The next few nights, they had the same dream.
They met, and smiled at each other, tentatively and shyly, like teenagers at a mixer.
“I can't sneak around. I can't,” she said on the first of those nights.
“I know, Lili-Flower. That part is definitely wrong.”
“We'll be back at Lafa II soon enough,” she said, “And then, he thinks he wants to file for divorce.”
“I never wanted you and Joss to have pain.”
“Whatever I have caused, oh, I so did not wish for that to happen.”
“The cracks were already there,” she said.
“No sneaking,” he said, “But you, you will tell me if, well, whatever happens with your marriage, yes?”
“Yes. Of course,” That could be a happy end to it, but she couldn't quite see it behind the fog of pain she was feeling.
The dream ended this way every night.
He would put his hand on her, in an act far more intimate than a kiss.
He placed it on her belly.
September second arrived – Joss's birthday. And Malcolm's. Lili had promised to bake a cake.
But her PADD was flashing. She took a look – a letter from Dayah.
Emmiz and I have wed. I hope he understands he will be taking care of an old woman in a few decades. But I am happy, despite my many familial complications.
I hope you are happy as well.
The letter from the Xindi was not upsetting in and of itself, but it did remind Lili of Erell, the Andorian baby who had not lived to see the end of her first day. She stood in quarters and wept.
Doug came in, looking for clothes, “We got his birthday today,” he said, “Can you hold it together?”
That was all the comfort he offered – small comfort indeed.
“Yes, I think so. I will, I'll make sure to,” she said. She dried her eyes and left.
Cake baking, Lili sat down, “Brian, can I ask you something?”
“I guess,” he was busy taking the dishes out of the sanitizer and putting them away.
“I don't mean to embarrass you, but, do you like my babysitter?”
“She's a nice enough girl, I guess,” he reddened and almost dropped a bowl.
“I think she has a crush on you.”
“Oh. Um, well, she's underage, right?”
“In our morality, yes,” Lili conceded.
“Well, whose morality applies to us?” he asked, “I mean, aren't there species that still have child brides? Do we go by their rules, or ours?”
“I guess we do what we think is most right,” she allowed, “All the while hurting the smallest number of people.”
“Assuming that all works together,” A bell dinged. He said, “Cake's ready. You do the decorating. I still haven't gotten the hang of using the pastry bag and tip.”
The party was held in the Observation Lounge, and was crowded. Lili hadn't gotten a chance to cook at all on the Enterprise
until then, so there was a definite demand for her cake.
She and Doug arrived with Joss. They put on their best fake smiles – Joss's was real, of course – and looked around at the assembled guests.
Brian brought out the cake with two candles on it. It was decorated with a picture of a huge shuttle on it, as Lili had promised. There was also, in the lower right corner, in green and blue icing, a bit of a jungle scene. Malcolm recognized it but kept the information to himself – it was day lilies and reeds.
“What is the significance of the candles?” T'Pol asked Jonathan.
“You blow them out and make a wish,” he replied.
“Seems a rather less than assured manner of making a wish come true,” she said.
“Shh. It's supposed to be magic. Joss still believes in that,” he said.
The guests sang and then the two of them blew out the candles. Lili and Brian started to cut pieces of the cake. Joss was jumping up and down and clamoring for a piece.
Malcolm stood off to the side but then came over, “Joss, may I speak with you a moment?”
Doug glared but Lili held his arm a little, “Allow this,” she said softly.
“Now, Joss,” Malcolm said, kneeling so as to face the child directly, “We are the hosts of this party. And all of these lovely people are our guests. And that means that we serve them first. And we must thank them all for coming to see us today.”
“Don't try to raise my kid, Reed,” Doug said.
“Doug. Not now,” Lili said, looking at him, “Just wait a minute.”
Malcolm looked back at Joss, “Now, who would you give the first piece to? The person you love the very most in the whole wide world?”
“All right. Then, good, take that over to her. Very carefully now.”
Joss slowly delivered his package, and then came back, “Mackum!”
“Yes, yes, that's me. Now, who's next? Someone you love very, very much.”
“Yes, that's right. Now, here, let's give him a really, really big piece. He's a, he's a very big fellow, your father is. And he should get a big piece. There, go on.”
While Joss was delivering, Lili and Brian handed out other pieces to be passed – otherwise it would have taken hours.
“Ready!” Joss said.
“All right, now, who would you like to give the next piece to?”
“All right, yes, your babysitter – she's a nice girl. There you go.”
