Still on hiatus but I reposting this to fix the formatting error.
Kathryn followed Qi through the streets of the capital. It was a busy place and several Kieru stopped to stare at her for a second or two before moving on. She felt a great deal of anxiety at this upcoming meeting.
"Don't worry; they will love you!" Qi said gently as he lead her down a street then into a house.
"Aimi, Chou, Usagi, Rio, Yua! I brought her!" Qi called.
A lovely Kieru woman stepped out of a nearby room. "Qi, where are your manners, shouting like that? It is unseemly and I can only think all this time among aliens has unseated your reason."
Qi looked abashed. "I apologize, womb-sister."
The woman's stern look softened into a welcoming smile as she looked at Kathryn. "I am Aimi. Be welcome in our home." She turned back to Qi. "Go and respectfully invite the rest of our family to join us. I will escort Kathryn Janeway to the visiting room."
Qi cast the two of them an anxious look before going to do as his sister bid. Aimi watched him leave with a fond look. "He was ever the one for correct manners. I despaired that he would ever meet anyone able to shake them. I am grateful he has found you."
Janeway smiled. "Then that comment was not meant to be insulting."
"Not to you. It has ever been the duty of sisters to keep their brothers from gaining an overly large opinion of their own self-importance."
Janeway laughed, finding this sister, at least, to be just the sort of woman she would enjoy having as a friend. Her hopes for the day rose. A family with a sense of humor would be more forgiving of any social faux pas she might make and she would not have to worry that the conversation would be as tedious as those many sessions with the Council.
As the rest of the family filed in, however, she felt her trepidation rise again. He had mentioned that he had a large family, but she had never expected anything like this. She had thought the visiting room quite spacious when she first arrived, but every corner was packed with people and the center of the room was littered with young children. Everyone was introduced in groups of womb-siblings. She desperately hoped that she was not expected to remember everyone.
After a meal seated around several long banquet tables, the majority of the guests departed with polite well-wishing. It seemed that this building only housed Qi and his womb-siblings and their families and so they were the only ones to remain after. She let out a soft relived sigh when the last of the guests left. Qi turned to her in some concern. "Was that too much? I did not mean to overwhelm you with so many all at once. I had only intended to introduce you to my womb-siblings today, but family has a way of finding such things out and it would have been impolite to turn them away."
Kathryn shook her head. "It was a surprise, certainly. Just tell me that I am not required to remember all of their names."
Qi laughed. "If necessary, I will remind you."
"You have no idea how much of a relief that is," Janeway said with feeling. "Now tell me the difference between siblings and womb-siblings."
"It is as it sounds," Chou, told her tranquilly. "Womb siblings shared the same womb at the same time. It creates a much closer bond to be born and raised together."
Janeway did a quick head count and felt as though she had been kicked in the gut. "Your mother gave birth to seven of you at once?"
"This surprises you? How many children does a woman of your species give birth to?" Chou asked. "If it is not impolite to ask," she added quickly.
"Human women rarely give birth to more than one child at a time." Janeway explained. "I have only one sibling, a sister named Phoebe."
Qi's sisters came as close to gawking as Kieru ever did at the thought of only one sibling and that not even a womb sibling. Janeway hoped that she wasn't expected to produce as many children. She had no intention of giving birth to seven children at once even if the human body had been designed to carry so many at a time. The subject was expertly steered to other topics and they talked for quite a while longer. When Qi finally offered to escort her home, she realized the sun was already beginning to set.
They walked through the late afternoon light. Qi tentatively reached out to grasp her hand. "There is a place I know on the way. It is a pleasant place to watch the sun set, if you would enjoy watching it with me."
She agreed with a smile. The sunset truly was glorious, all purple against the red of the hills beyond the city. And he was a pleasant companion, speaking softly of the adventures he had had in those hills as a child and times he had watched the sun set from this very spot over the years. She leaned her head on his shoulder as she listened, utterly enthralled by his tales. It seemed neither of them had any desire to break the spell of the moment. They stayed until long after the sun set and the stars came out. Janeway told him about watching the stars as a child and wanting to explore them and discover new places and new people.
Finally, they both knew it was time to leave. Qi helped her to her feet and took her arm like a proper old-time English gentleman to escort her back to Voyager. He even bowed to kiss her hand as he left her at her door. Janeway went to bed smiling. She was pretty certain she was falling in love.
She felt a twinge of guilt as she thought of Mark, but by now the crew of Voyager was probably assumed to be dead. He was too practical of a man to hold on to a dead woman and she had no desire for him to do so. When they finally returned home, he would be an old man. He deserved happiness. And didn't she deserve it, too?
