How do you begin, or begin anew?

What's going to happen next?

What if you could predict it, or at least have a good handle on forever?

What would you do with that information?

And for the people you've promised yourself to, forever, what does that really mean? Do you ignore the truth, or do you listen to all of it, even the ugliest parts?

Star Trek

Enterprise

Fortune

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.


– Brutus, Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

"Let me be there when you tell him. I gotta see the look on his face. Just, do that for me." – Doug

Beckett

"Poor Malcolm, I'm gonna wake him up and stun him. You, uh, I guess everyone's up. So everyone can watch. Please, be kind. You know what thisfeels like, Doug."– Lili Beckett"Malcolm, do you think Doug is a good father?" – Lili Beckett

"Malcolm, you're gonna become a father. Malcolm! Malcolm!" – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Malcolm, come in. Please, sit down," Jonathan said.

"Yes?"

"I noticed you asked for leave. A short leave now, and then, what is it?" Captain Archer checked a screen, "Two years. Seems kinda silly to go there for a few days and then return for a couple of years. I mean, I need you, we've got the Coalition of Planets forming and, well, I just need you. Can't you, uh, put the short one off for a while, and just tack it onto the end of the longer one?"

"I, uh, it is within my rights, sir," Malcolm said, becoming just a slight bit uncomfortable.

"Oh. Well, um, I don't want to pry," Jonathan said, "Are you, uh, is something wrong?"

"No, sir. It's just, it's private."

"I mean, if you need to care for a sick family member, I do understand. I hope you feel you can talk to me."

"It's not that."

"Are your parents all right?"

"Never better, sir."

"And your, you have a sister, am I right?" Jonathan asked. He'd never, really, gotten to know Malcolm. Years of service but he barely knew the guy.

"Yes, Madeline. She's doing well."

"So, uh, what is it that can't wait?"

"I, uh," he reddened, and pulled a handkerchief out of a zippered pocket, "I should have mentioned this earlier."

"Oh?" Now he was getting somewhere.

"Yes. And I certainly had the time to. It's not like, as if I am ashamed of it or anything. I suppose I just never really knew how to, to broach the subject. Plus there's an awful lot of explanation that goes along with it."

"And ...?" This was like pulling teeth.

"And, sir, I am taking a short leave now to, well, to attend the birth of my child."

There was a stunned silence for a second, then Jonathan erupted, "Child?! Ha, why you dirty dog, not telling us! Tell me, is it that beautiful doctor who was here a few years ago? What was her name, Pamela? She was quite a looker."

"No, sir. Pamela isn't the one who's pregnant. It's Lili Beckett," Malcolm said. He touched a dull grey cuff on his left wrist. It was a gift she'd given him, and he touched it whenever he was nervous or apprehensive. It felt strange to suddenly be telling, and to be revealing, what had been going on for a couple of years. It was wonderful, but it was complicated.

"Oh, well, that's good. I understand some women have surrogates. And I'm sure Lili has been taking care of your and Pamela's child as if it were her own," Jonathan said. He'd have to find the stock of Champagne. Chef kept some, he knew that. This would be a good time to break some of it out.

"No, sir. Pamela's not involved at all. It's just Lili and me, sir. She's having my, our, uh, baby," he smiled to himself and choked up a bit. He really, really hated showing that, and particularly to his commanding officer! He'd have to control himself, but it hadn't been easy for quite a while. He'd had to hold it all together for months. He'd done his job as per usual, but there had been things that had reminded him of what was happening. Seeing a star being formed had almost made him break down. Meeting a new species had been another cause of a near-meltdown. He didn't enjoy being so emotional, but it was all of a piece.

"Oh. Uh, isn't she married, Lieutenant?" Malcolm nodded, "And not to you. Are you, uh, I realize this is none of my business but, is this child the product of an affair?"

=/\=

"Look. I can guess at what's happening – I only have a few pieces of this. … But not all songs are soloes or duets. Maybe yours is a three-part harmony of some sort. 'Cause I can tell you – if Reed isn't in on this, he's gonna be miserable forever. And if you're not in it, you'll be the one who's miserable. And if either of you are missing, she's the one who gets it. Actually, she's the one who gets it either way. If either of you care about her happiness at all, you'll, I dunno. You'll find a way to get this to work." – Pamela Hudson

=/\=

"Not exactly," Malcolm said, touching the cuff more than ever. He'd have to explain.

"Hmm?"

"Do you recall – uh, that's silly, of course you recall – a little over two years ago. There were ten of us who were captured by a species called the Witannen."

"Of course I remember," Jonathan said. Deborah.

"And, and they paired us up, in order to, well, there's no pretty way to say it. They wanted us to breed for their own purposes. And, and Tripp and Hoshi were paired, Jennifer and Travis, you and Deborah Haddon, Doug Beckett with Melissa Madden and, and, Lili and me," he paused for a second, "I don't suppose the Witannen thought we would form true emotional attachments. But we did. I had, I had already felt something for her. But as a married woman, well, you're not supposed to feel such things. Or, at least, not act upon them. But Melissa ended up pregnant and so there would be a connection in any event. As a group we, uh, we decided to keep the attachments, keep them going."

