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“You, you are Lili O'Day. You can cook and you can laugh and you are, you are, uh, responsible for me becoming, well, becoming sane.” – Doug Hayes

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He returned to the cafeteria. He wasn't, really, hungry, but he was a bit bored and didn't really know what to do with himself.

It had been kind of the captain to give him the day off, but he was now lost. The moment he'd sent the letter to Jennifer, he had expected to feel a sense of relief. Instead, he still felt lost.

He got some of the eggplant parmesan and sat down. There was a table with Commander Tucker and a bunch of MACOs. He could have sat there. Hoshi and José Torres were sitting at a different table, and he supposed he could have sat with them, but that seemed to be the very essence of being the fifth wheel.

And he was feeling more and more like a fifth wheel.

He barely noticed when Shelby Pike sat down with him, “Hiya,” she said.

“Oh, uh, hi.”

“You okay, Travis?” she asked.

“Me? Uh, I guess so,” he dug his fork in but just twirled it around, not really taking any food.

“Yanno,” she said, “this is so high in carbs, it's not funny. When I was dancing, I'd have to keep my weight really low. I never ate like this,” she said, grabbing a small forkful and swallowing, “It's funny. I still have the mindset much of the time.”

“Oh? Uh, you don't need to watch,” he said. She definitely didn't.

“Oh, but I do,” she said, “I mean, I would know. Yanno what I mean?”

“I guess so.”

“Travis,” she said softly, “I know you and I aren't close. But I can tell that something is bothering you. You, uh, you don't need to tell me anything. I just want you to know that it matters to me that you're not feeling up to par.”

“Thank you,” he looked at her and smiled a little. How do you begin? He thought to himself. Is this how it should get started? Should it get started?

“I have pumpkins ripening in the Botany Lab,” she said, “They're so pretty. Would you, uh, want to see them some time?”

Maybe something really was beginning.

“Sure,” he said, and found his appetite again.

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“I, there are so many things I've wanted to say to you. Not just here, but for the past two years, Lili-Flower. And now I just can't.” – Malcolm Reed

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“Joy?” Q asked.

“Is that too presumptuous?”

“Not necessarily,” he said, “It's just, it's not so easy. There is a history.”

“If we puny humans can change, why can't the almighty Q?”

“Your attitudes certainly change,” Q said, “Like your words. I have, as we have gone along, I have replayed some of your words in my mind. And others' words as well.”

“Others? You mean Doug and Malcolm's?”

“And more,” he said, “Everyone from your children when you saw them in the mirror future, to your captain, to aliens you've met and even ones you have never met. I have noticed that sometimes you are rather prescient.”

“But I bet, most of the time, that we're not.”

“Yes,” Q said, “And sometimes the reverse happens.”

“We can't predict the future,” she said, “I expect our words can often come back to haunt us.”

“Most certainly. When you talked about your husband making strong and healthy children, and then Kevin came along, you were proven completely wrong.”

“Yes,” she said, then picked up Declan, who moved a bit but didn't fuss, “Knowing the future like this, it's odd. I look at a newborn, but now I can see the divorced man, too. Is he alone for a long time?”

“That marriage was very short,” Q said, “Less than three of your years.”

“Oh,” she kissed the top of his head, “Was it very bitter, or was it amicable?”

“Details, as you have seen, are not necessarily of my concern,” Q said, “But there was a court case and a lot of paperwork filed. He ended up moving back in with you and the short Brit. I suppose I could call him the second short Brit.”

“Huh. He's not from Britain.”

“No, but when he attends Oxford, he picks up the accent.”

“And now I see a child who barely knows how to cry and suddenly I can see him reading John Donne aloud. And painting and drawing, too. I guess he got that from my mother. And Neil – he's not even here yet, but I have seen his women, and his child. He has an arrangement like mine, yes?”

“Yes, he does.”

“And Joss, I see him learning to hit the curveball, and beginning to understand fractions, and I also see him marrying his High School sweetheart. And Marie Patrice, a little girl, I see her as my Maid of Honor. It's all mixed-up.”

“As a Q, we see the beginning, the middle and the end of all main things, all of the things that cannot be changed.”

“Do you see the end to your war?”

“That way is cloudy,” he said, “Which is unprecedented. It is ... unsettling.”

“I can see where knowing the end could be comforting. Even if it's an unpleasant end. I still think I would be a neurotic mess – will be, what am I saying? – when June of 2181 rolls around. But you're right, there is a sense of being prepared.”

“Preparation is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“True,” she allowed, “But I don't want to be smothering. You can be together and not be smothering, Q. That's a part of being together and also being apart a bit. Allowing someone else their space is pretty vital.”

“Shall I prepare you for another main event?”

She looked at him, and then put the baby back into the bassinette, “I – this one won't be positive, right?”

“That is correct.”

She swallowed hard, “The topic keeps sliding around. It comes and goes, and I feel I lose the thread of continuity. Will you, will we get it back? Does this have anything to do with it?”

“It does. And we will.”

The scene began to change.