Qi carefully schooled his features to avoid showing the anxiety he felt. Walking next to Kathryn was wonderful, but he was uncertain whether she would enjoy this particular custom. It was very common among his people to bring a meal to a quiet location and talk for long hours while courting as a means to learn more about their future spouses.
Now he wished he had done enough research to discover if this was a custom they had in common. Kathryn took his hand as they walked and he found that reassuring. Surely if she was not enjoying herself she would not be in such close contact and he had learned enough to be almost completely certain that hand-holding was courting behavior among humans.
He took the fork in the path that would take him to his favorite meadow. The path itself was beautiful with its ancient trees covered with blossoms that gave off an intoxicating odor, but the meadow would be lovelier still. He took surreptitious glances at Kathryn as they walked, pleased to see that she seemed to be enjoying herself.
She walked uncomplaining for two hours, listening to stories he told of his adventures and answering them with tales of her own. She had seen and done a great deal more than he, yet she seemed just as fascinated by his tales as he was by hers. Perhaps, like his people, she was using the tales to learn what sort of person he was. He fervently hoped he measured up.
When he brought her into the meadow, she looked around it in wonder. "I never thought I would find so much red so stunningly beautiful," she breathed. "Red in our cultures is used sparingly because it is a color associated with war, anger, and evil, but this is amazing."
"Is red such a terrible color to you?" he asked anxiously, glancing at his own red skin.
"Not terrible," she objected, placing her hand on his arm. "I may have given you the wrong impression. Red is also a color associated with love. I suppose it has more to do with strong emotion than anything. It is common to express love for someone by offering them red flowers called roses. You saw one on the holodeck when we visited that Parisian restaurant. The meaning of color, like so many things, is a matter of context."
"And does this context please you?"
"Very much," she responded, though the way she looked at him conveyed another level of meaning he was uncertain he was interpreting correctly. He picked her several flowers to give himself time to think. She tucked them in her hair. Was there some special significance to that? He was still worrying over the matter when they arrived at the little meal he had set up for them earlier.
A smile formed on her face. "A picnic! I haven't been on a picnic in years!" He breathed a silent sigh of relief. So it was a custom among her people. He allowed himself to relax and enjoy the afternoon, though he made a mental note to do further research on human courtship customs before planning any other activities.
Janeway walked next to Qi. The past few days were a whirlwind of pleasant events. It seemed that Qi wanted to show her all of the things he loved best about his world before Voyager left, but he had also taken care to connect them to human customs.
He had taken her dancing, both in the Kieru style and to a holodeck program he had had some of her crew help him put together. He had been less than skillful when it came to the human dances, but he was a quick learner. If it came to that, he had been quicker at learning hers than she had been at learning his.
Voyager would leave tomorrow. The thought loomed in her mind. She loved Qi. If the truth were known, she thought she loved him more than she ever had Mark, but she was conflicted. It was her duty to stay with Voyager to the end of the journey. She couldn't abandon them.
But Qi also held a position of importance. He was unlikely to give it up and leave everything he knew and loved to travel with her on a journey that would end so far from his home that he would never be able to see it or his family again.
She was pulled from her depressed thoughts as they entered Qi's house. It was all decorated like an 18th century manor and when she looked down, her clothing had become a dress of the same period of Earth's history. It didn't feel real, so she assumed it was holo-technology doing the work.
She turned to Qi and found him kneeling before her, reaching for her hand. "Kathryn Janeway, I would be pleased if you would accept my offer of marriage."
"I beg you let me finish. I know you cannot leave your people, but I can leave mine. I have already spoken to my father and he has given his blessing, as have all of my womb-siblings."
"Won't you miss them?"
"Undoubtedly, but I would regret it far more if I let you leave and did not follow. I will travel with you and we will make our own family. If you will have me, of course." He seemed uncertain now.
Janeway squeezed his hand. "Of course I will have you. Nothing would give me greater pleasure." She blinked away tears as he pulled out a beautifully crafted ring and placed it on her finger.
"It is good that you agreed," he told her after kissing her.
"And why is that?"
"Aside from the fact that I would have to suffer a broken heart, my womb-siblings have been planning the ceremony all week and they would never forgive me if they did not have the chance to put them in action. Chou has been spending every spare moment researching human marriage customs and combining them with Kieru customs. If you can spare another day, we can be married tomorrow."
Tom Paris sat down beside his wife, setting a drink in front of her as he did so. "The Kieru know how to throw a party."
"Are you sure it's not a little tame for your tastes, Tom?" B'Elanna asked.
"Don't be silly. I'm a married man now. Harry's the one who wants excitement."
