Summary: The crew is behaving strangely as the fallout from Restid Three continues. Voyager makes it home.

 

Warning: Lots and lots of sex, female on female, and my usual infatuation with the f-word and other expletives.  There is violence in this story and references to sexual and physical abuse.  There is a phallic accessory in this story.

 

Disclaimer:  All things Trek are the property of Paramount, and no infringement on their rights is intended.  I make up a few characters and take lots of liberties with others, but only for fun, not profit.  I’m no Ferengi—in fact, I have tiny, little ears and pretty decent teeth, and absolutely no business acumen, whatsoever.

 

Thanks:  To Captain Starbuck, as always, for beta-reading for me, and for putting up with me while I write for days and weeks at a time.  She now fondly (or facetiously, I’m not sure which) refers to this series as “Soap Trek”.  In her defense, I’m not sure which is worse—living with a peri-menopausal woman with raging PMS, or living with a writer.  Unfortunately for the Captain, I’m both.

 

Home

By Michelle Marquand

 

 

(PART TWO)

 

 

Kieran could see the crowd around the grandstand, scanned it for familiar faces, and spotted her parents, watching anxiously.  Kathryn and Seven were making their way through the line of Admirals and Captains, shaking hands, being welcomed home.  Naomi walked ahead of the tall Commander, politely shaking the proffered hands, smiling.  Kieran kept one hand on her shoulder, to reassure her.  Naomi had never seen a crowd like this in all her life, Kieran knew, and it would be overwhelming.  When they had traversed the entire line of Starfleet Officials, the families were also lined up.  Kathryn was swallowed up by Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway, and they gathered in Seven and Naomi. 

 

Kieran lost contact with Naomi when her own parents made a grab for her, and without warning, she started to cry.  They held and hugged each other for the longest time, no one speaking, everyone crying and clinging.  She introduced them to their granddaughter, and Kieran’s dad had the baby in his arms in an instant.  Kieran was staggered by how much the couple had aged, and with no small amount of remorse, she realized that her disappearance had no doubt hastened that aging process.  She introduced them to B’Elanna, who had no family there to greet her, and took the Klingon under her arm, making sure there was a comforting presence for the unnerving end of their journey.  Naomi came to drag Kieran away to meet her aunt and grandmother, and Kieran urged her parents over to meet everyone as well. 

 

Then the long line of Voyager crew started coming down the path, and everyone moved back to let them get to their families.

 

There were speeches and medals and tears and champagne, and after more hours than anyone could recall, the official ceremonies came to a close.  The Janeways, Thompsons, and the unattached senior staff, including Tuvok, Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres, adjourned to the Admiral’s club, where they were guests of Owen Paris for dinner.  Stories flew, and wine flowed, and toasts followed toasts followed toasts.  Starfleet had commandeered every hotel in San Francisco for the families of the crew and the returning crewmembers, and they had done everything in style.  When the extravagant meal was served, B’Elanna laughed aloud.

 

“What?” Kathryn asked her, bringing her to the attention of everyone at the table.

 

“I--it’s too stupid,” she fanned her face, giggling.  “I just unconsciously calculated the number of replicator rations this meal would cost me,” she leaned against Tuvok, laughing at herself.

 

Everyone smiled, echoing her mirth. 

 

“Me too, Lanna,” Kieran said, shaking her head.  “I swear, I was counting them,” she howled.

 

Most of the people at the table shared small, intimate conversations, catching up on news and making plans.  Kieran’s parents were telling Naomi all about their wetlands project work, and the young Ktarian was mesmerized.

 

“Oh, and guess what, Starfish,” Kieran’s dad called her by her nickname.  “The manatee preserve is finally finished.  I can’t wait to show it to you.  Bessie is going to be so happy to see you again,” he lay his hand on his daughter’s.

 

“Bessie’s still alive?” Kieran was surprised.  “Wow, she must be the oldest manatee on the planet,” she grinned.  “I can’t wait to see the old girl.”

 

“You can do better than see her,” Kieran’s mother chimed in.  “Now that the preserve is built, you can swim with her.”

 

Kieran’s eyes lit up like a kid’s at Christmas.  “Truly?” she gasped.

 

“Absolutely,” her dad agreed.  “We’ve been waiting for you to come home, so we could let you have the first official swim,” he smiled so broadly his face ached.  “Oh, and the mangrove reclamation efforts around the reefs off the Keys are going very well.  We could certainly use an experienced diver to help with the relocation of the seedlings.  Are you up for some heavy work?” he was ready to rope her in at the first opportunity.

 

“You bet,” Kieran agreed immediately.  “I haven’t gotten to dive in anything but a holodeck for over a decade,” she couldn’t wait.

 

Kathryn had been listening to their conversation, and chimed in, “I’ve done my share of diving, Mr. Thompson.  If I can convince my mother to let me leave Indiana, I could come and help, too.  I’ve been spoiling to go for a good day’s dive,” she recalled her exploits on Mars Planetia with Mark Johnson.

 

“We’d love to have you, Captain,” he agreed.  “It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.”

 

“Yes,” Kieran’s mother put in, “we tried to talk Kieran out of the Academy when she was in high school.  We really needed someone to take over our work, eventually, and she was already trained.  We’re getting on in years, and I don’t know how much longer we can carry on the legacy.  It’s important work, and I just don’t see how anything in space can compare to the wonders of a coral reef, or the wetlands of the Everglades,” she opined.  “How can there be anything more important than saving and preserving your own planet?”

 

It was an old, tired argument.  “Mom,” Kieran warned.  “Don’t start.  I respect your work, and I support what you and Daddy have done all these years, but you have to respect my work, too.”

 

Kieran’s father lay a restraining hand on his wife’s.  “Not now,” he cautioned her.

 

Kieran’s mother forced an insincere smile.  “Well, we’re just so glad to have you home, honey,” she said.

 

Naomi watched their interaction, acutely interested in the dynamic.  It became obvious to her that Kieran Thompson was the classic overachiever, because she never had lived up to her parent’s expectations.  Kieran had told Naomi that Cassidy Thompson was the one who would’ve taken over the family line of research and work, if not for her premature death.  Naomi realized that without intending to, Kieran’s parents had invalidated Kieran’s choices, simply because it wasn’t what they needed Kieran to do for them.  She swallowed her anger over the cutting remarks Kieran’s mother had made about saving the Earth, and suddenly understood exactly why Kieran was always so hard on herself.  Under the table, she lay her hand on Kieran’s thigh, trying to lend support and reassurance to her lover.

 

Naomi leaned over and whispered in Kieran’s ear “You should tell them about the Enterprise.”

 

Kieran smiled and shook her head, ignoring the blatant suggestion to one-up her parents.  She kissed Naomi softly, and whispered back “It’s a game you can’t win with them.  I know.  I’ve been playing it 33 years.  The only way to win is to refuse to play at all.” 

 

If Kieran was hurt, she hid it well, and Naomi’s heart ached as the happy-go-lucky Commander made jokes with Kathryn and Seven, entertained Phoebe and Gretchen and tried to steer clear of any arguments with her family.

 

Maybe home wasn’t all it was purported to be, after all, Naomi decided.

 

__________________

 

When the group said goodnight, Kieran and Naomi walked B’Elanna, Katie, and Kieran’s parents to their respective hotel rooms in the Intergalactic Suites. 

 

Kieran carried Katie for B’Elanna, and she helped get the toddler settled inside while the Thompsons and Naomi waited in the hall.

 

BangwIj,” Kieran hugged B’Elanna tightly, “Are you sure you don’t want me to take Katie?”

 

B’Elanna clung to her momentarily, feeling lonely.  “No.  You spend time with your family.  My cousin will be here tomorrow, and I could use the company while Noah is with his folks.  Of course, he’ll be back for your ceremony.  Okay?”

 

“Okay, sweetie.  But if you need anything,” she kissed B’Elanna’s forehead.

 

“I know where to find you, honey,” she assured her ex-wife.  “I’ll probably catch up with you tomorrow,” she smiled.  She looked up at her former spouse, eyes tearing.  “Somehow, I always thought we’d be sharing this moment, coming home with Katie to your family,” she admitted sadly.

 

Kieran hugged her close.  “Oh, Lanna, I’m so sorry,” she murmured.  “You’re always welcome.  You know no matter where I am, I’ll always love you, and care what happens to you.  Don’t doubt that.  And if you need anything at all, ask.”

 

B’Elanna felt her heart clutch in her chest, her body surrounded by the warmth and loving arms of the woman she let get away.  “I will, Benal,” she said softly.

 

Back out in the hallway, Naomi talked quietly with Kieran’s parents, waiting for the tall Commander to emerge.  Kieran came back looking so subdued, Naomi came over to take her hands.

 

“Honey, what’s wrong? Is B’Elanna okay?” Naomi demanded.

 

Kieran nodded.  “She’s just at loose ends, like we all are, I imagine.  It’s really over, Na.  We’re home.  The world just got a whole lot bigger, you know?  I have a child with someone who could end up on the other side of the quadrant, serving on a different ship.  I guess I never really thought about it, when we divorced,” she explained, twining her fingers with Naomi’s and leaning against the wall. “I thought we’d spend Katie’s childhood on Voyager.”

 

Kieran’s dad joined them.  “Honey, you’ll see her all the time,” he assured his only daughter.  “B’Elanna will work it out with you.  There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between you.”

 

“No, Dad, there’s no conflict.  It’s just hard.  You know, you’re a parent,” Kieran reminded him.

 

He hugged her, closing his eyes.  “That, I am.  And I am so glad you’re safe, honey.” 

 

_______________

 

Kieran lay curled around Naomi, feeling strange to be back on Earth, unable to sleep.  She untangled herself, careful not to awaken her partner, and went to the balcony to stare out at the lights of San Francisco.   She slipped out the French doors, letting the late spring breeze chill her with a bracing clap of ocean air.  She leaned on the railing, looking up at the stars.  They had been out there, years and years and years, and she had never really understood what it would mean to be home.  She had spent a third of her life on Voyager.  Everyone she got to see every day, the people who were her extended family, all would scatter and blow away to the four corners of the quadrant. 

 

Enterprise, she thought to herself.  They want me back.  Kathryn would die if I left her and took Naomi with me. But I have all the time in the world to think about that.  Debriefings should last most of the day, and then there’s the press.  And that damned ceremony to dedicate the court.  And then the rest of our lives begin.

 

Naomi Wildman slithered out of bed, pulling a robe around her.  Kieran had left the balcony doors ajar, and the night air had her shivering.  “Honey, what’s wrong?” she joined Kieran in the cold breeze.  “Can’t you sleep?”

 

Kieran drew her into warm arms.  “Not really.  I’m just so--unsettled, Na.  There’s a lot to think about.  So many decisions to make.  I feel adrift in it all.  Do you realize, we won’t wake up every morning and see Neelix in the corridor, or hear the Doctor singing in sickbay, we won’t count rations or jealously guard our holodeck time?  Our insular little world of Voyager is gone,” she said sadly.  “I know we have to move on, and it’s good to embrace change, but my heart aches at the thought of not seeing Harry Kim every day, not being in the physical environment where I fell in love with you, parting company with our friends and colleagues.  Even as badly as we were treated since Qian, I love those people, and it hurts so much to be saying goodbye.”

 

“I know,” Naomi agreed.  “I’ve lived on Voyager my whole life.  I’ve never been away from the Moms, or Neelix, or Geejay since she was born.  All the new challenges, all the big, frightening world, is waiting to test us.  I’m overwhelmed by it.  I’m so glad I have you to help me through it,” she hugged Kieran tightly.  “We’ll get through it together, honey.  I promise.  I’ll be your rock, and you can be mine.”

 

Kieran held to her with all her strength.  “I love you, Naomi Wildman.  Always, and only you.”

 

Naomi gazed up at her through long lashes.  “I love you too, Kieran.  And I’m so glad I got to meet your parents.  It’s giving me new insight into you.   Gran invited them to the farm, so we can all stay together a bit longer.  She doesn’t want me to run off to Florida with you, just yet, and she figures if she can convince them to visit Indiana, you and I will be under her roof a lot longer.”

 

Kieran grinned.  “I love your grandma,” she kissed Naomi’s hair.  “She’s nothing like I expected.”

 

“I know, me either,” Naomi agreed.  “I mean, I’ve corresponded with her and seen video, but she’s just not the person I would have imagined raising K-Mom.  She is so much more down to earth, more at ease than Kathryn.”

 

Kieran nodded in agreement. “Kathryn should try to adopt some of her mother’s inner-calm.  Phoebe sure seems to have it in abundance.  She’s a lovely woman, don’t you think?”

 

“Yes, but luckily, she didn’t stand so long in the pretty line that she missed out on the brains, either,” Naomi joked.  “I can’t wait to see her paintings.”

 

“Are you going to play for them?” Kieran wanted to know.  “Will you play for my folks?”

 

“Of course I will, but we have to figure out where we’re going to live, first.  We have two weeks to get our personal effects off the ship, including my piano and my schelanatta.  Have you got any ideas?”

 

Kieran snuggled into her.  “I haven’t even thought about it.  I feel bad that we haven’t really had a chance to plan anything definite.  This has been a whirlwind, hasn’t it?” she peered down into Naomi’s incredible eyes.

 

“It has,” Naomi agreed, stretching up to kiss her.  “Do you realize we haven’t made love since the Traveler and Wesley showed up in the Delta Quadrant?”

 

Kieran’s eyes widened.  “We haven’t?  Truly?”

 

Naomi shook her head.  “Honest.  We’ve never gone this long before,” she pointed out.  “Are you still attracted to me?” she smiled, already knowing the answer.

 

“God, yes,” Kieran assured her, kissing her deeply.  “I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.  I am constantly amazed by how much I respond to just looking at you,” she enthused.

 

“Oh, good answer,” Naomi approved.  “But why don’t you show me, instead of telling me?” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

“That may be the best idea you’ve had since we hit the Alpha Quadrant,” Kieran decided, turning them back toward their room.
 

___________________

 

Kathryn Janeway awoke with a sinking feeling.  There was no throb of warp engines to lull her back to sleep, no pressing agenda, no ship to run. Her spouse of seven years slept peacefully beside her, oblivious to the torment of the captain.
 
Nothing about being on Earth felt right, anymore, not the way she remembered it. The gravity was all wrong, the lighting was too dim, the air wasn't filtered and recycled, and there was no order to anything.
 
Kathryn eased her legs over the side of the bed, needing to feel something beneath her feet, even if it wasn't the comforting vibration of deck plating. She paced the hotel room, stewing over the debriefing that was scheduled for the day.  By God, they had better not question her decisions.  Any one of them in her shoes wouldn't have survived more than a few months. But she had gotten them through nearly thirteen years without help from home, without much in the way of guidance or consolation or even hope.
 
“Kathryn?” Seven rolled over to find her wife wearing out the carpet.  “What's wrong?”
 
“Everything,” Kathryn growled.  “This planet, these debriefings, everything.  I just know Starfleet is going to rip my command from stem to stern, Seven.  They should be throwing me a God damned parade, but instead, they're going to lambaste me.”
 
“Darling,” Seven said sympathetically, “they are throwing you a parade.”
 
“Well, they ought to let it go at that then,” she insisted.
 
“I have an idea,” Seven tried to placate her.  “Let me go wake up Kieran and Naomi, and we can have breakfast together.  Watch the sunrise.  Start our new lives on a positive note.”
 
Kathryn scowled contemptuously at her wife.  “Breakfast.” Yeah, that'll fix everything.
 
Seven scrambled to get dressed, before Kathryn could work her way into a complete tirade.  She had learned how to read the signs and the symptoms, and Kathryn had been tenuously holding it together since the Traveler and Wesley Crusher arrived in the Delta Quadrant.  She was well overdue for a good tantrum, and Seven didn't want to be alone with her when it hit this time.

 

___________________

 

Kieran Thompson awoke early, unaccustomed to natural light coming into a room of a morning.  She snuggled into her lover, nuzzling her hair gently with lips still aromatic with Naomi’s intimate scent.  “Hey,” she whispered.  “Have you ever seen a real sunrise, not a simulated one?” she asked drowsily.

 

Naomi smiled, holding Kieran’s arms around her.  “No, I never have.  Am I about to?” she chuckled, realizing sleep was a lost commodity this morning.

 

“If you want to.  I told you I want to show you everything about Earth.  Sunrise is one of the prettiest things to watch, although it’s prettier on the East Coast.  Here in San Fran, you have to watch the hills to the East.  I can order room service and we can have breakfast on the balcony, and watch it together.”

 

“I’ve got a better idea,” Naomi hugged Kieran’s arms.  “Why don’t we get dressed and go to the restaurant that faces the East side of the building.  We’re on the bay side--limited view, at best,” she reasoned.

 

“I love you,” Kieran breathed.  “That’s a great idea.  And thank you for last night.  I was finally able to sleep,” she kissed Naomi’s cheek.  “Tell you what.  Let’s go eat and watch the sunrise, and then we can take our showers, and I’ll wash every delectable inch of you while you watch that spectacle,” she ran her hands over Naomi’s naked breasts, loving the silken feel of the flesh against her palms.

 

“If you keep touching me like that, the plan is going to be we stay here and make love again,” she warned.

 

Kieran touched her more purposefully.  “And that would be bad why?”

 

“God,” she gasped, arching into Kieran’s hands.  “It would be wonderful,” she decided.

 

Kieran turned her over in muscular arms, kissing her passionately, letting Naomi tangle her fingers in the short strands of Kieran’s hair.  She moved over her, pressing the smaller woman’s legs apart with her hips, rubbing against her suggestively.

 

Naomi wrapped her legs around Kieran’s waist, moving against her in counter rhythm, already breathing heavily.

 

A loud knock at the door stopped them.

 

“Commander,” Seven of Nine called through the door.  “Are you awake?”

 

Naomi mouthed the words “Don’t answer her,” but it was too late.

 

“Hold on Seven, I’m not dressed,” Kieran replied, grabbing for a robe.  She opened the door.  “We just woke up.  Is everything okay?”

 

“Fine,” Seven smiled warmly.  “I missed you both, that’s all.  Would you like to have breakfast and watch the sunrise?  Kathryn and I thought it would be nice if just the four of us could spend some time together, before things get hectic again.”

 

“Let me ask Naomi, okay?”

 

“It’s fine,” Naomi called out from the muffling blankets she had hidden under.

 

“We’ll meet you in a few minutes, your Borgness,” Kieran smiled at her. 

 

__________________

 

By the time Naomi and Kieran had to report for debriefing, Kieran realized she was feeling a lot better about things.  She didn’t know if making love with Naomi had centered her again, or if she was adjusting better to the situation, or exactly why she felt better, but she did. 

 

They walked hand in hand up the sidewalks of Starfleet Headquarters to the Admin building.  “I probably won’t see you until late this afternoon,” Kieran advised her.  “Are you okay?”

 

“I’ll be fine.  After all, I’m not commissioned, how much can they really ask me?” Naomi said lightly.  “I’ll keep your family entertained, if you’re held late.”

 

Kieran kissed her passionately, right in front of the building, not caring who saw.  “I love you, Naomi.  I’ll be thinking about you the whole day.”

 

The strawberry blonde Ktarian smiled.  “I love you, too.  See you later.”

__________________

 

Naomi was right about her own debriefing.  Because she was not technically part of Starfleet, having only a field commission, the meeting she attended was for the general crew, and they dismissed them with a perfunctory interview.  She decided, since it was only 0900 hours, that a walk through the Academy Campus was in order.  She wanted to pick up a course catalogue, to peruse the curriculum and see if she might be cadet material.  She wandered along the neatly manicured lawns and gardens, and as soon as she crossed from the grounds of Headquarters onto the actual campus, the uniforms of the people bustling about changed.  All species of young people were out and about, and it dawned on her that she had never seen so many kids in one place.  She watched them playing ball, studying beneath trees, walking hand in hand, listening to music.  An occasional civilian walked the grounds, but mostly, the cadets were out in force.  She realized how conspicuous her uniform with the mustard placket must look.  It was twelve years out of current style, for starters, and no one wore colored panels on the uniforms anymore.  The order of the day was a black jumpsuit, with gray shoulder pads, and a mock turtle neck the color of your department.  Cadets wore black and gray.  Naomi felt like a relic, but walked on, amid stares and whispers.

 

She caught snippets of the comments.  “She must be from Voyager,” the voices said, “look at her uniform.” 

 

She spotted an equally archaic uniform ahead of her on the trail, and jogged to catch him.  “Icheb, wait up,” she called out.  She was out of breath by the time she reached him, still stuffed from breakfast.

 

“Naomi,” he grabbed and hugged her.  “Isn’t this planet the strangest place you’ve ever seen?” he smiled.  “I’d rather go back to Voyager,” he decided already.

 

“Where did you stay last night?  I sort of lost track of you and Jamari and Tessie, after we hit the Alpha Quadrant.  What are you planning to do?”

 

He took her arm, and they walked companionably along.  “At the Intergalactic Suites.  I am going to apply to the Academy, but until I know if I am accepted or not, I have a fellowship of study at the National Astrometrics Consortium.  They are the leading experts on astral phenomena, and they think my research aboard Voyager is worthy of their further inquiry.  Seven has agreed to assist their research, once she comes back from Indiana, as well.  We collected so much data from the Delta Quadrant, they’ll need years to catalogue it all,” he reported importantly.

 

“That’s great, Icheb,” Naomi congratulated him.  “I know you’ll get into the Academy.”

 

He checked a PADD he carried with him, which was programmed to give the carrier a tour of the campus.  “This is the propulsion studies quadrangle,” he announced, reading the data that scrolled by.  “Up ahead is the recreation center.”

 

Naomi looked at the map on the PADD.  “What’s this big domed building?”

 

“That would be the sports arena,” he checked the legend of the map.

 

Naomi’s pulse quickened.  “Did you know there’s a statue of Kieran at the arena?” she asked him, trying to hide her pride.

 

“No,” he laughed, seeing how anxious she was.  “Let’s go see it,” he snatched her hand and they ran all the way.

 

“Wow, look at the size of it,” he gasped, out of breath.  “It really looks like her, too,” he decided, meandering around the perimeter of the monstrosity.

 

“There’s an inscription,” Naomi murmured, leaning down to read it.  “Kieran K. Thompson, International Collegiate Athlete of the year, Valedictorian, Class of 2369.  Missing in Action, USS Voyager, 2371,” she recited. 

 

Naomi smiled at the likeness of her fiancée.  “What do you suppose the K. stands for?” she wondered.  “Kieran never told me she has a middle name.”

 

Icheb shrugged.  “I don’t know.  You’re going to marry her, shouldn’t you know these things?” he asked, irritated suddenly.

 

Naomi took a step back. “Why are you upset with me?” she asked, startled.

 

He let his temper subside, running his hand through the thick curls of his soft brown hair.  “You know perfectly well, Naomi,” he insisted.

 

She softened her tone, taking his hands.  “I honestly don’t,” she tried to persuade him.

 

He studied her face, and realized she was sincere.  “It’s just—I thought—someday—you and I would—be together,” he admitted.  “And now you’re engaged to Kieran.”

 

Her brow furrowed slightly, face piteous.  “I didn’t realize,” she floundered over the words.  “I thought we settled that a long time ago,” she explained.  “Did I ever do anything to make you think I saw a future with you?” she asked gently, knowing she had tried to make herself crystal clear to the young man.

 

He studied his feet, eyes downcast.  “No.  It was always Kieran for you.  I knew that, I guess.  But I hoped—” he looked up, meeting her gaze.  “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter what I hoped.”

 

“I’m sorry, Icheb,” Naomi said softly.  “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.  And I never meant to rub Kieran in your face.  I just wanted to see the statue,” she said apologetically.

 

“Well, I’m going to be late for my appointment.  You should stay as long as you like,” he dipped his head.  “Give my best to Commander Thompson.”

 

“I will,” Naomi agreed.  She watched him rush away, then turned back to the bronze behemoth towering over her.  “She is going to crawl in a hole and die when she sees this,” she snickered.  She laughed wickedly.  “I think a trip to the gift shop is in order,” she spotted the campus bookstore across the plaza, with a sign that said “Academy Gifts and Souvenirs”. 

 

She wandered the aisles until she found exactly what she had been looking for.  A replica of the Kieran Thompson statue, only six inches high.  “Perfect,” she muttered.  She looked around surreptitiously, not certain how purchases were handled on Earth.

 

A clerk noticed her uniform, and discerned the problem.  “May I help you?” she asked pleasantly.

 

“I don’t know,” Naomi lowered her voice. “I want to buy this.  But I don’t know what currency is used on Earth,” she explained sheepishly.

 

The clerk smiled.  “You’re from Voyager, aren’t you?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I was born on the ship.  I’ve never been to Earth, and nobody told me anything about money, or how it works here.”

 

“Starfleet gives you an account, and you’re credited for hours of service, with bonuses for numbers of tours of duty, commendations, and the like.  Your account number is your Starfleet ID number.”

 

“Oh,” Naomi smiled broadly.  “That’s easy enough.  How do I know if I have any credit in my account?”

 

“You can check this ATM,” the clerk assisted her.  “Put in your ID number here, and then select your options.”

 

Naomi thought it was an amusing game, and she happily punched in numbers.  “Is that my balance?”

 

The clerk nearly fell over.  “Good lord,” she breathed.  “You’re rich!” she exclaimed.

 

“I am?  Is this a lot of credit?” Naomi had no concept of money.

 

“Here,” the clerk punched the keys.  “This is your statement of account.  You’ve got deposits and credits, and no withdrawals.  I guess that’s what happens when your ship gets lost.  Look at the size of that one,” she whistled.  “Who is Samantha Wildman--is that you?”

 

Naomi swallowed hard.  “She was my mother,” she replied, not understanding.  “That must be how much they paid me when she died,” she realized.

 

The clerk looked closer.  It was a pension lump sum.  “That’s what it is, all right,” she agreed.  “A lump sum cash settlement on her life insurance.  You could retire from Starfleet today, and live like a queen anywhere in the Quadrant.  That money has been earning interest for almost seven years.”

 

“So I can afford this?” she held up the statuette.

 

The clerk threw back her head and laughed.  “You could afford anything in the store, or the whole store, for that matter,” she assured the Ktarian.  “Look around, make sure you didn’t miss something you’ll want later.”
 

Naomi smiled mischievously.  She selected four more statuettes, two sweatshirts for herself, two for Kieran, and a Starfleet Academy catalogue on PADD.  She also found a small selection of memorabilia from the Academy’s championship team that Kieran had played on.  There was a photo of the team, with Kieran looking to be about 12 years old, and a photo of her accepting her Athlete of the Year Award.  Naomi took one of each.

 

The clerk looked over her shoulder.  “Big fan of KT?” she smiled.

 

“I’d say.  We’re engaged,” she smiled proudly.

 

The clerk’s face fell.  “You’re joking.”

 

Naomi held out her hand, fingers splayed, to show the engagement ring she wore.  “Nope.  She’s my fiancée, all right.”

 

“Do you think—you could bring her by?  I’d love to meet her.  She’s just so—amazing,” the clerk got dreamy eyed.

 

Naomi quirked an eyebrow.  “I’ll see if I can talk her into it.”

 

“If she’d be willing to sign autographs, I could guarantee her a tidy sum for her efforts,” the clerk continued.  “I can sell anything to these kids if her face is on it, or her name.”

 

“I’ll tell her.  Thanks for your help,” she let the clerk total her purchases and bag them.  She walked out of the store, completely bewildered.  Kieran’s signature was worth money?

 ________________

 

Naomi Wildman met her grandmother, her aunt, and Kieran’s parents for lunch at a restaurant known as the Time Warp.  They were already seated when Naomi arrived, looking flushed with excitement.  She kissed everyone around the table in greeting, and seated herself next to her grandmother.

 

“What’s in the bag?” Gretchen asked, poking her nose in Naomi’s business.

 

“You won’t believe what I found,” she breathed, pulling out one of the statuettes.

 

Kieran’s mother smiled.  “We have one of those on our fireplace mantle at home,” she admitted.  “Kieran is going to hate that memorial,” she laughed.

 

“I know,” Naomi agreed.  “I’m going to make sure we have one in every room, just to watch her roll her eyes whenever she sees one,” she chuckled.

 

Phoebe studied the small bronzed figure.  “This is Kieran?”

 

“Yeah, when she played basketball for the Academy,” Kieran’s dad explained.  “That’s a replica of the nine foot statue in front of the sports arena,” he said proudly.  “We tried to convince her to go pro, after college, but she wanted to go to outer space,” he stirred his coffee.  “If she had only listened, she’d have never been taken away from us.”

Naomi swallowed her instant reaction, which was to point out that she’d have never met Kieran, had Kieran stayed on Earth.  She could see the pain in Kieran’s father’s eyes.

 

Kieran’s mother chimed in.  “Our other daughter, Cassidy, died when Kieran was at the Academy.  When Kieran was MIA, it was just--well, I don’t think we’ll ever be the same,” she kept a stern hold on her emotions, testing the temperature of her own drink.  “But, Gerry, she’s home now,” Kieran’s mother said.  “We have to be grateful for that, and not begrudge her the experiences she’s had.  She’s so happy--can’t you tell?”

 

Kieran approached as they talked, overhearing what her mother was saying.  “Yeah, Daddy,” she bent low to kiss his cheek.  “I’m very happy.  I’m sorry if you were worried about me, but I learned so much, out there.  And I met the love of my life,” she switched sides of his chair to kiss Naomi’s cheek too.  “Hi, sweetie.  How was your morn--what the hell is that?” she demanded, snatching the statuette.

 

Naomi smiled sweetly.  “Just a souvenir I picked up on campus.  The clerk at the bookstore wants to have your babies,” she added sarcastically.

 

Kieran moved a chair between Naomi and her father.  “Excuse me?”

 

“The clerk thinks you’re a really, really good idea,” Naomi taunted her.

 

“Yeah?  Well, I’m your really, really good idea.  Let’s keep it that way, okay?” she grinned.  “How did you glean that this clerk--er--thinks I’m a good idea?” she asked discreetly, though ordinarily she would be crude about it.

 

Naomi took back the statuette, putting it in her shopping bag.  “She practically begged me to bring you by for an introduction.”

 

“And you said?” Kieran stole a sip of Naomi’s water.

 

“I told her I’d convey the request.  She wants you to sign autographs so she can sell lots of stuff to the cadets, I think she said.  People will pay money for your signature?”

 

Kieran groaned, holding her head.  “They used to.  I sort of thought the trend would’ve died, by now,” she groused.

 

The waiter came by to take their orders, and held her PADD at the ready.  She glanced around the table.  “What’ll you have?” she asked.  Everyone recited their orders, but when her gaze landed on Kieran, she gasped.  “Oh my God,” she clapped her hand over her mouth.  “Mikey, get over here,” she shouted to the man at the register. 

 

Her husband rushed over, thinking there was a complaint about the food or service.  “What seems to be the--Oh my God,” his jaw dropped.  “Aren’t you Kieran Thompson?” he asked, his voice almost inaudible.

 

Kieran blushed.  “Yes, Sir, I am.”

 

“Do you remember me?” he asked hopefully.  “Mike Sorvino?”

 

Kieran racked her brain, but came up blank.  “I’m sorry, no I don’t.”  She looked at him a long time, and it finally clicked in her brain.  “Wait--yes I do.  You’re Toni’s dad, right?”

 

“Right,” he smiled warmly.  “And she made it, by the way,” he added. 

 

“Oh, that’s great, Mike,” Kieran shook his hand.  “I know she was really sick when I last saw her, and I always wondered if she pulled through,” she squeezed his hand.

 

“She’s an Ensign, in fact, on the Titan,” he reported proudly.  “And you folks are getting lunch on me.  It was a nice thing you did, and Toni never forgot it,” he told Kieran.  “She needed a boost and you were it.  Molly and I can never thank you enough.  Toni will be so excited to hear you came to our restaurant,” he hugged his wife.  His eyes widened.  “These must be your folks,” he reached for Mr. Thompson’s hand.  “I didn’t recognize you, it’s been so long ago.”

 

Gerry Thompson shook the man’s hand, but couldn’t recall if he knew him.

 

“Well, I’ll get your orders.  Anything you want, KT, you just ask.  I’ll fix you up,” he promised.  “Before you go, would you mind posing for a photo with me?  We’ll put it right by the autographed holoimage of Captain Kirk,” he said enthusiastically.

 

“I’d be glad to,” Kieran lied.  “As soon as we’ve finished lunch.  And Mike?”

 

He nodded eagerly.

 

“I’m friends with the Captain of the Titan.  I’m probably going to visit him before he leaves orbit.  If you like, I’ll stop in and say hi to Toni.”

“It would make her year,” he beamed at the former sports star.  “I’ll get your orders going,” he repeated, walking away with his wife.  “Do you believe that?” he asked her.

 

Naomi sat there staring at her fiancée.  “What was that all about?”

 

Kieran’s dad reached over his daughter and took Naomi’s hand.  “You’d better get used to it, Naomi.  Everywhere Kieran goes, people recognize her, and you’re not going to have much privacy.  It can be intimidating,” he said sympathetically.

 

Kieran decided to explain the whole thing to her lover.  “I got a letter from this junior high school kid, here in San Francisco, who was a basketball player.  She had the same disease that my sister Cassidy died of,” Kieran recited.  “She told me in the letter how the Make a Wish Foundation was giving her her last wish, which was to go to Mars Planetia and see the shipyards.  She told me in the letter, that a close second for her wish was to meet me.  So I took a bunch of stuff from the team--a basketball everyone signed, one of my game-worn jerseys, my high-tops--you know, memorabilia junk, and I went to see her in the hospital. I went with her and her family to Mars Planetia, spent the day with her--man, she was really, really frail and sick, and I just assumed she died after that.  But I guess she got lucky.”

 

Naomi’s heart melted.  “You did that for a stranger?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “It was the least I could do, Na.  She was dying.”

 

Naomi was impressed.  “Wow.  Her second to last wish was to meet you,” she breathed.

 

Kieran rested her chin in her hand.  “I just don’t get it, either,” she complained.  “It was one championship, that’s all.  It’s not like I invented the warp drive, or anything important.”

 

Naomi laughed at her chagrin.  “Well, apparently, it was important to a lot of people, and so are you.  Not the least of whom is me,” she kissed Kieran’s hand.

 

“The solution to keeping our privacy is that we have to get as far away from campus as possible, and then I can just blend in,” she said apologetically.  “I promise, it won’t be too terrible,” she tried to sound sincere.

 

Naomi nodded facetiously.  “Oh yeah, you’re gonna be able to blend in.  You’re taller than anyone in this restaurant,” she teased.  “What makes you think you can ever disappear into the woodwork?” 

 

“I can hope,” Kieran said, trying to find another glass of water.

 

__________________

 

Debriefings recessed for a two hour period in the afternoon, and Admiral Owen Paris made a point of meeting Kathryn and Seven to see how they were holding up.

 

“You don’t look any worse for the wear,” he noted as he approached the two women, who were standing in the hallway of the Admin building, looking fairly lost.  “I’m buying lunch.  How did the sessions go?”

 

Kathryn scowled.  “I’m ready to warp right back to the Delta Quadrant.  If Seven and I weren’t married, I’m sure Starfleet Medical would have dissected her by now,” she said tersely.

 

Paris’ eyebrows shot up.  “That bad?”

 

Seven nodded.  “They seem to be much more interested in me than in the mission we were on for the past twelve years.  It is—unnerving,” she trembled slightly.

 

Owen Paris’ features hardened.  “I’ll say something to them.  This is not supposed to be an interrogation,” he growled.  “You are a Federation citizen, and should be accorded due respect as such.”

 

“They act as if they think she might be a spy, some sort of plant for the Borg,” Kathryn bit her words off. 

 

“Well, I’ll do what I can, Kathryn, I promise,” he squeezed her arm.  “I think a brisk walk around the grounds and then lunch, if that suits you, ladies?”

 

Seven nodded eagerly. “Fresh air would be nice.  Now that we’re planet side, I can’t seem to get enough oxygen in my system.  I feel so sluggish.”

 

Kathryn nodded.  “Me, too.  But then Voyager had a slightly higher oxygen content in its canned atmosphere than Earth does.  A walk would help clear my thoughts,” she took Seven’s hand and fell into step with Admiral Paris.

 

“Seven, have you seen any of the grounds?” Owen asked, his balding head gleaming as they walked into the afternoon sunlight.  He was a large man with large features, including one of the most bulbous noses Seven had ever seen.

 

“Only what we saw on the walk from the hotel.  Naomi is planning to attend the Academy.  I would like very much to see the facilities,” she sounded positively maternal.

 

Owen smiled warmly.  “Well, a thorough tour is beyond the time we have, but a quick walk through campus shouldn’t make us too late to have time for lunch before you’re back in debriefings,” he agreed.  “Headquarters and the Academy are adjacent to one another, and you’ll know you’re on campus because the students wear different uniforms.”

 

Seven nodded.  “The grounds of Starfleet Command are lovely, Admiral,” she took his arm, smiling at him.  He was charmed.

 

They walked companionably through the Academy campus, with the Admiral pointing out the various buildings and landmarks.  Kathryn realized she had not kept up with any of the events or milestones of the Academy since she had graduated, and the campus looked a good bit different than she remembered it.

 

“Oh, you’ll get a kick out of this,” Paris pointed to a large bronze statue in front of the sports arena.  “I assume Kieran told you about it,” he laughed.

 

Seven dropped his arm and stood staring, open-mouthed, at a nine-foot statue of Kieran Thompson, sculpted in her basketball uniform, hand extended, palming a basketball.

 

Kathryn’s eyes darkened.  “She never told us anything,” she muttered, pacing the perimeter of the memorial.

 

Seven recovered her voice momentarily.  “Why is Kieran’s likeness displayed in this manner?” she thought of the monument on the planet where the Hirogen had attacked their away team.

 

Owen smiled faintly.  “Her teammates and the cadets who were here when Voyager disappeared wanted to pay tribute to her.  When she vanished with your ship, the mood on campus was very solemn.”

 

“She never mentioned any statue,” Kathryn repeated.  

 

“Did she tell you that the week before she joined your crew, the Academy retired her jersey?” he asked, eyes twinkling.

 

“Retired her jersey?” Seven didn’t understand.

 

“When an athlete makes contributions to their sport that are unprecedented, their team retires their jersey in homage.  That means no other Starfleet athlete can ever wear Kieran’s number, number five, on their uniform again, because it is retired to her, exclusively.  The jersey is hung in the arena, so that all the spectators can see that the athlete has been honored in this way,” he explained.  “Kieran’s is the only jersey ever retired in the history of the Academy,” he added.  “You can see it at the court dedication ceremony on Thursday.  It will be up in the rafters of the arena.”

 

Seven was puzzled.  “Kathryn, if Kieran was this well known to the students and to Starfleet in general, how did you not know who she was when she joined your crew?  You told me she slipped through the cracks unnoticed until B'Elanna introduced you to her.”

 

Kathryn bristled.  “I don’t personally greet every crewmember who comes aboard my ship, Seven, and within two days of the crew boarding, I was too busy to run the welcome wagon.  That’s the first officer’s purview, not the captain’s.  And frankly, after I left the Academy, I didn’t keep up with sports heroes.  I have no interest in the extra-curricular activities of my crew—only their job performance,” she finished with irritation.  “And even after I met Kieran personally, I didn’t recognize her or know anything about her ersatz fame,” she practically hissed the words.  She could see from Seven’s expression she was impressed by the statue, and it rankled in her.  “I was furious with Kieran for hiding in the shadows of my ship, instead of coming forward and volunteering her services as Ship’s Counselor.”

 

Owen Paris chuckled softly.  “There’s no way Kieran would have ever approached you, Kathryn.  It’s not in her nature to be a shameless self-promoter, just as she never told you about her jersey being retired.  She’s not one to rest on her laurels, or brag about them.”

 

“Honestly, Admiral, I never even knew she played basketball for the Academy, until she disappeared in a spatial rift, and B'Elanna told us about all the awards she had won and the championship.  I was stunned that Kieran had never said a word about it.  All she had ever told us was that she played softball in the ship’s league,” Kathryn related. “If I hadn’t read her service record in a fit of curiosity, I’d have never known she studied under Deanna Troi, or served on Enterprise.  Chakotay missed her in the stack of PADDs, I guess.”

 

Owen shrugged.  “Well, if you’re done admiring her likeness,” he teased Seven, “we can move on to the rest of the campus.”

 

Seven took one last look at the image of her friend, startled by how much it still looked like her.  “Kathryn,” she said sternly to her wife, “I want you to promise me you will not tease Kieran about this.  You know she is going to hate this tribute with a passion.”

 

Kathryn smirked.  “I won’t promise anything of the sort.  In fact, I intend to rub her nose in it at every turn.  I’m sure Naomi will, too.”

 

 __________________

 

Kathryn and Seven were in debriefings all day, and when dinnertime came, they still weren’t back.  The Janeways, Thompsons, Naomi Wildman, and the Torreses met for dinner at the Intergalactic Suites Grand Dining Room, and spent the evening getting to know each other better.  Half way through the meal, a group of very tall women entered the dining room, scanned the crowd, and spotting Kieran, made a beeline for her table.

 

“Oh my God,” Kieran jumped up and ran toward the tangle of arms and legs that enfolded her.

 

“KT!” she heard one of them say. “Honey, we were so worried about you,” someone else squeezed her and muttered.  “We thought you were dead,” another woman murmured.

 

The team was reunited, and they stood there hugging and crying and laughing all at once.

 

“What are you guys doing here?” Kieran demanded.

 

“Starfleet brought us for your ceremony.  We had to come a couple of days early to practice,” Stephanie Moss explained.

 

“Practice?” Kieran was puzzled.  “For what?”

 

Jenny Lincoln kissed Kieran’s cheek.  “The exhibition game, dufus.  The season is over—the semester is almost over.  They’re making us play the current Academy team in an exhibition game so they can dedicate the court to you.  You can’t very well dedicate the court without a game, now, can you?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “We’re going to play together again?”

 

“Yep,” Sarah Riley nodded.  “You’d better be in shape, girlfriend.  Can you still slam the jammas?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “I could as of a week ago,” she laughed.  “When can we practice?”

 

“The gym is all ours, tonight, and tomorrow.  The ceremony is tomorrow—they did tell you that much, didn’t they?” Karen Weaver demanded, ruffling Kieran’s hair.

 

“Yeah, I knew about the ceremony, but nobody told me you guys were coming,” she wiped at her eyes.  “Man, it’s great to see you all again.  What the hell have you been up to?” she glanced at her dinner party, realized she should go back and excuse herself, and smiled at her teammates.  “Guys, listen up.  I gotta explain to my family and my fiancée why I’m about to disappear for the night.  Do you mind if my lover and my daughter come along to watch us practice?”

 

“Daughter?” Stephanie grabbed her shoulders.  “You have a kid?”

 

Kieran grinned, nodding.  “Want to meet her?”

 

Kieran led the group over to her table, and introductions were exchanged all around.  “Listen, the girls and I have to practice for a game, so I’m going to leave you all to your dinner and scare up some sweats and high-tops,” she apologized.

 

Naomi looked up expectantly.  “A word with you, please?” she asked, leaving the table. “I bought you two new sweatshirts,” she advised her lover as they talked privately, “and they’re in my suitcase.  Your high-tops are in the big closet, and don’t forget, your gym shorts and socks are in your duffel bag.”

 

“Do you want to come watch?  Maybe bring Katie along?”

 

Naomi smiled.  “I’d love that, if I won’t be intruding on your reunion.  Let me just get our food to go.”

 

Kieran kissed her forehead.  “I’m going to get changed and I’ll be right back down to get you both, then,” she promised.  “Thank you for the sweatshirts, honey,” she gazed fondly into Naomi’s eyes.  “That was so thoughtful of you.”

 

Naomi gazed right back at her.  “I love you.  And I love to dress you almost as much as I love to undress you,” she flirted.

 

__________________

 

Kieran took the girls up to her room, letting them look around while she changed out of her uniform and into workout clothes.

 

“KT, your fiancée is a knock out,” Stephanie called through the ensuite door.  “She seems really nice.”

 

Kieran emerged, still tugging her new sweatshirt over her head.  “She’s the best,” Kieran agreed.  “But catch me up on you guys.  Show of hands, how many of you are married?” she counted two.  “Have kids?” She counted none.  “Anyone a Captain yet?”  Again no hands.  “First Officer?”  Three hands.  “Full Commanders?” Four hands. “Lieutenant Commanders?” Two more hands.  “Lieutenants?” the remainder of the hands went up.  “Anybody left Starfleet?” no hands.  “Where the hell is Jonesy?”

 

The room grew silent.  “We lost her in the war,” Stephanie finally piped up.

 

After a few moments, when the sad truth had sunk in, there was a collective sigh, and then everyone was talking at once, rattling off their respective ships, jobs, where they had most recently been.  They chattered just like they had during their Academy days, all arm in arm and giggling, as if no time had passed at all.

 

____________________

 

Naomi Wildman sat in the bleachers of the sports arena, trying to entertain Katie Torres, who was intermittently watching her mother play basketball.  Naomi kept her eyes on the court as much as she could, and she could tell the players were getting their rhythm back again.  She presumed there were many more knee braces and ankle wraps and thigh bandages than when the women had been teammates, but they still had hops, and they still had love for the game.   She felt like she was getting an education in Kieran’s history, between meeting her old friends and her family, and it helped her to solidify her impressions of how Kieran got to be who she was. It was also clear to Naomi from her own experience playing with Kieran on Voyager that as basketball players go, Kieran was far superior to any of her former teammates.

 

They did lay-up drills, weaving pass drills, pick-and-roll drills, grapevines and rebounding off the backboard timing drills.  The routines flowed as naturally as they had when the women practiced four hours a day, back in the day.  Kieran was working up a good sweat, cheeks pinkened with exertion, but her eyes were bright and shining with pure exhilaration. 

 

“Hey, Kelsey,” Stephanie called out as she retrieved the ball.

 

Kieran’s head snapped up.  “Man, nobody has called me that in years,” she laughed.

 

“Show us the move,” Stephanie taunted her.  C’mon, Kelsey at the Bat, show us the move,” she ribbed the taller woman.

 

Karen Weaver joined in.  “Mighty Kelsey will strike out,” she predicted, dribbling around her former teammate.  “Show us the move, KT.”

 

Kieran shook her head ruefully, palming the ball.  “Okay, but damn, you guys, I’m not twenty anymore,” she bitched, walking to half court.  She flipped the ball out in front of her eight feet, streaked out to snag it and dribbled toward the basket.  When she reached the foul line, she launched herself air born, backhand slamming the ball with two hands.  It actually went down.

 

The girls hooted and cheered uproariously.  “She still got game!” Annie Calicutt hollered, high-fiving her former teammates.

