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Real, More or Less

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Even wearing Bajoran garb and jewelry, Tara is still a stranger here, though a passionate stranger who loves her new life as a student of a world she would have never ever imagined was possible. The vedics are so kind to her, the Stranger, the echo of a far-distant Earth–perhaps not even the same Earth.

Julian–Dr. Bashir–told her that he suspects as much. None of Starfleet’s research has been able to find any mention of her friends anywhere. Tara also remembers that on Earth, her Earth, the one that existed before she died, this was all just a television show, that at the end of the day, these people were actors involved in a hugely profitable franchise.

“The permutations of reality never cease to surprise,” he told her, patting her on the arm with an unconsciously rakish grin. “You’ll be fine, Tara.”

And she is, more or less. Everyone is kind to her, allowing her to come back and forth to the planet and the station while she tries to decide where her future is. She knows it’s not on Earth. She can’t imagine going back to Earth now. It wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be home.

Tara’s homeless, but this doesn’t matter as much as it might have on her Earth, back in her time. Back in her own universe, the one that doesn’t feel like it belongs to her anymore. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe she’s not that Tara, and that makes sense because she died on the other Earth, in the other time.

It disturbs her to ask the question of who she is if she’s not Tara Maclay, of why someone would bring her back to this time and place, of what purpose this new life has.

She meditates in the shrines, listens to the survivors of the Occupation tell their stories. She has learned to make a good spicy hasparat, how to wear the earrings, how to pray in Bajoran. No answers are forthcoming, no matter how hard she tries.

And then there is Nerys.

Every time Tara comes back from her journeys to ever-distant Bajoran shrines, Nerys is waiting, looking like she’d casually decided to wait for the shuttle even though they both know that’s a ridiculous joke.

“Colonel Kira,” Tara always says, carrying her bag awkwardly. “How nnice to see you.”

“How was Lugnagall? Did Vedic Yanar treat you well?” Kira asks, taking the bag from Tara casually. “I’ve heard the trees have bloomed for the first time in a decade there.”

“Lugnagall was beautiful,” Tara says, walking beside the Major down the Promenade, never quite over her awe. They were walking in a space station. A million million stars watch over them as they go. “The Vedic was very nice, and it was a wonderful experience.”

“Did you discover anything new in your meditations?” Kira asks, touching the other woman on the shoulder gently. Tara pauses and shakes her head.

“I saw the same things as always,” Tara says. “The fog and the man’s voice–The Emissary’s voice. I can never understand what he’s telling me, even though I try so hard.”

“You still hear the Emissary,” Nerys says, as sadly and as gently as she did the first time she learned of it. “We miss him.”

“I think he’ll make himself clear when he needs to,” Tara tells her friend. “Right now, it’s enough to keep listening.”

Kira nods, some inexpressible longing crossing her face. Tara is reminded of Willow, not for the first time. Is it her fate to fall for beautiful but conflicted redheads wherever she goes?

Then Tara wonders if in another universe, another Tara is walking next to Agent Scully with every intent of sleeping with her–Tara always did think Scully was pretty damn hot, after all. It makes her laugh and Nerys looks at her quizzically. Tara smiles.

“Sorry,” she says. “I’m just thinking about how funny it is that I’m here.”

Kira thinks about it. “It is, isn’t it?”

“I’m glad, though,” Tara says. “How amazing is it that we’re here, you know? We’re in space. Actual space. And I’m alive, even though I was dead. Even though I died hundreds of years ago. It’s–well, it’s unreal–”

“I’m glad that you’re here, Tara,” Nerys says.

Tara looks over at the other woman. Sometimes she thinks that maybe, maybe if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, Nerys is the reincarnation of someone she used to know, maybe even someone she used to love–but seeing Willow in Nerys’s face is cruel, maybe even unethical to both women. They aren’t the same person.

At the very least, Kira Nerys survived and thrived where Willow Rosenberg might not have. The Occupation, from all the stories Tara has collected, was worse than a thousand Sunnydale world-enders–and Tara maintains her respect for those even now.

“I’m–I’m really glad that you’re glad,” Tara says shyly. Nerys smiles back and abruptly changes the topic.

“Have you eaten?” she asks brusquely. “I have something to eat in my quarters. Or we could go to Quark’s–”

“I’d rather go to your quarters,” Tara says abruptly. She suddenly feels like she can’t deal with people, and not Quark. Tara likes Quark, she really does, but sometimes it’s just too much to deal with greedy, talkative Ferengi who remind her beyond necessity that she’s never going to find her home again, if it ever was her home.

Kira looks at her, assessing the situation coolly and professionally. “Of course. Are you feeling well?”

“I’m fine,” Tara says. “Just a little tired.”

“We’ll take the short way around, then,” Kira says decisively. “If you’re not fine, tell me. We’ll go talk to Dr. Bashir.”

Tara nods, amazed at how fast Kira changes state when she needs to. The woman is as passionate and tender a person as Tara’s ever known–but when it’s time to make decisions, she’s definitely Colonel Kira, no-nonsense pragmatist.

“I promise I don’t feel ill,” Tara says with a teasing smile as they stride toward Nerys’s quarters. “I couldn’t imagine dealing with Quark and Morn tonight, that’s all.”

Nerys laughs and squeezes Tara’s hand. “That’s all? That’s how I feel most of the time. Don’t worry about it.”

They walk into Nerys’s quarters and before the door’s slid shut with that cool hiss that Tara still finds incredibly trippy, Tara’s kissing Nerys. Tara remembers she didn’t used to be this forward, but that seems like a dream.

This is real.

Real is the way the other woman’s mouth presses against Tara’s, how soft Nerys’s fingers are as they find her ear and trace its whorls down to the lobe and then trail down her neck.

The way clothes fall to the floor in soft little heaps and Tara can’t help but giggle and whimper at the same time because she’s missed this, she’s missed the kissing and the touches and the way Nerys pulls her close.

The dreams don’t even come close. They’re nothing compared to the feel of warm skin pressed against hers, the gentle push toward the bed, the giddy fall–the touch of Nerys’s lips to her breasts–all of it. Every moment leaves Tara breathless, wondering why she searches for answers cloaked in mystery.

The dreams and visions fade away, leaving Tara with a beautiful woman in her arms.

Later–much much later–Tara finds herself staring at the ceiling, lying in Nerys’s arms and stroking the other woman’s hair. She’s asleep. Tara isn’t. She has too much to think about, too many things to wonder about.

Things are so good here. She has friends, a new galaxy to explore, a beautiful woman to love–if only she could remember what had happened, how she’d moved from a world full of demons and magicks and hellmouths to this place with the stars and the science and the kind of wars that make apocalypse look trite.

“What do you want me to remember?” she asks the universe, wondering if, after all, the voice she keeps hearing is the Emissary or if it’s her memory wanting to please everyone.

If she thinks too hard, things stop being good. Things stop being real. And it’s important–so very important–for things to be real. If it’s not real, it’s something that Tara refuses to imagine. Better the very very unlikely than the unreal.

She touches Kira’s face softly, trying not to wake her. Be real, she thinks to the sleeping woman. Be real for me.

Tara closes her eyes, praying that she wakes up where she falls asleep.