"Play nicely, kids," Lili Beckett said, adjusting baby Declan Reed in her arms on a lovely May afternoon. Her two others, Joss and Marie Patrice Beckett, played with Geming Sulu's daughter, Jia, and Cyril Morgan's granddaughter, Cindy. But Joss was really just paying attention to Fenway, Cindy's Boston terrier puppy.
"Jo-oss," called Jia, "come over and play tag with us." The only boy mumbled his response as the adults had coffee and Lili's blueberry cobbler.
"Joss," Lili put a hand out and touched her elder son on his arm, "go play with the girls."
"But –" he whistled to the puppy to follow him.
Jia and Cindy came closer to him, both giggling. "You're it!" laughed Jia, running away.
Lili turned to Geming and Cyril. "A flirt at age five, eh?"
"Yes," Geming sighed, "at age five, God help me."
"And then they get older and they're even more of a handful at times, eh?" Cyril smiled.
"Oh?" asked Geming.
"My niece, Pamela Hudson. Have you met her?"
"I don't think so."
"Pamela is here on Lafa II a lot," Lili explained, "but I don't think she's moved here. Is she planning to?"
"She doesn't confide such things to me," Cyril replied. "I think they could use her talents at the Med Center. But I suspect it all depends on how things go with a certain young man."
Geming's eyebrow went up so Lili filled him in. "Pamela is dating Treve, my business partner. She has been for most of 2162."
"A Calafan?" Geming asked.
"Yes. And she told me she's going to take him to Charon and have him meet her sister, Lisa," Cyril confided.
"So it's serious," Lili smiled, "I'm glad; she always struck me as someone who hadn't quite found her happiness yet."
"So, what is new in your life?" Cyril inquired to change the subject as the children jumped and laughed and the dog barked on occasion and Declan slept a bit.
"Well, this one's daddy – I've never met his parents. Er, Malcolm's parents. We had talked about them coming here, but there's just no room at either house, and I can't see putting the Reeds into a Calafan hotel."
"The Fep City Hotel is rather nice," Geming stated. "Jia, don't wander too far!"
"I've been there," Lili clarified. "And I like it. But it's kinda Spartan. I think they'd find it lacking in certain human amenities."
"How fussy could they be?" Geming inquired.
"Very," she sighed. "I'm just a little, okay, more than a little, concerned. I want it to go well when I finally meet them."
"It'll be fine," Cyril assured her. "They will fall in love with your son, and then with you. I guarantee it."
"Thanks, but they're also saying they don't want to travel so far. I kinda don't blame them. When you're not on a starship, it does take a while to get here."
"The Lafa System is certainly far from everything else," Geming agreed. "This is why I moved here when Mai did. I meant to tell you; I suppose being nearby did us both some good. We've decided to reconcile, and to remarry."
"That's wonderful!" Lili enthused. "Are you sure you're not just doing this for Jia?" She paused for a moment. "We don't know each other that well; I probably shouldn't pry like that."
"No, it's a fair question," Geming allowed. "But it's, really, that we decided to forgive each other. I suppose that was what we needed to do."
"Then here's to forgiveness," Cyril declared, raising his coffee cup as four suns shone over Lafa II and the children played happily and the dog occasionally barked as the lazy afternoon became a lovely, golden evening.
"Yes, yes, Mother, all right. Very well. See you soon. Good-bye." Malcolm Reed stood in the little cheery yellow kitchen in a home he had purchased. It was just up a little rise from where Lili lived with her children, their son and her husband, Doug Beckett. He looked through the window of his kitchen where he could see her kitchen. She was in there making supper, and she waved at him.
He jogged down the rise to their house. There was a sound of a car in the driveway; her husband was coming home. "Do you wanna have dinner with us?" Lili asked, kissing him. She then leaned through the doorway to the living room. "Joss, Marie Patrice, wash up, please."
"I didn't come to wangle a supper invitation," Malcolm stated.
The door opened and Doug walked in. "Hey! I missed ya," he said to Lili, kissing her. "How ya doin'?" he asked Malcolm. The two men shook hands. The Becketts' open marriage was cordial, and Malcolm was tolerated and often well-received by Doug. Then again, Doug had his own paramour, Melissa Madden, who had two sons with him and was raising them in nearby Fep City with her lover, Leonora Digiorno, who everybody called Norri.
