34

"Oh, there you are," Lili was considerably more alert. "I missed you last night."

Doug kissed her. "Doc said you needed to sleep. And I kinda needed to sleep flat. I won't, uh, I don't like sleeping without you."

She smiled and sat up. "Did you see anyone we know?"

"Yes," he said, "I had a dream about Miva."

"Oh. Did you tell her how sorry we both are for her loss?"

"Yes, of course. She said, and man, I don't know how they do it, but she said she's still got her husband and while it hurts her, she's still kind of covered. She said she knows her counterpart is also a doctor on this side."

"Good to know," Lili said, "I dreamed of Beth Cutler. She says Tripp, uh, she calls him Charles, she said he's getting better."

"I have a debriefing I need to get to. Spill all about the Defiant. How do I, um, look? Keeping in mind you're probably already sick of this outfit."

"Perfectly fine," she said, "We should buy you more clothes."

"And sexy things for you," he said, "But I don't know how much of a budget we've got to work with. I, uh, I have an idea of how to help with that."

"Oh?"

"I don't want to say until I make a few inquiries, okay? You can handle a little surprise, right?"

"Sure," she said, "I'll be here; Jenny's going to come visit me and I'll probably also do a lot of sleeping. I love you."

"And I love you," he said, "Now, I'd better go." he kissed her face and departed.

=/\=

The Executive level staff were assembled in the Main Conference Room. Brian was setting out breakfast foods. "And, uh, we have two kinds of danish and there are muffins. Fruit over there, coffee and tea, and everything to go with it is over here."

"Crewman, you seem to be enjoying your new role," Malcolm said, grabbing a sesame bagel.

"Yes, sir. I'm thinking of enrolling at the Mars Culinary Institute. I'm gonna ask Ensign O'Day to put in a word for me."

"I'm sure she'll do that for you," Malcolm said, smiling a little tightly.

"All right," Jonathan said once everyone had sat down. "Hayes, you're on."

"First, I want to reiterate that I'm no engineer," Doug began. "And Tucker and Crossman can be reached, through either Lili or me, at any time. So you should talk to them, too, at some time. Tucker here, in particular, should talk to them."

"You do realize how I made contact with you last time, right?" Tripp asked. "I, uh, she and I, we ..."

"What Commander Tucker is trying to say is," Phlox said through the screen at Sick Bay, "that he and the Ensign crawled into her bed together."

"It was the for the purpose of making contact." T'Pol clarified.

"Uh, yeah." Tripp said.

"I'm sure you were a gentleman," Doug said, "I do trust her, you know."

"Moving right along," Jonathan said, "the debriefing?"

"Yes, of course," Doug said, "The Defiant is around one hundred and fifty years later in design than the NX-01. The main difference is, it's loaded with sensors. They are everywhere, and they have to be maintained at a level that's just not done here. The entire hull is one huge sensor grid. Every system is sensor-dependent. So here's what that means. Let's look at Tactical, which of course I know the best. It means that targeting is better and more accurate. It means that targeting takes into account not only X, Y and Z space coordinates but also the speed, pitch and yaw of the ship in a way that I know you just don't do right now."

"What sort of weapons does the Defiant have?" Malcolm asked.

"Photon torpedoes, but way more banks than you've got. And phasers, not phase cannons. They're, um, phased energy rectification. They target and pinpoint synchronous light. I don't know all the physics of it – wish I did."

"What about defenses?" Jonathan asked.

"Shielding," Doug replied. "Deflector shields, to be more precise. They work by returning energy to whatever blast you're receiving. Again, I don't know a lot of the specifics. They can and do fail, and more often than we'd like. Can't run the transporter while they're up, either."

"Fascinating," said T'Pol.

"What about navigation?" Travis asked.

"Again, it's related to all of those sensors," Doug said, drinking some more coffee. "More sensors means you can maneuver through difficult terrain more effectively. The computer can make many more calculations per millisecond, so you can avoid hitting asteroids and whatnot. Speed is better, too. We – er, they – do Warp seven all the time, and can crank it up to Warp nine but that puts a big strain on things. I don't think Warp ten is possible as the technology stands."

