It was cloudy the following morning, and as soon as Elnor opened his eyes, he moved up the bed to rest his head on Naseema's shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her waist and buried his face against her neck.
"Good morning," she said brightly. "Did you have pleasant dreams?"
"I dreamed that you came with me today," he replied with a soft sigh. "It was a wonderful dream, but now it's morning, and I'm sad again because I know it wasn't real."
"Are you certain about that?" she asked. He bolted upright and looked at her.
His eyes searched her face for any hint of confirmation he could find. "If you are teasing me..." he warned, and she softened her expression as she touched his cheek with her hand.
"What does your heart tell you?" she asked and watched as the brilliant smile spread across his face.
"Really?!" he exclaimed, somewhere between a question and a declaration. "You are coming?!"
"You convinced me to last night, and Jagger did the same when I went to see him. Then, after you were asleep, Jean-Luc asked me himself," she confessed. "Elnor, I am sorry I was so difficult, and I upset you. I am still trying to put some things behind me, but I knew I would not be able to let you go. I just-I needed a little reassurance."
He stared at her, almost not able to believe what he was hearing, but then abruptly grabbed her face in his hands and kissed her with all the passion he could muster. "I am so full of joy, I think I might burst apart," he said when he released her.
"Please do not do that, it would be very messy," she laughed as she hugged him tightly. "We should get out of bed as I have preparations I need to make before we leave."
He grabbed his clothes and practically skipped into the bathroom to get himself ready for the day. He then helped her pack the large trunk she pulled out from some unknown hiding place. She made sure to stow his new books and his pajamas in among her things. She also replicated him another set of clothes to wear for training and his own yoga mat. Once they finished, she took a long look around the room.
"I am going to miss my little sanctuary, especially my bathroom," she said. "I am not fond of the utilitarian facilities aboard ships like Mr. Rios'."
"Are you willing to trade it for me?" he asked with an adorably hopeful expression on his face.
"Yes, I am," she replied and smiled at him. "I suspect your arms will be all the sanctuary I will need."
"I like it when you tell me things like that," he said as he hugged her again and placed a kiss on her forehead. Then he exhaled a happy sigh and took her hand. "Would you like to come with me to get breakfast?" he asked. She nodded, and they headed down to the cantina together. When they arrived, they found the rest of La Sirena's crew already there and Jagger handing out his parting gifts.
"Everything is personalized, and none of you are allowed to open them until you're on the ship," he told them all. "Elnor, here's yours and Naseema, light of my life, Simon is still finishing yours up, but he assured me that he'll have it ready by the time you leave."
"Jag, you did not have to-" she tried to say, but he shushed her.
"I know, I know," he replied. "But trust me, you won't be saying that when you open it. Just-ah-make sure you're alone when you do." Then he winked at her, and she rolled her eyes, knowing that his gift was likely going to be inappropriate in some way. Juliet approached her and leaned in close, keeping her voice quiet.
"Salome wants to see you before you go," she said. "Aronnox told her this morning you were leaving indefinitely."
Naseema sighed and nodded. "Thank you, Juliet." Then she turned to Elnor. "I must go speak with her," she told him. "You stay here and get yourself something to eat. I will hopefully return shortly."
He took on a worried expression. "You're still coming with me, right?"
"Yes, of course, I am. Do not be concerned about that. There are things we should say to each other before I leave," she said, but even though Elnor nodded, he still looked unconvinced. Naseema squeezed his hand to reassure him and then quietly slipped out of the room. After she was gone, Juliet turned her attention to Elnor.
"I have something for you," she said. She stood in front of him and slipped a long silver chain with a small medallion hanging from it, around his neck. Surprised, he picked up the medallion and looked at it.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It is Saint Michael the Archangel," she told him. "He is the patron saint of warriors and the almighty vanquisher of evil. Wear this near your heart, and he will protect you from harm." Elnor was so touched he didn't know what to say. He looked at the medallion again, then threw his arms around Juliet and hugged her tightly.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"No, honey, thank you," she replied. Jagger, who was watching from a few feet away, came over and put his hands on Elnor's shoulders once he released Juliet.
"Juliet was a nun once, in a far away lifetime," he said and turned to Juliet. "But you should have given him Saint Agnes."
Juliet rolled her eyes, "Jagger."
"Why?" Elnor asked. "Who is Saint Agnes?"
"The patron saint of virgins," Jagger snickered.
"You just can't help yourself, can you?" Juliet asked as she shook her head at him, and then it was Elnor's turn to roll his eyes.
