The next few nights, they had the same dream.
They met, and smiled at each other, tentatively and shyly, like teenagers at a mixer. "I can't sneak around. I can't," she said on the first of those nights. "I know, Lili-Flower. That part is definitely wrong." "We'll be back at Lafa II soon enough," she said, "And then, he thinks he wants to file for divorce." "I never wanted you and Joss to have pain." "I know." "Whatever I have caused, oh, I so did not wish for that to happen." "The cracks were already there," she said. "No sneaking," he said, "But you, you will tell me if, well, whatever happens with your marriage, yes?" "Yes. Of course," That could be a happy end to it, but she couldn't quite see it behind the fog of pain she was feeling. The dream ended this way every night. He would put his hand on her, in an act far more intimate than a kiss. He placed it on her belly.
"I can't sneak around. I can't," she said on the first of those nights.
"I know, Lili-Flower. That part is definitely wrong."
"We'll be back at Lafa II soon enough," she said, "And then, he thinks he wants to file for divorce."
"I never wanted you and Joss to have pain."
"Whatever I have caused, oh, I so did not wish for that to happen."
"The cracks were already there," she said.
"No sneaking," he said, "But you, you will tell me if, well, whatever happens with your marriage, yes?"
"Yes. Of course," That could be a happy end to it, but she couldn't quite see it behind the fog of pain she was feeling.
The dream ended this way every night.
He would put his hand on her, in an act far more intimate than a kiss.
He placed it on her belly.
September second arrived – Joss's birthday. And Malcolm's. Lili had promised to bake a cake.
But her PADD was flashing. She took a look – a letter from Dayah.
Emmiz and I have wed. I hope he understands he will be taking care of an old woman in a few decades. But I am happy, despite my many familial complications. I hope you are happy as well. – Dayah
The letter from the Xindi was not upsetting in and of itself, but it did remind Lili of Erell, the Andorian baby who had not lived to see the end of her first day. She stood in quarters and wept.
I hope you are happy as well.
Doug came in, looking for clothes, "We got his birthday today," he said, "Can you hold it together?"
That was all the comfort he offered – small comfort indeed.
"Yes, I think so. I will, I'll make sure to," she said. She dried her eyes and left.
Cake baking, Lili sat down, "Brian, can I ask you something?"
"I guess," he was busy taking the dishes out of the sanitizer and putting them away.
"I don't mean to embarrass you, but, do you like my babysitter?"
"She's a nice enough girl, I guess," he reddened and almost dropped a bowl.
"I think she has a crush on you."
"Oh. Um, well, she's underage, right?"
"In our morality, yes," Lili conceded.
"Well, whose morality applies to us?" he asked, "I mean, aren't there species that still have child brides? Do we go by their rules, or ours?"
"I guess we do what we think is most right," she allowed, "All the while hurting the smallest number of people."
"Assuming that all works together," A bell dinged. He said, "Cake's ready. You do the decorating. I still haven't gotten the hang of using the pastry bag and tip."
The party was held in the Observation Lounge, and was crowded. Lili hadn't gotten a chance to cook at all on the Enterprise until then, so there was a definite demand for her cake.
She and Doug arrived with Joss. They put on their best fake smiles – Joss's was real, of course – and looked around at the assembled guests.
Brian brought out the cake with two candles on it. It was decorated with a picture of a huge shuttle on it, as Lili had promised. There was also, in the lower right corner, in green and blue icing, a bit of a jungle scene. Malcolm recognized it but kept the information to himself – it was day lilies and reeds.
"What is the significance of the candles?" T'Pol asked Jonathan.
"You blow them out and make a wish," he replied.
"Seems a rather less than assured manner of making a wish come true," she said.
"Shh. It's supposed to be magic. Joss still believes in that," he said.
The guests sang and then the two of them blew out the candles. Lili and Brian started to cut pieces of the cake. Joss was jumping up and down and clamoring for a piece.
Malcolm stood off to the side but then came over, "Joss, may I speak with you a moment?"
Doug glared but Lili held his arm a little, "Allow this," she said softly.
"Now, Joss," Malcolm said, kneeling so as to face the child directly, "We are the hosts of this party. And all of these lovely people are our guests. And that means that we serve them first. And we must thank them all for coming to see us today."
