Former captain's assistant Naomi Wildman had a mission at the Voyager reunion party. She had several things she planned to do: tell Seven how well her studies were going, find Harry and congratulate him on his promotion and make sure Chell was in charge of the food. He made very good food. These things were well and good, as her mother might say, but the mission was Doctor Beverly Crusher.
She wasn't sure if she was meant to know about Doctor Beverly Crusher: rank commander, age fifty-five, head of Starfleet Medical. These things were easy to find out in the public data files. Doctor Beverly Crusher had served on the Enterprise, both the galaxy and sovereign class versions, the Horatio and several Starbases. Since the Enterprise was a very good ship, being on two of them meant she was a very good doctor. The Doctor she knew, who was still trying to pick a name, had said that she was a very competent physician, for a human, and that she was reported to be quite pretty.
Pretty was good, because Admiral Janeway was really pretty, and her girlfriend had to be pretty too. Doctor Beverly Crusher: human, born on Luna, Academy class of forty-four, was supposed to be tall with red hair. She had a nice smile in her picture, and Naomi wanted to like her.
According to Tom and B'Elanna, who'd talked to her mother while she was playing with Miral, Admiral Janeway really liked Doctor Crusher. Her mother was happy about that. She'd smiled a lot the rest of the day. She'd even mentioned it to her father how nice it was that Admiral Janeway had 'met someone'.
Meeting someone led to dating them, and that sometimes led to marrying them. Naomi liked weddings. She'd been to a lot of them since they'd come home, and she loved getting to see everyone. Maybe if Admiral Janeway got married, she'd get to see lots of people. Maybe even people from the Enterprise. Definitely Admiral Paris, and he had very funny stories.
So, the mission was simple. Find Doctor Beverly Crusher at the Voyager reunion party and make sure she was having a good time. It wasn't fun to not be part of the collective, and since she had just met Admiral Janeway a few months ago, she wouldn't know much of the collective. She might be lonely. If Naomi kept her from being lonely, she'd get to know her. She'd also make Admiral Janeway happy, and that was something she really loved to do.
She wanted a redhead, so Naomi scanned the crowd from the vantage point of the stairs. She was too short to see much of the crowd by herself, but from the stairs up to the toilets, she could see. Most of the redheads she already knew, like Ensign Francis, but there was one in the line for food that was new. She was out of uniform, but she was almost as tall as Harry, and she seemed to be the right age. Not that Naomi was that good at guessing age but she'd try her best.
If she was wrong a few times, she'd ask Seven, who would help her, but for now, she could look on her own.
Walking along the line next to her target, Naomi watched her reach for a crab puff and artfully inserted herself into the conversation.
"Try the pink sauce. It's raspberry and chilli, I know it sounds weird, but it's really good."
"Thank you." A genuine smile was a good sign. The target reached for the pink sauce and placed some of it on her plate. "Have you already eaten?"
"Yes." Naomi frowned a little. If she still needed to eat, she could talk to the target. "I ate with my mom and dad."
"I see. I hope it was good." The target took some vegetables, a good helping of the curried throck with bamboo shoots, and went straight for the breakfast-for-dinner omelet Tom liked. These were good choices.
"It was very good. I like these dinners because they are always really good."
"Would you like to sit with me for a while? I'm afraid I'll be eating, but I'd be thrilled if you'd keep me company. I don't know many people here." She leaned down a little, and her hair fell over her shoulders. Her hair was really pretty, especially in the light from the chandeliers overhead.
Naomi nodded. She could see her parents, and they'd find her at the table if they needed her. The target went straight to Admiral Janeway's table, the one where Tuvok and Tom and B'Elanna all sat. Admiral Janeway's chair was empty, and the target sat down right beside where she would have been.
That left Naomi with the options of Chakotay's chair on one side of the chair the target picked, or the admiral's chair. The target tilted her head towards Admiral Janeway's chair.
"She won't mind. I promise."
"Admiral Janeway is always very kind," Naomi agreed as she sat down.
The target took a few bites, then paused, wiping her mouth on her napkin. "I'm sorry to be eating in front of you. I finished my shift much later than I thought I would and I'm very hungry."
"I was really hungry when I got here too. We had to take a transport from Deep Space Four, and my mom said I couldn't eat after lunch because we were coming here and I'd have dinner here." She sighed. It had been a very long trip. If she hadn't had the personnel files to search through, it would have been really boring.
She could ask about the target's shift. She had said she was working. It would be polite to ask.
"What do you do? Are you in Starfleet too?"
