Disclaimers: The Earth: Final Conflict Universe and Liam belong to Roddenberry-Kirschner, Atlantis, and Tribune. Alex, Marianne, and various and sundry Kimera belong to me.

Author's notes: This takes place a few months after "Because you are with me" , and contains spoilers for that story. It is primarily an Alex and Marianne story.

Seeing Beyond the Ego
by Estirose
copyright 1999

Liam paused in the doorway of the medical center, looking around for any of the medical personnel to come out and brief him on what was going on. He'd been summoned with no explanation other than to come as soon as he could, and he found himself tense.

Sa'ana, one of the chief personnel of the medical center, bustled in from a side door. "Good," he said, "You're here."

He let the Kimera lead him towards the innards. "It has to do with the team exploring Sa'erat?" he asked, knowing that there had been some problem with the exploration team on that planet. The entire team had been bundled off to the medical center, and there had been no word as to their condition.

"Your daughter Marianne, to be exact," Sa'ana replied. "She's the only one conscious at the moment. Unfortunately, she can't speak coherently and has refused all attempts to share. We were hoping that you might be able to help. At this point, I'm ready to try anything."

"I'll do my best."

"Thank you," Sa'ana said.

Liam nodded as Sa'ana opened the door. As it opened, he could hear crying, and his heart pounded. Marianne was sitting hunched up, her arms around her legs, and her head buried. He could see the Kimeran equivalent to an IV attatched to her, which he supposed was because she was crying so much and dehydrating herself. A small cup of water resided nearby.

Sa'ana left, closing the door behind him. Liam studied his daughter for a moment, wondering what he could do to make her open up. Then he sat down next to her, putting his arm around the figure and drawing her to him. "Sh, honey, it's all right."

A red-eyed, puffy face looked up at him for a moment, and then she buried her face again. Liam simply held her, waiting. If worst came to worst, he'd give up, but not without a fight. Moments passed.

"Daddy?" she said softly, almost too softly, although her face was still buried.

"I'm here."

"Dad, I'm stupid."

"Oh?" He asked, hoping to draw more out of her. But she just kept on crying. He rocked her, something he'd often done when she was little.

Finally, "Yeah."

"Why don't you show me what happened, honey?"

Looking up again, she answered, "√ęCause, oh I don't know!"

Liam held his hand out. Sniffling, she paused, looking at it as if it was a foriegn object, and then bringing her own hand up. Encouraged, he began the sharing.

* * *

It was good to be on a planet again. Marianne wondered, as she walked around, if some of her discomfort aboard ship was due to it being a ship and not a planet, and had nothing or little to do with it not being Earth. True, she'd always long for her friends, neighbors, and even patients, but maybe all she needed to do was to settle down somewhere.

She'd talked, pleaded, begged, screeched, and yelled in order to get herself and Alex onto this team. In the end, it had been a combination of her apologies, Ra'das' careful reasoning, and Be'ant's opinions that had gotten them here. Ra'das felt she'd needed a change of pace, Be'ant thought she needed a reason to live, or at least a new hobby. So Sharilyn had been placed with her grandmother for the three days, and she and Alex had gone down with the team.

The planet had been deserted for probably around a century and a half. If Marianne had to guess, she would have said that the only reason the planet was still unmolested was that it lay outside of both Jaridian and Taelon space. The team, she noted, was primarily made of archaelologists, hoping to get an understanding of the civilization that had once inhabited the planet. After all, they couldn't allow this information to get lost, not while they had the chance to know it.

She had felt out of sorts on the team, actually. She was med staff, after all, not really trained where it mattered. But she wouldn't have traded anything for a chance to go on-planet.

"Hey, look at this!" Alex yelled. "I found a device, I think it's still functioning."

Re'aua, Pl'ret, Yi'uti, and Vi'pna, the rest of their team, soon converged where Alex was standing, at the open door of a building somewhat similar in size and shape to the small automated car washes attached to service stations. How he got it open, she didn't know, for it had been closed. Re'aua, the head of the team, gently pushed Alex to one side as the team got a good look around.

The building did, indeed, resemble a car wash, but instead of a place to stop one's car, there were paired, 5' diameter circles, about six pair of them. Near the ceiling sat a device that was obviously meant to sweep over the circles. On one side, there was a control panel. The four Kimera stepped inside first, looking around, picturing and otherwise recording what they could. Alex eventually wandered in, trying to look at the control panel. Marianne, out of simple boredom, stepped inside as well, just to look around.

There was a rumble, and clear tubes of material came up from the floor, trapping Marianne and Alex but not any of the others, while the outside doors closed. Yi'uti, being the closest to the control panel, rushed over to it, while the overhead machine creaked until it reached Marianne's and Alex's tubes. Then there was a flash.

* * *

The tubes were gone, but they were still sealed into the building. Marianne struggled up, then crawled over to a groaning Alex. When she had propped him up, as far away from the circles that she could get, she went to check on the remaining members of the team. All were on the floor, their bodies acting if they had all collapsed from fatigue. She made sure that they were not in odd positions and clear of the circles, and then went back to Alex.

