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“I don't like jealousy. It's toxic.” – Lili Beckett

“I am unlucky in love.” – Malcolm Reed

“The objective is, whoever gets the girl first wins.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



“Jealous?! Of humans?” Q threw back his head and laughed.

“Methinks you doth protest too much,” Lili said.

“Nonsense.”

“No, no, no!” she grinned broadly and moved closer to him, but her movements were tough and she held her abdomen where the surgical incision was healing, “I do believe I've hit a nerve.”

“I have no nerves to hit.”

“Don't be so sure. There's always someone who's younger, or more mature. Or taller, or thinner, or has more hair. Or is more muscular, or the bust is bigger, or the butt looks better. Someone is always smarter, or funnier, or has better teeth or whatever.”

“She can't do any better,” Q insisted.

“Maybe she doesn't want to,” Lili said, “Have you got a rival, perhaps, Q?”

“Absolutely not. I am the only logical choice.”

“Ah, but that's a qualifier. You're not the only choice, yes? So tell me, about her. And then about your competition.”

=/=



“Too many moths around a golden flame.” – Malcolm Reed

“What kind of a man am I if an imperfection or two affects me so? Is my love real if it can be so easily thrown away?” – Malcolm Reed

“What should we do if, erm, one of 'em turns out to be, uh, not so attractive?” – Tripp Tucker

“If you're not interested because I've got an imperfection, I can leave right now.” – Pamela Hudson

“I may as well be dressed so I can make a quick getaway when you kick me out.” – Pamela Hudson

“So far as they're concerned, I've just got bad taste. But I don't.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Doug and Malcolm returned downstairs.

“Whew,” Melissa said, “What'd ya see?”

“I've got photographs,” Malcolm said, “Have a look.”

They huddled around the PADD, and Doug passed around the cookies, “Chocolate chunk and there's also a couple of brownies,” he said.

“Even when she's away, she's feeding us,” Norri said, taking a cookie.

“Do those have any dairy in them?” Malcolm asked.

“Possibly a little,” Melissa said, “I'm not so sure that cookies can be made without milk.”

“Hmmm. I shall pass then,” he said, “Now, here, see the swirls?” he brushed his index finger along the pictures and the slide show advanced, “The weather system appears to be kind of wrapped 'round the property.”

“Huh. Weird,” Norri said, “Uh, Malcolm?”

“Yes?”

“Come over to the corner with me for a second. And, uh, bring the PADD.”

“Mama!” Tommy exclaimed.

“Just a minute,” Norri said. In the corner, she said to Malcolm, “I don't want to alarm the kids. But this isn't a normal weather system. I think maybe no more Show and Tell to the kids. The four of us, sure. But put a password on those pictures, okay? And, uh, let's start to think about why they look the way they do.”

“Huh. I'll tell Doug. You'll tell Melissa?”

“Yep. We're a team,” Norri said, “Let's figure this out.”

=/=



“I have conditions. No one confuses the kids. That means we watch the public displays. I'm not joking about this.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't want our sons to grow up with only a little bit of one or the other of us. I don't want to have to divvy up our friends.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Kathryn is beautiful, passionate and intelligent,” Q said, “She's a Starship Captain.”

“Huh, the only female Starship Captain I know of is Erika Hernandez. So what year are we talkin' about?”

“2373.”

“Over two hundred years from now, eh? Hmm. And I'm somehow still applicable?”

“Well, your opinions might be. And I say might,” Q said, “The jury's still out.”

“Oh. Do I disappoint you?”

“Your opinions are just, they come with too many messy feelings attached to them, like barnacles.”

“I'm afraid we've all got barnacles. All humans. If you want someone to speak to you without emotions, call T'Pol.”

“That's all right,” Q said, “Vulcans are so predictable.”

“So deal with the things that displease you and – dare I say it? Get over it,” she said.

“Very well,” he said.

“Tell me more about Kathryn. What does she look like?”

“What does that matter?”

“It doesn't. I just want to hear you describe her,” Lili said, “I think that's telling.”

=/=



“She a looker? So I'm shallow. And curious.” – Pamela Hudson

“In the dictionary, under awkward, you'll see a photograph of Malcolm Reed, age fifteen. Go ahead and look when you can, if you don't believe me.” – Malcolm Reed

“Are you saying my daughter is somehow undesirable?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“I am so not interested in her, not any more. She was – I mean, I'm a guy. I can't help but to react to her, how she looks, what she wears and all.” – Joss Beckett

“You're being thrown over for an older, somewhat plain pregnant woman, if I had to be brutally honest about her appearance. I don't believe it, either.” – Malcolm Reed

“My mother was a ghost. I only remember a light grey shadow.” – Marie Patrice Beckett (Sato)

“You are as lovely as you always have been. Did you think that your beauty was only confined to your skin?” – Malcolm Reed

“Beautiful white hot flame. I just want to be near it, be in it.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Uh, auburn hair.”