"No, I really can't," Jagger replied, still smirking. Then he turned Elnor around, so he was facing him and pulled him into a heartfelt embrace. "You're always gonna be welcome here," he said as he started to tear up. "Anything you need, anywhere you are, at any time, you call, and I'm there for you. You saved my girl, and I'm never going to be able to repay you for that. Thank you, you skinny little, truth-spouting dork."
"I love you too," Elnor said, and Jagger hugged him tighter as Simon came into the room and saw them.
"Aww, group hug!" he exclaimed and hurried over to sandwich Elnor between himself and Jagger as Juliet laughed.
As Naseema reached Salome's door, she paused to steady herself before entering. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she exhaled.
She didn't know what Salome wanted to say to her, but she knew she had nothing to say herself. She was still angry about what had happened to Elnor, and she didn't want to get worked up right before she was set to leave. At the same time, perhaps some things would come to her once she actually saw Salome, and now would be the time to say them since she didn't know how long she would be gone this time. It could be years, and where Jean-Luc Picard was involved, anything could happen. It was entirely possible she would never see Salome or even this planet ever again.
She released the force field and entered the room. Salome was sitting on her sofa in front of her fireplace, reading a book.
"Juliet mentioned you wanted to see me," Naseema said. Salome tossed her book onto the sofa next to her and turned around.
"Are you going to come and sit down, or are you still too pissed at me for that?" she asked.
"I suppose I can sit," Naseema replied and went over to the sofa. She sat on the opposite end, as far away from her counterpart as she could get. Her point was not lost on Salome, who sighed with mild exasperation.
"I hear you're leaving today," she said, somewhat venomously. "Going with your little Romulan boy toy."
Naseema looked at her with antipathy and shook her head. "I think we are done here," she said as she stood up.
"No! Wait!" Salome blurted. "I'm sorry! Elnor. I know his name is Elnor. I won't call him anything else, please."
Naseema paused and looked at her for a second but sat down again. "What is it you want, Salome?"
"I want you to take these memories back," she said as a desperate look started to creep into her eyes. "I can't get the images...or the feelings out of my head. You've made your point, alright? I can see what I did now, and I won't ever do it again, believe me."
"I do believe you," Naseema replied. "But I am sorry, I cannot take them back. I know of no way to reverse what I-what I did to you."
Salome was devastated by that information. "I can't live with these memories in my brain."
"Yes, you can," Naseema replied. "I do it every day, and so does Elnor." Then she sighed sadly. "The memories will fade over time, Salome, but they will never be completely gone. They will be with you for the rest of your life just as Elnor's will be with him for the rest of his."
"You could have just locked me up like you're doing now," Salome said, the resentment evident in her voice. "You didn't have to stick me with this. Do I deserve to be punished for the rest of my life?"
"I do not know," Naseema admitted. "But I did not know what else to do. You are going to live a very long time, and I had no other way to guarantee you would never do something like this again. Now, I am confident you will remember what it was to be in my position the next time somebody begs you not to rape them."
"I didn't rape him," Salome muttered, still angry.
"Perhaps you were unable to achieve your ultimate goal, but believe me, it was rape, and the damage you did cause is more than sufficient," Naseema told her. "Whether you believe you did or not is irrelevant to me. You violated him. You turned something that should be beautiful and consensual into something terrifying. You made him afraid for his life, and he was not even so frightened when he was staring down the barrel of a prolonged, violent death at the hands of people who specialize in that sort of thing. What you have done will affect every relationship he ever has with anyone for the rest of his days. Do you not think you deserve a similar sentence?"
Salome stared at her bitterly. "You realize that by punishing me the way you did, you violated me."
"Yes, I know, and that is something we will both have to live with," Naseema replied. "I am sorry for that, but I am more sorry for what you did to Elnor. I honestly hope someday you will understand that just because you have our abilities, does not mean they should be used, especially against an innocent."
"That is such bullshit," Salome spat, her tone becoming more heated. "You didn't do this to me out of some righteous sense of justice you did it because it was him. You did it because you wanted to fuck him!"
Naseema winced at her despicable words. "I am sorry you think that," she said flatly and then stood up from the sofa again. "I am also sorry this is not going the way either of us hoped. You still believe you are the victim here, and I have nothing left to say to you." She headed for the door. Still fuming, Salome got up and followed her around the sofa.
