Summary: The 11th installment in the “Raising Naomi” Series.  Naomi, Kieran, and Seven start their new lives at the Academy, and Naomi discovers that there are consequences of growing up so fast.
 
Rating: R for female on female sexual situations, profanity, and a phallic accessory scene.
 
Author’s Foreword:  Since this story is entitled FAMILY, I’m dedicating it to my sister, Teresa Marquand Garrison, who passed away October 19th, 2003. TC Bear, wherever you are, I love you.  And I’m glad you’re keeping an eye on things. You and Jesus can look at the birds together anytime you like, now. 

 

SPECIAL THANKS: To Captain Starbuck, she of X-files fanfic, for beta reading this series and for loving me.  A big thanks to Hanesyddwr for beta reading, as well.  You have been a Godsend in too many ways to count.   

 

 

FAMILY: Part One: Challenges, Past & Present

By Michelle Marquand

 

 

Kieran Wildman strolled along the treelined path that wound its way through campus, powerful legs propelling her along the concrete walkway, bleached blond hair standing in firm spikes off her forehead.  She loved the first day of school, had always loved it, even as a small child.  There was the excitement of all those new PADDs, the supplies, the schedules, and the credits to be counted and added and added and counted.  But she had never in all her life imagined she would be coaching, and especially not at Starfleet Academy. 

 

Naomi Wildman caught up to her wife, out of breath.  “Good morning, Coach Wildman,” she smiled warmly at the tall officer. 

 

“Cadet Wildman,” Kieran feigned formality.  “Will you be joining us for tryouts this afternoon?” she asked, dark brown eyes flashing in her deeply tanned face.

 

“Tryouts?” Naomi played along, gazing up at the graceful woman who was her wife.

 

“Basketball, young lady.  You look like a small forward to me,” she sized her up.  “Three-thirty, sharp.  Don’t be late.”

 

“If I sleep with the coach, will I make the team for sure?” Naomi flirted, hazel eyes glistening with love.

 

“Oh, count on it, Cadet.  Now don’t be late for class.  Intergalactic Politics is a bitch at this hour,” she leaned down for a kiss, wrapping her arm firmly around the strawberry blonde’s shoulders as she gathered her in.

 

“I love you, Commander,” Naomi said between kisses.  “Seven said dinner is at six-thirty.  You know how she hates when we’re late.  Good luck with your recruiting today,” she smiled brightly at her spouse.  “And with Admiral Brand,” she added, trotting off to her class.  “Icheb,” she called out to her friend, spotting him on the path far ahead of her.  “Wait up,” she ran after him.

 

The first day of classes was more a formality than anything for the faculty, a time to move into new offices, to square away schedules, to meet colleagues.  Kieran was planning to take a few courses herself, though recruiting and coaching might preclude more than one or two a semester, she knew.  She was signed up for a seminar in advanced psychology, a doctoral level class, and was amused that Robin Lefler, her former fiancée, was teaching it.  She couldn’t wait to see the look on Robin’s face when she showed up.

 

When Kieran arrived at the Admin building, Admiral Brand was waiting outside Kieran’s office.  “Do you like it?” she asked brightly, pointing to the brass plate affixed to the door.

 

“Commander Kieran Wildman, Head Coach, Women’s Basketball; Head Recruiter,” she recited.  “Sounds pretty important.  You’re looking well, Admiral,” she smiled warmly at the older woman.  She keyed the access code to her office.

 

“As are you, Commander.  I can’t tell you how excited we are to have you on staff.”

 

Kieran waved her into the small space.  “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have a job where my wife wants to be,” she laughed.  “It was gracious of you to work with me on this.”

 

“Oh, we’ll get our money’s worth, I imagine,” she helped herself to a seat.  “And your ideas really sold me on the plan.  May I?” she picked up a silver framed photo from Kieran’s desk, holding it in thick fingers, platinum blonde hair framing her mild features.

 

“Please,” Kieran replied, setting a stack of PADDs on her shelf.


 “You look happy,” she commented, studying the photo from Kieran and Naomi’s wedding, which she had attended.  “And Naomi is simply breathtaking.” She set the photo back down. 

 

“I think that every day when I wake up,” Kieran admitted, thinking of her lovely wife.

 

“How is she planning to approach the quad situation?” Brand wanted to know. 

 

Most cadets were required, except in very unusual circumstances, to live on campus their first two years, because the interaction with their quad mates was considered part of the training.  There were also projects assigned to the quads, and most cadets spent all four years in that system to learn teambuilding.

 

“I think we’ve worked it out to her satisfaction.  She wasn’t buying it at first, but I convinced her that sleeping in the quad through the week is really for her own good.  She needs to get the full experience of the Academy, not just a bird’s eye view.  She will sleep at home on weekends.  At least, that’s the agreement for now,” Kieran chuckled.  “My wife tends to be stubborn, like her Janeway side.”

 

Brand rolled her eyes.  “Lord help her, then.  Kathryn was rumored to be quite a handful, when she was here,” the Admiral smiled. 

 

“She still is,” she snorted. “Naomi isn’t as bad, I promise,” Kieran crossed her heart.  “Though she likes to have her way.  It helps that I outrank her,” she winked at the Admiral.

 

Brand laughed outright at that.  “Well, we’re lucky to have a cadet as qualified as she is.  You know, she tested out of every engineering course we offer,” she shook her head in awe.

 

“She’s brilliant, that’s for sure,” Kieran admitted.  She grinned at the Admiral.  “It’s intimidating, at times, living with her and Seven,” she laughed.

 

“I don’t envy you.  You keep formidable company, Kieran,” she agreed amiably.  She slid a PADD across the desk.  “These are the students we’ve targeted for next semester, and the ones for next fall.  It’s a pretty extensive list,” she added.  “I’ve ordered them in terms of importance to the fleet.”

 

Kieran was curious.  “How did you set the criteria?”

 

“Aptitude testing and the areas where we are most lacking.  I don’t need to tell you, we need command candidates, and we need them badly.  We’ve never recovered from the losses we sustained in the war, and we have so many underqualified officers serving as senior staff on our ships, it’s shameful.  Starfleet Command is going to be cracking down on the inept and shoddy ones that have moved up the ladder too fast, and there will be some retraining and demotions.  But we can’t address the weaknesses without qualified candidates to take their places.  I had to fight like hell to get you reassigned to me, because there are a dozen captains that wanted you for their next first officers.  Owen Paris was considering giving you your own ship, without your having been a first officer at all.  Nechayev reamed him over that idea,” she chuckled, “and he was shouted down on it.  But I don’t need to tell you how desperate we are if that was even a consideration.”

 

Kieran nodded understanding.  “That is pretty dire, and frankly, I would have refused the promotion.  No one is qualified to run a starship without at least two years of being first officer, in my opinion,” she stated for the record.  “I wouldn’t trade my training on Voyager for anything, and I’d stack it up against most anyone’s record, but I’m not qualified to run a ship, even though I had one of the best teachers available.”

 

Brand folded her hands in her lap.  “We’ve been after Chakotay to come back, and Owen is working on Tom Paris to try to get him into command red,” she admitted.  “Harry Kim will be a Captain in two years, no more.  When you’re ready to move on, you’re going to be amazed at the doors that will be standing open for you.  But for now, I need good students, and I need you to get them enrolled.  And I want you to be on the lookout for anyone we failed to identify.  If you meet someone who really makes an impression, try to sign them up.  You have that freedom, and we trust your judgment.”

 

Kieran glanced at the PADD.  “Thank you, Admiral.  I’m curious about your number one choice,” she admitted.  “Kittner McCallister,” she read the name.  “That sounds familiar,” she murmured.  “Why do I know that name?”

 

Brand shrugged.  “She had the hightest SFVAB scores we’ve ever seen for a junior, and now that she’s a senior, her scores are perfect.  She’s president of her class, of student council, valedictorian-she’s a lot like you were, when we recruited you,” Brand recalled fondly.

 

“Does she play basketball?” Kieran asked hopefully.  “I could use as much talent as I can get.”

 

The Admiral laughed.  “She is the Illinois state champion in Velocity,” she advised her.  “She also plays Parrises Squares.  She does play basketball, but it’s not her strongest sport.  Oddly, she’s expressed an interest in playing for the team, but she may not be good enough to make your squad.  However, she does have black belts in three martial arts, and brown belts in two others.  She’s working on black in those,” Brand advised, smiling.  “In fact, she’s the national champion in her age division of Ken Po Karate,” she added.

 

“Good Lord,” Kieran breathed. “She sounds dangerous.”

 

“She sounds like captain material, to me,” the Admiral said hopefully.  “I can’t emphasize to you enough how much we want this girl, Kieran.  She’s being courted by Duke, Yale, Case-Western, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, the Curie School, Oxford—you name it, she’s had a scholarship offer.  If you land her and only her, your job will be considered a rousing success,” she guaranteed.

 

“I’ll pay her a visit as soon as possible,” Kieran agreed.  “Maybe something personal, outside of the speaker’s bureau, and then we can send the panel to her school to follow up.”

 

Brand nodded vigorously.  “That’s a solid approach.  Do it.”  The Admiral sighed.  “Duty calls.  I have to address the orientation assembly in fifteen minutes.  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need anything, Commander.  And welcome aboard.”

 

“Thank you for this opportunity, Admiral,” Kieran stood to shake her hand. “You won’t be sorry you gave it to me, I promise.”

 

____________________

 

Naomi Wildman rushed into the student union cafeteria, searching the massive expanse of tables for her wife.  She spotted Kieran by the windows, sipping iced tea and perusing a PADD.  Kieran glanced up as Naomi approached, standing up to greet her.

 

“Hello, love,” she kissed Naomi’s cheek.  “How was orientation?” she asked, pulling out Naomi’s chair and seating her.

 

“Inspiring.  Admiral Brand is an excellent speaker,” Naomi enthused, stealing a sip of Kieran’s iced tea. 

 

“It’s a gift,” Kieran nodded eagerly.  “What would you like for lunch? I’ll go get it if you save our table.”

 

“I want to follow the strengthening diet you put together,” she smiled at her spouse.  “I’m a lot better, but I lost a lot of muscle tone to that damned bacteria, and I need to be ready to play ball,” she said with dedication. 

 

“Okay.  Do you want me to choose for you, then?” Kieran offered.

 

“That’d be great.  I’ll review the diet later, so I can make my own selections from here on out.  Thanks, honey,” she grinned up at her spouse.  “You look stunning in the new uniforms,” she waggled her eyebrows, filling her eyes with the long body of her wife, decked in the latest version of Starfleet’s uniform.  In a fit of nostalgia, the fleet had returned to the navy blue jumpsuits of the early starfarers, with piping the color of the wearer’s department.  Their concession to the modern fleet was the mock turtleneck beneath the bodice that matched the piping.  “You always did look elegant in blue,” she complimented her wife.

 

Kieran blushed, though she was pleased by the approving look.  “I’ll be right back.  Hold that thought.”

 

 

They held hands across the table, eating slowly, Naomi talking a mile a minute about her quad mates, her class schedule, the people she’d already met.  Kieran couldn’t remember when Naomi had seemed more alive, other than when they were on Qian, which was where they had first expressed their love for one another.  She listened intently, trying to keep track of all the cadets Naomi mentioned, smiling fondly at her wife.  She had known it would be this way; that the Academy would win Naomi over the second she stepped on campus, and the coursework would challenge and interest her, push her to her intellectual limits.

 

“I have Velocity tryouts tomorrow morning,” Naomi was saying. “You’re sure I can try out for the basketball team, too, and not have the game schedules interfere?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “The coaches coordinate the schedules for multiple sport athletes.  You may find that you have matches or ball games several consecutive days, but never on the same day.  You’ll floor Coach Estes with your skill, I just know you will.  Your mother is the best Velocity player I’ve ever seen, next to Guinan, and you beat her regularly, now.  I bet you end up being the anchor of the team,” Kieran bragged.

 

Naomi squeezed Kieran’s hand.  “Thanks for believing in me.  And thanks for wanting to come to school with me.  I know you could be on the bridge of the Enterprise right now, or any one of a dozen ships,” Naomi correctly noted.  “I’m going to make the most of this opportunity, I promise,” she assured her wife.

 

“Sweetie,” Kieran drew her hand to her lips, kissing her palm.  “You’ve earned this, and I know you’ll take the campus by storm,” she said confidently.  “So are you all settled in at the quad?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I moved my uniforms and some of my casual clothes right after my Xenopsych class.  I hope it’s okay-I took two pictures from the house.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “Which two?” she asked as she shook pepper onto her salad.

 

“The wedding picture of us cutting the cake,” she described, smiling, “and a picture of you that I took last summer, with Seven, Geejay, K-Mom, Gran and Aunt Phoebe—the one in front of your statue,” she grinned.  “You don’t mind, do you?”

 

“Not at all,” Kieran assured her.  “I was just curious which ones you wanted.  I took the silver framed wedding picture for my office, if that’s okay.  Admiral Brand already looked it over, told me you’re breathtaking,” she winked at her wife.

 

“I like you having me on your desk,” she waggled her eyebrows at the double entendre. 

 

“I’d like to have you on my desk,” Kieran flirted.

 

“A fantasy?” Naomi laughed happily.  “I’ll have to figure out a way to fulfill it, then,” she decided.

 

“Promise?” Kieran’s voice dropped an octave.  She shook her head, chuckling.  “I've gotten spoiled since we moved into the house,” she admitted.  “Making love every day, swimming every night, listening to you play.”

 

Naomi’s face lit up. “Oh!  I meant to tell you that there’s a piano in the study lounge of the quad across the courtyard from mine, so I can still practice from time to time.  I was really glad, because sometimes I just need to play.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “It’s cathartic, for you, isn’t it?”

 

“Very.  Music was my salvation on Voyager.  I could pour all my suffering into it, and feel better about being without you,” she said softly.

 

“You’ll never have to be without me, now,” Kieran vowed, leaning across the table to kiss her.  “I love you, Na.  Everything about this just feels right to me,” she cupped Naomi’s soft cheek in her hand.

 

“Me, too,” Naomi agreed, leaning into the kiss.  “But I’m going to have a hell of a time sleeping without you.”

 

“I know.  I will, too.  But by the end of this week, you’re going to be so buried in reading and assignments, you’ll be up too late every night to miss me, and you’ll fall into bed and die when you’re done studying,” Kieran promised.  “It’ll be easier, then.”

 

“Did you go to your first class yet?” Naomi asked, finishing her salad and turning to her protein shake.  “Hey, this is good.  It tastes like chocolate milk,” she nodded approval.

 

“It’s this afternoon,” Kieran advised, cutting into her melon slice. 

 

“Are you nervous about seeing your ex-lover?” Naomi teased her.

 

“Actually?  A little bit,” Kieran admitted.  “I suppose that sounds strange to you, but there’s always this vanity that goes with it—like, you want to look your best and make her regret what an idiot she was,” she laughed.

 

Naomi nodded.  “Just don’t impress her too much, Commander Wildman,” she emphasized Kieran’s new last name.  “I saw her sitting at a table for the Psych department at registration.  Like all of your other ex-lovers, she’s gorgeous.”

 

Kieran smiled softly at her wife.  “She can’t begin to compare with you, Naomi.  No one can,”  she grinned. “Can’t you tell how whipped I am?”

 

Naomi studied her expression, then nodded slowly.  “I think I can,” she agreed.  “I have another class, honey.  I have to run.  I’ll see you at tryouts though,” she reminded herself as much as Kieran, so she wouldn’t feel separation anxiety.  She grabbed her tray to recycle her dishes, leaned down and kissed her wife.  “Have a great afternoon.  I love you, KT,” she murmured.

 

Kieran stood to hug her.  “I love you, too, Na.  Always, and only you.”

 

_____________________

 

Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg Collective, began her first lecture by handing out syllabi to her students, then spent the bulk of the classtime answering questions.  However, the cadets were much less interested in questions about the syllabus and the course content than in asking Seven about Voyager, the Delta Quadrant, the Borg, and anything else they could think of to avoid the actual topic of the class. 

 

Kieran Wildman came into the lecture hall as the time allotted was winding down, and Seven waved her down the steps of the auditorium.  She removed the amplifying device from her shirt, and stepped away from the lectern to talk to Kieran.  She nodded vigorously, and Kieran took the podium

 

“All right, listen up.  This is Astrometrics, not the history of Voyager.  After today, I expect the question and answer portion of the class to stay within the parameters of the subject matter.  Is that understood?”

 

The class stiffened and said “Aye, Commander,” in unison.

 

Kieran smirked.  “Professor Hansen is a fascinating individual, and I’m sure you’re all curious, but that is not the purpose of this class.  Professor?”

 

Seven smiled faintly.  “There will be a quiz at the beginning of the next class,” she announced, “over the reading assignment.  Commander Wildman has suggested that I keep you so busy, you won’t have time to lead me off topic,” she crossed her arms and scowled at them.  “Therefore, come prepared.  I am Borg.  I assure you, the quiz will not be easy, and anyone who fails will be assimilated.”

 

The cadets weren’t sure if she was kidding.  She grinned, finally.  “Borg humor.  I see it is beyond you.  You’re dismissed.”

 

Kieran linked her arm with Seven’s, smiling warmly at her.  “I thought it was very funny, your Borgness.  How are you adapting to life on campus?”

 

Seven’s eyes brightened eagerly.  “I have met several of my colleagues, and although they are not much better about prying into my personal life, most of them seem to be nice enough.  I have already received an invitation to a faculty mixer, a request for a conference on one of the department head’s seminars, and three invitations of a personal nature,” she reported.

 

Kieran laughed.  “You must be intimidated by the attention, because you’re sounding Borg-like,” she squeezed her companion’s arm. 

 

One of the cadets stopped and stared at the two women.  “Professor?” she said politely.

 

“Yes?” Seven turned to face her.

 

“You said that was Borg humor, but don’t the Borg consider humor irrelevant?” she asked haltingly.

 

Seven winked at Kieran.  “Perhaps, but even an old Borg can learn new tricks,” she quipped.  “I happen to live with one of the funnier humans I’ve ever known, so I am bound to assimilate some of her humor.  I’m adding her uniqueness to my own.”

 

Kieran laughed at Seven.  “If you ask me, humor is about the only thing in life that IS relevant,” she decided.  “Come on,” she smiled at her friend.  “I’ll buy you lunch.” 

 

“Thank you for rescuing me from their unabashed opportunism,” Seven said quietly as they left the Astrometrics building.  “I would have blithely spent the whole semester answering their questions.  I had no idea they were deliberately leading me astray.”

 

“They don’t mean any harm.  Keep in mind, Seven, you’re the only Borg they’ll probably ever meet, and you’re one of only about 150 people that have ever been to the Delta Quadrant.  You could write reams on your experience.  Of course they’re going to want to know everything about you.  You’ll have to keep a firm upper hand, or they’ll have you swapping Neelix’ recipes and playing Kadis Kot,” she teased.

 

“Is that why everyone stares at me?” Seven asked, horrified.  “Because I am still perceived as Borg?”

 

“Well,” Kieran grinned, “maybe, but I suspect most of the stares are because you’re stunning,” she said truthfully.  “I’m so glad you stopped wearing those awful biosuits.  You look so appealing in civilian clothes, and so much softer,” she said fondly.

 

“Softer?” Seven was puzzled.  They walked briskly along, her blonde hair flying behind her shoulders on the faint breeze.  Seven was wearing a long, full floral-print skirt, brown, yellow and cream, and a matching long sleeved silk blouse.  With her hair loose, she looked so young, she could be a cadet herself, and Kieran had to remind herself not to stare. 

 

“More feminine, less severe.  Your biosuits made you seem so unapproachable, so harsh.  Dressed like this, you don’t look so frightening or so imposing,” Kieran advised.

 

“You thought of me as frightening looking, before?” Seven sounded injured.

 

“No, sweetie.  I always thought of you as gorgeous, and however your exterior seemed, I always knew your sensitivity.  I just think you seem more human, without the biosuits,” she explained.

 

“Well,” she colored faintly, “I’m glad you approve.  Naomi has been assisting me with my choice of attire,” she admitted. 

 

“She’s got a great eye for that sort of thing,” Kieran pushed the door open and held it for Seven, letting her enter the Admin building ahead of her.  “Now, what do you feel like eating?”

 

Seven was instantly self-conscious among the throng of officers in the mess, and, without realizing it, she slipped her fingers into Kieran’s hand, retreating into the familiarity of her friend.  “I—please, choose something,” she stammered, gazing at all the pips and bars.

 

Kieran smiled warmly at her.  “Relax, Seven.  You’ll be fine, here.  Everyone is going to want to meet you, so you’d better get accustomed to being the center of attention everywhere you go,” she warned.

 

“I will try to adapt,” Seven retreated into Borg-speak, thinking the Academy was infinitely more frightening than any member of species 8472.

 

Kieran introduced Seven to everyone she knew, and some of the officers were bold enough that they introduced themselves without knowing either woman.  Seven was overwhelmed at the plethora of faces and names and ranks, even with her eidetic memory.  But Kieran held her hand across the table, giving it a reassuring squeeze from time to time, just to keep her anchored, and the longer they sat together through the parade of curious people, the more relaxed Seven became.  Until Robin Lefler sat down with them.

 

Seven smiled at the newcomer, thinking she was a beautiful woman, admiring her shimmering shoulder length brown hair and her easy smile.

 

Kieran leaned across the table and kissed her cheek.  The former lovers had overcome the awkwardness of the student-teacher relationship with very little effort, and were committed to finding a comfort level with another.  “Robbie, I’d like you to meet my mother-in-law, Seven of Nine.  Seven, this is Robin Lefler,” she smiled at both women.

 

Seven’s face tightened with disapproval.  She remembered Kieran’s description of Robin’s callous treatment when they had been engaged.  Robin hadn’t expected the warmest welcome, considering her track record with Kieran and the fact that Kieran was married now, so she was unfazed by Seven’s phaser-like glare, and stuck her hand out to Seven.

 

“Pleased to meet you, Seven,” she smiled at the former drone.  “I’m sorry we didn’t have the chance to meet sooner,” she added.  “I thought you might attend some of Kathryn’s sessions with her.”  She gazed steadily at the younger woman, appraising her.

 

“Kathryn and I are separated,” she explained stiffly.  “And given your history with Kieran, I did not think you were an appropriate choice of therapist for my wife,” she added coolly.  Her ice blue eyes paled considerably as she scrutinized the Counselor, thinking it an irony that beneath her navy blue uniform she was allowed to wear the pale blue mock turtleneck that signified the sciences and the art of counseling.  In Seven’s estimation, few people deserved the honor, and Robin certainly did not.

 

Robin did not take offense at Seven’s tone or her observation, but Kieran jumped in to defend her.  “Seven, Robbie and I—our past—that was a very long time ago.  She has an excellent reputation as a counselor, and I’m sure she and Kathryn will accomplish their treatment goals.  Don’t worry about Kat, your Borgness,” she urged.

 

“I am not worried about Kathryn,” Seven shot back.  “However, I am worried that you have no apparent qualms about associating with someone who so profoundly damaged you,” she addressed only Kieran.

 

Kieran was startled at the venom in Seven’s tone.

 

Robin glanced from Kieran to Seven and back again.  “I—ah—I think I’ll just go.  I’m sorry I upset you, Seven.  It was nice to meet you.  KT, I’ll see you in class.  By the way, Jamari is doing really well.  I thought you might like to know,” she scooted out from their table, backing away.

 

Kieran stood and hugged her lightly.  “Thanks, Robbie.  I should contact the Curtises and check on Jamari myself.  You take care, sweetie.”

 

Robin smiled gratefully.  “I will.  You do the same.”  She scurried away with the lingering sense of Seven’s eyes boring into her back as she retreated.

 

Kieran regarded her mother-in-law with astonishment.  “Seven,” she reached for her hand once more, “what the hell was that about?”

 

“That woman,” Seven’s cheeks darkened with emotion, “treated you almost as badly as P’Arth.  Yet she is audacious enough to approach you, as if she hadn’t lost that right eons ago?” she was incensed.  “Some things do not deserve to be forgiven.  What she did to you qualifies, in my opinion,” she bit her words off.

 

Kieran swallowed her immediate reaction, which was to tell Seven it was none of her business.  She studied her companion’s face momentarily, then shook her head.  “I appreciate your wanting to protect me, your Borgness, I truly do.  But Robbie and I were kids, back then, and I’m sure she regrets what she did.”

 

“You also went to see her when Naomi was sick,” Seven accused, her jaw muscle twitching in her face.

 

“And you thought that was somehow inappropriate?” Kieran asked plaintively.  “Did Naomi tell you about that?”

 

Seven nodded.  “She was frightened that you felt it necessary to seek out your ex-lover, especially when she was so ill.  It was the only time I have had reason to question whether your heart was in the right place with regard to my child,” she declared, emphasizing her words by crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“You should have confronted me at the time,” Kieran pointed out.  “And Naomi should have, too, if she doubted my motives.  Look, Seven, I don’t believe in carrying around a grudge just because Robin made mistakes in our relationship.”

 

“If you don’t believe in grudges, then why did you encourage me to leave Kathryn?” Seven asked pointedly.

 

“That’s different.  Kathryn was being abusive, and she was not in her right mind.  She’s getting help, now, and if you wanted to try again with her, I wouldn’t discourage you from that, provided she never hits you again.  And if she ever does, I will kill her,” she asserted, her deep brown eyes flashing angrily.

 

“You will not have the chance, because I will do it myself,” Seven assured her companion.  She regarded Kieran for a long while, then started to chuckle.  “You and I are far too protective of one another.  We are as bad with each other as you used to be with Naomi when she was a little girl,” she noted, smiling.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I am protective of you.  I have to be.  This isn’t Voyager, where Kathryn is right there watching everyone who interacts with you.  This is new territory for you, Seven, and I worry for you.”

 

“My point exactly.  I worry just as much for you, Kieran.  These people—your colleagues, your fans—it’s as if they all want something from you, and you are so generous, it would be easy to take advantage of you.  That’s why I really wish you would let me pay rent for my room.  I feel like I’m one of the people exploiting your good nature,” she admitted. 

 

“We’ve been over this before, your Borgness.  We are family.  You will never pay to live in my house, period.  I am so grateful to have you with me.  This week has been hell, having Naomi away from home, and you’ve made it tolerable.  Everytime I feel sorry for myself, you distract me.  That’s worth a lot more than money,” she confirmed.

 

Seven smiled.  “I enjoy being there, as well.  My room is opulent, and I am happy to have help with Geejay.  Once again, you and I are parenting together,” she said fondly, lacing her fingers with Kieran’s.  “It feels...natural.”

 

“It does,” Kieran agreed, “but that’s because we had so much practice with Na.”

 

“Kathryn and I had practice with her, as well, but parenting with Kathryn stopped feeling natural when Naomi was sick.  We never got back our comfort level with each other,” she bit her lip pensively.  “It had a very negative impact on how we parented Geejay, after the fact.  Now I think Geejay is better off that we don’t live together,” she said sadly.

 

“But you miss Kat, don’t you?” Kieran said gently, her tone warming.

 

“Yes.  It is confusing, because I miss her, but I am also afraid of her.  Will that sense of dread ever go away?” she implored, face troubled.

 

“It might, if you consciously work on it.  I know I need to work on it, too, with her,” she admitted.  “I have to tell myself, every time I see her, ‘this is not the same woman that hit Seven’.  I have to remind myself she was sick and not at fault for what she did.  But it isn’t easy, your Borgness.  I look at her, and I immediately think of you, battered and bleeding and scared.  And I want to hurt her.  I want to scare her, and make her feel as intimidated and small as you felt.”

 

Seven smirked.  “You do not think you accomplished that when you medicated her and told her she was a miserable tyrant?  You do not think you frightened her when you told her you would kill her if she ever laid another finger on me?  I would have been frightened.  You sounded as though you meant every word,” she grinned.  “And I have seen you thrash B'Elanna’s ass,” she giggled, experimenting with profanity.

 

“You heard that?  How could you?  You were in the hallway,” Kieran protested, grinning wickedly at her friend.

 

“Borg enhanced hearing, plus I had my ear against the door,” she laughed.  Then seriously, she squeezed Kieran’s fingers in her own mesh-encased ones.  “I was moved.  And I felt safe, then.  Just as I do now, living with you.  I was angry with you for going to see Robin, but I should have known you’d find a way to forgive her, just as you have B'Elanna and Kathryn.  And I was able to convince Naomi she had no reason to feel threatened.  She doesn’t have any reason, does she?”

 

Kieran’s eyes went wide.  “God, Seven, of course not.  I love Naomi.  Why would you doubt me?”

 

“Robin is very attractive.  It appears to be a pattern with you, to find exquisite women to sleep with,” she teased.

 

“Your daughter is the exemplar of exquisiteness.  Robin is not a temptation,” Kieran insisted.  She checked the chronometer.  “Now, I have to get going.  I have a meeting with Admiral Brand.”

 

“Will you be home for supper?” Seven asked.

 

“Always.  I’ll hail you if I’m going to be late,” she promised.

 

_____________________

 

Kieran Wildman stretched behind her desk, rubbed her eyes and decided to walk around campus to clear her thought processes.  It had been a long time since she had been on duty, and it was tedious sitting at a workstation again.  She strolled out of the Admin building, down the sidewalk and across the grounds, breathing in the scent of the late summer flowers.  Cadets were milling about everywhere, excitedly renewing acquaintances, exchanging comm account codes, making coffee dates, already studying under the trees and in the gardens.  Kieran loved the campus, the lush greenery and towering buildings, and she had hundreds of good memories of being there.  Halfway through the first week of classes, she was still adjusting to the feeling of déjà vu she got every time she wandered around the grounds.

 

She smirked at the cadets who stopped to point and stare at her, overhearing the whispers.  “That’s Kieran Thompson, the basketball star,” she heard one cadet tell another.  And “Isn’t she the statue woman?”

 

Naomi Wildman spotted her wife’s head bobbing above the others on the path, and she smiled at her companions.  “Thanks for walking me to class,” she told her quad mates, Shannon and Mikhai.  “I need to say hi to someone, so I’ll see you later.” She trotted away to catch up to her wife.  “Kieran!” she called out, jogging alongside the taller woman.

 

Kieran spun around just in time to gather Naomi into a firm embrace.  “Hi, sweetheart,” she hugged her wife tightly, cradling her head in a large hand. 

 

Naomi stood on tiptoes to receive a kiss.  “What brings you out of your sanctuary?” Naomi teased her wife.

 

Kieran grinned.  “I needed some sunshine.  Being cooped up inside all day stinks,” she stroked Naomi’s cheek with the back of her knuckles.  “You look so pretty today,” she breathed.

 

“Thank you for the flowers,” Naomi smiled lovingly up at her wife.  “Yellow roses are my favorite.  It was a nice reminder that you’re thinking of me.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “I think about you constantly.  But I’m glad you liked the roses.  How did you sleep last night?”

 

“Better than the previous night, but it’s hard.  I’m so used to hearing you breathe, to feeling you snuggled against my back,” she admitted.  “Can you walk me to class?”

 

Kieran nodded, taking her hand.  She never ceased to be amazed at how small Naomi’s hands felt in her own.  “You did good work in practice, yesterday, especially considering everything your body has been through in the past six months,” the basketball coach conveyed her approval.

 

“I tire easily, but I hope that will improve,” Naomi noted, squeezing Kieran’s hand.

 

“If it doesn’t, I want you to go to the med center, and have a physical.  You might be anemic, or missing some crucial vitamin or something.  I think the diet I have you on is nutritionally solid, but it never hurts to be sure.  Have you heard whether you made the Velocity team yet?”

 

Naomi grinned.  “I made it.  Starting varsity,” she confirmed.

 

Kieran kissed her cheek as they walked along.  “I’m not surprised, but I am proud, honey,” she said affectionately. 

 

They came to the social sciences complex, and Kieran stopped short on the sidewalk, stooping to kiss Naomi goodbye.

 

“You were wrong about something,” Naomi advised her, eyes filled with love and longing.  “You said I’d stop missing you as soon as I got busy.  But I miss you something fierce,” she clung to Kieran momentarily.

 

“I know, baby,” Kieran breathed the scent of Naomi’s hair.  “I miss you, too.  But Friday’s not far, and you’ll be home then.  You can always drop by my office, or hail me, Na.”  Kieran kissed her tenderly, reluctant to let her go.

 

“Okay,” Naomi gazed up at her wife, chest aching.  “See you soon.”  She forced herself up the steps to the complex and through the double doors, not looking back. 

 

One of her classmates caught up to her, smiling.  “Hi, Naomi.  Did I just see you kissing a Commander?” she asked, grinning. 

 

Naomi nodded.  “Yes.  That’s my wife, Kieran Wildman.”  Naomi racked her brain to try to remember the girl’s name.  Candace.  That was it.

 

The woman’s face fell.  “Oh my God! Your last name is Wildman?  You’re Kathryn Janeway’s daughter from Voyager?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Yes.”

 

The younger cadet was clearly impressed.  “I had no idea.  Will you meet me for coffee sometime?  I bet you have stories that would fill books,” she breathed.

 

Naomi shrugged.  “Sure.  How about after class next week?”

 

Candace smiled ear to ear.  “Great.  We’d better hurry, lecture starts in two minutes,” she started to sprint.

 

_______________

 

Gretchen Janeway settled into the dining room chair, glancing around the home her granddaughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter-in-law shared in San Francisco.  She smoothed her hands over her tight, silvery curls, smiling at Seven of Nine.

 

“Are you unpacked yet?” she asked pleasantly.

 

Seven placed the coffees on the table, nodding.  “It was an arduous task, but I am finished,” she replied, sounding too formal and regretting it immediately.  “Gretchen,” she said apologetically, “I hope you are not angry with me.”

 

“Why would I be?” Gretchen gave her a faint grin.  “Have you done something I don't know about?” she asked in a teasing tone.

 

“No, but I am living here, and not with Kathryn,” Seven clarified.

 

“Sugar,” Gretchen patted her hand, “you're not ready.  I understand that perfectly.”

 

“Does Kathryn?” Seven asked hesitantly, sipping her coffee.  She had finally developed a taste for the bitter black brew, after years of living among addicts.

 

Gretchen smirked.  “Who can say?  She's not very communicative, but then, you know that from living with her.  She is so much like her father, and her inclination is to kick herself for all the mistakes she made, without ever trying to rectify them. She's every bit as stubborn as Edward was, when he was a younger man.  Luckily, he learned better ways of dealing with things, as his command matured him.”

 

Seven nodded, blowing on the hot liquid in her cup. “Kathryn was improving, as well, with our years together, until the Restidian bacteria infected her, and now I have to wonder if that will be a permanent setback,” she sighed. “We had to work so hard on our communication, and on our power dynamic in the marriage, but all the progress seems to have been lost.”

 

Gretchen helped herself to a shortbread cookie, one Seven had baked from Gretchen's own recipe.  She smiled.  “These are better than mine,” she complimented her daughter-in-law.  “Tell me something, Seven.  What is it, exactly, that you want from Kathryn?  An apology? Or do you really just want a divorce?”

 

Seven's eyes widened.  “No,” she protested immediately.  “I do not want a divorce.  And she has already apologized.  I am not certain what else needs to be said.  I only know that I am afraid of her, and more afraid of trusting her again.  Kieran keeps talking to me about it, and it helps, but I can't completely overcome the sense that once again, Kathryn is insincere in her apologies, and will lapse back into abusiveness and controlling behavior.”  She toyed with her coffee cup, thinking about her wife.  “What I want is the kind of relationship Naomi has with Kieran.  Honest, open, supportive, and intimate at the most basic level.  Kathryn and I never came close to that, no matter how much I expressed my need for it.  She would try, sometimes, but other times, she didn't even bother.  The ship was the excuse, at first, and later the children and the ship, combined.”

 

Gretchen was more than sympathetic. “I imagine it was quite a balancing act, for both of you, after years and years stranded out there.  You do realize she was ill, though, don't you honey?”

 

“Of course I do,” Seven agreed readily. “The difficulty lies in not knowing how much of her behavior was coming from her and how much from the illness.  That is what I am afraid to trust.”

 

“Let me ask you then,” Gretchen munched placidly on her cookie.  “Before the bacteria, did Kathryn ever hit you?”

 

“No,” Seven allowed.

 

“Was she verbally abusive?” she pressed.

 

“She was not,” Seven considered.

 

“So without the bacterial infection, to your recollection, Kathryn was an acceptable partner?  Not perfect, but acceptable?”

 

“She was accpetable,” Seven affirmed. “I know I am being unfair in holding this against her, but whenever I think about being together again, I feel a sense of panic and dread that I cannot reason through.  All I can think of is her anger, her temper, her attempts to control everything, and the way that she abandoned me when Naomi was dying.  Kieran was the one who got me through that situation.  And I have every confidence that if I had only admitted to Kieran what was really happening with Kathryn, I would not have been in that situation for so long.”

 

“Kieran has been a good friend to you,” Gretchen agreed, “but do you still wish she were more?”

 

Seven blushed furiously.  “You sound like Kathryn,” she accused.  “Would you like more coffee?”

 

Gretchen grasped her wrist, keeping her seated at the table.  “You're avoiding the question,”  she pointed out.

 

Seven settled herself again.  “Under the current circumstances, I do not wish Kieran were more than a friend,” she insisted.

 

“But if she hadn't married Naomi?” she pushed for a confession.

 

Seven took a cookie.  “I cannot speculate, because she did marry Naomi.  Could I love Kieran that way?  I definitely could, and I did when I was ill with the bacteria.  I am not proud of that.  But Kieran handled it with her usual sensitivity and with discretion, and she never allowed my behavior to compromise her own.  She protected Naomi, as one would expect.  I am not certain Kathryn will ever forgive me for my own inability to control my feelings.”

 

“I think,” Gretchen said wisely, “she is unlikely to forgive herself for the things she’s done to damage the relationship, but she has already forgiven you.  She laughed about how you disobeyed Kieran's orders on an away mission so you could save her life, even though Kathryn clearly realized your deeper, more selfish motives in that situation.  She says you nearly got yourself killed.”

 

Seven nodded.  “That Hirogen was about to behead Kieran.  Another second and she would have been dead. I had no choice. Naomi would never have recovered, emotionally, if Kieran had died at his hands and she had seen it happen. Kathryn laughed about it?”

 

“She did, heartily,” Gretchen admitted.  “And she said Kieran lied to cover your behind, so she couldn't reprimand you for disobeying a direct order.”

 

Seven's lips curled faintly. “And Kieran and I thought we had fooled her,” she chuckled.

 

“I don't think a lot gets by my daughter,” the elder Janeway laughed.  “I'm surprised Kieran even tried to cover for you.”

 

Seven bristled.  “She has always championed my cause, no matter what the circumstances.”

 

“And Kathryn hasn't,” Gretchen noted.

 

“Kathryn has done her best, but her position of command prevents her from her deeper loyalties at times.  In her defense, though, she certainly rescued me more than once, and she risked the ship in that endeavor repeatedly, even before we were involved,” Seven had to be truthful. 

 

“She told me she loved you the second she laid eyes on you, Borg hardware and all,” Gretchen smiled affectionately at her daughter-in-law.

 

Seven was startled by that admission.  “She did?  She told you that?”

 

“She said she could see the vulnerability in your one human eye, and that she knew the Collective had taken away so much of your life, it was criminal.  You were as innocent as a child, in her mind, in spite of how you blamed yourself for the actions of the Borg.”

 

“Innocent as a child.  And she saw nothing wrong with loving me.   Yet when Kieran fell in love with Naomi, Kathryn could only see the age difference between them.  We had so many fights about Naomi,” she scowled.  “I don’t believe that issue was influenced by the bacteria, either,” she asserted.

 

“No, I think you’re right about that,” Gretchen confirmed.  “Kathryn still struggles with the fact that Naomi married Kieran.  She loves them both, but the way they went behind her back still troubles her,” she sighed.  “And although I disagree with Kathryn’s doubts about their marriage, I understand her feeling betrayed.  Can’t you?”

 

Seven shook her head.  “Not now.  Kathryn left them no choice.  She was going to throw Kieran in the brig, and keep them apart.  And Naomi really didn’t leave Kieran any choice, either.  I, for one, am grateful Kieran chose to save Naomi’s life and defied Kathryn.  Have you considered the alternative?”

 

Gretchen thought about it.  “Not really.”

 

“Imagine if Kieran had refused Naomi.  Naomi would have still chosen suicide, or more accurately, a permanent hallucination.  Kathryn would have never forgiven herself for that, Kieran would have lost her one true love, and I would have still ended up leaving Kathryn.  And none of us would have Naomi.”

 

“Pretty tough decisions, either way,” she acknowledged.  “And that leaves you with even harder ones.”

 

Seven sighed.  “I am not ready to decide anything.  I hope you can understand that.  And I would really like to talk about something else.” She retrieved Gretchen’s cup to fill it with coffee again.

______________________

 

Naomi Wildman sat in the spa in the back yard of the Victorian home she shared with her wife and her mother, stretching in the soothing heat.  The first week of classes had been grueling, and she was already loaded down with reading and research.  To top it off, between basketball tryouts and Velocity tryouts, her whole body was sore, and she finally had to admit what a toll the Restidian bacteria had taken on her, physically.  She ached in places she didn’t know she had muscles.  The spa baked away her pain, and she nearly fell asleep, relaxing for the first time since she had walked out of the bedroom she shared with Kieran on the previous Sunday night.

 

“Sweetie, don’t drown,” Kieran eased down into the water beside her wife.  “You look exhausted,” she leaned over and kissed Naomi’s cheek.  “So tell me everything,” she encouraged her.

 

Naomi sighed and stretched.  “I hurt almost as much as when I was sick,” she admitted.

 

“I can help with that,” Kieran assured her, moving behind her.  “Let me work on you awhile,” she began the slow, sensual process of massaging her wife’s shoulders, eliciting an appreciative groan.  “Now tell me all about school,” she said softly, nuzzling Naomi’s throat.

 

Naomi smiled, gathered her impressions, and told Kieran about her quad mates, Shannon and Mikhai, who were anxious to get to know her, and their fourth quad mate, Grovex, a Betazed male who avoided all of them for no apparent reason.  Naomi had barely seen him in the entire week.  She spoke of her anthro and psych classes, her professors and commanding officers, her teammates, her assignments.  She rambled for over an hour before taking much of a breather, then started to laugh as she realized Kieran had undressed her while she was speaking.

 

“How did you do that?” she smirked at her companion.

 

Kieran smiled innocently.  “Do what, my beloved?”

 

Naomi turned in her arms, kissing her.  “Get me naked without my noticing,” she accused lightly.

 

“You were engrossed in your subject matter,” Kieran teased, brushing her thumbs over Naomi’s nipples.

 

“Aren’t you worried about Seven catching us in the act?” she asked, punctuating the question with her tongue in Kieran’s mouth.

 

The Commander gasped softly at the familiarity of the gesture.  “No.  She is at a faculty mixer for her department, and won’t be back until very late,” she explained, kissing her wife with growing ardor.

 

“You must have missed me,” Naomi noted, easing Kieran’s swimsuit straps down her muscular arms and following her hands with her lips, leaving a tantalizing line of kisses in their wake.

 

“Terribly,” Kieran agreed, breathing softly at the sensation of Naomi’s mouth on her shoulders.  “I told you I got spoiled, living here with you.  Now I can’t seem to sleep unless we make love first,” she confessed, letting Naomi remove her bathing suit.

 

Naomi pressed between her legs, fondling her gently.  “You’re going to sleep like death tonight, then, because I’m going to make love to you ‘til you can’t move,” she promised.

 

Kieran tangled her fingers in Naomi’s long, strawberry blonde locks, kissing her deeply and groaning as delicate fingers skated over her labia.  “I though you were in pain, love,” she reminded her, quickly forgetting to care one way or the other.

 

“Your massage took care of it, or else, my overwhelming need to touch you made me not notice so much,” she murmured, biting softly at Kieran’s throat and feeling the immediate surrender.  “I love how you do that, honey,” she kissed Kieran’s ear, breathing warmly into it.

 

“Do...what?” Kieran’s thoughts were losing cohesion.  Naomi entered her with two slender fingers, robbing her of her ability to speak entirely.

 

“The way you give yourself to me,” she clarified, pressing her fingers deeper.  “I can feel it in your body, the way you abandon your walls when I’m loving you,” she whispered, capturing Kieran’s pleasureful sounds in her mouth.  “Do you think the neighbors will hear us?” she asked faintly.

 

“N-no,” Kieran sighed as a solitary fingertip stroked her clitoris.  “I made sure this was private when I bought the place,” she admitted. 

 

Naomi grinned.  “You were planning on trysts in the pool?”

 

“Absolutely,” Kieran agreed, biting her lip as the feeling intensified.  “I know how you love to make love in the water,” she sighed, opening her legs wider.  “God, Na, that feels incredible,” she pressed her face against Naomi’s shoulder, muffling the sounds of her need in the pale flesh.

 

“I love you,” Naomi met her gaze momentarily, lost in brown eyes, heart thundering.  “I love how you feel, and how you sound, and how you come to me,” she spurred her lover on with her words.  “You don’t need to hold back, not tonight, Kieran,” she caressed her more directly.  “I’m here for you, all night if you want me that long,” she promised.  She brushed her lips over Kieran’s cheek.  “I’m going to take you every way you can imagine,” she said throatily.

 

Kieran surged against her fingers, crying out suddenly, body rigid and overheated and flushed with desire.  “Na, oh, it’s so good, so good,” she trembled beneath her touch, shuddering and shattering in her embrace.  “Baby,” she clutched at her body with crushing need, “don’t stop,” she begged, the pressure starting again.  “I—oh, God, touch me,” she pleaded, hiding her face in Naomi’s hair and coming again.

 

Naomi had long ago learned how to take Kieran over that edge repeatedly, how to tease and taunt and pleasure her thoroughly so that she could come again and again.  She also knew how to make her wait, how to prolong their lovemaking, so that Kieran had only one orgasm, but a mind-numbing, explosive one that drained her completely.  This night Kieran would be at Naomi’s mercy too many times to count, and to that end they retired to their bedroom, escaping the overwhelming temperature of the spa.

 

Naomi led her upstairs, closing the doors behind them and pushing her onto their bed, draping her own glorious body over Kieran’s, letting the larger woman revel in the swells of flesh filling her hands.  Naomi loved arousing her wife this way, pressing herself against Kieran’s leaner frame, full breasts and buttocks soft and perfect and agonizingly beautiful. 

 

“You’re exquisite,” Kieran breathed, stretching up to kiss her, senses overcome by the sheer voluptuousness of her body, the feminine cascade of her hair, the contrast of her aggression.  “God, I love how you feel, honey,” she breathed into Naomi’s kisses, letting the Ktarian explore her mouth with a velvet tongue, aching for that tongue in so many other places.

 

Naomi never disappointed her, always knowing instinctively where she needed to be loved, how she needed to be touched, always willing to comply.  Kieran moved beneath Naomi, opened herself completely, body pliant and warm, accepting questing fingers in every orifice, writhing from the intimacy of the dual intrusion.  “Look at me, Kieran,” she commanded her lover, eyes locking with hers.  “Now tell me what you want most,” she requested, following the inquiry with a gentle kiss and a sudden thrust of her fingers.

 

Kieran whimpered, arching into her body.  “I want your mouth,” she boldly met Naomi’s gaze.

 

“Where do you want my mouth?” Naomi demanded, her pulse screaming in her veins. “Tell me.”

 

“I want your mouth on my clit,” Kieran obediently replied.  “Please, Na, suck my clit,” she begged, eyes closing against the fierceness in her lover’s expression.

 

Naomi swallowed hard and descended Kieran’s body, devouring her with a ferocity that sent the woman into immediate spasms, her body peaking beneath a skilled caress, a fluttering tongue, and the wet warmth of lips surrounding her, cradling her.

 

Kieran was delirious from the multi-faceted seduction, murmuring nonsensically as she came, brain muddled with the flood of endorphins, body spent in one last convulsion.  Naomi moved over her, drawing her into welcoming arms, immediately tender and protective of her lover’s vulnerability, sheltering it.

 

“I’ve got you, honey,” she rocked Kieran softly, letting her cry in the aftermath.

 

“I missed you,” Kieran admitted, face pressed against Naomi’s breast.