"And for fuel? What are they usin'?" Tripp asked.

"Dilithium crystals," Doug replied. "Some sort of a matrix."

"What about communications?" Hoshi asked.

"There are hand-held communicators. They flip open, just like yours do, but they're a bit bigger. Bigger ship communications are more powerful, more long-range. There's a, um, a thing that the Communications Officer sticks in her ear. Helps her hear better. Dunno what it's called."

"Is there a lot of translating?" Hoshi asked.

"Pretty much none, but it's possible that the Defiant's language database – the only part of the database that is really still fully intact – has most if not all of the languages in the area already programmed in. If they go outside of the immediate neighborhood, I imagine translating might become necessary again."

"I guess I'm not obsolete yet," Hoshi said.

"Do you have information on the Science station?" T'Pol asked.

"I don't know much. I'm sure having more sensors helps in all sorts of ways I can't begin to think of. I do know that it's possible to pick out a human biosign with a lot more accuracy than you've got, and from a longer range. That gets tied into communicators, usually; the signal is bounced off and a transporter lock can be established much more easily. Wish I could tell you more, sorry."

"Do you have any information on medical?" Phlox asked.

"Pretty much none. There's a lot of complicated-looking equipment but I'm sure that Morgan doesn't know how to use it properly."

"Do you know anything about Command?" Jonathan asked.

"Some. I got put in charge a lot. Captain's chair has more communications options and a sensor readout on the armrest. Oh, and tricorders. Captain's got one that's more complex than everyone else's. They're, um, they record all sorts of input, sort of like the PADDs you've got. Small screen at the top, dial in the middle right, buttons on the side. You can patch them into the ship's computer and have it analyze whatever you're recording. They are kind of like portable sensor banks, I guess."

"Anything else you can tell us?" The Captain asked.

"Mostly just superficial things. Uniforms are different. Ship is brighter, both inside and out. Hull is very clean-lined."

=/\=

"Hi, Jenny," Lili smiled.

"How you feeling?"

"Better. A lot better. I think we'll be out of quarters by late tomorrow or so."

"And then you're leaving," Jenny said, "I'll miss you."

"And my chatty dreaming?"

"Yes, and your chatty dreaming. You seem, well, you seem really happy. Next time we get back to the Solar System, I'm gonna see Frank," Jenny smiled. "He, uh, he's really the best thing that's ever happened to me. Yanno, I know why you fell so hard, and so fast."

"Oh?"

"It's 'cause, you just know."

=/\=

The meeting was finally breaking up. It had been going on for hours. "Reed, can I ask you something?" Doug said.

"Certainly. Walk with me to the Bridge?"

"Sure. Uh, you mentioned me teaching hand to hand. You still think that's a viable option?"

"I don't see any reason why not. Brush off your marksmanship skills as well, I'd suggest."

"You, um, do you think it's at all lucrative?"

"You can check with Admiral Black, I suppose."

"I, uh, I just want to provide for her," Doug said.

"I should tell you what she said to me when she hugged and kissed me."

"I, you don't have to."

"But, I do, Hayes. It was, she just wanted me to know that when I fall, it'll be like that. Like what, what you have."

"I bet you fall hard," Doug said, "It's like nothing else."

=/\=

"What is it now?" Travis rolled to the side as the Empress peevishly answered a communications chime.

"We're free of the Lafa System." Ramirez said, "Warp drive is coming back on line."

"Good. Now get to work on fixing the transporter. And get that rodent infestation out of there. I hate mice. Sato out."

But she'd failed to fully close the link, so Frank Ramirez was treated to the sounds of Hoshi and Travis hitting it.

=/\=

"I'm sorry I was later than expected," Doug said.

"It's okay, you let me know. I mostly slept anyway. Dreamed of Jennifer. She said Treve was pardoned. Oh and I spoke with the other Treve, the one on our side," Lili said.

"Yes?"

"We have a place to live, at least for a while. He says it's not very big."

"All it needs is a bed," Doug smiled at her and kissed her, "a stove, and a desk."

"A desk?"

