She had been in the middle of a marvelous dream when the sharp, wailing cry startled her awake. A deep, masculine sigh expelled itself into her ear. "Stay put. I'll get him this time."

As he unfolded his long body from their bed, Riker reached over to the lamp and turned it up to quarter illumination. A slight grunt of frustration, disguised as much as possible, escaped him. This was the third time since sundown that their "Blessing from the Prophets" had decided to express his individual existence. He was very loud.

Ro tried to sit up without aggravating her sore bottom anymore that it already was. Not an easy task; she was very sore. And not only her bottom, she suddenly realized. Her breasts, which had not been small for six months, now felt like they'd been stretched over a barrel. The front of her gown was soaked. "Oh, yuck! Thomas! My milk just came in, and I'm all wet."

"Between three and five days, Krisya said. Right on schedule. Catch." He tossed her a clean cloth from the pile they had been keeping near the dresser "for protective purposes" when they changed their son's diapers. He'd already sprayed his father once during a diaper change.

Pulling her gown off her shoulders, Ro used the cloth to sop up the milk leaking from her breasts. "I guess his crying must have triggered it."

"When you accept the Blessings from the Prophets, you've got to take the good with the bad, right, Champ?" Riker had already lifted his enthusiastically crying son out of his cradle and was changing the infant's diaper with a remarkable degree of skill, given how recently he'd begun to practice the task.

"Sore bottom, sore nipples, sore breasts. So far the uncomfortable seems to be most of the bad." Ro managed to prop herself up on her left elbow as she tried to get herself into a comfortable position to nurse her son.

"I thought all those traditional Bajoran chants and chimes were supposed to keep you from being so sore after the birth."

"Nothing helps when the baby's four and a half kilos instead of a nice, sensible three and a half kilos, like babies are supposed to be."

"Hey, what do you expect? He's part Kodiak Bear, right, Tommy?" Riker's question for his son was rhetorical, since he did not expect an answer. The tall man's blue-eyed grin extended from ear to ear in his obvious pride in his offspring.

Her son's large size at birth suggested to Ro that he would be the size of his father one day, or even taller, perhaps. She wasn't exactly a small person herself. Ro looked over at her husband, who had already finished the diaper changing and was wrapping their baby boy in a soft blanket. Despite her general discomfort, the sight of Riker's tall naked body, hairy torso, and long legs had the power to ignite a familiar desire. I certainly seem to have a weakness for tall, hairy-chested humans with blue eyes, big grins, and a preference for sleeping in the nude, she thought fondly. Her eyes fell to hip level. And with Towers of Joy in proportion to their height. This particular part of her husband was bobbing around, becoming longer and more erect as he turned to face her. A feral smile spread across her features.

"Stop staring at me like that. You'll only make it worse. You can't do anything about it now!" he complained good-naturedly as he approached their bed.

"Maybe not at this moment, but later on I can help you, if you want. There's more than one way to 'honor the Prophets,' my dear. As you know. You'll just have to owe it to me. How's my poor hungry little man?" she asked of the smaller male in the room as Riker, muttering with good humor about "paybacks," handed the child to her.

The warm, squirming body was a solid weight in her arms as she placed him into position on the bed next to her and offered him her breast. Ro felt the sudden tightening of his mouth around her left nipple and groaned softly as the tiny mouth gripped onto it tightly. Pulling energetically, little Tommy quickly established a rhythmic pattern of sucking, one tiny hand patting the exposed areola of her nipple lightly. It was miraculous that his little Bajoran nose, wrinkled on the bridge, was able to take in air as he nursed, since it seemed to be buried half the time in her milk-swollen breast.

"Look at him latch onto that tit!" Riker remarked proudly as he settled himself back into bed, his body stretching along his wife's back. Ro leaned her head back against his chest as a feeling of wonder and accomplishment overwhelmed her.

Her hand gently stroked the velvety soft head of her son. His warm body nestling close to her radiated heat to the front of her, as his father's warmth soothed her back. Sandwiched as she was between the two men in her life, her bottom was feeling a little better. The arm of her husband, covered with the dark hair she loved to stroke, appeared to view as Riker curved it protectively around her body to caress his son's tiny back. Ro would have liked to pay some attention to that arm and to the rest of the person it was attached to, but at that moment both of her arms were fairly well occupied with holding her baby. She settled for a quick touch to his hand by one of hers and the voicing of a rather self-satisfied observation.