The target smiled, and Naomi felt warm. The target had a very pretty smile.
She nodded and wiped her mouth again politely. "I am in Starfleet. I work in Starfleet Medical."
"Then you must be very busy. Doctors are always really busy, and no one really appreciates them." Naomi remembered that her Doctor had said that a lot on Voyager.
The target tilted her head and took a sip of her wine thoughtfully. "I often feel appreciated. I've very lucky to be able to do the kind of work I do."
"Are you a special doctor?"
The target pondered this. She still hadn't introduced herself, but Naomi hadn't either. The mystery was part of the fun; Naomi was enjoying herself.
"I teach young people how to become doctors. I don't always get to work with them, sometimes I have to do too much paperwork, and other times I supervise research. It's different than being a doctor on a starship, because then you have one crew. Now I have everyone to look after." She leaned in and winked. Her eyes were very bright blue. "Including you."
Naomi hadn't considered that. "Am I okay?"
The target, who had yet to reveal she was indeed Doctor Beverly Crusher, studied Naomi with a practiced eye. She smiled a lot more than the Doctor Naomi had grown up with did.
"Half-human, half-Ktarian, about seven years old. Excellent health."
That was good. The target was still smiling, and she seemed very happy as she ate. When she paused, Naomi held out her hand.
"I'm Naomi Wildman, and you're right. I'm seven, but I'll be eight soon."
"And another ten centimetres taller." The target extended her hand, shaking Naomi's firmly. "I'm Doctor Beverly Crusher. It's very lovely to meet you. I've heard several stories about you."
"I hope they were good stories." Naomi frowned a little. "I did some silly things when I was younger."
"We've all done some silly things. I have a horrible nickname." Beverly drank more of her wine and leaned in very close to Naomi. "I will tell you if you promise not to tell anyone."
"I'm good at keeping secrets." Naomi couldn't really believe that anyone pretty and smart could have a horrible nickname, but she was curious.
"I love dancing and I'm fairly good at it. When I was in the Academy, someone found out and I became the 'Dancing Doctor'." Beverly rolled her eyes the same way Admiral Janeway did when she was annoyed.
"I don't have any embarrassing nicknames."
Beverly smiled at her mischievously. "You'll be eight next year."
Did nicknames come with being eight? Was there some mystery Naomi just didn't understand yet because she wasn't old enough? It was bad enough that her mom and dad had started talking about puberty and if she'd like girls or boys. She liked both of them but apparently she didn't like like them, which was really confusing. Seven didn't even really get it, but she'd only dated a little.
"Can- May I ask you a question?"
Beverly nodded, finishing the last of her curried throck. "Of course."
"I heard you live with Admiral Janeway."
Another nod. "Technically, she lives with me."
"My apartment was better."
Her conspiratorial whisper made it sound like a secret. Naomi loved secrets when she knew them, and hated them when she didn't.
"What's better about it?"
"Is that your question?"
"No, I'm afraid it's not." Naomi looked down. Was she really going to be limited to one? She had to make it really good if she only got one question. "My one question is: do you live with Admiral Janeway because she's your friend, or because she's your girlfriend and if she's your girlfriend, do you think you'll get married?" It came out very fast, but Beverly understood.
"I live with Admiral Janeway because I love her very much, and also she's terrible at cooking for herself and keeping plants alive. I think that means she's my girlfriend, more than my friend, but to be thorough, she was my friend first."
Naomi contemplated this. She liked Admiral Janeway having a girlfriend because hopefully she would be happy. Having a girlfriend made Tom happy, and her uncle Neelix happy, and Harry liked Libby very much.
"And?" she had to wait to get the rest of the question.
Beverly's smile twisted playfully. "May I ask one?"
"Will you still answer the second half of mine?"
Naomi nodded vigourously. "Okay."
"Do you think we should get married?"
That was a hard question. Naomi didn't know much about getting married. She liked weddings.
"I like weddings."
"So do I, but getting married only starts with a wedding. It's a big commitment."
Too much of a commitment? Were they going to break up? Naomi tried not to sound concerned. "I thought you loved Admiral Janeway?"
"I love her, and I'm very committed to our current relationship." Beverly reached over and touched Naomi's shoulder gently. She had strong fingers. "Getting married requires a lot of thought. Will you still want to be together in ten years? Twenty? Will your careers let you be together? Do you want to accept certain setbacks if your careers don't send you to the same place? Do you want children? Do you both like dogs?"
Beverly stopped, trying to place the question. "Do I?"
