Disclaimer: Series concepts and the character of Liam belong to Tribune and Roddenberry-Kirshner, among others. Marianne, Alex, Ra'das, Mish, Sa'ana, Be'ant, and anyone else not belonging to me belongs to them.

Rating: R, for a smattering of sexual content (nothing explicit, really, but....) and a some adult issues.

Notes: As some of you know, this story was originally titled "Through The Valley", which seems to be the next story in line. A small bit of it was actually outlined by Deb Cebulski. It is being released as originally written.

Because You Are With Me
by Estirose
c 1999

Alex shifted from foot to foot as he watched Marianne finish her packing. In less than a day, the two of them would be a very long way away, spending a few days up on the Kimera home ship. Alex was actually grateful for the opportunity, although two things made him nervous. One, although he now spoke (according to Marianne) fairly decent basic Kimera, he was afraid that very few or none of the full Kimera would understand him. Marianne could, but she'd been the one who had taught him most of the language.

Two, there was some matter as to his status there. Oh, yes, the Kimera were very welcoming to the human scholars who came; they wanted to set the record straight that the Taelons were so fond of distorting. But, unfortunately, Marianne had apologetically warned him, while he was a scholar, he was also going to be regarded as a mate. Family. No matter that they hadn't slept together yet, the Kimera expected that event to be imminent. Thus, his mate status.

But, as Marianne said, "Hopefully, it won't matter. Most of the time, anyway." The Kimera linguists and scholars that he talked to would treat him like any other human scholar, though he would have a slight edge with them because of his status there. Ra'das and Michelle might be a bit harder to deal with, since they'd be treating him as family.

Marianne gave a little, final tug on the zipper of one of her bags. She smiled. "Impatient to go?" she asked.

"A little," Alex replied sheepishly. Marianne hefted her bags up.

"Don't worry. You get the fun stuff; I get to spend the whole time removing my foot from my mouth," she said wryly.

* * *

Marianne watched Alex as he dozed in the chair next to her. It seemed he hadn't had enough sleep the night before, which betrayed his excitement. She grinned, knowing that Alex would get along fine. _A lot better than I will,_ she thought.

As she'd said to Alex, she'd be spending the whole visit repairing relations with her family. Poor Michelle, to be stuck with her for a mother! Marianne had a feeling that Michelle wouldn't be convinced that her mother loved her until Marianne moved permanently on-ship, which she had no plans to do. Ra'das - well, he'd understand better, she hoped. Her Kimera mate must be confused as heck, but she hoped she could straighten him out, now that she had a chance. Maybe someday she could work herself into staying aboard ship long enough to mate again and actually be a parent this time. The child would have to be just hers' and Ra'das', though. She couldn't drag Alex into it.

But it was too soon to be thinking about another child. Best to resolve Michelle's problems first before worrying about child number two. Also best to find out if Ra'das even was interested in continuing their relationship. He was mated to others, she knew. It probably wouldn't hurt him if she left permanently.

To her, it was different, of course. Kimera hybrids were 'programmed' to want children, held captive by a biological imperative to reproduce. She had suppressed that desire, of course, but it had come out in the open when she met Ra'das, as if something finally clicked inside her, letting it out in a rush. Being human, she had 'bonded' to him when the two of them had mated, leaving her uninterested in any other Kimera. Of course, that didn't prevent her from being interested in humans.

Gently smoothing back a stray lock of Alex's hair, she leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to get some sleep herself.

* * *

As the ship docked at the Kimera homeship, Alex couldn't help but feel a sense of awe. The only other ship he knew of, the Taelon mother ship, was graceful, probably far more so than this ship, but the Taelons weren't the Kimera. That was what was causing his feelings, he decided. Looking through what the Taelons had done, he couldn't help but extend sympathy to the Kimera, no matter if the original blunder was theirs.

He shook Marianne enough for her to wake up, and then got up to fetch his bag. Marianne followed him sleepily, trailing a little behind him in her semi-somnolent state. As he stepped off of the shuttle, he could see two beings waiting: a Kimera, and a young woman about his age with long dark hair and hazel eyes. Making sure Marianne was still following, he strode over. The young woman rushed past him to attach herself to Marianne, while the Kimera - Ra'das? - followed more slowly. He stopped, allowing Marianne to catch up with him.

The Kimera stopped about a foot away from him and Marianne. She put down her bags, still being clutched at by the young woman, and turned back to the Kimera. "Ra'das," she greeted him, her nervousness showing in her voice.

"Marianne," the Kimera greeted her back.

Speaking in English, she placed her free hand on Alex's shoulder. "This is Alex. Alex, Ra'das."

"Hi," Alex said. Ra'das made a graceful gesture.

"Hello. I hope to get to know you better."

Alex didn't miss the look that Marianne tossed at Ra'das before turning a little. "And this is our daughter, Michelle. Michelle, say hi to Alex."

The wide-eyed young woman - child - looked at him with wide eyes. "Hello, Alex," she said finally.

"Hello, Michelle," he said, holding his hand out and smiling. "It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you."

The child's eyes widened even further, and she released her mother to grasp his hand. She held it in a strange way, but Alex didn't have time to worry about that. He was plagued by a sudden sense of worry and fright as-

Her mother was gone away, and she had gone back to school as her mother had asked her. Now, her father approached her, distracted-feeling. "Michelle, have you seen your mother?"