"Not so bad as all that," Malcolm replied. "But I do have a request."
"Oh? You can just borrow the hedge clippers; you don't have to ask," Doug assured him.
"No, it's not that. It's my parents, Lili; they don't wish to make the trip. Mother says that Father has gotten a bit frailer. She thinks it would be too much for him."
"Then we should go to them, right? I mean, they should meet Declan, no matter what." She turned the flame off on a burner on the stove and drained the pasta water. The baby was in another room and started to cry. "Speaking of Declan, can one of you take care of things while I finish up here?"
Malcolm went to tend to his son, but Doug got there first. "Hey, Buddy," he said gently to the infant, "you uncomfortable?" he felt under a swaddled bottom. "Ah, it's just as I suspected."
Malcolm stood in the doorway to the room, which was for Declan and Marie Patrice while the little girl's room was being painted. "You don't have to do that while I am here, you know."
"Oh, it's okay," Doug replied. He was a big guy, the captain of his military unit, which protected the local diplomatic attaché. "I got the land-speed record in diaper changing. But you'll steal my title if I don't stay in practice."
Malcolm smiled a bit at that. "Do you mind terribly if I borrow Lili for a while? I would like very much for her to meet my mother and father. They have never met anyone I was involved with, ever."
"Then you should go. Hell, maybe take Empy and Joss, too," Doug suggested. "They're Dec's siblings. And they think of your folks as being their grandparents, and Melissa and Norri's folks, too. Otherwise, they don't have grandparents. And they should have someone like that, eh?"
"That's true," Malcolm murmured absently. "I don't get on with my parents too well. But I suppose I should not complain."
"Because they're still alive?" Doug inquired. "Hand me the powder, okay?"
Malcolm handed the article over. "Well, yes."
"Listen, I was plenty angry with my folks, for years. See," Doug explained as he finished diapering the baby, "back where I come from, everybody goes to boarding school at age seven. But my father jumped the gun, because I'm born in December. He got me accepted into the Triton Day School when I was six and change. I went there, terrified, not knowing what to expect. No one had told me a damned thing. He had just indoctrinated me in the ways of the Terran Empire. It was the Five Signs of Weakness. I memorized them – we all had to. I was beat up my first day, and cried all night."
"Well yeah, it was. But you get hardened, you do what you need to, in order to get by, I suppose. It took me less than a year to realize that what my parents had done to me was terrible. I got angry with them, and I channeled it all into doing my best to improve myself. I ran, I lifted, and I studied. I was driven, even at a young age. That kept me alive and it got me into West Point. But when I heard my old man had died, I, well, I'm not proud of this. But I went on a bender for a good day there. Got really stinking hammered. As for my mother's death in 2150, I coulda been there, but I wasn't – I decided to go after Shelby Pike instead. I'm not too proud of that, either."
"So you never forgave them?" Malcolm asked.
"No," Doug admitted. "And now we're all parents, and we even named Joss after them, I get it was kinda late compensation, or something. I've vowed to do better, but I bet we'll screw things up, too. Will he forgive us?" he indicated the baby, who was looking from one face to another.
"I, I don't know."
Dinner finished, the children went back to playing as Doug loaded the sanitizer and Malcolm wiped down the table and the baby slept in a nearby bassinette. "Yanno," Lili ventured, "I spent the afternoon with Geming Sulu and Cyril Morgan and the two girls. I think Jia's got a crush on Joss."
"Heh, well, we grow up fast in the mirror," Doug said, a hint of pride in his tone. She gave him a bit of a look, so he added, "But I'm not in the Mirror Universe anymore. And Joss has to grow up here."
"And not too quickly," Lili added. "Otherwise he's a grown-up when he's eleven or something. And that just doesn't feel right. But I haven't told you the big news."
"News?" Malcolm inquired.
"Cyril said that Pamela and Treve are going to Charon so that he can meet her sister. It is apparently a very, very big deal for your ex to bring him to meet Lisa."
"I'm glad for her," Malcolm declared. "She and I were not truly happy together. We were mismatched, you see. I do hope it works out for her."
"I was thinking," Lili added, "they're going to Charon. Maybe we could tag along, but go further into the Solar System."
"All the way to Earth?" Doug asked.
"I dunno. Malcolm, do you think your folks would go to Titan, where I grew up?"
