying to keep my hands off of you?” Kieran tangled her fingers in Naomi’s hair, gripping it firmly, drawing her head back to bare her throat, ravishing her neck.  She breathed in Naomi’s ear, her words strangled by her need.  “Do you know how much I want you, Naomi?  God,” she took the younger woman’s face in her hands, “I need you.  I love you so much,” she whispered, kissing her intently.  Fierceness dissolved into tenderness, and they explored each other’s lips gently, passionately, perfectly.  Kieran kept Naomi from undressing her by pressing her body against Naomi’s.

 

“I didn’t know,” Naomi replied, gaze fixed on her beloved.  “But I wanted you just as much, Kieran,” she promised, kissing her deeply, tongue searching shyly, then growing more passionate. 

 

The intensity sparked again, and Kieran was nearly helpless against the flood of emotions.  She started to lose control, tears building, her voice thick.  “Do you have any idea what it felt like to hand you over to Sieken?” she asked, her vulnerability laid bare.  “I wanted to stop you, I wanted to beg you. I couldn’t stand it,” she broke down, a sob tearing through her.  “I thought,” she pressed her lips against Naomi’s forehead, “it had all been my mistake, that you didn’t love me, after all,” she confessed. 

 

“Why didn’t you stop me?” Naomi whispered fiercely.  “Why did you lie to me?”

 

Kieran clung to her, breathing her, tasting her, committing every detail to memory.  “I never intended this to happen between us,” she hung her head.  She sighed, getting a grip on her rampant arousal, once again restraining Naomi’s hands.  “I don’t think,” she said huskily, “I’m ready for more than this,” she indicated their intimacy.

 

“I’ll let you lead, KT,” Naomi murmured, sliding her hands over Kieran’s chest and resting them on her shoulders.  Kieran was entranced, watching Naomi’s hands moving over her body. 

 

“B’Elanna did this to you?” she touched the crescent shaped scars at Kieran’s throat.

 

“I’ll have them removed today,” Kieran promised, seeing the fleeting look of pain that ghosted over Naomi’s face.

 

Naomi smoothed her hands down Kieran’s chest.  “You don’t have to,” she offered.

 

Kieran stopped her hands, trapping them in her own, kissing her deeply, lingering over it.  “Yes, I do,” she finally said as she broke the kiss.  “They mean I belong to someone else.”

 

“Do you?” Naomi returned her kiss, hands still restrained.  “Do you belong to B’Elanna?” she demanded softly, biting Kieran’s bottom lip.

 

Kieran thought her legs had gone gelatinous.  “No,” she gasped, arching into the sensation. “You know I don’t,” she sighed.  “I am yours, Naomi.  And now you know it.” She gathered every ounce of her restraint, and eased Naomi away.  “I’m going to shower now.  You go sit on my cot, if you want, or go back to Qian, and I’ll catch up with you later.”

 

Naomi reluctantly backed away.  “I’m not going anywhere without you.  I’ll wait.”

 

________________

 

Kieran let the shower pound down on her body, wishing it could rejuvenate her, but she was too spent from the events of the preceding 24 hours to respond.   She leaned her head against the wall, brain screaming.  What am I supposed to do?  My God, I love her, but how can I ever let anything come of it?  Kathryn will kill me, and rightfully so.  If it were Katie, I’d do the same damned thing.  The only way I could ever be with Naomi is if Kathryn and Seven condone it.  Otherwise, it could destroy our relationships, and I could be prosecuted.  “Oh my God,” she groaned aloud.  What I feel is actually illegal.  What I want to do with her is considered a perversion.  And she knows every sordid detail of my feelings.  Every bit.  She stood there beneath the spray, inert for the longest time, trying to clear her head, trying to shout down her heart.  I can’t. 

 

She reached for the knobs, turning off the water, head still pressed into the tile.  I can’t let this happen.  I can’t let her talk me into it.  It’s wrong.  She deserves better.  No one will ever forgive me.  I have to do what’s right for her, even though that is not what I want to do.

 

Dazed, Kieran dried herself, rummaged through the upright cabinet she was using for a closet, and found her favorite blue jeans and an Academy sweatshirt.  Comfort clothes.  She tugged on a pair of anklet socks and her sneakers, ran a comb through her hair, spiked it with gel, and brushed her teeth.  I could wait.  I could promise myself to her, but wait to be with her until a more agreeable time.  She’ll never go for that, though.  She’s sexually active, now.  Sieken set the wheels in motion, and she is not going to want to wait.  Hell, neither do I.  I want her, every bit as much as she wants me.

 

“Better?” Kieran asked, arms outstretched to her companion.

 

Naomi flew off the cot and into Kieran’s arms.  “Mmmm, much,” she sniffed Kieran’s skin.  “You smell like you again,” she kissed Kieran’s throat.

 

Kieran closed her eyes against the rush of emotion.  “Na,” she whispered hoarsely, remembering what it felt like to touch the younger woman, the vicarious memory from Sieken assaulting her.  “We have to talk.”  She pulled the gracefully slender Ktarian over to her cot, lying down and gathering Naomi in close to her.

 

Naomi stiffened.  “You mean you have to tell me all the reasons we can’t do what we both know we need to do,” she accused, “because you just spent the last twenty minutes talking yourself out of loving me,” she concluded.

 

Kieran winced at the cutting tone.  Naomi knew her so well.  “Please believe me when I tell you that sometimes, being in love isn’t all that matters.  If you were ten years older, maybe being in love with you would be an option.”

 

Naomi held her gaze.  “But being in love should be the only thing that matters.  Not my age, not some stupid cultural standard or law.  If we love each other, that’s all that should be important.”

 

Kieran gathered her resistance once more.  “Tell that to Kathryn,” she reminded her, stretching out on her back.

 

“Kathryn has no right to stand between us,” Naomi argued, moving over Kieran to look down at her.  “The age difference between Kathryn and Seven is no less than the age difference between us.”

 

Kieran tried to be patient, to keep her voice gentle.  “I agree, honey, but Seven is not eleven years old.”

 

“That’s so arbitrary,” Naomi pointed out.

 

“Again, I agree,” Kieran nodded, looking up at the young woman.  “But it’s reality.  Naomi, if I ever acted on what I feel for you, they could put me in jail.  Do you get that?”

 

“I get it,” Naomi assured her, “but I want things to change, I want them to be different for us.”

 

“So do I,” Kieran admitted.  “But the fact remains.  I have no right to love you, and I can never be with you.  So go and see Sieken, and let yourself be happy with someone else.”

 

“I would wait for you,” Naomi offered.

 

“No,” Kieran was adamant.  “You’d miss some of the best years of your life, if you put yourself on hold thinking about us.  I’m too old, Na.  End of story.”

 

Naomi dropped her face to Kieran’s, kissing her.  Kieran meant to turn away, but she was too weak.  She tangled her fingers in Naomi’s hair, memorizing the feeling of her lips, the taste of her breath, the scent of her body.  After a long interval, Naomi pulled away.  “Can you honestly say you don’t want me?”

 

Kieran closed her eyes, swallowing hard.  “No.  But I won’t let myself take you,” she heaved herself up and out of Naomi’s grasp, though her body and her heart screamed at the separation.  “Let it be enough that I wish I could, and leave it at that, please, Na,” she walked into the ensuite, locking the door behind her.  She leaned against it, hot tears streaming down her face unbidden, head pressed against the metal.  On the other side, Naomi leaned her head against the same metal, wishing Kieran would unlock the door and pull her inside, kiss her and claim her and forget everyone and everything else.  Kieran slammed her head against the door.  Always a boundary, always an obstacle.

 

________________

 

Kieran paced the floor of Dee’s office, hands crammed in the pockets of her blue jeans, agitated and more desolate than she had ever felt before.

 

Dee sat patiently watching the Counselor pace, not sure how to help her.  “Naomi is not a little girl,” she began.

 

“I know that,” Kieran smacked her own forehead, irritated.  “But legally, she is still a child.  And she is my best friend’s daughter.”

 

“Maybe you should tell Kathryn how you feel about Naomi,” Dee suggested.

 

Kieran whirled to face her.  “That’s like signing my own execution papers,” she argued.

 

“How do you know?” Dee prodded.

 

“Because if it were my daughter, I’d kill me,” Kieran replied, resuming her pacing.  “I don’t know why I came here,” she said apologetically.  “No one can help me,” she collapsed onto the couch.  “It’s hopeless.”

 

Dee hated to agree with Kieran, but no ready solutions came to mind.  “You need to give it time, Kieran.  If you love Naomi, why not agree to wait awhile, but at least give her that assurance?”

 

Kieran snorted.  “Dee, you know how volatile love is when you’re young.  After all, she slept with Sieken just last night.  She may wake up in six months and decide I’m not worth waiting for.”

 

“And if she does,” Dee said thoughtfully, “what have you really lost?”

 

“Me?  Everything.  And Naomi has lost six months of her life.”

 

Dee shrugged.  “Naomi seems capable of making that choice.  And you said yourself, when Sieken brought you together on the psychic plane, you felt the depth of Naomi’s commitment to you.  Maybe you’re supposed to trust that.”

 

“Maybe,” Kieran agreed, slinging her arm over her eyes.  “God, Dee, what do I do?  When we were emotionally laid open to each other, I knew the content of all of her hallucinations, I lived them.  I know when she and I ended up apart, in her last one, I was devastated.  Being without her just doesn’t seem--tolerable,” she jumped up and began to pace again.  “And I know that one of her biggest issues she had with herself was that in the first two hallucinations, she waited for me for years and resented it.  How can I ask her to wait for us to happen, when I know how much that shattered her self esteem in those hallucinations?”

 

Dee shook her head.  “Good question.  I’m afraid I don’t have the answer,” she agreed.

 

Kieran felt deflated.  “Okay.  Thanks for trying.  If you think of something, please--”

 

Dee nodded.  “I’ll contact you,” she assented.

 

________________

 

Naomi was supposed to spend the day at the beach with her family.  Seven watched the young woman closely, conscious that something was profoundly upsetting her.  Naomi lay in the sun, letting the rays bake her skin until the freckles appeared.  Kathryn had Geejay down by the water’s edge, playing in the sand.

 

“Naomi Wildman,” Seven said in her old Borg-speak.  “Why are you not with your sweetheart?”

 

Naomi hid her expression behind her sun glasses.  “I don’t have a sweetheart,” she replied defensively.

 

“I thought you and Sieken--” Seven sat up on her towel, concerned.

 

“You thought wrong,” Naomi interrupted tartly.

 

Seven considered everything she had seen, and was not convinced.  “Did you not leave the banquet to meet Sieken?” she asked, a conspiratorial grin on her face.

 

Naomi sighed.  “Yeah, I did.  And we had great sex,” she added, hoping that would shut Seven up.

 

“Are you trying to shock me, Naomi?” Seven asked sternly.

 

Naomi turned onto her stomach, resting her head on her arms.  “No.  I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

 

Seven reached over and stroked Naomi’s hair.  “I forgive you.  You know, I cannot help you if you don’t tell me what is troubling you.”

 

Naomi sighed, a stray tear trickling down her cheek.  She wiped at it angrily, not wanting to show her vulnerability.

 

“Did Sieken--hurt you?” Seven asked quietly.

 

“Not at all,” Naomi assured her.  “It was actually--wonderful,” she recalled, a chill running through her at the memory.

 

“Then why are you so despondent?” Seven propped herself up on her hand.

 

“Because Sieken isn’t the one I want to be with,” Naomi replied miserably.

 

Seven understood immediately.  “Still Kieran?” she asked, knowing the answer already.

 

Naomi nodded.  She told Seven the whole story of how Kieran ended up in sickbay, without telling Seven that Kieran had helped Naomi sneak away to be with Sieken.  And then Naomi told Seven about the linking experience she had had with Kieran, and everything it revealed about Kieran’s feelings for her.

 

Seven was perplexed. “Kieran loves you,” she reaffirmed, “so why are you upset?”

 

“Because she refuses to even consider a future for us,” Naomi spelled it out.  “Because of my age, because of Kathryn, because she could go to jail, because she thinks, in some twisted way, that she will be depriving me of what’s best for me,” she let it all out in a rush, breaking down into tears.  “We were so close, Seven,” Naomi sobbed.

 

Seven held her then, trying to soothe her.  “Kieran is right about one thing,” she agreed.  “Kathryn would kill her.”

 

“I know,” Naomi sniffed, leaning into the Borg’s shoulder.  “And I know it was the most difficult thing Kieran’s probably ever done, turning me away.  I know how she truly feels about me, and it’s stronger than I had ever dreamed, Mom,” Naomi said, heart broken.  “I love her so much,” she pressed her hand to her mouth to suppress a fresh wave of tears.  “Is there anything you can do to help?”

 

Seven kissed Naomi’s hair, wishing for all the world she had the power to change things.  “I’m afraid not,” Seven replied honestly.  “I don’t think Kathryn would ever agree to allow you to be with Kieran, and I think telling Kathryn any of this would destroy her relationship with Kieran, as well.”

 

“That’s what I thought,” Naomi pulled away.  “But thanks for listening, anyway,” she gathered her things, resolute in her intentions.  “I’m going to go back to our quarters.  I just don’t feel like being out in public.  I might even go back to the ship, see if B’Elanna needs help,” she advised.  “Don’t be surprised if you don’t see me until very late.”

 

Seven nodded.  “I understand.  I am sorry, Naomi.”

 

“I know, Seven,” she leaned down and kissed her cheek.  “See you tonight.”

 

________________

 

Naomi Wildman slunk into sickbay, armed with her knowledge of Borg encryption codes and security protocols, determined to steal the cortical stimulators that the Doctor and B’Elanna had devised to induce the brain waves that caused hallucinations.  Naomi figured if she couldn’t be with Kieran in reality, then reality wasn’t worth sticking around for, especially now that she knew Kieran loved her just as much as she loved Kieran.  She broke into the storage container where the Doctor had the devices under lock and key, pocketed them, and covered her tracks in the computer logs.

 

It was one thing to live without Kieran Thompson, the fantasy.  But now Naomi knew the reality of Kieran’s love, the depth of her passion, the intensity of the bond between them.  She had seen into Kieran’s heart, and had felt the encompassing longing that had tortured the Counselor for months.  Naomi could not bear to live without Kieran as her lover, not knowing how much they each wanted to be that to each other.  Naomi had not been prepared for the powerfulness of Kieran’s emotion, and now that she had experienced it, she could not tolerate the absence of it.  She could not imagine passing Kieran in the corridors of the ship, forced to ignore the fire in her eyes, the heat in her body, the need they felt for one another. 

 

Naomi walked to the Cargo Bay as if in a trance, her mind and body suffused with the desire that had raged between them hours earlier.  She went to the portable ensuite, pressing her fingers against the glass door, remembering how Kieran had held her against it, kissing her fiercely, lips hungry and forceful.  Naomi shivered, the ache asserting itself again.  She leaned against the glass, eyes closed, remembering the gentleness of Kieran’s kiss as they explored each other’s mouths once the gripping need had been subdued.  Naomi’s heart pounded in her chest, her body electric and warm at the memory of Kieran’s fingers in her hair, Kieran’s lips on her throat, Kieran’s words.

 

Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve lain awake, aching inside, because I was dying to do that?  Do you know how much torture I’ve been through, trying to keep my hands off of you?  Do you know how much I want you, Naomi?  God, I need you.  I love you so much.

 

The memory tore through her, leaving her gasping against the shower door.  How could Kieran walk away from that much passion, that much love? How could she deny herself so callously?  How could Kieran take it from Naomi, deny it to her, make her live without it?  Naomi’s eyes burned with frustrated tears.  She could not accept a life without Kieran Thompson as her lover, not when it was so clear they were destined to be together.

 

She left a note on Kieran’s bed in the Cargo Bay, but before she left, she couldn’t resist curling up in the blankets and sheets there, smelling Kieran in the pillowcase, wrapping herself in the scent of her beloved.  She found Kieran’s sweatshirt carelessly tossed on the bed, and took that, as well, tugging it on over her swimsuit.  She went to her room on the ship, sealed the doors with every encryption code she could devise, and after a few modifications to the cortical stimulators, she placed them on her temples, stretched out on her bed, and activated them.  And at last, she was with Kieran.

__________________

 

Kieran went back to sickbay after her session with Dee, because she had given Naomi her word that she would have the mating scars removed from her body.  She supposed it was stupid to bother, considering she had rejected any sort of relationship with Naomi, yet she felt compelled to follow through.  In her heart, she belonged to Naomi, and it was a contradiction to have B’Elanna’s marks upon her.  She activated the EMH, who reluctantly provided the service she requested, saying he couldn’t guarantee the results after such a long time of bearing the scars.  Kieran told him to do his best.

 

He went into a drawer for a tube of regenerative gel, and noted that something was amiss.  His instruments were out of place, and he never left them in disarray.  He did a bit more checking, and found that an inner compartment of the storage unit had been tampered with.  “The stimulators!” he muttered.

 

“What is it?” Kieran came over to see.

 

“The cortical stimulators are missing,” he pawed through the contents, frantic.

 

Kieran’s stomach turned.  “The ones we rigged for Restid Three?”

 

The EMH nodded.

 

“You’d better find Tom Paris,” Kieran hypothesized, “and then you’ll find your stolen equipment.”

 

“Counselor,” he apologized, “please apply this to the wound area for the next two days, four times a day.  That should fade the residual scar tissues,” he advised.  “I need to deal with this theft, right now.  If Tom has stolen them to use them--”

 

Kieran nodded understanding.  “Hail security,” she advised.

 

“I will,” he turned to do just that.

 

“If you need me, let me know,” she offered, thinking Tom might require counseling if he had subjected himself to more hallucinations.

 

__________________

 

Kieran went back to the Cargo Bay to apply the regenerative gel.  She was supposed to meet Naomi on Qian, but she decided that was not a safe venture to undertake, not feeling as malleable as she felt.  It wouldn’t take much persuasion for Naomi to destroy Kieran’s resolve, and Naomi was not going to let her go without a fight.  Kieran rubbed the compound into the angry red marks where the scar tissue used to be, remembering the passion that had put the scars there in the first place.  It seemed like an eternity since she had contemplated her wife’s bisexuality, like a lifetime ago that they had talked at the Spring Fling.  She realized with a start that she was erasing B’Elanna from her life by removing the ritual marks. 

 

Oh my God, she hid her face in her hands.  I don’t love her anymore.  I took the Oath, and now, it’s broken.  I love Naomi.  I am a P’taQ, the worst kind.

 

She flung herself on the bed, but as she did, she felt something impenetrable in her back.  She reached beneath herself and found a data disc.  Curious, she popped it into the workstation in her makeshift quarters.  It was a recording of a song Naomi had written, the introduction said.

 

Then the piano chords began, and Naomi’s clear, sweet voice filled the room.

 

She wears her walls like a woman whose heart has been handed a line

She keeps her grief closely guarded, she knows the world is unkind

All I want is to see her smile

And rest in my love awhile

 

She’s tired of tenderness wasted on those who cannot give the same

Testing the limits of trusting, just to be taken again

All I want is to see her smile

And rest in my love awhile

 

How do I tell her her heart’s in no danger

There’s no place safer than my love

 

She wears her walls like a woman whose heart has been handed a line

How do I tell her I love her

My heart could not be unkind

All I want is to make her smile

And rest in our love

Awhile

 

Kieran squeezed her eyes shut, listening to the entreaty of the composition.  It was an accurate portrayal of Kieran, of her fearfulness of love, of her refusal to let Naomi into her life.  She replayed it several times, more moved with each repetition, touched beyond her ability to express it.  When she had listened as long as she could emotionally endure it, she let the disc play out.  She was stunned when the song ended and Naomi’s voice came on the disc, reciting a message to Kieran that she hadn’t heard until she let the disc keep running.

 

“I wanted you to have this, to remember me by.  Please understand that I love you too much to spend the next forty years without you.  And so I will have you, even if it is only in my mind.  You are my chosen. Only you, my love, always and only you.  And now, you always will be.  I love you, Kieran.  I wish things could be different, but I understand why they can’t.

 

Your beloved,

Naomi Wildman”

 

A cold bolt of fear shot through Kieran.  “God damn it, Naomi, no!” she leapt off the cot, sending it slamming into the wall of the Cargo Bay.  “Computer,” she hailed through her comm badge.  “Locate Naomi Wildman.”

 

“Naomi Wildman is in her quarters.”

 

“Thompson to the Doctor.”

 

“Go ahead,” he replied.

 

“I know where your cortical stimulators are.  Naomi has them.  Meet me in the Captain’s quarters,” she was already halfway there.

 

___________________

 

The Doctor removed the devices at Naomi’s temples, but she did not awaken from her hallucination.  Kieran had already known the attempt to revive her would fail.

 

“Why isn’t she responding?” Kathryn demanded.

 

“She doesn’t want to come back,” Kieran hung her head.  “And there’s nothing we can do to make her.”

 

Kathryn trembled with frustration.  “Why?  Why would she do this?” she turned to Kieran.  “What would make her want to leave us?”

 

Kieran couldn’t look Kathryn in the eye.  “The injustice of the world was too much for her,” Kieran explained.

 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Kathryn demanded angrily.  “What aren’t you telling us?  Did you know she was depressed again?”

 

“Yes,” Kieran replied.  “In fact, it was my fault she was depressed.”

 

“Your fault?” Kathryn was bewildered.  “How could you be the one to blame for this?”

 

Kieran sighed wearily.  “She’s in love with me.  And she found out, thanks to our psychically gifted friends on Qian, that I’m in love with her too.  I never intended for her to find out, Kathryn, I swear.  But she did find out when Sieken linked us empathically.  And when the link was broken, she assumed we’d be together.  I told her it was out of the question, and this was her response.”

 

Kathryn’s head was reeling.  “You’re in love with my eleven year old daughter?”

 

Seven lay a restraining hand on Kathryn’s shoulder.  “Kathryn,” her voice was low and warning.

 

“You did this to her?” Kathryn’s face went white, her fists clenched in rage.

 

“Stop it!” Seven interceded.  “Pointing fingers won’t help Naomi come back to us.  I told you if you persisted in treating Naomi like a child, we would lose her, Kathryn.  This is precisely what I meant by it.”

 

Kathryn spun on her spouse, furious.  “You knew about this?”

 

“Naomi told me today that she had learned of Kieran’s feelings for her, and that Kieran had refused to act upon what they have been feeling for each other.  Naomi and Kieran both knew you would never allow it, Kathryn.  Kieran told Naomi they would never be together, because it would be a betrayal of your trust in Kieran.  Kieran did exactly what she knew you would have wanted her to do,” Seven defended her friend, “and Naomi couldn’t live with it.” 

 

“You’re blaming me?” Kathryn was cut to the quick.  “For something I didn’t even know about?”

 

Seven swallowed her anger and fear.  “Of course not.  But you know, if they had come to you, or if I had, you would have refused to hear us out.  How many times have we argued over this very subject?” she pleaded with Kathryn to see reason.

 

Kieran sat beside Naomi’s still form, holding her hand, silent tears running down her face.  She knew what she had to do, and she no longer cared what anyone else thought about it.

 

She turned to Seven of Nine.  “Get Sieken up here.  She can get me inside Naomi’s head.  Maybe I can convince her to come back to us.”

 

Kathryn blanched.  “You’re the reason she did this, in the first place,” she accused.  “I’ll link with her.  I’m not letting you near her psyche,” she bit her words off.  “In fact, I want you to get out of my home,” she steeled herself to the look of anguish on Kieran’s face.  “You’re not welcome here, anymore.”

 

Kieran’s shoulders sagged.  She had expected as much.  “She won’t come for you, Kathryn,” she advised her.  “Hail me when you’ve proven it to yourself.”  She bent over Naomi’s unconscious body, kissing her forehead.  “I’m so sorry, Na,” she whispered.  “I should have listened to you,” she lay her cheek against the fairer one, weeping.  “I love you so.”

 

Kathryn grabbed Kieran’s shirt and hauled her off the bed, shoving her roughly toward the door.  “Get out!” she screamed at the retreating Counselor.  “Don’t you ever come near my daughter again,” her voice was pure outrage.

 

Seven watched, a piteous expression on her face.  “Kathryn, how can you be so heartless?” she asked, aching inwardly.  “I’ll get Sieken,” she added softly, knowing it was an exercise in futility.  Naomi would never agree to come back, if Kathryn did the asking.

 

Seven sped out of the back bedroom, rushing after Kieran.  “Wait,” she called desperately.

 

Kieran hesitated, turning around.  “You want to ream me, too?” she asked tiredly, expecting the worst.