"Yes. You don't expect to go completely without outside communications, do you?"

"I suppose not. Oh and a big wooden table. 'Cause, um, we need to serve food. And, uh, maybe use it for ..." she teased.

"We'd better laminate it then."

"It'll get slippery," she said.

"It's either that, or splinters. And you don't want splinters there."

"This is what heavy tablecloths are for, Doug."

He yawned a little. "It's not the company, it's the hour."

"Here." she moved over a little in the small Sick Bay bed.

"Uh, okay," he said. He moved one of Phlox's stools over and drew the curtain around the bed. He took off everything but his tee and boxers. "Here, can you stand a sec?"

"Sure." she got up tentatively.

He got into bed and helped her in. "Here, put your head here." He kissed the top of her head.

"This is very comfortable," she said.

Phlox came in. "I'm getting interesting readings – ah, that would be why. Lieutenant Commander, you do realize that you still have until tomorrow before you can attempt relations."

"I know," Doug said, "But can I stay with her? You won't be far away. I'll let you know if she's in any, uh, distress."

"Very well," Phlox said, departing and drawing the curtain again.

"It is going to be odd," Doug said, "to lie here and not touch you, uh, that way."

"Well if I get pregnant you know you'll have nine long months without anything, as the doctor will have to undo the whole thing for the sake of, of, you know."

"Yeah," he said, "We'd have to do a lot of math."

"I'm not too good at that."

"You do fine."

"Well, I can see that there's room for improvement." she admitted.

"You'll get better. Lili, do you think you'd ever take one of those nighttime, uh, lovers? Like the Calafans do."

"No. I'm all set. You're my, my, uh, mine."

"I thought you said not to say 'mine'." he pointed out.

"Well I really believe it now."

He turned her face back to him and kissed her carefully. "Oh, I have to tell you. My idea."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Reed says he thinks I can teach hand to hand for Starfleet. Marksmanship, too."

"What would that entail?"

"I checked. Two weeks in San Francisco, a few times a year."

"I'd miss you."

"You'd come with me," Doug said.

"What if the restaurant needed me?"

"I, I think I'd need you more."

=/\=

"Medical log, Dr. Phlox," Phlox dictated nearby.

"Patient is a forty-eight year old human female. A pair of extensive procedures were performed in the pelvic region and on the reproductive organs in order to make intercourse with an unusually well-endowed human male possible. The implication is that, if the procedures are successful, that such a regimen could be duplicated in the case of human females desiring coitus with Klingon males and other larger and more powerful humanoid species, perhaps including Gorn. This procedure is not considered to be applicable to non-humanoid species." He paused and sipped some water.

"Before discussing the technical aspects of the procedure, I'd like to add a personal note. It is not my intention to judge a patient's personal life or her choice of mate. Motivation can be difficult to determine but it should not be tainted with prejudgments about the rightness or wrongness of a particular union. I found that I was confusing this patient's circumstances with those of a family member, and the comparison was an unfair and inaccurate one. For the record, I would like to say that this patient is not entering into this procedure lightly. As for her, her significant other, while it is clear that such a procedure will be somewhat convenient for him if it is successful, I have also, I have, I don't believe I've seen such devotion."

=/\=

Doug was sawing logs already. Lili smiled and leaned against his chest. "Tomorrow." she whispered.

=/\=

It was a trial, that much Lili could tell.

It was the end of it.

"And you are hereby sentenced to potassium blockage." A judge on a five-Calafan panel said to the ruddy Polloria, who stood waiting for sentencing, leaning on a table as she took her weight off her injured ankle. "Do you have something to say?"

"No," Polloria said, "I'm done."

The pale Polloria was then sentenced, to life in the prison.

The rest of the dream was a blur of officials talking. Lili recognized Treve amidst the pale faces, sitting with his siblings and father in the audience. There was a hand on hers, thumb caressing her fingers. She turned and it was Doug, sitting with her. He smiled at her as they awoke.

=/\=

It was the morning already.

Phlox stirred and came in to check on them. "You're free to go," he said.

Doug helped her up, then dressed and helped her to dress.

