Disclaimer: No, you're not imagining my girls' resemblance to a certain Bard and Warrior who are property of RenPics. But, Dr. Eleni Sirtis and Nurse Selene are mine, mine, mine. Also, this story does involve a love/romantic relationship between two women, so if you're underage or that kind of thing isn't for you, this might not be the story for you.


Selene's chrono told her it had been an hour since she'd left, but she wasn't ready to go back yet. Her anger had spent itself as she walked, and by the time she'd found herself at the waterfront, it was gone. The smell of salt and life coming off the ocean was somehow soothing, and she let herself breathe it in deeply.

The anger was gone, yes, but it left behind feelings that were more painful and more complex. She didn't want to leave Eleni, especially alone, but she was just impossible… No, she corrected herself, just most of the time. Other times were great - like the reception. But, she never knew which to expect. Eleni was, by turns, an injured woman who resented that restriction, a hard-to-impress commander, Selene's funny best friend, and a former slave. Selene cared about all of them, but some were easier to handle than others.

Selene didn't know if Eleni was starting to worry at how long she'd been gone, or if the older woman was happy to have her out of the way for a bit. Part of her suspected the latter… the last things they'd said had been aimed at setting off vulnerabilities, and she could hardly blame Eleni for being upset by them. Saying she didn't want to be healed had been a very low blow.

The blonde let out a sigh, still unsure what to do. Eleni had felt keeping her on Earth was unfair, but now Selene wasn't even sure Eleni even wanted her here anymore. There was only one way to find out though, and that was to go back to the apartment. Somehow though she couldn't seem to make her feet move to take even a step in that direction.

Selene muttered to herself, a bit annoyed that she couldn't seem to dredge up even that much self control. Of course, that had been slipping lately anyway. She wasn't even sure how she'd let herself get to the point where their argument happened; she was usually much calmer than that.

Move it, Selene… this isn't helping anything. She pushed off the railing, and set her steps determinedly back toward home.

Eleni wheeled herself out to the great room when she heard the door open. She arrived in time to see Selene hang her bag back up on its hook, and greet a kitten that had toddled over to her. Selene didn't seem upset anymore, and actually smiled at the furball when it launched into a lengthy tirade about some perceived indignity.

"I… ah, wasn't sure you'd be back," Eleni admitted, trying to clamp down on a relieved half-smile. Selene glanced over, green eyes softening at the sight. She glanced back at the kitten, then set it down.

"I don't like arguing, Eleni. It just unsettles me. But we're friends, right? We ought to be able to get through one fight without deciding we can't be roommates anymore." The blonde woman had turned, in the course of her speech, to face Eleni. With the movement, Eleni had picked up on a faint sea scent and guessed, rightly, that Selene had spent at least some time by the water.

She also realized that even if the incident wasn't going to be forgotten, Selene had at least forgiven her. And for that, she was deeply grateful.

"Selene, it was just me… my damned bad mood," she said, an apologetic note entering her voice. "It's too late to cook… why don't you go sit, and I'll replicate dinner?"

The nurse gave a momentary blink in surprise since Eleni had been perfectly content to let her handle the meals. By her own admission, the ex-resistance leader's only cooking skill was ordering from the replicator. Selene sensed though that it was meant as a peace offering, and accepted it as such. She knew though that she'd been just as bad, and decided she'd make up for her part in the fight.

"Alright… it is late to start something. I'll take care of the table," Selene offered. Eleni wheeled for the cooking area, while Selene opened a drawer on the outside of the counter to retrieve the placemats, each careful not to get in the way of the other.

Selene set the mats out neatly on the small square table, one in front of the single chair and the other opposite it, where Eleni habitually wheeled in to eat. The chair that had previously occupied that space had been reassigned to the seating area soon after they'd moved in. Eleni hadn't needed it, and they'd needed to keep moving it to make room for her wheelchair anyway. She surveyed the table, musing idly that some flowers might be a nice addition. However, she didn't have any vases around to put them in.

Eleni made her way back out of the cooking area, a feat considering she was managing two full plates of food in addition to working the wheelchair. She was able to do it, however, and thought that was good enough. Still annoying, but better than it could be. Right.

Selene glanced up, leaving whatever reverie she'd been in as Eleni set down two plates piled with food. She made out pasta, with an aromatic sauce that started her stomach rumbling. There was also a side salad; Eleni's consisted only of lettuce and dressing. The true highlight though was a dish that they'd found they both liked early on. Hamburgers.

Selene grinned, very happy with Eleni's selection.

The doctor grinned back over the table, glad to see that happy, ever-so-slightly mischievous look back where it belonged.

Eleni had woken up in a good mood, for once, and even accepted a request for a pet or two from one of the kittens that had managed to break out of Selene's room. She put it back down right after, already seeing the smirk Selene would give if she saw. Besides, the furballs saw her as a barely adequate substitute for their blonde, gentle mistress.

There was no real reason to be feeling so up, but she had to admit that it was nice to get a reprieve, however brief she knew it would be. The sun was already coming through the windows of the great room that looked out on the courtyard, etching patterns of light across the floors and furniture. Eleni spent several moments in silent appreciation of the picture created.

Soon though, duty called. Selene liked to be woken up at 800 hours, despite her usual half-awake protests. Letting her get up later only led to the kind of rushed morning Selene had confessed she hated, but lacked the self control to avoid most of the time. Privately, Eleni couldn't blame her. Extra sleep was always appreciated, though it usually wasn't possible in their line of work.

She wheeled herself into Selene's room, seeing that the box the kittens slept in had been overturned, explaining their early appearance. Selene was still asleep, mussed covers pulled up to her neck. She was still, and Eleni regretted having to bring her out of a deep sleep.

"Selene…" she called, loud enough that it would usually have gotten Selene to stir. The smaller form didn't move though. She tried again, expecting Selene to roll over and give her customary annoyed grumble. Eleni's brow furrowed with the first pangs of concern.

She reached a hand out to give Selene's upper arm a shake, and was alarmed to find an unhealthy heat radiating off the smaller woman. There was also a lot of it, she noted grimly, introducing the possibility that Selene's temperature was high enough to induce unconsciousness. That had the potential to be very damaging, and Eleni remembered the replicator had never been authorized to produce medications.

She wheeled to the bathroom quickly, and started cool water running into the tub. It wasn't the most elegant method to bring a fever down, but she'd used it enough to know it worked. Eleni only hoped it would be enough.

She returned to Selene's bedside, tugging at sleeves and limbs until she'd moved the unconscious nurse close enough to pull her onto her lap. One arm went to keep Selene in place, while the other pushed the wheelchair along. It made moving slower, since Eleni needed to keep switching off arms, but it was the best she could do. She wasn't going to let Selene die or end up brain damaged because of her.

When she reached the bathroom again, she saw that the tub was already half-filled. Carefully, she lowered Selene's overheated body in sideways, nightshirt and all. She saw to it that Selene's knees were braced against the far side of the tub, which would help keep her head above water if Eleni lost her grip for a moment. She reached for a cup she used to help rinse her hair, and started using it to pour cool water over her best friend, carefully avoiding getting any in Selene's mouth or nose.

Gods, that happened so quick… she was fine when we went to bed. We haven't been around anything exotic, that I know of. What could attack a healthy young adult so fast? She gave an involuntary shudder, and said,


"Working," the electronic, feminine voice replied.

"Give me an emergency link to Starfleet Medical, audio only." The computer blipped its acknowledgement, and a moment later a young man's voice was heard.

"Dr. Sirtis, what seems to be the trouble?"

She outlined what she knew, emphasizing that help was needed now. He had seemed a bit dubious at her description of the treatment she was giving, but she had gotten used to that. Federation personnel weren't used to doing without their technology. Finally, he told her a doctor had been dispatched and broke the commlink.

Eleni looked down at the shivering, still unconscious Selene. Please… please… please be all right… the doctor thought, desperately.

Selene hadn't awakened by the time Eleni was allowed into her room. Dr. Thompson, who Eleni had taken an instant dislike to, was older than she was and had graying blond hair with a curl Eleni found oddly reminiscent of a poodle. She thought a pit bull would be more appropriate, and decided that the face did fit with its set jaw and the beginnings of jowls.

"You can see her temperature is falling… which…"

"Yes, I see, Doctor," Eleni cut her off. "What is she sick with?"