"I think they can be persuaded. Are you certain you wish to spend that much time with Treve and Pamela?"
"Oh, I think it'll be fine," Lili said.
Doug suggested, "Then you really could bring Empy and Joss along, too. They're Dec's siblings and all."
Malcolm thought for a moment. "By all means. Let us do just that."
They got onto a transport a few days later. It was a total of seven people – Lili and Malcolm, Declan, Joss and Marie Patrice, and Pamela and Treve. Doug came to see them off, with Melissa and Norri and the two other boys, Tommy – he was about Marie Patrice's age – and Neil Digiorno-Madden, who was another infant. "Sure you don't wanna come along?" Lili asked her husband.
"Nah, it's okay. Go and do what you need to. Norri says their car is acting up again. So I can do that, and I can finish the painting. And I should work, get in some overtime. After all, Reversal will be closed while you and Treve are out. Someone's gotta bring home the bacon."
"When I come home," she promised, "I will make you something with bacon in it. And orange chicken because I know you love it." They kissed. "Come say good-bye, kids."
Their children hugged and kissed their father good-bye. Malcolm came over, too. "Thank you for this."
"Hey, you're on paternity leave," Doug said, "so if this isn't the time to do this, then I dunno when. Lili, contact me on communicator tonight, okay?"
"Every night!" she promised, and they left.
Aboard the transport, they presented their PADDs to show their tickets. "All right," said an Andorian ticket taker. "Three berths, all on the fourth deck. Up the lift, over there. Next, please."
Pamela turned to Treve once they'd exited the lift. "Why do we have two separate berths?"
He steered her into his berth and the door shut behind them. "I, well, I want things to be respectable." A native Calafan man, he was bald, with solid silver arms, and was about a decade younger than her.
"No one'll know. And Lili and Reed won't tell anyone." She kissed him.
"Uh, Pamela? Might I tell you something?"
"Yeah, sure." She sighed a bit and sat down on the bed. He sat down next to her.
"When we Calafans, when we have relations, uh, we can bond. It can be an extremely strong pair bond emotionally. It can also be a physical bond. We can become a bit stuck."
"And I just think, well, I like you. I want you to know just how much I truly do. But I do not wish to get into this, this type of a situation unless we are both absolutely certain. I mean, would it not be a major issue if I were to bond to you prematurely?"
"I, I see. So, Treve, you're worried that I don't feel the same way about you. Is that it?"
Treve took her hands, with their perfectly manicured fingernails that sported a dark purple polish – the color of a bruise, the color she always wore – and said, "All I want is for us to commit at the same level and at the same time. All right? It's not doubts about you. It's a desire to get this right from the, the very start."
They kissed. "I think I can understand that," Pamela allowed. "I just wanna, um, you know." She was suddenly shy, and hadn't ever been shy about such things. She got up and went out into the hallway and knocked on the next-door cabin's door.
"Yes?" Malcolm asked, opening the door. Behind him, the kids were watching the viewer and the baby was in a crib as Lili struggled with a cot. It looked very crowded in there.
"I got an idea," Pamela said, "Marie Patrice, how would you like to be my very special roommate for this trip? I've got lots of room next door and I could really," she glanced over at Treve, who was standing behind her, "use the company. So whaddaya say?"
"Can I? Can I?" the little girl was excited.
"Sure," Lili said, "and maybe you can figure out this damned cot." There was another cot, still folded up, probably identical to the first.
"Joss, if you would like to room with me, that would be all right with me," Treve stated.
"Are you both, are you sure?" Malcolm inquired.
"You already have your hands full," Treve observed. "Here, I'll see if I can't figure out those cots, all right? Then you'll just have to look after the young master."
"Oh, you're a lifesaver!" Lili gushed. "Tonight's dinner is on us. Our treat, okay?"
"Then I'll have a steak," Pamela announced, coming into their cabin to grab Marie Patrice's little bag.
While Lili and Treve worked on getting the kids situated in the other cabins, Malcolm and Pamela went out for a walk, with Malcolm carrying Declan. "You're a good father," Pamela remarked.
"Eh, I try. I'm doing my level best to be around as much as possible while I'm on paternity leave these few years. But Declan here does live with Lili and Doug. I cannot just go there whenever I please. Doug's been rather good about things. I was a tad surprised that you would volunteer to open up your cabin to Marie Patrice. She's only two years old, you know."
