“She is the iron. All I am is tin.” – Doctor Keleth
Hoshi sat in the cafeteria, alone, mulling over tea and the stars slipping by outside the viewing portal.
The ship was going into dry dock soon, and she'd been offered a place on the USS Zefram Cochrane. Captain Archer had been generous, and she had been promoted to Lieutenant.
But there was something missing, and she was tired of life just being about work.
The early dinner crowd was beginning to come in.
“Is this seat taken?” she was asked.
He was tall, the tallest guy on the ship. He was losing his hair, and worked the night shift, in Engineering. José Torres.
“I asked you if the seat was taken,” he said.
“Oh, uh, no,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said, “Are you, um, going to Movie Night? Chip is showing Casablanca. It's supposed to be really good.”
“Huh, yeah, I heard it was good,” she said, a little absently.
“Would you, uh, would you go with me?” he asked.
“Hmm?” she said, and then realized what he had just asked, “Uh, sure,” she smiled as Tripp Tucker, unseen, walked in, “I'd love to.”
“I know they still look while I squire you around.” – Malcolm Reed
Lili stood in the hospital room and sobbed and sobbed. When the baby joined in, she was able to compose herself a little. She picked him up. “Shh, shh, my little love.”
“I –” Q began.
“Get out. Just get out. You've done enough for one day.”
“I still have questions.”
“I don't give a damn,” she said sharply. The baby started up again, and she shushed him again.
“But nothing. How dare you. I don't care how puny-brained you think I am, but you had no right.”
“No right? Little Earth mother, it's not all sunshine and roses. Main events are not just pleasant things, as you have seen.”
“But, that? What did you hope to accomplish by showing me?”
“I want to know about, about comfort,” he said.
“It happens. People do their best. We often have no idea what to say – things are beyond words. So we just hold someone, or we are close by. Or we fumble, but we mean well.”
“But it's not just lovers who do this.”
“Correct. Treve isn't Melissa's lover. He's just a close friend.”
“Friendship, again,” Q said.
“Q, what did you think would happen, by you showing me, showing me that?”
“You can be prepared now,” he said.
“You will know,” he said.
“I'll be neurotic,” she said, “I'll forbid him from hunting – I know myself, I would do something like that. And he'd either end up sneaking out or something else would happen to him, right? I mean, the timeline can't be changed, not for this – it's just the circumstances that could potentially be altered. So let's say I tell him to not go hunting in June of 2181. And he gives me lip service, because I can't bear to tell him why. And he ends up going anyway. So not only am I mourning him,” her voice broke a little, and she took a few moments to collect herself again, “but I'm also furious with him. Furious for lying to me.”
“Or he could obey you, and then the death would happen at home, to terrify you out of sleeping in your shared bed again,” Q pointed out.
“Possibly,” she allowed, “And he'd be miserable, and questioning. And it would spoil the last month, as I became – become – more and more anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can't just wake up on the morning of the thirtieth and say to myself, 'I think I'll make a frittata this morning, and then I'll start digging Doug's grave so I can get it done before it gets really hot out.' It doesn't work that way.”
“Experiencing the pain now, would that diminish it later?” he asked.
“No. I just get it twice now. Thank you so freakin' much, Q,” she said angrily, then caught herself. She put down the baby again, “But there is one thing.”
“You were – you were almost, almost, dare I say it? You were almost considerate. You knew it would be a bad time, and you told me not to bring him. Did you, did you give a damn about how it would affect me?”
Q thought for a moment, “You are telling me to be considerate. I admit I could use the practice. And I suspect it would help with Kathryn.”
“Are there female Qs?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“So why are you trying to get with a human? Why not just go with someone of your own kind?”
“Why didn't you originally mate with someone from your own universe? You did not, and the mismatch almost cost you your life.”
“True,” she allowed, “But he and I were thrown together. It was like he was almost given to me.”
“Nonsense. You were lying on a Calafan amplifier, and so was he. And then your respective ships entered space where those amplifiers could be activated. And they were.”
“But we were positive together. It was, it started off as lovemaking. I mean, we could have been hostile,” she said.
“But you were not. And so things unfolded for you. Shall I show you another event? I would like to ask a bit about commitment.”
“Commitment? I will be burying him. Isn't that enough information about commitments to satisfy your curiosity?”
“There are positives as well,” Q said, “Despite what you may think, I am not here to pull the wings off flies, or burn up ants with a magnifying glass.”
“You're spending an awful lot of time with me, Q. Why aren't you out getting your billionth opinion?”
“I can multitask,” he said.
“Surely even you have limits.”
“I do,” he said, “I suspect I need fewer opinions than I had originally thought.”
“Hmm,” she said, “Are our little talks affecting you somehow?”
“A little,” he said, “You have strong opinions.”