"Well, it appears to be a simple case of influenza, which I've given an antiviral for," Thompson answered, glancing at the monitors again. That was something of a surprise; Eleni had only known it to take that fast a hold in a species that was susceptible, but never been exposed. Selene certainly had been around influenza in her year on the Destiny.

"Are you certain? I find that diagnosis hard to believe considering she went from no symptoms to a fever of 105 in less than 9 hours," Eleni challenged. Thompson's eyes narrowed.

"Yes - she has high levels of active virus in her bloodstream, and as they drop her condition is improving. And, you've looked at her medical files. You should be able to figure out why it would affect her so fast from those."

Eleni already had an explanation. Selene had been on a course of Worun-type immunosupressants since her release to prevent the aggressive part of her immune system from altering non-self DNA, an effect that had caused her and the rest of the Darwins to be quarantined in the first place. Her normal immune system, with its macrophages and T-cells, had never had the stimulation to develop properly. While protected by the remnants of her aggressive system and the newborn efforts of the normal, once a pathogen got through it could spread unopposed.

"Yes… her normal immune system isn't prepared for it," Eleni said simply, enjoying the slight surprise she saw in Thompson's body language. Part of her found it very satisfying. Take that… I didn't get to be a Chief Medical Officer by being slow on the uptake when it comes to diagnosing patients.

Thompson started to look Selene over again, to give herself time before dealing with her patient's incredibly annoying roommate again. Selene's temperature was dropping, as were her viral counts. All her vital signs were stable, and there was no apparent brain damage from the fever. Thompson concluded that, for now, there was really very little else to do besides monitor her and let the medications do their work. There were also other patients to see.

Thompson turned back to the wheelchair-bound doctor, and it was the eyes that caught her attention first. They'd had a cool fire during the verbal sparring, but now they just looked hollow. And so did the woman they belonged to.

"She should be fine… with a little time to recover," Thompson said, then left the room with a rustle of her lab coat. The door slid closed behind her, leaving only the faint beeps of the monitors. Eleni stilled for a moment, taking in the small, quiet form on the bed. Gods… it had been so close.

She stayed where she was. The scientist in her knew Selene's illness was a simple matter of chance and susceptibility, but she couldn't help taking responsibility. Selene's risk of getting sick, with her compromised immune system, would be far less back in the more sterile environment of a starship. As far as Eleni knew, the nurse had never been sick before. Still, the thought that this was indicative of her body's reaction to disease was frightening. If this was the flu, how fast would it be for meningitis? Alkarian dark, which normally took the sight of its victims in a day? She closed her eyes briefly, forcing those thoughts back. They didn't do anyone any good.

She could call Brian, and have him request Selene's return. Dedicated as the nurse seemed to be to staying, she also followed orders. One fatal flaw in that plan though - Selene was very likely to see right through it, as she would any other deception.

Eleni wheeled herself over. She had no idea if Selene could hear her, or even if she could that the message would even get through to her mind properly. So, it was a surprise when she heard herself speak.

"Selene… come back soon, alright? Those kittens of yours will mutiny if they're left alone with me for very long. Probably think I'm the evil person who took their lady away. I don't know. Maybe I am. But that's a whole other story, isn't it?" She paused a moment, swallowing. "Just get better, okay? That's an order." She sighed. Her sanity was definitely in question.

Eleni had the growing feeling the walls were closing in on her, and a vague sense of being suffocated. While she'd never been claustrophobic, those sensations were distinctly uncomfortable. She had to get out. A quick check of the machines monitoring Selene's condition, and the nurse monitoring those, gave her some reassurance that she could leave. That done, she left the building as inconspicuously as she could manage.

Rena muttered at herself, realizing she'd been distracted from the list of coffees and 'extras' that made up this month's order for the fourth time. She'd started the shop 20 years earlier, not willing to work for anyone again. That fierce independence had extended to her personal life too, and if that made things a little lonely on occasion it was just part of the price for that freedom. She was perfectly willing to pay.

Seeing Eleni again… that had been the biggest shock she'd had in some time. She'd tried very hard to find the rough eighteen year old resistance leader she remembered in the composed, Starfleet-sanctioned doctor who had turned up in her shop. The eyes were the same, she thought, and she guessed Eleni had never stopped fighting in one way or another. Even as a small child, Rena remembered, Eleni had been unwilling to let the Skera win. The shopkeeper had lost count of the times she'd tried to clean whip wounds on a small, gently quivering back, less than trustful of the supplies she'd procured. She'd often thought that if Eleni hadn't been such a valuable worker, she would have been killed outright. But, they'd let her go. Until she fled, and became more of a threat than the Skera could have imagined.

She'd met her daughter again six years later, having been rescued from a camp. Two lean hounds had brought her to their leader, the mysterious figure known as Night. What a surprise to see that that leader, dressed appropriately in black and a casual violence, was her daughter. What a surprise to see the loyalty Night inspired in her people. What a surprise to find herself seriously believing that her daughter could do the things she promised.

That idea had only lasted as long as it took for a party to return decimated, and see her daughter more concerned that they had not captured some item then with the lives lost. They had fought, and the end result was Eleni's quiet acquiescence to her request to leave. She had gone, in a tiny stolen craft, with two others that had also recently asked to leave.

Gods, what had happened in the last 20 years? The answer seemed to be 'a lot'. What she found most intriguing about their recent meeting was Selene's fierce defense of Eleni. Selene was tenacious in a debate - Rena had heard enough of her and her classmates to know - but what she'd seen that day had been different. Almost… personal. Selene had proven she had an insight into people, but what had convinced her Eleni was worthy of the kind of faith she'd shown? An old, old doubt resurfaced. She'd never asked Night why she'd been so concerned that they take whatever prize had been an objective of that raid.

Rena stopped, knowing no further answers and a lot more questions were down the path she was letting her mind follow. It had been quite obvious Eleni hadn't expected to see her, and didn't want to. She wasn't sure how she felt either. The shopkeeper briefly closed her eyes, centering in on the rich smells of coffees and spices and the sounds of her small staff clanking cups and talking to customers.

Then she felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned to see Jordan, who'd been with her almost from the beginning of the shop. After 20 years, partly to her chagrin, he'd developed a knack for knowing when something was bothering her. He was wise enough though to wait till they were alone to ask what was going on. Yes, that was the message in those brown eyes… 'I'll leave it for now, but we will talk'. She was not looking forward to it.

As Eleni entered the apartment, she was struck by the quiet. Sure, there were the sounds of the kittens - little scuffling noises and mews as they registered that one of the humans was back. But no discourses on whatever subject happened to be on Selene's mind, or the low humming the blonde did unknowingly as she worked. Eleni had tuned most of it out, but now she found she missed the gentle reminders of another person's presence. Oh, stop being so ridiculous. Until this, the last time you'd shared living space with someone was when you were 12. She rolled her eyes at herself, and went to free the furballs.

They seemed happy enough to see her, tiny tails and bodies wriggling with feline excitement. But one, the tabby kitten Selene had dubbed Oak, looked up at her with still-blue eyes. They had the most questioning look she'd seen from one of the kittens, and it wasn't hard to supply a meaning - 'Where's my mommy?'.Eleni picked it up, and settled it on her legs.

"If you're looking for Selene, furball, she's not going to be here for a little… you're stuck with me. But she's going to be okay. She's gotten good, fast medical care and is improving a lot already… Selene will be fine." She realized she wasn't really talking to the little cat anymore. Come on, El. Snap out of this before Chandra commits you.

She set Oak back down on the ground, and watched as she pounced Snow, the white kitten, starting a wrestling match. It was relatively friendly, meant more to exercise growing bodies and skills than to test dominance. Eleni wondered how much longer the kittens would 'play nice'. Not very long, probably.

Eleni heard a sound, and blinked when she recognized that it was the doorchime.

"Come in." The command unlocked the door, revealing a concerned looking woman whose red curls were familiar. Eleni remembered Selene speaking with the woman about a week earlier as she came back from grocery shopping, and the redhead had mentioned that she occupied the apartment across the hall. She also seemed to be as chatty as Eleni remembered.

"Oh, hi… you must be Eleni. I'm Carlyn, from across the hall. I saw the medical team this morning, and when I saw you get back I had to come check up on things." The doctor saw some of Selene's openness in this woman, and that somehow kept her from being too curt. After all, she was simply concerned about an acquaintance.

