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Chapter Notes:

Doug's final theme - Billy Joel - Honesty

Warning - this chapter contains recollections of particularly violent scenes.


“How the hell did you escape death?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

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Lafa VI was a pretty place, all green and gold. The transport set them down a ways from the olive grove, so Lili and Doug walked a bit. She carried a cooler basket and he carried a rolled-up blanket.

“I still don't see why you're treating this like a picnic,” he finally said, when they had gotten to the grove itself.

“Well, we might get hungry,” she said, “Over there, that looks like a good spot.”

“I am so not gonna get hungry,” he said, looking around, “The place is deserted.”

“As well it should be,” she said, “Treve and I told everyone to clear out, so they're off working by where the chickpea plants are growing.”

“You told Treve?” he asked, a bit annoyed.

“No, I did not tell Treve. Nothing more than just to tell him that we'd be here and no one else should be. And he was fine with that,” she said, “Don't worry. And here, let's spread out the blanket.”

“You're still treating this like a picnic,” he complained, but complied.

“Well, we don't have to sit in the dirt.”

“You're gonna want me to.”

“Just, humor me, okay, Doug?”

“Uh, all right,” he said, and sat down.

She sat down and placed the cooler basket over to the side, “Well?”

“I'm not sure how to begin,” he said.

“Let's start, uh, chronologically,” she said, “First one.”

“Um, all right,” he said, “I was, uh, oh man, I can't do this.”

“Yes. You can,” she said.

“Why are you asking this now, all of a sudden?”

“I, just, I think it's time to come clean,” she said.

“But –”

“Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett, you are a fifty-nine year old man. You are the strongest man I know – stronger even than Malcolm. You can do this,” she said, “And I will be here with you, every step of the way, and we will get through this,” she took his hand.

“Maybe, uh, maybe don't hold hands,” he said, dropping hers, “I think I'll need to get up and, and pace around a bit. Are you sure there's nobody here?”

“There is no one here. Feel free to shout if you must.”

“Uh, okay,” he took a deep breath, “It was, um, it was 2122. I was at West Point then. Nineteen years old. I had this, uh, well, you know his counterpart. It was Lucas Donnelly. He was my commanding officer, really, but he was no more than a Barracks Chief. He had a Sargent's rank. And I, I didn't want to be pushed around so I made up my mind to hop over him. And there, uh, there was only one way to do that. I didn't have anything with me, and I kinda wanted to see if I was strong enough. And, uh, I, you don't want to hear this part, Lili.”

“Yes, I do. Full disclosure, Doug.”

“I, it was like when Malcolm and I were doing that demo, right before the arrangement started. I just put my hands around Donnelly's neck, and I squeezed as hard as I could. And he struggled a bit, but I was, I was strong enough, and then it was done, and I could move up. God help me, I had wanted to do that to Malcolm. What the hell is wrong with me?

“Shh. Just, this is, we're gonna get the poison out,” she said.

“And I was made the Barracks Chief. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and Donnelly was dead. And I started to have these dreams about him. He was commanding me more than he had when he was alive. Not, not like I was delusional and he was telling me to commit crimes. It, it wasn't like that. It was more, I would hear him like I had heard him when he was alive.”

“Maybe you didn't yet realize it, but what you had done, it bothered you.”

“Yes. It did. I didn't, um, get it then but that was the first bit of guilt and, and conscience, I guess.”

“That's a good thing,” Lili said.

“I suppose. Didn't do Donnelly any good, though,” he said, “Uh, the next one, it was on, it was on Vulcan. I was a graduate by then – got outta West Point in 2123 and I had had Basic in Cambodia, too. I was a mercenary, would go wherever there was fighting. But I had to have a place to live, because I wasn't really set on a ship or anything. So I'd decided on Vulcan, 'cause it's warm like Ganymede.”

“You have never liked the cold,” she commented.

“Yeah. And, uh, I didn't have very nice quarters. And I wasn't supposed to. I was not a very good soldier – just a big, undisciplined lummox. And I wanted bigger and better ones, but I didn't wanna have to do any work in order to get them. So, um, I was in the base apartment building and I waited for this guy, Ethan Shapiro, to come in. I had a phaser with me, and I shot him in the belly. I, uh, I went through his pockets.”

“Were you, uh, Doug, I've never known for you to be a thief.”