"I'm not so sure I understand. This is a, what, a group marriage?"

"Well, I'm not married to anyone. And neither are Melissa or Leonora."

"Who?"

"There are five of us. It's possible because, well, because of things like this," he hitched up his sleeve to show the captain the cuff, "The, uh, the Calafans. They have a dream state. It's almost an alternate reality, and they make their contacts using a sort of amplifier material that this cuff is composed of. Their lives are filled with, with two sides. A day and a night, and they have relationships in both. So during the day, she's married to Doug Beckett. At night, she's with, she's with me. And at night he is with Melissa Madden who, during her days is with her, with her lover, whose name is Leonora Digiorno. We do, uh, sometimes see each other in person. Which is, uh, well, how this all happened."

"I'm getting a headache just hearing about it," Jonathan said, "And nobody minds?"

"I can't speak for all. But, well, everyone tries to be, to be considerate. It's not just our relationships with each other that are important, but the children. They, truly, are the most important parties in this, uh, arrangement. Doug and Lili have two children – you've met their son. Melissa and Doug have a son, and they are, well, she's to give birth to a second one about two weeks after, after my son will be born," Now he couldn't hold it in, and blew his nose to try to cover it up.

"Lieutenant?" Jonathan asked gently. Well, he'd wanted to know the man. Now, maybe, this was a bit too well.

"I'm sorry, sir," Malcolm composed himself, "I'm so glad they're the ones who have them. Lili is, she keeps telling me, she's an old pro at this."

"I guess so. Did you, uh, always want a family?" Other business could wait.

=/\=

"Just, consider how today is going to be, and tomorrow, here. And think of the future later, when it has come and it matters. Be happy today." – Dayah

=/\=

"Do you recall, during the Xindi War, we met with another ship that was being, it was being piloted by our descendants?"

"Yes, I, uh, it had turned out I married an Ikaaran woman," Jonathan said. Not Deborah.

"Ah, yes. Well, I was the only senior officer to die a bachelor. Lili ended up with, with José Torres. Not Jay Hayes, which I suppose would have been fitting. But he, too, died without, without love. It bothered me, sir. More than I let on to anyone. Even to myself, you see. And, well, it was 2157, and, and the Enterprise came to the Lafa System for the first time."

"I remember that. Lili was, uh, Lili O'Day then."

"Yes," Malcolm smiled, "And she and Doug made contact, even though it was completely unwitting. And she, uh, she suddenly became just, I don't know. It was like a light had come on. And I realized she was someone I wanted to really know. And then I couldn't! But I didn't stop thinking of her. Truly, the only time I really took a break from that was when Pamela and I dated. And then in 2159, we went to their home. It was you, me, Hoshi and Jennifer. We all had a lovely time. Lili made a kind of roast, I remember. But while everyone else was taking seconds or being amused by their son, I was, it was, it all came flooding back again. Then we were thrown together. I know the Witannen had no way of knowing that I had felt the way I did. And they had no way of knowing that Doug and Melissa would be so well-paired as well. But whatever criteria they used for making their pairs, it was, it was as if it was meant."

Jonathan nodded slightly. He and Deborah weren't perfectly matched. She'd had a crush on him the size of Jupiter. Perhaps it had been ideal for her. For him, it had been, well, it had been good, and not just the physical parts. She'd been someone to confide in, and protect, and care about. And now she'd married someone else.

=/\=

"What's more important is how we move ahead, together." – Lili O'Day

=/\=

Jonathan shook himself out of his reverie, "Is, uh, do you know the day for certain? I'd hate to set you down on Lafa II and have you wait and then return to the Enterprise, and then have everything happen a day later."

"She's having a Cesarean, sir. So it's all set. All Hallows' Eve."

"And she's having a boy?"

"Yes. A boy, sir," he gripped the handkerchief. Not again.

"Got any names picked out?"

"The baby will be named Declan."

"Declan?"

"A family name, from Lili's side," Malcolm explained.

=/\=

"I convinced you because I appealed to your sense of efficiency." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"Does, uh, Declan have a middle name?"

"That's my job, sir," Malcolm smiled.

"Any ideas?"

"I have a list that goes on for pages and pages," he chuckled a little.

"I bet you do. Are you, uh, going to Movie Night tonight?"

"Yes. After I call her, of course. I need to know how many kicks today, and all of that."

"Absolutely. Give her my best. And, if it's all right, I'd like to meet Declan sometime."

"And Marie Patrice, and Tommy and Neil when he arrives, too, yes?" Malcolm asked.

"Sure," Jonathan said, "If they're important to you, then I guess they should be important to me as well. Thank you for telling me. Dismissed."

"Yes, sir," Malcolm said, leaving before he was again overcome.

=/\=

Jonathan punched up Communications, "Travis."

"Yes?" asked Travis Mayweather as he piloted.

"A quick course change. Please lay in a course to the Lafa System. That's not too far out of our way, right?"