 

“No,” Seven wrapped the Counselor in firm, supportive arms.  “I want to tell you I love you.  And so does Kathryn, only she can’t feel anything but fear, at the moment.”

 

Kieran clung to Seven as if her life depended on it.  “Thank you, Seven,” she choked on the words.  She looked into the Borg’s eyes.  “You know I’d never hurt Naomi, not for anything,” she pleaded for understanding.

 

“I know that you were trying to protect her, and yourself, and I know that you were doing the only thing you could,” Seven hugged her tightly.  “We will get through this. All of us.”

 

______________

 

Sieken linked Kathryn Janeway to her daughter, careful to shield herself from the emotions they were connected by.  Kathryn found Naomi on a hillside, sitting on the ground, looking out over a canyon.  She looked peaceful and serene, satisfied with her decision.

 

“I can’t stay long,” Naomi advised her mother.  “I have to get home to Kieran.”

 

Kathryn’s heart clutched in her chest.  “Naomi, you can’t stay here.  This isn’t real,” she reasoned.

 

Naomi laughed lightly.  “It’s far superior to anything real,” she smiled derisively.  “Let me show you what reality feels like, Mom,” she reached for Kathryn, touching her temples with outstretched fingertips.

 

Kathryn was suffused by the torment of unrequited love that Naomi had had to endure, the futility of her devotion, the anguish of her solitary life.  The intensity of Naomi’s love for Kieran flattened Kathryn to the ground, and she was flung down near the edge of the cliff, precariously close to falling.  Naomi opened herself deeper, and Kathryn knew the humiliation of being treated like a child, the sting of the failure to be recognized as a competent adult, the frustration of obeying when the demand for obedience is unreasonable.  Kathryn experienced the sense of injustice, the unmet needs, the abject depression Naomi had fought.

 

As if that weren’t enough, Naomi flooded Kathryn with images of all the shortcomings Kathryn possessed that effected Naomi, her inability to embrace her children as fully and easily as Seven, her inflexibility with Naomi, her need to control everyone and everything around her.  Kathryn was bombarded with the pain Naomi had felt when Seven and Kathryn had separated, the embarrassment Naomi had experienced when Kathryn tried too hard to protect Naomi, and the love Naomi felt for the older woman, despite it all. Kathryn relived Naomi’s grief over Samantha’s death, hammered by the intensity of it.

 

Kathryn was overcome by the pain Naomi had endured in her illness, and felt the relief only Kieran’s care rendered. She saw the hours of patient devotion, the effort to heal and support, even Kieran’s self-denial, hoarding rations so that Naomi could have whatever she wanted.  She was in Kieran’s body, losing weight, wasting away from the deprivation, her only thought of Naomi’s comfort.  Then she was in Naomi’s body, dying, enduring the agony of her failing body’s rebellion, comatose, with only Kieran still believing, still beside her in her isolation.

 

And then Naomi showed her something more.  She showed Kathryn the feelings Kieran and she had admitted to one another, the joy and passion and relief in finding reciprocity, the ferocity of the emotion, the conflict it had created in Kieran.  She showed Kathryn the depth of Kieran’s self-loathing, the psychic flagellation she put herself through to try to please Kathryn, the punishment she meted out to herself for her crime of loving someone Kathryn didn’t want her to love.  She made Kathryn feel the poignant pain that Kieran felt, wanting Kathryn’s approval, and knowing she could never have it, now. 

 

Kathryn groaned, the images too stark and painful for her to process.  “Make it stop, Naomi,” she pleaded.

 

“Now you know what if feels like to be in Kieran’s reality--a hell created largely by you,” she was merciless.  “Go back and think about what you’ve seen and felt.  And understand, I will not live without her in my life.  I will not come back to live that torture.”

 

Naomi broke the link, and no matter how Sieken tried, it could not be reestablished.  She turned to Kathryn, face white from the effort.  “She has broken contact.  I cannot reach her.  She refuses the exposure.”

 

Kathryn ran for the ensuite, vomiting violently at the memory of everything she had felt.  It was too much to comprehend, too much sorrow to absorb, too many expectations to fall short of, too many dreams denied.  Seven was right.  This was her fault.  She wiped her face clean with a wet cloth, her head pounding.  The Doctor had given her a cocktail of the genetically enhanced endogesterone to prevent Kathryn from overloading her synapses.  But the potent medication could do nothing for her tattered emotions.

 

She staggered out of the ensuite, supporting herself by leaning against the wall.  “Seven,” she called to her spouse.

 

Seven of Nine came into the hallway.  “Are you all right?”

 

“Get Kieran in here.  She can get Naomi back,” she wheezed, fighting the nausea.

 

Kathryn got her illness under control while they waited for Kieran to come back to the ship.  The Counselor’s shoulders slouched as she entered the Captain’s quarters, her brown eyes troubled and pained.

 

“I want you to get her back,” Kathryn said tersely.  “Whatever it takes.”  The Captain would not meet her eyes.

 

“Understood,” Kieran replied formally. “Sieken?  Will you please take me to Naomi?” she asked the gentle alien.

 

_______________

 

Naomi Wildman waited patiently beside the canyon, knowing Kieran would come for her.  She hated that it had taken such a dramatic demonstration to get the world back on its axes, but she would not apologize. 

 

Kieran came slowly up the winding path, running the last few meters, grabbing Naomi and spinning her around.

 

“My love,” she murmured, kissing Naomi tenderly.  “Will you come back with me?”

 

Naomi returned the embrace, fingers grasping the short strands of Kieran’s hair, searching her mouth passionately.  They kissed for what seemed to be forever, learning each other, oblivious to everything else.  “I won’t be without you, not again,” Naomi finally said.  “If you can’t be involved with me, don’t ask me to go back there.”

 

Kieran twined their fingers together.  “I won’t be without you either, Na,” she promised.  “I don’t care what anyone else wants.  All that matters is that I am in love with you.  I promise, nothing can make me turn my back on that emotion again.”

 

Naomi smiled into their kisses, assured that her loneliness would finally, permanently end.  “What about Kathryn?”

 

Kieran kissed Naomi deeply, delaying her answer.  Then finally, “I don’t give a damn what she thinks,” she replied.  “No one will ever come before you again, I swear.”

 

Naomi took Kieran’s hand, and walked to the edge of the cliff.  “Jump with me,” she requested, testing Kieran’s resolve.

 

Kieran smiled confidently and stepped out into nothing, pulling Naomi with her. 

 

________________

 

Kieran lay beside Naomi well into the night.  Whatever was happening in Naomi’s brain, her synaptic activity was off the scale.  Kieran was bewildered that Naomi had not regained consciousness, but had faith that Naomi would follow her back to reality.  She held the fragile Ktarian in her arms, wrapping herself around the smaller woman protectively.

Kathryn and Seven sat in the floor, waiting for the transformation.  The Doctor monitored Naomi’s neurological output, thinking Kieran had failed to convince Naomi to come out of her hallucination.

 

Sieken slept on the floor, exhausted by the effort it had taken to link the aliens to one another.  Presently she awakened, blinking like a sleepy owl.  “I can feel her,” she murmured.  “She is having trouble making the transition,” she was on her feet immediately.  She put her hand on Naomi’s forehead, then on Kieran’s.  “You must assist her,” she informed the Counselor.

 

“Do it,” Kieran instructed the alien.  “Take me to her.”

 

___________________

 

The Hirogen hunters appeared out of nowhere.  Kathryn and Seven grabbed Geejay and ran for the perimeter of their camp, hailing Voyager.  The forests of Qian were the perfect hunting ground, the Hirogen knew.  Naomi watched her family vanish into the transporter stream as she ran, screaming to be beamed out of harm’s way.  Then they were upon her, driving her into the dirt. 

 

“You will be our prey in the most glorious of hunts!” the leader crowed, his boot on Naomi’s head.

 

“This one got away,” his second in command reported, looking up a very tall tree. “But the dampening field is in place.  Voyager cannot take them, now.”

 

Kieran shivered in the branches, her phaser cold in her hand.

 

“Let her go,” the hunting party leader waved his hand.  “This one will do.”

 

Kieran’s heart nearly stopped.  “Wait.  You don’t want that one,” she called out to them. 

 

The party leader laughed.  “We do.  She will make a fine trophy, when I flay the flesh from her bones with my skith,” he reached down and pulled Naomi up by her arm, nearly wrenching it from the socket. 

 

Naomi gasped in pain, her fear thundering in her mind.  “Please, don’t,” she begged the lizard faced alien.

 

He closed his eyes, a rush of pleasure coursing through him.  “You will be splendid prey,” he said in her face.  “Listen to how she pleads,” he celebrated with his peers.

 

Kieran climbed lower in the branches.  “Her skull is too small, her skeleton hardly worthy of your glory,” she baited the gloating alien.  “I am much larger, and much more challenging,” she offered.  “Let her go, and you may hunt me.”

 

The second nodded to his commander.  “She tells the truth.  She is much larger, and much more agile.  She will prove a worthy adversary.  This one is puny,” he snatched Naomi’s hair, yanking her head back.  “Look at her skull.  I could crush it in my bare hands.”

 

Kieran’s fury tore through her and she parted the branches, taking a clean shot at the alien who dared touch Naomi’s hair.  He screamed as the bolt of phaser fire disintegrated his internal organs.

 

The leader glanced up at the tree, new respect glistening in his scaly face.  “You are a worthy adversary,” he grudgingly admitted.  “I will let this one go, and we will hunt you.”

 

It was Naomi’s nightmare, Kieran realized.  But how could she get her out of it, and back to consciousness?

 

“Drop your weapon, and I will let her go outside the dampening field, where Voyager can collect her,” he offered.

 

“Send her out first, and then, I will drop my weapon.”

 

The leader decided either way, it didn’t matter.  If Kieran reneged, she was, literally, up a tree and at their mercy. “Go,” he said to Naomi, shoving her roughly.  Naomi stumbled, scrabbling along the ground, propelled by her fear.

 

“Voyager,” Kieran smacked her comm badge, “lock onto Naomi Wildman, get her out of here,” she barked, not certain if the dampening field would block her transmission.   She dropped from the tree, firing at the leader. “Like I’m going to let you take me without a fight,” she hissed, leaping and rolling. 

 

It was the ultimate Velocity match. Kieran saw that Naomi had beamed out, and she ducked for cover behind a boulder, popping over it to take out the fourth member of the hunting party.  The leader was wounded, but shouldered his rifle.  “I am going to make you pay for your lies,” he growled, favoring his shoulder. Kieran blew his head off before he could aim.

 

The final member of the hunting party stood there in disbelief.  He dropped his weapon, fell to his knees, and raised his hands high.  “I don’t want to die,” he begged her.

 

“Drop the dampening field, and I will spare you,” she called to him. 

 

He tapped his communicator and gave a guttural command.  Kieran sighed with relief as the Voyager transporter locked onto her coordinates, beaming her to safety.

 

_______________

 

Naomi Wildman regained consciousness groggily, only to find Kieran wrapped around her, still entrenched in Naomi’s nightmare.  She sat up, woozy, then realized Kieran was not with her mentally.  “KT,” she leaned over the unconscious Counselor.  “Please,” she whispered urgently in her ear.  “I need you,” she pleaded.

 

Kieran’s eyes flew open, air filling her lungs with a gasp, and she sat straight up, panting as if she had been running.  The EMH checked her vital signs, gave her a hypospray to stop the hyperventilation, and ran the tricorder over her again. 

 

Kieran grabbed Naomi, holding her close, laughing with relief.  “Na, thank God,” she gasped, rocking the Ktarian against her torso.

 

“What happened with the Hirogen?” Naomi asked, her face buried in Kieran’s shoulder.

 

Kieran chuckled, the sound rumbling deep in her chest.  “I kicked their asses,” she bragged.  “And I bet that’s one nightmare you won’t ever have again,” she added, kissing Naomi’s forehead tenderly.  “Are you all right?”

 

Naomi nodded, hanging onto Kieran, arms around her neck.  “I am now,” she kissed her softly, not caring that Kathryn, Seven, Sieken, or the EMH could see.

 

Kieran kissed her back, no longer imprisoned by her fear of the consequences.  Nothing else mattered but this.  She broke away, after a long time, leaning her head against Naomi’s.  “I’m exhausted,” she admitted.

 

“Sleep then,” Naomi eased her back down on the bed, insinuating herself into Kieran’s arms.  “No one will bother us,” she said sternly, looking at Kathryn.

 

Kathryn studied the couple momentarily.  “All right,” she agreed reluctantly, “but as soon as you wake up, I want to see you both in my ready room.  Understood?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Yes, Captain,” she agreed.

 

Naomi fixed her mother with a glare.  “Okay, Mom, but I want you to think about what I showed you,” she predicated her acquiescence, already knowing the resistance would be coming.

 

The Doctor scanned them, nodding in satisfaction. “Everything is perfectly normal.  They’re just drained,” he assured the Captain.  “Let them sleep.”

 

Kathryn nodded, trying to fight her own discomfort at the sight of Kieran cradling her daughter.

 

Seven stood beside her, slipped her hand into Kathryn’s, and coaxed her away.  “We need to rest, as well,” she said quietly.  “Sieken,” she turned to the alien,  “thank you.”

 

Sieken was pale and drawn, but smiled.  “I was glad to do it.  Now I must return to my people, as I am in need of medical attention,” she advised, staggering.  She hailed her government, and was transported away in a flash of light.

 

_______________

 

Kathryn awoke after sleeping an entire day, her brain muddled and overloaded with the images Naomi had shared with her. She held her head in her hands, groaning. A piercing pain settled between her eyes, like a hangover after a night of whiskey shots in a smoky night club. Every synapse in her brain complained, bombarded by neurochemical transmitters out of balance. The ameliorative cocktail the EMH had given her had only done a marginal job of counteracting the Qianian's biochemistry, but Kathryn staunchly refused to give in to the pain, deciding that coffee would be her cure-all.

 

She ground her teeth against the shock of motion, eased her legs over the side of the bed, and forced herself toward the replicator. Every step registered in her skull, pounding like the pulse of a warp core throbbing. The impressions of Naomi's emotions clouded her thoughts like an opaque residue, nagging to be recognized, demanding sharply that they be accorded their due.

 

Kathryn retrieved hot coffee from the replicator, sank into her bedroom chair, and pressed the mug against her forehead, hoping the radiant heat would ease her misery. She thought about chalk on the sidewalk.  As children, she and Phoebe used to draw elaborate sketches on the walkway between the farmhouse and the barn, and then watch from the mud room as the summer rains washed the pictures away, dirty rivulets streaming over the concrete and draining into the grass.  Kieran's place in her life felt like so much chalk in a downpour, erased in a single storm, reduced to vague shadows where there once was shape and color. 

 

You think you know someone, think you can trust them, invest your faith and hard work and patience into their lives, and this is what becomes of it.  How could she do this to me?  How could she put me in this position?  If I do what I must, my daughter will hate me.  But how can I do anything but what I know is right?

 

Kathryn groaned aloud, swallowing a mouthful of coffee, waiting for the calming effect that never came.  Seven overheard her pained expression of misery, and was instantly there, offering to contact the Doctor for medication, but Kathryn was convinced coffee would fix the headache.

 

“I would like to know what the experience was like,” Seven requested, moving behind her spouse to massage the tension from her neck and shoulders.

 

“I'm not sure I can even describe it,” Kathryn admitted, breathing into the massage. “It was excruciating,” she decided. “Like mind melding with a Vulcan, only without being as shielded from the emotions.  Did you know Kieran starved herself to save rations for Naomi, when Naomi was so sick?” she asked, still stunned by that.

 

“Yes. It was obvious that Kieran was losing weight, but I felt it was her decision, and I didn't say anything. I was doing the same thing for Geejay, just in case, only I did not take it to the extreme that Kieran did,” she replied.

 

Kathryn frowned, shaking her auburn head. “I had no idea. She's my closest friend, and I never noticed,” she realized how distant she must be from everyone around her, to be oblivious to such a dramatic change in someone's appearance.

 

“Naomi was able to show you that?” Seven asked.

 

“That and much more,” Kathryn agreed. “I felt so much of what she’s been through--her anguish over losing Sam, her feelings for Kieran, her illness--I experienced all of it, or at least, what she wanted me to see,” she considered the possibility that Naomi had been selective about what she shared.  “I know one thing for certain, as much as it disturbs me,” she sipped her coffee.  “Kieran and Naomi are deeply, genuinely in love,” she sighed.  “And of course, I can’t allow anything to come of it.”

 

Seven stiffened, removing her hands from Kathryn’s shoulders and retreating to their bed.  She sat on the edge, appraising her wife.  “Why not?  Naomi is an adult, now, Kathryn.  She is entitled to make this choice.  She chooses Kieran.  Is that so hard to understand?” she implored.  “There’s no one better on this ship for our daughter, and at least she will be well loved,” Seven urged.  “She has loved her since she was a little girl.  I think we should step aside and let them do what they think is best for themselves.”

 

Kathryn started as if Seven had struck her.  “Darling,” she said firmly, “Kieran is twenty years older than Naomi.  It would be like me dating a teenager,” she argued.  “It’s wrong.  Kieran should never have allowed herself to feel that way,” she asserted angrily, getting up.  She threw her mug into the recycling unit, listening to the fracturing glass with satisfaction.  “I should put her in the brig for child endangerment,” she stated grimly.

 

Seven gave her wife a scathing look, rising from their bed and moving closer to her.  “If you value your relationship with me, you will not take any punitive action against Kieran.  If you do, I will file for divorce immediately,” she threatened. 

 

Kathryn whirled to face her wife.  “Are you serious?” she was flabbergasted.  “You’re willing to defend her to me, after what she’s done?  She wants to have sex with your daughter,” Kathryn reminded her.

 

Seven scowled, furious with the auburn haired captain.  “All I see is love, Kathryn.  Kieran has committed the crime of actually falling in love with Naomi.  And you would punish her for that?  How is it a bit different from you falling in love with me?  I was much more infantile than Naomi--not even out of the collective two years when you slept with me the first time.  I was no more an adult--in fact, much less an adult than Naomi.  No one tried to put you in the brig, because I was chronologically an adult.  I see no real distinction.”

 

Kathryn threw up her hands.  “You were not eleven years old.  You knew what I was offering you, Seven.  You knew what I wanted from you.”

 

“And you think Naomi doesn’t know what Kieran is offering her, what Kieran wants from her?  Naomi wants those same things from Kieran.  She loves her, Kathryn.  I see no harm in that.”

 

“Oh, none at all.  I can just hear the talk on the ship--”

 

“Is that what this is really about?” Seven demanded hotly.  “What people will say?  If Naomi and Kieran don’t care, why should we?” she couldn’t believe her wife’s sense of propriety.  “I am certain plenty of unkind things were said about you and I, Kathryn.  We prevailed.  So will Kieran and Naomi.”

 

“There’s not going to be any Kieran and Naomi,” Kathryn hissed, taking a forceful step in Seven’s direction, as if she might hit her.

 

Seven backed up a step, shocked.  “You are going to persist in this obsession of yours to control everything until there is nothing left to control, Kathryn.  You will drive Naomi and Kieran away, and me with them.”

 

“I’m going to my ready room,” Kathryn snarled.  “I have work to do.  I’ll be the one to tell them how it’s going to be.  You tend to your own concerns, and stay out of this,” she ordered her wife.

 

__________________

 

Kieran awakened gradually, like a thick fog was lifting from her brain.  She tightened her embrace, assuring herself Naomi was there, was real, was still in the circle of her arms.  She nuzzled the soft, warm flesh of the Ktarian’s throat, kissing it gently, reverently.  Naomi breathed deeply, easing from sleep, a slow, warm smile spreading over her face.  She lifted her face to Kieran’s, finding Kieran’s lips with her own, eyes still closed, heart open. 

 

Fingertips pressed against Kieran’s face, faintly tracing the lines of her cheekbones, sculpting over the gentle angles, Naomi said quietly, “I want to wake up like this every day,” kissing her questioningly.  She opened her eyes, taking in the vision of her one true love, chest aching with tenderness.  “You’re really here,” she whispered.

 

“Where else would I go, my love?” Kieran asked, smiling at her.  “I’ll never be apart from you again, not voluntarily,” she promised with a lingering kiss, feeling Naomi’s mouth open beneath her own, the sweet, tentative taste of Naomi’s tongue, the gentle tremor in her breaths.  Kieran gathered her into a firm embrace, moving over her, pressing the length of their bodies together as they kissed.

 

The immediate desire asserted itself, Naomi’s fingers grasping Kieran’s hair as their kiss deepened, bodies moving subtly to create friction, all sense of boundaries gone between them.  Kieran’s body ached with months of repressed passion, her kiss increasingly fierce as the need intensified.  She forced herself to stop, afraid that Kathryn or Seven might come to check on them, afraid she would not be able to stop herself if she continued much longer.  “Naomi,” she sighed, pulling away from those incredible kisses, “I love you,” she whispered.

 

Naomi gazed up at her, eyes filled with longing and love, fingers smoothing over Kieran’s back and waist.  “I love you, too, Kieran,” she said softly.

 

Kieran eased herself off of Naomi’s long, lean frame, and propped herself up on her hand, gazing down at her young lover, amazed at how far they had come.  Her brow furrowed with a questioning look.

 

Naomi frowned, instantly concerned.  “You’re not going to change your mind, again, are you?” she asked, frightened by the serious expression on Kieran’s face.

 

“I gave you my promise.  I jumped off the cliff.  In fact, what I want is to go away together, Na.  Away from the ship, away from the city, someplace where we can be completely alone, where there are no prying eyes, no crewmates to stumble into, no parents to judge or divide us.  But there’s something you have to understand, Naomi.  It’s very important.”

 

“What?” she asked, concerned.

 

“In all the years you’ve known me, I’ve lied to you one time, and one time only,” Kieran looked sincerely into her eyes.  “I told you I wasn’t in love with you, and that was a lie.  But now you’re going to find out exactly why I felt like I had to lie to you, honey,” she explained.  “So I need to know--do you trust me, Na?” soft brown eyes implored.

 

Naomi studied her expression, nodding slowly.  “I do trust you, more than anyone else, ever.”

 

“Then I need you to understand that the only way we can ever be together is if you trust me and follow my lead, now.  We have to go meet with Kathryn, and I can promise you, it is going to be very, very ugly.  So what I want you to do, love, is understand that I’m going to have to pretend to knuckle under to her.  I will have to agree, without much protest, to allowing her to keep us apart.  If I don’t agree, I could end up in the brig.  I want you to protest but not too forcefully, and then I will pretend to persuade you to see things my way.  As soon as she lets down her guard, we’ll go away together. Come away with me, love,” she pleaded, voice filled with longing.  She kissed her passionately, reveling in the softness of Naomi’s mouth, enthralled by the tenderness of her lips.  She pulled away reluctantly.  “Don’t be fooled by my performance, Na.  I will never let her keep me from you.  But she is going to try.”

 

“Do you really think it will come to that?” Naomi sounded afraid.

 

“I’m sure of it.  The question becomes, do you really want this relationship so badly that you’re willing to lose your family?  Because that may be the price tag for our being together.  There is going to be a breaking point, and it will come very quickly, once the wheels are in motion.  We may have to request asylum on Qian.”

 

“Asylum?” Naomi looked bewildered.  “What from?”

 

“From Kathryn.  The lines are going to be drawn in the sand.  I can do plenty of things legally to fight her, but only if you’re sure you want to take a hard line.”

 

“What if I don’t?  Where would that leave us?” she kissed Kieran sadly.

 

“The best we can hope for is that she will allow us some semblance of friendship.  You’ll never be able to be intimate like this with me,” she held her closer.  “She’ll find a way to stop us from ever being alone together.  If you can live with that, rather than defy her, I’ll wait to be with you.  But if you can’t wait until you’re legally an adult, if you want this relationship as we feel it right now, then the only way we can hope to be together is if we attack her when her guard is down.  So you need to decide.  We’ll be betraying her in the extreme.  She will never forgive me.  It will be the end of everything our families have shared.”

 

Naomi swallowed hard, thinking fast.  “Kieran,” she pleaded with her eyes.  “I’ve lived without you and I don’t want to live like that anymore.  I can’t stand seven years of not being able to touch you,” she traced her fingertips over Kieran’s face.  “I don’t like any of this.  I’m going to hold out hope that the linking she shared with me swayed her.”