"Don't try to raise my kid, Reed," Doug said.
"Doug. Not now," Lili said, looking at him, "Just wait a minute."
Malcolm looked back at Joss, "Now, who would you give the first piece to? The person you love the very most in the whole wide world?"
"All right. Then, good, take that over to her. Very carefully now."
Joss slowly delivered his package, and then came back, "Mackum!"
"Yes, yes, that's me. Now, who's next? Someone you love very, very much."
"Yes, that's right. Now, here, let's give him a really, really big piece. He's a, he's a very big fellow, your father is. And he should get a big piece. There, go on."
While Joss was delivering, Lili and Brian handed out other pieces to be passed – otherwise it would have taken hours.
"Ready!" Joss said.
"All right, now, who would you like to give the next piece to?"
"All right, yes, your babysitter – she's a nice girl. There you go."
"Ah, good. Mr. Delacroix has been making very nice sandwiches for you, I understand. Now, who's next?"
"Uhh. Aunt Hoshi!"
"Yes, yes, Hoshi's such a kind lady. Now, Joss, Hoshi understands lots and lots of words. If you talk to her, she shall understand you."
Joss walked over very slowly.
"Um, thanks," Hoshi said, reddening. Joss kissed her on the cheek before going back.
"Now, Joss," Malcolm said, "You've got a lot of pretty ladies admiring you. But you don't have to give this piece to a pretty lady if you don't want to. Would you like to give it to Captain Archer, maybe?"
When he returned, Malcolm straightened up for a second, "Ah, Joss, you should give the next piece to Miss Melissa over there. Do you see her? She's standing right by Mister Torres. She is going to become very special to you."
Joss came over, "Missa," he said.
"Thank you," she said, looking down at him. She reached out and tousled his hair a bit.
He shook his head afterwards and ran back, "Ready!"
"Hmm, it looks like there are only two pieces left. Does everyone have a piece?" Malcolm asked. They did, "All right now, there's a piece with still a lot of the picture of the shuttle and a piece with the kind of jungle scene on it. I will take the piece with the greenery on it."
The task completed, Joss dug in with gusto.
Malcolm moved more slowly and retreated to look out a window. He looked down at the cake and tasted a bit. Pineapple, just like she'd promised. He watched Joss run around and thank people a bit, a toddler's quick thanks, complete with hugs and kisses. T'Pol was unfazed, even when he called her Ears, an act that mortified a very apologetic Lili.
The party was pleasant and the cake was tasty but Malcolm didn't smile much, just looked, alternately out the window and at the scene in front of him. Outside, looking in.
This did not escape one person's gaze.
"Hey, there's a gift box here," Torres said, "It's heavy. It says it's for Joss. There's, um, no one signed the tag."
"A present!" Lili exclaimed, "Whoever did this, you shouldn't have."
The box was brought over. It was wrapped in turquoise paper. Without even opening it, Lili had an idea of who it was from.
It was jars of peanut butter – some smooth and some crunchy. There was a jar of almond butter, and another of cashew butter. There were jars of grape jelly and strawberry jam and one lone jar of orange marmalade. The jars were all from a large store on Hyperion, but the marmalade was from Fortnum & Mason. To confirm her thoughts, Lili looked at the gift tag. True, there was no information on the giver. But she recognized the neat, cramped handwriting, which confirmed her thoughts. It was Malcolm's. She silently smiled at him and mouthed her thanks. He nodded back.
"Captain, I was thinking of reupping with Starfleet," Doug said, "Assuming what happened at the class didn't totally blow my chances."
"No, I don't think that did, although you'll need to rein in your temper, I think," Jonathan said.
"I'd like to, uh, get work on Andoria. I hear they'll have an embassy to defend."
"Well, they will. But I'd've thought you'd prefer the Lafa System. There are going to be settlers there," Jonathan explained, "They'll need protection. Wouldn't your family prefer that?"
"Yes," Lili said softly.
Doug looked back at her, "Are you sure?"
Jonathan said, "I think it's a great idea. You know, you should be able to get a serious commission – probably as Captain of your unit, seeing as you were a Lieutenant Commander when you retired. Plus you probably know the area better than any human."
"So we'd be the same rank?" Doug asked.
"It looks that way to me," Jonathan replied.
