Howling at the Moon

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One of the problems of having an empath sharing your quarters -- off duty musings become difficult, especially if they're likely to change the emotions. I don't brood often, only when there's a particularly knotty problem at hand, but sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and stare out at the stars, and think things through while she sleeps. That way if she does notice, I can pass it off as a bad dream.

That's the heart of the problem -- she expects me to talk about it. Maybe not right away. She'll give me all the space I need, let me go silent for days if I have to. But it starts to worry her, and seeing that little frown between her brows causes me pain. I hate hurting her. Eventually it would come to that. She worries when I keep secrets, usually because she knows how I get -- she calls me Captain Masochist.

So I wake at night. And often, I find that my brooding is eased by her presence. Just her presence -- I've become that wrapped up in her. Moonstruck. Déesse d'lune -- my goddess of the moon, fair of face, eyes like the night. . . . How cliche. But her name -- derived from Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon -- and her Betazoid eyes invite the comparisons.

Her serenity reminds me of the moon, too. I've been there, several times during training at the Academy. Going EVA on the moon is one of the sophomore year activities. The silence as we hiked across one of the mares -- the Sea of Tranquility, if I recall correctly -- all fifteen of us had orders to maintain radio silence, and when we got to the dome and took off our helmets, not a one of us laughing and boisterous cadets cracked a smile. Something about the walk through such an otherworldly place, the pale ground and the utter silence, the gravity difference that added spring to our step, had driven it home to us that we were going into space. All the dreams of exploration and adventure could never match the actual experience of somewhere not Earth.

We apply familiar labels to the unfamiliar to make it understandable. How many kinds of wine are there? Yet wine is a Terran beverage -- the label is applied to a growing variety of alien beverages made by similar processes, even though the end product is sometimes nothing at all like the wine my own papa distilled. Not even alcoholic, in many cases. Sometimes I think the universal translator does us a disservice. How can we experience and truly comprehend when we continually see through our own narrow perspective and use our own restrictive labeling?

She has been at my side for the majority of her career. Long before any intimate liaison, we spent many pleasant hours together on duty, and many unpleasant ones. She helped me prepare for diplomatic endeavors -- she is good with languages, and excels at facilitating understanding. Mine of the new culture, and their understanding of us. She also facilitated my understanding of myself.

She taught me that expression of emotions we don't wish to acknowledge is sometimes the only way to rid ourselves of them. I've never felt comfortable with crying, or with discussing my feelings in general, and it made for an interesting session with the counselor when she had occasion to initiate one.

That first session was an eye-opener. Even though I knew she was capable, there's still something about an officer who's that much younger that makes one assume a kind of seniority that comes with more experience. She wasn't intimidated by me. Others were. Over the years I've realized that part of it is her empathy -- it levels the playing field even when she doesn't take advantage consciously. It's so much a part of her that even when she doesn't extend herself, some part of her registers what she senses, much in the same way humans recognize body language.

She is, by turns, the most alien yet the most familiar person I've ever known. She surprises me almost daily, sometimes in small ways. Sometimes she renders me speechless.

I have loved, many times. But I have never seen anything like her -- I find it difficult to believe I spent so much time not looking at her. How I schooled myself to see the uniform and rarely the person inside it. I wasn't prepared for the whole of her.

Command will go on and on about the way she and I work together so well, about the self control and the professionalism I have. They give most of the credit to me. I know better -- if she wanted to she could melt me with a look and take over the ship. I'd probably offer to give her a foot rub afterward, because walking all over me hurt her feet.

Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration. I'd probably entertain the notion for a few moments only because I'd be curious to see what she would actually do with the ship, then order security to haul her off to the brig. Then we'd find a way to exorcize the alien entity possessing her and things would be normal again.

I live on my cross, one hand nailed to duty, the other nailed to her, and I hang in the balance. She holds me up. I was falling down, unbalanced, so many times -- at some point living this life becomes more difficult, the years of ethical puzzles and interpretations of regulations and enigmatic mind-bending experiences begins to take their toll. Having counselors aboard starships was Command's solution for it. Still an imperfect one -- a counselor must have a willing patient -- but it helped me through more pain than I fathomed I could take.

And now she holds me up in a very different way. She slipped into my life quietly, and turned me inside out. Rather than hours of talking, the cure for my heart's ache is to come home and hold her. She heals me with a touch. They say you never realize what you have until it's gone. Sometimes you don't realize what you need until it's there. Once you realize it, your life is never the same.

I see her in poems I read, in plays, in the paintings I look at that depict women of all ages and station -- I see her in everything. At times I wonder if I should label it obsession. I used to come off duty and bring my work home with me. I still do when it's difficult, but in the less stressful situations, the mapping and charting and observational missions, I come back to my quarters and enter a world where I tolerate things I once would have considered ridiculous. She could do anything to me. I'd probably smile while she painted my toenails -- which would not happen, even she has her limits. But I never would have guessed I taste good with chocolate. Nor would I have guessed that there could be so much satisfaction in simply touching someone.

deLio, with whom I occasionally play handball, finally explained something to me, though he wasn't intending to -- he asked me about human attitudes toward women and whether they have changed over time. He listened to my discourse with an interest I'll admit got me a little carried away, to a point that I caught myself at last and felt silly, but he thanked me for my thoroughness and asked if I thought humans would ever lose the unconscious habit of subordinating women.