“What color are her eyes?”

“I'm not sure.”

“You don't know, Q?”

“It hardly seems important.”

“It means you're not paying attention. Do you look her in the eyes when you have your, uh, what did you call them, stimulating conversations?”

“Huh. Perhaps not. Anyway, uh, shorter than my current appearance.”

“Anything else? Does she have, uh, a nice figure?”

He was distracted for a moment, “Q?”

“Oh, uh, blue eyes. And she's has, her body is less massive than yours is.”

“I just had a baby. So, uh, you just checked?”

“Why should that surprise you?”

“Interesting. Have you done anything to signal your interest?”

He was distracted again, “Flowers,” he said, “Or would candles or lingerie be better?”

=/=



“Plus the whole flowers thing is the very nadir of predictability. If someone brings over chocolates or perfume then I'll just gag.” – Pamela Hudson

“You seem to be able to get going with or without lingerie.” – Melissa Madden

“Be a gentleman.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“I dunno,” Lili said, “This isn't exactly 'one-size-fits-all'. You should realize that.”

“I suppose,” Q said.

“What is personal? What does she like?”

“Why should that matter?”

“It's everything! Do you wanna get it on with this woman, or not? I mean without forcing her, of course.”

He was again distracted, “She didn't seem to like it much when I was lying in a nice bed for her – much nicer than the Starfleet regulation equipment she was given. What I offered was far superior. She was rather nasty and ungrateful about the whole thing,” he showed Lili a quick picture of the bed, an image floating in mid-space that soon vanished.

“Sheesh.”

=/=



“Ha, this room still looks like it should be rented by the hour.” – Lili Beckett

“You just wanna get some.” – Susan Cheshire

“I'm not used to women being so aggressive.” – Malcolm Reed

“When I figured he'd be sharing your bed it did give me pause. Even platonically, I did have a pang. I trust him, of course. With my very life. But maybe the word isn't jealousy – envy. Not jealous of sexual contact as I knew there would be none. Just envy that he'd be there and I wouldn't.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Travis sat in his quarters. Then he got up, and paced a bit, and then he sat back down again.

“Huh,” he finally said, “I can't just sit here.”

He took out a PADD, and began typing.

To: Jennifer and Frank Ramirez, Enceladus Colony
From: Ensign Travis Mayweather, Starship Enterprise, NX-01

Dear Jennifer and Frank,

I hope you're both okay. I am well. I know this letter is probably unexpected.

We just heard that Lieutenant Reed is going to become a father! Or maybe he already is by now. Lili is his son's mother. Did she maybe tell you? I hope I'm not giving you stale news.

But of course it got me to think about things. And I don't want to dredge up any bad feelings. It's all in the past.

I did want you to know that I'm really glad that you are in the middle of your happy ending. I guess that gives hope to all of us.

Take care.

– Travis

=/=



“Doug, if you can't work things out, what kind of hope have I got?” – Jennifer Crossman

“I've sinned and cheated and it's like it's all under false pretenses.” – Jennifer Crossman

“I can do things that I bet you've been dreaming of for a while.” – Tommy Digiorno-Madden (Sato)

=/=



“I beg your pardon?”

“You can't just launch into sex without any preliminaries,” Lili said.

“You did. With both your husband and the short Brit.”

“Is that what this is all about? How to go from zero to Warp Factor Five in five easy seconds?”

“You fell in very easily with both of them.”

“With, with Doug, it started off as a dream,” Lili explained, “I didn't even know that he was real. For the first time, so far as I was concerned, the whole thing was just a fantasy conjured up out of my subconscious.”

“So you feel it was some combination of earlier encounters?”

“It was, and it wasn't. It was definitely better,” she said, “And the start was strange. I don't expect to be slammed into a wall and have that turn into lovemaking.”

“Should I try that with Kathryn, you think?”

“Uh, no. Really, she's liable to have a Security team in her quarters before you got past the first kiss.”

“Their weapons would prove useless.”

“Still – I am assuming you are looking for at least willingness? I mean, you don't want to rape her, right?”

“No, no. But you, your initial couplings with the short Brit weren't exactly voluntary ones.”

“I was already married – and the size of a house, pregnant with my daughter. And our, uh, couplings, as you put it, they were being forced on us by the Witannen.”

“True. But you were the one to tell him that his attentions were welcome. So are you saying that Kathryn could come around? You certainly did.”

“I already knew Malcolm. And I already, well, when Doug and I first started up together, I kind of thought that maybe Malcolm was a little interested. But he didn't pursue anything, and I was off and getting married and pregnant, first with Joss. And my life was already set and it was hurtling down a path that didn't have Malcolm in it.”