"You never thought he wouldn't love to suck on my tits, did you? He is your son."

"I guess that's true. My namesake Tommy, the sucker of tits." He bent down to kiss Ro near her right ear and rubbed his bearded chin across her shoulder.

Ro shivered, less from a cool draught of air chilling her bared shoulder than from remembrance. "This is it. This is the time," she said, in awe.

"What time?"

"What I saw in the orb. I should have realized . . . "

"Saw in the orb?"

"Before I met you. Vedek Bareil let me look into the Orb of Prophecy and Change. I saw this, and I heard you say, 'My namesake Tommy. The sucker of tits.' When I heard it, I thought . . . well never mind what I thought."

"Did you think the man was Tom Paris?"

"Not when I saw Will Riker's face! But I didn't even know you existed then."

His rich, masculine laugh rumbled along her back. "No wonder you got so pale when you met me the first time. Did you expect me to want to start making this little guy right away?"

"Not exactly. I can't say the idea that we might become intimate didn't occur to me as soon as I heard your name, but we weren't in a comfortable enough situation to do anything about it at the time, if you recall. I was shocked by the whole situation, though. Up until then, I had accepted that my vision would never come true. It seemed impossible. From then on, I knew it could."

"Laren, why didn't you ever tell me about this before?"

"You're not really supposed to talk about orb experiences until after the events you see happen, if they ever do. But this is it, I know, so I can tell you now."

She turned and looked into the eyes of her husband, Thomas Riker. Her best friend and her lover. The look in his eyes reflected that his feelings for his wife were much the same as hers for him.

"I'm glad to know it now." He kissed Ro again and added, "I guess I'll have to do that orb thing one of these days. Can we do one together?"

"I'll never do it again. This is wonderful, but I don't want to push my luck. Maybe the next time I'd see something terrible. I'd rather just let things come, one day at a time."

Riker wrapped his arms around his family. "I can understand that." Like his wife, he knew how many bad things could happen in life. Maybe it was better not to know.

For a few minutes they huddled close as Thomas Riker the Younger methodically stripped his mother's left breast of milk, the only sounds an occasional endearment from Ro to her "baby Kodiak." Riker seemed to be able to talk to their son more easily than she could. For her, feeling him in her arms was already so overwhelming, she often could not think of anything to say that didn't sound foolish - but she was trying.

Finally, Riker asked casually, "So, how is my little namesake doing. He is my namesake, right? He's not named after that other Tom?"

"What, are you suddenly getting jealous after all this time? Of course he's named after you. Do you doubt it?"

"Nah. I just like to tease you."

Her voice softened as she added, "I'm not sorry that you two share the name Thomas. Tommy is named after his father, but I'm glad I've had a chance to honor the memory of a very good man, too. I wish you could've met him. I think you might have liked Paris."

"I may get a chance to meet him, yet, if Kira's right. When she came to see Tommy, she told me they could never find any trace at all of a warp core explosion, for either Voyager or Zola. That's really unheard of, even in the Badlands. Kira thinks that they didn't blow up at all."

"Does she think they fell into the Mirror Universe?"

"I asked her that, and it's a possibility. So maybe Tom Paris is alive after all. Maybe all of them are alive: Chakotay, Torres, Seska. That guy Suder. Janeway and the crew of Voyager."

"Seska. Ugh," she groaned as she switched her son to the right breast, the young man registering a protest about being forced to give up sucking on a nipple for several entire seconds. Once she had repositioned Tommy and allowed him to suck on the other nipple (somewhat less energetically than he had before his stomach had started to get full of milk), Ro admitted, "That Mirror place sounds dreadful. Seska and Suder would fit right in. But I guess I'd rather they were all there than dead."

"So maybe someday they'll all come back home. It would be strange, don't you think? Wonder what Paris would say, you here with a Tommy?"

"Probably some kind of wise crack. But he'd be happy for me, and for you, too. Really." She settled back into her husband's embrace again. Bemusedly she added, "Actually, I hope it is true. I'd like to think that Tom's alive out there somewhere."