“It was only for the room key. That was all that I wanted. The guy had money and I didn't take it, I remember. I don't know why. I mean, it's not like it woulda mattered to him or anything. But I didn't take it, I swear. Just the, the key. Spent the next few days clearing his stuff out and when his father came over to see what had happened, I hid but I anonymously gave out info that did direct the guy to his son's stuff.”

“You just took the room key?”

“Yeah. Strange,” he said, “And I, um, the first time I slept in those quarters, I heard two voices – Shapiro's and Donnelly's – in my dreams.”

“Go on.”

“The, uh, the third one; that was Harris in, um, 2127,” Doug said, “You know his counterpart, he's a pilot. Well, there were boxing matches. I was pitted against him. We were both these big brutes. The prize was, it was a B rations card.”

“What are B rations?” she asked.

“You're supposed to get meat three times a week,” he said, “For A rations you get meat every day. C rations are twice a week, D is once and E is never, unless you hunt your own. Uh, when I met you, I had an A rations card but there wasn't a lotta meat so it was more like having a D card.”

“Oh.”

“It, uh, bets were exchanged. I learned later that the odds were six to one in my favor. And I hit him as hard as I could, in the kidneys. He went down like a sack of, well, a sack of these olives. He was, uh, probably dead before he even hit the canvas,” Doug paused for a second, “And that night, the song turned from a duet into a trio.”

“You can do this,” she said.

“Fourth one was, we were at war on Denobula. It was, um, I was twenty-five, so it was 2128. That one was really quick. I was caught in cross-fire and grabbed a guy who was running with me and I used him as, well, I guess the expression is human shield,” he admitted, “I, uh, I didn't know the guy at all, never even heard him talk. I learned later that he was named Carlos Castillo. And I didn't know his voice, so my dreams provided one for him. I ended up imagining him sounding like ballplayer Lefty Robinson, from the South American Pistoleros. The tide of battle started turning, and I found myself cut off from my unit at a Denobulan village. I went in, loud and angry, and I strafed it. I killed eighty-six Denobulans then, mostly children. And when I got back to my unit the next day, they pinned a medal on my chest,” he swallowed, “I, well, I didn't hear them in my dreams. I just saw those. It was all those kids with no chance. I know you only asked about the humans.”

“It's okay. You tell me anything you feel you need to.”

He got up, “The fifth one was, I was barely twenty-six. And man oh man, you're gonna hate me for this one more than probably most of them.”

“I'm not gonna hate you, Doug.”

“It was, we were on the ISS Avenger, which is where that boxing match had been, too. And there was this girl, Christine Chalmers. And at the time I thought she was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. She was this blonde, really built. Now, she's the kind of woman I would just pass on the street and think: cheap. But not then – I just didn't know any better. And she was interested in me, and she would send out all of these signals but then she'd just tease me. She was Ehigha Ejiogu's girl.”

“Who?”

“He was, uh, he was Nigerian. And she told me she was bored with him.”

“Why didn't she just break up with him?” Lili asked.

“I realize now that she was playing with me, just wanted me to do what I was told. You know, see if I would be a good little attack dog for her. She told me I couldn't get any while he was still alive, so we arranged it. She was waiting by an airlock and I walked him over there. She told him it was over and I overpowered him and we got him outta the airlock. And then, man, you are gonna hate me.”

“Stop saying that.”

“I, uh, Lili, that was foreplay. I, um, we did it against the wall of the ship, right next to that airlock.”

“Oh, my,” she swallowed hard.

“And I heard him, and I saw him, not just when I slept that night but any time I did it with her. I cheated on her, like I did with, with everyone until, um, until you. With the other girls, I didn't see him or hear him yelling. But with her, yeah. She, well, she wasn't exactly faithful, either, and she left me for some other guy. I forget who now.”

“I don't hate you,” Lili said.

“The, uh, the sixth one was, well, you might wanna rethink the idea of hating me,” Doug said. He turned around and leaned against a nearby olive tree, his face obscured, “I gotta stop.”

“We can take a break.”

“No, I can't continue,” he said, “This one is, it's really bad. It’s worse than the last one. You're gonna stop loving me.”

“And that means this one is important and you have got to get it out of you, Doug. I will not stop loving you.”

“You will. And you'll, you're gonna leave me for sure.”

There was a little silence, “I will not leave you,” she said, “It doesn't matter how, how bad it is.”

“It is going to matter,” he insisted, “It will.”

“Come here,” he didn't, so she got up and put her arms around his waist, “Turn around and face me.”

He did so, slowly, eyes bloodshot, “I'm afraid.”

“I, I know,” she said, “Whisper it. Don't even let the air hear you.”