“So you feel what I'm saying is worthwhile?” she asked.
“Possibly,” he said, “This one, it will be a positive experience. If you wish to bring the infant, do so.”
She picked up Declan and the scene changed.
“If she comes back, and I don't, well, it's pretty obvious what you'd do. I just want you to know that I know, and I understand. And I want you to. Be with her. Take care of her. And if the kids are back with her, take care of them as well. Guide them. Just, just do that.” – Doug Beckett
It was a house that was wholly unfamiliar to Lili, but it was warm and inviting. She looked around a little bit. She, Q and Declan were in a small parlor, “Where is this?” she asked.
Q said nothing.
She walked around a little bit, and found a video wall. She looked at it. The pictures skittered by. One was her wedding photo with Doug. When she saw it, she felt a tear welling up, and quickly brushed it away. Then there was a picture of Norri getting her doctorate. And another photo was Declan getting his bachelor's degree. There was a picture of her with Malcolm, holding baby Declan – a photograph that was clearly a few months from what she knew was the true present time. Another picture was of Tommy in his scouting uniform. There was Joss at his Prom, again, with a girl of Chinese extraction. Another picture was of Norri and Melissa, possibly taken when they had first met. Yet another one was Doug and Melissa with baby Kevin, both of them looking somber and tired. Another one was Malcolm on the Bridge of the USS Bluebird, looking confident and pleased. Yet another was Malcolm with Mark Latrelle, from very young days, horsing around and mugging for the camera.
“What's the date?” she asked.
Q just directed her, and then she heard a yawn. She went over to investigate.
It was a bedroom, and there were two people in bed together, waking up. It was her and Malcolm.
She glanced at the clock. It was oh eight hundred hours. And the date was May twenty-fifth, 2182.
“This is less than a year afterwards,” she said to Q. He just directed her back, and she watched.
In bed, Lili and Malcolm kissed and smiled at each other. He was steel grey, with deepening crow's feet around his eyes. And her hair had gone all white, and the lines by her mouth were deeper. The covers slipped a little, and it was obvious that she was wearing a thin nightie and he was just wearing briefs. They kissed again, and Malcolm said, “Happy wedding day.”
And she responded, “Happy wedding day!”
“You can always tell me what's going on. Always. When I asked you to marry me, I didn't mean it was just this one-time offer that could be rescinded at any time.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez
“I am falling in love with you, whether you like it or, or not.” – Malcolm Reed
The scene changed.
“Wait! What did we skip?” Lili asked Q.
“Surely even you don't want to watch your future self having relations,” he said.
“Oh. Well, uh, yes. That was, um, thoughtful of you,” she said.
Now she recognized the house. It was her house, or at least it looked like it was. They were outside, in the back yard. Chairs had been set up, and there was an altar with a canopy over it.
“Wow, they're, uh, we're expecting a lot of guests.”
“Just watch,” he said.
She walked over to an easel, where there was a large poster. It was an old-fashioned wedding invitation, and it said:
Mr. Declan Reed &
Ms. Marie Patrice Beckett &
Mr. Jeremiah Beckett &
Messrs. Thomas and Neil Digiorno-Madden
request the pleasure of your company
at the marriage of their parents (finally!)
Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett
to Captain Malcolm Reed
Saturday, the twenty-fifth of May
two thousand one hundred and eighty-two
at half past four in the afternoon
In lieu of gifts, the family requests
that you make donations to the Charles
Tucker III Foundation for Promising Engineers
Bring an appetite – the bride is catering!
Lili smiled when she read the last line, “I'm seventy-three and I'm still catering weddings. I must be outta my mind.”
Guests arrived. They looked older, of course, but they were easy to identify. There was Captain Archer – but he had more insignia on his uniform, “Is he an Admiral?” Lili asked.
“By now, yes,” Q replied.
Hoshi was there with a man who was undoubtedly her husband. There was Travis, going grey. And Aidan was there, with a dark-skinned woman who Lili recognized as the teacher from Malcolm's ship. There were Jennifer and Frank, and a girl who was their daughter. And the Mastersons, with their son, they were there. And there was Phlox, with two of his three wives. And T'Pol was there, a little bent, but looking as calm as ever.
Then she saw the children – but calling them children seemed ludicrous. They were adults. Joss looked exactly like Doug, and he was with that same Chinese girl from his Prom picture, “Who is she?” Lili asked.
“Her name is Jia Sulu,” Q replied.
And there was Tommy, in a cadet's uniform. And Marie Patrice was in a creamy dress, holding a small bouquet. Neil and Declan were wearing dark suits. A bald, silver Calafan girl bounced by, and she and Neil disappeared for a second behind a large planting, and Lili saw them kiss for a second, “Who's that?” she asked.