She froze. Momma had said that Daddy couldn't come, but how could he not know? Wordlessly, she initiated a sharing with her father, wordlessly showing him momma's departure and, in turn, realizing that he didn't know that momma was leaving. As they both withdrew from the sharing, she grasped her father as tightly as she could, willing that he wasn't going to go away too.

Father led her away, reassuring her with his presence, but the presence filled by mother... was gone.

Alex staggered a bit as Michelle withdrew, overwhelmed by her fear. He caught Ra'das reproaching Michelle for initiating a sharing without permission, while Marianne steadied him, a wry smile on her face. "That was a 'sharing', in case you haven't guessed," she commented quietly. "It's a quite common method of transmitting stuff in a hurry, but you don't do it without permission. Mature Kimera know how to avoid overwhelming non-Kimera, too, so don't worry if you're asked to do so."

"It was certainly - interesting," Alex said, feeling the need to discuss things with Marianne privately.

"Come," Ra'das said. "I shall show you to your room here."

"Go on," she said to both of them. "I know where I live, and Michelle and I have a lot to discuss."

Taking one last look at Michele, who had resumed clinging to her mother, Alex followed the departing Kimera.

* * *

"Michelle, why don't you take one of my bags so that we're not standing here in the bay?" Marianne asked. "You can hold onto me and the bag at the same time."

Her daughter followed suit, though her gaze stayed on Marianne as if she was expecting her mother to disappear the second she looked away. Marianne found herself rubbing a tear away at the sight. She was right - Alex would have a better time than she would. It looked like she would be spending most of the trip in her daughter's presence. She'd have to see if Michelle could be excused from schooling for a few days while Marianne tried to erase the trauma that had occurred.

Having grabbed the bag, Michelle reassumed her grip on her mother's arm. Inwardly sighing, Marianne led her daughter out of the bay and towards the quarters she'd had last time she was aboard.

* * *

Alex found himself staring at the corridors of the ship as he followed Ra'das towards the area reserved for resident visitors. He was staring at them because they were quite beautiful, and it was better than watching Ra'das alternately watch him and greet other Kimera. For some reason, he found Ra'das' look disturbing, along with the fact that whenever he came up in conversation, Ra'das was always referring to him as a mate. Now, he had accepted that he would be regarded as Marianne's mate or almost-mate, since it seemed no worse than being called her boyfriend, but Ra'das wasn't referring to Alex as Marianne's mate, but as his own. Marianne hadn't said anything about that, and she was usually fastidious in explaining anything that might have to do with the Kimera perception of their relationship. Perhaps, maybe, she didn't know.

He made a note to ask her when they were both settled in and she had a moment. He had a suspicion that she wouldn't have many spare, if what Michelle had given him was any indication. Her fear of her mother's abandonment had made him wonder what kind of woman Marianne was. He had a feeling that he'd discover as much about Marianne as he would about Kimera-Taelon linguistic similarity, and the part about her he wouldn't like.

Ra'das stopped before a door and keyed it. "These will be your quarters," the Kimera told him, moving aside to let him enter the room. Alex looked at it, deciding that, based on what he'd seen, the quarters had been designed for humans. A large amount of the space was taken up by a rather large bed, but there was room to manoeuvre. In all, it resembled a motel room, or a studio apartment. Alex put his bag down by the bed, suddenly realizing that he'd been assigned quarters meant for someone staying much longer than he was going to be.

"Thank you," Alex said in Kimera, hoping that he'd actually said that right. Ra'das' 'look' changed.

"Marianne has been doing a good job."

"I was hoping I'd be intelligible," Alex replied. "After all, I'm the one who talked her into teaching me it."

"Marianne's grandparent Ha'gel was a teacher, and it seems that she has some interest and talent in that area," Ra'das commented. "You and I are truly blessed."

Somehow, Alex got the impression that Ra'das wasn't just talking about Marianne's teaching ability.

* * *

Marianne had made it to her room and immediately put her bags down to focus exclusively on her daughter. Michelle looked at her with wide, sad eyes, not once letting go of her she gently removed Michelle's hands in order to hold her child in her arms. "Oh, Michelle, I'm sorry," she said, rocking the child. "I've been such a rotten mother, and I don't blame you for being upset."

"Why did you leave?" the girl asked. "Why did you stay away? Did I hurt you?"

"Oh, *no*, Michelle," Marianne said, holding Michelle close. "It wasn't because of you that I left. I left because I was upset because I didn't understand myself. I knew you would be safe while I was gone, because you are Kimera, and because you have your father and your teacher and your classmates. I am just the one who brought you into the world - they are the important ones. I'm human. You and they are Kimera."

The girl turned, a puzzled look on her face. "But, Momma, you're Kimera too!"

"I'm Kimera here," Marianne said, pointing at her chest, then at her head, "but not here. I was raised very different from you, and the world that I was born into was not safe for me. You have had a chance to know what you are. I haven't. That's why I left. How can I help guide you if I don't know myself?"

Michelle blinked, apparently not understanding. "But didn't your teachers let you explore what you were?"