“Ah, good. Mr. Delacroix has been making very nice sandwiches for you, I understand. Now, who's next?”
“Uhh. Aunt Hoshi!”
“Yes, yes, Hoshi's such a kind lady. Now, Joss, Hoshi understands lots and lots of words. If you talk to her, she shall understand you.”
Joss walked over very slowly.
“Um, thanks,” Hoshi said, reddening. Joss kissed her on the cheek before going back.
“Now, Joss,” Malcolm said, “You’ve got a lot of pretty ladies admiring you. But you don't have to give this piece to a pretty lady if you don't want to. Would you like to give it to Captain Archer, maybe?”
When he returned, Malcolm straightened up for a second, “Ah, Joss, you should give the next piece to Miss Melissa over there. Do you see her? She's standing right by Mister Torres. She is going to become very special to you.”
Joss came over, “Missa,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, looking down at him. She reached out and tousled his hair a bit.
He shook his head afterwards and ran back, “Ready!”
“Hmm, it looks like there are only two pieces left. Does everyone have a piece?” Malcolm asked. They did, “All right now, there's a piece with still a lot of the picture of the shuttle and a piece with the kind of jungle scene on it. I will take the piece with the greenery on it.”
The task completed, Joss dug in with gusto.
Malcolm moved more slowly and retreated to look out a window. He looked down at the cake and tasted a bit. Pineapple, just like she'd promised. He watched Joss run around and thank people a bit, a toddler's quick thanks, complete with hugs and kisses. T'Pol was unfazed, even when he called her Ears
, an act that mortified a very apologetic Lili.
The party was pleasant and the cake was tasty but Malcolm didn't smile much, just looked, alternately out the window and at the scene in front of him. Outside, looking in.
This did not escape one person's gaze.
“Hey, there's a gift box here,” Torres said, “It's heavy. It says it's for Joss. There's, um, no one signed the tag.”
“A present!” Lili exclaimed, “Whoever did this, you shouldn't have.”
The box was brought over. It was wrapped in turquoise paper. Without even opening it, Lili had an idea of who it was from.
It was jars of peanut butter – some smooth and some crunchy. There was a jar of almond butter, and another of cashew butter. There were jars of grape jelly and strawberry jam and one lone jar of orange marmalade. The jars were all from a large store on Hyperion, but the marmalade was from Fortnum & Mason. To confirm her thoughts, Lili looked at the gift tag. True, there was no information on the giver. But she recognized the neat, cramped handwriting, which confirmed her thoughts. It was Malcolm's. She silently smiled at him and mouthed her thanks. He nodded back.
“Captain, I was thinking of reupping with Starfleet,” Doug said, “Assuming what happened at the class didn't totally blow my chances.”
“No, I don't think that did, although you'll need to rein in your temper, I think,” Jonathan said.
“I'd like to, uh, get work on Andoria. I hear they'll have an embassy to defend.”
“Well, they will. But I'd've thought you'd prefer the Lafa System. There are going to be settlers there,” Jonathan explained, “They'll need protection. Wouldn't your family prefer that?”
“Yes,” Lili said softly.
Doug looked back at her, “Are you sure?”
Jonathan said, “I think it's a great idea. You know, you should be able to get a serious commission – probably as Captain of your unit, seeing as you were a Lieutenant Commander when you retired. Plus you probably know the area better than any human.”
“So we'd be the same rank?” Doug asked.
“It looks that way to me,” Jonathan replied.
“Huh. I think I like these merit promotions,” Doug said.
Lili went over to talk to Yimar, “I think you should just take the perrazin by the horns with Brian.”
“Huh?” replied the teenager, “Why would I want to touch a dangerous animal?”
“It's a human expression. Just take the initiative and stop beating around the bush. Uh, just make the first move.”
“Ohh,” Yimar said, bracelet glinting in the light of the Observation Lounge.
“Is that bracelet very important to you?” Lili asked.
“This thing? No, not really. I, uh, you won't tell my mother, will you?”
“Tell her what?”
“I got it when my friends and I were playing hooky one day.”
“Ah, I see. Well, you shouldn't do that, Yimar. Although I got in trouble a bit at your age. Can I, uh, can I have it? I can get you a new one – and a lot of other things in thanks for everything you've done here – and then you can tell your mother the truth about how you got it. Okay?”
“Uh, sure,” Yimar slipped the bangle off and handed it to Lili.
Party over, Lili and Doug sat in quarters, “Can I, um, can I ask you something?” he said.