"Do you like dogs?" If she didn't, they were going to break up and Admiral Janeway would be all alone on Earth again. Naomi hated the idea of Admiral Janeway being all alone on Earth while everyone else went to space. Even Seven went to space sometimes.
"I like dogs. I like cats a little more, but I like dogs too."
That was good. Naomi's stomach stopped doing barrel rolls. "And you might get married, someday."
Beverly suddenly reminded Naomi of her mom. She knew that voice.
"Do you have kids?"
Beverly happily accepted a piece of Jimbalian fudge cake from the server and smiled over at Naomi. "Yes, I have a son named Wesley."
That explained it then. She knew how to do the mom look. She would be difficult.
"Do you want more?"
Beverly handed Naomi a fork and offered her cake. "This is delicious."
The question hung in the air as Naomi took a bite. It wasn't quite as good as Neelix's but Beverly didn't need to be disappointed. She did notice Naomi looking at her and laughed a little.
"I think it would be very nice to have more children, especially if the person I was with wanted them too." She took another bite of cake, then studied Naomi. "Now, tell me about you. What do you like to study?"
"Science and astrophysics. I don't like genetics much, but I really like things in space. Seven says I should call 'things in space' astrophysics but it's a long word."
After Chakotay reminded her that Beverly was here, Kathryn searched the room again with her eyes and found Beverly sitting at her table, with Naomi Wildman in her chair. Not that she minded the youngster being in her chair in the slightest, she felt guilty because she'd convinced Beverly to come to the Voyager reunion, and then been so busy catching up with her crew that she hadn't had time to introduce her to anyone, not without rudely leaving the middle of the conversation.
Beverly was happy. She'd taken the time to change into the tight green dress that looked absolutely stunning on her, and she'd left her hair down. Hopefully the nanotechnology test she'd been running had gone well. She'd said she was going to be late, and apologised several times, and Kathryn was really just happy she was here. She wanted Beverly to be here, with her family.
Chakotay tapped her shoulder, pulling her back into the conversation she was no longer paying any real attention to.
"Lieutenant Briggs has just been assigned to the medical ship Phlox as their assistant engineer."
"Congratulations, Lieutenant. I'm sure you'll take very good care of the ship." Her smile was half for Chakotay. He was unearthly good at knowing when her attention had drifted. "Please, enjoy the party. Don't let me keep you from Lieutenant Sigurdsson, he's been waiting for you."
"Thank you, Admiral."
The young man left Kathryn alone with Chakotay and a nearly empty flute of champagne. She was going to need to switch to coffee if she intended to stay awake for the rest of the reception. Her stalking headache threatened for a moment between her eyes and she sighed. Why were receptions never in the beginning of the week when she had energy.
"I think she's being interrogated."
"What?" Kathryn snapped to attention. "Beverly?"
"Naomi's got her in her sights."
The knot of panic dissolved in her stomach. Naomi and Beverly would probably get along famously. Beverly was pretty good at talking to everyone she'd met, and she was exceptionally good with children. Years of practice, of course, but Kathryn envied that. Sometimes she was surprised by how much Naomi liked her. She'd had very little time for the girl, even though she would have loved to have spent more with her, the ship came first, and Voyager was especially demanding.
"She'll be fine. Beverly's good with children."
"Naomi's been dying to meet her." Chakotay caught a new glass of champagne and smiled at her when she didn't. "Coffee?"
"Tom and B'Elanna have been wanting to meet her too. I even overhead Harry betting Seven that Beverly was taller than she is." Chakotay led her over towards the coffee and tea service and Kathryn was able to pour herself a cup of precious black coffee. Clinging to it, she tried to guess what Chakotay was getting at.
"Her height is in her Starfleet record."
"But will she wear heels? Your height is in yours and you-" He waved towards her feet and the neat stiletto boots she was wearing with her grey pantsuit. Beverly could wear a dress, she had the legs for it.
"I don't see why it matters to Harry if Beverly wears heels or not."
Chakotay half-circled her and stopped on her left so that he was no longer between Kathryn and her view of Naomi and Beverly. "Everyone's curious."
Clinging to the heat and comforting smell of her coffee, Kathryn frowned. "She has a Starfleet record. She's given several interviews to the Federation News Service, taught at the Academy; she's written over a hundred academic papers. There's not a great deal of mystery about her life."
"Beverly's life isn't the mystery." Chakotay's expression softened, as it did when he realised she was annoyed. "She's with you, you're the captain, and you having a life makes everyone happy, and curious."
"I had a life on Voyager."