"Honey, the teachers weren't equipped to handle that. The American educational system was not designed with Kimera needs in mind."

The girl made a face. "Couldn't grandpa have told them?"

"It wasn't safe to ask," Marianne replied.

"Oh," Michelle replied. "Mom, you grew up weird."

She couldn't help but grin. "Yes, I did, didn't I?"

"So, if your teachers had let you explore yourself, you wouldn't have left?"

Marianne shook her head. "Honey, you can't blame them. They didn't know. Besides, it's important for some of us to grow up in native culture - just not the way I did. Sometimes bad things happen, and people suffer."

The girl wrapped her arms around Marianne, squashing her in a surprisingly hard grip. "Oh, momma, I had no idea! You're hurt, too!"

"Yes, I am. But I didn't mean to hurt you because of what happened to me. I wasn't permanently left - I just was confused."

"But you're unconfused *now*?" A hopeful look crossed Michelle's face.

"No honey, I'm not. I'm just as confused as ever."

* * *

After a while, Ra'das had left him to get settled in. It was as if the Kimera had not wanted to leave, but Alex had persuaded him that he had his duties and he'd already shown Alex how to use the communications system. Alex had watched Ra'das go with a sense of relief; he needed to talk to Marianne, urgently, before he talked with Ra'das again. It wouldn't do to accidentally break taboo on something he didn't know about.

Why Ra'das frightened him, he didn't know. He was probably making a mountain out of a molehill, seeing a threat where there wasn't one. Ra'das was no doubt being informal when he talked, and Alex wasn't an expert on the Kimera language.

And Marianne would be busy, no doubt. If half of what he felt was right, Marianne would be explaining things for quite some time. He hated to interrupt what she'd come here to do, but didn't have much of a choice. If he were to function, he had to figure out what was going on - and fast.

* * *

The chime of the internal communications system roused Marianne, where she'd fallen into a slight sleep, Michelle cuddled up next to her. Gently moving Michelle so that the girl would be comfortable, Marianne padded over and activated it. "Yes?"

"Marianne?" Alex asked. "Could I come over and... talk?"

"Sure," she replied. "Do you know where I am?"

"No," Alex replied, sounding a little lost.

"I'll show you how to get a map so you can find things. Where are you?" Alex told her the location he'd been given, and she keyed the computer system. "Okay, you're only about three 'blocks' away. Go out your door, turn left, go until you reach the corridor intersection, turn right into that corridor, turn left at the next intersection. I'm the third door on the right."

"Okay. I'll be right there."

As the comm went off, Marianne turned and moved some of her bags out of the way. Michelle was still asleep, amazingly enough. Less of a problem that way. Some things she was still too young to hear, but Marianne didn't want to leave her daughter to wake up alone. Later, when she understood, it would be time to leave.

Michelle's dependence on her mother's presence was no doubt considered very eccentric by the Kimera. Oh, Kimera were very proud of their children, to be sure, but the idea was for them to shape their own personalities, away from their parents. Michelle, on the other hand, demanded her parents be there. She's dad's kid, Marianne thought. All of dad's loneliness.

In a way, she had been lucky. She had her mother, and they were close. Her father's role in her life had been somewhat irregular, but his family's hadn't, and neither had her mother's family's. But her father had to grow up rapidly, with his Kimera parent dying shortly after his own conception, and his human mother's loss due to CVI burnout a few weeks after she herself had been conceived. She looked at her daughter. "We remember our ancestors' mistakes so we don't make them," she whispered. "But that must also mean that we sometimes pick up their burdens as well. Remembering is often a blessing, but, poor soul, it's a curse also."

Alex arrived shortly after that. "I guess I found the right place, huh?" he asked, with a slight smile.

"You did," Marianne responded with a smile of her own. "Welcome to my humble domain, and keep your voice down."

"'Chelle's with you, right."

"And for the moment, she has to stay. Still, there are some topics that she's not old enough to hear, and I don't know how deeply she sleeps."

"Great. Because we probably *will* be getting into topics she's too young to hear," Alex said, frowning, as he sat down. Marianne sat down at the foot of the bed, well away from where her daughter slept.

"Oh? What?" Marianne asked, anxious. It had been her idea to bring him up here, despite a worry that her half-siblings and Ra'das might take that as further admission that the two of them were destined to be mated.

"I can't explain it, exactly. It's something Ra'das kept saying, and I don't know if I'm misinterpreting the context. I don't even know if I could say it without embarrassing myself."

"Can you bring it to mind? If you can, and share with me, I think I could straighten things out."

"Would you?" Alex said, blushing. "It's making me distinctly uneasy."

"Yeah. Just bring it to mind. I'll need to examine your memory, but I should be able to tell if there's anything to be embarrassed about. If you suddenly don't want me in there, withdraw. I'll understand."

"Okay. What do I do?"

Marianne blinked. She'd never had to explain Sharing before, but there was a first time for everything. She raised her hand to about shoulder height. "Just put your hand up like this, and think about it. I'll be able to pick it up."

He put his hand up tentatively, and she put her palm against hers, her shaqarava helping to connect the two of them. Reaching into him, she relived the memory he was concerned about. As she ended the Sharing, she sighed. "You're not going to like this."

"Like what?" Alex asked.

"Ra'das is getting ahead of himself and telling people that you're something you're not."