"I will," Phlox said, "get some breakfast and then be back here in about an hour. So, um, take a little time before, er, diving back into things so that I can be prepared in case I am needed."

"Thank you," Lili said.

"Let's go," Doug said.

"Yes, but slowly. I can't really run this time."

"All right," he said, holding her hand. "Walk with me in the halls, and I'll show you off."

"I need a shower," she said.

"Me, too," he said, "You, uh, owe me one."

"One what?"

"A shower," he said.

35

The hallways were strangely magical.

Doug had never liked starship hallways. They had been places where someone would try to knife him. Or, at best, conduits between one assignment and another, or a gateway to an encounter, perhaps, but nothing more, nothing special.

Yet there they were, holding hands like schoolchildren, smiling and laughing and talking to anyone who went by. Lili introduced him to, it seemed, everyone, and he was as gracious and polite as he could be, and they were all so very kind. People asked about their future plans, and he freely spoke of the restaurant and Lafa II and possibly doing some training for Starfleet. He felt young and alive – it was like walking in a garden. They stopped and he backed her into a wall and kissed her. She was a little surprised by that and said, "I thought you didn't like public displays."

"I guess I do now. Changing my mind about lots of things." he took off his jacket and casually flung it over his shoulder, and looked over to her frequently as they strolled.

"Oh, hi, Ethan." he heard her say.

"Hiya, Lili. I hear you're leaving," said a young Crewman.

"Doug, this is ..."

He didn't hear the rest of it. He knew who that was.

It was like a crash, the end of the idyllic mood, replaced instantly by chaos and pain, fear and nausea. His thumb had been caressing her fingers. He stopped doing that, and instead pressed it into her palm.

She glanced down, seemed to catch the signal. "Uh, we have to go, Ethan. I'll see you later." she smiled at Ethan Shapiro as he walked away.

Doug steered her into a nearby empty lab.

"What's the matter?" she asked quietly, as soon as the door had closed.

He looked down. "That was Number Two." He was unsteady on his feet, reeling.

"Ohhh," she said, "When did, when did it happen?"

"Thirty-two years ago. On the Vulcan home world. I phasered him in the belly," Doug said, shaking.

"No, wait, wait. I guarantee that that kid is at least a good five years younger than that," Lili said, "So unless you got him in utero, that's not him."

"The name is the same. It looks just, just like him."

"No. It's the nephew of him. Or his son. Or some cousin or something."

"The name ..."

"The names don't have to match. And neither do a lot of things. You should know that better than anyone, Doug. You should know that this mirror is distorted. It is not him." she made as if to leave the lab.

He put his hand out to stop her. "Lili, this is, I am so stupid. This is going to keep happening. There are a lot of people I can run into, and I know what I did – if not to them, then to their families."

"You'll be on Lafa II."

"And what about when the Enterprise comes back? Or I go and I do training? I am gonna see these, these ghosts over and over again. Did you know I almost popped Delacroix because he was in almost exactly a situation when I did that on the other side?"

Lili shook her head. "But you didn't, right? Doug, you're right. This is going to keep happening."

"Yes," he said softly, trembling a little.

"What did you, what did you expect? Doug, coming here, did you think it would all be gone? You would have escaped all of it?"

"I, I don't know what I thought," he said, voice breaking.

"Because you, you can't escape it. You can't just reverse it away and pretend like it never happened."

"I know," he said, "It's shame. It's guilt. It's fear. I feel sick. I feel physically ill."

"Why did you, why did you come here? Why did you come to this side?"

"I, I wanted to be with you."

"I know. But why else?"

"It was, I, Gawd, I'm not making any sense. It was, I thought I could leave it all behind me. Achieve, maybe, some measure of forgiveness. But that's not the main reason. I came here because of you."

"So the rest of it, it's secondary?" he nodded. She continued, "You came here for love?" her voice was rising.

"Yes." his body shook.

"Then prove it," she said, almost shouting at him. "Love me. And that will be how you'll be forgiven."

"I, I..."