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“Our house burned down when I was nine. My parents were trapped inside. My father died when a beam fell on him. He was found on top of my mother. I guess he was protecting her somehow.” – Lili Beckett

“But please, don't be gone completely. Answer me tomorrow. Please, please answer. I want so very much to continue to believe.” – Malcolm Reed

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It was the same warm house that was not her house. But Lili knew that there was a video cutout, so she went to it first.

There was a picture of a Calafan family, and she recognized Yinora. The man was undoubtedly her husband. They had three children, a girl and two boys. The Bat Mitzvah photo was next. Then Tommy in a scouting uniform. Then Marie Patrice with a man and a young boy and girl at the girl's High School graduation.

“Who is he?” Lili asked.

“Ken Masterson,” Q said.

“Are they my grandchildren?”

“No. They are from a previous marriage. They are Kelly and Wesley Masterson.”

“Oh.”

The pictures continued. It was Joss and Jia at their wedding. And then Neil and his human woman, with their two children, a boy and a girl.

“Tell me about Neil's family.”

“That is his daytime woman. Her name is Ines Ramirez. Their children are Jennifer Leonora and Martin,” Q said.

“She is the daughter of Jenny and Frank, right?”

“Yes. You keep in touch with your Starfleet friends, and the children meet, and such things happen.”

“But Declan's wife, was she somehow in our orbit that way?”

“Her aunt was.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” Q said, “Auntie Pamela Hudson.”

“Ah,” Lili said. The next picture was of Marie Patrice in front of a building that said MP Fashions on the front, “Is that her business?”

“Yes.”

There were sounds coming from another room, so Lili went to investigate.

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“It’s that, it’s that women in love are just, they're so much more beautiful.” – Malcolm Reed

“My real name – the one I was given when I was born – is Charlotte Lilienne O'Day.” – Lili Beckett

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“Good morning,” said a much older Lili, in bed, again, with Malcolm.

He had also gone white, and his face was very lined. He smiled at her, “Good morning, my love,” he leaned over and looked at the clock, “Seven hundred hours. And, um, a little less than four and a half degrees. It'll be chilly.”

“Then you can keep me warm?”

“Of course,” he said, “Last night was wonderful,” he kissed her cheek.

“Definitely one of our best times. With, uh, very stiff competition,” she grinned at him.

“Most definitely,” he agreed, “Can I, uh, could I possibly get lucky again this evening?”

“In your dreams!” she said playfully.

“Well, that's about the only way that that's possible these days,” he said, “God bless the Calafans.”

“Yep,” she said, “You're ninety years old and as randy as ever.”

“And you are ninety-three and a half,” he said, “But you don't look it.”

“Sure I do,” she said, “I don't just have parentheses lines; I've got fissures. My hearing is going, you know all of that.”

“I do,” he said, “But, Mrs. Reed – and I don't have to tell you that that is one of my all-time favorite word pairings – well, Mrs. Reed, I am losing my eyesight. So it doesn't matter.”

“In some ways, I wish we could have been together earlier,” she said.

“Well, you would have run faster as I chase you 'round.”

“I would let you catch me,” she said, kissing him, “Did you see that?”

“See what?” he asked.

“Heat lightning.”

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“Lili-Flower.” – Malcolm Reed

“I definitely do. I know. I know that I, that I love you.” – Lili Beckett

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The younger Lili glanced at the clock. There was the date: December third, 2202, “This is Doug's centennial,” she said.

“Correct,” Q said.

“And there is no heat lightning, right?” Q said nothing, “This is her – my – day. Right? Am I right?”

“Just watch.”

“I don't see any heat lighting, Lili-Flower.”

“Maybe my eyes are going, too,” she said, “When do you think Dec will be up?”

“Fairly soon,” he replied, “Perhaps we'll go out shopping for a Christmas tree today. Would you like that?”

“I don't know,” she said strangely, “I just feel like staying here with you.”

“Oh,” he said, smiling and kissing her, “Just you and me, eh?”

“Yes. And, you know, I'd like for him to go out and meet people, but not with us in tow. He needs to meet women. He hasn't been doing that.”

“I know,” Malcolm said, “I suspect he's as much of a late bloomer as I was.”

“But he's also got a painful divorce in his background, which you didn't have.”

“I was self-conscious enough,” he said, “It was so very difficult to get to know anyone, and for such a long time.”

“I know,” she said, “Of course, if you and I had been together earlier, other things wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't have our dear Joss or Neil or any of them. I wouldn't have been receptive to Doug at all.”

“I'm glad things turned out the way they did,” he said, “Because, for one thing, with Doug, you are a devoted grandmother, a few times over.”

“And you are the best grandfather,” she said, “There's more heat lightning. Are you sure you're not seeing it?”

“I'm not,” he said.

“Huh. What's today's date?”

“The third.”

“Oh, my,” she said, “Doug would have been one hundred today.”

He held her close, “He was like a brother to me. I never had one, you know. Have we done him justice, do you think?”

“Yes,” she said, “The room is very grey. It needs a scrubbing.”