 

“Honey,” Kieran said softly, “I assure you, she was not persuaded in the least.  I know her.  I know how her mind works.  She is going to do whatever she has to to gain control over our lives and keep us from being together.  Mark my words,” Kieran breathed.  “So I want you to watch the situation closely, and if I disappear, you go to Qian, and you find Sieken.  Sieken will help you find me again.  The legal things I need to do will take some time, and we’re going to have to abide by Kathryn’s rules until I can get us protected.  Believe in me, Na.  I will be with you again.  It may be awhile, but don’t give up, okay?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll keep my eye on the situation.  And once you’re gone, I’ll follow.  I think I want Seven to come with us to see K-Mom.”

 

Kieran kissed her softly, grateful for the immediate decision.  “Good idea.  She may be able to intercede on our behalf.   Let me contact Sieken.  You go get cleaned up and ready to meet your mother.  I’ll clean up as soon as you’re done.”

 

________________

 

Kathryn Janeway sat in her ready room, going over the progress reports on the repairs to Voyager.  The bacteria was proving very difficult to eradicate, and the repairs were dragging on and on.  She threw down the PADD with the data, disgusted.  Although the Qianians were gracious to fix her ship, if not for their psychic meddling, none of this mess with Kieran and Naomi would have come up.  The chime to her ready room sounded, and she figured it would be Kieran and Naomi.  “Come,” she called out, standing to greet the entrants, surprised to see Seven with them.  “Finally awake,” she stated the obvious, not smiling.  “Seven, I didn’t request your attendance,” she sounded irritated with her wife.

 

“This concerns our daughter, and you are obviously acting in the guise of the Captain, not her mother.  Naomi is entitled to have a parent present.  I am that parent,” she stated coldly.

 

Kathryn’s brow narrowed, but she finally waved them into chairs and sat down behind her desk.  She steepled her fingers together, composing her thoughts, then directed her comments to Naomi.  “Let me state for the record, that while I appreciate what you and Kieran mean to each other, I am absolutely opposed to any sort of romantic entanglement between you,” she set her lips in a grim line.  “I am hoping you’ll see reason, and that you’ll both agree with me that regardless of your--emotional attachment,” she selected her words carefully, “there can be nothing more between you than what you’ve always shared--a proper, respectful friendship,” Kathryn articulated every syllable precisely, in a tone that brooked no argument.

 

Naomi glared at her mother.  “I told you--I have no intention of living without Kieran as my partner, Mom.  You might as well get used to it.  Or don’t--I don’t really give a damn what you want.  Your opinion is totally irrelevant,” she intoned like a Borg.  “My private life is none of your business.”

 

Kathryn looked pointedly at Kieran, her steel gray eyes blazing with anger.  “Is my opinion irrelevant to you, too?” 

 

“I made Naomi a promise when she agreed to come back with me from her hallucinatory state, Kathryn.  I promised her no one else would ever come before her again, with me.  So if you force me to choose between my love for Naomi,  and your approval, it’s no contest.  But your opinion is never irrelevant.  Damn it, Kathryn, do you think for a second I intended for this to happen?”

 

Kathryn appraised her coolly, not wanting to feel any empathy for her.  “I suppose not, for any number of reasons,” she squeezed the bridge of her nose, eyes closing.  “But what would you have me do, Kieran?  Stand idly by while you carry on an illicit affair with my child?”

 

“No,” Kieran asserted firmly.  “I would have you wake up to the fact that you no longer have a child, except for Geejay. The Doctor confirmed it, Dee confirmed it, I’ve confirmed it.  Naomi is an adult.  I would have you be reasonable, and grant Naomi and I the courtesy of your non-interference.”

 

Kathryn snorted derisively. “Courtesy?  Is that what you want?  Non-interference?  I’m supposed to pretend it’s fine with me if you fuck my daughter?” she asked bluntly.

 

Kieran launched herself out of her chair, coming across the desk, slamming her hands down on the surface.  “I will not tolerate any disrespect from you Kathryn, not where Naomi is concerned.  You will not talk like that about her or in front of her, or this conversation will be over.  Is that clear?” she shook with fury, her fists clenched.  “That word implies an objectification and a utilitarianism I am not capable of, especially not in regard to Naomi, and I will not dignify it with a response.  Whatever level of intimacy Naomi and I share now, or in our future, is none of your business, nor is it up for discussion or speculation,” she bit her words off harshly, glaring at the older woman.

 

Kathryn exhaled slowly, backing off, startled at the vehemence of Kieran’s response.  “I apologize.  I will try to keep this discussion--productive, and that remark was uncalled for,” she admitted.  “Please, Commander, sit down.”

 

Kieran’s eyes threw daggers at the auburn haired Captain, but she took her seat.

 

Kathryn took a deep breath, gathering her resolve again.  “All right. Let me make this perfectly clear to you both.  There will be no sexual relationship between the two of you, period.  If you force me to make your life a living hell, I will.   Kieran,” she said in a warning tone, “don’t make me file a restraining order, or throw you in the brig.  Stay away from my daughter.  Naomi,” she turned a discerning eye on the Ktarian, “you’re dismissed.  You are not to see Kieran.  If I find out you’ve disobeyed me, I’ll lock you in your room, and I’ll have Kieran in the brig in a heartbeat.”

 

“On what charges, Mom?  You have no grounds.  She’s never touched me.  Oh, I’ve had lovers, Kathryn,” her eyes glittered angrily.  “I’m no virgin.  I just haven’t had the privilege of Kieran being one of them, yet.  So if you think you’re protecting me, think again.  That ship went to warp a hell of a long time ago,” she lied.

 

Kathryn’s face drained of all color.  “I said you’re dismissed.  Go back to our quarters with Seven.  I’ll be there shortly.”

 

“Counselor,” she turned to her former friend.  “You stay put.”

 

Once the doors had closed behind her wife and daughter, Kathryn fixed Kieran with a look far more angry and hateful than her SRGB look.  “I ought to kill you, you know that, don’t you?” she said seriously.

 

Kieran hung her head.  “You asked me to get her back, and I did.  It was the only way.  I had to promise her we would be together.  Do you know what you’re going to get, for your trouble?  She’ll make her own damned cortical stimulators, and she’ll go back to her hallucinations, Kathryn.  Is that how you want to play this?  Because she won’t believe me a second time, and she won’t trust me now.  I failed her.  I didn’t keep my promise.  So think long and hard before you do something that will take her from you permanently.”

 

Kathryn sighed.  “You may be right.  I guess I’ll have to revoke her replicator privileges, too,” she grasped further instead of less, increasing her span of control. 

 

“There’s a solution to this, Kathryn.  One that you can exercise without really giving up anything, that will give Naomi enough of me that she won’t try to kill herself.  And I’ll accept it, though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

Kathryn crossed her arms, thinking she had no real reason to come off of her position.  “Let’s hear it.”

 

“You agree to let Naomi and I see each other.  You can keep us with a chaperone, at all times, if you like, as long as it’s not you--Naomi will probably never speak to you again, anyway,” she noted.  “I agree to keep my hands off of her, until she’s eighteen.  More than likely, after a little while of that, she’ll decide she doesn’t love me enough to keep waiting for me.  It’ll all die down.  I won’t have broken my promise, you won’t have pushed her over the edge, Seven will think you’re being reasonable, and if Naomi sees I’m willing to make this compromise, I think I can sell her on it, too.  But she’s my best friend, Kat.  If you take that away from me, I’ll be the one decompressing a Cargo Bay with me in it.  I’ve never done anything with her, Kathryn.  And I probably never will, if you agree to this.  She’ll lose interest, after celibacy gets to be a drag on her energy.”

 

Kathryn pondered the suggestion, softening considerably.  “You’ve been planning this all along, haven’t you?  So you wouldn’t  have to reject her outright.  To the bitter end, you’re trying to protect her,” she murmured.  “I saw what you did for her, when she was sick, Kieran.  Seven never told me, though she knew at the time what you were doing.  Do you know how hard I would have kicked your ass if I had known you were starving yourself for her?”

 

Kieran smiled warmly at her.  “Yes.  I knew.  But she was so sick, Kat, and I just wanted to do something for her.  I was so desperate, and sometimes, all she could keep down was ice cream, and that’s an expensive item in terms of rations.  This situation--it’s not different, Kathryn.  I’m trying to spare her as much hurt as I can.  Naomi is struggling to deal with her feelings, and I don’t want your position to be so extreme that you do irreparable damage to your relationship with her.  Trust me, Kat, she’ll forget me in a few months, when the novelty of being in love turns into the drudgery of waiting years and years just to be able to kiss each other.  Young love is nothing, if not impatient.  And this lets me save face,” she beseeched her commanding officer.  “Please, do this for her.  For me.  Let Seven chaperone us.  Naomi will be running away from me out of boredom before you know it.”

 

She studied Kieran’s expression, mistaking her subterfuge for utter sincerity.  “All right.  You go talk to Naomi, so you can look like the big hero.  Just try to convince her I’m not an ogre, Kato,” she requested.  “You have permission to go to my quarters.”

 

“Thank you, Kathryn,” Kieran nodded, bowing slightly.  “I won’t forget this.”  She turned to go, a feral smile playing on her lips.  “I won’t forget it for one single nanosecond,” she muttered to herself.

 

_________________

 

Naomi was in tears in Seven’s arms, sobbing as if her heart would break.  “Don’t let her do this, Mom,” she begged the towering blonde.  “Please.  I love Kieran,” she clutched at Seven’s uniform.  “I need to be with her.”

 

“Naomi,” Seven kissed her hair.  “I kept Kathryn from incarcerating Kieran,” she admitted.  “I told Kathryn if she pressed charges, I would divorce her.  But I can’t do much else.  That threat only carries so much weight.”

 

“How can you be with someone so hateful?  How can you love her?” Naomi demanded.  “She has no conception of what the word means.  She thinks love is about control, and rules, and stupid, meaningless shit.”

 

Seven nodded sympathetically.  “She does have a lot to learn.  But she rarely listens to anyone long enough to learn from them.”

 

The chime sounded, and Seven called out “Come.”

 

Kieran entered, holding out her arms to Naomi.  “I negotiated a truce,” she winked at her beloved as Naomi flew into her arms.  “We can see each other, as long as we have a chaperone.  Seven is the designated escort,” she hugged Naomi close.  “I love you so, Na,” she kissed her hair.  “I know it’s not as much as you hoped, honey,” she apologized, “but it’s better than nothing.  And it beats hell out of going to the brig,” she murmured.

 

Naomi sank into Kieran’s arms, clinging to her.  “You were right about her,” she said ominously.  “I can’t believe it,” she gazed meaningfully at her beloved, eyes red from crying.  “I wanted us to be together, Kieran.  Really together.  Not watched like criminals.”

 

Kieran smiled knowingly.  “Do you remember what I said before we met with her?”

 

Naomi nodded. 

 

“I told you the choices would be--extreme,” she talked around the conspiracy they had agreed upon, so Seven wouldn’t ever have to lie for them.  “I wanted you to see what the real choices are, Na.  We can be friends, nothing more, until you turn eighteen.  That’s a lot of years to wait to be together in any substantial capacity.  I understand if it’s just not enough,” she said pointedly.  She pressed her lips against Naomi’s hair, whispering, “are you willing to live by these rules, or shall I ask for asylum?”

 

Naomi peered up at her, confident in her decision.  “I think you were right all along,” she acknowledged that Kieran had known Kathryn better than Naomi had anticipated.  She played the game expertly.  “This is too hard.  Do you really want to wait for me, Kieran?”  She pressed her face against Kieran’s, whispering, “Ask for asylum.”

 

“I’ll wait for you, if that’s what you want,” Kieran said sincerely, continuing the performance for Seven’s benefit.

 

“No,” Naomi decided.  “It’s not fair.  I want us to be together right now, completely.  I can’t stand the thought of never being able to touch you, never being able to have you hold me or sleep beside you,” she murmured.  “And it would be even more unfair of me to ask you to wait all those years for a sexual relationship.  I can’t ask that of you.”

 

“You’d let me walk away? Even though I promised you I never would?” she asked plaintively.

 

Naomi nodded.  “I certainly won’t be happy, living this way, and I don’t think you will, either.”

 

Kieran sighed.  “Then I think I’ll go away for awhile, try to get my head on straight.  Don’t be concerned if I disappear,” she used the words she had used earlier.  “I’ll contact you in a few days, if that’s okay.  Just to be sure you haven’t changed your mind.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’ll be waiting to hear from you.  And Kieran?”  she kissed her cheek warmly.  “Be well,” she said softly.  Then whispering, she said “and don’t take long.  I need you.”

 

Kieran kissed her forehead.  “Sieken will know where to find me, if you want to contact me sooner,” she said pointedly.  “Be well, my love,” she clung to her fiercely.

 

Naomi watched with wounded eyes as Kieran walked away. Kieran had called it precisely, had foreseen everything Kathryn would do, and Naomi was stunned, not at the Counselor's insightfulness, but at the complete lack of empathy in her mother. She turned to Seven, shaking her head.

 

Naomi remembered something Samantha had told her, and the meaning now registered.

 

The truest expression of love is the surrender of control.  Give your heart to the one who understands that, and place your trust in that person, and you will find happiness.

 

Naomi knew in the core of her being, in that instant, that her mother had been speaking of Kieran Thompson.  And she knew that their decision to ask for asylum was the only course of action they could take.

 

“I can't believe it's come to this. I wish I had never let Kathryn adopt me at all. Samantha was right. Neelix should have been raising me.”

 

Seven wanted to console her, wanted to reach out to her, but knew the damage had been done. “I am sorry, Naomi,” she said softly. “There is nothing I can do to change the situation.”

 

Kathryn Janeway entered their quarters, expecting to find Kieran still there. Naomi turned as the door slid open, but as soon as she saw that it was Kathryn she turned away without a word.

 

“I told Kieran she could come see you,”  Kathryn offered persuasively. “She left already?”

 

Naomi glared at her. “I sent her away. I'm not going to condemn her to celibacy for the next seven years.  Did you think for an instant I would agree to tie her to a relationship that isn’t a full one?   I hope you're satisfied, Kathryn.  You’ve taken from me everything that ever mattered in this life--my mother, my future, and now my chosen.  You stranded us out here in the middle of fucking nowhere, where I’ll be physiologically in my 60’s before we ever see home.  And my vast array of partner choices will be limited to Jamari and Icheb, because they are the only crew close to my age.  But the problem is, Captain,” she used the title sarcastically, “I don’t even remotely like men.  You’ve sentenced me to a lifetime of loneliness, childlessness, and meaninglessness.  Don’t think I will ever forgive you for this,” she turned to walk away.  “I should’ve trusted my mother’s judgment, and stayed with Neelix.  He understands the importance of love and acceptance.  All you care about is control--not me, not Kieran, not anyone or anything except your almighty authority.  I hope it keeps you company, in your old age.  I certainly won’t.”

 

“I know you're angry, Naomi, but eventually you'll see this was for your own good—” Kathryn began, her tone pleading.

 

Naomi cut her off. “I have nothing to say to you. You delude yourself however you like, but this whole issue is about control, and your compulsive need for it. You're not looking at this reasonably, and I won't discuss it with you.”

 

“Was it true, what you said about--other lovers?” Kathryn asked quietly.

 

“I told you, my personal life is none of your business.  Why would I confide anything in you?  What possible justification would I have for ever speaking to you again?” she stormed out of the room, heading for her bedroom.

 

Kathryn stood there, face pale, guilt working behind her facade.

 

“So what happened with them?” she asked Seven.

 

Seven hardened her gaze. “Kieran offered to wait for her, told her they could be friends and nothing more until Naomi turns eighteen. Neither of them really wanted to go through that torture. Kieran told Naomi she is going to go to Qian and get everything straightened out in her head. She promised to contact Naomi in a few days, just to be sure Naomi hasn't changed her mind about being willing to wait. But Naomi won't do that to Kieran.”

 

“Good,” Kathryn declared. “Kieran will get over it, and she'll move on. I give her six months before she's dating someone seriously.”

 

“And Naomi will have to watch it happen,” Seven said resolutely, the fine muscles twitching in her jaw,  “and she will hate you for it. You are lying to her and to yourself if you believe for an instant that Naomi will ever agree this was for her own good. I would like to go on record myself, and make it clear that I do not agree with your position, I think you are being narrow minded and small, and I am deeply concerned for our family. I believe you have damaged it beyond repair. Naomi would not even look at me, she is so furious.”

 

“She's a kid, she'll get over it,” Kathryn insisted. “I'm sorry if you don't have the backbone for parenting, because sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. It's a lot like being in command.”

 

“That's the problem, Kathryn,” Seven glared at her obstinately. “You think it's exactly like being in command. I am your wife--that means your equal. Yet you treat me as a subordinate, when it comes to family decisions. I never agreed to keeping Kieran and Naomi apart. I never would have. I believe Naomi is an adult, capable of her own choices and self-determination,” she clenched and unclenched her fists. “I am going to try to talk to our daughter, although it is probably too late for that. I will never forgive you if this puts a wall between Naomi and I.”

 

Kathryn Janeway studied the backside of her retreating wife, all the fight draining out of her.  They’ll both thank me someday.  Kieran will, too. 

 

Seven of Nine tapped lightly on Naomi’s door.  “Naomi,” she called out softly.  “It’s Seven.”

 

“Just go away,” Naomi replied, her voice muffled by her pillow.

 

“Please, let me talk to you,” Seven requested.

 

The door slid back.  “To what end, Seven?  You’ve made your position clear with your silence,” Naomi accused.

 

“I do not agree with Kathryn’s stance on this issue,” Seven defended herself, her shock showing plainly in her face.

 

“Oh, really?  And exactly when were you planning to chime in on the subject, Seven?  You sure as hell didn’t stand up for me, or for Kieran.  You never said a word.  You preserved your relationship with Kathryn, at the expense of my relationship with Kieran.  How does that make you any less guilty than Kathryn?” she pronounced judgment.  “You could have offered to bend the rules of chaperoning us, you could have turned your back and let us be together with the illusion of being chaperoned, but instead you did and said nothing to support us.  And it cost me the only person I give a damn about,” she said pointedly, making it clear she no longer cared about Kathryn or Seven.  “Go away,” she keyed the door again, letting it slide closed in Seven’s face.

 

____________

 

Kieran spent the next three days filling out paperwork on Qian, downloading Naomi’s medical and psychological records from Voyager, and learning all about asylum and the procedures for becoming a legally emancipated adult within the Federation.  Sieken allowed Kieran to stay at her home, which had access to the Qianian central computer, and had the uplink to Voyager.  Kieran sent Naomi an encrypted comm message after the first day, saying “Not much longer now.” 

 

Sieken looked over the stacks of information Kieran had put together.  “This is impressive,” she decided.  “My people will grant you this asylum, I am certain.  And our laws are clear--until you get the ruling from the Federation on Naomi’s status as an adult, your ship will be impounded.  Voyager will not be allowed to leave.  Your Captain will be furious.”

 

Kieran’s teeth glittered.  “She shouldn’t have fucked with me.  Two can play this control game.  All she had to do was let Naomi and I alone.”

 

Sieken smiled warmly.  “You love Naomi a great deal.  You wish to be joined to her?”

 

“More than anything,” Kieran agreed.  “Sieken,” she touched the alien’s hand, “I really appreciate your help.  If Naomi and I end up having to stay on Qian, what will become of us?  Will we be able to contribute anything to your world?  Will there be jobs for us to do so that we won’t starve?”

 

Sieken’s laughter filled the cavernous hemet stone dwelling.  “My friend,” she replied, amused, “Naomi could be the premiere pianist of our symphony orchestra.  No one here has ever seen a piano.  She could be wealthy beyond her wildest dreams.  And you,” she touched Kieran’s hand, “would be welcomed by the scientific community with open arms.  You could be a professor at our university, teaching about your culture.  We would find appropriate places for you, and do so gladly.  If you are forced to stay here, it will be Qian’s good fortune.”

 

Kieran breathed a sigh of relief.  “I think these are complete.  Do they look okay to you?”

 

Sieken perused the documentation.  “The asylum papers are in order.  These,” she indicated the Federation filing, “I am unfamiliar with.  Would you like me to contact my legal counsel?”

 

“That might be a good idea, since I’m a novice at this,” Kieran agreed.  “If I screw this up, I’ll end up imprisoned on Voyager for the next 40 years.”

 

“We will not give such fears substance by speaking of them,” Sieken bowed at the waist.  “I will contact my counsel.  Are you ready to meet your beloved, if the papers are in order?”

 

Kieran nodded vigorously.  “I feel like I’ve been away from her forever,” she admitted.  “I’m so far gone with her,” she shook her head, awed by it.

 

Sieken smiled her understanding.  “Naomi Wildman has that effect,” she confided.  “I find I cannot stop thinking of her, myself.  You are very lucky.”

 

Kieran smiled sympathetically.  “I know.  But I’m sorry for your pain, Sieken.”

 

“Tut,” Sieken held up a golden three-fingered hand.  “Her love for you was so present in everything she said and did, I had no room to delude myself,” she grinned ruefully.  “But tell me, my friend.  I did not go to the banquet intending to be with Naomi.  I had intended to approach you, until I felt her need of you.  Had I not approached her, would you have let me be with you?” she asked softly.

 

“Probably not, your grace,” Kieran answered formally, to set boundaries.  “I realized that night, beyond my ability to deny it, that I love her.  I am afraid I was only for her, after that.  I’m sorry,” she said gently.

 

“Then it has turned out for the best,” Sieken smiled, her affect always kind and understanding.

 

_________________

 

Naomi stayed in her room for the next two days.  She didn’t eat, she hardly slept.  Seven tried repeatedly to coax her into talking, to convince her to eat, and Naomi ignored her.  Finally, Kathryn overrode the privacy seal on Naomi’s door and forced her way into her daughter’s room.

 

Naomi was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling.  “Get out,” she said flatly.

 

“You can’t stay in here forever,” Kathryn sat down on her bed.

 

“Why not?  You were going to lock me in here, anyway, if I saw Kieran.  What’s the difference?” she asked in a monotone.

 

“Why don’t you come out and play something?  You’ll feel better, if you do your piano lessons,” Kathryn urged her, touching her arm.

 

Naomi jerked away from her.  “Get your hands off me.  If Kieran can’t touch me, no one else can, either.  And you can burn that fucking piano, for all I care.  Music is empty without love as its muse.  I’ll never play again.”

 

Kathryn set her jaw in a grim line.  “Well then how about if you go to Engineering and give B’Elanna a hand?  They’re buried.”

 

Naomi finally made eye contact.  “I don’t care if this crap heap of a ship ever flies again or not.  We can rot on Qian.  In fact, that would be preferable to being stuck on Voyager for another four decades with you.  At least Qian has people my age.  I might have some semblance of a future here.  I certainly don’t have one on Voyager,” she correctly noted.

 

“You have to eat, Naomi,” Kathryn was getting frustrated by her daughter’s resolute stubbornness.

 

“Actually, the fact of the matter is, I don’t.  I don’t have to do a God damned thing.  You can stick my ass in the brig, and I can keep doing nothing in there.  You can stick me in sickbay, and I still won’t give a shit.  You got me back from my hallucinations, but the point is, I still won’t willingly participate in this life.  I told you I won’t live without Kieran, and I meant it.  You might just as well shove a feeding tube down my throat right now, Kathryn.  It’s the only way you’re ever going to get me to eat.”

 

Kathryn sighed.  “You’ll change your mind when your stomach is so empty, it starts to digest itself,” she decided two could play the waiting game.  “I’ve been that hungry.  It’s not a pleasant experience.”

 

“You’re forgetting something important.  I’ve died before.  I know the other side is much better than anything here.  My real mother is there, waiting for me.  You’ve been inside my mind, and you know I endured the pain of death once before.  I can do it again.  Only this time, Kieran won’t be here to lure me back, or to give me a reason to stay,” she smiled ferally.

 

______________

 

Three days after Kathryn Janeway’s confrontation with Kieran and Naomi, Naomi had still not eaten, and Kathryn was beside herself with worry.  She contacted Sieken, because Kieran had said Sieken would know how to get in touch with the Counselor.

 

Kathryn’s face resolved on the view screen in Sieken’s home, her countenance strained and ghostly white.  “I need to ask a favor, your grace,” Kathryn began, her desperation obvious.

 

“Is there a problem, Captain?” the alien smirked, knowing full well that the Captain had more on her hands than she had bargained for.

 

“Yes.  I need to speak to Kieran.  She said you would know how to contact her,” she swallowed her fear momentarily.

 

“I’m afraid that is not possible,” Sieken bowed slightly.  “She is with one of our healers,” the alien lied.  “They are sequestered.”

 

Kathryn quirked an eyebrow.  “What do you mean?  Is she ill?”