"Selene's at Starfleet Medical. It's just the flu, but there were some complications that made it necessary. But, she'll be fine," Eleni recited, still not entirely believing it. Carlyn's concerned look intensified briefly, before she spoke.

"I'm sorry she's not feeling well… but, it's better than it could be." The doctor had to agree on that point. Even the little she'd let her mind wander down that possible path had been awful. "Tell her I hope she feels better the next time you see her."

"I will, Carlyn," Eleni nodded. "She'll appreciate the thought."

"By the way, feel like coming for dinner? Selene and I have a common interest - cooking." Carlyn wagged her brows to make the offer seem more enticing. Eleni, however, was not in the mood to be sociable.

"Thanks for the offer, but I need some rest and wouldn't be very good company," Eleni apologized, hoping Carlyn would take the hint.

"Alright. Consider the offer open though if you change your mind," Carlyn said as brightly as she could manage. She'd hoped to get some idea of what her neighbor was like, since the doctor had skillfully avoided anything resembling a personal subject, but it seemed that wasn't going to happen today.

"I will." Not a syllable more than necessary.

"Well, I'll let you relax… have a good afternoon." Carlyn gave a final smile, and left the apartment. Eleni rolled her eyes at the redhead's retreating back. She wheeled herself further into the apartment to convince herself that she was truly alone to lick her wounds.

Selene's illness shouldn't have affected her this way, but somehow the concern had managed to work its way through the utilitarian thought processes of a resistance leader and a doctor's clinical detachment. Brian had occasionally ended up in her sickbay, once or twice in critical condition, but she'd managed to handle those incidents without undue impact on her emotional state. The simplest explanation, she felt, was that she was used to being the one to tend to those who were sick or injured around her - not waiting for that help to arrive. Yes, that had to be it.

There was no specific memory of the lives she'd led, and in her state that didn't worry her. This place was beautiful, and she'd spent quite some time just studying the glittering surface of the pool where she'd been told she could see the living. She was interested in one particular person in that group, the one she'd been with through many lives. Why, exactly, her partner had gone back before her seemed to slip away before she could get a grasp on it.

Time could be consciously slowed or extended here, and the soul saw the person she wished to see take shape on the water's surface as a young girl. She was black haired, as often happened, and clad in clothes little better than rags. There was a brand of the human symbol for 'female' on one bare foot. She was given an order by a much taller humanoid who seemed incapable of any facial expression but disgust. The order was obeyed, but he seemed not to notice the fact that there was no terror in the child's alert blue eyes. Not anymore. The images picked up speed, and the soul saw the girl grow, and escape. A first weapon, a first raid. There was still hope though… the girl had yet to murder.

Then it happened. The prisoner was young, perhaps only on his first assignment. He certainly seemed to be more afraid of the rag-tag band of teenagers who had attacked his squad than any of them was of him. The girl, by now a lanky 14 year old just beginning to gain muscle, conferred with the others in whispers a few feet away. An agreement was reached, signified by a round of nods. She left the circle, drawing a knife still bloody from the earlier fight. The girl spoke a few words, during which the bound prisoner became hysterical, and then sank her knife into his abdomen. A second clean stab several centimeters higher, and he collapsed. Her face showed confusion… her instinctive wish to preserve life fighting her knowledge that if her people were to be free, this would be necessary more than once. After a moment the confusion fled, ceding its place to a hard look that was becoming less and less of a mask every day she put it on.

The watching soul's eyes widened in horror, and she smacked a hand down hard on the side of the pool. She couldn't let this happen again.

"No!" Her next choice was easy. She sprinted across the landscape to a larger pool - the one people disappeared into when it was time for them to be reborn. She paused at the edge briefly, sending a prayer to whoever would listen, and dove in.

Selene blinked her eyes open groggily, barely keeping hold of the images that had passed through her fever-wracked brain. While that symptom had abated, she still felt sick and very much like she just wanted to pull the covers up higher and go back to sleep. Anyone who interrupted that was going to get a kick in the shins, she vowed grumpily.

It wasn't till then she realized that the covers over her were a different color from the ones she'd replicated, and there was a monitor steadily beeping out her heartbeat. The smell proved she was where she suspected - a medical facility.

A brief look at the furnishings and her own garb confirmed it was Starfleet-run, and that was enough to her for now. Selene closed her eyes, intending to give in to her body's demand for time to repair and gather reserves. It didn't take long for her to drift into a pleasant, half asleep state where thoughts washed over her mind gently. None of them stayed very long or held her attention.

One finally did though, and it was a rather distressing one - where was Eleni? She frowned slightly, and opened her eyes again. Chances were good the doctor had been the one to bring her here, but the older woman didn't register on any of her confused senses. She wondered if Eleni had come down with whatever illness she had too, and was unconscious. There was also the possibility, to her fuzzy mind, that she'd developed a tolerance to the immunosupressant her freedom depended on.

Her thoughts followed that track, noting that no one else was in visual range and that the door was closed. She wondered if it was locked, but at the moment she was too weak to get to her feet and check. The beeping of the monitor sped up in time with her heart.

She didn't want to be quarantined again, especially after getting a taste of life outside. The thought of not seeing her friends, especially Eleni, again was particularly unacceptable. Selene made up her mind to sit up, put her legs over the edge of the bed, and then hop off to walk to the door to check it. If it was unlocked, she was fine. If it wasn't, well… her mind was already spinning out variations on that scenario.

She brought herself up to a sitting position largely by using her arms, and felt a strong wave of nausea as her body protested. A few deep breaths eased it somewhat.

"Ugh, let's not do that again," she muttered to herself. Another glance around as she waited for her stomach to finish settling revealed nothing new. She steeled herself for the next stage, and turned to dangle her lower legs off the edge of the biobed. Another deep breath, and she was almost ready to make the little jump down to the floor.

Before she could though, the door opened to admit a doctor who appeared older than Eleni, and the years had been a little less kind to. The uniformed woman bustled over, mentally shaking her head at her patient.

"I'm Dr. Thompson. Lay back down and rest. I know for some the first pull is to get moving, but your body's taken quite a shock," she scolded. Selene made no move to comply, in something of a grumpy mood and still shaken up by the idea of being a test subject again.

"Where's Dr. Sirtis? Tall, black hair, startling blue eyes?", Selene asked. The doctor considered the question briefly before answering.

"Your roomate? We called her as soon as the monitors showed you were waking up…" Anything else she might have said was cut off by the sound of the door opening again. It was Eleni, and Selene thought - disjointedly - that she was certainly a sight for a somewhat sore body.

"Oh, it's great to see you," Selene found herself saying, and let herself slide off the biobed. She felt a bit weak, certainly, but it wasn't bad enough to stop her.

Eleni surmised from Selene's ability to walk and speak coherently that any damage from the fever had to have been minor, easing one major worry. The tone of Selene's greeting made her somewhat uncomfortable, she realized, like an old injury believed healed.

"It's good to see you awake. How're you feeling?" Eleni asked, a purposefully unreadable expression on her face.

"Like I got ran over by a really big virus?" Selene suggested. Eleni had to grin a bit at that. Selene's sense of humor had obviously survived.

"I think you did, Selene." The doctor cleared her throat, knowing she was intruding, and outlined what had happened.

"You were unconscious for about 18 hours because of a high fever. It seems you contracted influenza, and your body couldn't fight it off effectively. There's no apparent brain damage though, and you responded to medication, so you should be fine in a few days. With rest." The last phrase was emphasized, hinting quite strongly that standing didn't quite meet that definition. Selene, however, wasn't ready to get back into bed and be quiet like a good little patient.

"Alright… when can I go home?" Selene asked, giving the v-necked hospital top a tug. She was starting to realize why Eleni enjoyed baiting her doctors so much. When one was in the hospital, it was the best entertainment available. Of course, the fact that she could appear more innocent than she really was also helped. Eleni, on the other hand, could be on her best behavior and still get suspicious looks.

"Probably tomorrow… if there aren't any complications," the doctor answered. She realized that the little one, for all the sweetness Thompson had read was designed into her kind, was just as stubborn as her roommate. Aggravating as that was, she had to admit it touched off a grudging respect for the young woman who, ill as she was, insisted on knowing what was going on.

