"You slept with her, didn't you?! Didn't you?!" The redhead was livid.
"I, I …"
"Don't lie to me!"
A sigh. A momentary flicker of an eyelid confirmed the worst. And one of the tiniest of words, said in the quietest of voices, gave it a sound. "Yes."
"I knew it! I knew it! Ever since you hired that, that assistant of yours, Abby what's-her-name! I just knew. And today confirmed it. I went to the gym and she was there. She didn't chat, didn't make eye contact. She just looked down and she looked guilty."
"What, what do you want me to do?"
"Get rid of her!"
"I can't do that."
"Why the hell not?"
"Your career, remember?" He countered. "Your almighty career! If I fire her, it'll go public and you'll lose that starship posting you've had your eye on forever."
"You knew this! You knew it!" The redhead's volume increased several notches. "This is – it is the very antithesis of respect! You did this deliberately. You just wanted to see me fail!"
"No, I, no," he countered, much more quietly. He tried a more soothing tack. "Remember when we met?" He put his arms around her.
She broke free easily. "Don't try to bribe me with nostalgia. I don't wanna hear some cock and bull story."
"Lower your voice." He tilted his head a little in the direction of the smaller bedroom, which held a potential audience.
There was a four-year-old boy in there. During that day, his mother's voice had been gentle and loving. "Who's this a picture of? An Andorian? Oh, very good!"
But now she sounded like a harridan.
As for his father, the morning had been a normal one, as Daddy had promised to bring home a Derellian bat from the Science lab. Father and son were to study the curious creature together that evening, and see if they could understand its limited empathic healing abilities. But the bat was in a cage in the common area and, at least so far, it hadn't squawked.
Instead, the little boy had felt a frosty atmosphere and had been sent to bed right after supper. He had cried a little, wondering if he had been naughty.
And now his worst fears were a reality, and he began to cry again, but quietly, as the bat finally started squealing and calling harshly and the little boy did his best to wish away the pain and not listen as the two people he loved sniped and verbally tore each other to shreds.
It was a good twenty-six years later, 2379 by the old reckoning. And the boy – now a man – woke up, sitting bolt upright. He was panting and his eyes stung a little. He'd actually cried during the nightmare itself.
"Wesley, are you ill?" asked an advanced Tau Alphan who Wesley Crusher called the Traveler.
"I, uh, no," Wes said, wiping his damp eyes with his fingers. "It, it was a nightmare. And I slept! Weird – ever since we've been working together, I don't think I've slept."
"You have not," was the reply, "for I have manipulated your own personal time and space. This allows you to bypass many basic human biological functions. You do not eat, either, yet you are all right."
"Yes, I see. But this time, I, well, I get the feeling you somehow needed an experience of human sleep."
"I did. We are studying one another, of course – sometimes the teacher is indeed the pupil. So tell me, for I am curious, how do you perceive dreams?"
"My understanding from studying human history is that dreams have been seen as all manner of things. Some cultures felt they were divine intervention. Others saw them as predictors of future events. Still others felt they were indicators of hidden desires."
"Trust me, this was no desire. It was pretty awful."
"I see. Human dreams actually are, I understand, combinations of subconscious fears and desires, memories of recent or remote in time events, and personal bits of substitutive symbolism, all played against a backdrop of rapidly firing synapses. So tell me, Wesley, what do dreams mean to you?"
"I, well, I don't know. See," Wesley cast about for an explanation, "I guess I'm just a bit unsure about what this one really was. See, dreams can also be, more or less, pure fantasy. They don't necessarily have to be based on real events at all."
"Well, consider what I was dreaming of – a pure fantasy – the night before I went to join you back in 2370. I remember it partly because of the subject matter but also because it was the last time I had slept until now. Plus, man oh man, it was incredibly vivid."
"Can you tell me the subject of that nocturnal vision?"
"It's, er, a little embarrassing."
"You brought it up, Wesley."
"I suppose I did. Well, it was a dream about having sex with Robin Lefler."
"Yet you never had such an experience with her."
"Correct – although it was not through a lack of trying." Wes smiled for a second, remembering the pretty girl he'd briefly dated two years before joining the Traveler.
"Your nightmare, was it based upon a true event?"
"I can't be sure," Wesley admitted. "I want to believe it has no basis in fact whatsoever. I mean, it was terrible. It was like being that age again. And for that particular age, it was about the most horrible thing imaginable, you see."
"Can you share the specifics?" The Tau Alphan's tone was gentle.
"I, uh, let me think about it. I know it's irrational, but there's a part of me that doesn't want to say, as if saying it out loud would make it so."
"Your informing me of your fantasy about Robin Lefler did not make that one come true."