 

Kieran landed flat on her ass, grimacing.  “See?  I’m not as graceful as I used to be.  I used to be able to do that and land on my feet,” she chuckled, letting Stephanie hoist her from the hardwood floor.  Kieran rubbed her ass, scowling.

 

“You have to do that during the game, KT,” Jenny Lincoln slapped her on the back.  “Those punks from the Academy will be begging you for lessons,” she gloated.

 

Kieran smirked.  “You guys, they will probably kick our asses into the next Quadrant, you realize that, don’t you?”

 

Her teammates jaws dropped.  “Not a fucking chance,” they said, almost in unison.  “We are the undefeated!” they crowed, jumping up and down and making triumphant noises.

 

Kieran grinned.  “Yeah, well then let’s see who can still shoot the three-ball, because after they run us ragged, we’re going to have to score somehow,” she said realistically.  “Annie?  Can you still find the bottom?”

 

Annie waggled her eyebrows.  “Honey, I always could find the bottom,” she oozed innuendo. “Or the top, or the middle, for that matter,” she laughed at her own joke.

 

Kieran laughed at her brashness.  “You guys are something else,” she shook her head.  “Okay, back to work, lazy ho’s,” she admonished.

_______________

 

Kieran scrubbed the sweat from her hair, singing lustily in the shower, energized from being with her old friends again.  Steam rolled under the door, and Naomi Wildman lay on the bed, grinning at the bawdy ditty Kieran was belting out. 

 

She stripped herself silently, and snuck into the ensuite, pulling open the glass door and sliding up behind Kieran.  “Nice song.  Is it an invitation?”

 

Kieran turned to face her.  “It could be,” she rinsed her hands under the shower spray, then grabbed Naomi energetically, kissing her and tugging her under the flow of water.  “Do you want it to be?” she moved suggestively against the smaller woman.

 

Naomi touched her face, no longer playful.  “I do want it to be.  I need to connect with you, KT,” she requested.

 

Kieran turned serious in an instant.  “What’s wrong, sweetie?” she wrapped her arms around the lovely young woman.  “Something bothering you?”

 

“Not bothering me,” she decided pensively.  “Just--I don’t want to lose us in all this activity.”

 

“Ah,” Kieran nodded, understanding.  “It’s probably pretty strange, seeing and meeting all these people from my past,” she hit the nail on the head.

 

“I just forget, sometimes, that you had a life before Voyager,” Naomi admitted, soaping her hands and running them over Kieran’s chest.  “Not just a life, but a really full life, one I wasn’t a part of.  You’ve always been in mine,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran kissed her gently.  “That’s not true, honey.  Your first six years, I didn’t know you at all.  I knew of you, but we weren’t friends.  I hardly knew your mother, for example, and unfortunately, I won’t get the chance to know her.  Fortunately, for you--well, I guess the jury is still out on that, but you get to meet my family, be part of it.  I’d have liked to have known Samantha better,” she said, wishing she could have.

 

“Your Mom really worked you over today,” Naomi murmured, letting soapy fingers roam down the muscles in Kieran’s arms.  “Is she always so hard on you?”

 

“She was being really nice, today,” Kieran laughed.  “Usually it’s much worse.  She rags on me for everything.  You wait and see.  Dad tries to shut her down when she starts, but it’s such an old pattern with her, she really can’t help herself, I think.”

 

“You seem to take it in stride,” Naomi complimented her.

 

Kieran kissed her forehead indulgently.  “That’s because I spend most of my life 3,000 miles or more away from her,” she said honestly.  “There was an ulterior motive for going into space travel,” she laughed, stealing the soap and working up a good lather in her palms.  She smoothed her hands down Naomi’s back, kneading the muscles as she went, working out the tension.  “You’re really tight,” she mentioned.  “Am I hurting you?”

 

Naomi laughed deep in her chest.  “You usually like it when I’m tight,” she flirted, “and you’ve never hurt me,” she added, turning back around to face her lover.  She pulled her in for a kiss, leaning them up against the tiles, exploring Kieran’s mouth teasingly.  She reached for Kieran’s breasts, rubbing her thumbs over the warm, fleshy nipples.  Kieran groaned softly, capturing Naomi’s lips in a heated kiss.

 

They stood there for long minutes, kissing and caressing and letting the water rinse away the soapy mess they had made.  Kieran slid her hands beneath Naomi’s buttocks and lifted her up, pressing between her legs simultaneously, anchoring her against the wall as Naomi’s legs enfolded Kieran’s body.  Kieran’s fingers found the cleft between Naomi’s cheeks, filling her with two fingers in one opening.  Naomi arched outward, arms around Kieran’s neck, body suspended by Kieran’s taut, powerful arms.  Tongues entwined, bodies straining together, Naomi moved against Kieran’s belly, letting her labia open against the swell of Kieran’s flesh, the slick fluid coating the skin and leaving a warm ribbon.

 

Naomi tore her mouth away, biting Kieran’s earlobe and grunting faintly. “I want your fingers everywhere,” she murmured, urging her lover to fill her other opening.

 

“Are you sure?” Kieran hesitated.  It was something she’d never ventured with Naomi, thinking she was too delicate to take the intrusion.

 

“Please,” Naomi moaned soft and low.  “Kieran, touch me there,” she whimpered in Kieran’s ear.

 

Kieran shifted Naomi’s weight against the wall, making sure she had a firm hold on the slippery woman’s torso.  “Okay,” she agreed, kissing Naomi’s throat.  “Relax for me,” she instructed, dabbling a third finger in the lubricant between Naomi’s labia.  She pressed the digit into Naomi’s tightest orifice, feeling the resistance, then moving past the barrier of muscle.  “Is that okay?” she hesitated, afraid of hurting her partner.

 

“It feels so intense,” Naomi breathed into the sensation.  “God, it burns,” she groaned.

 

“Do you want me to stop?” Kieran wasn’t sure if a burning sensation was a good thing or not.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Naomi wriggled against her, forcing Kieran’s fingers to move inside her.

 

Kieran obliged by easing her finger in slowly, and out again.  Naomi started to come immediately, shaking with spasms inside her walls, crying out.  “Kieran,” she buried her face in the taller woman’s neck, “oh God, it’s so good,” she gasped, letting the orgasm tear through her, body convulsing in sharp breaking waves.

 

“I’ve got you,” Kieran assured her, continuing the careful motion until the waves subsided. 

 

Naomi collapsed against her, legs falling from around her hips, once again standing, but definitely on weakened legs.  She laughed with relief, still hanging onto Kieran’s neck, lifting her leg so Kieran could remove her fingers again.

 

“Come here,” Kieran scooped her up and carried her out of the shower stall.  “Grab that towel,” she directed her lover as she turned them to fit through the door, keying the shower controls to turn off the water.

 

Naomi collected the large bath sheet from the metal shelf, letting Kieran carry her to bed. 

 

“Hang on to me,” Kieran ordered her, taking the towel in one hand and spreading it out on the bed.  She eased Naomi onto it, then lay herself over the Ktarian’s body protectively, fingers lacing together and arms stretching to the edges of the bed. 

 

Kieran kissed her deeply, teasing with her tongue, weight supported on her knees, careful not to crush the gorgeous creature beneath her.  “I love you, Naomi, and I want to spend the best part of my life with you,” she whispered between kisses.  “The past can never compare to finding you.  Nothing ever will compare to that,” she breathed warmly in the Ktarian’s ear, nuzzling and raising gooseflesh.  She untangled their hands, shifting her weight above Naomi, balancing to protect her.  “I’m going to make love to you until you beg me to stop,” she promised her beloved.

 

Naomi moaned as Kieran’s mouth closed around her left nipple.  “What if I never want you to stop?” she asked, her breathing laboring in time with Kieran’s lips.

 

“Then we’ll spend the rest of our lives making love,” Kieran said solemnly, gently holding the distended flesh in her teeth and pulling on it ever so slightly.

 

Naomi groaned again, holding Kieran’s head to her breast.  “You’re making me crazy,” she shivered with need.

 

Kieran found her wetness once more, penetrating her with two fingers, easing them in and out in time with the motion of her tongue on Naomi’s breast.  “I’ll stop if you ask,” she whispered, descending the Ktarian’s torso and opening her legs with kisses.  She tasted Naomi then, making her cry out as she found a ripened clitoris.  She loved to seduce her this way, licking softly at her folds until she was begging for release, tasting and opening her with an inquisitive tongue.  She curled her fingers inside Naomi’s walls, sucking the fleshy lips into her mouth, spreading them open with a slow, long lick. 

 

Naomi drew her legs up, opening herself more deeply.  Kieran smiled against her sex, pressing her fingers further, then sliding them out in a tantalizing motion.  She teased and tasted her that way until Naomi could take no more.

 

“Kieran,” she begged, “please…I need…I need…” she prayed for release, gasping for air.

 

“What do you need, love?” Kieran wanted to make her say it.

 

“I need…oh God…please make me come,” she groaned, body trembling.

 

Kieran pressed a single finger into her second opening, this time all the way in with a quick thrust, and Naomi went rigid, crying out.

 

Kieran’s tongue danced over her clit then, wringing the orgasm out of her as she moved her hips unbidden, in time with the rolling climax breaking inside her.  Kieran held her down, not letting her shy from the caresses, until Naomi pushed on Kieran’s forehead, forcing her away.

 

“Do you want me to stop?” she chuckled.

 

“Yes,” Naomi finally admitted, laughing. 

Obediently and true to her word, Kieran withdrew her fingers and moved up the length of her lover’s glorious body, sinking into Naomi’s arms.

 

They were silent while they waited for the frenzied feeling to dissipate, lying in the tangled bedding, breathing in synchronized breaths.  “You would tell me if I ever did anything that hurts, wouldn’t you?” Kieran finally asked.

 

“Yes.  Why haven’t you ever done that to me before?” Naomi’s voice was still weak.

 

“I was afraid you couldn’t take that much without it causing pain.  I guess I was wrong,” she murmured.

 

Naomi stroked her hair softly, loving the natural silk of it without chemical agents to make it spike out.  “I think you just excite me so much,” she considered, “that you could do a lot of things and they wouldn’t hurt.  If it were anyone but you, you’re probably right, I wouldn’t like it.  But you’re so careful and considerate, I seem to be able to push my body to the limit for you, and everything just feels so amazing,” she kissed Kieran’s forehead, holding her face against full breasts.  “I never would’ve imagined sex could be so important,” she sighed, overwhelmed by it.

 

Kieran smiled, letting her fingers splay across Naomi’s flat stomach.  “It’s really what you said tonight,” she agreed.  “It’s a way to connect, to reaffirm what we are to each other.  I feel so honored, because no one else gets to touch you that way.  When you let me make love to you, it feels like the most incredible gift,” she wrapped her arm around Naomi’s waist, head still in the crook of Naomi’s arm.

 

Naomi squeezed Kieran tighter.  “It is a means of connecting—the most direct and immediate means,” she agreed.  “I need it.  I need to be with you that way.  It keeps me vulnerable,” she admitted. 

 

Kieran wasn’t sure she understood.  “Vulnerable?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “When I give myself up to you, let you make love to me—and when I really, really let go, and I’m vocal and needful and pleading with you to do those things to me, I am in a complete state of vulnerability and in that surrender, I have absolute faith in your love for me.  I trust that you will give me the emotional safety net and the physical release, and that no matter how loud I scream, or how vulgar I am, or how desperately I need you to take me, you’ll love me when it’s over with.  I can’t very well build walls to shut you out if you’ve seen me at my most vulnerable.  It’s the most basic state a person is ever in, and you’re the only person I’ll ever share that with.  Does that make sense?”

 

“I think so,” Kieran considered.  “Without that, would you build walls?” she needed to understand.

 

“Probably.  I watched it happen with you and B’Elanna, anyway,” she said quietly, still stroking Kieran’s hair.

 

Kieran propped her head up on her hand.  “What are you talking about?”

 

Naomi sighed.  “Maybe I shouldn’t go down this path,” she regretted the observation.

 

“No, please.  I want to get it, Na.  I think you’re telling me something very important, and I want to learn if I can.  God, I don’t want to fuck this up like I did with B’Elanna,” she said earnestly.

 

“Okay,” Naomi gathered her thoughts.  “I watched you and B’Elanna putting up walls with each other for weeks and weeks before you broke up.  I would be willing to bet that while all that was going on, there was no sexual interaction.  I think, if you had allowed yourselves to be sexual together, the walls would’ve come back down.  But when anyone in a relationship consciously refuses to be vulnerable, walls start to multiply exponentially.” Naomi kissed Kieran’s hair tenderly.  “She was consciously choosing to refuse her love and vulnerability to you.”

 

“I tried to be sexual with her, but she kept pushing me away.  I did everything I could to reach her, and she was so pissed at me for being gone all the time, as soon as I would try to be close to her physically, let alone sexually, she would withdraw.  She went so far as to sleep on the couch, rather than let me hold her sleeping,” Kieran explained, thinking about how rejected she had felt.  “One night, I asked the Captain for two hours off to try to be with B'Elanna, and we went home,” she recalled.  “It was all wrong between us, by then.  I tried to initiate sex with her, but she—she—bit me really hard, and I got angry.  Only as soon as she saw the blood, she was excited, so I hung in there, and she just about shredded my chest.  Then she pushed me away and said it was too dangerous for me to try to be with her, because she would put me in sickbay.  But what she really wanted was for me to force her.  And I’m not about to ever force anyone to have sex, even if that’s what they want me to do.  So instead of making love, I spent half an hour with a dermal regenerator, trying to fix my chest and breasts and my sides.  And I went to dinner with you, instead.”

 

Naomi eyes widened.  “You mean that one wound I saw on you—that was just one of many she inflicted on you that night?”

 

“Oh, hell, Na, there were probably forty just like that one,” Kieran admitted.  “Not that she usually got that carried away, but bloodlust is powerful stuff for a Klingon.  I should have known after she bit my throat that I was in trouble, but I kept trying.”  Kieran sighed.  “I knew then she needed to be with a man, because a guy would’ve loved the idea of forcing her.  But to get back to your point, you’re right, B'Elanna had been pushing me away for months.  In fact, we hadn’t slept together since we had been in orbit at Restid Three.”

 

“That’s a hell of a long time,” Naomi affirmed her own theory.  “And refusing that sexual connection was B’Elanna’s way of denying her love for you, of ignoring it and locking it away from her vulnerability.  She could reinforce her walls, and get more distance from you, and close you out more and more, until you two had no common ground left to stand on for all the walls separating you.  With you and I,” she stressed, “I know that the very best thing I can do when things are difficult is let you in, not shut you out.  If I surrender myself to you, I can’t simultaneously be building walls against you.  It would be easy, I know, to fall into that pattern of protecting myself, but the second I give in to the instinct to put that wall up, we’re lost, and I know it.  Fear and vulnerability can’t coexist successfully.  So when I feel distance between us, I know I have to eliminate it, reaffirm our closeness, and if that means giving myself over to you completely, that’s what I’ll do.”

Kieran nodded.  “And so you came in the shower with me,” she stated.

 

“I was feeling so distanced from you—not because of anything you’d done, but because of our circumstances.  Nothing here is familiar to me, nothing feels like home.  Yet to you, this is your home, your kingdom, your domain.  And so I was feeling like I don’t belong, but you do, and it would have been easy to close myself and refuse to try to be part of your life here.  It’s the first instinct, to tuck tail and run--run back to the Moms, to the familiar and safe.  I had to make myself vulnerable to you to keep myself from giving in to the instinct.”

 

Kieran wrapped herself around the smaller woman, closing her eyes.  “I never, ever want to have a wall between us.  We were lucky, Sieken gave us the tool to remove them all, to share everything our hearts hold.  Now we’re on our own, with no psychic link to tear down the walls we might build.  We have to do it ourselves.  I get what you’re saying,” she squeezed Naomi close to her.

 

“If we ever have a fight and we don’t immediately have sex to mend it, that’s when we’re in real trouble.  Sex is the way I give myself to you, the way I entrust my soul to you.  If that withers away, so will our love.”

 

Kieran held her possessively, chest aching, wanting to absorb her completely.  “I love you so much, Naomi.  Your selflessness humbles me.”

 

“The thing is,” Naomi pointed out, “you’re really good at dropping your own defenses with me.  You’re never afraid to cry, never hesitant to apologize, and you don’t hide your vulnerability, ever.  I know I’ve found my ideal partner, because what I have to work at, you do automatically.  The problem with you and B’Elanna was that you were meeting her halfway, and she wasn’t showing up for the conference,” she laughed quietly.

 

Kieran laughed.  “Hell, she didn’t even read the invitation to the conference,” she joked.  “You know, you certainly had some major insights into my marriage.  Why didn’t you share them while I could still do something about them?”

 

Naomi snuggled closer, thinking.  “Probably because I could never be objective where you were concerned.  I didn’t trust myself to give you the best advice, as opposed to the advice that might bring you closer to me.  So I kept my mouth shut, mostly,” she explained.

 

Kieran rolled them over, hovering over Naomi.  “I’m glad you didn’t figure out a way for me to work things out with Lanna.  This is where I belonged.  Only, if you hadn’t had that experience on Restid Three, we would’ve had to wait years and years to be together.  That freak little encounter with that cave slime changed our whole lives.”

 

Naomi smiled warmly.  “Sometimes, fate just has the best plan,” she agreed.

 

___________________

 

After a very late dinner, Seven of Nine sank into the chair of the hotel room’s workstation, while Kathryn showered and got ready for bed.  Her curiosity was piqued after seeing Kieran’s statue, and she wondered what else Kieran had simply never mentioned to them.  Seven accessed the Starfleet database, and then found the Academy link.  She went into the news archives and searched ‘Kieran Thompson’.   She watched as over four hundred hits accumulated on the search results list.  She scrolled through the titles, astonished at the sheer number of articles.  Most were box scores from games Kieran had played in, but there were pieces on various awards she had won, the text of her graduation speech, even an article about a musical performance she had given at a campus talent show.  Seven opened a couple of the articles, laughing at how young Kieran looked in the accompanying pictures. 

 

Cassidy Thompson’s obituary popped up on the screen from a link Seven had followed, and a brief video about Cassidy played.  Then there was an interview with Kieran that had run on ESPN, asking her about Cassidy, how the death had impacted her athletic performance, how she was coping in general.  Kieran told the reporter all about her sister, how close they had been, and how proud she was to have had Cassidy’s love and support.  Seven studied Cassidy’s likeness for a long time, noting the similarities to Kieran.  Other than the eye color and the texture of their hair, they looked identical. 

 

Seven perused the list, opening an occasional link, reading various interviews Kieran had given, viewing footage of the championship game, and watching excerpts from highlight reels of other games.  She could hear that Kathryn was almost done in the bathroom, and she did not want Kathryn to find her researching Kieran Thompson, after Kathryn’s obvious fit of jealousy over the statue and Seven’s admiration of it. 

 

Seven’s eyes came to rest on one of the last articles:

 

Kieran Thompson, Former ICAA Athlete of the Year, Announces Engagement at Jersey Retirement Ceremony by Michael Jacobsen

 

Seven opened the link, noting the date was just before Voyager was lost.  She was just about to scroll down to the photo of Kieran and her fiancée, when Kathryn emerged from the bathroom.  Seven cleared the screen.

 

“What are you looking at?” Kathryn asked mildly.

 

“Weather forecast,” Seven reported, shutting off the display.

___________________

 

Kieran awoke later than usual, and she was surprised.  Naomi tended to awaken first, and her habit was to ease Kieran into consciousness by kissing and caressing her.  This morning, Naomi slumbered on, and when Kieran tried to turn her onto her back to kiss her, Naomi actually pushed her away as she rolled over.

 

Kieran tried not to feel hurt, since Naomi was sound asleep.  But she looked at her lover and realized Naomi looked awful.  Her face was drawn and tired, and overnight, deep, dark circles had appeared under her eyes.  She felt her forehead for fever, but found none.  Naomi’s brow knitted and she grimaced in her sleep.  The next thing Kieran knew, Naomi launched herself out of bed and ran for the ensuite, vomiting before she could even get to the basin.  Kieran leapt out of bed and followed her, steadying her over the porcelain receptacle, holding her hair back out of the way.

 

“It’s okay,” she soothed, rubbing her back.  “Are you okay?”

 

Naomi continued to retch, purging herself of everything she’d eaten the night before.  “I need water,” she managed to say between heaves.

 

Kieran got cold water from the replicator, helped Naomi drink it down, and then wiped her face with a damp washcloth.  “Better?”

 

Naomi was pale as the sheets on their bed, but she nodded.  She stood up, but immediately got dizzy, and Kieran had to catch her to keep her from hitting the tile. 

 

“It’s okay, I’ve got you.  I think you’d better lie down, and let me get a medic from the concierge’s office,” she scooped Naomi into her arms as if she weighed nothing, and carried her back to bed.  “Na, you’re losing weight,” she commented.  “You feel so slight,” she sounded worried.

 

“I’m okay, honest,” Naomi assured her.  “I just need to rest a minute.  Go ahead and take your shower, and I’ll collect myself,” she smiled wanly.

 

“Like hell.  I’m not leaving you until I know you’re not going to throw up again,” Kieran lay back down with her, holding her close.

 

Naomi closed her eyes tightly, trying to make the room stop spinning, willing away the multihued spots dancing behind her eyelids.  “I’m better now.  I promise,” she lied.  “I’d like to eat breakfast, though, so go get showered, please.”

 

Kieran studied her a bit, then relented.  “You call me if you need me.  I’ll make it a really quick one,” she decided.

 

“I’ll be fine.  I’m going to contact Gran.  With K-Mom and Seven back in debriefing, Gran and Aunt Phoebe are going to be at loose ends--I told them we’d take them on a tour of the campus, and go see your statue,” she smiled faintly.

 

“Figures.  Can’t trust you as far as I can throw you,” she teased.  “I may have to leave your tour early, though, because I’ve got practice at two.”

 

“Okay, sweetie,” Naomi agreed.  “But you’d better not bail out just so you can avoid seeing your likeness.  You really should see it, KT.”

 

“Yes, Ma’am.  I’m getting in now,” she called back to her.

 

___________________

 

Gretchen Janeway walked with Naomi’s hand in hers, following along the campus tour Kieran was conducting.  Phoebe shaded her eyes with her hand, taking in the buildings Kieran pointed out.  The Thompsons were familiar with everything, but tagged along anyway.

 

“Over there is the Social Sciences Center.  They have Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science courses there.  The Counselor training program is there, too,” she pointed across the lawn.  “And that is the Medical Sciences building.  The student infirmary is there, along with the medical school.  Over there is the Student Union, where the Alumni Association offices are, and the cafeteria, administration offices, recreation center, and archives.”

 

Naomi piped up.  “Isn’t the Wall of Fame in there, too?  I’d like to see it.”

 

“Yes.  Come on, we’ll take a look,” Kieran agreed.  She led them to the third floor, down a long, rectangular corridor.  “This timeline shows all the major events in the history of Starfleet,” she explained.  “From first contact with Vulcan,” she traced the diagram, “to the Dominion War and beyond.  They update it every six months.  Over here,” she pointed to a plexicast case set into the wall, “are all the awards that have been given to the Academy, including my favorite, the Einstein award, which the Academy received for its work on quantum mechanics.”

 

There was an impressive array of medals, plaques, trophies, and mementos from alien governments, thanking the Academy for various deeds of service. 

 

Naomi grinned as they walked down the next corridor.  This was the portion she had wanted to see.  “What’s this, KT?” she asked innocently.

 

Kieran was oblivious to the subterfuge.  “This wall has a plate listing the name of every Valedictorian and every Salutatorian of every graduating class since the Academy was founded,” she waved her hand down the wall.

 

Naomi slipped her arm through Kieran’s.  “Show us yours,” she grinned with delight.

 

Kieran’s left eyebrow shot skyward.  “Is that why you wanted to come up here?  Just for that?” she laughed.

 

“I want your picture next to it, KT,” she insisted, digging her holoimager out of her backpack.  “Stand next to it and smile.  I said smile, not smirk,” she lectured.

 

Kieran tried to be sincere as she stood next to the brass plate with her name on it.

 

Kieran’s dad nudged his wife.  “She’s letting someone take her picture.  Now I know she’s in love,” he smarted.

 

Kieran stuck her tongue out at him, and Naomi clicked the image at that very moment.  “Dang it, you did that on purpose,” she hit the ‘back’ button on the imager and reset it.  “Now don’t screw this one up, Commander,” she demanded, taking the picture again.

 

“Now that that’s over,” Kieran scowled playfully, “I suppose you want to see the trophy case at the arena, too,” she kissed Naomi’s hair lovingly.

 

“Yep.  Lead on,” she replied.

 

After they had taken a look at the trophy case in the arena, they exited by the statue of Kieran Thompson.

 

“God, Wes was right,” she breathed, taking in the behemoth.  “It is an eyesore.”  She knelt down at the base of the monument to read the inscription, her eyes misting over.  “I can’t believe they did this.”

 

Kieran’s dad knelt beside her.  “Starfish, you should have seen the dedication ceremony.  This whole plaza was packed with people—cadets, celebrities, Admirals—your favorite music group—what were they called?”

 

“Azure Horizon,” Kieran replied softly.

 

“They performed a song.  Lenara Kahn, Leah Brahms, Hanor Pren, Bejal Otner, and Paul Stubbs were just a few of the speakers at the ceremony,” he said proudly. “Jean-Luc Picard also spoke to the crowd, and then Admiral Brand made the dedication.  Your mom and I have a recording of it, if you’d like to see it,” he offered.

 

“All of those big-shot scientists?  They all came?” Kieran was overwhelmed.

 

“They all considered you a friend,” Gerry shrugged.  “They were very kind to your mother and I.  It helped a lot to hear their memories of you, and to know that in spite of how important they all are, you managed to make an impression upon them.”

 

“Maybe someday, Daddy, I’ll watch it.  I think it would just upset me, now though.  This homecoming is so raw, so close to the surface,” she bit her lip.

 

“I understand,” he hugged her as they studied the inscription on the statue’s base.  “Your mother and I were so proud when they unveiled this.  We had a good many laughs, over it, too, because we knew you’d just hate it.”

 

When Kieran had composed herself, she allowed Naomi to take the obligatory slew of photos of her beside the statue, and she tried very hard not to roll her eyes.

 

“Now, duplicate the pose of the statue,” Naomi instructed, focusing again.

 

“Honey, I don’t have a basketball, how can I?” Kieran protested, looking at the bronzed figure and trying to duplicate the stance.

 

“Improvise,” Naomi insisted in a demanding tone.

 

Kieran tried her best to recreate the pose, but it was laughable.  “Honey, I’d have to be in the middle of a slam dunk to pull that off.”

 

“Try again,” Naomi called out.

 

Gretchen smirked.  “Is she always this bossy?” she asked, arms crossed in mock disgust.

 

“Infinitely worse, when we’re alone,” Kieran teased.

 

Satisfied with the reams of images scrolling across the display, Naomi said they could move on.

 

“Okay,” Kieran agreed gratefully.  “Xenobiology, zoology, reproductive science, and terraforming classes are in that complex,” she pointed it out as they passed by.  “Up ahead is the propulsion studies quad--where is Naomi?” she looked around, not seeing her lover.  She spotted her still back at the statue, bent at the waist and purging her breakfast.  “Na!” she shouted, running back to her.  As she caught up with the obviously ill Ktarian, Naomi reached for Kieran’s arms to steady her and collapsed to the sidewalk.  Naomi was coughing up bright red blood as she retched.

 

“Shit!” Kieran swore, trying to ease Naomi down without hurting her.  “DAD!” she hollered, “Help me!” 

 

Gerry Thompson was already on his way, and he helped Kieran get Naomi into her arms.

 

“I’m taking her to the infirmary,” she announced, already taking off at a jog across the greenways.  “Come on, everyone.”

 

She burst through the automatic doors of the emergency room, shouting for assistance and giving orders.  “Phoebe, contact Voyager at that kiosk,” she pointed to the workstation.  “Download Naomi’s medical records, authorization Thompson pi alpha one, Ship’s Counselor clearance.  Gretchen, get a PADD over there and start filling it out.  Dad, there’s a comm station over there,” she barked. “Contact Kathryn and Seven, tell them where we are and that Naomi is bleeding internally.  Then hail B’Elanna and tell her what’s happened, and I won’t be picking up Katie tonight.”  Then to the attendant she said, “I’m Commander Kieran Thompson.  Hail Kate Pulaski and get her down here to see this patient, Lieutenant.”

 

The attendant balked.  “I can’t hail Pulaski, Sir, she’s the director of this facility.”

 

“She’s also a friend of mine, and I just gave you a direct order, God damn it, now hail her,” she hugged Naomi closer.  “Hang on, sweetie,” she whispered into her ear.

 

Naomi groaned.  “Kieran, it hurts so bad,” she managed.

 

“What baby?  What hurts?” Kieran shifted Naomi’s weight.

 

Naomi cried out.  “Everything hurts,” she winced.  “God, make it stop,” she buried her face in Kieran’s shoulder.

 

“Mom,” Kieran said to the only person that wasn’t already jumping to do her bidding, “contact the office at the arena, tell the girls I won’t make practice today.”

 

Kate Pulaski shoved through the doors of the emergency ward, a look of pure outrage on her face, as she demanded to know why in bleeding hell she had been dragged out of a meeting.  She spotted Kieran Thompson, saw the look of dire alarm on her face, and immediately set her ire aside.

 

“Commander,” she greeted the younger woman, “bring her in here, I’ll take a look.  Are her medical records in the system yet?”

 

Phoebe came back just then.  “Downloading as we speak,” she advised.  “Na,” she touched her arm, “it’s okay,” she bit her lip, seeing the excruciating look of pain Naomi wore.

 

“Let’s go, Kieran,” Pulaski took them into the treatment area.  “Lay her down here and let me scan her.  What’s been going on?”

 

Kieran explained Naomi’s nausea and vomiting, and then her recent problems with accelerated maturation.  Pulaski scanned and muttered, slapped together a hypospray, and told Naomi “I’m going to give you something to stop the nausea and the pain.” 

 

Naomi relaxed immediately, sighing as the medicine hit her system.  “Thank you,” she murmured.

 

Pulaski read through the workstation display, reviewing Naomi’s most recent CBC, her genetic profile, and the EMH’s notes regarding her accelerated aging.  “This looks like something I went through on Enterprise,” she said half-aloud. “She is definitely not in remission anymore,” Pulaski determined.

 

Kieran fidgeted nervously.  “Can you help her?”

 

Pulaski didn’t give her a direct answer.  “I need to run some tests.  Some of these readings look like nonsense to me.  Let me do some digging, KT.  I want to check the database for information on accelerated aging in Ktarians, and see if there are other cases of it.  Wait out in the lobby.  This might take awhile,” she advised.  Seeing the instant protest on Kieran’s lips, she held up a hand.  “Don’t argue, Commander, I have work to do, and she is going to be asleep in a matter of moments.”

 

“She’s my fiancée,” Kieran said weakly.  “Please, Kate, take good care of her.”

 

Pulaski gave her a rare smile.  “Kiddo, I figured that out the second I saw the fear in your eyes.  I’ll do my best.”

_______________

 

The waiting room was filled to capacity, between Kieran’s teammates, Naomi and Kieran’s families, and the most recent arrivals, Noah, B’Elanna and Neelix.  Kieran sat in a chair, despairing.  She couldn’t shake the sight of all that blood.

 

Kate Pulaski came out presently, looking more subdued than Kieran could ever remember seeing her.  “Kieran,” she said, “you have medical power of attorney?”

 

“That’s right,” Kieran agreed, standing to face the Doctor.  “What is it?”

 

“I need to endoscope her.  I have to get a sample of her stomach lining, and that’s a minor surgical procedure.  She’s sedated, so I need consent from you.”

 

“Whatever it takes,” Kieran nodded emphatically.  “Can you tell us anything?”

 

Pulaski frowned.  “She is very, very ill, I’ll tell you that.  She appears to have been throwing up her own stomach tissue, hence the blood in her vomitus.  My impression is that her aging has accelerated to the point that she is sloughing off the re-grown lining too fast.  I won’t know for sure without the sample.  She’ll only be in surgery half an hour, tops.  I’ll know more then.  I’ve contacted Jean-Luc Picard, and the Enterprise’s data banks are at our disposal.  He’s got his staff researching every known Ktarian Doctor in the Quadrant.  Keep your fingers crossed.”

 

Kieran felt all the blood drain from her face, and she slumped back down in her chair.  This did not sound promising.

 

Stephanie Moss came and sat on the arm of Kieran’s chair.  “Hey, KT,” she said softly, ruffling through Kieran’s hair.  “How you holding up?”

 

Kieran’s facial expression never changed. “I’ve been better,” she admitted.

 

Stephanie nodded.  “I bet.  But do you remember what you told me, when Cassidy was dying?”

 

Kieran gave her a puzzled look.  “No.  I don’t remember discussing it with you, even.  Did we?” she asked weakly.

 

“You were a trooper, KT.  Cass was in the end stages, and I just couldn’t believe how you were functioning at all, and I asked how the hell you were pulling it off.  I’ll never forget what you said.  You said, ‘when there’s two minutes to go in the game and you’re down ten, you finish the game.  You put your head down, you play harder.  You never show your weakness.  And you show no mercy to yourself until the buzzer sounds.’  And that’s what you did for Cass.  She never saw you give up on her, never saw you cry, and you stayed strong for her.  That’s what you have to do now, KT.  I know you don’t want to hear that, but that’s what you have to do.”

 

Kieran barely nodded.  “Yeah,” she agreed.

_______________

 

Kate Pulaski removed her surgical gloves with a sigh.  She felt old.  Everything ached, especially her heart.  You never get used to this part of the job, she complained inwardly. 

 

She stripped off her scrubs and put on fresh ones, then made her way down to the waiting area.  She motioned Kathryn, Seven, and Kieran over, but everyone gathered around.  “It’s worse than I thought,” she began.  “This accelerated maturation has speeded up considerably since Naomi’s last scans.  Quite simply, she is living so fast that she is dying.  I can slow down the aging, but right now, I can’t stop it.”

 

Kieran felt bile threatening at the back of her throat.  “What does that mean, exactly?” she asked, voice a near whisper.

 

Kate knew Kieran had already reached the proper conclusions, but wanted the cold truth of it.  “I am treating this as a terminal illness,” she said bluntly.  “Naomi will age rapidly, and as she does, her systems will begin to fail.  We can treat the organs and the systems as problems crop up, but eventually, there won’t be anything we can do to stop the deterioration.  I’m not even certain to what degree I can slow down the process, now that it seems to be a runaway shuttle.  I’m sorry,” she said sincerely.

 

Kieran heard herself as if from very far away asking “How long?”

 

“Overall survival, best case scenario, four or five years.  But as far as quality of life, with her ability to enjoy living intact, two years, maybe less.  It will be a gradual decline, at first, and the momentum will increase with time.  For the time that she has, we will do everything we can to make her comfortable, and I assure you, I have an entire team of interns poring over every byte of data available on aging, progeria, morbidity, and Ktarian physiology.  If there’s a better treatment, I’ll find it, Kieran, I promise you.  The hell of it is, I can’t tell what really set this off.  If I only knew what triggered it, I might be able to treat it effectively, instead of just throwing up asteroid fields in its path,” she lay one hand on Kathryn’s forearm, the other on Kieran’s shoulder.

 

“Stress will make her worse.  You have to treat her with due care, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that.  She’s coming out of anesthesia now, and my PA is putting together a regimen of hyposprays she can take every 24 hours to help retard the geriatric encroachment.  I’m also sending a generous supply of pain medication.  Don’t hesitate to give it to her at the first sign of discomfort.  Hail me if there is anything you don’t understand, or if she relapses.  You can take her home within the hour.  Make sure she gets plenty of rest.”

 

Kieran nodded half-heartedly.

 

“Make the most of this time, Kieran,” Pulaski advised.  “It’s going to go by like a starfield at warp.”

 

“Does Naomi know?” Kieran asked faintly.

 

“No.  You and I are going to go tell her, right now.”

 

Kieran looked around the room at the despairing faces, her courage failing her.  “I—I can’t,” she hung her head. 

 

No one spoke for the longest time, the silence pregnant and painful.  Finally it was Stephanie Moss who filled the silence.  She looked at everyone, wondering why no one was saying what had to be said.  She grabbed Kieran’s uniform, pulling her within inches, forehead to forehead, bumping her roughly.

 

“You listen to me, KT, and you listen good,” she growled fiercely.  “You put on your game face! You stow that sick fucking look, and you do your duty.  There is a weak, scared little girl in there, and she needs you to be the rock in this relationship, and you will by God deliver, do you hear me?  Suck it up!  You finish the game, KT.  You always finish the game.  You show no weakness, and you show yourself no mercy.  Now pull your act together, and be the person Naomi needs you to be,” she butted her in the forehead hard to focus Kieran on the pain in her head, not her heart.

 

Kieran nodded, swallowing hard and drawing a resolute breath.  She bumped Stephanie’s head sharply in reply.  “No weakness.  And no mercy,” she psyched herself up.  She stood up, squared her shoulders, and took Pulaski’s arm.  “Let’s go, Doctor.”

 

As the two women marched away, Kathryn Janeway turned on Stephanie, a look of pure outrage on her face.  “That was harsh,” she criticized.

 

Stephanie smirked.  “You may be her Captain, but you obviously don’t know a damned thing about KT,” she shot back.  “She is at her best when everyone and everything is going to hell in a hand basket.  When things get bad, you heap more responsibility on her, and she will only rise to the occasion faster and better.  She thrives on adversity.  The woman who comes back through that door will not be the broken shell of a woman who walked out of here.  You mark my words, Captain.  You’re going to see the look that opponents cower in the face of, the sheer force of determination that brought whole teams to their knees.  It’s terrifying, the way she can be so single-minded when the circumstances dictate it.  It’s why she was always the best at everything she tried.  It’s why she’s going to be one of the best captains Starfleet will ever have.  And it’s why Captain Picard is trying to get her for his first officer.”

 

Kathryn thought Stephanie Moss was the most heartless bitch she had ever met.

 

___________________

 

While Kate Pulaski explained all the medical technicalities to Naomi, letting the young woman digest the information slowly, Kieran lifted Naomi gently out of bed and sat down with Naomi curled in her lap.  They clung to each other while Pulaski described the aging process in detail.

 

Naomi was having none of that.

 

“How long?” she demanded.

 

Kieran interceded.  “Kate thinks that you can survive four, maybe five years,” she tried to sound optimistic.  “But for the purposes of quality of life, we’ve got maybe two years to do whatever you want to do,” Kieran added, trying to smile.

 

Naomi’s face fell.  “Only two?” she was stunned.  “But I don’t feel that sick! Are you sure?”

 

Pulaski nodded.  “Maybe less, Naomi.  This is a very aggressive condition.”

 

Naomi let the horrific truth sink in for a moment.  She blinked back tears, forcing them into submission.  “So now what?” she asked meekly.

 

Kieran kissed Naomi’s hair, certain her own pain would kill her where she sat.  “Whatever you want, my beloved.  You tell me, and we’ll do it.”

 

____________________

 

Kieran Thompson emerged from the hospital ward a changed woman.  Her jaw was set, her eyes smoldered with intensity, her face was resolute.  She cleared her throat and the entire room hushed.

 

“Okay, here’s how it’s going to be,” she stated in a tone that brooked no argument.  “Number one:  from now on, Naomi gets whatever she wants, whenever and however she wants it, no questions asked.  She is my first and only priority.  Number two: anyone who is not on board with number one will become immediately expendable in our lives,” she fixed her glare on her own mother, driving the point home.  “I don’t have time to convince, persuade, or argue.  I have to pack a lifetime into the next two years, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do for Naomi, because she deserves more than I can ever give her. Number three: Naomi cannot take the emotional strain of helping any of us deal with her illness.  When you’re around her, I expect smiles, humor, and laughter, even if it kills you.  No long faces, no heartfelt goodbyes.  Fall apart on your own time,” she emphasized.  “Here’s what Naomi wants for the immediate future.  For whatever reason, she wants to go to the Court Dedication Ceremony and Exhibition Game tonight,” she detailed their plans.  “Girls,” she turned to her teammates, “We are going to win that game for Naomi.  I expect each of you to elevate your game.  No excuses.  We will not lose that damned game,” she ordered them.  “Naomi wants to leave for Indiana in the morning.  I need everyone who can make it to come with us, because she wants to have our wedding on Sunday, and that means tomorrow and Saturday are all the time we have to plan it.”

 

Behind Kieran, the medical staff was helping Naomi into an anti-grav chair, and preparing to bring her into the lobby.

 

“KT,” Stephanie whispered, “here she comes.”

 

“Right,” Kieran slapped her hands together, making everyone jump.  “Everyone stop looking so God damned sad,” she demanded, plastering a smile on her face and turning to help open the doors for her lover.  The doors parted and the anti-grav chair floated through them. 

 

Kieran knelt in the floor to be at eye level with her beloved.  “Honey, are you comfortable?”

 

Naomi forced a smile, nodding.  “Nothing hurts,” she confirmed.  “But I’m not going to like being in this chair--you’re too far away when you stand up,” she sighed.  “I should be able to retire it by morning. Doctor P just wanted me to rest tonight,” she explained apologetically.

 

“Too far away,” Kieran grinned.  “I can fix that,” she stood up and stooped over.  “Put your arms around my neck,” she instructed, lifting the slight Ktarian easily.  She sat herself down with Naomi in her lap, the Ktarian’s legs draped over the armrest.  “Better?”

 

“Infinitely,” Naomi sighed, leaning her head against Kieran’s shoulder.  “How long until the game?”

 

Kieran looked up at Annie Calicutt, who said  “Two hours.  Long enough to eat some dinner and get warmed up.”

 

Kieran gazed up at Kathryn and Seven, who looked remarkably calm, considering they had just heard a death sentence for their oldest child.  “You two are sitting courtside with Naomi tonight, at the end of the bench.  You’ll take care of her for me,” she stated, rather than asked.

 

“Of course we will,” Seven smiled, resting her Borg enhanced hand on Naomi’s head.

 

_____________

 

The Academy team never knew what hit them.  Kieran’s team played like they were twenty again, and Kieran’s personal ferocity was a thinly veiled attempt to exorcise her own demons.  She faked out her opponents, dunked over everyone who got in her way, knocked down three pointers at will, and drew three offensive fouls from the young women charging at her.  She blocked their shots off the backboard when they tried to lay it up, swatted the ball in midair when they shot from long range, and seemed to be everywhere at once.  It was an exhibition, but of the type that has less to do with sports than with emotional catharsis.

 

Stephanie Moss was rotated out of the game, and sat down next to Kathryn, grinning.  “Told you so,” she smirked. “If she doesn’t rip the damned rim down, I’ll be surprised,” she chuckled. 

 

Karen Weaver, also on the bench, leaned across Naomi.  “How many has she scored now?”

 

Naomi answered for her. “Thirty-seven.  She also has eighteen boards, seven blocks, five assists, and two steals.  My money says she gets a triple-double, and the scoring is over 45.  Any bets?” she grinned.

 

Stephanie held up her hands.  “Not from me.  I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t get a quadruple-double.  The important thing is, are you having fun?” she smiled warmly at her buddy’s fiancée.

 

Naomi nodded happily.  “I love watching her in her element.”

 

Karen nudged her.  “Next time-out, tell her you want her to get a quadruple-double, and let’s see how close she comes, just because you asked.”

 

“Okay,” Naomi nodded eagerly.

 

Seven of Nine, having played basketball on Kieran’s team on Voyager, only smiled.  “Naomi, try not to kill her.”

 

Stephanie rolled her eyes.  “Man, you spent the last decade with her, and yet you have no clue how she is put together,” she snorted disdainfully.

 

Kathryn looked at the woman as if she were a distasteful insect.  “What did you mean about Picard wanting Kieran as his first officer?” she asked, plainly unaware that the offer had been made.

 

“It’s true, K-Mom.  He asked her when we were on Voyager, right after we arrived in the Alpha Quadrant,” Naomi said proudly.  “First Officer on the flagship!  Isn’t that great?”

 

Kathryn forced a smile. “Quite an honor.  But Kieran is supposed to be my First Officer, not his,” Kathryn insisted.  “Was she planning to mention it anytime soon?”

 

Stephanie gave Kathryn a warning look.  “All due respect, Sir, I think she’s probably had more important fish to fry, don’t you, Captain?”

 

Kathryn set aside her irritation.  Naomi shouldn’t have to deal with any conflict, least of all ship related ones.  None of that was remotely relevant, now.  “I suppose so,” she admitted.

 

Naomi applauded wildly.  “There’s her triple-double,” she announced.  “She just blocked three shots in the same sequence,” she beamed with pride.  “She is amazing.”

 

“She is tonight,” Karen agreed.  “I’ve never seen her on fire like this, not even when we won the Championship.  Have you, Mossy?”

 

“Nope.  You inspire her, Naomi,” she rested a hand on the smaller woman’s back.  “I’ve also never seen her so in love.  Have you Weaver?”

 

Karen shook her head.  “Not ever.  She lights up like a Christmas tree whenever you’re around,” she told Naomi.  “It’s a beautiful thing to see, too,” she added.  “KT deserves it.  When we were in school, her girlfriend was an ass,” she remembered P’Arth.

 

“She was abusive,” Naomi said softly.

 

“Abusive isn’t the half of it,” Stephanie scowled. “I wanted to kill her.  I would’ve, too, but Kieran made us stay out of it.”

 

Kathryn was eavesdropping on every word.

 

“When they finally broke up, it was like KT just woke up from a coma, or something.  Best thing that ever happened to her—until you,” Stephanie amended, indicating Naomi.

 

Naomi stood momentarily, clapping and cheering as the team came to the huddle for time out.

 

Kieran bent down to her beloved, kissing her cheek.  “How do we look?”

 

Naomi hugged her around the neck.  “Like professionals,” she opined.  “KT--you can get a quadruple- double, if you can log five more assists,” she pointed out.  “I’ve never heard of anyone ever doing that, have you?”

 

Kieran shrugged, wiping a towel over her shoulders.  “It’s probably been done.  But never at the Academy.  It won’t count though, because it’s not a real game.  You want to see it, though, don’t you?”

Naomi smiled, nodding enthusiastically, filling her eyes with the sight of her lover, chest glistening with sweat, hair soaked, and the shiny little heart she wore around her neck catching the overhead lights.

 

“Okay, sweetie, I’ll do my best.  Hey—I love you,” she winked at the strawberry blonde as she jogged back out on the court.

 

She gathered in her team.  “I need five assists, ladies,” she said ‘ladies’ with a snotty, insulting air.  “You better start hitting your shots every time I pass you the ball, or I’ll shoot over you and flatten you,” she threatened, teasing.  “Let’s score a few for Jonesy.”