"Bonding to him was pointless," she sneered. "Elnor's too afraid to be a man, and he's never going to let you fuck him." Naseema turned around to face her with a cold expression, and Salome smirked as she added, "especially now." She took a few more steps toward the older Feeonix and folded her arms across her chest. Naseema stared at her, and Salome's satisfied expression fell away as she saw the look in her eyes change from icy disdain to fiery wrath. She had no time to react before Naseema was on her. She grabbed Salome by the neck and threw her to the floor before pinning her down the same way as had been done to Elnor.
"I do not know where we went wrong with you," Naseema seethed, her hand still around Salome's throat. "But I refuse to believe we taught you to hate someone who has never done anything to you simply because they contain a certain genetic makeup. You are not the victim here. You were given the opportunity to atone, but instead, you chose to slap him and rub it in his face." She brought her nose within inches of Salome's as she continued. "I do not fucking care how angry you are about what I did to you. You are lucky I did not simply kill you as soon as I discovered what you did to him because believe me, I wanted to, and if I ever hear you say his name, and the word fuck in the same sentence again, I will kill you." She released her grip on Salome and straightened herself up. "I am going to do both of us a favour now. I am going to leave and take Elnor with me, and perhaps you will never have to see either of us again. Goodbye Salome." Then she stood up and took one last scornful glance at her young counterpart before walking to the door.
"We're not finished!" Salome screamed, but Naseema ignored her and left the room. Once she was in the hallway, she took a deep breath and let the ruinous feeling completely have her. Her eyes filled up with sorrowful, angry tears and not wanting Salome to hear her crying she headed straight for the exit to the garden. She sat with her back against the retaining wall and let herself feel miserable for a while. That was where Jagger eventually found her.
He plunked himself down in the dirt next to her. "I take it your little convo with Salome didn't turn out so hot, huh?"
"No, it did not," she replied.
"Wanna talk about it?"
She let out a loud, frustrated sigh. "I honestly hoped she had seen the light and wanted to apologize. I am such an idiot."
"I could have told you that wasn't how it was going to go down," Jagger said, a sympathetic look on his face. "So, what did happen?"
"She told me she learned her lesson and wanted me to take my memories out of her mind," Naseema replied.
Jagger snorted. "Well, if that's what she expected to happen, then you're not the idiot."
"When I informed her I did not know how to reverse what I did, she became very bitter and resentful," she continued. "We argued, and she tried to insist she was the victim, and then she said nasty things about Elnor, and I lost it."
"Shit," Jagger said and curled his lip. "How bad?"
"I threw her to the floor and pinned her down," Naseema told him. "I told her she was lucky I did not kill her when Elnor told me what she had done and then I told her if she ever said his name and the word fuck in the same sentence to me again, I would kill her."
"What did she say about him that set you off?" he asked.
"She told me bonding to him was pointless because he was too afraid of being a man to ever allow me to fuck him."
Jagger laughed and shook his head. "She really has a way with words, doesn't she?"
Naseema sighed again. "I am not proud of myself, and she was not wrong," she said. "Not concerning Elnor, but she also said that I violated her, and she is right, I did. In punishing her for her crime, I essentially committed the same crime against her. Perhaps, I did not physically attack her, but as far as her memory is concerned, she was attacked, and I am not sure my motives were entirely unbiased."
"Well, I think it's too late to question yourself now," he said.
"I allowed my predator to win again," she admitted. "I should have left it with the rest of you, and I may have been able to do that if it had not been him. What did I actually end up teaching her? That what she did was wrong or that she should have thought twice about coming after what is mine?"
"Look, I get what you're saying, and maybe it went a little further than any of us intended, but I'm not sure we had much choice," Jagger quietly reasoned. "When you have abilities like ours, and you live as long as we do, a conventional system of justice is almost useless. A life sentence by most standards is a joke to us. The only reason she's even still in her room is that she's cooperating with us. We can't hold her forever, and we don't have the elders to solve our internal problems for us anymore, so we're flying by the seat of our pants here. We can't guarantee she'll never do anything like it again, but the only way for us to even try is to make sure she knows what the receiving end feels like. We're an ancient people, and unfortunately, maybe that means we anciently handle things. An eye for an eye."
"So, you do not believe I crossed a line with her?" she asked.
Jagger let out a long, hard sigh and looked at the ground. "A line was definitely crossed, but it was one that had to be crossed, and I'm glad I'm not the one that had to do it." Then he turned his eyes to hers. "I'm sorry it had to be you."
"Perhaps it is a sign from the fates that leaving is the correct choice," she lamented.