 

“In a manner of speaking, yes.  Emotional dis-ease is the root of all illness.  We are using our psychic abilities to cleanse her of her need for Naomi.  She will emerge from it purged of her love and her longing.  She will no longer care that she cannot be with your daughter.”

 

“Can you do the same thing for Naomi?” Kathryn was hopeful.

 

Sieken shook her head.  “Naomi must submit to the process.  I can tell you from what I sense right now, she would refuse the exposure.  In fact, I’m feeling that she is very weak, Captain.  She has not eaten for days.  She will not survive much longer.  You must do something.”

 

Kathryn hung her head.  “She is trying to force my hand, and I cannot allow it.”

 

“A battle of wills rarely ends productively,” Sieken wisely noted.  “At any rate, I cannot assist you.  Commander Thompson is immersed in the learning process.  Once she has learned the techniques, the healing can begin.  However, I will get a message to her, if you wish, and advise her of the circumstances.  Perhaps she will make herself available to speak with Naomi.”  Sieken tried to drive the point home.  “If Kieran emerges from the healing purged of her love for Naomi, and Naomi refuses our help, they will be back where they were for most of Naomi’s life—her love will be unrequited.  Did that not push her to the brink of self-destruction once before?”

 

Kathryn’s stomach turned.  She had experienced first hand via her psychic link to Naomi how miserable Naomi had been over her love for Kieran, in the years Kieran was with B'Elanna, and Kathryn knew how deeply depressed her daughter had been at various points.  She ignored the question, however.  “Naomi seemed to like you, and trust you, Sieken.  Perhaps you could convince her to eat,” she grasped at straws.

 

“Perhaps.  I will certainly try, Captain,” she agreed.  “I will contact her shortly.”

 

__________________

 

Kieran Thompson had promised Naomi she would contact her in a few days, and although she had said, for Seven’s benefit, that it would be to make sure Naomi hadn’t changed her mind about waiting to be together, it was actually to make sure Naomi hadn’t changed her mind about wanting to run away with Kieran.  Kieran thought it was amusing that Kathryn had run to Sieken to try to locate the Counselor, because of course, Naomi wouldn’t cooperate with anything Kathryn wanted her to do.  However, she was not amused that Naomi had gone on a hunger strike.

 

Kathryn Janeway had hardly left Voyager since the confrontation with Kieran and Naomi.  Kathryn sat in her ready room, staring at her workstation, willing Kieran to contact her.  She stared at the empty view screen, thinking about all the times Kieran had mediated problems with her daughter for the Hansen-Janeways, and all the ways Kieran had guided and helped Naomi over the years.  Naomi would not come out of her room, and Kathryn kept hoping Kieran would contact the Ktarian and at least convince her to eat.  Kathryn realized it had always been Kieran and Seven who had been Naomi’s role models, and Kieran by far had had the most influence over the young Ktarian.  It stunned her, now, to think Kieran, who had always cared so deeply for Naomi, could walk away, ask to be purged of her emotion, and effectively cut Naomi out of her life.  Kathryn sighed.  Kieran’s agony was no different, she realized, than the agony she herself had been through in trying to come to terms with her love for Seven.

 

She had never really thought of Seven as a child, but the boundaries between Captain and subordinate were certainly a barrier Kathryn had confronted.  She had denied her feelings for Seven, out of a sense of propriety and duty, and only after Naomi had created a family from the three women had Kathryn allowed herself to think of Seven in any romantic sense.  Kathryn knew, from joining with Naomi, that although Naomi had always loved Kieran, Kieran had only allowed herself to love Naomi once the Counselor was convinced Naomi was no longer a child.  Kathryn saw enough of Kieran through Naomi’s knowledge of Kieran’s experience to discern that Kieran had fought herself long and hard over her feelings, and that she had ultimately acquiesced to those feelings only for Naomi’s sake. 

 

Kathryn realized how much Kieran had walked away from, in walking away from Naomi, and while she permitted herself some level of acknowledgment of the magnitude of that gesture, and some sympathy for her best friend’s dilemma, she also felt Kieran had made a grievous error in concluding, for any reason, that Naomi was no longer a child.  And that was the point where Kathryn’s understanding and empathy ceased. 

 

Kieran and Sieken conferred over the request Kathryn had made, and Kieran waited an appropriate amount of time to hail the Captain.  Her face shimmered into focus on Kathryn’s workstation, and Kieran made certain that her face remained flat and lifeless, to drive home the point that without Naomi in her life, Kieran was equally lifeless.

 

“Hello, Kathryn,” she said faintly, without smiling.  “Sieken wanted me to contact you.  She says there is a problem with Naomi,” she said in a monotone.

 

Kathryn nodded vigorously.  “Kato, please, talk to her.  She’s frozen Seven and I out completely.  She won’t come out of her room.  She hasn’t eaten in three days.  Perhaps, if you would come to see her—”

 

Kieran cut her off.  “I’m sorry, Kathryn, but that’s not possible.  I’ll be happy to speak with her.  But I cannot return to Voyager right now.  I promised Naomi I would contact her, to determine if she might have changed her mind about being willing to wait until she is eighteen for us to be together.  But that is the only reason I am putting myself through this torture,” she said glumly.  “I believe I know Naomi well enough to predict that she will not have changed her mind.  If she learned anything from you, it is your stubbornness,” she couldn’t resist the jab.

 

Kathryn bowed her head slightly.  “Please, just get her to eat.  Sieken says she senses that Naomi is very weak.  Nothing I say to her makes a difference,” she begged.

 

Kieran smirked.  “On the contrary, there is plenty you could say to her that would make a difference,” she said pointedly.  “And to be perfectly frank, Kathryn, part of me wants to tell you you’re on your own with Naomi, just so you can understand the position I was in with her—where the only way I could get her to do what I wanted was to promise her things I never wanted to give in to her on.  You could get her to eat in a nanosecond, if only you would tell her that she is free to pursue a romantic relationship with me.  But you won’t do that, will you?”

 

Kathryn glared at her Ship’s Counselor.  “Absolutely not.  And despite how much you’d like to teach me a lesson, if you truly love my daughter, I can’t believe you would jeopardize her well-being to punish me.”

 

“That’s just it, Kathryn.   I wouldn’t jeopardize her well-being.  Unlike you, who would let her starve herself to death rather than listen to the good advice and the common sense of those around you who keep telling you Naomi is an adult, and capable of making good choices about her romantic partners.  Unfortunately, since she knows she and I have no possible future together, I am skeptical about how much influence I have over her, now. I also know she doesn’t give a damn what you or Seven want or think.  There may not be anyone left whose opinion matters to her.  But if you put her on, I’ll do my best, just as I always do where Naomi is concerned,” she lectured her Captain.

 

“Stand by.  I’ll see if she will come out to talk to you,” Kathryn advised, storming out of her ready room and to the Captain’s quarters.  She crept to the door.  “Naomi,” she called out softly.  “Kieran is on a comm link in my ready room, and she is asking to speak to you.  Please, come and talk to her.”

 

Naomi let her mother wait for more than a few moments, just to let the older woman’s anxiety eat at her.  Finally, she came to the door.  “I want to speak to her in private.”

 

Kathryn shook her head.  “Sorry, no.  My ready room, or not at all,” she crossed her arms.

 

Naomi shrugged.  “Whatever.  She’s only hailing to make sure I haven’t changed my mind, which I haven’t.  I’m not going to put her through seven years of a pseudo-relationship with me, just to appease your maniacal obsession with controlling everyone around you.  I’m certainly not going to be celibate for seven years, and I won’t ask her to be either,” she sniffed indignantly, flouncing out of their home and toward the ready room.

 

Kathryn followed in silence, keying the ready room entrance.  She pointed to her workstation, where Kieran was waiting on the screen.

 

Naomi slid behind Kathryn’s desk, filling her eyes with the sight of her beloved.  “Kieran,” she said softly, “I’ve missed you so much,” she touched the screen.

 

Kieran put her fingertips against the screen, letting Naomi mirror the touch.  “I miss you too, honey.  I promised I’d contact you, so that’s what I’m doing.  I’m still willing to wait for you, Na.  Seven years, a lifetime, I don’t care.  I’d wait, if you want to be together.”

 

Naomi shook her head resolutely.  “I won’t do that to either one of us.  I love you, Kieran, and I always will.  But I’m not selfish enough to put you through that kind of hell, unlike my mother.  It’s enough, knowing you were willing to wait for me.  And it helps, knowing how much you really do feel for me.  I’m grateful Sieken showed us both, and I will carry that in my heart always.”

 

Kieran hung her head.  “Then you’re sure you won’t change your mind?  You want me to carry through with the procedures we discussed? They are all in place,” she said.

 

“Yes,” Naomi assured her.  “It is the only course of action,” she agreed.

 

Kieran then communicated Sieken’s lie to Naomi.  “You understand, this procedure Sieken described will cause me to be purged of everything I feel for you, and even of the memory that I ever felt it?”

 

Naomi wasn’t sure what Kieran was talking about.  “Explain it to me again,” she covered herself.

 

“I will be sequestered with a healer from Qian, who will purge my psyche of my love and my desire for you.  If you change your mind once the process is complete, it will be too late.  My emotional attachment to you will be gone.  If we go through with this plan,” she said pointedly, now meaning their plan to ask for asylum, “there will be no going back.  Do you understand?”

 

Naomi nodded slowly.  “I understand, and I agree our original decision was the correct one.  I have no doubts about it.”

 

“All right, then,” Kieran nodded.  “Then let me tell you one last time, with sincerity, that I love you.  I’m sorry for how this turned out, Na.  I never meant to have to take such extreme positions.  I am going to disappear from your life for quite some time.  Don’t worry, though, I will be fine.  Now, before I go, will you do one last thing for me?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Anything,” she agreed, eyes filling with tears.

 

“Eat, Naomi.  Kathryn says you haven’t eaten anything for three days.  Go to Qian, make Sieken take you for a feast at one of their best restaurants, and continue to live, as if none of this ever happened.  For me,” she emphasized.

 

“But I don’t want this life, not without you in it,” Naomi argued, putting on a performance for Kathryn. 

 

“You said anything, Na,” Kieran reminded her sternly.  “I expect you to keep your word.”

 

Naomi crossed her arms.  “Like you kept yours?  You said we would be together—you promised.”

 

Kieran sighed.  “I tried Naomi.  I would be with you, if Kathryn would allow it.  But I can’t control this—she has usurped my control and my choice, just as she has usurped yours.  My failure to keep my word is not my fault.  Is it?” she demanded.

 

Naomi’s face softened. “I suppose not.  You did your best to keep your word to me.  So I’ll do my best to keep my word to you.  I will eat, and I will try to live as if none of this ever happened, though I don’t know how I can ever keep that part of the bargain,” she bit her lip, fighting tears.  “I love you, KT,” she gasped, breaking down.

 

“And I love you.  And that means I want you to be happy, honey.  Please, take care of yourself.  And please, try to forgive me for being a dismal failure to you, and for disappointing you so terribly,” she nearly strangled on the words.  “Thompson out,” she punched the link to sever it.

 

Naomi watched her face wink out of existence.  She drew her feet up on the chair, hugging her knees, face hidden in her arms, crying soundlessly.  It was done.  She would be walking away from her family, the ship, her friends, her life, and Kathryn was the one forcing her to have to do it.  Kieran had looked so worn and exhausted, and it was Kathryn’s fault. 

 

Kathryn moved silently beside her daughter, resting a hand on her shoulder.  “Naomi,” she began.

 

“Don’t,” Naomi cut her off, shrugging Kathryn’s hand away and pushing out of her seat. 

 

“I’m your mother,” Kathryn stressed.  “You can’t just ignore me, Naomi.”

 

Naomi snorted.  “My mother is dead.  You’re just some half-assed substitute, and not the substitute Samantha wanted for me.  I regret that I ever chose you and Seven to raise me.  If I were Neelix’ daughter, Kieran and I would be together right now.  Instead, we are both miserable and empty, and soon, she will forget she ever even loved me.  And I will have to carry around this love for her the rest of my miserable life, thanks to you,” she walked away, leaving Kathryn’s protest dying on her lips.

 

__________________

 

Sieken contacted Naomi as promised, feigning an interest in hearing her play again, and Kathryn gave the alien leave to visit anytime.  Naomi pretended to be persuaded to come out of seclusion by the prospect of seeing Sieken again.  Sieken went to Voyager, got a brief concert, then invited Naomi to Qian for lunch, which Kathryn wholeheartedly approved. 

 

The Captain was eager for Naomi to reach out to someone besides Kieran, and she thought the friendship with Sieken would be a healthy change of pace for her daughter.  Kathryn had to rely upon Sieken to bring Naomi around, since Kieran had abandoned the Ktarian.  Kathryn wondered if the Counselor might decide to resign from Voyager, now that her options with Naomi were so limited.  Naomi continued to perpetuate the lie with Kathryn, claiming that she and Kieran had split up, because neither could bear the thought of waiting seven years to be together.

 

Sieken took Naomi to the consulate after lunch, explaining to her the repercussions of her signature on the asylum papers.  “You understand, Naomi Wildman, that you are asking the Qianian government to intervene in your people’s affairs, in the extreme?  The papers specify that until the Federation determines if you will become an emancipated adult, Voyager cannot leave.  The ship will be impounded, unless you and Kieran both agree it can leave.”

 

Naomi took Sieken’s hand, squeezing it, partly out of the awareness of the seriousness of what she was doing, partly out of gratitude.  “I understand, your grace,” she replied.  “Where do I sign?”

 

“Do you not wish to read it, Naomi?” Sieken asked, alarmed by her haste.

 

“I trust Kieran,” Naomi said simply.  “Whatever is in that document, it has my best interests in mind.  That’s a given, with her,” she said confidently.

 

“Truly,” Sieken breathed, “I have never seen a faith as abiding as yours.  Will you promise me, dear one, that if you decide to remain on Qian, you will invite me to your wedding, someday?”

 

Naomi laughed happily.  “Your grace,” she bowed, “I would be honored to have you there.” 

 

“Sign here, then,” Sieken instructed her, “and here.  Now,” Sieken smiled warmly at her, “this is the lawsuit Kieran drafted, which will force the Federation to rule on whether or not you should be declared a legally emancipated adult,” she explained.  “You must sign this complaint here,” she pointed to the signature line.

 

Naomi set her hand to the documents, then smiled brightly at her hostess.  “Now, please, your grace.  Take me to Kieran.”

_________________

 

Sieken sent Kieran to a resort sequestered in the deepest forests of Qian, a rustic hideaway where she was assured, no Voyager crewmembers were staying.  Sieken supplied the cabin with everything Naomi and Kieran needed for a lengthy stay, ensuring their privacy.  The paperwork was in place at the consulate. It had taken three days to complete it, and Sieken predicted it would take at least two days for the Qianians to review and verify its accuracy before the request for asylum was ready for Naomi’s signature. 

 

Kieran was so afraid that if she contacted Naomi again, Kathryn might trace the communiqué, and foil their escape plan before the escape was even effected, that she forced herself to stay silent.  Ever since she had left Sieken’s home, she had been so lonely, and her conscience pricked her, like a gnat flying in her face repeatedly. 

 

Kieran Thompson had never told an outright lie in her adult life, except when it was intended to protect someone.  She had certainly never lied to a superior officer, but since arriving at Qian, her life had become a series of lies.  Lies to herself about her feelings for Naomi, lies to Naomi about those same feelings, and now, lies to Kathryn so she could keep her own sorry hide out of the brig and still be with her intended.  Yet, she would have had to break a promise to Naomi to avoid telling lies to Kathryn.  She felt morally sullied, but for once in her life, she decided to let the ends justify the means.  Kathryn had had every opportunity to be reasonable, and she had refused.  She had left Kieran and Naomi no choice.

 

Still, it broke Kieran’s heart to realize that the woman she had considered her mentor, her best friend, truly believed she was capable of something as despicable as molesting a child.  She had always tried to love Naomi in the most positive and supportive ways, and damn it, it wasn’t fair that Kathryn couldn’t see how right the two women were together.  But the final straw had been Kathryn’s remark about fucking Naomi.  Kieran seethed inwardly at the memory.  That comment had revealed Kathryn’s true colors.  And Kieran no longer liked the person she saw.

 

Kieran sat in the overstuffed chair in her room, thinking back on the events that had brought her to this place.  She remembered Cassidy’s mandate to listen only to herself, and realized that Cassidy had foreseen all of this.  This was what Cassidy meant when she said “It will be a terrible road, a painful journey, and you will have to sacrifice everything, but it will result in tremendous rewards.  In order to have what you need most, you must surrender your fear, Kieran.  Listen to the truth inside yourself, and nothing else.  Listen to no one else.”

 

“I’m trying, Cass,” Kieran said softly.  “I listened to myself, and I have defied my Captain and my closest friend.  Is that what you meant by ‘a terrible road’?  Please, Cassidy, help me.  I love Naomi so much, and I’ve done terrible things because of that love.  I’ve risked everything.  I did what you said, I surrendered my fear, and I consciously chose to cling to the one constant through all of my worlds,” she said aloud.  She closed her eyes, reaching out to her sister, inwardly begging her for guidance.  The silence was shattered as certainly as Kieran’s composure when a distinct voice echoed in her head and in the air surrounding her, filling the room, filling her consciousness. 

 

It said unequivocally, authoritatively “You have already met your soul mate, Kelsey. The one constant through all those worlds.”

 

Kieran’s eyes flew open and she leapt to her feet, looking frantically around the room, as if she expected Cassidy to be there.  “Cassidy?” she whispered.  “I love you,” she murmured.

 

She felt Cassidy’s energy surrounding her, enfolding her, supporting her, and she knew in that instant she had chosen the correct course of action.  Cassidy Thompson spoke inside her mind.  “I love you, too, Kels,” she confirmed.

____________

 

Kieran Thompson had hiked the woods around the cabin most of the first day, trying to wear herself out so that she could sleep, but sleep would not come.  She lay in the gigantic bed, which had clearly been designed for the Qianian’s stature, staring at the ceiling and wishing her brain would cease its tireless questions and doubts.

 

What if Naomi changed her mind?  What if she signed the papers, but Kathryn sent a search party to arrest them?  What if Naomi signed the papers, came to the resort, and then decided it was a mistake?  Or even worse, what if they went through all of these legal contortions and scheming, only to be together, and have Naomi discover she didn’t love Kieran, after all?

 

God, stop it, KT.  You saw into her heart, into her mind, and she loves you.  She has always loved you.  She sees virtues in you you probably don’t even have.  She is mesmerized by you.  She hallucinated being married to you twice--romantic, enthralling hallucinations that only the most devoted, passionate mind could create. She was ready to die to be with you, even if only in an hallucination, rather than face this life without you.

 

She wants you. That morning in the Cargo Bay, she would have slept with you then and there. She was aching for you to make love to her, was devastated when you held her off.  She was furious with herself for sleeping with Sieken, after she realized you’re in love with her, too.  She wanted you to be her first.  She’s always wanted you to be her only.  She is not going to change her mind.  She’ll sign the papers, and then, you can start your life together.  A better life. The life you were destined for, with your soul mate.

 

Kieran launched herself out of bed, unsettled in her mind.  She had been so careful to keep her feelings for Naomi in proper perspective, to control her thoughts and keep them from becoming sexual, and now, remembering what it felt like to kiss her beloved, she yearned for that intimacy.  Her body burned as certainly as it had the night Naomi had slept with Sieken.  Kieran shuddered at the memory of Naomi’s body, naked and trembling in Sieken’s lap.  She could still feel the velvet softness of Naomi’s labia beneath Sieken’s gently stroking fingers, bringing Naomi’s need to a grateful release.

 

It could have been my fingers, my mouth, my body, if only I had told her the truth.  If only I had admitted I love her.  I could have been her lover, that night, and every night since.  Kathryn never had to find out.  But my lie caused this, sent her running for Sieken, and set this mess in motion.  No wonder Cassidy told me to listen to myself.  We could have avoided all this heartache, if only I had told Naomi the truth.  My cowardly lies may have caused Naomi to lose her family for good.

 

 All I had to do was tell her the truth.  All I had to do when she asked “Are you in love with me” was to take her face in my hands, look into those gorgeous eyes, and say “yes, Naomi, I’m in love with you, and I can’t bear to be without you another second.”  I only needed to say “yes”, and fall into her arms, and kiss her.  God, her kiss is so phenomenal.  So gentle, yet so urgent, so passionate, so tender.   

 

I do love her. I want her.  It’s been so long since I made love with anyone. But I have to be ready to wait if that’s what she needs to do.  I can’t just carry her to bed the second she gets here.  She needs to be the one to decide if that’s how our relationship will be.  And I have to be in control of my own desire, in case she’s not ready for it.  One fleeting encounter in the Cargo Bay isn’t dispositive.  I can’t assume.  I have to be neutral.  

 

Oh, my God, Kieran breathed, pacing the floor.  She is so incredibly beautiful, so amazing.  I can’t believe she wants me.  What in hell does she see in me?  She’s so talented, so gifted musically and athletically, so brilliant and logical, so perfect. The way she laughs, the way her eyes light up when she’s happy, the way her body moves when she walks.  God, her smile—she is so lovely when she smiles.  I can feel it in the core of me, it hums like energy, vibrates like sound and light and the ebb and flow of the ocean.  Her voice echoes in my mind, in my heart.  I’ve never felt so lost in anyone, so immersed in someone.  The way she touches my face, and looks at me with such love and such openness—she just reaches through all the walls, all the boundaries, all the pretense, all my convictions. How did I ever say no to her?  How did I ever keep my feelings bottled up, when I want her so much?

 

Kieran threw herself face down on the bed, clutching her pillow.  Being apart from Naomi was torture.  Especially now, knowing everything they felt for each other, knowing how good they would be together, exposed to her own awareness.   Kieran lay awake until well after sunrise, unable to stop the flood of emotion and realization and longing.  She finally succumbed to exhaustion, once the faint rays of sunshine crept across the wooden floor, and pulling the covers over her head, she slept.  

 

_____________

 

The transport settled onto the grass in the clearing near the cabin. Kieran stood there, fidgeting nervously, waiting for Naomi to emerge.  The Ktarian stood by the hatch, nearly stomping her foot with impatience as the duranium panel lifted.  She ducked under it and was barely out of the overhanging egress when Kieran grabbed her, face buried in Naomi’s fragrant hair, arms lifting her and swinging her around giddily.

 

“My sweet Naomi,” she laughed happily as they twirled around the grassy ground. “I’ve never missed anyone so much in my whole life,” Kieran told her sincerely, setting her down and kissing her passionately.  She took the lovely young woman’s face in her hands, deepened their kiss, and breathed “I don’t know how I got through these past five days,” as they parted momentarily.  “I don’t know how I survived without seeing your beautiful smile, my love.”

 

Naomi gazed into gentle brown eyes, tangled her fingers in Kieran’s hair, and returned her kisses with equal fervor, searching Kieran’s mouth.  They pulled away, foreheads pressed together, Naomi’s gaze sincere.  “I love you, Kieran.  I’m never going to sleep without you again,” she vowed.

 

“I love you, too, honey,” Kieran assured her, kissing her again, unable to get enough of Naomi’s full lips.  “I was almost afraid you’d change your mind.”

 

Sieken stepped off the transport, watching the reunion, smiling ruefully.  “Change her mind? She was in such a hurry, she didn’t even read the paperwork before she signed it,” the tall alien reported.  “She never wavered, Commander,” she assured her.

 

Kieran laughed, letting go of Naomi partially to kiss Sieken’s cheek.  “Your grace,” she bowed at the waist, “I can never thank you enough for helping us.”

 

Sieken returned the embrace, smiling warmly.  “I have never sensed two people more in love.  How could I refuse?”

 

Kieran fixed Naomi with a pointed glare.  “I was particularly displeased that you felt it was necessary, as part of your performance, to stop eating,” she scolded.  “Your grace?  Did Naomi eat anything before she came to me today?”

 

“She ate an ample amount, Commander,” Sieken confirmed.

 

“Hey,” Naomi grabbed Kieran’s hands.  “You’re mad at me?  What was all that nonsense about purging yourself of your love and longing for me?” she demanded.

 

Sieken grinned.  “I thought that was a nice touch,” she explained.  “It gave Commander Thompson the perfect excuse to disappear, where Kathryn could not bother her.  I am sorry you had to figure it out on your own,” she told Naomi sincerely.