"Huh. I think I like these merit promotions," Doug said.
Lili went over to talk to Yimar, "I think you should just take the perrazin by the horns with Brian."
"Huh?" replied the teenager, "Why would I want to touch a dangerous animal?"
"It's a human expression. Just take the initiative and stop beating around the bush. Uh, just make the first move."
"Ohh," Yimar said, bracelet glinting in the light of the Observation Lounge.
"Is that bracelet very important to you?" Lili asked.
"This thing? No, not really. I, uh, you won't tell my mother, will you?"
"Tell her what?"
"I got it when my friends and I were playing hooky one day."
"Ah, I see. Well, you shouldn't do that, Yimar. Although I got in trouble a bit at your age. Can I, uh, can I have it? I can get you a new one – and a lot of other things in thanks for everything you've done here – and then you can tell your mother the truth about how you got it. Okay?"
"Uh, sure," Yimar slipped the bangle off and handed it to Lili.
Party over, Lili and Doug sat in quarters, "Can I, um, can I ask you something?" he said.
"Do you want to work on things?"
"Yes. I do."
"I do too," he admitted, "I don't want our sons to grow up with only a little bit of one or the other of us. I don't want to have to divvy up our friends."
"Any other reason?"
"You know it. And I don't say it enough. But yes, of course – it's also because I love you," he said, "I want us to work, to pull together. In, in whatever, uh, configuration that it becomes."
"Yeah. It's like pulling in a catch, a net of fish, I guess. I, I had thought there would be only, uh, two people in the crew. But maybe it's a bigger boat than I'd thought," he said.
She leaned over and took his face in her hands, and they kissed.
Yimar, Brian and Joss walked in, "Oops!" Yimar said, "We can get the stegosaurus later."
The three of them walked out, but Lili and Doug didn't notice. They hadn't stopped kissing.
Yimar put Joss down once they were outside of the room, and he scampered to the other end of the hall.
She looked at Brian, "Take the perrazin by the horns," she repeated to herself quietly.
She grabbed his face and kissed him. He did not put up a struggle. When they broke away, he looked at her.
"We shoulda done that earlier," she said, "Now we should sleep together."
"What? Uh, Yimar, anything more than that, and Doug'll kill me."
"Just to dream? Honestly, Brian, I dunno where you get these ideas that it's anything other than dreaming!"
The two of them finally broke apart, "Oh, my God, I so missed that," Lili said.
"Me, too," he kissed her hand, "It's almost like when we first got together."
"It's, uh, it's almost like a séance," he said.
"Huh, way to make a gal feel great," she said.
"No, no, no, it's a good thing," Doug said, backpedalling a bit, "See, the other universe, it was a charnel house. I was one of the walking dead, or at least the walking wounded. And I would touch your hand, or kiss you, or even just see you, and I could contact the living."
"You're away from that now."
"Yes. And I never want to go back to it. I, I know I've been pretty stubborn. But it's been because I wanted everything to be different. See, I didn't tell you this, but on the other side of the pond? I, I'm not proud of this."
"You can tell me anything," she took his hand.
"Yeah, I know. Well, on the other side, I cheated on every girlfriend I had."
"Even Jennifer. With, uh, with the gal who runs the Botany Lab here."
"Shelby? The ex-ballet dancer?"
"Belly dancer?" he asked.
"No. Ballet," she articulated better, "Her? I thought you liked a little more, uhm, heft."
"Well, sure. But she was a bit heftier there, too. She wasn't a former ballet dancer. She, um, she was brought on board to pilot. But before that, she did have a profession."
"The world's oldest one."
"And even with Jennifer I could not keep my hands off Shelby. It's true. I cheated on Jenny, I cheated on Susan, on Christine, on all of them."
"And all of them with Shelby?"
"No, I didn't know her until later," he said.
"Why are we talking about her again?" she kissed him.
"Because I just wanted you to know why this has been so very hard for me, Lili. I wanted us to be different."
"We are. You didn't stray – that's such an awful word, as if you were a dog – you didn't, didn't do what you did because you wanted to. But it had unintended consequences. And the same thing happened on my end. Unintended effects."
"Yes. About those," Doug said, "He, I was watching him today."
"I know. And I'd appreciate it if you would give him a chance."