I firmly believe that we humans have come a long way from the old patriarchal structures most of our cultures have had traditionally. I thought at first that working with Deanna and I as he did, seeing her day in and day out as my officer, had fostered this -- but it turns out that he'd been observing the crew at large. He'd decided that serial monogamy was normal for humans and that somehow males were the dominant ones. He'd seen men behaving as if nothing at all had happened after the severing of a relationship, and the women upset -- inferring that the decision-making was the male prerogative, and the female had no control. Then Deanna and I had shown him an entirely new set of behaviors. Granted, he only had what he saw of us in public, but he'd accumulated an amazing amount of data from it. He chose me to explain things to him because my behavior was so significantly different from the other males he'd observed that he thought I would not be offended when asked to explain that behavior.

His question was why the data banks described the marriage of two people, male and female, as the accepted norm for our species, yet the majority of the humans he knew aboard the ship were not conforming to those parameters. It surprised him that we would alter our behavior to compensate for the demands of Starfleet, and that Starfleet would condone it. It further surprised him to learn that Deanna and I had so much difficulty with Command and that the positive attitude of our own crew was an exception. Why would Starfleet not accommodate the needs of humans, when so many of their enlistees were human?

The longer we talked, standing there in the handball court, the deeper we got. The reasons so many married couples opt for safer duty planetside or even a starbase. The influence on the war on this. The last *Enterprise,* which was full of families. The changes in the fleet overall. The intricacies of human relationships. And of course, why captains and other bridge officers do not indulge in intimate relationships. He seemed most interested in that aspect, hammering away with questions that from another human I would have found intrusive and irritating, but years of diplomatic endeavors have inured me to fielding such questions from other races.

Then he asked me why I had done so, if it were so impossible and regulations existed to curtail such entanglements. At which point I began asking him how the L'norim handle relationships, and when at length he explained, I began to understand his attitude toward Deanna, the reverence and the respect -- his behavior on Galisi became comprehensible at last.

When the L'norim marry -- which is not their term and the mechanics are considerably more complicated than a human marriage -- they do so for every reason but love. They seek the mate most suited to their lifestyle. This much is in the data banks. A holdover from their formative stages of evolution complicated immensely by the trappings of civilization, just as human practices are. L'norim were not hunter-gatherers like humans were. They were hunters, all predator, and they did so in family groups. The smallest possible family group was a foursome. There were no hierarchies; the common goals were pursued with unity and it mattered little which of them remained with the children to protect them and which did the actual hunting. The children would watch and learn with two parents while the others carried out the hunt.

As they evolved and developed technology, the formation of the family unit was redefined, but functionality remained the priority. The L'norim equivalent of a romance is confusing by human standards. They admire self-sacrifice and devotion to principle, and their concepts of gender politics are so mind-bendingly different than the monogamous pairings humans consider normal that as deLio explained as simply as he could I found myself consistently trying to redefine things in my terms. They are devoted to their family and they take turns working and raising children. deLio's own tour of duty in Starfleet was considered an aberration by his parents, a phase he was going through, because he hadn't yet married and was at an age where it began to be a concern -- it could take years to make the proper connections and find the right people to forge what was to be a lifelong contract.

deLio had been observing his fellow officers with curiosity and analyzing interactions since he came aboard. He'd served on a deep space station for a few years, and prior to that on an outpost. His record was exemplary. I'd chosen him from a small field of available and eligible security officers. It's hard to come by good officers these days, and he'd been offered another posting on an Excelsior-class already, but he'd chosen the *Enterprise.* I have no idea why and I probably never will -- he said he'd not heard of me before, other than a mention or two at the Academy, and given his taciturn demeanor and his avoidance of small talk, I could see how that would be so. But he told me that day in the handball court that he had decided to remain aboard longer, despite his parents' urging to return home.

He explained that he'd not realized the nature of the relationship between myself and Deanna until Geordi mentioned it in passing to someone else in his hearing. At that point, rather than ask anyone questions, he had begun to pay close attention to our interactions. Although he may not understand human relationships, he knew the physical manifestations of it; in a way he was better at reading our body language than we are, because he's not human. He has to do it consciously. He saw something that startled him -- he saw behavior patterns that reminded him of home. Because he'd assumed we would have the same behavior patterns as the rest of the crew, he hadn't paid attention and hadn't recognized it. He had observed us from then on, until the incident at Galisi -- at which point he responded not as an officer, but as a L'norim, honoring what he perceived to be something akin to what he considered normal. He sat with her while she lay wounded rather than lead the security team in to capture the Maquis. Protecting the fallen mate of a commanding officer was a higher priority than duty. L'norim ships were staffed by family groups, spouses often served side by side, and to him, my relationship with Deanna seemed familiar and altered his perceptions.