"His mate."

"Got it in one," she replied, a half-smile on her face. "And, no, I don't know why. I'll ask him, if you want."

"If it's not too embarrassing or taboo, yes, thanks," Alex replied, gratefully.

"It's not. Just Ra'das making a fool of himself," she told him.

* * *

Marianne caught up with Ra'das the next day, after leaving Alex with El'mih, one of the linguists aboard ship. Catching ahold of his arm, she hauled him into an empty conference room. "*What* were you thinking? Alex isn't your mate. And you know that he isn't. So why are you calling him one?"

"Because as yours, he will be mine," Ra'das offered smoothly. "Alex and I will balance each other out in matings."

"Oh? And am I the mate of your other mates?" Marianne asked. "Because if, and I mean if I choose to mate with him, that doesn't mean he is automatically yours."

"You are not mated to the others, true," Ra'das replied. "But you and I and Alex will form a compatible mating trio. You wouldn't fit in with the others, but he and you and I do fit."

"You're scaring him," Marianne told him.

Ra'das inclined his head. "I do not mean to. Surely, he must realize...."

"Do you see me pregnant, Ra'das?" she asked.

"No," the Kimera replied, casting a troubled look at her stomach. "Why aren't you?"

"Because we haven't chosen to mate yet, Ra'das. I don't want to hurry him. And I'm certainly not going to take him to my bed unless he wants it."

"There are ways of making sure he wants it," Ra'das replied.

"If he wants it of his own free will," she told him. "He may be called my mate up here, but he and I haven't made the commitment. And I intend he knows what he's getting into. And if that includes you, I want him to know that."

The Kimera made a gesture. "If you wish. But, surely, you see how compatible you are? There is nothing to be gained by not mating. Please, for me, talk to him about me after he and El'mih are done. I worry about the two of you."

"I will," she promised, seeking at least some measure of peace with her Kimera mate.

* * *

It was evening before she could do so. She'd arranged dinner in his room, just so that she could bring the topic of Ra'das up. It was something that Alex would have to seriously consider, and she didn't want to rush him. She'd promised to spend time with Michelle tomorrow, but the girl wouldn't have any trouble accepting Alex, she didn't think. If the topic got too adult, well, they could talk about it later. Michelle must be her first priority this trip. She needed to start bandaging relations with her little girl, making Michelle understand that her mother's destiny lay on Earth, while she had the stars and her crewmates.

Ra'das stopped her as she was walking to Alex's room, and asked her if she wanted to go attend a talk. She consented, knowing that she should be spending time with him, too. He didn't seem to need as much attention, though she wondered if that was because he wanted her to pay attention to Alex. The Kimera touched her briefly, then was on his way.

Feeling far more nervous than she should be, she knocked on his door. She knew that it was just traditional to enter, but she was far too human-raised to consider doing that. He answered it, smiling. "I don't think I burned dinner...."

"Alex, cut it out. You're beginning to sound like my mom," she said good-naturedly.

He shrugged and let her in. "Too much time spent around her, I guess," he said. He took her hand and a tingle went through it where her shaqarava was. "But I do think it's edible."

It was eminently edible, she thought as they sat on his bed. "You shortchange yourself too much, Alex," she said. "You always been this good a cook?"

He blushed. "I didn't think I was that good. I mean, I can follow directions, but...."

"Trust me, Alex, you did good. I liked it."


"I talked to Ra'das today. I think we cleared the problem up for you."

"You mean, why he was calling me his mate?"

"As I told you, he was jumping the gun. He didn't quite understand why neither of us considered you as his mate since you were mine, and furthermore, didn't quite understand why we hadn't mated yet. But I think I managed to convince him."

He looked uncertain, and she put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him. Her shaqarava tingled again, and she let go to rub it. "Sorry, it seems to be acting up tonight."

"That's okay," he said, leaning into her. These things happen."

Alex had become fascinated with her arms all of a sudden, and she blushed. He rubbed his hands all over her exposed skin, and she felt herself leaning towards her in response. His hands skimmed under her shirt, and she involuntarily looked down. She tried pushing him away, but something in her made her push weaker than it should have been. "Alex, this is not a good idea."

"What?" he asked, oblivious to her concern.

"Do you really want to become a parent now?" she asked. "Because if we continue doing... what we're doing, we will. You haven't even had time to think over what will happen if we do."

"If it happens, it happens. I mean, we've been delaying the inevitable."

"Alex, I don't think your brain is the part of your anatomy that's thinking at the moment," Marianne said, finally managing to wiggle out of his grasp. As the rest of her screamed for her to get back in bed and do what she was supposed to do, she picked up a carafe of iced tea and dumped it on him.

He dove away from the drenching, staring at her. After a moment, he said, "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Alex, neither of us is precisely thinking right now. We haven't thought things through, though, and that's not a good idea."

"I had no idea I was so attracted to you."

She dabbed off some tea that had splashed onto her. "What you're feeling is augmented by an artificial mating trigger. It's what Kimera use to prepare their mates for mating when the mate in question isn't ready. It's the reason that I exist, because my dad accidentally triggered off my mom and neither of them was willing to resist. In any case, we'd better avoid each other for the next few days. In fact, go up to medical and see if they have any hormone calmers."