“It was 2130. I was twenty-seven years old. It was the Klingon home world. We had conquered it, my part in that was twenty-six dead Klingons. And I had a job; it was to put boards over the broken barracks windows.”

He stopped whispering so she kissed him on the cheek, “It's okay. I'm right here.”

“And, and I was working with a hammer and nails. Old-fashioned kind, you know?” She nodded and he continued, “And I, I wanted, this guy, Tim, uh, Tim Randall, he had a three-day pass. And I, I wanted it. I didn't want anything else from him. Just the three-day pass card.”

“Go on.”

“Lili, he, I, oh, I can't tell you,” his voice started to really crack.

“Yes, you can. You can tell me anything. Remember how I told you that I'm not as delicate as you think I am? Well, it's still true, Doug.”

He barely squeaked out, and she had to really strain to hear him, “I, I used the hammer. B-both ends. The, the head and the, the claw end. I, I just kept going and going and going. I was in a frenzy and I just couldn't stop. The, the other ones, up 'til then, they were all quick. This one wasn't. I, I caused that man so much pain.”

She held him, and tears squeezed out of her eyes as well as they stood there for several minutes. She finally said, “The poison is, it's coming out. It'll all be gone soon.”

“But I'm just giving it to you,” he cried.

“No, no. It's all going away. It's like, if you've ever blown away dandelion seeds. It's going to fly away on the wind.”

“And, and leave a weed in someone else's garden,” he said.

“The guilt will remain,” she said, “That part won't go away. But the secret – that thing, we can exorcise that demon. But only if you keep on trusting me. Do you?”

He nodded, voice breaking but audible, “This next one, the seventh. It was the following year, on Andoria. I had done my part there, too – eleven dead Andorians. And I, I wanted Wes Goddard to change shifts with me, and he, he wouldn't. And we brawled and we were near this cliff and I just threw him over the side of it.”

She just nodded.

“The, the eighth, it was on Ceres. It was 2132. I, I was rewiring conduits and I put a live wire onto Rodney Hamilton's chest so that it would, it would hit his heart. They, they made me an Ensign for doing that.”

“You had told me that this was how to move up,” she said.

“Y-yes.”

“We're halfway home,” she said, “We're getting through this, you and me.”

“The, the ninth one, it was on Titania.”

“Was this while you were with Susan?”

“No, uh, two years before, in 2133. I was, uh, thirty years old.”

“Okay,” she said.

“It was about a key again. I, I wanted a bigger apartment. This was a private apartment, not military. I, I phasered Wil Troi. Right in the heart. And I took his key.”

“But nothing else?”

“No. Nothing else. But what should that matter? He's dead either way, Lili.”

“I know. I just, I don't know why I'm asking that,” she admitted.

“The, the tenth one, I was back in Cambodia. I wanted to see if I could see Darareaksmey Preap. She was, uh, I had, I had lost my virginity to her, back when I was twenty-one. It had not ended well with Susan. It wasn't right what I did to Susan. She was sick, she was an alcoholic, and I couldn't handle it. She blacked out, more than once, while we were together. I was so scared, getting her to Medical. Not as scared as, as when I had to take you.”

“I remember,” she said.

“Yeah. But it was bad enough. And she needed compassion, but I just, I ran off. I couldn't handle it, and I was just immature and she, I think she suffered for that. And I went from woman to woman and nothing lasted and it, this was, uh, nine years after I had known Susan. And I don't know what possessed me, why I thought I'd be remembered by this, this Cambodian bar girl who wasn't even very pretty or memorable or anything. But I got myself transferred back there. She was already gone. So I instead looked to make some money and get out. And, and there was this guy who was in the way of my getting a raise,” he stopped for a moment, “It was greed. It was just greed. I had this damned chorus in my head – a chorus of the damned – and I wanted more money. So I knifed him. Blood everywhere.”

“It's like when I was in cooking school and I had to kosher kill a cow. It's just an awful, nasty business.”

“This was no cow. It was a man. He was named Donald Ellison. I was forty-two years old. I hadn't killed anyone for eleven years. I should have known better by then. I was in better control of myself. This was just cold-blooded,” he said.

“But you had a long stretch there,” she said.

“It wasn't like I was kind then, or before, or after,” he said, voice still teary, “I had killed two Vulcans by then. Four Kreetassans. One Xyrillian, too. I even got two Suliban in the mix, but that was later.”

“You were a soldier. Soldiers do that,” she said.