"OK." She looked to Eleni. "Come pretty early to pick me up?"

The wheelchair bound woman shifted in her seat, knowing Selene intended to play. The blonde seemed to be all right, but Eleni had seen her face earlier. Something, and from the lack of fear it wasn't Dr. Thompson, had made her look like a spooked animal. Then again, she realized she'd probably be a bit upset herself if she'd woken up sick in an unfamiliar place. And a lot more likely to start swinging than Selene would be.

"Sure… if the kittens don't lynch me overnight," Eleni answered, finally. From the look she got from Dr. Pitbull, her help was not appreciated. She found herself unable to dredge up more remorse for that than a self satisfied Heh.

"Oh, I'm sure they'll behave," Selene disagreed. "I know you don't think so, but they do like you."

Dr. Thompson cleared her throat.

"Now that everything is settled… Doctor, I do need you to leave so Selene can get some rest. You can return in the morning when Selene's released."

"Ten minutes, please?" Selene asked. She turned hopeful green eyes on the doctor standing a respectful distance away, tilting her head up slightly to make eye contact. Eleni knew from experience that this look was one of the most powerful in Selene's arsenal. As predicted, Thompson let out a breath and acquiesced.

"Alright… but not a moment longer," the last with a slight brow raise to emphasize her point. Thompson turned on a heel and left the room with swift, direct strides. Most likely to check up on other patients, Eleni guessed.

"You alright?" she asked, seeing Selene's shoulders relax slightly.

"Yes, I'm fine… just a bit unsettled. I… it must've been a delusion from the fever, but I had a odd dream, then woke up here. But I'm okay," Selene answered. She really wasn't ready to start analyzing what she'd seen, especially since she had no idea of where certain images - like the brand - had come from or why she'd felt outside time, like she had when she met Artemis. The same sense of things being a tapestry with a single, but vital, thread missing that had been simmering since she'd come to Earth.

"Glad to hear it," Eleni nodded. She couldn't shake a certain amount of concern, but was willing to accept Selene's evaluation of her condition. "Oh… Carlyn came by the apartment a couple hours ago, wanting to know how you were."

"That was nice of her…" Selene said, her cheeks pinking up slightly. "I'll have to remember that, next time I see her. How are you doing? Finding me unconscious probably wasn't how you planned to start the morning."

"No, not really. Seems to have turned out alright though," Eleni allowed, knowing her situation looked a lot better now than it had when she'd been fighting to get Selene's body temperature down. Selene glanced down at the floor, biting a thumbnail, then back up to meet Eleni's eyes.

"I know this is going to sound really strange, but can I have a hug?"

Eleni nodded, opening her arms a bit, and Selene went ahead. The wheelchair restricted her to an upper body hug, but the contact still helped. Eleni was a solid, warm presence with a scent Selene felt compelled to memorize. There was the clean smell of the standard-issue soap and shampoo, combined with a vaguely spicy note that fit Eleni nicely. A sweet floral one wouldn't have suited, Selene thought. She released after several moments, knowing she was probably making Eleni uncomfortable. As they broke, she felt the older woman's hands stay on her shoulders briefly.

"Thanks…" Selene managed, straightening up. She felt more centered and less anxious than she had since waking, but she still wished the hug had lasted even a little longer.

"I guess I'd better get going," Eleni said. "Probably not smart to push Thompson too much, since she does have to sign your release in the morning." Selene had to agree… as much fun as she'd had needling the doctor, it wouldn't be wise to annoy the woman enough that she obstructed proceedings while Selene just wanted to return to her own space and responsibilities around caring for Eleni and the kittens. Eleni also probably had things to take care of now, and ought to be getting to them.

"You're right… I'll see you in the morning," Selene said, setting herself to get back into the biobed and perhaps find Degrees in the database to read a bit. The next chapters promised to be very interesting, now that Anlee had figured out why she felt jealous. Last night, she'd found herself sorely tempted to put off going to sleep to keep reading and wasn't exactly sure why she hadn't given in.

Selene finished the book a week later, sprawled on her bed with one of the kittens. She'd been spurred on by the building tension between the two main characters, which had only been relieved briefly, and then one of the simplest but saddest endings the author could have given the work. The love that was now so obvious had been set aside, perhaps forever, over bad timing. Selene wiped at tears she hadn't realized were there, and glanced over at her furry companion.

"That was such a sad story, Snow… but I think I liked it." Her brow furrowed briefly, as she remembered a page at the front she'd barely scanned in her hurry to start the story. Selene flipped the display back to it. A few of the author's other works were listed alone, but then there was the heading 'Anlee and April Stories'. Degrees was listed first there, followed by Reparations and Sulan. Apparently, Ms. Walters had felt compelled to continue her characters' story. Selene thought she would have, too, if she had possessed the talent to produce such wonderful characters.

Snow stretched and resettled her little body, then blinked blue eyes at Selene in an obvious ploy for attention. Selene smiled, and reached across to give the furred head a gentle scratch. Snow mewed, and shamelessly edged closer in hopes of more. Selene's smile became a full-fledged grin at that. Just like Eleni…

Since she'd returned from Starfleet Medical she'd noticed an increase in the amount of casual touching going on. The part that had surprised her was that most of that increase came from Eleni. While she'd usually accepted the occasional contact Selene habitually made, it hadn't seemed to occur to her before to initiate anything. Now, once or twice a day she reached out while they were talking or getting dinner. Selene hadn't questioned her about it so far, in case that would make Eleni withdraw.

She set the padd aside, and eased up to sitting from her position sprawled on her stomach. A few stretches eased the stiffness she felt from laying so long in one position. It had seemed more noticeable since she'd begun working with Eleni in the exercise holosuite, but she wasn't sure if that came from her body simply becoming used to a higher activity level or if she simply hadn't noticed before. While so far she hadn't made much progress, she enjoyed tapping a physical side to herself her designers had set up but never really paid attention to afterward. Eleni also seemed to enjoy the chance to be in charge again, guiding her through the exercise program.

Almost as if those thoughts had brought her, Eleni appeared in the doorway and gave the jamb a knock from her seated position. Snow stretched, and blinked her eyes at the human who never seemed to leave that odd, wheeled chair.

"Hi… just wanted to see if you wanted anything from the replicator while you were reading," Eleni began, then took in the darkened surface of the padd on the bed. "Finished?" Selene glanced at it, then back to her roommate.

"Yeah, just a few minutes ago actually. I think I want to find the other books in the series." Eleni hrmmed noncommittally, then settled her hands on her lap.

"Liked it then?" Selene nodded.

"I did, a lot. That kind of surprised me since there are some really sad parts, which I don't usually like. Chandra said she thought I'd find it interesting, and I guess she was right." The mention of Chandra piqued interest, and some suspicion, from Eleni.

"What's she got you reading?" she asked, brow furrowing just a little. Selene picked up the padd and displayed it.

"Degrees, by Jori Walters."

What did that Betazoid mean giving her that book? Gods, Chandra, if you've been stirring up trouble again… While Eleni hadn't had a lot of time to read, given her profession, she wasn't entirely ignorant of popular literature. Degrees had quickly become a lesbian classic after it was published, though it did have a sizeable number of readers outside that demographic. Either Selene was more innocent than Eleni had even considered and hadn't understood the book, or Eleni's image of the nurse as an extraordinarily intelligent young teenager was going to need to be reevaluated. She wasn't sure she liked that idea.

"I didn't know you read much for fun," Eleni commented. That was safe, and Selene was likely to keep talking on her own. As expected, she did.

"I don't usually. I've had the time to here, and just really got into this book, so…" Selene shrugged. "It's kind of nice to give my imagination a workout." She slid off the bed, retrieving Snow in the process. Much like a person watching an accident, Eleni could only observe as her mouth acted independently of her brain or any instinct for self-preservation.

"Anything in particular catch your attention?"

"Hm… mostly the relationship between April and Anlee. The writer just made it so sweet, and so… real, I guess. Is something going on? We don't usually just chat like this." Selene had no idea why her choice of reading material would provoke such curiosity. She would be very happy if this was an attempt on Eleni's part to deepen their friendship, but some part of how Eleni had asked felt controlling. That wouldn't do.

"I'm fine - just seemed like since you were just reading it might be a good topic for conversation." Eleni's voice was a little quieter this time.