He shivered, and she barely resisted touching him, knowing that if she did they would end up in bed and she would end up pregnant. "I'll go now. I have someone I need to talk to. Urgently."

* * *

Leaving Alex behind in his room, she stalked to Ra'das room, where the ship computer said he was. Not bothering to knock, she barged in. "Ra'das," she said crossly, not surprised to see the Kimera waiting calmly for her.

"You did not mate," he said disapprovingly.

"You interfered," she replied. "Of all the asinine things you've done, this has to take the cake. You don't deny trying to trigger me into mating."

"No. There was no time to wait for you."

"No time!" Marianne practically shouted. "No time!"

She grabbed onto her mate, not caring how tough she was being. "Alex is freaking out. I didn't have a chance to get a reply before we started feeling each other out. There's no way he consented and I doubt he will now. Which is probably a good thing."

"Marianne, you do not truly feel that-" Ra'das managed.

"Yes, I do," she said firmly, turning away.

"May I be permitted to explain why I have done what I did?" he asked.

"Go ahead. But it better be good."

"The Taelons are about to remove all Kimera from Earth."

"You're kidding."

"No. We are soon to be no longer welcome. I do not know when, but it will happen soon. That is why I could not wait for Alex to make up his mind or you to get over your reluctance to mate. If you and Alex are not mated at the time that this happens, then there is a good chance that he would not permitted to leave with us."

"Couldn't you have just told us this and let us decide?" Marianne asked.

"No. I could not face the fact that you would leave for Earth and run if I'd told you. I could not permit losing you."


"I will fetch Alex now, so that you may complete what you started."

The comm chimed and Ra'das answered it. Marianne sat there as Ra'das answered. "You wanted to know on the Taelons' initiative, Ra'das. I regret to report that they have now officially ordered all off Earth. Liam is attempting to negotiate, but we are preparing evacuation of Earth, just in case."

"Thank you," Ra'das said, deactivating the comm. He turned to Marianne. "I guess that there is no need for you to mate now. Will you accept my apology?"

"Huh? First you're so determined to get me in bed with Alex, now you just let it go?"

"I wish not to strain things with you," Ra'das answered. "Now, Alex wants to stay, he can just announce it without having to prove he's a mate."

"Good," Marianne said roughly. "And you are going to explain that to him, while I work off my anger."

"Very well, I will," Ra'das said. "Will you give me leave to go?"

"I will," Marianne told him, and left.

* * *

Ra'das approached the medical section softly, realizing he had tapped into his last human host's instincts and quickened his pace. Be'ant met him at the door. "Alex?" he asked.

"He is here," Be'ant replied. "He awaits an explanation."

"I am not sure I can give him one," Ra'das said. "The best I can give him is news."

Be'ant led him towards the disheveled Alex. The human stared at him, looking tired. "Ra'das? What's going on?"

"I will explain later. I have some news which concerns you."

"What?" Alex asked, holding one shoulder with his other hand.

"The Taelons have declared us not welcome on Earth. You must choose whether to go home or stay here. You are welcome to do either."

Alex nodded, still looking dazed from what had been done to knock his hormones back to normal. Ra'das added softly before leaving, "I hope you will stay."

* * *

Marianne stumbled as she reached the storage room. She'd thought of trying to convince the hangar crew to let her leave, but she knew that it would be to no avail. Everybody knew her far too well. So, she'd taken a sleeping bag and pillow and left her room behind. If she couldn't get off, then she'd become a hermit and avoid everything. At the very least, she'd avoid having to face Alex again.

What a mess! Every time she tried to 'get in touch' with the Kimera side of her ancestry, something went wrong. And this time, she'd nearly ruined Alex's life because of it. All he'd wanted was to look at the Kimera language, and he'd nearly ended up facing the rest of his choice here. He wouldn't have been able to leave her, not after they were mated. If Ra'das had had his way.

Thankfully, her dad had taught her to survive, taught her how to steal and break into things, how to sneak around and avoid getting caught. And she'd use those skills if she had to, just to pay for what she'd done, and even just to live her own life.

She flopped herself down on the floor, scrunching into the opened sleeping bag.

* * *

Marianne opened her eyes, hoping against hope that she'd see her bedroom on Earth instead of the walls and ceiling of the Kimera homeship. Of course, it was still the dismal room she'd gone to bed in last night, an unused storeroom that she'd claimed for her own.

After all, it wasn't the room Ra'das had given her. Not by a long shot. She wanted little to do with her Kimera mate right now. She wanted to have little to do with her new life right now. Which unfortunately seemed to include Alex; she hoped that someone was taking care of him. Ra'das could take care of Mish.

She was not Kimera. She didn't belong here, not at all. Not where nobody understood her. They treated the pure humans as human, but not her. Oh, no, she was Kimera. But she wasn't.

Her heart intensified its beat when she almost rolled over something she was sure hadn't been there when she went to bed the night before. She shifted very gently the other way and studied the form. After a moment, she breathed easier.

"Michelle, honey, wake up," she said, shaking the form slightly.

Her companion woke up, hazel eyes opening as the form sat up. "Morning, mom."

"Michelle, I love you, but momma wants to be alone right now."