"That's the spirit," Jagger said and gave her a nudge with his elbow. "Think about the cute little rascal who wants to share his life with you."
Naseema smiled affectionately at her friend. "Listen to you. I remember a time where you would have killed him the second you laid eyes on him."
"Yeah, well, those were different times," he said wistfully and took on a pensive look. "Jeez, I can't even remember the last time I carried a weapon. Those were some crazy times we had. Remember Stalingrad? The Siege of Orleans?"
"Yeah, I remember," she sighed. "I am still trying to forget Stalingrad, and I was burned at-the-stake two years after Orleans."
Jagger laughed out loud at the memory. "I forgot about that. How many times did that happen again?"
"Damn, girl, I was only ever almost beheaded one time."
"That is because you are a man," Naseema told him as she gave him a sideways look. "And you never stuck around long enough for the humans to realize they hated you."
"That's true," Jagger agreed. "I never understood why you always tried to develop relationships with them."
"I am not the only one. You have human friends now and have in the past. You just always seemed to be able to avoid scaring them enough to make them turn on you," Naseema said.
Jagger shrugged. "I've always been willing to be chummy with them, sure, but I never wanted to be part of their community, not like you always seemed to," he replied. "It never seemed to matter how many times they tried to drive you out, imprison you, or straight up kill you, you never gave up on them. It's something I never understood about you."
"I am not sure I understand it myself," she admitted. "It certainly is not an aspect of my personality that has done me many favours in the past."
"Combine it with that famous temper of yours, and it's a winning combination," Jagger teased.
"Agreed," she sighed with a nod.
"Your temper always came in handy on the battlefield, though," Jagger added. "Saved my ass more than once."
"Perhaps," she sighed again. "I always enjoyed entertaining the humans more than killing them, though."
"Yeah, me too. Plus, the drugs and alcohol were much better by then."
Naseema punched him in the arm playfully. "Jean-Luc is right you are a degenerate," she laughed.
Jagger looked shocked. "He did not say that!"
"More than once," she told him, still laughing. "But he loves you. You always get the job done."
"I am so sure."
The two life long friends sat there and reminisced about all the trouble they got into over the centuries until they both had tears of laughter streaming down their faces. When they finally decided they should head back inside, they saw Picard coming towards them.
"Are we holding up the parade, Admiral?" Jagger asked as he approached them.
"Not quite yet," Picard replied with a smile. "But I do believe Mr. Rios is getting antsy to leave, and Elnor is looking for you, Naseema."
She smiled gently. "He is still not entirely convinced I mean to depart with you," she nodded. "He is worried if he lets me out of his sight, I will disappear on him."
"Yes, I've tried talking to him, but he isn't having it, I'm afraid," Picard said.
"Ah, young love," Jagger joked.
"Well, I suppose we should go back inside," she agreed. She turned to Jagger. "Are you going to join us?" He nodded and got to his feet before pulling Naseema to hers. The three of them took their time, leisurely strolled around the building, and entered the cantina through the back door.
Once they were inside, Jagger put his arm around Naseema's shoulders and directed her through the crowd towards Simon's office. As they walked in, Simon turned around, and a wide grin spread across his face.
"There you are," he said. "I have something for you, but don't open it until later, when you're alone." Then he handed her a small rectangular wooden box.
"What is it?" she asked.
"There's a letter inside," he replied. "It should explain everything."
She looked at him sideways but nodded. "Alright, I must admit I am very curious now."
Simon laid his hand on top of the box. "Promise you won't open it until later."
"I promise," she told him and opened her arms to hug him tightly.
"I'm going to miss you," he said and squeezed her hard.
"I will miss you, too."
Simon let out a low, slightly rueful sounding sigh. "I guess it's time." They returned to the cantina, where Naseema approached Rios.
"I appreciate you allowing me to hitch a ride back to Earth, Mr. Rios," she said as she extended her hand to him.
He accepted and smiled. "Think nothing of it. La Sirena is certainly no Enterprise, but I hope you'll be comfortable, regardless."
"I am sure it is a fine ship, and I will find your accommodations more than adequate," she replied and returned his smile. Rios was still a little uneasy about her joining the voyage, but she knew he didn't want to disappoint Picard or Elnor by refusing her passage, so she wanted to assuage his worries. "I promise I will be no trouble to you."