 

That was all they needed to hear.

 

_________________

 

Kieran was trying to make her way to the sideline after the game, but kept getting way-laid by the Academy players, autograph hounds, reporters, and a group of men in suits. 

 

“I’m from the WNBA,” one suit said in her face, “and we need to talk about your future,” he hollered over the crowd.

 

“Not interested,” Kieran shoved by him.

 

Another suit accosted her.  “We’ve got ideas for a shoe ad campaign, and we’d like to contact your agent,” he invited.

 

“Don’t have one,” she replied, still trying to get to Naomi.

 

“Kieran!” another voice insisted.  “Any plans to visit your exhibit at the hall of fame?”

 

“Nope,” Kieran called back.  “I’m getting married Sunday.  That’s all I’m thinking about, now.”

 

She finally made it to Naomi who stood from her anti-grav chair and hugged her with what strength she had left.  “That was some show, KT,” she murmured in her ear.

 

“Yeah?  Well, it was all for you,” she said, hugging Naomi close. “You feel so good, Na,” she murmured.  “Listen, are you sure you want to finish out this gig?  The reception is going to run late, and we’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’m feeling reasonably good,” she smiled reassurance to her lover.  “I’d like to go to this reception—there are going to be so many of your friends who want to see you again, and I’d hate for you to miss it.  Besides, I hear the banquet hall has tuxedo cake to die for.”

 

Kieran smiled down at her, then thinking better of it, eased her down in the chair.  “I have to shower, but it’ll only take five minutes, I promise.  Come to the locker room with me, and get out of this mob,” she took Naomi’s hand.

 

Admiral Brand headed the two women off at the locker room.

 

“Kieran,” the Admiral took her hands, hugging her lightly.  “That was fantastic.  We really appreciate your taking the time to be here for this.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “How could I say no and disappoint my biggest fan?” she indicated Naomi.

 

The Admiral introduced herself to Naomi, and the women walked into the locker room, flanking Naomi’s anti-grav chair.

 

“I have a favor to ask, Commander,” the Admiral was saying as they entered the dressing area.  “There are going to be some VIPs at your reception, and some members of the press, not to mention a few potential students that we’d like very much to recruit.  We—the administrators of the Academy, I mean—were hoping that even though you’re on leave, and not acting in any official capacity for Starfleet, that you’d wear your uniform.  We’d like people to know that your ties are still to the institution.”

 

Kieran smiled.  “Of course, Admiral.  Happy to do it.  Is there anything else?  You know I’ll do whatever I can to help put the school in a favorable light.”

 

“It would be wonderful if you could sign some autographs.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but—”

 

Kieran forestalled her apology.  “It’s perfectly fine with me.  My only stipulation is that when Naomi gets tired, I need to leave with her.”

 

The Admiral nodded.  “I understand.  Kathryn told me about Naomi’s condition, and I’m so sorry for you both.  I also heard you’re getting married this Sunday.  Congratulations.”

 

Kieran swallowed the lump in her throat.  “Yes, we are.  Thank you, Admiral,” she shook her hand.  “Oh—Admiral?  Should I wear dress whites, or my regular uniform?”

 

Brand smiled warmly.  “Please replicate an updated style uniform, not formal.  Thank you for this, Kieran.  I don’t need to tell you how depleted the pool of applicants has been since the war.  A high profile person like you could really help enrollment.”

 

“This school has been very, very good to me,” Kieran replied sincerely.  “I’ll always do whatever I can to help, you know that.”

______________

 

The banquet hall of the Intergalactic Suites had security posted at the entrance, and only those with invitations were allowed in.  When Kieran and Naomi got to the entrance, the security guard broke protocol and actually smiled. 

 

“Commander,” he held out his hand, “outstanding performance tonight.  Please, come right in.”

 

Kieran shook his hand, since it obviously meant something to him.  “Thanks.  This is my fiancée, she’s with me,” she explained.

 

He bowed politely.  “Of course, please, come in.”

 

Naomi giggled.  “You’d think you were a member of royalty,” she teased her lover.

 

Kieran laughed.  “You’d think.  Are you hungry?”

 

“Famished,” Naomi replied.  “I hate being clear down here when you’re way up there,” she complained.  “But I don’t think I have the energy to walk, either,” she mentioned.

 

Kieran bent over and scooped Naomi up in her arms, helping herself to a seat with Naomi firmly on her lap.  “Good enough?”

 

“I love it when you pick me up like that,” Naomi murmured.  “I feel so protected.”

 

Kieran buried her agonized expression in Naomi’s hair, kissing the soft tresses with every ounce of tenderness she possessed.  “I love doing it.  You are protected, love.”

 

__________________

Wesley Crusher and the Traveler were guests of the banquet, although the Traveler had no idea until the game what basketball was or why anyone would care about it.  Wesley had eagerly described the rules and the reason why Kieran was considered such a phenomenal player, compared to other athletes.  The Traveler had only nodded, pretending to understand.  Kieran waved at them from Naomi’s anti-grav chair, and they came over to say hello.

 

Will Riker and Deanna Troi stopped by to lend their support to Naomi, and to congratulate the young couple on their wedding. 

 

“It is so strange to finally be with you,” Naomi hugged the Counselor, smiling.  “I’m sorry I didn’t get much chance to talk to you at the dinner party on the Enterprise.  Your holographic counterpart has been my therapist forever,” she confided.  “You’re much prettier in person,” she added.

 

Deanna was pleased at the praise.  “The downloads I got from Voyager proved quite interesting,” she admitted.  “I wish I had been the one to treat you after Restid Three.  Your experiences there sounded fascinating.”

 

“Definitely a mixed blessing,” Naomi decided.  “My illness is a result of that experience, though we’re not sure exactly what about it made me start to age.  But if I hadn’t aged so quickly, Kieran and I wouldn’t be getting married.  If I had it to do over again, I’d do it the same,” she decided.

 

Kieran gazed fondly at her fiancée.  “Na,” she kissed her cheek, still holding the Ktarian on her lap.  “I can’t believe you’d do this again, knowing—well,” she almost lost her composure.  “I can’t believe you think I’m worth it,” she said softly.

 

Naomi hugged her.  “I wouldn’t trade this time with you for anyone or anything,” she assured her beloved.

 

“Well,” Deanna smiled at them both, “it sounds to me as if your priorities are in order.  Will and I will see you Sunday, if you’re going to invite us,” she grinned.

 

“Deanna,” he rolled his eyes.  “Couldn’t you at least wait for the invitation, instead of fishing for one?”

 

“It’s okay, Captain,” Kieran assured him.  “Of course you’re invited.  I remember Deanna was going to stand up with me at my wedding—remember?” she asked the dark-haired Betazed.

 

“Robin Lefler.  How could I forget?” Deanna’s face darkened.  “Thank goodness you’ve developed better taste since then,” she laughed.  “You heard she’s just graduated from the Counselor Training program?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “That’s an about-face, isn’t it?  Robin fixing problems instead of creating them,” she laughed at her own joke.

 

Will chuckled quietly.  “Robin Lefler.  Now there’s a piece of work,” he agreed.  “I hear Picard is actually considering her for Deanna’s old job.  But then, I hear he offered you my old job, too.”

 

Kieran grinned.  “Like I could ever follow an act like yours,” she flattered the former First Officer.  “But I was honored that he considered me.”

 

“You mean you didn’t accept the job?  Are you nuts?” Riker demanded incredulously.

 

“I have other plans, for now.  My career is going to have to wait.  Naomi and I have a lot to do, places to go and things to see.  I’ve just spent twelve years wandering the Delta Quadrant. Surely Starfleet knows the last thing I’m going to want is to jump back on a ship and warp off to some other solar system,” she protested.

 

Will bit his tongue.  “I know they need you, but I also understand why you’re not ready to saddle up again.  Kieran,” he said seriously, squatting beside Naomi’s chair, “if for some reason things don’t work out for you with Picard, please, check with me before you take some other posting.  I have an opening, and damn, I’d kill for a decent candidate to fill it.”

 

Kieran lay her hand on his shoulder.  “I appreciate the thought, but I really don’t plan on being back in uniform for a couple of years, Will.  I’ll tell you who I think you should look at, though.  I’d like to introduce you to Harry Kim.  He’s a friend from Voyager.  I think you two would work well together, and Harry will be finishing up his command track training within a couple of months of returning to duty.  I highly recommend him.”

 

Will grinned.  “I’ll take all the help I can get.  Will he be at your wedding?”

 

“Most likely,” Kieran affirmed.  “I’ll put the two of you together then, and you can interview him.  He’s a good man, Will, and he deserves a shot with a mentor who can really bring out the best in him.  You fit the bill,” she advised.

 

“Thanks for the referral, KT.  Well, we’d better be going.  It looks like people are stacking up waiting for your time,” he squeezed her shoulder and kissed her cheek.  “Tonight was the most amazing game I’ve ever seen,” he said softly.  “And your future wife is lovely.  Congratulations.”

 

________________

 

Kieran signed autographs until there were no more requests.  She talked to Admirals and potential recruits, fans and former crewmates, old friends from Enterprise, and when she was so tired she didn’t think she could sit still another minute, she excused herself to take Naomi back to their room.

 

Naomi had been talking quietly with Kathryn, Seven, Phoebe, and her grandmother.  It was the first time they had been alone as a family since getting the grim diagnosis.  Naomi held Seven’s hand, trying to lend reassurance to her Borg mother.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” she told them all.  “It’s not as much time as I would like, but it could be worse.  And Kieran will make it wonderful, I know she will.  And I can die happy, because you all loved me in this life, and what else can I really take with me, besides love?” she reasoned.

 

Phoebe was on the verge of tears.  “I just feel so cheated,” she murmured.  “I just got to know you, just found out how much I do love you,” she explained.  “I wanted to take you to my loft in Paris, show you the city, the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, my gallery,” she said bitterly.

 

“Aunt Phoebe,” Naomi hugged her.  “You can still do those things.  Kieran and I would love to come to Paris.  We’re going to travel after the honeymoon, and we’ll make it one of many stops.  I think, if you’re going to be in Paris after our wedding, I’d like to borrow your farmhouse for a few days.  It would be really romantic, to be with Kieran in Indiana--swim in the pond everyday, walk the fields, climb in Gran’s apple orchard.”

 

Phoebe’s face showed her dismay. “Naomi, I wish you could, but—damn, Mom, I’ve been meaning to tell you this, but I just didn’t have the heart,” she stammered.

 

Gretchen Janeway’s plump face warmed into a gentle smile.  “Tell me what honey?  That you’re going to have to sell the farmhouse?”

 

Phoebe’s eyes widened.  “How did you know?”

 

“I’m your mother.  I know when things aren’t going well with my children.  And I’d help you if I could, you know that.  But I don’t have the funds to help keep you afloat.”

 

Phoebe blushed, humiliated.  She explained to them that her last show at the gallery in Paris had not gone well.  Her latest works had been panned by the critics, and her sales had been almost non-existent.  “I can’t keep the loft and the farmhouse.  Since I’m almost always in Paris, well, what choice do I really have?”

 

Gretchen nodded.  “You can always stay with me, when you want to visit.  Kathryn and Seven are going to be in the guesthouse for the foreseeable future, but your old room is still there,” she promised her daughter.

 

“I may have to sell the gallery,” Phoebe admitted.  “Which means I’d be back to exhibiting in other people’s galleries, and forking over hefty commissions to them for sales of my work.  I hate to even think about it.  Maybe I need to get a real job,” she joked, trying to feel better about it.  “But enough of my troubles.  Naomi, I can hang onto the house awhile longer, for you and for Kieran.  I’ll figure out a way.  I want to give you the honeymoon you want.  It’ll be my wedding present.”

 

Naomi had loved her Aunt the moment they met, and it pained her deeply to see her in financial distress.  She kissed Phoebe’s cheek, brain churning.  “You know, Aunt Phoebe, I might just have the solution,” she realized suddenly.  “I can buy the farmhouse from you.”

 

Kathryn and Seven smiled to themselves.  “With what, young lady?” Kathryn asked skeptically.  “A pocketful of good intentions?”

 

Naomi scowled playfully at her mother.  “No.  With the huge wad of money in my account, smarty pants,” she stuck her tongue out at Kathryn.  “Look, I don’t know anything about real estate, or money, or anything else, but the clerk at the campus bookstore who showed me how to access my bank account told me I’m rich.  My biological mother’s assets all went to me, plus her life insurance pay out.  I don’t have a frame of reference, but the clerk said it’s a ton of money.  Let me do this, Aunt Phoebe.  Will you look over my account, and tell me if it’s enough?”

 

Phoebe glanced from Naomi to her sister.  “Naomi, I really don’t think--”

 

“Please, Aunt Phoebe.  I’ll will the title back to you, and in two years, the house will be yours again.  I can’t think of a better use for the money, and I’m not going to be around long enough to spend it,” Naomi insisted.

 

Kathryn fixed Phoebe with a firm gaze, nodding.  “Look over her account, Phoebe.  You remember what Kieran said.  Whatever Naomi wants, she gets.”

 

“Come on,” Naomi said excitedly, “there’s a workstation by the public restrooms.  We can uplink from there.”

 

__________________

 

While Naomi was off orchestrating her first home purchase, Kieran was laughing with Kathryn and Seven.

 

“She’s buying a house?” Kieran was amused.  “God, what next?  A passel of kids to fill it?”

 

Kathryn smirked.  “You said anything she wants, Kato.  What if she wants to have a baby before she dies?”

 

Kieran’s face fell.  “Oh, Christ, anything but that,” she groaned. 

 

Seven cocked her head to one side.  “Would you do it, if that’s what she wanted?”

 

Kieran shook her head, daunted by the prospect.  “I wouldn’t want to be raising kids as a single parent,” she contended.  “I want to make her last years happy, but I might have to draw the line at agreeing to have a family she won’t be around to raise,” Kieran was perturbed at the notion.  “It would be unfair to the children.  Don’t you think?”

 

Naomi and Phoebe came upon them, catching the tail end of the conversation.

 

“Yes, it would be unfair, and I would never, ever do that to you,” Naomi said, offended at the mere suggestion.  “I’m not selfish enough to think we have time for a family, and I’ll get over knowing that I never can, though Kahless knows, I’d love to see what our children would look like,” she sounded far away.

 

Kieran leaned over to kiss her beloved hello.  “I think we were just playing ‘what if’, that’s all,” she explained.   “Are you really going to buy Phoebe’s house?”

 

Phoebe smiled with relief.  She had been worried Kieran might try to talk Naomi out of it.  “If Naomi really wants to, she has enough money to buy it--about three or four times, in fact.”

 

Kieran whistled.  “You never told me you’re a bazillionaire, Na,” she teased, kneeling at the edge of her chair. 

 

Naomi laughed.  “I was afraid you’d only marry me for my money,” she joked, “because that sort of thing is so important to you.”  She leaned her head on Kieran’s shoulder.  “I’m going to buy it, and we can have our honeymoon in it.  I’ll will it back to Phoebe, so that when I die, she won’t lose the house.  Do I need a prenuptial agreement with you to guarantee that’s what happens?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “Not as I understand the law.  You just need a will that says the house goes to Phoebe, and it needs to specify that she has sole right to the house.”

 

Naomi sighed tiredly.  “Okay then.  I think I’m about spent for one night, KT,” she sounded pathetic.  “Can we bow out now?”

__________________

 

Kieran and Naomi rode up to their room, both seated in the anti-grav chair.  Naomi dozed off while they were riding along, and Kieran closed her eyes against the gnawing grief that threatened her composure.  She made herself think of Stephanie Moss, of all the things she told Kieran.  Her mantra became “show no mercy to yourself”.  There would be plenty of time to fall apart after Naomi was gone.

 

Once they were sequestered away, Kieran shed her uniform, stuffing it into the recycler on the ‘no replenish’ setting.  “I won’t be needing that for a long time,” she muttered, watching the clothing disappear.

 

“Na?”  she asked softly, standing there in her underwear.

 

“Yes?” Naomi sat patiently in her chair, watching her lover.

 

“What do you want to do after the wedding?” Kieran asked softly, moving toward the frail Ktarian and lifting her out of her chair.  She lay her on their bed as gently as she could, propping her up on pillows.

 

Naomi pulled Kieran down with her, kissing her and ignoring the plaintive question.  They kissed feverishly until their mouths ached with exhaustion, their passion searing in its need to be fulfilled.

 

They made love slowly, deliberately, each intent upon the other, each conscious of how little time they might have left together.  Every interaction had to be perfect, if it could potentially be their last.  No room for haste or carelessness.  All things in due time.  All interaction savored and cherished. 

 

There was such incredible focus on every detail, Kieran realized.  The way Naomi’s lips brushed over Kieran’s throat with that delicious pout, the paleness of her skin against Kieran’s darker complexion, the tiny, vulnerable shoulders where Kieran’s lips longed to be, all of it burned into Kieran’s mind.  She kissed and studied Naomi’s fingers, fingers that could caress, tease, transport.  Slender and perfectly proportioned, Kieran kissed each fingertip in turn, memorizing the lines and coloration and sinews.

 

She loved every inch of Naomi’s body, committing to memory every taste, texture, smell, and every sound elicited by her touch.  Her chest ached with tenderness, throat closed with love, and tears threatened more than once.  Naomi was dying.  And nothing Kieran did could change that.

 

They lay together afterward, curled intimately around one another, sated but saddened by the reality of their situation.

 

Naomi snuggled into Kieran’s shoulder, letting the Counselor cuddle her.  “I want to spend a few days in Indiana, after the wedding.  I need some time alone with you, and the farmhouse is in an isolated part of the agricultural park where Gran and Phoebe live.  It’s a short walk to Gran’s, so I can see the Moms and Geejay if I want to.  I’ve had such plans to be there, and I know they’re going to be abbreviated plans, but I still want to spend some time there.  Then I’d like to go to Florida to stay with your folks, see the manatee preserve, maybe do some diving with you, if I’m up to it.  Doctor Pulaski seemed to think I’ll get my energy back pretty quickly, and the anti-grav chair is temporary, so I’d like to see the coral reef you’ve been talking about,” she sighed, exhausted from making love.

 

Kieran held her possessively, as if fate might be lurking in the room with them.  “Whatever you want, honey,” she promised.

 

“What I don’t want,” Naomi trailed her fingers over Kieran’s belly, “is for you to stop living after I die.  I want you to find love, fulfill your career aspirations, have your own ship—whatever your heart desires.  And I don’t want this illness of mine to stop you from taking that job on the Enterprise, if that’s ultimately where you want to be.  You need to talk to Picard, and find out how long you can take to decide,” she encouraged.  “I don’t want you to miss out because of me.”

 

“Now wait a minute,” Kieran sat up, easing out of Naomi’s arms.  “We agreed when Pulaski talked to us that we would take the next two years and just be together.  The hell with Enterprise.  The last thing I want to do is miss a minute with you because I’m diddling with some fucking duty roster or departmental reports.  When the time comes, love, somebody will give me a job.  Two years is not going to end my career, and I would be totally ineffective, if I tried to take a post and ended up neglecting you.  I’ll resign my commission before I’ll lose a nanosecond of the time we have left,” she was adamant, her face working as if she might cry.

 

Naomi sat up, too, and studied her for a long time.  “Kieran,” she finally said, “I don’t know why you think you can’t show me how awful you’re feeling, but I see it in your eyes.  You can’t pretend to be impervious, and you don’t have to protect me.  Please, don’t try to hide from me.  We’ve never shied from our emotions, and I need to know yours,” she leaned her forehead against Kieran’s.  “The thought of losing you—of losing us—it’s tearing me up, honey,” she admitted, tears filling her eyes.  “If you can’t cry, how can I?  How can I put that added burden on you?”

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran grabbed her.  “I’m sorry.  I thought I was being what you needed, I thought you needed me to be impervious.  I—feel so lost,” she started to break down.  “I can’t imagine my life without you,” she added, her heart breaking.  “I need you so much, I just don’t know how I’ll be able to do this, if you’re not here.  My God,” she shook with the force of her fear and her sadness, “don’t leave me,” she cried.  “Please, don’t,” she begged.

 

“Honey,” Naomi held her then, both women crying in earnest, “I feel the same.  I don’t want to go,” she bawled.  “I just want to be in your arms, and wake up next to you every day.  I want to have a family with you, and watch you get your first command, and be your chief engineer,” she let it all pour out, all the shattered dreams and futile hopes, all the secret plans that had kept her awake at night with pure joy.

 

They clung to one another as if they were drowning, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the loss they faced, neither having a clue how to regain any sense of equilibrium.  When the initial shock was vented, they calmed and lay back down together, holding each other well into the night.  Kieran finally started to laugh softly.

 

“What’s funny?” Naomi peered into her eyes, smiling.

 

“Me.  I’m afraid to go to sleep,” she admitted ruefully.  “I don’t want to miss anything.”

 

Naomi laughed.  “Me either.  I just love being with you so much.  All those years I spent wishing you and I could be like this,” she kissed Kieran gently.

 

“Like this?  You mean naked?” Kieran tickled her briefly.

 

“That too,” she agreed.  “But mostly, when I was a kid, I just wanted you to hold me.  The times you did, like after I was kidnapped and you spent the night with me, I just got addicted to the feeling of lying in your arms.  When I would fantasize about you, it was always just that—us holding each other, lying in bed together.”

 

Kieran enfolded her tighter.  “You never thought about making love with me?”

 

“I did, eventually, but not until the last couple of years, I didn’t.  I just couldn’t really imagine it, until Restid Three, and then I not only could imagine it, I could feel it, taste it, ache for it.  And you were with B’Elanna, and I just wanted to flush myself out an airlock.  I never begrudged her your love, but I loved you so much, and I just couldn’t stand thinking you and I would never have this together.  That’s how I wrote so many laments on the piano,” she laughed.  “All my misery and woe and unrequited love.”

 

Kieran kissed her hair, breathing the aroma of her skin.  “Honey, it was never unrequited.  I have always loved you.  You’ve always been the constant in my life, whether you were my friend or my lover.  If you had been an adult, and I had met you before I loved B’Elanna, there is no question in my mind that I would have pursued you romantically. No question at all.  You’re everything I ever wanted, more than I could have deserved, and more than I ever hoped for.  I will love you as long as I live.”

 

Naomi sighed, happy for the moment.  “We should either sleep, or talk about the wedding,” she decided it was time to get to business.  “I think the best thing we can do, given our circumstances, is live as normal a life as we can.  We should act as though we have all the time in the world, but make sure we do the really important things, just in case.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “I think we should hold out hope, too.  Kate Pulaski is the best doctor I’ve ever met.  If anyone can figure out a treatment, she’s the one.  And I know she will leave no stone unturned.  She lives for these sorts of medical dilemmas, and she won’t rest until she knows every option has been looked at.”

 

They fell silent for the moment, gathering their inner strength, daring to hope, even if only a little.  “I love you, Kieran,” Naomi said softly.  “And you were amazing tonight.  I just love seeing you in your element, in charge and taking no prisoners.  I wish I could’ve known you when you were in school.  I feel so cheated because I’ve only had a few years to be with you, and there are so many things I want to know.”

 

“All you ever need to do is ask,” she assured her.

 

“Okay.  How does it feel to have dozens of little kids clamor for your autograph, just so they can be near you for a few fleeting seconds?” Naomi’s eyes twinkled with adoration for her partner.

 

“It’s funny.  When little kids want that attention from me, I feel so flattered.  But when adults fawn over me, it embarrasses me.  I feel like I need to apologize to them for their misconception that I’m something special,” she laughed.  “I know that’s silly, because they’re entitled to their perceptions, but it feels really, really weird,” she chuckled.  “But you know what is the absolute weirdest?”

 

Naomi giggled, loving hearing Kieran talk about it. “No.  What?”

 

“When somebody I totally admire comes up and says they want my autograph.  That just makes my head spin.  I’ve had celebrities, superior officers, other athletes—it just feels like I should bow to them and profess my own admiration, not the other way around,” she laughed brightly.

 

“Who asked you that you most admired, that made you feel the most bizarre?” she wanted to know.

 

“Probably Captain Picard,” she admitted, “although Admiral Nechayev was a close second.  I wouldn’t expect either of them to be interested in basketball, let alone have a hero from the sport.”

 

“Is that what it means, when someone wants your autograph?  You’re their hero?” Naomi was perplexed.

 

“Well, that’s what it means to a kid. But with an adult, I think it’s different.  It’s like, they want a piece of me, somehow, a memento of meeting me.  That in and of itself is a difficult concept for me to grasp,” she chuckled.  “So you had fun at the game?”

 

“I don’t know if fun describes it.  More like I was just in awe.  I heard you blow off that pro scout.  Wouldn’t you like to play pro ball?” she was mesmerized, thinking about the prospect.  “All those fans screaming for you every night, all the fame and money and commercial endorsements?”

 

Kieran smiled.  “Can you see me, being a public figure like that?”

 

“You already are, like it or not, KT,” she correctly pointed out. 

 

“Na,” Kieran kissed her forehead, “if you told me you wanted me to play pro ball, I’d get myself an agent in the morning and I’d sign a contract.  I swear.”

 

“I know,” Naomi kissed her cheek.  “Thank you for caring about what’s important to me.”

 

“Always—and only you,” Kieran affirmed.  “I can’t wait to see the farm.  I’m so excited I may not be able to sleep,” she reported, hugging her lover close.

 

“Well, then, maybe I’d better wear you out some more,” Naomi flirted.

 

“Oh really?” Kieran challenged.  “Like I’m even capable of a response?”

 

“I think I can make you respond,” she bragged, moving on top of her lover.  “Let’s find out.”

 

___________________

 

The rolling farmlands of Indiana stretched beneath them like an emerald quilt, with a patchwork of soil brown and pavement black thrown in occasionally for good measure.  The transport from Indianapolis to Bloomington slowed to give its passengers a better view of the landscape before making its descent to the agricultural park.  Naomi was glued to the window, watching the trees as they came into focus, scanning the area for a glimpse of the farmhouses where her grandmother and Phoebe lived. 

 

“We’re on county road 17,” Gretchen told the pilot.  “Half a mile from the old mill.”

 

The pilot nodded.  “Yes, Ma’am.  I’ll be glad to help you get your luggage,” he offered as they sped down the road.

 

“Not necessary,” Gretchen advised, “but thanks just the same.”  Her silvery curls plumped with the humidity, and she breathed a sigh of relief to be home.  “I love this land,” she said to no one in particular.  “It’s nice to visit the big cities, but it’s nicer to come home.”

 

Naomi took her hand.  “It’s beautiful here, Gran.  Kieran and I want to thank you for letting us have the wedding at your place.”

 

“Honey,” Gretchen cupped her cheek in a wizened hand, “I’m happy to do it,” she leaned closer to speak privately.  “I was a little worried that you’re getting married so young, but I love Kieran.  She already feels like part of the family.  And I know for certain she loves you.  She made that pretty clear yesterday, when she laid it on the line for all of us at the hospital,” she chuckled, her ample bosom shaking as she laughed.

 

Naomi’s eyes lit up.  “Why?  What did she say?” she whispered conspiratorially.

 

Gretchen glanced over at Kieran, who was in an involved discussion with Seven about the wedding.   Gretchen quirked an eyebrow and repeated the lecture Stephanie Moss had given Kieran, and the speech Kieran had given the rest of them.  “I think it qualified as an ass chewing,” Gretchen’s face was alight with mirth.  “And she was right.  We were all acting like babies.”  The elder Janeway hugged Naomi to her.  “I don’t need to tell you, any doubts I had about her went right out the window.  I’m happy for you, Naomi.  And I love you.  I’m so glad I can finally tell you in person,” she smiled grandly.

 

“I can’t believe she stood up to her mother like that,” Naomi breathed.  “She usually lets the woman walk on her.  I like that bit about people becoming expendable,” she said quietly so Kieran’s parents couldn’t hear.

 

“Mrs. Thompson’s eyes about bugged out of her head, all right,” Gretchen reported.  “I don’t think we’ve heard the last squawk from her, either,” she predicted.  “But I think your partner will put her in her place.”

 

Naomi leaned into her grandmother, trying to identify all the smells that made up what was uniquely Gretchen’s scent.  She identified hand lotion, a faint cologne, and something sweet and inviting, she wasn’t quite sure what.  Gretchen’s embrace felt to Naomi like Samantha Wildman’s embrace had

felt—unconditionally loving, forgiving, nurturing.  Naomi loved her already, and hated the idea of making the woman worry.  She sighed with contentment.

 

“Are you okay, honey?” Gretchen asked, looking into her granddaughter’s eyes.

 

“I’m better than okay,” she agreed.  “I love you, Gran,” she hugged her.

 

Gretchen’s eyes misted momentarily.  “I love you, too,” she squeezed her hard.  “There’s the house,” she pointed down the road past the corn fields.

 

“It’s so big,” Naomi murmured.  “Look at the size of that porch,” she couldn’t wait to sit on it and drink lemonade.  “It’s lovely, Gran,” she enthused, already heading for the transport door.

 

As soon as they came to a stop, Naomi, forgetting how tired she felt and disdaining her anti-grav chair, shot out the door and ran to the porch, turning to look out over the fields of corn and soybeans, lush and green in the almost summer sun.  She breathed deeply, smelling recent rain in the soil, the pine trees around the house, and the roses that grew around the porch.

 

Everyone else was busy dragging luggage off the top rack of the bus, but Kieran stood watching her bride-to-be, delighting in the delirious look of joy on her face.  Kathryn caught Kieran staring at Naomi, and stopped to look, too.

 

“She’s the most beautiful creature in this universe,” Kieran sighed, thinking Kathryn hadn’t heard.  Her brown eyes registered lancing pain for a split second.

 

Kathryn put an arm around her.  “She’s young, and very much in love.  Please, Kato, promise me you won’t wander off so far with her that Seven and I won’t see her at all.”

 

“I’ll do whatever she wants to do, Kat.  All I care about is seeing that incredible smile,” she said with a catch in her voice.  “But don’t worry.  Naomi wants to spend part of our honeymoon right here, so she can spend time with her family.  And we want you and Seven to come with us to Florida.  I promise, Kat, you won’t be left out of her life.  She loves you too much for that.”

 

Kathryn dug the toe of her shoe into the dirt, not meeting Kieran’s eyes.  “There’s a lot I need to be forgiven for.  I need to make my peace with her before—anything happens,” she finished lamely.

 

Kieran shaded her eyes to get a better view of Naomi, who was banging through the screen door and into the farmhouse for a tour.  “Do it now, Kat.  Don’t wait.  Say everything you need to say to clear the air.  I think you’ll find she holds no grudges.”

 

“And what about you?” Kathryn asked softly.

 

Kieran smirked.  “I’m a lot tougher,” she admitted.  “But if Naomi can forgive you for trying to break us up, so can I.  Still, you have to promise when the justice of the peace gets to the part where he lets anyone object to the marriage, you won’t stand up and start rifling off reasons why I can’t marry your daughter,” she prescribed.

 

“Scout’s honor, I won’t oppose you.  Given the circumstances, I think getting married is the right thing for you to do.  I had hoped for a long engagement, but that’s not possible.”

 

Kieran eyed her warily.  “Why a long engagement?”

 

Kathryn shrugged.  “To give me time to get used to the idea of Naomi growing up, I suppose.  Not to mention that I need time to adjust to being your mother-in-law,” she laughed.

 

“You’re my Captain,” Kieran pointed out, “it’s not like you could get much more demanding, unreasonable, or bossy,” she needled the older woman.

 

“Point taken,” Kathryn conceded. 

 

 

 

Kathryn dragged luggage into the mudroom of the farmhouse, laboring under the weight of too much sentimentality and extravagances that had no place in a Starfleet life.  Kieran shouldered an even larger load, without complaint.
 
“Need some help, Kat?” she asked pleasantly as she deposited her burden on the floor.
 
“No,” Kathryn snapped, her mood suddenly testy, “I've got it.  You know, for someone who was just given a death sentence for her fiancée, you're awfully God damned cheerful,
Commander.”
 
Kieran stared at her in disbelief, stunned at her abrupt alteration in mood.  “Well, pardon me all to hell, Captain, I'll see if I can't be as pleasant as you,” she shot back. “Excuse me, I need to see to Naomi.”
 
Kathryn barely resisted the urge to hurl something blunt at the back of the woman's head as she left the mudroom.
 
Kathryn entered the living room as if she had just left the turbo lift to her bridge.  “Everyone listen up,” she said imperiously.  “Mom, I need you to contact Willard Carson, and that attorney you used for Daddy's estate. Naomi needs a will for Phoebe's house, a marriage license, and whatever else I haven't thought of.  Phoebe, you need to go dig out the deed to the house, the mortgage papers, your title, and any other documents they gave you at closing.  Then I need you both to figure out what we're going to do for caterers, chair rentals, flowers...Seven will help you with all that,” she issued directives as if she were addressing subordinate officers.
 
“Now hold on a minute, Captain,” Gretchen said sarcastically, planting her hands on her hips.
“This isn't your starship, and you can't just give out orders.  Who died and made you God, Kathryn?”
 
“Somebody has to organize this crew,” she retorted angrily. “I'm trying to do what I do best.”
 
Phoebe scowled at her sister. “We are not your crew, and I think Queens died out in 1776, your majesty.  Who put the stick up your ass, anyway?”
 
“Stick?” Kathryn sputtered. “I—oh, the hell with you both,” she stormed out of the house.
 
Gretchen looked at Phoebe and Phoebe looked at her mother.  “I think somebody is having a tough time adjusting to life planetside,” Gretchen shook her head. “I ought to cut a good long switch and take it to her fanny.”
 
“Mom,” Phoebe warned, “I think you'd better go talk to her.  She isn't handling this transition very well, and really, who can blame her, with Naomi sick again?”
 
Gretchen sighed. “You're right.  I'm being impatient.  I'll talk to her.”
 
Gretchen Janeway found her eldest daughter in the orchard, kicking at the fruit that had fallen off the trees in the last thunderstorm. She watched for quite awhile, noting that in spite of the fit Kathryn was throwing, her irritation didn't seem to be abating in the least.  In fact, her face only got redder and her body language more hostile.
 
“If you want applesauce,” she smarted, “I have some in the pantry.  You don't have to make your own and ruin your shoes,” she smiled at her.
 
“Is that supposed to be funny, Mother?” Kathryn spun on the elder Janeway.
 
“Depends on your perspective, I imagine,” she supplied. “Kathryn, why don't you talk to me, instead of wearing yourself out in a tizzy?”
 
“What is there to say?  My command is gone, my future is uncertain, my daughter is dying, and my best friend is hell bent on wasting what time Naomi has left with this farce of a marriage,” she spat the words.
 
“Honey,” Gretchen touched her sleeve, “this is what Naomi wants.  Is that so hard to understand?  And are you going to hold it against Kieran for granting her last wishes?”
 
Kathryn jerked her arm free and resumed her methodical annihilation of the apples lying around the orchard. “I hold a lot of things against her, and that's the tip of the iceberg.”
 
Iceberg.  Sinking in the Tau Ceti Ocean.  Tell her.  It was your fault. You let them both die.  Trapped in the fuselage, water pouring in, breathing it, gagging on it, water and ice and blood and…
 
“Kathryn?” Gretchen said softly.
 
“What?” Kathryn's head came up so abruptly she startled her mother into jumping back a foot.
 
“I said you need to let it go, for now.  Whatever issues you and Kieran have can wait.  This is Naomi's time.”
 
“Right,” Kathryn nodded, grimacing.
 
“Are you feeling all right, honey?” she lay her hand on Kathryn's forehead, checking for fever.
 
“For God's sake, Mother,” Kathryn shoved her aside, “I'm not six.  I'm fine,” she tramped back up the orchard path, oblivious to the fact that she'd sent her own elderly mother sprawling.
 
Gretchen Janeway kept herself from falling by grasping a tree limb, though she skinned both palms in the effort.  Kathryn was already out of sight.
 
When she got back to the house, she washed the blood and bark from the wounds, applied an antibacterial wash to the abraded tissue, and gave Phoebe a meaningful look.
 
“You keep an eye on your sister,” she said darkly.  “Especially when she's with the baby.  That girl is not right.  You tell me if she does anything that is questionable, do you understand me, Phoebe?”
 
“Of course I will, Mom.  God, what happened to your hands?”
 
“Kathryn damn near pushed me down.”
 
Phoebe's eyes widened.  “I'll kill her,” she turned to do just that.
 
Gretchen grabbed Phoebe's arm. “No.  Just watch her, honey.  Something is amiss, and I intend to find out what.  Get Seven in here.  I want to know if she's noticed how oddly Kathryn is behaving.”

 

Confronted by her wife’s mother, Seven assured Gretchen that Kathryn was fine, that it was merely the strain of the uncertainty and Naomi’s illness, and Kathryn, though given to fits of temper, would be fine, as long as everyone was patient with her.

 

Gretchen resolved to believe her daughter-in-law for the time being, but also to keep an eye on Kathryn.

 

______________

 

The family was no more than settled into chairs and armed with iced tea than Gretchen and Seven had started baking cookies and caramel brownies.  Kathryn sat at the table, calm for the moment, and fairly drooling at the prospect of her favorite treat. 

 

Kieran’s parents were busy contacting all their colleagues and relatives to invite them to the wedding.  They monopolized the work station in Edward Janeway’s old study, making sure everyone got wind of the grand event.  Then it was Kathryn’s turn to do a mass mailing to all the Voyager crew, the Starfleet brass, Kieran’s friends back at the Academy, and the various crews of the ships still orbiting Earth.  She invited everyone she had ever heard Kieran mention, including Robin Lefler.  She took a perverse satisfaction in thinking Robin might show up, and have to admit to herself what a terrible mistake she had made all those years ago, letting Kieran get away.

 

The RSVPs started pouring in, and the account was nearly overloaded.  Kieran took a turn sending private comm messages to the two people she wanted to stand up with her at the wedding, Noah Lessing and Wesley Crusher.  They accepted graciously, promising to arrive Saturday for the wedding rehearsal.

 

Naomi sat in the kitchen at the breakfast bar, observing the goings-on in the baking class Gretchen was giving for Seven of Nine.  Seven looked adorable in the checkered apron she wore over her blue jeans shorts and tank top, her face smeared with flour and hands stained with chocolate.  Naomi grinned at both women, pleased at how easily Seven fit in with Kathryn’s family.  No one seemed to care that she sported facial hardware, and her sometimes clipped communication skills didn’t seem to offend anyone here.

 

Kieran’s mother came in to see if she could help out.  “I know it’s a bit crowded in here,” she offered politely, “but if there’s anything I can do to get the food ready for Sunday, please put me to work.”

 

“Actually, Violet,” Kathryn said to the elder Thompson, “there’s something I’d like for you to take a look at,” she waved her aside.  “Kieran says you’re a marine biologist and a hydrologist, so I was hoping you could look at our pond.  Tell us if there’s anything potentially harmful in it.  It’s been a long time since anyone swam in it, and I don’t want anything to make Naomi sicker than she already is,” she explained as they walked out of the house and toward the pond.

 

“I’d be glad to.  But to do a really good analysis, I’ll need a water sample.  Do you have a container?”

 

Kathryn held out a small jar.  “I’m a scientist, too,” she grinned.

 

Back at the house, Gerry Thompson was at loose ends.  He felt like he’d been deposited in the middle of an estrogen island, and as the only male on the premises, he was pretty certain he was useless, as far as the women were concerned.  Kieran came back downstairs from using the workstation, spotted her father looking lost, and went over to hug him.

 

“Are you okay, Dad?” she asked, squeezing him close.  He was nearly as tall as her, with the same brown hair as her natural color, a light chestnut, only his temples were graying.  “Are you bored?”

 

“Not really bored, honey,” he hugged her back.  “Just--it’s a lot to take in.  All these new people, you all grown up, getting married—your daughter.  We were just getting used to the idea that you were married to a Klingon, when you show up with a Ktarian.  And then we decide she’s as wonderful as you say, but it turns out she’s ill.  I’m just so sorry for you.  How are you holding up, Starfish?” he chucked her under the chin.

 

“Good, considering.  But when this is all over, can I come home and fall apart?” she asked in a retreating voice.

 

He took her hand.  “You can always come home, honey.  Your mom and I would welcome you, and I promise, I won’t let her badger you to leave Starfleet.  She blames them for your getting lost, but I know in my heart, you’ve found the perfect career for yourself.  She’s just bitter about Cass, still,” he made excuses for his wife’s behavior.

 

“Daddy,” Kieran chastised him gently, “I’m a psychologist.  I know all that.  I figured out a long time ago, there’s no pleasing that woman.  I don’t try at all, anymore,” she assured him, pulling him over to the couch to sit down.

 

“She does love you, you know.”

 

“Yeah.  I love her, too.  I just don’t always like her much,” she admitted.

__________________

 

Naomi and Kieran got their first look at Phoebe’s house, or more accurately, Naomi’s new house, that afternoon.  Naomi was feeling good enough to make the trek over the country roads, and Phoebe was already back there, waiting to show the couple the property.  Kieran and Naomi walked hand in hand, breathing in the fresh, clean air and enjoying the fragrant smell of new mown hay wafting over the fields. 

 

“I love it here,” Naomi announced.  “It feels like home.  It’s the first time anyplace felt familiar to me, other than Voyager.  So if I decide I want to spend the next two years right here, would that be okay with you?” she smiled winningly at her lover, cheeks pink and glowing.

 

“As long as we’re together, I’d pitch a tent in hell and be happy,” Kieran agreed, hugging Naomi close.  “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something, Na,” she opened.  “You know when we were on Qian, I was able to experience your hallucinations with you,” she stated, monitoring Naomi’s expression.

 

“Yes?” Naomi urged her to finish.

 

“Well, in the two hallucinations where we got married, I took your last name.  I’d like to do that on Sunday, if that would make you happy,” Kieran offered. 

 

Naomi’s face filled with love as she gazed up at the taller Counselor.  “I would love that.  It would mean so much to me,” she agreed.  “But what about your parents?  And what about the fact that everyone on the planet knows you as Kieran Thompson?  Are you sure you want to surrender all that notoriety?”

 

Kieran stooped slightly to kiss her, and they stood on the dusty old road for the longest time, reveling in the feeling of their embrace.  “I don’t give a damn about notoriety, and my parents don’t get a say in this.  Dad will go along with whatever I want and won’t say a word.  Mom might try to give me some grief, but it’s the name I want, and you’re my chosen,” she murmured, kissing her again.

 

“I love you so much,” Naomi said between kisses.  “I would love you to take my name,” she agreed, feeling overwhelmed by the romantic sentiment of the gesture.  She slipped her hand back into Kieran’s.  “I think Kieran Wildman sounds lovely,” she decided.  “Only, what does the second K. stand for? It was on your statue at the academy.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “I never use it, but it stands for Kelsey.”

 

Naomi smiled broadly.  “Kieran Kelsey Thompson Wildman.  That’s a mouthful.”

 

Kieran waggled her eyebrows.  “So am I,” she teased.

 

Naomi smacked her playfully.  “Don’t be a pig.  That’s Noah’s department,” she laughed.  “Do you think he and B’Elanna will really make a go of things?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “They’re perfect for each other, they just don’t know it yet.  I couldn’t be more glad for them, either,” she grinned.  “I know Katie is in good hands.”

 

They walked up the gravel drive that led to Phoebe’s place, a whitewashed two-story wood frame house with a wrap around porch, a garden to one side, a barn in the back, and a studio built onto the side of the breezeway.  “It’s nice,” Naomi pronounced.  “Not as big as Gran’s, but big enough.”

 

Phoebe came out onto the porch, waving them inside.  “Hurry up, you two, I want you to see this,” she enthused, practically dragging them inside.

 

The house had been furnished with Kieran and Naomi’s belongings from Voyager, along with plenty of Phoebe’s furniture and decorative pieces.  In one corner of the living room stood Naomi’s piano, the other hosted her schelanatta, and Kieran’s guitar stood in its stand beside the piano. 

 

“How did you ever get our stuff down here?” Naomi demanded,  charmed at the thoughtful kindness.

 

Phoebe smiled.  “Kathryn is a captain.  She can pull all sorts of strings, where her loved ones are concerned,” she said with sincere admiration for her sister.

 

Naomi was drawn to a painting on the wall above her piano, and stood there, gaping at it.  “This is stunning,” she breathed.  “Is it yours?”

 

Phoebe nodded.  “One of a series of paintings.  The others are in my gallery in Paris.  I’m particularly fond of that one, though,” she admitted unabashedly.  “It’s my best work in years.”

 

“Oh, Aunt Phoebe,” Naomi said with the appreciation only an artist can have for another, “you’re so talented.”

 

Phoebe caressed her hair fondly.  “Thank you,” she replied.  “Now what does a relative have to do to get a free concert?” she inquired, grinning.

 

Naomi obediently went to the piano. “You only have to ask,” she advised, launching into a tumultuous piece.

 

Kieran knew that as usual, Naomi was playing from her soul, expressing all the turmoil and angst of her situation, the frustration and anger coming through.  Kieran sat quietly, feeling the piece, feeling Naomi’s hurt and fear in it.  The music segued into a heart wrenching movement, filled with plaintive, weeping chords, and a melody that tore at the senses, and Kieran had to struggle for control.  Naomi conquered the keys as masterfully as she had conquered Kieran, drawing the best from them that they had to offer.  She coaxed them into submission, harnessed their energy, made them do her bidding.

 

Phoebe was speechless in the face of such a gift, and she knew instinctively that she was witnessing a revelation of Naomi’s inner being, more than a piece of music.  She hid her face in her hand, the heel of it pressed to her lips to suppress the welling emotion that Naomi wrung from her as easily as she wrung it from the instrument.  She was mute after the performance ended.

 

“Is that new, honey?” Kieran’s throat ached.

 

“Yes.  I’ve been writing it in my head, but I’ve never played it before now.  Do you like it?”

 

Phoebe caught her breath.  “It’s a masterpiece, Na.  I’m floored.  That really deserves to be published.  Will you let me look into it?”

 

Naomi shrugged.  “Sure, if you want to.  It’d be kind of nice to be immortal, in some sense of the word,” she decided. 

 

Kieran stuffed her emotions back down.  “I think it’s wonderful.  I wish you could play at the wedding,” she murmured. 

 

“I’ve never heard of that--someone playing at their own wedding.  But I will play for you on our wedding night, if you like,” she compromised. 

 

Kieran wasn’t certain when she moved, but she found herself holding Naomi suddenly, clinging to her.  She couldn’t begin to express everything she felt.

 

Phoebe turned away, affording them some privacy, fighting the lump in her throat.  “I’m going to go upstairs.  Come on up when you’re ready for the rest of the tour,” she said almost inaudibly.