 

“Well, I think I covered admirably,” Naomi bragged, smiling up at Kieran.  “Am I forgiven?  I only stopped eating in hopes that Kathryn might reconsider.  I didn’t want to have to do something so drastic as run away.  But she didn’t budge.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “I forgive you.  But only because you’re really here, and you are so beautiful, I can’t stay angry with you,” she advised.

 

The couple quickly forgot their hostess, who waved and said, “Contact me if you need anything, Commander.  I will take my leave of you, now.”

 

They waved briefly at the alien, then grabbed each other’s hands and ran for their cabin.

 

________________

 

The resort had very little in the way of staff members, and the cabin itself was isolated from the main building, so that there was no foot traffic, no errant intruders, and no danger of being disturbed.  Kieran carried Naomi’s bag, the only thing she had managed to secret away with her for what Kathryn had believed was a day trip.  Kieran was anxious to show Naomi the Qianian’s accommodations.  The cabin had everything they could ever need or want, including a full kitchen, a huge fireplace for the chilly nights, and a bathtub large enough for three Qianians to swim in.  Kieran laughed at the enormity of the furnishings as she took Naomi on the tour, liking that for once, everything was big enough for her, too.  She decided there was a definite advantage to staying on a planet where the locals were almost seven feet tall.

 

“This is extravagant,” Naomi breathed, taking it all in.  “And the trees smell so wonderful,” she added, leaving the cabin door open to draw in the scent.

 

Kieran held out her arms to her beloved, gathering her into a hug.  “Thank you for running away with me,” she kissed Naomi’s hair.  “I just needed to surround myself with us, for awhile, and nothing else,” she admitted.  She breathed the sweet fragrance of Naomi’s body, nuzzling her throat tenderly, wrapping her arms more tightly around the slight Ktarian’s waist.  “You feel so good,” she murmured, eyes closing against the rush of tenderness.

 

They clung to one another for long moments, memorizing the way their bodies fit together, the curves and angles of each other’s muscles and bones, the gentle sounds of breathing and of shy kisses as they both suddenly became self-conscious. 

 

Naomi smiled up at Kieran, arms around her neck, fingers toying with her baby-fine strands of hair.  “I can’t believe we’re really together.  Finally,” she sighed, lifting her face to capture Kieran’s kiss again.  She touched Kieran’s face with her fingertips, cognizant of the way her fingers ached as she held Kieran’s cheeks with the faintest of touches.  She withdrew her lips reluctantly, out of breath, overcome by her emotion. 

 

Kieran cradled her body close, one hand cupping her head against a broader chest, lips brushing lightly over Naomi’s forehead.  She could feel the slight trembling of Naomi’s body against her own.  “Naomi,” she said softly, prayerfully.  “Are you okay with this?” she needed to know. “You’re shaking, honey,” she noted with concern.

 

Naomi sighed, twining her arms around Kieran’s neck again.  “I have loved you for so long, Kieran,” she said thickly.  “And I never believed you’d love me back,” she admitted, hiding her face in Kieran’s neck.

 

“But I do,” Kieran assured her.  “More than I have words to tell you with, my love,” her words came out hoarse.  Kieran held her awhile longer, absorbing the sensations that assaulted her brain and her body.  “I think a walk around the grounds, some fresh air, and a little time to get used to this is in order, don’t you?” she asked tenderly, feeling the weight of the responsibility of leading Naomi through the intricacies of a new love.

 

Naomi smiled gratefully up at her.  “I’m sorry—I’m just so overwhelmed.  A walk would be nice,” she agreed.

 

Kieran eased the smaller woman from her arms, though breaking contact was difficult.  She took the Ktarian’s elegant, fragile hand in her own, smiling reassurance at her young lover.  “Let’s go.  This place is beautiful, and you’re going to love it here, sweetie,” Kieran squeezed her hand gently, leading her to the door.

 

They wandered the woods around their cabin, taking in the trees and the fragrant wildflowers that grew along the paths, neither speaking as they sighted birds and native animals skittering through the underbrush.  Naomi wasn’t sure which was more moving, the rugged beauty of the resort, or the nearness of Kieran, the heat of her body, the familiar scent of her skin pressed intimately against Naomi’s.  She reminded herself to breathe, saw that Kieran was studying her and was all too aware that the younger woman was nervous.

 

“This path will take us to the lodge,” Kieran said quietly, walking slowly beside Naomi, careful to keep a gradual pace and to let her start to feel at ease.  “There are six cabins in all, but they’re spread out so far apart, our privacy is assured,” she explained.  “The manager of the resort is very nice.  There’s a good restaurant, too, and some decent recreational facilities.”

 

Naomi squeezed Kieran’s hand, peering shyly up at her.  “It’s lovely,” she said simply, smiling warmly at her beloved.

 

They walked the long, winding path to the lodge, each processing what they were feeling, each aware of the other, neither certain of what to say.  Kieran felt like she was sleepwalking, everything was so surreal.  They entered the lodge, took a brief tour of the dining room and the common areas, and Kieran led Naomi out the back exit. 

 

“Wait 'til you see this,” she said softly, still holding Naomi’s hand.  They came upon the creek that fed the lake.  It was eight feet wide and thundering along toward the reservoir in cold, clear torrents.  A large waterfall adorned the path, with huge chunks of hemet sparkling in the dancing, breaking waters, glistening like prisms in the afternoon sun.

 

“Oh, it’s so pretty,” Naomi breathed appreciatively, standing beside the cool, clear stream.  “Everything here is,” she murmured.  “Sieken said that Qian is a study in magnificence, and she was right.”

 

Kieran tugged her over to a large, flat slab of hemet.  “Sit with me?” she asked faintly, lifting Naomi by the waist so she could sit on the three foot high ledge.  Kieran lifted herself up, swinging her legs over the edge and scooting closer to her companion.  She slipped her arm around Naomi’s shoulders, hugging her briefly.  “I love this planet,” she sighed.  “And I love being here with you,” she kissed Naomi’s hair.  “I want you to relax, Na,” she urged her partner.  “Don’t be afraid.  We have as long as we need to find our feet in this relationship,” she tried to convince the frightened young woman.  “I promise we can take this at whatever pace you’re comfortable with.  And honey, it’s just me,” she emphasized.  “The same person you’ve played basketball with, giggled under the covers with, camped and hiked and eaten dinner with—it’s just me,” she reiterated.

 

Naomi leaned her head on Kieran’s shoulder.  “I suppose I’m being silly,” she grinned at herself.  “I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember, dreamed about it, cried for lack of it, and now, here we are.  And I’m scared.”

 

“Talk to me, baby,” Kieran gathered Naomi into her arms and closed her eyes, willing the fear away.  “Tell me what you’re afraid of.”

 

Naomi watched the water flooding over the hemet falls, thinking her emotions were as out of control as the waterfall’s course.  “I guess I’m afraid of what I feel,” she admitted finally.  “I’ve never been in love with anyone but you, and I have no frame of reference.  I’m worried that you’ll change your mind, I’m worried that I won’t be what you want, and that I’ll still be in love with you, and have to be without you again.  The way I feel, Kieran—it’s totally consuming, and it’s so powerful and so much bigger than anything I can contain,” she explained.

 

Kieran smiled lovingly at her, kissing her softly.  “Naomi,” she said confidently, “I have chosen you.  You will not be without me, not ever, unless you choose to be without me,” she enfolded her in a warm embrace.  “And as for the feelings you have—it’s the very same for me.  I feel helpless to control it, I feel consumed by it.  I’ve done such drastic things because of it.  Trust me, love.  I am as swept away by all of this as you are.  I am just as afraid.  But I’ve seen your love for me, and it is a treasure beyond compare, and I would do anything to have it.”

 

Naomi scooted into Kieran’s lap, arms around her neck.  “It’s a gift I give to you.  You don’t have to do anything to have it.  I’ve seen your love for me, and I was stunned at the depth and the intensity of it, Kieran.  I had no idea.  You hid it so well.  But it’s exactly what I’ve needed from you, and I am so glad you’ve finally shown it to me,” she peered into the depth of her beloved’s soul, as if they were linked again, then kissed her passionately, purposefully, her heart on her lips.  Naomi explored the contours of Kieran’s mouth with the tip of her tongue, testing, learning, then breathlessly retreating.  She hid her face in Kieran’s shoulder, listening to the thundering of her own heart, feeling the blood pulsing in her veins.

 

“Is there more?” Kieran asked gently, prompting her.

 

Naomi nodded slowly.  “I guess I sort of feel like I’ve turned my life over to you,” she said contemplatively.  “I’ve left the Moms for good, and it feels like my fate is in your hands,” she drew a shaking breath.

 

Kieran pressed her face into Naomi’s hair, letting her concerns sink in.  “My love,” she nearly choked on the words, her emotion was so fierce, “My life is equally in your hands.  My fate is yours.  Do you trust me with your life?” she asked.

 

“I must, or I wouldn’t have come,” Naomi acquiesced, snuggling into Kieran’s arms.

 

“I know it’s a lot to walk away from—the ship, your family, our friends, maybe our one chance at seeing home—it’s a lot of unknowns, sweetie.  I warned you,” Kieran pointed out.  “If you’re having second thoughts, you need to tell me right now, and we’ll call this off,” she looked Naomi straight in the eye.

 

“No,” Naomi asserted immediately, forcefully.  “It’s not second thoughts, Kieran.  But the magnitude of what we’ve done is just starting to sink in,” she kissed her gently, trying to allay the fears she was afraid she was creating in Kieran.

 

Kieran held her in firm arms, kissing her with increasing need, the heat rising between them.  Kieran backed off, not wanting to push, not assuming anything.  She rested her forehead against Naomi’s, making her kisses more sweet, less insistent.  She sighed as her body’s fatigue asserted itself, the events of the last week leaving her spent. “Are you as exhausted as I am?” she asked, perturbed by the inconvenience of it.

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’ve been so nervous about all of this, it just wore me out,” she agreed.  “And I’ve missed you so much, and worried that we would be caught, and missed you more.  I’m drained, KT,” she sank into her beloved’s embrace.  “Would you mind terribly if we took a nap?”

 

Kieran grinned.  “That depends.  Will you let me hold you?” she quirked an eyebrow.

 

“I think that’s a good possibility,” Naomi nodded.  “Shall we head back to the cabin?”

 

Kieran eased Naomi from her lap.  “Good idea,” she hopped off the ledge, then reached up to lift Naomi down from it.

 

“I love the way you do that,” Naomi murmured, gazing longingly up at her beloved.

 

“Do what, my love?” Kieran pressed her forehead against Naomi’s, searching her hazel eyes.

 

“You pick me up as if I’m no more substantial than a feather,” she smiled.  “I feel so—surrounded by you, protected.  Like I feel from wearing your clothes,” she puzzled over it.

 

“I want you to feel safe.  You are protected, my love,” Kieran promised.  She took Naomi’s hand to lead her back home, marveling at the way Naomi’s hand was swallowed up in her own.  “Na?” she asked as they wandered the long trail toward the cabin.

 

“Yes?” Naomi was shaken from the reverie of her own thoughts.

 

“Thank you for being brave enough to do this,” she said sincerely, the admiration clear in her tone.

 

“I think you were the brave one, Kieran,” she replied, loving the sound of her beloved’s name.  “But you’re welcome, all the same,” she grinned.  “Besides, it’s not the first time I’ve run away from home,” she reminded her.

 

_______________

 

Naomi entered the cabin ahead of Kieran, and although there was a sitting area inside the doorway, the bed loomed large in the background.  Naomi was immediately nervous again.  “Do you think we could leave the door open?  The outside air is so nice,” she asked timidly.

 

“Tell you what.  I’ll open all the windows, instead.  How’s that?” Kieran offered, lifting the frames on either side of the bed.

 

“Okay, I’ll get the ones in the sitting area,” she went to help.  “Honey?” she asked softly, blushing at calling Kieran by an endearing term for the first time in their relationship.

 

Kieran smiled broadly, coming to take Naomi in her arms immediately.  “I love hearing you call me that,” she kissed her enthusiastically.  “What did you want to ask?”

 

“Can I borrow one of your sweatshirts to sleep in?” she asked innocently.

 

Kieran groaned.  “Didn’t you pack any?” she demanded, teasing.  “You’ve already got my whole collection on the ship,” she scolded.

 

“I know,” Naomi grinned, tugging at Kieran’s current selection of a bright orange Academy shirt.  “I want this one.”

 

“Because it smells like me?” Kieran asked, hugging her lover.

 

“No, because it means you have to take it off,” Naomi waggled her eyebrows.  She decided to face her fears by confronting the sexual head on.

 

Kieran threw back her head and laughed.  “You’re wicked, Naomi.  I love that about you,” she kissed her tenderly.

“Okay, but just this once,” she agreed, stripping off the shirt and handing it to Naomi.  “I’d make you give me yours in kind, but I’d stretch it out to tatters,” she admitted. 

 

She found a t-shirt in her duffel bag and tossed it on the bed, stripping off her undergarment and her jeans, dressed only in her underpants.  Kieran had been so accustomed to undressing in front of teammates and B’Elanna for so many years, she never really thought anything about taking her clothes off, but suddenly, with Naomi there, she was self-conscious.

 

Naomi watched her intently, moving closer, turning Kieran bare-breasted to face her.  “You did it,” she realized, touched to the core.   She brushed her fingertip over Kieran’s throat, where the ritual mating scars had been.  “You removed them.  When did you even have time?”

 

“While you were stealing the cortical stimulators,” Kieran took on a reproachful tone.

 

“But you told me we could never be together,” Naomi protested, gazing up at her lover with a pained expression.  “Why would you remove them, if you never intended to be with me?” she asked, confused.

 

Kieran lay her hands over Naomi’s, which rested on her chest.  “I told you, I belong to you, now,” she said sincerely.  “It was a lie to keep them, even if I never intended to let myself have you.  My heart is still yours.  It has been for the longest time, Na,” she assured her.  “I removed them because I belong to you,” she reiterated.  “For as long as you’ll have me, I will belong to you.”

 

“Always, and only me?” Naomi kissed her tenderly.

 

“Always, and only you,” Kieran agreed, returning the embrace.  She eased Naomi away, pulling on her shirt, amused at the faint air of disappointment in Naomi’s expression.  “You said you wanted a nap,” she reminded her.

 

“That wasn’t one of my better decisions,” Naomi grinned ruefully.

 

“Actually,” Kieran disagreed, “it was a good one.  I don’t want to just rush headlong into this relationship, without asking the right questions first.  It would be so easy to let my instincts take over, and to run roughshod over what you want,” she said apologetically.  She sat down on the bed, taking Naomi with her.  “I don’t assume that you’re necessarily ready for a sexual relationship with me,” she said softly.  “I know from joining with you that the thoughts are there, and the desire is there.  But you’re so young, honey.  Experimenting with Sieken is one thing.  It’s quite another to become sexually involved with someone you’re in love with.  If you tell me you want to wait, I completely respect that choice and I won’t question or challenge it.  We can take this as slowly as you need to take it.  I’m so happy just to hold you, and to be able to speak my heart, finally.  I could spend days kissing you, and be grateful just knowing I have the right to do so,” she said sincerely.

 

Naomi took both of Kieran’s hands, feeling the long fingers twining with her own.  The older woman’s words washed away any sense of trepidation and all hesitation.  Kieran was willing to give Naomi the control, and that was all Naomi needed to know.  “Kieran,” she assured her, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to be your lover.  And who better to be lovers with than the only person I’ve ever been in love with?”

 

“Okay,” Kieran swallowed hard, hoping her relief didn’t show.  “I’m just saying, there’s no hurry.  If you wanted to date, or court, or whatever you want to call it, and keep things from becoming sexual, that would be fine.  If you think you’re ready for more, I welcome that, too.  I don’t want you to feel pressured.  The other night, at the banquet, you said if I wanted you, it would mean six years of celibacy on my part.”

 

“I was testing your intentions.  I wanted to see how you would react to the suggestion of waiting for me--I needed to know if you loved me.  But then you lied,” she said in an injured tone.

 

“Do you understand why I did, sweetie?  You’ve seen into my motives, love,” Kieran reminded her.

 

“You thought you had to,” Naomi admitted.  “But I’m ready for this, Kieran.  I’ve been ready forever.  You don’t need to protect me, or treat me as if I’m so fragile I might break,” she contended.

 

“You realize everything--our whole lives as we’ve known them--will change if we follow through on what we feel for each other?” she asked, wanting Naomi to understand the repercussions. 

 

“You make it sound so complicated,” she said, amused.  “So dramatic.”

 

Kieran frowned.  “It is complicated, Naomi.  Do you understand what it means, if we’re able to go back to Voyager as a couple?”

 

“Some people will have to adjust--most notably Kathryn and B’Elanna.”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “Not just some people--everyone.  This is not going to be a popular decision among our friends and family.  You know what people are going to say about me--that I took advantage, that I coerced you, seduced you.   I want to make sure that’s never true.  I would not be surprised if people you love and trust try to turn you against me, Na.  I’m going to be painted as the evil sexual predator who seduced the little girl.  As much as that outrages me, I know it’s coming.  You need to know, too.  I don’t want you walking into this blind.  People are going to talk, and they will be cruel.”

 

Naomi studied her, troubled now.  “But you’re willing to meet those objections head on?  You love me that much?” she was uncertain.

 

Kieran leaned in, kissing her tenderly.  “I made you a promise, and I intend to keep it.  No one will ever come before you again--not Kathryn, not the crew, no one.  If no one ever speaks to me again, I’ll still have you, and that’s everything.” 

 

Naomi nodded slowly.  “I hadn’t anticipated the problems you’re worried about.  Are there other things?”

 

Kieran laughed.  “There always are.  But you’ve addressed my two biggest concerns--sex, and the perception people will have of us.”

 

Naomi slid her hands over Kieran’s shoulders, eyes more confident with the touch.  “Well, since we’ve settled the sex issue,” she said suggestively.

 

Kieran kissed her softly, but took Naomi’s hands in her own.  “I want to be sure that the first time I make love to you, I have all the energy you want from a lover,” she kissed Naomi’s forehead.  “And right now, I’m not very energetic.”  She slid into the covers, beckoning to her partner.  “Come on, let’s rest.”

 

Naomi stood to shed her clothes, not the least bit shy about the temptation her nakedness created for Kieran.  She made sure Kieran got a good look before she tugged Kieran’s sweatshirt over her head.  She tied back her fragrant cascade of hair, then lay down in Kieran’s arms.

 

Kieran kissed her then, the heat rising between them instantly, in spite of weariness.   “You’re so beautiful,” Kieran told her. 

 

“I wanted you to dream about me,” Naomi grinned mischievously.  “So I gave you something to remember while you sleep.”

 

“You’re all I ever dream about,” Kieran admitted.  “For months.  Poor Dee has had to listen to every frustrated tirade you’ve inspired,” she chuckled.

 

“You dream about me?” Naomi leaned on her hand, gazing down at Kieran.

 

“On the rare occasion when I’ve been able to sleep, yes,” Kieran assented.  “Mostly, I just haven’t slept.”

 

“Why not?” Naomi kissed her hair softly.

 

“Too frustrated by the nearness of a certain Ktarian, when we’ve been together,” she laughed.

 

Naomi laughed in reply. “You’ve been spending the night with me, and lusting after me all night long, but never did anything about it?” her hazel eyes twinkled with delight.

 

“Oh, I did plenty about it,” Kieran hugged her.  “I cried, I swore, I prayed, I used B’Elanna’s calisthenics program on the holodeck.”

 

“Did you ever--release your tension and think about me while you did?” she grinned sheepishly.

 

“Absolutely not,” Kieran feigned indignance, face alight with humor.

 

“You never did?” Naomi sounded disappointed.

 

“Honestly, I didn’t,” Kieran supplied seriously.  “I know it’s really stupid, but I felt like, somehow, I’d be defiling you.” 

 

“You think I’m sacred, or something?” Naomi was amused.

 

“Yes, I do,” she replied immediately without a trace of teasing.  “I feel wholly unworthy of you.”

 

“But why, Kieran?  I’m just me,” she asserted, thinking her lover absurd.

 

“Precisely,” Kieran agreed.  “It’s you.  You have loved me perfectly, from the day we met.  You never wavered or doubted or withheld it.  I have been a coward of the highest order, not even able to admit to myself what I felt.  After you got sick, and we grew so close, I told myself you were my best friend.  I wouldn’t admit to myself the full truth of the matter.”

 

“Which is?” Naomi lay down in her arms again, snuggling close.

 

“You’re my soul mate.  That includes everything the term implies--you’re my family, my partner, my fantasy, my lover, you’re all those things.  I didn’t want to believe it, because of our age difference, so I lied to myself.  I should have known well before the Qianians showed up.  It was right there in front of me all that time.  That’s what Cassidy meant, when she told me I had already met my soul mate.  She meant you.”  Kieran yawned unromantically.  “God, I’m sorry.  I just can’t keep my eyes open, not even to fill them with how lovely you are, Na.”

 

Naomi colored prettily.  “Then sleep, love.  I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

 

__________________

 

The afternoon sun slipped behind the thicket of trees surrounding the cabin, and the darkness shrouded the sleeping couple, the temperature dipping with the setting sun.  Naomi shivered, drawing Kieran more tightly around her body, wrapping them both in the thick coverlet that adorned their bed.  Outside, insects made soothing sounds, welcoming the night, singing its praise.  Kieran’s arm encircled Naomi’s waist, her body contoured against Naomi’s back, face resting so that she could smell Naomi’s hair.  Her mind was finally at peace, no longer tormented by guilt and desire.  Rest in my love awhile, her brain recalled the lyrics to Naomi’s song.  She smiled in her half-conscious state, kissing Naomi’s head, settling back down.  The cold crept into the room, and before long, her body started to register the discomfort of the damp air.

 

“Sweetie?” she said softly.  “I’m going to build a fire.  Stay here and keep the bed warm, okay?”

 

Naomi sighed.  “Don’t be gone long, honey,” she murmured, body already protesting the loss of Kieran’s warmth.

 

Kieran built a roaring fire, and within moments, the cabin was oppressively hot.  Naomi kicked off the covers, ventilating her shirt by flapping it groggily.  “Wow,” she commented.  “That’s some fire,” she giggled, now fully awake. 

 

Kieran nodded. “I’ll get something for us to drink.  Any requests?” she went to the kitchen cabinets, pulled out two tumblers, then opened the refrigerator.  “We’ve got orlow juice, that iced tea you like so much, water, and that breakfast beverage Kathryn hates.”

 

“Tea, please,” Naomi called out.

 

Kieran rejoined her in bed, sipping the cold drink.  “That helps.  Honey,” she touched Naomi’s face with her fingertips, “you’re breaking a sweat.  It’s my job to make you do that,” she admonished playfully.  “You should take off that shirt.”

 

Naomi leaned across Kieran, setting her glass on the nightstand.  “I’d rather take off your shirt,” she flirted.

 

Kieran laughed.  “Okay, Na, what is it, exactly, about you trying to undress me?  That day in the Cargo Bay, you were all over me,” she reminded her, kissing her fondly. 

 

Naomi stretched out on the bed, gazing up at her.  “You want to know all my secrets?” she smiled shyly.

 

Kieran set her glass down next to Naomi’s, stretching beside her.  “That seems fair.  You got to see all of mine, courtesy of Sieken,” she rested her head on her hand, touching Naomi’s face.

 

“I just--that’s been my fantasy.  That you’d finally let me do all the things I’ve wanted to do to you.  And one of the things I’ve thought about for years is taking your clothes off, very slowly, and how your body would be revealed to me, gradually.  I’ve wanted to kiss every inch of you, and feel your skin against my lips.  There’s something very--provocative about it,” she admitted.  “You’re just so--sexy,” she breathed.

 

Kieran shook her head.  “I’ve never thought of myself as sexy, not in my whole life.  I’m so long legged and awkward looking.”

 

Naomi touched her face.  “You’re wrong about that.  You’re one of the most graceful women I’ve ever seen.  There is nothing awkward about you.  The length of your body, the way you move in it--it’s very sensual.  I love to watch you work out.  Your muscles and your movements are so fluid and so perfect,” she murmured, her hands caressing Kieran’s shoulders.  Remember how you used to have to tell me, when we played hoops on the team, to get my head in the game?”

 

Kieran nodded, smiling.

 

“It’s because I was too busy being entranced by you, by your athleticism.  I love your body, and I love looking at you,” she said sincerely, clearly smitten.  “I can’t believe you’ve never noticed how much I stare at you, how engrossed I become in watching you.”

 

Kieran was immensely pleased at the compliment.  “I’ve always known you loved me, but I never realized it had such a strong physical component,” she smiled warmly.