"Love me." she insisted sharply. "And love our home. And love our friends. And love everything we make together, whether it's a restaurant or a hand to hand class or a pumpkin pie or, or," her voice dropped to a whisper, "or a child."

"Do you want that?"

"I want whatever happens," she said softly. "And if we don't become parents, then we don't, and we'll have happy lives together. And if we do, then we'll have a happy life to share with someone else. Who, who we haven't met yet."

"A happy life?"

"Yes. That is what I want. And I think we can have it. And you know what else I want?"

"Tell me, and I will try to give it to you," he said.

"I want your playfulness. I want your spirit. I want your strength. I want your kindness – yes, you have it. I want your thoughtfulness. I want your risk-taking. I want your ambition. I want your joy. I want your, your everything. And in return I give you mine," she said.

"You said I gave you confidence."

"You do."

"No. You already have it. I get it from you," he said.

They left the lab and went back to quarters.

He put his jacket down and looked at her.

"I have to wash this all away," he said, "I know it's not really gone, the guilt and all. But I want it to go away for a little while, and, and be with you, now."

"Do you know what forgiveness does?"

"Tell me."

"It doesn't make it all go away. Not at all. It does, though, make it so that you can live with yourself a little easier, and a little better. And it makes it so that you can move forward."

"I guess that's all I can, I can ask for."

"Here," she said, unbuttoning his shirt. "It's time to let it go. If only for a little while."

He took off her hoodie. "It's the little whiles that matter."

She stripped the rest of her clothes off, and he did the same, standing and staring at her. She checked her face in a mirror. "Gawd, I really need to wash my hair. It's a sweaty, sticky mess. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I, I told you I was going to like you, almost no matter what you looked like."

"What's this almost business?"

"Well, I did want you to be humanoid. I mean, I do have standards and all." he smiled at her tentatively. "This is all I've got. What you see in front of you."

"Coincidentally, that's all I want," she said.

He followed her into the little bathroom and she turned on the shower. "C'mere." she beckoned, getting in.

There was a moment when getting clean turned into getting down and dirty. Their breath was fogging up the shower door when she finally switched off the water. "Here," she said, handing him a towel.

He rubbed her back. "Don't get too dry."

She smiled. "Not a chance." She sat down on the bed and trembled a little.

"Cold?"

"No. Just realizing, remembering what, what happened the last time. A little scared."

"I come in peace," he said, kissing her.

"You'd better."

He lay her back and rolled her onto her right side. He put a pillow under her back.

She brushed a damp strand of hair away from his face. "I remember this way."

"Yes," he said, and touched her, "Are you ...?"

"Yes," she said, teeth chattering a tiny bit.

He kissed her deeply. "Tell me," he said, "Tell me if anything is off. Anything at all."

She nodded.

=/\=

They opened their eyes and looked at each other for a second. "Check! Check! We have to check!" she cried out.

They sprang apart, both leaping out of bed to the left side of it. She put her hand down on herself. He inspected the sheets carefully. After a minute or so, they both looked up. "Did you find anything?" he asked.

"N-no blood," she said, "You?"

"No blood." he dropped the top sheet onto the bed and approached her, enveloping her, arms around her arms, mouth on the top of her head. He whispered, over and over again, "We can do something. We can do something. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God."

For her part, she was shaking. She put her head up. "Is this how it's gonna be?"

"I don't, I don't know." he sat down on the bed, and she sat beside him. "I, uh, I can't do it the Tantric way every time. It's, it takes a lot outta me to hold back like that for a long time. Hard to stay patient and move slowly when it feels so good to move fast."

"How, um, how often? Wait, I don't want to be selfish."

"Only maybe once a week." he admitted. "Can you live with that? We could do math or something, right?"

"Yes," she said, and then thought better of it. "We should, we should try it the regular way."

"You mean –?"

"Yes, Doug. We need to know if we can, if we have options."

"I don't want to harm you."

"I know. But we need to test this. I mean, what if we forget one time? Or we just, we mess up?"

"I can't, couldn't let it happen to you again."

"This is the best opportunity," she said, "Phlox is just a communicator call away, and he knows what we're up to. Keep what you need, uh, close. Shorts, communicator, anything else. Just in case."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I want to be with you all the way, any way that we can." She kissed him.