“I still don't know why you haven't stopped loving me, uh, yet.”

“I don't really have a choice in the matter,” she said, “I am just going to love you. Despite all of this.”

“Huh. I don't pretend to understand,” he took another deep breath and sniffed, then rubbed his eyes a little, “The eleventh one was on the Tellarite home world, three years later. I wanted a day pass. The guy's name was Evan Sorian, and I garroted him with a line of rope. All for a one-day pass. It seems so cheap. I was doing this for so, so little.”

“It's – it was always that you wanted something,” she said.

“Definitely. I always wanted something. Number twelve was Major Ian Landry, two years later. That one was, God, it was so cowardly. I went into the man's bunk while he was sleeping and I just smothered him with his own pillow. And they made me a Major for that,” he swallowed, “Jay was a Major. But it wasn't because of anything like that. He, he was disciplined, and, and he rescued a MACO unit on Kronos and he showed leadership on the field and he was not like this.”

“You are not Jay.”

“You're damn right I'm not. He was, he was a much, much better man. And so is Malcolm.”

“Doug ....”

“No, really. He is. He keeps thinking, and he says it sometimes, that he's, that he's second best. And I'd, I had tried to make him think that. But it's wrong, it's not true. He is better than I am. By, by far,” his eyes were streaming.

“This isn't a contest. We've all tried to live that, that we are equal and not in some sort of weird competition with each other. We aren't.”

“This isn't like in bed or anything. This is overall. He is the better person, Lili.”

“He isn't any better than you are. It's like, well, it's like saying that Tommy is better than Marie Patrice. That he's somehow some better child, more worthy of our love.”

“You know what I'm talking about.”

“Just, just keep going,” she said, “He's not totally without sin, you know. He has things that he's done. And one day we may very well be having a similar conversation so don't think he's some paragon of virtue, Doug.”

Really?”

“Yep. Maybe not the same and maybe not to the same degree, but he's done plenty. Covert stuff. There's no pretty bow on it. He'll have a day when he has to come clean, too.”

“Huh,” Doug said. He rubbed and wiped his eyes and straightened up a little, as her statement seemed to have given him some strength, “I, I think I can continue. Push through, and get to the finish line.”

“Good,” she said, “Number thirteen.”

“Thirteen,” he said, “That one was, it was about a woman again.”

“Oh?”

“But not the same way. I had met Shelby Pike. I had gotten hooked up with her because she did these, uh, you could hook up using a communicator. She had, uh, she was a pilot on the other side of the pond, not a Botanist like here. And she had a business on the side there. It was turning tricks. So I had this agreement with her, I was gonna meet her on Ganymede. I hadn't been back since I was a kid. My, well, my father was already dead and my mother was dying. So I had reason to go back but it wasn't for them – it was because I wanted Shelby. She was, I can't explain, at the time, there was just something that really, um, rang my bell about her. So I had plans, and I was all ready to go. This was for the first time. It was, uh, 2150 and I was on this transport from Titan to Ganymede.”

“Titan?”

“Not the kinda Titan you grew up on. It was, well, Titan was, I was living there in between assignments. I was forty-eight years old and a lotta guys in my position, they woulda either been settling down in some way or another or going for a better detail. I was still taking a lotta orders. So I was ready to head out, and get a shuttle to the surface when this guy, Kurt Fong, he was trying to give me a work detail. If I wasn't going to meet Shelby, I probably woulda done it. I mean, those things always meant extra cash and believe me, with Shelby, I needed extra cash. But that wasn't what I had in mind and I didn't want to be late. So, um, I pitched him out of the transport airlock. Same as I had with Ejiogu, over twenty years previously,” he furrowed his brow.

“And then you got to see Shelby.”

“Yeah. I, uh, she got a piloting job on the Enterprise not too long after that and I stopped seeing her when that happened. But, uh, number fourteen brought that a bit full circle. I was, uh, we were to draw lots to get onto the Enterprise. It looked to be a good detail. Quarters and food were supposed to be better, plus there were women. I mean, there were so few women on the other side of the pond. You could go for days without even seeing one. It could be really tough,” he took a breath, “And so Major Geming Sulu, he was running the lottery. He was the same rank as me but he was put in charge of it. And I didn't get in, so I ended up knifing him in the gut. Others did similar kinds of things. A lotta guys wanted to be on the Enterprise. This was 2152; it was in preparation for the Xindi War. And that's how I got onto the Enterprise. We, we had the Xindi War and I was in the air, not on the ground for once. But I pulled the trigger plenty of times with phase cannons and the like, and, well, we were committing genocide on the Xindi people. I figure I was responsible for at least a few thousand Xindi deaths of any of their species. Stayed outta trouble and on the Enterprise, working for Reed, actually. He was not a nice man on the other side, but we weren't at odds because, uh, Shelby was African and Jennifer was a redhead and, well, that Reed only liked blondes. So I was okay with him but God knows we were not friends.”