 

“I missed you too, my love.  Let it go, sweetie.  I love you so much,” she smoothed her hand over the flattened spikes of Kieran’s hair, soothing her with her words and her sweetest caresses. 

 

Kieran let the torrent wash over them both, her emotion almost as potent as her pleasure, then expended as suddenly as it came.  She dozed in Naomi’s arms, comforted and sated, too wrung out to care if she seemed weak.  Naomi loved her.  She didn’t need an image, a façade, or pretense.  She only needed Naomi.

 

______________________

 

Seven of Nine, late of the Borg Collective, finished up with the straggling students who always seemed to linger after her Astrometrics class.  Although they adhered to the course outline during classtime, they couldn't resist the chance to ask the statuesque Borg questions about her days on Voyager, her time in the Collective, her adjustment to her humanity.
 
Seven was startled when she worked her way through to the end of the long line of inquiring minds, only to find herself face to face with a gorgeous Trill.
 
“Are you in this class?” she asked faintly, trying to place the face.
 
The slender, graceful alien smiled.  “Not this term,” she replied, her voice threaded with amusement.
 
“That's odd,” Seven cocked her head to one side.  “You look so familiar.  But you’re not in uniform, so you can’t be a cadet,” she realized.  “Where do I know you from?”
 
Lenara Kahn threw back her head and laughed.  “Perhaps you've assimilated some of my species,” she teased lightly, extending her hand.  “Doctor Lenara Kahn, visiting professor. I've been meaning to look you up,” she smiled warmly at the former drone.  “Your reputation precedes you,” she added.
 
Seven's eyebrows nearly crawled into her hairline.  “Please, forgive me for not recognizing you.  I am so embarrassed. Your paper on dark matter was enthralling, Doctor Kahn.  And your work on the stable wormhole—fascinating,” she complimented the older woman.  “You were not at the faculty mixer last Friday,” she pointed out.
 
Lenara released her hand reluctantly.  “No, I was at a conference, presenting my research to a group of colleagues.  I'm gratified that you've read my work,” she said humbly.  “I was hoping to get your input on the spatial anomalies you encountered in your tenure with the Collective,” she admitted hopefully.  “Do you have time to get some lunch?”
 
“You want my perspective?” Seven was flattered. “I'd be happy to tell you anything you like, though I suspect none of what I know will be news to you, Doctor,” she replied respectfully.
 
“Please, call me Lenara. Do you prefer your human or your Borg designation?” she asked.
 
“My friends and family call me Seven, and I would be pleased if you would do the same,” she affirmed.  “Where shall we go for lunch?” she asked, feeling enormously pleased that the prominent scientist wanted to talk to her.  They exited the stellar sciences wing, emerging into the sunshine streaming down from the clouds.  Seven breathed deeply, enjoying the fragrance of the flower beds on the grounds.
 
Lenara shrugged.  “I'm afraid I've only ventured as far as the student union and the Intergalactic Suites in my short stay on Earth, this time.  How about if I agree to pay, and you pick some place?  I'm free the rest of the afternoon, if you'd like to go off campus.”
 
Seven considered.  “Let's just go to the student union cafeteria.  I've not been there yet, and I'd like to see where my cadets spend their time.”  
 
“All right,” Lenara agreed, smiling at her companion as they walked across the campus. “How are you adjusting to being on the faculty, after so long in space?” she wondered.
 
Seven, in an uncharacteristic fit of talkativeness, launched into a thorough description of her impressions, comparing and contrasting life on Earth to life in space.  The two women found the cafeteria, selected food, and sat down to continue their discussion.
 
Lenara Kahn was like a thirsty sponge, firing questions at the former Borg, absorbing everything she could take in from Seven's vast and varied experience.  Lenara was captivated by the experiences Seven related to her, and she couldn't get enough information to sate either her personal curiosity about the former Borg or her academic interests in Seven’s knowledge. They ended up talking for several hours, well into the afternoon, neither noticing how much time had passed until Seven glanced at the chronometer.
 
“Oh, my,” she looked perfectly dismayed.  “I must hurry home, or I'll never have dinner ready on time,” she apologized.  “I enjoyed this very much,” she added, shaking Lenara's hand and scurrying away before the Trill scientist could even say goodbye or ask the former Borg to get together again.
 
Lenara Kahn stood there in the cafeteria, bewildered, but chuckling to herself. The young Borg had mastered astrometrics, but her social skills were atrocious.  She watched the attractive professor beating a hasty retreat, not realizing that Seven was flustered.
 
As she made her way back home, Seven tried to cool her cheeks, embarrassed at herself.  She had allowed herself to interact with Lenara Kahn as if they were familiar, old friends, and without meaning to, she had found herself attracted to the Trill researcher.  While she was busy telling Lenara all about her Astrometrics lab on Voyager, and the discoveries she had made in the Delta Quadrant, her mind had been busy assessing the woman before her, her appearance, her vocal inflections, her mannerisms.  This must be what Naomi is going through, trying to assimilate all of these impressions, all of the new people around her.  No wonder she seems overwhelmed by it all.  She and I have such commonality of experience, in so many ways. 
 
Lenara Kahn is breathtaking, she realized, remembering how at one point in the conversation, the Trill had touched her mesh-encased hand, with a warmth and kindness Seven was startled by.  
 
At the faculty mixer, Seven had been able to shake hands with most of her colleagues without them noticing her Borgness.  After all, it was her left hand that was infiltrated with Borg technology.  But three different faculty members had taken both her hands to greet her, and she had immediately noticed their discomfort with her implants.  Lenara did not seem the least bit intimidated.  Perhaps it was Lenara’s own alienness, or simply a keen sense of diplomacy that kept her from reacting.  Seven had only found such openness with three other people in her life: Kathryn Janeway, Kieran Thompson, and Naomi Wildman.
 
Seven realized as she slowed her pace that Lenara’s sincerity and eager questions, and her obvious comfort level, had put the former Borg at ease, and drawn her in.  It was a new experience for the liberated drone to find herself attracted to a stranger.  It puzzled and intrigued her, and at the same time it frightened her.  She considered why, exactly, her reaction to Lenara Kahn filled her with fear.  And then she realized that in those moments, talking to the Trill scientist, she had not thought about Kathryn, for even a second, as if her marriage no longer existed.  And maybe it didn’t.  
 

______________________

 

Kieran Wildman stood at the floor-to-ceiling window in her bedroom, gloomily looking out at the rain that pelted the trees so hard it washed the brittle leaves away in streaks of reds, golds, and oranges, the battered hues rushing to the gutters in steady streams.  She contemplated the leaves, thinking they had changed much earlier than they ever used to.  September was only half over, yet the autumn colors were already peeping out.  She sighed, aching with loneliness.  You knew it would be this way, she told herself, so why waste time feeling sorry for yourself? 

 

Seven of Nine peeked into Kieran's room, toting Geejay, just up from her afternoon nap.  “Is Naomi coming home this evening?” she asked softly.

 

“No,” Kieran shook her head.  “She’s got a simulator project to work on, and she said she’d be finishing too late.  It’s easier to stay at the quad.”

 

“She’ll be home tomorrow, though, won’t she?”  Seven sounded worried.  Naomi had not yet missed a Saturday night at the house, and had only missed one Friday, four weeks into the term.

 

“She wasn’t sure.  Her quadmates have an outing planned that she doesn’t want to miss.  I think it involved heavy drinking,” Kieran smirked.

 

“She talks a lot about that upperclassman, Shannon,” Seven recalled.  “Are you concerned about that?”

 

Kieran motioned the tall Borg into the room and onto the bed.  “C’mere, Geejay,” she held out her arms for a hug.

 

“Kern,” Geejay called her.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“What for, sweetie?” Kieran asked, kissing her soft white-blond hair.

 

“You’re sad,” Geejay pointed out.

 

“I just miss your sister, honey,” she assured the toddler.  “I’m fine though.”

 

“Are you fine?” Seven asked sincerely, smoothing the bedspread Gretchen had made the women as a wedding present.

 

“I will be.  I knew this wouldn’t be easy, Seven.  I know what I want, but right now, Naomi might not be so sure what she wants.  I have to be patient, and I have to be able to love her enough to let her do what she needs to do.  As for Shannon,” she breathed deeply, “he sounds like a nice enough young man.  I don’t think Naomi realizes he’s interested in her, not really.  I hope when he finally tells her, she puts him in his place.”

 

“And if she doesn’t?” Seven asked gently.

 

“Then I guess I’ll send you to assimilate him,” she joked.  “Naomi is at that age, you know?  She’s going to have a crush on somebody different every week, that’s how it goes.  Flirtation and infatuation are the rule of the day, when you’re young and stunningly beautiful like Naomi.”

 

“Shall I make us some dinner?” Seven offered.  “I’ll make anything you want.”

 

“Thanks.  I’m not really hungry, though,” Kieran admitted.

 

“Then you are worried, because the only time you turn down my cooking is when you’re upset,” she lectured.

 

Kieran smiled at the gorgeous blonde.  “Don’t fret, your Borgness.  Just because Naomi isn’t coming home doesn’t mean she’s involved with Shannon.  She told me once she thinks she is a lesbian, and I think she knows herself pretty well.  But if that’s changed, then it has.”

 

“I don’t know how you can endure this.  I can hardly endure it myself,” she confessed.

 

Kieran patted her Borg-enhanced hand.  “I know her love is worth any pain it might cost me.  And I know that I am the one that asked for this.  She deserves this time for herself.” 

 

Kieran heaved herself off the bed, hoisting Geejay onto her shoulders.  “Let’s call B’Elanna and Noah, and see if they want to bring Katie over to play with Geejay.  We can order from Kami Fong’s, and you can take a night off, your Borgness.  My treat.”

 

Seven laughed up at her.  “You’re always treating.  You should let me earn my keep, since you won’t let me pay rent,” she admonished.

 

Kieran scowled.  “I own this house outright.  Why would I charge you to keep me company, to fill my home with song and laughter and love?  Don’t even start with me, Annika,” she trooped down the hall, walking funny to make Geejay giggle.

 

___________________

 

Noah was on his sixth egg roll, and B’Elanna, whose pregnancy was starting to show slightly, had devoured every ounce of chow mein in the order.  Kieran laughed inwardly at the happy couple, noting they were both looking content and a bit plump.  Domesticity suited them.

 

The toddlers played together boisterously, and there was plenty of squawking over toys and whose turn it was.  Seven refereed admirably until it got so late that the girls were nodding off.  Seven shuttled them off to sleep in Geejay’s bed, saying Katie could just spend the night.

 

“Man,” Noah patted his stomach, “I ate too much.  I wish Naomi was here to play for us,” he turned a longing eye toward the piano.

 

“Me, too,” Kieran echoed his thoughts.  “She had a school project to work on.”

 

B’Elanna groaned.  “I remember those.  Work all week and then spend the weekend working some more.  That’s all we ever did.  No wonder I dropped out.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Naomi has a lot on her plate.  She’s getting good marks, though, and she isn’t struggling in any of her classes.  She’s already won her first two Velocity matches.  She’s going to make the basketball team as a walk-on, too, which is a feat.  I am inordinately proud of her,” Kieran bragged.

 

“You should be,” Noah added.  “She’s something else.  Hey, it’s so gloomy out, why don’t I build a fire?” He looked appraisingly at the huge hearth.

 

“Okay with me,” Kieran agreed.  “Seven, have we got any marshmallows to roast?”

 

“Yeah, let’s do s’mores,” B’Elanna requested.

 

Seven smiled.  “I think we have the makings.”  She got up to find out.

 

The four former crewmates sat around talking until nearly eleven, B’Elanna discussing her new job, Noah asking Kieran about the upcoming basketball season, Seven and Kieran detailing their endeavors at the Academy.  They left all the lights out, just talking by the firelight.  The storm outside let up, though the streets were still gushing rainwater and the panes of glass sparkled with hundreds of droplets.  Kieran watched the streetlights through the window, trying not to let herself stew over her absent wife.

 

Just then, the door burst open and Naomi rushed inside, as if she were being chased. 

 

“Na?” Kieran leapt off the floor.  “What’s wrong?” she had the young woman in her arms instantly.

 

Naomi burst into tears, too distraught to speak.

 

Kieran held her, hugging her rain-soaked body close.  “We should get you out of these wet clothes,” she murmured into Naomi’s hair, which was pulled back in a clip, but falling out of it in bedraggled strands.  “Honey,” she was getting scared, “tell me what happened.”

 

Naomi sniffed miserably.  “It’s too humiliating,” she wailed, crying harder.

 

Kieran glanced around the room apologetically.  “Will you excuse us?” she asked, not waiting for an answer.  “Come on, sweetie, come with me,” she drew the Ktarian upstairs and into their room.  She left her standing there while she got a towel from the ensuite.  “You’re dripping, Na,” she reported, scrubbing the fluffy terry cloth over her hair.  “Can I take these off?” she asked, indicating her cadet’s uniform.

 

Naomi nodded, no longer crying, but looking terribly upset.

 

Kieran undressed her tenderly, drying her as the wet clothing came off.  “Let me get you one of my sweatshirts,” she offered, going to her closet shelves.  “How about this one?” she pulled out a light blue, long sleeved sweatshirt that Naomi had been trying to talk her out of for several weeks.  It seemed Kieran would no sooner buy a shirt than Naomi would steal it.

 

Naomi nodded, a bit more eagerly.  Kieran eased it over her head, helping her get her arms into the sleeves.  “Are you cold?”

 

Again, Naomi nodded.  Kieran found her a pair of sweat pants and thick socks, and put those on her as well.  Then she drew the smaller woman down on their bed, enveloping her in loving arms.  “Now tell me all about it,” she insisted.

 

Naomi took a deep, slow, shaking breath.  “Shannon and I were using the flight simulator, so I can study for my pilot’s exam.  He was showing me some of the navigational instruments that I’ve had trouble with, and walked me through the functions.  We ran through the simulation a few times, and I bombed it repeatedly.”

 

Kieran hugged her closer.  “And you’re upset about that?  Because I can help you with that,” she offered.

 

“No, let me finish,” Naomi snuggled closer.  “So finally, after the fifth try, I got through the program without crashing the ship, and the sixth time, I actually got a passing score.  I was so excited, I jumped out of the pilot’s seat, and Shannon jumped up, and I hugged him.  God, I was so happy.  I never got anything but A’s in my classes on Voyager, and I’ve been so close to failing this one, and I could finally see real improvement.  So, I was all happy and grateful that he helped me, and I was thinking what a great friend he is, and then out of nowhere, he kisses me,” she was indignant.  She burst into tears again.  “I’m so sorry, Kieran, please, please don’t be pissed at me,” she blubbered, clutching at Kieran’s shirt.

 

“Hey,” Kieran whispered.  “Hey, stop.  I’m not pissed at you.  God, Na, why would I be?  You didn’t do anything,” she tried to comfort her.

 

“Why would he do that, Kieran?  Why?  He knows I’m married,” she cried harder.  “Did I do something to make him think I wanted that?”

 

Kieran squeezed her gently.  “I doubt it, honey.  It’s just—well, Naomi, you have to realize, since you never dated, you never went through all the rituals and the learning process that most girls go through.  You skipped all that and married me,” she pointed out.  “You might not know what signals you’re putting out.  Not that I’m saying you necessarily do put out signals, but if you had dated and all the usual things, you’d have learned to read boys and their intentions, I imagine.  It’s going to be harder for you, because you didn’t have those experiences to learn from.”

 

“I don’t understand him,” Naomi was angry now.  “Where does he get the idea I’d let him get away with that crap?”

 

Kieran kissed her hair.  “What did you do?”

 

Naomi hesitated.  “God, I was so flustered, I didn’t know what to do,” she admitted.  “I pushed him away, pretty hard, I think—I remember he went sprawling backward, anyway,” she recalled.  “And I yelled at him, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you? Do you not see the wedding ring on my finger?’” She shook her head, bewildered.  “And he just stood there staring at me like a fool.”  She sighed tiredly.  “And I ran all the way home.  I don’t want to go back,” she announced.  “I can’t face him.  It’s too awful,” she pleaded with her spouse.

 

“Honey,” Kieran rubbed her back softly, “it was just a kiss, right?” she asked gently.

 

“Yes, but-”

 

“Don’t you think Shannon is feeling every bit as embarrassed as you are?” Kieran asked, mildly amused.

 

Naomi launched herself out of Kieran’s embrace.  “Don’t you even give a damn that somebody moved in on your wife?” she demanded angrily.  “You should be storming out of here to kick his ass,” she flounced off the bed.

 

Kieran jumped up, grabbing her arm.  “Is that really what you want Naomi?  You want me to overreact and do something irrational, because some kid overstepped his boundaries once?” she asked firmly.  “I’ll go and talk to him, if you want, but I think you really should handle this yourself.  You’re an adult, and this is the sort of thing you have to learn to deal with.  I know it’s confusing, and it’s not easy.  But maybe he’s going to realize he did something really stupid, and he’ll apologize.”

 

Naomi stomped her foot.  “Aren’t you jealous at all?” she beseeched with her outstretched hands.

 

Kieran was baffled.  “Honey, why would I be jealous?  You pushed him away, you got angry, you reacted exactly like you should have to protect our relationship, and you told him you’re married.  I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

 

Naomi stood there, all the wind gone out of her fight.  “I don’t know, I just thought you’d be my champion,” she murmured.  “Aren’t you?” she asked sadly.

 

Kieran took the smaller woman into her arms.  “Honey, I love you more than anyone or anything in this world, and if I perceived a threat to your safety or your well being, I’d be the first to come to your defense, you know that.  If you came in here and told me he shoved his hands under your shirt, I’d be kicking his ass into next week,” she admitted.  “But a kiss is pretty innocent.  He’s young and probably in love with you.  The poor kid probably doesn’t know what to do,” she sympathized with the young cadet. “Here you are, all brains and voluptuousness and poise and he would most likely do anything to have you.  I can certainly understand the temptation,” she kissed her wife’s forehead.  “Now, if he doesn’t tender an apology, or if he ever repeats this little error, then you or I will discuss the Academy’s sexual harrassment policy with him.”

 

Naomi relented a little.  “Sometimes, KT, I think you’re the one who might turn your back, not the other way around,” she recalled a conversation they had had long ago.  “You told me if I never wanted to lose you, never to turn my back.”

 

Kieran hugged her possessively.  “I’m not turning my back, and I never want to lose you, Na.  But I’m so much more secure, knowing you put him in his place, and I love you so much for it.  Thank you for standing up for us, and not letting him walk on our marriage.”  She held her for a long time.  “And in case you’re wondering, my gut reaction was absolutely to kill him,” she admitted.  

 

“Honest?” Naomi leaned her forehead against Kieran’s.

 

“Yes,” Kieran assured her.  “He made you cry.  And he didn’t respect your boundaries, and that does piss me off.”

 

“Thank you.  I was starting to think you wouldn’t have cared if I had let him kiss me,” she confided.

 

“Believe me, if you had wanted to kiss him, my heart would be breaking,” she looked intently into Naomi’s eyes.  “But I try to be understanding, and lenient, and generous with you, because you skipped from childhood to adulthood in a matter of months.  You missed a lot of your socialization, and you didn’t have the opportunity to experiment and make mistakes.”

 

“Don’t be so lenient,” Naomi scolded her.  “Stand up for what’s yours,” she admonished.  “Maybe if you had gotten a little pissed off, you wouldn’t have lost Robin or B’Elanna,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran pulled her back to the bed, stretching out and tugging Naomi down with her. “I never thought possessiveness accomplished anything, Na.  Robin slept with Mike Kirk because she wanted to.  He didn’t lure her into it, or coerce her.  It was her choice.  And when she chose to sleep with Kirk, she chose to lose me.  It was that fundamental.  And she knew it.  The same goes for B’Elanna.  She knew the quickest way to lose me was to flirt with a man.  Even though she didn’t sleep with Tom, the intent was there when I saw them kissing each other in Sandrine’s.  B’Elanna had already left me, emotionally, to be able to do something like that,” she explained.  “And with you, I would die if you left me, but there’s no point in trying to stand up for what’s mine unless you voluntarily, completely make yourself mine.  You’re the one who has to tell Shannon you belong to me, because if I tell him that, and it doesn’t come from you, he won’t completely believe it.  That’s how guys are wired.  On some screwy level, even if you tell him never to touch you again, he’ll convince himself you’re protesting too much because you enjoyed it,” she predicted.

 

Naomi groaned.  “God, why do we even have to share a world with men?” she demanded to know.  “They are such Neanderthals.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “They can be.  But hey, there are good guys.  Look at Noah.”

 

“Oh, yeah, he’s a real exception.  Remember the night of the Spring Fling?  He came on to you and made you cry for breaking his heart.  I wanted to castrate him for that.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “For which part?  For kissing me, for falling in love with me, or for making me cry?”

 

Naomi grinned. “All of the above.  I was jealous that he got to kiss you, for starters.  I thought he had to be completely clueless to let himself fall for you.  And I was angry that he made you cry.”

 

“But you didn’t go tell him off?” Kieran tried to make her point.

 

“It wasn’t my place.  It was for you to decide,” she reasoned.

 

“Exactly.  Same applies here,” Kieran contended.

 

“It’s not the same.  We’re married,” she emphasized.

 

“Just because we’re married doesn’t mean I own you, or can tell you what to do or who to do it with.  You still belong to you, Na.  Marriage is just a promise that you’ll give yourself to me willingly, completely.  It doesn’t give me the right to make demands.”

 

Naomi propped her head up on her hand.  “You don’t think so?  Because I make demands of you,” she insisted.  “You belong to me, and if you slept with someone else, I would consider that a violation of everything we mean to each other.”

 

“You’re right, it would be.  And you would be well within your right to leave me for it.  But you still couldn’t stop me from doing it.  It’s a fine distinction, but it’s there,” Kieran contended.  “I want you to get it,” she emphasized.  “I love you, and I want us to be married until one of us dies,” she sat up, looking into Naomi’s face earnestly.  “But if you came home tomorrow and told me you were in love with someone else, what could I really do but let you go, and dissolve the marriage?”

 

“But I wouldn’t ever do that,” Naomi argued.  “When the Moms sat me down and talked to me about relationships and love and sex, they told me that the way they guard against infidelity is that they keep a vigilant grasp on everything they’re feeling, and if feelings outside their relationship started to develop, they would have to make a conscious decision to reject the circumstances creating those feelings,” she explained.  “If I had an attraction to Shannon, I’d avoid him, or change quads, or whatever I had to do.”

 

“It’s a nice concept, but it isn’t always practical.  You can’t just toss someone out an airlock on a ship, because they make your heart flutter.  And you can’t avoid them, either.  Sometimes, you have to actually live with an uncomfortable attraction, and make the right choices in spite of it,” Kieran believed.

 

“Like Seven with you,” Naomi realized.  “She loves you, but somehow she doesn’t ever push the issue, and she still finds a way to live with you and deal with it.”

 

“The affair helps,” Kieran waggled her eyebrows, teasing.  “Passes the time while you’re at the quad, too,” she added.

 

Naomi pounced on her.  “You’re awful.  Teasing about sleeping with my mother—that’s just incestuous,” she accused, tickling Kieran’s ribs. 

 

Kieran squealed beneath her fingers.  “Enough, please!” she gasped, writhing.

 

“Take it back,” Naomi continued.

 

“I take it back!  I take it back!” she howled.

 

When she had caught her breath, she grinned wickedly.  “I take it back.  The affair doesn’t help.  It only makes me miss you worse,” she tried to roll away before Naomi could attack again, but the Ktarian was too fast.  “Mercy!” Kieran begged.  “Don’t make me wet my drawers,” she begged.

 

Naomi let Kieran quiet down, laying her head on the larger woman’s chest.  “Do you think she suffers?” she asked softly.

 

“Seven?  Over me?” Kieran was incredulous.  “Not likely.  I think when she was sick with the bacteria, she suffered.  She suffered a lot, she told me.  But not now.  I think she’s lonely, though.  I tried to help Kathryn mend fences with her, by putting them both on the same panel for the Speaker’s Bureau, but Kat was too stubborn and wouldn’t agree to do it.  I haven’t ever asked her again,” she confided.

 

Naomi lifted her head and kissed her wife.  “That was sweet of you.”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “I think Seven still loves her.  But I think she doesn’t know how to close the distance between them alone, and Kathryn won’t meet her half way.”

 

“I think you’re right.  I try to stay out of it, though,” Naomi admitted.  She lay there, thinking awhile longer.  “So does this mean I get to keep this sweatshirt?” she asked, smiling smugly.

 

Kieran laughed deep in her chest.  “Honey, why don’t I just buy you your own shirt, exact same color, but your size?”

 

“Not nearly as much fun,” Naomi murmured.  “If I let you wear them for a few weeks, then your scent is always in them.  And there’s just something about wearing your clothes.  Maybe it’s because I envy them for having touched your skin, or maybe it’s because I feel like I get to take a piece of you with me everywhere, I don’t know.  It just means so much to me.  Just like that you never take off the necklace I gave you. You always have me with you that way,” she described for her spouse.  “When I sleep at the quad, I always wear your clothes—your sweatshirts, your boxers.  it makes me feel like you’re not so far away.”

 

Kieran rolled them over so that she was above Naomi, peering down at her.  “Honey, I’m never any farther than your heart, I promise.  And anytime you miss me, you come sleep at home.  I only insisted that you sleep on campus at first because it really is more convenient for you, and also because I wanted you to see that you could do it, and finally because I wanted you to really put everything into your life there, and not feel torn between school and home.  And you’ve done so well, and asserted your independence, and I’m just thrilled.  So if you want to be home, I won’t argue.  I’ll be flattered if you want to be here,” she smiled, kissing her wife softly. 

 

Naomi deepened their kiss, loving the contours of Kieran’s lips, the velvet silk of them, the warmth of her mouth, the welcoming way that Kieran always let Naomi’s tongue wander.  She breathed expectantly, making a surrendering sound in the back of her throat.  “Now that’s a kiss,” she complimented the lanky Commander.  “Not like that pitiful approximation I got earlier tonight,” she flirted.

 

Kieran grinned broadly.  “Glad you approve.  Sure you wouldn’t like to do some more comparison shopping?”

 

Naomi kissed her again, sliding her hands up the back of Kieran’s shirt, scratching softly at her low back.  “There’s no comparison, but I’d sure like to kiss you some more,” she decided.

 

Kieran sighed. “That’d be great, except we have company.  Don’t you think we had better go back downstairs, and not be totally rude?”

 

“Depends on whether you’re willing to stay up into the wee hours,” Naomi teased.

 

“Always.  I live for weekends with you,” Kieran said honestly.  She studied her wife a bit longer, reluctant to let the moment end.  “Honey, you would tell me if our marriage feels like a shackle, wouldn’t you?  I mean, I know we had planned on a long, long engagement, before you got sick.”

 

“You think the only reason I married you is because I was dying?”

 

“Isn’t it?” Kieran asked.  “I mean, I understood the reasoning behind it, and I agreed to it, but our circumstances are a lot different now.”

 

Naomi heaved them over, so that she was looking down at Kieran.  “I asked you to marry me before we even knew we were coming home,” she pointed out.  “And I always envisioned being on Earth together and being married to you while I was in the Academy.  I never pictured it any other way.  This is my dream, not some shackle,” she insisted.  “I suppose you think I missed something by marrying so young, but you’re wrong.  Think about all the bad dates you personally suffered through, the failed relationships, the ruined marriage.  I skipped all that and went right to the good stuff,” she laughed.  “And I know you think I’m meeting all these fascinating people who might seem like some terrific idea, just because they’re new or different than you.  But the truth is, the more people I get to know and the more friends I make, the more I’m aware that you’re it for me.  Nobody else comes close to the way you make me feel. Nobody ever has.”

 

Kieran was touched.  “Really?”

 

Naomi kissed her.  “Really.  You make me laugh, and you make me feel validated, and you really listen to me.  I always know I can count on you.  I always could.  Even if you won’t beat up the boys who harass me,” she teased.

 

“Tell you what,” Kieran chuckled.  “If he tries to kiss you a second time, I’ll beat him up.  Deal?”

 

“Maybe not,” she rethought it.  “I still don’t understand the inertial dampeners and how to maneuver when they’re offline.  I might need Shannon’s help.”

 

“Oh, honey,” Kieran flirted, “maneuvering is the very last thing you’re weak at.  But if you need a lesson, I’ll be happy to give you one.  You don’t need to ask Shannon.  Hell, if you want, I’ll get the best cadet pilot on campus to tutor you.  I have friends in high places, you know.”

 

“Ah, and that’s another advantage to being married to you,” she noted wisely.  “That, and you really know your way around my body,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

“There’s a starchart I’d like to memorize,” Kieran said hopefully.  “Maybe later tonight?”

 

“Now that’s a deal,” Naomi agreed.

 

______________

 

Seven of Nine cast a worried glance at her daughter as the couple descended the stairs.  “Naomi, are you all right?” she asked, concerned.

 

“Fine, your Borgness,” she smiled.  “I’m sorry if I scared you.”

 

B’Elanna glanced up from her seat in the floor.  “The first year is the toughest, Wildwoman,” she offered sympathetically.

 

“Actually, it’s not school that’s the problem,” Naomi explained.  “I’m finding out that adolescence lasts years and years for a reason—so you can learn to deal with being an adult.  Since I skipped all those years, I find I’m frequently ill-equipped for the social challenges I’m up against.”

 

B’Elanna raised an eyebrow.  “Social challenges?”

 

Naomi nodded, glaring at Noah.  “Men, to be precise,” she said playfully.

 

“Oh, shit,” the handsome young man groaned.  “Not you too?”

 

“Me too what?” Naomi demanded, sitting down beside Seven and tugging Kieran down with her.

 

“Male bashing,” Noah sighed, as if much maligned.

 

“I don’t mean to be unfair, but your half of the human species is beyond dense,” Naomi complained.  “This guy in my quad who knows I’m married, and knows I’m married to a woman, made a pass at me.”

 

Noah smiled faintly.  “And this surprises you?”

 

Naomi nodded vigorously.  “Explain, please.”  She sounded like Seven in her Borg persona.

 

Noah laughed.  “Guys his age don’t think, Na.  They react.  You’re smart and gorgeous and his hormones probably did the talking.  Funny how that works—the brain gets left out of the equation, sometimes.  I ought to know,” he gazed fondly at Kieran.  “Sometimes, you want someone so much, you’re willing to risk looking like or acting like a total ass.  Women, unfortunately, rarely comprehend the tendency,” he chuckled.  “And most of them hold grudges for our extreme stupidity, with the notorious exception of your wife,” he grinned at Kieran, who threw a marshmallow at him, which he caught in his mouth.

 

Naomi smiled.  “Nice catch, NoGame.”

 

B’Elanna studied the Ktarian acutely.  “I never thought about the consequences of your growing up so fast,” she admitted.  “You must be really confused sometimes.  Adolescence is a major killer.  If you missed all of that, it’d be like-like one of those kids who skips high school and goes right to college.”

 

Naomi leaned against Kieran, who wrapped her arms around the smaller-framed woman.  “It’s challenging,” Naomi agreed.  “I feel sometimes like I need the universal translator to interpret for me, because I speak a different language than everyone else.”

 

Kieran hugged her.  “I think you’re doing great.  And part of the reason I wanted you to have this time in school was exactly so you’d have this chance to catch up with your peers, experientially.  I’m sorry it has to be a crash course, but Voyager was not exactly a microcosm of the rest of the world.  It was uniquely it’s own world, one you fit into because you were always part of it.”

 

“Now you know what it was like for me,” Seven nodded at her daughter. “I was a complete misfit on Voyager.  In fact, you and Kathryn were my first friends,” the former drone said softly.  “I didn’t think I would ever learn to fit in, not until long after Kathryn and I married.  You may feel like you’ll never fit in either, Naomi, but you will, I promise.”

 

Naomi sighed, closing her eyes.  “What am I supposed to say to this Geebach who kissed me?” she implored, using one of Jamari’s insults for Shannon.

 

B’Elanna laughed.  “How about ‘you touch me again, you lose your balls courtesy of my pain stick, asswipe’ ?”

 

“I think you said the right thing already,” Kieran commented, grinning proudly.

 

Noah’s eyes glowed with amusement.  “What did you tell him, Na?”

 

She giggled.  “I yelled at him, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you? Do you not see the wedding ring on my finger?’  And he just stood there like his tongue was cut out, or something.”

 

Noah howled.  “I think that made the point.  He’ll probably shrivel an inch every time he looks at you, from now on.”

 

Naomi smirked.  “One can only hope,” she affirmed.

 

“Perhaps he needs a visit from three very pissed off women,” Seven offered.  “A Klingon, a Borg, and your spouse,” she noted pointedly. 

 

B’Elanna nodded eagerly.  “I’ll bring my bat’leth, Seven can whip out her assimilation tubules, and Kieran can bring the Starfleet Academy Regs manual, with the sexual harrassment policy highlighted.  That little piss ant will be soiling himself,” she chuckled wickedly.

 

Naomi threw a marshmallow at B’Elanna.  “I just want him to keep his lips to himself, not scare him into a coma,” she chided the zealous Klingon.

 

“Dang, Na, you never let us have any fun,” B’Elanna complained.  “KT, how come you’re not storming off to campus to find his ass?”

 

Kieran smiled.  “Naomi took care of the situation.  If he repeats the mistake, he’ll be very sorry, and I won’t be so willing to look the other way,” she decided.  “But for now, he gets to live another day.”

 

“I don’t know, KT,” B’Elanna offered, grinning wildly.  “It’s a good day to die.”

 

______________________

 

Kieran Wildman lounged on the couch in her San Francisco home, reading her assignment for her Xenopsychology seminar.  Geejay Janeway was at the kitchen table, coloring and humming to herself.  Seven of Nine was at her workstation, scripting her next lecture for her Astrometrics class, and periodically stopped to recite it aloud.

 

Kieran realized that Seven was completely unaware she was doing it.  “Hey, your Borgness,” she stuck her head up over the back of the couch.  “Read to yourself.  You keep breaking my concentration.”

 

Seven had been living with Kieran too long, and whirled on her, sticking out her tongue.

 

Kieran burst out laughing.  “No offense, but I don’t need to hear your astrometrics lecture,” she chuckled.

 

“I’m sorry.  I was...engrossed,” Seven apologized.  “I will be quiet.”  Seven continued to type her lecture, then turned back around in her chair.  “Aren’t you supposed to contact your wife, Commander?”

 

Kieran checked the chronometer.  “Thanks.  It is time,” she went to her workstation and keyed in the hailing frequency.  “Hi, sweetie,” she greeted Naomi. 

 

“Hi,” Naomi smiled back at her.  “You look relaxed—almost drowsy,” she noted, grinning at her wife.

 

“I was reading for my class, so it’s probably more like a stupor,” Kieran joked.  “I can’t wait for you to come home tomorrow.”

 

“Kieran,” Naomi ventured, “there’s a party on campus tomorrow night, and several people have made a point of inviting me.  Can we take an hour out and go?”

 

Kieran frowned.  “Honey, if you want to, we will, but you should really go without me,” she advised.

 

“Why?” Naomi’s brow furrowed.  “I haven’t spent any real time with you all week,” she contended, mildly upset.

 

“It’s not that I don’t want to see you,” Kieran replied.  “But I’m not a cadet, and this party is for students.  I’ll stick out like a sore thumb, honey.  And besides, everyone knows who I am, and that I’m on the faculty.  I’ll make your friends uncomfortable.  I hate to break it to you, love, but socializing as a couple is going to be very awkward.”

 

“I know two other married cadets who are bringing their spouses,” she argued.  “How is it any different?”

 

Kieran knew Naomi’s feelings were hurt, and she capitulated almost immediately.  “Okay.  I’ll meet you at your quad.  What time?”

 

Naomi smiled.  “Thanks.  Come by at 1930.  There will be food, so don’t eat dinner beforehand.  No uniforms.”

 

__________________

 

Commander Kieran Wildman removed her three gold pips from her collar, stripped off her uniform, and stuffed it through the recycler.  She went to the walk-in closet in her bedroom, scanning the collection of clothing for something to wear.  She settled on khaki slacks and the Hawaiian shirt she had worn to the Spring Fling aboard Voyager.  Naomi had liked that outfit.

 

She strolled across campus to Naomi’s quad, thinking this party was a bad idea, but not wanting to disappoint her wife.  She took the turbo lift to Naomi’s floor, made her way down the hall, and rang the chime to Naomi’s section.

 

An attractive Asian woman answered the chime, smoothing her silky black hair back.  Kieran had obviously gotten her out of the shower. 

 

“I beg your pardon,” Kieran bowed slightly.  “I’m here for Naomi Wildman?”

 

“Oh, God,” the cadet stiffened to attention.  “I’m sorry, Sir,” she tried to stand erect without dropping her towel.  “I didn’t recognize you.”

 

“At ease,” Kieran touched her shoulder.  “Really.  I’m just here to see my wife,” she assured the strident young woman.  “You must be Mikhai.  I’m Kieran,” she extended her hand.

 

Mikhai’s eyes widened at the informality of the gesture.  She grasped her towel tighter, but shook Kieran’s hand.  “Please, Commander, come right in,” she couldn’t quite break with formality.  She touched the comm panel on Naomi’s privacy shield.  “Na, your wife is here to pick you up,” she announced, an edge of desperation in her voice.  “Commander,” she bowed, “excuse me, please,” she backed out of the vestibule and into her own private area.

 

Naomi emerged in jeans and an Academy t-shirt.  “You dressed up?” she sounded dismayed as she surveyed Kieran’s outfit.

 

“You said no uniforms,” Kieran replied, “nothing about what you wanted me to wear.”

 

“Well,” Naomi smiled, “you look nice.”

 

“Would you like me to go home and change?” Kieran felt so off balance, suddenly.

 

“No,” Naomi decided.  “Let me put on something nicer, instead,” she pulled Kieran into her sleeping area.  “Sit down,” she pointed to the chair by her small bed.

 

Kieran obediently seated herself, feeling foolish.  She should be paying more attention to what the kids were wearing off hours, and then she would have known to wear jeans and a t-shirt.  It was so much easier to wear uniforms, she decided.

 

Naomi put on sage slacks and a button-down white shirt, rolled up the sleeves, added some jewelry, and managed to look exquisite in an instant.  Kieran nodded approval.  “That was quite a transformation,” she smiled warmly at her wife.  “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

 

Naomi flopped into Kieran’s lap, twining her arms around Kieran’s neck and obliging her request tenderly.  “I’m sorry if I sounded cross,” she apologized.  “I’m feeling sort of under the microscope, and I’m nervous about this party,” she admitted.

 

“Why under the microscope?” Kieran cuddled her close, feeling the warmth and the delicious curves of her body.

 

“Everyone acts different toward me, as soon as they find out I’m Kathryn’s daughter, or from Voyager, or Edward Janeway’s granddaughter, whatever,” she explained.  “It’s the most peculiar thing.  I can be having a normal conversation with someone, and as soon as it comes out that I was on Voyager, or who I’m related to, or married to, it’s like the other person’s whole attitude changes.  You can almost see the wall dropping between us,” she said softly.  “I hate it.  Why should it matter, who I’m related to?  Can’t people just get to know me for me?”

 

Kieran hugged her.  “I know the feeling.  It’s hard to meet people when you have a reputation that precedes you.  Everyone I meet has all these preconceived ideas about who I am, or what I’m like, without really even knowing me,” she sympathized.

 

“Exactly,” Naomi agreed.  “People will suddenly want to discuss the most intimate details of my life, because they’ve read about them in some biography of the Voyager crew, or seen some holovid movie about us.”

 

Kieran held her awhile longer.  “I think it will pass.  Right now, everyone from Voyager is a novelty, of sorts, but after awhile, people will start getting to know you—the real you.  And then they’ll like you for you.  It will take time, I imagine.  Is that why you wanted me to go with you to this party?” she asked gently.

 

Naomi shook her head.  “Not really that.  Partly, I just wanted to have my cake and eat it, too.  Go to the party, but not miss any time with you,” she said.  “But also, I need to get my bearings in public settings.  I don’t want any more Shannon incidents,” she said flatly.  “And I’d like some of the more...persistent men that are hanging around me to see that I am truly married, and not entertaining thoughts of infidelity,” she asserted.

 

“Is it really bad?” Kieran felt the initial twinges of jealousy.

 

“Yes.  I get asked out all the time.  I always politely point out that I’m married, but it doesn’t seem to sink in, I guess.”

 

Kieran grinned.  “So you need to parade me around a little?”

 

“Just a little,” Naomi agreed, “for insurance.  Is that okay?”

 

Kieran kissed her gently, lingering over the softness of her lips.  “It’s more than okay.”

Naomi deepened their kiss, scratching softly at the back of Kieran’s neck.  Kieran pulled away.  “If you keep kissing me like that, we won’t make it to the party, at all,” she threatened, reclaiming Naomi’s lips.

 

Naomi smiled into her kiss, exhaling softly.  “We can stay up all night, if you want,” she flirted.  “In fact, plan on it,” she nuzzled Kieran’s lips, letting her tongue part them gently.

 

Kieran sighed, standing up with Naomi in her arms.  She set her down carefully, easing her away.  “I mean it, Na.  I want you terribly, right now, and we need to go, unless you want me to throw you on your bed,” she said seriously.

 

“Impatient,” Naomi accused playfully.  “Come on, Commander.  Where’s all that Starfleet discipline you command types are supposed to be famous for?” she teased.

 

“It’s tough to be disciplined when you have the sexiest wife on the planet,” Kieran growled, nipping her throat.  She took both of Naomi’s hands.  “Are you ready?”

 

“I am,” Naomi stretched to kiss her once more, then led her out of the quad, holding her hand.

 

 

The party was a boisterous, noisy affair with pounding music, young people shouting over it to try to talk to each other, and enough alcohol to intoxicate the entire fleet.  Kieran and Naomi selected beer from large tubs of ice, sipping at the cold, tart beverages.  The party was hosted by Nova Squadron, the elite pilot corps from the Academy, and the party was held at the quad of the squadron leader, Terrance Heys.  Naomi did not tell Kieran that Terrance was the cadet that had insisted she attend, and was one of the men that seemed to be unimpressed with the fact that she was married.

 

Naomi and Kieran danced in a mass of cadets, and as Kieran predicted, they created a stir.  It was an unconventional sight, she supposed, to see a fully commissioned officer with a cadet, let alone married to one, and dancing at a keg party.  Naomi didn’t seem to care that people were staring at them, and she danced closer to her wife when the music became more intimate. 

 

Kieran tried to ignore the fact that Naomi was already working on her third beer in less than an hour, reminding herself that drinking to excess was also part of the Academy experience, and part of Naomi’s socialization.  She resolved not to lecture or be overprotective.  Naomi had to learn from her mistakes, like anyone else, and Kieran couldn’t interfere.

 

“Are you having fun, sweetie?” Kieran felt utterly self-conscious, but since Naomi was smiling, she accepted her fate.

 

Naomi nodded, lifting her face to Kieran’s, kissing her suggestively.  “Thanks for bringing me.  I love dancing with you.  Do you realize, we haven’t danced together since our wedding?” she smiled up at her spouse.

 

“I didn’t realize that.  I’m sorry, honey.  We’ll have to make more of an effort to get out,” Kieran promised, kissing Naomi’s forehead.  “You’re so graceful, and you sure do draw some interested looks,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

Naomi blushed.  “As long as the interested parties understand my dance card is full, that’s all I care about,” she insisted.  “Want to take a break?  You look a little flushed,” she chuckled at her wife, snagging her hand.

 

They mingled at the party, and Kieran met several of Naomi’s classmates.  They ran into three of Kieran’s basketball players, all three of whom were stunned to see their coach in attendance.  Kieran laughed at their startled looks, and made a point of engaging them in conversation.  She offered to get them drinks, so that they would know she wasn’t going to rag on them about alcohol.  Naomi seemed to be connecting with the team, especially Jenny Calvert, who was engaged, despite being a first year cadet.  J-Cal, as everyone called her, could relate to Naomi better than the single girls on the team, and felt like Naomi could understand her situation, so they gravitated toward each other.  J-Cal’s finacée was posted to the Windjammer, and it was the first time they had been apart since getting engaged.

 

She lingered to talk to Naomi and Kieran, feeling conspicuous for being alone at the party.  When Terrance Heys came over to ask Naomi to dance and Naomi refused, he asked Jenny, and she agreed.

 

“You know, you could have danced with him if you wanted to,” Kieran whispered to her wife.  “He is the host of the party,” she pointed out.

 

“He’s also asked me out about a dozen times,” Naomi said against Kieran’s cheek.  “I am not giving him an inch.”

 

Kieran scowled, a product of having had three beers herself.  “Piss-ant,” she said under breath.  “I ought to grind him under my boot heel,” she hissed.

 

Naomi grinned.  “Be my guest.  Or better yet, just kiss me like you mean it, and he’ll get the hint,” she slipped her arms around Kieran’s neck.

 

Kieran kissed her deeply, passionately, dizzied by the sensation and by the beer buzz she was getting.  “Convincing enough?” she tore her mouth away from Naomi’s, breathless.

 

“God,” Naomi leaned her head against Kieran’s shoulder, steadying herself.  She kissed Kieran’s cheek, brushing her lips over Kieran’s earlobe.  “I want you, honey,” she groaned faintly. 

 

Kieran closed her eyes against the crushing desire, hugging Naomi closer.  “Do you want to dance some more, or go home?”

 

Naomi’s eyes twinkled.  “I think I like getting you worked up dancing.  And I like making you wait,” she flirted.

 

They danced and drank until midnight, and finally, staggered across campus and into the surrounding neighborhood.  Kieran kept her arm around Naomi, trying to buoy the intoxicated Ktarian.  Kieran was much less impaired, though she felt pleasantly inebriated.  Naomi had never been drunk before, and she was laughing at everything.  Kieran was amused by her behavior, and remembered how patient Naomi had been when Kieran and Kathryn had gotten drunk on the holodeck aboard Voyager.  Kieran figured she owed Naomi equal tolerance.

 

Naomi was fascinated by Kieran’s height, and kept telling her wife how tall she was.  Kieran laughed at her.

 

“You’re just now noticing?” she hugged Naomi fondly.

 

“I mean, shit, KT,” Naomi slurred her words.  “You’re like—high as a two story building,” she weaved as she walked.  “Damn, that’s a lot of long body to climb,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

“And you want to climb me?” Kieran chuckled.

 

“Up one side and down the other,” Naomi laughed.  “You are wicked gorgeous,” she flirted with her wife.

 

“I can tell you’ve been hanging around J-Cal,” Kieran noted.  “She calls everything wicked.”

 

“Yeah, she’s a hoot.  Don’t you think?  And pretty.  Deadly pretty,” Naomi sounded far away, thinking of Jenny’s soft brown hair and frost-white eyes.  “I wonder if she’s faithful to Rick.  That would be really hard, I think.  He’s out cruising the quadrant, and she’s here.  I bet you Terry Heys comes on to her.  He’s a perv,” she complained.  “She’ll tell him to get bent, though,” Naomi howled.  “I’d like to see his stuck-up face when she blows him off,” she smacked Kieran’s arm.

 

“Okay,” Kieran laughed at Naomi’s mirth, “let’s get you upstairs,” she helped her climb the porch steps, leading her to their door.  “Seven waited up, Na, so don’t be surprised if she jumps on you for being loaded.”

 

“I am NOT loaded,” Naomi planted her hands on her hips petulantly.

 

“Really?” Kieran smirked.  “Recite the Pythagorean theorem,” she commanded.

 

Naomi’s face fell.  “Uh—a right triangle has iso—has three right angles—the hypotenuse of a right triangle—the sum of the squares of the right triangle—” she floundered.  “Oh, fuck it, I don’t care, let Seven bust my chops,” she declared, stumbling through the door.

 

Kieran let out a booming laugh, following her wife inside.

 

Seven of Nine looked up from her data PADD, scowling at the obvious unsteadiness of her daughter.

 

“Naomi Wildman,” she stood up with her arms crossed, “you are intoxicated,” she accused.

 

Naomi looked at Seven’s stern expression, then at Kieran’s amusement, and burst out laughing.  “Oh, Borg-Mom,” she howled, “you crack me up,” she leaned on Kieran, who stabilized her gently.  “Don’t get your biosuit in a wad,” she said dismissively.  “I’ll be totally responsible and tight-assed again tomorrow, I promise,” she tried to cross her heart, though she missed the organ by half a foot.