"Would that it did," the human allowed. "But it's the curse of being a precocious child, I suppose. If it was real, I should have remembered it. But if it was really real, then I should have suppressed it. So, which one is it?"
"This, I feel, is something you should work out on your own," said the Traveler.
"How did I know you were gonna say that?" A Socratic puzzle such as that was nothing new between the two friends.
Time and space could be manipulated by the Traveler, so Wesley had no real idea as to how long he had been thinking about the nightmare. A week? A year? It was all the same to him.
"I sense you have an answer for me," the Traveler stated.
"It's more questions, actually. See, I'm still unsure of whether it was real. And it scares me, a bit, to think that it could be, at least in part, some sort of a repressed memory."
"Will you at least vocalize what you dreamt of?"
"Uh, all right. I, I dreamed of my parents having the fight to end all fights. My father had cheated on my mother. I'm sure she was all set to kick him out. She was swearing at him, yelling, the whole nine yards. But for some reason she didn't kick him out."
"And then he died two years later. Traveler, I idolized my father when he was alive. In death, he was kinda set in stone as the perfect man. I wanted to be exactly like him. My memory of my parents' marriage, such as I experienced it, was that it was a happy and loving one. For either of them to leave, or cheat, or anything like that – it's unthinkable. Yet there's that dream."
"You are uncertain of its reality. And it has deeply affected you."
"Yes, it has – and probably more than it should. You gotta understand – for a really small child – you need to feel that your home life is secure. That your parents love you, that your world isn't about to end in some fireball, that the, the laws of physics will always apply."
"Yet they don't always apply. And you have been on many ships, and even as a child. There were plenty of times when your world, such as it was, was not too terribly far away from ending in, as you said, a fireball."
"Exactly. But through it all, I always believed that my parents loved me, and that they loved each other. And now it feels like that's been questioned. Is, is everything I've ever thought of, the entire basis of it, is it all a lie?"
"But this is a dream. You have said so yourself that it might not have any basis in reality."
"Right, but I don't have any confirmation. And I think I need some, in order to put this to bed, you should pardon the pun. I can't trust myself as a witness – I was too young. And my father is gone. But my mother – she's still alive, right?"
"Time and years are malleable, Wesley. But we can go to a year when your mother is alive and well. Truth be told, we can go to a time when your father is alive, too."
"I, uh, I think it'd be easier for me if it were a time when my mother was alive. At least for now."
Wesley found himself back in 2379. And, inexplicably, he was on the USS Enterprise. It was quarters he knew well. "Mom?!"
Dr. Beverly Crusher had been sleeping and, much like her son had, she awoke quickly. But there were no tears in her eyes – at least, not from fear or pain or hurt. "Wesley! You're, you're back!"
"Yeah, I, uh, I guess I am." He looked at her intently after they had hugged.
"Something came up," his mother said, "I get the feeling you need to talk to me about something."
"I do," he said, "but it's strange. Can you tell me a bit about, uh, when I was four. Did, uh, did something happen between you and Dad?"
"What?" His mother rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. Where the hell is that coming from, she wondered.
"I had a nightmare. And it struck me that maybe it was more than that – that maybe it was a memory I'd been suppressing. I specifically came here in order to ask you about it. It's been troubling me for quite a while now."
She hearkened back. "Huh." She thought some more. "What did you dream about, exactly?"
"It was a huge fight. You said Dad was cheating on you with somebody named Abby, some assistant of his. He had brought a Derellian bat home and we were going to study it together but instead I was sent to bed early and you and he had a real knock-down, drag-out fight. You called each other all sorts of names and I was scared to death. It was like my world was crumbling and there was no way for me to stop it. Even dreaming of it now, it still felt awful, and as I recall it, I still feel terrible. Tell me, is any of that true?"
Her face suddenly changed. "That, that wasn't your father. And you weren't four."
"Who was it? And when?"
"It was in 2357. You were eight – almost nine. I had a boyfriend."
"I don't remember this at all, Mom."
"Well, I did. And it all went too far too fast – and we more or less lived together after a month. It was you, me and Dave."
"Dave. He worked in Science, just like, just like your father had." She smiled for a fraction of a second. "But then what you remembered – him cheating – you were right on target with that one. It, it was a very loud fight. I ended up tossing out his things. It was all I could do not to hurl china at him."
"But why would I be so affected by it, Mom? Why did I – I'm guessing – identify with him like he was Dad? Understand," Wesley said, "I woke up and I was crying from this. It felt like, almost like Dad's, Dad's death all over again. I, I can't explain it. And even hearing now, that it's real but it wasn't Dad, it kinda doesn't matter. I still feel terrible. It's like the foundation of my life is made of shifting sand."
She thought for a moment. "We both invested a lot of ourselves in Dave. We – I – I, thought I'd remarry. He encouraged you to think of him like a second father. And he, he told you to call him Dad."