Naseema then bid farewell to the rest of her Feeonix family, and without further delay, the departing group beamed off the mostly peaceful planet of Coppelius to the waiting ship. Once aboard, the group quickly prepared themselves to leave orbit, planning a quick pit stop in the Beta Quadrant to return Seven of Nine to Fenris before they headed home to the Terran system. In addition to the personal gifts, Jagger also included a couple of large crates that contained items for them to share on the journey. The first contained a television, identical to the one he had in his room, along with instructions on how to use it, and a note explaining that Rios should keep it aboard his ship once they returned home. The second crate elicited a great deal of excitement from the crew as it was filled right to the brim with books from Jagger's collection featuring a wide variety of genres. Agnes was particularly enthusiastic and grabbed an armful right off the top of the pile to hug them to her chest. She earned an amused smirk from Rios.
"I'm sorry!" she declared. "But space is so boring!"
As they entered warp travel and everyone began to relax and settle in, Elnor showed Naseema around the ship before insisting that she come to his cabin. Once there, he sat on the edge of the bed and beckoned her to sit next to him. "Thank you for coming," he said quietly, as she obliged him. "It fills me with joy to know you want to be with me."
"You never need to thank me for that," she replied. "I wanted to come and not just for you but myself as well. I need to be finished with living in nothing but shadows. You saved me, Elnor, not just on the Artifact but also the night we said goodbye to Data." She looked at him with glistening eyes. "When you came to find me and stayed with me even though you were exhausted, you gave me back something I thought I would never have again. You gave me hope for the future, and no matter what happens with us, I will never forget that, or you."
He smiled at her, a pure, joyous smile that made her insides melt and her heart ready to burst for him. She reached over and touched his face tenderly before inching herself closer to bring their lips together. His hands quickly found their way into her wild hair, and he kissed her with a passion that only a young man in love for the first time can draw into play.
"I can hardly wait to go to bed with you later," he said when they finally separated. "I used to hate going to sleep at night. I would lie awake with only my thoughts, and I always felt lonely and separated from everyone else, but now I think it's my favourite time of day."
"That makes me happy to hear," she said and smiled at him. "I very much enjoy spending my nights with you as well."
"Even though I'm asleep for most of it?" he asked.
"It has been a very long time since I have had someone who wishes to sleep next to me," she replied. "I like to watch you sleep and know that you are there." She placed her hand on his knee. "I am going to go get myself settled in, but I will see you in a little while." He smiled again and nodded before she got up and left the room. Then he opened the box Jagger gave him.
Hours later, Elnor waited until everyone else retired for the night, and the ship was dark and quiet before he crept across the corridor to Naseema's cabin.
He wasn't sure why he felt the need to keep up the appearance of platonic propriety. It wasn't as if his burgeoning romance was a very well kept secret, but he would admit he did get something of a thrill from sneaking across the hall to her room.
Once there, he quickly joined her in the bed and showed her what Jagger gave him. "I don't know what they are or what they're for," he admitted. He held up one of five star-shaped metal disks with razor-sharp points.
Naseema laughed and took the disk from him. "They are throwing stars."
"Weapons?" he asked, intrigued.
"Yes," she nodded, took aim at the wall and flicked her wrist, sending the star across the room where it dug in with a tiny thunk. Elnor's eyes lit up with delight, and he tried it himself.
"These are great!" he declared as he got up to retrieve his new toys. Naseema smiled at his enthusiasm but cautioned him.
"Mr. Rios may not be happy if you continue to throw them at the walls."
"You're probably right," he agreed. "One more time." He spun around and snapped his wrist. The star whizzed over Naseema's head and ruffled her hair gently before it sank into the wall.
"Please do not hit me in the face," she warned, her eyes wide at how close he came to her.
He gave her a cocky look in response. "Of course I won't," he replied as he came over to retrieve his star. He gave her another saucy smirk, straddled her, and leaned in to pull it from the wall, his belly almost touching her face. He took his time on purpose, and she let out a snort of laughter at his obvious attempt to get her to put her hands on him. He laughed too until she swatted his backside and made him jump back in surprise.
"Hey!" he exclaimed as he looked at her with a wide-eyed, amused expression.
"You started it," she reminded him and returned her eyes to her book. He playfully snatched it from her and tossed it over his shoulder. She dropped her hands to her lap and met his eyes. "I am starting to get the impression that you would like my attention," she said with an arched eyebrow.