He had thought this was an adventure far from what he knew, that Starfleet would take him on a fascinating tour of the unknown and the unexpected. And he had found that the most surprising and most appealing thing about it had been a familiarity. He found a relationship between two commanding officers that reminded him of home. Finding it had rekindled his interest in his Starfleet career -- he became more curious than before about humanity in general, and how such a different culture could manage to produce something familiar. And, I suspect, his homesickness had been eased by it.

I have felt a kinship with aliens from divergent cultures before, but I'd never imagined I would find one with deLio. What I knew about the L'norim told me that we had nothing in common beyond a devotion to duty and Starfleet. But I find, to my complete bemusement, that the two of us have both found the same thing in the same relationship -- home. The very thing we both thought we had left behind. He finds it in the professional side of my relationship with Deanna; I find it in all aspects of it. My home has been Starfleet longer than it has been France.

Perhaps we carry within us what it takes to recreate the familiar. Perhaps we see the familiar where it does not exist, because we all tend to label the unknown in terms of the familiar. Whatever the case, it's ironic that we race to the stars in search of the fantastic unknown, but we are never truly satisfied until we find the familiar.

But there is also a danger in the familiar. I almost lost myself, when I found my senior staff unraveling around me. Worf was the first blow, Will the second -- though I sometimes wondered why he *didn't* leave, he couldn't mean to retire as a first officer, after all -- and then Beverly. I had become too complacent. Settled. With them gone, the sense of family had vanished. I chided myself for doing exactly what I'd told myself I wouldn't do -- allowed myself to assume these people would be at my side no matter what. At the depths of my melancholy, on the verge of retirement, I found myself again in the eyes of a woman with whom I had stood shoulder to shoulder for years, but never really looked at directly.

As a child I saw the stars and imagined my life. As a young man I lived it -- I found my way, as Maman said I should. I lived among the stars and they became familiar. The routines of starship life have become mundane. Not all missions are adventures. They don't tell you that -- all you hear about are the fantastic missions, the battles, the confrontations. I sometimes wonder if Nechayev isn't getting even with me for turning down the directorship of the Academy by cycling cadets through the *Enterprise* more often and at higher volume than on other ships. Training exercises -- I feel for my staff, they have to deal with them.

But I endure it as part of the package -- the stars still have their appeal. We are still exploring and still finding adventure. I still stand sometimes and look out at them, thinking of all the places I've been, all the people I've met and the phenomena we've cataloged. I imagine what is to come. What happens is never what I imagine -- that's why I'm still here. The stars promise the unimaginable.

And I come full circle, to the woman who shares my bed, who I watch as I ponder my life and my future. I hadn't imagined her. Not like this, and not on a starship, and never as my first officer -- she was my counselor. She was the woman men worshiped with their eyes as she went by in one of her off-duty outfits. She was the soft-spoken beauty who nearly married and gave up her career out of subservience to tradition. She evolved when I wasn't looking.

I find the stars in her eyes.

They call me. I must answer, just as I had to answer the call as a child, pointing my destiny ever outward, into the unknown.

I am afraid, as I watch her roll over in slumber and I see her profile -- nine months pregnant with my son. I am not afraid of the danger of living in space, nor of fatherhood. It doesn't bother me that the rest of Starfleet thinks I'm crazy.

I am afraid that I will let this pass, that this uniqueness we two have created will be forgotten. It can't be duplicated. I stand in awe of it, not quite believing I've been this fortunate, to have so much in a single lifetime.

And it occurred to me, just tonight, that it will not pass unmarked. It can do so only if I do not tell you about it.

There are too many things to say, so I will say the most important things. She is about to awaken, as she always does when I begin to feel too much -- your mother is that sensitive to me.

Yves, I love you. And if for any reason I am not there to tell her, please tell your mother that I love her, too.

If you ever hear the call of the stars, wherever they are, answer them. I can guarantee you that it will be the adventure of a lifetime. And if you ever find yourself moonstruck --

"Jean-Luc, who are you talking to?"

"Oh. . . Yves, of course. Sorry we woke you."

"I don't believe you. The third time in a week -- have you been sleeping at all?"

"Until you wake me up by not snoring."

"I told you that I could sleep in the -- "

"No, cygne, I wouldn't be able to sleep at all. Would you like a foot rub?"

"Why do you keep offering to do that? I'm beginning to think you have a fetish. Go to sleep, already. You can talk to Yves later. Maybe when he's able to remember what you're saying?"

"Mmm. . . I think he'll remember."

"What are -- you're recording this! Jean-Luc! Turn that off!"

"If I can't record my thoughts, I suppose I'll have to settle for a quieter medium. Don't suppose you might have. . . a pen? OW! Deanna -- "

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This page contains a single entry by Lori published on December 9, 2006 4:20 PM.

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