=/=



“New couples can be so into each other that it's to the exclusion of almost everything else.” – Lili O'Day

“I tend to fall for women who are either thoroughly inappropriate for me or wholly unattainable.” – Malcolm Reed

“Throughout my life, my life as a lover, that is, I have either pined for the unattainable or held back with the ones I could have, and never truly got close to any of them. With you, though, it is, it has been, well, about testing my limits. About knowing what I could, could tolerate.” – Malcolm Reed

“Lili, I saw that look. I know that look. It's the one that says, 'I'm never gonna have this. I'm never gonna be happy – not really. I won't have love and a family and a future.' I saw that look, and I recognized that look because, well, because I used to see that look every single day of my life, whenever I'd look in a mirror.” – Doug Beckett

“I imagine the next time your husband sees me alone, he'll break my nose.” – Malcolm Reed

“I wanted it to be different with her. Change who I was. Be true.” – Doug Beckett

“You didn't stray – that's such an awful word, as if you were a dog – you didn't, didn't do what you did because you wanted to. But it had unintended consequences. And the same thing happened on my end. Unintended effects.” – Lili Beckett

“I just don't want it to be some horribly clichéd affair, where we go to sordid motel rooms that are rented by the hour, or we tell him that she's traveling for some reason or another. I don't want it to be a lot of lying.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Some of it was related to your husband being thrown in with Melissa Madden, though, right? He had her, so you felt you could have the short Brit.”

“A little bit. I won't deny that. If the parallel hadn't happened, I know I would've felt significantly worse. But those were the cards we were dealt. And my own feelings – I mean, I had them about Malcolm. But at the same time, I was being, well, swept off my feet. So they hit the back burner. And then the Witannen threw them back on the front burner. I have a lot of trouble showing my body to someone, and looking at them, and have us touch each other, and kiss and love each other physically, without it devolving into more.”

“Are you saying that sex makes you fall in love?”

“Not necessarily,” she said, “But I also sensed that Malcolm had really deep feelings. I picked up on that, and my own feelings, they were super-charged again.”

“You had kissed him before.”

“Yes, that's right. I guess I teased him, back in '57.”

=/=



“For a moment, I could believe it wasn't me you were kissing off – that it was, that it was him.” – Malcolm Reed

“It's not a set of candlesticks that someone bought quickly because they didn't know us. It's not a gift card purchased at the last minute. It's not a tablecloth I'll only use once or twice a year. It's not a book I'll read maybe a few times and then put away on a shelf to gather dust somewhere. It's food and it's a card and it's napkins and canisters and by themselves those really aren't a lot of things. But put it all together and, well, this, uh, the cover story is that this gift was to remind Doug and me of home. And it does. It succeeds there, admirably. But the real hidden meaning is, because the kitchen is my room, my place, my domain, the gift is really to remind me, every day, every single day, of the person who gave it.” – Lili Beckett

“It is what I want, it is my, my love, yes, that's the right word – it is my love. It is what I dreamt of, and not just chastely, but for you, it's forcing and it's not you really wanting to do it. As you close your eyes, I imagine you think of, of him. And that hurts so much, so much more. I have waited for, for this. But it's not what I truly desired. The Witannen have perverted it. For so long I've wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to do is crawl away and die.” – Malcolm Reed

“I'm getting tired of, of kissing your shoulder, Malcolm. I'd really rather kiss your mouth.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“And you were – I suppose the word is generous. You allowed it. And then it became more, and you were committed. And your husband and Melissa Madden were committed, and it all evolved into your current arrangement. Isn't that so? But if you had been less accommodating, or had continued to reject the short Brit's advances, or your husband had continued to pull out and otherwise attempt some measure of birth control, you would have returned to your marriage and been done with things. Right?”

“Right. It was a kind of a Rube Goldberg contraption. But everything is. When I kissed him in '57, do you know what I was thinking? Can you see into that?”

“No.”

“Hmm, interesting. In any event, what I was thinking was, I wonder what he's like. I wondered if he would be better, if I got caught up and swept away by the wrong guy. It wasn't that I didn't love Doug, or love him completely. It's that I wondered what would have happened if I had zigged instead of zagged. What if the cross-over from the other side of the pond hadn't worked? Would I have fallen even deeper into dried-up spinsterhood, mourning my lost love? Would I have just married Malcolm?”

“Speculation is useless. Like I said, there's only one timeline to a customer.”

“Is there any free will? Or is it all preordained, Q?”

“Big things are decided. Births and deaths, to be sure. Major events do not and cannot change. But small ones can, and do.”