Scanning him, she noted with worry the same amount of elevated fatigue. Her own scan noted normal levels, the same amount she'd had that morning. Alex watched with some amusement. "So, how long have I got to live, doc?" he cracked, and she swatted him.

"Not that long, if you keep that up," she answered. "You're suffering from accellerated fatigue, like the others, except you're awake and they aren't."

"Feels like it, I know," her mate groaned. "They weren't even in the circles when the machine activated."

"That might have saved us, except yours must have been cracked, or something."

"Great."

"Don't knock it. At least there are two of us to work on getting out of here and getting medical help."

"That's true. I wish I had a better indication of their language, but it's like an english-speaker with no language background trying to read a cyrillic alphabet."

Marianne shrugged. "Well, it's not like we have a whole lot else to do."

"Until someone figures out the team's missing, anyway," Alex replied.

* * *

Alex was practically dragging himself along now, not that Marianne could see him very well. Night had fallen and they still couldn't get out. "Alex, let me try something," she said, mentally preparing herself to use her shaqarava, something she hated to do. Unfortunately circumstances called for it. Kneeling down by him, she activated it.

Nothing happened. She frowned, and tried again. "Alex, I think we have a problem."

"What?" he asked, struggling to sit up.

"My shaquarava isn't working."

"That's bad. Shouldn't you be able to just look at them and they should flare up-"

They finally did. In Alex's hands. "Alex, we definitely got a problem."

"You're telling *me*," he said. He looked at his hands.

Marianne clicked the light on in the display of her scanner, and scanned him again, mentally kicking herself as she noted biological indicators indicative of someone of Kimera/human blood. _I've been looking at my own kind too long,_ she thought, heat coming to her face. She scanned herself and noted the lack of the same indicators. "The lovely machine turned you part Kimera and me full human," Marianne said, trying to sound unconcerned. "I wonder if that's why you're droopy and I'm not?"

"You think there's some sort of contaminant that got released when the machine activated?"

"That affects Kimera but not humans, yes," Marianne said absently. "The important thing is keeping you awake, just in case."

Alex was silent, but as she feared the worst, he spoke. "Marianne?"

"Yeah?"

"I think I could get to like this," he said.

"Oh, dear. You're kidding."

"Nope."

"Great. Well, don't count on staying this way. I know we know how to reverse this kind of thing. I mean, you could stay like this if you want, but...."

Alex snorted. "Just because you don't like it...."

* * *

Alex had fallen asleep at some point. She wasn't quite sure when, as she had fallen asleep herself. The moment she had light, she checked on all of them. All fine, except in some kind of stasis. She was the only one awake.

She still couldn't open the doors or get in touch with the outside world. So, she just sat there, trying to review things. Except she couldn't, not with the 'gap' in her memory. Memories that were not hers were simply gone.

_How long have I relied upon those memories? How often have I used what I've gotten from others without even knowing it? How many times have I just wished these abilities away?_

Too many times. Way too many times to count.

She should have been able to revive the rest of the group with her shaqarava, except that she didn't have them. How many time had she used her Kimera abilities without her knowledge? How often had she boosted her medical ability with her inborn gifts?

"Alex, I am an idiot," she said in English. She hoped that she could still speak Kimera.

With noone to talk to and no memories to guide her, she leaned back and tried to keep from crying.

* * *

Liam came out of the sharing to find Marianne looking at him. "Now do you understand why I feel so stupid, Dad?"

He rocked her again, not trying to answer, for any answer would sound silly or inadequate. "I really didn't understand who I was until I wasn't who I was," she continued, seemingly oblivious to his silence. "I was so arrogant...."

"Sh," was about all Liam managed. "You rest, and worry later."

But she was unconvinced, and he was forced to leave her there. Sa'ana immediately came up to him, as if he had been waiting for him to come out of there. "Did it work?"

"I got her to share," Liam replied. "Here's what she told me." He explained the circumstances and Marianne's theory.

"Fortunately, we can change both her and Alex back," Sa'ana said. "However, I do agree that she does need her rest. I shall go and make sure she has some sleep before working on her hypothesis."

Liam nodded. "I have a feeling that she's not going to be the same regardless."

"Maybe, for her, that's all to the good," Sa'ana told him before the physician went into Marianne's room. Figuring that he wasn't further needed, Liam left to attend to his other duties aboard the ship.

* * *

Marianne had a vague memory of Sa'ana injecting her with something before she fell asleep. _Heaven knows, I was making enough of a racket,_ she thought. _At least I'm Human now. I don't have the gifts that I don't deserve._

Opening her eyes, she found Ra'das sitting in a nearby chair, and that she'd been moved to a more public ward. Somewhere along the way, after she'd gone to sleep, she'd been moved. She bet it was because she wasn't crying her eyes off. Ra'das got up and moved the chair closer, reaching to take her hand. She flinched at the motion, and then flinched mentally as the Kimera 'looked' hurt. "Sorry," she said softly.