"It was. I guess it just kind of caught me off guard for some reason. So, what about you? What kinds of things do you read when you get the chance?" She had a gently interested expression on her face that was difficult to resist.

"I haven't had time to really sit down and read for entertainment for years. Not sure what would interest me now," Eleni said honestly. Selene bobbed her blonde head in response. Aian had told her the kinds of hours Eleni had been accustomed to before, and she'd been astonished. She had also wondered if that was why Eleni always seemed one move ahead of everyone else.

"Aian did tell me once you worked really long hours. I was talking to her yesterday, Eleni, and she said it hasn't been the same in sickbay since you left."

"Probably a lot less yelling." Eleni gave a self-deprecating laugh.

"She did say it was quieter, but it just felt odd. Like going through a house that had been kept up but hadn't really been lived in for a while, in her words."



"Can you get this kitten off my lap?"

Selene made a particular effort to concentrate as she lifted a dripping Eleni out of the tub and into the wheelchair, where a towel waited. She'd gotten over blushing during this daily ritual fairly quickly, but keeping her eyes to herself had gotten harder, if anything. Eleni was just… distracting. Especially as six unobstructed feet of muscle and curves. Selene was self-aware enough to realize that feeling was new - as part of the medical staff, she'd dealt with partly nude patients on occasion without this - but she didn't want to label it before she really had it figured out.

Eleni began briskly drying herself off with the towel, once she'd been safely deposited in the chair. Selene glanced down at the floor, to keep her eyes from wandering, to find that Eleni's feet were still in visual range. One was smooth, though there was muscle under even it, while on the top the other had a pattern of shiny, mangled flesh in the shape of a circle, with a cross coming off it. The same brand she'd seen during the fever.

After the moment of shock, she concluded that she must've seen the mark earlier but not noticed it consciously. Her subconscious hadn't missed it though, and the image had been brought up in her hallucination. It was a very tidy explanation and one that worked, though it did little to settle her nerves.

"Selene?" Eleni had glanced up, and had a brow raised in question.

"Oh… sorry." Selene gave her head a shake, then looked back at Eleni.

"You alright?" The other brow had gone up, as well.

"Yes, fine. I… well, the brand on your foot just kind of threw me. It was in that - whatever - while I was sick, and I hadn't noticed it before." Great… why do I always get these bouts of being incoherent at the worst times? Eleni glanced down at her own foot, and the brutal evidence of how she'd grown up.

"The Skera branded human kids at two years old, so when people died they could just take the feet to count, and destroy the bodies." Selene had no idea of Eleni's beliefs around death, but she knew that in many cultures the body was to be preserved, or at least kept intact until natural processes took it. In such a belief system, purposefully destroying the body was typically considered a horrible desecration.

"That's awful, Eleni…" Selene murmured. Eleni's blue eyes flicked back up to her.

"Yeah, I guess it's pretty ugly," the doctor agreed.

"No, I meant what the Skera did. You're beautiful. To treat people that way… then, if your people believed that the body needed to stay intact… to just run roughshod over that… it's awful." Eleni caught the series of glances to her, then away to other things. She considered the possibility that Selene was just upset, and decided it didn't fit. When she was upset, Selene usually looked right at her to demand further explanation or down if it was something personal. Interesting… Eleni wrapped the standard-issue towel around herself, tucking the top over slightly to keep it in place.

"Well, we weren't fighting them just to be contrary, Selene." Not at first, anyway.

"I know. Well… I'd best go see about dinner. Does a stew sound good? Some beef-flavored protein, potatoes, carrots… that one sauce?" Selene heard herself ramble.

"Oh, fine…" Selene made a swift exit from the bathroom after that, leaving Eleni to finish drying off and get dressed. She shrugged slightly as she wheeled over to the counter, picking up a wide toothed comb and beginning to work it through her wet hair to get rid of any tangles. Idly, her mind replayed the conversation with a particular attention to Selene's reactions. The younger woman had seemed off balance almost from the beginning, and then there were the odd eye movements… She blinked. You're beautiful… As far as she could remember, and her mind wasn't going yet, she hadn't heard Selene evaluate a person's appearance before. The nurse would give a description, but carefully avoided expressing any kind of judgment.

Eleni frowned slightly at her reflection in the mirror. She was certainly nothing special, next to the people the Federation produced. From childhood, they'd had wounds regenerated to avoid scars, and wore sunblock to keep their skin from being preyed on by the sun. Even teenage acne was almost nonexistent. It was obvious she'd never had those luxuries. She rolled her eyes at herself, which blurred the image considerably, and finished combing out her hair.

Selene realized she'd been daydreaming when she finally noticed the rather insistent beeping coming from her desk. It was hard to resist grumbling a little, but she had it under control by the time she'd gotten the screen up and seen it was an incoming commlink. The screen, under the Federation logo, listed the caller as Captain Walker. She wasn't sure it was a good thing. Calling Eleni to check up on her, or just keep her informed about things on the Destiny, would be understandable. Calling her, however, felt suspicious. If he was trying to get the 'real story' on how Eleni was doing through her, Selene decided, he'd just have to be disappointed. Eleni deserved to decide how much was told and what was to stay quiet.

That question settled, she initiated the commlink. Captain Walker was calling from his ready room, she surmised, given the model of the Destiny she knew resided there visible in the background. The second model, she reminded herself. Eleni had broken the first earlier in the year over losing a patient, and sheepishly explained had happened when Selene had asked why there was a replacement sitting in her office waiting to be given to the captain.


"Selene." He settled back in his chair, not looking particularly comfortable. After glancing over her a moment, he drew in a breath and began. "So, how is Earth?"

"It's been interesting - I've noticed some things I haven't before," she said neutrally.

"I'm sure… I grew up there, and every time I'm back there's something new," he agreed, weaving his fingers together.

"Captain, I appreciate the purpose of small talk but if you called because there's some issue going on, I'd rather hear what it is now." He found himself only mildly surprised at this new assertiveness. Two months in close quarters with Eleni Sirtis would demand either giving in or becoming strong enough to balance her personality, and there had been hints of duranium in Selene from the beginning. She would choose the latter, and it made his timing all the more inconvenient.

"Well, you're certainly getting more direct… not a bad thing. We recently had an unexpected first contact with a race in the Beta Quadrant that call themselves the Children of the Heart, or at least that's the closest translation we can get. They're telepaths, and use that form of communication almost exclusively. No verbal language, and what is written is really an exceptionally complex symbol system we're still decoding. As you can tell, this makes communication between them and us extremely difficult." Selene nodded, acknowledging that there were, perhaps, only 5 crew members who could interact with this people properly.

"So, where do Eleni or I come in?"

"What it comes down to is that we need all the people with telepathic abilities we can get, to 'translate'. They are interested in a cultural exchange and working out an alliance of some kind with the Federation, and we want to see there are as few misunderstandings as possible. The best way to do that is to communicate on their level."

"You want me back on the Destiny." It was a blunt statement, one Selene did not like. Brian felt somewhat like he deserved a sharp smack on the back of the head, and he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't get one at this point. Still, he knew his duty - her abilities were needed on this assignment, and officially she was still under his command.

"Yes, until the negotiations are completed or we develop a satisfactory way of communicating with them without telepathy. We've arranged for your transport in 3 days. I'll send the details." She saw a large hand reach forward, and make several taps at the workstation. A few seconds later, the information packet showed up on Selene's screen. She used her last argument.

"And has someone been arranged to be here? Eleni still needs assistance with certain things." Brian, being an intelligent person, had thought of this.

"And, she'll have it. Either from Starfleet Medical, or a home health care service - her choice. I'll be talking to her soon, as well."

Argh! This is absolutely perfect Selene thought resentfully. She'd set up a life here - made friends, raised the kittens, and started to understand herself better. While she'd known when they'd arrived that this wasn't a permanent arrangement, she was suddenly very loath to leave it. Stubbornly, she kept wracking her brain for some other argument to use, but none she would use came to mind.

The fact that the people deserved to be able to communicate properly was also inescapable. She was quite qualified to help, and her only real objection was rather selfish. "It's not about us… it's about what's right for the people we come in contact with." They were Eleni's words, but they'd stuck with Selene, cementing the fact that she needed to go.

"Alright… I'll be there in three days."