"Something with their father, right? Spare me the details, but there's something about Beckett, I know, that makes him strong and makes his kids stronger and bigger than anyone should have any right to expect. But, uh, Reed? Can I tell you something?"
"To be sure."
"I – uh, I want this all to go well, Treve meeting Lisa and all. I guess you're in the same boat, with Lili and your folks."
"I am indeed. I should tell you. I have never, ever introduced them to anyone, to any girlfriend. Things were different before you. Pamela, being with you, it was a kind of a turning point in my life. And I should like to thank you for that."
"You were kinda a turning point in my life, too, yanno. I do appreciate it. But you know more about my past than Treve does."
"Oh." Malcolm stopped walking. "When do you imagine you'll tell him of your past?"
"I don't know." She shook her head.
"Do you love Treve?"
"I'm not really sure if I'm ready for that. I think I need to see Lisa again – it's been years. I need to see if we can somehow be a bit of a family again."
"Perhaps you all can."
"It's funny. Treve mentioned to me that they bond, that Calafans bond with too much physical contact. That's why he's holding back. You know me, I was ready to hit the sack maybe an hour after I'd met him. But he's held back, and he finally told me why today. He's afraid that he'll bond with me but it might be too early for me. He doesn't wanna push things; he wants them to be right."
"I think you're rather fortunate. He seems to be ideal for you, Pamela."
She smiled and looked down. "I never introduced anyone to anyone in my family, either. These are uncharted waters for me, too."
The remainder of the trip passed uneventfully, and Treve and Pamela got off at Charon. The transport traveled farther into the Solar System and sent shuttles to the surface of Titan and Malcolm, Lili and the kids were on one of them. "It's been years since I was here," Lili remarked as they landed. "It feels strange."
"I imagine you've changed a bit," Malcolm said, "and perhaps the moon has as well. I have never been here before." They were set down in front of the New France Hotel, which was an older building, almost a layer cake of architecture.
"Now I know things are different. I never stayed here," Lili commented.
"I'm sure you didn't have much cause to. Uh, two rooms, please," Malcolm said to the desk clerk, "reservation is under the name Reed."
"Ah, yes," replied an Andorian clerk. "There is already a party here with that name. Shall I put you near them?"
"Yes, please," Malcolm said absently, trying to keep track of Marie Patrice and Joss as they were curious and were wandering off a little.
"Fifth floor. Lift is over there," the clerk pointed.
They thanked him and departed. While in the lift, Malcolm flipped open his communicator. "We've arrived. We'll be on your floor." He closed the device before anyone had had a chance to respond, as they had gotten to the fifth floor.
A door to one of the rooms opened, and an elderly grey-haired human woman peered out. "Malcolm, is that you?" she inquired.
Marie Patrice ran over first. "Grandmother Mary! Grandmother Mary!" she jumped up and down a few times in her excitement. "I'm wearing the gloves you made me!" She clapped her hands together for emphasis, with only a dull sound, as the yellow woolen gloves with white lace cuffs that she had on muffled the sound.
"My, oh my, who's this?" Mary asked, kneeling down until her joints cracked. Marie Patrice fairly well leapt into her arms. "Oh, and you're wearing the gloves. I am so very pleased. They look very stylish." Mary straightened up carefully. Joss approached, and she asked, "Is this Declan? Are you Declan?"
"No, no, Mother," Malcolm explained, "this is Jeremiah."
"Joss," Joss mumbled.
"Here is Lili with Declan," Malcolm stated.
"Oh my, of course, my error," Mary said, looking at the baby as Lili held him. "He resembles you quite a bit, Malcolm."
"Mother, I should like to present Lili Beckett."
"How d'ya do?" Mary asked. "It is good to meet you all. Madeline will be joining us tomorrow."
Malcolm had been carrying their bags. He put them onto the hotel's carpeted hallway floor and then leaned over his mother and gave her the briefest of kisses. "Lili, have you the keys?"
"I do," she adjusted the baby, "uh, do you wanna hold him?" she asked Mary.
"More than anything," the older woman said. "Stuart, come out and meet everyone."
Lili and Malcolm exchanged the tiniest of glances before she went to open the room next door, and then the one on the other side of it, with keys that were flat bits of polymer with notches stamped out of their sides. Wordlessly, he passed her the bags and she deposited them on the next door room's beds as rapidly as possible.