"I know you're hurt, Sa'ana said so," her partner said. "And when I talked to your father, he was also able to tell me what was wrong. That's why I'm here. Your father said that I was the one you really needed to talk to."

"Is Alex awake?" she asked, temporarily ignoring his offer.

"He is. Sa'ana was able to use your data and bring him and the others to consciousness. I talked to him earlier and assured him that you were all right."

"Good," she said, sinking down even lower in the bed.

Mates look out for mates," he told her. "Your change does not make you less who you are."

Yes it does," she replied.

"It doesn't," he insisted. "I thought you would be... happier."

"Not after getting a really good look at myself, I wasn't," she said, turning to face him. "I'm finding out what it's like to be pure human. I don't like it very much, or myself, for that matter."

"I understand...."

"No, you don't," she insisted. She took Ra'das' hand to soften her blow. "Please, go. I need to think."

Ra'das inclined his head, but left her.

* * *

Evidently figuring that she'd talk to one mate if she wouldn't talk to the other, they sent in Alex next. "Hi," he said, almost shyly. She smiled at him.

"Hi. How are you feeling?"

"A little bit woozy from that building, but otherwise fine. You?"

"Getting better, waiting for them to let me out of here," she replied.

"Should be soon," Alex said. "After all, all they're being is cautious."

"Yep," Marianne agreed. She looked up at Alex, wondering how he was coping with the unexpected change. "How are you taking, um, this?"

"You mean the species change?" Alex asked. At Marianne's nod, he answered, "I feel like I've come home. Like I got back what was rightfully mine. How about you? Are you going to stay, or change back?"

"Stay," Marianne confessed, "But for different reasons. I don't feel like I've come home, or got what is rightfully mine. I thought I would, but I'm not. I feel like those parts of me that I've neglected have been stripped away to be given to a better owner. I could have them back if I wanted, but I don't have any great urge right now to do so."

"Look, we're all a little shook right now," Alex said. "Eventually, I may not want to be this way. Or you may want to go back to who you were. I was talking to Sa'ana, and he says either of us can be changed back, if we want. Though from his reaction, I'd say he's in no hurry. If I'm reading his body language right, that is."

Marianne reached out a hand. "Let me see," she said. He looked at her, clearly puzzled.

"I thought you didn't want your gifts back?" he asked, and she smiled in return.

"A sharing is a sharing, silly. Just because you're initiating it and not me doesn't make it less a useful tool."

"Um, okay," he said. "I hope I have this right. I had to have a crash course in using these things."

Marianne storted in amusement. "It's not that hard to control, once you get the hang of it. By the way, 'Shaqarava' is singular, not plural. It sounds weird, but that's how it is."

"Right, should have caught that," he replied, looking embarrassed.

As he matched his palm to hers, she commented, "As you said, we're both a little shook up."

Then, she closed her eyes and accepted the sharing, sorting out Alex's memories.

* * *

Marianne broke out of the sharing trance to regard Alex with some amusement. "Be prepared for a lot of Kimera eyeing you," she said. "Like every female Kimera aboard ship. You just became an extremely valuable commodity, Alex."

Alex didn't visibly gulp, but his expression told her that he hadn't quite considered that part of things. "Great."

"Look at it this way... you just found your first downside to being one of us."

He groaned. "They forgot to tell me about that."

She laughed. "Sa'ana was probably too busy figuring who to notify first. Plus, he probably didn't want to scare you out of your choice to stay. I'm sure what he's hoping for is you to stay as you've become, and me to go back. So far, he's got half of it."

Alex shrugged, leaning back in his chair. "I figured I had a lot to learn. I don't mind, actually. I know the Kimera are desperate to breed, and I've already become part of that. Of course, if you want to stay human...."

"I probably will. I don't know if Ra'das will take it well, since now he has to figure out how to mate without killing *me*, but I think we'll work it out. Eventually. I don't see any need to go back to what I was."

Her mate grinned. "Break Sa'ana's heart now, will you?"

She made a face up at him. "The Kimera will not cease to exist just because I stayed human. No matter what anyone believes. I'm sure Sa'ana would love to see me hybrid again."

"If I have to put up with female Kimera eyeing me, you have to put up with Sa'ana giving you hints about changing back."

"Touche," she said, grinning wryly. "But he's not going to be able to persuade me."

Alex grinned more. "I have no doubt about that."

* * *

"Hello, Marianne," the Kimera physician said to her as he made checks of a scanner. "How are you feeling?"

"Ready to get out of here, I think."

He made a motion with his hands. "I doubt we have any reason to detain you," he said, detatching the monitors from her. "Come."

She followed him out to a bay of medical equipment, wondering why he hadn't given her her clothes back yet. He stood patiently by one machine, obviously waiting for something. She paused, not recognizing its function. "What's going on now?" she asked.