_________________

 

Noah Lessing busied himself rubbing Katie Torres’ back, easing her to sleep.   The Klingon-human hybrid child was unbearably out of sorts if she missed her afternoon nap, and with B'Elanna grieving over the news about Naomi’s illness, and Noah feeling equally devastated, there was no way the couple would be able to withstand a bad Katie evening.  Katie loved Noah, his soothing voice and enveloping body creating a huge, safe haven for the toddler.  She drifted off and he put her down in the second room of their suite. 

 

B'Elanna sat in the living room area, staring dejectedly at nothing.  Noah went to the replicator, keyed in commands for two beers, and joined his lover on the couch.  B'Elanna’s eyes were so haunted, Noah hardly knew how to reach out to her.

 

“Lanna,” he said softly, handing her her drink, “do you want to talk about it?”

 

“She’s like part of my family,” B'Elanna took a long pull on her beer.  “It’s weird, I suppose, since she’s engaged to my ex-wife, but she worked hard for me, Noah, and we were so close on Voyager.  She’s such a great person, and Kahless knows, this is going to kill Kieran,” she sounded worried.  “And Seven and Kathryn,” she added.  “I helped raise her.”

 

“Me, too,” he agreed.  “Naomi is the reason I figured out I really want kids of my own,” he admitted.

 

B'Elanna smiled faintly at him.  “You never told me that.  I mean, I know you’re great with Katie, but you never told me you want a family.”

 

He grinned.  “I was afraid you’d run if I brought up anything that serious,” he laughed, drinking his beer.

 

“Have I ever given you any indication that I wanted to run?” B'Elanna asked pointedly. 

 

“I guess not.  But I’ve also never pressed you on anything,” he argued.  “Only, now, this thing with Naomi makes me think, I shouldn’t be so—reluctant.  And I shouldn’t be complacent,” he said softly.

 

“I know what you mean,” B'Elanna agreed.

 

“How do you feel about Kieran getting remarried?” he needed to know.  He averted his eyes, afraid he would see B'Elanna’s continued love for Kieran Thompson.

 

“I’m trying to be okay with it.  Like I said, it’s weird for me.  But all in all, I think Kieran had me figured out.  I may be bisexual, but the fact is, I can live without women, not without men, if I can only choose one gender.  I’m not willing to go without what you give me,” she confessed.  “How do you feel about her marriage?  You had it bad for her, too,” she acknowledged.

 

“I’m totally fine with it.  I’ve been over her a long, long time,” he raised his beer in salute to his former infatuation.  He finished the amber liquid, setting down his empty bottle.  “In fact,” he turned to face her, one leg folded on the couch, “I promised myself after her, I wouldn’t fall in love again.  And then you came along and shattered my resolve on that count,” he said intently.  “Kieran told me awhile back you and I would be perfect for each other, and she really pushed me to open myself for you.  I’m glad I listened to her.  I love you, B'Elanna,” he said, leaning in to kiss her.

 

B'Elanna returned his kiss sweetly, astonished at his sudden admission, floored by her own reaction.  “I love you, too,” she replied, kissing him again, her body immediately responding to his heat.  “And she told me the same thing.  Insightful, my ex-wife,” she murmured, cradling his head in her hands, kissing him with more fervor.

 

The awareness of death has a way of sparking great sexual desire, and the couple was hardly immune to the emotional imperative.  Noah gathered B'Elanna into his arms, carrying her to their bed, undressing her slowly.  “Teach me how to claim you,” he requested, pulling her shirt open at the throat, easing it off her shoulders.

 

B'Elanna was suddenly afraid.  With Kieran, it had been so natural, so spontaneous.  She was gentle and delicate, and Kieran had marked a lover before.  B'Elanna gazed up at the behemoth of a man dwarfing her, eyes closing with near panic.  She drew a shuddering breath. 

 

“Here,” she pointed to the base of her throat.  “You mark me here,” she instructed. 

 

Noah kissed her lingeringly.  “I’m—I’ve never—drawn blood with a lover, not intentionally,” he whispered.  “I’m scared.”

 

“Me, too,” B'Elanna nodded, brow furrowed.  “I’ve never ritually mated with anyone but Kieran,” she explained.  “I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

“Did it hurt her?” he asked faintly.

 

“I think it must have, but she—she knew how to seduce a Klingon, she knew the ritual overtures, and by the time a Klingon goes through those rituals, the arousal is so compelling, you just—lose your awareness of the fact that you’re biting someone,” she detailed for him. “The thing is, for a human partner, they never lose the awareness of the bloodletting, like I do.  So I wouldn’t really know if I hurt her.  I can’t explain it, Noah,” she moved him off of her, lying beside him. 

 

“I think there’s some powerful chemical component for Klingons, and when the bloodlust hits, it’s like an intoxicant.  Because humans don’t have that chemical reaction, they end up being prey to whatever they unleash in their Klingon partner.  And honey, you know that just making love to me, I injure you sometimes,” she said apologetically.  “I know it’s one of the reasons Kieran and I broke up, because the longer we were together, the more punishing my bloodlust got to be for her.  We reached a point where I was afraid to sleep with her, for fear of really hurting her badly.  Bless her heart, she tried to hang in there with me, and she was willing to risk it to the bitter end, but I couldn’t risk hurting her.  I loved her.  It had become dangerous for her to be with me.”

 

Noah nodded, caressing B'Elanna’s cheek.  “And did it help, taking up with Tristan Garrett?”

 

B'Elanna nodded, ashamed.  “It helped a lot.  He could be aggressive, and exhaust me in ways Kieran couldn’t, and it took the edge off my own aggression.  Not that I didn’t draw his blood on occasion.”

 

“You’ve drawn mine often enough, but it’s not the same as claiming me, is it?” Noah wanted to be sure.  “I know Kieran thought you had claimed Mariah Henley, just because she had a wound on her throat.”

 

“It’s not the same thing,” B'Elanna confirmed.  “Most Klingons do draw blood when they have sex.  But claiming a partner is a ritual that goes with a specific type of wound, and it signifies ownership of the partner, exclusivity, fidelity.  It’s like being engaged, I guess. The Oath is more binding, like marriage.  And the Klingon wedding ceremony is just the public acknowledgement to family and friends that the Oath has been taken.  That’s why the Captain specifically asked Kieran and I at our wedding ceremony if we had taken the Oath, because if either of us had said no, we could not marry each other.  The Oath is usually said privately, and often in the height of bloodlust.”

 

Noah smiled.  “KT actually learned to speak Klingon?”

 

“She learned enough to speak the Oath, and to tell me she loved me, and to participate in the rituals of my culture,” B'Elanna agreed.  “I guess I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have,” she said regretfully.  “She really extended herself, opened herself, and she endured what was more than likely quite a painful experience, only to prove her love for me.  I don’t understand myself, sometimes.  How could I have let it fall apart?  She was so committed to me.  Is it really so important, to have sexual liaisons with men, that I sacrificed all that she offered me for it?” B'Elanna was perplexed.  “That’s what tortures me,” she confided.  “Not that she’s gone, not that she loves Naomi—because God knows, the two of them were probably destined to be together—but that I could be so weak, or need something that wasn’t Kieran so much that I lost her.”

 

Noah hugged her close, trying to lend comfort.  “You still really love her, don’t you?” he asked sadly.

 

B'Elanna nodded.  “I do love her.  And I’m grateful to her.  She gave me Katie, and she taught me to embrace my heritage, not to fear it so much.  But she was right.  She and I were wrong for each other.  And I’m not a lesbian.  She has every right to want her partner to be same-sex identified, and I’m not.”

 

“Kieran told me she thinks you need both genders of partner to be fulfilled.  If that’s true, then I’m not going to be enough for you by myself, in the long run,” he said gently.  “Do you think she’s right about that, too?”

 

B'Elanna sighed.  “Honestly, Noah?  I think Kieran knows me far better than I know myself.  When she tells me something, now, I listen wholeheartedly.  First, I know whatever she says is out of love, and second, I know that what she says is never out of self-interest on her part.  The problem is, for me to be in that sort of arrangement means I have to share my partners with each other, and I tend to be very, very jealous.  I’m sure you could keep up with two women, but I’m not sure I could watch you touch someone else,” she decided.  “How would you feel about it?”

 

He shrugged.  “I’m not sure.  I’ve never been in a situation like that.  I think it would be weird, because I know I love you, and I want to be with you, but could I be in love with two women at once?  And could I feel secure, if I knew you were in love with her too?  It’s hard enough, dealing with your residual feelings for KT,” he said faintly.  “I mean, I can picture having a third sexual partner, as long as it’s just sex.  That doesn’t rattle me—in fact, like any guy, it juices me to think of two naked women in my bed.  But if you were in love with her, that might be a different story.  KT told me to keep an open mind, and not dismiss it out of hand.  I suppose if the right situation presents itself, we’ll know it,” he concluded. “But I’m a fairly conventional guy.  I always figured I’d be married and have a family, and I never thought about having a three-way relationship.”

 

“I know one thing,” B'Elanna assured him, “and that’s that right now, it doesn’t feel like there’s anything I’m missing, or anyone else I want but you.  You’re all masculinity, but you can be so gentle, and I feel like I have the perfect mix of aggression and tenderness in you.”

 

Noah kissed her sweetly, tasting her breath, chest swelling with love.  “As long as you tell me the truth, B'Elanna,” he requested.  “If I’m ever not enough, you have to tell me.”

 

__________________

 

The pond was fed by an underground spring, and for early June, the water was surprisingly cold.  Kieran dove in buck naked, not caring that her snow white ass most likely caught enough sunlight to reflect back into space.  She wanted to stay in the murky, muddy water on the bottom, never surface, never face the truth of what waited for her on the bank.  She numbed her mind by finding the spring and sticking her face right in the vent.  The coldness made her teeth hurt, it was so bracing.  When her lungs burned to breathe, the oxygen depleted from her bloodstream, she finally came to the top, shaking water out of her eyes.

 

Naomi stood on the bank, hands on her hips.  “You scared me.  I thought some swamp monster had you, or something,” she complained loudly.

 

Kieran swam powerfully toward her.  “Are you coming in, or do I have to make you?” she beseeched the naked Ktarian.

 

Naomi giggled.  “Make me,” she taunted.

 

Kieran stomped up the bank menacingly, water coursing down her bare flesh in rivulets, hair slicked back.  “You’re going in, Wildwoman,” she threatened.

 

Naomi squealed and tried to dodge, but Kieran had her in a blink, slinging her over broad shoulders like a sack of potatoes.  Naomi shrieked as Kieran waded back out, dangling Naomi over her shoulder.  She laughed at Naomi’s girlish antics, and showing no mercy, she heaved her backwards into the pond.  The “oh” of surprise as her lips curled made Kieran laugh harder.  She followed the flying Ktarian, just to be sure she came right back up for air, which she did.

 

“Jesus, it’s freezing,” Naomi bitched.  “I think my privates are shriveled up,” she shivered.

 

Kieran encompassed her in warmer arms.  “Let me feel,” she offered.  She thrust her hand between Naomi’s legs.  “Nope.  Not shriveled.  A little puckered, maybe, but still there,” she confirmed, grinning.

 

“Maybe you could warm that up, too,” Naomi invited her.

 

Kieran kissed her, drawing Naomi’s legs around her hips and supporting her weight by grabbing her ass.  “My pleasure,” she said into their kiss, reaching for her nether regions.  “Would you rather lay on the towels?” she offered.

 

“No,” Naomi shuddered from the sensation between her legs.  “I’ve always wanted to make love in this pond with you,” she admitted sheepishly. 

 

“Ah, a fantasy,” Kieran teased her.  “Do tell.”

 

“I have a million of them,” Naomi informed her.  “We’ll never have time to get to them all.  But this is one of my favorites,” she squirmed as Kieran’s fingers entered her, eliciting a soft groan from the back of her throat.

 

“Let’s see how far we can move through the list, then,” Kieran said in her ear, biting the lobe gently. 

 

___________________

 

They lay in the morning sun, drying in the humid air, still loving each other intimately. 

“You know,” Kieran gasped as Naomi captured a nipple, “your grandmother would have a heart attack if she stumbled upon this little side show,” she arched into Naomi’s mouth.

 

“I told Kathryn to keep everyone away,” Naomi smiled around a firm breast.

 

“You didn’t,” Kieran accused.

 

“Did so.”

 

“What did you tell her, exactly?” Kieran demanded, though her concentration was beginning to slip.

 

“I told her that I was taking you swimming so I could ravish you before all the guests start to arrive for the rehearsal this afternoon,” Naomi teased Kieran’s cleft, feeling the willing yielding of Kieran’s body to her touch.

 

“You liar,” Kieran gasped the words.

 

“Those were my exact words.  Kathryn turned menstrual red, too,” Naomi chuckled.   “You should’ve seen it,” she murmured, descending Kieran’s body.  “Now do shut up, please,” she admonished her lover.  “Unless of course you feel the need to scream something incoherent,” she laughed evilly.

 

Kieran groaned as she felt wet warmth envelop her sex.  The incoherent part was only seconds away.

 

____________________

 

Noah Lessing shouldered Katie Torres in one powerful sweep of his massive arm, grabbed a suitcase with the other, and stooped to kiss B’Elanna as they walked across Gretchen Janeway’s lawn.

 

“Are you really okay with this, Lanna?” he asked the brooding Klingon.

 

She forced a smile and nodded.  “I will be.  It’s a little hard, but I know Kieran and Naomi are truly happy, and, after all, I lost Kieran out of my own negligence.  I hardly have the right to complain, and considering how little time Naomi has, I won’t begrudge them this marriage,” she explained.  “And,” she added, looking on the bright side, “I can’t wait to see Katie’s face when she and Geejay see each other.”

 

Noah chuckled.  “Two peas in a pod,” he agreed.  They climbed the porch steps and knocked on the screen door.

 

Kathryn bustled across the living room to let them in.  “Come in, don’t knock,” she greeted them warmly.  “Thank you so much for coming,” she took Katie out of Noah’s arms and hugged the toddler.  “How’s my namesake?” she asked, grinning at the Klingon child.

 

“Ka-trn,” Katie said, “Is Geejay home?  I want Geejay now, please,” she bounced in Kathryn’s arms.

 

A resounding shriek of delight rang in the air as Geejay toddled into the living room.  “Katie!” the little blonde hollered, running for her pal.  The two girls hugged and hugged and sat right down in the floor to have a pow-wow.  Geejay offered the stuffed bear she had been lugging around, and Katie properly thanked her and kissed her cheek before grabbing the toy to hug it too. 

 

“Well,” Kathryn turned to Noah and B’Elanna, “none of us will matter the rest of the night,” she chuckled.  “Let me take your bags to the guesthouse. Seven and I have been staying there, and you two will be bunking with us.  There’s a second bedroom big enough for all three of you.  I’m sorry, we don’t have an extra crib for Katie,” she frowned.  “I knew I was forgetting something.”

 

“It’s fine,” B’Elanna assured her.  “Katie sleeps with me sometimes, anyway,” she patted Kathryn’s arm.

 

“Come and say hello to mother, and have a caramel brownie.  Wesley should be here anytime, and the justice of the peace will be along for rehearsal directly,” she said hospitably.

 

“How is Naomi, Kathryn?” B’Elanna asked quietly.

 

Kathryn slipped an arm around the Klingon.  “As well as can be expected.  Dr. Pulaski thinks if we could just figure out what triggered her maturation spurt, we might have a chance at finding the solution to her illness.  But neither Tom nor Harry seemed to have any similar problems after Restid Three, and we’re all baffled.  Kate has searched the entire medical community looking for Ktarian doctors that might be able to help.  She’s coming to the wedding, so I’ll get an update tomorrow.”

 

B’Elanna squeezed her.  “If there’s anything I can do—”

 

“Thanks, B’Elanna.  I’ll let you know if I think of anything.  I’ve been wondering if we should go back to Voyager and go over the mission logs again.  I’ve got to try something, but I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”  She seated them at the kitchen table and poured glasses of ice cold milk for each, then put a plate of caramel brownies out for them.

 

“Hi, Mrs. Janeway,” B’Elanna called out to Gretchen, who was rummaging in the pantry.

 

“Hi you two,” she waved, “I’ll be along in a minute,” she promised.

 

“Aren’t you having any, Captain?” Noah nodded to the plate of brownies, waiting for her reply before allowing himself to eat.

 

“I’ve eaten so many since yesterday, I’m half sick.  And it’s Kathryn, Noah.  We don’t stand on protocol in my home,” she advised, sitting down with them.

 

“Where is the happy couple?” he asked, taking a huge bite and closing his eyes.  “Oh, my God,” he groaned with satisfaction.

 

“They’ve been down at the pond all day.  I imagine they’ve had a lot to discuss,” she replied, not mentioning that the two women had probably done everything but discuss.  “They have to be overwhelmed, right now, with the diagnosis and all the decisions to make.  I feel just awful for them both, but they seem to have taken the news in stride.  Kieran is a rock, just as you’d expect, and Naomi is just so in love, she is focused completely on Kieran.”

 

B’Elanna took a dainty bite of brownie, letting the morsel dissolve in her mouth.  “She always was completely focused on Kieran,” she commented.  “I suppose their falling in love was inevitable,” she said faintly, trying not to sound bitter.  “I just hope Katie doesn’t get lost in the shuffle,” she added.  “When Kieran came out of that emergency ward and announced that Naomi was her top and only priority, that made me feel a little like Katie might be overlooked.”

 

Noah finished his brownie, washing it down with milk.  “KT would never, ever let that happen, Lanna.  She loves Katie, and she’s a good mother.  You never have to worry about it,” he insisted.

 

B’Elanna rolled her eyes, leaning in closer to Kathryn.  “Imagine what a pain in the ass it is to have your lover always sticking up for your ex-wife,” she complained.

 

“That’s nothing,” Kathryn confided.  “Wait 'til your spouse, your daughter, and your best friend gang up on you all at once to defy you at every turn,” she grinned. 

 

“Let’s make a pact that we’ll always stick up for each other, then,” B’Elanna conspired.

 

“Deal,” Kathryn held out her hand.

 

“Speaking of your lovely wife, where has she gotten to?” Gretchen asked Kathryn as she walked back into the kitchen.

 

“She’s in Daddy’s study, using the workstation.  I think she is trying to find something for Naomi and Kieran to wear tomorrow,” she added, sneaking a piece of B’Elanna’s brownie after all.

 

“You mean they haven’t even decided what they’re wearing?” B’Elanna was aghast.

 

Gretchen smirked. “They spend so much time naked, I think clothes are anathema to them,” she joked.

 

“MOTHER!” Kathryn wailed.  “Do you have to be so crass?”

 

The elder Janeway rolled her eyes.  “I’m sure, Kathryn, they’ve spent the whole day picking daisies, and nothing more,” she said sarcastically.  “They’re young and in love.  What do you expect?” she demanded playfully.

 

Kathryn scowled.  “I don’t know.  A little decorum would be nice.  I’m not asking for much.”

 

“I think they’ve been fairly discreet.  Much more so than you were with Justin Tighe in the orchard,” Gretchen accused her daughter.

 

Kathryn’s face went scarlet.  “Mother, these people are part of my crew.  Do you think you could restrain yourself in the smart-ass department?”

 

Noah was trying not to choke on his milk, he was laughing so hard.  “I’m sorry,” he pressed his hand to his mouth to keep from spewing white liquid from his nostrils.  “Your mom is a riot,” he howled.

 

B’Elanna caught the strains of a song, recognizing Kieran’s singing and Naomi harmonizing as they came up the path through the apple orchard.  “They sound good,” she noted, finishing her milk. 

 

The couple banged through the screen door, arms slung around each other.  In the living room, Kieran swooped down on Katie, grabbing her up for a tender hug.

 

“Marmar!” Katie hollered, giggling as the very tall blonde pounced on her.

 

“Hello, sweetie,” she kissed the soft curls around her forehead.  “How’s my girl?”

 

“I’m playing with Geejay, now,” she replied, straining back toward the floor and away from Kieran’s hug.

 

“Jilted for the pretty one again,” Kieran joked.  “Down you go, lovey.  Damn, Katie, you’re getting so big,” she breathed.  “Hey, Na,” she took her fiancée’s hand, “we should scare up something to eat before the whole world arrives.  You’re looking a little washed out,” she caressed Naomi’s face, concerned.

 

“I’m fine,” Naomi insisted, withdrawing her hand and sliding both palms up Kieran’s chest to her shoulders.  “Thank you for today.  It was wonderful,” she stood on tiptoes to kiss her beloved.

 

Kieran leaned her forehead against Naomi’s.  “It was a great day, wasn’t it?” she murmured, kissing her back.  “But I’m starving.”

 

They wandered into the kitchen, spying their guests.  “Hey!” Kieran pulled B’Elanna out of her chair for a hug, and then kissed Noah’s cheek.  “When did you guys get in?”

 

“Just a few minutes ago,” B’Elanna sat back down, scrutinizing her ex-wife for signs of strain.  “We should let you guys sit down and eat something,” she motioned Noah out of his chair.

 

“I’m glad you’re finally back,” Kathryn said, getting up and retrieving a PADD from the counter.  “We need to go over these documents,” she handed them to Naomi.

 

“The wedding license?” Naomi scrolled through the information.

 

“Yes, and your will.  You need to fix your thumbprint to that,” Kathryn pointed to the spot on the legalese.  “You can’t get married without it.”

 

Kieran smirked at B’Elanna and Noah.  “Go figure, the government doesn’t think twelve year olds should be allowed to get married without an act of God,” she smarted.  “What’s the world coming to?”

 

Kathryn fixed her with a glare.  “Watch it, Kato.  Naomi can still void the decree, and then you’ll have to convince her you’re worthy of her hand,” she advised, leaning against the kitchen counter.  “And that might take a lot of convincing,” she smarted.

 

Naomi stuck her thumb on the PADD.  “Too late, I’m legal.  Quick, get the justice of the peace,” she looked around frantically, as if the man might appear any second.

 

Gretchen was busy putting together sandwiches and drinks for everyone.  “Noah, you look like you’re always hungry.  Would you like a bite?” she asked as she sliced thick bread from a freshly baked loaf.  “Seven and I made bread,” she added as incentive.

 

“I’d love a sandwich, thank you, Ma’am,” he agreed. 

 

She served the assembled guests, watching them eat and feeling satisfied that no one ever went hungry in her home. 

 

When Naomi had finished picking at her food, she excused herself.  “I want to see if Seven has come up with any good ideas,” she smiled. “I want to see what we’re wearing,” she kissed Kieran’s cheek and rushed up to the study.

 

“Hi Borg-Mom,” she grabbed Seven around the neck and spun her in the swivel chair.  “How’s the hunt for style and fashion going?” she enthused.  She stopped short.  “God, Seven, what did you do to yourself?” she held the Borg’s face in her hand, studying her forehead, which sported a large, purplish bump.

 

“Oh,” Seven blushed, “I hit my head on the window sill last night.  Clumsy me.  I’m not used to living in a house, I guess,” she explained.

 

“Shouldn’t your nanoprobes be fixing the bruising?” Naomi looked it over skeptically.

 

“They should be.  But they aren’t, it appears.  I’m keeping an eye on it, though,” she fidgeted uncomfortably.  “So what do you think of these?” she turned back to the display.

 

“Oh, Mom, they’re lovely,” Naomi breathed.  “Truly elegant.  Kieran will look amazing in them,” she murmured.

 

Seven smiled.  “And so will you, my darling daughter,” she wrapped an arm around the slight woman, hugging her.  “I want it to be the happiest day of your life,” she enthused.

 

Naomi hugged her back.  “I’m marrying Kieran,” she pointed out.  “How could it be anything but the happiest day of my life?” she laughed lightly.

 

Seven gazed up at her daughter, fighting the melancholy feeling that lingered in her heart.  “I used to think your love for her was unfortunate,” she murmured, “that you carried that torch in vain.  But your persistence has finally been rewarded,” she acknowledged.

 

“You mean my stubbornness, don’t you, Mom?” Naomi smirked.

 

“That, too,” Seven agreed.  She pulled Naomi into her lap, clinging to her in an uncharacteristic fit of vulnerability.  “I love you, Naomi,” she kissed her daughter’s cheek.  “You will always be my little girl, with innocent eyes and freckles and a perpetual grin.  If I live to be one thousand, that’s how I will remember you.  That, and how you followed me around Voyager, spying on me.”

 

Naomi hugged Seven fiercely.  “I wasn’t spying, Mom.  I was observing, and emulating you.  I always loved you, even when I was afraid of you.  And my fear didn’t last long, because despite all your cybernetic parts and your stoic scowl, your heart always shone through.  I was always drawn to your heart, and it was always big enough to include and forgive me.  I know I’ve been a miserable child, and I’ve put you through absolute hell, and I’m sorry, Seven,” she said sincerely.

 

Seven’s eyes widened.  “You have NOT been a miserable child, Naomi.  How can you even think that?” she peered into hazel eyes, face soft with concern.

 

Naomi leaned her forehead against the former Borg’s, feeling the cool press of Seven’s optical implant.  “I ran away from home twice, I tried to die at least as many times, I sued you—that’s not the same as being a royal pain in your Borg-enhanced ass?” she said softly.

 

Seven closed her eyes, blinking back tears.  “I have never considered you anything but a joy, Naomi Wildman,” she reverted to Borg-speak.  “You have had an extremely difficult life, and your reactions to your circumstances have been wholly warranted and understandable.  My only regret is that you grew up so quickly, I did not get to mother you as long as I would have liked,” she admitted.  “That, and your illness.  I would give anything to change that,” she nearly strangled on the words.

 

“I know, but at least I’m going to die happy,” Naomi assured her.  “I need you to do something for me, okay?”

 

Seven nodded, trying to get her emotions under control.  “Anything.”

 

“Promise me you’ll take care of Kieran, after I die.  She’s going to be a mess, and I need to know you won’t let her drown.  She’s going to need you, Seven.  Next to me, you have more influence over her than anyone.  She’ll listen to you.  Watch out for her.  Help her get over it.  Make sure she eats.  And don’t let her stop living.  Promise me,” she demanded, eyes penetratingly intense.

 

“You have my word,” Seven agreed solemnly.  “I love her, Naomi.  I will not let her drown in her grief.  Though I cannot guarantee you I will not drown in my own,” she said softly.

 

“You can’t,” Naomi retorted.  “You can’t allow yourself that, Mom.  I mean it.  You have to be stronger than that, for Kieran.”

 

Seven swallowed her sadness, nodding.  “I will do my best.  I promise.”

_____________________

 

Wesley Crusher arrived shortly thereafter, followed by Neelix, who was to stand up with Naomi, and Phoebe, also standing up with Naomi. Finally, the justice of the peace arrived too.  They walked through the house to the large lawn beside the apple orchard, Kathryn directing everyone.  “The trellis will be here,” she advised, showing Kieran and Naomi where to stand.  “Willard,” she said to the justice, “you’ll be here.  Noah, right here, and Wesley, next to Noah.  Damn.  Where’s Seven?”

 

“I’ll get her,” B’Elanna offered, jogging back to the house.  She found Seven watching the girls.  “You’re needed outside, your Borgness,” she used Kieran’s nickname for the towering blonde.

 

“Hello, B’Elanna,” Seven stood to greet her.  “It was big of you to come.”

 

“Seven,” she said reproachfully, “Of course I’m going to be here.  Just because Kieran and I divorced doesn’t mean I’m any less a part of this family.  I love them both, and I love you and Kathryn.  I wish them nothing but the best of everything.”  She smiled at her Borg friend. 

 

Seven walked arm in arm with her best friend.  “Still, it’s nice you’re here.  I’ve missed you.”

 

“Really?” B'Elanna was startled at the confession.  “That’s sweet, Borg.  How are you holding up?”

 

They exited the house, Seven pasting a smile on her face.  “I am going through the motions, nothing more,” she admitted.  “But Kieran has ordered us all to smile, and so I will smile.”

 

B'Elanna sat on the back stoop, watching the rehearsal and keeping an eye on Katie and Geejay while the other adults went through a mock version of the wedding ceremony.  B'Elanna could see the telltale signs of duress in Kieran’s face, and knowing the Counselor as well as she did, B'Elanna knew how deeply Kieran hurt.  Still, to most observers, Kieran seemed calm, in control, and truly happy.  Naomi radiated love for the taller woman from the core of her being, and the two fed on that energy, reflecting it back to each other in equal measure. 

 

B'Elanna regarded her ex-wife contemplatively. She finally has what she wanted.  Someone who thinks the world begins and ends with her.  Someone who loves women as much as she does.  Someone who will never leave her for a man.  She is beautiful, B'Elanna realized.  And she loved me, once. Better than I had ever hoped to be loved, and far better than I deserved. 

 

B'Elanna studied Noah Lessing, his graceful body, his gentle demeanor.  He and Kieran were laughing about something, and Willard Carson was giving them a stern look.  The two sobered immediately.  Naomi only shook her head at them, grinning patiently, waiting for the hilarity to subside so the rehearsal could continue.  B'Elanna smiled fondly at them all, thinking how much she loved each of them.  Kieran would always be her friend, and Noah might well be her husband, eventually.  It felt appropriate, somehow, the transition in their lives.  Noah let out a booming laugh, and Kieran smacked his arm playfully.  B'Elanna let the sound of his laughter fill her.   Just like Kieran’s used to, she realized, grinning.

_________________

 

Noah Lessing took Kieran Thompson’s hand, leading her through the fading light in the apple orchard. 

 

“Since I’m your best man,” he began, squeezing her fingers, “I’m supposed to take you aside and give you some words of wisdom before I stand up with you tomorrow,” he said fondly.

 

Kieran laughed.  “Like you have any wisdom to share, NoGame?” she ribbed him.

 

“You’re right about that,” Noah admitted.  “I have nothing profound to offer.  In fact, I need your wisdom, as usual,” he said hopefully.  “I know you have a lot on your mind, KT, but I’d appreciate some insight,” he apologized.

 

Kieran slipped her fingers free, wrapping her arm around him.  “What’s on your mind, bud?”

 

He reciprocated the gesture, drawing a tentative breath.  “I need you to tell me how to—claim B'Elanna,” he confessed sheepishly.

 

Kieran pulled them up short.  “Are you serious?” she smiled broadly, then threw her arms around his neck.  “Oh, Noah, I’m so glad for you both,” she enthused, hugging the daylights out of him. 

 

“Will you teach me?” he requested, sounding small.

 

Kieran nodded vigorously.  “Of course I will,” she agreed immediately.  “Do you know the ritual prelude?” she asked, all business.

 

“I don’t know anything at all,” he said pitifully.  “I’ve read everything I can find, but I don’t understand it.  I’m supposed to sniff her palm?” he asked, confused.

 

“Let me show you,” she offered.  “Give me your hand,” she insisted.  She bent back his wrist roughly.  “Like this.  Only know your own strength, don’t break her wrist,” she warned.  “Then you breathe over her palm and close her fingers into her own hand, firmly,” she demonstrated.  “If you squeeze her hand hard enough, her palm will bleed slightly, and that will make it much more intense for her.  Then you breathe her scent down the length of her arm,” she showed him, “and back up again.  If there is blood running down her arm, at this point, she’ll have smelled it, and she’ll be ready.  You make eye contact with her, if her eyes aren’t rolling into the back of her head yet,” she instructed.  “And you tell her, in a commanding tone, ‘I claim you.  You are mine.’  And you bite her right here,” she showed him on her own throat.  “Don’t be tentative—she’ll be so far gone, it won’t hurt her, and the deeper and larger the wound, the more she will respect you.”  She smiled at the look of utter arousal in his eyes.  “Pretty potent, huh?”

 

“You did that with her?” he asked incredulously.  “You drew her blood?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Does that shock you?”

 

“Yes,” he said with a bewildered look.  “You’re so gentle, so kind.  I can’t imagine it.”

 

“I did it because she needed it, Noah.  It’s the only way to truly have her heart.  Once you’re blood bonded, you’ll understand.  If you want to really get her going, kiss away some of the blood from her palm, and then kiss her with it on your lips.  She’ll go nuts,” Kieran counseled.  “Only, be forewarned, when I say she’ll go nuts, you may need some serious dermal regeneration time afterward.  And you’d better be well rested, because she’ll want you to make love to her repeatedly.”

 

“What if she—doesn’t claim me back?” he asked, worried.

 

Kieran laughed.  “Honey, she will sink her teeth into you in a heartbeat.  I’ve seen how she looks at you, bud.”

 

“Does it hurt much?” he felt weak for asking, but he wanted to know.

 

“It can, but if you love her as much as you’d better if you’re going to claim her, you won’t mind it.  The need in her will override any fear you have for yourself, trust me, Noah.  It takes so much for a Klingon to share bloodlust, especially with a human, and you have to be cognizant of the fact that she is giving you her deepest vulnerability.  It’s the most sacred thing she can share with you, and you have to honor it, and protect it.  Do you understand?” her eyes burned with intensity, her voice whip-like.

 

“I understand,” he agreed.  “I promise, KT, I’m taking this completely seriously.  I know what it means to her, and I know that it’s a huge step.”  His face was sincere, and his manor was urgent.  Kieran was assured of his intentions.

 

“It’s like asking her to marry you, Noah.  You know that, right?” Kieran took his hands again.

 

“I know,” he confirmed.  “I love her, Kieran.  I’m not ready to take the Oath, yet, but I want this connection with her.”

 

Kieran smiled warmly at him.  “I knew you guys were perfect for each other,” she congratulated herself.  “I’m thrilled for you both.  When are you going to do it?” she asked, all set for gossip.

 

Noah laughed nervously.  “Soon.  Probably when we get back to San Francisco.  I’ve got butterflies in my gut, just thinking about it.  I know she’s going to be comparing everything I do to what you did,” he confided. 

 

“Nothing to worry about at all, there,” she patted his back as they walked toward the house.  “B'Elanna always thought of me as weak, though she would deny that, I bet.  I never took her forcefully enough, never gave her the aggression she needed.  Just remember that when she’s in the throes of bloodlust, don’t be gentle with her, or you’ll disappoint her needs.  Gentleness is for later, when the storm passes,” she advised.

 

Noah pulled them up short before they crossed the back yard of the farmhouse.  “Thank you,” he said sincerely.  “You’re amazing to me, Kieran,” he said quietly.

 

Kieran quirked an eyebrow.  “How so?” she was puzzled.

 

“You just told me how to seduce your ex-wife, and taught me to make love to her.  You don’t think that’s amazing?” he held her shoulders.

 

“I want you both to be happy.  That’s all I ever wanted for any of us.  There’s nothing amazing about that, bud.  Besides, from my selfish perspective, this works great for me.”

 

“How’s that?” he wanted to know.

 

“Katie adores you.  And if you and B'Elanna are serious, then I know she’s safe, she’s loved, and I never have to worry about her again.  You have a level head on your shoulders, and I trust you with my child more than I trust B'Elanna.  It’s a winning proposition for all of us,” she decided, laying her hand against his cheek.  “I love you, Noah.  This is how it was supposed to be, all along,” she assured him, kissing him softly.

 

He let her lips ghost over his own, then gathered her into a fierce hug.  “I love you, too, Kieran.  Thank you for being able to see things clearly, when I couldn’t,” he murmured, face pressed into her hair. 

_________________

 

Seven of Nine crept up the stairs of the renovated guesthouse, hoping Kathryn was asleep.  She did not want to get into yet another argument with her wife, since last night’s had been so volatile.  She supposed it was Naomi’s relapse that had Kathryn behaving so erratically, and she expected that as before, the Captain would withdraw into herself as Naomi became increasingly fragile.  Only this time, Kathryn did not have Voyager to hide behind, no endless mound of reports, no bridge crisis, no excuses. 

 

Kathryn was awake, brooding over the situation, scowling to herself.  She looked up as Seven came in, not greeting her.  “Is everyone bedded down for the night?”

 

Seven nodded.  “I checked on Geejay.  She was sound asleep.  Having Katie here kept them both out of trouble,” she tried to keep things cordial.

 

“Your nanoprobes are not cooperating,” Kathryn noted the purplish bruise that remained on Seven’s forehead.  “That’s going to look pretty bad in the wedding pictures,” she sneered at the word ‘wedding’.

 

Seven sighed.  “Kathryn, I know you are angry, but I am not the one you should take it out on.  If you truly believe Naomi is making a mistake, you need to tell her.  I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

 

“She is making a mistake.  While she and Kieran are off gallivanting around the planet, her illness is only going to get worse.  They should be seeking medical opinions, not honeymooning,” Kathryn hissed.

 

“Then tell her that,” Seven replied.  “Stop acting as if I have the power to influence her.  I do not.”

 

“You haven’t even tried,” Kathryn glowered at her.  “I did try, but she thinks it’s just my pattern, to oppose them at every turn.  It’s not that at all.  If Naomi were going to live forever, I’d dance happily at their wedding.”

 

“No, you would not.  If Naomi were going to live forever, you would say she’s too young to be getting married,” Seven argued.  “She cannot please you, no matter what she does, and neither can Kieran.”

 

“God, I’m sick of hearing about Kieran from you,” Kathryn griped.  “She’s letting Naomi throw what is left of her life away, and all you can do is sing her praises.”

 

“Of course I sing her praises,” Seven snapped.  “She will stand by Naomi, and by me, while Naomi dies.  She will be the one who asks nothing for herself, and offers everything.  I know, because I’ve been through it with her before.  Tell me, Kathryn, what are you going to do, without a ship to divert your energy, without an easy excuse to avoid the truth of the situation, this time?  How will you ever be able to bail out on Naomi and me, if there’s no starship with a perpetual crisis?”

 

Kathryn leapt off the bed and at her wife.  “Bail out?  Is that what you call keeping one hundred and fifty people alive, against all the odds, in hostile skies?  While you were holding Kieran’s hand and cleaning up vomit, I was working my ass off so we wouldn’t all die out there.”

 

“You were hiding from your real duty,” Seven shot back.  “Because the real duty was too painful, and you were too weak to face it.  So you left Kieran and I to do everything.  Kieran was more a spouse to me than you were.  She was the one who held me when I cried, and the one who—”

 

Kathryn’s eyebrows narrowed.  “The one who what?  Say it Seven.  Go on,” she clenched her fists, her body shaking with rage.

 

“She was the one who loved me,” Seven shouted at her, fury etching her features.

 

Kathryn’s anger boiled over, and she backhanded her wife.  “She loved you how?  How God damn it?  Was she your lover?” she was livid.  “Did you sleep with her?”

 

Seven held her face, blood oozing from her nostril.  She ignored Kathryn and searched their bags for a dermal regenerator.  “If you want an answer to that, ask her yourself,” she replied coldly.

 

“I’m asking you,” Kathryn grabbed her shoulders and shook her.  “Did you fuck her?”

 

“No,” Seven hissed, “but I wish I had, so I could throw it in your face now.”

 

“But she tried, didn’t she?” Kathryn was inches from her wife’s forehead, her voice menacing.  “Didn’t she?”

 

Seven looked at her wife with pure hatred.  “Kieran Thompson has never so much as looked at me with a passing interest.”

 

“Liar!” Kathryn shoved her backwards, and Seven fell onto the bed.  “At the banquet on Qian, she spent the whole night looking at you.  In our quarters, before the banquet, she was undressing you with her eyes.  I watched her from the hallway.”

 

“You have an overactive imagination, Kathryn,” Seven glared at her.  “Kieran was in love with Naomi, so much that when Naomi slept with Sieken, it nearly killed her.  How do you think Kieran ended up in a coma on Qian?”

 

Kathryn’s eyes widened with shock.  “Naomi slept with Sieken?” her disbelief drained the ire from her features.  “My daughter bedded an alien ambassador?”

 

“Kieran told you the truth when she said she wasn’t Naomi’s first,” Seven replied coldly.  “And I assure you, Kieran did not know I was alive, then, or any other night, much to my disappointment.  I’m sleeping on the couch.  Don’t follow me, or I won’t be responsible for the bodily harm you sustain.”

 

Kathryn sat down on the bed with a thump, dumbfounded.  Naomi and Sieken.  It couldn’t be true.  It simply could not have happened.  Seven was lying to cover herself, to cover the fact that Kieran and she had been together.  In the cargo bay, all those times Seven was supposedly regenerating, that must have been when.  Kathryn was sure of it.

 

_________________

 

Sunday finally came, and the flowers were put out, the chairs set up on the lawn, the trellis erected, and the long tables of food covered to keep the insects away.  Kieran and Naomi went back to the house to shower and dress, while the rest of the family and friends put the finishing touches on the decorations.  Everyone took turns getting cleaned up, and finally the guests started to arrive.

 

Seven helped Kieran and Naomi with their wedding clothes, which she had picked out for them, with their permission.  They each wore white silk pleated slacks that accentuated their waists, antique white lace vests, and sky blue blouses with full sleeves and v-necks.  The effect was elegant and understated, and it suited them both. 

 

Kieran took Naomi’s hands, looking her over.  “You’re not disappointed about not having a formal bride’s dress?” she asked, kissing both hands in turn.

 

“That was just a hallucination,” Naomi replied.  “This is much more comfortable, and it feels perfect to me.  You look positively gorgeous,” she flirted with her soon-to-be wife.

 

Kieran grinned, gazing longingly at her.  “Thanks.  As long as you think so, nothing else matters to me,” she leaned in for a brief kiss.  “Let me straighten your chain,” she arranged the necklace she had bought Naomi on Qian.  “I love you, Naomi Wildman,” she said sincerely, kissing her again.  “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” she asked in a teasing tone.

 

Naomi grabbed her by the vest.  “Believe it,” she growled, laughing happily.

 

Seven watched silently, feeling the love radiating from them.

 

“Mom?” Naomi said softly.  “Do you have the rings Kieran bought on Qian?”

 

Seven’s navy blue dress had two pockets on the skirt, and she withdrew the box.  “Right here, sweetie.  Please don’t worry so much,” she recommended, hugging the couple each in turn.

 

There was a commotion outside, and Naomi scooted to the window to see what was going on.  “Looks like your basketball team just arrived,” she laughed.  “They never seem to do anything with subtlety,” she noted.

 

Kieran joined her at the window.  “That’s their MO,” she agreed.  “Boisterous and brash.  Hey, Chakotay brought Claren James.  Way to go, Commander,” she cheered for him under her breath.  “Tuvok is here.  I would’ve expected him to be headed for Vulcan, by now.”

 

“K-Mom says he's staying to work on your assault investigation,” Naomi replied.

 

“You've got to be kidding me,” Kieran protested. “That's ridiculous.”

 

“Not to me, it's not,” Naomi insisted.  “For God's sake, Kieran, they tried to kill you.”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Tuvok has a family that misses him.  That counts more than justice, if you ask me. I wouldn't let an investigation keep me from you,” she tried to convince her betrothed.

 

“Looks like K-Mom is moving everyone into their seats, so it must be almost time.  Are you ready?”

 

Kieran took her hand.  “I’ve been ready ever since Qian,” she assured her lover.

 

_____________

 

Kieran looked out over the sea of faces in the rows and rows filling the Janeway’s back yard.  Captain Picard, with Beverly Crusher on his arm, Will and Deanna, Guinan, Geordi LaForge, Worf, the girls from the team, B’Elanna and Katie, Harry, Tom, Chakotay, Tuvok, the Doctor, all sat expectantly, smiling. Kieran counted three Admirals, her former college Coach, a dozen members of her own family, half a dozen friends of her parents, and a few of Samantha Wildman’s relatives. There were so many of the crew from Voyager, they ran out of seats, and people were standing around the lawn. Phoebe and Neelix stood at the trellis, waiting for Naomi to join them.  Kathryn and Seven, as the parents, escorted Naomi to the front down the long aisle in the yard, each taking an arm, solemnly cognizant of the turning point they had reached.  When they reached the trellis, a hush fell over the crowd.

 

Willard Carson smiled and asked “Who gives this woman this day?”

 

Seven confidently replied “Her mothers do,” and they kissed Naomi and left her standing with Phoebe and Neelix.

 

Kieran’s parents walked her up the aisle in turn, and kissed her as they delivered her to Wesley and Noah. 

 

Willard Carson smiled again and asked “Who gives this woman this day?”

 

Kieran’s father, with a decided catch in his voice, said “Her mother and I do.”  He took Kieran’s hand and placed it in Naomi’s, then kissed Naomi’s cheek and escorted his wife back to the front row.

 

Willard began in a slow, steady cadence to recite the ceremony.  Kieran and Naomi stood facing each other, oblivious to the world around them, existing only for each other in that moment.

 

Willard described the sanctity of marriage, the gravity of the commitment they were undertaking, and the importance of trust and fidelity.  He charged them to love and cherish each other, in the best and the worst of times, and to find their strength in each other.

 

He nodded to Naomi.  “Naomi and Kieran would like to address each other, before this honorable assembly and before the Universe in her glory.”

 

Naomi smiled shyly at Kieran, taking both her hands, and in a voice strong with emotion, said:

 

“The night I met you, you sacrificed yourself to try and save my life.  On an alien world, without regard for yourself, you tried to rescue me, and in a flash of light and heat, your heart was destroyed, and you nearly lost your life.   And so now, I’m giving you my heart, and my life, in repayment of a long overdue debt. 

 

“Throughout the years, I can’t begin to count the number of times or the numerous ways you’ve saved me.  You saved me from the suffocating loneliness of being an only child on a ship filled with adults.  You found me and brought me home when I ran from impossible situations, and you mended them so that I could flourish. You guided me through tremendous loss and helped me find my place with Kathryn and Seven, in a balanced and harmonious home that you fostered through your wisdom and patience.  You saved me from my fears and my nightmares.  On Qian, you brought me back from the brink of oblivion with the promise to love me.  And now you rescue me and shelter me from the crippling dread of a future that threatens to break my body and my spirit with disease.  You have never abandoned me. You have always shared my sorrows and my joys as if they were equally easy to bear, and you have stood by me at times when anyone else would have turned away for the sake of self-preservation.  You have always been and will always be my champion.

 

“My heart and my life pale in comparison to what you have given me.  But they are all I have, and I offer them to you, Kieran Kelsey Thompson, if they are not too poor a thing to give.”

 

Kieran’s eyes spilled over, and she murmured, “They are everything, Naomi.” She closed her eyes to regain a modicum of composure, smiling through her very grateful tears.

 

“I have been most blessed in my life,” Kieran began, “with the love of family and friends, with fame, success and accolades, with a career that fulfills my ambitions.  You came to me, perfect, beautiful, gifted, brilliant, and offering everything I could ever want. But I was a coward, Naomi, and I tried to turn away from you, because I didn’t want to lose all the things I had been blessed with.  You reached into my soul and you showed me strength I didn’t know I possessed, a love I could not deny, and a path I could not bear to walk without your hand in mine.  It became clear to me that all of those blessings I had so wanted to protect were expendable, but your love and your place in my life were not.  And we defied the world to choose each other.