 

Naomi pinkened.  “It’s emotional, but also very sexual,” she agreed.  “Once, you were staying with me at the Moms, and you were asleep.  I was lying next to you, thinking about how I wanted to touch you.  I had my hand right here,” she lay her palm over Kieran’s abdomen, “and I could feel your muscles through the shirt you were wearing.  All I could think about is how your muscles would move if we made love, and I got myself so worked up.”

 

Kieran rested her hand on Naomi’s hip.  They were facing each other, heads resting in one hand.  “I remember that,” she admitted.  “Oh, my God,” she sighed.  “You were touching me.  And you kissed my cheek, and I thought I was going to die from wanting you.  And I snatched your hand away and told you it tickled,” she recalled.

 

Naomi smiled triumphantly.  “I thought you were excited,” she congratulated herself.  “I was almost sure of it.”

 

Kieran grinned, leaning in to kiss her.  “It goes both ways, you know.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to shake myself out of a daze, because I’d catch myself staring at you.  Especially when you play piano--I just lose myself in watching your hands.  I think about all the ways I want your hands to move with me beneath them, and I just end up aching inside,” she confessed sheepishly. “When Sieken took the landing party on the first tour, and I offered you a piece of orlow,” she recalled.  “You took it from my fingers with your lips, and I almost fainted from the intensity of the desire I felt.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I did that on purpose.  I couldn’t help myself.  I knew when you turned beet red that you wanted more from me than just a friendship, but I also doubted you’d let yourself do what you wanted.  It wasn’t the first time I risked exposing how I feel about you,” she admitted, afraid the confession might anger Kieran.  “There were at least two times that I kissed you, without your knowing,” she explained.

 

Kieran’s eyebrows shot skyward.  “You kissed me?  Before you had joined with me?”

 

Naomi nodded slowly.  “When I came out of my coma, you were fast asleep, and I kissed you then.  I was so grateful that you had stayed with me, and I was so lost in my love for you, I couldn’t stop myself.  You were sleeping soundly and you didn’t respond at all,” she averted her eyes guiltily.  “And the night I caught you sleeping with Flotter,” she continued, “I kissed you, and I told you that I love you, and that I want you,” she recalled.  “You were dreaming, and you actually said my name, and you kissed me back.  It was the most amazing thing I’d ever felt, and it took every ounce of self-discipline at my disposal to stop myself.”

 

Kieran’s eyes widened.  “I dreamed that you and I were in the lake, and we were kissing.  I thought it was just a very vivid dream.  When you woke me up, I was so disappointed that the dream had ended, and my body was just charged,” she remembered.

 

“You aren’t mad?” Naomi inquired softly.

 

“Oh, honey, of course not.  I can’t tell you how many times I almost kissed you, Na.  I’ve had to fight the urge every second of every day for weeks and weeks,” she admitted.  “Now I’m sorry I fought it.  The night of the concert on Qian, when you played that piece you wrote for me, I should have kissed you and carried you into the bedroom and made love to you.  It’s what I felt,” she recalled, face warming despite the fire dying down considerably.

 

“I felt it too, KT.  I wanted you to kiss me.  I was trying to tell you, trying to send my thoughts to you.  I was so far gone when I wrote that piece.  I just fell so hard for you.”

 

“When?” Kieran needed to know.  “When did it go from being a crush to a full blown in-love feeling?”

 

Naomi pondered a moment, trying to pinpoint the origin.  “I think, like you, I fought myself for a long time.  It was one thing to let myself have a childish crush, but another entirely to let myself love a married woman.  I do love B’Elanna so much, and Katie, too, and I felt such terrible guilt. I must had driven poor Dee up a wall with it,” she laughed.  “I think, probably, it really hit me after my illness became so severe.  I saw my life slipping away, and with it, any chance of ever being with you, and I wanted you so much.  I had had the experience of being married to you in two of the three hallucinations, and I wanted that life with you.  But the point of no return for me was when I came out of my coma, and I realized you had never left me, not once, while I was on my death bed.  I could feel how thin you’d grown, and I knew then you’d been stockpiling your rations to pamper me all those months.  I never confirmed it until Sieken joined us.  But that is what you did, isn’t it?” she asked lovingly, gazing into deep, sensitive brown eyes.

 

Kieran nodded slowly.  “I just wanted to take care of you properly,” she shrugged, as if it were no big deal.  “And I wanted to make your last months happy ones, Na.  You were suffering so much, and I would’ve done anything to stop that for you.”

 

“How much weight did you lose, KT?” she prompted her.

 

Kieran flinched.  “Oh--uh--I don’t know.  I didn’t pay that much attention,” she lied.

 

Naomi rolled Kieran onto her back, hovering over her.  “Don’t think you can lie to me, anymore, because I won’t let you get away with it.  How much?”

 

“Maybe twenty pounds, that’s all,” she tried to lessen the impact of the information.  Naomi scowled at her.  “Okay, twenty-eight pounds.  Satisfied?” she laughed at her partner.  “And I’ve put most of it right back on, too.”

 

“How did you keep the Doctor from finding out?” Naomi pressed Kieran’s shoulders flat against the bed, smiling down at her.

 

“I made sure I never let him examine me for anything.  I also replicated uniforms that were too small, and I designed padding into the replicator patterns, so no one would figure out I was shrinking.  People can be very unobservant,” she chuckled. 

 

“Well, when I realized what you had done, I was so overwhelmed by it, I just knew I was never going to love anyone else the way I love you.  I tried to put distance between us, because that’s what I thought you wanted, and I thought you might still reconcile with B’Elanna.  I sent you back to school, after all.  But it didn’t matter.  All I could think about was you, and how I had to be with you,” she explained, her voice soft and inviting.

 

“I love you, Na,” Kieran gazed up at her, heart full.  “I’ve never felt such intense longing for anyone.  Desire, passion, definitely, but not the kind of piercing need I’ve felt with you.  It’s been torture.  And then sharing that sexual encounter with you and Sieken--oh my God, I just couldn’t stand knowing what you feel like, what you taste like, and never being able to experience it again.  I wanted to die.  I’m sure that’s why my brain overloaded.  I just couldn’t stand to live without your love.”

 

“But you came back with me,” Naomi said softly, kissing her.  “You came home with me.  If you knew we could never be together, why did you come back?”

 

“Truthfully? Because I couldn’t stand the need in your eyes when you asked me to.  I could never say ‘no’ to you,” she confessed.

 

Naomi smiled sensuously at her then, brushing her lips softly over Kieran’s.  “Then don’t say no to me now.  Let me make love to you,” she said quietly. 

 

The bluntness of the request made Kieran gasp faintly as Naomi kissed her, her body instantly alive at the forwardness of the invitation.

 

“Will you, KT?” Naomi parted her lips with the gentlest of tongues, teasing, tempting her.   The Ktarian kissed a delicate trail along the curve of Kieran’s throat, listening to the change in her breathing as the caress incited her.  “You don’t have to long for me, anymore,” she whispered, fluttering her tongue over Kieran’s pulse point. 

 

Kieran willingly exposed her neck to Naomi’s lips, sighing.  “Yes,” she said simply, “I will.”  She took both of Naomi’s hands, twining their fingers together, drawing their arms straight out from their sides, kissing her heatedly.  Naomi’s breath was sweet, her lips so warm and subtle, her body a maze of pleasing curves and angles and swells of delectable, womanly flesh.  Without her arms to balance on, Naomi’s weight was full against Kieran, and the taller woman smiled into their kiss, thinking how she could sleep with Naomi right on top of her and never strain to draw a breath.  She turned them both over, taking the upper hand, pressing against her lover suggestively, still kissing her, untangling their fingers.  She held Naomi’s face, making her kiss more shallow, teasing with her tongue, pulling away when Naomi wanted her to come closer, leaving the younger woman breathless from the gentle retreat.

 

“Kieran,” she whispered, fingers scratching softly at the nape of the Counselor’s neck, trying to draw her in close again, “please,” she shuddered, arching to reclaim her lips, body tensing beneath Kieran’s larger one.

 

A rush of heat and warmth as that single word, uttered with such need and such desire, nearly flattened Kieran with it’s fierceness, the urgency straining her resolve to love Naomi slowly, tenderly.  She had to sternly remind herself this was an angel, not a Klingon.  Haste and forcefulness had no place in this relationship, and she focused her mind on loving Naomi the way Naomi might best want to be loved.  She relented to Naomi’s request, deepening their kiss, mouth soft and yielding, exploring without being demanding.  Kieran pulled away again, kissing her face, her forehead, her chin.  “Teach me, Naomi,” she implored, kissing her throat.  “Show me how to be what you need,” she whispered.  “I want to learn.  Promise me, you’ll never let me do anything that doesn’t feel right,” she urged her.

 

Naomi smiled faintly, gazing up at her lover.  “I promise.  You have to promise the same,” she touched Kieran’s face, cupping her cheek in one hand.

 

Kieran’s expression was solemn.  “I promise,” she kissed her again, suddenly overjoyed just to be able to do that much.  She smiled so broadly, Naomi broke their kiss.


“What?” she asked, seeing the mirth in Kieran’s face.

 

Kieran laughed.  “I’m kissing you,” she replied honestly.  “We’re together, and I’m kissing you, instead of just thinking about it,” she said happily, reclaiming Naomi’s lips.  “I love you, Na,” she whispered between intimacies, hugging her close.  “I love the way you feel, and the way you sound, and the way you smell,” she buried her face in Naomi’s hair, letting the texture arouse her. 

 

They stayed that way for what felt like an eternity, kissing, exploring, learning each other’s embrace.  Kieran would have been content to do nothing more, so intense was her love for Naomi, and so deep her gratitude that finally, she could be intimate with the one person she desired more than anyone else.  “I am so in love with you, Naomi,” Kieran whispered hoarsely between kisses, her need to express it so strong she could not stop herself.  “I’ve waited so long to be able to tell you,” she murmured, reclaiming Naomi’s lips for the thousandth time.

 

Naomi eased them over again, peering down at her lover, face soft with love.  She gave Kieran a purposeful look, reaching for her shirt, lifting it over her chest, eyes never breaking contact.  Kieran let her tug the shirt over her arms and off, allowed her to watch the gradual revelation of flesh, smiled at the approval in Naomi’s eyes.  Naomi ran her fingertips from Kieran’s throat to her belly, the faintest of touches, then followed with her lips.  Kieran lay completely still, feeling Naomi’s reaction in her subtle increase of respiration, then forgot to analyze as Naomi’s tentative caresses skated over bare breasts.  Naomi followed those touches with her lips, as well, and Kieran quickly lost all ability to think coherently.  The sudden hiss of air told Naomi that her caress was right, that the soft, wet warmth of her mouth surrounding Kieran’s nipple had the intended effect.  The texture of Kieran’s flesh against her tongue was another discovery, one without a frame of reference.  She felt it swell against her lips, hardening and warming as she stroked it.  The sound that followed jolted in her chest, created a burning ache between her legs.  She held Kieran’s breasts gently, loving them more confidently, and was rewarded with Kieran’s soft, low moaning.  She felt fingers cradle her head,  drawing her face away from the aching buds, easing her over Kieran’s body for a lingering, passionate kiss.

 

Kieran’s hands brushed beneath the edges of Naomi’s sweatshirt, the baggy garment giving her ample access to Naomi’s back and waist, her fingers caressing, insinuating that the shirt needed to come off.  Kieran tugged at the waistband, easing it up Naomi’s torso, until finally, Naomi ducked out of it and dropped it beside the bed.  She stretched against Kieran, gasping at the first awareness of flesh on flesh, astonished at the silken feeling of their bodies sliding over each other.  Kieran kissed her deeply, tongues tangling, all tentativeness gone.  She brushed her fingers over the sinews of Naomi’s back, light, delicate caresses, making Naomi arch into the pleasure of the sensation.  Kieran moved them onto their sides, their legs entwining, pressing against Naomi intimately, hands cupping her soft bottom.  Kieran slipped her hands down the back of Naomi’s underwear, palms enfolding silken buttocks, stroking her thumbs over the fullness of them.  Naomi shivered in response, her hands claiming Kieran’s face, keeping their lips pressed firmly.  Naomi broke their kiss to take Kieran’s bottom lip between her teeth, pulling gently, making Kieran’s breath catch.  Kieran massaged Naomi’s behind, letting her fingers occasionally stray between the cheeks, reveling in the heat and dampness gathering there.

 

Kieran withdrew her hands again, tracing the slope of Naomi’s lower back and abdomen.  Kisses became fleeting, resolved into breathless interludes, and Kieran moved down Naomi’s body slowly, lips puckering as she went, leaving gentle trails of sensation behind her.  She felt her throat burning as she engulfed Naomi’s breasts in her hands, wondering when and how Naomi had become so ripe, when Naomi’s breasts had become so round and full and succulent, like orlow fruit.  She basked in the softness, in the responsiveness of Naomi’s flesh, rubbing her cheeks against the nipples, listening to Naomi’s breath escape in a faint whisper of air.  The first taste of Naomi’s nipples caused a rush of wetness between Kieran’s legs, the ache settling into her labia and heightening her arousal.  She sucked and licked gently, making Naomi arch into her, whimpering for greater contact.  Kieran rolled Naomi onto her back, ravishing her breasts, listening as the desperation asserted itself in her breathing. 

 

Kieran retreated slightly, gentling her caress, easing the pressure of her lips, and Naomi sighed, a shaking, shuddering exhalation that cut through Kieran like a blade.  She moved her hands down to Naomi’s hips, still suckling taut nipples. Kieran pushed Naomi’s panties down over the fullness of her buttocks, slipping a hand beneath them softly, cupping the swell of Naomi’s abdomen in one large palm.  Kieran moved  her hand lower, her palm encompassing Naomi’s warm, swollen lips, her mouth heated against Naomi’s breasts.   Naomi’s body surged, then acquiesced beneath Kieran’s touch as her breathing became shallow and hard.  Kieran pushed the filmy fabric down to her thighs, over her knees, and off the ends of her delicate, perfect feet.  Kieran kissed Naomi’s toes, easing the sharpness of arousal, smiling against the arches of each foot, kissing them in turn, then making the return journey up long, shapely calves, lips ghosting over her thighs, warm breath suffusing her thatch of strawberry blonde hair.  Kieran nuzzled her thighs with tender kisses, hearing Naomi swallow and gasp at the same time. Kieran parted the softest flesh she could imagine with her face, coaxing Naomi’s legs apart, anticipating the heat and the scent, disciplining herself not to suddenly devour her young lover without mercy.

 

She could hear how near the edge Naomi was, could feel the tension in those long, lean legs.  Kieran wanted to make the experience a lengthy, memorable one, and she massaged away some of the tension.  “Breathe with me, love,” she said softly, dulling her urgency, and with it, Naomi’s.  When Naomi had calmed somewhat, Kieran pressed her face into Naomi’s sex, mouth engulfing her slowly, tasting her, testing her, opening her with the slightest intrusion of her tongue.  A low, needful whimper hung in the air around them as Naomi drew her legs up against her buttocks, offering herself to Kieran’s mouth.  Kieran made her ministrations patient, letting the pleasure build gradually, wanting Naomi to feel the heat and desire smoldering, not burning out too soon.  When the need mounted, Kieran backed off, letting the urgency subside somewhat before taking Naomi back to the edge.  Naomi started to moan in earnest, beads of sweat trickling down the backs of her lovely thighs, body poised on the edge.  Kieran found her tiny nodule, encircled it with careful lips, moved her tongue lightly over it, listening to the raggedness in Naomi’s chest.  Kieran pressed a finger into Naomi’s opening, letting her anchor herself around it, knowing she needed that focal point to reach her climax with any semblance of control. 

 

There was always that moment, with a new lover, that bright edge of fear that the climax would come too soon or not at all, and the moment would slip away.  Kieran could feel the pressure building in Naomi’s walls, the platform forming around her penetrating digit, the impetus coming from her tongue, fluttering over the distended flesh of Naomi’s clitoris.  The ascension lasted much longer than she had hoped for.  Naomi groaned softly, body trembling with desire, and it only took Kieran’s finger, moving gently, to push her over the edge.  Her hips came off the mattress as she panted her need, crying out, “God, Kieran,” with a guttural gasp, coming in breaking waves, body suffused with heat and sharp pleasure.  Kieran guided her through it, riding out the rolling tide, only retreating when her hips stilled again.   She withdrew her finger gently, then moved to take Naomi in her arms, kissing her fiercely, all the passion spent.

 

Naomi’s breaths still came in hard, shallow gulps, but eased as Kieran held her, her mind overwhelmed by the intensity of the experience.  Kieran kissed her hair, hugging her with crushing strength, rocking her softly against Kieran’s larger frame.  “Oh, Na,”  she whispered intently, “I love you so.” Kieran pulled them both over so that Kieran was on her back, Naomi resting against her chest, too overcome to speak.  Silent tears streamed from Naomi’s eyes, washing over Kieran’s throat and breasts.

 

“What, honey?” Kieran asked tenderly, soothing her with the lightest of touches.

 

Naomi only cried harder. She bit her lip, trying to compose herself.  Kieran feared the worst, feared she had injured or frightened Naomi, or equally worrisome, that she had disappointed her expectations, somehow. 

 

“I never realized how much I need you, until now,” she finally said.  “How lost I was without you, all those years.  I know I had your friendship, but I needed--this,” she lay her head on Kieran’s shoulder, trusting her tears to her beloved.  “I needed you to love me like this,” she shuddered, conquered by her own vulnerability. “I never really knew how deep it ran in me, until now.”

 

Kieran eased her over once more, lingering above her, her heart battered by the need to protect this woman.  “My beloved,” she used the vernacular of Qian, “this is yours, for always.  Always, and only for you.  The need runs every bit as deep in me.  Imagine the power you have over me, if my love for you is so strong that I let myself be with you, in spite of all my fears and my guilt and my convictions that doing so would be wrong.  You brought me, literally, to the edge of a total breakdown.  I was ready to die, I felt the loss of you so acutely when you chose Sieken.”

 

Naomi rested against her, tears still flowing.  “Kieran, please, please forgive me for that,” she begged, certain her own heart would break. 

 

“Sweetheart,” Kieran kissed her tenderly, “there is nothing to forgive.  It was my fault.  I pushed you away with my lies.  I refused your love, refused to admit that I felt the same, and even after we had been joined, I tried to send you away.  I am the one who should beg your forgiveness.  I’m supposed to be the older, more mature one, after all,”  she sighed, cognizant of how lucky they were to have made it through the misunderstanding, the denial, the games.  “But I’ll never lie to you again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making this up to you, love.  No one will ever take me from you again, I swear it,” she sealed the vow with a kiss, awed by the depth of her own love.

 

They lay together for a very long time, letting the torrent pass, curling into each other emotionally and physically.

 

“Na,” Kieran said softly, voicing her final concern, “I’m sorry--I know I don’t have the ability to reflect and magnify your emotions, or your pleasure, like Sieken.  I guess anything short of that experience is going to ring--hollow, now,” she clung to her, feeling inadequate to the task.

 

Naomi sat up abruptly, turning onto her stomach and fixing Kieran with a penetrating gaze.  “There was no comparison, Kieran, but not the way you imagine,” she protested, kissing her lover fervently.  “There was no emotion with Sieken at all, beyond simple gratitude for the release we shared.  With you, though, it’s all emotion—it’s the embodiment of everything I always thought making love should be about,” she assured her lover.  “It was perfect, and so were you.  You asked me to teach you, but there is nothing I could add, nothing more I could ask.”  She kissed her deeply, her heart on her lips.  “Now I’m asking you, my first and my last love--teach me to love you the way you want to be loved.  Show me how to be what you need me to be,” she beseeched, reclaiming her mouth.

 

Kieran smiled, brown eyes dancing in the firelight.  “You already know how to be what I need, because you are.  Don’t  you feel how much you affect me?” she whispered, running her hands up Naomi’s buttocks suggestively.  “The first time we were joined, when we went back into the Cargo Bay, I almost took you against the shower door, I was so overwhelmed by your beauty and your provocation.  I’ve never been so out of control,” she felt a surge, remembering how insistent the desire had been.   “The night of the banquet, I had to beat my will into submission to keep from professing my love and my devotion.  When I first saw you in that dress, I thought my heart would stop then and there.  Oh, my God,” she breathed, shuddering involuntarily, “I wanted to kiss your bare shoulders so badly, I felt like I had swallowed fire.”

 

Naomi colored with pleasure at the compliment.  “Truly?”

 

Kieran nodded, deep brown eyes locked with paler hazel ones.  “I’ve never had a visceral reaction to anyone that was that overpowering.  You were always pretty as a child, but Na, you’ve grown into the most daunting beauty I’ve ever known, and I have known some incredibly beautiful women.  When I ran to Dee, to confess my sins, she told me she had had a long line of clients, all reporting the same symptoms--overwhelming lust for you.”

 

Naomi laughed.  “You’re teasing me, now,” she accused.

 

“Cross my heart.  Dee told me that.  Of course, I was immediately jealous and ready to throttle them all,” she laughed at herself.

 

“I like the sound of that--I want you to be possessive, because then I’ll always know you want me,” she decided.

 

Kieran shook her head.  “You don’t mean that.  Look at Kathryn, and how her jealousy has damaged her relationship with Seven.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I don’t want that.”  She lay her cheek against Kieran’s chest, familiarizing herself with the sense of their nakedness, suddenly conscious of it again.  When she lifted her face, her skin stuck slightly to Kieran’s.  “I think I cried all over you and made you sticky,” she noted apologetically.

 

Kieran waggled her eyebrows.  “Oh, you made me sticky, all right,” she teased.  Then more seriously, she said “Let’s take a bath.  That tub is deep enough to do laps,” she chuckled.

 

Naomi jumped up.  “I’ll run it.  You relax,” she instructed.  She adjusted the controls and let the thundering flow fill the deep basin.  She rifled through the dresser beside the tub, finding towels and washcloths, and all sorts of interesting bubble baths, salts, and oils.  She smelled them each in turn, selected one of each, and poured them into the running stream of water.

 

Kieran lay on her side, watching intently, transfixed by the vision of Naomi’s hair falling delicately around her shoulders.  Her skin was the soft color of lustrous opal, glowing faintly pink, like an invitation to Kieran’s lips.  Naomi’s bottom was so perfect, so flawless, Kieran imagined herself holding it in her hands again, feasting on Naomi’s labia.  She got so aroused, she felt a chill skate up her back.

 

Naomi caught her ogling.  “What are you looking at?” she scolded, not minding one bit.

 

Kieran smiled slowly.  “The best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said sincerely.

 

They had slept away most of the afternoon, and made love into the evening, and Kieran realized as she watched Naomi fussing over the water temperature that they hadn’t eaten dinner.  Ordinarily, Kieran wouldn’t bother, but considering Naomi had just come off a hunger strike, Kieran was deeply concerned that the Ktarian needed food.

 

She played with the replicator, summoning a finger food feast, returning to the ensuite with the plate and drinks in hand.  “Is it ready yet?”

 

Naomi laughed.  “Are you kidding me?  That tub will take an hour to fill,” she smiled, grabbing Kieran and kissing her lovingly.  “What have you got?” she peeked at the treats beneath the stasis lid.

 

“Dinner.  No more neglecting it, Wildwoman,” Kieran scolded.  “I was truly pissed when I heard you stopped eating.  Come on,” she nodded toward the bed, “while the tub fills, we’ll have dinner,” she said in a tone that brooked no argument.

 

_____________

 

Naomi and Kieran sat in the deep, hot water, facing each other, kissing intermittently as Naomi rubbed the muscular tension from Kieran’s shoulders, smoothing strong fingers over the angles of her shoulder blades, remembering all the times she had rubbed Naomi down when the Ktarian was ill. The look on Naomi’s face was so exquisitely tender, it made Kieran’s breath catch. 

 

“What are you thinking?” Kieran asked, following the question with her lips.

 

Naomi lingered over the embrace, working Kieran’s deltoids to fluid surrender.  “I was remembering how lovingly you took care of me, when I was dying,” she admitted.  “The hours of body massage, the long nights of sleeplessness so that you could help me when I was too sick to help myself, the outings you took me on to distract me from my pain.  I swore if I lived through that ordeal, I would repay every kindness with ten,” she murmured, smoothing soap bubbles over Kieran’s pectoral muscles.  “God,” she complained, “your poor body is so tight, you’re wound up like a plasma coil,” she noted. 

 

Kieran grinned.  “Honey, I’m not a kid anymore.  When I exert myself, I feel it the next day.  And I’ve been carrying around a lot of anxiety,” she admitted.  “Your mother scares hell out of me, and here I am, naked with her baby,” she reminded her.  “I don’t believe for a minute we’ve heard the last of Kathryn Janeway’s crap on the subject of our relationship,” she sighed.