“How wonderful,” Lili said. Then she saw Melissa and Norri, both wearing the same creamy gowns as Marie Patrice was. They looked very happy, but a tiny bit bittersweet.
And then she saw, where the chairs were set up, one at the front was empty, and Tommy made it his job to keep people from sitting in it.
“I may even love you a little bit.” – Treve
“I know that a big piece of your heart is not with me. And I think I'm all right with that. There is no perfection. But there is something. Something very rare and good.”– Malcolm Reed
The guests were seated, and all the chairs were filled but the one in the front. The wedding party assembled, joined by a man who Lili recognized as being Malcolm's dear friend Mark Latrelle.
Music began, and the officiant entered, and took her place at the altar. She was an older woman in judge's robes.
“Is that Laura Hayes?” Lili asked. Q nodded.
The children assembled, around and by the canopy, and then were joined by Melissa and Norri, who stood near the empty seat but did not block it. Mark took his place as well.
And then Malcolm walked down the aisle, wearing a dark blue suit and, in his lapel, there was a blue and white daylily, bound together with a tiny tofflin reed, tied by three ribbons. One was turquoise, one was snowy white, and the other was dark blue. He stood with his son right behind him, and the two were almost identical, except Declan had Lili's light hair and ethereally light blue eyes. They stood.
And the music changed, and Lili saw herself. She moved slowly. She was carrying a huge bouquet of daylilies, orange blossoms and tofflin reeds, bound with larger versions of Malcolm's three ribbons. Her dress was turquoise, and her shoes – ballet slippers – matched. Her hair was back, bound by a dark royal blue ribbon, almost an indigo in shade. Around her neck was Malcolm's key, flashing a little in the sunshine. There was a small veil in front of her face, lacy white and almost the same pattern as the sinuous silver calloo tattoos on her arms and that could also be seen on her ankles as she walked. She smiled at her guests, taking a moment to look at Calafans, and at people like Pamela Hudson, and Andrew Miller, and Karin and Ethan Shapiro, and the Reeds themselves, looking very, very pleased and proud.
And then she looked up and saw her destination.
“... the flower's the exciting part. The reed's just an ordin'ry thing. Nothing special or worthwhile.” – Malcolm Reed
“Don't say that! The flower needs the reed. Otherwise it's got no nourishment, no support and is just a bunch of petals falling on the ground. The flower can't live without the reed.” – Lili Beckett
Lili joined Malcolm, and the younger Lili stood, with Q, just off to the side. The officiant spoke, and she was definitely Laura Hayes – excuse me, Judge Laura Hayes.
And soon it was time for vows.
Malcolm looked at his bride and swallowed hard, and said, “I, I dreamt of this day for a long time. And it's not perfectly identical. But it's very close. And – you know, I had something prepared. But it's all flown out of my head.”
And both Lilis responded, “That's all right.”
The younger Lili laughed a little at that, and watched her older counterpart give the huge bunch of flowers over to Marie Patrice to hold. In the older Lili's hands, there was a blue handkerchief. She – the older one, that is – took Malcolm's hands in hers.
Malcolm spoke, “Thank you. You have always been generous. I, I have loved you for so long that I can scarcely recall a time when I did not. And I don't think that there was, for my life truly began on a day in 2157, when I was having breakfast and a vision came to me and was redolent of oranges. And we have been through a lot, you and I. And here we begin to take more steps in our journey. But these steps are together in one, one glittering pathway.”
He paused for a second, “I, when I dreamt of today, one of the differences that I used to always see was that Doug would be here. And that, I knew it was impossible. I, I have never wished for his death. But to get to this day, there was only one way it led – through the end of his life. I, Lili, I hope that I can do him justice with you. For I know you shall always miss him. I don't see myself as a replacement for him. I can only hope to be with you, for as long as time allows, and to every day fulfill the promise of this day. I have loved you all my life. And I shall love you until its end,” he placed a ring on her finger.
The older Lili turned over the handkerchief a few times in her hands before responding, “I, huh, I'm also forgetting what I was going to say. What is it about being up here that makes that happen?”
The guests laughed a little.
“Don't make fun of me,” she mockingly complained, and smiled, “I, I look at the empty seat, the one that would have been for him. And I look out there, beyond the garden, too.”
The younger Lili looked, and realized there were two markers out there. She quickly looked back at the altar.
“And I know what you mean,” the older one said, “What is it that our friend Ethan Shapiro says? In the midst of happiness, there's a memory of some loss. And I guess that humbles us a bit. I, this handkerchief I have in my hands. It's, it is my old thing and my blue thing. Marie Patrice made it from the shirt that Doug was wearing when he came over. So he's here, a little bit. And I know he's smiling. And he's telling you to do the right things. And I know you will, always. Our children have insisted on this day. And they are so right. It is time – it has been time for quite a while. What I want you to know is that for years you have had my nights. And now you have my days as well. You have been my soul, and now you are also my heart. You have it all. There is no one else. There is no one else,” she placed a ring on his finger.