As she left the shuttle, Selene hoped there would be less than 3 people waiting to greet her. Her mood had grown progressively worse over the solitary trip, and she didn't want to take it out on anyone. A few pleasantries, then she'd take her bags to her quarters, release Oak from the carrier, and have a mug of hot chocolate before heading to bed. Yes… that sounded like a plan.

The nurse was glad to see her small wish had been granted. Only Dr. Aebi, uniformed as ever, and Aian were waiting. The Risan wore her version of off-duty clothing, which might have been shorts and a crop top if they grew a bit. She also wore a look of unaffected delight at seeing her coworker again that raised Selene's spirits enough, at least, for her to manage a bit of a smile back. A very brief frown answered, and Aian stepped forward to hug her.

"Welcome back, sweetpea." She studied Selene briefly. "You doing alright?"

"Yes… I guess I'm just missing Earth. It'll pass in a couple of days," she rallied, then held up the carrier. "My new roomate." Oak introduced herself by means of a mew, and poking her nose at the grate in her most adorable manner. Aian giggled.

"Look at that little thing… how cute! It's a Terran kitten, right?" Aebi had quietly taken up a position behind the nurse, and peered at the little creature.

"Yes… her name's Oak, and as best we can tell she's about 2 months old," Selene said, a touch of pride in her voice. Aebi's lips quirked into a bit of a grin, picking up that that pride had a definite maternal bent.

"Sounds like she'll be a good little companion to have, while you're here."

"I think so…" she hugged him, as best she could given how occupied her hands were. "It's good to see you again." He returned the gesture. Selene, despite her little eccentricities, reminded him of his own daughter in her gentle good nature and a certain stubbornness that was best worked with, rather than fought.

"It's good to have you back... You've got more of a tan than when I saw you last," he observed. Selene gave him the same tight smile she had Aian.

"Yes, well, sometimes I got Eleni out a bit... just wander around the city a bit. I didn't always remember sunblock." Aian stepped closer to them, blinking.

"You got Ms. No-I'll-Just-Stick-Around-The-Ship-In-Case-Something-Comes-Up to just wander around a city? Next thing you know I'll be mistaken for a Vulcan."

"Heaven forbid..." Selene teased, a slight smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

"Still, that's quite a accomplishment. I've never known her to do that at all," Aian protested.

"Aian, she's not that difficult to deal with... usually."

"You've always kind of been a special case with her. Anyways, I'm sure the captain will want to see you tomorrow and get you all brought up to speed and everything, but tonight we celebrate. It'll be just the thing to get that smile of yours back where it belongs," Aian said decidedly.

"Maybe some other time... I appreciate the offer, but right now I really just feel like getting settled in here and getting some sleep."

"Then, that's just what you'll do," Aebi said, cutting off an attempt by Aian to convince Selene otherwise. The nurse gave him a look, but kept quiet. She'd have enough time to work, later.

"Thanks..." The trio headed for the door, and all turned to the right after Aian said she was going to stop by another friend's who happened to live in the same section as Selene...

The morning's session had gone well, Selene thought. The rest of her team seemed as intrigued by the Children of the Heart as she was. While, like the Betazoids, they had developed a high tolerance for the opinions of others, they also had an exuberance for the physical that Betazoid culture de-emphasized. Selene had also discovered rather quickly that they were a huggy people - she'd been hugged by almost everyone when introduced. While she hadn't liked to admit it, it had soothed nerves still a bit frayed from having to leave Earth. When the idea began to circulate that it might be time to take a bit of a break, Selene agreed. She'd enjoyed her role as translator, but found it surprisingly draining.

The Children of the Heart's delegation consisted of the Ambassador, her aide, and three experts to advise her. The Ambassador, her aide, and one of the experts were all women. While she'd initially considered that this might indicate a society where women were given more power, she'd tossed it out as invalid almost immediately. The opinions of all the experts were given equal weight, and she detected no condescension from the women. The Ambassador's aide, named Sun, was young and had the most delicate features Selene had ever seen on a humanoid.

As the group began to stand, Selene stretching slightly to combat the stiffness that had developed, Sun glanced her direction. Selene 'heard' her voice a moment later.

~Would you like to see the market area? We could get something to eat and you'd get to learn a bit more about us.~ Selene considered, briefly.

~That sounds good - but, let me ask the Captain.~ She turned to him, knowing he'd stated earlier that he planned to return to the ship when they had a break. He was currently making a note on a PADD. "Captain, I've been invited to see the market... would that be a problem?" He shook his head.

"No, go on ahead. But be sure you have your commbadge."

"Thank you , sir." She nodded to him, then to Sun, who grinned back. The two women left the room, and then the government building.

During the negotiations small talk had been somewhat lacking due to the more businesslike atmosphere, so it became the first subject of their conversation. While either one could have simply searched out the information, but such pawing through another's mind would be rude in the extreme or even criminal. Casual scanning of basic emotional state was almost unavoidable, however.

~So, why weren't you with the ship when it arrived?~ Sun asked, with the bluntness typical of a lifelong member of a telepathic society. Selene let out a breath.

~I was with my best friend, who has a spinal chord injury and needed some help taking care of herself. But, I got called to help with this and she has another nurse to help her while I'm gone.~ Sun nodded.

~I can tell how difficult being away from her is for you.~

~I was needed here...~ Selene started to formulate an explanation for the rest of her reason for wanting to be back on Earth, but Sun cut her off.

~You're right, she's not the only thing you miss, but she is the most important to you.~ she 'said', gently. By this point, they had reached the edge of the market. It was large even by Federation standards, and colored in bright, cheerful shades and had vendors lining it. Transport traffic was forbidden, and unlike San Francisco there was very little noise. People nodded at each other, changed facial expressions and body language in response to something 'said', without Selene hearing a word aloud.

~Well, she is my best friend.~ Selene smiled. Sun had been careful to keep her intrusion to a minimum, but she was still able to pick up on a note of emotion that didn't seem to fit with 'best friends'. The caring she sensed from Selene did, as well as her willingness to expend the effort needed to care for someone with such an injury and to leave a good position on a starship, even temporarily. What didn't was the almost giddy feeling that was mixed in, just at the thought of this woman, and the unacknowledged deeper attraction. Sun was not above a bit of meddling... of course, she termed it giving people a nudge in the right direction.

~Ah... not more, then?~ the aide asked innocently. Selene blinked up at her as they began to wander through the aisles of booths.

~You mean a romantic relationship?~

~Yes.~ Selene found herself flustered, a sensation she really didn't like.

~No, we're just friends. I'm happy with that.~

~You seem a bit uncomfortable talking about this.~ It took Selene a moment to formulate a response.

~I'm not sure why.~ Sensing Selene had been pushed as far as was wise, Sun decided to change the subject. She was aided by the appearance of a booth that was nearly a universal favorite.

~Ooh, a food bowl stand. You have to try one.~ Sun stated, taking Selene's arm and leading her over. She got a half-size sample from the proprietor for Selene, and a full one for herself with nuts and noodles. Selene was anxious to try the dish, but there was procedure to follow. She dug out her tricorder and scanned the food, with an explanation.

~Standard procedure... I know your people wouldn't intentionally poison me, but since our physiologies are different it's wise to be cautious.~ Looking over the results, and finding nothing harmful, Selene grinned and started in on the sample with an appreciative nod to both the proprietor and her guide. While not fancy, it was certainly good and would make a satisfying meal. It had its share of nutrients and energy, and more.

~Glad you enjoyed it...~ Sun teased, eying the empty bowl a minute later. Selene gave her a sheepish smile.

~What can I say, I enjoy good food.~

~I knew there was a reason we were going to get along well...~ Sun said, with a mental laugh. ~Just stick with me, and before the afternoon you'll know more about the way we cook than the average one of us!~

They continued on, Selene studying the wares. There were many food booths; those who sold cooked varieties often gave off wonderful smells. Wonderful, but distinctly unusual. Just like the styling she saw on the furniture, and the delicate curved symbols that were their closest thing to writing. At any other time, she would've been thrilled by the chance to immerse herself in a new culture, particularly one that had such a vibrancy to it, and such friendly people. But all she felt was a growing listlessness she hoped wouldn't interfere with her ability to do her job here.

Selene headed for sickbay as soon as she returned to the Destiny to see Aian, who'd wanted to hear how the day had gone. Her feet, programmed after a year following the same route, automatically took her through the corridors to the set of doors with the caduceus. She was almost surprised to find herself there, and gave her head a brief shake before entering.