“Which eventually brought you to me,” she said.

“Yes. And in the meantime, the Enterprise was destroyed not too long after Archer found the Defiant. We left in escape pods. I was really with Jennifer by then, but we weren't living together yet. I threw her into one and I fought off a kid from Security for my own. Pretty soon after that, Reed had died in Sick Bay and so no one was in charge of Tactical. The Empress promoted me, and I became a Lieutenant Commander. It was the only time, until I got here, that I was ever promoted without, well, without somebody having to, to die.”

“And then we met in 2157.”

“Yes,” he said, “And, you gotta understand, by this time all fourteen of them were living in my dreams. I dreamt of them every single damned night. And the others – the Denobulans, the Suliban, the Vulcans, the Xindi, them, too, but those were silent. The human dead, though, they talked. They were a kinda Greek chorus from hell. Every single damned night. And then it was October, it was October twenty-eighth, and I got into bed early because I wasn't feeling too well but I didn't want anyone to know. It was, it was a sign of weakness to show you were sick.”

“But you had a doctor.”

“Yeah, but that didn't matter. You weren't supposed to use him unless things were really, really dire. Believe me, you didn't want to. So we were coming up to the Lafa System. I went to bed and fell asleep and, for once, I wasn't dreaming of all of them. It was, it was kind of a hallway to start. It was, Lili,” his voice started breaking again, “it was the first time in thirty-five years that I wasn't dreaming about the people I had murdered. I was, it went pitch dark in the dream, and I got shoved and I shoved back, pushing this, this person into a wall. And that person was smaller than me, and I somehow realized that that person was, was a woman. And, and her hands were small and soft and she, she put them on my face. And she kissed me. And I didn't know why. I didn't deserve to have her kiss me. So I kissed her back. And she was so, so soft and so gentle and nobody; nobody had been that, that sweet and kind to me, not ever. Not since, since I was just a little boy and my mother would spend time with me, teaching me to read and all of that,” he just stood there and sobbed for a while.

“It was a long time ago.”

“I want to tell this. Because I, I haven't told this,” he croaked out, “I was sent away to school before I was seven. It's too young. I, I missed her. I wasn't supposed to. You were supposed to be tough. And I, I wasn't. And I got beat up for it. It wasn't until I got bigger, and I just, you get hard. Those who get hard and cruel, they were the survivors. The ones who stayed gentle, they were usually beaten to death or something like that. And there I was, I was almost fifty-five years old and no one had been kind to me in almost five decades and there was this woman – you – and you were so, so loving. And we, you know, you were there.”

“We made love.”

“Yes. And it was so wonderful,” he said, “It wasn't just, you know, satisfying. It was also just, you were good to me. No one had ever been good to me. Not there, not anywhere. And I went to work the following day, and Aidan MacKenzie said that there was some sensor acting up and I realized somehow that sensor had traced you, your presence. And I kind of clutched at that, because I figured, if a sensor could somehow pick you up, that you might be real.”

“That first night, I was unsure whether you were real. But I was hoping that you were. The next day, I got distracted and cut my hand with a French knife, thinking about you,” she said.

He smiled a little, but still looked pained, “And then, that second night, my dream was just of you. No hall – it was just dark as the darkest midnight, but I could feel you, your body and your hands were soft and your hair was straight and I just touched you all over because I never, ever wanted to forget you. And your, your shoulder, you, you smelled like oranges. And I hadn't had an orange in years, and no one smelled like freshness and good things. They all smelled of decay and overripe rotting. But you, you didn't. You were alive. I knew you were alive. You were real. You had to be. And I vowed I would never, ever hurt anyone again, because I knew that someone like you wouldn't tolerate that. And all I wanted to do was find some way to please you, and be with you. But then when I crossed over to come to you, Deborah Haddon was, was there,” his voice turned pained again.

“Yes. You didn't mean for her to be hurt.”