 

“Oh, I’m sure we haven’t,” Naomi said confidently.  “But I also trust that whatever you wrote into those legal documents, Kathryn’s got no legs to stand on.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “I’m pretty sure we’re on solid legal footing,” she agreed.  “Sieken had her personal attorney look over the asylum paperwork.  We’ve been granted it, for as long as we want.  That alone is going to frost Kathryn’s warp core.  She can’t touch us.”

 

“As long as I can touch you,” Naomi flirted. Her therapeutic massage transformed into a gentle exploration of Kieran’s breasts, the transition unnoticed until Kieran found her nipples erect and aching.  She captured Naomi’s mouth, stifling her vocal reaction to the pleasure.

 

“I think you should let me help with your anxiety,” Naomi invited her, brushing her thumbs over the small knots.

 

“You think you’ve got the cure?” Kieran flirted, feeling the immediate heat rising in her nipples as Naomi’s touch skated over her.

 

“Let’s find out,” Naomi replied, extricating herself from Kieran’s arms and climbing out of the bath.  She dried herself, then lay her towel out on the floor, holding her hand out to Kieran.  “Let me dry you off,” she offered, grabbing the other towel.  She wrapped Kieran’s body in it warmly, rubbing the absorbent cloth over her freshly washed skin,  lingering over the parts that simply refused to get dry.  “I don’t think this is working,” she noted playfully, her towel wrapped hand between Kieran’s legs. “You’re dripping wet,” she advised.

 

Kieran grabbed her then, kissing her heatedly, their tongues dancing and searching. 

 

Naomi led Kieran to the gigantic bed, pushing her down on it firmly, stretching her body over Kieran’s, lips brushing lightly over her face and throat.  Kieran grasped Naomi’s ass, filling her hands with it, her arousal telegraphed by the clenching and unclenching of the flesh in her palms.  Naomi removed Kieran’s hands from her bottom, pinning them at either side of Kieran’s head, kissing her fiercely.  “If you keep that up,” she said huskily, “I won’t be thinking about your anxiety at all,” she warned.

 

A quick study, Naomi had already discerned that Kieran’s weakness was her breasts, and the Ktarian focused her kisses there, sucking and nipping and teasing, listening to the changes in Kieran’s arousal as her touch intensified and retreated, returning each time to the agile pleasuring.  She loved the sounds of Kieran’s need, the soft exhalations and sharp intake of breath, the sound that emanated from deep in her, not a grunt, not a groan, but something utterly needful and strong.  Naomi moved against her, still holding her wrists, rubbing full breasts over Kieran’s smaller ones and watching her eyes darken as her pupils widened to cover most of the soft brown.  Naomi’s hair fell around their bodies, the fragrance like a balm to Kieran’s soul, the silken sensation of it shrouding her shoulders.


“You feel amazing,” Kieran breathed, wanting to touch her.  Naomi released her wrists, allowing Kieran to run her fingertips over Naomi’s back and shoulders, the barest of caresses.

 

Naomi kissed her tentatively at first, parting Kieran’s lips with the tip of her tongue, then using it to tug provocatively at Kieran’s lips.  Kieran was breathless, stunned by the increasing certainty of the seduction, moved by the skill and the attention to her response.  Naomi bit her throat, teeth careful and exacting, making Kieran arch into the sensation.  She shivered beneath Naomi’s fingers, fingers that stroked her forearms, her chest, her belly, and finally, parted her legs.  Kieran sighed, biting her lip, letting Naomi open her labia, whimpering at the first touch.

 

“Na,” she gasped, unable to contain the reaction.  “Oh, God,” she swallowed hard as fingers entered her, pressing to her center and easing out again, swirling around her opening, teasing.  Naomi watched Kieran’s face, watched her dark eyes closing involuntarily when something felt overwhelming.

 

“I love you, Kieran,” Naomi whispered, mesmerized by the older woman’s response, by the thundering of her heart, by the look of exquisite anguish she wore.  Naomi felt an overpowering need to hear more, to feel more, to do more.  She moved down Kieran’s body to her breasts, while her fingers explored, finding Kieran’s clitoris.  The combined stimulation had Kieran squirming beneath Naomi’s touch, the hot liquid of Naomi’s mouth surrounding her left nipple, while soft fingertips glided through the ribbon of fluid between her labia. 

 

Kieran’s body tensed, nearing the edge, and Naomi was disappointed at how quickly the pleasure had escalated.  She withdrew her caress, not wanting it to end, and descended Kieran’s body slowly, tantalizingly.  Kieran pressed the heel of her hand into her mouth, trying to suppress her need to cry out, but Naomi reached for her hand, taking it away.

 

“I want to hear you,” she commanded, drawing Kieran’s hand down to her side again, kissing her flat stomach, nuzzling it, waiting for the agonized groan she knew would come.  She took it as her cue, dropping her face to Kieran’s sex, letting the impression of the scent wash over her.  She kissed her thick lips gently, fleeting kisses that teased and foreshadowed.  She wrapped the moist folds in her delicate lips, and was rewarded by a low, deep moan.  The flavor was milder than she expected, and the intensity of Kieran’s reaction was more than she was prepared for.  She lost herself momentarily, increasingly passionate in her delivery.  She was startled when Kieran cried out beneath her tongue, coming suddenly and forcefully.  Naomi followed her through the climax, sliding long fingers into her as the spasms broke inside her, mouth relentless until Kieran eased her away.

 

Naomi smiled at the pained expression Kieran wore, her palm holding Naomi’s face at bay.  “Come here,” Kieran growled at her lover playfully,  drawing Naomi into a firm embrace.  They kissed deeply, passionately, the tide of emotion overpowering them both, arms wrapped tightly around one another, bodies so close they were seamless.

 

Kieran rolled them over, so that she was above Naomi, peering into hazel eyes so full of love and wonder that the rush of love closed Kieran’s own eyes.  “Naomi,” she said her name in a whisper, reverently, purposefully.  “I have loved you for so long,” she swallowed hard against the memory of the frustration and the conflict that had raged between her needs and her cognizance of the boundaries that separated her from Naomi.  “I have needed you forever,” she kissed her beloved with aching tenderness, her vulnerability laid bare.

 

Naomi held her face gently, letting the passion wash over her, feeling the desire reasserting itself.  She shivered as Kieran’s fingertips grazed her hips and her buttocks, gasping faintly into their kiss.

 

“Do you like that?” Kieran asked throatily, repeating the caress.

 

“Yes,” Naomi sighed, arching into the touch.  “I like every way you touch me,” she wrapped her legs around Kieran’s back, lifting her hips, giving Kieran complete access to her nether regions.

 

Kieran slid certain hands around Naomi’s bottom, fondling her between the legs, watching the arousal play out on her lover’s face.  Kieran kissed her teasingly, drawing Naomi’s lip into her mouth and fluttering her tongue over it, feeling the soft exhalation of need against her face.  She found thick moisture with her fingers, rubbing the distended lips with the barest of touches, and Naomi groaned into her mouth.  “Kieran,” she whimpered her name, “God, touch me,” she urged, and was immediately given what she asked for.

 

Kieran lifted Naomi’s leg over her hip, giving herself ample room to pleasure her lover, and penetrated her with two fingers, using her thumb to stroke Naomi’s distended flesh, the tiny bundle of nerves pulsing faintly beneath her caress.  “Is it too much?” she asked softly.

 

Naomi shuddered, her desire threatening to peak.  “N-no,” she breathed raggedly.  “Oh, God,” she tightened her legs around Kieran’s low back, moving against her, “you feel so good,” she moaned. 

 

Kieran smiled into their kiss, feeling Naomi’s walls tighten around her fingers.  Kieran stilled them inside Naomi’s opening, still stroking her clitoris, the fluid of her response gathering in Kieran’s palm.  “Tell me what you want,” Kieran demanded, though her tone was loving and urgent.

 

Naomi was hanging on the edge, needing release, wanting to fall over the precipice, uncertain of what would start the freefall.  “I--I don’t know,” she gasped, “I need--I--oh, God, Kieran, please,” she begged.

 

Kieran moved her fingers inside her lover, easing them out and back in, gauging Naomi’s reaction.

 

“That’s--that’s good,” Naomi gasped, her body going rigid, “Oh, Kieran, that’s it,” she cried out, rocking to increase the friction, coming hard against the pressure inside her as Kieran thrust softly into her, letting her control the pace.  She shook with the intensity of it, her words incoherent but insistent, and Kieran thought her own body would ignite, the sounds were so provocative.  Naomi’s climax escaped with her breath, the tremors easing as her respiration did, arms and legs tightly clasped around Kieran’s body.

 

Kieran felt Naomi’s walls relaxing again, and slipped her fingers free.  “I didn’t hurt you, did I honey?” she asked tenderly, kissing Naomi’s forehead.

 

Naomi shook her head, clinging silently to her lover.

 

“Are you okay?” Kieran kissed her throat, amazed at how incredibly responsive Naomi could be.

 

Naomi released the grip of her legs around Kieran’s back, her arms no longer clutching.  “I’m--overloaded,” Naomi chuckled softly in reply.  “That was just--unbelievable,” she sighed, spent from it.

 

Kieran rolled off of Naomi and onto her back, letting her vision resolve.  Naomi moved into her embrace immediately.

 

“Don’t go anywhere,” she murmured, arm firmly around Kieran’s torso. 

 

“Honey,” Kieran kissed her hair, arms enveloping her beloved.  “I’m right here,” she assured her.  “I’m not going to run, this time, I promise,” she let her fingers dance over Naomi’s back, reveling in the softness of her skin.  “I defied my Captain and my best friend for this relationship.  Knowing that, how could you doubt me for an instant?” she asked with a mild tone of reproach.

 

Naomi sank into her, nuzzling her cheek.  “It’s just so new, for me,” she explained.  “I’ve always been in love with you, Kieran, but having you love me back--that’s not something I’m used to trusting, yet.”

 

Kieran squeezed her fiercely.  “I’m sorry I never told you before, Na.  I have loved you, for a very long time.  I’m sorry that my denials hurt you, and that I was too afraid to admit it to myself.  I should have known the second you came out of your coma,” she apologized.  “That’s what Cassidy’s message to me was supposed to make me realize--that you are my soul mate, and you are my destiny.”

 

“What did she mean by The one constant through all those worlds?” Naomi asked quietly.

 

“She meant you.  In all the parallel universes I went to, the circumstances surrounding my life changed--my lovers, my wives, the pairings of the people we know.  But through every one of those worlds, you were the constant--you were my grounding force, my refuge.  And in the world where you had died, the absence of you was so punishing, I couldn’t bear that life.  Cassidy came to me in a dream, when you were really sick, and she told me things about us--only I didn’t know they were about us, at the time.  She said she was with me, when I was displaced in space and time, and that she had watched over me and protected me.  She told me I was missing something very important, something I had realized when I was displaced, but that the realization had frightened me, and so I had let it slip away.  She said, ‘Focus, and you’ll rediscover it.’  She told me if I only opened my heart, I would see how useless my fears were, and how pointless, because the future I knew would come couldn’t coexist with my fear.  She said ‘I showed you, the one constant through all those worlds. Remember it. Be comforted by it.  Stop fighting it.’  I know now it was all meant to make me realize my love for you.  That’s what I was fighting, that’s what I was afraid of.  She was trying to tell me to surrender my fear and let myself love you,” Kieran concluded.

 

Naomi was stunned.  “You knew that long ago?  When you got lost in the spatial rift?” she held tighter to Kieran.

 

“Keep in mind, Na, I was pretty well psychotic when I came back,” she pointed out.  “That interfered with my recollection of the events.  But I do believe there was a moment of clarity, a point of recognition, while I was displaced, when I realized you are my soul mate.  I was married to B’Elanna, and I didn’t think there would ever be a sexual component to my relationship with you, but the revelation was certainly there.  I had already met my soul mate, and you are her.  It frightened me because you were a little girl, and I had obviously already married someone else, and I couldn’t see any resolution to the situation other than that my soul mate would have to be a friend, and nothing more, for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t have foreseen any of these events—your rapid aging, my break up with B'Elanna.  So I suppressed the realization, I’m sure, because it was just too difficult to contemplate.  But Cassidy came back to tell me I was missing it.  She urged me to let go of my fear, and to accept my path.  She warned me it would be difficult, and I would lose everything.  Now I know she meant Kathryn, and possibly my status on the ship, probably our friends, too.  She said ‘In order to have what you need most, you must surrender your fear, Kieran.  Listen to the truth inside yourself, and nothing else.  Listen to no one else.’ Now I know she meant I couldn’t listen to Kathryn, but only to myself, and to what my heart told me was right.”

 

Naomi took in the information, moved by it.  Then with sudden realization, her eyes widened.  “I forgot to tell you,” she said excitedly.  “My mom told me something, when I died, and I had no idea what it meant, until Kathryn tried to keep us apart,” she recalled.  “Mom said ‘The truest expression of love is the surrender of control.  Give your heart to the one who understands that, and place your trust in that person, and you will find happiness.’  She was trying to tell me Kathryn doesn’t understand love, and you do.  When Kathryn told us we couldn’t be together, it dawned on me that Mom was warning me about Kathryn, and telling me to find my happiness with you.  No one understands the surrender of control better than you,” she kissed Kieran warmly.  “That’s when I knew we had to ask for asylum on Qian,” she breathed, a cold chill skating down her back.  “They’ve been orchestrating this relationship all along,” she realized. “My Mom, Cassidy,” she clarified.

 

Kieran laughed.  “Thank God they did,” she teased, “because if they had left it up to me I’d have gone right on fucking it up,” she pointed out.

 

Naomi smiled indulgently at her beloved.  “It doesn’t feel now like you fucked it up,” she allowed.  “Whatever we did, we got to here, and here is where I want us to be,” she touched Kieran’s face, kissing her softly, sinking back into her arms.  “I love how you hold me,” she murmured, head resting against Kieran’s chest, fingers tracing the outline of Kieran’s breast.  She watched in wonder as the pliant flesh of Kieran’s nipple suddenly hardened beneath her fingertip, and Kieran’s eyes closed with the sensation.  “I love your body,” she whispered, awed by the responsiveness of Kieran’s breasts.    She eased up onto one arm, kissing the swollen nodule, brushing her lips over it, listening to Kieran’s breathing as it fractured.

 

Kieran shivered, cupping Naomi’s head to her chest, arching her back to offer herself again.  Naomi didn’t need a second invitation, her mouth eager against Kieran’s body, reveling in the immediate heat rising off of her skin and the tautness of the flesh against her tongue.  She flicked the tip over the distended nub, raking her teeth carefully over the areola, noting that Kieran’s fingernails sank into the mattress.  Naomi moved over Kieran’s body, stretching out on top of her, loving her breasts fervently, astonished at the sounds that came from Kieran’s throat.

 

“Na,” she gasped, “oh, God,” she bit her lip, “you’re making me crazy,” she swallowed hard, watching Naomi’s caresses, the dark pink tongue skating over her nipples, the enveloping mouth where her breasts disappeared, the bright edge of teeth against her skin.

 

Naomi smiled seductively at her.  “That’s the idea,” she teased, scratching her fingernails over Kieran’s belly. 

 

Kieran tangled her hands in Naomi’s hair, urging her face away from aching flesh, kissing her deeply.  Naomi pressed her leg between Kieran’s thighs, moving to create friction, kisses increasingly insistent.  “Why did you stop me?” she breathed in Kieran’s ear, biting her earlobe.

 

Kieran whimpered in reply as Naomi moved back to her breasts, ravishing them fiercely.  Kieran groaned loudly, unable to restrain the vocal response.  “I couldn’t take any more,” she replied, panting her arousal. 

 

Naomi bit down softly, curious.  “What do you mean?” she demanded, fluttering her tongue against distended flesh as she opened Kieran’s legs with her hands.

 

“I mean,” Kieran gasped, “I was going to come,” she shuddered, body quivering in rhythm with Naomi’s mouth.

 

“Just from this?” she peered into Kieran’s eyes, ceasing her lovemaking.

 

Kieran nodded, embarrassed.  “It’s so intense, how you love me,” she turned her head away, not wanting to meet Naomi’s gaze.

 

“Hey,” Naomi turned Kieran’s face back with gentle fingers, her expression soft with love.  “You don’t ever have to hide from me, Kieran,” she kissed her passionately.  “I need to know what’s going on with you,” she demanded.  “It’s the only way I’ll ever learn,” she contended, kissing Kieran’s forehead, her eyelids, her lips.  “I want you so much, and I want you to want me.  Help me learn,” she urged.  “Talk to me.  Teach me.”

 

Kieran kissed her deeply, her vulnerability close to the surface.  “Naomi,” she gasped as gentle fingers parted her labia, “oh, honey,” she clutched the smaller woman to her, “that’s so good,” she sighed, body humming with energy.

 

Naomi watched her face, studying her reaction, the way her eyes closed when the passion was overwhelming, the way she bit her lip to gain an edge of control, the way her brow furrowed ever so slightly as she reached the edge of orgasm.  “I love you, Kieran,” she whispered, thinking she had never seen anyone so lovely as her partner in the throes of arousal. 

 

Kieran gazed up at her, breaths labored, body suffused with need.  “I love you, too,” she sounded pained as she said it. 

 

Naomi kissed her lingeringly, fingers moving faintly over her clitoris, stroking lightly.  “Tell me,” she pleaded, knowing there was something Kieran needed, and not having any idea what it was.

 

Kieran moaned, an agonized sound, needful, desperate.  “Put your fingers inside me,” she finally instructed, hips lifting off the bed as Naomi obediently slipped two fingers into her opening.  “Na, oh, God,” she bit her lip, struggling for control.  “Now touch me like before,” she whispered, nuzzling Naomi’s cheek as the Ktarian hovered over her.

 

Naomi met her lips, kissing her forcefully, fingers caressing slowly, feeling Kieran’s body tense.  The sound of her response was muffled by their kiss, and Naomi pulled away so she could hear the rhythmic breathing and sighing.

 

The muscles in Kieran’s legs stood out in sharp relief against the sheet, and Naomi was fascinated by it, every curve defined like an anatomical chart illustration, every sinew flexed. 

 

Kieran groaned sharply, squeezing Naomi as the sensation crested, crying out her lover’s name, shaking violently beneath tender touches, her words nonsensical as she came. 

 

Naomi mentally noted everything about Kieran’s response, chest swelling with tenderness as Kieran climaxed and burst into tears, understanding immediately how passion and desire open deeper emotions and expose vulnerabilities.

 

“My love,” Naomi moved to hold her, “I know,” she assured her.  “You’re safe, now, let it go,” she whispered, kissing Kieran’s hair, drawing the larger woman into welcoming arms.

 

Kieran clung to her, crying soundlessly, body shaking with the force of the emotion their lovemaking had unleashed.  Naomi rubbed Kieran’s back, stroking fingers over the lines of her shoulder blades, soothing her.  “I’m here, honey,” she said urgently.  “Trust me with it all,” she requested.

 

Kieran only cried harder, unable to articulate the feelings.  When the torrent had abated slightly, she rested in Naomi’s embrace, trying to get a grasp on her fragile emotions. 

 

Naomi’s fingers glanced lightly over her skin, easing her anxiety, lulling her into relaxation.

 

Kieran sighed, shuddering with her tears.  “I’m not sure what makes me cry like that,” she explained.  “It’s partly how overwhelmed I feel, right now, but I think it’s fear, too,” she considered her motives.

 

Naomi kissed her hair, wanting to know everything.  “What are you afraid of, honey?”

 

“How much I love you,” Kieran supplied instantly.

 

Naomi cradled her head in the palm of one hand, loving the feeling of Kieran’s hair, how soft it was when it wasn’t spiked out.  “Why is that frightening, love?” she asked quietly.

 

Kieran swallowed her emotion.  “Because I’ve never loved anyone so much, or let anyone get this close to me.  Which means I’ve never invested this much of myself in any relationship,” she explained.

 

Naomi nodded.  “And there is so much more to lose, this time,” she completed the train of thought.

 

“Exactly,” Kieran agreed. 

 

“Does it help to know I feel the same way?” Naomi asked softly, kissing Kieran’s cheek tenderly. 

 

Kieran chuckled gently.  “You could never lose me,” she pointed out.  “It’s not the same.”

 

Naomi moved Kieran onto her back, peering intently at her.  “It is the same.  You could never lose me, either.”

 

Kieran’s eyes registered her worry.  “Oh, yes, I could.  You’re so young, honey, and so inexperienced.  You could wake up tomorrow and decide I’m the last person you’d ever want to be with.”

 

“You could decide the same thing about me, sweetie,” Naomi insisted.  “In fact, you’re more likely to come to that conclusion.  Think about it, Kieran.  I’ve never loved anyone but you.  You’ve loved so many women before me,” she pointed out. 

 

“Precisely,” Kieran agreed, “and that is how I know you’re the one I want.  I’ve had enough experience to know what I do and don’t want, and you are perfect for me.  I’m not stupid enough to ever walk away from you.”

 

Naomi kissed her deeply, convincingly.  “Just because I haven’t sampled the broad spectrum doesn’t mean I haven’t looked closely at the alternatives,” she said, her tone scolding.  “I’ve seen enough approving looks and leering smiles to last a lifetime, and I’ve known for months I could certainly sample, if I wanted to.  But the truth is, no one compares to you, Kieran.  No one is as sincere, or as clever, or as endearing.  I’ve never felt sexually attracted to anyone but you,” she admitted, “and Sieken—but it only happened with Sieken because she took my attraction to you and turned it into an attraction to her,” she realized.

 

Kieran gave her a quizzical look.  “She did what?”

 

Naomi kissed Kieran’s forehead, gathering her thoughts.  “At the banquet, I was dancing with Sieken, and she confronted me about my feelings for you.  She—sort of asked my permission to approach you, because she could tell I’m in love with you.  I told her that although I very much wanted to be joined with you, as she put it, I could not, because of my age.  I told her I want you to be happy, and that you like her very much, and she should pursue you.  But I guess she could feel how much I wanted you, and she refused.  And then something truly weird happened,” Naomi recalled, shuddering.  “It was like she was inside my mind, inside my emotions, and she found a way to wrap herself around my love for you.  She made it hurt less.  And she kissed my cheek, and said we should be equals.  I kissed her cheek, and said we could be familiars, and when I kissed her—it was just so odd, Kieran.  It was like this wave washed over me.  It felt—emotional, chemical—I don’t know, it was overwhelming.  Somehow, she took everything I felt for you, and made me feel it less, and at the same time, she took my attraction to you and made me feel it for her.  Does that make sense?”

 

Kieran gazed up at her, not really understanding.  “No, but I also understand the Qianians have some truly incomprehensible abilities,” she allowed.

 

Naomi nodded.  “The next thing I know, we’re on the balcony, and she’s kissing me, and I’m feeling her emotions for me, somehow.  It was so peculiar, but I felt helpless, like I couldn’t separate my feelings from hers, or from ours, or from anything.  The longer she kissed me, the more confusing it was, and finally, my love for you was just—buried, I guess, or—I don’t know—sublimated?  It was there, but it wasn’t demanding or painful any longer.  It just—was.  I could separate myself from it, and I consciously chose to do just that, because it seemed so pointless to love you, if you were never going to admit you love me, too.  And so I went away with her.  But my attraction to her started out being my attraction to you.  So I’m not really even sure if I’ve ever been attracted to anyone but you,” she explained.  “I know that’s a round about way to get to the point, which is that you should trust that, honey.  You should trust that my feelings for you have always been there, and although I’ve had opportunities to pursue other people, I never even wanted to.  I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Kieran returned the serious look, studying her beloved’s expression, gauging her intentions.  She felt the sincerity in Naomi’s words, remembered how when they were joined, she could feel Naomi’s commitment to her.  “Okay,” she smiled, feeling reassured. “Thanks for explaining that, too.  I was pretty surprised by it all. I mean, Sieken had told me earlier that day she was attracted to me, and I thought you and I were pretty enthralled with each other, and then I found you kissing her on the balcony, and I just didn’t know what to think.”

 

Naomi rested her cheek against Kieran’s, still hovering over her, bodies pressed tightly together.  “I know it hurt you, and I’m sorry.  But it was a very critical lesson I had to learn about you.”

 

“It was?” Kieran reached up to touch her cheek, caressing it gently.