"It's time for you to go back," Sa'ana said, gesturing towards the machine. "This will reverse the changes done to you on the planet, bringing you to yourself. I thought you might want to do it now instead of going back into your routine and having to interrupt it later."

"Thank you, but no," she said, holding out her hands as if to ward him off. "I'm content to stay as I am. I'll get my clothes now."

* * *

Alex was surprised to find himself summoned to a small conference room in the medical center. He was also somewhat surprised to find Ra'das and Liam as well as Sa'ana there. "Marianne," he said as he entered the room, and Liam nodded.

"I do not know how to deal with her," Sa'ana said as Alex sat down, smiling a little. "I am hoping that one of you will give me sufficient insight."

"Marianne's refused to go back," Liam explained.

"I know. She told me."

Ra'das chimed in. "Sa'ana and I have been talking. We know that it is because of events during her childhood that she prefers to be human. However, she is not human, and even I can tell she does not belong as she is."

"She's part human, and even biologically she's more human than Kimera," Alex said. "But that's not the issue here."

"Then what is?" Ra'das asked.

Alex sighed. "She doesn't believe she deserves those abilities she lost when the switch happened. She feels so guilty about her feeling about her Kimera heritage that she won't take that part of herself back."

Sa'ana said something that Alex didn't quite understand. Ra'das and Liam just stared at him for a moment, and then Ra'das turned to Alex. "Then we must persuade her that she is worthy."

"Good luck," Alex replied. Liam was shaking his head.

"I'll see what Rosemary and I can do on our end," he told Ra'das. Turning to Sa'ana, he asked, "Is there a time limit?"

"No. Merely my personal preference. Thank you."

The meeting broke up, but Liam caught Alex by the door. "How are you taking things?"

Alex shrugged. "I seem to be having a lot less problems with it that she is," he said. "I won't know until I have more time to get used to it."

The older man nodded, and left, and Alex found Ra'das waiting for him. "Walk with me," he instructed. "We must start on our plans. Sa'ana and others will help, but as she is our mate, she is primarily our problem."

"I know," Alex said, staring up at the Kimera. He'd long accepted his responsibility in Marianne's life.

Ra'das inclined his head. "I'll be depending on your help heavily in understanding Marianne. I have proved to be less than perfect when trying to understand her. If she is, as you say, feeling guilt about her feelings towards the Kimera side of her heritage, then I would think that our efforts towards a gentle reconciliation of herself and her heritage might work best."

Alex tried his best to not utter his dismay towards Ra'das' plan. "How about leaving her as she is and letting her come back if and when she feels like it? I can guarantee it'll work better than any efforts we might make."

However, the Kimera was just not getting it. He continued walking, seemingly oblivious to Alex's arguments. "I refuse to let her remain as miserable as she obviously is. She needs help, Alex, in finding her way back."

"And if you push her in any way, she'll resent you for it," Alex argued. "Look, Ra'das. She was perfectly willing to have children if there could be a way around getting her killed. She's just as dedicated to the family as she ever was. Her choice to stay as she is should be respected. The most we should do is be there when she needs us. She knows we're here and she knows she can walk into the medical center at any time and Sa'ana or Be'ant would be more than happy to reverse what's been done to her."

"What shall we do while she is 'finding herself', Alex? Watch her be unhappy?"

Alex shrugged. "If it comes to that, yes. She's dug herself into her own pit. She's just discovered that. But she still has the right to have help come only when she's ready for it. And she's not ready."

Ra'das made an unhappy gesture. "Then I will attempt to do as you request."

* * *

"Hello, Alex," Rosemary said as she came upon him in the corridor. "How's Marianne?"

"Spending time with Mish, last I checked," Alex replied. "She's thrown herself into being a mother for Mish ever since we came back up. Mish is, of course, thrilled."

Rosemary grinned wryly. "Liam talked to me about what had happened to Marianne. Ra'das, when I talked to him, said to come to you. So, what have you got planned for my daughter?"

Alex told her what he'd told Ra'das the previous day, and Rosemary nodded. "Sounds like a good idea to me," she said.

"You're the first person to say that, you know," Alex commented. "Admittedly, I haven't talked to Moira yet, but everyone else seems to support Ra'das' approach."

Rosemary shook her head, still smiling wryly. "I know her too well. Letting her get into trouble was often the only way to install certain things in her head. It wasn't fun watching her crash, but at least she had an open mind once she realized what had happened."

"I hope she has just such an open mind now," Alex said. "Because she's going to need it."

Rosemary laughed. "Oh, I think she does. She might even forgive everyone else what they plan to do to her."

* * *

Alex returned to their quarters to find Marianne watching Mish rock her younger sister. The baby gurgled, happy with all the attention she was getting. He sat down by his mate, and Marianne reached out and took his hand, nodding towards her two daughters and smiling.

Mish stopped rocking her sister's cradle, glanced up, and with a joyous cry, hugged Alex tightly. "Hello, Ta'chaya," she exclaimed, using her pet name for her parents' mate.

"Hello, Michelle," he said, returning her hug. "How'd your day go?"