"Why?" the young woman asked, sounding like a three year old. She clutched a blanket around her. "Are you going to leave again?"

Marianne reached out and held her daughter, acutely aware that despite her adult appearance, Michelle was not very old. "No, honey. But sometimes people need to be away from other people so that they can think, and understand things better."

She got out of her sleeping bag, pulling her own blanket out of it. Once she was done, she held her daughter to her once again. After a minute or two of that, Michelle pulled back and asked, "Can I stay with you today, momma? School is so *boring*! You'll still be away from everybody else, and dad won't be mad because I'm learning from you."

Marianne sighed. "Very well, you can stay. But you've got to promise that when you get back, you won't tell your dad or anyone else where I am, okay?"

"Okay, momma," Michelle said, brightening. "I promise."

Marianne ruffled her daughter's hair. "Thank you. How did you find me, anyway?"

Michelle beamed. "I can find anything!" she declared. "I like exploring the ship. It beats having to go through the day with a bunch of slowpokes."

"I'm sure they would like to hear your opinion of them," Marianne muttered. "They're not slow, you're just very fast. You're faster than me, even. You'll probably find me more boring than school."

"Never!" Michelle announced. "I could never find you boring."

"Thank you," Marianne said, holding her daughter closer. She knew she'd have to get Michelle to go away sometime, but for the moment, she could think of doing nothing more than holding the child tight and wishing she could protect Michelle's bright spirit from anything and everything.

But Michelle would grow up eventually, becoming more and more Kimera, growing away from her. Is this my fate? she wondered. To not fit in? Not ever? To never find a home?

* * *

Michelle had moved. That's what must have woken her up. Her daughter seemed fascinated by every little thing she did, no matter how boring she thought it was. But she could see Michelle getting a little tired, and so she had proposed a short nap, just to "let the subconscious work on things for a while."

But now she must have gotten tired of resting. Best to see what she wanted next. Marianne opened her eyes and stretched, looking around. Her daughter was there, by the doors...

She froze. So was her father. Who was supposed to be on Earth trying to talk to the Taelons. At the moment his eyes were closed, his being totally absorbed by the presence of his granddaughter. Unfortunately, the two couldn't hold each other forever.

And then, the moment was gone, and her father and daughter were looking at her expectantly. When she managed to speak, her first words were, "Dad, what are you doing here? I thought you were on Earth, trying to get the Taelons to let us stay. How did you find me?"

Marianne tried not to sound hostile, but it was hard. Every time she tried to figure things out, someone would butt in with something new for her to struggle with. She thought she said she wanted to be alone... she was pretty sure she'd said something like that before she left.

"Well, first of all, Michelle was missing from class, and I thought you'd prefer encountering me instead of Ra'das at the moment. Secondly, I was given the use of some of the instruments to find you, plus I used some of my own talents. And third, we've broken off negotiations with the Taelons about staying on earth. We weren't able to come to any satisfactory terms. So, right now we're shipping everybody up as soon as we can - I came aboard first. Your mom and sister came with me."

Marianne ignored most of the explanations. "What do you mean, you weren't able to convince the Taelons to let us be?"

"Would you have wanted to be sterilized by the Taelons, subject to their programs? Marianne, they don't want us there."

"If that was what it would take to stay there, yes!" Marianne exclaimed, getting up. "Earth is my home, dad."

"It's my home, too," her father said. "I know that you would sacrifice almost anything, but would you be able to do the same to Michelle? She wouldn't let you leave her behind."

"I wouldn't! I'd follow you to Earth. Where you want to be, I want to be," Michelle said, almost defiant in her expression.

Marianne tried not to stomp her feet, or tear into her father like she felt like doing at the moment.. "This is all your fault! Why didn't you let me be? I was happy on Earth! I was useful! But I wasn't Kimera! I wasn't who you wanted me to be. You and Allie had to butt in with Ra'das and now I'm stuck here! I hate you!"

At that moment, Michelle burst into tears, tearing her from looking at her father. The girl wrested herself free from her grandfather's arms and, wailing like a banshee, locked her arms around Marianne. "Momma... does this mean you don't want me? Is this why you keep leaving?"

Marianne held her daughter, rocking her as her own mother used to do when she was upset. "Shh, Michelle, of course I love you. You're my daughter."

Michelle seemed unconvinced, as her grip around Marianne didn't let up. Marianne let her continue to cling. After all, she hadn't meant to argue where Michelle could hear and be hurt. She glared at her father.

"Michelle, go back to school. They're waiting for you, and your mother and I need to talk," Liam said, gently, to his granddaughter. "Marianne, I had nothing to do with pairing you up with Ra'das, except notifying you that he was there. I swear that I did not force you to end up mated to Ra'das."

"I'm not going back! Momma won't be here if I go away!" Michelle declared. "You can't make me, either!"

Marianne looked at her father, who was clearly stuck on what to do next. She continued swaying a little, trying to comfort the child. "Michelle, your father and I are just having a little disagreement about something. We both love you, honey, though. It's not your fault, it's ours."

"Your momma will be here when you get back, Michelle. I promise," Liam said, holding out his hand. "You don't have to worry about her going away."

She held Michelle tighter to her. "I promise you, I will be here when you get back. But you do belong in school, and I shouldn't be keeping you from it. I promise."