"We can be there in a few days at Warp Four," Travis said after checking a few instruments, "Course plotted and laid in, sir."

"Thanks. Archer out," he then sat and dictated.

"Captain's star log, October twenty-fifth, 2161. We are passing Andoria and on our way to the Lafa System. This is a slight detour in order to drop off our Tactical Officer for a few days.

What the Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, neglected to tell me until now is that this side trip is for a very happy occasion. His son will be born in a few days to his, uh, wife."

Jonathan stopped dictating for a second. Wife was not the right word.

He punched a few keys on the console to find a thesaurus, "Hmm. Lover seems too personal. Girlfriend? I think she's older than he is. Girlfriend hardly seems dignified for someone over the age of fifty. Sweetheart? Spouse? No. Consort? No, he's not an Emperor. Helpmeet? What are we, in Shakespearean times? Hmm. Soul mate? Heh, I can't embarrass him like that. Even if it is true. Huh. Significant other. That's it!"

He turned on dictation mode again, "Computer, erase the last word. Actually, erase the last sentence. Resume dictation," he took a breath.

"His son will be born in a few days to his Significant Other, Lili Beckett. Lili is a former Sous-Chef and Steward and has ties to Starfleet. Lieutenant Reed will return for duty after the baby is born but will return to Lafa II in mid-January of 2162, where he will remain for two years.

Also, it has recently come to my attention that

Ensign Chandler Masterson and his wife, Ensign Deborah Haddon-Masterson, are expecting their first child. She will be on duty, in Security, for four more months and will then go on maternity leave at the location of her choice. Her husband will be given two years' leave starting a month before her due date.

Finally, with the decommissioning of the

NX-01 on the horizon, there will be some other personnel adjustments. I will report these in Human Resources mode."

He stopped the dictation and switched to a different mode, "Human Resources, provide Lieutenant Reed with one year additional family leave, effective January first, 2162," he paused, "And Chandler Masterson and Deborah Haddon-Masterson as well," At least he could give her that. "Promotions. With the decommissioning of the NX-01, my first officer, T'Pol, will be returning to Vulcan. I cannot think of a more suitable replacement than Chief Engineer Charles Tucker III. As of January 1, 2162, he is hereby promoted to full Commander and I hereby offer him the role of first officer in my next assignment, on the USS Zefram Cochrane. In addition, I hereby promote Lieutenant Malcolm Reed to the office of Commander and offer him the role of Tactical Officer on the Cochrane once he returns from family leave. During his leave, I offer the position of Tactical Officer, on a temporary basis, to Ensign Aidan MacKenzie, who is also promoted, to Lieutenant. All promotions are effective as of January 1, 2162. Please let me tell the men, so kindly refrain from sending forms. However, please do send a form to Lieutenant Reed as he may wish to make changes to his listed next of kin."

He exited human resources mode and sighed.

"Porthos, what do you think of all this?"

The beagle looked at him with trusting eyes but, naturally, said nothing.

He picked up the dog and set him on his lap, "It coulda been me," he said softly, "Yanno, I have no idea if any of us will ever have normal relationships. But what's normal, anyway, so long as people are happy? Thank you for being there for me, buddy. But I think I better get myself a gal of my own," The dog licked him in the face, "At least, she'd probably kiss better. And certainly wouldn't have kibble breath," he smiled and looked out the window. Life could be damnably unfair sometimes.

Champagne! He'd make sure Chef took it out, but maybe after the film had ended.

And he had an idea about that as well, and started clicking Search on his PADD furiously.

=/\=

"There is nothing like love." – Malcolm Reed

Chapter* 2

"And there were letters. I knew they weren't just being sent to me, but I could, I could believe they were, if I felt it hard enough. And there were photographs! If I squinted just right, I could, I could believe that it was you and me in front of your new business venture, you and I standing on a beach, and you and I holding our, our son." – Malcolm Reed

"You got bitten. Hard. Don't just concede it." – Pamela Hudson

"I guess it looks weird, getting that intimate and involved that quickly. I won't deny that my brain's probably rather sex-addled." – Lili O'Day

"I'd wish you all luck, but, ha, getting lucky is what got us into this in the first place." – Jonathan Archer

=/\=

"How are you feeling, Lili-Flower?"

"Pretty good," she said, on the viewer, from the den at her home on Lafa II. Her daughter and son ran in and out of viewer range.

"I see you have company there," Malcolm said, "How many kicks today?"

"Seventeen," she said.

"Hmm, that's less than yesterday."

"Are you graphing the numbers, or something?"

"No, no, of course not," he said, "He just doesn't seem to be as active as, as Marie Patrice was."

Hearing her name, Lili's daughter stopped for a second and addressed the screen, "Mackum! When are you coming back?"

"In a few days, young miss," he said, "But your mother and I are going to be a bit busy."

"A baby's going to come out," Marie Patrice said.

"Yes, that's right," Malcolm said.

"We, uh, don't have the specific mechanics on that yet," Lili said, "But we do know that Mommy's having an operation, but that's not how it's normally done. And Melissa is going to have a baby come out soon, too, right?"