"Good! Mom let me tag along *all day*," the youngster said, then pouted. "But tomorrow I have to go back to school."

"If there's one good thing that came out of this," Marianne said, "It's that everybody's a whole lot more accommodating since we came back. As long as nobody starts treating me like I was made out of porcelain, I'm fine."

Mish responded by giving her mother a tight hug. "See! You're not made of porcelain!"

Marianne giggled. "You better go back now."

Her daughter frowned, but reluctantly left. Marianne stared after her, until Alex waved a hand in front of her face. "Sorry, Alex. My mind was elsewhere."

"I figured. How's it going?"

"As I said, everyone's been very accommodating and not pushy at all. Even Ra'das has been restraining himself, amazingly. I would have thought that he'd be all over me trying to convince me to go back, but nobody's said a word so far."

"I figured," Alex said, privately glad that his plan was the one that everybody had ended up following. Marianne seemed a lot calmer.

"I kinda feel like I've had a near-death experience, or a close call. I'm getting a chance to see for myself what's important to me, since I first got stuck aboard here. Nobody's making me feel miserable for my choice, not even Sa'ana. Did you put a word in his ear?"

Alex shrugged. "I think I managed to explain to him that annoying you was not the answer. He seemed to understand."

"It spread, I think. Thanks. This is the peace and quiet I've always wanted."

"You're welcome. I think, really, that people are beginning to understand you. Or at least know what not to do."

"Or how not to do it," she said. "But don't discount yourself. I think, sometimes, that you're the balance in our relationship. Ra'das and I would be at each other's throats if you weren't there to keep us calm."

Alex waved it off. She slipped an arm around him. "How have they been treating you? How are you feeling about yourself?"

He laughed. "Well, Sa'ana pretty much told me that he'd only change me back under protest, but I expected that. I get the impression that most everybody agrees with him. They're threatening to turn all the attention to me and showing me all the delights I gained with the switch."

"And how are you taking it?" she asked, frowning.

Shrugging, he let her draw him close. "I wouldn't mind spending the rest of my life like this. It's not because of anybody's urging. It just feels right. I feel like I fit in even better than before."

"Anybody eyeing you yet?"

Alex shook his head. "Not that I noticed. I have a feeling that once people start going seriously after me, I'm not going to be able to resist them."

Marianne smiled and shook her head. "You won't. I suspect that you've lost any barriers you might have had about multiple sets of mates, and you don't have any reason to resist mating with a Kimera. I doubt you have any of my hang-ups."

"I take it that resisting advances wasn't a problem for you."

"No. You could have paraded a whole bunch of Kimera suitors in front of me and I'd never have noticed. In fact, I think that may have happened. I'm not sure."

He snickered. "So, you were a little oblivious. It happens."

"Yeah," she said, her expression darkening. "Now it's something I don't have to worry about."

Hugging her to him, he told her, "It's your choice. You have a right to make it on your own."

"Thanks."

* * *

"Alex, the idea was to help her with the problems she was having with the Kimera side of her heritage, not firmly ground her in her humanity."

Alex frowned at his partner. Ra'das was extremely agitated, to the point that if he were human, he'd probably be pacing. It had been a week and a half since the accidental switch, and Marianne had not made any more moves towards reclaiming her heritage. "She's also been extremely happy. Ra'das, she's been more at peace with herself than I've seen since I came here. I know you and others would prefer to see her back to as she was, but she's adjusted as best she can. I think we should respect that."

"I wish I had your patience," Ra'das replied. "It is good to see her at peace with herself as you say, but I cannot help but hurt at the sacrifice."

"Sacrifice to you, perhaps," Alex said, "but maybe not to her."

"How is she handling those things she is missing? I have been hesitant to ask, for fear of upsetting her."

"You don't have to worry," Alex replied. "Just as long as you don't try to tell her that she'd be better off as she was, she won't mind. In fact, she's a little worried about you. Speaking of missing."

"I'll have to spend more time in her presence, then," Ra'das said. "I did not mean to have her feel like I was avoiding her. But, what of her mental status? You did not tell me how she was coping with the loss of her memories and Shaqarava."

"Well, I think she forgets sometimes that she doesn't have them," Alex responded. "Sometimes she gets frustrated with those things she can't remember, too. But she's resigned to her loss."

"She need not be," Ra'das insisted. "We must make her realize that."

"Um, Ra'das, not a good idea. She knows very well what her options are. Part of her doesn't want to go back because those abilities that she would regain she'd feel ashamed of using. The other part of her took a look at Kimera culture and decided she really didn't want to be Kimera. So, for completely different reasons, she doesn't want to go back. Don't try to force her, Ra'das."

"If you insist," the Kimera responded unhappily.

* * *

She'd been mostly left alone. Apart from Sa'ana looking at her expectantly those few times she'd gone into the medical center, she had not been subject to any suggestions from well-meaning Kimera or hybrids to change back. The only bad side was that Ra'das had been avoiding her. She'd spoken to Alex about it, hoping that he would be able to convince the Kimera to spend more time around her. It was very hard to spend time with her family if part of it was avoiding her.