"If he came back, you'd have a chance to choose between Thomases. Which do you think you'd pick?" he asked in a light, teasing tone. Thomas Riker was, by this time, very sure of his place in Ro Laren's heart.

"You, of course, my Kodiak lycitha, although for having the audacity to ask me that, I should say him, just to make you squirm." She looked down at her son again. The sucking had slowed down to an occasional squeeze of the lips. Separating those lips from her nipple and lifting him up over her torso, she was almost immediately rewarded by a large belch, prompting a chuckle from both parents. Young Thomas Riker had become very drowsy and promised to drop off to sleep again at any second.

Rubbing her son's back in a circular motion to make sure that all the gas had come up, Ro added quietly, "I do know that if Tom is alive, I hope he's managed to find someone who makes him as happy as you've made me."

"What a good answer, Vedek Parys! Very much a vedek answer, I might add."

"So, if it's a 'vedek answer,' then you also know that it's the truth."

"Yes, I know it's the truth." Riker's face beamed as he softly added, "Do you know how much I love you, Ro Laren?"

"As much as I love you?"

"Maybe more," he whispered, leaning closer to her face.

"Not possible, Thomas Riker." She breathed back to him. As she settled their sleeping infant son against her bosom, she felt her husband's thick beard brush her cheek as he offered her a gentle kiss.

Ro Laren lay back in her bed, surrounded by the arms of Thomas Riker, the unexpected husband that she loved more than she ever thought it was possible to love anyone. In her arms she held another Thomas Riker, formed not in a transporter accident, but by the time-honored, "old fashioned way" of growing in his mother's womb after a night of lovemaking by his parents. The young man had emerged from her body squalling in protest, very much in the human fashion rather than the Bajoran. He now seemed to be getting the hang of what this living in the world was all about. A new soul, a blessing from the Prophets, she was learning to love more and more with every second of his precious existence.

Thomas Riker the Elder reached up to the controls to lower the illumination of the room to its lowest level before cuddling with his family again. Ro Laren sighed contentedly as she leaned against his muscular frame, stretched out behind her and supporting her back.

There will always be questions in life, Ro thought, but at least now I know a few of the answers.


GENERAL DISCLAIMER: Paramount and Viacom own the characters of Ro Laren, Tom Paris, Thomas Riker, Vedek Bareil, Chakotay, Torres, the O'Briens, and others who have appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager, lock, stock and barrel. Those characters that never appeared and back stories not otherwise the property of Paramount and Viacom, as well as the events in this story itself, are copyrighted by J.A. Toner (jamelia), December, 1997. This story is just for fun, and maybe for thought.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: OK, I admit it. This is "Brother Cadfael" meets "Star Trek." In Peter Tremayne's "Sister Fidelma" mystery series, the protagonist is an Irish female cleric from a Celtic monastery, set in the seventh century, A.D. Unlike monasteries elsewhere, or at a later time, celibacy was not a requirement in all of them. Men and women lived and worshipped together in conhospitae, or double houses. Some married and raised children in these houses. When the Roman Church became ascendant, these houses were banned. Since no one ever seemed to bat an eye over the sexual relationship of Vedek Bareil and Major Kira Nerys, I decided to use the general concept of the Irish double house of the Early Christian Era as the model for Bajor's religious houses (or at least, the sect to which Bareil belonged). Most of how this might play out, including the interpretation of why sexual relationships were acceptable in this setting, is strictly from my imagination. I do apologize for the coarse language in the last part of the story, but I was making a point. I wish the Bajoran concept of sex as presented here was generally accepted. I'm not a fan of the double standard or of sexual exploitation, which I hope comes through loud and clear in this story.

When I wrote "The Mercenary," I had no idea I would ever write a sequel. I thought the story precluded it. Guess I was wrong. As was the case with "The Mercenary," my interpretation of Ro's early life and sexual history owes much to the writing of L.E. Bowen. This story was first published on my website in 1998, but I never felt it was quite finished. While the general story is unchanged, there are some new passages in this revision that I've wanted to add for over a decade. I'm glad to be able to include them now.

Jamelia-August 2013