Chakotay patted her shoulder and smiled patronisingly. "You had Voyager and all of us to look after. That didn't leave you much time for a life."
Her coffee was sweet and full-bodied. It was good. Why was it after seven years of dreadful coffee that now she missed it? Kathryn pondered his idea. "You're saying it's the first time I've had a date, and everyone wants to know about it."
Kathryn stared at him. He looked so smug; discovering she was happy was hardly slipstream warp drive. "Of course I'm happy. I was happy on Voyager."
"Not like this." He patted her shoulder again and dropped his hand to the small of her back to steer her into another group of the newly-promoted to congratulate them. They'd become so close as a crew that it was hard for her to imagine anyone else being a captain to anyone from her ship. They were moving on, and her case of the empty nest grew worse with each of the reunions.
As she made the rounds with Chakotay, shaking hands and smiling, Kathryn kept Beverly in the corner of her eye. Naomi introduced her first to Samantha and Greskrendretk, then Chell, Seven of Nine, Tom and B'Elanna. Tom and B'Elanna spoke with her for a long time. Kathryn had a sneaking suspicion that Tom could make anyone laugh, but Beverly had him going.
She didn't know the story. Kathryn couldn't even guess what Beverly was saying, but B'Elanna and Tom were both laughing. Beverly fit. The tight-knit Voyager family could have been intimidating, even terrifying to a newcomer, but Beverly fit. Of course she would. She knew Starfleet. She'd been part of that family longer than Kathryn.
Tuvok hadn't yet met her, but he'd read Beverly's academic papers and pronounced her research founded and her interpretation insightful. That was high praise from her old friend. When they met, of course they'd get along, the way Beverly got along with her mother.
Chakotay nudged her, drawing her back to the conversation and out of speculation about how Beverly would look in her dress uniform, and if Tuvok would stand up for her. She'd never had a wedding. She and Mark had planned one, talked about it on subspace while she prepared Voyager: should it have been inside or outside, what Mark would wear, and how big the guest list would have been.
Giving up staring at her and hoping she'd pay attention, Chakotay cleared his throat. "Admiral?"
Her face stung, and too late to prevent it, Kathryn blushed. "I'm sorry, my mind keeps wandering."
"You must be very busy at Starfleet command." Tal Celes smiled with understanding and wrapped her arm tighter around Billy Telfer's waist. "It's really great that you managed to come anyway. Even if you are-"
Billy jumped in, stopping Celes before she called Kathryn on her distraction. "So, what's Voyager like now, Captain?"
The three others had a normal conversation while Kathryn gulped the last of her coffee and excused herself to get more. She couldn't focus. Across the room, she could see that Beverly's hair was down, hanging just past her shoulders. Kathryn could picture the tiny curls along her neck, just above the neckline of her green dress.
She held her now-full coffee cup close, trying to calm herself. She was jumpy, distracted, her mind was wandering and she was letting herself think about weddings. She hadn't thought about weddings since the first year on Voyager, when Mark, and being with Mark, crept into her thoughts. After awhile, she'd let it go, put it away as a fantasy that was never going to happen, like Justin. Justin hadn't meant to be. Maybe they wouldn't even have stayed together. He was so tortured, so desperately in need of affection. Had he been one of her projects? Had she really loved him? What if he hadn't wanted children?
Could she have left him? Would she have dared if he hadn't been taken from her first? Maybe she hadn't had the strength. She'd been so much more timid before she'd lost Justin and her father. That had changed her, burned out some part of her so she could go on.
Mark hadn't waited for her but maybe she hadn't wanted him to. Perhaps she'd known something was wrong. Though they talked often of the wedding, she never put any of it in a PADD. She hadn't taken that step.
Why not? Had something been wrong? Having been proposed to twice, she knew how it went. Beverly wouldn't, she was patient. She had been married. She was entirely content not to do it again.
Naomi Wildman stood in front of her, waiting at attention to be noticed. She was taller each time Kathryn saw her. Next year she'd probably be taller than Kathryn, if she grew like her father.
"Naomi Wildman, what can I do for you?"
The young girl beamed, obviously pleased. "I've met your friend, Doctor Crusher."
"I hope you were kind to her. She doesn't know anyone here." Kathryn sipped her coffee and maintained a serious expression.
"Correction, she didn't know anyone here. Now she knows my mom and dad, and Lieutenant-Commander Torres, Commander Paris, Crewman Chell and Seven of Nine. Commander Paris thinks she's funny."
Kathryn watched Naomi collect a cup of hot chocolate and politely thank the server. She was going to be in the Academy before she knew it.