"Uh-huh," Marie Patrice said, "But that's some other way."

"Yes," Malcolm said, "How old is your daughter, again?"

"Two in January," Lili said.

"My God. They are amazing."

"Mirror children," Lili said, "The genetics from the other side of the pond are pretty powerful."

=/\=

"It is ... you need to understand, Lili … I know how it all happened. How that baby got there. How you and me put him there. Very, very sexy." – Doug Beckett

"You were an animal. The Calafans were staring." – Lili Beckett

"That's 'cause they could hear you. You're not exactly a little mouse when you, uh, when you know. It must kill ya to keep quiet with Joss in the other room." – Doug Beckett

"I like to make it so that you have to bite the pillow." – Doug Beckett

"I'm gonna bite that pillow in half if you keep doing exactly what you're doing right now." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"You seem to be so much smaller than you were when you were expecting her," Malcolm said.

Since the conversation had turned to more grown-up things again, Marie Patrice returned to running around and chasing after her older brother, Joss.

"Well, I am smaller, even than I was when I was only four or five months along with her."

"Is that, is that bad? Are you getting enough to eat?"

"Of course I am! Oh Gawd, I am eating half a perrazin all by myself these days."

"But your, your size. I just, I worry. Are you certain Declan's all right?" Malcolm asked anxiously, touching the cuff a bit.

"Yes. He's fine. He is normal," Lili said, "It's that the other two were giants. This is the easiest pregnancy I have ever had. We should have six more."

"I beg your pardon?"

"That's a joke," she smiled, "If you want to see someone who's gotten as big as I did, maybe give Melissa a call."

"Is she doing all right?"

"Yep," Lili said, "She's due in mid-November. I think she and Norri will be glad to be done with this one."

"Difficulties?"

"I think she's just uncomfortable, but nothing bad. Oof! There was kick number eighteen."

"Yes, I think I saw that one. I wish I was there, putting my hand on your stomach, feeling it along with you."

"You were always good at getting Marie Patrice to lay off the kicking," she said.

=/\=

"We are already intimate." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"You'll be here on the twenty-eighth?" she asked.

"The twenty-ninth, I think."

"Oh."

"Something the matter?" he asked.

"The twenty-eighth is, do you know what day it was? Uh, four years ago?"

"Hmmm. Was it when you and Doug first, uh, met?"

"Yes."

"So have that to yourselves, my love. And the twenty-ninth, as I recall, was when I noticed you for the first time," he smiled, "But you weren't as radiant as you are right now."

"You're a smooth talker," she lowered her voice, "You, uh, you don't have to flatter me in order to get lucky, yanno."

Joss ran in, "Empy's not sharing."

"Hmm. Come back in here, Miss," Lili said.

Her daughter obeyed, "Yes, Mommy?"

"What's this about you not sharing?"

"I just wanted to wait on the porch swing by myself, and see Daddy first."

"Hmm. Okay. But let Joss wait next time, all right?"

"Okay," she ran off again.

"Do you need to get anything ready for Doug?" Malcolm asked.

"Nope. You can't smell what I'm cooking. I have elekai stew going in the slow cooker. And, uh, the table is set. Isn't it, Joss?"

"Uh, yeah. Hiya, Mackum," he said, then disappeared to do something which only three-year-old boys who look like they're six like to do.

"I wish I could come there right now, and smell not only your stew but, uh," Malcolm smiled, "your hair and your neck and then move a bit downwards and then I would not be concentrating on that sense as much as I would be concentrating on taste."

She chuckled a little, "Oh yeah," Lili took a thin chain out from inside her shirt. On it were her wedding ring and an old-fashioned skeleton key charm with a solid handle.

=/\=

"I should not give you a ring. That would not be right. But I can give you this. It means not just an unlocking of, of me, but also key as in important. You have always made me feel important, and I want you to know how important, how key you are, to me as well. And, and, I hope you will wear this some days, and look at this, and think of me, sometimes." – Malcolm Reed

"I don't need to look at this to think about you. I already do. I love it. Really, totally love it. And I will wear it every day. It's just right." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"Thank you again for wearing that," Malcolm said, "I struggled to get you something that would be right."

"It's perfect. I can't imagine taking it off."

"I can imagine you, uh, taking something else off," Malcolm said.

"Oh?"

There was the sound of a door opening, "Hold that thought for tonight," Lili said, getting up, "Be right back. Doug!" she called.

"Ah, life doesn't get any better," Doug said, coming in and shaking off some rain, "Beautiful wife, kids not, uh, killing each other too much, and dinner making the whole house smell unbe-freakin'-lievable. Oh, and the recruits were pretty good today. I think they're finally all getting the hang of present arms."

"Like these?" she asked, opening her arms to hug him. Her arms were tattooed with intricate silvery scrollwork.

"Not exactly," he said, "Yours are better," They kissed, "After dinner, let's find them some sort of video to watch. Something engrossing."

"Oh?" she asked, "I should tell you, I've got Malcolm on the viewer."

"Right now?" Doug asked.