Sickbay, too, was much as she remembered it. The CMO office door still bore Eleni's name, mute testimony to the fact that her staff had not given up hope that she'd return. Good. Selene made a mental note to inform Eleni of that, and turned as Aian came up behind her.

"You always do that..." the tiny Risan complained, with a grin. She kept trying to sneak up on the blonde nurse, but Selene's mental abilities had always kept her one step ahead.

"I'm a telepath... we're just hard to sneak up on."

"I know... just can't keep from trying though. So, how'd it go? Are there a lot of good looking natives?" Aian asked, wagging her brows. Selene gave a laugh at Aian's priorities, and answered,

"The negotiations went fine... the people are easy to work with, at least so far. As for good looking, how am I supposed to answer that when I don't even know what you like?"

"Oh, come on... I know you've got an opinion of your own on that somewhere, Sweetpea," Aian teased. Selene rolled her eyes, and gave her friend a tolerant smile.

"What is it today? Earlier, the Ambassador's aide was tweaking me a bit about romance, and I get back here and you start in trying to get my sense of aesthetics."

"I'm not talking aesthetics - I'm asking you who you find hot!" Aian laughed, obviously enjoying herself at Selene's expense.

"'Hot'? Oh, gods, I don't even want to know..." Selene mumbled.

"Sure you do. Just been around Eleni too much. Don't get me wrong, we all love her dearly, but the woman wouldn't know how to just have a good time if it jumped up and bit her on the..."


"Sorry," the Risan said sweetly, not sounding at all repentant. With her smirk and dancing dark eyes, she resembled a mischievous elf. Selene knew that was the best she would get, and just moved on.

"So, have things been pretty quiet here?" she asked, leaning slightly on a biobed.

"Yeah... there have been people in, but not for anything big. A sprain, or a cold. That kind of thing."

"That's good... I like that we help people, but it'd be even better if we just weren't needed at all," Selene confessed.

"True... but you'd be a long time trying to find a place like that," Aian said reasonably, beginning to inventory a tray of hypospray canisters.

"Also true. Want some help with that?" Selene asked, peering over curiously.

"No, no..." Aian waved her off. "It's easier if I just keep track in my own mind. Besides, I'm not through with pumping you for information yet. You mentioned an Ambassador's aide..."

"It was just because I spent a bit more time with her than the rest of them. We took a walk in the market area during a break. She told me a lot about its history... apparently it was one of the first major import centers."

"Back up. What's she like?" Aian asked, glancing up briefly. It took a moment for Selene to come up with proper descriptors.

"I'd say she's upbeat, like most of them... friendly, and pretty curious. She enjoys her work - her fathers are in politics too, so she kind of grew up with it."

"Ah. So... had fun then?"

"It was alright."

"That doesn't sound like you Selene. Things are going well, the people are nice... and you can't dredge up more enthusiasm than that? I remember the first time you got away team duty." Aian had stowed the tray again, and met Selene's eyes, expression unusually serious.

"I know... And I am glad things are going well and the people are nice. But it's like that just kind of stays on the surface and I can't get really excited about it."

"Any idea why?"

"I think... I'm just kind of divided. I know I need to be here, but... I'd really rather be back on Earth. I miss Eleni, and doing things like figuring out what foods she likes to get her to eat a bit more... and the way she pretends to be annoyed at the kittens, when actually she's just loving it." Selene couldn't resist letting her lips curve into a smile, remembering the adorable mock scowl Eleni usually gave.

Ah, there's that spark you've been missing, cutie... Aian thought, regarding her friend. She knew now why the tantalizingly mentioned aide had 'tweaked' the young nurse, to use Selene's unique terminology. It was unmistakable, even if she as a Risan threw her mental hands up in the air at attempting to understand it.

"I bet that's pretty cute... yeah, kind of that verrry slight grin on one side of the mouth?"

Selene nodded.

"Right. She has no clue she's doing it, too." A laugh.

"Selene, you don't have to take my advice, but it might be wise to. It's pretty obvious that feeling you have of being divided has a certain doctor right at the center of it. Why don't you go make use of the comm system and talk to her. A bit of connection might be just the thing to tide you over."

Selene sighed. She was having a hard enough time maintaining her conviction that she ought to remain on the Destiny without seeing Eleni. A conversation would make that worse, if not impossible. The idea had a strong draw though, and reluctantly she conceded defeat.

Eleni gritted her teeth and concentrated on getting her left leg to move forward. She was wise to have preserved her upper body strength, as most of her weight was on her arms which gripped a pair of parallel bars. Most medical equipment had changed in the last 400 years, but this particular rehabilitative device hadn't. She wasn't sure whether to be reassured by that or not. The motor assist bands allowed her to move, but her legs felt heavy and stupid. Almost 40 is too damn old to be relearning how to walk she groused.

She managed to slide her left foot a few inches, and brought the rest of her body up with her arms. Alright... get the weight off the right leg and bring it forward she commanded herself. Several moments later it was moving, albeit slowly.

"You're doing great..." the physical therapist commented, more for the noise than anything.

Eleni fought the urge to roll her eyes, and worked on continuing the exercise. Though she refused to get her hopes up so early, the simple fact of returning to her usual vantage point felt better than she cared to admit. The one wish she did have was that Selene was here to see it, after all the time the nurse had put into helping her recovery. But, no, Selene was needed where she was and probably having a much better time there anyway.

Selene was young, she knew, and with that came a urge for new experiences. She suspected that drive was even stronger than usual because of how carefully caged it must have been during Selene's childhood. That thought was another piece of evidence in the case that Selene was better off on the Destiny. Somehow, she didn't want to believe it.

It took a moment to recognize the insistent beeping causing the cats to shoot annoyed looks at any object that might be its source. She wheeled herself over to the workstation, needing the bars to walk, and pressed a key to answer the comm. Selene's pathetically welcome face was displayed a moment later. The nurse appeared healthy, but despite the honest smile on her face somehow off balance.

"Hi..." Selene started.

"I didn't expect to hear from you... how's the mission going?" Eleni asked, barely keeping herself from commenting on just how good it was to see her friend again.

"Alright. The negotiations and everything are going well. Hopefully it won't be too much longer." Selene glanced down, then leaned forward a bit. When she straightened back up, Oak was visible cuddled in her arms. "Oak's been keeping me company. I think the engines have her confused though," she joked lightly.

"She looks bigger," Eleni observed.

"Yeah... I'm sure I'll be amazed by how the other babies have grown when I get back." Selene gently scratched the kitten in her arms behind the ears, getting a very vocal purr in response.

"Probably. So... any specific reason for calling?" Selene shook her head.

"Not really. I guess I've just been missing you." She gave a slight smile, eyes directly on Eleni to gauge her reaction. Eleni's mind stalled a moment before coming up with a response.

"It hasn't been quite the same here without you. So... has Aebi taken over my office yet?" Eleni asked, steering the conversation back away from dangerous waters.

"Nope, it's barely even used," Selene answered with a touch of triumph. "Your name plate is still up on the door and everything. The crew has a lot of faith that you'll be back."

Selene's optimism, which Eleni wasn't entirely sure was warranted, nonetheless provided a slight boost to what had been a pretty bleak mood.

"Guess we'll see how it goes," Eleni commented mildly. "While we're talking... I'd like to ask you to do me a favor. There's something in storage on the Destiny I've been meaning to give to one of my old lieutenants." Selene blinked, more surprised than anything.

"Oh... what is it?"

"It's my sword, from Tr'a'vi." Something in Eleni had rebelled at testing Selene this way, but her head told her it was necessary. She knew Selene wouldn't want to do this, for two major reasons. While Selene accepted her past, to a point, the violence of it was contrary to the nurse's very nature. A tangible reminder of that would not be well received. T'ae was also not the easiest person to deal with, having retained much of the attitude that had served her well on Tr'a'vi.

"Why are you deciding to give it to this person now?" Selene asked finally.

"Just seems like time, I guess... her name's T'ae Celano and she's currently living on Betazed."

"Okay... so, what exactly is it you want me to do?"

"I want you to get the sword, pack it up, and ship it off. There's a supply shuttle that should meet up with the Destiny in a couple of days. I know the dispatcher, and the pilot's agreed to pick up the sword. Gives him an excuse to make a trip home," Eleni explained.