"What did you think?"
Naomi lifted a marshmallow out of her mug with a spoon and ate it happily, not quite an adult yet, thankfully. She lowered her tone secretively. "She's beautiful. I really like her hair. I can't get mine to look like that."
Smirking a little, Kathryn nodded. "I know what that's like. I can't get mine to do much of anything."
"But she likes your hair, mom says that's what counts." Naomi leaned in closer. "She really likes you."
The stinging heat of embarrassment flashed through her face again. She hadn't been so edgy since she was a teenager. What was it about Beverly Crusher that destroyed her self control?
"Good." She clung to her coffee cup, hoping Naomi was still too young to have noticed. "I'd say that's a good thing. Wouldn't you?"
"Seven said she was 'remarkably insightful'."
Kathryn could picture Seven's tone, and made a mental note to schedule some time with the young woman in the near future. "For a human?"
"Seven is trying to leave some things unsaid. When she points out the inadequacies of humans they frequently become offended when she did not mean to cause any ill-feelings."
Kathryn squeezed Naomi's shoulder, entirely proud of both her and her ex-Borg mentor. "Well, since you've made such good friends with my-" Why wasn't there a better word than girlfriend? Did she really want to start saying fiancee? Wife? "Beverly, would you mind stealing her from Tom for me?"
"Will you remain here?"
Sighing and glancing down at her feet, Kathryn pointed to the table where she'd sat all too briefly. "Actually, I'll be over there. I haven't had any cake and I've heard that it's fantastic." Her stomach was far too knotted to handle cake, but she allowed herself the little white lie.
"The Jimbalian fudge is way better than the Alpha Quadrant one."
Naomi's excitement soothed her nerves. The Borg didn't make her nervous like this. Possibly nothing made her nervous like this. Maybe she should just tell Beverly, force herself to excise the problem before it became inflamed.
No matter what she said, or how many times Kathryn told herself her feet didn't hurt, by the end of the day, they did. She'd barely had time to change out of her uniform, and Kathryn had been regretting switching boots for the last hour. Could she wear her uniform boots all the time? Would anyone notice?
Warmth behind her shoulder, the whisper of her falling against her neck and the very familiar scent of Beverly was infinitely comforting. Almost as good as taking of her boots.
Beverly kissed her cheek, setting down a plate of cake in front of her. "You have to try this."
Resting her head on Beverly's shoulder, Kathryn reached for her thigh and the tension in her stomach eased when Beverly squeezed her fingers. Sitting there in silence, she held on and eyed her cake. "I've heard it was good."
"It's incredible. You ate better than you say if all the food on Voyager was like that." Beverly's tone was light and teasing.
"You haven't had leola root." Kathryn patted Beverly's thigh and brought her hand back to eat her cake. Toying with her cake instead of eating it, Kathryn moved her fork slowly.
Beverly rubbed her shoulder, then kissed her cheek again. "Long day?"
"It wasn't really." Kathryn took a bite of cake and the sweet, nutty icing melted into her tongue.
Grinning at her, Beverly smirked. "Told you it was good."
Unexpectedly, Kathryn's eyes stung, and she turned towards Beverly, half in tears before she pulled herself together. "We had this for Kes' second birthday."
She'd nearly forgotten. The young woman she'd known frequently slipped into her thoughts. It was an old grief. So much of what Kes could have had, seemed to have been lost in her evolution. Perhaps she wasn't ready. Kathryn would never really know, no Starfleet ship had yet returned to the Delta Quadrant and their relay didn't reach Ocampa.
So many had been lost on their long trek home. Some marriages had been ruined, some children had spent years without a beloved parent, and a few didn't return at all.
One of the many things she loved about Beverly, was that Beverly didn't need to have known Kes, or Joe Carey, or Harriman to wrap her arms around Kathryn's waist and steel her against what she felt. She'd made it through her speech, even though she'd dreaded it and spent far too much time fussing with the wording. Every time she looked into her crew, she saw the faces who were there. When she watched Mike Ayala pick up his boys, she thought of Audrey Carey and the two little boys who's father hadn't come home.
She was good at not crying. She'd made that a habit through the years. Tonight she was tired, no one was watching, and she'd been the admiral all day. She'd done her part, as she always tried to, but Kes was still gone. Joe Carey was still dead, and so were all the others she'd left behind.
Beverly's hand held her cheek, then she turned in her chair and held her close. She shouldn't be crying, it was just cake, but Kes wasn't there.
And she should have been.