 

“Is she going to be all right?” Seven asked Kieran.

 

“Fine,” Kieran nodded.  “I’ll take care of her.  Go to bed, Seven.  You didn’t need to wait up for us.”

 

“I wanted to see my daughter, but she has taken leave of her senses.  Kahless buggering a targ,” she swore, “you can tell Naomi is Kathryn’s daughter.”

 

At that, Naomi howled all the louder.

 

Kieran laughed too.  “Come on, Cadet,” she guided Naomi toward the stairs.  “You need to sleep it off,” she admonished playfully.

 

“Kieran,” Naomi protested, still within earshot of her mother, “I don’t want to sleep,” she sounded disappointed. “I’ve been dying to make love with you all night,” she announced.

 

“Shhh,” Kieran hushed her.  “Na, keep your voice down.” 

 

She could hear Seven’s lilting laughter wafting up to the second floor.

 

 

“God,” Kieran giggled as she dragged Naomi into their bedroom, closing the doors.  “You are going to be so embarrassed tomorrow,” she laughed at her wife.

 

“I am?” Naomi frowned, perplexed.  “Why?”

 

“Seven overheard you, Na,” she hugged her wife. 

 

“She probably overhears us all the time, anyway,” Naomi pointed out, grinning.  “You can be pretty loud when you’re coming,” she laughed. 

“Me?” Kieran protested.  “What about you?”

 

“I’m the model of de-de-what the fuck is that word?” Naomi scratched her head.

 

“Decorum?” Kieran smirked.

 

“Wipe that smug look off your face, wise-ass.  Yeah, decorum,” she agreed.  “But let’s see how loud you can make me scream,” she pulled Kieran down on the bed on top of her, fumbling at Kieran’s clothing.

 

“I like a challenge,” Kieran smarted, helping Naomi with the confounding buttons and kissing her forcefully.

 

“I’ll tell you what was challenging,” Naomi tugged at Kieran’s belt buckle.  “Keeping my hands off of your ass tonight,” she breathed.  “God, I love how you feel when we dance together.  You were getting me so hot,” she bit Kieran’s lip, shoving her hands down the back of Kieran’s pants.  “I kept thinking about having you between my legs, moving like that,” she gasped as Kieran’s teeth raked over her nipples.  “And how I love to hold your ass in my hands when you’re using the SED,” she squeezed Kieran’s buttocks.

 

“Is that what you want tonight?” Kieran was already up, looking for the artificial phallus in the nightstand. 

 

“Yes,” Naomi finished undressing herself, then pulled down the covers of the bed.  She slid beneath the sheets, watching her lover. 

 

Kieran didn’t trust herself in her partially intoxicated state to be as careful with her wife as she should be, and she opted to use the SED without the sensor that she would ordinarily insert in her own passage.  She needed more control, and the device made control very difficult to maintain.  Instead, she affixed the phallus to herself, and joined Naomi in bed.

 

Naomi looked up at her with unabashed lust.  “Tell me something,” she pulled Kieran onto her, opening her legs.  “When I’m away at the quad, do you ever use this on yourself?”

 

Kieran grinned.  “No.  I never have.  You said you want to use it on me first, so I’ve been waiting.”

 

Naomi positioned Kieran over her, guiding the phallus into herself.  “God,” she gasped as she was filled.  “Do you ever touch yourself and think about me?” she asked, holding Kieran deep inside herself, not letting her move yet.

 

Kieran’s eyes closed involuntarily.  “Yes.”

 

“What do you think about, Kieran?” she pressed her, holding her still.

 

Kieran groaned.  “Na,” she said in a strangled voice.

 

“Tell me,” Naomi insisted.  “I need to know.”

 

Kieran swallowed her fear, forcing herself to speak.  “I think about how you sound when I make love to you,” she whispered against Naomi’s cheek.  “How you whimper and moan, and how you cling to me when you come,” she admitted.  “I think about how you taste and smell and feel.  I imagine your mouth on my nipples, and your fingers inside me,” she shivered, cognizant that Naomi had begun pressing her hips with insistent hands, making her thrust against those incredible thighs.  She redistributed her weight, felt Naomi’s legs closing around her back, and started the tantalizing rocking that never failed to make her wife crazy; long, slow strokes out and quick thrusts back in, until Naomi’s breathing quickened.  “I think about going down on you, and you going down on me at the same time, and how much I love when we do that,” she felt Naomi’s fingernails digging into her back.

 

“Kieran,” Naomi cried out sharply, arching her back to meet the motion.  “God, don’t stop,” she moaned, dropping her legs and thrusting upward.

 

Kieran increased her rhythm slightly, trying to stay focused.  “I touch myself, Naomi,” she said in her lover’s ear, “and I think about your tongue, sliding over my clit, and how good it feels when you make love to me,” she panted, shuddering at the thought and the urgency of Naomi’s hips meeting hers.  “I think about how often and how easily you make me come, and how much I need that,” she groaned against Naomi’s ear, feeling the pressure against her mons.

 

Naomi moved beneath her, frantic in her need now, driven by words and friction and heat.  “Kieran,” she said soft and low, almost weeping.  “God, yes,” she grabbed Kieran’s ass, pulling their bodies together.

 

She could feel that Naomi was close, could sense it in the tautness of muscle and the sharpness of breath.  Kieran struggled to stay steady, to let it build gradually.  She pressed her lips to Naomi’s ear, trying to catch her breath to finish what she had started.  “I make myself come,” she growled in her wife’s ear, “by thinking about how you come to me when I suck your clit, how you tremble against my lips, how you tear at the sheets, how you cry in my arms because it’s so good.  And I come because I want you so much, because I want to be making love to you, tasting you, filling you with my fingers,” she said throatily.  Naomi wrapped her legs around Kieran’s back again, letting Kieran control the pace and the depth of the penetration, lost in the gripping need she felt, the incredible, piercing, burning sensation between her legs.

 

Naomi shouted as she came, the sound echoing in the cavernous room, drowned out by the thundering of her own blood in her veins.  Her body went completely rigid, then became fluid beneath Kieran’s motion.  “No more,” she pleaded, “Kieran, stop,” she gasped, spent and shaking.

 

Kieran disegaged from her, removing the device and setting it aside, then pulling Naomi into her arms as she rolled onto her back, gazing at the light patterns on the ceiling.  Her chest ached from the strain of making love that way, and without the alcohol in her system, she would have been embarrassed to say such graphic things to her wife, but Naomi clearly responded to it, and Kieran knew the younger woman wanted that verbal seduction from her. 

 

Naomi rested against her chest, limp and wasted.  “Oh my God, Kieran,” she breathed softly.  “I wish I could tell you what that felt like,” she closed her eyes, letting the exhaustion wash over her.  “Do you really think those things and make yourself come, or were you just trying to get me excited?”

 

Kieran hugged her, stroking her soft, long hair, feeling emotionally exposed.  “I do sometimes,” she admitted.  “Don’t you, when you sleep away from me?”

 

Naomi smiled against Kieran’s skin.  “Yes, but I have less self-discipline than you, so I’m sort of surprised that you do, too,” she chuckled.

 

Kieran laughed at that.  “When it comes to you, honey, I have zero self-discipline.  I just want you all the time, and nothing could make me ignore the desire.”  She suppressed a yawn with her hand over her mouth, snuggling closer to her wife. 

 

They lay silently together, Kieran contemplating just how much Seven must have overheard, Naomi drifting off to sleep.  When Kieran moved to cover her with the blanket, Naomi stirred, kissing her gently.  “I’m sorry I’m conking out on you,” she whispered groggily.

 

“Na, it’s okay.  Sleep, honey, I’m right here.  Have sweet dreams, love,” Kieran moved them onto their sides, contouring herself against Naomi’s backside.  She fell asleep that way, holding Naomi’s back against her belly, wrapped around her protectively and possessively.  She hoped Naomi wouldn’t wake up sick from the beer, but she fully expected it.  She smiled to herself, thinking of her own years of overindulging, the drunken parties and mornings after.  All part of Academy life.  Part of growing up.

____________________

 

Kieran Wildman slipped out of her bedroom, leaving a hypospray to counteract Naomi’s anticipated hangover, a single yellow rose, and a note.  She threw a towel over her shoulders, went down to the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, and took her morning mug and her school work poolside.  She swam laps for half an hour, letting the heated water work her muscles loose from the workout of the night before. 

 

Seven of Nine watched through the kitchen window, folding vegetables and cheese into an omelette as Kieran churned through the tail end of her workout.  Seven knew her routine so well, she could set the kitchen chronometer by it.  When Kieran pulled herself out of the pool and onto the cold decking, Seven brought breakfast out to the patio. 

 

“Good morning,” she said softly, setting down Kieran’s plate.

 

Kieran scrubbed the chlorinated water from her hair.  “Seven,” she leaned over and kissed the Borg’s implant scarred cheek, “you spoil me.”

 

Seven helped herself to toast and coffee, spreading salsa and sour cream over her omelette as she had seen Kieran do so many times.  She smiled faintly at her roommate.  “After last night, I suspected you would be ravenous,” she teased.

 

Kieran blushed, but dug into her breakfast without protesting the accusation.  “I am,” she agreed.  “I’m always starving after a night of drinking.”

 

“Not me,” Seven sipped daintily at her coffee.  “If I drink too much, the last thing I want is food.  Where is your wife, speaking of drinking too much?” she quirked an eyebrow.

 

“Sleeping it off, I imagine,” Kieran grinned.  “This is terrific,” she said around a mouthful of eggs.  “Thank you.”

 

“Actually,” Seven chewed her toast contemplatively, “I was hoping to bribe you with this meal.”

 

“Bribe me?  What do you want?” Kieran waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

 

Seven smacked her arm.  “I have warned you not to flirt with me, Counselor,” she growled playfully.  “I want to ask you something very personal,” she hid her face in her coffee mug.

 

Kieran spread bing cherry preserves over her wheat toast, nodding.  “Okay, ask.”

 

“Last night,” she began reluctantly, “when you and Naomi—went to bed,” she forced herself to go on, “it sounded as if—perhaps, you were hurting her,” she finally got the words out.

 

Kieran put down her knife, wiped her mouth and lay her hand over Seven’s.  “I assure you, your Borgness, I did not hurt her.  I never have, and I never will, I swear.”  She studied Seven’s troubled glacier blue eyes, understanding registering.  “You think because I was with B'Elanna I might be rough with Naomi?” she asked, appalled but tempered in her tone.

 

Seven met her gaze shyly, nodding.  “Naomi has told me you don’t hurt her, but the way she sounded—well, it frightened me, Kieran,” she admitted.  “I don’t mean to invade your privacy—”

 

“You are NOT invading my privacy,” Kieran assured her.  “Seven,” she said urgently, “I want you to be certain in your heart that Naomi is completely safe with me.  I would never do anything she didn’t ask me to do, and I am always exceedingly careful with her sexually.  I give you my most solemn promise, everything that happens between us is consentual, and I have never drawn her blood.  If we were louder than usual, I’m sorry.  It’s easy to get carried away with enough alcohol in your system, and that’s why she was so expressive, last night.  That’s all.”

 

“It’s just that B'Elanna has told me things about your interactions with each other, and so I worry,” Seven explained.

 

“Please,” Kieran was getting upset, “honey, believe me, I love Naomi with all my heart.  I would never do anything I thought might cause her pain.  My relationship with B'Elanna was completely different.  There are no similarities, and I would never be anything with Naomi but loving and gentle.  There are so many things she has had to ask me to try, simply because I thought she was too fragile or delicate for those things.  I promise you, Seven.  You never, ever have to be concerned over this.  But don’t take my word for it.  Ask Naomi yourself.  Put your heart at ease,” she encouraged the protective mother.

 

“Thank you,” Seven nodded gratefully.  “I will talk to her.  It’s not that I don’t believe you.  I do.  But it was unnerving, to say the least.”  She finished her toast, then cut into her omelette, chopping at the concoction to mix the salsa into it.  “Counselor,” she ventured again, “is it—customary for lovers to be so—vocal?”

 

Kieran laughed.  “I don’t know, your Borgness,” she offered.  “I think every partner I’ve had was different.  Some were vocal, some weren’t.”

 

“Kathryn never sounded like that,” Seven blushed furiously, “and I’m certain I never achieved that level of abandon, either.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kieran smiled warmly.  “I think you should explore your sexuality, find out for yourself how much you can embrace your wild side,” she winked.  “The truth is, though, I think Naomi and I are so free with each other because we are so in love and completely committed to one another.  It’s a matter of trust.  I know I’m more open with her than I’ve ever been with anyone else, and that stems from the fact that I believe in her love absolutely.  With B'Elanna, I held back, and I knew there were things I couldn’t share with her or trust her with.  That’s not to say that sex with her wasn’t good, because it was.  It was very good.  But I kept parts of myself reserved, and there were ways I would never have given myself to her that I wouldn’t hesitate about with Naomi.”

 

“Kathryn had to teach me a great deal,” Seven confided.  “I was—inept,” she averted her eyes.

 

“Seven, I don’t believe that for a second,” Kieran disagreed.  “Regardless of your level of experience, new lovers always end up teaching each other how to make love.  It’s a learning process.  I’m sure you taught her, every bit as much as she taught you.  I consider myself pretty experienced as far as women go, but I had to learn from Naomi what she needs, what she wants.  It takes communication, and the courage to ask each other what feels good, and what excites and intrigues your partner.”

 

Seven colored prettily.  “Naomi told me once, that you and she discuss sex freely, often while you’re actually experiencing it.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Yes,” she affirmed.  “Sometimes while we’re doing it, sometimes afterward,” she described.  “I guess, sometimes, we even talk about it before we do it—tell each other what we’re going to do,” she shrugged, grinning.

 

“I cannot imagine Naomi—the girl who said sex sounded messy and disgusting—being so comfortable talking about it,” Seven rested her chin in her hand. 

 

“She’s changed a lot in the past few years,” Kieran allowed.  “And it’s a whole different perspective once you’re sexually active, and not just contemplating it.”

 

“And despite her inexperience, she is able to satisfy you?” Seven’s inquiry was so innocent, Kieran didn’t mind it at all.

 

Kieran shivered, thinking about her wife.  “She more than satisfies me.  She completes me.  She is an amazing partner, in all respects.”  She finished her breakfast, pouring herself a second cup of coffee.  “You know, your Borgness, you really should think about dating.  You would learn so much, and grow so much.  You’d find out things about yourself you never dreamed of,” she encouraged her.  “It’s a shame to keep yourself locked away, when there are so many people out there who would love to know you.  And it’s really a pity to have only had one lover your entire life.”

 

Seven scowled at her.  “Naomi’s one night stand with Sieken hardly makes her a woman of the world,” she pointed out.

 

“I know,” Kieran sighed.  “And sometimes, I feel guilty that I tied her down so young.  You wouldn’t believe the way the cadets were looking at her last night—at us.  I could see the envy in their eyes, and if I died tomorrow, there’d be a line a mile long outside her door.  She told me that despite our being married, she gets asked out all the time, and usually by cadets who know she’s married.”

 

“That is reprehensible,” Seven declared. 

 

“I didn’t much care for that information,” Kieran agreed.  “But it’s reality.  Naomi is going to have to face the fact that she’s got definite sexual magnetism, and there are consequences to that.  I think she’s going to have a tough time of it, until she gets accustomed to the constant barrage of offers.  I’m surprised you haven’t been inundated with propositions, yourself,” Kieran smiled at her companion.

 

"Actually,” Seven lowered her voice, “I have had several...offers.  Mostly dinner invitations, or invitations for drinks.  So far, I haven’t had the nerve to accept.  But I’m starting to think I should stop being so conservative,” she decided.

 

“Anyone interesting?  Cute?  Anyone sexy?” Kieran enthused.

 

“There is a visiting professor,” Seven was nearly whispering, “a Trill named Lenara Kahn.  She is very beautiful, and she is brilliant.  I had lunch with her in the student union, once, and coffee several times since then.  She wants to take me to dinner at some place called the Quantum Café,” she confided.

 

Kieran blinked rapidly.  Lenara Kahn?  At the Academy?  How could she have missed that? She forced herself to resume the threads of their conversation, though her mind was scattered in a dozen directions at once.  “Go.  I mean it, Seven.  Lenara Kahn has an incredible intergalactic reputation.  She’s written papers that are required reading for all cadets, she’s respected by everyone in the academic realm, and I’ve met her.  She is very, very beautiful.  And a genuinely nice woman.”

 

Seven considered awhile longer.  “Do you really think I should?”

 

“Unless you are planning to reconcile with Kathryn, yes.  You know how much I love you, Seven, and how protective I am of you.  Dr. Kahn is perfect.  I would never lose a second of sleep over your getting involved with her,” Kieran patted the Borg’s mesh-encased hand, thinking of the Trill, of her gentle manner, and how patient she would be with Seven.

 

“How do you know her?” Seven was surprised that Kieran would’ve had the chance to meet the Trill.

 

Kieran considered how much she wanted to say, and settled on “She gave the commencement speech at my graduation.  I was Valedictorian, so I had to speak, also.  She heard me practicing my remarks at dress rehearsal, and I was floundering pretty badly, because I knew I had to speak in front of all those cadets, and I was nervous as hell.  I didn’t know she was in the auditorium, and I was at the podium, and I got my tongue all tangled.  I pounded my head on the surface of the podium and said something like ‘Fuck, I cannot do this if my brain isn’t in control of my fear’.  And then I heard this laughter wafting across the aisles of seats, and I looked up.  And there she was, mocking me with phony applause.  Well, my jaw just hit the floor.  Dr. Lenara Kahn, in the flesh, and here I am bungling my speech and looking like an ass.  When she stopped laughing at me, she came up and introduced herself, as if I didn’t already know who she was, and I was so charmed by her, I forgot to be scared.  She took me to lunch, and talked me out of being afraid of public speaking.  She was just so kind, and so funny.  God, I had the worst crush on her.  By the time the ceremony came, she had me completely at ease, and I wanted to impress her so badly that the speech was flawless.  When I left the stage, she was standing back behind the curtain, waiting for me, and she kissed my cheek and told me I was eloquent.  I almost fainted.”

 

Seven smiled.  “That sounds like her.  She is a lovely person,” she allowed.  “I’m supposed to RSVP by this afternoon.  You really think this is the right thing to do?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I do.  Live a little, Seven.”

 

The gorgeous Borg toyed with her coffee mug, thinking.  “You still worry about me?”

 

“Of course I do.  I love you, Annika.  How can I not worry?  But I won’t worry about Lenara and you.  I would be so thrilled if something came of that situation.  You’re both such deserving women.  I hope you’ll let her pick you up here, so I can see her again.  But then, I doubt she’d remember me,” she bit her lip, suppressing a wave of melancholy.  “Still, it would be fun to see her.”

 

“Then I’ll contact her right now, and accept,” Seven decided.   Then her face fell.  “What will I wear?” she sounded dismayed.

 

“We’ll find something devastating,” Kieran assured her.  “Naomi will know just the thing, I’m sure.” 

 

Just then a loud groan rang out from inside the house.   “Uh oh, I think she’s awake and feeling the aftereffects.  I better go see if she’s okay,” Kieran launched herself up and out of the patio chair, bounding up the stairs.  “Sweetie?” she called out.

 

Naomi was sitting up in bed, holding her head.  “God, don’t talk so loud,” she begged, rocking gently.

 

Kieran reached for the hypospray that her wife hadn’t yet noticed and pressed it to her throat.  “Sit tight, honey, it takes a few seconds,” she promised.

 

Naomi collapsed back on the pillows.  “God, I knew I loved you for a reason.  Did you get the registry of the shuttle that hit me?”

 

Kieran laughed, stretching out beside her.  “Are you okay now?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Are you mad at me?”

 

“Should I be?” Kieran was amused.

 

“I don’t know.  I’m not sure how much of an ass I made of myself.  Was I awful?” she hid her face in her hands.

 

“You were pretty funny,” Kieran admitted, “but you were fine, otherwise.  The model of decorum, though you couldn’t say that word last night, or remember the Pythagoraen theorem.”

 

“You’re not pissed at me for getting drunk?”  Naomi asked sheepishly.

 

“No.  Na, I’m your wife, not your mother.  Partying is part of college.  I expect you to do it.  Did you have fun?” Kieran smiled warmly at her, straining sideways for a kiss.

 

“I did,” Naomi admitted.  “A lot.  I loved being out with you like that, showing you off.  And I love spending time with you in different environments, so it was a great night for me.  When we were on Voyager, I wanted to go the Spring Fling with you so badly, and this sort of made up for it, I guess.  I hope it wasn’t too boring for you,” she touched Kieran’s cheek softly.

 

“You are never boring, Naomi,” Kieran assured her.  “I love your company, and I loved dancing together, and it was pretty interesting seeing how you act when you’re under the influence.  And damn, Na, you are truly a Wildwoman in the sack when you’ve been drinking,” she waggled her eyebrows.   “I think you were so loud you scared the bejesus out of Seven.  She grilled me this morning, thinking I must have been biting you like a Klingon,” she winked, chuckling.

 

“Oh, God,” Naomi hid her face in Kieran’s shoulder.  “Was I really that loud?”

 

“Made my ears ring, honey,” Kieran affirmed.  “But it also got me pretty worked up,” she gave her wife a feral grin.

 

Naomi squinted, trying to remember.  “You were talking really dirty to me,” she recalled.  “That’s what made me shriek.  It’s all your fault,” she teased.  “That’s odd though. Usually when we use the SED, you’re the one that’s really loud, not me.”

 

Kieran averted her eyes.  “I had an edge last night,” she confessed.

 

“An edge?” Naomi moved over her wife, peering down at her.

 

“I was more than a little lit, myself, Na.  I was afraid I might be too enthusiastic if I made love to you like that, so I left out the sensor.  I didn’t want to risk hurting you,” she glanced shyly up at her partner. 

 

Naomi kissed her tenderly.  “You amaze me,” she whispered.  “So after all that bumping and grinding and flirting, you came home and frustrated the hell out of yourself by pleasuring me?”

 

Kieran had to admit, she had been left aching, and sleep didn’t come quickly or easily.  “I survived,” she replied flippantly.

 

“But you were sorry I fell asleep, weren’t you?” Naomi’s tone was insistent.

 

Kieran nodded reluctantly.

 

“Did you do anything to relieve yourself?” Naomi slid her hands up Kieran’s swimsuit, thumbs brushing over her distended nipples.

 

“No,” Kieran’s voice was barely a whisper.  “I was too afraid you’d catch me,” she confessed.

 

“Catch you?  You make it sound like it’s wrong to do that to yourself,” Naomi admonished gently.  “Do you think I’d be upset if I found you touching yourself?”

 

“I don’t know.  Would you?” Kieran’s throat was parched, the sound barely coming out.

 

“I might feel bad for leaving you dissatisfied,” Naomi replied truthfully, “but I imagine I’d forget to feel bad because I’d get so worked up watching you,” she quirked an eyebrow, thumbs still smoothing over Kieran’s breasts.  

 

Kieran swallowed hard, her arousal insistent and immediate, the intensity still there from the night before.  “Close the door, Na,” she said firmly, easing the smaller woman away from her.

 

Naomi obediently closed and locked the double doors to their bedroom, then turned expectantly around.  Kieran peeled her swimsuit from her shoulders and down to her waist, leaving the single piece clinging at the hips.  She forced down her fear, gazing at her wife, and slid her hand beneath the fabric of her suit.  “You told me once this is one of your fantasies,” she said softly, touching herself tentatively.

 

Naomi was riveted to the spot, chest tightening with immediate interest.  She could see the impression of Kieran’s hand moving further down beneath the swimsuit, the outline of fingers pressing into flesh.  Her throat went completely dry as Kieran lifted her hips and removed the sheath from her hips, easing it down her legs and kicking it off.  Naomi gasped faintly as Kieran penetrated herself, eyes closing, tongue flicking out to wet her lips.

 

“Oh, God,” Naomi shuddered, her gaze so intent her eyes watered.  She moved beside her wife, easing onto the edge of the mattress, mesmerized. 

 

Gentle fingers slid through wet warmth, parting dark lips and leaving a glistening sheen on the folds of flesh.  Kieran’s breathing altered, and she kept her eyes closed.

 

“What are you thinking right now?” Naomi whispered, captivated by the vision of her wife’s arousal.

 

Kieran sighed.  “I’m thinking about your mouth surrounding me,” she replied, sliding her fingertip over her clit.

 

“Would you like that?” Naomi asked throatily.

 

“That depends,” Kieran answered, her words unsteady, “on whether you want to keep watching me.  I may never have the nerve to do this again,” she smiled faintly.

 

“You’ve never touched yourself in front of any other lover?” Naomi asked quietly, unable to keep her hands away.  She smoothed her palms over Kieran’s breasts, eliciting a soft, subtle moan.

 

“Never,” Kieran admitted, blushing.  “It’s too personal,” she explained, gasping as she felt herself nearing the edge.

 

Naomi dropped her face to Kieran’s left nipple, suckling gently, absorbing the jolt of energy that rocked Kieran’s body.  She moved her hand between Kieran’s legs, mirroring Kieran’s fingers with her own, her breath catching suddenly as she felt slick heat against her fingertips.  Naomi added her mouth to the symphony of fingers playing in harmony, and Kieran’s vocalizations were stifled in a thick pillow.

 

Naomi took the pillow away.  “You know I hate it when you try to hide your reaction.”

 

“Honey,” Kieran panted, “I’m trying to keep Seven from thinking we’re beating on each other,” she reasoned, reaching for the pillow again.

 

“Seven will get over it,” Naomi insisted, flinging the pillow across the room.  “I love how you sound.  It fills me.  It moves me.”  She recaptured Kieran’s clit with her tongue, leaving no room for fingers to intercede, burying her own slender fingers in her wife, tasting and teasing. 

 

Kieran teetered on the edge, crying her wife’s name repeatedly, the sound soft and desperate.  A sudden flurry of motion against her distended flesh sent her into a crushing spasm, her body convulsing as she gasped “Naomi, my God, yes,” and felt herself fracture into pure light and piercing sound.  Naomi was relentless, devouring Kieran more insistently as the climax broke, pushing her to the edge again.  “I-I-oh, God, Na, it’s too good, I can’t,” she pushed Naomi’s forehead away.

 

Naomi smiled, stopping only momentarily.  “Yes, you can.  Squeeze my fingers, honey,” she instructed, feeling the immediate tightening around the base of her digits.  “Now come for me,” she breathed warm, soft air over Kieran’s lips, sucking them carefully into her mouth and letting her tongue dance once more.  Kieran snatched the comforter, almost rending the fabric, shouting as she climaxed again, body quivering in the aftermath, legs liquid and tired.

 

Naomi mercifully extricated herself from her wife’s opening, crawling up the length of her body to hold her.  “Don’t ever let me fall asleep and leave you hanging again,” she scolded her wife.  “If I’m going to be so selfish, I shouldn’t be allowed to drink,” she chastised herself.  “I love you, Kieran,” she drew her into increasingly muscular arms, arms that were responding to constant workouts and weight training.  “Always, and only you.  Thank you for trusting me enough to do things that are hard for you,” she kissed her wife’s hair, loving the softness of it against her face.  She hugged her tightly, eyes closing with the intensity of her emotion.  “I love you so much, honey,” she whispered, eyes filling with tears.

 

Kieran lay in her arms, knowing Seven had gotten yet another earful, and not caring a bit now.  “I love you, too, Na,” she murmured. 

 

They lay silently for a long time, cuddling and kissing and feeling grateful to have one another.  Finally, Kieran propped herself up on one hand.  “So will you assure your mother that I’m not poking you with pain sticks?” she smiled softly.

 

Naomi giggled.  “You were poking me, but not with a pain stick,” she teased.  “I’ll talk to her.  God, she is such a chronic worrier.  Does she think for a second I’d be with anyone who hurt me?  How stupid does she think I am?”

 

Kieran winced.  “I think it’s possible to be intelligent and be abused.  I would hope so, because I don’t consider myself stupid,” she replied defensively.

 

Naomi’s chest ached instantly.  “Oh, honey, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

 

“Didn’t you?” Kieran was hurt.  “Isn’t that what everyone who’s never been abused thinks?  That it only happens to stupid people?”

 

Naomi hugged her closer.  “Baby, I do not think that.  You and Seven are two of the smartest women I’ve ever known, and it happened to both of you.  I’m so sorry, Kieran, I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

Kieran swallowed her momentary ire.  “Okay.  Listen, I told Seven we’d help her find something to wear tonight.  She has a date.”

 

Naomi grinned ear to ear.  “She does? With who?”

 

Kieran chuckled.  “Let her tell you herself.  It’s truly awesome, Na.”

 

____________________

 

Lenara Kahn rang the chime at the Wildman’s front entrance, waiting nervously for Seven of Nine to answer the door.  Seven had invited the esteemed doctor over for a drink, more so she could get her bearings before the actual date than any other reason.  Seven had not had much success dating on Voyager, before Kathryn became her lover, and she harbored a good deal of trepidation over the prospect.

 

The Quantum Café was a casual eatery, so Naomi had selected a casual outfit, but one that was, as Kieran promised Seven, devastating.  Seven wore skin-tight black jeans and a black v-necked silk tank, with a loose overshirt in bright red cotton, gathered at the waist.  Her hair was french braided, and the young Borg was truly stunning.  Kieran had to force herself to look away more than once.

 

“Lenara,” Seven greeted her guest, ushering her into the living room.  “I’m so glad you could come by the house first,” she enthused, talking faster than she should.  “I’d like you to meet my daughter, Naomi Wildman,” she presented the young Ktarian.

 

“Hello, Naomi,” Lenara took her hands.  “Seven didn’t tell me she has children.”  She moved gracefully in her body, willowy, like a dancer.  She wore faded out blue jeans and a white cotton blouse with a navy blue pullover sweater.  She looked almost human.

 

“I’m adopted,” Naomi explained. “Seven isn’t nearly old enough to have a daughter my age.”

 

“I’d also like to introduce you to-” Seven started to bring Lenara to Kieran, but the doctor stopped in her tracks.

 

“Oh, my God,” she covered her mouth, eyes filling with tears.  “Kieran Thompson,” she grabbed the taller woman, hugging her fiercely.  “I never thought I’d see you again,” she choked on the words.  “I was so upset when Voyager disappeared, I tried for two years to find the ship with every Trill trick I could devise,” she gasped. 

 

“Doctor,” Kieran hugged her warmly.  “I’m just as glad to see you again.  You look wonderful,” she removed the fine boned Trill scientist to arms’ length, each woman filling their eyes with the other.  Kieran devoured the sight of her, the slenderness of her face, the deep brown geometric markings of her temples and her throat, those incredible eyes that Kieran never could quite describe-not blue, not green, not really gray, but somehow a combination of all three.   Lenara wore her hair as she always had, braided around her face, the light gold-brown framing her sculpted features.  She was, as ever, breathtaking, and Kieran simply couldn’t breathe. 

 

Seven was stunned at the reunion.  “And you said Lenara might not remember you,” she scolded the Commander.  “I was going to say, Lenara, this is my daughter-in-law, Kieran Wildman.”

 

“And married?” Lenara smiled broadly. “Congratulations, Kieran,” she squeezed the Commander’s hands.

 

Kieran grinned impishly.  “I also have a daughter,” she announced.  “Much younger than Naomi, though,” she teased.  “Dr. Kahn, are you still a connoisseur of wine?”

 

“I enjoy it a great deal, yes,” she admitted.

 

“I have something I think you’ll like,” Kieran let go of her hands.  “Naomi and I picked it up in the Delta Quadrant, on a planet named Qian.  It’s quite unique,” she offered.  “Are you game?”

 

“All the way from the Delta Quadrant?  Oh, Kieran, I don’t know—that seems extravagant, don’t you think?” the doctor protested.

 

“Not at all,” Naomi put in.  “It’s really a very good wine.  Honey, will you uncork it and let it breathe?” she moved between her wife and the attractive Trill, instantly aware of the lingering looks the good doctor directed at her wife.

 

“Of course I will.  Everyone, please, sit down and make yourselves at home, and I’ll be right back,” Kieran agreed, smiling reassurance at her wife.

 

Naomi followed her into the kitchen.  “What the hell just happened in there?” she hissed, keeping her voice down.

 

Kieran took the smaller woman in her arms.  “I’ll tell you the whole story later.  For now, just be glad that Seven has a date, and leave it at that, okay?” she smiled at her wife.  “I love you, Naomi.  Trust me.”

 

The four women split a bottle of wine, made polite small talk for the better part of an hour, then Naomi and Kieran started hinting that the Borg and the Trill would be late for their dinner reservation.  The couple hastily left the newlyweds behind, heading for the Quantum Café.

 

“All right,” Naomi pounced on Kieran immediately.  “I want to know that story.  And don’t leave out a single detail,” she crossed her arms.

 

Kieran grinned.  “Damn, it gets me hot when you’re jealous, woman,” she grabbed her up in a hug.  “Let’s go to bed instead,” she picked up her wife and stomped upstairs.

 

Naomi shrieked, laughing.  “You brute, put me down,” she howled.  “I want to hear the story, not get naked.”

 

Kieran frowned.  “But honey, you know I love to talk best after we’ve made love,” she waggled her eyebrows.  “And you have a debt to pay for last night,” she kissed her playfully.

 

____________________

 

Cadet First Class Kieran Thompson slammed her head against the podium.  Her rehearsal of the Valedictorian’s speech was going badly.  “Christ, Kieran,” she berated herself, “you’re the Valedictorian.  Could you sound any less worthy of it?  God, why didn’t I just tank one of my finals so I could graduate second, and avoid this disaster in the making?” she groaned aloud.

 

Melodious laughter drifted through the auditorium’s dimly lit rows, carrying up to the stage, punctuated by sarcastic applause.

 

Kieran raised her eyes to see the graceful form of Dr. Lenara Kahn climbing the stage steps.  The Trill scientist crossed the stage and extended her hand.  “Forgive me for laughing, but the idea of deliberately failing a final just to avoid giving a speech—that was just too funny,” she smiled warmly at the cadet.  “I’m-”

 

“Dr. Lenara Kahn,” Kieran finished for her.  “It is such an honor, Doctor,” she took the small hand in her own.  “I’ve read everything you’ve ever published,” she breathed, awed by the impressive personage before her.

 

Lenara threw back her head and laughed.  “And did you understand any of it?” her eyes twinkled mischeivously.

 

Kieran grinned.  “Almost none of it, Ma’am,” she admitted, still holding the doctor’s hand.

 

“Well, you’re honest, and that’s refreshing,” the doctor nodded approval.  “I can’t tell you how many colleagues sit through my symposia or colloquia, staring blankly at me, only to pretend to have an intelligent question to ask,” she shook her head.

 

“You do a lot of public speaking?” Kieran flinched self-consciously as the doctor withdrew her hand.

 

“At least monthly,” she agreed.  “I could give you a few pointers, if you’d like,” she offered.

 

“I would be eternally in your debt.  I truly suck at this,” she waved her hand at the podium.

 

“Tell you what.  I’ll buy you lunch, you can pick the restaurant, and we can go over your speech.  I’m not familiar with the lay of the land, and I have no idea where to get a decent meal,” the doctor took her arm and led her away from the podium.  “Don’t forget your notes,” she reminded the flustered cadet.

 

Kieran loped back to retrieve her PADD, then rejoined the Trill.  “What are you in the mood for?” she asked her guest.

 

“Something uniquely from Earth,” Lenara decided.  “Trill food is so boring,” she confided, smiling up at the taller woman.

 

“That’s a pretty vague request,” Kieran advised.  “Earth has so many distinct cuisines—Asian, African, Carribean, European, Mexican,  American.”

 

Lenara nodded.  “Okay.  I love spicy food.  Pick something spicy, and I’ll be happy.”

 

“I know just the place, then,” Kieran smiled, relaxing finally.

 

____________________

 

Cadet Thompson took Dr. Lenara Kahn to the Pad Thai, a local Academy haunt where the students went to test their bravado for hot, spicy food.  Lenara Kahn had ordered her meal extra spicy, and although she broke a sweat, she seemed to truly enjoy the food.  Kieran was stunned at her seasoned palate, but said nothing.

 

“Are you really going to try to open a stable wormhole?” Kieran asked faintly, still awed by her companion’s intellectual genius.

 

“Eventually.  It’s all theoretical, right now, but I believe I will do it, one day.”  Dr. Kahn gave Kieran a cursory explanation of her most recent work in the theories for creating stable wormholes.  She was surprised that Kieran not only listened attentively without her lovely brown eyes glazing over, but the cadet also asked appropriate questions at the critical junctures of the theory, seemed to have a rudimentary grasp of the pitfalls, and the fundamental gravimetric and spatial inconsistencies between the accepted theories and Dr. Kahn’s innovative perspectives on the subject, and the cadet could actually summarize the relevant issues involved.

 

“I thought you said you understood almost none of my body of work,” she chided the cadet.

 

Kieran shrugged.  “I don’t pretend to be well-versed, but I was honest when I said I’ve read everything you’ve ever published.  I have my workstation programmed to notify me anytime a new paper or epigraph becomes available, and my sentry automatically downloads it to my account, so I can keep current.”

 

Lenara smirked faintly.  “You grossly understated your comprehension of the topic.  That’s unusual for a Starfleet officer.  Ordinarily they are pure arrogance, if not conceit.”

 

“I try hard to be realistic about my abilities and aptitudes, Doctor.  If you ask me about basketball, I will tell you honestly, I’m the best player Starfleet has ever had, and probably one of the best in world right now.  Of course, that and a handful of credit chits will buy you a cup of coffee,” she chuckled lightly.

 

“What’s next for you, graduating fresh from Starfleet, top of your class?” she drank her rice wine, smiling at the strident demeanor of the cadet.

 

“I’m going to see my folks for a week, and then I ship out on Enterprise,” Kieran replied.

 

Lenara smiled appreciatively.  “Nothing like starting at the top of the heap,” she nodded.  “You must be one of only two or three new grads they’ve ever taken on,” she toasted Kieran with her glass.

 

Kieran blushed.  “I wouldn’t know.  But I’m lucky to have the posting, I know that.”

 

“You’d better show me your speech, Cadet,” she smiled at her companion, “or else we’ll sit here and talk all afternoon.” Lenara set aside her plate, reaching for Kieran’s PADD.  “May I read it?”

 

“Certainly,” Kieran agreed, sliding the PADD within her grasp.

 

Lenara hesitated, head cocked to one side, the dim light of the restaurant making her Trill skin patterns seem darker, more prominent.

 

“What are you thinking?” Kieran asked softly, seeing the twinkle in Lenara’s eye.

 

“How unusual this is, for me to meet someone I’m able to really talk to about my work, yet still feel comfortable, too.  We academics tend to be anti-social, reclusive types.  It’s rare for me to communicate with anyone so easily.  But it’s a nice surprise,” she touched Kieran’s hand.

 

Kieran thought her heart would pound out of her chest.

 

Just then, a teenaged girl approached the table, all gangly armed and gawking.  “Are you—are you Kieran Thompson?” she stammered, trembling with excitement.

 

“Yes.  Can I do something for you?” Kieran was so used to the routine, she already had her hands out for the PADD.

 

“Could I have your autograph?” the girl asked in a halting voice.

 

“Of course you can.  What did you think of the game?” Kieran smiled warmly, jotting her name onto the electronic tablet.

 

“You were completely Beta Quadrant,” she used the slang of the day.  “I’ve never seen anything like your third quarter stats,” she breathed. 

 

Kieran handed her back the PADD.  “Thanks.  And thanks for stopping by.  Will you root for the team next year for me?” she asked, smiling still.

 

“You bet I will,” the young girl agreed eagerly.  “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

 

“It was no bother.  Take care,” she waved as the girl backed away.

 

As soon as the patrons of the establishment realized that autograph seekers would not be dismissed out of hand, the table was surrounded by adults and cadets and local teenagers, all clamoring for autographs.  Kieran sighed.  “I’m sorry, Doctor,” she stood up. “We’ll have to find someplace else to work on this.”  She held up her hands.  “Please, everyone, quiet down,” she pleaded.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t sign autographs.  I have to give the commencement speech in two hours, and I need to study my notes.  I’m sorry.  Another time,” she tried to placate them.  “Doctor?” Kieran grabbed Lenara’s arm and forced her way through the crowd.

 

Lenara was baffled.  “People on Earth love their academicians so much they want their signatures?”

 

Kieran laughed aloud.  “No, Ma’am.  They love their athletes.  My basketball team won the ICAA Championship this past year.  It gets me a little bit of recognition, here and there.”

 

“Basketball?” Lenara was not familiar with it.  “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned it.  What is it?”

 

Kieran grinned.  “It’s an obscure sport.  Not worth discussing.  My quad is not far from here, Dr. Kahn.  Can you come with me to go over my speech?”

 

“Of course,” Lenara agreed.  “But will you stop calling me Ma’am?  How old do you think I am, Kieran?”

 

“You’re twenty-three and the youngest scientist to ever be invited to join the Trill Science Ministry.  You’re barely out of university, yourself, and already you’ve turned the academic world on it’s ear,” Kieran said with genuine admiration.

 

“How old are you?” Lenara smiled at the unabashed adoration.

 

“Twenty,” Kieran replied.  “Not much younger than you, Doctor,” she added as they strode along the sidewalk back through campus.

 

“Call me Lenara.  Please, you’re making me feel antiquated.  Just because my symbiont is over two hundred doesn’t mean you need to treat me as being old,” she laughed.

 

“That’s my building,” Kieran pointed.  “I can’t thank you enough for helping me out with this.”

 

“It’s my pleasure,” she said smoothly.

______________________

 

 

Cadet First Class Kieran Thompson’s speech was a rousing success, and as she left the stage amid uproarious applause from her fellow classmates, Lenara Kahn clapped sincerely, standing on tiptoes to kiss Kieran’s cheek. 

 

“That was perfectly eloquent, Ensign,” she emphasized Kieran’s new rank.  “Congratulations.”

 

Kieran was stunned, unconsciously touching her cheek where the sensation of the scientist’s lips still tingled against her skin.  “Thank you.  You’re next,” she murmured, watching the elegant beauty sail across the stage to take the lectern.

 

When the ceremonies concluded, Kieran was still standing backstage, beside Lenara Kahn.

 

“So where are you off to now?” Lenara asked amiably.  “Big party?  Huge reception?”

 

“No, Ma’am,” Kieran replied.  “Awards banquet starts at 1530 hours, and I’m—uh—one of the honorees,” she shyly revealed.  “It’s been such an honor meeting you, Lenara, and your assistance was invaluable,” she held out her hand.

 

“Actually,” the Trill smirked, “I’m an awards presenter at the banquet.  Can you point me in the direction of the location?”

 

Kieran’s whole face lit up.  “I’ll walk with you, if that’s okay.  It’s at the Intergalactic Suites Grand Dining Room.  I’m heading over right now, in fact.”

 

Lenara slipped her arm through Kieran’s.  “I would very much appreciate the escort,” she squeezed Kieran’s arm.  Kieran Thompson thought she had died and gone to heaven.

 

“So after the stuffy awards banquet, don’t you have some rowdy outing to attend?” Lenara teased her as they walked across campus.

 

“I’m supposed to make appearances at about six parties, in fact,” Kieran frowned.  “It’s going to be a late night.”

 

“Is there much to do around campus?  I’m afraid my transport back to Trill isn’t until the middle of next week, and as I mentioned before, I’m unfamiliar with San Francisco, so I don’t really know where the excitement is to be found,” she tried to sound nonchalant.

 

“I would be more than happy to take you anywhere you like—Golden Gate Park, Fishermans’ Wharf, Lombard Street—it’s a lovely city.  You should see some of it, while you have the opportunity.”

 

“And make you miss your parties with your classmates?  I think not,” she gazed up at her tall companion.  “But I’d be happy to tag along with you, if I wouldn’t be in the way,” she offered hopefully.

 

Kieran smiled broadly.  “Do you like to drink and dance?” she asked.

 

“I love to dance, and I could drink most Trill under the table, if the wine is good,” she replied happily, squeezing Kieran’s arm again.

 

“Excellent.  Then it’s a date.  Come find me after the banquet,” Kieran urged her.  “I’m hard to miss.  Just look for the head above the crowd.”

 

Lenara laughed at her joke, and the sound of it filled Kieran’s heart to the brim.

 

___________________

 

Naomi Wildman lay in her wife’s arms, encouraging her to contine the story.  “So there you were, just a kid.  Younger than me, and meeting your hero?” she asked faintly, smiling.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I was so impressed with her, Na.  I mean, consider, I was pretty famous, myself at the time, and I had met all sorts of dignitaries and political figures and celebrities.  But Lenara Kahn was in a class all by herself, in my mind, and she had no idea who I was, or what basketball was.  It was like, meeting someone really important and having them like me just for me, without any preconceived ideas, and that’s why it meant so much to me.  For the first time in probably two years, I was getting to know someone who didn’t want to know me because I was famous, but just because she liked me,” she explained.

 

Naomi grinned.  “And she was gorgeous, and your hero,” she reiterated.

 

Kieran blushed.  “Yeah, she was.  One of the greatest minds of our century, Na.”

 

“So, what happened then?” Naomi demanded, snuggling closer.

 

Kieran let out the breath she was holding.  She resolved to let herself remember it all, finally, but to edit out the more graphic parts for her wife.

___________________

 

Newly-promoted Ensign Kieran Thompson was given her ICAA Athlete of the Year Award at the banquet, as well as a plaque for making Academic All American, a statuette for being Valedictorian, a ribbon for being on the Admiral’s List, and a research award for Xenopsychology.  She made more trips to the podium than any other honoree, and Lenara Kahn was impressed.

 

Kieran was mortified by all the attention, but when she saw Lenara Kahn applauding for her, she stopped minding the accolades.  She never took her eyes from the lovely Trill during the entire banquet, and the second it was over, she rushed over to reclaim her companion for the evening.

 

“Kieran,” Lenara scolded mildly, “are you just going to leave all your awards behind?” she pointed to the pile on the table.

 

“Oh, no, of course not.  I should give them to my folks,” she scanned the crowd, and was taken unawares by her father, sneaking up behind her.

 

“Starfish,” he said over the din, “we’re so proud of you.  Let me look at your booty,” he perused the items.

 

“Dad, this is Dr. Lenara Kahn.  Lenara, this is my dad, Gerald Thompson, and my mom, Violet.  Daddy, will you take all this stuff with you back to Florida?”

 

His face fell.  “Aren’t you coming, too?”

 

“I already told you, I’m staying on campus a couple of days, Dad.  I have parties to go to, stuff to pack, friends to say goodbye to.  But I promise, no later than Monday. Okay?”

 

Her mother scowled.  “Kieran, you really should come home tomorrow.  Everyone at the park wants to congratulate you.”

 

“Now Vi,” her father argued, “this is her big moment.  Let her have it.  You can show her off to all your marine biologist pals next week,” he assured her.  “Starfish, we love you,” he kissed Kieran’s cheek.  “Have fun, and let us know when you’ll be arriving.”

 

“I will, Dad, thanks,” Kieran kissed him back, then stooped to kiss her mother.  “Goodnight,” she called after them.

 

She smirked at Lenara.  “Parents,” she rolled her eyes.

 

Lenara laughed out loud.  “Mine are just as bad,” she agreed, taking Kieran’s hand.  “Let’s go find these wild parties you’re supposed to be at,” she enthused, leading Kieran out of the hall.

 

“Let’s go by my quad, first.  I want to get out of this outfit and into some blue jeans and court shoes.  I hate dress whites,” Kieran complained.  “We can go by your room, too, and you can get out of your formal things,” she offered.

 

Lenara seemed flustered.  “I—don’t have anything but traditional Trill garb, like this.”

 

Kieran smiled appreciatively.  “It’s elegant, and very becoming.  Is it comfortable?”

 

“Not nearly as much as being unclothed,” she admitted with a smirk.  “Would you replicate something for me to wear that’s appropriate for the gatherings we’re going to attend?”

 

Kieran nodded enthusiastically.  “Of course.  You’ll look amazing in blue jeans, I bet,” she felt her pulse quicken at the thought.

 

_____________________

 

The first party was a loud, raucous affair where most of the cadets were already intoxicated.  Kieran and Lenara found wine, and drank it together, shouting over the pulsing music.  Kieran made her way through the crowd, congratulating her classmates, and, ultimately, dragging Lenara away as quickly as possible. 