"But why would I ever agree to that?"
"You wanted to believe. We both did. We wanted to believe that; that lightning had struck again. We wanted to be happy. And we did whatever we could in order to assure that. And for a while there, it didn't matter, what was really and truly happening. We believed anyway, despite what we could see with our own eyes." Wesley got the distinct impression that his mother was talking more about her own relationship with Dave than the one Dave had had with both of them.
"I think I know now why I dreamt of him, Mom."
"Oh you do, eh?"
"Yeah. I dreamt of him – even though it was a bad dream – because I think I've had enough of being away. I, I miss people. Even ones who've been unkind and downright unfair, who've cheated and hurt the ones I love. I want to come home and I want to stay."
"I'm not kicking you out."
"I guess not. But I had to, I had to vocalize it."
The Traveler suddenly appeared. "That is it. See, Wesley, you were not admitting these feelings of loss and longing, at least you weren't admitting them consciously. Hence a trip to your subconscious was necessary. You have rather deep feelings about this."
"It was a threat to our family," Beverly explained.
"Indeed," replied the Tau Alphan, "and this threat was pushed very deep down in Wesley's psyche. Yet the nightmare – it was not exactly the memory."
"Dreams aren't necessarily perfect," Beverly said, "they're not measured to precise accuracy. We just experience them. And in the morning, if we remember them at all, we often try to make sense of them."
"And what sense have you made, Wesley?" asked the Traveler.
"I need people," he admitted, "Don't, don't get me wrong. I have enjoyed our time together, and I've learned far more than I ever would have otherwise. But I, well, you remember that other dream I told you about?"
"I kinda need to have those experiences, too, yanno."
"I see," said the Tau Alphan. "And you wish to live your life, marry if that is your destiny, and all that that entails?"
"Yes," Wesley replied, "I want to commit to, to people, and to society again, I guess."
"Then this time is particularly auspicious," said the Traveler, "for do you not have a commitment event coming up?" This time, he directed his question to the doctor.
"Commitment event? Oh! Yes, it's, Wesley; Deanna and Will are finally getting married tomorrow. Er, today." There was a chronometer display and it was already after 01:00 hours.
"I, uh, I wonder if I can crash the party," said Wes. "But I don't exactly have anything to wear." He had on a casual set of Tau Alphan clothing, and was barefoot.
"Don't worry, I'm sure I can rustle up a uniform or something for you," said his mother.
"I don't want this to be good-bye forever," Wesley said to the Traveler, "but I think I need to, to have these kinds of experiences again."
"You do. I am never far away." The Traveler vanished.
"I guess you'll be my date to the wedding," Beverly said.
After the ceremony, Wesley found he didn't really have a lot to do with himself. He had had about enough of explaining, over and over again, to all and sundry, just what he'd been doing for the past several years. And his answers were getting more and more bizarre as he fought to keep from becoming annoyed at people who were understandably curious.
Finally, he got up from a table where he'd been sitting and stood next to the wall, near where there was a dance floor. He watched Will and Deanna dance together, and Data was also rather good, dancing with the bride and with Beverly and pretty much all comers.
"Kinda dull, when you think about it, isn't it?" A female voice asked, behind him.
"'Scuse me?" Wesley asked.
"The whole social construct of weddings and whatever. I mean, two people – or more, in a lot of cultures – get up there, they say this, that or the other thing, and then we eat a lot, we get some aerobic exercise and then it's done and all that planning and whatever is all done. There's lots and lots of buildup for such a very small thing!"
"It's not a small thing, c'mon."
"Maybe not for them, but for the rest of us, well, we'll go back to aligning phase coils for the warp drive or whatever."
He started laughing. "Phase coils are on transporters, not the warp drive."
He turned around and his jaw hit the floor the moment he saw chocolate brown eyes. "I, uh, huh?"
"Mister Articulate, great!" She said sarcastically, turning to go.
"No, wait, wait!"
"Oh?" She turned back. "Well?"
"I've, uh, I've been away from people for a long, long time," Wesley said, "And, uh, I'm a little out of practice. So please forgive me. It, it would be a nightmare for me, I think, if you didn't at least tell me your name."
"My worst nightmare. Really." Wesley stopped for a second. "I'm Wesley Crusher."
"Crusher? Good Lord," she said, and then added, "I'll be keeping my maiden name."
"Which is …?"
"Warren. I'm Lakeisha Warren."
There was a tap on Wesley's shoulder. He turned, perhaps too quickly. It was the Traveler. "No more nightmares. And I see it was an auspicious time. Do you recall your dream about Robin Lefler?"
Wesley looked his friend straight in the eye and honestly said, "Robin who?"