"What is, who is this?" came a quavering British-accented voice from within Mary's room.
The two older children were already in there. Lili swiftly entered the room, to try to intercept them. "Grandfather Stuart," Joss asked, "right?"
"Yes," Mary confirmed.
"Declan is, he is speaking already?" Stuart asked.
"I made the same error, I'm afraid," Mary explained quickly. "This is Jeremiah. But I believe he prefers to be called something different."
Stuart was thin and frail and a bit shrunken. He was not just like an elder version of Malcolm – he almost seemed like a version that had had the wind knocked out of his sails. He looked up slowly. "Who are these children?"
Marie Patrice was about to lunge in with a hug when Malcolm put a hand up to stop her. "Gently, love."
She came closer to Stuart and said, "My name is Empy." She kissed him on the cheek.
Stuart's tone was one of some confusion, "I thought Malcolm's wife had a boy."
"Uh, hi," Lili bent down to the seated man and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm Lili. And yes, Malcolm and I had a baby boy. Marie Patrice is my daughter and Joss is my son."
"When were you married? Why weren't we invited?" Stuart asked, a little annoyed.
"We aren't married, Father."
"And why the devil not?"
"Because," Lili explained, "I'm married to Doug Beckett. He's Joss and Marie Patrice's father."
Stuart just looked at them in disbelief. Mary shepherded them to the side of the room. " I didn't truly know what to say. Malcolm, I did not wish to lie to your father but, well, I suppose I did not exactly disabuse him of some notions."
Marie Patrice came over. "Grandmother Mary, can you show me how to make gloves?"
Mary knelt down. "Perhaps you shouldn't call me Grandmother, dear. I am not truly your grandmother and we are not related at all."
The little girl's lower lip quivered a bit. Lili knew what that meant, and scooped up her daughter. "C'mon, Joss," she called, "we're, uh, they're tired. Come on, young man!" she looked back at Malcolm.
"Uh, yes, yes, the children are tired. I'll take Declan from you, Mother." He took his son and they retreated to the room next door and Marie Patrice started to cry.
Once inside the room, Lili and Malcolm looked at each other. "I –", he began.
"Later," she interjected a little sharply, and then softened her tone. "Please."
The baby picked up on the stress and began crying, too. Malcolm looked at them all, a little helplessly. "Here, uh, Joss," he finally said, "let's you and I get your things next door, and Marie Patrice's, and get you both unpacked, all right?"
Lili nodded at them and mouthed one word – thanks – as they left with the two smaller bags. "Here, let's get you changed," she murmured to Declan, trying to make her voice sound soothing.
"Mommy?" Marie Patrice asked.
"Yes, my sweet?"
"Why doesn't Grandmother Mary l-love me?"
"Oh, sweetie." Lili quickly diapered the baby and washed her hands in record time before kneeling down to hug her daughter. " I don't think it's that she doesn't care."
"Then why can't I call her Grandmother?"
"I'm not sure."
On Charon, Pamela and Treve had been there for a day, still in separate rooms. They met during the day to go skiing, and then over dinner. "Yanno," she remarked to him as she stuck a fork in her salad, "if I didn't know any better, I'd say we were respectable."
"Well, you know," he deadpanned, "as the elder son of the former First Minister and the current High Priestess of the Calafan people, I am, by definition, the very model of respectability." He smiled at her. "That is, despite my family scandal and all that."
"Didn't Lili tell you? She and I know one another because we, er, my father, that is to say, he authorized her abduction when the NX-01 made first contact."
"Yes," Treve confirmed, "see, my father was having an affair. My mother became ill. My brother and sister and I – we did not realize that the two were connected, and that my father's paramour was actively poisoning my mother."
"See, Lili superficially resembles my mother. Under the guise of studying your species, Lili was taken. My father's paramour, her idea was to force Lili to impersonate my mother at a large festival. It would appear that she would appoint the paramour as the new High Priestess. That all fell apart – Lili's husband, Douglas, he had a hand in rescuing her."
"Sounds romantic," Pamela mused. "The first time I met Doug, I just thought he was this lummox. Then again, the first time I met him, he and Reed had just beat the tar outta each other."
"Malcolm is your ex, is that right?" he took her hand as she had put her fork down and seemed to be finished.
"One of many," Pamela confirmed, "but probably my most important ex. And you?"