 

“And now I know none of those blessings singly or collectively compare to the sense of wholeness I feel in your love and in the life we share.  We have been punished and penalized and dismissed and discounted by almost everyone around us, simply because we love each other.  And your love for me has never faltered, never apologized, and never agreed to be invisible or silent.  You humble me with your goodness, your iron-willed resolve, your devotion and your wisdom.  I don’t deserve to be loved as you love me.  But I gladly accept that you do, and I give you my heart, and my life in return.  Whatever comes,” she gazed earnestly into her beloved’s eyes, “we will stare it down defiantly together.  I will never be a coward again, because you are my courage and my strength, my heart and my life.”

 

Willard Carson had to compose himself to continue the ceremony.  He actually wiped his eyes and cleared his throat, struggling for a steady voice.  He looked out over the congregation, many of them crying themselves, and his admiration for Naomi grew deeper.  To face death was one thing.  But to go on living in the shadow of it was quite another.

 

He took them through the traditional wedding pledges, and asked Noah for the rings.  Noah gave Naomi’s to Kieran, and she slipped it on Naomi’s finger.

 

“I promise you my life and my heart, always and only you, for as long as we live,” she said confidently, though it was uncertain how long life would truly grant them together.

 

Noah placed Kieran’s ring in Naomi’s palm, and Naomi put it on Kieran, smiling up at her.  “I promise you my life and my heart, always and only you, for as long as we live,” she vowed. 

 

Willard Carson nodded and said “By the power vested in me, I pronounce you married.  You may kiss each other,” he smiled.

 

They kissed each other gently, Kieran holding Naomi’s face in her hands, both of them teary eyed.  Naomi hugged her close, and whispered “I will love you long after I’ve gone, Kieran.  Death can’t diminish what I feel for you.”

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Willard announced.  “May I present Naomi and Kieran Wildman.  Congratulations,” he shook their hands each in turn.

 

The congregation applauded politely, though the mood was more subdued than festive.  Kieran stood facing the crowd, fixing them with a stern glare.  “This is a happy occasion,” she emphasized.  “Please, celebrate with us,” she insisted.  The plea was understood for what it was, and all manner of hugging and congratulations broke out.

 

Kieran was swept away by family and friends, so many of whom promised support and unyielding effort to help find a cure for Naomi.  Naomi was fawned over by everyone present, and the party actually did become much lighter hearted.  It was a lively group, and long after the cake was cut and eaten, the champagne drunk, and the presents opened, the guests lingered, reminiscing about their days on Voyager, planning for the future, wishing each other well.

 

B’Elanna and Noah stood off from the crowd, talking to Kate Pulaski, who was working on her sixth glass of champagne. 

 

B’Elanna had just offered to let Kate inspect the mission logs from Restid Three, in hopes of finding a clue to Naomi’s illness.  They discussed the cerebrosporum, and Noah went to get the EMH to join the brainstorming session.  They talked well into the afternoon, puzzling over the complexities of it all.  Harry Kim offered himself for testing, to see if he showed any detrimental effects from the cerebrosporum that could be considered remotely like Naomi’s, and Tom Paris also agreed to undergo tests.  Pulaski was pleased to have another avenue to research, but she doubted she would find any clues in the men’s physiologies.

 

“So you used to be married to Kieran?” Pulaski finally asked B’Elanna, curiosity getting the better of her.

 

“That’s right,” B’Elanna agreed. 

 

“But she and Naomi fell in love on Qian?  Were you broken up with Kieran by then?” Kate was in her cups, and being nosey.

 

B’Elanna chuckled tightly.  “I was busy trying to eradicate some damned bacteria from the bioneural components of the ship, so I don’t really know what happened on Qian. Kieran and I had separated by then.  But I understand that’s where things—jelled for them.  By the time the Qianians had helped us fix Voyager, I had lost my chance,” B’Elanna admitted.

 

“Bacteria?” Pulaski asked faintly.  “What kind of bacteria?”

 

“I don’t really know.  I’m no biologist.  The Qianians had the ability to detect it, but we didn’t have the technology to even know it was there.  It was very persistent stuff, too.  We had to wear full decontamination gear for the whole month it took to clean that crap out of our systems.  The Qianians said it was something we picked up on Restid Three,” B’Elanna’s face registered what she was saying.  “Fucking Kahless at Khitomer,” she swore.  “That goddamned bug is probably what’s killing Naomi!” she grabbed Pulaski’s arms and shook her.

 

Pulaski’s eyes lit up.  “I want to see your logs right now,” she demanded.  “Get Kathryn.”

 

________________

 

Voyager’s lights were dimmed in every corridor, but the lights burned brightly in the Captain’s quarters.  “This is the data, Kate,” Janeway gave her full access.  “I have to get back to the wedding reception, but please, if you find anything, anything at all—” her tone was pleading.

 

Pulaski smiled. “I’ll hail you.  This may take awhile, but if it’s in here, I’ll find it.”

 

B’Elanna was at Seven’s old workstation, diligently looking for clues.  “I’ll stay too, Captain.  I’d like to try to help.  Will you ask Noah to watch Katie for me?”

 

Kathryn walked over and kissed B’Elanna’s hair.  “This is the only lead we’ve had of any substance, B’Elanna.  I’ll watch Katie myself,” she said gratefully.

 

__________________

 

Kieran sat on the couch in Gretchen’s living room, Naomi snuggled in her lap, still clad in their wedding garb.  The crowd was starting to dissipate, and one by one, guests came to take their leave.  The newlyweds were gracious to everyone, but truth be told, they were ready for some privacy, if only to be out of the public eye.  Kieran couldn’t count the number of times someone had told her “If there’s anything I can do to help…”  While she appreciated the sentiment, she held little hope in her heart.  She unconsciously tightened her grip on her beloved, who knew instantly what she was thinking.

 

“My love,” Naomi whispered in her ear.  “We have time, still.  Don’t torture yourself,” she advised gently.

 

Kieran hid her face in Naomi’s neck.  “I‘m sorry,” she explained, “I just want this moment to last forever.  God, you’re beautiful, and I am so lucky,” she kissed the soft flesh of her throat.

 

Naomi took Kieran’s face in her hands.  “It will last forever in your heart and your mind, just as I will,” she promised, kissing her deeply.  They lingered for long moments, exploring each other’s lips gently, as if Kieran’s father weren’t seated right beside them, and Captain Picard wasn’t across the room watching them.

 

Picard made himself look away, and found his gaze resting on Beverly Crusher.  Perhaps, he realized, it was high time he got his own house in order, learned to appreciate the blessings he had been given.  He smiled at the red-headed doctor, someone he had always considered a friend and colleague, and realized he had put off his deeper feelings for far too long.  He had always told himself “someday”, had always assumed there would be time.  Now, watching Kieran and Naomi grappling with mortality, he recognized that time is not always generous, and someday might never come.

 

“What’s on your mind, Jean-Luc?” Beverly asked, smiling back at him. 

 

He drew her arm through his own.  “This is a lovely farm,” he commented, leading her out onto the porch.  “Let’s take a walk around the grounds.  Kieran says there’s a spring-fed pond down the trail that leads through the orchard.  Are you up for stretching your legs?”

 

“Sounds nice,” Beverly agreed, folding her hands over his arm.  She inclined her head in the direction of a large group of young people.  “Wesley seems to be having fun with his old girlfriend,” she commented.

 

Stephanie Moss was hanging on his every word, laughing affectedly at his anecdotes.

 

“He’s a handsome young man.  I imagine he could have his choice of just about any partner he might want,” the Captain’s eyes twinkled.

 

They meandered through the apple orchard, letting the late afternoon sun warm their faces, stealing green apples as they passed through and tasting them.  Jean-Luc’s face twisted with the sourness.  “Not yet,” he threw the half-eaten fruit into a ditch.

 

“Was there something specific you wanted to talk about?  You look troubled, Captain,” Beverly peered up at him as they strolled along.

 

“I’ve had a good deal on my mind,” he admitted.  “You know I always had a soft spot for Kieran,” he began, thinking back on when he had met her as a cadet.  “She’s become everything I knew she could.  But such tragic circumstances!” he shook his head.  “This thing with Naomi, it’s just unbelievable,” he frowned sympathetically.

 

“I know,” Beverly breathed.  “They are so in love, and remarkably brave about it, but I’m sure inside, she’s taking it very hard.  Naomi seems to have accepted her fate, though,” she observed.  

 

“Kieran’s strong, but I have to worry about how she will cope when Naomi dies.”

 

Beverly chuckled.  “You mean you’re worried about your future first officer’s ability to perform her duty?” she needled him.  Always about the ship.  Everything with Jean-Luc was always about the ship.

 

He surprised her by objecting.  “Not at all.  I’m worried about her, personally.  I have no hope that she will even accept the posting, with all that she’s facing right now.  Starfleet is the furthest thing from her mind.  I think, in this case, her priorities are on track, too,” he nodded affirmation.

 

They walked through the thickening grass that had broken into patches of cattails and milkweed, a sure sign of nearby water.  Pussy willow swayed lazily around them, and Queen Ann’s Lace decorated the landscape, with broad beaded flowers spreading delicate tendrils into the breeze.  Wildflowers dotted the grassy land, blazing color until the edge of the pond began, mossy and cool and inviting.

 

“It’s idyllic,” Beverly breathed, looking out over the water.  “Kieran says she and Naomi went skinny dipping yesterday.  Looks like the perfect place for it,” she sat down on the bank, feeling the dampness creeping through her trousers.

 

“Here,” Jean-Luc removed his jacket and spread it on the ground for her.

 

“Thank you,” Beverly was truly surprised by the kindness.  Usually Jean-Luc kept his uniform impeccably clean.  “You know, I’m shocked to hear you say Kieran should be stepping back from Starfleet.  That’s so unlike you, Jean-Luc.” 

 

Her cheeks were rosy from the walk, her lips full and ripe in the waning sunlight, and Jean-Luc was momentarily speechless looking at the way her hair glistened in the sunshine, the way it lit up her whole countenance.  He realized he should respond to what she had said, shaking himself inwardly. “Even I am not entirely immune to the influence of romance, doctor,” he sounded offended.  “I am not so hard-hearted that I fail to see how in love Kieran is.  Of course Naomi should be her priority.  Duty can wait,” he sat down beside her, sharing the jacket he had spread on the ground.  “In fact, watching them today, exchanging their vows, made me wonder—”

 

Beverly looked out over the water, where a blue bird sat on a cattail stalk, singing.  “Wonder what?” she shaded her eyes to see the bird better.

 

“It made me wonder if my own dedication to duty isn’t slightly misplaced,” he admitted, squinting to discern what she was looking at.  “Beverly,” he turned to her, taking her chin in his hand.  “What I’m trying to say is—”  he stopped, peering into the expectant depths of her blue-green eyes.  “Oh, damn it,” he shook his head.  “I’m not very good at this,” he complained, still looking into her eyes.  He kissed her then, something he had long imagined doing on some alien world with exotic sunsets, not beside a swamp in Indiana.

 

He felt her lips yielding beneath his, her hand cupping his head to draw him into the embrace.  They kissed for long moments, releasing years of pent up curiosity and need, each overjoyed that there was, in that instant, understanding and reciprocity.  He deepened their kiss, and she pulled him down on her, neither caring that they were lying in a fairly muddy patch of land with only trampled grass to shield them from the dampness.

 

When he pulled away reluctantly, she was breathing hard, gazing up at him. “Seeing them together made me think the same thing, Jean-Luc.  We’ve waited much too long for this.  I love you,” she admitted, stretching up to kiss him again.

 

Back at the Janeway house, loud shouts and girlish shrieks rang out over the assembled guests as Jean-Luc and Beverly leapt naked into the pond, laughing and splashing like children.  They made love until the sun sank below the trees, neither thinking a bit about how they would ever get back into their mud-soaked clothes.

 

Kieran and Naomi had gone for a walk to get away from the crowd still mingling on the grounds, needing a moment alone to regroup.  They had endured the scrutiny of the three admirals that attended the wedding, made small talk with the friends of Kieran’s parents and every cousin and aunt and uncle Kieran possessed, and they were worn out. They wandered along the trail, hand in hand, still dressed in their wedding clothes, discussing the honeymoon.

 

“I’d like to spend a couple of days alone with you at Aunt Phoebe’s,” Naomi was saying.  “and then we should spend some time in Florida with your parents.  After that, I want to see some of the sights on Earth.  I’d really like to go to an animal preserve, maybe in San Diego.  And I want to go whale watching in Cape Cod,” she decided.  “I have all this money—we could stay in the best hotels, eat the finest food and just enjoy ourselves.  Is there anything you’d like to do?”

 

Kieran squeezed her hand.  “Make love to you every day,” she decided.  “In between the safari and whale watching and dining, of course,” she grinned.  “I’d like to see the pyramids of Egypt.  I think that culture is fascinating.  And I’d like to show you all the things you put in your holodeck program for the Qianians—seeing them in person is so much grander than any simulation.”

 

Naomi smiled up at her, and Kieran noted that she was already showing signs of rapid aging.  Her eyes had tiny laugh lines around them, now, and the youthfulness of her face was disappearing.  It made Kieran’s heart clutch in her chest.

 

Naomi saw the fleeting look of sadness.  “Will I still be beautiful to you in a year, when my hair is gray and my skin is wrinkled?” she asked.

 

Kieran stopped beside the pond, grabbing her up into firm arms, kissing her fiercely. “My love, you will always be the most beautiful woman in the known worlds to me,” she promised.  “My attraction for you is absolute and eternal,” she kissed her again, this time slowly and gently.

 

They stood together, foreheads pressed intimately, touching each other’s faces.  A muffled groan from beyond the edge of the pond stopped them, and Kieran’s head lifted.  “What was that?” she asked.

 

The sound came to them again, this time louder, the unmistakable gasping of two people making love.  Kieran grinned, pressing her finger to her lips to hush Naomi.  “Who do you think is in the pond?” she whispered.  “Wesley and Stephanie?”

 

Naomi shook her head.  “Look over there,” she replied quietly, pointing to the Captain’s pips on the jacket collar that was steeped in mud and grass.

 

Kieran’s eyes widened, but her face was warm.  “Good for them,” she said softly.  “Bless his heart,” she hugged Naomi happily.  “It’s about time.” 

 

She considered the muddy mess that was Beverly’s and the Captain’s clothing.  “Kieran,” she whispered, “let’s take their things to the guesthouse and run them through the recycler, so they don’t have to make a scene.  We can bring some towels for them, too,” she suggested.

 

“You’re so sweet,” Kieran complimented her.  “Let’s hurry, before they see us.”

 

___________________

 

Jean-Luc crept out of the icy pond, searching in the darkness for his clothing.  “Beverly,” he hissed, trying not to be overheard, “I can’t find the damned things,” he sounded frantic.

 

She laughed liltingly.  “Well you’d better.  I’m not walking back to the farm naked,” she advised, swimming to the edge of the dark water.  “Try two feet to your right.”

 

He felt around, but came up empty.  “Good Lord, what if Will Riker has stolen our clothes?” he gasped indignantly.  “That would be just like him, too,” he bitched.

 

Kieran and Naomi came along about then, unable to make out the figure standing on the bank.  Kieran carried their warm, dry, clean clothes and two towels, plus a jug of fresh water to rinse the mud from their feet. 

 

“Who’s there?” Picard demanded.

 

“Captain, it’s Kieran Wildman,” Kieran called out.  “Naomi wanted me to bring these to you.  I promise, Sir, I’ll turn my head.  May I come forward?  I have your clothes--they’re laundered, and I have towels and water to wash with.”

 

Picard would’ve been thoroughly embarrassed if he weren’t so grateful for the thoughtfulness.  “I thought Will was up to his tricks, and was going to leave us stranded out here al fresco,” he admitted.  “I’m right here.  Please, turn off your wrist lamp.  I’d like to retain a fraction of dignity,” he groused.

 

Naomi obediently snapped off the light source.  Kieran could feel the heat coming off his body and knew she was within reach.  “Take these towels, Sir,” she directed him.  “Beverly, come up here.  It’s okay, don’t be shy,” she invited gently.  “You can trust me to be discreet, Sir,” she guaranteed the older man.  “The whole idea was to protect your privacy, not invade it.  I didn’t think you’d want to come back to our house covered in mud.”

 

Jean-Luc took the towel and scrubbed it over his body, wrapping it around his waist.  He took the second and draped it over Beverly, who was shivering in the darkness. 

 

“Here’s a wrist lamp,” Kieran pressed it into his hand.  “There’s a gallon jug of water on the ground to your right.  Use it to wash your feet or you’ll ruin your shoes and socks.  When you come back, put the towels in the hamper inside the guesthouse, and no one will be the wiser, Captain.”

 

Jean-Luc was beside himself.  “Thank you, Commander,” he said gruffly.  “I owe you one.”

 

Kieran laughed.  “Oh, no, Sir,” she disagreed.  “You’ve done so much for me in my lifetime, I can never repay you, Captain.  Besides, it is the duty of a first officer to protect her Captain.  Someday, Sir, I hope to accept the job, if it’s still open when I’m ready.  If not, I’ll never forget that you made the offer,” she said sincerely.

 

“Thank you, Commander.  We’ll be along shortly, then,” he said softly. 

 

“Come on, sweetie,” Kieran put her arm around Naomi’s shoulders.  “Let’s see what’s going on at wedding central,” she waited for Naomi to turn the wrist lamp back on.

 

___________________

 

The last of the guests were saying their goodbyes when Kieran and Naomi got back to the house.  Kieran’s parents were off for Florida, and her father was trying not to get too choked up.

 

“It’s okay, Daddy,” Kieran assured him, hugging him firmly.  “We’ll be down in a few days, I promise.  I love you,” she kissed his cheek.  Then grabbing her mother, she kissed her too.  “I love you, Mom.  Thank you both for all your help in pulling this event together on short notice.”

 

“We love you, Starfish,” her dad said, ruffling his hand through her spiky hair.  “Let us know when you’ll be in Naples.”

 

Wesley Crusher was one of the last to leave the party, but before he could get out the door to his transport, he was hailed by Kate Pulaski.

 

“Crusher, here,” he responded.  “Go ahead.”

 

“Wesley, I’m on Voyager.  Can you locate the Traveler and join me?  There’s something crucial I need you for,” she sounded urgent.

 

Wesley quirked an eyebrow, hesitating.  Kathryn Janeway grabbed his shoulder, whispering in his ear.  “She’s looking for a way to help Naomi, and she must have found something.  Please, Wesley, go see what she wants,” she urged him.  “I’ll go with you.”

 

“Okay, Dr. Pulaski.  I’ll find the Traveler and be along soon.  I think he’s back on Enterprise.  Crusher out.”

 

“Let me tell mother where I’m off to,” Kathryn hustled away.  She was back in a flash.  “Let’s go.”

 

________________

 

Seven of Nine and Phoebe Janeway worked their way from room to room, filling Phoebe’s house with lighted candles.  Seven remembered how much Naomi had loved that part of her hallucination, spending her wedding night in Phoebe’s house with all the candles lighting up the rooms, and she wanted that fantasy to come true for her daughter.

 

When the last of the candles was in place, they sat down to rest, admiring the effect.  “Was there anything else?” Phoebe asked, tired out from all the activity of the wedding.

 

“Naomi said there was a small cake, and a bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket,” Seven remembered.  “I’ll replicate those before we leave,” she decided, sinking back on the sofa.

 

“Are you okay, Seven?” Phoebe touched her hand.  “You’ve seemed so sad all day,” she observed.

 

“I suppose now that the planning and the chaos is over with, I’m feeling let down,” she fibbed.

 

Phoebe thought about it.  “You and Kathryn seem to be distant with each other.  I know my sister is not the easiest person in the world to get along with, but you seem troubled.”

 

Seven sighed.  “We’ve had our share of difficulties,” she admitted.  “Not the least of which have been frequent arguments over everything related to Naomi and Kieran’s relationship,” she confided.  “Kathryn has opposed it every step of the way, and I have had to wrangle with her constantly to keep her from interfering.  She pretends to support them, but deep down, she fundamentally hates that they are together.”

 

Phoebe nodded grimly.  “She has an encompassing need to control everything in her grasp, and this is something she can’t even comprehend, let alone control.  It must be hell to have your daughter age twenty years in a few months.  And to be faced with her death, on top of that.  I can see why Kathryn would have trouble adjusting,” she defended her sister.  “You must have succeeded, though, Seven.  Naomi is emancipated legally, and Kieran and Naomi are legally married.  Kathryn didn’t stop that from happening.”

 

Seven pinched the bridge of her nose, holding back frustrated tears.  “Ever since we got Naomi’s diagnosis, she’s been pushing to get Naomi to stay with us, not marry Kieran, and let us take her to every medical facility in the Alpha Quadrant.  She thinks Naomi’s wasting valuable time by choosing to spend her last days with Kieran.  I think Naomi has the right to decide how she wants to live her life, no matter how short it will be.  Kathryn and I have battled nightly over it. She actually threatened to file an appeal of the original suit that made Naomi an emancipated adult. I’ve come very near to leaving her again, I’ve been so tired of the constant fighting.”

 

“Again?  You’ve broken up before?” Phoebe was stunned. 

 

“Twice.  The first time was over Kathryn’s misplaced and unwarranted jealousy.  She thought one of our crewmembers was in love with me—well, she was, but that was beside the point.  Kathryn totally overreacted.  We were separated for a short time.  Kieran tried to help us, but we didn’t really reconcile until Naomi ran away from home to get away from our bickering,” Seven explained.

 

“Oh, so that’s what Naomi meant in her vows about Kieran finding her and bringing her home when she ran from impossible situations,” Phoebe realized.

 

“Kieran found her on Grailen.  Had it not been for her, Naomi would have refused to come live with us again.  Kieran promised Naomi that if we ever behaved so badly again, Naomi could live with her and B’Elanna.  I can’t count the number of times Kieran has put our family back together, or me, or Kathryn, but especially Naomi,” Seven murmured.  “And that is one of the reasons it makes me so angry that Kathryn has treated Kieran so badly.  She has been above reproach, yet Kathryn has punished her for the heinous crime of falling in love with our daughter, as if Kieran had a choice.”

 

Phoebe toyed with the coverlet of the arm of the couch, listening intently.  “What do you mean, Kieran didn’t have a choice?”

 

Seven told Phoebe the whole sordid tale of how Naomi had stolen the cortical stimulators, and forced Kieran’s hand, all because Kathryn couldn’t accept that the two women loved each other.  She told her how Kathryn had tried to blame their love on pheromones, and how she nearly pushed Naomi over the edge with her stubborn refusal to accept that they were in love.

 

Phoebe was aghast.  “Good God, Seven, no wonder you’re pissed at her.  I’m pissed at her.  To put them through that, it’s just unthinkable.”

 

“Yes,” Seven agreed, “and it has made me question everything.  The Kathryn Janeway I fell in love with seems to have been left behind on Restid Three.  She hasn’t been the same person, since that incident.  That’s when the changes really started, because that’s when Naomi got sick the first time.  We’ve grown further and further apart ever since then.”

 

“Do you still love her?” Phoebe asked softly, squeezing Seven’s hand.

 

“Sometimes,” Seven decided.  “But less and less, I find.  I love your family, I love your mother and you, and I love my children.  But Kathryn has shown me a side that I simply cannot tolerate, and I question what our future will truly be, if she persists in her perverse behavior,” Seven’s face darkened with hurt and anger. 

 

Phoebe studied Seven’s expression, deeply concerned.  “Perverse behavior?  Seven, should I be worried about you?” she touched the former Borg’s face, looking at the bruise that was barely concealed by cosmetic trickery.

 

Seven’s eyes registered panic.  “No, please, don’t worry about me,” she objected, flustered.  “I’m certain things will settle down, now that the wedding is behind us,” she assured herself as much as her sister-in-law.  “But there are other anomalous behaviors that I can’t reconcile in my heart,” she admitted. “Kieran was her best friend, Phoebe.  When we thought Kieran had been killed in a spatial rift, Kathryn was inconsolable.  She sank into a depression to rival the one after your father and Justin died.  Yet when all this started with Kieran and Naomi, it was as if Kathryn selectively forgot how much she loved Kieran, as if she forgot all the gratitude she had felt for her and all the things they had been through together.  It damaged my sense of who Kathryn is.  I don’t look at her the same way, any longer.  I don’t know how to change that, either,” she sighed.

 

Phoebe nodded, understanding.  “She isn’t the person I knew, and I’ve seen drastic swings in her personality just in her letters when you were in the Delta Quadrant.  Recent changes.  I guess it was all this grief over Naomi that did it to her.  But as odd as the situation is, and as hard as it would be to know your best friend had fallen in love with your child, seeing Naomi with Kieran was all the convincing I needed.  I had doubts, when Kathryn told mother and I what had happened, and I didn’t think I’d like Kieran at all.  But she is totally devoted to Naomi, and Naomi loves her so much.”

 

Seven smiled warmly.  “She’s a wonderful woman, Phoebe.  I assure you, Naomi has chosen wisely.  I have no qualms about them.  I would trust Kieran with my life, and I do trust her with Naomi’s.  I’ve seen her in so many situations that have tested her character, and she always comes through shining.  She’s never given up on any of us, when most people would have.  Naomi is very lucky,” she sounded wistful.

 

Phoebe was taken aback at the tone of Seven’s voice.  “Seven?” she leaned closer.  “Do you—are you—do you have—feelings—for Kieran?”

 

Seven’s face flushed, and she sputtered “No, of course not.  She is a friend, and now my daughter-in-law,” she was vehement in her appraisal.

 

Phoebe knew better.  “It happens, Seven.  When you work closely with someone, and you admire them a great deal, it’s not unusual to find yourself—attracted.  Especially when things have been so rocky with you and Kathryn.  I’ll never tell a soul, I promise.  Does Kieran know?”

 

Seven shook her head slowly.  “I will never tell her, either, or anyone else for that matter.  It will pass,” she stated flatly.

 

“When did you realize—?” Phoebe was fascinated at the implications.  It was like a Greek tragedy.

 

“I suppose it really began when Naomi was sick the first time with this aging problem.  She had exacerbating and remitting symptoms for months, and when she was close to death, Kieran was the one who stood by me, helped me care for her.  Eventually, Kieran was the only one caring for her, because I was too distraught to keep doing it, without Kathryn to help me.  Kieran was so patient and solid, and I felt like Naomi was our daughter, not Kathryn’s.  I depended upon her then, in ways I never could with Kathryn, and I’m sure it started in the midst of that,” she sighed.

 

“Kathryn wasn’t supportive, in that situation?” Phoebe asked hollowly.

 

“She tried, at first, but eventually, she buried herself in work, and left everything to Kieran and I.  I needed her desperately, and she was just not there.  I’ve struggled with my attraction to Kieran ever since that time.  But I realized my deeper feelings for Kieran much later, on Qian, before Naomi and Kieran became involved.  When Kieran came to pick Naomi up for the banquet,” Seven recalled, thinking back on that night.  “She came to our hotel room, and she was standing in the hallway, waiting for me to let her in.  We were all dressed up for the banquet, and she—well, it just suddenly struck me how beautiful she truly is.  I was shocked at the realization, but also at myself for feeling that attraction, because I knew then it wasn’t just physical, or sexual.  That had never happened to me before, not with anyone but Kathryn.  And for a split second,” Seven sounded entranced, like someone eating candy secretly, or looking at a forbidden picture, “I saw that she was equally attracted to me.  She looked me up and down, just for a moment, and her face warmed and her pupils dilated,” Seven was breathless, remembering.  “And she said ‘Seven, you’ve outdone yourself,’ and she told me I was more beautiful than Sieken, which was a grand compliment in and of itself,” Seven said, face flushed all over again.  “She said ‘your hair is perfection’, and then she couldn’t speak any more.  There was an electricity between us for just an instant, and I was taken off guard by it.  It was the way I used to feel when Kathryn looked at me, the way I felt when she touched me, or said she loves me.  I had forgotten what it was like to feel so adored,” she sounded sad now. 

 

“But you never said anything? Not even before she and Naomi got together?” Phoebe asked.

 

Seven laughed.  “It would have been pointless.  Even if Kieran had felt something more for me than a fleeting attraction, which she didn’t, she would never have allowed anything to come of it.  She is an advocate of boundaries in the extreme, and Kathryn is her best friend.  The only way she would have ever allowed me to be with her is if Kathryn were dead.  Even then, Kieran might not allow herself to cross that boundary.  She is the most honorable person I’ve ever met, that way.  And I would do well to follow her example in that.  Whenever I need a moral compass, she is my reference point.”

 

“If that’s so, then I’m surprised she gave in to Naomi,” Phoebe noted.

 

“She says she never would have, except Kathryn told her to bring Naomi back to us, and that was the only way Naomi would relinquish her hallucinatory world.  Naomi made her promise they would be together.  Kieran knew if she tried to back out of the agreement, Naomi would find a way to go back into the hallucination and then she’d never trust Kieran again if Kieran tried to retrieve her.”

 

Phoebe’s head was reeling.  “And so you never told either of them how you feel about Kieran.  Does Kathryn know?”

 

Seven smirked.  “I have never confirmed anything for her, though she has been accusatory any number of times.  Friday, I was in your father’s study, trying to decide what wedding clothes suited Kieran.  I was studying a picture of her, thinking about the shape of her body, and the most pleasing drape of fabric for her figure, and Kathryn came in and saw me staring at that picture.  I suppose I must have looked sad, because she made some comment about how she wished I’d stare at her like that, and pine for her.  I thought I had hidden my feelings well, but apparently, I have not.  And then last night, she screamed accusations at me, said she knew Kieran had made advances toward me, and I was so angry I admitted my feelings, in part.  Believe me, Phoebe, I don’t want to feel like this.  It’s inappropriate for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m married.  But it has made me feel great sympathy for Kieran, because now I know what it is to deny your feelings in favor of what is proper and expected, without regard to what you want for yourself.”

 

“Kieran said in her vows that she had been a coward, and ran from what she felt for Naomi.  Did she, really?” Phoebe still held Seven’s hand, trying to support her.

 

“She made a valiant effort,” Seven chuckled.  “When we got to the banquet, I saw how Kieran was looking at Naomi, and I knew then she was very far gone, indeed.  But she was so convicted that it was wrong to love Naomi, she wouldn’t approach her.  In fact, Naomi had an affair with Sieken, and Kieran knew it, and stepped aside, thinking it was best for Naomi and for Kathryn.”

 

“How did they ever end up admitting their feelings for each other, if Naomi was with Sieken?”

 

Seven told her the entire story, as it had been filled in by Naomi at various stages.  Seven knew all about Kieran’s role in helping Naomi meet Sieken, though Kathryn still hadn’t been told that part.  Seven explained how Kieran had been neurologically damaged by the exposure to Naomi and Sieken’s joining, and how Sholten had tried to help but only left Kieran worse off.  And Naomi saved Kieran then, and in so doing, saw into Kieran’s mind and heart, and knew the truth.

 

“Wow,” Phoebe breathed.  “That’s amazing.  So the only reason Kieran ever told Naomi anything was Naomi got inside her head and looked for herself.  And then Kieran couldn’t deny it any longer.”

 

Seven nodded.  “Kieran tried, even then, to send Naomi away.  But then Naomi took the cortical stimulators, and you know what happened from there.”

 

“So where does that leave you?” Phoebe asked faintly. 

 

“Married, with a child to raise, and a partner who is a stranger most of the time, I suppose,” Seven grinned ruefully. “Kieran talked me into going back to Kathryn, after the incident with the pheromone research, and I probably only agreed because Kieran was so sure we could work things out, Kathryn and I.”

 

“You really do put a lot of stock in the things Kieran says to you, then.  I’m not so sure I’d stay with Kathryn, Seven.  Not to sound disloyal, but if you really don’t love her anymore, why put yourself through it?” Phoebe’s dark eyes registered sympathy and compassion, and she squeezed Seven’s hand in her own consolingly.

 

Seven sighed.  “I needed to be sure I still had the power and influence to help Naomi and Kieran realize their dream.  Now it’s done.  If I find that things aren’t improving soon, I’ll ask Kathryn for a divorce.  I hate it that it’s come to that.  But who knows.  We can’t fight about Naomi, anymore.  She’s married.”

 

They sat in silence awhile longer, admiring the flickering candles.  “Well, let’s replicate a cake and some champagne,” Phoebe finally said.  “I think I hear voices coming up the road.  We can slip out the back door and walk back to Mom’s.”

 

Seven smiled warmly.  “Thank you for listening, Phoebe.  I guess I needed to talk about it.”

 

Phoebe slid an arm around Seven’s waist.  “What are sisters for?” she asked brightly. 

 

__________________

 

The fairyland of candlelight took Naomi’s breath away as they pushed open the door, revealing the fantasy world inside Phoebe’s house.

 

“She remembered,” Naomi said softly.  “Seven—I told her about the hallucinations, and she remembered how much I loved this part.”

 

Kieran smiled down at her.  “So do I.  So put your arms around my neck, and I’ll carry you over the threshold,” she offered, scooping the slight Ktarian into her arms.  As they eased through the door jamb, Kieran kissed her, then set her back down.  “I love you, Naomi.  Thank you for marrying me,” she said sincerely.

 

Naomi slid her hands up the fabric of Kieran’s sky blue blouse, loving the slick texture of it.  She gazed up at her first and only love with eyes filled with longing and admiration.  “I should be thanking you.  And in fact, I intend to,” she grinned wickedly.  “Let’s see if Seven remembered the rest of the fantasy,” she tugged Kieran by the hand into the kitchen.  She smiled broadly.  “She remembered the whole thing,” she found a knife to cut the two-person sized wedding cake.

 

They cut it together, just as they had the large one that morning, and fed each other small bites that left fluffy white icing on their lips.  They kissed it away, enjoying the sticky sweet taste of it, but enjoying the kisses more. 

 

“I’ll open the champagne, if you like,” Kieran offered. 

 

Naomi nodded. 

 

Kieran muscled the cork out of the bottle, managing not to spill the contents as the cork popped out with a loud snapping sound.  She chased the fountain spewing from the bottle’s neck and caught it in the flutes Seven had left them, letting the golden liquid bubble to the top.  She handed a glass to Naomi, and they twined their arms together, drinking deeply.

 

“Nice,” Kieran commented on the flavor of the wine.  “Do you like it?”

 

“It’s the best I’ve ever had,” Naomi agreed.  “And so are you.  Right now, I’d like to take that bottle upstairs, and share it with you naked,” she decided.

 

“Okay,” Kieran grabbed the ice bucket and wedged the bottle back into the glistening cubes.  “Lead the way.  Do you want me to bring the cake?  You might need a sugar rush, by the time I’m done with you,” she flirted.

 

“By all means,” Naomi reached for it.  “I think I’d like to smear icing all over your breasts, and lick it off,” she rested her free hand on Kieran’s ass.

 

Kieran shuddered.  “Another fantasy?”

 

“Yep.  That’s two this weekend,” she mentally checked the list off.  “Maybe if you’re feeling particularly energetic, we can try for numbers three and four,” she waggled her eyebrows, heading for the stairs.

 

Naomi set the cake on the bureau, and Kieran put the ice bucket and flutes on the nightstand.  She reached for Naomi then, kissing her and beginning the slow, methodical removal of clothing that always aroused them both so much, they rarely got half undressed before their first orgasms.  Kieran eased the satin blouse from Naomi’s shoulders, kissing the soft, bare flesh with tender lips, brushing them faintly over the articulation of collar bone and arm, listening for the faint intake of breath that the sensation always elicited.  She fumbled with the buttons at the sleeves, and Naomi’s arms were free.  Suddenly inspired to play guessing games about Naomi’s fantasies, she eased her down on the four-poster bed, drew her arms over her head, and wrapped them tightly in the blouse.

 

“Might this be one of your fantasies, too?” she asked softly, her face amused at the widening of Naomi’s eyes.  She bound her hands to the post, then ravished her breasts through the fabric of her brassiere.  “Is it?” she teased the nipples with her teeth.

 

Naomi gasped.  “Yes,” she shivered at the admission.

 

“Tell me,” Kieran demanded, unfastening Naomi’s pants and sliding her hand beneath them.

 

“I—oh God,” Naomi felt fingers brush over her labia.  “I dreamed it once,” she said with a sigh.

 

“Tell me,” Kieran repeated, easing the slacks off her body and removing shoes and socks.  She kissed the arches of Naomi’s feet, massaging them and kissing a trail to her thighs.  “Tell me or I’ll stop,” she insisted.

 

Naomi groaned.  “Don’t stop,” she requested.  “I dreamed that I was in Dutritt’s lab, before he had done anything terrible to me,” she breathed softly as Kieran lay over her, thigh pressed between Naomi’s legs.  “I was restrained and naked, just as it really happened, but before he could hurt me, you came and rescued me,” she explained.  “It was so vivid,” she recalled, feeling her bra sliding away.  Warm hands encompassed her breasts, and she arched into them.  “Oh, God, Kieran,” she gasped as she felt wet warmth around her nipples, each in turn.

 

“And then what happened,” Kieran prompted her.

 

“You—you—oh, I love when you do that,” she lost her train of thought as careful teeth held her nipple firmly and bit down softly.  “You looked at me, lying there, and it was as if you couldn’t help yourself,” she recalled.  “You kissed me, and you touched me, and you made me shudder with pleasure,” she admitted.  “I promised I would never tell anyone, if only you would make love to me,” she continued, her words coming in short breaths.

 

“And did I, Naomi?”  Kieran said huskily.  “Did I make love to you?”

 

Naomi jolted as fingers entered her cleft, pressing deeply into her core.  “Yes,” she raised her legs to allow Kieran’s fingers passage.  “You—you—” she was panting, “you touched my clit with your fingers,” she remembered.

 

“Like this?” Kieran whispered, stroking gently at the distended flesh.

 

Naomi writhed beneath her touch.  “Yes.  And you stood there watching me, watching me strain to make you touch me harder,” she lifted her hips to illustrate.

 

“And did you like it?” Kieran was breathing heavily now, too.

 

“I loved it, and I begged you—I begged you—” she jerked against Kieran’s fingers, very close to her peak.

 

“Begged me to do what, Naomi?” Kieran’s voice was hoarse with desire.

 

“I begged you to take me with your mouth,” she admitted, “and you did, and I came so hard I woke up from the dream in the middle of real climax,” she let it all out in a rush. 

 

Kieran buried her face in Naomi’s sex, driving her toward the release she had achieved in her dream, reveling in the taste of her.  Naomi lifted her buttocks, letting Kieran slide her hands beneath them, large hands pressing Naomi up to her face where she could suckle and lick and devour her.

 

“Kieran!” Naomi cried out, “oh God, yes, like that, that’s what you did,” she was murmuring nonsensically, coming in brittle jolts against Kieran’s tongue. 

 

Kieran was relentless until Naomi’s legs began to tremble with weakness.  She withdrew her fingers and kissed Naomi’s sex softly, soothing jangled senses and easing the last vestiges of the orgasm from her flesh.  She ascended the length of her body, untying her hands and drawing her into strong, welcoming arms.  Naomi wasted no time in removing Kieran’s vest and blouse, eager to return the pleasure, and before the last ripple of her own climax had subsided completely, she had Kieran undressed and spread beneath her.

 

“That was amazing,” she breathed into Kieran’s kiss.  “God, you do things to me that just—there are no words,” Naomi shuddered, remembering.

 

Kieran grinned facetiously.  “Not messy and disgusting?” she teased.

 

“Never disgusting,” Naomi laughed.  “Wonderfully messy.  Speaking of which, how do you feel about becoming the most delicious confection I’ve ever eaten?” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

“I don’t know about that, Na,” Kieran sounded reluctant.  “It seems like a waste of perfectly good cake,” she lamented.

 

“Oh, believe me, honey,” Naomi got up and brought the remains over to the bed.  “It won’t go to waste.”  She smiled confidently at her wife, “And if I eat it all, I’ll replicate another, how’s that?” she flirted. 

 

She scooped a generous amount of butter cream frosting onto her finger, then spread it down the length of Kieran’s torso, from her sternum to her navel.  She followed the thin line with her tongue, lapping at the icing, while Kieran propped her head on two pillows and watched.  She decided it was a pretty interesting sight, watching Naomi’s tongue dart over her skin, leaving wet, sticky drops that cooled in the evening air and evaporated.  She breathed in softly as Naomi painted her nipples with the light fluff, then sucked it off again.  Her eyes closed involuntarily as she watched Naomi’s darker tongue contrasted against white frosting, flicking the substance away, leaving nothing behind.  Naomi concentrated more on Kieran’s flesh, then, less interested in the sweetness, and Kieran was mesmerized, still watching Naomi’s tongue pleasuring her.

 

Another path was placed from her belly to her thigh, and it disappeared in Naomi’s lips inch by inch.  Kieran’s vision began to blur as Naomi kissed her inner thighs, sucking and licking at the mildly sticky film the confection left behind.  She grinned mischievously as Kieran opened her legs, willingly participating in the game now.  Naomi took a dab of icing on her fingertip and put it on Kieran’s clit. 

 

She hesitated, looking up from the ‘V’ of Kieran’s thighs.  Kieran groaned in anticipation.

 

“I’m not sure you like my idea, very much,” Naomi teased.  “Should I save this dollop of icing for you?  I wouldn’t want it to go to waste,” she breathed hotly on Kieran’s labia, licking all around the spot of frosting, not touching it.

 

“I love your idea, Na, I swear,” she pleaded.  “God, please don’t stop now,” she sunk her fingers into the sheets, panting.

 

Naomi wrapped her lips around the bead of icing, sucking it away in an instant, fluttering her tongue on Kieran’s clit to cleanse it, listening to her lover’s tortured breaths.  She trapped the tiny node between her teeth, working it mercilessly until Kieran came to her, fingers tearing at the bed, body rigid with the force of the release.  As Kieran climaxed, Naomi entered her in both openings, and Kieran cried out sharply with the doubled impact of the orgasm ripping through her.

 

Naomi lay contentedly between her legs, listening as her breathing subsided in gradual increments, waiting for the shivering to dissipate.  When Kieran was quiescent, she climbed up her lean, long frame, kissing as she moved, then capturing her lips.  “Ye of little faith,” she accused, grinning.

 

“I’ll never doubt you again.  You can deck me in chocolate, next, if you’re still hungry,” Kieran added, eyes still crossed from the power of the peak. 

 

“Actually,” Naomi admitted, “I am pretty hungry.  Maybe we should have some dinner--something a little more substantial than iced labia,” she laughed, kissing her wife.

 

“I bet Phoebe and Seven stocked the frig,” Kieran agreed. “We could have a picnic in bed, if you want,” she eased up from her prone position, fighting a head rush.

 

“Behold the converted,” Naomi laughed.  “You liked that better than you thought you would, eh KT?”

 

Kieran kissed her forcefully.  “You never cease to thrill me,” she agreed.  “You can make the most mundane things totally erotic.  How the hell do you do that?”

 

Naomi shrugged.  “I think it’s just ’cause you’re in love with me.  I don’t think it’s something I really do, per se,” she giggled, though she was pleased with the assessment.

 

“Who says I’m in love with you?  I married you for the sex,” Kieran contended playfully.  “So let’s go have dinner and get to the payoff, already,” she slipped her arms around her lover, in no hurry at all to go anywhere, nuzzling her neck and hair with the softest of kisses.  “Did you really dream that about me?” she wanted to know.

 

“Yes.  It was the first orgasm I ever had, in fact.  I wasn’t even sure that’s what it was, but when I woke up drenched in sweat and in—other things,” she blushed, “I realized that’s what had happened.  No wonder they call them wet dreams,” she chuckled.  “I kept hoping I’d dream it again, so I could feel that again.  But the dream never reoccurred.  So I had to take matters into my own hands,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

“You mean I’m the reason you learned to masturbate?” Kieran was incredulous.

 

“Well, yes, but more than just you, I wanted to experience that feeling wide awake.  I just happened to always think about making love with you when I—experimented,” she said.

 

“You hate that word, don’t you?” Kieran chided her.  “You can’t bring yourself to say it, but you could do it,” she laughed.

 

“It just sounds too guilty, I think.  The connotation for me is Icheb, hiding in the bathroom and getting himself off.  I always associate the word masturbate with boys,” she said distastefully.  “What I do to myself doesn’t seem even remotely the same.  It needs a better word,” she decided.

 

“Like what?” Kieran asked, amused.

 

“I don’t know.  Something that sounds as nice as the way it makes me feel, I guess,” she explained.  “It sounds so furtive and dirty, to say you masturbate.  For me, it was a really wonderful way to be with you, when I couldn’t truly be with you.  I could make love with you, and be intimate with you, but avoid having B’Elanna behead me,” she laughed softly.

 

Kieran echoed her laughter.  “Was it always me you thought about?” she breathed the fragrance of Naomi’s hair, thinking these quiet interludes of talking and loving were her favorite part of sex, not the act itself.

 

“Always,” Naomi affirmed.  “On the one or two occasions I tried to imagine myself with someone other than you, I didn’t get aroused.  And in some truly weird way, I felt unfaithful to you, for trying to think about someone else.”

 

Kieran hugged her close.  “I love you so much.  You’re just unreal for my ego,” she kissed her shoulders.  “If you felt unfaithful fantasizing about other people, did you feel unfaithful sleeping with Sieken?” she asked, still puzzled by that event on some levels.

 

Naomi sighed.  “I know you might not understand this, but Sieken was a totally conscious decision to break from you.  You had refused to admit you cared for me, and I was convinced you were never going to let yourself feel what I was sure you held in your heart for me.  I know you think, in some recess of your mind, that I slept with Sieken to make you jealous.  But that’s not so.  I slept with Sieken to try to force myself to move on and let you go.  And the other thing about Sieken was that I did find her beautiful, and charming, and when she reflected my own and her feelings to me, it multiplied the attraction and the arousal.  If Sieken hadn’t had that ability, probably nothing would have happened.  But she not only overwhelmed me with my reflected feelings, she deflected the feelings I have for you, and made them less prominent, less consuming, for that time I was with her.  It was such a relief to finally not be drowning in my love for you, only to have you ignore it.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Na,” Kieran murmured.  “I never meant to cause you pain, or to be unkind.  I was only trying to keep Kathryn from beheading me, just as you worried about B’Elanna coming for you,” she explained.

 

“I know that now,” Naomi agreed.  “But at the time, all I could see was that you either didn’t, or wouldn’t, love me back, even though you were no longer with B’Elanna.  Sieken healed a lot of that disappointment, because she could feel how acute it was.  She never told me you felt the same, though, and that makes me angry now, when I think about it.  Instead of sleeping with me, she should have reflected your feelings to me, so I would’ve known that everything I suspected was true.”