Running, she managed to catch up with one particular shape. "Ra'das!" she called. Her Kimera mate stopped, clearly surprised. "I must talk with you."

"Then I will endeavour to find some time," Ra'das replied. "Please, let me notify those I work with."

"Certainly."

Once he had done so, she drew him into a empty conference room nearby. "You've been avoiding me, for once."

"Only until I could be confident that I would not hurt you. I doubt you would be unable to discern why I'm having difficulty."

"You want me to go back," Marianne said, and Ra'das made a confirming gesture. "I take it that you've been listening to Alex."

"He is most wise," Ra'das responded.

"You mean, he's good at keeping us from strangling each other," she said. "Making sure that he'd stay was a good idea. Even if your implementation left a little to be desired."

"I acknowledge that," he replied. "Are you sure - that you are comfortable?"

"I think so," Marianne said. "But I would be it would be even better if you came back to us."

"I will try," Ra'das told her.

"Thank you," she said quietly, mindful of what a concession he had made. "I know it's hard, but I thank you for trying."

Ra'das inclined his head. "Have you returned to duty yet?"

"No," she said, shaking her head. "I can't get cleared. Sa'ana says I have to pass a physical, although I know I've had one, and everyone else, including Be'ant, just refers me back to Sa'ana. Not that I'm spending much time there anyway, 'cause it hurts every time I see Sa'ana's expression after I've refused to go back."

"Do you want me to talk to him for you?" Radas said, his expression unreadable.

"Thank you, I'd appreciate that very much. I just can't get through to Sa'ana. He's so bent on not interrupting my schedule."

"I will persuade him to clear you."

"Thanks," Marianne said. "I guess that you have to go back to your duties. But... I'd like it very much if you came over tonight to be with us."

"I will... work on it."

"That's all I can ask for."

* * *

Alex was taking a break from his own duties when he ran into Rosemary again. He had planned to see how Marianne was doing her first day back, and suspected his supervisor knew that and had given him the break to do just that. He still had quite a bit of break, and so was glad to run into someone who knew Marianne better than he or anyone else did.

"Hello, Alex," his mate's mother greeted him. "How are things with you and Marianne? How're you adjusting?"

"Fine, I guess," Alex said. "They've been shortening my duties for instruction, but I think I'm going to go back to a regular schedule soon."

Rosemary nodded. "So, you've pretty much decided to stay as you are?" she asked.

"Why not? I'm perfectly happy," Alex said, with a shrug. "I see no reason to go back."

"I'm sure everybody's delighted," Rosemary said, giving a wry smile. "Did you know that one of my co-workers asked if you'd 'cleared up the problem with the family yet'? She's been wanting to meet you. I got the impression that there are plenty of others, too, just waiting for your 'family crisis' to be over so that you'll be in a mating mood."

"I kinda expected that," Alex told her. "I feel the attraction. I know that I won't be able to resist when the time comes. And I know it's my duty to do that. It's weird, since I know that I didn't feel this way before, but...."

"You just can't help it," Rosemary replied. "At least it makes the price you pay a bit easier."

"Yeah."

"And how's Marianne?"

"She went back to her duties today, insisting that she could work as well as she could before *this* happened. She's not working medical, since she still can't stand being in the medical center, but she went to her secondaries today."

"Oh, paf."

"Paf?" he asked, trying to grasp the meaning out of Marianne's memories.

"Nevermind. If she had her memories, she'd know that that was not the world's best idea. But then, if she had her memories, then she wouldn't be trying this stunt."

"Hm?" Alex asked, puzzled.

"Here, let's find a place to sit down," Rosemary suggested. "This might take a bit of explaining."

They walked for a while and finally managed to find an unoccupied nook. Sitting down, Alex waited expectantly for the explanation. Rosemary folded her hands on her lap before starting. "Kimera brains work slightly different than humans' do, mostly because they developed around the existance of ancestral memories. We humans have to learn most everything from scratch, which, as you know, is not the norm for Kimera. That's why our education involves teaching children the information they need to know while Kimera education is built towards helping shaping the individual out of their ancestors' memories.

"Anyway, memories in a Kimera link back to those ancestral memories, referencing them as a point for all skills. It's kind of like the computer using a 'linked list', where you have the piece of data bound to a pointer which tells you where the previous and/or the next piece of information is. And, in this case, I bet that Marianne's memories are all trying to point back to a space that doesn't exist, and her brain is no doubt giving her errors, telling her that the data she's trying to access is not availiable."

Alex thought that through and had to agree that it made sense. But one point bothered him. "If that was true, why can she remember how to dress herself and so on? I'd think that she couldn't do that if she was totally bereft of memories."

"I don't know, Alex. She's always been unusual. Maybe this is one of the ways. But I still think that if she tries to do her work, she'll find a lot of the information she needs missing."