"What would give you that idea?" he asked with mock innocence. He was still straddling her, and he started to inch his way closer while she continued to stare into his eyes. When he got close enough, she grabbed his thigh suddenly and flipped him over onto his side of the bed. "I see how it is," he laughed and quickly recovered. He made a move for her, but she evaded him and jumped out of bed. He stood up on the mattress, towering over her, and took an attack posture with a frisky gleam in his eye. Giving him a look, she backed away and then turned and ran as he sprang off the bed at her. He easily caught her in the small room, lifted her, and pinned her against the wall. He pressed his hips against hers while he stifled her squeal with his lips.
"Shhh," he laughed into her mouth. He carried her back to the bed to dump them both down in a heap where they continued to make out for a while, hands all over each other, and her legs wrapped around him. Once he slid his hand under her nightgown and started to fumble with her underwear, she knew they both needed to cool down.
"We cannot go any further," she said as she put her hand on his. "I am sorry."
He withdrew and sighed, "I know." There was an expression of disappointed understanding on his face, and he knew she was right. "Can I still cuddle with you while I fall asleep?"
"Of course," she replied. After she retrieved her book from the floor, they reclaimed their respective positions on the bed, and she read to him until he was gently snoring next to her. She laid a tender kiss on his forehead and slid away to go to her trunk. She took out the box Simon gave her and sat on the end of the bed with it. She opened it, and inside was a hypospray vial with a folded letter on top. She set the box down and removed the letter. She almost couldn't believe what she was reading.
We all agree you have earned a break. Take the next century off and don't worry about us, we'll be just fine. Go, share Elnor's life with him. We can all see how much he wants that and how badly you need it. Despite your bizarre attachment to those organic types, we want you to be happy again, and we know you deserve it. Enclosed with this letter is something Juliet and I have been working on for close to a decade. The serum contained in the vial is untested, but all my data says it should work as designed. It will suppress your energy field enough to eliminate the white flames from erupting during those inconvenient yet very desirable moments and will allow you to finally have uninhibited, fulfilling relationships with anyone you choose. We all agree Elnor seems like an excellent choice to begin that journey with. He possesses that one quality which has always managed to capture you, complete honesty. We can all see how loyal he is and how much you care for each other. Seriously, he's a good catch, and you both deserve to have everything you desire from each other. However, I feel it is imperative that you carefully consider what I am about to tell you before you use my little cocktail. The serum will change your chemistry, and the effect will be permanent. You will never be able to summon up your fire again. You will retain your strength and agility, and the serum shouldn't suppress your energy field altogether, but the flames will completely disappear. That has the potential to compromise your ability to protect yourself and others. You will only have your combat skills to rely on if you take this. Take some time to think about it before you act, and I don't recommend involving anyone else in your decision, not even Elnor. You need to decide this for yourself. Unlike some of us, you are not defenceless without your fire, and sadly, I am fully aware that Elnor will not live forever. That eventually he will have to leave you to join Data and Nasir, but if you choose to follow the path I have presented to you, I believe it will allow you to move on more easily once the inevitable occurs, and to spend the rest of your life better able to enjoy the benefits of humanity the way you always dreamed. Your predator will be tamed, and you will no longer be a weapon for organics to use against each other. I know this is a lot to take in, but all I ask is that you take some time to really think about it.
All my love,
After reading Simon's words, she glanced behind her at the sweet, gentle young man asleep in her bed. There were so many thoughts racing through her mind, she wasn't able to focus on any one in particular. With both the box and the letter, she crept out of the room and went to the bridge of La Sirena. She sat in Rios' chair for a while and stared out at the blur of stars hurtling past the ship.
She was overwhelmed by the significance of what Simon offered her. A chance to have again, at least something close to, what she shared with Data. It was true, her heart wasn't glowing, but that suddenly didn't seem to matter as much anymore. If she took the serum and it worked, she would be able to completely give herself to Elnor. She wouldn't have to keep him and everyone else at a safe distance anymore. She wouldn't have to keep fighting with the predator for control of her powers. She always accepted that things were simply the way they were, but now that they didn't have to be like that anymore, she felt a weight lift itself away from her. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do yet, but for the first time in her life, she felt free.
She slipped silently back into her cabin and buried the box at the bottom of her trunk. Then she took the letter and tucked it into a safe hiding spot before she climbed back into bed next to Elnor. She watched him sleep for a bit and gently stroked his hair as he stirred a little. He moved a touch closer to her and let out a quiet sigh as her fingers moved across his head. She finally picked up her book and opened it, although she couldn't quite get herself to focus on the words she was reading. She was too busy imagining the life she could have if she were brave enough to take that first big step towards it.