"I did, and I do. But I need to tell you what I saw."
"Lili, I saw that look. I know that look. It's the one that says, 'I'm never gonna have this. I'm never gonna be happy – not really. I won't have love and a family and a future.' I saw that look, and I recognized that look because, well, because I used to see that look every single day of my life, whenever I'd look in a mirror."
"How did that make you feel?"
"Like I've been holding his future hostage. I've been holding everyone's future hostage. If you, if you dream with him, and it's really good, would you leave me?" Doug asked, trembling just a little.
"No. I won't leave you. Would you leave me, if your dreams with Melissa turn out to be really good ones?"
"No. And I've never wanted to leave you. I've – this has all been a lot of posturing. I'm sorry it's been hurtful. My pride really took a hit there."
"I understand. I think this pride business needs to, uh, there should probably be less of it," she said.
"Agreed," he said, "It's a lot to swallow."
"How do you think it will all go?"
"Rough at first, but a lot of things are. You work out the details, I guess. And I reserve the right to change my mind," Doug said.
"Call him. And I will call her," Lili said, "It's time."
Malcolm sat in quarters, fingering the cuff, "Scraps from her table. They will have to be enough," he said to no one.
There was a communications chime. It was Doug.
"Come," was all he said.
Malcolm came over, but was cautious – after all, he didn't want another beating. Lili and Melissa were already there so he felt able to relax a little.
"Call Norri," Lili said, "And I will explain. Ready? Good. This can only work if we all work together. There can never be any jealousy. You have to let all of that go, but you also have to make it possible for the others to let it go. No one gets to go around hurting the others. No one. You, Malcolm, have this piece, Doug has this one. And, in turn, Melissa has a piece, and Norri has another one," Lili said.
"Letting go of jealousy isn't easy," Norri said, "Not impossible, but not easy. Something for me to work on."
"Me, too," Doug said.
"And, for you, Malcolm, anyone can have your daylight piece – Pamela, perhaps, or someone else when you're ready," Lili said.
Malcolm said, "Not with Pamela. That ship has sailed, and I don't wish to go chasing after it. I don't know – I haven't really had long-term connections. Perhaps this is a way for me to finally, truly have one. And, have, well, I could have a real connection to you. Couldn't I?"
Lili nodded, "And that's for as long as you want it."
"I, I want it for, for a long time," he glanced over nervously at Doug.
Doug said, "I'm in this for the long haul. You better be, too, Reed, because you better not hurt her."
"I, I feel that I am all right with being second," Malcolm said.
"Second?" Lili asked, "I don't want to think of you that way."
"Actually, isn't the guy who walks in the back of a patrol just as important as the one who walks in the front?" Norri asked, "I've been reading a book on the Viet Nam war," she said, explaining.
"Yes, that's true," Doug said, "Walking point – being in front – is most dangerous, but bringing up the rear is a vital position as well. That's the first guy hit if there's an ambush."
"And when you pilot a ship – the last course correction you make, it's no less important than the first," Melissa said.
"The last page of a book is no less important than the first," Norri said.
"Last step of a recipe is just as necessary as the first," Lili said.
Malcolm smiled, "We can be very kind people to each other when we want to be."
"Then I choose to be kind," Norri said.
"So you are a kind lioness, Miss Leonora?" Malcolm asked.
"That's me, the book editing literary lioness," Norri said, smoothing her auburn hair a bit, "I don't have much of a mane these days, though."
"I'm not quite done yet. I have conditions," Doug said, "No one confuses the kids. That means we watch the public displays. I'm not joking about this."
Norri said, "While on the subject of children – I refuse to be called Aunt – and he shouldn't be called Uncle," she pointed to Malcolm, "We aren't your siblings."
"So what should you be called?" Melissa asked.
Malcolm suggested, "Well, how about by first names? It seems like Joss uses them anyway."
"Yes, he does. The Calafans don't have last names," Lili said.
"Oh and my condition," Malcolm said, "Is that I'd like to be able to visit on occasion. In person, get together and be together sometimes."
Doug added quickly, "If we're gonna have visits, I gotta insist on this one. No one sleeps in – or has sex in – my bed except for my wife and me. No exceptions."