 

“I need to go by a small gathering, next,” Kieran reported to her companion.  “The girls hosting it are teammates of mine.  They’re a bit loud, and pretty brash, but they’re like family to me.”

 

Lenara smiled up at her.  “Loud and brash sounds like more of the Starfleet officers I’ve met than not,” she grinned.

 

Basketball forward and Cadet Second Class Stephanie Moss lived off campus in a three-bedroom apartment she shared with Cadets First Class Ericka Jones and Karen Weaver.   Stephanie answered the door, and was stunned to see Kieran Thompson with Dr. Lenara Kahn in tow.

 

Kieran winked at her.  “Close your mouth, Mossy, before a bug flies in,” she teased her friend.  “I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Lenara Kahn,” she nodded between the two women as they stepped inside the apartment’s vestibule.

 

“No introduction is necessary,” Stephanie murmured, shaking Lenara’s hand and ushering the women inside to the intimate group in the living room.  “Can I get you something to eat or drink, Doctor?”

 

Lenara shook her head.  “I’ll help myself, if you don’t mind,” she slipped away to the buffet table, leaving the two teammates to follow her with their eyes.

 

“My God, KT, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Mossy breathed.  “You have a date with her?”

 

“I wouldn’t call it a date, Mossy.  She’s just at loose ends, now that her gig is over, and I asked her to go party hopping with me,” Kieran explained.  “Isn’t she gorgeous, though?”

 

“She is Beta Quadrant gorgeous,” Stephanie agreed.

 

“Do me a favor,” Kieran urged.  “Go tell her about the foods and beverages on the table.  She isn’t very familiar with Earth cuisine, and I don’t want her to eat anything she might find offensive.  I want to say hi to the gang.”

 

“Sure, KT,” Stephanie promptly rejoined the Trill scientist, who was perusing the items set out on the long serving table in the living room.

 

As she was explaining what potato chips were, a loud cheer rang out from a back bedroom.  “What’s going on back there?” Lenara tried to peek down the hall.

 

Stephanie smiled.  “Come on, I’ll show you.  They’re watching the holovid of our championship game against Tennessee.  KT probably just scored, and they’re rooting for her.”  She guided the diminutive scientist down the hall and into the bedroom, where Karen Weaver and several other women were watching the game.

 

“Here it comes,” Karen enthused.  “Watch this—watch—it’s unfucking believable,” she grabbed the arm of her companion, shaking it.

 

On the playback, Kieran Thompson took a backdoor cut across the baseline, leapt high above the rim and grabbed a perfectly placed lob pass, and with one hand, jammed it through the rim.  The audience erupted in appreciative shouts.

 

“Damn, she skies,” Karen shook her head.  “I’ve never seen anyone catch air like her,” she bragged on her teammate.

 

Lenara leaned over and said quietly to Stephanie “I don’t see any propulsion source.”

 

Stephanie laughed uproariously.  “Weaver, hit pause.  Did you guys hear that?  Dr. Kahn wants to know where KT’s propulsion source is,” she slapped her thigh.

 

Lenara looked from one face to the next.  “What’s so funny?”

 

“Dr. Kahn,” Karen Weaver grinned, “that’s the whole point.  Kieran isn’t using any propulsion source except her own energy and strength.”

 

“But—she is flying,” Lenara protested.  “Is it a trick of the recording?”

 

Mossy howled louder.  “Damn, we ought to get KT to show you in person, you’d flip.  It’s so much more impressive live,” she lay her hand on the scientist’s shoulder.

 

“She would demonstrate that—defiance of the laws of gravity for me?” Lenara was awed.

 

“I bet she would,” Weaver agreed.  “But I was hoping to get her to play for us,” she grabbed her guitar.  “Let me ask her first, and then maybe we can scrimmage for the Doctor,” she nodded.

 

“No, wait, Weaver,” Mossy stopped her.  “Let Dr. Kahn ask Kieran to play for us.  If you ask, she’ll say no.  But if the doctor asks—well, you know KT, never refuses a pretty woman,” she winked at Weaver.

 

Lenara eyed Mossy speculatively.  “Kieran’s a womanizer?”

 

“Hell, no,” Mossy laughed, leading Lenara back into the hallway, lugging Karen’s guitar.  “Women chase her like crazy, but she almost never lets any catch her,” she advised.  “But you, she’d fall all over herself.  She’s a huge admirer of yours, you know.  She’s the only cadet I’ve met that really understands your work.  It’s light years over my head,” she admitted.  “Take this.  It’s called a guitar.  Ask Kieran to sing for you, and I bet she will.  She’s really good,” Mossy waggled her eyebrows.

 

Lenara Kahn carried the instrument gingerly, smiling across the room at Kieran.

 

Kieran spotted her with the guitar, and she scowled at Mossy.  “You put her up to this, didn’t you?” she accused her cohort.

 

“Will you sing for us?” Lenara asked, eyes sparkling impishly.  “Stephanie says you never refuse a pretty woman’s request for a serenade,” she added.

 

Kieran held her hand out for the stringed instrument, took a seat on a high bar stool, and nodded at Lenara.  “Well, since you’re extraordinarily pretty, I guess I can’t say no, then,” she flirted, tuning the strings briefly before she launched into a song.

 

Lenara leaned against the breakfast bar, listening to a traditional folk song about seafaring, starfaring, and sailing away into the solar wind with one’s true love.  Kieran sang with flair and perfect intonation, and the Trill was charmed.

 

Mossy snuck up behind the Trill, watching Kieran as she sang only to Dr. Kahn, as if no one else were even in the room.  When the song ended, Mossy interrupted the applause to request something original.  “Do the one about being in your lover’s shadows,” she demanded.

 

Kieran rolled her eyes.  “She’s trying to let you know what romantic drivel I like to write,” she confessed to the Trill.  “But okay,” she acquiesced.

 

Lenara was quite taken by the lyrics, and as the song progressed through the tale of love shared from a distance, she realized that, like the speaker in the song, she would probably never see Kieran Thompson again once she returned to Trill.  Listening to the sadness and the resignation in the words, her mood became decidedly quiet.

 

The room remained silent after the song ended, and Kieran handed the instrument to Karen Weaver.  “Put it away.  I’ve depressed poor Dr. Kahn with my trifling ditties,” she belittled her composition.

 

“Hey, the Doctor wants an exhibition anyway,” Karen offered.  “If I get my ball, will you show her that you don’t use any artificial means of propulsion when you slam dunk?  She was watching the holovid of the Tennessee game, and she thinks you can defy gravity, now,” she laughed.

 

“Oh, Weaver, I don’t know,” Kieran was reluctant.  “Lenara, you don’t really want to see me play ball, do you?” she groaned.

 

Lenara brightened slightly.  “I would.  I think the video was somehow not genuine.  They are teasing me.”

 

Kieran took the ball from Karen, who had retrieved it from the closet, palming it.  “Your complex has a lighted court, as I recall,” she felt the ball for proper aeration.

 

The former teammates nodded eagerly, practically running for the court.

 

Kieran followed slowly behind them, walking with Lenara.  “I didn’t mean to upset you, before,” she apologized.

 

“You didn’t.  You have a wonderful voice, and the song was lovely.  Just…very sad.  Someone must have broken your heart profoundly, for you to write something so poignant,” she gazed up at her with a sympathetic expression

 

Kieran laughed sharply.  “The song isn’t really about anyone in particular,” she explained.  “It’s really more about the complexities of the timing of love, and how the mistiming of two lives can make people yearn for things to be different.” 

 

“Well, you captured the sentiment perfectly.  It made me melancholy,” she agreed.

 

“Maybe a little hoops will cheer you up,” Mossy put in, overhearing the last part of their conversation.  “You stand here, Doctor, where you won’t get run down.  Keep your eye on the rim, up there,” she instructed.

 

Lenara’s jaw dropped.  “That’s the same height as the one in the holovid?”

 

“Yep,” Mossy confirmed.  “Prepare to be dazzled,” she flipped Kieran the ball. 

 

Six of the women played three-on-three for almost half an hour, and Kieran had several opportunities to slam dunk in varying degrees of inclination, rotation, and height.  When they finally stopped, with Kieran protesting that she needed to go to another party, Lenara felt her torso for evidence of a propulsion method, turning her carefully.  Not satisfied, she actually lifted Kieran’s shirt to search for the cheating edge.

 

“Lenara,” Kieran jerked her jersey shirt back down, “I swear, I’m not hiding anything that propels me.”

 

“I want to try it,” Lenara took the ball.  She instantly realized the ball would not stay in her hand, because her hand was far too small.   She dropped it several times.  “Okay, let me try to jump that high without the ball first,” she seemed determined.  When she had convinced herself that there was no springboard device in the court, no trick to the flight, she came back, truly flabbergasted.  “You can do that with your body?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “It took a lot of practice, if it’s any consolation,” she laughed.  “Now we really have to get going, before we miss all the other parties I’m supposed to show up to,” she turned to her friends.  “I love you, Mossy,” she hugged Stephanie close.  “Damn, honey, I’m going to miss your smart-assed remarks,” she started to get choked up.  “Weaver, you keep your nose clean.  Stay out of the brig.  Jonesy,” she embraced the woman she had briefly dated, “find someone to marry that thinks you’re it, sweetie,” she said in her ear.  “Don’t settle for less,” she kissed her softly. 

 

Hugs were exchanged all around, and then the tears started.  “I have to go, guys, before I lose it,” Kieran waved, rushing away, forgetting Dr. Kahn.

 

Lenara trotted up beside the graduate, slipping her cool fingers into Kieran’s.  “You love them a great deal,” she murmured.

 

“Like I said, they’re my family,” Kieran choked on the words.  “We’ve been through a lot together.  Not just school, not just winning the international championship, but really important stuff.  They got me through shit I can’t even begin to explain—bad relationships, family tragedy, growing pains, all of it.  Mossy especially,” she gasped, fighting the tears burning her eyes.

 

“Was she your lover?” Lenara asked softly.

 

“Lord, no,” Kieran wiped her eyes, amused now.  “Mossy loves men, I love women, and never the two shall meet,” she giggled.  “Sorry I got so broken up back there.  It’s just the worst things I’ve ever had to endure both happened to me while I was here, and those guys were my strength.  I’ll never forget it.  And I’ll never stop loving them for it.”

 

The pain was evident in Kieran’s soft brown eyes, and Lenara wanted to ask, but knew it would be too familiar.  Still, she wanted to lend solace, and her throat ached because she could not.

 

 

The next gathering was more sedate, hosted by the Admiral’s List president, and only for the elite of the Academy.  There was a string quartet, high-class food and wine, and there was a dance underway.

 

Kieran and Lenara danced for over an hour, the atmosphere being much more conducive to talking and socializing.  Kieran was so clearly taken by the Trill scientist, her friends at the party didn’t have the heart to rib her about it. 

 

Lenara was listening to some anecdote about the Academy, laughing politely at Kieran’s story, when Kieran noted that the Trill’s spots were changing color.  “Lenara,” she was immediately concerned, “are you feeling well?”

 

“Yes.  I’m fine.  Why?” she smiled up at her dance partner.

 

Kieran stopped in mid-step, pulling the Trill off the dance floor.  “You do not look fine,” she was alarmed.  “You’re changing color.  Can I get you something? Water, perhaps?”

 

Lenara entwined her fingers with Kieran’s, tugging her into a private corner.  “My spots are changing colors?” she asked, eyes alight with mirth.

 

Kieran nodded.  “Is something wrong?”

 

“How much do you know about Trill physiology?” she asked, amused.

 

Kieran floundered. “I—uh—I remember reading that a female Trill’s spots change color when she’s—when she’s—oh,” realization dawned on her in a flash and her eyes opened wide.  She swallowed hard, but boldly touched the scientist’s cheek with the back of her hand, caressing it.  She leaned down to kiss the expectant Trill, finding her lips delicate and inviting.

 

Lenara deepened their kiss, breathing softly into it, cupping Kieran’s cheek in her small palm.  They leaned against the wall of the auditorium, exploring gently, tentatively, seeking permission.   Kieran felt fragile fingers tangling in the short spikes of her bleach blonde hair, Lenara’s lips opening beneath her own, and the unbidden sound that came from the Trill’s throat left her breathless.  She broke their kiss, holding Lenara against her chest, stroking the soft braid of her crown, breathing to center herself, trying to stop the screaming pulse in her veins.

 

“I think we should move on to your next party,” Lenara said softly, “before I forget myself and why we’re out together,” she murmured.

 

Kieran gazed into her eyes, incredible, liquid, warm, enthralling, and the color of the sky at dawn.  “I don’t care about any more parties,” she said, mouth dry as powder.

 

“I’m staying in visiting dignitary quarters at the officer’s club.  Would you like to go there, instead, and try the wine list?” Lenara smiled suggestively.

 

“I would, very much,” Kieran agreed.

 

____________________

 

Lenara Kahn handed a glass of wine to Kieran Thompson, joining her on the couch in her guest quarters.  “Thanks for making the selection.  I don’t know much about Earth vintages,” the Trill said apologetically.

 

“I don’t either, really,” Kieran admitted.  “I’m much more of a beer drinker, though I like Klingon blood wine.”

 

“A bit strong for my liking,” Lenara commented.  “But then you’d expect anything a Klingon drinks to be strong.  I like beer, too, though it reminds me of your Earth soda pop,” she chuckled.  She set her glass on the end table, reaching for the taller woman’s free hand.  “Kieran,” she began, choosing her words carefully, “I want you to know something about me.  Even though I travel all over the quadrant, attending symposia and conferences, lecturing, I don’t ordinarily do this sort of thing,” she finished lamely.

 

“What sort of thing is that?” Kieran smiled, already knowing, but wanting to make the reticent academic say it.

 

“I don’t usually…accost strangers on alien planets and seduce them,” she colored faintly, her Trill patterns darkening.  She gazed at Kieran’s hand in her own, not meeting those penetrating brown eyes.

 

“Is that what you’re doing?” Kieran grinned, gentling her voice.  “I don’t feel seduced,” she pointed out, pulling Lenara in for a kiss.

 

“What do you feel?” Lenara asked, breathless.

 

“Like I’m seducing you,” Kieran replied warmly, kissing her again.  They parted momentarily, and Kieran amended by saying, “I’m feeling exceptionally pleased to be with you, right now.”

 

Lenara smoothed her hands over Kieran’s blouse, up to her shoulders.  “I don’t want you to think—well, I don’t want to mislead you,” she explained.  “I have to go back to the science ministry, and I will probably never see you again once I leave,” she reasoned, her tone kind and tender.

 

Kieran touched her cheek, brushing a thumb over it as it rested in one large palm.  “Lenara,” Kieran said softly, “I don’t have any expectations of you or of this.  I’m here because I want to be, and because I think you’re amazing and lovely and fascinating.  I know our lives are too different to make anything more of this than tonight.  I have no grand delusions of permanency,” she promised.

 

Lenara closed her eyes against the stroking of her cheek, the gentleness of it washing over her.  “I just had to be sure,” she sighed, leaning into Kieran’s caress.

 

Kieran dropped her face to capture Lenara’s lips, kissing her questioningly, teasingly.  She breathed over the fullness of the flesh, her kiss barely glancing off Lenara’s mouth, hinting at a kiss more than kissing.  It was Lenara’s turn to be enthralled by the delicateness of the seduction.   Where she had expected such a large woman to be more demanding, more aggressive, Kieran’s tenderness stunned and warmed her, excited and tempted her.  Lenara Kahn had taken only two lovers in her life, and her symbiont’s memories were much more interesting than her own.  Kieran Thompson promised to rival the experiences of her symbiont.

 

Lenara touched Kieran’s face, gazing up at her, awed.

 

“What, love?” Kieran asked quietly, seeing the question in Lenara’s expression.

 

“You were so strong when you were playing basketball, and so powerful.  Yet with me you’re so gentle,” she marveled at it.  “It’s an interesting contradiction.  Are all humans such a contrast in demeanors?” she slid her hands over Kieran’s shoulders and around her neck, kissing the articulation of her jaw and throat, lips insistent.

 

Kieran shuddered.  “I think so,” she replied with a sudden intake of breath as the Trill nipped at her lightly.  “Lenara,” she gasped, her body suffused with chills.

 

“This is a sensitive spot?” the Trill asked faintly, kissing the soft flesh again.

 

“Very,” Kieran trembled. 

 

“I like the way it makes you react,” she decided, her lips more firm, kisses punctuated with the careful raking of teeth.

 

Kieran hugged her closer, gripping her body.  “It makes me react very strongly,” she warned, easing Lenara’s mouth away.  “Please,” she kissed her deeply, “show me your sensitive places.  I know nothing of your species’ rituals, and very little about Trill physiology.  But I’d like to spend the next few hours learning, if you’ll let me,” she whispered in Lenara’s ear, kissing the deep brown pattern adorning her temple and extending to her throat.  She felt Lenara arch slightly, and followed her kiss with a languid finger, tracing the outline of the intricate markings.  Lenara’s eyes closed involuntarily at the caress.

 

“I think,” she said throatily, “you are already discovering on your own everything I could tell you,” she shivered as Kieran kissed the pattern down to her shoulder.  She opened the first button of Lenara’s blouse so that she could kiss the markings on the back of her neck.  “That place,” Lenara sounded pained, “is quite responsive,” she shared, opening her shirt further and tugging the blouse down her shoulders, leaving them bare.

 

“You’re so beautiful,” Kieran murmured against her mottled throat, kisses increasingly fierce as she moved to the heavy coloration at Lenara’s shoulder blades, hands gently unfastening the remaining buttons on the recently replicated cotton blouse.  Lenara wore no under garment for her small, firm breasts.  Kieran’s hands ghosted over the soft flesh, fingertips grazing the outline of breast and bone. 

 

Lenara lay back against the couch arm, pulling Kieran down on top of her, kissing her intently, mouth searching and eager.  She tangled her fingers in the short strands of Kieran’s hair, urging her closer.  Kieran parted her lips with the faintest touch of her tongue, uncertain if Trill kissed each other in this manner.  Lenara responded in kind, her tongue subtle and warm, lightly fluttering against Kieran’s.

 

Kieran pulled them both upright again, concerned about her bulk pressing down on the small-boned woman.  She gathered Lenara into her arms, lifting her easily.  “I would rather not crush you with my weight,” she explained, standing with the Trill in her arms, cradled against her chest.  “Can we go in your bedroom?”

 

Lenara nodded, reclaiming Kieran’s kiss, suddenly self-conscious about their size difference as she realized how slight she was in Kieran’s embrace.

 

Kieran felt her stiffen inadvertently, and immediately broke their kiss.  “Lenara,” she kissed the Trill’s forehead, standing perfectly still, not wanting to move them into the bedroom unless Lenara was at ease with it.  “Do you want me to put you down?”

 

“No,” she replied hastily, tightening her hold around Kieran’s neck.  “It’s just—I hadn’t noticed before how much you dwarf me.  For a nanosecond, I was scared by it.”

 

Kieran held her tighter, seating them again, this time on the arm of the couch, Lenara in her lap.  “Do I need to know anything in particular about touching you, or lying with you?  I don’t want to hurt you, or your symbiont.  I promise to be very careful, but if there’s anything I have to avoid, please, tell me,” she urged, suddenly aware of just how much she probably outweighed the Trill.  Lenara stood as high as Kieran’s chin, but her body was so delicate, compared to Kieran’s, which was solid muscle.

 

Lenara smiled gratefully.  “You are very sweet,” she kissed her companion fondly.  “Here,” she took Kieran’s hand and pressed it against her abdomen.  “Can you feel that?”

 

Kieran pushed gently, and felt something ridged, as if there was a carapace inside Lenara’s abdominal cavity.  “Yes.  That’s your Kahn symbiont?”

 

Lenara nodded.  “Although they’re very durable—much more so than I am—too much pressure can damage the host connection to the symbiont.”

 

Kieran’s eyes widened.  “When I was lying on you before—” she sounded near panic.

 

“You were fine.  Very careful.  If you balance your weight on your knees and forearms, we should be safe,” she explained.

 

Kieran shook her head.  “No, I don’t want to risk it.  What if I slip, or lose my balance?  We either need to have you above me, or both of us on our sides.  I’d never forgive myself if I hurt you,” she insisted.

 

Lenara kissed her deeply, exploring the softness of her mouth, loving the texture and the warmth of it, the coolness of Trill fingers dancing over Kieran’s face as they embraced.  They sat together, Kieran perched on the arm of the couch, holding Lenara in her lap, kissing endlessly until the desire became almost unbearable.  When the Trill started to shudder with her pent up need, Kieran lifted her once more and carried her into the bedroom, laying her gently on the oversized mattress. 

 

Lenara reached for Kieran’s hand, urging the larger woman down alongside her.  She reached for Kieran’s buttons, gaze locked with the graduate’s as she unfastened each clasp in turn.  Kieran let the nimble-fingered alien undress her, leaning her head in her hand, watching. 

 

“Your species has markings, too,” Lenara murmured, running her finger over a series of faint scars on Kieran’s arm.

 

“That is from an old injury,” Kieran corrected.  “Just scars, not a pigmentation.”

 

Lenara quirked an eyebrow, touching the crescent shaped series of four segments of slighly keloided tissue.  “Don’t humans ordinarily have such flaws removed as standard medical practice?”

 

“They have sentimental value.  I kept them for that reason,” Kieran’s eyes darkened with fleeting sorrow.

 

Lenara saw the pain instantly.  “Tell me how you got them,” she insisted.

 

Kieran lay on her back, staring at the ceiling and heaving a sigh.  “My sister was very, very sick, and in a great deal of pain.  Just before she died, she grabbed my arm and told me how much the illness hurt, and she sunk her fingernails into my arm, quite unconsciously.  It scarred, and I kept it because I loved her so much, and I never wanted to forget that I was right there with her when she passed over.”

 

Lenara’s face softened with concern.  “I’m sorry, Kieran.  I’m very close to my brother.  I can’t imagine how deeply I would grieve if anything happened to him.  You said the two worst things in your life happened while you were at the Academy. She died recently?”

 

“Two years ago,” Kieran affirmed.  “Seems like yesterday,” she drew a shaking breath, running her hand distractedly over her spiked hair.  “I’m dreading going home to Florida.  I haven’t been back since she died, and my parents aren’t even close to being over it,” she confided.  “I wish I didn’t have to go back at all.  I can’t imagine being in that house without Cassidy there.”  She shook her head.  “I’m going to get our wine, so we can finish it.  I’ll be right back,” she heaved herself off the bed, trying to shake off the gloomy feeling that thinking of Cassidy always caused.

 

She returned momentarily, handing Lenara’s glass to her.  “So what do you think of blue jeans?” she nodded at the Trill’s new garment.  “You look wonderful in them,” she added flirtatiously, willing away her own melancholy.

 

“They’re different,” Lenara laughed, tugging the rivet button through the hole.  “Interesting.  May I keep them?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Of course you can.  Maybe you can start a fashion trend back on Trill,” she laughed, rejoining her on the bed and sipping her own wine.  “You know, Lenara, if you’re not going back until midweek, you really should see San Francisco before you leave.”

 

“I’m planning on it,” she nodded, reaching for the nightstand drawer.  She retrieved a PADD that was a guide to the Bay Area, handing it to Kieran.  “I thought I’d pick some of the more famous places and go visit them tomorrow, though I’d say Sunday is more likely, since I don’t think I’m going to be getting any sleep tonight,” she stretched across the distance between their bodies and kissed Kieran again.

 

Kieran set the PADD aside, and her glass, and gathered the smaller woman into a warm embrace, returning her kiss with ardor, the heat asserting itself again in an instant.  Kieran held her gingerly, protective of her frailty, kissing her Trill markings from one temple to the slope of her throat, nuzzling the hollow of her elegant neck, listening to her breathing.  “You’re most sensitive where your markings are?” she asked, licking the dark pattern with light flicks of her tongue.

 

Lenara arched into the sensation, gasping.  “Yes,” she confirmed.  “And the further down the length of my body they extend, the more sensitive the flesh,” she instructed.

 

Kieran let her fingers skate over the dark patterns adorning Lenara’s body, loving the sound of her arousal, the exquisite look of desire in her incredible eyes, eyes the color of the gray-green ocean off the coast of Kieran’s native Florida.  She moved Lenara onto her back, lying beside her, keeping her weight away from Lenara’s midsection entirely, but taking two small breasts into her hands, kissing and fondling them.  She was less responsive there than at the markings at the nape of her neck, but she did seem to enjoy the feeling of Kieran’s tongue on her nipples.  Kieran gently turned her face down on the bed and kissed the trail of symmetrical marks, following lips with her fingertips.

 

Lenara groaned faintly as Kieran’s touch moved down the Trill’s back, stopping where her pants began.  Kieran slid her hands beneath her lover, lifting her at the waist and unfastening her jeans, peeling them down Lenara’s slender hips and delicate buttocks, revealing more markings.  Kieran kissed each geometric shape as they progressed to the fullness of those buttocks, feeling Lenara’s arousal intensifying.  She removed Lenara’s shoes and pants, then her underpants, and turned her face up again.  She was fascinated to see how the markings changed at the Trill’s genitalia.  It was like a map to Lenara’s body, pointing Kieran to her clitoris, which was solid brown, and the culmination of the patterned markings.  Kieran sat on bent knees, looking at the gorgeous woman, naked and panting before her, anticipating her touch.  Kieran kissed the markings at Lenara’s breasts, her waist, her belly, following them all the way between the Trill’s thighs.

 

Lenara was writhing beneath her, now.  She pressed the heel of her hand against her mouth, suppressing the need to cry out as Kieran engulfed her sex with warm, wet lips, tasting her, learning her texture and her shape and her scent.  Lenara’s body jolted at the first sensation of Kieran’s tongue, dancing against that last dark marking.  Lenara moved against her mouth, shuddering in rhythm with Kieran’s tongue, the climax drawing out for several moments.  Kieran could only go on instinct, and hope she wasn’t doing the wrong thing.  Lenara’s body tensed, her breathing ceased, and every marking on her body paled as she came, her body erupting into shaking fits.  She was perfectly silent, save for her breathing, which had stopped completely, then resumed sounding ragged and strained. 

 

Kieran eased back up her body, kissing each marking as she ascended, then stretched beside her lover, drawing her into protective arms.  She kissed Lenara’s hair, her forehead, her fingers, wanting time to stop, to be suspended in that perfect moment, with Lenara Kahn in her arms, naked and beautiful and hers.

 

Lenara looked into her eyes, as if she could see into Kieran’s soul, as if she were trying to tell her something.  Kieran returned the look with equal fervor, then kissed Lenara passionately, cradling her body, surrounding it.  Lenara reached for Kieran’s jeans, unfastening them, working to remove what remained of her clothing, until they were lying together naked, the soft silk of flesh against flesh, the warm press of it arousing them both all over again.

 

“You’ve never been lovers with a Trill before?” Lenara asked softly, letting her hands roam over Kieran’s body.

 

“Never.  I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Kieran was worried that Lenara had asked.

 

“You were perfect, love.  Gentle, and tender, and apparently very intuitive.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “Maybe that was more arrogance than intuition.  I just did what my human partners have always seemed to like,” she admitted.

 

Lenara regarded her with a leer.  “Then your arrogance serves you well,” she teased.  “I am afraid I’m at a disadvantage.  You don’t have any markings to tell me where to touch you.  How do humans know?”

 

“We experiment with each other.  And we have to ask questions and be brave enough to make mistakes.  Each person is different, too.  I’ve known women whose breasts aren’t sensitive at all, and women whose breasts are too sensitive to describe.  Some women like to be touched gently, others not so gently.  So with every partner, you have to learn all over again,” she explained.

 

“I think Trill sexuality is much, much simpler,” Lenara laughed lightly.  “But then, I like a challenge,” she flirted, pushing Kieran onto her back and draping her slender body over Kieran’s.

 

“You feel so good,” Kieran sighed, holding Lenara against herself.  “You’re so soft, and so pretty,” she murmured, kissing her lover tenderly.

 

Lenara kissed her tentatively, exploring, noting the changes in Kieran’s muscle tone and body temperature, her skin coloration and her breathing.  The signs were more subtle in some ways than with a Trill partner, except humans breathed heavily when they became aroused, she realized.  She quickly discovered that human flesh, in an aroused state, became turgid.  Kieran’s nipples hardened beneath her kisses, and the turgidity resulted in, or coincided with, a quickening of her pulse and her breathing. 

 

Lenara suckled until Kieran was half crazed, and only then did she seek out the dark, wet place between her legs.  Gentle fingers stroked through fluid arousal, and it was all Kieran could do not to crush the smaller woman in her arms.  Instead, she sunk her fingers into the mattress, whimpering as Lenara pleasured her, teased her, drove her to the edge repeatedly only to back away again.  When Lenara clearly heard the beginning sounds of desperation, she parted Kieran’s thighs and slowly devoured her.  Kieran gasped and groaned, her need peaking almost immediately as Lenara sucked her clitoris with tender abandon. 

 

They lay together in silence afterward, clinging to one another.  After a long while, Lenara snuggled into Kieran more possessively, resting her head on Kieran’s shoulder.  “Earlier today, you offered to show me the city.  Do you still have time?”

 

Kieran hugged her.  “I was thinking the same thing.”

 

“What, that you wanted to be my tour guide?” Lenara smiled against Kieran’s chest.

 

“No, that I don’t want to say goodbye to you yet,” Kieran chuckled.

 

The Trill turned onto her stomach, propping herself on her arms and peering down at her lover.  “Goodbye doesn’t come until after I’ve made love to you so well that you can’t move,” she informed her companion.  “I think I need at least another day to learn enough to render you immobile.”

 

___________________


Kieran Wildman remembered every moment with Lenara Kahn, and the memories rocked her to the core.  Years had gone by with those recollections consciously repressed, at tremendous expense to herself.  She told Naomi enough for the Ktarian to get the emotional flavor of what passed between Kieran and Lenara, without revealing the explicit sexual details, though they were prevalent in Kieran’s mind.

 

“So you had an affair with her,” Naomi said matter-of-factly, hoping that was enough to account for the lingering looks their guest had directed at Kieran.  “And it made enough of an impact on her that she tried to find a way to rescue Voyager when the ship was lost?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “No, honey.  There’s a lot more to it than just an affair,” she resumed her train of thought.

___________________

 

Newly-graduated Ensign Kieran Thompson awoke to the sensation of a naked Trill moving over her, pressing down on her outstretched body.  She smiled sleepily into Lenara’s kiss, hands cradling the softness of gold-brown hair.

 

“Good morning,” Lenara whispered, deepening their kiss.

 

Kieran blinked, willing the exhaustion away.  “Have you been awake long?” she touched Lenara’s cheek, thinking how incredibly soft it felt.

 

“Not very,” she closed her eyes, concentrating on the brushing of two fingers over her face.  “I love how you touch me,” she murmured.  “You do it so sweetly,” she sighed, smiling.

 

Kieran returned the smile.  “I can’t seem to stop myself,” she admitted.  “I just feel so—privileged,” she landed on the appropriate sentiment.

 

“Privileged?” Lenara laughed at her.  “Are you serious?” she grinned ear to ear, mightily amused.

 

Kieran bit her lip, nodding.  “You’re one of the greatest minds of our generation,” she said sincerely.  “I’ve admired your work for so long, and I know you’re going to accomplish amazing things.  I also know, if your biographers are accurate, that you don’t often take the time for this sort of involvement.”

 

“They’re accurate about that, I’m afraid.  My work has always come first.  I suppose if I meet the right person, that’s how I’ll know it.  My work won’t seem to matter so much, anymore.  Bejal,” she smiled faintly, “my brother, works closely with me.  He pushes me harder than my parents ever could have, and he would have a fit if I ever lost my focus,” she sighed.  “I’m surprised he didn’t insist on coming with me on this trip.  He usually goes everywhere with me.  I think he’s afraid I’ll get a taste of freedom, and never come home,” she ran her fingers absently over Kieran’s bare shoulders.

 

“Does it get lonely?” Kieran asked, sensitive brown eyes concerned.

 

“Sometimes it’s very lonely,” she admitted.  “Bejal is the only person who really understands, completely, what the scope of my research entails.  That’s at least one reason I was so drawn to you.  You really do know what my work is about, and why it’s important.  I feel privileged,” she smiled, “that anyone would take an interest in such an esoteric body of research.  I’m flattered,” she decided.

 

Kieran lifted her face to brush her lips over Lenara’s.  “I’m sorry it gets lonely.  You know, Enterprise has one of the best ship to shore comm systems in the fleet.  The ship is rarely out of range of a comm link with Trill.  You can hail me anytime you want to talk,” she offered.  “And I’ll write to you, if you have time to read my ramblings.”

 

“That would be nice,” she agreed.  “And that makes it easier, knowing I probably won’t ever see you again.”

 

“Well, Doctor,” Kieran hugged her gently, “there are many places to see in this city, and I think we should start by getting a good breakfast, so you’ll have the energy to walk all over San Francisco.  We can take the cable cars for the longer distances, but the footpaths are the best way to see the sights.  Are you up for a long day of playing tourist?”

 

Lenara regarded her with mild amusement.  “I’ll be ready as soon as I shower.  What should I wear?”

 

Kieran kissed her softly.  “I like what you have on now,” she flirted.  “But spring can be fairly warm, so I think walking shorts and a short sleeved blouse or a t-shirt should do.  You certainly can’t wear your Trill clothing.  I know your species is sensitive to overheating.  Shall I replicate something appropriate?”

 

“You do that,” Lenara kissed her soundly, then extricated herself from Kieran’s arms.  “I’ll be out shortly.”

 

“Lenara?” Kieran jumped out of bed impulsively, following her.

 

The Trill turned expectantly around, quirking an eyebrow.

 

“I’d like to shower with you, if you don’t mind,” she blushed at the request.

 

Although Lenara thought it was an odd thing to ask, she nodded.

 

“You adjust the water temperature while I get your clothing together, and then I’ll be in,” Kieran offered.

 

 

Lenara Kahn suddenly understood the appeal of showering together.  Soapy fingers eased the muscular tension from her shoulders and her back, and Kieran’s hands worked the stiffness from her body with gentleness and skill.  She couldn’t resist kissing Lenara’s symmetrical markings, and they ended up making love in the shower, Kieran holding Lenara suspended against the tile wall, fingers pleasuring the Trill until she was near collapse.  Everytime they had made love, which was many times the night before, Lenara seemed to open herself more emotionally, evolving from a totally silent response to a decidedly more vocal one.  This time she gasped and groaned in Kieran’s ear, and the sound alone almost made Kieran come.

 

Lenara hid her face in Kieran’s shoulder as the sensation subsided, clinging to her, fighting the urge to cry.  She felt so at ease with this human, so open, so needful.  Kieran sensed the emotional battle raging beneath the calm Trill façade, and carried Lenara from the ensuite to lie with her on the bed.  “Why are you so sad, my love?” she breathed into Lenara’s hair, certain her heart would break.

 

Lenara swallowed her emotions, forcing them back into submission.  “I’m not sad,” she lied.  “You just—move me,” she said softly.  “I’m not a worldly person,” she explained, “and I’ve not had many lovers.  This is a new experience for me, to want someone so intensely and so often.  It’s a little unsettling.  I feel—”

 

“Out of control?” Kieran supplied.

 

Lenara nodded, holding Kieran’s face in her hands.  “It’s frightening, but at the same time, it’s irresistible.  Does that make sense?”

 

Kieran understood all too well.

 

 

 

They wandered the city for hours and hours, hand in hand, Kieran pointing out the landmarks, the styles of architecture, and the types of ships moored in the harbor.  Lenara was astonished at how much there was to know, the history and the technology and the art.  Their last stop was a small aquarium inside Golden Gate Park.  They walked around the circular tank, observing the fish and the skates, the sharks and the rays.

 

“You should see the real thing, sometime,” Kieran slipped her arm around Lenara’s shoulders.  “Not far from where my parents live, on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Florida peninsula, there is a huge coral reef that runs for miles and miles.  Dad and I dive there every time I’m home.  This aquarium is so small and insignificant compared to an actual reef,” she warmed to her subject.  “For example, this tank has probably three kinds of clown fish, whereas the reef we dive has six, maybe seven types.”

 

Lenara was mesmerized by the parrotfish swimming by, the bold colors and neon striping.  “You actually swim with these creatures in their natural habitat?” she was amazed.

 

“All the time,” Kieran confirmed.  “It’s the most incredible thing, Lenara,” she said faintly, sounding far away.  “The ocean is so serene, so calming, and so vast it makes you feel like a speck of nothing,” she breathed.  “Everytime I look in your eyes, I think of the ocean.  It’s just this color, there,” she murmured, kissing Lenara’s forehead.  “I love being underwater.  I love being weightless, and the coolness of the surf, and the myriad of colors down there.  I’d love to show it to you.  Why don’t you come to Florida with me on Monday?  Your transport doesn’t come until Wednesday?”

 

Lenara’s heart thundered in her chest at the thought.  To see such sights, and to postpone the inevitable goodbye with Kieran Thompson, could she really pass that up?  “Wednesday,” she agreed.  “I could be back here in time, and still go with you?” she asked hopefully.  “And it wouldn’t be an intrusion of your family’s home?”

 

“It would please me enormously, and I promise, I’ll personally bring you back to Starfleet to catch your transport.  My parents love to show off their stomping grounds, too.  They’ve spent their whole lives studying these creatures,” she waved her hand to indicate the contents of the aquarium.  “They love sharing their knowledge with anyone who will listen.  And my Dad will really appreciate a mind as keen as yours.  He’s very, very smart.”

 

Lenara hugged Kieran’s waist, smiling.  “Is that where you get it from?”

 

Kieran threw back her head and laughed.  “I worked hard in school.  I swear to you, I do not have half the intellect of my father,” she grinned.  “But Cassidy—oh, my God, she would have set the world on fire,” she shook her head, smiling but sad.  “She wasn’t just smart, she was brilliant, like you’re brilliant,” she explained.  “It’s such a waste that she died,” she drew a shuddering breath.  “I’m starving,” she changed the subject abruptly.  “How about some dinner?”

 

“That sounds good,” Lenara gazed up at her companion.  If I spend much more time with her, I’m going to lose myself.  Bejal will kill me, if I come home distracted and in love.  “If you’re sure it won’t be an imposition, I’d love to see your home, Kieran,” she added, voice barely audible.

 

“Really?” Kieran hugged her enthusiastically.  “That’s great,” she kissed the crown of the smaller woman’s head.  “I can’t wait to take you diving.  Do you know how to swim?”

 

Lenara smirked.  “Trill has oceans, too, you know,” she chided her lover.  “Gorgeous, purple oceans, teeming with life and food and plants.  Of course I can swim,” she grabbed Kieran’s ribs, tickling her gently. “I didn’t grow up inside a laboratory, just because I spend 80% of my waking time there now.”

 

“That sounds terribly imbalanced,” Kieran pointed out.  “I always find when I’m working hard at something, a break from it helps tremendously.  A good conversation with a friend, a walk, or even just a good, strong drink.”

 

They strolled along the street, searching for a place to eat, talking.  “You’d be good for me.  Bejal thinks the cure for an intellectual block is more work,” she laughed.  “I think I’d be more productive, if I had someone pushing me to relax once in awhile.”

 

Kieran took her hand, squeezing her delicate fingers.  “Then I’ll call you on subspace once a week and scold you about taking time to relax,” she promised.

 

“Will you really keep in touch with me?” Lenara asked hopefully.

 

“Of course I will,” Kieran agreed.  “You have to promise not to let me bore you, though.  I’m sure all I’ll ever talk about is Enterprise.”

 

“You won’t tell me about how much you wish we could be making love?” she flirted, smiling up at the tall Ensign.

 

Kieran’s breath caught in her throat, and she stopped to look at her companion.  “How do you do that?” she asked, stunned.

 

Lenara grinned impishly.  “Do what?”

 

“Say things out of the blue that leave me speechless and breathless and aching?” her voice dropped an octave.

 

Lenara slid her arms around Kieran’s neck, kissing her throat suggestively.  “Are you aching, Kieran?” she didn’t care that they were making a scene.  “I want to make you ache,” she murmured, teeth glancing over Kieran’s pulse point.

 

“God, Lenara,” she gasped, squeezing her lover closer.  “I think we should forget dinner, and go back to your quarters.”

 

“I think that’s why there’s a replicator, don’t you?  We can order dinner in.”

 

___________________

 

They fed each other in bed, making love between courses, talking about everything they could think to tell each other.  Lenara had never spoken of her two prior lovers to anyone, although Bejal knew about them.  With Kieran, the Trill couldn’t seem to stop herself from revealing everything, including many of the memories of her symbiont.  Kieran was fascinated by the concept of changing physical bodies.

 

“So you’ve been a man, before?” she marveled at it.

 

Lenara laughed melodiously.  “Not me.  The Kahn symbiont.  I’m uniquely a combination of myself and the symbiont, and my memories will live on when my physical body dies.”

 

“What happens to a joined Trill who marries someone, and then their host dies?  When the symbiont gets the new host, is the new host married to that spouse?” she lay beside her lover, absently stroking her lovely shoulders.

 

“It’s up to the two people involved.  Rarely does the marriage survive the changing host, though.  I’ve never known anyone personally whose relationship was carried over to the next host.  It’s funny, how love is so dependent upon the physical characteristics of the people involved.  I would think that if two souls loved one another, the host would be nothing more than a vessel—a shell—and the love should continue.  But it almost never works that way.”

 

“I think it would be difficult.  I mean, I’m not attracted to human males at all, and even if I were madly in love with a woman, if she showed up with a man’s body, that’d be too much for me to process,” she decided.  “So if your physical body dies, does the Kahn symbiont retain your scientific brilliance?”

 

“Not entirely.  It’s more like—a shadow, if you will,” Lenara explained, kissing Kieran’s fingertips each in turn.  “A faint image of the knowledge, without deep comprehension, but the aptitude remains.  Does that make sense?”

 

“I think so,” Kieran smiled at the lovely Trill, captivated entirely by her voice, her laughter, her body.  “Would you like some more of this merlot?” she reached for the bottle.

 

Lenara handed Kieran her glass.  “Please.  It’s very good,” she commented.  “I wish I could take you to Trill, and let you compare the wines there to yours.  It’s an interesting contrast,” she said thoughtfully.

 

“Maybe someday Enterprise will come to Trill,” Kieran said hopefully.  “Would you remember me?”

 

Lenara sipped her refreshed drink, nodding.  “There’s not a chance I’d ever forget you,” she assured the younger woman.  “You’re as imprinted on me as my symbiont,” she said softly.

 

Kieran kissed her tenderly, thinking that the comparison sounded very significant.  “I had a wonderful time with you today.  What do you want to do tomorrow?”

 

“I guess I’ve seen the city,” she smiled.  “Thank you for the tour.  It’s a splendid place,” she touched Kieran’s cheek.  “Though I’m not sure if it seemed that way because it truly is splendid, or because I was with you.”  She watched with curiosity as Kieran’s eyes closed involuntarily.  “What does that mean, Kieran?” she brushed her fingertip over Kieran’s eyelid, feeling the protective skin.  “When I touch you intimately, your eyes close, but I’m not touching you now.  Yet, the reaction seemed similar,” she noted.

 

“It’s a visceral reaction, whether it’s sexual or emotional,” Kieran explained.  “What you said to me—that you didn’t know if San Francisco is truly splendid or if it seemed so because of me—those words touched my heart, and it made my eyes close.”

 

“Touched your heart?” Lenara knew the expression wasn’t literal, but she didn’t understand it.

 

“It moved me,” Kieran used Lenara’s description from the night before.  “Because your affection means so much to me.”

 

“That’s how I feel, too,” she agreed, kissing Kieran gently, her lips flavored with wine.  “It’s disconcerting,” she added pensively.  “I don’t usually let anyone get so close to me.  I don’t let people affect me.  I don’t seem to be able to keep that ordinary distance with you,” she considered it.  “It’s as if—I don’t know how to describe it—it’s like there’s no need for the connection between host and symbiont, because there are no seams, no separations.”

 

“No defenses,” Kieran agreed.  “And no emotional walls.”

 

“Precisely,” Lenara nodded vigorously, pleased at Kieran’s immediate understanding, even when her communication was so muddled.  “You asked about tomorrow.  Didn’t you tell your father that you have people to say goodbye to?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I should.  There are several.  It’s a difficult life, being in Starfleet.  You get so close to people, you learn to rely on them, trust them, and then you never see them again.  I hate saying goodbye.  I always have.  As soon as the words are out of your mouth, and you walk away, you think of ten other things you meant to say, and it’s never quite right.  I learned that the hard way with my sister.  I had all that time to say goodbye, and when she died, there were still a million things I didn’t think to say,” her face darkened.

 

“What would you tell her, right now, if you could?” Lenara kissed Kieran’s forehead, peering into her eyes.

 

“I would tell her—I would tell her how much she meant to me, and how hard it is doing this without her here.  I would tell her how much it broke my heart to lose her, and how angry I am about it, and that I love her, and I miss her every single second of every day.  I would tell her she owes me one, for handling Mom and Dad all by myself, and all their grief, and their inability to deal with her death.  I would tell her how sorry I am that it wasn’t me,” she admitted.  “My parents wish it had been, I know it.  Cassidy was like their golden child.  She did everything right, followed in their footsteps, achieved everything she ever set her mind to.  She would have never been a fuck up, like me.”

 

Lenara was shocked.  “You are not a fuck up,” she protested.  “My God, Kieran, you graduated first in your class, with a perfect grade point average, enough awards to fill a trophy case, and the adoration of strangers everywhere we’ve gone together.  People clamor for your attention, your autograph, your time.  How can you say you’re a fuck up?”

 

“It’s not that I believe I am.  It’s that in my parents’ eyes, I am.  They opposed my joining Starfleet, they hated my graduating high school early, and they would jump for joy if I resigned my commission tomorrow.  They think I’ve squandered my potential, because I didn’t solve all the problems of the Earth, first, before turning my attention to space.  The bottom line with them is that I’m not my sister.  Ergo, I’m not good enough.  And I never will be.  I accept that.  They love me, and they try to support my choices, but they’ll always be disappointed, because I’m not her.”

 

Lenara nodded, suddenly understanding. “By the Gods of Mak’ala,” she breathed.  “Bejal must feel exactly like that.  He’s always been in my shadow, my assistant, my inferior.  He never reaps the praise or gets the grants or any of that.  No one on Trill knows his name, but everyone knows mine.  Do you resent your sister?” she asked fearfully.

 

“I don’t, no,” Kieran decided.  “I wish I could have my parents’ approval, but I don’t blame Cassidy that I don’t.  And the really shitty thing is, the longer she’s dead, the more they aggrandize her memory.  By the time I’m forty, Cassidy will be a canonized saint, in their eyes.  Hell, she already is, really,” Kieran chuckled bitterly.  “Dad tries to be better than Mom.  Mom doesn’t even try,” she shook her head.  “I guess that’s why I miss Cass so much.  She was the buffer between my parents and me.  All the love and approval they reserved for her, she gave to me in equal measure.  She thought I was the be-all end-all.  It’s tough to lose your biggest fan,” she realized.

 

Lenara hugged her lightly.  “I know what you mean.  Despite everything, Bejal thinks the sun rises and sets at my feet, instead of the Trill horizon.  I don’t deserve such blind devotion.”  She thought about it some more, finished her wine, and set the glass on the nightstand.  “I think you should say your goodbyes tomorrow, and I can either go with you, or stay here while you do.  Then we can do whatever you like,” she offered.

 

“You won’t be disappointed about just staying around campus?” Kieran asked, setting her own glass aside.  “I mean, that has to be boring for you, to go with me to say goodbye to people you’ve never met,” she said apologetically.

 

“You make me laugh, and you make me feel...important.  How can that be boring?” Lenara argued.

 

Kieran enfolded her in careful arms, ever cognizant of the smaller woman’s fragility.  “You’re good for my ego,” she hugged Lenara close, kissing her throat gently, lingering over the symmetrical coloration that was so uniquely Lenara.

 

“I’ve read Freud, too,” Lenara smiled, baring her throat to Kieran’s kiss.  “You’re good for my libido,” she joked, though the sensation of Kieran’s lips against her sensitive markings quickly supplanted her humor. 

 

“Maybe we should skip the goodbyes, then, and stay in bed all day,” Kieran suggested half-seriously.  “God, you’re beautiful, and I want you so much,” she breathed against Lenara’s shoulder, kissing the path of her spots.