"You told me earlier sometimes the only way to pound things through her head was to let her get into trouble."

Rosemary grinned. "This qualifies, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, it does, I guess. I'm not looking forward to getting home tonight, though."

She placed her hand on his shoulder. "Look, Marianne isn't always easy to deal with. I know this better than anyone. But it'll be worth it if you stick with her."

"May I join you?" a voice came from above them. Alex and Rosemary looked up.

"Sure, Ra'das," Rosemary said. "I'm just about done, anyway. Alex, feel free to call me if you need me. I'll be happy to assist you in any way I can."

"Thank you," he said, as she got up and left, waving goodbye. Alex waved at her as Ra'das took her previously occupied seat.

The Kimera spoke without further polite courtesies. "Has Marianne returned to her quarters yet?" he asked.

"Returned where? Oh. Not that I know of," Alex said. A thought struck him. "Ra'das, you didn't just do something that upset her, did you? What in the heck did you do?"

"I gave her a gentle push," Ra'das said by way of explanation. "I do not wish to undermine your plans, Alex, but I felt that she could benefit from some intervention."

Alex uttered a curse in Navaho, counted to ten in three languages, and looked at his mate. "Marianne is going to *kill* you."

"I will discuss this with her... eventually."

Alex shook his head. "So, what did you do?"

"I offered to intercede with Sa'ana about clearing her for work. She accepted, and I went to Sa'ana."

"And worked out a deal with him, I bet," Alex muttered.

"Sa'ana was resistient to letting her return to her duties until after she returned to herself. He and I agreed that perhaps it was best that she discovered that she could not function aboard ship without her ancestral memories or extensive retraining. He agreed to take the risk that she'd choose to retrain instead of choosing to come back."

"Her mother just explained that she wouldn't be able to. But you didn't say anything to her about it?"

"You said to not push her. I thought that if I did, she and you would see it as pushing."

Alex groaned. "I'm glad I'm not you or Sa'ana when she finds out what you did."

Ra'das did the Kimera equivalent of shrugging the comment off. "I came to tell you that your supervisors have agreed to letting you go home early. I talked with them, and they both agreed you should be there when she comes home. They also do not expect you in tomorrow."

"Why me, and why not you?" Alex snapped. "You're the one responsible for this, you should stay home and face what you did."

"She responds better to you than to me. I didn't wish to strain further relationships with her."

"So you're sending me to deal with it, instead."

"She will listen to you where she listens to nobody else."

Alex buried his face in his hands.

"Am I causing you distress instead?"

"Yes, you are," Alex managed.

"Then I am sorry. I know my behaviour has caused stress in our relationship when I haven't meant it to. When Marianne has fallen asleep, come to me and converse about this matter, so that I may cease causing problems."

With that, the Kimera left, awkwardly for him. Alex stared at him for a long minute, and then left for his own quarters. He wasn't looking forward to what was to come.

* * *

Ra'das was right in that Marianne would come home, crying. Alex caught her as she came in the door, barely missing tripping over a piece of furniture that was unexpectedly in her way. He half-carried her to the bed, holding onto her to keep her falling off. "Honey, what happened?"

"*I* was a total disaster today, is what," she said, between choked sobs. "I couldn't do my job because so many pieces of my memory were missing. I tried to prove that I could do everthing despite what happened, and I couldn't."

"Shh. At least you tried."

Marianne continued to shake in his arms. "Alex, I have this awful feeling that I'm going to have to go back just to cope."

"Not if you don't want to. You could retrain for your job to compensate for those memories you lost. It would be hard, but you're tough, you could do it."

Alex had perverse satisfaction in mentioning Ra'das' possibility to Marianne, almost hoping she'd take it up and teach Ra'das not to go against plan. Then he berated himself for letting his feelings about Ra'das' actions interfere with helping Marianne. "No, I somehow don't feel that's right, but thanks anyway."

He shrugged. "It was a suggestion. Okay, I guess now would be a good time to balance out the pros and cons of letting Sa'ana change you back."

Marianne gave a short laugh and pulled away to lie down on the bed. "Okay. Pros: I get all my memories back, and my shaqarava. People will stop waiting for me to come back. People might even think that I've finally 'got it' and leave me be. Sa'ana will stop giving me that look. Cons: If I change back, I'll be expected to resume all my duties as a Kimera hybrid. I'll again belong to a species which has some not-so-nice ideas about the breeding rights of other species. And people will think I've accepted everything."

"'Not-so-nice ideas about breeding rights of other species'?" Alex asked.

She gave him a wry grin. "Kimera are big on letting an individual find their own way in the world, and even respect it when it comes to individuals of other species. The one exception is when it comes to breeding. While they prefer willing breeding partners, they're not above deciding for a mate or potential mate that a mating is going to happen. You discovered this when Ra'das did... what he did.

"Anyway, Kimera kind of look down at other species in this regard. They believe they have a mission to establish universal peace through interbreeding, and the consent of species or individuals don't really matter. Even Kimera hybrids can find that a full Kimera mate has made the decision for them about another child. It's just one of those weird things about Kimera psychobiology that really pisses me off.