"Uh, yep," she smiled.

"Ah, well. But don't forget – a video for them and then you, me, and math," Doug said. He came within viewer range, "Hiya, Reed."

"Hello," Malcolm said, "Everything doing all right?"

"Definitely. We got the nursery all set up. Dec will sleep in there until he's, I dunno, two or so, then he'll switch with Marie Patrice and she'll get her own room. That work for you?"

"Of course," Malcolm said, "And I can't even begin to thank you. You're going to do so much for him," he found himself getting a bit emotional, but it was easier to do that in front of the Becketts than in front of anyone else.

"Hey, forget it. I know you'd do the same. And the addition's all done. We had some trouble getting it finished. The workmen got committed to building another place, right near us," Doug said.

Lili came over, "Yeah, there's land behind us, a little rise. It looks like it'll be a house for humans. There are all these big boxes out there. It might be furniture or appliances or something; I can't tell. I have to keep telling the kids not to go over there and bother the workmen."

"Do you, uh, know who your neighbors are going to be?" Malcolm asked.

"Not a clue," Doug said, "Look, I gotta change. Reed, you'll stay with us, right? The couch in the den folds out. Then when Lili's in the Med Center, the Calafans will set it up so that you and Lili can sleep in the same room with Dec for a night or two."

"Then I'll have to return to the Enterprise," Malcolm said, "But I'll be back in January."

"Come back for Marie Patrice's birthday," Lili suggested, "And in the meantime we'll see if we can find you a temporary apartment or something."

"Thank you. It'll be a good two years. I am truly looking forward to getting to know Declan really, really well. I don't want to have to guess at what his favorite food is."

=/\=

"There are things I want to tell you. Three words. You know which ones they are. But I cannot. I, it's a pity. I cannot, because I know that you don't –" – Malcolm Reed

"I want to ask you to be patient with me. After all, it took me about two years to know the score. Let me, let me come to it in my own way, at my own pace." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"Wonderful," she said, "So, tell me Enterprise business," she leaned over and called, "Kids, come wash up!"

"Not much to tell," Malcolm said, "We're done with the Augments. I don't think there are anymore. At least, I hope not. And Terra Prime seems to be dissolving as a movement."

"Good. Don't want you to be in any danger, my soul," she said.

He smiled, "It's Movie Night tonight, actually."

"Ah. Very important, then. What does Chip have picked out?"

"It's called Pulp Fiction. He said the director is some chap named Quentin Tarantino."

"Hmm. You're not thinking of Quentin for Declan's middle name, are you?" she joked.

"Ha, no. But I admit I am stumped. Stuart was in the lead for a long time."

"That's your father's name, right?"

"Yes. But I'm just not sure."

"When it comes to you, it'll be right," she said, "Whatever it is."

"Thank you, Lili-Flower."

"I think dinner's ready," Doug said, coming back into visual range.

"I'd better go. I love you," she said, "See you tonight?"

"Yes. And I love you both," Malcolm said, "Just close your eyes and we'll see one another, Lili-Flower."

=/\=

"I'm just sort of a pet names person. Called every, everyone, every woman by one or another, but it was always something more generic, like Sweetheart or Darling. I wanted this one to be more unique and personal." – Malcolm Reed

=/\=

Movie Night was packed. Malcolm could barely find a seat. He looked around the crowded room. It was as if there was no one actually piloting the ship, there were so many people there. Seats were lined up against the walls and people were standing. SRO! Pulp Fiction was that good a film?

Chip Masterson, the night-shift Communications Ensign, walked to the front of the room, "Wow, this is an awesome turnout! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, as always, to Movie Night. Tonight's feature is Pulp Fiction, starring, uh, John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman."

Captain Archer came in and got to the front of the room and stood next to Chip, "Excuse me," the captain said.

"I see I have a co-host tonight," Chip said, "Captain, you have the floor."

"Thanks. I, uh, took the liberty of changing tonight's film," There were some sounds of disappointment, "And this also goes with the orders that most of you received, requiring your attendance here this evening."

Malcolm was taken aback. He'd received no such orders. How strange.

"In any event," Captain Archer continued, "tonight's film has been changed to Kramer versus Kramer. Chip, that's, uh, K-R-A-M-E-R," Jonathan paused a second, "The film is, in large part, about a divorce. But that's not why I chose it. I also selected it – and believe me, the divorce parts of it aren't some special message I'm trying to get across. It's the other part. This film is, it's also about the relationship between a man and his son."

Malcolm reached for the all-important handkerchief.

"In fact, the father argues in court that he is the better parent. And he is. I would like to, uh, I would like to dedicate this film to, to someone in our midst who's about to become a father," Jonathan said.

"Captain," Chip began.

"You're actually not the first one, Chip," Jonathan said, "Malcolm, where are you?"

Malcolm stood up tentatively.

"This film is for you. We call you Malcolm. But there's going to be – in less than a week! – someone named Declan who will call you Dad."

The room got loud.