“But my intentions don't matter in the end,” he sobbed, “I laid explosive charges behind and to the side of the transporter pads. The idea was, Tucker and Cutler would beam to the surface, and then I would go, but I would be transferred over, from one universe to the other. But in the meantime, Tucker and Cutler needed cover. And I needed it, too, in case the Calafans were wrong in their calculations, or if somehow something went haywire. I didn't want to end up on the Lafa II on the wrong side of the pond but, if that happened, I knew I had to at least escape the Empress. So the plan was to blow up the transporter Room. And Deborah Haddon would've been fine if she didn't go there. I don't know why she did, but she did. And she was, well, I can guess at what happened to her body.”

“I had contact with Chip Masterson on the other side,” Lili said, “And he, well, he told me he had had to clean that all up. I cannot imagine what that must have felt like.”

“Not just her, but, but all of them,” he said, “Somebody had to pick up the, the pieces of Tim Randall,” he cringed, “I, I sent out apology notes but it's just not enough.”

“It was the same with me and She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time,” Lili said, “It was gruesome. I, I whacked her in the head with a cast iron skillet. I almost completely decapitated her. And I was shaken when I finally realized what I had done. I threw the skillet into the disposer. It was a perfectly good, well-seasoned pan. Chef was furious initially, and then I explained and, well, neither of us would've been able to use that pan again, after having known that there were the, well, the brains of a sentient being on it. I sent an apology, you know this.”

“Yes, and that's what made me think to do that on my end. It never would’ve been my idea. But the apologies were late. I don't know if they did any good, or if they just opened it back up again.”

“I think it's better late than never, Doug. Like now. Isn’t it better to get this out, now, than to just live our lives and never, ever talk about it?”

“I don't know,” he said, “Is this better? Can you really still love me, at all? Can you, can you look at me the same way again? I'm just afraid that you, that you can't.”

“You're right, I can't,” she said, and he cringed and shook, “I look at you better.”

Better? But why?” His eyes were crimson.

“Because, even though I had to pull it outta you, this took a lot of courage, Doug,” she said, “You are braver than you think, and it doesn't come from training or weaponry. It comes from your honesty. Hand me the cooler.”

He did so.

She opened it, “I took the liberty of bringing this,” It was a small bottle of Grande Siècle Champagne. She then took out two glasses, “Do you remember having this?”

“In a dream,” he said, voice returning to normal, “We were on a Ganymede beach I had conjured up from my memory. You were wearing a swimsuit with four-leaf clovers all over it.”

“That's right,” she said, “And that time, you provided the drinks.”

“True,” he said, much calmer, “What, uh, what would we be drinking to?” he asked, popping the cork, “I don't know if it feels like a celebration so much as, well, like having been through an ordeal.”

“Well, it was. But you had said that you have a lot of birthdays. The day we met, the day you realized you were in love with Melissa, the kids' births, and all of that. And maybe this is another birthday for you.”

“Maybe,” he poured, “Do you remember what we drank to then?”

Connections and dreams. And that was when we talked about what I would cook for you the first time I'd see you, and you picked out the name Reversal.”

“And as I recall we did a little math, too,” he said, “I, I don't know if I feel perfectly well. It's not an absolution. I still have guilt.”

“I don't expect that to go away quite so quickly,” she said.

“What, uh, really, what brought on your desire to know all of this?”

“I – it's, well, it's what I want to toast,” she said, raising her glass, “To honesty. And to forgiveness.”

And to love,” he said, “To always, forever, love.”

=/=



“How come – when you and I do it – I have to have surgery for cryin' out loud? I can't have sex with you without having my body altered. And I've had that done twice. And it'll be a third time after Pete here is born. But she, she's fine. Not a scratch on her. Why is it so rough with me? Why can't you be, why can't you touch me, when I'm not all altered, without, without hurting me?” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“C'mere,” she said, putting her glass down.

Really?”

“Yes, really. I want to love you. I want to give myself to you because I know that you just gave a helluva lot of yourself to me today, Doug.”

“Even though you know?”

“It's because I know. I am not your, I am not just some chippie for you. I am not a casual acquaintance. I am not some passing fancy.”

“Definitely not a passing fancy,” he touched her hand but he was a bit tentative, as if they were just beginning to date.

“I am your wife,” she said, “And, so far as I'm concerned, that is forever. Even after the end. It is forever. For I don't know how I know this, but I know that there is something there, and if I can be there, then you will, and we all will. I want to show you my body. I want to give you my heart. I want your hands on me. I want your mouth. I want all of it.”

“These hands have committed crimes. This mouth has cursed and condemned people, and conspired against them.”