 

“It wouldn’t have been her place, Naomi,” Kieran argued.  “She must have sensed how much turmoil I was in over you, and decided to leave me to wrestle my own demons.  You see how well I succeeded,” she held out her hand to display the two bands on her finger.  “You told me once that you think you’re as much a lesbian as I am,” Kieran felt like talking more than eating, now.

 

Naomi laughed.  “I don’t think that’s quite what I said, but let’s adjourn this conversation to the kitchen, before I pass out,” she chastised her lover, getting out of bed.

 

They padded down the stairs, tugging on t-shirts procured from Kieran’s suitcase as they walked.  Naomi rifled through the refrigerator, finding leftover chicken casserole her grandmother had made.  “This’ll work,” she muttered, setting it in the replicator to reheat.

 

“Okay,” Kieran recalled the conversation, “you told me as far as intimacy went with men, ‘no thanks’, and that part of sex still sounded messy and disgusting.  Do you still feel that way?”

 

She screwed up her face, thinking.  “How do I feel about men?” she asked herself.  “I don’t really know, KT.  I’ve never even given them a second thought.  Icheb had feelings for me, but I always dismissed him.  I don’t know if that’s because he’s a man, or because he’s Icheb,” she laughed.  “I think, like you, I always assumed I would be with a woman, but more specifically, I always knew I wanted to be with you.  No one else really crossed my mind.  I can’t think of a time I’ve ever looked at any of the men I know, and been remotely curious about sleeping with them.  I guess that part of sex does still sounds disgusting and messy to me,” she explained, retrieving their dinner.  She grabbed plates and silverware, then served them both.  “I guess I’m a full blown lesbian, Counselor,” she raised the glass of iced tea Kieran had just set down on the table.

 

“Thank Kahless,’” Kieran breathed.  “That makes my life a lot simpler.”

 

Naomi tasted her casserole, nodding approvingly.  “Even if I weren’t,” she pointed out, “I’ve only been in love one time, and I was lucky enough to marry the only person I’ve ever loved.  That should be cause for feeling pretty secure.  Besides,” she pointed out, “I can’t imagine I’m going to live long enough to fall out of love,” she tried for some levity.

 

Kieran grabbed her hand, squeezing it until the bones threatened.  “Let’s not talk about that, okay?  For tonight, I’d like to pretend we have eons to enjoy this relationship,” she frowned.

 

“Okay, honey,” Naomi agreed.

 

“So when you were with Sieken, did you enjoy the heterosexual part of her anatomy?”

 

Naomi shrugged.  “If you mean did I like being penetrated, I enjoyed it.  Sieken was a very considerate lover.  She was gentle and careful with my body, and everything clicked.  But could I do those sorts of things with a human male? Not likely.  Sieken’s phallus was slender, not thick, and it was very easy to accommodate the size and shape.  I don’t think I’d do so well, with a human male, nor would I want to try it,” she determined.  “What about you, with Sholten?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “I don’t remember it.  I only remember that I was overwhelmed with thoughts of you, that I couldn’t get the images of you and Sieken out of my head, and I could feel what it was like to touch you.  I was fixated on that, on my fingers stroking you, and I was so over stimulated, I was just mentally gone.  Sholten gave me sexual release, though I’m not sure how, and I have a vague recollection of her moving between my legs, but my synapses overloaded during the experience, and I couldn’t tell you any details with any certainty.  I know that while I was with her, somehow, the thoughts of you disappeared, and that was a relief.  It’s hell to want desperately what you can’t have, and oh, God, Na, I wanted you.  It felt like every nerve ending in my body was burning, not just with lust, but it was actual pain and need.  It was awful.  Sholten made it stop, but you know the end result was a disaster.”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I was so jealous that you’d been with her, I just hated her after that.  Why did you ask about penetration?  Just your curiosity?”

 

Kieran smiled, chewing her dinner.  “No, actually,” she chuckled.  “I was thinking about something Noah told me to do to save my marriage to B’Elanna.  He suggested I—get my own phallus, and take her to bed like a man,” Kieran blushed furiously at the admission.

 

Naomi grinned.  “And did you?”

 

“No,” Kieran said sheepishly.  “I was too prudish to consider it.”

 

Naomi waggled her eyebrows.  “If I wanted you to do that to me, would you?”

 

“Yes,” Kieran replied without hesitation.  “Somehow, with you, everything is just easier, that way.  I wouldn’t feel like your wanting to be penetrated was an indictment of my own anatomy.  That’s how it felt with B’Elanna, though, because I saw her practically getting it from Tom Paris, I guess.  It just seemed too artificial to think about that with her.”

 

Naomi stole a mushroom from Kieran’s plate.  “I think we should try everything, at least once,” she watched Kieran’s reaction.

 

The older woman swallowed hard.  “Okay.  I promised you whatever you want, and I meant it.”

 

Naomi smiled sweetly.  “I love a woman who is adventurous,” she flirted.  “Did you like what I did to you this evening?”

 

Kieran’s mouth was suddenly dry as dirt.  “Which part?”

 

“When you were coming, and I put my fingers in you at the apex of it,” she reminded her, her voice throaty.

 

Kieran’s eyes closed involuntarily.  “It was incredible.  You’ve never penetrated me from behind like that.”

 

“I’d like to again, only not just to push you over the edge this time,” she started to verbally seduce Kieran again.  “I want to touch you there for a much longer time, and let it take you to the edge slowly,” she put down her fork.  “I think we should do it at the same time to each other, and see how that feels,” she continued, reaching across the table to stroke Kieran’s palm with her fingers.

 

“I think that would be fine,” Kieran said weakly.

 

“I think right now would be too long to wait,” Naomi pushed away from the table, taking Kieran’s hand.  “I hope you got enough to eat, because you won’t have another chance until well into the morning,” she informed her wife.

 

________________

 

After a quick trip to the replicator for some lubricant gel, they stripped off their t-shirts and crawled into bed, finishing the flutes of champagne they had poured earlier. 

 

Naomi kissed Kieran then, dribbling champagne on her chest and kissing it up again.  “I can’t believe we’re actually married,” she murmured, setting her flute aside.  “We’re finally legal in all fifty states,” she kissed Kieran firmly on the mouth, then parted her lips with an inquisitive tongue.

 

“Yes,” Kieran agreed, “but what you were talking about in the kitchen isn’t legal in all fifty states,” she laughed.

 

Naomi trailed her fingers over Kieran’s butt cheek as they rolled onto one side.  “Oh, good,” she giggled, “then let’s break some laws, baby,” she growled.  She flipped open the cap of the tube of lubricant, squeezed out a liberal amount, and smoothed it between Kieran’s cheeks, kissing her hotly as she stroked there.  She teased around the opening, pressed into it without penetrating, and withdrew again.  “Do you like to be touched there?” she asked between kisses.

 

Kieran sighed into her mouth, groaning at the intimate tone of her voice.  “Yes,” she confessed.  “I love it.”

 

“Then why haven’t you ever asked me to do it?” Naomi insisted to know.  “We’ve been lovers for a long time, Kieran.  We’ve made love hundreds of times.  Yet you never told me,” she rebuked her lover.

 

“I don’t know,” Kieran shivered.  “I have a hard time asking for the things I want, I guess,” she said softly.

 

“Is it that you don’t want to ask, or that you don’t want to be vulnerable to me?” Naomi teased her opening in tantalizing stokes.

 

Kieran gasped as a solitary finger entered her, easing into the tiny, muscled opening.  “I think it’s because I don’t know what words to use, Na.  I don’t want to be vulgar,” she asserted.

 

“Is it vulgar to ask to be loved?” Naomi demanded, sliding deeper into her.

 

“N-no,” Kieran shuddered, biting Naomi’s shoulder.  “But how do I tell you that’s what I want, without being crude?”

 

Naomi laughed softly.  “I don’t suppose saying ‘take me in the ass’ works for you?”

 

Kieran scowled.  “That’s too crude.  And that’s exactly what I would have to say,” she arched into Naomi’s belly, feeling the wriggling inside her.

 

“No, you can say ‘take me from behind’.  That’s not crass,” Naomi encouraged her.  “It upsets me that you’ve allowed me to deprive you of something you truly enjoy, for lack of the right words.”

 

Kieran groaned needfully as the rhythm intensified inside her.  “I don’t feel deprived.”

 

“I want us to communicate better, Kieran,” Naomi urged her verbally and with her fingers.  She slipped a second one into the tiny orifice.  “Promise me, if there are things you want, you won’t omit them,” she spread her fingers slightly, causing a faint stretching sensation, and Kieran shuddered hard with the motion.

 

“I’ll tell you everything, from now on,” Kieran promised.  Cold feverish chills raced through her, emanating from her belly and crawling deliciously up her back.  She reached behind her and found the lubricant gel, coated her finger with it, and slid her hand between Naomi’s cheeks.  “You said at the same time,” she reminded her.  “Is that what you want?”

 

Naomi kissed her ferociously, lifting her leg over Kieran’s hip in silent offering.  Kieran pressed into her, catching the heated sound in their kiss.  They moved together in tandem, straining against each other until they were soaked in sweat, aching for release.  Kieran slid her thumb between Naomi’s labia, finding her node, feeling the yielding inside her as they moved.  Naomi mirrored the intimate intrusion, and the combined stimulation soon had them in a frenzy of motion and heat and pleasure that fractured as suddenly as it had begun, leaving them spent and dazed and shivering in cold perspiration.

 

They lay tangled together, still inside each other, gasping for breath and unable to move.  Kieran kissed Naomi deeply, feeling her own vulnerability as fully as she had on Qian when they were joined.  “I love you, Naomi,” she whispered, heart filled to bursting.  “I’m sorry I never told you,” she started to cry quietly, tears running down her cheeks.  “I want to tell you everything, but I don’t want to be shocking, either,” she admitted her fear.

 

Naomi kissed away her tears.  “My love, there is nothing you can say that would shock me.  You might surprise me, a little, but I imagine I’ve had every sexual fantasy about you that’s ever been conceived of, and nothing you tell me you want to do together will make me turn away from you.  I want to meet your needs, but I have to know what they are before I can,” she said passionately. 

“It’s just that I think of you as so innocent,” she began.

 

Naomi snorted indignantly.  “After all the things we’ve done in bed, you still think of me as innocent?” she laughed.  “I’ve said everything to you short of screaming ‘fuck me now’, Kieran.  How can you think I’d find you too crude?  You don’t have to hold back, or be reserved in any way.  I’m giving you permission to say whatever you want, ask for whatever you enjoy.  Trust me to be good for this, honey,” she beseeched, kissing her forcefully.

 

Kieran withdrew her fingers, finally, so she could hold her closer.  “When you talk openly to me, when you say exactly what’s on your mind,” she admitted, “it gets me so excited, I could burst into flames,” she nuzzled Naomi’s throat.  “It never seems too blunt.  It makes me feel like, ‘God, she really, really wants me. ’  That contrast in my head, of you being innocent, but then saying or doing such overtly sexual things—that just floors me.  It gives you incredible power over me, sexually.  So don’t think I ever hide my vulnerability from you.  I don’t,” she insisted.

 

They gazed into each other’s eyes for a long time, silently seeking that connection they always found after they made love.  Naomi slipped her fingers free, letting them dangle off Kieran’s hip.  “I think we should clean up a little,” she recommended.  “Keep things safe,” she added.

 

“Why don’t we take a long, hot shower?” Kieran suggested.  “I’m feeling pretty grungy, between the gel and the icing,” she smiled at her lover.

 

“Okay.  I’ll start it running.  Don’t go anywhere,” she moved away from Kieran, swinging her legs over the bed.  “In fact, why don’t you recycle the sheets?” she added from inside the ensuite.  “I think they could use some attention,” she laughed.

 

“Are you saying I leave snail trails, Naomi?” Kieran chuckled, noting the pastry glaze on the fabric where they had left wet marks repeatedly.

 

Naomi stuck her head around the corner.  “I’m saying we both do,” she quipped.

__________________

 

Showered and clad in bathrobes that Kieran’s parents had given them for a wedding present, the newly weds lay on the fresh sheets, finishing the wedding cake Phoebe and Seven had replicated.  The sky outside was starting to get lighter, and the chronometer said it was after four a.m.    Kieran sucked icing from her fork, not wanting to let a bite of it go uneaten.

 

“So what else don’t I know about you?” Naomi grinned at her.

 

“Probably a lot of things,” Kieran said, shrugging.  “I don’t consciously hide things, or agonize over whether to tell you something.  If it comes up, I usually say something,” she assured her.  “As for taking me in the ass,” she laughed at the cruder form of the expression, “I just figured eventually you’d get around to doing it, and when you did, I’d tell you how much I love it, and then we’d do it again.  I wasn’t in a big hurry.”

 

Naomi fixed her with a pointed stare.  “You should be, honey.  Two years isn’t very long.”

 

“No, it isn’t, and a thousand years with you wouldn’t be nearly enough,” Kieran said vehemently, her eyes filling once again.  “But I don’t want to live in a state of desperation, either, my love.  I don’t want to cling and claw and worry that every second with you might be my last.  There has to be a balance between the sense of urgency we both feel, and the need for normalcy.  Can we do that?  Can we find that middle ground?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I think we have found it—or that we’re feeling our away along the ground in the dark, looking for it.  I feel mostly at peace about my fate.  I’m frightened, of course, because I know it’s going to get painful, but I also know you’ll be with me, and your love is all that matters to me.  It’s all that has ever really mattered to me.  I used to get so angry with B’Elanna, when I was working in Engineering during the time you were broken up.  I’d look at all the ways she was blowing it with you, and I’d think, ‘God damn it, if I had the chance you’ve been given, I’d do it right’.  I never thought I’d get my chance.  Now that I have it, I’m just determined to do it better with you than anyone else ever has.  That’s why I get so intense about things, sometimes.  I’m sorry if it gets tedious, KT.”

 

“It never gets tedious, Na.  And you can’t call me KT anymore,” she teased her.  “It’s KW, now,” she smiled brightly, kissing her briefly.

 

“I love it so much that you took my name,” Naomi murmured.  “I can’t even begin to tell you.”

 

Kieran hugged her.  “I figured since I didn’t get your virginity, I should get something that’s uniquely yours,” she joked, tickling Naomi’s ribs.

 

“Just because Sieken was technically my first, doesn’t mean you didn’t get my virginity.  Like I said, I had my first orgasm with you, and all the others, after that, too, until Sieken.  But you can be jealous, if you want.”

 

“I’m not really jealous,” she said thoughtfully.  “Well, yes, I guess I am, now that I really think about it.  I mean, the way things happened—I wouldn’t change them, because they got us here.  I’d change your illness, of course, but the other stuff I can live with.  Even knowing Sieken was the first person who made you come.  Though I’d have given anything to see that look on your face for the first time, that look of wonder and amazement and utter surprise.  That ‘Ah-ha’ recognition that says ‘God, so this is what the fuss is about,’” Kieran toyed with Naomi’s long hair, twirling it around her finger.

 

“Didn’t you see it?” Naomi asked.  “Sieken told me it was as if you were with us.”

 

“I did see it,” Kieran corrected herself.  “What I meant was, I’d have given anything to be the one to give you that look,” she explained.

 

“I wish you had, too,” Naomi admitted.  “Does it help that you’re giving it to me now, several times a day?” she smiled playfully.

 

“Oh, it helps tremendously,” Kieran agreed.  “So would you like me to put it on your face right now, or would you rather sleep?”

 

Naomi smiled, that soft, slow smile that never failed to make Kieran’s pulse quicken.  “I don’t want our wedding night to be over yet,” she murmured.  “So keep me awake.”

_________________

 

“This is a whole new education,” Kieran stammered, perusing Phoebe’s workstation display.  “You’re going to have to help me, Na, because this is raw territory for me,” she said, bewildered by the array of SED’s scrolling by.  “Some of them use electric pulses, some use sonic waves, some look like human genitalia, some don’t, there are all colors, shapes, and sizes.  Do you have any idea what might feel good to you?”

 

“I don’t know, honey.  Take out all the ones that look like human males, for starters,” she punched the keys for Kieran.  “That narrowed it down to a few hundred.”  She looked at the devices, also staggered by the sheer number and variety.  “Okay, filter out the ones with a diameter of over two inches, and a length of over seven inches,” she let Kieran apply the data parameters.  “Now we’re down to a couple hundred.  I think sound waves would be superior to electrical pulses, and quieter, don’t you?”

 

“Sure,” Kieran selected those out.  “Okay, here are the remaining choices,” they were down to 36.  “How about if we narrow it down to the ones that mimic our body temperatures, too?  I can’t imagine having something cold inside you or me,” she smiled.  “That leaves these 20.  Do you have any other preferences?”

 

“I like the purple one,” she decided.  “Nice shape, nice length, not too thick, and a pretty color.  How does it work?”

 

Kieran drilled down into the product description.  “It has a sensor that the wearer slips inside, that creates sound waves inside to stimulate both partners at once,” she read the details.  “There are variable settings for the intensity of the sound waves.  It affixes to the body by retractable straps that adjust automatically for size and slippage.”

 

Naomi giggled.  “Let’s try it.  What’s the replicator code?” 

 

Kieran read off the numbers while Naomi programmed the replicator. 

“Hey,” Kieran put in, “wipe out the memory when you’re done.  I don’t want Phoebe to see what we’ve been doing with her replicator.”

 

Naomi nodded, tapping in commands to wipe the record of the transaction clean.  The device materialized on the tray, and she picked it up, looking it over.  “Doesn’t look like much,” she commented.  “The controls are microscopic.  I need a tool to set them,” she rummaged in Phoebe’s desk drawer, finding a small pointer for a PADD.  “This will work.”

 

She and Kieran thundered up the stairs, laughing, suddenly in a hurry to try the new toy.  Naomi dove onto the bed rolling onto her back.  “Okay, what setting do you think we should try for the sensor?”

 

“Start with the lowest one, in case it’s really powerful,” Kieran recommended.  “I don’t want to collapse on you like some prematurely-ejaculatory teenager,” she laughed.

 

Naomi fiddled with the controls.  She tested them, holding the sensor in her palm.  “Not very strong,” she pronounced.  “We can increase it if you like, later.”

 

Kieran smirked.  “I think what feels minimal on your hand might feel a lot more intense inside me,” she reminded her lover.  “Do you want to try it out?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I think these little slots are where the straps come from,” she touched a tiny recessed button and the straps snaked out.  “Lie back a second,” she instructed her partner.  She pressed the device to Kieran’s mons, and the straps instantly affixed themselves and adjusted for comfort.  “That was a neat trick,” Naomi’s engineer’s heart was aflutter.

 

“I think I’d better insert the sensor myself, or we might not get much further than this,” Kieran warned, taking the small, cylindrical lead and pressing in into her opening.  Naomi was hovering over her, and her long hair brushed over the tip of the phallus as Kieran was inserting the sensor.  Kieran gasped faintly.  “Oh, yeah, it’s plenty strong enough,” she said, eyes wide.  “Just your hair barely grazing over it made it surge,” she was awed.  “I hope I can take it,” she said with mild trepidation.

 

Naomi’s eyes glittered evilly.  “Let’s find out,” she pushed Kieran’s shoulders down on the pillows, and moved over her, straddling the device without preamble.  She took it into herself, easing down the length, wiggling to make it go in easier.

 

Kieran watched in rapt attention, a soft grunt emanating from her chest as Naomi reached the base. 

 

“How does it feel?” Naomi asked her partner, whose eyes were glassy.

 

“It feels wonderful,” she breathed.  “God, no wonder so many men can’t control themselves.  Are you sure you got the lowest setting?”

 

“Afraid so.  Is it too much?” she looked concerned.

 

“I’ll try to get used to it, but I can’t guarantee a lengthy first trial,” she said faintly.

 

“Okay,” Naomi leaned down to kiss her, and they started to move together instinctually, without consciously doing so. 

 

Kieran rested her hands on Naomi’s thighs, feeling the muscles in her legs flexing as she squatted repeatedly and eased back up in turn.  “Is it okay for you?”

 

Naomi peered down at her.  “I think I’d rather have you on top,” she decided. 

 

“Okay,” Kieran wrapped her arms around Naomi’s back.  “stretch your legs out on mine, and let’s try not to lose intromission,” she directed her.

 

Naomi howled with laughter.  “You sound like the Doctor giving a lecture,” she chortled.

 

Kieran blushed.  “Sorry.  Let’s roll over and try to keep me from falling out,” she said.  “Better?”

 

Naomi giggled.  “Better.  On three,” she was still laughing.  “One, two, three,” she counted.

 

They flipped over, but Kieran fell out anyway.  “Sorry.  I’m a virgin,” she apologized.  She knelt between Naomi’s legs, caressing her with soft fingers.  “Let me find you, so this doesn’t hurt,” she advised.  She pressed the phallus to her opening, then, balancing her weight on her forearms and her knees, eased into Naomi as gently as she could.  “Okay?  I’m not hurting you?”

 

“On the contrary,” Naomi smiled winningly up at her.  “You feel great.”  She lifted her legs and wrapped them around Kieran’s low back, changing the angle of penetration and gasping as the right balance was struck.  “Oh, yeah, that’s it,” she encouraged her.  “Good angle.”

 

Kieran started to move inside of her, thrusting carefully at first, slowly, to make sure she had the right sense of how long the stroke should be.  “Still okay?” she asked Naomi, concerned.

 

Naomi shuddered.  “Okay is an understatement,” she managed, though her breathing was becoming irregular.  “It’s—God, Kieran, it feels so intense,” she gasped in the taller woman’s ear. 

 

Kieran was spurred on by the sounds coming from her lover, and she stopped worrying about whether she might crush her, more aware of how the motion felt inside herself, increasingly aroused by the sensation of Naomi’s walls surrounding her and the pulling of smooth muscles over the length of the shaft she wore.  Kieran thrust more vigorously, trying to remind herself not to be rough or greedy, but she couldn’t suppress a groan as she moved, and without meaning it to, her tempo increased.  Her brain seemed to disconnect from her body, inundated with endorphins.  She was rocking her hips almost frantically, unable to slow herself down.  Naomi was writhing beneath her, gasping and coming and crying out to her, and she felt the sudden spasm of the orgasmic platform around her, which sent her over the edge.  She thrust pitifully, weakly as the climax hit her, wrung her out, and left her spent and gasping.  The blood rushing through her ears had drown out all sound at the end, and she was fairly certain she had shouted something, but she didn’t know what.

 

They lay together, gasping for air, trying to focus their eyes, brains turned to worthless mush.  Kieran’s head jerked up as she thought she felt herself drooling, but it was just her imagination.  She extricated herself from Naomi’s opening, rolling onto her back, and Naomi went with her, snuggling into her arms. 

 

“Will you—remove—the sensor?” Kieran asked, gasping.  “It’s—too much—afterward,” she explained.

 

Naomi reached between her legs and eased the tiny lead from her channel, pressed the retractor buttons, and watched as the straps disappeared.  The phallus fell off, and Naomi picked it up, setting in on the nightstand.  Naomi’s ears were ringing, as if she had been at a loud concert for several hours.

 

“What’s the verdict?” Kieran asked when her breathing had evened out again.

 

Naomi traced trails over her belly, over the red impressions where the straps had been.  “I think I have to sleep now,” she murmured.  “It was very, very powerful.  I think we should keep the SED,” she said softly.

 

Kieran kissed her hair fondly.  “Okay, love.  Sweet dreams,” she said quietly, already dozing off.

 

________________

 

Kieran awoke just before noon, confused because the bedroom was dark.  Outside, black clouds rolled overhead, thunder growling.  She blinked rapidly, found Naomi staring down at her, and gazed up at her wife.  The Ktarian was stretched out beside her, head propped up on one hand.

 

“Hi,” she whispered to the strawberry blonde.  “Have you been awake long?”

 

Naomi smiled.  “God, you’re beautiful when you sleep, Kieran,” she ignored the question.  “So peaceful and serene,” her eyes shone brightly with unshed tears.

 

“Oh, Na,” Kieran reached for her, her voice coarse with sleep.  She hugged her close, grateful for the warmth of her lover.  “Are you okay, honey?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “Just very much in love with you, and so glad to finally be settled in that love,” she explained.  “Are you hungry?”

 

Kieran sighed.  “I could eat a feast.  Last night really took a lot out of me,” she admitted.  “I’m not as young as I used to be, I guess.  All-nighters aren’t effortless, anymore.”

 

Naomi kissed her, lips parting hers softly, tongue insinuating itself into Kieran’s mouth, gently exploring.  “I’m envious of everyone who’s ever had an all-nighter with you,” she said when they’d parted.  “I made breakfast.  Peach pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee.  Are you interested?”

 

“You did all that?  And I slept through it?” Kieran was chagrined.

 

“I think I pretty well wiped you out, sweetie.  It’s my fault,” she grinned unapologetically.  “I’ll probably do it again today, too,” she flirted. 

 

Kieran eased them both up against the headboard of the bed, and Naomi retrieved the tray resting on the nightstand.  “Everything’s really hot, so be careful,” she said protectively.

 

They fed each other from one plate, sharing bites and making appreciative sounds over the food.  “God, I’m starved,” Kieran commented.  “You’re going to make me fat, though,” she teased.

 

Naomi laughed.  “Not if we burn it all off like last night.  What did you think of the SED?”

 

Kieran grinned.  “It was almost as overwhelming as my experience with Sholten.  I remember bits and pieces, but not the whole experience.  It was hard to keep my mind on you, I was so focused on myself.  I’m not sure that’s how I want to make love to you, in such a state of self-interest,” she said thoughtfully.

 

“I think it’s something that takes adjusting to,” Naomi agreed.  “I imagine it would be like a guy having intercourse for the very first time—I doubt they even remember they have a partner there, when they’re inexperienced,” she noted. 

 

“That’s the point,” Kieran nodded.  “I never want to forget I have a partner.  It should never just be about my pleasure.”

 

“I didn’t mind,” Naomi laughed.  “I was just as focused on my own feelings,” she admitted.  “I think if we try it a few times, we’ll find we’re more in control and less singular in our focus, don’t you think?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Practice makes perfect with most things.”

 

“Besides, I want to try being the one to wear it,” Naomi waggled her eyebrows. “I have to know what that feels like.  You actually shouted when you came,” she giggled.

 

“I thought I did,” Kieran blushed. “But I don’t know what I said.  Do I want to know?” she hid her eyes behind her hand, peeking through her fingers.

 

Naomi laughed, pulled her hand from her face and kissed her.  “You said ‘I CAN’T HOLD BACK NAOMI’, and then you just collapsed,” she said, grinning wildly.  “It must have really blown your plasma manifold, because you were asleep in seconds afterward,” she chuckled.

 

Kieran sipped her coffee, trying to hide her embarrassment.  “Okay.  Well, I guess I owe you a turn, then, since I was so insensitive.”

 

Naomi kissed her cheek, still smiling.  “Don’t feel bad, honey.  You really enjoyed it, I’m sure, and I loved giving you that,” she assured her.

 

They finished every bit of food Naomi had prepared, and decided to take showers and walk up to Gretchen’s house, to see if the family needed help cleaning up after the wedding.  While Kieran was in the shower, Naomi went downstairs to clean up the mess they had made of the kitchen.  She was piling dishes into the recycler when Seven came to the door, knocking frantically.

 

Naomi wiped her hands, tightened her belt on her robe and went to the door.  “What’s wrong, Mom?”

 

Seven stood there, practically jumping up and down.  “Dr. Pulaski has had a break through.  We’re all being recalled to Starfleet medical,” she said excitedly.  “Apparently,” she squeezed through the doorjamb, “that bacteria that wrecked our ship may be in your system, too.  B’Elanna thinks that it probably infected everyone in Engineering who worked on the infected systems.  It’s not a cure, but it’s a first step to finding out why you’re aging so quickly,” Seven reported.  “Kathryn wants to leave within the hour.  Can you be ready?”

 

Kieran, hearing the commotion downstairs, rushed through her shower and threw on her robe.  She padded down the steps, catching the tail end of the conversation.  “We’ll be there,” she assured the former drone.  “Naomi, go get showered,” she urged her wife.

 

Naomi stopped to hug them both before charging up the steps.

 

Kieran wordlessly wrapped her arms around Seven, unable to speak, her hopes were so strong.  She clung to the towering Borg, hanging on for dear life.

 

Seven patted Kieran’s back, trying to calm her own anxiety.  “This could be the break we’ve needed, Kieran,” she murmured, cupping Kieran’s head in her hand.  “But if it’s not, I’ve been thinking,” she eased Kieran to a safe distance, holding her at arm’s length, trying not to think about how appealing she looked, freshly scrubbed and face aglow.

 

“Thinking what, Mom?” Kieran teasingly called her.

 

Seven’s eyes widened.  “I forbid you to address me as Mom, mother, Mommy, or any other derivation of the word,” she scowled.  “The last thing I feel toward you is maternal, Kieran Thompson,” she chastised, hands planted on her hips.

 

“Okay, your Borgness,” Kieran smirked.  “But it’s Kieran Wildman now,” she reminded her, grinning proudly.  “What were you thinking?”

 

“As a very last resort, I could assimilate Naomi,” she offered, “if she becomes so ill that she is in danger of dying,” she explained.  “But you know the dangers associated with that.  And my nanoprobes might go overboard, as well.”

 

Kieran quirked an eyebrow.  “I want to talk about this, Seven, but I have to get dressed and packed.  Come upstairs, please, and keep talking,” she grabbed the Borg’s cybernetically enhanced hand and dragged Seven along with her.

 

Not one for modesty, Kieran dropped her robe on the bed and started to dig out clothing, while Seven stood there gaping at Kieran’s naked body.  “Now what did you mean by overboard, Seven?” she asked, stepping into her underwear.

 

Seven had to consciously focus her thoughts again.  “I—I meant—” she sputtered.

 

Kieran looked up from her suitcase.  “Am I making you uncomfortable, your Borgness?” she saw the look of disorientation on the blonde’s lovely face.  “I’m sorry.  I thought—well, you’ve seen me undressed before, I didn’t think it would embarrass you.  You could turn away,” she said gently.

 

Seven shook herself mentally.  This simply had to stop.  “Overboard,” she repeated.  “There is a possibility that if I have to assimilate Naomi, it will save her life, but my nanoprobes will also go and repair any tissue they perceive as damaged.”

 

Kieran slipped on her blue jeans and bra, looking for a shirt.  She selected a pink cotton camp shirt with pockets, hurriedly slipping her arms through the short sleeves.  “And that’s bad somehow?” she asked, grabbing her shoes and socks and flopping down on the bed.

 

“It could potentially cause Naomi to regress to a much younger age.  What I can’t be certain of is how old she would exactly be, when it was said and done,” Seven explained. 

 

Kieran stopped, thinking about the implications.  “So she might live, but be a little girl again?” she asked, voice hollow.

 

Seven turned back around, nodding slowly.  “And, she might arrest as a little girl, too.  I haven’t aged at all since I left the collective, and I can’t be sure Naomi would resume the normal growth process.”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Well then let’s hope it never comes to that, because you know Naomi will never agree to risk being stuck as a child,” she realized.

 

“My thoughts, exactly, which is why I never broached the topic,” Seven admitted. “Kathryn was all for it, of course.  Nothing would make her happier than if Naomi went back to being eleven,” she scowled.

 

Kieran stopped, looking at the blonde intently. “Things are still contentious between you, because of us?” she asked faintly.

 

Seven nodded slowly.  “Every inch Kathryn has given has come at tremendous effort from me.  We’ve done nothing but fight.  Thank Kahless you and Naomi are finally married, and Kathryn can’t even threaten to interfere,” Seven said wearily.  “She didn’t want to sign the will, she didn’t want to cooperate with the wedding, she was furious over the medical power of attorney you got for Naomi, she threatened to file an appeal of the emancipation order.  It has been endless.”

 

Kieran wrapped her in warm, loving arms.  “Thank you, Seven,” she said hoarsely.  “I am so, so sorry for all of this.  I’ll find a way to make it up to you, if I can,” she promised, hugging her tightly.  “Naomi and I love you so much, and we are so grateful for your support.”

 

Seven closed her eyes, breathing the scent of the room, which was uniquely Kieran, part Naomi, the scent of soap and shampoo coming from the shower, and the musk of sex still clinging to the sheets.  It was a powerful impression for the Borg’s heightened senses to process.  “I love you, too,” she said softly, swallowing hard. 

 

Kieran kissed her forehead, moved by her sacrifice.  “If you want to come travel with us, you’re welcome to,” she offered.  “It may be our honeymoon, but you could make it a brand new start for yourself, if you need to be free of Kathryn,” she said meekly, not wanting to sway Seven either way.

 

Seven smiled, eyes filling.  “Thank you, but I would be an intrusion, and Naomi would never forgive me for it.  Things may calm down for both of us now that the actual marriage is a fact,” she murmured.

 

“Would you like me to ask Naomi?” Kieran held her shoulders gently, staring into ice blue eyes.  “If she knew how Kathryn has been behaving—”

 

Seven shook her head.  “She would never forgive her, and I can’t do that to Kathryn, no matter how much she deserves it.  With Naomi’s illness, there might not be time for them to mend fences, if they have a falling out.”

 

“Okay,” Kieran agreed, though the pain in Seven’s expression made her want to throttle Kathryn Janeway.  “Just remember, Seven.  You deserve to be happy.  Don’t let your every waking moment be a sacrifice to Kathryn’s foolishness, and don’t be miserable.  Life is short,” she nodded understanding from experience, “and there is no time to waste feeling unloved or unappreciated.”

 

The white-blonde haired Borg nodded slowly.  “If I could find someone who would love me, as you love Naomi, unconditionally and perfectly, I would have to go to her,” she admitted, lost in Kieran’s eyes and breathless.

 

“If Kathryn won’t love you that well, then you should find someone who will, Seven,” Kieran assured her.  “You’re brilliant, and kind, and incredibly beautiful.  Who could resist that combination?”

 

“Are you saying resistance is futile?” Seven laughed, trying to calm the pounding of her heart.

 

“It is,” Kieran smiled, her eyes crinkling.  “I have to finish packing.  Think about it, and if you want me to ask Naomi, I will.”

 

______________

 

The transport hummed along the fields toward the transporter station in Indianapolis, from where the women could beam back to Starfleet Command.  Kieran and Naomi sat together, Naomi in Kieran’s lap, resting her head on Kieran’s shoulder.

 

“I love when you hold me like this,” she murmured. 

 

“How are you feeling?” Kieran kissed her hair.

 

“Tired.  Anxious.  A little nauseated, too.  I was thinking I might have to take one of the hyposprays Dr. Pulaski gave me for pain.  I seem to ache all over,” she admitted.

 

Kieran gathered her body and eased her into the seat.  “I’ll get it for you. Stay put,” she offered, going to the baggage corral in the back.  She found the travel case with the hyposprays, and selected one.  She eased back up the aisle, sitting beside Naomi.  “Lift your chin,” she instructed her, pressing the device to her throat.  The medication deployed with a hiss, and Naomi’s face relaxed immediately.  “Better?” Kieran asked tenderly.

 

“Much,” Naomi smiled gratefully at her.  “Would you hold me again?”

 

“Always,” Kieran promised, scooping her up again and settling her back into a muscular lap.  “Rest, honey.  If you fall asleep, I’ll carry you.”

 

Naomi yawned.  “’Kay,” she agreed, already drifting off from the drug.

 

Seven watched the two women interacting, her heart aching.  The love between them was palpable, and it touched her deeply to see Kieran so attentive and patient and tender toward her daughter.  She forced herself to look out the window, unable to bear the look of agony on Kieran’s face.

 

They arrived in Indianapolis in a matter of a few minutes, and made their way to the transporter dais.  “Seven, can you get our bags?” Kieran asked, Naomi fast asleep in her arms.

 

“Of course I will,” Seven agreed, bearing the load uncomplaining.  Kieran stepped onto the dais with Naomi firmly gathered against her, waiting for the command from Kathryn.  Gretchen carried Geejay, who also had to be seen by the medical staff.

 

They materialized at the medical facility on campus, where Noah and B’Elanna were waiting for them with Katie. 

 

“Is Naomi okay?” B’Elanna asked Seven, helping her shoulder the bags.

 

“Not feeling well today.  Kieran had to medicate her for the pain,” Seven reported forlornly.

 

B’Elanna nodded.  “And how are you holding up?”

 

“Until you have watched someone you love suffering, you cannot begin to comprehend the pain I am in,” Seven admitted.

 

“You forget, Borg,” B’Elanna reminded her.  “I watched you die.  I know exactly what you’re feeling,” she said sadly.

 

Seven nodded.  “I had forgotten,” she confessed.  “My thoughts are fragmented.”

 

“Doctor Pulaski thinks she has devised a method of scanning for the bacteria,” B’Elanna explained as they joined the group and walked to the turbo lift.  “Wesley and the Traveler opened a comm conduit back to Qian, and we’ve been working with their medical team to understand the process of detecting this bacteria.  It’s beyond our technology, but they’ve helped us to get up to speed.  I tested positive for it, myself.  The doctors on Qian are sure I got it from the bioneural components on the ship, before we ever knew they were infected or that we needed to take precautions.”

 

Kathryn grimaced.  “And are you experiencing any symptoms like Naomi’s?”

 

“Not advanced aging,” B’Elanna replied, “but my neural chemistry was altered.  The changes are subtle, but they are there.   Pulaski thinks it may explain some of my behavioral problems since we were at Restid Three.  Like a certain incident with Tom Paris,” she admitted to the group. “Tom and Harry have also tested positive, which would explain Harry’s ongoing bouts of depression, and Tom’s inability to shake his infatuation with me.”

 

“They got the bacteria in the caves?” Kieran wanted to know.

 

“It appears so.  Neither of them could recall working on the components of the ship that were infected, so it appears that is another means of contracting it,” B’Elanna explained. 

 

“Has anyone come up negative?” Kathryn wanted to know.

 

“There were lots of negative tests,” Noah replied.  “Unfortunately, I came up positive, and I never worked in Engineering.  Kate isn’t sure if that means I got it through sexual transmission, or from B'Elanna’s blood.”

 

“Naomi probably got a double exposure, because she was in the caves and she worked on the components that were infected—the cryogenic tubing, the gel packs, the neural interfaces,” B'Elanna noted.

 

“Does Kate think this ability to detect it will give her any leads in treating it?” Kathryn demanded.  “It sounds like the situation is in the preliminary stages of research, to me.”

 

“It is, but Pulaski wants to see how it has altered Naomi’s brain chemistry.  It seems to be a fairly case-specific bug, in that it effects people differently, or at least, humans and Klingons and Ktarians are effected differently.  No one said there would be immediate progress, but we have to start somewhere,” B’Elanna defended the efforts they had already made.

 

The turbo lift halted on the seventh floor of the medical complex, and opened onto a hallway filled with laboratories and surgical rooms.

 

“It’s this way,” B’Elanna led them along the corridor.

 

_______________

 

Kate Pulaski looked over the scans, lips pressed tightly.  “Naomi’s got it all right, and the worst case I’ve seen yet.  It’s as if she can’t build any immunity to it, at all,” she explained to Kieran, Kathryn and Seven.  “B’Elanna at least had some antibodies, though the bacteria isn’t dying in her system.  Tom had the most resistance of those I’ve tested.  I’m taking some of his blood for further study, to see if I can genetically alter his antibodies to treat everyone else.  B’Elanna has volunteered to be the test subject for the first trials,” she muttered, adjusting the instruments again.  “It may not cure Naomi, but if we can get a vaccination from Tom’s antibodies, it might slow it down substantially.  The bacteria is definitely causing her aging syndrome, though,” she pointed to the medical readouts.  “Look at that,” she indicated the DNA in Naomi’s body.  “These sequences control aging, and the bacteria is directly attacking them,” she murmured.

 

“Are you any more optimistic than you were when you first saw Naomi?” Kieran asked, holding her breath.  She knew Pulaski would never lie or sugar coat anything.

 

“I’m encouraged.  I have the leads to at least get an idea of what we’re up against,” she stated unequivocally.  “How has she been feeling?”

 

Kieran lay a hand on Pulaski’s shoulder.  “Fine until today.  I’m afraid that may be my fault, Kate.  Maybe you’d better be blunt with me about what her body is able to take, and what it’s not.”

 

Kathryn’s eyes fairly threw daggers at Kieran.  “You wore her out, last night, didn’t you?” she accused.  “And today she had to be sedated.”

 

Seven bristled at Kathryn’s recriminating tone.  “Kathryn,” her voice was low and urgent, “it was their wedding night.”

 

Kieran hung her head.  “It’s okay, Seven.  I probably should have been more insistent that we sleep.  But I promised Naomi we would spend her time however she wants, and that was what she wanted.”

 

Pulaski stood from her lab stool, turning on them all.  “I don’t think sex is going to hurt her, not one bit.  She’ll learn her limitations, like anyone with a chronic illness, and she’ll need to assert her boundaries.  You can’t expect Kieran to lock Naomi away in a glass case until she dies,” Pulaski directed her remarks to Kathryn. “Besides,” Pulaski checked the readouts again, “physiologically speaking, Naomi has aged so much, she is reaching her sexual peak.  So it’s not surprising that she has that much drive,” she explained.

 

Kathryn was unmoved, glaring at Kieran.

 

“And it was their wedding night,” Seven reiterated to her spouse.

 

Kathryn’s brow furrowed.  “You always take Kieran’s side, Seven,” she spat angrily.  “But then, if Naomi weren’t with her, you’d be next in line,” she stated hotly, taking a menacing step toward her wife.

 

Seven reflexively stepped back from Kathryn.  The inculpation hung in the air like a rotten stench, and Seven was so humiliated, she couldn’t think of a retort.

 

Pulaski’s eyebrows nearly climbed off her forehead.  “I think this conversation has gotten entirely out of hand,” she snarled.  “Captain, I need to scan you.  Everyone who was on Voyager is undergoing these tests, and you’re next.”  She snatched the Captain’s arm and dragged her into the test bay, sealing the doors with a security code.

 

Kieran slipped her arms around Seven’s waist.  “I think you’d better let me have that talk with Naomi as soon as she’s conscious again,” she recommended, leaning her forehead against Seven’s.  “Kathryn’s starting to scare me and piss me off beyond words,” she informed the Borg.  “I’ve been in an abusive relationship, Seven, and Kathryn is showing all the signs.  So help me God, if she lays a finger on you, I’ll kill her,” she hissed.  “Why didn’t you tell me how bad it’s become?” Kieran demanded, searching Seven’s eyes.  “Has she ever hit you?”

 

Seven couldn’t meet Kieran’s frank gaze.

 

“Has she?” Kieran gentled her tone.

 

“A few times,” Seven admitted, her face burning with shame.  “But I am Borg, and my nanoprobes mend the damage easily.”

 

Kieran felt sick inside.  “And you’ve endured this because you needed—what?  Leverage with Kathryn, to help Naomi and I?”

 

Seven nodded, eyes averted.

 

“My God, Seven,” Kieran breathed.  “You’re coming to stay with Naomi and I, that’s the end of it.  Or I can kill her.  Your choice,” Kieran lifted her chin with two fingers.

 

“You don’t understand, Kieran,” Seven began, her words halting.

 

“Don’t you dare try to defend her to me,” Kieran was incensed.  “I understand perfectly.  But humor me.  Tell me why you think you deserve to be slapped around, Seven.  Isn’t that what you were about to tell me?” she beseeched.

 

“She hits me because—” Seven hesitated.  “Because I’ve been unfaithful to her.”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “That’s not a good enough reason.  Your body is your own.  You can sleep with anyone you please, and that doesn’t give Kathryn the right to hit you.  She can divorce you for it, but she has no right to assault you.”  She thought seriously about it for a moment.  “Is it B’Elanna?”

 

Seven shook her head.  “Not B’Elanna.  Much worse,” she admitted.

 

“You can tell me, if you want to Seven, but you also have the right to your privacy.  But if there’s someone else you want to be with, why don’t you leave Kathryn?”

 

Seven swallowed hard.  “Because she is married to someone else,” she said pointedly.

 

Realization dawned on Kieran in that instant, and it made her head swim.  “She was telling the truth?  That if I weren’t with Naomi you’d be next in line—for me?” Kieran asked, truly flabbergasted.

 

“I never intended for you to find out,” Seven bowed her head.  “I can’t tell you how ashamed I am,” she added, her voice thick with pain.

 

Kieran closed her eyes.  God, how can this be happening?  Has the whole world gone insane?  Say something, Kieran, for Christ’s sake, she’s hurting.  You have to say something to make her not hate herself.  Kieran kissed the crown of Seven’s head.  “You know I love you with all my heart, Annika,” she assured her.  “You are my friend, and you have been one of my staunchest allies.  When this feeling passes, I’ll still be your friend, and we will always be family to each other.  I’ll never tell a soul, and if Kathryn asks me, I’ll lie for you.  But you cannot let her brutalize you because you love someone that’s not her.” 

 

“But I have been untrue,” Seven argued.

 

“Loving someone doesn’t make you untrue,” Kieran argued.  “You’ve never acted on any of those feelings, and you’ve never even spoken of them.”

 

Seven finally looked at her, throat constricting painfully.  “And if I would have told you?  Before you were with Naomi?  Then what, Kieran?  What would you have done?”

 

“You know the answer to that, already, Seven, because you know me.  Even if I had been hopelessly in love with you, I still wouldn’t have done anything about it, because of Kathryn.  And you wouldn’t have ever said anything, either, because of B’Elanna.”

 

“I keep thinking, eventually, she will stop being angry, and she will stop trying to hurt me,” Seven sounded marginally hopeful.

 

“It doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid.  You have to break the cycle, and that means you break the relationship.  Let me help you.  Let Naomi and I help you.  Please,” Kieran begged her, “I can’t bear to think of anyone hurting you, Seven.”

 

Pulaski came into the lab again.  “I had Naomi moved to a biobed where she can sleep until everyone’s done testing.  Kathryn’s scanned.  I have to look at these readings, if you’ll step aside,” she requested, sliding onto her stool.  “Good lord, she’s got it worse than Naomi,” Pulaski breathed.  “Only—damn, this is odd,” Pulaski checked the readings twice.  “She has two distinct strains of it.  And very few antibodies.  And not a lick of antibodies for the second strain.  It’s no wonder she is on the verge of rage—look at her dopamine and acetylcholine levels,” she muttered.

 

Seven tore herself from Kieran, peering over Kate’s shoulder.  “Kathryn is ill?”

 

“Very,” Pulaski agreed.  “I think I’d better use her as the trial subject, since she’s so bad, if she’ll agree.  This damned thing,” she complained.  “This bacteria seems to get into the synapses and bring out the most buried emotions the carrier has.  It alters the brain chemistry to accentuate those emotions.  Naomi is flooded with endorphins, but she is aging.  Kathryn is flooded with dopamine, and she is hostile.  Harry’s serotonin reuptake is helter-skelter, and he is depressed.  I don’t understand the mechanism one bit,” she smacked her hand on the table.