 

“It drove home the point that you understand love is the surrender of control.  I watched you, Kieran, I saw the look on your face, just before you turned to leave us on the balcony, and I knew how much it cost you to walk away.  And I saw you collapse against the doors after you closed them, like you didn’t have the strength to keep going.  I knew then that in spite of whatever you said to my face, you were in love with me, and although you wouldn’t admit it to me or to yourself, you wanted me every bit as much as I’ve wanted you.”

 

Kieran’s eyes closed, tears welling again.  “I’m not so noble, Naomi,” she confessed.  “If Kathryn hadn’t been steps away from finding you with Sieken, I probably would have lost that battle, turned back around, and told you how I felt.  I couldn’t bear the loss of you.  I’m not so sure I would have given up my control of the situation, if Kathryn hadn’t come along just then.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Naomi kissed the tiny droplets from her eyelashes.  “Your intent was to do what you thought I needed.  You validated my right to choose, my adulthood, and your devotion to me, all in that one simple gesture.  I was overwhelmed by it, Kieran,” she kissed her tenderly,  “I’ve never known anyone so selfless in my life,” she murmured.  “I’ve never admired anyone as much as I do you.”

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran hugged her tightly, heart full as her arms, “I do love you.  I promise to try to be all the wonderful things you think I am, and to deserve that admiration.  I hope I can keep from disappointing you,” she said, concerned.

 

Naomi kissed her gently, smiling.  “You’ve never disappointed me,” she asserted.  “Even when you were denying your love for me, I understood your reasons.  How could I fault you?  You knew the stakes, and I really didn’t.  I never thought Kathryn would want to put you in the brig, Kieran.  God, I’d have never endangered you, I swear,” her expression grew fierce.  “I was pretty naïve, and you were being realistic.  No wonder you were afraid to love me.”

 

They kissed and cuddled for hours, made love again, and when the sun started to come up, they finally slept, sated and spent, Kieran contouring Naomi’s backside, hand resting on her hip.  When they stirred, they moved together, mirroring each other, the same synergy they had always shared, and now it was a sexual synergy as well as an emotional one.  Kieran slept better than she had in years, and Naomi had no nightmares.

 

__________________

 

Sieken’s placid face shimmered into focus on the view screen, her expression faintly amused.  “Yes, Captain Janeway?” she greeted the irate woman.

 

“My daughter is not home, yet, Sieken.  I told her she could have lunch with you, and I haven’t seen her since.  She hasn’t answered my hails.  Our computer says she’s with you.”

 

Sieken bowed, then held up Naomi’s communicator.  “Her communication device is here, but she is not,” Sieken replied enigmatically.

 

“Where is she, Sieken?  I don’t want to have to send a search party,” Kathryn implored.

 

“That would be--most unwelcome, Captain.  In fact, my government would not allow it.  I am sending information to you as we speak.  You should review it carefully and contact me if you have any doubts about the contents of the documents.  Sieken out.”

 

Kathryn watched the data packet streaming into the buffers, punching up the scrolling display.  Her face flushed crimson, then went pale white.  “You have double crossed the wrong person, Kieran,” she vowed darkly. She slapped her comm badge so hard it pained her chest.  “Seven, get in here,” she snarled.

 

Seven reported in an instant, finding Kathryn perusing the Federation lawsuit.  “What is it, Kathryn?”

 

“Kieran and Naomi have been given asylum on Qian.  Voyager is impounded,” she spat, starting to pace.  “And Kieran has filed a lawsuit against us.”

 

Seven’s eyes widened, but her lips curled faintly.  “A lawsuit?” she squelched the desire to laugh triumphantly in Kathryn’s face. 

 

Kathryn read from the screen.  “Plaintiff’s Original Petition, the matter of Naomi Wildman, a minor, and Kieran Thompson, as next friend, vs. Kathryn Hansen-Janeway and Annika Hansen-Janeway, for declaratory relief and an order of emancipated adulthood,” Kathryn recited.  She turned to her wife, crossing her arms.  “Kieran has sent Naomi’s medical and psychological records, Dee’s evaluation and the Doctor’s, to the courts to get Naomi declared an adult.  If she wins, they can do whatever the hell they want, including get married, have children, and tell you and I to fuck ourselves backwards.”

 

Seven smirked at her wife.  “It appears that you have been out-maneuvered, Captain,” she said sarcastically.  “I hate to say I told you so, but I did.  You should have left them alone, and not forced their hand.  Now, Naomi will be estranged from us.”

 

“I could still retrieve them, if I can find them,” she predicted.  “Send security to arrest them both.”

 

Seven appraised her coolly.  “I have already told you, if you incarcerate Kieran, I will divorce you.  You have lost, Kathryn, so why not admit defeat with grace, and give up this futile obsession with controlling Naomi’s life?”

 

“My best friend has betrayed me, Seven.  She lied to my face, kidnapped my child, and sued me.  Don’t you think Naomi needs protection from a person that devious?” Kathryn demanded hotly.

 

“I think her deviousness is a reaction to your unreasonableness, pure and simple,” Seven contended.  “I have been telling you for months that if you persisted in treating Naomi like a child, we would lose her,” she was becoming angry.  “And now we have.  They will either win this suit, and Naomi will never speak to us again, or they will stay on Qian, and I will never see her again,” Seven teared at the thought.  “Naomi was right about you.  You don’t comprehend love, in the slightest,” she stormed off the bridge.

 

 

 

_______________

 

 

Kieran Thompson awoke with a blinding shaft of sunlight in her eyes, squinting against it, smiling as she felt the warmth on her face and the nearness of Naomi Wildman, who was lying in Kieran’s arms and sleeping deeply.  Kieran moved them both so that she was no longer in the glare, sheltering Naomi’s body with her own, treasuring the sensation of their nakedness together.  She watched her young lover sleeping, chest swelling with tenderness and love, overwhelmed by the beauty of Naomi’s face, her hair, her body.  Kieran especially loved Naomi’s shoulders, the delicate flesh freckled ever so slightly, the skin perfectly velvet and creamy.  She kissed them now, heart filled with joy that she could, bursting with the knowledge of her freedom and the lack of boundaries. 

 

Kieran snuggled into Naomi, surrounding her perfect body, memorizing it, the swell of her buttocks in Kieran’s hands, the slope of her back, the fullness of her breasts pressed against Kieran’s chest.  Kieran gazed at her face, the pouting lips softly parted as she breathed, the angles of her face, high cheekbones and a slender jaw line, elegantly sculpted, lovely.  Kieran’s eyes filled with tears as she surveyed the woman in her arms, overcome by her exquisite features.  She loves me,  Kieran realized, biting her lip.  This embodiment of womanly perfection--loves me.  The realization hit her full force, and she thought her heart had stopped.  Tears flowed down her face as she kissed Naomi’s forehead, stroking the long, silken tresses of strawberry blonde hair with aching fingertips, uncertain if she was crying because her love for Naomi was so overwhelming or because she was so relieved to finally permit herself to feel it at all.

 

Naomi stirred in her arms, awakening slowly, smiling sensuously as she realized she was in bed with her chosen, remembering their lovemaking, assured that they were finally together.  She lifted her face to Kieran’s, kissing her gently, touching her face.  She found Kieran’s cheeks wet with tears.  “Honey, what’s wrong?” she whispered, face filled with concern.

 

Kieran smiled.  “Nothing is wrong.  I was just--”

 

“Just what?” Naomi urged her to explain.

 

Kieran hugged her closer.  “I was just so entranced by how beautiful you are, that it moved me to tears,” she admitted.  “And then I realized you love me,” she added softly.  “And I had to cry.”

 

“Oh, my love,” Naomi’s heart filled to capacity as she clung to her, her own eyes filling with tears.  “I never knew how passionate and tender you are, until Sieken joined us.  There are so many deeper levels to you, and I want to connect with them all,” she vowed.  She moved over her lover, peering down at her, kissing away her tears.  “You always seemed so--unreachable, hiding behind your humor and glib remarks,” Naomi told her. 

 

“I had a lot to hide from you,” Kieran grinned up at her.  “And because I’m the Ship’s Counselor, I have to maintain a certain distance.  It’s like everyone else is supposed to open to me, but I’m not allowed to show anyone my true self, you know?” she said softly.

 

“I know now,” Naomi agreed.  “I don’t think I realized how much of you was concealed, though.  This has been such a revelation--not just because I saw into you through Sieken, but also in the ways you’re opening to me because we’re lovers,” she contended. “It’s amazing,” she breathed appreciatively.

 

“What, that I’m a hopeless romantic?” Kieran giggled.

 

“All of it,” Naomi said seriously. “When I imagined being with you, I just imagined being able to be sexual with you, in addition to how our relationship had always been.  That was all.  But there’s so much more, so many things I never realized about you,” she said, awed by it.

 

Kieran kissed her tenderly.  “And have I scared you away yet?”

 

Naomi smiled warmly at her.  “Completely the opposite,” she assured her lover.  “I’m more drawn to you than I ever was before, and more in love, if that’s even possible.”

 

Kieran held her possessively, closing her eyes against the emotions coursing through her.  “I love you, Naomi Wildman,” she whispered fiercely.  “Always, and only you.”  She kissed her passionately, the desire sparking between them immediately, and they made love, this time slowly, savoring every touch, every movement, every breath.

 

There was no urgency, no desperation, and they joined on the spiritual as much as the physical plane, gazing into each other’s eyes as they touched, talking through the entire encounter, completely conscious on every level of being, sharing themselves fully. 

 

They sat facing each other in bed, legs draped over one another’s, kissing and talking, touching each other intimately.  Kieran’s fingers stroked softly against Naomi’s labia, while Naomi fondled Kieran equally languidly, their breaths synchronized, hearts beating as one.

 

“I love the way you feel,” Kieran said softly, fingers gliding over Naomi’s lips.  “I love the way you sound when you come,” she added, kissing Naomi lightly.  “I never let myself fantasize about you, so I never thought about how wonderful you would sound,” she confessed.

 

Naomi smiled, kissing her deeply.  “I can’t believe you were so disciplined,” she gasped as Kieran’s fingers smoothed over her clitoris, “that you never let yourself have sexual thoughts about me,” she completed the thought with effort.

 

“Well,” Kieran grinned, “my subconscious was making up for my superego, because I certainly had sexual dreams about you.  But they were nothing,” she sighed as Naomi’s fingers entered her briefly, “nothing,” she shuddered, “compared to the reality of making love with you.”

 

“I can’t claim to have been so chaste,” Naomi laughed, arching her back as Kieran entered her.  “I fantasized about you all the time,” she admitted.

 

Kieran moved her fingers inside Naomi’s walls, smiling.  “Tell me,” she insisted, breathing in suddenly as Naomi stroked her clitoris.  “What did you imagine?”

 

“I imagined,” Naomi shivered, her voice shaking, “touching you everywhere, kissing you head to toe,” she described.  “I thought about how your body would feel, naked against mine, and how I would make you want me,” she moved against Kieran’s fingers more intently.  “I--oh, God, Kieran,” she gasped, shuddering.

 

“Do you like that?” she wriggled her fingers inside Naomi again.

 

“Yes,” she hissed, “oh, it’s so--intense,” she breathed.  “I like it when you--oh, like that,” she groaned, feeling Kieran’s fingers sliding in and out of her opening, thumb pressed against Naomi’s clitoris.  “I can’t--hold back when--you touch me like that,” she panted.  “Kieran,” she hid her face in Kieran’s shoulder, “God, you--oh, honey,” she climaxed slowly, her body rigid and shaking, hips shuddering.

 

Kieran smiled into her kiss, continuing to pleasure her.  “I love to feel you inside,” she said in Naomi’s ear.  “I love how your walls clench when you come, and how tightly you hold my fingers,” her voice dropped an octave. 

 

Naomi rested against her shoulder, catching her breath.  “It makes me crazy when I think about touching you,” she realized.  “You asked me about my fantasies, and when I started to tell you, it got me too excited,” she chuckled.

 

“Too excited?” Kieran disagreed.  “I think you were just excited enough,” she countered.  She kept her fingers intimately curled inside Naomi’s body, letting her recover.  “I think you should tell me the rest of your fantasy, now,” she encouraged her, touching her clit again.

 

Naomi gasped, but confidently peered into Kieran’s eyes.  “I pictured undressing you, slowly, button by button, kissing everywhere as your shirt fell open, and you would close your eyes, and hold my head to your breasts,” she revealed, smiling as Kieran’s eyes closed from her touch.  “And you would say my name, as I sucked your nipples,” she slid her finger over Kieran’s clitoris, feeling her body respond.  “I imagined your breathing, and your sighing, and your crying out when I made you come,” she touched her more determinedly, knowing Kieran was near the edge.  “Come for me now, KT,” she whispered, rubbing softly.  “I want to hear you,” she kissed her deeply, fluttering her tongue against Kieran’s.

 

“Naomi,” Kieran groaned, resting her head on Naomi’s shoulder, “I am,” she whimpered, lifting her buttocks off the mattress to receive her ministrations more fully.  “God, Na,” she gasped, body taut and quivering, a long, low moan escaping her throat as the sensation broke. 

 

Naomi eased her through the peak of it, caressing her with one hand and holding the back of her head with the other.  “I love you, Kieran,” she whispered as Kieran arched into the pinnacle, crying out.

 

They held each other, still touching intimately, sated and smiling.  Naomi slipped her hand free, then removed Kieran’s from her opening.  “I think we should get breakfast, so we have enough energy to do this all day,” she informed her lover.

 

Kieran laughed.  “You do, huh?”  She leaned her forehead against Naomi’s, lost in her eyes. “Like I said--I never could say no to you, love.  What would you like for breakfast?”

 

_________________

 

Kieran prepared a large bowl of fresh fruit and put a muffin on a plate, bringing them back to where Naomi waited in bed.  “You’d better wash up,” she grinned at her lover.

 

Naomi went to the ensuite, relieving herself and scrubbing her hands clean.  She splashed water on her face, looked at herself in the mirror, and gave herself a mischievous grin.  She laughed at herself, heart light, finally, blissfully happy.  She bounded back into the bedroom, threatened to leap onto the bed, laughing as Kieran snatched the bowl and plate to keep from having food fly everywhere. 

 

“I wouldn’t,” Naomi admonished her, sliding gracefully under the covers.  “Though I feel so expansive, I can hardly stand it,” she giggled, hugging Kieran.

 

“God, I love your laughter,” Kieran kissed her hair.  “I love the way you smile--it just lights up the whole world, for me,” she enthused, breaking off a piece of muffin and offering it to Naomi.

 

Naomi kissed her briefly, letting the muffin melt on her tongue.  “This is very good,” she reached for more, giving a bite to Kieran.  “Have you felt that way all along? And if you did, how did you ever hide it?” she asked.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I’ve felt that way about you as far back as I can remember.  Even when you were a little kid, you could make everything okay for me.  Didn’t you know, you were always my personal ray of sunshine?” she asked, taking a piece of fruit and placing it in between Naomi’s lips.  Naomi kissed away the nectar that ran down her wrist, smiling.

 

“Rachel McVicker told me that once,” Naomi recalled.  “When K-Mom decided to leave the coordinates where you disappeared in the spatial rift.  I got really pissed  at K-Mom, and told her off, and ran to the gym.  Rachel and I played horse, and she got me talking about you, because I was so devastated that we were giving you up for dead.  I remember I yelled at K-Mom and told her you’d never give up on her, that you weren’t a quitter like she is, and I stormed off.  Rachel told me how much you loved me, and that you bragged about me all the time, and you told Noah I was your personal ray of sunshine,” she nodded, smiling warmly.

 

“See? So I did feel that way, for as long as I’ve known you.  You always could light up the room for me, Na.  Whenever I felt bad, or upset, I’d always go find you, and I would feel better.  Now, it’s a whole different experience, though.  I look at you now, and not only does the world light up, my heart just fills to the bursting point,” she waxed romantic, feeding Naomi bits of fruit and muffin.  “I hid it, I suppose, behind my misery at knowing I couldn’t be with you.  Only now,” she laughed, “I am with you,” she hugged her lightly, helping herself to a piece of muffin.

 

“I can’t believe it, either,” Naomi agreed, smiling.  “I can’t believe you’d do this for me.  I mean, I saw inside you, and how much this decision has cost you, and how conflicted you’ve been.  And now I really, truly know how much you love me.  I’m sorry about Kathryn, honey,” she apologized.

 

Kieran shrugged, munching on orlow.  “I’ve had a change of heart about her, since we were last joined,” she confessed.  “Something in me just snapped when she--” Kieran was instantly angry, remembering.  “When she said that to us, about my wanting to--” she couldn’t bring herself to repeat it.

 

“When she said ‘I’m supposed to pretend it’s fine with me if you fuck my daughter’?” Naomi supplied.

 

Kieran nodded, her face darkening.  “God, I wanted to kill her for saying that,” she growled.  “I don’t think anything has ever offended me as much as that.”

 

Naomi smiled.  “So I noticed.  You damn near went for her throat,” she laughed. “I was stunned at your reaction, but really impressed, too.  I love that you stood up to her for me.  That took a lot of courage,” she complimented her lover.  “Why did that upset you so much, though?”

 

Kieran scowled.  “Because she turned something sacred into the most profane, vulgar thing she could.  The way I feel about you, Na,” she took her hands, face earnest.  “I love you so much, and it’s the best, most honorable emotion I’ve ever had.  And making love with you, that’s just the most beautiful expression of loving you I can imagine.  The word ‘fuck’, the way she used it, was like saying I wanted to do some filthy, depraved thing to you, for my own gratification.  And it was an insult to you, and to us, and to everything we feel for each other.  It made me angrier than I can remember being in a very long time--even angrier than when B’Elanna tried to deny that she had been making out with Tom Paris.”

 

Naomi’s eyes widened.  “I didn’t hear that part of the story. I heard rumors that they were an item, but I thought it was just rumors.  You’re kidding me,” she frowned.  “B’Elanna and Tom?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “That’s what started us fighting,” she admitted.  “Your Moms were in Sandrine’s, and Tom and B’Elanna were there, playing pool.  Kathryn came to get me, because the two of them were drunk and fooling around in public,” she replied, eyes darkening with hurt.  “Kat and I went to Sandrine’s and watched them for awhile.  When Tom picked B’Elanna up and sat her on the pool table with his tongue down her throat, and started humping between her legs, I pretty well had had enough.  Then B’Elanna wrapped her legs around him, and I have no idea why I didn’t explode then and there, but I stayed calm.  Until the next morning, when B’Elanna and I had a screaming match over it.  She tried to tell me nothing had happened.  I was ripshit over that.”

 

“Is that why you broke up?  You never would let me ask you about it, and I only know what I heard through the rumor mill,” Naomi touched Kieran’s hand sympathetically.

 

“That was the beginning,” Kieran admitted.  “But what it really came down to is that B’Elanna--well, she really needs to be with a man, I think,” Kieran said softly.  “Klingons need the kind of aggression that I can’t supply.  That night I had dinner with you in the mess hall, and I was bleeding?  That was a very badly botched attempt at giving B’Elanna the kind of interaction she needed to feel--fulfilled.  I wasn’t up to it.  She took up with Tristan Garrett, almost as soon as I left, and I know for sure she slept with Mariah Henley, within two days of my giving her back my wedding ring.  I obviously wasn’t giving her what she wanted in bed, and that’s really the crux of why we broke up.”

 

Naomi’s heart threatened to break.  “Oh, KT,” she hugged her tightly.  “I’m so sorry, I had no idea she had done those things to you,” she held her protectively. 

 

“It wasn’t just her fault, Na,” Kieran had to admit.  “And I really don’t want you to think less of her, because I’m telling you these things.  I was pretty wrapped up in command school, and I wasn’t really there for her.  We started to drift apart, and she got angrier and angrier with my absence.  You knew that much,” she reminded her.  “The thing with Tom just signaled the end of the marriage, that’s all.  B’Elanna isn’t a lesbian, and being with me was a mistake for her. I fell short of what she needed to be happy.  I let her go because I could see that clearly, and I wanted her to be happy.  I’d tell you the same thing, if you needed something I can’t supply--go to the person who can supply it,” Kieran declared, holding her young lover gently.

 

“I knew Samantha meant you,” Naomi whispered.  “You really do understand that love is not control.  You would let me go, if that’s what I needed.”

 

Kieran swallowed hard.  “I would.  I’d probably never get over it, but I would.”  She smiled faintly.  “Only, before you conclude there’s something I can’t supply, please ask me.  Give me the chance to try, okay?”

 

Naomi kissed her lovingly.  “Okay.  And I can’t imagine anyone not being happy with your prowess in the bedroom,” she assured her.

 

Kieran laughed.  “I have the distinct benefit of your inexperience, Naomi,” she teased her.  “You have one other lover to compare me with.  B’Elanna had dozens,” she pointed out.

 

Naomi rested against her, then cleaned up the plate and bowl, taking them to the kitchen.  She came back to bed, looking at the way the morning light played across Kieran’s face. 

 

“What?” Kieran asked, suddenly self-conscious.

 

Naomi slid into the bed, kissing her cheek.  “You’re gorgeous,” she said sincerely.  “And I love you tremendously,” she added.

 

Kieran’s mind was far away.  “By now, Kathryn has read the paperwork,” she murmured.  “And she’s thought about killing me at least a hundred different ways,” she grinned.

 

Naomi touched her bare back with a faint caress.  “She deserves this, Kieran.  All she had to do was walk away, admit she was wrong, listen to the experts, even.  But she could only see the situation spinning out of her control, and that made her crazy.  She forced us to do this,” she reminded her lover.  “I just hope you still think, now that you’ve slept with me, that I’m worth it,” she added timidly.

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran gathered her into a fierce embrace.  “You’re worth everything, honey,” she confirmed.  “I love you so,” she cradled Naomi’s body against her own, wanting to absorb her completely.  “I know you don’t have any reason to feel secure, after the way I’ve behaved, but I promise you, I’m here for the long haul.  I won’t change my mind again, my beloved,” she used the vernacular of Qian.  “You are my chosen, my intended.  And I love you with all my heart, for all of my life,” she promised.  “I knew that the night of the banquet, that I would love you all of my days, and no matter what you did, there would never be anyone else for me but you.”

 

Naomi kissed her softly.  “Truly?” she asked, eyes sparkling.

 

“Truly,” Kieran replied immediately.  “When we were dancing.  You asked me if I would reconcile with B'Elanna, if she wanted to, and I told you something fundamental had changed for me, with her.  What I didn’t tell you is that I had realized I was in love with you.  I never intended to tell you, of course, but I knew that night, I would never be able to be with anyone else, either.  When you told me to resume my studies, I knew you were trying to step back from what was happening with us, and I was grateful to you for demarcating the lines,” she recalled.  “I told myself I needed to start dating again, to reinforce that I could not be with you.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  There were several women who wanted to go out with me, and they kept asking, and I kept ignoring them. I just couldn’t begin to get past what I felt for you, and I knew you would be so hurt if I got involved with anyone.”

 

“So you were waiting for me, after all, in your own way,” Naomi realized.

 

Kieran grinned.  “I guess I was,” she agreed fondly.  “You just floored me, Na.  You had me so off balance, I didn’t know which end was up.”

 

“Who kept asking you out?” Naomi wanted to know.

 

Kieran laughed out loud.  “I’m not sure I should tell you that.  You might poke them with pain sticks,” she teased.

 

Naomi waggled her eyebrows. “I might poke you with one, if you don’t tell me,” she lunged for Kieran’s ribs, tickling her furiously.

 

Kieran howled, fighting her off half-heartedly, rolling them over and tearing Naomi’s hands from her ribs, pinning her wrists over her head.  “ENOUGH, bad girl,” she scolded, kissing Naomi to center her.  She studied her lover’s facial expression, and saw a distinct edge of desire there.  “You like me pinning your arms, don’t you?” she asked enigmatically.

 

Naomi smiled softly, nodding.  “I like how strong you are, and I--” she was silenced by Kieran’s teeth on her throat, gently nipping at the perfect flesh there.  “Oh,” she exhaled gently, letting Kieran steal her train of thought.  She struggled against Kieran’s hands momentarily, but Kieran held firmly, pressing her leg between Naomi’s. 

 

“Do you want me to let go?” she whispered in Naomi’s ear, biting her earlobe.

 

“N-no,” Naomi replied, gasping faintly.  “I want you to--” she sighed, feeling Kieran’s thigh against her sex, sliding through the immediate moisture there.

 

“What do you want me to do?” Kieran squeezed her wrists, carefully but insistently.

 

“I want you to love me,” she lifted her breasts to Kieran’s mouth.  “I want--that,” she decided as Kieran bit down gently on one firm nipple.  “I want--everything,” she breathed, body suffused with heat and desire.