"Me? Oh, I wasn't exactly kept under lock and key, but I didn't go 'round chasing women, either. I suppose I had seen enough of that behavior by my own father. He went to prison for a few years there. I'm not so certain I can forgive him for his deeds." He sighed for a moment. "And you? What of your parents?"
Pamela blanched. "You're, you're only meeting my sister." Her communicator chirped and she jumped. She flipped it open. "Hudson here." A pause. "Okay, Lisa, see ya soon. Bye." She closed the device. "Speak of the devil. She'll meet us in the hotel lobby." Treve signed the bill over to his room and they left together.
In Mary and Stuart's room, he spoke. "Why the devil does her husband allow this? What kind of a weakling could he be?"
"I'm sure I don't know all the particulars, dear. I just," Mary stated, "it feels as if our Malcolm is getting the short end of the stick, as it were. It appears to me that there is but one way for this to end, with Malcolm being badly hurt, and Declan bounced 'round amongst parents."
"That child will grow up far too confused, no matter what." Stuart declared. "It was, it was good of you to disabuse that little girl of the notion that you are her grandmother. You are not. The sooner the girl understands that, the better for her. It's, it's only for the better. Mary, I don't like that you kept the particulars from me."
"I apologize, and I hope you will forgive me the small deception," Mary sighed. "I am fond of Marie Patrice – I truly am. But I'm afraid you're right. Claiming a kinship that does not truly exist – it is unfair to her, and it potentially could cause her issues in the future. She is already being brought up with a misunderstanding of what a human marriage is all about. To add to that a misunderstanding about family, oh, it seems all too much, and wrong."
The Charon Hotel's lobby was well-furnished and crowded, and not all of the crowd was human. Pamela scanned the crowd as Treve waited at her side. "How long has it been since you saw your sister?"
"God, ten years? Fifteen? I don't even have a recent picture. Wait, hang on – there!" Pamela approached a middle-aged woman standing behind the back of a very solid wing chair and tapped her on the shoulder. "Lisa?"
The woman nodded, and they hugged, silently. Lisa, who was older, looked up first. "Is this your fellow?"
"Yes, I am Treve." They shook hands.
"I want you to meet my family," Lisa ventured.
"Okay, um, when?" Pamela asked.
"Uh, now. Hope you don't mind the surprise."
"Sure, that's fine," Pamela replied.
"This is my husband, Robert Schiller. And our daughter, Louise."
"Hi, Sweetie," Pamela said to her niece.
"This is our son, Edward."
"Oh." Pamela's tone was cold, as if her feelings had been turned off with a switch.
"What's wrong?" Lisa asked.
"You named your son after our, uh, father."
"At least you didn't name your daughter after our mother," Pamela glanced around, anxious.
"Speaking of Mom," Lisa smiled, "I have one more surprise."
An older woman got up from the wing chair. "Pamela?"
Pamela didn't answer, and ran off. Treve shrugged a bit at the Schillers and ran after her.
"Mackum?" Joss asked when they were alone in the kids' room.
"Yes?" Malcolm stopped what he had been doing, which was neatly folding and putting away Marie Patrice's clothes.
"They thought I was Dec."
"Well, I suppose they got a tad confused. That can happen as you age, you know."
"And then they got mad that you and Mom aren't married."
"Right." He sat down on one of the beds and patted nearby. The boy sat down. "Allow me to explain something to you, all right?"
"This arrangement, amongst myself, your parents, Melissa and Leonora it's, well, it's rather unique and unconventional. It is even a bit unconventional for people who are used to open marriages – which my parents, most assuredly, are not."
"Joss, you do know that most humans, when they marry, it is just two people, right?"
"That is my parents' marriage, it was your mother's parents' marriage, and your father's parents' as well. I am not denigrating that in the slightest. Some marriages are happier than others. And people sometimes, they stay together, even when, perhaps, it's not such a good idea. But they still do. And I don't argue with their choices."
"But, what I want you to know is, you and Marie Patrice and Declan, and Neil and Tommy as well – you will always be secure, and you will always be loved, no matter what. You call Melissa your mother, and Leonora, and you call me your father at times, too, yet none of us are of biological kinship. We will always, always care for you, and about you, even if, even if things were to, to end." That part stabbed him in the heart, but he had to say it, on the slightest, most off chance that that would ever happen. "And I think that all of that, that it matters far, far more than whatever is allegedly everyone's perfectly correct and accurate title."