“But they are your hands, and that is your mouth. I remember, you told me you wanted my breasts on your chest.”

“Yes, I did. And I still do. If you'll allow that.”

“And you said, when we first were really together, in person, you said it didn't matter that maybe my breasts were more southerly than you were expecting.”

“No, it, uh, it didn't matter, and it doesn't matter because, well, because they're yours.”

“Exactly. And yes, you've done unspeakable things,” she said, “I can't wish it all away, and neither can you. But, at bottom, I think that this, well, I think that your sharing this, it creates even more intimacy, as if that was even possible. But it seems like it is. I feel perfectly connected. To you, to Malcolm, even to Norri and Melissa. I feel like this day is nestling us all deeper together. Does that, does it make sense?”

“Yes. It does. I, we are together. All of us. There's barely a me anymore, except for the bad parts, the parts that still need atonement, that are still wrong. But anything that is good from me, it is a part of a greater whole.”

“For all of us, we are a part of a greater whole,” she said, “Come closer and, uh, we can really become one.”

“You sure there's no one else around?”

“Positive,” she said, pulling at his shirt.

I have always known that you were beautiful,” he said, taking off her top, “Even before I could see you, I knew that. And it's the parts that I can't see that are the most beautiful of all. Your heart. Your soul. You, you said that I was your heart, and Malcolm was your soul. And I would say that you are my heart, and Melissa is my soul. But the truth is, you are both, and she is both, and I bet he is both. There are no half-measures.”

“He is both. And Norri! Can't forget her. She makes it all spin.”

“You bet,” he said, “Can I kiss you?”

“We're married. You don't have to ask.”

“Oh, but I do,” he said, “I want to know if it's all right. For, for me to love you. If I, well, if I have permission.”

“Stop,” she said, “We are to be equal.”

“Yes,” he said, “But right now I am outside the gate. Tell me if it's all right for me to enter.”

“Yes,” she said, “And to stay.”

He drew her closer and put his arms around her, and they kissed, sweeter than before. And when the last of their clothes were off, he looked at her and said, “You've had three kids.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“A bit,” he said, “But don't worry, for every line and everything that anyone else might see as imperfect, well, it's not. It's evidence that you have laughed, and you have loved, and you have been loved, and you still are. And it is proof that you are a mother and you are a wife and you are a companion. And you are familiar and you are home, but you are also the sexy, white-hot flame.”

“And you are the wind,” she said, “You are breath and movement and a blur of activity. You are fast but you are gentle. Not a hurricane, not a tornado, but a breeze that freshens the atmosphere and blows away trouble.”

“And I also snore,” he reminded her.

“Hey, I'm trying to be romantic here.”

“As am I,” he said, “But I'm not too good at talking. All I want, all I need, is to be in the white-hot flame.”

“Then do that,” she said, “And know and see much I love you.”

“You'll see how much I love you, too.”

They rolled onto their sides, and he pushed in, and it was far, but not painful, and not a danger to her. She began moaning almost immediately, as it felt so good. And he kissed her moans, and her throat, and her breasts, and his hands on her waist and her back directed her and moved her along. She was hot, hotter than hot, and even in the pleasant December weather, they both sweated and groaned with the exertion. They rolled, him on his back, and then her onto her back, as they continued, and sometimes their eyes would close, but they mostly stayed open, as they watched each other and made sure that they were feeling as much happiness as possible. She pulsed and pulsed and, finally, it happened for him, and they both yelled, and made noise until their throats were raw.

And in a valley, where the workmen were tending to the chickpea plants, they thought they might have heard something, but they dismissed it as just the wind and went back to what they had been doing.

=/=



“If I can give you anything, anything at all, let it be that I make sure that you never have to have that.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



And in the Fep City apartment, while the children watched a film on the viewer, Melissa and Norri had their own version of happiness, as they rolled along on their bed. And when they broke apart, Melissa said, “You're like the ether.”

“The ether?”

“Yes. I've been reading. It's Hindu. Kind of a bit of sound and communication – the recorder of it all,” Melissa said.

“Uh, I wasn't filming this or anything. That's just weird.”

“No, of course not. I do love you so. Just, you're like the essence of connection.”

“And you, you are earth,” Norri said, “Brown-haired girl, you may be a pilot, but you are the earth. And you are who I love.”

=/=



“We won't put it down if we, er, use the table for, ahem, unconventional purposes.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Both couples slept, as it was exhausting, and the weather on Lafa VI was so lovely and drowsily warm, and the Fep City apartment was so comfortable and the bed was so soft. And in his quarters, Malcolm, too, lay down and rested, just a moment, after shift ended and before supper.