 

“If we do,” Lenara gasped, “I won’t be able to walk Monday,” she tried to sound reproachful, but her protest was weakened by her arousal.

 

Kieran smiled against her delicate skin, turning her over to kiss her back and shoulders.  “I’ll carry you, then,” she murmured, lips skating over the planes of her back.

 

___________________

 

Kieran Thompson awoke with Lenara Kahn’s limbs tangled intimately with her own, sheltering the smaller woman’s body with hers, willing away the morning.  The time was going too quickly, and Kieran wanted to stop it, suspend it somehow, preserve that intricate piece of perfection that was their intimacy.  Suddenly, Enterprise, Starfleet, her future, her promising career—all of it paled in comparison to the way she felt with Lenara Kahn.  If Lenara had asked, Kieran would have resigned.  Knowing that frightened the hell out of the young Ensign, but since Lenara would never ask, Kieran took some modicum of comfort in that she would not likely have the opportunity to do anything rash.

 

Lenara stirred against her, sighing in her sleep, her dreams apparently troubled.  Kieran kissed the furrow in her forehead, easing away the tension, caressing her soft brown hair, which appeared more golden than brown at the moment, and tucked Lenara’s head against her chest protectively.  She felt Lenara’s lips against her collar bone, felt a smile spread over the surface of her skin, followed by slow, fleeting kisses. 

 

“I love your body,” Lenara brushed her lips over the protrusion of bone, breathing the words like a sigh.  “I love the way you surround me with yourself,” she murmured, lifting her face to kiss Kieran’s throat.  “It’s as if your body becomes a haven,” she snuggled deeper into Kieran, “and I sink into the warmth of it, safe and grateful for it.”

 

Kieran felt the words threatening at the tip of her tongue, but before she inadvertently let an ‘I love you’ slip, she mentally steeled herself against the need for expression.  “That was very poetic,” she finally said.  “Do you recall what you were dreaming?” she asked quietly.

 

“Yes,” Lenara replied.  “Why do you ask?”

 

Kieran eased her away to look at her, her soft brown hair falling out of the perpetual braid and scattering around her face and shoulders.  Kieran’s breath caught momentarily at the vision of her, so tousled and guileless and lovely.  “Your face looked—pained,” she settled on the right description.

 

“Then I won’t tell you I was dreaming of you,” she smiled at her lover.

 

“Were you?” Kieran was amused. 

 

Lenara nodded affirmation.  “I was trying to reach you across a chasm, shouting, but you couldn’t hear me.  We were straining to touch across the distance, our fingers inches from connecting, and I was about to fall, I was trying so hard to close that gap.  It doesn’t take a lesson in Freud to interpret that dream,” she sighed gustily.

“Your transport doesn’t arrive for another four days, counting today.  We have time, Lenara.  We don’t need to shout across the distance, quite yet,” Kieran held her possessively, chest swelling with love.

 

___________________

 

Lenara Kahn gazed out the window of the transport, listening as Kieran excitedly pointed out all the wildlife and the types of trees dotting the Florida coast.  The words only half registered, the Trill was so busy listening more to the cadence of Kieran’s words, the way she enunciated them, the tone of her voice.  Lenara thought about that voice, how it could move her with song, warm her with laughter, and thrill her with breathy sighs and whimpering cries.  She never wanted to stop hearing it, or seeing those penetrating brown eyes, or feeling Kieran’s amazing hands on her body.  The days were flying too fast, and her heart was so far gone already.  She hurt so deeply, the specter of the loneliness of Trill looming before her, just tens of hours away, and the endless expanse of years and years of work, of testing and retesting, of traveling to present her findings in fits and starts.

 

“And that’s the house,” Kieran pointed to the modest dwelling that seemed to be right in the middle of a swamp.

 

“You grew up there?” Lenara wanted to know everything about her, wanted to memorize her history.

 

“Yeah.  Lived there from birth until I left home to go to the Academy,” she nodded.

 

“You must have left at what—sixteen?” Lenara was startled at the realization.

 

Kieran chuckled.  “This from the woman who graduated college at sixteen.  When did you finish your doctorate?” she teased.

 

“Nineteen,” Lenara admitted.

 

Kieran’s dad whistled appreciatively.  “I bet she’s as smart as Cassidy,” he grinned, remembering his younger daughter with pride.  “But then, after your mom and I came home, I got curious, and I looked up some of Dr. Kahn’s research,” he reported.  “I’d have to say even Cassidy wasn’t that smart,” he decided.  “Stable wormholes, artificial wormholes, gravimetric shearing, spatial anomalies, parallel universes—pretty heady stuff, Lenara,” he said with genuine admiration.

 

She shrugged.  “It’s a living,” she joked.   She slipped her hand into Kieran’s as the transport settled onto the driveway of Kieran’s home.  “Thank you for bringing me here.”

 

Kieran kissed her forehead, not caring that her parents could see.  “I would’ve agreed to take you anywhere you wanted to go, if it meant spending more time with you,” she said sincerely.  “I have to unload my gear.”  She drew Lenara out of her seat.  “Let Mom fix you some iced tea, and I’ll be in shortly,” she found it difficult to let her go, even for a moment.

 

Violet Thompson took Lenara’s arm, not liking the way Kieran looked at the scientist one bit.  “Come on, Doctor,” she pulled her off the transport.  “I’ll show you your room.”

 

“Mom,” Kieran protested.  “She’s staying with me,” she gave her mother a pointed glare.

 

“Oh.  Of course.  Well, then, let me show you the house,” she continued out the door of the transport vessel.

 

Kieran sighed.  Her mother always made everything so difficult, when it never had to be.

 

 

 

Violet Thompson turned on the light in Kieran’s room, illuminating all the trophies and memorabilia adorning her walls.  There were photos of Kieran with various political and military figures, celebrities, and sports stars. They had all wanted to meet the ICAA Champion.  Kieran’s shelves were covered with various awards, one corner displaying the posters and photos of her team, articles from the media, gifts from fans around the world.

 

Kieran walked in to find Lenara staring at it all, mouth agape.  “Holy shit, Mom, what did you do to my room?” she complained.  “Why is all this crap hanging up?”

 

“Your dad and I did it to surprise you,” she said apologetically.  “We didn’t know you’d be bringing home—a friend,” she settled on the least personal word she could think of for what Lenara was.

 

“Come on,” Kieran took Lenara’s hand.  “We’ll stay in the guest room.  This is embarrassing,” she waved dismissively at the collection.

 

Lenara held her ground.  “I want to look at it all,” she scanned the room, taking in the array of photos and posters and basketball cards and ribbons and medals.  “Tell me what they’re all for,” she insisted.

 

Kieran groaned.  “It would take hours.  And it’s all ancient history, anyway.  The only thing that matters now is what I make of the rest of my life,” she sounded like a Starfleet officer again.  “I think we should go to the beach, have a look around, go swimming.  It’s a perfect day for it.”

 

Lenara turned a discerning eye on her lover.  “Only if you promise to tell me about all of these things tonight.”

 

Kieran rolled her eyes.  “You’re relentless, Doctor.  Okay, I promise.  Right before bedtime, so I can bore you to sleep.  I’ll go pack the towels and cooler,” she headed out of the bedroom.

 

Lenara turned to Violet.  “Is she always so self-effacing?”

 

Violet nodded.  “Always.  It drives her dad and I nuts.  I don’t think she takes a bit of pride in anything she’s accomplished.”

 

“Do you take pride in her accomplishments?” Lenara asked softly.

 

“Can’t you tell?  Gerry and I worked on this for weeks, to surprise her,” she sounded miffed.

 

“Have you told her you’re proud of her?” she asked, certain that Kieran’s mother had never once uttered those words.

 

“She knows we’re proud of her,” Violet replied. 

 

“Mrs. Thompson,” Lenara lay a hand on the older woman’s shoulder, “parents of extraordinary children rarely remember to tell their kids how proud they are.  I know, because mine have never told me, and I have at least as many awards as this,” she nodded at the impressive collection.  “I’ve been slaving away my whole life, trying to earn their admiration and respect.  I’m fairly certain I’ll never have it,” she sighed, turning to leave.

 

Violet Thompson surveyed the room once more.  Kieran had to know how proud they were.  She had to.  And Violet Thompson certainly couldn’t tell her so, because that would be so unfair to Cassidy.  She had never told her, either, and Cassidy died not knowing.

 

__________________

 

Kieran Thompson waved underwater at her companion, urging her deeper down the side of the coral reef.  Lenara’s eyes were huge with wonder, looking at the colorful fish and corals, the anemones and starfish and crabs and rays.  A lemon shark prowled the perimeter of the reef, looking menacing.  Lenara slipped her hand into Kieran’s, trying to tread water unobtrusively as the toothy monster swam by.  Kieran would’ve laughed, but she’d have choked on her rebreather.  She squeezed Lenara’s hand, trying to reassure her.  Lenara still looked frightened, and Kieran took her into firm, muscular arms, holding her.  Lenara’s pulse quieted, and she nodded that she was okay.  Pipefish swam by in a school, moving in unison with a flick of a tail.  Brilliant blue tangs fluttered at the edges of the reef, nibbling on bits of food.  Kieran pointed out a tomato clown fish, luxuriating in the waving tendrils of coral.  A huge school of sheephead swam overhead, and a bottlenosed dolphin chased the school, making them dart away.

 

Lenara understood immediately why Kieran loved the cold, salty depths of this paradise. Kieran had called this a warm water reef, yet Lenara felt a chill in her body that made her shiver.   A puffer fish came around a gigantic sponge, spotting the two women and inflating itself in a defensive posture.  Lenara tried not to laugh at the comical display of bravado, but she nearly choked.  Kieran gave her a stern look of warning, but grinned around the edges of her rebreather, eyes twinkling behind her mask.  A small school of mullet breezed by, stirring the water around them, and Kieran reached out and touched one, just to make it flounce away.  A highhat skittered by, brushing against Lenara’s leg, and she watched the little fish in amazement.

 

They spent the better part of two hours swimming around the reef, floating above the towering stands of pillar coral, following an octopus that scuttled through the briny water, observing the yellow and blue tangs, the damsel fish, the cleaner shrimp and the parrot fish.  Lenara was enchanted by the sights, by the diversity of the lifeforms there, and she developed a new appreciation of the biological sciences.  Her life had been physics and quantum theory and mathematics, abstractions that had little practical appeal until a theory could be developed, harnessed, converted to technology.  But here were tangible phenomena, interwoven ecosystems and hierarchies and food chains, all beautiful and alluring, intricate and complex.  She thought her chest would burst with the fullness of all she had experienced over the past several days.  She gazed at Kieran Thompson, thinking her life would never be the same, wishing for all the world they could somehow be together always.  Her eyes filled with tears at the realization that she would leave for Trill in the morning.  One last night together.  One last time to make love, to revel in the beauty and the passion and the uniqueness of what they shared.  And then she would be alone with her equations and her theories and her papers, with Bejal, isolated from the likes of Kieran Thompson.  And Kieran would be off to the stars. 

 

I could do my work anywhere.  A starship would be much more conducive to testing my theories, better than a lab.  The Federation has always supported my work.  Starfleet has been one of my strongest advocates, because they understand the value of pure research.  If I asked them, would they open their resources to me?  And how could I specifically ask for Enterprise, without admitting I want to be with Kieran?  What would she think, if I tried to follow her?  Lenara, you’re a fool.  You barely know her.  You can’t fall in love in five days, can you?  You told her there was no future in this, and yet you’re trying to find one.  Stop it.  She’s just starting her life, and you have no right to monopolize her attention, her concentration, her love.  But look at her.  So kind, so sweet, so loving.  She is everything I could ask for in a mate.  Resourceful, passionate, considerate, intelligent.  I would be so lucky to have her.  And she thinks I’m just as special.  I should tell her how I feel.  Except I’d die if she doesn’t feel the same.  How can I say anything, when the situation is just impossible?

 

Kieran tapped her wrist chronometer, indicating they were out of time on their rebreathers, and jerked her thumb upward, indicating they needed to ascend to the surface.  Lenara nodded, flicking her fins to propel herself upward.  Kieran took her hand, smiling as they swam toward the vertical horizon, the water above them glowing with the sunlight.  Kieran glanced at Lenara, at the way the light surrounded her, the way her hair flowed around her face where it had come loose from the braid around her head, the delicate pattern of spots adorning her throat and her back.  God, she’s beautiful, and so open, so curious.  Can I already be in love with her?  My heart says I am.  My head says I’m crazy.  I want her to come with me, but she was clear about this affair being temporary.  How can I argue with that?  I’d only spoil the things we’ve shared, if I said anything.  I can’t ruin the past five days with my stupid refusal to let go.  I love her, and her work is important.  I have to let go.  No impassioned pleas, no sweeping statements of my feelings, and no tears.  I knew it was only temporary.  And we’re young, both of us.  What would I do, on Trill, if I could follow her?  Be her lab assistant?  Fetch her coffee?  I’m not qualified to sharpen her stylus. I want her.  I got in way over my head, this time.  She’s so stunning.  One more night, and then she’s gone.  And I’ll never see her again.  I’ll never touch her, or hold her, or kiss her, or make love with her again.  And she’ll never know I was in love with her.

 

___________________

 

Lenara Kahn lay in the circle of Kieran Thompson’s arms, her respiration returning to normal, her body poured out like seawater in Kieran’s hands.  Five nights of making love together, and it was as if they had been lovers for decades, they were so attuned to one another’s desires.  Lenara closed her eyes tightly against the rush of tears, not allowing them to come.  Don’t tell her, Lenara.  Don’t.  It won’t change anything.  You’ll regret it if you tell her and she doesn’t feel the same.  And if she does, you’ll die because you still can’t be with her.  What would be the point?

 

Kieran held her possessively, the sadness overwhelming her as she realized they had to leave for the transport station in only an hour.  “We have to get showered, my love,” she whispered in the dim light of their bedroom.  “I promised you I’d have you to your transport on time.”

 

Lenara sighed, easing out of Kieran’s arms.  “Will you shower with me?” she asked, fighting the lump in her throat.

 

“Of course I will.  I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to touch you one last time,” she said hoarsely.  She bit her lip, trying not to lose her composure.  “Is this killing you as much as it is me?” she finally asked.

 

“More,” Lenara replied.  “I’ve never been so sad in my life.  The past five days have been better than anything I’ve ever experienced.”

 

“Me, too,” Kieran agreed, kissing her hair tenderly.  She sighed, forcing herself out of bed.  “I’ll run the water,” she said absently, certain her heart would break.

 

__________________

 

Ensign Kieran Thompson tried her first day aboard Enterprise to contact Lenara Kahn.  She knew the scientist was back on the Trill homeworld, and as much as it hurt to be apart from her, she had promised to stay in touch with Lenara.   The hail went unanswered, and Kieran left a message, asking Lenara to contact her when she got in.  Kieran assumed the Trill was already back in the lab, working herself half to death.

 

Bejal Otner shook his head, pacing the floor of Lenara Kahn’s quarters.  “You can’t perpetuate this, Lenara,” he argued hotly.  “Look at you,” he scolded.  “I’ve never seen you so forlorn and dejected.  If that is how she affects you, you cannot return this message,” he advised, grasping his sister’s shoulders.  “Please.  You have much work to do, important work.  This—  basketball player must become a closed chapter of your life.  What can a human know, anyway, of the life of a joined Trill?”

 

Lenara’s anger flared.  “I love her, Bejal.  I’m sorry if that concept is beyond you.  I’m hailing her.  Now get out of my house,” she ushered him out the automatic door, giving him a shove as she did.  She keyed in the hailing frequency Kieran had called her on, waiting for the signal to go through.

 

Kieran appeared on the screen, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.  “Lenara?” she asked, forcing herself awake.  “It’s so good to see you,” she pressed her hand to her lips to stem the immediate desire to cry.

 

“Kieran,” Lenara touched the screen.  “I miss you.  I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t work, I can’t think,” she let it out in a rush.  “I keep thinking it will pass, but it gets worse every day,” she hung her head miserably.  “I can’t do this.  I can’t,” she pleaded for understanding.  “Don’t contact me again,” she demanded impatiently, severing the link.  She held her face in her hands, sobbing.  “I need you,” she groaned, suffused with misery.

 

Bejal Otner got the hail from his sister moments later.

 

“I told her not to contact me again,” Lenara advised him.

 

“It’s for the best, Lenara,” he assured her.  “Would you like me to come over?”

 

“No, Bejal,” she said firmly.  “I’ll be back at work in the morning.  I’m sorry I upset you.”

 

 

 

Kieran Thompson sat in stunned silence in her quarters aboard Enterprise.  Lenara never wanted to hear from her again.  It was too hard, too much for the Trill to handle, after all the closeness they had shared.  Kieran could understand that, considering how her own heart ached.  It was, as they both had known, a set of impossible circumstances.  Kieran struggled with the urge to contact Lenara again, anyway.  She hurts as much as I do.  It isn’t that she doesn’t love me, it’s that she does.  And it’s too painful for her. I can’t put her through that.  I won’t.  It’s her choice, and my only option is to let her go, move on, forget her.

 

Two nights later, Kieran Thompson met Robin Lefler, still hurting over Lenara Kahn, still off balance from the whirlwind relationship that had knocked all of her support pins from beneath her emotions.  It was a classic rebound love affair, her love for Robin Lefler.  And nothing good ever comes of a rebound relationship.

 

 

___________________

 

Naomi Wildman shook her head, kissing her wife tenderly.  “Oh my God, honey, she broke your heart,” she said sadly.  “And you were so young, and impressionable.  That would be like—like if you had sent me away, after Qian,” she realized.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, holding Kieran closer.

 

Kieran moved over her, deep brown eyes pained and troubled.  “You know the details of my relationship with Robin,” she offered.  “But the truth is, I went into that relationship damaged and hurting over Lenara, and so off-balance that Robbie had immediate control of the situation, of me, of my emotions.  That’s how I got so wrapped up in her, so suddenly and in such an unhealthy way.  I was on the rebound.”

 

“And you never contacted Lenara again?” Naomi asked sympathetically.

 

“I didn’t contact her, but she contacted me,” Kieran replied.

___________________

 

Enterprise was in a region of space outside of hailing frequency range of Trill, the comm system reported back to Lenara Kahn.  It had been six months, and still, Lenara could not stop thinking of Kieran Thompson.  She finally swallowed her pride and composed a letter that could be sent over subspace.  It would reach Enterprise in a matter of two days.

 

Dear Kieran:

 

Please forgive my long silence.  You’ve given me more to think about than anyone I’ve ever known, and more feelings to process than I ever knew I possessed.  The day we met, I told you it’s rare for me to find people I can truly communicate with, and feel comfortable with.  With you, I felt so free to express myself, and so fortunate to find interest and comprehension in your eyes.  I was swept away by it, by you, as surely as the ocean swept us out to sea when we dove at the Keys.

 

I know I said we can have no future, by virtue of our circumstances.  I have regretted saying that since the moment I uttered the words.  I’ve thought of you, and little else, since I left Florida.  I was afraid, our last night together, to tell you what I felt for you.  I was afraid you would think I was being impetuous or irrational.  And I was afraid of what I was feeling.  I told you once that I would know when I had met the right person, because my work would no longer seem to matter, in comparison.  My work has completely fallen by the wayside, since I returned to Trill.  I’ve tried to make myself care about it again, but I don’t. 

 

I don’t know how, but I have to see you again.  I think there’s something very unique and very real between us that demands exploring, however we have to do it.

 

Please tell me you feel it, too.

 

Yours,

Lenara

 

 

Kieran Thompson read the letter three times, flabbergasted.  How could Lenara send her away, and then six months later confess everything and expect it to be all right?  If she had said a word, given Kieran any indication, before Kieran met Robin Lefler—but she had told Kieran never to contact her again.  And Kieran had moved on.  She rewrote her response six times before she finally replied with:

 

Dear Lenara:

 

I was taken completely unawares by your letter.  I have to admit, the time we had together was very compelling, and it took all the self-control at my disposal to keep from trying to make a future for us, to create a better situation for us.  It would have been so easy to succumb to the temptation to make promises and to envision a future together.

 

But, my dear one, I took you at your word when you told me there would be no future for us.  If you had given me any reason to hope we might be more to each other than friends, I would have welcomed that from you, and I would have returned your feelings in full measure.  But you sent me away, and in the meantime, I’ve become seriously involved with someone on the ship.

 

I’m so sorry if that hurts or disappoints you.  I do care deeply for you, and wish things could have been different for us.

 

Perhaps our ill-timed admission of our feelings for one another is an omen.

 

I do hope we see each other again, someday.  I wish you well in your work and your career.

 

Love,

Kieran

  

___________________

 

Four months after Robin Lefler left Enterprise, the ship was sent to the Trill homeworld on business.  Kieran Thompson applied for shore leave and was granted three days.  She had never contacted Lenara Kahn again, never told her about the appalling way her engagement had ended, and never tried to initiate any correspondence with the Trill scientist.  But the probability that she would ever have the chance to see Lenara again was so slim, she felt compelled to try and contact her, since Enterprise was there. 

 

Kieran made her way to the science ministry, hoping to surprise Lenara Kahn.  She found the laboratory assigned to the Trill homeworld’s most famous researcher, and inside, the delicate-boned doctor hard at work, eyes glued to her workstation, sifting through reams of data.  Lenara looked older, stressed and haggard, and she stopped frequently to squeeze the bridge of her nose, as if forestalling a headache.  Kieran’s chest filled with concern for the overworked Trill, who was clearly pushing herself toward some deadline or project goal, without regard for sleep or food or her emotional well-being.

 

“I knew if I didn’t come in person, no one would ever convince you to take some time to relax and recharge,” she said softly, gazing at the familiar markings on the doctor’s neck.

 

Lenara wheeled around in her chair, eyes wide and disbelieving.  She leapt into Kieran’s arms, nearly knocking her over with the fierceness of the hug. “By the Gods of Mak’ala,” Lenara hugged the taller woman close, “how did you get here?  It’s so good to see you again,” she felt the words catch in her throat, strangled with the impact of the nearness of her lost lover.

 

Kieran held her warmly, kissing her hair.  “You said you didn’t know how, but you had to see me again.  I decided it was I who had to see you, my love,” she let her eyes fill with tears.

 

“But your relationship—” Lenara protested, easing Kieran away, studying her regretful expression.

 

“Over with.  Can you forgive me for not being there when you made up your mind?” deep brown eyes held a faint ray of hope.

 

Lenara stood on tip toes to kiss her, lips parting beneath Kieran’s, fingers tangled in her hair.  “I made up my mind during your commencement speech,” she confessed. “It just took me until Florida to admit it to myself, and much too long after that to admit it to you,” she murmured, arms twining around Kieran’s neck.  “Can you forgive me for being too cowardly to tell you how I feel?”

 

Kieran kissed her tenderly, memorizing the feeling of her lips once more.   “Tell me now, Lenara,” she pressed her face against the crown of Lenara’s silky brown hair.

 

Lenara closed her eyes, forcing down her reluctance.  “I love you, Kieran,” she said quietly.

 

Kieran squeezed her gently.  “Lenara,” she said hoarsely, “I love you, too.  Thank you for not sending me away again,” she barely got the words out.   “What in God’s name do we do now, my love?” she peered intently into the Trill’s eyes, eyes fierce with love and need, eyes the incredible color of the morning sky.

 

“We go to my home, and we spend every nanosecond we can together until Enterprise leaves again,” she reasoned. 

___________________

 

Lenara Kahn sat on the side of her bed, hands folded primly in her lap, watching her lover packing to leave.  Ensign Kieran Thompson fastened the powder blue uniform tunic, affixed her single golden pip to her collar, and closed her travel case with a sigh.

 

She sat down beside her lover, gathering her into a warm embrace.  “These past three days have been incredible,” Kieran thanked her. 

 

“Then why are you leaving me again?” Lenara asked plaintively, eyes brimming with tears.

 

“Sweetheart, you know why,” Kieran admonished gently.  “What would you have me do, Lenara?  Resign my commission, and stay with you?”

 

“Yes,” Lenara nodded eagerly.

 

“And do what, exactly?” Kieran demanded, hands outstretched. 

 

“Work with me.  You understand my research.  You could be so much help to me,” she pleaded, touching Kieran’s cheek.  “Please, Kieran.  I love you.  Don’t do this,” the tears ran down her elegant cheeks, and Kieran felt her breakfast threatening at the back of her throat.

 

“Your research is your passion, my love, not mine.  I have other things to learn, other paths to follow.  If I could figure out a way for us both to have what we want, I’d do it in a cold minute.  But I can’t give up my career, on the chance that you would want me with you forever.  What if in six months you decide this relationship isn’t what you want or need?  Where would I be, then?”

 

“I wouldn’t decide that, damn it.  Stay with me.  You were going to marry Robin Lefler after knowing her a few weeks.  How is this different?  We’ll marry, if you want.  Only don’t leave me,” she grasped Kieran’s hands, trying to convince her.  “I’m so lost without you,” she added.

 

“Then you come with me,” Kieran urged her.  “The Captain can marry us, and then there would be no question as to your right to be aboard my ship.  I’m sure the Captain would work with you to get you the lab time you need, and to make sure your research continues.  He’s a scientist, after all.  And he likes me, Lenara.  He’d do this for me, I’m sure of it,” she argued persuasively.

 

“I can’t, Kieran.  I’m under contract to the science ministry.  If I break my contract, I would leave Trill in disgrace.  Bejal would fall out of favor, as well.  I could never come home.  I have to finish my contract.  I don’t have a choice,” she contended, frustrated that Kieran would not see reason.

 

Kieran stood to go.  “Then once again, we are faced with an impossible situation.  I love you, Lenara.  But I can’t stay on Trill, and you can’t come with me.”  She gathered her travel case.  “Are you going to walk me to the transporter coordinates?”

 

Lenara shook her head. 

 

“Do you want to stay in touch, or is this goodbye again?” Kieran demanded, her gut in knots.

 

“It feels like goodbye,” she said faintly, face stained, eyes tinged with red.

 

Kieran’s jaw twitched, her composure crumbling.  “God, Lenara, don’t do this again.  Don’t shut me out of your life,” she begged, her own eyes spilling over.

 

“I can’t love you this way, and be apart from you,” Lenara choked on the words.  “It hurts too much.  The last time we parted, I was sick over it.  I didn’t work effectively for months and months.   Bejal was ready to wash his hands of me.  I’m begging you, don’t go,” she stood to take Kieran’s face in her hands.

 

Kieran kissed her deeply, passionately, open, vulnerable, shattered.  “I can’t stay, love.  Please believe me when I tell you I would give anything if you would come with me.”

 

She held Lenara gently, crying silently.  Impossible.  The situation was impossible.  And Kieran Thompson was not ready to throw her life on someone else’s mercy, not again.  Robin Lefler had scarred her in ways that would probably never be rectified, and the last thing she would do is change her life to be with someone, whether it meant pursuing a command track to please someone else, or giving up her own fledgling career to follow someone else’s dream.

 

All the way to the transporter coordinates, Kieran fought herself not to turn back, not to run to Lenara’s and agree to stay.  She wasn’t certain she would really leave, not until the sparkling transporter beam claimed her molecules and deposited them in the pattern buffer aboard Enterprise.  She hoped against hope that before Enterprise left orbit, Lenara would contact her.  She sat in her quarters, staring at the viewscreen of her workstation, waiting for the hail that never came.

 

Lenara didn’t write, and she didn’t contact Kieran over the next few months.  When Kieran got her orders to transfer to Voyager, she didn’t bother to tell Lenara Kahn where she would be going.  She did, as a courtesy, send the Trill scientist a copy of the announcement regarding her jersey retirement ceremony.  It was a way of touching base without saying anything personal, a way of reaffirming that her career and her life mattered, just as much as creating stable wormholes.  And it was Kieran’s way of truly saying goodbye, even if it was just a feeble attempt to have the last word.

__________________

 

Ensign Kieran Thompson drew a shuddering breath, closing the doors of the Grand Ball Room of the Intergalactic Suites, with Robin Lefler on the other side of those doors.  She congratulated herself for holding her ground with the tempting Engineer, in spite of the shock of having Robin show up at her jersey retirement party, and for refusing to give her the second chance she had wanted so desperately.  It was the right decision, she knew, to turn Robin away.  She scanned the room, looking for Wesley Crusher, her escort to the festivities, needing his support after facing her ex-lover.

 

She spotted the young cadet on the dance floor, moving in tandem with Stephanie Moss, the couple mirroring each other suggestively.  She was grateful that Stephanie didn’t care about Wesley’s disgrace so much as she trusted Kieran’s endorsement.  Kieran nodded approval at the closeness they shared, and turned to head for the refreshment table.  That’s when she saw her.

 

Their gazes locked, and a smile spread immediately across Kieran’s face.  They moved toward each other, unconscious of doing so, until they were almost running.  Kieran swept Lenara Kahn into her arms, swinging the delicate Trill in a circle.  “Lenara!” she hugged her tightly. “My God, what are you doing here?” she demanded, depositing the laughing woman on the ground again.

 

“I extricated myself from my contract.  It took some wrangling, but I managed to do it without damaging Bejal’s standing with the science ministry, and without falling into disgrace.  It took a long time, or I would have found you sooner,” she said sincerely.  “I love you, Kieran, and I want to be with you.  I wanted to surprise you, and the announcement about your ceremony seemed the perfect time to meet you and your ship,” she took Kieran’s hand and drew her to a table, seating them both.  “But the best part,” she continued, excited and overwhelmed at the sight of her lover, “is I’ve worked out an arrangement with Starfleet to do some of my preliminary wormhole testing on your ship.  I’ve hammered out all the details with Captain Picard, and he was very supportive of my work, just as you said he would be,” she laughed happily. “I’ve worked on this for so long, so we could finally be together,” she enthused.  She noted the crestfallen look on Kieran’s face, and panic set in.  

 

Kieran grabbed her fiercely.  “Oh God, Lenara, you didn’t,” she groaned, holding her closely.  “Sweetie,” she kissed her gently, “I’ve been transferred off Enterprise.  I’m not shipping out with them.  I applied to the Academy’s Counselor Training program, and while I’m waiting to hear if I got accepted, I’m reassigned to a new ship-Voyager.”

 

Lenara’s gray-green eyes registered immediate pain.  “No,” she shook her head in disbelief.  “But—I had it all worked out,” she wailed.  “We have such horrid timing,” she hid her face in Kieran’s shoulder.  “I love you so much, I had to find a way to be together.  And now it’s all ruined again,” her shoulders slumped in defeat.

 

“I love you, too,” Kieran whispered.  “I’m so sorry, honey.  Voyager is shipping out for a short mission, and by the time we get back, I should have the Academy’s decision.  And assuming I get accepted, I’ll be here in San Francisco for the next two years.”

 

Lenara raised her head.  “I can fix this,” she was determined now.  “I’ll go with Enterprise, but as soon as the preliminary tests are done, I’ll come back here.  I know Stafleet will give me access to their laboratory facilities if I ask.  The Academy has been wanting me to teach a class for forever.  I’m sure I can work out a deal with them to be a visiting professor, or some such thing.  They’ve offered it to me before.  Please, Kieran, don’t tell me I’ve uprooted my whole life and come all this way for nothing.”

 

Kieran’s face softened with love.  “It wasn’t for nothing.  I’m so amazed that you did this just to be with me,” she breathed in awe.  “You have such an important career, yet you’re willing to make these sacrifices for me?  I just can’t fathom it, Lenara.  We’ve spent less than two weeks in each other’s physical presence, and you know for certain you want to be with me.  How can you trust that?” she wanted to believe.

 

Lenara kissed her deeply, lingeringly.  “Kieran,” she lay her head on the taller woman’s shoulder, leaning forward in her chair.  “I may be young, but my Kahn symbiont is old and wise, and it has been telling me ever since your graduation day that I made the wrong choice when I didn’t speak my heart to you.  By the time I listened to my heart and to my symbiont, you were with Robin.  Ever since I saw you again on Trill, I knew I had to be with you.  I’ve done nothing since then that wasn’t geared toward making a life we could share,” she said sincerely.  She reached into the pocket of her formfitting silver tunic, slender fingers finding the the delicate gold band hidden there.  “I love you, and I want us to be together, whatever it takes, Kieran.  Will you marry me?” she asked, holding her breath as she placed the gold band in Kieran’s palm.

 

Captain Jean-Luc Picard had seen his former Ensign across the room, kissing the most famous Trill to ever live, and he wanted desperately to be formally introduced to the scientist.  Until then he had only spoken with Lenara over subspace, and he admired the woman so much, he couldn’t resist the temptation to interrupt the young women.  “Excuse me, Ensign,” he tugged his tunic down, squaring his shoulders.

 

“Captain,” Kieran stood immediately at attention, fingers still wrapped warmly around the ring Lenara had just offered her.

 

“Excuse us, Captain,” Dr. Kahn glanced impatiently at him, “but I just asked your junior officer to marry me, and I’d appreciate if you didn’t interrupt us until she’s answered me,” she snapped, standing and moving between the two officers. 

 

Kieran’s eyes bulged at the impertinence of her lover’s tone.  “Lenara, you can’t talk to my Captain that way,” she scolded her lover.  “If you’re going to be married to a Starfleet officer, you will have to understand protocol and follow it,” she insisted.  “I beg your pardon, Captain,” Kieran apologized.  “Please, don’t take offense—”

 

“Kieran,” he said, grinning, “I think you’d better give the Doctor your answer, before she throttles me,” his eyes twinkled merrily, and he started to chuckle.

 

Kieran sighed with relief.  “Lenara, can you behave like a proper officer’s wife?” she demanded, grinning.

 

Lenara nodded silently.  “Is that yes, then?” she asked hopefully.

 

Kieran kissed her soundly.  “Yes, if you apologize for being so rude to my Captain,” she smiled into their kiss.

 

Lenara turned immediately to the beaming man, extending her hand.  “Captain Picard, my humblest apologies,” she bowed at the waist, shaking his hand contritely.  “I’m so glad to meet you, Sir.”  She turned to her lover.  “Is that acceptable protocol?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Quite proper,” she smiled.  “And nicely done.”

 

“So you’ll marry me, then?” Lenara took Kieran’s hands, removing the ring and placing it on her finger.

 

“Yes, my love, I will,” Kieran agreed, leaning down to kiss her again.  “Captain,” Kieran turned to the aging man, “will you please take good care of her, until she finishes her research?  Bring her home to me safely, please, Sir.”

 

“I’d be happy to, Ensign,” Picard kissed her cheek.  “Congratulations, both of you,” he smiled warmly.  “Dr. Kahn, forgive the interruption, but I just had to meet you,” he explained.  “I had no idea you were in the midst of a marriage proposal,” he shook his head.

 

“No apologies needed, Sir,” Lenara smiled back at him.  “Kieran and I have a rather long history of mistiming everything about our relationship.  If I had actually gotten smoothly through the proposal, I’d have probably lost my spots from shock,” she smirked.

 

Kieran laughed at her lover’s humor, filling her eyes with the lithe woman’s beauty.  “Lenara,” she hugged her with one arm, “I can’t believe this,” she felt her throat closing. 

 

“Captain,” Lenara said softly, “can you be bothered long enough to marry us tonight?” she smiled up at her lover.

 

“No,” Kieran protested.  “I’m not getting married without my family there, my friends.  I’m going to have to break this to my parents gently, Lenara.  They are going to say I’m too young.”

 

“Did they say that about Robin?” Lenara demanded petulantly.

 

Kieran threw back her head and laughed.  “I guess on some level, I knew that marriage would never come to pass, because I never even told them we were engaged,” she admitted.  “Please, be patient with me awhile longer, honey.  I still haven’t gotten over your showing up out of nowhere, let alone that we’re going to be married.  An hour ago, I was in the hallway telling Robin Lefler I wouldn’t give her a second chance under any circumstances.”

 

“She was here?” Picard and Lenara said together.

 

Kieran nodded.  “Doesn’t that beat all?”

 

“I’d like to give that woman a piece of my mind,” Picard scowled, then realized he’d voiced his favoritism of Kieran aloud.  “I—uh—that was inappropriate,” he stammered.

 

Kieran touched his arm.  “No, Sir, thank you,” she replied.  “But it’s okay.  I gave her a piece of mine, instead.”

 

“Glad to hear it.  She doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.  I’ve never been so angry performing a wedding in my career,” Picard informed her, jerking his tunic again.  “Ladies, I’m going to leave you to your happiness.  Kieran, best of luck to you.  I know you’ll get into the CT program.  And I promise, I will guard your betrothed with my own life, and the second our mission is complete, I will escort her back to you.  Then, if I may, will you allow me to perform the ceremony?”

 

“I’d be honored, Sir,” Kieran agreed.  “Unless you’ve decided I’m not worth the wait?” she teased Lenara.

 

“I can wait that long,” Lenara decided.  “And I’d be pleased to have your Captain marry us.”

 

Kieran kissed her cheek.  “Good.  Then it’s settled.  I’m not shipping out with Voyager until later this week.  Until then, I’ve got leave, and you all to myself,” she flirted.  “Captain, how long is Enterprise staying?”

 

Picard smiled.  “I think we can lay over until you leave with Janeway,” he decided.  “A little extended shore leave is always a good idea.  Consider it an early wedding present, Ensign,” he laughed.

 

Lenara kissed his cheek.  “Thank you, Sir,” she said gratefully.  “I haven’t seen her since you were at Trill.”

 

“Then by all means, off you go,” he waved them away.  “Take care of yourself, Ensign.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I will, Sir.  Thank you.”

 

Picard strode away, grinning ear to ear.  Kieran and Lenara Kahn.  Imagine that!

 

Lenara held Kieran’s hands in her own, staring up at her.  “You really will?”

 

Kieran scooped her up into powerful arms, carrying her across the crowded room to the podium.  She deposited her on the platform, rang the chime for attention, and the room hushed.  “Thank you all for coming to my ceremony,” she began.  “A long time ago, I had to give the commencement address at my graduation.  This lovely woman, Dr. Lenara Kahn, was our keynote speaker, and after she was kind enough to help me with my address, I was lucky enough to get to know her on a more personal level.  She has asked me to marry her, and I’m here to confirm in front of as many witnesses as I can, that I’ve agreed.  Mom, Dad,” she said into the microphone.  “Don’t faint.  Get up here, so you can congratulate us.”

 

The room hushed, and murmurs swept through the crowd.  Then applause and all manner of congratulations rang out, and Kieran’s parents waded through the well-wishers to get to their daughter.

 

Lenara slipped her arms around Kieran’s waist, smiling.  “I guess if you said so in front of all these people, you meant it,” she hugged her.

 

Kieran’s father grabbed them both, hugging them.  “Congratulations, both of you,” he kissed Kieran’s cheek.  “I knew when you came to Florida you’d end up together, I could just feel it,” he enthused.  “Lenara, welcome to the family,” he kissed her cheek as well.

 

Violet Thompson nodded politely, but her facial expression connoted disapproval in the extreme.  “I hope you’re planning on a long engagement, honey,” she said to her daughter.  “You’re so young.”

 

“Mom,” Kieran hugged her, “stop worrying.  I love her.  It will be fine.  She’s got to ship out with Enterprise at the end of the week, and as soon as they get back, we’re getting married.”

 

“And that’s how long?” Violet demanded.

 

Kieran looked to Lenara.  “How long will your research take, honey?” she asked her betrothed.

 

“About four months,” Lenara replied.

 

“So start planning, Mom.  Four months is all you’ve got to pull off the wedding of the century.  We’ll talk more about it when I get back with Voyager, okay?  I want to spend some time with Lenara, while I can.  Will you excuse us?” Kieran didn’t wait for a reply, but took Lenara’s hand and led her through the crowd.  They had to stop to accept handshakes and hugs, but eventually they made it out of the Ballroom. 

 

Out in the hallway, they stopped to gaze at one another, hands clasped tightly, smiling. 

 

Kieran finally broke the silence.  “You know, it seems like I’ve spent more time saying goodbye to you than I have making love to you.  I think tonight, we need to rectify that.”

 

“If we start now,” Lenara smiled flirtatiously, “and we make love until you leave on Voyager,” she tugged Kieran toward the turbo lift, “we should just about break even, this time,” she grinned, pulling the taller woman inside the lift and drawing her into a heated kiss.

 

Kieran gathered her into her arms again, picking her up.  “I love you,” she said between kisses.  “Thank you for not giving up on us.”

 

Lenara let herself be cradled, not caring how sentimental it was.  “I couldn’t give up.  I need you too much,” she admitted.  “I have to contact Bejal, and tell him you said yes,” she realized.

 

“What if I hadn’t?” Kieran asked playfully.

 

“I guess I’d be beaming up to Enterprise and settling into my new quarters.  And I’d be heartbroken and devastated and sick,” she added.  “But you said yes, and so I’m finally blissfully happy and at peace.  Maybe now I can get some work done,” she laughed.

___________________

 

Naomi Wildman stared at her wife in disbelief.  “Are you kidding me?  Four months difference, and you’d have come aboard Voyager married to Lenara Kahn?”

 

Kieran laughed.  “No, honey,” she assured her.  “Four months later and I’d have never been on Voyager at all.  I’d have been in grad school, and married to Lenara Kahn,” she corrected her.  “The thing is, and I know this sounds too bizarre, but I wasn’t surprised when Voyager got zapped into the Delta Quadrant, because Lenara and I had such horrendous luck trying to get our relationship off the ground, it just figured that we’d be separated again.”

 

Naomi shook her head.  “Damn, Kieran, what else don’t I know about you?  And why didn’t you ever tell me about her?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “I can’t really say why, Na.  I’ve never talked about her to anyone, it just hurt so much that the second we decided to get married, we were torn apart from each other,” she pointed out.

 

“But you loved her?” Naomi demanded.

 

“Very much,” Kieran affirmed. 

 

“When Voyager was located, did you contact her?” Naomi asked faintly.

 

“Of course I did.  I was engaged to B'Elanna by the time Lenara and I traded correspondence, and she was very understanding.  She hadn’t waited for me, thankfully, and I told her how glad I was of that, because it would be forty years at least until Voyager hit the Alpha Quadrant again.”

 

“Did you know she was teaching at the Academy?” Naomi sounded almost suspicious.

 

“I had no idea.  I can’t believe we haven’t run into one another.  I wonder if she knew I was here,” she murmured.

 

“How could she not know?  You’ve been on satellite feed and holovid a dozen times, we’ve both been splashed all over the headlines.  Unless she never listens to any media broadcasts, or lives under a rock, she had to know you were here,” Naomi groused.

 

“Why are you upset, Na?” Kieran hugged her close, kissing her hair.  “Do you think for a second she’s a threat to you?”

 

“Is she?” Naomi moved over her wife, peering down at her with a penetrating expression.

 

“Of course not.  Naomi, I’m married to you.  I’m committed to you.  I’m in love with you.  No one is a threat to you, not now, not ever,” she assured the young Ktarian. 

 

Naomi relaxed slightly.  She smiled at Kieran as they heard Seven talking to someone and coming up the stairs.  She dropped her voice to a whisper.  “She brought Lenara home with her?” she pounded Kieran’s shoulder excitedly.  “Good for her,” she chuckled.  “Did it freak you out that Seven is dating your ex-finacée?”

 

Kieran laughed melodically.  “Honey, I’m the one that talked Seven into going on the date.  I judiciously left out the fact that Lenara and I were lovers once.  I told her about the speech, and that’s all.  I was afraid if I told her the rest, Seven might not go out with Lenara.  And I think they’d be perfect together.  Can you imagine, those two intellects in one relationship?” she crowed happily.

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’ve read Dr. Kahn’s work.  She is a genius.  I hung on every word.  Seven would be her intellectual equal, something she probably has never seen the likes of in her life.”  She frowned slightly.  “But I feel bad for K-Mom.”

 

Laughter erupted from the next room, and Kieran winked at Naomi.  “I told Seven she needed to explore her sexuality.  I’m glad she listens to my good advice,” she sniffed arrogantly, pretending self-importance.

 

The newlyweds eavesdropped awhile longer, overhearing laughter and soft, low voices; then the unmistakable sound of Seven, whimpering and gasping.

 

“Is Lenara a good lover?” Naomi face darkened, her tone petulant again.

 

Kieran nodded.  “She’s very sweet.  I could see her with Seven, very easily.  There’s an innocence about them both,” she murmured.  “Naomi,” Kieran fixed her with a pointed stare, “I want you to be all right with this.  I love you.  You have to trust me when I tell you that.  But I intend to be Lenara’s friend, and if that upsets you, I can’t help it.”

 

Naomi’s eyebrows shot skyward.  “It does upset me,” she decided.  “If you had told me you didn’t want me to be friends with Shannon, I would have understood that, and I would have complied with your request,” she argued.

 

Kieran shook her head.  “Sorry.  That’s lame, and you know it.  If you can’t trust me, and you can’t trust my love for you, and you don’t believe in my vow of fidelity, then we have a serious problem.”  She sighed.  “For God’s sake, Naomi, what in the world makes you think I would ever want anyone but you?”

 

Naomi swallowed hard.  “Because I know you, and I know the look you had on your face when she came in tonight.  You feel sorry for her, for what happened with you two.  And that’s always been your Achilles heel—wanting to take care of everyone.”

 

Kieran was getting angry.  “I felt sorry for Seven, when she was in love with me, but I didn’t do anything improper out of pity, if that’s what you’re thinking I’ll do with Lenara.  Listen to them, Na,” she argued.  “Do you think I need to take care of Lenara?  I’d say Seven’s doing a damned good job of it, herself.”

 

“It also bothers me that you were engaged to her and never mentioned it,” she replied hotly, ignoring Kieran’s logic.  “Is there some reason for that lie of omission?”

 

Kieran moved the Ktarian off of her, rolling out of bed.  “You’re calling me a liar?” she half shouted.  “I just sat here and told you every gut-wrenching detail, and I’m a liar?”

 

“Oh, so it was gut-wrenching,” Naomi confirmed her own suspicions.  “So you do still have feelings for her,” she accused.

“I never said I didn’t,” Kieran shot back.  “I still love B'Elanna, and that’s never bothered you.  I don’t ever just stop loving someone.  My heart doesn’t work that way.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely devoted to you,” she said tersely.  She snatched her robe, throwing it on.  “I need some fresh air.”

 

“Hoping you’ll run into her downstairs?” Naomi shouted after her.

 

Kieran ignored the parting dig, storming down to the kitchen.

 

____________

 

Seven of Nine kissed Lenara Kahn, leaning over her smaller frame, pressing her against the Borg’s mattress.  Lenara breathed softly into their kiss, anticipating Seven’s hands as they slid beneath her blouse.  Seven gazed down at her, eyes silently requesting permission, and Lenara’s smile reassured the Borg of how welcome her advances were.

 

Seven smiled broadly, and it made Lenara grin in return.  “What?” she asked softly.

 

Seven giggled self-consciously.  “It’s just that I tried to go on a date once before, when I was in the Delta Quadrant, and it was a disaster.  This has been so much easier,” she realized.  “And I was so nervous,” she admitted.

 

Lenara laughed.  “Why would you be nervous, Seven?  I’ve only been chasing you all semester,” she kissed her gently.

 

“You have?” Seven’s eyes widened.  “I thought your interests were purely academic, until you asked me to go to dinner.”

 

“I suppose the first time I took you to lunch, I had no ulterior motives, but you’re so beautiful, and so interesting, I wasn’t thinking in academic terms after that first meeting,” she confessed.  “Didn’t you think it was odd, that I kept running into you everywhere?”

 

Seven considered. “I think the mere sight of you always overwhelmed me so much, I was incapable of rational thought.  And honestly, I didn’t care why you were suddenly outside my classroom, or catching me on the sidewalk.  I just wanted to spend time with you, however it happened.  I’m not really a coffee lover, but I’ve drunk gallons of it, just to be near you,” she smirked.

 

Seven stopped abruptly, pressing her finger to her own lips, signalling quiet.

 

Shouting bled through the wall, and Seven’s eyes widened.  “They’ve never had a fight before,” she whispered.  “Kieran never raises her voice, outside of basketball practice,” she noted.  “What would they ever fight about?” she wondered aloud.

 

Lenara overheard Naomi shouting So you do still have feelings for her.  She sighed gustily.  “I think I know what they’re fighting over,” she admitted.  “Seven,” she moved the larger woman onto one side, propping her head on her hand.  “When Kieran told you she knew me a long time ago, what exactly did she tell you?”