"Same here," Melissa said, "I don't want some icky boy in the bed I share with Norri. Well, I don't. You guys have germs and stuff."
"Well, there are hotels, right?" Lili said, "There's a pretty nice one on Lafa II, in Fep City. Now for mine, I must insist – my condition is – I want pictures of everyone – kids' births and graduations, medal ceremonies, vacations, anything and everything."
"We're putting a slide show wall into the house", Doug explained, "We had, uh, talked about it before this trip started."
"And I want to fill it up with all of your images," Lili said, "With the new babies when they're born, and every time we all do something wonderful or even just something silly. Give me all of them, don't edit anything out."
"What will you call us when people ask who all those people are?" Melissa asked.
"My family," Lili said.
"I suppose that's all our families now," Malcolm said.
Norri said, "Is this arrangement, is it related at all to the world you live on?"
"A bit," Lili said, "But not exactly. Usually when they make contact, it's with someone in the mirror universe, on the other side of the pond. And it's just the four – the husband, the wife, his nighttime partner, and hers. We've got five, it's not identical. Oh, and here," she handed Yimar's bracelet to Melissa, "You'll need to wear this to make contact."
"Their wedding vows even take the nighttime arrangements into account," Doug said, "They are, um, 'I will love you all of our days, and support you all of your nights.' That's right, isn't it?"
"Yep," Lili said, checking on a PADD, "My heart," she kissed him on the cheek, "My soul," she leaned over and kissed Malcolm.
"I'm working on the jealousy," Doug said, "I am, I swear, my heart," he kissed her, "My soul," he said, walking up to Melissa and kissing her.
"Both," Norri said to Melissa, "I don't go by half-measures. And I will love and support you both day and night, kiddo, like I have ever since we met."
"I as well," Malcolm said to Lili, "I don't intend to be looking for girlfriends. I think my hands will be quite full this way. And you, Miss Melissa. You and I will be on ship together. I shall watch out for you."
"Thanks, I'll, um, make sure you eat enough, and stuff like that," she said, "You are my heart," she said to the image of Norri, and blew a kiss to the screen, "And you are my soul," she said to Doug, and kissed him, "You, you're an icky boy. But you're all right," she said to Malcolm.
"Oh, and I got one more thing. Not to be too graphic about things, but I just feel strange about kissing her right after you, uh," Doug said.
"Yes, I suppose that could be an issue – and vice versa as well," Malcolm said, reddening.
"On this end, too," Norri added. Lili nodded.
"Mints," Melissa said, taking a roll out of a zippered pocket, "Chef has a big box of them."
"Take most of them with you," Malcolm suggested to Lili, "Then we'll all, um, chip in for them."
"Can't you get some sort of a discount if you order them in bulk?" Norri asked.
Lili sat on a Bio Bed in Sick Bay.
Doctor Phlox smiled at her, "You're surprisingly healthy, and the baby is a dynamo. You'll be kept very busy. You'd best get your sleep now, while you can."
She smiled, "That's a good thing. Assuming Joss lets me rest."
"Here now, let's do another scan for Doctor Miva."
She lay there as he ran the scanner and performed tests, "Hmm."
"Hmm? Is that a bad hmm?" she asked, a little anxious.
He reversed the bed and Lili was brought out of the scanner, "Look here," he pointed to the scan.
Melissa and Doug made their good-byes, "Let's go hunting tonight," he said.
"Anything else?" she asked, kissing his ear.
"Sure. But let's do it in a proper bed, not in one of those nasty holding center beds. They always gave me a backache."
"We could go camping!"
"Yeah, I seem to recall you, heh, like tents. And my back will survive. I also want to tell you," he faced her and took her hands in his, "Everybody keeps asking me this, and I hadn't said anything. It's not that I didn't feel it. I just – I don't say it much. It's a difficult three words. But I do. I love you, Melissa," he kissed her slowly, gently.
"I love you too, you icky boy," she said "Oh, and the baby will be named Thomas. Assuming I have a boy. You okay with that?"
"Of course. Thomas Beckett?"
"Thomas Madden. Thomas Digiorno-Madden if you really want to get technical."
"Huh. I guess I'll learn to be okay with that."
Lili and Malcolm kissed in his room. They broke apart and he sighed, "Oh that is divine. When shall I see you in person next?"