"Absolutely sure?"

"Yes!" she said, a little more sharply than she'd intended.

"Lili!" he exclaimed. "You've gotten, well, angry a bit lately. I suspect that underneath your chef's whites you're a bit of a spitfire when you get riled up. I think you may have a bit of a temper."

"Hey, I'm half-Irish. Don't mess with me."

"I will mess with you all I like," he said, "But I am, you do recognize, I am scared that you'll, well ..."

"Like I said, you'll be prepared and we'll see what happens."

"Here goes nothing."

"Here comes everything." she corrected him and touched him.

"You have the right touch."

"So do you." she panted.

=/\=

They were panting, asynchronously panting. He found his voice after maybe a minute. "We, we have to check," he said.

"Yes." she breathed.

They got up again, and did as before. He was done checking first, and stared at her for a second. "If I didn't know why you were doing that, I'd swear you were ..."

She smiled. "No blood," she said, inspecting her fingers.

"None here either, just evidence that we made love. I'll, um, I'll take that side."

"You don't have to."

"It's okay," he said, clicking her communicator open. "Get me Doctor Phlox. It's, it's not an emergency."

"Phlox here."

"Doc, we're okay," he said.

"Might I suggest you make a second attempt?" Dr. Phlox asked. "Make certain before you declare yourselves fully fit and all."

"We already did that," Lili said.

"Very well then. I will see you tonight for your farewell dinner, is that correct?" Phlox asked.

"Yes. I'm making holiday foods, since I won't be here when they come around. Christmas ham, potato latkes and tabbouleh, salads, a vegetarian hoppin' John for those who keep kosher or halal and of course for Commander T'Pol."

"Sounds marvelous. See you then. Phlox out."

Doug put the communicator back on Lili's desk. "Lili," he said, "I swear to you that I will never leave you that fast again."

"Doug, don't write checks with your mouth that maybe your body can't cash."

"I, I know that eventually I'll get to the point where I can't just keep going. But until that happens, I'll stay right with you, keep it going, as long as you want it, whenever you want it. Because that's what I want, too."

She kissed him. "And when we do sleep?"

"I will hold you and keep you warm and smell your hair. I will never buy you perfume. I never want you to smell of anything but food and yourself."

"What if I make something with sardines in it?"

"Then we'll take another shower together," he said.

"And I promise that I will always let you know when things are right, and when things are wrong. If I'm tired or having PMS or whatever. I won't blindside you. And, and I want you to smell like you, too. Because that's how I was able, that's how I knew it was you, back when it was just dark and I didn't know your face."

He kissed her deeply.

"Lili, I was thinking. I, well, Jay had a sister. And it would be really bad if she were to find out about me by just stumbling upon me or something."

"Hmmm?"

"So I was thinking, I should change my name."

"Change your name? But I love Doug and I love Douglas Jay and I love Douglas Jay Hayes," she said.

"Just a new last name. I'd stick it on the end."

"Oh? Well, don't make it anything I can't spell, like Grabinsky, okay?"

"Can you spell Beckett?"

"One or two Ts?"

"Two," he said.

"Where's Beckett coming from?"

"It was my mother's maiden name."

"Ah. Well that would honor her," she said, "Hmm. Doug Beckett. Douglas Jay Beckett. DJ Beckett."

"No, no, Hayes would still be in there. So it would be DJH Beckett."

"Ah. Huh," she said, "You know, I'm in love with this guy."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. He's thoughtful." she kissed him. "Strong." she kissed him. "Handsome."

"You'd better get your beautiful crystal blue eyes checked."

She smiled. "Sexy." she kissed him deeply. "And his name is Doug Beckett."

They kissed and she touched him again.

He smiled at her. "Definitely the best hand."

He kissed her again, hand lightly tracing her face. "Lili?"

"Yes?" she gasped.

"I was thinking, you should really change your name, too."

"Oh? To what?" she asked, looking deeply into his bluish-greenish-greyish eyes.

"Beckett."

The End

30