"And it's one of the reasons that I haven't gone back."

He lay down beside her and reached out to her. "If you're uncomfortable, don't go back," he said. "Do what's right for you, not what everyone's pressuring you to do."

"And you? Is this right for you?" she asked.

"I think so," he said gently, not wanting to upset her. "Mind you, you're the center of attention, not me. I mean, people are beginning to notice, and I'm told that I have a few waiting to court me, but they're waiting for me to not be so occupied with you."

Marianne sighed. "And here I am, messing up your life again."

"Nah. You're not messing it up," Alex told her. "These things will come in time. I mean, as far as I know I'm going to stay as I am. Why hurry and foul things up when I know I have plenty of time?"

She snorted. "You get out of this crisis and you'll get all the attention you'll ever want. But then, you're like my part-sibs. You won't have any trouble adjusting. Me? I've never felt at home. But I think you will."

"It feels so weird, knowing that," Alex said, folding his arms behind his head.

"Not really. They've never had any reason to hide or be ashamed of what they are. Neither do you. On the other hand, I've had to and it probably hasn't helped."

"Probably not. And nobody has the right to push you into trying to be happy."

"I wish people would realize that," she said. "I'm glad nobody has been trying to do it to you. But then, they wouldn't need to."

He gave a brief laugh. "More or less. I think they've been trying to show me all the glories of staying hybrid, though."

She snickered, too, and he realized that she'd stopped crying, more absorbed in his situation than her own. "I don't think they would do any less. Technically, you're a second gen, but you have different genes than the rest of us. Of course they'd like you - if only for the genetic diversity. We need that badly."

"And you? Are you going to stay?"

Marianne stopped smiling. "I don't know. I feel so helpless right now," she said. "I know the information's there, I just can't get at it. But I don't want to feel like I'm giving in. It's like, how unhappy, and in what way, do I want to be? Do I want to be unhappy because I can't do everything I used to, or do I want to be unhappy because I'll be expected to 'fit in' again?"

"If I were you," Alex told her, "I'd choose the first. At least that's overcomeable, with training. Job-wise at least."

"What's with you and the training?" Marianne asked. "You want me to go that way? Alex, pushing is not like you."

He blushed. "Sorry, I'm not usually like this," he said. "I guess my mind's on it since the talk I had with Ra'das earlier. I was a bit upset at him."

"Okay, what did he manage to do now?" she asked, sitting up abruptly. "What did he do to make you upset?"

"If I tell you, you won't kill me?" Alex replied.

"I'll try not to. Now, what happened?"

"When you initially refused to go back, Sa'ana called a meeting. In the end, everybody turned to Ra'das and me what to do. Ra'das favored bringing you gently into realizing that you were hybrid. I opposed it. I thought that what you needed was space, and I proposed everybody let you be. Since I had the better track record with you, Ra'das agreed that we should implement my plan. Apart from Sa'ana, everyone has been following it. But Ra'das hasn't always agreed with it, so he decided last night to prove to me that his plan could work as well as my own."

"How?" Marianne asked.

Alex grinned ruefully. "Remember complaining to him that Sa'ana wouldn't let you go back to work?" At her nodded yes, he continued, "Ra'das went to Sa'ana and convinced him to let you go back to work so that you could see that you couldn't function as a full human and that you needed your inherited memories. They figured it was worth the risk that you'd just retrain instead of going back."

Marianne shook her head. "Well, I just had a good convincing. In his own way, I think he was right. I'm just glad he waited as long as he did."

"You're not ticked at him?" Alex asked.

"You'd think I would be," she said, "But I think it was something I needed to see. Even with retraining, I'll never be who I was. In some ways, this is an easy decision on both of our ends. You got a chance to be more than you were, and you took it. I needed to see how much of one part I was, and I did. What you glorified in getting, I realized I had lost."

"Are you sure you're going to be happy with this choice?" Alex asked.

"Happy? Not really. But as I said before, it's my choice of miseries. If I'm going to drown my sorrows in my work, then I need to know how to do it. That means going back."

Slipping over, Alex hugged her, and she responded before pushing him gently back. "I guess I'll go. I don't want to hold up your new life. And I guess I should go back to my old one."

Alex reached over, and grasped her hand. "I'll go with you."

* * *

Marianne led the way into the medical center, Alex a half-step behind her. Ha'nun, one of the medical center's assistants, hurried away at their approach, and Marianne waited patiently for Sa'ana to be summoned.

Glancing over at Alex, she saw him smile and nod. She squeezed his hand, turning her attention from him only when she saw Ha'nun and Sa'ana coming back in. "Hello, Marianne. Are you ready to come back yet?" Sa'ana asked, hopefulness mixing with despair in his voice.

Feeling Alex squeeze her hand, she nodded. "Yes, Sa'ana, I am."

-end


Earth: Final Conflict fics