The women all came up to him first. Hoshi hugged him, and Shelby, and Karin. Deborah came over – she wasn't quite showing yet – and kissed him on the cheek. She whispered to him, "Tell Chip what it's like. He's terrified."

"I am, a bit, too," Malcolm admitted.

There were loud popping sounds as Champagne corks flew. Someone thrust a cup in his hands and he nearly spilled it on Ethan Shapiro, who was shaking his hand fiercely.

"Just a second!" Chip yelled from the front of the room, "We actually will show the film. It stars, uh, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep," he read off a PADD, "And the kid is an actor named Justin Henry. It won, uh, Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. But first, a toast. Captain?"

"Yes," Jonathan said, getting a cup of Champagne from Deborah, who smiled at him as she held a cup of juice for herself. No Champagne for her, of course, "To Malcolm Reed – going where none of us have ever gone before."

"Hear, here!" they called out as one.

"Okay, roll it, Aidan!" Chip called as the lights were dimmed and the movie began to play.

=/\=

"I'm kind of a cheap date these days. I can't party like I used to." – Lili Beckett

"I'm finding I prefer a quieter life now, myself." – Malcolm Reed

Chapter* 3

"I guess you'll both be pregnant at the same time. I better start ordering pancake flour now, eh?" – Doug Beckett

"Inhibitions fall, libido rises." – Tripp Tucker

=/\=

It was a few days later, the night of the twenty-eighth, nearing midnight.

Two pairs of hands caressed, two mouths kissed.

They broke apart and changed positions, kissing and kissing again and again.

Spent, they broke apart again.

"I love you," Leonora Digiorno said.

"And I love you, too," replied Melissa Madden, "Yanno, I understand that this can bring on labor when you're a good nine months along. And I just about am."

"Heh, Doug'll be disappointed if he can't be there for the birth. He's seen it, what, three times? I guess that show never gets old," Norri said.

"Oh, I hope not," Melissa said, shifting her massive weight a bit, "How jaded would we all be if birth just became another boring thing, to be attended by compulsion instead of being something we wanted to do?"

"True, Mellie. Did you know," she said, kissing Melissa's fingers, "my parents originally didn't approve of you?"

"Oh? Do tell."

"Yep. They thought you were a little too capricious for me, my love," Norri said, "I also think my father kinda had this crazy notion in his head that I'd be able to get over this," she made air quotes, "being gay business."

"Ha!"

"Yeah. I wonder if he thought it was weird, all three of his kids liking girls. I mean, for Alex and Phil, he was okay with it. But me? Uh, not so much."

"You were barely twenty-one when we met, too," Melissa said.

"And you were ancient! Twenty-three!" Norri joked. They kissed.

"Ah," Melissa said, but was then kicked, "Uh, hello, Neil," she said, addressing her huge belly.

"How are you feeling with that?"

"I'll be glad when his little feet are considerably farther away from my bladder," Melissa said, getting up.

Norri lay back. Life was good. Tommy was sleeping through the night, Melissa would be home for a while, and Neil was almost there. Neil, named, kinda sorta, after her. She smiled to herself, "I never thought that would happen," she whispered.

"Hmm?"

"Oh, nothing. What have you got there?" Norri asked. Melissa had a small box in her hands.

"I didn't have time to wrap it. But, uh, here."

"Huh, thanks. But it's not my birthday or anything, Mellie."

"Doesn't matter. I just wanted to give you something."

Norri opened the box. Inside was a pair of small hoop earrings in a dull grey metal. "Thank you. This is, uh, these are made of Calafan amplifier material, aren't they?"

"They are. But you don't have to use them for that, of course. I just thought they were pretty. And I figured if you ever wanted the option, well, now you've got your own means if you want to go forward with that."

"I don't know if I ever will," Norri said, "I kinda like the randomness of regular human dreaming. But I do love them."

They kissed.

=/\=

"Almost the same as when we first got together. Definitely the same feelings. And the same reaction." – Doug Beckett

"Nobody makes me feel the way you do. Nobody makes me feel more. The same amount, yes. I won't deny that. But in a different way." – Doug Beckett

"The same amount – and still wonderful. But it's differently wonderful. Let me show you our own personal wonderful." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"C'mere, Mrs. Beckett."

"You sure the kids are asleep?" she asked.

"Are you?"

"Hmm," she listened, "Yep. I don't hear anyone whispering," she smiled at him.

"It's just you and me," he said, kissing her.

She was kicked when the kiss ended, "And, uh, Mister Declan," she said.

"Yes, and him as well," Doug kissed her belly.

"You are so okay with this. I am so grateful," she said.

=/\=

"I don't think any other man would do this for me." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"And why shouldn't I be? We have so much time together. And you're happy and I love you and, well, and everything."

"Very articulate," she joked.

"You know he's the talker. I am the doer," Doug said. He took pulled a sleeve on her maternity dress, "Oh, ho, what's this?"

"I found it in a catalog," she said, "Maternity lingerie."

"Very nice," he said, "Green's a good color on you. Mind if I, uh, check it out a bit more closely?"