=/=



“You already had the fight. Everybody got a prize.” – Takara (Masterson) Sato

=/=



For Doug and Melissa, it was a garden. They walked through it and smiled at each other. Few words were necessary and, when they found a particularly pretty patch, they lay down together.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yeah. I am now,” he confirmed, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, you icky boy.”

“I cannot believe my good fortune, for she still loves me, too.”

“She can't stop,” Melissa said, “And neither can I. I can't stop the wind.”

“And you are the earth,” he said to her, “All warm and welcoming, and solid. You, you ground me,” he said, “It is impossible for me to quit loving either of you.”

They kissed, and words fell away as they touched each other, and merged. Where Lili had been hot, Melissa was cool and slow, and it was prolonged. She pulsed and giggled a little, overstimulated as they pushed together and, finally, their pleasure was multiplied and they remained as one, together.

=/=



“I want to make love to you. Not have hot sex, but make love. …That is what I want – it's what I demand of you. Can you do that?” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



For Lili and Malcolm, he was lying down in his quarters and she came to him, “A vision,” he said, sitting up, “Most unexpected but very welcome. Is it all done, is everything all right?”

“Yes. We're good,” she said.

“I shall have to do something like that, at some point as well,” he confided to her, “Section Thirty-One business can be terrible. When I am, when I am there with you, please, one day, let us get away and I will tell you.”

“Whenever you're ready. And I will be there and I will not judge your actions and you can rest assured, that I – well, all of us – we will continue to love you. For we cannot help it. There is no choice in the matter,” she said, “Your eyes, they're like the deep blue sea. And that's what I think you are. The water, the ocean, the river, the tides. Constant but also constantly changing.”

“Even though the water scares me a bit?”

“Maybe even because it does,” she said, “It inspires a deep feeling in you.”

“Not as deep as my feelings for you,” he said, kissing her, “For you are the white-hot flame and when the water meets the flame, it's a lot of sizzling and popping and everyone should know how much, well, how much passion there is.”

She smiled at him and ran her fingers through his hair.

“Do you, uh, want to go anywhere special?” he asked, “I don't have much time. It's just a short lie down – we – the Enterprise – the charter signing is coming up but we have heard from Shran.”

“Shran? I thought you had told me he was dead.”

“Apparently not. And, he has, his daughter, apparently she has been abducted. We're, we are going to Rigel X and I imagine that rest will be hard to come by, Lili-Flower.”

“Huh, well, I've been in that predicament. And I bet they're both scared – Shran and his little one – so if Jonathan wants to help them, then it must be a good idea.”

“It does worry me a bit,” Malcolm admitted, “But you're right; I should have confidence in his leadership. I have had confidence in him for years now, so there's no reason to change that. Tell me, can I take you anywhere special?” he repeated.

“This is the special place where I want to be,” she said, “Right here, in your quarters, to make love to you here.”

“Things are a bit packed up already,” he said, “For I am off to a certain planet in a little over a month, to be with the most wonderful people. But in the meantime, you will share a Lieutenant's bed?”

“With great pleasure.”

“That's the idea,” he said, kissing her.

Their clothes scattered onto the floor and it was definitely sizzling.

Mouth met mouth, hands met hands and when they merged, they pushed in hard, together. She got on top, and straightened her back, and in the light of his quarters he could see the key charm flashing between her breasts and she could see the cuff on his wrist as he held and caressed her breasts and then when he moved his hand to touch her face. She brought her face down and kissed him and pretty soon his sheets were tangled and half on the floor. He had never been much for making any sort of noise, but he made some then, for it felt too good and there was just too much stimulus, and he just had to give voice to his pleasure. When their climax happened, she was quiet for once, kissing his throat as he called out her name.

They laid together, still touching and intertwined, when he heard the communications chime.

“I must go,” he said, “Rigel X awaits.”

“I love you. I'll see you in person really soon.”

“And I love you. And we can recreate this then, and a thousand other expressions of love.”

=/=



“I am in for a penny, in for a pound.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Sweet,” said Joy.

“A moment more,” Q said, “They will all be together again soon. And I think that is something we should watch as well.”

“Very well,” she said, “But once that is done, you'll ask Kathryn to be Junior's godmother, yes?”

“Yes.”

=/=



“Yimar's little brother, his name is Chelben. And that means faith of the heart.” – Lili Beckett



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