“Do you want to work on things?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I do too,” he admitted, “I don't want our sons to grow up with only a little bit of one or the other of us. I don't want to have to divvy up our friends.”
“Any other reason?”
“You know it. And I don't say it enough. But yes, of course – it's also because I love you,” he said, “I want us to work, to pull together. In, in whatever, uh, configuration that it becomes.”
“Yeah. It's like pulling in a catch, a net of fish, I guess. I, I had thought there would be only, uh, two people in the crew. But maybe it's a bigger boat than I'd thought,” he said.
She leaned over and took his face in her hands, and they kissed.
Yimar, Brian and Joss walked in, “Oops!” Yimar said, “We can get the stegosaurus later.”
The three of them walked out, but Lili and Doug didn't notice. They hadn't stopped kissing.
Yimar put Joss down once they were outside of the room, and he scampered to the other end of the hall.
She looked at Brian, “Take the perrazin by the horns,” she repeated to herself quietly.
She grabbed his face and kissed him. He did not put up a struggle. When they broke away, he looked at her.
“We shoulda done that earlier,” she said, “Now we should sleep together.”
“What? Uh, Yimar, anything more than that, and Doug'll kill me.”
“Just to dream? Honestly, Brian, I dunno where you get these ideas that it's anything other than dreaming!”
The two of them finally broke apart, “Oh, my God, I so missed that,” Lili said.
“Me, too,” he kissed her hand, “It's almost like when we first got together.”
“It's, uh, it's almost like a séance,” he said.
“Huh, way to make a gal feel great,” she said.
“No, no, no, it's a good thing,” Doug said, backpedalling a bit, “See, the other universe, it was a charnel house. I was one of the walking dead, or at least the walking wounded. And I would touch your hand, or kiss you, or even just see you, and I could contact the living.”
“You're away from that now.”
“Yes. And I never want to go back to it. I, I know I've been pretty stubborn. But it's been because I wanted everything to be different. See, I didn't tell you this, but on the other side of the pond? I, I'm not proud of this.”
“You can tell me anything,” she took his hand.
“Yeah, I know. Well, on the other side, I cheated on every girlfriend I had.”
“Even Jennifer. With, uh, with the gal who runs the Botany Lab here.”
“Shelby? The ex-ballet dancer?”
“Belly dancer?” he asked.
,” she articulated better, “Her? I thought you liked a little more, uhm, heft.”
“Well, sure. But she was a bit heftier there, too. She wasn't a former ballet dancer. She, um, she was brought on board to pilot. But before that, she did have a profession.”
“The world's oldest one.”
“And even with Jennifer I could not keep my hands off Shelby. It's true. I cheated on Jenny, I cheated on Susan, on Christine, on all of them.”
“And all of them with Shelby?”
“No, I didn't know her until later,” he said.
“Why are we talking about her again?” she kissed him.
“Because I just wanted you to know why this has been so very hard for me, Lili. I wanted us to be different.”
“We are. You didn't stray – that's such an awful word, as if you were a dog – you didn't, didn't do what you did because you wanted to. But it had unintended consequences. And the same thing happened on my end. Unintended effects.”
“Yes. About those,” Doug said, “He, I was watching him today.”
“I know. And I'd appreciate it if you would give him a chance.”
“I did, and I do. But I need to tell you what I saw.”
“Lili, I saw that look. I know that look. It's the one that says, 'I'm never gonna have this. I'm never gonna be happy – not really. I won't have love and a family and a future
.' I saw that look, and I recognized that look because, well, because I used to see that look every single day of my life, whenever I'd look in a mirror.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Like I've been holding his future hostage. I've been holding everyone's future hostage. If you, if you dream with him, and it's really good, would you leave me?” Doug asked, trembling just a little.
“No. I won't leave you. Would you leave me, if your dreams with Melissa turn out to be really good ones?”
“No. And I've never wanted to leave you. I've – this has all been a lot of posturing. I'm sorry it's been hurtful. My pride really took a hit there.”
“I understand. I think this pride business needs to, uh, there should probably be less of it,” she said.
“Agreed,” he said, “It's a lot to swallow.”
“How do you think it will all go?”
“Rough at first, but a lot of things are. You work out the details, I guess. And I reserve the right to change my mind,” Doug said.
“Call him. And I will call her,” Lili said, “It's time.”
Malcolm sat in quarters, fingering the cuff, “Scraps from her table. They will have to be enough,” he said to no one.
There was a communications chime. It was Doug.
“Come,” was all he said.