Laura added, “By the authority vested in me by the Federation envoy for the Lafa System, and by the Calafan government, I pronounce you husband and wife. Do kiss the bride.”
And they kissed, and it was longer than Malcolm had kissed anyone, even longer than he had kissed Pamela when she was leaving and they were breaking up.
It went on for so long that the guests murmured amongst themselves and finally Chip Masterson called out, “Reed! Save some for tonight!”
They broke apart and smiled at each other and then were congratulated by the children.
“You hear that? You're second-best. And that's a good thing, too, because if this happens, you get to have party time, all the time. You get the sex and the fun and the laughing. And I get to hold her head when she's got morning sickness. And bang away at the cooling unit when it doesn't work and there's a teething child screaming and she hasn't slept well for two days. I get to make sure the car always starts and the bills are paid and the roof doesn't leak. And you get the party.” – Doug Beckett
“What you get is real. It's the parts that really mean something. You're right; I am second best – regardless of what she says. She's too kind and gracious to say otherwise, but someone is in front, and that someone is not me. And, and I'm all right with that. I can't be there to be the one to, to hold her head and go to meet the teachers and all of that. Starfleet will never let that happen. It's half a loaf. But I've always been taught – that's far, far better than none.” – Malcolm Reed
Lili was beaming when they got back to the hospital room, “Thank you for that.”
“I am just showing this to you,” Q said.
“I know. But that was, it was wonderful.”
“May I ask you about commitment?”
“The short Brit, he waited for you for a long time.”
“Yes, he did. First for a couple of years while I married Doug and settled here, and then after the arrangement started, well, you saw how long. It was almost a quarter of a century. Then it seems our children had to convince me a bit – probably to get me to take off my mourning garb and be ready for a wedding dress. I doubt most people would have such patience.”
“Why do you suppose he did?” Q asked.
“Well, he did have me, kind of, for a long time. Has me. I can't quite get the verb tenses right, it seems. We have the nights together, so he's not just sitting and pining away. He is getting something. Or, he’s getting some. You know what I mean.”
“You need not be vulgar about it.”
“I'm sorry, Mister Sensitive. But he is also a Starfleet guy. And they just don't have a lot of openings for families. I'm very pleased that he has families on the Bluebird, but I recognize that if there is another war, all of those families will be dropped off at Starbases, and couples will be separated, in the hopes that, if one ship is destroyed, at least a child won't automatically have lost both parents. Sad but true, war exists and it's going to trump that. Do you have wars, Q?”
“War. Do you have it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“So even you aren't beyond it. When, uh, when was the most recent one, if I may ask?” she inquired.
“It's going on right now.”
“I feel a little like a teenager again. But with, uh, better activities.” – Lili Beckett
“When the time comes, we'll handle it together. And we'll be together, as long as long as possible. I don't know what I'll do when they separate us.” – Malcolm Reed
“Right now? Shouldn't you, uh, be somewhere?”
“Like I said, I can multitask.”
“Hmm. Why are you looking to find a mate – particularly one outside your own species?”
“I told you. I am interested in Kathryn, and I want her to bear my child,” he said.
“No. That's your cover story. What's really going on, Q?”
“It's to end our Civil War. We add human DNA to the Continuum, and it will it will help with, with separatism.”
“Yes. There are two sides. One wishes for all Q to remain together as one, and the other wish for separations and individuality. I am on that side, and currently that is the losing side.”
“So you've chosen Kathryn to provide that human DNA?”
“Yes. Introducing that factor, for the first time in ten millennia, should solve the problem.”
“So this isn't about love at all, right?”
“It is,” he said, “Perhaps not with her, though,” he admitted, “And it is, a bit, about letting go.”
“But it's also the feeling that, well, that someone was responsible for caring for, for only you. That they might not have had much, but they tried to, to help you in any way they could. Whatever it was, even if it was to just tell you to not be afraid or give up hope. And it was freeing, too, to be only concentrating on one person and letting all other obligations just kinda fall away.” – Melissa Madden
“And then, suddenly, you were kind of, well, switched on. I suppose that's the best way to describe it. And I felt something. But I could see where you wanted to be, and who you wanted to be with. And, and when your, when everything finally fell into place, I stepped aside. Even though Doug said I was sweet on you, I said I wasn't. But that was not true. And you, you hugged me when you were in Sick Bay, do you remember? It is, I suppose, nothing to you. But for me it was a lot. It meant something.” – Malcolm Reed
“I always cry at weddings.” – Hoshi Sato
“You are the iron. You have always been the iron, and you still are. All I am, all I can ever offer you, is tin.” – Dr. Keleth