 

“Kate,” Kieran said softly.  “You’d better scan Seven next.  I think you’ll find she’s infected, as well.” 

 

Seven looked at her questioningly.

 

“It might explain a lot, Seven,” Kieran gave her a meaningful look.  She hugged her then, holding her briefly.  “It’s going to be okay, your Borgness.  No matter what, we will get through this together.  I promise you.  Hey,” Kieran made Seven meet her eyes.  “Have I ever lied to you?”

 

“Never,” Seven admitted.

 

“And I never will.  You know my darkest secrets.  You can trust me to get us all through this,” she vowed.

 

____________________

 

It was established that Seven was indeed infected, and that she had both strains of the bacteria that Kathryn had.  Kieran was also infected.  Both Seven and Kieran had come into contact with the bacteria through the infected ship components, they suspected, though Kieran more indirectly than anyone else.  She had recycled the clothing B’Elanna wore that had been coated in bioneural gel, and remembered getting it all over her hands.  One by one, Kate Pulaski traced the epidemiology of the bacteria, and every infectant was identified.  What remained was to devise a treatment.

 

Kieran lay awake in her room at the Intergalactic Suites, fretting over it all.  Naomi was no closer to a cure, but now Kieran suspected her own feelings for Naomi were unearthed by the bacteria, all those months ago, and Kieran’s moral defenses were equally eroded by the pheromones Naomi had started to put out on Qian.  Did that make her love any less genuine?  If the bacteria was eradicated, would she stop loving Naomi?  And what if Naomi’s feelings for Kieran were equally dependent upon the presence of the bacteria?

 

B’Elanna had done all those things with Tom, Tristan, Mariah, and Rachel, because she was sick with the bacterial infection.  And it had destroyed her marriage to Kieran.  Seven had fallen in love with Kieran for the same reason, and now her marriage was in shambles with Kathryn.  And Kathryn had done unspeakable things, to Seven, to Naomi, to Kieran--all because of this nasty bug.  Even Tom wasn’t to blame for trying to seduce B’Elanna.  

 

Kieran’s head ached.  None of it made any sense, and yet it all made sense.  It was as if they were in a hallucination of their own, with no ability to discern what was real and what was a dream.  Their own brain chemistry was working to deceive them repeatedly, to make them behave in aberrant ways.  What would be left, when the dust settled, she wondered?

 

“Kieran,” Naomi said groggily, “why aren’t you sleeping?” she asked softly, finally emerging from the sedatives she had taken for her pain.

 

She wanted desperately to tell Naomi everything, to explain why she was so distraught, but she couldn’t break confidence with Seven, and Naomi would never forgive Kathryn for hitting the Borg.  So she had to keep her silence.

 

“How are you feeling, my love?” Kieran moved to take her into the circle of strong arms.  “Can I get you anything?”

 

“I’m much better, thanks.  I guess I can’t stay up for hours on end and make love,” she snuggled into Kieran.  “We’ll have to scale it back to five or six hours at a stretch, followed by a solid eight hours of sleep,” she joked.

 

Kieran kissed her hair fondly.  “I love you, honey.  I’m sorry I let us go on a marathon,” she murmured.

 

“I wanted it,” Naomi insisted.  “But like Kate said, I have to learn my limitations.  Now I know them better.” She yawned.  “I slept through the examinations—what did Kate find out?”

 

“We’re all infected with Restidian bacteria, the one that attacked the bioneural components of the ship.  It triggered your aging, and God knows what else.  Now that Kate can find it, she might be able to devise a treatment.”  She hoped Naomi wouldn’t start speculating too much about the repercussions for everyone.  “You slept through lunch and dinner.  Aren’t you starving?” Kieran wanted to encourage her to eat.

 

“Famished,” Naomi agreed.  “I’m dying for some peach pancakes,” she laughed.  “How long 'til breakfast?”

 

Kieran glanced at the chronometer.  “Six hours. It’s just after midnight,” she chuckled.  “The restaurant will be closing in a few minutes—would you like me to see what I can come up with?”

 

Naomi nodded.  “I’m not picky,” she advised.  “But you’ll come right back?”

 

“I will,” Kieran kissed her tenderly.  “You rest, my beloved.”

 

___________________

 

The night cook was about to start cleaning the grill when Kieran ran into the restaurant.  She asked to speak to him, and the maitre de reluctantly agreed.

 

“Listen,” she said to the exhausted looking man.  “I have a very sick wife, and I would appreciate it if you could make something especially for her.  She’s having a hard time keeping food down, so she needs some peach pancakes.  I’ll pay you whatever you want,” she offered.

 

He studied her for a minute.  “Tell you what.  I’ll make the pancakes, and anything else you want, if you agree to come back here tomorrow night and autograph a basketball for my daughter, KT,” he grinned.  “She was glued to ESPN all weekend, watching highlights of you in the exhibition game.  She plays junior high ball,” he added proudly.

 

Kieran smiled warmly.  “I’ll do better than that,” she agreed.  “Bring her with you, and I’ll have dinner with her—plus sign the basketball.  And I’ll buy dinner.”

 

His eyes lit up.  “That’s generous of you.  You don’t have to—the ball is enough.”

 

“You don’t understand, Mr.--?”

 

“John.  John Kane,” he extended his hand.

 

“John.  I know you’re about to get off work, and I truly appreciate that you’re willing to help my wife.  I’d be happy to repay the kindness.”

 

He smiled.  “My kid will think I’m the best dad ever,” he chuckled.  “And I’m sorry about your wife.  I heard she’s pretty bad.  I’m widowed, myself—Dominion War,” he lay a gnarled hand on her forearm.  “Anything besides peach pancakes?”

 

Kieran grinned.  “Lots of whipped cream and powdered sugar.  And a big glass of chocolate milk, John.  Thank you so much,” she shook his hand.

 

Maybe, Kieran realized, being a celebrity wasn’t so terrible, if it got the things Naomi wanted.

 

_________________

 

“I can’t believe you found peach pancakes,” Naomi sat up in bed, mouth already watering.  “Who did you have to sleep with?”

 

Kieran winked.  “The chef at the hotel restaurant.  Actually, I agreed to have dinner with his daughter.”

 

“You agreed to go out on a date for some lousy pancakes?” Naomi pretended outrage.

 

“She’s in junior high,” Kieran laughed.

 

Naomi fixed her with a wicked grin.  “So she’s my age,” she quipped.

 

“Oh, low blow,” Kieran feigned a punch to the stomach.  She set the tray over Naomi’s legs.  “I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause there’s enough cakes here to feed an army.”

 

Naomi stretched to kiss her before Kieran settled in beside her.  “Chocolate milk, too.  You’re the best.  So what did this feast set you back?”

 

“Dinner and an autographed basketball,” she replied, stealing a fingertip of whipped cream.  “Actually, he was happy to take the ball, but I threw in the dinner to be nice,” she admitted.  “It’s for a kid.  Hey, Katie and Geejay might have heroes, someday.  Maybe I can bank some good karma for them,” she decided.

 

Naomi stuffed herself happily, feeding an occasional bite to her wife.  “These are better than my own,” she said through a fluffy mouthful.  “Want some more?”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “I had dinner, and that much sugar this late will have me jittery all night.”

 

There was a knock at the door, and Kieran excused herself.  She looked through the peephole and saw Seven standing outside, clearly distraught. 

 

“Na? I need to talk to Seven a minute.  I’ll be right back,” she advised.  “Enjoy your pancakes.”

 

“Okay, honey.  She can come in, if she wants,” Naomi offered.

 

“I think I need to help her with something. I’ll try not to be too long.”

 

Kieran stepped into the hall, taking Seven’s face in her hands.  “She did this to you?” she demanded, examining the diffuse bruising around Seven’s jaw and the hairline of blood seeping from her lips.  “Damn, Seven, I tried to tell you to come with Naomi and I.  Why wouldn’t you listen?”

 

“Please, don’t say anything to Naomi.  I think Kathryn needs to be in the hospital, Kieran.  She’s ill.  I can’t commit her without a Counselor’s corroborating diagnosis.”

 

“Did you call security?” Kieran asked softly.

 

“No.  I wanted to protect Kathryn’s career.  An incident like this could get her demoted back down to a Lieutenant, or even summarily dismissed.”

 

“Why did Pulaski let her go today?”

 

Seven shrugged.  “Kathryn refused to stay, and she wasn’t being violent at the time.  Kate couldn’t force her.”

 

“I’ll see if I can get her to go voluntarily.  Let me get a couple of things, and I’ll be right with you,” she stepped back inside.  “Na, I need to go help Seven out with something, and I might be gone awhile.  Don’t wait up,” she said softly as she rummaged through her travel bags.

 

“What’s wrong?” Naomi was instantly concerned.

 

“She just needs me to talk to Kathryn, honey.  I’ll try to hurry back,” she kissed her wife good-bye.

 

__________________

 

“Kathryn,” Kieran crossed her arms resolutely, “I want you to listen to me.  You are not yourself.  You are not behaving normally,” she tried to reason with the agitated woman pacing before her.  “You have been hitting your wife.”

 

Kathryn glared at her.  “She’s been after you forever, you know,” Kathryn accused.

 

“No, she hasn’t.  In fact, she’s never made a single overture, said a word, or intimated that she has any feelings for me whatsoever.  This is your imagination, Kathryn.  Do you understand what I’m saying to you?  If you don’t come to the hospital with me right now, I’m going to call security and have you arrested.  You will be charged with domestic battery.  You will lose your command.  You will lose your wife.  And your children will find out you’ve been abusing their mother.  You will be ruined.  So here are your choices.  Trust me and come with me willingly, or be stupid, and make this as ugly as your behavior.”

 

“Fuck you, Counselor,” Kathryn hissed, still pacing.  “You want her, don’t you?  It’s not Naomi, it’s been Seven, all along.  I saw how you looked at her the night of the banquet.  All your flattery and smooth flirtation.  You thought I didn’t notice, how you snuck away to dance with her alone, how you kept her laughing and flirting right back.  I know you two have been together.  When she was staying in the cargo bay.  That’s when.  I’m going to tell Naomi.”

 

“You’ll only hurt yourself, Kathryn.  Naomi is so skeptical about you right now, it wouldn’t take much to have her cut you out of her life, and finding out you hit Seven would be the last straw.  Don’t push this, Kat.  Don’t force my hand.  Let me help you.  I can keep this out of the security logs, I can cover your ass, but not if you don’t come with me right now.”

 

“You’re going to lock me away, like that other Janeway.  The one you killed,” she glared pure hatred at Kieran. 

 

“If you voluntarily commit yourself, no one locks you up, Kathryn.  Now what’s it going to be?”

 

Kathryn paced faster, then with a primal scream she went for Kieran’s throat.  Kieran used Kathryn’s momentum to throw her down on the bed, and she held her there, fumbling in her pocket for one of Naomi’s hyposprays.  She pressed it to Kathryn’s neck, restraining her while she struggled against the numbing drug.  When Kathryn had finally succumbed to the medication, drowsy but conscious, Kieran took her knee out of the smaller woman’s spine.

 

“Stubborn ass,” she said, panting.  “Nothing is ever simple, is it?”  She seriously considered smacking the daylights out the limp woman, but curbed her anger.  “If you ever touch Seven again, you miserable tyrant, you will never see the light of day,” she said in Kathryn’s ear.  “And I will personally kill you with less mercy than I killed that other Janeway you’re so fond of reminding me about.”

 

She grabbed the back of Kathryn’s uniform, hauling her to her feet.  She dragged her into the hallway where Seven was waiting.  “Help me get her to the hotel transporter,” Kieran grunted under her weight.  “I don’t want to be conspicuous carrying her.  This way, she’ll just look drunk.”

 

“Thank you, Kieran,” Seven said sincerely.  “I hope that the psychiatric ward calms her down.”

 

“Me too,” Kieran agreed. 

 

_________________

 

Kathryn was admitted to the psychiatric ward, into a private room, with all the protocols in place to protect her reputation.  Kieran summoned Kate Pulaski, who made sure that the records reflected that Kathryn’s diagnosis was uncontrollable rage caused by an alien pathogen. 

 

Seven and Kieran walked back to the hotel in silence, until Kieran noticed Seven was walking peculiarly.

 

“Your Borgness,” she took her hand, “are you in pain?  Your gait is strange,” she noted.

 

Seven nodded.  “I am damaged.”

 

“Well why didn’t you let Pulaski treat you, Seven?” Kieran wailed, squeezing her hand.

 

“It is too personal,” she hung her head.  “I did not want her to see what Kathryn did to me.”

 

Kieran thought about it.  “I know where I can borrow a dermal regenerator.  Will you let me treat you?”

 

“You would do that for me?” Seven asked softly.

 

Kieran stopped on the sidewalk, drawing the tall blonde into her arms.  “Do you have any idea how much it hurts me to see you suffering, Annika?”

 

Seven rested her face on Kieran’s shoulder.  “No.”

 

“It’s tearing me up,” Kieran choked on the words.  “I know Kathryn is sick and she can’t help herself, but to do these things to you, of all people,” she clung to the Borg. 

 

“I believe I am bleeding,” Seven advised.  “I think we had better hurry.”

 

Kieran nodded and they resumed their walk.  “Your nanoprobes aren’t repairing the damage?”

 

“They will, but I imagine, with the bacteria to fight, they are largely preoccupied,” she explained. 

 

Kieran checked the hotel directory.  “How am I going to explain to Naomi that I’ve been gone over two hours?” she muttered.

 

“Treat me in my room, and then we will tell her together that Kathryn has been hospitalized.  We do not need to tell her the details, do we?” Seven pleaded.

 

“We’ll be discreet,” Kieran agreed.  “Okay, here it is,” she found the entry.  “You go to your room and I’ll be right there.”

_______________

 

Noah Lessing rubbed his eyes sleepily.  “KT,” he yawned in her face, “what the hell are you doing here?  It’s nearly 3 am,” he stepped into the hall, wearing only his pajama bottoms.

 

“I need to borrow your dermal regenerator, Noah.  Please,” she said urgently.  “And don’t ask why.”

 

He nodded.  “You got it.  Be right back,” he went into the bathroom and found the device.  “Listen,” he handed her the small wand.  “If you need anything at all, you tell me, okay?” he kissed her forehead.

 

“Thanks, bud.  I will,” she agreed.  She smiled at the ritual wound at the base of his throat.  “Hey, NoGame, that’s gonna leave a great scar,” she grinned at him.  “I guess you got yourself claimed, but good,” she teased him.

 

He nodded.  “I owe you one, KT,” he agreed.  “Everything you told me to do was dead-on.  And it looks like I’ll be repaying that debt I owe you for fixing my wounds, back on Voyager,” he waggled his eyebrows.

 

Kieran thought hard about it, and remembered she had told him he had to produce a sibling for Katie.  “Are you kidding me?  B'Elanna’s pregnant?”

 

Noah shook his head.  “Not yet.  But we’re letting nature take its course,” he said proudly. 

 

“Which means she’ll be pregnant by this time next week, you stud,” Kieran hugged him.  “I’m so pleased for you, bud.  Give Lanna my love, will you?”

 

“I will,” he assured her, hugging her back.

 

She studied his happy expression, hands resting on his shoulders.  “Thanks again, bud.  I’ll bring this back in the morning.”

 

“No hurry,” he yawned.  “I love you, KT,” he waved at her.

 

“You, too, NoGame,” she nodded, turning to go.

 

She took the turbo lift to Seven’s floor, and found her in her room, in her bathrobe.  “I can treat most of the injuries myself,” she held out her hand for the regenerator.

 

“Are there a lot?” Kieran wanted to know.

 

Seven shrugged, letting her robe fall open.  She was scratched, bruised, abraded, and cut in various places, over her breasts, her arms, her thighs, her calves.  Kieran fought the impulse to vomit, looking at the abuse.

 

“Lie down, Seven, and let me take care of you,” Kieran gently helped her stretch out on the bed.  She made a thorough inspection of every inch of the Borg’s implant scarred body, healing the wounds with the least amount of pain she could inflict.  “Okay.  Let me see your back side.”

 

Seven pleaded with her eyes.  “That is where I am most injured,” she said apologetically, turning onto her stomach.

 

The abdominal implant’s silver bands stretched around her back, into her buttocks, demarcating flesh from metal.  Kieran could see that Kathryn had apparently tried to remove the implant, from the looks of the claw marks around the metal ribbons.  But worse, Seven’s anal tissue had been torn, and was gouged and bleeding.  As she treated the injuries, Kieran noted that the bed sheets were bloody, and she surmised that Kathryn had sexually assaulted Seven.  When the gashes were closed and Seven was more comfortable, Kieran wrapped the hotel’s robe around her, holding her as they sat on the bed.  “She raped you?” she asked, her words muffled in Seven’s shoulder.

 

“Not really,” Seven explained.  “I thought, if I could make love with her, she might open up to me, calm down.  I didn’t expect the encounter to turn violent.  I should not have initiated it.  Usually, sex is a sedative for her, it soothes and comforts her.  Apparently, now it makes her angry.”

 

Kieran cried into Seven’s bathrobe, shoulders shaking uncontrollably.  “Christ, Seven, why didn’t you listen to me and come with Naomi and I?  Why wouldn’t you let me protect you?”

 

Seven rocked her like a child.  “Don’t cry,” she whispered.  “It’s over now,” she promised.

 

Kieran couldn’t stop herself, for thinking about those horrible injuries.

 

Seven rubbed her shoulders, working the knots from them.  “It was like that with P’Arth?” she said softly.

 

“Yes,” Kieran replied, struggling for control.  “For two years.  I was so young, and I thought I loved her,” she explained miserably.  “But I can’t stand knowing Kathryn hurt you, Seven.  You are so good and kind and so beautiful, and she has no appreciation of that,” she bawled.  “Please don’t go back to her.  Promise me, if there’s any bit of rage left in her, you will leave her.”

 

Seven nodded slowly.  “If Kate can’t cure her, I will leave her.  I will go with you and Naomi, and I’ll take Geejay.  Thank God, Gretchen has Geejay.  I think Gretchen has figured out Kathryn is unstable, and that’s why she insisted on babysitting her tonight.”

 

Kieran composed herself slowly, getting her fragile emotions under a tight rein.  “I have to go back to Naomi.  I don’t want to tell her anything you don’t want her to know.  Will you come and explain this to her?”

 

“Okay,” Seven agreed.  “Let me get dressed again.” 

____________________

 

Kieran dragged into her room wearily, collapsing into a chair.

 

“Where in God’s name have you been?” Naomi asked, alarmed.  She was sitting up in bed, reading, waiting for Kieran to come home.

 

Seven of Nine followed Kieran into the room, and sat down on Naomi’s bed.

 

“What’s happened, Seven?” Naomi demanded, seeing the look of total despair on both women’s faces.

 

“Kathryn is ill,” Seven explained gently.  “This bacteria appears to somehow ferret out the most hidden characteristics of a personality, and to make them surface.  It’s become much worse since we arrived in the Alpha Quadrant, and Kathryn is in the hospital.”

 

Naomi’s face fell.  “Is she aging, too?  Is Doctor Pulaski treating her?” she asked, panicked.

 

Seven shook her head.  “She is not in the medical ward.  She is in the psychiatric unit.  She has become violently angry.”

 

Naomi understood instantly.  “You didn’t hit your head on the window, Saturday, did you?  You lied to me. Kathryn did that to you, didn’t she?”

 

Seven nodded, eyes averted. 

 

“Oh, Mom,” Naomi grabbed her and hugged her tightly.  “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?”

 

“I am fine, just very tired and frightened,” she said honestly. 

 

“I want you to stay with us, tonight, where I can know you’re safe,” Naomi instructed, throwing back the covers.  “This bed is plenty big enough for all three of us.  Kieran,” she said softly, “your sweatshirt is in your duffel bag, and your extra is in my suitcase.  Please, give Seven one of them, and let’s all get to bed.”

 

Kieran agreed, stripping down immediately.  She tossed the pale orange shirt to Seven.  “Come on, Seven, it’s okay,” she assured her.  “You’re safe now.”

 

Naomi hugged Seven to her, the two women clinging to one another, legs beneath the thick covers.  “Mom, how long has this been going on?” she asked softly. 

 

Seven sighed.  “The first time she hit me was when Voyager was at Qian.  I made the mistake of basically saying ‘I told you so’, regarding your and Kieran’s decision to take asylum.  Unfortunately, I failed to hide how amused I was that you had sued us, and it incensed her.”

 

Naomi thought back to that time.  “When I contacted you, you had a wound above your optical implant.  You told me you had an accident trying to calibrate your implant.  Did K-Mom do that to you?”

 

“Yes,” Seven confirmed.  “However, she hurt herself worse than me.  She cut her hand quite badly on the leading edge of the implant,” Seven reported.  “I suspect that is how she got the second bacterial strain—from my blood.  Doctor Pulaski will most likely determine that I have two strains because my nanoprobes somehow altered the bacteria, trying to kill it, and Kathryn got it from me.”

 

Kieran bit her lip.  “Then this behavior has been going on for months,” she stated.  “Damn, Seven, if you had told me, I would never have tried to convince you to give her another chance.  I’d have told you to run,” she was distressed.  “You let me give you the worst advice I’ve ever given anyone,” she scolded herself more than Seven.

 

The former Borg drone lifted her head, meeting Kieran’s eyes.  “I apologize, Counselor.  I know I was dishonest, but I—”

 

Kieran touched her cheek.  “But what?”

 

“I was too ashamed.  And with your history, I was afraid it would bring up bad memories for you, if I told you,” she admitted.

 

“I could have helped you, Annika,” she said miserably.  “If only you had let me.”

 

“Please, do not punish yourself with this, Kieran.  It’s over, now.  I am no worse for the wear, and it really isn’t Kathryn’s fault.  This bacteria has impacted everyone’s life.  We should get some sleep.  Naomi looks like she is about to fall over,” she pointed out.

 

“Okay,” Kieran agreed, wanting to protect her wife more than anything.  She scooted beneath the covers, Seven between her and Naomi.

 

The Borg slept, finally, cuddled between the two women, flanked on either side and warmly held.  It was the best sleep she’d had in months.

 

______________

 

Kate Pulaski released everyone from her immediate care, except Kathryn Janeway, and advised them that she could potentially recall them for treatment, depending on the clinical trials with Tom Paris’ altered antibodies.  She had enough data to begin serious inquiry, and she set about her Petri dish preliminaries, using a full team of interns and researchers to help her get to the bottom of the dilemma.

 

Kieran, Naomi, and Seven packed and headed for Florida as soon as Kieran had fulfilled her obligation to have dinner with John Kane’s daughter.  Gretchen Janeway knew that Seven was in no emotional condition to care for Geejay, and she was glad to keep the toddler at the farmhouse, where she knew the child would be safe.  Gretchen had no illusions about the brutality her daughter-in-law had been through at the hands of the irate Captain, and she grieved for the damage the relationship had sustained, but hoped for a cure for Kathryn. 

 

Gerry and Violet Thompson met the three women at the transporter station in Fort Myers, all smiles and hugs for their daughter and her family, with a careful cognizance of the subjects that must not be discussed and the need for the women to have some fun and relax after all the strain of the past weeks.

 

Gerry handed Seven of Nine a gaily decorated basket of fruit wrapped in festive red plasticene.  He kissed her cheek.  “Seven, we are so pleased you could join us,” he enthused, releasing the basket.  “These are grown locally,” he explained, pointing out the different items.  “Grapefruit, oranges, limes, lemons, bananas, and some peaches from our Northern neighbors in Georgia,” he smiled at the towering Borg.  “You can buy them in any store in the country, but they won’t taste anywhere near as good as these.”

 

“Naomi,” he hugged his daughter-in-law, “you look wonderful.  Married life must suit you, sweetie,” he kissed her cheek, too.  “Are you keeping my daughter in line?  She requires a firm hand,” he joked, tousling Kieran’s blonde streaked hair.

 

“I’m making her toe the line,” Naomi agreed, giggling.


Violet hugged Kieran, and the other women in turn.  “We thought we’d take the van-trans over the Everglades, to show you some of the wildlife, and then go to our home for lunch.  Afterward, we’ll show you the manatee preserve and you can go for a swim with the girls,” she smiled brightly.  “It’s so rare we get visitors that aren’t scientists or volunteers, it’s going to be fun to show you around,” she took Naomi’s bag.  “Now honey,” she patted the Ktarian’s shoulder, “don’t you overtax yourself on this trip.  Let us take care of you,” she admonished, seeing that Naomi was all set to drag her own luggage.

 

“Who are the girls that we are swimming with?” Seven asked, thinking Violet was being literal.

 

“The manatees, of course,” she grinned.  “Bessie is positively going to flip when she sees Kieran,” she linked her arm through the her daughter’s.  “Your dad and I are convinced she’s only lived this long so she could see you again,” Violet opined.

 

“You mentioned she’s really old,” Naomi was curious. “How old is really old?”

 

Kieran smiled warmly, kissing Naomi’s cheek.  “Most manatees live to be about 60, but Bessie is easily 85.  She’s a modern wonder,” Kieran declared.  “Let me have your overnight, love,” Kieran claimed the last of Naomi’s things.  “Like Mom said, I want you to take it easy.  Save your energy for sightseeing, because this is some amazing landscape,” she promised.

 

Seven was fanning herself, wishing she still wore her formfitting biosuits, which helped regulate her body temperature. 

 

“Hot enough for ya?” Gerry hugged her lightly.  “Humidity is about 95% today.  Welcome to Florida,” he joked.

 

Kieran sat with her mother so that Violet could get all the details of the trip to Starfleet Medical, while Gerry entertained Naomi and Seven with his tour and details of the area.  Kieran caught bits and pieces, all things she knew from growing up there, but she couldn’t help watching Naomi’s earnest expression, so interested in every detail.  God, she’s beautiful.  So perfect, so bright.  How can I ever stand to lose her?

 

Violet saw the shadow cross Kieran’s face, and knew instantly what her daughter was thinking.  “Honey,” she patted Kieran’s thigh, “you have to keep your hope alive.  We all do.  Don’t let this disease get you down, not yet.  There’s plenty of time to find the solution,” she encouraged her.  “It’s not like with Cass,” she reflected, “where the thing is so aggressive every second of every day,” she reminded her.

 

Kieran wrapped an arm around the elder woman’s frail shoulders.  “I know, Mom, thanks.  I just want this time to last forever,” she added.  “I love her so much.  Isn’t she just—gorgeous?” Kieran murmured, fawning over her wife.

 

Violet nodded.  “A lovely young woman.  Your dad and I like her very much.  And it is so good to see you truly in love,” she added, taking Kieran’s hand.

 

Gerry was busy pointing out the birds along the waterline.  “Those are snowy egrets,” he was saying. “And that’s a Great Blue Heron, with the long bill,” he slowed down so they could get a closer look.  “That’s an osprey, and over there are a mess of pelicans.  The brown ones are juveniles, and when they get older, they turn white,” he explained.

 

Naomi’s mouth formed an “oh” as she watched the graceful bird dive headlong into the water, and come up with a fish.

 

“We have an eagle sanctuary on the Isle of Capris,” he reported, “and if we take you boating, you can see them nesting.  Wood storks, too, ugly old things,” he shuddered.  “The storks build nests the size of small houses, almost,” he laughed.  “You can’t miss them.”  He grinned at Seven, who was gaping at the water below, where a common porpoise had just surfaced.

 

She was pointing and bouncing in her seat, like a kid.  “What was that?” she demanded.

 

Gerry nodded toward his right.  “Keep an eye out there, and it’ll come up again,” he instructed her.  Sure enough, the black arching porpoise humped out of the water again, spray flying from its blowhole.  “We see lots of those on the gulf side,” he advised her.  “They’ll come chase our boat, if we take you all out for a ride,” he promised. “We’ll take you to Keys, too, on the Atlantic side, where the water is clear and blue, and you can dive at the coral reefs.  You won’t believe how beautiful the reef life can be,” he was in his element.  “Colors like you’ve never seen anywhere else.  Yellow damsel fish, convict tangs, blue tangs, parrot fish, sheephead, puffers, skates, sand sharks, clownfish.  You name it, we’ve got it,” he guaranteed.  “Beautiful, isn’t it Starfish?” he shouted back to Kieran.

 

“Yeah, Dad,” she agreed over the whine of the engines.  “I’ve really missed it.”

 

_________________

 

Seven was on her third bowl of fruit salad, with no signs of stopping.  Kieran watched with great amusement, having never seen the Borg so ravenous.

 

“You get to eat this anytime you want?” she asked Violet through a mouthful of strawberries and pineapple.

 

“Every day.  In this heat, and with all the hard work we do, we eat a lot of fruit.  High in carbs and fructose for energy, but also filled with water.  It’s light enough that it doesn’t weigh in your stomach when you’re diving,” she explained.  “We eat a lot of salad for the same reason.”

 

Gerry helped himself to a thick slice of bread and some cheese.  “We feed our manatees mostly lettuce,” he smiled, “and they thrive on it.  They can weigh hundreds of pounds, and they maintain their weight on something humans consider diet food,” he marveled at the fact. 

 

Kieran finished her lunch, wiping at her mouth with a napkin.  “Can I get anyone else anything?” she got up to recycle her plate.

 

“I’d take some more iced tea,” Naomi smiled sweetly up at her.

 

Kieran took her glass, and stooped to kiss her.  “You look better today,” she commented.  “Any pain?” she knelt down beside the cast iron patio chair.

 

“None,” Naomi assured her.  “Maybe it’s the salt air, or the heat—I don’t know. I feel great,” she kissed Kieran’s forehead.  “Thank you so much for bringing us here.”

 

“My pleasure,” Kieran smiled.  “Seven?  Are you doing okay?” she noted the pained expression on the Borg’s face.

 

“Perfectly well, thank you,” Seven forced a smile.

 

Kieran stood up again, laying a hand on Seven’s shoulder.  “You tell me if there’s anything you need, okay Borg-Mom?” she grinned facetiously.

 

Seven rolled her eyes.  “I have already told you, you may not call me Mom,” she griped.

 

Kieran kissed the top of Seven’s head.  “Sorry.  You just bring out the worst in me,” she grinned.

 

_____________________

 

Kieran eased down into the water, inserting the rebreather device in her mouth.  It was no bigger than a deck of cards, and could recycle the air from her lungs for two hours without being recharged.  She pulled down her goggles, fixing the seal around her face, and adjusted her fins.  She flipped out of the water and dove straight down, letting the deepening cold surround her.  She loved the ocean, and here in the manatee preserve, the water was cool and clear.  She had only dove a few feet when a huge, looming mass appeared, coming up from the bottom of the sanctuary.  Bessie came face to face with her, pressing her whiskery mug right up against Kieran’s eyewear.  Kieran reminded herself not to smile and drop her rebreather, but reached her arms out wide to engulf the huge manatee in a hug.  She touched Bessie’s flippers, and they rolled over and over in the water, greeting each other.  Bessie turned over and swam beneath Kieran, pushing her to the surface with a powerful thrust of her flat fluke. 

 

Kieran surfaced with the behemoth, laughing at her.  “Hey big girl,” she scrubbed her hand over the rubbery wet balloon feel of the manatee’s back.  “Remember me?”

 

Bessie most certainly did remember her, and she seemed to beckon Kieran back to the depths of the sanctuary.  “Right behind you, Bess,” she promised, following the huge marine mammal, much less graceful than the elephantine manatee.

 

Naomi and Seven sat on the dock, dangling their feet in the water.  “I swear,” Naomi murmured, “those two are communicating,” she breathed appreciatively.

 

When Kieran finally returned to the surface, Gerry was waiting patiently.  “Hey Starfish,” he got her attention, “signal her to present her fluke, I need a blood sample.”

 

“Okay, Dad,” Kieran agreed.  She made a hand signal in front of the manatee’s face, and the animal obediently swam up to the dock and lifted her tail out of the water.

 

Gerry inserted a large syringe along the main vein, drawing out a vial of blood.

 

Seven watched with interest.  “What is that for?” she wondered.

 

“I have to check all the animals for parasites, from time to time.  We make sure they stay healthy.  One sick animal can infect the whole lot,” he explained, plugging the blood vial into a small monitoring station.  “She’s clean,” he announced.  “Thanks Starfish,” he called out to his daughter.  “Naomi, would you like to feed her?”

 

Naomi’s eyes lit right up.  “I sure would,” she nodded eagerly.

 

“Okay, slide on down into the water, and start treading.  Not too vigorously, now, or you’ll scare her away. They like you to be slow and gentle, like they are,” he advised.  “Now take this lettuce,” he handed a head of iceberg to Naomi.  “Put it under water and shake it a little to get her attention, and she’ll eat it right out of your hand,” he smiled at the red-gold haired woman.

 

Naomi’s face was enraptured as the huge creature moved in the direction of the lettuce.  “Oh my gosh, she’s doing it!” she gasped.  “Oh, it tickles,” she giggled, but held very still.  She could feel the snuffling of Bessie’s lips on her palm as she coaxed the leaves free from the head, the thick whiskers detecting the meal for the animal. 

 

“You can rub her back, if you like,” Gerry prompted her.  “She likes that a lot.”

 

Naomi continued to hold the lettuce but with her other hand, she touched the blubbery flesh of the manatee’s body.  “It feels so strange,” she murmured. “Why is she all scarred?”

 

“Boat propellers injured a lot of manatees, before the government stepped in and outlawed them.  Now all boats have to have inboard motors, to protect the wildlife, but Bessie was a victim of legislation that came too slowly,” he explained.  “But you won’t hurt her, Naomi.  She loves to be scratched,” he assured her.

 

“Seven,” Gerry grinned at his remaining guest.  “We’ll get Babar up here for you to feed.  He’s a big old boy, too,” he promised.

 

Kieran hung in the water, taking in the sight of her wife interacting with one of the most amazing creatures ever to inhabit the earth, smiling like a fool as the salty water made her buoyant.  Just then, Babar came into the area, and brushed against her legs.  “Hey, Babar,” she reached down to touch him.  “How’ve you been, you old seadog?” She dove back under to say “hi”.

 

Violet was busy doing her usual chores, checking the salinity of the water in the preserve, looking for any impurities or chemical imbalances.  Satisfied that all was well, she shook out the container and rinsed it, putting it back in the shack where they kept their supplies.

 

Gerry was busy educating their guests.  “You know, these critters were nearly extinct, in the 21st century,” he lectured.  “Boating and overpopulation had run them out of habitat.  The Florida government had to re-buy a lot of the land and plant mangroves again to make habitat for them, until they could recover their numbers.  We’ve been breeding them for as long as I can remember, haven’t we Vi?”

 

She nodded.  “There are preserves all over the world with our manatees,” she allowed herself a bit of pride.  “Every zoo with an exhibit probably had Gerry design it, and populated it from our program.”

 

Seven smiled up at the couple.  “Kieran never mentioned you were famous.  I see humility runs in your family,” she complimented them.  “It’s fascinating.  You’ve dedicated your life to saving these creatures.  The Borg dedicate theirs to destroying uniqueness.  No wonder most humans find the Borg so repugnant,” she gained a new appreciation for the matter.

 

“I imagine your story is more fascinating than anything we could tell you,” Gerry admitted.  “I’d love to hear about it, if it doesn’t upset you to talk about it,” he added hastily.

 

Seven nodded.  “It does not bother me.  I have come to terms with the terrible things I did as part of the collective.  In fact, I can live with myself because your daughter is an excellent Counselor.  She has been an incalculable help to me,” Seven said fondly.

 

Violet sat down beside the Borg.  “Really? Kieran helped you?” she was clearly surprised.

 

Seven nodded emphatically.  “She has helped my entire family, at one time or another,” she reported. 

 

“Especially me,” Naomi chimed in.

 

While Kieran was paddling around with her beloved marine life, the four people who loved her best sat and talked about her.  The Counselor would have died from embarrassment, if she had known the things they said, but Kieran’s parents were getting a lesson from Seven and Naomi to show them just how important their daughter’s career was, even if it didn’t help save the Earth, per se.

__________________

 

“Starfish,” Kieran’s dad was saying over a nightcap.  “You remember that old navy ship they sunk off the coast, right before you shipped out with Voyager?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Yeah—an artificial reef, right?”

 

“You should see it now,” he bragged.  “Unbelievable.”

 

Kieran’s interest perked right up.  “Isn’t that a deep dive?” she loved the danger of deep water.

 

“Sure is.  Think you’re up for it?” he grinned.  “I’m getting on in years, but I think I’m still up to it.”

 

“Gerry,” Violet scolded, “you’re just asking for the bends,” she smacked his arm.

 

“Nonsense,” he swatted her hand away.  “I’ve been diving fifty years, and never once had them, woman,” he grabbed her and dragged her into his lap, kissing her cheek.

 

Naomi sat in the floor, between Kieran’s legs.  “What are the bends?” she asked.

 

“It’s a problem you can get on deep sea dives,” Kieran explained.  “The nitrogen in your blood stream can make bubbles in it, if you don’t regulate your descent and ascent precisely. It comes from the rapid change in water pressure around you.  It can cripple or kill you.  But the treatments are a lot more effective than in the old days, when people routinely died from it,” she assured her wife.  “You probably know it as decompression sickness.  You studied that in school, didn’t you, in your aviation history?”


Naomi nodded.  “It sounds risky, Kieran,” she objected.  “A lot of those aviation pioneers died.  It can damage your nerves and all sorts of nasty things,” she pointed out. 

 

Kieran shook her head.  “You worry too much, honey.  Dad and I have been diving for years.  He’s an expert, and he has all the best equipment.”

 

Gerry grinned.  “It’s a hell of a reef, Starfish,” he promised her.  “We’ll do the Keys first, and then we can do the deep dive the next day.  Deal?”

 

“Gerry,” Violet protested.  “You promised Doctor Cromwell you’d help with the seedlings day after tomorrow.  Kieran should help you with that.”

 

“He’ll understand.  Hell, he’ll probably want to go, too.  Did you meet Dick Cromwell, Naomi?  He was at your wedding,” he jogged her memory.

 

“Yes, I did.  He seemed like a very nice man,” she commented.

 

“He’s in charge of the mangrove relocation and fortification project.  Mangroves saved the Florida ecosystem when the developers nearly destroyed everything,” Gerry advised.  “Dick’s people are the ones who can take credit for that,” he smiled at her.

 

“Well, if you ask me,” Naomi put in her two cents, “I’d rather you spend your day planting mangroves than getting the bends, Kieran Wildman,” she threw her head backwards to look up at her partner.

 

Kieran laughed.  “I imagine we can find time to do both, Miss Missy,” she shot back.  She gazed affectionately at her wife.  “But if you’re going to worry, sweetie, then we can work on the seedlings.”

 

“I am worried.  I don’t know, Kieran, I just have a bad feeling about it.”

 

“Well, then, that settles that.  Dad, sorry, but like I said, Naomi gets what she wants.  You and I can dive that reef anytime.”

 

He shrugged.  “Okay, Starfish.  Whatever you say.”

 

_________________

 

Kate Pulaski rubbed her eyes distractedly.  She forced herself to look through the scope one more time.  “Damn,” she muttered.

 

Kathryn Janeway sat in a flimsy jumpsuit, the equivalent of a prison uniform, as far as she was concerned, freezing her ass off and waiting for Pulaski to tell her if there was any less bacteria in her system.

 

Pulaski came back from the lab, shaking her head.  “Sorry.  No change,” she groused.  “How are you feeling?”

 

Kathryn scowled.  “Like I want to kill someone,” she said honestly.  “I’m so God damned angry, I can hardly stand it,” she began pacing again.  “Seven is off with Kieran God knows where, and I’m stuck in here in this straight jacket.”

 

“We haven’t restrained you since you were admitted,” Pulaski pointed out.

 

“I am a starship captain, God damn it,” Janeway spat.  “No one should ever have the right to restrain me.”

 

Pulaski eyed her suspiciously.  “Your wife might beg to differ,” she pointed out.

 

Kathryn whirled on the doctor.  “I never did anything she didn’t ask for,” she defended herself.

 

“Kathryn,” Pulaski sighed, “as long as you believe that, I can’t do a thing to help you,” she said piteously.

 

“I didn’t used to be this way,” Kathryn shook her head.  “I’m not a violent person, not by nature,” she denied the truth of the matter.

 

“On the contrary,” Pulaski disagreed.  “You are exactly that.  This bacteria seems to find a way to bring out the more latent parts of your true nature.  It is the one constant pattern I see.  The things your superego would ordinarily hide from you, the things your moral and social conditioning would make you control, this bacteria unleashes them.  Except in Naomi’s case, which seems to be a strictly physiological reaction, not a psychological one.”

 

Kathryn smirked.  “Don’t be so sure.  She went after Kieran, even though Kieran was technically still married,” she noted.  “That isn’t like Naomi.”

 

“Maybe,” Pulaski allowed. 

 

“Harry got depressed, Tom got hot for B’Elanna, B’Elanna got hot for everyone in sight,” Kathryn went down the list, “and Kieran became a pedophile.  Oh, and Seven fell in love with Kieran.”

 

Pulaski shook her head.  “B’Elanna didn’t just get promiscuous.  She expressed a renewed interest in men, and that was the hidden, dark secret for her.  She still desired men.”

 

Kathryn listened as carefully as she could, with her concentration fragmented as it was by the chemicals in her brain.  “I just want two things from you.  I want out of this godforsaken place, and I want you to keep my daughter from dying.”

 

“I’m working on it,” she tried to placate the angry woman.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have these gentlemen take you back to your room.  I have a conference with the doctors on Qian,” she bowed out of the room.

 

__________________

 

Naomi Wildman seemed to thrive in the Florida heat, but the threesome reluctantly concluded that if Naomi and Kieran were going to see much on their honeymoon, it was time to move on.  The three women headed back to Indiana, where Seven could settle into Naomi and Kieran’s house with Geejay.  Gretchen tried to convince Seven to stay with her, but Seven insisted on taking care of the smaller farmhouse for her daughter while the newlyweds traveled.   Naomi was so tired out from the trip to Naples, she begged Kieran to stay in Indiana a couple of days so she could rest.

 

While Naomi was sleeping their first night back, Kieran crept down to the porch, watching the deer wandering the fields of crops in the evening, and crying silently to herself at the anticipated loss of her wife.  She hid her sorrow around Naomi as best she could, but the impending sense of doom was taking a serious toll on her mindset. 

 

Naomi was showing the signs of aging, and on their second day in Indiana, she awakened Kieran by screaming in the bathroom.  Kieran shot out of bed, thinking Naomi needed to be medicated for pain, but found her wife standing in front of the bathroom mirror, appalled at her own appearance.  Her hair had developed streaks of gray overnight, her face showing noticeable lines around her mouth and eyes.  Kieran wordlessly took Naomi into her arms, telling her repeatedly how beautiful she was, taking her immediately to bed to make love to her, spending hours gazing at her face.

 

Kieran truly believed everything she said to Naomi, for the truth of the matter was, for Kieran Wildman, nothing could ever mar Naomi’s beauty.  Kieran wished more than anything that Sieken could join them again, so that Naomi would know beyond a doubt that for Kieran, Naomi would be eternally lovely and perfect.  But Qian was thousands of light years away, and Naomi was changing daily.

 

They visited San Diego, where there was a world famous animal park, they flew through the Grand Canyon, they went whale watching in Cape Cod, and they returned to Indiana, where Naomi insisted on being every couple of weeks, so that she could see Seven and Geejay.  As it had been on Voyager, Naomi had good days and bad days, and days when she had to stay constantly medicated to endure the pain of her body’s assault on itself.

 

 

 

Kieran sat on Gretchen Janeway’s porch, sipping a cold beer, while Naomi and Seven made dinner.  Gretchen sat beside her granddaughter-in-law, studying the worry lines in her forehead.

 

“Kieran, you look like hell,” she said flatly.

 

Kieran toasted the sentiment, a morose expression on her face.  “How am I supposed to look, Gretchen?  My wife is dying,” she scowled.  “Kate told us two years.  It’s looking more likely to me that she won’t last 'til Christmas, at this rate,” she said thickly.

 

Gretchen rested her hand on Kieran’s thigh.  “I see it, too.  And all things considered, you’re handling it amazingly well.  Naomi is happy and although she seems to be physically hurting today, her spirits are good.  You’re the reason,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran bit her lip, fighting tears.  “I’ve been through this once before, you know,” she admitted.  “She died once before.  She crossed over to the other side, talked to my sister and her biological mother.  I was with her through months and months of illness, and weeks of her trying to pass on.  I never thought I’d be doing it again,” she grimaced, slugging back a healthy swallow.

 

“Naomi told me about that experience.  She also told me Samantha told her if she came back here, she’d have a remission, but it wouldn’t be permanent.  It would be long enough for Naomi to resolve some of the more pressing issues she had.  I think Samantha meant Naomi’s relationship with you, and getting home.”

 

“I’d forgotten that,” Kieran sighed.  “I guess I heard what I wanted to hear, which was remission.  Honestly, she was so healthy after that, I thought she was cured,” she groused.  “When we were on Qian, Naomi was just—radiant, all the time.  She had such energy and such enthusiasm.  I’ve never seen a woman more beautiful than she was then.”

 

“Are you sorry now that you didn’t turn her away, like Kathryn wanted?” Gretchen asked softly, sipping her own beer.

 

“God, no,” Kieran replied immediately.  “I wouldn’t change anything, save the relapse in her condition,” Kieran insisted.  “I love her, Gretchen.  I wouldn’t trade the last year.  I just wish I were stronger for her.  I wish I could stop thinking about losing her,” her eyes misted again.  “And I know this time, I have to be better.”

 

“Better?” Gretchen asked softly.

 

“When she was dying the last time,” Kieran hung her head, ashamed, “she asked my permission to die.  She asked me to tell her it was okay to go,” she explained.  “And I was too weak,” she hid her face in her free hand, suppressing tears.  “I wouldn’t tell her it was okay to go.  I made her keep fighting, when she was so spent, and in so much pain, because I was a selfish asshole, and I couldn’t bear my own loss,” she squeezed the bridge of her nose roughly to stop herself from crying.  “This time, I can’t put her through that.  It was cruel.  And she never once mentioned it to me again, never faulted me for it, never held it against me.  God, I don’t deserve a love like hers,” she heaved herself off the swing, angry at herself, storming down the path to the orchard.  “No mercy, KT,” she muttered to herself.  “You wipe that sick fucking look off your face,” she told herself.