"You really promise?" the girl asked.

"I really do promise, Michelle. I will not go anywhere. I will still be here when you get back."

"Besides," Liam said, "your aunt Ashley is in school today. Don't you want to meet her?"

"Go on, Michelle," Marianne told her, "Go meet your aunt Ashley. Have some fun. And tell me all about it when you come back."

"Okay," Michelle finally consented. She released her mother, and started to the door, past her Grandfather. He put a hand on her shoulder.

"Your grandma Rosemary's a couple of feet down the hall," Liam said to her. "She'll take you back to class."

Michelle nodded, opening the door and, taking one last look at her mother, walked out of the room. The door closed behind her, and Marianne sat down, hoping her father would make it quick. He sat down about five feet away from her, crossing his legs and folding his hands.

"I've talked to Ra'das and Alex individually about what happened. Now it's your turn to tell me what happened, and why you're so upset."

"Why I'm so upset?" Marianne asked, nearly erupting into hysterical laughter. "Dad, I nearly raped Alex. He was minding his own business, I touched him, and my touch triggered him into sexual readiness. He didn't ask for it, he didn't ask to become a father, but I nearly forced him to become one. And Ra'das... Ra'das was the one who triggered that part of me. He was the one who tried to force me and Alex into a mating. He admitted that much. In a way, he raped me the same way I did Alex. I'm just glad Alex and I had good control."

She found herself shaking, and wrapped Michelle's blanket around her. "But that's what happened, dad. That's why I left. I love Ra'das, but at the same time, what he did... was despicable."

"Not by Kimera standards, it wasn't. Ra'das isn't human. You can hardly expect him to act that way."

"No, but I expect an anthropologist to know something about cultural taboos. I was raised human; my values are human. But nobody seems to remember that - they all want to treat me as a Kimera, and I'm not one."

"Look, I know that when you were a child, your mother and I had to make you pretend you were human. The Taelons would have hunted us down and killed us, and I couldn't stand to lose you or your mother. But I also never wanted you to totally deny your Kimera side. You are part Kimera, and nothing is going to change that, no matter what."

Marianne raised her head. "Maybe not. But I refuse to act Kimera to make people more comfortable. I'd rather just live here and be what I am."

Liam shrugged. "If that's what you want. I guess you'll have to find your own way. At least you'll have some help - this whole area is going to be the new living area for all the people we had to evacuate off Earth. Stay isolated all you want, although I don't think you'll have much of a chance."

"Who in the heck's decision was to use a storeroom area for quarters?" Marianne demanded.

"The ruling body. They don't have time to spare you the isolation you think you need, the area's needed now."

"I'm still not moving. Decision or no decision."

"It's your choice," Liam said, standing up. "I think you'll adjust, given half a chance. Besides, Alex was asking about you. He wants to see you."

Marianne wiped some sudden tears off her face. "After what I nearly did to him? I don't deserve to be around him, dad. He was a great guy, and, thanks to Ra'das, everything's blown. He's better off on Earth."

Her father kneeled in front of her. "I understand you're upset. But he's confused - he doesn't know what happened or what he did to upset you. Marianne, he's chosen to stay here with you rather than go back to Earth. You at least owe him an explanation. He really loves you, you know."

"I know. And I don't deserve him. Dad, I really can't deal with that right now, not with what's happened."

Liam stood up. "So, when are you going to deal with it? You can't avoid them forever."

Marianne wiped more tears off her face as her father left, the door closing behind him.

* * *

"Alex?" Marianne called. "Are you there?"

Just her luck he wouldn't be... it seemed like she'd had little luck lately. But the door opened, and Marianne released a breath she hadn't known she held.

"Marianne?" Alex asked in reply. "Uh, come on in."

She smiled a little at his awkward motions towards the interior of his room. "Thanks."

Closing the door, he sat down on one of the chairs, motioning towards a box. "Your mom was nice enough to pick up some of my things on the way here, but some of this stuff has to be yours, as well. In fact, some of it is yours- Ra'das said something about space needed, I think he packed up all of your stuff and brought it here."

Marianne sighed. "That's Ra'das for you. I've actually claimed a space in the storeroom area, but I think they're going to want me to give it back eventually."

"So, you'd move in here?" Alex asked, looking a little shocked.

Shaking her head, Marianne smiled a little. "Not if you don't want me to. I mean, you remained here because of me, right? So they might have kinda assumed that we're going to end up together eventually."

Alex shrugged. "Not completely. I mean, I know your family and Ra'das almost consider us mated, but that's not why I stayed. I took a good look at my life on Earth, and what I was really interested in. I figured I'd have more of a life as a linguist here than down there. So, while you were moping, I got your mom a key to my place and had a long talk with my folks."

"How'd it go? With your folks, I mean," Marianne said.

"Considering that I had just announced that I was going somewhere and they'd likely never see me again? Surprisingly well, considering. Although they were not quite sure of my sanity. It helped that the Kimera are going to be able to maintain some covert communication with people on Earth anyway, so at least I'll be able to send messages to them. Oh, by the way, there wasn't time to exactly explain Kimera ideas about mates and reproduction, so you're now my fiancee."