"Alright... it'll be ready to go then." While she was unable to use telepathy, at this range, to confirm her hunch, there definitely seemed to be more to this than simply the transfer of a relic of Night's reign. Still, that concern wasn't enough to override her trust in Eleni's judgement.

Eleni nodded, Selene having successfully completed the first stage of Eleni's test. She felt surer than ever that this little blonde would pass all of them. Rare thing, that.

"Thanks Sel." The younger woman smiled at the use of her seldom-employed nickname.

"It'll be fine." The conversation drifted from there to other subjects, including the recent change in Eleni's therapy. While sympathetic to Eleni's reasons for not liking it, Selene thought it could do her friend a lot of good. She'd need less assistance, and more importantly be able to be physically active again - a factor Selene was convinced would be central to her recovery. They'd lingered over the good-byes, neither woman in a hurry to end the call. In the end, it had been Eleni who cut the comm signal first.

Later, as she was giving Oak one last cuddle before bed, Selene realized that as much as she had hated the reminder of the distance between them seeing Eleni again had also been soothing. The mix of feelings was hard to understand, but she figured that didn't make them any less true. She felt better than she had since arriving back on the Destiny. Better hold on to this feeling... I really don't think I want to lose it she told herself. That thought made her smile, and give Oak an extra ear scratch before setting her down and crawling into bed.

After returning from the next day's talks, Selene decided it was time to retrieve the sword. The supply shuttle could arrive as early as tomorrow, and she wanted to be ready. Working her way through the corridors, however, took longer than expected. Beta shift had just ended, and Gamma was beginning, filling the corridors with crewmembers trying to either return to their quarters or make their way to duty stations. In addition to that delay, she knew several of the people she passed and usually had to take a few moments at least to catch up.

When she finally made it to the storage bay, she had several bits of news; most of it was positive. That had her in a gently good mood, and she gave the ensign at the console a smile before stating her business.

"Hi... I'm supposed to get an item out of storage for Dr. Sirtis."

"Oh - right, the message said she was sending you," he babbled, slightly. "Just need to confirm your identity with a thumbprint scan..." He handed over a padd, and Selene pressed her thumb onto the indicated area. A moment later, the screen read 'IDENTITY CONFIRMED', and she handed it back over.

"All right, then... ah, if you'll just follow me..." He entered a code to enter the storage bay, and Selene trailed after. Shipping containers of various descriptions and shapes, all carefully marked, filled most of the space. She knew the contents ranged from samples and chemicals for the science labs to personal items like the sword.

Her guide stopped in front of a set of shelves, clearing his throat before he spoke again.

"Here we are... if you need any help I'll be back at the front console." Selene nodded.

"Thank you..." He hesitated several moments, then turned and left. Selene turned her attention back to the area he'd indicated, and quickly found a storage container that was marked with Eleni's name and the contents as 'sword - modern'. It was about 23 cm wide by over a meter long, and when she moved it she was surprised at the weight.

"Whoa... no wonder Eleni has those muscles if she was using this thing," Selene said aloud. Curiously, she set it down on the deck and undid the two latches holding the container closed. When she opened it, she took a long look at the sword. It was medium length, as far as she knew, and the metal had an odd icelike quality that almost made it look as though it had been forged of a slightly more opaque version of water. The simplicity of the design, down to the leather wrapped hilt, didn't detract from its overall elegance. Selene reached in, and picked it up by the hilt. The weight required her to use both hands at first to hold it, but after a minute her muscles adjusted and she was able to free one hand.

The idea struck her to test if the blade had been kept sharp, and she gently pressed her thumb against the edge. She didn't feel anything, but when she pulled it away she noticed a thin red slice across it. This was no display item, she realized. The edge was as honed as it was so it would be easier to use to kill. To take the life of another sentient being.

As she gave the injured thumb a suck, Selene let her mind mull over the situation. She still knew that Eleni would never harm her. That was beyond question. While she'd known Eleni could be violent, she'd intellectualized it almost to the point of ignoring it. This was different, no longer letting her get away with that. Perhaps, she realized, that was what Eleni had intended all along. It would certainly be in line with Eleni's personality, and Eleni probably expected her to be put off by this experience. She put the sword back in its container, but didn't close the lid of it right away.

There were many questions and thoughts and other assorted ramblings that rolled through her mind. Violence had been unknown in her upbringing. The researchers wouldn't harm such precious property, and among the children the empathy they'd been given would have made the one doing the hitting feel far worse than the one who'd received the blow. Not that she could remember that ever happening, really... There had been occasions where they'd 'yelled' at one another, but the most physical act she could remember was Per angrily grabbing a pillow before sulking on the couch. Eleni, on the other hand, had experienced violence as a small child. Her back was proof of that. It wasn't such a surprise that as Eleni had gotten older she'd made use of it.

This was certainly too complex an issue to puzzle out sitting in the storage bay for several minutes. Okay, then... it was time to get to the essentials. Did she still want to continue having a relationship with Eleni? The answer to that was a very definite yes. Would she ship the sword to T'ae Celano, as asked? Yes. She nodded to herself, then reached over and shut the lid of the container. The latches automatically snapped back into place, with a metallic click.

Selene smiled, as she folded her hands on the table in front of her. The trade agreement that had taken just over a week of hard work was finally perfected. There had been only a few disputes, and those minor, but the sheer volume of details required on things like import restrictions and distribution plans was daunting. To her, it was one more obstacle keeping her from home; one that was about to end.

"Captain, the final draft of the agreement has been reviewed, and they'll accept it," she announced, trying to keep her voice calmly professional. A grin found its way to Captain Walker's face.

"Excellent... let's get this finished up and then I think we all deserve a day off." The Federation delegates gave a collective chuckle of agreement, and a moment later when the Children of the Heart heard the comment through Selene they did too.

~You can tell your Captain that idea is accepted as well~ 'said' the Ambassador good-naturedly. Selene gave her a warm look, finding it somehow nice to know that even a professional diplomat had found this aspect of the negotiations tedious too.

"A day off sounds good to them, too," Selene smirked.

The actual signing only took a few minutes. Each of the delegates, starting with the two senior ones, took the quill-like writing implement in turn and signed his or her name to the old-fashioned paper document. Selene had only seen such things once or twice before, making the slight scratch of the 'quill' as she moved it on the paper feel almost exotic. It occurred to her that it might be fun to obtain something similar of her own, and she made a mental note to look for one next time she was at a market or looking through the replicator patterns.

Various pleasantries and congratulations were exchanged, through Selene, to end the day. The general mood now was upbeat, with just a bit of weariness due to the long days they'd been working. She guessed most of the group would return to their residences, and do something to quietly celebrate the day's accomplishment. The thought left a quiet smile on her face, and that was the state Sun found her in when she wandered over.

~You look like you're in a good mood...~ the aide began. Selene nodded, smoothing the fitted tunic she wore with her hands.

~This is going to be a good arrangement for both sides.~

~Quite true... I bet you're anxious to get back to Earth, once this is over.~ Selene glanced down at the rug, that was no doubt over 300 years old and a priceless piece of history, and then back up before actually meeting Sun's eyes.

~I am... don't get me wrong, it's felt good to be able to help here. But it's not where I need to be.~ It was, essentially, the same statement she'd made that day in the market. Now, though, the time elapsed and Selene's acceptance of the fact that it was primarily Eleni she missed had made it considerably stronger and less petulant. Sun settled a hand on her shoulder, before responding.

~There's nothing wrong with that, little sister. Anyway... part of the reason I came over was to talk about the formal reading. We have a custom here that any piece of legislation that's been passed must be read to the people before being formally entered into the legal code. It takes place at the center of the city, from the balcony of the Ancestor's Court.~ Selene nodded, intrigued by the information but not seeing its relevance just yet. After a beat, Sun continued. ~It's also customary that it be read by two people - one from each side. We'd like to ask you to represent the Federation in this, since you can speak with your mind like us as well as your people's noisy way.~

It took Selene's mind a moment to run through the possible ramifications and issues involved before she 'said', surprised, ~I'll have to check it over with the captain, but if he gives it his approval, sure... I'm honored.~

Sun smiled. ~Great. I'm sure you won't regret this.~


Part 3

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