"Yes, but like this," he kissed her again.
"Ah. Hmm. The springtime – Melissa will have the baby then, and Doug will want to be on Ceres for that. And you and I can – will you be getting vacation time?"
"I'm sure I can swing something. Do you like Risa?"
"I've never been there."
"We can take the children, too, if you like."
"Do they have day care?" she asked, and then kissed him. This time, she was the one to sigh when they broke apart.
"I'm sure we can get someone to, uh, take care of them for a few hours one day. Or every day, my love," he said, brushing her hair back from her face.
"So what's Risa like?"
"Warm. It's got beaches."
"We'll take sunscreen. I burn really easily."
"What makes you think we'll be leaving the room that much?"
They kissed again. He looked at her, "Now it's getting a bit painful. You're such a wicked, wicked woman, Lili-Flower."
"Wish I had a bit more time. And, um, at some point, you know, we will do more than kiss here in this room, on this bed," she said.
"Oh, I look forward to that."
"Got everything?" Travis asked.
"Yes, I think so," Lili said, "Thanks for the case of mints, Brian."
"Oh sure. Chef could spare 'em. Are you making cookies or something?"
"I'll use them for, uh, something," she came close to him, "Yimar has good taste in men," she said quietly.
"Um, thanks. But what's a perrazin?"
"It's a big, carnivorous cow that's found on Lafa XII," Doug said, "Lili, we need to go."
Melissa and Malcolm watched them leave, and started walking down a hall, "So, uh, we don't know each other that well," she ventured.
"No. I suppose this will be a time for us to get better acquainted."
"I'll only be here another three months or so. Then, according to regulations, I have to be transferred away from combat."
"Oh. So that's, uh, right before second trimester, right?"
"How are you feeling, Melissa?"
"Still PMSing. So, uh, watch it. Then I have barfing to look forward to. Will ya hold my head, Reed?"
"Huh. I am not exactly looking forward to that as a task. But I will do it," he said, "Do you like Movie Night?"
"No chick flicks," she said.
"All right. Something with lots of explosions, then?"
"Yes! Some old war picture or something. Chip must have loads of 'em."
"Good. I'll take you to Movie Night, then. When you're up for it."
"People will think we're an item," she said.
"We'll know the truth. We can just let them wonder."
Upon returning to Lafa II, their bed was a most welcome sight, "Think Joss will sleep through the night?" Lili asked.
"Just do your best to stay quiet, okay? C'mere," he started kissing her neck.
"Oh," she said, although it came out more as a moan, "Professor Beckett."
"I was wondering. I need to, uh, study mathematics. Can you privately tutor me?"
"I believe I can fit you into my oh so busy schedule," he said.
"I'll have to bite the pillow again," she said, a little breathless.
"Better that than anything else," he said.
The pillow was a goner.
"I am really enjoying camping," Melissa said, "'Specially the, uh, extracurricularactivities," she kissed him.
"That's why there's only one sleeping bag," Doug said.
"Did you like the regatta?"
"I did," Lili said, "Although, ha, when they go by and the coxswain yells out 'stroke!' I have to confess that I'm not thinking about racing shells."
"This will be a very slow race," Malcolm said, kissing her.
That morning, Lili woke to the sounds and smells of Doug making pancakes.
"Oh, you shouldn't have!"
"You know, except for barbecuing, this is the only thing I know how to make."
"Pancakes! Pancakes!" Joss danced around the kitchen, bare feet on the wood floor.
"Yes, pancakes!" Lili enthused, "I had craved them for soooo long."
Doug turned off the flame, holding the wooden spatula, "Good thing we got the flour."
"And a good thing there's going to be more trade. I don't want to wait another year for pancakes. Do ya, Ducks?" she asked Joss.
"'Ommy, Duck Duck!"
"In a few minutes, Joss. I wanna kiss Daddy first."
Doug said, "I love you. And I love Number One Son," he kissed Joss on the top of his head, no mean feat as the toddler was still running around and jumping a bit, "And I love Number Two Son," he knelt down and kissed her belly.
She said, "No."
"No. Number One Daughter."
There was a clatter as the spatula hit the floor and they kissed, and Doug knew, and Lili knew, and Joss knew, and even Marie Patrice knew, that once again all was right, in this or any other universe.