 

Gretchen watched her churning along the grass, heart aching.  There were no words of comfort she could provide, no wise insights.  Edward had died so suddenly, unexpectedly, and there was no suffering involved.  All in all, Gretchen felt the hand she had been dealt was infinitely easier to play than Kieran’s.  Kieran walked as fast as her legs would carry her, and she disappeared in the gathering darkness.  Gretchen finished her beer, watching the stars come out.

 

“Gran?” Naomi slipped out into the night air.  “Dinner’s ready.  Where’s Kieran?”

 

“Wrestling the devil,” Gretchen replied enigmatically, reaching for her granddaughter and pulling her onto the swing.

 

Naomi leaned against Gretchen’s shoulder, sinking into her embrace.  “She’s taking it so hard,” she murmured.  “I hate putting her through it.  Sometimes, I think, I should send her away so she doesn’t have to watch this happen to me again,” she sighed.

 

“Honey, she’d never hear it for a second.  She thinks the sun rises and sets at your feet.  I’m surprised she ever sleeps at all, for fear you might smile and she’d miss it,” Gretchen hugged her tightly.

 

“She doesn’t sleep much, Gran, I know it.  I can’t help it—I have to, because I get so run down if I don’t, but I think she wanders off in the night to cry herself sick.  I’ve found her missing more than once,” she admitted.  “No telling when she’ll be back, either, so we might as well not wait for her,” she groaned as she heaved herself off the porch swing.

 

“No,” Gretchen told her granddaughter firmly, “you go find her.  This is something she shouldn’t have to bear alone, and you have to help her with it.  She’s drowning, Naomi.  Marriage is a two-way street, and you have to be as strong for her as she’s being for you.  Be her life preserver.  Go tell her she’s allowed to be human.”

 

Naomi hesitated.  “Should I?  I don’t know how to begin to comfort her, Gran.”

 

“Maybe you don’t comfort her.  But you definitely don’t keep trying to hide your grief from each other.  Share it.  It will seem less overwhelming if you do,” she counseled.  “Seven and I will hold dinner.”

 

“No, go ahead without us.  Please, Gran.  Just save us enough for a meal when we get back,” she decided.

 

Naomi walked out into the darkening orchard, glancing around the thick apple trees for a glimpse of her wife.  “Kieran?” she called out.  “Are you out here?”

 

The moon was coming up on the horizon, looming large in the sky, full and almost golden.  Naomi gasped at the sight, murmuring “Oh, it’s so pretty.”

 

“Not half as pretty as you, honey,” Kieran dropped out of an apple tree, landing a few feet from her wife.

 

Naomi shrieked, startled.  “Jesus Kieran,” she bitched, moving to shake her wife.  “You scared the piss out of me.”

 

Kieran grinned at her.  “Sorry.  I couldn’t resist,” she admitted. 

 

“Dinner is ready, if you’re starving,” she offered, taking Kieran’s hand.  “Or we can wait.”

 

“Let’s go down to the pond and watch the moonrise,” Kieran gathered her into a warm embrace.  “I feel like being tediously romantic,” she nuzzled Naomi’s cheek.

 

“I think you feel more like brooding over how sick I am,” Naomi slid her hands up Kieran’s chest, peering into her deep brown eyes.  “Why are you hiding from me again, KT?  Do you think I don’t know how angry you are, or that I don’t notice you disappear in the middle of the night because you don’t want me to see you crying?”

 

Kieran sighed, leaning her forehead against Naomi’s.  “I’m sorry, Na.  I’m just getting really scared, now.”

 

Naomi laced her fingers in Kieran’s, pulling her down the path toward the pond.  “Talk to me then, my beloved.  I need to hear what you’re feeling,” she encouraged her partner.  “You’re scared because I’m starting to look older?”

 

“Yes.  I guess it’s hard to be in denial, if I look at you and see the cumulative aging process, and I notice a difference almost every day,” she admitted.  “And I remember how weak I was the last time you got sick,” she hung her head.

 

“Weak?  Kieran, you’ve got to be kidding me.  My own mothers couldn’t stand to watch me dying, and you never left me for a second,” she gazed lovingly up at the taller woman.  “I still haven’t figured out how you went to the ensuite,” she joked.  “You bathed me, you carried me to the toilet, you fed me like an infant—how in God’s name can you ever say you were weak?  Honey, you did everything but personally carry me to heaven,” she protested.

 

“I wouldn’t give you permission to die,” Kieran said gruffly.  “I was too attached to you to let you have peace.”

 

“Baby,” Naomi stopped along the path to hold her.  “That was not weak.  God, it was honest.  You loved me.  You didn’t want me to leave you behind.  I understood that.”

 

Kieran rested her head on Naomi’s shoulder.  “You didn’t think it was the most selfish thing ever?”

 

“Human, yes.  Selfish, no.  Kieran, if that’s what you’re worried about, believe me when I tell you that this time, I’m fighting to the bitter end.  If death wants me, it’s going to have to take me kicking and screaming.  I won’t ask you to let me go, I promise,” she lifted her face to her wife’s, kissing her tenderly.

 

“Na,” Kieran’s voice was strangled with grief.  “I need you so much,” she sobbed, losing control of herself completely.  “Cassidy told me I would have more kids, and I was so sure it was going to be with you,” she shook from the realization that her sister’s prediction had either been wrong, or was for some future partner she would have.

 

Naomi held her gently, letting her cry herself out.  When she quieted, the Ktarian touched her face, gazing meaningfully into her eyes.  “Everything Samantha and Cassidy told us has come true, so far.  I have every faith that you will have more kids, and that means there’s someone else in your future.  Or else, Kate Pulaski is going to solve this thing,” Naomi held out faint hope.  “But like you, I think her time table was wrong.  I’m not going to make it another two years, and we both know that.  So if she’s going to figure it out, it better be soon.  Too much longer, and it won’t matter anyway, because I’ll be so much older than you, I won’t be able to have kids, or keep up with them if you give birth.”  Naomi sighed.  “If it’s any consolation, it doesn’t do my heart any good at all to think you’re going to be starting over with someone else.  I’m just petty enough to feel jealous about that, even if it probably will be with Seven,” she snuggled into Kieran’s shoulder.

 

Kieran’s eyes flew open wide.  “Seven?  And me?” she was shocked.

 

Naomi twined her arms around Kieran’s neck.  “Honey, I’m not stupid, and I know my mother.  And I think you’d be good with her.  You took the liberty of pushing B'Elanna in Noah’s direction when your marriage ended.  If I die, please, make my mother happy.  She loves you, you know.  And I don’t think her relationship with Kathryn will ever be salvaged, after all they’ve been through.  Seven makes the most gorgeous babies, too.  Geejay is going to be even more stunning than her Borgness, don’t you think?”

 

“I think this conversation it too fucking weird for words, Wildwoman.  Whatever Seven feels for me is probably just a by-product of this stupid bacteria.  So while we’re doing weird, I went to the ensuite when I took you,” she explained.

 

Naomi grinned.  “Well now, that was efficient of you,” she laughed.  “God, I love you, Kieran Wildman.  Thank you for facing this illness with me every day.  I know it’s killing you, but you see, honey, I’m the selfish one.  I’m keeping you in this relationship, even though the kinder thing would be to let you go.”

 

“You’d have to make me,” Kieran contended.  “I said 'til death do us part, and I meant it.”

Naomi took perverse pleasure in teasing her wife.  “So if Kate finds the cure, but I’ve already hit my eighties by then, are you going to stick around and boink an old prune?”

 

Kieran howled with laughter.  “Honey, if you still remember how to boink at eighty, I’ll be right there with you,” she tickled Naomi’s ribs playfully.

 

Naomi kissed her, giggling.  “Let’s boink in the pond right now,” she waggled her eyebrows.

 

Early July brought nighttime temperatures in the 80’s, and the pond stayed warm well into the morning hours. 

 

Kieran tangled her fingers in Naomi’s hair, kissing her deeply.  “If that’s what you want, baby,” she breathed warmly in her lover’s ear, reaching for the buttons on her blouse, “I’m always up for skinny dipping.”

 

“Even though you know Captain Picard did Beverly Crusher right here on our wedding day?” Naomi slid her hands up the back of Kieran’s t-shirt, unclasping her bra.

 

“I like red heads,” Kieran enthused.  “That’s just added incentive, if you ask me,” she teased, pulling Naomi’s shirt off.

 

They undressed each other slowly, kissing and caressing and fondling, exciting themselves with the process to the point that they were already on the verge.

 

“We don’t do this enough,” Naomi advised her wife.  “We should do it every day, while we still can,” she groaned as Kieran’s mouth enveloped her sex.  “God, KT, how are you even able to—you’re so tall—” she puzzled over how her wife could have her face between Naomi’s legs, as long bodied as she was.

 

Kieran smiled against her labia, nuzzling them.  “I have mud up my ass, for starters,” she laughed, stretching out beneath her wife’s legs, leaning back on her arms.  “But it feels pretty interesting,” she joked.

 

Naomi started to laugh, and couldn’t focus on Kieran’s lovemaking for giggling.  “You wise-ass,” she accused.  “Talk about ruining a moment,” she bitched.

 

“That’s mud-ass, I said,” Kieran corrected her.  “Not wise-ass.”

 

Naomi grabbed Kieran by the hair, tugging her head back.  “Are you going to make jokes, or are you going to fuck me, Commander?”

 

“Oooh, I love it when you get foul-mouthed and bossy, all at the same time,” she smarted, burying her face in Naomi’s folds again.

 

Naomi was laughing too hard to respond sexually.  She pushed Kieran away, dropping to the ground.  “Let’s just mud wrestle,” she offered, pushing her wife down on the soggy ground, kissing her.

 

Kieran smiled wickedly, flipping Naomi over onto her back.  “Your turn for the mud enema,” she lay on top of her, pressing her into the sludge.

 

Naomi squealed as the slick slime oozed between her legs.  “You weren’t kidding.  We’ll never get clean, after this,” she grabbed her wife and kissed her fiercely, smearing a thick handful of muck on her chest. 

 

“If you tell me this is one of your fantasies,” Kieran watched Naomi’s fingers making mud streaks on her breasts, “I’m filing for divorce, Na.”

 

“My fantasies are never this dirty,” she waggled her eyebrows at her own pun.

 

“Oh, that hurt,” Kieran complained.  “Another bad one like that and I’m dumping your hot little ass in the pond.”

 

“You think my ass is hot?  Even though I’m middle-aged now?” Naomi asked more seriously.

 

Kieran kissed her intently.  “I think you’re the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen.  And your ass is exquisite,” she said sincerely.  “I stare at it all the time.  Nobody has ever affected me like you do.  You can make me all hot and bothered with just a smile, or a word, or a touch.”

 

“I like the sound of that.  Let’s see how hot and bothered we can get you,” she rolled away from her wife, tugging her upright.  “You, me, the pond, right now,” she growled.

 

Kieran took her hand, leading her to the water’s edge. She was all seriousness, the silliness spent for the time being.  “Thank you for coming to find me.  I really needed to talk to you, love.”

 

“Yeah?  Well, I really need to connect with you on a primal level,” she admitted, walking into the lukewarm water, pulling Kieran along with her.  “I need you to talk to me, in as primitive a way as you’re capable of.”

 

Kieran kissed her deeply.  “How about if I limit it to grunts and groans?” she shivered as the mud rinsed free of her nether regions.

 

“An occasional ‘oh God’ is okay, too,” Naomi decided. 

 

__________________

 

Gretchen Janeway and Seven of Nine sat on the porch swing, waiting for Naomi and Kieran to come back to the house.

 

They talked quietly, Geejay snoring in Gretchen’s arms.  A disembodied voice wafted through the pitch blackness.

 

“Seven?” Naomi said softly.  “Kieran and I had a little—um—mud fight,” she reported.  “Could you bring us a couple of towels?”

 

Seven grinned.  “You mean you got naked at the pond, and your clothing was too ruined to be serviceable,” she scolded.

 

“That, too,” Naomi admitted.  “We’d prefer not to shock you both by waltzing naked across the lawn,” she said apologetically.

 

Seven laughed.  “I’ll be right back,” she agreed.  She returned momentarily with a stack of towels, wandering into the side yard.  “Where are you, Naomi?” she demanded.

 

“Behind the oak tree,” Naomi said sheepishly.

 

Seven handed her the towels and rejoined Gretchen on the swing.  The newlyweds emerged directly, toting a heap of mud stained clothes and shoes.  “We’re just going to recycle these,” Naomi walked gingerly across the porch, Kieran following behind her, blushing and not speaking.

 

“Lord, that pond sees more action than a ten dollar whore,” Gretchen said to Seven.

 

Kieran overheard her and cracked up laughing, grabbing Naomi and pulling her onto the couch.  She repeated what Gretchen had said, and they both howled with laughter, rolling around on the couch in just their towels.  

 

“I’ll go run the clothes through,” Kieran kissed Naomi, still chuckling.

 

“I’ll go reheat dinner,” Naomi offered, heading back for the kitchen. 

 

They ate in their towels, not really caring if they got teased, since the damage was already done.  Renewed in their love, they fed each other from one plate, all sadness and grimness forgotten for the moment. 

 

“I think we should go to Egypt, next,” Naomi decided.  “Then if you don’t think it’s totally stupid, I’d like to take the Starfleet Academy entrance exams, just to see how I would’ve done, if I had the chance to actually go to school.”

 

“The exams are the third week of this month?” Kieran clarified.

 

“Yeah.  I already paid the fee.  I’d like to see K-Mom, while we’re at the Academy, too,” she said softly.  “Can you handle it?”

 

“For you, yes, my love,” she agreed.  “But only because you’re asking.”

 

“How bad was it, Kieran?  How badly did she hurt Seven?” she whispered, making sure Seven couldn’t hear.

 

Kieran grimaced.  “You don’t want to know, Na.  You remember the mark B'Elanna left on me, that night you took me to sickbay?”

 

Naomi nodded, taking a bite of potatoes from Kieran’s fork. 

 

“Imagine that about one hundred times,” Kieran advised.  “I’m pretty sure Kathryn tried to tear Seven’s abdominal implant right out of her body,” she shuddered, remembering the blood.  “But honey, I want you to be prepared for the worst.  Kathryn wasn’t in her right mind, that night, and she was saying horrid things.”

 

Naomi fed Kieran a garlic stuffed olive, knowing those were her favorites.  “Such as?”

 

Kieran sighed.  “She accused Seven and I of having an affair.  She’s convinced we were meeting in the cargo bay, after Qian.  She threatened to tell you that’s what we’d been doing, in fact,” she chewed the tangy morsel slowly.  “Poor Seven,” she breathed.   “I just want you to understand, she might be acting crazy when you see her.”

 

“Okay,” Naomi swallowed.  “We’ll leave for Egypt tomorrow.  Then we’ll do Starfleet.  Then how about if we go back to see your folks?”

Kieran smiled, leaning across the table to kiss her.  “They’d like that.  Thanks.  I know they can be a pain in the ass.”

 

“Actually,” Naomi admitted, “I want to go because I want you to dive that reef with your Dad.  I feel bad that I made you skip it, because I was being paranoid.  I know you really wanted to go, and I held you back,” she touched Kieran’s hand.

 

“You’re the best,” she twined her fingers with Naomi’s, watching their wedding rings slide together.  “Do you want to invite Seven to go back to Florida?  I think she loved it there.”

 

“Depends,” Naomi waggled her eyebrows.  “Are you going to sneak off to some cargo bay with her?”

 

Kieran didn’t think it was funny.  “Naomi,” she said sincerely, “as long as you’re alive, I’ll never touch another woman or man,” she said sincerely.  “Except myself,” she added, winking.

 

“Now that’s one of my fantasies,” Naomi leaned her chin in her hand.  “No mud involved, whatsoever.”

 

Kieran shook her head.  “To watch me do myself?”

 

Naomi nodded vigorously.  “Is that totally twisted?”

 

“Actually,” Kieran shivered, picturing Naomi touching herself, “I’d like to watch you, too,” she decided.  She quirked an eyebrow.  “I might learn a better technique.”

 

 

__________________

 

Naomi and Kieran went from Egypt to Starfleet Academy, got a room at the Intergalactic Suites, and found the testing site where Naomi would sit for her exams.  They ran into Icheb, who was also there to test, and the three companions had lunch together before going their separate ways.  B'Elanna and Noah had settled into a house in San Francisco, so that B'Elanna could work with Dr. Pulaski’s clinical trials.  She had also applied to Lawrence Livermore Labs, hoping to land a job for the fall.  Noah was happy to take leave, and raise Katie while B'Elanna pursued a new career.  Naomi and Kieran went to their house for dinner their first night in town, got the report on Kathryn, who was not any better, and spent a quiet evening with their friends.

 

The next morning, Naomi tested while Kieran looked up Robin Lefler.  She wasn’t sure why she wanted to see her ex-lover, but she felt like startling the hell out of her by showing up at her office. She checked the workstation in the lobby of the counseling center, determined that Robin had no morning appointments, which wasn’t unusual for summer term, and took the turbo lift up to the fourth floor.  She realized she was nervous, expectant, maybe even frightened.  Robin had been invited to Kieran and Naomi’s wedding, but she hadn’t come for whatever reason.

 

Kieran checked her appearance in the reflective glass of the lobby, making sure her shirt was tucked into her khaki pants, her belt was buckled, and her fly was zipped.  She shrugged at her reflection, thinking it was as good as she ever looked.  She made her way down the hall, and found Robin’s office door standing open.  Robin Lefler sat behind her desk, perusing a data PADD, her crystal blue eyes half-lidded because her coffee hadn’t kicked in yet.  She still wore her hair shoulder length, and Kieran was certain she had not aged one iota since Enterprise.

 

Kieran stood there, studying her ex-fiancée’s features.  “God, you haven’t changed one bit, Robbie,” she finally said softly.

 

Robin looked up from her work, smiled ear to ear, and leapt out of her chair.  “Oh my God,” she came around her desk and grabbed the taller woman in a fierce hug.  “Look at you!  What brings you to town?” she laughed, holding Kieran at arm’s length, looking her up and down.  “I haven’t changed?  You look exactly the same—gorgeous as ever,” she grinned.  “Come sit down,” she pulled the tall commander over to her psychiatric couch.  “Can I get you some coffee?”

 

“I’d kill for some,” Kieran agreed.  She held up her hands.  “But don’t psychoanalyze that statement,” she laughed.  “Jesus, Robbie, could you be any prettier?” she breathed.  “I’d forgotten,” she smiled, accepting the cup from her old friend.  “Why the hell didn’t you come to my wedding?” Kieran demanded.

 

Robin laughed liltingly.  “I didn’t want to have to stand up and object, when the preacher got to that part,” she teased.  “Actually,” she said seriously, “I thought it was inappropriate to see you in that context, after so long.  I wanted you to be the one who decided if we’d be in touch.  I know your mother-in-law sent the invitations—Wesley told me.  He also told me your wife is deadly pretty,” she admitted.  “I was afraid I’d be jealous.”  She sipped her coffee thoughtfully.  “He says Naomi has been very sick.  How is she doing?”

 

Kieran shrugged.  “Pulaski is her doctor.  Kate is calling it a terminal illness, so I guess that’s about as bad as it gets,” she admitted.  “We’re here so Na can take the Academy exams.  She wanted to find out how she would have placed, if she could have actually applied.”

 

“She could still apply,” Robin stated emphatically. 

 

“No,” Kieran argued.  “Pulaski told us—if we’re lucky, she might live a couple of years.  But I’ve watched her deteriorating, Robbie, and I can tell you, she won’t live to see our first anniversary,” she said softly.

 

“God, KT, I’m sorry,” she took Kieran’s hand.

 

“Thanks.  But tell me about you.  How in hell did you—the woman who wasn’t going to be married to any stinking starship shrink—end up becoming one?” she laughed.

 

“Long, long story,” Robin held up her hand.  “Let’s just say after my marriage to Mike Kirk tanked, I did some soul searching,” she chuckled. 

 

“Wesley says you’ve never remarried,” Kieran noted.

 

“Never found anyone I liked as much as you,” she flirted.  “I’m still looking,” she advised.  “Wes told me you have a daughter,” she nudged her ex-lover.

 

“I do.  She’s barely four.  Cute as hell, too.  But she lives with my ex.”

 

“How does that work out?” Robin sounded like a counselor.

 

“Good.  We’re on really good terms, B'Elanna and I.  In fact, her current boyfriend is one of my best friends.  He and Wesley stood up with me at the wedding.”

 

“Not Deanna Troi?” Robin teased.

 

“No, but she and Will Riker were there.  They’re married, now,” she noted.  “I didn’t intend to come monopolize your morning, either, Robbie, but I figured I’m here, and I just had to say hi.”

 

“I have nothing on my agenda, KT.  Have you had breakfast?” she asked hopefully.

 

Kieran had, in fact, eaten with Naomi two hours before.  “I can always eat.  Can you skip out and go get some?”

 

“That’d be great.  Let me log myself out,” she went to her work station.

 

_________________

 

Kieran was pleased to affirm to herself that she and Robin Lefler had actually been friends, all those years ago, and not just two Ensigns burning up the sheets.  It felt good to catch up on gossip and Robin was eager to hear all about the Voyager years.  They parted company well after lunchtime had come and gone, promising to get together again soon.  Kieran didn’t know if they would ever bother, but it was fun to think about, all the same.

 

Naomi’s tests were over at two, and Kieran waited outside the building for her.  She came out looking a bit worn, but smiling. 

 

“How did you do?” Kieran kissed her hello.

 

“The automated proctor says I tested out of two years,” she reported proudly.  “Now I really wish I could go,” she sighed wistfully.  “But at least I know I was actually cadet material,” she slipped her hand in Kieran’s. 

 

“I knew you were, honey.  Congratulations on such high marks,” she praised her wife.  “You look wonderful, today, Na.  I think Egypt did great things for you.”

 

Naomi smiled gratefully at her wife.  “What did you do all day?”

 

“Pestered Robin Lefler,” Kieran admitted.  “It was nice to catch up with her again.”

 

Naomi eyed her wife warily.  “Okay.  How is she?”

 

Kieran dutifully refrained from pointing out that Robin was still drop-dead gorgeous.  “She seemed very happy with her new life, and like a completely different person.”

 

“Good,” Naomi wasn’t sure what the proper response was.  “Are you ready to brave my mother?”

 

Kieran squeezed her fingers.  “Ready as I’ll ever be, Na.”

 

__________________

 

Kieran felt like she had stepped through a spatial rift and into the parallel world where she had killed Kathryn Janeway.  Watching Kathryn pacing, raging to herself, swearing and stopping occasionally to pound her fist into the wall, screaming, Kieran couldn’t tell much difference between the two Janeways.

 

Naomi’s eyes were wide with fear, watching through the mirrored observation window.  “Jesus Christ,” she murmured, “she’s a lunatic,” her voice quavered.

 

Kieran stepped up behind her, wrapping her in supportive arms.   “I was afraid of this, Na,” Kieran advised her.  “Do you want to go, or do you want to try to talk to her?”

 

“I don’t know,” Naomi said faintly.  “Will she even realize I’m here?”

 

“I think, even people in the throes of extreme mental illness, have some fleeting awareness of what’s going on around them.  If you have something to say to her, you should say it,” Kieran counseled.

 

Naomi nodded, keying the controls.  The mirrored window went from unidirectional visibility to a clear surface.  She opened a comm channel.  “Mom?” she said softly.  “K-Mom?”

 

Kathryn whirled toward her daughter’s voice.  “Naomi?” she gazed through the partition with a haunted expression.  “Honey,” she hid her face in her hands.  “I don’t want you to see me like this,” she choked out the words.  “Kieran, get her out of here,” she begged.

 

“Please, Mom,” Naomi touched the glass.  “I love you.  I came to spend some time with you, that’s all.  Don’t be ashamed.  This bacteria, it’s changing me too.  Look at me,” she implored, holding out her hands.

 

“My God,” Kathryn breathed, lucid for the moment.  “Your hair is turning gray,” she realized.  “You look older than I do,” her face started to work as if she would burst into tears.  “Naomi, I’m so sorry,” she apologized.  “I got us stuck in that God forsaken place, and now you’re going to die, and it’s all my fault,” she sat down in the middle of the floor, knees drawn to her chest, rocking herself.

 

“Can I come in there with you, Mom?” Naomi asked gently.  “I want to hold you,” her voice thickened.

 

“Naomi,” Kieran said in a low, warning tone.  “You can’t.  It’s not safe.”

 

Kathryn let out a blood curdling scream and threw herself against the glass, trying to get her hands on Kieran.  “You took my wife away from me, and now my daughter,” she shouted, eyes blazing with fury.  “You didn’t even have the decency to kill me, like you did that other Janeway,” she shrieked.  “You should have when you had the chance!” she hollered, face beet red, all the veins sticking out on her throat.  “I bet she didn’t tell you that, did she Naomi?  She’s a murderer,” Kathryn started to pace.  “She killed that Janeway.  That’s why she was so fucked up when she came back through the spatial rift.  She shot her—put her out of her misery.  She’d like to kill me, too.  She told me she would, if I ever hit Seven again,” Kathryn babbled.  “Your wife wants to kill me, Naomi.  And she’s sleeping with Seven.”

 

Naomi shook her head.  “K-Mom, none of that is true.  Kieran and Seven have never been lovers.  Kieran never killed anyone.  And she certainly hasn’t taken me away from you.  Your brain is playing tricks on you.”

 

Kathryn pressed her angry face against the glass.  “You never told her the truth, did you?” she demanded of Kieran.  “The great, wise Counselor, bastion of honesty, advocate of self-revelation.  You never told her you killed that other Janeway,” she accused.  “What else haven’t you told her, Kato?  Nothing about the romps in the Cargo Bay with a certain Borg, I’m sure,” she sneered.

 

“Okay, I’ve had enough,” Naomi keyed the screen and it became opaque.  “I tried.  Let’s go,” she took Kieran’s hand and led her out of the mental ward.

“Are you okay, honey?” Kieran squeezed Naomi’s fingers in her own, following her out of the building.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine.  God, she’s a mess,” she breathed.  “I’ve never seen anyone who was delusional before,” she realized.  She laughed abrasively.  “As if you and Seven would hork in the Cargo Bay,” she muttered.

 

Kieran smiled.  “The only sex going on in the Cargo Bay was the sex I had with you, while we were waiting for our quarters to be built,” she assured her wife.

 

Naomi smiled faintly.  “That cot was the most uncomfortable thing.  But we had some great times on it,” she admitted.  “What was all that nonsense about some other Janeway you killed?” Naomi snorted.  “I mean, with the delusions about Seven, at least there’s some basis for her to remotely think that,” she pointed out.

 

Kieran spotted a cement bench on the path, and led Naomi over to it.  “Sit with me, a minute, sweetie,” Kieran tugged her down on the bench.  “That’s not a delusion, Naomi.  I never told you, because frankly, it just never came up.  When I was spatially displaced, there was a dimension I went to—the last one, I think,” she struggled to retrieve the memories.  “That Voyager was in horrible shape.  Chakotay had engineered a mutiny to overthrow Janeway, and that Kieran Thompson sided with him.”

 

“Wait—that’s the dimension where I was killed, right?  In the mutiny?” Naomi recalled what little Kieran had told her about it.

 

“Right.  Seven was killed, as well, and that Janeway had been in the brig for over two years when I arrived.  She was a full blown schizophrenic, ten times worse than your mother is right now,” Kieran explained.  “When I left that dimension, I couldn’t take her with me, though I wanted to.  You probably understand it better than I do, but if I had brought her back with me, to our Voyager, it would have killed us all.”

 

“Mutual annihilation principle,” Naomi stated.  “Your options were to leave her there, or annihilate both worlds.”

 

“That’s right,” Kieran nodded.  “She begged me to put her out of her misery.  She refused treatment, because apparently, madness was preferable to reality,” she recalled.

 

“I can understand that—my hallucinations were preferable to a reality without you in it,” she smiled at her wife.

 

“Understand, Naomi—that Janeway was so far gone, and she was suffering so much.  I watched Cassidy die such a horrible death, and ever since then, I’ve always believed that if someone wants to die, they should have the choice.  That Janeway wanted to die.”

 

Naomi hugged Kieran briefly.  “I know you went through hell when Cassidy was sick,” she said sympathetically.

 

Kieran sighed.  “So having determined there was no other solution, and not being able to stand seeing Kathryn suffering so much, I lied to Chakotay, told him our dimension had a better grasp on countering the mutual annihilation principle, and I took Kathryn with me.  The Doctor gave her thoraprovaline, so that she would be free of the schizophrenia symptoms long enough for me to be sure she understood she was choosing to die, and doing so consciously.  And I killed her in the spatial corridor and beamed her into space.”

 

“Why did you kill her, instead of letting her kill herself?” Naomi wondered.

 

“I was too afraid to give her the phaser.  I was afraid she’d kill me.  After all, I’d spent days watching her raging and ranting and she’d threatened me more than once.  I couldn’t risk it.”

 

“And that’s why when you came back to us, you were such an emotional wreck,” Naomi stated.  “You couldn’t forgive yourself,” she realized.  “I thought it was just spatial psychosis,” she said softly.

 

Kieran hung her head.  “I wish that’s all it had been,” she admitted.  “That’s why Seven was so important to me, to my recovery—if anyone understands what it’s like to have to live with yourself after you’ve done unspeakable things, it’s a former Borg,” she said ruefully.  “And of course, I didn’t tell you because you were just a kid—in fact, I don’t think I even told B'Elanna.  Only your Moms know.  And we kept it out of the logs, to protect me.  Kathryn seemed to think that if it ever got out, Starfleet would chalk it up to spatial psychosis, but we didn’t want to take any chances.  So there it is, Na,” she exhaled tiredly.  “I’m a cold-blooded killer.”

 

Naomi processed the information, mulling it over.  “Knowing my mother as well as I do, I can’t imagine how she could survive being locked up for two solid years.  Or how she could mentally cope with losing her command.”

 

Kieran nodded.  “And I had betrayed her, much worse than I did with your mother in this dimension.  I helped Chakotay and B'Elanna mount a mutiny.  And it got Seven and you killed.  That Kieran Thompson was suicidal in her logs, she was so fraught with guilt and regret.  The really sick thing is that she was married to B'Elanna, and B'Elanna told her if she didn’t join the mutineers, she’d leave her.  After Kieran did exactly what B'Elanna asked, B'Elanna left her anyway.  She took up with Chakotay, and they had a kid together.”

 

Naomi studied her patiently.  “Do you realize what you just said?”

 

Kieran shook her head. 

 

“When you were just telling me about it—you lapsed into saying ‘I’ – you said ‘I had betrayed her’ and ‘I helped Chakotay’.  Even now, Kieran, it’s like those events are so jumbled in your head, you’re not sure if it was you who did those things, or some other Kieran,” she pointed out. “And you’re not psychotic now.  I can’t imagine the state of mind you must have been in, shuffled between worlds and fighting psychosis, and confused over your identity.  Yet you still haven’t forgiven yourself,” she wrapped her arm around her wife’s waist.  “You still think of yourself as a murderer.  But I don’t see what you did as being any different than disconnecting my mother from life support.”

 

Kieran’s dark brown eyes were pained as they met Naomi’s lovely hazel eyes, yearning for absolution.  “You don’t?”

 

Naomi touched her face tenderly.  “No, my beloved, I don’t,” she leaned closer and kissed Kieran soundly.

 

“And you still love me?” Kieran sounded so small.

 

“Always, and Only You,” Naomi assured her. 

 

Kieran hugged her tightly, breathing the wonderful scent of her body.  “I don’t deserve you, Naomi.  But I’m so grateful that I have you,” she murmured, nuzzling her throat.  “Are you okay? I know seeing Kathryn had to shake you up,” she cradled Naomi’s silvering strawberry blonde tresses in her palm, cherishing the feeling of her closeness.

 

“I’m okay.  But I’d really like to go back to the hotel and connect with you,” she admitted.  “I need to feel us solidly together,” she said softly.  “You ground me, Kieran.  Our love grounds me.  Sometimes, when the world is too much, I have to surround myself with us, just like on Qian.”

 

“Oh, my love,” Kieran felt the tenderness welling in her chest.  “I need that, just as much as you do.  I love you so, Naomi,” she vowed, holding tightly to her.  “Let’s go,” she stood from the bench, taking Naomi with her, never letting go for an instant.

 

__________________

 

Alecia Curtis drew Kieran Wildman into a firm hug, welcoming her to their quarters.  “You look like you’re holding up, in spite of everything, Counselor,” she smiled warmly at Kieran.  “The wedding was lovely.”

 

Kieran hugged her back.  “I’m glad you and Jonah and the kids could make it.  It meant a lot to Naomi to have Tessie there.  How are the kids adjusting to life on Earth?”

 

Alecia led her inside, offering her a seat.  “I think as well as we are,” she laughed.  “Tessie loves the school she’s in, and Jamari—well, he’s an adolescent boy, so you can imagine.”

 

“That bad?” Kieran grinned.

 

“With everything you’ve had on your plate,” Alecia added, “we didn’t really expect you to have time to accompany him for his intake session at Starfleet.”

 

Kieran’s face sobered.  “Alecia, of course I’m going to be here.  This is a critical step for his recovery, and I love him.  Just because the mission is over doesn’t mean my obligation is fulfilled.  If he’s having a rough time, I expect to hear about it.  Understood?”

 

Protocol was ingrained in the Curtis family, and without realizing it, Alecia stiffened and replied “Yes, Sir.”

 

Kieran burst out laughing.  “I’m not your superior officer,” she pointed out.  “I’m just your son’s counselor.”

 

“You are a commander in Starfleet,” Alecia replied.  “That means something, in my house.”

 

“Well, thanks, but you never have to call me anything but Kieran.  Where’s Jamari?” she smiled.

 

“Should be here any minute.  He knows I’ll skin him if he’s late,” she checked the chronometer.  “Who is his new therapist?”

 

Kieran smiled warmly.  “A really old friend of mine, Robin Lefler.  Apparently, child abuse is one of her specialty areas.  She and I served together on Enterprise when I was first out of the Academy.”

 

“I hope she’s good,” Alecia sounded concerned.  “We really wish you could keep treating him, but we know you can’t,” she amended.

 

“If you want to travel to Indiana once every couple of weeks, I certainly will,” Kieran offered, “but I really think Robin is a better bet.  I’m going to be gone a lot, and although I’d do my best, Jamari probably needs to see someone more often than that.”

 

Alecia nodded.  “I agree.  He’s withdrawn and sullen, a lot,” she added.  “He was doing better when he could see you frequently.”

 

Jamari burst through the door just then, swooping down on Kieran for a hug.  “KT!” he launched himself into her arms.  “I’ve missed you so much,” he held tightly to her.

 

She stroked the long mane of hair growing in reddish tufts down the back of his neck.  “Sweetie, I’ve missed you, too.  The woman I’m taking you to meet is going to love you, and you’re going to adore her,” she promised. 

 

“Is she as pretty as you?” he asked, smiling up at her.

 

“Oh, much prettier,” Kieran assured him.  “In fact, I was engaged to her a long, long time ago.”

 

“Really?” he breathed pure awe.  “Is she as pretty as Naomi?”

 

“No one is as pretty as Naomi,” Kieran asserted, grinning.  “But she’s a very sweet woman.  And I know you’ll get along famously.  Are you ready to go?”

 

Alecia nodded that she was prepared.  Jamari agreed too.  “Okay.  But KT, can I still see you, sometimes?”

 

“Honey, you can see me socially whenever you want.  I just think professionally, a change is in your best interest.  Did your folks tell you that Naomi is sick?” she asked gently.

 

“Yes,” he replied, troubled.  “Really sick, they said.”

 

Kieran took his hand and they walked along the footpaths of Starfleet headquarters toward the campus.  “She is very sick, Jamari.  And I need to take care of her.  Can you understand that, and forgive me?”

 

He nodded.  “Of course I can.  She’s your wife, now.  And she needs you a lot worse than I do.”

 

Kieran squeezed his fingers in her own.  “She does, sweetie.”

 

Alecia tried to hide how sorry she was, but her eyes showed her sympathy.  “How is she doing, Kieran?”

 

Kieran sighed.  “Not good, I’m afraid.  She’s aging a lot faster than the Doctors said she would.  They thought she could survive four or five years, but I’m guessing two, at best.  You’d be shocked if you saw her, Alecia.  Her appearance is changing every single day.  Pulaski places her age in her forties, now— a decade older than me.  And like before, she has good days and bad days, and really bad days.  Today, she’s medicated and sleeping at the suites.  It’s very frustrating to watch.”  She gathered her composure and breathed deeply.  “Jamari, that building up ahead is the Counseling Center.  That’s where your new therapist’s office is.  Her name is Robin Lefler.  She’s a Lieutenant Commander,” she explained.

 

They ambled along the greenbelt-lined path in the heat of July, making their way toward their destination.  Inside, the corridors were dark and cool, and the turbolift was standing open.  “Deck four,” Kieran ordered the lift.  It didn’t move.  “Sorry, fourth floor,” she amended.  “I forget, sometimes, I’m not on a ship,” she chuckled.

 

Robin Lefler was waiting for the threesome, seated behind her desk and looking pretty as ever.  Jamari did a double take when he looked at her.  Kieran hid her satisfied grin behind her hand.

 

“Robbie,” she held out her hands for her old friend.  “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon, but here we are,” she smiled, kissing her cheek.  “This is Alecia Curtis and her son, Jamari Schwama.  Jamari is the only Creoheem male to ever visit Earth,” she added, making him sound important.

 

“Hi Alecia,” she smiled at the woman, then turned to her new patient.  “Hello, Jamari,” Robin shook his hand, winning him over immediately with her perfect smile.  “I’m honored to meet a representative of the Creoheem people.  I’m Robin.  My friends call me Robbie.  Please, everyone, have a seat.”

 

_________________

 

Seven of Nine stretched languidly in the Florida sunshine, hiding her eyes behind dark sunglasses, trying to convince herself to stop staring at Kieran Wildman’s body as the Commander strolled along the shoreline.  Kieran took Naomi’s hand, pointed out across the ocean at something, smiled at her wife, and kissed her gently.  Seven closed her eyes, willing away the fervent wish that Kieran had been kissing her, instead. 

 

She hated that seeing Naomi and Kieran together conflicted her so deeply.  On one hand, she felt a deep satisfaction, knowing her daughter was loved and cared for, but on the other hand, Kieran affected her so profoundly, it pained her to see them happy together.  Seven tried to tell herself it was the bacteria.  She tried to excuse herself for her deplorable behavior and her blatant attraction to her daughter-in-law.  But she found her emotions in a terrible tangle, most of the time, and she could only hope she wasn’t completely transparent.  More than anything, she hoped Naomi could not tell how she felt.

 

She watched the newlyweds thundering through the breaking waves, saw Kieran tugging Naomi down with her, so that she was floating on her back and Naomi was supported on her body, as if Kieran were a surf board.  Naomi was aging so quickly, but Seven realized that Kieran never let on that she noticed.  Kieran treated Naomi as if she were the most precious treasure in the known quadrants, her demeanor worshipful and respectful and doting.  Naomi clearly felt beautiful, because Kieran made her feel it.  Seven sighed, noting the loss of muscle tone in Naomi’s body, the age lines appearing in her face, the encroaching streaks of gray in her hair. 

 

Kieran was smiling up at Naomi, laughing at something she had said, letting Naomi kiss her repeatedly.  Kieran’s hair was slicked back, her face exuberant and shining, her lips full and pink against flashing white teeth.  She was all muscle and grace, tanning to a deep bronze, powerful arms supporting Naomi’s frail body in the pounding surf.  Naomi rolled off of Kieran’s body, treading water, taking her wife’s hands and pulling her close.  They kissed sweetly for long moments, unable to get their fill of one another.  Seven didn’t believe she and Kathryn had ever been that much in love.

 

She remembered the early phases of their relationship, when she knew nothing about romantic love, and made all sorts of wrong assumptions about premarital abstinence and propriety.  Kathryn had found her ignorance endearing.  Their own honeymoon had been a festival of carnal delight, with so much to learn and so many new experiences to enjoy.  But rarely since then had they found the uninterrupted time for such indulgence.  Kathryn had had a ship to run.  The Delta Quadrant had broken their relationship on more than one occasion, and now the bacteria they encountered there had destroyed it.   Seven sighed, resting her head on her arms.  She could only endure watching Kieran be happy for short intervals, before the feeling of despair hit her. 

 

She closed her eyes against the pain, thinking of the night Kathryn was committed, how Kieran had cried over Seven’s abuse, how tenderly she had mended Seven’s injuries, how possessively she had insisted Seven come away with her and Naomi.  Kieran’s hands had been so warm, so gentle, treating the wounds.  Seven shivered as she recalled that Kieran had had to part her buttocks to mend the anal fissure, and how delicate Kieran’s touch had been.  The memory was too much, and Seven launched herself from the blanket, charging down the beach and into the cooling water.  She had seen Kieran swim this way on more than one occasion, churning through the punishing waves, taking out her frustration against the surging tide.  If this obsession continued, she would have to avoid Kieran altogether.  And how would she explain that to Naomi?

_________________

 

Naomi Wildman floated above her wife, resting against Kieran’s body in the surf, kissing the taller, stronger woman intermittently.  She grinned at her.  “Salty,” she commented.

 

“It’s the ocean, what did you expect?” Kieran held Naomi’s waist in her hands, steadying them both. 

 

Seven swam by them at a breakneck pace, churning through the tide. 

 

Naomi sighed.  “I think it hurts her to see us so happy,” she noted.  “I’m not sure if it’s because she misses Kathryn, or because she’s just generally lonely.”

 

“Should we tone it down, around her?” Kieran hoped not.  The last thing she wanted to do was spend what could be her final days with Naomi, guarding her behavior.

 

“I can’t,” Naomi asserted.  “I won’t.  If we had forever, that would be one thing, but we don’t,” she leaned down and kissed Kieran fervently.  “I need this time with you, Kieran, and I can’t spend it editing myself.”

 

“That’s exactly what I was thinking, love,” Kieran replied over the sound of the breaking waves.  “Florida seems so good for you,” she noted.  “Whenever we’re here, you seem healthier.”

 

Naomi smiled warmly.  “That’s only because I love to be in the ocean, and I love swimming with you, so I feel better.  The water makes me hurt less.”

 

“Baby,” Kieran hugged her closer, “if you’re hurting, you have to tell me.  There’s a hot tub over at the recreation center, and Dad has a key—we can go after hours, if you want privacy.  And my hands are always at your disposal, if you need a massage.  Let me take care of you, Na.  It’s my job,” she insisted.

 

Naomi touched Kieran’s face.  “I love how you take care of me, but it seems so unfair to put you through this all over again,” she admitted.  “I’m so sorry, Kieran.”

 

“Did I complain, ever?” she demanded.  “I did not.  And I won’t.  I seem to recall a certain Ktarian who read me the riot act on Voyager for trying to protect her, for diminishing her value and equality in my life by doing so.  It goes both ways, Naomi.  You have to let me be strong for you, because you need me to be.  Don’t shut me out.  Let me be what you need, honey,” she urged.

 

Naomi closed her eyes, resting her head on Kieran’s chest, relaxing into her body.  “Okay, you asked for it.  Today, my hips are the worst.  The weightlessness of the water helps a lot, but walking is excruciating.”

 

Kieran kissed the top of her head.  “Then I’ll carry you.  You hardly weigh anything, anyway,” she said softly, tightening her arms around her wife’s wasting body.  “Kate said we should medicate you when you’re uncomfortable, too.  Why aren’t you asking for a hypospray?” Kieran lifted Naomi’s chin to meet her eyes.

 

“Because the medication knocks me out, and I sleep for hours and hours,” Naomi protested.  “I don’t want to sleep through what’s left of my life.  If I’m sleeping, we can’t make love, or talk, or anything.”

 

“I always hold you while you sleep,” Kieran reminded her.

 

“I know, but I want to be with you mentally, as well as physically, and not just be in a stupor,” Naomi argued.

 

“Maybe we should try taking the dosage down a little—it might take the edge off the pain, but not wipe you out,” she suggested.

 

Naomi shook her head.  “I already tried that.  It didn’t work.  The only way to get relief is to be unconscious, when it’s as bad as it is today.  So let’s talk about something else.  It helps me if I distract myself from thinking about it.”

 

Kieran tried hard to think of something to tell Naomi.  “Did I mention B'Elanna and Noah are trying to get pregnant?” she grinned.

 

Naomi’s eyes widened, and she dunked Kieran into the surf.  “No, you did not,” she scolded.  “Tell me everything,” she demanded.

 

Kieran came up laughing, spitting salt water.  “I can’t dish the dirt if you drown me, honey,” she accused.  Kieran told Naomi the entire story of how Noah asked Kieran to teach him to claim B'Elanna, and that the night Kieran and Seven had gone to Noah and B'Elanna’s room at the suites, he had been sporting a ritual mating wound.  “He told me B'Elanna went off birth control, and they’re letting nature do its magic,” Kieran reported.  “Katie is going to have a little brother or sister,” she glowed.

 

Naomi stared at her wife, disbelieving.  “You actually taught Noah the mating ritual?”

 

Kieran nodded.  “Yeah, it’s really not complicated.”

 

Naomi’s eyes narrowed.  “Show me,” she demanded.

 

Kieran chuckled.  “Okay.  Stand up,” she eased Naomi off of her frame.  “I don’t think I can show you in the water, it’ll have to be on land,” she decided, scooping Naomi into her arms and trudging up the sloping sand.  She carried the slight Ktarian to their beach blanket, settled her on a towel, and dried herself off.  She sat beside Naomi, and took her hand, bending her wrist back.  “If you were a Klingon, I’d have done that very, very roughly,” she explained.  She showed Naomi the ritual scenting behavior, and explained how the first blood is drawn. 

 

Naomi watched in fascination, trying to picture B'Elanna and Noah doing the same things, or even more unbelievably, Kieran and B'Elanna.  Kieran completed the demonstration by biting Naomi’s throat softly, then kissing away the faint red mark her teeth made.  “Why did you have two scars?” she wanted to know.

 

Kieran grinned sheepishly.  “When your mother abducted me to Ordan,” she explained, “she told me you were in love with me, and how jealous you were of B'Elanna and I.  And I got so upset over it, I treated B'Elanna very badly.  I was distant with her, I stopped sleeping with her, because I felt guilty about how you felt, and I didn’t want to hurt you.  It’s a huge insult to neglect a Klingon, sexually, and when I had finally settled things with you, I had to go back to B'Elanna and repeat the claiming ritual.  I had hurt our union so badly, the second marking was necessary to re-establish the bond between us.”

 

“That second scar was because of me?” Naomi asked sadly.

 

“Not really.  It was because of me,” Kieran contended. “My inconsiderate behavior.”  She wrapped her arm around Naomi’s shoulders.  “It wasn’t a big deal.”