"I would have broken it out sooner," she said, but it came out more like moaning as he kissed her neck, "But it only, uh, came, a few days ago. And we didn't get a good opportunity to test drive it until, uh, now."

"I see," he said.

Her reply was muffled as she kept herself quiet by moaning into fabric rather than out loud. No sense in waking the kids and generating a boatload of interesting questions.

When her pleasure had finally dissipated, she gently touched him and returned the favor. He didn't need to be kept quiet – he wasn't loud like she was – but it still felt terrific. Like a slingshot, she had once said. A ricochet.

She came back, and they kissed, "I see the green stuff had its intended effect."

"You mean the little outfit?" he asked, hand on her waist or, what he could find of it amidst Declan and all.

"Of course."

"Yep," he said, "Maybe you'll put that outfit in the wash and wear it again tomorrow – uh," he checked the clock, "tonight?"

"It's the twenty-ninth," she smiled.

"Yeah. Four years since I figured out I loved you," he said.

They kissed.

"Yanno," he said, "It's my birthday."

"No, it's not," she said, "Yours is in December, or have you forgotten?"

"Lili, it is," he insisted, "The way I see it, I've got lots of birthdays."

"Really. You just want a lotta presents."

"Nah," he kissed her, "Well, there's the first one, December third, 2102. That's the official one. And then the second one was October twenty-eighth, 2157."

"The day we met."

"Right you are. So the following day is also my birthday, because I figured out that you were real and I knew I loved you. And you smelled like oranges."

"I had probably inhaled a lot of orange oil from chopping them all day long. And, uh, I figured out you were real then, too. And that I Ioved you."

They kissed.

"But I have more birthdays," he said.

"Now you're just getting greedy."

"Nuh-uh. November thirteenth, 2157 is the next one."

"The day you came over from the other side of the pond," she said, "I can see that as another birth, definitely."

"And February fourteenth, 2158," he said.

"Our wedding day," she smiled.

"And then September second, 2158."

"Joss's birthdate. You're taking on Joss's birthdate as well?"

"Yep. And January eleventh of 2160 and May twenty-fifth of 2160 as well, for the same reasons."

"Marie Patrice and Tommy's births. Man oh man, Mister Beckett, you're gonna need a lotta candles."

"I'm not even done," he said, "There's also August second, 2159, the day I met Melissa, and August twenty-sixth of 2159, which was when I realized I loved her, too."

"I think that's ten already," she said, "Do you, uh, have anymore?"

"Yes," he said, "Two more. October thirty-first of 2161 and November something-or-other – a day to be named later – of 2161."

"Neil's birth I can understand, but Declan's, too?"

"Yes. Declan's, too. We are all family," he said, "My life since October twenty-eighth of 2157 has been one big reversal. In the past four years, I have become a new man, over and over again, and each time that happens, I marvel at how perfect it is. And I didn't realize I needed for it to change but then it changes, and suddenly I can't imagine what it was like before. It seems impossible that it was that way before."

"Onward and upward," Lili said, as he put his hand on her belly and sniffed her hair as they became comfortable together.

=/\=

"I bet you fall hard. It's like nothing else." – Doug Hayes

=/\=

Sleep came, as it does after so much activity. For Malcolm, still on the Enterprise, sleep also arrived, for he had had a full day of wrapping up things for a few days so that Aidan would be all right while he was gone, to going to the gym and getting in a good workout because he knew it could potentially be a few days before he'd be able to do so.

The children rested, dreaming of happy things, of small barking dogs and kicking balls and whirling the little mobile around in just the right way so as to make the desired musical chimes that would make mothers and fathers smile.

Leonora took off the earrings, nestled in next to Melissa, put her hand on her partner's pregnant belly, and slept.

She didn't dream like a Calafan, not like the others did. But she didn't because her dreams were already vivid and creative and beautiful. It seemed a shame to lose them. And so she dreamt.

=/\=

"I cannot concentrate on anyone else, cannot see anyone else. It would be very unfair to you." – Malcolm Reed

=/\=

There was a beautiful woman, the color of coffee with cream, her hair carefully arranged in a coiffure held back with a gardenia on the side, over one ear. She was wearing a shimmering evening gown with a lovely large-stoned necklace and was standing in front of a very old-fashioned microphone.

A band was behind her, mainly consisting of a drummer and a pianist and a guitarist but there was also a trumpet player. The music started with the trumpeter.

She began to sing.

Them that's got shall have
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

And for Norri, it was so beautiful that she sang along and wept, even in her sleep, heart brimming and full, and spilling over.

=/\=

"I want to meet my lover." – Lili Beckett

=/\=

"Melissa," Doug said, his own dream starting as Melissa's combined with his.

"Mmmm, yes?" she asked. They were standing in a field. She wasn't visibly pregnant but it was a dream. You don't have to be huge in dreams if you don't want to.

They walked together, hand in hand, "You make me feel younger than I know I am," he said.

"Fifty-what?" she asked.

"Fifty-nine in a couple of months," he said, "And you're not even thirty yet."

"So?" she asked, "Catch me, old man," she slipped out of his grasp and ran through the field.