 

Seven repeated the tale Kieran had related to her.

 

“She called me Dr. Kahn throughout the story?” Lenara was amused.  “She never told you we were lovers?”

 

Seven shook her head.  “Were you?” she was amazed.  “And why wouldn’t she tell me that?”

 

Lenara shrugged.  “Kieran and I were supposed to marry, when Voyager got back from its initial run and I finished some research I was doing on Enterprise.  I was only doing the research there because I had tried to follow Kieran, and messed up the timing.  I guess if Kieran never told you the whole story, she didn’t think it was worth telling.”

 

“How could it not be, if you were engaged?”

 

Lenara sighed.  She told Seven the details of her failed relationship with Kieran Thompson, and by the time she finished, Seven had tears in her eyes. 

 

“And she disappeared, and you thought she was dead?” Seven touched Lenara’s cheek, trying to soothe the old wound.

 

Lenara nodded.  “Starfleet said they were missing, which usually means they think the crew is dead, but I didn’t believe it.  I tried to trace the ship, tried to project where it would be based on the warp vortex that was left by the displacement wave.  I tried to tell Starfleet it was logical that the wave would have dissipated in the Delta Quadrant, but they wouldn’t listen.  I spent the next two years trying to perfect a way to open a stable wormhole between the Alpha and the Delta Quadrants, and trying to convince anyone who would listen that the ship was in the Delta Quadrant.  I worked almost around the clock, until I got so ill I nearly died from it.  Bejal, my brother, was my research partner, and he refused to help me anymore, because I was killing myself over her.  I got in a good deal of trouble with the Trill Symbiosis Commission, because as a joined Trill, the life of my symbiont always takes priority.  I was accused of endangering my Kahn symbiont.  They seriously considered taking it away.”

 

Seven looked horrified.  “But you would have died,” she realized.

 

“The symbiont comes first,” Lenara repeated.  “I probably would have died, but the symbiont would have been given a new, more deserving host,” she reported.  “Bejal got me the best attorney he could afford, and I was exonerated, but it was a very close call.  I was forced to stop my research to the degree that it applied to wormholes between the quadrants.  Of course, the Commission understands little of my work, and I could have kept right on researching it and kept them from finding out.  But Bejal threatened to report me if I ventured back into that line of questioning.”

 

“Have you ever forgiven him?” Seven understood her conflict immediately.

 

“No,” Lenara stated flatly.  “She was going to be my wife, Seven.  I owed it to her to do everything I could to get her home again.  And Bejal turned his back on her, on me, on the family Kieran and I would have made together.  I haven’t spoken to him in years.”

 

“Has he ever apologized?” Seven asked softly.

 

“Never.  I was her best hope of ever getting home, and he robbed her of that, out of some misplaced loyalty to our homeworld.  Anyway, Kieran must have just told Naomi our history.  Naomi probably got insecure and that’s why they’re fighting.”

 

“Should I try to say something to them?” Seven wondered. 

 

“I think they will have to work it out,” Lenara counseled.  “Kieran is not the sort of person who would ever break her wedding vows, and if Naomi doesn’t trust that, it will anger Kieran deeply.”

 

Seven nodded.  “I can’t imagine anything that would piss her off more than having Naomi question her integrity.  I hope my daughter is not that foolish.”

 

Lenara smiled warmly at the gorgeous Borg.  “How did you ever end up with a daughter who is almost as old as you?” she traced Seven’s star-shaped implant with her fingertip.

 

“I think that story is best saved for the morning,” Seven smiled at her companion, kissing her.

 

__________________

 

Kieran Wildman sat in the darkened living room, staring into the fire crackling in the river rock hearth.  She sipped at what remained of the wine from Qian, the dregs from the bottle she had shared with Seven, Naomi, and Lenara earlier that evening.  Naomi came down the stairs momentarily, dressed and packed to return to the quad.

 

Kieran looked up at her wife, scowling.  “Running away from home again?” she sneered.

 

“I don’t want to interfere with your reunion,” she replied snottily.  “I’ll see you in practice on Monday,” she added, flouncing out the door and slamming it.

 

That’s what you get for marrying a child.  You get a child’s behavior, Kieran thought miserably.  She finished the bottle, dragged herself wearily upstairs, and threw herself into her empty bed.  She had to pull the pillow over her head to muffle the sounds coming from Seven’s room, a voice she remembered all too well, crying out in pleasure.  Kieran remembered that when she and Lenara were lovers, it had taken several nights of passion for Lenara to be that uninhibited, that vocal.  She grinned wryly.  Maybe I helped her with that, a little.

 

___________________

 

Seven of Nine held Lenara Kahn in her arms, letting the Trill scientist sleep.  Seven couldn’t take her eyes off of the smaller woman, she was so enchanted with the experience of making love with her.  Kieran had told her to explore her sexuality, and Seven trusted Kieran’s advice so completely, she almost always took it verbatim. 

 

Lenara was so different than Kathryn, so unassuming, so much less a presence.  Kathryn was shorter than Lenara, yet her body language seemed to fill the space around her, wherever she went.  She projected herself outward, that way, as all captains tended to, and it made Kathryn seem like a much larger person.  Lenara could almost disappear, blend into the scenery, or into Seven’s arms.  And she was so pretty, so delicate, so feminine, that Seven’s throat ached from gazing at her, needing to envelop and protect her.

 

Kieran had been lovers with Lenara, had planned to marry her.  And somehow, Kieran loved Seven so much, she was willing to omit the significance of her former relationship with the Trill, so that Seven might find the happiness Kieran wanted her to have.  Seven marvelled at that concept.  She wondered if Kieran felt any jealousy at the sounds that had certainly bled through the walls; after all, Seven had heard Kieran and Naomi every weekend, so it was an easy deduction to make that Kieran knew Lenara was Seven’s lover, now.

 

She wished Lenara would awaken and talk to her, the way Kathryn always did after making love.  Some of their best discussions had occurred in the afterglow.  Lenara seemed spent by the experience, and Seven hoped she had not been too rough or too inept.  Lenara had told her she was wonderful, tender, exciting, and she had responded as if all those things were true.  And Seven supposed she shouldn’t fault the woman for needing to sleep, considering they had made love four times.  For Seven, the experiences only served to make her more energetic, not less, but then Seven was operating from a place of severe deprivation, especially considering that she lived in a fairly sexually charged atmosphere with Kieran and Naomi.

 

She hoped the young couple would work out their issues.  She knew in her heart that Kieran loved Naomi, and Naomi had nothing to fear.  She only hoped Naomi was as confident about that as she was. 

___________________

 

Lenara Kahn stood in the kitchen of the Wildman home, watching Kieran swimming laps in the pool out back.  Seven was busy fixing breakfast, and stealing glances at her lover.

 

“Does she always push herself like that?” Lenara wondered.

 

“Every morning, rain or shine,” Seven affirmed.  “It keeps her in shape.  She also works out with her basketball team.  When she gets out of the pool, you’ll see how incredible her physique is.  She is ruthless when it comes to her body.” She added cheese to the omelette she was making.  “It’s a matter of pride, with her.  She says her team will not respect her if she allows herself to diminish in her own physical prowess.  Respect is apparently key to the coaching relationship,” she quoted Kieran.

 

“You’re close to her?” Lenara asked faintly, slightly enviously.

 

“Very.  She is my closest companion, besides her ex-wife B'Elanna Torres,” Seven replied easily.

 

“She and B'Elanna—do they get along?”  Lenara forced herself to look away from the pool, coming up beside Seven.

 

“They’re very close, which is a constant source of surprise for me,” she smiled.

 

“Why?” Lenara grinned up at the towering Borg.

 

“Because if B'Elanna had been my wife, and done the things to me that she did to Kieran, I would have assimilated her,” Seven reported darkly.  “I would never have spoken to her again.”

 

“Well,” Lenara pointed out, “they do have a child together.  That would be a compelling reason to get along, don’t you think?”

 

Seven smirked.  “It hasn’t helped Kathryn and I.  In fact, Kieran mediates all of our custody issues.  She goes to Indiana every two weeks to get my daughter, and brings her to me, so I don’t have to see Kathryn at all.”

 

“That must be hard,” Lenara allowed.  “Are you going to divorce her?”

 

Seven shrugged.  “I haven’t really had any reason to seriously consider it, until now,” she cupped Lenara’s cheek in her hand.  “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

 

They kissed sweetly for several moments, then Seven realized she was about to burn breakfast.  “You distract me shamelessly,” she scolded the Trill.  “Go out and sit on the patio, before I ruin this entirely,” she commanded, smiling.

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” Lenara scooted out the sliding glass door, chuckling to herself. 

 

Kieran was just finishing her laps, hauling herself out of the deep end of the pool and chucking her goggles.  She hadn’t noticed Lenara.  She stepped up on the diving board, mentally measuring the distance from her feet to the end, planning her approach.  She executed a perfect pike, entered the water without causing more than a ripple, and came up smiling.  She spotted the Trill scientist scrutinizing her every move.

 

“Good morning, Doctor,” she called out, swimming slowly to the shallow end.  “Did you sleep well?” she asked amiably, climbing the concrete steps and letting the water sheet from her body.

 

“Very well, thank you,” Lenara replied, trying not to gawk.  Seven’s appraisal of Kieran’s physique had been a gross understatement.  It was even more muscular and better defined than Lenara remembered it.  “Nice dive,” she added, saluting the taller woman with her coffee cup.

 

“You know me,” Kieran grabbed her towel and scrubbed it over her hair and her body, “I love the water.  My folks built a huge manatee preserve at their home, and I got to swim with them last summer.  Naomi and Seven did, too.  You should come with us, sometime, and see it.  I know my folks would love to see you again.”

 

Lenara smirked.  “Your father would.  Your mother and I parted on less than good terms,” she reported, sipping her coffee.

 

Kieran pulled out a chair, joining her former lover.  “What do you mean?”

 

“We got into some fairly heated arguments, after Voyager disappeared.  She had her own opinions about rescuing you, and I had mine, and we disagreed in the extreme,” Lenara advised.  “Since I was considered the expert on the subject of wormholes and spatial folding, and nobody believed me when I said you were in the Delta Quadrant, the rescue efforts were my call, early on.  You see how well I succeeded,” she bit her words off, thinking of Violet Thompson.  “I’m sure my repeated failures only confirmed your mother’s opinion of me—that I’m a fraud and an idiot.  It gave her a great deal of pleasure, I’m sure, when she contacted me to tell me that you had been located, that Voyager was safe, but that you were engaged.”

 

Kieran touched her hand.  “Lenara, my mother is an ass.  I’m sorry if she was rude or belittling.  I’m sorry if she and Dad didn’t comfort you, the way they should have.  Most of all, I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you,” she admitted.

 

Lenara sighed.  “I read your mission logs after Voyager was located, and I know there’s nothing you could have done.  Don’t blame yourself.  Kathryn Janeway made the choices that took you from me.  And I understand, though I don’t approve, why she did the things she did.   I knew I was taking on a lot of potential heartache, marrying a Starfleet officer.  I was right.”  She studied Kieran’s eyes, noting the subtle changes in her demeanor that thirteen years of absence had wrought.

 

Seven appeared with breakfast, setting out four plates.  “Kieran, would you get the coffee pot and the preserves?  I need to go back for the toast,” she kissed the Counselor’s cheek.  “Good morning,” she added.

 

“Sure, your Borgness,” she was up in a flash, helping.  “It smells wonderful,” she took Seven’s arm.  “Would you like me to disappear, and let you two eat together?” she said softly as they entered the back door.

 

“Not at all,” Seven assured her.  “I actually have a bone to pick with you, and Lenara may have to help me pick it,” she grinned.

 

“Uh oh.  She told you everything, I take it?” Kieran blushed.

 

“She did, though had you and Naomi not been in the midst of a shouting match, the subject would not have come up.  Really, Kieran, could you be more masterful at understatement?” Seven’s glacier blue eyes twinkled.  “She helped you with a speech?” Seven asked sarcastically.  “When were you planning to mention that she also asked you to marry her, and you said yes?”

 

Kieran retrieved the breakfast items she was assigned to, retreating out the back door.  “I wasn’t planning to mention it at all, your Borgness,” she replied, smiling.

 

“Should you call Naomi down to eat?” Lenara asked pleasantly.

 

“Uh—no.  She went back to school,” Kieran stated flatly.

 

Seven looked alarmed.  “Because of the argument?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “She took exception to the fact that I had never mentioned Lenara to her,” she told the Borg.  Turning to the Trill, she added, “She’s angry because I won’t give in to her insecurity, and avoid you."

 

“Oh, Kieran,” Lenara’s tone was regretful, “you should go talk to her.  Tell her it’s fine. You can avoid me, I would understand, if that’s what she needs.”

 

Kieran slapped her knife on her toast, spreading it with strawberry preserves.  “That is ridiculous.  We’re all adults, and there’s no reason you and I can’t be friends.  Naomi needs to get over it.  And if she doesn’t trust me, then we really have no marriage, anyway,” she realized, swallowing hard.

 

“Can I ask you something?” Seven could tell Kieran was upset, but her curiosity drove her.

 

“Always, Seven,” Kieran smiled reassurance at her, dark brown eyes glistening in the light.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me about you and Lenara?” Seven waited patiently.

 

“Two reasons,” Kieran sipped her coffee.  “First dates are all about impression management, feeling your way through the superficial things and trying to find the person beneath all the baggage.  I wanted you to get to know Lenara without seeing her through my eyes, or my experiences.  I didn’t want you to take my baggage with you on your first date.  I know my input carries a lot of weight with you, and I wanted to be as neutral as I could be,” she explained, munching on her toast.

 

Seven smiled.  “And telling me she was brilliant and beautiful and that you would never lose a minute of sleep over my seeing her—that was objective?” she teased.

 

Kieran winked at her.  “Considering how high my opinion of her really is, that was almost insulting,” she shot back.

 

Lenara blushed faintly, but said nothing, eating her eggs.

 

“What was the second reason?” Seven prompted the Counselor.

 

Kieran hesitated, cutting into her omelette.  “I also didn’t tell you because those memories are very, very painful for me.  You know me, Seven, happy-go-lucky to a fault.  But when Voyager got lost, and I was taken from Lenara, I sank into a deep depression.  I had to be medicated for over two years for it.  Anyway, I knew I would not be able to hide how much it hurt, if I told you.  And you would have seen my hurt, and misinterpreted it, and you wouldn’t have gone out with her out of some fear that it would bother me, or hurt me to see her again.  So I decided if Lenara wanted you to know, it was her place to tell you, not mine.”

 

“You were protecting me?” Seven asked faintly.

 

“Not so much protecting you, sweetie,” Kieran took her hand.  “Just making sure you did what you really wanted to do for yourself, without considering anyone else.  It’s not that I didn’t want you to know, I promise.  It’s that I wanted you to find out at the right time, in the right way.  I figured if you had the chance to spend an evening with Lenara, that would be all you’d need to conclude she’s amazing, and then if she told you about our history, you’d already be won over enough that you wouldn’t be able to just walk away from her out of some perceived loyalty to me,” she explained for her roommate.

 

“You think my loyalties are so frail that one date could supplant them?” Seven was miffed.

 

Kieran grinned.  “No, your Borgness.  I think Lenara is the kind of person that could make anyone’s loyalties falter, she is so captivating and special.  She is that prevailing, in my opinion,” she replied honestly.  “She won me over that easily,” she added.

 

Seven smirked.  “Kathryn always did accuse you of being easy,” she smarted.

 

Kieran smacked her hand.  “You know from watching me with Naomi that I’m not,” she replied tartly. 

 

Seven nodded.  “You’re right,” she agreed.  “I thought you were never going to come around to admitting your feelings for her.   She thought you never were, either.  Kathryn wishes you never had,” she added, grinning.

 

Lenara quirked an elegant eyebrow.  “I have a feeling that’s a story I want to hear,” she smiled.  She took Kieran’s free hand.  “I’m sorry those memories are hurtful for you.  I never meant them to be.”

 

Kieran squeezed her fingers.  “Some wounds never heal, because they are not supposed to.  We carry them all of our lives, and they make us who we are.  We learn to live with them, and we learn to live in spite of them.  I accept that,” she said softly, not meeting Lenara’s eyes.  “I never expected to see home again.  I hoped with all my might that you would give up on me and live your life, I swear,” she sighed. 

 

“Your Captain was very kind to me,” she murmured.  “He and Deanna Troi were the only reason I didn’t lose my mind,” she toyed with her food, no longer hungry.  “They were just sick over it, they felt so responsible.  Poor Deanna was so depressed, they had to relieve her of duty for a short time.  Jean-Luc checked on me every day, pretending interest in my research, but I know he was afraid I’d break down.  Of course, by the time I finally did, you had been missing in action for two years.”

 

Kieran swallowed hard.  “You broke down?”

 

“Almost died.  I was so ill, my body was trying to reject my symbiont.  I had been working almost around the clock, trying to figure out a way to make a stable wormhole between the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. I did my first tests about a year after you were lost, at DS9.  Bejal was, for the first time in his life, telling me not to work so hard.  I guess I should have known how bad I was if he was encouraging me to rest.  I finally had to be hospitalized, and when I recovered, the Symbiosis Commission brought me up on charges of symbiont endangerment.  I spent the next year in court, fighting to keep them from removing my symbiont.  Bejal helped me get acquitted, but when the trial was over, I went back to my research under all sorts of restrictions.  I tried to convince Bejal to turn the other way, while I tried to perfect the interquadrant corridor, but he said he would report me to the Commission if I continued.  My hands were tied.  I’m sorry, I had to abandon the research,” she said miserably, the guilt in her expression almost palpable.  “I couldn’t drum up any support from Starfleet, at that point, either, because they were convinced the ship was destroyed, and all hands had been lost.  They had never really mounted much of a search, despite my attempts to convince them that you were most likely in the Delta Quadrant.  They simply wouldn’t listen.  By the time your ship was back in touch with them, confirming my hypothesis, I was away from the Federation, out of reach.  When I came back, your mother contacted me, and I started work again, right away, this time with Federation funding and assistance.  By then, six years had passed.  I worked at it anyway, but I never got the theory into practical application, because the Symbiosis Commission had destroyed or confiscated so much of my initial work that I had to start from scratch.  I would have started new testing this past year, but by then, Wesley and the Traveler had put the rescue plan together.  I’m so sorry I left you stranded out there,” her apology was heartfelt.

 

Kieran’s eyes misted over.  “Please, don’t apologize.  My God, Lenara, you did everything you could,” she squeezed her hand.  “You sacrificed too much, in fact.  I would have been the first to tell you to let me go,” she said softly.

 

“I know that,” Lenara agreed.  “Bejal told me that, too, but I wasn’t ready to hear it.  I haven’t spoken to him since the trial.”

 

“You should, Lenara.  It’s ancient history. He’s your family,” she urged.

 

“There were other things that happened between us,” she sighed.  “When I tested my theories on DS-9, there was a joined Trill on the station, Jadzia Dax.  The Dax symbiont and my Kahn symbiont were married, once, several hosts back.  Jadzia and I fell in love, and even though there are rules against reassociation between Trill, she wanted to be together.  Bejal opposed us at every turn, refused to support our relationship, and ultimately, I walked away from her to please him, and because I was afraid of censure.  When the trial ended, in 2773, and Bejal threatened to report me to the Commission for continuing my research to help you, that was the last straw.  So it wasn’t just you, Kieran.  It was his interference in my relationships, in general.”

 

“When you broke from him, why didn’t you go back to Jadzia?” Kieran needed to know.

 

Lenara shook her head.  “By the time I had defended my court case, Jadzia was married to a Klingon named Worf.  You remember him from Enterprise, don’t you?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I’m sorry, Lenara.  You’ve really been through it all, haven’t you?” she asked sympathetically.  “But wait.  Worf was on Enterprise when we got Voyager back home, and he wasn’t married,” she realized.

 

“Jadzia died.  The Dax symbiont is now in a Starfleet Counselor, Ezri Dax.  I’ve never met her, and I intend to avoid ever doing so,” she noted.  “I also have no intention of ever trying to reconcile my differences with Bejal.  I have been so much happier, without him hovering over me.”

 

Kieran nodded, considering Lenara’s position.  She finished her breakfast, patting her stomach.  “Seven, you’re going to make me fat.  But I appreciate the meal.  It was excellent, as always.  I’m going to go shower and find my wife.”

 

Seven nodded in approval.  “You know, Kieran, this is all new territory for Naomi.  She’s had to grow up so fast, she’s not accustomed to dealing with jealousies and inner-conflict, like this.  Voyager was so insular, and she was your whole world.  Now there are all these people from your past, all the ways your life would have been different if not for Voyager getting lost, and she’s frightened by it all.  You’ve always been so gentle with her, so forgiving.  I hope you always will be.”

 

Kieran leaned over and kissed her cheek.  “I love you, Seven,” she said fondly.  “And I love your daughter.  Don’t worry.  It occurred to me why Naomi is so threatened by Lenara,” she confessed, gathering her dishes.  “Lenara is the only lover I had who didn’t decimate my self-esteem by treating me like shit.  Naomi is fine with B'Elanna and Robin, because she knows how stupid I would be to ever trust either of them.  But Lenara never did anything to betray my trust, and that’s a whole different ball game for Na.  She doesn’t know what to make of it, and it scared her.  She’s going to have to deal with her fears.  That’s all.  God knows, I deal with mine every day,” she grinned ruefully.  “Lenara,” she knelt beside the Trill’s chair, kissing her cheek.  “I am so glad to have seen you again.  Come by my office sometime, if you want to talk.  I know there’s so much we’ve left unsaid.  I hope I’ll see you around more,” she smiled at Seven.

 

“That’s up to your mother-in-law,” she returned.  “But I hope so, too.”

 

__________________ 

 

Naomi Wildman stared at the acoustic panels of her ceiling, her heart aching and her mind unsettled.   She should not have left the house angry.  She should not have let the wall take root.  Hadn’t she been the one to tell Kieran that anytime they had a fight, they needed to make love to tear down the walls?  And yet she had allowed herself to hide her vulnerability.  She had let her fears control her.  She had taken one look at Kieran’s pain over Lenara Kahn, and she had run. 

 

If not for Voyager, Lenara would be married to Kieran.  Lenarah Kahn, one of the sharpest intellects of the modern day, still single, still available, still beautiful, and she was right here at the Academy, just waiting for Kieran to come back to her.  Naomi Wildman knew in that instant that she was not giving up her wife without a fight.  She had worked too hard to finally win Kieran over, had waited too long to be with her, to let some other woman sweep Kieran away.  She heaved herself off the bed, body language resolute, step determined. 

 

Kieran was just out of the shower and dressed, coming downstairs when Naomi walked through the front door.  Seven and Lenara were sitting on the couch, holding hands and talking, and they fell silent the second the Ktarian entered.  Kieran stopped on the stairs, waiting expectantly.

 

Naomi glanced at the women on the couch, squared her shoulders, and marched up to meet her wife.  She grabbed Kieran’s hand, pulled her up the remainder of the flight, and led her inside their room, closing the doors.  Without a word, she disrobed, standing before her wife completely naked.  “I have walls,” she held her hands out to her wife, bottom lip trembling, “and I need you to take them down.”

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran grabbed her into a fierce hug.  “I love you, honey,” she kissed her passionately, holding her protectively, letting the Ktarian undress her. 

 

They made love slowly, tenderly, exchanging words of reassurance and commitment and love, forcing their vulnerability to surface.  Naomi’s hazel eyes filled repeatedly with tears as her fears asserted themselves, but she had been right that fear and vulnerability cannot coexist, and she opted for the latter. 

 

 

Downstairs, Seven of Nine told Lenara Kahn the details of how Kieran’s marriage to B'Elanna Torres had ended, and how her relationship with Naomi had begun.  Lenara listened intently, fascinated by the implications of the accelerated aging Naomi had experienced.  Lenara couldn’t suppress a shiver when she overheard Kieran’s muffled but responsive cry, remembering all the times she had made those sounds come from Kieran’s chest.

 

Seven saw the Trill’s reaction, and understood immediately the persistent longing to be the one eliciting that sound.  “It was a powerful relationship, yours and Kieran’s,” she said quietly as the stillness was shattered again.

 

Lenara nodded.  “She taught me what passion is,” she said simply.  “And I was very much in love with her.”

 

“If she had come back unattached?” Seven ventured.

 

Lenara smiled sadly.  “You know the answer to that, already.”

 

 

 

Naomi Wildman curled into her wife’s embrace, purging herself of her fear and her walls, crying softly. 

 

Kieran held her close, soothing her with skilled fingers, trying to understand what Naomi must feel.  “Baby,” she whispered, “you have to trust me.  You have to.  We can’t make this marriage work if you don’t,” she urged.

 

“I know,” Naomi shuddered from the emotion.  “I just got so scared.  She’s so beautiful, and her work is pure genius.  And you still love her.  How can I compete with that?”

 

Kieran closed her eyes, squeezing her beloved closer.  “Honey, there’s no competition.  It’s not a contest.  You have me, I belong to you, and no one can change that, unless we let them.  Lenara is an honorable woman, and she would never violate the boundaries of our marriage.  I am an honorable woman, and neither would I.  I know this is new to you, and I know it’s all confusing.”

 

“I’m sorry for acting like a spoiled child,” she let Kieran brush her tears from her face.  “How do you stand it, when I act like that?”

 

Kieran kissed her hair tenderly, carefully considering her reply.  “I expect you to behave childishly, sometimes.  How can you not?  Experientially, you are a child.  Physiologically, psychologically, legally you’re an adult.  But you haven’t had the experiences of a twenty-three year old woman.  You have the intellect and sexual desire and the emotions of one, but all of that gets channelled through the perspective of a thirteen year old.  I know you struggle to make sense of the contradictions, and what you lack in experience puts you at a huge disadvantage.”

 

“You’re still raising me,” Naomi realized, “on many levels.  You took me on, knowing that?”

 

She nodded.  “I didn’t have a choice.  You forced my hand.”

 

Naomi swallowed hard.  “I’m giving you the choice now.  I won’t run for the cortical stimulators, I won’t take you hostage again, and I won’t manipulate you.  I would understand completely if you want to walk away from us.  You shouldn’t have to raise your spouse, or endure her tirades,” she propped herself up on one arm, peering down at her wife.  “I’ve said all along you have to let me be your equal partner.  Maybe I’m not capable of that, because I’m too immature.  Maybe that’s what Kathryn saw, that we didn’t.”

 

Kieran sat up, facing her wife, pulling her upright and taking her hands.  “No one said this would be easy.  I certainly didn’t expect it to be.  I told you when I married you I wouldn’t be a coward again, and we would face whatever comes together.  I meant it.  I love you with all my being, Naomi.  If we had lived out our lives on Voyager, as it seemed we might, nothing would have ever threatened our relationship.  But when we got back to Earth, I knew there would be huge adjustments and that it was entirely possible we wouldn’t be able to make them together.  The truth is, I get just as confused as you do, because I don’t know how to help you grow up any faster.  I feel like I’ve cheated you out of so many experiences, by virtue of marrying you.  That’s the only regret I have,” she drew a shaking breath, running her hand over her spiked hair, matted now from rolling around in bed.  “I think you’re the one that should probably walk away, because I’m no doubt holding you back.  If we weren’t married, you’d be dating half the campus and partying and getting all the experience you’ve missed.  Instead, you’re coming home to me every weekend, trying to keep our marriage intact, missing out on the things other cadets get to do.”

 

“Honey,” Naomi’s expression was earnest, “I see my friends and quad mates and teammates, I observe them, and I don’t think they’re one bit happier for their freedoms and their experimentation.  In fact, I’m much happier, by comparison, much more stable and grounded.  I feel like I have this protective framework with you and Seven, this foundation, and I can venture outside of it, and try new things, fail maybe, but try.  It’s so comforting to know that when I’m stepping outside of my support system, I can always step right back inside.  You give me so much leeway, and so much breathing space, Kieran.  And I know that can’t be easy, or comfortable all the time.  You’d probably love to have a partner like Lenara, who would be content as a homebody, who’s ready to have a family, who’s settled.  I’m sure she wouldn’t have tantrums, or come home crying because some boy kissed her.  And she wouldn’t go into a jealous rage over your ex-lovers.”  Naomi kissed her, heart open and vulnerable.  “I love you, Kieran.  As imperfect and flawed as my love is, it is yours.  But I understand if you can’t be married to someone so inadequate to the task.  I’ll let you go, if that’s what you want.”

 

“It’s not what I want,” Kieran asserted firmly.  “I’m in this marriage because I want to be, not because you stole the cortical stimulators.  I am in love with you.  I’m more than willing to be your framework, your touchstone.  I want to be your foundation, and you can grow outward from there, as long as it isn’t stunting your growth.  I know the risks.  Odds are, you’ll grow further and further away from me, and eventually, you won’t need or want me anymore.  That may be the natural progression, and it’s probably inevitable.”

 

Naomi’s eyes softened with sadness. “How can you believe that, and stay?  How can you sacrifice yourself like that?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “I don’t know any other way to love you, Na.  All I can do is give myself to you wholly, every day of our lives, and hope it’s enough for you.  It’s all anyone in any marriage can do.  We both have to do it, for each other, and if one of us finds it’s not enough, we have to be honest enough to admit it and tell the other.  You have to understand this, though.  I will never bow to your insecurity, and you mustn’t bow to mine.  We can reassure each other, we can talk through it, but we can’t give in to it.  I know you’d feel better if I told Lenara she and I can’t be friends.  Even she told me she would gladly avoid me, if it makes you more secure.  But you have to reach beyond your fear and find it in yourself to trust me, to know that I can be her friend without it being a threat to you.  I have to know you believe in my integrity.  If you don’t believe in me, this marriage will fail.”

 

Naomi nodded slowly.  “Okay.  You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked you to give up your friendship with her, just because I feel threatened by her.  That was unfair.  And I do trust you.  I know you’ve always put my well-being before your own, and I have no reason to think you’d stop.  I remember, at the Spring Fling, Claren James was trying to seduce you.  I got the distinct impression you only rejected her because you knew how I felt about you, and you didn’t want to hurt me.”

 

Kieran nodded. “That is why I rejected her.  I saw the look on your face when she was coming on to me, and I couldn’t bear the pain in your eyes,” she admitted, leaning in to kiss her wife.

 

“I know it’s a lot to ask of you, to stay with me.  I know the effort it will take to muddle through my adolescence together.  Please, be patient with me.  You always have been, and I trust you will always be.  I’m going to make mistakes, Kieran.  I’m going to struggle and flounder.  But I do love you, and I want this marriage more than anything.”

 

“Will you promise me that if you realize someday that this isn’t what you want, you’ll tell me right away?” Kieran insisted.

 

“I promise.  You’ll do the same?” she urged, squeezing Kieran’s hands.

 

“I promise, too.”

 

___________________

 

Commander Kieran Wildman typed in commands at her workstation, smiling as she heard a familiar footfall behind her.  “I had a feeling you’d come by today,” she said softly.  “Let me just finish up this entry, and then I have something for you.”

 

Lenara Kahn helped herself to a seat, not speaking. 

 

Kieran reached inside her cargo pocket, removing the gold band Lenara Kahn had given her thirteen years before, turning to give it to the Trill.  “I hope you’ll find someone worthy to give it to, Lenara.”

 

Lenara accepted the shining metal, fingering it reflectively.  “Someone like Seven?”

 

Kieran smiled warmly.  “Nothing would make me happier,” she replied.  “I’d give anything to see you both with loving, intelligent partners.”

 

Lenara continued to turn the ring in her fingers, thinking.  “She’s not ready.  She has a lot of unresolved feelings for Kathryn.  I think I should step aside until she knows what she wants to do about them.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I don’t know that you should step aside, but you’re right, she still loves Kathryn.  I don’t know that she will ever forgive her, but she loves her.”  Kieran reached into her desk drawer and withdrew a disk.  “This contains all the songs I wrote about you after the ship was lost,” she added softly.  “I suggest you listen with a good bottle of wine.  They’re mostly very, very sad.”

 

She took the disk in delicate fingers, studying it.  “How long did you wait?” Lenara asked, not meeting her eyes.

 

“Probably too long,” Kieran admitted.  “Everyone kept telling me it was futile, to be faithful to you, because I would never see you again.  But I was stubborn.  When it became apparent that we were tens of thousands of light years from home, even after traveling at high warp almost a year, I decided my crewmates had a point.”

 

“Do you ever think we should have just done it, the night of your ceremony, like I wanted to?” she asked gently.

 

“I thought so every day of my life for the next two years.  I was sorry I hadn’t just married you.  But then I realized, what would the point have been, when the outcome would have been exactly the same?” she grimaced.  “My regret stemmed from the fact that I was afraid you would doubt the strength of my love for you, because I hadn’t jumped at the chance.  I wanted you to know I truly loved you, and I understood the magnitude of your sacrifices to be with me.  I am so sorry I never got to show you how grateful I was, or how honored I was that you loved me.  I was so overwhelmed by it, Lenara.  You were so impressive, so astounding, and you loved me.  I think, the night my jersey was retired, when I announced our engagement, even my friends didn’t know what to say, because they were just awed that someone like you could want me.  They all knew I was way out of my league,” she smiled.

 

Lenara chuckled.  “Isn’t that funny?  I thought I was out of mine,” she admitted.  “But I knew you loved me, Kieran.  You must have.  After all, I kept trying to reject you, to protect myself, and you kept taking me back everytime I changed my mind.  Well, except when you were with Robin.”

 

“I couldn’t refuse you.  You had such a powerful impact on me, everytime I would look at you, I just melted.  My fear and frustration and anger and hurt just trickled away, and all I could think was how much I wanted you.  I was pretty young, and a lot more idealistic back then,” she noted.

 

“Are you saying you’re cynical, now?” she asked, smiling.

 

“Let’s just say I’ve been through a lot.  I’m a lot less forgiving, in my old age,” she grinned.

 

“Oh, I don’t know, you forgave Naomi yesterday.  I wasn’t sure you would.  It’s pretty tough to forgive your spouse for not trusting you,” she opined.  “Unless you’ve ever given her a reason not to.”

 

“I never have, and I never will,” Kieran shrugged.  “She’s scared of you, that’s all.  She’s read your work, and she knows you’re her intellectual equal, at least, if not her superior.  She knows how much I like smart women,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

Lenara laughed, that same, familiar melodic laugh Kieran remembered from her rehearsal of her Valedictorian’s speech.  “I don’t know how smart she is, but she’s certainly beautiful.  I could never compete with her on that front.”

 

Kieran’s face softened.  “You really believe that, don’t you?” she asked sadly.  “Lenara, you are so lovely.  How can you even think for a moment that you’re not?  You still take my breath away, cha’on.  You walked into my house the other night, and I was speechless over how beautiful you are.  I had forgotten, and it caught me by surprise, how graceful and elegant you are, what incredible eyes you have, what a beautiful smile.  I never had the chance to tell you all the adoring things I felt for you, and I would’ve spent our lives telling you how lovely you truly are.”

 

“Thank you,” she said softly.  “You know, honestly, I never gave it a second thought, until I met Naomi.  And then I felt inadequate, somehow.  She’s the kind of woman people stop and stare at.”

 

Kieran laughed, shaking her head.  “So are you,” she contended.  “I guess you’re usually too busy theorizing to notice.  Pay attention, Doctor.  You turn heads.”  She planted her hands on her desk, rising.  “In fact, I’ll prove it to you.  Let’s walk through campus, and count how many times someone turns around to follow you with his or her eyes,” she challenged.

 

“You’re teasing me,” she accused, standing also, hands planted on her hips.

 

“Am not.  I’ll bet you a cup of coffee at the officer’s mess.  We’ll walk from here to there, which isn’t very far, and if we don’t see—um—at least three people gaping at you, you buy my coffee,” she declared the terms.

 

Lenara scowled playfully.  “Don’t forget your credit chit.  I’m in the mood for something extravagant, not just a plain old cup of coffee,” she shot back.

 

They walked down the hall where Kieran’s office was located, and one Admiral stopped to look at Lenara.  “There’s one,” Kieran held up a finger.  She grinned triumphantly, slipping an arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders.  “This is too easy.  I should have bet you dinner,” she crowed.

 

They took the turbo lift to the bottom floor, and in the lobby, Kieran counted four more gawkers.  “I win the bet,” she announced, hugging her companion.  “I told you so.  Keep counting.”

 

By the time they got to the officer’s mess, there had been eight heads that had turned.  Lenara waited patiently in line, selected an iced coffee with mounds of whipped cream and shaved white chocolate, and then waited expectantly for Kieran to pay. 

 

“You owe me,” Kieran protested, crossing her arms.

 

“Do not, smart-ass,” Lenara grinned.  “They were looking at you,” she stuck out her tongue.

 

Kieran rolled her eyes and paid the cashier, laughing.  “You weaseled on a bet.  Is that a Trill thing?”

 

“Hardly,” she teased back.  “How do you know they weren’t looking at you?” she demanded.

 

“Oh hell, I don’t know,” Kieran howled.  “Because it never happens when I’m alone?” she replied, taking a seat across from her friend.  “Damn, Lenara, it’s so good to see you again,” she glowed with warmth.  “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”

 

The Trill scientist smiled back, reaching for Kieran’s hand.  “I’ve missed you, too,” she agreed, squeezing the large fingers in her own diminutive ones.  “Did you know that I finally did it?” she asked, blushing.

 

“Did what?” Kieran asked, stirring her cream into her coffee.

 

“Created a stable wormhole.  At DS-9.  Twice,” she announced.

 

“I know,” Kieran nodded eagerly.  “Congratulations.  I read it in the database downloads from Starfleet while I was aboard Voyager.  I was very impressed, and so proud,” she twined her fingers with Lenara’s, gazing at them.  “I kept up with your work as much as I could, especially after I got lost in a spatial rift, and visited several parallel universes.  I wished I could have told you, had you explain it better to me.  I was so confused by the time I got back to Voyager, I didn’t know what the hell had happened.”

 

“Spatial psychosis,” Lenara nodded.  “I read the mission logs.”

 

Kieran inclined her head.  “If you were keeping yourself apprised of my life, why didn’t you come see me after we got back?”

 

Lenara sipped her iced coffee, composing a response.  “I didn’t know if I could handle it, to be honest.  I never stopped loving you, and I knew you had been married and had a child.  I knew you were divorced, too, but I didn’t know about Naomi.  Still, I figured there was no chance of a spark at the Tenaran ice cliffs that you’d feel the same.  And I didn’t want to find out how bad that would hurt.”

Kieran swallowed her coffee, feeling melancholy.  “I never stopped loving you either,” she admitted.  “That’s what pissed Naomi off the other night, I think.  I told her that.”

 

“Oh, God, Kieran, you didn’t,” Lenara squeezed her hand.  “No wonder she got mad.”

 

“It was honest.  I wouldn’t lie about something like that.  I still love B'Elanna, too.  It doesn’t mean I can be with her, or that I’d want to.  Naomi needs to learn the fine distinction between love and action.  I think she’s starting to get it.”

 

Lenara stirred the whipped cream into her drink.  “I’m not sure I comprehend the distinction, myself, and I’m a lot older than she is.”

 

“You do understand it,” Kieran insisted.  “It’s what allows us to be as close as we are, right this instant, without any fear,” she posited.  “If you didn’t get it, you’d never let me touch you,” she pointed out.

 

“You’re right,” Lenara agreed.  “I do get it.  And so will she.  It’s just difficult when you’re—what—twenty three?”

 

“Almost as old as you were when you asked me to marry you,” Kieran added.

 

“Really, Kieran, don’t be too hard on her.  She’s so young, and so in love.  The way she looks at you, it’s riveting.”

 

Kieran smiled, thinking of her gorgeous wife.  “She’s something.  I feel every bit as strongly about her, too.”

 

“I noticed.  And I heard,” she needled the Commander.

 

Kieran blushed.  “Yeah?  Well you weren’t exactly singing arias, yourself, Miss Missy.  I heard a couple of pretty loud groans coming from Seven’s room the other night.”

 

Lenara hid her face behind her hand.  “It had been a long time,” she admitted.  “And Seven is very gifted,” she settled on a tasteful description.

 

“You should tell her that.  She thinks she’s inept,” Kieran grinned.

 

“I did tell her that,” she nodded.  “Every time she made love to me,” she chuckled wickedly, “which was several times.”

 

Kieran laughed out loud.  “Damn, I’m so glad for you both.  Seven deserves it.  So do you.”

 

“Thanks,” Lenara let go of Kieran’s hand, glancing at the wall chronometer.  “I have a class.  This has been great.  Let’s do it again, sometime,” she stood to go.

 

Kieran stood with her.  “I’ll walk you there.  Lenara,” her face grew pensive, “will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?  You showed me such a good time on your homeworld, when I visited you there, I feel like I should take you around San Francisco again.  A lot has changed in the past thirteen years.”

 

They walked companionably, arm in arm.  “I’d love that.  I haven’t made many friends here, and I’d appreciate the company.”

 

Kieran squeezed her arm.  “Can I ask you something, at the risk of sounding conceited?”

 

Lenara smiled up at her.  “You’re the least conceited person I’ve ever met. But go ahead and ask,” she returned.

 

“Did your decision to come to Earth, to teach at the Academy, have anything to do with my returning to the Alpha Quadrant?” she asked softly, holding her breath and stopping them in the corridor.

 

Lenara seriously considered dissembling, but the frankness of Kieran’s inquiry compelled her to be truthful.  “Yes,” she replied, eyes averted.  “I thought you were divorced.  I didn’t know about Naomi until you got back and the media showed footage of you with her at your court dedication ceremony.  The announcer called her your fiancée.  So I never contacted you.”

 

“But why not, honey?  Do you think I’d have been any less happy to see you?”  Kieran lifted her chin with gentle fingers.  “Lenara, I never stopped thinking about you or worrying about you.”

 

Lenara met her eyes reluctantly.  “I was afraid to see you again, Kieran.”

 

Kieran laughed, hugging her.  “And am I so scary, now?” she teased, touching Lenara’s face.

 

“Yes,” Lenara closed her eyes.

 

“Does it help to know that you scare me more?” Kieran asked seriously, her voice barely a whisper.

 

Lenara searched her face for teasing, for deceit.   “I think it does help,” she admitted, her sea green eyes softening.  “I’d like to think—”

 

“Think what, cha’on?” Kieran prompted, throat aching.

 

“That the most significant relationship of my life meant something to you, too,” she said quietly, gaze downcast again.

 

Kieran pressed her lips to Lenara’s temple, felt the old, familiar pain assert itself, was suddenly back in the Delta Quadrant, barely twenty-three years old, lost and forlorn and frightened, missing her beloved.  “My beautiful Lenara,” she whispered against her skin,  “it took six years for me to let myself love anyone again.  I couldn’t stop seeing your eyes in my mind.  I couldn’t stop wanting you in my arms, in my bed.  I could hear your voice in my dreams, taste your lips, feel your body.  All I ever wanted to do back then was sleep, because it meant I could be with you.  Of course it meant something to me.”

 

Lenara breathed with her, feeling her love, her longing, her pain.  “You’re right, love.  You did wait too long.  I never wanted you to suffer over me.”

 

“Would you believe me if I said I’m honestly grateful for the experience?  Not just because you loved me, and I was so proud, but because I learned important lessons, lessons I eventually needed so that I could love Naomi,” she realized.  “I needed to understand what it’s like to love someone so desperately, you’d choose to die rather than be apart from them.  And believe me, Lenara, oh, God, I wanted to die.  I couldn’t bear knowing I would never hold you again, never be your wife, never wake up to those incredible eyes again.  If I hadn’t learned what that feels like, I would never have been able to forgive Naomi for wanting to die when she couldn’t have me.”

 

Lenara stepped out of Kieran’s arms, gazing up at her.  “Forgive her?  You mean when she stole the cortical stimulators?”

 

“Ah, so Seven did tell you everything,” Kieran smiled.  

 

They turned away and walked toward Lenara’s building, moving quickly to keep her from being late.  “What time, tomorrow?” she stopped outside the doorway.

Kieran stood with her, hugging her.  “After basketball practice—say 1730?  I’ll contact you with the details.   Take care of yourself, sweetie.”

 

Lenara stood on her tiptoes to kiss Kieran’s cheek.  “You, too.”

 

__________________

 

Lenara Kahn wore a pale blue scoop neck cashmere sweater over a white silk tank top, the sweater cut broadly enough on the shoulders that her Trill markings showed provocatively down the back of her neck to her shoulders.  Kieran Wildman was nearly speechless when she walked into the restaurant to meet the older woman.  Kieran had to admit she had dressed to impress also, her black tailored slacks much dressier than Lenara’s blue jeans, but Lenara had the corner on the sexy market.  Kieran wore a white tab-collar blouse with purple and black pin stripes, unbuttoned to her breast bone, accentuated by the necklace Naomi had given her.

 

They met in the doorway, hugging and kissing hello, both relieved that the other had come.   When the waiter seated them, Lenara made Kieran tell her everything about the spatial rift she had been lost in.  They split a bottle of Zanco’s best chianti, shared each other’s pasta, trading bites, and unconsciously achieved an intimacy over dinner that might not have seemed appropriate to a bystander.  Their chemistry still worked, their friendship was still strong, and they found so much to discuss, so many things to share.

 

Kieran told Lenara all about her team, about her recruiting, about the Speaker’s Bureau.  “You know, we’re taking the Bureau to Florida this Friday, to a high school in Boca Raton.  It would be a huge boon to the Academy if you came too, because the class is an Astronomy class.  Then I’m going to go visit my parents.  Naomi is coming with the Bureau and so is Seven.  The four of us could spend the afternoon together, and then you and Seven and I could go to see my folks,” Kieran suggested.

 

“Kieran,” Lenara lay her hand over the larger woman’s.  “Seven and I aren’t seeing each other.  I told her last night, with great difficulty, that I don’t want to get in any deeper until she is clear on her position with Kathryn.  I asked her if she knows whether or not she’s going to end things, and Seven said she doesn’t know.  So I’m not going to date her unless she and Kathryn are over,” Lenara explained.

 

“Then I won’t ask Seven to go with us to Naples.  It’ll just be you and me,” Kieran shrugged.  “Will you come and see the manatee preserve?”

 

Lenara smiled.  “Your wife is going to let you and me run off together for the weekend?” she quirked an eyebrow.

 

“It’s not like that, honey.  Naomi has a Velocity match in Kansas on Saturday.  She can’t go, and she knows anytime I’m already in Florida, I’m visiting my parents.  She won’t say a word about your going, not after the quarrel we had over the weekend.  Will you?” Kieran’s tone was pleading.

 

Lenara sighed. “Okay, but if your mother causes me bodily harm, I’ll hold you personally responsible,” Lenara joked.

__________________

 

If Naomi Wildman objected to the idea of sending her wife off alone with Kieran’s former fiancée, she said nothing in protest.  Kieran took that to mean Naomi was feeling better about things, less threatened.  They parted at the transporter station in Boca Raton, kissing goodbye for long moments, Kieran holding the Ktarian warmly.

 

“Good luck in your match tomorrow, sweetie,” she said to her lover.  “I’m so proud of you.  You’re going to make the All-American Team, I just know it,” she enthused.

 

Naomi gazed up at her, capturing her lips once more.  “I hope you don’t interpret my not making a fuss about this weekend as being tantamount to my turning my back,” she said worriedly.

 

“Na,” Kieran scolded, “it’s a harmless trip to visit my parents.  My parents adore you.  They actually approve of you.  They’ll be watching me like a hawk, I promise,” she grinned.  “Don’t fret.  Enjoy your time away from me.  It’s so rare you get a whole weekend to yourself,” she pointed out.

 

“Give my love to them both, honey,” she hugged Kieran tightly. “I love you, Kieran Wildman,” she threw in her married name for good measure.

 

“And I love you, my chosen,” she whispered against Naomi’s cheek.  “See you in practice on Monday.”

 

Naomi waved uncertainly as she vanished on the transporter pad.

 

Kieran turned to Lenara.  “Ready to go face Dad and the Dragonlady?” she quipped, taking Lenara’s hand and helping her onto the platform. 

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be.  Don’t let your mother rip me up, okay?” she asked softly.

 

“Never, cha’on,” Kieran assured her, keying the controls.