They were outside, and there were cabs at a stand. Pamela got into one of them and Treve got in as well. She was about to say something to him when the cab driver asked, "Where to?"
"Uh, Crystal Caverns," she said.
The ride was quiet and quick, and she and Treve did not exchange any conversation. They got out at the caverns and walked around for a few minutes. "Can you tell me why you fled?" he inquired.
She looked around furtively. The caverns were a series of crystalline tunnels, carved in the bare rock beneath the surface of Charon. Glittering, beautiful and alien, they were a chilly tourist attraction but at least there weren't too many people there. "Here, let's go in here," she suggested, indicating a passage. He followed her. Once they were both in, and seemed to be alone, he looked at her. "I guess you're waiting for me to explain."
Pamela sighed. "I have told this to exactly two people – my therapist and Malcolm. Malcolm, he kinda yanked it outta me. And it was from telling him, and from kinda leaning on him too much, like a crutch, well, that was when I made the decision to finally get some long-overdue therapy."
Treve took her hands in his. "I am listening."
"When was the first time you had sex?"
"I never have," he admitted.
"Huh. I was fifteen. But, you see, that's not really true."
"It wasn't truly sex? I'm not following you."
"Oh, it was sex all right," Pamela confirmed, "but it wasn't my first time. It was my, uh, it was the first time I had ever, well, that I had ever been a voluntary participant."
They were both quiet as that sank in. "Your, your mother assaulted you?"
"No," Pamela clarified, "it was my father. But my mother knew about it. And she did nothing to stop it."
"Your sister," Treve realized, "she named her son after your father. I take it that she was untouched?"
"Exactly," Pamela confirmed. "No knowledge, nothing. I left home early. I did lab work and saved my money, finally going to Medical School here later than most people do. I worked hard and I slept with a ton of guys and I tried really hard to forget that my," she gasped a little, and her breath caught, "my father raped and beat me from when I was five until the day I finally got out. He couldn't have done it for so long – and he could not have gotten away with it – without help from her."
He pulled her to him, and she just cried for a while. A tour guide came over. "Sir, we're about to close up for the night."
"Oh, uh, sorry," Treve replied. "Pamela, let's, uh, I don't know, let's return to the hotel, all right?"
"I don't wanna deal with her. I could deal with Lisa. Hell, I was the one who called her up and made the first move. It, it wasn't Lisa's fault that I got hurt. And it wasn't her fault that nothing at all happened to her."
"That's true." He was about to open the door to a taxi waiting at the stand when she blocked his hand for a moment.
"I could even handle meeting her, her husband and her daughter. But the fact that, that she named her son after that, that monster? I don't get it and I hate it and it hurts like hell. And it's not fair!" She pushed back, as she was getting a little loud, even though they were on the street and it was very, very public.
"Tell me whatever you wish to."
"It's, it's not fair! It's just a bunch of, of sounds! And it's not evil unto itself! Names aren't evil! That kid didn't know. And, and obviously Lisa didn't, either! So it's me, I'm the one being unfair! I'm the one who's in the wrong!"
"You reacted. You were surprised, it seemed, and maybe Lisa did overdo it. Even if she had not brought your mother 'round to see you, it was already too much for you. 'Twas a kind of a, a sensory overload," Treve decided. "So, don't beat at yourself about fairness or such things."
"But that, that kid! What the hell? It just, it brings it home even more. It makes me wonder if I wasn't just dreaming it all. Everybody else was in this, this perfect family. Except for me. He's dead, and I've got no way to confirm any of it. It's all just, it's like, it seems like it was all just a big, fat hallucination, that, that, that these are the ravings of a madwoman."
He turned her to face him, and looked her directly in the eye. He said, "I believe you. I don't care 'bout anyone else, or anything else. They could have a, a certificate of perfection from some, some made-up authority that judges families, if there ever were such a thing, and it would not matter one whit to me." He straightened up and shouted, as loudly as he could, as pedestrians looked on. "I, Treve of Lafa II, I believe Pamela Sharon Hudson. I believe her!" His words echoed even in the Crystal Caverns, as the entrance was nearby. He lowered his voice considerably and, still looking her in the eye, added, "I believe her because I love her."
Shaking, she whispered back, "I, I love you too, Treve."