He caught up – or maybe she let him – and they rolled along in a clearing. She held his face in her hands as they both calmed down a bit, "I have never loved another man. I have never wanted to," she said.

"I'm so lucky," he said softly, as he placed his hand on her belly which filled, again, with Neil, almost ready to emerge in a few weeks.

=/\=

"Whenever you, whenever you think I'm not willing, or I'm thinking of someone else, or not paying attention to you, or not caring about you or concerning myself with, with you, I want you to think, to think about this. Can you do that?" – Lili Beckett

"I'd like to do for you what you did for me this morning. It was devastatingly satisfying." – Malcolm Reed

=/\=

Lili also dreamt, as did Malcolm, and their dreams came together.

They were on the ocean, waves rocking a yacht gently and with no threat of storm or drowning or seasickness. An untouched pitcher of bluish-tinted tropical drinks sat on the side of the deck, next to two empty glasses. Lili wasn't pregnant, either, and lay back in a bikini that was turquoise and white, with a knot at the front. Malcolm was wearing blue swimming trunks. They had just been swimming, bodies damp, hair askew. A large beach towel was on the deck with the logo of the

Risa Yacht Club on it. They lay on it.

"I see we were given some lovely treats," he said, indicating the pitcher. Next to it, as if by magic, sushi appeared.

"Hmm," she said, "Don't know if I'm hungry. At least not for that."

"I see," he said. They kissed, "Now, how does this work?" he asked, fiddling a little with the knot.

"Here," she said.

"Ah, much less complicated than I had feared," he said, "The remainder seems, eh, simpler to decipher."

She grinned at him, and her arms pointed to true North as she held him close.

They stayed together, and he put his left hand on her face and she noticed it, a bit of gold flashing in the sun.

"Oh," she said, looking at the ring.

"Yes," he said, "It's the only thing that I lack."

"Malcolm, my love, there's only one reason why you and I aren't married."

"Which is?" he asked, a tiny bit concerned.

"Because Doug and I already are."

"I should have acted when I had the chance, is that what you are telling me?"

"I guess so."

"I can still dream of it, though, can't I?"

"Of course," she said, "Our secret. And you've overcome your feelings about the water. That was a big fear for you."

"It's in my dreams, lately. I am still a bit, well, I can admit to you that it is a fear of mine. Are you," he asked, changing the subject, "are you comfortable?"

They broke apart and she was pregnant again, the bump appearing as they lay there together.

"Very," she said, "I, uh, I spoke with your parents yesterday."

"Ah. Is my mother knitting up a storm?"

"Yes. I don't think I'll ever have to buy Declan socks until he's five," she smiled, "They'll come to Lafa II sometime during the summer of next year. I'm glad to be finally meeting them."

"I am, too. I've never taken anyone to meet them, ever. I think they understand our arrangement, even if I sometimes don't."

"I love you," she said, "And this does feel like a honeymoon. It's okay for it to feel that way. It is more than a little bit okay."

"I love you, too," he said, "I wish I could have met your parents, Lili-Flower."

"That, I'm afraid, can't happen," she said, "But they would have loved you. And Doug, too. They – my father, he flew a transport. My mother made pottery. They weren't Starfleet types. But they respected it. I know they feel I'm in good hands, both during the bright blessed day and during the dark sacred night."

"The three of us – well, the ten of us – we are in it for keeps," he put his hand on her belly and, in response, Declan rolled over a little.

=/\=

"I'm in this for the long haul. You better be, too, Reed, because you better not hurt her." – Doug Beckett

=/\=

And all of them together, they kept contact. Norri's hand on Melissa's belly met Doug's hand on the other side, and his other hand, on Lili's belly, brushed against Malcolm's on the other side. And Tommy reached out his hand in his bed, and it met Mama Norri's free hand. And Marie Patrice, in her bed, her hand touched her Daddy's shoulder. And Joss, in his bed, his hand reached out and touched his mother's forearm. And deep within their respective wombs, Neil and Declan felt the warmth and the slight ionization of so much feeling.

=/\=

"This might be as romantic and beautiful as you believe it is. I hope that it is, for your sake." – Jonathan Archer

=/\=

And in an unseen corner of the universe, he saw. And he heard them all say a word or two, for now everyone talked in his or her sleep, not just Lili. Random words like love and socks and puppy and wanted and crust were tossed out, into the cosmic ether.

Who was he?

Well, he wasn't exactly a he. He was an it, really. But he seems to be a more personal and pleasant pronoun.

He noticed the energy and the contact. It was somewhat unique. It was worth further investigation. But that would wait for a few days, as he set about giving himself an appearance that would not be alarming. He had many questions, and getting them answered would require some finesse and certainly a means of assuring the person he'd be talking to that he was curious but that, ultimately, he meant no harm.

=/\=

"Your mating rituals do fascinate me. Always a complicated minuet of sorts. Mind if I observe?" – Dr. Phlox

=/\=

In the morning, duffle in hand, Malcolm beamed to the surface of Lafa II.

=/\=

"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?" – Malcolm Reed