“So if I decide on a green jacket instead of a yellow one, that's my choice?” Q nodded, “And if I decide to help a crying child who I don't know, or I choose to leave that brat on the corner, is that my choice, even though it might have a devastating consequence?”

“Sometimes,” Q said, “It's decision nodes. The biggest are beyond your control.”

“How big do they have to get before they're beyond your control, Q?”

“We're sliding off-topic.”

“The topic is in the next system,” Lili said, “You have limits.”

“Nonsense.”

“Yes, you do. You can't kick off the Big Bang, can you? Then that's a limit. So there are some out there who are taller and stronger and thinner and younger. And they are somehow better. And you, I think you feel a modicum of jealousy.”

He was distracted again, “Tattoos,” he said absently.

“What of them?” The baby fussed a little so she went over and picked him up, “He needs to be fed again.”

“Then feed him.”

“I'm breast-feeding him.”

“I won't be aroused, if that's your concern.”

Lili sat down on the edge of the bed and faced away from Q. She pulled the tab on her hospital shift and again fed Declan, “What do you want to know about tattoos?” she asked as soon as the baby was settled in.

“Are bigger ones better?”

“Not necessarily. Subtlety is nice.”

“Hmm,” Q said, “Subtlety. So, no huge luxury beds? No large tattoos?”

“You have a rival with a tattoo, eh?”

“A possible rival,” he said, “And the, the flowers?”

“Nice, but a little overdone. Think of something more personal. Don't make it so one-sided.”

=/=



“It'll be an awfully funny wedding, you exchanging vows with yourself.” – Blair Claymore

“Just because I don't want to make your teeth rattle does not make me a gay man.” – An Nguyen

“So girls were a subject of great mystery and fascination.” – Malcolm Reed

“It just had to be right.” – Will Owen

“There's some other sweetie-darling. No, wait, you don't call her that. You call her something else. You don't call anybody sweetie-darling because she's it. She's the one.” – Pamela Hudson

“I hope that my surprises are to your liking.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Q was again distracted, “She likes puppies. I got her an Irish Setter.”

“Hmm. Okay. But that's another relationship – it's also another bit of bowling over. A bit much, I think.”

“She was less than thrilled. She loved the dog, but ....”

“I think you're gonna keep striking out if you continue this way,” Lili said.

“What would you suggest? Should I fight for her? Would making a big sacrifice like that matter to her? Would needing her forgiveness get me in with her?”

=/=



“I don't know very much about what happened as that is to protect the Ensign's privacy. But I want you to know that, if it ends badly, you won't be around long enough to get to the Brig. I'll do it myself.” – Malcolm Reed

“Just don't – promise me you won't die for love.” – Pamela Hudson

“Doug is a walking male hormone cocktail, he's jumping with it. It's like he was born on steroids.” – Lili Beckett

“I thought I could leave it all behind me. Achieve, maybe, some measure of forgiveness. But that's not the main reason. I came here because of you.” – Doug Hayes

“Love me. And that will be how you'll be forgiven. Love me. And love our home. And love our friends. And love everything we make together, whether it's a restaurant or a hand to hand class or a pumpkin pie or, or, or a child.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



“Doubtful,” Lili said, “Forgiveness isn't easy to provide, or achieve. I think you'd be adding an unnecessary layer of complexity. And what's this 'getting in' business? Do you want it to be anything more than a hook-up?”

“This, this hook-up, as you put it. It's the main purpose. Without it, there's no success.”

=/=



“Pamela and I are, there's an old expression. Our relationship is what's referred to oh so charmingly as 'Friends with Benefits'.” – Malcolm Reed

“Don't you, um, want to fall in love?” – Lili Beckett

“You fast worker, you. Yanno, I don't introduce you to my friends just so you can hit on them.” – Eleanor Daniels

=/=



“Understood,” Lili said, “But we wouldn't be having this conversation if it wasn't, at least, a little bit about love. Yes? It's about the deed, to be sure. But if it was only about the deed, you wouldn't bother getting advice. Hell, you'd already be done. So something in your apparently vastly superior noggin is telling you that just going ahead and burning up the sheets is not enough. You're not going to be Zeus and some maiden – Leda and the swan, as it were. It's not just about getting naked. Am I right?” She put the baby back into the bassinette and turned around to face him again, “Even in the tiniest way, it's about love. Right?”

=/=



“The first time I saw a girl naked, I was four years old.” – Doug Beckett

“There are plenty of variations that are possible with human males. I could sketch some for you.” – Pamela Hudson

“Might wanna bottle that technique so's we can repeat it later.” – Tripp Tucker

“I suppose I'll just improvise a bit.” – Malcolm Reed

“But we're here to explore and to, to take risks. And I don't think this is a foolish one.” – Tripp Tucker



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