 

__________________

 

Dinner at the Thompson’s was as simple as fare comes, with fruit and salad and grilled tuna burgers.  Gerry and Violet were more than a little astonished to find Lenara Kahn with Kieran, and kept exchanging puzzled and worried looks.

 

Gerry was genuinely glad to see the doctor, but Violet was not so willing to let bygones be bygones.  She remembered all too well that Lenara had argued over the memorial service for Kieran, because Kieran had not been religious in any way, and Violet wanted a proper church funeral.  In the end, Lenara had given in, though she knew Kieran would have been appalled by it.

 

Kieran kept the chatter going, however, so the conversation never became uncomfortable.  Gerry grilled Lenara over her recent research, hashed out the basketball team’s rotations with his daughter, and kept them entertained with tales of the manatees’ comings and goings.

 

“Daddy, we want to swim with them after dinner,” Kieran enthused.  “Is that okay?”

 

“Sure, Starfish.  Your mother and I want to show you something, anyway.  I’ve had my fill.  How about you, Vi?” he chucked his wife under the chin.

 

“I’m done.  Let me clear the table and we can go,” she started to gather dishes.

 

Lenara stood to assist, grabbing utensils and plates.  “Let me help,” she offered.

 

Violet didn’t answer, shoving things into the recycler methodically.

 

The four adults wandered down the long pier together after Kieran and Lenara had changed into their suits and found rebreathers.  Gerry called for Bessie and Babar, and before long, the behemoths came lumbering through the salty water of the preserve.  When they entered the preserve through the dock gate, they came to a new formal entrance, which had recently been erected to take tickets from the paying public. Kieran saw that a memorial plaque had been placed beside the iron door.

 

“The Cassidy Thompson Memorial Manatee Preserve”, the bronze plate said.  Kieran ran her fingers over the warm metal, over the likeness of her sister pressed into the plate.  She felt her chest constrict, thinking of Cass, and how much she would have loved being part of this marine wonder.

 

Kieran gathered her parents, one under each powerful arm, hugging them.  “It’s perfect, you guys.  I love it.”

 

“We’re going to have a formal dedication.  The Governor is going to come,” Violet reported.  “Can you make it?”

 

“Send me the details, Mom, and if I don’t have anything already scheduled, I’ll be there,” Kieran promised.  She kissed her mother’s cheek.  “Cassidy would’ve been so proud.”

 

“Not as proud as she would’ve been of your statue,” Gerry pointed out honestly.  “She always did take more pride in your accomplishments than her own,” he said hoarsely.

 

“We both did, Daddy,” Kieran agreed.  “I never felt like anything I did was all that important.  But Cass was something special.”

 

“Honey,” he assured her, “you were both special—you still are.  Your Mom and I love you, Starfish.  We just miss her so much,” he added.

 

They gazed at the memorial awhile, then Kieran remembered Lenara.  “Hey, you,” she pulled out of her parents arms.  “Come take a look at this.  You were going to be part of this family, once.  You escaped by the skin of your teeth,” she teased, “lucky you.”

 

Lenara gazed up at her sincerely.  “I wanted to be part of your family, Kieran.  I would’ve considered it a privilege.”

 

___________________

 

Lenara Kahn scrubbed the salty water from her hair as she and Kieran walked back to the Thompson’s house, talking and holding hands.  They entered the front door, fingers still entwined, discussing Bessie and laughing at her grace in spite of her corpulence. 

 

Violet Thompson looked at them with utter disapproval.

 

“Mom?” Kieran saw the look.  “What’s wrong?”

 

Violet tucked away her distasteful expression.  “Nothing at all.  Would you like some iced tea?”

 

“Sure,” Kieran agreed.  “Lenara?”

 

“I’d love some,” she nodded.  Her eyes came to rest on a curio shelf in the corner, and she glided over to take a framed photo to study.  “What a lovely picture, Kieran,” she breathed.  “Naomi looks splendid.  So do you,” she took in the wedding picture, both women clad in their white slacks, blue silk blouses and antique lace vests.  They stood together in front of the trellis in the Janeway’s yard, Kieran behind Naomi, contouring the Ktarian’s backside, both arms around her waist.

 

“Mom and Dad have the whole set of wedding pictures,” Kieran mentioned.  “They liked this one best, I guess.”

 

“Yes,” Violet called from the kitchen.  “Let me show them to you, Lenara,” she offered with the most hospitable tone she’d used all evening.

 

Violet planted herself between Kieran and Lenara on the couch, unfolding the photo album to show Lenara the plethora of shots that commemorated Kieran and Naomi’s wedding day, from the beginning to the end.  Lenara was especially pleased by the pictures of Will and Deanna, Jean-Luc and Beverly, Guinan and Geordi and Worf, as she had fond memories of her friends from Enterprise. 

 

“This one is breathtaking, Kieran,” she touched the protective sleeve of the album, studying the pose.  Naomi stood gazing confidently up at Kieran, holding her hands, reciting her vows, and Kieran listened with rapt attention, tears in her eyes as Naomi spoke her heart.

 

“Naomi was saying her vows to me, there,” Kieran said softly.  “I should contact her, make sure she got home safely.  Excuse me,” she eased off the couch and went to her father’s workstation, closing the door behind her.

 

“They’re very happy together,” Violet said for Lenara’s benefit.  “Gerry and I have never seen Kieran this well loved, or so devoted to anyone,” she twisted the thorn.  “Naomi is a delight, and such a lovely young woman.  She clearly thinks Kieran is the source of all that is good in the world.”

 

Lenara ignored the not so subtle digs, smiling instead.  “She is beautiful, and Kieran is very lucky.”

 

“You’ve never married, even after all the years Kieran was lost in the Delta Quadrant?” she asked pointedly.

 

“No, I never have.  Kieran was the only one for me, apparently,” Lenara admitted.  “I hope she and Naomi and I can all be good friends.”

 

Violet fixed her with a discerning glare.  “What are you doing here, Lenara?  Traveling with a married woman, to her family’s home, no less?” she tried to temper her tone.

 

“Kieran invited me, so I came.  I don’t see anything wrong in being her friend.  She’s friends with B'Elanna, after all,” Lenara defended herself.

 

“B'Elanna has a partner.  And B'Elanna doesn’t look at Kieran like you do.  Mind your manners, Dr. Kahn.  The last thing my daughter needs after the year she’s been through is for you to muddy the water.  It’s obvious she feels guilty for what happened to you.  Guilt is her most dominant personality trait.  It would be easy for you to play on it to get what you want,” she bit her words off.

 

“I would never—” Lenara began indignantly, just as Kieran came back into the living room.

 

Violet reached up for her hand.  “How is Naomi, honey?” she asked sweetly.

 

“Missing me, it seems.  Seven will keep her busy, though.  She’s leaving for University of Kansas first thing in the morning.  Big Velocity tournament.  Naomi is favored to win.  She’s undefeated, so far,” Kieran bragged on her wife.

 

“Good for her,” Violet patted Kieran’s hand.  “Is she as good as you were?”

 

Kieran laughed, a great, booming laugh.  “Way better, Mom.  I beat her one in ten times, if I’m lucky.  She’s astounding.  And she’s getting so much better at hoops, too.  I’m very proud of her,” she smiled fondly.

 

She turned to Lenara, whose expression was stormy as a thundercloud.  “Let’s go walk on the beach, Lenara.  There’s going to be a full moon tonight.  Tigertail is gorgeous at night,” she sighed happily.

 

Lenara was only too glad to leave the house, the angry retort still hanging on the tip of her tongue.

 

________________


The ghostly white sand of Marco Island shone in the moonlight, their toes sifting through it as they strolled along in the balmy air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Kieran had her arm around Lenara’s shoulders, guiding her toward the water’s edge.

 

“I’m so glad you came with me, sweetie,” she kissed Lenara’s temple as they walked.  “I want to really get to know you again.  I want to know everything.  Tell me all about Jadzia,” she invited.  “And every lover since then.”

 

Lenara smirked.  “You make it sound like there’s an exhaustive list,” she chuckled, but obliged by telling the tall Commander about everyone memorable or important.  In all, the list was short, and Lenara ended each segment of her life by saying “but it didn’t work out.” 

 

She made Kieran reciprocate by telling her all about her relationships on Voyager, before B'Elanna.  Kieran laughed.  “I wouldn’t call any of those situations relationships,” she advised the Trill.  “For starters, I never stopped wearing your engagement ring, until I got sexually involved with B'Elanna.  I dated, Lenara, but I wasn’t prepared to let anyone get close to me, not after you.  I had such hopes, such dreams for us.  Everything had come to us with such difficulty, and such agony, just to find our way to each other, and I just couldn’t accept that we couldn’t be together.  I was sick over it.”

 

“So I gathered.  I listened to the songs you wrote.  They were lovely, Kieran, but so heartbreaking.  You could see the progression in them over time, though, from desolation to more of a fond recollection.  I’ll treasure them always,” she smiled up at her former lover.  “Thank you for sharing them with me.”

 

“I always intended to, even if Voyager never got home.  I would’ve eventually sent them as sound files over subspace.  They may not have been great works of music, but they were sincere.”

 

“What made you give them to me?”  she asked softly, slipping her hand into Kieran’s.

 

“What I said the other day.  I wanted you to know how much I really did love you.  I regretted, for years and years, that I hadn’t just resigned my commission back when you asked me to on Trill.  We could have married and avoided all this heartache.  I knew then I had blown it, that I let my wounds from Robin Lefler frighten me out of doing what I should have done, but I forced myself to walk away from you.  I’m sorry, Lenara.  I hope you’ve forgiven me,” she murmured, voice catching.

 

“My love,” Lenara squeezed her hand.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  We had no idea what was going to happen, no way of seeing that we’d be torn from each other that way.  And honestly, Kieran, I don’t think it would have lasted if you’d resigned your commission.  You wouldn’t have been happy, in the long run, living on Trill and working with me.  It was like you said.  Wormholes were my passion, not yours.  And look how it all turned out, anyway.  You have a child, a wife, amazing friends, stories to tell your grandchildren.  And you still have me, after all,” she promised her former betrothed.

 

“Do I, shar cha’on?” Kieran stopped to take both her hands.  “Because I so want you in my life.  I love you, as much as I ever did then.”

 

Lenara was moved at Kieran’s use of the Trill term of endearment, gratified that Kieran recalled something of her native language.  “And I love you, shar Be’thal.  More than I ever did then,” she affirmed softly.

 

Kieran pressed her lips to Lenara’s forehead.  “My beautiful Lenara,” she whispered.  Le’sharon, let’s promise to never lose each other again.”

 

Lenara closed her eyes against the rush of emotion.  “I promise, sweetie.”

 

 

They spread a blanket on the sand to watch the moon rising higher into the night sky, Lenara seated with Kieran behind her, Kieran’s arms around the Trill’s torso. 

 

“Am I keeping you warm enough?” Kieran asked gently, thinking the evening breeze off the ocean was a bit damp and cool.

 

“Mmmm,” Lenara leaned back against her intimately.  “I’m very comfortable.  You always did have a way of surrounding my body, sheltering it.  It used to confound me, how a woman so big could be so tender, so graceful.  I’ve always loved that dichotomy in you.”  She sighed contentedly.  “Your mother lit into me while you were speaking with Naomi,” she supplied fretfully.

 

Kieran stiffened.  “What did she say?”

 

“She questioned my motives, made a point of telling me how happy you are with Naomi, told me it was improper to be traveling with a married woman.  She said you’ve had such a hard year, you don’t need me muddying the waters,” Lenara reported.

 

“That woman can be so rude,” Kieran started to leave.  “I’m going to finally tell her off, once and for all,” she snarled.

 

“No, Kieran, don’t go,” Lenara pulled her back down on the blanket.  “This is so nice, and I don’t care what she thinks of me.  She’s not my mother-in-law, after all.  Naomi has to put up with her now.  Finally, I can see one good reason not to be married to you,” she laughed.  “I never could figure out why she hated me so much.”

 

“Hard to guess,” Kieran admitted.  “I imagine she’s intimidated by your intellect, and when we got engaged, she thought I was too young, and she blamed you for that.  Mostly, she probably just associates the memory of my being MIA with you.  Nothing fair about it.”

 

“But she adores Naomi?” Lenara asked.

 

Kieran nodded.  “I think that’s partly because Naomi was so sick when we got home, and seeing her dying, vulnerable, and seeing me so torn up over it, it got to Mom.  She couldn’t harden her heart to Na, like she’s done to everyone else I’ve ever brought to their home.  Naomi is very skilled at knowing how to soft-sell my parents, too.  She’s very intuitive with people.”

 

“She was really okay about my coming here with you?” Lenara asked quietly.

 

“She’s trying to be, but I know she’s struggling with it.  It’s natural, Lenara.  She’s so young and so inexperienced with relationships, of course she’s going to falter.  I accept that, and I’ll get us both through it.  But she has to learn to trust me, because I’m not going to turn my back on a perfectly wonderful friendship to protect her unfounded fears,” Kieran was vehement.

 

“Are you happy, sweetie?” she asked, voice nearly a whisper.

 

Kieran sighed.  “I don’t see her nearly enough, that’s for sure.  If she weren’t on my team, we’d go weeks at a time, sometimes.  I’m not happy about that.  I’m strong, but after my experience of being ripped away from you, I don’t do well with separation.  Otherwise, the relationship is all I could ask for.  Naomi is smart and talented and loving.  And we’ve been through absolute hell together.  That makes the bond irrevocable, in my heart.”

 

Lenara squeezed the arms locked around her, smiling.  “I’m glad you’re happy.  It would be too difficult to see you with someone who didn’t nurture and sustain you.”

 

“You’re trembling, Nara,” Kieran realized.  She gathered the smaller woman into her lap, cradling her.  “Put your arms around my neck, and hold tight.  I’ll be a wind break for you.”

 

Lenara grinned.  “I’d forgotten how easily you dwarf me,” she laughed.  “You’re the only person I’ve ever known that could hold me suspended against a wall to make love to me,” she hugged Kieran’s neck.

 

Kieran couldn’t suppress a shiver.  “I’d forgotten about that.  In the shower,” she murmured, her body tingling at the recollection.  She wrapped her hands around Lenara’s tiny waist, encircling it completely.  “Still dainty as ever,” she smiled warmly at her companion.  She inadvertently rested her fingertips in the small of Lenara’s back, where her Trill markings were dense and ennervated, lightly rubbing the muscles.

 

Lenara closed her eyes, swallowing hard.  “What are you doing, Kieran?” her voice cracked.

 

“Holding you in my lap,” Kieran replied enigmatically. 

 

“With your hands?” Lenara shuddered involuntarily, the arousal insistent and immediate.  She nuzzled Kieran’s throat, kissing the articulation of her jawline and neck, breathing warmly over the flesh.

 

Kieran arched into the sensation, gasping.  “Lenara,” she said sternly, easing her away.  “You know that’s not a safe thing to do,” she scolded.

 

“Neither is it safe for you to touch my spots in such a blatant manner,” Lenara protested defensively.

 

Kieran’s face fell.  “I was?  I did?  Oh, shit, I’m sorry, I—God, I’d forgotten, honey,” she wailed.  “Please forgive me.  It was completely unconscious, I swear,” she promised.

 

Lenara smiled wickedly.  “I know.  I’m sorry for calling you on it so physically.  I just thought you should have to feel some of what you were making me feel.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll be careful.  Point taken.”  She shook her head, grinning ruefully.  “Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to fall into old patterns?  I mean, after thirteen years, my hands just automatically went to your tenderest places.  I guess I’d better pay more attention to myself, huh?” she laughed.

 

“I guess so, Commander.  I think it’s late, and we should go back to your parents’, before they think we’re out making love on the beach.  I know your mother thinks I’m chasing you.”

 

Kieran waggled her eyebrows in the moonlight.  “You already caught me once.  I’m sure your taste has improved since the first fishing expedition.”

 

___________________

 

Naomi Wildman could not sleep.  She had never been in her San Francisco home’s bed without Kieran.  The quad had smaller beds, and Naomi didn’t feel so lost in them.  But here, the bed was big enough for Kieran’s six foot plus stature, and Naomi felt swallowed up in the vastness of the mattress.  She tossed and turned all evening, thinking about Kieran and Lenara.  Would they sleep in separate rooms?  Bunk in Kieran’s old bed?  Fall asleep in the floor talking? 

 

When Naomi was a child on Voyager, she had slept with Kieran on many occasions.  Kieran loved to cuddle, and Naomi imagined that Lenara Kahn was lying in Kieran’s arms at that very moment.  Naomi got out of bed and got a drink of water.  She sat on the edge of the bed, then got back up, heading downstairs.  Only the week before, she and Kieran were screaming at each other at this hour.  And Seven was overhearing them fighting over Lenara Kahn.

 

What was so dark and disturbing about that engagement, that relationship, that she kept me from seeing it when Sieken joined us?  Why didn’t she ever tell me about it?

 

Naomi sighed, resolutely went back up the stairs, and hesitated outside Seven’s door.

 

“Naomi Wildman,” the Borg’s voice called out.  “Get in here.”

 

Naomi sheepishly opened the french doors to Seven’s room.  “What, Mom?” she sounded annoyed, standing in the frame of soft backlighting puddling in the doorway, hands on her hips.

 

“You have been up and down the stairs four times.  Now come here and tell me what’s wrong,” she ordered her daughter, holding up the edge of the covers.

 

Naomi obediently crawled into Seven’s bed, snuggling into Borg-enhanced arms.  “I miss her,” she murmured.

 

“I know, sweetie.  She is exactly like this through the week, when you’re at the quad.  Some nights, she doesn’t sleep at all, I think.”

 

“Truly, Mom?” Naomi sounded hopeful.

 

“Yes, truly.  Kieran misses you terribly when you’re away.  She is trying so hard to give you the experience you deserve at the Academy, without regard to what she wants or needs.  I envy you for having a love like hers,” Seven added faintly, stroking Naomi’s strawberry blonde hair.

 

Naomi sighed wistfully.  “I’m trying to be okay with her friendship with Lenara, but—”

 

“But you see the continued love and attraction between them and it makes you feel lessened in Kieran’s eyes,” Seven said for her. 

 

“You see it too—it’s not just my imagination?” Naomi sounded so small.

 

“It is not your imagination,” Seven confirmed gently.  “However, Kieran chose you long ago, and she will honor that commitment.  And so will Lenara.  Lenara broke up with me precisely because I have emotional attachments to your mother.  She is an honorable woman, to choose not what she wants, but what she perceives as the best thing for me.  She is much like your wife in that regard,” she advised her child.

 

“Should I go to Florida when my tournament is over tomorrow?” Naomi asked softly.

 

“I think you would be making an obvious accusation that you do not trust Kieran, if you go.  You should follow through with your plans as if Kieran were at her parents’ house without Lenara there.  Nothing more,” Seven counseled.

 

Naomi bit her lip.  “Okay, you’re right.  Can I sleep with you tonight?”

 

Seven smiled, kissing Naomi’s hair.  “I was hoping you would, sweetie.”

 

___________________

 

 

Naomi Wildman put away her phaser, wiped the sweat from her brow with a hand towel, and zipped her gym bag closed. She had been distracted throughout the Velocity match, worrying about Lenara Kahn, wondering exactly what the sleeping arrangements had been at her in-laws.  She had lost the match badly, unable to focus on her objective for fear over her marriage.

 

Try though she might to convince herself Kieran Wildman was trustworthy, a nagging sense of dread plagued her.  Naomi had been in exactly one relationship in her life, and it left a paltry dearth of experience to draw upon in understanding and assessing such situations.  She tried to decide how painfully obvious it would be to go to Florida now, to show up unannounced.  She fought the urge, knowing Kieran would be suspicious of her motives, and might take offense to Naomi's insecurity.  Seven had advised against it, after all.   Naomi was torn between her misgivings and her desire to show faith in Kieran, but something about Lenara Kahn just rocked the Ktarian to the core.

 

Naomi decided against showing up in Florida, and instead went back to San Francisco, and over to B'Elanna and Noah's.

 

B'Elanna answered the door, startled that Naomi would suddenly appear without calling first.  “Wildwoman,” she said, immediately worried,  “you don't look so good.  Get in here,” the Klingon insisted.

 

She ushered the young woman inside, seating her in their living room which was littered with toys.  Katie sat in the floor, having a tea party with her dolls and Noah.   Noah was being served cookies and invisible tea, and wearing a fancy lady's hat to humor his lover's daughter.

 

“Nice hat, NoGame,” Naomi teased him.   “Lanna, can we talk for a minute?” she asked plaintively.

 

B'Elanna took the younger woman into the kitchen. “Of course.  Something must be wrong, from that look you're wearing.  What's happened?” She set about getting glasses of iced tea for them both, sitting down at the kitchen table with Naomi.

 

“What do you know about Lenara Kahn?” Naomi asked hesitantly.

 

“The wormhole expert?  I know she's teaching at the Academy, and she's the most respected authority on wormholes, spatial anomalies, and the like.  And Seven had a date with her last weekend.  Why?” she sipped her tea, studying the Ktarian’s eyes.

 

“Kieran never told you she was engaged to Dr. Kahn?” Naomi asked, somehow more upset that B'Elanna had also never known about Lenara.

 

B'Elanna's eyes widened.  “No.  When?”

 

“When Kieran was transferred to Voyager.  Lenara proposed to her the week before Voyager went after the Maquis. Kieran said yes.  And then they didn't see each other again. Until Seven's date.  Kieran is with Lenara in Florida, right now, visiting her parents,” she reported miserably.

 

B'Elanna sipped her tea thoughtfully, her eyes darkening.  “Why would she not tell me about something so important?  She was going to marry the woman, but she didn't mention it anytime in our relationship?  That's just—bizarre.  Noah!  Come here, please,” she called to her boyfriend.  “Let’s see what he knows,” she muttered.  “Kieran tells him everything.”

 

Noah removed his elegant hat and joined the women in the kitchen, helping himself to a seat. “What's up, sweetie?” he leaned over and kissed B'Elanna’s cheek.

 

“Did KT ever tell you she was engaged when she came aboard Voyager?” she asked, frowning.

 

“Yes,” he admitted. “She wouldn't talk about it, though.  All she ever said was that she got engaged the week before Voyager left Earth, that it was a whirlwind romance, and that it hurt too much to even think about it, let alone explain it to me.  She wouldn't tell me who the woman was, or talk through why it was so devastating.  She also said that if she told me who she was, I'd never believe it anyway.  I pressed her, but she refused to tell me anymore than that.  Oh, and she did mention that she had to undergo extensive anti-depressant therapy. That's why the subject even came up—she was considering putting one of her patients on anti-depressants, and debating with herself, because she said she knew how hard it was to accept that kind of intervention when the EMH mandated it for her,” he explained.

 

B'Elanna shook her head.  “I can't believe she never said a word to me.  Noah, she was engaged to Lenara Kahn.”

 

Noah whistled. “Damn.  She's right, I would have never believed her.  Kieran?  With a genius?  Na, what's going on?  Why is all this coming out now?”

 

Naomi looked up at him with a tortured expression.  “Kieran is in Florida with Lenara.”

 

Noah digested that bit of information.  “Shit,” he said softly.

 

“Would you be worried, if you were me?” Naomi directed the question to B'Elanna.

 

B'Elanna smirked.  “You're asking me?  The jealousy queen?  But Na, this is Kieran we're talking about.  After all the crap she's been through with other people hurting her, I don't think she'd ever—but Lenara Kahn!  Damn, I can't get over that.”

 

“She's beautiful,” Naomi put in, her anguish evident.  “And funny, and Kieran said she's good in bed, too.  Should I be running to Florida to meet up with them?”

 

“I sure as hell would be,” B'Elanna affirmed.

 

“No,” Noah disagreed.  “Kieran expects you to trust her implicitly.  If you go off to protect your territory, Kieran will know that's what you're doing, and she'll be pissed off.  Do you think for a second she'd do anything with another woman?  Honestly Na?  After all she went through to marry you?  I mean, come on, she turned her whole world on its ear for your relationship,” he tried to be persuasive.   “I don't think you have a thing to worry about, and I think you'd better put up a good front, even if you are worried,” he advised the Ktarian.

 

Naomi drank her tea, considering his counsel.  “I just don't understand why she wouldn't have told me.  That's what has me scared.  What is it about that woman that she thought she had to hide the fact of their relationship from me?” she asked fretfully.

 

“All I know is just mentioning it to me made her get pretty choked up,” Noah recalled.  “It was obviously very raw for her.”

 

“When did she tell you about it?” Naomi needed to know.

 

“When she and Lanna split and she moved in with me.”

 

“So it's been that recent, and it still had the power to upset her profoundly,” Naomi concluded.  “After—what—ten years?”

 

Noah nodded.  “That'd be about right.  It would have been ten years at that point.  Damn, that's a long time to carry a torch for someone and have it still hurt so much.  That must have been some relationship,” he sounded awed.

 

B'Elanna gave him a swift kick under the table.

 

“But not compared to what you guys have, Na,” he amended hastily.  “Kieran risked everything for you.  She lost a lot of friends and went through such hell when we all thought you were dying.  Honey,” he lay his hand over Naomi’s, “I think you shouldn’t assume that she was necessarily hiding the fact of that relationship from you.  It’s possible it just hurt too much to share it, or to talk about it, even to you.  Maybe she’s been hiding it from herself,” he posited.

 

“B'Elanna,” Naomi's mind was working in overdrive, “did Voyager's computer logs get downloaded to the central database when they put Voyager in retrofit?”

 

B'Elanna shook her head.  “Didn't you hear? They didn’t send her for retrofit at all.  They've decided to make a museum out of the ship, and leave it in orbit. It's still intact.  Why?”

 

“Can I use your workstation to uplink?” she asked, her tone desperate.

 

“Sure.  Come on, it's in the bedroom.”  B'Elanna led Naomi to the back of the house, giving her access to the terminal.

 

Naomi logged in and found the index of holodeck programs.  Nothing.  Then she went into the underlying memory indeces and saw that there were several programs Kieran had erased, notably, Lenara1 through Lenara5. B'Elanna hovered over her shoulder, watching.

 

“Wildwoman,” she said in a warning tone, “I don't think you'd better be thinking what I'm sure you're thinking. It's an invasion of privacy, and Kieran would be furious. Are you out of your mind?”

 

“Probably,” Naomi agreed. “Are you coming with me, or not?”

 

“Those programs were erased,” B'Elanna pointed out.

 

“And you and I can recover them, together,” Naomi gazed up at her former mentor. 

 

“Are you bucking to get drummed out of school on your ass?” B' Elanna demanded.  “Because if we get caught—”

 

“We won't,” Naomi insisted.  “I have to know what's in those programs.”

 

“Then leave me out of it, Naomi.  I can't.  I've barely got Kieran's trust, now.  I'm not going to sacrifice it to your paranoia.  And I'm telling you, you'll be sorry if you do this and she finds out.  I found out the hard way with her that once you cross a certain line, there's no going back.  This could very well be the line for her, with you.  Don’t blow it,” she urged the younger woman.  “Sleep on it, at least.  Don’t run off half-cocked.  You’d be better off just going to Florida and humiliating yourself by admitting you don’t trust her, than to break into her private cache of memories.  Na, this is like—like—reading someone’s personal logs,” she reasoned.

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’ll give it some thought,” she agreed.  “I just—damn, Lanna, this is so hard,” she bit her lip, frustrated.  “The way Kieran looked at Lenara yesterday, the way she never takes her eyes off the woman.  It shook me up.  And Lenara—well, hell, who wouldn’t want Kieran right back?” she asked faintly.

 

B'Elanna sighed.  “Na,” she rubbed her shoulders consolingly, “don’t give her a reason to want to leave you.  Believe me, you’ll never stop regretting it.  I haven’t.  No matter how much I love Noah, how happy I am with him, I still miss her, and it makes me crazy knowing how badly I hurt her.  You need to be the one person who never hurts her, sweetie.  She needs you to be that for her,” she counseled.

 

Naomi lay her hands over B'Elanna’s, which were resting on the Ktarian’s shoulders.  “Thanks for listening, Lanna.  I just had to talk to someone.”

 

B'Elanna pulled her out of the chair, hugging her.  “Na, Kieran and I told you a long time ago, we’d always be there for you.  Just because she and I are divorced doesn’t mean that’s changed.  I still love you, Wildwoman, and I always will.”

 

Naomi held fast to her, grateful for the words of encouragement.  “I love you, too,” she murmured.  “I’m sorry to have barged in here unannounced.”

 

“You don’t need to be announced,” B'Elanna assured her, walking her to the door.  “Go home. Play your piano.  You’ll feel a lot better.  And don’t do anything stupid.”

 

Naomi nodded, easing out the door into the afternoon light.

 

___________________

 

“K-Mom,” Naomi Wildman had hailed her mother.  “I need permission to go to the holodeck on Voyager,” she requested.

 

“What for, sweetie?” Kathryn smiled from her father’s study in Indiana, voice crystal clear over the comm link.

 

“I wanted to run a piloting simulation.  You know, I’m really struggling with my certification.  The flight sims on campus are usually booked.  Can you give me clearance?” she asked hopefully.

 

“Of course I can.  I’ll log it on an uplink,” she replied warmly.  “On one condition,” she added.

 

“What?” Naomi smiled.

 

“You have to come see me in the next two weeks, or let me come see you.  I miss you,” Kathryn said sincerely.

 

“Of course,” Naomi nodded eagerly.  “I love you, Mom.  Thanks.”

 

“Hey, how’d the match go this morning?” Kathryn already knew, having checked the Academy news ticker.

 

Naomi frowned slightly.  “I got my ass kicked.  I just didn’t have the edge, today.”

 

“It happens,” Kathryn appraised her with a discerning look.  “Is everything okay?”

 

“Sure.  Why do you ask?”  Naomi tried not to fidget with anxiety.

 

“You just seem tense.  Is Kieran okay?” she asked.  She turned from the screen, holding out her arms. “Come say hello to your sister, sweetie,” she scooped Geejay into her lap.

 

“Hi, Na,” Geejay waved and smiled.

 

“Hi, sweetie,” Naomi returned.  “Kieran is fine.  But Mom, you and Kieran—did you ever talk about Lenara Kahn?”

 

“The wormhole doctor?  No, why?” Kathryn hugged Geejay, then set her in the floor again.

 

“Kieran never told you she was engaged to Lenara, when Voyager got lost?” Naomi clarified.

 

Kathryn’s eyes widened.  “No, she didn’t.  That’s a juicy tidbit to leave out, don’t you think?” she puzzled over it.  “But then, by the time Kieran and I got close, Voyager had been lost over six years.  I’d given up on Mark Johnson long before then.  Maybe Kieran didn’t think it was relevant, anymore.”

 

“Maybe.  I met Lenara last weekend.  Kieran finally told me the whole background.  I thought it was very odd she never mentioned it.  I guess I’m preoccupied by that, and that’s why I seem tense,” she explained.

 

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it, Na.  Kieran thinks the universe begins and ends at your feet.  And she promised me she would always put your needs before her own, and I believe her.  You go do your piloting practice, and don’t give it another thought.  That’s an order, Cadet.”

 

Naomi grinned.  “Aye, Captain.  Wildman out.”

 

 

____________________

 

 

While Naomi Wildman was busy restoring Kieran’s deleted programs, Kieran Wildman sat on the bow of her father and mother’s sloop, wind in her face, talking to Lenara Kahn about the workings of sailboats.  Her dad was an excellent navigator, and Kieran loved to be on the open water with him.  She spelled him at the helm periodically, relearning her own skills.  Piloting the small sloop on Qian had been one thing, but this was a much larger vessel, and it took skill and strength and timing. 

 

“Starfish,” he called out to his daughter, “I need a break.  Come captain this beast,” he laughed. 

 

Kieran obediently excused herself from the bow, leaving Lenara to gaze out over the ocean waves, letting the salt air refresh her senses, trying hard to ignore the glares coming from Kieran’s mother.

 

“Daddy,” Kieran said in his ear, “would you tell Mom to stop with the evil eye, already?  She’s being rude,” the taller woman complained.

 

“Honey,” he sighed, “she’s just worried.  What’s going on with you, Kieran?  Where is Naomi? And what are you doing with your ex-fiancée?” he asked, concerned.

 

“Dad, I already told you.  Naomi has a match today.  Lenara and I are friends, and I wanted to spend some time with her.  We have a lot of catching up to do, stuff to rehash.  I left a lot of unanswered questions for her by getting lost in the Delta Quadrant.  And hell, Dad, she’s a great friend.  I love spending time with her again.”

 

“But everything’s okay with you and Naomi?  Because Starfish, the way you and Lenara interact—it’s awfully intimate.”

 

“I’m physical with everyone, Daddy.  Have you ever known me not to hug and touch my friends?” she asked, taking the wheel from him.

 

Gerry thought about it, then shook his head.  “You’re right.  I’m letting your mother get to me.”

 

“Stop worrying, okay?” she kissed his cheek.  “Naomi and I are fine.  I’m fine,” she insisted.  “Thanks for taking us out today.  The water is just spectacular.”

 

Gerry nodded.  “It’s good to have you here.  Lenara, too.  I think I’ll grab a beer and keep her company.  That ought to stiffen your mother’s mainsail,” he chuckled.  

_________________

 

Naomi Wildman finished her computations on the holodeck interface, restoring the erased programs Lenara1 through Lenara5.  She added an algorithm that would make the Lenara Kahn character think she was actually Kieran, instead of recognizing her as a foreign element to the program.  She loaded Lenara1 and activated the controls.

 

She found herself in the Grand Ballroom of the Intergalactic Suites, surrounded by people milling around.  Lenara Kahn was running at her from across the room, and launched herself into Naomi’s arms.  “My love,” Lenara kissed her deeply.  “I had to come, I had to tell you—I  extricated myself from my contract.  It took some wrangling, but I managed to do it without damaging Bejal’s standing with the science ministry, and without falling into disgrace.  It took a long time, or I would have found you sooner,” she said sincerely.  “I love you, Kieran, and I want to be with you.  I wanted to surprise you, and the announcement about your ceremony seemed the perfect time to meet you and your ship,” she took Naomi’s hand and drew her to a table, seating them both.  “But the best part,” she continued, excited and overwhelmed at the sight of her lover, “is I’ve worked out an arrangement with Starfleet to do some of my preliminary wormhole testing on your ship.  I’ve hammered out all the details with Captain Picard, and he was very supportive of my work, just as you said he would be,” she laughed happily. “I’ve worked on this for so long, so we could finally be together,” she enthused.    “Ever since I saw you again on Trill, I knew I had to be with you.  I’ve done nothing since then that wasn’t geared toward making a life we could share,” she said sincerely.  She reached into the pocket of her formfitting silver tunic, slender fingers finding the the delicate gold band hidden there.  “I love you, and I want us to be together, whatever it takes, Kieran.  Will you marry me?” she asked, holding her breath as she placed the gold band in Naomi’s palm.

 

Naomi Wildman swallowed hard, processing the scenario.  Lenara’s proposal to Kieran, preserved as Kieran recalled it, for all eternity.  “Computer, freeze program,” she called out.  The motion and sound of the celebration stopped around her, and she examined the participants in the program, most notably, Lenara Kahn.  A slender, delicate woman, with eyes of an indescribable color-blue and green and gray all mixed uniformly, the angle of the light determining which color seemed to be dominant.  Lovely cheekbones, full lips, a perfect nose, and a smile that lit the atmosphere around her, all framed by the halo of golden-brown hair braided neatly to conceal and to gradually reveal Trill markings.  Naomi touched her face, imagining Kieran kissing her, holding her, making love to her.  “Computer, end program,” she ordered.  “Load Lenara2 and run,” she continued.

 

The image around her resolved and she was aboard a starship, inside a large assembly hall.  Aisles of seats lined the hall, and flowers adorned the front.  Lenara Kahn waited at the front of the rows and rows of people, wearing a wedding gown, holding a bouquet, smiling at Naomi.  The assembled guests looked expectantly at her, and she realized she was supposed to walk down the aisle.  Kieran’s wedding, as she had envisioned it.  Lenara looked dismayed as Naomi approached.

 

“Honey, where is your uniform?” she whispered to Naomi.  “We agreed you’d wear your dress whites,” she urged, face clouding.  “We’ve waited so long, Kieran.  Don’t you want this to be perfect?”

 

“Computer,” Naomi hastily intervened, “end program.  Load and run Lenara3.”

 

The holodeck switched to black and yellow crosshatch, then shimmered into focus on a beach somewhere with a purple ocean.  Lenara Kahn lay on a blanket, sunning herself.  “You’re not dressed for this,” she scolded Naomi.  “Maybe we should just swim naked?” she smiled from beneath the brim of her summer hat, peering up at Naomi.  “You’re quiet, today, my love,” she noted.  “Is something wrong?”

 

“No, nothing,” Naomi replied, taking Lenara’s hand.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be withdrawn.  Lenara, what is the last thing you remember talking to me about?” she asked.

 

“Suicide,” Lenara answered immediately.  “I’m so glad you didn’t do it, Kieran.  I was terribly worried when you left, last time.  According to the program, I’m sensing that was—by the Gods of Mak’ala!” Lenara looked at Naomi in disbelief.  “That was ten years ago,” she sounded dismayed.  “Is your ship still lost?”

 

“No,” Naomi assured her.  “We made it home.  That’s why I haven’t come back to see you in so long.”

 

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t depressurize the Cargo Bay, now?” she asked softly, squeezing Naomi’s hand.

 

“Did I say that I was going to?” Naomi’s voice was a near whisper.

 

“Yes.  You said not to expect you back, because you had taken all you could stand.  You were so distraught, my love.  I couldn’t make you listen to reason, no matter what I said.  Don’t you remember?  We made love all afternoon, and then you told me.  And I cried and cried, but you were steadfast in your decision.  I didn’t understand why being with me, here, wasn’t enough.  You said the doctor was convinced you had holodiction, and that he was going to lock you out of your simulations, if you didn’t respond to his treatment, and that you didn’t think you could bear life on your ship without spending time with me.”

 

Naomi’s eyes widened.  “Computer, freeze program,” she snapped.  She jumped up and went to the interface location.  “Computer, show the interface,” she punched in commands, scrolling through the records.  “Damn, they did lock her out of it.  They didn’t reinstate her access until she was Ship’s Counselor.  And she never accessed it again after that, anyway.”  Naomi joined Lenara on the blanket again.  “Resume,” she ordered.

 

“I’m so glad you could come back, my love,” Lenara said warmly.  “I’m glad you didn’t hurt yourself.  Would you like to swim?  Do you want to make love?” she asked, leaning close and kissing Naomi’s throat.  “We could make love in the water.  You know how much I love that,” she murmured.

 

Naomi shivered.  Lenara’s sexual predilections were similar to her own.  “I think I’d rather talk, honey,” she supplied.  “Do we usually make love, when I come to visit you?”

 

Lenara nodded, grinning.  “Every time.  For hours.  You frequently run over your allotted time.  Your crewmates do not appreciate it,” she laughed.  “But we were always that way together.  Insatiable.  At least, I was for you,” she amended, blushing faintly.  “I hoped that you’d never get enough of me, but I guess I’ve lost that hold on you?” she asked, mildly hurt.

 

“It’s not that, Lenara,” Naomi felt foolish for protecting the feelings of a hologram, but she couldn’t help herself.

 

“Well, then,” Lenara reached for Naomi’s shirt buttons, “let me remind you of why we always make love when you come to see me,” she pulled Naomi in close, kissing her passionately, nimble fingers plucking at the buttons and divesting the Ktarian of her shirt in an instant.

 

Naomi pushed her away.  “Computer, end program,” she cried out, rebuttoning her shirt.  

 

She requested Lenara4.  The surroundings changed to sickbay, and Lenara Kahn was on a biobed, holding a newborn.  “Honey, look,” she smiled warmly at Naomi.  “Cassidy smiled, I think,” she motioned Naomi over.  “Come hold your daughter.  She looks so much like you,” she enthused.

 

“You look tired, honey,” Naomi murmured, unable to ignore the woman’s obvious joy in spite of her exhaustion.

 

“You try doing this, next time.  See how good you look,” she laughed lightly, pulling Naomi closer.  “Isn’t she beautiful?”

 

“She is,” Naomi agreed.  “And so are you, Lenara,” she fought a lump in her throat.  Naomi closed her eyes against the pain.  Whatever horrors she imagined she would find in the holodeck programs, there was nothing more than visions of a perfect life, a normal, happy life.  Nothing dark or hidden, save for the admission that Kieran had been suicidal, at some point.

 

“Computer, end program.  Load Lenara5.”

 

An Ensign’s quarters aboard a starship materialized, and Lenara sat in the floor, showing a little girl how to fingerpaint.

 

“Mommy,” the child said, covered head to toe in green and red paint, “when is Mata coming home?”

 

“Cassidy,” Lenara told her, “Look there,” she pointed to Naomi.

 

“MATA!” the little girl ran for Naomi.  “I made pretty pictures,” she grabbed Naomi’s hand, tugging her into the floor.  “Come and see, Mata.”

 

Naomi Wildman sank to her knees.  “These are pretty, honey,” she assured the small child with the faint Trill markings and eyes the color of Kieran’s.  “Tell me all about them.”

 

“This is you and Mommy and me,” she pointed to one particularly colorful mess.  “See?”

 

“Very nice,” Naomi smiled. 

 

Cassidy looked up at Naomi, eyes full of wonder.  “And I learned purple, Mata.  Red and blue, all together, is purple.”

 

“That’s right, honey,” Lenara put in.  “You’re such a smart girl, Cassidy.  Mata and I are very proud of you.”

 

Cassidy crawled into Naomi’s lap, getting holographic fingerpaints all over her.  “I missed you today, Mata.”

 

Lenara took Naomi’s hand.  “I made pra’gache for dinner.  I hope you’re hungry.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Very hungry.  When can we eat?” she murmured.

 

Lenara kissed her softly. “Right now, my love.  Come on, girls, last one to the table does the dishes.  Honey,” she said to Naomi, “will you check on the baby?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Of course.”

 

Lenara waited expectantly.  “Go on,” she waved her into the next room.

 

Inside, Naomi found a small infant, a little boy, sleeping soundly.  Kieran’s family had grown to two children.  Naomi touched the soft cheek of the slumbering child, thinking how sentimental the program was.  And how like her wife.

 

“He’s fine, Lenara,” Naomi entered the kitchen.  “Dinner smells wonderful.”

 

“It better.  It’s your favorite,” Lenara smiled, waiting for Kieran to pull out her chair.  Naomi realized what the hologram was anticipating, and she politely seated the Trill.

 

The pra’gache was delicious, as was the wine. 

 

Naomi halted the program, shaking her head.  She decided to run all five again, programmed a Kieran Thompson character, and instructed the computer to run the programs as simulations with both characters participating within expected parameters.  It was like watching a movie in which Lenara and Kieran became engaged, married, honeymooned on Trill, had a child, and settled into peaceful domesticity.  No shocking secrets lurking in the programming, no surprises. 

 

Naomi re-erased the programs, never realizing the computer sentry had already reported her illegal use of the programs and her violation of Kieran’s access protections.  She thought she had covered her tracks adequately.

 

_________________

Sunday morning, Lenara Kahn awoke on the couch at the Thompson’s home, startled by a knock on the door.  She gathered a blanket around her shoulders, peeking out the window.  A Starfleet captain with auburn hair and a very troubled expression stood on the patio, awaiting entrance.

 

“Can I help you?” Lenara asked, then recognized Kathryn Janeway.  She didn’t look the same as she had on the media clips when Voyager was first home, but Lenara realized it couldn’t be anyone else.

 

“Is this the Thompson residence?” she asked, not coming inside.

 

“Yes.  You’re Kathryn Janeway?” Lenara brushed a fallen lock of hair from her eyes.

 

“I need to see Kieran, immediately.  Is she awake?”

 

Kieran heard voices and came out of her room.  “Kat?  What are you doing here? Come in,” she waved her though the entrance. 

 

“I need to speak to you privately.  It’s about Naomi,” Kathryn urged.

 

“I’ll just go climb in your bed, Kieran,” Lenara excused herself, creeping to the back of the house and hoping to sleep awhile longer.

 

“Sit down,” Kieran brought Kathryn into the kitchen.  “I’ll make coffee.”

 

Kathryn watched the tall woman working, clad only in her customary pajamas: boxer shorts and a ratty t-shirt from her Academy days.  “I don’t know how to tell you this,” she began.

 

“Let me guess.  You got notice of the holodeck program recovery, Naomi’s breaking and entering, and her attempts to hide the evidence,” Kieran supplied.

 

“How did you know?” Kathryn was aghast.

 

“I got notification from my account sentry late last night,” Kieran bit her words off. 

 

Kathryn fidgeted at the table, accepting her coffee.  “It’s within your right to have her arrested.”

 

“Don’t tempt me,” Kieran hissed.  “I am so fucking angry right now, I’m half inclined to press charges,” she added cream to her coffee, then sweetener.  “I’ve never felt so violated,” she added hotly.

 

Kathryn took her coffee black, but stirred it anyway, thinking.  “I have to file an explanation to justify the breach, and I have to do it within 24 hours, or Naomi will be charged.  I need you to sign the explanation.”

 

Kieran scoffed.  “What explanation?  She broke into my personal account, ran private programs that belonged to me.  How do you explain that?”

 

“I file a report, with your approval, that says you didn’t have the expertise to recover the programs yourself, and that you authorized your wife to do it.  Then once the programs were run, you decided not to keep them, and she re-erased them,” Kathryn had already thought it through.  “Kieran, if we don’t cover her ass, she’ll get thrown out of the Academy.”

 

“Maybe she should,” Kieran scowled. 

 

“You don’t mean that,” Kathryn touched her hand.  “I know you’re pissed, but Kato, come on.  She had to have a good reason for doing this.  Didn’t she?”

 

“Depends on what you call a good reason, Kat,” Kieran replied.  “She doesn’t trust me.  Rather than take my word on my history with Lenara, she went to find out firsthand.”

 

“Is that what those programs were?” Kathryn asked softly.  “Kato, why didn’t you ever tell me you were engaged when the ship was lost?”

 

“To what end?  To make you feel worse than you already did?” Kieran drank her coffee down, dark eyes wounded.

 

“To share your grief,” Kathryn corrected her.  “To get it off your chest,” she said sympathetically.

 

“It was a long time ago, and I was sick over it at the time.  You should know—you had to have seen the medical report on my depression and treatment for it,” Kieran reminded her.  “Why do you think I never came to you and told you I had a background to be Ship’s Counselor?  I didn’t think you’d want someone who had needed treatment herself,” she admitted.

 

“Kato,” Kathryn said gently, “almost half the ship was on anti-depressant therapy when we first got lost.  I don’t recall your case at all, there were so many, and it would not have kept me from making you my Ship’s Counselor.  That’s really why you never came forward?”

 

“Yes.  I had no right to think you’d be interested in my expertise.  Hell, I couldn’t help myself at all.  Why would you have any faith in me to help anyone else?” she berated herself.  Kieran tapped her coffee mug, considering.  “You can write the report to keep her from being expelled?  Her record will stay clean?” she asked thoughtfully.

 

Kathryn nodded.  “Will you sign it?”

 

“Yes, you know I will.  I’ve always done whatever I could to protect her.  But I’m not sure I can forgive her.  This is a huge breach of my trust, of my right to privacy.  Just because she’s my wife doesn’t entitle her to go digging through my personal life.”

 

“I’ll teach her a lesson, if you like,” Kathryn offered. “I can make it very convincing and very frightening.  She shouldn’t get away with it Scott free, after all.  If she didn’t have the two of us looking out for her, she would be in serious trouble.  I’m not adverse to putting the fear of God in her.”

 

“Do it, then.  I’ll deal with her later.  I want you to find a way to let her know that I know what she did.  Let her worry about just how pissed I am.  Can you do that?” Kieran asked pointedly.

 

“Absolutely,” Kathryn agreed.  She produced a PADD.  “Your thumbprint right here,” she handed her the report.

 

Kieran read it over, then affixed her thumbprint to it.

 

“Kato,” Kathryn said softly, “does Naomi have any reason to be concerned?  About Lenara Kahn, I mean,” she clarified.

 

“No,” Kieran looked Kathryn straight in the eye.  “She does not.”