“It's the same,” Malcolm said, “Blue walls, furniture, little knickknacks and things, the usual things we have. It hasn't changed.”

“It has,” the elder Lili said, “Malcolm, I think I know what that means.”

“Tell me,” he said voice a little shaky.

“I think it's my day.”

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“I love you beyond all reason, beyond all hope, beyond all belief and beyond all faith.” – Malcolm Reed

“I didn't understand it before, but I think I do now. You see, there are a thousand reasons why things wouldn't work, and hopes can be dashed. Beliefs can be wrong and faith can be tested. But with love, things do work, hopes are restored, beliefs are proven and faith is, it's rewarded.” – Lili Beckett

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“Shall I call Declan, or the doctor?” he asked, a bit alarmed.

“No,” she said, “I don't think this can be stopped.”

“Don't leave me,” he said.

“I'm going to have to.”

“But we've only just been able to be together.”

“Malcolm, we have been together, in one way or another, for over forty years.”

“It's not enough time,” he said, “Don't, don't leave.”

“I don't have a choice in the matter.”

“Can't it be fought?”

“No. You just get, you get weaker. I mean, I don't know if I can walk or even sit up. Or even if I should – maybe I should save my strength, you know?”

“Here, I'll come to you,” he said, and kissed her very gently.

She smiled at him, “No one kisses like you.”

“Or you.”

“I'll miss you,” she said, “But I have a feeling, it just might not be that long.”

“I don't imagine how it could be,” he said, “For I cannot live.”

“Listen carefully, okay?”

“Yes.”

“There are recipes in the kitchen. There's the box, but there are some behind the box. Those are the ones that nobody else makes. Give them to Neil. He's the only one of the children who cooks. I know he will make good sauces and good empanadas. I want my ring, and yours, when you are ready, to be Declan's. And the key, too. I have a feeling – I can't explain it – but I feel he will remarry. I think he is too wonderful to not be loved. He will be loved. And it'll be better. Will you do those things?”

“You know I will.”

“I want Tommy to have all of the things I have from Doug. Joss may look more like Doug, but Tommy is Doug's clone so far as I can see. And Joss, I relinquish my share of the old house to him. It will be his, free and clear. Except for my wedding ring and the key, I want all of my personal things to go to Marie Patrice. Every scrap, every bit of jewelry, everything. You have everything else.”

“I don't want things. I want you.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, “You are my heart. You are my soul. But I have to do this.”

“Your heart is broken. Your soul is damaged.”

“No, no,” she said, “You and I will be together. Somehow. I know it,” she said, “Kiss me, please.”

He did so, “I love you so completely. I have never given myself over to anyone like I have to you. And I never will again.”

“It's clearing,” she said, “Before, I could only see you. But now I can see it.”

“What is it?”

“It's a bridge. A stone bridge, with stone sides. But it's not, it's not a scary river that it's over. It's just, it's more, I guess, to keep your feet dry.”

“A safe bridge, then?” he asked, voice shaking more.

“Yes, it's very safe. And there are people coming.”

“When you go with them, that will be it, right?”

“I think so. Please, please kiss me. I can't turn my head or I would do it myself.”

He did so, “Oranges. Sunshine and happiness.”

“Yes,” she said, “I can see my parents. My father, he has a wrench with him. He used to tinker. And my mother, she has one of those little scoring knives for pottery. She has two boys with her.”

“Two?”

“Yes. Kevin is older. He's, he's got a handful of dirt. And the other one, I don't know him, but somehow I think he might be Declan O'Day. The brother I never had on this side of the pond. And he's got a baseball glove.”

“Then you can play again, like you did when you were young.”

“Yes,” she said, “It must be heaven if there's baseball.”

“I guess it must be,” he said, a little calmer.

“A man like you. And two tall men. Jay Hayes, with, with a hammer. And,” she smiled, “Doug.”

“Everyone's carrying something. What does he have?”

“I don't understand it,” she said, “And I think – I know – it's delayed. He has to do something before he can use it. He's not quite finished yet.”

“What does he have for you, my dearest love?”

“It's, huh, it's a wooden spatula. Pancakes are on the menu, I think.”

“Then they shall be wonderful. Do save me one.”

“As many as you want. I love you so completely, Malcolm. I, I want to be next to Doug. With room on the other side, for you.”

“Anything,” he said.

“A kiss?”

“Yes,” he said, and kissed her, “I love you, Mrs. Lili Reed.”

She looked at him, and smiled, and said, “I love you, Malcolm,” Then she looked up, and said, “Happy birthday, Doug. I'm ready.”

There was a gasp of air leaving.

Malcolm let out a loud wail, an incoherent sound that wasn't a word.

Declan came running in, “Dad! Dad!” he cried out.

“She is gone. She is gone. She is gone.”

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“You are right here, always.” – Malcolm Reed

“Even after I die, I will love you.” – Lili Beckett

“Just because she's, she's dead, that doesn't mean that I can't still love her.” – Doug Beckett



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