She paused for a moment, thinking about what he'd just said. "Just as long as nobody besides your parents gets any ideas about that, I don't mind, actually. I wish I could have met your folks, though."

Alex shrugged. "Maybe we'll get lucky and you'll have the chance."

"I hope so," Marianne said, sifting through a box with some of her stuff in it. "I don't want to live the rest of my life here, thank you very much."

"Marianne?" Alex asked, sounding hesitant.

"Yeah?" Marianne replied, with the uneasy feeling that it was time to explain her behavior.

"Do you want me here? I mean, it's not too late to turn back..."

"Alex, I love you. I want you, yes. But your decision should be based on what you want. The Kimera will welcome you, and you shouldn't have any problems finding mates here."

"That's not what I asked, Marianne."

Marianne looked at her friend. "I don't know how to answer any other way, Alex. I'm trying not to involve you in my current problems with Ra'das, because I don't want you to be stuck in the middle as he and I get our acts together. I feel guilty for even presuming to ask you to stay here, because the Kimera can be very strange and it might be lonely for you with so few humans on board. I think you'd be happy here - just don't tie yourself to me right now. You're a comfort to me, but also a terrible burden."

"I'm staying, then," Alex said. "You need me, I'm here. Always. Don't feel guilty - this is my chance of a lifetime."

"You'll be expected to mate, you know," Marianne said. "If not with me and Ra'das, with some other hybrid and/or Kimera. That's the price you'll pay."

"What, a kid or two?" Alex said. "I can handle that. I know something about the Kimera and their current state. My kids aren't going to be full human, so what? Neither are you."

Marianne snorted. "This is more than a kid or two, Alex. This is going to be easily half a dozen, most or all like Michelle."

Alex paused before answering. "Okay, so being a father's going to be interesting. Stop trying to scare me, Mari. I know your mating methods are a bit odd, and I know that the kids are going to be a bit strange by human standards. That's fine. I've chosen to be here, preferably with you, and if I need to, Ra'das."

"Oh, he'll be a part of it all right," Marianne said grimly. "At least you don't have to worry about him wanting to mate you alone. His only interest in you is through me."

"Now that, I was a bit worried about," Alex said. "You've just taken the last load off my mind."

"You're welcome, I hope," Marianne said softly. "Alex, before you get completely unpacked, I think I owe you an explanation. And an apology."

"Oh? I think you've already apologized all you need to. But I'd like to know what's going on, seeing that you and I are partners by Kimera standards."

"Thanks. I'll do my best to explain it, although it's kinda hard for me to talk about so you'll have to be patient. Basically, Ra'das foresaw the Taelons' actions, and tried to ensure that you and I were mated, just in case we were on-planet when it happened. That way, you would have had official status and it would have been easier to get you off Earth."

"Tried to ensure, how? I didn't see him having anything to do with me suddenly getting all... hot... for you."

Marianne looked down. "I'm sure Mom has told you something about how she and Dad ended up together. We both fell victim to the same thing here. Basically, Ra'das did his best to give both of our biological processes a push - triggering mine, and bringing me to a state where I accidentally triggered off yours. If either of us had had less self-control, we would have been on our way to being parents. Basically, I'm very ticked off at Ra'das for doing what he did, and that's why I flounced off."

"So, you're ticked off at Ra'das for that?" Alex asked. "I know that you didn't want your own mates to have no choice in the matter...."

"And I've already violated that with Mish's father," Marianne answered. "Sometimes it seems that I forget and go all Kimera on myself. Kimera are sometimes not too considerate about their mates' willingness to mate. I have no objection to mating with you - it's just that I want to make sure you want to have kids at that point, not find out afterwards."

"Thanks. For the consideration, I mean. Yeah, I would have wanted to have the choice to be a father as well. So, when we mate, it'll be with Ra'das? I don't... mind, but I think I'd like to do it the human way, if that's possible, before trying anything really weird."

"No problem. We can do it the human way, it'll just not include Ra'das. Besides, I hate the standard method that the Kimera use for including a third mate, so Ra'das will have to find an alternate method anyway."

"Will he mind being left out?" Alex asked, almost hesitantly.

"Nah. He'll be so thrilled that we're mated he won't mind waiting another year so that the three of us can have our first child together. By the way, the pregnancy will be human-normal too, as will the growth rate of any existing child, as they'll be even less Kimera than I am."

"Mari? How long before you can be pregnant with another kid?" Alex asked.

"Any time now. If I was human, it wouldn't be healthy, but there are some parts of my Kimera biology that I'm thankful for. You think Ra'das would have risked me getting pregnant before I was ready to do so?" Marianne asked, smiling. "Why do you ask?"

"I know it sounds selfish, but... I want to have you to myself just one time before I have to share you with Ra'das for real."

Marianne reached out and took ahold of Alex's hand. "That's okay. I want to be equally selfish and just be as human as I can for a while. Tell you what, I'll get my stuff out of that storeroom I claimed, send Michelle back to where she's supposed to be, and then, whenever you're ready, we'll do the dirty deed."

"Wow. That was fast," Alex commented.

"Hey, if it'll stop everyone moaning, make the two of us happy, and give me breathing room, I'm all for it," Marianne said. "I need the breathing room right now, if I'm to deal with Ra'das. So, make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a while."


Earth: Final Conflict fics