 

“At the risk of sounding like I’m saying ‘I told you so’, I’d like to point out that Naomi’s behavior, childish though it is, isn’t all that surprising, given her lack of experience in worldly things, in relationships, in love,” Kathryn mentioned.  “I hope you’ll consider that when you decide whether or not to forgive her.  Don’t wreck your marriage over this, or you’ll regret it.  Take if from someone who knows.”

 

Kieran sighed.  “I just need to get past being so angry.  Then I can get to understanding.  But don’t worry.  I do understand how she could be shaken by this whole revelation about Lenara.  I’m not an insensitive ass, and I’m not about to lose my marriage over this.  But I will say she’s undermined my trust, and I don’t know how long it will take that to mend.  Thanks for catching this before the upper brass had a chance to, Kat.”

 

“Well, I’ll be going then.  Thanks for the coffee.  I have to go make my daughter’s life a living hell.  Wish me luck,” she winked at her former Ship’s Counselor.

 

Kieran walked her to the door.  “Kat?” she said quietly.  “Don’t be too hard on her, okay?”

 

Kathryn smiled.  “I won’t, Kato.  You know I won’t.”

_________________

 

The mock security detail arrived at the Wildman home with Captain Janeway.  Seven of Nine answered the door, shocked to see her estranged wife and a military escort.  Kathryn had told her ‘aides’ that she was playing a practical joke on her daughter. 

 

“I’m here for Cadet Second Class Naomi Wildman,” Janeway announced formally.

 

“Naomi,” Seven called.  “There’s someone here to see you,” Seven was bewildered, but stepped aside.

 

“Cadet,” Kathryn and the escort came inside and closed the door.  “You are under arrest for breaking and entering into official Starfleet records, for violation of the privacy rights of a Starfleet Officer, for boarding a ship under false pretenses, for misuse of Starfleet property, for violation of proprietary code copyrights, and for insubordination to a superior officer and misrepresentation.  You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a military court martial.  You have the right to military counsel, which can be appointed for you by Starfleet.  Do you understand the charges against you?”

 

Naomi’s eyes were so wide, her pupils looked like pinpoints.  She nodded wordlessly. 

 

“Take her into custody,” Janeway nodded at the escort.

 

The burly man pulled out handcuffs and put Naomi’s wrists in them.

 

“Gentlemen, you’re dismissed.  I’ll handle the prisoner from here.  Thank you.”  Janeway crossed her arms, fixing Naomi with a look of utter contempt.  “Did you think you’d actually get away with it?”

 

“Yes,” Naomi responded woodenly.  “I didn’t care.  I felt...compelled,” she admitted.  “What’s going to happen to me?”

 

Seven of Nine stood gaping at them both.  “What the hell is going on?”

 

Naomi hung her head.  “Borg-Mom, I—I broke into the holodeck records on Voyager and recovered some of Kieran’s old programs.  I ran them.  I didn’t have Kieran’s permission, and she doesn’t know.”

 

“Oh, yes she does,” Kathryn corrected her daughter.  “She got notice from her account sentry.  I’ve already discussed the situation with her.  She was so furious, she didn’t even come with me, if that’s any indication of how much damage you’ve done to her trust.”  Kathryn decided to drive the thorn deeper.  “Lenara was with her, by the way.  I suppose they’ll make a lovely couple, once you’re expelled from school.”

 

Naomi’s face was ashen, her features tight and drawn.  “She knows?  And she didn’t come to be with me?” her voice trembled.  “Oh, shit, what did I do?  Why didn’t I listen to B'Elanna?”  Naomi sank onto the couch, completely spent.  “Am I going to jail?”

 

Kathryn set her lips in a grim line.  “You would be, if you didn’t have the most forgiving mother and wife in the quadrant,” she advised her daughter. 

 

“So I’m expelled, but not going to do any time,” Naomi clarified hollowly.

 

Kathryn couldn’t bear to see her so frightened.  She released the handcuffs and sat down on the couch.  “Kieran and I covered your ass, like we always have.  You’re not being expelled, or arrested.  But you are in deep, deep shit with your wife, Naomi,” Kathryn warned her.  “And with me.”

 

“But—those men—?” Naomi’s face clouded up.

 

“Friends of mine from Indiana.  They thought they were playing a practical joke on you.  Starfleet will get a report that says Kieran authorized you to access those programs and recover them.  The sentry report will be deadfiled.  However, whether Kieran ever forgives you is another matter entirely.  And I am extremely disappointed in you, Naomi.  I can’t believe you lied to me and broke half a dozen laws, to boot,” she reprimanded her sternly.  “What in God’s name were you thinking?”

 

“Oh, K-Mom,” Naomi burst into tears, throwing her arms around her smaller mother.  “I wasn’t thinking.  I was reacting out of fear, out of insecurity.  I don’t know what I thought I’d find in those programs, but there was nothing there that was objectionable, nothing at all.  They were very sweet depictions of Kieran’s life with Lenara.  I guess maybe she’ll want that life back, now that I’ve betrayed her.”

 

“It’s hard to forgive betrayal,” Kathryn noted pointedly, remembering how Kieran and Naomi had betrayed her, too.  “Very hard.  And even harder to trust again.  You’re going to have to work diligently with Kieran, because she is beyond angry right now,” she explained, soothing Naomi’s shoulders.  “Honey, don’t cry.  It will work out.”

 

Kathryn comforted her briefly, then asked “Do you have any idea how bad this is?  If you didn’t have Kieran and I to cover for you, you’d be getting thrown out of the Academy, and all your hard work would be flushed into the antimatter waste containers.  You’d be getting sent to jail, Naomi.  This isn’t just some private issue with Kieran you’ve fucked up, it strikes on several levels.  Do you comprehend that?”

 

Naomi nodded, still crying.  “What do I do to fix it?” she asked, shuddering with her upset.

 

Seven joined the two women on the couch, laying her hand on Naomi’s thigh.  “You apologize to your mother for lying to her, for starters,” the Borg replied smartly.  “And you be prepared to bear the wrath of your wife, which should be considerable.  I will try to intervene if I can, with Kieran.  She always listens to me.  But you had better be prepared for the worst.”

 

“I’m sorry, Mom, for lying to you and for not telling you what was really wrong.  Maybe if I had asked for help, or talked through my feelings I wouldn’t have felt the need to break laws,” she admitted, hanging on tightly.  “Will you forgive me?”

 

Kathryn stroked her hair.  “Yes, sweetie, of course I will.  But you can’t ever pull a stunt like this again.  I’m so disappointed, Naomi.”

 

“As am I,” Seven chimed in.  “How would you feel if Kieran usurped your personal logs and found out all the things you used to say about her in them?  And how much would you trust her if she did it behind your back?” she asked pointedly.  “Honestly, Naomi, the woman has shown you nothing but patience and acceptance and forgiveness and love, and this is how you reward her?”

 

“You’re right, Borg-Mom.  God, I’m so ashamed.  How can I ever face her?” she turned her tear stained face to her other mother.  “What do I say?”

 

_____________________

 

 

Lenara had fallen asleep in Kieran's bed, and Kieran decided to join her. She had slept fitfully the night before, too upset over the breach of her holodeck programs and her wife's insolence to truly rest. She slid beneath the warmth of the sheltering blankets, automatically curling around Lenara's stillness, falling deeply into sleep immediately, comforted by Lenara’s familiar fragrance and companionship, despite how troubled her mind was.

 

When the women awoke, Lenara was lying in Kieran's arms, and she fought an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Kieran's hand rested on Lenara's head, cradling it to her chest. It was how Lenara had expected to awaken every day of her life, she realized, and she thought about how much she hated waking up alone.  By the time she fell into bed every night, she was so spent that sleep came easily, but mornings were hard for the Trill.  The worst part was knowing nobody was there to kiss her awake, or to kiss her goodbye, or to worry or wonder about her during the long days in the lab.  No one cared how her day went, no one was waiting for an update on her life.  There was no continuity of her own life reflected in that of another’s.  Lying in Kieran's embrace, it felt like how things were supposed to have been.

 

Kieran hugged Lenara as she eased back into consciousness.  “Hey, how'd you sleep?” she asked companionably, kissing Lenara's hair.

 

“Great,” Lenara admitted.  “Why was your mother-in-law here this morning?”

 

Kieran sighed.  “Naomi got herself in a whole mess of trouble while I was here yesterday, it seems,” she explained.

 

“And you're not running home to help her?” Lenara sat up, flummoxed at Kieran's indifferent tone.

 

Kieran sat up, as well.  “When Voyager got lost, I wrote some holodeck programs that I've since erased, programs that let me continue to have some semblance of sanity, because in those programs, we were still together,” Kieran explained.  “They were fairly harmless—one was your proposal to me, one was our wedding, or how I imagined it would have been, then our honeymoon, the birth of our first child, and the last was a program of our daily life.  When I got back home, I erased them.  Yesterday, Naomi went to the ship, recovered them, and ran them,” Kieran explained.

 

Lenara's eyes widened.  “Good heavens, why would she want to put herself through that?”

 

“The more salient question, for me, is how did she dare to invade my privacy like that? She stole my programs, Lenara.  She broke into them and violated my right to keep my life before her separate from her.  I'm shocked at the insult and furious over her presumptuousness.”

 

Lenara breathed deeply, exhaling slowly.  “Kieran,” she pointed out, “your decision to come away with me must have shaken her up very badly for her to be so insecure that she would do something like this.  And really, do you blame her for her fears?  Look at us,” she urged.  “How many times this weekend have you thought about kissing me?  I’ve thought about kissing you plenty of times.  Have you thought about making love together?  Because I have.  It's so easy to slip into old patterns.  We still have so much energy between us, so much love. She's right to worry.”

 

Kieran rested her chin on her knees.  “Okay, I haven't exactly had the purest of thoughts.  But I haven't kissed you.  I haven't let myself dwell on how much I'd love to make love with you again.  I've honored my vows to Naomi, at great expenditure of my willpower.  And she reciprocates by breaking my trust completely.”

 

“I tried to tell you we should avoid each other,” Lenara reminded her. “She's young, sweetie, and vulnerable.  You're the only frame of reference she has for a romantic relationship.  Of course she's going to screw up.  God knows I did, and you repeatedly forgave me,” she pleaded for reason.

 

“You didn't screw up, honey,” Kieran defended her, taken aback by the admission.  “When did you ever?”

 

Lenara laughed.  “Selective memory, Counselor?” she teased.  “How about when I left for Trill without even admitting I loved you? Or when I told you never to contact me again, because I couldn't bear not being with you?  Why didn't I just confess my love at either of those points, and be with you? But instead I hurt you twice, sent you away. You forgave me, and those hurts were huge.  A little insecurity on Naomi’s part is forgivable.  You said, yourself, the programs were harmless, so it’s not like she became privy to your darkest secrets.”

 

“That's not the point.  She should trust me.  She should not be skulking around looking for undisclosed dirt, or whatever she thought she would find.”

 

“Maybe what she thought she would find was a greater understanding of her wife, better insight into what you've been through.  Maybe all she wanted was to comprehend your reticence, your pain.  After all, it is odd that you had never mentioned me to her at all.  Don't you think?  I understand why you didn't tell Seven, but why not Naomi?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “I honestly don't know, Lenara.  I wish I did know.  All I can say is that I locked my memories and my feelings for you away, and I refused to access them or acknowledge them.  Even now, I think back on that time, and my heart breaks just thinking of how sad I was back then, how much I needed you.  I never stopped needing and wanting you.  I just learned to fill my life with other people, other things.”

 

“As did I,” Lenara admitted, “only much more sporadically than you.  I can't claim to have the full life you have, or the extended family, or any of it.  You've done well, for yourself.  Don't let your past taint your present.  Forgive her for what is a completely understandable mistake, and move on.”

 

“It makes me think maybe she was right, Nara.  Maybe I do belong with someone else, someone who isn't filtering their life through the eyes of a thirteen year old, experientially speaking,” Kieran muttered.

 

“Kieran,” Lenara took her hand.  “You know very well that if that's what you decide, I will be there, arms wide, waiting for you. But we both know you love her. In spite of your anger, in spite of your disappointment in her, you love her.  And you didn't take your wedding vows lightly.  I saw those pictures, sweetie.  The love in your expression left me breathless. I would give anything to have someone look at me that way, especially you.  But we missed that opportunity, and we can't recreate it at someone else's expense.  We can be friends, good ones, and we can love and support each other.  Your marriage may be difficult, just now, but you admittedly have very few complaints or criticisms, most of the time,” she noted accurately.

 

“How do I trust her, now, Nara?  If she could do something this underhanded, how do I believe she won't again?” Kieran wanted desperately to be convinced.

 

“Maybe you don't really believe it, right now, but you make that leap of faith.  And the longer she proves she won't betray your faith, the more you learn to believe again. It takes time.  The same way it took time for you to learn to believe Naomi was actually an adult, and capable of an adult relationship.  Over time you learned that she wasn't a child anymore.  And you found your soul mate.  That's what you told me.  Can one transgression change all that for you?  Because if it has, I will gladly accept it and offer myself to you.  But I think you have it in you to forgive her and move on.”

 

“You want me for yourself, yet you willingly champion Naomi's cause?” Kieran was moved by it.

 

“I love you,” Lenara said simply. “I accept I may not be the best person for you to be with. I want what is best for you.  If it turns out that I am best for you, no one will be happier than me.  But if you should preserve your marriage, then go do it.  Love isn't taking hostages, Kieran.  It's the surrender of the will.”

 

Kieran kissed her cheek, lingering over it.  “You're an amazing woman, Dr. Kahn.  I would have been more lucky than I deserved to have had you as my partner.”

 

Lenara smiled warmly at her.  “I would have been the lucky one.  I almost was,” she said regretfully.

 

Kieran sighed.  “I really wanted to go shelling this morning, but I suppose I’d better get home.  Naomi is going to be a wreck over this, and she’s going to be dreading how pissed I am.  I guess it’s cruel to prolong the suspense,” she decided.  “Isn’t it?”

 

Lenara grinned wickedly.  “I said forgive her, not let her off easy,” she winked at Kieran.  “Let’s go to the beach.”

 

____________________

 

The tide was out at Tigertail Beach, and Marco Island was nearly empty.  It was too early in the fall for the tourists to swarm there, and Lenara and Kieran had the four mile expanse of white sand to themselves.  Kieran held Lenara’s hand, squeezing it gratefully.  “Thanks for all your good advice, Nara.  And thanks for being a good friend,” she said softly as they walked down to the shoreline.

 

“You’d do the same for me, if the tables were turned,” she smiled.  “What’s this?” she stooped to pick up a seashell.

 

“That’s a lightning whelk,” Kieran supplied.  “A small one.  This,” she dug another shell out of the sand, “is a beaded periwinkle,” she held up the small white gastropod, letting Lenara examine the rough beads along its surface.  And these are everywhere,” she held up a long, pointed, cylindrical white shell.  “Florida’s auger,” she supplied. 

 

“This one looks quite different,” Lenara held up a shell still connected at the joint. 

 

“That’s a bivalve, and it’s called a coquina.  You don’t usually find them still intact like that.  If you watch the tide coming in or out, you’ll see these guys burrow into the wet sand to hide.  It’s funny.”

 

“It’s lovely here,” Lenara slid her arm around Kieran’s waist.  “It makes me think of that first time you brought me here.  I am so sorry I didn’t tell you that trip that I loved you.”

 

“The sad thing is,” Kieran admitted, “I was so taken by you, if you had told me then that you loved me, I would have left Starfleet to be with you, no questions asked.”

 

“But you had just graduated,” Lenara was stunned.

 

“I was impetuous, back then.  I knew I loved you.  I would’ve followed you anywhere, Lenara. Only I was afraid to speak first, for fear you’d denigrate my profession of love.  I waited, hoping you’d say something, but I figured since you kept quiet, the affair meant more to me than it did to you,” she sighed, letting the breeze fling delicate grains of sand and salt in her face.

 

Lenara’s eyes welled with tears.  “And I kept silent because I thought it was best for you.  Oh, Kieran, how did we ever live this long, as stupid as we both are?”

 

Kieran held her then, hugging her close.  “I couldn’t say, honey.  But we were definitely stupid.”

 

__________________

 

Seven of Nine followed her estranged wife onto the front porch of Kieran Wildman’s Victorian home, slipping out the door.  “Kathryn?” she said faintly.

 

The Captain whirled back around, unaware that Seven had followed.  Her eyes registered pain, then the greedy response of drinking in her wife’s long, lean body, her curves, her lovely face.  “Yes?” she tried not to hope.

 

“I wanted to thank you for how you handled Naomi,” Seven folded her hands primly in front of her, looking adorable in her blue jeans and the faded orange sweatshirt she had pilfered from Kieran.

 

Kathryn nodded, not certain of the proper response.  “I love her, Seven.  I did the only thing I could do to protect her.”

 

“Still,” the former Borg drone regarded her spouse with pale blue eyes full of approbation, “you could have played by the book, and followed protocol, but you chose your love for Naomi, instead.  I am gratified by your attention to her best interests,” she said softly.  “Over the past couple of years, I had reason to doubt whether you would actually choose your family over your devotion to Starfleet.”

 

“I don’t suppose I gave you reason to believe in my better instincts,” Kathryn admitted.  “But I’ve come to question a good deal about Starfleet, since we returned home.  The way they treated you, especially, has tarnished my perspective,” she sighed.  She hesitated, wanting nothing more than to spend the entire day talking to this woman.  “How are your classes going?  Do you enjoy teaching?” she asked, hoping to prolong the conversation.

 

Seven nodded.  “It has been a very interesting experience.  I like the young people in my courses very much.  It’s like having a whole roomful of Naomis,” she smiled.   “Although I could do without the adoring stares of the hormonal males,” she smirked.  “I believe I am adapting to life here,” she decided, smiling thoughtfully.  “How have you been?”

 

“Same old,” Kathryn shrugged.  “Life in the ag park is dull as a tomb, but after the Delta Quadrant, it’s a welcome boredom.  I’ve really enjoyed spending time with Mother and Geejay, and Phoebe, when she’s in the States.  Chakotay came for a visit.  Mom loved him,” she laughed.  “He’s such a charmer.  I guess he and Claren James broke up, though, and now that you and I aren’t living together, I’m afraid he had hopes about me.”

 

Seven’s eyebrow shot skyward.  “He does?”

 

Kathryn laughed.  “He doesn’t now,” she assured her wife.  “I put those delusions to rest.”

 

Seven regarded her with a peculiar expression, biting her lip.  “I should check on Naomi.  Make sure she isn’t falling apart.  It was—good to see you again, Kathryn.”

 

Janeway stood as if her feet were suddenly lead, unable to force herself to turn from her wife, heart aching.  “I miss you, Seven,” she said quietly.  “I wish you would come and visit.  Mother asks about you all the time, and fall is so lovely in the country,” she urged.

 

“Perhaps I will drop by some afternoon,” Seven replied, backing toward the door to the house.  “Take care of yourself.”

 

“You, too,” Kathryn echoed, watching as her wife disappeared behind the solid oak door, and with her, Kathryn’s sense of good in the world.

 

__________________

 

Naomi Wildman sat at her beloved piano, playing her heart out, trying to exorcise herself of the demons and the fears and the anxiety she felt.  Kieran had sent a message saying she was on her way home from Florida, and Naomi had no idea how to begin to bridge the distance between them.  Kathryn had contacted Kieran in Florida before the Commander left, just to fill her in on the punishment of the mock arrest. 

 

Kieran Wildman saw Lenara Kahn home, sharing a glass of wine with her before leaving her to her own devices.  Lenara’s home was an apartment in a small complex, close and cramped, spartanly appointed.  The Trill cared little for luxuries or possessions, though had she married Kieran Thompson, she was certain they’d have had a splendid home.  Kieran thought the place was decidedly lonely feeling, and she had a hard time imagining Lenara in such a barren environment.  She resolved to subtly assist in decorating by showering the Trill with gifts to adorn her walls.

 

They held each other on the couch, preoccupied with their own thoughts, sipping their wine.

 

“So are you going to make her life hell, or are you going to call on your better self, and be gentle with her?” Lenara asked faintly, holding Kieran’s arm around her torso.

 

“I don’t know how I’ll feel when I see her.  It’s hard to stay mad at her, though.”

 

“She’s very beautiful, Kieran,” Lenara sounded sad.

 

“So are you, Nara,” Kieran kissed her hair.  “I’ve had a wonderful time with you.  Thank you.  One thing never gets any easier,” she realized.  “I hate saying goodbye to you.  I suppose with our history that’s to be expected, but I am going to miss holding you and hugging you.  Will you come by for lunch sometime?”

 

“I will,” she agreed, knowing she never would.  Some things were just too hard.  Kieran Wildman was one of them.

 

“Well, then, I guess I’d better get home.  I’m just avoiding the inevitable,” she reminded herself.

 

Lenara walked her to the door.  “Take care of yourself, Commander,” she gazed up at the taller woman, then, unable to resist a moment longer, she kissed her, not a totally inappropriate curl-your-toes kiss, but not the kind Kieran would forget anytime soon, either.

 

Kieran held her in the doorway, eyes closed against the emotion.  “I love you, my beautiful Lenara.  Please don’t forget that.”

 

Kieran Wildman left her former lover then, footsteps reluctant and weary, venturing into the late afternoon wind.  She wiped the tears from her eyes, only a response to the gusting breeze, nothing more, she was certain.

 

The walk home cleared her head, and reignited her anger at her wife.  She tried to temper it with reason, recalling Lenara’s words.  But the good intentions rang hollow in the face of betrayal.  She could hear the piano from the street, stopping on the sidewalk to listen.  Naomi was playing the “Lake’s Lament”, a piece she had written for Kieran. 

 

You promised her KT, told her you’d always forgive her for hurting you.  You told her that on Voyager.  Just because it was so long ago doesn’t make it less binding. You promised her if she did inappropriate things you’d talk through them, and if she hurt you, you’d forgive her.  Back when she was first sick, before she told you anything about how serious it was.  Not really that long ago, Kieran realized.  That song always gets to me, she grinned.  I wonder if she knows it and picked it on purpose to prime the nacelles.  It was probably a lot for her to process, me and Lenara, and then so soon after finding out about it, I run off alone with her. 

 

Kieran walked up the steps slowly, taking in the poignant strains of the song.  As the door cycled, Naomi withdrew her hands from the piano, turning to face her wife, hands folded contritely in her lap.

 

Kieran set her travel bag down inside the door, crossed her arms, and shook her head.  “Can’t leave you alone for forty-eight hours without your doing something truly Suder,” she accused, smirking.

 

Seven of Nine was standing in the archway between the kitchen and the living room, watching nervously.

 

“What shall we do with her, your Borgness?” Kieran asked, a feral smile on her lips.

 

Seven didn’t realize Kieran was teasing, nor did Naomi.  “I have no idea,” Seven replied lamely.

 

Kieran studied her wife’s face, swollen from crying most of the day, lip trembling as if she might again.

 

“Well?” Kieran tapped her foot impatiently.  “Aren’t you glad to see me?” she demanded.  She held out her arms, and Naomi launched herself off the piano bench, flying to her beloved.  Kieran hugged her, swinging her around, face buried in Naomi’s fragrant neck.  “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused for your mother?  Any idea at all how close you came to being kicked out of school, out of the fleet?  Do you know how many laws you broke, Naomi?” she scolded her, holding her possessively.

 

Naomi clung to her desperately, crying from relief.  “I know, and I’m so sorry,” she blubbered against Kieran’s chest.  “It was a terrible thing to do, especially to you.  Please, please forgive me,” she begged, clutching Kieran’s shirt so tightly the fabric was stretched and ruined.

 

“My beloved,” Kieran whispered against her cheek, “I love you, always, and only you.  How can you doubt that so severely that you think you need to violate my privacy?  And did it reassure you one bit?”

 

Naomi cried harder.  “No,” she wailed.  “It made it worse.  Your life was so perfect with her, and she was such a wonderful wife and mother and lover.”

 

“She was or would have been all those things, Naomi.  But she wouldn’t have been perfect, either.  Maybe she wouldn’t have abused my trust as you have, but she would have made other mistakes.  We all do.  Keep that in mind when it’s my turn to be the one who fucked up,” she chuckled lightly, hugging her wife.  “Don’t cry, sweetheart,” she kissed her hair.  “It will be okay, I promise.  Not easy, necessarily, but we’ll recover from it.  No pun intended.”

 

Recover, Naomi realized, was the word Kieran emphasized.  She let Kieran cradle her, afraid to let go, afraid to see the hurt in her wife’s eyes, but Kieran eased her away. 

 

“I’m starving,” she announced.

 

Seven smiled.  “Dinner is almost ready.  How are your parents?” she asked amiably.

 

Kieran left Naomi standing in the foyer, walked into the kitchen to kiss Seven’s cheek, and followed the Borg into the kitchen.  “Good,” Kieran replied briefly.  When they were out of earshot, she asked “Did Kathryn scare the shit out of Naomi?”

 

Seven nodded.  “I haven't seen her that frightened since the Maltanians abducted her.  I’m gratified to see that you are not going to punish her for weeks over this, though I don’t blame you for being upset.”

 

Kieran sat down at the table, noting that Naomi had gone to the ensuite to wash her face.  “I might have come home much less forgiving, but Lenara convinced me to be lenient.”

 

Seven put dinner on the table, joining her roommate.  “Lenara is a wonderful woman.  I am sorry she decided not to see me again.  What did she say to sway you?”

 

“She pointed out how young Naomi is, and how happy we are together.  She also mentioned how difficult it must have been for Naomi to see those programs and to know that there was someone I loved that much, before her.  Lenara is an astounding woman, a true friend.  She even scolded me for not coming home this morning when Kathryn came to tell me what had happened,” Kieran added.

 

“She did?” Naomi had come into the kitchen, standing in the doorway.  “Lenara took my side?”

 

“More or less,” Kieran agreed, getting up to pull out Naomi’s chair.  She lifted Naomi’s face with two fingers, kissing her softly.  “We’ll talk tonight, sweetie.  For now, let’s just have a nice, quiet dinner.”

__________________

 

Kieran Wildman excused herself immediately after dinner, saying she needed to take a shower after slumming at the beach earlier.  Naomi watched her wife ascending the stairs, sinking to the couch in relief. 

 

“You expected less from her?” Seven sounded peeved.

 

“I expected her to yell at me a lot,” Naomi admitted.

 

“From what I have observed, she only raises her voice when you raise yours first,” Seven glared at her daughter.  “And I suspect that is because shouting frightens her, and she reacts strongly to it.  She is, after all, an abuse survivor,” Seven wisely noted.

 

“Are you pissed at me, Mom?” Naomi was startled at Seven’s intonation.

 

“I am frustrated with you, Naomi,” Seven supplied.  “You were so worried about Kieran’s potential anger, you missed the most important thing in all of this.”

 

“What did I miss?” Naomi was bewildered.

 

“How deeply you have hurt her,” Seven said simply.  “It shows in her demeanor, her face, her eyes.  But you were so busy thinking about yourself, you never noticed how much you’ve injured your wife.”

 

Naomi glanced at the ceiling in the direction of the room she and Kieran shared.  “I think I would have preferred she yell at me than internalize it,” she said sadly.

 

Seven’s eyebrows narrowed disapprovingly.  “You should know better than anyone that Kieran finds a way to turn everything inward.  She’s probably decided your deplorable behavior is her fault, somehow.  Instead of being furious with you, as she has every right to be, she’s most likely asking herself what she did to make you behave so badly, and kicking herself over it.”

 

Naomi’s stomach clenched.  “You’re right.  I—I’m going to talk to her, Seven.  Only I don’t know what to say.”

 

Seven’s expression softened slightly.  “You might begin with telling her you take full responsibility for your own actions, and she is not to blame for your poor judgment or your disrespectful attitude toward her privacy.”

 

Okay,” Naomi ignored the indictment and took the advice to heart.  “Goodnight, Mom.” She slowly crept up the stairs, dreading what was coming.  Time to face the music, Wildwoman.  You made this mess all by yourself.  Now you get to fix it.

___________________

 

Kieran stood beneath the thundering shower stream, letting the water pound her scalp, eyes closed, chest aching.  She supposed it was naïve to think Naomi would never hurt her, unrealistic at best, but somehow, when they had been joined on Qian, Kieran thought that insight into her soul might shield them both from carelessness and each other’s imperfection.  Perhaps, it wasn’t enough to merely see and know one another’s vulnerability to make them protective of it.  Maybe only from the violation of it, and the remorse over the error, would come true vigilance. 

 

Kieran felt weary, leaning against the tile.  She felt old and used up.  Seeing Lenara again, being with her, Kieran was acutely aware of all they had lost by virtue of the Delta Quadrant’s distance.  Lenara seemed so isolated, so fragile.  And in trying to reach out to her, Kieran had frightened Naomi, had made her doubt what should never be doubted.  How do I take away the insecurity?  How do I make her feel instinctively that she has nothing to fear?

 

The shower door opened with a subtle ‘snick’, and Kieran turned to find her wife, naked and perfect, entering the stall.  Naomi wrapped her arms around Kieran’s neck, lifting her face to claim her lips briefly.  “I don’t deserve to be forgiven,” she said sincerely.  “But I hope you will, anyway,” she gazed into doe-soft eyes, seeing the reproach and the pain and the doubt in them, all emotions she had caused.

 

Kieran cupped her cheek tenderly, kissing her again.  “I love you, Naomi.  I don’t understand this at all, and I’m very concerned that it signals deeper problems for us.  But I also know you’re young, and our marriage is new, and you have little frame of reference for a situation like this.  That’s partly my fault for never telling you about Lenara, I guess.  I can’t help feeling that if you were driven to do something so wrong, I am the one who drove you, the one who failed you somehow.”

 

“You didn’t,” Naomi asserted vehemently.  “This was me, Kieran, not you.  It wasn’t even that I didn’t trust you, but that I have so little confidence in myself, in my ability to hold your love and your devotion and your attention.”

 

Kieran gathered her into loving arms, confused.  “How can you doubt my devotion, my love?  Have I ever given you any reason to think I’d leave?  What haven’t I done to prove myself to you?”

 

“Nothing.  You’ve done everything to make this relationship happen, from running away together on Qian to defying my parents, and probably your own on some levels, too.  And you fought yourself to accept what we are, what we feel.  I have no excuse for doubting, my beloved.  None.”

 

“Then why, Naomi?  Why did you do this?” Kieran’s voice broke.

 

Naomi considered, letting Kieran hold her under the soothing spray.  “I think I needed to know what I’m up against.  I know your history with B'Elanna, and I don’t feel any threat from her, because I know I’m a better partner for you than she could be.  But I didn’t know that about Lenara.  And after seeing those programs, I still don’t feel that I’m better for you than she is, not on any level.  I was hoping I’d come away convinced that there was no comparison, that somehow I am better for you than she could be.  And now that I’ve completely broken your trust, I would have to conclude I’m not as good for you as she is.”

 

“So that’s it?” Kieran held her out at arm’s length.  “You were so sure I’d leave you for her, you had to give me a reason to do it?  To make it easier to understand, to justify the choice you thought I’d make?”  She shook her head in disbelief.  “The point is, Naomi, even if Lenara were the better partner for me, I already chose you.  I married you because I love you, because I want to spend my life with you.  I’m committed to the process, to the evolution of this relationship, to us.  You have nothing to fear.  I don’t know any way to make you understand that, if you don’t feel it in the essence of yourself.  I love you.  I always have, and I always will, and no one from my past can disrupt the bond between us, unless we let them.  You have to hang on as tightly as I do.  You have to want this more than you want to protect yourself.  If you want me to stay, then don’t do things to push me away, honey,” she pleaded.

 

Naomi nodded, unable to speak, so overwhelmed by Kieran’s love and ashamed of her own weakness.  She reached for the soap, beginning the slow, purposeful cleansing of her lover’s body, symbolically washing away the mistakes, the regret, the hurt.  A fresh start, a clean slate, a subservient act to solidify the apology, the acknowledgment of the error.  Kieran let her wife perform the ritual, and the simplicity of the act made her weep at the innocence and the sweetness of it.  When Naomi had finished, Kieran took the soap from her, and repeated the ritual of supplication, hands working the strain and the fear and the sadness from Naomi’s body.  She washed Naomi’s hair, then, trying to convey to her wife all of her love, her nurturance, her protectiveness. 

 

They dried each other in silence, eyes locked, searching for that connection between them.  Kieran kissed her forehead, holding her close, breathing with her.  They moved together to the bed, wordlessly lying down together, kissing quietly, then making love without a sound, save for the subtle increase in respiration that was unavoidable.  Hazel eyes never left brown as they touched, the joining much more spiritual than sexual, more an emotional revelation than a physical coupling, almost unaware of the actual arousal, the pleasure, more conscious of the communication of love than the need for release.  Kieran was almost startled when she climaxed, and moreso when Naomi came only moments later, the only evidence a soft gasp and the full-bodied blush that always turned her skin bright pink in the aftermath of her pleasure.

 

They lay together then, touching each other’s faces, eyes damp and gazes penetrating, kissing intermittently.  After a lengthy interlude, Naomi finally asked “Why didn’t you yell at me? I know you were furious.”

 

Kieran smiled softly.  “Would it have accomplished anything at all, except making you feel humiliated and making me feel powerful?  That’s not a dynamic I want in our marriage, do you?”

 

“No,” Naomi agreed, grateful that Kieran could think through her impulses.  One of them needed to be able to exercise restraint, since Naomi clearly could not.

 

“You told me once that fighting with each other only undermines a relationship.  But fighting for the relationship is another matter.  Yelling at you, losing my temper, that wouldn’t have been fighting for us.  Giving myself to you, despite the urge to be distant and the instinct to hide and protect myself, that’s fighting for our relationship.  B'Elanna never understood that.  She thought I was weak, because I didn’t get aggressive and lose my head, didn’t rant and rave like she did.  Strength isn’t volume, or how many objects you break, or how shitty you make your spouse feel.  Stength is the ability to look inside yourself, look past the hurt, forgive the slight, and move on.  Cowards walk away.  Courageous lovers know how to surrender themselves to their partners, whether they trust them or not.  It’s the only way to rebuild that trust.”  Kieran kissed Naomi gently.  “It would have been easy to scream at you, and I certainly felt like it.  But that would’ve made things much worse, and my goal was to make them much better, as quickly as possible.” 

 

Naomi kissed her fiercely, her emotion raw and exposed.  “I need you in my life,” she asserted, “I need a partner as strong as you.  Please be patient with me while I learn to be that strong for you.”

 

“Baby,” Kieran kissed her hair tenderly.  “You are that strong for me.  You owned right up to your mistakes and you came right to my arms.  And you didn’t try to defend yourself at all,” she held her possessively.  “I love you so, Na.  I need you in my life, every bit as much as you need me.”   

 

They touched and kissed each other with renewed tenderness, with increasing heat, and made love yet again, this time as vocally as they ordinarily would.  Lying together in the darkened silence afterward, Kieran realized how much vigilance would be required with a young, inexperienced partner, and how complex that would be, given their busy, separate lives at the Academy.  She hoped they were both up to the challenge.

_________________

 

Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg Collective, had the transport drop her off a sizeable distance from the Janeway’s house, so that she would have sufficient time to reconsider in the event she decided not to actually see her estranged wife.  The trees around the agricultural park blazed with color, dappled sunlight peeking through the rich reds, golds and oranges of fall.  Seven loved this place, in spite of the difficulty it had presented to her and to her marriage, loved the rolling hills, the endless fields of soybeans and feed corn, the seemingly limitless blue skies with the cottony clouds that blew in the breeze.  She loved the smell of decaying leaves and damp earth, of harvested hay and dust, of bark and dying weeds and sweet thistle, withering in the cool air.  She had asked the transport to leave her this far away, partly so she could absorb the sights and scents of the Indiana autumn, partly to contemplate what she was doing.

 

Kathryn had given her every indication that she was welcome, and Seven was certain Kathryn wanted to open the lines of communication, but out of respect for Seven’s boundaries, she had not really tried to initiate a dialogue.   As much as Seven tried to embrace the same stubbornness she had always seen in her spouse, Lenara Kahn’s rejection forced her to face the fact that she had residual issues, lingering feelings, for Kathryn.  The obviousness of those issues and feelings had been the reason Lenara sent her away, with the gentle advice that Seven resolve her situation with Kathryn before considering dating. 

 

Kieran thought highly of Lenara, and that counted for a good deal with the former drone.  Lenara was a wonderful conversationalist, an exceptional lover, and the most intelligent woman Seven had ever met.  She knew that if she intended to move on, she needed to confront Kathryn, and make sure she was truly done with that relationship.  And if she wasn’t quite yet done, she needed to try to open a lifeline between them, before their marriage withered away, like the thistle plants.

 

The Janeway house stood in solid silence, as if there had never been anyone living there at all.  The flowers in the flower beds had turned from vibrant purples and oranges to dried, dead browns, and the rooms appeared to be dark from where Seven stood.  She contemplated the whitewashed woodframed for a long while, gathering her courage.  Geejay was back in San Francisco, in daycare, and the only evidence that the toddler lived in the farmhouse was that her tricycle was parked on the porch.

 

Seven tapped on the door tentatively, startled when it jerked open.  Kathryn stood there, squinting into the light coming through the crack, her jaw nearly dropping.  “Seven?” she sounded alarmed.  “Come in,” she reached for the Borg’s arm and pulled her through the door jamb, a mystified look on her face.  “Mom!” she hollered up the stairs.  “We have company.” She closed the door behind her wife.

 

“You said you miss me,” Seven said softly, “I should have let you know I was coming, though,” she realized.  “I’m sorry.  Is this a bad time?”

 

Kathryn smiled reassurance.  “It’s never a bad time to see you.  Please, come sit down.  I was making hot tea.  Would you like some?”

 

Seven grinned.  “Tea?  Don’t tell me you’ve switched allegiance,” she teased.

 

Kathryn stared blankly at her.  “Allegiance?”

 

“From your overpowering addiction to coffee,” she pointed out.

 

“Oh, no, I haven’t.  I’ve already had three cups of that, too,” she led her into the kitchen.  “Sit down.  Mom’s got fresh rugalache,” she noted, reaching for the cookie jar.   “How did you get the day off from teaching?” she set the chewy pastries on a plate.

 

“I don’t have any classes on Tuesdays or Thursdays.  I’m only working part-time,” she reached for the sticky treats.  “It’s just something to do,” she added.

 

“You mean besides keep house for Kieran?” Kathryn smirked.  “I noted the place was spotless, when I was there to arrest Naomi,” she advised.  “I could tell you live there.”

 

“It pleases me to do things for Kieran and Naomi.  They both work so hard, and keep so busy, and really, it’s the least I can do.  Kieran won’t let me pay rent.”

 

“You’re family.  She shouldn’t,” Kathryn agreed with Kieran’s position on the subject.  She selected teabags and poured the water into the china cups.

 

“That’s her opinion, too.  But really, Kathryn, my room there is luxurious, and I feel like I’m taking advantage of her good nature,” Seven said fretfully.

 

“Luxurious?  Like how?” Kathryn wanted to avoid any lapses in the conversation.

 

“It has a fireplace, and a walk-in closet as big as our quarters on Voyager, and a tub with massage jets.  And it’s large enough for three people to live in it,” she laughed.  “But Kieran won’t let me pay her anything at all.”

 

Gretchen Janeway came down the stairs, smiling.  “Seven!” she reached for the younger woman’s hands, drawing her up from the kitchen table.  “I’m so glad to see you, honey,” she kissed her cheek.

 

Seven blushed sweetly. “I’ve missed you, Gretchen,” she murmured, taking the elder Janeway in.  “How have you been?”

 

“Can’t complain,” she assured her daughter-in-law.  “Kathryn keeps me busy, cooking for her and cleaning up after her,” she joked.

 

“I can tell you’ve been cooking for her,” Seven agreed, inclining her head in her wife’s direction.  Kathryn had put on weight.

 

She scowled at the two women.  “Are you implying I’m getting fat?” she sounded offended, though her eyes sparkled playfully.

 

Seven winked at Gretchen.  “Of course not,” she assured the Captain.  “You look—contented.”

 

“What she is,” Gretchen accused, “is lazy.  Barely moves off the couch, unless it’s to make acquaintance with a fresh batch of caramel brownies.”

 

Kathryn stuck her tongue out at her mother.  “One brownie cost four ration slips on Voyager,” she pointed out.  “I have a lot of catching up to do.”

 

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to get some exercise,” Gretchen bitched.  “Seven, you look wonderful.  Teaching must suit you.”

 

“The cadets are challenging, I will say that.”

 

“Intellectually, or just in terms of your patience?” Kathryn asked, sipping her tea.

 

“Both,” Seven decided, laughing. “It’s as educational for me as it is for them, and I like that it keeps me close to Naomi and Kieran, and B'Elanna and Noah, too.”

 

“How are Kieran and Naomi getting along, now that they’ve hit the first big bump in their marriage?” Kathryn asked, cutting another piece of rugalache.

 

“Remarkably well, if you ask me.  Kieran was firm, but forgiving, and Naomi was the model of contrition.  It will be awhile before Kieran truly trusts Naomi again, but as I expected, she is continuing to put her best foot forward.”

 

Gretchen shook her head.  “I really thought Naomi had stuck her foot in it, this time,” she stole a bite of Kathryn’s pastry. 

 

“Me, too,” Kathryn agreed.  “But Kieran has always forgiven the people she loves for their indiscretions—most notably, B'Elanna and me.  Somehow, she manages to allow her loved ones to redeem themselves, without becoming a doormat.  It’s a fine line.  I keep trying to watch her to figure out how she pulls it off but I can’t, quite.”

 

Seven nodded.  “I, too, am trying to learn from her.  I benefit tremendously from her counsel, living with her.  She was very complimentary about your handling of the situation with Naomi, Kathryn,” Seven advised.

 

“I’m just glad Kieran helped me cover Na’s ass, because Naomi would’ve been thrown out of school if Kieran had hesitated.  I hope Naomi understands the gravity of what she did,” Kathryn finished her tea.

 

“She does.  She still acts as though she is fearful of every knock on the door,” Seven reported.

 

“Speaking of the girls,” Gretchen smiled, “I finally got my wedding album put together.  Would you like to see it?” she offered.

 

Seven really didn’t want to see the photos, as they held many painful memories, most notably, the evidence of the bruise on her forehead where Kathryn had hit her.  “I—would rather save that for another time, if you don’t mind,” she admitted.  “Is Phoebe in town?”

 

Kathryn nodded.  “She’s painting, today.  Would you like to walk to the house?”

 

“I would,” Seven agreed enthusiastically.  “Right away.”

 

 

The three women passed the day painting together, and Seven was reminded of all the times on Voyager when she and Kathryn had shared the Da Vinci program.  It occurred to Seven that after Geejay was born, their special times together had all but ended.  Perhaps that, and not the bacteria, had been the beginning of their troubles.  She watched Kathryn painting, the careful brushstrokes she used, the calculated, efficient way she embraced the canvas.  Kathryn painted like she made love, controlled, deliberate, conscious of every interaction between color and surface.

 

Seven forgot to paint, she was so captivated by Kathryn’s technique, and the contrast between the two Janeways.  Phoebe moved boldly, hands flying, paint spattering, with broad strokes and energetic abandon.  Seven wondered if that was how Phoebe made love, as well.  The dark-haired Janeway seemed to be in a trance of creative flow, and the painting was almost regurgitated from her imagination whole.  Kathryn, by comparison, methodically addressed the subject, in careful sections, in stages, in layers of texture.

 

Seven was startled at the visceral, sexual response that watching Kathryn inspired.  It was peculiar to the former Borg that something as simple as painting could make her aroused, especially considering that Phoebe’s method was so much more appealing to the Borg’s aesthetic senses.  Yet is was Kathryn she reacted to, the way she moved her hands, the intent expression she wore, the way she bit her lip in concentration, just as she did when Seven made love to her.

 

Walking back to Gretchen’s that afternoon, Kathryn started thinking about the Da Vinci program, as well.  “We should have kept painting together,” she offered her thoughts.  “On the ship.  We fell out of step with each other after Geejay was born.”

 

Seven nodded.  “I was thinking that very thing, while we painted today.  We forgot to have a relationship with each other, instead of through our children.  I think,” she added, “maybe that’s why it damaged our relationship so severely when Naomi left.  We had always interacted through her, through parenting her.  Once that bridge was gone, we didn’t know how to reach each other any longer.”

 

“And I blamed Kieran for that—not just for taking Naomi away, but for taking my bridge to you.  In my mind, I thought she had done it deliberately, to have you to herself,” Kathryn admitted.

 

“That was the bacteria, Kathryn, not you. I know that, now,” Seven said softly.  “And if you saw Naomi as your connection to me, no wonder you reacted so badly to her relationship with Kieran.  I didn’t realize that was the role you saw Naomi in, and if you had told me so, I would not have been so harsh or angry at your reaction.  And I would have found a way for us to connect, without her there,” she assured her wife.  “Our communication was atrocious, and that was our undoing.”

 

Kathryn sighed.  So that was it, then.  Seven saw their marriage as undone.

 

Seven’s visit was uneventful, but she felt it was a first step in mending the communication rift with her wife.  She needed to know that her feelings for Kathryn had not died entirely, and decided Lenara Kahn was right; she was not over Kathryn to the extent that dating was a good idea.  Seven returned to San Francisco, resigned to being single a while longer.

 

__________________

 

Kathryn Janeway checked herself in the mirror of the guesthouse bedroom, making sure all four pips were secured to her uniform.  She felt odd in the new design, accustomed to the black slacks and the red-shouldered tunic, and not this navy blue jumpsuit.  She had to admit, the cut of the fabric flattered her, especially considering she’d put on at least ten pounds from caramel brownies. 

 

Ordinarily, she wouldn’t wear a uniform to her counseling sessions with Robin Lefler, because she preferred that no one see her at the campus counseling center, especially not sporting her captain’s pips.  But today she had a meeting with the big brass before her session, and she had no choice.

 

Voyager had returned to the Alpha Quadrant four months before, and Kathryn was sure that she was being called to headquarters to discuss her future.  She had made it clear to Admiral Paris that she would not be back on duty for at least six months, and she had expected him to start pushing after only a few weeks.  To his credit, he had resisted temptation much longer than she expected.  Starfleet needed seasoned captains; hell, Starfleet needed seasoned officers, period, but especially captains, and Kathryn knew it was naïve to assume she could avoid taking command for any considerable amount of time. 

 

She hoped they wanted her to take another ship, at least.  She figured they would offer her a promotion to Admiral, because she was clearly qualified and ready for it.  But she had no desire to be planetside, especially after sitting in Indiana for weeks on end.  She could not picture herself behind a desk, tied up with paperwork and reports and administrative tasks.  She had done her best to avoid that sort of thing on her ship, and she’d be damned if she’d accept a steady diet of that sort of tedium. 

 

A quiet little science vessel, a research ship, one that stays close to home, takes short excursions, she decided.  That would be ideal.  Then Seven and I wouldn’t have to fight over custody of Geejay, I could see Naomi as often as I feel the need, and I could keep working with Seven to get our communication back.  She snorted at herself in the mirror.  Who are you kidding?  You’re not doing a damned thing to get your relationship back.  Kieran was right.  You’re stagnating and letting the opportunity pass you by.

 

Kathryn sighed.  She couldn’t get her pips to look right, no matter how hard she tried.  Resigned to her imperfection, she made her way to her mother’s to ask for help with the insignia, and realized that she needed Seven, for much more than pips.

 

________________

 

Kieran Wildman scrambled up the steps of B'Elanna and Noah’s rented house, arriving a few minutes early.  She rang the chime and grinned to herself as she heard Katie’s feet pounding across the wooden floors.

 

“I”ll get it!” she hollered to her mother and Noah, snatching the door open wide.  “Marmar!” she flung back the screen and launched herself into Kieran’s arms.

 

Kieran hoisted her up for a hug.  “Hello, sweetie.  Are you ready to come play at my house?”

 

Katie kissed her cheek, smiling ear to ear, her deep brown eyes sparkling, baby teeth glistening as she grinned at her mother.  “Are we really going to make things?” she asked enthusiastically.

 

“Yes, we are.  Are your mom and Noah home?” Kieran tickled her ribs gently, making her squeal.

 

“MOM!” she called up the stairs.  “Marmar’s here,” she added.

 

B'Elanna’s laughter echoed down the steps as she descended them.  “Hi, Benal.  Come on in,” she waved her ex-wife into the living room.  </