"Hey, leave me out of this!" Harry objected and everyone at the table laughed.
"Oh, come on, Harry. We all saw that engineer you were chatting with earlier. Do you mean to tell us that you don't plan to spend the extra shore leave with her?" B'Elanna teased.
"Are we interrupting anything?" Seven asked as she and Chakotay approached.
"No. Please sit down," Harry invited, clearly relieved at this timely distraction.
Chakotay pulled out a chair for his very pregnant wife and made sure she was settled comfortably. "The Captain looks very happy," he observed as he took his seat.
"It will be good for her," Seven observed. "She works too hard and as Captain she is lonely. In addition, protocol makes it impossible to form a relationship among her own crew. The journey back to the Alpha Quadrant would be a very long journey without any companionship." She cast Chakotay a warm smile.
Janeway sighed with relief as Voyager pulled away from Uchi Kieru. The honeymoon on Uchi Kieru's largest moon had been wonderful and she like Qi's family, but she was happy to be back on Voyager. As soon as his home was out of sight, Qi kissed her cheek and murmured that he was going to unpack and that she was not to stay up too late.
Janeway promised not to get sidetracked by anything anyone else could deal with. She settled into her seat. It felt like an old friend. Later there would be problems. Someone would have a problem with Qi or one of the other four Kieru who had come as his honor guard. Or someone would offend one of them Or they would be attacked by Borg or Hirogens or some as-yet undiscovered alien race. But for now life was perfect and she took comfort in the routine of her duties.
Her shift ended and she turned the Bridge over to Chakotay. After an evening with Qi, she fell asleep. She slept deeply through most of the night, but near morning she had a dream. It was bizarre, but at the same time seemed so real that when she first woke it took several minutes to determine that it was, in fact, a dream.
Qi had already left for the morning. He had told her the night before that he planned to get up at 0800 and make sure his people were settled and prepared to assimilate into the crew. She had set her meeting for 1000 hours, in part so that Qi could participate and in part because the Doctor had pointedly informed her that several of her senior officers were currently suffering from lack of sleep due to being parents or parents-to-be. A more permanent solution would have to be found, but for today she was content to push back the meeting time.
Now she was glad she had. It gave her time to stop in and see the Doctor. He had suggested that she start having weekly visits now that she was married since any child she and Qi conceived would be the first Kieru/Human cross and as such no one could do more guess at possible complications. She had planned on making an appointment for later that day, but after that dream, she wanted to be sure...
When she arrived, the Doctor was just finishing his examination of the two newest members of the Harrow family. "I am pleased to say that Autumn and Donovan are quite healthy. I still want to monitor their progress with weekly visits, but unless you notice anything unusual, I would say you have nothing to worry about."
The Harrows thanked him and carried their children out.
"Ah, Captain! I didn't expect to see you this morning. I am pleased to see that you are taking my suggestion seriously." The Doctor ushered her over to the biobed. "How did you sleep last night?"
"Not too badly, but I had an unsettling dream just before I woke," she sighed.
"Perhaps you would like to tell me about it?" the Doctor suggested. "I have been studying dream interpretation in my spare time."
Janeway hesitated for a moment, but then decided that it didn't matter. It was probably just a bad dream brought on by a variety of mental stresses. "Q was congratulating me on my impending motherhood, but as the dream progressed more and more children appeared until the room was full of children. And all of them were mine. I woke up in a cold sweat, it seemed so real at the time."
The Doctor smiled. "It sounds like a normal response to the stress of a new wife who is also a captain. There is the very real concern that any potential mother would feel, knowing that there might be complications to any pregnancy. Add to that the Kieru tendency to have multiple births. Or alternately it could be concern over your crew manifesting as worry over children, since your duty as captain of Voyager is to protect them and return them safely home," the Doctor pontificated as the computer ran the scans.
The computer beeped. "And here we are. Let's see what it says." The Doctor brought up the scans on the screen. "Congratulations, Captain! You're pregnant."
"What?" Janeway yelped, picturing the horde of children from her dream. She barely heard what he said next.
"It is nothing to be concerned about, Captain. It is quite a normal occurrence. With proper medical care you and the baby should be fine. I downloaded everything the Kieru would give me about their medical research and the process is very similar between your two races. I'm afraid it's too early to tell the gender or how long to expect the pregnancy to last but I should have more information next month."
Janeway tried not to show her horror. Despite the dream, she had not expected to have to deal with this quite yet.
"Is something wrong, Captain? I thought you would be happier."
"Oh, no," she lied. "I just have to get to my Ready Room for a briefing." She hurried out before the Doctor could offer her any more helpful advice.